Monday, May 14, 2018

Dancing with Joy & Grief

Has it been five years? Five years without her laugh, her hugs, her infectiously funny, strange sense of humor? Every May. Without fail, I fall into a funk, and the grief over her loss catches me off guard. And I have to cry and write and process and remember one of the three most devastating days in my current lifetime. I remember our last conversation as clearly as if I had just hung up the phone. I remember the hospital, the soul-searing tears, the funeral, the grief that followed.

And to try to shake the sorrow, you then try to remember all the good things too—the family vacations, the funny videos with the kids, all the middle school sleepovers and camps and prank phone calls. But for me, all the good also just adds to the sad because it all stopped when she was gone.

And it always leaves me pondering the strange dichotomy of joy and grief every time.

Grief, I think, I understand better than I'd like. I've come to recognize it's not an emotion or a process, it's a thing, a noun, a substance. It has weight and mass. It can't be measured or compared, but it can be shared. Grief is the byproduct of death. Just like we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, anyone who breathes in some type of death breathes out grief, and depending on the type and quantity of what you inhaled will determine how long it takes to exhale the grief. But it must be exhaled. Grief contained is simply poison to the mind, body, and soul.

And so those who grieve, cry--A LOT. Sometimes when they least expect it because grief creeps out of the corners of life in places you didn't think to look or expect to find it.

Those who grieve become irrationally angry. We lash out in small and big ways because we have so many questions that will never be answered this side of eternity, and ultimately it never feels fair or right or just.

Those who grieve are tired--all the time. Grief is one of, if not the most, exhausting substances to exhale. It clings and wraps and sticks and stays. It hurts and aches--mind, body, and soul. It takes something powerful to shake it.

Enter Joy. Now, I'm going to struggle through this. Honestly, I'm still smack dab in the middle of processing it all myself. I might be chewing on this until Jesus comes back, but if the byproduct of death is grief, then the byproduct of life in Christ should be joy. Therein lies the predicament because a Christian, a true Christ follower, will grapple with the tension of both of these in the same space this side of heaven.

Joy and Grief will forever be dance partners in this lifetime. I'm learning that I get to decide who leads. They both need a turn because grief needs to stretch its legs. It needs to be exhaled, set free, given room to be expressed. Grief needs to be known and seen, so it needs a turn to lead the dance. After all, even Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is "a time to weep and time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." Grief is not a bad thing; it's not a sin. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of humanity.

Just like joy is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of the presence of Christ, for "in His presence is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11)" Joy must be allowed to lead the dance because joy inhales Christ for it is the very essence of His presence. When you allow yourself to experience joy, you are allowing yourself to experience Christ. And yes, joy is a choice, just like following Christ is a choice, so is choosing joy.

What is joy? How do you find joy? Sigh. I don't know. Still working on those definitions for myself. But I know that when I blasted praise and worship music in my home the other day while cleaning my house, singing to Jesus--with Jesus--at the top of my lungs, I know that I felt invigorated, full of life, unafraid, and inwardly at peace the rest of that day. Joy led the dance.

Then the next day, two songs on the radio and a text message later, I was an emotional wreck. Grief needed a turn again. And so goes the dance.

Today I'm writing, maybe I'll take a walk by the ocean, maybe I'll fill my home with worship music once more, maybe I'll take a nap in my hammock or run around in the yard with my children. Joy comes and fills and takes the lead in so many different forms. It is not a replacement for the grief, it is a needed compliment to it. Grief without joy is depression, a very lonely wallflower.

One of the best ways to experience joy is to choose to be joy for someone else. My heart is never quite so heavy when I can bring joy to someone else in my life, even in the midst of my own dance with grief. That's Jesus, friends! That's the power of Jesus. Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." I take this verse quite literally. There's healing in both shared joy and shared grief. Jesus steps into both with us. Why are we so hesitant to step into both with those around us?

I have learned that true friends are the ones who can share both grief and joy with one another. Is it awkward and uncomfortable at times? Absolutely. Are there always words to express? Nope, but just being present, making an effort of some sort, usually means the whole world. It's also a two-way street. I have to exhale my grief to a friend in order to give them the opportunity to be joy, but ultimately, my only reliable source is Jesus. Where others will fail me, He always succeeds and fulfills and shows up. Who better to understand the byproduct of death than the Man who suffered under it here on earth, only to defeat it, allowing joy to be available for everyone through His presence in us?

Ah, the dance of joy and grief. It is one I have not learned gracefully, but my Jesus is a patient teacher. If I must dance this dance for the remainder of my days, I pray He teaches me how to make it beautiful.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Confessions of Lifelong Christian

The Christian life is not for the faint of heart, but then again that's also exactly who it's for. It's not easy or idyllic, but it is fulfilling and rewarding. I'm sorry folks, but you don't get to have your cake and eat it too this side of heaven. It's just not going to happen. Christian or non-Christian, this life is going to take its toll and throw plenty of punches, you better have a sure-fire way for experiencing deep, soul joy this side of heaven, or you're just going to burn out.

I found myself recently in a state of utter depletion. It's been a heck of a nine months so far; heck, it's been a roller coaster of emotions for quite some time. If you were to judge my life based solely on what you saw outwardly, our life is pretty idyllic. No arguments. Praise Jesus, my marriage is rooted in Him, my children love Him, and the company my husband works for seeks to glorify God in all they do. That's pretty idyllic, and we take very seriously the job of being good stewards of all the blessings entrusted to us.

But for me, that's always the outward representation of my life, for which I'm deeply grateful, but often feel deeply alone in people understanding the inward, unseen battles that weigh on my heart and mind most days.

