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A friend shared this post on Facebook awhile back, and it resonated with me:

When folks gather around a system of shared beliefs, the price of acceptance in the group is usually agreement, which means the greatest value—stated or not—is being right. Unfortunately, this often creates an atmosphere of fear and performance, which in turn invites conformity.

But when people gather around a shared need for healing, the price of acceptance in the group is usually vulnerability, which means the greatest value—stated or not—is being real. This tends to foster an atmosphere of safety and participation, which in turn invites community.

via The Promise of Shared Brokenness – Heather Kopp.

I’ve always gravitated toward vulnerability, so it doesn’t surprise me that I’m drawn to all kinds of relationships, regardless of racial, socio-economic, or religious perspectives — though I’ve never quite put my finger on describing it this way until I contemplated the above quote.

As I reflect on my relationships — both intimate and less so —  the common denominator in most of my friendships doesn’t appear to be a specific culture, belief system, or even Jesus.

I think I just like people who are real.

You can be real about being gay or straight, you can be real about believing or not believing in Jesus, you can be real about being rich or poor — just be real, and we’ll probably be friends.

I love Mars Hill.

I began attending in my late 20′s, way back in the 90′s. I served alongside Mark Driscoll for many years as a volunteer, and eventually became his assistant. It was an exciting time for all of us. As a team, we put the first .mp3′s on the Mars Hill web site, the foundation for today’s podcasts that reach so many people around the world. We restructured the website in an era before “content marketing” was a thing, putting fresh content on the homepage every Tuesday. We wrote our own music and arrangements because we believed that we were sub-creators of God, our ultimate Creator.

Mark Driscoll mentored me alongside other young men and women who served at the time, and my life is better because of how he connected a theoretical gospel to my real, practical, every day life.

Prior to my time at MH I wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my life, nor did I have a plan or a vision for finding something meaningful to do. I’m thankful for the push MH gave me to try my hand at ministry – to fail, to try again, and to iterate through to what I eventually understood was my calling, which is to mentor, write, and facilitate conversations that help connect disparate groups of people.

We used to read books like The Celtic Way of Evangelism and Resident Aliens. These are books about living in and loving the culture, about influencing the culture with the Gospel rather than separating ourselves from the culture and building walls that defined us vs. them. 

As a young woman who grew up feeling disconnected in an evangelical churchy church, these books and the mission of Mars Hill helped me realize I wasn’t called to service within the church, but to the marketplace and to the culture. I was meant to live among, work along side, and socialize with the people around me in this city. 

As the years went on, I became troubled by cultural lines drawn in the sand regarding yoga, teen vampire books, Obama, and the characterization of a “Richard Simmons hippy queer Christ.”

The church that once sent me on a mission to the culture slowly became a hinderance to that mission as Bryan and I fielded questions from non-believing friends about why this Jesus Mark talked about sounds more like Glenn Beck and less like the Jesus we keep talking about. They were confused. One atheist friend said something to the affect of, “You (Bryan) and Jen are the first Christians I’ve met that I can’t dismiss, yet I don’t understand [insert inflammatory topic voiced by Mark on twitter] – that doesn’t mirror this Jesus you keep telling me about. “

This was the beginning of the end of our time at Mars Hill, when I realized we were spending more time defending Mark’s careless words and less time addressing the true stumbling block of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ himself.

The final straw for me was when Mars Hill Central pulled all programs from the Downtown Seattle campus that were unique to the mission of that neighborhood — like the Christmas coat lunch, for example. It was at this point that I realized Mars Hill had completely abandoned the original mission its name was founded upon from Acts 17 where Paul demonstrated love for the culture, blessed the culture, and used the culture to reveal a path to Jesus in a way that people could understand and connect with.

This was Mars Hill’s inspiration back in the day, and this was the life work I was called to. But the mission to contextualize the Gospel to a specific neighborhood culture (which I understood was the original vision for localized campuses) gave way to branding a universal Mars Hill entity that was common at all locations (think: Starbucks for churches).

