Oct 13, 2014

On Adventures, Excellence, and Perfection

Usually I write my blog posts on Sunday, but this mish mash of thoughts was still perculating on Sunday as I snuggled in for the third night in a row and read two very different books.  As in, one was a decor book and one was on leadership.   However, God has a funny way of teaching me and He masterfully tied those two together in my brain to show me something I needed to learn.  An "Aha!" moment, if you will. On a side note, the third was on philosophy and science but somehow that didn't connect quite yet, though I'm sure God will when the timing is right.

 I know.  My interests are all over the board, don't even try to find the logical thread.  There is no such thing.  And then God makes one as only He can with a head like mine.

Do you ever have those moments when you know God is taking you to a pit stop on your adventure together?  I'm in a moment like that right now.  Adventures with God are curvy.  It may seem to take you here, there and everywhere.  Sometimes the adventure doesn't even seem to connect to the finished life goal you would like to see one day.  Sometimes that adventure takes us through hurdles and seeming road blocks to expose layers of personality and character that God needs to change and mature. But really, challenges add and don't detract from God's vision of fashioning you.  God has the finished vision in His mind and He can sometimes take us to destinations on the way that seem very out of place but are vital to our finished work and design, just out of view to us, but never to God.

So, in this spot, right here, with the "together we are adventurers" sign and the map garland of places we have lived and laughed hanging over my head, God took me to a new destination spot.

The first book is this one, The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith.  I've followed the Nester's blog for pretty much forever and I was eager to read this book of hers.  Her tagline is "it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful".  Which means she's my kind of gal if you even only kinda caught the gyst of my last post.  The book was as much as an excellent philosophy of living as much as it was a decor book.  I felt my soul saying, "Yep, yes, uh huh!" as I read and smiled along.  I couldn't put it down.
In one chapter, Myquillan quotes Sandy Coughlin who wrote: "Excellence is working toward an attainable goal that benefits everyone, while perfection comes from a place of great need - usually the need to avoid criticism and gain praise and approval from others."  Myquillan was pointing out that our homes need to fit the needs of the people who live there and comfort for those we invite in and not reach the unattainable goal of perfection which has us apologizing for and being ungrateful for the home we have been given.  This was about homes but my brain went elsewhere.  While I seem to have that somewhat nailed lately in the way of my home, God grabbed me and pointed out that I didn't have that so much nailed in other areas of my life.  And He was very painfully specific when I stopped to talk to Him about it in prayer.  Ouch.  God brought me to a screeching halt on the adventure train and asked me to camp out here for a while and this idea of excellence versus perfectionism.  Excellence is about others and goals that are attainable.  Perfectionism, while it sounds nice, is really all about me reaching for the unattainable and approval.  Again, a theme appears, which has been a theme all over this blog for months:  Its all about love.  God just showed up again and gave me another facet.

The second book I have just finished reading is this one, "Leading Up" by Joel Maynard.  I'm learning how to become a better leader in the role I have been given as a director the children's program at our church.  I have 80 volunteers working the program and I answer to people over me for how well it's running.  Eighty!  I don't know who's reading this but its a lot to me. That kind of responsibility is humbling, invigorating, frustrating, frightening, exciting, fulfilling, delightful and every other emotion in between.  It's not secret to anyone I work with that this was a job I turned down more than once through the years.  It's also not a secret that God definitely put me in this job through a series of twisty events straight from crazy town and I am 100% committed to it knowing God has a purpose for me here in this season.  God's adventure for my life is often laughable, often surprising, and very delightful. But just knowing an adventure is from God should also tip me off that He is planning on stretching and growing something in me. Doggone. Gear up.

 On a bad day whatever we do is about perfection - which Joel labels "insecure pride".  On a good day, it's about excellence - which he labels "humble confidence".   It was such a good read for those in leadership who lead in the middle  (which lets be honest, is just about everyone in leadership). In other words, you lead some, you answer to some, and navigating that tricky ground in-between, in a way the benefits all parties, is a challenging adventure.
I want to be able to have so much more of the humble confidence.  It's a work in progress over here. Humility to know it's never about me and to value everyone around me, over and under. Confidence that who I am and the way God has designed me gives me something to offer and I can speak into others.  It's delicate balance of listening and speaking all in a posture of love and edification of others.

