I Am Jonah

I love a good church service; one that makes me look deeply at my own flaws, and at Scripture with fresh eyes.

Sunday was such a day.

We had a guest pastor. A retired senior pastor shared on Jonah, a book I love. I saw myself in the pages. This is not a new thing, but I recognized myself in a new way. Habits. Mistakes. Areas of total lack of generosity.

I am excited! Seeing those things means that I can repent! And with repentance comes hope.

Perhaps part of the reason I could see things clearly is because I am in fairly good spirits. This is a good season of life. I am busy with the things that are important and seeking Him with a renewed zeal. There are times when my introspection is not born of (or with) condemnation, but just flow out of a life walking with Jesus.  Some of the things I learned were review, some were fresh revelations. I LOVE learning about the Bible.

Here were my AHA! moments:

  • Jonah fled from his assignment. Yeah, not new. I do this often. I let fear or finances or exhaustion keep me from what God has assigned. I may not run away from home, but I do sloth my way in the opposite direction of His calling.
  • Jonah was irritated by God’s blessings for those Jonah did not approve of. Well, golly. There I am in the middle of Scripture, yet again. If I were to be completely, vulnerably honest I would have to admit that I kinda don’t want God to bless those on my personal do not bless list. The pastor said, “We all have our pet evil…” Then he pointed out that the answer is ALWAYS love your enemies. Ouch.
  • Jonah’s theology was right but his heart was wrong. This next insight leapt off the page at me! Once God saved Ninevah, Jonah asked God, “Please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” Jonah decided that only the worst, most extreme thing–ending his life–was an option. BOTH my hubby and I have the tendency to do this. I call it catastrophizing. I have made progress in dealing with this by eliminating ALWAYS and NEVER from the narrative in my head; and by trying to remember that I trust God even when I don’t understand His ways.

I don’t ask for my life to end, but I do tell the story of hard things in a way that predicts the end of ideas, or opportunities, or relationships or dreams. I am Jonah.

I noticed more. In chapter 4, when the Ninevites had repented and God forgave them, Jonah went “out from the city and sat east of it. There he made himself a shelter for himself and sat under it until he could see what would happen in the city.” 

I have often wanted the vantage point to see what happens. Mostly so I can point out where I was right, and judge the people I think are wrong, but whatever my thing, it was not my finest moment. To be fair, I am not as demanding as I once was. I am now more willing not to know answers and details, and am often praying for the wisdom to leave the outcomes to God.

But there is still part of me that is Jonah.

 

Five Favorites

Five Favorites

love the Bible. I love to study it. I love to be changed by it.

I am linking up today, a day late, with the fantastic (and disciplined) Kelly over at Mrs. Disciple. Really. She is amazing. Today’s Yesterday’s Friday Five was 5 Favorite Bible Stories. I had soooooo intended to get this done yesterday, but then I accidentally took two Tylenol PM’s instead of regular Tylenol, and my afternoon was a little fuzzy.

But Kelly is grace personified, and she won’t mind if I finish today.

So, here I go.

1 Kings Chapter 22. A few years ago I wanted to get to know Elijah and Elisha. We dug into 1 & 2 Kings at Tuesday Night Bible Study. During that time, I “met” Micaiah, son of Imlah.

This section of the Bible is heavily influenced by the evil King Ahab and his notorious wife Jezebel. In   1 Kings 22, Ahab (King of Judah) is partnering with Jehoshaphat (King of Israel) to try to defeat Aram.  Before they go into battle, they ask the prophets if it is wise. ALL of Ahab’s prophets of Baal were celebrating and predicting victory. But Jehoshaphat asked if there may be just one prophet of the Lord to ask.

Ahab’s response to the question is his life’s motto: “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. He is Micaiah, son of Imlah.” 1 Kings 22:8. (Say it in a whiny, petulant “GIVE ME WHAT I WANT” voice. It helps.)

Evil is defined as anything Ahab doesn’t like. Sound familiar?

Micaiah, after being told to just agree with the other prophets, doesn’t. He tells Ahab the truth: not only will he lose, but he will die if he proceeds.

Ahab, true to his character, tells his guards to throw Micaiah into prison, feed him bread and water sparingly, until he (Ahab) returns from battle. As if threatening the prophet with discomfort would change God’s truth…

Micaiah says, “‘If you indeed return safely, the Lord has not spoken by me.’ And he said, ‘Listen all you people.'”

I love this because:

  • God’s truth is not validated by people’s belief. It just is.
  • Those who hear it spoken are marked by it, whether they want to be or not, and should pay attention.
  • He is unflinchingly willing to pay the price for his belief. There is no wailing or gnashing of teeth recorded.

Spoiler alert: Ahab died.

Philippians 4:2-3. In this tiny little passage, “I urge Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are also in the book of life,” is me.

I am Euodia. Or perhaps I am Syntyche.

I humbly acknowledge that my history is speckled with conflict, often in serving the Lord. Women can be so hard.

And I am a woman.

This little ditty in the New Testament gives me hope because:

  • Conflict happened THEN! WITH PAUL’S PEOPLE!
  • Paul does not take sides or belittle the women. He encourages people to help them be united.
  • Paul edifies and validates them, as women, in service. I believe the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, values women.
  • Their conflict, according to these verses, does not erase them from the book of life. Whew. That’s a good thing for me.

