A Little? Advice

Your romance with the ‘girl next door’ began with backyard baseball in 1999. It may have cooled off for quite a few years, but for the last 5 years it reignited. You’ve now navigated together through high school graduations, living far apart, living close together, college athletics, college classes and much more.

And now wedding planning is in full swing.

For you, looking forward to a wedding in June is exciting and fun with some moments of “Why do we need to worry about this detail?” mixed in. And you’ve joked (kind of) about letting you know the time and date and you’ll be there, because the details of colors, food, seating, dress fabrics, bouquets, centerpieces, and punch cups just do not interest or concern you. Well, actually anyone that knows you can definitely attest to the fact that the food details interest and concern you, but besides that, other aspects aren’t going to get you very riled up.

Marriage is also exciting and fun with some moments of “Why do we need to worry about this detail?” mixed in. Marriage is a whole different ball game on a whole different level. It’s an all-in, 100% endeavor of caring about your spouse’s welfare and health and happiness more than you ever, ever thought you were even capable of, and yes, caring about seemingly inconsequential and small details simply because your spouse cares about them. It’s making a lifelong vow to weather the storms together that will inevitably come your way.

You’re old enough to know that there have been times through the years that I have not ‘felt’ undying, passionate, blissful love toward your father. And you’re old enough to know that there may have possibly?? been times that he hasn’t ‘felt’ that love toward me….But, a critical aspect of true love is knowing that you will sometimes not FEEL 100% in love, and that it’s not a horrible thing. It should not send you into a panic, because loving someone is not always a feeling! It’s a decision, it’s action, and it’s commitment. And when you follow through with making a decision to show love, taking action that displays love, and choosing commitment to act in love…the feeling follows.

Here are three more unsolicited pieces of advice that I want to clue you in on before you say, “I do.”
1. Know that affirming your wife’s beauty, intelligence, unique God-given talents and personality is a smart and necessary facet of marriage…not because she’s needy, but because she’s human.
2. Know that if you strive to love Jesus with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, then loving her with the love that God planned for marriage to consist of will extend from that.
3. Know that God will extend a special kind of blessing if you pray with and for each other.

As far as your dad offering advice? Well, if you want advice on how to just listen to your wife’s problems without trying to solve them, umm, yeah don’t go to him for that. And good grief, do NOT go to him for advice on how to hang up clothes and keep your side of the closet clean. But if you want advice on how to make your wife feel like she’s the most important person in the room or on the planet, he’s your man. And if you want advice on putting God first, family second, and all else third, your father is THE guy. He happens to be a fantastic, Godly husband.

Tyler, I have a whole bunch of confidence in your ability to become a fantastic, Godly husband as well! I’ve loved you like crazy since I knew you existed, and I’ve been blown away by your true determination, bold faith in Christ, and sincere desire to encourage others to reach their potential. Those qualities are going to bode well for marriage. Your fiancé is faith-filled, talented, and driven, and I foresee an amazing life together for you two! I’m so happy that the path you two travelled led you to each other. You are on your way to an adventure that you’ll love, with a woman that you love, following a God that you both love.

End of unsolicited advice. Most likely. 🙂

11899932_10156015517820193_4328469492353992016_n

What Are You Thinking?

Memorizing has never been my strong suit. I clearly recall a heart-racing, sweaty palm, knot-in-my-stomach sensation that occurred during my senior recital in 1993 when my mind went blank during one of the songs. Fortunately, when I opened my mouth the right word did come out…that time. There were a few times when I wasn’t that fortunate.  By the way, that song was by Mozart and was entitled, “Alleluia,” and the lyrics to that song were, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia…” Well, you get the picture.

Memorizing Bible verses has been somewhat of a trial as well. I can usually remember fragments, ideas, and phrases, but to put them all together correctly has been difficult for me. However, for some reason, there is a verse that has always been ingrained in my mind since I was young. “May the words from my mouth and the thoughts from my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my defender.” Psalm 19:14. I learned it one year at Bible camp and it’s been special to me ever since.

