Thursday, December 10, 2015

Prostitutes and Princesses {Day 10}

We started reading our Christmas devotional a few days early this year because we always fall behind and I always get frustrated:)
Not that I am a control freak or anything.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp is hands-down my absolute favorite devotional that we have ever done.  It is both visually and literarily beautiful, stunning into smiling silence even my eight year old!
So today we read about Rahab.  The prostitute.  I explained very carefully (so as not to open up THAT can of worms) what a prostitute is.  I read about the red rope, the two spies, the promise made and kept, and the faith of a harlot that saved both her and her family.  I read about grace...beautiful, irrational, heart-changing grace and how God took a prostitute and turned her into a princess.  And not just any princess, but the great-great-grandmother of King David.  And not just the great-great-grandmother of King David, but the (as Ann so sweetly calls her) the "many-many-many-times great-grandmother of JESUS."

And do you know what blessed my soul the most this morning? The wide-eyed delight and gasp of shock that my precious youngest three let loose when they heard that.  And when we asked the question...of how Jesus has been a lifeline to us?  My eight year old Ethiopian princess said, "He gave me a family, a good family, so that I don't have to be stuck in Africa with no food."
My son looked at her with surprise.  "You really had no food?"
"No, I really didn't."
Oh,  my heart.  After five years home, this is the first time I have heard her speak this matter-of-factly about her past.  And it was not out of a need to be dramatic, but out of a realization of what is compared to what once was.

What gratitude filled my heart that this little girl can see the beauty that has come from her hard, how Jesus was the rope that led her to safety and hope.  That she looks at me know with eyes of love and quietly sits close when we read together so that her cheek is touching my arm.

This is grace...beautiful grace.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Absolutely Nothing {Day 9}

I'm playing catch-up today.  This is the last full week of the semester for my homeschoolers and next week is mid-terms for my big kids who go to "regular" school.

I have never been more ready for Christmas break.

Laundry has piled up to gigantic proportions, the house is a study in clutter 101, and one of the dogs keeps foraging through the trash and leaving the evidence behind.  Lovely.

I got behind on my Revelation devotional...totally knew that would happen because that is how I after I finish this little post I am taking pen in hand and getting caught up.

Presents are (mostly) wrapped, the house is lit by colorful LED's (my first year with those and they are blindingly bright!) and so far the Elf has managed to move almost every day, though sometimes at mid-morning if my kids haven't noticed him yet.  ;)

I am craving still.  I am craving quiet, fire lit evenings and no homework or basketball games.  As much as I enjoy watching my kids play sports, I love watching them laugh at A Christmas Story from their spot next to me on the couch even more.  Family time is hard to come by in a season that is not only the most wonderful time of the year, but it is also the busiest.

Christmas break is so close.  Just over a week away!  After that, we will CHILL the heck out.  We will sleep late and make cookies and eat too much sugar and get away from it all.  We will road trip and swim in heated pools and maybe even find a nice Whataburger on the way!  Doesn't that sound lovely?

So, I guess this post isn't really about anything.  It's like my own mini-version of a Seinfeld episode.  But, then again, maybe that is what we need.  Absolutely nothing but to be still.

Yes, my pen and journal await.  Revelation 8 and 9, here I come.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Shepherded {Advent Day 8}

"Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  Revelation 7: 15-17

Sometimes I read the news and I want to unsee everything I just saw.  I look at my children, at their peers, growing up in this hard, mixed-up, terror-infested world and worry threatens. Too many of them put on a good show, pretending there is nothing going on that should bring them to their knees in prayer and living life as if old-age is guaranteed.  Others, though the minority, have an inner maturity, an ability to see beyond the veil and long for the return of their Savior from a very young age.

I was once one of the former, choosing to ignore the potential of life being cut short, not realizing that life had not yet truly begun. God was distant and often displeased and I did not want to be near him.  I knew I didn't measure up to his standards and I wasn't ready to start trying.

Then something changed within me.  I began to grasp grace.  Maybe it is just the maturity that comes with adulthood.  Maybe it is watching my teenagers learn to navigate this hard world on their own.  Maybe it is the candid glances in the mirror when I see my wrinkles and gray hairs becoming more prominent.  But I just know that my focus has shifted.  I no longer hope Jesus waits until...whatever I thought I had to experience before I was ready for him.  Nope, as far as I'm concerned he can stop the madness right now and ride his white horse right into this world, whisking us all away in the twinkling of an eye.

We have a good, good shepherd.  He leads us to fresh water, to green grass.  He carries us through pain and tragedy and fear and rejection and death and promises eternity will be worth the journey.  Oh, how I long for that forever.  How I long to see my family and friends safely home and away from the hard of this life.

As Advent marches on, we can look forward in faith, in trust, in longing for the day that our faith will be made sight.  Our shepherd sees over every hill, across every valley, and he leads us gently.

Rest awaits, dear sisters.  When we are tired and stretched thin, we can turn our faces toward the One who holds the hanky and will gently wipe away every tear.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain...Hebrews 6:19

Monday, December 7, 2015

Coffee Stains {Advent Days 5-7}

It was the typical afternoon crash, especially for a Friday.  Too many late nights combined with too many early mornings had caught up with me and this girl was T.I.R.E.D.  My son had an occupational therapy appointment and I knew that, without a heavy dose of caffeine, I would be snoring in the waiting room.
We had a little time to kill so I took my three homeschoolers to a local coffee shop and got us all a treat.  I doctored my coffee up nicely and led everyone back to the car to drive across town to the Physical Therapy office.  As I sipped my African Skies it kept dripping in my lap.  The drink hole in the plastic lid was lined up with the seam of the cup and coffee was leaking every time I tilted it to my mouth.  I decided to try to turn the lid a little to get the seam on top (stupid me!) and, OOPS, the lid popped off and steaming coffee splattered all over me, all over my jeans and white sweatshirt.  Thankfully it didn't burn my skin but I was a mess and too far from home to turn around and get a change of clothes.  We had exactly fifteen minutes before the appointment so I darted a few blocks past the Physical Therapy office to Old Navy to hopefully find a cheap sweatshirt.
Talk about shopping to beat the clock!  I found a cheap and cute shirt, and grabbed a pair of jeans...even trying them on to be sure they less than ten minutes!  I paid, drove back to the PT office, and darted into the bathroom to change.  I walked out like I had planned to do this all along and stashed my stained and smelly clothes in the car, sitting down calmly to sip my coffee and fight sleep while my boy was in his appointment.