Life is messy, even when the apostle Paul is personally involved.

Numbers Chapter 16. If you were to ask me why, Biblically, I am a complementarian I would not refer immediately to 1 Corinthians or Colossians. I would pour us each a cup of coffee and open the Bible to where it tells us all about Korah’s rebellion.

The Tabernacle had been finished. Each of the twelve tribes of Jacob had been assigned places and responsibilities for God’s house. They had been counted. (Except for the tribe of Levi. God said not to count them.) They were no longer slaves in Egypt, but were also not in the Promised Land.

If you browse the chapter titles from Exodus to Numbers 16, there are some indications all was not going smoothly. “The People Complain”, “The Quail and the Plague”, “The People Rebel”, and “Moses Pleads for the People” just to name a few. Change is hard.

Chapter 16 opens with this: “Now Korah…took action.” Rising up in anger before Moses, complaining that Moses and Aaron gave themselves the “unique right and responsibility to represent the people before God, exalt[ing] themselves.”-John MacArthur.  Korah, as a Levite, already had significant responsibilities in/for/with the Tabernacle, but wanted to be a priest.

Priesthood was designated for the line of Aaron. (Numbers 3:10)

Korah found others who were angry at Moses for other things and incited a revolt, convincing people that God had given the better thing to other people.

Korah’s rebellion did not end well for Korah. He and his compadres were swallowed up by the earth and taken to Sheol.

Uhhhhhh. No thank you.

Do I believe that God has given the better thing to men? Or do I believe that God has given a different thing to men, in order to prevent chaos?

Whenever I begin that conversation in my head…“so and so has something better; God gives these people more,” I try to remember how dissatisfaction and comparison worked out in Numbers Chapter 16. Then I reaffirm my trust in God, remembering that mine is the responsibility to do what He has given me well, and not to worry about what He has given anyone else.

It doesn’t make me less than anyone. It just makes me, me.

Satan bugs me. Several years ago, I went through a very difficult time in ministry. Conflict abounded. I loved how I was serving, but not the person over me in service.

I was learning more than ever and bonding with women as we had real, deep conversations about applying God’s truth to living daily life. But the fiery darts rained down endlessly; I was constantly jumping through hoops in order to maintain a place in ministry.

I hated it.

It was during that time that Luke 31:22-23 was seared into my soul:

Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

That situation did not end well for me. After I left, it did not go well for the people left behind. Sometimes Satan gets a victory.

That verse reminded me that Jesus was still on my side, and that sifting actually separates the wheat from the chaff. It results in a higher quality substance.

I turned again. I am encouraging my sisters. And Jesus is still on my side.

The 3:16’s. One of these days I will teach a Bible Study on the 3:16’s. John 3:16 is the most widely known Bible verse, but the rest of them are really, really good as well. Genesis 3:16 is pretty key to the whole story, but I am going to focus on Revelation 3:16: “So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

This verse terrifies me in a holy way. I don’t ever want to be lukewarm. It is also followed, in verse 19, by, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” 

Whenever I am spiritually tepid, I know I need to start with repentance.

I am exceedingly grateful for God’s word and how it is radically revolutionizing my life…these are just 5 ways of the many with the promise of more to come.

A Letter to My Kids: KNOW THIS

Character matters. It just does.

I know the world around us lives differently, and it can feel impossible to find examples of character that are worthy, but it is vital. 

This has been a hard week. Elections, naked people, riots and accusations flourish with momentum that destroy the humanity in us. Don’t let any of it take profit in your life.

You don’t have to sell all that is beautiful in you to the lowest bidder.

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Words like character and integrity get bantered about endlessly, but I want you to know specifically what your father and I believe about them, why they count and which is more important.

Character is the essence of who you are. It is your nature. You can change it with hard work, new information, getting some help when needed, and habits.

Integrity is the wholeness of your life. It comes from the same root word that integer, a whole number, comes from. The integrity of a building indicates its complete ability to stand. To live a life of integrity means your life will look the same no matter which angle you examine it from. Some people refer to integrity as a high moral standard, but we believe wholeness fits it better.

Pursue character first.

Adolf Hitler had integrity. He was a maniacal, anti-semitic in public and private. Having integrity if you are evil is not to be admired.

When building character you have our permission and our encouragement to fake it until you make it. Sincerity is over rated. Doing the right thing insincerely beats honestly being a schmuck every time.

You don’t feel like going to church? Go anyway. Good things are often a discipline.

Recently at Bible Study the leader asked about a habit we’re trying. We make gratitude lists as we eat dinner, on 4×6 cards, each person’s thanks in a different color. “How do you keep it from being rote?” she inquired.

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Let me tell you the same thing I told her: I couldn’t care less if it is rote. Walk through the drudge if you have to but good habits are immensely better than bad habits. Being grateful, without meaning it, is still more pleasant than genuine griping.

Every time. Not even close.

Let me tell you what I pray for you and your character, so that you will know what I want you to look for in others…

Fail well. I am exhausted of the conversations implying failure is bad. OF COURSE WE WANT TO SUCCEED ALL THE TIME. Who doesn’t? But it is far worse to be so afraid of failing you never try anything worthwhile.

Failure is guaranteed in a life that has value. What do you do with failures? Do you fail the same way at the same thing over and over again? Face it, change and try something new.

