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The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen

The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen I am a lover of words, Jesus, and His church. I am also a wife, a mom, and a friend. I hope you'll consider me yours...

Chance, or Something Else?

My husband recently wrote a piece entitled "Ten Quotes That Changed My Life."  I was intrigued by the thought as I read it, and my mind has been composing my own list ever since, making me realize my life has indeed been impacted and forever altered because of both written and spoken words.

Coupled with that realization was a recent walk through a bookstore and the face of a book I spotted with a title along the lines of Chance Encounters That Changed My Life.  I didn't pick up the book, but the title started another list of top tens in my mind.  When I pause and consider my life as a timeline, I can see the random encounters with a few people pop up in big, block letters.  It was those "chance" conversations that altered a course, changed my direction. 

The friend who casually invited me to a youth group where I met a youth pastor who invited me to a missions organization's rally where I heard about a group I would eventually travel with to a far-away nation where I would have my life forever marked with a passion for sharing the gospel on foreign soil.

The aquaintance who happened to tell me about a drama team that was auditioning for new members, which I attended and where I met my future husband.

The pastor I met at a friend's wedding rehearsal who would eventually become our pastor and take us under his wing, sending us out to the city in which we lived for fourteen years as leaders of a church plant.

The church meeting we attended at someone else's church and by someone else's suggestion where we happened to buy a book that changed the course of our ministry and gave it sustaining purpose.

Seemingly small conversations that led to big revelations.  Seemingly small events that led to huge changes.

Chance encounters that weren't by chance, after all, but rather part of the big picture we can not see as we live out the minute moments of our lives.

Those life-altering words could happen in the very next phone conversation.  The course of your future could change through one encounter on the very next trip to the grocery store. 

And I find myself wondering if there were others.  Other words, other encounters that I sailed right through, never picking up on their significance, never seeing the stamp of God on the ordinary that was meant to change my life.

So I kneel and pray that I don't miss them. 

I pray my ears will always hear His voice, speaking when I least expect it, "Pay attention to this, baby.  I'm sending these words, this encounter to you, and they come with a gift attached.  Don't miss out on the opening."

And I look forward to the next package, wrapped in the chance encounter.



How to Prepare Your Family for the New Year

"Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it."  - L.M. Montgomery

I grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and even at a tender age, that line fascinated me.  Now that I'm an adult and understand what it means to regret mistakes on a grander scale than when I read those words at age eleven, I appreciate them even more.

And it's that same sentiment that has caused this week to have always been one of my very favorite weeks out of the year.  The last few days in December, when last year stretches behind with all of its memory, its triumphs, and yes, its mistakes, while next year stretches out ahead with all of its invitations and opportunities.  

A fresh start, with no mistakes in it.

I think of it like a giant etch-a-sketch just waiting to be shaken until all the lines disappear.  Some years, I'm pleased with what I've drawn over the last twelve months and just want to tweak a little here and there.  But, if I'm honest, most years I'm ready to hoist that thing over my head and chunk it as far as I can in order to hit the cosmic reset button.  

But, whichever it is, that's the magic of a new year.  Anything can happen.  This really can be the year that I make the changes.

And the crazy thing is, I do.  

Don't give up on me too fast here.  I don't mean to say I make ALL the changes.  I usually start out with a pretty good sized list and whittle it down from there.  And yes, that last sentence is code for saying I buy the gym membership and go four times the first week in January and then not again until October 2nd. But, it doesn't all go that way.  There's most often a few essential things that stick.  And that may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but over time, over the years, those few essentials add up to a lifetime of successively better choices.  They are the building blocks for self-improvement.  And when I apply them to my family, they become the foundation for healthy relationships and good memories.

So, go ahead.  Shake that etch a sketch until you forget that the skinny girl who works the front desk of the gym has no clue what your name is and thought you might be there to sell Girl Scout cookies when you walked in the day after Thanksgiving.  Shake it off.  And then start dialing with the knobs, a little here, and a little there.  And while you do it, see yourself a year from now, doing the same thing again.  Except next time, you'll be a little stronger and a little healthier and a little more joyful than you are right now.  Because you're growing.

Here's a few of the things I like to take stock of during this week.  I don't focus on all of them every year, I just choose the ones I think are most needed and concentrate on coming up with a plan that is attainable.  I also find that writing it down is important, to keep me motivated and to help me track my progress next year.

