Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Prom Dress

Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a 40-something woman wearing my prom dress while doing her laundry. Yep. The internet is a wild and sometimes wonderful place. https://www.buzzfeed.com/stephaniemcneal/

Woman doing laundry in her bridesmaid's dress (https://www.buzzfeed.com/stephaniemcneal/)
It took me a few seconds of confusion to realize she wasn't wearing my dress exactly. Since 1993, that dress has been carefully packed away in a closet, perfectly preserved for who-knows-what future event. She was having fun pulling out an old bridesmaid's dress, laughing at that optimistic declaration all brides make when choosing impractical dresses for their bridesmaids, "you can wear this again!" 

Ready for prom in the 90's
I'm pretty organized, so it took me less than 60 seconds to make sure that my dress is hanging just where I thought it was. Here's what's funny: both of us have 20-year-old dresses we'll never wear again hanging in our closets. Why?

It has been said that the more stuff we own, the more our stuff owns us. Over the last few years, I've had the growing realization that I spend more time than I want to cleaning, organizing, managing STUFF. This problem is not unique to me. Did you know that there are 300,000 items in the average American home? (LA Times) A British study found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys, but plays with just 12 daily (The Telegraph). As a mom, I can certainly attest to the fact that our children have many more toys than they play with on a regular basis, and no one enjoys cleaning the toy-littered play room.

I am thankful that our family has more than what we need, but I also wonder how much of my life is unnecessarily spent accumulating, maintaining, caring for possessions- things that keep me from spending these energies on things that are more important in light of eternity. Also, what lessons are we teaching our children about possessions and our family's values? 

Joshua Becker quote

Our own Free Methodist denomination has roots in simplicity. In 1860, the "free" in Free Methodist emphasized certain basic freedoms found in scriptures, one of which was freedom from materialism in order to help the poor. (What is a Free Methodist?) The size of the American home has more than tripled in the last 50 years (NPR), so it is probably safe to assume that many of us live in much larger spaces today than our brothers and sisters who set forth these values over a hundred years ago.

As I started learning about decluttering and minimizing, I realized there are a lot of different methods out there. The organizing industry has boomed as many Americans have realized they own too much, and spend a lot of effort trying to rein it all in. I think we all know deep down that stuff doesn't bring us happiness, but we're surrounded by the pursuit of it, and being counter cultural is a daily challenge. I laughed out loud at this statement, poking fun at one popular method:

Poking fun at the Marie Kondo method

A friend of mine from college, and fellow Free Methodist got me interested in reading articles from author Joshua Becker, whose ideas resonate with me. He started a website chronicling his family's 9 month journey into owning less at  www.becomingminimalist.com, which now has a million visits per month.  He shares a story about finding himself spending a beautiful spring Saturday dutifully cleaning the garage, all the while, turning down his young son's requests to spend the morning playing ball with him in the yard instead. After complaining to his neighbor, she uttered some life changing words: "Maybe you don't need to own all this stuff."   

In his words, 

"The juxtaposition was striking. My possessions piled up in the driveway… my son in the backyard… my day slipping away… I immediately recognized something needed to change. My belongings were not adding value to my life. Instead, they were subtracting from it.

We began donating, recycling, and removing our unnecessary personal possessions. We embarked on an intentional journey to own less stuff.
As a result, we discovered more money, more time, more energy, more freedom, less stress, and more opportunity to pursue our greatest passions: faith, family, friends. And we decided to write about it."
Not surprisingly, I later discovered that Mr. Becker is a pastor. Beyond sharing great tips for owning less, he also shares some wise insights on the Biblical basis of this lifestyle. God has used his family's choice to minimize and the sharing of that story to reach millions. 

The pull of materialism and the challenge of living free from it is nothing new. John the Baptist and Jesus both addressed it as a spiritual issue. The early Free Methodists gave it priority. The whisper of the Holy Sprit in our hearts confirms it today.

