How Putting Up the Christmas Tree Turned into a Teachable Moment

I don’t know if it was the colder temperatures and the snow that we had in early October, or something else, but my kids have been waiting impatient to get past fall and on to Christmas.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my in-laws, enjoyed every moment, and got home late. I took Precious #4 into town with me to pick up a co-op order, and we hit a few of the Black Friday Sales.  I survived.  I hate the crowds, the lines, and the hype.  I may win the award for the shopper who spent the least $. Maybe.

When I got home, I found the other “kids” had been deep cleaning, and organizing the living room, WITHOUT BEING ASKED!!!  Wow.  They know me too well.  They knew that if they asked to put up Christmas decor, I would tell them we have to clean first.  🙂

So we have a head start, and my hubby was so surprised when he came home and realized he didn’t have to haul all those boxes up the stairs or assemble the tree.  It’s all done.  He could enjoy helping with the ornaments, read us the story of Christ’s birth, and relax!

The little one was so cute.  She’d pick up an ornament, take a sibling by the hand, and then point out the branch she wanted to place it upon.  She was having so much fun!

Decorating the tree

I had just listened to an interview on the Christian radio, where Phil Vischer explained how our Christmas tree was originally a tradition that was adopted by the Germans in the 16th century when they abandoned their pagan beliefs and came to Christ.  The tree symbolized eternal life because evergreen needles stay, and don’t die.  The branches of the tree point heavenward, and a monk later taught them about the Trinity using the three corners of the tree.  Of course, I couldn’t wait to share all this with my kids!

On to decorating…I put the star on the tree, and my oldest daughter and I were stringing lights.  We used an old string of lights and a new one, and while we were working, the old set had half the lights dimming and another problem had half the lights turning off completely!  I had to figure out how to fix the settings and get all those lights working together.  The littles were watching, and asking me, “What’s wrong with this picture?” And the thought came to me…

What if we thought of this tree as the Body of Christ, while it’s sitting in our dark living-room which represents the world?

And what if we see all these bulbs as the individuals who make up the Body?  They are shining, as Paul commanded in Philippians, illuminating the dark with the light of Christ.  They bring light to the whole room.  These small lights are pointing to the Head of our Body, who is Christ, and is represented by the star which shines brighter than all.  And isn’t that perfect since Christ is called the Bright and Morning Star?

Our Christmas star is plugged into the Power source (the outlet), just as Christ is one with His Father.  The lights strands are plugged into the star so that electricity flows to the light bulbs and powers their light, just as Christ said for us to abide in Him, so that the Holy Spirit can make our lives fruitful.

What happens when one of the light bulbs is disconnected from the strand?  The light given off by the tree is diminished considerably since other lights are hand-capped by that absence.  This is such a perfect way to illustrate 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul introduces Spiritual Gifts and explains how the whole Body suffers when one member suffers…  If we are not cooperating with God’s plan by choosing to exercise our Spiritual Gifts, we do cripple the functioning of this Church Body.  It can’t work at full capacity without our participation, which can also illustrate what happens when Believers stop meeting together as talked about in Hebrews 10, and do not join in worship and service with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And if we are not getting along with one another?

Or we make choices that grieve the Holy Spirit, our “electricity”, who supernaturally powers us to shine?

Or if we make choices that result in ill health, whether emotional OR physical, which cause an inability to serve?

~Then we also cripple the effectiveness of the Church, since God designed us to work together in unity.  Without us, the Church cannot shine as brightly.~

Brothers and sisters, we need God, and we are also designed to need one another.

How putting up the Christmas tree turned into a teachable moment

While unplugging and re-plugging light strands, removing and replacing bulbs, and playing with the dimmer switch on these newfangled lights… my kids grasped, for a few moments, how important they are to the Church Body, and to bringing Jesus’ light to the world…. and this teachable moment is one we can refer back to throughout the year, and relive again next Christmas.

I think we have a new tree-trimming tradition. 😉

 

Growing Grateful, and How to Love Wounded People this Holiday Season

growing grateful

It’s November, the month we adults dedicate to Thanksgiving.

I see friends on Facebook, sharing what they’re thankful for each day, and I wish we could continue the tradition 365 days a year.  What encouragement.

I am reminded of what God has lifted me out of, and I am truly grateful.

The Back Story:

I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere of thanksgiving and praise.  Rather, the atmosphere was heavy with pessimism, and there was a critical spirit.  The adults in my family were fault finders and worry warts.

Looking back, I realize I “inherited” many anxieties.  When my folks walked away from relationship with me, it was the beginning of a season in which the Lord would allow my list of “I could never survive if……” fears to come true, one by one.  I think He knew it was the only way to get me over myself so I could lead a fruitful life… He was pruning me.

