Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Who's Laughing Now, Crazy Month of May?

"Quadruple booked Monday night. Gotta love May!"

That was the Facebook status of my friend Lisa.

Here was my response:
"No, I don't. And you can't make me. I do NOT gotta love May...cause I don't...I don't love matter what you say."

I think it was Big Mama (or was it Jen Hatmaker? I get all my pretend BFF's whose blogs I read confused)... anyway, she said that May was the new December. Chalk full of activities and commitments and such.

And it's true. It's so very true. I've learned it over the years. And I know it full well. This year, I even tried to gear up for it. Every year, I try to consider the ensuing battle of the calendar to come and I carefully plot out my plan of attack. This year, I carefully considered where I could volunteer and how to pace myself and I intentionally left margins on my calendar.

And guess what?

To no avail. Or so it seems. 

Because May is still eating my lunch.

Here are the evil ways of May, for any of you who are not in throes of losing your ever loving mind over the madness that is May.

(Forget March Madness, BTW. Whatever. That month includes a full week off. Madness my foot).

May includes approximately 4,679 papers from school. When you have three kids at three campuses, about 1,257 of those papers are something you are getting in triplicate. It's a form about the district's new blah-blah-blah. Or a "hey, you don't have enough to look at, so can you read and sign this form saying you know about our new policy on grading periods?"  And of these 4,679 forms, about 800 of them are simply information for you to just know. You know, tuck in the folds of that brain that is already overloaded. 

And the rest? Well, the rest are things you have to fill out and sign and return. And 80% of those are to include a check or money attached.

Field trips. Field days. Graduation parties (Because 5th and 8th graders graduate. Back in my day, all you got was a big old pat on the back and good riddance and good luck at the next school. Not some all day at the bowling alley/laser tag/arcade celebration). 

There's success ceremonies and swim parties and district art exhibits and end of the year pep rallies and pre-registration registration. 

(Not to be confused with actual registration. Where you get to verify your residence at three schools, in three different ways. Just in case you tried to pull a fast one as you drove from the elementary school to the middle school 2.1 miles away).

Oh, and in these pre-registration registrations, you better be on your toes, whether your brain has drained in May or not. Because there are actually now levels of PE in 6th grade. And each course is a different track, but if you take advanced science then you MUST take advanced math. But that was for you to figure out. Even if you never took advanced anything.

Parenting. It's like it's very own doctorate program.

Don't forget those high school registration days. Where your kids get to play their own version of Hunger Games when the online scheduling opens up at 7 am. Kill or be killed. Snag the class you want as you text all your friends to confirm the right period and as the server for the online scheduling keeps refreshing because, you know--EVERY LAST INCOMING FRESHMEN IS DOING THE EXACT SAME THING.

May. For my kids, it's like a big old-- hey kids, finish strong! Here's some parties and ceremonies and assemblies and a few movies to watch because I'm outta ways to try to teach you people.  But don't relax too much because I'll sneak those final exams in to keep you on your toes.

For me, it's like the big rush and flurry of activity you go through to get ready for a vacation. Summer seemed like this great idea of lying around and relaxing and taking it easy.  Except for one thing. If you didn't need a vacation before you began to prepare to go on vacation, then you certainly do need one now that you are in the midst of said chaotic preparations for that vacation.

See, I'm onto you, May. I know you are the death of me. And I know that no matter what I do to try to be one step ahead of you, I will not succeed. 

I thus accept my defeat. I concede. You will best me. Every year. With your forms and requirements and online surveys and pre-registrations and last minute financial needs and a calendar that gets quadruple booked (despite having only 3 kids).

So go ahead. Have your fun, May. Spit me up and chew me out. As I stand over here with my plastic smile and my best effort and my phone posed to catch every last photo of every last [LAST] event of the school year.

I can endure. I can and I will hang on until June.

Then, I will lie around on a raft and float around a pool with a little umbrella in my bottled water and a calendar with a big fat NO WHERE TO BE.

Who's laughing now, May? You'll be history and I'll get my revenge.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Mom I Wish my Kids Had

He wrapped me up in a tight, tight hug, telling me that it would all be okay. And then he wouldn't let go. He told me not to worry and that God would provide some other way. He offered reassurances as he held me.

He had seen how discouraged I was. And when he asked what was wrong, I just started crying. I explained that I was disappointed with some bad financial news, on top of the day that marked the anniversary of my dad's death. 

I thanked him and reminded him how much I love him.

Moments later, his older brother quickly noted I wasn't myself as we passed each other on the drive way. I was off to run an errand while he was getting home from school. He, too, offered reassurances out of concern, and he also asked what he could do for me.

I drove away feeling even more broken. Because I wish I was a different mom. I wish my sons were not put in a position to comfort their frustrated mother. I scolded myself as I pulled out of our neighborhood.

And I thought that I wished I was the kind of mother that had a faith so sure and so steady that it never wavered. I wish my kids had a mom who walked in such strong faith that there was never an occasion that they saw me wrestling.

Other things came to mind. Other whispers of the mom I wish my kids had.

I wish my kids had a mom who never ended up in fetal position in the corner, rocking away from just pure exhaustion and weariness over mothering and life in general.

I wish my kids had a mom who always led out on some big time creative play. The kind of mom who had always embraced imaginative play or board games and who led out on all types of such fun. Instead of the mom who felt a sense of dread when they pleas to join the play began and who selfishly sought to guide the play to something I found palatable.

I wish my kids had a mom who didn't retreat some nights to my own room, just after dinner. I wish they had a mom who could stay upbeat and focused on their needs throughout the whole live-long day.

I wish my kids had a mom who loved to cook. Who loved to experiment with the healthy and enviable meals and who gladly welcomed the family to a lovely dinner night after night. Instead of the mom who says, "Cereal! It's what's for dinner."

I wish my kids had a mom with a poker face. The kind of mom who keeps internal eye-rolling to a minimum and offers instead a loving and warm and happy reception to random news, such as, "Hey! Guess what! I have a big project and we need to go to the store right now for supplies."