Self-care:  

Family-care:
  • How healthy are our relationships?  In what ways can I foster good relationships among us this year?  Do we need to make some different choices to get there?  (Click to read about instituting creative family nights!)
  • How healthy are our finances?  Do we need to make some shifts or some sacrifices to get where we need to go with our money?
  • How healthy are our conflict resolution skills?  What could we do to focus on solving problems with better communication and less stress?
And beyond:
  • What am I most passionate about?  What am I going to do to see that area grow in my life?
  • What is causing me the most anxiety?  What am I going to do to see that brought towards a place of peace?
  • What can I give away this year?
  • What is the most enjoyable thing I can imagine I could do this year?


Why You Shouldn't Give Up, Mama

Author's Note:  This is from Treasure the Ordinary's Archives, and is even more profound to me today than when I wrote it.  The boy in this story was 13 then.  He's now 18 and will be leaving home this next year... 

With four children entrusted to my care, I spend a lot of my time teaching.  How to tie shoes.  How to ride a bike.  How to drive a car.  How to match your clothes.  How to start the dishwasher. 

The list goes on and on, right into the more important things.

How to forgive.  How to use your words to bless.  How to pray.  How to stop gossip.  How to strengthen yourself in the Lord.

I've been teaching these precious ones for fifteen years now, so I'm comfortable in my role as teacher.  I'm not always so comfortable in my role as student.

And that's where I found myself this week, as my son became the teacher.

It was Sunday evening and we were about to have thirty people making s'mores in our backyard for an end of the season softball party.  I was running behind in my preparations and feeling the crunch.  Somewhere in the midst of opening dozens of chocolate wrappers, my second son asked what was for dinner.  My response was less than gracious.

"It's Sunday night.  I don't cook on Sunday nights.  Just eat whatever you find in the fridge."

There was a long pause as he rummaged around in the fridge, then the freezer.  Pulling out a box of frozen taquitos, he asked how long he would need to warm them up.

I mumbled something in reply about that not being the easiest thing he could have chosen.

"What?" he asked me, leaning forward to try to catch my eyes.

"Nothing," I said, turning away from him, "Just follow the directions and do it quick so we can clean up the kitchen."

Definitely not an award-winning mommy moment.  And then, when the overpowing smell of taquitos filled the kitchen a few minutes later, it got worse.

"Great," I muttered loud enough for him to hear, "Just what I needed--that weird smell greeting our guests when they arrive."

My thirteen year old leaned forward once more, caught my gaze, and calmy said, "Mom, if you wanted to grump about that, you should have done it three minutes ago when I asked you what I should eat."

I looked at those sincere eyes, eyes that didn't hold one trace of disrespect, and burst out laughing.

He was so insanely and completely right.

And I was so in the wrong.

I apologized.  He accepted, smiled, and moved on to eat his taquitos, clean up after himself, and then ask how he could help me get ready for the party.

I realized later as I mulled it over that my teaching is working. 

I've invested hours and hours of my time teaching my children how to address conflict while still honoring the other person.

I've had countless conversations with them about how to recognize emotional manipulation and how to refrain from bowing to its yoke.

I've poured into them the skills and words it's going to take for them to navigate the waters of taking responsibility for what is yours, but not picking up false responsibility for what others do or say that you can not change.

And they're learning.  They're learning well.  They're learning so well that my son handled my irritation and impatience with a grace that can only come from someone who has come to value and fight for right relationships in his home.

And I've never been prouder as a mother, even if I won't be buying taquitos anymore.



How to Have a Wonder-Filled Christmas


I love the song I hear playing non-stop in every store I enter right now, the one with the line that gets stuck in your head so easily.  

"It's the most wonderful time of the year."

I know those stores are sending not so subtle hints that I need to get my Christmas shopping done, preferably in the store I'm in right at that moment, but I like the song for a different reason.  I like it because my mind re-writes it ever so slightly.

"It's the most wonder-filled time of the year."

And it is full of wonder.  Wonder that my God, who created every light I see in the night sky, would see me, thousands of years in the future, and call me loved.  Wonder that He would be moved by his heartache over our coming separation because of my sin, moved enough to set a plan in motion to bring me back into His arms.  And wonder that His plan for my redemption involved a cave, a peasant teenage girl, and a baby.

Such a wonder-filled plan.

