April 25, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

Here’s the problem with society today.  (Okay, maybe I’m making it a problem… or maybe not.)

Let’s say you join an organization.  Or let’s say your child does.  Let’s say that organization is a school.  And for the fun of it, let’s say that school is private so not only do you have tuition to come up with, but you have fundraisers also–several of them.

Fundraisers are of course a double-edged sword.  Yes.  They help the school run.  Yes, they help keep tuition down.  BUT the bigger the fundraiser, the more effort someone has to put into it.

Now, let’s say that you don’t have one child, you have three–in two different schools.

You might think that you multiply your time/effort outgo by 2 (i.e. two schools), but you would be wrong.  You actually multiply it by 3, because each child’s CLASS is responsible for supporting the fundraiser, not just each family.

So, now we’ve got 3 fundraisers for each school per year, times 3 kids.  That’s a factor of 9.

BUT… each kid also has class projects and fundraisers, so it’s not a multiple of 3 but of say 5.  Now we’re up to 15.

Of course, all your kids do is not just fundraisers, so let’s add in multiples of 5 for each child of homework and daily chores you must oversee.  Then, of course, there are extra-curricular things like track, gymnastics, and art.  So, 3 X 5 X 3.  That’s 45.

You also have to keep them healthy, which requires at minimum teeth cleaning and at least a couple trips to the doctor each year.  Add in Christmas, Easter, and birthdays.

We’re now getting somewhat close to multiplicity with the kids.  Oh, except we forgot church things like Sunday School, sacraments, and Vacation Bible School.  And summer projects like photography, drums, and gymnastics.  OH, and did I forget one of them is learning to drive?  Yeah, so add in some hours on the road, studying, and getting all paperwork in order.

That’s the baseline of what I do.  Then there’s being the play director for VBS, teaching Sunday School, running two businesses, cleaning house, doing laundry, running people here, there, and everywhere.  Keeping husband going.  Scheduling time with both extended families and keeping up with them.  Writing books and articles.  Marketing.  Groceries.  Bills in.  Bills out.  Bookkeeping….

Did I mention that both schools have now decided to do their Spring Fundraisers and want me to help, and that I’m getting ready (already) for the fundraiser for the two in the fall…

There must be an Algebraic term for multiplicity times something.

I think it’s either called Life or Motherhood, or maybe (Life X Motherhood).  Wonder what that equals?  Any suggestions?


The Long Journey to Somewhere Else

April 20, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I guess God was saving this title. A couple weeks ago, after my computer crashed the first time, I said I should have used this title. Well, I’m using it now.

Now I’ve been through real tragedy in my lifetime, so I know how to put computer issues in perspective.  But I’ve got to tell you, if Job had a computer, I”m not sure he would’ve made it.  🙂

A short history of my recent roller coaster existence:

Feb. 9 I woke up to two feet of snow.  As my husband was out of town, the kids and I got to clean off our very long driveway in order to be able to get out for school the next day.  That was decidedly NOT fun.

Feb. 10.  My daughter’s 12th birthday.  I woke up to a computer that looked like someone had stuck a magnifying glass onto the screen.  Everything was HUGE, and the computer was not working as it should.  I downloaded Carbonite, praying I wouldn’t lose everything and it started working to upload my files to their servers.

Feb. 28.  After 18 days of uploading files, Carbonite said it had 100% of my files.  That day a major fire broke out less than a mile from us.  We took the computer with us when we evacuated.  When we got back and set the computer back up on Monday, all we could get was the C:/  I took the computer in to the store to get it fixed, and we started using my small laptop as our backup Internet connection.

March 15.  I got the computer back from the store, set it up, and started Carbonite working to download our information.

March 18.  Carbonite finished and lo and behold we had lost from May of 2010 of our financial records forward.  With one month to go to taxes, I had to start over inputting ALL of the deposits, checks, etc. for three accounts.

March 22.  Finished inputting account info and took the files to the accountant.

March 25.  Started a new story that came like lightning.

April 1.  I had 125 pages finished of the new story.

