A letter to my Son After a Bad Bedtime

I just need to write, to process life through words and to blog, I miss it and even if it’s imperfect or not tagline worth I’m going for it.

So today I’m sharing this letter I wrote last week after a particularly bad bedtime, I bet you’ve been there too. 

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Dear son,

you fell asleep in the hallway tonight, laid your little body down on the cold and unforgiving wood floor in protest of something that, to you, seemed monumentally unjust.

I tripped on you a bit as I made my way down the hallway, because you’d wrapped yourself from head to toe in your quilt. You scared me, I had no idea you were in there, I was sure you’d given up and crawled into bed.

I have no idea why you chose to fall asleep this way, but I’m sure it has something to do with the protests you were yelling down the stairs to me, the ones I ignored by turning the TV up and repeatedly yelling “goodnight!”

The last thing I heard you were complaining about your sister breathing too loud, so I’m thinking your floor shenanigans had something to do with that. I never have any idea what to do with that request, by the way, people need to breathe, that slow rhythmic in and out is something to be thankful for.

It was a rough bedtime, with Dad gone and you making multiple trips down the stairs requesting a snack, a chance to give the cat a treat, some time to watch TV with me and of course the breathing complaints.

I told you the kitchen was closed, I threatened to take away screen time, but mostly… if I’m honest? I yelled at you. Continue reading

Lessons from a Creepy Bagel Gawker (On Encouraging Moms)

A few weeks back Caedmon and I were out for Bagels as a break in the middle of errands.

I let him pick out his bagel and his cream cheese flavors from the case we affectionately refer to as cream cheese heaven. (Think a glass case full of huge bowls of every flavor cream cheese and you’ll see why.)

We waited at our table for our toasted and schmeared carbs to be delivered and as we did he started to whine for juice. This happens a lot, but I generally hold my ground because I want my kids to drink water. Also I hate shelling out $2.50 for a bottle of juice.

Yet, he wouldn’t drop it, he’s three, there are very few hills he won’t die on when it comes to getting his way: Underwear, hand washing, juice, who turns off the TV… these are all battle-worthy topics to him.

It went something like this:

“I want juice!”
“I’m sorry buddy, we are having water today. But I think your bagel will be here soon.”
“I don’t want it, I want a donut from Tim Hort’s… and juice!”
“Those aren’t choices right now, but a blueberry strawberry bagel is. Here it comes!”
“No, I hate bagels!” (goes to smack bagel basket…I block his shot because I know his game)

All the while I notice a middle age man across the aisle staring at us, obsessively and without apology. I try not to catch his eye after the first round because he is really making me uncomfortable with his constant gaze.

Eventually, somehow Caedmon calms down and digs into his bagel, even sipping and backwashing into his water after a few minutes.

All the while our friend across the aisle stares us down like my son stares at a Tim Horton’s donut case.

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From this past Sunday when we accidentally missed church and ended up giving our kids donuts instead of Jesus. #wetried

My creeped out levels were high when he got up to clear his table to leave (Phew!)

As he did he walked crossed the aisle to our table: “Hey. I just wanted to let you know that you’re doing a great job with him. You’re a good mom.”

My jaw dropped open. (don’t worry there was no bagel in it, I devoured that in 1:17 flat)

The whole creepy staring was an appreciation of my parenting skills? Who Knew? And what a weird way to go about it!

I thanked him profusely, felt immensely flattered and proceeded with the rest of my errands like the all star mom that I apparently am. With an extra dose of patience and understanding because of the compliment I’d been paid.

What’s up with the power of these words: “You’re a good mom.”

I hate that it takes a compliment from a real live person to make me feel more secure in my parenting, certainly I would like to be in a place where my call and my identity in God speak to that the most.

Yet, I cannot deny that every time someone has made a point to lift me up as a mom, it stands out.

I remember it, I feel it for the rest of the day and even longer.

Then last night, I saw Facebook post that brought all these compliments back to the forefront of my mind.

A friend from Oklahoma, who parents six beautiful children like a rock star, received a note on her windshield from a stranger at Target.

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Someone took the time out of their daily jam to notice her with her children, find a paper and pen, write a note and stick it under her windshield!