I'm taking baby steps toward doing more than organizing- instead, trying to own less and see how the Lord uses those spaces to make me available. Fortunately, I don't have to start with the emotional stuff, like the prom dress. It's absolutely okay to start with the utensil drawer! 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Growing Young

Last week in our morning worship service, we had a group of teens and their parents come forward. We prayed for them as they headed off to FMYC, the Free Methodist Youth Conference that happens for high schoolers every 3 years. As that was occurring, I was reminded of my own experience at that conference, back when I was their age. 

FMYC (then IYC) crew, 1994
24 of us from MAFMC made the trek that year, including the brave chaperones who made our attendance possible: Joe Patton, Jeff and Pam Wilson, Brownie Davis and Larry and Kara Roberson.

One impactful moment for me in the formation of my faith took place in the arena during a large group session. The speaker had us all pause and pray out loud in groups of three. I appreciated something new about God that day, hearing hundreds of voices praying to Him. I was struck with how powerful He must be to hear so many prayers, also knowing that those of us gathered in that room represented a mere fraction of believers around the world whose prayers He was also hearing at the same time. Mind boggling! It made me feel small, but in a good way, knowing what an awesome God we serve.

In retrospect, I am so thankful for those busy adults who took time off of work to take an awkward group of teens to Colorado for a conference. I’m also thankful for Pam, who took the time to get to know me and several other girls better that year by leading a Bible study and spending some extra time with us. She was our friend, and someone we looked up to. Those moments helped shape my life and decision making at a crucial time.

Why do I share this story with you? Our Board Of Administration went on a retreat earlier this spring to do some long term planning. One result was to develop a group to look at how as a church we can better reach the millennial generation. Some of us are reading a book titled Growing Young, a compilation of research by Fuller Youth Institute that has studied churches that are successfully reaching the next generation for Christ. (Learn more about their research here.)

Growing Young book by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin

They’re finding that ALL generations in these churches are stronger as a result. Empathizing, or feeling with, young people is one of the key components they’ve identified for helping churches “grow young”. I know it made a difference in my faith journey when a Christian farther down the path of life took time to understand and listen to me. I believe it is even more important for adults in the church to do today than it was in the 1990’s.

I don’t have time in this moment to bowl you over with statistics, but know that young people today (those ages 15-29) are facing a longer season of adolescence and exploration than past generations. 25 feels like the new 15, and 15 often seems like the new 25. Their journey has both an earlier starting line as the world is forcing them to take on mature issues at younger ages, and a later finish line with typical young adult benchmarks being delayed. Omnipresent technology has become a new challenge for all generations.

Church, I know that we want to love the young people in our midst and in the world around us. Now don’t worry, the bus left yesterday for Colorado, so I’m not up here to recruit chaperones for FMYC. What I want to do today is challenge you to think about a young person or persons in your life that you might pray for, encourage and engage in conversation from time to time- even if it’s just in the hallway here at church. However, in order to feel with them, we need to understand them better.

To help equip you, I want to share a good, free resource that is e-mailed out every Friday to subscribers. It’s called The Culture Translator. It’s a put out by a creative ministry called AXIS, and provides weekly insight into how pop culture, technology, and media are influencing students while equipping parents and other caring adults to start biblically based conversations. They bring up topics that will be on the minds of teens, but are probably off the average adult's radar.

The Culture Translator logo

Although this newsletter is written to parents, I think it is a great resource for anyone who wants to understand young people better. I’ve included a copy of last week’s Culture Translator in the bulletin- it’s on the yellow sheet.  One of the topics is an app called Yellow. Do you know about it? I didn’t!

