Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Secret that Changes Everything {Don't keep it to yourself!}

Five children means many, many gifts under our tree.  Add to that their enthusiasm for shopping for one another and we easily end up with twenty-five more gifts to stash find a place for after the Christmas season is over!  Not only do I not want my kids to totally focus on receiving gifts, I also want what they do receive to be special and meaningful.
So this year I totally stole an idea I saw somewhere on the internet.  They drew names.

Yeah, I know.  BAH, Humbug.

After the announcement that they were drawing names this year, as their faces fell in disappointment, I threw in the twist.

"Now you cannot tell whose name you drew...and when you open your gift you have to try to guess who gave it to you!"

That changed everything.

I mean, what kid does not love a secret?

The game was on, and the shopping trips were so fun and sweet.  Each child got a special outing with Mom to buy for their chosen sibling.  The thought that went into their gifts warmed my heart.

candy cane, gingerbread, love, heart, Christmas

Despite all the bickering that can overtake our household, they really do love each other.

(As if to make my point, as I typed the sentence above one child came down to tattle on another for coming into their room without being invited.  Excuse me while I have another sip of coffee.)


As I have thought about why the mood change with the addition of secrecy to the Christmas drawing, I have noticed several things that I believe the Lord is using to teach me more about Him and about Christmas.

First of all, their determination to figure out who got whose name.  I mean, y'all, it has been so funny. Some just blatantly ask who got their name, and I remind them it is a secret.  One child, my ever-inquisitive oldest daughter, used Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction and guessed every single one.  She is too smart for her own good, but at least she is keeping her knowledge to herself.

The secrecy makes the gift so much more appealing.

Think back to that night, two thousand years ago, when sweet Mary carried the most wonderful secret of all inside her womb.  Imagine those first moments when she held her son, the Son of God, wet and red and wailing in her arms and looked in awe at her husband.  Imagine Joseph and Mary in the quiet of the stable, Joseph's strong body sheltering Mary from the elements, staring in awe at the newborn baby Jesus.

Then there were the shepherds, just minding their own business when the night sky lit up with countless angels proclaiming the Promise.  Has it ever struck you that no one else in all of Bethlehem saw what the shepherds saw?  This glorious show was just for them.  They were told the secret.  They alone were told to go and unwrap the gift God had sent just for them.  And they went.

And the Magi?  Following the Star, knowing it led somewhere, to someone who would turn out to be the most important human being to ever live.  The gift was theirs, if only they were willing to go.  And they went.

Now what if God had done it differently?  What if He had opened up the sky and made a grand announcement to all the world that "Today I am coming down.  I am going to become a man and live a perfect life and die for you, K?  Get ready and I'll be there in 3...2...1..."

It's just not the same, is it?  There is something about a secret.  There is something about knowing you are being given privileged information, knowledge of something wonderful that is just for you, a gift hand-picked by someone who knows you best because it is exactly what you needed, a gift that you carefully unwrap because something precious is inside.

As the redeemed of the Lord, we are the privileged ones.  Hand-picked for us, the Son of God, the greatest Gift, is ours.  But what do we all do when given a gift?  Do we hide it and tell no one about it?

No.  Of course not.  We pass it around.  We share it.  We tell our friends about it.  We celebrate and cherish the giver and the love that went into the selection of that gift.

Yes, friends, that is our calling this Christmas.  The world is so dark.  It seems that the news gets worse every day.  The labor pains are terrifyingly close together and we, the light of the world, have been given a gift.  We have been given the Light.

And here is the best news of all:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:5)

If even the rocks must cry out in praise, how much more should we, the redeemed,  refuse to be silenced in a world that so desperately needs the Light of Christ?  We have been made privy to the most beautiful secret that really isn't a secret at all.  We are called to shine the light into the darkness because darkness cannot overcome light.  

Light always wins.

Merry Christmas.

candle, light, Christmas, Jesus, light of the world, shine, advent, cradle to cross

Sunday, November 30, 2014


The last few days did not go as I had planned.
A bug invaded our home and 4 out of our 7 family members were down for the count.
Including me.

No one felt like doing anything.  At all.  So we didn't.
Thanksgiving leftovers sat uneaten, unappetizing to sick tummies.  Fevers refused to break and bodies ached with a virus that lingered too long.
I took advantage of energy when I had it and determined to decorate this house for Christmas, and do it right.  Box after box came down and I, the Christmas decorations hoarder, laughed at last year's version of myself who left this year's version a note in a plastic storage bag full of ornaments:

"Do not put out all those Alpine trees," I wrote to me.
"You will regret it."

In other words, keep it simple, stupid.

So I did.


Ribbon...yards and yards of it...stayed put in it's storage tins because after I draped silver and gold beads around our tree I looked at my 9 year old for advice:  "Should I put the ribbon around, too?"

She bounded up the stairs and tilted her head just-so.  With a kiss of her fingertips akin to Leonardo da Vinci she declared the tree perfect.

Perfect and simple.

Just like Him.

advent, candle, light, Jesus, christmas, flu, sick, simple, 1000 gifts

Light of the world, stepping down into darkness.  Jesus becoming one of us, one cell, one zygote, one embryo, one fetus, one newborn baby, yet all along never less than our one perfect Savior.  In the simplicity of a stable he came, surrounded by animals and dung and the smell of hay.  
Yet we dress it up so.  
We dress it up until it is no longer recognizable and the world steals the JOY and wraps it in glitter with a giant price tag deciding whether or not our purchases have been hefty enough to support Wall Street's habit.

But that night, there was just one Light.  One gift.  One cry.  