Whoever you are Target stranger, you are an answer to prayer.

Because how many days do we pray for strength, and how many times could we be the answers to each other’s prayers by taking the time to say: “Well done good and faithful (and obviously exhausted) mama?”

Not enough.

So yesterday I posted a Facebook challenge:

“Mom challenge: Let’s all tell three mothers that they are doing a great job this week. Bonus if it’s a stranger, double bonus if they’re having a hard day.”

What if we all complimented three mamas this week? Went our of our way to tell them that they’re great mothers?

What if we took the time to say “Hey, well done mom. It’s hard, but you are loving those little ones into beautiful people.”

What if we left notes on the windshields of dirty mini vans and cars?

What if we bought their much needed coffee at whatever drive thru is on their way to the grocery store or soccer field?

What if, when we saw a Mom struggling we intervened by holding doors and sharing looks of “I’ve been there?”

I know my world would be a more beautiful place if I answered a few more prayers with my actions.

So, are you in? If you are please let me know in the comments, or leave a comment about your encouragement in action. 

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A Bringer of Water (Even though it’s easier to ignore thirsty people)

pitcher

I’ve already referenced in this post that my time at Festival of Faith and Writing made a significant impact on me.  But nothing struck me more than my two sessions sitting at the feet of Anne Lammott.

Because when you hear Saint Anne (as my friend refers to her) speak it fills up your grace tank for a while, it changes the way you look at things and people, including yourself.

A week later her words were still ringing in my mind and echoing in my stream of consciousness.

Miraculously, they managed to make their way into my head during the least likely hour imaginable, the post bed hour when I’ve officially clocked out but my kids are still intent on getting a bit more from me.

More water, more snuggles, more words, more attention.

All when I have absolutely nothing left. 

It was one of THOSE nights, where you’re playing whack a mole, and you’re losing. When you swear that if another child appears at the top of the stairs you’re going to really and truly start sobbing.

And then there they are, standing at the top with a small pleading voice with a myriad of requests. I need you to scary spray the room, I need some more mommy snuggles, Caedmon stole my puppy, I have to poop and you need to wipe me.

In this particular instance it was our four year Noelle, and she wanted some more water, serving three of water to be exact.

I struggle with doling out water at bedtime and here’s why: On the one hand, it’s water and a basic human need. On the other hand, too much of it and I’m stripping the bed in the morning in exchange for clean sheets.

I was about to yell “No, Noelle. Back to bed!” When my voice caught in my throat.

Why? Because I was thirsty, I myself needed some water.

And that’s when Anne Lammott’s words floated back to me. She said so much on grace and loving well and often her controlling metaphor was water.

“We get people glasses of water when they are thirsty.”

Noelle was thirsty, I was thirsty too and she couldn’t get herself water, the cups were out of reach. And there I laid on the couch, the one given charge to keep her from being thirsty, even when it was incredibly irritating to do so.

Sure, there was a chance that her request was really just a ploy for bedtime avoidance, but do you risk it when someone is genuinely requesting water? I mean, it’s water.

I got off the couch, suddenly tenderized by the basic truth of our shared need. My daughter and I needed water.

I told Kel: “I can’t yell at thirsty people, I have to get her water even if she’s just stalling, this is what loving well looks like.”

I probably wasn’t that eloquent at 8:45.

But I got her a little water, right after I made her use the bathroom. And there was something in Anne’s words and my challenge to be my daughter’s water carrier that caused me to respond to her in love, with genuine tenderness as I put her back in bed for the fifth time.

And this interaction has been challenging my thought life ever since, asking me: “What does it look like to give water to the people in your life? And what is water to them, for their bodies, for their hearts? What is the thing you are charged to do so that their basic thirsts are met?”

For Kel it’s words of encouragement and for Caedmon it’s the knowledge that he is needed and his opinions matter. For Noelle it’s time and attention when she wants to read or play kitties.

There are so many things that people are really, genuinely thirsty for. Am I doing something about this?

Or have I been too preoccupied by my own needs to notice the thirsty all around me.

I want to be a bringer of water, not because I’m amazing or even all that Holy, but because there is a Spirit alive in me that I’ve made head space for. I want to quiet the bulk of the noise to make room for the cues that tell me, this person needs water from you.

