The Best Laid Plans

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I had the perfect parking spot at the grocery store. It was right in front and next to one of those cart corrals. Once I got my groceries in the car I wouldn’t have to push the cart through the dirty, slushy snow that covered most of the parking lot. I never get that good of a parking spot, so of course, I get a phone call that causes me to have to abandon the spot before I even got out of my car.

Thanks to some jerk of a driver that ran through a stop sign, my daughter ended up in a huge snowbank. And to make it worse, the guy didn’t even turned around to see if she was OK, help her get out, nothing!

Car

(I just want to put it out there, that maybe you should pray for the driver of that old, grimy green pick up truck with the red plow on the front. Because if I ever find him, he’s going to need it.)

God be praised, my daughter was completely unharmed and other than a little bending on the front fender from hitting the snow, her car was undamaged as well. However, what I had planned on doing this afternoon had to be abandoned, and I have no idea now what we’re having for dinner. I think there are some beef jerky sticks in the pantry…we do have peanut butter and jelly…and carrots. I might be able to work with that.

How often do we make plans, big or little, and something comes up that just throws everything out the window? It’s pretty much the story of my life. (You know I have a teenage girl in my house when the first thing that pops into my mind after typing that is the One Direction song…) I don’t know if it’s because I have kids, if it’s because I’m naturally unorganized, if I get easily distracted, or maybe a combination of all three? Please tell me that I am not the only woman on the planet that has these issues. I know it drives my husband insane sometimes. But God love him, he’s getting more patient as he gets older. He comes home from work and sees the fur flying around here so he just helps himself to a beef jerky stick and a couple carrots, and sits down to relax for the evening. He knows eventually there will be an actual meal to eat at some point.

I often will beat myself up when the things I had all planned out go awry. Sometimes it’s my own fault, for which I probably deserve the beating. Like when I get hooked on too many online Scrabble games and I lose track of time. Or when I’m standing in the bathroom half dressed, having a text conversation my daughter, who’s already at church, about whether the black knit boots she’s wearing on stage was the right choice of footwear or maybe the black leather flats would have looked better and I end up missing most of the worship time because I’m 20 minutes late. But then when things like today happen, I still feel like I’ve messed things up. Yet it wasn’t anything I could have controlled. Someone else’s poor decision (running a stop sign) caused me to not have dinner on the table.

Wait…does that actually make sense?

Yes. It does, actually. But no one is going to fault me for it. We aren’t going to starve, and the kids will probably be thrilled at the chance for junk food; seeing as I’ve been really focusing on more natural and organic foods lately. It was just something that happened and I have to be OK with it. There are times when we have to best of intention regarding our relationship with God. We tell ourselves (and Him) that we are going to get back into the Bible, pray more often, we are going to be more active in our church, etcetera, etcetera. Then that morning comes when something happens and it starts throwing your plans off kilter. Before you know it the week is over and you’re still at Genesis chapter 2. And you decided that your prayer time would be at the end of the day, when all the distractions were gone. Problem is, you are laying in bed with your eyes closed. Next thing you know the dog is barking downstairs to be let out, your husband is in the shower getting ready for work and you’re wondering what the heck happened! So you start beating yourself up:

“Why can’t I be like so-and-so? She is so put together, and she’s a total prayer warrior, and her kids always look like their hair is brushed!”

“Why can’t I just discipline myself, and focus on my spiritual life? Why do I keep screwing it up?”

“I let God down AGAIN.”

(Just inserting a side note – I am continuing this the next day because, well, Mom’s Taxi Service was on call again. By the time we all got home, after getting Mexican take-out for dinner, my brain was done for the day. Now with some coffee in me, I resume…)

Honestly, I think God understands. He’s not up there keeping score. He doesn’t have a clipboard with your name at the top and makes a red check mark every time you don’t go to your “quiet place,” play worship music softly in the background and begin a King-James-version-type prayer that would put the Apostle Paul to shame. Especially if you’re a mom still with kids at home, you’re lucky if you can complete an actual thought sometimes, let alone anything else. Silly me, I thought that would change as my kids got older. But the distractions just changed in design.

