Friday, September 28, 2012

And God Said Go (part two)

(you can read yesterday's part one post here)

While I was all but ignoring the subject of moving (God bless my husband for his patience!!), I started reading The Hole in Our Gospel and learning more and more about how much the Bible has to say about loving the poor. I got crazy fired-up about it (and happily distracted from thoughts of Colorado). What I was learning even got me motivated to start a little business venture with the purpose of helping working mothers in Uganda

One morning after reading more of this great book, I was praying earnestly that God would show me how my little family could love the poor and serve others better and I got an answer that I was not looking for or expecting. 

I asked God, "How can I live the whole gospel with my life? What do you want us to do??" And very clearly, in a inner voice I've never heard before (and I mentally talk to myself a lot), I heard the thought, "Go with your husband and I'll show you."

Whoa. I actually shook my head in a sort-of mental double take. I was like, "Um, excuse me? I wasn't even praying about Colorado - what's up with that answer??"

Now let me tell you, I am about the most skeptical Christian I know when it comes to stories about hearing from God. I've had too many bad experiences with people playing the "God told me" card for those words to hold much sway over me. So when I, of all people, am willing to say that I think this thought was God speaking to me, you know I'm not playing around (not to mention it was so not the answer I was hoping for). 

After a little mental debate between me, myself and I, I finally forced myself to write what I had heard in my journal. In pen. Indebly. Because it would be too easy to pretend I didn't hear it and move on with my fingers-crossed-hopefully-not-moving-let's-just-not-talk-about-it existence. However, if it was God I had heard (and I was pretty sure by that point that it was) then ignoring His direction would be deliberate disobedience. So I wrote it down and set it aside. And then the pestering started...

God: You need to tell Devin what I told you.
Inner Me: Please no. Because then we'll definitely have to move...
God: Tell him.
Inner Me: ... But ...
Other Inner Me: Do it Jen. Tell him, tell him, tell him, tell him!! 
(Other Inner Me is super annoying by the way. And very persistent.)

You get the idea. This went on for days until finally, one evening, I blurted out to Devin, "After we put the twins to bed, you need to make me tell you something that I don't want to tell you!!" 

Poor Devin, I can only imagine the awful news he was imagining I might be about to drop on him.

When I finished telling Devin about my prayer and the answer I got, he looked completely awestruck. "Jen," he said in disbelief, "for the past week, I've been praying that I wouldn't make this decision based on my own reasons. I told God that I didn't want to be selfish and I wanted to do what was best for our family and if He wanted us to go, then He would have to speak through you or I was staying put." 

Double Whoa. 

From that point on, the decision seemed pretty clear. It was going to happen. We were going to move. The hard part was that there wasn't a "real" reason to uproot our family and move 800 miles away. We didn't have a job opportunity. We didn't have a ministry we were joining. It appeared on the surface level that we were making this decision on a casual whim. Which just wasn't the case. We simply felt like this was where God was guiding us and personally I felt that it was the right thing for me to do to trust my husband's leadership and go. But those reasons are really intangible and were really difficult to try and explain to our local loved ones. Those reasons are still difficult for even me to grasp at times. 

As we shared the news with our families, I was surprised to discover that despite the answered prayers, despite feeling confident that this was the right decision, I still felt heartbroken at the thought of leaving. I guess I just expected that because I'd received direction from God, He would change my heart to feel all warm and fuzzy about the move. But that didn't happen. I still felt so sad. I still sobbed myself to sleep some nights. And then I got angry about it. I got mad that God was leading me to do something that hurt so badly and caused so much pain to those I loved. 

After a couple days of telling God how mad I was at Him (I'm thankful He's so patient with my honesty), I started looking back at my journal entries and seeing how many specific prayers on the subject of Colorado that God had faithfully answered. I realized that had the warm fuzzies come, had the idea of moving been easy and not hurtful, then my faith would not have been stretched. I would not have depended on God so deeply for comfort and direction. Devin and I wouldn't have leaned on each other so much as we discussed such a huge change for our family's future. 

This decision, the start of this journey, has been unbelievably hard. However -  my faith has been incredibly strengthen through all this. My trust in my husband's leadership has been strengthen. And those things will only grow stronger as we work through the process of moving and settling into a new city, in a new part of the country. That in and of itself is a "real" reason worth pursuing. And I have to have faith that this reason is enough and that God will in time show us what He has for us to do. For now, perhaps he is just building our faith and our marriage in order to prepare us for the task He has created us for. 

"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:10 (emphasis mine)

Pray for us will you? Thank you friends.  

P.S. I don't want to sound all gloom-and-doom. While I am sad about leaving, there are some really great things I am looking forward to about moving. Plus we've got some super-awesome family members in The Springs (hey there Shannon, Dustin, Shane and Gavin!) that will help make the move so much easier and fun. This is an emotional time for sure, but I feel so blessed at all God has done. And more and more frequently (slowly but surely) my anticipation is beginning to sooth my fears. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

And God Said Go (part one)

I've been struggling for several weeks to finally write about the one subject that has dominated my thoughts and my prayers since March. It has been a point of tension and tenderness, both for me and for our families, so I've kept it off the blog until now. And since it's been "off limits", I've written practically nothing since March, because most of what I've been processing, learning, doing, thinking, praying, and talking about has to do with this subject.

