What On Earth Am I Doing?!?

“WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?!?”

I was alone in my car, but I spoke those words out loud. I’m not sure exactly who I was talking to, whether it was just myself or if I was talking to God. It was spring break of my sophomore year of college, and I was driving on partially ice-covered roads to a camp I had never been to. Oh,and I didn’t know anyone else who would be there.

The story kind of started a week or so before spring break. A friend of mine and I attended a summer job fair on campus. We were both hoping to work at camps that summer, so the job fair seemed like a good idea. I was looking for a Christian camp, and quite honestly, didn’t think I would find a good fit there. Sure enough, there were several church affiliated camps, but most of them seemed to focus on canoeing, horseback riding, archery and the like. I’m sure those are all nice camps, but I was looking for more.

We were almost through the booths in the room when we got to one last camp. The guy said, “Well, we’re about telling kids about Jesus, so if that is something you’d be interested in, feel free to take an application.”

I had intended on applying to a camp I had attended as a child. Another friend of mine had worked there and got me an application. The application process was pretty lengthy. The “We’re about telling kids about Jesus” guy’s camp had a much simpler process, so I filled out the form and put it in the mail right before spring break.

My roommate and I drove to Colorado Springs during the first part of spring break. We had a good old time laughing at tumbleweeds, seeing mountains and going skiing that trip. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but we returned to Iowa in time for me to receive a call from a staffer at Ingham, Okoboji and Riverside Bible Camps (the previously mentioned “tell kids about Jesus” camps). They were having a weekend retreat for middle school students that weekend and were short staffed. They had received my summer application and wondered if I’d like to come up to Okoboji to help out and see if it was something I’d really like to do for the summer. I said, “Sure!”

Then I said, “WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?” as I drove to the camp. It seems to go that way sometimes. I agree to do something and then wonder what I was thinking when I agreed to said commitment.

I don’t remember much about that weekend in Okoboji, other than feeling very out of place, yet strangely in the right place. I ended my time there interviewing with the camp director for a summer position. A few days after returning to college, I received a letter saying I was hired for the summer. There is a whole lot more to that story that I’d like to share sometime, but not today.

Today I’m doing a re-enactment of that weekend in Okoboji. Instead this time it’s a weekend in Ohio. I’ve scheduled this little story to post while I’m driving to a retreat in Ohio. I’m pretty sure I’ll be saying, “WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?!?” at least once during the 684 mile drive.

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It all started last May when I read about a giveaway on a blog. I entered, of course, because blog giveaways are fun! I mean, I had never won anything on a blog giveaway, but you can’t win if you don’t enter, right? This giveaway had some lovely books, jewelry and artwork. The grand prize was a ticket to a retreat in Ohio. {Spoiler alert!} Kris Camealy was doing the giveaway in honor of a blog re-launch and to promote the retreat.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I got a message on Twitter from Kris asking if I had entered the giveaway and then telling me I had won the grand prize. I was all, “No way! I never win anything!” I mean, how totally exciting to win something!

I later received an email from Kris with more details. “There were nearly 3000 entries for this Giveaway, so consider yourself hand-picked by the Lord. :)” she said. “I don’t believe in coincidence.”

Cue the “WHAT ON EARTH?!?” thoughts.

I’ve said many times that I wish God would just send me an email or invent a God app. This is about as close as it gets. God used a giveaway app to pick me as the winner.

What is a person supposed to think when God sends them to a retreat in Ohio? I’m excited to see what He has going on, yet I’m a little bit wondering why He couldn’t do whatever He is doing closer to home. In the past, I’ve set my expectations way too high and then been disappointed a conference or experience wasn’t what I imagined.

I have to admit, my thoughts have included: why didn’t I just win some art or a book? Maybe the retreat will get cancelled. Maybe something will come up that will make my attendance impossible.

We’re (my family) in the middle of a busy, stressful season. Maybe God, in His ever-loving kindness, knew I was going to need a get-away. Maybe there is someone at the retreat I need to meet? Maybe there is a message I need to hear?

