Snow Boots without Snow

One year, I wrapped my kids’ feet in Ziploc bags before tying on their shoes and sending them out into the snow.

I live in southeastern Virginia, where we get snow sometimes.  Some years it’s a lot and other years not so much.

So, it’s a gamble, you see, whether purchasing snow boots and snow pants is a worthwhile investment or a complete waste of money.

That one year when all my kids were little and had snow boots, I can’t remember a single snowflake sticking to the ground.

But the following year, I had to resort to Ziploc bags inside the sneakers because I hadn’t bought snowboots and inevitably we had buckets of snow.

Since then, I’ve begun hunting for snow boots in all seasons and in all sizes at consignment shops in thrift stores.  I don’t want to pay full price for them, but I do want to have them on hand just in case.

This year I have put my thrifty shopping skills to work and found snow boots and snow pants in all the sizes for all the kids.

Of course, we’ve had a virtually snow-less winter with just one fluke snowstorm in early December.  It’s plenty cold here, but our snow attire is sitting completely unused in a bin in my closet.

I realize as I write this there’s probably some monumental snow event on the horizon for us.  For the record, I’m not saying I want a blizzard!   I don’t love shuffling plans and appointments around because of unexpected weather.   And I really don’t like having to make up any snow days by going  to school during a vacation.

But it’s always just worth a shake of my head and a slightly exasperated giggle that on the years I feel most prepared for snow we are virtually snow-less.  And on years I decline to prepare, we experience snowmageddon or something equally apocalyptic.

Maybe the lesson for me is that preparation in itself is worthwhile.

There’s not always going to be this direct, easily  visible connection to usefulness, but God can be trusted.

Some years, I’ll buy snow boots and there will be snow.  I’ll feel prepared and justified, wise, and ready.

Other years, I’ll buy snow boots and it won’t really snow.  But I’ll tuck them away and pull them out for a future storm when they’re now hand-me-downs for another child.  I’m still prepared, but the connection wasn’t as clear or as direct.

It’s God’s sovereignty I can trust.  His wisdom.  His all-knowing ability  to work in me now, in my life and in my heart and in my mind, all that He wants to do in me.  Maybe it’s for next week and maybe it’s for decades from now.  Maybe it’s for heaven.  I will not always see His purposes, but I can trust Him just the same.

Being in His presence, digging into His Word, learning to know Him, learning about  Him, serving with Him, walking  through hard seasons and wondering i f there will ever be a harvest—none of it’s ever wasted.

This is what I see in David, this young shepherd boy who invested a whole portion of his life in shepherding a flock of animals and who ultimately because the “shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2 CSB).

It wasn’t clear and it wasn’t right away.  David spent time in Saul’s palace, time in the battlefields, time hiding out in caves and time living among the Philistines surrounded by enemies of the Lord.  Maybe his past experience with sheep and a harp seemed worthless when Saul was hunting him down.

But God did the work, the long,  steady, complete work.  He chose a shepherd of  sheep to be a shepherd to His people, nothing wasted, everything working for His good purposes in His perfect timing .

I can overthink this.  I can be like  an eager student with my clipboard, my paper and my pencil quizzing my Divine Master.  “What are you trying to teach me, Lord?  What can I learn?  How are you going to use this?  What are you doing  now?   Then what’s next?”

I want purposefulness.  I want clarity. I want intentionality.

But instead I learn to rest, knowing that seasons aren’t always so well-defined.  Sometimes it snows in October and I wear short sleeves in February.  Some years I need snow boots and some years I don’t.

I don’t need to worry about identifying the season I’m in or labeling the season or determining the purpose for the season.

I can just remain teachable, yielded, open, prayerful, submissive, humble, willing, submitted ever single day. “Lord, teach me,” and let Him do it.  Let Him use all of this, every bit, to change and transform me and prepare me for His plans, His will, His timing.

Goodness on the good days, the best days, and the hard days too

“This is the bestest day  I’ve ever had.”

We took a day during spring break to visit the aquarium.  It took as an hour-and-a-half to get there, the tickets were expensive, and when we arrived, the line to get in stretched outside.

I almost left, just turned around and found some other place to visit for the day.

