Teenagers use to scare me…

Teenagers use to scare me, but now, I truly love them. Ages 15-18  are my favorite. I get to sit with them in my counseling office most days, and they have so much to teach me. I am amazed at what they have endured and overcome. They are the truly brave ones. 

If they have made it to my couch, then there is a guarantee something hard has happened. Many of them show up because they have asked for help. Some of them are forced by mom and dad. These kids, they are trying to understand so many adult things in their broken world and their developing brains and their bodies are trying to catch up. Many of them have been bullied,  most of them have had sexual encounters, a lot of them would say, “Parents just don’t understand.” I want to understand. I want to be the parent, the adult in the room, that understands. Don’t you? Don’t you want to be the safest place in the world for your teen? 

According to the American Psychological Association, teen stress levels were reported as higher than those of adults.  Teen depression, anxiety and suicide rates are at an all time high. They truly are bleeding hearts, and they are tugged in so many directions, emotionally, physically, spiritually. They have so many questions, ones they are afraid to ask out loud. They have so many fears and condemning thoughts. They don’t think they are enough, they struggle to find the wise decision, boundaries are tough, healthy coping skills are even tougher. They want to fit in, but stand out. They want to speak up but shrink back. Words and feelings are hard to say and identify. They are afraid what others will think so they stay silent. They internalize most things. They’re like the crock pot Jack forgot to turn off. They’re pain is brewing, just waiting to explode, injuring many. If only someone would listen, if only someone could see them, if only someone could understand. 

I get to do the easy part. I get to listen and love and send them home. Oh and I get paid. But sometimes they overwhelm me, sometimes their hurt is so deep, that I begin to hurt. I see some themes in the way I’m allowed to love them, I see themes in what we discuss, what we share. I watch as the guarded, shame covered postures in their bodies melt and they begin to lift their heads, relax on my couch and smile again. I watch some of the pain lift, not because of me, but because of safety. They have a safe place – to share the hard story, ask the impossible questions, speak the words they are afraid to say. I recognize these aren’t my children, and I don’t carry their burdens like their parents do. It will be much harder to be such a safe place for my own kids, but I want to be. I am working extra hard to be.

I thought I would share some of the themes I see in my office, some of the good words that are spoken. Maybe this list will help us all to be a little safer for these brave ,brave kids. Maybe this list will actually help us all be a little braver. 

  1. Pain can be a teacher. We all want to run from pain, to avoid the hard stuff, but there are lessons to learn. What if we leaned in instead of running away? What if we actually felt the pain instead of using something or someone to numb it?
  2. This season will end. It’s hard, especially as a teen, to realize there is life beyond high school. It’s hard, even for adults, to know life has seasons and seasons come and go. Winter does eventually turn into Spring. 
  3. Self worth can’t be stolen. Bullies and boyfriends do not determine your value. When people leave or are unkind, you are still valuable. Don’t give others so much power. 
  4. Envy will destroy you. It really rots the bones as scripture teaches. When we are envious, are eyes are only on ourselves and our lack. We miss all that we do have. Gratefulness and celebration cures a jealous heart. 
  5. Look outside your circle. The “tribe”, the circle can actually be dangerous, especially if it is an unhealthy one. Learn how to pick healthy friends but don’t let that tribe be the only voice in your life. Look for wise voices, regardless of their similarity to you. 
  6. Learn to be alone. There isn’t always safety in numbers. Really the safest place you can be is sitting alone before the Father. Learn to love yourself enough to not need the presence of others to define you or meet your needs.  
  7. It’s okay to say No, even to good things.  Guard your schedule and your heart. Rest is a requirement so make space for that. You weren’t meant to always pour out so make sure you are filled up. Boundaries are important. 
  8. Don’t stay hidden. Authenticity is a gift, even when life gets ugly. Hiding will make you lost. Broken and Beautiful are friends. 
  9. Eternity is now. Gain a perspective that reaches further than what is seen, further than today. This life is about more than you. Seek first the kingdom. 
  10. God can be trusted. Your feelings and thoughts can be liars. 

Let’s all be a little safer, a little braver…for ourselves, for our teens. They need us and we really need them.

Broken Hearts

“What breaks your heart?” Our pastor asks this many times when encouraging the congregation to change our part of the world. “What breaks your heart? Then go do that“ he suggests. He’s right. We all have a tender spot, a place that we feel called to, drawn to, a place where we are compelled to give a little extra time, pray a little harder, and invest ourselves. 

What breaks my heart? Well, I think it’s broken hearts. Broken hearts break my heart. As a counselor, I spend time with broken hearts several days a week. What compels me is helping my clients figure out what broke their hearts in the first place. Somewhere at some point, some thing, some person, some event broke their hearts and they haven’t been the same since. 

How is it that something from our past can cause us so much pain today? We can pick ourselves up and move on, but deep down there is something holding us back. I have been sitting with this for a while, feeling like something was just holding me back, keeping me from freedom. There are places I just haven’t been able to find victory in: That temper that rears it head, that envy that creeps in, the unholy thoughts that stick around, the greedy hand that stays closed. 

