Four Years of Writing

I have been writing here in this space for four years now.
Four years of writing and hitting “publish” once a week, every week.
Four years is a long time in the world of blogs. Not many make it this long.
To be honest, just last month I was afraid I would have to take a break.
This fourth baby has been, well, difficult.
This year of beginning to homeschool and being pregnant and then caring for an extra fussy newborn has threatened to sink me at times.
Since I couldn’t give back the baby (don’t worry…I didn’t really want to…mostly…except every once in a while at two in the morning…) or quit educating my child or let my house return to nature, it seemed as though my writing was the only thing I could let go.
Except that God wouldn’t allow me to let it go. There was always something in my heart that He wanted me to say.
Often it was pounded out in five minute spaces and published even though it didn’t feel polished or very well crafted. Yet every time I was obedient to hit that publish button, even when I felt the most inadequate, I heard back from someone about how those words were exactly what they needed to hear.
So I keep writing.
I keep writing and I keep publishing in this little space of mine.
Except it isn’t really mine, is it?
It belongs to God and has always belonged to God, so as long as He keeps asking me to write, even when I don’t have the time to perfectly craft each word to make it sing, I will continue to obey.
Someday I’ll have more time. Someday these little ones won’t be quite so dependent on me and I’ll be able to pursue those bigger writing dreams of mine.
Until then, I’ll be faithful in this season of my life. I’ll hold those tiny, sturdy, beautiful bodies extra close and then snatch a few minutes here and there to jot down what I have in my heart. I’ll enjoy this season of writing in between nursing and playing dollhouse and reading aloud.
I hope you’ll continue to read and be encouraged, even when the words don’t flow as well as they used to.
I’m grateful that God has chosen me to be their mommy and I’m grateful that God has chosen me to write in this space.
So here is where I live: trying my best to be faithful in all that God has given me.
I will end this year, as I have each year of blogging, with this:
Whatever the reason for my writing, here I am in this space.  I will continue to obey, even though it is hard and often causes my heart to feel fear.  I will write.  God will listen.  I pray He will continue to be pleased.

Choosing Our Activities

Our world is a busy place.
There is a lot of pressure on young families (very likely on those in other seasons of life as well – I can only speak to what I know) to keep our children as busy as possible. We are presented with a myriad of activities for our kids and are given the impression that we deprive our children if we choose to opt out.
Sports
Your kids won’t be well-rounded! They will fall behind their friends! They won’t learn as much, be as good, become as successful!
Whether the reference is to sports, the arts, languages or STEM, the implication is that if we love our children, we will give them as much chance for success in their later life as we possibly can.
If God is in all things and in Him all things hold together, if we are to view all pieces of our lives through a Christian lens, if there is no separation between sacred and secular, then even the activities we choose for our children should be considered carefully in light of our faith.
Keep them home?
Send them out?
I have heard much lamenting from Christians recently about the busyness of our families, about how we should spend time together in our homes building character into our children rather than ferrying them around from activity to activity.
The argument is that it is much more important for our kids to know and love Jesus than to become successful in the eyes of our culture.
I don’t disagree at all with the impetus behind the lament. I fully believe that to know and love Jesus is the most important thing we can teach our children.
I also believe that it is important to teach our children to show Jesus to the people in their circle of influence.
And there is my dilemma. If the people who see us view us as failures, can they be receptive to what we have to say about Christ?
Science
Art
If God created arts, if philosophy and math are ways of looking at the world He created, shouldn’t we be helping our children to become well versed in such things?
For people who do not know God to respect what we have to say about God, they must also respect us. Yes, much of that will occur when they see how well we love them and each other. But some of that also comes with how successful we are in whatever tasks we set ourselves to accomplish.
So what do we do? What is most important?
Do we keep our families at home, focusing completely on helping them to love God and each other?
Do we sign our kids up for multiple activities, helping them to become successful and thus securing a foundation for their future witness to those around them?
Learn at home
Learn while away
Perhaps the answer lies in a balance between the two. This is often the case in our lives in Christ. We are not often asked to do solely one to the exclusion of the other; maybe that is true here as well.
If we are deliberate about carving out time to spend together as a family, being sure to be intentional in how we teach our children in that time, and also are intentionally wise in choosing a few activities for our children, being sure to consider the God-given passions of each child, then we should be able to fulfill both tasks set before us.
We should be able to help our children both to love God and those around them, and to gain the respect of their future friends and colleagues, laying the foundation of their ability to show Jesus to those around them.
Will you take a turn and share with me? What ideas do you have for not staying too busy as a family and yet at the same time helping your children to succeed?