Like me, you might be thankful for Christian adults who befriended you (in real life!) in your teens and twenties. To those of us that are not quite so young anymore, I pray that we too will be motivated to empathize with and encourage the next generation as they explore matters of faith.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thanks To Those That Hallmark Missed

School is wrapping up this week for most students in our congregation. Last week we recognized our graduates and celebrated with them. This week, as a parent with school aged kids, I’ve been reminded again and again of those who have invested in the lives of our family in the last year. Sometimes finding the right words to express thanks for the myriad of jobs people do can be difficult. Did you know that Hallmark doesn’t make a card that says, “You’re a great teacher! I’m so sorry you were puked on during the class field trip!”


Hallmark also hasn’t begun to scratch the surface of custom cards for people who invest the lives of others, particularly those who do so as a part of living our their faith. We know that living the Christian life is a journey, and we all need to be lifelong learners. No matter what our age, to do that, we need those farther along down the path who can help us grow.


So I want to take a moment this morning to say “thank you” to those among us who invest a part of their lives in others to pass on what they’ve learned:  


People like children’s workers. Foster parents, adoptive parents. School teachers, administrators and aides. Sunday School teachers (for adults and children!) Casa advocates, those who tutor at schools over their lunch hours or at McDonald’s over breakfast. Those who teach music lessons, lead Bible studies and small groups, encourage younger pastors and lay leaders. Those who teach English Conversations. Youth volunteers. The list really goes on and on. THANK YOU! Two of our very own members who are also public school teachers retired this week after years of service.


In Galatians 6:9-10 the apostle Paul tells us,
9 "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."


I’d like to remind you of the harvest we’re cultivating here at Mattis Avenue. These photos were taken during a Children's Church lesson a few weeks ago. I gave the children a simple directive: write a note, message or prayer to God to attach to the end of a balloon. The simple messages they came up with on their own surprised me- in a good way! They've been listening, even if that's not always evident by looking at their squirming bodies!

Balloons with prayers and messages attached from the children.

A cross which says "I love you so much!" I love God so much because he is nice to me all the time."


Cross messages that say "I love you", "Jesus Christ", Jesus died", "Thank you".
Just like that teacher who got a messy surprise on the field trip, most of us who’ve taught can attest to the fact that ministry- helping others- is not always easy. You can walk away from a lesson time wondering if anything even stuck. I think it’s why Paul gives us a word of encouragement for not giving up.  If you’re teaching in some way, shape or form. THANK YOU! Be encouraged. And if you’re not, consider asking God about a way you can share your gifts and knowledge with someone.

I’d like to close with a short video, which is based on a true story, to remind all of us that God can use the lessons we are willing to teach in ways we might not imagine.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

You Are Being Watched....

“You are being watched.” This is the opening line of a good guys vs. bad guys TV show Chad and I watch. Do you ever feel that way in your daily Christian life? If you don’t you probably should!


Our extended family took a vacation together last week. I was reminded of how we’re being watched through an encounter with a new person. In the course of our trip, I met Matias, an employee at the hotel where we were staying. We had a conversation for a few minutes, and at the end of it, he said “you’re the nicest person I’ve met all day. It’s been nice talking with you.” A bit later, I returned with Josh, my brother-in-law. Matias got a funny look on his face. “You two are related? Truly, you have a unique family. In all the people I’ve met today you two have stood out as the kindest.”  


In a funny way, it made me a little sad, as I don’t think that our interaction had been all that unique or memorable- just friendly. I remember walking away and praying for him, knowing that the difference he was seeing in us was the fruit of the spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Those responses are every Christian’s calling.


These qualities were put to the test the next day. A mistake was made that affected us, and although it wasn’t our friend Matias’ fault, he would likely hear about our attitude in dealing with the situation. I was keenly aware of WHOSE character I was reflecting in that situation, and I know it impacted my actions. I was not just representing my earthly family, but more importantly, the family of God. Would I choose to respond selfishly or in a Christ-like manner?


To me, a vital part of living out Faith@Home is remembering that as Christ followers we are all being watched by the world around us. How we respond to situations in everyday life is so important.