Broken people have broken hearts, and aren’t we all a little broken?  We try to mend or even soothe our broken hearts by sticking on bandaids: by budgeting or overspending, by exercise or overeating, by counseling or denial, by hustle or apathy. We focus on our thoughts, try to renew our minds but then, at least for me it seems, I can’t push through. Anyone else? I think we are missing it, I am missing it. I have been so distracted with trying to behave and think well, that I’ve been side swiped. I’ve missed the starting point for all change – my broken heart.  

I’ve been praying and praying to find freedom in some places, for some victory, for a renewed mind and then this verse lit up the page:  

1 John 3:20, “…even if our hearts condemn us…”

What? Our hearts can condemn us? I am really good at condemning myself, no need for help there, but that’s all in my head right? My mind and negative thought life? Or maybe it’s the devil? Well, scripture says my heart is doing this. 

To condemn means “to express complete disapproval of,  to sentence someone to death or punishment, to declare to be wrong, to express unfavorable judgement, to criticize strongly for moral reasons.”

Has your heart ever done this to you? Have you heard voices that say you are unacceptable, deserving of punishment, judged, wrong or the most condemning words, that you are not worth being here anymore? With full transparency, I confess that I have heard all of this. And the voices can be very loud. 

Our hearts are not all about love and good feelings and cupid. They are very powerful, emotional and physical organs. No wonder God warned us to guard our hearts, to “keep it with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

Life flows from it, or the absence of life. Death can actually flow from your heart. Many of my clients are wishing for death, mostly because of broken hearts. Disagree? 

Jeremiah 17:9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it.”

Mark 7:21-23 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

So what are we to do with these loud, accusatory hearts?  Where does the battle begin? John tells us. Even if our hearts condemn us, even if our hearts express complete disapproval of us, even if our hearts declare us wrong or unfavorable or morally unacceptable or deserving of death…even if…then what? Even if our hearts do all these things to us… 1 John 3:20 tells us we will be confident when we stand before God. Read the whole verse, it’s there! It says even if our hearts accuse and berate us, push us and condemn us, even if, we can be confident as we stand before the Lord. Why? 

“Because God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.” Hallelujah. 

He is greater than our condemning hearts and we can trust him with them. He searches our hearts and creates clean hearts within us. I know sometimes it feels like He has broken our hearts. I can relate. When my dad died a most tragic death, it felt like God had broken my heart. He and I are still working through that one, but I’m choosing to trust him with my heart. Trust in the Lord…with what?  With all your heart…and then what?Lean not on your own understandings. Even when hurts don’t make sense, I can trust him with my broken heart. 

So, the question I want to ask you is “What did break your heart?” Was it a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a best friend? A husband or wife? Was it a mom or a dad or a brother or sister? Was it something you lost? 

Whatever it was, whatever hard thing broke your heart, if it’s left untended, it will inform your heart. 

The voices of our losses are loud. The voices of our losses can be louder than God’s. 

These voices linger way too long and impact the way we see ourselves, our world and others. These voices want to penetrate our hearts and guess what? Our hearts can condemn us. 

Matt 5:8 “For with the heart one believes.”

So what are we to do? All of us, walking around with broken hearts? Please remember what John tells us: God is greater than our hearts. Thank goodness. Let that one sink in to those broken heart places. He is greater than those sore spots. The spots no one sees, the spots we keep hidden. Or the spots that are oozing on everyone because we can’t keep the hurt underwraps anymore. He is greater than all that. 

He is the redeemer of our hearts. He promises to give us new hearts and new spirits, (Eze. 36:26). He makes trades all the time: ashes for beauty, mourning for joy, death for eternity and hearts of stone for hearts of flesh.

So let’s do the heart work. Let’s bring whatever it is that has broken us to the Creator of our hearts, to the one who knit us in our mother’s womb, who knows our inmost being. He’s the only one who can do it.

“For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!” (1 John 3:20-24 MSG)

Bravery

“Write a good story.” I saw it on a sign at Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby with all the signs. I heard it one Sunday morning from the preacher, “Write a story you are proud to tell.” I told it to my client last night, “You are writing your story, how do you want it to read?” I want to write a good story, one that I’m proud of, one that counts.

I love words, maybe that’s why this mantra means something to me. But sometimes, it seems, our stories happen to us, they write us instead of us writing them. Sometimes our stories are hard and sad and don’t feel so good. But I am learning lately that hard and good can co-exist. Hard and Holy can be friends. 

God’s good words are a huge part of my story. They have informed how I see the hard things and the holy things. God’s words have shaped these last few years of my life in ways I never imagined. 

During a hard part of my story, I chose to begin spending more time in His word, soaking it up, consuming it. Some days his word felt like a feast, some days like a sword, some days like a balm, and others like a lie. Yes, God’s words sometimes felt like a lie. I knew his word said one thing, but my story and my feelings were telling me something else. Was I actually pondering, “Is God a liar?”

Have you ever felt that tension? We’ve been told all these years that God’s word is true but sometimes it’s just really hard to believe. Like it can’t quite make it from your head to your heart? That’s what I’ve been working out lately. Crazy, I’ve been following Jesus for over 30 years, and I am still wrestling with the truth of His good words.

