Saturday, June 14, 2014

Artificial Sweetener

My family loves Chinese family, and I mean loves.  Anytime we travel, we are on the lookout for a good Chinese restaurant.  We've eaten in some great ones, and we've eaten in some H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E ones.  (We even ate in one that the health department shut down a few days after our visit for having rat, cat and dog in its freezer. Yum!)

One of my favorite Chinese restaurants is a tiny establishment in our local area.  The decor nor menu have changed in the last 25 years and the management is sometimes a little moody, but their won ton soup is delicious!  Their sauces have deep, slow-cooked flavor.  Their crawfish and lobster sauce on Fridays is divine.  And... we can eat there (all 7 of us) for under $40 at dinner.  

One problem though is that they don't have sweet tea.  I don't really understand how you can have a restaurant in the South and not have sweet tea, but this establishment does not.  Any good tea maker knows that the secret to good sweet tea is getting your sugar mixed in when the tea is hot enough to instantly dissolve your sugar.  If you wait until your tea is cool, or worse cold, your sugar is going to sink to the bottom and your tea will taste like water. The little pink, yellow, and blue packets are not going to make your tea sweet.

Artificial sweeteners. 

We're told that these little packets of sugar-like substances work as well as sugar.  That they are good for people who have diabetes.  That they provide less calories. That they're convenient.  That they replace sugar. 

But folks... nothing replaces sugar.

Sometimes in life, like in making tea, we try to find a short cut to make things sweet.  We look for artificial sweeteners in our everyday life.  And the society we live in is all to ready to provide us with all kinds of things to make us "happy."

Advertising tells us that we can find happiness if we just buy the right things.  Surely if you buy that $100 pair of jeans, you'll be happy.  Surely if you are able to eat at a certain restaurant, you will be happy.  Surely if you buy the right soda, eat the right snack, have the newest toy / gadget / computer... you are going to be happy!  

Thousands of self help books proclaim the secrets to being happy.

Talk shows provide organized, bullet point steps on how to find happiness.

Movies and television shows detail the kinds of relationships that will make us happy.

The tolerance movement tells us that if we just accept everyone and live with the motto of "anything goes" then everyone will be happy.

So why aren't we happy?

Why are we inundated with  commercials for prescription drugs to help us cope with depression? Why do we have kids walking into schools shooting other kids?  Why do we have marriages falling apart? Why do we have people using drugs and alcohol to escape from their problems? Why do we have people who have weekly counseling sessions? 

Why aren't we happy?

Could it be that the artificial sweeteners society provides for us sink to the bottom of us and fail to sweeten anything?

Society provides distractions that make us think life can be perfected through worldly things.  These distractions, however, can not live up to their promises. Artificial sweeteners cannot live up to sugar just as society's view of happiness cannot live up to the true happiness that we can find in Jesus Christ.

Believing in and trusting in Jesus is not a cure all that will bring immediate happiness.  We don't call out to Jesus and find that all of our problems have disappeared or that money has magically been deposited into our bank accounts or that the temptations of life will not taunt us.

As a matter of fact, as recorded in John 16:33, Jesus told us, "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world."

We can expect to find troubles in life.  The "happiness" we see in the media is a myth.  Happiness does not come from having stuff.  It comes from being content with who you are and what you have.  And most importantly, it comes from trusting in Jesus and knowing that He has overcome the trials and tribulations of the world.  

If you seek Him, He will take away your sins and you will find forgiveness, peace, and freedom from the holds that society binds us with.

"A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit" 
                                                                                                Proverbs 15:13

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I Have a Friend Who...

I have a friend who has told a lie.
I have a friend who is covetous of the materialistic things she sees that others have, 
    but she does not.
I have a friend who is a gossip.
I have a friend who is a constant worrier.
I have a friend who is divorced.
I have a friend who was pregnant before she got married.
I have a friend who slept around (a lot) when we were younger.
I have a friend who was raped and feels guilty for it though she shouldn't.
I have a friend who has been to jail.
I have a friend who is married to an alcoholic.
I have a friend who is  a drug addict.
I have a friend who is living with a man she is not married to.
I have a friend who used to openly live in a lesbian relationship.