Bringing water requires paying attention
Bringing water requires telling the head demons in your own mind to be quiet, because you’re living for someone else please and thank you.
Bringing water requires a laying down of what you thought you’d being doing and instead, redirecting your energies.

I want to be a bringer of water in this world, with my words, my hands, my time. To leave the space I live in and the people in my life just a bit more deeply quenched.

This will require prayer, sacrifice and attention, may the Lord grant me more of these things.

How do you bring water to those in your life? How is God leading you to do this in new ways? 

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7 Hard Things (About Church Planting)

This was supposed to be up on a Saturday but you know… life.HELP I recently asked the fine folks in our facebook group. (Are you there yet? If you are did you know that new content doesn’t show up in your feed unless you “like things” that page post from time to time? Helpful advice from your neighborhood blogger)

Anywaaaaay 

I asked these fine folks what they would like to know about our Church Planting Journey, because honestly I’m starting to get a little overwhelmed and brain-frazzled so I need to know: What can I fill you in on?

There were several good responses, but this is the one I want to respond to today and it comes from reader Ginger.

“What the specific challenges are that you two are finding? Obviously you have to depend on God to bring the increase, but how do you cope with the challenges?”

Yes. Church Planting is hard and Ginger I just wanted to thank you for helping me open up the floor and talk about it. Kel and I have thrown this question around a bit and come up with what I hope is helpful and true for all those on this journey across the country and world.

1) Getting people interested without seeming creepy- I’ll be honest with you (this is how I roll) we only have three people on our launch team as of today and that can get a little discouraging. Since we started this journey it’s been bitterly cold and engaging people has been less than easy as no one is feeling very social. This will all change soon as we plan events and spend more time outdoors in the community, but for me I worry so very much about coming across as the face to face telemarketers of the church world, which is so not what we are going for.

2) Not taking it home- Although this is officially Kel’s job (my name is not on the payroll anywhere) we both feel deeply called and to engage the NE Grand Rapids community through this church. This means that if we’re not careful, the church plant can dominate our dinner conversation which is okay in part but we are a family who existed before this church and will exist apart from it. Sometimes we need to talk about church stuff at home and sometimes we need to focus on our lives apart from it, it’s a delicate balance and we’re not there yet.

3) Maintaining a big picture- As with any big task, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. I have to keep telling myself that we do in fact believe that God has called us to this and that through our open hands people will experience changed, healed hearts. That this is about people and Jesus and really nothing else in the end, not paint or logos… people and Jesus.

4) Let it Go, Let it Go– I am not in charge of this church plant, and it’s wonderful. God has plans in mind I haven’t even dared hope for. He has people for us to meet and stories yet to write. I need to open my hands and bathe in the hugeness of our God and the smallness of my role. Do we need to work? Yes. Do we think that we are the ones who will make it work? Nope.

5) Keeping upbeat – It’s also easy to get discouraged with slow progress, I am not a patient person, so this is really hard for me. The other day I found myself going negative nancy on things, talking about how our budget was too small asking if we were behind. Kel approached me later that night and told me this: “However discouraged you feel, I feel 10 times that discouraged and nervous about all of this.” So part of our church planting process has been about keeping our attitudes upbeat, but honest about our feelings and for me it means tipping the scales in favor of encouraging Kel and away from expressing fears.

6) Worrying we will make the wrong calls culturally– We are planting a church in an urban area and I’ve never lived anywhere except suburbia. This leaves me feeling so very culturally inept. When we were in Oklahoma I felt this way at times when I picked the wrong food for events (apparently college students hate pasta salad?!) I don’t know what people in this area want or need from church, so Holy Spirit help us here and community? Forgive us when we fumble it.

7) Feeling inadequate in general- I don’t have it all figured out and I don’t feel like mine is a spiritual journey I want on display as an example. We forget to read the bible, we forget to pray with our kids, sometimes I feel like a hypocrite and a lot of times I feel that surely other ministry families must be better than us… whatever that means. I know that better is non existent and this it’s all relative but this is a massive struggle for me personally and regularly express and project upon Kel.

So there it is, the ugly, honest hard parts that our subconsciouses are currently aware of.