But we stuck it out and in the end, it was one of those days where everything turns out just right.  We stood at the otter exhibit just as a museum volunteer walked over and announced we could watch them feed the otters.  Later we walked by the huge shark exhibit just as another keeper told the crowd it was time for a “shark talk.” Sharks are my sons super-favorite.

So, when my son declared it was the “bestest day” ever in his entire four-year-old life, I figured he must have forgotten the trip to Disney, but yeah this was a pretty great day.

But then the next day was his bestest day ever, too.  We played mini-golf and ate scoops of ice cream, so I nodded knowingly . Yes, it was a good day.

Then came Monday morning and the end of spring break.  We rushed right back into school and activities, but that hadn’t changed his perspective.  That was “the bestest day” he had ever had also.

Cleaning and errands and hanging out at home?  This is the bestest day?

Now every day is the best day, whether he heads to preschool in the morning or stays home, whether we visit the post office or the library, whether we run errands or take a walk, whether it’s the weekend or a rushed and busy weekday.

“What makes the best day?”  I finally ask him.

“When people are nice to you,” he says.   A few nice words, a sweet smile, a pleasant encounter and that’s a great day.  Not just a great day, but the best day.

Of course, people aren’t always nice.  Sometimes we have hard days or even difficult seasons.  We know it’sure doesn’t feel like “the best day ever.”  Maybe instead it’s disappointing or long, rushed and breathless, stressful and tense or simply and deeply sad.

On those days, when crawling back into bed sounds like the way to go, we rely on something more.  It’s got to be more than trips to the aquarium or ice cream night or simply the kindness of a friend that helps us hold onto hope and trust in God’s love and His plans for us.

We believe in His goodness.  That He will not  abandon us.  That He is not out to harm us or to arbitrarily or  apathetically watch us suffer.  He is with us in the pain and in the hard days and He is helping us and holding us.

The Psalmist said:

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!  (Psalm 31:19 ESV).   

David wasn’t really having a great day.  He was tormented by enemies. In this same Psalm, he said,

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
    my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
    and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
    and my bones grow weak.

Sorrow, distress, grief, anguish, groaning, affliction, and weakness– and yet David declared the abundant goodness of God and trusted that God had a plan for his future.

I consider Abraham.  How God had promised him descendants that would outnumber the stars and, not jut that, but a land of promise, a place to call home.

But the very first time Abraham arrived in Canaan and set foot on the Promised Land,there was famine.  He had to head onto Egypt in order to survive.

And the very first land Abraham ever owned in Canaan was the burial plot he purchased for his wife, Sarah.

This was the Promised Land?  This was what he had journeyed for? Famine and mourning?

Still he trusted and still he praised, because God’s goodness never changes.  His loyal love for us remains steadfast.

We just keep looking up.

Abraham looked to God for fulfillment rather than in the promise itself.  David looked to God for strength when His enemies surrounded him.  We also can look up, seeking Jesus and His goodness.

It may not be the bestest day ever in our life, but the day of trouble does not change the goodness of God.  His goodness is our refuge., our safe place, every single day.

The Lord is good,
a stronghold in a day of distress;
he cares for those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7)

These are the treasures to tuck away in your soul

There’s a couple in our church who’ve been married over 60 years.

They’re in a season of jet-setting, of cruises and spontaneous trips up to New England to see the fall leaves.  They drive all over to visit family and seem busier now than I am with my four kids.

They’ve known sadness too.  They’ve had cancer, lost family members to cancer, even lost a child to cancer.

About a year ago, I passed by my husband as he was chatting with the husband-half of this dynamic duo and I heard these words of wisdom:

These are the best days, when your kids are young.  I remember when all our kids were little and at home and it was crazy, but those were the best days. 

I didn’t catch any other part of that conversation, but oh how those words dug down deep within me.

The other day, I said to my husband as we drove home from church, “We’re super close to the time when we have a built-in babysitter in our home.  Aren’t you excited?  I’m excited!”

It’s so true.  Our kids are getting older, getting ready to stay home alone and even babysit younger siblings.  It won’t be long (dare I say it?) before my oldest daughter can drive herself to activities.  What a day that will be!

This is a new era for me.  And it’s just the beginning.  I’m living a life without strollers, diapers, wipes, and juice boxes.