There is a verse that has struck me lately as one that is definitely worth memorizing. It also deals with our thoughts. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8. Up until now, I would have been lying if I said that I had spent time thinking about a verse that tells us to put thought into what we are thinking about! On its surface, one may read it and automatically picture people frolicking and skipping in meadows full of wildflowers acting as if life is perfect. However, there is much more to this verse. Through His Word, we are being told that what we think about is completely in our control. Wait, what? Aren’t we held captive to the thoughts that enter our mind? No, I don’t actually believe that, but I would also be willing to bet that most, if not all of us, have been heard to utter sentences similar to this: “I can’t stop thinking about it.” or “I can’t sleep because I can’t turn my mind off.” I admit to making both of these statements in the past. But aren’t statements like this another way of saying that our thoughts control us? Okay, can I just say in a loving, Christ-like fashion, “Knock. It. Off!”? Friends, we are in control of our thoughts! We read in 2 Corinthians 10:5b, “…and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” Other versions say to “take prisoner, take hold of, and capture.” Any way one looks at it, the Bible is telling us to take strong action concerning the thoughts we allow ourselves to think! I’m boldly saying it’s a decision. When things get hard, we often decide it’s not worth trying anymore. But, can I encourage you to not give up on thinking thoughts that are acceptable to God? I firmly believe that making a decision to stop thinking thoughts that God isn’t the author of, and deliberately changing them to a prayer or an image of something positive is something we successfully do by acting with resolve, perseverance, and prayer.

What kinds of thoughts am I referring to? The simple answer is: Thoughts that aren’t true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, or admirable – just like the verse says. The more specific answer would be: negative thoughts about ourselves, thoughts concerning temptations and sin, thoughts about regrets of the past, and fretting about possible future situations. These are the things that can keep us up at night.
1. Negative thoughts about ourselves. Just think about what your life might start to look like if you would see yourself in the truth of God’s perspective instead of your feelings about yourself. If that means you would benefit from having Stuart Smalley moments of audibly repeating, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me,” into a mirror, then so be it. (If you aren’t familiar with that Saturday Night Live reference, sorry. 🙂 Check YouTube!) God created you, and God is good at what He does. Therefore, your thoughts about yourself should be limited to truth. What God says about you is truth. What your emotions and feelings say about you? Not so much.
2. Thoughts concerning temptation and sin. Sin doesn’t begin with an action. It doesn’t begin with fleeting thoughts. It begins when we choose to let thoughts park in our minds, rather than just pass through. For instance, I have a difficult time imagining that cheating on one’s spouse happens without fixing one’s mind on thoughts that God does not endorse. What if instead of thinking about what we see as inadequacies of our spouse, and the imagined potential of someone that we haven’t made vows to being able to fulfill us where we feel a void, we fixed our thoughts on praying for our marriage, our spouse, and for ways to contribute to the marriage in a way that would help insure its longevity and health? What if? What if we would begin to realize that the voids we feel in our lives can only be filled by Jesus? Not by another person in the case of an affair, or by merchandise in the case of stealing, or by status in the case of lying? Don’t all sins begin with thoughts not endorsed by God? We allow ourselves to lose control of our thoughts and sooner or later we are convinced that those thoughts are more important than our relationship with Jesus Christ and worth putting into action. Worth stepping out of God’s will for. How many heartaches could be prevented if we refused to dwell on sinful thoughts?
3. Thoughts about regrets of the past. Can we change the past? No. Can we change our perspective on it? Yes. Can we choose not to obsess about unfortunate decisions we’ve made or awful situations we’ve been put in by others? Absolutely! It may start with forgiving ourselves for something that God has already forgiven us for or by releasing a person that has hurt us to God. Whatever the starting point is, we just have to continue to continue to continue to think ‘excellent and praiseworthy’ thoughts. Leaving the past in the past is a gigantic step toward living a life of freedom that Christ desires for us.
4. Fretting about possible future situations. I have seen people become consumed with the ‘what ifs’ of life; the future that is definitely out of our control. However, our thoughts should be completely taken over by the present and what we have control over! ‘Seize the Day’, ‘This is Your Moment’, This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’, whichever motto you want to embrace, it starts with what we choose to think about! Matthew 6:34 says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” It’s truly a trust issue. When your thoughts are overcome by wondering what is going to happen and worry becomes overwhelming, think back to the numerous times that God has been faithful, and trust Him to work out your situation once again!

