Taking a Census

Chapter 21 of I Chronicles is not one of the best known stories in the Bible. While some might have peripheral knowledge of it, not many have stopped to really think about what it means today in our modern lives.

I’ve shared with this blog previously about the fact that my husband is hoping for funding to come through for a startup that he’s involved in. Because my husband is a visionary who sees the big picture, and builds virtual cities for data to live in, he doesn’t do so well with feet-on-the-ground details. And so, in the negotiating of salary and such, there were a few gaps.

When the funding was delayed, my husband went back and renegotiated these issues, and the good news is that when/if funding becomes available, we’ll be paid retroactively for two distinct periods — one from when he began working informally several months ago, and one for full-time employment as of what should have been his hard start date of March 1.

What a load off my mind!

Now mind you, there’s no guarantee that this funding will come through. However, the business plan is solid. The guy doing the startup and meeting with the venture capitalists (VCs) is very accomplished and in a position of power and influence within his field. The numbers are fantastic for profit, and the revenue streams are not ad based — or selling advertising — but transaction based; the company would profit a small amount for each transaction. Good stuff.

I am, on the other hand, a very firm pragmatist. Feet-on-the-ground is my spesh-ial-i-TEE, and so I am very aware that many good ideas, many great business schemes, go down in flames if they ever get off the ground in the first place.

However, when Whitney told me that we would receive lump-sum back pay amounts should it happen, my mind went ZIIIIING considering all the possibilities! I was driving; otherwise, I’d probably have pulled out my trusty spreadsheet to run the numbers!

Fortunately, I had only started to mutter to myself, “Okay well at [insert annual salary here], if you divide that by twe…”

And, the words “David,” “census,” and “sin” popped into my head. It wasn’t a coherent thought necessarily; it was just a half-formed memory of the story, and I immediately remembered the mild confusion I’d always felt whenever I had come across the narrative.

Why in the world was it a problem that David ordered a census of all the fighting men?

Because I’m a planner, because I’m the budgeter of the family Walters, counting, assessing, and preparing make complete sense to me! It’s only wise to figure out what you have, what you can expect, and plan accordingly, right?

But, the story continued to niggle, and so I consciously put aside my financial musings.

When I got home, I looked the story up and read the entire chapter of 1 Chronicles 21.

Wow! Have you really read that story?! It’s pretty intense!

It starts out with the context that Lucifer, the roaring lion himself, incited David to take the census! Joab protested because he knew it was wrong, but when bullied into it, fudged the numbers.

At this point David, as was his habit, realized way after the fact that he had committed a sin and begged forgiveness.

Get this. God says (through a “seer”) basically that David has to pick his punishment: three years of famine, three years of persecution for the nation from their enemies, or three days of “the sword of the Lord” — or plague.

Woah.

David chose plague and 70,000 died.

That’s a pretty strong statement of how God feels about this census business.

And so, I’ve been pondering this whole question of what exactly a census is.

David counted his fighting men so that he knew how many men he could count on in a battle.

It’s almost as if David were saying that he needed to prepare because God’s provisions might not cover it all.

God won a battle with 300 men against a whole host. The Bible described it this way: “The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.”

Three hundred against tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands? More than a million?

How many times do we limit God by counting our “fighting men,” our dollars, our bonuses, our expected gains?

For the first time, I completely and totally understand the application of the story to my life. I get it.

You see, we just might get the funding. Or, we may not. If we get the funding, we may just get a nice raise and a lump-sum amount. Or, the business may go crazy and we get a fortune. Or, it may bite the dust and Whitney will end up having to find another job.

I’m still a budgeter. I still need to manage my family’s finances. But, I don’t have to run ahead of God. What I know for sure and certain is this. God’s provision will blow me out of the water. It’ll either be Him taking two mites and stretching it to cover exactly what we need. Or, it may involve financial blessings galore.

I’m not plugging anything into my spreadsheet. I’m not thinking about this eventuality or that. I’m thankful just for today for everything He’s given our family. He’s going to handle the rest. I will simply sit back and watch.

Restoring My Boat

I have spent the last few minutes reading my past posts on this blog, and I realized that God has had me on a journey to explore the whole boat analogy as it relates to my life and my walk with Jesus.

My first post relating to boats was about how the disciples went out with Jesus in a boat, and when things got rough, they completely forgot about him. Jesus, sleeping quietly in a corner somewhere, was completely overlooked.

My lesson was not to let fear make me forget about the One who has the ability to calm the storm and sea.

Soon after, I continued the sleeping-in-the-boat analogy, except I longed, like Jesus, to sleep in the midst of all the chaos and fear that life throws at me. Seems like I’ve had more than my share of chaos and disruptions in the last decade! I wanted to learn to trust so completely that someone has to wake me up to see how God’s put it all in place!

