Tag Archives: abundance

Productive Presence in an Unclear Future

I have no idea what the future holds for me.  I know you don’t either (and if you think you do, you’re deluding yourself), but I really, really don’t.  My career path could go in about 6 different directions at the moment, and those are only the paths I can see.  I live acutely aware of the fact that I am one phone call away, at any moment, from having my entire life changed.  I know you are, too.  We all are.

Though we never truly know what lies ahead of us, there are some days where we are more acutely aware of the fact.  For me, these days can be absolutely paralyzing.  I mean, if I don’t know where I’m going, how do I start? What am I supposed to be DOING right now?

These are the days most likely to be wasted by all of us, and we tend to do this in a few different ways: Circle, Wait, or Fix:

  • Circle:  We don’t know where we’re going, so we just start running…only to have to backtrack, circle around, restart.  We know we don’t know what we’re doing, so every effort is timid and half-way, but as a child with a skinned knee will run in circles to distract himself from the pain, we too will often just start running without thinking, without feeling.
  • Wait.  As Dr. Seuss calls it, “The Waiting Place: a Most Useless Space.”  Just waiting for something to happen to us – this can take a lifetime. All of our actions depend on someone else, so anything rocks our world and can have a dangerous degree of influence on our decisions.
  • Fix.  We don’t know where we’re going, but we know we don’t like it here, so that must mean we need to find something to fix…NOW!  We start noticing imperfections in our house, our spouses, ourselves.  We start reacting to these irritants, which only reveal more. We end the day exhausted, unfulfilled, and discontent.

I refuse to do any of those things today, even as clueless as I am.  I know that today is not the day to make any major decisions, start running down any new paths, or solve any of life’s major problems.  I just don’t have it in me.

Today is going to be a Productive Presence Day.  Due to the very fact that I can’t see the future, I am enabled to more clearly appreciate the present, and react accordingly.

So how do we get the most out of a Presence Day?  Love, Listen, and Learn.

  • Love: No matter what our circumstances, no moment spent loving is ever wasted.  Loving who and what is in front of us: our neighbor, our God, our family, ourselves, is the best way to seize the day we are given.  No clarity needed.
  • Listen: When we don’t know the answers, that’s a great time to shut up.  For those of us who find it hard to stay quiet and listen to the wisdom, needs, or even seemingly trivial details of another, these days are a perfect way to start.  Maybe soon we’ll learn to hear the Still Quiet Voice that has the real answers.
  • Learn: While many actions may be wasted if done down the wrong path, learning is not one of them.  Today may just be the day we have the patience to learn about the unknown now that we have the humility to recognize what we don’t know.

By practicing presence in this way, we have no fear of tomorrow, or any chance of wasting today.  But the greatest benefit of living in the present? Making ourselves aware of, and grateful for, the gifts around us- and that is a fundamental part of what’s called “abiding in God.”  And when we do that, everything else is taken care of:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

God is continually asking us to abide in His love, lie down in green pastures, be still and know.  Sounds pretty good on a day like today, doesn’t it?  And what happens when we do this for a while?  Look at the promise:

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)

So today, let’s all just abide; loving, learning, and listening all the while, knowing that if we do this, we will be preparing ourselves for the wondrous answers that reveal themselves at exactly the right time.

Enjoy today- that’s all we have to do.

Advertisements

Don’t Give Up; Give Away

We knew we wanted to end the trip on this note: our kids, grinning ear to ear, dressed in aprons and hairnets while clutching their bags filled with “custom-made” candy bars and commemorative “Hershey Chocolate World” tins.

We had accomplished more in two days than any family should be able in our long weekend trip to Pennsylvania: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bill, Ben Franklin’s Print Shop, Philadelphia Museum of Art (complete with running up the steps while playing the Rocky theme song), Philly Cheesesteak, Lancaster County, Hershey PA.

Problem was, it was only 6pm Saturday evening, and knew that the trip had come to its natural conclusion.  We had planned to get a hotel room and putz around for another day, but my husband had another plan: drive home now.  Save the hotel money.

