Married to a Baller is Four Years Old

Yesterday marked four years since I posted my first blog post here. I am not sure that I ever imagined I would write for four years. Originally it was more of a short term project that I wasn’t really sure how long it would last. At that time I had just had our third child and was still navigating a lot of the waters of the overseas life in only my 5th experience overseas. Now Joe has been playing for 11 years and in many ways we feel like the “old folks” of the basketball world.

These past few years have brought about many changes in me in terms of how I relate to digital media and the basketball world in general. And because of many of these changes, this blog is also going to go through a bit of a facelift as well.  Some of the reasons for the changes are:

  1. I have less and less of a desire to be “digital”.  The more I have searched my heart, my priorities and what I want to define me, I realize that sitting at a computer doesn’t fit as well into what I want to define my life.  I think there are people who are called to it, but where I am right now, I don’t feel like I am.  I don’t have a desire to blog as much anymore and would much rather be spending time with my family and friends in person.
  2. I wanted to write to encourage others who were in a similar situation as me.  And I hope I have done that over the past four years.  But lately I have felt like I am searching for things to blog on in terms of the basketball life.  And I don’t want to have to search and think too much about myself or our “unique” situation.  Too much introspection and gazing at my own life is not healthy.  So I feel like I have come to the end of most of my basketball experiences that I want to share for now.
  3. This upcoming season of life is going to be a busy one.  We are about to adjust back to the U.S. once again and I will be busy with activities for the kids and being a single mom of four children for a time.  Plus once Joe is home for the summer, we are always busy with visiting family and friends and just enjoying our time in the U.S.  And I don’t picture myself being tied to the computer very often, or even wanting to be.
  4. I have become more and more uncomfortable with the culture of “blogging” where anyone and everyone can set themselves up as an expert.  I know I have done it often, so I am in no way just pointing the finger at others here, but the overall nature of blogging often seems to be one of believing you have a very valuable opinion and that as many people as possible should listen to it.  I do think that many people have valuable things to say, but we all seem to want to be teachers instead of learners in this day of age.  I want to spend more time being a learner.

When I first started thinking about this a few months ago, I thought I would just stop blogging on here.  I shared that with Joe and he immediately began trying to convince me otherwise.  He did encourage me though to maybe take a look at blogging a bit different, so as I have thought about it over the last couple of months (while I had mostly scheduled posts to go up) I came up with a few changes that I think will keep me blogging in a more enjoyable way:

  1. My blogging may be sporadic because I am not going to pressure myself to have a post up any certain number of times a week.  So I may be more random at times.
  2. My blogging about the basketball lifestyle will be minimal.  The Basket Wives section will continue to stay up as a reference that I pray will bless many women, but the topics probably won’t focus on this lifestyle as much anymore.  I have enjoyed the Meet the Basket Wives series, but even that will only come when I meet a woman in person I would like to feature on the blog.
  3. There will more recommendations and quotes.  I have been doing a lot more reading since not spending as much time on the computer.  So much of it has encourage amy soul that I would like to share and recommend more, as I used Twitter for.  Much of my blogging will also probably come through things these books cause me to think through.
  4. The blog in general will act more as a daily journal in terms of writing out what I learn and struggle through in order to experience a greater depth of learning, and hopefully encourage others.  Only when those lessons involve the family will the family be brought in.  More of the personal posts (top ten events of the previous year, birthday  and anniversary posts, etc.) will be post don our family blog from now on.
  5. There will be less effort on the visual appeal of the blog.  Not that the point of my blog was to ever have the best looking blog, but I am going to forgo even the few extra minutes to post pictures and fancy signatures.

So that is the plan for now.  Hopefully this stream of consciousness has made some sort of sense.  As always, thank you so much for being the fabulous readers that you are and for helping me along in my journey.

 

Top 10 of 2011: Books of 2011 (#7)

The year of 2011 was another good one for reading some challenging and encouraging books. I ended up reading 39 books over the course of the year and noticed once again a huge slowing of reading when I was home for the summer. I have noticed though the more I reduced my social media, the more time I spent reading though, so that has been another positive change.

Here are my past favorite book lists:
Books of 2009

Books of 2010

And here were my top 10 favorite books of 2011 (in no particular order):

1. Same Kind Of Different As Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent

This one was recommended to Joe by his teammate here and it was an incredible read.  If you are emotional though, be ready to absolutely sob at some points.  It is a true story and full of real struggles and victories.

2. Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic

I blogged on this one enough for you to know it would be in my top 10.  I am planning on reading it twice a year as long as I have little ones in the house.

3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This was my favorite fiction book of the year.  I haven’t seen the movie yet because the book is always better to me, but Joe hasn’t read the book so we may rent the movie at some point.  It was my beach read of the year.

4. King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Tim Keller

Another book I blogged on numerous times.  There hasn’t been a book I have read by Tim Keller that hasn’t made my year end top 10.  I have never been disappointed to spend my time reading one of his books or listening to one of his sermons.

5. Great Parents, Lousy Lovers: Discover How to Enjoy Life with Your Spouse While Raising Your Kids by Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham

Although not in any way the best marriage book I have ever read, this book is the only one I have ever read that addresses the issue of the children becoming the center of our home in a way that shows how you can still love your kids, but keep your marriage central.  It is filled with great practical advice and funny stories.

6. Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman

Biographies are some of my favorite books and this autobiography by Mary Beth Chapman ranks in my tops of all biographies.  She was so very real in it that I don’t know how you could not have cried right along side her and seen yourself in much of what she wrote.

7. Core Performance Women: Burn Fat and Build Lean Muscle by Mark Verstegen and Pete Williams

If you want to read one health book (as a woman) this is the one I would recommend.  I read The Core Performance: The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform Your Body & Your Life
a few years back and would highly recommend that one, but as a busy mom, this one catered to me even more.

8. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller and The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children by Lou Priolo

I am lumping these two together simply because they were both re-reads.  I had read these books previously, but different circumstances stirred me to re-visit them again, and they are still favorite books even in the second reading.

9. Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan

If you are feeling like you are in a rut with the Lord, this book may be the thing you need to shake the dust off a bit.  This book was challenging and encouraging in a way most books fail (either they make you feel like you are a failure or you walk away thinking you have it all together).  This is one I could easily recommend to any Christian.

10. Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself (Re: Lit Books) by Joe Thorn

If you are looking for a great devotional type book with short chapters to read during your Bible and prayer time, this one is great.  It has concise chapters packed with loads of truth to stir your soul up to see God for who He really is and love Him even more.

Please share your favorites from 2011 in the comments section!

Top 10 of 2011: Simplifying My Social Media (#9)

Since I have written on it numerous times, it would be hard for the simplification of my social media not to make the top 10 of 2011 list.  Back in November, I read the following quotes from the Vitamin Z blog that quoted John Dyer’s book “From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology” and knew that I was making changes that were healthy for me personally:

“When technology has distracted us to the point that we no longer examine it, it gains the greatest opportunity to enslave us.”

“We use our idols fundamentally as a way of meeting our needs apart from God, and this is our greatest temptation with technology—to use it as a substitute for God.”

I started off 2011 as a user of Twitter, Facebook (where I had a personal profile, along with a page for my blog and for Joe) 2 blogs, Good Reads and added in Instagram during the year. Throughout the year I slowly started pruning myself away from social media, first by simplifying the things I was using and then by disengaging from various platforms of social media.

Again, this in no way means I have set the correct path everyone should follow, but it was such a good year for me for really thinking through why I interacted with the social media in the way that I did. And from that thinking came changes and those changes brought better core relationships, a more productive use of my time and an overall freedom from many of the sinful struggles I saw residing in my heart. And for me that is a very significant change that I am thankful came in 2011.

 

Unfriend Yourself (Part 3)

Today I want to finish up on one last point of conviction that I felt when reading Unfriend Yourself by Kyle Tennant. And this last point is what I think ultimately brought me to the point of shutting down my Facebook account. The third promise he says that Facebook (and other social media makes is):

COMMUNITY CAN BE FOUND ANYWHERE

What eventually made me decide to shut down Facebook was when I took a hard look at my relationships. I knew lots of “facts” about “friends” that I didn’t really know all that well. And felt more “connected” to them. But it wasn’t true community or relationships. Mr. Tennant says this about community:

The truth is, community—true community, where we find intimacy and authenticity—requires a lot more than a simple message. Yet, we are easily deceived, and we easily accept off-brand community when we should be partaking of the real deal.

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 263-265). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

While we would love to believe that social media can give us a place to “know and be known,” the question is whether that can happen through mediated communication. Sure, I can read about someone’s burdens and joys, but can I truly weep with those who weep when they are in their house and I am in mine? I don’t think so. I can weep for them but certainly not with them. I would argue that community, as biblically defined and God given, is not possible online. First, we have to remember that there has been a fundamental confusion about the words network and community. At the most basic level, we cannot expect community from something intended for a network. “When technology engineers intimacy, relationships can be reduced to mere connections. And then, easy connection becomes redefined as intimacy.”34 Further, we have to ask if community is possible when, as noted earlier, social media is so based on the self. “For all the rhetoric about cyber-community, the Internet is less a forum for shared public life than an arena for individuals to express their egos and find information in tune with their personal needs and desires.”35 When the network is based on the self, it becomes incredibly difficult to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Love “does not insist on its own. and doesn’t “boast” (1 Corinthians 13:5, 4). The hallmark value of Christian community is love: “Above all these put on love,” says Paul (Colossians 3:14). Clearly, we have a problem when we seek community on a medium that is more about us than it is about others.

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 417-430). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I realized I was taking the “easy” way out when it came to relationships. Just writing on someone’s wall for their birthday isn’t really that big of a deal. Calling them or sending a card is much more meaningful. And as the book goes on to say, relationships require sacrifice:

Sociologists call the best kind of community relationships “strong ties.” These are deep, meaningful relationships that motivate us to action and to change. By contrast, “the platforms of social media are weak ties.”39 While weak ties have their own kind of power, they are only effective “at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.”40 In short, the community on Facebook is the lazy kind. Whereas true community requires hard work (“love one another earnestly,” writes Peter), social media provide us a kind of community that requires little of us. “In other words,” writes Malcolm Gladwell, “Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.”41

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 448-456). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I realized Facebook was indeed making me lazy in my relationships. Not only was I lazy in letting others what was REALLY going on in my own life, but I was lazy in REALLY knowing what was happening in their lives. I felt like I was “connected” to them, but I didn’t really know much more than surface things.

Mr. Tennant used a very simple, helpful graph in the book showing the difference between the amount of effort a communication requires and the amount of impact it makes on a relationship. Not surprisingly, the more effort something takes, the more meaningful it is to the relationship. The order Mr. Tennant prescribed for communication from least effort to great effort (and thus least impact to greatest impact) was:

  1. Text Message
  2. Social Media
  3. E-Mail
  4. Hand Written Noe
  5. Phone Call
  6. In-Person Visit

The only place I would disagree a little bit with this is in terms of writing to someone.  I do think that at times, the written word is more powerful than the spoken word.  I have had some of the most encouraging things given to me in the written form, that I know could not have been said in the same way.  And in turn, there are times that only writing things to a person could truly get across what I wanted to say to encourage them.

