Monday, June 30, 2014

sabbaticalling means faithful rest

"I said to myself, 'Relax and rest. God has showered you with blessings. Soul, you've been rescued from death; Eye, you've been rescued from tears; And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling.'"
-Psalm 116:7-8 (The Message)

Last night a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup simmered on the stove while wafts of sweet cinnamon apple crumble love filled the kitchen with good news of dessert. Mr. Fantastic was teaching one last Old Testament class at the church, and the kids and I anxiously awaited his return with Christmas-morning-like anticipation.

Once he rolled through the front door, with a happy smile and a box of coffee cups he had hoarded in his office for a month or so, it was official: We are sabbaticalling.

Sabbaticalling is a new word. I made it up last night. And I am using it a lot today, the first of thirty days that we are commanding ourselves to focus on our family, to sleep more, to rest in God, and to let others do the work of pastoring for a little while.

I am grateful for a church family that insists we take time off like this every few years. I am grateful for a husband who takes a break with as much faithfulness as he labors for the Lord. I am grateful to serve a God who commands times of rest. God has truly showered us with blessings, rescued us from death and tears and stumbling; we are humbled by His great care for us.

Resting takes great faith for all of us, who can so easily rely more on what we are capable of doing for God than we ought to. 

I keep saying this one line over and over these days: We walk by faith, not by sight. That faith is seeping deeper and deeper into my mind and heart. I need greater trust in what I can't see so that I can victoriously live the life God has called me to live.

So we rest in faith, exalting God high above our work. He sees our faith and He strengthens us with His great love. His joy makes us complete, and there is no one else like Him in all the earth.

Pass out the chicken noodle soup and the apple crumble, open old beloved books, play songs of love while the laughter rises over card games, and listen as family stories are passed from one generation to the next. 

Resting in faith is beautiful and it is good news to my weary heart that needs more of the Lord it loves most of all. I'm so glad I made that noun into a verb. Let the sabbaticalling begin!

Friday, June 27, 2014

parenting angry children

The ugly began after a morning spent at VBS, learning about the gift of love God poured out in Jesus. It began after Chick Fil A sandwiches and sweet lemonade. Like a quiet volcano it seeped dark heat and smoke from one tired child in the backseat of the car as we drove home.

The smoke began with irritation that we were heading home, and not to some exotic new location. The flame grew and feet began stomping on headrests. Eyes snapped hot, fists curled and lashed out, and soon the blaze engulfed us all.

I sighed in the driver's seat, wishing this wasn't such a familiar tale.

It all just goes to show that a person can sing songs about Jesus, make foam frame that thanks God for His love, have a good meal, and still have a heart full of selfishness.

Mr. Fantastic asked the offending child later if he knew why he had jammed his feet up and slapped a sibling like that?

"No. I don't know why I did it," was the strained response.

They never know. It's a discombobulated brain inside the heads of my children. Fight or flight takes over when they're tired and they're on auto-pilot until the flames die down.

I have learned it's best to keep my own heart from catching ablaze, even if the child is gunning at me with a flame thrower. Because the best thing I can be to that child is a witness. When my children are angry, they need to see Jesus, the great mediator, the King of Peace, and they won't see that if I'm fiery too, yelling at them to be quiet and sit down.

I have ceased to be surprised by anger in my children. I no longer wonder what is wrong with them when they blaze with fierceness at each other or at life in general. Whatever today brings, good or bad, it is simply another day that we all need Jesus more.

And so this episode of burning flame, it is another stop on our journey together.

To be set free from sin and hindrances, Hebrews 12 points to the lives of people of faith as a map to find Christ, our pioneer and perfecter. We can be that kind of witness for our children, if we will choose to hold our tempers. And James 1:19-20 nips our attempts to use anger to make our kids do what is right.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." Hebrews 12:1-2
 "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." James 1:19-20 

We are a family. We will all make it through, together, believing the best, hoping for transformation, loving each other more than ourselves. Mercy will win in the end. Love will cover a multitude of sins. I have never once regretted breathing deeply and seeking the path of peace and offering calm responses to blazing words. Then once the anger dies down a bit we do three things:

Say sorry: The offender asks for forgiveness. The offended is given the chance to communicate what they need to change for next time. We pray, we hug, we let go.

Strategize: What can you do, sweet child, the next time you feel like that? What was a recognizable trigger for you to be aware of next time? How can you avoid hurting others when you are angry? What can I do to remind you to choose a better path?

Share: We talk about our own struggles to forgive, to hold our anger, to grow more self-controlled. We are all so similar, and we learn from each other. Plus, it is humbling for those who have been offended to remember that they have often been the offender. Vulnerability heals many wounds best of all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

when pastoring a church is a weighty challenge

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." - Jesus, in Matthew 11:28-30

When Mr. Fantastic accepted his current job as a lead pastor and we were planning our move to Austin, we were given some advice by a friend who had pastored for several decades.

"Pastoring is heavy in a way that's hard to explain. You won't know what that means until you're there. No one does. You can do it, though."

Mysterious, ominous advice is not my favorite.

But he was right. And I don't have any better words for the challenging nature of pastoring than he did. Even though I have despaired of its constant pressure at times, that weight has brought me lower and deeper into Christ.

For that I am deeply grateful.

As a pastor, there are many days it seems no matter what decision is made, the resulting consequence will be failing the expectations of someone, somewhere. There are business-type problems (budgets, organizational decisions, etc.) that seem insurmountable. There are ministry-type problems (hurting souls, theological disagreements, etc.) that require more wisdom and grace than a human can muster. The critics are often your friends- no, truly they are your spiritual family, and it takes a great deal of energy to balance your personal and professional life when they overlap so intimately.

