Go and Be Comfortable.

Yesterday, we spent the day doing the usual school routine and as I wound down for the afternoon, I could hear from the kitchen table that our neighbor was on his mower, cutting his grass.  I reminded myself I would probably need to do the same thing soon and carried on.  As early afternoon turned to late afternoon, I piled the six kids into the van to head for the soccer fields for back-to-back games for the three older kids.

That's when I noticed the mangled wiffle ball in the middle of our driveway.

At first, I thought, "Oh, he must have hit that with the mower and it landed in our yard."

Upon further inspection, however, there was not a single blade of cut grass anywhere on the driveway.  That chunked-up wiffle ball had been purposely placed there.

Apparently, he'd hit a wiffle ball on his mower and assumed it was ours.  I guess that seems reasonable.  We do have six kids and our driveway abuts his yard.  And sometimes, things roll down the natural elevation change into his yard.

The thing is, though, we don't even own any wiffle balls.  (We're a soccer/basketball family.)

So, my panties got twisted in a hurry.  Who does this guy think he is?!  He hits a wiffle ball with his mower, walks back to it, picks it up, assumes it ours to deal with, and tosses it in our driveway.  The NERVE!  It would have taken no more effort to throw it in his own trashcan or even our trashcan that was less than ten feet from the piece of junk's placement on our driveway.

Grumble, grumble, angry text messages to complain about it some more, grumble, grumble.  Consider passive-aggressive counter move of tossing it back into his yard.

My heart condition is the best.  (Can't you tell?)

Now let's rewind a few nights ago to when I was sitting around the house after finishing a Jen Hatmaker video series called "Pulling the Thread" after which I felt empowered to view my mission field as right where I'm planted.  It seems more genuine, more noble, somehow, to hop on a plane for the remotest areas of the world and tell others about Jesus, but is it really less noble or even less necessary to do the exact same thing right here in my home town?  Overseas, short-term missions are awesome.  The missionaries who serve overseas are amazing, and deserve our unrelenting support, but does that mean I need to beat myself up about not being able to go right now or yet?

I contend that it does not.

You see, I might be living in a prosperous, not-very-diverse area, but these middle-class/upper-middle-class white people have souls that need Jesus every bit as much.

It's true.  Don't be mad.

I don't pretend to know the heart condition of my neighbor.  Maybe he was just doing what he thought was the neighborly thing to do - he returned what he assumed to be our missing ball.

The point is, I have neighbors whose heart conditions I don't know.  I encounter people every single day in whose lives I can make a difference in some small or large way.  But I have to see them.  I have to encounter them.  I have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

I like my home.  I'm a homebody, and if it weren't for my adventurous husband dragging me out of my comfort zone on epic cross-country "field trips," I would probably never leave my kitchen table, or the familiar territory of the local Aldi, our home church, and the public library.  I don't think it's inherently wrong to like being home or to like familiarity, but I don't think it's okay to remain there and limit ourselves.  There's so much more to see and experience in this world, in our country, and even (perhaps, especially) in our home towns (where we spend the majority of our lives) when we dare to leave our own comfortable corner of it.  It's hard to think about others and recognize how others might view the world if everyone we see looks and thinks like us.

I just finished reading Kristen Welch's Raising Grateful Kids in and Entitled World and a few things have jabbed me like a knife.
Being others-oriented is about as countercultural as it gets.  Self-centeredness is so prevalent in our world that we don't even recognize it anymore.  We are a society of the entitled; we think we deserve whatever we have - and then some.  
Society screams me, and Jesus scream them.  Becoming others-oriented is not a matter of flipping a switch; it's a lifestyle you cultivate. 
I have a knack for making the simplest things complicated.  I have two purposes for my time here on this earth - to love God and to love others.  If my relationship with Facebook is any sort of indication of my spiritual condition, I'm failing pretty miserably at both of those.  Instead of realizing my worth and value as a child of God, I seek "likes" on the internet.  Instead of loving others, I promote myself.  Instead of leaving the familiarity of home where I might have to feel awkward or uncomfortable I consider myself first, and others second.  This flies in the face of the Gospel.