We were all for it.

Getting the kids excited about spending another 3 ½ hours in the car would have been impossible but for a new game we’d recently installed in our family: The Savings Jar (pictured above with our “Bean Jar” from earlier posts).  Every time we decide not to spend money on something already in the budget, we write down the cause and the savings, and put it in a glass jar: “No hotel 3/2/12: $150”, “Ate ice cream at home instead of Cold Stone Creamery: $14” (yes, it’s that much for 5 people!); “Found same shoes at thrift store: $35 saved”.

Now it’s nice to save money and keep track of your progress, but what’s so fun and meaningful about the Savings Jar isn’t the pieces of paper that go into it, but what we DO with them: once the total has built up enough, half of the savings go toward a meaningful, intentional fun family purchase (TBD) and the other half to a meaningful, intentionally chosen cause.

What I love about this game is that it not only motivates us to save, but it makes sure that when we do, we have something to show for it- not just an abbreviated vacation and a fatter bank account.

Having a POINT to any sacrifice we make is key- otherwise, we fail to fully use what we have gained, or even worse…sacrifice for nothing.  Finding a way to recognize, appreciate, and use the savings in our lives can guide us to making intentional choices that will ensure nothing goes to waste.

What if we can do this kind of thing with ALL of our savings?

So often, we work so hard to save time and money, only to have them disappear into oblivion…never felt, used, enjoyed, or shared.  We work so hard to finish a job quickly, only so we can finish another job quickly.  What if we used the time saved to relax? Meditate? Reach out to a co-worker? Stretch?

We work hard to save money at the grocery store.  Where do those savings go? What if every time we saved $5 in coupons, $2.50 went to the Food Bank?

Sometimes “savings” are thrust upon us against our will.  The concert is cancelled.  Our date stood us up.  We broke our leg so can’t do the ski trip. What do we do with our new-found extra time, money, and opportunities?  Seeing the abundance in these situations is life-changing. Every time we can’t do one thing, it means we can do something else.  Don’t waste that something else.

And sometimes we sacrifice for no purpose.  I do this all the time- refrain from doing something I really want to, or purchasing something I can easily afford, just so I can feel good about myself for “doing without.”  This is stupid.  Unless we can see the good in it, don’t do it.  Period. Money and time are precious resources- they are meant to be used and enjoyed.

In this season of Lent, when many of us are giving up something, let’s make sure it goes somewhere.  Let’s not just give up, let’s get and give away.

Right now my favorite verse in the Bible is Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”  I see its application everywhere, but this week, let’s apply it to the things we are giving up-

This week:

1)      Inventory the things in your life that you are giving up, and ask yourself “Why?”  Examine your answer, and find ways you can quantifiably enjoy and share the results.  If you can’t answer “why?” then re-examine the point of your sacrifice!

2)      Look for new places in your life where you can painlessly “lean up” your spending of time, energy, or money…then find a place for the savings that both benefits you and your world.

3)      Consider starting a Savings Jar of your own, if it appeals.  If you already have another method of doing this, share with us!

4)      Meditate on Romans 8:28 in relation to the things under our stewardship.  What “things” could “work together for good” that we could give away? What “purpose” could they,  be “called” to?

Simply the Least

There is a magazine I dread coming through my mail slot every month:  “Estates and Homes”.   This free publication is filled with elite listings of city mansions and rural vacation homes (usually river or equestrian), ranging from $650K  “charming investment opportunities” to $if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford it “estate living at its best.” Why on earth they send it to me I have no idea- must be some sick sadistic joke.

What I’ve hated about this magazine is how it makes me feel.  Flipping through the thick, glossy pages, my reactions to each picture have fallen into one of two categories: snobbery or envy.  Snobbery if I’m able to label a home as gauche, overpriced, or a McMansion.  Hmph.  I wouldn’t want that one anyway.

