He loved me and Gave Himself for me

“Use your self-control.”

This is one of my favorite takeaways from my son’s preschool teachers this year.  They are so gentle and measured when they say it.

He’s ready to lose it over a near-tragedy—not getting to sit next to his good friend or struggling with the zipper to his backpack because it’s extra full that day.

Their gentle reminder is the same: “Use your self-control.”

I love that it assumes he  has self-control and that he can access it, that somehow this little pause and this little reminder gives him the ability to breathe….reflect….choose.

Meltdown?  Or self-control?

He’s in progress.  He sometimes  chooses meltdown.

Me too.

Fruitfulness is part of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.  It means He is alive, and He is active, and we are yielded to Him.

Paul tells us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things (Galatians 5:22-23 CSB). 

It’s not a list for me to tackle like some holy agenda.  It is not up to me to manufacture goodness or to self-concoct gentleness or peace.   It takes  a leaning in with the full weight of my fractured soul on the strength and the character of God in me.

May He be at work and may the work-in-progress be me.

May He be the one to cultivate love in me, to stir up joy, to  grow patience, to establish goodness.

May I be the one to learn, to long for the Spirit and to open myself up to the work that He does.  May I be the one to  focus my eyes on Jesus and His own fruitfulness because He is the perfect model of:

Love.
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-Control

And when I see this fruit in Jesus,  I love Him for it.  I long to be like Him, to let Him shine in my heart, to turn over hardened ground and to till up the soil and to plant the seeds.  Fruitfulness, Lord.  Abundant fruitfulness in my life. 

It seems fitting during Holy Week to consider Jesus and the fruit He bore out on the cross.

Some conflict, some uncertainty, some worry, some stress may bring out the uglies in me.  I’m not always loving, not always peaceful, not always gentle when my kids are picking at each other at the kitchen table and we’re rushing because we need  to be out the door in 8 minutes and I’m still  trying  to cook dinner and give a practice spelling test to  a child.

But Jesus endured all of the pain of the garden, the betrayal, the trial, the beating, the mocking, the condemnation, the cross, the sin and the separation.

And the fruitfulness is still there:  He showed love, joy, peace.  Despite the pain, He was gentle and kind, good and faithful.

He also “used His self-control” by choosing the cross for Himself so He could offer forgiveness to us.  It was, after all, His choice to make.

He wrestled in prayer and made the final declaration on His knees:   “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

That set His destination.   He would not give into fear or to  the flesh.  He would  choose the cross.

And He chose not to call down angels to rescue Him when the soldiers marched into the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 27:41-42).

With the very power of His voice there  in the Garden, He spoke the words:  I AM.  Then all of the military might fell to the ground, struck down by two  small words spoken by the Messiah.

What an embarrassing mess for them.  They were all geared up, swords and clubs at the ready, and a completely average-looking Jewish teacher said two little words and they landed on their backsides.

They walked out of the Garden with Jesus  as their captive because Jesus chose to be their captive.  Paul says it this way, Jesus “loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 CSB).

The author, Selwyn Hughes, reminds me that Paul lists self-control last in the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not first.  We don’t begin with self-control and then produce all  the other fruit, even though that’s likely what we try to do sometimes.

“I will be more holy. I will be more righteous. I will hate sin more.”

That’s self-righteousness at work.

Instead, Hughes writes that we begin with love—just as Paul lists it in Galatians 5– and “when you begin with love, you end up with self-control.”

Christ’s love covers us and compels us.

Because we are oh-so-loved by a Savior who is oh-so-good and who chose the cross for us,  we delight in Him and in what pleases Him and what pleases Him is the Spirit’s fruit in us.

Bible Verses about Spiritual Growth

  • 1 Corinthians 13:11 CSB
     When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
  • Ephesians 4:15-16 CSB
    But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ.  From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.
  • Philippians 1:6 CSB
    am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you[a] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus
  • Colossians 1:10 CSB
     so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God,
  • Colossians 2:6-7 CSB
    So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.
  • 1 Timothy 4:14-15 CSB
    Don’t neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15 Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.
  • Hebrews 5:12-14 CSB
     Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.
  • Hebrews 6:1-2 CSB
    Therefore, let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings,[a] laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment
  • 1 Peter 2:1-3 CSB
    Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander.
     Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation,  if you have tasted that the Lord is good
  • 2 Peter 3:18 CSB
    But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.

