Reporting Live From Sleepover Central (Heaven help me.)

My house is vibrating. Partly it’s from the shrieking, partly it’s the dancing. It’s shocking how much vibration a pack of middle school girls can create when grouped together in a living room.

Pray for me.

Our Beanie’s celebrating her birthday, which means it’s National Sleepover at the Clemences Day. If you’re in the neighborhood and have a sleeping bag, feel free to stop over. (Unless you’re a creepy stranger, and then I would invite you to have a sleepover in your own living room/jail cell.)

A little bit of photo-boothing going on, here.

photo booth for six, please. 

In a few minutes the last two guests will arrive, sending the noise and chaos levels into the stratosphere. The introvert in me is already having a little panic attack, wondering if I’ll fit under my bed where the cat is hiding.

He needs prayer too, probably.

Not only are the last two guests about to arrive, it’s almost time for dessert. This means that in less than thirty minutes I’ll have seven middle school girls who are hyped up on sugar running rampant through my living room, bathroom, closet, kitchen, and yard.

Close your mind around that thought and then switch gears with me. I need to tell you about yesterday when we drove to my hometown to pick up a hot tub from some family friends. We’ve known Ron and Barb so long I don’t ever remember not knowing them. They were my youth group leaders, I babysat their daughters, and Ron lovingly patched my bike back together when I smashed it into a camper about twenty-five years ago.

I haven’t seen them in person in a long time, but they had this hot tub they wanted to get rid of and I happened to want a hot tub. My mother connected the dots for us and we found ourselves with a trailer in their driveway yesterday. While the nice neighbor with a tractor loaded the tub onto the transportation, I chatted with Ron and Barb. They’ve changed very little and I wanted to hug them both around the neck and stay for hours, but I was also a little nervous about getting the hot tub home without it crashing and blowing into a million bits on the freeway.

We left soon after everything was secure, but I spent some time on the ride home remembering the youth events Ron and Barb survived for our benefit. They certainly didn’t want to stay up all night for their own benefit. They listened to us drone on and on about moronic middle school problems, they took us on camping and bike trips, and they didn’t even shoot us and leave us in the woods.

I’m sure that was a constant temptation. Middle schoolers weren’t much different twenty-five years ago. Even then they were hyper and loud and caused a lot of chaos. And they needed adults who were willing to devote time to them so they didn’t wreck their lives.

Which brings us back to the very loud thump I just heard from the basement. It sounds like a thousand hens are chirping down there while trying to break down a wall.

Pray for me, pray for the cat, pray for the house. Pray I can show the same kind of love to them that I received so many years ago.

And pray for youth group leaders everywhere, who are busy staying up all night so our kids have one more layer of love in their lives.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self- controlled. In every thing set them an example by doing what is good. (Titus 2:3-7)

P.S. I also need to thank Mr. Bill & Sandy, Dr. Mona & Papa Ruse, Mr. & Mrs. Birkam, Jay & Elaine– thanks so much for spending all that time with us. Who knows where we’d be without you!

 

A Bunch of Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Quit Your Job

It’s currently Monday afternoon, which means 83% of all people on earth are thinking about quitting their jobs at this exact moment.

The remaining 17% are divided among these groups: people who love their jobs (5%), people who don’t actually work while they are at their jobs (10%), and those without fully functioning frontal lobes of the brain (2%).

(Percentages are estimates. And by “estimates” I mean “I made them up.”)

I’m not thinking about quitting my job but that’s because I only work until 2pm and then come home and take a nap. Then I start my other job, which is being a writer while simultaneously taking care of our kids and house. I get enough variety from this setup that I don’t need to quit anything– before I know it I’m on to something new each day.

But I have quit many, many jobs in my day. I’m sitting here, reviewing all the jobs I’ve ever quit, and I really don’t have any regrets. Many of those jobs ran their course and ended because the summer was over, the contract was finished, or I was pregnant and the baby was about to explode from my abdomen. I can think of two jobs in particular that were so awful that I can’t even go near those places, to this day.