I should be excited.  This is a new season, and it’s a beautiful season.

But I truly treasure the wisdom from this church-friend of ours because even on days when I’m rushing from activity to activity, breaking up sibling spats, or navigating a grocery store with the ‘help’ of my preschooler, even on the days when I’m most exhausted or most overwhelmed, I hold onto his truth.

These are the best days.  I will never have them again. 

I may get to go on weekend getaways with my husband. I may be less of a taxi driver and more of a world traveler.

BUT OH THE BEAUTY OF THE NOW.

Oh the beauty of making this family and loving this family through its most significant character-forming, faith-building, family-identity-forming era.

This gentleman isn’t the only one who has given such a gift of wisdom and perspective.

Last Easter, a dear friend in my church, a joy-bringer and encourager, gave me a little gift with a hummingbird on it.

She said the hummingbird made her think of me, flitting about, always moving, so beautiful.

This was another treasured gift.

I wage this constant battle for balance.  I’m a doer who is happy doing, and that’s something God created in me and what God creates is good.

But I have to choose and discipline myself for rest, for beauty breaks and for finding room to breathe.

I know this about myself.  I know my weakest weakness and how easy it is to call me out for doing too much.

But she chose to see the beauty.

And the funny thing is I’d never seen a hummingbird, not in my whole entire life, until about two years ago when we planted butterfly-attracting plants in our back garden.

Turns out hummingbirds like these flowers too, and they hover all summer long right next to the window where I write every day.

They have become God-gifts to me, sightings and reminders that God sees me and knows me, He made me and He loves me.  He helps me know when to do and when not to do.  He guides me ever so gently and cherishes me the way He made me.

These are the treasures I receive from God’s family, just two of many gifts I’ve been given, words of hope or encouragement, wisdom and perspective.

I’ve been reading 1 Samuel with my kids recently and we discovered this verse:

Then Saul’s son Jonathan came to David in Horesh and encouraged him in his faith in God (1 Samuel 23:16 HCSB).

David was on the run once again from Saul’s envious wrath, and he discovered that the city he was hiding in planned to betray him and him over to Saul. So David escaped with his men into the wilderness.

If ever he needed a treasured friend, it was in his wilderness season.

And Jonathan was that friend.

Can we be a Jonathan for another today?

Can we give a treasure away, encouraging someone in her faith in God, share wisdom, see beauty, give hope?

Originally published June 1, 2016

Packing for camp and other summertime wisdom

 

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 two months for my middle 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.

 

Originally published 7/20/2016

Flaws wouldn’t be so bad if they were invisible

 

Inspections.

My life the last few weeks has been all about inspections as we prep for our move.

This is nerve-wracking and stressful.  We frantically scrub every speck and spot and we pick up every last toy/sock/book/cup/out-of-place thing.  Then we turn on the lights, lock the doors and leave.

Then, while we’re away, inspectors come and look for things wrong with our house.

They don’t look for what’s right.

No one comments on an inspection report about how well we took care of this or how well we cleaned that or how nicely the light shows off the new floor or how they love my furniture layout.

They are looking to pick and complain and find the negative.  Then, as if writing it all down wasn’t enough, they take pictures and draw gigantic arrows to show off the imperfections (just in case you missed them).

When all that’s done, they send the inspection report to others so everyone now sees everything that is wrong.

I have spent most of my life trying to fix or at least cover over personal flaws so they are as unnoticeable to others as possible.

That’s because I have this intense sensitivity to criticism.  When the phone rings or when the email comes through, my first reaction is to make sure no one is mad at me or disappointed in me.

So, maybe this brokenness within makes me more sensitive to this whole inspection process.

The flaw finding.

The flaw magnifying.

The flaw broadcasting.

Maybe you’ve felt the hefty weight of criticism thrown your way recently?  Maybe it feels like another has set herself against you.

So often, these relational breakdowns are caused by a colliding of misunderstandings.  Motives are misinterpreted.  Words taken the wrong way.

Or maybe we really messed up.  Sure, we made a mistake.  We do that sometimes.  Honestly, maybe we even do that often.  And we’re sorry, so very sorry, but we’re imperfect.

And we desperately need the breathing room of grace when we feel suffocated by the demands of perfection.