Some say, well, I don't lead anyone nor do I have much to offer.  Halt right there and let me call that statement a bunch of unicorn poop.   You do.  You have much to offer and God will call you on this adventure too. If there is one confidence I know: God takes every child He has on crazy, exhilarating road trips. Sure, it may not be in vocational ministry but you have been specifically designed.  God's calling is to walk with Him on an adventure where he will ask you to offer what you are to others and develop in love.  As you offer more, He gives you more.  And before you know it, you are leading.  Leading is not an adventure for a few, it's an adventure for all who call Him Father and trust Him no matter where the adventure leads.  Maybe I should share how I ended up in the job I am in today, but that's another post.  Just know it didn't follow any typical "how to earn yourself a job" routes.  Nothing in my life ever seems to work out that way, nor do I usually seek out leadership opportunities.  

Be faithful, hold your hands open, and see.  I've learned to hold things loosely as the adventure takes me on many stops, but give it my all while I'm there.
One other thought.  When God gives you the next step, He throws in a mix of sugar and spice.  Delight and stretching.  Often pain.  
I would say that this adventure isn't for the faint of heart, but in the odd dichotomy of how God's kingdom works, I would say it IS a perfect fit for the faint of heart.  Yes, He stretches, but you are in the safest hands who WILL. NOT. LET. YOU. FALL.  You never grunt it out on your own and you will become more beautiful and whole than you ever thought possible.  His pain is the pain of a surgeon who is repairing.  It is not the pain of destruction from chainsaw (though it can feel like it, ask me how I know).  

So I would say go on your excellent adventure.
But then this reminds me of "Bill and Ted".  Does that totally negate what I just wrote with my clearly superior taste in movie quotes? 
 Still with me?  
Then let me lay one on you:
When you go on an this adventure you might just think in the words of Bill, "Ted, you and I have witnessed many things, but nothing as bodacious as what just happened."

Bodacious.  Welp.  Since I can't top that with anything much more eloquent than "bodacious", that about wraps it up.
I'm ending on a bodacious note.
The End.

Oct 5, 2014

Leveling with you

That's me.  Up there.  I have no makeup on in this picture and I'm sitting on the front porch chillin' in my messy braids and new $5 poncho rocking in my rocking chair which is on it's last legs.  Which means I'm at my real best self inviting you in to some honest chatty chat.

Once upon a time I was part of a play group where the mommies all read inspiring books together and swapped prayer requests.  We all had little ones underfoot, and boy, we needed those prayer requests.  So an inspiring book was picked...all about that Proverbs 31 woman.  Each chapter was carefully divided and then subdivided into areas of serving our family and keeping our homes top-tip.  With scripture to back. it. up.  Here it was.  The holy grail unlocking this wife and mother thing if only these chapters could be mastered. There were chapters exhorting us to aspire to healthy meals at all times, keeping the house spotless with tips to do it, how to clean, keep up a perfect budget, how to keep an encouraging and happy spirit at all times for our children and spouse, and you know, be the perfect wife.  With strong suggestions on how to make it happen.  Charts, and lists and tips.  Let's just say, I was NOT the party responsible for picking out that gem of fiction. So the inevitable happened.  A few picked it up with triumph.  Aha!  This would be the answer!  A few had their "fake" radar up but were nervously game.  And within two weeks we had our first mom snap.  She literally came into my home and chucked this book at my wall and yelled at it.  I bit back the suggestion of a book burning.  So at any rate, that book was toast at least figuratively though a few struggled gamely on and trailed off after a few more chapters.

I post ideas and pretty pictures, but I hope you don't think that being a perfect person is my philosophy of life.  Because it couldn't be farther from the truth.  I actually chose the tagline to my blog with purpose. "A little love makes even the weeds lovely" is a true statement around here.  This house, this marriage, this motherhood, this person called Jenny, is full of weeds.  It's a constant work in progress around here.  We try to make the guiding principle in this house love, but even that can get messy.

