A Written Ebenezer

There is victory because I am here. I am sitting down at a desk to write and words are splaying across the page. Victory. Why don’t I write? Why do I avoid this black keyboard like the plague? I am scared that I have nothing to say. Or if I say it, no one will care. But what if I just said it anyway, as a prayer to my Audience of One and left the rest up to Him? What if I showed up to write like I brush my teeth or shower each day and let what needed to come out do just that? Will I take the challenge? There are blogs and websites calling my name and laundry piles taunting me from downstairs, but I will resist. Instead of letting those be my reasons for avoiding blank Document1’s, I will say ok. Just this once. And then try to do it just once again tomorrow.  And the day after that. Can I do it? No. There is too much to do around the house. The baby is crying and the cleaning is never done, so clearly there is no time to write.

But what will I miss if I put down the pen? What precious moments of my family’s life will I fail to remember because I was just too busy to raise my Ebenezer. Because that’s what this is. Every time I come to the page, I am raising my Ebenezer, showing the world what God has done and is doing for this one lost, hungry, desperate, searching soul. I am building an altar so I will not forget the miracles He has worked in my life. And why does it always feel like a good day if I’ve written? Maybe it’s because I am doing what God put me here to do. I am living in my gifts, dare I say living out my calling. And what if no one reads it? I must then ask myself whom, again, am I writing for? For whom am I assembling this altar? God, let me never forget that you are my Source, Life and Audience. I write for You.

The Temperate Life

“Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred, not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.”

-C.S. Lewis

Have a cold Fireman’s 4 or don’t and buy the Sigerson Morrison boots or don’t –because it’s not really about boots or beer brands. Ultimately, this whole experiment is about balance, not abstinence – that going to the right length and no further. God, teach me temperance!

Wheels and Dough and Cups

Spencer’s car has been in the shop this week and my replacement debit and credit cards have been taking their time meandering through the USPS to get to me. I couldn’t go anywhere or spend a dime even if I wanted to!

But then last night, we got his repaired car back and suddenly I was liberated again. I had wheels! Granted, the credit card in my wallet had been canceled, but I felt that sense of adventure again that comes with having one’s own mode of transport. I thought about picking up dinner, because I could drive through any one of the many fast food joints on the way home. That would be fun – I mean it’s been a week since someone else prepared the food we ate! Only problem, I had no legal tender, so we came straight home.

I fed our baby and then tended to my usual lame dinner cooking – spaghetti and meatballs this time – and minutes after I plated the food, Spence came through the door with a huge stack of mail. We sat down to dinner and two envelopes were addressed to me. One was a paycheck and the other – drumroll – my new debit card! And, of course, when you get that shiny piece of plastic issued to you, the first thing they ask you to do is go to the ATM to activate it!

So here I am on a Friday morning with a car in my garage and a legitimate debit card that needs activating, not to mention a Starbucks positioned strategically across the street from my bank wherein they have recently debuted the seasonal drink of all drinks: the pumpkin spice latte, and I feel that little tickle, nay itch, behind my ear.

This is normally where I would just go. Load up, hit the road and see where the day takes me, shirking my responsibilities to a later date. I’d reassure myself that there would be a quiet time with God sometime after lunch, but that I needed to seize this morning window – the work crowd has already driven through, but the stay at home moms are not quite out of their exercise classes. Beat the rush! Do it! Now!

But I’m not going to do it. Not only did I promise Spence that I wouldn’t spend any money this month, I want to test this out. I have the ability to” treat” myself (transportation and sufficient funds), but why am I so eager to run out the door? I’m going to let my son have his morning nap and settle in with the Truth that does not change. And anyway, my disposable Starbucks cup hath never once runneth over in all my drinking days. I want to drink and not be thirsty.

And that is exactly what I do. Not only does my son take a record-breaking two hour nap, but I settle in with the Word and learn a little more about Proverbs 31, that an excellent wife does her husband good and not harm all the days of her life. Spencer can trust me not to be a financial liability. And I want to be an excellent wife, more precious than rubies. God, help me want the priceless!

In Training

After I gave birth (with liquid pain, Pitocin, but without an epidural), I thought I could do anything. My body was sorer than it had ever been and I began having grand athletic aspirations. I envisioned myself holding my six-month-old on the other side of the marathon finish line I’d just stomped over, after which I’d politely excuse myself to breastfeed my cloth-diapered baby. Then, of course, my proud husband would steer us home to our manicured, spotless house. I guess I imagined I could be Supermom – I had given birth, after all. And, honestly, I suppose I wanted it all.