As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1-5:
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  




A modern writer, Jen Hatmaker, puts it this way in her book “For the Love, Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards”:


"A worthy life involves loving as loved folks do, sharing the ridiculous mercy God spoiled us with first. (It really is ridiculous.) It means restoring people, in ordinary conversations and regular encounters. A worthy life means showing up when showing up is the only thing to do. Goodness bears itself out in millions of ordinary ways across the globe, for the rich and the poor, the famous and unknown, in enormous measures and tiny, holy moments. It may involve a career and it may not. It may include traditional components and it may not.”


This week I urge you to live a life worth of the calling you have received. A life where the fruit of the Spirit is evident in your interactions with others. Remember, you are being watched!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Glittering Luminaries or Lighthouses?

Six years ago this month God started orchestrating circumstances in my life that led to a life change. A big one. I'd worked and studied hard for 10 years in my career, and even earned letters after my name (CFP) to help set me apart in the professional world. But my faith told me God had something else entirely in mind for my future. I prayed Proverbs 3:5-6 often for several months. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to him, and he will make your path straight. Make my path straight, Lord. I took a trusting step into the area of family ministry, which I'd never really even considered as a career path before. God is faithful. Since then, he's used my imperfection to work through me in ways I never anticipated. My hangers of business skirts now sit mostly untouched, and after a busy family dinner night at church, I realize my sweaters are decorated with spaghetti sauce. But really, I made the career change in faith and haven't looked back.

Friday night my husband Chad's start up company was nominated for an award in our community at Innovation Celebration. Innovation Celebration is not merely an award for accomplishment, but a benchmark of success for those outstanding individuals, organizations and corporations who are nominated and selected to receive this prestigious award. At some point in the evening, I believe the attendees were described as "glittering luminaries" in the local business and university community. Whether awards and success come or not, I'm always proud of Chad, his team, and their hard work. It was really nice to see them honored. Award recipients included a doctor who is working to cure cancer, teams of scientists whose technology developments we barely understood from the descriptions printed in the program, visionaries who are working 10 years ahead of their companies to drive improvement and technological advancement. Really cool stuff. The live band played in the beautiful performing arts center. Fancy hors d'oeuvres were served. The luminaries mingled.

My handsome date and me at Innovation Celebration

Then, the tickle of insecurity hit. A woman exactly my age was honored for her work with students at the University. I'm not a part of this world anymore. Where would I be if I hadn't left the business world? I work with a great team of hard working, God loving, faithful servants who are on staff at the church. None of us will probably ever stand up to accept an award in the business community for our professional accomplishments. 99.8% of the time I think we're ok with that. But there are those moments when it hits home that we're working toward a different goal entirely. One the world doesn't understand.

Sunday morning, I'd swapped my party dress for pants, as I knew I'd be sitting on the floor with the grade schoolers. At church, the hallways were hopping. Sickness struck several of our Sunday school teachers, but the kids seemed to be more than well (except for the little boy with the constantly running nose!) so our pinch hitting teachers had full classes. We had several new children visiting for the first time, two of which spoke very little English. I was responsible for teaching Children's Church, our program for K-3rd graders during the sermon portion of our morning worship time. Within 2 minutes, I'd sent out a helper for my back up reinforcement. Some of the key components for teaching the lesson were missing, which I didn't discover until there were 15 little faces watching me. It was just that kind of morning. I was not feeling like a glittering luminary.

Then, it happened. I glanced over at the chalkboard, and realized I could draw the lesson for the kids. They engaged with the simple story aid I brought. Apparently you can fascinate some children by giving them a poppy seed/substitute mustard seed! During a time they have for reflection, I pointed one little 2nd grade girl toward a beautifully illustrated book of devotional thoughts I thought she might enjoy. She's an inquisitive thing, who sometimes comes across to me as a skeptic. Her family is here from another country for a time. I am constantly amazed by these families that come to our university community to learn and how quickly their children learn to speak English. Many are new to Christianity altogether, so sharing the gospel is a joy. A few minutes later, she was at my side. "Did God create the world? I have a friend who says he didn't. That there is no God." Wow. A big, important question. So we took a few minutes in the midst of the busy classroom and talked about it, another child listening in as well. The hustle and bustle of the morning was totally worth those two minutes. I know God was in that time with the children.

