You have 5 minutes or the BEARS will get you!

I stooped to a new level of parenting today. Threatening with fear. I hear it works. Supposedly POW camps and football coaches use it quite effectively. Awesome. Not the role models I was seeking to mimic.  You see, my beloved four year old refuses to eat his meals-in one sitting. Really, without ever sitting. We begin the meal time (that’s three times every single day, seven days a week, for those that are counting) with high hopes. Proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, all accounted for on one plate. Smiles abound. And then, anywhere from 4 seconds to 4 minutes into what used to be my favorite time of every day, my life size dietary dictator proclaims, “I have to go to the bathroom, I forgot something upstairs, my stomach hurts, I need my truck, let me get another fork, a spoon, watch the air move, turn off the light, dim the light, open the shades, wash my hands, brush my hair, do your taxes,” you get the point.

Really, I think I’ve heard it all. Meal times in our house are so special. I vacillate between loving health guide on the side and crazed lunatic waving forks and eggs over medium in front of the food chute on his head. I know my life span has been shortened by at least 2 years because of the meal time protests. Why won’t this kid eat?!  Why doesn’t he see that I know what’s best for him? I have lovingly crafted these meals, thought about his best interest, and taken time to place this nourishment so conveniently in front of him every step of the way. I breast fed him for over a year (can I get a hallelujah), I made that organic pureed squash, sweet potatoes, melons, and such (preach it), and have vowed to be “patient” as meals drag on so long that one meal starts to bleed into the next time zone.  For the love. Today, I gave up all reason.

“Grant! You have FIVE minutes and if you haven’t finished your sandwich by the time I lay your sister down (the 1 year old who dominated her lunch in less than 3 minutes), I’m going to let out the wild bears that live in the attic. They will likely try to eat you. They are crazy!” And then, I actually growled. Like, tried to make it so real and convincing I tried to “throw” my growl noise so it didn’t sound like it came from the nursery. I may have also scratched and clawed the wall. (Totally get it if you cancel your blog subscription). Insert terrified four year old eyes peering from behind the kitchen wall.

Award me the metal of parenting honor now, please!  Actually, if you happen to be associated with CPS or one of my former educator friends, I know, I know, I know. I’m sorry. Really, I am. But sometimes, well, sometimes you just have no options left. I can see the middle school counseling office calling now.

And sometimes, as you rock your sweet Grace (oh, the irony is thick folks) you wait for further argument from said traumatized four year old and the silence offers a new perspective. God is funny. It’s as if I heard him leaning down over that brown stuffed rocking chair gently reminding, “How’s that nourishment I provide you each day?” (Jesus drops mic and exits stage left). Insert foot in mouth. Who let the bears out? Me.

Most of my very well reasoned arguments for not taking in my spiritual nourishment each day throughout my life sound something like this:

“I am so tired, Lord. It’s honestly like I cannot open my eyes.”

“Give me a few more minutes on Facebook (so life-giving) and I will do my devotion.”

“I need to take a quick shower, have my girlfriends time, and my quality time (you know it’s my love language ) with my husband!”

“Why am I so tired drained and short with my people? Oh….”

“I don’t even know where to begin? Flip to….the middle? Sounds good!”

Truth bombs sinking in…terrified Mother peering upward and sighing. Yes, Lord, I hear you.

I haven’t always had a burning desire to be in His word. In fact, until recently, the above themes have been more common than not, I am sad to admit. I don’t know if you are like me, but the tone of my day is set within the first few moments of my eyes opening to morning light or children screaming about potty and breakfast. Sometimes, I am even so impacted by my dreams, the tones of those dreams spew over onto my conscious thoughts and actions. What a hopelessly vulnerable way to start the day! Before I get breakfast on the table, myself or maybe even my husband out the door, the trajectory of the day can already be spiraling out of whack. And we know where life is headed once meal time begins.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)

Does that strike to your core as it does mine? Be awake, aware, and thoughtfully cautious.  There is an enemy prowling like a lion (or bear in the attic) looking for someone to destroy, destruct, or as dictionary.com says, “to take in greedily with the senses or intellect.” A lot of days I think that enemy is in my own head. My perceptions on the world, my insecurities shading truths and light from coming in, my inabilities to be strong in difficult situations, even my lack of patience and Grace with a certain four year old. But what would happen if I took five minutes to nourish myself before the lions and bears devoured my soul? What if those minutes were the first 5 minutes of every single day. The first genesis thoughts filled with truth and light and lasting nourishment? What if I obeyed the Lord’s calling to know Him and be in relationship?

