That’s A Wrap . . . A Little Life Update and Prayers and Scriptures for the New School Year

The insanely busy summer of 2022 has come to an end. When I say it has flown by, that’s not an exaggeration or understatement. Three(ish) months never passed so fast. I have one that goes back to school tomorrow (Wednesday) and one that starts next Monday, and so yesterday, Monday morning, I declared summer officially over. We’re back at it. The regular routine. The early mornings. All the things that come with school being back in session.

This year I have a third grader and a freshman in high school. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how we got here. How have my babies grown up so quickly? And I give myself a moment to pause, to feel the bittersweetness that comes with your kiddos growing up. I look back at those early, first day photos with chubby little cheeks and pudgy little hands . . . it’s sometimes hard to remember those days. They seem so long ago, and like most parents, I feel that pang of “where has the time gone???”.

But then I look at my long legged nine-year-old, and my almost 15-year-old man child, and I like what I see, not just physically, because they keep growing out of their shoes and their clothes, and that’s expensive! But I like the people they are and are becoming. I like being the parent of older kids. Even more than that, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for the immense privilege and responsibility of watching them grow into the people God created them to be. It’s not that every day is easy. I mean teenagers y’all . . . and a nine year that struggles emotionally . . . it can make for some hard days, but when I step back and take a thousand-foot view, I see these two, amazing people that God is molding. I, with my far from perfect parenting, with all its mistakes and mess ups, inconsistencies and imperfections, get to be a part of that. And one day, I pray, we get the even more immense privilege of launching our kids out into this world. I’m not sure exactly how an “empty nest” will look for us, but however, it ends up looking, I’m looking forward to it.

My prayer for my kids going into this year is relatively simple. “First and foremost, before anything else, let them have hearts that follow hard after you, Lord. Let them be leaders that show others Your light in a world that is hurting and struggling, Jesus. Let them be kind, hardworking, and honest. Help them to learn and grow and understand what is taught to them. Help them to make wise and mature choices even when it’s hard. Heal their hearts and their hurts no matter how deeply they run. Protect them physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. May your “truth” be their “shield and their buckler”. Give your “angels guard over them”. Bring friends adults and teachers into their lives that will draw them closer to you and that are good for them. Give them peace and freedom from fear. Let them know how much they are loved.”

And for good measure, I want to share some of the scriptures I try to pray over my children regularly. Anna is so used to hearing them, that although she sometimes mixes them up, she knows these mostly by heart. That’s nothing special I’ve done. As I’ve already said, I get a lot wrong when it comes to parenting, but if I don’t do anything else, I want to get the word of God in them, and I want them to know, as much as is humanly possible, how much He loves them. I believe in praying scripture. Not as some magical words or incantations but because the word of God is active and living:

  • You have the fruit of the spirit . . . “love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23
  • God has not given you a “spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (self control).” 2 Timothy 1:7
  • “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me, Says the LORD.” Isaiah 54:17
  • “All your (my) children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your (my) children. In righteousness you (we) shall be established; You (we) shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; And from terror, for it shall not come near you (us).” Isaiah 54:13
  • Paraphrased from Daniel 1:4 . . . “My children are a young lady and young gentleman in whom there is no blemish (because of what Christ has done for them), good looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand.”
  • All of Psalm 91 . . . “He (we . . . Courtney, Patrick, Andrew, and Anna) who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty . . . His truth shall be your (our) shield and buckler. You (we) shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness . . . No evil shall befall you (us) nor any plague come near your (our) dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge of you (us), to keep you (us) in all your (our) ways . . . with long life I will satisfy Him (He will satisfy us) And show him (us) My (His . . .God’s) salvation.” I just hit on a few verses throughout the chapter, but seriously every word of Psalm 91 matters to me.

Whether your children are just starting their first day of daycare or preschool or getting read to fly the nest, embrace the moment. Be thankful for what lies behind and look forward to what’s ahead. I pray for blessings and protection for you and for them. May this be the best year yet!

