Monday, December 12, 2016

Peace in Chaos

If you are a reader of this blog, you probably know that Christmas is a favorite time of year for us.  I have written many a blog post over this season, the traditions we have, the joy we find in celebrating.  However, in true transparency, I must share that finding joy in the holiday season has not always been easy.

Last year, for example, was such a challenge.  It was the first year that we weren't with family for Christmas Eve.  It was also the first year that Zach had to work on Christmas Eve.  I really struggled with finding balance for our family with all the obligations we had.  I had a list a mile long of things I wanted to do as a family, activities and memory makers for our children.  I was so consumed with making Christmas as memorable as possible for our family, I was sucking the joy out of the entire season.  I broke one day, when all my well thought out plans went awry.  I was so focused on my ideas of what Christmas could and should be, that I forgot to even consider what my family wanted and needed out of this time of advent.

This year I vowed to not allow that to happen again.  However, now I find myself, two weeks from Christmas, and not at all in the holiday spirit.  Something is missing and I haven't quite been able to put my finger on what it is.

I smile to myself just now, reflecting on the ways God speaks to us.

Many of my friends and family know that my husband, the incorrigible Zach Bechtold, has a podcast with his good friend, Matt Franks, known as the Bearded Theologians.  Again, in true transparency, I admit that I am not a faithful listener to this podcast. (Sorry guys)  It's not because of anything other than I live with Zach and I listen to him all the time.  I mean, I have to hear his sermon twice on Sundays.  I love the guy and think he has thought provoking things to say, usually, but putting on their podcast isn't usually at the top of my to do list.  Today, however, in the midst of dealing with finishing Christmas shopping and tending to two sick and pitiful children, I pulled up a couple of podcasts and gave them a listen.

God finds ways to speak to us, even using our husbands.

The podcast I listened to came from last week and was about peace.  Finding peace. Finding peace within our self and through the gift of Jesus Christ.  There is no amount of decorating, baking, caroling, gifting, or cups of hot chocolate that can bring peace to this time of chaos and busyness.  Peace comes from one place, God, and we are responsible for allowing that peace to work in our own lives.  When we welcome peace into our own lives, that peace will be poured out into everything we do.  The chores of Christmas will become joyful, and that joy will seep into all that we do.

Welcome the peace.  Encourage others to find peace.  Take joy in the quiet times, realizing that we need those moments to hear what God is calling us to be, in that moment, and in the days to come.  Listen to who God is calling you to bring joy, happiness, and peace during the season of highs and lows.  Take the time to remember what is truly important, during this Christmas holiday and throughout the new year.

May peace be with you.

Take a listen to the Bearded Theologians podcast on peace below or at the Bearded Theologian website, where you can catch all their content:

and give them a follow on facebook here:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christmas Traditions

It's that time again!  Christmas season has begun.  My Christmas countdown gives us 27 days to go.

As we work to prepare for this holiday, I have been giving a lot of thought towards traditions.  Christmas traditions have always meant so much to me.  Each little act that my family would do would help get me into the Christmas spirit.  There were some traditions from my childhood that I couldn't wait to continue on with my family.  One of these is decorating the tree.  We crank out the Christmas songs, fight with the strands of lights, wondering why only half the strand is working, the kids fight over who gets to put up the Christmas star, and we pull out the ornaments, remembering where and when we got each one, as we take turns hanging them on the tree.  Each year we let the kids pick out new ornaments for the tree.  We also try to get a new ornament from our travels.

I love seeing other people's Christmas trees.  Each family does this in a different way.  Some are like my family, you have a collection of mismatched ornaments that are meaningful in some way to you.  Some families have a tree theme, maybe you have many trees, all with different themes.  Some people have beautifully put together trees with ribbons and balls.  It's all wonderful, no matter how you choose to decorate.

One thing that I didn't anticipate in my youth was that as we get older, as new people are added into the mix, and as things change, traditions will need to be changed as well.  I don't fear change, generally, but messing with my traditions is something different all together.