After church, an African woman, a nurse, who's been attending our church for several years flagged me down. "I have a gift for you!" she announced. Me? We always make it a point to greet one another, but she and I have never sat down for an extended conversation. Beaming, she presented me with a beautiful native dress from her home country. I felt like I'd been given an award I didn't deserve. What an honor!

Beautiful African dress- a surprise gift!
Will our community ever consider me, or the people I serve alongside "glittering luminaries"? Probably not. In reflection, though, I think we want to be known as something different altogether: as lighthouses. Pastor Herb used this quote in a sermon a few years ago, and it has stuck with me:

Lighthouse quote from D.L. Moody

Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Father. I don't need to shine for my own sake or for attention. Help me remember that. I know any light in me is because of you. Help me reflect your love for this world and point others to you through the work you've given me to do. Amen.





Friday, November 20, 2015

The Jesse Tree Advent Tradition

I have an awesome job. I work for our church helping encourage families to build faith at home all through the year. But I have to be honest, there are so many great ideas and resources that cross my desk, it's almost overwhelming, especially in a season like Advent! How do we simplify the choices, and make sure the most important thing stays the most important thing (loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength?) By mid-November it seems that everything gets caught up in the whirlwind of craziness that has become Americanized "Christmas." Ironically, there even seems to be an abundance of information on "reclaiming" and simplifying Christmas! Last year, our small group, which is made up of those actively parenting, chose ONE thing to focus on with building faith at home through Avent: the tradition of a Jesse Tree. Here's our story!

Step one: Set a realistic time frame! Two years ago we came across the great idea of a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. I'm not going to launch into a huge explanation of the concept here, because others have done a great job of that. We drew inspiration in particular from this blog: http://beautyandbedlam.com/jesse-tree-advent/.  We found the idea in about November, a bit late to get started. So we printed off some sweet, simple tags from this site: http://kelleighratzlaff.com/life/12-days-blog-hop-jesse-tree-advent-with-the-jesus-storybook-bible/ They go along with the Jesus Storybook Bible, a favorite resource many of us already use at home, so it was a natural way to test out the concept. We knew it wasn't realistic to plan a last minute, stress filled exchange, so we simplified! Several of us liked the idea and tradition so much, that we decided to try and organize an exchange for the next year.

Step two: Start early! We started chatting and planning in September. Yes, for some of us (ME!), it's almost painful to start making Advent plans in September, but it paid off! For the most part, we followed the model for the exchange on the Beauty and Bedlam site. On one of our small group nights, in early October, we explained the concept of the Jesse Tree ornament exchange and had those interested sign up. Most families signed up, but not all. We decided to make 18 sets of ornaments each, rather than 25. Several families volunteered to make more than one type of ornament, so we didn't need to end up with 25 kits. We set the exchange night for mid-November. Since there are 25 days of ornaments to use through Advent, ornament kits needed to be in people's hands before December 1. The result? Well, we had so much fun with the project, I just had to share it here!

A few of our ornament artists!

Step three: Plan a fun exchange! The night of the exchange, we set up two long tables, to set ornaments on. We had people bring their ornaments already packaged in plastic baggies with the scripture cards, which one of our amazing friends prepared and distributed in advance. Each family brought them in some type of container so all those little bags wouldn't slide around everywhere, and laid them out in day order, 1-25.

Friends set out their ornaments

I brought in a few small Christmas trees from home, and set them up near the tables. To pass out the ornaments, we had each family, starting with Day 1, present their ornament to the group and read one of the scriptures associated with their day.

