Tuesday, January 22, 2019

State of the Union

It's right there. U.S. Constitution -- Article II, Section 3.

"...shall from time to time..."

"...give to the Congress," (so, I'm stretching this just a bit here), "Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures..."

This moment. Right now. The [present] State of Affairs.

With a recommendation to consider for how to proceed.

And isn't this what we're all craving?

The announcer's, "He's winding up, ladies and gentlemen... and he's ready for the pitch..."

We wait with bated breath.

For the decision. The diagnosis. The announcement. The call.

The benchmark.

Then...

(And one of my all-time favorite State of the Union addresses...)

The change of command, followed by this...

"Now therefore,"

That word: therefore. It's the image of strength and solidarity. It's, "listen, I've set you up for success. I've got you. Act accordingly."

In this case, the very next word after 'therefore?'

"...arise,"

ohmyword. Perhaps you're a little like me? Perhaps you experienced moments in which overwhelm paralyzed you? Moments where life took an unexpected, jolting turn? Or maybe, like me, you made a foolish decision that resulted in far-reaching and disastrous consequences? (Yep, I did that. With financial repercussions like aftershocks from an earthquake. ugh. I'll have to tell you that story sometime.)

But there it is. Now. Therefore. Arise.

"...go..."

"...go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them -- the children of Israel."

And the One Who created this people and has a vision for their lives, continues, "Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses."

He lays it out, "From the wilderness... to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory."

And I love how God knows we need a bit of reassurance that we're not in this alone.

"...as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you."

So?

"Be strong and of good courage..."

"Only be strong and very courageous..." And the counsel to not turn to the right or the left of Truth, but to stay the course, "that you may prosper wherever you go."

There it is. The recommendation for how to proceed. And what if we all considered such measures? Be strong and very courageous. Build a life of habits based on Truth. Know that you're authorized to prosper wherever you go.

And all the life hacks, programs, seven steps and frameworks? It's actually much more simple than the headlines have led us to believe.

For all the brokenness and heartache and the fact that it wasn't supposed to be like this, whatever our 'this' is, the truth remains that we can choose to fix our minds -- our hearts -- on Truth. That we can declare Truth, meditate on Truth day and night, and act on Truth.

"For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."

And who couldn't stand to be a little, (or a lot), more prosperous and successful in their relationships, and work, and finances, and leisure, and health?

And just in case there's any doubt about our consideration to such measures, he reiterates, "Have I not commanded you?..."

[and because if you're anything like me and you've heard these words a gzillion-trillion times so you zone out with a haphazard, yeh, yeh, I've heard it all before... let these words spark neurons, strengthen hope-giving synapses, and breathe new life]

"Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."


Reflecting on 2018. Acknowledging the State of the Present. Moving forward with strength and courage, vision and expectation.




Sunday, January 13, 2019

December Money Experiment, Season 1, Final Episode



“Your feedback on our December Money Experiment?”

It’s a rare occasion to have all six of us home at the same time. A quick glance at the family calendar provides a sense of urgency. I have less than twenty minutes for a team meeting. Now, huddled in the living room of our extra-large tiny townhouse, we’re asking those timeless questions, what worked, what didn’t? Asking, what might we do different?  

“Mom, our house is just kind of a crash pad right now.” Ezekiel’s eyes hold mine. I process his metaphor.

Later, I would look up the definition of crash pad… 1. informal – a place to sleep, especially for a single night or in an emergency. 2. a thick piece of shock-absorbing material for the protection of the occupants of an aircraft cockpit or motor vehicle. Also, for a gymnast or for boulder climbing.

This season of transition, the launching of ideas, work, goals, projects.

This experiment stripped the fluff and superfluous. In exchange for an overflowing pantry and refrigerator, we received the gift of insight.

There it was.

All our desires. Laid out bare.

Bare necessities, yes. Like food. Sure.

I’m curious, though… can a basic need like food cause the dreaded onset of …complacency? Maybe?