I felt like I was drowning in a tidal wave at the time.  We were new to this camp and this town.  God surrounded me with people who didn’t let me wallow in the “Woe is me’s.”  Instead they politely acknowledged what I was going through, if I even dared to share, and they simply pulled me along, even when it meant I tripped over my own feet.

It was a season in which I dared not sit with my own thoughts.  I kept myself busy, always, and the radio was always on to distract me when I wasn’t working with the children.

Then one day I was sitting in the rocking chair of our camp living room with a nursing baby in my arms.  Music turned to an interview with a pastor who had lost his voice for years and was told that recovery was impossible.  He shared about his diagnosis, having to step down from his position at his church, his depression and process.  Then he shared about how he was eventually asked to speak to his former congregation in circumstances only God could have arranged.  Of course, he had a microphone, and his church family was listening carefully to hear him as he delivered a message about miracles today.  As he spoke, his voice came back loud and strong. The radio program replayed the recording of his message, and as I listened, in his voice I could hear him being undone as he realized that the prayer he thought would never receive a “Yes” to had just been granted.  You can listen to his story, and the recording, at this address.

And then he shared with the audience– with me–how God will heal me if only I ask, but this nugget came with the warning that healing would most certainly be a long and arduous process.

I sat and cried.  I didn’t care if it was going to be hard.  I wanted it, and so I prayed right then and there, and I begged God to heal my heart.  That was the beginning.

There have been so many beautiful people and circumstances God has used along the way.  One tool was the book, Battlefield of the Mind, by Joyce Meyers.  Her book shares how what we think dictates what we believe, and therefore how we live.  Our minds are the battlefield where Satan prefers to attack us first, in an attempt to derail us.  This book opened my eyes to recognize and be able to accept the wrong thoughts and attitudes I had adopted growing up, and I was able to become more intentional to change my thought patterns.

Several years later, I read Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.   I love this book.  I’ve lost count of how many copies I have given away.  One copy was returned to me with Ann Voskamp’s autograph!!  What joy!

In her book, Ann Voskamp shares that pivotal, heart breaking moment in her childhood which played a major role in shaping her world view and held her back from the full life God wanted her to possess.  She describes the process by which she learned to become grateful, and in sharing that with all of us, God used her powerfully.  She began a grass roots movement of precious people, recognizing God in the daily, and remembering to give thanks.  The whole book was good, but it was these 3 little words in the very last chapter that changed me: “Be the blessing…”

YOU BE THE BLESSING!!

And I began to recognize that all my discontent was rooted in SO.MUCH.NEEDY.

This is where I tell you that I’ve been wrestling with this post all week, and every time I get to this point, I end up someplace I didn’t intend to go with it.  There’ve been no few tears, and in frustration I put the laptop away.  Last night I told God I’m okay with not writing a Thanksgiving post this year… maybe we should table it until next year when I understand better what Grateful looks like.  He ministered to my heart last night, and as I started afresh today I realized that “HERE” is where God wanted this post to be.

Wounded People

This time of year is dedicated to Thankful, but it is also a time when people gather together, and I lose track of how many times I am asked to pray for family gatherings and the interactions that will take place there.  That’s because we all need to remember this:

Grace is beautiful, but the process–this healing–is MESSY.  People are messy.

We are wounded, every one.

Wounded by sin.

We are wounded by the consequences of sin in the world, by other people’s sin… by our own sin.

The good news?  By His stripes, we are healed.  Jesus sweeps into our hearts when we invite him and he heals our sin laden souls by removing all the guilty stains.

But what about the hurt that remains as a result of all that sin?

Wounded people wound people.  It’s true, and it’s unlovely, and forgiven people still have to live with this–with each other.

Being Grateful looks like continuing to realize that we are the recipients of God’s grace, daily, allowing our hearts to remain soft and responsive to God and to others.

The alternative is to embrace the belief that we are victims, and allow our hearts to become hard and cynical.  Hardness protects us from being hurt again, but it also keeps out so much good.

But there is an in-between that so many of us fall into, at some point in our journey, and we can get stuck if we’re not careful.  Sometimes wounded people who are afraid of being hurt again haven’t learned healthy expectations.  Sometimes we look to others to fill the sucking wound we still feel when we haven’t learned how to balance grief and joy, and then we push them away when they. just. can’t.

…when other people don’t smile at us enough, reach out to us enough, invite often enough, give enough, do enough, be there often enough, and dare I say?–Be Enough.  We pull people in to try to fill our needy, and we blame and push them away when they can’t –and the wounded becomes the wounder.   We’ve all done it.  Sometimes we look to things, instead of people, to fill our wounds.  Again–healing doesn’t look like that.

Healing only happens when turn to this Jesus, who we have invited into our hearts, and invite Him into our hurts as well.  Ask him to sweep it out, even when the process is long and arduous.   We don’t get what we don’t ask for.  Jesus waits to be wanted.

