Crushed by a Vending Machine?!


I would have liked to win that Powerball.  Like many people, I thought through the ways I would use the money.  And of course, being the benevolent person that I am, I would only need to keep about 20 million dollars or so. Then, I would give hundreds of millions away – going down in history as the most generous lottery winner ever. I’m such a good person. Hahaha.

My odds of winning were, of course, quite low.  I heard that my chances of being crushed by a vending machine were greater. What an odd statistic. I guess I’ll have to manage without my windfall….and avoid unsteady vending machines.

Actually, after facing the disappointment that I was not America’s newest billionaire last Saturday night, I decided to not buy a ticket for Wednesday’s drawing. It had nothing to do with my chances, really.  Of course, I knew I wasn’t going to win. I just decided it wasn’t really worth my emotional energy to even dream of the possibility. I was better off placing my focus elsewhere.

At the encouragement of a dear friend, I chose a ‘word for the year.’ The discipline proved to be beneficial the last couple of years. So, my word for 2016 is focus.

Already, I have soaked up a multitude of applications as I have examined where I place my focus each day.  I’ve asked myself – What are the false hopes (like winning the lottery) that I allow to cloud my focus? On what do I exert my time and energy? Often, I don’t like my answer. How can I be more efficient and focus on the most important aspects of life – serving, loving, and meeting the needs of my family and the people I interact with each day?  And how does my focus on God affect my ability to be a more patient, kind, and loving person?

I’ve realized that, at the end of the day, there’s a much greater chance of being crushed by misplaced focus than by a vending machine!

So, instead of wasting time and energy on inefficiencies and false hopes, I’m going to hone my focus this year.  I’m going to focus on my family. I’m going to focus on a healthy(ier) lifestyle. (I’m even going to focus on my tennis swing.) And most importantly, I’m going to fix my eyes on God and meet Him each day right where He is waiting for me — offering me pure fullness of joy. I don’t even have to go up against crazy odds to find my treasure there.

“…if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:3-5

What’s your focus in 2016?  Join me as you fix your eyes on what’s most important to you. And, by all means, watch out for those dangerous vending machines.

“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” – Isaiah 45:3

Wait Here to be Called


Mary and Gabriel

I don’t like to wait. I don’t like to wait in lines at amusement parks. I don’t like to wait in the carpool lane at school. I don’t like to wait to be seated at restaurants. Our kids can’t wait to open their Christmas presents. I can’t wait for the magic of Christmas Eve. And to be completely honest, sometimes, I can’t wait for all of the holiday craziness to be over, so we can get back to our routine.

Yet, the Christmas season, particularly Advent, is a season of waiting. The focus of the Advent season, of course, is to prepare for and celebrate the birth of Jesus…and anticipate Christ’s return. Advent reminds us of the importance of waiting.

This past Sunday at church, we lit the third Advent candle, symbolizing joy. Yet, our pastor acknowledged all of the pain in this world. Friends are grieving the loss of loved ones. We are heartbroken by the inexplicable violence and terror in our society. We feel the darkness when lives seem broken beyond repair. In the midst of this season of both joy and pain, we were reminded by our pastor of the words of David, who faithfully sang to the Lord, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent…” Psalm 30:11-12.

During Advent, we are waiting on the birth of Emmanuel – ‘God With Us’…A God who not only lived and died among us, but a God who promises to be with us in the middle of our joys and our pains. We wait with a spirit of hope. We wait, with faith, for a God who brings peace to our hearts in the greatest times of pain and can even turn our wailing into dancing. When we wait on the Lord, we ultimately put our hope in something greater than our circumstances. Psalm 27:14 encourages us to wait in hope: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

We also wait for God to guide us throughout our lives. I once saw an airport sign that said, “Wait Here To Be Called.Wait Here To Be Called”  I chuckled to myself thinking it would be nice if it was that easy. We wait for our calling – to be a spouse, to be a parent, to find the right job or career – to be used by God in some unique way. We wait, not knowing how or when God will answer. Psalm 37:7 reminds us to be patient, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

Whether or not we like it, we spend much of our time waiting – waiting for the next stage of life, waiting to feel God’s call, waiting for the pain of death and the pain of sin in the this broken world to lessen. We wait for heaven. We wait for Christ’s return.

The airport sign made me think a lot about waiting on God.

But perhaps instead waiting to be called, our calling is to wait!