We have to find what works for us. For me, when we finished our basement I actually got a room to myself. It’s not foolproof because the kids know where it is; installing a secret door that bolts shut only from the inside wasn’t really an option. But it does afford me some time and space to have a few moments of just me and Jesus. I think that’s all He’s asking for. He understands that we have a family, a job, a home; aren’t those things actually blessings from God? We just can’t let our blessings get in the way of the One who gave them. Some of you may disagree with me, and it’s not the end of the world if you do; but I think it’s OK if your prayer time is sitting in the car, waiting for your kids to get out of school, or lifting someone up to the Lord briefly as you sit at a stoplight. Maybe it’s while you’re standing at the stove stirring the spaghetti sauce and you give Him thanks for the full pantry and fridge. For the longest time, I thought that the only way I would be a real follower of Christ was to sit down and read pages and pages and pages in the Bible, then meticulously offer up a lengthy and eloquent prayer…every day…preferably at 5:00 in the morning when I would have no distraction or tasks to pull me away yet. When that wasn’t working for me, I got frustrated and told myself that I was a terrible Christian because I couldn’t do that. But eventually I found that my time with God, scattered here and there throughout the day, actually worked. And I discovered that because I was talking to Him off and on all the time, I started feeling a deeper connection. God made me the way I am. I am a “scattered” person whose thoughts move rapidly from one thing to the next. So why should I think that my walk with God should be different that who I am?

Hopefully that makes sense, and hopefully you’re not thinking I’m a total nut job that probably should never have been allowed to care for small human beings. But my point is, your relationship and walk with God should be a reflection of who YOU are; who God created YOU to be. Not who God created the pastor’s wife to be, or the uber-organized classroom mom that the folks at Pinterest go to for ideas. God sees your busy life, but He also sees your heart. And on those days when life has you going in ten different directions at the same time, but your heart still beats for Him, it’s OK. When, at the end of the day, you’re laying in bed with your eyes closed and are thanking Him for all He’s given…and suddenly you drift off before saying “Amen,” I think He just smiles and quiets the noisy world around you.

We all have the best laid plans; all the things that we feel that we need to accomplish. As long as we never lose our connection with God in our pursuit of the never-finished-to-do-list, I think we will be all right.

Céad míle beannachta.
(One hundred thousand blessings)

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Remember

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Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I’m sure many young people out there are reading various news venues and wondering what the heck Auschwitz-Birkenau is. Well, it has been 70 years. And let’s face it, the numbers of those who lived during that time in history are dwindling. So much has happened in our world since then, and school history books are getting more and more full. I guess some things have to be eliminated to make room for others. However, I don’t think that means we all just start forgetting about stuff. We should be teaching our children on our own, and keeping those historical moments “alive.” Because once you start forgetting about them, that’s when you risk repeating it.

The summer after I graduated from high school, my dad introduced me to a wonderful man that he had recently met; his name was Klaus.  I worked for the park district in my hometown and during the summers you could have found me in various locations throughout the parks. My dad also worked for the park district, part time as a park ranger, so we would run into each other often. One evening when I was just about to close the concession stand, my dad pulls up with Klaus and his little dachshund sitting in the front seat of the squad car. They had met at a downtown restaurant, while picking up some coffee; apparently Klaus had noticed my dad’s obviously German last name on his uniform name badge. After a lengthy conversation, probably standing at the back door of the restaurant, for some reason my dad mentions that I had studied German in school. So, he brings Klaus over to the park where I was working and introduces me to him. For the rest of the summer, my dad and I would run into Klaus and his dachshund off and on, here and there. He would sit on the bench and speak his native tongue with me, gently correcting a mispronounced word from time to time. Klaus was a very tall man with a booming laugh and thick head full of white hair. He was widowed, and at some point had moved to my hometown from Chicago. He would tell me stories about various things, but he only spoke to me in German. It was challenging sometimes, but I appreciated his encouragement in keeping up with the language skills.

With the coming of fall, I started college and my park district work moved me indoors, so I didn’t see Klaus very often. But I knew he was still around because my dad would see him, usually at the same restaurant getting coffee. The next summer we resumed our “conversations” on the park bench, despite the fact that I no longer was studying German and had a heck of a time keeping up with him! One day, he starts telling me about when he was young.

Klaus had grown up in Germany, in the years after World War I. That was a lean and desperate time for Germany, making it very easy for Hitler to rise to power. Klaus had been a member of the Hitlerjugend, the youth organization organized by the Nazi party. Despite the fact that he and his family were not necessarily in agreement with the beliefs of the Nazi party, fear of being called out caused his father to place Klaus in the organization. When Hitler invaded Poland, Klaus was barely out of his teens. As other countries began forming what would be the Allied Powers, and war was in full swing, Klaus enlisted in the German army. He made the point of saying that he enlisted not because he supported Hitler and the Nazis, but because he was a German citizen and felt it was his duty to protect his homeland. He was sent to the eastern front and eventually was part of the German invasion of Russia. The invasion never was successful, and Klaus found himself, along with several thousand other German soldiers, taken prisoner. Klaus was a POW for more years than he actively served in the German army. Even after the war officially ended in 1945, it would be a couple more years before he was released. He married, but never had children, and left Germany with his wife in the early 1960’s, landing in Chicago.

