Golden Ping Pong Ball

When we moved to Concordia, the opportunity arose for me to stop working and stay home with our children. Although I LOVED my job in Denver, since we were moving to a new place, I jumped at the chance to be full time at home with my children while they are still young.

However, moving to a single-income family meant that we would need to observe a more strict budget. Please don’t misunderstand me – we are extremely blessed. We are not hurting for money, and my darling husband (and many thanks to Dave Ramsey for this!) is an incredible budgeter. But, it does mean that we do have to say no to things and opportunities sometimes.

Two of my greatest blessings. I thank God for the special times I have with these precious boys.

Concordia hosts an amazing Fall Festival (“street fair”) every year, complete with fair food, good old-fashioned country contests, a Biergarten, and, of course, carnival rides. As you may know, especially if you have children, carnival rides are expensive. Concordia offers the option of a four-hour unlimited ride wristband, which is a great deal, but, my husband and I determined these to be not the best use of our money for a 2-year-old and 4-year-old. (Disclaimer: Although we believed this to be the best choice for our family, some families do purchase wristbands for their 2-year-olds and 4-year-olds, and we support them!)

The Saturday morning of the fair, our family collected our 2-year-old’s participation ribbon for the baby health contest and watched our 4-year-old pull the pedal tractor. After a brief corndog and Biergarten burger lunch, we made our way down Mainstreet for the Ping Pong Ball Drop. I told Z to watch out for other kids and to do his best. I couldn’t see him for much of it, but it looked like he was kindly and respectfully collecting balls without shoving. I was proud of him. However, when he walked toward us, proudly showing off his four ping pongs, I burst into tears (so glad this pregnant, hormonal momma was wearing sunglasses!) In his little bag was a golden ping pong ball – which he could exchange for an unlimited ride wristband to use that afternoon.

You see, although I logically knew that it didn’t make sense for our family to buy wristbands, and even though I knew that the other components of the fair would be blessing enough, deep down, I want to give my children everything, no matter the cost. I want them to be filled with joy and blessings because I love them.

And – if I can just lay out my heart right here on the internet – sometimes I carry the guilt that my choice to stay home is what deprives us of some of those “yes”es.

But in the moment when we explained to him what the golden ping pong ball meant, my heart overflowed in thanksgiving and worship of our God. I cried out of joy because I knew the joy this would bring my son, and I praised God for providing this unexpected opportunity. 

Zadok didn’t receive a golden ping pong ball because he is a good kid (although he can be!) And he certainly didn’t receive it because he has perfect parents (we are far, far from that!) And he didn’t receive it because he is a regular attendee at Sunday school or because he can say the Lord’s Prayer. No, he received the golden ping pong ball because CFM Insurance decided to bless 150 kids out of celebration for their 150th birthday, and Zadok just happened to be one of those children.

In the same way, God, and here’s where I’ll really start bawling again, in his great mercy has lavished upon us so much more than we deserve. Just as my son didn’t “deserve” to ride the carnival rides and yet received the wristband, God has given us so much more than a golden ping pong ball. We received the gift of eternal life with him. The Apostles Paul and John summarize this incredible blessing so beautifully:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-6

Friends – deep down, the Father wants to give his children everything, no matter the cost. He wants them to be filled with joy and blessings because He loves them. And he already has. He’s given us everything – in Jesus Christ his son. He made us His children. He didn’t count the cost, but instead willingly laid down his only son so that we could be co-heirs. We have everything awaiting us and I’m sure it’s way better than four hours of unlimited carnival rides. Oh, and the best part? He hasn’t just given this away to 150 people. This incredible gift is for anyone and everyone. He’s already saved us, all we have to do is acknowledge our need of Him. 

As my son hopped from ride to ride that afternoon, overflowing with joy, I couldn’t help but smile as well. I pray that we may be filled with Golden Ping Pong joy – knowing that our prize awaits us in the presence of our treasure Jesus Christ.