Recently, I've fallen off the path a bit. There are no real excuses for why I stopped reading my Bible over  the past three months or so. Nothing that holds water at least. Yes, I'm busy. Serving. Someone. All the time. Yes, I'd rather sleep than wake up early to meet with Jesus. Yes, I have pockets of 10-20 minutes in my day where I could open my Bible, but I'd rather numb out scrolling my phone. Yes, sometimes I have just a few quiet moments in the evening right after the kids have gone to bed, but again, I just want to stare at a screen and let my mind go blank. These are real choices that I choose to make. No excuses.

And since I'm being super honest, I know what I'm choosing not to intake. I know Scripture pierces the heart. Time in God's word often provides insights, enlightenment, and understanding to life. Such knowledge often has a piece to it that requires response or change. I'm tired. All the time. I don't want to change, to respond, to be taught, or to be responsible for whatever information I may intake. So I choose not to take the small moments of time in a day I might be afforded to connect with the Lord. I make that choice.

But I'm also not happy. I feel blah and dead inside. I confess my sins in small prayers throughout the day, praying God will pour more grace and help me. The Spirit is still alive and well inside because I feel deeply convicted all the time for not stopping to spend time with my Jesus. I'm a walking guilt zombie, self-inflicted. It's that feeling of purposely choosing not to take that phone call or answer that text because you think you know how the other person is going to respond. I also have stashed away enough scripture in the recesses of my brain that I can call it to mind as needed, in moments of parenting or downward spiraling when I need a life preserver back to the surface. I listen to nothing but Christian music in hopes it will sustain my mind just enough to keep me moving forward. 

If this sounds like a deeply depressing way to live, it is.  It's miserable. Why don't I just pick up my Bible and spend time with Jesus, you ask? I. Don't. Know. I just don't. Maybe because the few times I have managed to open the pages, the words fell flat or it felt forced or I actually fell asleep in the middle of my Bible! Maybe because when I close my eyes to pray, my mind is bombarded by everything I could be doing instead of this, and I can't switch my brain off, so the frustration of silencing the voices in my head becomes too overwhelming, so I give up, get up, and get moving again.

Don't get me wrong. I love Jesus, and I love my Bible, but I realize how hypocritical that statement sounds when I'm not actually living like I love Jesus and my Bible. What does a person do when you're keenly aware of everything you're doing right and wrong? When you know you are making the wrong choices? When you make the right choices, but feel and experience nothing? What do you do?

Me? I have to confess my sins and ask for help. It's an anti-pride thing that is incredibly humbling, which is probably why it takes so long to break the cycle. Asking for help and support is So. Terribly. Humbling. Embarrassingly humbling. Letting the people I serve on a daily basis know I'm struggling feels very wrong. Why would they let me continue to serve if they knew how deeply I was depleted? If I lose their trust and respect and the blessing of serving them, then what do I have left? I have to be ok. I have to present like I'm ok. Fake it, til you make it, right? 

Jesus says, "Wrong." Not to mention, I'm not fooling anyone, least of all myself. I might can fake out others for a while, but eventually my own knowledge of how I'm doing keeps me ensnared, and confession truly is good for the soul. So in small bits and pieces, I've let the cat out of the bag. I've mentioned my struggles to a friend here or there, finally admitted my negligence to my husband, and if I'm not honest with my small group of high school students when given the chance, they smell a fake from a mile away. Most importantly, I have to take time to confess to my Jesus, and sit in His presence and let Him restore my soul.

And He meets me right where I am every time. He draws close and the Spring of Living Water He offers begins to fill my empty well once again. Why, why, why do I wait so long to confess? Because pride is a powerful force, more powerful and convincing than most of us are prepared to admit and face.  Don't we all try to hide the imperfect, the ugly, the not-good-enough parts of ourselves? And pride looks like all those things; it's the shameful thoughts, attitudes, and choices we knowingly make that we don't want anyone to see or know about us, which means pride inevitably is the true source of what makes us fake, insincere, and unrelatable.

Oh how confession sweeps away pride! I think we don't confess our sinful thoughts to those closest to us because it means showing our vulnerable and often unpleasing, soft underbelly to a could-be wolf. We all know the sting of rejection, the betrayal of our vulnerable self by the voiced disapproval of those closest to us. To confess is to face fear head on, to open up your true self to someone and say, "Will you love me anyway? Will you support me? Forgive me? Encourage me? Take me just as I am?" That's a scary place to stand, even with your most dearest people, maybe especially with your dearest people because their rejection will most definitely devastate the most.

But Jesus never rejects. He always forgives an honest heart and true confession. He draws close where others pull away. He fills what others drain. He gives where others take. He disciplines your actions without piling on disapproval of you as a person. As soon as you confess and repent and turn around to head back to the path, He's already there. He draws close and it's like no time has passed and no distance lost on your journey.

Nothing about the circumstances in my life magically changed when I confessed my sin, when I stopped to actually include my Jesus in my conversations with Him instead of just talking at Him. Literally nothing changed except my perspective and a sense of cleanliness on the inside. The guilt lifted, the unhappiness faded, the misery dissipated. Just like that.

And the dearest people in my life? I took a chance confessing small pieces to them too, and they all responded with support, encouragement, and understanding.  That's how I know they're my dearest people. They nodded heads in understanding and laughed at my brutal honestly (in a good way.) They offered to come along side me and help hold me accountable.  If your people aren't doing that, they may be good friends, but they're not your dearest people. To be able to show your true self to the ones you hold most dear is a treasure, but for me it has required risk, trial and error, and a willingness to be vulnerable and honest, airing my needs and shortcomings even when I'm unsure of how others might respond. The people who need to be your dearest people show their true colors in those moments. 