It think it takes such bravery to step out, to just believe, even when you don’t feel it. I’ve been hanging out with Romans 8:15 for  about 6 weeks now. I just can’t move on, not until I believe it anyway. “So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family.”

How would my story be different if I had the bravery to believe this? What would it look like to “behave instead like God’s very own children”? The word, “instead” implies to do something different, do the opposite of “cowering, fearful slaves.” According to “wordhippo.com” the opposite of cowering is bold, daring, fearless, courageous, adventuresome, eager, BRAVE. What if we believed this verse and “behaved instead.”

Last year, one of my sons was in the pit of fear, cowering like a slave to it. It was debilitating, such a tough part of his sweet boy story. It felt very spiritual in nature and we just fought for him on our knees. That’s all we knew to do. One night during this hard season, I woke with good words just welling up inside me. I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I grabbed my computer and typed all these thoughts and prayers down, just begging God for my boy to find bravery in the midst of crippling fear.

We did push through the fear, he did overcome, but the process was one of learning to believe God for who He is, that what He says is true, that He is not a liar. These prayers have become my first children’s book, Brave Boy. This book is my heart’s cry for my son, for all our sons to know who they are in Christ, to know God can be trusted, to know He is not a liar and that our boys are called to change this earth for the Kingdom because they are truly meant to be BRAVE, they are meant to “behave instead “.

We could all use a little more bravery in our lives. We could all sit with God’s good words a little longer, wrestle with them, beg for them to seep into our souls and bones until we live like they are true. How would the world change if we all just believed what He says is really true?

Romans 3:4 “Though everyone else in the world is a liar, God is true.”

 

 

 

Multiplication

It’s that time of year. You know, the temps are dropping, the leaves are falling, pumpkin decorations are lining the shelves…it’s fall! My favorite! It has been a busy start to September with work and three kids in fall sports. In the midst of my busy, I signed up to bring a meal to a sick friend this week. As I looked at my calendar, I realized I had no time to cook thanks to our baseball schedule. However, I wanted to bring at least one thing homemade to her, so I wouldn’t be a total friend failure. I decided on my pumpkin bread. It’s quick and easy to make, I had all the ingredients and everyone loves it. Done.

I got out all my supplies and reached for the recipe box (yes, I still have a recipe box). As I pulled out the recipe page, I remembered, this wasn’t my pumpkin bread at all. Clearly written across the top of the 8×11 page, in my friend’s penmanship, was “Amy’s Pumpkin Bread.” This was Amy’s pumpkin bread recipe. Amy, my neighbor from my old hood. Amy, who lived across the street and loved me so well for 11 years. Amy, who taught me how to be a good neighbor in my first real neighborhood. Amy, who brought me pumpkin bread every year when the weather got cooler. Amy, who gave gifts and meals when all the babies came. Amy, my neighbor.

I got a little emotional for some reason looking at the recipe page. I remembered. I remembered all the years of eating Amy’s amazing pumpkin bread and looking forward to it arriving in its pretty package with a note on top. I finally asked her for the recipe and she wrote it down in her cursive handwriting. It sits in my 20 year old recipe box, pulled out every year about this time. The boys always start asking for her bread when the weather cools down. They know it’s pumpkin time, and Amy’s bread has become a part of our fall traditions. 

This recipe page has yellowed and is covered in oil and pumpkin stains and looking at it today just hit me. As I was making pumpkin bread for my sick friend, I realized something. Amy’s generosity and kindness has multiplied. I have made countless loaves of pumpkin bread. The recipe makes 3 loaves, so we always make some to eat and some to share. Every time we make it we share. My mom has the recipe and she shares too. That’s multiplication. My kids are watching the sharing.  They were watching 2 weeks ago when we made some for us and shared 2 loaves with neighbors who are in a rough spot. The boys will come home today and enjoy some bread and know the other loaves are being given away. They are seeing the multiplication. Maybe there is a lesson there for them. That’s a Kingdom lesson you know, multiplication. 

I wonder did Amy make the recipe so large so she could share? So she could multiply? I bet she did. That seems like the Amy I know. But did Amy know that she was planting a little bit of the Kingdom in my heart as a young wife and a young mother just by bringing by bread? Just by loving on me and my babies? Just by being there to listen and be my good neighbor? My friend at Faith, Hope, Love and Therapy always says “Go love your neighbor.” Now, those are some good words, Go love your neighbor. Those are kingdom words. Jesus told us to do that, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and boy, don’t we love to love on ourselves!

Loving our neighbors equals multiplication and multiplication equals a growing Kingdom. Jesus was always loving neighbors and multiplying loaves for those in need. 

I’ve benefited from watching folks work out multiplication over the years. They didn’t even realize it, but they were growing the Kingdom just by loving their neighbors. I watched my dad loan his tools out and make sure his garage was open on Saturdays for anyone that needed a repair. I watched my mom serve tirelessly as she worked full time but made sure the house was open and food was cooked for Bible studies or church meetings. I watched my grandmothers bake for and serve the sick and the needy. This is the easy part. Loving others is the easy way to bring heaven to earth, to grow the kingdom of God, to multiply His goodness.