But, over the last twenty years of parenting, I've learned the wonder can get lost in the wrapping paper and the cookie baking.  If we're not careful to impart the significance of the season to our children, it's easy for them to wake up the day after Christmas having missed the meaning in the remembering that was designed to draw them closer to the God who initiates all wonder.

And that's why Advent exists, to create avenues for remembering the meaning and exploring the path from the cradle to the cross and beyond.  To become filled with the wonder.


Author's Note:  As a Christmas gift to Treasure the Ordinary's readers, below is an Advent study that can potentially spark dialogue with all the people in your house, no matter what their age!   May you be blessed as each of you find ways to prepare your hearts for the celebration of our King's birth.  Merry Christmas!



Week 1 Advent Devotional - "Identity"


Opening Question: What is your favorite nickname you’ve ever been given?


Begin by showing your younger children the two sections of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament. 


ASK [younger children]:  Which part of the Bible do we find stories about Jesus?  (New Testament)


ASK [older children]:  Which part of the Bible is your favorite to read, the Old Testament, or the New Testament?  Why?


It's true that the stories of Jesus are found in the New Testament, but the Old Testament talks about Him, too!  It may not use the name Jesus, but it does mention other names that Jesus goes by.  Just like you have a nickname (refer to your child's name here), Jesus has other names.  And when they are mentioned, we know God is talking about His son, Jesus.  See if you can find His names in this Scripture from the Old Testament.

READ:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”  Isaiah 9:6-7




WRITE:  Let the children write the names of Jesus down on a piece of paper as they find them in the Scripture.  They may enjoy decorating it.  When you're finished with the devotional, hang this in a place they will see it throughout the week.




ASK [younger children]:  Were these good nicknames for Jesus?  How is He these things?




ASK [older children]:  Which of these names of Jesus is meaning the most to you in your life right now and why?




*  If you have younger children, this could be a good place to pray out loud as a family, giving thanks for the way Jesus is these things in your lives.  Older children can continue on with the following discussion.




When people give nicknames, it's often meant to tease or poke fun.  When God gives nicknames, it's to build people up.  He changed Abram ("Father") to Abraham ("Father of Many").  He changed Jacob ("Deceiver") to Israel ("Prince of God").  He changed Simon ("Reed") to Peter ("Rock.")




ASK:  Is there a label you've been given by the world that makes you feel small?  It might be a nickname, but it might also just be an attitude that you feel other people associate with you (i.e.  lazy, nerdy, etc.). 




READ:  "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it."  - Revelation 2:17




There will be a day when God will let you know your name that He has for only YOU!  You may not know exactly what the name is right now, but you can get to know His heart for you and what He thinks about you.  Let's pray and ask Him to speak to us tonight about what He calls each of us.  Let's allow that to take precedence in our hearts over anything the world or other people might try to label us.




Close with prayer over your children.  Parents, this is a great opportunity to bless your children with words of life!

Click here for Week Two: "Security"

Click here for Week Three: "Provision"

Click here for Week Four: "Protection"









Like A Little Child

When Keegan, my oldest, was little, he was the king of adorable baby talk.  There was "strawbabies" for strawberries.  "Crash can" for trash can.  And my favorite, the basketball "hoot" for that hoop he couldn't quite seem to successfully locate with his tiny, foam ball.

And then there was this.  "Hold your Keegy, Daddy."

Ahhhhhh.  It melted my heart every time to see the tiny person version of his father standing on the tops of his dad's feet, arms stretched up over his head.  And then that sweet command.

"Hold your Keegy, Daddy."

I loved it.  I loved his confidence, the certainty with which he knew what would happen next.  His dad was about to look down, smile, bend over, engulf him in a huge embrace, and pick him up to nestle him into his shoulder.  He was confident because it happened every single time.  Something in his little boy heart knew a good father can not resist those words, that entreaty.  His father couldn't ignore the profound request behind those four small words. 

I need you.

I trust you.

I want to be close to your heart.

They make sense coming from a child.  But, somewhere in the growing up and the getting tough, it's easy to believe we are to put the baby talk behind us and to grow beyond the need of being held.

And so it happened today, when I found my mind stuck in a painful loop, that I was stunned for the Lord to whisper to my heart that I can say those same words.  The reminder came sweetly, through the words of a song I knew twenty years ago.

Hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf,
You have been my King of Glory,
Won't you be my Prince of Peace.
(by Rich Mullins)

 And I stretch my arms to the heavens and tip my head to the sky.