So what does that mean?  I'm grateful for grace, thankful I'm forgiven, and I'm working towards looking even slightly more like Jesus each day.  It means I'm terrified to do so, but praying that God will make me uncomfortable.  I'm actively seeking ways to serve others instead of hiding behind my selfish tendencies.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  And above all of these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  Colossians 3:12-14

Jesus didn't tell us to Go and be comfortable. He said to Go and make disciples.  He said it would be hard.  Guaranteed.  Jesus lived a life of discomfort, culminated by the ultimate pain and agony - the recipient of all of God's wrath for my own sin.  The very least I can do is take a first step outside of my comfort zone and make myself second.  If only I didn't have that darn inherent sin nature to make this all about me, and less about Him.  What can I say?  I'm a MAJOR work in progress.


Broken Mint Candy

Last week the kids and I returned from a trek to Maryland, where I hoped to help my parents begin what will be the long process of cleaning out my late great aunt's home.  It's no secret that she liked to hold on to things longer than most, and that she kept many things most people would consider to be trash.  As a child of the depression, she saved and stored and kept.  I think that generation learned through living with nothing to collect and store up things long after collecting and storing was no longer a necessity, I suppose as an insurance policy.  Working through the kitchen mainly disposing of expired food, I came across one particularly noteworthy item that really stuck with me.

It's a prescription pill bottle.  Filled with pieces of broken peppermint candies.

At first I laughed.  "That's insane!" I thought.  And really, maybe it was.



I thought about that generation of men and women.  These are the men and women born in the teens and twenties.  These are the same men and women whose childhoods took place during the bleakness of the Great Depression.  These are the men and women who watched the entire world go to war and they either served in the armed forces or pitched in at home, but there was no opting out.  They were brave, savvy, and resourceful.

They had very little, so they learned to treasure everything.  Even broken mint pieces.  (She might have used those someday!)

How far have we come from this mindset?

Now, we have everything, and yet we treasure practically nothing.

I'm not suggesting we should start bottling our broken mint candies.  But I am suggesting that we pause for 0.2 seconds every once in a while and recognize the blessings staring us in the face.

Jon Acuff said on Facebook a couple of years ago:
If my grandfather, who fought in a tank in WWII, was alive I'd tell him what a hassle it is when a website makes you scroll a lot.
It's the fact that we totally ignore just how easy we have it.  We literally have the entire world at our fingertips.  And, what do we do?  We find ways to complain about it.

My own father once told me:
As my old friend from Bethlehem Steel used to say, if the Russians knew what kind of shape we're in they'd attack today.
And that's funny, except, it's not.  Because, by and large, my generation doesn't know what it is to be scared, or to struggle, or to think outside the box.  My generation is used to being served on a silver platter.  Only, we have grown tired of the silver platter and we're hoping to upgrade to platinum on someone else's dime, forgetting all the while that ceramic is more durable, cost-effective, and practical.

Folks, we've got it made.  And for some reason, we're constantly dissatisfied.  Let's not be.  The next time we're tempted to whine about something ridiculous - like, Saturday when my coffee tipped over at the kids' soccer fields and I declared something like, "Well, this has been a complete waste of a day!" - let's stop, take a deep breath, and remember -

If this is the worst thing that happens today, I'm doing alright.

Let's find things to treasure.  Smile at the perfect baby handprint on the glass.  Notice the sun rays peeking through the storm clouds.  Watch as a flock of birds flies through the sky with perfectly coordinated movements.  Thank the person with the thankless job who serves you every day.

Treasure all of it.  Even the broken mint candy.

Why Are You Afraid?

Most of the time being a life-long cynic means I am pleasantly surprised when things don't turn out as badly as the doomsday scenarios my mind has become so adept at conjuring up.

But sometimes, those worst case scenarios actually happen.  And I sigh and say, "See.  Told you.  The whole world is stupid.  Now leave me alone so I can cry in the shower."

I will admit that crying in the shower doesn't do much actual good.  But patterns bear repeating.  Hot showers and tears are as cathartic as a cup of coffee and a bag of Twizzlers.  Because eating when you're sad or stressed is totally healthy too.  

