March 10, 2014

"Balanced" by Tricia Goyer Book Review

I'm still new to the whole work-at-home mom routine. In fact, sometimes I have a hard time knowing whether or not I can even call myself a work-at-home mom, because currently I earn little to no money. However, regardless of whether you're the author of forty books or a never-been-published author, it's a struggle to know how to properly balance caring for a family at home and pursuing God-given passions and opportunities.

As a quasi-work-at-home mom who sometimes writes while the kids are awake, I enjoyed reading Balanced. Honestly, it's a challenge to learn how to navigate the waters of work and parenthood. if I wait until the end of the day to begin my "work" I find that I am so drained and exhausted that I usually have nothing creative left to give.

I think it benefits my children to see me work hard at something I love. They know I love them, and they know that their needs ALWAYS take priority, but I also want to teach them how to pursue passions and callings. I don't want my children to think that the world (or the home) revolves solely around their individual desires. It's a continual struggle to find the balance. I wonder if previous generations felt guilty for not devoting 100% of their waking hours to one-on-one time with their children. I'm pretty sure that in the past, children worked alongside their parents, learning how to work by following their example.

I think the most beneficial thing I took away from reading Tricia Goyer's book is to involve God in all aspects of your work-at-home life. As a writer, I have to trust God's leadership and timing. I don't necessarily have to wait until the kids are grown to begin fulfilling a calling. The book isn't necessarily a how-to guide on working from home, it's more of an inspirational "You can do it!"

There are some helpful tips in the book on how to shape your family's priorities (and how to cut out schedule suffocators), as well as guidance on developing your life themes to help you find balance and direction as a family and as an individual.

As a busy mom, I appreciated that the e-book was a  quick and easy read (only about 70 pages). I always find it encouraging to read stories of moms who have made it work. Goyer has published dozens of successful books and articles, all while raising children from home. While at times the thought of writing four or five books a year seems like an insurmountable goal, it is encouraging to know that it can be done (without having to sacrifice your children on the altar of your ambition). It really is about balance. It's about learning what works for your family. It's about learning how to say "no" to good things. It's about learning how to say "yes" to pursuing the God-given passions, callings, and gifts He's given you.

Each family is different. Each season of family life is also continuously changing. Right now, I'm in the midst of the madness of the early years (diapers, sleep deprivation, Bob the Builder on repeat). I need to be realistic with my expectations (both for myself and my children), but I don't necessarily need to use that as an excuse to put off doing what I feel called to do. Yes, it can be incredibly frustrating (just in the writing of this blog post I've had to break up three fights, refill juice cups, and fix lunch).

It can be hard to type with a two-year-old hanging onto your arm.

Is it ever possible to find the perfect balance? Probably not. Each day is completely different. What worked yesterday may not work today, but we can learn is how to be flexible and focused. We can learn how to set goals and boundaries, because in the end, it's not only ourselves who benefit from working from home, but the little people who sit around the table with us.

I received a complimentary copy of the E-Book to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed are my own honest thoughts of the book. 

March 3, 2014

On Christianity and Cupcakes

Cupcakes can be Kryptonite for young children (and let's face it, as adults we're not immune to their wily ways either). How else can you explain how a small baked treat can cause an otherwise normal behaving child to throw themselves limply on the floor and begin screaming? Yes, cupcakes must contain super human powers. 

Scene: It's Sunday morning at the Brooks house. A freak ice storm has left my windshield covered with a thick film of ice. We're already running late for church, which is par for the course at our house. I feel a small hand tugging on my leg.

"I want a cupcake." His big brown eyes are pleading with me.

"Honey, it's 8:15 in the morning. It's too early for a cupcake. How about a piece of toast or some more cereal?"

"But mom, I reeeeeeeeallly want a cupcake." What was once a pleading look has been transformed into an angry glare. 

"Sorry, bud. Not going to happen. Now go get your shoes on while I get the ice off the windshield."