I grieve Mars Hill’s departure from my life over a year ago, because I loved my church and I thought we’d be on mission together until I was old and gray. I thought my participation in building the mission of Mars Hill would be a legacy left for my children and grandchildren. How foolish I was to put so much faith in a human institution led by sinful men (as I am also sinful)! The true legacy I leave for my children is a love for Jesus and his Word, and a pursuit of a true Gospel community. 

I will always love you, Mars Hill, like a school girl remembers her first crush. But I choose to continue forward on the mission God gave me through your influence, even if you choose another direction.

I recently had lunch with Amy Balliett, co-founder of Killer Infographics. It was great to meet another female business owner and get a little pep talk from someone who is now experiencing growth, but started out struggling, just like anyone else.

It was just what I needed.

Earlier this year I realized I make an extremely unlikely CEO. I took a talent insight assessment test to map my behavior and motivators, and it revealed that I’m a very passionate person who is loyal to a great leader and/or a great cause.

In other words, I follow well.

But instead of feeling discouraged by this epiphany, I found it to be a huge relief. It explained why I kept waiting around for someone else to tell me what to do next to grow the business — I was that someone else!

The assessment also helped me understand my strengths, and now I’m on a mission to improve my areas of weakness.

office with a view

I spend my evenings studying up on strategic planning.

“The two most important attributes of effective leaders are their abilities to predict and to delegate.”

This quote is from Verne Harnish in, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, a book that Amy recommend I read.

Turns out that I’m terrible at both of those things. I’m a control freak, and I prefer observation over prediction.

But the ability to predict and delegate is not an impossible thing for me to learn, and maybe my first big act of delegation is to give someone else the job of predicting!

The point is, I’m passionate about helping people and businesses tell their stories, and I love running a small business with people I love. With my strengths shored up, I’m ready to tackle the learning curve so I can be who I am and do what I love, successfully.

Many thanks to Amy for her pep talk, and to Shandel at True Life Coaching, who provided the talent insights assessment and interpretation.

I’m currently in Las Vegas.

Sorry, I should have started with a little more pizzaz…

JEN ZUG DOES VEGAS!

(If “does” is code for “reading a book in various locations within a one block square radius,” then that statement is totally accurate).

I might be the least Vegassy person I know, but I am nonetheless enjoying myself, not to mention that when I got here, I saw this guy for the first time in over a week:

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He is here on business as part of the core team at UP Global that is hosting the UP Summit. Holy cow are these people amazing! Over 500 enthusiastic, motivated, smart, and extroverted people from around the globe who are all excited about infecting the world with their startup culture.

The summit started Thursday, so after a few days of lounging around the pool, I’m excited to be learning and connecting with some great people.

Speaking of lounging around the pool…

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After arriving late afternoon on Tuesday, Bryan had a dinner meeting to attend, so I went down to the pool to read my book. All the lounge chairs around the pool were taken, but there was an entire section of empty chairs behind a red chain and I was all, Maybe that chain is just to make sure people fill up the other chairs first – like they sometimes do in church to make everyone sit toward the front – so clearly it’s okay for me to sit here now that they’re all full.

Well, apparently I entered a restricted cabana area. But a kind young security guard with a rather large walkie-talkie said that if I book a day in advance I can get this area for $100 cheaper!

Cheaper than what?? I didn’t ask, because that would have blown my cover as someone who goes to Vegas all the time.

So I apologized for not seeing the chain earlier (when I stepped over it) and moved to a chair in the non-cabana area. At that point I realized the $100-cheaper-than-something price gets you a cool mist spray from above, which the chairs in the regular area don’t have. This is an important detail, mind you, because it was 100 degrees as the sun was setting.

I totally felt like I was sitting third class on the Titanic, about to sink into heat stroke while first class guests are misted with a dewy spray.