“But You, O Lord, know me [and understand my devotion to You];
You see me;  And You examine the attitude of my heart toward You.”  Jeremiah 12:3 Amplified Version

Wherever you are in the process, now we pick up where we left off…

Be the blessing.  Yes, you, and me.

When You’re Wounded

Jesus wants to heal our broken places, but part of that healing involves being broken for HIM.  We only get well when we choose to start walking forward, even when it means we trip on our own feet–because we can’t make progress until we stop looking in and start looking up and out.  We must stop dwelling on our need–acknowledge it, yes, but not dwell on it– because that is when need becomes needy.

Instead, give thanks, even when you don’t feel like it.

It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
 proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,                                                                                                    For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;

    I sing for joy at what your hands have done.

                                                         Psalm 92:1,2,4

Ann Voskamp encourages her readers to begin a journal to chronicle the gifts God bestows in our lives, from great to small.

It could be the song of a bird outside your window, a delicious meal, a provision, or the kindness of a stranger…

… something that made you laugh, the sunrise, or your Salvation.

There are so many blessings that God pours into our lives, and when we begin to notice and voice our appreciation, our faith grows and we believe that Jesus has our needs covered, even now, and more, so that when we look up long enough to notice the needs around us, we can pour some of that “more” out to bless others.  This is growing Grace-Full.  It’s being Grateful.

Research has proven that people who record just 3 blessings a day for 2 weeks are happier for months after.

Record 3 blessings a day for a year, and you will have journaled One Thousand Gifts.  Do that for years, as I have encouraged my children to do, and you have, well, Legacy of Epic Proportion that will bring about a transformation in the way you view everything.  As Ann Voskamp shared, it became addictive, finding all the blessings and counting them up.

God is so Good, and He Loves Us So Much.

Our church Ladies Group is learning how to pray more effectively, and this has brought us into a season of repentance.  I hear a lot of questions about whether their responses to people who have hurt them, or who they have hurt, are okay?  It’s good to evaluate.

How Do You Love the Wounded?  

I honestly can’t give you comprehensive answer, but I can think of a few words.

Be a Comforter.

Remember when we talked about MORE?  This is it.  This is when we realize that God has given us so much comfort that we have enough to share with someone else.  We learn by experience how to hold others, and God gives us supernatural ability to follow through.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”            2 Corinthians 1:3-5 emphasis mine

Follow Christ’s Example: don’t enter in where you aren’t invited.

Remember that you can’t fix it.  Listen if invited, being mindful of that line called gossip.  Comfort, yes, but remember only God can fix it.  Point them to Him, always.  He is the only one who can heal.  And sometimes, God plans to use the hurt to bring about His will for them. This is sacred space.   It’s important that we stay out of the way, even if that means we aren’t invited into their pain.  Even when it’s through discernment that we choose to take a step back.  Even if that means we miss being close to them while God draws them closer to Him.

Forgive.

Wounded people often wound others.  Remembering that helps keep us compassionate.  At the same time, remembering all that God has forgiven us helps us to remain humble enough to keep our hearts tender.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:12-13

Run to confession.

Yes, this.  If you are part of the problem, run to make it right.  Confess your sin and ask forgiveness.  This is what’s between you and them.  And then LOVE, even if they don’t extend forgiveness to you.  God forgives you and expects you to love on… this is what’s between you and the Lord.

Don’t let them wallow in it.

For real.  And yes, depending on the person, they may find it annoying that you aren’t going to sit around and feel sorry with them.  But I thank God for those people who drug me along when I was too broken to walk on my own.  Even if they trip along the way, gently urge them forward.  Invite them to joint the fun.  Pull them into your service projects.  Encourage them by occasionally praising some of those blessings in their lives.  Hopefully they will someday thank you, but even if not, enabling them to wallow is not going to help them heal.

Pray for them.

The most powerful thing you can do for them is to invite God’s will in their life.  You may not know all the off-roads God has planned for them, but you know the highways.

  • He wants them to be in a solid relationship with Him.
  • He wants to heal their hearts.
  • He wants them to obey Him.
  • He wants to use them to bless others and to point back to him.
  • He wants them to reach spiritual and emotional maturity.
  • He wants them develop Godly character,
  • He wants them to use their gifts and abilities to build and encourage the church, and to give Him Glory.

How many more can you think of?  Now, pray.

Be Grateful.

Yes, again.  It’s impossible to complain when we’re giving thanks.  And just like a negative attitude can be contagious, so can positivity.  Be the thermostat, not the thermometer.

From the bottom of my heart, I am sending you love this Thanksgiving.  Whatever your story, whatever your wound, wherever God is in your process,  let Thanksgiving become a lifestyle and not a holiday.   May you experience the boundless love and comfort of Christ in your life, and the healing that God holds for you and yours.  May you experience the wonder and fulfillment of learning to grow grateful, one day at a time.