I head out into the icy morning armed with a plastic ice scraper and a determination to leave the house this morning. Cupcake battles are the worst. It almost makes me want to ban them from the house (the cupcakes, not the children).

A few minutes later I head inside the house.

"Boys. Jackets on. Now. Let's go!"

I hear the running of little feet, the slam of a door, followed by a loud thump.

I head toward the sound of the collision and discover a crying child . . . covered in cupcake crumbs. They asked for a cupcake. I said no. They were determined to find a way to get a cupcake on their own. Now my youngest sat on the floor with a bump on his head, chocolate all over his church clothes, and tears streaming down his cheeks.

When he heard my voice, he ran. He fell. He hurt himself.

Getting the cupcakes couldn't have been easy. Knowing my children (and their desire for cupcakes), I had placed the box of cupcakes on top of the refrigerator. They were intentionally placed out of their reach. 

But, being the innovative little dudes they are, they found a way. They pulled a chair from the dining room and the step stool from the bathroom and improvised. I, for one, am thankful that they didn't get hurt retrieving the cupcakes from the top of the fridge. Things could have been much worse. 

The sad thing is, they could have had a cupcake . . . later. When it was appropriate. As their mom, I wasn't trying to keep good things from them forever, but there's a time and place for cupcakes. I knew that what they needed was food to fill their bellies and not sweets. I wanted them to receive nourishment that would help them make it through the morning until lunch time, not a quick sugar rush followed by a cranky crash.

Sometimes God has to use every day life to get through to me. Sometimes I throw fits over cupcakes . . . There are things I desire and want. I want those things right now. I ask for them and then I get frustrated or angry when I don't receive them. So then I begin my planning. I construct shaky ladders to help me reach what I want. I put myself and others at risk and I justify it by saying. It's OK, cupcakes are good things. They'll satisfy me. Other people have cupcakes. Why am I the only one without a cupcake?
The reality is that God knows we really don't need cupcakes, despite how convinced we are that we do.

As a loving Father he knows what we really need. We need nourishment that will help us grow and develop, not empty calories that satisfy for a moment and end up rotting our teeth. But in the moment, it can be hard for us to understand why God won't give us what we desperately want (a new job, a relationship, financial help, restored health).

As a new believer it can be confusing to read passages like John 14:13-14:

 "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."

I'm not even going to get on my soapbox about how destructive and incredibly wrong the whole name it and claim it, health and wealth "prosperity" gospel is. (My stance in a nutshell: God is far more concerned about the state of your heart than the condition of your bank account, and any blessings he does supply are intended to be used to be a blessing to others and bring glory to God, not to make your own life cushy and comfortable. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in third world countries do not have any less faith or any less love for the Lord and they struggle in poverty on a daily basis. God promises to meet our daily needs, not to give us a Cadillac Escalade if we pray hard enough. God blesses us to be a blessing to others, not because he's a cosmic genie who will grant us whatever we ask for because we use some magic prayer or giving formula . . . *aaaah, I said I wasn't going to get on my soapbox! Can you tell this is something in contemporary American church culture that really bothers me?). 

OK, back to the passage in John. One of the most important things you can learn about reading scripture is to look for the context of the passage. What is happening immediately before and after these verses? In the case of John 14:13-14, Jesus is having a conversation with his disciples. He's just washed their feet and shared the last supper with them. Judas has just slipped out to betray Jesus and so now Jesus is imparting a few last words before he faces a painful death.

In the verses immediately before this passage, Jesus is talking about doing the work of the Father (he has spent the previous three years teaching, showing love and compassion to those in need, and getting his hands dirty to bring healing and restoration to people who were separated from God). In verse 12, Jesus says:

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

So, immediately before Jesus tells us that we can ask for things in his name, he gives us a picture of what that looks like. Before we ask for things in Jesus name, we need to be doing the same types of things that Jesus was doing - because those who believe in him will "do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these." The verses immediately after John 14:13-14 says that if you love God you will keep his commandments. 