April 8.  I had 200 pages finished.

April 12.  I had 304 pages finished.

April 13.  My computer started acting very strangely.  I worked with it, trying to get it to work again.  My security program had been breached and destabilized.  It would not start.  It would not scan.  The more I tried, the worse it got.  I called my nephew who works with computers.  By the end of the night, all we could get on it was the Welcome screen.

April 14.  Second crash confirmed.  All we could get was the Welcome Screen.  Then horror-of-horrors, the small back up laptop began to destabilize as well.  By mid-morning, it too had crashed.  Tax info came back and there was an issue.  Something had not posted right.  (I should mention here NEVER go to all paperless.  You would be surprised how IMPORTANT paper statements become!)  We took the computers in to a new company.

April 15.  Found the tax error on the paper files, but that meant re-running ALL of the taxes!  Aye. Aye. Aye.

April 16.  Cleaned house, which was weird.  No bills could go in or out.  No email to check.  Nothing.

April 17.  Cleaned house again, which is weird because the house still isn’t really “clean” though it is cleaner.  We had to work around the edges of what I had planned to do for Sunday School.  With no computer, we couldn’t put the picture slide show together, nor print out the long version of the Stations of the Cross.  Strangely, we would not have had time to do that anyway. Made it through class with handwritten everything.

April 18.  Taxes were done on time!  With 30 minutes to spare.  Hopefully error free.  All computers still in the hospital.

April 19.  Got one computer late in the afternoon.  Decided to set it up today.

April 20.  Set up computer and started downloading all programs back to it.  Realized everyone and their donkey has been Upgrading their sites, so NONE of my programs look the same now.  Oh, I’m assuming that they all basically do what they did originally, I just can’t find the new-and-improved places they put all the buttons I’m used to using.  So, I’m relearning about four programs, resetting this computer up, trying to remember what I had bookmarked, looking for usernames and passwords for everything (AGAIN!… didn’t I just do this?!)

I’m assuming at some point, I will get to the Somewhere Else God had planned in all of this.  And honestly, I already know I’m in a better place (or will be once we get all of this back online again).  I also have to say that I thank GOD He is in my life.  Grace and peace cannot be over-rated.  Trust me on that one.  To KNOW He has your best in mind even when you’re going through the worst is wonderful.  To know that wherever I get to is where He had in mind, well, there are no words to describe how nice that peace is.  It truly surpasses all understanding because truthfully, I should have been freaking out over all of this.  It was nice not to be.

Finally, here is a dire warning:  DO NOT click on any pop up that has the words:  Antivirus-Antispyware 2011 OR XP Security 2011.  Close out of the whole page if it will let you.  If not, click ONLY on the red X in the corner of the pop-up.  Do NOT click Okay or Cancel.  Those two programs do VERY bad things to computers, and your security program will NOT stop it.

So, here I am at Somewhere Else.  Welcome…

What are You?

April 14, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

So what kind of Christian are you?  And no, I’m not talking denomination.

Today during the sermon, something hit me.  In Sunday School we’ve been talking about The Apostle’s Creed and The Nicene Creed.  In the Nicene Creed, the early Church Fathers laid out the 4 marks of the church.  They are:

1)  One — the church is ONE.  Not splintered.

2)  Holy — as God Himself is holy

3) Catholic — that means universal.  The church in Africa is the same church as the one I go to in Texas.

4) Apostolic — (remember this one)

This year in Sunday School, we’ve talked a lot about being a disciple of Jesus, a “follower.”  So why does the fourth mark say “apostolic” rather than some variant of “disciple”?

In fact, in the Bible there are disciples and there are apostles.  So what’s the difference?  Is there a difference?  If the 12 Apostles were the ONLY apostles possible, why does the Creed say we are to be an apostolic people?

Here’s how I explained this new understanding to my kids.

Think of Christianity as a pyramid:

At the bottom are the many non-believers.