But here I am 5 ½ months later with a cup size of Double D, which prohibits me from running even to the front door and a spare mountain bike tire around my waist that jiggles if I try. Our house is situated strategically in what onlookers would describe as a triathlon training village, but I’m lucky if we can squeeze in a 30 minute walk with the stroller. I’m tired. My son still wakes up to eat at least twice a night and I want to nap during the day when he does. And when he is awake, I want to play with him and read to him, but then the house ends up a mess and my husband comes home to a train wreck –dishes and laundry piled up and a wife who hasn’t showered and is sure she is a failure at stewarding her household. Meanwhile, I dream about having a breast reduction so I can run. And be fit. And look cute in my work out clothes for those times I carry my baby on my back when I meander through Whole Foods or some other overpriced store I can’t afford. I want to hurry up and have our second (maybe third) child and get my body back. I yearn for the day when I am not my child’s sole source of nutrition, when I’m not a fast food trailer.

Our little guy will start rice cereal this week, followed by solids. I can’t wait for my boobs to shrink down to, say, a mere D cup, and for my appetite to shrink with them. I don’t want to wear size large running shorts when I have plenty of mediums in my drawer.

I sulk, but then I glance at the monitor teetering on the edge of my desk and see my sweet son sucking his two middle fingers while he takes his morning snooze. He’s gotten so big. I remember when we wondered why he would require a crib so large when, clearly, he would never fill it. Now he lies sideways and reaches across the entire thing. And I remember when we got those dinosaur jammies he’s now wearing as a gift. I looked at the tag that read 6-9 mos., almost laughing because, cute as they were, he would never get big enough to actually wear them. Now I have to pull the sides together to get the zipper up! And that tells me –along with moving up from size 2 to 3 disposable, not cloth, diapers –this won’t last forever. None of it. My son has started to army crawl across the living room floor and then roll over and over like a tumble weed. He will be crawling soon and then walking. And talking. With real words that communicate preferences and desires. It seems so far away, but so did those dino jammies when he was swimming in his preemies.

Bottom line, I have been lied to. My culture and city have told me that I can have it all, be fit-tidy-eco-mom with spare time to press my own fair-trade coffee beans and then use the grinds on my edible garden. That I don’t have to let go of any of “me” to be a mom. In fact, I can toss the kiddo in a sling and keep right on trucking through my life like nothing happened.

But what if it isn’t about me? What if God is using me, not to mention my body, for some greater purpose? Just like I have watched my son gain weight and develop on nothing but my breast milk, I wonder what else God might be nourishing through this sacrifice. Because I’m pretty sure He did not put me here to look good in Lululemon. My former students drop by to visit and I wonder what they think about my imperfect body – not that it was ever anything to brag about, but I was decently cute. Then again, what message would I send to them if I did look good in over-priced athletic gear five months after giving birth?

In the end, as I sit here looking imperfect in my size Large running shorts (that I do not run in), cleavage spilling over my sports bra, and exposed arms that are anything but toned, I have to ask what is important.

So, what is important?

I want my children to seek and know the Truth. I want them to be life-long learners with an insatiable desire for their Creator. I want them to never stop marveling at the wonders around them. To participate in life, not let it happen to them. I want to cook brownies with my children, lose sleep with my children and make huge messes with them. I want people to be unimpressed with my housekeeping abilities because of the time I have taken to listen to my child or get on the internet to find out exactly why roly-polys are on earth. I want my husband and children to have my undivided attention, to know that they matter more than emails or texts or clean, paired socks. And I want all of this more than I want an enviably fit body.

And to be honest, I am fit. I run up and down the stairs all day, carrying loads of laundry and an 80 pound baby boy – I may be exaggerating by a few pounds, but the kid is stout! I cook and clean and insert and remove said 80 pounder from the car day in and day out. It’s no Cross-fit regime, but I’m not completely weak. And the most important workout I do each day is exercising my soul. I may not get to push ups, but I get to the Word. I eat of the Bread of Life and my soul continues to train for this race, even if my body only looks mediocre.

Update: Exactly a week after I wrote this – after God gave me peace about my body – I was able to zip up my pre-pregnancy jeans. I felt confident for a whole afternoon, but now we are back to life. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that I am not my size or the brand rubbing against the back of my neck. God created me. I am His. He is my label and size!

Did I lose my wallet or did my wallet lose me?

God must have taken me seriously with this whole thing. He had to have with what happened next. Now, let me preface this by saying that I don’t pray about whether I should wear the three-quarter-length red shirt or the v-neck black one and I don’t face a spiritual crossroads when I debate oatmeal against waffles for breakfast – who knows, maybe I should. That said I am certain that God took me seriously in all of this when, within the first week of this little experiment, I lost my wallet!

