Friday, June 19, 2015

Three Little Words

By the time the summer solstice is upon us, there are three little words every home educating parent longs to hear...

School is out.

Yesterday, I was able to say these words.

School is out. (f.i.n.a.l.l.y.)

I never approved of the idea of falling across the finish line.
I never imagined a face plant to end a race indicated greater strength then at the starting block...

...until yesterday.

It was a significant day for me as it marked the end of an amazingly exhausting yet rewarding school year.

Our family has encountered unique challenges this year, but we have borne each other's stresses and we have survived. Everyone is still breathing and still ever-so-slightly sane. And oddly enough, I feel stronger than when we started.



We faced three large hurdles this year:

1. This is the first school year I have had all three children in school at once. I am not sure I ever fully grasped how to teach two different grade levels effectively and then the youngest had to go and turn 5. So, Kindergarten here we came. Along with a 2nd and 4th grader too.

2. This is the first school year I have taught while working significant hours outside the home. Between us, my husband and I spend a joint 60 hours (give or take 10...actually just give 20) serving as interim pastors of a congregation making some significant transitions. My responsibilities include, but are not limited to, preaching 3 times a month, coordinating guest speakers for my off weeks, leading bible studies, developing ministry leaders, offering guidance to leadership, writing notes and making phone calls to congregants, and trying to figure out the copy machine.

3. This is the first school year we have encountered sickness multiple times. Not major stuff. I am talking the flu and slobbery colds, but enough to sidetrack school on several days. December's mini vacation was cut short by a vomiting child in a hotel room. Yes, it's every bit as gross as it sounds. That got passed around to everyone save for my husband who was the only one to get his flu shot last fall. Guess who's getting their flu shots this year? Everyone, so help me God. Insert a runny nose here and a sore throat there and that brings us to April when the tables turned and all three kids and Daddy went down for the count. I came through unscathed with this bout although I am still unclear as to how that happened. In other news, my children think Lysol smells like spit-up because that is the only blasted time I ever spray it. I am, however, truly thankful to report despite these setbacks, we had no major medical issues and so my grumbling comes to an end here.

I tend to be my own worst critic, easily focusing on the ways I have failed to live up to my (ahem, impossible) expectations. In spite of our unparalleled year and my unrealistic ideals, I am glad to say that these accomplishments were made in spite of it all:

- My "let's-enjoy-the-journey-no-matter-how-long-it-takes" Kindergartener knows all her letters and their phonetic sounds, can write them correctly on lined paper, and is finally grasping the concept of decoding strings of letters (aka reading words). She can write her numbers, do basic addition, count to 100, and skip count by 2s, 5s and 10s. It's been difficult as her needs has been vastly different then her siblings, but she has accomplished so much and I am so proud to promote her to 1st Grade.




- My "conscientious-let's-stay-focused-and-get-the-work-done" 2nd grader has mastered addition and subtraction, can tell time on an analog clock, and count money. He's a quick study with numbers which has made math enjoyable for him. After a slow start and disheartening lack of interest in phonics last year, he has blossomed into quite the reader which thrills my heart to no end. Armed with his Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia, we gladly replace the batteries in his LED flashlight so he can read to his heart's content at bedtime. He is now a 3rd grader.






- My "highly-distractable-yet-wonderfully-creative" 4th grader can now write every letter in cursive, has begun keyboarding (which she loves), has taken 30 spelling tests (which she despises), and has learned long division. I have heard horror stories from parents sitting with their children who are learning long division. While we have had difficult moments in the process we have come through with very few tears or battle scars. God bless Steve Demme and Math-U-See. She is so excited to say she is now a 5th grader. (Notice her creative self decorated her board.)





- All three started the year studying world history. We moved from the nomads to Ancient Egypt and then they discovered the game "Stack the States." Since we homeschool in Michigan and have the blessed liberty to do so, we switched our social studies focus mid-year to match their interest. This began our journey in learning about the 50 states. 