Quit your job

I feel this qualifies me as an expert in quitting jobs, and I’m here to give you some things to ponder if you find yourself in the 83% of persons who currently would like to find new employment:

  • What’s the real problem? Am I frustrated with the duties of the actual job, the people I’m forced to work with, or– moment of hard truth– am I the problem? I know I wander through life with this vague sense of restlessness, looking for situations to be solved so I can find contentment and joy. The problem is I’m often really the problem and, until I slay the dragon of discontentment, quitting isn’t going to solve anything. On the other hand, sometimes the job duties are a bad match or the people are truly horrible. In that case, I’ve found tremendous satisfaction from giving my notice and walking out the door.
  • Am I really trapped here? Sometimes I feel trapped by a job which makes me hate it even more. When I feel like everything depends on that paycheck hitting the bank account every other Friday, I get a little nuts. The first few years Eric and I were married he was finishing his degree, which meant I had the actual job with benefits. I felt like I had to work at a job I was completely unsuited to do, but I should have quit. Honestly. At that point in our marriage we could have easily lived off what I made at almost any other job–  no kids, no car payments, no mortgage. I still regret staying at that job, fifteen years later.
  • What can we change now to prepare for a job switch in the future? I think many of us hesitate to quit our jobs because we know it’ll wreak havoc on our families. But what if we started moving slowly in the right direction, getting everyone on board a little at a time? Just knowing I have an exit plan helps me feel a lot better about a terrible situation. We have some friends who could easily cut at least $10,000 out of their annual budget by chopping two things– dance lessons for their daughters and a costly preschool program for their son. As far as I know both parents love their jobs, but if one of them wanted to quit they could slowly start reducing dance lessons and finding less expensive schooling options. Often an exit strategy is simply a matter of sucking up some courage and taking that first small step.
  • Is this job my true calling in life, and/or is it helping me to accomplish that true calling? Don’t get me wrong, I love my job as a church secretary. It’s tons of fun– but it’s not my true calling in life. My first calling is to my husband and children, and after that I’m a writer. But there are actual bills that need to be paid and being a mother and writer is not a good way to make actual money. The part-time job gives us what we need so other callings are possible. Paul, the man who wrote so much of the New Testament, was a tentmaker. That was a great way for him to make money so he could eat, but it wasn’t his true calling in life. He had bigger things to do, my friends.
  • Have I prayed about this? I often spend a lot of time thinking through a problem from many directions before I settle on the correct plan of action. I then begin to harass God into agreeing with me and my plan. However, I’m pretty sure that if I started with prayer and then opened my life to what God really has planned, that flexibility might make the whole process a lot less painful. Let’s go back to our friend Paul, the tentmaker. His true calling involved a lot of uncomfortable situations, from angry mobs to shipwrecks to prison time. No one would have thought it unreasonable for him to pray about the situation and then quit. Because PRISON. Lucky for us he didn’t quit. He took those problems and rolled on, because he was focused on his true calling to spread the Gospel. I’m pretty sure this focus was possible only through vast quantities of prayer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! What jobs have you quit, and have you ever regretted quitting? Or not quitting? And let me know if you have other criteria for changing jobs– let’s not rely on my expertise alone.

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike.” (Paul, in Acts 26:19-22)

Why My House Smells Suspicious

I feel like I went way overboard with the opinions and lecturing in my last blog post, which is why this blog post is going to center on one thing– why my house smells quite awful. I went back and read the post from Tuesday and I almost deleted it– but no. I stand by what I said. It’s just that I had my preacher pants firmly affixed as I stood on my soapbox and shouted my opinions, and I don’t like doing that very often. I just had to get it off my chest, but now let’s move on to something far less subjective like what I’m cooking for dinner and why it’s stinking up my house.

The smell is a cross between burning ham and watered down cabbage, which is interesting because I am not actually cooking cabbage. We had a ham at small group dinner the other night and my friend Susannah suggested using the bone to make a bean soup. I have a bag of black-eyed peas that have been in my cupboard for a few years so I thought this might be a nice opportunity to pretend the Depression still rages and bean soup is delicious.

Side note: I grew up in a home where both my parents loved bean soup, and loved split-pea soup even more. I also grew up in a home where I was forced to eat bean soup and split-pea soup because my parents claimed to love me and said these meals were good for me.

So maybe I’m being haunted by 1983 as I write this from my stinky kitchen, but I really have some doubts about this meal. I tasted it a few minutes ago, and the flavor of the beans good. The texture is pretty awful, though.

I tried to run this photo through a bunch of filters to make it look more appetizing, but it didn't work. I grow even more suspicious of our meal.

I tried to run this photo through a bunch of filters to make it look more appetizing, but it didn’t work. I grow even more suspicious of our meal.

