Sunday, February 24, 2013

Road Trip!

We took a road trip yesterday to support some dear friends as their elder sons competed for the top rank in North Carolina in the 2012-2013 FTC robotic competition.

Unreal!  The ingenuity was amazing. And the ability to endure round after round after round of testings and trials with people yelling, other robots ramming, and continuing on to the task of working as a team to accomplish the goals ---it was just amazing to spectate!

In the end, my friend's sons took FIRST PLACE! FIRST! Now, they go on to the World Competition in April!  MANY congratulations to such a special and dear family! I was so honored to be a witness to such an incredible competition of very, very bright and talented young people..... two of whom I know personally! 

Wonderful job, guys! Just wonderful! 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

5K Benefit Walk/Run for the Hungry

Fun times in the SNOW!
A wonderful event for the local community that raised over 2500 cans of food for the Food Pantry 
with 20 cans/person entry fee!

Off we go! 
SNOW! Great big fluffy flakes. It was beautiful!
Jacob's (event organizer and soon to be Eagle Scout) statement on the hunger situation: "Thank you and please spread the awareness that hunger is near and touches every walk of life. We serve Veterans, the elderly and folks who have been laid off. Many are searching for work and doing all they can and just need a hand. I have learned that the stereotypes of hunger are wrong. 
It is near to all of us."
Don't let the tent's lack of population fool you! 
Most people waited in their cars until the start time.  
Bless those who manned the event tent! 

The layered up Kirby team plus "mom" behind the camera.  
So proud of them! We all had a wonderful time! 
Great event. Great people. Great cause!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Finances, Family, Faith! Oh My! - Follow Up

[If you have not read the initial blog entry, please follow THIS LINK before continuing on in your reading here.  Thank you.]

Wow.  The response to the blog entry from yesterday has been such a blessing.  I have read your replies of honesty, humility, and confession.  Each statement has blessed and touched my life. Thank you! Because the realm of finances is a particularly sticky and difficult subject to most I know your words did not come easily.

From dear ones confessing that they spend entirely too much on cable TV to others putting a voice to just how difficult it is to forsake "all the spending" going on around them and choose a different path....  the openness to hear the hard word yesterday, submit to it, and give place for the Spirit to correct your course is just stunning!

I applaud your open ears and your humility that says, "You know, my way just isn't working. Hasn't in years." 

As difficult as it was to write those words yesterday -- and it was difficult, knowing they would weigh heavy on those willing to read them, I did not take lightly its message.  And let me add, I did not speak them from a lofty place. 

God takes us -- those willing to follow Him -- through seasons in life.  Precious, yet often times profoundly difficult, places to shape and mold our character. 

Permit me to share a bit about my background for those who know it not.  

(I do so not so you can take your path and compare it to mine. We all have a path. I share it to convey I can relate to the ebb and flow of life, both the ups and the downs.)

I was raised in a strong Christian family that knew much about finances.  I was taught at an early age the "healthy" principles of finance.  At ten, I recall my father giving to me a booklet called, "Common Cents."  And I walked those principles out in my teen years and through my college years.  I paid cash for the furniture in my first apartment.  Bought and paid cash (minus six months) for a car right out of college.... a new (the only car I ever bought new) reasonable, base model Honda Civic hatchback.  (I drove that car into the ground - well over ten years and 200,000 miles give or take!)  I had the "proper" foundation for "good living" all lined up. 

But God had His plan.  

I look back now and see we were doing such a good job at managing "our" finances. As far as we knew, we were working our 'sage' plan "for Him."   We tithed like a good church goer did. I taught financial classes at church. In my thirties, I was asked to be a church's CFO and sat on the corporate board.  I was applauded for turning the church's finances around and getting things in order.  On the personal front, at the age of 24, as a married couple, Brian and I bought our first home.  Within two years of owning our first home, we had almost fully paid it off.  "Life" seemed to be on the right track.

Then God showed up to test and prove His Lordship in our lives... and turned our world upside down....

- We sold our home and invested the money .....  within months, it went south.... way south.

- On the heels of this loss, our third child departed for Glory.

- We bought another home shortly thereafter. (I needed a change of scenery.)

