April 27, 2011

Egg Map

I write about a variety of stuff on this blog-- my spiritual journey as a woman trying to live a more godly life, being a mom and organizing my home and life, teaching my son things, cooking, and sometimes just random thoughts that I've had.  This is one of those posts that is about a really random thought that also relates to spiritual things.  Fair warning:  it's kind of cheesy.

One of my favorite shows is Gilmore Girls.  It bit the dust when the WB channel became the CW a few years back, but you can catch re-runs on ABC Family.  It takes place in the make believe, picturesque, quirky little town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, where there is a town festival for just about everything.  Each episode revolves around a single mother and her relationship with her daughter, but there is always a sub-plot that involves something ridiculous and humorous happening in this unique, fun little New England town.

In one episode, the townspeople started to smell an awful stench all over town.  Come to find out, during the annual Stars Hollow Easter egg hunt in the town square, not all the eggs were found.  The ever rule-abiding, annoyingly strict, and  rule-enforcing person who was usually in charge of such town events, Taylor Dose, was not there to run the festival this year.  He chose his fumbling and odd sidekick, Kirk, to run the event in his absence.  The whole town was dumbstruck that Kirk had failed to make an egg map, which would show the precise locations of all the hidden eggs, to avoid such a disaster.  I have never heard of such a thing, but every character seemed baffled by Kirk's mistake.  The town stank to high heaven from the smell of old, rotting, rank hard-boiled eggs that had been baking in the sun for several weeks.  Kirk looked and looked for the missing eggs that were stinking up the town, but he could not find them.  He searched day and night to no avail, and the town kept getting stinkier and stinkier.  He worked himself into a panic.  Finally, after a little help from the local diner owner, Luke, who took pity on him, all the eggs were found.  Kirk vowed to never have an Easter egg hunt without first making an egg map ever again, and all was well in Stars Hollow again.

I'm a big t.v. and movie girl, so when I was hiding eggs in my yard on Easter Sunday this past week for my little boy, I thought about this episode.  But of course, lately, it seems like everything I think about has a parallel.  Nerdy, I know.  So, this is your warning.  Get ready for the corniness in 3, 2, 1...

Do I have an egg map for my life?  Or do I just randomly go throughout life with no map or guide?  Does my life sometimes give off a stench like those nasty, rotten eggs?  I hope not, but let's face it.  I'm sure that it does.  I think those stinky eggs can be compared to our sins.  Even when we try to hide them, they still give off a gross, powerful stench that cannot be ignored.  God can't stand the smell of them.  It should bother us as much as it bothers God, but sometimes we wait to find and throw away those putrid eggs until we absolutely can't take the smell anymore.  We let the stench get really bad before we address the problem.  Maybe if we just ignore the stench, the problem will go away.  Yeah, not likely.  We'd just rather walk in the stench. 

Thank goodness we have Jesus.  He helps us realize how much we need his help in finding those rotten eggs and disposing of them so that we can smell fresh and clean again.  If we just relied on the map--God's grace, the Holy spirit leading us, prayer, worship, our faith communities, and the scriptures, maybe we wouldn't veer off course so much and wonder around aimlessly in a panic.  If we used this map, then it seems like it would be easier to quickly find that one stinky egg in our lives and chunk it in the garbage.  Thank God for the egg maps.

Told you it was cheesy.

April 16, 2011

I'm Having a Martha Moment

Go, go, go.  Do, do more, you're still not doing enough.  Get it all done, and do it seamlessly.  Be organized in every aspect of your life.  Discipline your child to be the most well-mannered and well behaved kid on the block.   Your two year old is whining and not listening to you in public?  You poor dear.  It's a shame that means he won't succeed later on in life.  Get all the laundry done and put away.  Heaven forbid there's a few loads that sit in the basket for a while.  Keep the kitchen immaculate at all times, even when you're cooking.  Dirty dishes sitting in the sink?  (Gasp.)  The shame.  Always say yes when you're asked to do something, even if you do have to create an extra hour in the day to get it done.  I mean, if you say no, then what would people think?  Don't take time to do anything fun for yourself.  You really should be doing something productive instead.  Always.  Decide to take a break anyway?  Well, then you should at least feel guilty about it.  The house?  Well, it must always, always be clean.  After all, you never know when someone might drop by.  You don't want them thinking you do nothing all day when they see the dust and dog hair, do you?  Be everywhere at once.  Be everything to everyone.   C'mon, that's easy.  I mean, you are superwoman, right?

