Crushed by a Vending Machine?!

Focus

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
Advertisements

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)

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)

Hoarding Joy

It was no Sandcliffs fireworks show, but at least we had something!!!

This may not come as a surprise to those who know me well. But when I was a kid, I used to time it perfectly so that I saved my Halloween candy until Christmas. My Christmas candy until Valentines. And my Valentines candy until Easter. I guess I just scavenged through the mid-part of the year to get my sugar high.  My brother, on the other hand, would fully enjoy his candy (then break into my candy stash and steal mine!). I have to wonder…would I have enjoyed the candy more if I had just eaten it when I really wanted it, instead of denying myself the pleasure just to make it last longer?

Talking with our friends, we recently realized an adult scenario of that situation. If we get a nice bottle of wine, we tend to store it away while we enjoy the much less expensive bottle…saving that nicer bottle for a ‘special occasion’. What we end up with is a collection of nicer wine we are afraid to drink because we are just saving it for the right occasion. But maybe the everyday is the right occasion!?

This past weekend, we savored time with sweet family friends enjoying a summer’s night eating and spending time together on the back patio. The kids played with sparklers. We drank nice champagne. We noted that there was no particular special occasion (other than being together, which made it special).  And we wondered if a nice bottle of champagne should be saved for that impending ‘special occasion’ or celebration. I think the conclusion I came to is that the everyday is the special occasion.  And my five year old made me realize what a shame it would be to save the sparklers for only a couple of patriotic holidays per year. Hanging out on the back patio on warm summer nights with dear friends are the memories we will most likely hold closest as life moves on. More so than New Years Eve or rare celebrations, those nights are the champagne worthy nights.

I tend to be quite the planner, but maybe sometimes, just eating the candy when I want it, lighting the sparklers, and enjoying that rare fancy glass of champagne is a perfect celebration…for everyday life. There is no need to hoard joy. Joy is all around us.

A verse that has particularly stood out to me in the past year is Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” My God of Hope is One who yearns for me to trust in Him day in and day out…to allow Him to infuse our everyday with real peace and great joy. And sometimes, that’s easier said than done. We allow the details and stresses of this world to choke our joy.

Oswald Chambers noted that,

“Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor even in seeing God’s work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with Him that Jesus Himself enjoyed. But the first thing that will hinder this joy is the subtle irritability caused by giving too much thought to our circumstances. Jesus said, “. . . the cares of this world, . . . choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).

I’m not suggesting that we be careless and shirk our responsibilities. Or that we mismanage that which we have been given. But joy is a gift – one to be enjoyed one day at a time…not to be hoarded for special occasions. We bring God joy, and He wants us to know the same complete joy. I think that if Jesus was with us on our back patio, He would want to light some sparklers and maybe even have a glass of champagne too.

 

“Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes the special occasion is that you’ve got a bottle of Champagne in the fridge!” -Hester Browne
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved 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 15:9,11