Then…one will catch my eye. Whew.  That would be nice.  Ha! No wonder.  Estate living at its best.  Never in a million years could I have that.  Envy.

Two minutes after opening the first page, I have done nothing but remind myself of everything I cannot have, everything other people are enjoying besides me, and yet still managed to make myself feel superior to them because I’m trying to convince myself that at least I have better taste.

And this is what I do to relax and have fun!

This past week, though, I tried a different approach.  What if, when I opened the magazine, instead of viewing it as a tease for everything I’ll never have, look for the things I like that I CAN have?

This tiny change in perspective was absolutely revolutionary.  When I found myself obsessing over a certain property, I realized that what I loved was the idea of having a place to go on the weekends where we could enjoy friends, family, and a beautiful natural setting without having to drive far, make reservations, or have me cruise direct every minute of our day.

Did that dream have to come with 4 marble bathrooms and a private loading dock?

As I looked at these beautiful homes (I can call them beautiful now because I’m no longer threatened by them) I started to appreciate new things about each: This one is only 20 minutes away! This one has a volleyball net! This one is near a horse track! Cool.

Next step: What’s the LEAST it would take to enjoy those things ourselves? Could we rent a cabin a few times in these areas and explore? Are there campsites that offer these amenities? Do we have friends who’d loan us their place? Is there a special spot in the city that can become our family’s “special place” (you don’t have to own it, just love it) to enjoy on the weekend?

What’s even better, I realized that if I strip a desired possession or experience down to JUST what I want, I  am no longer burdened by the extras that would have taken up so much of my time, money, and energy.  I’ll never have to clean, and pay for, 4 marble bathrooms in order to get a spot on the river.  I realize now that even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.  For the price of those 4 marble bathrooms, I could have my spot on the river, pay for every other vacation my family would take in the next few years, and spend the excess time and money I still have left over on helping others.

And there’s something else this mentality gives me: peace, gratitude, and contentment.  If I’m ever invited to one of those fantastic houses as a guest, I’m going to be able to appreciate and enjoy it to the fullest…because now I don’t have to want it for myself, or convince myself that I wouldn’t want it anyway.

It’s okay to want things.  It’s okay to spend money we have on things that make us happy.  But what those things are can be surprisingly simple: Love.  Peace.  Joy.  Relaxation.  Time.  Beauty.  Water.  Air.  Sun.  Trees.  Family.  Space. A place to simply Be Still and Know.

If we seek those in their purest form, and we’ll be able to afford it…and have time and money leftover to help others find it, too.

“Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” – Ezekiel 34:18

The Real Purpose of Giving Thanks

When I was little, sitting through church, I had what many would probably consider a pretty blasphemous thought: “Why does God NEED us to worship and praise Him?  Isn’t that kind of selfish and conceited?”

I couldn’t match the image in my mind of the warm, loving God who is willing to give us everything with one that somehow needs us to spend hours a week telling Him how great He is.  I mean, I was told to try to be like God and do nice things for people without having to be thanked for them…so, what gives?

This nagging thought, unfortunately, stuck with me through adolescence, young adulthood, and all the way to early parenthood.  While I always saw the wisdom and meaning in the parts of church that dealt with how to live a better life and be a better person, the *worship* part of it honestly felt like a waste of time- mine and God’s.  God’s already great, He knows this, He shouldn’t have to hear it over and over from me.

Then I was given ungrateful kids.

My beautiful children, whom I love with all my heart and work so hard to give them the best of everything.  These cherished souls, to whom I am enslaved and receive the bounty of all of my labors.  The three recipients of my inheritance, into whom I have poured every ounce of my wisdom, genetics, energy, and money.

And so often they don’t appreciate a lick of it.

And that’s the key word: appreciate.  When I work so hard to give my kids something, and then they don’t appreciate it, the tragedy is with them, not me: they’re not happy.  They don’t understand what a big gift it is, and how much they should be enjoying it.  Yes, it’s rude to me when they don’t say thank-you, but what hurts the most is that they don’t fully USE what I just gave them- they don’t see its wonderful qualities, give it the time it deserves, or allow it to make them content.  Because they don’t recognize the sacrifice that went into the gift, they don’t feel the love extending from it, showering them with adoration.

