Monday, August 30, 2010

The Monsters are Real

He comes to me crying.  I'm washing my face at our bathroom sink while salty tears are bathing his.  The hurt on his face is real.

"What's wrong?" I ask, alarmed. 

A sob escapes his lips.  He takes a deep breath, "I read something I shouldn't have."  Pause and sob.  "I'm scared."  Another sob.

I listen as The Stinker explains about the back of his Nate the Great book -- the part that tells about vampires and werewolves.  And I realize this boy with a sensitive heart has been lying in his bed paralyzed with fear, lying with all the lights turned on, afraid to get out of bed because of what he fears could be true. 

We talk about what's real and what is not.  I speak truth, and he nods.  He knows, but he's still scared.  He has been blessed with my imagination.  He can picture a man turned wolf, and it terrifies him.  It's not rational;  it just is.

I follow him to his room and slip under dinosaur sheets with him.  He pulls my arm tighter around him and nestles in.  My middle-who-was-the-baby-for-six-years.  My squeezed one, wanting squeezed tighter.  How long has it been since I've done this with him?   "Too long," my mama heart sighs with guilt.

We pray together.  I speak words of comfort over him:

Protect his heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
May your angels surround him.
You are a strong and mighty God. 
Help him to not be afraid. 

And I realize this is what I want.  When my mind is running rampant with the fears of this world, when my heart is quaking from thoughts of real monsters who hurt people and real diseases that consume lives and real disasters that steal beauty, when I'm too afraid to take that step out of my doors and my comfort because of what I am imagining . . . I want His arms.  I want His truth spoken over me . . . .and I want to snuggle in and be held close.

And He says, "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13).

Comfort us, Lord, because the monsters are real.

"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
~Psalm 23:1-4

I am comforted, LORD, because YOU are real.

holy experience

Counting Comfort:  Gifts #223 - 240

God is real

He's greater than the monsters

some day the monsters will be no more

in the meantime, He comforts

many fears are only in my head

His perfect love casts out fear

snuggles with my middle

The Chronicles of Narnia

read alouds coming to life

carpets cleaned (the day after The Princess spilled purple paint)!  She was so lucky!

a new soccer season

a Saturday lunch with girlfriends I haven't seen in years

sharing memories and catching up

seeing the beauty they have become

a Sunday church picnic

sunshine and shade

easy conversation

too much food to choose from


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Little Brother, Big Blessing

For nine blissful years, I was the baby of the family, and it was an enviable thing to be.  Then on a stormy night in August, he arrived and dethroned me from that comfortable position.  A squalling, dark-headed, diaper-bottomed creature took up residence in our house.  He was wrinkly, smelly, and noisy, and I fell head-over heels.

I played with him, carted him around, kissed him and made up songs about him.  I adored him -- until he was about five.  Somewhere in there he became a nuisance.  Maybe it was when he turned Ninja turtle, fighting off the bad guys with a pillow stuffed in the back of his shirt and a plastic sword belted to it.  Maybe it was when he and his little friends acted as secret agents and would snoop on my sophisticated friends and me.

And then I had to put up with his uncanny arithmetic abilities.  Even though he was nine years younger than I, he became quicker at mental math.  As our parents quizzed us at the dinner table, the little squirt would have the answer out before I could carry the one to the third column.  And when I graduated in the top ten of my high school class, he declared, "That's nothing.  I'll finish at the top."  Ten years later, I watched him give his valedictorian speech.  The bum.

I had front row seats to the shaping of an individual -- and perhaps a small part in the shaping.  After all, if he hadn't had me to beat, would he really have graduated first in his class?  And if it weren't for me, would he really have gotten married?  I have some serious doubts about that one since I gave some key advice along the way.  (Grin.)

I have been honored to watch my little brother grow from being a big baby to being one of my biggest blessings. . .  .

But, then again, I guess he really always has been.

Happy Birthday, little brother.  You're one more person I look up to.

p.s. Readers, have I mentioned at 5'9" I'm the shortest one in my family? Heehee!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thirty-Three -- SWEET!

"Just as lotions and fragrance give . . . delight,
a sweet friendship refreshes the soul."
Proverbs 27:9 (The Message)

Apparently part of my funk lately is that I've been dreading my birthday.  My younger friends would say it's because I'm old.  Ahem.  And forgive me, more mature friends and family, for dreading 33.  I know it's not really old, but for some reason in my mind it seemed much older than 32.  It's silly, but it's the way my mind works.