I waver between caring way too much about everything and throwing my hands up in the air and saying to heck with it all.  I can't decide whether to educate myself more or bury my head in the sand and pretend I'm an ostrich.  I think, "But one person can make a huge difference in this world."  Then I turn in an instant and wonder, "But honestly, what can one person really do?"  My mind is a jumbled mess of incoherent trains of thought and then, suddenly (and usually briefly), moments of clarity.
And he said to them, "Why are you afraid?  O you of little faith!"  Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great calm.  -Matthew 8:26
That's me.  The one of little faith.

Why am I fearful?  Because I make it about me.  I think I'm the one who has to control everything.  Spoiler alert:  It's not about me.

Instead of fretting and worrying and agonizing, I need to trust that the God of the universe who numbered and named each star, who feeds and shelters the sparrows, who knows how many hairs are on my head, can calm any storm.  I need to remember that while many things that happen in this life surprise me, nothing surprises God.  He saw it coming.  And he already has a plan to make it work for his good.

God can take ugly and make it beautiful.  He can take evil and work it for good.  He can.  I don't have to.  At least, I certainly don't have to alone.  I don't have to serve him up optimal conditions or circumstances.  He can work with bad.  That's frequently his specialty.  And it turns out so good.

I often console myself with the words, "It's going to be okay."  That's my human nature talking.  Ultimately?  It's all going to be better than okay.

Some days are hard.  That's life.

Tomorrow, I pick up my pieces, brush myself off, and give it my best shot.  I'm just one person, but I can be the best Jennie I'm able to be.  I will trust God with details beyond my control.  Thankful for those fresh mercies every morning and a life verse to keep me motivated.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.  Colossians 3:23
But seriously.  It's going to be okay.


A Chance to be the Fly

Last Friday morning at 6am I sat straight up in bed.  Sam had just left for work.  The soothing aroma of freshly brewed coffee was wafting into the bedroom, but that wasn't what jarred me awake.  I'd had a semi-conscious realization.  As we are now halfway through our fourth year of homeschooling, and time seems more fleeting than ever, I pondered to myself, "How old will the rest of the kids be when Ben is a senior in high school (six years from now)?"

The resulting answer is what brought me to an alarmed state of consciousness.

Assuming we continue to homeschool all of our children all the way through and don't add any more children to the herd, when Ben is in 12th grade, I will have...

A kindergartner
A 2nd grader
A 4th grader
A 7th grader
A 9th grader
A 12th grader.

Literally, K through 12.

I did what every reasonable person would do and I sent my husband a message at work.

"Do you realize this!?"

He was naturally unconcerned, and responded the way he does so well, with a calm, calculated comment to defuse the entire situation.  Aside from the fact that it's (ahem) six years away, we'll get through it the same way we get through our current circumstances - one day at a time with adjustments along the way.

A lot of people probably wonder, and many people have asked me what it's like to teach a first, third, and sixth grader with a baby, two year old, and three year old running around.  It's just life for us, and I don't feel like we're doing anything exceptional or extraordinary.  I'm praying that's what it will feel like six years down the road.  I'm not saying it's easy, and I'm not saying I'm particularly good at it.  It's just life, and we do it.

So, I figure it might be fun to run through a typical day at the Sheppard household.  Here's your chance to be a fly on the wall.

7am:  Noah wakes up and plays with the two toys he insisted on taking to his crib with him the night before.  He calls, not so quietly, for Daddy to come get him.  That means Mommy.  We're working on it.

7:30am:  I get in the shower with my cup of coffee.  (Yes, I take it in there with me.)  I tell myself I should get up before my kids because that's what the internet says good moms do.  Vow to do it tomorrow knowing full well that no matter how early I get up, I will be accompanied by miniature people who lie in wait for the slightest movement and interpret that as permission to start their days.

8:15am:  Fix breakfast and/or entertain the option of delegating breakfast prep to one of the older kids.  On those days anticipate breakfast running a little later and making a larger mess.  It's okay.  (I tell myself it's okay a lot.  It's a coping mechanism.)

