The Value of Simple Obedience

Early last spring, I inadvertently learned of some unsettling, sad news:  A woman I’d met once and long admired had reached the end of her battle with cancer and was moving into hospice that weekend. She would leave behind her husband and their 6 children, all of whom had been adopted.

I read this announcement on Facebook, posted by a mutual friend, and experienced this news like a punch to the gut. I’d never seen, spoken with, or kept in touch in any way with Cathy after our one and only meeting. She wouldn’t have remembered me, not from our one interaction in the summer of 2000 in Chicago.

Back then, Cathy–a single white woman–had embarked on the journey of foster parenting. She had adopted an African-American little girl and was fostering another, going on to adopt three children while single and then three more once she married. I just happened to be along for the ride in this conversation that summer, 18 years ago, tagging along with other people who actually knew Cathy. Then I never crossed paths with her again.

hanging baskets

But her life, her love, left an indelible mark. I spent the rest of my 20’s and almost all of my 30’s envisioning myself as a some-day foster mother, an adoptive mother, primarily because of Cathy’s example–one she never knew she set for me.

Cathy didn’t approach me with a challenge to love the poor or serve the needy. She just lived her life in obedience to God, to the invitation to be part of His work that He’d extended to her.

About five years ago, I gave this dream of fostering, adopting, or both back to Jesus. Those means of caring for children are not part of my life and probably won’t ever be. But Cathy’s influence wasn’t for naught. Over the years, I’ve attempted to serve children in need through supporting orphan ministry in Russia and Moldova; by supporting a child through Compassion International; by purchasing (along with my former women’s service group) over 1000 diapers for a local rescue mission. Taking God up on His invitation to be part of His work to care for those in need. Like Cathy did.

grateful heart

I read the story of Joseph recently, in the book of Genesis. Some of his many brothers wanted to kill him, but Reuben convinced the others not to kill Joseph. Instead, he suggested they place Joseph in a big pit and leave him. Reuben planned to return and rescue his brother, but before he could, the others sold Joseph into slavery. He ended up in Egypt, where later he played a significant role in saving many lives–including those of his brothers.

Had Reuben not persuaded his siblings to leave Joseph alive, Joseph wouldn’t have been in place for the life-saving work God had planned for him. In some ways, this hinged on Reuben’s obedience–on his simply obeying in a complicated, dysfunctional situation. Like Cathy did. 

baby feet with hearts

Today, at church, our body welcomed a handful of individuals into new leadership roles. Before they officially took on those responsibilities, other members spoke in support of these folks. One of the women beginning  her role as deaconess today–a friend of friend–has faced mind-bending tragedy in her life, part of which involves the loss of her husband due to disease. The member sharing about this woman’s qualifications for deaconess spoke some powerful words, so striking that I wrote them down on the bulletin:  He stated that she possessed “strength full of mercy, forged in the fires of pain and loss.”

How did she get there? To this merciful strength after disaster and grief? I haven’t asked her, but I think I know–obedience. I think she must have regularly–perhaps daily–made a choice to trust God more than she could feel, more than she could see, and to keep doing that, over and over and over.

Simple obedience that adds up over time. 

Obedience can preach a sermon, save a life, change the course of history. Let us never discount the value of simple obedience.

“Never doubt that God uses small things for all eternity.”–Jennie Allen

 

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Walking and Not Fainting is Still Moving Forward

I’m trying something new this school year (which is a term I use loosely):  early morning times with Jesus.

Truthfully, this is an old something new. Years ago, I got up early to have my “quiet time” before starting my day with the boys and school and chores. It lasted a while, then I stopped.

Mornings are hard for me.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I decided to start fresh with morning quiet times. I enjoyed the stillness and the quiet at that time of day, sitting at the kitchen table with Bible and journal, wrapped in a blanket–not because I felt cold but because it felt comforting.

