Why It Matters What You Buy For Christmas

Normally, on the day after Thanksgiving, I arise while it is still dark outside and join the millions of other idiots out shopping on Black Friday. But this year, much to my family's dismay, I said, "No."

I am working on minimizing my Christmas shopping and Christmas giving, at least in the usual materialistic, buying a bunch of crap that people will never wear or will stick in a closet and will eventually sell in a garage sale, kind of way.

This year, my immediate family will get a gift, not 12 gifts, and then the rest of the money I normally spend on them will be given to I Am Change. I am doing this because last year I learned that Americans spend about $450 Billion dollars on Christmas, AND it would only take about $10 Billion dollars annually to solve the clean water crisis in THE WORLD. So, just imagine if we each DIDN'T buy those junky stocking stuffers and instead bought a $25 donation card to I AM Change, then EVERYONE in the WORLD would have clean drinking water for an entire year!

Another interesting statistic. Every 15 seconds, someone dies due to a lack of access to clean drinking water. That means over two million people a year die because they couldn't get what you and I pour down a drain. Imagine if we just spent $25 less this year on Christmas gifts and gave it to I AM Change. Over two million people's lives would be saved, and you would be directly responsible for that. DIRECTLY.

So, back to Black Friday. I woke up this morning at 5:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. So, I got up and got dressed and went to WalMart. I kept putting things in my basket that I didn't need, but they were SOOOOOO cheap. But then I would think, "If I gave the $10 I am about to spend on this CLUE game to I AM Change, 10 people's lives would be changed." And then I would put it back on the shelf.

All that to say, it does matter what I buy for Christmas. And it matters what you buy too. I would love to see you on December 4th at 7:00 p.m. at "Christmas With a Cause" (Woodforest Bank next to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion). All proceeds from this event go directly to projects around the world.

You can make a difference in someone's life. Every dollar you donate saves the life of one child. Where else will you get that kind of cost to benefit ratio this season?


You, O Lord, are a mystery.

You are unchanging, and yet to become like you, I must change.

Your love knows no boundaries, and yet to become like you, I must love in a way that no human ever has.

You are totally in control, and yet to become like you, I must give up control.

You are all knowing, and yet to become like you, I must come to the realization that I know very little.

But O Lord, all that you are and all that you have, and all that you know, I have access to by the power of the Holy Spirit, which you have sent to comfort me.

All that to say, Come Lord Jesus Come.

Faith Comes by Hearing

"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." I read this on a friend's blog the other day, and it sent me into this stream of consciousness.

"Faith comes by hearing" I thought that meant that my faith will grow as I hear others talk about their faith. I wonder what scripture says about that?" "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God . . . nothing earth shattering there. But what does that mean? And are the two at odds with each other or connected to each other? Must I hear in order for my faith to grow . . . that sounds right. But how does my hearing come by the Word of God? Does that mean I'm supposed to hear from God by reading His Word? That sounds right too. But it does say in this passage "what if there are none to speak and none to preach?" So it sounds like it means that I need to actually "HEAR". So I think this means that WHO I am hearing needs to be getting their material from the Word of God."

I thought for days about that passage . . . "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." I decided it couldn't be bad to get into the Word of God about this, so I started looking up passages about faith.

This one hit me. Luke Chapter 22.

When Jesus was talking to His disciples at the last supper, he said to Simon, "Simon, Simon, satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that you might not fall away from your faith." These kinds of statements jack me up a little bit, to know that God gives satan permission to sift us like wheat, but then I am struck by this. Jesus, the Son of God, is praying that I might not fall away from my faith. Because . . . because He knows that in my sorrow, in my sifting, in my weariness, I may indeed, fall away from my faith.

Jesus asked His disciples to pray when they were in the garden. And the Bible says, "He found them sleeping from sorrow." I thought about all that these disciples had been through in the previous weeks, and all they were about to go through. And how Jesus had just been talking to them about how his "soul was deeply grieved, to the point of death." All of this had to have taken its toll, so in their sorrow, they slept.