This year marks the first time in my entire life that I am not sitting at my parents for Christmas dinner.  Our little family of five will be by ourselves this Christmas day and I don't even know what to do.  I tell the kids that we will develop new traditions, a new way of doing Christmas, but as of right now I do not know what that looks like.  I do know, as I have learned from experience, that I can not force new traditions on my kids.  There will be things we do, that I feel like the kids should love, but really I'm doing it more for me than them.

So, help me out friends!  What are somethings that your family does, or has done, that you love, that really put you in the spirit of Christmas?  How have you handled change to your Christmas routine?  How have you explained those changes to your children?

This holiday season will be full of change, full of memories, and full of new experiences, of that I am sure.

I'll leave you with a few pictures of our ornament collection.

Nativity star from Vatican City

Zach and mine's first ornament and Ryann's first ornament.

Penguin family I got when I knew our family was complete.

I love our little handmade ornaments!

I had a picture ornament made this year.  I love how it's nestled between
Iron Man and a bell from the Polar Express!

Zach and I received this little tree on our first Christmas as a married couple.  Zach's grandmother gave it to us as a gift and it has fit perfectly in every home we have shared together, 6 houses!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Growing pains

I'd like to tell you a story.  Before I begin, however, let me give you some background information.

We have been living in our new town, with Zach serving at his new church since the end of June.  In that time, there has been lots of changes and upheaval for our family.  Finding a routine for the kids and I to get in to has been a challenge, and continues to be more than four months into this new life.  Sundays have proven to be the most challenging part of finding our new normal.  There are three services that Zach must be at.  He leaves our house often before 7:00 on Sunday mornings.  Two services are held at one church, one right after the other, with the third being held at another church, in another town, more than twenty minutes away.  What is a preacher's wife and family to do?  Most weeks I try to make it to two of those services, one in each church, though there are times that I just don't have it in me to sit through two services with my three kids so I choose one.  Then of course, there's always the one service, the earliest one, that I have only been to a few times.

Now, on to the story and the purpose of this post:

Not too long ago the kids and I got up to go to the earliest service, the one we have only been to on occasion.  I sat in the front, with the three kids.  I tried to smile at those around me and most people wouldn't even meet my eye.  That's okay, it's early, most of these people have no clue who I am.  The kids are tired, cranky, hot and uncomfortable.  The youngest one is crawling all over me, fidgeting to stay awake, but really wanting to go to sleep.  We make it to the end of the service and I work on gathering the water bottles, church bag, my purse, and loose bulletins.  An older woman walks up to us, she's the first one to talk to us since we walked in the front door.  She goes right up to Noah, who has been upset because of something his sister did or said, and asks him why he didn't stand during the last song, saying, "Is there something wrong with you?"

Noah immediately backs away from her, this stranger whom he has never met.  My six year old has no idea how to respond to this question and chooses to say nothing instead.  The lady glances at me for the first time, asks if its our first visit here and then offers the kids some candy.  I left flabbergasted.  I managed to make it to my car before I broke down into tears.  I went home depressed and feeling like I am the worst mom alive, the worst preacher's wife, a failure.

Now, I understand that I am a sensitive person.  I also admit to reading into things, intentions that weren't ever there.  However, I also know that had I been a visitor I would never go back to that church because of how my kids and I were treated, because of how a few people made me feel, whatever their true intentions were.

I know a lot of my readers are church goers, many of you are leaders in your congregation.  I am begging you to think about how you treat young families, visitors, and anyone else.  Think about how you go about greeting people, how you handle those people who may be "doing it wrong."

I have written before about having kids in church (you can see those here and here).  It's hard, whether you have one or five.  We are trying to teach our kid how to behave in an environment that is often unforgiving of mistakes or missteps.  Our kids are expected to sit quietly, to understand the traditions and routines, to be still, and to be happy.  How are they expected to learn anything without messing up on occasion?