None of these friends are perfect.  None of them have their acts all together. All of them are flawed.  

Would you like to know the most amazing thing about each and every one of these friends?

They are free!  Free and forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ.

So many times we look at others and think that they have the "perfect" life. Everyone feels that they need to keep up with the Joneses -- and the Joneses are probably trying to keep up with their in-laws.  It's a constant, fruitless race.  My pastor spoke just last Sunday about how great it would be if our lives really were as picture perfect as we portray them to be on Facebook. 

But they aren't.  

Christians get this bad rap of being hypocrites when they do something wrong.  Christianity does not guarantee you a life of no hassles, no slip-ups, or no sin.  It "simply" guarantees that regardless of the hassles, the slip-ups, and the sins, you are FORGIVEN.  That, my friend, is what you call a lifetime guarantee -- an eternal guarantee.

God did not send His Son to die on the cross for a world of perfect goody two shoes who have everything together and do no wrong.  He died because each of us are flawed and sinful. It doesn't matter how bad or good we think we are. It doesn't matter how many items we can add to the grocery list of our wrongdoings. When we call out the name of Jesus and accept the sacrifice that He freely gave to us... all of our imperfections are forgotten.

Jesus died on the cross so that your past sins have been forgiven, your present sins are being forgiven, and your future sins will be forgiven.


"For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
                                       Colossians 1:14

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Last night Abbie, my four-year-old, asked me to give her a "daddy's bubble bath."  This means that she wants LOTS of bubbles, and she wants to stay in there until all the bubbles are gone and the water is cool.  

So I loaded her in and watched as she was playing around.  Then she looked up at me and asked, "Can I tell you a story?"  I affirmed that she could.  She got very serious -- she has a special voice for her story times -- and this is what she said:

I have come to tell you the truth.  You may think you know the truth, but I must make sure that you do know the truth.

The past is in the past.  There is nothing you can do about the past.  The past must stay in the past because it is past.  The only ones who have the power to do anything with the past is God and Jesus.  We must leave the past alone.  

It is our job to tell everyone the truth.  The truth is that God lives in Heaven.  God wants us to live in Heaven with Him.  To do this, we must let go of the past and accept the truth.  Jesus lives with God.  And we should live with them.

There is an evil power who does not want us to know about the truth.  His name is the devil.  He is bad.  He came to me one time and bit my finger, and I told him to go away because he did not know the truth.  But he did not want to go.

I interrupted the story at this point to ask her if she knew how to get rid of the devil.  She did not.  So I told her that when she feels the devil is around her that she can simply pray out loud and say, "God, keep the devil away from me." and that the devil has no power that is greater than God.  She said, "Cool,"  and went back to her story...

The devil is bad.  He will not be able to live in Heaven with God because he does bad things like when he tried to bite my finger. The devil does not want us to tell people the truth.  He wants for people to live with him in the other place.  But, we must resist.   We must smash the devil's soul.  We know the truth and we must spread the truth.

And then story time was over and she got carried away with smashing bubbles.

I sat in amusement as she began her story because she is so serious about all of her stories -- most of them are about dolphins.  Then I began to actually focus on what she was saying. And then all I could say, was "amen little sister."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Shopocalypse

With all of our family out of town this Thanksgiving, the kids and I spent a quiet day together.  We played board games, watched the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, and watched a little documentary called What Would Jesus Buy? that we got from Netflix.

The basic plot of the documentary is that this guy Rev. Billy (whom I suspect is no "real" reverend at all) led a group of protesters on a nationwide tour to deter Black Friday shopping.  They had created a whole musical based on this concept.  Rev. Billy portrayed a charismatic preacher and his choir sang some (quite catchy, though corny) anti-shopping songs.  We even began to sing, "Stop shopping! Stop shopping" along with them.

Unfortunately, rather than being what I really wanted the documentary to be -- a look at why Jesus is more important than gift buying -- it was more of a look at how big business has taken away from small-town shopping.  I have my qualms with Wal-Mart, but I am not on a crusade to close them down.  

