Faith Like Bryson

At football practice this week, a fellow mom was sharing about some fun things she did child detectivewith her son over the summer.  A big hit was a live group escape game that has recently opened in Tulsa.  In an hour, she and her son, along with nana and uncle, had to unlock puzzles to solve the mystery.  I could see the adrenaline rise as she recounted the exciting escapade.  Once they solved one mystery, they were on such a roll they wanted to take on another right away (and the owners are marketing geniuses because they were right there to take the extra 20 bucks a head to indulge the newly expert detectives.) Now this is a family that enjoys being together in general. Finding an activity that was appealing to everyone from the preteen to the grandmother, was frosting.  Besides the sheer fun of the game, she marveled at how the three “older” ones of the group would be stumped time after time by hard clues, only to be schooled by the 12 year old.  Often the answer was so simple that they looked right past it.   Bryson just saw things for what they were without muddling it up with the complications that adults often bring to the table.  While they saw the clues through the lens of their years of experience, cynically believing that things can’t be what they seem,  he saw things through innocence and clarity, believing that the answer was there for him to solve, confident that he had what he needed to figure things out.  And he did.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.    Matthew 18:1-4

That little fart.  Not Jesus.  Bryson.  Well, Jesus, kinda, too.  Isn’t it just like God to say things that make you go, “HUH?”  I’m sure the disciples were constantly baffled by what came out of the teacher’s mouth.  Jesus Christ–the original escape room creator.  Just when his followers thought they had him figured out, He’d walk on water or bring someone back to life or DIE.  No wonder they were so heartbroken when they heard of his death on the cross.  They were grown men who had seen hard times and faced all the challenges that adulthood brings–disappointment, rejection, providing for their families, paying their taxes, following laws, worrying about sick family members, getting promotions, caring for their households, and on and on.  They were were fully developed in the adult attributes of doubt, self-reliance, and pride.  They’d surely had bad things happen in life before, so they came to each situation with all kinds of baggage.  Peter knew that Jews weren’t always safe under Roman rule, so he feared he’d be arrested when asked if he knew Jesus.  So, he lied.  Martha knew that people would be hungry and food wasn’t gonna get prepared by itself, so she had to do it or no one else would.  So she was annoyed by her sister Mary for (perhaps yet AGAIN?) leaving her to do all the work.  Thomas may have become a skeptic after years of being let down by people he looked up to, so he refused to believe before seeing for himself.  Our experiences, both good and bad, shape us and how we respond to every situation.

Jesus realizes all of that.  He was one of us, after all.  Yet, He insists that we become like children, like Bryson.  Not because he wants to manipulate or control us.  But because a child sees the simplicity of life.  He is not bogged down by the baggage of disappointment. She is not suspicious of the unknown.  A child has the ability to see things in ways that adults have lost.  Adults want to complicate and theologize.  And I believe God, in His infinite grandeur and majesty, makes it pretty simple.  Love.  Believe.  Receive.  Give.  Yet, at the same time, He is a God of mystery and loves for us to seek Him, to pursue Him, to find Him in simple things.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

LORD, help us to become like Bryson–simple in our faith, believing that you want us to find you.  Help us to clear the clutter of worry and grown-up concerns and come to you as children, trusting that our Father is good.  Amen.

Image

God’s Got Guns

GunsI have participated in Celebrate Recovery® twice now, once as a participant and once as a facilitator.  Essentially CR is a 12-step group based on the Beatitudes of Jesus in the Bible and helps people address and overcome their “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.”  The small group studies are conducted once a week following a prescribed series of workbooks and sharing responses in a safe, consistent environment.  Leading a group of a dozen other women in a journey of healing was one of the greatest honors I ever had.  One of the questions that is addressed in the early stages of the workbooks is our relationships with our fathers.  Although some of the questions are painful to ponder, that particular one was a breeze for me.  My dad is one of the greatest men I know and has made it easy for me to believe whole-heartedly that God the Father loves me unconditionally and actually really likes me.  I was eager to share how supportive my dad was throughout my life, spending time with me, talking to me, taking me with him wherever he went.  I knew I was wanted and he was proud of me.