I wish my kids had a mom who loved and lingered over bedtime. For real. A mom who fell asleep while praying over her children nightly, like I once saw on Instagram. A mom who reads long stories and snuggles long and belabors bedtime because it is just so precious. Instead of a mom who, with time and age, now says, "Isn't it bedtime yet? Hey--go get ready and climb in. I'll pop in for a quick prayer." 

I wish my kids had a mom who spent hours developing their spiritual life, carefully guiding them through devotionals and Bible readings and coaching them through how to read the Word and pray and do all the spiritual practices. I wish they had a mom who helped facilitate nightly family devotions and prayer time, without fail. Instead of a mom who is just plain tired. And prays quick arrow prayers all day long for my kids and whose ability to lead them through how to read your Bible comes in spurts and waves, rather than a daily consistent routine.

I wish my kids had a mom who was always the backbone and the encourager and the uplifter and the glass-half-full lady. Who consistently taught them how to look on the bright side and to stand firm on the promises of the Word and never fail or falter. Instead of the Eeyore, melancholy mom they have who struggles daily to ward off the pessimism.

I wish my kids had a mom who perfectly fit the description of Proverbs 31. A P31 lady who always brings her husband good and not harm, who is industrious and rises early, whose trading is profitable and who regularly opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. I wish they had a mom who has no fear for her household and who is clothed with strength and dignity and who LAUGHS at the days to come with no fear. Instead of the mom who occasionally nags her husband, who hates getting up early or at all, who sporadically helps the poor and who frowns and dreads the future way more often than I laugh at it. 

Well, because I don't think the sarcastic, callous laughter counts.

Oh, yes.

There are many wishes I have about the mom I think my kids should have. About the mom I think would be far better suited for the job. About the mom I perceive from those around me who I think is doing this whole mothering thing way better, with more finesse and faith than I could muster.

But, I guess I'm like the Velveteen Rabbit mom. I'm worn and torn and have lost my shiny newness. I'm ragged around the edges and no longer in mint condition. I'm not fit for a store display of beautifully and perfectly made moms.

But I'm real. I'm oh-so-very-real. I'm messy and honest and authentic and inconsistent. I miss the mark and fall short and let my weaknesses show. I have regular opportunities to ask my children for forgiveness when I snap at them or make a mistake. Everyday, as I seek to live out my faith and trust it all to Jesus, my kids see my wrestling match. They know when I falter. They know how I land back in the Word and in prayer and how I beg for his goodness to keep my wandering heart tied to him. 

All these things ran through my brain as I left my house that day last week. All the wishes I had for the mom I want my kids to have. Because I felt badly that my sons were put in a position of needing to lift me up.

But then, as I pulled into the store parking lot, I realized.

I realized that maybe I'm not so far off the mark, after all.

Because my sons were sensitive and thoughtful and had an occasion to practice kindness and empathy. They were both encouragers and they were doing that thing that I ask them regularly to do.

To lift others up--to build others up.

My authenticity gave them a chance to practice. 

And my kids have learned, hopefully, some valuable lessons with their less-than-perfect mom.

They've learned that when life is messy and hard, we run to the only One who truly holds it altogether.

Because I can easily fall prey into thinking about the mom I wish my kids had.

Yet I am forever thankful for the Heavenly Father that fills in my gaps and loves them perfectly.

And I gotta trust that he knew what he was doing when he gave those kids this little Mama Bear. Grumpy, worn and tired as I might be. I gotta trust that God knew what he was doing after all.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Big Lessons from a Wee Little Man

Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he 
He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see
For the Lord he wanted to see, For the Lord he wanted to see

Zaccheus. Small in stature. But apparently, big in status. He was the chief tax collector, according to Luke 19. And he was wealthy. 

He was lining his pockets with the little extra he gathered from the citizens when he collected their taxes. That's how it worked. And he must have been really good at it, as he was the chief of the government sanctioned thieves and he was wealthy.

Surely, the means to his end brought him scorn from his community. Yes, he had achieved success and wealth and status, despite his small stature. But he wasn't well liked. Sure, his power and position must have afforded him favors and perhaps even some degree of influence with his neighbors. Surely, some postured themselves to stay in his good graces. They all must have known he could be bought.

His very financial status, clothing, and home emphasized that truth about him. That perhaps he was a man they loved to hate. Or hated to love.

He really was not the weakling or runt that the children's song made him out to be. There had to be a lot of determination and ambition wrapped up in that tiny package. He was a force to be reckoned with, not some cute little guy whose cheeks you wanted to squeeze. 

He had it all, by the world's standards. He had money, influence, a stable job, and probably all the luxuries afforded a man in that culture. Servants to handle the house work. Underlings tagging along to do the grunt work. 

Not unlike celebrities or politicians of this day. They've achieved a level of success that is enviable.

But yet...

...something is still wanting within them. For all the money, prestige, and power...there is still a short little person feeling empty. A longing not fulfilled. A yearning and an insecurity within them. 

Because they know, behind it all--behind the mask of success--there is a wee little man.

Do we not see it in every media blitz about some famous person who's gone off the rails? Success and fame and wealth do not bring happiness, and often fuel a rapid self-destruction.

They are Zaccheus. Mighty and powerful...but yet a wee little man.

We may even be Zaccheus. Not necessarily rich or famous or a celebrated or hated even... but lacking.

For all that we have achieved and accomplished and gained and earned, we know. When others applaud us or we sense our power or control over others...there is a voice taunting us.

You're just a wee little person. 

When we think we've arrived, there is still a voice within, pointing out our shortcomings.

Pun intended.

There's a need. 

Yet God feels far off.

Maybe we are even putting on the perfect church going persona. But behind closed doors, when we get quiet and honest with ourselves, we are tiny and small and God feels far off.

