Vanity: Killing Lawns Everywhere

Here, let me show you a dead spot on my lawn.

Sinking to new lows, the blog now has photos of dead grass. (This is time you will never get back.) ((I'm so sorry.))

Sinking to new lows, the blog now has photos of dead grass. (This is time you will never get back.) ((I’m so sorry.))

Here’s another.

The excitement continues...

The excitement continues…

Giant brown dead spots, courtesy of my pride and vanity. A few weeks ago a lawn company representative stopped by and gently pointed out that my lawn looks… oh… awful. It doesn’t help that the neighbors on both sides of us paid for gorgeous sod and sprinkling systems so their lawns look like golf courses.

Except for one couple across the street who care even less about their lawn than we do, we’re the black sheep of the grass community on this street. But listen, I have other things to do. I don’t have time to be obsessing over the lawn.

But the lawn company guy made me really look at my neglect, and then in a fit of vanity I went out and bought a bag of lawn fertilizer and applied it to the grass.

I did not read the directions. Not all the way, at least.

Because who reads the directions on a bag of nitrogen? It’s basically chicken poop in an easily carried container. I read this much: “Apply to dry grass…blah, blah, blah…lasts for three months.”

Two days later I mentioned the fertilizer to our friend and neighbor Josh, who lives on the next street up and has a lawn that makes golf courses look slovenly. Josh’s lawn is lush and a freakish shade of green, like angels come and tend to it at night. He looked at me and said, “You know you need to water that, right? It’ll burn your lawn.”

Luckily we were on a bus at the moment, bouncing our way down I-94 with a herd of 4th graders headed to a field trip. We were shouting at each other over the open windows and the hyper children, so I didn’t actually have to come up with a coherent answer.

Of course I didn’t know that, because I didn’t read that part of the directions.

And now my lawn looks worse than before.

I don’t know if this is a lesson in humility or reading the directions, but take your pick. Apply whatever lesson you need to learn.

And if the lawn guy comes knocking, just plug your ears and refuse him an audience.

Here, let me leave you with a better photo. If anyone knows what kind of flower this is, I'd dearly love to be reminded of what I planted.

Here, let me leave you with a better photo. If anyone knows what kind of flower this is, I’d dearly love to be reminded of what I planted.


Moses Didn’t Have Time for God’s Plan, Either.

Right now the vacuum is whining its way up my stairs, loudly. My twelve-year-old daughter is manning the thing, grunting with the effort of a carting a heavy object while simultaneously using the attachment to get all the cat hair off the carpet.

My son is in the bathroom, scrubbing away at the toilet and the tub. But not simultaneously, I don’t think.

My children have been drafted into service this morning because 1) it’s good for them (Please see previous post about spoiled children) 2) I don’t ever want them to think the toilet magically cleans itself and 3) I don’t have the time to do these things myself.

2015-05-16 11.07.04

So while I’m sure that it appears I’m resting comfortably in a chair and surfing the interweb with a cup of coffee while my children do all the housework, that’s not the case at all. I’ve been writing all morning, feverishly trying to catch up on writing I didn’t get done this week because I was working, cooking, shopping, mowing, and driving all over Kalamazoo County.

And this brings me back to our friend, Moses. You know, the man who was busy minding his own business when God interrupted his life with a very large plan? Moses had sheep! He had kids who needed new sandals and food on the table. He had a wife who probably had a long list of chores for him to do, some sort of house that probably needed some sort of repairs, and responsibilities in the community.

He was busy.

He didn’t have time for God’s rearrangement any more than we did, I’m guessing. And fast forward a few thousand years– the disciples were all busy doing things when Jesus called them. They were tax collectors and fishermen with careers and responsibilities. Saul was busy killing people and persecuting the Way when Jesus blinded him and gave him a new life calling.

None of them were just sitting around with giant pockets of time, waiting for God to give them a new assignment.

So as we look at our own lives and packed schedules, it can be easy to rationalize God’s call away. We don’t have time to get to know the neighbors next door, or host the small group, or teach that class. The calendar clearly indicates that we are already packed to the gills.

But somehow God’s people managed to prioritize their lives so they could focus on what God needed them to do next. It comes down to those priorities and making the hard choices so we open up the time needed for whatever it is God’s asking us to do.

And this is why I’m sitting here, typing so fast my fingers are a blur. I write because God’s asked me to write. It means I have less time to vacuum and redecorate my house, though. Lucky for me, I have able-bodied children I can draft into service to help out, but even if I didn’t I’d still write.