Do you take responsibility for your failures? I cannot encourage that enough. I believe it is the fastest way to heal…face it, own it, apologize when appropriate and move on better for the experience.

Think. This is predicated on a willingness to learn. Better yet, a love of learning.

We see this in each of you. It takes different forms…research, grades, learning the basics of life…but all three of you have a tremendous capacity to seek information. Keep at it.

THEN use that information to inform your thoughts and beliefs.

Your dad and I believe that pursuit of knowledge that is true will always lead you back to God. We are not afraid of facts or science or history.

There is this implication sometimes, that to change your opinion is weak. Don’t buy that lie. It is foolish to think we always have all the information there is, and ridiculous to stay cemented in old beliefs in the face of a new reality.

Let me give you a personal example. I am fiercely pro-life. As the presidency bounces back from one party to another, one of the first things usually done is funding for international abortions. My straight-forward mind could not even HANDLE such a thing. WHY WOULD WE FUND ABORTIONS IN OTHER COUNTRIES I would chide.

Then I read Half The Sky and wept. My little brain in my safe little world cannot fathom what other women go through every day. Funding abortions is an over-simplified term for funding women’s health, and if it could stop some of the things I read, it should be done. At very least, it should be talked about in depth with all of the details and ramifications faced directly, before a decision is made.

Aborting a baby that is healthy and growing is not the same thing as helping a woman whose baby has died and is now rotting inside her. But the funding is the same.

So I changed my mind.

Seek beauty. 

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Philippians 4:8

Beauty is all around.

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Purposely filling your mind and life with beauty will make you acutely aware of the beauty in others. Adding beauty to others’ lives is always a good thing…think about it. Do you want to make the world around you ugly? Then don’t fill yourself with smutty things. There is no value in it.

Cook good food. Buy flowers. Be funny, which you do so well. Listen to harmonies and melodies and how they complement each other. Go to museums. Appreciate work that others have labored on. Realize that your taste does not equal the best.

Pursue radical humility. Modesty is lacking in our world.

(Where is the State The Obvious prize?)

People don’t need to see every inch of your body. Save SOMETHING for marriage.

But modesty and humility are not just about nakedness and clothing. They are about the everyday acknowledgement of God and others.

I have sat at many-a-Bible-Study and listened to well meaning silver haired women say that if you think you are humble, you have guaranteed you are not humble. I am not sure how helpful that is.

Let me tell you, as your mom, what I think…

It’s okay to work hard and feel like you did well on something. I just want you to frame it, in conversation and perspective, with all the people who helped you to do well. Who taught you that thing? Who believed in you and your cause? How much applause was given along the way? Who did you watch and admire that showed you excellence? Where is God’s hand in your life?

The mere act of acknowledging and appreciating others opens you to humility.

FIGHT ARROGANCE with everything in you, but please don’t confuse that with being a doormat or convincing yourself you aren’t good at anything. Be humble enough to get help when you are lacking and to offer help when you have abundance.

Social media, politics, magazine covers, public schools and reality television can make you feel like character is irrelevant. That feelings and emotions outrank right and wrong. That is malarkey. You know it. Those who make that argument probably know it too, deep down.

Much of the vitriol is actually the bi-product of cognitive dissonance.

For you three, our precious kids, your dad and I want you to pursue character within a relationship with Jesus. Obviously. We have lived that as best we can, incredibly flawed and fallibly, but with enough consistency that you likely know it’s true. But if you search for character demanding Jesus from other people, we believe you will miss out on additional depth and beauty.

Live in a way that points people to the Lord. Live that shoulder to shoulder with people who won’t see it except through you. It makes things interesting.

 And remember always that we love you madly, and overflow with pride whenever we think of you.

Love,

MOM

Easter: Dead Ahead

Easter: Dead Ahead

I am sitting at the kitchen table, dishes piled in the sink, remnants from last weekend’s birthday party strewn around my world. Over 1100 miles added to the odometer of my car since Monday, as my daughter and I literally drove up and down the state to spend time with gifted therapists.

And as the raindrops splash in their splendor on my driveway, my heart is full.

Full of gratitude. Full of hope. Like the drought parched creeks and reservoirs in my neighborhood, I am soaking in the rain of His provision.

The last several Easters have been seasons of struggle. Aging parents, Alzheimer’s, hospital stays and rehab facilities filled the late winter several years in a row. By the time Easter rolled around my little family was gasping for air.

We didn’t get much out of the Easter Season.

One of those years the kids’ school chose to have spring break NOT in line with the Easter. That turned out to be one of the stupidest things EVER. Let’s NOT do that again, OK?

I am so happy to again be linking up with the spectacularly amazing Kelly over at Mrs.Disciple. Today we are talking about Easter…and what a pleasure to do.

I told my hubby that we were really going to do Easter  this year. Many things are in our favor…Grandpa went to be with Jesus, so there is an area of our world that is naturally simplified. We are kinda figuring things out…and these are FIVE THINGS we will lean into as the season rolls around.

1.) We will celebrate. Because we try to have our faith define our lives, I am super loose with bunnies and eggs. If it makes the season happier, more memorable, and impactful I say GO FOR IT. 

Ryan’s birthday is actually mid-February, but another child in Primary (1/2 combo classes at her school) was having their party the weekend of her birthday, so that was out. I was gone the following weekend, so her party needed to be in March. As it turns out, Easter is also in March this year, so we decided to have an Easter themed party.