At some point, maybe like Zaccheus, we decide we gotta do something about it. We cannot keep living with the duality of big achievements and small fulfillment. We cannot keep wrestling against the circumstances and the feelings and the struggles that are dwarfing us, stealing our peace and joy and hope.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
Luke 19:1-6

As I read this passage yesterday, my mind went to the children's song about it all, and at first, I was tempted to dismiss these few verses.

But I was caught by two things. Two things that stood out once put into the context of the previous chapter in Luke:

1-- Jesus had just healed a blind beggar on his way to Jericho
2--Jesus had just warned the crowd how hard it was for a rich man to enter heaven during an encounter with a rich ruler

And so, I paused and sat on these six verses for a few minutes.

Then, I saw things I had never seen. Because I had been too busy with the children's song and familiarity. 

But, if we pause then we find truths that can reach into whatever it is in our lives that makes God feel far off and circumstances feel too big to battle.

1. Jesus is all about reaching out for the broken, rejected and outcast. Jesus' agenda--his itinerary read, "Go to Jericho." But his REAL agenda--his REAL itinerary is people. He healed the blind beggar and met a wealthy, hated successful tax collector.

Whether we are blind literally, begging for food. Or, we are blind spiritually with wealth overflowing.

2. When a heart longs to see Jesus, even the biggest idols and distractions LOSE THEIR HOLD.  Zaccheus was wealthy. Just a few verses prior, Jesus tells the rich ruler, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus tells one rich person it is hard to enter the kingdom of heaven, and one of the very next stories describes another wealthy person's encounter with Jesus--with a very different outcome. The first rich man went away sad from Jesus. The second rich man hosted Jesus in his home.

Both men were plagued by a wealth and a decision to make. One was unwillingly to surrender his security in his money. The other was desperate to see Jesus. 

One wanted validation for the way he was living by the rules. But he didn't want Jesus.

The other wanted even just a glimpse of Jesus, because he was tired of living by his own rules.

No matter what is holding you back from an abundant life in Christ, we can be assured of this.

When our hearts long to see Jesus, everything else can lose its hold.

3. Jesus' agenda is always to meet us where we are--no matter the brokenness. He meets us under the sycamore tree, or while we go about our self-righteous business, wanting our ears to be tickled. 

Jesus doesn't require us to go to great lengths to find him. He meets us right were we are. There is no anger, pain, sorrow, or struggle where he cannot meet us right in the middle of it. Rich and prideful. Blind and begging. Powerful and lonely.

It just doesn't matter. He meets us where we are. 

4. Jesus calls us by name. Jesus stood under that tree and he called Zaccheus by name. We are not a number or a problem or an afterthought to our Savior. We are never out of his reach, too high in the trees of our circumstances.

He comes to us and calls us by name. Because he is an intimate, relational Savior. 

5. That we would run ahead and climb trees and exert efforts to see Jesus. Here's the deal. He is always coming our way. But how hard will we work to see him? To know him? To learn more? To catch a tiny passing glimpse of the person of Jesus? Are you willing? Are you hungry for a fresh encounter with him? Will you work for it? Seek it? Make it your priority?

6. Jesus is not one for casually being seen by us. Jesus was not content to just walk on by and let Zaccheus get the glimpse he desired. 

Jesus wants to dine with us. Jesus wants to stay with us. To be known by us, not just to be seen at a distance.

Jesus does not want us to snatch a glimpse on Sunday morning, and then go on with our week and never encounter him again. He is not content with such a distant and impersonal definition of a relationship with us.

Jesus says to us, as he said to Zaccheus:
I must stay at your house today.

I must.


At your house. With you.

TODAY. Not later. 

7. How will we respond? What will our answer be today, when we feel a tug to read our Bible or say a prayer or thank him for the blessings we have? Will we walk away sad, because we think Jesus asks too much of us (Luke 18:22-23).

Or, will we come down at ONCE and welcome Jesus gladly? (Luke 19:6)

That we would welcome Jesus gladly. Come down from our perches and our positions and our status and our accolades and our wealth...and welcome him gladly.

Oh the big lessons we can learn from that wee little man.

Jesus is passing by. Every day. In a million ways.

Will we acknowledge our deficits and our needs--beyond our shallow status or wealth or achievements? 

Could we just pray for a heart that longs to see Jesus? 

A heart that is so willing that we would climb the heights to do so?

Even if it's a sycamore tree in the middle of a huge crowd. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Letter to My Dad

Dear Dad,

It's hard to believe that it's been 25 years today. In some ways, it doesn't seem that long since I said good-bye. And in some ways, it feels as though it was another life time when I was able to call you, talk to you, spend time with you.  An entire lifetime has happened since the day you met Jesus face-to-face.

I finished Baylor. Debt free. (And I went on to graduate school). That was a miracle. A "who but God?" story -- that a fatherless teenager on her own financially might come out of Baylor without a single loan. But God is faithful that way. And that is something I've learned in ways I wouldn't have otherwise. 

Because when I lost you, I began to find the Father heart of God. When I lost you, I began to write long letters to God--when I was supposed to be studying. I'd pour out my anger and frustration and desperation and pleading cries onto paper. And a funny thing happened along the way. I began to feel as though my long frenzied script were not being directed at a brick wall. But a softening took place. And I began to know God as I had never known him before. I began to see him as my Abba Father.

At first--and for quite awhile--it made no sense to me that I should lose you. That such a Godly, humble, good, kind and compassionate man should die. It felt senseless. No matter how I computed it in my mind, it just never added up to anything that made sense.

But gradually, I began to see. In time, my eyes were open. And I realized that I would never have developed the dependency and relationship with my Heavenly Father that has become so personal and so powerful and so integral if I hadn't lost my earthly father. 

It's some of the "good" that came...some of the "all things work together for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28). 

My marriage is another. Because there, when I felt loneliest and most abandoned and like an orphan...there was a boy. A boy with your kind heart and your integrity and your compassion and your just extraordinary love for others. In fact, I met him just days before you died. And he, in fact, was the last person I saw on Baylor campus as I rushed to your bedside to say good-bye. So I had asked him to pray for me as I sped away.