In addition to dreading old, sometimes holidays are a bit of a let-down.  All that excitement leading up to them, and then you blink, and it's over.  Bleh.  So, in the days leading up to my birthday last week, I was restless and itchy and, bless my husband's heart, a bit grumpy.  (I'm so glad he doesn't officially follow my blog and comment.)  I seriously don't know what my problem was.  I should be happy for each day of life, right? 

When the big day arrived, it was actually pretty good.  A normal day made special by buster bars and the wished-for present (Photoshop) from my guy.  Handmade cards from my boys completed the gift. 

Then 33 got even better.  That day and the next day, I received some treasures from some mighty good girlfriends (and a few loveable guys) . . . friends from childhood and friends from more recent years that reminded me just how blessed I am.

Some Facebooked me.
One emailed me.
One texted me.
One sent me a package of meaningful goodies.
And a new friend allowed be to share a burden.

These friends are as varied as can be . . . . different personalities, lifestyles, ages, stages and appearance.  They reminded me that these thirty-three years, that have been as varied as my friends are, have been awfully sweet

And they allow me to say, "Bring on the next 33.  I'm feeling refreshed."

For more Word-Filled Wednesday, visit Internet Cafe Devotions.


Monday, August 23, 2010

He Carried My Heart in His Pocket

The night before that first day of school, we cuddled close, discussing the next day.  The Thinker asked oodles of questions; I tried to ease out his bundle of nerves.  It was time to say goodnight . . . the end of the day marking the end of ten and a half years of togetherness.  A trail of silent tears marked his climb up the stairs after he kissed his baby sister goodnight.

I followed him up a few minutes later to tuck him in, determined to mark this moment with the positive.  From my dresser top, I lifted the treasure I had found on our beach trip:  a flat, heart-shaped stone the size of his palm. 

We sat on his twin-sized bed, side-by-side.

"Do you remember the day I found this rock?"

He nodded.

"What does it look like?"

"A heart," he answered.

"I'm giving this to you for tomorrow.  Put it in your pocket, and whenever you are nervous or a little stressed, you can squeeze this heart and know I'm thinking of you and praying for you."  We sat in the silence for a minute.  I asked one more question, "Who made this heart?"

"God did," he replied, with a grin.

"So when you squeeze it, you can also know that God loves you and is right there with you, wherever you are.  He put this rock in just the right place for me to find to give it to you.  He's been thinking of you all along, and He's not going to stop now."  We both breathed a little easier, the relief on his face my reward. 

The next day as he climbed aboard the bus for the first time, I caught a glimpse of a heart shape in denim.  He carried God in his heart and my heart in his pocket.

holy experience

Gifts #206 - 222

a God who doesn't stop thinking about us

surviving the first week of school

early morning Bible studies with my thinker

a nice morning bus driver (who was also mine)

catching up at the end of the day

kind and good teachers

friendly students and familiar faces

new school supplies put to use

staying home with The Stinker and The Princess

more relaxed school days at home

games in the afternoon with my middle

peace about a decision

an Internet connection fixed

a chance to carry another's burden

a family gathering for birthdays

kind words from good friends


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Swim in Freedom

I watch as The Thinker and his cousins hurl themselves off the diving board.  Over and over, they run and fly through the air -- their bodies contorted in various shapes before they splash into the warm lake water.  Their faces bob up with smiles as they blink to clear their eyes so they can do it again.

I am impressed by their bravery.

And I watch The Stinker as he watches.  In life-vest, he stands and smiles at the others, but he never jumps.  Ever.  And in him I see myself. 

I have been on that dock many times.  Like him, I'd swim out in my vest, paddling furiously to keep up with everyone older than I.  I'd reach the ladder, climb up carefully and watch as cousins or my sister's friends would swim with the fish.  They'd dive or go beneath the dock, coming up to tell tall tales of what was below. 

I would sit and wach safely in the center of the dock, so that not even a toe could get a nibble from what might be lurking in the water.  And I'd get up the courage to go back to shore.  Then came time for my only jump -- not off the diving board, mind you.  It was in the wrong direction.  But from the side, I'd fling myself as far away from the dock and as close to the shore as I could, then swim scared until my feet touched sand. 

I know the fear that keeps one from living.  I know what it means to miss opportunities because of dreaded imaginings.  I know what it is to not be able to sleep because of anxiety.  I know what it means to swim in apprehension. 

I know my Stinker . . .  he who is afraid of the dark and scares easily at movies and books.   And so I pray for him to to dive out of his comfort and swim in freedom.