I learned a few years later that Klaus had passed away. Even though it had been quite a while since I’d actually seen him, I was sad to hear about it. I honestly enjoyed being able to sit and talk with him, despite my often incorrect language skills. I appreciated him telling me his story. It was a story of things that occured before I was even born, but it had shaped the world I lived in.

And he encouraged me to remember.

Last summer, Steve, the kids and I took a whirlwind trip to New York City and Washington D.C. One of the places we visited in D.C. was the National Holocaust Museum. We arrived later in the day, and soon discovered that there was more to see than we had time for. So as announcements of “the museum is closing soon” came over the speakers, we quickly moved from one area to another. Despite our brisk viewings, there were some things that we had to just stop for. This was one of them:

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It was the shoes. I had to explain to my kids what it was exactly that they were looking at. But once I did, and their eyes went from me and scanned across what laid before them, I think the reality of it all finally hit them. It was a difficult museum to go through, and actually I’m thankful that we didn’t have time to go into the part dedicated to the children. I don’t know if I could have seen that, to be honest. My own kids were kind of unsure if they were glad to have seen that museum or not; I think seeing what man is capable of disturbed them a great deal. But I also think they needed to see it. And they need to remember it. Because like the rest of their generation, they are our future. And if the future generations begin to forget, then they risk repeating the past.

While I do have a couple other nationalities running through my blood, I am for the most part, German. My family was already in America by the time Hitler rose to power, but I wonder what it was like for them during those years, having such an obvious German name and heritage. Did they ever feel self conscious of it? I never knew.

A lot has changed in the world since 1945, and countries that were once enemies are now allies against another threat. But as the years continue to go by, I pray that we never forget those who were the victims of such hatred. They were mothers and fathers. They were children. And they were God’s.

Hunderttausend Segen~
(One hundred thousand blessings)

Something To Think About…

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UnknownTalk to the hand. Sometimes that’s what I hear. Maybe not literally, but through someone’s actions or reactions to something, their comments, etc. And honestly, I just want to get in their face and say, “Really?! That’s what you’re going with?!”

I guess you could say that I lean towards being a Red-Letter Christian. That may make some of you cringe because those kinds of Christians can be a little “out there.” But notice I said that I lean towards it. And by that I mean that I do not get myself all wrapped up in the do this-not that, say this-not that, don’t touch-talk to-sit near the icky person, you gotta dress to the nines for church, Pharisee-like practices. OK, so maybe when my teenage son comes down on Sunday morning wearing a stretched out and faded Dr. Who t-shirt that looks like it was drug out from under his bed, I make him go at least put a polo shirt on. But jeans and tennis shoes are fine. And sometimes I’m even fine with him saying “brushed hair” is when you run both hands through it and call it done. But in all seriousness, the phony and close-minded behavior is why I walked away from the church in the first place. My desire is to do what Jesus said to do, and follow His example; basically the red print in the Bible. And that’s it.

in 2010, right before I went on my third missions trip to Thailand, I asked God to show me why I felt such a strong pull to keep going back there. I spent almost a month in Thailand that trip, and visited/worked with several different ministries in different parts of the country. But it didn’t seem like God was answering my question. Then one night I tagged along with a friend who leads a ministry in Bangkok that reaches out to foreign men that go into the red-light districts (RLD’s). He needed some pictures taken for new ministry prayer cards, and asked if I would take them. (At the time I was really into photography) So off we went, into one of Bangkok’s most popular RLD’s. It wasn’t like the RLD’s I’d been to in Pattaya, with open air bars, cars and motorbikes zipping up and down the streets and a variety of tourists including women and kids wandering about. This one had one way in and out, had multiple floors of go-go bars, and who knows what else behind the velvet curtains. And I definitely did not see any other normally dressed, Caucasian women in there; I got some strange looks, believe me.

But of all places, it was in there that God told me what He wanted me to do. Almost a week later, in a different Bangkok RLD, Steve was also moved to do the same thing. The following year we began planning and fundraising to become full-time missionaries in Thailand.  It would prove to be one of the most challenging things we would ever attempt. God’s call on our lives was to those foreign men who travelled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars, to “buy love.”

