If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do

Are we ready and listening for God’s next step in our lives?

I Don’t Know What Just Happened Here, but I Think It Was Just an Accident.

I think I just accidentally applied for a job in Texas.

Don’t freak out, because I’m pretty sure God is just doing a spiritual exercise here with me. I’m pretty sure this little episode won’t actually end in selling two houses, packing up, and moving 1,000 miles away.

Because God never asks His followers to do any of that, right? God’s mostly very reasonable and only asks us to do things that make perfect sense.

Oh, wait. I can hear my friends Betsy, Abbie, and Heather laughing from here. And they’re all at least 1,000 miles from Kalamazoo, where they used to live.

Deep breath, Jessie. Take a deep breath.

Here’s the whole story. This company keeps calling the church where I work, setting up appointments to speak to the minister. Twice now something’s gone wrong and a call came an hour later than we were anticipating. After the second time, I happened to pull up their website to see if we had a time-zone miscommunication. That’s exactly what’s happening. 10:00am our time is 11:00am, their time. But I found their location from their Careers page, which is when I happened to notice they need a writer and a content editor. I left the page open on my screen out of idle curiosity; it’s not often a ministry needs to hire a full-time writer. Then I poked around their website and their founder’s thoughts exactly match some things God has been teaching me and Eric lately. We’d moved beyond coincidence to very weird.

The hair started standing up on the back of my neck.

I talked to Eric and the kids about this. The kids say, “No way. Nope, nope, nope.” Eric says, “Dallas? Why not a better place than Dallas?” Frowny faces abounded.

I had myself completely talked out of applying because it’s just impossible. The kids would be so unhappy to leave their friends and school. We grown ups would be so miserable leaving our friends and family. We have 16 years invested in our church. Eric has a good job he loves. It has benefits, bonuses, and generous amounts of vacation time. We’d be idiots to leave that. Plus also, we’re from Michigan. We’re Michiganders. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in Texas but those people are feisty and I hear they like football.

We own a football. Sometimes the kids even toss it. That’s as close as we come.

But you know how sometimes you’ve worked yourself up onto your high horse, and you’ve debated all the options and you’re quite sure you have the solution, and then the Holy Spirit starts whispering in your ear? And maybe He starts to speak words that don’t come from human reasoning, but from God’s reasoning?

It’s always so uncomfortable.

I started to realize I’m putting the security and provision from my husband’s company before God’s security and provision. I’m determined to keep our life comfortable and easy. I’m putting my kids’ comfort above God’s possible calling. For heaven’s sake, I even put our state identity before our identity as Christ-followers.

If I Plug My Ears, God Can't Tell Me What to Do
Coming in spring of 2015!

If this isn’t all bad enough, I’ve written a book about this exact topic. It’s even titled If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do (coming in spring of 2015!). I’ve been plugging my ears for two days, hoping this all goes away. The book talks about how sometimes God calls us to things that make our family uncomfortable.

I meant our grandmothers, Lord. Sometimes Granny isn’t excited about Your plan. I didn’t know You included the kids.

The book talks about how we need to be flexible and ready to move.

I meant other people, Lord. I would like to be flexible from Kalamazoo while my husband has an excellent job.

The book talks about how Jesus didn’t come so we could spend our earthly years on the couch, cozy until we die.

But I have some extremely comfortable couches, Lord. Do you really want me to give them up? Even the one we bought for $100 at the resale shop?

I can’t very well write these things and then refuse to participate in God’s plan, so I gathered my courage and sent off the resume. I very highly doubt I have the skills this company needs, or the temperament. But I do know this– the experience was eye-opening. I’m not doing as good a job of listening to God as I thought I was.

So maybe I accidentally applied for a job in Texas, yes. But I’m quite sure I didn’t accidentally have this experience this week. What about you? What do you feel God might be calling you to next?

If any of you wants to be my followers, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. (Mark 8:34-35, NLT)

Therefore, go and make disciples of tall the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)

 

 

Can I Enjoy This Without Actually Purchasing It?

I have very wise friends with excellent timing. On Friday after I posted about my little issue with shopping at the Pottery Barn, my friend Sara offered this comment on my Facebook page:

Take a picture!!! That’s what I do to “shop” without breaking the bank.

Oh, how I love it when things work out. Because this is exactly what we’re talking about today– do we have to own something to enjoy it? 

Many years ago, when I was but a wee child, my siblings and I had this game we played in the car. As we drove through nice neighborhoods with gigantic houses we’d claim the houses at the top of our lungs while we were crammed in the back seat of our 1981 Escort station wagon.