Okay moms, have you ever felt this way?  Maybe you're not even a mom at all, but you feel these pressures to be all things to all people at all times--and to be perfect at all of it.  For me, struggling with this is nothing new that started with the birth of my son.  Sheesh.  What is it with us women?  Why do we think this way?  Why do we set ourselves up for failure like this?  The immense pressures and expectations of being perfect women and the impossible to-do lists that we hold over our heads daily are eating away at us.  If we can't live up to these expectations and get it all done, then does that mean that we are failures?  If I'm not a shiny little, squeaky clean, always-smiling, never-stopping, go-til-I-drop super woman, then there must be something wrong with me.  Tell me, people, is this the truth?  Nope.  It's a big fat lie, and it's not from God.

I had a particularly hard week last week fighting against these feelings.  As a mom I was feeling (and am still struggling not to feel) like I was a big fat failure.  It was one of those weeks where my two year old son acted like the epitome of what you think of when you think of a two year old.  If there was ever any question about why they call it "the terrible two's", then all one would have had to do was to come to my house this past week and see it in action.  I love my son more than I could even express here in words.  But, some days, it is hard being a mom!  We dealt with everything that week--whining (oh, the whining), being aggressive towards other children, not sharing, not accepting no, throwing fits, an embarrassing grocery store incident (moms--you know what I'm talking about), and being disrespectful.  No matter what I did, nothing worked.  I was doubting my abilities and gifts as a mother.  I thought that it surely had something to do with what I was not doing.  Maybe if I just did this or that, then everything would be better.

Then God gave me a little grace.  God gave me exactly what I needed--my friend Marty.  An experienced Mom with two children in college, her first-born son and my son are like carbon copies of one another.  When she tells stories about her son when he was preschool-aged, it's like I'm listening to myself talk about my life.  I know she knows what it's like to raise a strong-willed but incredibly loving and amazing little boy.  She has come out of it on the other side, and her child who kept her constantly on her toes testing, testing, and testing some more is now a very responsible, caring, respectful, strong, level-headed, smart young man who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.  She had the perspective that I needed.  Sometimes God places people in my life at just the right moments.  Do you know what I mean?  What started out as just a quick conversation in the hallway of our church ended up to be a holy moment.  God was using her, and she probably didn't even know how much.  The thing that struck me the most was when she said, "Jenni, you're being too hard on yourself."  This statement brought tears to my eyes.  It was just what I needed to hear.  It felt freeing --like God was giving me permission to just relax and stop beating myself up so much.  Just stop.  Take a breath.  Calm down.

Through all this, my mind keeps coming back to another very busy woman I know named Martha.  She is a woman of good intentions.  She is known for being hospitable, productive, a loving sister, loyal to her friends, a woman of unwavering faith, a planner, and a do-er.  She seems like she has it all together.  Okay, I have to admit that I don't exactly know Martha personally, but I feel like I do.  She actually lived a very long time ago, way before my time--a little over 2000 years ago to be exact.  A couple of important guys named Luke and John wrote about her in a book called The Bible.

Let's be honest, Martha has gotten a bad wrap from the Church for the past 2000 plus years.  We lump her in there with Thomas, poor guy.  We have forgotten all her good qualities.  Or maybe we just overlook them completely.  How can we forget, after all, that she was one of Jesus' closest and most loyal friends.  When her beloved brother Lazarus died, Jesus came to visit and comfort her and her sister (John 11:17-20).  She told Jesus that she knew he could have healed her brother when he was sick if he had only arrived sooner.  She pushed her faith even further when she told him that he could still heal Lazarus and raise him from the dead if he wanted to (John 11:21-22).  Now that is some astounding faith!  When Jesus responded by asking her if she believed that he was the "resurrection and the life", she did not doubt and agreed whole heartedly that he was the Christ (John  11:23-37).  Jesus ended up granting her request, and afterwards, she hosted a dinner, in which Jesus was the guest of honor.  What a wonderful way to show her gratitude.  But even before all this happened, she had a good relationship with Jesus.  Before Lazarus fell ill, when he and his disciples were passing through Bethany, Luke says that "a woman named Martha opened her home to him" (Luke 10:38).  I don't know about you, but opening up my home to thirteen dirty, traveling strangers would not be high up on my list of things to do, but it was for Martha.  She had a true, loving servant's heart.