He's still praying for me. All the time. Because he is my husband. And over the years, I know that my security and dependence and our identity as a couple would not be the same if it hadn't been born in such a dark time in my life. The roots that grew as he held me through my storm have grounded me and our family in these last 25 years. And I feel confident they are deep enough for the rest of my days. 

Who but God enables someone to come into your mess and love you without condition? Who but God could begin to blossom a lifelong romance just when another flower is fading?

You would like Chris. I think you'd be rather tight with each other. And sometimes, I feel the stab of pain that I never got to introduce the two most important men in my life to each other. That you never walked me down the aisle. That you never brushed back my wedding veil to kiss my cheek as you offered my hand to another. 

But then I remember this. I see it as a relay. In the race of my life, God in his infinite wisdom, had you hand off the baton to the next man in my life. For reasons I still don't completely see. But I will trust they are there. I will choose to trust that it has all had a purpose.

Aside from my husband, I wish I could have introduced you to my children. I wish you could have been in the hospital room, with those fresh bundles from heaven placed in your arms. One generation holding the next. I wish you could have rocked them to sleep and taken them fishing and taught them important things in life. I wish you could know Collin's quiet and serving leadership -- so much like yours. I wish you had been next to him on the couch for all the hours he has spent watching the Military History channel. I wish for the long conversations about World War II and the other common interests you both have. 

I wish you could know Cooper's confidence and resourcefulness and incredibly big personality. He would crack you up with his sense of humor, and you would appreciate his penchant for storing facts and discussing current events. You would have clapped the loudest at his theater performances and football games and choir concerts. And I still can't put my finger on it...that thing about him that tugs at my heart in unexpected moments because it so reminds me of you. When those flashes of recognition happen, I wish you were here to help me identify what exactly it is.

And Caris. Our little unexpected miracle. You would have been over the moon for that precious beautiful girl who shocked us with her arrival into the world. You always were an amazing dad to girls. What an incredible grandfather to her you would have been. And she would have eaten up the hours in your lap, being read to and snuggled. 

I wish you could see all the grandkids...these six who will carry on the family legacy. These six whom we have tried to teach faithfully to trust in our Heavenly Father, just as you taught your girls. 

Oh I've lost many days wishing for the what was not to be. I've cried buckets and asked questions and demanded of God the answers to all of my questions. I've played the role of victim and I've wrapped my identity in the things that happened to me. I've anguished over the unfairness of it all.

But here's what I want to tell you. Here's what I want you to know. 

I've found a peace. 

I've found a way to co-exist with the pain of the loss and the void that you left. I'm not angry anymore.  I've settled in. I've been able to gain the vision to see that I have been held by my Abba Father through every last moment of my life. He has held me close and he has patiently comforted me through the hardest days. He has reached into my darkness with a small pinprick of hope. He has shown up, time and again, when I wasn't sure I was on speaking terms with him. 

Dad, he has been all that you said he was.

He has been faithful and true. He has been sufficient. He has grown me and shown me more of who he is through the pain of losing you. When I thought it would all consume me, he was there. 

And He has become more precious and dear to me than I would have known had I not lost you. Because I've had the miracle of being held by a Father when I lost my dad.

Even now--as I near the age you were when you died--I see him more clearly all the time. And I remember your words when you heard your terminal diagnosis.

For to me, to live is Christ. And to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

I want you to know that there has been gain, after all. In the dark places where I only saw loss initially. There has been gain.

And that is enough. 

So until we meet again for all of eternity...know that I'm okay.

I still miss you. Sometimes so fresh it's like it just happened. But I no longer wrestle against that void. I live with it and see ways it has been to my benefit, for God's glory.

And it is well with my soul.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Just When Can I Leave the Waiting Room?

I know, without a doubt, that I am in good company with this sentiment.

I am way over the waiting room in life. 

I feel as though I have read every magazine, counted every ceiling tile, asked until I'm blue in the face about when it will be my turn, and I've looked at my watch approximately 365,478 times. 

In the last hour alone.

It's discouraging. It leaves me feeling as though I'm talking to a wall and the silence is beyond frustrating. The prayers for something that is STILL not coming. 

I keep seeing this image.

Okay, look. I've done it. I've tried to sing every last praise song I know. All four verses. I've tried to thank God for every last thing I can think of to thank him for here, as I wait. 

But, gotta be real.

I'm. Just. Over. It. 

And I wanna know--just when can I leave this waiting room?

This little Eeyore mentality was where I landed last week. Again. All week long. Just in one of those funks about the whole thing and gotta be honest--I wasn't very pleasant.  

Can I get an a-men? Anyone else out there feeling the same way?

You've asked and asked and prayed and prayed, and it all feels to no avail. What you know in your head to be true is just not connecting to your heart. Because your emotions are just knee deep in the discouragement.

Well, allow me to show you a way out. And trust me--this isn't from me. This is our Heavenly Father answering me when I begged him for a clear word of encouragement to help me keep going.

Maybe you feel as though you've cast your net, again and again and again. And you haven't caught a thing. You've prayed for your rebellious child to turn back. You've asked God to help your child who struggles. You've asked repeatedly for your relationship to be restored. You've prayed for a new job. You've asked for financial provision. You've asked to become a wife. Or a mother. 

Over and over and over. You've prayed for that thing that feels so dear and precious and evasive to you.

And you've got nothing.

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." Luke 5:5

If you have prayed the prayer so many times you've lost count, with no results.

Jesus says keep asking. If you've caught've made no headway. The waiting continues.

Jesus says let down the nets that one more time.

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats SO FULL THEY BEGAN TO SINK. Luke 5:6-7

Listen, I'm not talking some prosperity gospel here. But I am pointing you to the truth. 

When you have fished all the live-long night with no results, Jesus says don't give up. Keep fishing.

Because at his command, our nets will be full. Our answer will come. He will move and bring his results, in his timing, in his way. 