Finding the sacred in this place

Hats and sunglasses, that’s what my son likes, and he’s amassing a collection.

When we headed to the beach this week to enjoy the weather,  he popped his Paw Patrol baseball cap on his head .

“This is my beach hat,” he announced.

Then he gave me the full run-down.  His Batman hat is for playgrounds.  His Paw Patrol hat is for the beach.  And, when he gets a Star Wars hat , that will be for the aquarium.  “My aquarium hat,” he says.

This is funny on so many levels.

For one thing, he doesn’t need an aquarium hat since we are infrequent visitors.

And for  another thing, we really and truly just grab whichever hat we can find whenever it’s time to go to wherever we’re going.  We have more than one hat precisely because we don’t always know where any given hat is at any given moment.

Hats are essential  wardrobe pieces for us.  We are fair-skinned folks who burn at the slightest hint of sunshine.

But exactly how many hats does he plan on having anyway?

Specific hats for specific places may not be practical or likely by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I love the idea of valuing place, all the individual beauty and uniqueness of this place and that place.

How something changes in us as we travel from  here to there, something about us in those destinations that might even require a new and different hat.

It’s so biblical, isn’t it, the way God’s story roots itself  in geography and location?  The Holy Land and Mount Sinai, Eden and Bethel ,right on to Bethlehem, to gardens and mountaintops, the Sea of  Galilee, the Jordan River.

God’s story in us does the same thing.

There are places that have entwined themselves with my own salvation story:  a childhood neighborhood, a college campus,  a church, a two-year sojourn in New Jersey, and the long-term settling in Virginia where God continues to work in me.

Maybe certain places in our lives are set aside for a holy work of significance.

Like the way the burning bush drew Moses’s attention out in the wilderness, and how God brought him and all of Israel back to that same holy mountain after they made it out of Egypt.

Or the way Jacob camped out at Bethel and saw a vision of a stairway to heaven and then returned to the same place years later to settle there with his family and build an altar to God.

It helps to know what places have holy significance for us, especially when we’re seeking His face.  Where do we go when we want to be alone with Jesus?  Where do we go when we’re desperate for a glimpse of Him or to hear His voice?  Where do we go when we need hush and peace and a stillness in our hearts?

Where is our Bethel?  Where is our Sinai?

Where is the place of spiritual retreat?

For  me, it’s a back deck or a porch, just one small step from inside my house to outside my house and there I am, in a peaceful place.

Sometimes, though,  I need to run away from the ordinary, everyday.  These aren’t long trips, just a drive to the botanical gardens, or to a museum, or the beach–anywhere there is beauty and there is quiet.

My go-to holy place, though, is a mobile one–it’s in a walk  The location matters less than the opportunity to stride in rhythm and not talk for about 30 minutes.   This is a sacred space for me.

It  also helps to know that God does focused work in specific places.

This is Gilgal for Saul.  That’s where the prophet Samuel sent the newly anointed King to wait before being presented to Israel.  That’s where Saul is crowned.  It’s also the same exact place where Saul loses his kingship, as he gives up waiting for Samuel and disobeys God’s instructions (1 Samuel 10:8,  11:15, 13:7).

Gilgal is where Saul both received and lost the kingship.

What if Saul had recognized the significance of the place?  Gilgal is where I wait and where God is faithful.  Maybe he would have been more patient.

Perhaps this place where you are right now is the growing place or the place of rest.  Maybe it is the land of milk and honey or maybe it is the waiting place.

It could be the place of worship or the place of calling.  Maybe it’s the place where we’re poured out or maybe it’s the well where Jesus fills us.

Where are you now?  In this place God has brought you, how is He at work?

People actually still do that?

“Fasting?!  People actually still do that?”

Right in the middle of our family devotions this week, my daughter registered pure shock.  We laughed, we explained,  and then we considered the truth: How could she know that fasting is still part of our faith-walk today?