8:45am:  Call everyone to breakfast table where I intend to cover one of our three read-aloud-together subjects.  Listen as each kid lobbies for a different one.  Wait as everyone remembers a condiment, beverage, or utensil not already available on the table, and get approximately two sentences in before Noah finishes chugging and starts thrusting his cup into everyone's face "politely" yelling, "MORE JUICE PLEASE!"  Meanwhile, 3 year old Leah babbles on about how she "already knows" all two sentences of what I just read and walks off leaving her breakfast untouched.  Two more sentences into the lesson, Sarah falls off the kitchen bench, Abby stands up and begins attempting a standing split or pirouetting, and Ben makes a comment like, "The Danish King?  What's he in charge of?  Cheese danish?" And then laughs at himself because he's his mother's son.  We muddle through the remaining pages of the chapter while Leah and Noah provoke each other to wrath in the playroom and Abby continuously asks how much longer until she can go play outside.

9:15am:  I realize it's a gorgeous day outside and it would be better for everyone involved if the kids got some much-needed wiggle time in the form of fresh backyard air.  I happily clean up jelly and syrup puddles if it means I get to rest my ears for 3 and a half uninterrupted minutes.

9:18am:  Leah returns from the backyard and has to change her entire outfit for the second time since breakfast (where she didn't eat anything, but somehow got syrup all over her body) because she voluntarily played in a wheelbarrow full of rainwater and got a splash of wetness on the knee of her pants.

9:30am:  I attempt various chores because, let's face it, I'm behind on every single one of them.  Halfway through starting the washing machine, Noah needs a diaper change.  Halfway through stripping beds, Hannah needs to eat.  Halfway through everything, someone else requires something.  I decide to call and pay a few bills which means I lock myself in my master bedroom closet where two doors away, at least two children are knocking and crying to let them in.  My phone drops the call 3 times because, well, I'm calling from a closet.  I decide to try again another day.

10:30am:  After a solid hour of playtime, I call a child to the kitchen table to "knock something out before lunch."  Both girls sit and complete their math lessons at the same time because Sarah likes taking her time test at the same time as Abby in the name of friendly competition.  Abby cries foul and I launch into an explanation of how it's not really unfair because their time tests are based on their respective abilities.  No one cares.  Noah poops for the sixth time that day.

11:45am:  Ben, who has been reading in his room for the entire morning, emerges ready for lunch.  I remind him that he has yet to complete any actual schoolwork so he does a logic puzzle then goes out back to torment a sister or two.

12:30pm:  While the frozen pizza cooks (don't judge me), Ben and I sit down to discuss grammar.  He laughs out loud that anyone would ever confuse "Let" and "Leave" or "Sit" and "Set" with each other  like the good little grammar snob that he is.

1pm:  I attempt another read aloud subject at lunch.  While everyone has food in their mouth, I speed through a lesson on the digestive system from our anatomy book.  Somehow, no one loses their lunch despite graphic descriptions of what exactly is going on inside their bodies even as they chew.  Noah insists on wearing his shoes while he naps, and despite the fact that it flies in the face of everything I believe in, I allow it.  Because we're behind on everything and I can't fight ALL OF THE BATTLES.

2:00pm:  Hannah sits in her high chair with six kids worth of baby toys on the tray while I complete a grammar and writing lesson with alternating first and third graders.  Ben sits at one end of the table making snide remarks and casually taking two hours to complete a single math lesson, not because it's difficult but because he procrastinates like a BOSS.

3:00pm:  I realize we've only done half of the subjects on our charts.  I make a cup of coffee and turn on Phonics videos for a three year old who is determined to do school like her big brother and big sisters despite my pleas to wait another couple of years and just play.  Ben realizes he has a lot to do before he's awarded screentime and gets angry because he's not finished yet like Abby and Sarah who have so much less work than him.  I mumble something about age and responsibility, and being expected to perform according to your abilities.  Then I sneak peanut m&m's in the pantry because no one saved me any pizza and I'm just now realizing I never ate lunch.

5:00pm:  I kick everyone outside redirect everyone to the backyard where they can grab a few more moments of vitamin D while I pick up the pieces and reflect on another day in the Sheppard homeschool.  I lament the fact that we skipped Latin and Art again.  I smile at the ridiculously hilarious things each and every child said throughout the day.  I shake my head over the attitudes that arose and blame myself for all of the negative qualities I see in my children.  I consider that even on our worst days, we are incredibly blessed to have each other, however imperfect.  And I rejoice that we created memories.