I just watched the movie “The Shack,” and it seems like maybe there’s a new lesson for me to be learned from boats!

To set the scene up for you, the main character, Mack, has gone out on a lake in a rowboat. Jesus tells him that there’s something He wants to show Mack on the other side of the lake, but that He will join him after finishing something up in the shop.

Rowing across the lake

Mack gets halfway across the lake and then stops, almost as if he’s enjoying the peace, the slap of the water against the sides of the boat. Dipping his hand into the water and pulling it back out, he realizes that the water is oily, black, and nasty.

At this point, the boat begins breaking apart. First a crack and then a hole spurting water, it’s clear that the boat won’t last much longer.

In the middle of the chaos, Mack hears Jesus’ voice telling him not to look at the battered boat, to focus on Him, Jesus. He stares horrified and transfixed as the water continues to pour in; he glances at Jesus, but his eyes are drawn back to the disaster that’s happening to him. The boat is soon half submerged. It’s only as it is almost under the murky water, Mack sitting in water up to his waist, that he locks eyes with Jesus.

In that very moment, the boat is once again under him, intact, bobbing on the waves. He breathes a huge sigh of relief. His boat is as he knows and wants it, once again secure.

Mack is relieved when the boat appears beneath him once again.

Then Jesus holds out a hand, inviting him out of the boat onto the waves.

Let me interrupt myself to tell you what’s been going on with us in the first quarter of this year!

Late last year, 2016, my husband was contacted by a businessman that he knew and trusted about being involved in a start-up offering services to the military. It seemed like an awesome opportunity, and he’s been working part time, unpaid, to create budgets, meet with potential employees, etc. His start date — as in full-time and starting to get a paycheck — was March 1, just a month or so ago.

At the end of January, we were contacted by the man who owns the house we live in. For the second time in three years, we found out that the rental property we were living in would be sold. This time, however, we had ample time to plan; our landlord indicated that they would be selling in August.

Then also in late January, we found out that our still-new-to-us minivan had sustained subtle and undetected damage last summer during a hailstorm, and after a month of negotiating, the insurance company determined that it was totaled. Unfortunately, what they valued the van at wouldn’t cover the balance of our loan.

So, right around March 1 of this year, we found out that funding for the new job hadn’t come through, despite the fact that my husband had already given his two-week notice at his former job, leaving us with no paycheck anywhere on the horizon.

Our vehicle was totaled, leaving us with a $2,000 balance to pay on the auto loan.

And, we’ll have to find a new house in the next four or five months.

Yeah. My boat’s breaking apart and the water’s pouring in!

I’ve been watching in horror as each new thing hits, trying to focus on Jesus, knowing that He’s got it all handled and that He’s taken care of our family in the past faithfully.

It’s not like I want outrageous things! My hopes are relatively modest, I believe. I simply want a paycheck to cover bills. I want a new, used, decent vehicle. Tired of feeling like we have no control over our own housing, we want to buy a house rather than rent again.

In fact, with this new start-up opportunity, there was enough of a raise that I’d even begun to hope for upgrades to my boat! A nicer, newer used vehicle! Perhaps we might actually be able to look for a home with horse property — a dream of mine since childhood!

I didn’t want a yacht. I wasn’t hoping for new and shiny. I would have been happy with cushions on the bow seat and perhaps an outboard motor. Nothing fancy.

Suddenly, instead of upgrades, I watched my boat begin to slide under the waters.

Then, in the movie, Jesus restores Mack’s boat! All is well! This has been my hope and prayer since everything started caving in! It’s what I’ve believed God for in our lives!

And, then it hits me.

God doesn’t want us in the boat at all. He wants us out of the boat!

Jesus invites us to get out of the boat!

How much time and energy we devote to taking care of the boat! Tending the boat, upgrading the boat, and praying thanks for the boat — when all along, it might be the very thing that’s standing between us and what would be best for us in our walk with Jesus!

I’ve decided that I’m going to be thankful when my boat is restored…even if it’s a life raft…or a half-submerged log floating by. What I’m going to start praying for is that I will see opportunity to step out of the boat!

I’m going to pray that God changes my heart from dreading uncertainty, and that He shows me the delight and the miracles along the way, just like Jesus then shows Mack the beauty of His creation as they walk along the top of the waves.

Inspiration: Finding Your “Treasure” and Your Purpose

This past week I was filling in the “About me” section on a crafting site I run, and one of the questions that was proposed was, “What inspires you to come up with original designs?” This got me to thinking more about inspiration and motive. What is it? Why/how do I use it? And ultimately, what does it reveal about God’s heart?

