October 20, 2014

Pumpkins and barrel-rides and 95 degrees - Oh my!

It seems to be in the last several years, the pumpkin patch thing is all the rage.  What college raves are to 20-somethings, the pumpkin patch scene is to the 30-somethings with young kids.  It has seemed to grow in popularity and I'm not quite sure who exactly we should blame.  Pinterest maybe?  The blogosphere?  Instagram and it's Lo-Fi filter?

When I was growing up, I don't remember this being a thing.  Pumpkins were bought at the grocery store and there was nary a patch to be found.  Now, you can find one on almost every corner or church parking lot and anyone who is anyone goes to the pumpkin patch.  It's like the big October outing that everyone goes to.

Every single year, I've gone with great pumpkin-sized expectations and I'm met with greater disappointment. All I want is a picture.  Just one.  But, the sun is in Tommy's eyes.  Or someone is crying.  Or it's muddy or 95 degrees or sometimes - horrifically - it can be both of those things.  To this very day, I have never been able to capture a great picture at the pumpkin patch.  Five years of trying and I'm still holding out for that perfect photo.

And there are people out there - real, live, actual people - who have managed to take their children to the pumpkin patch and get precious pictures of their babies.  I have seen them.  They exist.  I've even watched it go down in real life.  Their adorable baby giggles.  Their five children, all lined up in a row and matching outfits sit like civilized human beings and take pictures without fussing or complaining.

If you are one of these people, I know who you are.  I've long envied you.  I've coveted your pictures and your children and your perfect sweater appropriate weather.  And this time every year, I greatly dislike you.

Every single year, I join the pumpkin patch masses, thinking it will be my year.  I will get the picture of my dreams.  I will finally get the long awaited picture of my boys smiling or laughing and sitting perfectly on hay bales next to corn stalks, perfectly propped up next to round, orange pumpkins.  And they will be happy because we are at the pumpkin patch and this is the most wonderfulest day ever and how can they not be thrilled?  All of my fall dreams will come true.

And I'll take that picture and blow that puppy up on a giant canvas and display it in my house every fall as a trophy of the time I got the perfect picture at the pumpkin patch.  I will have the pumpkin patch picture of pumpkin patch pictures.


It just doesn't go like that.  Like never, ever.

We did the pumpkin patch thing on Saturday and made a family day of it with Todd's parents.  I coordinated the boy's outfits.  I optimistically wore a scarf.  Clearly, my hopes were high on how this day was going to go seeing as the high was like 175 degrees.

We drove an hour away from home to go to the patch of patches.  It promised games, hay-mazes, hayrides, barrel rides, pony rides, face painting, pumpkin painting, photo-ops, pig racing, watching how apple cider is made, a pettzing zoo and plenty of necessary junk food snacks.

After we had lunch at a questionable restaurant in a tiny town where our chicken tenders tasted more like catfish, we arrived at the pumpkin patch already hot, sweaty and irritable - every last one of us.

And then, the picture taking commenced.
This one is my favorite.  I had to laugh because Jacob burst into tears.  Because of course.
The sun was so bright, because it was a million degrees and felt like summer and Tommy couldn't look up at the camera even if I had bribed him with his very own pony.
 In the words of Jen Hatmaker, "I just can't even."
Todd and I at least got a couple of sweet shots.  He knows better than to squint or burst into tears.  And after all the picture-taking nonsense, I ripped off that scarf and put it in my purse where it belonged on a 90 degree day.
Of course, post photo-op with the pumpkins I wanted, this one decided to show off.
I mean seriously, this kid has the most magical smile. Can you see why my I want those darn pumpkin patch pictures so badly?!
We attempted some activities.  Tommy got to do the barrel-ride and I'm pretty sure it made his life.  We looked at ponies and ran through the hay-maze, but an hour in we were all dying of heat exhaustion and nothing sounded better than getting back into a packed car.  Because - air conditioning.

I left feeling a bit defeated.  Another year gone by without the pumpkin patch pictures I went there for.

But then my five year old pipes up in the back-seat, face covered in ice-cream and hot fudge, because we had to enjoy some ice-cream on this summer-like day and he says, "This is the best day of my life!"

And even if I don't have a canvas-sized trophy as proof of the best day of his life, maybe that's okay.

But only maybe.  Ya'll better believe I'll be back out next year.

October 16, 2014

Gratitude trumps fear

In a world that is growing with fear over terrorists and diseases and so many things unsure and unsettling, it seemed fitting to remember gratitude.  To thank the One who is on His throne – who sees all and knows all and somehow has a miraculous plan to work out all things for His good and glory.

Gratitude not only squashes out discontentment, but it silences our fears.

On this ordinary Thursday in October, I am grateful for....

Sunlight and October breezes coming through open windows.

The smell of sweet spices baking warm in the oven.