God asks us to wait patiently in hope and expectation because He can heal our hearts, give us peace beyond understanding, and clothe us with great joy. So, this advent season…enjoy the wait.

The Angel, Gabriel, rocked young Mary’s world with inconceivable news of an unplanned child. The life she had been waiting for would look entirely different than she could have ever imagined. Gabriel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly.” (Luke 2:30 PHILLIPS).

And the same is for you as we celebrate Advent.

Do not be afraid; God loves you dearly.

Add to the Beauty

Purple Mountains Majesty
I don’t know about you, but I love patriotic songs. I often puff up with pride and even tear up a bit when I hear a good rendition of “God Bless America” – whether at a 4th of July celebration or the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game. (And in case you haven’t noticed…its baseball season over here in KC! GO ROYALS!!!)

“…From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam…”

And then there’s the purple mountains majesty, the amber waves of grain and the shining seas in “America the Beautiful.”  Perhaps these songs particularly catch my heart because we have called the mountains in Colorado and New Mexico, the sea in California, and now the plains of Kansas our home over the past four years. Put a military figure – those very heroes who “more than self their country loved” – behind the microphone, and I really have to hold myself together.  But beyond the lyrics describing the aesthetic beauty of our country, there are a couple of lines that get lost in the middle of “America the Beautiful.” I believe they are the true crux of the song.

“America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.”

I believe that the very best of our country isn’t found in the beauty of the mountains or on the most stunning beaches of our coast. The writer of “America the Beautiful” recognized that the good of our country is crowned by brotherhood. Relationships. Community.

In each of the seven states I’ve lived in, there are plenty of people who believe they live in the best place in the world. They would never move away. You certainly can’t easily convince a Bostonian to move to California or a Kansan to move to Texas. When it comes down to it, most of these people love where they live – not because of geography – but because of their people. Geography doesn’t hurt, but it’s really all about community.

So how do we ‘crown thy good with brotherhood?’ What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? How can we truly embrace and serve our communities? These are the questions I’m asking myself as we approach the holiday season.

Our best patriotic songs are more than just pride reserved for national holidays and ballgames. These songs call us to do our part to add to the beauty. We are called to crown our beautiful country (and our world) with love and compassion in our immediate circles and greater communities. What does that look like? To crown our good with brotherhood is a call to be fruitful and productive with the talents and gifts God has given us. It’s a call to look for ways to serve those around us – near and far, daily and long term.

As we appreciate the bounty of fall and approach Thanksgiving this year, will you take a challenge with me? Not just to be thankful – but to actively add to the beauty. Start small. You might just make a big impact.

Sarah Grove’s words in her song, “Add to the Beauty” recently struck me:

“Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out our best
And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside”

True, America is beautiful. May God give us the grace to add to the beauty.

A Loss of Innocence

Fourteen years ago, I became an adult. I graduated from college. I got married. I got a job. These milestones alone don’t make an adult. But it was in that year, 2001, that I took responsibility for myself outside of my parents’ nest. They would no longer be depositing money in a meal plan, holding me to a curfew, or tucking me in on holidays at home. My husband and I were the newest extension of my parents’ nuclear family.

Fourteen years ago, my childhood innocence was lost. But not because I became an adult. Many of us lost a bit of childlike trust in the world on September 11, 2001. Loss of innocence, a fairly common theme in fiction, is not just a coming of age. A loss of innocence, according to Wikipedia, is an experience or period that widens one’s awareness of evil, pain or suffering in the world around them. My generation had not witnessed The Great Depression, the horrors of WWII or The Vietnam War like our grandparents and parents. But the kind of nightmare that rocked our country to the core on September 11th took the innocence of many young adults with it.

Less than three months into my newly minted adulthood and marriage, the terrorists tried to break us. They devastated our country with four doomed flights that stole thousands of precious lives – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and best friends. Again – a kind of devastation my generation had not yet seen in our country.

My 9/11 experience was not particularly unique. The news of the strike on World Trade Center Tower 1 flashed across my television screen in our Dallas apartment. As the nightmare unraveled, I was able to reach my husband, Ryan, who had safely landed in Chicago for a business trip. He had no idea of the gravity of the situation when I reached out to him to make sure he was safe. For several days, he was stuck in Chicago. I later found out he had been working in the Sears Tower. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. My parents were home in Georgia. I witnessed a tragedy unfold – one greater than any of us could have imagined- as an adult by myself. I wasn’t in New York, like so many people I know. I didn’t lose a loved one. I can’t even imagine the pain. But the world changed that day. And so did I.

