All Tangled Up in Nets of Our Own Making

Today’s blog post is going to be a lot more fun if you participate in a little hands-on experience. Run to your craft supplies and find some old yarn. Pay one of your children or a stranger off the street to run around you in circles with the yarn, trussing you up like a pig on its way to market.

If you pay the stranger off the street, maybe make sure your valuables are hidden safely away and you’ve stored all weaponry out of reach. Don’t blame me if you’re on tonight’s news because this ends badly.

But once you’re all wrapped up like the aforementioned market pig, we are ready to begin.

You are officially entangled. And you did it to yourself (sort of). And it’s terrible, isn’t it?

Yet, most of us live this way, to some degree or another. It’s just that we don’t use obvious yarn to do it. We get wrapped up in debt, in responsibilities, in an overbooked schedule, and expectations. We lose the ability to move and live and breathe freely because we say yes when we should say no and we often don’t think clearly at all. We end up trapped and sometimes we don’t even know how we got that way.

Hebrews 12:1

I found a book at the library the other day called Big Magic. It’s an advanced reader copy (ARC) that somehow ended up in our little library from Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat Pray Love fame). If you were here at the blog last week you’ll remember my yoga post, and if you know Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing you are now assuming that I’ve gone off to the transcendental loony bin.

And yes, I know the woman is a bit of a kook. I skimmed through the Love portion of Eat Pray Love just like every other Midwesterner, wondering if the woman had lost her dad gummed mind. But she can write. A few dissenting ideas in a book never killed anyone (not even an Evangelical Midwesterner), so I read her work and enjoy it.

In the chapter on Permission, Gilbert takes a sudden turn to the practical– she writes to creative types who wish to grow in their craft and are willing to go to Big Time Schools to do it. Those are fine, she says, but the debt that often comes with those schools is not. She writes:

Going into massive debt in order to become a creator, then, can make a stress and a burden out of something that should only ever have been a joy and a release… Please understand that I am not against higher education by any means; I am merely against crippling indebtedness–particularly for those who wish to live a creative life…Nobody needs debt less than an artist. So try not to fall into that trap. And if you have already fallen into that trap, try to claw your way out of it by any means necessary, as soon as  you can. Free yourself so that you can live and create more freely, as you were designed by nature to do. (Big Magic (ARC), page 106)

Not all of us are creative types, but most of us reading here are trying to follow God’s plan for our lives and that often includes creativity. Pastors, missionaries, mothers, teacher, engineers– we all need emotional and spiritual freedom so we can be creative, unencumbered, with God. Maybe we need to dump our debt, lighten up the schedule, or relieve ourselves of some of our overwhelming responsibilities.

Even the book of Hebrews weighs in on this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (12:1-2a).

So at this very moment, Elizabeth Gilbert and the writer of Hebrews are telling us the same thing: get rid of the tangle. Cut it off, dump it, claw our way out. And then we can move freely into the life we should be living. We can move easily in the race Jesus calls us to run. Do we want to run our race in full snowsuits, with bungee cords wrapped around our legs and arms, clomping in heavy boots? Or do we want to run in some sleek spandex pants, a tank top, and some spiffy running shoes?

The choice is up to us.

My question to you today is this: what would it feel like for you to live freely? What would it feel like to wake up without burdens and strain? What would you have to get rid of to move with grace and ease? I’d love to know.

And if you don’t have someone handy to cut you out of your yarn mess, give me a shout. I’ll be over with the scissors right after dinner.

According to the IQ Test, Things Could Be Worse

My friend Josie just walked out my front door with a gigantic briefcase in her hand, a briefcase that holds clues to the inner workings of my brain.

My actual brain, the gray blob that’s still left in my skull, is throbbing a little. I just took the WAIS-IV at my kitchen table, and mercy. If you’d ever like a slice of humble pie served up in your own kitchen, have a counseling student come and give you an IQ test.

Poor Josie is in her final classes before she is loosed upon the counseling world, and the powers that be determined that she and her colleagues should have experience in administering the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. Josie needed to find a few willing victims to sit through a three-hour test so she could practice administering it.