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. -Psalm 63:5 (NIV)

If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? My son, eat honey, for it is good, Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste; Know that wisdom is thus for your soul; If you find it, then there will be a future, And your hope will not be cut off.… -(Proverbs 24:12-14)

Wisdom from the Word is nourishing for our souls. It is rich like honey in sweetness and goodness.  Do you know how bees make honey so sweet and digestible? I didn’t until I was recently at a speaker/writer conference, ‘She Speaks 2015.‘ One of the speakers relayed what her dear friend, a bee keeper has learned over the years. It is critical that bees are up first thing in the morning, in the light and drinking nectar from the sweetest flowers, the clover patches. The bees instinctively know they must be up early and in the sun to receive their nourishment.  As I poked around google, I found the importance of the bees drinking the nectar and then ingesting it for a time. To really gain the benefits and make the nourishment sweet, they must regurgitate the material and then ingest again. It’s a process to become sweet and it must occur early.  I think we can learn a few things from these Bees.

As Karen Ehmen spoke in her session at She Speaks, “If we want to be sweet and gracious with our words and reactions (especially to our tenderhearted four year olds) we must be up FIRST thing in the morning with THE Son.” Wow. Hasn’t the Lord been whispering that to me for years? To receive nourishment I need, so I can be ready to take on my days, conversations, the enemies in my head, and even the meal time fiasco, I need to be armed and ready with my sweet wisdom. I only can get this from being with Him.

Proverbs 31 Ministries has responded to the desires of many hearts and prayers and excuses (see mine above)! The First 5 App was created and launched (this week!) to give an avenue for getting in His word before we start speaking our own. I deeply crave the sweetness that He promises when we invest and regurgitate and ingest His wisdom day after day. I know some small tender people and big ones that live pretty close to me that would benefit from the sweetness as well.

Can you see this working in your life? What would happen if we took the genesis moments of our days and started with rich, life giving, sweet words? How would this change the trajectory of your days? I know I could use a little less BEAR in my house. Turns out that bear really has been me. I guess this bear does need some honey!

If bees and children need their nourishment, I think I can finally out reason my arguments (excuses). I’ve started my First 5 journey this week. Will you join me?

Download the APP here: http://first5.org/

Twirl in Your Lane

If I had to guess,  summer of 1989 is when I became starkly aware of what I didn’t have but my friends did.  My best neighborhood friends, Michelle and Katie were playing Barbies together and listening to mix tapes of Debbie Gibson. I was not invited. The cold reality of staring at my white walls and stuffed animals alone while they giggled, twirled Peaches and Cream Barbie, and most likely (not) talked about how fun they were and how not fun Ann is, was all more than my blonde pigtails could handle.

Seriously though, how fun is her twirly skirt?

I wanted to be included with my good friends, yes, but more so, I wanted something they had and I did not. I wanted the fun, the cool toys, the fitting in, not my boring books and nap time. Desperation sunk in my stomach as I realized I would have to do something drastic to get what I thought I needed.

Could I possibly lie to my mom and tell her I left something at Michelle’s? Then just show up in her basement window and force my friendship to work? I stared down the beige tangled cord hanging from the kitchen wall in silent bewilderment and tension. Why was that darn thing not ringing with shrieks of invitation? Why was I so zeroed in on something I didn’t have? Why was a young girl in the prime of her summer not eating purple popsicles but instead worrying about what others had? Even if I had been in that cool and dark basement with my gal pals, I would feel empty and maybe even sad. Somehow these “dreams” we have for ourselves never are as grandiose as we think. That didn’t stop me from wanting wanting wanting.

My energy was zapped. Hot tears ran down my face and I remember begging with God to give me more than what I had that afternoon. Surely, He would understand. I was a deep kid. Only children have lots of imaginary friends and time to think.

Today, I don’t crave Peaches and Cream Barbie. I’m happy to say I recovered from that traumatic Debbie Gibson-less summer afternoon. My friendships survived, I chose to not lie, and I was, I’m sure all turned around after a nap, some lunch, and possible a grape freeze treat. But something still lingers from that June day in the 80’s (happy to report it’s not crimped bangs).

Okay, let’s get real: linger is an understatement (of the year decade). There is a constant companion of comparison and want.

Don’t you see it in your life too? Boy, I sure feel it each day and have through nearly every season of my life. When I was in high school I drove a 1978 Pontiac Bonneville. I’ll let you research that one. I couldn’t stay out past 10:30 and didn’t shop at the Limited or Express. There was no getting Mom’s credit card. But I did get humility, modesty, and a chance to focus on my tennis skills and grow my love for teaching and serving others through volunteering. I was learning to play in my court.

In college, I didn’t attend annual spring break Cancun drink fests. My wallet didn’t house Dad’s unlimited gas cards, or even know what I wanted to major in like “all” my friends. I couldn’t afford to go out to eat all the time and I felt held back by not having a steady boy friend, who I was sure to marry 3 weeks after graduation. I did have enough struggle to keep me grounded, work to practice the art of discipline, and courage to chase after and cry over what I thought I was passionate about. I learned to cry out to God.

