Love Is . . .

Yesterday, Patrick said to me, “I cleaned out your sink drain so it wouldn’t drain slowly.” I have really long hair (for now anyway), and if you’ve ever had or lived with someone with long hair, you know that drains, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, get clogged. I’ll add, it’s gross. It makes me gag.

But here’s the thought that I had when he told me that. That’s what love looks like. We’ve been married over 19 years. Tomorrow will mark 24 years since we started dating. We were 17 (if you care to do the math) and young and stupid (no need to tell me not to say that . . . we were) and naive when we first met and started dating shortly thereafter. We weren’t close friends or besties first. We got to know one another while dating, but we dated for a long time before getting engaged. We were still young and somewhat stupid and maybe slightly less naive when we married at 22. We’ve grown and grown up together. We are very much different people, yet somehow still the same, as we were over 20 years ago.

Patrick still has a ridiculous sense of humor and is extroverted as all get out. Sometimes he makes me laugh hysterically. Sometimes he annoys the living daylights out of me, but he regularly pushes me out of my comfort zone. For that I’m grateful. He still procrastinates but then manages to get it all done and works harder than anyone I know. I’m pretty sure there’s not a day of the week he’s not working. He runs a business, works on our investment properties, teaches and is on the worship team at church, and provides for and leads us beyond well. He also, knows how to have fun and enjoy life.

I’m still over here struggling with OCD tendencies. Not to mention, I’m incredibly introverted. I still fight fear and obsessively worrying about things, but I’ve also learned to fight that on the front end. I’ve learned to pause, take a breath, and admit when something is making me anxious. I’ve learned, or am learning, excellence and doing things well are not the same as being perfect, and lowering my standards to be somewhat reasonable does not equal compromise. And maybe most importantly, I can sometimes let go and just have fun.

I think we’ve both learned that love for one another can look so many different ways. It can mean romance and flowers and dates. It can mean weekends away and fun trips to far off places. Romance, doing thoughtful and caring things for one another, should not be something we totally neglect. Those things do matter, and we make an effort to spend time together, away from the kids, away from the crazy, and to prioritize one another and our relationship because it is that important. But also, love is cleaning out the dumb, gross sink drain. It’s letting the other one sleep in while you get up and let the geriatric dog out long before the sun rises. It’s working together to figure out schedules when your fifteen-year-old is insanely busy and your nine-year-old is running a sky-high fever.

It’s all of those things and more. It’s not a Romcom or a romance novel. It’s way more than a feeling. Because there are times when you feel it, and times when you don’t. There are times when you’re dead tired and just doing good to get through the day. And there are times when you have all the good feels and you remember, yep, this is my person. Love is first an action, a verb, a commitment, and the feelings often follow.

We’re far from perfect. We have good days and days when we both need an attitude check. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we’re both hardheaded, stubborn, and strong willed, and God has really had to work some things out in both of us. I’ve had to learn, I’m still learning, to let Patrick lead our family . . . to not try to take control and take over. But thankfully, by the grace of God and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we get better with each passing year. I wouldn’t want to live this wonderful, crazy life with anyone else.

A Martha Moment

4:00 a.m.

I know my alarm is going off in about an hour and a half.

I’m still beyond tired.

But my brain will. not. stop.

I try to pray but interrupt myself figuring out all the things I can do to fix all the things that need fixing.

I need to leave it at the feet of Jesus. I need to rest at the feet of Jesus, but I’m too busy having a Martha moment.

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

One . . . I get Martha. Martha is my people. I am Martha.

Two . . . I would’ve been so annoyed with Mary. I would’ve been grumbling and complaining about how Mary never helps with anything because she’s too busy worshipping Jesus. Does she think things just magically happen???

Three . . . I don’t think Jesus was just worried about Martha hustling around and doing stuff. Taking it back to the Greek, the word “distracted” means “drawn away”, and the word “serving” actually means “preparations” and “ministry”*. Martha was drawn away from Jesus because she was so busy with her ministry of the moment. That’ll preach y’all. How often do we let our ministry and serving, whatever those may be, no matter how good and Godly they are, get in the way of our relationship with our Savior? I think Jesus was far more concerned with Martha’s heart, with Martha’s need to be in control, to manage everything, than He was about her being physically busy. Because when you “get” Martha, you get that Martha was probably a perfectionist control freak. She thought that she was keeping everything under control by doing all the things. And, as we all know, that control is just an illusion. Jesus wasn’t just after Martha’s attention. He was after her heart. He wanted her to relinquish control and learn to trust Him.