- Our science studies led us into the world of Botany, be still my heart. Believe it or not, the kids chose that subject...silly rabbits. Yet, in the end, I have to admit even I was taken in by the fascinating facts we learned about the world of plants and the kids were too.

- Of all the accomplishments this year, I am most pleased with the children maintaining a prayer journal. Our bible time ranged from discussions about Psalm 119, the armor of God (Ephesians 6), wisdom in Proverbs, reading various children's bible, and following a Lenten Prayer Guide. Throughout the year, regardless of the bible topic, the kids have practiced the art of recording their prayers. I can't wait to give these precious notebooks to them once they are grown.





They were days I didn't think I would make it. Days of feeling inadequate and questioning my capabilities. They were days I wanted to scream, pull out my hair, crawl into bed and escape into Austen's world of Pride and Prejudice. But we made it thanks to a faithful God, a sense of purpose, a decent ability to laugh at ourselves, some awesomely faithful friends, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. And diet coke. 

It feels a little like we've fallen across the finish line, yet I still feel strong. It was a hard race - life this last 9 months - but we've broken the ribbon at the completion of this course.

So without further ado, I say again...

School is out.

Time for a nap.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Choosing Day (on our 17th anniversary)

Paul - 

I remember our scandalous beginning. Strangers pretending to be high school sweethearts until everyone in the piano lab believed it. I had never even said hello to you before that day.

I remember speaking briefly on the sidewalk outside the Olt Student Center on picture day. You had caught my attention and I was wearing black jeans that apparently had caught yours. 

I remember your face in a sea of sophomore guys while you held up a kiwi. And I thought I would die of embarrassment with a one word declaration about a fruit. 

But I didn't know it was the beginning of a love story.

I remember late night phone calls, shy smiles, and first kisses that took my breath away.

I remember the tiger t-shirt, the worn-thin one you still wear to bed, and your question about submission that really was just an awkward prelude to speaking your love for me.

I remember our days as a couple in chorale, as Park Place youth workers, as ministry majors (finally), and then those painful days we weren't a "we" anymore.

But I didn't know it was still the beginning of a love story.

The love story that was sown on the campus of Anderson University began to sprout as we commited our lives to one another. We stood, hand in hand, while Shirley Coolidge worked her magic on the organ. Before a room full of people and all of heaven, we chose each other. 

June 6, 1998 became our day of choosing.
But I didn't know that was still the beginning of our love story.


Funny how the wedding is still the beginning. Hollywood would beg to differ. Don't get me wrong, I love me a romantic movie. You wouldn't have to suffer through all those Hallmark movies if I didn't. There's something special about the early butterflies of courtship and the breathless excitement of getting to know someone, but most romantic films are set up to end the moment the couple chooses each other.

The older I get and the longer we are at this crazy little thing called love, the more I realize that movies end before the love story takes hold. The unfolding of love is not in the candlelight of newness or the infatuation of dating. Love unfolds itself every day after the choosing. 


That's the love story.

Our wedding day is the day I chose you and you chose me.

For life. 
In the good and the bad.
When we have love bursts and when we discover habits that drive us crazy.
For the days we have patient smiles and the days steam comes from our ears. 
When we could run the Crim and when we are hospitalized from pneumonia or childbirth.
In the moments of triumph and defeat.
When we are confident of our tasks and struggling to face the day.
When we are caught up on housework or we've run out of underwear.
For the predictable and the unexpected.
When we speak words of healing or words that wound.
I chose you and you chose me.


We chose each other that sunny June afternoon. 
In the seventeen years that have spanned since then, we have still chosen each other. 
Every single day.



And that is the story of love.
Every day of our marriage has been a choosing day.
Love unfolds itself every day we still choose each other.


That's our love story.


I still choose you and you still choose me.
I am still chosen and so are you.
A love that unfolds and blooms each time we choose one another.
And with each sunrise, we have a new opportunity to choose each other again.


I am pretty sure there is nothing more romantic than the choosing.
Nothing more powerful or life-giving than the choosing.
Choosing love. Choosing you. Choosing me.
Every day.
No matter what.