One more thing…in the very next verse; Philippians 4:9, the Bible says, “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me–everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” To be honest, I am often that gal that’s seeking peace, because I sometimes allow myself to become overwhelmed with, well, life. And here right in front of me in this verse is a way that I can be assured of having God’s peace and presence! “…Then the God of peace will be with you.” If we fix our minds on God-authored positive thoughts, and strive to put into practice what we’ve learned about God, He shows up in a very amazing way: by granting us peace. Two verses earlier in Philippians 4:7, His peace is said to “exceed anything we understand.” Now that’s a passage worth memorizing about a peace worth seeking from God, Who is oh-so-worth serving. God, may we fix our thoughts on You and all that is worthy of praise.

My First Pregnancy, My Faithful God, and My Firm Stand

My first pregnancy did not end with me giving birth. It ended early-on in a hospital with me in tears just days before Christmas surrounded by well-meaning medical personnel that continued to call my miscarried baby a gestational sac and gestational tissue, a doctor with a less-than stellar bedside manner, my husband that was as heartbroken as I was, and my supportive family that was gathering for a Christmas celebration. Hardly how I pictured it… I’ve thought back to that day often, and I get it. I mean, I guess I get it…I get that quite possibly, people that work in hospitals make a subconscious or conscious decision to avoid referring to unborn babies as…babies. Maybe the loss of life is easier for them to deal with that way. And I would guess that they think that it makes it easier for patients to navigate through the loss if they aren’t thinking about the miscarriage as a death.  I would imagine that using the terms ‘loss of tissue’ or ‘no gestational sac present’ are their attempts at trying to prevent us from going through the stages of grief.

I spent the next several months being bitter. I had worked through my sadness and proceeded right to anger. First it was anger at myself because I was convinced I had done something to cause the miscarriage. Then it was anger at God. If I had done something to cause it, He was God and He certainly could’ve reversed it…He could’ve saved our baby. He knew my husband and I were ecstatic about being parents. How dare He take this baby away? Yep, I said those words to the Creator of the Universe. I looked upward, right up to the sky and screamed, “How dare you!” Looking back on that moment and the bitterness I harbored for quite some time afterward, I sometimes think, “Wow, God, it takes a lot of nerve for an almost 22 year-old woman to challenge Your sovereignty. Thank You from the bottom of my heart for being patient with me and lovingly waiting for me to realize there was no one to blame.” I wasted a lot of time being mad at God when I could’ve spent that time being comforted and held by Him instead.

While I attended college, I occasionally volunteered at a prolife location where I manned the phone, read pregnancy tests, and was a listening ear. One couple came in and asked for a pregnancy test to confirm what they were 99.9% sure of. When the results came back positive and they openly discussed not being ready financially or emotionally to be parents, I followed my informal protocol and reached for the models of babies in the various stages of pregnancy. I will never ever forget the look in their eyes. They stared at the plastic image of an unborn baby at the estimated age of the one inside her body. The young man gasped, and his next words, “it’s really a baby” will forever be etched in my mind. At that moment, something clicked with them and they realized her visible baby bump was in fact, a baby.  Society has told us something else: it’s a gestational sac, a clump of cells, and an inconvenience. Guess what, Society: I’m done. I am done tolerating that terminology and especially that mindset. It IS a baby. It is a BABY. I will never apologize for saying the truth of the sanctity of human life has been cruelly ripped from our world and replaced with a lie that says until a baby is born, it’s not worthy of being called a human or being treated as one.
The recent Planned Parenthood videos bring to light the inhumane manner in which we have decided it is acceptable to view an unborn child. The Pro-PlannedParenthood group wants us to focus on the so-called secretive way in which the videos were recorded. Seriously? That’s what we should be concerned about? The part of the videos that I find troublesome is the entire content of the videos. How unbelievably cold can those shown in the videos be? They talk about babies as if they are as trivial as the salad they are munching on while negotiating prices for human organs.

