Confessions of a Google Mapping Mama

Google MapsSo yesterday I found myself Google mapping H.E.B. grocery stores near the University of Houston campus. I was planning ahead to our upcoming drop off visit to move Russel in and the limited amount of time I would have to help him get his room set up, shop for those last-minute items and stock his fridge, among other things. As I pondered these mom of a soon-to-be college student thoughts, I realized I had to be strategic with where we shopped. I couldn’t just GPS grocery stores on the spot – what if we went to the worst one nearby… or one with a horrible selection? A good, clean grocery store where products are actually what we eat and are easy to find is important! So it hit me – I should Google map the stores near the campus now. I found four stores close to the school and scrolled through each location’s customer comments.

Here are a few reviews straight off their sites —

“This store is a black eye on the HEB company. Rotten fruit. Long lines. Terrible selection. Awful customer service.”

“Ghetto store…no meat variety….all the pork u can want!”

” I guess you could say that I’m an HEB aficionado or whatever. My official, expert opinion on this one: It’s pretty dope. Extensive produce, helpful staff, nice bakery….”

With that last one, I thought – “Ding, Ding – we have a winner!” All the reviews I read for that site were equally glowing. That was the one I’d point him to!

My next thought was I should take him with me so he could see where it is, and then hopefully when he has to go alone for the first time he won’t get lost. You see, my son is amazingly directionally challenged. Truth be told – I’ve never met a person who could so easily lose sight of which way to go to reach your destination. When he entered middle school, he bravely asked if he could ride his bike to school. We were so proud! “Of course,” we said! And then when he asked where he turned to get there, we hung our heads. After all those years of driving by it daily — he still didn’t realize the school is on our street. There is no turn to get there.. you just go straight.. all the way.. until you reach the school.

And this is the dear child we are about to send to college. I know I’m probably being somewhat of a helicopter mom. It could be said I’m over preparing to prepare him and help him be ready for being on his own. I can’t help it though. Years from now I bet he’ll look back on it all and laugh. Who knows, he could already be doing that now when I’m not around – wise boy that he is!

The thing is – my son can never doubt my love for him. While the ways I show it may sometimes be slightly off track – the heart behind it all is good! And then I know, when we pull away and head back to Austin, he will figure these things out. He will find his own place to shop. He will find his favorite hang outs and I bet he’ll find a way to get to them with out much difficulty thanks to Google maps on his phone and he can always ask the people around him. I just want to know I did everything I could do to ready him. Because I know, there will be enough surprises, enough moments of having to figure things out with out our help. When those moments come, I know we have prepared him in the best possible way. He knows where to go for this one. He knows to go to God. He can ask anything. And God will help him navigate through. I bet, he could even help him find his way when he feels lost.

Yes, my son is in good hands. And of course, he can always call home.

Amy O’Donnell

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Show it the Door!

FearI am not a girl who loves scary movies. I have met people who love them. But I don’t like to be scared. I don’t like to see people hunted down and killed, even in make-believe film world. I like fairy tales, romance and comedy movies, and I’ll even go for a good drama or action flick, but I steer pretty clear from the horror genre.

So I am not sure what possessed me to watch a much discussed, truly scary movie one night when David and all of our kids were out. As I flipped through the channels, it just jumped out at me on the schedule of available entertainment. Perhaps I thought, maybe I’m missing something… maybe I should watch a well-known one like this just to see if I’ve wrongly judged these flicks and crossed them off my list without cause.

Toward the end, I was perched on the edge of the couch. At some point, I’d gotten up to retrieve the phone and kept it with me, just in case I heard someone break in who might come after me as I sat home all alone watching this crazy tale unfold. As scared as I was, I couldn’t seem to pry myself away. Instead, I called David and asked him to come home – at least two or three times as I sat glued to the TV. Because if he was there and anyone did break in — surely then I’d be safe! He finally came home and laughed at me and asked me what in the world I, of all people, was doing watching this scary movie!

Isn’t funny how quickly fear can cause rational thinking to go out the door! Today, I want to talk about fear and how it causes us to act in ways that were we to stop and think about it, we would realize are unwise and unwarranted. Not in reference to the phobia type or movie related fears, but in the places I think fear causes us to make the most mistakes and act in ways that we don’t recognize the root of our actions. I want to talk about fear in regard to our dreams and goals and the promises of God for our lives.