I also take the documentary to task for its "funning" at Christianity.  I'm all for parody -- I have that kind of twisted sense of humor.  But Rev. Billy's prayers that became mocking and showy were rather offensive to me. They did allow for me to discuss with the kids how we should make sure that our talking about God and our prayers are sincere and not something that we're doing for show.  'We have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk' is the understanding I want them to have.

The overall concept of the documentary, however, is worth contemplating.  I love a deal as much as anyone else.  As a matter of fact, people who know me well, know that I seldom buy anything that isn't on sale (preferably clearance), use my coupons and reward points, and love cheap, cheap, cheap.  I actually am not a Black Friday shopper because I start scouring clearance racks much earlier in the year and am almost done with my Christmas shopping before the Black Friday deals get here.  I also don't have the nerves, sanity, or patience to deal with the crowds.  I do understand the draw of the big sales.  I do understand wanting to give your kids a good Christmas and with as tight as money is these days, the big sales give you a better opportunity of doing that.  My dad claims that he felt very thankful when he got both an apple and an orange in his Christmas stocking as a child.  I don't think that would float these days at all.

But at what point do we realize that Christmas is about more than big sales and gifts?  What would happen if Christians put as much energy into spreading the love of Jesus as we do in rushing the front doors of stores.  I read an article online this week that questioned this as well. The writer of the article asked "What if on Black Friday, there was a shopocalypse and all the Christians rushed out to help the less fortunate or to spread God's love?"  Are there even enough Christians left in our country for a shopocalypse to make a difference?  Are we totally consumed by the materialism that our culture shoves down our throats?

I'd love to see a revival in our country.  I'd love to see people not just claiming to be Christians, but being Christians -- not the ridiculing "YOU ARE A SINNER SHAME ON YOU" message, but the God loves everyone and we are all sinners in need of grace message.  I'd love to see Christians be able to "come out of the closet" and boldly proclaim our faith without fear of being ridiculed or being accused by society of not separating church and state (which ironically, never was intended to be a dictate that religion could not be in the "state affairs" but that the state couldn't tell us what religion to be -- but that's a whole other can of worms.).

Even if you hit all the sales this year (and I'm still hoping to get some great deals too), take a minute to stop and remember what this season is all about.  God sent his Son so that you could be forgiven of all your sins and receive his FREE GIFT of eternal salvation.

And if you want a good, only mildly irritating, break from the holiday rush, check out What Would Jesus Buy?  I'd love to hear some other impressions about the film.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Road Trip Ramblings

The kids and I set out on a road trip last week to Ohio to visit my husband.  Along the approximately 2000 miles that we drove, I learned a few things.  Here goes:

1.  This traffic sign,  , means there is no peeing in the grass. (Thank you, Sean.)

2. Taking a few minutes pre-trip to prepare travel games make the miles go much faster.  

3. Eating an apple straight from the tree in a bonafide apple orchard is the best!  Abbie was unable to resist the temptation.  And though we don't know exactly what the fruit on the tree in the garden was, IF it was an apple as so many people think, I can see why Eve was tempted.  Just sayin'.

4. Polar bears are bigger than I thought, but they are not quite as white as I expected them to be.  Grizzly bears are scary --- even with a ravine and a fence in between you and the bear.

5. The dinosaur exhibit at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio, is stunning.  However, it is sad that the highly educated in our world continue to tell us that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago.  It's just become boring to correct them, which I guess is okay because my kids know the truth anyway.  In their favor... the spitting dinosaurs on the boat ride were cool.  However, poor Emma thought that somehow they had put real spit in them. When we told her it was just water, she was not nearly as grossed out.

6.  Missing a week of school puts us off our schedule but is so totally worth it when you look at all the lessons we did learn.  Thanks to home schooling though, we can turn ANY trip into something educational whether it be visiting the zoo and learning about the animals, visiting an orchard and seeing exactly where our food comes from, visiting the fruit market at the same orchard and looking at different varieties of gourds, seeing fall foliage (which we just don't get in southwest Mississippi), reading maps, calculating how long it will take us to get somewhere based on the number of miles and our speed, or even reading menus.  Abbie is studying community helpers as her social studies unit in K4, and she even role played being a waitress at Steak & Shake -- complete with her paper hat -- though I've never actually had a waitress take my order in crayon.

