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Sweet Surprise

secret_surprise_2For my 30th birthday, my husband threw me a surprise party. We went out to dinner and were just planning on going home and hanging out. This was before we had kids, just 9 months after we had gotten married and 4 months after we had moved to Florida from my home state of California. Needless to say, my stress level was very high, even though some of those events were good ones. Like the getting married part.

When we got to our apartment, I was met with a sweet group of friends all gathered to celebrate my day. It was truly a surprise, which is often hard to pull off, and a lovely reminder of how much I am loved.

Those kinds of surprises are great. Others, not so much. Like when your favored team loses to a major underdog in the surprise performance of the century (looking at you Virginia). I don’t like those kinds of surprises.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book back in 1955 titled Surprised by Joy, which tells the story of his conversion to Christianity. Although he says it’s much less a chronology of events than it is a look at his life as only C.S. Lewis can tell it.

Surprise. Something unexpected.

I remember when my kids were little and I wanted them to keep a secret about secretsomething, like a gift for someone, I would tell them it was going to be a surprise rather than a secret, because I wanted to ensure that they didn’t keep secrets. I knew the stories of abuse that have happened with a relative who would tell a vulnerable child that this behavior would be their secret. They weren’t ever to keep secrets from us.

But surprises are meant to be fun. I like to think of them as good. I think that’s what Lewis found as he came up with the name for his book. He was an atheist. He didn’t know what he would find when he turned back to God. Joy was unexpected.

In some cases, we may wonder why we are surprised at the things God does. We ask Him joyto provide, and He does it. Sometimes it’s not in the way we expect, so we can call that a surprise, but not the fact that He does it.

It’s not the same as being startled.

It’s different than being shocked.

Some people don’t like surprises, and if I had to guess, I would say that it’s because it takes a modicum of control away from them. Just tell me what’s going to happen already. I want to know what to expect.

But that’s where trust comes in.

I’m not in charge, and if I allow myself to be surprised, I might just be blessed by a God who wants to give me all good things.

Like C.S. Lewis and joy.

 

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Rules and Relationship

It’s been a tough few months.

And when it affects my kids, it makes it tougher still.

Here’s the question: Does relationship trump rules?

checkoff-listI’ve been a parent for more than 21 years now, and I think I have a pretty good relationship with my kids. But I’ll tell you, they know there are rules. If I tell you to do something, you do it. Whining and fussing doesn’t get you anywhere in my house. My kids trust that I’m not going to tell them to do something immoral, illegal or impossible (although keeping their rooms clean does seem impossible at times). They trust that I love them and what I tell them to do is going to be for their benefit somewhere along the way.

Now, I’m human, and sometimes I want them to do something for my convenience. “Can you bring me my phone that I left on my bed? (because I’ve settled in my chair in the other room and you’re right there by my room)” But in the context of our relationship, they know that I’m not always doing that. And they ask me the same kinds of things, and more, because, well, kids.

Do they ever question my directives? Yes. Do I pull the mom card sometimes? (You know the drill: “But why?” “Because I’m the mom, that’s why.”) Yes. But they know that I love them. They know that they’re safe with me. They know that I ultimately want them to become fully functional members of society, and people who follow after God’s own heart.

When my kids have been pushing back against some of the things they’re told to do, child fighting with parentwhat I say to them is this: If you have a hard time obeying me, whom you can see, how much harder will it be for you to obey God when He requires something of you? This is practice for listening to God and doing what He asks because you trust Him and you know that He loves you.

I would think it should not have to be said that blind obedience to every authority is not wise. I’m talking about obedience in the context of relationship. Every parenting expert worth their salt knows that children thrive in an atmosphere of stability and boundaries. Allowed to run free with no rules, children will flounder. Loving guidelines and abounding grace create a healthy atmosphere for kids to thrive.

If my kids tell me over and over again that they love me, that’s going to mean a lot to me, but if they continually question my authority and break the family rules, some tough love is going to have to come into play. I wouldn’t stop loving them, but there would be consequences for their actions.

So how does this apply to our relationship with God?

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). He didn’t say, “Keep my commandments or I will stop loving you.” In fact, in context, He’s just been telling His disciples all about going to prepare a place for them in heaven and sending them the Holy Spirit to help them. But He knew it would be important for them to do what He has told them to do. For their sake. Not under compulsion, but because they love Him and want to do what He says. Did they mess up? Sure. Look at Peter as a classic example. He denied Christ 3 times. But oh, the restoration that took place on the beach before a fire after Jesus was resurrected. (See the 21st chapter of the book of John.)

grace tattooI love my husband. We have been married for almost 27 years. He doesn’t want me to get a tattoo. I want one. Just a little one. Nothing huge. I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with tattoos. But he doesn’t want me to get one. So am I going to go out and get one when he happens to be out of town? No. Why? Because I love him and I am going to respect this desire of his that I not get one. I do what he asks because I love him and I know that he loves me. He’s not asking me not to get one just to keep me under his thumb. I know he would love me even if I did get one, but it would be disappointing to him that I made this choice. And I would feel the break in our relationship.