Let me tell you another story:

Another Sunday, and another service finds us once again sitting on the front row, belongings strewn about, but this time we are in another sanctuary, surrounded by different people.  My kids are happy and this creates a new set of challenges.  They want to play, they want to talk, they want to run up and give their daddy a hug.  Ryann, the three year old wants to dance to the music.  Her dress has a twirly skirt and that's amazing and doesn't everyone want to see?  I am exhausted, and frustrated, and once again feeling like I'm failing.  The end of the service comes and I try to gather my wits and belongings without crumbling.  An older woman comes up to me.  Great. Here we go again.  She puts a hand on my arm and says, "I want you to know that we love seeing your kids up here.  I know it can be frustrating for you, but we love it. You are doing a good job of handling them by yourself."

Friends, this is love.  This is what will bring people back, bring people into a relationship.  There was no judgement, just encouragement.

Being a parent is hard.  Being a parent who tries to bring their family to church is hard.  Young families today have so much vying for their attention and time.  Often both parents work full time jobs and Sundays may be the only time for families to spend together.  For them to come spend an hour or more at church is an achievement in itself.  It means they are there because they want to be, whatever reason that may be.  They will often want to keep their family together during that hour of worship, for good reason.  However, there's a good chance that their younger ones are still learning about what church is, and how to behave.  Their parents are likely still learning about how to best handle their little ones while figuring everything out.  Be kind. Be encouraging.  Be helpful.  Love.  Think about your words before you offer any kind of observation or "helpful" advice.  Think about how your words, whatever their intention, may sound to an overwhelmed mother or father.  Think about how your criticisms may sound to that visitor, who doesn't understand or know about "how we do things."  If we expect to have a church in thirty years, we need to practice loving and encouraging more, and criticizing less.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Weakness into Perfection

Weakness.  It seems like "weakness" has become a dirty word.  I don't know, maybe it's always been that way, maybe it's human nature to not allow anyone to see that we have weaknesses, that we are not perfect.

Perfection.  What is perfection?  As a Christian I have been taught that we must always strive for perfection, to live our lives in a way that is "Christ like."  If we are to live as Christ lived, then we must work towards perfection, for Christ was perfection embodied.  But guys, Christ showed weakness.  He doubted, he struggled, he had moments of anger and deep sorrow.  He didn't hide these moments of weakness from the world, from his closest friends, they are instead, well documented, and guess what? He's still perfect.

Why then, do we attempt to hide our weaknesses from the world?  Why do we try to hide our weaknesses from ourselves?  Only when we truly admit to ourselves that we are not perfect, that we struggle, that we need help, that we aren't always who we know we should be, can we really grow, grow towards true perfection.

It's easy to put on a strong face for a couple of hours, those moments we need to be the super version of ourselves.  It's easy to sit behind a computer and write, hitting that delete button when that version of ourselves that we don't want others to see makes an appearance.  It's easy to hide ourselves away when we are feeling weak so that no one has to see that part of us.  It's easy, but is it right?

Maybe I'm in the minority but I long for transparent and authentic relationships.  I need to be around people who have weaknesses and who we can journey together, through the valleys and the mountaintops.  I need people in my life who understand weakness and who are willing to share those moments with me so that I can overcome my own.  Who doesn't need people like that?

Christ is and has always been transparent and authentic.  He also knows our weaknesses and desires to walk beside us as we struggle.  If we aren't being honest with ourselves as to where and when we need help, are we allowing God to work through us and heal us at the same time?

Love yourself, warts and all.  Don't hide away when your soul is crying out for help, crying out in despair.  Don't keep that part of yourself from everyone else.  Who knows, God could use those moments of yourself, those moments you hate and hide away, those pieces of you that seem weak, to change another's life.

God is amazing.  His people are amazing.  We are capable of so much, but only if we are honest with who we are.  Only in that honesty can our true potential be realized.

I heard a quote recently and I'll try to get it right here: "Who we are is God's gift to us.  Who we become is our gift to God."

Who are you going to become?  And how are you going to get there?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

'Cause He's My Best Friend...

Today, Zach and I celebrate eleven years of marriage.  We are celebrating separately today because Zach is out of town and wont be back until tomorrow.  This week I have been reflecting over the last eleven years of married life and the two years that lead up to our wedding and would like to share some of those reflections with you, if you'll indulge me.