We’d just have a really hairy staircase, is all.

A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. (Matthew 4:21-22, NLT)

Today, a Shepherd. Tomorrow, Leader of God’s People! (It could happen to you.)

The story of Moses resonates with me. In fact, a few of you long-time readers will remember that the new book, If I Plug My Ears God Can’t Tell Me What To Do, was originally called the Burning Bush Still Speaks. That was way back in the day when I didn’t know what I was doing and every day as a writer was filled with trepidation and a scrunched up face of pure concentration.

Exactly like today, I guess. Nothing’s changed in six years! I thought Moses’ story was awesome six years ago and I think it’s awesome still. I love how Moses was minding his own business, watching the sheep when God broke through and rearranged his entire life.

Lambs! And mercy, were they noisy.

Lambs! And mercy, were they noisy. 

He had no idea of what was coming.

He woke up that morning, he ate his Cocoa Puffs, he added gel to his hipster beard, and he kissed Zipporah goodbye. He pulled on his barn boots and he started the commute to work with a coffee mug in one hand and some goat cheese in the other.

Just like every day.

As he walked to the sheep he probably tripped over a few cats, a dog barked at him, and he wondered what his wife would make for dinner. He gathered up the livestock, said hello to Kirk (the minister at the local Presbyterian church), made polite small talk around the watering trough, and then he and the furry beasts headed out to the pasture.

Scuse me. No, scuse ME. Oh, so sorry. I bumped you. There are just so many mouths and so little trough space!

“‘Scuse me.” “No, ‘scuse ME.” “Oh, so sorry. I bumped you. There are just so many mouths and so little trough space!”

(If I get so much as one comment about how I know nothing about middle eastern sheep herding practices, I swear I will hunt that commenter down and feed him mutton.) ((And I know there weren’t any Presbyterians back in Moses’ day. But I’ve got one across the street from me and I thought it would be fun to add him into a blog post.))

Moses and the sheep did boring sheep/shepherd type things all morning, Moses was just about to eat his goat cheese on a few barley crackers, and then…

God rearranged his entire life.

The bush was burning, God was in it, he had things to say to Moses, and life was never the same again. It was hard, it was weird, and it was nothing Moses had planned to do. He did his best to talk God out of it, even.

God was not about to be redirected.

He was about to include Moses in one of the most amazing projects God has ever set into motion, and Moses was just the man for the job.

So think this little story over today, my friends. As you eat your Cocoa Puffs and gel your beard, as you kiss your spouse goodbye and begin your work day, mull the possibilities over in your mind.

Keep your eyes peeled for burning bushes, and be listening for the voice of God.

It might be your turn to have your life rearranged. Are you ready?

2015-05-16 10.45.24

Seriously, the baby sheep here wants to know. Are you ready? What if God rearranges your life today?



How to Tell If Your Kid Is Spoiled (and what to do about it!)

I picked up a new book, The Opposite of Spoiled, at the library last week. If you are raising children in the Western, materialistic world, you should read it. Ron Lieber is the “Your Money” columnist at the The New York Times, which is an impressive credential. But credentials don’t mean anything to me unless an author is talking some sense, and Mr. Lieber does just that.

The book discusses all the ways children in our culture are affected by money– family finances, their own personal finances, and what they see going on in their community and social network. If we think they don’t notice our parental arguments about money or how expensive their friends’ homes are, we’re dullards. They notice. Kids notice everything. And the more we can teach them about finances before they’re adults with their own big-time money problems, the better.

This is the general topic of the book, but a small chapter on spoiled children really caught my attention. Lieber points out many parents fear this one character trait more than any other in their children, because it’s our own fault. Children can’t spoil themselves; they need well-meaning but clueless adults to do that to them. And most of us are mature enough to see the terrible consequences of a spoiled child growing into a spoiled adult.

It’s ugly, folks.

not spoiled kids

Most parents don’t set out to destroy their children’s future, and so some of our kids are becoming spoiled simply because we think we’re doing exactly the good and kind things. Lieber gives these four qualifications of a spoiled child (p. 10). He says they don’t have to be present all at one time, but these are things they have in common:

  1. They have few chores or responsibilities.
  2. There aren’t many rules that govern their behavior or schedules.
  3. Parents and others lavish them with time and assistance.
  4. They have a lot of material possessions.