The format of sharing in our group was taking turns in a circle around the room. As it worked out that day,  I was to be one of the last ones to talk about my dad.  Some responses can be quite painful to share.  Maybe it’s the first time certain memories have ever been spoken aloud.  Sometimes there’s great shame associated with something you’ve done or felt.  Those kinds of questions can make your stomach wrench as your turn around the circle approaches.  But, not this one.  I was proud to share about my relationship with my dad.  I was unprepared, however, to be overcome with emotion as I realized that many of the women in the group had very different experiences than mine.  Some fathers were distant and aloof; some were indifferent at best.  Some were outright abusive or neglectful.  Some weren’t even in the picture from a young age.  Some were workaholics, while others were terrible communicators.  One or two had close relationships with their dads, but the majority shared with regret how their dads were not what they needed them to be when they were little girls.

When it came my turn, I was sobbing and could barely share about my relationship.  Honestly, I felt guilty about having such a loving father and almost apologetically read my response.  I did share and was able to express gratitude for having it “easy” when it came to seeing the genuine goodness of Father God, a trait that was so easily transferred from my earthly father.  Part of the beauty of Celebrate Recovery® is working through the hurts and deficits of childhood and allowing God to correct any false thinking that may have been established from unhealthy relationships.  God wants us to know that He is truly a good and loving Father, who is crazy about His kids, regardless of what earthly model we may have had.

Recently at my son Pierce’s basketball tournament, the LORD reminded me in a beautiful way about how He feels about me (and all of His girls).  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a gentle rocking motion.  I looked over and saw this moving scene.  Amidst all the raucous of the game, the shouting from the stands, the whistles, buzzers and bouncing balls, a precious little girl snoozed peacefully in the (huge) loving arms (i.e. GUNS) of her daddy.  She didn’t have to worry about a stray flying ball hitting her in the head; her daddy would shield her.  She was unfazed by the rants of the parents in the stands as they shouted jeers at the refs; her ear was up against his chest, lulled by his steady heartbeat.  There was no fear of falling because her father’s firm hands enveloped her.  He had his eyes on the game around her,  keeping her in the refuge of his huge presence. father's love

“That’s you and me,” I heard the LORD whisper.  “In this crazy, loud, distracting world, I’ve got you.  Feel my loving arms around you.  I was built for this.  I want you to rest and lean into me.  With me, there is peace amidst storms and chaos.”

God’s got guns.

The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” Deut. 33:27

Whether you came from a loving, supportive household,  survived abuse and abandonment, or somewhere in between, Father God wants you to know that He loves you like crazy.  He delights in you and wants a sweet, close relationship with you.  He will never leave you.  He will never fail you.  You don’t have to perform for Him or earn His approval.  He wants to hold you and protect you, provide for you and comfort you.  There is nothing you have done or will do that would ever cause Him to reject you and ignore you.   He is kind and generous and longs to spend time with you and lavish you with His love.

Will you let Him?

 

 

Whole(30) lotta shakin’ goin’ on!

IMG_7414-2Discipline has never been my strong suit. I don’t like regimens. Routine makes me feel suffocated. Friends have shared about great success with Weight Watchers, but the thought of counting points sets me nuts. I know moms who get up to work out at 5am before the family’s day starts. Uh, no thanks. I’m a live-in-the-moment kinda gal and, between you and me, never been one who liked to be told what to do.  My mother is a health food freak enthusiast and has nagged enlightened me about eating well, cutting out sugar and processed foods, losing weight–and in a way that only Asian tiger-mothers can do.   For years.  And years.

Thank you for your concern, but I’m good.  Now pass me an Oreo. Continue reading

The LORD of the Ring

pexels-photo-105881
In October of 2014, my wedding ring bizarrely vanished.  During my nightly routine of taking off my jewelry and putting it away on an armoire shelf, I heard it hit the floor.  My husband had gone to bed, so the lights were off.  He wasn’t asleep yet, so I asked him to turn on the light so I could find it. When I couldn’t locate it immediately, he jumped up to help me, partly because he can’t stand it when something is missing and partly because he questions my thoroughness.  We searched the area–under the bed, on the shelves, in a nearby laundry basket–everywhere that the ring could possibly have landed.  With CSI skillfulness, we reenacted how the ring fell off the shelf and the various possible landing spots based on how it bounced off the carpet.  Nothing.  The next day my daughter and I pulled out all the items in the armoire, searched again under the bed and surrounding  area.  Nada.  The ring had seemingly vanished right before my eyes.