Our hope is that our kids see us practicing the spiritual disciplines because we should be living them out, not just preaching them:  What does prayer look like?  What about Bible reading?  Serving at church and elsewhere?  Loving others?  Giving?

Can they see these in our lives?

We’re imperfect and they’ll never see perfection if they look at us.  Still, we try to live our faith out day in, day out–not just  in the church, but in the home, and the office, and the minivan, and the meeting, and more.

But fasting is unique.  Scripture tells us when we fast not to let others know we’re doing it, so we tuck this one discipline away into a secret space with the Lord.  We don’t talk about it.

Somehow, though, we need to break through the silence enough for my kids to know that fasting isn’t some archaic religious practice confined to “the olden days.”   It’s a here-and-now spiritual discipline that helps us re-place Jesus as first in our lives.:  First over our wants.  First over our desires.  First over even our physical hunger.

Lord, I want you more than anything.

That’s the declaration we make when we forego something good in order to seek God more fervently.

And Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “If you fast…”

He told them, “When you fast” (Matthew 6:16 NIV).

So, we laid out the basics for our kids.  About how fasting is usually, but not always, from food (especially for those with health needs that preclude fasting from meals).  We talked about Lenten fasting and fasting out of obedience to the Lord’s call, how fasting can be meaningful and how it can end up meaningless tradition.

We reminded them that fasting isn’t meant to be a public show put on to satisfy our spiritual pride.  If anything, it’s deeply humbling to know how needy we really are.

It’s not about proclaiming our strength or superiority; it’s about longing and dependence.

That’s what Jesus described:

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast (Matthew 9:14-15 NIV).

Our bridegroom is gone now, just as Jesus said He would be.  Now that Christ is no longer walking this earth, we’re filled with that insatiable longing, a constant desire for His presence.  And it’s that seeking after the Lord’s presence that motivates us to fast.

We fast because we need Jesus.

This world surrounds us with its mess and its disaster.  Evil oppresses.  Sadness overwhelms.  School  shootings  harass us with fear.  Conflict tosses us into intense storms and we cry out for the peace that only Jesus  can bring.

It’s all  because we’re looking for our Bridegroom, our Lord, to  return again and to  bring the total victory over death,  over the grave, over  evil, over sin, over everything broken and wrong and sick and painful.

In the meantime, we languish.   We long.  We seek.  We wait.

We hunger.

Not for bread or hamburgers or pizza or pasta.

We hunger for His righteousness.  We hunger for Christ’s presence right in the middle  of the mess.  We hunger to know Him more fully and to see Him more  clearly.

We want Jesus more than we want the answer, more  than the provision, more than the solution we’ve been seeking.   We channel all that misplaced want to the only One who can satisfy our truest, deepest need.

We want you, Lord.

Fasting reminds our bodies, minds, and hearts that Jesus is not just our greatest desire; He is the best we could ever desire.

When we do this, when we choose more Christ and less us, when we discipline our very own bodies to go without so we can choose Jesus over all else, the Lord can break through.

It’s not that there’s a magic formula here.  It’s not that fasting today means insta-answer tomorrow.  It doesn’t mean that fasting always guarantees a grand revelation.

Fasting does, however, position us to  seek the Lord, seek Him wholeheartedly, seek Him without distraction, seek Him with determination and focus.

Then we cling to  the promise:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV).

A life-long legacy of real-deal faith

Moving sometimes feels like God’s ultimate character-training ground.

And when you’re moving with four young kids,  it’s a faith-growing opportunity for the whole family.

When we first started this process, I didn’t even want to get my kids’ hopes up too much about all the possibilities of  a new house.  I organized closets, purged junk, and packed up boxes for storage without telling them why.

It wasn’t until they were all gone for a day and I painted  their room that I finally fessed up.

The confession went something like this:

“While  you girls are gone, I’m going to repaint your room.”

“What?!!  Paint?!!  I hope it’ll still be purple!!!”

And that was it, the big  moment when I had to share the news.