I am so glad we chose each other 17 years ago, 
but I am ever more grateful for our choosing each other every day since.


Happy Anniversary, Stud Muffin!

I love you and I choose you. 
Always. Everyday.

Niki


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lament: A Preface and a Poem

A Preface on Lament

The thing about living is it's hard. And the thing about redemption is it's best recognized after the heartache. Lament is a necessary part of the grace process. Lament is where we own our failings, admit our shortcomings, and embrace our need. Lament is where we unabashedly say that life is far from easy and pain can be a frequent companion and answers aren't always quick to the rescue.

I believe that those of us who follow Jesus need to lament a little more. This world is doggone crazy sometimes. My heart is doggone ugly sometimes. And the kingdom needs to be a place we can plant our lament in the ground of God's goodness. That's the only way it will flower and bear fruit. It's the only way lament is redeemed. After it's been accepted, confessed, revealed, expressed.

Jesus people love to quote Lamentations 3:22-23. It's the "goes down easy" words about God's mercies that could lose their meaning on the near side of simplicity. But before we ever get to the great faithfulness of God, the author of this book has put 21 verses of "just plain hard" first. Why? Because redemption is best recognized after the heartache. And lament becomes our invitation to embrace heartache so that we might clearly see redemption.

So, here's a poem about the hard. And it doesn't end neatly. It leaves my lament open and unresolved. That may feel uncomfortable but we need to remember that resolution in real life doesn't always come swooping in on immediate wings. This is my attempt at a poetic kind of lament. An embracing of my own kind of brokenness because in claiming the painful, we can be released to recognize our redemption.



Lament I

It's funny how the cold dark can create a cold sweat;
how lonely feels cramped;
how lying voices crowd a mind
and coup d'├ętat their way into power
and waterboard the truth.

Gasping hard for breath
that would oxygenate freedom.
Hope drowning;
suffocating
under the weight of expectation
and the tyranny of perfection.

Inmate without steel bars.
Maximum security prison built from insecurities.
This cell block of "not good enough."
It's blackmarket currency is peace.
Taken piece by piece.
Stolen. Given. Bartered.

This silent suffering is prevalent, predictable.
Masked by money
or fame
or position.
Busyness is the morphine.
Accomplishment the valium.
Numbing the bastilled pain.

To no avail.
A dungeon where
freedom's call is repressed,
and worth is forgotten in Comparison's shadow.
Invisible shackles remain.
Self it's own warden,
and cruelest taskmaster.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Mercy in the Struggle

It's been hard lately.
Life and ministry.
There have been some days recently, that had I known they were coming,
I would have boarded that boat to Tarshish and been long gone, like the prophet of old.

But God has a way of catching up to us.
Now matter how we might try to run
or hide
or avoid.

And struggles force you out of hiding.
Hardship pushes you out of complacency.
Trials have a way of helping you regroup and reevaluate priorities.

That's what Jonah's three-day stay in a deluxe fish resort did for him.
It was a strategic management course.
And forward movement required choices and action.
And it was mercy, albeit smelly, but mercy nonetheless.

And these days of late, full of the hard edges of life,
have been my own kind big, stinky fish belly.
It has refused me rest and refused me retreat.
It has demanded a constant sorting of thoughts and emotions.
A barage of choices and actions to be rationally-based and not emotionally-driven.
And I wouldn't have chosen this. Not one single moment.
But they have been mercy.

These days of merciful struggle have brought certain priorities into focus.
These days have crystallized important relationships.
These moments have insisted on choices.
Choices that determine what I really believe about people, the church, my calling, my God.
The rubber meets the road kinds of faith choices that will demonstrate if I practice what I preach.
Will I forgive even if my hurt is never spoken to those who have injured me?
Will I trust God to tend to my heart and the hearts of others especially when that means I do nothing?
Will I embody grace in the midst of unjust words or broken systems that let you down?
Will I choose to see another's point of view even if no one ever tries to see mine?

This is brass tacks kind of Jesus living.
It's the hard stuff of the kingdom that is easy to talk about...until it's your reputation and your hurt.
And I don't like it. Not one little bit.