But mornings are hard for me.

blue green clothespins

I persevered valiantly, for as long as I could. But connecting with God felt nearly impossible in those dark early morning moments. I would pray and then forget what I’d just prayed. I’d keep praying but feel that my prayers were scattered, that they needed to follow a more sensible line of thought. I found myself praying and then feeling I’d gotten off track with some tangent (although still prayer) and then try to circle back to the original topic. Sometimes, I just wanted to cry about my seeming  lack of ability to meet with the Lord. I ended those times not feeling fortified for the day but feeling discouraged at having wandered and rambled for 45 minutes. The blanket would slide off my slumped shoulders as I stood up from the table feeling discouraged and alone.

Often, my struggle with a frequently-present sense of defeat, failure, and guilt looms largest in the early morning. And trying to meet with Jesus at that time of day felt like one more failure. Mornings didn’t feel difficult because of the needs of my house or my children or even lack of sleep–the boys have slept through the night for many years now. They felt (and feel) difficult because I often wake up with a vague but genuine sense that I just might (or will probably?) ruin whatever is in front of me:  parenting, teaching, walking with Jesus. {I’m working on this with my spiritual director, by the way.}

Instead of starting my days in the embrace of my Father, I felt instead I started them feeling alone even though I reached out to find Jesus.

And I always felt I was to blame for that.

So I stopped those early morning times with Jesus. I’d still pray as I got breakfast or made the bed, asking Jesus to live His life through me; and the boys and I have a morning time together before we start lessons in which we sing, pray, read verses.

I just couldn’t let time set aside to connect with Jesus be another source of defeat–perceived or real.

So, I would carve out time at night–I’m a night person, after all–or in the early afternoon while the boys had their own “down time.” That worked.

Calvin eating from a bowl

But I want to try again with mornings. I desire to start the day in intimate fellowship with the Savior. I want to take this step of faith–and it’s scarier than you might imagine–believing that the Lord’s victory is for me even when I feel weighed down at the start of another new day.

It’s scary because I don’t want to risk feeling disconnected from the Lord. It’s scary because I don’t want to risk hearing the Enemy’s lies so loudly in the early morning–when I’m at my weakest and most vulnerable–that tell me God just might need to reject me.

So…I came up with a plan. Not a formal check list of must-do items in order to declare I’ve completed a “quiet time.” But a step-by-step guide to help me, to remind me–as I see it in writing–that I AM doing what I need to do to make myself available to engage with my Lord. The real me meeting with the real Jesus. 

I’ve even been so specific as to write down a few short prayers to start the time, just words that express my heart and my needs in something a friend calls a “breath prayer.” Which I suppose means the words we breathe out as prayers…

I found a Bible reading plan to start fresh next Monday morning–a plan to read through the Bible chronologically. I’m looking forward to viewing Scripture through fresh eyes.

This could very well be the most titanic step of faith I’ll take the entire school year. It makes me cry to think of it even now. Not because I’ll need to go to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier, but because I hate the idea of feeling even more defeated by 7 AM because I set out to meet with Jesus and ended up squandering it by…well, by just being me.

The Enemy’s lies are so targeted, aren’t they? So tailor-made to poke hardest at our weak spots.

Recently, my best friend Lynn and I talked about Isaiah 40:31–but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

I shared with Lynn that I feel I’m in a perpetual state of walking and not fainting, that I don’t know if I’ll ever see a time again when I mount up with wings like an eagle. Or run and not grow weary. I know there’s no shame in walking instead of running or soaring. I know I can still obey even if I’m “just” walking.

Know what she told me?

Walking without fainting is not settling. Walking without fainting is still moving forward. It’s still obeying; it’s still following God. It’s still moving in the right direction. 

So, when we start a new school season next Monday morning, my plan is to walk to the kitchen table, to bring my whole self to meet with Jesus, and then to walk with Him throughout the day. Moving in the right direction. 

 

 

Our Frugal Fast From Netflix

In January, I persuaded my husband to commit to a Netflix fast for one month:  from January 13 to February 13. Our subscription payment came due on the 13th of each month, which determined the dates of our fast.