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To prevent my nose and the part in my hair from burning in this unrelenting sun, I wanted to bring a hat to Vegas. The trouble is, I don’t have a cute sun hat, nor did I buy one before leaving.

I do that sometimes. I sabotage my intentions by doing absolutely nothing about them.

Here’s a fun experiment. Take a person who is never alone and is terrible at making decisions and drop her off at the airport alone with a backpack and a ticket to Vegas. You know what she might do? She might step into the cutest airport store ever to try on hats for wearing by the pool in her swimsuit, then become paralyzed because do you buy the practical hat you can wear with anything or the fun hat you can only wear by the pool because nothing else in your suitcase will go with orange plaid?

Keep in mind this person agonizes over the purchase of a single pair of shoes every four years or so because that one pair of shoes has to last for at least one Presidential term, be comfortable, and look equally good when worn to the grocery store or “out on the town” (do the kids still say “out on the town” or am I showing my age?) because GOD FORBID this person spend the money to buy situationally specific shoes for herself. At this point the odds are stacked against the fun hat or buying both hats because HELLO: one hat to rule them all until the next presidential election.

To be safe, this person might phone a friend, as it were, by texting pictures of both hats, and this friend might be completely unhelpful by pointing out all the wildly cute things you can wear with the orange plaid hat, causing your utilitarian, depression-era-frugal mind to explode from all the irresponsible ideas being suggested, but when faced with the possibility of what could be, you turn around and walk all the way back down Concourse C to exchange the practical hat for the fun hat, but not before trying them both on again several times, then walking out of the store with the practical hat again, the one you bought in the first place that represents all that is the opposite of dropping a woman off at an airport alone with a ticket to Vegas.

Here’s the hat I ended up with:

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My final lesson learned was the next morning – Wednesday – when went back down to the pool around 11:00.

I’d brought my sunscreen with me and began rubbing it all over my legs, arms, and chest. I’m sure applying sunscreen is a sexy experience for some demographics, but those of us with a lot of surface to cover and minor difficulty with flexibility, it probably looks a little like a giant bear trying to relieve an itch by rubbing up against a tiny tree trunk.

It was not a very flattering experience trying to get sunscreen all the way around my thigh. How else can you do this except by throwing your leg up in the air while rubbing yourself in areas that aren’t normally included in your public appearances?

(YOU’RE WELCOME FOR THE VIEW, FELLOW SUNBATHERS!)

If you know of any YouTube instructional videos on how to do this, I’d appreciate a link.

Needless to say, from that point on I applied sunscreen before I left the hotel room.

My vacation awkwardness leads me to consider two action points:

1) I need to go on vacation more often, or

2) I should never be allowed to go on vacation ever again.

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Interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Mom
I heard this interview in the car on the Friday of Mother’s Day weekend, and it’s delightful. Please take 13 minutes to listen.

Here’s my big takeaway from Toni Tyson: Be vigilant.

She said it was a full time, 24/7 job to help her kids navigate through life as a black family in the city. There were many instances when Neil was discouraged from pursuing opportunities, either because he was black or because someone didn’t think he was smart enough.

She said when things came up, they had to “get on it immediately,” and that it was a constant vigilance to keep her kids focused so they didn’t grow bitter.

As a parent, I don’t deal with race issues, but I deal with tween girl drama, raging hormones, gossip, insecurities, identity issues, and the like.

I immediately connected with Toni Tyson’s description of being a vigilant parent and “getting on” that stuff as it happens. It’s emotionally exhausting and time consuming, and sometimes I wonder if other parents think I’m a little too involved, but it’s an investment in their character I trust will pay off as my kids get older.

So often when I hear or read interviews like this about amazing people, I feel inspired for a moment, but then I feel discouraged because my life doesn’t come close to measuring up, and there’s little about their story that I can connect and apply to my own situation.

I felt differently about this interview.

