Love your neighbor – but how?

We were out in our yard one sunny afternoon, and noticed a throng of people, big and small, down by the retention pond for our neighborhood.  Apparently at least one person was fishing in it, because our next door neighbor commented as he walked by that it looked like they were having a Bassmaster meeting down there.  Brian turned to me and commented, “What does it take to get to where we can just hang out and have that kind of interaction with our neighbors?  Or do you think we’re just too odd?”

I’ve kind of been chewing on that.  I truly believe that God opened doors to get us into this house.  We would have been happy with a smaller house, an older house, it didn’t have to be a brand new house.  We prayed about this house, a LOT, because it was a big deal for us financially.  And now here we are.  The thought occurred to me one morning as I was out walking that we don’t have to go to a foreign country, or even another state, to do missionary work – this street right here is our mission field.  We can reach out to our neighbors and show God’s love to them, right here where we are.  But what if we’re too odd to truly connect with our neighbors?

I’ve got no problem smiling and waving as we pass.  I’m fine with small talk – how’s the weather, how ’bout those Saints, whatcha planting in your garden this season.  But is that enough of an interaction – enough of a relationship – to let the love of Christ flow through us and to someone who may, behind the small talk, be hurting in ways we can’t even fathom?  Or will it just take time and us reaching outside of our comfort zones (because deep down, I’m really fairly socially awkward) to make those connections, build those relationships and be available when there are needs we can meet?

And make no mistake, we’re not exactly conformists.  My husband wears a kilt, and you don’t see a bunch of those in this part of the world unless you’re at the Renaissance Festival.

Lisa and Brian August 2013

We have the only two-story house in the neighborhood (that doesn’t make it any fancier, nor does that make it the most expensive one by any means, it’s just two stories – better use of space for us, and yes, different).

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I have a Dalek sticker on my car that I can pretty much guarantee is the only one like it in the Baton Rouge metro area.

Dalek Sticker

(If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you know what that is.  If you’re not, Google it, and then go watch some Doctor Who and see what you’re missing out on!)  We’re Baylor grads in the heart of LSU’s Tigerland.  So yeah, we’re odd.  We are the one that is not like the others.  But are we SO odd that we can’t learn how to love our neighbors?  I sure hope not.  I guess all we can do is pray on it, and keep on reaching out when and where we can, have patience, and give relationships time to grow.

 

 

 

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The Big Snow

Let’s take a trip in the WABAC machine today, shall we?  I came across this as I was going through some old pictures:

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That was The Big Snow of February 2010.  Thing One was 7 years old, and Thing Two was just a couple months shy of his first birthday, so it was his first introduction to that cold frozen stuff falling from the sky.

And what an introduction it was!  The snow started falling one afternoon, and hooray, there was much rejoicing, it was a snow day!  Snow wasn’t unheard of in our part of north Texas, but more often if we got wintry weather, it was ice.  So there was some excitement in the air when the white fluffy stuff started coming down.

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And then it kept coming.

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And coming.

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Before this go-round, the most snow I’d seen in our part of the world was about four inches.  That was when Thing One was about eighteen months old, and it was his first snow.  He was NOT impressed.

Lisa and Julian Snow

Total time spent outside in the snow that day (also in February – Valentine’s Day 2004):  about thirty-two seconds.

This time, though?  I believe our final snowfall total was about thirteen inches.  WOW.  You can have a lot of fun in thirteen inches of snow.

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Thing One had learned to appreciate snow a little more by this time.

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He only sat there long enough for the picture to be snapped.  I promise, we didn’t let Thing Two get all cold and wet out there.  :-)  He seemed to think it was pretty interesting stuff.

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One snowman, ready for action.

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Why is he not wearing gloves?!  Do boys just not listen to their mamas?

I live in Louisiana now, and the odds of us ever getting that much snow here are pretty much nonexistent.  But it’s fun to look back and remember!  And you never know, maybe one year we’ll at least get enough snow to play in, even if it isn’t thirteen inches.

 

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And now for your daily dose of squeeeeeee!!!

Brian was out cleaning up along our property line, and he came in insisting that we all had to come see, right away!

So we did.  And what did we see?

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A nest of baby bunnies!!!  In our own backyard!  Actually, this was a little bit behind our property line.  Brian said he was mowing and heard a little squealing noise, so he stopped to look to see what it was.  And baby bunnies!!!  We couldn’t get an accurate count.  We figure maybe four or five of them in there, and they were old enough to have their eyes open.  We covered the nest back up and let them be.  We’re watching to see if mama comes back.