And when He found them He said, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation."

I might not be physically asleep (trust me, I haven't slept well in a long time). But I have been spiritually asleep. Too tired to even do the basics some days. And the result is that I have questioned my faith, beyond safe boundaries I fear. I have fallen into temptation. The temptation of abandoning that faith all together.

But alas. Jesus is praying. He is praying that I might not fall away from my faith. And I am doing my part. I am reading and I am hearing, and I am reading about what I am hearing.

All that to say, I know that I will be stronger for having gone through this season of doubt. My faith is stronger. Different. But stronger.

Smart Where It Counts

I have found myself recently talking a lot about Cash Cab. Weird, I know. But have you watched this show? It is a trivia quiz show set in a cab in New York City. Participants get in the cab, thinking they are going on a cab ride, only to discover that they are the contestants in a game show that takes place in the cab!

Now, people often tell me that I know a lot of stuff about a lot of things. And I suppose that is true. So you would think that would make me awesome at trivia games, but truth is, I suck at them. (Which is unfortunate, because one of my family's big holiday traditions is to play a crazy game of trivial pursuit.) Here is the reason I suck at these games. I am a geography dork. I don't know anything about geography. I don't know, nor do I care, where the Ural Mountains are. I have no idea who was the prime minister of India in 1974. Heck, I don't even know if India HAS a Prime Minister. I don't know this stuff. And generally speaking, I can do pretty well in life without this information. Until it comes to trivia games. They are RIFE with geography and world leader questions. Arrghh.

If they would ask the origin of the phrase "f -u" I know that (don't ask me how, but sadly, it is true. I love word origins.) If they asked how you get bacon spatters out of your favorite t-shirt, I know that too. The other day on Cash Cab, they asked, "What do the letters MO stand for when talking about a criminal's past acts?" I knew that. But then they asked some question for which the answer was "Indira Ghandi." Trust me, I didn't know that one.

I told Zack, "I really suck at trivia." And he said, "Yeah, but you're good at general knowledge stuff, and that's more important."

Well, there you go.

All that to say, I'm smart where it counts. (That is my paraphrase of "You're good at general knowledge stuff, and that's more important.)

Please Insert Faith Here

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.

When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63

Today is the long awaited muscle biopsy for Jacob. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I'm not nervous about the procedure, but then again, it's not my arm they are pulling a muscle out of. But I'm nervous about the outcome. And so, I search for God. And I seek His comfort. I have seen the power and the glory and the majesty of the God I serve. And in those moments, it is very easy to believe that He is all that He has promised.

And I have also seen God withhold the very thing He alone could provide . . . healing. And in those moments, it requires faith to believe that He is all that He has promised.

But there is one thing that never changes in either of those equations. . . He is all that He has promised He is.

All that to say, whether today is an "easy to believe" day or a "requires faith" day, I know that his right hand upholds me.

PS - The biopsy went okay. They had some trouble with the local and so the procedure had to be done quickly . . . too quickly to let the anesthesia take effect. So Jacob could feel most everything. We will know something in 4-6 weeks. He is resting well at home.

Real People Doing Real Life Together

I have been a member of three different small groups. Really more like 10 if you count Sunday School classes (yes, I used to go to Sunday School) and Women's Bible Studies. But in all of those groups, some of which have been really good (some not so much) there has been one group that was that once in a lifetime kind of group.

I have asked myself, and been asked by people who are in charge of groups in their churches, "What made that group so special?" And as I have thought about that group I have come to this conclusion. It was realness (if that's a word). We didn't start with realness. But there was a defining moment where realness, authenticity, truth and transparency all came crashing together and created a connection that time and the test of time has not broken.