The world changed because I realized we could no longer trust it. Our insulated, powerful, country built on the tenants of freedom was crippled. But our great nation was not paralyzed.

That terrible night, President Bush addressed our nation:

“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts… Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror… These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve…This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” –George W. Bush

Not everyone agrees with the wartime decisions President Bush made after 9/11. But the President’s powerful words of consolation and resolve on this dark night gave me great comfort as a young adult who suddenly felt very vulnerable. His charge to unite a great people gave our country strength in our fight against such evil. And, for me now, his words on 9/11 serve as reminder of that horrible day and the painful rebuilding process that would follow. Many noble lives of our brave military men and women were lost as they fought for our safety and freedom in the years to come.

Fourteen years later, we have not forgotten. A simple click on today’s news media or Facebook brings to life many vivid memories and horrific experiences. And with those stories and graphic pictures as a reminder, we Americans continue to share a resolve for a strong and peaceful nation and world.

For the first time, this year, my own children are aware of what happened on 9/11, and they are asking questions. In a day and age when terrorists are motivated by a desire to repress basic rights and bully innocent victims, I pray that we can take a moment to examine how we might do the opposite in our own personal spheres of influence.

My hope and prayer is that the generation of young parents today who lost a sense of innocence on September 11, 2001 will raise a generation of children who seek to love and show grace, even – maybe especially – to people who hold different beliefs and practices. As a basic starting place – prejudice, discrimination and bullying are simply unacceptable.

Fourteen years ago, my childhood innocence was lost. But our great country has found resolve. As President Bush urged us, let us continue “to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”  You in your corner, and me in mine.


“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4:8-9

***This year on the 4th of July, we had the honor of saluting the US flag shown in the picture above. It had flown over Syria just two weeks before as our military heroes fight ISIS to defend our freedom and safety.***

Jesus Farted Too


If I had to choose my least favorite word, it might be fart. I don’t like to hear it, say it, read it, or smell it. In my mind, it’s the worse ‘f word.’  So, to say the least, I’m being a bit vulnerable by writing it here. I should probably get more comfortable with the word anyways, seeing as we have 3 boys who think anything to do with ‘the topic’ is funny.

As I was arranging bookshelves in our son’s room in our new house in Kansas City this week, I propped a devotional and children’s Bible right up against a grotesque book about different kinds of flatulence. My first instinct was: ‘You can’t do that!’ Shortly followed by the thought: ‘Why not? Jesus farted too.’ Fart BookAfter all, He was fully human, all the way down to his bodily functions. He probably even thought ‘passing gas’ was funny when he was a little boy…While gross, I’m pretty sure that kind of humor is not a sin.

This thought process of intersecting Jesus with the real, sometimes disgusting, nitty-gritty details of our lives made me think about how we incorporate our faith into our everyday lives. Especially as our family begins with a blank slate in a new place, I am thinking about what it looks like to foster our faith in the center of our home and our lives.  Personal daily reminders of God’s promises and His amazing grace help keep me centered. I need God throughout my days.

  • I need to be reminded, regularly, in the midst of my anxiety and burdens that Jesus offers rest for my soul.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
  • When I am restless, stubborn, and lacking in faith, I need to be reminded of God’s patience and ability to sustain me.
“…there will be times when God’s glory is right outside our door, yet we’ll choose to stay inside the tent. There will be days when we hear the clear promises of God and laugh in disbelief…Still, our heavenly Father will respond. He will wait with us and sustain us. He will turn our restlessness into rest in Him.” –Sarah Matheny #shereadstruth
  • Even with my very own children, I need to be reminded of what our call to love looks like. Love is patient. Love is kind. Every single morning, I have to ask God to give me the fruits of the spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control don’t come easy in a house full of rowdy kids. And these are the characteristics I most want to model to my children.
  • When God is near, I am reminded of my desire to share the love and peace and grace of God with the people in my life.
“They were not to be a people unto themselves enjoying their special relationship with God and paying no attention to the rest of the world. Rather they were to represent him to the rest of the world and attempt to bring the rest of the world to him.” –Douglas Stewart
  • When God is at the center of my life, I am reminded that each and every day, He makes me new. Fresh. Clean. A blank slate. In worship yesterday at Christ Community Church, we were reminded to number our days.  Basically, embrace the precious time that God has given each of us.  Each day is a new day to invest in our relationship with God, as well as the people around us.

