Wrestling with Contentment

Over and over again people tell me they are waiting for God to do something significant in their lives and most of them are usually dreaming and hoping for something specific. It breaks my heart when they do not see how God is already working through the everyday circumstances of their lives and all they need to do is join in.

We sometimes look and pray so hard for God to do something big through our lives that we do not see what He is currently doing through the people and circumstances around us. I have come to realize in my own life that God was preparing me for what I am doing now and I can only assume He is still preparing me for what He wants me to do in the future.

I also had a dream and prayed hard for it. It was to work in ministry full time. I was tired of working for the perpetual business dollar. However, no matter how many jobs I applied for in the church and with other nonprofits, I could not seem to get an interview. I ended up working at the Star Tribune for twelve years and those who knew me best were the first to say I did not fit in.

I kept busy by working through eight jobs during those twelve years and focused on doing the best work possible. While I continued to pray, all I could do was live my values, serve unconditionally and wait for that ministry opportunity. When I became discouraged or frustrated during times of inequities, I reminded myself to focus on doing the job as if I were serving God — not man (Colossians 3:23). I painfully had to make decisions based on my values instead of what would help me gain favor in other people’s eyes or get that next promotion.

I remember one instance when I was applying for a supervisory position but the hiring manager was confused when I told him I had a servant leadership managerial style. Needless to say, I did not get the job.

On November 30, 1993, I wrote in my journal: “I need to be content in whatever situation I am in rather than always looking for God’s Will in something else. Instead of looking elsewhere, I need to look around at what I’ve already got. Where I am now IS God’s Will. God put me here.”

In the meantime, to ease that discontented feeling, God provided ways for me to serve Him in the church and on overseas mission trips. Although I did not realize it at the time, God used those years of experience in business and volunteer work to prepare me for the job I have now. He even provided a situation where I could finish my Bachelor’s degree and the only thing I had to pay for were my books.

It was June 2007 when the Star Tribune offered their first voluntary buy-outs. I did not accept it at first but woke up the following Sunday to the realization that God had provided the opportunity for me to get out of the trap I had been in. I did not recognize it at first because I had assumed it would come in the form of a new job offer. This open door required me to step out in faith. It meant that I had to quit my current job before acquiring another one.

One week after accepting the buy-out, I received an interview at Northwestern College and within one month, I was working at KTIS meeting with donors, listening to their stories, getting their feedback, answering their questions and making sure their needs are met. God had been waiting for me to let go and then He provided the opportunity.

I, like most people, knew I had finally landed my dream job. It is much easier now that my work matches my values and I can openly live out my faith. Only months after I had started, when I ran across former Star Tribune colleagues, they commented that I looked happier and they could tell that I had finally found the place that was “a good fit for me.” At the same time, I soon found that there are expectations and responsibilities that come with full time ministry. Now, more than ever, I need to strengthen my knowledge of the scriptures. In other words, I need to read more and serve deeper than I ever had before. However, this is not rigorous work. It is who I am so it fits my life and I can live it 24/7.

Every person I meet and every concert I attend challenges me in my faith and understanding. For instance, here are photos from “The Story” Christmas concert this past year with Stephen Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, Selah and Natalie Grant. This is one of those times when pictures cannot begin to describe how inspirational it was.

When I think about my previous post regarding simplicity and this subject of contentment, I cannot help but think about the people I have met during the foreign mission trips I participated in during the past 10 years. I have personally seen that our ability to provide for our own basic needs and buy those things that make us comfortable (give us temporary happiness), are among America’s biggest distractions that keep us from seeking and depending on God’s activity in our lives. In third world countries, they depend on God for their basic needs. In most situations, it is their next meal. But yet, they have a faith that is so strong it has brought me to tears on several occasions. They want to be like us but I want to be like them!

It is time for me to write about my life changing mission trips to the Philippines, Mexico and Africa. I will begin those with my next post.


A Journey through Chaos

It started out simple and what I thought was harmless. I told myself: “As long as I am home with my kids, why not do daycare and earn some extra money to make life a little easier? Besides,” I reasoned, “I would also be providing playmates for my kids.”

Then, after about four years of doing daycare, I decided I needed just a little more money and some adult interaction. So, I decided to sell Tupperware “just a couple nights a week.” I figured I would do paperwork during the day when all the kids were in school and hold a couple parties in the evenings. However, little did I realize that I would end up working around the clock – doing daycare and paperwork during the day and running the kids around to activities and doing more Tupperware parties at night than I had expected. I, of course, was following the carrot – the more parties I held, the more money I made. I got caught in a trap and lost my way. I was working so hard that I even earned a free van.