We were eating dinner one night, talking about general marriage things, when one of the couples there talked openly about a problem they were having in their marriage. I don't remember the exact words anymore, but those words opened doors for the rest of us to share things in our own lives that weren't perfect either. For the 6 of us that were there that night, we let down our guards and trusted each other. We became real. And there were many more REAL moments that happened from that day forward. Because someone in our group took the risk, and stepped out in humility, saying, "let's do life together."

Those REAL moments still happen, even though we live thousands of miles away. Sometimes my husband will get texts from one of the guys in the group asking him if he is speaking kindly to his wife (me). Accountability. I think that's what else has made this group so incredible. We don't just "get real" with each other, we hold each other accountable for the things that we should be accountable for.

I think Jesus modeled the perfect small group. We watched him do real life with his small group. He was authentic, transparent, humble, strong, and he held them accountable. They prayed together, ate together, laughed together, struggled together, suffered loss together, and celebrated together.

All that to say, "real people doing real life together" isn't just a slogan or a good idea. It's life changing.

Pretty People

We had friends in this weekend. What's funny is that when these friends come to visit, we do exactly the same thing every time. We go to Market Street. We eat at Tommy Bahamas. We shop around. Cathy buys something at Lilly Pulitzer (this time is was a giraffe print coat). We shop at J. Crew (Cathy buys or orders something there too.) We shop at Swoozies. (Yup, Cathy buys something there too!) Are you seeing a pattern here?

We eat at least one lunch at Potbelly's (the last time they were here, Cathy bought a purse right off of a woman eating in the restaurant!) We go to Starbucks. We eat at Guadalajara's (which is a cheap place to eat, but our bill is always extremely high for a mexican restaurant . . . how is that possible?) But it's fun. Only this time, Mike and I ended up stuck in those seats in the middle where you don't know which end of the table to talk to, so no one ends up talking to you at all . . not so fun.

We shop more. The guys play golf. This time Mike beat Ray so he carried around his scorecard to PROVE he had beaten Ray. At some point during the trip, Ray will usually comment about how everyone and everything in The Woodlands is "pretty."
We go to church (two times this weekend!?) They go home.
Really, it's the same trip every single time. But it's so much fun!
BUT, we told them next time they are flying into San Antonio and we will meet them there. They gotta mix it up. But Ray, no Mexican food this time. WHY HAVE YOU NEVER SAID YOU DON'T LIKE MEXICAN FOOD???

All that to say, Good Friends. Good Times.

These Two Things

I awakened this morning about 5:00 a.m. I know it was 5:00 a.m. on the nose because I rolled over and looked at the clock. "Ugh. Why am I awake?" I asked myself. I didn't have to go to the bathroom, so that wasn't it. I laid perfectly still for a few minutes, seeing if that would help me go back to sleep. But my mind was racing. Racing around all the things that were troubling me. Individually, I spoke of them to God. But there was no peace in that either. So I got up.

I made some coffee and a piece of toast and went and sat in my comfy chair. It's the place God and I meet each day (well, each day that I choose to meet Him there). But today, I think He summoned me there. That's how I felt . . . compelled to rise early, compelled to sit, compelled to listen.

So I sat. And I listened. And once again, as I have done so often in the past few weeks, nay months, I said, "Why, God? Why do you seem so far away, Lord? Why do you hide from me?" And then I opened my Bible to Psalm 10. And it says, "Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?"

. . . compelled to sit, compelled to listen.

And here was His answer to me. "Carol, I ask two things of you. Only two. Surrender and be Holy." Surrender and Holiness.

These two things You seek Lord. Surrender and Holiness.

Surrender my will to yours. Giving up control to you. Joyfully surrendering my heart's desires for the things you desire. Surrendering my dreams to yours; my plans for your plans. And recognizing as it says in Psalm 16:2, "You are my Lord; and I have no good besides You."