The first ten days or so landed nothing short of victorious. Working within parameters stirred my creativity and imagination, resulting in delicious culinary creations. The atmosphere went from tense and worrisome to hey, this might be fun after all.

Until the only items left on the pantry shelves were a bag of flax seed, white wine vinegar and yellow corn meal. Half a box of pasta and a bag of “Glorious Gluten-free Cookies” from Christ Kitchen faced one another in their private arena, their incongruence begging the question, What is the intention?

The challenge was to live on a grocery budget of $200 for a month with a family of six. That comes out to roughly $6.45 a day for December. Only ten days in and we had already spent $96.09.
Three dollars and sixteen cents a day more than the allotment.

Worry crept back in at the edges. The refrigerator door made a hollow fmp when closed. Instead of bold, faith-filled declarations, a few team members fretted, we might starve.

And, you know that question… What will you be famous for? Well, in our family, something I’m (in)famous for is “turning everything into a life lesson.” Yes, well, eh-hem… about that. Funny how a gnawing in an empty stomach can make space to consider the deepest desires of the heart. 

The stark reminder that we’re spiritual beings having a physical experience.

And the life-giving truths, metaphorically chewing on them, Delight yourself also in the Lord…* Then Matthew’s exhortation, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness...**

Whispered reflection, what do I want most? What does my heart long for? Heh. I glance over at my vision board where there in the lower right-hand corner it reads …a gourmet chef’s kitchen and a team of world class chefs. They live on the premises and prepare healthy meals for all meals every day of the week. Ah! A small taste (excuse the pun) of heaven in all this grocery-budgeting, ingredient-improvising and recipe-innovating.

So, there’s the vision, the goal (at least for the kitchen)… and in the meantime… in the present…

{long smile} “Do not fret – it only causes harm.”*** And, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”**** Well, yes, about that, too.

Instead of fretting, instead of getting carried away by tomorrow’s unknowns, I wonder…

…how simple, how amazing if…

What if, I wanted to know more of God’s heart… you know, the way I want food? What if we longed to be filled with more of God’s Spirit, the way we hunger for savory succulence hot out of the oven? What if we decided to be wholly satisfied with the sustenance found in the Sustainer of our days? 

What if, we leveraged our physical longings as a nudging reminder of our soul’s deeper longing?

What if, we followed the example of the psalmist, the wholehearted declaration, One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. (Psalm 27:4) Yes, that… to encounter His presence… in “the premises” of my heart and soul… an ongoing communion…

Last week I read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. There’s a part where Screwtape, a demon on a mission to ruin a man’s soul, writes to his nephew regarding gluttony, “But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern?” Yes, there. Not the quantity, just the mere appetite.

Funny how something as fundamental as food presented possible epiphanies. How it shook up the complacent areas and caused me to consider this foodstuff on a soul-deep level.

Of course, I only pondered this all in my own heart as I looked at the five pairs of eyes looking back at me during this team debrief. Yes, the crash pad metaphor. Back to that. I especially like the second meaning, “a thick piece of shock-absorbing material for the protection of the occupants…”

{hold the wheel, that’s right, hold the wheel as we continue round this corner} This curve in the road with grown children finding their way, all of us – us parents included – stepping out into new endeavors, the faith-filled, bold declaration: I will behold the beauty of the Lord, to delight myself in Him, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. To lean into the transition, the new rhythm.

To execute on an idea. To take on fulfilling work. To achieve a goal, and then another, and another. To challenge ourselves, stretch out of our comfort zone and pursue projects that build a legacy of impact, changing the world around us for the better.

What if those are simply the fruit of utilizing our appetites, cravings, hunger pangs – whatever you call them – to lay bare the deepest longings of our soul? And to know Spirit absorbs the shock of our disappointments, impatience, frustrations, and setbacks.

So, we didn’t exactly work out all the kinks and fumbles in this experiment. And we didn’t succeed in the $200 challenge. The receipts from December 1st through the 28th document $235.80. Then, for some reason, on the 28th, we ended the experiment… the receipts totaling $307.86 through the 31st of the month. whelp. 