And so discover that the greatest fear lives in the mind, not in the water.

"So do not fear, for I am with you: do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand . . . For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you.  Do not fear; I will help you."  Isaiah 41:10, 13

For more Word-Filled inspiration, visit Internet Cafe Devotions


Monday, August 16, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love: God-Style

Eat. Pray. Love.  I did all three of those this weekend -- along with about 11,000 other women (and a few brave men) in Lexington, Kentucky at a Beth Moore Living Proof Live conference.  I took along my best friend and some terrific gals from my church.

(I insisted on sitting on my pregnant best friend's lap for this photo --
as if she doesn't have enough to carry around right now.
 I was testing her love for me.  Thankfully, she has a lot of it.)

We really liked the horse by our hotel. 

{Okay, I really liked it. 
So much so that I kissed it about three times just for this one stunning shot (grr --camera problems).
Anything for love, baby.}

It was a fun and inspiring weekend, but it was also convicting.  I went into this conference knowing I was messed up.  It only confirmed it.  I've been struggling with myself for quite a bit -- with discontent and battles of the heart.  I've been unfaithful to the truth, lying to myself.  The battles have been fairly private and within.  I'm a private person by nature, anyway, and don't talk to many people when I'm hurting.  But God knows my heart and its messiness.  And He cares enough to want all of it, even if I'm not good at sharing. 

However, I am good at pretense . . . even pretending with myself.  But some words from God (spoken through the fabulous Beth), fell on my lips, and I'm EATting them.  No more pretending:

     1.  "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?"  (Jeremiah 17:9).  My heart been torturing me off and on for quite awhile now, whispering things I know aren't true.  It's led me on a crooked path, and I'm ready to get it straightened out . . . which leads to the next thought.

     2.  "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13).  I've been searching for something I already have.  I've been going through the motions of seeking God because I knew I needed to, but my heart wasn't really in it.  As Beth put it my "need-to" is fine, but my "want-to" has been broken. So while I was only half-heartedly seeking Him, I was also looking to be filled in other ways.  It's not been working -- my well is dry.  The One who can fill me has been here all along, and it's time I really start to PRAY to Him and quit pretending with myself.

    3.  "Don't let a word out of your mouth until it's in your heart" (Beth).  This particularly hit home.  For this reason, it may be more silent around here.  I'll be sharing something with you Wednesday that I wrote recently, but after that . . . .well, I just don't know.  I need to separate my desire to write with my desire to be filled by others' affirmation.  I used to write just for me, for my own walk with God.  Now, I'm not so sure about my motives.  I need to make sure before I share something here that I really own what I'm writing.  I need to know and rely on the LOVE God has for me (1 John 4:16) before I even turn my face to talk to anyone else.  So, you may hear from me less often -- at least for a little while.

So, while in my search for everything across my corner of the world, while in my search for what is already available to me, I'll continue to give thanks to Him whose love endures forever.

holy experience

Counting, and meaning, gifts 186-205 (and passing 200!  Woohoo!)

accountability in giving thanks

a girls' weekend

a funky restaurant that opened early just for us

a terrific hotel concierge

funny conversations over plates of interesting food

paintings that inspire inside jokes

colorful horses

a beautiful hotel

a gracious city

staying up late chatting with my best friend

a cup of coffee fixed by her the next morning to wake me back up

adventurous walks

air-conditioning to escape 99 degree heat

encouraging words from Beth Moore


fantastic worship

seeking and finding


God cures the incurable

Eating, Praying, Loving: God-Style


Friday, August 13, 2010

Ice Cream: The Responsibility and Privilege

He came out carrying ice cream, and I knew.  We had made the right decision.

We were on our way to my in-laws' house, and we needed to stop at the store for ice cream.  For some reason I decided to send in The Thinker instead of towing all three of the rascals inside for such a quick purchase.  I gave him a few dollars, and told him to buy a quart of vanilla ice cream and some chocolate sauce.  He looked at me and said, "Alone?" 

"Yes.  By yourself."

He took the money with a smile, looked both ways before crossing the parking lot and passed through the automatic doors.  I drove around the lot to park beside the building where I could see the doors and waited. 

He emerged a few minutes later with the store brand of ice cream ("Because it's cheaper, Mom") and Smucker's Magic Shell Chocolate Sauce.  They weren't the choices I would have made, but they were perfect. 

"Those machines are weird, Mom.  They talk to you and everything."