Toni doesn’t come off as some kind of superhero with superhuman character strengths or qualities that I can look up to and appreciate but never attain. Rather, she comes off as intentional and vigilant with a side of discernment about people.

And that’s something I can relate to and act upon.

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The song Stereo Hearts shuffled into the mix today – that’s the one where Adam Levine sings the hook. These lyrics jumped out at me:

Furthermore, I apologize for any skipping tracks
It’s just the last girl that played me left a couple cracks
I used to, used to, used to, used to, now I’m over that
‘Cause holding grudges over love is ancient artifacts

These lyrics caught my attention because of 1) people around me who are hurting, and 2) people around me who are inconsiderate of hurting people.

It’s just the last church that played me left a couple cracks.

1) People who are hurting.

Please guard your vulnerability. Don’t close it off or shut it down, but guard it carefully. I recently saw Brene Brown interview with Chase Jarvis and she talked about her List. She carries a list in her wallet of people whose opinion matters to her, and when she starts to feel the weight of criticism and shame from others, she pulls out her list to remember who her Truth-tellers are.

If you have been hurt by someone and choose to tell your story, there will be some people who don’t believe you, who don’t think it’s that big a deal, who think you’re crazy, and/or think you should just let it go or otherwise be quiet about it.

If these people are not in the trenches with you or on your List of trusted Truth tellers, fight for your sanity and let go of their criticisms.

If you’re hurting, your record is gonna gonna gonna gonna skip a little for awhile, and some people just won’t get it.

2) People who are inconsiderate of hurting people.

Stop it.

Just… stop it.

Stop telling people that it’s gossip to share their personal story.

Stop cultivating a culture of shame and suspicion around people who are hurting.

Stop dismissing the pain hurting people feel without listening to their story first hand.

Stop assuming that hurting people have a divisive agenda.

Stop minimizing the pain of hurting people by explaining away the circumstances of their experience.

If you are in the presence of a hurting person, you have the opportunity to:

listen,
show compassion,
express empathy,
encourage,
point them to the healing work of Jesus and his holy spirit,
…and shut up about everything else.

If you overhear the story of someone’s pain, you have the opportunity to:

call or write that person to ask how they’re doing,
listen,
show compassion,
express empathy,
encourage,
point them to the healing work of Jesus and his holy spirit,
…and shut up about everything else.

Hurting people are gonna gonna gonna gonna skip a little for awhile. What they need most is your patience and presence while the cracks smooth out.

Here’s the Brene Brown video in full (with Bryan being a total fanboi int he front row):

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This Sunday in church, some friends read Psalm 139 as a meditation to start the service. It was a friendly reminder from the Lord that even when I feel misunderstood and unheard, he knows my thoughts even before I say them out loud.

I struggle with a child-like need to be understood, and nothing derails my day more than the inner turmoil that comes from being unable to explain myself.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be understood — especially by those close to me — but the lie I believe in the midst of it is that I have the power to win people over to my point of view if I could just make them understand.

Sometimes I can’t see that my point of view is wrong. Sometimes I can’t convince a listener that their point of view is wrong. Sometimes I can’t get anyone to listen at all. But I’m learning to say what I feel needs to be said, then release it into God’s hands.

I’m learning that, for me, the hardest part of following Jesus is being content that his unconditional love and intimate knowledge of my inner thought-life is enough.

It’s a painful, heart wrenching lesson, and each time I release the burden I feel like a child who wails in that instant her hand opens up to release the string of a balloon. She panics as it floats away, but then is mesmerized by the way it dances in the wind and floats against the blue sky.

It really is a beautiful thing to let go of a burden, if we can just open our hand and trust the wind.

Hearing Psalm 139 read out loud on Sunday felt like Jesus speaking audibly to me. I know your heart, he said. Let me heal it for you. Trust me that I can comfort you more than you realize.