And Holiness. "Oh Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness and speaks truth in his heart." Psalm 15:1. That doesn't sound so hard. But am I holy Lord when I judge someone walking down the street? When I tell those little lies that won't hurt anyone? When my mouth and the words that pour forth from it are hideous? Am I holy when I doubt You and lose respect for You because You will not give me what I seek? Am I holy when I cannot sit in your presence because the list of things I want or need to do is more important to me than what you might have to say?

All that to say, there are these two things that seem elusive. Surrender and Holiness. But alas, I have their names now.

I Wanted to Run a Marathon

So, last night Mike and I drove down to Houston to drop off some stuff at Jacob's house and then we met up with Sarah and all had dinner. Somewhere along the way, I said, "So, who's with me? I think we should all train for a marathon." Mostly my comment was met with silence, some snorts, and a few snickers (personally I don't know the difference between a snort and a snicker, but I needed another catchy word there).

My husband started telling me all the reasons I couldn't run a marathon, like how I didn't know how to run, my knees are bad, I'm out of shape . . . the list goes on. I stipulated to his list and said that was why I had to train, and then I said "Come on! Who's with me?" Still no takers. (Keep in mind that Jacob IS a runner, but he does have this medical thing going on with his muscles, so I sort of forgive him for not jumping on the bandwagon).

So then someone, maybe Sarah(?) suggested we run a half marathon. And I said, 'YEAH, I could totally do that, what is that, like 6.5 miles right?' To which everyone laughed and asked me how far I thought a marathon was. Seriously, I thought a marathon was about 13 miles. WHO KNEW it was 26 freakin' miles???!!! Who runs that far, besides Forest Gump??!!

Well, in the end, even with Mike the Encourager getting on board, we all decided we could train for a half marathon. Jacob thinks it will take me about 4 months. I think that sounds SOON! I figured it would like be this time next year before I could run 13 miles.

All that to say, I'm gonna need a new pair of shoes. And if something leads to shoe shopping, it HAS to be good. Oh, and if you have any thoughts on how I should train for this 13 mile run, let me know. Soon.

I Have a Dream

I am a bit perturbed at the moment. I mean really, seriously, what century is this? We have elected a black man to be the President of the United States. Can we be that forward thinking and yet not be able to resist the urge to tell stupid racial jokes about what color the white house is now, or how the rose garden is going to be changed into a watermelon patch or any of the other idiotic and stupid racial slurs I have heard in the past few days?!

I am sick of people thinking that making fun of someone because of their race is really okay. It isn't. It isn't funny. And it doesn't make you look smarter. It makes you look like an idiot. So stop it. Oh, and if you work in a church and you're doing it . . . really? REALLY?! Seriously? Seriously.

All that to say, I have a dream where someday, we really will all be able to get along. And it won't matter what color our skin is, or what our religion is, or what country we were born in. We will just love one another. Because THAT is what we are supposed to do.

I'm Not Who I Was

Cool Title. I'm Not Who I Was. Everytime I say or hear that phrase, I can't help but sing a little bit of Brandon Heath's "I'm Not Who I Was." http://www.brandonheath.net/media.php The opening line says "I wish you could see me now. I wish I could show you how, I'm not who I was."

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I have changed. And I don't even mean how I have changed because I am now a Christian and I didn't used to be one. I mean how I have changed since I became a Christian. All in me that has changed. All the things I have thought to be true because religious practice would tell me those things were true. All the things I have thought to be true because I let others tell me they were true instead of finding out for myself. I listened to answers instead of asking questions.

But I'm not who I was. I think my scabs have been pulled off (maybe are being pulled off) and I'm not who I was. And let me tell you, if you have ever had a scab pulled off, it hurts like hell. But I have experienced great change. I know this because I have reconnected with old friends and one of the first things they say to me is how much I have changed. I'm sure they are not talking about my weight gain or my hair color. At least I don't think so. I think they see that something is different. I hope they do.

