Category Archives: Thinking out loud

An Open Thank You Note to My Advent Angels + A Word About Giving and Receiving

On one of the final days of November, I received an e-mail from the pastor of our church telling me that he had a box of gifts that someone wanted us to have. We wrote back and forth a couple times to work out the logistics of my getting the box. Having been in the situation of “needing” extra help from others over the holidays for some time now, I expected this to be some packages to be saved for Christmas Day to be shared with my family. I picked up the mysterious box from the church office the last day of November after choir rehearsal ended. My son carried to the car and then into our house when we got home. I opened the box eagerly to see what it might be.

Inside, I found many prettily wrapped gifts with tags attached to each one along with a typewritten note from the givers of the box. Generally, the note explained that this box contained a gift for me for each day of advent. It was prepared by two people who wanted to help me remember my worth as a “daughter of the King.” The box also contained a generous gift card to use to purchase some things for my family.

Tears were my first response because I was humbled. I had spent much of October and November wondering how we might purchase gifts for our kids for Christmas without incurring more debt. November was a hard month, as we were forced to purchase new tires for our van early in the month, and then I really felt God nudging me to visit my mom with the family for Thanksgiving, a trip from which we had just returned. The expense of the trip was felt in the family budget. When Mark went back to work at his part-time job that first week after we got home, he was greeted with the news that cutbacks are coming soon, and that his job would be cut in some fashion. So I felt sure that this box was evidence of God’s notice of my concern and worry about the coming Christmas season. Then, of course, beyond Christmas gifts, I was concerned about how we would manage beyond December.

However, my second response was not as pious as the first. My second thought was, “How needy do we seem?” And, “Are we always going to be the family that needs help?” I was getting more than a little angry with God for once again putting me on the receiving end of someone’s charity.

Yet, as the month of December wore on, I woke up each morning and was delighted by each small gift from my “advent box.” I received blank books to write in, a beautiful tea cup and saucer set, lotions, cooking utensils, a book, slippers, socks, Christmas items, and a very pretty snowflake necklace, just to name a few of the things from my special box. Every gift had a different tea bag attached to it, and I was thrilled by each one.

God was working on my attitude through the generosity and kindness of these special sisters in Christ who decided to bless me this advent season. Whoever they are, their gifts showed that they had some idea of what I like and what would make me feel special. These were not just gifts for the sake of having something to give, thoughtfulness was behind each one.

In addition to these gifts from my “secret Advent Angels,” as Christmas drew closer, Mark and I received anonymous gifts from others at our church to help with Christmas expenses. I also received gifts of thanks and kindness from people where I work that added to our holiday celebration. As I entered worship on Christmas Eve, I felt very blessed by God for the way He once again showed me that He is my Father in Heaven who wants to give me good gifts. The gift of His son Jesus was revealed to me over and over again through the kindness and love of others given to me and my family this Christmas season.

As I alluded earlier, this is not the first time we have been in this situation. Truly, every year, our family receives some sort of unexpected blessings from anonymous givers, and it is not just at Christmas time.

We are NOT really poor in the truest sense of the word. We are struggling, to be sure, but some of that struggle is the result of our own actions in the past. Yet God is not stingy in His blessings to us. He does not sit back with a record book and review all the decisions we have made to determine whether we deserve to be blessed or not. He gives to us and blesses us because He is our Father who loves us. That is all. Oh how I need to learn that lesson with my own children! Perhaps that is why we are not yet in the position to be the giver. I long to be the giver. I long to be the one who is able to bless others. Yet I wonder how much of that is pride. How can I know?

Here is what I do know—God has faithfully met our family’s needs for 20 years now. He has not seen fit to take us beyond that yet, but He has never forsaken us, and, I believe, He never will. Once again, this past Christmas season and year brought many evidences to us of God’s lavish grace. So to those of you who were a part of that, who were instruments of God’s grace to us during this time, we are very grateful. We appreciate your acts of love and faithfulness. We appreciate your being Christ to us. I pray that we can be as generous to others in whatever ways we are able. I want to remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive and to live accordingly.

About a Boy

about a boy

“A person’s life is like a TV show.  I’m the star of The Will Show, and the Will Show is not an ensemble drama.”  — Quote from Will, one of the main characters in About a Boy

This post is loosely related to the last one.  Have you ever seen the movie, About a Boy?  It is one of my favorites.  The story is about, well, a boy, named Marcus.  He is nerdy and “poor” and lives with his single mom in a suburban environment in England.  He finds himself wishing for friends, and through an unlikely connection, he meets and becomes friends with an adult man, Will, who is single and lives by the philosophy that all men are islands.  By the end of the movie, both Will and Marcus both discover that life is better when lived in community.  As Marcus comments, “Couples need back-up.”