We have learned to wear Christlikeness as a garment, and to love the weightiness of His robes. Jesus, He is humble in heart and offers rest to those who follow Him to the cross.

So we come to Him with weary hearts that love His kingdom. We come to Him with our squabbles and disagreements, believing the best and trusting His grand way of sorting out our hearts. We come to Him and we lay down our agenda, our frustration, our hurt feelings, and our misunderstandings.

We take up the cross, and find it is not painful as we thought it would be. In fact, it offers us rest.

Rest from agendas, from self-righteousness, from the constant thrum of the beating of drums that calls us to do more, be more, make more, more, more, more.

The cross says it is finished. The rugged beams, crossed over one another, with nails ready to rid us of our sin, it all means that success looks more like humility of heart than perfectly meeting the expectations of others.

And this all makes us love Jesus more than we thought possible at the very beginning of our journey. The heat of the weariness has marked us, and we are not sorry to have been seared by its branding fire. We belong to Him in new ways now. We don't want another path.

Because He quietly, humbly bears the weight of pastoring that we can't really explain with words. He is in the secret places of our hearts, comforting us, loving us, accepting our sacrifices of praise, encouraging us to take one more step in faith.

Today, if you bear a weight that can't really be explained, I am praying for God to lead you to the cross, and that His rest rejuvenates your life. May your need open deeper places in your heart, and may His love fill the reserves with fresh, living water.

Jesus is just the best, isn't He? He turns our weariness into a gift of His deep love. And then He touches us and changes us forever. There is truly no one else like Him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

a Fun Mom list for Austin

Last week I wrote about being Fun Mom. The truth is it's pretty easy to be Fun Mom here in Austin, because our city has so many fun things to do.

This is a list of some of our favorite spots in the ol' ATX. It isn't an exhaustive list, but if you're looking for some things to do this summer with your kids, I can personally vouch for every one of these. Some are free, some cost money, some take an hour, some are all day. It's a mixed bag. If you click on the link for each one, you will go to various maps and websites about each place.

Being Fun Mom is really more about the spirit you carry as you adventure through bad attitudes, injuries, setbacks, and other unfortunate circumstances. In the end, your kids will remember you more than the details of the day. So open your arms wide, smile super big, and announce it loudly so they'll all know:

"Today is going to be a GREAT DAY!!"

Then get busy being Fun Mom!

1. Texas Natural Science Center
This is a free museum, easy to get through in a couple of hours, and full of cool bones, rocks, and animal displays. Plus it's on the UT campus, so you can show your kids the Tower and the football stadium while you're there, and inspire them to go to college one day.

2. Mozart's Coffee and Hula Hut in Oyster Landing
These two yummy places are right on lake Austin. While you sit and sip your latté or eat massive amounts of Hawaiian/TexMex fusion you can watch the boats, feed turtles and ducks, and generally feel fantastic.

3. Mt. Bonnell
This is one of the best views in Austin. It's high above the water, you can see downtown in the distance, and after climbing the steps to the top your kids will feel like they have conquered the world. Pack a picnic and enjoy the short trails that meander through the small park.

The Mt. Bonnell Steps
4. The Thinkery
There is so much fabulousness in this children's museum, I can barely stand it. For the same cost as a movie, your kids can spend ALL DAY discovering the joy of stop motion animation, painting on plexiglass walls, experimenting with magnetic objects, making machines, pretending to make tamales, climbing the big playscape for hours, and more. I lost my big kids there repeatedly because there is so much cool stuff to do, so come prepared if your children are little and like to wander. Pack a picnic and eat at the amazing park across the street, or go eat at one of the hip East Austin restaurants like Blue Dahlia or Eastside Cafe. Great day!

5. Twin Lakes YMCA trail
This is the Y that we belong to, but anyone can enjoy its lakes and ducks (bring popcorn and make them happy, happy, happy!) You'll find a small waterfall on the property that is lovely, and a ravine to climb around in and scout for rocks. There is also a small climbing "rock" and a playscape for the kids. The Cedar Park trails go on forever from the property, so bikes and strollers are a great idea of you're so inclined.

Yes, this is at the Y

6. Kawaii Shaved Ice
This is in Round Rock's cute old downtown, and isn't far from the library, so you could spend some time reading books first. After you get your icy treat, be sure to pick up a dozen of those famous Round Rock donuts for breakfast the next day. You wouldn't want to sugar crash, now would you?

7. The Laguna Gloria
This historic property/ home of The CosmopolitAn museum is our latest Austin love. The grounds are sprinkled with sculptures and the trails are filled with serene stops along Lake Austin. At one there is an old boat dock where my kids waded and eventually "fell" in the water. So much fantastically free fun.

Wading at the Laguna Gloria
8. Inner Space Cavern
Yes, it's touristy. Yes, it's pricey. Yes, it's fun and your kids will love it.

9. Amy's Ice Cream
Because ice cream. Because Austin. Just because.

10. Bob Bullock Museum
A good Texas State History binge is a great way to spend the day. If you're a big spender, see an IMAX movie, too. Fun and educational!

11. Veteran's Memorial Pool
Great slides, climbing structures, a diving platform, and everything you want in a pool. It's definitely worth the price of admission. We love that place.

12. Phil's Ice House (Burnet road location and 183 location) and Hat Creek Burger on 360.
These are our favorite restaurants that have playgrounds that keep the kids happy while you chat with your husband. It's like a date night with the kids. Just the best.