“Well, actually, no, the whole point is to cover over the purple.  You see, we’re preparing the house to  sell  it and that means making the rooms neutral colors.  Your walls will be cream.”

Long pause.  Long, long pause.

An initially disappointed face:  “Cream?  Cream?  I really liked the purple.”

Then the news sinks in. “Wait!!  We’re going to try to move?!!!!”

And oh the ups and downs of moving have involved us all.  I tried to prep the girls’ hearts for how long it may take to sell our house or what it all  involves.  How we shouldn’t get our hearts set on a particular house unless our contract is accepted.

Truthfully, though, God has been so good to us and the process has been fairly smooth as far as these processes ever go.  But what I love the most is how my kids celebrate the good things He has done.

When a buyer put an offer on our house so quickly after we put it on the market, one of my girls said, “Look how God answered our prayers!  We prayed this would be fast and He did that for us!”

When we picked the new house and it had the right number of bedrooms and was still in their beloved school district, one of my daughters said, “God really gave us what we needed!”

And as we worked through inspections and repairs and all the prep work for moving, they prayed right along with us for God to  help the process go smoothly.

We’re actually still praying!

They are engaging in active faith and using the language of faith.  They are turning to prayer in times of need and praising God for answering  the prayers we offer.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

In life, there are some things we can’t always share with our children, not completely, especially not when they’re young.  We shield them from some of the hardest and scariest situations..

But there are also times and seasons when it’s right to draw them in to see how our faith fares when we don’t know all the answers.

What  does faith look like when we’re waiting?

When we’re uncertain?

When we’re hurt?

When we’re disappointed?

If our tweens and teens think faith is easy, what will happen when decisions are hard and oppression is real and personal?

I’ve been feeling a heart-check, the need  to make sure my faith is sincere and to live that out with my kids.

When I say, “God answered our prayers,” I need to make sure that’s the truth, that my kids knew I was praying….and they see how God came through.

I find that Paul slips this word “sincerity” into his letters quietly and frequently (2 Corinthians 11:3,  Philippians 1:17, 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 1:5).

He doesn’t lay out a long sermon about what sincere faith looks like, but he makes this consistent distinction.

Don’t just have faith.

Have sincere faith.

Maybe it was the former Pharisee in  Paul showing through here.  Genuine faith mattered to him because otherwise it’s just show and outward actions.

This is what Paul says about Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV).

Timothy’s sincere faith is something he learned from his mom, who learned it from his grandmother.

Because they were the real deal, Timothy grew to be the real deal also.

This is what I want for my kids and what I want for me–a lifelong legacy of “real-deal faith.”

May our faith be sincere, rooted so deep-down within us that our automatic response to trouble is the fruit of belief:  prayerfulness, trust,  confidence in God.

May our faith be genuine, not just outward show with Christian catch-phrases and good-girl actions, but  a life led sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

 

Welcome Home

psalm-90

We want to do “Home” here.

On the bad days, on the days you messed up or didn’t win, on the days the minivan breaks down and we all cram into the little car to shuttle around town….

On the days when we say the foolish thing and our tempers get the better of us…

On the day when we’re just crazy forgetful or running late and the ballet studio is calling me (again) because my daughter is waiting for me and I’m still two minutes away on Main Street….

On the nights when mom didn’t sleep because she was up all night stressing about a problem and then remembering to pray over it…

When we get bad news, when our feelings are hurt, when our friendships are tricky, when two girls keep fighting on the playground and that ruins our favorite recess game….

We want to come home.

I want my husband and my kids and surely myself to have this place of space and grace.

This is the place we celebrate with milkshakes and we commiserate with movie nights and freshly popped popcorn.

Life can sure be disappointing sometimes.  People can be cruel, trodding all over you when you’re already down in the dust.

But home is where the people are who genuinely celebrate your victories and accomplishments.

Home is also where you drag your disappointed heart with its hurt and sadness because it’s safe here.  You are hugged.  You are loved without conditions and expectations.  These are your people, the ones who are for you.  The ones who won’t mock your tears or tell you to ‘buck up and just get over it.’

Home should be the safe place.  The united place.  The place where being you is being enough.