I used to struggle big time with this kind of fear! I have journaled my prayers and the whispers of the Holy Spirit for years. I do my best to live surrendered and stay on God’s path for my life as I follow his guiding words shared with me during this special time together as well as the other whispers and promptings of the spirit on my journey of life. Yet fear was the thing that tripped me up the most from walking in the spirit and reaching my destiny in God’s ways and in His timing. It wasn’t until I went through a recovery class about six or seven years ago that I saw the correlation between fear and insecurity and the spiraling worry it caused in my life and the havoc that wreaked in my world. Sometimes this stayed an inward struggle affecting my thought and home life and other times it caused me to try to steer things with others in the direction I thought they should go… taking matters into my hands – like God needed my help! I guarantee – He doesn’t!

That class for me brought me a big ah-ha moment that forever changed me as it led to my freedom in this area. That is, that God’s perfect love casts out fear, as it says in 1 John 4:18. We can truly trust in God’s love for us, his timing, his plans, and that our best possible outcomes always come when they unfold his way! He, in his love for us, won’t fail us, won’t let us down, won’t forget about us. No matter how many other people have been unfaithful with our hearts, God is eternally faithful!

On my path to awareness in this area, I also meditated on verses like 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, “God has not given me a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” I love that verse still today. While I don’t struggle with fear as I once did, it still tries to rear its ugly head every so often and when it does, I show it the door with this verse and others like it!

If you struggle with spiraling thoughts, control issues, trying to steer things forward in your own ways, and stepping in and not waiting on God to move, chances are, fear is at the root! Surrender and doing things God’s way is a much more peaceful way to live. I urge you if this is where you find yourself today, to meditate on verses that speak of God’s love for you, as well as verses that speak of God’s perfect peace and verses that will help you win the battle against fear. The more God’s truths and love soak in and take root in your heart, the less fear will have an entrance.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Is there a time fear lead you to take matters into your own hands and not wait on God? How did it turn out?

2. What verses do you go to for reminders of God’s love for you and his plans for your life?

3. Do you have anyone you need to ask forgiveness from, where fear caused you to act in ways that put a wedge in your relationship or caused them harm? If so, I encourage you to go for it!

Amy O’Donnell

Copyright © 2014 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Oh, to be like YOU! (Guest Post by Alex Shimanek)

Jesus - To be like youI majored in Psychology in college. I loved it!  Why people think and behave the way they do, it’s always intrigued me. I find human beings to be fascinating, complicated, and beautiful. To know one ’s self and be truly honest about your thoughts, feelings and actions sounds simple enough, but as we all know, it can be a tricky, sometimes painful, thing.

 Funny how two people can go through the exact same situation and have two totally different perceptions of it.  We each bring our own past, experiences and beliefs into how we interpret and perceive the situations we are in. I use to think I had mastered the art of self-reflection. I really thought I was so self-aware that nothing could get past me. Until that one night in the kitchen (isn’t it always in the kitchen !) when I was having a conversation with my husband and the phrase “be truly honest with yourself” was being repeated over and over again. But, every time those words came out of my mouth I felt a check in my spirit, like God was saying, “Stop worrying about who is or isn’t being honest with themselves-YOU be honest!”

Well that can’t be right! Excuse me, God? I majored in Psychology! I know things! I am in tune with my thoughts and my feelings. If I’m wrong, I’ll say, “I’m wrong”. If I need to apologize, I’ll  say, “I’m sorry”.  (Now…if I can just pause for a sec here and impart some wisdom…if you ever find yourself arguing with God, chances are, you- my sweet and beautiful friend- are wrong! I write this in love, of course)

The next morning, on my run, the lyrics of the very first song that played were, “Jesus, Jesus, all I want is to be like you.” I kept repeating it, “Jesus, Jesus all I want is to be like you”.  As I prayed and worshiped and ran, God flooded my mind with images of people, situations and times I wasn’t being like him. There were far too many than I’d like to admit.

Now, I know God loves me. I know God didn’t do this to make me feel bad. I know he did it to HELP me. To help the relationships in my life be more Christ-like. And, in order to be a better wife, mom and friends,  I’d have to go back to those times where I had behaved poorly, so I could do better in the future.

Images of my sweet friend -who I should have been kinder to, encouraged more and showed more love, respect and loyalty to, came to mind. I felt ashamed.

My children, the very same children I prayed fervently for 10 years ago… I was dismissive of my daughter when she was asking me to re-tell her the story of how I met daddy, my sons too- I yelled at them for making a fort-in of all places…the PLAYROOM!