So tonight, on this first beautiful night of Advent, we with the feverish children gathered round and lit one candle.  We read the Song of the Stars and sang Hark the Herald Angels and the one who is all teen and tries to appear unemotional, he closed his eyes as he sang and I heard his voice crack as it bridged child and adulthood.  Another closed his eyes and worshipped, volunteering to pray from the depths of his sweet heart at the end.  Little girls sang clear and strong and the oldest managed through fits of painful coughing to join. Despite the distractions we managed to light the one candle and set our minds forward, realizing it is time to look for Him again.  

It is time to stop and breathe deep the scent of Frankincense and Myrrh, gifts fit only for a King.
It is time to put down the shopping list and look for the Gift that makes all others look like rubbish, the Gift that is eternal and worthy of anything we lay at His feet.
It is time to read ancient words penned by prophets, fulfilled to perfection by the One who keeps His promises.  Every single one of His promises.
It is time to sing old songs, tell true stories, and huddle close on cold nights with hot tea and a bag of cough drops on the nightstand...
because that uninvited guest?  
The virus that knocked us nearly to a standstill?  
In this season that had become altogether too busy it may have been exactly what the Great Physician had ordered after all.  

I don't know how you plan to celebrate Advent, but I encourage you to do it.  Take the time, even if it was not a part of your growing-up experience (it certainly was not mine).  You will treasure these days, these brief, unhurried moments where the faces of your most precious ones are illuminated by candlelight as you read and sing of the coming of Christ.  Yes, by all means, keep it simple.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Because I need this reassurance and you might, too.

We were driving to the airport after a quick weekend getaway. Dallas was riddled with fear and the fear was spreading, stretching spider-like arms in a web across the nation. Isis was beheading children, crucifying teenagers.  Pastors imprisoned for sharing the love of Jesus.  The world in which we are now raising our kids had become a scary, dark place.  Much darker than we could have ever imagined 20 years ago when our journey together was just beginning.  

We had spoken these words with a shake of our head many times:  "The world is falling apart."  In ignorance I have believed these words.  I have looked at what has become of my country and wondered how...why...

His phone rang and it was his mom...my faithful, always connected mother-in-law.  She was listening to the radio.  She had a quote from Anne Graham Lotz, who happens to be the daughter of Billy Graham. Mrs. Lotz was on a Christian radio show and discussing the events that are dominating today's headlines.  My mother-in-law shared the following quote:

"The world is not falling apart. The world is falling in place according to God's plan."

Suddenly my perspective began to shift.  Yes.  Of course.  Anyone who has read the book of Revelation or any of the New Testament for that matter can recognize what is happening.

The atrocities taking place in our country?  They did not take God off-guard.  He not only saw what was coming, he is the sovereign One, fitting all the puzzle pieces together as He prepares His Bride for the return of the One Whom our Soul Loves. 


My friends, all will soon be set right.

Every drop of martyred blood will be counted.  
Every life cut short will be avenged.  
Every child ripped into pieces and sucked out of its mother's womb will be tucked safely into the arms of the Lamb of God.  

Nothing is wasted.  

I don't know the day or the hour of my Lord's return, but I can tell you it is closer than ever.  The pieces are falling together.  The tapestry is being woven and, I believe, nearly complete.  The headlines scream and demand that we fear and five sets of eyes look at me wide and I remind them, God is in control.  We can trust Him.  We are safe, even when the world is not.  Whatever we suffer, whatever we lose, it will be worth it all.  Heaven...Jesus...will be worth it all.

I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.  Though the world says we are crazy and narrow-minded I know, I KNOW, in Whom I believe and I am thoroughly convinced that He is able to guard until the very last day what He has entrusted to me.  My husband, my children, my parents, my friends...we are all in the palm of His mighty hand and we can choose to live in faith instead of fear.  I can choose to give my worries over to my Father and stop trying so hard to fix what is broken in my own strength.  I can choose to BE, to let Him get all the glory, because if He is behind whatever He has called me to do then NOTHING can stop it.  Nothing.

Scripture references:  Rom. 1:16, 2 Tim. 1:12, Acts 5:39

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This is Life.

I grew up afraid of God.

He was a big, old man on a throne with a list of sins in his hand.  He watched me, eyes narrowed, displeasure clouding his white face, as I sinned.

"There she goes."


"Yep, I knew she would fail there."


"Wow.  I hoped she would do better than that.  Sigh."


I filled up His clipboard quickly and, by the time I turned 17, pretty much figured I'd be lucky to slip through the pearly gates.  Maybe, compared to others, I would be deemed "good enough."

I heard the message of Grace for the first time when I was 21.  At least, that was when it made it from my ears to my heart.  Like a drowning man I reached up from the murky waters of failure and sin and grabbed hold of Jesus' outstretched hand.  He changed my circle of friends, He changed the music to which I drove to work each day, and He changed my relationship with the man who would become my husband.  For another 21 years I would grow and learn and see Him work, yet still in the back of my mind was always a niggling fear.

Oh, I knew I was saved.  But I also knew my failures.   The times I ignored God.  The times I grieved the Holy Spirit.  The times when I took for granted the blessings in my life and wasted precious time that should have been spent with Him.  The times I yelled at my kids or ignored the email asking for volunteers because I had nothing to give.  I knew, and I knew that God knew.  I feared that Judgement Day would find me cowering before a disappointed God who would play back the film of my life, highlighting the failures and disobedience.  With a heavy sigh He would let me in, but only because He had to keep His promise for I surely would not deserve to be there.  Grace got me into Heaven by the skin of my teeth.  Grace did not, however, cover up my inability to walk consistently with God.