Lying in bed at four in the morning, I may not be physically doing anything, but mentally I’m running a marathon. I’m handling it all. I’m maintaining control, or at least I think I am. I can keep on keeping on. I’m not just good at this, I excel at this. I can lose sleep in order to maintain the illusion of control. Or I can close my eyes and sit at the feet of Jesus and let Him handle it. And if and when there’s something that actually needs to be done, because yes, there is absolutely a time to get yourself moving, I have no doubt He’ll let me know.

* https://biblehub.com/lexicon/luke/10-40.htm

People Pleasing Ways . . . Idol Worship and Lip Service

Massive reality check: I am a people pleaser. I do not like it when people do not like me.

My husband and kids might disagree. I mean, my kids will tell you they’re frequently displeased with me. It comes with the territory of parenting. But when it comes to saying “no” to those not closest to me (i.e. these three people I live with), I struggle greatly. It’s not that I never say no initially, but I don’t have a particularly assertive personality. If someone asks me to do or allow something that I know I can’t or shouldn’t be doing or allowing, I’ll very often start with a vague, “I/we can’t because ______”. But that often snowballs rapidly. Enter lengthy explanation and/or justification, if they push back, which people are known to do. I become very uncomfortable . . . are they mad, annoyed, upset, disappointed with me? Do they think I’m just making excuses? Do they hate me because I said no? And then one of two things happens. If the answer has to remain no because I have no choice, I start giving more and more justification as to why I cannot say yes to said “thing”. It very rapidly enters the territory of “tmi” and then some. OR more often, I say yes in stages. I give in slowly because I don’t want to upset the other person, and quite frankly, I’m fairly easily coerced. So, then I’m on the hook for something I do not want to do, and I absolutely know I shouldn’t be doing. My husband asked me just yesterday why I don’t just say, “No we’re not going to be able to do that” and leave it at that. Because that is way too simple y’all.

Now, I need to clarify, there are definitely times we need to say yes, even if it’s not something we completely want to do. Want is such a relative term because I really don’t want to do much outside my house or family ever. If it were up to my introverted self, I’d probably never say yes to anything. But there are plenty of times where I know I need to step outside my comfort zone and anxiety and say yes, and I’m (almost) always glad when I do. I’m not talking about those times here. Because those are the times, I’ll give a yes, without being coerced, or I’ll volunteer, without even being asked, even if I’m super uncomfortable.

All this to say, I don’t like other people to be unhappy with me, and I find myself giving in, in order to keep others happy, way too often. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the very long-winded explanation, of why I’m a people pleaser. Specific examples withheld because, well, see (literally, see it and read it) all of the above . . . I wouldn’t want to offend anyone . . . on the off chance that they may somehow stumble across this . . . it’s a highly improbable probability y’all, but it remains a probability none-the-less.

So, this is where I land this morning. Because it’s something God has been working on in me, the problem of people pleasing, and dare I say it, idol worship. (Insert sarcastic smirk here) I have learn to be okay with people not being okay with me. I have to be okay with the fact that sometimes they’re going to be mad, upset, annoyed, etc. with me, and that’s not on me. That’s on them. I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings. (Now I’m not saying I plan on going out of my way to make others angry or hurt. I’m in no way saying that. Romans 12:18 tells us that as much as possible with us we should live at peace with others . . . paraphrased, obviously.)

An excerpt From Jess Connolly’s Go and Tell Gals email newsletter from yesterday . . . it’s funny, not haha, how God repeatedly places messages in my path when He wants me to learn something . . . the podcasts I subscribe to, the emails, newsletters, etc. seem to be hitting this topic hard in the past few weeks . . .

If you’re weighing out whether or not something needs to be a “no,” here are five GREAT reasons you should say no. Check for these in your soul + life: 

  1. You should say “no” if you’re only saying “yes” to get the approval of others.
  2. You should say “no” if you’re going to show up bitter.
  3. You should say “no” if you think saying “yes” will make God love you more. 
  4.  You should say “no” if you’d only say “yes” to prove a point. 
  5.  You should say “no” if you believe you have to because no one else will say “yes”.

And here is my number six: you should say “no” if you feel like the Holy Spirit is leading you to say “no”, even if it’s a good thing on its face. Because we are not called to do everything . . . even good things, and that can mean at church, or at our kids’ schools, or at work (when called to go beyond your actual work duties), or even holy and good volunteer opportunities . . . none of that comes before our relationship with God, serving our spouses and families, and being present where God has placed us . . . we’re called to do what God tells us to do not what others think we should do (thank you Priscilla Shirer for that lesson many years ago).