- Then right on the heels of moving in....unemployment came. 2 years and 2 months. But this wasn't just any unemployment....

- The Lord had us secretly give away everything we had without benefit of tax write-offs during the first six months, and then said, "Now you will see MY provision over you."

- That time transformed us in a number of permanent ways... finances being but one.
- Transformed our thinking from that of an orphan to that of a beloved well-tended to daughter and son of the Most High.

- Taught us the liberty of giving,  free from formulas and compulsion.

- Transformed our thinking from a "tip of the hat" on the stewardship concept to a "full on" steward of the Most High.

- Taught us the dangers of the "many voices" and false hope referenced in yesterday's writing.

- Taught us the balance of planning and being Spirit-led.

Through it all, our faith was undeniably molded into an unshakable, obedient faith. I give HIM my highest praise! 

As a proclaimed child of the King, live long enough, and He'll step in and rock your comfortable world if He hasn't already.

Why?  To both prove and show what is within us.  HIM.  Full-on Authority.  Full-on Power. FULL-ON.  THE Great I-AM. 

There is just something about how He rocks our world that both compels and enables our roots to press down into the unshakeable arena unlike anything else IF we dare to follow Him to those depths.  THAT dynamic -- HIS dynamic --brings life, real life,  to people.  And once you taste real life, you'll lose your appetite for all the counterfeit living out there...all of it.

Apart from Him, I have nothing to offer people.  Empty I came into this world, and empty I will leave it.

But point them to God....offer to share what has been learned along the way from walking with Him? Now we are on to something!  The Maker of the heavens and earth.  The One who grants us not formulas, but LIBERTY.   The One who already made THE strongest safety net there ever will be.

What ever you perceive to have or hope to have is worth less than dung when compared to wholly saturating yourself in Him and His ways.  I'm deadly serious here.

Have we "arrived"?  Oh, I'd be a fool to say we have.  If life has taught me anything,  it has taught me that we do not stop learning and being transformed from "glory to glory!" (2 Corin 3:18)   I don't know about you, but I am thankful for a "life time" path.  It grants to me much needed time to learn, be transformed, sow, and then reap!  I have learned not to begrudge time, but to see it as the merciful gift God intended it to be!  Give Him praise if YOU are on that journey.... IN MOTION!  (Do not stagnate by growing complacent! Do not quit by sitting down on the side of the road!  Finish!  As the Word says, we have a cloud of witnesses cheering us on! (Heb 12:1)  I can do this.  YOU can do this. ) 

Some are challenged by my directness, but I tell you most boldly, I will face you on the other side in Glory knowing I did not beat around the bush or sugar coat the message or permit an emotional fog to cloud life-giving truths! 

Week in and week out, I see and meet with families in disarray -- broken to bits -- but continuing in the "rut of insanity." I cannot stay silent.  It is not an option.

His truth of the soil types remains. There will be those that hear and do nothing.  There will be those who hear and get excited at first, but then also do nothing.  But there will be those who hear and ACT.  As Francis Chan wrote in "Crazy Love,"  be careful to inspect your soil -- ensuring that YOU are truly the good soil you think yourself to be.  How will you know?  You'll change!  That's how!

The thing about following God is we don't get to pick the tools He uses on us.  We don't get to pick how often nor how long He works on us.   

Ours is the task of saying simply, "According to Your word, be it done to Thy handmaiden." 

I share this entry with you to say I understand the challenge of making ends meet, watching as dreams become a vapor, grasping on to false hope, hearing the voices that tickle the ears and give the delusion of promise.  I understand.  But there is NO life in any of that.  The fog only becomes thicker and clouds out the Sonshine. 

In most situations, the first step of my counsel is to tell the person or the couple simply to stop.

What brought me through during times of intense fog or storm was a commitment to NEVER out step or out pace God, even as my flesh sought to panic or to scream a little louder, as if He had lost sight of me. 

I had to learn (it is a lesson truly, deeply rooted by experience only) that no matter how uncomfortable I was at being in the fog or the storm of life, He was there....ever present, ever able, ever purposed.  