Next up are Christians.  These are people who are Christians in name only.  They SAY they are Christians, check that box when asked, maybe have even accepted Christ, but that “affiliation” really means very little to them.  They hardly ever go to church–once or twice a year.  Reading the Bible is boring and so they never do.  They do nothing in their relationship with God–in fact, some use their “profession of faith” as a “Get out of jail free card” and proceed to live however they chose with no accountability to God visible in their choices.

The next level (and notice the levels or number of people represented by the level gets progressively smaller) is Disciples.  Disciples are people who go to church regularly, are working to keep the Ten Commandments.  They read the Bible though maybe not frequently.  They have a relationship with God, but it is a very personal relationship only.  Disciples “follow” Jesus.  I believe in the Bible there were 72 disciples at one point.  It’s relatively easy to be a disciple.  Your faith is your faith and although you may believe deeply, that faith begins and ends with you.

Here’s where the Nicene Creed’s admonition to be “apostolic” comes into play.

Next up are the apostles.  Being an apostle is very different from being a disciple (though being a disciple is a great place to start, it is not great if you just stay there).  Apostles “go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”  The Apostle Paul, the Apostle Peter… these men went out.  They were ACTIVE in their faith.  Their faith wasn’t JUST about their relationship with God, though that was a great starting place.  No.  They wanted to TELL everyone.  They used their talents to spread the Good News.

At the top of the pyramid are the saints.  These are the people who literally lived only for God.  Their life’s focus was/is God.  The early 12 Apostles became saints.  The saints were/are single-minded in their devotion to God.  As St. Theresa the Little Flower said, “I will cut carrots for Jesus.”  It really didn’t matter what they were doing, whatever it was, they did it for God.

Now, here’s a question for you:  What level are you on?  What level are you aspiring to?  If you’re a Christian, maybe it’s time to ramp that up to becoming a disciple–get serious about going to church and deepening your relationship with God.  If you’re a disciple, maybe it’s time to get a little more active with your faith.  Maybe you could join the choir or the ladies guild, maybe you could teach Sunday School or help out at VBS.  Maybe you’re more of a gardener who would like to help keep the church grounds.  Maybe you would rather go out to a homeless shelter to give out meals and Bibles or even volunteer to go on a mission trip.

If you’re in the apostolic group, how far away is being a saint?  Do you let God help you through every rough spot?  Do you fall on His Grace at every turn?  Does your life reflect Him and only Him?

These are very personal questions, and only we can answer them for ourselves.  But take a little time to reflect on these.  Maybe it’s time to venture out of your comfort zone and into another level of your faith journey.

On Temptation

April 11, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

Ever since my 4th Grade Sunday School class discussed the Our Father a couple weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about temptation.  If you’ve been a Christian for very long at all, you know about temptation.  You know you shouldn’t put yourself into temptation.  You know we ask God to lead us not into temptation.  You know we need to be delivered from temptation.  But what IS temptation?  How do you define it?  How do you spot it?  How do you combat it?

Not long after we discussed this, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who told me that when things go wrong–even mildly wrong, her first thought is to doubt and then to be mad at God.  She said, “I don’t know why I do that.  I mean I feel bad after it, but why can’t I stop doing it to begin with? My first thought is always, ‘How could You do this to us, God?'”

That’s when I really started to consider the difference between temptation and sin.  See, temptation is the conscious recognition of the option to do something we know is wrong.  Sin is doing something we know is wrong.

So let’s say you are faced with a situation where lying would get you out of a lot of trouble.  The TEMPTATION is to lie.  Your mind might say something like, “They’ll never know the difference.”  “Everyone else does it.”  “They’ve lied to you in the past.”  “It’s just this one time.”  “Who really cares?”

Now, if you’re like my friend, you might think that all of those “excuses” or “reasons” are coming from you, that the temptation to lie is coming from something inside you that is inherently bad or evil or maybe even just lazy and undisciplined.  But that’s not accurate.  Those thoughts are temptations, put into your mind by Satan and his minions.  They “tempt” you to do something you  know is wrong by telling you that it’s not “really” wrong, that it’s okay because…, that you won’t do it the next time.