Because I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on it, here’s my PSA for today: As always, I’ll take a minute to emphasize this – don’t neglect your marriage while you’re raising your kids. As Jimmy Evans always says, “Your kids are a temporary assignment”. With obvious exceptions for special needs, they aren’t meant to be your everything and forever, and even with kiddos with special needs, maybe even more so, at least in our case, you have to work to make your marriage a priority when you have a child that, by virtue of their needs and through no fault of their own, demands so much attention. The order of things, if you’re married, should always and forever be – 1. God 2. Spouse 3. Kids . . . followed by everything else (church, extended family, friends, work . . .). But too many people sacrifice their marriages on the altar of “raising” their kids, activities, etc. Our children should grow into adults that we no longer need to parent. That leave home and have their own lives. That no longer obey and look to us for constant guidance, provision, and direction (yes, they may seek wisdom and advice from time to time, but that’s their choice not a commandment) but instead walk alongside us as friends and equals. So as challenging as it can be, build your friendship and relationship with your spouse while your kids are home so that one day, when they leave, while there will most likely be some tears and sadness (I mean I get it . . . our kids are loud and fun and exhausting so when they’re not here, it’s quiet and weird), you won’t be at a loss as to how function without them, and you won’t look at your spouse and realize you have no idea who you are married to because you’ve spent the last 18+ years ignoring the most important thing, next to God, in your life. PSA over!

On Gentleness . . .

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

I know these verses by heart. They are seared into my memory. I recall them often. But the words preceding?

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” Philippians 4:4-5

It’s not that I don’t know them, but I don’t necessarily give them the respect and weight I should. Especially, the “let your gentleness be known to all men” part. I’ve always kind of skimmed right past those words.

I am not an inherently gentle person. The NASB translation says “let your gentle spirit, be known to all men”. Gentle in the Greek means, “gentle, mild, forbearing, fair, reasonable, moderate” . . . I mean y’all, I don’t often find myself falling into any of these categories, but “reasonable” and “moderate” are definitely not my forte. However, as of late, God has been reminding me, that it’s not about my natural disposition . . . it’s not about whether or not I’m an “inherently gentle person” . . . if Jesus is my Savior, then I am called to gentleness, and the Holy Spirit enables me to be gentle. Gentleness is not optional.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  Galatians 5:22-25

People often frustrate me . . . how’s that for a segue? I don’t understand why they do the things they do. Why do some relationships have to be so hard? Why is it that boundaries can’t be respected? Why does judgment have to be passed on aspects of other people’s lives that have absolutely no moral or ethical consequences? Why is it that constructive, healthy, criticism can’t be heard? Why is jealousy the top dynamic in some relationships? Yep. People often frustrate me. And I frustrate myself. Because I have found that I kind of, sort of, have an inability to let things go . . . to sometimes leave things unsaid. I have a need for accuracy and honesty in my life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The issue is that I often fail to couple honesty and truth with gentleness. So rather than gently speaking truth, I blast it like a stick of dynamite and end up imploding what’s there rather than building up and creating something stronger.

I think we confuse gentleness with weakness. We think gentleness equals compromise. We are never told to be weak in God’s word. We are never called to compromise on biblical values and morals. Sin is still sin, and we still have a responsibility to address sin when, if, and how God tells us we should. Some of the gentlest followers of Christ are bold and strong in speaking the truth and living for Him, but they are also ruled by a gentle spirit.

Gentleness . . . it’s the area on which God is currently working in my life, and let me tell y’all, it is quite a lot of work. I want to have a gentle and quiet spirit. I want to boldly speak the truth with gentleness. I want to be gentle as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I don’t want to be abrasive and cynical. I don’t want to use truth to destroy, but instead use it to bring life to others. I’m definitely not there yet. Reality is, I’ve really only begun, and I know there is a lot of work to be done. But here’s the other reality, the one that really matters . . . it’s not my job to make myself gentle. It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to instill that gentleness in me. It’s my job to let Him. It’s my job to submit. The more I allow the Holy Spirit to live in me and work through me, the more that gentleness, and all the fruits of the spirit, will flow out of me. It’s not something I have to make happen, but rather it’s something I must allow to happen.

Forever Healed

“I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; But they did not know that I healed them.” Hosea 11:3

“But they did not know that I healed them.”

Nine simple words.

Nine profound words.

Seven hundred years before Jesus.

Almost 3000 years before our time.

Yet still so relevant.

“But they did not know that I healed them.”

In the context of Hosea “healed” is referring to being made spiritually complete and whole. The children of Israel were rebellious and headstrong. They repeatedly turned away from God and insisted on doing things their own way. They worshipped idols and sought worldly pleasures. But over and over the book of Hosea speaks of returning to God. Of repentance and redemption. Hosea 14:4 “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely.”

The parallels of Hosea to our current world and culture are undeniable. We live in world of people, broken and hurting, suffering and striving, reaching for anything and everything they think will make them “feel” good. Searching for a healing they cannot attain on their own. Never finding a place of peace and contentment. It plays out in our homes, our churches, our schools, our workplaces . . . always grasping for more, seeking ever elusive satisfaction and freedom. Never coming to the realization that there is healing and wholeness and freedom found at the foot of the cross.

But we do not know that Jesus healed us.