Long before David became King of Israel, this teenage shepherd boy visited his older brothers at their military encampment.

That’s when he first saw Goliath and the giant Philistine mocked God and taunted God’s people.

The Israelite soldiers stood around shaking in their boots instead of standing up to the enemy.

None of this made sense to David, so he asked a simple question:  “Who is this guy?  How dare he talk about God that way?  What are we going to do to him?” (1 Samuel 17).

David’s older brother, Eliab, responded this way:

 Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” 29 And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” (1 Samuel 17:28-29 ESV).

It was unjust and unkind.  Eliab claimed he knew exactly what was in David’s heart and it was evil.

But of course, Eliab was wrong.

And apparently, this wasn’t the first time David’s brother pounced on him unfairly.  After all  David says, “What have I done now?”

David spent a lifetime responding to harshness and unfair criticism.  From his brothers.  From Saul.  From his son, Absalom.

That’s enough to make a guy withdraw inward, to hide away in fear, to cower.

Instead, David leaned into the assurance that God was for him.

He wrote:

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11 ESV). 

and

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6 ESV). 

We have an assurance we can lean into also when we feel battered and bruised by condemnation and when people seem eager to pounce on our imperfections.

God loves us enough to cover us with the cross.

There’s nothing negative within us, no sin we’ve committed, no mistake we’ve made that isn’t fully and completely covered by Christ’s death in our place.

He is not out to get us.  He is not inspecting us for all that’s wrong and then condemning us for every flaw He finds.

He is gently making us more like Jesus and loving us the whole time.

So let’s give it to Jesus and move on.  

Let’s rest in grace instead of battling the self-condemnation.  

Let’s trust Him with our reputations when others accuse us unjustly.  

Let’s keep moving forward instead of being cemented to a place of shame or bitterness.

His Nearness Changes Everything

Psalm 116-2

Some things just go together.

Peanut butter and jelly. (Even better, peanut butter and chocolate.)

Milk and Oreos.

Strawberries and cream.

Oh, and this: Popcorn and movies.

That’s what my two-year-old thinks anyway.

This week, we trekked down the aisle at the theatre, searched for an empty row, and plopped down into our seats.  They were the cushioned kind that pop up as soon as you stand. Then we waited for the movie to begin as other strangers filed in around us.

That’s when my son announced, “Popcorn!!”

I hastily leaned over and in a whispered voice tried to explain.  This wasn’t THAT kind of movie theatre.  We weren’t there for the latest Disney flick.

We were tourists preparing to watch the free 20-minute movie for visitors to Jamestown.

No popcorn, buddy.

But this, of course, didn’t make one bit of sense to my little guy.  We’ve taken him along to a few movies and this is what he knows:  Theatre seating, big screen in the front of the room, people all around = popcorn and a cartoon.

And popcorn is pretty much his favorite food on this entire planet.

So, he asked again.  And again.  And again.

“Pease….have popcorn?”

No, babe, I’m sorry.  No popcorn for this movie.

“PEASE….have popcorn?!!”

The movie hadn’t even started yet and I was failing to keep the two-year-old quiet.  I could hear the family behind me snickering.

But that’s just about when the movie started up (thankfully) and he was (temporarily) distracted by some film clips of animals and ships.

I understood his confusion.  Sometimes, the equations in life and in faith don’t seem to work out the way we expect.  Or maybe the way they’ve worked before.  Or the way everyone tells you it’s supposed to all work.

Pray persistently.

Pray with faith.

Pray the promises of Scripture.

Pray with honesty.

Pray with fasting.

Pray with confession and repentance…with worship…with others.

Pray first thing in the morning.  Pray on your knees.  Pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Pray for mercy.

This should be like movies and popcorn.  You go to the movies; you get popcorn.  They just go together.

In the same way, you pray correctly and you get answered prayers.

Right?

We know the truth of this.  Sometimes the wait is long. Sometimes the road is treacherous and uncertain.

And sometimes you go to the movies, you sit in the theatre seats, you stare at the big screen…but you don’t get popcorn.

What then?

What do we do when we have prayed faith-filled, persevering, worshipful, honest prayer and God remains silent or even tells us “no”?

What happens when we’ve done exactly what we’re supposed to do and the miracle delays or doesn’t come?