Continue reading

Sometimes I hate my husband

hate my husband picSeveral years ago, I was talking to a Russian friend of mine.  We were sharing about life and the challenges of work, motherhood, being a wife–the yuzh.  I asked how married life was going and, with her thick Russian accent, she replied, “Sometimes when we’re riding in the car, I look over, and I think, ‘I HHHHHAAAATE him!'”  (Russians don’t have the /h/ sound, so it comes out very throaty.  For example, when I first met Erkin, he would say XAPPY BIRZDAY — no /th/s either.  So her “hate” was XATE, with lots of phlegm and I’m pretty sure some other fluid.  Like venom.)

 

What do you say to that??  A better woman probably would’ve encouraged her to remember those things he does well, remind her of his good qualities and promise to send her a highlighted copy of The Power of a Praying Wife as soon as they hung up.

This woman’s response, however, was (after hysterical laughter), “Oh, girrrl, I hear ya!   I know exactly how you feel.”  And, we went on bonding over our husbands’ formerly endearing idiosyncrasies and freshly annoying habits and opinions.  We laughed and talked for almost an hour.  By the time we hung up, she’d let off some steam and felt heard, ready to get back in the ring for another round of life as kids were beckoning from the kitchen for lunch and refereeing.

I’ve thought about that conversation many times of the years.

Sometimes I HATE him!

I don’t know if I would ever have said that aloud, but, yeah, here goes…sometimes I hate my husband.

(No doubt my inbox is being flooded with requests to speak at women’s retreats and marriage conferences right now!)

After 21 years of marriage, our relationship has gone through varying levels of hatred.  You know how they say that the word love in English is limited?  We use the same word to say I love my kids and I love Jimmy Fallon and I love pickles.  Now obviously, I don’t love pickles in the same way I love Jimmy Fallon.  Nor do I love my kids like I love Jimmy.  Heck, I don’t love ANYTHING like I love Jimmy Fallon. (Erkin is pretty confident that if Jimmy showed up to whisk me away, I’d knock him over on my way out the door.  Ditto for Kevin James.)  One word–L O V E–is supposed to convey a variety of things, unlike Greek which apparently has several different options depending on the object of affection.

I feel like I need classifications for kinds of hate in my marriage.  There have been seasons where I have honestly had “strong feelings of dislike” of my husband.  He is very different from me in many ways, which, shocker, is what I fell in love with about him.  I’ve gotten angry or frustrated with a decision he made or something he said to someone that was completely opposite of what I would’ve done.  No one on the planet could infuriate me more than him (that is until I had kids).  My “hatred” would last for an hour or so and then  I’d get over it.  I realize that my “I hate him” reflex was easily triggered because I was most vulnerable with him, which made me more easily wounded by him (even though totally unintentional on his part).  When I was younger, my go-to when I was hurt was to shut down my heart and go to an extreme in my emotion in order to protect my heart from any further abrasion.  It was easier to think “I hate him” and cut him off than “I love him so I forgive him and I wonder where his behavior is coming from.”  Waaaaay too much work doing the latter.

As I’ve matured and we’ve worked through some serious struggles, I have most definitely mellowed when it comes to extreme emotions.  Being angry and sustaining unforgiveness is exhausting!  I wish I could say I don’t have moments of hating my husband, but the source of the hate has changed.  At first blush, I may feel like he’s the object of my hatred. He’s the offender.  He’s the one who pushed my buttons.  Unfortunately, what’s really going on is that his “offenses” are just revealing the ugly that is still inside of me and needing to be transformed.  If he disagrees with me about something, my insecurity is triggered.  If he makes an opposing decision about something related to the kids , I’m irritated because I think my way is better.  If he asks me what I’m making for dinner (while we’re still eating lunch!!), I’m ticked off because my choleric personality doesn’t like someone telling me what to do.  Very much a work in progress, I’m choosing to assume the best motives from him.  Instead of allowing “hate” to be my default, I take a breath and try to examine what it is in me that is being triggered and what I need to do about it.  Pretty much it comes down to selfishness and insecurity every time.