That is a “thought temptation.”

Here’s the problem.  Most of us have been conditioned to believe in temptations that are “situation temptations.”  For example, you go to a hotel alone on a business trip and that channel you know you’re not supposed to watch is available.  That’s a situation temptation that leads to a thought temptation.  “It’s all right.  No one will ever know.”

Most of us believe that God will not lead us into temptation–that He will steer us out of situations that tempt us.  And this is true, so long as we don’t tempt ourselves by consciously walking into tempting situations.

However, that doesn’t account for “thought temptations,” and thus, we are left defenseless against these.  It’s not that we wouldn’t arm ourselves if we knew about them.  We just don’t know about them and so we’re not prepared to deal with them effectively.  In fact, most of the time when we have these “thought temptations,” we berate ourselves and beat ourselves up for even having them.  “What kind of person am I to even think such a thing?”

But here’s the thing.  Satan and his minions plant those thought temptations in our minds, and then laugh when we feel guilty for having them.  It’s a vicious, vicious game to them, and we always lose.

Since having this revelation, I have been consciously watching my thoughts and noticing how my brain thinks.  An innocuous example is my playing “Walk It Out” on the Wii.  Now in that game, you simply walk around a little island (and around and around and around!).  On each street and path, there are little medallions that you click on to build things.  So you click on this medallion and an apartment is built.  Click on that medallion over there and a tree appears or you get a new song.

Sounds simple enough, and it is–until you factor in the choices you are forced to make.  See, you can’t get all of the medallions, all of the landscape items at once.  You “buy” them with your steps.

So, let’s say we’re walking out in the country by the flower fields.  If I want to buy a flower field, it will cost me 500 steps.  Now I can click on the medallion for this flower field and walk until I’ve gone 500 steps and bought it.  Or I can walk the 500 steps and then buy it.

BUT (and here’s where the temptation part comes in so pay attention), when any medallion can be bought with the steps you have accumulated, it will “light up.”  So let’s say, I’m walking and I want to buy a flower field for 500.  As I’m accumulating those 500 steps, when I hit 40 accumulated steps ALL of the tree medallions come on.  And they hover in front of you as you walk.

Now I know this sounds simplistic, but it was fascinating for me to watch myself play this game after I understood thought temptations.  I would click on a “big” prize–like a flower field (500 steps) or a hotel (400 steps) or an apartment (300 steps), and then I would walk.  But as I walked, I would meet up with all of these other possibilities–temptations–hovering in front of me, lit up going “pick me! Pick me!”.

And my mind would go CRAZY!  “I’ve got 240 steps, man, I could get 6 trees with that!”  “I could get this one lamppost. It won’t hurt this time.  I can always make it up.”  “Oh, there’s a record.  It’s only 55 steps.”  “Oh, man, there’s a little clock.  You can always make up those 50.”  And on and on and on. Every hovering, lit medallion was a fight to walk past as I collected my 500 steps to get the “big prize” I was working toward.

I finally got to where I would “clear” whole areas so I could walk in peace while I collected enough steps for other areas.  But here’s the deal.  My brain is wired to show me all the possible options–even when I’ve decided to do one thing, it will tell me the other options.  That’s what a “thought temptation” is in essence–a presentation of options.

So, let’s say that you’re taking a test, and you know the person just across from you knows the answer to #7 and you don’t.  Your mind will present “all of the options” of how to solve this problem.  ONE of those options is to cheat and just glance over.  But just because that’s an option, a medallion in the road, that doesn’t mean you have to click it.

NOR do you have to beat yourself up because you had that thought.  What you must learn to do is to counter those thought temptations.  Be ready for them when they show up.  “No, cheating is wrong.”  “I can do this.”  “I would rather get a bad grade than to get a good grade dishonestly.”  “Jesus, help me to do what I know is right, not what is easiest.”