Who isn’t fascinated by the human mind? I’ve wanted to give out IQ tests for Christmas presents for years! I happily agreed to let Josie practice on me, even when she made it clear it would take us literal hours at the table. There was a point at about the two-hour mark where I questioned my earlier excitement. Josie was reading numbers and letters to me in groups, then making me recite them back to her after I’d alphabetized them and put them in numerical order. No paper involved, no reading. Just listening, remembering, then repeating.

I am not good at any of those things, it turns out.

Then there was a moment where I lost the complete will to live. I was staring at pictures of scales, trying to figure out what shapes would balance the scales. Little drawings mocked me with their codes and puzzles. Imagine the frustration of staring at the yellow stars and the red balls and then wondering if they are heavier than the green square. I could have probably figured some of them out, given an entire day and a math assistant.

Josie did not give me permission to call my math assistant/husband.

“One!….?” I call out, squinting up my eyes and putting a question at the end of my proclamation. (endure long pause while Josie writes down the wrong answer…) She flips to a new page. I stare again.

“Five!” (because I can’t very well answer one again, can I?)

“Three!” “Two!” (close eyes and hope scales balance themselves without my input…)

It wasn’t all scales and memory games, though. I had a few hot rounds of puzzles and word games. I might not be a complete dullard after all, but I doubt I’ll ever actually know my IQ. I didn’t ask Josie for the results, and she didn’t offer to share them when she gets it all calculated.

I think we’re all better living with the mystery. Let’s assume I’m smart enough to get through the day and you’re smart enough, too.

Here, if you’re in the mood, let me recreate the IQ test for you. You can ask whatever companions are handy at the moment and assess their mental acuity:

  • Define these words: apple, harmony, parsimony
  • Recite these numbers and letters back to me after you sort them out. Give me the numbers first, then the letters. Numbers must be in numerical order, letters must be alphabetized: 4H2 (becomes 24H), 9J (stays 9J), P64WS1 (becomes 146PSW), 3NN31D (becomes 133DNN)
  • Answer these questions: Why do some people feel it’s important to protect the environment? How are a cheetah and a moose similar? If David has 99 pies and shares 50% of them after he eats three of them, how many pies does he have left? (Remember, no paper. Gotta do it all in your head.)
  • Now figure out what should go in the empty box:
I don't actually know the answer. Six stars, maybe?

I don’t actually know the answer. Six stars, maybe?

 

Good luck to you!

Jesus and My Yoga Mat (work with me, here…)

(If you’re the kind of person who equates yoga mats with New Age thought, and therefore Satan himself, give me a second. I’m pretty sure this is going to make sense in a few paragraphs without you feeling like you need to go buy patchouli and attire yourself in tie-dyed hippy clothes. I don’t promise I’ll make sense, but stick with me and then mail me angry letters if I’m wrong.)

I write to you today from my yoga mat.

Jesus yoga FB

Just kidding. I sat there long enough to take a picture and then I skeedaddled to a real chair. I feel like a five-year old on a story rug when I sit on that thing for anything other than yoga.

So now I’m here in my grown up chair, and I need to explain a thought that’s been rattling around my head for a few weeks. Last Sunday I was interviewed during the sermon at church. Nic and I were talking about obedience to God in the small and regular things of life, and how good intentions don’t equal godly outcomes. We can hope to obey God and we can think we are obeying God, but unless we’re actually obeying God, we’re not actually obeying God.

Does that make any sense?

For example, there have been some pretty horrible things done throughout history and then the perpetrator said, “I did this for God!” And the rest of us shoot our eyebrows way up to the top of our foreheads and think I’m not interested in God if that’s how He operates. Slavery, the Crusades, concentration camps, the KKK– you get where I’m going. There’s a nut in each group that could look you in the eye and tell you God himself is sanctifying his or her actions.

If those actions are directly opposite of what Jesus told us to do, we walk away. Nope. Not God. Not good. No thank you.