Here’s an excerpt of the full passage:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord , you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

This week my Facebook feed exploded with discussions about Mars Hill Church and its senior leadership, which quickly turned into a debate on several threads over the nature of such discussions happening on Facebook (or anywhere public, for that matter).

As I read through it all like a gawker who can’t look away from a highway pile-up, I noticed four myths about conflict in the church that I’d like to debunk.

1) It’s wrong to talk about this in public, and Facebook isn’t the right venue.

We live in an era in which the use of technology is growing at a faster rate than policy about the use of technology.

For example, if a fourteen year old girl texts a booby picture to her boyfriend, she can be prosecuted under distribution of child pornography laws and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. This is because there’s currently no law in the murky middle between foolish girl and sinister pervert.

The ambiguity of this murky middle makes people nervous about things like social media. We like it for sharing our lunch and cat photos. We like it for expressing joy in the weather, quoting a book passage or sermon, and posting quiz results for which Game of Thrones character we are.

But when someone uses social media to shine light into the darkness, we get uncomfortable. We wonder, is this gossip? Is this public shaming?

I’m not saying anybody’s showing their boobies, but we are trying to figure out how to be the body of Christ in this age and how to be a Gospel community.

In Matthew 18, Jesus outlines clear direction regarding the public discussion of sin. He says:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

So the step I suppose we’re all unclear about is, “tell it to the church.” In this day and age when content marketing and social media strategies abound, who or what is “the church,” and where should this discussion take place?

First of all, the church is described in the Bible as a group of people, not a building. The bride of Christ, the people of God, and so forth. By this definition, we’re not confined to having this discussion within the four walls of a building.

Great, so who are the people of this church?

Mars Hill would define its local church body by its membership, which is defined on their site as members of the family who “participate as the church: sacrificing time, talents, and treasure; committing to the care and community of their fellow members; and submitting to the authority God has established to lead our congregation.”

The tricky thing is, there’s currently is no forum for public discussion of the hard things that have surfaced over the years within the body of Mars Hill that I know of, and there hasn’t been for many many years. Church wide meetings are tightly controlled with scripted information going out and no opportunity to ask questions or dialogue.

In general, community discussion is not encouraged, and questions are not welcomed. Quite the opposite, actually, as those who ask tough questions are frequently labeled as dissenters.

So when it comes to the step Jesus describes in Matthew 18, “tell it to the church,” it’s still unclear how we are to Biblically address a grievance within the body when the first two steps have failed.

Well shit. Now what?

Mars Hill is a church that 1) utilizes technology to broadcast its message around the world, 2) uses social media tools like twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Instagram to communicate its values and mission, and 3) recognizes that a high percentage of “followers” are by those who don’t physically attend a local Mars Hill campus.

By embracing technology and social media to broadcast worldwide, and by shutting down public discourse within the membership, it stands to reason that people online can be considered part of the church, and that Facebook is a reasonable vehicle for asking questions, pursuing accountability, and seeking reconciliation.

2) You’re just bitter and out to get Pastor Mark.

I’m sure there are many people who fit into this category, so how can you tell whether someone is acting out of love or bitterness? Technically you can’t, because only God knows the motive of our hearts. But the way we talk about conflict can offer up some clues as to how our heart is leaning.

First of all, the point of Matthew 18 is to confront a friend who has sinned against you so that he or she can repent and the two of you can be reconciled. It’s an act of grace the offended friend offers the offender so the conflict doesn’t ruin the friendship or further divide the larger body through gossip.

Confronting a friend who sinned against you is an act of love. Watching that friend continue in unrepentance is sad. And the broken relationship is painful.

Chances are, the words and actions that come from a person who loves the friend who offended, is sad they won’t repent, and is in pain over a broken relationship, won’t focus on retribution or revenge, but on rescuing that friend from his or her own destruction.

Secondly, look for folks who skip steps one and two — the private confrontation alone and with witnesses — and go straight for a public soapbox to air their grievances. This is gossip and public shaming done by folks who don’t love someone enough to speak directly to them but merely have a bone to pick.

