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Archive for January, 2013

Laugh, Don’t Cry

I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV).

Debt…medical problems…aging parents…overbooked schedule…disrespectful children.  If I could sit down with each of you, the problems you are facing would probably look different, but the feelings about them might be very similar.

It’s hard to be worried when you’re happy.  It’s difficult to be anxious when you’re at peace.  This was a hard concept for me to grasp (and I’ve not perfected it yet), but I think I’m starting to get it.  Worry, anxiety, and disappointment are not attributes of God.  Peace, happiness, and joy are.  A good friend of mine, Marianne Clements, reminded me that “when we focus on the problem solver instead of our problems,” our whole perspective changes.  The problems won’t automatically go away, but the peace, joy, and underlying happiness despite the stresses you’re facing will allow for a clearer mind and more levelheaded thinking.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed with your list of life’s challenges, remember that God commands us to give Him our worries for a reason.  “The thing is, when (we) are submitted to God, it’s doesn’t matter what your salary is or how (big the problem is), God can supernaturally cause your situation to improve… faster than you can in the natural” (Marianne Clements).  In addition, the way He goes about it bringing the answer you need is more spectacular than anything you can imagine.  Try it and see!

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What’s So Funny?

Psalm 113:9: “He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.  Praise the Lord” (NIV).

I think I figured out another reason why God created humans as babies before they grow up.  Kids find joy in everything.  The first snowfall of the season, random dancing in the living room, popsicles on summer days, or playing in the bathtub are just a few of the things that they find delight in.  Why, as we grow older, do adults tend to stop smiling at the simple pleasures of life and instead see only the negative side?  The first snowfall becomes, “I have to shovel,” random dancing is too loud, popsicles drip on clothes and make hands sticky, and playing in the bathtub turns into mopping up tidal waves.

I noticed that I, too, tend to look more at the work involved instead of taking time to enjoy the simple pleasures.  God has been using my three-year-old to remind me that life should be more about the joy than drudgery.  A chance to go for a walk becomes an adventure for him and grocery shopping every week turns into special jokes between the two of us and a chance to see new toys, hold my hand instead of ride in the cart, and a chance to show off his muscles carrying the packages.

When I make a point to see the positive, shoveling snow turns into spontaneous snowball fights with my family, random dancing in the living room is a great way to exercise, sticky messes with popsicles become an excuse to run through the sprinkler, and cleaning up the bathroom is a chance to get that chore out of the way so I can relax later.

Sometimes it’s still hard to see the positive when I have deadlines to meet, schedules to keep, dinner, laundry and ten other things vying for my attention all at once.  But I can guarantee that fifteen years from now, when the kids are grown and on their own, I will miss the random dancing, sticky popsicles, and tidal waves in the bathroom.  Until then, I’m going to try to remember to yell less, laugh more, and capture as many of these memories as possible in my heart and with my camera.

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Trust Is A Two-Way Street

Psalm 111: 7-8: “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness” (NIV).

During the conversation I referred to last time that I had with my daughter, we talked about how trust and obedience go hand and hand.  If she consistently obeys, our trust in her increases and therefore, her freedom does to.  If she consistently chooses to disobey, then the trust we have in her decreases and she loses things she enjoys until that trust is built back up.

I looked into our three year old’s eyes the other day and what I saw reflected back was complete, innocent trust.  When I think about how vulnerable children really are, it makes me a little sad that at times that innocence is taken away prematurely.  Every child deserves to have at least one adult in their life that will raise them to feel safe, secure, and loved.

When we had our first child, I naively thought that I would always have his trust and never do anything to misuse that blessing.  Let’s be honest, I didn’t realize just what a gift it was to have, as well as the huge responsibility that went along with it.  I absolutely love to look into the eyes of a little child, say up until age five, and see that they feel safe and secure with me because I have proven that they can trust me.  When I can comfort him or her with the right word or when my loving embrace helps to soothe his fears or dry her tears, I feel blessed.  It makes me strive to keep that trust in place and years ago, I assumed that would never change.

However, now that we have our third child, I have stopped taking my children’s trust for granted as I have realized just what a treasure it is.  Because, anyone who has older children can attest to the fact that as they grow, parents also can lose their children’s trust in the same way that our trust in our kids can decrease due to circumstances or choices made.