In the "fog" or "storms" of life, I have humbly asked Him to confirm and re-confirm if necessary.  One time I clearly recall He affirmed a particularly challenging path three times -- one each month for three months -- before  I boldly stepped out.  He didn't berate me for my lack of speed, but applauded my caution that sought to affirm HIS voice in the midst of all the noise.  How many know life is FULL of noises!? Sometimes muffled noises, but other times, nearly deafening! 

The Christian walk is one of great diligence, surrender, and obedience. Don't be so quick to read over those three words and rush on. Pause for a moment, and ask yourself honestly, "Am I diligent in my day to day, doing my best?  Am I wholly surrendered to HIS will day to day, and not my own?  Am I obedient day to day, even when it is not convenient or my flesh is screaming out its wants?"

Yes, God's grace abounds..... but it does not abound to suffer at the hands of our childishness, the self-centered "me" bubble that willfully demands its desires be met. 

We are called to die to self, so that it is no longer "I" who lives, but Christ in me.  That does NOT come easy for the diligent, surrendered, obedient one!  But it does not come at all to the passive nor to the complacent.

You aren't truly living until you lay down EVERY SINGLE desire and dream you ever had.  If what you desire and dream truly came from God and Christ intends to live it through you, He alone possesses the power and authority to pick it up and revive it, bringing it thus from the willing altar of death to full-on maturity of life. But the longer you strive to protect it or see it come to be,  it becomes self-evident that you carry an orphan mentality that is toxic to the Spirit. 

It's His way -- or no way. 

Again, I just absolutely applaud those of you who have communicated with us that you both see the error in your ways and desire Him to correct your course.  The next step is to listen for His direction.  If TV cable needs to be cancelled, cancel it.  If a car needs to be sold, sell it.  Whatever your next step, He will tell you.  But be careful.  Those "other voices" will be whispering, "Did He really say that? Did He really mean it?"  just like they whispered in Eve's ear.  The answer is "Yes, He really did and really does!"  God is full-on Authority!  He says what He means, and He means what He says!  Don't make Eve's mistake!

Seek Him with your whole heart.... and when you do... you will find Him!  But finding Him...truly finding Him (not the one you are looking to fulfill your dreams, but the One who is waiting for you to fulfill His... (Remember - this whole thing called creation isn't about's about Him.  Period.)) comes with a cost... a high cost... but it is worth it!  Completely worth it!

Godspeed, dear ones!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Finances, Family, and Faith! Oh My!

It has been on my heart in recent weeks to speak to those with young children or no children (yet!) about what is directly ahead of many in the coming years.

Correct me if you see anything other than what I am witnessing, but what I see are countless Christian families out of alignment and just barely getting by.

So, I take time today to speak honestly and humbly to those willing to hear and receive a bit of counsel on the subject of  finances, family, and faith.

Refusing to look head on at these elements is delusional living, and as followers of Christ, that type of living is sinful, childish, and detrimental.

This is not a provocation to fear.  God has provided and will continue to provide for His own their needs.  While He does so, we, as parents, must act responsibly;  not according to wants, but according to wisdom.  

So that said, let's dive in!

Recently, my eldest son was conveying his thoughts concerning provision verses entitlement and passivity during a wonderfully engaging conversation.  Wisely, he said, "God does provide, but it does not happen with me just sitting on the couch."  Amen, my son; amen! 

The first part is for us to be found WORKING. 

Now wives, let me speak to you for a moment....heart to heart.  If you do not have children, full-time work is completely within your scope of choices.  However, when children enter the picture, THEY become your first priority.... your full-time work.  

Please keep in mind that what I am about to say is not all-inclusive, across the board.  I understand that there are circumstances, such as the loss of a spouse or divorce, that challenge alignment function. Nevertheless, I challenge you to inspect your own family's alignment for areas that may reflect a usurping of position or authority.   I see a growing issue of misalignment in Christian families where the wife/ mother is working both inside and outside the home .... often, for one of two invalid reasons:  1) to support the "stuff" the family has labeled as "need" when in fact that stuff should be labeled as "want"  and/or  2) to make up for the husband's passivity or lack.