Do I give rules to my kids and then reject them if they don’t follow them?

Will my husband stop loving me if I get a tattoo?

No. And we’re broken human beings who make mistakes.

We can be assured that God will not abandon us if we break His rules, put into place for our protection. But our disobedience is not without consequences. God’s love for us is not measured by how well we follow His rules, but our obedience can be a thermometer of how much we truly love God.

The gospel opposes earning but is not opposed to effort.

 

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I Accept You As You Are

I accept the fact that I’m never going to be an Olympic Athlete.

I don’t like it, but I accept it.

103_0372I accept the fact that my sons will never play Major League Baseball. I always hoped they would continue their baseball careers after Little League, but they just didn’t want to continue. I wish they had, but they just didn’t want to.

I accepted the package the UPS man handed to me. It was addressed to me, and I had ordered it, so I took it and claimed it as mine.

I accepted the change the cashier at the grocery store gave me. It was due me and he was handing it to me, so I accepted it.

We use the term “accepted” in many different arenas these days, and I think there might be a misconception about what it means.

Acceptance does not mean that you agree with everything a person does; but it does mean that you love them for who they are. I can say that I accept my husband the way he is, but if I see something in his life that needs addressing, I am going to bring it up.

I heard a wonderful message years and years ago by one of my favorite pastors, Chuck Swindoll. He titled the message “Love, Sweet Love.” At one point he listed the ABCs of love: I Accept you as you are, I Believe that you are valuable; I Care when you hurt; I Desire what is best for you; I Erase all wrongs.

Now, it has been a really long time since I listened to this message, but even without it right before me, I’m thinking I have those right.

What everyone wants to feel is that they are accepted and that they are valuable. But if IMG_7277someone is participating in a behavior that I don’t think is healthy, I am not going to accept the behavior, but I AM going to accept them. It is they who are valuable, not their behavior.

I think many times we equate the behavior with the person. My kids would get mad at one of their siblings and say, “He’s so mean!” I would say, “No, he is not mean. What he did was not kind, and could even be called mean, but he is not mean. He just did something that was unkind.”

I didn’t want the behavior to define the person.

Labels of any kind can be dangerous for people. The beauty queen, the smart one, the loser, the one we can count on, the one we worry about. These can define a person; but they are not who that person is at their very core.

But it’s much easier to stick a label on someone than to spend time getting to know who they really are. Does the child who struggles in school deserve to be labeled as “slow” or “dumb”? Does the person with amazing athletic talent deserve to be labeled as a jock? Is that performance or behavior going to define them for the rest of their lives?

I accept you as you are, and I believe that you are valuable.

fullsizeoutput_96f7You are too valuable to be accepted solely on the virtue of your behavior or your performance. Those things can change over the years. When I am no longer able to throw a football downfield to a receiver or run a mile in record-breaking time, that label of “athlete” becomes useless to me.

Acceptance means that I see you for who you really are. I believe you have value because you are an image bearer of God.

That’s a label that never changes.

Rest

Rest

A few days ago I wrote a post about relaxation on my Facebook author page and how that isn’t the same thing as rest. On Sunday I was sitting in my family room watching football, which can be relaxing, if your team wasn’t in the process of losing mostly because they gave up 4 turnovers.

Sigh

But I digress. It was a relaxing afternoon, but I must admit, that my mind was still running and therefore I’m not sure I was really experiencing rest.

Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

He’s not saying, “I’ll give you a break for a little while so you can catch your breath.” He’s talking about true rest, where our burdens are not our burdens anymore. We have laid them on the deep, strong shoulders of Jesus, and He takes them. Forever.

Sunday is called a day of rest, but in this time, there is still a lot of controversy about that. Some people say you can’t do any work at all. You can’t mow your lawn, you can’t do your laundry, you can’t cook.

Some take it to mean you shouldn’t go shopping or out to eat, because then you’re making someone else work.

I think I can make dinner and be totally at rest because my mind is stayed on Him.

Or I can be sitting and reading a book and be burdened by things that are not mine to carry, and be very much not at rest.