I have been a Christian for many years now.  I have taught my kids as much as I could that Jesus loves them. But still I struggled, when their sin nature reared its ugly head, to trust the security of their salvation.  How many of us are guilty of telling our kids, "You don't want to make God sad."

What a terrible lie.

I have held Grace at arms' length and fought for my salvation.

What a waste.

The past few months I have been besieged by the book of Romans from every side.  Our pastor has dissected it, I have worked on Bob Warren's study, and my husband (seeing my struggle) has encouraged me to dive deeper into the Word of God.  It's on the radio, on my Iphone.  It is everywhere, and it has changed me deeply.

Suddenly I am surrounded by Grace...the inescapable, ridiculous grace of a fiercely loving God.  Read Romans.  Chapter 5 says we have peace with God through Jesus.


While we were weak...while we were in the depths of ungodliness...HE DIED FOR US.

Peace is not conditional, it is positional.  It is knowing who I am in Jesus.  It is realizing that, when I fail, He still looks at me with eyes of love.  He is kind and soft-hearted toward me in all of my weakness because the punishment has already been dealt.  His Son took it all and I am FREE.

Why does this matter?  Wouldn't this make me feel like I have license to sin?  Well, Romans 5:20 tells me that is not the case.  Why?  Because, according to Romans 6, when I know who I am in Christ I am brought up to a new level of expectation.  Consider this:

Understanding grace means that I no longer try to become who I know I should be but do not believe I am. 

It means I realize who I am because Christ lives in me and I live up to WHO I AM.

Who God says I am.

When I believe what God says about me in Christ, I live up to the high expectation of being a child of the King.  A beloved child who happily represents the Kingdom because I know I did NOTHING to get here.  I could never pay the fee to obtain citizenship, but the Lover of my Soul paid it in full and I will spend the rest of my life loving Him and showing the world what life is like when Jesus rescues you from the pit.  Yes, I will fail.  I will forget and have to be reminded of who I am and Whose I am, but He will still look upon me with tender eyes because HE LOVES ME.  Every act of obedience is a treasure stored in Heaven that cannot be taken away.  He knows I am dust and handles me with incredible patience.  My failures have earthly consequences, but my eternity is solid.  HE LOVES ME.

Oh, how He loves me!

And this love pours freely, to me and to my family.  I can trust that the same God who holds me safe and works in my life to make me more like Jesus is doing the exact same thing in the lives of my children.  I can rest and let Him be God because I am a terrible substitute.  I can love with abandon and not qualify who gets to hear about Jesus based on my earthly perception of worthiness.  I can look at the world around me, the lost and dying who feel like God could never forgive them...never love them... and say, "You are worthy to hear the Good News because He made you and He loves you.  You don't have to clean up first.  If you surrender to Jesus He will change you from the inside.  He will make you want what He wants and lift you out of the pit of sin onto the Rock."

If I truly understand the love of Jesus, then I can actually love LIKE Jesus.  I can step back and let Him do His job.  I can be useful in the Kingdom because the life of Christ fills me and overflows into the lives of those around me.  I have nothing to offer on my own, but because of Jesus I have everything to offer.  This, my friends is a game-changer.

Grace = Freedom.

Jesus did not die to bind us to a set of Pharisaical rules.  He died to set us free.  We are free to obey out of love and not out of fear.  We are free to try and we are free to fail.

Studying Romans has been eye-opening for me.  Like my husband said, it is the key that opens up the rest of the Bible.  Social media has fallen by the wayside because, Y'ALL, we have the WORD of GOD at our fingertips and why the heck was I wasting my time finding out what my friends had for dinner when there is this TREASURE on my desk that holds the key to true life and joy?  Suddenly I realize how little I knew after 21 years of walking with Jesus.  I really didn't believe I could figure out a lot of this stuff (even with the help of the Spirit) but thought there were just some passages I would just never understand.  WHAT A LIE.  God is revealing Himself to me in a way that I have never before experienced.  With the aid of my Keyword Study Bible and Vine's Bible Dictionary I have begun to dig deep and I am addicted.  This.  This is awesome.  This is life.

I'm giddy with excitement.

Now I'm off to dive back into the Word while my kids nap.  :)

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Great Loss

They say that when someone loves on your kids, you as a parent are guaranteed to love that person in return.  Nothing warms my heart toward another like knowing they have poured into the lives of one of my children.  One of those people was a precious saint by the name of Bob Warren.

Bob changed the trajectory of countless lives, teaching what life looks like when you really live it for Christ. My two oldest kids were blessed to learn from him the past two summers and now...we are sad.  He was a Bible scholar in every sense of the word with a thick Kentucky accent.  He loved the quest for truth more than just about any teacher I have heard.  He taught our kids each summer...taught way above their heads, knowing that as they returned to camp each year their understanding would grow deeper and deeper.

In the words of my son..."When Bob talks it is like God is speaking through him directly to me."

So imagine our sadness and shock when we learned that Bob went home to Jesus today.  I have never been so sad about the passing of a man that I had never met.  Bob was special.  The presence of Christ in him was powerful.  There are many, many citizens in Heaven because they were led to Jesus by Bob Warren.