Our ornament tables, days 1-25
For example, the Day 1 family showed us the cool globe they made and read Genesis 1:1 to the group. We then passed around the bowl holding the corresponding ornaments around the circle, each family taking one for their kit, and putting it in a larger bag. Most larger bags were as fancy as a plastic shopping bag.  We also hung one ornament on the little trees up front, and watched the collection grow through the evening. It actually felt a bit like Christmas morning- reading scripture and passing around special gifts! Lots of "oohs" and "aahs" as we checked out each other's unique creations. Since our group has a little too much fun sometimes, we made it through most of the scripture readings, but were pressed a bit for time to get it all done in under an hour.  However, I think we all got a good taste of what the tradition is about. We chose to keep our exchange night adults only, but kids could also be a part of the process. We wanted the surprise of opening each ornament with the kids to happen at home.

We set up our ornament days to go along with the readings in this book:

The Advent Jesse Tree book cover

Although the kits are complete with the scripture cards included with the ornaments, if families want to delve deeper with a devotional reading for each day, this book is an excellent resource. It has daily reading options for adults, or families with children.

Since not every day was taken, one friend prepared simple paper ornaments for those days. If families want to take on the project of completing that day with something more artistic in the future, they can. Otherwise, the simple paper ornaments will work well. We may update our slingshot and lion and lamb this year. One of our daughters loves to make just about anything (including animals) on her Rainbow Loom. We'll see what we come up with. One thing we emphasized: ornaments are meant to be special, not perfect! In fact, we encouraged families to work on them together, so many were crafted with kids along with their parents. Here are our creations!

Day 1: The Light in Creation (a globe or picture of the earth)


Day 2: The First Sin (an apple and a snake wrapped around it)


Day 3: Inside the Ark (an ark with a rainbow)


Day 4: The Call to Abram (a camel and a tent)


Day 5: Isaac and the Lamb (a lamb)


Day 6: Jacob's Ladder (a ladder)


Day 7: Joseph's Coat of Many Colors (a colorful coat)


Day 8: Moses and the Ten Commandments (a tablet with ten numbers)


Day 9: Canaan, the Promised Land of Blessings (a cluster of grapes)



Day 10: Ruth and Boaz (a sheaf of wheat)


Day 11: King David (a slingshot)


Day 12: Josiah Finds the Law (a scroll or Bible)


Day 13: Prophecy of Shoot from the Stump of Jesse (a stump with fresh shoot or green leaf)


Day 14: Prophecy of the Lion and Lamb Resting Together (lion and lamb)


Day 15: Prophecy of the Prince of Peace (a dove and a crown)



Day 16: Prophecy of a Gentle Shepherd (a lamb and a shepherd's staff)


Day 17: Prophecy of the Suffering Servant (a cross)


Day 18: Prophecy of the New Covenant (a heart with writing on it)



Day 19: Prophecy of Bethlehem (a Bethlehem town silhouette with star)


Day 20: The Exile (a fiery furnace)


Day 21: The Return to the Land (a brick wall)


Day 22: The Star (a star)


Day 23: The Light of the World (a candle or light)


Day 24: Angels Proclaiming the Coming of Christ (an angel)


Day 25: The Birth of Jesus (a baby in a manger or nativity scene)



Step Four: Enjoy the celebration of Advent at home! Each family took their kit home and went through them each day in December leading up to Christmas.....well, at least they aspired to go through them each day. At our house we had a few "cluster" days to catch up on ones we missed! We hung our ornaments in a special section of our normal Christmas tree, but there are many ways to display them. As with the ornaments, you're only limited by your imagination!

This year we're already looking forward to Advent and continuing this new Jesse Tree tradition. For our family and those in our church, it's become a special way to wait and prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas! I hope we've inspired you, as you think about your own traditions. 





















Friday, October 16, 2015

Enough? Bright blue Reeboks and M&Ms

What's the first thing you remember WANTING- not needing- but WANTING something more than what you had?