We don’t have cable/satellite/dish and haven’t since 2004. If I had my preference, we wouldn’t own a TV. But since we do (and I don’t think it’s all bad), I want us to consider how we use it–and how much money we spend on it.

black and white 2 boys in flowers

Our family possesses one TV–only one–and we’ve never had a TV in our bedroom, save for a few weeks during our first year of marriage, before we sold a small extra TV Mike owned when we got married. We limit screen time for the boys; they have a budget of 4 half-hour shows from which they can choose during the week.

Most weekends, they watch no TV–and they don’t own or use tablets, iPads, cell phones, or the like. Although Woodrow has learned to use my phone to take photos, mostly of the fish he and Garfield catch…Once in a while, we allow them an extra half-hour show on a weekend afternoon. Or even a movie, such as the one we watched on Mother’s Day evening.

We have an Amazon Prime membership, and with that comes access to Prime Video:  movies and TV shows we can watch at no extra charge. During our Netflix fast–which, incidentally, stretched from one month to a total of 4–the boys used Prime Video to view Popular Mechanics for KidsWild Kratts, and Thunderbirds Are Go. And the Mother’s Day movie? The Nut Job, also accessed via Prime Video.

board cinema

As we neared February 13, and the end of our one-month Netflix fast, we easily decided to extend it for another month. Then another, and another. May 13 approached, and I understood that my husband hadn’t committed to an indefinite departure from Netflix. So, that day, Mike reinstated our membership (for streaming videos only, the only Netflix subscription we’ve had).

For those 4 months without this service, we saved over $40 in a painless way. And I have to say, I didn’t miss the extra TV options. It actually felt freeing. A couple of times during this season, Mike and I found a movie on Hoopla (a free service provided by our library for e-books, audio books, movies, and TV shows). This gave us extra entertainment choices, all for free.

colorful guitars

Entertainment deserves a category in our budget, but a small (and sparsely funded) one, I think. For now–this month, at least–Netflix gets a spot in that budget. While we have it, we’ll enjoy it. Going without it for a time makes us more appreciative of it now. Just yesterday, the boys (gratefully) watched an episode of Magic School Bus that they’ve gone without for months.

Have you embarked on a “frugal fast” from anything in particular lately? Did you save for a special goal–or simply to spend less on luxuries?

5 Must-Haves for My Frugal Household

On our way back to Orlando from sheltering at my parents’ home in Mississippi last fall–to escape Hurricane Irma–I read a book called Faithfully Frugal (and blogged about it here). It provided much encouragement to keep pressing on with frugal living–but, more than that, it pointed me to the heart motives and reasons for maintaining a frugal lifestyle.

painted egg

And one of my 2018 goals is to continue in the journey toward faithful frugality. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my go-to items that help equip us for simplicity in the Lee house.

  1. A clothesline. This provides a savings of less than $100 per year for our family (which I estimated based on a few blog posts I read–it will vary from household to household). But the money saved last year by using a clothesline covered the cost of the shoes I bought to run a 5K with the boys. I appreciate using the sunshine and breeze to accomplish the work (for free) that our clothes dryer would otherwise do. This process is good for the environment, too. In our townhouse–where clotheslines were disallowed–we used a few folding dryer racks instead.
  2. A library card. This gives our family access to free books, movies, and e-books–vital for a home schooling family. We do own a number of books, but the library offers a plethora of resources–and my children are learning to use the library. One of Garfield’s favorite things to do is sit in the reference section of the downtown library perusing guidebooks of collectible toy cars.

old books

3. Cloth napkins. We don’t buy paper napkins. Well, maybe once every couple of               years…for a birthday party or Scout event. We’ve received lots of beautiful cloth              napkins for gifts, and last year we bought a set at Kohl’s with our $10-off-anything-in-the-store coupon–because the set we’d bought with a gift card (received as a wedding present) had finally worn out after almost 15 years of use.