 

Adam S. Hogue in his book, The Listening Life, writes:

.Although we are tempted in times of agonizing silence to think of God with an icy stare on his face, refusing to make eye contact, I have found it comforting to think of God simply sitting with us in our pain, quietly listening. Maybe what feels like awkward and anxious silences to us are actually full and gentle silences… When God is listening to us, even if we do not experience the results we hope for, he is actively disposed toward us.

This image of God sitting with me in my sorrow doesn’t solve every problem.  Pain is still pain.  Need is still need.  Disappointment is still disappointment.

But God doesn’t stand far off, oblivious to my hurt, hard-hearted and unmoving, or deaf to my pleas.

Perhaps He is closer than ever.

The Psalmist says:

Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live (Psalm 116:2 ESV).

We pray and we keep on praying, we open our hearts to Him, because He listens and because He loves us.

David knows the anguish of unanswered prayers.  He wrote in Psalm 22:

 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest (verse 2 ESV).

And then He prayed for the same grace we need:

Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help (Psalm 22:11 ESV).

Even in the silent seasons, we have His presence and we rely on His nearness, and that makes a difference for us.

It changes everything.

I’m not arguing my case in a courtroom before a stern and unmovable judge.

I’m with the God who loves me.  He wipes my tears.  He holds me close.  He hears my cries.  He knows my need.  And even when I don’t understand, He still cares for me with compassion and mercy.

As Max Lucado says,

‘God is God. He knows what he is doing. When you can’t trace his hand, trust his heart.’ (Grace for the Moment)

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.

 

The One Thing I Need to do as a Mom

lamentations2-19

I prayed for this.

This girl of mine brought home stories from kindergarten about this friend and that friend and her BFFFL (Best Friend Forever For Life) and what top-secret info they had shared with her on the playground.

She learned words I didn’t want her to know.  She learned attitudes.  She learned meanness.  She learned insults.   She learned that when you spell S-E-X you should whisper.  She learned far more than a five-year-old needed to know.

I visited her classroom and passed out snacks for a class party, listening into the conversation at her little table….

The kids interrogated me about why I wouldn’t let my daughter watch certain shows on TV.  I felt like I was in a courtroom and this group of kindergarteners were trying to break me down under cross-examination.

By her second grade year, I finally spilled it out as a prayer request in my small group.  My girl was fiercely loyal to friends who were tripping up her heart, and she just followed along after them like a blind sheep following another blind sheep off a cliff.

Dear Jesus, please help my girl choose good friends who are kind and who will spur her on to excellence, who will help her make good choices and encourage her to be her best, and who won’t lead her away from you.

Now I watch her playing with her friends, and I gush out gratitude because God so graciously answered my prayers for my girl.

She has gathered around her the nicest group of quirky, funny, playful, kind, encouraging, creative, sweet, and thoughtful girls, and each one of them is a reminder that God hears our prayers for our children.

He had built that shelter around her heart when she most needed it.

And I am thankful.

Sometimes it’s wearying, to keep praying when we don’t see the answer and to persevere on our knees when we don’t see results.  Praying isn’t an insta-fix or a quick solution.

And some days I’m overwhelmed with my failings and failures as a mom.

I get caught up in what I didn’t do.  I beat myself up over what I forgot.  I stress over what fell by the wayside.  I feel like it’s never enough and I should have done more.  I said the wrong thing.  I stepped in when I should have let my child handle it….or I didn’t step in when they needed me to handle it.  I regret a decision and I wish I could take back what I said.

But what I need to know—-what moms need to know—-is this:

What matters most as a mom is time on our knees for our children.

We don’t have to get wrapped up in programs, extras, Pinterest-activities, decorations, household management strategies, and developmental milestones.

We don’t have to compare ourselves to any other mom or our kids to any other kids.

We care for their needs.  We love them.  We encourage their hearts, and sometimes we also stress and fret ourselves into a blubbering mess over our kids.

Yet, we can trust God to care for our children. He knows them and He loves them even more than we do.

So, the best we can do for them is give them to Him.

I read the Psalms of David often, and pray through them, but I notice this one emptiness in his prayer life…..I don’t see him pray for his kids.

Mary prayed for Jesus.

Zechariah prayed for John the Baptist.