Z had a bonus ride ticket and got to bring his little brother on the helicopter ride. 

God Made Dirt…

We bought our house in October of 2010. My husband had been employed in his job as pastor for a little over a year. Our baby was five months old. After months of searching and picking our way through plenty of foreclosures, short sales, and bank-owned properties, we had finally found a home that fit our budget and fit our taste (without having to put a ton of work in before we could move in).

Over that winter, we enjoyed getting acclimated to our new home. I came up with a list of improvement projects…knowing full well that they wouldn’t happen until I got a better paying job, but dreaming nonetheless. One of the things on that list was to put grass in our back yard.


It appeared that at one time, there had been a system for watering the back, but we had no idea how to hook it up or make it work. (Growing up in the midwest did not afford us many opportunities to learn about sprinkler systems.) We were total newbies. And instead of asking for help, we just did what we knew how to do: we planted grass seed over the winter, bought a sprinkler, attached it to the hose, and watered the grass regularly. Unfortunately, our midwest system was no match for the rainless summer, and by the next fall, half of our back yard had turned into a back “patch of dirt.” I was annoyed every time our baby…now toddler… went outside to play. He couldn’t enjoy toddling or crawling through the yard, because his hands, knees, feet, and who knows what else would be instantly filthy. Well, let’s say I couldn’t enjoy it. He didn’t seem to care, honestly. I, however, was constantly worried he would put dirt in his mouth, and constantly cleaning up the dirt that seemed to walk into our house by the fistful.

I grew more and more resentful towards the dirt in our backyard. How could I contain it? What were we going to do about it? How long would I have to put up with it before a change could be made? We tried planting grass seed multiple times throughout multiple years, but there always seemed to be a section of our yard that was determined to be dirt.


Some time passed, and then I noticed how every day, when I would bring our son, Noah, home from daycare, he would play in the back yard. He was quietly moving sandy dirt around, using dump trucks, hands, shovels and whatever else was back there. Well, I thought, maybe the dirt is not such a bad thing. It seems to be a happy place for our boy.

Fast forward another couple of years. By this time, we had added another boy to our family. Number Two was the exact opposite of his older brother in just about every way, and they butted heads with each other in just about every way. But not when they were outside. And our dirt patch in the back was a place where they could play together without fighting. During this same season, I toured an open house of a home that was for sale in my friend’s neighborhood. I stepped out into the pristine backyard, and I was immediately sad for the family who would move in there. They didn’t have room in their back yard for a dirt patch.

That little five month old baby is now a tall nine year old boy. I cannot tell you how many hours he has spent outside, playing in our once-unwanted dirt patch. I can tell you that he continues to enjoy working outside in the dirt, even all these years later, and he’s modeled for his little brothers the joy of playing in dirt. We’ve had mud pies and mud castles and mud forts and mud trenches and mud reservoirs and mud towers. We’ve traded in toy dump trucks for full-sized shovels, and the boys are now working on a pulley system to carry dirt up the slide of our play structure. I even checked in with the Call-Before-You-Dig organization this past spring, because Noah wanted to see how big of a hole he could dig, and I was a little worried he might run into something.

And you know what happens just about every time the boys have friends over? They end up playing in the dirt. Every. Time. Boys, girls, preschoolers, 4th graders: they all love dirt. It gives them a chance to be creative, a chance to be dirty without getting scolded, a chance to make something and then mess it up again.

Let this be, to you and to me, a reminder to be thankful for the messy things things of this life. Take heart that even those things that drive you crazy today might just turn out to be sources of  pure joy in the future.


What is something that used to drive you crazy, but you now are thankful for?

Plenty or Few?

I am not very good at gardening. Good gardeners know about acidic levels and potassium. Good gardeners fertilize every month and water regularly. I am, what you would call, a very mediocre gardener.