And I. HATE. That.

Just when I think that I’m pretty healed in an area of my life, something will happen that reveals another layer that God wants to get to.  Because he’s the one I’m closest to, my husband is usually the one who hits the nerve.  If I will allow it, God will speak to me about why I feel the way I feel, where the problem lies, and how I  can release it to Him.  Which in turn, leads to me loving my husband again and being a healthier wife.

So, yeah, sometimes I hate my husband.  And I’m ok with that.

 

Life Really IS Like a Box of Chocolates

pic_truffle_box_medHave you ever splurged on a decadent box of chocolates?  The kind where you painstakingly select the 4 or 8 or 32 flavors you think will be the most life-changing confections because you know you won’t be getting them again for awhile because they cost as much as a car payment?  The kind that sound more like the  menu at Cheesecake Factory?  Dark chocolate hazelnut?  Yes, please. Conquistador salted caramel?  Um, duh.  French silk chocolate mousse?  You’re kidding me, right?  Habanero passion fruit cream?  What the heck?!  Or maybe you’ve just wandered into Godiva post Easter when their limited edition cocktail inspired truffles are half off?   I mean, a truffle that tastes like a peach bellini?? And on sale??  I’ll take two, uh, make that three boxes, please.

As excited as I get every time I bring a satin ribbon-tied indulgence home, I have yet to finish an entire box before it expires!   I do this every single time.  My daughter has thrown more than I care to know  into the trash because the chocolates have gone stale or expired.  (She’s the self-appointed de-clutterer of the kitchen, one of the many things that endears her to her father.)  I always think that I need to save them because they were so expensive or once I eat them, who knows when I’ll get another.  My fear of scarcity leads to hoarding which leads to waste.  Ugh.  A pleasure that was meant to be savored and enjoyed was wasted because of fear.

I was visiting with my friend Joan the other night who is passionate about giving and helping others experience the extraordinary love of God.  A few of us were brainstorming ways in which we could lavish women in our sphere of influence with blessings.  Not everyone has extra  money to purchase gifts, so we thought of different ways the women in our circle could make another woman feel special.  One friend is a talented artist who does whimsical calligraphy.  Another loves to clean houses.  Another cuts hair.  Still another enjoys cooking.  The room became electric as we considered the diverse talents that different ones had.  Joan (whose talent includes killer lip sync skills) commented that her hope is to leave this world empty with nothing held inside for herself.  She will not have any expired truffles in her pantry when she breathes her last breath!

The Holy Spirit hit me through Joan’s words.  I know that I have things inside of me, carefully placed there by the Creator himself.  There is a French silk mousse and a salted caramel, most definitely a peach Bellini, and maybe even a little habanero passion fruit, inside that needs to be taken out of the box and shared.  I realized that I have treasures inside of me that are getting stale because I have been storing them on the shelf for too long because of fear.  I have spent too much of my life discounting the chocolates in my box because they weren’t the same as hers or hers or his.

Jesus tells the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  In essence, before a master goes out of town, he leaves three servants a varying number of “talents” or units of money.  He doesn’t give them any instruction about what to do with the money, other than he “entrusts” them with it.  The first two take their talents and increase them.  How, we are not told.  When the master returns after a long time away, he is incredibly pleased with the way that these two have used his money.  The third servant hid the one talent he received away because he was afraid.  He didn’t lose it or squander it.  He simply buried it to save for the master’s return.  The master was furious when he learned of this, calling the servant “wicked and slothful” (v. 26).

Um, ouch, Jesus.  Not seeing a very Jesus-y attitude in this story.  But, when I get past the sting of the master’s reaction at the oh-too-close-to-home servant, I get the frustration.  The key word was “entrusted”.  The master was confident in each servant enough to entrust them with precious talents.  He was confident that they would know how to use them well in order to cause them to grow and become a blessing.  He believed they would use them well, without having to give explicit instruction about what to do.