My sweet husband, the man who everyday tells me how much he loves me, I was downright hostile towards because he bought 2% milk instead of 1%!

Man, I needed to get to work! ASAP. I needed to apologize. Make some changes. Pray.

“Jesus, Jesus All I want is to be like you”.  What a goal!  Don’t be afraid to tell God you want to be more like him. Ask him to show you where in your life you have fallen short. Make amends. Seek forgiveness and do better. None of us are there yet, but if we all desire to be more like Jesus, what a world this will be!

Alex Alex Shimanek is the Shoreline Church Sisterhood North Coordinator, a mother of four children (three of which are triplets!!), and an amazing writer and communicator of the gospel. Thanks for writing for me Alex. Love you, dearly!

Above the Crowd

crowdsAfter my son’s graduation ceremony this past weekend we quickly exited the building to meet up with him outside, hug and congratulate him and get some pictures with the family. Thousands of other people left the ceremony with the same intention. The cheering sections of parents and extended family all left one way out the building and the students who graduated all left through another, on the complete opposite side of the building. And to add to the numbers, the next graduation was minutes away and those families were filing in to get seats in the midst of all the chaos. For us who were leaving, there were a few obvious meet up locations – a large statue of a bull, and a flagpole — each stood above the crowd in clear view. It quickly became obvious we parents gave our graduating kids the same connecting point, and two crowds of people collided in one tiny area outside the arena the ceremony took place in.

A half wall separated that area from the street where everything opened up. As I headed to the bull, packed in like a sardine with the stop and go crowd of people, I heard my brother-in-law call out, “Amy, let’s turn around and head toward the opening. If we can get through there we can see the crowd still, call for Russel and he can meet us there.” To which I replied, “Rob, you are going to have to lead me out of here because all I see is butts and backs.” That’s a very real viewpoint for a five foot nothing girl in a crowd. My sister-in-law says it another way, “all you see is elbows and …”…. well, probably best not to put that here. But if you’ve heard the rest of that saying you’re probably having a good chuckle right about now.

So with my hand in Kylie’s, and her’s in my brother-in-laws, we wove in and out through the crowd like a small train. Once through, I saw my gathering family and eventually we all made it out, except…. where was Ethan? We did a count. We were ALL there, without him. Who had he been with, did he hear our instructions, these questions quickly flashed through my mind until a minute or two later, I saw a boy lift himself out of the crowd and onto the half wall closing it in. Not just any boy — but my boy. Looking completely unruffled. He knew if he got himself above the crowd we’d find him and he was staying put. We called out to him en mass and he hopped down and ran over to us.

I was proud of him. He handled a crisis that could have terrified him with calm and ease. He’d been apart from us longer than we thought. He’d looked back inside, looked outside, then just decided to sit and wait and get where we could see him. Good call, Ethan!

It’s in moments like those that I see my kids are growing up. I see their level-headed thinking lead them through the crowds that could lead them off track. Instead of getting lost in them they rise above them. And I know he wasn’t alone in that moment – God was with him, and He saw him through. Was it Ethan, or a little whisper that told him where to go, to stay calm, to rise above the crowd? As a mom whose kids are God’s kids too, I know he is with them and leading them even when I can’t be. I count on it.

It’s that same thought that brings me peace as I prepare to send my oldest out. He is not alone. God is with him. And as God is with him, he is already leading him. A verse that keeps getting passed on to him in many forms now is Proverbs 3:5-6, ” Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” I have two life verses God’s given me at key times and they’ve stayed with me as steady constants through many storms and battles and moments I’ve wanted to quit and walk away from the path of destiny God has me on. I am thankful to see a verse emerging in this season for him. I know the Holy Spirit will quicken in his mind the awareness that this verse is repeatedly being given to him and quoted to him because it’s God’s word FOR HIM at this stage of life.

There are many things he is reconciling with-in himself — graduating early, what he wants to do with his life, stepping out into the world to make his mark. The only way to do that well is to surrender to and trust God every step of the way.

I’m thankful for the way God leads my kids through life. I love the way he gives them wisdom to rise above what they see around them to get a higher view as he did with Ethan. And I’m forever grateful for the peace it brings my heart to know God’s already steering them in visible ways and with words of guidance they can hold on to.

They are mine for a season. Entrusted to my care. But they are really God’s. And he’s got them in the palm of his hand.