But this part did get me thinking about our lifestyle in particular.  Joe has always been very bothered by how out of community we are in living overseas.  I have always said that we are lucky to have technology like email, Skype, various iPhone apps, etc. to keep in touch with these people.  But in reading this, I was really convicted about how they can’t be relationships as deep as they could be because you are physically away from people.

I am going to tread on thin ice here and say that I think this is a huge area of weakness for the majority of the Basket Wives I have had any sort of contact with.  I think in general, we tend to be lonely due to the lessened contact with others in person, and because of that, we turn to social media almost as a drug.  I have seen many wives (myself included) form strong “bonds” with other Basket Wives over the internet that they have never even met in person.  I do think it is wonderful to have the connection with other wives in a similar situation, but when these women that you have never even shared the same room with become your best friends, I think there is a problem.  And I think social media is being used to mask loneliness.  Mr. Tennant experienced this himself when he was away on a missions trip and says:

In that moment, I realized that I was using Facebook as a kind of narcotic to numb my aching soul. Unable to spend time with my friends and family, I did the next best thing: I peered into my friends’ lives with a kind of voyeuristic desire I’d never experienced before. I became a peeping Tom, eavesdropping into my friends’ lives as a kind of substitute for being in their presence. This was another time that I began to wonder whether Facebook really was just a simple tool, a plaything. This was when I began to wonder if Facebook and social media had a power that I hadn’t expected, a power to appeal to our souls with a false balm for their pains.

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 336-341). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

And I have experienced loneliness. I can remember the feeling of being completely by myself the first time we moved abroad to Greece in 2003. And this was in the time of dial-up internet, before I knew of Skype and way before social media. My mom would buy calling cards to call me and I would e-mail a few people. That was it. But you know what? I wouldn’t change it all for anything in the world. The solitude was a precious gift of God to give me time to listen to Him in prayer and in reading the Word, to take walks and listen to sermons, to exercise and take care of my body, and to simply “be”. I think a lot of times in this day in age, we are afraid of silence. We are afraid not to be “connected”. And that fear is a sin and a sickness in most cases. I think a lot of people are afraid of what they might hear if they let all the noise die down.

So having said all of this about Facebook, I am still not saying I would NEVER be back on again. The author himself uses Facebook because he is a youth pastor and that is simply the way he can keep in touch with and gather his students. We don’t have to completely condemn culture. Mr. Tennant quotes Andy Crouch from his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
in saying:

“However, if all we do is condemn culture,” Crouch points out, “especially if we mostly just talk amongst ourselves, mutually agreeing how bad things are becoming—we are very unlikely indeed to have any cultural effect.”48 As I considered simply condemning social media, I realized with Crouch’s help that simply saying no and shutting off my Facebook profile wouldn’t do anything. Why? Because condemnation rarely leads to lasting change. This is why Crouch suggests a fifth way of engaging culture: creation.

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 520-524). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We can be different on Facebook and create a new culture. We don’t have to be like everyone else, but it takes a lot of effort. And that effort is just not something I am up for right now because I don’t think Facebook is necessary for my priority relationships at this stage of my life. But if I do join again I want to embody what Neil Postman wrote:

Postman writes that we must be “resistance fighters” to the technological takeover of the world.63 He explains that “a technological resistance fighter maintains … [a] distance from any technology, so that it always appears somewhat strange, never inevitable, never natural.”64

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 673-676). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Here are a few other thoughts I had if I would ever decide to join Facebook again:

1. I would only be “friends” with people that I am truly friends with. Although it might seem cruel to some people, I would use Facebook as a supplement to the relationships that are already in place. So if I haven’t talked to a person in a year, I probably won’t hit the “accept” button on the friend request. In the book Mr. Tennant made a good analogy between vitamins/food and social media/relationships. Just like vitamins, social media should be a supplement, not the main part of the diet:

Facebook is a great tool for supplementing and augmenting relationships, much in the same way fish oil is a great tool for supplementing our diets. However, many of us are replacing the main courses of our lives—in-the-flesh, face-to-face time with friends and family—with supplemental wall posts and tweets. Studies show that most of us talk to each other more online than we do in real life.56 The forms of communication that take place through social media are not the best forms of communication. Social media act best as a “supplement to our lives.”57

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 573-578). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2. I would keep pictures, videos and even general updates about my and our family’s life to our family blog. Not only is it a time waster to be posting things twice, but I have struggled at times when meeting with someone in person to always be second guessing if I am telling them something they already know. I sit and think, “Did they read that status update of mine and already know this?” It makes for weird and awkward relationships when you are putting information out there for lots of people to read, but you aren’t sure who actually read it.

3. I would keep it simple in terms of time and effort. I would want my time on Facebook to be the smallest chunk of my daily computer use. I think I would also be pretty selective about which pages I like, groups I join and overall information that I present about myself. I would use it primarily for not only supplemental touches to those in my life, but for recommending articles and other blog posts (but I personally like Twitter as a better platform for this).

4. I would try and only use Facebook when I am up-to-date on my other relationships. I may have 20 minutes to spend on Facebook, but would it be a better use of time to call my grandma that I haven’t talked to in a month?

Thanks for bearing with me as I thought more through the issue of social media in my life. I hope it helped for you to be think about what part you want social media to play in your life.

Blessings,

Unfriend Yourself (Part 2)

Yesterday I began a series of posts sharing about a book I just read called Unfriend Yourself
by Kyle Tennant. In the introduction, he lays out 3 promises Facebook makes to us and then expands on those in various ways throughout the book. Today I am going to look at the second promise:

IT’S OK TO MAKE IT ALL ABOUT YOU.

Here is what Mr. Tennanat says about the “me” attitude of social media.