Now I’ll add this, I think the term “I just don’t feel peace about it” is way overused and a Christian cop out far too often (the only term that I think is more overused and/or manipulative is “The Holy Spirit is telling me you should do _____” . . . but that’s another post for another time). Sometimes we’re going to have anxiety and fear about moving forward with something, even if God is telling us to do it. Sometimes we’re not going to feel physically peaceful about it. If you tend to run more on the high-strung end, like myself, anxiety does not equal an automatic no. If it did, I would’ve never moved forward with some of the hardest and best “yeses” in my life. What it does tell me is I need to pray for discernment and guidance and strength to do those hard things. But there are times, when I feel an unholy discomfort, if you will, that tells me I will regret it, hugely, if I say “yes”, and that’s almost the Holy Spirit telling me to put on the brakes. That’s when I know I’ve entered the “people pleasing” territory.

Enter scriptures, because y’all should know by now, that if I feel like God is telling/showing me something, then it absolutely has to be confirmed with scripture. And I don’t mean making scriptures, taken out of context, fit my narrative. I mean digging and seeing what God has to say about the topic, and then changing my narrative if needed . . .

  1. Read the gospels. Jesus loved people, but He was not a people pleaser. He lived a sacrificial life, but so much of His ministry and teaching turned what was popular and pleasing to the “big wigs” of the day on its head. He healed, delivered, and set free, but He also called sin what it was/is, He called out the Pharisees and Sadducees for their self-serving ways, and He spoke the hard truths in the most gracious and loving way. Further, Jesus knew when to pull back. He knew when He needed to say “no” to the crowds and the people and spend time in prayer and solitude and in community with those closest to Him, in order to be His best and complete His Father’s work.
  2. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10 . . . this one is commonly used to speak against people pleasing, but I had to really think about whether or not I was reworking it to fit my narrative which is what I want to avoid. In context, Paul is talking about preaching a gospel that is pleasing to men rather than God. It was a problem then, and it remains a problem now. Preaching a people pleasing gospel. Here’s the conclusion I came to, if we’re running around say “yes” to all the things to keep other people happy, then we’re not going to have the capacity to do what God is calling us to do. Seeking to “please men” is a problem no matter how you look at it, and it is a gospel of idol worship rather than trusting in God. Our lives are a testament to God one way or another. If we’re flat out frenzied, exhausted, and spent because of all the things we’re doing in our own power, that’s no testimony to the world.
  3. “A man who flatters his neighbor
    Spreads a net for his feet.”
    Proverbs 29:5
  4. “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25 . . . nothing like Proverbs to give us perspective.
  5. Ultimately, here’s the problem with people pleasing, it’s putting someone or something before God. It’s being more worried about their opinion of you, than what God is calling you to do or not to do. It’s at its root, idol worship. Because if God is telling you to do or not do something . . . because it’s wrong or unsafe or just not right for you or your family . . . if it exceeds your capacity to serve and pushes out those things that you’ve actually been called to do . . . even if what you’re called to is as simple as caring for your family . . . then you’re worshipping man and not God.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:2-6

We have this thing in the church where we think, since we’re not physically making carved images, we’re not worshipping idols. But make no mistake, we have plenty of idol worship within the church. We have plenty of “gods” before Him. They just look different than those in the Old Testament. And people pleasing, putting men or a man before God in any capacity, pretty much sums it up.

My daughter came home from school last year with a phrase her teacher, bless her heart, probably had to use way too often with my very persuasive child, “My answer is ‘no’ and no means no.” And I think we need to both employ that (maybe in slightly less blunt terms . . . maybe not) and learn to accept that. Because being a people pusher rather than pleaser, and not accepting that or punishing others for saying “no”, is no better. And y’all this goes beyond just saying “yes” or “no”. What I’ve written here, while not brief in the least, doesn’t come close to being exhaustive when you take a deep dive into people pleasing. I find myself not speaking up when I should, keeping things to myself out of fear of man’s response, and not being willing to be authentic (authentic does not equal obnoxious nor does it mean airing all your dirty laundry on social media) at times, in order to keep others happy. That is not what or how God created us to be. In the end, it all comes back to priorities. It’s great that we say our priorities are in the right place (1. God 2. Marriage . . . if married 3. Kids . . . if you have them 4. Everything else . . . ministry, church, extended family, friends, work . . .), but if it’s all just lip service, if we’re not following through with actions, then those words mean nothing.

All Things To All People

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

I read these words this morning, and I just kept circling around them. What do they really mean? What do they NOT mean?