And when God answers prayers, it's so overwhelming that our boats begin to sink.

Maybe you're enduring a storm that is never ending. The winds are raging and the waves are crashing and you find yourself in the middle of the lake. Miles from shore. Rowing and rowing. Your fear is rising with the waves. The danger is so near and you cannot seem to find escape from it. 

Maybe your life or your family or your marriage or your health or your finances seem in jeopardy. You're calling out, but no answer comes. And you feel alone.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. But now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 
John 6:16-18

Are things getting dark in your life? Does it feel as though Jesus has not yet joined you? A strong wind is blowing and the waters are growing rough. And, you are even a disciple. Who seeks to follow Jesus. But here you are--and you wonder where he is?

When they had rowed about three or four miles...(verse 19) this YOU? You have rowed three or four miles. Who can count? Your muscles are sore. Your body aches. Your mind is fatigued. You are just tired. Because you are rowing and rowing and rowing to keep going...but the darkness and winds and waves are the only response to your prayers.

They saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water, and they were frightened. But he said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid." Then they were willing to take him into the boat...(verse 19b-20a)

Listen, if you are frightened and unsure and out of confidence, then follow what these disciples did in the middle of their storm.

Be willing to take Jesus into your boat. Even if it doesn't look like you had thought. Even if it feels scary. Even if the storms still rage.

Be willing to take Jesus into your boat. Into your circumstance. Into your pain. Into your struggle.

And know that this is the ultimate result:

...And immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. (verse 20b)

Here's the thing. We find ourselves in the middle of a storm, smack dab in the middle of the lake, and safety and answers feel out of reach. 

But when we are willing to say, "Yes, Jesus. I'll take you into my boat. I'll keep looking to you," then in his timing and in his way, he can take us to the other shore in the blink of an eye.


Immediately, they were safe and reached the goal. 

That's what God is capable of doing. When we dare to trust him and keep trusting him.

When we are tired of asking...just plain tired. And our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, and we are basically wondering if there is any point in praying still, let's turn our attention here. To a lovely lady whom Jesus said answers our frustration of asking repeatedly.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said, "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea,'Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself,'Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me!"  And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly." 
Luke 18:1-8

When we grow tired of praying without an answer, let's be the widow. The persistent widow.  Because Jesus says we should always pray and not give up. 

Jesus' whole point in telling that parable was to remind his disciples (and us) to keep asking. Keep praying. Don't give up. Trust that, unlike this judge who didn't fear God or care about people, our Father does. Our God wants to bring justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night.

So keep wailing away. Keep asking and asking and asking.

When you are just at the end of your rope, in the waiting rooms in life, and nothing is moving forward--no answer is coming--then hang your every last shred of hope on this next passage, as well. 

Because last week, in my total Debbie Downer about my waiting room, Jesus faithfully brought me to the story of the disciples casting their nets through a blog I read, to the story of the widow as I read through Luke...and then to the following passage in Sunday's sermon.

Because that's how he does. When we are at the end of ourselves, then we can come to him. We can trust that he will make himself known when we need to see him.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:7-11

Listen, that is one of those verses where I tend to tune out because I've heard it so many times. Besides that it confuses me--because it sounds a bit like pulling up to the drive-through window. We place our order and then pull around to get what we've ordered. And I don't know about you--but that is NOT how life or prayer is working for me.

But, let's take another look.

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
New Living Translation

There it is. A translation that frames it closer to the original language.

It's totally pointing us back to that determined widow. To that fishermen, working all night long. To the disciples rowing and rowing and rowing.

Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. 

And remember--sometimes what we receive feels like or looks like a stone or a snake to us. But we keep on asking and keep on seeking and keep on knocking, motivated by the truth of God's heart for us. 

In his perfect and loving ways toward his children, what he gives is ultimately bread and fish, even when we don't see it what way initially. And yes--sometimes the answer given is not the yes we want but rather a "not yet" or a "I have something else."

But if you are with me--just wondering when we can leave the waiting room, praying and praying and praying, with silence being the only response...then please raise your voice with me, according to the wisdom of my pastor.

Let's ask until our voice is hoarse.

Let's seek until we grow weary.

Let's knock until our knuckles bleed.

Let's be prayer warriors who are determined to battle until God's victory comes.

Because if we believe and seek to know the truest things about God, then we know that--

He will fill our empty nets.

He will get us to the other shore.

He will answer our persistent prayers.

He will throw open the doors to his most loving and precious and perfect plans that involve bread and fish, not stones and snakes.

I don't know about you, but it's the word I needed this last week. 

And so, every time my mind turns to my waiting and I feel that familiar tug of discouragement, I'm instead turning to pray this prayer.

"Lord, here I am again. And I'm going to ask until I'm hoarse. I'm going to seek until I'm weary. I'm going to knock until my knuckles bleed. Hear my prayer! Because I'm not going away. I'm in this thing until you give your loving answer."

Amen and amen. Bloody knuckles and all.

Friday, May 8, 2015

What to Do When You Feel You are Failing at This Thing Called Life

This was the question asked by a friend this week.

What do you do when you feel you are failing at this thing called life?

Oh, yes. It's a feeling I think many of us can relate to along the way. At the bottom of the barrel. Drained. Living on the edge. Of tears. Of throwing in the towel. 

When all your efforts seem to fall way short.

Mommy fails.

Such as my season of post-partum depression. A brutal season where just getting out of bed seemed like too much some days. And my darkness spiraled into a place where I was too angry to even speak to God. So others did that for me.

Or the months I spent battling through my third pregnancy, and my two boys were being raised by the television. Or each other. Or anyone else who dared to show up in my home who might offer to help. 

Marriage fails.

Like the last sixteen years when I've been so distracted being a mom that I'm not sure I've done justice to my role as a wife.

Household fails. 

When the laundry piles up and the dishes and the tasks and the bills and I sleep walk through the day feeling as if I can never keep up with the demands. 