4.  Castile soap. I use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (currently the lavender-scented variety) in a number of ways:  for homemade laundry detergent, dishwasher gel, and foaming hand soap. I ordered this 3-pack of foaming soap dispensers in January–so far, so good. I think the recipe for liquid hand soap that accompanies these dispensers calls for 80 DROPS of essential oil–for one batch of soap! Too much. I leave out the essential oil entirely, because the castile soap already has a scent. The dispensers are reusable (no need to buy bottle after bottle of Soft Soap or the like for your bathroom counter), and the fact that the dispensers cause the soap to foam means less soap gets used with each hand-washing. I’ve even used castile soap in homemade toothpaste. 

colored eggs in nest

5.  Hair clippers/scissors. We received a set (pair? just one?) of Wahl’s hair clippers as a wedding gift from Mike’s parents almost 16 years ago. To add to our hair cut supplies, we purchased a pair of hair cut shears (about $14) from a beauty supply shop, along with some oil to keep the clippers in working order. This small investment pays off every month. 

Hopefully, these simple-living tips will inspire you on your own path of money-saving ventures that fit your life and family.

 

At-Home Haircuts, After All

Well, he did it:  Garfield acquiesced to another at-home haircut. After the last (horrendous) haircut session–filled with fears and tears–we’d discussed taking him to a salon for a professional haircut the next time around.

However, after about 6 weeks (during which time I gave Mike 2 haircuts), when I mentioned we needed to get haircuts done again, he told me he preferred to have me do it after all. Perhaps the known factor won out over the unfamiliar.

shoes hanging from wire

I promised him that I’d be extraordinarily careful about his ears and about staying patient. We prayed and then, making my voice as calm as I possibly could, we started in on the task.

And together, he and I made it work. No tears, no fuss, no muss. There’s no guarantee that next time will be smooth, but I hope one truly peaceful haircut will help set a new pattern. For us both.

calvin new hair cut
Garfield, sporting a new haircut at his first soccer practice of the season.

I tried an approach with Garfield that I’d read in a midwife’s memoir. In her book, she mentioned coaching women in labor with what she called P.E.P. Here’s what that means:  P = Progress (“Look how far we’ve come! Every snip of the scissors gets us that much closer to being finished.”) E = Encouragement (“I see how still you’re being; that really helps me get the job done.”) and P = Praise (“You’re being so cooperative! I know it’s not easy, but you are really hanging in there.”) 

Success! Giving the boys their haircuts was, no kidding, one of the highlights of last week. I’ll be considering other aspects of parenting where I can apply some P.E.P.

wilson new hair cut
Woodrow with his new haircut.

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened at the Amusement Park…

I like to search the Internet in hopes of finding odd holidays each month. I discovered one for March:  “I Want You to be Happy Day.” I cannot attest to whether this is a legitimate celebration, but let’s just go with it.

yellow stuffed animals

Today happens to be “I Want You to be Happy Day,” so here’s my unselfish gesture in hopes of making you smile today–an embarrassing story from my teenage years. I have affectionately titled this one “The Rides of My Life.” Names have been changed to protect the innocent, because this story might not make them happy, and it’s not “I Want You to be Unhappy Day.”

*********************************************************

One dull afternoon during the summer before my freshman year of high school, I got a phone call from my friend Rita. Her older sister Shelly had offered to drive her, our friend Lola, and me to an amusement park for the afternoon. Not only that, but she’d agreed to let two of our guy friends join us. Rita’s call felt like cool rain quenching the parched soil of my teenage summer day.

ferris wheel

Since my mama was out grocery shopping, I couldn’t ask her permission to go until after she got home (remember the days before cell phones?). But I wanted to ensure that Mama would say “yes,” so I started cleaning our house like the woman on a mission that I was. By the time Mama arrived, the house was noticeably cleaner, although she didn’t seem so impressed with my work once she learned I wanted to ask her for something. I practically hopped from foot to foot explaining our plans to her. She gave me the thumbs-up, and I rushed around getting ready, packing my purse.

All five of us kids plus Shelly crowded into her little tan hatchback, and I don’t think anybody wore a seat belt. There weren’t enough to go around. With the windows rolled down to keep cool (since the vehicle had no air conditioner), we played “Truth or Dare” while Shelly sped us away from our small town and toward the city on the coast where we’d play at Fun Time USA.

vintage radios

Once we arrived, the boys went in one direction, the girls in another, and I have no recollection of where Rita’s older sister went. Rita, Lola, and I enjoyed the Tilt-a-Whirl, laughing and screaming the whole time. When that ride ended, we jumped off and made our way to the next one. Later we caught up with the boys and had some fun with them—I’m not sure we actually spent much time with the boys that day, but simply having them on this trip elevated the adventure in our boy-crazy minds.