13. Zilker Park 
I don't think there is a better place in Austin than Zilker. There's a train, a great playground, a real rock formation to explore, a botanical garden, places to to rent boats, Barton Springs to swim in, and more. This is Austin.

The Zilker Train

14. The Austin "Zoo"
It's really a rescue, and even though my kids have been to better zoos in their lives, they still love it there. Don't expect too many big animals, but do expect monkeys, peacocks, lions, and more. Pack your ice chest and picnic onsight.

15. Brushy Creek Sprinkler Park
We bring water guns and buckets and stay wet all day. Bring a blanket to sit on, snacks, and towels, of course. Sprinkler parks make Texas bearable.

16. The Cows at the Arboretum and the Armadillo at the Domain
We have been to these two spots so many times that my kids think we own them. They're familiar and fun and seem special to us. Plus, I can get some shopping done when we visit them. (Bonus!)

A Vintage Cows Photo with Grandma and Grandpa

17. Peter Pan Mini Golf
Do you like old creepy statues of rabbits in a quaint 1950s miniature golf setting? Do you like to school your kids in mini golf? Then you'll live this place just as much as we do.

18. Austin's bats
Don't cringe, just go. It's a unique sight to stand under the Congress bridge and watch the bats fly out at sunset in search of dinner. They really look like butterflies, so if you feel squeamish about it pretend that's what they are. It is memorable for everyone who goes, and an Austin must-do.

Monday, June 23, 2014

even caged birds can count their blessings

“I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high.” - Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
"The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom."-Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

For many years, I was afraid to count my blessings.

There were too many shadows lurking, too many voices whispering, and too many potential horrors biding their time for me to focus on the joys I held in my humble hands. Deep inside I thought that if I counted something as a blessing, it might get snatched away. I couldn't bear that possibility.

Instead I subconsciously counted the days until the end of all things, the destruction of both earthly blessings and curses. That number always grows as the days tick away. I rocked back and forth, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5...." and felt the comfort of the passing days. Once today is done there is one less day of darkness we all must endure.

I caged myself with fear and cut my wings with my cynicism. It felt so much safer than the wide world of hope and risk beyond the bars encircling me, but even so, I knew someday the cage would crack and I would fall.

"...2125, 2126, 2127...."

Desperation grows and each tick upward adds dreadful weight upon the soul. This is what it means to be a pessimist. This is what it looks like to be hopeless. The terrifying possibilities are far more real than the realest happiness when you live waiting for it all to simply be over.

It takes a miracle to unlearn this kind of life. Thankfully, God is good at achieving the miraculous.

Mr. Fantastic calls me a late bloomer. It isn't that I bloom late, though. I simply believed it would be better never to bloom at all than to bud and have the blooms die prematurely on the branch.

I know differently now.

I know that blessings counted can't be taken away. 

"...the peaceful sunrise of new mercy, the laughter of children at midday, the brilliance of the sun across the lake, the taste of mature figs sliced and roasted on pizza, the glorious pink and orange sunset..."

These counted blessings are nourishment for the soul. We consume our gratitude and it makes us fuller, happier, and braver. 

Counting blessings is work and it is discipline and it is the miracle of water from a rock and honey bread that falls from heaven. Gratitude is broken bread and a cup of wine that makes us remember. It teaches that God is good today, and if He is good today He will surely be good tomorrow. The more I count, the deeper the lesson goes and my wings grow stronger as I tick another off.

"...sons who forgive, challenging weeks that flow into restful weekends, chocolate cake, ancient words of hope in trials..."

The cage morphs and changes as I hang blessings on the bars to light the darkness. I discover this cage has a door. I am free to go out and test my wings, and free to come back and rest here on my perch, to tend my soul and to heal my heart when the wind is too fierce and the storms wound me.

"...time alone to pray, rain for Austin, a safe home with a roof and strong walls, a marriage that refreshes, a day at the pool, library books stacked high, brothers who hug..."

The counting never ends and broken wings brush clouds. Even caged birds can learn to sing and fly free, and pessimistic hearts can learn to hope. We can all be free.

There is no need to be afraid any longer. Gratitude changes everything.

Friday, June 20, 2014

being Fun Mom

Every morning this week we have drug our lazy summer selves out of bed, dressed, breakfasted, driven in stop-and-go traffic, and deposited Boy 2 at an art class downtown for three hours.

Then my tired, slightly grumpy crew of three kids and I have sought adventures. We have splashed in the river, ridden a train, climbed a mountain, played at the park, eaten in cafés, and sipped hot cocoa by Lake Austin.

With my list of fun places and things to do in hand, my cape firmly tied around my neck, and a smile on my face, I transformed into Fun Mom.

My kids were loving it. And for a while I was, too.

But by Thursday morning, I was a tad tired from all the cavorting about, all the planning, all the lugging of ice chests, the packing of extra clothes and towels, and the managing of children.

Being Fun Mom is exhausting.

Then I pulled up to a stop light on the corner of Lake Austin Boulevard and there it was, like a beacon shining in the night. "Live a Great Story", the sign said. And I remembered what I know deep in my bones.

I get one shot at this.

I get one chance to take the kids along broken paths to ancient boat slips where they can fall in the lake and fall in love with summer.

I get one chance to lug lunch up a mountain and eat in the shade while the kids pretend to be stranded forever in the woods.

I get one chance to meander through sculpture gardens and stop to when my 10-year-old is excited to watch cardinals and squirrels scamper and fly around overhead.