Using My Mistakes

I am very good at parent guilt.
Parenting
How to parent?
I can second-guess with the best of them.
I have no idea what I'm doing
I enjoy planning out our days (okay, okay, our years), and no matter what decisions I make, I’m usually half convinced they were the wrong ones.
Often I reassure myself with the notion that God can make up for my mistakes, that He can help my precious ones survive in spite of all the poor choices I make.
Yet recently I was struck in the heart with a very different perspective.
God loves them
God can use my mistakes to make my girls into the women He wants them to be.
The idea that God already knows the mistakes I will make with my children and already has plans to use those mistakes to mold my girls into beautiful women who love Him and love others??
Using me
Well.
Using my mistakes
That is beyond beautiful.
It is grace. Pure grace.
It is a breath of freedom, a release from the lie that I have to parent perfectly in order for my children to grow up loving God. Ensuring the end for my children is not my job. My job is to be as faithful as I can and then to relax, being confident in God’s love for my girls.
A love that works for the best for them. A love that not only wants the best for them but is powerful enough to achieve that best.
Loving them
It allows me to be present and just enjoy my girls without having to worry about their future.
Ah.
Let’s go play.
Let's play
I am not sovereign over my children – God is. And God will use every aspect of my human parenting, even my sins and failures, to shape my children into who He desires them to be, for the sake of His kingdom. (Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Eight Other Myths… by Leslie Fields)

What Is Found in the Dark?

Dark.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
Dark.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
Dark.
Darkness
There is danger in the dark and there is fear, but is it the darkness that we fear or is it whatever lies within the darkness that we cannot see?
We light candles and we plug in nightlights and we busy ourselves to do whatever is necessary to hold the darkness at bay.
Lighting Candles
What are we really afraid of? Are we afraid that God is not there in the dark? Are we afraid that God is only in the light and if we enter into the darkness, whether it be the darkness of loss or of sin or of depression or even of death, we will lose the glory of His presence?
Yet in the darkness was where the glory of His presence was found, within the dark cloud over Mt Sinai when He made His covenant with His people Israel.
Yes, there is death in darkness.
And
There is new life in the dark.
New life
In fact, life can only begin in the dark. A seed sprouts underground and a baby grows in the womb and even Jesus was raised into His new life in the dark.
In the darkness of a cave.
We see the afterwards of the resurrection, the earthquake and the angel and the glorious, blinding light.
But the resurrection itself?
It happened in the dark.
It happened in the dark, in the silence, with the smell of damp earth and the roughness of rock all around.
And if new life can only happen in the dark, well then,
instead of doing all we can to avoid it, perhaps we should lean in to the darkness, lean in to our fear.
Perhaps if we do, we will discover a new life that could not have been found otherwise.