I used to love Jesus and wish the world would love him too. Now, I love Jesus and I love the world, and I wish they loved him too. But I still love them, even if they decide not to love him. That is one of the biggest changes in me. Maybe the difference is not particularly distinct to you, but it is to me, and it has GREATLY shaped and changed how I respond to the world. The point is to love them. And in loving them, show them who Christ is and how I am different because of Christ's love. The point isn't in getting them to pray a prayer, though I am sure there are those who would argue differently. The point is in the loving them. At least, I think it is.

So I am different. And I am constantly changing . . . changing the way I act toward others, the way I speak, the way I live, the way I love.

All that to say, I'm not who I was.

Happy Birthday Mike

Big Mike, as he is affectionately called by Shauna Maness, is turning 52 today. 52! (Mike has tons of nicknames . . . "Jonesie," "The talking man," "Crazy Mike," etc.) The funny thing about Mike and his birthday is that he hates having a birthday. Well, not so much the turning another year older part. That doesn't bother him. He just doesn't like the "fuss" of a birthday.

Apparently, as the story goes, when Mike was a little boy (I think 8 or 10) he had a birthday party. And at the party, he "ranked" the presents in order of the ones he liked the best to least. (Why didn't his mother stop him?!) After the party, he got to thinking about how much that must have hurt the feelings of his friends who came to his party, brought presents, and then got ranked at the bottom of the heap.

To this day, he does not like birthday parties. He doesn't even really like presents for other holidays either, showing almost no emotion when he gets one, which I ALSO think stems back to the now infamous birthday party.

But he does like it when people say nice things about him. So I have declared today, "A Day of Mike." I stold (I know it is stole, but for some reason I have a hard time with that word) it from my friends in GA who have "Days of . . ." when it is someone's birthday.

All that to say, if you read my blog and you know Mike, will you email him today at mjones3730@gmail.com and say something nice to him? Tell him an anecdote that you remember with him in it (not antidote . . .). Happy Birthday, Honey. I love you.

Stop That Self-Loathing

Someone told me recently that I need to stop self-loathing. :) Truthfully, I don't know that I realized I was doing it. But, I can see where a self-examination might come across as self-loathing, given my present set of circumstances, so I thought I would do a little self-loving. (That sounds weird, but you know what I mean.)

What I love about my family: They are funny, sometimes wickedly sarcastic, but they make me laugh. They are real. They don't put on too many pretenses, so it doesn't too much matter where we are or what we are doing, you are bound to see the real Joneses. If you don't believe me, just ask anyone who knows the "Crazy Mike" story. They are caring. Each of them has their own caring style, which fortunately complements everyone else's style. They love Jesus. I married the perfect man. He balances me. And I have the greatest sons. I count them as friends, which is the best thing ever now that they are adults.

What I love about my job: It challenges me and makes me think and makes me feel valuable and valued. It gives me a sense of purpose and like I am doing what I was created to do. It is a great place to actually "go" to work. The environment is fun and real and good and sometimes a little stressful, but just enough so to make you want to do your best.

What I love about my friends: They take me as I am, and are accepting of what I have to give in terms of time, talents, weaknesses and so on. See "True Friends." If you are my friend, then you know you are my friend because I LOVE you. If you are not my friend, then I think you might know that as well, and that is something I need to work on. Being more loving of others.

What I love about my body: I have great eyes. The color of them changes based on my emotions and sometimes they are the most brilliant blue that even I exclaim at how blue they are! I love how people always think I am younger than I really am. Maybe that is my youthful spirit coming out! No matter what its size, I like my butt (and I cannot lie.)

What I love about myself: I like to write and think I have a talent for it, and someday maybe I will write a book, though I don't know what about or who would read it. I like that I cannot have superficial friendships. I truly care about people. I think I am a good listener (or so I have been told). I am not afraid of responsibility or hard work. I care what people think, but not so much so that it keeps me from having to make the right decisions sometimes. And I really do want world peace.

All that to say, today is a day of self-loving. So love yourself . . . ;0)