Those are extreme examples, but we see that sort of thing happening on a smaller level all the time in our own lives. We go to church, we own a Bible, we love God… so then whatever we think or feel must be honoring God, right?

No. Incorrect. Whatever floats through our mind is not automatically God-honoring or obedient.

While Nic and I were chatting in front of church, we talked about how we can be obedient. One of the things I said was that we need to be present (cue hippy music and yoga pants…) as much as possible so we can be clued into the Holy Spirit and the situation of the moment. We can’t always be filtering the past, present, or future through the lens of our own motivations and understanding. We have to be present (cue incense and vegetarian dinner) so we can notice what’s going on around us, both physically and spiritually. Then we need to respond appropriately.

Let’s look at one of my favorite Bible stories so I can illustrate my point. In Luke 10:38-41, Jesus is at Mary and Martha’s home. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, absorbing his presence and words. She’s laser focused on her Messiah.

Martha, her sister, is busy because she has a bunch of guests for dinner and there’s a ton to do. She gets cranky because Mary isn’t helping like she ought. She goes right to Jesus and says, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

Now, let me step in and defend Martha for a second. I can guarantee that woman didn’t wake up in the morning and think, Hey! I think I’ll micromanage the Holy Spirit today and make sure everything works out just like I want! I get to boss around God’s Son this afternoon! Yay! 

I’ve hosted large groups in my home, and I can tell you the woman was thinking about fifty details at once. She was wondering if she had enough goats on spits in the front yard. She was hoping she had enough clean towels. She was wondering how many guests were spending the night and if she had enough bread for breakfast. And Mary wasn’t helping, so Jesus was the most direct way to get her sister’s attention. (“Hey, Lord! Get that woman off the floor and into the kitchen!”–Jessie translation.)

Jesus didn’t share Martha’s perception of the situation. He said, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Shush it, sister. Get with my program.— Jessie translation.)

This is what I want to point out– Martha had Jesus in her very own home. He was in the same room, seeing the same things. Smelling the cooking meat, hearing the servants in the kitchen clanging pots, and frankly not worried about any of it. Martha assumed that Jesus was worried about what she was worried about, but she needed to be present in the moment to notice she was off track. She needed to get over herself to notice what was important. 

And so, as we all sit together with our organic yogurt and hemp sandals, I hope we can take a moment to be present with the Holy Spirit and to find Mary’s laser focus on Christ. It’s only then that we’ll really know what we’re called to do, and what obedience looks like in this moment.

Namaste.

I mean, Amen.

 

Poopsie and Beanie Squabble Over Cell Phones (or lack-thereof)

Poopsie is now in her golden years, considering the purchase of some orthotic shoes, a girdle, and possibly a cane. Her eyelids are sagging and her knees are creaking. The high-waisted pants at Lands End are looking better and better with each passing season.

(Actually Poopsie’s in her late 30s, but to hear Beanie describe the situation you would imagine Poopsie to have one foot tentatively aimed toward the grave.)

Beanie is an entire twelve years of age, plus a few weeks. She feels quite grown up and quite ready for her own cell phone. She has started haranguing Poopsie for her own cell phone multiple times each day. Sometimes even before breakfast, the child starts in on her “needs.”

Poopsie is not in agreement. Of course, Poopsie came of age in the 1980s, when things like texting and the internet were imaginary, like unicorns. She grew up in a house with a phone that weighed five pounds and sat on a desk like a lead ball. A twirly cord attached the handset to the base, and a long wire carried voices from the base to the wall and then into infinity.

Photo courtesy of Tom Laurus' Etsy shop.

Photo courtesy of Tom Laurus’ Etsy shop.

Poopsie has offered to get Beanie her very own landline for the house. She’s pointed out that twirly cords are fun and heavy phones are exciting.

Beanie doesn’t think this is funny.

“What if I need to text someone?” Beanie cried just this morning.

“You are twelve. TWELVE. You don’t need to text anyone.”