We do not truly realize that what He did in dying on the cross and rising again brought to us a completion and a healing that far exceeds anything physical we could ever reach here on this earth. Even within the church we don’t quite get it. We walk around defeated, heartsick and heartbroken. We struggle emotionally and mentally. We’re angry and bitter, full of fear and anxiety. We’re never quite satisfied. We put men and things, attendance and activity, in the place of God, and we look to humans to do what only God can do. We do not fully grasp that we are healed. No matter what this world throws at us. No matter how awful things may seem around us. We are healed.

Every time I read those words in Hosea they hit me as if it’s the first time I’ve read them. The people of God, rebellious and striving, struggling and not understanding they are healed. God’s never ending compassion to rescue them time and again. My own struggling, worrying, trying to measure up, trying to be perfect, and never fully comprehending, I am healed.

What’s the catch? What’s the “condition” that must be met in order to embrace and live in this healing?

Submission.

Submission to the cross.

Acceptance.

Acceptance of the Savior.

Obedience.

Obedience to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Relinquishment.

Relinquishment of control.

It’s so simple. So basic, and yet, so complicated. Because nothing seems more daunting than submitting and accepting, obeying and relinquishing. It’s not so much about doing as receiving. Jesus did the work when He gave His life for us. It’s not about working to receive. It’s about accepting the completed work of Christ in our lives. Posturing ourselves in a place of full submission and acceptance of a God, our Creator, who knows us far better than we know ourselves so that we can relinquish and obey. Good works won’t get us there. Showing up and doing all the things won’t bring healing. That’s not how it works.

If we are Christ’s, we are healed, this broken world is not our home, and no matter how things play out in the here and now, we have the victory eternally. When I look at all the hardships and struggles, from an earthly, finite perspective, I find nothing but anxiety and fear. But when I look at this life as a mere blip on the timeline of eternity, knowing that Heaven is my ultimate home, and these years on earth are but a vapor (James 4:14), I find such immense peace.

Some of the freest and most healed people I know also seem to have the most challenges in life. Yet, they know where their healing is found. Not in things or possessions, not in self-satisfaction or self-serving pleasure, but in Christ alone. If Jesus is our Savior . . . the Holy Spirit our Counselor . . . and the Father our everlasting and eternal Creator . . . we are healed – completely healed, purified, have become fresh – just a few of the words that define that word “healed” in the book of Hosea*.

And if we are healed then we have a mandate, a command, and the great privilege of sharing that healing with the world.

He’s taught us to walk. He’s taken us by the arms. Let’s not forget that He has healed us.

*https://biblehub.com/hebrew/7495.htm

Effective, Fervent, Righteous . . .

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.James 5:13-17

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

We tend to discount prayer. To see it as a last resort. It’s that “thing” we do when we can’t think of anything else to do. We hold prayer in much lower regard than we ever should while the God’s word holds it in highest regard. Maybe it’s part of our human nature, the striving for independence and self-sufficiency, or possibly it’s because we don’t feel worthy of asking God. We don’t want to be a bother. Often, I think it’s because we think we’re supposed to have enough faith without praying in order to make things happen. We have more faith in our own faith than in the living God who gives us that faith. Prayer shows weakness, and we believe that’s a bad thing.

I would contend, however, that I am absolutely unworthy, totally unrighteous . . . in my own right, I have zero right to approach the throne of God, but the blood that Jesus shed for me has covered me and made me righteous. Because of the blood of Christ, it’s not just that I can pray effectively and fervently from a place of righteousness, it’s also that God has commanded me in His word to pray. I would further argue that prayer shows our weakness, and that’s the very best thing. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that it’s only in weaknesses we are made strong. It’s in total reliance on Christ, in embracing our weakness, that we become who we are meant and created to be.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 9-10

Our prayers are powerful, but they’re not magical. They’re powerful in spite of us not because of us. They’re powerful, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of Who it is we pray to.

Our prayers are righteous and effective, but that righteousness is not something we’ve earned. We can never do enough or be good enough to be truly righteous. The effectiveness comes not because we are perfect in our words, actions, and thoughts. Our prayers are righteous and effective solely because of the blood of our Savior.

Our prayers are earnest because the King of Kings is on the receiving end of our words. When you look up the word “earnestly” from James 5:17 it means “prayer to God”.  “Elijah was a man (one of the human race*) with a nature (of like feelings, having similar passions and feelings, of like infirmities*) like ours, and he prayed earnestly (prayer to God*) . . .”. We over complicate what it looks like to pray earnestly, to be righteous, to pray fervently. We give ourselves way too much credit and God way too little. We forget that it really has nothing to do with our own abilities and everything to do with His.