Gardening is something I enjoy, though. I love sending our kitchen scraps to our compost pile (or, as my parents used to call theirs, the “compost heap.”) I love finding earthworms and giving them the great good work of turning the sandy soil of my planter boxes into something better. I love releasing ladybugs to eat the aphids that eat my crops. And I love how fresh and delicious food is straight out of the ground.

One of the best parts about gardening, though, are the surprises.  And when I say that, I mean the good surprises; the bad surprises of gardening are evil incarnate. Anyway, good surprises. Like the time I grew sweet potatoes: digging to harvest them was like a treasure hunt–where would the next one be hiding? would it be big or small? normal looking or completely funky? And like the time that my dad and I planted strawberries, and they actually grew (unlike my previous attempts at strawberries) and produced more little red bits of joy than I had ever expected.

One of my favorite surprises about gardening is the “volunteer.” I didn’t really know that this was a thing until I had a garden of my own, but often, seeds that get mixed in with compost or that drop from last year’s plants just begin sprouting up on their own.  They volunteer to grow without any planning or preparation on the gardener’s part.  One year, Romaine lettuce sprouted in one of my planters completely by accident, and we had fresh salad leaves for months! This year, my volunteer has been an enormous cherry tomato plant. It began as just a tiny sprout back in May. I had purposely planned on NOT growing any tomatoes this year, because our family had a long summer vacation planned.  But this little plant didn’t care about my plans.  And honestly, I practically ignored it. This little plant didn’t care about that either.  It just kept right on growing.

Somehow it survived our long summer trip, getting watered occasionally by a friend. (My prized strawberries? not so much.) Somehow, it kept right on growing. Somehow, it kept right on producing sweet, round, red tomatoes.  I kept right on mostly ignoring it, giving it water only when I felt really guilty for not. By September, its searching branches had become two feet tall and close to five feet wide. It gave us handfuls of delicious, ripe tomatoes anytime we wanted them. And, thanks to the long growing season in California, it still is flowering, and I’m still watching the little lycopene producers change in color from green to yellow to orange to red. It is giving BOUNTIFUL fruit!

Well, just last week, I asked my seven-year-old, Zeke, to help me get things ready for dinner by going to the backyard to harvest some tomatoes.  I gave him a Tupperware container and reminded him to pick the red ones. He gladly accepted the task.  I went on browning the taco meat, and clearing the table.  Then I realized that Zeke had not returned with his harvest.  I peeked out the sliding glass door to see him intently picking tomatoes off of the plant. A bit surprised that he had not yet been distracted from his task, I went back to cutting onions and slicing bell peppers. I had almost finished all the preparations for dinner, so I headed toward the back yard one more time.  Zeke met me at the door with this:

only a few tomatoes

He had been in the back yard for at least 10 minutes, focused on the task of picking good tomatoes, and this is what he brought in: five perfect red tomatoes. Internally, I said, “That’s it?!” Externally, I said, “Thanks so much for your help! It looks like you were really good about picking just the best ones.” Zeke quickly skipped off to something more engaging than tomatoes.

Since I’ve had the privilege of watching Zeke over the past seven years, I could guess two things about his tomato harvesting adventure.  The first: he is quite a perfectionist (and a literalist), so he searched for the tomatoes that were truly red–not a hint of orange to be found. The second: he is skittish around spiders and spiderwebs, and since there are quite a few wispy webs on our tomato plant, his options for harvesting were limited to only part of the plant.

I took the Tupperware container and headed out to the backyard. In less than 20 seconds, I was back in the kitchen, with enough tomatoes for our tacos for the night:

many more tomatoes

What a difference our perspective makes. While Zeke was focused in on just getting the very best, and with the least amount of discomfort, he was only able to see very few opportunities. Since I was focused on “very good” instead of “perfect,” and willing to have the discomfort of spiderwebbing on my fingers, I was able to see boundless opportunities. In fact, I left many, many red tomatoes on the plant that evening, for the sake of getting food into my hungry tummy sooner than later.