He said others would know we belong to Him by the way we love, so…just go love your neighbors, those in your circle, those who you hear about that have a need: the friend at work, the kids down the street, the new mom at church, the tired family that just moved in, the teacher that’s overwhelmed. We all have something to offer, whether it’s time or money or just an ear to listen. Go and love your neighbor, go and multiply the kingdom, just go…you never know who’s watching or listening…you never know how God will use the gifts you have to change someone. 

Here is Amy’s Pumpkin Bread recipe. Now you really don’t have an excuse! Remember, it makes 3 loaves, some to eat, some to share. I don’t think she will care that I am offering it up. I think this was her heart the whole time…to love others…to multiply the good things God had given her. 

Amy’s Pumpkin Bread

3.5 cups Flour

3    cups Sugar

1    cup Water

1    cup Oil

2    tsp. Baking soda

½   tsp. Baking powder

3    tbsp. Pumpkin pie spice

1    tbsp. Cinnamon

1    tbsp. Vanilla

1.5  tsp. Salt

4     Eggs

1     Large can of pumpkin

Mix all ingredients together. Options – sprinkle top with mini chocolate chips or chopped walnuts. Spray 3 loaf pans and pour in batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 1-1.5 hours. Insert knife to ensure center is cooked. After removing from pans, rub with butter. 

 

Bandaids

“Band-aids just hold the blood in”

This is what my then 7 year old told me after a nasty bike fall in the cul-de-sac. He came in scraped on every bony part, a little bloody, but mostly just sad. He’s my sensitive one. He needs lots of sleep, hugs and kind words. His heart is very tender and can be broken in an instant. Especially an instant that involves concrete and blood. Thru his big tears, he shows me all the boo boos and immediately asks for band-aids. He requests the emoji band-aids his Gigi got him, and he always wants the poop emoji.

I get out the Tupperware that holds all the medicine. It’s really a mess in there. Purple Cough syrup and Pink Benedryl have leaked and formed a tie dye swirl on the bottom. I get a little lost in the stickiness of it all, picking up a tube of yeast infection cream and begin to squirt it on the band-aid. Luckily, I catch myself and reach for the Neosporin tube next to it. Who knows what Vagisil might do to his cut or his tender heart. As I’m sticking on all four band-aids, (he needed a few extra) he says, “Mom, band-aids just hold the blood in.” I agree, and we head down the stairs, but something about this statement sticks with me. Literally. 

My boys want band-aids for everything. They think they hold some kind of healing power. Any bump, bloody or not, and they want a band-aid. They just make them feel better. One day we were out of masking tape, and Ben asked to use a band-aid for his project. It’s as if these sticky things are magic. But today, Ben seemed to have realized they were not. “Band-aids just hold the blood in” he says. They don’t heal the wound, they just hold the blood in. 

Somewhere along the way I began to believe that band-aids were magic too. I used to be a school counselor. I loved this job but I also felt very torn. Kids would come in my office for 20 minutes, have a good cry and a good talk. Then I would give them a hug and a sucker and send them back to class. I always said I was just sticking band-aids on them because I knew 20 minutes was never enough time to really help them. 

But I wonder, how many band-aids have I put on my wounded heart? Just hoping they would heal it, stop the pain, make things ok? But they were just holding the blood in. How many sticky things have I applied thinking they were magical? Good behaviors, bad behaviors, unwise relationships, Instagram posts, chocolate brownies, compromises, lies, insults, bible studies even?  How many band-aids have I used to cope or numb the pain or distract me, thinking they might heal my brokenness, make me feel like I was enough, but they only kept the blood in. There was no healing, I just wasn’t bleeding all over everyone, so I thought it was ok. 

What’s so scary about bleeding anyway? Why is it that the sight of blood scares children and they just want a band-aid to hold the blood in? Why don’t I want anyone to see me bleed? It’s too much, too vulnerable. Blood is messy and people don’t like to get messy. 

Well, I’m tired of band-aids. I want the real stuff, the real healing. Real healing comes with a cost. It requires time, time of quiet and solitude before God, so you can really hear what he has to say about those broken places. It takes confession, confession to others for all the things you’ve used or abused to cover up those broken places. It takes humility, humility to admit that you don’t have it all together and you are willing to stop hiding those broken places. It takes some fire in your belly, fire in your belly to tell the enemy to go back to hell and leave you alone and that you aren’t going to hang out anymore in those broken places. It takes courage, courage to believe that God has healed you and you can let go and one day tell of those broken places. 

In Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:25, Luke 8:43 we see a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Based on the text from these different passages, we learn that she had spent all her money on lots of treatments and probably some band-aids and none had worked. Her condition is worsening. We see that she comes to Jesus from behind to touch his garment. She knew he could heal her but all she could do was reach out for his robe. We know that she is immediately healed of her condition. Christ feels power leave him and wants to know who reached for him.