“What if I’m at a friend’s house and they’re doing drugs? I might need to call you!”

“Do you have friends who are doing drugs? Because if you do, they aren’t your friends anymore.”

“No. I don’t have any friends who are doing drugs. But what if I do?”

“You’re TWELVE. TWELVE YEARS OLD.”

And with this Poopsie made a waving motion with her hand that translated as “Bring this up one more time today and I will go sit in a closet until your father comes home and deals with you.”

But the truth of the matter is that Poopsie kind of understands. She was just about this age when she started harassing her own father for a phone of her own. She wore G-Pa down to a nub until he finally gave in and put the dang phone in her bedroom. But there were a few key differences there:

  1. Grand Pa was actually a telephone man by trade. It took him a few minutes and a few bucks of supplies to silence the squawking from his oldest child. Minutes well spent, frankly.
  2. Poopsie purchased her very own phone with her very own money. If memory serves, it was a slim-line model with see-through plastic and colorful cords on the inside. Very techy.

    Photo courtesy of Pinterest. (The original link is broken.)

    Photo courtesy of Pinterest. (The original link is broken.)

  3. The addition of Poopsie’s phone didn’t cost the family any extra money. The phone company didn’t care if we had 2 or 2,000 phones hooked up in that dang house. And since Poopsie didn’t know anyone outside the 673 code, she didn’t run the risk of long distance charges. “Texting overages” were a not-thing in 1989.

This is not the case with a phone for Beanie. G-pa the phone man and his wires are useless here. The phone Beanie wants will cost many dollars up front and monthly charges thereafter. And the horror stories of reckless children texting their parents into bankruptcy linger in Poopsie’s mind.

But the offer still stands. If Beanie would like her very own slim-line see through phone, Poopsie will buy her one. And it can sit on her desk like a lead ball until Beanie is old enough to get her own job and pay for her own phone.

The end and Amen.

I’ve Been Meaning to Blog, but Naps Keep Intervening.

I really have meant to blog this week. But every time I get within two feet of the computer, the couch sucks me in to its napping vortex and BOOM, I’m asleep.

It’s also the week of VBS, which means I go back to church every night to herd small children through a maze of songs and science experiments and sticky snacks, with Jesus tucked in between all the fun. Heck, I guess Jesus is joining the fun, if you want to get technical. Pretty sure He loves sticky snacks and glitter crafts.

It’s also the week I’ve been reading two of Emily Freeman’s books: A Million Little Ways and Grace for the Good Girl. I tell you what, that Emily knows how to write a book that climbs inside my head and rearranges all my thinking cells.

It’s also the week that feels like all the words have been stolen right out of me. I could truthfully claim that I’m trying to listen more, really listen, which means I need to be not-talking and not-writing. I’ve been listening to my family and friends and listening to God, but I also feel like the cat stole my tongue. I’ve been doing a lot of blinking and thinking. It’s quiet around here.

It’s also the week that the rain won’t stop. Right now it’s a humid 72 degrees, and the grass is soggy. It squishes as you walk. But this brings us right back to the napping portion of the blog post, where we started. Rain=Nap.

Amen.

So this quiet, rainy, thinking week, I’m thinking of you, the reader. I’m grateful for you and I’m praying for ways God would have me serve you better. I’m praying for your future and that you can hear God speaking over the noisy wind of life.

1 Kings 19:12-13

3 Tips for Not-Stupid Money Management

Do you currently have a credit card in your wallet? Yes? Do you currently make or spend money, ever? Yes?

This post is for you. Especially if you are young and are inexperienced at using your money in a safe and not-stupid manner.

I didn’t just wake up this morning and decide to preach a little sermon to the youth about money. I was actually contacted by Credit Card Insider, which is a group reaching out to college graduates to help them build their credit and use cards wisely.

Wisely, I said.

In a not-stupid manner.

They asked me to share my top three tips for financial management and so here we are. These are the things I think form a basis for setting a good foundation financially.

Financial tip 1

Tip #1: When you are out of money, stop spending it.