I have no doubt that in all of His humanity, Jesus put real effort into fostering a relationship with His Heavenly Father. A Father He couldn’t see with His eyes either. All relationships involve effort.

So, here’s to blank slates, to being made new each day, and to allowing Jesus into the nitty-gritty. We have a patient, loving and tender God who is overjoyed when we hold Him in the center of our days.

Lately, I’ve been hearing God’s voice in this beautiful song by Matchbox 20, “Overjoyed.” I am reminded of the relational nature of our Great God who wants to meet us daily. Will you hold Him too?

“Maybe if you hold me baby
Let me come over
I will tell you secrets nobody knows
I cannot overstate it
I will be overjoyed”

Freedom for my Soul…and a move to Kansas City

US Map

A friend recently told me about a little sign that his mom posted on their fridge when he was younger.

“If you are feeling far from God, guess who moved?!”

Such great truth in this rhetorical question. And a good one to mull over when we are feeling an air of discontentment or facing a transition or trial we haven’t invited God to be a part of.

In John, Chapter 15, God calls us to remain in Him – to seek His presence in all circumstances. God promises us that our joy will be complete when we remain in Him. He doesn’t promise that all of our days will be ‘happy’. But instead, He offers a consistent peace and contentment – a supernatural joy that is not dictated by our circumstances. So, when we are feeling uneasy and distressed, it is fair to ask ourselves if we have moved away from God.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you…Now remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” –John 15:4-11.

Speaking of moving, our life in SoCal has been short-lived, as we are moving to Kansas City this summer. Let me tell you – Southern California is just as dreamy, just as beautiful, just as warm…just as expensive, and just as far (too far) from my family as I have always suspected. My heart will mourn the loss of our amazing Southern California lifestyle. But, my soul is at peace. My trust is in God as He leads us.

Three months ago, I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving SoCal – starting over, yet again. I dreaded even having to tell people that we are moving, again. Moving is hard….something I never planned on doing much. Our twins will have the unique distinction of having lived in four states before they turn four. Our third grader will start his third elementary school. Yep, that’s four sets of insurance, four sets of doctors, four sets of schools, etc. etc etc. But, it’s also four sets of incredibly unique experiences and four sets of lifelong friends I wouldn’t trade for the world. We hope to settle in nicely in KC and stick around for a while.

I’ve had a hard time striking a balance in my mind of how much God is in control vs. how much we make our own choices. These areas are grey. I do not believe that Ryan and I are robots, having been ordered by God from state to state. We have made our own choices. But I do believe that God has led us. And He has blessed us in each new home and community. I have to trust that God is in control as we pray for His guidance and leading. There is sweet freedom in giving over my sense of control.

We often have to make life decisions and face trials that require putting our full trust in God to lead us. Perhaps like me, you also have to occasionally check yourself to see if you have moved away from God. Where can you turn over a bit more trust and control to God in your life today? How can you pull in just a little bit closer to God? After all, the Creator of the Universe has His loving eye on you. Are you close enough to feel it?

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” -Psalm 32:8

No matter where we live, I am learning that true geographic contentment and complete joy is found in the presence of God. No moves required…God just calls us to remain in Him.  Chris Tomlin’s song,“I Will Follow,” has provided recent inspiration for me:

“Where You go, I’ll go. Where You stay, I’ll stay. When You move, I’ll move. I will follow…I will trust in You alone.”

Later in the song, Tomlin goes on to sing, “In You there’s freedom for my soul.” Amen to that! My prayer is that throughout life’s many trials and transitions, we would all seek to remain in God…to follow Him and feel that unique freedom offered by remaining in God’s love…through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I also love Andy Grammer’s song, “Back Home.”

“La-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. La-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-doe.
And no matter where we go, we always find our way back home.”

These lyrics might just have to be the McMonagle Family mantra. So, Kansas City…the McMonagle Six is coming ‘home.’ (Can you wear swim trunks to elementary school in Kansas?!)

“The life-maps of God are right,
showing the way to joy.” -Psalm 19:8 (The Message)

How Perception Colors Life

The Dress

Have you ever thought about the fact that heat is cooler than air conditioning? Sounds silly, but I’m just referring to the fact that in the summer, our bodies are generally comfortable when the thermostat is set near 75 degrees. In the winter, we are comfortable with the heat set at about 68 degrees. The heat is cooler than the air conditioning. We would be burning hot if we jacked the heater up to 75 in the winter. (*Southern Californians should disregard this example – I can explain to you what heating and air conditioning are at another time.) My point is – our perception of a comfortable temperature varies greatly according to our current circumstances – the seasons.