Of course, Home isn’t that way for everyone.  And that’s the great tragedy.  It must break God’s heart to see how Home sometimes hurt instead of heals.

But at least here in my space, in my life, for my family, I want Home to be the refuge God meant it to be.

I read in Psalm 90:1, how Moses prayed to God.  He said:

“Lord, through all the generations you have been our home” (NLT).

I’ve read this in other translations before.  The ESV says the Lord has been our “dwelling place” and the HCSB says the Lord has been our “refuge.”

But I let that word “home” echo a bit and think about what it means for God to be Home for me.

My safe place.

My refuge.

The place where I abide, live, dwell…where I relax and be myself, where I kick off my shoes and plod around in my cozy white socks, where the masks are off and people see the real me, where I wash off my makeup, where I mess up sometimes and ask for forgiveness from those who love me still.

God is my Home.

He’s celebrating our victories.

And He’s wrapping us up in arms so big when we unload the disappointment, hurt and sadness we’ve been carrying on our shoulders.

In a world where we can feel judged and criticized, like people are always jumping in with suggestions of how we should be, where bullies and mean girls set themselves against us, God is our Home.

He loves you as you are.  He says you’re beautiful.  He says you have value and worth and He’s proud of you and He’s seen it. All of it! All your hard work and effort–and He says it’s good.

I wonder what it was like for Moses to write that God was his home?

Moses–the slave baby sent into the river on a basket, raised by an Egyptian princess in a palace where he didn’t quite fit in.

Moses–the murderer turned fugitive, who spent 40 years out in the wilderness tending sheep and living outside his community.

Moses–the leader of a nation that spent another 40 years wandering around the desert, pitching tents, moving on and never lingering in one place for long.

FOR THE UNWANTED, FOR THE OUTSIDER, FOR THE BROKEN, FOR THE SINNER, FOR THE PRODIGAL, FOR THE WANDERER, FOR THE LEADER, GOD WAS HOME.

GOD IS HOME.

WELCOME HOME.

5 Things This Introvert Is Teaching My Extroverted Daughter (and what she’s teaching me)

introvert-extrovert

My daughter is an extrovert-to-the-power-of-10.  At 18 months old, I realized she could not have a day at home and be happy.

Could.  Not.

If I did not put that child in the car seat and drive her somewhere every single day she would end up a screaming mess of frustrated babyhood and I would have a mom meltdown.

Now, I’m pretty sure she goes through withdrawals after two days off school because she must see friends every day and if she’s not seeing them in person, could she please call one of them on the phone?

I, on the other hand, like home-time, family-time, quiet-time, me-time, creative-time, thinking-time, and I hate the telephone.  I pretty much disintegrate emotionally if I’m out of my house too long more than two days in a row.

But God made me her mom, so we’re in this together and maybe we’re both better because of it.

5 things This Introvert is Teaching My Extroverted Daughter:

1. Be comfortable with who you are when no one is around: If you’re uncomfortable with yourself when you’re on your own and it’s quiet, then something’s wrong.  You need to know who you are and like who you are even in the silence.

2. Family comes first: Sure, it’s exciting to hang out with your friends and I’m so thankful you’ve chosen good friends to be with.  But family always comes first.  It’s too easy to be nicer to those outside your home than it is to be kind to those you live with every single day all up close and personal.  Don’t take family for granted and don’t treat them worse than you treat your friends or even strangers.

3. Sometimes it’s better to think about what you’re going to say before you say it: Pause.  Think.   Then Speak.

4. Quiet is not the enemy and boredom is just fuel for creativity:  If you’ve squeezed out all opportunities for quiet, rest, and unscheduled time, then you’ve squeezed out time with God and time for God to speak to you.

5. It’s okay to say “no”:  You don’t have to answer the phone every time it rings.  You don’t have to do everything you’re asked to do or go everywhere you’re asked to go.  Sometimes saying “no” is the healthiest and wisest thing you can say.

5 Things My Extroverted Daughter is Teaching Me:

1. People matter more than to-do lists and tasks.  It’s okay to leave the to-do list until tomorrow and spend time watching a movie or sitting with someone, playing a game, or just talking.  God’s heart is for people first above agendas, plans, and projects.