“Who touched my robe?” Why does he want to know? He knows she is healed, why does he care who she is? But he does, He cares who she is. In Mark, it says that he kept looking for who touched him. He kept looking for her. He called her out. I believe he’s calling her out of her hiding. Jesus wants to know us, to have us come close and he will keep looking. She reached out but then the word tells us she shrunk back. But guess what, Jesus wants us near even if we are covered in messy things, in blood, in hiding. 

Mark 5:33 says “the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her came and fell to her knees in front of him” and Luke 8:47 states “the woman realized she couldn’t stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him.”

Why is she trembling? She has been healed! I believe she is trembling at the thought of coming out of hiding. She has been an outcast for at least 12 years. She is exhausted, lonely and covered in blood. She is dirty, smelly and poor. Broke and broken. Scripture says she bled constantly for 12 years. I am sure she is emaciated, depleted and hard to look at. But Jesus wouldn’t let her stay hidden. He saw her treasure inside, the woman she was meant to be despite the blood, despite the band-aids.

And he called her out. And in verse 34, he calls her Daughter. This rejected and despised woman…he calls her Daughter. The prince of heaven calls her Daughter. That just does something to me on the inside. It breaks me a little. That the height of heaven would intersect with the depths of earth and use that good word. Daughter insinuates that she belongs, that someone wants to identify with her, a woman that others were embarrassed to claim. “Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege” (Romans 5:2).

I wonder if when Jesus saw her, if he saw himself. After all, we are made in his image. Did he see his bloody future-self hanging on a cross. All alone, tired, smelly. Broke and broken. There is power in our bleeding, in His bleeding. Band-aids just hold the blood in. But the blood of Christ heals all wounds. It calls us out, it defines us, it says that we belong. There’s a trade to be made. Our broken, bloody wounds for His. By his stripes we are healed. 

He’s looking for us too you know. He’s calling us out of the bloody, broken, hidden places. He knows us, he knows our pain and he knows our name. He calls us Sons and Daughters too.

No more band-aids for me. Not even the cute emoji ones. I am ready to come out of my hiding and fall at his feet. How about you?

the okra lady

I ventured into Wal-mart one Saturday morning after school had started back…all…alone. It felt like a treat, because Chris had the kids entertained. It felt like a treat, coming off of a busy summer with all three dirty boys around 24-7. It felt like a treat, because it was just me and my blue buggie. I love Wal-mart. I love to look at dish towels, and water bottles, and cheap sunglasses. I love the seasonal aisle and the crazy t-shirts and the craft section. I love to get lost in Wal-mart, especially in the fall, especially if I have picked up a pumpkin spice latte before I shop. Man, do I sound like a southern, 40-something  mom with too much time on my hands. I guess it’s the little things.

After about an hour of buying groceries and lots of things I didn’t need, I entered the check out line. There was an elderly woman ahead of me, paying for a few things. I began to listen to her conversation with the cashier: “That’s a large package of okra you have there.” said the cashier. “I know, I’ll never eat it all, it’s just me at the house now. This is just the size I’ve always bought, “ said the elderly lady.  This conversation stuck with me and just wouldn’t let me go. “It’s just me at the house now.” That’s what she said. That’s what the old lady with the big package of okra said. “It’s just me at the house now.”

The okra made me think of my grandmother, Charlie. We called her “Pa.” We ate dinner at Pa’s almost every Sunday after church and some Saturday nights. In the south, you call lunch “dinner” and dinner “supper.” So, regardless, for lunch, dinner, or supper, Pa would make a feast and always included fried chicken and okra. Those were two of my favorites that she made. Fried Okra and Fried Chicken. What a gift to my childhood. They are worth capitalizing. I am always excited when fried okra is on the menu at some southern restaurant. You know, one of those “pick a meat and two sides” places. Okra is always one of my sides.  When I eat it, I feel comfort, like a child again, remembering home and Pa and Sunday lunch. So, I guess this is why the okra lady caught my attention. Why her statement, “It’s just me at the house now” hung in my ears. Pa died before it was just her at the house. She was still married and was still cooking okra for visitors. It was never just her at the house.

Strangely enough, I saw this elderly woman coming out of the local hospital a few weeks later. I have an odd ability to remember faces. No body ever remembers mine, but I knew she was the okra lady right when I saw her. I was picking up a prescription and there she was, all alone, walking out of some doctor’s appointment headed back to her four, quiet walls because it was just her at the house now. 

I paused, I thought of my other grandmother, Ann. It’s just her at the house now. I thought of my mother, Rhonda. It’s just her at the house now too, and I realized one day, it may just be me at the house. I wanted to soak this up, to not let this lesson pass me by.

Right now, coming off of a summer of boys 24-7, there are still boys at my house, well, a lot. There is a man there too, Chris, that I adore, and I think he adores me. He makes messes and makes me laugh and makes me better. There are the boys, Mack, Ben, and Sam. They make me tired and make my heart bigger and make me better too. There is middle school angst and elementary school homework and dirty cleats and never enough milk or cereal, and bills to pay and lots of socks to sort, but it’s not just me at the house now. Not yet anyway.