It’s easy for me to assure our three-year-old that Daddy destroyed all the monsters in the house.  It’s a lot harder to explain to a preteen that she’s safe when her friend’s house was completely destroyed by a senseless fire.  It takes time to build back trust after you innocently humiliate your child when you told a “cute little story” about him on Facebook and his friends found out, sharing it all around.  What about the careless word spoken when you’re tired after a busy day – you know, the one that isn’t so bad it would make you blush but certainly did nothing to raise your child’s self esteem?  Do your conversations and actions leave your child feeling loved and treasured, or do they walk on pins and needles sometimes, waiting to see how you will embarrass them next for the sake of a laugh?

I want to challenge all of us today.  I’ve been guilty of telling the cute little stories about my kids and then regretting it later when I realized I put my need for a laugh before their feelings.  I have regretfully used a tone of voice that reflects exasperation and exhaustion instead of joy and love when speaking to my kids.

Just as we want our kids to keep moving forward in the areas of obedience and trust, we need to be further along on the road then them, positive role models, giving them goals to strive for.  As much as I want to give my kids increased freedom as a result of their being trustworthy, I want them to know without a doubt that I’m rock solid, someone they can trust.  I want them to come to me when they face challenges, when they have fears, or just to have the assurance that what comes out of my mouth will build them up, never tear them down.  Being a parent is a great privilege that comes with much responsibility.  I won’t get it right all the time, but I hope I do well enough that my kids know they’re terrific in my eyes.  My kids will be beaten down enough in the real world, but my prayer is that inside the four corners of our house they know they can always trust the two individuals called mom and dad.

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The Childhood Staircase

Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (NIV).

My daughter and I had a pretty interesting discussion regarding discipline about a month ago.  I explained to her that she’s disciplined because she’s loved.  If her dad and I didn’t care about her, then we wouldn’t take the time to teach her how to obey.  She was handpicked by God for our family, and we consider her a blessing.  God allowed us the opportunity to be her parents, but at the same time, placed a huge responsibility on us.  She learns how to obey God by first practicing obedience to us.

She is nine, and therefore, right on the edge of preadolescence.  Since we were already talking about obedience, I took this opportunity to talk about how obedience and trust walk hand in hand.  I explained that if she wanted the freedom as a teenager to hang out with her friends, drive a car, or date, we needed to establish obedience and trust now.  If I can’t trust her to wash the dishes when I ask or finish her homework before she watches TV, then I certainly can’t trust her to drive the family car or hang out with her friends unsupervised.

I happened to look over at our staircase and realized it was a perfect example for a nine-year-old. The staircase represents childhood.  When you’re little (like her younger brother), the issues of obedience and trust happen on the first few steps and center around issues like staying out of the road, picking up your toys, and not hitting your siblings.  Only when those skills are learned can someone advance to a higher step, which might include sleepovers, staying up past bedtime, or playing outside with minimal supervision.  I explained that she had already mastered the issues that we were working on with her brother, but that she now needed to concentrate on nine-year-old obedience/trust issues.  I loved her too much to allow her to advance further up the staircase until she was ready because of the likelihood of sliding down, falling, or generally getting hurt.  If she willfully disobeyed, the resulting injury would be much, much worse from a higher step than from a relatively low one.  There were going to be different issues she would face as a teenager and they could be much more damaging to her body, her life, and her future than not washing the dishes or refusing to do her homework.

I summed it up by reinforcing that we all make mistakes, but by not deliberately choosing to disobey, the mistakes would be fewer and the injuries less severe.  I reminded her that just as God never stops loving us whether or not we obey, her dad and I would never stop loving her regardless of her choices.  The person who would get hurt would be her because she would lose our trust and therefore, her freedom.  Loss of freedom is not a punishment, but instead a natural consequence of our incredible love for her.

I believe that God allows us to start life as children so that we have plenty of time to practice obedience in the small areas.  Then, by the time we’re adults and the stakes are higher, we’ll hopefully make less mistakes.  Not washing the dishes as a child may result in double the work the next day, but not showing up for work because you didn’t feel like it could result in losing your job, putting a hardship on your entire family.