I sympathize with those that are not ready to provide their child with the home and upbringing that they believe a child would thrive in. Whether it be financially or emotionally or in some other way that they see the position they are in as inadequate, there are people with open arms that are more than ready to love that child right into their adoptive family. There ARE other options when an unplanned pregnancy moves into the territory of being an unwanted pregnancy. Would you agree with me that finding ways to make options more available to women facing unplanned pregnancies is a mission worth pursuing? We can step up with prayer, with finances, with counsel, with open arms, and with all of the above. Not just saying something, but actually doing something. While I don’t have all the answers to the ‘unwanted pregnancy’ dilemma, dare I say that if our world truly began to act again as if human life at all stages is amazingly valuable and precious, some of those questions would be answered naturally. And for those that have chosen the abortion route, there is real forgiveness given by a God that wants to wrap you in his arms, take the emptiness and sadness away and replace it with His joy and His peace. Nothing compares to God-given joy. Nothing compares to God-given peace.

When our children were young, because of certain questions they had asked us, we explained to them that our first child “died while still in Mommy’s tummy.” I don’t know if my son, Tyler, remembers that as a young boy, he came to me and requested that we name his older brother, Kevin. He very sweetly wanted me to know that his older sibling, whom he never met, mattered to him. I will always cherish that moment as one that displayed his compassion and the value that he placed on human life. Side note: apparently, he had decided that his older sibling was a boy! I agreed to the name, knowing that when I meet my oldest child in heaven, there’s a 50% chance I’ll feel the need to apologize to my daughter for referring to her as Kevin. 😉

Social media will make certain that we remember Cecil the Lion. Yes, he was created by God and was quite majestic, and we should be looking for ways to protect and respect God’s creation. However, more importantly can we please remember Kevin who was knit together by the very hand of God? Can I quite candidly ask you to go to a higher ‘level’ of remembrance and respect for humans? I know I’m asking you to be politically incorrect. I know that asking you from a blog to be or do anything can seem quite comical and naive. But, friends, we are engaged in a battle whether we signed up for one or not. Your God, the One that fearfully and wonderfully created every human, is being questioned. His wisdom, His plan, and His omnipotence – all of it – is being attacked. If that’s not a cause worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.
Human life at all stages is precious beyond words. Look outside your window at God’s creation. The beauty of the trees, mountains, wildlife, landscapes, and sunsets is absolutely breathtaking. Now I’m going to be direct and say that God went above and beyond on purpose when He exquisitely designed humans. He is a Master Designer carrying out a Master Plan in which humans have the opportunity to live in a loving, close-knit relationship with Him. Will you boldly proclaim, knowing that God is on your side on this issue, that it is time for the sanctity of human life to be made known and fought for? The value we place on human life dictates every decision that we make. Please boldly fight for, and please place unequalled value on ALL human life. God does.

As it turns out, we really don’t have to forgive everyone…

As it turns out, we really don’t have to forgive everyone.

I have knelt at an altar, placing the names of people at His feet. I have felt anger and betrayal, and if I told you each story, I’m willing to bet you would agree that I’m justified in feeling wronged in at least a few of the situations.

But, I have had to remind myself of something very important: There have been people kneeling at literal and figurative altars placing ME at the feet of Jesus. I’ve wronged people. Sometimes I had the best of intentions, but unfortunately did something to hurt another person. 

And other times? I just got it wrong. No, let me use the real word – I sinned. And therefore sent someone directly to an altar trying to forgive me, or sadly, directly in the opposite direction – where bitterness increases and peace is elusive. That place where we go to not lay people at the feet of Jesus, asking God to give us the ability to forgive them, but instead where we justify our feelings of betrayal and anger. That place where we dwell in a heap of self-destructive self-righteousness.

We are ALL sinners saved by amazing grace. Who are we to keep forgiveness from someone else?

We put others on a mental list entitled, “Not worthy of forgiveness,” while we couldn’t imagine our own names being on it. Do we truly think we are any more worthy of forgiveness than others? I mean, think about it…every sin has the same root: we think our way of doing things or our way of thinking is better than God’s way. The sins themselves have different degrees of how they shake out, how many people are affected, and how the world categorizes them. But, the root? All the same.

And God forgives us all without fail, repeatedly, and with arms wide open. 

