His Plan is Better

Want to know something embarrassing? My very first email address was pro1921@juno.com. At first glance, that may sound embarrassing, but let me explain. It referred to Proverbs 19:21, which says: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” In high school I claimed that as my verse.

It was pretty fitting because I learned that just because I plan on something doesn’t mean it will happen. A hard lesson, as I’ve always been a planner. Ever since high school, I’ve learned and re-learned no matter how much you plan, things rarely go according to plan.

I’m often thankful things didn’t go the way I had planned because I’ve seen how God’s plan is better for me. Over the past few months I’ve been reminded of how planning and anticipating that life will look a certain way is often met by a reality that doesn’t match and it has left me leaning on God in new ways.

We were anticipating that my husband would begin an internship at our church this fall and that would change his “job.” All summer we worked to fund raise his salary for the internship and planned that he would quit his part-time job at Home Depot to work for the church while he’s also taking classes.

For the past year and a half, the Home Depot job presented its fair share of challenges, with its retail schedule changing from week-to-week, so we never knew his work schedule more than two weeks out. By early August, it appeared we would not have the full funding raised for him to quit his job at Home Depot and rely solely on a small income from the internship.

A week before the internship was to start, a full-time position opened at Home Depot and it was one of the few roles there with a set weekly schedule. It appealed to Brandon because it was only Monday through Friday and the hours wouldn’t change from week to week.

At first I thought he was crazy to want to work more hours. That would mean balancing four graduate courses, the church internship and a 40 hour/week job? After some consideration, prayer, and a conversation with our pastor, Brandon applied for the full-time position and, by God’s grace, he got it.

Balancing these multiple roles is not what we thought this fall would look like, but we are so grateful for the opportunities that have opened up.

We also had hoped to buy a second car this fall, to alleviate the strain of sharing one car in the suburbs. We looked at a few cars and even considered selling the one car we do own to be able to put two down payments on two older cars. While talking to a friend from church about this idea, she suggested we use their third vehicle that had been sitting un-registered in the driveway for months. After some discussion, we arranged a plan to use their car.

Last week was our first as a two-car couple. I am so grateful for God’s provision of both a job that allows Brandon a consistent schedule from one week to the next, and a car that allows me not to have to go in early or work late based on when I can get a ride. He has blessed us with more than we could have imagined in this season.

Although God’s purpose may not be fully clear to me right now, I find myself trusting Him more with each day. He provided in ways I would not have imagined and I am privileged to be part of His story and look forward to experiencing more of His plan each day.

How has God surprised you with his good and perfect plan lately?

 

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…but ALSO…

Nothing surprises me about our house anymore.

We bought our house one year ago, when we moved from Northern California to Vermont. We chose it because, of the 11 houses we looked at during a marathon 3-day house-hunting visit, this was the house that appeared to need the least amount of work.

Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, we love it. Yes, I hope that all of our children will grow up here and have wonderful memories. And yes, I plan to stay in this house until it no longer makes sense to do so.

But I’ve started to think of it fondly as the “. . . but ALSO” house. As in: whenever we have any work done on the house, the contractor will inevitably pull me aside at some point and say, “Well, we’re working on the roof . . . but ALSO you should know that you’ll be needing a paint job within the next year.” And then the painter will say, “We’re washing and sanding your siding . . . but ALSO you should know that the wood on this side of the house is completely rotted out. . . .”

It never ends.

I suspect this is true of most houses. Building is a complicated business, and houses are made of many parts. Our friend Cris is a builder, and he’s very knowledgeable about his craft. This past summer, after surveying part of our house with Cris, my husband explained to me exactly why one of our external walls is rotting away: it had something to do with adding a deck made from one kind of pressurized wood to the house, which was built with another kind of pressurized wood, and using the wrong kind of nails to attach things. At least I think that’s what my husband told me; what I mostly understood was his conclusion: “It’s amazing how many different things have to come together for a house to work just right.”

My husband was explaining this to me during week when we were both feeling a lot like “. . . but ALSO” houses. I was coming off of a rough patch of mothering, trying to figure out whether I should focus on writing or get a “real job,” and questioning what I was doing with my life. My husband, during this same period, had thrown out his neck and had an article rejected from an academic journal for the third time. We each felt like we were poorly constructed out of parts that didn’t fit together the way they should.

So when my husband explained the complicated factors involved in building a house, he wasn’t only talking about our house; he was talking about our lives. And just as I suspect that most houses are “. . . but ALSO” houses, I suspect that we’re all “. . . but ALSO” people. No matter how together we may look on the outside, everyone that I know — myself included — is walking around with a bit of a broken heart on the inside. The reasons our hearts are broken vary widely: a lost relationship, an unsatisfying career, a life that didn’t turn out the way we expected, or just the daily little sorrows that add up over time. We might not look like fixer-uppers, but I think we all feel that our lives are made from incompatible wood hung together with the wrong kind of nails.

