Friday, February 12, 2016

The True Gift on Valentine's Day

First events sometimes set a precedent for what's to come. My first Valentine's Day with Zeke was 12 years ago. I was a working graduate student who didn't have a lot of extra cash so I gave what I had: a homemade gift and a meal. We still remember that day with fondness.

I don't have the tendency to think back and remember presents I received during such occasions. I prefer to remember togetherness and quality time. No, I'm not anti-gift. I think they add to every festive occasion but more valuable than that is the person who is on the other side of the gift. They're the true gift.
I strive to make my husband and kids feel that way. Oh, you know I fail sometimes but I keep trying. The days outside of Valentine's Day are important too. I can give my undivided attention to really listen and encourage. I can make him feel the true gift he is through the simple, yet important acts of service that mean so much to him.
I believe that love is a decision. The greatest ones are made in the days outside of Valentine's Day. But to have a chance to celebrate the one I love is always so cool.
Now that we have kids we get to model what the holiday is all about. The kids think it's about them getting candy from their friends (so funny). They are also convinced that it's about having a special family breakfast with a decorated table and a special meal together (so true). I hope that as they reach back to the archives of their childhood memories, they see that it was about letting them know they are loved and celebrated all the time.

Whether you are single (read my letter to my Single Friends here) or married, remember that God loves you and He sees you as the valuable person you are. You are a true gift, created by God for awesome things. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What's Trending in your World?

I have a confession: I was not an early adopter of Facebook. I remember people talking about it during my Ole Miss years but I was too busy getting a Masters Degree. Then I got too busy at my first job. When I was expecting my first son, I gave Twitter a chance then eventually I joined Facebook. My least favorite thing about Facebook is the “Trending” section. It’s irrelevant, it’s annoying and I can’t stop reading it.

The other day, after clicking away at “Trending” (and hoping no one found out I do that), I realized why it works. Someone, in the FB headquarters, decided that piece of information is important so the whole world should read it.

We all have a “Trending” display in our lives. Your “Trending” might be different from mine. I wonder if you’d consider these questions:

What’s Trending in your Family? • what’s the latest, coolest thing you guys are enjoying? What can we learn from your family's trend?

What’s Trending in your Friendships? • what has been your latest friendship lesson? You’re never stuck you know? You’re either making progress or regressing in relationships. What have you learned in that area?
What’s Trending in your Character? • Life has a way of offering you promotions disguised in challenges. Those challenges help develop your character. What’s your latest character development victory? How did you get there?
What’s Trending in your Faith Walk? • This is by far my favorite. I often ask people: “what is God teaching you lately?” I get an array of answers. I like the honest ones better because they encourage me in my own faith walk.

I promise I will forever avoid getting caught in the FB "Trending" click fest. I also promise to answer these four questions more often and encourage others with my answers.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

That one time I asked a Silly Question on Ash Wednesday

"What's that dirt on your face?" I asked an unsuspecting fellow graduate student. They told me "these are my ashes."

I didn't grow up "celebrating" Lent as I see it done in the U.S. True, my parents taught me to love Jesus with all of my heart. We just didn't "celebrate" Lent this way. Easter was the Super Bowl of the year for us (followed closely by Christmas). So there I was, a graduate student in the U.S. surrounded by people who heavily drank but for 40 days they are giving up alcohol. Impressive to say the least.

I still didn't "get it." I think that when people asked me what I was going to give up for Lent I said "I don't know, probably nothing."

There's nothing wrong with Lent. I love to see people with the ashes on their forehead and talking about things they're giving up for Lent. I also don't see anything wrong with people who do not focus on 40 days of sacrifice.

Here's my deal with God:

• I told Him I want to practice spiritual disciple as a habit not an event. I want to (Biblical) fast more often as to obey Jesus' "when you fast...";

• I want Easter to be a HUGE celebration in the Listenbee household. Bigger than any of our birthdays. Now that will take some planning, intentionality and rest. I'm up for the challenge!

My kids haven't noticed the ashes because our church celebrates Lent a different way. When they do notice I want to explain why with knowledge and respect.

If you're giving up something for Lent, may the Holy Spirit be your Guide, Teacher and Encourager. If like me you don't participate in this tradition, let's remember the reason of Lent and let's focus our love and admiration on Jesus the Risen Christ.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What to do when your House is out of control

You may be familiar with this scene: the living room is messy. There are toys on the floor. Shoes and dirty socks. The beautiful accent pillows are mounted behind the couch where the kids had been playing. I see it but I have no energy to do anything about it.
Come Friday, the best I can do is to collapse in the couch. I’m lucky if I can find a throw to cover my tired feet. They traveled quite a bit during that week: two schools, work, gym, grocery store, Bible Study, church, bank and Starbucks (cause I’m God’s daughter too).

Something in me does not want to become too familiar with a messy house. What I want is the cover of Martha Stewart Living, what I get is the front cover of Reality. I have fought this mental battle for many years. I have found that the space between what I want and what I get is filled with possibilities.