We have to stop discounting prayer. We have to stop putting in the place of last resort. We have to stop leaning into our own self sufficiency and our own meager abilities realizing that without Christ we are nothing. We have to glory in our weaknesses knowing that it’s in our weakness we become strong through the blood of Jesus. We have to hold prayer in the highest regard because it literally takes us before the throne of our Creator, it moves the Holy Spirit to speak to us, in us, and through us. It changes things.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. We often say “all we can do is pray” but prayer is not just “all we can do”. It’s everything we can do. It should saturate our lives and fill our days. Prayer isn’t some magical mumbo jumbo of conjuring up the right formula or code to get what we want. Prayer is communication with the One, True, Living God. It’s not about just getting what we want or bringing a wish list for the “big guy in the sky”. It’s about developing a close, personal, and intimate relationship with Him. I wonder what our lives and our world would look like if we took the call to pray seriously? I wonder what level of change and transformation we would see, starting in our own hearts and growing outward, if we truly sought to live in continual and constant communication with our Savior, our Father, and the Holy Spirit?

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

* https://biblehub.com/lexicon/james/5-17.htm

It’s Like the Song that Never Ends . . . Only It’s Just Life as Usual

“Adulthood is saying, “After this week, things will slow down a bit.” over and over again until you die.”

Y’all this is my life. I thought summer would mean a slower pace, but there has been nothing slow about this summer. It has turned out to be the complete opposite. And now we’re staring down the last few weeks of this crazy busy summer, and I think . . . possibly . . . maybe . . . I’m coming to terms with the reality that having two kids, with (almost) six years and six grade levels separating them, means we’re going to be running in 12 different directions most days.

Things are not going to slow down . . . not next week . . . not next month . . . not next year . . . I’ve realized that I may as well stop fighting it and just accept it.

That’s it.

That’s life for the foreseeable future.

And then there’s the fact that when we are home, my youngest talks endlessly all day long. There are 1440 minutes a day and she asks approximately 850 questions a day . . . she does have to eat and sleep sometime. My kids are both talkers, but teenagers as a rule, tend to be a bit quieter. However, whatever my oldest doesn’t say (and he says a lot . . . especially about basketball), my youngest more than makes up for. So basically, I’m a very busy introvert (and we all know how well that works out) whose life is never going to slow down and whose ears are so incredibly tired.

I’ll confess, you can think I’m awful and judge me all you want, but I am looking forward to the glorious silence that comes with both of my kids being back in school. Because as much as I love their precious faces and never-ending chatter, my introverted self needs some peace and quiet. And also, there’s a good chance that when we get to the actual last few days of summer, you’ll find me mourning the end of the insanity and wishing that I could drag it out just a couple more weeks. I’m complicated that way.

Last year, around back to school time, another mom that I follow on social media (and I honestly, cannot remember which one), wrote a scathing post about how awful moms who celebrate their kids going back to school are, and although, it should not have mattered to me in the least what this person, whom I’ve never met in real life and can’t even remember, thinks I was so bothered by it. The author of the post may not have stuck with me, but by golly, the message did. I mean talk about passing judgment on something that absolutely doesn’t matter . . . I think judging other moms because they’re happy about the first day of school tops the list. We’re all different. We all have different personalities and needs . . . we all lead and live different lives . . . if you want your kids with you 24/7 then more power to you. If you need a break every now and again and cannot wait for that first glorious day of school, that’s cool too. And if you’re like me and want your kids to stay home forever because you love their crazy selves so stinkin’ much but also cannot wait for them to go back to school so you can drink your coffee in total and complete silence, well, I got nothing . . . there’s no logic when it comes to motherhood because these sweet, precious children suck it all out of us. But I’ll promise you this, however you feel, I’m here for it.

When Revelations Lead to Revolutions

We spent the last few days at a conference with the youth from our church. This is the first time I’ve been to a youth camp/conference since I’ve had my own kiddos. I was not a huge fan of leaving my kids overnight when they were younger, so I always stayed home with them. Just about the time my oldest was old enough to handle a few nights away, Anna came home. Wash, rinse, repeat for quite a few years. Plus, Anna is a little more complicated when it comes to being away from us. Even now, there’s a fine line of balance that we have to walk in order to keep her regulated and also continue to develop a solid foundation of attachment. Leaving her usually means we have to work for days and sometimes weeks to regain lost ground. But we were finally getting to a point where she did okay when we left her for more than a few hours, and then, hello, COVID. So we all sat out camps and conferences for a couple summers, but this year it was back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Still, the truth was, I wasn’t super excited to go. Pre-kids, I went to more than a couple youth camps, including one where we unknowingly booked unairconditioned cabins in the middle of the Texas summer. That was a special time where I threw a very, carnal fit about the heat and lack of AC in front of my teenage girls. Good job, Courtney. Way to set the example. But in continuing in this vein of honesty, I always found the camps exhausting and draining to the point where I could not wait to get home. I always felt like it was a constant tug-a-war of trying to get kids to participate and partake in the services and activities all the while, I wasn’t really feeling it myself.