Oh you want an outward example? You want to see my craft room?  It's not the pretty kind that deserve whole blog posts showing it off.  Nope.  It's a messy, working space.  Here ya go.
Uh huh.  You're welcome. My point is that our hearts are the same.  They can be messy working spaces.  No book is going to give you the answers on this perfect way of doing motherhood and being a wife.  I think what flipped it for me in my mind was when my husband asked me to point out the SPECIFIC verse that told me toys should be picked up and healthy dinners on every night with dishes and laundry completed. Well, I opened my mouth to retort back with, "Well, everyone knows that it's...".  Well, daggum, he stumped me.  Maybe everyone doesn't "know" the exact one.  With of course, the answer being, well there isn't one.  No, I will not give anyone the title of that book lest you secretly go out and buy it having doubted me.  I'm sure the author meant well, but the point was that that was worked for her family and the way she loved them best.   Not the way all Christian women should do it to be holy.  It can be actually tougher yet easier and so much more freeing when you chuck the lists and get down to the brass tacks of loving.  Because that means having conversations about unspoken expectations and studying your people to see what makes them tick.

Here's an example.  I stink at doing dishes.  By stink, I mean that it's not high on my priority list and I don't regularly get to them.  Guess who does my dishes a lot of the time?  Tone, and it's his way of loving me.  And he kindly doesn't make comments when they aren't done but chips in.  We both know that we hate doing them after dinner because we eat late and we are too tired after the whole bedtime routine.  So we do them in the morning.  You want to know what wouldn't be loving?  Forcing our family rhythm to do them at night or making a big deal about them being done immediately.  Do I know families who can't STAND having dirty dishes in the sink and part of loving their family is getting them done pronto?  Yes, I do.  I grew up in one in fact.  When I visit, we get those dishes done, Stat.
So when I post pretty pictures and ideas, it's because I'm focusing on looking at those weeds and making them lovely.  I knocked my favorite picture frame off the wall one hour before my in-laws were supposed to arrive.  It was a doozy.  I broke the light switch and glass splattered everywhere and that large, multi-paneled frame was in pieces.  But the thing about weeds is that they can paralyze you.  That frame was never fixed and a blank wall stared at me for two months. You can get stuck.  That's where a little inspiration and not comparison comes in.  I still really wanted those family pictures up,  but nothing was going to compare to that purty frame I smashed.  After I came to terms with this factoid,  I bought a $1 raisin drying tray, hot-glued some twine and with some teeny tiny clothespins, stuck those pictures up.  Deciding it was still lacking in it's visionary glory, I propped open a vintage seasonal songbook found for $.50 on top with a dollar tree pom pom trim.  Well, hello new frame. Slap dash, imperfect, trash to beauty (in my mind).  My house speaks of my life.

What did I find this week?  Oh a new globe for $5.  See then what happened here was that I decided the fake nasty plants needed to come down and a display of globes and our airplane collection needed to go up there.  But then it was too bright, so I turned the books all around.  But then the pictures in front of the books were the hiding the beautiful page tones so I took them down.  But then I decided a teacup on each shelf would show off that collection and be a nod to tea and books and not hide the pages.  And then my son officially decided Mommy was crazy, having watched this whole process, and Tone wanted to know how practical it was not to see the titles.  I don't know, guys, work with me here.  It's pretty-ish right? (Oh hey, hi, me in the TV).  And they love me and work with it.
My second best find this week were these two deer for $5. Together.  I know.  I practically stole them since I've heard deer are so "in" this season in the decor world I don't belong in. Eh, one had a gold Christmas wreath around it's neck, so I slapped on a white berry wreath to hide it for the meantime.   Say, what, my plant is dying? I know.  Lets focus on the deer.  I just love them.
They bring to mind that verse, "As the deer pant for water so my soul longs after you."
Because really, let's not long for perfection. Perfection gets you nowhere but a book burning.

Let's long for the love of the Lord.  His love will make even your weeds lovely.

Oct 1, 2014

Teaching the Bible to Children at Home

Realizing that God gave me the responsibility to be the first person to reflect who He is to my children is a bit terrifying.  I'm fairly certain they'll regale their future spouse, or even counselor, with words like,
"A howler monkey has nothing on my mom when she gets going"
"My mom knew the Little Ceasar's Pizza guy's practical whole life story we went there so much"
"My mom (unknowingly OF course) once set me in time out at the park in a pack of fire ants" Whoops.