So, tell me: Is there anything you want to know about our church planting journey?

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Praying over the scraps

Things were feeling a little backed up, so today we will do Church Plant Update Saturday on Sunday… Hope you don’t mind. 

Scraps

I get easily overwhelmed by big projects, it’s my personality type. When I get overwhelmed I focus on minutia, because it’s controllable and I can see measurable progress there.

Like when we moved into our new house, I ignored the basics and became obsessed with sewing curtains. Kel found it annoying charming at the time, I’m sure.

Right now I’m obsessed with painting murals at the church so, odds are I’m overwhelmed. But in my defense they’re gonna be awesome! 

I can’t think of any project we’ve ever tackled that’s bigger than replanting this church.

Right now the church is in the planning and people-gathering stage. We are sussing out building design and reaching out to the community. Kel spent the week delivering buckets of salt (the ice melting-sort) to our neighbors as a way of saying: “hello, we’re here, what can we do for this neighborhood?”

Everyone has slick walkways… so we went with salt because it’s practical, non-edible and a good conversation starter. Plus we can offer to refill the buckets and build relationships.

So that’s been Kel’s job this week, handing out buckets of Salt.

And to be honest? As everything else in church-planting it’s slow-going.

We’ve met with our design team twice now and I love and adore the direction we’re heading.

We’ve met with a few launch team members and those have been beautiful gatherings, I’m excited meet all those God has in mind to launch the church with us.

We’ve hashed out some vision statements and scriptures that will guide the church… but we’re not close to being “done.” I feel like we need to do that with a group of people, not just us…

Then there’s logo design, worship leader hiring, children ministry plotting, praying through how to foster diversity and the fact that I’m feeling increasingly white, waspy and hopelessly ill-equipped for urban ministry.

What we have right now is this: Hope and Scraps.

We have ideas and plans and vision and thoughts and budgets and meetings and chats and estimates and none of it is composed.

Everything is in-process.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re on the long haul for church planting or any other big project. We are a people who desire things now, or faster, and there is nothing fast or easy about starting a church from scratch.

But we’re almost always in-between and in-process.

This requires tsunamis of faith and patience, two tenants of faith I’m historically not great at.

I had a revelation a few days ago as I walked through the church, starting down the pink and mauve sponge-painted hallway. I will probably not paint this hallway and I have not yet met the person who will.

This thought washed over me like a wave, God has plans and people that I am not privy to.

He knows. I do not.

All I can do is wait and pray over scraps.
I am unable to speed time
I am unable to get the house we want to buy on the market
But I am able to pray over these scraps and hopes of the church that will be.

And this is No. Small. Thing. This prayer, this faith, this daily practice of giving the mess over to God.

Because when we pray over that which is beyond our control we acknowledge our smallness and find comfort there.

As such I have taken to the habit of laying down all the scraps I’m grasping at and praying over them, of walking through the church and believing that in the ghosts of what will be will materialize under the provision of a God who has all in mind before Kel or I were born.

Who operates outside of time and money alike.

Who is in love with His bride, His church, His people.

So when I work myself into a frenzy over the church (which is approximately every 47 minutes and twice in the middle of the night) I lay down all the pieces and pray for another dose of faith and patience.

Will we work hard? Of course, faith ≠ laziness.

But there is deep peace in the basic truth that we don’t have to figure this all out, God has people in mind, miracles yet to be birthed that will bring about tears I can’t wait to shed.

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Life lessons on frustration and forgiveness from Dishwashers, Taxes and Friggin Gogurts

Do you know what frustration is? It’s the conflict between expectation and reality.

I’ll give it to you in a kitchen metaphor: When I open my dishwasher and pull out the racks, I expect them to slide out and give me access to clean dishes. But they don’t, they always catch on each other.

So every time I have to snake in my hand to figure out what the issue is. Sometimes I skin my cuticles and knuckles doing this.

I expect to be able to open my dishwasher. The reality is that I usually can’t. This is frustrating and I want to take a bat to the dishwasher and then give my lovely landlords a check for a new one that is cool with the simple act of washing normal sized plates.

Right now frustration and I have been spending a lot of time together. Tons really. 