To Know Jesus

I am a learner by nature.
reading
learning
I love to read, to study, to delve deeply into what interests me.
My current confession is that the knowledge I have about God, about the Bible, can make me prideful at times. I went to a Christian elementary school and a Christian college. I’ve taken the Bible classes (including Jimmy Allen’s Romans class which has been around so long that my parents took his class when they went through school!), studied the texts, aced the tests.
For someone who never sought after a degree in ministry, I certainly know a lot about Jesus. Knowing Jesus Himself, however, is another matter altogether.
I have to be careful. I too often read books about Jesus rather than reading His Words. I too often would rather have deep theological discussions about Jesus than talk directly to Him. I too often prefer to listen to a speaker expound on the life of Christ than listen to Jesus Himself.
I could tell whether I know about Jesus, at least when I was in school, by how well I did on tests. How can we tell whether we know Jesus?
Know His Voice
Jesus told His disciples that His sheep know His voice, that they can follow Him because they are able to recognize His voice.
I sometimes think I only recognize His voice because it is that part inside of me telling me to do something I really don’t want to do!
King David
David, the one God called a man after His heart, gives us a clue to this in how he spoke with God in the Psalms. Perhaps one of the reasons he knew God so well is because he spoke to God about everything…happiness, sorrow, anger, joy, jealousy, revenge…truly everything.
Perhaps just being in the habit of speaking with Jesus about everything throughout every day is what brings us closer to Him. Perhaps just practicing His presence is what helps us to truly know Jesus. Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, showed us how to do this as he went about his daily work in the kitchen of his monastery.
Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence spoke of conversing with God as much when he was washing dishes as when he was kneeling in the chapel.
We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.
Like many things, it seems to be a matter of training our minds to continually return to God.
I think I can end no better than with Brother Lawrence’s words, words that I need to hear as I strive to know Jesus in more intimate ways than simply knowing about Him:
You need not cry very loud. He is nearer to us than we are aware. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God; some more, some less. He knows what we can do.  Let us begin then. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage.
Have courage and begin.

Art credits: The Good Shepherd by James Tissot; Anointing of David by Alexandr Ivanov; Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen in a book published by Fleming Revell Co.

Seeking Perfection (and why that is bad)

She was being silly with her bowl and granola scattered all over the kitchen floor.
I took pride in not scattering my temper but in speaking in calm, low tones as I made her clean it up.
Not ten minutes later, my pride evaporated as I yelled in frustration over having to explain twelve divided by four yet again to her very distracted mind…
Even though I knew she had suffered a sleepless night and who can concentrate on very little sleep when you’re a supposedly mature grown-up, much less a tiny little six year old person?
I often become so frustrated with myself and my inability to love the way that I want to love. I yell and I fume, I am self-centered and harsh. I have good moments, when I am able to obey that greatest of commands, but my failings come fast and close between.
I have been on this journey of following Jesus for decades and can be hard on myself for not having improved faster. I vacillate between trying to love more fully by sheer force of will and trying to submit and let Jesus heal my heart, yet I always am impatient and I wish for Him to heal me more quickly.
Maybe, though, my progress (or lack thereof) is not the point.
David was a success story in the annals of Bible heroes. He is known as a man after God’s own heart, and God’s own Son is not ashamed to be known as the Son of David. You can’t be more successful than that.
Yet when we look at his life, we do not see perfection or even a nearing of perfection as his life moves forward. Far from it, we see instead murder and adultery, we see a warrior with an unimaginable body count to his credit, we see lying and coveting and keeping multiple wives and mistresses. In one particularly shameful moment, we see him taking back his wife Michal from her new husband Paltiel for purely political reasons and completely disregarding the pitiful Paltiel as he follows Michal, “weeping as he walked behind her”.
The story of David is not a story of what God wants us to be but a story of God working with the raw material of our lives as he finds us. ~ Eugene H. Peterson in The Jesus Way
How can a man like this be called a man after God’s heart?
The answer can only be found inside his own heart and God is gracious enough to share that with us in the Psalms.
The answer we find in the Psalms is not that he was perfect or even that he neared perfection. The answer is that he was forgiven and that he trusted that forgiveness.
The answer to my own sin and imperfections is not to try harder or to find the right training that eliminates my sin. The answer is my own confession and the forgiveness that can only come from God. No excuses, denials or justifications.
I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.  ~ Psalms 32.5
Resolves and promises to “not do it again” wear thin. True confession, however, rings true and brings deliverance in God’s love.
Being honest about my inability to rid my heart of sin and throwing myself wholeheartedly on His compassion and ability to cleanse me is what makes me whole and perfect in His sight, not becoming actually perfect…because that, I’m afraid, will never happen on this side of resurrection.
My lack of perfection is frustrating, but only to me.