I mean, I make mistakes.  Sometimes big ones.  But hey, here I am entrusted by God with this responsibility of teaching my children who He is.  Sometimes by example, sometimes by admitting to them that I am not the finest specimen of humankind.  Ouch.  I've been thinking about how exactly to teach my children about who He is at their current stage, and how that actually looks for this family and the way we do life.
In all honesty, we are not the scheduled family.  We don't really take regular times for anything.  A scheduled family devotion where we all sit down together?  Bwahahaha! We have what I like to call "open ended routines".  Sure, we eat dinner together, but at different times every night, and sometimes it's more like a lunch together.  School is done a little bit different every day to work around other weekly obligations. But a few things have "stuck".  We do "tuck-ins" every night and we at some point eat a meal together each day.  I can work with that.

In thinking through what it is that seems to be important, one was knowing God's Word, the other was praying to Him.  It also seemed that knowing God's Word came through two ways:  Meditation on small chunks and knowing the over arching story.  So we are biting off chunks by memorizing verses in our "sit down" time at the table.  I combed the intrawebs  for verse cards.  Surely, I didn't have to recreate them did I? I was about to bite the bullet and admit that the intrawebs of information had actually failed me, Then I hit upon this little gem that seemed to be made just for me: little verse cards and with lovely vintage graphics.  They had "Jenny Plumb" written ALL over them, and I made them mine. Out came the laminator and I spent an evening printing, laminating, can cutting these puppies and stuffing this old truck with them.  300 verses later, we're in business and they're sitting smack dab in the middle of my table.  Some of the verses were truncated so before I laminated, I wrote the full verse on the back for the older two to learn.  The simple version is perfect for Tessa.

One other thought.  The Word of God is beautiful.  For me, boring plain verse cards just didn't invite an excitement to memorize.  But these made pulling out a new card feel like a new, tangible treasure.  The certainly invite my kids into memorization more than a plain white card would.  Ainsley has painfully read each one.  Her reading isn't quite up to par yet for some verses, but because they were child sized and beautifully pictured, it fascinated her.  Some might argue that the Word of God is beautiful in and of itself, and I do agree.  But still, something about turning the Word into something aesthetically pleasing also appealed to me.  I think the monks who painstakingly copied the first few versions of the Bible in the dark ages into gorgeous works of art would agree with me.
The other routine in the day that the kids just won't let me forget is their "tuck-ins" at night.  So this is when we fit in our Bible stories so that they learn the over arching story of the Bible.  We snuggle up on the bed together and read the next story.  For the girls, we are reading, "The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes" by  Kenneth N. Taylor.  The book pictured above is the version I had when I was little.  I think I picked it up at a yard sale.  It has since been redone into updated pictures but I still like this old version for sentimental reasons.  For Ainsley, I add in details that might not be in the simplified story.  The stories are short, in easy language, and has three follow-up questions that invite some discussion.
For Hunter, we are reading the Action Bible.  I know, every Christian parent on the face of creation seems to have this Bible and I'm not sharing something new.  Here is what I have noticed about the Action Bible as much as I love it: while it shares the story in a fascinating way to draw kids in, it does not necessarily share the purpose for the story.  For example, when we read about Jonah, we talked together about Jonah's love for a plant more than a love for the city of Ninevah who were his enemies.  When we read about Ezekiel and the dead bones (clearly appealing to my nine year old boy), we talked about how God was showing Ezekial that without God's spirit in our lives, everything we do is like dead bones - pointless and not life-giving.  When we read about Samson, Gideon, Ehud, and Deborah, we talked about how God used people who were arrogant, fearful, humble, outcasts and ordinary women to accomplish His purposes.  He doesn't pick favorites, or rather His favorite people don't even hit on the radar of earthly recognition.  It has been a fascinating read as this Comic Style Bible brings alive the fabulous and exciting stories of the Bible.  The Bible is not full of boring stories that's for sure.  God brings ultimate adventure to life.

So that is what is working for us this go round.  Next year, we may switch it up - we usually do, but this feels fresh and real and workable for our current way of living.  Teaching our children is purposeful and takes thought, but I think it has to be workable in your daily rhythm or you just have good intentions but it falls off when you get into your normal routine.  I have done this so many times.  I get excited about this great new idea that we are going to halt everything to try, and after reality sets in in about, oh two days tops, that great idea falls out of fashion.  Have you looked at your routine and figured out what is workable to teach your children within it, or do you think that you need to create something new?   Hey, it doesn't have to be new or amazing.  Just figure out something creatively that you are already doing and work it in.
So are you?  Don't be afraid to "fail".  There is no fail.  Just work at it until something clicks.