I started a 40-day Lent challenge to read through the New Testament. I’m hopelessly behind, but reading all four Gospels so close together makes certain things stand out. One thing I’ve noticed is how often Jesus escaped the crowds to spent time with his Father. My word of the year is small. Going to a retreat in Ohio seems anything but small. On the other hand, the essence of the word small is to simply take the next step. To reign in my focus from “everything” that’s “out there” and all the possibilities on God’s green earth, and to instead focus on what God has given me under my own roof. God has given me a ticket to a retreat, so I embrace the gift with excitement and anticipation!

 

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What I Learned in March

I love Emily Freeman’s “What I Learned” monthly series. I keep meaning to post what I learned each month, but then the month escapes me. So, this will technically be things I learned in February and March. I’m sure you won’t mind.

1.  There is such a thing as alien abduction insurance. Some of it is for playing jokes. Some of it, apparently, is for real.

2.  I was late to the Downton Abbey game, so I watched the first three seasons over about eight weeks last winter. I learned this winter that the seasons are only eight episodes long. I was highly disappointed when the season was over so quickly, as I watched three times as many episodes in the same time frame last year.

3.  There are hundreds of faucets, dozens of light fixtures and, quite possibly, thousands of flooring options. We’ve have come to the conclusion that we know what we don’t like. What we do like changes quite dramatically when we see price tags. Funny how that works.

4.  Working towards a dream is exciting, exhausting, overwhelming, stressful, thrilling, and requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

5.  Working towards a dream also takes an enormous amount of patience. And I pass that lesson in patience along to you, as our dream pursuing is not yet ready to be announced on social media. (But you can make some guesses based on Number 3.)

6.  I still think of my parents as being how I remember them when I was a kid. But, now I’m that age, so they can’t be that age anymore. I used to think age 50 was old, until my parents turned 50. My dad had quintuple heart bypass surgery this month. (He’s recovering well, by the way!) It was fairly shocking when we found out he needed the surgery. Sometimes you “know” things but don’t really think about them much. This month, I learned my parents will not live on this earth forever. (And, yes, I know my parents will read this.)

7.  There is such a thing as quintuple heart bypass surgery. Wikipedia says “more than four is uncommon.”

8.  There is a Guinness Book of World Records category for Most Heart Bypass Operations. Shane from Canada had three separate surgeries and eleven bypasses. I hope my Dad doesn’t beat this record.

9.  There is also a Guinness Book of World Records category for “Longest Surving Quintuple Heart Bypass Patient.” Game on, Chris from Canada. (What’s up, Canada?)

10.  Minecraft is a strange game, but when you suggest playing along with your three kids, they will react as though you offered bags of candy.

11.  My kids can build entire homes on Minecraft in the time it takes me to build one wall.

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Posted at Emily Freeman’s “Let’s Share What We Learned in March.”

 

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Being OK with Me in this Culture

Being OK with Me.We want to Be OK with Me. We know we are sometimes, but maybe not as much as we’d like.

We know God loves us and designed us exactly how we are, yet we tend to forget or even not like how He designed us.

What gets us down? What distracts us from the truth? Why are we covered in grime?

There are many things, really, so we’ll be looking at them in the coming days. We’ll expose the dirt and start to brush it aside.

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We live in a culture that exalts the big names, the money, the stars. We can’t get enough of the fame and fortune.

Trends come and go like the flip of a switch. Technology is outdated before you purchase it.

“Reality” shows are staged. Stylists remodel a room on a home improvement show, and what took weeks or months to accomplish is presented in 22 minutes.

The person with the loudest voice is heard. The one with the most money gets her way.

Extreme is it. If you don’t go all out, you aren’t really living.

Our culture is in direct contrast to the Kingdom of God, where the last will be first and the meek receive a reward.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.  Matthew 5:5, The Message

Jesus ignored the pleas to pursue political power. He knew his role was different. He talked to women and children and lepers and the outsiders. He died for us so that we could truly live.

He has harsh words for those who put on a show, concerning themselves with their image or status. “Everything they do is for people to see …” Matthew 23:5

“Blessed is the one … who delights in the law of Lord … He is like a tree planted by streams of water …” Psalm 1

Trees do not grow in 22 minutes. Sure, you could film one growing and package it into a nice little TV show, but Oak trees don’t grow overnight.