And people have tried to soothe with talk of the enemy that works against our good God-future.
And people say struggles like these pave the way for better days ahead.
And I suppose those sentiments could be accurate,
but honestly, I am too submerged to see the coming daylight over the horizon.
My hurt is too fresh to look for the brighter day.
Right now, I just don't know.

And yet, I can't escape God.
He keeps pursuing me,
relentless Hound of Heaven.
Even situational darkness can't keep Him away.

I can't make sense of my circumstances right now
but God, He still does make sense to me.
His goodness. His truth. His strength. His love.

Mercy stares me down right in the middle of the mess.
And maybe one of the greatest mercies of His is that
this present storm beckons me to grasp a truer faith;
that these current winds can lead to deeper roots.
Maybe mercy takes the shape of struggle that reminds me I haven't arrived
and there's plenty about His kingdom I don't understand
and I haven't really learned to live.

And that's enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The promise of fuller kingdom living.
Even at the cost of my pride or need for being heard.
If this struggle channels my faith to flow more freely,
and helps me enter more fully into kingdom living,
then I will walk it.

Just like Jonah, any forward movement will require choice and action.
So I choose to let these difficulties spur me to tenacious trust
so I might move toward the One who knows me best and loves me most.

I may not always like it.
I probably won't ever ask for it.
But God is who He is.
And that is always enough.


Friday, February 6, 2015

The Slow of Sabbath



Slow days are saving days.

Another Sabbath has come to a close for our family.
Another Thursday into Friday where we fight to be - just be.
Another 24 hours where we practice play and real attentiveness.
A day when we act like we actually have the time to stop and smell the roses.
Or play approximately 38 rounds of Super Mario Brothers.
Or sit shoulder to shoulder with my 10 year old and read seven chapters of Nancy Drew aloud.
Or cuddle with my Kindergartener and laugh at mismatched socks while smothering her in kisses.

Sabbath is about slowing down.
Not because there aren't things to do.
There. always. are.
The list will never end.
The tasks will never cease.
The expectations will always hover.

But slow days are saving days.

Slowness strengthens me for the fast days.
The rapid-fire, can't-miss-a-beat days.
Slowing provides a glorious reminder that my to do list does not get the final say.
That the world will keep turning without all my boxes checked.
That joy is defined by something greater than my accomplishments.

Slow days are saving days.

Rest invites me into the rhythm God intended for living.
A life-giving rhythm that doesn't rob but sustains.
Resting allows me to trust that God is in control
and it calls out the illusion that says I ever had control.
Resting relinquishes the lie that everything rises and falls on my actions.
It doesn't. But I sure live that way sometimes.

Slow days are saving days.

Sabbath is a defiance of looming deadlines.
It rebels against the American definition of success.
It's anthem ignores the clamor for increased productivity. 
Sabbath is the one thing many of us would say we can't afford to do.
But we would be wrong.
The soul will not be denied.
And the soul needs slow.
The soul needs rest.
Sabbath is the one thing we can't afford not to do.

Slow days are saving days.
Today, again, I found my salvation.



Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NLT)




Friday, January 2, 2015

My 7 Books for 2015

I wrote about my new year's resolutions here
One of my goals was to read 7 non-fiction books.

It's never been all that difficult for me to pick up a novel. 
In fact, fiction books are as much a mental escape for me as movies or sleeping.

But non-fiction is a different story. 
It has often served as a cure for my insomnia.
No joke. 
I do not exaggerate.

Just hoping I will pick up a non-fiction book doesn't work. I might pick one up, read 60 pages, and put it down with every intention of reading more. But I hardly ever do. Hence my self-inflicted title of "Queen of the Unfinished Book."

So, I have resolved to read (to completion) 7 non-fiction books in 2015.  The next step is to decide what I am going to read. 

There are a lot of good books. 7 is a very small number. 

But I whittled it down to the ones that most interested me or I felt were most pertinent to my life and ministry at this point in time. 