So tonight I was mulling this over and it struck me that there is a lesson in this mundane, coffee-stained story.  

When I came out of the bathroom with my new clothes on, there were different people in the waiting room than had been there when I arrived.  Those who saw me walk in saw the hurried, stinky version of me.  Those who saw me walk out saw me in new clothes...a signature sweatshirt and Rock Star cut jeans.  (High waisted...every over-40 woman's friend!)  They saw me sit quietly to finish the book I had been reading on my Kindle and probably thought I was a calm, laid back person.  They didn't see me yelling for wet-wipes as I drove down the road and hot coffee was steaming off my arms.  They saw the me that I like everyone to see, put-together and calm.

But you know what?  The frazzled coffee-stained mom is more the real me than the one in the new clothes.  Sure, I managed to hide the evidence in a plastic Old Navy bag in my car but those clothes are the ones I have worn for years.  Oversized, frayed and faded.  But when I got home, I still had to deal with the reality that those clothes needed to be washed.  The only other option would be to throw them away.

Do you see where I am going with this?

How often do I put on my calm, new-outfit self and pretend like I don't have coffee (SIN) stained clothes stashed somewhere?  Aren't we all guilty of being perky, bouncy, cheerleader Christians when we are really frazzled, frustrated, and faithless?  Why is it so hard to go out in public with stains?  Could it be because we think we are the only ones with them?

When I saw my friend this morning, a dear sister who I hadn't laid eyes on in person in a couple of years (even though we live in the same town), she quickly expressed concern and frustration with that child of hers who is clearly cut from different cloth than the others.  I saw the weariness in her face and felt so free in her presence because I know exactly what she is dealing with.  Loving someone who can be difficult, worrying that the struggle is the result of faulty parenting and just really wanting a break from the constant battle.  Yes, in her openness about her struggle I was put at ease to be open with mine.  Her lack of fear squelched mine.

This is how it is supposed to be!

When we let our brothers and sisters see our stains, maybe it helps them to reveal their own.  Maybe we are supposed to help each other do our spiritual laundry instead of stashing it in a plastic bag and pretending the smell is not coming from the back of our car.

Maybe, just maybe, this is what is meant by the words of Galatians 6:1-3...
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should
restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

I believe we are to look upon one another's stains with grace.  We are to help each other clean them up gently and make sure we are dealing with our own at the same time so that we don't become condescending.  God wants us to be real, to admit weakness and be strong for our brothers and sisters in their weak places while allowing them to be strong for us in our weak places.  
In this is safety.  In this is community.  In this is found true, Christ-honoring family.

coffee, spill, coffee cup, coffee stain, black coffee, messy, mess, clean up

Friday, December 4, 2015

Worth It {Advent Day 4}

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’

who was, and is, and is to come.”

Revelation 4:  2-8

This was the third year that I have asked God for (and received) a word theme for the new year.  In the past I had shared the word, but this year I did not because I felt like there was much unfolding that would need to take place before I would understand what God was teaching me.  I wrote the word in the front of my Bible and went on, not having a clue where this was going.  

The word was "worth."

Well, as I have been writing about over the past few days, this has been a hard year for me.  As I have confessed my weakness and looked at my days with fresh eyes I am struck with how God brings things full circle.  As the year draws to a close, here I sit...writing out the book of Revelation.  Writing it in cursive, taking my time, paying close attention to detail because every word is holy.  
Revelation...the vision given to John.  The glimpse of what is coming, what is in existence that we cannot yet see.  Encouragement to the Church as we await the promise of Jesus' return that he is, in fact, really coming for us. He will come soon and we are wise to long for that day.  God reminds us of what he has in store beyond this life with a foretaste of beauty beyond what our human imaginations can comprehend.

Picture it, or at least try.  Read the description of the throne.  A rainbow, flashes of lightning, peals of thunder.  A see of crystal clear glass.  God, seated on his throne surrounded by and the source of incredible beauty.

This, what John attempts to describe in his limited human vocabulary, is what awaits us!  Laundry, dirty floors, hurried schedules, persecution and hardships are all the Lord's refining work, preparing us for this...this unbelievably beautiful place that we will forever call home.  All the struggle, all the questions and fears, all the muddied stares into dim mirrors will be made clear and, my friends, all the junk we wade through now...even to the point of dying for our faith... will be WORTH IT.

Do you hear me?  It will be totally worth it!  Just as a new mama cradles her baby close immediately after the pain of childbrith or, in my case, after the heartache of parting with a grieving birthmother who walks away with tears streaming down her face, the joy is worth the pain.  Will the pain be remembered?  I believe so.  But it will be given the perspective of eternity, of how it fit into the tapestry that is our life in the context of the Kingdom of God.  As the world seems to fall into chaos and we fight to keep our families intact and teach our kids to think completely opposite of the twisted logic society uses to indoctrinate them we can lift up our eyes and fix them on Jesus.  We do our best but we remember, always, that it is not about us. Success or failure in any area of life is ultimately for the glory of God and we are only called to be faithful in whatever he places before us, not to measure our success by the world's standards.  My life may appear in some eyes to be a total disaster, but if I have been faithful despite the confusion then the One who writes my story will look at me and say, "Well done."

In the end, that is all that matters.  

Whatever the rest of my days hold, I can choose to trust God's loving hand is on me.  I can choose to believe his promises for me and those I love even when their lives don't look like I would have wanted them to because, the truth is, I didn't exactly walk a straight path to Jesus in my early years of life.  Far from it. Yet He brought me to himself and changed me from the inside out.  He has proven himself faithful over and over. In my life, and the lives of more people than I can count, God has taken rebel hearts and molded them into beautiful and strong servants.  When I don't trust him, I am choosing to ignore all the years he has spent proving himself to me.

But when I do trust him, I remember.  I remember the glimpse he gave to John, passed down to us over centuries.  I remember the stories of those who have gone before me, whose eyes lit up with wonder and smiles spread across disease-weary faces as they crossed of from this life to the next.  In that moment, with just one glance at glory, all the suffering was worth it.