(And because of the Internet, you can watch some trees grow in just a couple minutes. It’s absolutely fascinating how long it takes just for the acorn to break open in the first video. The second video shows a larger tree over 5 years. At first, it hardly looks like a tree. At times it looks completely dead, but it’s just dormant for a season.)

The only extreme living Jesus talked about was to deny ourselves and follow Him.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Luke 9:23-25

But, how can we deny ourselves and be OK with ourselves at the same time? The Message gives insight:

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” Luke 9:23-25 The Message

Don’t chase this world or our culture of fame, fortune and quick fixes. Don’t even chase God. Just dwell in Him. Delight in Him. Let God define how life is supposed to look and how you are supposed to be.

Being OK with Me — Scrubbing the Deck

Being OK with Me.I am in the process of re-staining our front porch steps and our back deck. We’ve lived in our house for 10  years now. It’s my third time tackling this project, so I know what to expect. I can’t just buy some stain and slop it on and think everything will turn out OK. There is a process, and like any home improvement project, it always takes longer than you think it should.

It’s kind of like the process of Being OK with Me. I can’t just rub on some new cream or say some magic words to make everything OK. I thought I would start with talking about our identity in Christ — digging into God’s Word and proclaiming the truth found in Scripture. Then I started to stain my deck and realized that being OK with ourselves is much like the deck staining process. First, I must do the prep-work, otherwise the stain won’t stick.

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So, first we need to clear away the clutter, sweep a way the dirt and scrub away the grime. We might have to get on our hands and knees. Some areas will need extra scrubbing. It’s going to be hard work.

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I used an old bottle of deck cleaner to start my staining process, and it didn’t get very far. There is a distinct line where I’ve gotten some wood clean and others not. the areas that have been cleaned are already looking so much better. I hope the same happens as we explore the obstacles that keep us from Being OK with Me. We’ll take a look at the clutter and dirt and start to scrub away the grime. The bare wood will show through, and it will look so much better.

And, more importantly, the bare wood will be ready for the stain. It will soak it in. It will look beautiful.

Being OK with Me

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I’m OK with myself. Really, I am. The title up there might indicate I don’t like myself very much. Most of the time, I’m OK with me. I see my strengths and weaknesses. I see how I’ve changed and grown over the years. I generally feel contentment about who I am, where I am and what I do.

But.

But, there is also this nagging feeling that I am not enough. I should be more or do more. I should fix something. I should try harder. There is a shadow following me around whispering, “I should. I should. I should.”

I know I’m not alone. I sense you feel it, too. I hear it when you talk about how you’re failing. I see it when you stand on the edge, wondering if you fit.  I know because, well, me too. I lay in my bed wondering what you think of me after our conversation earlier in the day. I cringe when you compare yourself to me, yet turn around and compare myself to you.

I read about it almost weekly on the internet. On a recent day, I came across two such posts. They were published on different days, but I stumbled upon them the same day.

I read these words and shout, “Amen!” Phrases that never come out of my mouth start popping into my head. “Preach it, Sista!” “You go, Girl!” You get the idea. The words of those posts are full of truth. They sooth and encourage, and I embrace them. I’m OK with me. For a few hours. Or maybe even a whole day.

But the shadow catches up to me again. I grasp for the truth, but it slips through my fingers.

My husband is leading a couple groups through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University this fall. At the end of the first DVD session, Dave says, “What would happen to the kingdom of God if the people of God were out of debt? How much of this world could we, as believers, change?”

I wonder the same about women. What could the women of God — the daughters of Christ — do for the kingdom of God if we were all OK with ourselves? How could God use us if I was OK with me and you were OK with you?

I want to recognize areas for growth and change in my life without a sense of shame.

I want to celebrate your gifts and successes without feeling like I’m not enough.

I want to lay in my bed praying for you, not worrying about what I said to you earlier in the day.

I want to compare my “right now” to my “used to be” and not some unrealistic idea of perfection.