One thankful momma,

Amy O’Donnell

Raise Your…

EbenezerNo, not glass… if you thought that was the rest of my title, it’s possible you’ve listened to a few too many Pink songs, or taken part in a few too many recent toast moments…

The word to finish my title is Ebenezer.

No, not Scrooge either.

The only place I had heard this word in the context I am referring to until I did some research on it in was in an old hymn we used to sing in the churches I grew up in, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. This was one we sang often, and when I close my eyes I can still hear my Nana belting it out in her sweet southern soprano that never failed to lift above and drown out the other voices in the room. We all knew who the real song leader was, despite who was on the platform.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago while I was doing some research on the biblical concept of remembrance that I learned what an Ebenezer is. In the Old Testament, patriarchs often took time to tell their stories to the next generations coming after to speak of God’s faithfulness in their lives and the lives of the ancestors before them, to pass on the heritage of faith and trust in God.  They also took time to build monuments for passers-by to remember how God brought victory in that place. The word Ebenezer comes from one such monument.

1 Samuel 7:12 tells the story. It says, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” In that place God rescued the Israelites from their enemies, the Philistines. They were coming to attack them, sending the Israelites into a panic. In fear they cried out to Samuel and he in turn cried out to God. God answered with thunder so fearsome the Philistines themselves panicked and ran right into the hands of the Israelites, who won, thanks to God. In that place he raised an Ebenezer in remembrance.

We see the same concept in Joshua 4 after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on their journey to taking possession of the Promised Land. It was during flood stage they crossed. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap (Joshua 3) allowing the people to cross over. After the nation finished crossing, God told Joshua to choose twelve men, one from each tribe, to go back the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and pick up twelve stones. They were to carry them to and set them down in the place they would stay that night. Verses 6-7 say, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

A memorial, just like a monument, was erected in remembrance of all God brought them through.

What has God brought you through in your life? How often do you pause and give thanks for it and pass on the stories to help build faith in the hearts of those who’ve come after you?

For me, this morning I couldn’t help but pause in remembrance. God has brought me through so much. Injustice, betrayal, rejection, my own shortcomings – each of these moments of my past are now, as I look back, moments God has brought redemption to, moments of miraculous victories, moments of healing so deep I am better equipped now to understand and help bring that same healing to others in His name. I am thankful. I can’t help but give Him praise. Here I raise my Ebenezer. Won’t you raise yours with me?

Amy O’Donnell

Copyright © 2014 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Letting Go

2013-12-02 16.02.42There are some things we just can’t comprehend fully until we walk through them —

The way it feels to hold your child in your arms…

The joy of seeing him or her take their first steps and call you by name…

The emotions on the first day of school…

The feelings as they approach graduation…

This last one I am approaching quickly. I can’t believe it’s almost here. It seems like just yesterday I experienced all the other firsts. Time goes so fast. I’ve talked about it in my messages on parenting – every stage is strategic in preparing my kids to send them out into the world and hit their mark – the mark God created them to make on this earth. I believe our children are our arrows, as it says in Psalm 127:4,

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.

God has great plans for each and every one of them and He entrusts them to us to shape, mold and release. The release part after shaping – is not easy. I’ve seen other mom’s walk through this season. I am now that mom feeling the emotions of letting go. The release moment is here. I wonder, have I done enough? Have I taught Him enough?

As I am working on letting go, he’s already pulling away. That’s good. That’s natural. That’s what should happen. And as I grieve I tell him I want him to go and take on the world. He is excited. I am excited for him. I can’t wait to see what this new season holds for him. It brings me great joy to see his interests and goals take shape and to watch him pursue them with enthusiasm.

I am so thankful for mom’s in my world I can reach out to and talk through letting go. I’ve let go of toxic relationships, I’ve let go of people who’ve passed on from this world, but not one of my own into their future. That is – until now – Here we go! If you are a mom who’s been through this season, what are some things you did well? What would you recommend to other moms? What did you do for your kids that made an impact as you prepared them for what’s next?

Amy

 

 

 

Courageous Conversations, Guest Post by Ruth Caporello

 Courageous Conversations  Have you ever had the feeling that something needed to be said? You know, that feeling that starts as a ball of discomfort in the pit of your stomach and crawls up into your throat, making your fingers tingle and your temperature rise? If you are above the age of 3 and are in relationship with any other human being, you have most likely experienced the urge to express an alternative viewpoint, to point out a conflictual dilemma, to challenge an argument.