I never got to thank Bob in person, so tonight I am trusting Jesus to tell him for me.  Thank you, Bob, for the impact you have had on my family.  From your daily influence on my husband as he drives to work each day with your CD's playing to the way you allowed God to use you in the lives of teens and college students so deeply that they can point to a week with you as one of the formative moments of their lives...God has blessed many because of you.  May we never forget the lessons we have learned.  May we hold on to the Truth of Jesus, of grace and redemption and our incredible Father who holds us forever safe in the palm of His hand.  You have given freely the treasures of God's Kingdom.  My husband, my son, and my daughter are all stronger because of you.  And me?  I'm in the middle of your study on Romans, continually shocked at how little I knew and at the incredible riches of God's love for me.  Even from eternity you will continue to change lives because your teaching lives on.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And, Lord?  So many of us are having a hard time with this one.  Will you raise up a leader to continue what you started with Bob Warren? This mama really wants that for all the kids who were looking forward to BASIC Training next summer.  Hearts are broken tonight.  The grief weighs heavy.

Thank you, Lord, for Bob Warren.

*For more information about the ministry of Bob Warren, and to order study materials (which are worth their weight in GOLD) go to lifeonthehill.org.    You will be so glad you did.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Drawing close to a Dangerous God

There is the pregnant silence before a storm rolls in.  The trees wait expectantly and the brown sparrow chirps a warning...or maybe it is a herald.

August heat folds back onto itself as the cool front pushes in.  Trees sway and I feel small.  Very, very small.
The thunder booms in the distance.

I can smell the rain.

In the presence of power we are reminded of our weakness.  We are dependent for our very breath.

At any moment lightning could strike.  I could be taken out of this life in a split second.  But still I sit here in this rocking chair, watching the dark clouds take over the sky.  I shiver as the temperature drops drastically, yet I stay.

I want to watch the first drops drip from the leaves.  I want to see the branches burdenened with the weight of water.  I want to watch the rain fall horizontally, bullied by the winds.  I am safe under the cover of my porch.  Sort of.

Perceived safety is enough to keep me out here.

My daughter hums as she finishes her math lesson.  She despises math, but somehow, out here, waiting for the rain, she hates it just a little less.  She chatters between problems, her pencil pausing.  I cherish this moment of peace.

The wind blows harder now, the treetops swaying to and fro in a beautiful, majestic dance.

The smell of rain grows stronger.  It is so close.

I can feel the tension in the air, like the sky is going to burst open at any second.  My daughter notices that it has become so dark that the street lights have come on.

rain, danger, lightning, thunder, God, safe, dangerous, storm

The wind picks up and the thunder booms loudly. In this mundane moment, sitting on my front porch, I am keenly aware of God's pleasure.  He sings over us with the winds and the thunder and His love causes my spirit to swell.  He is safe and He is good and I can stay out here.  He is fierce and He is strong and He is majestic in power, but He is safe.  It is not my perception, it is reality.  He is wild and joy.  He is life and fullness and oh, how I love Him right now.

My daughter jumps up, victorious.  "Done!"  She dashes indoors to put her math problems into the computer and I jump as a crack of thunder rolls from west to east.  Lightning flashes and in the same instant a deafening peal of thunder nearly knocks me out of the chair.

That was very, very close.

Here it comes.  Dead branches drop and loose leaves flutter to the ground.

God is dangerous.  How can I feel this warm in the presence of a God who could take me out in one instant?

Here comes the rain now.  It is a torrent.  It is loud and the street is instantly running with rivers of murky water that will soon run clear.  I feel the mist blowing in on the porch and marvel at the relief felt in the air. At last the dam has broken and the cleansing has come.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  (Rom. 5: 1-2)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Year 5. I need a moment.

August.  Summer's last hurrah before the cool days of Autumn begin to creep in.

I, for one, can hardly wait.

The squirrels seem to think Autumn will be early.  Hickory nuts started dropping in early July (a month earlier than normal) and the squirrels are making hay with my deck...dropping discarded nuts by the thousands and preventing any of us from venturing outside barefoot.  Local schools have begun their year and I watch the busy rush from my front porch, thankful for another year that I don't have to haul five kids out the door at 7:30.  I don't know how long God will call us to this life, but I will enjoy it and milk it for all its worth while I can.

This year is proving to be a bit more complicated as far as our schooling goes.  I no longer have little ones.  My babies are 2nd graders.  (How are they that old?)  Their learning needs increase each year and trying to teach five kids in four different grades is tricky.  Day 1 was Monday, but it was just orientation for my big kids' tutorial. Yesterday was our first attempt at the new books and, well, it was a bit rough. There is only 1 of me and 5 of them and they ALL have questions...at the exact.same.time!  So, after discussing options with my big kids, we are going to try something a little different today.  I'll start with the younger three.  Handwriting, Math, Reading...get the bulk of those done early.  The oldest two will be allowed to start an hour later (yes, they are thrilled.  What teenager doesn't want more sleep?) so that they are not sitting around waiting (read: impatiently) for my help while I try to get the younger kids' work finished and tucked away. Hopefully that will stretch me a little less, give the younger kids fewer interruptions (and better take advantage of their early morning attention spans), and allow the younger ones more playtime outdoors while I help the older ones with their more difficult subjects.  (7th grade math, you are dead to me.)

Many people homeschool multiple kids, but I venture to guess it would be easier if the ages were more spread out.  It would also be easier if your kids were into activities like chess, model building, or neuroscience.

Mine are not.

They are athletic little creatures.

They like to be active and rowdy and expel lots (LOTS) of energy.  Sitting for hours at a desk is the kiss of death for an active kid.  So, hopefully, my little experiment will work.  I'll let you know.  :)

And now...back to my coffee.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Weedlings {Picking the battles that are really important}

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”  Matthew 13:24-30

weed, weeds, garden, glove, lettuce, parenting, picking battles, God, Jesus, Mom, Dad

In early Spring, when the mulch is still soft and new plants have just emerged green and tender, I love to walk through my flower beds and breathe in the scent of fresh air.  The seedlings are so bright and clean and hold the promise of Summer in their unfurling leaves.  I step carefully and bend to touch the edge of a bright leaf when I notice an unwelcome sight.  Weeds.  Hundreds of them.  The result of a million acorns and hickory nuts falling from our tall trees, overwintering successfully among the Hydrangeas and Hostas.  As they break through the top layer of black mulch they drive me nuts.  There are just so many.  How will I ever have time to pull them all?