For me, the year was 6th grade.  What I desperately wanted:

White Reebok "princess sneakers"


White Reebok "princess sneakers" (yes, they really were called that.) White leather, pale pink lining: perfection. "All" the girls had them and as the quiet girl on the fringes, I wanted them so I would fit in with the crowd just as much as I wanted them because they were cute.

What my kind-hearted and frugal mom bought me:

"Bright blue" Reebok sneakers

"Bright Blue" (yes, they really were called that) Reebok sneakers. They were on sale for a few dollars less than the princess style, so she snatched up the deal. Part of me was really grateful- they were super comfy and probably the most expensive shoes I'd owned up to that point. BUT there was no "fitting in" with those shoes. The other 6th grade girls started making fun of them from day 1. Were they "enough?" Yes- more than. Was I content? Not really.

This fall in Faithful Families we've been reading "The Gift of Enough: Raising Grateful Kids in a Culture of Excess" by Marianne Miller. http://www.christianbook.com/enough

The Gift of Enough by Marianne Miller book cover

We've been talking about the power we have as parents to instill in our children the strength to combat today's materialistic culture with hearts of gratitude. If you're older than your mid-twenties, remember the peer pressure of your youth? Take that, and now add to it the constant "always on" comparison pressure from digital access and social media that today's generation of kids and teens face. As those who care about the next generation, our wisdom and encouragement is needed now more than ever!

Although we know we live in a culture that idolizes excess, this is not a new issue. Paul writes in Philippians 4, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." He knew it was human nature to be discontent. As Christians, we know that there is no true contentment in this world apart from a life in Christ. However, we live in a world that tells us there is not true contentment apart from our stuff.

We're enjoying this book because the author, who has experience as a mom, financial counselor with Crown Financial Ministries, and has worked with teenagers in middle schools for many years, shares nuggets of practical wisdom she's learned along the way. 

She suggests a simple exercise to help us and our children understand the concept of "enough." Imagine with me a continuum which goes from SCARCITY to ENOUGH to ABUNDANCE to TOO MUCH. She contends that if we fail to understand and teach enough, we can't expect an appreciation of abundance. 




Pile of M&M candy


If I told you that you could eat as many M&Ms as you wanted, which pile would you choose? There are four choices: 
Scarcity-Enough-Abundance-Too Much illustrated in M&Ms

Which did you choose? Would you feel grateful to receive that amount of candy? Why? Take a look at the pile labeled "too much." What might happen if you ate that all at once? I can tell you from personal experience, there is definately such a thing as "too much" grape pop. Let's just say that after about 3 cans straight at a family reunion as a kid, I haven't touched the stuff since. Too much is never good for the person who gets too much. Sadly, the news headlines today are dominated with the story of yet another materially wealthy celebrity who has self-destructed as the result of too much. 

So many of us really don't understand the concept of "enough," which means when we receive abundance we're not overly excited or grateful about it. Back to my shoes- my mom thought she was giving me abundance- name brand sneakers! I struggled to see it that way because they weren't exactly what I wanted.

Imagine I'm sitting next to you in church right now. If I leaned over and handed you a couple of M&Ms would you be happy about it? Sure! It would be an unexpected surprise! In this situation, where a sweet treat is unexpected, it would feel as good as getting a giant pile! Our expectations in situations impacts our happiness. This basic lesson can lead into a much broader conversation about observing the people around us and whether they're content with what they have or always wanting more. Where does our identity come from- our stuff, or our position as a child of God? 

One final suggestion. Try out the word "enough" at home this week. Maybe it means thinking through the meaning of enough in one simple area of your own life- enough T-shirts, enough time watching TV or gaming, enough eating out. If you have kids, use it in conversation. "One brownie is enough." "You have enough stuffed animals." Help set reasonable expectations.

If this is a challenge (and it probably will be!), remember Paul's words: "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

What's an area of your life that could use some defining of enough? I'd love to hear your thoughts!