Human trafficking is a big topic right now, and it should be, with 27+ million people around the world caught up in labor and sex trafficking. It’s a huge animal to take down, yet a great deal of love is poured out for the suffering women and children that are trapped, with so many organizations out there – religious and non – that are working tirelessly to get it done. So step into that arena, and wave the banner of “We are combatting this from the demand side so let’s pray for the men!” Then just sit back and wait for the tomatoes to be thrown at you. In the most Christian of manners, of course.

In the book of Acts, Peter is invited to stay with a man by the name of Cornelius, who was a captain in the Italian Guard, stationed in Caesarea. Despite the fact he was not a Jew, Cornelius was a godly man, and took in everything that Peter told him about Jesus, and was eventually baptized. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, his Jewish friends were none too pleased. “What do you think you’re doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?” (Acts 11:3 MSG) Peter explained to them that through a vision God told him that no one was better than another, and that the gift of salvation was for everyone.

How often does the church body forget that? We cannot pick and choose which broken people we are going to lift up. Some brokeness is uglier than what we would like to acknowledge. It’s easy to take care of the widow and orphan. But what about the prostitute and the john? Or…gasp!! What about the trafficker??!! The man or woman who is selling others into slavery? Let’s all gather around that person and lay hands on them, shall we? I think some people would rather cut their tongue out than utter a prayer over a person like that. Admittedly, I would have a hard time myself doing that.

But here’s the thing. God did not say to go bring in the lost people who look like they’d be attractive enough for a great picture on the flyer you’re mailing out about your church. God said that we are to be a light in this world; all of it, not just the most popular or prettiest spots. Sometimes you have to go into the darkest of holes, and take the hand of the dirtiest of people. You have to be willing to take them, dirt and all, and wrap your arms around them, exactly like Jesus did. It doesn’t matter what your “Jewish friends” say. What matters is what’s there in the Bible, in red letters. It says “go into ALL the nations.” Sometimes that “nation” is a red light district, but sometimes it’s the ghetto in your own hometown.

And maybe that john, sitting on a curb in a RLD with a cigarette in one hand and an empty beer bottle in the other might be Jesus in disguise. What will you do?

Céad míle beannachta.
(One hundred thousand blessings)

Putting Your Jesus Bifocals On

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imagesWe all know who this guy was. He invented so many things, we probably don’t realize it was Franklin that came up with them! You may or may not know that he created the bifocal glasses. If you did, kudos. Either you paid attention in school or you’re really good at Trivia Crack. Bifocals have come a long way since then, they definitely are not what our grandparents wore. Which is good…but I still hate mine.

I have a confession. When it comes to my glasses I choose vanity over seeing straight. Coming from a family where more people wore glasses than didn’t, I prided myself on the fact that I was not one of them. Sure, I had a pair that I might have worn in school when I was doing a lot of reading. And as I got older, the prescription in those reading glasses started getting stronger. But I only needed them to read, thank goodness, and they were pretty cute looking with the little round lenses and faint pink metal frame. Then one night, I’m driving home from Milwaukee and I realize that everything around me looked like it did back when I was in college and couldn’t stay away from the beer keg. (Yeh, that’s another blog for another day…) I was long overdue for an eye exam so off I went.

Well, you can probably guess what happened. Not only was I going to have to wear glasses pretty much full time, but they’re BIFOCALS!!! Waaaaaaa!!! (Insert image of four-year-old throwing tantrum on the floor) And I would have to get larger lenses because those cute little pink reading glasses were too small for the two prescriptions. To quote my daughter, “Are you kidding me?!” I found some glasses with as little frame as possible, and stomped out of the office.

Pride cometh before the fall. Thank you King Solomon for your words of wisdom.

OK, so yes. I can see things better now. I can drive at night and know that those are actually headlights coming at me and not Tinkerbell and friends. I can read books on my Kindle and have more than 6 words on the page before having to turn it. I can sit in church and read along with the sermon notes and my Bible (app), then look up at the pastor on stage and be able to see all of it clearly without having to move my head up and down like a neighing horse, as I did with the smaller reading glasses. Of course, I have mastered the approaching-middle-age-person’s habit of lifting your chin slightly and looking down through the stronger prescription at the bottom when I read something. The silly thing is, I do that even when I’m not wearing my glasses. Like if I half shut my eyes and look down my nose my eyes will work better.