Today, I wish I could tell you I was twirling bravely and steadily in this mothering, new writer, and wife groove.  Today,  however, I am still contemplating my near break down of last week at my first professional speaker/writer conference. She Speaks 2015 was last Thursday through Saturday. “Ann Stritt compare-yourself-to all-the-other-writers and speakers 2015″ was roughly one week prior to and through day one of the conference.  Why do we do this to ourselves? Hadn’t I learned this lesson back in the Summer of ’89? Was my record really still playing the same tune? Apparently, I’m a sucker for self-pity. That was until, the Holy Spirit got a hold of my heart instead of the lies.

Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can stand firm against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. -Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIRV)

“You don’t even have a blog up yet (true story, this is post #2)”- Defeating talk

“You aren’t really a writer. Look at those women with their high heels and manuscripts.”

“Why would you come when you haven’t even blogged? What do you have to offer?”

“These women have so much more bible knowledge. I still use my tabs to find my place! What the heck, do they read in Greek, too?”

“Did I pack underwear?” (not writing related but “adulting” is hard)

“Sweet “business cards,” Ann. For real, why did you not do those earlier?!”

Hand made by yours truly. Now accepting applications for help
Really? What was I thinking? Gotta start somewhere. The back is even “better” but it’s too much visual hemorrhaging
Some of the beautiful women I met and their delightful and well planned out cards.
Some of the beautiful women I met and their delightful and well planned out cards.

You can see where this was headed. No underwear crying mess in the lobby. My energy zapped. I’ve been here before. Thankfully, Jesus, fresh clothes (and undergarments), and a clean shower grabbed hold of me and reminded me of some critical truths.

It’s as if the Lord took a seat on that marble bathroom counter and whispered:

“You are a child of God. I created you fearfully and wonderfully. Remember that whole verse you hung on your son’s wall? Yeah, it applies to you too, sister. I want your heart not your credentials. I want you on your knees and then you can touch the sky. Yes, I want you bold. But, first, I want you sold-out-for me. This is not about “YOUR ministry” or “YOUR sweet writing and speaking (ahem, that I gave you). And, Heavens, child! (sometimes Jesus speaks as a sweet southern African American lady in my mind) Your business cards are pitiful. And for the love, if you are a writer, WRITE! But, this is all minor. Now, GO! Learn from me. Love on others (I created them, as well, aren’t they beautiful?).  Ann, “Seek me first! I will take care of the details.”

We all have gifts. They differ in keeping with the grace that God has given each of us. Do you have the gift of prophecy? Then use it in keeping with the faith you have. Is it your gift to serve? Then serve. Is it teaching? Then teach. Is it telling others how they should live? Then tell them. Is it giving to those who are in need? Then give freely. Is it being a leader? Then work hard at it. Is it showing mercy? Then do it cheerfully. -Romans 12:6-8 (NIrV)

It was as if Jesus was saying, as He has been all along, “Girl, Twirl in Your Lane.” I will figure out the rest. Just run your race.  So, I did. And you know what? I met 700 other beautiful women. All twirling. Some twirling their curled hair, skirts, and some pens. And when I got to my seat, this verse, unlike anyone else’s, was placed for just me:

image1 (1)

And there it was right in front of me this whole time. Turns out that tangled beige corded phone has been ringing all these years with shrieks of welcomed invitation. I just had to answer the call on my own life.

Now, off to those cards….

-Ann Elizabeth

Hold my hand

July 17th is our day. No matter what is happening around us, Luke and I pause and honor the commitment we made to God and each other. In 2009, the temperature was 73 degrees which is a miracle smack dab middle of July in Nebraska. But the bigger miracle is this mystery of two ridiculously independent and selfish humans meeting at an altar, joining hands, and almost carelessly looking into each other’s eyes to commit forever to each other.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians. 5:31-33