But, I must mention that there were qualities in Martha which got her in trouble.  She, like so many of us women, had a very hard time slowing down.  The way she saw it, there was always something to do to prepare for something else.  She had to have the cleanest house and the best cooked meal.  She had to be the hostess with the mostess, and she was just plain too hard on herself.  When she opened her home to Jesus and his disciples when they passed through her home town, she missed out on the special moments with Jesus.  While her sister Mary "sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said", "Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made" (Luke 10:39-40a).  In fact, Martha even gets frustrated that Mary isn't helping with the hostessing duties and tells Jesus to get her to start doing more (Luke 10:40b).  But, Jesus' response is golden...

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."  

He very well could have been saying, "Jenni, Jenni...you are worried and upset about many things..."  Or he could have been talking to any one of us women who are constantly doing and going...

What is that "one thing" that is needed that he talks about?  What was it that Mary chose that was better?  Jesus was Jewish, and he grew up learning and devoting himself to the Jewish scriptures.  He was referring to Psalm 27.  In verse 4 it says,

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.

Even after hearing this, Martha still struggled.  Just before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany again, and Martha planned a dinner in honor of him.  During the dinner she is described as the one who "served".  Her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary, on the other hand, chose to spend their time with Jesus that night.  Mary even anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair in the famous story that parallels him being prepared for his burial (John 12:1-3).  Martha missed out!

I truly believe that all of Martha's going and doing came from an absolute place of love and good intentions.  But, the message got lost in translation.  All Jesus wanted was for her to stop what she was doing and just sit and be with him.  That's all.  But, her anxiety got the best of her, and it's getting the best of me as well.  Martha, I think we're cut out of the same cloth.

What about the Proverbs 31 woman?  Was she a Martha or a Mary?  Well, I think she probably had the best qualities of both.  She was like Martha in that she provided a wonderful home for her family.  She took care of her family and friends and showed her love to them by her steadfast actions.  But instead of being too busy to soak in her Lord's presence, I think the Proverbs 31 woman was like Mary.  I picture her as a woman who had an incredible peace about her as she went along in her daily activities--a peace that only comes from spending time in prayer, devotion, and worship to her God.  Yes, Martha opened her home and heart to Jesus, but Mary let him fill her heart as well.

There is much to learn from Martha concerning having a servant's heart.  But when does having a servant's heart turn into being a slave to getting things done and trying to solve problems by doing more?  Maybe I should be a little more like Martha's sister, Mary. Sit at the feet of Christ.  Talk with God.  Just be still and listen.  Open that Bible on my nightstand that has been neglected lately because of all the time spent trying to be super wife and mom.  What's more important?  Nurturing my faith in Christ and spending time with my family or folding the clean laundry piled up on the guest bed, dealing with the stack of dishes in the sink, and plucking dog hair off my couch?  That should be a no brainer.

April 7, 2011

The Blog Guidebook

"Ahhhh, tiny grasshopper.  There is much to learn."  Who's the tiny grasshopper?  Me.  My beloved wise master and skilled elder teaching me all things bloggy?  That would be The Blog Guidebook.

I'm new to the blogging world, and when I look at all the super cute blogs out there in the blogosphere, I am in awe and feel like I'm in over my head a bit.  How do all these people make their blogs look so darn good, and how do they get those neat little button thingies and logos on the sidebars of their blogs?  My blog looks so basic and bare.

I found a great site called The Blog Guidebook that is quickly becoming a great resource for me.  I have a very long way to go, but I have begun to learn from them.  I used this blog to help me learn how to make a button for my blog.  A button is a graphic that also serves as a link back to your blog.  You can see it at the top of the right sidebar on my blog.  It looks like this:

I made one for my recipe blog, too, that's underneath my Proverbs 31 Project blog button on the sidebar.  If you click on this button here or on the sidebar of my blog, it will take you directly to my recipe blog.
Yes, they look pretty basic since I am a novice in designing digitally.  I hope to improve on the looks of them one day, but I made them and got them up on my blog successfully, nonetheless.  And if you only knew just how technologically challenged I am, you'd be impressed.