I’ve heard some say that people should just be quiet and let God take care of his church. But I wonder why we’re to assume that this current public discussion is not God taking care of his church!

People are hurting, and they’ve hit a brick wall in the system that Jesus himself gave us to bring about healing, repentance, and reconciliation.

If Mars Hill chooses to prevent any opportunity for “telling it to the church,” then technology and social media have provided a valid work-around for bringing to truth into the light.

3) You’re just jumping on a bandwagon or joining a crusade.

Don’t be fooled by my silence up to this point, lest you think I’m simply joining a drunken conga line. I’ve been praying for years for truth to overcome fear – not only for those who have been sinned against, but for those who are unrepentant (because I love them).

I was not personally sinned against by Mark or anyone at Mars Hill. But I know people who were sinned against — painfully, and with lifelong consequences — and have walked with them for years through the struggle to understand why repentance and reconciliation is so elusive.

I’ve been extremely impatient at the slowness of God to respond, and it’s very tempting almost every day to write about what I know.

I have a T-shirt that says, “Writing Well Is the Best Revenge.” It’s faded and worn where it rubs against my belt buckle, but I can’t bear to part with it because writing is my super power.

And yet, Christ called me to silence for a season because it’s not my story to tell.

But now that folks are “telling it to the church,” I support a healthy exposure of the truth for the purpose of reconciliation.

If all of this blows up, it will be a beautiful, glorious, mess, and God will be glorified because this is his church, and he takes care of her. If we look to the circumstances at face value, we fear and cry “gossip!” But if we lock eyes with “the one who sees our injustice” as Hagar did, we’re empowered to speak and live in the light without fear.

4) You shouldn’t talk bad about my church — Mars Hill changed my life!

I hear you. Mars Hill changed my life, too!

I was there for sixteen years – all of which I spent as a dedicated member who supported the vision and mission, and even spent some time on staff.

In the late 90′s, I came of age as a believer at Mars Hill. I am a smarter, more thoughtful, less cultural Christian because of things I learned at Mars Hill. I make friends with my neighbors, send my kids to public school, and moved into the city because of things I learned Mars Hill.

But as my friend, Wendy, says here, we’re all called to something much bigger than Mars Hill, so we need to be wise about our allegiance.

In that post she also provides a great analogy for something I’ve thought as well:

“During the years since I left the church, I’ve watched the branches of the Mars Hill tree grow even heavier with new believers as the root system of mature Christians desperately needed to disciple these converts continues to erode. It is only a matter of time before a wind rushes through and causes the entire tree to crash down. I perceive that these current controversies might finally be that wind, and I do not rejoice in that AT ALL.”

If you’re part of the body of Christ at Mars Hill and you haven’t experienced broken relationships because of unrepentant sin, rejoice!

But know that there are some among you who are experiencing broken relationships because of unrepentant sin. The correct response for you is to grieve with those friends, to encourage repentance, and to facilitate reconciliation.

There’s no need to be defensive or beat someone up because you think they talked smack about your sister. Truth transcends all earthly loyalties!

In conclusion…

I write this post — possibly my longest post ever — because I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love the Church, and I love sorting out the messy nuances of living as one who is rescued.

I welcome your comments and further discussion.

**If you have a negative comment, please be sure to give the benefit of the doubt on motive or tone to the blog author or readers who comment.

Anonymous comments are welcomed ONLY if you need a safe place to be honest about a burden or concern that you don’t feel free to share with your name. Anonymous critical comments will be deleted immediately. If you need to respond critically, please use your name.**

(I borrowed that comment policy from my friend, Wendy.)

Peace to you.

By day, I write other people’s stories. I consult with startups, small businesses, and enterprise companies about what problem they’re solving in the world, and I help them tell a story that other people can see themselves in — because when people can see themselves in your story, they’re more invested in you.