It might be a big thing that tips the scales toward "failure" or it might simply be the last tiny thing that is the straw that broke the camel's back.

Whatever it might be, I think so many of us can relate to this question.

What do you do when you feel that you are failing at this thing called life?

Here was my response. My genuine, authentic response. Because that is what she needed to hear. That was what I think you might need to hear.

" I generally have a huge melt down & am unpleasant to my hubs & kids...retreat to my bed... Watch a show or read... Get a grip, realize I need to get over myself... Then remember that time in the Word, listening to worship music & remembering his truths & faithfulness will feed my faith & starve my fears...."

Oh, yes, bloggy friends. That's my sage wisdom.

It's just the unfortunate truth. I may be over 40, and you'd think I'd know better by now.

And I do. I really do KNOW better by now. But sometimes what you know doesn't feel as though it has enough umph or power to shake how you feel. Because we are emotional beings.

Even though God clearly warns us that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).

Oh, sure, we might know that.

But sometimes, when things are unraveling and we are tired and worn and feel like we are failing time and again...our emotions can easily trump logic.

Bless. My poor family knows this well.

Because it basically goes like I said. 

I have a melt down and tend to be unpleasant or impatient with my long suffering husband and my kids. I am a MASTER at winding myself up. Taking the little worry or concern or offense from someone. And whip it up into a frenzy, by replaying it and rehashing it and obsessing over it. Over and over and over. 

Listen, if there was a Ph.D in borrowing trouble and letting emotions dictate the day, I'd have earned it long ago.

Feeling like a failure?

Oh, yes. I've been there. Again and again and again. 

And I do totally melt down, and then when it's really bad, I'm just retreating to my room as quickly as possible, climbing into my comfy bed and burying myself in the escape of a television show or a book. 

Eventually, I get a grip. I see myself, like an out of body experience, and I know that I am just letting my emotions win. I know I am listening to the accuser and I am letting it all get the best of me.

I know I need to get over myself.

I know if I just get into the Word and think of the promises and look up verses related to my issue-- worry or anger or feeling offended... then I can use those truths to tie a knot at the end of my rope.

If I only turn on some uplifting music and let it reach into the broken and hurting places... then I can turn the tide and get some traction.

If I only take time to pray. To write long letters to God in my prayer journal. Or sit with a pen and blank page and write down what comes to mind--what I feel he is saying to me. 

If only I take time to remember. To remember the wonders and the faithfulness and the battles won and the progress made--no matter how small.

Then, maybe...just maybe... my faith is fed. Even the tiniest bit. And in so doing, I can starve my fears.

My fears that I'm getting it all wrong.

My fears that I've missed the mark.

My fears that things will never turn around.

My fears of failure. 

There, when I dare to feed my faith -- even the tiniest incremental bit -- there, a little pin prick of hope bursts through the darkness.

And it's a start.

It's might be all I can muster. 

But beating back the dark cloud of failure begins with one tiny little step forward, into the hope offered by a faith that says this:

No, I cannot do it right. Yes, I get things wrong. And I fall short, over and over and over again.

It's why I needed a Savior.

It's the very thing that prompted the miracle of the gospel story.

Our deepest need. Our filthiest sin. Our lack and want and inability.

It's where and why heaven dared to entered earth.

It's where and why Jesus is still doing it today.

Showing up when we we feel we are failing at this thing called life.

And saying--I am your enough. In your weakness, I am sufficient.

Expect it.

Wait for it.

Know it to the depths of your being.

We may fail and fall.

But He never does.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Do Not Forget These Moms on Mother's Day

Mother's Day is just around the corner. And while I have teased my kids mercilessly with all the ways they might bless me, I honestly don't take this holiday lightly.

Because there are some important moms to NOT forget this Mother's Day.

Moms Not Yet Moms. In my long career in adoption, I have watched first hand the anguish of many the mom who is not yet a mom. These are women whose very heartbeat is to become a mother. They feel all the mommy urges and wishes but their arms are still empty. Their dreams are unrealized. These are moms who are struggling through infertility and hopes and heartache and longing and sadness. May we never dismiss them on this national holiday. May we remember to validate their mommy's hearts and the longing that is not yet fulfilled. I cannot even tell you what it might mean to them if you sent a note or offered a hug or made a phone call to tell that you see them and you share their dream with them, praying for the day their arms are filled with the child they are waiting to hold.

Moms Not Raising Their Kids. If I could only speak eloquently to the incredible birth mothers that I have known over the years. From the young teenager who was too scared to tell her parents she was pregnant to the forty-plus birth mother who thought her childbearing days were over and she had to tell her grown children otherwise. These are brave, loving, selfless and caring mothers. Who loved their child with the kind of sacrificial love that is difficult to explain. These are the moms who made a careful plan for their child's futures. In domestic adoption, these are the moms who carefully selected an adoptive family and made birth plans and signed legal paperwork to secure their child's future. And there are also moms whose own battles impede their ability to parent, and so their children are removed by third parties. In every single international adoption, there is a mother around the world who still thinks of the child she is not raising. Maybe this is the mother who lurked around the corner after she left her baby at the bus stop, carefully watching until the infant was safe in the arms of someone who would take the child to an orphanage and a better future.  The reasons and processes and circumstances are as varied as it comes, but there are moms all around the world who are not raising their children. Yet, they are still a mother. Their heart still aches and prays for the child they love.  Let us not forget these moms.

Moms Raising Step kids. A dear friend become a wife and mother in the last year, and I must say, it has been a vivid reminder to me of how invisible step moms can be in our culture. She loves these children like her own, but finds herself in quite an undefined category. They feel like her kids, but they call another woman mom. She longs to make memories and build traditions, but they don't live with her full time. She is a mom, but yet the only word for it is step mom. Which we all know has some negative connotations, thanks to fairy tales. She is the furthest thing from wicked, and she is seeking to find her way on a path with few perimeters and many complications. This Mother's Day, let's applaud and celebrate all the moms raising children whom they share with another mom. 