Love hard, and be the blessing.

~Linda

 

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.   You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:2-8

 

 

 

Finding Funding for Missions in Unusual Places

The collection deadline for Samaritan’s Purse missional shoe boxes is fast approaching!  Our church collected the last of our donated boxes on Sunday.  My kids were SO excited to send ours on its way, and rightly so, because they played a big part in providing the funding to make it possible.

A few months back, I mentioned that we wanted to come up with funds for supporting missions.  We set a goal to reach by the end of the year, and the kids caught the vision that they could be God’s hands by helping send the gospel into the world, literally.  Excited, they went through their rooms looking for spare change.  They found a lot, actually.  I think they probably dipped into their hard earned spending money.  They caught the “giving bug”.

Being God's hands to the world

We joke that our 9 year old is a money magnet.  She loves going to town with me, and no wonder since she always comes home with change in her pocket.  It helps that she is very observant, but this kids finds money everywhere!  She began the habit of tucking it into my hand and telling me, “Here, you can put this in our missions money.”

I offered that maybe she should keep every other coin, and give every other coin (cuz honestly, some days she comes home with more than a dollar), but she wouldn’t be deterred.  She set such a good example that we all decided to do as she is doing.  When we find coins in town, we bring them home and add them to the mission fund. 🙂  Bring on all those nice Aldi shoppers who give away their carts when leaving the store!  They have no idea the good that they are doing!

Nearly all the contents of our Samaritan Purse shoe box was paid for with lost change.  We’re pretty excited, because we’re re-starting our mission fund now for next year, and I can’t wait to see how much we’ll be able to do.  I’m positive that we find far more change than we used to find, whether because we’re more aware of our surroundings (ulterior motives) or God is blessing our plans.  Probably both.  😉

I paid for our shoe box label/shipping donation online.  You can learn more about it at this address.  When you pay for shipping online they track your shoe box so you know to which country it has gone, and that knowledge is going to be such joy for my crew.  It will keep them motivated to want to do this again!

One thing I will do differently from now on is that I will more intentional when shopping this coming year:  I will notice bargain items that are appropriate to put in these shoe boxes.  I  will buy school type supplies ahead of time, when they are on sale in August/September.  EVERYONE was buying shoe box stuffers in November, and I ended up paying more for items like colored pencils and a pencil sharpener because the “deal items” were completely gone, even at the Dollar Store!  I did find a Ty Beanie Baby at the thrift store for 50 CENTS that was like new, tag and all.  Kinda the frosting on the cake!

Anyway, the purpose of sharing all this is not to show off, but hopefully to inspire you that it’s possible to give more… pray how God would have you do it.  Maybe it’s:

  • Buying less Starbucks
  • Buying a more affordable cell phone so the monthly bill is less
  • Contributing funds you save when couponing
  • Raising money with a garage sale
  • Have a bake sale!  One of the families we know sells cookies, pies, and other delectables to raise money for missions–their friends are very generous when they know where it’s going!
  • Or, perhaps you’re just a money magnet too, LOL.

Do you have ideas?  How does your family set aside funds for missions?  Please share them with me so all our mission funds can benefit from your creativity!

 

Praying for our Children

Gallery

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Proxy~ the authority to represent someone else I was listening to the radio on the way home from town yesterday.  The program on the Christian station was asking us, the audience, to share a time when someone of importance in … Continue reading

The Measure of a Good Father

When summer camps ended, hubby took a few days off to regroup and get things done at home, and we took the whole family down to the cities to visit Como Park.  They have a free zoo, live butterfly exhibit, and plant conservatory.

Como Park Collage

 

I took the driving shift going down, and I was pretty tired.  I found myself singing along with the radio to stay alert when the song, “Good, Good Father,” came on.  It’s familiar to me. We have sung it in church, and my own story makes it especially meaningful.

“You’re a good, good Father.  It’s who You are, It’s who You are.”

I have heard so many women talk about how they have a hard time relating to God as Father in any kind of positive light because their experience with their earthly father was so bad.  And yet, I ponder, what are we using as a measuring stick for determining what makes a good father or a bad one?

Abigail with butterfly

I was one of the lucky kids.  When all my class mates talked about their parents divorcing, I was one of the few whose parents stayed together.  Through thick and through thin, through disagreements and arguing behind closed doors.  Through depression and repentance.  When other marriages would have failed, their commitment to perseverance kept them together, and they still are (together).

Mother and baby giraffe

My dad was present.  If not emotionally, he was there physically, and he always provided well for us.  As a child, I felt safe when I was with him.

He took me for a motorcycle ride when I was 6 or 7.  Somewhere, mixed up in those memories, is a conversation where he told me how much he loved me.  He said that he would cut off his hand for me, if only . . .

It’s the “if only” that stuck with me–that little conditional add on that squeezed my heart.