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We do our parties family-style. We want you to bring siblings and join us for a meal.

“How many drops of food coloring can they add?” parents would ask.

The answer, of course, is, “As many as they’d like.” We chatted about remembering there were lots of kids who were coloring eggs, and limited resources to share. There can be such beauty in freedom.

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That one egg was worth saying YES. Isn’t is spectacular?

The kids hunted for eggs in the rain.

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And ate ham.

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Jesus gathered and lived and loved and celebrated in the weeks leading to His crucifixion. So will we.

2.) We will continue to bring order to our home. The benefit of my creative calm is that kids can run around, make slime, use an excess of dye on their eggs and I enjoy it. The drawback is that my home can be a bit…disastrous.

I am a messy. I struggle and fight and progress but it is just. not. easy. Some of you have no clue what I am talking about because cleaning up is like breathing to you.

Bless you. If I fall off the face of the planet tomorrow, I hope that for my hubby’s next wife.

For now he is stuck happy to be with me, but he does like the house in order. Cleaning up, organizing, simplifying is ALWAYS something I can do to move my life in the right direction.

Before the day’s end the sink will be empty, the laundry will be washing, party supplies organized, and many things thrown away because it is such a small thing to do to make peace. And I will pray as I do it, asking the Lord to make HIMSELF known deeply to my family this season.

3.) We will live life in priority. Here’s my belief: Holidays are life intensified. If my life is out of whack going into a holiday season, the holiday season will be whacky.

Obviously parenting is an all-the-time gig, but this particular calendar is FULL of specific, purposeful investments in our kids. YAF Convention for our middle with a friend, therapies for our peanut, great conversations with our son who is too grown up and too far away.

I bought a new game I think our teen will love. I told my hubby he HAD to play with us. He seems willing…

4.) I will serve at church. If I were to be honest, (shocking, I know) part of our struggle for those few years was that we didn’t really care for our church’s Easter Service. It was big and outside and it drizzled, or was cold, or was hot and just… Aaaargh.

So we sometimes went to a church that was not ours for Easter, which was fine.

But I actually don’t want an Easter that is fine.

A year and a half ago, we moved churches so that our middle daughter could attend youth group with the same kids she went to school with. It was a fabulous decision for our family, and opens the door to a different Easter experience. This year, the church wants to go all out and create a wonderful, fun-filled, Gospel-centered service, and I signed up to help.

5.) I will fill my brain with the Easter story. Years ago I taught a Bible Study that looked at the Easter story through the eyes of the Gospel writers. I wanted to examine how their personalities may have shaped their perspectives.

Want medical details? Read the book of Luke.

Want names of the people involved? Read the book of John.

What did they all include? Which details were individual?

I want to go back and re-look at that. Honestly, the Bible Study class I led was one of my least successful ever, but I still think the idea is incredibly interesting…and my Bible digging in is in bit of a dry spell. (Do you have any idea HOW MANY women’s Bible Studies you can sit through without ever opening your Bible? The piercing scream you hear in the distance is me…)

The rain continues to pound on the kitchen skylight. The weeds that were once my beautiful lawn until the water ran out will be an inch taller next week, but I don’t care. The rain is water for the land, and the Easter season is water to my soul. I just need to drink it in.

 

 

My Blank Face

My Blank Face

I am probably fooling myself to think that my face is actually blank. More than likely my expressions are communicating something.

None the less, lately the phrase is swirling through my mind with striking regularity.

It is how I imagine I look when I just DON’T GET a thing. Or am just NOT BUYING a thing, or idea, or–for that matter–a person. That is probably not the most Christian thing I have ever thought…

But, hey, I am a work in progress.

Changes are coming my way. I can feel them blowing in the wind…and the cracks in my denial are getting too obvious for me to ignore any longer. As I have said before, parenting is HARD.

Parenting a child with Special Needs is that times a gazillion.

My daughter’s learning delays are severe.

There. I said it.

It is time to face the fact that we are in a stagnant place of learning…needing some momentum to be built. It is not that there are not pockets of beauty, wonder and progress.

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There are.

But if I stop long enough to face things, the results are not adding up fast enough for us to continue on the path we are on.

Again. Something needs to change.

My hubby and I both feel the Special Education System available in the public schools is not the best fit for her. When I have visited the classrooms I leave feeling fatigued…and so does she.

These last few years have been so good, but time marches on faster than our clock can be set for.

And I know the future is calling to be different than the past.

I hate that I don’t yet know what that means. And I hate that I don’t have a billion dollars to hop on planes, or start a school, or pursue the millions of ideas that flow through my brain in the still, small hours of the night.

And so my face goes blank when things that I thought were good progress change.

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The gymnastics class I put her in, to make her stronger and help with coordination, updated its format and rather than attracting 4 year old kiddos, it is appealing to two year old kiddos. That changed the dynamic irreparably. (She already looked like Honey, I Blew Up The Baby.)

Back to square one, with the next great thing to try 20 minutes further down the road. (Each way.)

When your child has a chromosomal abnormality no one else has ever had there is no road map. It is hard to find a pattern, because there often is not one. What works for so many others falls radically short for us.

Yet in other areas, she shines.

She behaves incredibly well. She is helpful and sweet. We don’t want to change her we just
want to help her become the very best she can be.