I am thinking a lot about what living in community means.  The fact is, with 4 kids in a city with no family, community is very important to us.  We count on the help of others every week to make our lives work.  That being said, it isn’t easy to do this.  Sometimes it feels like we are needy–like we are the only ones who have to make that phone call to ask someone to pick up one of the kids because we can’t get across town in time.  I would like to feel more like we can live in community where there is give and take, where people feel comfortable calling me to ask for help more often.  Sometimes I think people don’t call us because we are known to be busy, but I also want to be known to be generous and accommodating and helpful when it is within my power to do so.

I started this post on Saturday of last weekend, and interestingly, our pastor preached a sermon on Sunday about the community of believers in the Book of Acts.  My husband also preached a sermon where he talked about community.  Hmmm . . . coincidence?  I don’t think so.  I think we all long for more relational lives of meaningful interaction with others. But in our society, it is difficult to bring about.

In About a Boy, Marcus sensed what he wanted/needed, and he started to pursue it until his life looked more like what he longed for.  Real life, unfortunately, is not as neatly constructed as movies or over in a couple short hours.  So we have to work at things for the long haul.  Now I am challenged as to how best to pursue community in my own life without turning others off in the process.

Building Friendships as Grown-ups

The other day at work, the 23-year-old ministry associate who works in my office asked me, “How often do you and your husband get together with other couples your age?”

I answered,”Maybe once a month now, because, well, we have 4 kids, 2 jobs+, a dog, and only 24 hours in a day.”

He was a bit disappointed with my answer.  You see, he and his young wife have been in St Louis for about 2 years, and they haven’t made a lot of good friends.  It is hard to go from the college environment where all you do is study, sleep, eat, and think of ways to socialize with all those people who are just like you and who live right next to you!

It takes real work to make friends after you enter the adult world.  Even in the church, where building relationships with other Christians is supposed to be part of the deal, it isn’t always easy.  We have to go out of the way to strike up friendships, and even then, it often feels unnatural and awkward.  If you’re married, you have to figure out ways to include your spouse in new friendships.  Then, add the kids, and you have to work them into the equation, too.

The sad thing is, that even in adulthood, we feel those same insecurities we had in high school about reaching out to other people.  We worry about reactions.  We worry about rejection.  We worry that our houses aren’t up to par for visitors.  We worry about being vulnerable.

I propose that we have to get past all these worries and just get out there and make the effort.  We have to set aside a day here or there every so often and make a plan to get together with friends.  We can’t live in fear, and besides, as Christians we are commanded to love one another and to bear each others burdens.  It’s a lot easier to obey those commands if we take the time to get to know the people in the trenches with us.

Wassup Wednesday — 17 — Once a month now? Maybe

Opportunity.  That’s what my new boss calls problems or challenges in life.  The cynical me thinks it is pretty cheesy.  I even joke with him about it by referring to difficult issues that arise in the office as: OPPORTUNITIES–said with fake enthusiasm and a big plastic grin!

But I have to admit that there is something to thinking about life from a more positive perspective.  Despite many “OPPORTUNITIES” in our life this past month (and, let’s face it, practically always), God continues to show us how He can provide for and sustain us.  Sometimes he uses friends and family; sometimes He brings about some unimagined circumstance, and sometimes He just provides you with the mental, emotional, and spiritual stamina needed to maintain an even keel through what’s seems a storm of life.  Most of the time in my life, I have managed to come around to resting in God’s grace through difficult circumstances, but it really does make things much more peaceful to remember that grace at the start of a challenge by thinking of it as an opportunity for God to show His grace and glory to me and to those around me.

Psalm 73:28

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.

Hebrews 10:22

Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

James 1:2-8

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Wassup Wednesday – 15 Pensive


New job is going well.  I am on a big learning curve, so it will take some time to get a routine going.  But it still feels like a good fit.  Mark is a trooper, and the kids and I are missing each other.  But so far we are managing, and we’ve been eating dinner together most nights.


So work, and family, and the details of my life are always on my mind, but the last few days my heart has been heavy for other people.  We have young friends who are going through a terrible trial, and I hurt so much for them.  I don’t know how to help, but I am praying.  My own extended family is also facing a trial.  My brothers were involved in a car accident last week.  One brother was driving, another was the passenger.  The driver of the car they hit died.  They are awaiting news of an investigation of the accident regarding fault.  In addition, they are also dealing with the guilt involved for the life of the other driver who is now gone and who left behind a wife and three children.  I am concerned for my mom and my brothers and the family of this man.