Based on the numbers, the experiment failed. Yet, the insights gained are priceless.

“So how do we make this a strategic, functional, effective crash pad, not just to meet physical needs, but for soul-care, too?”

The next fifteen minutes or so, we brainstorm ideas, possibilities. We establish a few outcomes from the experiment that will inform our next steps. For example, this new season in our family creates an atmosphere that more closely resembles a fraternity/sorority house of creatives and innovators than anything we’ve had before. Rarely is there more than one or two people home at the same time. 

Based on what we learned, we'll continue to look for ways to practice frugality. 

We'll give each other grace and space as we're all entering and exiting the revolving door of our home. 

We'll support one another in our goals and ambitions.

We'll continue to look for ways to create a culture of honor both here and everywhere we show up. One way we'll do this is to check in with one another, "How is it going for you? Is there anything I can do to honor and bless you?"  

We'll up the ante when it comes to praying for and with one another. (Something we've allowed to fall by the wayside.) 

We'll continue to seize moments to laugh together and serve together. And, ohmyheart... the ongoing, life-giving conversations around here! Yes, those. Whether a few minutes or a couple of hours, we'll definitely continue those conversations. 

What about you? Where can you challenge yourself? In what area might you create an experiment that could help you and your team create an environment that's aligned with who you are and who you want to become? 

*Psalm 37:4
**Matthew 6:33
***Psalm 37:8
****Matthew 6:34


Counting blessings…

303. All this, written while my family is a swirl of activity around me, making the traditional requested breakfast for Ezekiel on this, his 20th birthday. French toast, scrambled eggs with sausage, and orange juice. Small tastes of heaven.

304. A new job for me! A continuation of my life’s work and passion: investing in and coaching families! Woohoohoo!! Thank You, Jesus!

305. A husband and grown children who are all stepping out in faith and pursuing God-sized dreams.

306. Difficult conversations and the ensuing decision to reign in ego, ask questions, listen, clarify and validate, share authentically, listen more. The resulting intimacy.

307. The glorious and exciting news of a friend’s outrageous success on a project.

308. An evening spent in the company of matriarchs who have loved, coached, mentored and invested in me for over twenty-one years.

309. A book that’s hung out at the top of my “To Read List” for way too many years, finally finished. And the 5+ pages of single-spaced, type-written notes from The Screwtape Letters which has given me plenty of fodder for future conversational musings.

310. A whole weekend to read and study Ruby K. Payne’s Doctoral Thesis, A Framework for Understanding Poverty.

311. An afternoon and evening with Aunt Kathy and Uncle Jake, (Grandma and Grandpa to our children), engaging in deep conversation, bouncing around ideas, seeking solutions to challenges. Aunt Kathy makes a lasagna dinner with all the sides and then we wile away the rest of the evening playing a game and laughing until we find ourselves reigning each other back in for the next round. LeRoy and Uncle Jake bond over the NFL game on television.

312. The anticipation of the week ahead.

313. All six of us home this morning for Ezekiel’s Birthday Breakfast. And again, this evening for his Birthday Dinner. Annnnd, in the interim, the opportunity for Ezekiel to go skiing with Eli and Israel. For LeRoy and Isaiah to hang out together and watch the NFL game at Uncle Jake’s and Aunt Kathy’s house. For a few hours of quiet space for myself.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

December Money Experiment, Season 1, Episode 1

"I'd like to propose a grocery budget of $200 a month." His tone is faith and resolve. After all, our oldest spent the last year traveling with a team of 21. They made the best of meager resources. They sacrificed, he says. And they learned to be creative. 

He's confident our team of six has seriously underestimated what we're capable of in the areas of meals, nutrition and budgets. No worries, he assures us, trust him and he'll show us what can be achieved.

"I second that." Our third born, all logic and data, says he's in. His frugality has paid him huge dividends. So he's backing the idea in wholehearted agreement. And he agrees with his oldest brother, that we've probably been overspending on groceries. 

Our second oldest listens from the sidelines. And our daughter? She looks on, both bemused and curious. Unaffected. 