In many cultures across the globe, we are taught to “not rock the boat” and to “keep the peace at all costs.” Yes, our words do have great power (Proverbs 18:21) and peacemakers are called the very “children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Still, I wonder how different our cultures, how enriched our relationships, how vibrant our communication would be…if we were brave enough to have more “courageous conversations.”

Uncomfortable, but worth it!

I recently attended a training around cultural competency and conversation regarding ethnicity, diversity and race. The trainers aimed to create a “safe” environment in which the group of participants from a diverse spectrum of ages, backgrounds and cultures could divulge on issues that are often quite “touchy” in mainstream society. At the beginning of the training, we agreed to be honest with and respectful of one another. Throughout the training, we asked questions and shared personal experiences, stereotypes and fears. We learned from and extended grace to ourselves and to each other. At times, certain topics and exercises made us feel uncomfortable, but we were willing to address those areas in order to grow in knowledge, understanding and relationship. Each of the participants agreed that it was worth stepping out of one’s comfort zone for!

It can save lives!

I am reminded of a valiant young woman who risked her own life in order to have a courageous conversation. In the book of Esther, the Bible tells the story of how the simple Jewish girl was summoned to the king’s palace and groomed to become his bride. A noble advisor to the king, Haman became jealous of Esther’s cousin and plotted to destroy all Jews in the kingdom (which included the newly-Queen Esther, herself). Esther heard of this evil plan and made the difficult decision to ask the king to spare her people. The very act of calling upon the king without his prior consent was not custom and endangered her life. At a dinner she hosted for the king, she made her request, …”If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request, I ask that my life and the lives of my people will be spared. For my people and I have been sold to those who would kill, slaughter, and annihilate us. If we had merely been sold as slaves, I could remain quiet, for that would be too trivial a matter to warrant disturbing the king!” (Esther 7:3-4 NIV) Esther looked fear in the face and made a bold plee, saving her life and the lives of her people that day. Now, that’s a courageous conversation, if you ask me!

Cultivating Courageous Conversations

Here are some valuable tools to remember when starting courageous conversations:

  1. Ask yourself, “What am I committed to in this conversation?” In other words, choose one or two words that describe the “filter” you want to communicate through. For an example, if you are committed to “love” and “acceptance,” then you would run what you say, how you respond and your body language through the filters of “love” and “acceptance.” If you are committed to “honesty” and “forgiveness,” then you would project your conversation through the filters of “honesty” and “forgiveness.” These words you choose will reflect and focus your motives and will describe the kind of experience you want your listener(s) to have in that conversation.

  2. Write it down! In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to remember the important thoughts you wanted to share. By taking a “breather, writing down and reviewing the key points you want to share, you are more likely to articulate effectively.

  3. LISTEN. It can feel wonderful to speak “our truth” and expose the realities that appear as clear as day to us. However, it is equally important to listen to the other parties in the conversation. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” (Rachel Naomi Remen) When listened to, your confidant may feel more respected and be more willing to listen to your perspective – and you may learn things about him/her that you didn’t know before.

  4. You can only control your actions. As hard as it is to accept, we may not always get the results we want. We only answer for our own actions, our own initiatives, our own motives. It may be risky to express a viewpoint that is not popular or that has been pushed deep down for many years – only to have the other parties uninterested or even defensive. Don’t give up – you may be “planting seeds” of truth, reconciliation and authenticity. It may take some time for the other to come around.

  5. Give yourself grace. Each of us has allowed words to slip that we regretted after the fact or just plain didn’t help the situation! Give yourself grace and don’t be afraid to courageously ask for forgiveness – and also forgive yourself.

The greatest things in life typically cost us something. It is not fun to speak the truth with the risk of unpopularity, disagreement or adversity. I believe the most powerful filter and motive is LOVE. Love will inspire us to speak up and to bite our tongues. Love will touch the deepest wounds and coldest hearts, in time. When expressed in love, even the most difficult conversations can spark a catalyst for change, healing, reconciliation, progress, (and the list goes on!) So, write it down. Meditate and pray about it. Get wise counsel. And speak the truth in love! I propose a toast – to more courageous conversations! *clink*

Ruth Capr

Bio: A globally-minded Texan, Ruth Caporello is passionate about inspiring others to cultivate and embrace the purpose and passion within them. A recent newlywed, Ruth loves to laugh, cook, travel, play scrabble with her hubby and advocate for children and families in need.