So what I am saying is that even the people we would least like to forgive? We have done things equally as ‘unforgivable.’ We cannot say that they don’t deserve our forgiveness if we want to speak the truth. That leaves us with the only option left: we have to forgive them.

Wait! We don’t have to. Continue reading “As it turns out, we really don’t have to forgive everyone…”

Whose Voice Will You Listen To?

So, someone told you that you weren’t worth it. You didn’t reach the false standards created by someone that has no right to set them. So what? You have a choice. You can listen to that voice and believe it and even spend (waste) time trying to prove that person wrong. Or, you can listen and believe the voice of the One who created you. The One that created you for a purpose. You were not an afterthought or a mistake. You are worth it, worthy of Him giving His life for, and wonderfully and fearfully made by the Creator of the entire universe. If you stop and think about it, for real…that’s kind of a big deal!
Imagine if there was a debate between the two voices? Your detractor using words such as loser, unsuccessful, worthless etc. and Your God mentioning something to the effect of, “I created the universe, I can calm the raging seas, I tell the sun when and where to rise and set…And I have always had big plans for that gal that you called a loser. She’s my creation. I’ve given her unique gifts and a unique personality. She’s simply amazing, so…” I believe His voice would be the one with the last word!
His Voice has proclaimed that you are His child. (John 1:12) That you are His friend. (John 15:15) His voice says there’s no condemnation for those that belong to Him. (Romans 8:1) That you are a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) That He saves, rejoices over, and sings over you. (Zephaniah 3:17) That He abounds in love for you. (Psalm 86:15) That nothing can separate you from that love. (Romans 8:37-39) That you’re chosen by Him. (Ephesians 1:4)
I choose that voice. I do have to remind myself of that sometimes. When someone’s voice threatens to drown out the voice of God, the best thing you and I can do is to sit down and read His Words, His assurances, His love letter. His words of truth will become louder and clearer, and we’ll be reminded of our genuine value. I refuse to listen to a voice of someone that’s interested in tearing me or my self-esteem down. I don’t have time for it. I’m too busy leaning in to hear the voice of Someone that loves me beyond description. He is the voice of authority on the matter. And I’m determined that from now on, He will always have the last word. I’m hoping that when it comes to determining and defining your value, you’ll allow Him to have the last word also.

Coincidence? God answers in time of doubt

During the early years of my marriage, I went through a phase of feeling very inadequate. The voice that casts doubts on whether we are good enough, smart enough, witty enough, pretty enough, interesting enough, capable enough etc. was screaming at me, and I was listening.

You know that voice? Sure, you do. It whispers, speaks, or shouts at different levels and at different times during our lives. Some of us are just much better than others at quieting it. Some of us have even found a way to turn the voice off. Unfortunately, at that point in my life, I didn’t know that not listening was an option.

I vividly remember one early morning sitting down in my living room recliner asking God through tears why I couldn’t be this…or that…or more this…or more that. And that particular morning that voice had convinced me that my husband was wishing or hoping or even praying that I was more than I was. What I was struggling with the most was that I didn’t feel beautiful enough…on the outside or inside. Mirrors constantly reminded me that I had never seen myself as beautiful. And comparing myself to others constantly reminded me that I wasn’t interesting enough to ever be described as having a “beautiful” personality.

My Bible was in my hands. I opened it, and it ‘happened’ to be these words that I read on page 1384: “Instead, it (beauty) should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” A rush of tears came and fell. I wept because He answered me so specifically, so intimately, and so perfectly. God heard me. God cared about me. And God cared about what I cared about. Goodness gracious…my Bible “fell open” to that particular verse…a verse I had never noticed before…a verse that hit the nail precisely on the head with my pain of feeling like I lacked beauty inside and out! He’s just that good. What I received from that answer to my tearful prayer was the promise that God says that the quiet, gentle trust I have placed in Him makes me beautiful, and it’s a beauty that does not fade. (1 Peter 3:4) The Bible says so.