He said it more than once over the years.  I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember the feeling I experienced when he said it.  I cringed at the thought of my dad suffering for me, and yet I felt doubt that I could ever meet his expectation.

If only _________. You fill in the blank.  If only I could be obedient enough.

Be good enough.

BE enough.

How does a child that age even translate that kind of doubt in their ability to be what someone else wants them to be?  In his words, his willingness to give for me depended upon me.

When I was 30 my parents became offended and my dad told me to have a “nice little life”.  It was the day after Valentines Day, and only one of 2 occasions I have ever seen my husband tear up over anything.

“Little”…this is what the value of my life, not meeting expectations, had been reduced to.

Ouch.

My kids were 5, 2, and almost 1.  The next 5 precious babies were born after this, and my parents have never met them.

I grew up with the head knowledge that God’s love is unconditional, but all my examples had been of conditions.  When things were going well, I subconsciously thought it was because I was doing “okay.”  I thought I must have been reading my bible enough, praying enough, being good enough. When things were not going well, I felt like it was because I was messing up.  I wondered what area of my life needed to improve.  “Not good enough” was the lying voice in my head.

I was abandoned, even though I was an adult, by people I was supposed to be able to trust most in this world.  I was wounded.  I was angry.  I had that plum sized lump of grief in my throat for so many years that I thought it would never go away.  They were really. rough. years.

Looking back I know God was ripping out the faulty foundation in my life.  That’s a big job.  It’s a lot easier to lay a right foundation to begin with because everything is built on that foundation.  Remove the foundation and the whole stinkin’ house comes down.  Yet, that’s not how God works.  Because God can do anything,  He held the house together, but while He was laying a new foundation He was also putting up new supports.  He has been teaching me to live, as Nancy Leigh De Moss puts it, with the roof off and the walls down. That is “open and humble before God (roof off) and open with other people (walls down)”.

He turned my gaze away from what other people thought of me and my desire to please others, and taught me instead to keep my gaze on Him.  What He thinks of me is really the only thing that matters.

God has had to help me redefine who He is and embrace who I am in Him…begin to align my version of truth with what God declares is truth.  When we do that, a really spectacular thing happens. You begin to live loved, valued, and accepted.

blue butterfly at Como

My life is hidden in Christ.  That is where my worth lies.

And where do we get that measuring stick that determines who is a “good father” and who is not?  God is the measuring stick.  He is the ultimate Good Father.  He never messes up, He is fully present, His provision is generous . . .

His love is exactly what you and I need.

God is the Perfect Father.

And while I listen to others say they can’t stand to think of God as Father because their own father broke their heart, I say it was because my father broke my heart that I understand how good my heavenly Father is.  If I had not been rejected, I would not be able to experience my Father God’s love in the same way I can today.

I used to read the verse where God says, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you,” and think it was just saying the same thing two different ways; but these two things are very different.

People leave us.  They move away from us.  They die.  But that’s not necessarily rejection. They still call, write, etc.  God will never leave.  He will never move away from you or from me.  We may sin and choose to move away from Him, but He will never leave.

To be forsaken?  Well, that is something altogether different.  That is rejection.  That is “leave” on steroids.  No phone calls.  No letters.  No, “See you on the other side.”

Forsaking is renouncing.

Forsaking is rejecting.

Forsaking is abandoning.

Forsaking is turning your back on.

That is what happened to Christ our Lord when He laid down his life for us.  “By this, we know what love is.” (1 John 3:16)  He was forsaken in order to write us in on His inheritance as a Child of God.

When you’re a Child of God, he will never forsake you.

He will always, always, always be with you.

Always intercede for you.

Always sing over you.

Always provide for you.

Always love you.

God is a Good Father.  He does not punish his children; He disciplines them, gently and lovingly, for their good.

He will never hurt your heart.  He is not harsh with his children.  He will heal your heart.

God will never try to control your actions.  Instead, He will transform your heart . . . your actions will automatically follow.  People will start to notice how much you resemble your good Father.

His love for you is not dependent upon your performance.  He never loves you more because of what you do right, and he will never love you less because of what you do wrong. His love for you is not based upon you at all.  His love for you is completely dependent upon who HE is.  It is UN-CONDITIONAL.  In Lysa TerKeurst’s words,

“His love isn’t based on you, it’s placed on you.”

He will not instill fear . . . He will cast out fear, and replace it with His peace.

He is enough.

He is everything, our “exceedingly great reward”.

He is a Good-Good-Father.

It’s who He is.  And I’m loved by Him.  That’s who I am.

Linda at Zoo

 

 

 

 

The Danger in Comparing

 

Our girls have always sung: all over the house, at church, in the store… it shouldn’t have surprised me.  I was the child who clogged through every store my mother took me.