Oftentimes, in my life, relationships and work, I tend to be like Zeke. I disregard things that are less than perfect, or anything that has potential to make me uncomfortable. And when I have that mindset, it seems like the opportunity–the fruit ready for harvest in front of me–is very limited.

But, Jesus has been challenging me on this. When he says, “Come, follow me” to his disciples, he’s bringing them into a life that is full of opportunities–BOUNTIFUL, if you will. He has placed that same call on my life. Like Zeke in the above example, I can look through the stories in the Bible and can see people struggling with their own ideas of “perfect fruit.” Jesus almost always challenges it. One of my favorites is when the disciples return to Jesus after they had gone into town, and they find him talking to a Samaritan woman: uncomfortable because of racial and cultural tensions. She was definitely not perfect “fruit,” in their opinion. And yet Jesus shows them that “perfect” and “comfortable” are not his highest priority as he sets about his work.

How are you looking at the opportunities before you? I’m going to guess that there is at least one area of your life that is BOUNTIFUL.  Perhaps it even grew up out of nothing you planned, like a volunteer tomato plant. How are you looking at it? Are you spending lots of hours, trying to figure out which pieces are perfect and most comfortable, and only going after those parts? I challenge you today to see the bounty that lies before you, and to be willing to go after the harvest before you there, especially to the uncomfortable and the imperfect.

Tags out.

I noticed it. In a quick glance over the checkout girls shoulder was a woman standing in the next lane. At Walmart. Not my favorite place.

Doesn’t matter.

The woman. I saw it. Her dress tag… It was out. You know, slipped out from under its home near the collar of the dress. Bless her heart – I thought. Her tag is out and no one has cared enough to tell her.

Upon closer glance, I noticed that it wasn’t just her tag that was out. It was her entire dress. Her entire sleeveless, slip over the head, cute summer dress was entirely…

Inside out. The collar tag was out. The washing instruction tag was out. The seams were out. all out. all of it.

Now it wasn’t just, ” Bless her heart ” but BLESS her HEART!!! Poor thing. Doesn’t even know it.

As I felt the ball cap snuggled tightly on MY head covering up my un-showered hair , my husbands big fleece sweatshirt hiding enough of my running pants to make them slightly acceptable for public display and my bright orange tennis shoes covering my equal to my head- un-showered feet – I realized the pity, concern, judgement, embarrassment ,whatever, I had for the woman could have easily be turned on me. And it wasn’t just my outsides that were inside out. It was just 10 a.m. and I had let my “tags” hang out , the ugly inside ones I try to keep hidden- and it wasn’t pretty.

It’s Homecoming week. A week packed with enough events to make your head spin..My husband teachers…. and coaches. My youngest is a Senior. She is a player on the team my husband coaches, is in the choir, works a few hours a week and enjoys a healthy social life. We havn’t had a home cooked meal together at our kitchen table in what feels like a very long time. My calendar is full of so many things I love. Coaching my business clients. Attending Volleyball games. Taking road trips to visit our college age children. Opening our home up to family and friends. I love ALL of these things….but like a good meal or expensive bottle of wine…. in moderation. When I over schedule myself and put the squeeze on my life and my families – the crazy on the inside can start to seep, or sometimes BURST, out.

The first sign of some discontent on my inside ” tags “came when my husband asked a simple question this morning and my response may have been a smidge sarcastic. I didn’t think it was THAT bad until he responded in a slightly sharper tone indicating he didn’t appreciate my comment. I responded equally as sharp. And he left for the day. Just like that. We went from happily moving through our morning – to me closing the washing machine door harder then needed and walking dazed into the kitchen wondering what had just happened.

My morning agenda included a quick trip to Aldi and Walmart. I had volunteered to purchase the supplies for the annual Homecoming Bonfire. I needed 28 packages of Hotdogs and Buns, 5 large containers of hot chocolate mix and 14 bags of marshmallows. It would be a simple trip and I was excited to enjoy a 30 minute drive listening to one of my favorite podcasts. I had decided to shower AFTER the errands – I just wanted to get them done and get home. On went the ball cap and off I went.