There's also an important qualifier in John 14:13. Jesus says "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." [emphasis mine]. So the ultimate reason why Jesus says he will grant the requests we ask in his name is so that the Father will receive glory in it. The interesting thing about that is that we don't always see the big picture in the same way that God does. We don't understand how God could be glorified if we lose our job or if we've lost a loved one. We think that the only way that God would be glorified would be if he grants our requests in just the way we want him to.

My mind goes back to the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. For those not familiar with the story, Lazarus, who was friends with Jesus, had become very sick to the point of death. The family knew that Jesus was just a few miles away, so they sent a message to him. They were obviously aware that he had the ability to heal their brother, they had probably seen him do miraculous things in the past. So here was Jesus' chance to come through for them. I'm sure they had faith that Jesus could make their brother well. So they waited for him to arrive. They waited some more. Scripture says that Jesus stayed where he was for a few more days. During that time, Lazarus died. Mary and Martha were devastated to say the least. And so, when Jesus does arrive in the city of Bethany, Mary does what any of us probably would have done in that situation. She runs to him and asks "WHY?" She says "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (John 11:32).

But the beginning of John 11 gives us a clue as to why Jesus waited. In verse 4 Jesus says, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it." Knowing the whole story, you might stop and think "wait a second . . . ummm .  . . didn't Lazarus end up dying? What does he mean that the sickness will not end in death? Because to me, it kinda looks like it does." Big picture. Yes, Lazarus dies. Yes, the sickness does not end in death. That's one of the things I like about God. He's more than capable of doing things that seem utterly incompatible to us.

God can see the end from the beginning. One of the things I love about Jesus is that he has compassion on us. John 11:35 contains one of the shortest verses in the whole Bible. It's super easy to memorize: "Jesus wept." If Jesus knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why was he crying? Couldn't he have just said "Hey guys, put away the tissues, it's gonna be just fine." Nope. Not Jesus. He looks at these two devastated sisters. He sees the crowds of people grieving their loss and he has compassion. He sees the big picture, but he also sees their pain in the present moment and so he cries with them. That's the kind of person I want to be.

The story has a happy ending. Lazarus comes back to life. The sickness doesn't end in death. The Father is glorified in the Son. 

So, bringing it back to cupcakes. Sometimes we ask for things and we don't receive them. James 4:3 says that we don't receive what we ask for because we ask with wrong motives. We ask for things that are focused more on our own pleasure than on God's purposes.

Just like we do as parents, God listens to our requests and then determines whether what we ask for will help us or hurt us. Will it help us grow or will it cause us to get "stuck." Sometimes we ask for good things, but in the big picture they're not the best things for us. When we don't get what we want we cause all sorts of problems for ourselves and for those around us. James says that not getting what we wants essentially causes us to act like spoiled kids. We quarrel and fight with each other. We get jealous and we want what other people have. We pretty much throw a tantrum. It's not pretty. But God is a good parent. He doesn't cave just because we throw a fit. He knows what's best for us (even if it makes no sense to us at the moment.)

So then, how should we pray? Want to know a request that God will always answer? "God, glorify yourself in the situation. Help us learn more about You and be more like You. Give us the strength, peace, and wisdom in the midst of this mess. Make us into the people you want us to be."

His solution may or may not look like our own, but because his very nature is love, He can be trusted. He never promises that we won't walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but he says that we don't have to fear because he walks through it with us.

We all have our cupcakes. How will I choose to respond? Will I ignore the "no" and try to reach it in my own way? Will I throw myself on the floor and cry and scream? Will I accept the "not now" knowing that when the time is right, I will get exactly what I need (and maybe something even better than what I asked for in the first place . . .like a super delicious ice cream cake that is waiting in the freezer).

 So hang in there! You can make it! Don't give up if the answer seems like a "no." The answer might be "not right now" or "I've got something else in mind." You can save yourself a lot of pain and heartache if you learn how to wait. You have a Father who loves you and really does want what's best for you, and sometimes, when the time is right, you do get to have your cake and eat it too.

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