The hard lesson to learn is that how a person responds to you is not always a personal reflection of you; it is more likely a reflection of that person's own heart and motives in the moment. Jesus' response to my confession is always perfect--perfectly tailored to my needs in the moment, laced with the exact balance of grace and truth and love.

Today I finally gave in. God created a space for me in my busyness to connect with Him alone--no kids, no husband, no plans. I had no more excuses, so I sat with my Bible in front of me in irritation and desperation and asked the question out loud, "Lord, why don't I want to read Your Word?" It's the first time in months I'd actually asked Him a question expecting a response. Nothing. So I took a deep breath and I confessed and let go. I confessed all the wrong thoughts and actions, all the poor, purposeful choices. I just confessed all the ways I know I had screwed up, and I was sorry. Somewhere in the middle of that confession the tears had begun to pour down my face. I picked up my devotion, opened my Bible, and began journaling some answers to questions.

And it felt good. Nothing life shattering was learned or revealed, but I simply enjoyed the act of reading God's Word once again, and when I put the pen down and closed my Bible, it's like all was right with the world again. My empty cup was overflowing once again. Suddenly, I looked forward to tomorrow's devotion. I've been a Christian long enough to know this would happen, but pride doesn't go away with longevity. One might even argue it only increases with age (that's a blog for another day;) Pride and Fear are the root of almost all evils, I'm convinced, and the longer you are a Christian, the stronger you become in the Lord, the harder the Enemy fights using those two minions, He sends stronger waves of Pride and Fear your direction to keep you immobilized.

Three months is a long time to be immobilized, but maybe next time it will only be two ;) Because there will be a next time, but I'm grateful I'm in a relationship with a God who forgives seventy times seven and beyond. He will always be right there when I turn to come back because He never left my side in the dark to begin with.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

God Started A School

It was Sunday, July 30th, 2017 when we first got the news. Our principal had resigned, the teachers had banded together to say they wouldn’t work for another administrator, and just like that our gem of a classical school was no more.

The next forty-eight hours were a blur of activity in our home.  My husband Joey, along with others, had been asked to join an interim board in an attempt to navigate reconciliation between the original school board members and our principal, but in the process so much mismanagement and collusion was uncovered between the existing school board and the church where our school was located that it became very clear, the differences were irreconcilable.

Our school, the only classical school in southern Orange County, California, the school that had become our anchor of stability since our move from Atlanta three years prior, the families that our children had grown to love and the teachers that had whole-heartedly invested in us with genuine love and concern, it was all gone.  It no longer existed.  Just like that, with no warning, no time to prepare, the beauty of what the Lord had provided as an answer to prayer three years ago was gone.
Public school would be starting back in just two weeks in some school districts, and as the late-night phone calls for the interim board continued and more mismanagement was uncovered, the initial panic began to set in. Where were our children going to go to school?

Classical education was a path I had researched and desired for my children before we even moved out to California.  It is a very intentional, detail-oriented, purposeful way of educating children that takes full advantage of the developmental stages of the brain. The methods classical education uses wastes nothing, not one minute of time or one opportunity to celebrate and encourage learning. My children were thriving in this environment.  They loved school, their teachers, and the small classes of students.

My options now were public school, another non-classical private school (of which there were several to choose from), or some form of classical home-schooling. I didn’t like any of these options. I didn’t feel good about, passionate about, or drawn to any of these choices. I wanted what my children had. I wanted it for myself, and I wanted it for them. But what did God want? What was His plan in these circumstances? And so began, the inner battle between faith and doubt, trust in my strength or God’s strength.

Within the first week of August, parents from our school were up in arms.  We all loved our school!  We couldn’t understand how or why this had happened so suddenly and abruptly. Meetings were held. Feelings were hurt. Perceptions shifted rapidly from one extreme to another. People were hurt, angry, worried. We all began to grapple with what were the best options, choices, courses forward for our children.  The clock was ticking. Time was running out—or so we thought.  Looking back, I now realize there was no rush to start school. I could have enrolled my children anywhere in the middle of October, and they would have managed fine, but at the time, in the moment, it felt imperative to their well-being to have a plan, to make a choice, and to move forward.  It was time to go back to school, after all.

But our choices just weren’t good. The interim board of selected and willing parents that had formed to work alongside our principal began working even more fervently. My husband literally worked two full-time jobs for the month of August—the one he got paid for and for the board of what was then a non-existent school. The parents on this new board were all passionate about classical education.  We wanted this option for our children, but how?

We had a principal. We had a pool of willing teachers to hire (who also were left stranded and in limbo at this point by what had happened.) We had interested families; families who wanted to make this work. We thought this was all we had.  We hoped this would be enough.  So, through daily prayer and a steady determination to keep moving forward, the new board members decided we wanted to start a new school, a separate entity with a new name and without all the baggage of the previous location and entanglements caused by the poor judgement of the people at the church and on the previous school board. Thus, The Geneva School was born out of necessity, some desperation, and a passionate desire to see our children educated classically.

By the end of the first week of August, we had a name, we had a logo even, now we just needed a location, and this is where the journey got tough and rocky and unsure. A location in southern Orange County capable of housing the sixty students that remained interested was not readily available or inexpensive to find. Thus, began the long weeks of hopes getting up and being let down as location after location after location began to be a closed door. The new board was working tirelessly, relentlessly even, but no door was opening, not yet.