  • First, I have to work somewhat backwards, with what does this passage of scripture not mean?

This is not a passage of permissiveness. It’s not Paul giving us license to sin. Having said that, it’s also not a license to legalism. We are not under the Jewish law. We are under the law of Christ. And Christ, His person and His very being, is the word of God, the bible in its entirety. He both is and was God and is and was with God.

People often say things like, “I follow the teachings of Jesus . . . ” referring exclusively to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Or just as often, “Jesus never directly addressed ___________.” John 1:1-2 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” One of the hardest truths, facts, for our finite minds to grasp is the fact that The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are one in the same, all God, and yet, three distinct persons of The Trinity, all present from the very beginning. The Bible was divinely inspired not by some “big guy” in the sky, but by God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And so, if you follow the teachings of Jesus, then you follow the entirety of His word.

The word of God is very clear on what is and is not sin, and we are never given a license to commit or excuse sin. Having said that, so often we pass judgment on people not for actual sins, but for things that would fall under the category of “our own personal convictions”. Neither compelling people to follow our personal convictions nor excusing sin are acceptable under the law of Christ.

  • So if it isn’t a license to sin then what does this passage mean?

In this day and age of, “I don’t care if you’re offended”, and “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea” (which, is sadly true . . . none of us are going to be liked by everyone all the time . . . and that’s okay), we have to be careful that we’re not intentionally trying to bring offense . . . that our goal is not to be offensive but to share the gospel of Christ. The word of God is offensive to sin. It’s offensive to Satan. The world sees God’s word as backward thinking. There’s no denying or getting around that.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness (absurdity, folly) to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

Having said that, there are times and situations, where I make decisions on how to proceed or not proceed based on the environment and the beliefs of those around me. I’m not talking about sin here (as addressed above). I’m talking about respecting the personal convictions of others, if and when I am able and it’s appropriate and safe. This isn’t the only place Paul addresses this (read, Romans 14). I often tell my kids, “you don’t have to agree with all the rules to follow them and be respectful”, and while we are, by virtue of what we believe and stand for, going to offend others at times, our end goal should never be offense, but to share the gospel, to build others up in Christ, and to make a difference for the Kingdom of God.

Three questions I feel like God brought to mind as I was meditating on this passage of scripture: (1) Am I trying to be a witness for Christ or am I just trying to make someone mad? (2) Do I get more pleasure out of getting a rise out of someone than seeing their life changed or affected by Christ? (3) What is my motive and is it pure?

Because y’all, sometimes, I just want to rock the boat for the sake of rocking the boat. And Jesus wasn’t flipping tables just for the fun of it. He always had a purpose and a pure motive. Always.

“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4

We serve a very kind and patient God. If you read through the Old Testament, you see, not an angry God as some would have you believe (yes, God was angry at times, but anger has never been God’s defining attribute), but a God who chose time and again not to abandon His children even though they were outright rebellious and sinful, even though they repeatedly turned against Him and worshipped other Gods. We see a God who warned His children repeatedly to repent and turn back to Him, and we see a God who rescued and redeemed and loved His children in spite of the absolute sin they chose to chase after. Ultimately, we see a God, who knew we could never get it right so rather than wash His hands of us, He chose to come to earth as a babe and die sacrificially as a man so we could be forever free in Him.

I think being able to walk out 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is a mark of maturity as a Christian, and being total transparent, it’s a part of the Christian walk that I haven’t fully matured into yet. It’s an area where I still need a tremendous amount of work because I’m just ornery enough to like to put up a fight from time to time. But it’s also an area where I want the Holy Spirit to mold me, to reign me in, to teach me so that maybe one day, like Paul I can say, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

Ten Totally Useless and Random Thoughts for Your Friday . . .