I finally came to a point in my journal where I said: “all I do now is fight for time, complain, worry about what people are going to do, and cringe every time the phone rings. I’m suffocating. I need to get out of the hole I’ve been sucked into.” I desperately wanted time to sit and talk with my husband and read to my children at night. I finally realized that I had to simplify my life. I quit Tupperware and started meditating on:

1) Trusting God to provide and learning to not worry so much (Matthew 6:25-34)
2) Watching out for greed and having to buy stuff I did not need (Luke 12:15)
3) Focusing on what is important. In the long run, I knew I would never feel as though I had enough money and I knew money would never satisfy me (Matthew 6:19-24)

One month later, I wrote: “I am so thankful for the time I have with my children now that I’m not doing parties, recruiting, training and interviewing. Simplicity took a load off my shoulders. It gave me freedom from worry and anxiety – my beliefs and values are finally in line with what I am doing.”

Because of these principles, we never moved out of our starter home into a bigger house. Therefore, we were able to build equity and were not affected by the housing collapse. Since we had the equity and have always wanted a cabin on a lake in Northern Minnesota, we decided to look at what was available and see if God would provide. We found the most affordable area and called a realtor. It took only two weekends of riding around with the realtor to find the perfect place for us. Since it did not have electricity, it was the only property we looked at, in our price range, that already had a cabin on it. It was exactly the adventurous getaway we were looking for. Having a place like this was a step toward simplification for us. I knew from visits to my grandmother’s cabin as a child that sitting in the middle of nature with no city noise or TV blaring would be relaxing and a great reminder of the important basics of life. Time and time again, I am in awe that God provided this place where we can detoxify from the stresses of life and sit back and marvel as His creation. This picture gives a small glimpse into its tranquility:

Over time, I came to realize that God provided during those times when I trusted Him and when I was not busy getting in the way. I have learned that I make better decisions when I stop, pray and wait for clear direction. As I outlined in my History posts, God has always provided what I “needed.” I may not see it right away but it becomes clear later down the road. Hindsight has also shown me that what I wanted is not always what I needed.

This wasn’t the end of my struggle to find simplicity. However, it was a great start because I had identified and acknowledged the fact that it was a problem so I can now face it head-on whenever busyness once again tries to invade what is more important.

Now that I have identified my worth in God and the need to trust that He will provide, next week I will talk about my journey towards contentment.

Still Waters.

Observing the Miracle of Birth

The baby I almost lost 27 years ago (see part 5) just had a baby of her own. It takes my breath away to think that our beautiful granddaughter wouldn’t be here today if we had lost Rachael back then.

Little did I realize I would be such a nervous wreck waiting for my granddaughter to arrive. I had thought it would be no big deal since I felt as though I already knew what Rachael would have to go through. Later, however, when “grandpa” and I were talking about the experience, we admitted that we were both more concerned about how Rachael was going to handle the delivery rather than worrying about the safety of the baby. We knew God has created a marvelous way of surrounding and protecting the baby, but we are still carrying around those feelings from when we prayed over Rachael and cared for her frail little body all those years ago.

It turned out that on Friday morning Rachael woke up with the stomach flu. I was concerned that it would trigger labor, and I knew I would be of no use while thinking about her when I was at work, so I spent the day helping her. By the time her husband came home, she was dehydrated, the contractions had started, and they were already five minutes apart. Therefore, at 4 pm, the doctors said we could bring her to the hospital. After they started Rachael on IV fluids, they measured her contractions at three minutes apart and then, within the hour, her water broke. It didn’t take long and she was pushing by 8:30 pm. Because I had been tending to her needs all day, I automatically became a fixture in the room so it was easier for her to let me stay during the delivery.

Listening to the doctors encourage and instruct Rachael through her delivery brought back memories. However, this time it was more like enjoying the triumphant drama unfold in a movie without having to go through the excrutiating pain myself. When I had Christina, I decided not to have any medication and I remember thinking I was actually going to die. This was the first time I had ever seen the pain relieving benefits of an epidural and yet the side effect that makes it more difficult to push.

When the baby was finally on its way, and I wasn’t the one under a cloud of pain, it was amazing to see how the body works. From my vantage point, I could read the looks on the nurses’ and doctor’s faces and was able to watch the things a mother in delivery is too busy to see. For instance, what happens when they wisk the baby away, the fidgeting and excitement of the father, and the skill and reactions of the doctors and nurses.