Faces, tears, hearts of precious teenage girls I spend my Wednesday nights with.

Health, safety, our home, my family, clothes to wear, food, water, cars to drive, jobs that provide income – even if only for just this day.


The ability to move, walk and push my body to do things it never has before.

Life-long friends.  The ones that endure every season of life, every age and trial and circumstance.

Remembering my mother – and those who remember her with me.  Memories, even grief at times, are gifts to our hearts.

Sweet teaching moments with Tommy.  Like how he lied yesterday because he was hoping to do something “fun” with dad - and if he made up a story then maybe we’d feel badly for him and treat him to a special outing.  We heard his heart asking for attention and quality time.  And he heard that it’s okay to ask us for what he is needing.

Jacob’s messes and disasters and chaos.  His laughter and liveliness and mischevious blue eyes.  Oh that boy, he has my heart.

My husband – loving, adoring, serving, flirting, playful, caring, supportive, helpful, gracious, handsome.  And mine.

My faith in Jesus Christ – He is my hope, my everything – in Him I have everything I could ever want, everything I need, even in death. 

Weaknesses.  For it’s there I cling to God the most and where He is most glorified.

Christmas music.

Being read to by my Kindergartener.

Our refrigerator covered in drawings and hand-prints made into spiders and notes that say "I love you Mom and Daddy."

How God wrote it in Scripture, again and again, over and over, that we were not to fear.  He is for us and with us.  He goes before us and stands behind us.  He never leaves us or forsakes us.  No terrorist, no Ebola virus, no political party, no controversial law will ever make that untrue.  I am grateful for such a God.

Are you afraid today?  Try gratitude.

Every fear has no place - at the sound of Your Great Name.

October 7, 2014

Love Your Neighbor

A few weeks ago on a quiet Saturday morning, I returned home from my morning walk to find my street flooded with emergency vehicles.  It didn't take long to see that they were at the home across the street from us where two elderly people have lived since before we even moved in to our home almost 6 years ago.  As the morning went on and I observed the activity across the street, it didn't take long for me to gather that someone had died.  No one was taken away in the ambulance.  The emergency vehicles left slowly.  And later, what looked like to be a Priest or Reverend came by and spent quite a bit of time there.  Todd found out later that evening that it was the man across the street who had died.  His wife found him on the floor in the kitchen when she awoke that morning and he had a sudden heart attack that took his life.

My heart broke as I thought about the woman across the street who had lost her husband, now a widow.  Ya'll - I didn't even know this man's name.  I don't know if he knew Jesus.  I don't know anything about him other than that he drove his car to check his mailbox down the street and that one time he left his water running in the front yard and Todd turned it off for him.  
In the almost six years we have lived on our street, we never spoke to them.  Other than an occasional wave and awkward smile, we have been disengaged, uninterested and living our own little lives, ignorant to the people around us.  We were never truly kind, never offered ourselves for anything and never reached out in friendship or to even see if they had any kind of physical need that we could immediately meet. I never made them cookies or wished them a Merry Christmas.

I'm not only heartbroken still, but I am ashamed of myself.

And I've wanted to go across the street to talk to the woman, but I feel crippled by my pride and awkwardness.  Her kids seem to be staying with her now and I've convinced myself that she is being cared for so what on earth would she need from a neighbor across the street who has never spoken to her before?

This last weekend, I went to hear one of my new favorite author/speakers/human-beings in person - the one and only Jen Hatmaker.  Jen knows a thing or two about loving your neighbor.  She is witty and clever and she lives out her faith in Jesus in tangible, messy ways.  She's hilarious and enjoyable and she is anything but rigid or serious and I find that inviting and relatable.  Jen is fun and her personality is magnetic, but mostly she is so very passionate about Jesus.  She taught also from a Jewish perspective - meaning she took us back to the culture of the time of Jesus and what made Jesus as a Rabbi and calling out his own disciples so incredible. 
I totally geeked out in meeting her and having her sign my book.  She made me feel like we were friends and we went way back in how she greeted me.  She is seriously super cool.  
But enough about my girl-crush on Jen Hatmaker....
A lot of her talk this weekend had to do with loving our neighbors and lifestyle discipleship - meaning that following Jesus means acting like Him.  Reaching out to the poor, the needy, the sick and suffering and doing life with those people.  She suggested inviting our neighbors to dinner, throwing a party in our backyard, mowing their lawns, asking them over for coffee, and simply making them a part of your every day life.  Get to know them - what are their hurts, their sufferings, their needs?  She talked about how reaching out to your actual neighbors can lead to other things like serving the homeless downtown or eventually adopting a child from a foreign country.  That's how her story goes anyway and it's pretty incredible.  Her book Interrupted is an insanely convicting read - I can guarantee you won't be the same after you read it.
In light of my neighbor's death, hearing Hatmaker's talk this weekend was especially convicting for me.  I will admit that I live in my perfect little bubble and I want to keep my kids in that same safe bubble where she said we gather "safely under the steeple and impact no one."  Ouch.  It hurt, but it's true.  We don't expose ourselves and don't expose our children to anyone outside of our family or church community really. We ourselves know nothing of poverty, and neither do our children.  We throw birthday parties and buy Christmas toys and relax on Friday nights with a movie. 