I also found a tutorial on this site that taught me how to publish the html codes underneath the buttons so that others can grab those codes and post my buttons on their blogs that will link back to my blog.  I made a page on my blog that can be seen under the "Button Up" tab at the top.  This page displays these buttons and html codes for others to copy and paste.

I look forward to learning much more from The Blog Guidebook!  If you're interested in blogging, it's worth checking their site out.  They have how-to categories for bloggers, blog listings by categories, featured blogs, lists of link parties and how to start one, and all sorts of cool bloggy stuff.  I signed up to have my blog listed on their site for free.  Right now they are running a promotional where they will put up your button for free if you blog about them, instead of just text linking to your site.  So, this is what I'm doing!

I'm linking this post to:

The Giving Envelope and the Savings Jar

As the name of this blog suggests, I've been on a journey to become more like the Proverbs 31 woman.  She was wise with her family's finances.

"She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard."--Proverbs 31:16 (NIV)

"She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night."--Proverbs 31:18 (NIV)

"She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy."--Proverbs 31:20 (NIV)

"She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."--Proverbs 31:24 (NIV)

Learning to manage our family's finances wisely like the woman of noble character in Proverbs 31 is just one aspect that I have been working on lately.  As I blogged about in an earlier post called He Says, "Money". She Hears, "Glsnmickloqgtaypvx", I am trying to learn more about managing finances wisely through a course called Financial Peace University.

In Financial Peace University my husband and I have been learning that it is important to teach our son about spending money wisely while staying within a budget, the importance of saving money, and above all else, the value of giving money away.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was wise when he said to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.  We don't want our son to make the same mistakes we have made.  Not only that, but we want him to learn at an early age that money is tied to working, and work ethic is important.  We want him to learn how to exercise self-discipline and save.  And most importantly, we want to teach him about the sacrifice of giving his first earnings to God and the church with a grateful and happy heart.

Dave Ramsey, the founder of Financial Peace University, suggests that parents pick a few chores that could be considered "work" for their children starting at around age three--work that could have a monetary value assigned to it.  He suggests not calling it an "allowance".  Rather, he suggests calling it a "commission".  Someone who works on commission doesn't get paid if he or she doesn't do the work.  If our son doesn't do his work, then he does not earn his money.  It's as simple as that.  So, we've taken this idea and tweaked it a bit to fit our 2 1/2 year old and our little family.

There are some chores that our son is expected to do simply because he is a member of the family.  Such chores include feeding our dog Sadie daily, putting his dirty clothes in his hamper at the end of the day, putting his shoes away in his shoe drawer daily, loading his clothes into the washing machine and transferring his clothes from the washer to the dryer when we do his laundry together, helping prepare his meals (taking things out of the pantry or refrigerator and putting them on the counter for preparation, stirring things), throwing away trash, putting recyclables into the recycling bin, and putting his books away in his book baskets in his bedroom after story time at night.  We'll add more age-appropriate chores as he gets older.  We picked one specific chore that would become his "work" in which he could earn commissions.  We picked the one that he has the hardest time with:  clean up time.  Our son is all boy.  He loves his toys, and he plays hard.  By the end of the day, he's had adventures with them all over the house, and boy, does it ever look that way!

So, here's what we do on a normal day.  When we have company over, we haven't figured out how to work it yet since he gets so distracted, there are a lot more toys out and about, and he seems disinterested.  But on a normal day when it's just us, this is how it works.  He gets one quarter when he completes clean-up time.  We clean up twice a day:  before nap time in the afternoon and before bedtime at night.  So, he has the potential to earn 50 cents in a day.  He spends the night with his grandmother once a week and spends the next day with her until dinner time, so he does not get a chance to earn commissions on that night and during the afternoon of the next day.  So, in one week it is possible for him to earn a total of $3.00. 