So the research begins again to find the ideas; to seek out the help; to look at things differently. Honest question fold into fears and insecurities. Do I need to make money, so we can invest more in her? How can I work outside the home and educate her well? What about Bible Study and the few things I do to keep sane? What will my life look like with changes? Can I do this?

Next week I head to a conference for speech therapists. I am not a speech therapist. I will sit and listen and learn and although I know I won’t understand everything, I believe I will understand enough to come home with more tools than I have right now. It is hard to be parent, teacher and therapist with limited tools. 

Ryan is over it. She needs new ideas to engage her.

And I will begin praying for an Oral Motor Placement Therapist closer than Connecticut. Perhaps those amazing resources I found across the country can be annual pilgrimages, with on going support in state. These are new questions I am asking myself, because I didn’t realize that Ryan wouldn’t love having me do all. the. therapies.

And patching her eye, because one is straying again.

And telling her to make her bed.

And to stop eating peanut butter from the jar.

So the blank look on my face begins to fade…The simple act of writing it out brings new ideas. New hope is arising. God is so good. My eyes can start to look for a new path without my chest feeling strangled.

There is  so much hope in the imperfect. I have moments when I struggle to see it…but those moments are never allowed to reign in victory. That is each of our journeys in parenting, isn’t it?

I am more convinced than ever that all kids have special needs; some just have a diagnosis.

Guardrails

Guardrails

Again, I say, that Kelly from Mrs. Disciple. She hosts a FRIDAY FIVE link up for blogging friends, and her encouragement just keeps us coming back. Her diligence is admired tremendously by this California girl. I wish we lived closer, so she and I could have coffee and chat about all things Bible and Family.

Today her topic is Five Boundaries…so here I go…

I am going to steal from Andy Stanley.

A little while back I facilitated a weekly Bible Study at church. We did one class I called Change Your Mind, Change Your Life. I encouraged the women to read Bob Goff’s book Love Does. (Anytime a woman would walk in shaking her head and laughing I would say, “Chapter 4?”) We also did three Andy Stanley DVD series, Your Move, Take Responsibility for Yourself; Because No One Else Will, and Guardrails.

Andy STanley GuardrailsIn my mind, boundaries are the very farthest you can go, and stay safe. Guardrails are built THIS SIDE of the danger zone…guardrails leave room between where you hit them and where you would get really, really hurt.

I want GUARDRAILS in my life. I want to feel the tension and discomfort that comes from rubbing against the edges BEFORE I am in the disaster area.

Make sense?

Man oh man, it made perfect sense to me.

1.) Plan my calendar according to my priorities. I have read a bazillion books about this. I have listened to tapes watched seminars, and failed over and over again.

Then I gave birth to a child with Special Needs.

She can’t rush. If she needs medicine, I can’t forget or flash by because I am too busy. Her learning takes 10,000 more repeats that my other kids. If I want her to learn to write her name, I must help her write it thousands of times.

I’m not exaggerating.
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The only way to allow her the room to do that is to radically prioritize time.

I am rubbing the guardrail on this now…but the guardrail is here.

2.) I do the Christian basics. I am the poster child for the hypocrite in church.

That’s just the truth.

I pour over the Bible, study with friends, serve in ministry projects, rarely ever miss church, but I have this string of relationships that have crumbled.

People often say, “Well, you know how SHE is…” and the others in the conversation know exactly what they are talking about.

This unfortunate reality of my life would send me off of the cliff except for one thing: MY GUARDRAIL.

Here’s the gig: Because I go to church, listen to Christian music and go to Bible Study, I believe God is working in me.  I am not obligated to repeat the mistakes of my past, AND I am not obligated to conform my behavior to other people’s preferences.

Sometimes I offend people because of following Jesus. (I am not going to play that game, or watch that show…) That is a bummer, but it is easy. My guardrail means I have already made that decision.

Other times I flub up a thing so terribly that I can’t even seem to apologize right.

But God just keeps working in me; showing me this or that passage in the Bible, giving me this new Bible Study to learn a new way, showing me the character I lack in others who do it well.

3.) I evaluate the journey. After every Brighten A Corner project we evaluate thoroughly what happened. The good and the bad are all fair game.

The Leadership Team does not always agree on what is good and what is bad. Years and years of doing this has helped me be FAR LESS THIN SKINNED than I once was. At this point in my life I am much more interested in not repeating mistakes than I am looking good.

My hubby and I sit and write out the pros and cons of holidays, events, school things. We take a hard look and search for new ways for him to do things. (Still a little thin-skinned when I evaluate with my hubby…go figure.)

A ministry I am drawn to, Preemptive Love, puts out a FAILURE REPORT each year. Desiring complete transparency there is open conversation about what went wrong. Why? So you feel sorry for them? NO. Because facing and evaluating failures is one of the most effective tools for moving forward.

4.) I read a lot. Strange guardrail, I know. But a lifetime of learning is important to me.

Mostly I want it for my kids.

But that is unlikely if I don’t do it myself.

Recently I took every single book we owned off the shelves, and grouped them in categories.       This is one table out of 5.

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I gave away bags and bags of books, and grouped the rest of them together.

Classics here. Kids books there. John MacArthur on this shelf. (Yes, he got his own shelf…) Christian books together, success principle books gathered, novels all in one area. Let’s do this life well, and read…a lot.