Years ago I would begin the frustrating task immediately, but the "weedlings" were so fragile they broke apart when I yanked on the stem...leaving the root intact.  An intact root is highly capable of producing a new, stronger weed.  One that is more difficult to pull up.  But I learned after a couple of frustrating weeding sessions that if I wait, if I let the weeds continue, most of them will die off on their own.  The ones that are left will be sturdy enough to withstand being pulled up in one piece...roots and all.  I won't have to break out a shovel or throw out my back by digging because they will come up relatively easily.

With this in mind, read Matt. 13: 24-30 again.  Though it originally refers to weeds within the Body of Christ I believe the principle is extremely applicable to our parenting!

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared 
to a man who sowed good seed in his field..." 

God gives us babies and we pour ourselves into them.  We teach them yes ma'am, please and thank-you and rejoice when they say "Jesus" for the first time.

"but while his men were sleeping, 
his enemy came 
and sowed weeds 
among the wheat 
and went away."

Then one day, your precious 18 month old looks you right in the eye when you say "don't touch" and...they touch it.  With joy. 
Or your three year old, who has never given you a moment's trouble suddenly blames their little sibling for something you saw them do with your very own eyes.  Without batting an eye they lie to you and you begin to fear they will end up in prison.    For. The.  Love.
What has happened to your precious, innocent baby?  It's called a sin nature.  They were born with it.  You will see much more of it in the days to come.  Trust me.

"So when the plants came up and bore grain, 
then the weeds appeared also. 
And the servants of the master of the house 
came and said to him, 
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? 
How then does it have weeds?’  
He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ "

Oh yes, the enemy did it all right.  But this isn't a "the devil made me do it" moment.  It is an "even my little angel needs Jesus" moment.  Yes, these are our babies.  We prayed for them since before we knew of their existence.  We prayed over them from the moment they were placed in our arms.  We prayed with them every chance we got.  But in the midst of these sweet years, just as our little ones begin to know who Jesus is and sing of his love for the little children, "all the children of the world," sin has popped up in the fertile soil of their hearts and is growing alongside the fruits of the spirit that we have worked so hard to cultivate.  How has this happened?  Did I fail?  Did I miss something important?  How could my baby lie/hit/disobey/show blatant disrespect?  Of course, they don't understand the ramifications of sin.  They probably don't even know (yet) what the words means.  But they have learned that disobedience is exciting and maybe even fun and they are going to push every boundary to exert that strong will.  Often.  And if you think the enemy won't use every opportunity to woo them his direction, you are dead wrong.  If you are raising your kids in a Christian home expect warfare.  Lots of it.  

"So the servants said to him, 
‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ "

For a long time I had the parenting philosophy I called "Nipping it."  I dealt swiftly and decisively with behavior issues.  I was determined my kids would not follow the patterns of the world.  I wanted them to stand out and stand strong for Jesus from the time they were old enough to know right and wrong.  It worked pretty well.  Clear boundaries are very important.  Our kids crave them.  They feel safe with them. So I'm not saying "nipping it" didn't work.  It did, for the most part...at least for a while.
But now I have teenagers.  Nipping it?  It has gone the way of pull-ups and special blankies.  My kids have their own relationship with God.  Sometimes it looks different than mine.  Sometimes they disobey Him and do what they know they should not do.  My gut response is to swoop in and "nip it."  But teenage issues are different.  If I (being the control freak I am) insist on dealing with every single misbehavior and making mountains out of molehills, I end up cutting off the "top" of the weed...but that root?  The sin?  It is still intact. Insisting on control creates pushback.  It only makes things worse.  My constant preaching begins to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher..."wah wah wah wah"...and they tune me out.  This is dangerous, and here's why:

"But he said, ‘No, 
lest in gathering the weeds 
you root up the wheat along with them. 
Let both grow together until the harvest, 
and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, 
Gather the weeds first and 
bind them in bundles to be burned, 
but gather the wheat into my barn.’”  
Matthew 13:24-30

Jumping on every sin, insisting everything be dealt with, talked through, and confessed will damage good fruit.  That is not grace.  We are not and have never been asked to be our kids' Holy Spirit.  If your child has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior you can rest on this verse:  John 14:26 says, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."    