The question is this: as a mother, how do I pass this meal off on my kids? I could smile brightly and force myself to eat it, pretending pizza couldn’t be as delicious as this mushy, stinky meal. Or I could go with the bald truth, which is that I would rather eat almost anything than this. Pancakes and eggs, a piece of toast, a sandwich.

Thoughts? What would you do?

A Bold Theory About Control Freaks

I’d like to propose a bold theory, and it is thus:

Being a control freak does not actually solve problems. It makes us cranky, anxious, and unpleasant to be around. It causes us to strangle the life out of the people forced to share space with us. And also, the problem will eventually work itself out in its own time without our micromanagement.

Control Freaks and Micromanagers

I’ve been collecting data about this exact problem for weeks now, from my own life and from the lives of other people who shall remain nameless. I’ve been driving people crazy and other people have been driving me crazy. Because we are all control freaks, my friends.

My pastor is even preaching a sermon series on this, so yesterday I got to hear an excellent sermon that coincided directly with my thoughts for weeks. While Jason has to preach with some sensitivity and grace, I can be more blunt on the blog. I’m going to say what he can’t say from the pulpit– Let’s all knock it off. Let’s stop the micromanagement of petty details and things beyond our realm of control.

Now, we are always in control of a few things: our attitude and the words that come out of our mouths, for starters. I don’t know about you, but I don’t yet have a reliably good attitude or kind and gracious words, so I obviously have enough work in my own heart that I don’t need to be piddling around with other people’s attitudes, hearts, words, or responsibilities.

Perhaps I should get my heart and words exactly lined up with the Holy Spirit, then maybe I could feel free to tell others how to manage themselves, and tell God how to handle my problems.

I feel this might be a long wait.

God’s not holding his breath in anticipation of this event, I’m guessing.

I know life is aggravating. Heck, people are aggravating! When things change unexpectedly, when others don’t see the genius behind our ideas, when we’re forced to share space with people who do it all wrong– the control freak comes out in us. We assume that since we’re in a dither God has forsaken us, so we take matters into our own hands.

We fuss, we pout. We fume, we whine. We hone our manipulation skills until they’re a sharp, deadly instrument that can be used to skewer anyone who gets in our way.

Maybe there’s a better way, though. I’d like to talk about a story in Daniel, chapter 3. Daniel and his friends had refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar, knowing full well they were about to get barbecued in a walk-in oven for their defiance. They said this in response to this unpleasant situation:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NLT)

This hands-off, fully trusting in God approach makes me twitch because I do not enjoy getting burned alive. Here’s how a control freak would handle the problem instead:

  1. Review situation in full, as soon as the heralds began the announcements. Spend many hours in whiney review with friends, expressing full displeasure with God’s provision and the government’s poor choices.
  2. Find another place to be for actual event. Perhaps a convenient illness, trip back East, or a convention for high-ranking Babylonian officials would be in order. Whatever gets me out of the range of the fire would be perfect.
  3. Find all possible options for getting rules changed to our advantage at event. Speak to other high-ranking officials. Date the king’s daughter. Plan a coup with neighboring nation. Get king assassinated, if necessary.

Whatever the situation demands, a control freak will rise to the occasion. Because, once again, we do not enjoy getting burned alive.

But Daniel and his friends let go of the situation, trusted God, and did what they need to do. They focused on pleasing God, and God took care of the rest.

What would happen in our individual situations if we just backed off? I’d like to try to let God handle the situation while I stand back with full confidence in his leadership, and I’d like to see some other people try it too.

Any thoughts on being a control freak? I’d like to hear them. (Even if they’re just really good stories about other control freaks you may know…)

 

 

Because I Don’t Like It, That’s Why

We had a rare opportunity to go to the bookstore the other day without our children. The kids, darling creatures, aren’t exactly the most restful companions at the bookstore.

“Mom, can we go to the children’s section?”

“Mom, will you buy me an e-reader and/or a $100 set of Legos?”

“Mom, am I old enough to drink that kind of coffee with the whipped cream on the top?”

“Mom, how much allowance do you owe me, and do I have enough to buy this book?” (The answer is always, always no.)

“Mom, why doesn’t that lady on the cover of the calendar have enough clothes on?”

Of course I love these short people and would gladly give them an organ from my own body, but I relished the opportunity to wander slowly through the aisles and actually focus on the books while they were in a different place. For consecutive minutes I could focus on the books. Cheap books, decorating books, mystery books– I examined them all.