When a male provides for his family, it produces testosterone in him --- which is a stress RELEASER for him.  It's how God wired him so as to be enabled to do what needs to be done for the well being of his family.  As he blesses his family with provision, God blesses him with a stress reducer.  However, when a woman works as the main financial provider, THAT too produces testosterone in her -- which dominoes into high levels of cortisol in the body -- which becomes a significant stress PRODUCER in her! 

Don't like that news?  Do the research.  Elevated levels of testosterone and women don't mix.  The evidence is overwhelming.  It results in low-thyroid function, sleep deprivation, insulin resistance, low sex drive, and  more. 

Mothers, you do a dis-service to your husband's "maleness" when you step in and usurp his God-given role as primary provider. Pray for him. If he is passive, pray until God knocks him out of that state! If he is giving it all he can, then look for ways to cut your overhead -- even if it means down sizing your home or  getting rid of  the extras such as cell phones and cable TV.  How about join a food coop?  There are so many creative ways to save money! Budget sacrifices might be a must, but DO NOT attempt to take his place. You were not innately wired to do so by the Creator!  If you try, you will receive a BURDEN, not a blessing! 

As an aside, let me briefly share a tidbit from my past.  My husband went through unemployment in 2000.  During that time -- a two year, two month stint -- I was offered not one job, but two jobs out of left field.  Neither of the two jobs was solicited, and let me tell you, both jobs would have stoked my ego!  But when I consulted God, He said,  "No" -- both times. I honored His answer.  The result?  My husband continued to grow up into the Godly man he is today -- one who is used by God to provide a powerful and peaceful nest for me and our children.  Finances are but one tool -- a very effective tool, mind you -- that God uses to shape our character.  Far more than your finances -- He is interested in exchanging, transforming your flawed character for His perfect character.  Your flawed character doesn't go down without a fight, so you can either help kill it by agreeing with God, or you can fight against Him in defense of that flawed character.  I recommend that you help kill it  God's way works! Question is are you giving space and time for His way?

Moving on.  

The following is now addressed to husbands and wives collectively.

The expenses associated with children only increase as they age. That is a fact.

So in light of that KNOWLEDGE, my exhortation to you is: apply WISDOM today as you decide in the "now" moment where and how you spend and save your funds, that which has been granted to you  to steward over. 

Picture a few years ahead of your "now" moment with the "knowns" of today.  Have you taken the time to lay out an estimation together - as husband and wife - on a spread sheet of the known expenses coming down the pipe for at least this year? 

Did you just gag or choke at the mention of "spread sheet"? 

If you find you can't take that foundational step in stewardship, then I strongly suggest delusion is already afoot in your life.

And don't look at the spread sheet as an instrument of choking out the Spirit!  He is not daunted by a spread sheet -- a "skeleton" chart.  He'll add to it and subtract from it guaranteed!  That's the beauty of understanding stewardship!

And an additional word of wisdom,  do NOT make that spreadsheet out on the hope of  monetary increase.  Make the spread sheet out on the CURRENT family income! 

If your family experiences an increase in the coming years, GREAT! Give God PRAISE and receive it as a blessing! But you should not plan tomorrow, next month, or next year on the speculation of increase.

A steward, by definition, manages current provision.  The MASTER is the one who determines the "if" and the "when" increase stewardship comes.

As the saying goes, "Man up and grow up."   You can not properly steward something you are not willing to take a hard look at and assess its current state.

Granted, you will not be able to see ALL the dynamics of the coming years, but much will be able to be  ascertained through resources online or from those a bit "further down the road." 

Be very careful about big purchases such homes and cars because what you purchase NOW, you will have to SUSTAIN as your children grow.  Remember with due diligence that as they grow, so too will their financial needs grow.  You are not exempt from this dynamic. If you think you are, you are deluding yourself! 

Sure.  Pennies can be pinched and stretched, but they do have limits on both those abilities! 

Look back over the past year.  Did you stress the bigger bills? The smaller bills? Did you have funds for  proper maintenance over what is already in your possession? 

I know these are hard questions -- even painful, to some.  But they MUST be answered honestly!