Here's my list in no particular order:



Leading Change without Losing It: 
Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition 
by Carey Nieuwhof






The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
by Susan Wise Bauer







Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn 
by Melanie Shankle







A Spirituality of Fundraising 
by Henri Nouwen







Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Disciplines 
by Lauren Winner







Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year 
by Tavis Smiley







Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: 
Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible 
by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien



And my runners-up...
You know, in case I get ambitious and actually read more than 7 books in 2015.
And no, the irony doesn't escape me that there are more than 7 books in this list.

by Timothy Keller


by Reggie McNeal

by Shauna Niequist

by Peter Rollins

by John & Joanna Stumbo





I am interested to know what non-fiction you have found helpful or beneficial. Feel free to leave a comment below and share with me. Who knows? Maybe I will alter my list after hearing from you!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My 2015 New Year's Resolution Solution

I am stranger to neither New Year's resolutions nor the shame produced when failing to keep resolve. That's why it would be easy to dismiss this tradition with flair, citing some rationale like, "I don't need a new year to give me permission to do something."

But here's the thing. I love intentional living and doing things on purpose. Life planned out and executed. And I love clean slates. Fresh starts. New beginnings.

And the New Year affords me both of these joys in one lovely midnight package.

Goals are good. Goals are friends because we tend to accomplish that for which we have planned. Those things for which we have set a goal. Otherwise, life happens to us and we live in reaction. I loathe reactionary existence.

I also am aware of the "Word of the Year" phenom. I have participated in said sensation. And I love the idea of an "angle" for the year that revolves around an easily remembered word. Yet I have found a word is too general for me. Too abstract. Too unfocused. It's reminds me of an Impressionistic painting that from a distance looks beautiful but as you draw closer you see the details are not distinct and articulate. A word hasn't forced me to set specific, measurable goals.

So, this year, I am picking a word that coerces me deeper into intentioned, quantifiable action. This is a idea that crossed my mind this morning. It's new. And it might bomb. Big time. After all, the girl that wrote unfulfilled resolutions of bygone years is still the one penning these today.

But I am willing to try.

I want to be healthier, in many ways...spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally. And it would seem logical to choose "Health" as my word for 2015. Problem is, it's uncentered. It's vague. It's easily avoidable because it refuses to persuade me to action of any kind on any level.

So, what could I do that would give my year a focus (like a word of the year would do), help me set specific goals (like traditional resolutions would do), and be easy to remember and recall in the heat of moments when life threatens to overtake me?


Here's my shot at a New Year's Eve Resolution solution...

It's starts with a word.

And my word for 2015 is 7.

Yep, that's right. My word is a number.

7. Seven. Siete.

Keep in mind that my main goal is greater health. So my word of the year becomes a way to inform my resolutions. This number will define all my specific goals for every part of my life where I desire greater health.


In 2015, with my word being 7, I resolve to:

1. Get up at 7 am every. single. morning. (save for our sabbath.)

Even on Saturday. Even on Sunday. I realize for some 7 am is sleeping in, but not for our household. As professional responsibilities have increased so have my late nights. And our schedule has felt inverted and flipped-flopped. Paul and I want to change that and this step might actually get it done. This one change could revolutionize my perspective and help me to better accomplish some of my other goals below.



2. Work toward greater spiritual health by applying these steps...

* Voice a prayer 7 times a day.
Now before you think me daft or legalistic, don't. This goal comes from a desire to better live out this scripture and walk in prayerfulness at all times. I don't plan to carry around a checklist to insure my compliance, I actually hope to partner this goal with one further down my list under family health. I explain more there.

* Set apart 7 days for fasting.
This is not a discipline I frequently employ, but I wish to incorporate more often.


* Offer 7 sacrificial acts. 
I do not yet know what this will entail, but I feel compelled to add it. These sacrificial offerings might come in the form of material goods, money, time, pride, or productivity. 



3. Work toward greater physical health by incorporating these habits:

* Count to 7 with every bite of food. 
I am notorious for eating quickly and I want to slow it down. I hope counting to 7 when I take a bite will serve as a mental trigger for me to eat more slowly.