At almost 10:57 pm, Zoey Lynn Zevenbergen was born at 8 lbs. 8 oz., 22 inches long and with a full head of hair! When she entered the world, she looked like one of those real life baby dolls: clay white with limp legs and arms flopping around. The doctor warned us that she might not start crying right away but when it happened, I felt as though I had a hard time catching my breath as well. To make sure Rachael couldn’t see my concern, I turned away acting as though I was reading another Facebook post and just prayed “Dear Lord, help her breath!!!” They say it was only a minute but it felt so much longer and tore me apart every time the nursing assistant glanced up at the seconds on the clock. Finally, the sound of that first cry was one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.

Once they had Zoey stabilized, I approached the warming bed and was stunned when I saw her because she was so much more adorable than I had imagined she would be. When she finally settled down, it was amazing to see how she was already looking around, as the nurse said, searching for her mother. Mom and dad finally got to meet her for a moment but because she had to be intubated to start breathing, the nurse took her away to be under observation for an hour in the special nursery.

Zoey wailed when they had the bright light on in the warming bed. However, when they finally turned the light off, her protest turned into a wimper as she ferociously sucked her hand. It was a miracle to see how she stopped crying when her father picked her up and then later when she was so content in her mother’s arms.

Is this part of that “special joy” people talk about when they become grandparents … watching life continue through your own child? The emotions are so strong and undefinable that I asked other grandparents to send me their definitions of what it is like to be a grandparent. One neighbor said: “It is a feeling of pride for your girls.” And, Deborah wrote: “Grandparenthood is special because your own offspring have produced this precious new life and, as you watch them grow, you cannot help but think of how blessed you are to be a part of that new life!!!” Then she adds: “Also, they are not all the WORK that your own children were so you can just enjoy them and spoil them!!!”

There is no denying that there is an intelligent designer when you watch how our bodies are perfectly designed to produce and deliver new life. And, if that is not impressive enough, just observe the natural process to sustain life by watching a baby who instinctively starts sucking when she is born and recognizes and finds comfort in her parents arms.

Next week I will return to my posts from my latest series of journal journeys.

One Week Photos:

Self-Esteem & Modeling Journeys

Although images and styles change, there has always been pressure to be slim and beautiful — even as far back as the Victorian and Roman periods. And yes, historical writings reveal bulimic and anorexic behaviors as well. But to give an example that more closely affects our current culture, Twiggy popularized the ultra thin look from 1966 to 1976. In the 1970’s, having a flat stomach was a big deal. Showing a muffin top would have been horrifying. However, the current generation is doing something right in response to these pressures. Society is finally saying it is not acceptable to call people inappropriate names and that we should embrace our individuality. I realize we still have a long way to go but at least it’s vocal recognition of a problem.

Learning about and appreciating who God created me to be was a long journaling process. Journaling brought out thoughts and feelings that would never have surfaced through normal conversations. It actually put structure and definition to my thoughts and feelings. When reading through my journals, I noticed that after several pages of self inflicted guilt and accusations; I finally came to the realization on November 29, 1993, that I was driving myself crazy with negative self talk. I had just read the story of the imperfect prodigal son and the father’s unconditional love and forgiveness (Luke 25). It was a moment of recognizing my worth through God’s eyes, not my own. In my journal, I finally cried out to God saying: “help me rest in your care and feel your unconditional love. Everything else I have run to for comfort and meaning has only kept me from you.”

Having a healthy self-image starts with a healthy self-worth. I had been acquiring my standards from the wrong place. My standard should not come from the messages and illusions I get from the media, it should come from what the creator and designer declares about me (Ephesians 1:3-14).

The twins had their own encounter with the world that capitalizes on outward beauty. Since they have tall slender figures and like to sing and act, we decided to respond to offers from professional acting and modeling schools. The girls were accepted into the John Robert Powers School of Modeling, took the classes, and then we paid for hundreds of comp cards. We even drove to Chicago for a final casting call. During that visit, the promoter was using a young brother and sister singing and dancing team as an example of “this could be you.” We couldn’t help but notice how the kids responded like scared puppies when the promoter gave them orders. It made us feel sad for them.