For every one of us, no matter how trivial or extreme the suffering may be in the eyes of the world, Heaven will most certainly be worth it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mostly Dead {Advent Day 3}

     "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:  'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
     "I know your works.  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, then, what you received and heard.  Keep it, and repent.  If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you."  
Revelation 3:1-3

My friend, Sandy, invited me to a Facebook group this week that is doing an unusual Advent devotional.  We are writing out, by hand, one chapter of the book of Revelation each day.  So far, it has been wonderful.
It totally appeals to my inner nerd.  I love me some pen and paper.  I like to take notes as I read books, underlining important sentences or phrases, and I like to take notes in church because I remember the sermon much better if I have had my hands involved in listening.  One thing I hate for our kiddos is that computers and tablets are replacing handwriting in schools.  I think that is a big mistake and hurts their ability to learn.  There is something about the scratching of a pencil on paper that sends louder signals to the brain, cementing the information.
That's why this devotional seems to be so effective to me.  It slows me down.  I have to pay attention to details, spelling, punctuation, where paragraphs begin and end.  I am reading and re-reading as I go and passages that I know I have read in the past are jumping out at me, like the one at the top of this post.

I think about my life, about the internal struggles I have been facing and the terrible attitude I have had toward them.  Most people would tell me I am a good wife and mom, a fun one, that they envy my relationship with God and the good times my family has.  And those things are often true.
I have the reputation of being alive, but I have to admit that I have been, in the words of Miracle Max..."Mostly Dead."

From "The Princess Bride"

Sigh.  Walking around mostly dead is mostly miserable.  When you are mostly dead, your eyes and ears are closed.  You may be physically in the same room with a hundred people, but for all practical purposes you are alone.

But Jesus tells us in these verses that we have a CHOICE.  If we didn't then the following phrases would never have left his mouth!  He tell the church (and the mamas and the wives and the sisters and friends) to WAKE UP.  

"Wake up," he says with eyes blazing intense.  "Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die."  
In other words, we are on our way out if we don't do something and do it quickly!  

"I have not found your works complete..."
Sisters, we have fallen short.  We were trying to do it all without him (again) and over and over Jesus reminds us that, without him, nothing will be complete.  
But with him?  ALL things are possible.  He is the author AND finisher of our faith.  He didn't just save us then step back to see how we did on our own!  No, he wants us to work alongside him.  He wants us to step when he steps and stop when he stops.  Rest when he rests and keep our eyes on him through it all.

"Remember what you have received and heard.  Keep it and repent."  
This reminds me of King David's prayer, when he asked God to restore the joy of his salvation.  When I remember what I have received (salvation, mercy, grace, instructions in God's love letter that will guide me through every circumstance of my life) and when I choose to walk in it, repenting of my failures and unbelief when they rear their ugly heads, then I will be awake.
NOT dead.

Jesus says in the last sentence, "If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you."
Mostly dead mamas do not see or hear what is right in front of them.  Not only the lives of our families, but the fact that Jesus is right here, nearby, preparing to return at any moment.  If I am mostly dead, I will be utterly shocked when he shows up.  But if I am alive and my eyes are fixed on him?
I will see my King coming from a mile away!

Yes, I want to SEE.  I want to fully live right here, right now.  I want to be alive and eye to eye with this beautiful family that surrounds me.  Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.  I want to see you!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Choosing Contentment {Advent Day 2)

Isn't it funny how, when God starts convicting your heart about something, He comes at you from several directions at once?

I awakened early yesterday morning, did twenty minutes on the elliptical trainer while listening to a sermon online and catching up on my Bible reading plan, then logged off and didn't check social media ONCE until my alarm went off at 8pm, giving me permission to check my newsfeeds.  I enjoyed my kids, took the oldest for a quick run to Wal-Mart and took special notice of his deepening voice and his daily-growing height as we walked together, and went to bed proud of my bad self.

Except I didn't go to bed.  Well, at least not on the first attempt.  One delay after another and the next thing you know I was turning in at 11:30, which nixed any willpower I had to get up at 5:30 and work out.

I didn't even make it 24 hours, y'all.

So I got up as usual today.  I resisted the urge to snark when a kid copped a 'tude and worked through the day's lessons with my three homeschoolers.  At lunch I sat down and began to scroll...
WAIT just one darn second.
Scroll?  Didn't I set an alarm for 8pm to prevent this very thing?
I suck, y'all.  I totally suck at self-discipline.
I turned off my phone in disgust and sighed.  My youngest son walked up to me to tell me something and I made it a point to look him in the eye and smile, to kiss his beautiful, full lips before he walked away with a grin, and remind myself that I am not going back.  No way.

After our school day ended I sat down for some Bible Study time and turned on a podcast.  It was by Priscilla Shirer and, let me tell you, it was no accident that it is what I happened upon today. The title of the podcast is Surprising Satisfied and it was exactly what I needed to hear.

She talked about our terrible habit of striving, of always hurrying through life.  Especially during hard seasons. She said, "We sleepwalk through now in order to race to the next thing."
I am so guilty of this, on an almost daily basis!

In the years my husband was in medical training, I "couldn't wait" until he got out of school.  Then I "couldn't wait" until he was out of residency.  I "couldn't wait" to have kids.  Then I "couldn't wait" to have more kids!  Then I "couldn't wait" until he had a real job that actually paid all of our bills.  I "couldn't wait" til my kids were potty trained.

Do you see a pattern here?  Even in the midst of the sweetest seasons of my life, I always wanted more...the next good thing.  So she challenged me.  She said I need to resolve to:
1.  Embrace the current season of my life.  That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It includes the stuff that I was sure I "didn't sign up for" but that God apparently signed me up for because He filters everything through his big, loving hands.
2.  Maximize the time in this season.  Look my children in the eye, even when they are angry or seem to be rejecting everything I am trying to teach them.  Appreciate what makes them who they are.  Love my husband with all that I am.  Let the things that I have had to put on the backburner stay there until God brings them out to the front.
3.  Resist the urge to hurry through the hard times or circumvent the journey altogether.  Eucharisteo:  Ann Voskamp's sweet reminder that, whether in the easy or hard we are told over and over in Scripture to live a lifestyle of thanksgiving.  There is a reason for everything.  Hard has a purpose.  Without suffering we are a weak-kneed and useless people.  (And so are our children...but that is a whole other post!)
4.  Love with a spirit of contentment.  She defined contentment in a way that I have never heard before.  "Sufficiency that comes from the Holy Spirit."  It all boils down to trust, doesn't it?  Trust in the sovereignty of God, trust in the goodness of God, trust that he sees and knows and is using every circumstance, both good and hard, to conform me (or my family) to the likeness of His Son.  It is being calm, not striving to "just get through the day."  It is stopping and looking around for reminders that He is still at work just as He has always been.  He never sleeps, nor does he slumber.

