STARTing With a Clean Slate

Happy New Year!  I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. Maybe I feel like I’m just setting myself up for failure.  But with a clean slate at the New Year, it’s an ideal time for me to consider some healthier goals.  Maybe more cardio. (The ‘maybe’ gives me leeway.) Maybe healthier eating. (Maybe not.) But one of my goals in 2019 is definitely to seek healthier tech habits for myself and our family. Technology and smart devices bring us many wonderful benefits, yet all of these screens bring specific challenges to our family too.

This past year, I was introduced to and have had the honor of getting involved with an organization called START – Stand Together and Rethink Technology. What I love about START is that its mission completely acknowledges that technology is not a bad thing! Yet, there are also unintended consequences that we are beginning to feel within our very own homes and communities.

START has come alongside our family to help us realize and integrate a healthier lifestyle around tech use and screens in our home.  We definitely don’t have it all figured out; we continue to just try to do our best day-to-day with our family’s technology norms and expectations.

Since each family has its own needs, values, and priorities, I certainly won’t try to tell you how tech can best be integrated in your home.  But, I am excited to share with you about START. Check it out at www.westartnow.org. Even for those of you who don’t live in Kansas City, the new blog can be a great resource. It launched this January and will have a different theme each month.  And the START Facebook page will share tips and articles in line with the month’s theme.

You can read a post I wrote about how START has impacted our family on the blog here: START Three-Part Parent Program.

And you can read about this month’s theme here: Device Bedtimes.

With the ever-changing landscape of technology, I’m thankful to have an organization like START to help guide our family. I may not be a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I will be resolute in my effort to put people before screens this year. Join me?

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.

Abundant Living: Eat, Drink, & Be Merry

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Happy Easter and Merry Spring! The trees are blooming and patio weather is upon us. The gloom of Lent is passed, and on Easter, we celebrated the risen Christ…a God who is truly pleased when we find deep joy in the gifts He has given us. Yesterday was a HAPPY day, but it doesn’t end there.

Several months ago, I heard a sermon at Christ Church Santa Fe  based on Ecclesiastes 5:18-20.

“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them…this is a gift of God…”                      (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV)

This encouraging scripture reassures us that it is a good thing to find joy in the gifts that God gives us. I find one of God’s absolute greatest gifts to be community…the people in my life. And with them – I love to eat, drink, and be merry.

Forming deep relationships and close community, however, requires intentionality and vulnerability. But the rewards of being merry together are well worth the effort put into our relationships.

As I have made it no secret, my friends and my amazing husband are a gift and a deep joy to me. Renowned scholar, author, and speaker Brené Brown, in her TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability states that connection with other people is the reason we are here. She says that connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives. I agree. In addition to loving God with all our hearts, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-39). It’s pretty hard to fulfill that commandment without connecting regularly with the people around us. In addition, Brown says that the kind of people who have a true sense of worthiness and a strong sense of love and belonging [in community] are those who believe they are worthy of love and belonging. I totally agree.

The verse that inspired this blog, Ephesians 3:17-19 says, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” When we know this deep love of Christ, our sense of worthiness is brought to a whole new level.

Brown says that people who have a true sense of worthiness are ‘whole-hearted’. She says that what these whole-hearted people have in common is a sense of courage. She points out that courage and bravery are not the same. Courage comes from a Latin word and the original definition was ‘to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart’. Brown says that these whole-hearted folks

“have the courage to be imperfect with each other. They have connection as a result of authenticity. They are willing to let go of who they should be in order to be who they [are]. The other thing they have in common: they fully embrace vulnerability. Being vulnerable is the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first…the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…the willingness to invest in relationships that may or may not work out.”

This kind of whole-heartedness, based on courage and vulnerability, is an essential building block for the best of friendships and the tightest of communities.

There are plenty of great examples of holy vulnerability in the Bible. In her article, On Why Being Vulnerable is a Beautiful Thing, based on John 12, Caroline Coleman names a few examples: Mary, as she pours valuable perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. David, with his “desperate honest vulnerable cries for help” in the Psalms. And, of course, Jesus as he cries out to His Abba Father on the cross.  According to Coleman, Jesus encourages all of us towards a life in which we make ourselves vulnerable to God and to others.

“He’s saying that true fulfillment doesn’t come the way we think it does – through our striving, achieving, conquering and acquiring. True joy and fulfillment comes through sacrificing ourselves for others. It comes through being vulnerable even to those who reject us. It comes through pouring out ourselves for others, and trusting God to fill us back up.” Coleman continues, “We can embrace others in love, not needing anything from them, because our hearts are overflowing – our cups runneth over – with the love of God, a love that we find only when everything else in the world fails us. This is abundant living.”

So, as Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 states, let’s embrace the abundant living that God encourages. I find this sweet way of life to be best amongst my community of friends and family. And when I remember that I am always worthy because of the wide and deep love that Christ has for me, I find it a little easier to be vulnerable…to connect with others in a way I can show them my love…to find that whole-hearted courage that brings authenticity to relationships.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 5, Verse 20 says, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” So this Spring, find a patio or a table where you can soak up the gift of community with friends and family. With gladness of heart, pour yourselves into each other.

Eat, drink, and be merry.