5.) I laugh. I love to laugh. I laugh at myself. I laugh at funny people and funny things and funny memories.

My friends will tell you that I crack me up. Seriously, sometimes I can’t even control it.

I am so naughty.

Laughing is just a good idea. It is a wise way to get through life.

This past spring my dad had heart surgery. The first 24 hours after were awful. He was in agonizing pain, and an air bubble had gone into his brain so that he was considerably weaker on one side and could not really talk. (The bubble dissolved and all was well.)

But during those 24 hours, my mom and I found a way to laugh. We howled at private jokes. That laughter released chemicals in our bodies that helped us survive a very difficult time. I would make my mom guffaw with proof of my shady character and the claim that I am “going to hell for sure.”

Now…we know about being saved by grace and there was NOTHING real in it; but it was the perfect tool to lighten things for my mom. Laughter spared her from having to face hard things completely in the dark.

Because laughter is a guardrail, I give myself room not to be stodgy, when fresh air would help.

Guardrails make room for joy.

It is counterintuitive, because we buy the lie of freedom…that being able to do whatever we want whenever we want will make us happy.

But that is not true. And happiness is a pathetic substitution for joy. So I will keep my guardrails; and I will tend them so they remain effective. And I will be grateful for them.

Hello, 2016. Nice to Meet You

Hello, 2016. Nice to Meet You

2015 was not a bad year at all. I was stretched. I had adventures. I am closer to my kids and hubby at the end of it than I was at the beginning.

There were many moments of triumph and many moments of toil. But all in all, I chose to either enjoy or learn from them. Goodbye 2015, it was a pleasure.

And hello 2016, it is nice to meet you.

Again I am connecting with the spectacular Kelly over at Mrs. Disciple for her Friday 5 link up. (Kelly, and the gang of writers I met this summer at Jen Hatmaker’s home, have been a huge blessing to my little world in 2015. The For the Love  launch team experience, from beginning to now, has been an enormous gift.)

Five Goals for 2016

I am a huge proponent of acknowledging our priorities. I have said it before and I will say it again, we can only have one number one priority at any given time. It is because of that deeply held belief that I try to prioritize my goals, so they can build on one another…

#1.) Take Control of What My Family and I Eat. 

In 2015 I put quite a bit of prayer focus on trying to get rid of my laziness. I asked dear friends to pray for me, that God would mold my character and make me more efficient. I have made much progress, but in 2016 I hope to address another area of struggle.

I am tired all the time.

In that spirit, I have new cookbooks with recipes sticky noted. I have my calendar marked out. This will be a new way of doing things, combining foods in different ways to maximize energy. (And hopefully lose a few pounds while I am at it.)

My hubby and I both feel a bit better with just some minor tweaks. Once I get everything together and plow full steam ahead I am very optimistic our energy levels will see new highs.

#2.) Address and Fix Ryan’s Sleeping Issues. 

I was never a co-sleeping advocate. I believe babies in their own beds are a good thing…but then my one day old infant choked on her own mucous and turned blue. At that point we had never heard the term esophageal dysmotility, but suffice it to say she began sleeping right by my side.

For years every time we would talk about moving her to her own room she would get sick. Pneumonia. Epilepsy. Fever of 105.

We gave up, and she spent some or all of each night with us…pulling our hair, thwacking us with flailing arms, and hogging the bed. She would be quite satisfied with Mommy and a cot with one pillow to share.

It’s not very restful.

It needs to stop.

I have a plan in place, and I am hoping that the increased energy from eating well will help us endure the transition. Nearly 11 years of poor sleep has caused sincere fatigue, but I will actually miss her…

Sigh.

#3.) Getting More Organized So We Can Manage an Aggressive Homeschool Agenda

There is no way to fully communicate how organization impacts homeschooling the girls. (Actually, just Ryan. Reagan is completely in charge her home days.) It energizes it, and makes everything feel doable.

We have really high hopes this season. A huge emphasis will be placed on large motor skills, which we will use to help achieve goal #2. Continuing in gymnastics and much time in the pool will be staples. (I plan on making sure she is very, very tired.)

It is working. She can now play with the Wii…an amazing combination of motor planning skills that  show tremendous progress.

It is a huge hope to increase the reading we do with her. Audio books will be a component, but I am hoping to help her fall in love with books to a greater level. My older two kids were both avid readers…So much praying and planning will go into this. If we achieve success in goals 1 & 2, they will have an enormously positive impact on goal #3.

#4.) This Year’s Prayers for My Kids

After much prayer and contemplation, I have come to the conclusion that my prayer/encouragement focus for each of my kids is the same this year. I want all three of them to grow in being grateful, responsible and helpful.

So much of our lives is built around our faith. We only listen to Christian music. We go to church and youth group every week. We pray at every meal. I run a ministry. Bible Study is a large part of life. Both of our older kids attended Christian school for several years.

My heart for my kids’ faith is constant, and not a part of seasonal goals.

Although my middle is thriving academically and diligent about church, my husband and I are having regular conversations about the gaps that need filling before she launches off to college. These gaps, as it turns out, will also benefit our grown son who is just starting college on the GI Bill, and our peanut.

#5.) Honoring The Sabbath

Each of the previous 4 goals are actually part of sabbath success. Honoring the sabbath is not about forcing the family to take the day off, it is about being a good enough steward that I believe 6 days is enough, and the 7th day will add His beauty in  a new and fresh way.