Each morning I make a list, say my prayers and get after my day of finding socks, unloading the dishwasher, packing bags, making breakfast, bundling children against another day of bitter cold Michigan winter.

Each evening I fall asleep frustrated, without an ounce of personal satisfaction for a job well done.

Each night my expectations and my reality are miles apart and I have no idea what needs to move but I feel frustrated to the point of anger.

Yesterday I depleted my resources of “go get em” and my storehouses of patience and kindness which, to be honest were running low to begin with.

mercies

It culminated while I was on the phone, trying to make an appointment with our tax person.

Just before I dialed I gave each of the kids Gogurts and just as the tax office picked up my son started wailing about how he didn’t want the Gogurt I’d given him, he wanted a different one.

I cannot stress this enough: They are all the same. Exactly. The. Same flavor, shape, packaging. The. Same.

So I walked away from him and locked myself in the bathroom to have some serious fun figuring out our taxes at which point he proceeded to kick the door and wail “MOOOOM!!!!” for the entirety of my phone call.

I had to choke back sobs during the entire call (“Thanks, one o’clock it is…whimper…. thank you!”) I was frustrated to tears that my expectation of a 3 minute phone call was going unmet.

This is when my dark side took over and I grabbed his hand while he was in the middle of kicking the door, took him to his bed and administered three swift spanks on his bottom.

Then we both cried and held each other. Because I don’t really spank. I hate it. ANd on top of everything I’d done it out of sheer anger over the collision of our strong wills, taxes and friggin gogurts.

As I held him I uttered one of the most ironic things I’ve ever said: “You can’t treat other people so awfully just because life isn’t going the way you want it buddy.”

No sooner had I uttered those words than my breath caught in my throat and I cried some more because I was preaching to myself.

Wherever the roots of my frustration stem from I don’t have the right to take it out on other people.

And when I do it’s on me to make amends, to admit my ugliness and beg forgiveness. Which is the least fun imaginable in the midst of mountains of frustration and anger.

As I laid my head on my pillow last night I felt like a whimpering puddle deserving the love and mercy of no one. Yet somehow I felt myself getting swept up, quite undeservingly, into the arms of a God who’s mercies are new every morning.

Every. Morning. New Mercies

Another sunrise, another battle with the dishwasher, another moment to crawl into his lap, apologize and try again.

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Apple by Apple

Today I’m blending the pictures and poetry of our trip with to the orchard with the Burden Family into a prayer for autumn.  All photos compliments of my lovely and dear friend Jillian Burden.  

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Like any good Michigander, I can measure my years by trips to the apple orchard.

I can still remember with vivd clarity my kindergarden trip to the pumpkin patch and cider mill.  After wandering the fields of orange and green we were rewarded by a warm donut and fresh pressed cider as we squeezed together on the picnic tables.

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There is nothing in the world like a cake donut with fresh pressed cider, If you love it, you know it’s a comfort food born early.

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Trips to the orchard ring altogether wholesome, holding hands while crunching apples and leaves as you fill heap your wagon full of fruit.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.47.48 AM Continue reading

How to stay sane while parenting solo & drinking your coffee in the bathroom.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m laying in bed, it’s difficult to say what woke me up, maybe it was the sprinklers or (more likely) the cat, but either way I’m awake and I’m not going back to sleep.

Then the lightbulb in my brain bursts into brilliance, I could get up and be ALONE.

Alone people.  In my house.  With my couch and coffee and maybe my computer.  I could write out a prayer, one to get me through the weekend without Kel… again.

I glance at the clock, the green digital numbers indicate that it’s 6:15.  Not too shabby, I’m up alone AND I got 8 hours of sleep.  

So I sneak to the kitchen, start the kettle for the coffee and then I hear it.  The sound of  little, sock covered feet heading my direction. I let out an automatic “CRAP!!!!(probably the wrong thing to do) before I fumble out a fake, cheerful: “Good morning buddy!”

He immediately starts in with his endless list of whispered demands:
“Hi mom, I want coffee, I have to go pee pee, Can I have a snack? I want my robe, it’s cold, I want to watch Mater’s Tall Tales, what are you doing mom?”

ten minutes later….