I should mention that my husband hadn’t done anything to make me feel like I am not enough. This mindset was invented courtesy of me and the voice I hadn’t learned to hush. I am now confident that when he looks at me, he sees inside and outside beauty that he’s pretty thrilled with! I should also mention that I’m not saying a woman has to be reserved and quiet in order for God to find her valuable! The Bible doesn’t say a gentle and quiet personality…it says a gentle and quiet spirit. A gentle and quiet spirit comes from an assurance that God is taking care of you and that He loves you, despite what life’s circumstances might lead you to believe. It’s the type of assurance that gives us the peace that “transcends understanding,” talked about in Philippians 4:7. Our spirit doesn’t have to be caught up in the rush of anxiety and “disquiet”. We don’t need to be controlled by unrest, wondering if He has our best interests at heart. He does…and He proves His faithfulness over and over.

God gave me a confidence that day. It was placed in me by the One who knit me together in my mother’s womb. Wow! It’s a confidence that says I am of great worth in His sight. You can have that confidence too! That is a beautiful truth about a beautiful God who created people that He finds beautiful. People that sometimes just happen to open the Bible to the exact verse that speaks to their exact issue at that exact moment. What a beautiful coincidence.

 

I Saw God Today

image
A few years ago, what started like a normal summer’s day…in our family, anyway, (kids at baseball practice, husband at work) ended with me trying desperately to grasp onto a tiny piece of ‘normalcy’. Midmorning, we were told the news of an unexpected tragedy. Unbelievable. Inexplicable. Devastating. Why, why, why, and again why? And then the parental ‘stuff’ enters in. How do you explain something to your kids that makes no sense to you, as an adult? And what, for goodness sake, can we possibly do or say to help ease the pain of the immediate family members that are trying to make sense of this heartbreak as they go through the same kind of pain we feel, multiplied by infinity? Sometimes hugs and prayer say more than even the wisest of words can.

As the day wore on, my restlessness caused by not knowing what to do or say reached its peak. I then picked up my camera bag, told my husband I’d be back in a little while, and drove off. In the past, sorrow has driven me to my Bible or my piano. That day, I was driven to drive – with my camera by my side. I drove for a short time, turned back toward home, and about a quarter mile from our house, saw the above scene of the sun and its reflection in a slough. Sloughs aren’t necessarily thought of as picturesque locations, but upon seeing this, I immediately stopped the vehicle and reached for my camera. Undoubtedly, it was God’s way of reaching through my anguish and reaching me that day. You see, I take thousands of photos. Many of the photos are of my children’s sporting events and other fond family memories, but the majority of them are of landscapes, trees, sunsets and the beauty of nature. Why? Because since I was young, I have been incredibly stirred by the beauty of nature. It has always brought me an appreciation for God’s creative splendor, and it has always made me feel close to Him. For many years, I wished I had the talent of painting, because pictures of God’s creation are what I would paint. Then a few years ago, it struck me that perhaps the next-best thing would be to capture those beautiful scenes with a camera.

I saw God that day. He spoke to me through His creation. I believe that God was telling me, “I’m still here,” through a breathtaking scene that only He is capable of producing. And He certainly was still there. In the midst of devastation, there was still beauty, order, peace…and God.

If it’s dark right now – pitch black, even – the sun will set tonight, rise again, and grant us its brilliant, unwavering light tomorrow. And then the next day? It will again. It’s sometimes extremely challenging to sense His presence through darkness and despair. On that tremendously difficult day, I stopped and looked in an unexpected place, and caught a beautiful glimpse of a beautiful, ever-present God. My prayer is that on your next difficult day, you will too.

Parental Heartbreak

It’s likely that if you are a parent reading this, you’re familiar with the awful feelings that well up within us when others cause pain in our kids’ lives. Sure, sometimes pain is caused by something our kids did or said, but right now I’m referring to the non-“you-brought-this-on-yourself” brand of hurt. This kind of hurt brings out Mama Bear instincts of protection, and “oh no, you did NOT just do that to my baby,” kinds of feelings. I’ve been there. I’m guessing you have too.