That’s how we feel. But unlike our actual house, I don’t believe that’s how God sees our lives. See, when we first looked at our house, we thought it was in great shape. Paint, wallpaper, and wooden shingles covered up the parts that were rotting or cracked or unsound. But our lives are just the opposite: we feel like we’re falling apart at the seams, but I think that when God looks at us, He says, “AH, it’s all going exactly according to the plans.” All those poor choices, moments of soul darkness, things that didn’t make any sense to us at the time — we think these things are scraps smacked together with push pins, but God stands back and sees that it’s really a dream-house taking shape. HIS dream-house; He’s the architect.

I hope that maybe you’ll think of this the next time you’re despairing over what you’re doing with your life: that lives, like houses, are made up of a LOT of different parts. Like houses, it’s amazing that our lives hold together at all. We look closely and see a huge mess . . . but ALSO there’s a blueprint, and somehow your mess fits perfectly into that blueprint. I can’t explain exactly how this happens, but I know it’s true when I look back on the things I once thought threatened the structural integrity of my life, only to see that they’re now part of the foundation. As my husband says, “God’s a much better builder than the people who built our house.”

Thank God.

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Making Room

The nuclear family.

The term refers to a very specific family unit structure including mother, father, and child. It is essentially the operating system for a functioning family, excluding the outside help or influence of others. It is a very Western approach that is uncommonly found around the rest of the world. In many places, relying on an extension of immediate family is an everyday practice and necessity. Because of our culture in America and the way our lives are built, we have become very internal in the way we handle our affairs.

I recently had the chance to go home to Texas to visit my sister upon the arrival of her son, Micah. I spent three days playing with my nieces, cleaning my sister’s house, and letting her take naps to catch up on some of her sleep. By the end of the trip, I was exhausted, but in a good way. I had a lot on my plate at home and a lot of responsibilities that were put on hold so that I could leave town for a few days, but the stress of it all was relieved in my ability to focus on someone else and what they needed. It made my burden lighter to make a sacrifice for something that was worthy of sacrifice.

While I was sweeping the floor in my sister’s kitchen, I was struck by my own “get it done” attitude in my personal life. I do not often ask for help, much less think about it. My husband and I address needs and problems as they come with what we have. With the exception of asking for an occasional babysitter, we typically manage in whatever way we can.

Lately, this has been more difficult to do because I started back to school this fall and my husband’s work has been all-consuming. All of it has not only squashed my social life, but it has sapped whatever free time at home that I’ve had. Dishes pile up. Laundry baskets overflow. Nights get later and later and mornings get earlier and earlier. It has forced me to ask for help more than I usually do. I’ve had to put away my pride and instead of asking myself if I should be able to do it all, I’ve had to ask myself if I can do it all.

If we can break out of the nuclear mindset and balance it with a more communal approach to family, I believe we may all be less overwhelmed and more connected. As with any philosophy, being radical is not the answer. There are great benefits to the nuclear approach that get lost in extreme community-based management. There are good and bad in both, which is why a balance of extremes is usually most productive.

Aside from being willing to ask for help, the bigger question is whether we are willing to return the favor. Sometimes, supporting each other can turn into score keeping and grudge building, but give and take is essential to successfully reaching out and accepting help from friends and extended family. It means noticing when a loved one needs something, realistically assessing whether you can commit to meeting that need, and then voluntarily being inconvenienced to follow through. In our busy lives, this can be a huge challenge.

I am on a personal mission to let my tendency to control go when it comes to having it all together on the home and family front. I also want to be more of a stable support to the people that I love, when I can be. It will require a lot of things from me — some of them interpersonal and some of them practical, but all will take sacrifice. Hopefully the result will be a little more room in my life to serve others and the ability to reap the blessing of others serving our family, without the guilt or fear it sometimes brings.

A few things to remember:

  • Be realistic. You may want to serve the people around you more but keep in mind that you cannot possibly meet every need and answer every distress call. There are only so many hours in the day and you have to use wisdom.
  • Be careful with commitments. With the previous point in mind, be sure to only commit to what you can truly carry out.
  • Don’t put expectations on people. Just because you want to operate more communally does not mean that others do. Live your life the way you choose and let others choose for themselves.
  • This is just a season! Busyness comes in waves throughout life. You may be the one asking for help now, but you won’t always be. And if you are the one giving the help, remember that you may also find yourself in need of it one day.

Do your best, as you can, and when you can’t, dial a family member’s or a friend’s number. If you are the one getting the call, make an effort to make some room. Next time you need someone, you may benefit from the culture of service that you are helping to develop.

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Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Family, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships | Leave a comment

To Vote or Not to Vote?