“NO MOM THAT IS NOT HOW I WANTED MY RICE CAKE!  NOT THAT PLATE, I SPREAD THE JELLY!  I WANT TO OPEN THE MICROWAVE AND PUT THE LID ON!  AHHHHHH!!!!!!”

At this point, I seriously consider a melt dow of my own. The day has only just begun and already I feel burnt out.  In an hour or so Kel will get up, pack a bag, and head out of town.

I’ve made no kid friendly plans for the day, I’m on the verge of tears and starting at a blank canvas of a weekend.

crabby Noers

Me too baby girl. Me too.

I don’t feel like being a solo parent, I don’t feel like entertaining two preschoolers, I don’t want to make their food and reff their fights and “help them” pick up their toys.

I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna.  But that doesn’t matter in the slightest.

This “I don’t wanna” feeling happens to me every weekend now. When people at work say: “hey it’s the weekend!” I give them the hairy, stinky eyeball.

I used to love the weekends, but now? Loathing, dread and yuck. Continue reading

Because patience begats patience

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 10.02.16 PM As we walked through the church doors she was already tugging on my arm with excitement.

I was trying something new, going to church with my aunts, uncles and cousins… mostly because I couldn’t do another Sunday of church with both kids by myself.

I whimpered inwardly when I learned that children’s church was closed for the summer my task for the next hour would be managing my four year old daughter throughout the service.

We’d never made it through a service without bailing before.  The odds were never in our favor.

We shimmied our way into pew and I was instantly thankful for the engineering behind this old school church seating. There were people on every side of us, at least she wasn’t going anywhere.

The service started with a slideshow from a recent mission trip, which managed to hold her attention for a while.

Then the music started and she fidgeted from person to person, crawling down the pew behind me. Each rotation struck me with grace and guilt.

I always worrying that I’m robbing someone else of a meaningful God encounter when they take time to help with my children.

Then the sermon started and I sucked in one big, deep breath and broke out the big guns, the iPhone.

There, I thought, that oughta keep her entertained for a while.  And it did, I was even able to take in scraps of the message in-between answering questions about bejeweled.

Later, I noticed her flipping through my photo albums and smiled at the thought of her reminiscing about family memories while we enjoyed church together… well sort of together.

Then it happened.  Before I knew it I heard my own voice yelling loudly, interrupting the sermon.  “I’m gonna powerwash you!” I yelled. Continue reading

Patient, Joyful, Hopeful (or getting Bslapped by Romans 12)

photo To say that life has been an uphill climb for our family lately would be accurate.

Oh, and also a bit of an understatement.

We’ve described it as swimming through molasses or as putting out endless fires.

We’ve even described it as a losing battle, on our worst days.

It’s not that anything big is wrong really, it’s just that every simple thing blows up in my face.

It’s like this:

I get up to make breakfast, but I can’t because I realize that in my stressed out state, I put the eggs in the freezer and ruined them.  So I go to grab my car keys so that I can go out for oatmeal and do some writing work, but I can’t find them.  Anywhere.  I give up and decide to take the van when I realize that I can’t work at all, because I’ve left my laptop 170 miles away and won’t be getting it back for a week.

Ugh.  Really?

Caedmon has learned a new phrase over the past few months: “I give up on this!”  This morning it was: “I give up on this yogurt!  I give up!”

Establishing ourselves in Michigan has been a blend of beautiful and stressful and living on two part-time incomes is no easy feat.

We’ve said all along that this was going to be a hard, faith-demanding, Abraham and Sarah-ish transition.  And guess what?  It is! It’s pinching and exhausting and mostly uphill.

I knew it would be, yet I act shocked and ooze whininess.

Yesterday I was working in a coffee shop on a borrowed laptop and I decided to give up some of my time to read the bible and pray.

I say this because I’ve developed a bad habit of seeing prayer and the bible time as expendable.  Please feel free to believe that this is the source of a lot of my current stress and issues, because… I know… 

So I’ve been working my way (slowly and erratically) through a study on “prayer in the bible” and yesterday’s reading smacked me with truth.  Hard.

It was beautiful and simple-sweet, I smiled, but it stung.

“Be patient in hope, joyful in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

That’s it, that was the entire days’d reading.  And guess what? I’ve been doing exactly none of those things… and it’s been killing me and my family. Continue reading