Me:”That one’s mine!”
Charlie:”No, mine!”
Bethy:”I get that one, then.”

This continued for many minutes while my parents rubbed their temples and wondered why they’d ever taught us to talk. I’m sure they purposely drove through crappy neighborhoods whenever possible  just so we wouldn’t be tempted to play this little game.

Did we have a perfectly nice farmhouse of our own? Yes, we did. We had acreage and pets and barns and lots of trees to climb. We lacked nothing, but we knew life would be so much better if we owned that 3,000 square foot beach house in Northern Michigan.

As adults, the desire hasn’t left any of us. The race is on to see which one of us we can con into buying a beach house first, so the rest of us can mooch off their good will. As adults, we can calculate the taxes and mortgage involved in a 3,000 square foot beach house and we can also calculate how many hours we’d have to work to afford that and then we realize we’d be dead before we’d even get one foot in the house, with those kinds of hours. But if my brother is willing to work that many hours for my benefit, then I’m all for it. You’re up, Chuck. Go for it.

I think a lot of people see something beautiful or desirable and react with this thought– I must own it. 

But do we really? Is it possible to enjoy something just because it exists and we get to experience a part of it?

Ecclesiastes 5:10

I think it is possible. As I was walking through the Pottery Barn the other day, I enjoyed every minute. I ogled the candles and imagined dinners for 30 at my table spread with matching plates and turkey-themed bowls. Heavenly.

Then I realized that was enough. It was enough to imagine, to take away ideas, and to be thankful someone had created such beautiful things. I don’t need to actually own any of that stuff, but I enjoyed it completely.

It’s enough to rent a house for a few days each year. It’s enough to be thankful with less.

Enough.

What’s your enough? Where can you draw the line and find contentment?

 

Saving Money Is Easy: Just Don’t Go to Places Where They Sell Things

Friends, I need help. I need to summon all my strength and willpower. All that is within me cries out– buy all the beautiful things!

In an hour we’re leaving for–wait for it– a date night. My husband and I are going out without the children. It’s been a long and stressful month and we need a night away to eat food the children hate and to go to stores they hate even more. You know, the things we used to do all the time before we had children.

This means that soon I will be in a Pottery Barn store with no short people to slow me down. No little eyeballs to squint at price tags and yell, “Mom, why are they charging $130 for a blanket? That’s almost three years of my allowance!” No little butts to plop down on sofas which cost more than my first two cars combined while sighing, “Can we go yet?”

Yes, everyone's salad should be cradled in a turkey. Here's the link:http://www.potterybarn.com/products/turkey-figural-metal-serve-bowl-stand/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_--_-
Yes, everyone’s salad should be cradled in a turkey. (Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn: “>http://www.potterybarn.com/products/turkey-figural-metal-serve-bowl-stand/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_–_-

I’ll be able to thoughtfully tap my chin while I consider how beautiful my dining table would look for the holidays if I would purchase the assorted tablecloths, bowl holders shaped like turkeys, burlap table runners, pheasant feathers, and plates in autumn colors. This could take an hour or more by myself, but the children would last 13.4 seconds before they reminded me I don’t live in a Pottery Barn world anymore. They have become my willpower.

The frugal person within me who longs for a simple life knows I already have enough blankets. I don’t need any more candles or picture frames or couches. And for the love of all that is holy, what would I do with a turkey bowl holder for the other 364 days of the year?

The frugal person within me will remind myself of our friend Jeff’s Facebook post this morning, where he announced that he and his wife Lisa have finally paid off all their debt. They’re excited. They’re thrilled. They have only the mortgage and then they’ll be really, truly, financially free.

Financial freedom is not what happens when a person spends too much time browsing in stores designed to suck you in and show you every beautiful thing you never knew you needed.

I don't even know what this is, but I want it real bad.  (Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn: http://www.potterybarn.com/products/cast-leaf-metal-earthenware-lidded-butter-dish/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_--_-)
I don’t even know what this is, but I want it real bad.
(Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn: http://www.potterybarn.com/products/cast-leaf-metal-earthenware-lidded-butter-dish/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_–_-)

Financial freedom comes when you stay out of the stores and choose to be content with the blankets you already own, the regular bowls that work all year round, and the couches you can buy for $100 at the local resale shop. It comes one dollar at a time, as each dollar is committed to good choices, not momentary pleasure.

I know this, but usually my kids get me out of there before I have to exercise my own willpower. Tonight it’s just me and the beloved, and he just shakes his head at me and lets me do what I want.

Let’s hope I remember what I already know, because I could stay out of the store and save myself some grief, but it’s all just too pretty. I think I want to try out my willpower and see how long I last.

saving money is easy

“I Can’t Hear You, God. I’m Too Busy Doing Stuff for You.” (Things I Said This Weekend.)