28 packages of hotdogs… dang!

Everything was going swimmingly until I hit the checkout line at Aldi. I unloaded a few extra items for myself along with 28 packages of hotdog buns and 28 packages of hotdogs. I was right on schedule with completing my morning To- do’s and I was looking forward to a nice hot shower when I returned home. Until…..

“I’m sorry – there is a 6 item limit on buns.”

“Oh – When did that policy go in place? I have come here the last 2 years and purchased this exact number of hotdogs and buns and have not had a problem. “

“Um – Im not sure – but the limit is 6”

“How would I know this?”

“Oh there is a sign”

“No there is not – there is absolutely not a sign.” (and there was not)

By this time – the poor college boys face was getting red and you could tell he was very uncomfortable. The Aldi workers wear these stealthy microphones you can barely recognize and I noticed he was whispering into his while trying to look like he wasn’t. In a few moments a woman, the MANAGER, emerges from a secret door you don’t see until someone walks through it. Its edges are seamless and blend right into the wall.

She proceeded to inform me of “their Policy” and ” I should have know about the need to pre – order if I was a regular shopper” and “the 6 item limit is clearly marked.” ( Im sorry mam- it was CLEARLY not, and why would I notice a hotdog bun limit sign if I only purchased 28 packages of hotdog buns ONE time a year, and the last time I purchased them in this EXACT STORE – I had no issue!!! SIGH!!!) . She used the “You’re clearly an idiot” tone and it was obvious she was not going to budge. I could feel my calm, cheery disposition fading away. My voice got louder and more demanding. I felt like I was in a courtroom and all eyes were on me. It was the most bizarre thing- I knew I was causing a scene – I could feel the shoppers waiting to check out in other lanes stopping conversation to witness the crazy hotdog bun lady in isle 2. Would I get my way? Was the policy clearly marked ? Would I take my hat off , throw it on the ground and stomp out of the store in a huff? ( heck no – I had not showered – remember??)

another ball cap day:)

I did leave the store. The check out guy did apologize. He knew his manager was being disrespectful. He said ” I hate being the messenger for things I don’t understand.” I was less than gracious to the manager who had gone to check the signage. She conveniently waited until I began leaving the building before she headed back to the check out. She couldn’t find the sign – duh. It wasn’t there. I was frustrated and slightly embarrassed. I had no idea who had seen me and what I had actually said. Just like the laundry room earlier in the day – one miscommunication – set me off – and my inside “tags” – the ones that reveal whats really going on inside come flying out.

(It did make me feel a bit better when a gentlemen exited behind me and said – “she was crazy, I’ve never heard of the POLICIES she was talking about. Sorry you had to experience that.”)

Ironically, I went next door to Walmart, purchased 28 bags of hotdog buns that were actually .03 cents cheaper then Aldi. Hah.

And… it was in that Walmart check out lane that I saw the woman with the inside out dress. I felt embarrassed for her, like I had felt for myself just a few moments earlier. You know … the way you feel when your ugly, unshowered, unfiltered, inside tags are all hanging out and you have no idea how it happened?

On my 30 minute drive home I didn’t listen to my favorite podcast or book from Audible. I tried to listen to me. What were my two outbursts from the day revealing about what was happening inside? What feelings have I possibly been stuffing in hopes that they would just go away? I asked God to show me the root of my anxious thoughts and he was faithful to answer. He reminded me of some uncomfortable conversations I needed to have. He revealed some expectations that had not been met and may never be. He asked me if I was willing to wait for some answers to some lingering questions just a little bit longer. He also reminded me that he loved me, and the lady with the inside out dress…

Ugly Tags and all.

Boy is that shower going to feel good.

Thankful for the unconditional love from the God of Creation – His mercies are new every morning. Sunrise on Sandia Street.