Abraham blessed Isaac.

Jacob prayed over his sons and his grandsons.

But David?

In Facing Your Giants, Max Lucado writes:

Aside from the prayer he offered for Bathsheba’s baby, Scripture gives no indication that he ever prayed for his family. He prayed about the Philistines, interceded for his warriors.  He offered prayers for Jonathan, his friend, and for Saul, his archrival.  But as far as his family was concerned, it’s as if they never existed.”

David gave his kids a kingdom.  He gave them power and financial success.

Maybe he should have given them the gift of a praying parent.

This is the gift I hope to give my children:

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at every street corner (Lamentations 2:19 NIV)

Originally published April 22, 2015

Why Can’t I Go to the Carnival Now?

psalm 62-1 MSG

There were tears.

Lots of them.

We’re fully immersed in end-of-the-year testing for my school-age kids, which in Virginia means taking the SOL’s (Standards of Learning).

Maybe you think that means we’re stressed or anxious.

Actually, we’re doing a lot of celebrating.

The girls get more than cereal or toast for breakfast on SOL days, and it’s not often they wake up to a hot breakfast on a Monday morning.

I leave them extra notes of love and encouragement in their lunch bags and slip in treats as well.

They don’t have their regular homework load (hurray!) and we can spend the afternoons playing, relaxing and occasionally running out for ice cream to reward them for their labors.

We celebrate every day they finish a test because we’re one step closer to summer.

So for my first grader—who is too young to take the SOLs (they start in third grade)—all this celebrating seems suspiciously unfair.

Even if she also gets hot breakfasts, ice cream treats, and fun nights just like her older sisters, she’s pretty sure she’s missing out.

That’s why she was bawling at bedtime last week, because her older sisters get to go to the SOL carnival and she can’t.

This carnival is for all the kids at school who take the SOL’s, which means third graders and up.

My first grader has a problem with that.

No water slide?  No games with prizes?  No cotton candy?  No face painting?  No popcorn?

She’s pretty sure she can’t wait until she’s in third grade to experience the joys of the SOL carnival.  Why should she wait, after all, when the older girls are having all the fun now?

We try to reason with her.

How the SOLs are hard work and this is their reward.  Would she want to take those tests now when she hasn’t learned what she needs to know?

We explain how her sisters didn’t get to go to the carnival in first grade either.  They also were first graders who didn’t get to go once upon a time.

Why rush these things?  Sure, there are incentives to growing up.  But there are responsibilities, too.  There are drawbacks and hard jobs and lots of work.

We want her to enjoy now.

She wants to rush on to what she imagines is the glorious future.  She overlooks the hard and longs for the ultimate reward.

We’re asking her to wait.

And waiting is tough.  Waiting requires trusting God’s timing.  Waiting demands patience.  Waiting wearies us because even though we’re moving forward on this journey, sometimes we just feel stuck.

Waiting means lingering with God in the here and now instead of wanting the end already, can we just skip to the end?!

Waiting tugs at our faith and nudges us with doubts because we wonder if God has abandoned us and forgotten us along the way.

I wonder how much I’m like my little girl, so obsessed with future blessing that I want to skip to the end?

And what would that truly mean?  It would mean missing the journey.  It would mean receiving blessings I’m unprepared for and responsibilities I can’t carry.

In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel the prophet anointed the teenage shepherd boy, David, to be king of Israel after Saul.

But that doesn’t mean they held a coronation ceremony right away.

No, Saul was still the king at  the time, so David just went right back to the fields to tend sheep.

Then he defeated Goliath and went to live in Saul’s palace a while.

Then Saul’s jealousy became rage and David spent 13 years running for his life.

Then Saul died.

Even then, David didn’t rush to take the throne. Instead, he spent another 7-1/2 years reigning over Judah alone from a city called Hebron.

Sheila Walsh writes:

“David was content to stay where God told him to stay for as long as it took” (The Longing in Me, p. 93).

All those years of waiting (more than 20 !) between the moment that oil poured down on his head to anoint him as king and the moment when he settled into the Jerusalem palace, David didn’t seem to push ahead.

He didn’t kill Saul.  He didn’t start public opinion campaigns to sway the populace to his side.  He didn’t connive or contrive, plot or plan a way to skip to the end.