* Drink 7 glasses of water a day. 
While it hasn't been proven, I am fairly certain Diet Coke runs through my veins. Drinking water is good for me and I need more of it.

* Eat 7 fruits or vegetables every day.
I couldn't even tell you how this resolution stacks up against the most updated food pyramid, and honestly I don't care. This is a step in the right direction for me to have a more balanced diet with the nutrients and vitamins I need.

* Listen to 7 songs while I walk. 
Seven mainstream songs last around 25 minutes, give or take. I want to be better about regular exercise, but I am limited by finances, time, and desire. I do, however, like to walk and I like music.  Why not pair them up and commit to walk consistently during my week while listening to some tunes? So when I wake up at 7am, I will set my playlist to 7 energetic, make-me-want-to-get-up-and-dance kind of songs and walk.



4. Work toward family health by strengthening these patterns...

* Count to 7 before speaking in frustration to my husband and children.
I want to speak life to my family but when frustration guides my words I have denied that opportunity. Though my habit is to spit words out thoughtlessly when feeling frustrated, I want to be deliberate in the practice of my speech. So, I will try my best count to seven every time I am tempted to spew irritation out on my family. 

* Affirm my husband 7 times a day.
Truth: It's can be easier to grumble about what my husband hasn't done then to appreciate what he has done. Truth: Parenthood is a great competitor to the marriage relationship. Both of these truths mean I have to dig deeper and work harder to speak to Paul the things he needs and deserves. I want to be intentional to praise my husband every day, multiple times a day. This might come as seven "I love yous" or seven specific compliments toward his character or efforts. Either way, it can't hurt a stinkin' thing.

And here is where the pray 7 times a day comes back around. I am linking these two items in my mind and heart this year. When I voice a prayer, I will also look for a way to affirm Paul. When I affirm Paul, I will pause and lift up a prayer. In this way, two goals are connected and will hopefully create some heart muscle memory.



5. Work toward greater mental and emotional health by striving to accomplish these goals...

* Read 7 non-fiction books. 
Don't judge. Sometimes you just have to be honest and start small. I am a home educating mother of three while pastoring with my husband and this does not encourage a non-reader to read much, especially if it requires much brain power. It's all been spent elsewhere at other points in the day.

* Recite 7 words..."My story is important to the world."
This phrase is inspired by Donald Miller's Storyline Conference which Paul and I attended in October. These seven words will help me when I am struggling with confidence or feel my contribution is lacking. I have a feeling I will be saying this a lot.

* Do 7 brave, risky things.
I tend to be a scaredy cat. Much of my life has been lived in deference to fear. I really don't like that. Courage requires intention. Risk doesn't have to translate to recklessness. But I have to be willing and able to take the step that frightens me. I have let too many opportunities slip through trembling fingers. This is another goal I can't predict how it will play out. I don't have anything specific in mind yet. But I will look for times when my knees are shaking and let that be a starting point.

* Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
Jesus said we must always be ready to offer forgiveness up to 77 times. In other words, forgiveness should be infinitely extended. The well of forgiveness has no bottom and it doesn't run dry. It's a reminder to continually offer forgiveness to others, especially when they may not deserve it because forgiveness is the way of freedom for my soul. And no, the number 7 isn't listed in the actual goal, but forgiveness is listed seven times for those I need to forgive on a regular basis: my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends, my parishioners, the stranger, and myself.





Throughout scripture, the number 7 represented perfection, completeness, wholeness. For me, 7 = shalom. And for all of my days, in all of my ways, I desire to pursue shalom, peace that encompasses the whole. It seems appropriate to have my goals toward greater health revolve around the number 7.

So this is my current solution to my resolution problem. As for it's success, I will have to embrace 2015 with all it's possibilities and promise to figure that out. I admit I am setting out a large, ambitious list of resolutions for myself in 2015. I actually don't expect to accomplish them all. That's ok. I just want to try. Maybe that's my first brave thing - tackling this set of goals. And if I fail, that's ok too. I will practice forgiving myself.


Here's to a healthier 2015!