Public school started, and we understandably lost a few more families. The third week in August many of the private schools in the area were gearing up to begin school for the year. Without a definite location nailed down, we understandably lost a few more families.

During those first three weeks of August, Joey and I had done our due diligence.  We had bathed everything in prayer. We had toured and even applied to another local private school. When the office staff was floored by how well our children tested on their entrance exams, I knew we would be doing our children a disservice to give up so easily.  They were almost an entire year ahead of their grade level compared to other private schools, and their potential was only just beginning to be tapped.

But it wasn’t just about the academics. It was about what Joey and I felt the Lord was calling us to do. This was a path the Lord placed us smack in the middle of for a reason. He wanted us to walk this path by faith. He wanted us to give it our all and trust Him. He was calling us to stay the course and start a new school. And so like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, we began the process of taking steps across a bottomless chasm with nothing in front of us, just the ability to take the next step. God showed up at every step as the solid footing beneath our feet, but for six weeks, we had nothing to really trust but the calling of the Lord Himself. Each step was one of faith into the unknown.

By the fourth week in August, we finally had one final location. It was literally our last option. If this didn’t work, there were no other locations to pursue. We waited in constant vigil for the church board to vote to approve our occupancy, and as we waited, we understandably lost a few more families. We had gone from sixty committed students the first of August to now forty students. Our teachers would have to take a pay-cut at this number, and we would have to do some serious fundraising to make ends meet. To say things looked and felt bleak, would be an understatement. The only thing that kept our feet on this path was knowing that we knew that we knew this is what God wanted for our family. To the bitter end, flight or failure, we were supposed to try and start this school.

What was even more encouraging and inspiring for me was watching my husband come along side and fight for this together. Education had always been “my” thing as the mom and former educator. Joey had always just bent in whatever direction I felt led.  This was different though. Together through prayer, I saw the Lord change his heart, and I saw my husband go to war for his family. He saw something valuable and important to his children being wrongly taken, and he fought for them. He fought for us, and watching him step up and step into this responsibility without hesitation or even doubt was inspiring, encouraging, and endearing. My children saw their dad fight for them. They saw him never give up, back down, or lose faith. I don’t know what they will remember from this experience later in life, but I hope it sticks to them in all the good ways for all the right reasons. Nothing God ever calls us to do is ever wasted, so I believe more seeds were planted through this process in our family’s story than I can even begin to understand.

As we waited in hopeful expectation for our location to be approved, I was reminded of the story of Gideon. Of how God took an army of 10,000 and dwindled it down to the 300 He wanted to use. Why? So, God would get all the glory, and no man would be able to take credit for the victory God provided.

Thursday, August 31st, 2017 The Geneva School was approved to occupy a new location, exactly one month from when the previous school had fallen apart. In the next eleven days, the remaining 25 families painted an entire wing of the church, outfitted classrooms with bookshelves, desks, white boards, and even short-throw projectors. We ordered new school uniforms and showed up for the first day of classes Tuesday, September 12th, 2017. Forty students, grades kindergarten through eighth would be continuing the classical education we had all grown to love and believe passionately. Thirteen of our teachers remained to answer the calling to teach our children, to invest in an eternal opportunity to impact the lives of the next generation.

In six weeks, God started a new school.

Looking back, I realize He orchestrated the perfect group of people to accomplish this task. The new board members had experience in business, previous board experience, non-profit organizations, finances, entrepreneurial start-ups, educational expertise and marketing. Among our group of parents, we had connections to graphic designers, legal contacts, real estate, photographers and generous wallets. We asked for prayer through this process, and friends and family joined in full support. We asked for donations, and people showed up with all manor of supplies from copiers and paper to paint supplies and furniture and so much more.

Our school was built in six weeks because God put together a uniquely qualified team of people to accomplish the task. We each took steps of faith, using the gifts and resources and strengths God had already equipped us with, and together, God built a school. A school I pray continues to be viable and influential in the lives of children for decades to come.

Our school continues to function by faith. Praise the Lord, we confidently make pay roll every month, but the opportunity for growth and the possibilities for what we can continue to accomplish are endless with the right funding. So, we pray for funding, and we continue to give of our time, talents, and tithe as sacrificially as the Lord leads. With only 25 families, this is not easy. No one gets to just drop their kid off at school and go about their day without another thought. Every parent is invested and involved and needed.  We all have a part to play and a role of responsibility to make this school work.  It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding and fulfilling to wake up every day and know without a doubt that this is the right path, the right choice, the right thing to do.

The lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn through this journey are so many! I’ve never understood better the relationship between faith and works. Faith in God is the glue that holds you to the path set before you; works is the engine that moves you forward, one step at a time, one legal form filed, one purchase made, one prayer prayed and believed.

I’ve never experienced such a physical working of the body of Christ like this before. Each person uniquely equipped to work as God created and gifted them to function, all coming together to accomplish the purpose He set before us. Everyone was needed and appreciated, and where someone was weak another was strong. I pray I never doubt again what the Lord can accomplish through His people. I pray I continue to step into roles He has uniquely equipped me to accomplish the rest of my life because though my one part to play doesn’t seem like much, collectively it is accomplishing more than I can think or imagine in the kingdom of God.