Following Jesus - making disciples as He commanded and then loving my neighbor?  I have come to sadly realize that I don't do these things.  I say I love Jesus - I know that I need and want Him more than any other thing.  I thirst and hunger for Him and feel as though my faith is more solid than it has ever been before.  When He leads me to do something, I follow and obey.  I regularly pray and read my Bible and I serve in my church and mentor and minister teen girls, I sing and praise His name.  I have discipled other women in the study of the Word.  Yet, I basically don't know anyone who doesn't already know God.  And my lack of really loving my neighbor still says that I'm more of a semi-follower. 

Jen reminded us that following Him means to be a light in the place I live, right where God has me planted.  That following is reaching out and going into the darkness just like Jesus did.  Going to the places that make me feel uncomfortable and offering hope and my time and myself.  What will my boys know of following Jesus if our "following" simply looks like attending church on Sundays and Wednesdays and reading our Bible at night and listening to Christian music in the car?  What will they know of following if they never watch mom and dad give Him away through love and service and kindness to our neighbors, the very people in our literal, physical sphere of influence.

As I have thought about what could possibly change in our every day life, I have started thinking about our home, our neighborhood and our little corner of the world where God has us planted:

The boys in our neighborhood play football or basketball almost every evening.  Todd could certainly ask to play along with them.  I could bake up some cookies and officially become the coolest neighborhood mom ever.  Not that this is the point.

There are several moms with multiple children down the street from me - Tommy goes to school with them now.  We could reach out and orchestrate a play date, book club or game night.  

My annual pumpkin carving party is coming up - maybe I could invite my neighbors and not just my friends?

Halloween is around the corner too - how could we reach out?  And not just opening our door and hand out candy, but go outside and greet others and get to know them. It's the one night of the year our neighbors come to us.

The holidays are coming too - is there anyone without a place to go for Thanksgiving?  Do they spend Christmas alone?  Could we open our home to others for the holidays so no one is left lonely on such a day?

The people on our side of the street are older and either have older kids or no kids.  Down the street is a party house full of 20-somethings who watch sports together on a very regular and loud basis.  And there is an odd couple a few houses down who let their bushes grow up to cover their front door like they don't want anyone to see in, yet they walk the neighborhood often and are outside regularly.  How could we serve and love on these people we have distanced ourselves from?

And ya'll know I can throw a fierce party.  I can certainly throw a party in my hood.

My head has been reeling with ideas and thoughts and I feel both nervous and excited, but I know that it's time to get over myself and reach out to the people around me and just love on them.  Because that's what Jesus said to do.  
Love your neighbor as yourself....

More than my neighbors, I will also admit that I do virtually nothing for the poor and the needy.  Any extra we have leftover, we use it for ourselves - our wants, our luxuries, our hobbies.  There is a world full of starving, lonely, sick people and I spend my extra money on crafts and home decor and new clothes.  And there's not anything wrong with that in and of itself, but I know my heart.  I know that I don't give anything away to those in need when I already have so much.  I turn my eyes away and pretend I don't see it or I don't have enough extra anything to really help or make any difference.  Yet this weekend, in my registering for this Jen Hatmaker conference, I bought a bag for $20.  And that bag, that small purchase, fed 50 people a meal.  FIFTY people.  

My heart has been grieved and curious and moved.  And not just because Jen Hatmaker is awesome.  But because God has been doing something in my heart all year long.  He has been cultivating a heart in me that follows closely and deeply and intimately.  All of this has felt new and big.  And I believe He doesn't do anything new or big for us to become some perfected, whole being so we can have some amazing awesome life and live our dreams and die happy.  But so we can reach out and give it away to someone else - so our very lives that have been touched by Jesus Himself can turn around and touch someone else, can make disciples and win hearts for His name.  The hope and joy and real life I have in knowing Jesus - why don't I want my neighbors to have that?  
I'm going to start with the woman across the street.  Some muffins need to be baked and a long overdue greeting is coming along with my sincere condolences for her loss.  I'm supposed to care for the widow and the orphan, the poor and the needy.  I think I should start now, with this widow, in this neighborhood.

I'm not exactly sure what will come from all of this, but stay tuned.  Our neighborhood better watch out, because we are gonna start loving on them like they've never been loved before.
Isaiah 61:1
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 
 Matthew 25:44-4
Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?  Then He will answer them, saying, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.
Mark 12:30-31
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”