The First Few Months

These first few months are really hard.
Crying
Smothered
Sleepless nights, hours of crying, lives revolving around nursing and napping, siblings who are desperate for attention…even the bad kind.
These first few months are really beautiful.
Snuggled
Adored
Baby weight snuggled on your chest, satin soft skin wrapped in blankets, warm breath from tented mouth on your cheek, siblings huddled around in adoration.
There is much that is difficult and frustrating, bringing tears and even depression.
And.
There is an obvious beauty, a very clear purpose and reason to the difficulty.
Purpose
It makes me wonder whether this is the way God sees what we call ugly. Whether He can see the obvious beauty, the very clear purpose to the very hard things in life.
Perhaps we struggle only because we feel the sleepless nights and cannot yet see the first toothless smile.
Perhaps we would find more joy in our ugly places if we would trust that God has beauty planned ahead.
Perhaps we would find more peace if we would trust that God can turn even the hardest bits of life into a reason that is adored.
Adored
Even if that reason is not discovered this side of death.
Think of those first few months…
Hope
and hope.

This is Easter

Easter.
Easter
Spring.
Spring
New life.
New life
It is an inevitable part of life that monochromatic winter begins to melt into spaces of bright color. Snow gives way to tulips and crocuses. Perhaps it is our necessary reminder that death is followed by new life. Our reminder of Easter.
It was our first Easter without Kristina.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left the figure of Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”
God made
Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.
On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sang, “The greatest day in history, Death is beaten, You have rescued me. Sing it out, Jesus is alive! Endless joy, perfect peace, Earthly pain finally will cease. Celebrate Jesus is alive! Oh, happy day, happy day…”
During a celebration after tragedy, hearts swell and overflow with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. We feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
joy
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!
Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.
We all suffer. We all love and therefore all suffer because in our broken world, love means suffering. Those who do not love much do not suffer much. I would not grieve so deeply had I not loved Kristina so much. God loves our world and therefore God Himself suffers.
Such sorrow was felt over our first Easter without Kristina.
Kristina
We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.
Our rebellion
And so we sorrow.
Our longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. We desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.
Someday
And so we long.
Sorrow and longing.
At second look, we are reassured that these are what we should feel. After all,
Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
At the end of it all, however, our hearts must return again to gratitude.
On that Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang, “You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.”
Just as we did in the middle of our ugly places, our hearts cry out “Why?” Yet this time, it is a vastly different sort of why.
This time we ask, why do You love me that much?
His love
You went to the cross to allow us to become children of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that we are? Why would You pour so much into molding us into people who look like You?
Let us fall on our knees in joy and with gratitude for such lavish love.
Lavish love
On Easter morning and beyond, let our hearts swell with both sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is truly alive, knowing that He has defeated death.

edited from the archives

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

Daring to Be…Uncommon

This week’s guest post was written by a dear friend from my Harding University days, Josh Keene. He is the friend who taught me about the south, including how to talk southern (y’eady? aight. ‘sgo.) and all things country-fied, and it has been beautiful to watch him grow from a Louisiana boy just out of high school into a wise and godly man, husband, and daddy. I’m grateful that he is sharing some of that wisdom with us here. Enjoy!

Earlier in March, I had the absolute pleasure of being able to attend the Ignite Men’s Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia at Liberty University. I went with the intention of being able to hang out with some amazing men of God, have some fun, and refill my cup.
Something that I have not done well over the last few years is making sure that I give some focus to self-care. In order to try to do that better this past month, I have worked hard to reconnect with some old friends who have helped tremendously in being able to refill me with the joy of the Lord, the joy that tends to be sucked out of me in my work. I am a family counselor that works with a high risk population doing intensive in-home therapy. My job is to meet with, walk with and counsel families experiencing the worst moments a family can experience.
family
My wife, being the woman that she is, has been encouraging me to take better care of myself for a while and it has not been until recently that I have actually begun to work on it. As a part of this goal, my wife bought tickets to this event and made sure I was able to experience an incredible weekend with some amazing men of God.
As a structural family therapist, I am continually looking for patterns and themes in and around family systems that help make sense of the issues that they are dealing with. If I had to pick a theme that I particularly noticed during this weekend conference, it would be how to be uncommon.
Uncommon? Why should we be uncommon?
As I listened to speakers like Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Jerome Bettis, Alan Robertson, Phil Robertson, Rick Rigsby and so many more, the message seemed to have this same theme throughout. Take ownership of your walk with God, without worry about the expectations of others. We love others, we give to others, but we do not cater to their expectations or we will lose who we are and who we have been made to be in Christ.
Every one of us has been made sacred by God and yet we tend to settle for what is common, what is expected.