(In a vaguely related note, one of my favorite cookbook authors has gotten a divorce since her last book. I noticed her new cover shows her left hand with no wedding band, which got me worried, and then I launched a full-scale investigation into the acknowledgements in the back of both books to see if I was correct, and I was. In the first book she thanks her loving husband, and in the new book she casually mentions some new dude. I’ve been worried about her for days and I never would have even noticed if my kids would have been two inches behind me, talking my ear off. But I digress…)

I also had a chance to closely examine many artsy, literary books. I usually skip these when the kids are with me because I have to use my minutes wisely before they run out of patience.

It turns out I still don’t like deep, literary fiction. Even without the kids in tow.

I know I should, as a writer, deeply appreciate another’s ability to write prose that inspires and translates strong emotions through the mystery of the written word, deepening my understanding of the world and the people who fill it.

But I don’t.

don't like it

I just don’t like it, and that’s the end of it. I don’t enjoy being dragged through three hundred pages of torture, misery, and angst. I don’t like feeling like my emotions are being manipulated by someone who woke up cranky in 1954 and decided to make everyone else cranky, too.

I’m not saying that other people shouldn’t enjoy it– by all means. If the full range of human emotion is how you like to spend your three hundred fictional pages, then go for it. I just like to spend mine happy and relaxed, is all I’m saying.

Sometimes I feel guilty, like if I’m going to really contribute to the world I should use my talents to write deep and slightly disturbed novels. Something with some grit, where we all come out a little scarred. I’d feel more like a genuine writer if I had some dark secrets to tint my pages.

I’m never going to be that kind of a writer, though. It’s not where my interests lie, nor my talents. I specialize in ridiculousness, and I’m going to be okay with that. Isaiah 64:8 (NLT) says this:

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.

Do I believe this? Do you believe this? What if we were formed by a loving God to serve him with specific gifts, in a specific time? I think we don’t have to despise ourselves for our lack of organization or math skills or literary interest. I think we should relax and grow into the exact reason we were formed, whatever that may be. I give us all permission. 

What about you? Do you ever feel like you should enjoy something and then feel terribly guilty when you don’t? What do you enjoy, instead?

 

 

What Now? Moving Ahead Into an Exciting New Future.

I write to you this afternoon from my back yard. It’s sunny and warm enough that I’m barefoot and bare-armed, soaking up the vitamin D I’ve been lacking all winter long. My toes are tingling with the breeze as my son sits beside me in a chaise lounge, wondering out loud where the basketball disappeared to over the winter.

Chances are good I threw it away in November, because that’s sort of how I move from season to season. Or maybe it blew away in a ferocious wind from Canada in January– there are so many options. Let’s blame the wind and move along, shall we? The poor kid already thinks I throw away everything he owns.

(I sort of do.)

It’s a brand new season in my backyard and a brand new season of life in general. Everywhere I look I’m seeing signs of new life and the tension that moves us from one place to another. I had three separate discussions with people at work today about changes and how they feel and how they affect us all.

Since last week when we sold our rental house, Eric and I are furiously recalculating our next few months. We took Easter weekend off to do absolutely nothing but go to church and hang out with family. Many hours were accumulated with our butts firmly connected to our couch. We napped multiple times a day and watched a few old movies.

But that was just a break before we launch into the next phase of life, which will be…

Um.

Ah.

I’m sure there’s an answer around here somewhere. I mean, we have a few of the pieces in place already. We got a few answers to long-term prayer requests last week as we signed that house away. But that resolved tension of owning two houses has now opened up more questions. How do we allocate our money? What’s next?

And to make matters even more complicated, while I sat on the couch Saturday morning, drinking my coffee and rethinking my entire life, I started making notes about a possible new book. Little ideas kept coming to mind, so finally I got up and found a notebook and started writing them down. By the end I had a ten new chapters of a book outlined and a possible title.

Where on earth did that come from? I might be a writer, but I don’t automatically assume everything that flits through my brain is an actual book to-be. I prayed about it. I hid the notebook under a pile of other people’s books. I prayed a little more. And then I waited for God to make his answer clear.

So far I’m still waiting, but I have a feeling this might end in an actual book proposal being emailed to my agent sometime soon.

Here’s the thing– I don’t have time for this new project. I barely have time to do all the things now. I can give up 1) sleeping or 2) personal hygiene. Those are my last two options. So my prayers to God have been asking him if 1) this is an actual book he’d like for me to write and 2) where on earth I’ll get the time for this. What does he want me to give up to make room for the new priorities?