God is good, and God is faithful.  I have to trust He knows what is best, but sometimes it is hard.  This is the passage that is giving me comfort this week in regard to all that is on my heart and mind:

Romans 8: 18 -39

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
God’s Everlasting Love

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Parental Encouragement

For oh, so many years, I have felt like an octopus in church–or at least like I needed to be a creature with 8 arms to keep my little people in some modicum of decent behavior as our family attempted to worship God.  For 6+ years, I was doing most of my pew gymnastics solo as Mark was preaching every week.  Many Sundays, I felt like it was not worth it.

Something happened in church yesterday that confirmed my efforts were not in vain.   Immediately after the worship service, our oldest son, now 13,  said, “Mom, did you or Dad call Pastor and tell him about everything I have done wrong this week?”

I laughed and said, “No, why?”

“Well, this is the third week in a row that it seems like he was talking about stuff that I did,” he replied.

“Maybe God called Pastor about you, ” I said.

I laughed because only a kid thinks the world revolves around him so much that the pastor of his church would direct his sermon to him.  But the emotion that overcame me the most was joy because this means for at least the last 3 weeks, my 13-year-old has been paying attention to the sermon.  I also must add that after years of unwelcomed prodding to participate fully in worship by singing vigorously and to become fully engaged while reading the liturgy, he, along with his younger brother, can both be heard clearly by their fellow parishioners.

With this experience fresh in my mind, today several friends on facebook linked this article by Pastor Doug Wilson that encouraged me further in my parental efforts in the pew.  I am nearing the end of my physical struggles to parent in the pew, but I still have a pretty rascally 6-year-old daughter who needs some gentle prodding regarding behavior during worship.  So this encouragement is still needed to get me through to the end.  But I also need it because while the physical struggles are ending, the emotional and spiritual struggles are really beginning to heat up.

I now see why people want to keep their kids little forever.  As I see mine starting on the visible path to adulthood, I get more and more driven to pray for them. It would be so much easier if I could just keep wrestling with them to keep them still and quiet during church.

Wassup Wednesday – 7

So here it is Wednesday again . . .

Pictures: From our church’s harvest party

News: Tonight, Mark and I surgically removed a red plastic peg from Charis’s ear.  It took bribery to get her to remain still enough to put the tweezers far enough into her ear to get a decent grip on the thing, but hurray, no trip to the ER was necessary!  The whole shenanigan happened just when I was about to head out the door to take Calvin to football practice, so we managed to get a night off from practice because at that point we weren’t sure whether we would be home or at the ER.  So the incident did have a silver lining. 🙂  The peg game was thrown away after the procedure was complete!

Kids: Football is over in 2 – 3 weeks (playoffs make the schedule a bit uncertain).  Calvin has started practice with a homeschool basketball team, so there will be some crossover.  We are committed to the idea of having him be playing a sport all the time to keep him occupied.  You know, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right?  Nevin opted out of basketball because it would prevent him from playing indoor soccer that starts later in the year.  Charis also hopes to play indoor soccer this year.

Evangeline’s first concert with Kirkwood Children’s Chorale is the second Sunday in November.  Then her choir will perform with the Nutcracker at the Fabulous Fox Theater the first weekend in December and with the St Louis Brass at Catherdral Basilica the third week in December.  It is really exciting that she’ll have exposure to such great cultural events.

Inside Cathedral Basilica

Little ol’ Me:  I am on book 3 of the Harry Potter books.  I think I’ll finish soon.  I have also started reading Simply Christian by NT Wright.  I’ll let you know what I think as I read more.

I am mostly feeling torn or unfocused.  Homeschooling is going fine in the sense that the kids are learning what they need to know.  However, I need to be better at focusing on them and less focused on how I might solve all our family’s problems somehow through endless internet searches.  So if you are ever praying for me, pray that God would keep me on the task at hand with less worry about the future.  He is in control–thankfully, I’m am not responsible for everything.

We also have some house projects that must be completed.  I am not sure how this will happen, but we need to make some real plans and “get ‘er done.”

Day is Done: Hump Day is over.  Enjoy your Thursday and your weekend!

Early to bed,

night owl, or burning the candle at both ends?  I tend to be option #3 because I enjoy having time to myself, and “both ends” seems to be the only time to get that precious commodity.

I got to thinking about how some people are early risers, others are night owls, and some of us are both ends people when I noted the times of people’s comments on blogs or facebook. Truth be told,  I guess I am really am a night owl who wants to be an early riser, too.  So I pretend I do both.  Really, I drag myself out of be in the morning on most days after staying up too late the night before.