family

Whether it be from our family, our church, our work, our friends, expectations from others can keep us from our true purpose with God. See, it’s not just about being different, anyone can do that. It’s about being who we were always meant to be. It’s not about improving yourself, or being someone or something that you’re not because it’s the “Godly” thing to do. Jesus was not the Messiah that the Jews were expecting; he was so much more than that. He was a Saviour.
Do not settle for being the follower of God that others are expecting; be you. Submit to the purpose that He has created in you and made completely sacred to you.
Be an uncommon dad or mom, be an uncommon husband or wife, be an uncommon friend or co-worker. Be something that they never saw coming. Show love when they expect hate. Show mercy when they expect judgment. Show truth when they expect lies.
family
I love this quote by Wiersbe and I feel like it sums up by showing the balance that is needed. “Truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is hypocrisy.”
Find the balance and be someone that you never expected yourself to be. Be you.

Plodding through the Mud

This week you’ll get to hear from an old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (I knew her as Kelly Duncan back then).  I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it!  Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email.  While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well.  Go on…I’ll wait…), but is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma.  Read on and enjoy her beautiful wisdom!

Through the Mud

We read and talk about the “storms of life,” those times when life is pelting you with thunder sleet or hurricane force winds. That metaphor makes the trials of life exciting and eventful. After all, those kinds of storms even get their own names. Sandy, Rita, Ike. To talk about the trials of life as the same as experiencing a hurricane, well, that just sounds dramatic.
But the more I experience trials in life, I feel more like I’m slogging through ankle-deep mud in the middle of some random field.
Like I said, storms are exciting. Eventful. We expect big rises and falls, epic rescues. Live coverage at 5.
Slogging through mud doesn’t get a rescue, kind of like that family in the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Every time the family faces an obstacle on their journey, they say, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We have to go through it.” The oozy mud is no exception.
You take a foot out of the gross.
Squelch
You stick it back in, only a few inches ahead.
Squerch
Now the other foot. Out.
Squelch
In.
Squerch
Day in and day out, you make snail-like progress. You hold a hand if it’s offered, and you plod your way to the other side. It’s tedious and exhausting. There’s a lot of waiting and standing around. There’s not much else to do until you reach better footing.
“We’ve gotta go through it.” Squelch. Squerch.
Trials in life involve lots of plodding through the mud.
Currently, my mom is battling breast cancer. When her diagnosis first hit, my family felt the blunt winds. We drove in the middle of the night once, racing to the hospital as my mom’s lungs unexpectedly filled with fluid. We shuffled my kids to relatives once a month, so that I could go help as much as I could at treatment sessions, doctor’s appointments, test results. We had updates and reports. We wrung hands and added her name to prayer lists. It was dramatic! Highs! Lows!
But lately, we’re in the mud. My mom tries a new hormone therapy. She listens to another doctor. She tries a new medicine. We get mixed reports: good news and bad news. Squelch. Squerch.
I know those winds can pick up again at any time. Cancer is a big bully, taking cheap shots at my family when it gets a chance. But right now, we squelch. We squerch. We take a step and then take another one, realizing there’s not much else we can do or control.
We hold hands. We pray. And we look to the horizon for dry land. We know the dry land will come. That’s the hope that keeps the squelching and squerching going. If you feel stuck in the mud, know that there’s beauty in those inching steps. There’s fight and there’s victory. Small steps, yes, but progress nevertheless.