The BEST way to handle these “thought temptations” is to banish Satan (the one putting those thought temptations in your mind) from you.  “Satan and all your minions, you are hereby banished by the Blood of Jesus Christ to the throne of the Most High God to be dealt with there as He sees fit.”  Then ask Jesus to help you.  “Dear Jesus, I need Your help to do what is right here.  Please, help me through this hard moment.”

Doing this will accomplish several things:  1) It disarms Satan and all his little uglies. They are powerless when you invoke the Name, the Blood, or the Word.  2)  It puts the power in God’s hands and yours while glorifying God in the face of temptation.  3)  It reestablishes God’s pre-eminent role over your thoughts.  4) It gives you weapons to combat the “thought temptations” that left to their own devices will eventually take over your thinking, shouting so loudly that you will be at their mercy.

Don’t let that happen.  Understand temptation for what it is, and be prepared to deal with it when it shows up–even if it’s just a pesky little thought that is letting you see “all the options.”  The more you combat those thoughts, giving them no quarter in your mind, the less Satan will show up because he knows you know how to fight back… and that you WILL.

Forgiving is Hard

April 7, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

One of the most difficult things about being a mom is walking your children through life’s really tough lessons.  You can be floating along just fine, never even seeing the storm clouds gathering, when suddenly you’re caught in a maelstrom.

That’s what happened the other day with my son.  Now he’s eight and very soft-hearted.  He makes it a point to be nice to everyone (other than, of course, his two sisters).  He takes things in very deeply.  No surface living for him!

He’s also highly creative and he wants to be acknowledged for the good ideas he comes up with.  Sometimes that’s a challenge in second grade.  Okay, it doesn’t get any easier after second grade either, but we’ll deal with that later.

So the other day he gets in the van after school.  I asked how his day was, and he said, “Bad.”  Now he has “April Fooled” me numerous times coming back with “not really it was great!”  But not this time.  No, this time, bad went from bad to really bad to absolutely horrible in a matter of a heartbeat.

“Mom, Anna* stole my idea!” (*not her real name)

“What do you mean she stole your idea?”

“I had this idea to make a big card for one of the teachers from the whole class, and she stole my idea.  She told the teacher about it, and the teacher was all happy and excited and saying what a good kid she was.  It wasn’t her idea!  It was MINE!”

By now big crocodile tears were rolling down his little cheeks.

“Well, maybe she didn’t mean to steal it.  Maybe she just thought it was a good idea.”

“Then why didn’t she say it was mine.  She just let them think it was hers.”  He folded his arms.  “I’m not going to sign that big card.  It’s not fair!  I’m going to just make my own and see how they like that.”

“Now, sweetheart, I realize you’re upset…”

“And next time I’m going to steal one of her ideas and not tell anybody it was hers.  Then she can see how this feels.  I bet she won’t like it very much.”

You really can’t make this stuff up, you know?

“Listen, I don’t know why she did it, but think about it this way, the teacher really liked your idea even if she was the one that said it.”

“Yeah, but they think it was hers, and they’re all, ‘Oh, that’s such a great idea.  You’re so smart.’  I bet she’d be mad too if I took her idea like that and didn’t tell anybody. I’m going to do that to her and see how she likes it.”

That’s when I realized he was really going to need some help getting through this.  It wasn’t just a thing he was going to get through.  He wouldn’t forget it in five minutes.  This was real to him.  He was angry and hurt, and carrying that around wasn’t going to do anyone any good.

So, I said, “I think you’re going to have to try to forgive her.”

“Forgive her?  Mom!  She doesn’t deserve to be forgiven!  Besides I want to get even with her.  I want her to feel like I do right now.”

“I know, but that’s not good for you.  That is just going to make you mad and miserable.  It’s not going to change what happened at school.”

“But it’s not fair, Mom.  That was my idea and no one even knows that!”

“I know, and I don’t know why she took your idea without telling anyone.  Maybe she just thought it was a good idea and mentioned it.  Maybe she didn’t mean to steal it, it just happened.”

“Well, I’m still mad at her.”

“I know.  But I think maybe you should think about trying to forgive her–even if she doesn’t deserve it.  You know, we’ve talked about forgiveness at home.  When you say you’re sorry or they say they’re sorry.”