Right now, it is 12:45 am, and I intended to be asleep by midnight, but I am waiting for some nasty stomach symptoms to subside.  Two doses of the pink stuff have improved things, but I can’t sleep just yet.  So what else is there to do but blog about some mundane thoughts running through my mind?

So, which are you?  An early to bed early riser?  A night  owl who seems to have a daily hangover?  A “I only need 4 hours of sleep a night, and I am still Mary Sunshine who runs 4 miles every day?”

Talk amongst yourselves.

I Want Perfection, and I’m Not Willing to Pay for It!

I still peruse craigslist job listings searching for more at-home income possibilities.  Yes.  I know.  When do I think I will fit that into my already over-crammed life?

So in my perusal of craigslist jobs, I came accross this ad.  Here are the basics of the listing:

BookKeeper Extraordinaire-No Health Benefits (West County)

1) You know QuickBooks incredibly well
2) You have reconciled Quickbooks on a daily/weekly basis with multiple accounts
3) You are well organized.
4) You allow NOTHING to fall through the cracks

Please send:
1) Resume
2) Your favourite film character and why

Flexible Hours

This employer is looking for an incredibly valuable employee.  He/she wants someone who is trained and experienced in the use of a somewhat complex bookkeeping/accounting software application.  The employer is also looking for a perfectionist who never makes mistakes.  He/she wants someone to help keep the business organized.  And, on top of that, he/she apparently wants someone with a personality since the applicant is asked to submit a favorite film character with the reasons why.  Perhaps this is requested because the employer wants the applicant to have writing skills, too.

One would think that this valuable employee would be worth a lot to the prospective employer with all that is being asked.  The pay scale listed for this perfect bookkeeper who never makes mistakes, who has a personality and writing skills–$12 – $15 an hour!  That apparently is the going rate for perfection these days.  Oh, and don’t forget, Perfection should not expect health benefits either!

What’s Running through My Mind

My friend Jennifer wrote a great post about her efforts to become more physically fit and her attempt to tend to her spiritual health as well.  Finding balance in this life is hard–whether you’re a mom or a mogul.  The distractions of the world are always beckoning, and spiritual pursuits can fall by the wayside.

In recent posts here, I have talked about my own attempts to become more physically healthy.  So far, I am forging ahead with my walking efforts, and eventually, I hope to be running part of the time.  However, I have really allowed my spiritual exercises to wane over the past couple of years.  I pray quite a bit because there is just so much to pray for in this life.  But reading Scripture and listening to good teaching hasn’t been as much a part of my life as I would like.

So in an attempt to feed my mind with some spiritual food today, when I was going out for my walk, I dug up my husband’s old sermon tapes from his years as a pastor.  Yes.  I said tapes–cassettes–you know that horribly ancient and inferior technology.  We don’t have a lot of Mark’s sermons on mp3s or even cds, but that’s ok.  We don’t have a great mp3 player or cd walkman either.  But I do have my old cassette walkman from the Dollar General.  I popped the tape into the walkman, and, well, I walked.  I was so encouraged by Mark’s sermon on Luke 8:19-24, that I am planning to go through all the sermon tapes we have.  I was struck by how I have not taken advantage of this great resource for biblical teaching that I have in my own house.  And, while I love my husband’s preaching and teaching, we also have many other recorded sermons and lectures with lots of biblical content.  So it may take me a while to get through all that we have!  (Sidenote:  some of Mark’s sermons and articles and articles by other good teachers/pastors can be found here.)

God used my friend Jennifer’s post to convict me of my need to find ways to make spiritual pursuits a more consistent part of my life.  Then, when I listened to Mark’s sermon, I was convicted of how I don’t appreciate how blessed I am (and we as a Christians in the US are) to have so many good Christian resources at our fingertips.  I should be so much more a woman of theWord than I am when there are so many ways for me to receive teaching available to me.  So I am praying that I will be more bathed in Scripture and that my life will reflect back Christ to the world more than it has.

Honestly, I have spent my entire life surrounded by Christians and good teaching, and I have always struggled with making the time to read the Bible and pray regularly.  So this is nothing new.  But it seems that just as I have to keep picking myself up off the ground regarding my physical nurturing, I need to  keep doing the same with spiritual pursuits.  Thankfully, God is gracious to forgive us our sins.  He always welcomes us to Himself with open arms.  Repent, be forgiven, and live for Christ.  This is the pattern of the Christian life–isn’t it?