I don't want to miss out on God.  I don't want to miss out on the here and now with my family.  I want to be a woman who is not blindsided by difficulty and ends up in the fetal position out of sheer panic.  That is no measure of faith.  I want to stand firm in the face of the storm, to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and let Him fight the battles instead of trying to wrench the sword out of His hand.  After all, that sword is way too heavy for me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Joylessness and the Cure {Advent-Day 1}

I have never felt less like putting up Christmas decorations than I did this year.  The lack of enthusiasm bothered me.  I looked in frustration at the boxes upon boxes of Christmas stuff that I have collected over nearly twenty years of marriage and felt burdened at the thought of having to get it all out then put it all away in January.

This is not my norm at all.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.  Jesus, lights, sparkly ornaments, Santas and Snowmen make me happy.  Or at least they did.

What was wrong with me this year?  Why the blahs?  Why would decorating my home feel like a chore instead of a joyous task?  My kids were excited.  They happily helped their daddy carry the boxes downstairs.  They excitedly unpacked their own special ornaments (We get them a new one each year) and set up their little trees in their rooms.  But me?  I felt like a grouch.  A Scrooge.

Bah, humbug.

Then a text came through from my sister-in-law.  It was a photo of their baby, staring in wonder at their tree, her beautiful face lit up by the lights.  My heart ached and I realized that my problem is me.
I keep wishing for what has passed and struggling with what is now.  I miss having babies and toddlers.  My youngest is eight and my oldest is fifteen and these parenting years are hard.  My biggest worry used to be getting them to like carrots or potty train.  Now it is driving, relationships, and preparing them for adulthood The years are growing very short.  The pause button has been pressed on some of my dreams and the delete button has been pressed on others.  I have grown weary and self-centered and resentful and the inability to be excited about Christmas for crying out loud is a terrible indicator of the junk lurking in my sinful heart.  I am tired.  Stretched thin.

Then Sunday came.

Sunday's sermon was unusual.  A British missionary told colorful stories in his thick accent and reminded us who know Jesus of the importance of the gospel while admonishing those who do not believe that, despite what the world tells them, Jesus is exactly what they need.  He told the story of being forced to get a shot as a child at the doctor's office and realizing as an adult that if the doctor had given in to his childish tantrum he would have died that year at the age of seven.  In his words, "He didn't give me what I wanted, but he gave me what I needed."

This has resonated with me, cycling through my mind over and over and over.  What, exactly, do I want? Peace in my home, children who love each other and love Jesus, time to write my book that is not even halfway finished, and a clean house.  This all sounds reasonable on the surface, but the Lord is digging deeper.  Uncovering the root of my frustration.  And the truth is, I want easy.

There.  I said it.

I want things to fall into place while I watch with a smile, for my kids to rise up and call me blessed and my husband to praise me in the marketplace but I have allowed the frustrations of these years to rob me of my joy in serving.  I have stopped investing blood, sweat and tears and just settled for bitterness.  I have not exercised in weeks, stay up too late scrolling through my news feed, and long for the early years of parenting when my babies adored me and I happily wiped up their messes because I was just so thrilled to be a mama that I would do anything for these little angels in my charge.

King David prayed in Psalm 51, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit."  He had sinned with Bathsheba and was coming to the Lord in repentance.  He knew he had become ineffective for the kingdom of God.  That is why he continued by saying, "Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You."

My children are watching me.  What are my actions or inactions telling them?  Do they feel treasured, worth sacrificing sleep, time, and energy for?  Or do they feel like they are burdens to me?  Oh, how it grieves my heart to think of all the ways I have failed this year.

A joyless Christian is an ineffective evangelist.
A joyless mother cannot effectively lead her children in the ways of Christ.  

Now, lest you think I have disliked being a mom this year, I want to be sure to tell you I have not.  I have loved so much of the time I have been given with my children this year.  There have been beautiful milestones and moments of tenderness that I will forever treasure.  But my lack of joy as Christmas approaches caused me to stop and realize that sin was lurking and, unless I face it head-on, it will grow and continue to wreak havoc in my life.

So, how do I combat this?  How do I replace bitterness with joy?

Step 1.
Get off of social media.

Ok, ok.  We have all done "fasts" and that is not what I am talking about here.  Facebook is a part of modern communication.  Without it I would lose touch with too many people I care about.  But how often do I need to check it?  Not as often as I do, I assure you.  In the time I have spent mindlessly scrolling through my news feed, how many books could I have read?  How many pages could I have written?  How many times could I have read the Bible?  How many games could I have played with my kids?  So my plan is to put social media where it belongs.  I will set an alarm on my phone for once per day and I will only check my news feed at that time.  I am turning off all push notifications, etc, in order to make it less tempting.

Step 2.

I have GOT to make this a priority again.  First of all, I am not getting any younger.  Eating healthy is good but not enough.  My Dad had quadruple bypass surgery a couple of months ago and, because he has always been so active, he recovered in record time.
Would I?
I am going to set my alarm and get up earlier.  I have to.  If I don't exercise first thing in the morning it simply will not happen at all.

Step 3.

I am writing a book.  I'm thirteen chapters into it.  It is never going to finish itself so I am going to have to set aside time for it if I really want to complete it.   And this blog!  I mean, I really enjoy telling you what is on my heart and creating a community of women who encourage one another.  But I don't write often so most of you probably forget to even check because there is rarely anything new here!   Remember the decision to set my alarm and get up earlier?  I can use a few of those minutes to write, as well.

Step 4.
Pray and read God's Word.

This is really step one, but because of my messed-up priorities this has fallen aside...again.  Satan has had a heyday with me.  "Keep her busy and the first thing she'll drop is prayer."  Yep.  He was right.  But I don't have to be such an easy target, do I?  Short, desperate prayers become my norm when I am stretched thin. But God wants more from me.  He wants time.  He wants relationship and intimacy.   Kinda hard to have that with someone who never actually talks to you or lets you talk to them, right?

Step 5.

I was a really fun mama to littles.  As they have gotten older, I have become less fun.  In fact, the lack of exercise, sleep, and joy has made me grouchy.  I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.  I want to run with my babies and splash in the pool.  I want to care less about a clean house and build relationships that are solid and forever.  I want my husband to look at me with pride and take joy in the lighter atmosphere of our home.  I realize that, because I am home with kids all day, I have the power to set the tone of our home.
It is time to dance again.