This week was so unbelievably different. Maybe it’s because I’m (much) older . . . although one would think that older = harder (and physically, yeah, I don’t do as well on less than 5 hours of sleep coupled with copious amounts of caffeine). I’m also more mature emotionally and spiritually (at least on most days), and being older offers a perspective that I just didn’t have when I was in my 20s. But it was more than just maturity in my own life and walk with God. It was more than the fact that we took a great group of relatively easy kids . . . I mean they are teenagers, so at least a few shenanigans were a given. It was more than being in an air-conditioned church rather than outside in the 110-degree Texas heat. But praise Jesus for the air conditioning because I am too old for this heat. The fact is, there was a genuineness and sincerity in both the worship and the word that I’m not sure I’ve ever felt or seen before (I’m not throwing shade at any church or camp so no one get offended). I don’t for a moment think it’s because other camps or churches are disingenuous. I think, it’s because we have, standing in front of us, a generation, that is desperate for something real. Real beyond the latest cause or perceived “right” thrown in their faces. A realness that comes only through the redeeming blood of Christ.

There was emotion (I mean teenagers are emotional) in that auditorium this week, but it wasn’t driven by emotion. If anything, it was emphasized over and over again, that this wasn’t about having an emotional experience. It wasn’t about putting on a show or applause or counting salvations to post on social media (which we should always celebrate salvations, do not hear me wrong). No “repeat this prayer after me” moments happened, but I promise you, lives were given to Jesus, hearts were committed and recommitted to Christ. This week was 100% about a personal encounter with a God that transforms, delivers, heals, and sets free. And if you’ve never stood in an auditorium with over 3500 teenagers (yes that’s a LOT of teenage hormones) truly worshipping the Lord, then you’ll have to take my word for it that there is absolutely nothing like it. And I have no doubt that heaven was worshipping right alongside us.

I had this great revelation during this conference . . . I am middle aged (thus the copious amounts of caffeine). I’m telling y’all, it was a shock. I have, approximately as many years ahead of me as behind be, give or take 10ish or so years. I am not the future of our nation or our world . . . at least not to the extent that this generation, Gen Z, is. I am not old yet, but I’m not super young anymore either.

If you all know me, you know I’m a big fan of increasing independence as our teens creep closer to adulthood. I’m a big fan of equipping and enabling them to move into that independence as they grow. I am NOT a big fan of enabling kids, capable of becoming functioning, independent adults, to remain children well into adulthood. Stay with me here . . . I have a point.

On the first night of the conference, just as they were about to open, as I looked out over the crowd of teenagers, I felt like the Lord was telling me (I know I say that a lot, but I do think God can and does speak to our hearts through the Holy Spirit) that this is the generation that will be a catalyst for change. That this generation, more than any other generation since Jesus’s birth, is going to revolutionize the world for Jesus. This is the generation that’s going to rock our world. And on repeat, throughout the conference, what I heard God speaking to me on that first night, before we even knew what was going to be taught and covered (no obvious theme was given), was very clearly confirmed through the messages and the words that were spoken, and ultimately through the actual, living Word of God. But here’s the other side of that, here is what else God laid on my heart. We, as adults, have to let them. We have to let them grow up. We have to let them develop their own relationship with Christ. We have to let them both suffer and sacrifice . . . two things that my generation – those of us that rounded out Gen X and are on the cusp of, but not quite, millenials – and the generations immediately preceding us, do not do well. We like comfort and ease. Suffering and sacrifice? Not so popular in our post WWII world.

There’s a lot of research out there that shows that young adults are leaving the church at pretty alarming rates. It’s been getting progressively worse over the past 70ish years, and there are a number of reasons for it. We can look at the breakdown of the nuclear family, as God intended to be, as one of the leading reasons. We can look at the breakdown of our society, our morals, the value, or lack thereof, placed on life from the moment of conception and beyond, we can look at the lack of church attendance . . . none of it is wrong. But I think something we miss is that we, as parents, are too often trying to have a relationship with Jesus for our kids. We have more “thou shall” and “thou shall nots” than the actual bible. We are trying to force worship and church attendance and ultimately a relationship with Christ even into adulthood because we are still parenting grown adults in our society and in our churches. And guess what y’all? It’s not working.