As the sun began to set and our time at the park came to a close, Lola, Rita, and I wanted to take a spin on the Tilt-a-Whirl one more time. We were the only passengers on this ride, so we asked the operator if we could go several times in a row. He agreed, so we piled into one of the bowl-shaped seating areas ready for some fun. As our bowl spun round and round the platform with the other seat compartments, and then spun individually at the same time, we squealed and begged the operator to make our bowl spin faster. He gave us our wish. The ride stopped and then started again; then stopped and started for a third time. At some point, my shrieks of glee turned to desperate groans.

colorful teddy bears

When the ride ground to a halt, the three of us stumbled out of our seats and shuffled our Keds tennis shoes off the platform. We all complained of feeling queasy. I quickly realized my feeling was turning into action, and whatever had gurgled around in my stomach during those repetitive rides was making its way back up.

Horrified, I confessed to my friends I had to vomit. They followed me to the public restroom, where I retched while they waited for me. One of the other girls threw up later in the parking lot of a mall near the amusement park. I begged my friends not to tell the boys who had come with us. I was actually the oldest of our little group that day (not counting Rita’s big sister, of course); Rita and Lola and the two boys were only entering eighth grade, while I was going into HIGH SCHOOL. The thought that those boys might find out I couldn’t hold my Tilt-a-Whirl rides embarrassed me to no end. I’m not sure if those boys discovered my secret, although I think they suspected it. We played some more “Truth and Dare” on the drive home, and I’ve never stepped foot on a Tilt-a-Whirl again.

For almost eighteen years, that afternoon at the park would remain the last time I threw up. And it all could have been avoided if we’d been content with just one—or even two—rides on that old Tilt-a-Whirl. As my daddy says, it was too much candy for a nickel. Or, in this case, too much fun at Fun Time USA.

 

Do Everything in Love–How?

One phrase I frequently use around our house with my children is this:  Do everything in love. It comes from 1 Corinthians 16:14. A couple weeks ago, I wrote it on a piece of paper (well, on the back of a piece of paper that had printing on one side–we like to reduce, reuse, recycle around here). Then I taped it to the side of a kitchen cabinet, where it remains visible throughout our days (and supper times, too). It’s very basic, and Woodrow–the artist of our family–would have produced something much more creative. But it gets the point across.

lamp in pine tree

So if a constant refrain in the instructions I give my children is Do everything in love, how do I give them a framework of what that actually is? What do I mean by Do everything in love?

I decided we needed to dig deeper into this, so I brought my Bible to the supper table one night–I have a captive audience there, so it seemed an appropriate time.

First, I surfaced the topic of doing everything in love. I asked why they think I give them this instruction, and why this is a high value in our family. From there, we could reflect on the verse from which this command comes. As a family, we could remember that we want to hold to this instruction because it originates in God’s Word to us.

vintage keys

After asking how we know what love is, we read Romans 5:8…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is ultimately our frame of reference for love:  Jesus Christ surrendered His life for us, and the Father sent His own Son to die as part of His great rescue plan.

So how do we live out that kind of love–a love that puts others before ourselves? For this part of the discussion, we flipped over to 1 Corinthians 13–the oft-quoted Scripture at wedding ceremonies for generations.

ice cream cones

We read…Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. And so on. We also discussed the words in this chapter that remind us we can perform great feats and have deep knowledge (or even give all we possess to the poor) but still not have love at the root of our motives. The boys cottoned to the idea that we are simply making noise if we exercise great faith or great abilities without love. They tried out some of that “clanging cymbals” and “resounding  gong” racket the apostle Paul mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

Now I hope that, as we continue to remind each other to do everything in love–and to confess to each other when we don’t–we’ll grasp what doing love truly involves.