  1. I love coffee . . . hot or cold . . . I legit don’t care. I just love coffee. A splash of half/half. No sugar. It’s the best. I’ll tell you what I don’t like . . . pumpkin spice coffee of any kind . . . it tastes like perfume smells to me . . . which is weird because no one should ever wear pumpkin spice perfume . . . ever. No offense to anyone that loves it (pumpkin spice coffee not perfume . . . if you like pumpkin spice perfume you should have your head examined). I can eat pumpkin bread, pumpkin ice cream, and pumpkin pie all the livelong day, but I can’t handle pumpkin in my coffee.
  2. I’ve read 30 (fiction) books so far this year. My goal is 50. I don’t know that I’ll get there but considering how crazy life is . . . and how I fall asleep while reading at night and drop my kindle on my face . . . I think I’m doing pretty well.
  3. I always think about doing a top ten favorite book round up at the end of the year. But I don’t because narrowing down favorite books is like picking a favorite food. Pretty much impossible. But I’m keeping track of my books on Goodreads so maybe . . .
  4. Speaking of favorites . . . I have the hardest time picking favorites for anything. And my youngest has been on this, “What’s your favorite __________?” kick. Here’s what I know. My favorite color is blue. Always and forever . . .but also, I love all the colors. Colors are terrific.
  5. Given my inability to pick favorites, my perfectionistic tendencies, and my need to read all the reviews ever before picking a hotel or VRBO (much like I don’t do camping, I don’t do sketchy hotels, condos, or houses), you’d think I might be an indecisive person. But alas, I’m not. When it comes time to make a decision, I’m your girl. I look. I do a quick review run through (5 min tops). I decide. And then I don’t think about it again. Indecisiveness makes me crazy. No need to have a two-day conversation. Make a decision people.
  6. Football is back y’all. I don’t care. But here’s the deal. With football being back, and the end of the year racing toward us at a rapid pace (because it’s important to remember that sometimes you race at a NOT “rapid pace”), the gym is dead on Sunday afternoons. Dead as in I was the only person there last week. Yes, and amen. I love me some football.
  7. Speaking of working out, I’ve been struggling with sciatic pain straight down my left leg. If you follow me on the socials (“the socials” sounds really stupid, but I’m leaving it), you know this already. Pain, schmain . . . going for a 3.5-mile run, followed by a 1.5-mile walk was not the smartest move yesterday. So, other than some targeted stretches sent to me by a PT friend, I’m forcing myself to take extra rest days today and tomorrow . . . rest meaning I am specifically not going to work out . . . I’m sure I’ll find something else to keep me busy because the thought of doing nothing makes my eye twitch. But hey, I don’t have to wash my hair . . . tmi . . .
  8. I ate cookies for breakfast. That is not a good choice y’all. But I’m not regretting it either.
  9. Rain . . . rain is my favorite . . . see I can pick a favorite. But for real, I wouldn’t complain if it rained every single day. I mean, I’m all for the sun peeking through here and there, but I really love the rain.
  10. I also love to wear sweatshirts year-round. Which is why I prefer rain and cool temps. Because turning down the AC to bearable temps when one insists on wearing sweatshirts in the dead of summer gets a little bit expensive.

And there you have, 10 totally useless thoughts for your Friday morning. Here’s to the weekend y’all and praying for cooler temps and rain.

A Thrilling Post About the Fact that Texas is Currently Hotter Than the Surface of the Sun . . .

Happy Fall y’all!

You hear that?

It’s the sound of everyone in Texas laughing and laughing and laughing . . .

September in Texas is not known for its cool, crisp temperatures. I’m very aware of that. But y’all. It. Is. Sweltering. Like 100 degrees and holding. August did this wonderful/terrible thing where it rained and the temps were cool (relatively speaking), and we all, collectively, thought Fall was coming early. Cruel joke. We should’ve known better.

However, never one to be dissuaded by the crazy Texas weather, I have plowed ahead as if Fall is really here in all its 90-degree glory. I actually put out all of my fall decorations in August because the weatherman said something about the end of meteorological summer, and I was feeling ridiculous hopeful . . . so I decorated for Fall a month ago.

But today . . . today I changed our bedding from our light spring/summer quilt to our heavier fall/winter comforter. Because you know we’ll need that when it gets down to 85 degrees at 9:00 p.m. In all actuality, Patrick will be thrilled because he thinks I try to freeze him to death every night. And I’ll have to lower the AC even more, otherwise I’ll wake up feeling like I’m suffocating and drenched in sweat. Lovely. But I’m telling y’all. Summer is done. Over. Or at least I’m over it.

Today I will . . .

This week has been a doozy.

I totally lost my cool with my oldest the other night. He’s a teenager, and as teenagers go, I got a really good one. But the fact remains, he’s still a teenager, and sometimes, I just wonder where he left his brain. All that to say, I lost my cool . . . and it wasn’t pretty . . . and apologies followed. Sorry your mom acted like a raving lunatic . . . lest anyone think I actually have this parenting thing figured out.