The last time we chatted I told you about the apple crisp I was making for small group. By the time our friends arrived at 6:00 our house smelled like heaven– apples and cinnamon and deliciousness.

By 6:30 our house smelled like smoke because of the fire in our oven.

Welcome to our home. We like to burn dinner for our guests as frequently as possible.

Did you know that if enough olive oil drips off the pizza crust and pools next to a very hot element it is, indeed, flammable? So while my husband stood near the oven and made calm, quiet observations about how high the flames were reaching and our friends sat nearby and watched this spectacle, I was standing on a chair waving a magazine by the smoke detector because if one goes off, all of them go off, and it is literally loud enough to call Lazarus from his tomb.

Eric says we have a ministry of helping other people feel better about themselves, and we have proven this true again. You may recall that earlier this summer I incinerated the hot dogs on the grill for these same folks.

Ahem. Tonight’s dinner is in the crock-pot, and so far nothing is on fire.

Flames and craziness aside, we love this. We love it when our house is full of friends and family and smoke.

And I have a family and friends I love, a job I love, a church I love, laundry I’m not so crazy about, and a bunch of other things to do, like read and sleep and keep the house decent. I’ve been keeping up on my writing and blogging, but only halfheartedly, because it’s been pushed to the side by the other important things in life.

I’ve also been trying to get ready for a workshop I was teaching at the Breathe Conference this weekend. The closer the conference came, the more agitated I grew. I wondered why on earth I was even included in the workshops, because, obviously, my talents lie in the culinary and parenting aspects of life, not the writing or teaching world. I’m barely even a writer at this point, I thought to myself.

Saturday came and I put on my big girl sweater and headed to the conference, feeling like a fraud who should stay home and do some laundry.

But at the conference, I was reminded.

I was reminded of my calling to write. I was introduced to lovely people with the same weird calling. God and I had a little moment where He gently pointed out that maybe I’ve let all those other good things get in the way of listening to Him and focusing on this really important thing. Of course I need to parent my children well–I’m the only mother they’ll have. I don’t get to take a powder just because I like to make words line up one after another.

But I’ve let the immediate fruit of other ministries take precedence over the longer, slower fruit of writing. Let’s face it– I can march to the kitchen and have hot cookies and happy children in less than an hour. In comparison, writing takes a lot longer. I have a book coming out in the spring, a book I started when my son was in preschool five years ago.

My calling is frustrating, so I’ve been ignoring it (and God) by being really busy with a lot of other things that require my attention. It’s hard to hear well when you have your head stuck in a dryer, trying to find that small lost sock. It’s hard to hear well over the smoke detector as dinner scorches.

It’s hard to hear when you aren’t trying to listen.

Jesus, were you talking about me? I'm seeing a connection.
Jesus, were you talking about me? I’m seeing a connection.

 

But I’ve been reminded of how wonderful this calling is, and I’m excited to start listening once again. I’ll still be serving inedible food for anyone who cares to stop by, but I’ll be listening too.

What about you? How’s your calling going? Does it need a refresher?

Here are some links to my friends who were also at the conference– here’s what they have to say about it:

How to Listen: Start with Shutting Up the Nagging Voice of Perfection in Your Head

Does anyone else have a constant running voice in the back of their minds? My little voice is always whispering “Keep everyone happy; keep everything perfect. Keep everyone happy; keep everything perfect.”

Over and over again, like a iPod stuck on repeat, this runs through my mind, just under my thoughts. On one hand, it motivates me to keep things together, pick up the house, and give a rip about the people next to me. It’s not all bad.

But sometimes, if I don’t realize it’s actually running the show from the background, it causes a lot of undue stress. Because I can’t keep everyone happy all the time, frankly. Sometimes the people around me just need to suck it up and suffer, and there’s nothing I can do about. For example, one of my children wants to spend 24/7 with her friends, and the other child wants to spend all waking moments with some sort of a screen in front of his face. They’re unhappy when I pull rank and close the house social calendar down and then take the iPod, put it under a wheel of the van, then gleefully back over it until it’s a pile of smithereens.

I haven’t actually done that to the iPod, yet. But a mother has to have some dreams and aspirations, I tell you. Something to get her through the day.

But back to the voice in my head. I’ve realized it’s the first dragon I must slay in my efforts to be a better listener. My husband comes home from work and (occasionally) has things to tell me. And while my body might be still, pretending to listen, my mind is running through all the things that aren’t perfect and the people who aren’t happy– The dishes are piled up; I must wash them. Look, there’s a dirty sock. The neighbor kids are here to play in the backyard; my kids have been watching TV all afternoon. If my grandma shows up she’s going to see I haven’t scrubbed the fridge, I’m thinking while he’s talking.