Thing Two immortalized the moment on paper:

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That’s Dad pushing the mower, Rhys looking on, the nest of baby bunnies, and for reasons I can’t fathom, an Easter egg hovering in mid-air above the mower.  Brian commented that the drawing made it look like he was about to run over the baby bunnies with the mower.  We promise, no baby bunnies were harmed in the making of this picture!

Sometimes it’s enough just to stop and be amazed at the miraculous things around us.

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Little Bunny Foo Foo

So Thing Two came home a day or two ago singing that familiar song that we all grew up with, “Little Bunny Foo Foo”.

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I smiled as he sang, and sang along with him.  But suddenly my song ground to a halt.  He was singing it wrong!  Y’all know how it goes, “Little Bunny Foo Foo, hoppin’ through the forest, scoopin’ up the field mice and boppin’ ‘em on the head!”  But what was this I heard?  Something about *kissing* those field mice on the head?  Wait, no, that’s not the way it goes.  I said to Thing Two, “Don’t you mean boppin’ ‘em on the head?  It’s not kissin’ ‘em on the head.”  He said, “Well, that’s how they’re teaching it at my school!”

Lovely.  So no longer can Bunny Foo Foo (and let’s all admit it, bunnies can be nasty, vicious little buggers, in spite of all their cute fluffiness – you have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, yes?) scoop up field mice (who are, by all accounts, vermin and disease carriers, no matter how adorable their little twitchy noses may be) and bop them on the head.  He’s going around KISSING them.  Really?!  Would you want to kiss a disease-carrying rodent?

I am convinced that the world is setting out to emasculate men, and it starts with our boys.  Anyone who has boy children knows:  boys are DIFFERENT than girls.  It doesn’t matter if you give them gender neutral toys.  A boy can (and will) take a teddy bear and make it into a tank, where a girl will name hers Christina Sparkle Kissyflower and decorates it in pink ribbons and glitter.  It doesn’t matter if you forbid any talk of weapons (or Nerf guns, or whatever), boys have an affiliation for weaponry inbred, and I’m convinced it comes from birth.  At the tender age of about 18 months, Thing Two bit a piece of cheese into the rough shape of a gun, pointed it at his brother, and said, “Pow pow!”  We’re not anti-gun, but we don’t keep weapons openly about the house, and we hadn’t taught him to do that.  He just DID.

The idea of being a protector, a defender, someone who takes down the bad guys when they need taking down, that’s hardwired into our boys’ genetic code.  These days, it seems like the world is taking every step they can to strip that from them.

Look at commercials.  How many have you seen that depict a guy as a moron who can’t even decide what kind of lawn care product to get to kill the ants in his yard without his wife’s input?  Look at sitcoms.  How many times is the dad depicted as the bumbling goofball who can’t really be trusted with anything important, while the wife is really the brains of the marriage?  And then the Interwebs.  There are blog posts aplenty giving women advice on how to strengthen their marriages that put the burden of making a marriage a happy one squarely on the woman’s shoulders.  When did a happy, thriving marriage become solely the woman’s responsibility?  Are our poor husbands so frail and fraught with insecurities that we women must meet their every need without expecting them to lift a finger or consider our needs as well?  And if they are, when did that happen?  And why?  And how do we make that stop?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying there aren’t rough and tumble girls, and I’m not saying there aren’t any boys who prefer to sit and draw instead of taking part in a rugby scrum in the back yard with their buddies.  Heck, Thing Two has a fondness for Hello Kitty, and he’s about as rough and rowdy as they come.  His preferred method of greeting me is to come running at top speed and head-butt me, and if there’s going to be a linebacker in the family, he’s gonna be it.  I’m just saying that if society has a whole lot of models of men being pitiful and sad and wholly untrustworthy with any task of importance, if men forget how to be men, how will our boys ever learn?

We’re working to raise our boys to be strong, confident men.  Not bullies, not jerks who steamroll their way through life, but men – men who know there’s a time to be gentle, and a time to stand firm and fight (literally or figuratively) for those you love.  The world aims to take that God-given difference, that hard-wiring of the male gender as protector and defender, away.  And yes, it really can start with something as seemingly small as Little Bunny Foo Foo.