So rest for me means a lifestyle. Sabbath rest means I am trusting in Jesus to always carry my burdens. I am fixing my eyes on Him. I am filling my mind with praise music and talking about Him with those I spend time with.

This is not just on Sundays.

I can’t go to church and not do all those things that people say I should not do on Sundays, and then turn around on Monday morning with a knot in my stomach because of all the cares I am hauling around.

Some versions of the Bible use “rest” when they’re talking about death. Maybe that can look like dying to yourself over those things you want to carry but shouldn’t. Maybe that’s taking an analogy too far, but it makes sense.

Rest. Don’t pick up that thing that’s not yours to carry. Don’t take on that task that’s not yours to do. Don’t worry about that situation over which you have no control.

IMG_3895Psalm 62:1: “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.”

 

Hurricane Irma and the Storms of Life

IrmaIt’s Atlantic hurricane season, in case you didn’t know. We all watched the devastation in Houston. We read the reports, we saw the pictures. What a tragedy!

What I didn’t know until the other day was that this disastrous flooding had been predicted in the Houston area for a very long time. (See this article in the Dallas News about a report that was basically filed away and forgotten about this issue.) But because of politics or ecological concerns or the astronomical cost of fixing things, the harbingers of danger were ignored by the local government.

And now the cost of clean up and rebuilding is likely to exceed that cost by billions of dollars.

Today, we wait for Hurricane Irma to come across our area of Florida. Irma has us in her sights and we are being warned to not ignore the advice of our county and state officials. We’ve known this massive storm has been coming for days. We’ve known we are in the “cone of uncertainty.” We watch, we prepare, we wait. When the storm hits, hopefully we’ll be ready.

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Watching Hurricane Charley in 2004

2017 has been a very stormy year for our family, and they have been storms that we had no idea were coming. We didn’t have emotional doppler radar scanning out weeks and months in advance, warning us that we’re going to be hit. Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe then we could be ready.

But the fact is, life doesn’t work that way, so we need to be prepared for life’s storms even when things are going well.

Am I anchored on the Word of God? Do I know who God is? Do I trust Him to be good and loving and merciful?

“Through every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” These words were penned by Edward Mote back in the early 1800s. That means we have to have an anchor, number 1, and we have to keep it deployed, number 2. Sometimes I see kids riding bicycles with their helmets hanging from the handlebars. Dude, that helmet won’t do you any good there. An anchor held by a person or a job or money will not save us in a storm.

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Bent but not broken. A pine tree in a nearby neighborhood after Hurricane Charley came through in 2004

If our anchor is not held by our strong and mighty God, we will be tossed by those stormy gales.

In preparation for Hurricane Irma, we are taking down loose fence panels, trimming dead wood from nearby trees, picking up everything that is not tied down in our yard. What’s not anchored becomes a potential projectile.

It’s easy to find those fly-away objects in a yard; it’s not so easy in a life. What might look stable could end up being the very thing that overwhelms you.

We are also filling containers with water and eating any perishable foods that might not survive an extended power outage. These are all normal preparations when you know a storm is coming.

Feeding from God’s Word, drinking from the Living Water on a daily basis helps prepare our hearts for whatever storms might come.

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Morgan and Sunny stand by the only loss our home suffered from Hurricane Charley in 2004.

So, do we just live in constant fear of future upheaval? No, that doesn’t show faith. But being prepared for the inevitable helps.

Ground yourself in God’s Word.

Listen to wise counsel.

Ask for help when you need it.

Ride out the storm in community. In other words, make sure you have good friends praying for you.

When Irma rushes by us in all her fury this weekend, we will rest in the assurance that we have done all we can to prepare. And then we trust in Jesus, that beautiful, solid Rock, for the results.

Enjoy this old Benny Hester version of the hymn containing the words mentioned above.

 

Of Lice and Sin

magnifying glassThe dreaded text came late one night while my daughter was away from home visiting my sister and brother-in-law across the country: “Mooooooom! I have lice!”

Whaaat? How? Where did they come from? As my husband would say later, these are not helpful questions.

After calming down my daughter via text message and having her talk to her aunt, I hopped on the internet to do some research.

I made it 20 years of child raising before facing this experience.

I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Also, don’t google this issue unless you absolutely have to. You’ll have nightmares. I promise.

And so my lucky sister got to be the first to start dealing with this problem. Do we try natural solutions which may or may not solve the problem? Do we go the traditional shampoo route? A combination of the 2?

No matter what was decided, one thing was clear: they had to do something. Leaving the situation untreated was not an option.

Once my girl came home a few days later, we spent the next 2 weeks diligently combing her hair every day and shampooing with the special shampoo at least 2 more times.