The craziest part is that, only days before, I handed over hundreds of dollars’ worth of credit and gift cards to my husband. I borderline panicked when he threatened to cut them all up and trash them.

“That’s like real money,” I said. “You can’t throw away money.”

He countered, “Do you not see that throwing it away is exactly what you will do?”

He walked away from the dining room table and I had to sit with my rage at the idea that he may or may not be throwing away this money, some of which I had worked very hard for –it’s not like Buffalo Exchange takes just anything! How many hours had I waited in that selling line? And how many baby gifts from Target had I returned in order to build up a hefty credit? Of course, even when I accumulated half the cost of a Little Cottage nursing chair, Spence was still not convinced that a chair needed to be designed specifically for breastfeeding in order to get the job done. Needless to say, I’m nursing just fine in a chair we already had. But still, those were hundreds of dollars in his hands. And you don’t just throw away money!

I’m sure he thought there was some big lesson in mysteriously retreating with all the dough. On the other hand, since he’d asked me not to spend any money in September, I shrugged the whole thing and decided to let God rearrange my icky heart in the meantime.

And rearrange he did!

Somehow the weekend came and I didn’t feel wanty like I usually do. Even powering through two birthday parties didn’t stir my desires.

And then my wallet came up missing.

At first, I thought someone stole it. And I was angry! What were they charging? Hurry and cancel. Cancel it. Now.

I was mildly relieved that not a dime jingled inside that cute little leather Hobo clutch, save for my credit and debit card, but I was annoyed about the item itself (it’s appeal factor was so high that three of my friends asked if I minded if they got the exact same one) and the pain of ordering a new driver’s license. That Hobo and I had wrangled some serious bargains; it was like a friend. Would I ask for another one for Christmas? Would it be the same? But by the time I got home, somehow I didn’t really care. Spencer had canceled the cards and I remembered that I had another wallet (also cute, but in that 2008 kind of way) up in my closet somewhere. I would be okay!

Don’t get me wrong, Spence and I weren’t exactly thrilled about the whole thing, but it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. And once our eyes met, we didn’t need to say a word. We knew that was some kind of test or lesson, so we went with it.

That night we had friends over, cooked on the grill and ate on the back patio while our kids enjoyed the first cool grass of fall.

The wife of my husband’s former college roommate sat across from me. She cocked her eyebrow and gawked, “He wasn’t mad at you for losing it?”

“No.”

And that was it. He wasn’t mad and I wasn’t upset. We just moved on.

And the next day was Sunday and we piled into the car for church. Spence noticed something in between the seat and the door. He picked it up and handed me my old friend.

I tossed the thin, light leather clutch into my diaper bag. I was relieved and renewed. The Hobo and I are starting fresh.

Home & Hearth (and Retail Therapy)

I don’t sew. I’m not crafty and I can’t really cook. I am so far from the Proverbs 31 woman, it’s depressing. My house is a mess and the only time I am up before the sun is to feed my baby at 4am. Don’t get me wrong, I long to be this biblical saint, but I have no one in my field of vision to look at as an example. I live in America. Materialism and consumerism reign supreme, even in the church. Is anyone living biblically? Does anyone, who can afford it, avoid sale racks and stores and coffee shops simply because they don’t need anything? Is anyone really satisfied? I read that being rich isn’t having everything you want, it’s wanting everything you have. Does anyone want what they have? Do I? And if not, why not? My culture tells me that shopping makes everything better; if you are down, the mall will cheer you up, especially once you have a full bag hanging from your wrist. Problems disappear if you have Daddy Warbuck’s credit card, it seems.

But have I not done that? Have I not filled every want with something –a caramel macchiato from Starbucks, a new second-hand pair of Tory Burch rain boots from Buffalo Exchange or a Free People dress, yellow tagged to $29.99 on the clearance rack, at Marshall’s? I’m not in credit card debt and I’ve never spent $400 on Dior sunglasses, but I have wasted money on things that won’t fill me. I think about that Jennifer Knapp lyric:

“All the pennies I’ve wasted in my wishing well I’ve thrown like stones to the sea. I’ve cast my lots, dropped my guard, searched aimlessly for a faith to be faithful to me.”

How many pennies have I wasted? To look at it another way, how many pennies have I stolen from my family and from God that could have been used for something greater than scratching my itches?

And I want to say I will change. No more shopping. No more Coffee Bean. No more anything! Groceries and gas only, right? But the truth is, it’s just another diet. And I can go on a diet, but has my heart really changed? And this is where it is out of my hands. God must change my heart to be like His, to want the things He wants. Because I will search this world, use and discard until it’s empty, unless He transforms my heart and mind. And I want Him to. Of course, if I want my heart to look like His, I need to know what His looks like, so I guess it is not entirely out of my hands. I suppose it is what I put in my hands and before mine eyes that matters most. So what will it be?