You know, like those bifocals, Jesus can help you see your life more clearly as well. When things around you are fuzzy and unclear, He can sharpen it up in an instant. But you have to get over your pride and determination to do it yourself. Sometimes the road ahead is dark, and it’s not Tinkerbell and friends coming at you. It’s the enemy of your heart and he is coming in fast. Without your Jesus bifocals on, you may swerve out of the way a few times and avoid the crash. But eventually, because you aren’t seeing clearly, you’re going to hit something. You may say, nothing will happen to me because I’m a really good driver! We all think we’re good drivers. But the best drivers are the ones who are faithfully wearing their Jesus bifocals. Sure, they may come upon a hefty speed bump and that really rattles their car from time to time. But they saw it, they slowed down, and as they went up and over it maybe it jostled them around a bit, but they made it over, and continued down the road.

Nobody, even Jesus, ever said life as a follower of Him would be smooth. I’m here to tell you that probably the worst time of my life was during my walk with Christ. While it wasn’t something I wanted, I hated going through it, and the outcome really sucked, I went through it all wearing my Jesus bifocals and I could see the positive in the end. Seriously. Life in this fallen world is hard, but knowing what you will be able to see when you put your pride aside is incredible.

If you haven’t already, try those bifocals on. Even if you wore reading glasses before, and they helped a little, but not enough anymore, try those bifocals. You might feel a little silly at first and maybe others will laugh at you behind your back. Or worse, to your face. But know this; those who ridicule cannot see you fully because they’re not wearing any glasses. They cannot see the peace and will lash out at you because you’re not foolishly bumping into walls like they are. FYI – bumping into walls is not cool or popular and eventually will only leave you with a bloody nose.

I get the importance of having these kind of glasses. I understand that it relieves the strain on my eyes and all that. But I tell you what – as soon as I get to those Pearly Gates, I am taking these things off, dropping them to the ground and jumping up and down on them until they’re dust. Because (thank you Jesus) I won’t need them in heaven anyway.

Céad míle beannachta.
(One hundred thousand blessings)

In the beginning

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fountainpen2I guess you could call me a logophile. More specifically, a writing logophile. I’m not sure if that’s actually correct grammar, but whatever. Anyone who actually knows me, knows that I’m not much of a talker usually. But give me a few uninterrupted minutes and allow to let loose whatever thoughts are randomly going through my head at the moment and I will write all afternoon. I’m certainly no great author, I just seem to communicate better what’s going on in my head when I’m writing.

A logophile is a lover of words. I have always enjoyed words and writing, going all the way back to when I was an early teen. When I started college, I chose the path of literature, and as a sophomore excitedly took my first writing course. The final assignment was a short story that we had worked on all semester and I couldn’t wait to get mine back from the professor. When I opened the folder and flipped to the back page for my grade I was shocked to see a “D,” and only one comment, something along the lines of “This is nothing better than a B-rated movie script.” No explanation, no other remarks. I had done quite well with the variety of assignments given throughout the semester, so my final grade was still very good despite the bomb at the end. I never even asked the professor why is was so bad. I just decided then and there that I would never be any kind of writer. I finished the Associate’s degree in Literature, then moved on to a larger university and earned a Bachelor’s in a completely unrelated subject. And other than the required class assignment, I didn’t write a word.

Jump forward a number of years. Personal computers became more advanced, the internet became a part of our daily lives, communication via email became more prevalent, social networking sites appeared, and I discovered that I really missed writing. Writing anything.

Nowadays, the biggest obstacle to me writing is time. Admittedly, I’m not the best manager of it. So oftentimes I’m laying in bed at 1:00 in the morning, thinking about all the things I want to write about! With the start of the new year, though, I decided that I’m going to make a real concerted effort to put all those thoughts down on paper. Well, okay maybe I’m dating myself by saying I’m going to put it on paper. (My husband likes to tease me when I pull out the yellow legal pad and a pen.)

I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of different things, but I try to center many of them around my faith and what I believe. This may turn off some people and maybe my mom will be the only person who actually follows this blog! (Because moms do that kind of thing you know, regardless of how old you are.) But that’s okay because I have enough things crashing around in my head and any given moment, so it might be good for me to actually get some of it out and then there will be more room in my head for additional randomness.

Yet I also hope that maybe something I write might be a help or blessing to someone, depending on the topic. Maybe it will change someone’s opinion, open their eyes to something, or teach them about something they had no idea about. Maybe through a comment dialogue I might learn something too!

So I apologize here, at the beginning, for all of the words. There’s going to be a lot; I’m just forewarning you. Hopefully you won’t give up after the third paragraph.

Céad míle beannachta.
(One hundred thousand blessings)