If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do comes out in a few weeks here, and I’m so excited to walk through the book with you all. I’m excited to see where God takes you and what differences you make in the world as we learn to live like all those biblical examples who took a radical approach to listening to and obeying God. From Noah to Esther, from the disciples to Paul, the Bible is full of examples of people with exciting new seasons of life. Jesus is asking us to follow him– are we ready to do it?

Matthew 4: 19-20

Apparently I don’t get to take a pass on this one. I’ve already lived the book over about three times, but God’s taking us for another round. I’ll keep you updated as things progress, but I want to hear from you, too! What’s God doing in your life? What new areas of sacrifice and obedience are you finding as you step out in faith?

I want to hear all about it!

And Now We Shall Do All the Free Things and Eat All the Cheap Things

A few weeks ago I blogged about how I was waiting for a few different things to happen, and God was working at his usual pace. His pace is majestic and holy and all, but also very, very slow. (After the week we’ve had together I can say these things with no fear of lightning bolts coming for me. What a week!)

The sale of our rental house was settled today, and hallelujah for that. As of this afternoon my husband and I are the proud owners of exactly one house, which is still probably one more house than we are interested in owning at this point in our lives, but it’s far better than two houses.

Out of the blue on Sunday morning an offer came to our realtor, offering us a closing as fast as it could legally be arranged. Because they were paying cash and we were highly motivated (this is real estate language for ready to burn the house down) we were able to set a closing date in five days. So, KABOOM, this afternoon we went and signed all the millions of papers and gave them a check to clear ourselves of all obligations.

We are now free. It feels glorious.

It also feels a little, um, poor. Not that I’m complaining, because I know millions of people around the world consider the amount in our severely lightened checking account to be a pile of inconceivable riches. We have less money, but we’re still so fortunate. I know this, but we’re still living here in the US of A and we need to cut back our spending ASAP.

We’ve warned the children that the next two months are cutback months. No unnecessary spending. No new clothes unless current clothes are literally splitting at the seams. No expensive dinners out, no fancy new gizmos, no new shrubbery for the front yard (that was actually the sermon I gave to myself this morning).

But we can’t live a life of do-nots, we have to do something. We can’t sit on the couch and stare at the ceiling for two months. So last night I polled my Facebook Crew to see what their families do when they have to cut back spending. I specifically asked 1) what they eat for dinner and 2) what they do for fun. Here are some of their great answers!

cheap things to eat and do

What to eat when the budget is tight:

  • Breakfast for dinner: pancakes, egg casseroles, French toast, waffles
  • Soups and chilis
  • Sandwiches: grilled cheese, anything in a tortilla (which makes it more fun than a plain sandwich), quesadillas
  • Food Bowl: this made me laugh out loud. My friend Susie says she mixes all the leftovers together, puts some cheese on top, and puts it in a bowl. Hence, Food Bowl. Hilarious! Other friends noted a wide variety of leftover management, including my friend Kim who’s such a good cook she feeds leftovers to company. My first-run meals are barely edible– no company will be eating my leftovers.
  • Vegetarian/almost vegetarian meals: mac and cheese, Ramen noodles, meat-light stir fry, lentil sloppy joes, beans and rice, baked potato bar, and spaghetti

Activities for tight budgets:

  • Bonfires– if you play this one right you can actually roast your dinner over the fire and kill two birds with one large flame. Dinner and activity!
  • Game night
  • Reading together
  • Library programs or borrowing movies from the library
  • Walks, hikes, bike rides, trips to the park
  • Free museum programs
  • Digging holes and filling them back in (I think maybe Jeff was kidding, but he’s a little sleep deprived since their newborn arrived. Heaven only knows what he’s actually doing for fun these days.)
  • Have friends over, with or without games
  • Movie night, with special themed food to match the movie
  • Popcorn made on the stove
  • Playing instruments together
  • Disc golf
  • Nerf gun fights
  • Wii tournaments
  • Picnics

Here’s the thing– none of these ideas are surprising, are they? We all know mac and cheese is cheap and going to the park is free. What sets these answers apart is the great attitude my friends had about their suggestions. Moaning about being out of cash doesn’t make the situation any better.

And so many people had stories to tell about money being tight. This isn’t an isolated challenge one family bears alone. I think we often feel like we’re the only ones, when really a lot of people right around us have the same concerns about making the money spread far enough.

What about you? Do you have suggestions we missed? I’d love to hear them!