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You Lose

Brian and I were out and about a couple of days ago running errands.  While we were driving, I noticed a shiny white Audi with a personalized license plate that read, “YOULOSE”.  Hmm.  That’s got some attitude behind it.  “You lose” implies that “I win”, right?  So I chewed on that for a minute.  What, exactly, were they trying to say that I lost?  What had they bested me at in this game called life?  I lose because their car is nicer than mine?  (Or wait, maybe because their car is *cleaner* than mine….)  I lose because they clearly make more money than I do based on our respective ownership of vehicles?  I lose because they got to the DMV and registered that vanity plate before I did?    I lose because they must be going faster than me if I’m reading their vanity plate in front of me?  What, precisely, do they win and I lose?

And that got me thinking – what do we really want to hold on to?  Our pastor and his family recently lost their home to a fire.  Almost all of their earthly possessions, gone, in mere moments.  I can’t imagine the challenge of losing all of our stuff.  No furniture, no clothes, no books, no electronics, no photographs, no more piano that I’ve had since I was seven years old – it would really, really stink to have that happen.  But when you get right down to it, is the worldly stuff what’s *really* important?  Only if you’re listening to the world.

His first Sunday back in the pulpit following the fire, our pastor talked about some of the things they found as they were sifting through the rubble.  The first was a wall hanging that said simply, “PRAY”.  The second was a plaque that depicted a cross with “Amazing Grace” written under it.  The third was a music box that played “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”.  His point was that we can always pray, even when it seems like everything is lost.  God’s grace is always free to those who will accept it.  And God is always, always faithful to us – He will never leave us or forsake us.  So while he and his family may have lost everything from the world’s perspective except the proverbial shirts on their backs, they can and do still hold fast to what matters most from an eternal point of view.

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” – Mark 8:34-36  It’s not about the shiny cars or the fancy houses or the fat bank accounts.  It’s not “he who dies with the most toys wins”.  It’s living intentionally, with our focus on the eternal rather than the here and now.  It’s being willing to lay down our selfish wants and desires and living life in a way that glorifies Christ and considers others more than ourselves.

So.  I may not drive a fancy car, I may not have a high-dollar job.  But I’ve got Jesus in my heart and I’m striving daily to find ways to reach out to others, love on my family and friends and neighbors, live my life in a way that makes Him smile.  Whatever I’ve lost is nothing compared to what is gained.

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New direction? How about a whole new map?

Yeah, you know all that thinking I was doing about maybe taking a new direction?  Well, God has an interesting way of opening doors when He sees fit to do so.

Open Door

A couple of weeks ago, I lost that new job I got.  I’m a good worker, but apparently not what they were looking for in a manager.  I had already questioned in my own mind whether the job was a wrong move, so I’m not terribly upset not to be doing the work anymore.  It didn’t feel right.  But the loss of a big chunk of our family’s income is a bit unsettling, to put it mildly.

Since then, I’ve been job hunting, and I’ve even gone on an interview or two.  But I keep feeling that this is an opportunity for God to do something different in our lives.  I’ve found a couple of work-at-home opportunities – one I’m already doing, one I’m waiting to hear back from – and maybe, JUST MAYBE, this is a chance for me to have that flexibility I’ve longed for.

Pros to working from home:

  • No commute!  After years of having crazy long, highly trafficky commutes, the thought of not even having to drive down the street to work is VERY appealing.
  • The ability to be there for my boys.  If someone is sick, I don’t miss work.  I take time off for a doctor visit if needed, take care of my kid, and go right back to doing what pays the bills.
  • The ability to cook more.  Since I’ve been home these past few weeks, I’ve been baking like mad.  It’s like therapy for me.  It also keeps my kids (and me and the husband!) stocked with snacks that have ingredients I can pronounce, like sugar, butter, peanut butter, chocolate.
  • More time with my kids.  I get to pick them up from school in the afternoons – no more after-school care for them.  Homework gets done earlier, dinner gets done earlier (most days), and then we have time to just enjoy.