"Hold your Mindy, Daddy."


 

Life Together


"As I was praying for you..."

That was the first sentence in a letter I received this week, sweetly tucked in with a beautiful gift of flowers and watercolor print.  The rest of it chronicled her prayers over my life and what she could see God doing in this season I'm in.  It was from one of the ladies in my monthly dinner group, and was quietly dropped off to my office while I was out running errands.  


This group of women has been meeting together since the first of the year.  We have a date, the second Thursday of the month, that's now blocked off for gathering around the table.  We eat, we talk, we laugh, we pray, and we eat some more.

And even though I always know it's going to be fun, sometimes I don't feel like gathering.  Since it's at my house, gathering means cleaning (I've tried not to worry about this, but I can't not worry about it), cooking, and finding some place for my family to eat dinner without making a mess of what I just cleaned.  It never fails that I end up being tired that day and wish I could warm up a frozen pizza for my family and eat dinner in my bathrobe.

But, I am always, without fail, so glad that we gathered.  Every time the last woman leaves the front porch after that one last goodbye chat, I am thrilled that I get to share my life with them and partake of theirs.  They are all so beautiful and so valuable, and when we share a meal together and then take the deep breath and jump into the pool of vulnerability month after month, their beauty and value spills over the wall of their own life and flows into mine.

This is the way women were meant to be together.  Friends.  Confidants.  Champions of each other.  It's what every little girl is looking for when she heads into the lunch room and wonders where to sit.  It's what grown women still long for when they find themselves in transition and wonder where their safe place is. 

And it doesn't happen by accident.  Because life is crazy, and families are demanding, and vulnerability is terrifying.  There is only one way it happens.  It happens when you decide you have to have it and that it's a vital part of shepherding your heart and having something to give to the people you love.  It happens when you take a risk and throw open the door to your home and your heart at the same time.  It happens when you welcome the beauty of the woman next to you into your life and tell your own insecurities they can not dictate your parameters to you anymore. 

And the reward of letting go and diving in is the note and the flowers and the watercolor that speak life to your soul because someone loves you and is praying for you and listening to what God has to say about her friend..  It's the text you can send in the middle of the night when your kid is sick and you're scared.  It's the lunch you know you can grab in the middle of the week that will connect your heart in a matter of four minutes, before the bread even comes. It's the long phone call when you're a mess and don't want anyone to know, but also know you can't afford for anyone not to know.  A reward beyond price.

Last week, we met at a restaurant instead of my house, because life.  

And I noticed the ladies around the table all had a hard time getting there, because life.  

There was a lot of weariness in the eyes as we sat down, because life.  

But, after thick bowls of pasta and laughing until we snorted, I also noticed that the walk to our cars looked different.  We were full of energy, and our smiles were in our eyes.  

Because life together.











A Blessing for Teachers (With Free Printable!)

New year.  New grade levels.  New friends.  New habits.  New teachers.

We are sending our most valuable treasures out into the world to be taught and shaped and mentored by teachers who didn't bring them into the world, wash their clothes this weekend, or put their breakfast on the table this morning.  Teachers who care about them, but aren't their parents.  Teachers who want to see them succeed, but don't have a lifetime of equity built with them.  Teachers who can't focus on four children like we do at our house, but have an entire classroom to take care of.

And that's why I take a few minutes today to bless my children on the first day of school, but also the teachers who are entering my children's lives today:

I bless you to see the value in each of your students, the God-given gifts in each one.

I bless you with patience in your heart today, and that it will be expressed in your face and in your voice.

I bless you with joy today, the kind of joy that can laugh at the moments that didn't go your way and exalt in the moments of success.

I bless you with peace in your classroom today, the kind that can be felt when students walk in the door.

I bless you with the ability to make learning a contagious source of wonder.

I bless you with the skills to communicate well with your students, their parents,  and your peers.

I bless you with renewed vigor and energy, enough to go home and still have an enjoyable evening with your family.

I bless you with wisdom and creativity to solve the problems that come your way.

I bless you with conversations around school that encourage you and lift up your spirit.

And I bless you with a new-found passion for your job, the job that is shaping the next generation.

Amen.



As a free back to school gift from Treasure the Ordinary, click here for a free printable of a Teacher's Blessing!  This simple page makes a great first day of school present for the teacher's in your life.