I have no idea if my kids are thankful that they have parents who are consistent in their expectations of obedience.  I’m thankful my parents loved me enough to expect the very best so that I could learn the lessons of obedience early.  Just as stairs naturally go up and down, I gave them a run for their money at times during childhood.  I still make plenty of mistakes in areas of obedience in my life, although I keep working at them.  That’s why I’m glad that God’s love isn’t conditional on whether or not I obey.

Just as my Heavenly Father keeps giving me multiple chances to “get it right,” I’ll never stop encouraging my children to push their own restart button.  They are a blessing from God to our family and I want to help them practice while they are still under our care.

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I Am an Oak Tree

Proverbs 20:11: “Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?” (NIV)

My husband and I participated in a small group studying the book, Boundaries With Kids, by Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud.  A phrase that our small group leader repeated, sometimes multiple times a week, was, “I am an oak tree” (Randy Halberda, Ph.D.).  That phrase still rings in my ears as a gentle reminder.

No matter how much our children try to manipulate us sometimes, or how often they try to push the boundaries that we set, our main job is to be their oak tree.  This isn’t just to offer them protection and guidance, but to give them security in a world where things change constantly.

I have to admit:  It’s a lot easier to be an oak tree when ignoring the tears and firmly telling my three-year-old he’s not going to play until he picks up all the DVDs than it is to listen to my older child ask me over and over and over and over about different clothes, out-of-the-norm activities, or certain programs on TV.  However, it is equally important that I stand as an oak tree with each and every situation.  My children need to see that they have my support and I will guide them, but they need equally to know that I will protect them and provide safety, even when the easy way would be to give in.

I think of my Heavenly Father like that as well.  The promises that I read about in the Bible are promises I can count on Him to deliver.  He tells me that He won’t leave me, that He loves me so much He sent His son to die for me so I can spend eternity with Him, and He promises that He has my back when trials and problems come up in my life.

Now, unlike myself, who at times caves in to the manipulation and requests of my children, I’m glad that God remains steady, firm, and unmoving.  As I work on being that strong oak tree for my children all the time, I just have to look at the One who is my example, my role model, the One who stands tall and strong in my life.  I’m so glad that I don’t have to rely on my own self but instead can rest in the shade of the One who created the universe and all the oak trees that represent His power, His love, and His protection.  This isn’t just for my life.  No, He’s waiting to be that for you as well.

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The Idea of…

Deuteronomy 15:10: “Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (NIV).

I love the idea of being a size 5 without having to exercise or watch what I eat.  I also love the idea of a spotless house without having to consistently clean under the crevices, scrub the floors, or use any elbow grease.  I love the idea of earning the paycheck of a President while working ten hours per week, or snapping my fingers and dinner is cooked, served, and cleaned up, laundry done, and errands run.

The ideas above might be funny, but what if you like the idea of parenting more than investing in the lives of your children? Or, you like the idea of being married without being willing to spend time to make it meaningful?  What about the idea of being a Christian without the actual commitment to God in a personal relationship?

The idea of something is always easier, but real life dictates that whatever we truly want, we will work toward, willingly.  Some days it’s harder than others to get off the computer and engage in Bible study or prayer time, fix something extra nice for dinner “just because it’s your husband’s favorite meal,” or ask your kids if they want to read a book, play a game, or take a bike ride.  But…if you are consistent in your acts of love, I think you will find that soon you’re getting as much pleasure out of your effort as you are giving to those you love.

And, really, at the end of your life, do you want to be known as the person with the most “friends” on Facebook, or do you want to be remembered as an awesome storyteller…or the woman who married her soulmate…or as someone who loved God more than anyone or anything?

As much as I love surfing the internet and reading a great book, that’s not how I want to be remembered. I, myself, want to be known as someone who loved God more than herself and served Him with my whole heart.  I want to know firsthand my husband’s favorite candy, TV shows, hobbies, and ice cream flavor.  I want to be the “snack house” for my kids’ friends, to learn my kids’ fears, dreams, and interests, and know what makes them feel loved by me the most.  I want to have more inside jokes with my family than points on Minecraft.  I want to listen to my parents’ memories, and take time to hear my friend’s struggles.

I don’t want to like the idea of life…I want to live life.

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Isaiah 64:8: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand”(NIV).