"You used the machines?  Did anyone help you?"

"No, I figured it out.  The lines were too long to wait to buy just two things.  And I figured if I had trouble, I'd just ask someone."

He talked for awhile about choosing chocolate sauces, anticipating his dessert later that evening.  He read the back of the bottle and told me about what you need to do if you accidentally place the bottle in the fridge.  I stole glances at him as I drove.  He was sitting taller.  More confident.

All because of ice cream and a little bit of freedom and responsibility.

"And you know what, Mom?  I get what you've been saying about privilege and responsibility." 

And that's when I knew.  He's growing up.  And it's a good thing.

Just remind me of that later. 


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Open Your Hand

My instinct is to hold tightly with closed fists to what I call mine.  I can be selfish, guarding my possessions, my heart, my thoughts, my family.  What's mine is mine.  I'm not letting go.

But not the LORD.

"You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing."                                                                              ~Psalm 145:16

The Owner of the cattle on a thousand hills lives with an open hand, open door, open heart.  He gives generously . . . not just satisfying needs but desires.  Of every living thing.

This Creator-Owner wants me to live as His Son.  The Son with the hands that opened wide to receive the nails and satisfied our most dire need:  Our need for forgiveness . . . forgiveness for things such as selfishness and cowardice and greed.  So God asks me to bring the sacrifice of lifted, open hands.

I'm praying and prying back my fingers and trying, one hand at a time.  And as I do, I'm discovering within me are some places that are being satisfied.

Because when we offer Him our open hands, He fills them with good things (Psalm 103:5).

For more Word-filled inspiration, visit Internet Cafe Devotions.


Monday, August 9, 2010

An Open Door

We say tomato; he says tomahto.
We say banana; he says banahna.
Tomato, tomahto; banana, banahna. 
But we're not calling this whole thing off.

A couple of months ago, we signed the boys up for British Soccer Camp.  The World Cup had added to the soccer hysteria in our house until it was nearly at a breaking point.  When it was over, it was like the after-Christmas blues.  Thankfully, the boys had the end-of-summer soccer camp to look forward to and that cheered them.

A week before the camp was to begin, we received a call from the company asking if we'd be willing to host the coach.  I was hesitant.  I love to have people over, but I wasn't sure about having a complete stranger living in my home for a week.  And a college-aged one at that.  I tend to live cautiously, guarding what is mine . . . my feelings, my friends, my family.  My husband and boys with their bigger, wide-open hearts were excited at the prospect, so I agreed.  With reservation.  And hoped for a girl.

He wasn't. (Even though he was willing to wear pink wings for the kids.)

In one too-short week, we all fell in love with our coach.  We laughed at miscommunication (who knew English could be so difficult and different-but-the-same?), we learned from each other, and we made a new friend.  So now pieces of our hearts are driving around the Midwest finishing up a job and soon to fly across the Atlantic.  We're hoping for a friendship that lasts across an ocean and years.

And I'm thankful for the lesson I learned from my family:  An open door to a house can open a door to a heart.

Above all, love each other deeply . . . Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.  ~ 1 Peter 4:8-10

holy experience

An endless list of gifts continued #168 - 185:

a new lesson learned

reward for risk

a new friend

enlarged hearts

a sad goodbye means we care

Lots Of Laughs

cool drinks when summer is the hottest

watching my boys learn

 . . . and love

 . . . and have fun

learning new English -- ice lollies, banger and mash, bobbles and flat batteries

my dad can jump a car

 . . . and another

a tour around a Midwestern zoo guided by a Brit

new soccer games

a home to offer hospitality

a God whose love throws doors wide open


Friday, August 6, 2010

Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Other Myths

I'm still on a reading frenzy.  It's abated a little since I'm not on a retreat anymore, but I'm frantically trying to finish up a few books before school takes over my life again.  I have to share this recent read with you. 

I have read many parenting books:  One Million ArrowsSay Goodbye to Whining, Complaining and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids, Sacred Parenting, The Strong-Willed Child, Shepherding a Child's Heart, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, and even a few chapters of Train Up a Child (which I don't recommend). 

Most of these books were helpful in some way or another.  I was able to glean some parenting tips and tools, and most of them did not make me extremely uncomfortable because of rigid ideas encouraged.  Parenting is an important but extremely challenging job, and we all need some help.  But the book I read recently was a breath of fresh air that I needed, and I'm thankful to Sara at My Ears are Tired for bringing it to my attention.