Moms Who Have Lost Their Children. I can distinctly remember the first Mother's Day after my miscarriage. I was childless, but yet I felt a tug to stand when the pastor called for all the moms in the congregation to do so. I felt like a mother. But I had no child to hold and no proof of my standing. This Mother's Day, the searing pain of loss is intensified for every mother who has lost their child or children. I think of April Smith, whose story I heard at the IF Gathering. She is the Arkansas mom who lost her children in the tornado just over a year ago. She is a mom. Without children to mother. For every mother who has buried a child or lost a child through miscarriage, may we offer our love and support and recognition and prayers. May we remember as we laugh and exchange cards and offer gifts and breakfast in bed that there are mothers who would rather crawl under the covers because of the reminder that this day is for them.

Moms Who Never Became a Mom. There are wonderful, beautiful "moms" who mother their nieces, nephews, and other children. My own children have had amazing teachers who don't have children "of their own" -- but every year, they invest and pour themselves into the twenty-plus children in their classroom. They serve as my child's "mother" for eight hours a day, and then during all the time they take in the evenings and weekends to make my child's school year amazing. They may not have ever given birth or adopted, and perhaps their earlier dreams of motherhood are fading...but they are moms nonetheless. They serve as honorary mothers and spiritual mentors and caregivers to all the children and friends whom they love and care for and with whom they share their talents and time. These precious women are so often overlooked. We forget them so easily. Maybe their lives have taken a different turn than they expected. Maybe they thought they'd be married with children by now. Or maybe they made a decision to not be a mother that they now regret. But, they are still moms. Perhaps not in the traditional sense. But they play the role by choice to those whom they bless. And as I've said, "framily"--family by choice-- are among the most incredible treasures we gain in life. Thank them on Mother's Day. Send them a Mom's Day card and let them know that their choice to act as a mother and mentor means the world to you.

Children Without Moms. As Mother's Day approaches, I am brought back to the one month anniversary of losing my dad. It fell on Father's Day. Honestly, for years, I avoided Father's Day altogether. I would stay home from church or fill my calendar with other activities. Because it was just too hard to be reminded of the one I had lost. The same is true for so very many children, including adult children, who have lost their moms. Mother's Day is hard. My mind turns to a sweet friend who lost both her adopted mother and adopted father in the last year. These "motherless" children need our love and attention as well. Let us turn our thoughts to those who have lost their moms and take time to reach out to them.

Likewise, there are many whose relationships with their moms are strained, perhaps to the point of complete estrangement. Mother's Day cards at the store might feel like cruel taunting as their relationship with their moms do not fall into the pretty floral category of being celebrated. This is another very ambiguous category on Mother's Day. Those who have a mom but it's not the relationship they wished they had. It's a very hard place to be. Having a mom and trying to make a way when there are scars and bruises and wounds in the way. So, think through your circles. Do you have a friend whose has shared her hard relationship with her mom? Let her know on this Mother's Day that you see her. And you've got her back along the hard road.

I'm sure that there are about a zillion other caveats and categories that I could dive into here. But, I hope I've simply offered the reminder to every reader that Mother's Day isn't sunshine and roses for everyone. It's not just another day on the calendar. It's also a day that is endured because of the pain that it provokes. 

So because of that reality, I challenge every one of you bloggy friends to go to the store and find a card or buy a flower or make a phone call or set up a lunch with a mom who falls into these categories. Let these women know that you see them, that you love them, and that they are celebrated, as well. Don't choose silence for fear of provoking their pain. I guarantee you that Mother's Day does not allow such a luxury anyway. So, validate them and stand with them in their hard places.

Because Mother's Day isn't just for the perfect wonderful moms who fit the definition exactly. It's a day to acknowledge the moms who have lost, who have loved, who have grieved, who have struggled, who have been through hard things. It's a day to think outside of the box and say to every "mom" you know-- I see you. And you are special.

Monday, May 4, 2015

When You're Fighting For Your Misunderstood Kids

Hi. My name is Heather. And I've had a recent addiction to all the seasons of Parenthood. I'm really not proud of it. 

Oh, sure, I could say boastful things like, "I DO MARATHONS! (of netflix)."  

But, the truth is that yes, I've spent hours of my life, caught up in all the struggles and joys in the lives of the Bravermans. Netflixing is not something I often do. 

Here's the deal. I found myself intrigued by this show that applauds a commitment to family and marriage and all the struggles of parenthood. As the name implies. Particularly when it came to the show's character, Max, and the real life depiction of a person living with Asperger's.  That story line caught my attention, as the show didn't sugar coat any of it, but showed so many aspects of this diagnosis. It seemed to be pretty accurate, from what I know, although I don't have a child on the autism scales. And I just wanted to cheer for all the efforts, blood, sweat and tears of Kristina and Adam as they continually championed for their child's needs.

Whether or not you have a child with a particular diagnosis, I think most parents can relate when it comes to the need to advocate for your child. When it comes to the angst of your child being misunderstood. By peers. Or extended family members. Or teachers. I think many of us have found ourselves tied in knots because of a phone call where you knew pretty quickly that who your child REALLY is was not seen at all. And accusations or misunderstandings result in messes that you want to fix. For your child. Because you so desire to protect them from judgment and struggles and hard, hard places in life. 

I have friends whose kids and teens are struggling hard. Academically. Socially. Emotionally. Physically. Struggling with a mental health diagnosis or a learning disability. These are battles I cannot even pretend to grasp.

Yet, truth be told, I think all of us see our kids wrestling on a regular basis to some degree, with or without a label. Because it's truly hard to be a kid. 

Our children are wrestling to make friends, to be accepted, to succeed in the classroom, to excel in sports, and to balance all that is thrown at them.

Childhood has been hijacked, in my humble opinion. Hijacked by technology and social media and a cut throat mentality that has taken over little league. Kids these days can't just be kids. They aren't able to roam free or just play on a team for the love of it and the fun of it. Because the pressure is beyond anything I ever experienced as a kid.