My day job is as a medical transcriptionist.  Among the doctors I type for are various psychiatrists who administer medications to people.  These medications help regulate the systems in the patients’ brains so they can think more clearly, slow down enough to respond appropriately, and overall function better in daily activities.  Sometimes, one particular psychiatrist has to administer an additional medication to help “sculpt” the original drug so that it works more effectively, sustaining the benefits for a longer duration, or jump-starting the original prescription’s benefit.

It was brought to my attention last week that I myself need “sculpting” in my life.  No matter how much I research a topic, train for something, or gather information, there is always someone out there who has walked the path previously and has more knowledge of the pitfalls, dangers, and traps that I could potentially fall into.  I’m thankful for these people who are willing to invest in my life to help me avoid some of the pitfalls they themselves fell into or were able to avoid.  I have one such friend who helps me on a regular basis sculpt areas of my life that I can’t see and I feel privileged that she cares enough to help me grow and become my best. Just like the above medication, a friend like this helps to shorten the learning curve, bringing about the desired results faster than if I had to learn everything without the benefit of her experience.

Sometimes sculpting can hurt.  Sometimes when we try to help “sculpt” someone else, we also feel the sting, especially if the way it was presented wasn’t appreciated. But, when done in love and with the best intentions, even if uncomfortable, sculpting can produce a far superior quality of life than one which has never been “sculpted” at all. I have found that the more time you invest in someone’s life ahead of time, the less pain and the greater benefit is found when sculpting becomes necessary.

My question to you today is this:  Do you take time to invest in others so that when necessary, you can help sculpt their lives, or do you walk around with lots of superficial relationships, never allowing yourself to get close enough to people to make a difference?  If you do find yourself in the sculpting process, is it done in love or do you have an ulterior motive?  I think God is pleased when we use our talents, time, and energy to help bring out the best in our friends, family, and children, but only when we do it with the type of love that He has for us – looking out for their best interests and not expecting anything in return.

I want to thank those who have helped sculpt my life.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without the love, energy, and time they poured into me.  And, I, in turn, hope that I have helped to sculpt many others, always meant in love, not keeping track or taking score, just knowing that I’m doing what God would want me to do as we all navigate this well-worn path called life.

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Take It or Leave It

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV).

When you worry about something, how does it make you feel?  Are you light and happy and carefree or is your neck strained, do you grind your teeth, and do you feel heavy, like you are carrying a load that is too much for you to hold?  I’m the latter.  I get depressed, tense, irritable, and my whole posture slumps as though I’m carrying a heavy backpack trying to walk up a mountainside.

One of my former pastors, Pastor Griffin, gave an analogy that speaks so perfectly to these feelings.  The gist of the message was this:  He had us imagine hiking up the side of a mountain with a backpack full of rocks.  Each rock represented a different worry:  Finances, cancer, adultery, unemployment, relationship issues, and divorce – fill in your own worries.  Feel the weight of the backpack with all those rocks on your shoulders as you begin to hike.  Imagine the strain of trying to walk upright up the steep cliff while carrying the heavy, awkward weight on your back.

Once you get to a high peak on the mountain, take your backpack off, and open it up.  Picture yourself taking each rock out of the backpack one by one and name each worry.  As you pray and give that worry to God, throw the rock off the cliff as far as you can.  You’re not finished until your backpack is empty.  Try taking your worries (rocks) back.  They were thrown randomly off the mountain, so to find your worries again is impossible.  Picture how you feel climbing now.  Are you lighter, do you experience more freedom, and do you feel better physically and emotionally?

That’s how God wants us to handle our worries all the time.  He wants us to give them to Him when fear first tries to gain a foothold.  Before we can pack the worries into our backpack, He wants us to fling them as far and wide as possible, letting Him handle whatever has us afraid.

Now, sometimes I imagine the above scenario, but when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable and afraid, I instead picture myself standing in front of Jesus and placing the rocks at His feet, naming each and every worry that I carry and asking Him to take them from me.