When we move online to Facebook and other social media, we find that these technologies, too, have their own agendas. Where the supra-ideology (or controlling set of values) of television is entertainment, the supra-ideology of social media is me. In essence, Facebook’s agenda is for us to broadcast ourselves (notably the YouTube tagline), to talk about what we’re doing and what we like. This is what psychologists might call “self-presentation,” which is a fancy psychological word for what we do all the time: we wear clothes, talk in a certain way, do things how we do them, all to tell the world about who we are. Facebook is a digital opportunity for us to self-present through status updates, photos, and “likes.”

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 206-211). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

He then goes on to say:

The problem with the promise comes when we realize that:

Self-Presentation
+ Sinful Selves
= Self-Promotion

When we step into our digital lives, we suddenly find that instead of passively or thoughtlessly telling people about ourselves (like we do in casual conversation, or with our clothing), we are sending to the world constant and premeditated messages about the details of our lives. We present—or promote—ourselves in such a way to cause people to think of us in a certain way. When I log on to Facebook, I find that I want to put my best foot forward; as a result, I find myself bending the truth and skirting circumstance, ever so slightly, to offer to my “friends” the best part of myself, the part of me that is the coolest, the funniest. I announce to others something good about me with the goal of getting others to think a certain way about me. The biblical term for this kind of self-promotion is “boasting.”

But what goes around comes around. “By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature.”13 As I “stalk” the profiles of my “friends,” I find that they, too, have put their best foot forward; and tragically, I don’t measure up. Suddenly, I think to myself: “Oh, I’m not nearly as fit as he is,” or “She is far more witty than I am.” As a result, I want to find ways to make myself look better so that I can keep up with everyone else. So begins an endless cycle of self-promotion and self-rejection.14

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 211-225). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The book continues on to say this about our “important news updates”:

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media provide us with unhindered opportunities to distribute information about ourselves to mass amounts of people very quickly. The problem is that this information is often trivial and inane, which subtly teaches us that the inane details of our lives are important for other people to know. Before we know it, our way of thinking has changed. We broadcast everything to everyone all of the time, and consider this normal and acceptable. A quick look on Facebook tells me that a “friend” has four tickets to a concert he wants to give away, that another got pulled over last night, that another hates spiders. Facebook and social media tell us that the endlessly inane and mindless details of our lives are newsworthy (notice Facebook calls it a “news feed”). But this promise is a lie. I am not the center of the universe, and the funny thing my friend’s cat just did is not all that important. Sure, there is a laugh to be had, but ever so subtly we have come to believe that everything about me matters, when it truly doesn’t. Boasting, self-promotion, and self-construction are dangerous habits of the mind and heart.

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 228-237). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I remember taking a break from Facebook at one point and having a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw my natural tendency for something to happen and me to think “Oh, I should post that.” I was starting to see that my natural reaction was to think that I should post every little detail of my life and that everyone should care about it.

And the struggle to want to look “good” for all your “friends” is one that I am not sure how anyone on Facebook would avoid, except to go to the other extreme and self-deprecate or just not use Facebook to write about yourself at all (which I have seen people do as a way to simply stay in touch with others, not necessarily share every detail about themselves).

We are constantly maneuvering and jockeying for security in our relationships; we are each too aware of our shame and vulnerability. Now, with social media, and the ability to post this picture, make that comment, and like that band, I can present an ideal me, and so shield myself from the disdain of my peers. The question is: are social media the new leaves we use to cover our shame? After all, “We can write the Facebook profile that pleases us. We edit our messages until they project the self we want to be.”26

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 374-378). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

This is not to say that people can’t use social media in a God-honoring way. I think it takes a lot more thought and having a vision for WHY you are using that particular vehicle. One of the ultimate examples of social media for the spreading of the good news of Jesus is John Piper.

John Piper uses this very reasoning to explain why he has chosen to tweet. He writes that he tries “to fill these media with as much provocative, reasonable, Bible-saturated, prayerful, relational, Christ-exalting, truth-driven, serious, creative pointers to true greatness” as he can.65 He conceives of tweets as opportunities “to press some God-focused truth into someone’s consciousness.”

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 685-688). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

And although Mr. Piper uses Twitter and believes good can come from it, he doesn’t see it as something that all Christians are called to do:

“But it seems to us,” he says, “that aggressive efforts to saturate a media with the supremacy of God, the truth of Scripture, the glory of Christ, the joy of the gospel, the insanity of sin, and the radical nature of Christian living is a good choice for some Christians.”

Tennant, Kyle (2012-01-01). Unfriend Yourself (Kindle Locations 691-693). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

My husband is another wonderful example of a great Twitter account. He in no way uses it to brag about himself, or even his family. He recommends great thought provoking articles, publishes wonderful quotes from his Kindle reading and throws in some good humor now and then. It’s really refreshing to read because when he does post about himself, it is truly “news” or an “update” for those who might be interested in what is going on in his life.

So again, neither I nor Mr. Tennant is saying that if you have Facebook, you automatically must be self-consumed.  I think you can easily use social media without being all about yourself, but I do believe it is a hard line to walk.

So what did I take away from this false promise?