Because they don’t appreciate it, they don’t fully enjoy it.

THAT is the purpose of giving thanks.  That is the purpose of worship.  It’s for us.  When we stop to express gratitude, the pause helps us recognize and appreciate the gift.  By appreciating it, we enjoy it more. And when we enjoy something, we use it more.

This is what we want for our children- to fully appreciate, enjoy, and use the gifts we give them.  God wants nothing less for us.

And isn’t it so much more fun to give a gift to a child who fully appreciates it? I’m not saying God plays favorites, but if a gift would be wasted on one child and fully used by another, to whom would you give it?  We are all called to be God’s favored children, and it has nothing to do with ability or BEING “gifted.”

It’s about how we receive the gift.  It’s there- it’s just time to recognize and appreciate it.

It’s time to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrating Authentic Holiday “Seasons”

It’s the day after Halloween, and I bet some of you have already seen your first sign of Christmas advertising.

It used to be that Christmas Commercial Season began as soon as Santa made his way past Macy’s department store in New York City Thanksgiving morning, which was bad enough, according my mom’s rantings.  Now, it begins the morning after Halloween night.

This is ironic for a few reasons.  First, we still have a holiday to celebrate, and it’s one that involves being thankful for the things we already have, rather than planning what we already want to get next.  Second, today is All Saint’s Day…the whole POINT of Halloween…in which we traditionally give thanks for the sacrifices made by those extraordinary people who gave up everything for their faith and their world, followed by All Soul’s Day November 2nd, in which we give thanks for everyone who has gone before us.

But these concepts don’t sell candy, cards, and toys, so we skip them completely to make room for more time for thinking about everything we NEED and WANT.  And more time for advertisers to tell us and our children what those things are.

In the last post, we discussed how to streamline our approach to the impending holiday season by focusing on what values we want to celebrate and preserve, and, on the flip side, what drama and waste we want to avoid.

This week, let’s think about how we can preserve the true SPIRIT of each holiday by stretching it out into an entire season.  Just as a bad habit is most easily broken by replacing it with a good one, we can fight the damaging commercialism of the holidays by replacing it with something authentic, pure, and simple.

Halloween: It’s not too late to salvage this! Spend some time today and tomorrow in gratitude for the “saints” and “precious souls” in our lives who went before us and helped us get where we are today.  Let’s talk about them at dinner tonight with our spouse or children.  Write a letter or call any living saints we have in our life and let them know what they’ve meant to us.  Mark your 2012 calendar to remember these two days next year and approach Halloween with them in mind.

Thanksgiving:  All too often, this holiday has been reduced to a marathon car trip, hours alone in the kitchen, a 30-second prayer, an hour of gluttony, and more hours in the kitchen cleaning up while the men watch football.

How can we turn the 30 seconds of thankfulness into an entire season?  Younger families can create a “thankfulness jar” for kids in which every day, something is written down to be saved and read at the Thanksgiving meal.  Older families with tech-savvy teens can create a Google document where everyone contributes funny stories and memories over the month to be shared at the gathering.  Single adults can reach out to one person a day in the form of a letter, a phone call, and email, or a coffee date, in which each person is told how much they are valued and appreciated.

By proactively celebrating the values of these holidays we endorse, we avoid a season of discontent, despair, and debt.  We also avoid any feelings of depravity from our children, because they will begin to view the season as something more than what commercials are telling them, and will be able to hold onto an entire season of pure, authentic, sustainable memories instead of looking for the quick, cheap thrill that’s gone in a moment.

Next week, we will continue this discussion with Christmas, and how to revive the concepts of advent and the 12 Days of Christmas to create a spirit of abundance and contentment in ourselves and in our children.