Lastly, I’ve learned the value of staying the course, even when you think it might end in failure. When you’ve been called to a task, you see it through to the end. You keep the faith.  You take the next step. You stay resolved and steadfast.  You endure. You don’t jump ship out of fear, urgency or doubt.  The only reason Joey and I would have pursued a different path is if we had the peace of God to turn a different way, but we never did. God’s peace was the steadying force in the pit of my stomach even during tears of uncertainty and waves of doubts. I learned the importance of not moving in a different direction based on my feelings in the moment or based on the direction others were taking. My journey with the Lord is my journey, and it will and should look and feel very different from what others are experiencing.  That’s the beauty of a relationship with Jesus; it’s a relationship as unique as my marriage with my husband is compared to anyone else’s marriage, and we are most assuredly better and stronger together, no matter how difficult things may become.

God started a school in six weeks, and it’s been a privilege and an honor to have a small part to play. I pray others will hear this story and be encouraged to stay the course and inspired to pursue the path God has placed you on for today, for this season of life. He is constantly and for all eternity working in ways we cannot fathom or plan to orchestrate. We must trust and believe His plan and stay the course to have a story to tell, a victory to share, and glory to give. Thank you, Jesus, for gifting a crown, a gem of a school, we can gladly give back to You.

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IF AFTER READING THIS STORY YOU FEEL LED TO GIVE TO THE GENEVA SCHOOL IN ANY WAY, WE WOULD BE DEEPLY GRATEFUL FOR YOUR GENEROSITY. 
PLEASE SEE OUR WEBSITE AT 
AND CONTACT US FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW YOU CAN GIVE.

YOUR GIFTS ARE AN ETERNAL INVESTMENT IN THE HEARTS AND LIVES OF CHILDREN FOR THIS GENERATION AND THE ONES TO COME.

THANK YOU.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Child's Place: My Truth Reminder

I don't know about you, but when you live in a child-centric culture like ours, it's easy to begin doubting oneself on almost every level, every minute of every day. Questions bombard parents on a daily basis that usually come in the form of second-guessing, self-doubt, or self-criticism. Am I my child's protector? Am I accountable for their future? Am I making the right choices to assure their health and safety? Can I ensure their health and safety, really? What's my responsibility and what is just out of my hands? Do the choices I make for my children really direct their future? How much of this is on me and how much of this is on the Lord?

Lately, as my children continue to grow and change, and I think about the teenage years being just around the corner, I find myself in an inner state of worry and turmoil. Am I really doing my best? Have I done all I can do? Am I presently, in this moment, doing all I can do? And my brain spins and mind rages, and that knot in the pit of my stomach tells me I'm missing something or my kids are gonna end up irreparably damaged. To make the voices stop and get off the crazy train, I had to go to Scripture because that's the only place I've ever found reliable truth. I asked, what does the Lord require of me as a parent? On some very light research, here's what I found...

***Children and pain kinda go hand in hand. It's unavoidable, but children are also a source of pure joy in a world where real joy is difficult to experience. They are one of many sources of God's blessing for us here on earth. Genesis 3:16, Psalm 113:9, Proverbs 31:8, 3 John 1:4

***Children often elicit deep, irrational emotions from us. (Guilty and Amen.) Genesis 30:1, 1 Samuel 1:8, 12-16

***Children are a gift from God. A gift, which makes us the receiver of the gift.  We are not the Giver or the Creator of the gift, just the recipient. So like most people should do with gifts, we say thank you, and we cherish what has been given. The gift does not get elevated to a place of prominence and importance in our lives. The person who GIVES the gift does. The Giver gets the recognition and thanks for any recognition their gift may bring. How many times have you been complimented on something only to turn around and deflect the praise to the person who gave you whatever has been complimented? Genesis 33:5, Psalm 127:3

***Children ask us questions to which we are to answer with God's answers; they are to be taught. They are students. We are teachers. This is a Biblical responsibility on their part and ours. We are tasked with developing life-long learners with teachable spirits. This may be our greatest role and goal as a parent. We are to do this in such a way that exhorts and encourages our children, not exasperates or discourages them. Exodus 12:26, Deuteronomy 4:10, Joshua 4:6, 21-22, Psalm 34:11, Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21, 1 Thessalonians 2:11

***Children are recipients of our spiritual and physical inheritance. The trickle down effect is real. Your character matters in this generation and the next. They are to be valued and given provision. Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 4:40, 5:9, Joshua 14:9, Psalm 78:4-6, Proverbs 13:22, Jeremiah 32:18, 39, Mark 7:27, 2 Corinthians 12:14, Thessalonians 2:7

***Children are God's visuals to us. How we treat our children is suppose to mirror how God treats us. The innocence and purity of children is suppose to remind us of the attitude with which we are to approach God and His kingdom. They are a visual to us (adults) of how we are to approach and receive the kingdom of God in our lives; therefore, all children should be allowed the opportunity to come to Jesus. The disciples were actually rebuked by Christ for trying to keep the children from Him.  Psalm 103:13, Matthew 7:11, Luke 18:15-17

***Children are to obey their parents; therefore, it's our job to see to it they know what it means to obey. We are also responsible for keeping them under control and managing their behavior. That means the adults make the choices and decisions that matter, not the child. Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20, 1 Timothy 3:4, 12

So, quick debrief...children are:
A source of pain, irrational emotion, joy, and blessing. A spiritual growth stimulant. Our own personal classroom. A visual example and reminder of how our hearts should be positioned before God. Our heirs and students. Compassion practice. A gift. Children are many things in this world, and we have many responsibilities toward them, but notice the things that are NOT on this list...