1. I need to have a purpose for why I use the different types of social media in my life or they will run me, instead of me running them.  Right now my social media line-up is: family blog, Good Reads, Instagram and this blog.  This point helped me to think a little clearer through these 4 areas:

  1. Family Blog: This is a blog that is very clearly about us.  I may border on boasting on this blog at times (or totally cross the line), but the purpose of it is to keep our family and friends at home updated on what we are doing overseas.  This is something I hope to continue for many years because it serves as a wonderful family journal to look back on and there are many who get great joy out of watching the home videos of the kids and seeing pictures of where we live, play, etc.  So right now I am comfortable with where this form of social media is at.
  2. Good Reads: I hesitate to even classify this one as social media because it is used much more for keeping track of my books and sometimes seeing what other people read.  I pretty much just talk to my mom and my friend Maria on Good Reads :)
  3. Instagram: I really like Instagram because I enjoy capturing lie’s moments in a picture.  But I am going to need to think a bit more through it because I am not sure exactly WHY I am doing it.  If I look back on a lot of the pictures, it could be classified as boasting.  But most of the time the feeling I feel is thankfulness as I post a picture, so I am not sure where the line is there.  This is one I will continue to think through more.
  4. Married to a Baller: For this blog, I have a purpose for it in the About section.  In thinking more about it though, there are certain posts that I think would be better served over on our private family blog (for instance the Instagram photos).  Here I want to have 3 main thrusts. I am sure I will fall short on many posts, but this is my main goal.
  • Pointing people to Jesus through my struggles, victories and overall life journey
  • Sharing about our lifestyle and the way we live so as to encourage others who are living it or just interested in it
  • Journaling through thoughts and situations so that I can think more clearly and hopefully encourage others

Please share in the comments ways that you have worked through your social media interaction, as I would love to learn how others view and interact with social media in their lives.

New Year 2012

It is time for my last blog post of 2011.  I have said it many times before: I really enjoy the new year.  A fresh beginning, a new calendar year, a time to create new hopes and dreams for another 12 months.  For the past 4 years, I have been making New Year Goals that include a theme I want to focus on for the year, along with a verse and hymn.  Here are some of my past New Year themes:

2008: “It Is Well With My Soul”
Psalm 46
Rest of Soul

2009: “Praise to the Lord”
Psalm 138
Thankfulness

2010: “How Firm a Foundation”
Psalm 1:2-3
Steadiness

2011: “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”
Colossians 3:23-24
Living for an Audience of One

As I thought about what I wanted to focus on for 2012, my first thought was “Simplicity”.  I have been feeling a lot lately that God is calling me to not worry about a lot of the extra curriculars of life, but just do the few priorities that I have determined well.  But the more I prayed about it, although I do think that is a theme God is working on in my life right now, it didn’t feel like what I was called to focus on for the year.  Instead, I felt like I was to focus on “Loving Others”.

When I first had this thought in prayer, I was kind of rebuffed by it.  I liked the sound of “Simplicity” better.  It seemed like a more “acceptable” sin to struggle with.  I felt much more comfortable asking for prayers to keep things simple than I did asking for people to pray for me to love others well in 2012.  What kind of Christian doesn’t love others well?

But the more I prayed about it, the more convinced I became that this was what my focus needed to be for 2012, and in 2 specific areas.

1. Loving others without expecting anything in return.

An area that I see as lacking in my life in loving others is that often my love or service does not come from a motivation of bringing God glory but of getting love in return from others, either in terms of praise, returning acts of love to me or other means of showing appreciation.  I struggle to love and serve those who do not reciprocate that love to me (or at least that I don’t perceive to reciprocate it because I am certainly not a faultless judge).  Or I struggle to serve people with joy when I don’t feel like my service is being appreciated.  And I know this is completely contrary to God’s example of love to us in Jesus.  This hit me squarely when I read these words from Ed Welch’s book Running Scared:

Notice how human desires go topsy-turvy when we stray outside God’s kingdom. As kingdom residents, we have been loved with an everlasting love and we have the privilege of loving others as we have been loved. We stand in the shadow of Jesus, who revealed what human life was intended to be: He loved others even when he wasn’t loved. Jesus shows us that to be truly human means that our desire to love others outdistances our desire to be loved ourselves. True humanness is found more in a sacrificial love for our enemies than in being the object of another person’s affections. Yet we often live as though the opposite were true. Without adequate human love, we feel paralyzed to love. We want to be filled with the love of others before we move out in love towards others. This is normal for us, but normal does not mean that it is either right or true. At root, our yearning for love and acceptance from other people (when it is more important than loving and accepting others) is evidence of allegiances to ourselves. We prefer to be the king rather than serve the King.

Welch, Edward T. (2007-11-01). Running Scared: Fear, Worry & the God of Rest
(p. 179). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.

I tend to not deal with the people in my life who are hard to love.  Or I pull away from those who do not return my efforts for a relationship.  Or I sulk and pout when I have served my husband or children all day without a word of thanks.  It all comes from the same root of loving myself, instead of truly loving others because I love God and He loves me.  This is one big area that I pray God would work in me in the coming year.

2. Loving others by watching what my tongue speaks about others.

I don’t know of many Christian women who don’t know that they struggle with gossip, slander or just idle talk in some way.  But I know of very few who really talk about it and try to make war on it.  Although I praise God for doing a good work in the area of my speech of others, I know I still have a lot of sanctification that needs to happen in this part of my life.  And although it isn’t a fun sin to admit, I know that in order for change to come about, confession needs to happen.  And for me, the people that I find hard to love are the people I often do not speak well of.  But my speech hardens my heart even further towards them.

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;
he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
(Proverbs 13:3 ESV)

The ESV Study Bible for this verse had this convicting sentence for me:

Such a path has mutually reinforcing benefits in both heart and actions.

In other words, when I keep my mouth shut on the negative and open it with the positive, it is a way of sanctifying my heart and my acts of service towards that person.

My prayer this year is that I would love others better by selflessly serving them and speaking words of grace about them. May your new year be filled with evidences of God’s work in your life and the lives around you,

Benefits of the Basket Life: Learning to Cook a Holiday Meal

I think God has graciously given me selective amnesia to protect me from remembering how hopeless I used to be in certain situations.  For example, I cannot remember the first holiday meal I tried to cook overseas.  I think our first holiday overseas had to be Easter of 2003, but I have no recollection of attempting a meal.  The next would have been Thanksgiving of 2005, but once again, I don’t remember giving turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes a go.  My thought is that it was such a pathetic attempt that God has spared me from the memory.