I get one chance to pay way too much for hot cocoa so we can sit by the Lake where turtles and fish swim up from murky waters to eat our muffin crumbs.

I get one chance to lose track of time and literally drag the kids out of a store, laughing nervously and shouting, "We're late! I'm in SO MUCH trouble!" because I am supposed to pick up their brother in one minute and we're at least fifteen minutes away.

I get one chance to walk with my head held high through the art school campus with all the fancy moms gawking at us because we are wet and slimy, dripping with river water.

I get one chance to write this story called "Motherhood". I remembered today what kind of story I want to pen. My words, my choices, my attitude, and my ability to lead my kids, it all puts ink to paper and what I am really writing is a guidebook for them called, "How to Live, Love, Learn, and Lead."

Fun Mom is back on her feet. The world is our oyster and we have things to do and places to conquer. We won't let our one chance pass us by.

It's time to write our story.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

the lesson in loving the brave son

Some children are more complicated to raise. It’s just true. There isn't less love or less grace or more rules or more grace or any difference in the environment around here. The only variables are the sensitivity and temperaments of the children we cherish and tend, and our own strengths and limitations as parents.

The tough cases can make a mama lose hope and feel just a smidge like a failure, though.

When one of my boys was a baby, there was only one person he liked: me, his mama. He screamed when anyone else picked him up, looked at him, or breathed near him. This predilection for needing me lasted years and years and years.

This sounds so sweet, doesn't it? It was, sort of. Except for the 3.789 times I wanted more than five minutes to myself. All those times it felt like martyrdom in the most lovely of scenarios.

There was often no real way to know how he would react in a new setting or with new people. The results were often disastrous and maddening when his internal storm became an external display of rage and emotion.

We hosted a party in our home with about fifty college students when he was three. “I don’t like a lot of people,” he calmly informed me approximately an hour into the festivities. 

That kid was more self-aware than a lot of adults.

By age four, Mr. Fantastic and I got brave/stupid and decided to test the waters of the boy’s courage. I peeled him off of me twice a week for six months of preschool. He loved it once I was gone, but the drama was exhausting and I felt like a wretch every Monday and Wednesday between 9:00am and noon in the Fall of 2009.

When it came to a life without me right there, he wasn’t having it. The banner over his life read like this: Give me Mama or give me death!

For years he refused to be a part of any childcare system (including the gym and church), he rarely ventured more than six inches from me, and he cried at the front door when I left him with candy in his hand, a movie in the DVD player, and his favorite babysitter. Bravery couldn't be bought.

We tried hard not to let this fear he had define him. We told him we understood it, then we talked about how God would make him brave when he needed to be. We told him it was okay to feel scared, that we must be scared first in order to be brave. There is no courage involved in doing what comes easily to us. We refused to label him as shy, because God gives us a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind. Shy didn't fit into that definition of who our son was called to be. We called him “The Brave Boy” and we just. kept. trying.

It was inconvenient. It was hard to go the gym to workout. It was difficult to keep him quiet in church every Sunday. It was awkward when we met new people. I often felt judged by perfect strangers. It would have been easy to resent his weakness or for my husband to blame me for being too soft on him or to simply give up and tell him he would be like that forever.

But Mr. Fantastic and I knew that the same revolutionary God that set us free from sin and fear could do the same for our son. Late at night while he slept we talked about courage and prayed over his life.

We walk by faith, and not by sight, now, don’t we?

To all the mamas and the papas out there who wonder if their child will ever grow beyond a difficult weakness; to everyone who has believed that they are best defined by the ways in which they fail; to all the children who hope to grow up to be brave and beautiful; I say this: With God all things are possible, and there is always hope in Him.

My son still doesn't really like big crowds. He hesitantly enters rooms full of strangers. He likes to be at home with his family and his books and his toys best of all.

But he is so brave these days. I weep at the thought of how Jesus has made him brave. He sings on stage at VBS, gives presentations in front of his class, and can go to new places full of new people without me LIKE A BOSS.

This miraculous journey has not only been about my son. We are all learning something here, which is truly God’s whole purpose in making us a family.

I am braver because I have watched in faith and wonder as my son stepped out of fear and into the light. I love God more because God has loved my son so faithfully. I am more patient with myself and others when weaknesses arise. Our whole family shines brighter because one boy has chosen to be secure in God when he feels insecure in life.

The children who are complicated to raise are gifts wrapped in tearful prayers and hope-filled hearts. Blessed are the parents who love them and the families who embrace them, believing in faith that He who began the great work of redeeming their souls will be faithful to complete it.

We're all becoming so very brave these days. Isn't it simply glorious?

Monday, June 16, 2014

5 ways to raise children that love Jesus and His church

I sat with a friend a few weeks ago as our kids ran around playing. We drank coffee and we talked about lots of things, but the part of the conversation that stuck in my brain was about our kids and their knowledge of God.

"I just want them to have what I have. To know what I know about God," she said, as her eyes followed braids and bandaids leaping from one spot to another.

I could almost hear the crowd of witnesses crying out from the clouds above. All the mamas and the papas, the former prodigals, the once-upon-a-time older brothers, the misfits, the broken believers, and the Jesus lovers sang out in a mighty chorus, "Amen and hallelujah!"

Once you fall in desperate love with the Son of God, life only makes sense in the light of His glorious love. Jesus is the brother who let us selfishly grab at our share of the inheritance and then handed us His to boot. Christian parents want their kids to join the happy family.

But it seems so many fall away. Is it the church's job to woo these young ones? Is the voice of our selfie culture so loud it drowns out the gospel? What will it take for kids raised in the church to know the passionate love God has for them?

What I really want my kids to know is that people do some crazy stuff when they fall in love. (Can I get an amen for that one?)

I changed the color of my hair when Mr. Fantastic came to LA from Austin for our first date, because I knew he would run screaming with horror if he saw pink highlights.

He spent more money than his naturally frugal self would have ever considered spending on an engagement ring because he knew that I would run around screaming with joy when he opened the ring box.

Some lovers begin new hobbies, read books they would never read, sing songs under moonlit balconies, move across the world, radically change dietary habits, walk away from promising careers, or simply give up a lot of personal freedom to make their beloved their highest priority.

If faith looks a little weird, it's because we get crazy for Jesus when we fall in love with Him. But what's that got to do with other people? Can we just be in love with Jesus on our own and be good to go to heaven?

The overarching message of Christ is clear: it's not just about one person. Jesus dies fr the world, He loves the Church, and the Church is a family. Too many young people are running away from organized faith, and they're missing the point of sacrificial community.

Even outside of God's family, loving one person naturally brings additional people into our lives. When we get married, we inherit in-laws and family members. When we birth or adopt babies and children, we don't get to choose the kind of person we must now love. In blended families, there is a complicated juggling of lives and hearts as the love two people chose affects the lives of all the beloved people in their lives.

Love brings us bonus people. We have to be ridiculously, crazy in love to accept the challenge of making messy human relationships work.

As Christians we are called to a ridiculously crazy love for Jesus. Without that, church is rote religion and our faith makes no sense:

Eat His flesh, drink His blood, remember His sacrifice. Participate in His suffering and praise Him when you face difficulty. Go and make disciples of all the nations. Follow Him and don't worry about yourself- at all. Love God most of all, and others more than yourself. Be last, be least, be nothing and then you'll know true greatness.

Who can possibly accept that kind of teaching when counting the cost of following the Son of Man- unless you are madly in love?

Oh, yes, we love this wonderful Lord who lived among us, suffered under our sin, and rose in glory to give us eternal life, and so we are part of his Church. Jesus becomes our brother- arguably the greatest brother ever. And all the people around us, who He also lavishly loves, become our bonus family.

I want my kids to look around at the world and all the people God has made and died for, and know that this is the Kingdom of God. I want them to celebrate God on Sunday mornings and know that the Christ followers around them are their family forever. I want them to never want to leave the Church because they treasure the people who are God's treasure.

Our love for Jesus is what makes the mess of human sinfulness worth cleaning up. If we don't first kindle the flame a sold-out, desperate love for Christ, church will never really make sense.

Dear Christian parents, we walk by faith and we lead by principle. Live a life full of passionate faith, obey His commands even when it's painful, joyfully lay down your life and love God first and others more than yourself. Fulfill the gospel in your own life and give your kids the chance to see the benefits of following Christ.

Here are 5 of the many ways we are attempting to lead our kids like that, into a mature, sold-out love for Jesus and His church:

1. We go to church every Sunday (unless we are sick). Sports games, late Saturday nights, the desire to lounge on a Sunday morning, visiting friends or family, projects around the house, and everything else can wait. This is, in part, about duty, but it is also about faithfulness and community. It pleases God for His people to come together, and it keeps us humble to give Him his due worship.

2. We encourage our kids to read the Bible every day- and we read the Bible every day. How can they love Jesus if they don't know who He was? Sometimes we read it together with them, they read a line then we read a line. We also have devotionals and Bible studies for them to do, as well as graphic novel Bibles that are just straight-up fun. But even so, once they are old enough to read, they read from a real Bible, too.

3. We believe the best, forgive, and pray for others. Community is learned. Grace and trust are tools we hone in our relationships. Maybe the kid who cut in line at school was in a big hurry. Perhaps the man who sped past us on the highway is hurrying to the hospital. It's possible the friend who forgot to send a birthday invitation really just forgot. Let it go. Pray for God to meet them, to bless them, to help them, to pour out His love on them.

4. We teach them that we are called to serve others. We pick up trash that isn't ours. We clean messes that we didn't make. We fix breakfast for the grumpy who are too sleepy to ask kindly. We feed the homeless together. We pray for people we know, and people we don't know. We look to love and lay down our lives in small ways, so that when God asks us to do big things, we will be ready.

5. We talk about our own love for God, especially when it's hard to obey Him. When our circumstances are age appropriate, we share our own frustrations and leaps of faith. When we are praying for God to do something big, we ask them to pray too. When God blesses us, we lift our hands in praise and dance around with little feet following us. Our faith in God is real and tangible, and our kids have brushed up against it a time or two. It helps them to know we "get it", and it helps put skin on loving Jesus.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

the father of my children

When I met him he was nineteen years old, playing a guitar, and he had an adorable girlfriend.

It was "nothing at first sight", the kind of meeting that you never think of again because, seriously, why would you?

But we became friends, then neighbors, then we said a forever goodbye and I moved away.

He was destined for ministry. I was destined for something else, somewhere else (or so I thought).

But then, a few years later, it all changed. We became everything to each other.

It was so very, very fun to fall in love with my best friend.

I have to admit, through all those years, I never once considered what he would be like as a father. I lacked any understanding about how important it would be one day, when the children I birthed with blood, sweat, and tears would look for him to see, to know, and to love them.

Parenthood is hard. Children will try your patience, crush your best intentions, and flaunt insanely irrational behavior in your face. Then they will expect you to get up tomorrow and love them anyways.

I married the kind of man who fights to do that victoriously. I'm fairly convinced I won a lottery in heaven somehow.

This man of mine, my Mr. Fantastic, woos his children with tenderness and laughter. He celebrates the best parts of who they are. He tends the weedy areas of their souls. He calms his voice, raises the standard of godliness, and sets aside selfishness for the benefit of his family. Someday my little ones will know what I know, that we don't deserve his love, and that he lavishes us with it simply because he can.

On that day, they will have a sliver of a glimpse at the vastness of God's love for them. For that I rejoice. Maybe it's my children who have really won the best prize of all.

Happy Father's Day, Mr. Fantastic. You are our champion, and my favorite person in the whole world. I'm so very, very glad I married you.

Friday, June 13, 2014

shining in the shadow

"Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty."-Psalm 91:1

I stood in my kitchen and living room last Friday, mentally choosing new colors for all the surfaces in my house.

Because that's what we do here in the first world, when our souls yearn for change, for freedom, for new things from God: we rearrange our lives, reschedule our time, and repaint our walls. 

We settle for so much less than Jesus wants to give when we are able to answer our own deep prayers with shallow comforts.

Still, it's too dark around here these days. But in my heart, I don't really want to paint the haze away. I want to write the light into the darkness.

I want to write art, to write love, to write beauty into the dark ache of life. Even life in the shadow of the Almighty can be confusing, and I hunt His love in syllables and phonemes.

I bumble about in the grayness, stumbling over my own feet. Maybe it is time for a change. Perhaps its time I let God change me.

Early in the quiet this morning my eyes flutter open and before any of my children rouse and wake, the sun is already up. I shuffle to the coffee maker, marveling at the summer sun's bright and early presence.

I open words of life and I open my heart to find words to light my own life. Yes, this is what I need; to read light, to eat His light, to feel the waters of eternal life rush over my soul.

The thought has grown stronger over the past few months, and it is a fierce enemy that only God's mighty roar can tame:

I am not enough

The world tells us women are supposed to empower themselves, to rise in their feminine glory, and to be mighty in the world. But I am weak and I have only small words and feeble thoughts. There is not enough of me to make my life go 'round. But in ancient words and holy love I find I am made into so much more:

"By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence." -2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)

The winter has been pitch dark and I have learned to cling in the darkness and love the hidden place. But it is time. He leads us out, He carries us on, and He brings new light for old souls.

The sun is up. The fresh paint is waiting. The new words are forming. We shine in the shadow of His grace.

Wake up, sleeper, and see the glory of God rising over you. Look to the skies and see His radiance flowing from the heavens. He pours out His presence and He calls out His children.

It's time to shine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ten reasons bored children are a blessing

Summer is upon us. Many moms I know are frantically attempting to figure out what to do with their children who no longer have schoolwork and activities overflowing their days. In this modern world, there is such an astounding fear of bored children. It is as if boredom is some kind of sickness we wish we could vaccinate them against.

But really, bored children are a blessing.  If we are strategic, we can squeeze greatness out of boredom.

Here are ten reasons I love to hear my kids say, "Mom, I'm bored!"

10. Work ethic. Bored kids are great helpers. I am trying to work my way out of a lot of jobs.  Dishes, laundry, sweeping, raking leaves, tidying up toys.... There is a lot to do, and I had to it all mostly by myself for a long time.  One of my friends told me that she heard a person's work ethic is formed between the ages of seven and twelve. My children need to learn the joy of working together on projects, the blessing of serving your family, the skills needed to complete the tasks, and the discipline to do chores simply because they are necessary. Also, they learn how much more fun Mom is when the work is all done and we play together.  Win/win.

9. Problem solving skills. Kids are so heavily scheduled these days and over-stimulated by technology that they struggle to develop the ability to think of things to do. Our brains get sloppy after too much television and video games. A bored child is one who faces a simple problem: What should I do now? Someday, it may make it easier for them to make bigger choices, like college majors and career paths.

8. Quiet. Around my house, there is just. so. much. noise. But put us in a car for a long road trip, and once the kids get tired of playing alphabet games and Twenty Questions, there is this magical moment when they just get quiet. They are completely bored. This also happens at home when they have rejected all of our toys, books, and games as tiresome.  I find them staring out the window, lost in thought.  They are thinking about who-knows-what: sports, friends, memories, school, how awesome their mom is.... Even though I know they will be begging for a movie in twenty minutes, for a little while they are quiet.

7. Conversation skills. When children are constantly whisked from one activity to another, when an electronic device is in their hands, and when they are told what to do all day long, they can miss out on the chance to learn how to talk about what they are thinking and feeling.  A bored child who comes to you for advice is learning to process the moment, explain it, and hopefully how to process your suggestions and respond appropriately.  
6. Teamwork.  Often my bored little people will decide on something to do as a group. They will build a fort, organize a competition, or create a game. They work together to make up the rules and guidelines for playing. This only happens when the provided toys and games have been played so much they want to find something new to do.  

5. Free time. Parents in big cities often lament that their children can't roam the neighborhood or go on endless bike rides with friends like they used to when they were young. That freedom to fill time can be created in backyards or bedrooms, though. If kids are given time to fill, they will learn to fill it.

4. Responsibility. We are not responsible for  providing constant entertainment for our children. Really. They may want me to do that, but we must resist the urge to take control their attention spans. It is frustrating for all of us at first when they whine and complain that "there's noooothing to doooooo...." Once they realize they like  to choose their own activity options, though, they will never want to go back to being scheduled.