What do I want?  My flesh wants easy.  But God, He knows what I need.  He knows that, without pruning, there can be very little new growth.  He is pruning me.  It is painful.
But it is what I need.

If you are struggling with finding joy this season, will you join me?  Comment with your name and what you plan to do to combat the joylessness and let's pray for one another.  Share this post with your friends and encourage them to get a game plan.  Let's make this Christmas Season a time of fresh beginnings.  Like my baby niece who looked at wonder at the tree full of lights, let's encourage one another to see our role as wives, mothers, and daughters of the King with fresh eyes!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Always Post with Permission

I am fifteen years and change into motherhood.  I have watched the Church go from almost complete ignorance about adoption to embracing it with white knuckles and encouraging everyone who knows Jesus to consider the option.  I have worn the tee-shirts, written the blog posts, and shared the hash-tags because #adoptionrocks and my kids are awesome and you should have awesome kids like these, too.

But all of that has changed in recent years.

My kids are growing up.  They see all of the memes and hashtags and I want to tell you love.

They make some kids uncomfortable.

Why?  Think back to when you were a teen.  Remember wanting to fit in?  Remember wanting to be known and understood?  Remember how much you loved being part of the crowd?  Well, for some kids the constant reminder of their beginnings makes them feel like a project, a mission, singled out, different.  They resist the labels the world tries to paste on them and the questions from their friends weigh them down.

They pretend they don't know me sometimes because they don't want to hear "is THAT your mom?" one. more. time.

Adoption is a wonderful thing.  I am passionate about it.  It is how God built my family.  The way each of my children came to me is filled with miracles and moments that only God could have orchestrated.  My heart is fully theirs, rejoicing when they rejoice, proud of every accomplishment, heartbroken over every tear.  My desire to protect them is fierce, as is my realization that sometimes this world is beating them up and the only power I have with which to fight is prayer.

And pray, I do.

So many well-meaning parents are plastering their kids all over Facebook this month as the reason you should adopt, but I want you to understand something.  My kids and their kids are NOT the reason to adopt.  Adoption is a calling of God.  If you are not called, you have no business adopting.  It is not a movement, a club, or a mission.  It is baring your heart and letting it be rubbed raw.  It is walking out hard stories, tearful questions, and loving even when you are rejected by the child you fought so hard to bring home.  It is recognizing the miracle of attachment and always, always wondering if "this is normal behavior or adoption-related."  It is pursuing a child who doesn't always know they need to be pursued and answering gut-wrenching questions that you wish had easier answers.  It is, in most ways, similar to parenting a biological child but it seems that adoptive parents feel MUCH more freedom to overshare online about their kids who were adopted.

Listen, I was one of those rebellious children.  I was the kid who, for a season, thumbed my nose at my Father and said His rules were stupid. I went my own way until I was broken and realized my need for a Savior.  But my Abba didn't put on a t-shirt and tell all of Heaven "adoption rocks."  He knelt down beside me, scooped me up in His arms and whispered truth through my sorrow into my heart.  He focused His attention on me, on changing me and growing me and making me more like Jesus.

He did not advertise me; that would have been humiliating.  No, He made me his daughter and then taught me how to live in His family.  He forgave me, over and over, every time I forgot I was His daughter and acted like I'd "never had raising."

He still does.

Please, as November progresses and adoption is advertised all over social media, be careful.  Be aware of how some of these things may appear to our kids.  Yes, many kids are not bothered by it.  Great.  But I would venture to say that many (if not most) are.  There are tens of thousands of kids from hard places in the U.S. alone.  Some of their beginnings were filled with sacrificial love.  Some were tragic.  Some of them were pure hell.  Do what God calls you to do when building your family, but please don't advertise it as "the next cool church movement" because very real hearts too often struggle with very real pain and then well-meaning parents are ill-equipped to deal with it.  Again, I speak as one guilty of oversharing.  Our kids will resent being held up as the poster children for adoption if we are not very careful.

Our kids need to be our kids.  Period.  Their stories need to be private, only shared by THEM at THEIR discretion.  Some kids are very open, others avoid talking about their adoptions or lives before adoption like the plague because, for reasons only they may know, sharing these things is deeply painful to them. We, as their God-given parents, must acknowledge this and stop airing their laundry on social media. Whether our children are well-behaved or rebellious, joyous or angry, we have no business putting their stories out there on your Facebook timeline for all the world (including their friends) to read.

Please, friends, if you take nothing else away from what I am saying here...always post with permission.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In which I regain my Sanity

School started over a month ago.  The teens are immersed in the crazy busyness of their new school (They love it but, y'all...the homework.  Yes, I have asked more than once "Are you SURE this is what you wanted???")  My younger ones are home with me and we are having an AMAZING homeschool year.  I am in love with our new curriculum and they are progressing well, thank the Lord!  But there is one teensy problem:
I have had ZERO alone time.
Homeschooling all day, helping with homework at night, and teens who think sleep is for sissies have turned this happy extrovert into a girl in desperate need of NO ONE TALKING TO ME FOR JUST FIVE MINUTES.
Ok, maybe an hour.

Enter...the enrichment program.
This, my friends, is the golden child of all homeschooling inventions.  You see, on Wednesdays, I have from 9am until 2pm ALL BY MYSELF.
Can you say recharge?  Because that is EXACTLY what I am doing!
I am writing a book.  A BOOK!  It feels so good to settle into a comfy chair at our local coffee shop with my computer and type away.  This is the best therapy in the world for me!
Now don't misunderstand the sentiment here...I by no means want to be alone every day.  I love my children more than life and teaching them brings such joy and satisfaction to my heart.  But every mama needs a break and, by the grace of God I am getting it every Wednesday.
Praise the Lord and pass the creamer!