Hear me on this. We go to church as a family pretty much every Sunday. That’s part of living in this house as a child and growing up in our family. I’m not saying let your 10 year old decide whether or not to go to church. We have rules . . . the good Lord knows we have rules in our home, but as you grow older the rules do change and grow with you. The freedom given grows, and is retained, by showing oneself to be responsible. But at the end of it all, no legalistic amount of rules and regulations are going to do what the Holy Spirit will do. The hard part is that we, the generation of helicopter, control freak parents, have to step back and be willing to let God work. We have to let our kids work out their own salvation because we cannot do it for them. We have to admit that as parents and leaders, we don’t have it all together, and we don’t always get it right. We have to stop spending our lives listing all of the sins of our kids and start looking for what God is doing in them. We have to start living out what we’re preaching. If we’re not walking the walk, in our words, in our actions, in setting a day-to-day example, in our homes, and our cars, when we’re not in church, our kids see that. And believe me it matters.

We have to believe that when we pray God hears. When we seek we will find, and when we ask we will receive. And then we have to spend more time in the word and on our knees than in trying to control everything. Because in the end, if this is the generation that is going to spark a revolution for Jesus, they’re not doing it because of anything we do as human parents. They’re doing it because they have a true and intimate relationship with the creator of the universe. We have to let Him reveal Himself to them. We have to let the revelation of Jesus’s love . . . of the unequivocal sacrifice He made for all of mankind but also for each of us individually . . . be the revelation that sparks a revolution in the world.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-14

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

When the Physical Meets the Spiritual

“For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:8

The other day I was watering my gardens and thinking that this must be the definition of insanity. Paying way too much for water, to keep tomatoes (and okra and peppers and zucchini) alive, because by gosh, I may be a lot of things, but a quitter is not one of them. These tomatoes may be the most expensive tomatoes ever, but come heck or high water, or no water at this point, they’re not dying ’til I say they’re dying.

We’ve had over 30 days of 100+ degree heat so far this summer. As Texas summers go, heat is normal, this kind of heat is abnormal. Not to mention the lack of rain. We so desperately need rain.

It’s easy to look at the statistics. It’s easy to see where we’re tracking this year versus past nightmarish years of heat and drought . . . I’m looking at you 2011. It’s easy to get anxious.

Honestly, it’s not just my gardens or the surrounding farmland or even the drought, that extends throughout our state and beyond, that’s cause for concern . . . it’s not just the weather giving me pause. It feels like the drought we’re currently suffering through is a physical reflection of the state of our world, and we’re living and existing in a culture that is in a perpetual spiritual, moral, and emotional drought. When I say, “We need Jesus”, it’s not just some trite response to the current state of affairs. We desperately need Jesus. We need Jesus in our families, in our culture, and yes, even in our churches. Because y’all, we aren’t acting and living like Christ. We’re not full of grace and truth. We are full of condemnation and accusations and discord and anxiety . . . we try to extend truth without coupling it with mercy and grace. We point fingers at others while refusing to examine our own motives, our own hearts, our own soundness of doctrine . . . we need Jesus. The Jesus that never excused sin . . . read the bible . . . He always called out sin for what it was . . . but also, the Jesus that picked up the sinner, dusted them off, and with love, said “go and sin no more”. Full of grace. Full of truth.

It’s easy to look around and despair. I can’t fix it all. I can’t make it rain. But I know the rain maker. And I know the fixer of human hearts. So when all looks lost, I’ll keep on doing what I know to do. I’ll keep watering my gardens day after day. I’ll keep reading and studying the word asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me, to reveal truth to me, and to correct me when I’m wrong. I’ll keep praying for physical rain and relief, and for spiritual rain and repentance for all of us, myself included. And most importantly, I’ll spread out my roots toward Jesus and refuse to despair in the heat and the drought and the hard times. Because they will come, the bible never says they won’t, but I serve the God that waters in the middle of the drought. That provides relief from the heat and water to my very thirsty soul.

What a Wonderful World . . .

How do people pick favorites?

Favorite food? What?! Ummm . . . all of it . . . ever. I love food.

Favorite book? Or top two or three? The bible notwithstanding because it is way more than a book and is obviously the greatest “book” of all time, but beyond the bible, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. It would be more like, “Here’s my list of 500 favorite books and counting.”

Favorite scripture? I have about eight dozen.

Favorite author? Nope. Not even going there.

Favorite movie? Depends on my mood. Do I want to laugh . . . cry . . . suspend reality? I mean, there are a solid 20+ on my list.