What has the Creator entrusted to you?  What rich, decadent chocolate is waiting inside of you that the world is waiting to savor?  Is it designing a garden?  Writing?  Organization?  Financial analysis?  Research?  Teaching kids to play the piano?  Cooking?  Mentoring?  Dancing?   I encourage you to not let fear, whether it be of rejection, imperfection, or not being good enough, keep your from leaving this world empty of everything in your box.  Forrest Gump had it part right;  you may not know what you’re gonna get, but the One who  meticulously packed your beautiful box does!  Trust that He knew exactly what He was doing when He entrusted you with the amazing gifts and talents inside of you.

Creator, thank you for entrusting us  with various gifts and talents.  Help us to use them to increase the Kingdom around us and honor you.  May they be a sweet taste to the world and make you smile.  Through Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Parenting with a Brown Thumb

 

If you’ve never heard of the Multiple Intelligences theory by Howard Gardner (http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html) or “How Kids are Smart” by Kathy Koch (http://www.celebratekids.com/multiple-intelligence-articles-by-dr-kathy-koch/), check it out because it’s fascinating!  When I was a kid, being “smart” kinda meant one thing to everyone.  But, in 1983, Gardner proposed that people can be intelligent in various ways, e.g.  spatially (think of someone who can draw well or is a dynamite parallel parker ) or linguistically (think of someone who solves Wheel of Fortune puzzles with only 4 letters and no vowels!).  I knew I was good in some things but most definitely felt “less than” in other things, like doing cartwheels or trigonometry.  My mom was someone who everyone knew had a “green thumb”, or as Gardner would say,  she is “nature smart” because she just seems to understand what plants want and need.

Unfortunately, her only offspring–moi–did not inherit her knack for rejuvenating orchids that were discarded in the Kmart garden center or coaxing blooms from African violets, native to humid East African highlands, in our basement during frigid Wisconsin winters.   She would say things like, “They don’t like their ‘feet’ wet” or “It doesn’t like to face north.”  Huh?  While I preferred seeing if I could guess the word on the $25,000 Pyramid before the B-list celebrity  (linguistic smart) or lip-syncing to my Grease soundtrack into my hairbrush (music smart), my mom was watering her vast vegetable garden in the backyard or nurturing her cutting from some tropical fruit tree she snagged while on a walk in the neighborhood while visiting her sister in South Florida (while plants were her first love, not spending money was her true love).   The first plant I had in my apartment was some sort of vine or ivy that was supposed to virtually grow itself.  I think the only time it got watered or pruned was when Mom came to visit twice a year.  In other words, it didn’t survive for long.  The woman with the nature smarts tree definitely didn’t produce an apple that fell anywhere remotely close to it.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate plants and flowers.  In fact, two of my favorite places I have visited were gardens–Giverny in France (home of Monet’s Water Lilies inspiration) and Keukenhof in the Netherlands (known as the Garden of Europe and the most beautiful tulip gardens).  I am so grateful for the horticultural geniuses who have created such breathtaking spectacles.  My mom loved collecting unusual species of plants because of the challenge of growing and maintaining them and the reward of using her gifting that resulted in oohs and aahs from houseguests and passers-by in the neighborhood.  I don’t remember all the varieties she had over the years as I was growing up.  She wasn’t much of a picture-taker, but anytime she wanted to snap of photo of me, it was always next to some exotic plant in bloom in the living room or front yard.  Ones that I remember being captivated by were two cacti–the “Christmas” cactus and “Easter” cactus.

Me with chicken pox in 2nd grade, posing with a cactus.

Me with chicken pox in 2nd grade, posing with a cactus.

She used to marvel at how they knew to generate their glorious carmine or fuchsia blooms at just the right season.  Even though she kept conditions consistent regarding temperature and light, they would only burst forth with color at a certain time every year.  They just knew what to do and did it, regardless of how she tried to coerce them into flowering a season earlier.  She could get plants to rise from the dead like a Phoenix from the ashes, but not so with these babies.  Their time table was set by the Creator and nothing was going to rush them along.  The annual waiting she did was unavoidable but brought her such pleasure when these creatures did their thing.

This is my Easter cactus, given to me by my mother a couple of years ago.