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” – John F. Kennedy

This week I’m sending in my absentee voter ballot. Not because I’m going to be absent on Election Day, but because my husband and I have found over the years it’s far more convenient to do vote-by-mail and eliminate all the excuses to not actually cast our votes on the big day. I’m all for convenience.

I have to admit, election season excites me, and it’s not because of the brutal sparring matches we get to witness on our candidates’ campaign trails. It’s because free and fair elections are one of the primary pillars of what defines a true democracy, and I have the privilege of participating in that when I cast my vote. For me, every time the nation votes, it’s an historical moment.

But every election season I hear the same things from various friends and acquaintances: “Why even bother? Our votes don’t count anyway.” Or “I’m not political, so I don’t vote.”

I like to refer to these things as “myths”, because they are common misperceptions, but they simply are not true. Maybe some clarification on how things work will help.

First, let’s get the “non-political” point out of the way. I understand people don’t like to include themselves in the messiness of politics. Often people like to “stay out of it” because their social circle can’t manage to respectfully debate and/or disagree politically and still stay friends. This is truly a shame, but a different topic for a different day.

The thing is, it’s impossible to be “non-political”. Politics is you. It is me. Its sole and entire purpose is for and about the citizens. It determines every single law that affects your life, from the paved streets you drive on, to the schools you or your kids attend, to the taxes on your entertainment center, to your ability to get inexpensive prescription drugs, to your freedom to choose what religion you ascribe to. Every freedom we so often take for granted is there because it’s protected by a law, and can just as easily be taken away. Every job you get, or DON’T get, is there because our system allows for it, or doesn’t allow for it. There are so many minute details I could go into, but to say you have nothing to do with politics is simply untrue, and essentially, an oxymoron. You have EVERYTHING to do with politics, even if you don’t know it or don’t want it.

Next, why bother voting if our votes don’t even count?

Just a brief overview of how our electoral system works: We have this thing called the Electoral College to elect the nation’s top two political spots: president and vice president. This is also another topic for another day, but the college is basically people who are representatives of the larger body to cast votes for us based on how the larger body votes. It’s a winner-take-all system in MOST states. In my state of California, the majority of voters historically vote democrat, so our state’s Electoral College delegates vote democrat.

But what if we had all of these republicans who just didn’t vote, and if they did, CA might not be entirely blue (democrat)? (Obviously unlikely, but just an idea.) OR, what happens when the Electoral College votes one way, but the overall popular vote goes another way? The Electoral College still votes in the president and VP, but when the overall popular vote goes the opposite way, it sends a clear message to the new president: the majority of America is looking for something very different than what he/she has to offer. This person would be wise to take very serious note of that.

So what happens if half of the nation doesn’t vote? Or even a quarter? What kind of accurate gauge does that give our leaders of what we want? It doesn’t. At all. In order for our modern-day nation to run as closely as possible to how it was originally designed, we must cast our votes, plain and simple.

Now, for all other elections, including Congress, state leaders, state ballot measures, the Electoral College is no longer in the picture, and your individual vote counts. Things like: funding for colleges, definition of marriage, the death penalty, etc., can be found on your ballot and you get to give your personal stamp of approval or disapproval. Seeing as how all of these issues will have an impact on you, your family, and your family’s future, I would say it’s pretty personal, and therefore important to participate in.

Let me put it this way: if there is anything on this earth that is important to you or you have a conviction about or belief in, the government has the ability to regulate it. And you have the ability to stand for or against that.

So, what’s the moral of the story? VOTE. Do it. Well, inform yourself first. Then vote.

Election Day this year is Tuesday, November 6th, so you still have time to do your research and make informed decisions.

Here are some links that might be helpful in your process:

Republican Party Platform
Democrat Party Platform
More about Electoral College
Learn about Mitt Romney
Learn about Barack Obama

Please leave your comments and let me know why YOU think voting is important!

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Posted in Current Events, Politics | Leave a comment

Oxtail and Barley Soup to Welcome Fall

I was giddy walking to my car yesterday. I was cold. Yes, cold. Funny how you can forget that sensation during the summer. Cold is so welcomed in the fall and then so disdained come late March.

So in celebration of fleeces, Uggs, and waaaaaay too many Pinterest fall decor and craft ideas . . . I give you one of my most comforting soups. Perfect to come home to after a Sunday drive through the country, after waiting in the cold for your kid’s coach to wrap up practice, or after an afternoon of apple picking.

Oxtail and Barley Soup (by Ina Garten)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds beef oxtails
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 chopped leeks, white and light green parts
4 carrots (1/2-inch) diced
1 chopped yellow onion
2 large stalks (1/2-inch) diced celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
3 bay leaves
10 cups canned beef broth
1 cup pearled barley

For more step-by-step instructions with mouth-watering pictures, visit The Joyful Table…

Photo property of Noelle Ritter

Posted in Food & Drink, Recipes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment