Saturday, June 24, 2017

Breaking the Bad

I've been married for just a little over sixteen years now, and the longer I am married, the longer Joey and I have chosen to stick it out through the hard, the ugly, and the dirty of each other, the more in love with him I fall.

I have a theory that in every relationship there is one person that is better at it than the other because I think God puts us together that way.  Because every relationship goes through what Joey and I like to refer to as the downward, spiraling cycle. If you've been in any kind of relationship for any amount of time, you probably know what I'm referring to--those times when you're hurting and they're hurting, or you're both frustrated, disappointed, angry at life for whatever reasons, could be simple reasons like you both just had a long, hard frustrating day.

It's in these negative, downward spiraling cycles that we often lash out at the people closest to us. We look to them for strength or comfort or help, and since they're in the same place as you, they have nothing to offer either.  It's in this spin cycle that marriages, I believe, begin to crack, separate, and eventually break and disintegrate when the dust settles. Because these cycles start small, but can spin for days, weeks, months, years, growing in size and intensity, until someone finds a way to be the better person, the bigger person, the more humble, Christ-like person and do something to break the bad cycle.

My husband always finds a way to do this.  He can be just as tired, just as disappointed, just as irritated as me because of our life circumstances. So we start to jab and barb at each other.  Small looks, silly comments, silent treatments, ignoring actions and holding our tongues, when all the while the pressure is building underneath.  Someone is going to blow.  It's usually me.

But if one of us can remember Jesus, can humble ourselves enough for just a few moments to breath peace, to remember our war is not against each other, to offer an olive branch in a small or grand gesture, I'm always amazed at how the storm cycle brewing, suddenly vanishes.

We had a horrendous day yesterday of travel. Long flights dotted with the irritability of constant technology malfunctions, delays experienced in the terminal and sitting on the runway, disappointed, tired children, time zone jacking with your eating schedules, Joey losing his beach hat, and just a long list of tiny, irritating, life things that can happen when you travel coast to coast with two children.

Add in the stress I've put myself under all week just trying to pack our family for this week long vacation while making sure the kids are enjoying their mom and their summer, and Joey trying to rap up loose ends at work during a very busy planning season, our spin cycle was already churning before the irritating day of travel began yesterday.

But somehow, my husband wakes up this morning, and it's a new day for him. He's managed to forgive me for all my tongue-in-cheek comments and saucy attitudes (which he had his fair share of contributing, but maybe not as much as myself), and he takes our two restless kids to grocery shop at Walmart for our vacation while I sit here in a quiet hotel room and marvel at how I ended up with a man that is SO good to me, which ultimately brings me back to the thought that I have a man who loves Jesus more than he loves me. Somehow, Joey is better at humbling himself and letting go of his pride and righ- to-be-right than I am.  He's able to brush things off his shoulders and not take them personally WAY better than I am.

And there's one part of me that wants to feel shame over this. Guilt knocks on my heart and begs to enter and play the poor-terrible-me tune.  Jesus shuts the door on that and reminds me there is no condemnation allowed in my relationship with Him. He forgives me, but He does want me to get a grip and fall in line with my fine husband's example, with Jesus' example, of forgive and live and love anyway. His mercies are new every morning.

And so I'll take the gift that Joey and Jesus have offered--this silent, clean hotel room, and I'll give credit where credit is due. I'll be grateful, deeply grateful for a man of God who loves Jesus first, me second, and our children third.  Be grateful for a husband who shoulders the hard work of stepping in and stepping up when my emotions and state-of-mind have got the better of me.  Be thankful that he's capable and willing to take both my kids to the grocery store AND do the shopping for me. 

He's very good at breaking the bad cycle in our marriage, but I'm also very aware of what it costs him to do so. Jesus is excellent at breaking the bad cycles in my life, and in these moments I'm keenly aware of what it cost Him to do so as well.

So I'll be grateful, deeply grateful that my Jesus makes Himself known to me in my marriage through my husband's humble sacrifices of self.  Be grateful for a God who shouldered the hard work of the cross, who stepped in and stepped up when my useless works and bad attitudes and sins were getting the better of me. Be thankful that my Jesus is more than capable of renewing and refreshing my heart and attitude if I will just take the time to let Him.

Joey will undoubtedly be back soon. Kids excited, ready to see their cousins, sun shining and all of us ready to feel warm Florida waves running between our toes. But my husband's willingness to sacrificially, love me, even in this small way--And I KNOW it was a sacrifice for him too, I know he's tired too--now makes my hard, defensive, exterior toward life soften. It makes my bad, selfish, what-about-me attitude dissipate.  His one act of selflessness helps me move past me. It makes me want to be selfless for him in return.

So the question always is, in any relationship, who gives first? Who's going to reset the spin cycle by choosing to be selfless enough to do the hard work of loving the other person even when they don't deserve to be loved? Even when you're not guaranteed to get anything in return? The person who humbles themself first, to the world, appears to be the weak one, the one who always accommodates, gives in, gives up, at least those are the lies I battle when I know I should break the cycle first.  So it's pride that really keeps my back turned most of the time. Pride that insists on "winning" this fight, this argument, this situation. Pride that requires an apology, an admittance of wrong before I will consider softening, letting my guard down, serving, loving the offender.

Yet every time, after the fact, I know it's the one who humbles themself to "lose" the argument or do something to soften and show compassion in the middle of the situation, who gives undeserved grace when every bone in your body is screaming you don't want to--I know that person is the real winner because they are more Christ-like, and they are showing true love.

Sigh. Why can't I be that person more often? I pray to be that person. I think God's grown me in this area with others outside my family, but it's hard work treating those closest to you with this same grace.  We expect so much from the ones who know us best, when really, they're just sinful humans like the rest of the world we somehow so easily forgive at times.

"Lord, thank you for my marriage. Thank you that it truly is the deepest and best picture of how You love us. Thank you for a husband who loves me well, who humbles himself to bear the weight of hard choices and hard situations, who breaks the bad cycles in our marriage with his servant's heart. Teach me to be more humble. I know that real love expects nothing in return, ever. Teach me to really love him, Lord. Forgive me for my hard, entitled heart. No one owes me anything, Lord, but I owe everything to You."

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dear Babysitters

Dear Babysitters,

I love you. Each of you. I trust you. You came highly recommended from trusted sources. My kids love you. Some of you have even gone above and beyond to invest in them, making them feel special with your special-hot-chocolate or ice-cream-decorating or even just fun crafts.

You are a valuable part of our weekly lives. You enable my husband and me to date and connect and strengthen our marriage. In the summer, you give me a breather, time to exercise, unwind, so I can be a better, more refreshed mom. (And let's be honest, give the kids a break from me too;)

So there's no argument here that you are appreciated and your job is important. But you don't pay taxes on that $15 an hour some of you have started asking for. (Remember folks, I live in CA. My GA friends probably think $10 an hour is a stretch.)

You are not a full-time employee of a company required to pay you $15 an hour.
You take care of my most precious possessions for about 3 hours, maybe 2, then you sit on the couch and watch television until we get home.

I'm willing to pay my really good sitters $2 an hour above minimum wage just to keep them happy and coming back and possibly choose my home over someone who's only gonna pay minimum wage. I think that's pretty darn fair. It's tax-free cash, people. Remember that.

And some of you don't even clean up my house at that price! I come home to a downstairs covered in toys, kids bedrooms a wreck, art supplies laying everywhere, and dishes! (Oh my goodness, don't even get me started on the dishes.) Would it kill you to wash the dishes? Even the ones I might have left from earlier in the day? With soap?

I figure some of the blame is on your parents because someone never showed you how to properly wash a dish or how to straighten a house. Many of you still live at home or in college dorms, and I pity your roommates.

So let me spell it out kindly for this generation of babysitters that somehow has grown up untrained and unaware--blame who you want. When you come to my home, for $2 an hour above minimum wage please...

Love my children. Pay attention to them. Play with them. Feed them. Moderate them. Oversee them getting to bed clean and at a timely hour. Keep them safe and your first priority at all times, at all costs.

Clean up ANY messes you and the kids make. In the garage, back yard, their rooms, on counter tops--take a damp rag or paper towel, and a little 409 and make it clean. Windex is for mirrors and windows. If you don't know how to clean something, my kids can probably show you how.

If you accidentally make a mess of the microwave, stove, or anything while cooking dinner, please wipe it up. Try to avoid scorching nonstick pans on the stove.

Wash all the dishes. If you're unsure of whether you can put it in the dishwasher, fill the sink with hot, soapy water. Place dirty dishes in said water. Scrub away all the food. Rinse with warm or cold water. Place on the towel next to the sink to dry. If the dish still has suds on it, it's not clean. If it still has food on it, it's not clean. If it still feels greasy, slimy, it's not clean.

Before you sit down on the couch, please take two minutes to walk around the house and put things back where they belong. At least get them off the floor. Fold towels, blankets, etc. Just make everything look neat.

That's it! Thank you for a job well done.

If you insist on asking for $15 an hour, I expect all of the above to be done as well as...

ALL the dishes. I don't care if I have left them there for 3 days. Remember, you don't pay taxes on that $15 an hour, and even McDonald's is gonna make you scrub dishes, ones A LOT dirtier than what's at my house.

If you want to treat my kids to something other than fish sticks and tater tots, that's on your dime. Please don't ask me to compensate you.

Take the cordless vacuum and get the downstairs floors spotless. All counter and table tops too.

Feel free to walk around the house and do something a little extra for that $15. All the cleaning supplies you need are under every sink in my house. Just because you didn't make the mess doesn't mean you can't clean it.

And that's that. Americans all over the US are fighting for $15 an hour at jobs where they will be required to pay taxes, and they go home to mouths to feed other than their own and bills to pay.

I commend you for trying to make money for yourself, for investing in the lives of children, for having the courage to even negotiate pay with me, but please don't be unreasonable, and for heaven's sake make it worth my money, or maybe I will just try instead, or call around for more reasonable babysitters.

I love you, but most babysitters aren't irreplaceable. Let's work together to make this work.

A Slightly Dissatisfied Mom

Sunday, June 4, 2017

To My Grieving Friend

Dear Friend,
I see you. I see your suffering. The weight of what you bear does not go unnoticed, unrecognized, or unappreciated.

And what might be hardest is there's nothing I can do to ease your pain. There's literally nothing to say that sounds right or appropriate or that doesn't need to be qualified in some way. So very often, I purposely choose to say nothing at all. I deliberately censor my conversations and catch myself correcting my phrasing as the words are coming out. And because I love you so deeply, part of me longs to not do this, to be care-freely honest as friends should be, but then I also love you so much I know that a gentle, tenderness and an understanding spirit are also needed. Honesty and discernment can still go hand in hand.

I never want to intentionally cause you more pain. So if I do, please forgive me and offer me the benefit of the doubt.

The truth is you're not the same person that you were before this grief consumed you. I don't expect you ever will be again. It will mark your story for the rest of your days. I know this, and yet, sometimes my heart skips a little when I see a glimmer of the old you, only to realize that's not fair and not true and not loving because the desire to see that person is completely selfish on my part. So every moment I spend with you now, I just choose to love you for who you are and how you are and where you are today. I expect nothing of you, and I'm grateful for the friendship you still offer.

So what to do? What to say? What to be? What to offer?

I've come to the conclusion all I have is my time and my presence. A listening ear on the other side of a text, an encouraging smile, a sympathetic touch, a supportive hug, a person to look into your eyes, see and acknowledge your pain and choose to stay. To stay for one more minute, one more hour, one more conversation, be one more distraction. 

I choose to believe for you when you can't. To believe you will one day find joy again. To dream of bright futures full of happy memories for you. To believe you still have great and mighty purposes to accomplish and fulfill on this earth. To believe that a future and a hope are still yours for the living. To petition the throne room of our Lord on your behalf, begging Him to hold you, comfort you, be Enough for you, for today, for this moment.

I offer you my presence in this hardest of battles to endure. I will stand beside you and hold up your arms when you're too weak to hold them up any longer. I will stand in the gap in prayer for you and your family, consistently, and persistently. I won't give up on you. I won't run or back down or grow weary in just being there.

I will cry for you. Tears in private I will not burden you with, but tears on your behalf nonetheless. And I like to believe that maybe every tear I've shed on your behalf is one less tear you've had to shed yourself. I'd like to think it works that way. That my highly emotional, overly sensitive self is being used in some way behind the veil in the kingdom of God to lighten your burden. That my ability to cry so easily is somehow a gift from God to relieve the burdens of others. I don't know, but maybe. I like to think so.

And this is all I have to offer. An unconditional presence with no strings attached, no expectations, just maybe a little grace on the days the sadness of your sadness weighs extra heavy. That's all. I wish it was more. I wish I could guarantee that would be enough. But you and I both know, Jesus is the only One who can be and will be Enough to carry you through. If my only purpose is to remind you of that every now and again, then I'm content.

This grief is not your whole story, my friend. It's not. I don't believe that. It may be the backdrop, the scenery, the background music to your story--all deeply meaningful, beautiful, and unforgettable--but not the whole story. I wish I could tell you when the joy will return. I wish I could shield you from the waves of grief that will continue to crash. Instead, I pray you let me swim in the storm with you because I will and be a small part to play in encouraging your story to continue because I can.

You are not defined by this grief. You are a child of God defined by Jesus Himself, His own dearly, preciously loved possession. Never forget that's who you truly are.

You are my friend. And I am blessed to know you, to journey with you. Given the choice, even knowing what was to come, I'd be your friend all over again. I can do nothing to remove your pain, to lessen your sorrow, but I can be someone who's here, who sees you right where you are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I can choose to be here and show up and pray up.

That's all have to offer. To God be the glory if it's enough.
In Christ,
Your Friend

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Living Emptied

When God is working deep lessons in your life, sometimes it's best to be silent, and let Him work. Sometimes the lessons are so hard and so personal, it feels like a violation of privacy to someone, somehow to speak up. Then sometimes you come out the other side of a hard lesson, and you experience God first hand, and now it's time to share. It's time to testify once God always comes through.

My lesson lately has been a journey of endurance and brokenness. What does it look like to live a broken life? A poured out life? A selfless, daily focus, of letting the Lord fill me up, then pour me out again. Pour me into grieving friends, a worn, yet supportive husband, needy children, seeking high school students, and encouragement of godly women. Pour me into the servanthood of folding laundry, keeping schedules, replying to text messages, sending emails, cooking meals, and running errands. Pouring out physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Holding nothing back. Laying my head down at the end of every day having laid it all out there, for better or worse, I've been poured out either flesh or spirit, and watching, waiting, examining and weighing the results.

So this past week after a month of committing to this practice--a month filled with joy and pain, ups and downs, a speaking engagement, a family visit, exploring new places, the loss of a pet--I found myself getting ready to leave for a mission trip to Mexico (as a ministry team leader nonetheless) for our church high school Spring Break with a head cold, completely unprepared, and quite honestly, just empty.

I literally felt like I was just a body, showing up. I didn't expect much. I felt bad because I was afraid I had nothing to offer. A glorified chaperone.

"Lord, all of You. None of me. Please just fill me up, Lord. Now I really have nothing to give." This was my heart's desperate, quiet plea.

And my God showed up. Every day in a different way.

He showed up through the prayers of caring friends, old and new.
He showed up by bonding our ministry team.
He showed up in sweet conversations with students and adults.
He showed up in the bright, innocent smiles of children.
He showed up through 17 student salvations, several other ministry outreach salvations, and innumerable reconciliations.
He showed up in shared hurts and moments of vulnerable honesty.
He showed up in watching high school students get down and dirty and work, hard, without complaining, always smiling and willing.
He showed up filling the language barrier with real love, His love.
He showed up by filling me with the Holy Spirit in situations where, had I had any strength of my own, I would have pushed forward in my own flesh.

God just showed up. All week.

And now at the end of this trip, looking back, I just marvel. Simply marvel. I'm drained. I'm still sick. But I'm filled with a peace and a joy and a satisfaction that only comes from being an empty vessel used for God's purposes. Life feels abundantly full, yet I am keenly aware of just how empty I am in all the best ways.

Someone has spoken into my life recently about how she thinks I'm stretched too thin, how I should consider where I need to cut back. And she's probably right. Something has to give eventually. Right? Maybe? Maybe not.

What if our capacity for serving God and being used in His kingdom is simply a matter of how much capacity we allow for being completely emptied by Him for His purposes every day? 
                     By how long we are willing to sit still in His presence and be refilled for the pouring                            out? What if it's that simple?

I've heard people utter the phrases, "I can't do that. I don't have the money for that. I'm not gifted for that. That's not my strength. I could never commit to that. I can't give up that. I don't know how I can make that happen. I don't think I have the time."  And the list goes on....I've said all of these things at one point in my life or another. All of them. Believed I was in God's will saying them too.

But the truth is, my God doesn't fit inside a box of "I" that I create. I'm limited, but He isn't. I can't sometimes, but He always can. Where I am weak and empty, He is strong and overflowing. But I've rarely experienced His abundance because I've been too busy operating within the box of "I" that I create and I control--the things I know I can do, the things I know I am equipped for, the things I'm sure of accomplishing in my own ways and strength.

The problem is I now see I can live a good life accomplishing those things, a moral life, even a godly life in some ways, but I only experience the promised ABUNDANT life when I'm at the very end of myself with nothing left to offer or give, and yet I still say, "Yes," to God's calling, God's ways, and God's plan. I still walk through those open doors of opportunity He presents even when it's scary and hard, and I have nothing to offer but a vessel willing to be filled by Him.

I wonder how many of you are willing to let go, take a step of faith, and step into a "yes" to God in your life where you have no idea where the next step will take you? Where you have no idea how the details will work out? Where you have no idea where the money will be coming from? Where you simply have no idea, you just know that's where God is calling. 

I wonder how many of you will walk through that open door of opportunity where you can't see where it leads, but you hear God's voice calling you to come. Maybe you're tired, weary, expended, poured out, empty, yet He still calls. I wonder how many of you are willing to sacrifice yourself to the emptiness, the pouring out, in order to experience the abundance of how He can fill.

I wonder what stories you will have to share as a result. I wonder.

2 Corinthians 4:
 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.12So death works in us, but life in you. (NAS)

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Friday, March 24, 2017

A Good Dog

To know him was to unconditionally fall in love with him. I did. From the moment I saw his crooked white markings down the middle of his perfect face on the breeder website, I knew he was my puppy.

He'd get so excited when he saw you that he peed just a little. He was terrified of balloons, and with a soccer ball, he made Air Bud look like an amateur. Squeaky toys were forever his addiction. He could always jump higher than anyone expected, and food on any ledge was always his one vice and challenge.

He was obedient, loyal, loving, and patient. He never ran away from home even when he had the chance. He was smarter than your average dog, intuitive, submissive, and kind. I loved that he never needed us, but wanted us instead. He chose to be our dog.

These last golden years here on the Golden Coast were the glory days for him. He went for long romps on the beach, never needing his leash, always close on my heels. He loved to chase seagulls, and even waded a few tide pools!

In all of my loneliest days and hours in the past 12 years, he was my constant companion. Always within eye shot, I never left a room without him close behind. I always knew where he was, and vice versa.

He was a constant source of comfort, unconditional acceptance, and presence. He was my first baby before I had my real babies. He loved me more than anyone else. (Everyone knew it. We even tested him on several occasions. I always won.) I was his protector, and he kept Joey's side of the bed warm on the nights Joey was gone.

To say he was a good dog is an understatement. To say he was the best dog ever doesn't even come close to truth. He was one of many small gifts from the Lord in my life, and I pray he never felt neglected or unappreciated.

Rest in peace, my pup. I pray you actually get to catch all the rabbits you want in heaven.

Samson 2/2005-3/23/2017

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

Dear Family & Friends,     

We love California. Living here is a gift from the Lord. One we never even knew we needed.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t breathe in the blue skies, sunshine, and 70degree temps and thank the good Lord that this is my home for this season of life. This year especially, I’m grateful for this daily blessing of beauty and serenity because a more truthful confession is this has been one of the hardest AND one of the best years of my life all in one. I’ve lived out both sides of the coin, moment by moment on some days. Some days and moments were heads up, and many days and moments were tails up, head buried. So when you read this letter, I pray you hear an honest voice and see an honest glimpse into the life of a family that at the end of the day, the end of the year, just loves Jesus and wants you to love Him too because His presence has taught me how to persevere with joy this year.

Perseverance. He gave this word to me in January in the middle of the study of Revelation in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  At the time, I figured it was just the word I needed in order to finish strong the study (not an easy book to study!), a word that reflected what was required of God’s people throughout the book of Revelation. Ah, but it has represented so much more. Through the comingling of joy and struggle, God is teaching me the unsurpassed beauty and treasure of perseverance.

Perseverance, endurance, stick-to-it-ness, steadfastness. Words our present culture respects from a distance, but no one gets too close, and most people try to pass them by. Those words have teeth. They hint at something hard and negative, sounds like work. Those words require a way of living that isn’t fast-paced, constantly changing, full of options and instantly microwavable results. No, these words produce a character quality in someone that makes them resilient and rooted and strong and beautiful.

Savannah got her first set of braces in January, and I watched her persevere all year with an amazing attitude and acceptance. The braces came off in November and her teeth are beautiful. I’ve watched her persevere in swimming, tennis, and gymnastics this year, along with developing her skills in the arts and her academics. (Learning Latin is not for the faint of heart! She is taking 3rd grade by storm!) My girl has more energy and more gumption for life than any child I’ve ever known. But the best news of all came in February when she openly prayed during our family devotion on the first day of Lent to receive Christ as her Savior. She chose to be baptized in my mom’s pool in July, surrounded by our GA family and friends, and I have watched Savannah persevere in her growth as a child of God ever since. She is nine years of joy!

I’ve watched Weston persevere in his walk with the Lord as well. He’s my cautious, intuitive thinker, and it’s been a joy to watch him grow in courage and determination this year, willing to commit and take more chances. Turning 7 in August, he was more than ready to begin first grade and has excelled. But watching him begin to fall in love with the game of soccer this fall was maybe my favorite thing. He works so hard! He doesn’t give up, and he takes correction, honestly always trying to improve. He scaled wall after wall of rock climbing courses at a gym at Thanksgiving, like a pro. We jokingly called him “Rock-boy,” to which he replied, “Call me Peter. His name means Rock.” We laughed, but my heart swelled because Weston’s name means Steadfast. He is more like Peter the apostle than he even knows. Watching my son persevere to overcome fears this year has been a gift.

Joey has persevered in his work and in his growth as a husband and father. I’ve watched him approach every change that came his way at work with grace, always acting with integrity in each situation, giving nothing but his best. I’ve watched him seek the Lord this year in a new way. I’ve seen him grow closer and stronger in his role as our family’s leader. After fifteen years of marriage, he is still persevering with me in marriage and seeking to pursue me, know me, see me. We began the year on the tails up side of the coin, but through the power and provision of our relationship with Jesus and our love and commitment to one another, we’ve been living the heads up side for most of the year. Joey’s perseverance in choosing Jesus, choosing us, every day, has been my greatest gift and highest high of this year.

The heads up moments have been simply amazing, dreams realized—God’s provision in completely taking care of buying back our not-well-made RV, traveling to San Francisco, driving the Pacific Coast Highway for Spring Break taking in the breathtaking majesty of mountains dropping into the vastness of the ocean, camping in Joshua Tree National Park in the middle of 20mph winds (so many stories!), visiting dear friends in Brazil over the summer, getting to see Iguaçu Falls while we were there (one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World!) which were simply mesmerizing, a last minute trip to Hawaii before school started back full of snorkeling with sea turtles and ogling over the uniqueness of our Creator’s design, co-leading a table of multi-generational women through the women’s ministry at our church, deepening my relationship with my now-sophomore girls in high school ministry, developing so many new friendships, lots of paddle surfing, and spending almost every weekend boogie boarding and watching sunsets by a fire on a beach with our dearest CA friends. These are some of my favorite memories ever, in my entire lifetime. So many amazing blessings. I have loved the heads up side of the coin this year.

The tails up moments have been learning to persevere in the mundane, the ordinary, and the seemingly insignificant routines of this stage of my life. The never-ending laundering, child-shuttling, grocery-shopping, meal-planning, homework completing, errand-running, need fulfilling stage of life where my identity seems to disappear into the titles of “mom” and “wife.” I love these titles. I’m blessed to have them. But they become only titles and not blessings when my life is not fully connected to my heavenly Father who breathes life and purpose into the mundane. Who has asked me this year to stay the course and live out everything I’ve ever proclaimed I believed in the ordinariness of my life, placing one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, being present, and daring me to find joy in it. He’s challenged me to be content being a nobody (in the eyes of the world) for Him. To live a faith filled, righteous life for the sole purpose of being noticed and praised and seen only by Him. This has been hard, but it has also produced an abiding joy I am still learning to define.

In the middle of these highs and lows, my dearest CA friends lost their eight-year-old son in a tragic accident. Savannah and Weston lost a playmate and friend, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Grief has colored the last six months of this year for me because I have come to love these friends and their family like my own. Choosing and desiring and loving being a part of their daily lives through the pain of this journey has taught me what perseverance means more than any other experience in my life.

Perseverance is not something you set out to accomplish or obtain. It is a natural byproduct of loving well. I love my friends deeply, so despite the pain from their lives that naturally ebbs into mine, I will persevere in that friendship. I love my children deeply, so despite the irritations and hurt we may cause each other, I will persevere in my role as their parent. I love my husband with all my heart, so despite the inevitable hardships our growing and changing lives will encounter, I will persevere in learning to be the helpmate God created me to be for him. I love my Jesus with all that I am, with my whole life, so despite the pain or discomfort that crashes into my life from tension with this world, I will persevere in my relationship with Him.