Easter Cactus

Don’t look too closely at the picture and definitely don’t tell my mother what you see–standing water in the bowl (I think this is one of those who don’t like their “feet wet”) because when I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time it had water, I panicked and flooded the crusty, dry soil and it all drained out the bottom; the way too small pot, which I assume is too small because the weight of the leaves are so heavy it keeps tipping over; or the shriveled foliage, which like my décolletage, wrinkles when not moisturized for long periods of time.  Those are the things I see in that plant, reminders of the ways that I fall short and fail, ways that others are better than me, “smarter” than me.

But, then, one day, around Easter, I noticed hot pink blossoms on the ends of those wrinkled, imperfect leaves.  Even though I had seemingly failed at nurturing this plant, it did its thing and bloomed, exactly when it was supposed to!

And, then came the Father’s voice…

He knows that I feel inadequate as a mother, that I definitely don’t feel I have mothering “smarts”.   He hears the voice of comparison in my head as I look at women around me doing amazing things in their children’s lives.  He sees my tears when I feel I have failed my kids by giving them too much stuff and not enough time.   He senses my fear that I haven’t done enough to nurture their love for Him and his Word.  He has witnessed the times when I have panicked and tried to make up for areas I have been lazy in with them, which comes out in overwatering, i.e. lecturing, nagging, overreacting.

In that moment of wonder, as I stood amazed at the beauty of this cactus, the LORD assured me that my kids will bloom at the right time. No condemnation.  No shame.  Just as He has created this cactus to know when to shine at the right time, in spite of imperfect circumstances around it, so too will my kids bloom and grow and flourish.  In their time.  In HIS time.  He has put it in them.  Just as He created this cactus, He created my kids.  He is the one who has a beautiful plan for their lives.  I AM going to fail them.  I HAVE failed them.  But, He never will.  They are His and I get the honor of coming along side Him to water and prune and feed.  It is not my job to bring forth the gift inside of them.  It is His.  It is His timing.  His season.  His calling.  He knew that He was placing them in the care of this imperfect, work-in-progress mother.  He reminded me that they are really not about me at all.   He will do exceedingly, abundantly above what I ever could or what I could ever ask or imagine for them.  Amen.

 

 

What If God Can Be Trusted?

It never ceases to amaze me how much parenting reflects what God is doing in the lives of His children.  So often the very things that I am training my kids in are the very things Father God is trying to train in me.  Obedience.  Forgiveness.  Kindness.  Selflessness. Yep. All areas in which I have so much growing to do.

So annoying.  So discouraging.  So frustrating.

Yet so hopeful.

This past week has been one in which my parenting chops have been put to the test.  The current middle school situation of my DD has not been a good fit.   Her small neighborhood elementary school in which she thrived,  feeds into a gigantic sea of thousands of adolescents from all over the district for junior high and then high school. My introverted, peace-loving, people-pleasing middle child struggled for pretty much the entire sixth grade.  She pushed through and made it to the end (although her daddy barely did) and, thankfully, seventh grade was better.  This year, however, with moving to yet another building for eighth grade, we decided it may be time to pursue a change.  After prayer and conferring with other parents, we have found a school that we believe is a better option for her.  She’ll be known, she’ll be seen, she’ll have consistency and support. It seems to be an open door from God.  She herself believes that she heard the Lord leading her in that direction when she asked Him for an answer about transferring there.

Problem solved, right?  We prayed.  My husband and I have peace about the move.  The school has a slot for her.  They were warm and welcoming.  Everything she needs and wants is waiting for her through that open door.  More importantly, SHE sensed God’s voice when she asked Him directly.

Done!  Sign her up!  She lives happily ever after…

(F E A R enters from stage left)

As my sweet co-worker Christine (a la Doctor McCoy) says, “Dammit, Jim!”

We were set to go.  We had the answer we needed and wanted.  We believe this is the Lord’s provision for her.  What could possibly be the problem?

“What if I don’t have any friends?”

“What if no one likes me?”

“What if I hate it?”

“What if I’m behind everyone else?”

“What if I’m not happy?”

“What if it’s the wrong decision??”

Changing schools was no longer the issue.  Nope.  This is an issue that has been around since the Garden of Eden.   It’s one of the enemy’s favorites.  It’s one I and every one on the planet deals with in one way or another.   It’s the sin that we seem to tolerate all too often in ourselves and in the body of Christ.

This is the “can-I-really-trust-God” issue.