If you "barely" made it in 2012, did so with government aid, or didn't make it at all in 2012,  THAT is a clear indicator increase or "addition to"  would be wholly unwise at this point.

If your  home is not "in order" (ie: if you are currently struggling or just barely getting by or already living on government assistance), GOD will NOT instruct you to take on MORE.   Did you hear that?    He absolutely WILL NOT!

Now that might seem commonsense to most, but I have seen time and time again that the desperate or those struggling to hold on to hope actively grab onto false hope and listen to voices that twist and pervert the character of God's goodness. 

Those false voices say things like, "Well, God did give you this dream, didn't He?" or "Well, you know you do have this as a 'need' and God said He'll provide your needs." 

So the person then moves out in what they call faith (but it would be more accurate to call it assumption) -- and then wonder why they are sitting across the table from me or a financial counselor -- or worse yet, a bankruptcy judge --  within a brief period of time after adding the proverbial "more" they were so sure was a 'need' --- all the while, stressed to the hilt -- praying for a miracle over the financial mess THEY self-created.

Keep in mind, a newer car carries higher car insurance premiums and a higher tax bill....not to mention a monthly payment, unless you paid cash for it!

Keep in mind, the bigger the house, the bigger the utility bills each and every month, as well as higher home insurance premiums and higher property taxes .... not to mention the increased annual upkeep expenses. 

EVERYTHING must be looked at head on for what it is....
not what you hope it will be!

Again, if you find you are already living "tight" -- do NOT increase "stuff." 

If you have food, clothing, and shelter, your NEEDS are already met.  Anything above those are WANTS.

Resist the temptation to call "wants" needs!  If you do so, you are lying to yourself -- and worse yet, trying to sell that lie to God.

It's okay to express desires to God, but it is NOT okay to make demands.  HE is God.  You are not.

God desires you to live within your means comfortably WITH margin.  For some, you need to stop and re-read that ONE sentence again and again until it sinks in, taking special note of the two words: with margin!

Do you live with margin -- otherwise called excess, "breathing room", "money to be given away"  -- NOW?
If the answer is "no" to that question, additions of "MORE" is folly.

When He finds you able to live comfortably with margin, it gives Him the liberty to increase OR not.  Shocker, I know to many -- but the decision to increase is HIS choice....not YOURS.   It is not an entitlement!

But whatever you do, do NOT seek for and strive to make happen the increase FIRST and His provision SECOND.   You WILL meet with calamity if you follow that plan!

Are you listening?!   Oh, I hope you are!

I have seen WAY TOO MUCH mis-management of finances in Christian homes, and the resistance to stop the insanity and get back to the basics is unreal at times! 

It breaks my heart to see family after family following the path of so many, thinking if they "do" (ie: add thus and such) -- then they will successfully force God's hand to provide. That method has NEVER worked and it will NEVER work.  Period.  You have to submit to HIS way... not the other way around!

May God bless each family with increased wisdom.   Remember, we are stewards, not owners!  Steward wisely!


Friday, February 8, 2013

"I AM"

This week, as I have observed a friend's situation (link)two words have been once again expounded in my soul in ways I deeply cherish. In carrying the call upon my life, I deal a lot with the tough places -- the dark places -- from illnesses, to accidents, to broken hearts, broken marriages, broken families.

The two words that regularly take my breath away -- that cause me to pause in reverence and awe --- that empower me to do what I do:

I AM. 

Don't be so quick to just glance at them as you rush to scan this entry. Stop for longer than a moment. LOOK at those words. SAY them out-loud.  LISTEN as the Spirit reverberates those two words like rolling thunder down to the marrow of your being:

I AM. 

Did you note the period at the end? It IS a complete thought. NOTHING need be added!

Do those words have significant, life-altering meaning to YOU? 

They do to me. You can bet the bank they do to my friend.

God does not dwell in the past. He isn't about His yesterday's achievements.

God doesn't dwell in the future. He isn't about wishful thinking or daydreams.

He is "I AM."

Present tense. 
In the moment.  
Ultimate Authority.  
Boundless Power.