I remember our oldest 3 girls singing VBS songs in a grocery store and getting a bit loud, I thought, to serenade a woman standing nearby.  I tried to hush them a little, but as the woman passed me to leave she leaned in close and in a low tone she said, “Just think, they might be the next Point of Grace.”

It took my breath away, the way you know God just used someone to speak important truth to you.  The truth was that they were made to sing out loud, and it wasn’t my place to muffle them. I felt a little panicked, suddenly wondering if I was equipped to teach them what they would need to know.  I started praying right then and there that God would provide by enabling me or sending whatever teachers He will, and He has done both over the years.

My husband started them singing at the camp Annual Banquet each year, and I don’t remember how they began singing at church, but nowadays they sing at no less than 20 churches or events a year.  Their harmony is beautiful.  I don’t turn on the radio at home very often because who needs that when you have live music most of the day?

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It is a joy to watch and see how each one of the children develop in their gift each year, and even the older kids notice and appreciate as their younger siblings reach new levels. Lilly is 14 now, and has been coming into her own.  She is developing her own style and writing her own music.  I’ve seen our oldest listening, shake her head in wonderment, and I’ve known that she was comparing.

“My voice isn’t anything special,” she began to believe.

She forgot about the man who said that whichever sister is singing alto is “Amazing”.

She didn’t think about the woman at church who said she knew my Angel Girl would be able to pick out the elusive harmony.

She never considered how she has been becoming the teacher her sisters all go to when they need help understanding music theory.

I encourage her, but sometimes you need to hear it from someone who isn’t ‘just Mom’.

The comparing… it chokes dreams.  It kills confidence.  Instead of trail blazing, you fall to the rear because that is where you feel more comfortable. You might even talk yourself right out of the plans God has for you, but you and I, we’ve been chosen to be the bearer of the blessing others need.

In the Old Testament, God chose Esther.  He used Esther’s humility to save an entire nation.  He used her position: as the king’s favorite she had potential sway. He used her wisdom: a young woman who respected and listened to the uncle who told her that if she refused, God would use another way and she would forfeit the plan for her life.  He used her Jewish influence–the nation of Israel fasted and prayed with her in preparation for a risk that was greater than any you and I are likely to encounter: to go to the king without an invitation, and it could have cost her life.  She gave what she had to God as an offering.  She said, “If I perish, I perish.”  She didn’t say someone else was better equipped.  She risked everything and history documents how she blazed that trail.

While my Angel Girl was counseling at camp this summer, they put her on worship team. Every chapel, she had the opportunity to lead the singing with her peers while playing the keyboard and/or singing for worship.  I was glad.  I knew it would be a good experience, and I just kept praying God would use it as He weaves together his will for her life.

Angel on Worship Team

She said she played so often that the nervousness which normally paralyzes her concentration and her hands when she plays in public had disappeared by the end of summer camps. And then there was that voice she kept hearing over the monitor… the one she didn’t recognize as belonging to any of the other singers, and then one day she realized it was her own.  “In a good way,” she smiled.

Angel at bleachers

My daughter has been given a song to sing out loud.  So have you, whether literally or figuratively.

Your abilities? They don’t belong to you, as much as society will tell you that they do and that it’s your right to do with them as you please.  No, they were given to you by God and for God.  Don’t think about what other people think. Don’t belittle your gifts.  Don’t allow your song, whatever it is, to be muffled by comparing it to the abilities He has given to others.

Don’t fall back.

Don’t forfeit the plan.

Keep your gaze on the King.  He is your compass.  Orientate your thoughts, your feelings and your feet toward Him, and Keep. Moving. Forward.

You may never know all the lives you touch, but someday you’ll catch a glimpse of yourself the way God sees you.  You’ll hear your own voice in the so called monitor and be surprised {in a good way 🙂 } and you’ll be glad you chose to sing.

 

 

 

The Best Thing We Gained at the Fair

Have you ever noticed how kids have a very accurate internal clock, like, from the get go?

We took our oldest to the county fair when she was about three and the next summer, days before the fair was going to start, she started asking me about that place with lights and food and rides? We definitely went to the fair again that year,

and the next,

and every year.  🙂

Nowadays the fair falls the weekend after youth camps end so it’s easy for all of us to anticipate.  It’s a tradition.

When our oldest kids were little, and there were just a handful of them (instead of 2 hands-full) we would buy a sheet of tickets and let them ride a few kiddie rides.  As they got older, the more mature rides cost more.  With more children, one sheet didn’t provide enough tickets to go around.  We learned to be content walking through all the exhibits, petting the animals and having a treat.  My husband loves the malted milk shakes… it’s once a year. 😉

{Farm to Table Children’s Exhibit}

 

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{Miss our goats this year!}

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{Still wearing the camp swimming arm band… and look at that adorable face!}

This year, the big kids were hankering to do some rides and I promised them we’d save up for them to buy an arm band to do unlimited rides.  Tuesday of this week was that day.  However, rather than simply purchase the arm bands and send them off to get hot, dizzy and tired, we gave them the $20 we’d saved for each one of our flock.  We told them that they could pay for the arm bands themselves, or…  they could spend it (or save it) on whatever they pleased.