2. Ministry always means loving people.  It’s not possible to be a vessel fit for God’s service if I fail to love people.  Being an introvert is not an excuse for being self-focused or for acting like the world is all about ‘me’.  Ministry requires compassion, unselfishness, kindness, generosity with time and resources, and absolutely requires loving others—whether you’re an introvert or not.

3. Most things really are better with a friend.  Sharing experiences with others opens you up to new perspectives and ideas.

4. If you’re always worried about what people think, you miss out on a lot of fun. Sometimes you just have to risk it and put yourself out there, even when it’s uncomfortable or unexpected or unknown.  Be silly.  Have fun.  Do something new even if you won’t be great at it.  Learn to laugh at yourself.

5. A room full of new people is just a room full of potential new friends.  So don’t be afraid; just enjoy the adventure!

 Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him (Psalm 127:3 NLT)

I originally shared this post a few years ago, but I’ve been thinking about it again recently and wanted to share it with you all once again!
Originally published July 2014

 

Packing for Camp 101 (and the essential truth we all need to know)

1 chronicles 28

The first time we sent our older girls away to summer camp, it was just for a weekend.  For younger kids, it was a “get your feet wet” kind of experience, stay two nights at camp, have lots of fun, and then plan on coming back for the full week the next time.

So, for a two-night camp, we packed three shirts and three pairs of shorts so they’d have a spare plus a pair of jeans and a skirt and top they could use for a chapel service if they needed to look nice.

I picked them up at the end of the weekend and they were dressed in some crazy outfit : Skirt and camp t-shirt or jeans (in 100+degree weather).

Why the fashion mish-mash?

Simple. They ran out of clothes.

At home, I opened up their duffel bags and discovered their clothes were wet.  All of them.

This year, our packing strategy was simple.  Pack pretty much every piece of clothing they own.

Well, that might be a bit exaggerated.  But seriously.  I packed a lot of extra clothes plus two beach towels and two bath towels and two different swimming outfits.

We packed a lot.

Then, for the entire week before camp, I gave them great words of wisdom.

I said things like, “Make good choices.  Listen to your counselors.  Don’t be afraid.  Try new things.  Be kind and make new friends.  Sleep.  Don’t spend all your money at the camp store in one day.”

Oh, and this little treasure, “If you buy soda at the camp store, do NOT buy Mountain Dew.  Sprite has no caffeine–fine.  Coke has some caffeine, not the best, but I won’t freak out.  But please do NOT buy Mountain Dew.”

Those words came from experience.  Last time I picked them up, they’d discovered Mountain Dew for the first time.

But I also gave them this little tidbit of advice over and over and over again: “Hang up your wet clothes.  Seriously.  Towels get hung up to dry.  Do not toss your wet swimsuit and towel into your suitcase with your other clothes.”

These are some of the last words I said to them before we waved goodbye at drop-off.

“I love you” and “Hang up wet things.”

My husband, on the other hand, had his own wisdom to share over and over before camp. And when we said goodbye, he said it again. He leaned over to kiss their heads, told them, “I love you,” and then give instruction:

“Wear sunscreen.  At all times.  All over your face.  Use your bug spray.  Wear your hat every single time you go outside.”

This is the what we worry over because we’re not with them to make sure they are safe, taking care of themselves, and keeping their clothes dry.

Or that they aren’t drinking Mountain Dew, are eating reasonable meals, and are being respectful to their camp counselors.

They will be making choices every day and we have to trust that after all our training, these choices will be good ones.

So, we said goodbye for the week.  We met their counselors, dropped off their luggage, watched as they picked out bunks, and then left.

And now, I’m praying and praying and praying.

This independence-training has been gradual: a few hours of preschool a few days a week.  School days.  Middle school starts in just a few weeks for my oldest girl with more decisions, bigger ones, and more independence.

Do they know what really matters?

Today, I read how David commissioned his son, Solomon.  What were those essential things David said before he died and Solomon took over the kingdom?

He said,

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you…Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it (1 Chronicles 28:9-10 ESV).