This Week:

  1. Share any Thanksgiving traditions you have that can be used to stretch out the season for all of us.
  2. Make a list today of all the people for whom you are thankful.  Write out a plan for how you will reach out to each of them between now and Thanksgiving.
  3. Start each day with a prayer of gratitude.  Keep a list of what the things are, and return to it often.
  4. Check out these links for wonderful prayers of thanksgiving, and read a few aloud:  http://www.churchyear.net/thanks.html
  5. Read the following passages in the Bible in which prayer and thanksgiving are intertwined:
    1. Daniel 6:10
    2. Philippians 4:6
    3. Colossians 1:3
    4. Colossians 4:2
    5. I Timothy 2:1

Eating Fruit in Season

I am a planner.  Ridiculously so.  I interviewed potential schools for my children when they were still in baby bjorns.  I’ve had a “bucket list” since I was 15.  I enjoy making lists to the extent that others enjoy eating chocolate, playing video games, or sleeping.

 

Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that I’m already considering where my children, ages 6, 8, and 10, may go to college.

 

This past beautiful weekend, we decided to drive to Charlottesville for a day to supposedly spend apple picking, but once we saw the RIDICULOUS line of cars, we decided to do something we considered a great use a time: show the kids the University of Virginia campus, and hope they fall in love with it (go, instate tuition!!!)

 

We never made it more than 50 feet onto the front lawn.  The kids never saw the Rotunda, never glanced at the stunning architecture, never asked a single question about UVA or campus life or even sports.

 

We made it to the Magnolia tree, where we spent the next hour climbing and playing before getting back in the car and heading for pizza and ice cream.

 

And as my daughter ran to me in the middle of the UVA campus, hugged me, and asked me to lift her into a branch, it hit me: Thank you God that these children are still with me and not going off to school yet.  Thank you Lord for this time, and for making me slow down enough to appreciate it.

 

I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude…and they all stemmed from recognizing the gift being given to me at that time.

 

My mother has always told me that women CAN have it all…just not all at once.  Each season in our lives bears a different fruits, and they are meant to be enjoyed when they are ripe….not prematurely…and fresh….not put away and canned.

 

Other fruits are great, too, but if they’re not in season, they will be imported, probably sprayed with something to make it artificially “keep”, and will lack the abundance of flavor and nutrients of ones meant to be enjoyed right here, right now.

 

So no…we never made it apple picking, but we did enjoy an abundant harvest, completely local and in season!

 

  1. This week, concentrate on what fruit is in season for your life, right here, right now?  Make a list of the gifts you have right now that will not be around forever.  How can you more fully appreciate and use them?

 

  1. What “fruits” are you craving that may not be in season at the moment? What things in your life do you feel you may be “forcing” or “importing”?  What’s not yet ripe? What is past its prime or requiring you to “spray with preservatives” to keep it artificially going?

 

  1. Within your day, are there better “harvest times” than others for certain activities? What about when your kids are home? Your evenings? Your early mornings? Your weekends? Your holidays? Are you fully matching your activity to the best time in which it would yield the most joy, productivity, love, abundance?

 

  1. Read the following verses in the Bible, and jot down what they mean to you, at this time in your life:

 

    1. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
    2. Psalm 90:12
    3. Acts 6:1-7
    4. Psalm 62:1-12
    5. Romans 13:11-14
    6. Galatians 6:9-10
    7. 2 Corinthians 6:2

 

Don’t skip this final step…it’s time well spent!!!

Finding Mustard Seeds

I did not want to go to the gym today.  I felt tired, bored, uninspired, maybe a bit sick, maybe more than a little lazy.  To be honest, I’d been struggling with that feeling about just about everything this week.  Tired.  Bored.  Uninspired.  Sick.  Lazy.  And completely unmotivated, because I haven’t been seeing too much progress in anything I’ve been trying to accomplish recently, and can’t see where I’m going in any of the career/volunteer/personal growth projects I’ve undertaken at all.

It’s been a terrible feeling.  It’s been a lack of faith.