You know what I was most nervous about on my wedding day? Not this miracle of becoming one. Not the whole submit to and respect your ‘almost’ husband for the rest of your life. I was most afraid (read:terrified) of sweating. Yes, sweating.  I was most nervous on my wedding day to hold my soon-to-be’s hands in front of the candle lit sanctuary. Brides in white don’t sweat?! Plumbers fixing toilets in non-air-conditioned homes, sweat.  In middle and high school, I used to avoid shaking hands by giving high fives and contemplated never dating for fear of having to hold hands in a movie theater. Don’t even get me started on “trust circles and prayer circles.” Clearly, we should have made an appointment or two with a sweat doctor. Nevertheless, there I was on one of the coolest days on record in July, holding my husbands (dry) hands. I couldn’t be the freak show who told the pastor, “Hey, I’m gonna sit this one out when it gets to the whole hold hands and say your vows part.” Something about that doesn’t scream, commitment or starting off on the “right” foot. I was so preoccupied with my sweaty palms, my worry, and what my beloved or others would think, I neglected to see the beauty of the moment before me.  Then, a funny thing happened when I took his hands anyway. You know what I remember about this moment? My husband. And feeling so excited I was about to explode. And realizing we had a trolley and food and this whole life waiting for us!! You know what I didn’t know in this moment? How much I would cherish that stance. How much I would crave and depend on being able to look Luke in the eyes, stare almost carelessly at one another, and sometimes without words say, “let’s go, or it is ok, or simply, I do and I love you.” Suddenly, simply because I decided to let go and hold on to something greater than myself, I was standing in front of a new world I had completely missed out on before. In my weakness, I underestimated his strength. I undervalued the power of grabbing a hold of one another and not letting go. And through the last six years of marriage, sometimes, that’s all we have had.

There are days when just simply holding on to one another is what has kept us together. Sitting on the couch hands clasped, bracing for the news on the other end of the line. In the waiting moments we’ve become one.  Holding hands moments before doctors perform surgery after losing our baby, fingers silently intertwined in love, and after evenings of wading through tears and conflict-we grab a hold again and I remember that day, our day. I chose to hold his hand anyway.

Luke’s strength and steady hand has become my protection from this world. How could I have undervalued this so greatly? Don’t we do that with others God has put in our lives? And even more so, don’t we do that with Him? We are such lost sweaty sheep sometimes. Do sheep sweat? Gross. He loves us so much and asks us to just hold His hand anyway. When I am so focused on me, my ability, and my fears, I miss the best parts of my own story. If I’m holding on too tightly to my fears, I miss out on all the strength and joy that comes from holding on to something greater than myself. And I could have missed the best parts of what my dear Luke has to offer me every day. His gentle touch, a loving reminder he is there for me, and the ability to carry forward when I cannot in my own strength. All of this a gift from God. A gift I had to choose to receive and accept.

So today, on our day, I choose to hold his hand again. It’s not always easy, and it’s rarely the picture of perfection. Holding on anyway is better than sitting it out, missing out on all that can be done together when we are hand in hand. Luke, I love you. Please hold my hand and don’t let go. (Sorry it’s so sweaty)

-Ann Elizabeth

Remembering to give our best

Today this world has lost a warrior, coach, authentic teacher, and dear friend.

John Carroll, of Omaha, was a dedicated and down right funny man.  For over 35 years he drove his white pickup truck to the tennis courts off the corner of 144th Pacific and changed the lives of the students, parents, and sometimes complete strangers just watching a match. Mr. Carroll, ‘Coach’, ‘Chief,’ was a legend around Millard North High School and the Omaha Tennis Community.  His legacy is more than his recent induction into the Tennis Hall of Fame, his numerous State Championships, or his epic pony tail that rivaled most of the girls on his squad.  John Carroll is a legend because of the way he treated his family, friends, and students.  Just two weeks before he passed, he said, “I don’t do this (coaching tennis) because I get paid for it.  I do it because I love the kids.”  Boy is this an understatement, Mr. Carroll.  You cherished your time guiding lives on and off the court and you wore it on the sleeves of your Mustang blue tennis shirt.

When the last match is over, when the graduations commence, and when the days are done is when we typically remember that, “Oh, I wish I could have done this, or, I’m glad I said that.”  But, what if we took a lesson from those that gave their best before it was all over?  What if we remembered to give our best while it still mattered?  John Carroll did just this.  He gave his best to each and every student, parent, and tennis season that passed him by.  Right until the end, he gave his best.  When the Cancer threatened to take his passions away, he still pushed forward, for the students.  He sat by the sidelines and coached even when his nimble body wouldn’t allow him to jump up and yell as he had done so many times before.  Coach Carroll’s spirit was still strong and it showed.

I’m challenged by his dedication and commitment to being the best you can for yourself, your students, your children, and your community.  How could he have meant that much to so many different people?  Each person that had Mr. Carroll as a teacher, or a Coach, or a mentor to their child says the same thing, “He made me feel important, cared for, and always made me laugh.”  Can we do this for the people in our lives?  Will you rise to the challenge of being your best for those you love and maybe even those you don’t know yet?  I will.  I have a great role model to follow and John Carroll’s spirit will live on to help me remember to always give my best so that others can do theirs.

God bless you, Mr. Carroll.
~Ann and Julie
(Your favorite doubles team ever! Or, at least the ones who caused you the most mini-heart attacks)

5289221_orig