I’m sure David trained Solomon in other ways.  He gathered the supplies Solomon would need to build the temple so that his son would be fully equipped for his calling.

But this is the essential truth:

Seek the Lord.

Serve Him wholeheartedly.

Be strong and do the work He has called you to do.

And when it comes down to it, this is the essential truth for us and the essential truth I want my kids to remember when I’m not with them.

Of course, wearing sunscreen and hanging up your towels doesn’t hurt!

But in the middle of a thousand messages and overwhelming choices, here’s what God tells us:

Seek me.
Serve me.
Be strong and fulfill your calling.

This is what really matters.

 

Please Beware of the Authenticity

2 timothy 1

She extended her hand, pointed down the street and said, “be sure to avoid our authenticity.”

The kids on our fourth grade field trip to Colonial Williamsburg paused a moment in confusion.

Authenticity?

Then this wave of understanding passed over our group.

The horse-drawn carriages.

The dusty road.

The piles of smelly “authenticity” left behind by these horses as they pulled those carriages down that dusty road.

Oooooohhhh.

Day later, I shuffled my crew of four kids into Wal-Mart for a prescription, and I recalled the tour guide’s warning.

My two-year-old was having a two-year-old day.

He had an outburst of anger when we pulled into the Wal-Mart because we didn’t stop at the Chick-fil-A or the frozen yogurt place instead.

He then had a meltdown in the parking lot because I didn’t let him dance around in the middle of the road.  No, I was the mean mom who insisted he hold her hand in the parking lot!

He hadn’t even finished blinking away those tears before he threw himself into a full-fledged tantrum because I did not get a cart for our quick jaunt in and out of the store.

As he wailed in the pharmacy pick-up line, slowly calming down, I saw someone nearby throw a look my way.

What kind of mother was I?

That’s when I had this flashback moment to that field trip to Colonial Williamsburg the week before.

A tour guide could have waved her hand in my direction and warned people to “Beware of the Authenticity.”

Because that’s what others were seeing, a little moment of Real in the middle of my day.

Maybe they were judging me.  After all, what kind of mother was I who didn’t buy her son ice cream before dinner and then dared to hold his hand in the parking lot?  How dare I tell my tiny tyrant “No?!”

And that’s the funniest thing about it, because even while they were judging me in this moment of authenticity, I was actually being a good mom—not giving into the dangerous whims of a toddler, never once losing my cool or my temper but quietly asserting my will over his, and allowing him to calm down as he realized (once again) that maybe mom really was the boss.

But authenticity is uncomfortable.  It’s smelly and embarrassing.

It’s the kind of thing we wish we could sweep away and pretend doesn’t exist at all.

Authenticity?  In my life?

Never!

I always have it together.

My kids always behave.

I’m never forgetful or short-tempered or indecisive or insecure.

Yet, the very thing we usually avoid is the very thing that God honors and delights in:  The truest parts of ourselves laid out before Him, without masks, without facades, without excuses or pretension.

When Hannah prayed desperately in the temple for a child, she brought her authentic self to God.

She was mocked for being childless.  Her husband didn’t understand her pain.

She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (1 Samuel 1:10 ESV).

Eli the priest judged her prayer.  Surely she was drunk in the middle of the day.  Only that could explain her despair.

Hannah heard his caustic mockery, the judgment and denunciation.

But here’s the thing:  The very moment Eli condemned her, Hannah was doing the most true and honest thing she could do:  “pouring out my soul before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15 ESV).

And God saw her.  He had compassion on her.  He granted her request.

Maybe we’re tempted today to judge those around us: The bad mom, the forgetful coworker, the short-tempered friend.

Or maybe others are judging us as we pour out our soul before the Lord and bring the Real and the Genuine to Him, embarrassing as it is, vulnerable as it makes us.

That’s hard for me.  I want people to think I’m a good mom, but there in the Wal-Mart they probably thought I was a right awful mess!

I trust this, though: God sees the truth.

He desires the real.  The genuine.  The sincere.

God loves the authentic.

He doesn’t, of course, excuse sin and allow us to do whatever we want whenever we want because “that’s just who we are.”