Faith that something great’s around the corner.  Faith that everything’s going to be fine, no- great.  Faith that everything I’m doing and experiencing and struggling is going to amount to something.

I have a tiny job, with a tiny salary, that is scheduled to end after a tiny stint of time.  I have a tiny “ministry”, if it can be called that, in which I try to help people in what can often seem like tiny, insignificant ways.  I have a tiny inkling of what God wants me to do with my life (something with teaching, speaking, and/or writing), but can’t see how I’m going to do it.

It’s easy to see these things as tiny, dying embers of light, soon to be replaced with cold darkness.

So, from within this funk, I tried something.  I prayed for one thing, and one thing only.

Faith.

Prayed, and then actually managed to do something very difficult for me: meditate on it for a while.  Maybe just 4-5 minutes, but a start.  Faith, Lord, please.  Give me faith.  Help my unbelief.  Unbelief in myself, my future, your plans for me, your ability to produce something wonderful out of the tiny insignificance that is me.

Faith.  Give me faith.  Just a seed, please.  A seed that can grow.  A mustard seed.  A mustard seed that can grow into a mighty mustard tree.  A tree that produces every kind of fruit imaginable.  A tree with a river flowing out of it.  The tree described in the last chapter of the book of Revelations.  The tree of life, given at the beginning of the Bible and promised at the very end.  The tree I just learned about this past Sunday because I had to teach a high school Sunday school class on it.  The tree you’ve promised will be ours if we have faith the size of a mustard seed.  The faith you’ve promised we already have inside of us, waiting to grow.  The seeds I already have in my possession.  Seeds that are small and seem insignificant until you recognize them for what they are, and then plant them.  And wait.  Seeds I already have.  Already.  I have them.  I have faith.  I have it.

Wait, what? Did my mind just do that? Was that me speaking? God, did you make me do that?

So, this is why people meditate, huh? Why we’re supposed to stick around after we ask for something and listen for “God” to “talk” to us? This is what it sounds like?

Works for me.

I felt the tiny seed inside me, and felt it break open, even if just a crack.  I could literally breathe more easily.

Recognize it, Jennifer.  Appreciate it.  Then use it.  Use what you already have- so plant it.  Then stick around, water it, and make it grow.

God is telling me to stop carrying seeds around in my pocket while searching for someone else’s mustard tree.

We should all start with the seeds in our own pockets.  They’re there, and they hold the promise of our future and our purpose.  They’re there, they’re healthy, and they will grow.  Just stop, look, use, and wait.  Wait with faith.

What seeds do we have right now that simply need planting and watering?  A job we can’t see the future in, but is still ours?  A marriage that seems to be going nowhere, but is ours nonetheless?  Imperfect children that need our sunshine and water?  A few loyal sheep who need us to be their good shepherd instead of abandoning them in search for a larger flock?

Stop searching, and look in your pocket.  What seeds do you already have?

This week, Lord, let us concentrate on the blessings you have already given us, and how we are to stop, recognize, appreciate, plant, and nurture them.  Help us be good stewards to the bounty you have put under our care.

This week, let’s concentrate on collecting an inventory of what we already have, so we can start to recognize, appreciate, plant, and nourish it:

  1. Find a notebook to start a journal.  Don’t go out and purchase one- find one.  We have already have it, though it may come in a different form than we’d pick for ourselves at a store.  Start using it to record our daily thoughts and observations as we contemplate this week’s lesson.
  1. Read the following verses in the Bible, and spend some time meditating on how to recognize their meaning, appreciate its message, and use it in our daily lives.  Maybe just look up one passage each day:
    1. Genesis 1:26-31
    2. Genesis 2:8-17
    3. Matthew 18: 20
    4. Luke 17:6
    5. Revelation 22:1-5
  1. Share what “seeds” you’ve found that you believe may be common to many of us.  Help us find and appreciate the seemingly small and insignificant things that hold the power to Abundant Life, no matter what form they take.  Post them here, share them with anyone who needs it.  They’re there too.

.