It did not help that my youngest has had a rough week and has really been struggling with regulation and self-control. Four weeks into third grade . . . the shiny newness has worn off . . . third grade is hard y’all. So, while not totally unexpected, the “behaviors”, details intentionally withheld, started on Monday and haven’t totally stopped as of this morning. I mean we’ve had some ebb and flow, but many a prayer has been uttered for peace, patience, wisdom, and strength, many a privilege has been lost, and many a tear has been shed at this point. A lot of what goes on behind the scenes, at school and at home, is rarely seen or understood by casual acquaintances and friends. When people hear me discuss our struggles, which I don’t often do, I’m bombarded with advice on how to discipline. I hear plenty of, “If that was my child . . .”. Full stop. Nope. You would not. Because it wouldn’t work, and you’d quickly realize only exacerbates the issues. Having said all that, when we get on the struggle bus, it can be hard to get off. Next stop please . . . by last night, Wednesday night, I was exhausted and discouraged. And I went to bed feeling like we are constantly taking two steps forward and ten steps backward. I know, when I look back over the course of the years, I see so much growth and improvement, but in the moments when things are just hard, it’s very difficult not to let the fear and discouragement creep in and take over.

Which is where I found myself at around 3:00 a.m. on this Thursday morning. I wasn’t fully awake, but I was praying. And over and over, the words from Hebrews 11:1 kept running through my mind, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The opening words to the Hall of Faith . . . the faith of the men and women, who despite all their imperfections, struggles, and often, vast evidence to the contrary, stood strong on God’s promises. It’s always funny to me, the scriptures that God brings to mind when I’m struggling. He almost always does it when I’m half asleep, and thus actually able to hear Him because my own brain, which is usually running a hundred miles a minute, is relatively quiet. They’re not always the scriptures I would expect. I would’ve wanted something comforting this morning. A direct statement that He was going to fix it . . . today. Instead, He tells me, that I have to keep on keeping on. I have to stand strong in my faith.

Faith – belief, trust, confidence

Substance – assurance, a guaranteeing, a giving substance

Evidence – proof, conviction

Just a few of the words that further describe these words in Strong’s.

You see, seven years ago, we had just returned from our trip to meet Anna. She was so tiny, pale, and malnourished. At almost two and a half years old, she was just learning to walk, and had zero intelligible words. She only occasionally engaged with us, mostly when we finally convinced the orphanage to let us take her outside. Much of her time was spent rocking back and forth and flapping her hands in the air. I didn’t know exactly what we were facing, but I knew we had a steep hill mountain to climb once home. I would find myself fully awake in the dark hours of the early morning, pleading with God to help us love her well. I don’t really remember the details of any of the prayers, but I do remember asking for a scripture for her from Him. I know, to many that sounds hokey. How do you really know it’s from God? Isn’t all scripture from Him? All I can say is I just knew. One early fall morning, not much unlike this morning, I heard the words from Isaiah 54:17 as clearly as if they were spoken aloud, in my mind, “‘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.” I knew those words were for Anna as surely as I knew the sun would rise that morning. Here’s the thing, that is not the scripture I was expecting or would have picked. I was expecting something pretty, flowery, probably from Psalms, but Isaiah, over and over again, has been where God has led me in times of challenge, growth, and even, distress. Almost the entire chapter of Isaiah 54, has become my theme and battle cry for my children, and especially for Anna.

Time and again, over the years, she has condemned the tongues that have risen against her in judgment. The therapist that said she would never talk. The evaluator that said she would likely never read or write or be in a “normal” classroom. Even my own fears and words spoken out of fear she has shown to be wrong. And this morning, God was reminding me where my faith lies. Because we can do all the things. We can seek all the earthly help, the therapies, the medical and emotional interventions . . . all needed and necessary . . . I am a firm believer that God uses those things on this earth to help us . . . but ultimately, none of that will heal our deepest wounds and trauma . . . only God can and will. I also firmly believe He is in the process of doing that. But I believe it is a process, and I believe there is a purpose and a refining, for all of us, in that process.

So, today I will continue to push through the hard and lean into my faith on the good days and the not so good ones. Today I will turn up the praise and drown out the lies of the enemy. I won’t lie and say I feel 100% better. I won’t say that I’m not fighting fear and apprehension about what this day may bring. But today I will not be ruled by my feelings and emotions because I serve a God who is bigger. I serve the Creator who knows all of us, our children, our spouses, ourselves, better than anyone on this earth could ever possibly know us. I serve the Healer of the deepest wounds, the world’s best Counselor, the greatest Physician, and the ultimate Comforter.

“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.” Psalm 139:14

Twenty-One Years

21 years . . . it’s almost impossible to wrap my mind around the fact that 21 years have passed since that morning that permanently altered the course of, not only, American and world history on a very large scale but also, of our individual lives down to the most minute and mundane details . . . our perceptions and perspectives forever changed . . . so much of our world and so many of our choices forever colored by the events of that horrible day.