No, authenticity means bringing our brokenness and our bad days and our honest struggles to Him.

It means He applauds us when we’re doing what’s right, even if the world judges us unfairly.

It means having “genuine faith,” the tried-and-true kind (2 Timothy 1:5).  The kind of faith that withstands trials and difficulties.

It means loving those around us even when we see their own Authenticity and maybe offering them prayer, an understanding ear, and a hug instead of a judging word or condemning look.

This is how we live the authentic life and invite others to do the same.

What I’m learning as the mom of a dancer

romans 12-6

My own experience with dance consists of one ballet class when I was four, one super cute photo of me in a tutu, and one fiasco of a recital concluding my dance career.

So, as the mom of a dancer I’m always learning things like:

  1. Don’t expect to understand anything the teachers say in class.  I watch a row full of girls in leotards and tights nod in understanding when the teacher says they are to “shu-shu, tendu, plies, releve, dijon, au revoir, RSVP sil vous plait, bon jour, bon appetit (okay, I made most of those up).  All I hear is “French stuff, French stuff, French stuff, more French stuff.”
  2. Splits, despite their appearance, are physically possible (just not for me).  My daughter slides down to the floor and splits her body in half without groans of horror or the sound of her bones breaking.  She didn’t start out that way.  It took years of increasing flexibility and lots of complaints along the way, but now she’s got it.
  3. Dancers come in many shapes and sizes.  Maybe the professional culture of ballet says otherwise, but I love seeing the teachers and students at our dance studio with different body structures.  Beauty and strength, flexibility and discipline can look different on different women.
  4. I’ll never vacuum the floor without first having to pick up hair pins.  Where do they all come from?  How do they all jump out of my daughter’s head onto every surface of our home?  I’ll never know.  But if you ever need a bobby pin, just stop by my house before I vacuum!  (Or gather the bobby pins scattered all over my husband’s car since he picks her up from dance.)
  5. Storing hair accessories takes creativity: When another girl at the studio popped open a travel soap container and started pulling out hair nets, ponytail holders and pins, it was better than a Pinterest discovery. Best.  Idea.  Ever.

But here’s the lesson that’s being etched on my heart this year:

God loves when we give Him our all, even if our “all” is different than the “all” of others.

I’ve taken my daughter to dance classes for years.  I’ve bought her leotards and tights and slipped her hair up into buns.

I’ve written the check each month for her classes.

I’ve worked out insane schedules trying to fit everything on our calendar.

And I’m not a dancer.  I’m not good at it.  I have no training in it.

Even though I can recognize beauty and strength, it’s her passion, not mine.

Still, it’s taken me time to truly value this passion God has given her, to say that it’s beautiful and worthy and worth the sacrifice and effort.

Sporty families often value athleticism over other gifts.

Musical families tend to value musicality.

Artistic families—art.

And so it goes.

My daughter, though, teaches her non-dancing mom to value dance.

I am humbled.

In Galatians 2, Paul defends his own passion to the leaders of the New Testament church.

Until then, everyone thought salvation through Jesus was for the Jews and the Jews alone.

But here was Paul, preaching to the Gentiles and baptizing them, taking the Gospel to those who hadn’t heard.

He was outrageously radical!

Some were probably suspicious of his calling.  They thought it was ‘less than.’  Others wanted to restrict it.

But finally, Paul says:

…when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised …and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Galatians 2:7, 9).

We can exhaust ourselves in the church trying to do what everyone else is doing because it seems so valuable.

We can frustrate ourselves by trying to make others care about what we love.  Our pleas can sound like this:  “Every Christian should care about this as much as I do…..”  “If you love Jesus, you’d be involved in this ministry that means so much to me….”

Or, we can give “the right hand of fellowship” to others.

We can perceive and applaud the grace God has given to others just as the church did for Paul.

We seek God’s unique purpose for our own lives and we throw ourselves fully into that work to give Him glory!

And then we rejoice because God is at work in others, as well. We worship God for His goodness and His creativity and we cheer others on for their obedience and faithful sacrifice.

We praise God for the way He makes the body of Christ uniquely unified in its utter diversity.