I have mentioned before that I am not a cook.  Cooking doesn’t get me all jazzed up like it seems to do to some people.  I had home cooked meals growing up, so it wasn’t like I didn’t have an example.  But I am pretty sure I have heard my mother say many times that she isn’t a big fan of cooking either.  So most of our family dinners I would say were relatively simple: spaghetti and meat sauce (my favorite of my mom’s), chicken and rice, meatloaf and macaroni and cheese, etc.  My dad was not a veggie guy, so we never had to have an extra side dish there either (mom made us get our fruits and veggies at other meals and snacks).

But in July of 2002 I married a man who came from a family where he went to his grandparents’ house to eat at least once a week.  At these homes there were meals on an everyday Tuesday night that looked like a Thanksgiving spread.  His home meals consisted of food mostly from scratch with about 3 side dishes on average.  Thankfully, he was very patient with me when I first started cooking and also bought into some healthier options that stretched him out of his normal “meat and potatoes” dinner routine.

But holidays were a different story for my husband.  Joe is a homebody and he misses holidays at home.  He is very attached to the memories and “feel” of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  He has certain foods he likes to eat at those times and without them, it doesn’t quite feel the same.  I can remember the first time he asked me to make mashed potatoes and I looked at him and said, “Like from a box?”  I can remember the glazed look in his eyes as he tried to come up with a reply for that.

So I have tried to do my best to make a holiday meal that will be a blessing to my family overseas.  But as anyone knows who has lived as Basket Wife over here: it is not easy.  Not only can it be tough to find all the ingredients you need for things, but you are also using kitchen appliances and tools that are not your own (and can range anywhere from a weak vegetable peeler to an oven with an open flame and no temperature control).  Then add in the fact that you are often doing it all by yourself while your husband is probably off at practice because many of the big holidays for us aren’t recognized by the team, and it can make for a challenging meal.

I have come to see it as a blessing for me though.  If I had lived at home in the U.S. for these last 9.5 years, there is no way I would have ever cooked a full holiday meal.  I would have been happy to sit by while our two families hosted and our older female relatives made the majority of the food.  I may have thrown together a salad or dessert now and again, but that is about it.  I wouldn’t have discovered some of our new favorite recipes for mashed potatoes and stuffing.  I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have failed recipes that we could all laugh at.  And most of all, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sacrificially serve my family by having myself stretched to do something I am not totally comfortable with.

And that has been the biggest blessing to me in this lifestyle: being pushed beyond what I thought I could do.  By God’s grace I have learned so much more in marriage, parenting, home care, language, culture adjustment, etc. than I ever could have apart from this lifestyle.  You are forced you to go beyond your comfort level.  And that is what I think is one of the greatest gifts God has given me as a Basket Wife.

Travel Overseas 2011 (Mariupol, Ukraine)

We been here 2.5 weeks now, so it is about time I got our travel post written. I enjoy writing these down because to go back and look at them is always a testament to God’s grace and mercy in my lie. Traveling is not one of my favorite things, and to do it with children makes it all that more interesting. But it is part of our life and has become something that I have been able to embrace…and even enjoy at times.

If you are interested in some of my other travels with children, here are some brief travel stories from 2005-2010:
Our Years of Travel, Part One
Our Years of Travel, Part Two
Our Years of Travel, Part Three

And some more in-depth stories from 2009-2011:
Travel Home 2009
Overseas Travel 2010 (Brindisi, Italy)
Travel Home 2011

So this season, our travel to Ukraine consisted of three flights. Originally, the plan had been to fly from State College to Dulles. In Dulles, we would meet up with Joe’s mom and sister who flew from Philadelphia. Then we would all fly from Dulles to Munich, Germany, then Munich to Donetsk, Ukraine and then take the 2 hour bus ride to Mariupol, Ukraine. Joe called me about a week or so before we were to leave saying that there was only a 10am flight out of State College on the Sunday we planned to leave. We had asked for a 2:40pm flight, but apparently that flight only runs during the week. So I could leave at 10am and have an 8 hour layover in Dulles, or we could fly the next day. I didn’t want to start off the trip with sitting in the airport for 8 hours with the kids, but I also didn’t want to cut Joe’s family’s visit short since they were only staying through Saturday. So Joe and I hung up to pray about it and a few minutes later he called back and said, “Why not just see if there is a later flight out of Harrisburg and you could stay at your parents’ house the night before?” So we checked and there was a 2pm flight from Harrisburg, I called my parents and they were happy to have us, and so we changed the first flight.

Normally, staying at someone else’s house the night before we have to fly out would not be appealing to me because the kids would be super wound up and maybe not sleep as well in another house. But my parents’ house is like a second home to the kids and me. We have spent a lot of time there, plus my mom and I are on the same page when it comes to getting kids to bed on time and having them well-rested. And staying there the night before actually ended up to be better than being at our own house simply because I was able to relax more for the 24 hours before we left. There was nothing else I could take care of: our house was closed up and clean, stuff was packed and I didn’t even have to cook.

Sunday morning we let the kids sleep in and relax. My parents were heading to a Steeler’s game at noon and my brother had a soccer tournament, so my brother had arranged for his wife, Krista, and their friends Rich and Heidi, to take us to the airport. Aunt Krista rode with us and Rich and Heidi drove her car with a majority of the bags. We got to the airport and got unloaded and I was prepared to just head in, but Krista suggested her coming in with me while I got checked in. So Rich and Heidi each took a car and went and sat in a waiting lot until Krista called. I really should know by now that it is very helpful to have someone with you during the check-in process. For some reason it always takes long for us. So having Aunt Krista there to entertain for 20-30 minutes while we got checked in was a good way to start the trip.