Last year we spent many Sundays walking and biking after church. We’d have lunch by the beach, and head home. I hope to repeat that and take it to the next level. Healthy premade dinners, family games and reading by the fire would round it out beautifully.

Of  course there are other things rumbling around…ministry ideas and writing goals, but these five set the foundation for any other dreams I may have. They excite me about the coming days and make me happily say, “Hello, 2016. It’s nice to meet you.”

The Loneliest Word in My World

I read a lot.

During this season of my life, much (or most) of my writing seems to be online. I am loving the variety of voices, perspectives, and ideas that have come my way.

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But if I were to be honest, as I read opinions about faith, current events, or even hospitality there is a word that isolates, stings, and makes me click away from the page.

We.

Often Christians, ESPECIALLY when talking about where the church falls short, seems to rely on the “We do….” or “We don’t …..” or the very most painful “We feel…”

I bristle.

I do and I don’t and I feel so very, very many things. Most things don’t seem to be like the do’s and don’ts or feels of the world. It terrifies me that I will never fit in.

It is incredibly lonely.

I know that the forward progress of my life demands connection; and I suspect the more genuine connection I have with real life people, the fewer stings I will have from online words. But if I am not part of their we, where am I supposed to be?

Does that make sense?

Just this week while gathering at a table with real-live people, much of the difficulty of conversation came bubbling  up. Did you know that women can be hard? That life is messy and opinions are NOT the same?BAC Book

Why is my life so full of sighs? Is it me? Of course it is

This journey I am on, the journey of constantly becoming, the road of change and growth and trying to obey the Lord and be real…is fragmented. There are times of tremendous connection and times of staggering avoidance.

I want to avoid other people.

Other people want to avoid me.

While drinking coffee and soaking in the hot tub, watching the night melt into the morning, my hubby and I chat about these things. As long as he and I stay connected to each other and our family, the rest of the refining becomes an odd joy. In these moments I see the horizon. I know where God is leading me next.

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  2 Timothy 2:22

I continue to pray that God will help me to do relationships better; to offend less; to love effectively more often. I want to mature in how I live, which means knowing that life is connected. What I say impacts my relationships; what I do bears upon my results; what I believe dictates how I react.

I will work on pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace…it WILL NOT JUST HAPPEN. It will require effort and purpose…and, God willing, my own “we” who are doing it shoulder to shoulder.

The Third Option…(A Lesson from the Good Samaritan)

The Third Option…(A Lesson from the Good Samaritan)

I woke up the day after Thanksgiving with lower back issues. I was in significant pain, unless I was lying down. So I was in bed (or the hot tub) for a day and a half.

I am embarrassed by how much I enjoyed it. It gave me time to ponder…

This has been an interesting year for me and my faith. I have been exposed to far more people than ever before who have a Christian walk that looks different than mine. I can possibly be accused of creating a homogenized environment.

Not totally. Maybe mostly.

My life often feels like it runs thematically. This season over and over again are these situations: One problem evaluated by two different perspectives. Not surprisingly, two different conclusions are made, and fought for, by the two wildly varying views.

It happens with my kids’ education.

It happens in politics.

It happens in current events.

And it happens in the church ESPECIALLY, it seems, about current events.

Recently an old friend, a new friend and I sat down with our Bibles wide open to discuss some differences in perspectives and theology. We asked questions of one another. We flipped through pages and looked at context. We opened my laptop to research original languages.

DSCN4879We connected, rather than divided.

It was wonderful.

We agreed on many, many things and understood each other’s perspectives on others.

That result is shamefully rare. I wish there was that a million times over.

In this heartbreaking season of terrorism and refugees, I seem to swing my way into battles with people on every side. Sigh.

On one side, a close-the-borders-friend posted a meme asking whether a Muslim Nation would allow Christian refugees to come to their country.

Because I believe that is an irrelevant question for a Bible believing Christian, and because we had been in Bible study together for years, I told her so. I contend we establish our morality–that which is right or wrong–not on what another religion says, not on what political leaders say, but on what the Bible says.

That didn’t go over well.

On the other side I have heard (more times than I can count) believers, who are cautious and don’t want the refugees brought by the thousands to America, called “un-Christian” or “not-very Christian.”

Double sigh.

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Reading through the book of Luke, it occurred to me that God provides us with a beautiful third option right there in Scripture…The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The 10th chapter tells the story of a businessman who is beaten, robbed, stripped and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest–someone who had chosen a life of faith as a profession–saw the victim and passed by on the other side of the road.

A Levite–someone who’s family history tied him to religious privilege and responsibility–also passed by on the opposite side of the road.

Each of them, by their inaction, decided the wounded, broken man was not their responsibility.

Any version of the story makes it abundantly clear that Jesus does not want us to be like the priest or the Levite.

The Samaritan bandaged him, put him on his beast and took him to an Inn, where he cared for him for a day. But as I read on, something really struck me. He then left him in the care of the Innkeeper, promising to pay for his needs.

He didn’t load the beaten man up and carry him off to a foreign land, far away from home. He lovingly cared for him where he was. He offered both his personal time and financial resources to help.

This is food for thought.

Another thing leapt off the pages of the book of Luke and seared its way into my consciousness. The story of Mary and Martha immediately follows.