I invite you on this journey today, and believe this is something that will not only benefit us as parents, but can also be a good tool for teens who are just starting to grapple with the bigger questions of life, such as purpose, and how inspiration/motivation can lead to finding our purpose, especially when we keep God at the center. I would highly recommend taking the time to write the questions in this article down in a journal, and prayerfully answer them for yourself.

Inspiration

It should be noted that inspiration (or motivation), in the sense that I’m writing about today, means taking an idea or emotion, and expanding on it, either mentally or physically. And, not only expanding on it, but applying the results to my life in a broader perspective — that is to somehow be a clearer reflection of God’s character, and heart, as mother/wife/daughter/business woman/teacher. Inspiration put toward a higher purpose, if you will. This is different than perfectionism, and should not be used to compare yourself to others.

What inspires you? When you find that out, you will find where your heart is.

Personally, I’m inspired by beauty in many forms, both the physical — such as flowers, sunrises, family, lace, ruffles, cozy pajamas, and clean sheets (I can almost hear angels sing when climbing into a clean bed); and intangible — like kindness, love, confidence, and selflessness.

I can either look at these things in a passive/dismissive way, or dig deeper and find some truths that may not be so initially obvious about God, and how He designed me. But, not just me; rather, the whole of humanity. You can also think of inspiration as being where your treasure is.

Now it’s your turn: What inspires you? What breathes life into your heart? What makes “birds sing and flowers bloom” in your soul? What is the “treasure” that draws you to a place so lovely, and sweet that you wish everyone knew about it, and could experience it for themselves?

But why?

Once you’ve discovered what it is that inspires you, look deeper. Why does this inspire or motivate me? What place does this touch in my heart? Take some time and write these down in a journal and answer them for yourself. The way I answer (based on the previous paragraph) is because beauty is comforting, it is healing. It reminds me that there are good things in this world. That there are things worth believing in. That all I have dreamed for and of is not in vain, and that one day, all that is ugly and miserable and sad will be removed. That one day I will behold Him face to face — the One who first dreamed of us, and then created the world and everything in it — purposely. Notice how inspiration came before creation, even for God.

What do the things that inspire me say about God’s heart? How does this reveal a greater plan or purpose? And finally… How can I pass that inspiration on to others?

For one, I need to stay connected to the ultimate source of inspiration, blessings, and love. When I seek to know and understand God’s will through prayer and Bible study, the desire for competition ends. I don’t harbor hate, bitterness, and anger, because perfect love drives out fear (fear being the root cause of anger, hate, negativity). I am free to let the peace that passes all understanding take up residence in my heart. I am free to be the person God made me to be, and He becomes my ultimate inspiration.

It is He who inspires me with grace to become a more effective and focused teacher, He inspires me with patience when my children are having a difficult day, and He inspires me with mercy when a friend says something unintentionally hurtful. He shows me that my purpose is to glorify Him in all things. That by seeking His will, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, I will bear the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). I can’t think of anything more beautiful or inspirational than that.

“…Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things,” Philippians 4:8 (NIV).

Below, I’m including the questions asked in this article in one easy-to-see area to make this study more simple.

Questions to Ask Yourself

What inspires or motivates me?

  • What breathes life into my heart?What makes “birds sing and flowers bloom” in my soul? What is the “treasure” that draws me to a place so lovely, and sweet that I wish everyone knew about it, and could experience it for themselves?

Why does this inspire or motivate me?

  • What place does this touch in my heart? Why do I believe in it?

What do the things that inspire me say about God’s heart?

  • How does this reveal a greater plan or purpose? How can I pass that inspiration on to others?

Peace On Earth — But Only Sort Of

The new year is upon us. The Christmas decorations are being put away, and the regular routines of life are resuming. The phrase “peace on Earth,” however, still echoes through our recent memories. It has been sung, read, and recited. In a society brimming with political angst and cultural discord, aren’t we all desperately longing for a bit of peace? Additionally, there is the alarming frequency of natural disasters, illnesses, and tragedies to remind us of humanity’s state of utter chaos. Let’s be honest, though. If we zoom in on our experience as homeschooling families, don’t we crave peace in our own homes too?

Popping over to my place for tea on any given afternoon, you would find a wide assortment of animals announcing your arrival while completely disregarding your personal space. You would likely have to move a pile of books in order to sit down. You would be greeted by three small humans, eager to share with you every exciting thing in their life since their last birthday. Ten minutes later the sounds of sibling squabbles, mishaps, and, yes, even complaining would waft through the house. Then, if we actually got a moment to chat, I might share with you my concerns about Lucy’s upcoming state testing, or Robby’s attitude towards reading. Not exactly peaceful, right?