This is also the kind of hurt that brings out the comparison game. It’s possible we all play it sometimes. We either think it to ourselves or God-forbid, say things like this directly to our child: “Well, I’m not surprised that so-and-so did that to you, because his parents have let him get away with such-and-such since he was born.” (Because the little snippets of their parenting we see make us experts on what happens in their house…)

I’ve played that game, and there are no winners. After all, we’re all trying to maneuver through this parenthood thing and make it to the other side shouting, “That’s my child!”, and be proud of who we are pointing to…all the while knowing that if they do make it into adulthood as a productive, kind-hearted human being, it’s due to about 10% parenting and 90% God’s grace. The next time I’m tempted to play the comparison game, please remind me of the scientific 😉 percentages I presented, and also that as parents, we are on the SAME TEAM! Let’s support each other a little better.

And let’s remind each other that instead of going down the road of comparison, where we should really be heading is right into the arms of God. God knows how we feel when our children endure any suffering. In fact, during the darkest night known to mankind, He experienced parental heartbreak that we can’t imagine!

God sacrificed His only Son for all of us. Jesus was mocked and ridiculed by a mob of people not worthy to pass judgement on anyone, let alone the King of Kings. He was beaten in an unbelievably cruel fashion and suffered to a point beyond our imaginations. He died an inhumane death. Oh, and the crowd that gathered around this horrific event? They CHEERED during His demise. How beyond-words-heartbreaking for Jesus’ Father!

But…how awesome that we can place our parental heartbreak and our heartbroken child in an all-knowing-God’s hands and that we can thank Him for being in control of the situation and for knowing how we feel…God knows how we feel. How awesome is that?

Then, while standing with our child through the painful situation, how awesome is it that we can prayerfully stand back and boldly trust God to work in and through our child’s heartbreak and life! Hebrews 4:16 says, “So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.” And then we can thank God, because sooner or later we will surely witness a victory in our child’s life, courtesy of a Heavenly Father that’s ‘been there.’ How awesome is that?

Ready To Run

How many times have you heard the Prodigal Son story? I would guess that it’s one of the more well-known parables from the Bible. As I sat in a church pew several years ago listening to that scripture being read…for maybe the fifteenth or maybe even the fiftieth time…there was something that struck me as if it was the first time I heard it.

What detail hit me like never before? It was the image of the father running to the Prodigal upon his return home. As soon as he spotted his son in the distance, he ran. Why did he run? I believe one reason is that he wanted to leave no doubt in his son’s mind that he was still welcome, valued, and deeply loved. No less welcome, valued, or deeply loved than he was before he left of his own accord on a quest for something better than he thought his father could offer. The father was aware that his son had thought his ways were better than his father’s ways…he ran anyway.

He runs to us too. It’s not just a story. It’s a truth. It’s a promise. In Luke 15, it’s the third of three parables that Jesus Himself told in an attempt to illustrate to a crowd how important, loved, and sought-after all of God’s children are. I can almost imagine Him tripping over His Heavenly feet in His hurry to reach us. Isn’t it mind-boggling to be treasured like that? Especially after we go our own way and purposely sin. Especially when we seemingly look into our Heavenly Father’s eyes and boldly say that our plan is better than His plan.

We are not worthy to be loved to that extent. We are not worthy to have the Creator of the Universe desire to be so intimately involved in our lives…we never will be. But, that’s the way it is. (Thank God.) He is incredibly concerned, caring, and compassionate toward each and every one of us, regardless of our past – regardless of our decisions. It doesn’t matter if they are decisions that completely diminish the importance we place on His plan for our lives – He’ll still run to us. We have a God that still welcomes us, values us, and deeply loves us beyond words.

How can He love us that much? I don’t know. But He loves us as a father that waits in confident expectation for the prodigal to come home so He can lavish him with unmatched love, affection, and undeserved blessings. That I do know. And I never want to forget that. Ever.

It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. We have a God that sincerely wants us to come home. He’s waiting for us. He’s watching for us…and He’s ready to run.

Can There Be a Better Job?

Working at a preschool is easily one of the biggest blessings in my life. The teacher I assist and I have had numerous conversations that extol the positives of having this exact job, and often the conversation ends with one of us saying, “There just cannot possibly be a better job, can there?”