I think Christians who want to serve the refugees in this country, who are so harshly judging those who don’t, should have a look. If I am serving, but my heart is judging, God is going to want me to change that.

Oh how I have lived that so many times over…

I think Christians who are shouting about terrorists and Radical Islamists should have a look at what is Jesus most radical teaching: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44.

Not my strength.

That Jesus. He doesn’t let me off the hook, but He does make me think that the Inn Keeper is the unsung hero of the parable. If I am the good samaritan, I need to make sure the Inn Keeper is financially able to do that work.

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I must not look the other way when lives depend on it.

I must be willing to support help where people are, where they can get back home someday. I must not dismiss people who see things differently without working to bridge the gaps. I must base my beliefs and decisions on the teachings of Jesus, which means it doesn’t really matter if they are our enemies, or if they would not help me. I help because I love HIM.

That is the only option that matters.

 

 

I Can Make A Great Pie Crust…

I just don’t.

I know. I know. That is blasphemy to some, including some in my extended family.

But that is my real life.

I love the holidays. I love that my kids’ favorite meals of the year are turkey and prime rib. I love a warm and decorated house and pounds of butter melted over everything. Several years ago I forced encouraged everyone to play games when we gathered. We’ve laughed through countless rounds of Apples to Apples, Cranium, Scattergories and poker.

However, real life and really great ideas can’t always occupy the same space.

In my little world, over the last decade, we have dealt with a daughter with special needs, a son at war in the desert a million miles away, two parents with Alzheimer’s, other family drama, the financial crash of 2008 and the daily mutiny of life. There is a lot.

And because we want to do this life we have with as much joy as possible, I had to let some things go.

Pie crust is one of those things.

Photo by saveur.com

Photo by saveur.com

Making it from scratch makes a big mess. Perhaps not for everyone, but for me there is flour everywhere. I rarely get to it in time to refrigerate it properly, so there is excessive ice water involved. It works, but it is not ideal.

Ironically I used apple pies to get my hubby to fall in love with me. I would go to church with him on Sundays, then stop at the store and get pie making ingredients. We’d have dinner and pie for dessert…with homemade crust.

As I have matured I realized that doesn’t illustrate my failure as a current-day pie maker, but the necessity of embracing seasons. This is not the season for homemade crust.

Letting go of such things truly allows this to be a season of gratitude. In that spirit, I am again linking up with Kelley at Mrs. Disciple.

I am grateful for prayer. Yesterday was Thanksgiving. My house was clean. I had all the shopping done early. The night before as I went to bed the pies were baked, the turkey stuffed, the mashed potatoes finished, the table set and the kitchen cleaned.

That is astounding for me…completely out of character.

But I have been praying for God to work on my laziness…to fashion and mold my character. I have asked dear friends to pray for me.

This Thanksgiving was a victory.

I want to keep in mind overcoming my laziness is not so that I can add more to my world; it is so I can do the things already in my world with greater excellence.

I am grateful for breathing room. We had a different gathering last night. A few faces who are always welcome, but rarely show filled in for others who are usually here, but not this year.

It provided breathing room.

Life is messy. Relationships are hard. Sometimes breathing room is valuable; restorative; invigorating.

I discovered that relational breathing room allowed for more energy to get things done. It shocked me…what an effect that had. It is causing me to look around and reevaluate.

I am grateful I am a terrible housekeeper. Obviously not always, because chaos depletes life. And, of course, I can’t and don’t let myself off the hook because God won’t let me.

But there are times when a family game of poker is more important than an empty sink.

When people have a long drive ahead of them after we gather, how will I choose to spend time with them? Doing dishes and sweeping floors or laughing and talking?

I don’t even struggle with this.

As our guests were leaving one said, “I feel so bad leaving you with all those dishes.”

“I am the kind of person who can totally sleep with a dirty kitchen,” I confessed.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Here’s the reality I often remind myself of: “There are benefits and drawbacks to all things.” All things. Clean people often miss out on moments. Messy people have to deal with the piles in the morning. I am trying to find a balance for the everyday, but yesterday I was glad to be able to easily let it go.

I am grateful for the ability to cook. I love when the smell of turkey and stuffing fills my home. I love watching my youngest devour mashed potatoes. I love how much my middle daughter looks forward to pumpkin chiffon pie.

Why don’t I gather more people around my table more often?

I am figuring that out.

But when I do, I really enjoy the smells and sights and flavors of good food.

It is not too much work for me, as it can be for others. I enjoy it.

Part of the reason I enjoy it is I am comfortable with store bought pie crust.

I am grateful for my family. Aching, stretching, beautiful gratitude fills me. I am happy to be married, and to have the marriage work for us. We are flawed. In many ways we have low expectations which leaves room for wonder.

We know the areas of our lives that need work…we are working on those places. We are so much less likely to get rattled today than we were years ago. In many corners the hard edges have been knocked off, not by the battles and disappointments but by surviving them.

I am so happy to be a mom. Sometimes I wish I were a better one, but mostly I realize that there is no such thing as perfection in parenting.  Each of my three kids, different as they are from one another, is a precious gift from a God who loves me.

Back when I gathered on Tuesday nights to study the Bible with friends, we would begin by making gratitude lists. Gratitude is imperative in my life…Yesterday and everyday.