This is what Jesus sent his followers out in the world to do – to tell the story of how God rescues us, so that no matter what we’ve done to ourselves or others, we can see ourselves in God’s rescue plan.

But sometimes I forget to tell myself this story.

Not too long ago I spent a few days wallowing (shocking!) about what a rotten person I am. I definitely said and did some things that were legitimately rotten, but I soon discovered I was also believing a very dangerous lie.

I believed I would always be rotten, that there was no point trying to NOT be rotten, so I moped and grouched about and snapped at everyone because OBVIOUSLY I’M A ROTTEN PERSON.

Then one night as I as wrote in my journal about the stinking decay of my rottenness, I started to gross myself out with all the whining.

So I opened my Bible (finally!).

I went straight for Romans 3:23

…”for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…”

As a lifelong follower of Jesus, it’s easy for me to let his words fade into just… words. Even though I was tiring of my own despair, I still wasn’t able to see myself in God’s rescue story.

But God’s word is living and active, not stale and obsolete. If I couldn’t see myself in God’s story, I needed to re-tell it so I could:

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I made it to this version in three drafts, and the exercise pulled me out of the dark hole I was in.

This experience not only helped me, but it reminded me of how easy it is for Christians to alienate other people with our jargon and pat answers.

Oh, you did that really shitty thing? No worries! You’re justified in Christ!

Yes, it’s Truth, but if it’s so easy to disconnect ourselves from the Truth of the story, how much easier is it for those who don’t even know the story?

I’ve been struggling to find my way back into journaling. Maybe the best thing I can do is practice re-telling the story of God’s rescue plan to myself, my kids, and my friends.

I once heard that Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck every day so he didn’t spend any decision-making or creative energy choosing an outfit. I don’t know if that’s true, but it explains why I got tired of figuring out what to make for dinner every night.

When I started working again four years ago, I needed a way to simplify meal planning and shorten dinner prep time, because figuring out what to make each night and what to buy every week was draining me.

Meal planning recently came up in several different conversations, so I thought I’d share the system I created. Here it is, step by step:

1) I made a list of all the quick and easy meals my family likes.

Bryan and the kids helped make this list. We came up shy of a month’s worth of meals, so I filled in the rest with easy weeknight meals I found around the web. I’m slowly adding all these recipes to my blog and Pinterest page if you want to follow along there.

I completely revamp this list when the seasons change so we don’t end up eating beef stew in July, and I have a few dinners in my arsenal that take some effort for the weekends, or when I get a whim, or when company comes.

2) I organized all the meals using Google Calendar.

All the calendars for my family are in Google, so it made sense to incorporate our meal plan there. I organized the meals in a way that made sense for our family schedule. For instance, Tuesdays and Thursdays are crockpot meals because Ruthie used to have soccer practice from 5-6pm, and I didn’t have time for any dinner prep.

Monthly Meal Plan

3) I numbered the weeks 1-4.

This isn’t necessary, but it made it easier for me to do step #4.

4) I created a template grocery list.

I use the Shopper App for iPhone, which has a feature for creating template lists. I made a template for all the grocery items I need for Week 1, another list for Week 2, and so on. I also made a template for Weekly Staples we always have on hand, like milk, lunch & breakfast items, and wine.

5) On shopping day…

I double check the family calendar to see if I need to make any adjustments to the pre-set meal plan, then I copy the template items for that week over to my current shopping list, omitting anything I already have on hand.

6) I go shopping.

I know this sounds OCD, but it’s completely changed my life. On busy weeks, this is a no-brainer task I can fall back on. But if I’m feeling more adventurous or less busy or I have more time to think about it, I change it up with different meals and make a custom grocery list.

After about a year of doing this, I feel like it’s the best of both worlds: automated when I need it, flexible when I want it.

Do you plan your menu or make it up as you go?

Do You Journal?

journal

Last summer I tried to pick up journalling again.