But it's difficult to even know where to start. The past few months have been an emotional cocktail of sadness, excitement, anger, joy, bitterness, grace, faith, growth, failure, and fear. And it's hard to take all that down in one swig. So I'll probably sprinkle the story throughout the next few posts, because there are some really neat things God has done in my heart that I'd like to share. But for now, I guess I'd just better start somewhere, so here goes.

We are planning to move to Colorado Springs in January/February of next year.

This might sound like sheer insanity to anyone who knows how close we are to our Arizona-dwelling family members and how amazing our parents have been in helping us survive this first year of being first-time parents to twins. Or to anyone who knows how much I hate moving, or change. And how routine, security, and sameness is something that I cling (too tightly) to. These are all reasons why, when I was dating this amazing, adventurous guy named Devin back in 2008, I told him I would never, ever move away from Arizona. And he told me it had always been his dream to move to Colorado Springs and that he had never planned on staying in Arizona. Dilemma.

But we took that highly emotional conversation off the table, got hitched, and enjoyed a fun-filled first year of marriage and then a twin-filled second year of marriage (too much fun in the first year perhaps...). Though Colorado would come up occasionally, our differing feelings on the subject had not changed. We were happy, but truth be told, a little discontented and very stagnant in our faith, service, and community involvement. Devin especially felt restless in his spirit and try as we might, we never seemed to find our niche in a church or ministry.

Around March of this year, I was minding my own business and reading The Power of a Praying Wife as part of my morning devotions when this statement caught my attention:

"If your husband is a hard worker, make sure he has times of rest and enjoyment - to do things that entertain him and give him reprieve from the weight of a lifetime of supporting a family."

(A little insight on my husband: Devin is a very hard worker. Devin finds deep rest for his soul when he has time in nature, alone with his thoughts and with God. Devin finds enjoyment in activities like hiking, camping, fishing, running, biking and ultimate frisbee. It's awful hard to make a habit of that kind of rest and enjoyment when you live in the middle of a huge city, which is situated in the middle of the dessert, which hits temperatures over 95 degrees about three-forths of the year.) 

Without a second thought (I think my hand had been possessed), I wrote in the margin next to the quote above: "Colorado?" In pen. Indelibly. I did a double-take at what I had written and somehow I knew that I needed to consider this deeper. I couldn't brush the subject aside any longer and I knew it. So for the first time, I began to really pray about it and journal about it and pray about it some more. I knew I didn't want to go, but I also felt like God had opened my eyes to something: that my husband could perhaps find - in a place like Colorado - the refreshment that he needed in order to lead and support our family without total burnout. So I prayed that God would bring our hearts together on the subject - that I would either be wiling to move to Colorado, or that Devin would be able to find passion and refreshment living in Arizona (I was secretly hoping for the latter).

It took me a little while, but I finally mentioned my ponderings to Devin. I told him that while I didn't want to move, I was willing to discuss it as a possibility, pray about it together, and consider it as something that could (or couldn't... please God make it "couldn't") be a good choice for our family. 

So we did just that. And the more we talked about, and the more I prayed about it, I began to notice that my heart was softening towards the idea (though I still cried at the thought of leaving) and that anytime we discussed it, Devin lit up like a firefly. During this time of really sharing our thoughts, dreams and hopes for the future, we grew closer than we had been for a while (unexpectedly having twins kinda side-tracked us from really sharing our hearts, or even knowing what our dreams for the future looked like anymore). It was really, really good for our marriage and even allowed us to heal some past wounds we didn't know were barriers between us. 

God was drawing our hearts together, just as I had prayed He would. Only thing was, there still didn't seem to be a definite direction as to where to live. Both Devin and I felt that when we prayed, "Arizona or Colorado?" the answer seemed to be, "Either." And that lined up with our reality - there were great things about staying put (mainly our close-by families and friends), and there were great things about moving to Colorado (mainly being able to have the active, reviving, outdoor lifestyle we envisioned for our little family, along with some great potential to grow our photography business). 

We were also faced with another decision-delaying dilemma: while I still didn't want to leave, I was finally willing to go and while Devin still wanted to go, he was not willing to uproot our family simply for his own desires (which I greatly appreciated). God had moved in our hearts and removed so much selfishness regarding this decision, but our new selfless attitudes had brought us to another stand-still. And in the process, life here took on an even greater feeling of being stagnant as we lived in this strange "should we stay, or should we go?" limbo. 

By this point, I was frankly pretty sick and tired of praying about Colorado (and kinda imagined that God was tired of hearing about it). Plus, I had just gone through a very difficult conversation with my parents about the possibility of moving and my emotions on the subject were to-the-bone raw. I was just worn out over the whole thing. So I stopped talking about it (even to Devin). And I stopped praying about it. However, God didn't let me ignore the subject that had taken Him nearly three years to get my attention on.