My preschool ‘work history’ includes being a volunteer parent aide in its very first year, then a teacher’s aide for a couple years, a co-teacher for a couple years, and then taking a break for a few years to substitute teach at the public school and start my Kindermusik venture. There were two wonderful preschool aides that worked there in the meantime. When the job opened up again in October, I did not hesitate to tell the director and teacher that I was interested in coming back if they would have me!

What brought me back? Oh, among other things: the opportunity to watch the preschoolers grow, the opportunity to see their excitement when they are identifying letters and correctly forming their sounds, the opportunity to see how an art project done by 26 different children with one example can have 26 different variations because this standardized world hasn’t yet squashed their creativity, the opportunity to see them rally around a fellow preschooler when one of them is sad, the opportunity to see them so easily forgive each other when their classmate reacts in an ‘oops, I shouldn’t have done that’ manner, the opportunity to teach them some Christian fundamentals in a Christian preschool, such as Jesus loving them no matter what, and the opportunity to have conversations like the following on an almost-daily basis:
“Miss Gwen, I have terrible news!” “Oh no! What is it? “My mom lost the back to her earring!!!” (Exclamation points to infinity if I was to tell you how distraught this 4-year old sounded.) She also happens to be one of the little sweethearts that answered our end-of-the-school-year question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the very serious answer: “a princess.” In her defense, I would imagine that earrings are a pretty serious accessory in the royalty world. Moments like that are infinite and priceless and they brought this wayward preschool aide back to her previous job.

Are there challenges? Yes. It’s not all lollipops and rainbows…although lollipops and rainbows both have their place in preschool…but yes, there are difficult moments. Moments of, ‘No, that is not okay to treat your friend like that’ talks. Moments of seeing their frustration when things aren’t going the way they had hoped and moments when they just plain miss Mom or Dad and our hug doesn’t quite cut it. Moments like that are difficult. And I am sometimes exhausted, because it’s non-stop activity and bustle and hum and controlled chaos. To be honest, there have been times at the end of the week, I’ve come home, put my feet up, and fallen asleep by 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Just this last week, there was the adorable little girl that couldn’t figure out how old her mom was for our Mother’s Day gift they were making. We were having them make their best guess if they didn’t know. When she struggled to come up with an answer, I said, “Well, I’m 44…how old do you think your mom might be?” “24” was her immediate answer. I happen to know that her mom is 43. If I look 20 years older than her mom, I guess I’m going to blame my hectic preschool schedule for the toll it’s taken on my appearance. 😀

Earlier in this school year, I was experiencing some rather tough stuff. Most people have no inkling, as I was pretty private about it, but my eyes were wet with tears when I got to work, and tears were shed on the way home, (seriously, I admit I’m a crier, but it was an above-and-beyond-ridiculous amount of crying, even for me.) But the in-between time? When I was surrounded by cuter-than-cute 3 and 4 and 5 year-olds? No tears. Only smiles and belly laughs. No thoughts of what my mind was going to wander back to when “work” was over. The preschoolers made me forget, if only for a while, but they truly made me forget. I don’t have to be going through trauma to realize just how precious these God-given children are or how God-given this precious job is!

How God Got Me Through a Mess is a potential title for another blog, but I believe being employed at the preschool at this exact time in my life was part of His divine plan for ‘getting me through’. I really do.

It doesn’t hurt that the teacher I assist and our preschool director both happen to be women that I would put on my “women whose faith and parenting and teaching skills I most admire” list and that they’re also two of my…what’s the 44-year old term for BFFs? Oh, let’s just call them BFFs. It doesn’t hurt that one of the students is one of my nephews, and every time he calls me “Auntie Gwen” my heart melts. It doesn’t hurt that being called Miss Gwen by my non-nephew preschoolers also melts my heart. It doesn’t hurt that I get to spend time with children who still have their child-like faith intact and that haven’t been jaded by difficult circumstances or unanswered prayers. It doesn’t hurt that we rarely have a day without at least one hug from a preschooler for seemingly no reason at all. It doesn’t hurt that with the 3 to 5 year-old population, we sometimes enjoy celebrity status when they see us uptown or at a football game…they are actually pretty pumped that we are in the same place! But even without all those perks, I believe I’d still be there. Because there just cannot possibly be a better job, can there? Thank you, God.