Anniversary picture from last year.

Zach and I met at church.  A friend from my McMurry days was working as Youth Director at my home church when I moved back to Plainview.  It was a difficult time in my life and I was feeling very lost and alone.  Tyson, my McM pal, invited me to come help out with the youth group.  I debated whether or not to go because, well, I was scared.  Teenagers? Scary! But, I was lonely enough that I went.  I met Zach that first night.  He was so young and weird, he came and sat beside me right away and made me feel welcome.  He's gifted like that.

Just a couple of kids, working with some kids.

The next year had us working together and forming a friendship.  I never really thought about dating him, he was so young, we would never be more than just friends.  However, as the months went on, and as we continued in ministry together, I saw more in him.  We didn't always agree but he always listened to me.  He was very immature but I saw growth.  We didn't have a lot in common, but we always had fun together.  Finally, I decided to let the age difference not be an issue and we started dating on July 4, 2004.

Our dating life had some up and downs but within a few months I knew he was it for me.  I was done looking for Mr. Right,I had found him in Zach.  We talked about marriage for months before he finally popped the question a year into dating on July 4, 2005.  He took me for a picnic lunch at the place we first met, the church, and asked me to marry him.  It was perfect.

Our first "couple" pic

Not getting any younger we decided to not have a long engagement and set our wedding date for only two months away, before Zach got far into his semester of school.  It was a stressful two months but our wedding was wonderful.  So many friends and family came to help us celebrate.  We had a very simple ceremony, again, in the place we met, followed by a cookout at my aunt and uncles house.  It was just what I wanted and I am so grateful for the hard work our families put in to help us carry it off.

We didn't have a ton of money so we honeymooned in Santa Fe for a couple of days before we had to return to work and school.  So begins married life.

Hanging out in Santa Fe with my 20 year old husband.

That first year of marriage was so hard.  We were trying to figure out what being married really meant.  We had to learn to put each other first, above everyone else.  We had to learn to communicate.  I'll be honest, there were moments that first year that I thought about calling it quits.  There were moments that we almost let our differences break us.

First Christmas as a married couple.

A couple of weeks after our fist anniversary I became pregnant with Zoe.  With that pregnancy came even more obstacles we had to cross.  Money, house, jobs, church, family, so many things that could have gotten in the way had we let it.  I prayed constantly that the Lord would prepare Zach to be a dad, worried that at just 22 he wouldn't want the job.  We were still working at figuring things out as a couple, would we be able to figure things out as parents?

He's the best dad.

It wasn't easy, but we figured it out.  We went the next year after Zoe was born, fumbling along best we could.  Things were hard and again, I had doubts.  The turning point happened one Sunday in May a year after Zoe was born.  I found myself in our bedroom, alone and fuming about something Zach had done.  I was angry and hurt and couldn't believe he was just going to let me be angry and hurt alone.  Do you know what I did?  I sucked it up, got out of bed, and calmly as I could, I confronted Zach.  I told him that I was hurt and why I was mad.  We talked about it.  I discovered that he wasn't aware of the transgression that had so upset me.  He apologized and we talked for hours after that.  I learned in that moment, that if I wanted to have a marriage with him that I had to humble myself and communicate my feelings to him instead of allowing them to build up and fester inside of me.  That was a game changer.

Since then many things have happened in our lives, many bad, so much more great.  We have grown together, built a family together, and continued in ministry together.  Zach, this kid I thought was too young for me, has taught me so much.  He's taught me to love baseball, to love generously (although he's still way better at it), to trust always, and to forgive earnestly.  We still have hard times, moments that we struggle through, moments of doubt, but because we are able to continue to enter into conversation together, to share those feelings, we have been able to persevere.

Eleven years.  It's not a huge amount, but, I know, without a doubt it will continue.  We have a lifetime ahead of us, and I am certain, without a shadow of a doubt, that we will share it together.  You see, even though I know it wont always be easy, it is so worth it to put in the hard work to ensure we have as healthy a relationship as possible.  I know that our kids will grow up believing in true love, because we have shown them what that looks like.

It looks like this.