Merriam-Webster defines perception as “the way you think about or understand someone or something” and “the way that you notice or understand something using one of your senses.” Our perceptions are obviously variable.

And how about the darn color of the dress debate that has rocked the Internet this past week? Once again, perceptions, based on senses, vary between the ‘white and gold’ and ‘blue and black’ camps.

I have a couple of thoughts regarding perceptions:

First, I make too many judgments based on my personal experiences and senses alone. We must realize the limits of our perceptions instead of making broad, general assumptions about other people’s lives and decisions. You might just be seeing white and gold when the other person’s dress is really blue and black. So be careful about what color shoes you suggest she should wear.

Second, my limited perspective on life (based on my perceptions) is flawed, compared to the great omniscience of our perfect God. What I think is a trial or less than ideal situation is often a blessing. I am in no way speaking into the specific trials of your life (especially considering my last paragraph!) But, the reality of my limited perspective makes me aware of my need for immense TRUST in God.

I stumbled upon an article, Faith and Human Perception, by Thomas Rotkiewicz. I love the way he pulls together the concepts of perception, life’s trials, and faith:

“My mind processes information within limited frames of reference. My interpretation or perception of anything will not be the same as yours because your awareness may be based on a number of different factors… When we face various trials, how can we distinguish between what we believe to be happening – based on our limited perception – and what is really happening from God’s perspective? How can we put our trust in experiences, feelings or human wisdom as reliable indicators of the true nature of what is real or what isn’t.
…God tells us to trust Him, and not to rely on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5,6). Why? Because He alone knows what He is doing and why. I certainly don’t have an accurate or perfect knowledge of all things – or even any single thing. And this is where faith should come into play, reaching beyond our own limitations and placing our trust in the One who has no limitations.”

Even Napolean Bonaparte wisely stated that “The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.” And the ‘father of modern philosophy,’ René Descartes warned us to do not wholly trust our limited senses which deceive us from time to time.

It all comes down to this: I see white and gold, even though the dress is blue and black. It does me good to take a step back and ask myself how much I let my personal perceptions drive my judgments and decisions – about others and for myself.

The phrase, ‘hindsight is 20/20’ makes so much sense that I’m surprised it isn’t scripture. How many times have I faced a challenging situation where God has eventually blessed me out of my mind? How many times have I been so sure about what is right, only to find out that I wasn’t?

Maybe at some point, I’ll really begin to believe that it’s best to not trust in my own understanding alone. God’s eyesight and His perspective are perfect. I must put all of my TRUST in this great promise:

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” -Psalm 32:8

Dim Uneasiness

Dim Uneasiness

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is most definitely a timeless classic. This “masterpiece of reverse theology” (Patricia Klein) is genius. Over a year ago, I heard a sermon focused on the twelfth letter from Screwtape to his demon nephew. The demons’ ultimate goal in this letter is to make the Christian lukewarm in his faith – basically taking away his peace and hope…the baseline of his joy. The scripture passage the pastor associated with the sermon was Jeremiah 2:13.

“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Several points from the twelfth letter stood out to me. The demon notes that it doesn’t take one great big glaring sin to make us feel far from God. In fact, a simple “dim uneasiness” that results from a lukewarm faith might be even more effective to pull us away from God.

“…we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately. This dim uneasiness needs careful handling. If it gets too strong it may wake him up and spoil the whole game.
…As this condition becomes more fully established…you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention…You will say that these are very small sins…But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out in to the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.”

Screwtape’s simple goal is to make us lukewarm towards God. Then, our wandering attention allows us to put our hope, and ultimately our trust, elsewhere.  Wow…how easily I do settle. This concept of settling for a dim faith reminds me of another C.S. Lewis quote:

“…like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far to easily pleased.”

It is soooo easy for me to be content in a state of dim uneasiness. And settling on a dim faith is plain rotten compared to bathing in the fountain of Living Waters. The broken cisterns of this world – the things we think fulfill us – don’t hold water. At least not Living Water.