Being Jesus’ parents was not always peaceful either. In Luke 4:41-51, we find the story of a young boy who disappeared for three days. Can you imagine not knowing where your child is for THREE DAYS? But, wait! If we back up just a few verses in the very same chapter, don’t the angels herald at the top of their lungs, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (vs.14)? Back to verse 48, Jesus’ mother says to him, “Son why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” He responds most matter-of-factly, almost unconcerned with his parents’ ordeal: “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (vs.49).

Mary and Joseph certainly weren’t experiencing peace during those three days of searching for their missing child. But, is that really the kind of peace that God promises?

Take a look at Matthew, chapter 10. Jesus’ very words declare, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword….Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (vss.34,37,38). At first glance there seems to be a mighty juxtaposition between the message of peace at the birth of Jesus, and His words verily declaring war!

I wonder if the answer lies in our definition of peace. Is peace merely the absence of discomfort and disagreement, or is peace something bigger and deeper? Philippians 4:4-9 promises peace that transcends our human understanding if we zoom out, surrendering our narrow perspectives and worries to the sovereign God of the universe. Yes, there will be challenges, anxiety, even pain. But I believe that through the lens of God’s big story of love and salvation for humanity, there is peace. Not necessarily peace in the form of a clean and quiet household, or children who always get along and diligently finish their lessons with a happy heart, but peace in knowing we belong to a God who adores us, that we have a specific purpose to fulfill in the story of humanity and the war between good and evil. There is peace in knowing how the story ends, and in choosing to fight for the Victor. There is peace on Earth, but only sort of.

Planting Seeds of Joy

It’s that time of year again. For many of you the presents have been opened, Christmas dinner preparations are old news, family have returned to their homes, New Year’s resolutions have been made (or at least considered, right?), and life is starting to get back to the “pre-holiday” routine. This can be a relief for some, a letdown for others. So, what now? We often idealize the holidays as the stuff dreams are made of, and we regularly go to great lengths to make sure our family members and friends feel that extra bit of love. How can we continue to encourage our families to live the joy, thanksgiving, and dream-like utopia that we aimed for only days ago, throughout the rest of this year?

seedlings

Today, I have a few suggestions for helping to maintain the “Christmas spirit,” and plant those seeds of joy for the other 11 months of the year. Because, really, whether you celebrate Christmas officially or not, it’s the spirit of giving, goodwill, and hope that makes this world a better place, and I strongly believe those are concepts that come directly from the heart of God.

1. Continue the tradition of saying what you are thankful for at mealtimes, family worships, or bedtimes. Thanks begets more thanks. Let your family know what blessings you have experienced during the day, even if it’s as simple as finding a toy that has been misplaced, or making it to a doctor’s appointment on time (in my home, these are actually huge). “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth,” Isaiah 12:4-5.

2. Look for ways to reach out to others. It may take extra effort, but making someone smile always brings one to my face. Drawing pictures, writing encouraging notes, delivering homemade goodies — it may sound clichéd, but it works! “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed,” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.

3. Spend time connecting with your spouse. One of my favorite memories with Josh is sitting on the couch sipping hot chocolate, and looking at the lights on our tree, while he read stories from a book we both enjoyed. It was spontaneous and simple. A date doesn’t have to mean going somewhere expensive. Talk about what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

4. Take time to make your children feel extra special, whether it’s a “date” night once a month, or a surprise “break” day to go do something fun. Tell them what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The world will not end if the toys are not picked up, or laundry isn’t folded and put away. I say this to myself as much as to you. Order and cleanliness are near the top of my list, because I generally feel more relaxed looking at a clean house, but there are times when it’s ok to let that stuff go. In general, your family is not going to remember you for your spotless livingroom, perfect kitchen, or whether your children’s rooms look like something out of Good Homes Magazine. They’re going to remember you for your warmth, interest, and caring; it’s the memories of being together that will leave warm fuzzies in their hearts.

6. Last, and most important on this list, take time out to restore your soul. We as parents don’t always do a good job of taking care of ourselves. With 948 other things calling our names (along with the children and spouse of course), the struggle to take care of our hearts is real. I, for one, need a lot more time to recharge than my husband does. It is crucial that recharging time happens because without it, the energy to do the other five things on this list won’t be there. When the primary caretaker (whether husband or wife) is running on empty, the whole family suffers.

My prayer, as usual, is that you will continue to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), that you will lack no good thing (Psalms 34:9), and that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Many blessings and blossoms of joy for the new year ahead!

~Kirsten