The proposal came about during a team meeting. "Regarding finances, I'd like to renegotiate some terms." All eyes turned toward Ezekiel. He shared a few goals and then, Eli, (inspired by Ezekiel's ambition?), pitched his idea.  

How did LeRoy and I respond to this proposal? Well, I laughed as I retrieved the finance notebook. 

Tracking income and expenses -- to the penny, it's a hobby. Accounting for checks and balances.  Making financial strategies and predictions. Creating margin. Organizing outgo, crunching numbers, and moving us toward financial freedom is fun. Romantic, even. 

I casually flipped pages, reporting each month's numbers, each one hovering significantly above the new proposed amount. 

No matter. I smiled. "I'm in." 

LeRoy (very) reluctantly agreed. It's for a short time and we'll chock it up to an experiment, I told him. Who knows, I shrugged, maybe we'll discover something we wouldn't have otherwise. 

So here we are. I'm a little behind on the documentation of this experiment, but so far, so good. Each of us agreed to contribute $50 toward the grocery budget along with meal planning and preparation, with LeRoy and I taking the first week. 

ohmygosh. I love it! There's nothing quite like boundaries and limits to spark creativity. Each day I perused the contents of our refrigerator, freezer and pantry with the question, "What can I make with what we have on hand?" 

Pasta drizzled with olive oil and garlic. Cream of broccoli soup paired with garlic bread, a chicken casserole, breakfast burritos (made in an extra-large batch and frozen for quick lunches later). I regret that I didn't track the meals better, but the ratings were five out of five.

Ezekiel took the second week, slightly leaner, yet nonetheless delicious. A second round of breakfast burritos, (this time with sausage, less veggies), enchiladas, and tacos.

Heading into our third week of this experiment. Will keep you posted on the intrigue and suspense, the creativity and imagination sparked by this challenge.


Counting blessings...
(continued from this post)

297. Presence.

298. Moments.

299. Time.

300. Creativity.

301. The way Eli passionately suggested that our family shake things up, take more risks, make sacrifices and try new things. 

302. Being on a team of good sports who know how to both go for the win and still keep things lighthearted and fun.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Recap of 2017 and An Idea

If you had to put a title on 2017, what might it be called? For me, I believe I'd call it Transition.

Germany rang in 2017 with the usual conviviality and merriment, fireworks on nearly every street and in the cobbled town squares. The carousing begins at midnight and carries into the wee hours of the morning.

Across Europe, the first day of the year begins with a day of rest. Businesses are closed, including grocery markets, making the next twenty-four hours conducive to contemplation and scheduling of the 364 days ahead.

For us, plans included a short visit back to the States sometime in the late summer or autumn. But that was eight or nine months away.

In the short-term, the coming months meant finishing the book I was writing, seeing many friends pack household goods and attending their "until later" parties as they moved to the next assignment, and preparing a two-week holiday with friends arriving in the springtime.

We did what we've always done. Settled into the new year, we carried on with work, education,  church activities and time with friends. Nothing happened too out of the ordinary except for the occasional cause for celebration like a friend's promotion at work. Or Ezekiel's 18th birthday on January 13th, celebrated on a men's ski trip in the Swiss Alps.

Yet, the environment at LeRoy's job grew increasingly difficult. Bureaucratic minutiae and poor management wore on him. And while his love for the actual work never waned, the thought of being surrounded by less than ideal attitudes and perspectives took their toll. Toward the end of January, he suggested we cancel our two-year extension and return to Spokane, Washington in six months.

So, maybe I'd title the year, Pivot. Over the next several weeks, the subject of moving filled the bulk of our dialogues. To be honest, I tried everything I could think of to try to change the situation. (Ha! In my book, Living Your Legacy, I talk about change. About the ability to accept what is while moving the story forward through skillful improvisation.) I didn't want to leave Germany and (selfishly) I thought there might be a solution that would allow us to stay for two more years. (I also wrote about how life is too short to stay stuck in a rut with no vision and little impact.)