***I am NOT my child's salvation. Jesus is. I am to be a picture of protection, a reflection of God's safety and security in their lives, but ultimately I am limited and will fail. I must teach my children to take refuge in the Lord alone. Psalm 36:7, Psalm 72:4, Proverbs 14:26, Matthew 23:37

***I am NOT the guarantor of their success or happiness or application of their potential. That's all been spelled out in God's plan for them already. I'm on a need-to-know basis for this one. Therefore, I can be the best teacher I know how to be for the time and opportunities I'm given to teach/coach, but ultimately my children are not a reflection of me. They were created to be a reflection of God's glory, to be a reflection of God. I can guide them and point them in that direction, but the outcome for that is out of my hands. Psalm 139, Proverbs 16:3-4, Proverbs 19:21, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 6:31-33, 1 Corinthians 2:9, Ephesians 1:11, 2:10, Philippians 1:6, 2 Timothy 1:9

If God created them to be a reflection of His glory and His heart in this world, then whether or not they are successful in this arena is His responsibility. WHY? Why are we so quick to try to do God's job for Him?!?!?! I'm not prideful enough to think I can do God's job better than Him (or am I?), but I'm afraid I'm ignorant enough to not recognize when I'm trying to shoulder the burden of a weight that I was never created or expected to lift, much less carry. Sometimes, when the weight is too heavy, you just need to stop. Stop and recognize your limits. Just stop trying to pick it up and release it all together. Step back and walk away from that weight. You were never designed to lift it.

Over and over in Scripture, children are listed in line with "men, women, and children." They are acknowledged as small adults. Separate, yet equal to men and women. What applied to the men and women always also applied to the children. The judgments AND the blessings always equally applied to men, women, AND children. They are not special or exempt simply because they are young. Ultimately, we are ALL children, children of God, subject to the judgments and blessings of HIS kingdom. Romans 8:16-17, 21

I fear we live in a society where this verse rings all too true:
O My people! Their oppressors are children, And women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray And confuse the direction of your paths. Isaiah 3:12

And there you have it. Scripture rings true again. Scripture brings peace and clarity into my mind that is assaulted by the false messages of culture and this world on a daily basis. My role as a parent is actually quite clear and as usual simple: Be the best life-coach/teacher I know how to be, that God has equipped me to be, and constantly shepherd my children toward the Lord. (Oh yeah, feed and clothe them too;) If what I'm concerned about during any given moment of the day for my children doesn't fall into one of these categories, then I've walked back to that weight I was never meant to lift, and I'm trying to lift it....again. If I'm overly concerned about their safety, their health, or their future, I'm trying to lift that weight again.

Jesus lifts that weight with his pinky finger, with the bat of an eyelash. Why am I even trying? It's a question that bears examination, and it's where I've ended this train of thought today. It seems my job as a parent is simple and clear and so is God's. He's trusting me to do my job--provide, educate, enjoy; I need to trust Him to do His even if His choices of how He provides "safety", "health", and "success" don't match the world's or my own definitions of these things. That's a hard truth to wrestle--when God's plan for safety, health, and success doesn't match your own.

But for today, for this blog, I'm grateful for the freedom and release that comes from taking the time to draw closer to the heart of God and His plan for my life, to try and find a balanced, scriptural perspective on His expectations of me as a parent. And for today, I am strangely relieved and feel lighter in my step accepting and trusting His role in the lives of my children in comparison to my own role. In reality, God has the much harder job. Praise Jesus!


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Saturday, January 27, 2018

What Fairy Tale?

As I was studying the lives of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel in the Bible today (Genesis 29-30)--talk about a no-win situation for everyone!--I was struck by the thought, what about the fairy tale ending? Does anyone ever get the fairy tale ending?  Does anyone actually get to live "happily ever after?" Or is that just another lie the devil has sold us over time and tradition, woven into the fabric of our Hallmark channel stories, and Nicholas Sparks novels that we've come to sigh with content and satisfaction when all the loose ends at the end of the story are tied up neatly into a bow?

I don't know about you, but half my frustration in life stems from so many loose ends that dangle in the wind!  Some of them, there's no hope of them being tied to my satisfaction in this lifetime. Death of any kind--dreams, hopes, loved ones, a business--often leaves so many loose ends that to assume a fairy tale ending is around the corner is naive at best, the cause of lunacy at worst, but for most of us, it's somewhere in the uncomfortable middle ground of trying to reconcile what the world says is possible with what is actually happening in our lives.

As much as something inside of me wants to believe the fairy tale ending is achievable, eventually, as you start to grow in your faith and walk with the Lord, you begrudgingly accept that in this life, there is no. such. thing.

Don't get me wrong. I have a prince-charming of a husband, and some would look at our life and say we've pretty much sailed off into the sunset (literally), but you don't know what you don't know. I won't pretend to complain about my life either. God has blessed us. No arguments, but He also requires much of us as a family of four, as parents of two, as a wife and husband, as children of God. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48), and we gladly bear the burden of what it means to be grateful and trustworthy stewards (Matthew 25:14-30), which means we still work hard every day in ways most people don't see and don't know.  And that's ok, because don't we all? Work hard? Every day? In ways most people don't see and don't know?

The point is, it's not a fairy tale life.  It never is. I don't care what someone's Facebook page or Instagram stories show about their lives. It's NOT a fairy tale, and to try and prove that it is to a world that is selling you that lie to begin with is like an addict trying to convince their own dealer they don't need drugs while handing them money for the next batch.

People, my fairy tale is Jesus! Seriously. If you see my life and even once think how great I've got it, I pray your next thought is, "Well, she does love Jesus," and if you look at my life and shake your head in pity, compassion, or concern at any point, I hope I've lived in such a way that your next thought is, "I'm so grateful she has Jesus."