Favorite actor/actress? Well, I tried to do this one the other day, only to look at other people’s answers and think, “Oh yeah . . . I like him too . . . and her . . . and her . . . and him . . .”

Favorite color? I can do this one . . . blue. Decidedly blue. But also, there are so many beautiful colors. Emerald green . . . deep purple . . . yellow is a good one too . . . a pop of pink here and there . . . and let’s not forget red . . . but I guess blue inches out the others by just a tiny bit.

My favorite place on Earth? My home overlooking farmland behind it and a quiet, green hill in front . . . a black sand beach on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. . . the Great Smoky Mountains on a rainy afternoon . . . looking out over Lake Tahoe while hiking the Sierra Nevadas . . . driving the countryside or the busy streets of an Eastern European country . . . a solemn, sacred church that has withstood hundreds of years of conflict and change, and yet, stands as a reminder of an ever unchanging God . . . a busy city teaming with life, lights, and vibrancy . . . my living room on a lazy Sunday afternoon playing games with my family or just reading a book . . . and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all this world has to do and see. Nor have I lived all those simple, ordinary moments that make up a lifetime. So take your pick. All of it . . . any of it.

I believe my point has been made. I am incapable of picking solid favorites in any category. The clear conclusion is, I don’t pick favorites because I don’t play favorites . . . or maybe they’re all my favorite.

I’m not a particularly indecisive person. The opposite is actually true. When I need to make a decision that matters or carries weight, I can typically make it quickly and without a lot of second guessing. But ask me to pick a favorite amongst all of those choices, and I’ll struggle to choose. It’s a bit strange, and probably out of character, given my overall matter of fact, practical nature, but I think it comes down to the words of one of my favorite songs (out of dozens, obviously) . . .

What A Wonderful World
written by: Bob Thiele and George Davis Weiss
as sung by: Louis Armstrong

“I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
“I love you”

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll never know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world”

I know . . .  the most cliché song I could pick. . . but y’all know I love a good cliché. Last week, on vacation, we had the opportunity to hike to one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen . . . black sand, surrounded by cliffs . . . roaring waves that bordered volcanic rock, beautiful forests, and meandering streams . . . words cannot begin to describe and photos cannot come close to capturing what I can only refer to as “indescribable beauty”. And as I sat there, on a log, soaking it all in, the thought I had on repeat in my brain was, “This is one of the most amazing places, amongst thousands of utterly amazing places, on this planet God created.”

That’s the thing, there are countless places and endless moments of unimaginable beauty in this world in which we live. Some of them are those life altering moments and world famous sights that we’ll never forget. They’ll stand out as “that time we visited/saw/experienced . . .”. But some are those everyday, super ordinary moments that we may or may not remember tomorrow or next week . . . that will fade into the background of the busyness of life. But they’re all wonderful . . . they’re all beautiful . . . they’re all my favorites. Because our Creator truly has created an absolutely wonderful world.

And because I want to try to share just a little of that beauty . . . Pololu Valley on The Big Island, Hawaii

Out of Pocket

It has been a minute. We (as in my kids, my husband, and I) went on an 8 day vacation, and so I was either prepping and packing, traveling, or unpacking (and trying recover from the jet lag) for the past couple of weeks.

When I think of a vacation, my brain automatically goes to a place of relaxation, of not having any set plans and going with the flow . . . and while we definitely relaxed our plans and our schedule, there was still a fair amount of planning ahead and thinking things out, in order to make this trip a success.

Here’s the thing about family vacations. I’m a big believer in them. I love the memories made and the time together, but they are not the easiest thing on the planet for the parents. I recently heard someone referring to vacations with kids as the “away game” of parenting, and truer words have never been said. Everything I do at home, still has to happen on vacation with some minor adjustments. Meal planning (whether that be eating out or cooking in our condo) . . . check . . . laundry . . . that too (although I was super glad and thankful to have the ability to do laundry and not bring home tons of dirty clothes) . . . schedules and activities . . . double check . . . even a little discipline had to be thrown in here and there. Family vacations, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), do not give us respite from our day-to-day parenting responsibilities.

So why bother? If traveling with kids is work, then why do it? For starters, I’ve probably said it 50 times on this page, easy doesn’t always equal good, and work doesn’t mean bad. The best things in life often come about because of hard work . . . as a result of putting in the effort. And with kids, it is definitely about the moment and the adventures and the fun, but also, it’s about the long game . . . the family building and bonding that can only happen with the level of closeness (both in proximity and time together) that vacations bring . . . the memories made and shared . . . even the mishaps that will make us laugh for years.