As an example of what the business will do for young girls, here is a normal high school picture of the twins and then a modeling picture from their comp cards:

When I asked Jessica how she felt about her modeling experience, she said: “The world that is driven by greed, vanity and selfishness is a slippery slope. It was hard to resist the temptation to be ‘one of them.’ I learned what some people can be like when they don’t value what’s inside themselves and others. In the end, I am thankful that I was able to step outside that world and see how easy it is to get sucked into the promises of fame and fortune.”

The girls did some local promotions but we soon found out that in order to make much money, they would need to do it full time and move or travel to one of the big cities. Beauty and self-promotion would have become their entire way of life.

I am thankful that the girls had a strong identity in Christ and recognized what was more important in life. Jessica summed it up well by saying: “I thought of modeling as fun and didn’t want it to be a career or big commitment. Modeling helped me learn how to take care of my appearance, use proper etiquette, and build good communication skills.” As a mother, I have to say the acting classes were most helpful in building their self confidence.

Later in life, I came to realize that if I were to criticize who I am and how I look, I’d better first consider He who made me “in His image…male and female He created them.” Then, if I even dare to judge God’s handiwork, I need to remember how He sees me… “God looked over all He had made, and He saw that it was very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). And, to top it off, the Potter created me to be unique among millions of people. It is humbling to think that I was created by the same one who made the majestic eagles, towering redwoods, and the beauty of sunsets and rainbows.

Learning to appreciate myself from the inside-out was a huge step in helping me move forward in my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and even physical health. In next week’s post, I will talk about my next step towards simplification.

A Note to my Adult Children

For me, the 1990’s were a decade of self examination, spiritual growth and transformation (Romans 12:2). I had a lot of catching up to do and was responsible for three young lives. I was serious about making life what I had always hoped it could be but it took a lot of humility and dependence on God to discipline myself for the growth (Hebrews 12:11).

As I read my journals these past couple weeks, I noticed three main topics emerge during these years of transition from my 20’s to my 30’s: learning about and appreciating who God created me to be, living a life without chaos, and being content with each day and the circumstances God gave me.

As I think about my own children entering this stage in their lives, I hear the discouraging rhetoric that takes away their hope and tells them that this generation’s circumstances will make it difficult for them to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Therefore, it left me wondering if they are being dealt a hand that is more difficult than my generation. After reading about my own struggles from 20 years ago, I do not think it is more difficult. It is just different.

My struggles with negative self image, simplification, and contentment are still as relevant today as they were back then but the one thing that makes them more complicated is technology. Technology has made dealing with these issues so different that we get confused trying to figure out new ways to define and deal with them. For instance, marketing and the internet has inundated us with more and more creative messages about who we “should” be and what we “should” look like (self image); we have come to believe we “need” more technology so much so that we cannot even sit still or be quiet enough to hear God’s leading (simplification); and, therefore, we feel we need more money to buy more technology, clothing, beauty products and things that we have been convinced will make us successful and happy (contentment).

There are now so many online forums to talk about society’s struggles that it gives the impression that this generation has more to deal with than any previous generation. For instance, with all the talk about binge drinking and the crack down on drunk driving, it appears that it is worse now than it has ever been. However, Americans were consuming 10.5 liters per capita in 1980 and it is currently down to 8.3 liters per capita. That is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving was established in 1980 and, since then, alcohol related traffic fatalities have decreased by 44%. I am not saying that alcohol abuse and drunk driving are not still big issues; I am saying that it has always been a problem.

Every young person throughout history has had to make personal choices; and now, technology has given us more options to choose from. That can be a bad thing when you consider the increased access to gambling and pornography or it can be a good thing when you consider the fact that we have choices to more positive alternatives. I can remember our only alternatives to house parties in the late 1970’s were roller skating and bowling. Back then, we didn’t have electronic games, “good” movies at the touch of a button, or cell phones and Facebook to talk to our friends.

As far as the hopeless rhetoric about the economy is concerned, the unemployment rate was as high during the recession in the early 80’s as it is now. In addition, when my husband and I purchased our home in 1983, our interest rate was 12.25% and our income was only 15% of what it is now. Sure, we struggled but working hard and growing together as a couple is what makes a great marriage.

Just like terrorism, there has always been something to fear. However, my hope is that my children and their friends would be encouraged to see that there is hope by observing those who have gone before them to live fulfilling lives without giving in to fear and hopeless rhetoric.

In my next few posts, I am going to talk more about these age-old topics of self worth, simplicity and contentment in light of my own past experiences. God can give peace and fulfillment when we look beyond the every day rhetoric, images and distractions of 2012 (Psalm 146:5).

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