Those 2 weeks of nit picking taught me something: lice are a lot like sin.what-is-sin

 

When looking for nits, the teeny little lice eggs that would hatch if left alone, I had to have a bright light and good eyesight. I used a very fine-toothed comb and spent a solid hour combing through small clusters of golden hair looking for those eggs that closely matched the highlights glittering in my child’s locks. It was a tedious process, but it was necessary to make sure that no more little buggies were going to live to multiply again.

It’s the same with sin. We must ask God to help us see what we are not seeing in our own lives. Are we harboring anger against anyone? Is pride gaining a foothold? Are we compromising in even a small way?

The unexamined life leaves sin to gestate and hatch and grow and molt until it reproduces into something that eventually takes over.

The results won’t be pretty.

King David asked the LORD to search his heart and see if there was any evil way in it (Psalm 139:23).

We need to know that any sin, no matter how small, will multiply if we do not ask for God’s help in identifying it and eradicating it from our lives.

Woman in Shower Washing her HairA couple of days after I had declared my child to be nit free, another friend texted saying she thought she had lice. Oh no, please, Lord. As I asked questions and heard her description of her experience, in all my expertise of 2 weeks of dealing with this issue, I began to doubt that what she was seeing was an infestation. Sure enough, when she came by for me to check a few hours later, the  little white stuff she was seeing in her hair was not nits, but simply dandruff from a recent change in shampoo.

Relief was felt by all.

I’m not suggesting that we beat ourselves up over every imperfection—His grace is sufficient for our shortfalls—but I am suggesting that we not overlook what God is nudging us to take care of. Those little Holy Spirit itches that alert us that something might be amiss. The counsel of a wise and loving friend can help us identify if an attitude is wrong or an action is not Christlike, but as in the false alarm of my friend, sometimes we might think we see something that truly isn’t there.

But isn’t it better to have it checked out than to assume it’s nothing and let it go?

Since my kids are older, I thought I had bypassed the lice issue. But I was wrong. I should have been aware that we were still vulnerable.

Just like with sin.

I have a good marriage, but I don’t take for granted that my husband or I won’t become repentance2hard hearted toward each other some day. We need to protect and nurture our relationship.

My kids have good friends, but someone could still come along and lure them away from their relationship with the Lord.

There will be no pointing finger or saying “that will never happen to me.” Truth is, it always could. Just like with lice.

There but for the grace of God go I.

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Love Your Neighbor

love God love peopleA woman fell outside my house today. I was just arriving back from my morning bike ride, sweaty and dripping, when I saw a huddled group of 3 ladies on the sidewalk. One was sitting on the ground next to a motorized scooter while one of her friends fanned her.

I stopped and asked if they were OK and did they need help. They explained that the woman on the ground, Carolyn I think her name was, has MS and didn’t have use of her legs. They weren’t strong enough to lift her up. Thinking they would need at least 2 men to get her up, they had called 9-1-1.

Unfazed, I told them I had an 18-year-old son in the house and I would get him and I was willing to bet that, together, we could get her back onto that scooter. There was roadwork right outside our neighborhood that was holding up traffic in both directions. The first responders would be awhile.

So, I rode around my yard into my garage, ran into the house and woke my son and told him a lady had fallen and we needed his help getting her up.

Without hesitation, he jumped out of bed, threw on a shirt and ran with me out the door.

Together, and with the help of another friend who was driving by, we got Carolyn back onto her scooter, a little traumatized, but none the worse for wear.

The ladies were effusive with their thanks, grateful that there were still “good people in the world.” Watch-Tower-jehovah-witnesses-31065655-549-720

Here’s the thing: When I had moved aside a bag to get a better angle to help, I had seen copies of The Watchtower pamphlet. I knew these women were Jehovah’s Witnesses, coming through my neighborhood to spread a false gospel. So, though kind and well meaning, these women, some would say, are my enemy. Their false gospel leads many people away from the truth about Jesus. In all I do, I try to connect people with God through a relationship with Jesus.

We are at odds.

And yet, I didn’t even consider not helping. They were in need and I and my son had the means to help them. And so we did.

When we knew they were OK and Carolyn was situated again, we were getting ready to leave, the sound of an approaching siren in our ears, when one of the women offered us a pamphlet to read. I kindly declined and we walked back into our house.

What I didn’t say was that we do what we do because we love Jesus, not because we’re good people. It didn’t feel right in that circumstance to talk about faith. I just pray that our actions spoke for themselves.

In that moment, differences didn’t matter. Theology didn’t matter. What mattered was that we operated out of love.

gong“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).

 

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