Lately, I've found myself grumbling about silly things here and there.  Some of them were (home)school related and some were just general life and people related.  Then I think to myself "if this is all I have to worry about, I'm doing alright."

I hope that's what the fly would say.

Lady, you're doing alright, in spite of yourself.

Then we'd share some pantry chocolate.

One day at a time, right?

"Ten" Pieces of Unsolicited Advice from my Corner of the Internet

It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that I'm getting old.  I recently realized that most professional athletes are now younger than me, even quarterbacks.  I watched a football game and as the wide receiver jumped four feet off the ground in the end-zone to snag a ball and came down and landed on his shoulder only to pop right back up to do a celebratory touchdown dance, my first thought was, "Oh!  I'd totally break something if I did that!"  I graduated from high school 15 years ago.  I'm on the cusp of raising a teenager when it feels like just yesterday I was 12 myself.

All of that, but mostly, technology makes me cranky.

Maybe it's not so much technology but the grip it has on all of us.  I find myself frustrated and indifferent to newer technology because I remember a time when we all so easily coped and, yes, even thrived without it.  It's a great, distant memory - those days when I woke up, drank a cup of coffee, and did something productive like, took a shower.  These days, most of the time I roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, and check my phone.  What's so important on there?  Not much, I tell you.  But good gracious, I can't seem to fathom the possibility of missing something like reading ANOTHER BLOG POST regarding "Ten Things not to Say to...Large Families/Small Families/Single Folks/Your Grandmother/Your Postman/Children with Questionable Fashion Sense/Babies with Ears."

I'm guilty of writing a few of those posts myself.  I seem to think people care about ALL OF THE OPINIONS floating around in my head.  That's not so bad, I guess, so long as I'd be willing to say these things to people's faces.  But it seems like we're not allowed to say anything to anyone anymore.  I mean, pretty much every opinion piece on the internet tells me Ten Things Not to Say to someone.  Heaven forbid we cause someone else to be even remotely uncomfortable.  Heaven forbid we take our faces out of our phones and actually converse with someone in real life.

I'm an introvert and it's taken me a very long time to learn how to chit chat and make eye contact and all of those normal social behaviors.  I've still got a long way to go, but I'm a work in progress.  For example, I am now capable of ordering take out over the phone without an anxiety attack.  I'm now able to sit in a waiting room and crack awkward jokes with strangers to pass the time.  I am now functional enough in new social settings to introduce myself to others and attempt small talk.

Only...now I feel like I probably shouldn't.  What if one of those Ten Things Not to Say comes out my mouth?  What if I offend someone?

I honestly don't want to do that.

So here's what I decided.  It starts with me.  I've decided to give a pass to anyone who says any of these "Ten Offensive Things" because I don't want to be the person who's offended by chit chat.  I want to be the person who welcomes a real life conversation with someone who's not staring a phone.  I want to teach my children that sometimes platitudes are just that.  When someone sees my large family in the grocery store, it's not actually offensive for someone to look at us and say, "Wow, your hands are full!"  It's true.  My hands are full.  And I do look tired.  And there are enough of them for a basketball team plus a sub.  Maybe I really like basketball and that was my plan all along - to birth a coed, multi-age basketball team so we can play pick-up games all across the country on our travels.  (Or not.)

I don't want to live life walking on eggshells.  I want to hear the "offensive things" and learn to respond gracefully.  I want to say the things I don't even realize are offensive and have a real life conversation with the person I just inadvertently offended so they can tell me why they are upset by it.  I want to mess up, face-to-face, and learn how to overcome it.  I don't want to be soft.  I don't want to be thin-skinned.  I want to hear other people's stories and learn why they think and feel the way they do.  I want to make eye contact.

Will you join me?  Let's give each other a pass.  Let's do our best to be nice and apologize when we aren't.  Let's let it roll off.  Life's too short to take the little things so seriously.  I have better ways to spend my numbers days here.  We all do.

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