We got checked in and were walking to the security check point when my phone rang and I saw it was Joe’s other sister, Kellie. She said Joe’s mom had just been in a car accident and broke her wrist and was headed to the hospital, but they were sending Karlie on the flight to Dulles (Karlie is 16 years old). She said she wanted to try and get in touch with Joe to see if they could change his mom’s ticket to his dad. So I sent Joe a text message to call Kellie, said good-bye to Krista and we headed through security. At this point I was trying to stay calm, because as anyone knows, emotions are already running high with your kids when this sort of travel is involved. You have to prep them for what is coming as best you can, but when those plans suddenly change, it is tough for them to adjust to those changes. So I calmly explained that Amma got hurt and probably wasn’t coming on the trip and that we may still be meeting Aunt Karlie in Dulles or we may be doing it on our own.

When we got to our gate and I was able to talk to Joe, and he said a ticket couldn’t be changed into his dad’s name, but they were hoping his mom could get her wrist set and come the next day. The concern was that if his mom couldn’t come the return flight for his mom and sister was to go back through Munich where they would spend the night and fly out the next day. Having a 16-year-old stay in Munich by herself in a hotel wasn’t a great idea. At that point, I thought it might be best for Karlie to just stay home, but he said she wanted to come and was on the way to the airport to see if she could still catch her flight. So we got on our flight to Dulles and made it there without much trouble.

We landed in Dulles and heard from Joe again that his mom’s wrist was very badly broken. She was hit on the right front wheel of the car when someone ran a stop sign, which jerked the steering wheel where her hand got caught and really fractured her wrist. So she was going to need surgery and would not be able to come. But Karlie had made her flight and would be in Dulles. So now we had to figure out how we would get Karlie home. The first thought was that I would fly back to Munich with her to spend the night and make sure she made it to the flight the next day. But the travel agent for the team worked to find a flight that would fly through Poland instead and be continuous travel, just leave VERY early on Saturday morning. So after waiting on our own for about an hour, Aunt Karlie came walking to the gate and the kids were very excited to see her.

Karlie was pretty excited to be traveling on her own, but had been rushed getting to the airport, so I sent her with my credit card to get get some food since we still had about 2 more hours until we boarded. The kids did some playing with a few other kids in the area, as well as play on their favorite airport feature: the pay phone. It is always funny to me how “cool” they think pay phones are and the fact that they can just dial away and it doesn’t ever make a real call. Karlie then told me that she barely made her flight in Philadelphia and that she only had the one bag that she and her mom had packed together, not the second one we had sent for them to bring because they had run out the door so quickly that neither her nor her dad had any extra money on them to pay for the extra bag.

So we got settled on the flight to Munich. Since Karlie and her mom’s tickets were from a different starting point, their seats weren’t with ours, so we had one seat two rows behind and to the side of the four seats that were in the middle bulkhead row. The kids were so excited to have Aunt Karlie there that they really wanted to sit with her, so we started off with me back in the lone seat with Isaiah and Karlie with the other three. I didn’t think it would last long, not only because three kids is a lot for a 16-year-old to handle, but because they would start getting tired and Naomi especially would want Mommy. So we got seated for take off and Isaiah was very tired. He ended up falling asleep on take off and the flight attendant then quickly got the bassinet set up in front of the kids. None of our kids have ever really slept in those, so I didn’t think it would happen. I do think Lufthansa has nicer bassinets than other airlines I have seen though. It was very cushy and I was able to lay Isaiah down, strap him in and he stayed asleep. About 20 minutes later, Karlie got up to go the bathroom and Naomi started whining for Mommy, so I moved up with the kids and put Karlie back in her seat. So I got about 20 minutes on my own ;)

The kids ate a little bit (but not much, my kids do not like plane food, although Abby said she liked the food on Lufthansa better than US Airways…I would agree) I told them they would be able to watch movies until the lights got turned out. And I made sure to keep reminding them of this fact so we could try and avoid any meltdowns. Naomi actually ended up falling asleep while watching her movie and slept for about 5 hours, on and off (she has a tendency to wake up crying and have to be calmed back into sleep again). Elijah (my best traveler overall throughout his life), put his thumb in his mouth and went to sleep when the lights went out and slept for 6 hours. Abby (who always has a tough time calming down for sleep) did settle herself and sleep for about 4 hours. After about 2 hours, Isaiah woke from the bassinet, slept on me for about an 1 hour and then went back in the bassinet for another 1.5 hours. The other three hours he spent with me.

We made it to Munich and I think everyone was relieved to have the big plane ride over with. We took our time getting to the next gate by stopping for bathroom breaks and walking slowly. We got to the gate and saw that instead of having an hour until the flight, it looked like the flight had been pushed back about 1 hour and 45 minutes. So the kids had more time to wait, which at this point they were getting tired of. Isaiah started to hit his meltdown point. Naomi (who I would say has been the worst traveler so far in her days of travel) was getting very ornery and really starting to test my patience. But at that time, a man sitting behind us turned around and said, “So what are some other Americans doing headed to Ukraine?” And that was the way I got to meet Paul and Lisa and hear about their journey of adopting 2 Ukrainian boys. That journey allowed us to go to the orphanage and meet their sons, share two meals with them and have them attend one of Joe’s basketball games over the next week!

The flight to Donetsk finally took off 1 hour and 45 minutes late, but unfortunately their wasn’t a good tailwind to allow the flight to make up time. On that 2 hour flight, Abby, Isaiah, Karlie and I slept the majority of the way, while Elijah and Naomi did a pretty good job sitting quietly and entertaining themselves (well, Naomi did talk to me a lot but I was so exhausted I couldn’t even answer her).