Somehow, with the $20 they gained in their hands, fair rides didn’t sound so appealing to them anymore. They suddenly appreciated the effort that it would take for them to earn that money back themselves.  Somebody mentioned having money for Christmas presents.

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No one went on rides.  When dad bought his malt, they bought their own ice cream (while mom *cringe* said nothing about all the sugar) and they enjoyed eating them together.  Dad got to taste every flavor because dads are good at sweet talking a taste.

We took in the exhibits.  We petted the animals.  C2 won a frisbee from The Pulse Radio. We won a $10 gift card for Cub Foods.

Yes, we brought home a lot of extra stuff, but the best thing we gained was the reminder that God is a Good Father when we lost. a. child!

Yes! Standing in a crowd with other people, holding tickets as the union for the grocery stores had a big drawing, Ella had a winning #.  She claimed her prize.  The giveaway ended, and as we started to walk away from the booth, I did what I always do:  I counted heads.

“5, 6, 7…” someone was missing.  I have had kids coming and going from camp all summer.  Every week we’ve had a different number at home, so the counting thing has been a little strange.  This is the first week we’ve had all the kids home since the beginning of June.

I re-counted with names and I panicked.  C2 is 4, and I didn’t see his little buzzed head or tye dye shirt.  We had been standing there, all together, the whole time!  How did he slip away?  Where could he have gone?

It’s amazing the clarity with which one can remember the details of a beloved in a moment of bereavement.  His big, tender eyes, full of wide wonderment filled my mind as I hollered his name and scanned the crowd.

I prayed.

While hubby turned the whole crew around, I spoke with the man at the grocery booth, and he said someone had taken a child to the fair office –{he pointed}– >>> that way.

We found him with an older couple, sitting in front of the information booth, and quietly crying as hard as he could.  He was hugging 2 stuffed animals from someone’s game booth.  When he saw us he flung himself into Dad’s arms and held on for dear life, and I silently praised God for keeping him safe.  As we walked away, the older couple who had cared for him said to him,

“Now, remember, your parents will always come for you.”

It was all I could do to restrain myself from snatching him up.  I let my husband hold on to him, but my arms ached to hold him, and I know that is how God feels about every son and daughter who wanders away from the safety of His will.  I can picture Him at the ready, even watching us as we consider stepping away; how he wants to snatch us from danger, but allows us to choose our own footing.

He’s the Good Father.

You’re never really a lost child when you belong to the King.  You can be rebellious, and you can suffer the consequences, but your Father knows where you are.  He has his eye on you and He’s listening for your repentant cry.  When you’re ready to find your way home, He will always come for you.

Always.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go in search of the one that is lost?  And if it turns out that he finds it, I assure you and most solemnly say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost.  So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones be lost.” Matthew 18:12-14 (emphasis mine)

Always.

 

Growing in Patience

 

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Patience.  I chose this picture because the cup in the cold window reminds me so much of me and my own need for more patience.  I love a big cup of herbal tea, but I leave some good head space when I pour my cup so that when it has brewed I can add some cold water to cool it down and get to enjoying it.

I’ve been asking God what He wants to teach me, and here it is: Four. Little. Words.

“It’s not about you.”  

When I was young my mom used to do this thing when I wanted something and she was stressed.  She would say, “Linda, the world doesn’t revolve around you.”  I hated that.  So much so that it was on my list of “Things I will never say to my children.” (And I haven’t.) It made me feel selfish and despicable inside, even when there wasn’t anything wrong with what I was asking.

When I sensed the Lord whispering this to me, “It’s not about you,” in response to my searching, it really brought up that dreadful feeling I used to get as a child.

“Lord, I know that.”  I responded.  “I know it’s not about me.”

Right?  I waited.

I felt as though I was being held under a microscope, and the discomfort of being wrung out so that my mess was on display.

And then a new understanding overtook me while my mind was suddenly flooded with thoughts of the times I tend to be impatient. (Psalm 139:23,24) I know it’s not all about me, but my reaction to my circumstances prove that my heart and my head are not always in sync.

Beloved, you and I are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

We were made by God, not for ourselves, but for Him.

Luke 1:74-75that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

We are here for His Purpose.

Put another way, 2 Corinthians 5:15  “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

We are His agents, on His Mission, with His Perspective.

The gospel is meant for you and for me, but it does not stop with us.  We are to be about His business of reconciliation.  Our mission is to serve people by loving them and leading them to Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

This reconciliation is possible because of the cross.

Jesus loved us, served us, reconciled us, indwells us, and works through us!