How I wish I could taste Pa’s okra again. How I wish I could have a tight squeeze from my grandpa or smell dad’s cologne. I want to remember my days are numbered and the people in my house have numbered days too.  At some point, it could just be me in my house. So I want to make these days count: These days when the house is full and loud and messy. These days when the bus still comes around the corner and fall nights mean baseball and bedtime prayers. These days when the whole pack of okra will be eaten and not wasted. I don’t want to waste any of this. 

 

Lucky?

IMG_3516.jpg

We rented a truck last week to haul a few things, and of course, the boys wanted to drive it to school! They smiled, climbed in and began trying so hard to open the small window in the back of the cab. I immediately had a flashback of when I was a child. Dad drove a small, burgundy Datsun truck. (Datsun was Nissan before it was Nissan.) On the weekends, my brother and I would ride in the truck bed, feel the wind on our faces, and just savor the ride. During the week, mom worked early mornings, so dad got us ready for school. We would pile in that tiny piece of burgundy metal with half combed hair and breakfast still on our faces. Sometimes we brushed our teeth. We scooted in close (because there was no cab) and opened that back window, enjoying the breeze on our necks. We were lucky kids.

When I think about my childhood,  I don’t remember worrying a lot. There wasn’t too much stress, except for when I tried to plan my jr. prom all by myself. Mom came in and rescued me and suggested I utilize a prom committee. (That was a good thing.) But overall, my childhood was manageable and care-free. I was pretty lucky.

There was lots of margin and extra room in our schedule: Lots of afternoons for brownies at grandmas and secretly watching soap operas on her couch. Dad always took a nap on Sundays and I curled up with him. We ate as a family together most nights. My brother and I played sports, but I just don’t remember feeling too busy or overwhelmed. I did my homework and we went to Wednesday night church. I am sure my parents felt stress, but there was always room for what was important. I remember mom’s Bible study friends at the house and sitting with dad in the garage on many Saturdays. We usually ate lunch with family after Sunday church. Mom and dad both worked and sometimes dinner was a bucket of KFC and biscuits. There were less distractions then, less money coming in, which meant less paid entertainment, which meant more family time and creativity. My family was not perfect but it grounded me and brought security.

 I couldn’t appreciate the margin then or the family time my parents ensured we had. But I sure do now. As my boys looked out that cab window,  I just smiled. I longed for dad and the jelly toast we ate every morning over the heat vent. I missed the music he played on his stereo in the hot garage. I remembered the little table in our kitchen where mom sat out the Valentine’s goodies. I missed her taking me school shopping and buying blue Lisa Frank notebook paper. I felt the humor of the dreaded Easter picture which meant panty hose and a night sleeping in pink sponge rollers. I thought of Poppy’s homemade lemonade and watching TBS and the Braves after school. I remembered all the things that planted something in me, all the things that took root deep inside: Sleepovers with my grandmother and thoughts of Mrs. Edna, the mean old lady next door who terrified us, working the concession stand for the local baseball field, sweet Sunday school teachers and family beach trips.

There was so much intentional margin and freedom and rest. I was so lucky. Or was I? Was it just luck or did my parents realize the margin they left for us? Did they realize they were filling the margin with meaning and memories?

 As an adolescent counselor, I am concerned. I am concerned about the kids in my office that are stressed and angry. They are tired and lonely. They aren’t connected with family anymore. They are staying on their screens until late at night and choosing their phones over real people. Their schedules are maxed out with school and sports and there is no margin or rest or freedom. I had to show two dads this week how to set screen time limits on their daughter’s phones. And they pay me real money for this. 

 Our small group recently started the series, Breathing Room, by Andy Stanley. It’s all about margin and how we need that space to rest and be free. Margin is necessary. But once we create it, are we filling it with meaning and memories? Are we making the most of it? Are we using it to ground us and our kids? Are we responding to the urgent in life or are we diving into what is important? What a challenge! Was I just lucky or did mom and dad realize what they were doing? Were they just creating more of what they were given as kids? Am I doing the same? Am I honoring the lessons I learned from them and my grandparents? I know I long for this kind of margin. 

 I heard a pastor say, “Eventually we will mimic the culture we invest in.”  I had to ask myself, is my culture worth mimicking? What kind of culture am I creating in my home and for my people? It can’t just be luck. I have to create a culture of intentional margin and rest and freedom. 

 I believe margin, rest and freedom are all the culture of the Kingdom. I believe that is why my heart longs for them. The Spirit inside me longs for Kingdom Culture. Mom and dad and my grandparents longed for it too. Now dad is living Kingdom Culture daily. How lucky is he!  

What people or activities made you feel grounded and secure as a child? What about now? What does your heart long for? What culture do you desire to create for your kids, your family? What margin do you need? Once you have, how will you spend it? We can’t just hope we will be lucky. We have to create intentional margin. We have to create Kingdom Culture. Thanks mom and dad for the beautiful gift that was my childhood. 

 

Bounty

Bounty: a great harvest, abundant, generous

There is a bounty for us.

God is ever before us. God is timeless. He is setting things up in the heavens and on the earth right now that will benefit and bless and provide bounty for us. He has done things in the past, in his secret space, that we are only realizing today. 

Deuteronomy 1:30 “The Lord your God who goes before you on your way to seek out a place for you to encamp…to show you the way in which you should go.” Bounty. 