I wanted to share with you what we are using this year.  It is our sixth year of homeschooling but my first time to use a "boxed" curriculum.  We are using Heart of Dakota Preparing Hearts for His Glory with the extension pack for my 10 year old to make sure she is appropriately challenged.  It is truly a wonderful curriculum with each day's lessons clearly laid out and scripted (read: idiot-proof) and it ties history in beautifully with Scripture, helping the kids see the Word of God in context with the culture in which it was written.  It also covers science, art, poetry, vocabulary and Bible and gives them lots of practice with narration and copywork.  I honestly wish I had started using it years ago, but I kept listening to the "boxed curriculum" naysayers.  Lesson learned.
My 10 year old uses Teaching Textbooks for Math, supplemented with Life of Fred and Timez Attack math drills.  (Go to for more info on the Timez Attack game.  It is amazing!)  For English she uses Rod and Staff and is practicing her cursive with Handwriting without Tears.
For my 3rd graders, along with Heart of Dakota, they are doing both Language Arts and Math using Time 4 Learning.  (  This has been a godsend because both of them have different learning struggles (auditory/visual processing) and Time 4 Learning address the topics from so many different angles that they are both GETTING it. I am also supplementing their math with Life of Fred and Timez Attack drills. They do Spelling U See lessons after lunch and are learning cursive using Handwriting Without Tears.  For my guy who struggles with spacial reasoning and letter reversals, cursive is proving to be a JOY.  His Occupational Therapist had told me it might help him and it truly has.  Even though we are only a handful of letters into cursive, he already wants to write EVERYTHING in cursive!  Yay for enthusiasm!

So here I am, organized.  What the heck?  When the year began, I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants.  Adjusting to school drop-off and pick-up along with all the busy things that teens want to do while homeschooling three kids has had me feeling like my head was spinning.  I think I am just now beginning to come up for air.  But even though it might be only for a day here and there, it sure feels good to breathe.  Do I miss homeschooling them all?  Yes and no.  The older ones did not like it, did not want it, and our relationship depended on me being able to let go and let them go to school.  Yes, it is much harder than they thought it would be and their organizational skills apparently did not get well-honed during their homeschooling years.
But the blessing is that they are smart and able and the struggles they have now, my sweet husband reminds me, are part of God's refining process in their lives.  (And, to be perfectly blunt, in ours!)   It is a lot to navigate and I too easily let the important things (like time in God's Word) slide when life gets too busy.  But today, on this Wednesday that I have alone, the Lord whispered to me to come away with Him.
So I did.
And it is here that He reminds me that He is my children's Heavenly Father. He is the one who gives them knowledge and wisdom.  They are being molded by Him and their success and/or failures are not a reflection on me or my parenting.  I can neither take responsibility nor credit for the adults they will become. I can only point them to Jesus and try my best to model a healthy walk with Him while falling on my knees in prayer to the One who IS responsible for who they will become.
That is freeing, folks.  Look what God says:

Isaiah 26: 3-4...You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Daniel 1:17-As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had an understanding in all visions and dreams.

It is all on Him.  I am just one of many tools the Lord will use in the lives of my children.  May He be glorified in their lives.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Heart of Homeschooling

As we enter into our sixth year of homeschooling, I am amazed at how much has changed.  I began this journey with 4 kids, ages 3-10.  Life was busy and anticipation was building as we prepared to bring home our fifth child.  We dove in excitedly but I often had to remind myself that, even though I felt like I had just put on someone else' shoes, God had been clear in His calling.  We did it, all of us, for five years.

But, as you know, the dynamics of our family began to dictate a reevaluation of this decision.  Was it still right for everyone?  As much as I wanted everyone to LOVE homeschooling and work together as one sweet, happy family that was no longer the case.  After much research and prayer (and prayer and research!) we decided to allow our two oldest children to go to a local school.  A "brick and mortar" school.

I can now tell you, without a doubt, that we made the right decision.  Praise. God.

We all just finished our second week.  I have had off-handed comments from other moms about our decision. Yes, the schedule is hard.  Yes, we don't love waking up at the crack of dawn to be at school by 7:30.  (We are all night owls...every last one!)  But my three still at home are getting started with their daily schooling by 8:00 as a result and finishing up by early afternoon, leaving time for important things like playing before we pick up the teens. And, let me tell you, despite the fear that I haven't prepared them enough or that they might be behind my teens are doing ok.  They are adjusting and happy because THIS IS WHAT THEY WANTED.

And isn't that the heart of homeschooling?  To teach our kids to make good decisions and walk with confidence?  To overcome difficulty and have the initiative to get their butts out of bed and work hard?  To know HOW to learn, when to ask for help, and that there are authority figures beside Mom and Dad who do truly care and will go out of their way to help if you just treat them with kindness and respect and show initiative?  I didn't expect to watch them do this until closer to college, but it is happening now.  Despite the struggles to adjust and tense moments in the car after a long day when they are tired, don't feel like conversation, and still have homework looming, they are determined to do this thing and do it well.  That makes me proud.  I think they are going to thrive.  I think God will have more room to work with me stepping back from the role of teacher and just being their mom.  For us, for now, for these two, this was right.  As with homeschooling, we are taking this year by year.  Life holds no guarantees, so we would be foolish to plan any further ahead.

Homeschoolers do what we do because we believe it is the best thing for our child at any given time.  But we also have to know when it is NOT the best thing.  Sometimes, it is not.  And do you know what makes me especially thankful?  That we have a choice.

Now for my three still at my mercy in my classroom, I cannot begin to tell you what an incredible year we are already having!  For the first time, I decided to buy a "all-in-one" curriculum.  We are using Heart of Dakota "Preparing Hearts for His Glory" along with Time 4 Learning Language arts (for the 3rd graders), Spelling-U-See, Handwriting Without Tears and Teaching Textbooks Math.  It has been a JOY to teach this year using HOD's unit studies approach.  My kids are absorbing information like sponges, becoming adept at poetry appreciation, interpreting Scripture, making beautiful works of art, along with copywork and narration that go along with the weekly units.  I feel like this year will be extra sweet for them as I have these hours to pour into them while my teens are happily where they want to be.  Laughter fills our classroom, excitement over the accomplishments of their siblings, and happy playtime ensues at the end of the day when the teens come home and Mom is available to help them with homework if needed.

Yes, the schedule is hard.  But this year, it is right.  I am thankful.  And I hope that, if you are struggling with deciding what to do for your children regarding their education or, really, anything that you will be encouraged.  There is no one right decision.  Every kid is so different.  Let God show you what is best for them now, today, and be willing to accept if it looks different that what you expected.  Sometimes different is better!

And coffee.

Definitely coffee.

Friday, August 21, 2015


I have a basket beside my bed that is full of books.  Unread books.  They are the books I intend to "get to" one of these days, but the pile unfortunately grows fast than I can read them.