As I write this, she is still struggling with deciding what to do.  I have prayed with her, counseled her, (regrettably) yelled at her, and listened to her.  I have encouraged her to take the risk and give it a try.  I have a pretty broad theology about God being sovereign yet not micro-managing every decision of our lives.  My belief is that He gives His children boundaries but allows them to have preferences and make their own decisions about a jillion different things.  Some things He orchestrates and prevents, but if not a “sin” issue, He’s pretty much cool with letting us live life.  He certainly has plans for us and directs our paths (Jer. 29:11, Prov. 3:5, 6).  He implores us to choose life over death.  But, He’s not there on His throne in heaven, with a divine joystick, jumping us over barrels and climbing ladders like Mario nor is He biting His nails with sweaty palms, hoping we don’t turn on Elm instead of Pine, thus screwing up our destinations.  What He does say is that He’ll never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5), that we can’t get beyond His presence (Ps. 139:8), and that He loves us like crazy! (John 3:16)

Yeah, baby girl, there is no “bad” decision about which school to go to.  You’re His kid and you can’t get away from Him.  He’s got your back.  You’re never alone or unseen.  You’re loved like crazy.  If you want to stay where you are, He’ll be with you.  If you want to make a change, He’s there waiting with open arms, too.

Here’s the rub, though.  The only “bad” decision is not trusting God.  The sin issue is disbelief.  The wrong thing here is thinking that fear is more real than what God says.

And then I hear God say, “Yeah, baby girl, the only way you’re a ‘bad’ mom is when you don’t trust me.  The only “wrong” decision is when you allow yourself to let fear lead you and not my love.  Wherever you go, I got your back.”

Wait, God, we’re dealing with her, not me.

I hate it when that happens.

And I remembered so many times I chose to stay comfortable in misery because it was familiar.  All the opportunities I missed because I was afraid.  All the lies I believed because they felt more real than the truth.  How many open doors did I ask for and God provide, but I was too bound up in disbelief and fear to walk through them?  Yet, because He is good and kind, He stayed right with me, encouraging me, loving on me, holding my hand, hoping I would get the courage to believe in Him enough to take a risk and trust Him.  Love is so patient.  Love is so kind.  Love always hopes.

On Sunday afternoon, at 3:33pm, I still do not know where DD will be tomorrow morning.  She may be on the bus headed to her familiar, miserable surroundings or she may be in a new school with complete strangers.  This is a choice that she needs to make, and either way I am confident that God is cheering her on and right by her side.  And I know that He is right by my side, cheering me on as I navigate her through these teenage years.  I pray that she says YES to an opportunity that God has for her.  But, if she decides to stay where she’s comfortably uncomfortable for a little longer, I know that He’s got her back.

Fear be damned.  God wins either way.

If I were 13 again…

Letter to a birthday girl picOne of my dearest friend’s daughter is one of my daughter’s dearest friends. “A” turns 13 tomorrow, so her mother asked some women in her life to speak words of encouragement to her in the form of a letter that she would compile into a book for her birthday. She asked us to answer this question:  What do you wish you would have known when you were becoming a teenager?

What a cool idea!  I was honored to be invited to speak into this sweet girl’s life.  Not only has she been a great friend to my daughter since they were toddlers,  she’s simply a really great kid.  I wanted my words to mean something without being preachy or corny or abstract.  (Or, god-forbid, embarrass MY daughter–which I seem to do on a daily basis these days!)

As I considered my state of mind as I was entering my teens and what would have been significant to know–stuff about boys and friendships, fashion and make-up, school and hormones–I concluded that so much of growing up is about figuring things out for yourself.  Dating the wrong boy can teach you how to really appreciate the right one; bangs really don’t look great on every face; and, your mother really does know what it’s like to be a teenager.  And, really, what 13-year-old, no matter how much of a sweetheart she may be, truly believes that a middle-aged-mom has anything relatable to her life??

So, here’s what I decided was the bottom line of what I wish someone would’ve shared with me, what it took 40 years to figure out…

The most important thing I can share with you is to be a truth-seeker. The Word tells us the Truth will set us free. Jesus is the Way, the TRUTH, and the life. I believe that all truth is found in Jesus and He rewards those who seek it. Truth brings confidence. Truth brings freedom. Truth brings life. The enemy wants us to believe lies—lies about God, lies about others, lies about ourselves. It is vital that you stay in tune with the truth of who God is and who you are in Him. Surround yourself with friends who will speak truth into your life and affirm the truth of who you are in Christ. Know the voice of Truth so that you will hear it clearer than any other voice.