In the old testament, God established a law regarding the harvest that would protect the hungry and hurting:  “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus  19:9

Gleaning was the act of getting the leftovers, so because of this law, the hurting and the hungry would come and glean the wheat or fruit that was left over and would be provided for. 

The book of Ruth tells the beautiful story of Naomi, her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and Boaz. Naomi’s husband and sons die. Ruth and Naomi are both widowed and poor. They leave their land of Moab and return to Judah, Naomi’s homeland, because of rumors of a bountiful harvest there.  Ruth, hurting and hungry, goes to glean from the wealth of Boaz’s field.  

Because of Ruth’s love and care for  Naomi, Ruth’s reputation had gone ahead of her and Boaz knew what she had done. “I know about the love and kindness you have shown your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. May the Lord, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully.” Bounty.

Not only did Ruth receive permission to glean from Boaz’s field, but he showed her great favor. He fed her and told his men, “pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her.”  Naomi’s response at the amount of food Ruth gleaned was, “So much!” Bounty.

Ruth later married Boaz and their lineage leads to the birth of Jesus. Bounty.

God’s law for gleaning went before Naomi and Ruth and provided their survival. It went before Boaz and led to his marriage and family. It also went before Jesus and made a way for his birth. 

Do you see this? Do you see that God is always before us, always ahead of us, making provisions for our good?

God is timeless. He is setting things up in the heavens and on the earth right now that will benefit and bless and provide bounty for us. He has done things in the past, in his secret space, that we are only realizing today. 

Isa. 45:2 “I will go before you and make the rough places smooth.” Bounty

Believing that God has gone before us requires faith. It requires trust that God keeps his promises and trust that he sees our hurt and hunger and knows what we need. 

Psalm 37

Vs 3  Trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live dwell in the land and prosper.

Vs 4 Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Vs 5 Commit everything you do to the Lord, Trust him and he will help you. 

7 Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. 

Are you hurting and hungry today? What is the act of trust you must take? Can you believe he has gone before you? That he has made provisions for your good as he did for Ruth, Naomi, Boaz and even Jesus? 

Can you take delight in him knowing he saw this difficulty coming and has already made a way through it? Do you trust him with your heart’s desires? Can you commit this pain or worry to him and just be still? Can you wait for him to act?  

This is a big ask, but I know He has not forgotten or overlooked you. He is the God who sees all and sees you and precedes all and prepares you.

He will come through, just keep your eyes and your hands open. He has already put things in place and is right now setting things in motion  to make a way for you, a bountiful harvest.

And you will be able to just glean, to just pick up the bounty off the battlefield. There will be fruit leftover because He always wins the war and His harvest is so large and he is so generous!

Do you believe it? Just watch, just wait, the battle is waged, the heavens are set, the table is being prepared…all for you. 

“The Lord who goes before you will fight on your behalf” (Deut. 1:30) 

Heaven has gone ahead of you and is fighting right now for you. 

Just as it was fighting for Naomi and Ruth as they were hurting and hungry, just as it was fighting for Boaz as he was single and lonely, just as it was fighting for Jesus as he hung on the cross….And bounty came from all their pain. 

God is always before us, always aware of us, making provisions for our good. God is timeless. He is setting things up in the heavens and on the earth that will benefit and bless and provide bounty for us. He has done things in the past, in his secret space, that we are only realizing today. 

Psalm 139:5 “You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing upon my head.” Bounty

 

The Power of No

We just wrapped up Spring baseball. Concession stands and bleachers. Baseball bats and dirty pants. We had a lot of fun, but we also saw some disappointment. We made it to the county tournament but then lost the first tournament game. As the coach gathered the team together,  I watched and listened. I saw the boy’s long faces, heard the parent’s angst, and then the coach began to speak. He said great things: “Yes, they worked hard; Yes, they improved”, but what I remember most are the No’s: “No, we did not win, No, I do not have trophies for you.”

He said No a lot this season. “No, you can no longer play third base because you weren’t focused. No, you cannot goof off when I am speaking because I have important things to say. No I am not your friend, I am your coach.” He seemed a little harsh at first, but then I grew to respect his method.

Through Spring ball, I realized, my boy needs a little more No in his life. Maybe I do too…

I am also watching and listening to the adolescents in my counseling practice. They  are struggling with their No’s. Many of these kids have mostly been told Yes all their life. Now that No has shown up, they are in my office and they cannot cope. They do not know how to struggle well, how to even handle a No.

They are hearing: “No, I will not be your friend, No, I will no longer date you, No, you did not pass the test, No you did not make the team. No, you did not get the job, No, we are not staying married”…and they are lost.

They are overwhelmed, overindulged and underprepared… No and struggle scare them to death, literally. Suicide and self harm have become coping skills for these kids.  

I am watching and listening…and I am wondering…what can I offer my kids and my clients? I am watching and listening and I am trying to learn. Why don’t these kids know how to struggle, to handle the No? How well do I handle No?

No has purpose.

Struggle is a part of life, scripture promises its arrival. So why do we avoid it like the plague and keep our kids from experiencing it? Why is the No so hard? Even the seasons have a winter and it comes every year. The day leaves us for night, darkness is around the corner consistently.