Because I'm done striving for the lie that is the fairy tale ending. I'm at a crossroads where I have no idea what the next half of my life is gonna look like. I'm two years from forty, and it feels like the whole world is just beginning to stretch out at my fingertips, just out of reach and yet just within reach all at the same time. And if I'm striving for the fairy tale ending, this is the point in the story where things should be getting exciting and then it's all a downhill ride to the finish line.

Nuh, uh. I don't want that. I want Jesus and all the ups, downs, twists, turns, and loops that come with following Him. I want all the cross-bearing and world-suffering and self-denying. I want to rest in knowing that He's still got a heck of a ride ahead of me, so if this is a breather, I better enjoy it and catch my breath. If there's a lull in the waves when you're paddling out, you sit up on your board and soak in the sun, and you rest, but you never get completely comfortable. Comfortable and happy is how fairy tales end, which is why they are a lie because anyone who's ever lived knows another set of something is coming.  Good or bad, high or low, another set of waves is coming, another mountain climb or valley descent.

The world has sold us a story line that's been read to us since our childhood and played out in our favorite movies. A lie, literally spoon fed to us by the best of parents, myself included. Bad things will happen in your story, but in the end, if you're a good person, everything will turn out all right.  You'll get your happy ending, your happily ever after, your prince charming and castle of choice. You'll live in peace the rest of your days. Work hard, be good to others, and life will eventually do right by you. The devil has us convinced--maybe just our own flesh because of this sinful world, has us convinced--that this is possible this side of heaven. 

And when I was younger, I bought that lie and swallowed it whole and set my heart on achieving the fairy tale. Then I started making friends with people who are just like Leah from the Bible (Genesis 29). I realized there were desires in my heart, that made me just like Leah. She never got her fairy tale ending. She lived her entire life unloved and unseen by the one man who should have at least tried to love her--her own husband. She played second fiddle to the pretty girl, her own sister, her whole life. She never got her happily ever after, and no amount of sons would win her husband's affection for her.

But for God, her life is pitiful. But for God.  GOD saw Leah. (Genesis 29:31) God opened her womb. God gave her the honor of sons. God gave her Levi, future heir to the tribe of priests. God gave her Judah, future heir in the line of King David and ultimately Jesus Christ. GOD made sure her name was remembered for all of history through the family tree of Jesus Christ. God orchestrated the circumstances for her to be the one honored to be buried next to her husband. God did all that. Not her. God gave her a legacy that is so much more than a fairy tale, by His mercy and grace alone.

She never got the fairy tale life, but she got a God-ordained and orchestrated legacy instead. I wonder if she knew then, what she knows now, if she would have chosen the latter anyway despite the lifetime of unfulfilled desires? If she would have adjusted her desires and gratefully accepted the story God wrote for her?

Don't strive for or even settle for the lie that is the fairy tale. First, because it's a lie--you'll never attain it anyway. But second, don't you think a life that leaves a lasting, beneficial legacy, by the grace of God, for generations to come is such a better story in every way? Can we not learn from Leah's life? What if every desire that ached in the pit of my stomach or longing in my soul was held with open, surrendered hands to the will of my life's Author? No expectations. His will be done.

I wonder. I wonder if, no matter the circumstances, if we'd experience true JOY in this lifetime, enjoying the story being written for us because by faith we were trusting God with all the heartaches and triumphs, unfulfilled desires and abundant blessings. If we gave up on the fairy tale and accepted whatever plot twists may come as part of our legacy, our story? I wonder...

In what ways are you knowingly or unknowingly chasing the lie that is the fairy tale ending? What is that thing you hope to attain or accomplish that would be your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Matthew 6:21 says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I dare say you can flip that statement and, "Where your heart is, there your treasure lies," is also true. This is my contentment and goals litmus test. If I'm yearning or aiming for something other than Jesus and His ways and His path and His will, I usually end up chasing the fairy tale and land smack dab in the middle of utter disappointment because the fairy tale ending is a lie.

And I'm done believing lies. I'm just over it. My relationship with Jesus Christ never fails me. I fail Him. Every. Day. But He never once has failed me.

One day, whether it be my lifetime here on earth or in another by my Savior's side, my Knight in shining armor will come back to this earth on His white horse and shine light on all the lies that Satan has used to darken this world. Then, all those that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will get the fairy tale ending everyone else wanted for all time, but I'm pretty sure happily ever after with Jesus is going to be WAY more exciting than any fairy tale a mere mortal has ever penned ;)

In the meantime, this daughter of the king is going to wage war against the lies of the devil, calling them out and bringing them into the Light of Truth, and trust that Jesus is penning my legacy leaving story in the process. He'll write something better than I can ever imagine.



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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Called To Endure

Endurance. It's not a word this culture readily embraces. Researchers have coined the words grit, sweat equity, and stick-with-it-ness in the past five years in search of a way to communicate to a new generation--a microwaveable, give-it-to-me-now, viral, instant, digital, fast-paced generation--that they are finding the most successful people in life have this quality.  The most successful people in our world today practice what the Bible has defined for centuries as endurance.

"We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful." James 5:11

To choose to live your life as a Jesus-follower, a Bible-believing Christian, is to embrace the idea and concept and commitment to the character quality of endurance. (Hebrews 12:1--It's a marathon mindset.) And character qualities require years of character development through circumstances, situations, highs, and lows.  If you're trying on Christianity as a trend, fad, quick fix, or just something your friends are doing, I'm afraid you might be sorely disappointed, so please don't become a hater if you're not even going to stick it out through the end of high school, college, etc. to see what Jesus is really all about.