The reality is, I’m so grateful for the ability to travel. I know that not everyone is afforded that privilege, and so although, it’s hard, and the recovery time gets longer as I get older, I’ll keep planning vacations whether they be near or far, huge adventures thousands of miles away or short weekends at the beach. I’ll keep putting in the work and making the effort, because the other reality is, these days are limited. I know there will come a day when my kids do their own thing with their own families, and they’ll come home exhausted but happy, full of memories, and with plenty of stories of rising before the sun, racing to planes, never-ending road trips, keeping bottomless pit kiddos endlessly fed, and seeing this amazing and beautiful world God has created.

Danger! Following Your Heart Not Advised

Just follow your heart . . .

The heart wants what the heart wants . . .

Let your heart be your compass . . .

Let your heart guide you . . .

It sounds so good. So romantic and self-fulfilling. What could go wrong if you’re following your heart?

The answer? Everything. Everything can and likely will go wrong, if all we’re doing is following our hearts. One thing I can absolutely tell you about the human heart is that it’s fickle, selfish, and often makes stupid choices. All the popular things our culture throws at us about following our heart are going to lead us right into a pit if our heart isn’t in the right place.

How’s that for a reality check? Positivity at its finest.

“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.”
– Jeremiah 17:9-10

Here’s the deal. No matter the situation or relationship, if you’re in it long enough, there’s going to come a day when your “heart”, that little inner voice that just wants what it wants, is going to tell you to bail.

Marriage? It’s fantastic somedays. And somedays it just isn’t. Why? Because we’re human. We’re selfish, and our hearts grow tired and familiar and weary with dealing with the same stuff day after day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bad “stuff”, just daily stuff . . . bills, kids, being a responsible adult. Believe me, if you’re in it long enough, and you don’t put in the work, there will come a day when your heart is convinced there are much greener pastures . . . that the ideal relationship lies outside of your marriage. Your heart is deceitful. (Caveat: As always, I’m not talking about abuse, affairs, or abandonment. If you are in an abusive relationship, and a spouse that cheats is emotionally abusing you, you need to leave and find a safe place where you can process and heal and decide your next steps.)

And if you think marriage is hard, let’s give parenting a go . . . maybe your kids are angels . . . I love mine dearly. I’m immensely proud of them . . . so much y’all. But they are not perfect, and while I won’t parade their mistakes and faults on here (or on social media) for all to see, I also refuse to present everything my kids do and say as perfect, cute, and funny. I’ll tell you there are days . . . I have a teenager (hello, hormones) and a nine year old that struggles with past trauma and emotional regulation . . . there are definitely days that I wonder if I’m truly qualified to parent these people . . . the tape (I’m aging myself with that reference) running through my mind keeps telling me, “You are screwing this up royally . . . You’re a crummy mom . . . ” but y’all, the heart is deceitful.

Spoiler alert: On my own, I’m not capable of being or qualified to be a good wife or mother (or anything else). Because my heart is deceitful, it will absolutely lie to me, and as if that’s not enough, it’s desperately wicked . . . it’s selfish and self seeking. But God . . . God is so good. When we come to Him and give our lives, our wills, our emotions, to Him, He gives us a new heart.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

It’s not that my old heart, my old nature, doesn’t try to rear up on occasion. It does. More often than I’d care to admit. But when Jesus is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Friend, there is a holy discontent, a complete lack of peace and a conviction from the Holy Spirit, that accompanies acting on your selfish nature and flesh rather than what God desires for your life. Long story short, sin should not sit well if we’re following Jesus. Just before we reach the words in Jeremiah 17:9-10, we read these words:

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.”

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”
– Jeremiah 17:5-8

Texas is, literally, in the midst of a severe drought. It’s incredibly hot and dry, and every plant and animal are desperate for water. But if you go to the (San Marcos) river, which is spring fed and continues to run in spite of the heat and lack of rain, you’ll find a cool respite from the oppressive heat. The trees along the banks stay green, even when everything else is suffering, because of the constant supply of water.

Our country, our world, are a hot mess right now. It’s easy to watch the news and despair. It’s even easier to let a constant anger, that eventually leads to bitterness and cynicism, simmer in us.

What’s not easy? Life. Life is rarely easy. But God is always reliable. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength . . . Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord.” If we are putting our trust anywhere . . . in any man, or government, or business, or relationship . . . anywhere but in God, we are misplacing that trust. But when we trust in God . . . when we choose to follow Christ’s leading rather than our own hearts then we are the tree standing tall in drought . . . in conflict . . . in sickness . . . in loss . . . in stress . . . in war . . . in floundering and failing economies . . . not because of anything we are, but because of Who He is. That’s where I want to be found. Not following my heart, but following His.