Scratching the Itch

Too often, I scratch the itch without examining what’s causing the tickle. My itch is the purchase; something new at a low price. Right now we have a new (to us) home, so we are on a fairly tight budget. I have a few gift cards in my wallet and when the tickle reaches its height, I can make a purchase without money actually coming out of our bank account. In other words, I can buy without getting caught. Ugh, even the sound of it is sickening. But I love the bargain and the new thing. Yet, as much as I love it, I have never really counted the cost. I have never looked at its consequences on the planet and on my soul –what causes the itch? There is a part of me that doesn’t even want to look into this. And yet I know it is a combination of things. First, I am an average Amercian. I think I am thrifty and frugal, but that is only true in my visual sphere. Compared to any third worlder, I’d be a terrible steward of my resources. Secondly, I think I am exempt because I have an eye for a bargain. And once the bargain is eyed, it would be criminal to let the deal go. And, lastly, shopping is one of the best distractions from doing what I’m supposed to do, from getting my work done. Shopping makes me excited and I feel like I’ve conquered (although I’m not sure what or whom) when I come home with the kill. But does it really satisfy? Or have I just wasted hours I can never have back on stuff that won’t make me happy.

And I could probably ignore this conviction if it weren’t for my adorable 6 month old son who looks up at me from his snap n go as I push him through clothing and home goods aisles. He doesn’t speak yet, but his face seems to ask, “Whatcha lookin for, Mommy?” And I am looking. One of the greatest gifts of my life is right in front of me and I’m desperately hunting for a bargain to satisfy my soul.

I want to ignore this –or laugh it off –and be on to my next bargain, but I did something terrible. Horrible. I lied to my husband –yes, omission is lying –about 30 bucks I spent at an outlet mall. On crap. That I don’t need. But which did make me feel good, at least for the afternoon.

I didn’t want to sit down at the dining room table and review our expenses over the last six months, probably because I want to believe I am frugal. But as my eyes focused in on our expenditures, the truth was too ugly to ignore.

It all looks so innocent –a latte here, fast food there, a shirt for $9.99 at Anthropologie that I could not leave on the rack for someone else –but it adds up. I watched my patient husband’s face as he went through and itemized how much I’d spent at certain stores. I could have vomited. I’d never thought of how this affected him or our family. I just saw it as saving us money in the long run. Spencer says you never save money if you spend. He asked me not to spend any money in September. On the bright side, it is already September 4th, but I know this goes deeper than me keeping my debit card in my wallet for a month. Because what happens after the fast ends. Will I binge?

I marched to my wallet and pulled out every gift card I have –my little rectangular excuses for dropping into Target or Buffalo Exchange –and handed them over. No more excuses and no more cheating. Or lying.

No one is taking care of our money and Spencer has been asking me to be our financial manager for years. I don’t even pay the bills. In fact, I don’t even look at the bills. Or my bank account. I am so confident in my frugality, that I assume the money is there. But we have a son now, and I’d like to add another kid or two to the mix, so it has to stop. What happens when I don’t shop, purchase or even browse?

Is there life after shopping? Ugh, even the sound of it scares me because so much of who I am is wrapped up in the steal, the 75% off on a Thursday before the weekend rush tramples through. Who am I with no logo? I guess we will find out.

Unplugging the Lie

I’m over it. I’m just done! I’m tired of spending money and spinning my wheels on things that do not satisfy. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the world tells me they satisfy and too often I believe the lie. But I have a child now, and the stakes are too high. There are eternal consequences for the actions I take today. Sure, what’s a quick run through TJ Maxx to check out the sale rack? But what is my child seeing? And the thrill on my face when I find something designer that I could normally not afford –does that excitement match my love for Christ? And is it a lie to advertise brands that are far outside of my budget? If my treasure is where my heart is, I’ve got some shallow treasures. These are the things that taunt me when I return to God’s Word in the quiet of morning.

Job 29:14 “I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban.”

Galatians 5:16 “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

What my children see will affect who they become. And so, I unplug. I unplug from the mall. I unplug from shopping for sport. I unplug from looking around and rationalizing behavior because other Christian families are doing it. No more. No more Proverbs 31 manipulation to affirm my bargain hunting. From now on my standard is God’s Word. My fashion sense, my homemaking and my interests will be dictated by His desires for my heart and life. Goodbye, Neiman Marcus Last Call and Pinterest (you’ve been tempting me to set up an account, but I’m shutting it down right here), I have a new instruction manual and Guide. Thank you, God, that in this ever-fickle world, your Word doesn’t change.