Then one evening in February, LeRoy made a phone call to his friend, mentor, and previous boss at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. And when he hung up, he turned to me and said, "We're canceling our extension and returning to Spokane this summer." And all the frustration and angst of the previous weeks and months dissolved into perfect peace.

The extension was canceled the next day. We'd fly out on August 20th.

Over the next four months, I finished my book, Living Your Legacy, we enjoyed exploring Europe with our friends, Larry and Sherry Templeton, and we said, "Until later," to many families. The movers arrived on a Monday morning in mid-July and we transitioned into temporary housing. (Over the course of the next three months, we'd live in six different places.)

A highlight in the middle of our move was our holiday to the Belgium countryside with our friends, the Johnson Family. Over a weekend that went way too fast, we stayed in a rustic French Gite just south of Dinant.

Exploration highlights comprised of a tour of the Citadel, beer tasting at the Maison Leffe, and kayaking on the River Meuse. Of course, there was the elegant and delicious Charcuterie Platter prepared by our friends, Warren and Jasmine, who paired our cuisine with a perfect French wine.

Then, a few weeks later, on Saturday afternoon, August 19th, we visited with friends-who-had-become-family one last time at Trattoria da Salvatore in Landstuhl. And at 3 o'clock the next morning, we left for the Frankfurt International Airport, arriving in Spokane, Washington that same afternoon.

That evening we had dinner with the Stone Family, and enjoyed a surprise visit from the Eva's. We spent the week "in-processing" which is military-speak for a small mountain of paperwork and checklists. LeRoy started work the following week. We searched for a place to live. Ezekiel searched for a job. Israel and I attended Women's Bible Study at Life Center.

Over the next few months, things fell into place. LeRoy thoroughly enjoys not only his work but the camaraderie and teamwork at Fairchild. We rented a townhouse on the outskirts of Spokane toward the airport and Airway Heights. Ezekiel got hired at the Starbucks only a seven-minute walk from our home.

Outwardly, it looks as though, for the most part, we've picked up where we left off. But things are different.

*~*~*~*~*

The last three years brimmed with the richness of relationships. (That's not the part that's different. We've experienced that everywhere we've lived.) :)  But the friends we met while living in Ramstein, Germany, are dreamers. They're action-takers who chase after audacious goals with purpose and unwavering faith and hope. Their lifestyles demonstrate anything is possible. 

They dream outside the lines, intimately connected to the One Who plants the seeds of what's possible in their hearts. For three years, we lived alongside people who live large... in faith, love, hope... adventure. People who poured encouragement and optimism over everyone they encountered because they were always up to something. (So much so, that I'll have to save that for another post.) 

This isn't to say everything always went well. We held one another up and prayed each other through difficult marriage, health, and parenting seasons. But it was a steadfast and intense community. One couldn't be in their presence without having Christ's love and joy splashed onto them.

Which brings me to my flash of insight. 

There's so much talk in our world these days about how we can 3X, 10X, or 100X our focus and efforts. Sure, I track with what they're saying. I mean, we spent the last three years with folks who live 10X and 100X lives. But somewhere along the way, I grew weary and being all in has started to feel... intangible. Until now.

My business coach and mentor, Steve Roller, wrote something recently that stirred inspiration and restored my vision for what's possible. He wrote about how he doesn't set an alarm to wake up. He allows himself to awaken to ideas. 

It's the second time within the last five days that I've heard one of my mentors talk about this. Earlier in the week, I heard John Maxwell relate a similar story from his own life. 

How often I've woken in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours with ideas that could have produced fruit. However, I didn't so much as write them down and then when I finally woke up "for real"... they were gone. 

So, I'm excited to test this theory that we can multiply our efforts -- that we can 100X our lives? (That wasn't the way Steve Roller or John Maxwell put it. That's just my own mashing of two ideas together.) :)  That taking action on ideas -- or at least writing them down -- as they present themselves, might be an organic, rhythmic way to multiply the fruit in our lives. 

I'll keep you posted. 

*I'm curious, did you think of what you would title 2017? Hit reply to this email and let me know. I'd love to hear your title.