Let me rephrase:

  • They think life should be easy and fun. For them. Everyone else can work.
  • They think they get to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
  • They think adults exist to entertain them and fix their problems.
  • They have no concept of self-denial.

In short, spoiled children are taught, in small bits each day, to think only of themselves and their own comfort in any given situation.

My blood is running cold at the thought of this; is yours?

Me, me, me. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Now, now, now. 

The solution, as I see it, is simple. Chores teach them to help out and consider the needs of others. Rules and schedules give them boundaries that help them consider the needs of others. Adults are not their servants; they need to teach them to think of the needs of others and to fix their own problems whenever possible. Telling them no teaches them that life will continue if they don’t have everything they desire, which will in turn help them to consider the needs of others.

Parents– we can spoil our kids, or we can help them grown up into thoughtful, mature adults.

Thoughts? What would you like to add to the conversation? I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about this!

Jesus said: I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:11-13)


When God Asks Us To Do Something Very Small (and Very Hard)

Let me sum up the entire Bible for you: God speaks; we need to listen.

Theologians everywhere are groaning and formatting angry letters to me right this minute because that’s a vast understatement of the whole Bible. Six words can’t begin to encapsulate thousands of years of God’s Word to humankind, they’ll say.

And they’re right. But so am I, maybe.

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a terrible time listening to God lately. I pretend to listen, but really I’m really worried about what He’s going to tell me. For example, Monday’s small group lesson was on how to open your life to the Holy Spirit’s work even when it means giving him control of everything.

Everything, did you hear me? Do you know how frightening it is to give the Holy Spirit free reign? Do you know what happens when you let it all go? You might end up writing books for a living, or moving across the world to be a missionary, or finding your house full of children. You might have to get a new job or keep the job you hate. The Holy Spirit does not prioritize based on our comfort levels, I’ve found.

Today’s podcast from Michael Hyatt was all about Setting Up Camp in the Discomfort Zone, further adding to my sense of coming change.

As of yesterday afternoon, I’ve given up on ignoring God and I’m really trying to listen (ignoring him wasn’t working anyway) and I have a feeling we aren’t in for a move across the country or even a job change.

I think the coming change is very small.

It’s probably going to be very hard.

Changes in the heart are often the hardest, aren’t they? The changes where we move from distrust to faith, or from selfishness to generosity. Sometimes we have to learn to speak with kindness, which of course means we have to have the kindness in our hearts in the first place. We might be called to offer mercy when we’d rather retaliate, or show grace when we just aren’t in the mood.

The Holy Spirit might not be asking for a radical, obvious, adrenaline-pumping kind of change. He might be asking for a change of heart.

Ephesians 4:23-24

Thoughts? What heart-changes are the hardest for you to make?

We’re Going to Call This a Learning Opportunity, Rather Than a Failure

I always have a weird reaction to Mother’s Day. Instead of basking in the glow of motherhood and my children’s adoration, I wake up fidgety and get positively cranky by nightfall. I remember all the ways I’ve failed already as a mother and I fear all the ways I’ll mess it up in the coming years.

I don’t know how my children have made it this far, honestly.

Motherhood isn’t the only place I’ve failed, of course. We can also add these things to the list:

  • any skill involving math
  • basic carpentry
  • driving around garbage trucks on rural roads
  • running any distance without a zombie close behind
  • speaking in public
  • working at that pumpkin place
  • eating well (today I ate my body weight in Cheetos)
  • competitive sports
  • cigar smoking
  • patience
  • grace
  • peace
  • evangelism

And so on, and so forth. Now aging into my late 30s, I’ve accumulated quite a list of Things I Should Not Make a Habit of Doing for Any Reason. 

But is this really a bad thing? For example, I know enough to not become a carpenter, no matter how many hours of This Old House I log (my slogan could be Clemences Crooked Cottages). I am a more careful driver, thanks to nineteen years of a throbbing ankle due to the Great Garbage Truck Smashing of 1996.

All the things we stink at can really help us as we try to discern God’s next step for our lives. Of course he works through our weakness, we all know that. But there’s also a reason we’re designed the way we are, as individuals. So go ahead, make that list of Things I Ought Not Do for God.

If you’re overwhelmed about what your future holds and what God’s plans may be for you, you can at least start with this list. But don’t get too dependent on your own perception, because God really does throw a surprise in there every once in a while.