I realize this is un-American. I realize our entire economy is based on people spending money they don’t have to fill up their already jammed houses. But it’s dumb. It’s especially dumb when we use debt to continue purchasing things we can’t actually afford.

Ask yourself this question: Will I have enough money to pay the rent or buy gas next week if I buy this thing today? If the answer is no, do not buy the thing.


Financial tip 2

Tip #2: Credit Cards are just like dynamite. One wrong move and you’ll be sorry.

Dynamite is a very useful tool– it’s hard to blast through rock without it. It’s useful, but extremely dangerous. That’s why we don’t give it to children to play with, sell it at the grocery store, or keep it in our purses. Because KABOOM. Body parts go missing and it’s hard to regrow an arm.

Credit cards are not so different. Sure, there are times they are the only financial tool that makes a lot of sense. It’s hard to get the internet to take your cash, frankly. And debit cards work fine in most situations, but there are times a credit card and its reward points come in handy.

But a credit card in the wrong hands is just like tossing a stick of dynamite to a seven-year old. That money will have to be paid back. Too many people have gotten themselves hopelessly close to an explosion because they didn’t use common sense when they started using their card. There is no grown up who is going to stop you from being an idiot here– you are the grown up. You have to stop yourself.

Ask yourself this: Do I have the money in my account to cover this purchase when the bill comes? Or, alternately, am I truly at risk of bodily harm if I don’t use this card? If the answer is no, do not use the card.

financial tip 3

Tip #3: Seek to be generous in all situations.

Money is a gift, a resource. Some of us have more than others. There are few things more attractive than a heart that cares for others, so be generous. Tip lavishly– the woman waiting your table probably isn’t doing it for a hobby. Churches and charities do not run on air and magic– they need your financial backing. There are families in your town and even friends in your living room who might need a helping hand. Be the generous person who is watching and waiting to share what you have when you see a need.

Ask yourself this: Do I want to be that nasty jerk who hoards his entire box of doughnuts and eats them alone in the break room while everyone else eats carrots? If the answer is no, share.

What have I missed? What are your top three financial tips? Let’s keep people from making dumb decisions, all together!

 

The Curious Case of the Snoring Cow

I am a story thief.

I can’t help it, and even if I could, I wouldn’t help it. I steal stories. I hear good ones while I’m out and about and think that’s going in a book someday.

I had this experience the other day while we were at a party with college friends. We have this friend, Daniel, who can make literally anything funny. He commented on the door handle while we were standing on the front porch and it was hilarious. It’s something about his word choice and dry wit that make me wish he and his family didn’t live three counties away.

But anyway, he told us a story about a friend and a cow and I said, “Daniel, that’s going in a book some day. Just so you know.” But I couldn’t wait for a book. I think we need a blog post about the snoring cow today.

(I hope I get all the details right. I didn’t write it down fast enough…)

ViviLnk

ViviLnk

So, Daniel has this friend who has chickens.

(He started telling this story in the first place because our other friend Bethany wants chickens but her husband thinks she’s crazy. And we were all telling her horror stories of owning chickens, which is where Daniel piped in…)

Something was getting into the guy’s chickens and killing them.

(I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to personally meet a chicken, but they’re sweet and funny little things. Endearing, really. So when you go to feed them in the morning and find that something has murdered all your little feathered friends in the night, it’s upsetting…)

Some of the chickens, the ones in the coop, were fine. Nothing was bothering the cooped poultry. But the chickens in the barn were really getting mauled.

So Daniel’s friend decided to put a baby monitor in the barn one night to see what was causing the ruckus. I’m guessing he planned to run out there with some sort of weaponry to halt the chicken murdering process (or something) when the noise started up.

(Killing chickens is rarely a quiet event…)

But it didn’t work. Nothing came to bother the chickens that night. He was kept awake all night, though, by the cow’s snoring. The noise right through the baby monitor, loud and clear.

(And I don’t know why I find that so hilarious, but I do.)

That’s it. That’s the whole story. The end.

You may now go about your day.