If your child has not yet accepted Jesus, then your efforts would best be spent in focused prayer for their salvation.  Because, without the Holy Spirit, dealing with their everyday sinful behavior is only dealing with the surface issues. (Let me be clear...I'm talking the small stuff here.)  Until their heart is transformed they are going to behave like a sinner because that is what they are.  YES you set boundaries.  NO you do not tolerate destructive or hurtful behaviors in your home.  YES you establish clear consequences for poor choices.  I am not talking about drugs/alchohol/sex.  I'm talking about the day-to-day junk that weighs us down as our kids pass into the teen years.    Like that song that is dumb but not immoral.  (What does the Fox Say...can I get a witness??)  The refusal to eat lettuce.  (But they will at least eat green beans.)  The whining, fighting, and tug-of-war between siblings.  (Then half an hour later they are draped across each other watching a movie.)  These are "weedlings."  They will probably die off on their own.  
It is not my job to fix my child's sin problem.  It IS my job to model grace, to look upon them with love and approval for who they are and who I know God created them to be, to pick the important battles so that we stand a better chance of being heard by our children.  As they grow up, there ARE some hills worth dying on-willful disobedience is one of them.  Drugs/alchohol/sex...do I really need to clarify this?  Those are TREES, not weeds.  We don't just pull those, we chop them down and grind the STUMP for crying out loud.   
Harping on every negative behavior, though, could choke off or even uproot the good fruit God is growing in my kids.  They will not only grow deeper roots of disobedience, they will stop listening to us altogether.  Not every sin/behavior issue/act of disrespect needs to be addressed by Mom and Dad.  I am finding that, by resisting the urge to pull every.single.weed as soon as it surfaces, most of them die off on their own.  The ones that are left? Those are the ones that demand my attention and prayers.  Those are the biggies, and I can co-labor with Jesus as He works to refine my kids (AND ME!) into His image. 

As you walk through the garden of your family, weed carefully.  Nourish that tender fruit and trust God to reveal the weeds that need to be pulled.  You will spend much more time enjoying your children and your Father in Heaven will have an easier time being heard (because you won't be constantly talking over him!)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lessons from the Lego Man

On my desk, next to the blue tape dispenser, sits a legless Lego man.  He is a leftover from one of the boys' Hobbit playsets.  He drove me crazy for days.  I would give him to a kid to put away but he just ended up discarded again.  Not that he is not played with.  He is.  He is just never (EVER) put away.

But tonight, as I sat him on my desk, I had a smile playing across my face.  I realized something today. Something that I think is valuable, even worth sharing with you.  Because I think many of us have fallen into a trap that we don't even realize has us ensnared.  It is not inherently evil, but it has the potential to rob us of joy.

I love a clean house.  I enjoy decorating and arranging and rearranging things.  I love the feel of a freshly tidied room and a beautifully made bed.  I love when there is a place for everything and everything in its place.

Except, as my husband will lament, my shoes.  I confess I am a lazy shoe person.  I kick them off in random places and soon have a pile to carry back to my closet.  It drives him crazy.


I tend to get crazy when my house is cluttered.  It puts my brain in a fog and I may even snap at my kids to "put it away for the eleven hundredth time."  Because we homeschool, we have endless opportunites for messes and let me tell you, the house can get out of control in the time it takes me to go to the mailbox and back.  I'm not exaggerating!  I have a ransom box where stray items are "jailed" and the owner has to do a job to earn them back.  It works pretty well as long as I am consistent.  When I am consistent I am less frustrated and they are more likely to keep their stuff when it belongs because they know I mean business, but when I get lax it is painfully obvious very quickly!  (5 kids plus 3 dogs...things can go south faster than you can blink)

But I digress.

Like every mom we have the constant battle of keeping our homes presentable.    We want our kids to be responsible and good stewards of their belongings.  We want them to be thankful for what they have and desire to take care of it.

But like many other moms I often set too high of a goal.  And it usually comes after looking at a home magazine of some sort or watching HGTV.  I see these beautifully decorated, always presentable and pristine homes and find myself frustrated by the lack of cooperation from my brood of messy chicks.  I lament the Hot Wheels on the floor and the bikes strewn across the back yard because I dream of the Shabby Chic perfection on the magazine cover or the photo frames arranged at just that right angle for viewing from the sofa.  I imagine a kitchen where the sink is sparkling and empty and the dishes are all put away and there are not grease splatters from this morning's breakfast still on the stove at dinner time.

Then I ran across the funny little Lego Man.  Why didn't I sigh in frustration this time?  Because I had a realization that one day...way too soon...there will be no more Lego Men on my floor.  One day the bikes will no longer lay in the grass and those photos in the frames will be aged because my children will be grown.  What will they remember about me? About home?  Do I want them to remember being constantly barked at to put their stuff away or that I cared more about the pillows on the couch than their comfort during a family movie?  Do I want them to be afraid to experiment with cooking for fear of messing up my perfect kitchen or remember discovering the joy of a perfect cookie that they baked all by themselves?

I've stopped buying home magazines.  I haven't watch HGTV in months after they cancelled the show featuring the brothers who held strong Christian beliefs.  I didn't realize until after some time had passed without watching decorating shows that those things bred discontent in my heart!  They give us unrealistic views of home and life!  Now, I also dream of being a farm girl, thinking that if the kids could just roam free and learn to build treehouses or fix tractors or something they would not want to play video games any more and my floors could stay clean for 34 seconds.  They would be so blissfully tired by evening that they would fall into bed with a smile and offer to wake up early to milk the goats because they JUST LOVE FARM LIFE SO MUCH.   I lament living in the city, wishing I had chickens and goats on about 10 perfect acres of land, but the reality is I LIKE being a mile from Kroger.  I LIKE that my dearest friends live just down the street.  I LIKE having a bug-free house and a snake-free yard!  I LIKE chickens and goats, but I do NOT like critters. (spiders, snakes...y'all even the thought makes me cringe!)  That being said, I would still be thrilled to have land and animals, but I have to accept where I am now.  My home is a gift, dirty floors and all.  I may not have perfect neighbors or the friendly neighborhood comraderie that is more often found in rural communities, but we have an acre.  In town.  We have tall trees that shade us in summer and a play room that gives the kids a place to land in the winter.  That mess upstairs that causes me to stay downstairs?  It is part of the story of our home.  We are a loud, messy crew.   I have to let my kids be kids, teach them to clean, teach them to care for their things, but also teach them that our home does NOT have to be perfect to be welcoming.   So there is a pile of towels on the couch.  Who cares if the dog shed on the rug again?  I'll get to it...but for now I need to go outside and get my hands dirty in the garden.  I need to smile at my daughter as she shows me the same trick on her scooter for the 80th time.  I need to sit on the front porch with my son and listen to his tall tales.  I need to hear my teenager spill the details of whatever story he is telling me because he is sure to clam up again tomorrow and that opportunity will be gone.  Some things are needful right now.