2 Corinthians 5:20-21 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The King James version, when listing the Fruit of the Spirit, does not say “patience.”  It says “longsuffering.”  That sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?  The Greek word means patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance, forbearance, slowness in avenging wrongs . . . .

I am reminded that I, like Paul, am running a race that I want to finish well,  (2 Timothy 4:7). God is so gracious to give us gifts to help us in this race.  The fruit of the Spirit go hand in hand.  They are dependent upon one another and work together.

Love helps me extend patience toward other people who I find challenging along the way. Seeing people the way Jesus does, and remembering that “it’s not about me” lets me love them the way He loves me.  This is forbearance.  This is steadfastness.  Sometimes, as Elizabeth George put it, it is “waiting for the judge.”

I feel the need to point out that sometimes the one we need to love and forgive is ourselves.  When we get stuck, we surely are making “it” about us and we aren’t able to move on to the good works God has planned for us to do.  Also,

“To the extent that we resist reconciliation and forgiveness, we (the church) lessen the visibility of God’s grace to the community.” ~Jake Anderson

We need to see ourselves the way Jesus sees us if we want others to be able to embrace God’s grace for them.  If you’re holding a grudge against yourself, repent.  Forgive yourself because God does, and move on.  Go forth!

Joy helps me have patience to keep running when I am experiencing less than ideal circumstances.  On days when it feels like I’m being rained out of the race, it’s not about me.  Giving thanks brings me back to God’s perspective.  This is endurance.  This is also forbearance.  This is longsuffering.

Peace helps me experience patience during seasons when I wonder, “How can what’s happening to me right now really be part of God’s plan for me to carry out His purpose?” When life doesn’t make sense. When my heart breaks. It’s not about me.  I can trust God.  I am reminded of the lyrics to the song, “Trust in You,” by Lauren Daigle:

“When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!”

This is constancy; This is steadfastness!  This is abiding.

Patience isn’t always what you feel.  Sometimes it’s what you do.  It can be obedience. Obedience is not always what you want to do. It’s just that–obedience . . . you choose it, and God changes your heart along the way.

So, when you take time to consider, when is it that you are not patient?

  • When I am under physical stress: hungry (low blood sugar), sick, tired, or in pain.
  • When I am in emotional distress: some kind of emotional pain, when I am offended (can you say PRIDE?) or when someone/something has pushed my buttons.
  • When I am experiencing spiritual or mental stress.  I feel that these two are closely intertwined: experiencing a need for spiritual renewal (not spending enough time with God), experiencing worry (a sin), and when I am caught off guard (sidelined by something difficult without having time to prepare myself).

I realize that these are situations which tend to initiate a turning inward to focus on myself.  What are some practical ways I can help myself to walk in patience?

  • Prayer.  This is the most important place to start.   Daily, I need to ask God to change my heart, give me a “longer fuse,” and give me the attitudes He wants me to have.  And then I need to ask him to give me wisdom and open my eyes to the practical ways I can be more patient.
  •  Taking care of myself!  Intentionally getting enough sleep, planning ahead for meals, eating right, and drinking water through the day will help me avoid the physical stress that can make patience more challenging for me, and help me be more present for my family.
  •  On the emotional front, spending time with God every day keeps me healthier. Giving Him my hurts instead of dwelling on them, obeying scripture that tells me to pray for my enemies, and remembering to dwell on all things lovely (Phil. 4:8) are all part of my heart care.
  • Removing opportunities to sin.  Ah.  This is challenging!  I need to constantly evaluate myself. One example is that if I notice that I suffer with impatience when the whole family is going out, people are running late, gloves are missing, etc… I can help myself avoid this scenario by having everyone pack “to-go bags” the evening before.  I can lay out gloves in pairs and put the “little people’s” shoes in order.  I need to develop more systems to help myself avoid stress and chaos.  It will be better for the whole family.  I sometimes get sidetracked by the urgent, feeling discouraged when it feels like my children are slow to learn the practical skills I am responsible to teach them (like cleaning up after themselves!)  When I stop to remember that the greater responsibility is for my attitudes and actions to point them to Jesus, the every day messes fall into their proper places.
  • Following  Jesus’ example.  Jesus kept the main thing the main thing.  He came to do the will of His Father.  He was God, yet he had a flourishing prayer life.  He said he did only what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19).  He didn’t veer from the plan.  He wasn’t side tracked by his enemies who abused him or by his disciples who sometimes loved ignorantly.  For the joy set before him, he was steadfast.  Our joy is in Him.  If we remember this we can keep the main thing the main thing.  We can remember that our purpose is to bring Him glory by carrying the gospel beyond ourselves “because of the tender mercy of our God . . . to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” (Luke 1:78, 79),  and we can do it with patience.

 

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit  by Elizabeth George.  The other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit can be found on THIS PAGE.