3. Books. I don't think my children would read so much if it weren't for boredom. Left with the choice of reading or cleaning off the patio, Boy 1 read The Secret Garden in a couple of days. Go to the library weekly, turn off electronics, and children will read out of sheer desperation. It will be the most wonderful, horrible thing you ever did to them.

2. Identity. We are not raising children, we are raising people. Boredom can be the place they first learn about the things that are important to them. As they learn to problem solve and figure out what they like to do, they discover what they are good at, which leads to passions and callings beyond childhood.

1. Heart connection. In every moment of parenting, connecting with your child's heart is the most important thing. Empathy for their situation, asking if they want advice, really caring about what they care about, thinking of activities to do together, are all ways to do that.  At the end of the day, walking beside them as they learn to live their life wisely is the goal. The days are long, but the years are short, and one day we will wish for a few bored children who just want Mom to listen to their woes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 things to teach your daughter about beauty

We love fairy tales, don't we? Most go a little like this:

Once upon a time, there was an exceedingly beautiful girl who was the victim of the wicked selfishness of others. She herself was perfect and her beauty and goodness prevailed against evil when her true love saw her and saved her. In the end, she was just as good and beautiful as ever, and everyone adored her extensively. And she lived happily ever after. The End

My daughter is only five years old and yet she knows these beauty tales of our shallow culture. Without prompting of any kind, her knowledge frequently surfaces in our conversations.

"That woman is old and wrinkly. Is she still pretty, Mama?"

"Why are some ladies fat, Mama?"

"My outfit isn't pretty! I don't want to wear it!!"

My daughter knows that wrinkles and the tides of time are not appealing to most.
She knows that fit and skinny are the eternal quest that few ever attain to their own true level of satisfaction.
This little Lady of mine hears the siren song of appearance and is lured by its demonic message- that feeling beautiful is the most important thing.

If you kneel close to the lies, they hungrily lick their lips and utter even more destructive words as they consume your soul, "Goodness and beauty should always be in your possession. If you aren't one, you can't be the other, and so if you feel imperfect, it means you are surely bad. Bad, bad, bad you are, and you are not worthy of a happy ending."

We need some light for our daughters to live by.

The truth is that we are living in a fairy tale, and it goes like this:

You were born with every evil inclination and ugly feature mankind has ever known. You were not worthy of goodness or beauty. But a King on high saw you and loved you just as you were. He sent His Son to save you, and your Savior has won you His own goodness and beauty by giving His life for you. You will waste away day by day here in this life, but if you learn to love Him with all your heart, that will not matter anymore. Your face, body, and possessions will not be the source of your goodness or beauty because He will become your source in everything. He is coming back for you one day, so you can live happily ever after with Him. The End.

We must believe this good news ourselves and then we must preach it to our daughters with cunning wisdom.  I have pressed truth into my relationship with my daughter in many ways, and these five have been most effective:

1. Point out beauty in others. If a stranger holds the door for you, helps you to the car at the grocery store, is tender towards a child, or elevates others above themselves in some other way, talk about that kind of beauty. I have called many women and men beautiful in front of my daughter. Some were very haggard and worn in appearance, which only served to show my daughter what is most true: God sees the beauty in His children no matter how they look on the outside, and if we seek Him, He will show it to us, too.

2. These words, "God made all things, and all God made is good and beautiful." Remind her when she thinks someone is less than lovely, that it is God who makes us beautiful. Tell her that goodness and beauty come from Him, and that when she feels less than beautiful, God says otherwise. God doesn't make mistakes when He makes us.

3. Embrace your own "flaws". First of all, they aren't really flaws. They are simply what the world considers to be less appealing. Your daughter sees and hears you. If you are confident enough to love how God has made you, she will know it. She needs to know it. You are her favorite woman in the world, and if you are secure, she will be too. When my daughter notices lines on my face, my crooked tooth, or the skin on my neck that is beginning to "relax" a bit, I laugh and say that God loves how I look and so do I. Because He does. And I do.

4. Tell her stories about when she is grown up. Tell her that someday she will be a big, tall lady who wears makeup if she wants to, and fun high heels, and flip flops with yoga pants. Tell her that when she is all grown up, God will bring her into a wonderful life, that she will probably be married and have babies of her own. Tell her that you will be the grandmother, and that you will have a beautiful, wrinkly face and gentle age-spotted hands to hold the babies so she can take a nap. Tell her that she will do great things for God, and that He will use her life to show the world His beauty and goodness. Smile and preach it to her, the way we will all live happily ever after with Him one day, because He never stops loving us.

5. Tell her she is loved. No matter what. She is loved when she makes mistakes. She is loved when she is mean to her friends. She is loved when her hair is messy and you have to leave for school anyways. She is loved while she sleeps, when she plays, when she is grumpy, and when she feels sad. Tell her Jesus came to make her good and beautiful, because he loves her, and because he wants her to live with Him forever.

Monday, June 9, 2014

what's a pastors wife to do when she isn't too keen on God's will?

This thing called life is akin to a trip to the fairgrounds. 

Bright lights, thrilling beauty, throngs of people seeking purpose and prizes, it's a whirlwind of action and I can hardly keep up. I am dizzy from the unending labor the carnival requires. There are funnel cakes to cook, balloons to pass out, discarded tickets to sweep up, and the work isn't even close to being finished. 

It would be nice to pack up the tents and run away- to the circus, perhaps? But would anything really be different anywhere else? We can't run away from our own weaknesses, now, can we?

I'm a pastor's wife, and perhaps that means I should have already mastered the lesson of obedience and embracing God's will. But I haven't, because yesterday's lessons aren't always sufficient for today's challenges. 