Because as much as I feel like a failure as a mother, I have two kids out there in the living room who really are thriving and will one day grow to be productive members of society, even if it’s the last thing I do. Do I feel called to start an orphanage because of my superb mothering skills? No. But I can do a decent job with the two kids I have.

What about you? What do you stink at, and will therefore strike off your list of possible ministry opportunities?

1 Thessalonians 2:1 & 4

You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure… For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:1 & 4 NLT)

Poopsie and Beanie Go to the Vet

[If you’re new around here, let me catch you up: We have a cat. We got him from the local animal rescue about two years ago, and he –without a doubt– is one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. Picture living with a short, excessively hairy, continually drunk frat boy. A drunken frat boy who wanders around the house all night, wanting in and out. He pees where he wants and he sleeps all day. He refuses to get a job and yet, just when I’m about to have our pastor shoot the godforsaken beast and use it as a sermon illustration, he gets unbelievably sweet and lovable. He lets two-year olds chase him around the house and flops down in the middle of parties and lets guests adore him. 

And also, our twelve-year-old daughter, Beanie, adores him. This is where our story begins.] 

There is one person in the house who loves Captain Kitty with wild abandon, and that person is Beanie. Two of the other people in the house have neutral feelings about him, and the final person, Poopsie, wishes him dead on a daily basis.

It’s just that Poopsie has standards for her home, and the drunken frat boy cat doesn’t seem to understand the situation. For example, Poopsie is not a fan of her basement smelling like cat urine. She doesn’t approve of black gobs of cat hair covering the carpet, and that cat food and litter all over the floor really isn’t doing much for her, either.

And yet Poopsie isn’t a cruel monster, so when it became apparent this week that Captain Kitty really wasn’t feeling well, she became concerned. There was obviously blood in the spot where he’d tinkled on the carpet and he was acting all mopey and sad.

In the morning she dropped Beanie and Pheanie off at school and stopped into the local vet. No appointments were available, but that didn’t stop Poopsie from going home and trying to shove the cat in his carrier box anyway. She planned to drive him around to other vets who may take mercy on the kitty and see him without an appointment.

But no. Captain Kitty was not excited about this plan and proved once again that one woman is no match for a twelve pound cat who isn’t in the mood to be shoved into a plastic box. Poopsie finally gave up, left food and water in the garage, and wondered if she would come home to a dead pet.

She wasn’t entirely upset at the idea, as you can imagine. She came up with several plans to make up for the pain and suffering Beanie would inevitably experience. She priced out new pools, considered getting new, less stupid kittens, and also reminded herself of all the cats that died when she was a young girl. Farm life is hard on cats, what with the constant threats of traffic, tractors, and illness. Beanie’s suburban life was sparing her from important life lessons.

But Captain Kitty continued to live until an appointment could be secured for him. The family took him to the vet, all together. Popsie and Poopsie manuevered him into his crate and Beanie and Pheanie flanked him in the van on the ride to the office. The family cooed sweet things at the poor thing as he shook and panted in the box.

The staff at the office was kind and capable, and the veterinarian started talking about how to give Captain Kitty his pills. Popsie and Poopsie started shooting each other looks, because this was obviously the stupidest thing they’d ever heard. The cat won’t eat food that falls off his dish, there was no way he was going to take a tablet. The vet, a wonderful and professional man, demonstrated the technique.

Here we have the pills and the supposed instrument that will keep Poopsie from getting her finger bitten off in the process.

Here we have the pills and the supposed instrument that will keep Poopsie from getting her finger bitten off in the process.

Captain Kitty spit the tablet back out and promptly began to foam at the mouth. While an assistant held the cat, the vet took four more tries before the medicine finally disappeared down the gullet like it was supposed to. This had nothing to do with the vet’s ability; it only demonstrates the stubbornness this cat is capable of. The veterinarian smiled and said, “Good luck with that one!”

Popsie and Poopsie groaned inside, and with the telepathic communication developed over their sixteen year marriage, they both knew it just wasn’t going to happen. They might as well train the cat to tango; there was no way on God’s green earth they could give the cat that medicine.

Lucky for Beanie, her beloved kitty is responding well to the antibiotic shot the vet gave him and seems to be feeling better. The pills are going to be crushed and hidden in some tuna, and if that doesn’t work– well then too darn bad.

Beanie might be getting a new pool to make up for her pain and suffering soon; Poopsie will keep you posted.