I want to share with you an exposition Max Lucado wrote concerning the passage of Matthew 14, the storm on the Sea of Galilee:


From the center of the storm, the unwavering Jesus shouts, "I am."  Tall in the Trade Tower wreckage. Bold against the Galilean waves. ICU, battlefield, boardroom, prison cell, or maternity ward - whatever your storm, "I am."

The construction of this passage echoes this point. The narrative is made up of two acts, each six verses long. The first, verses 22-27, centers on the power walk of Jesus. The second, verses 28-33, centers on the faith walk of Peter.

In the first act, Christ comes astride the waves and declares the words engraved on every wise heart: "Courage! I am! Don't be afraid!" In the second act, a desperate disciple takes a step of faith and - for a moment - does what Christ does. He waterwalks. Then he takes his eyes away from Christ and does what we do. He falls.

Two acts. Each with six verses. Each set of six verses contains 90 Greek words. And right in between the two acts, the two sets of verses, and the 180 words is this two-word declaration: "I AM."

Matthew, who is good with numbers, reinforces his point.  It comes layered like a sub sandwich:

Graphically: Jesus -- soaked but strong.
Linguistically: Jesus -- the "I am" God.
Mathematically: whether in the words or the weathered world, Jesus -- in the midst of it all.

God gets into things! Red Seas. Big Fish. Lions' dens and furnaces. Bankrupt businesses and jail cells. Judean wildernesses, weddings, funerals, and Galilean tempests. Look and you'll find what everyone from Moses to Martha discovered. God in the middle of our storms.

That includes YOURS!

He's there. Right in the middle of it all.

Give Him a shout of praise!  
Great is our God; the GREAT "I AM"!

Look for Him today in YOUR life! 

If you look, you will see. He's right there with you!


"Courage!  I AM!  Do not be afraid!" 
Matthew 14: 27 

Much love!

(Exposition taken from "Next Door Savior" by Max Lucado.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Life Without Fear

Life, when placed in to God's magnificent hands, becomes a series of moments woven into the most beautiful of tapestries.

Today, I will enjoy lunch with my youngest and a stroll about the neighborhood. During those same moments, a friend will be by her unconscious youngest's hospital bed, a result from a car accident yesterday.

Through it all, there is the full assurance God is working His plan.

I am thankful for the steadfast, deeply rooted belief (knowledge backed by action) NOTHING touches one of His own without HIS permission. THAT is what makes HIM the Great Shepherd.

I find too much emphasis in the Body is placed on the "thief."

Is what he is up to worthy of even a second glance when our GOD has care of us? NO!  A thousand times no!

God took him on on our behalf..... and WON! John 10 says, "I (Jesus) am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will GO IN and OUT and FIND pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I CAME that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Commit to get the focus OFF the "thief." For some, this will take diligence and the breaking of habits because too much of your past thought life has been focused on him... and not on GOD.

Those who are IN Christ Jesus are commanded to walk full of faith. When we do so, there is NO room for fear, for fretting, or for looking over one's shoulder, because when one walks in faith, they are walking with the belief (knowledge backed by action) that the Great Shepherd IS their front, rear, and side guard. That they have full liberty - utterly absent of fear - to go IN AND OUT and FIND pasture because GOD is on watch!    Give Him a shout of praise!

May you command your faith to rise on JESUS' power and HIS promise! BUT understand that promise of divine protection and purpose -- the divine kind that is able to transform even hard to swallow events into a testimony of GOD's realness and goodness -- comes with a qualifier: you have to make the decision to go in through the door, Jesus. That means the leaving of one's will, thoughts, hopes, demands, striving, and provision OUTSIDE His gate, diligently and obediently positioning yourself UNDER Him. He is a GREAT God, and those who put their trust in Him will not be put to shame!

Gently, yet firmly, let me caution as I part. To rebel or to persist exercising one's wants without God's sanction is to intentionally bang one's self upon the brick wall labelled SIN. One does it to themselves when the choice is made to strive after something independent from Him and against His sanction. To do so while expecting His blessing and His protection is utter folly! Let's commit to leave toddler wills and demands behind and walk on in to growth and maturity in Him. It is foolish to think the created could ever possibly know better than the Creator!

Godspeed, dear ones! Godspeed!