Yet, 21 years brings with it a perspective and an appreciation that I didn’t have then. No longer a terrified 20 year old, college student, but now a 41 year old parent, wife, and full-fledged adult. My appreciation for what was sacrificed on that day has only deepened. Appreciation for those who went to work thinking it was “business as usual” only to lose their lives at the hands of absolute evil. Appreciation for our first responders, the bravest of the brave, for men and women who ran, without second thought into what was, without a doubt, the most dangerous and life-threatening situation they would ever face. Appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice given that day by thousands, and for the untouchable and immovable spirit of the American people in the days that followed.

Like so many, I can tell you exactly where I was the moment I heard. I can vividly remember that morning as if it happened only moments ago. I still feel the cool air of that beautiful fall morning . . . the day clear and bright and full of promise of a new season in direct contradiction to what we were watching unfold in front of our eyes . . . those feelings of deep grief, shock, and horror. But also, 21 years later, the intense, and yes, justified anger has mellowed replaced by a longing felt deeply . . . a longing for peace in our world . . . a longing for peace in our hearts, and I know more than ever that we need Jesus . . . in our world . . . in our nation . . . in our lives.

Today, we take the time to remember and honor those lives that were lost on September 11, 2001. May we always remember . . .

The Plank in My Eye

Sometimes, I find myself thinking I’m a “good” Christian. I look at others, I see all the things they get wrong . . . they don’t read or study their bible as much as they should, they’re not praying enough, their family life is a mess, their marriage is on the rocks, they need to watch what they say, think, do, etc. . . . but me? I’m a “good” Christian.

More like a whitewashed tomb (Matthew 23:27). I look great on the outside. But some sins aren’t so obvious and blatant . . . they’re sneaky and covert . . . pride, arrogance . . . they aren’t nearly as easy to see, but just as, if not more, dangerous. Thinking I have the market on faith . . . on a relationship with God and the Holy Spirit and Jesus . . . pride . . . arrogance . . . I am not, nor will I ever be, a “good” follower of Christ in my own right. I am a sinner saved by grace. My own righteous, my own goodness, my own works toward being a “good” Christian, are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But God . . . but Jesus . . . His blood is what makes me whole and clean and righteous.

Pride is a sneaky thing. Arrogance isn’t always obvious. Especially to ourselves. I wholeheartedly believe that if we are in Christ, we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I also believe that we have to continually go back to Jesus for a heart check . . . for monitoring . . . to be sure that we’re dealing with our own issues . . . that we’re not walking in the flesh but in the Spirit (Galatians 5:17) . . . before pointing out everyone else’s issues. The old saying about how when you’re pointing the finger at someone else you have three more pointing back at yourself comes to mind here.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

Those first seven words are misused and taken out of context so often. There is a time and place to call out sin. Sin is sin . . . wrong is wrong . . . I will readily acknowledge that, and we are called to judge with the bible as our standard not our own thoughts and opinions. It’s the attitude and the intent behind the judgment that is the issue. It’s the pride and the arrogance that so often fuel our judgment that are the problem because make no mistake, if we’re judging from a place of pride and arrogance, we’re not judging with the right heart. We’re so busy pointing out the sins of others while we’re totally blind to our own sins. Too often we’re screaming at the world to fix themselves, which is totally impossible as it is, when we need to be pulling that plank out of our own eye before passing judgment. And when we do judge the purpose is to bring healing and wholeness in helping to remove the speck from the eye of others.

If we look to Paul, he did an amazing job of dealing with and confronting the sins of the early church, while still remaining aware of and humble regarding who he was. Pride wasn’t in Paul’s playbook. He knew where he had come from. He knew Who he belonged to. He knew his right standing with God was only because of Jesus.

And that’s it. I’ve said it before, I’m a work in progress. But God reminded me of that this morning. That sometimes, I need to take a minute and evaluate my own heart . . . y’all there is NOTHING wrong with stepping back and taking an account of where we are in our hearts . . . conviction is not a crime but a gift from God . . . rather than trying to dissect the hearts and attitudes of others maybe look at my own for a minute or two. Because a lot of times, the faults I see in others are the biggest ones in my own life.

Let Them Grow Up . . . Continued

What I’m writing today is piggybacking off the post Let Them Grow Up so if you haven’t read that one, I recommend you read it first.