Having a picture-perfect house is not one of them.

Balance.  It is all about balance, which is difficult in a world that bombards us with shiny perfection.  But taking my eyes off the world's idea of a successfully run home and looking at the faces at my dinner table make it abundantly clear where my focus should be.

Live well.  Laugh often.  Love much.

Appreciate the visits from the Lego Man.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Look up, Mama.

This afternoon I was meandering through my flower beds just before my husband arrived home from work.  I often walk around the perimeter of our house, looking for new blooms, pinching off spent ones, or replacing mulch where a squirrel has been digging for nuts long-buried.

As I walked I noticed something.  Just past the Japanese Maple, near the Nandina that somehow reappeared after being dug up 4 years ago (I decided that it proved it's resilience, so now it thrives in it's odd spot behind the dwarf Magnolia) was a thick patch of weeds.  They were seedlings, actually, of the tall oak that dropped acorns last Fall.  I squeezed between an Autumn Fern and an almost-blooming Hydrangea and pulled up the unwelcome guests.  As I straightened back up from my crouched position a sweet smell wafted across my nose and I almost jumped in surprise.

Where is that coming from?

It smelled like perfume.  Delightful.

I went over to a just-opened Hydrangea bloom and took a sniff.  It smelled nice, but it was not what struck me as I was pulling the weeds.  I looked around to try to identify what was producing such loveliness and spotted a huge white bloom.

magnolia white bloom God weeds

I was completely taken aback.  I thought the magnolia blooms had all faded away.  Peak season for Magnolias around here is usually in May and, as you are well aware, we are into the second week of June.   I had stopped looking for the blooms.

I leaned in to take in the scent.  It was exactly what had caught my attention.  It was perfectly perfumey and strong and one step back revealed two more blooms...the last holdouts before Summer heat sets in and wilts them away.

There is a saying that goes like this:  "One is nearer to God's heart in a garden than anywhere else."

Today I felt that, for He revealed something beautiful to me right there where I stood.

How often do I miss beauty because of the weeds?  How easily do I become frustrated at the difficulty of maintaining order, of training my children, of dealing with negative habits or even willful disobedience?  

It is too easy to focus on the work.  When our hands get dirty and there is grit under our fingernails and blisters on our palms, we groan at the burden that is harder than we feel we can bear.  The weeds seem endless at times...pull one up and three more grow in it's place.  Our knees become calloused and numb and we just stare at the stubborn ground that refuses to release the roots and look to see if there is a "special tool" or an easier way to do this.  Surely there is a book somewhere that tells us "5 steps to a weed-free life" or something like that, right?  Spring has passed and the sweetness of early childhood has faded and we think of all the things we would do differently if we knew then what we know now.  

Or would we?

For if we look up...

Look, Mama.  Look up.

There.  Do you see it?  While you were on your knees pulling weeds, a bud has formed.  It is just beginning to open.  Yes, I know there are more weeds that demand your attention...but look.  All of that work is paying off.  You are tilling fertile ground and there is a bloom!  It is fragrant.  Take a deep breath.  Remember that scent that caught your attention.  Yes, Spring is ending but those blooms?  They are today's reward.

Every weed you pulled was sucking life from the roots of that tree.  You kept at it, and you will keep at it until they no longer grow back...which may not happen this side of Heaven.  But still we have to keep weeding, we have to not grow weary in well-doing because God is creating beauty just above us.  While you are bent low He is opening up a blossom bigger than your open hand.  Stop.  Take a long look and rejoice for the Lord your God is growing a Son and Daughter right before your eyes.  Your labor is not in vain, sweet mama.  

OUR labor is not in vain.  

Keep working.  But don't forget to stop and breathe in the scent of joy that emanates from your children.  When your teenager hugged you hard at bedtime?  That is a bloom.  When your child who struggled to attach let you carry her sleepy body in your arms and kiss her goodnight?  That is a bloom.  When you received that note telling what a blessing your child was to someone today?  That is a bloom.  Rest now and take in the beauty of your garden.  There will be plenty of weeds to pull tomorrow.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Best. Coffee. Ever.

If you are on Facebook very often, you may have seen the article that floated around a few weeks ago about adding butter to your coffee.

Yes, I said butter.

If you do an internet search you can easily find all kinds of information about it.

When one of my friends shared the article I was intrigued.  I had just begun the "Trim Healthy Mama" eating plan (more about that in another post) and this seemed to very possibly fit in with my new, healthier habits.

So, of course, I tried it.  I love coffee and I love butter.  But together??

Um...hello, delicious!

There was only one drawback for this coffee lover.   The coffee didn't "look" right.  I'm a half and half lover, and the coffee with oil floating on top look weird even though it tasted very good.  So I improvised.  And the result?

Well, try it for yourself and tell me what you think!

Here is the recipe.

Vanilla Butter Joe

1 cup good coffee (I use fresh ground Ethiopian coffee.  Delish.)
1 tsp Kerrygold grass fed butter  (You MUST use grass fed butter to get the health benefits!)
1 pinch Stevia extract powder
1/2-1 scoop Swanson's vanilla whey protein powder

Mix well and drink hot!  

Easy peasy, and so very tasty!