Remember – “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.” Many of these broken cisterns that give me temporary satisfaction are not bad in themselves.  But they don’t provide the same deep, deep joy and peace as my God of Hope. The water from the broken cisterns is anything that takes the place of God in my life – whether for a moment, a day, or longer.  What are the ‘cards’ in your life that carry you away from the light to a place of dim uneasiness? I can think of a few right off the bat.

I bet I don’t have to tell you this, but life is unpredictable. Sometimes, life feels downright unfair. Often, life is difficult and exhausting. Life is also beautiful and a gift to be savored. One of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton, describes life as ‘brutiful’. A state of dim uneasiness is no way to approach this kind of life. Instead of relying on any broken cistern, I know it is in my best interest to seek God and His Spirit to give me peace in the moment, to sooth my soul throughout the day, and give me rest in the night. He is my Living Water and He alone will give me the peace, hope, and joy that He wants nothing more than for me to have.

“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee…May richer, fuller be…
O light that foll’west all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to thee…May brighter, fairer be…
O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee…Life that shall endless be.”
-“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”; George Mattheson, pub.1882

I’ll take richer, fuller, brighter, and fairer any day.

Happy ReNew Year

Happy New Year

I’m not really a big fan of New Year’s resolutions – perhaps because I have a fear of failure. I can’t stand the thought of letting myself (or anyone else) down. I almost feel like I have a better chance of success if I don’t put extra pressure on myself. So, instead of making resolutions, I tend to look at the New Year as a clean slate…an opportunity to renew myself. January feels like a natural time for renewal. The beginning of the year is quieter, and for this reason, January is becoming one of my favorite times of the year. (And not just because the temps are in the 70’s in San Diego this week. ☺)

This January, I am focusing on a couple of areas. The first being to finally find my regular exercise routine here in California…and not drinking beer in the month of January. Small steps, folks. You may notice I have not cut out wine or Makers Mark, and I certainly can’t make any commitments into February. Both of these New Years efforts might be a result of my five-year-old telling me I look like I have a baby in my tummy. (kind of like Jennifer Garner’s baby bump.)

My second area of focus is with my family. I am with them almost all of the time. But my goal isn’t particularly lofty… really my goal is to just to show up. Not just physically, but also emotionally and playfully. I want to play more with my kids. To be less distracted by mundane daily chores and social media and communication. I don’t think I’m alone in this boat.

I saw this amazing Spanish Ikea commercial last week (on social media, of course). It really impacted me. Given the choice between getting anything they could imagine from Santa or spending time with their parents, the children in the interview chose the quality time. The video is touching – take a look. It made me think about opportunities to renew my self in 2015.

Last week, at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, Senior Pastor Mike McClenahan shared some valuable thoughts on renewal that poked at my heart. I think that there are great take-aways here whether or not you are a Christian. The pastor encouraged us to think like Jesus, to act like Jesus, and to be like Jesus. Okay, that’s a lot of pressure for a girl who never wore a WWJD bracelet.

Regardless of your faith, it’s hard to deny that Jesus was a pretty stand-up guy. We’re talking about a man who encouraged people to love above all. Not to judge. To treat others as you would want to be treated. To honor our parents. To forgive. To serve. To take care of the poor. To welcome children and to be like them. He was man who spent time with untouchable people, prostitutes, and the greediest of tax collectors. Jesus was cool.

Romans 12 encourages us to “not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” So, I think renewal is a good place to start, no matter what month it is, no matter how many times I have to renew myself. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “I love your Christ. I just don’t love your Christians.”? Without daily renewal, I have no hope. WWJD is a heck of a lot of pressure. But, if I can just focus on the basics of being like Jesus – loving and serving others – then just showing up (and playing) is enough for me this year. In what areas of your life would you like to see renewal in 2015?

This past Sunday, Pastor Mike McClenahan reminded me that not only was Jesus born on Christmas as our God on this earth. But he grew into a man who taught us what love really looks like…what it really means to show up. I love the idea of a fresh start on January 1, but renewal is just as available to us on the other 364 days of the year. And this year, I’m going to remind myself that renewal is an option every day. Sounds much better than focusing on failure to me.  Talk about taking off the pressure.  Daily renewal is going to help me show up. To love. To forgive. To serve. And to simply play with my children and maybe even be more like them.

Pretty sure I’ll need renewal in August as much as January. Happy ReNew Year!

“Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall…
… Oh, to be like You…
..Forever The Hope in my heart.”
Scandal of Grace by Hillsong United.