That leads to my second word of encouragement: always remember that your value, your worth, your identity is in being a daughter of God. You will do other things in life, you will have roles and responsibilities, but your IDENTITY is in who you are in Christ. No matter what highs you experience in life or lows your suffer, being a daughter of God is constant. Nothing you ever achieve (or fail at) changes that fact.  Your mistakes (and you will make them) don’t define you.  They can shape you and instruct you, but they are not who you are.

And, finally, always be yourself! Be true to who you are. Don’t change to please others or to get them to accept you or love you. There is only one “A” and the world needs you and the part of God that is reflected uniquely in you. Your gifts and talents belong to no one else.  Trying to please others (I don’t mean serving or loving others) is an idol. Love others. Serve others. But, don’t change for others. Be true to who Father God created you to be. Which, again, is pretty darn awesome!

Do you love me?

At a store recently, a preschool-aged girl was being pushed in a stroller by her grandmother.  Her mother was out ahead of her looking at something.  Out of the blue, the wee one blurted out, “Mommy, do you love me?”do-you-love-me-image

The mom whipped around, obviously taken aback, even a bit wounded by the inquiry.   With a smile, she quickly responded with an exuberant,  “Yes, sweetie, I do love you.  You know I do.”

“No you don’t,” was the unexpected, although playful, reply from the tot.

“Why would you say that, honey?  Of course, mommy loves you very much…” and the conversation trailed off as they walked up the aisle.

Later that week, I was watching my daily episode of Gilmore Girls (yes, I said daily).  It was the one where the local elementary school was putting on Fiddler on the Roof and performed the poignant scene with Tevye asking Golde, “Do you love me?”.  (Ah, one of my favorite scenes in the musical, whether on the big screen or the third grade stage.)  He wants to know if his wife of 25 years loves him or not.  Nothing in their lives had indicated otherwise, but he just wanted, more like needed to know.

Even Jesus asked Peter in John 21, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?

A three-year-old girl.  A middle-aged father of 5.  The son of God.

Clearly there’s a theme going on here.

We all want to be loved.  That’s a given.  But, I think it’s just as important for us to KNOW we are loved.

A three-year-old and a grown man asking the same question…Do you love me?

I think all of mankind is running around, desperate for the answer to this very question, wanting to know if they are worthy of love, if they are indeed loved.

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…

I think God makes it pretty obvious that He loves us.  Laying down His life.  Taking all punishment on Himself.  Yeah, no argument there.

Yet…

(oh, how I wish there wasn’t a “yet”)

we’re like the little girl in the stroller.

We know John 3:16 by heart.  One of the first songs we learn in Sunday school is Jesus Loves Me.  The greatest attribute of God is love, right?

Yet…

daily we tell God, “No you don’t.”

Most of us would say that we know that God loves us.  We really believe that.  Yet our actions say otherwise.  We try to perform for God to earn His love.  We think we’re unworthy of His love because of our faults and sins.   We think that He HAS to love us because He’s, well, God.  He loves everyone, sure.  But, ME?  Not so much.

And, just as the mom in the store was a bit heartbroken that the most precious thing in the world to her, her child, questioned her love, her limited, finite, human love, how much the Father’s heart is saddened when we doubt His love for us, when we act like step kids when we’re really His heirs!

Not everyone had a parent who loved them unconditionally.  Or if they did, there may have been hurts and betrayals from people who said they loved them.  The enemy loves to swoop in and whisper lies about ourselves and our value and lovability.  He tells us that we must earn love or hold it at arm’s length.  Lord, why is it easier to believe the ugly things instead of the truth?!  Forgive us for believing the enemy instead of you.

It seems elementary, but I believe the Lord wants us to hear it again.

GOD LOVES YOU

My prayer is that you read those words in a way that penetrates deep in your soul, that part of you that houses what you really believe.  Oh, how He loves you.  YOU.  HE. LOVES. YOU.