What if we grew through the struggle? Spring growth comes after winter, and morning is always there after the dark hours. What if the No, the struggle, the dark, the winter,  served a great purpose for us, for our kids? What if we stopped trying so hard to keep them from the struggle, and let it serve it’s lesson?

No prepares us.

I think this starts with me. I cannot take them further than I’ve gone myself. It can start with letting my kids see me struggle and honor God in the midst of it, letting them see me handle a No well, letting them see No draw me closer to Jesus.

After all, I am raising them up to send them out.

The older they get the more No will hit them, the more struggle sneaks in. And I want them strong enough to handle it, to grow from it, to be prepared for what’s ahead.

No protects us.

As a mom, what does this No look like? Am I honoring God with my schedule, my finances, my relationships? Are there enough Nos in these areas? Have I said Yes to too much? Have I set good boundaries with others, with my kids? Am I allowing No to protect my family? Do they know when or how to say No?

No has power.

I don’t always like it. I wish it was endless summer, I wish it was always Yes, but that isn’t how the world works and that isn’t how God works. So why would I make my kids think that is so?

They are also watching and listening…and learning. They learn about struggle from us. They learn how to walk the tough road by watching us limp and bleed and then hold their hand when they are limping and bleeding. Good and hard can go together.

No can teach us things and struggle leads to surrender and surrender leads to life, which is what Christ modeled for us. He said No to his kingdom, No to his wealth, No to temptation and Yes to death.  He limped and He bled, and the world was watching and listening. His No led to the power that raised Him from the dead, the same power that we have access to. He embraced No so that he could say Yes to us.

2  Cor. 4:17 “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Psalm 119:71 “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Romans 5:3 “We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”

 

 

Table Talk

Our kitchen table… Chris and I bought it around 18 years ago, soon after we married. We really couldn’t afford it, but Chris really wanted this expensive, Ethan Allen kitchen table… so, the two broke newlyweds bought it with the tax return check that had not yet come in the mail. Well, the check never came, in fact we owed tax money. So we sat, even more broke, at that fancy table and ate PB&Js until we paid it off.

We still sit at this table. We have added the leaf extension, added some chairs, added some kids. The paint is peeling, there are spaghetti and play-do stains that I cannot remove. There are sticky spots and dents. I refuse to replace it until the boys are older…what’s the point in spending money on another table that they will destroy? We have had lots of meals at this table, with family, with friends, lots of good conversations, laughs, some tears.

Research shows that tables are good for us, it’s good for our hearts and our heads to sit together, to carve out some moments to look at other faces, eat good food and commune.

The table grounds us, draws us all in. We remember, we rejoice at the table.

There has been a lot of table language, table talk, floating around in Christian culture recently. Have you heard it? Books, songs, signs… “all are welcome at the table, come to the table, you have a seat here”….Psalm 23 and Luke 14 discuss table talk…Jesus has prepared a table for us, and all are invited, a banqueting table, a table with a feast.

However, this morning, the lyrics of this song sat with me…the lyrics discussed another table…the table where Jesus sat with his men, and explained the sacrifice he was about to make. 

In Mark 14:12-16 Jesus’s disciples ask him where they should consume the Passover meal. Jesus instructs them to find a certain man who “will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal. They went and found everything just as Jesus had said.”

This upper room, where Christ’s last meal on earth would take place did not even belong to him. It was a borrowed room with a borrowed table from a Jerusalem man. It was beside this borrowed table that Jesus washed feet. It was at this borrowed table that He sat in the presence of his enemy, Judas. It was at this borrowed table that he told of the sacrifice he would make, explained the cup, his blood, and the bread, his body.

The blood was the covenant between God and his people, poured out as a sacrifice for many (Mark 14: 24) the bread, his broken body, given up for us.

Here is where the lyrics got me:

“There’s a table that you’ve prepared for me in the presence of my enemies.

It’s your body and the blood you shed for me.

This is how I fight my battles…”

These lyrics are about  the Passover table, the borrowed table. The last thing Jesus did with his gathered men was to prepare them for their battles.

The table was prepared ahead for them, and he offered his body and his blood. This sacrifice forever defeated death and allows us to fight our battles…

He’s prepared us for the fight…whatever you are battling, he’s gone ahead of you…

He’s goes before us, just as he did these men. The table is ready, all we have to do is show up. His body and blood have been spilled, in the presence of our enemy… and this is how we fight our battles…with the weapons of his sacrifice.

This was a Passover table, a Passover meal, to remember the sacrifice, and he was the ultimate sacrifice.

There is a banquet table in heaven waiting for us, where we rejoice when we see our King again.

But there is a Passover table here, for now, as we battle, as we wait, as we use the power of his death and resurrection to defeat the enemy.

Tables are good for us, it’s good for our hearts and our heads to sit before Him, to carve out some moments to look at His face, eat of His word and commune with Him.

His table grounds us, draws us all in. We remember, we rejoice at His table….

This is how we fight our battles…because of what he offered at the table, his body, his blood, because of what he offered on the cross…