Because the best part about being a Christian is a personal relationship with your Creator, the Father who formed you in your mother's womb, numbered every hair on your head, and wrote out all your days before your parents were even thinking about having a family. (Psalm 139, Luke 12:7) As a Christian, you get to wake up every day with a purpose, a purpose that matters for all eternity (Matthew 5:13-16, 2 Corinthians 5:20), but it doesn't come packaged in ribbons and bows, most days aren't shiny and new. To be a Christian isn't a life of living the highlights reel or basking in the glory days.

Because if life hasn't taught you this yet, it will: life is hard.  Like pain, tears, grief, disappointment, frustration, anger, hatred, discontent--HARD (John 16:33). And if you want to be victorious and live a life of freedom and joy, then you need Jesus, and He's pretty clear on what that means: take up your cross and follow Him (Psalm 16:11, John 14:6, Matthew 16:24-26). Endure the journey, but keep your head up because you get to enjoy your best life in the process of that journey.

"Knowing that the testing of your faith produces enduranceAnd let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:3-4

Perfect. Complete. Lacking in nothing.  Those are some pretty strong promises.  Perfection, wholeness, worthiness--things people in this life try to attain in their own strength their entire lives.  These promises are the RESULT of the endurance of your faith. You never get results without first putting in the work. Try to short-cut your way around it all you want, but at the end of the day, consistent, balanced, committed people will always succeed where the spontaneous, overly-passionate, on-to-the-next-big-idea people will fail. I'm not saying spontaneity, passion, and innovation don't have their place, but endurance is a long-term investment, an eternal investment.

"For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised." Hebrews 10:36

Endurance is defined as permanence or duration; something that sticks around for a while, stands the test of time. The ability to withstand hardship or adversity.  The ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity. Please notice something about the words in this definition...

Permanence. Withstand. Sustain. These words point to a strength of staying, holding ground.  These words don't speak of movement, change, or even growth of any kind. Endurance is the character quality you need to live your best life in Christ in any circumstance. 

So what does endurance look like on a day-to-day basis? It's actually rather simple or "boring" maybe.  Read your Bible (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Seek the Lord daily (1 Chronicles 16:11).  Put what you read into practice in even the smallest tasks (Colossians 3:23). Trust Jesus to help you live each day to it's fullest potential by believing that, no matter the circumstances--good, bad, or uneventful-- you will live out the days of of your life like you are known, seen, heard, and loved--never alone (1 Corinthians 8:3, 1 Peter 3:12, Hebrews 13:5).  Share that belief with anyone that crosses your path in big, but most likely small gestures, like a smile, eye contact, and taking time to talk to people (John 15:12).
           This is not rocket science I'm talking about here. This isn't big earth-shattering revelations or life-altering mission work. This is the Christian walk of endurance--putting what you believe to be true into practice in simple ways in a world that is desperately wanting to believe what you're living-- the joy you will share along the journey (in good times and bad-Nehemiah 8:10), the love you will spread generously (in good times and bad-1 Corinthians 13)--people want to believe that this kind of life is the real deal. That it will last.  That it will stay.  That it will stand the test of time. That it will endure.

If you know yourself to be a child of God, then you are the one tasked with showing the world that it will.

"Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as [a]servants of God, in MUCH endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown [b]yet well-known, as dying [c]yet behold, we live; as [d]punished [e]yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing [f]yet possessing all things." 2 Corinthians 6:2b-10

You don't like the circumstances of your life? Seek the Lord, love others, endure.
You don't want to wait around any more? Seek the Lord, love others, endure.
You don't understand why God is silent for the moment? Seek the Lord anyway, love others, endure.
You don't feel God is there for you? Seek Him anyway, love others, and endure in your faith.
Your life is awesome, contented, and balanced? Great! Don't fall into the temptation to stop seeking the Lord. Keep loving others. Faithfully practice endurance in the good and the bad.

I've worked out with a personal trainer twice a week for a year now.  I've diligently trained for and completed three triathlons. I've changed my diet to include more water, more fruit, more veggies, less carbs, better proteins. Consistently.  For a year..... I've lost inches, but not. one. single. pound.

You see, I've gotten stronger. A whole lot stronger. I started the year repping 10lbs on the triceps press, and now I can do 35lbs. The burden and weight of this body I walk around in hasn't changed one pound, but I'm stronger, so I can lift more, run faster, and work harder for longer. 

Because living life with endurance doesn't make your burdens lighter or life easier, it makes you STRONGER to be able to WITHSTAND and SUSTAIN and STAY when life throws it's worst at you, while everyone else is running ragged chasing the things that tickle their ears, aligning themselves with people who only tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). You, on the other hand, are reading your Bible, talking to God about every silly detail in your life, actively loving every person the Lord puts in your path for the day, capturing your thoughts to keep them focused on what is pleasing to Jesus, and you hold fast to the faith you've seen prove itself over and over again when times are full of blessings and when times are full of sorrows (2 Corinthians 10:5, Philippians 4:8 Hebrews 10:23). 

In between the highs and lows of life, you stay. You endure. Because more highs and lows will come, that's inevitable. But in between those highs and lows, did you get stronger? Or did you expend and waste all your energy chasing emptiness, false highs, and anything to satiate your addiction to entertainment of some kind?

I'm learning the value of actually enjoying the process of enduring. The value of the simple, the savoring, and the staying. 

"By your endurance you will gain your lives." Luke 21:19


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