Have I heard one word my husband has said? Nope. I’ve caught “blahblahblah-Ken moved to first shift–blahblahblah a baby boy for the blahblahblah.”

I’m doing my best to shut up the voice and really pay attention– to Eric, to the kids, and anyone else who happens to wander through my life. Last night after a meeting a friend and I needed to have a conversation, a real one. Not a hey how are you doing, I’m fine, gotta run kind of chat. We found a quiet space and I really, really tried to tune out the voice and tune her in. I knew my family was probably ready to go. I knew my husband, due to a slumber party that was planned at our house, was handling four excited children and a minivan full of sleeping bags. Is there a man on earth who likes to be left alone in this situation? I think not.

I tuned out the desire to run out to the van and make it all perfect for everyone because there were bigger issues at hand. My friend had something to say.

Philip Kenneson, in his book Life on the Vine, has this to say:

Carefully listening to another is itself an act of kindness, and it may sometimes lead to further action on another’s behalf. But how will I know what you actually need, or you me, if we do not take the time and effort to really listen to each other? In many ways genuine listening is a little like death, for it requires us to set aside our agendas for the moment in order to be fully present to and for another human being. In so doing we offer ourselves to others as vehicles for God’s presence and grace. (p. 150)

I agree. Genuine listening is a little like death, because I must set myself aside. Am I good at this yet? No, not really. But this is my first step. What’s yours? What keeps you from really listening?

P. Kenneson, listening

By the End of Today We Will Own Two Spoons and a Toothbrush

As a wife, I have many irritating qualities. One of them is my tendency to read long passages of a book to my husband. I had no idea of how horrible this was until my own children started reading me long passages out of the books they were enjoying, and then suddenly I realized I’d been torturing my husband for more than a decade.

Sorry, dear. So sorry.

I’ve tried to get control of myself lately, but sometimes a book is so good or funny I can’t help myself. Sixteen pages into The Big Tiny I lost my resolve to keep my reading material to myself and started reading to Eric.

It might have been earlier, actually. Perhaps page 2. I’m hazy on the exact page.

But the book is just so good and funny that I can’t help myself. Dee Williams, the author of The Big Tiny, had a health emergency (a wonky heart), causing her to choose a new life path. She literally doesn’t know if she has a year left, a month, or an hour to live. (Neither do any of the rest of us, but at least she has one of her issues labeled by the medical community).

So, of course, she built an 84-square-foot house. By herself. With a wonky heart. 

Photo courtesy of yesmagazine.com
Photo courtesy of yesmagazine.com

She sold her big house and got rid of almost everything, from her beloved art to her extra soy sauce. Now she can work part time and spends her life investing in the people around her– caring for an elderly neighbor, playing games with the kids next door, and volunteering. Also watching a lot of crappy Netflix, just like the rest of us.

I picked up this book because I have this not-so-secret burning desire to get rid of everything and live in the simplest, least-chaotic way possible. I don’t want to have any bills to tie me down, I want insurance to be a thing other people need, and I don’t want to trip over 19 pairs of flip flops and a garden clog when I try to let the cat in each morning.

Nor do I want a cat. But we’ve already discussed this.

As I read this book I get lulled into Williams’ prose, then startled awake by conflicting thoughts: I can do this, too. Wait a minute, no I can’t. Then I go back to reading and find another paragraph like this, which makes me want to try anyway:

Moving was hard, but not impossibly horrid, and in fact, over the long haul I found it incredibly liberating. After a short bit of time it became more like stripping naked on the beach, kicking off your clunky shoes and pulling your shirt off while simultaneously using your foot like a hand to yank off your sock, preparing for the way the warm sea will feel against every dimple and fold of your body. Letting go of “stuff ” allowed the world to collapse behind me as I moved, so I became nothing more or less than who I simply was: Me. (The Big Tiny, pg. 175)

This sounds wonderful, but is this for me? More importantly, is this for us? I’m not operating in a vacuum, here. Dee’s circumstances (single/no kids) allowed her to shed her old life and then invest more in relationships and people. Her choices have enriched her loved ones. I’m afraid that if I did this I might traumatize my children and husband. They apparently have no interest in getting rid of everything except two spoons and a toothbrush, sharing a wheeled home so we can glean fruit and take it to the homeless shelter each week.

Is there a happy medium that works for families? What do you think? What burden or responsibility would you most like to shed, and what would you have to do to release it?

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

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