The best part of this drink is you are getting protein and healthy fats, which keep you satisfied longer. (Satisfied=less likely to snack=more likely to shed poundage)

You can also play with this recipe, blending it in a Magic Bullet to make it frothy or cooling it down and blending with ice to make a Trim Healthy version of the Frappucino.  Coconut oil is also a good source of healthy fats.  And flavors?  Just imagine the yummy versions you could come up with using different extracts...chocolate, almond, hazelnut, peppermint. The possibilities are endless!

Have fun experimenting!


Monday, June 2, 2014

Peace with God

Growing up, my mental picture of God was that of an angry old man holding a clipboard with a list of sins.  He angrily checked them off as I committed them.  By the age of 13 I thought being baptized would wipe the slate clean and I could start over.

By 17, I had given up.  I lived like the world all week, then put on my good girl clothes on Sunday morning in hopes of appeasing the "old man" upstairs in case I died in a car accident or something.  I was miserable.

At age 21 I met the man who would become my husband.  Funny, because neither of us were exactly following Jesus, but somehow through the chaos of dating and navigating our feelings he led me to Jesus.

Sept. 23, 1993.  It was 2:00 in the morning.  I was in the midst of another cry session over I-don't-know-what.  But I remember him saying, "don't you know you will go to Heaven?"

Incredulously I responded, "How can you know?"

Because I had been taught that every sin sent you straight back to Hell.  God was keeping count and he had zero tolerance for my mistakes.  I was walking a thin line and falling on the wrong side more often than not.  I was constantly teetering on the brink of eternal damnation despite my desire to feel safe.

That night, I prayed to God, asking Jesus, to be my Savior.

That night everything changed.

I have never been the same.  The struggles I had then are not there now.  I have different struggles, but the trajectory has (thankfully) been upward by the grace of God.  But still, in the deepest part of my heart, has been a niggling fear.  A knowledge of how often I fail Him and that one day I will see Him face to face and everything I have done or left undone will be laid bare.  I know I will go to Heaven, but to live with the knowledge of how many times I threw away a blessing, of what could have been if only I had been obedient made my heart ache.

Last Sunday morning I sat in church between my husband and Miss S, our precious friend who rides with us each week.  Pastor Barry began his summer series and I settled in, looking forward to reinforcing the important basics of my faith.  He was speaking from Romans 5, which I have read many times.

I should know better than to feel too familiar with a Scripture.  The Word of God is, after all, living and active, isn't it?

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, 
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  
(Romans 5:1)

I have peace.  Present tense.  I have peace with God, no matter how I feel in the moment.  When God looks at me, he doesn't just push aside the sin and choose to ignore it.  No, (OH what GLORIOUS TRUTH!) my Father in Heaven looks upon me, seeing NO SIN.  He sees me as I am...spotless, free, loved, His own. How?  Because JESUS PAID IT ALL.

This.  This rocked me to the core, more deeply than it ever has in 21 years of knowing Him.  I am at peace with God.  My peace is through Jesus, not through anything I have done!  And this truth?  It trickles down.
For you see, the inability to trust His acceptance of me has affected my ability to trust His acceptance of my children.  Oh, how easily legalism creeps into my parenting.  In the effort to prevent my kids from making the same mistakes I made as a teen I find myself micromanaging them, trying to parent them into holiness.

I have been foolish.  This failure of trust on my part most likely results in my children seeing God just like I did...as an angry old man with a clipboard just waiting for them to screw up.  (Which they will.)

But now, there is this calm in my spirit that has made me able to trust Him with my kids on a whole new level.  All of my kids have accepted Jesus.  All of my kids, no matter what phase they are going through or how many doubts cloud their thinking or how many times they use "that tone", are at peace with God.
(Now, they may not be at peace with me, but that is another story!)  
He is pleased with them.  He looks upon them through the filter of His precious Son and I can trust Him with every aspect of their lives.

I can trust Him to turn around a sour attitude.
I can trust Him to peel the scales from angry eyes
I can trust Him to give them the gift of faith and the desire to follow Him out of love and not because I convinced them that it is what they should do.

I can trust Him to do with my kids exactly what He did with me.

Which also means...I can rest.  I can love them and pick better battles.  I can train them up and trust that resistance and even anger are part of the process of maturing and that God will use even my failures to refine them and make them like Jesus.

Oh mamas, if only we could all grasp the freedom that awaits.  Even though this is a truth I have "known" and even attempted to teach my kids, it has hit me on a whole new level this week.  I feel like I am just beginning to digest this.

We are at peace with God.
We, who have shaken our fists and rebelled...
who have taken for granted the little hearts in our care...
who have snapped in anger...
who have neglected the best for the not-so-good...
who have mismanaged hours that we can never reclaim...
who have doubted God's ability to fix what is broken...
we can rest.

I want to shout from the rooftops!  I want to shatter the chains of legalism that bind so many of us and scream in the face of the tyrant who tries to shackle us with man-made rules that our God is a god of GRACE and MERCY!  He loves us with an everlasting love...not dependent on our performance...and underneath us (oh, sisters, just envision this will you?) are His everlasting arms.

He holds us and He cherishes us and we are His beloved.  He is pleased with us because He is our Father and we never, ever have to doubt that...even on our worst days!

So now I challenge you, with this in mind, to read the rest of Romans 5.  Let me know what you think.  This may be nothing new to you, but if it is, I'd love for us to encourage one another in parenting with God's grace at the forefront of our minds.  After all, old habits are hard to break!  It's always easier when a gentle reminder floats your way.  :)

Have a wonderful, peaceful week my friends!