My oldest is away at a high school retreat at the moment. Yesterday, I had to laugh when one of my friends, whose daughter is the same age as my son and a good friend of his, posted a few pics her daughter had sent her to let her know they had arrived safely. I laughed because, even though he has a fully charged phone and a charger . . . nothing . . . nada . . . crickets. And I have no doubt I won’t hear from him until tomorrow afternoon when I pick him up. Boys y’all. That’s all I have to say.

The thing is, I found myself totally okay, even amused, with this. There was a time when I would’ve been annoyed, possibly hurt, that he didn’t text or touch base, and yes, there will still be times when I go ahead and text him just to make sure he has arrived where he’s supposed to arrive safely. But yesterday was not one of those times. I often hear moms of younger kids say, “I’m not ready for that”, and that’s fine. You’re not supposed to be “ready for that”, if that’s not the season you’re in. It’s a process not a switch you flip. It’s also really quite ingenious how God biologically created our kids so that they start to push for their independence in adolescence, and we start to look forward to handing over the reigns (and the bills) one day. I also have found that as I loosen my grip a little, I enjoy seeing my kid, my man child, grow into his own person with his own opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. I feel like, with all the things we haven’t gotten right, we did set a solid and firm foundation for him, and now it’s time for him to grow into that. To flesh out, for himself, who he is, and who God created him to be. And y’all there is something very cool and satisfying about being able to have a real conversation with your kid . . . about having an engaging, discussion with this person whose diapers you once changed.

None of this line of thinking is original to me. Not even close. I’m a control freak by nature, and as I’ve said more than once, it is hard for me to let things go and keep my mouth shut. Left up to me, I’d probably be dictating and controlling every aspect of my teenager’s life because as much as he is a good kid, and he absolutely is a great kid, he’s not perfect. He can be more than a little haphazard in his approach to life. He often procrastinates, forgets to follow through and finish things, and is tad bit disorganized and messy, and frankly, those are the things that make me, the OCD queen, crazy. He also does not take well to me trying to step in and direct him . . . not at all, and rather than go head-to-head with him, which I’ve done a time or ten, I’m learning, with a whole lot of help from the Holy Spirit, that yes, there are times, when I have to override what he wants and step in and tell him what to do, but more often than not, I need to step back and let him figure things out for himself.

As parents, we don’t always get it right, but when we do get it right, hooray! And when we mess up (which is often), we have to give ourselves grace, but also, we must apologize . . . as hard and as humbling as that is. We’re all works in progress here. On a practical level, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the things that help me with this whole process. Because heaven knows, I didn’t come up with any of this on my own:

The bible and prayer, developing my relationship with God – When I’m not spending time with God, I struggle so much to keep everything else in balance. I also seek the wisdom of others both in what to do but also, in what not to do . . . in learning from the mistakes of those who’ve gone before me. As I’ve mentioned before, Focus on the Family, especially their parenting resources and their Focus on Parenting Podcast, is absolutely invaluable. I’ve also found that Dr. Ken Wilgus has an enormous amount of wisdom on instilling independence in your teenagers, and I have been devouring the Feeding the Mouth that Bites You Podcast. He also authored a book by the same title, and I’m tossing around the idea of doing some kind of book club/group with that book.

Family time and letting some things go – Family time is so important, but if you’re dragging your teenager along, and they hate you for it, you might not be accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Naturally, building in family time and activities, trips, etc., my kids enjoy is really important. Showing interest in the things that interest them, but also, knowing that my teenager may not be there for every single family event is necessary. Case in point, I’ve always been a stickler for family dinners, and I still am to an extent, but I also know that we may not be able to all be here every night for a sit-down dinner. Sometimes, other activities are going to take the place of dinner, and that’s okay too.

Last but far from least, my marriage – Continuing to pour into, to work on, and build my marriage is non-negotiable. This is one thing I will NOT let go. Next to God, my marriage is my top priority, but it’s amazing how very quickly the activities of our children can take over our lives and push our marriages off to the side. I refuse to allow that to happen. No matter what stage we are at in life, our marriage takes precedence over our kids (obviously, there are emergencies at times . . . I’m not referring to those). My kids hear “yes” plenty, and we do more than our fair share of chauffeuring to our son’s social events and activities. But sometimes they also hear “no” because I won’t keep my children happy to the detriment of my marriage, and I think that happens, albeit unintentionally, all too often.

Maybe by the time my kids are 30, and (hopefully) don’t really need to be parented anymore, I’ll have this whole thing figured out. Until then, I’ll keep listening and learning, adjusting and growing, and pushing them to grow into healthy adults the best way I know how.