“But she didn’t even say she was sorry.  I don’t even think she is.”

“You’re probably right, maybe she isn’t even sorry, but that doesn’t mean you can stay mad.  It’s still important to forgive her… for you.”

“But, Mom.  Forgiving is hard!  I don’t want to forgive her.  I want to be mad at her.”

“I know.  Forgiving is hard.  That’s why a lot of the time we have to ask God to help us to forgive because if it was up to us, we’d just stay mad all the time.  But that doesn’t fix anything.  It just makes us sad and mad and hurt.  That’s no fun.  But God will help you to forgive her even though it’s hard.”

About this time the tears stopped, and I could see peace come over him.

“Just think about it,” I said.

You know, forgiving is hard.  And the worse whatever the other person did, the harder it is to forgive.  But when it’s right and you know it’s right but it’s hard, that’s when you know you need God.  God is there to help you and guide you through those rough patches when you really don’t want to do the right thing, when doing the wrong thing sure sounds easier and more logical.

But God’s logical will help you find real peace.  The other is just a long road of misery.

By the time we got home that night, my son was in much better spirits and the next day he not only signed the big card, he included his little card with it.  So maybe he learned a good lesson.  I know I did.

No Matter What

April 4, 2011

by:  Staci Stallings

As I told you in a recent post, I’ve been watching a lot of old “Family Ties” episodes recently.  Compared with what’s on television now, they are priceless.

One of the storylines I’ve been most fascinated with is the relationship between Alex and Ellen.  For those who don’t know, Michael J. Fox, who plays Alex, met his future wife Tracy Pollen, who plays Ellen on the show.  So much of what we are seeing in these episodes was the two of them as they met and fell in love not just in the storyline but for real.

It’s fascinating because you can see in his eyes how taken with her he is.  When she walks in a room, his eyes light up.  Of course at the time you could have written it off as good acting skills, but now…?

You see what makes their story particularly fascinating to me is that not only do we get to see them fall in love on camera, it’s what happened after these episodes were shot that is an incredible testament to their love.

I don’t know how much you know about Michael J. Fox but after being on this sit-com through the 80’s and marrying Tracy, he landed a job on Spin City.  However, within just a few years of beginning that sit-com and life with Tracy, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  Now, Michael is only a few years older than me.  I remember him well from the sit-coms and the movies he’s been in.  He was always fascinating to me because he could play the buttoned-down serious guy and the wacky do-anything-for-a-laugh guy with equal ease and grace.

But the Parkinson’s stole his ability to even control his own movements.  After it was first announced, he bravely pressed on through filming Spin City, but at some point it simply became too much, and he was forced to quit.

I’ll be honest.  I really can’t imagine what those days all the way up to today must be like.  Of course, I’m sure he has a great medical team and they are able to mitigate and control some of the illness, but the strength and grace the two of them exhibit in the face of this is truly an inspiration to me.

I read an article on them recently.  They now have four kids and are still together.

Think about that.  In Hollywood some marriages don’t last a month.  Yet, through changes and challenges that would test the toughest of people, theirs has survived.  When they married, they had the world at their feet.  Who could have known?  Who could have predicted how quickly that would change?

Tracy said that they have the same sense of humor–a fact most evident even in those early episodes, and she credits being able to laugh about their situation with holding them together.

Most everyone who gets married takes a vow “for better or for worse,” but I wonder how many really mean that vow.  I wonder, even about myself sometimes, “Do I have what it takes ‘for better or for worse’?” no matter what?

Part of me wants to believe I do.  Part of me hopes I’m never tested like that because part of me is not so sure.

I do know this:  These two are an inspiration to me.  Not because they fell in love, but because they stayed in love–no matter what.  Somehow, they have made it work even when doing so must have been an enormous challenge.

So thanks, Michael and Tracy, for showing us all that ‘for better or worse’ can be done… even today, even in Hollywood, even under extremely difficult circumstances.  You all are two of my heroes.