Perseverance is the natural byproduct of loving well. What a treasure!

So this Christmas season I challenge you also to persevere. Look around you and love well everyone and anyone the Lord has placed in your path. Follow Jesus’ example in Hebrews 12:1-3:

1Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us (you are NOT alone), let US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us RUN with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes ON JESUS, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (emphasis added mine)

Some of you need to believe you are not alone, some need to throw off weights and/or sin entangling your stride, some need to give yourself credit for loving well and fixing your eyes on Jesus, some need to despise shame and endure the cross God has given you to bear out of love for Jesus because Jesus doesn’t ask you to persevere through anything in life that He hasn’t already persevered and claimed victory over Himself! Learn to love well like Jesus. Recognize that somewhere in the middle of the process of enduring, there is JOY! The more years that pass, the more I believe that true joy cannot be experienced without deep struggle. So persevere because true joy is the reward, the prize, the gift.

May your love for Jesus produce perseverance in your life that brings glory to God and blessings uncountable to you and yours this coming year. Never give up on your pursuit of Christ because He will never give up His pursuit of you. He even came as far as heaven is to earth to humbly love us so unconditionally as to become One among us. Immanuel. God with us. Merry Christmas!

Grateful to be called His children,

Joey, Jennifer, Savannah, & Weston

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Paddle Back Out

I watched my daughter paddle surf for the first time the other day.

Yes, you read that correctly. My almost-nine-year old hopped on mom's 9'6" board with a paddle just her size and paddled straight out into the ocean, into the waves. All by herself.

Kinda. I helped her carry the board, pulling it in and out of the water as she needed. I paddled out with her in the beginning. Watching, waiting, coaching here and there. I was gauging her fear, her ability, her confidence, and her openness to correction. It was low tide. She was in three feet of water at its deepest. She's a strong swimmer. The waves were rolling soft, no more than a foot or two at their max, but they were strong enough for a 90lb independent little girl to surf.

And surf she did! And I'm not talking a little ways off shore. I'm talking she paddled 100-200+ yards off shore. After a few bursts of advice here and there (and fully understanding the dangers she might face), I left her to explore, to try, to experiment. To learn. To adventure.

I love the water. I love everything about it. I want to be in it, on it, by it for the rest of my life, but I also realize that my loves in life may never be hers. So I've watched her since she was a baby, never pushing more than was necessary, but never allowing her to fear the water either.

And when we moved to California, water safety became paramount. You don't kayak, paddle board, swim, boogie board, or snorkel without being wise and safe and prepared, both physically and mentally. So both my children are required to take swim lessons. I would hope they can both repeat what I believe is the number one rule on the water: Never panic.

We bought them wet suits, so they could swim year round. Boogie boards so they could learn and feel the power of the waves, how they move and push and pull. Kayaks so they could build muscle, feel comfortable on a large mass of water, understand how you can glide across the surface. Snorkeling gear so they could learn what's underneath them, a whole other world of life. All the while, educating and dispelling fears.

Maybe more importantly, she's watched me paddle surf for a year now. She's seen me paddle out into waves and fall, crash, smash, duck and dive in the surf. She's seen me climb back on that same board and try again and again and again. She's heard me talk about how scared I was at times, but it didn't stop me. She's seen the exhilaration on my face and in my voice when I catch one, the triumph, the victory, the sheer joy.

She road with me once on the front of my board. I was nervous because I didn't want to scare her. I didn't want us both to get thrown off the board, and I'd be the reason she never got back on. By God's grace we caught a wave and rode it all the way into shore, literally. I actually had to make her bail off at the last moment because in my nervousness I forgot how to make us stop before crashing into shore. So I told her to jump, and she did, and she was shaken, but the thrill of the ride had left its imprint.

Now three months later, the conditions being perfect, she asked to take my board out. And she took it, and paddled, and actually caught waves! The thrill on her face when she realized she could stop paddling and the wave would continue to carry her was priceless. She'd raise her paddle over her head with both hands high and look for me, to make sure I was watching from shore, and I'd raise my hands in celebration with her. Then she'd turn, and she'd paddle out again and again and again.