While it’s impossible for me to hire half of Downton Abbey’s staff, I can be smart about my approach to housekeeping. What works for me is to tackle Food and Laundry when everything is in disarray. Why food and laundry? Because life is worth living when there’s food on the table and clean clothes to wear.

Monday was such day. I swear I cleaned the night before because we had guests over. Still, there was a mountain of dishes, laundry and kids’ art projects everywhere. I was going to freak out but I chose to bake instead. There is something about baking that is calming. Doing something I’m proud of, helps my self-esteem and everyone around me benefits. Baking feels the house with an awesome smells. Everyone gets in a better mood and there are plenty of snacks for the rest of the week. I remembered the ground turkey in the refrigerator needed to be cooked, so I did. I remembered I needed to make a fresh batch of black beans. I put a whole chicken in the slowcooker so that we had at least 3 days of meals. Those 40 minutes saved my week and improved my self-esteem.

My kids are big enough to gather their own laundry so their help meant everything. It took me two days but we had clean clothes. Hallelujah!

I often wonder why my house isn’t clean and spotless all the time. My number one reason is, I’m not here enough. I have  a job which requires me to be out of my house 30 hours per week. When I am here, I do the best I can with what I have. Some of “the best I can” includes exercise. I have learned that running is non-negotiable. The house might not be spotless but I will keep my health as pristine as I know how. There are other barriers to having a magazine cover ready home at all times. I now wonder if I really want to. People live here so it’s natural that the place looks inhabited.

I am aware that this “Laundry and Food” idea is not for everyone. I know people who have way more on their plate and the magazine cover type of home. I celebrate you where you are. I am also aware of people who are struggling just to do the basic things that mothers do. I encourage you where you are. We are not in the same place in life but we can sure offer each other encouragement. So, you can afford a housekeeper? I rejoice with you. If like me, you daydream of a squeaky clean home but what you have is oatmeal stuck on the floor (that’s what I have most of the time), don’t feel bad. Go for food and laundry as a priority. Find a supportive friend who can affirm you where you are and love you in your motherhood journey.

Thought of the Day: Doing something you're proud of elevates your self-esteem. What's that one thing for me?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

3 things Difficult People do NOT Know

We all know people who are difficult. Some of us have nightmares about having to interact with them daily. I have learned that it is impossible to avoid them all together while living on earth. The key is to make the best out of the situation and get Godly wisdom from it. Today I want to share 3 things difficult people do not know.

Difficult People do not know They are being Difficult
Her tone of voice was always the same: rasped and abrupt. She did not consider the fact that I had many responsibilities in life. Her goal was to entice me to do it her way. The more I observed this difficult person, I learned that this was a way of life for her and she was not going to change. I decided to do all the changing myself: I changed the places I went so I did not see her. I blocked her phone number. I trembled at the thought of any interaction. While hiding from her one morning, I heard God’s still small voice telling me “Avoiding people is not like Me.” I was convicted of my ways. I decided to keep her phone number blocked and I stopped hiding. I prayed and asked God to give me strength to face a difficult person who did not know she was being difficult. Our next interaction was unavoidable: I was no longer in hiding. I had supernatural grace to speak to her and to politely turn down any of her attempts to rule my life and schedule. I was at awe of God’s ways as she walked away, oblivious still of her difficult personality. There are Godly ways of dealing with difficult people and the highest of these is love.

Difficult people do not know They are Loved
The exchange with God during my hiding episode taught me that God’s love really is encompassing. He loves difficult people. He loves easy people. He died for everyone. He does not discriminate and I am so glad because I believe I can be a difficult person at times. God calls me to love people who are difficult, He did not call me to avoid them. I do believe in boundaries (thus the phone block). I also believe that God means “love one another” when He said it a long time ago. I have since been prayerful about the right way to love difficult people. I often seek Godly wisdom in the subject. I pray about how God would want me to love a difficult person. Sometimes I give them a gift. All the time I treat them well, as God would treat them Himself. All of this is not to cross a check mark but so that I can be like my loving Heavenly Father, who has a master plan for me disguised in every difficult situation.   

Difficult people do not know They are an Instrument to Character Promotion 
The distinctive traits that form our character are developed through tough situations. I believe that when I treat a Difficult person as God would, I become more like Christ. I have gained Compassion, Patience and Resilience through my interaction with difficult people. They have greatly contributed to my devotional life: I am driven to my knees asking God to please give me Grace to represent Him well as I live my life in the presence of difficult people. The only way I can display the joy of the Lord when dealing with a Difficult person is because I have spent time reading the Bible, praying for the person’s well being, forgiving them (without making a big deal about it TO them) and praying that God will rain down blessings from heaven in their lives. Every time I open my Bible I am faced with God’s character towards difficult people and I am given the choice to obey what I read.

I don’t know if you are having ulcers at the thought of dealing with that difficult person again. Take it from me my friend: God loves you both and He can help you through this challenging situation. You’ll get a character promotion at the end if you follow God’s way of loving Difficult People.

Thought of the Day: How can I pray for a difficult person in my life?