You, too? Let’s wrestle with this for 31 days.*

*I originally intended to participate in the 31 Days series, but I was unable to complete the series in 31 days. It is an on-going series here. Thank you for grace as I work to complete it.

I am a Writer.

I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer.

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It happened just a few weeks ago. I received an email from someone I was working with for a church committee. He wrote an article for the church newsletter I put together, and it needed to be condensed to also fit in the church bulletin. I offered to help. He liked my work and said in his email, “You should be a writer!”

I smiled and said to myself, “That’s because I am a writer!” And that was it! The first time I actually called myself a writer. It wasn’t heard outside my own head, but it has always been my head that needed to hear it most.

You would think someone with a degree in journalism, who blogs at three sites, would have called herself a writer years ago, but that hasn’t been the case. I was a “reporter” and “a person who sometimes writes,” but the phrase “I am a writer” was not in my vocabulary.

I’ve written before about my battle with words, how they swirl in my head and beg to be released from the prison in my brain. I’ve written before about why I didn’t call myself a writer, because I was too random about writing in this space. I never called myself a writer, even though I was writing.

I remember one summer as a kid when my brother and I made a newsletter talking about what was happening in our neighborhood. The summer after my freshman year of college, I sent a cheesy form letter to my college friends, asking about their summers. They all replied, and I published stories in a newsletter about what everyone was up to. (I mailed it out via snail mail, of course, since that was before it was common to have reliable internet access in your home.) My first job after graduating from college was with a news agency, and I gradually did more and more writing and even got some stories with “writer” behind my byline. When I left that job, my editor gave me a pen. “Keep writing,” she said. I’ve been writing and editing my church newsletter for nearly 13 years. Yet, if someone asked me if I was a writer, I hemmed and hawed and stuttered. “Well, sometimes I like to write,” I’d say.

I know I’m not alone in this battle to call oneself a writer. It seems a similar story for anyone who delves into the creative life, whether it be painting, sculpting or stringing together words. If you are a teacher, you teach people. If you are a plumber, you fix pipes. If you are a writer, you write. Right? It shouldn’t matter where or how often or if you’ve been published or paid.

Maybe I just needed more time to figure myself out. Maybe I needed the experience of writing regularly, which I have this year over at The Journey. Maybe I was afraid of admitting the truth because I don’t know where it will lead.

Whatever the issue, I’m over it. I’ve made the declaration, and I’m probably diving into deeper battles. But at least one thing is clear now:  I am a writer.

 

 

Three Smiling Kids

I saw a new blog link up, and thought it would be fun to try. You know my history of linking up places … I am the Random Reporter, you know. 🙂 This link up is called “Behind the Scenes.” We all like to post the nice, cute, happy things online, but maybe there is sometimes a bigger story than the nice, cute and happy. Here’s my story:

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The picture received a “Cuteness x3!” comment from Grandma, but the truth is the picture almost didn’t happen.

Monroe ParkThree smiling kids having a blast on an old-school merry-go-round — how could you NOT like this picture?

We drove to Des Moines Monday to have lunch with Grandma and Grandpa B., who were in town for an appointment. I wanted to make the most of the hour drive, but we didn’t need to shop, and we didn’t have a ton of time to go anywhere like the zoo or science center. So, my idea was to “park hop” on the way home. We would stop in the towns between Des Moines and home and see if we could find a fun playground in each one. The kids liked the idea, and agreed to four parks for 15 minutes each.

Park #1 was fun for a while, but then someone started crying. Park #2 was a similar story. Lots of bossy talk, stomping around mad and crying. I was done. “That’s it,” I said. “Let’s just go home. I have a lawn to mow and you have a room to clean.”

Thankfully, Angry Mom gave in to the pleas for one more chance, and Park #3 was perfect. Everyone had fun! No one was bossing anyone else around! No one was crying!

We stopped in Town #4, but it was too small for a park, other than the school playground. School appeared to be in session, so we kept driving. Someone had to use the potty, and everyone agreed we could just go home.

So, there you have it, the story behind the picture of three happy kids.