How We Do It:
1.  He must clean up on his own.  He is the one doing the work--not Mommy and Daddy (on a normal day).
2.  We direct him.  He's a little too young to stay focused and on task by himself, and he sometimes gets overwhelmed by all the things on the floor that he has to clean up.  So my husband or I will tell him what to pick up.  For example, we'll tell him we see toy trains on the ground and that he needs to find all the toy trains and put them away before we clean up anything else.
3.  He needs to stay on task.  If he decides he wants to start playing with the things he is picking up, then we remind him that the consequence of that choice will be that he will not earn the quarter.  We show him the quarter so that he can see what he's working towards.  He knows that if he does not clean up, then Mommy or Daddy get to have that quarter instead of him.  He does not like it when we say this.  "No, that's my quarter!"
4.  As soon as he is done, we praise him, and give him the quarter immediately for him to put away.  He feels so proud.  Sometimes if he has made a big mess playing, he'll sigh deeply when he's done, like he's saying, "Whew.  That was hard work."

Where does his money go?

The first two clean-up times of the week (both on Sunday, assuming that he completes his work), the quarters go in the Giving Envelope.  Not only is this roughly about 15% of his earnings for the week, but it is also his very first earnings of the week--his first fruits.  This is just a small manila office envelope in which I wrote "Give" on the front as well as a few scriptures.

"Honor God with everything you own.  Give him the first and the best."--Proverbs 3:9-10 (from The Message Bible)

"God loves it when the giver delights in the giving."--2 Corinthians 9:7b (from The Message Bible)

I drew a picture of a church on the back, and I wrote a scripture on it as well:

"Bring the finest of the first fruits of your produce to the house of your God."--Exodus 34:26 (from The Message Bible)

On Sunday mornings when we go to church, he takes his little Giving Envelope to his Sunday School class with him, and he puts his two quarters that he has worked hard for in the offering basket.  It teaches him nothing about giving and sacrifice if we give him the money for the offering.  By putting in his own money that he has worked very hard for, he is learning about faithfulness, sacrifice, integrity, and that giving is important and should be a priority before saving or spending.  His giving now has meaning to it.  God first.

After his first two times cleaning up in a week, the rest of his commissions get to go into the Savings Jar.  We have a piggy bank for him in his room, but Dave Ramsey suggests that you use something clear so that children can see how their earnings are growing.  I found an empty clear plastic canister with a plastic lid that was sitting in our laundry room unused.  I decorated it with the word "Save" on the front and drew pictures of toys, a scripture, and a picture of a little boy watering a plant that has dollar bills for branches.  I modge-podged the drawings onto the container and lid.  The scripture is "Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure out the cost so you'll know if you can complete it?"--Luke 14:28 (from The Message Bible)

Now this is not a savings jar for a car one day or his clothes or anything like that.  We'll start that when he is in his teen years.  This is just a savings jar for a special little toy that he sees at the store that he really wants.  We'll find out how much it is and work towards saving that amount of money in his jar so that he can use his money to buy it.  This is not to say that we won't buy him toys also.  This is just a great starting point in teaching him that we have to work hard and plan for things we would like to have.  It's more about the teachable moment than anything else at this point.

It is working out so far.  We've been doing it for several weeks now.  Today we counted his quarters, and he has 36.  Most days when we tell him that it is clean-up time, he gets excited and says, "It's time to earn commissions!"  He likes seeing how there are more and more quarters adding up in his jar.  The first Sunday to take his Giving Envelope to church, he was actually the one that remembered it.  He told my husband that he needed to get his commissions to take to the church.  I love that he has a joyful and grateful heart when giving.

There have been a few bumps in the road.  One evening he thought it would be fun to dump tons and tons of toys in his play tent--every single little car he owns, all the mega blocks, all the Jenga blocks, all the trio blocks, all the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head parts, every ball in the house, puzzle pieces...I'll just stop there.  You get the picture.  There were lots of tiny little toys everywhere in one big heap.  He did not like cleaning that up one bit.  But, I tried to turn that into a teachable moment:  the bigger mess you make, the harder it is to clean up, and if you don't clean up as you go, then you'll have to spend a lot of time cleaning up later.  Hopefully, he learned his lesson.  It was painful and tiring for both him and me.  I got so frustrated that I almost just told him to stop, but I didn't.  The end result was that he earned his quarter for his Giving Envelope and hopefully (Puh-leeeeeaaaase, God) learned not to make that big of a mess again.