We arrived in Donetsk and thankfully Joe had prepared me for what the airport was like: bare bones. We went through customs and then to a small area where we had to pick our bags up off the back of a truck! No carts or anything, so I went out and located the woman from the team, Alice, who was meeting us and she was able to come back and stay with the kids, while Karlie and I carried the bags out to a spot where we switched off standing there with the bags. Once we had the bags out into the main airport area, Alice took the kids outside and the bus driver and I carried all the bags outside while Karlie stayed put with the remaining ones. Once outside, the bus driver and I loaded them on the bus, while the kids went to the bathroom inside with Alice. We then got on the bus and got to meet the other family (mom, 4 kids and grandma) who had also traveled that day and had been waiting for us to arrive so we could all drive to Mariupol. The ride was a bit bumpy, but after Naomi watched some of a movie with the other family, she and Elijah fell asleep. Isaiah and I were in and out of sleep as well. After two hours we finally arrived at the team gym at about 6:30pm local time, a little over 24 hours of when we left my parents house the day before. We then got our stuff out of the bus and loaded up into our car, while Alice went in and picked up the keys to our apartment. We then made the 20 minute trip to our apartment where we finally crashed!

So that was our trip here. God was gracious to provide abundantly (often in ways we did not plan) to bring us all here safely and reunite us as a family once again. Many reasons to give thanks once again,

Struggles of the Basket Life: Taking Care of Myself

Today I wanted to touch upon the struggle of not taking care of myself. I find this one especially hard because of the basketball lifestyle. I realized this summer that I hadn’t been to the doctor for a well-visit for over ten years. Sure I had been to plenty of OB/GYN visits and knew my blood pressure and weight fall within the normal range, but that was about as far as it went. Because the summer time is so busy with trying to get all of our U.S. activity in (vacations, doctor appointments for the kids, dentists appointments, involvement in church, visiting with friends) a visit to the doctor for me usually feel by the way side. So Joe and I both went to see the doctor this summer to have overall checks and to have blood work done for our cholesterol, triglycerides and other general screenings. I also had my thyroid levels checked because I felt like I was always so tired.

Thankfully all of our numbers came back good. And my thyroid was just fine. When Joe left a month later and I was then getting 8 hours of sleep a night, I realized the tiredness had been from not getting enough sleep. I used to be able to function well on 6-7 hours, but it seems that just isn’t the case in this season of life.

The doctor visit was good for several reasons:
1. I realized I need to make time to make sure I am in good health. I do my best to eat decent and exercise, but it is good to get things checked out BEFORE anything goes wrong.

2. Since my numbers were all good, it was an encouragement to me to keep trying to take care of myself. I want to be healthy to care for my husband and kids and enjoy life!

3. It was good to identify that the tiredness was simply from not getting enough sleep. Some day I might be able to get by with less again, but with 4 young children, I think I just need more for the time being. That is a way I can take care of myself so that I can be a blessing to others.

So here are some thoughts from Rachel Jankovic on taking care of yourself as a mother. I thought her image of our body as a tool (also mentioned yesterday) was wonderful and one that will be sticking in my mind!

“Your body is a tool—maintain it. Having sacrificed your body for your children is no excuse for schlepping around in sweatpants for the rest of their childhood. When you were eighteen, you might have been skinny without trying. In your thirties, after having had a pile of kids, the chances are good that you will need to try. And in case you care, this word is not coming from one of those miracle mothers who come out of the hospital more svelte than they went in! My children, bless them, have left their mark!”

“So realize that your body is a testimony to the world of God’s design. Carry the extra weight joyfully until you can lose it joyfully. Carry the scars joyfully as you carry the fruit of them. Do not resent the damages that your children left on your body. Just like a guitar mellows and sounds better with age and scratches, so your body can more fully praise God having been used for His purposes. So don’t resent it, enjoy it.”

This is Your Body. This is Your Body on 4 Kids. Any Questions?

One of the chapters in Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches that hit me the most was a chapter called “Me Time”. In this chapter she goes through the “buzz phrase” of needing ” me time”. She is not against “me time”, but puts it in perspective:

“All this to say, I am officially on the record in favor of “me time.” It is necessary and fabulous. It isn’t good for the kids to have a frazzled and unshowered mother, so by all means get that kind of thing done. Find a way. Turn on a cartoon if you must—it isn’t the end of the world.

But there is a sense in which we must really guard ourselves. Motherhood is a demanding job. It is so demanding and intrusive in fact that it takes over your body. It uses your body, oftentimes rather roughly. This can start to bother us. You may have some weight to lose, and you might start to resent that. You might have permanently damaged something during a pregnancy. You may have big scars, stretch marks, and loose skin that bothers you. You might not have time to exercise the way you used to. All of these things can be seen as an offense against us—against our bodies.

There are really two separate points I would like to make here. First of all, our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body. Motherhood uses your body in the way that God designed it to be used. Those are the right kind of damages.”

So in this chapter, she talks about the need for taking care of ourselves, but also for seeing our body as a tool and one that will be worn and used as a mother. She talks about the danger of not taking care of yourself, but also of idolizing staying young and keeping life as it was before you had children. I have seen both of these struggles in my life.

It has been a battle for me to see the way my body has changed giving birth to 4 children in the course of 6 years. My weight is pretty much what it was when I played college soccer, but the shape and structure are worlds apart! It is easy for resentment to creep in because I can’t exercise for an hour or more a day like I used to. Or to see things I don’t like about my body and obsess over them. But the calling of being a mother is a glorious one and I know I need to be more in awe of God having allowed my body to give birth to 4 children, instead of resenting it. Our children are precious gifts and if I see the “inconvenience” in my body changing, it will be even harder to fight against other “inconveniences” that my children may bring to the table every day.

May you embrace the place God has you today and the way He wants to use your body for His glory,