But that's a whole other blog post.

My point is that I don't think I'm alone when I cyclically find myself in a tired, worn place because I've been fighting for my kids. Fighting to help them be understood and accepted. Championing their cause with teachers or family members. Fielding phone calls or working to masterfully compose an email on their behalf. Carefully seeking to advocate for them with those in our lives. Working hard and second guessing often how to help navigate their way through friendships and peer relationships. 

Wanting so desperately to just fix things for them. To pave the way and make it smooth. Or at least smoother for them. Not that we can or should erase all the obstacles, as struggles can be an important learning process for our children. But, I think I'm not alone when I see some rock in the road that shouldn't be there. That is not necessary, and the stumble it causes feels so unfair.

And so, coming from that place of feeling fatigued in my fight for my misunderstood kids, I saw a battle cry when I read in Luke 18 this morning. I saw a few short verses that filled my heart with encouragement. I hope you feel the same way, battle weary parents out there.

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Luke 18:15-17

Let's camp here for the rest of this blog post.

First of all, I see an incredible parenting tip for all of us. Parenting 101 here.

Bring our children to Jesus. Run to Jesus with every concern, every pain, every struggle, every problem. Just bring our babies to him through prayer and ask him to touch our kids. Ask him to show up for them and through them and within the situation. May we run to Jesus with every concern regarding our kids... and trust him to touch them.

Because this battle for our kids isn't ours alone. It's not ours to fight solo. He made our kids. Exactly as they are. He knows the number of hairs on their head, and he knit them in their mother's womb. He knows far more than we do about the situation. 

And he cares. 

He cares for our kids far and above how we care for them. His heart is for them, even more than ours are.

He loved them to death.

And he says, here in this little passage in Luke, that he wants us to bring our babies to him. He wants to touch their lives. He wants to intersect the issues. He says bring your kids and all their concerns to ME. 

So, may we run to Jesus with every concern regarding our kids and then trust him to touch them. Trust him to reach into their lives and show up.

And, second of all--bless those fervent but misguided disciples who walked with Jesus. Those regular men who tried but often got it wrong. Because those disciples were rebuking the parents. They were so full of vigor and pride about Jesus' importance that they rebuked the parents who were bringing their babies. Probably saying that Jesus didn't have time for that.

The truth is this. The world and EVEN THOSE IN THE CHURCH may not GET where we are with our kids. They may not get where our kids are. This can include church staff, such as youth pastors or children's pastors. This can include your "besties" within the church walls who shock you one day because you thought they were a safe place to land. But they clearly do not GET what your struggle. And it might feel as if the disciples themselves are rebuking you for where you are with your kids.

We human beings can be so short sighted. We can tend to see things only through our lenses. And until we have experienced what others experience, we tend to a very poor job of empathizing and extending grace. It's pretty easy to revert to judgment and rebuke when we think someone isn't doing what they should be doing.

This might be where you are. You are fighting for your misunderstood kids and you feel as though the church itself is rebuking you for your situation. Where you thought you'd find cheerleaders and moral support, you get naysayers and confusion and more misunderstanding.

But take heart. 

Because I don't think it's by accident that this little phrase is included in the pages of Scripture: "When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them."

Let's read on.

Because RIGHT AFTER THAT, the Word says, "But Jesus called the children to him and said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.' "

No matter how misunderstood you feel by man, hang on to this truth.

Jesus says come. Jesus says come to me. Jesus says do not hinder these children...he calls out those who misrepresent him. And he clearly says to every one of us fighting for our kids--come to me!

For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

The very kingdom of God belongs to the children and the lowly and the helpless and the misunderstood and the ones fighting and the parents seeking help and the children who need a touch from Jesus.

That's who the kingdom of God belongs to. The kids fighting with mental illness. The parents in the trenches with them. The teens struggling to find independence and work through all the hardships of being a teen these days. The kids whose teachers see only a behavior issue instead of a whole child with particular needs and bents. The children whose strengths cannot be seen because only their weaknesses are noted. The parents who cry buckets of tears as they fight, day after day after day, for their misunderstood children.

Jesus says COME. Come to me. Bring your "babies" to me. Let me touch them. Don't listen to the naysayers and those who misspeak and rebuke you for coming to me. Don't be deterred by the obstacles in the way. Don't be hindered by all that is coming against you. 

But come.

Come to me. Because the kingdom of God belongs to the hurt and wounded and broken and misunderstood and lonely and tired and weary and worn. The kingdom of God belongs to those whose faith simply calls them to run to Jesus. In all the battles. With all the struggles. With all the wrestling.

Jesus doesn't say get it all figured out and solved and fixed and then come.

He says come to me. With your kids. For your kids. Come to me. Right in the middle of your mess. With a simple faith that says I choose to run to Jesus with all that I don't understand...I'm just running at him, full speed, with every single burden and concern.

I'm going to bring my children to Jesus through prayer for his touch on their lives. I'm going to remember his heart for them. I'm going to embrace that he throws out his welcome mat and throws open his door to say COME to me. And he is waiting to touch our lives and our children's lives and to show that he is faithful when we are faithless.

May we remember that Jesus says ignore the nay saying. Jesus rebukes those who misunderstand and dare to hinder our path to Jesus in the middle of all our battles.

May we learn not to let fallen people be the voice of Jesus in our lives. Because sometimes, even the closest disciples of Jesus get it wrong.

Above it all, louder than those who don't get it, Jesus calls us to come.

May we listen to THAT voice. May we choose to hear his voice louder than all the rest.

And in the middle of our battle fatigue, may we remember the best strategy of all to find relief. 

Bring our "babies"-- whether they are tiny enough to be held or taller than us--bring them to Jesus. And ask him for his touch on their lives. No matter how many times we have to keep asking, may we never cease interceding on our children's behalf. And trusting that Jesus says, "these are my children. And I'm fighting for them."

We aren't alone. Because the One who made them is the One who still fights for them.