(part two tomorrow)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Living in Poverty While Filthy Rich

If you’ve been peeking in on these parts long, you know that my little family of four tries to live pretty frugally. We choose to do this for a number of reasons. We don’t want to have debt, we don’t want to be wasteful, we want to be able to live generously, we want to differentiate between wants and needs, and we personally hold to the belief that our money is not our own, but given to us by God and therefore we have a responsibility to Him to spend and give wisely.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret – we also live frugally because we have to. When I quit my job to stay home with the twins, our already frugal budget had its belt strap tightened quite a bit. According to the U.S. government, we are now living below the poverty line.

Through this financial adjustment, I'm learning quite a lot. I’m discovering creative ways to make rice and beans taste delicious (well, palatable at least … because I’m really not that great of a cook). I’m learning to live with the A.C. set just shy of comfortable. I’m learning to really differentiate between wants and needs. I’m also learning to appreciate the little things (like strolling the twins through the air conditioned mall while sharing a smoothie with Devin - this is now high-end family entertainment for us). And I’m developing a more thankful heart for all the things I do have. Like constant access to clean water, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, a loving family, and a never-gone-hungry belly.

I’ll let you in on another little secret – even living below the poverty line, my family is still wealthier that 80% of the world’s population*. That is a lot and some days, like when I have to put back an item in the grocery store because it just isn’t in the budget for the week, I certainly don’t feel rich. I feel poor. And I feel sorry for myself.

But then I remember that today I woke up in a comfy bed, in a two bed/two bath apartment, took a hot shower, walked into my closet and had an abundance of clothes to choose from, I greeted my loving husband and my healthy children. Later, I got into my air-conditioned car, drove to the aforementioned grocery store where I was accosted by the sheer number of choices available to me, and I bought enough food to keep my family well-fed. So I had to put back an item or two? I have in this short, daily, oft-overlooked series of events, more than most people in the world could ever hope for. 

The life most of us live in American is not normative, which is hard to remember when your culture is seeped in choices, opportunities and material possessions (even in a “down” economy). Maybe that’s why it is so easy to ignore the poor sometimes. We generally don’t run across them in our daily, American lives and/or we don’t realize how much we truly have in comparison to most of the world. A world where millions are dying because they don't have clean water. Where the poorest of the poor are living on one dollar a day. Where, in the most impoverished countries, one-in-five children die before their fifth birthday. One-in-five. That is insane.

So, when I treat myself to the occasional Starbucks latte as a "please get me out of the apartment and give me a break from the kids before I go crazy" mental breathier, from the perspective of someone living on one dollar a day, I have just spent about four days wages. My family lives on around $54.00 per day**, so if I were to apply the same math, to the eyes of those living in extreme poverty, my tall toffee nut latte cost $216.00. Wait what??? Talk about living extravagantly. 

Globally speaking – I am filthy stinkin’ rich (which is an interesting term isn’t it?). I’ve got it good. Like, really, super, unbelievably good. I often ask myself (and God), “Why me? Why did I luck out? Why do I have enough? Why are my children not the ones dying of hunger and disease?” These are hard, painful questions for me to consider. On one hand, I am so grateful that my life is what it is, yet I feel a strong sense of “survivor’s guilt” sometimes at my wonderful circumstances and that they are not available to everyone. The only answer that has ever satisfied those questions is this: I have been blessed so that I can bless others. That is the only way I can to reconcile in my own heart and mind the vast, unfair, and growing chasm between the world’s rich and the world’s poor.

I’ll admit, this idea itself can seem unfair. After all, my husband works hard to provide for us - we earned that money. We deserve it and we need it. Why should we give it away to others?

Because many others don’t have the opportunities that we have. They work hard from dawn-to-dusk and still can’t afford to put food in the bellies of their children. Progress in their lives is destroyed by war, disease, corruption, lack of education, the ever-present need to simply survive… the list goes on. These are not things they have chosen and often things they cannot change on their own. And if our circumstances were reversed, if I had been born into a war-torn county with little hope or opportunity to rise above the life-ending poverty I found myself in, I sure as heck would pray that they would choose to help me. It’s that whole, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” thing.

Helping the poor and making a difference in the world is not difficult. We can all do something. Plus, there are numerous organization already established that have make this process easy and accessible for us. Giving up a little (or a lot) of what is “ours” so that others can have a better life is likely not going to destroy us. Choosing to adjust our lifestyle, thought-process, spending habits and hearts in order to joyfully give more (of our time, money, talents and other resources) can be hard (at first), but it can also be so rewarding. And - I will warn you upfront - a little bit addicting (and totally, 100%, you-won’t-regret-it, worth it).

*See how globally wealthy you are here: 
** That number is based on our family's total annual income.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Give-Away and Interview

I'm being interviewed tomorrow about my Uganda Mamas and Me venture over at author Marla Taviano's blog - come over and say hi? Oh and while you're there, you can enter to win one of my beaded crosses (winner's choice) and find a coupon code for my online boutique

Marla is doing a give-away every day in September, so keep an eye on her blog in the coming weeks, there is just so many awesome things to win and all of the items have a cool story behind them. Check it out and good luck!