7. The greatest gift of all is spending time as a family.  The most important thing to me is the legacy that I leave my children.  I want them to grow up and remember the quality things that we did together.  I hope and pray that the time I put into them will lead them to raise their children well.  

I want to grow old and remember their laughter -- there is no more beautiful sound.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mommy Mania

I've been a mom for almost 15 years.  In that time, I have shared funny stories and angst with many moms through PTA groups, church groups, and Girl Scouts.  But I've never joined any kind of organized "mom thing."  A couple of weeks ago, I ventured into new territory and went to my first Mommy Group.  

I honestly didn't know what to expect.  I didn't know if it would be corny or worthwhile.  I did know that there were some pretty cool chickies who were going to be there, and so I was willing to go hang out and give it a try.  I have to say... I was quite impressed.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to be away from the kids and just have some good old "grown up" interaction for a while.

Part of our meeting included a Bible study on creating balance in our lives.  We were presented with a group of objects that represent the stress that we most commonly find in our lives.  We had to choose which item best represented the thing that made us feel most unbalanced in our lives as moms.  Was it the watch showing that we feel we don't have enough time to get things done?  Was it the credit card showing that our finances were wreaking havoc with our sanity? 

I chose the wedding ring, which represented not feeling balanced with our relationships.  And contrary to the fact that the symbol was a wedding ring, the stressed relationship did not have to be with our spouse.  I identified that one of my greatest stresses is that I don't feel balanced with what I can give my kids.  I have six kids living in my house and a step-daughter three states away.  That's a lot of people to take into consideration.

Regardless of the fact that I spend a good five hours at my dining room table with my kids each day interacting one on one with them over home school assignments, I often feel that I don't spend any time with them.  I take them to the library.  I take them shopping where I follow them around and let them check out the things they want to see.  We take walks.  We go for pizza and fro yo.  Yet, I often condemn myself because I don't feel that I'm spending the right kind of time with them.

So here are my confessions:  I do not tuck each of my kids in bed every single night.  I do not read bedtime stories to my kids. I am not always the one to bathe my little kids.  I do not sit in the floor and play games with my kids every single day.  I do not always prepare a perfectly proportioned, home cooked meal for dinner.  

The fact is.  I am human.  I can only do so many things in a given day.  And hey, I spend a lot of quality time with my kids.  Yet I still set up these unrealistic expectations of all the things that I should be doing. (And I wasn't the only one in mommy group who feels this way.)  

Where do these expectations come from?  The sappy commercials that we see on TV?  The facebook, perfect lives that get posted online?  Magazine articles or blogs that only showcase one, specific moment in time of a super-mommy's life?  

One of my aspirations (very realistic of me...not) is to be like the Proverbs 31 wife of noble character.  But... have you checked out that scripture lately?  This woman finds wool and flax, works with her hands, brings food from afar, gets up while its dark, provides for her family and servant girls, considers a field, buys it out of her earnings, plants a vineyard, sets about her work vigorously, has a lamp that doesn't go out at night, opens her arms to the poor, extends her hands to the needy, has no fear for her family, makes coverings for her bed, brings honor to her husband, makes linen garments and sells them, supplies the merchants with sashes, laughs at the days to come, speaks with wisdom, watches over the affairs of her household, and is not idle.

I'm tired just from TYPING all that she did.  This woman needed a cape with a big "S"!  But the best part of that scripture is verse 30, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeing, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."