And as I sat on the shore watching her, I saw her fall. Many times. I held my breath, bit my lip, and stilled myself to burst into the water after her should she show signs of distress. But each time, she climbed back up on that board. She never gave up. She wisely came in for short breaks when she was tired, but then she'd go right back out. I watched the waves wash over her. Watched her lose her balance. Watched her face sets of waves as they rolled unrelenting at times.

And I've never been more proud of my little girl in her almost nine years of life than when she'd fall, pop out of the water smiling, climb back on that board, and paddle right back out into the waves. She never let her failures keep her from trying again and again.

And for as much as I enjoyed celebrating her success, part of me more deeply enjoyed watching her persevere in the face of her failure.

And I wondered if God doesn't feel the very same way about me, about you, as His child, His children.

I look back at the circumstances and events of my life, and I can see how the water in my life has gotten deeper. The waves I face higher and faster and more fierce. But God has been gracious to me. He didn't throw me in the deep water first. He's been preparing me since I was a child. Small waves in shallow water. Small failures and small successes. He being ever present, guiding, coaching, watching.

As I sat there on the shore intently watching my own daughter, I could see my heavenly Father in my mind's eye watching me as well. Ever present. Ever on the edge of His seat to snatch me from danger. Celebrating with me, but maybe more importantly allowing me to fail, so I could learn and grow stronger, and try again, and persevere.

I feel my Father's favor and know His pride when I choose to persevere and never give up. On Him or on myself. Perseverance, gumption, endurance, stick-to-it-ness--these are the hallmarks of the faithful--the Hebrews 11 crowd.

Friends, I want to surf the waves of life regardless of how hard I fall or fast I fly. I want to surf. Not duck and cover, not bob aimless in the swells. I may rightfully fear the wall of circumstances that rise up from the deep of life, but I pray it's a cold day in Hades when I give up and settle for a seat on the shoreline.

Which means I must choose to take up my paddle, climb back on that board, and paddle back out. The last wave might have taken me out, washed me clear off my board, broken my paddle, and left me with a bruised body from the fall, and maybe the next wave will do the same. But maybe, maybe I'll make some adjustments, shift my feet, lower my stance, and catch the next one. And fly.

One thing I know for sure--my Daddy will be watching. He sees me. He knows exactly where I am in the ocean of life, and when I look to Him, His eyes are always on me. When I raise my hands in victory and praise, He raises His hands in glorious acceptance and joy. When I fall and look to see if He's there, I see Him poised and ready--sometimes with a helping hand, sometimes with an encouraging thumbs up, and sometimes with a knowing stare that silently conveys, 'You can do this. Get up.'

"Therefore, I won't throw away my confidence, which has a great reward. 36 But I have need of endurance, so that when I have done the will of God, I may receive what is promised. 
37 For yet in a very little while, Jesus is coming, and will not delay38 But you (Jennifer), shall live by faith;And if you shrink back, Jesus has no pleasure with you.
39 But I am NOT one of those who shrinks back to destruction, but I am one of those who WILL have faith to the [l]preserving of my soul." 
(Hebrews 10:35-39 Jennifer standard version)

This has been my life verse since high school, my motto in life, the driving voice I hear in the back of my mind when the waves of enemy voices come crashing with their lies, threatening to drown my will, my belief, my faith. I've been floundering here lately. Closer to the edge of retiring my board than I like to admit, but my daughter needs to see me keep trying, and my Father is still there, always there willing me to get back on the board and surf.

It's really for my own good and enjoyment that I do so. He knows I will only be miserable and slowly rot in my own self-pity, fears, and anxieties if I don't paddle back out.

So I think I will.

What have you been on the verge of giving up? your faith? your family? a relationship? a calling? a mission? a goal? Have you been benched for a season, and waiting is too hard, so you're thinking about throwing in the towel all together? Stick with it! Endure! Persevere! You may have unbeknownst little eyes watching you, but more importantly, your Heavenly Father's eyes are most definitely watching you. Paddle back out with confidence, knowing you are watched and seen by the undistractable gaze of the Risen King, Commander of Sky and Sea, and He's proud of you whether you fall or surf. Maybe the most proud when you fall and refuse to give up.

So take a deep breath and paddle confident. Paddle seen and known. Paddle like you are fully loved and life abundant depends on that. Because the truth is--in Christ--you ARE. Confident, always seen, intimately known, and fully loved every second of every minute of every day for all eternity simply because you are His child and for no other reason.

So get up. Go. Have faith. Persevere. Paddle back out.

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