It’s something I’ve done since childhood, but after I started blogging in 2005, I put more of my thoughts here than in a private little book.

Journalling allows me to be more raw; I can let the crazy out and not worry about lasting implications on the internet.

But even in that freedom, I still feel stuck.

Which brings me to you.

Do you journal? With paper and pen or an online app? Do you freeform your thoughts or follow a structure?

If you care to share, I’d love to hear from you.

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I found this post in my drafts folder from last Fall & decided it was ready to post.

The other day I heard a RadioLab podcast about a guy who had brain surgery to relieve him of seizures. A portion his brain was removed that acts like a “lid” on top of the desire center in his brain. This lid helps people filter and control their deep desires and impulses, like a conscience, or impulse control. Without this “lid,” he entertained and acted on every desire that came to him, and he did so with gusto.

As you can imagine, this eventually got him into hot water.

In some ways, I related to the story.

When I’m in a difficult moment, or in a difficult season, I have a hard time seeing my way out of it. I indulge that feeling of despair and just go with it, feeling like things will never change and I will always feel this way. It’s like I don’t have a lid that controls or filters my deepest despair.

And then I talk to a friend.

My friends are one of the many lids that filter my deepest despairing moments and remind me that I’m not alone, and that it won’t always be this way.

For instance, in the tough parenting moments (like now, for instance, when my kid won’t stop singing DO-DO-DO-DO despite my asking him to stop, like, A THOUSAND times) the floodgates of despair open and I lament the day I ever had kids.

Parenting would be easier without the kids, I joke with Bryan. But then I act on those thoughts by getting snippy with them just for walking into the room.

Friends remind me that all kids can be annoying, disobedient, whiners, not just mine, and then they point me to Jesus and tell me their own stories of bad parenting moments.

Through the “lid” of community, I can filter those moments as irritating, but not despairing. They’re normal. But when I’m isolated and avoid community, my own thoughts are the only reality check I have, and they quickly lead me to despair.

2013 Everyday (ish)

This year I had fun playing around with the Everyday App for iPhone, which prompts you to take a photo of yourself daily, then compiles all the photos into a movie. See below for my movie, or click here to view it on YouTube.

Photo Essay of 2012

Since 2013 is nearly over, I thought it was fitting that I post my unfinished year end photo essay from 2012. It was a really great idea that I spent one evening working on, but apparently taking TWO evenings to work on it was asking too much.

I hated that it was sitting unappreciated in my drafts folder, so in the spirit of “perfect is the enemy of done,” here is a five month photo essay from 2012:

january-2012

February-2012

february2-2012

march-2012

april-2012

May-2012

Thanksgiving Break(down)

This kids were out of school for the entire week of Thanksgiving to accommodate parent/teacher conferences. Even though my brain understood it was only three extra days off, my survival mechanism kicked it in as OH MAH GAH IT’S SUMMER VACATION ALL OVER AGAIN.

On Wednesday there was a mutiny over my refusal to pull out the Christmas decorations while also prepping a meal that involved 20 pounds of meat and more side dishes than I make in a week. The mutiny consisted of everyone in the house under forty years old chanting messages that were not a coordinated effort, but just before I lost my mind, Thomas suggested making snowflakes.

YES. I said. MAKE ALL THE SNOWFLAKES YOU WANT.

During the snowflake frenzy, I noticed that Thomas made a paper snowman and suggested they create a paper mural for our blank, dining room wall.

This very popular idea triggered a violent disagreement over who would be Creative Director, and I thought to myself… WHY DID YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH YOU INSANE TURKEY.

But I quickly had them sitting down to sketch out their own designs…

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… and they chose the winning design in an epic two-out-of-three rock/paper/scissor battle.

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And the best part is, no children were harmed in the making of this mural. I was able to just go with it and release the kids into their own creativity while giving them suggestions for problem solving,

A good time was had by all!

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