Cons to working from home:

  • The opportunities I’ve found are contract employment.  No guaranteed work, no guaranteed income.  I just remind myself, though, that our faith is in the Lord – He meets our needs, not a particular job or a particular company or a particular paycheck.  And He isn’t limited in the methods He might use to accomplish that.
  • Distractions!  If you own a home, you know that everywhere you look, you see something you should be doing.  Oh, look, the floor needs to be mopped.  Hey, there’s another load of laundry to wash and dry and fold.  Thing Two has outgrown all of his pants and could stand for Mom to make him another pair or three.  Always something.  I can see a definite need for a schedule and a routine to keep me focused.
  • More time with my kids!  I love them with all my heart, but they are boys, rowdy, loud, and proud, and sometimes they wear me out.  LOL

I want to give these opportunities I’ve found a fair chance to work.  If it turns out that they don’t bring in enough to sustain us, if I can’t bring in enough income from home to make ends meet, then I’ll find a job outside the home again.  But I think the boys like having me home – they’ve both commented more than once about how much they like being car riders and how glad they are not to be at after-school care anymore.  I enjoy being able to do some things around the house that I don’t always do.  I like that I can get up, get my day started, get the boys to school, and then come home and do something productive.  And if I need to run an errand that takes me away from the computer for half an hour, forty-five minutes, who’s going to fuss?  No one, that’s who!

So.  New direction, new map, it’s a whole new path for me.  Let’s see where the road takes me!

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What makes work meaningful? And other intellectual exercises

One of the questions I was asked to answer in the book I’m reading is what do you think meaningful work is.  What does the world think meaningful work is.

Is this meaningful work?

Meaningful Work

Is this?

guinness-man-walkingHow about this:

industrial-cityI chewed on that idea for a while.  There are types of work that I think are very meaningful that the world clearly no longer values.  Teachers, for one.  They are, by and large, underpaid, and what’s expected of them may go well beyond the scope of what education should be.  I’m not sure the world as a whole values teachers any longer, at least not in the context of elementary, middle, and high school education.

I finally settled on this:  What the world considers meaningful work is something that draws attention to the person doing it, something that makes a lot of money and at which someone can be hugely successful, and in some instances, something that benefits others.

So is the world’s view what defines meaningful work to me?  Not so much.

Now, before I get into what is meaningful work to me, let me preface it by saying that I’m OK with working.  I didn’t grow up at all with the mindset that I’d get married, have kids, and stay home to do for my family.  My mother did do that – when she and my dad adopted me, she retired to stay home with me.  When I was older, maybe college age, she told me she wished she’d gone back to teaching when I was old enough to be in school all day.  I don’t recall ever having a conversation with her that centered around “someday when you get married and have a family”.  It just wasn’t what was expected of me, it wasn’t what I was “supposed” to do.  So I’m not necessarily devastated that I can’t be home full-time, and it wouldn’t work for our situation anyway.  I married Brian knowing that his training and inclination will put him in some kind of education position, and as I’ve previously mentioned, those types of positions (classroom or otherwise) aren’t necessarily at the top of the pay scale!  I didn’t marry him for money, and I know that our current obligations don’t offer the opportunity for me to be completely out of the equation in terms of bringing in an income to support our family.  That’s good by me.

So what is meaningful to me?  I’d like to do something that people are happy about, something that’s more than just pushing paper around so that some big corporation can add to its bottom line.  If what I do ends up not being a service I provide directly to people who can be happy with what I do, then I’d at least prefer to do something that people don’t look at crossways and think, “OH.  You do THAT?  Huh.” (while thinking, man, I’d rather walk on hot coals while swallowing a live squid than do her job)  I’d like to do something that provides some benefit to people.  Take being a piano technician, for instance.  You provide a service.  People walk away with a piano that sounds better, or one that’s been rebuilt to where it can now be played, or an antique that was unplayable that now can be played and enjoyed.  They’re happy with the service provided.  Work that leaves you soul-satisfied at the end of the day, that’s meaningful work.  Work that allows you to meet your family’s needs and have a little left over, that’s meaningful.  Work that isn’t illegal or immoral, that doesn’t ask you to compromise your moral values and beliefs, that’s meaningful.  Work that uses your skills and talents, that’s meaningful.  Work that accomplishes all of this while letting you not be tied to what someone else thinks your schedule should be, well, we’ll get to that in another post!

I don’t care about drawing attention to myself just for the sake of drawing attention.  I don’t care about “making a splash”.  I don’t care about making pots of money (that brings problems of its own).  I would like to do something that, in some fashion, benefits others, and that I enjoy more often than not.  And, as previously discussed, I yearn for it to offer flexibility and the ability to be there when my family needs me.

So, where might that lead…?

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