He trusted God “for as long as it took.”

Can we trust God like that?

What a day it must have been when David finally sat on that throne in Jerusalem.  King.  After all those years.

God had done the work.  David hadn’t pushed it along or made it happen.  God had done it.  All God and only God.

May that be our testimony too when God completes the work He’s doing in us.

 

Fire drills, tornado drills, lockdown drills, oh my!

psalm 31-22

My daughter announced that she hates ‘drills.’

All kinds of drills, she says.

They were only about two weeks into the school year at the time.

They had fire drills.

They had a tornado drill.

My oldest daughter chimes in about ‘lock-down drills,’ and how her teacher is so funny but the one thing she is super serious about is anyone who dares to giggle, laugh or even squeak out a hint of noise during a lockdown drill.

“She’ll send you to the principal,” my daughter lowers her voice for added drama.

These older girls of mine try to reassure the youngest sister that drills are essential and there to help and not really a big deal.

But the baby girl is testing out fear here.  I can see it on her face and I hear it in the way she keeps bringing these drills up.  When she gets home from school.  Over dinner.  In the minivan.  As she climbs into my lap for bedtime prayers.

“The drills…the drills….the drills…”

Clearly, they are on her mind.  And we older and wiser ones keep jumping in with confidence that everything is fine and not to be afraid, but she’s just not convinced.

So, the fear is kind of leaking out of her heart and into our conversations.

Oh, I don’t blame the drills, of course.   I let her tell me about them all over again and then I look right into her two blue eyes and I even brush away her wild bangs so she can’t miss this reassurance:

Those drills are there to keep you safe.  So that if anything ever happens, you’re not too scared to do the right thing.  We drill now so we don’t have to be afraid later.

She nods knowingly, but I’m her mom and I know we’ll probably have this conversation again in a month when the alarm goes off at school and all the kids file outside for yet another fire drill. So we pray about it, every time it comes up, I pray peace for her.

It’d be nice, it’d be great, it’d be heaven really if we didn’t need drills, if we didn’t have to practice for fire or intruders or tornadoes or a world of harm and hurt.

But we live here, on a broken earth with sin and natural disasters and trouble.

And how we react in the crisis makes a difference.

I know this because haven’t I been alarmed and sent into a dizzying whirlpool of fear at the slightest provocation?

A phone call.

An email.

A Facebook post, for goodness’ sake.

Maybe you, too?  The doctor’s report, the bill in the mail, the late night call, the hurtful remark, the broken car (again), the sobbing friend?

Trouble storms into our lives and how we react in the crisis matters.

We’re tempted to freak out and run around like a wild woman with her hands flailing hysterically in the air.

We’re in crisis mode.  Making phone calls.  Feeling hopeless.  Crying desperately.  Feeling helpless.  Rallying the troops and sending out an SOS signal and doing anything possible to keep from drowning.

I’ll be honest, sometimes it doesn’t even take a crisis, it just takes one tiny bump into my plans for the day for me to settle into a funk of frantic activity and aggravated grumpiness.

The Psalmist said it just right:

In my alarm I said,
    “I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
    when I called to you for help (Psalm 31:22 NIV).

In our alarm, when the bad news comes and we haven’t had time for faith to kick in, we snap to the judgment that God has abandoned us.

He can’t see us.

We’re cut off from Him, alone, dependent on our own strength to get us out of this mess.

Our natural reaction to an alarm is haste and hysteria, foolishness and fear.

It’s unnatural to choose peace under pressure.

Yet, the Holy Spirit offers us just such unnatural, supernatural peace.

When everything settled and the crisis passed, the Psalmist recognized the truth: “Yet you heard my cry….”

In the haste of the moment, he had rushed into fear.  But then he saw what was true, God had indeed heard His cry for help.

What about us?

Over time, after alarm and alarm and alarm have passed and the dust settles and we see Jesus right there with us, surely we’d know by now what to do in case of crisis:

Cry to God for help.

Trust Him to hear your call.

Rest in the assurance of His presence.

Choose peace.

Not flaky peace, vague peace, warm-and-fuzzy-feeling peace, or the peace of blindness to our circumstances.

The peace that is the confident assurance of Christ’s presence right where we are.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2015 Heather King