So what's a girl to do when she's not too keen on this thing called God's will? How does a faithful follower of Christ submit herself to His plan when it seems too difficult to achieve? Why is God always asking us to die to our weaknesses and live solely for His sake alone?

Maybe it's because wrestling with our own will is necessary to know Christ in all His power.

There is no easy gate into God's kingdom. I wish there were. I wish we could hide away and make ourselves comfortable until we meet God face to face. But here on earth we must also face this teaching, the one that smacks of how God's plans are rarely made in light of our own preferences:

"I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." -Philippians 3:10-11
I exalt what I believe high above what I feel here at the fairgrounds. I achingly release my wish too please myself alone, realizing that "alone" is far from my heart's truest desire.

The way of Christ is not easy and comfortable. If it doesn't feel like death, we probably aren't in the the place of resurrection power. That thought isn't exactly comforting, but it is encouraging, because it means that what we feel isn't wasted pain.

I kneel here on the sticky midway sidewalk. I give thanks for my weariness, for the pressing crowds, for a God who rises to meet the needs of even the most wayward souls.

I will know Christ right here in the midst of all the crazy. He's never let me down yet.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

nothing makes me as brave as knowing God's will

We sit at our usual table, with our books and our discussion questions and our coffee in our hands. Cookies wait on a happy plate of sweet friendship to share as we discuss our week's reading. I read a passage from Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, then ask a question of my own:

“Faith is in the gaze of the soul. Faith is the seeing soul’s eyes upon a saving God, the saving God of twisted bodies, the saving God of harvest moons.”

How do you open the eyes of your soul to see?

Because maybe I'm a woman groping in soul darkness. I grasp about for a solid hold, but my hands never land upon what I really need.

I yearn for Christ, but I'm not even sure what that looks like right here, exactly.

Faith is the assurance of what you can't see, I know that much. Even so, what I can't see taunts me with its haunting, transparent nature. My soul squints and I follow God's voice, but I'd like to find peace in the middle of this harried hunt for God's will.

I tell the women at that table the truth, because that is what we do here:

I need God to do what only He can do, because He's asked me to live a life that only He can live. 

"Be holy, love me sacrificially, leave the old, crooked woman at the door and take up a life in Me," He says.

And so I have, but this new way of living takes practice and I can never see well-enough here in His way of doing things. I stumble, I freeze, I fall, and I wonder if I will ever really know what I'm doing, where the path is heading.

After we have finished our discussion I drive home with headlights whizzing past and the night-sky sprawled out overhead. I ponder the prayers I hold up in His presence like white flags. I will do Your will, and I need to see You move the mountain of my lacking ability, Lord.

This is the will of God, that we follow faithfully even in the darkness. 

I step in line behind the many men and women who have gone before me. I take my place and I place a blind hand on the shoulders of the One who obeyed without fear, who lived without sin.

"This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." -1 John 4:17-18 (bolded words mine)

My soul sets its gaze on His love that drives out all fear. Nothing makes me more brave than knowing His will, and His will is for me to be made like Him.

He passed through darkness, and rose in glory. Now it's my turn. I take the next step in the darkness, and I trust that He leads me closer to Himself.

Once I get home I eat another cookie and my eyes gaze out the kitchen window into the darkness. I still can't see everything clearly, but I don't mind as much now. I know I have nothing to fear....

Monday, June 2, 2014

this is the house that hope built

be it ever so humble....

Hope is an elusive conquest in the day-by-day grind of our uneven lives.

We hunt it like children chasing fireflies on steamy June evenings. Hope lights and blinks in the happy moments. It surfaces in laughter and good news from dear friends. Hope shines in lovers' eyes and a baby's first steps.

But then storms arise, our strength falters, or the unthinkable becomes our reality, and if we aren't very careful, our hope flies away before our hearts hold it securely.

This is because hope isn't meant to be held within our hearts, hidden from sight.

Hope is a house, and we must build it brick by brick. Our hope house becomes a refuge when the world offers up horror in its jagged hands. The walls keep out the winds of failure. The roof shields us from the blazing heat of man's poor judgement and the flooding rains of good-intentions-gone-bad.

We are safe when we surround ourselves with hope.

What we use to build our Hope House is for us to decide. And like the proverbial three little pigs, what we build with will determine the destiny of our house.

I have chosen to use a few select stories to build mine.

Laughing Sarah. Barren Hannah. Hagar, whom God sees. The woman at the well. Mary, blessed among women. Tales of broken women crying out and God's faithfulness grow from the pages of my Bible into beams and pillars, a foundation of hope on which I stand and lean. 

A man who chooses what is better. A marriage, all healed. A child who forgives. A father full of tenderness. A heart that hides in God. These real life stories raise the walls of my hope house and give me windows through which I watch and I wait for my King.

It takes time to build a house. It may take a lifetime to see that the pages of this story we live today will end in glorious beauty. Or it may take one more day, one more week, or one more year. Time is the sacrifice all living souls have in abundance, and isn't God worthy of as many days as we can offer?

Again and again, I tell myself the stories, and my house grows larger and safer, grander and more magnificent. The sturdy walls drown out the sound of the thunder, and I smile at its lovely walls papered with  these words: "Soon, soon, the light of day will dawn soon."

This is the house that hope builds. The one that whispers of help riding on the wind, of love that never ends or fails, of amazing grace we don't deserve, of faith that fails not, and of happy endings for those who wait on the Lord.

Build well, and in the end we will stand before our King and see that we have not hoped in vain.

Soon, soon. The Light of day will dawn soon, indeed.