"Parenting Is Your Highest Calling" And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt by Leslie Leyland Fields was a source of encouragement for me. 

The author explores eight myths that many Christians have fallen for: 
     Myth 1:  Having children brings happiness and fulfillment.
     Myth 2:  Nurturing your children is natural and instinctive.
     Myth 3:  Parenting is your highest calling.
     Myth 4:  Good parenting leads to happy children.
     Myth 5:  If you find parenting difficult, you must not be following the right plan.
     Myth 6:  You represent Jesus to your children.
     Myth 7:  You will always feel unconditional love for your children.
     Myth 8:  Successful parents produce godly children.
     Myth 9:  God approves of only one family design.

Fields reminded me of what my true calling is:  To love God.  Parenting is an opportunity to share Jesus with our children and to point them to their callings as well.  I think I have been carrying a yoke too heavy of my own making and forgetting that God is capable of covering and using even my mistakes to shape my children. 

This certainly doesn't absolve parents of responsibility.  Instead, it frees us to follow God's plan for our families and to tune out the voices of our culture or well-meaning friends when we consider the size of our families, the way we educate, the way we discipline, the way we serve at church.  Yes, we need to model Jesus to our children, but more importantly, we need to point our children to our need for Jesus.  And the important question we should each be asking ourselves is, "Am I parenting faithfully?"

Pick up this quick, easy read and be encouraged.  God is in this parenting thing with you . . .  or rather, you are in it with Him.



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Standing on the Heights

"It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
He enables me to stand on the heights." 
                                                                                   2 Samuel 22:34

I love mountains.  I've had the privilege of visiting a couple of the mountain ranges in this country and hope someday to see more.  I love how impressively large they are.  I love how hiking to the top gives you a breathtaking view and makes you feel small and meaningful all at once.  But it's not an easy climb.  It is steep.  It is rocky.  It is tiring.  It is risky. 

There are so many mountains in our lives to climb.  Sometimes the problems before us seem impossibly large.  But God is not overwhelmed by the mountains, and He's ready and willing to give us all the equipment we need to make it to the top so that we can stand.  And really see.

And what we see is how very small we are, and how very large God is.  And at the top we realize that as He has brought us up to stand on the heights, He has had a purpose:  to "stoop down and make {us} great."  (2 Samuel 22:36). 

And He is our victory.

For more of the Word, visit Internet Cafe Devotions.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Fall Into Grace

The thunder rumbles in the distance, but the rain still falls.  It's not coming in sheets anymore, and I'm tired of waiting, so we make a run for it.  From the livestock building at the county fair, we dash to our favorite place to eat, the local Lion's Club tent.  The boys run ahead of me, laughing and dodging puddles.  I jog behind with The Princess in my arms, ducking the steady stream from the clouds, watching her damp hair curl and eyes squint.

The door is in sight, and I slow slightly as I watch the boys slip safely indoors.  And then I slip too.  I slip and sliiiiiide as in slow motion I realize the river of water has puddled inside as well.  I scramble to break Baby Girl's fall as I sprawl on wet concrete.  She cries as she bounces off of me and into the small pond that is the indoors.

Some falls are private.  We trip up the stairs, carrying a basket too heavily-laden with piled up laundry.  No one is there to watch the clumsy mess.

Some falls are private.  We inwardly wrestle with ungracious thoughts.  We struggle with jealousy, bitterness, anger, laziness, selfishness.

Some falls are public.  They leave us with a limp and a wet backside for all to see.

Some falls are public.  We gossip, are rude or impatient with others, brag about accomplishments, get caught in dishonesty.

Private or public, all falls hurt eventually.  If our conscious allows, they leave us sore and and regretful.  And our hearts stiffen over time if we don't allow the Spirit's work in our lives.

But if we do allow, grace will cover all falls. 

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  Romans 3:23

After picking up Baby Girl from the puddle, I turn the corner to see my dad.  I explain what happened, and he mops up the problem.  Grace, you see.  It wasn't his mess, it wasn't his impatient-with-waiting, foolish running in the rain.

God has done, does, and will do the same.

Fall into His Grace. 

holy experience

Gifts of Grace #151 -  167 :

God's grace to forgive and redeem

bruises heal

fun at the county fair

pork chops

hand-dipped ice cream cones

fresh-from-our-garden corn-on-the-cob

the first ripe tomato

the first cucumbers

Baby Girl carrying her baby girls

playing farmer

nothing went wrong

my mom and dad back safe from vacation

good books

accountability partners

the Psalms

clean sheets


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