My Bible study at Mommy Group caused me to take pause and re-think my expectations of myself.  There is a section in our Bible study books that allows us to write how the lesson connects with our livea.  I wrote a couple of valid points for me:

  • Everything does NOT have to get done.
  • Everything does NOT have to be perfect.
  • I am ONE person and I can only do the work of ONE person.
  • Over organizing and putting everything into a schedule only CREATES stress -- not productivity. 
No one is judging me as harshly as I judge myself.  I know I have friends who think I have everything together and just float through this parenting thing.  One friend visited my house and said, 'hmmm... you're just not as organized as I expected you to be."  She didn't say this as a criticism; she said it with relief because she really thought I had everything compartmentalized.  

So my commitment to myself is that I am going to do what I can do. It doesn't matter what anyone else is doing.  My kids are happy, healthy, and productive.  So really.... nothing else matters.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hearing the Voice of God

When my oldest two children were young, my husband and I did not attend church as we should.  We were members of a church --- we just didn't go.  We didn't become anti-church or anti-God, we just used our weekends to "enjoy ourselves."  And we had some pretty good justifications for our lifestyle (thanks Satan...not): we watched every week's service on TV, I did a daily devotion, our kids went to a Christian daycare.  So did we need corporate worship?

For awhile I felt that I didn't.  Then life began to get shaky.  Over a six month period, I had two miscarriages and Hurricane Ivan desecrated upon the city of Pensacola and planted black mold into our house rendering us homeless.  We moved into a 50's style hotel room (read... not the best hotel in town) and started looking for a house.  It was challenging living in such a small space with two little kids.  We had to eat out for every meal.  They had no room to play.  We were literally boxed into this tiny, tiny space.  Even in our disparaging circumstances, we could see God's continual provision for us.  I began to tell my husband, "When we get a house, we are going back to church."   I rationalized (thanks again, Satan) that all of our nice clothes were in storage, and we couldn't go to church without those clothes.

One Sunday, Stephen was working, so it was left to me to take the kids out for lunch.  We showed up at Red Lobster before the church rush so we wouldn't have a long wait.  We were seated in an empty side room and got ready to enjoy our meal.  As we sat there looking over the menu, a family came in with a precious little girl who had obviously just come from church.  I looked up at the little girl and while thinking how cute she was, I heard  a male voice say the words, "Get your children in church."  

I was startled.  I turned to look around to see who had spoken, but in that little side room, there was not one single male -- except for Jared, who had not spoken to me.   I will always believe with absolute certainty that God spoke to me.  I picked up my cell phone, called Stephen, and told him that when I left lunch, I was going to buy us suitable clothes for church (I was still hung up on that for some reason), and I was taking the kids to church the next week.  I was instantly convicted.

See, I had my salvation.  And I was feeding myself with devotion and a church service although it was on TV and not with my actual presence in a church.  But I had one GREAT failure.  I was not leading my children to be church goers.  I was not teaching them to set aside time for God.  I was not establishing a positive legacy for them.

I went and bought those oh so important churchy clothes, and we have not missed more than a Sunday at a time in the last ten years except when I was busy taking care of additional newborns in our family.

I am currently involved in a Bible study that is geared towards mentoring new Christians.  Tonight in class, we began to discuss how God speaks to us.  One gentleman asked our pastor if he believed that God had spoken to Abraham in an audible voice. 

So we ventured on to discuss some of the ways that God gets our attention. The most obvious way is that we can read His words in the Bible.  But what about when we aren't necessarily looking for His direction -- when we've chosen our own direction?  God can use other people to speak words of wisdom to us,  the Holy Spirit can move within us, we can face certain situations that make us turn from our misdeeds and seek God, and, yes, He can speak to us.

Why do we assume that God wouldn't talk to us if that's what it took?  He did not in recent years lose any of the abilities that He had in the Old Testament.  He spoke to Abraham. He made a bush burn to catch Moses's attention. He even let a donkey talk! If God wants to talk to us, He will talk to us.  He will do whatever He has to do to get our stubborn attention away from what we are busying ourselves with.

A girl in my Bible study brought up the point that we live incredibly fast, noisy lives.  We always have distractions with TV, our hectic social schedules, our cell phones, and on and on and on.  Sometimes we don't stop to listen to what God has to say and He has to get more drastic.

I encourage you to take some time to find a quiet place and ask God what He needs to tell you.