The Thief of Joy

The Elf on the Shelf

The lines have been drawn. Which side are you on? If you are a mother of young children, or if you know any young families, you may have heard of The Elf on the Shelf. Less than a week has passed this Christmas season, and I have heard more mention of the infamous Elf than Jesus and Santa Claus combined. Not bad for a newcomer in an ancient tradition.

It seems that some moms embrace the Elf with gusto. The Elves in these particular families play funny pranks and show off naughty deeds like spreading flour all over the counter or removing ornaments from the Christmas tree. I recently learned of a creative Elf who is encouraging his family to do good deeds and acts of love. The parents of ‘creative’ Elves often enjoy posting pictures of their Elf’s shenanigans on Facebook or Instagram.

Then, there are the Elf haters. These parents have decided that the Elf is annoying, creepy and unnecessary. The camp of the Elf haters is most definitely growing. These parents enjoy slamming the Elf on the Shelf on Facebook. But, I have to wonder, do these folks express their distaste for the Elf on social media because they carry a bit of guilt that their Elf is not quite as exciting and creative? Are they annoyed that they feel pressure to have their Elf be more ‘fun’?

You see, when it comes down to it, I think Santa knows exactly what he is doing. He sends the ‘fun’ Elves to families who thrive on creativity, pranks, and imagination. To these families, I say, let your (inner) Elf run wild. And he sends ‘laid-back’ Elves to families who don’t quite have the creative juices or emotional or physical capacity to pack one more detail in their days. That’s the kind we got. Our Elf, Bell, is a charming little guy. However, he is fairly simple. He shows up in a new spot each day, keeps an eye on the kids’ behavior, and reports back to Santa each night. Not many shenanigans.  I don’t want him setting bad examples for my hooligans. I just hope he isn’t telling Santa how often I lose my cool!

When it comes down to it, I think we should make peace with the inner-Elf we have been given. If creative parents thrive on a ‘fun’ Elf, let’s not make them feel badly about their efforts. For us less creative or too exhausted parents with a ‘laid-back’ Elf,  let’s celebrate the Elf that we have. No need to get your panties in a wad about other people’s Elves. Because you know what, comparison is the thief of joy.

In a season that boasts the phrase, “joy to the world,” let’s encourage each other to find our own joys. And let others have theirs. If your joy is in Jesus, celebrate the birth of our King. If your joy is in your family, take as much time as possible this Christmas season to just be together. If your joy is in the traditions of the season, blow up that front yard Santa and put those stockings by the chimney. I expect all of these sources of joy are appealing to most of us. That’s why the ‘hap-happiest season of all’ has been sung about my many artists as ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

The key here is to not compare oursELVES with our neighbors. Because we’ll never find our true joy there. The reason comparison steals our joy is that by comparing ourselves with others, we will ultimately be annoyed by them or green with envy. And who wants to be the grinch?!  Even without realizing it, I fall into this pit of comparison and am oppressed by these emotions of being annoyed or envious daily. Whether or not you have an Elf on the Shelf in your house, let’s all find ways this holiday season to find our own joy and celebrate those of each other.

It does me good to focus on the actual ‘the reason for the season’. We should take heart in knowing that Jesus, our God who was born as a tiny baby to two nervous first-time parents, came so that we may have eternal joy. And it’s helpful to remember that for many people, it’s not the most wonderful time.  This season can be painful for some.  No matter the sorrows we face in this tough, hard, prejudiced, sin-filled world – He will come again. If we just put our hope in Him, our hearts will rejoice, and no one will be able to take our joy away. In the meantime, we are told that if we ask, according to the will of God, our joy will be full.

This Christmas, I’m all about ‘joy to the world’. But that seems like a lot of pressure, so I’m gonna start by focusing on our family. I’d like to teach my kids how the original Sinterklaas*, good ol’ Saint Nick, actually focused on giving, not getting. I think my little rugrats are ready for that. And, I’m asking God for a simple time of celebration. Bell, our Elf, is welcome to watch from whichever spot he has chosen to perch himself for the day. He just better not get in my way.

“There’ll be much mistltoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
– written by George Wyle and Eddie Pola

*I’m a big fan of a book our Nana recently gave us.  If you want a good explanation to share with the kids for the combination of the traditions of Santa and Jesus, check it out: Buck Denver asks…Why Do We Call It Christmas? The Real Story Behind The Holiday by Phil Vischer (the Veggie Tales dude)