Hello, my name is Jeanine and I am a book hoarder.

I have grand ideas as far as my ability to find time to read, but reality doesn't line up.  5 kids, homeschooling 3 of them, everyone being shuffled from one place to another AT THE SAME TIME.  Yeah, I really should start listening to audio books in the car...but the noise from the peanut gallery.  Not practical.  Not now.

So I grabbed my copy of Longing for Paris by Sarah Mae, which I am currently reading and really enjoying so far, and cast a quick glance at the others.  There is one, in particular, that I am avoiding:  The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippets.  It is about a woman who died recently...her offering to those of us who would be left behind.  Encouragement, I'm sure. Perhaps a warning?  I don't know because I haven't read it yet.  Now, I bought Longing for Paris AFTER this book, so why am I not reading The Hardest Peace first?

Because the thought of picking up that book and actually reading it scares me.

There.  I said it.  I didn't really realize it until about an hour ago, when my friend posted on Facebook that she was reading this exact book.   Coincidence?  I think not.

Do you ever worry that God is preparing you for something awful?  Like if you hear a story on the radio or TV and you pray, "Dear God, please don't let that happen to me or anyone I love."  I think that is what is holding me back...the fear that, if I let myself go there and imagine my family having to move on without me that I will have invited the worst to happen.

Yes, I know that is a dumb thing to think.  I don't believe in Karma or luck (good or bad) so to say I am afraid of what will happen if I read books like this is stupid, right?  But I have a dear friend who just got diagnosed with cancer.  Another whose child suffers countless numbers of seizures every day.  Another whose child just walked away from their faith and family and is knee-deep in Eastern Mysticism.

Sigh.  This world is beating us to a pulp.  I watched the sixth planned parenthood video and wept as a newborn baby struggled for its last seconds of life after being aborted.  A godly woman who has spoken loudly and clearly about the times in which we live, obeying her Lord regardless of what the culture throws at her, is now about to bury her beloved husband.  There is bad news everywhere.  It is getting worse by the day.  I am not naive enough to think I won't be touched by it.

So I found myself avoiding the hard books.  I tried to live as though I believe God is good and has good plans for me, but the "Fearings" (read Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard and you will understand this reference) have been chasing me down and I have been guilty of listening to their whispers in the night, of avoiding the blessing of what God will do in the midst of hard because I don't want to endure hardship.  I want life easy.

But God has never called anyone to easy.  Serving Him means I am diving headfirst into the deep-end of life. And even if I don't read that book, I'm in the middle of hard.  So I can pretend that I am able to avoid the hard stuff and not read that book...
or I can read it an maybe, just maybe, gain strength and vision for tomorrow from someone who did endure the unspeakable and has something to teach me.

Ignorance, it turns out, is not always bliss.

So, ok God.  I hear you.  I am putting it next in line.

Question:  What are you avoiding?  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Survival of the Fittest (a post for all of us who braved Tax-Free Weekend)

I stood at the mouth of the school supply section in Target, heart pounding.

"I can do this.  I mean, look at all these hard can it be?  It's just pencils, pens, folders..."

I took a deep breath and stepped in to the crowded aisle with my cell-phone in hand.  I had 6 emails from four different teachers with the necessities my teens will need for the year.  School starts Monday.  I really could have used this list weeks ago before, you know, the craziness of tax-free weekend.

Because, y'all, I would rather pay tax than face THIS...

But here I was, 3 days before school starts and these people are intense.  There are no traffic laws in the school supply section.  No right lane or passing lane or even designated parking.  No, these people went all third-world on me and I would not have been surprised to see a donkey cross the aisle.

I quickly wove through the crowd and chose the items on the lists.  I was determined to get out with my ankles intact.  I have homeschooled for FIVE years.  I intentionally avoided tax-free weekend just like I avoid Black Friday!  I have the next year's curriculum planned out by the end of May and all supplies in place by July.  This weekend?  It is for crazies.

Today, I was in the thick of crazy.

I checked out without injury and put my purchases in the trunk.  I drove home, thinking that surely...surely...I would not need to make any more trips.

I was wrong.

Three more emails came late Friday afternoon.  WHAT THE????

I sighed.  I can probably wait until after the weekend, but what if my kids are the only ones whose loser parents didn't get all their stuff before Monday?  That could result in social ostracization or, worse, sympathy stares.  I can't do that to them.  They are nervous enough!  So back out I went...this time to Wal-Mart.

I. Die.

The school supply aisle is trashed.  Stuff on the floor, name-brand colored pencils SOLD OUT.  People wandering with lists in their hands and blank stares, barely able to mumble "excuse me" when they collide head-on with the other moms who look like they just want coffee...or wine.

Or coffee and wine.

I began limping because, apparently, the stress had depleted my body of something and I had a TOE CRAMP.  You know, the one where your middle toe involuntarily begins to point painfully downward and we have all been told to eat a banana when that happens?  There was no stinking way I was going to limp all the way across the store to the banana section.  I kicked off my shoe and massaged the offending toe, willing it to relax.

Then I had a thought.

What about the office supply section?

6 aisles back it stood.  Y' was virtually EMPTY.  Rows and rows of binders, folders, pens and pencils still neatly arranged and the aisles were clear!

Has no one else realized this but me?  Surely I'm not the only one?  But there it stood...beautiful and bare. I selected my items, the toe finally relaxed and started walking toward the checkout when...

"buzz buzz"


There it was.  Email number 10...another school supply list.  I silently thanked God that I had not yet paid and went straight back to the glory of the office supply section and put the final purchases in my basket.  I've got this.  I'm gold.  I am outta here.

I checked out, fought the urge to curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb, and went home.  We spent the next hour figuring out which thing was for which class for what kid and I sat down next to my husband after dinner to decompress when...

"buzz buzz"

I. Can't. Even.

We apparently need a scientific calculator for Algebra.  Hello, Amazon Prime.


It will be here Monday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Our Babies

It's all over the news.  Planned Parenthood wants nothing to do with actual parenthood.  They are agents of death, murder, and deceit.  
(If you have not seen the footage, I encourage you to go to 
They are not here to help women, but to use them and their crisis pregnancies for profit and here is the thing that keeps running through my head:

Those of us who have built our families through adoption should be screaming the loudest.