I would love to say I’ve mastered giving them to God and not taking them back, but I haven’t.  I’m getting better at giving God my worries, but I still try and take them back.  I tried to answer the question of why I keep taking them back, and I don’t completely know.  I know His ways are better and He can handle the solution far better than I could.  I guess I feel like I need to be part of the action.  To lay my fears at His feet and then walk away doesn’t seem like I’m doing my part; but that’s exactly what God wants me to do.  He can’t work when I’m in the way messing things up.  The only responsibility I have is to keep walking in faith, completing the job that God assigned to me, and then I’m to stand back and watch Him work.  I’ve had God allow me to get meningitis to help me break out of a destructive relationship, He has balanced our checkbook all year despite pay cuts for both my husband and I, our children are dressed well through the generosity of others, and one of my favorites (not my favorite but a close second) was when I got hired eight hours, with a better job, after being let go from a different company.  If that doesn’t scream, “God’s got my back,” I don’t know what does.

Now, just because I give God my worries doesn’t mean He’s a genie in the bottle and I get every request answered with a yes.  There are many things in my life that I’m still waiting on God’s timing for – my husband’s health, better finances, etc. However, by not worrying, I’m not trying to take over God’s job but instead leaving the agenda in His hands, where it belongs.  No, when I choose not to worry and instead give my fears to God, I’m saying that I trust He has the best agenda.  My job is simply to obey, trust, and wait to see how He’s going to work.  Even if I don’t understand the answer I receive, He sees the bigger picture and the answer is always the best one.

So, my question for you today is this:  Are you ready to leave your rocks with God and allow Him to create a more carefree spirit within you, or are you going to keep them or keep taking them back from Him because you simply don’t trust Him enough with your problems?  Only you can answer that one.  Just remember, God isn’t looking for perfection.  He just wants you to keep coming to Him with a willing spirit and a heart that wants His will.  He’s waiting to “wow” you too.

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II Timothy 1:7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (NIV).

Let’s be honest.  Living in fear really isn’t living.  Being afraid can keep you from trying new things, taking chances, or making fun memories.  If you’re one that becomes paralyzed with fear, it can seriously harm your health.  High blood pressure, heart disease, as well as other chronic health problems are a direct result sometimes of living a life in fight or flight mode.  Your body wasn’t designed to live in such a high-stress environment all the time.  It needs more periods of rest and relaxation than times of high-anxiety or stress.  And the ironic thing is…most things we fear never come true!  So, that’s a lot of time spent worrying about something that didn’t exist in the first place.

I struggle with fear.  Being a parent who has a tendency toward fear presents a challenge as I try to teach my children courage.  I definitely have had to work on this area in my life so that my kids don’t follow the same footsteps I’ve walked.  It’s difficult at times to tell my kids to trust God when our family knows from personal experience that trusting in God doesn’t automatically result in what we fear never coming true.  The truth is…pain does exist, what we fear does sometimes occur, and bad things happen to everyone equally.  But, just because something could happen doesn’t mean my focus should stay on the fear or the what if.  No, there are many reasons that God tells me in His Word to trust Him.

I am privileged to have many examples of how to live a life not ruled by fear.  One friend in particular asked for prayer for her father who was set to undergo tests the following week to determine whether or not he had cancer.  I agreed to pray with her and waited to hear the results.  The following week she emailed me to let me know that what they saw originally wasn’t a malignant tumor or life threatening.  Her example of giving God the results of the test ahead of time and then going about living her weekend, resting in his peace, were great.  If she had spent the entire time from the initial call until the test results came back worrying, she would have wasted more than a week of her life.  Instead, she continued to do what God called her to do and chose not to worry.

Made me stop and think…how much time do I waste in worry?  Monday morning the local weatherman mentioned a possible blizzard on Thursday, only to find out Thursday we don’t even get a dusting of snow.  A phone call from the doctor to discuss test results…three weeks later turns out to be, “You’re fine, come back next year.”  How are we going to pay the unexpected bill is resolved with a long-forgotten rebate check received the same week.

As I look back over the past year, I definitely have improved in this area of my life.  I worry less, give God my fears more quickly, and don’t take them back as often as I did, but I’m still a work in progress. Since I’m better at initially giving God my fears, now my focus will be to leave those worries in His powerful hands while I go about doing His will for my life.  I’m going to choose to forget about what troubled me until either it’s come true and I need wisdom to deal with it (turning to God for that answer as well) or, more likely, the threat passes without even a hint of disaster.  I can’t promise it’s going to be easy for me or I’ll get it right all the time.  It is January and there will be the threat of more than one blizzard, but at least I’ll get plenty of practice.

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