These babies are our babies.  These babies are the victims of an industry that tells young women that they are better off allowing a doctor to dismember and suction the parts of their unborn child out of their womb and sell their organs for "research" than to carry that baby to term, love it, nurture it, and then place it into the arms of a family who longs to parent that baby and will honor her for her loving sacrifice that gave her child LIFE and a FUTURE.

How is this being successfully marketed?

Where is the outcry against the lies that are being told to young women, sentencing them to a lifetime of regret, trauma, and grief?  Why are we, as adoptive families, not leading the charge against the holocaust against our children?

“Because of violence to your brother Jacob,
You will be covered with shame,

And you will be cut off forever.
“On the day that you stood aloof,On the day that strangers carried off his wealth,

And foreigners entered his gate
And cast lots for Jerusalem—

You too were as one of them.

“For the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations.

As you have done, it will be done to you.

Your dealings will return on your own head."

Obadiah 10, 11, 15

Look at your children, my friends.  Imagine what would have been if Planned Parenthood had intercepted our precious birthmothers and convinced them to believe their lies.  Imagine your babies at the hands of a suction machine.  Imagine what your family would look like if your birthmother had not bravely chosen life, to walk through her pregnancy regardless of how uncertain her future looked, to lovingly make a plan for her baby that included LIFE.  

With YOU.

How are we not on our faces before the Lord over this?  How do we put a face on abortion and expose the lies that have taken over and destroyed the moral fabric of our country?  

Most of us have been silent.  We have led puny quick-prayer lives instead of spending solemn hours in prayer and fasting.  I am so guilty of this. All around us lives are being destroyed...ripped apart limb by limb and sold to the highest bidder and the young woman who, out of desperation, believes the lie is left to wrestle with what she has allowed and mark every year, every due date, with unspeakable grief.  

These are our babies.  Get mad, church!  Get on your knees and weep. Get out your phone and call.  Get out your Bible and pray for mercy.

Lord, hear our cry.    

Consecrate a fast,
Proclaim a solemn assembly;

Gather the elders

And all the inhabitants of the land

To the house of the Lord your God,

And cry out to the Lord.

For the day of the Lord is near,

And it will come as destruction from the Almighty

Joel 1:14-15

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Called by Name

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.  For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.  (Romans 8:18-25)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!

(Isaiah 43:1b)

Summer busyness has occupied my every waking moment.  Sports, dance, recitals, tournaments, camps...the crazy has overwhelmed me and finally, this past weekend, peaked and seems to have died away.  

And not a moment too soon.

Summer always passes quickly, even more so this year for me as I count down to the return of my oldest two to "real school" or "school school."  I look at my kids, those spreading their wings and those who will stay safely in our nest for a while longer, and marvel at how far removed we are from those baby and toddler years.   I miss those days of chubby hands and slobbery kisses, but I try not to dwell on what is behind and focus in on the here and now.   

Now...right now 3 of my five and a best friend are splashing happily in the pool during a noisy night swim.  Squeals and loud commands echo across the yard as fireflies light up the night.  It is magical.  As they swim, I work on a Bible study that I had begun some time ago and am struck by a verse in Romans that I have read many times but which took on a whole new life tonight.

...but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

I think about how my kids work through their understandings of who they are and whose they are, how they wrestle with their identities within our family and within the family of God.  

How, when questions are asked and the curiosity of strangers stings and feels threatening, they look to me for clues as to how they should respond.  

How they often mimic the behaviors of friends, both positive and negative, when looking for acceptance.  Even mannerisms and speech patterns will change in an effort to identify with someone whose approval they seek.  If it happens in my presence, their motive is very telling because they will look at me quickly out of the corner of their eye as if to see if I notice and what reaction, if any, I will have.  

That is so like us as children of God, is it not?  

But all it takes is an eye-to-eye encounter and words of truth spoken clearly...

"You are a (insert last name here). That is not who you are. Our family does (this) not (that)."

Oh, the power in those words.  Sometimes I can almost see them, like an arrow straight to their hearts, break apart the tension and reset their behavior.  Who we are dictates our behavior, but our behavior does NOT dictate who we are.

Is that not the most reassuring thing you have ever heard?

We are the part longing for the whole.  We groan under the weight of the world, fighting the pressures to be something they will accept, to be just enough "Christian" to fit in the church scene yet not so "Christian" that we are ridiculed or rejected for being different or (gasp!) judgemental.  But our Father, who has redeemed us, who has called us by name...he takes our face in His hands and he says,

"My darling, that is not who you are.  You are part of my family.  You are set apart.  Don't try to win the approval of a world who rejects me.  My approval is the only one you need to seek, and you already have it.  Live the life I have given you.  Only then will others see the truth of who I am, for if they follow the version of me that you are creating they are not following me at all."

I look at the beautiful brown faces around my table and I sigh.  Adoption is so beautiful, yet often so hard whether it is earthly adoption or our adoption as sons and daughters of the King.  As parents we focus so much on building character in our kids, but when I look at these verses I see that character is the result of perseverance!  Perseverance is the result of enduring difficulties and trials, from which I so often want to shield my kids.  As much as I would love to keep them from struggling with their stories or walking through the normal stages of grief I am reminded that God, though He protects us, does not shelter us.  He walks with us every step of the way, which is exactly what I strive to do for my children.  They are mine, sharing my name and under my protection.  My goal is to raise them up to be confident in where God has placed them in this world, to pursue Jesus and serve Him all of their days.  God's goal is to make them like Jesus which means they must endure suffering. If only we could see the hope for which we long...but then again, as Paul says, hope that is seen is not really hope at all.  Hoping for what we cannot see...the end result that awaits us when we are all forever home...that requires perseverance.  And just look at Romans 5:4!  

This verse says clearly that perseverance produces character...which produces HOPE.  It is all connected.  One cannot exist without the others.  If we are His, we will struggle.  But if we are His, He will gently remind us during the struggle that there is so much more to the story He is writing over us.  Yes, He calls us by name...His name.

Today, if you are reading this, I hope you see the truth in the words of Scripture.  Nothing you can do will separate you from the love of your Father, if you have indeed been adopted into His family.  You are His, irrevocably.  The adoption papers were signed with blood and you have been given a new name in Christ.  If you struggle to believe that, I encourage you to search the scriptures for yourself and let God prove His Father heart towards you.  If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, then you are His, whether you act like it or not.  But if you do act like that opens up a whole new can of worms.  He will take you along for the adventure of a lifetime.