Remember the Laura Story song, “Blessings“? It’s tough to listen to it without crying – because, if you’ve walked with God for any length of time, you understand the truth of those lyrics: “What if your blessings come through raindrops/What if Your healing comes through tears/What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near/What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise”
I just experienced a “blessings” kind of weekend. It was Homecoming at our school – the school we moved to just last year. The school where, fifteen months ago, my kids were strangers. They were also heartbroken – this school is 2500 miles from “home” in Florida, where they had grown up, where they have deep friendships, where they are known and loved.
And, yet, in God’s grace, fifteen months later, my daughters were named as Homecoming royalty at this school! The “home” part gets me. God took what started as “raindrops”, “tears”, and “sleepless nights” and turned them into “mercies”.
The fact that they were royalty isn’t the great part (though, you have to admit, it’s pretty exciting!). What’s great is that God has given them friends and a sense of belonging….in fifteen months! He has given them not one, but two “homes”. And, best of all, both my daughters have shared that this move brought them closer to God and closer to each other.
Maybe you are in a “trials” part of life. If so, keep in mind that God has a purpose, even in this. He wants to bless you – He wants you to know Him better and experience Him in a deeper way. Don’t run from him during hard times. Run to Him. It is quite possible that this trial is a “mercy in disguise”.
I don’t have time to read my Bible everyday. I’m so busy, I have to pray on the run, while I’m doing my make-up or driving to school. Life is just SO busy…
I’d like to say these are things other people say. But those excuses have all come out of my mouth at one time. Or a hundred. And they sound good. And I can back them up with stories, proof, statistics…I have a husband, three kids, a full-time job…
But here’s the thing. I’m not so busy I can’t watch all eight episodes of “Stranger Things” in less than two weeks. I’m not too busy to check social media
twice a day, three times a day, a lot. I’m not too busy to read that new novel I just downloaded on my Kindle…
I make time for what is important. I use the “busy” excuse for what’s not.
It’s easy to use the “Busy” Myth to excuse ourselves from spending time with God. People around us sympathize with the excuse, and they totally buy it – because they’re using it, too!
But here’s the thing I have learned the hard way – I have been created to spend time with my Creator. I need to abide in Him, to learn from Him, to rest in Him. When I don’t, I am a miserable, cranky, ugly person who watches way too much TV and spends far more time on my phone than I should.
So girls (and any guys who might happen upon this), I am calling you out – don’t you dare say you’re too busy to spend time with God. You’re not! Your priorities are just out of whack. So turn off the television, put down the book, click off the social media sites, and open your Bible. You’ll be amazed at what you see.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” `Matthew 11:28
No matter what the self-help gurus say, we can’t do anything we want. We’re not all winners all the time. Some dreams will never come true. And we need to learn to deal with that. We need to know how to be losers.
Some of us will play softball for a whole season and never make contact with the ball (me). Some of us will try to draw a tree and have it be mistaken for fallopian tubes (also me). Some of us will never, ever be liked back by that cute boy in our Chemistry class (yep…me).
No matter how much our parents may try to protect us, we will all, at some point, fail. But – and here’s the important thing – that’s not only all right. It’s good.
That’s right. Losing is good. Because failure builds character in ways that winning cannot. And developing good character is far more important than winning.
Losing teaches us humility. It teaches us to think of others. It teaches us endurance, hope, compassion. And these are qualities that make us winners, not on the sports field or the stage, but in life.
Jesus didn’t spend any time at all talking about winning. He did spend a lot of time talking about serving. About sacrifice. He was treated like a loser by people He created! He could have put those folks in their place, brought down a lightning bolt on Herod’s head or had the earth swallow up Pontius Pilot. But he didn’t. Because “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
So, go ahead, be a loser! But do it right. None of this feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t make that goal or get that part or score that A. Ask God to help you honor Him in ALL things: good and bad, winning and losing. Lose the bad attitude and win a character that reflects Christ. Know that your worth isn’t found in what you can or cannot do, but in WHOSE you are!
I hate working out. Hate it. And don’t even think about scrolling down and offering advice on how to make it less hateful. I don’t want to hear it. Exercise is, I am sure, part of the curse. God could not have intended for us to have to exercise. There will be no gyms in Heaven.
However…I need to exercise. I used to exercise (on and off…more off than on) because I wanted to lose weight. Now, though, I have more a pressing motivation – if I don’t work out, my back hurts. See, my spine is fused, so my back muscles have to work a lot harder than regular folks whose vertebrae help carry the load. And, until this year, my muscles didn’t complain.
But, alas, my youth is evaporating and my muscles are no longer as cooperative as they used to be. In fact, those muscles started really yelling at me back in January. I was in pretty intense pain that lasted for a few months. I went to several doctors, had X-Rays, tried every remedy anyone offered. Then, I broke down and saw a chiropractor (which I never thought I’d do because I have like 3 working vertebrae – what’s the point?). But this guy felt my back and immediately recognized the problem – “Your muscles can no longer handle the pressure. You need to work out.”
But intense pain will make a person do anything. So I bought a membership to our local gym and began working out with my husband – who does not hate exercise. Nor does he hate telling me what to do. So he saw me lifting the 2.5 lb weights and he walked over and added 5lbs to it, then 10lbs. My arms, back, and shoulders are weak. Anything over 2.5 lbs hurts, people. And I look like an idiot, breathing like I’m in labor to push 10lbs up when the Hulk across from me is bench pressing 1000.
But, Dave says, you’ll never strengthen those muscles by lifting 2.5 lbs. I have to add more weights, have to push harder, because the end goal is less back pain.
And it’s working.
But I still hate it.
I realized something, though, last night at the gym: God is to us in life what Dave is to me at the gym. He adds more “weight” to our lives, not because he is trying to punish us, but because our “spiritual muscles” are weak. He wants to make us stronger, better able to carry the burdens of life, to lift people up and carry them to Him. But we won’t naturally do what it takes to get stronger, so God helps us along. And it doesn’t always feel like help. Sometimes it really, really hurts. Often, we hate that “weight”. But His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Mt. 11:30). He is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31). As He is building our “muscles”, there may be discomfort, even embarrassment. But, in the end, we will be stronger and better equipped to fulfill His calling in our lives.
Parents and teens alike struggle with the question of dating. How old is “old enough”?
That’s easy. The answer is 30.
Kind of. Not that there’s anything wrong with waiting until 30. But just in case you don’t like that idea, here’s another, a little more complicated, solution:
There’s not an exact age.
But there are some questions you should ask yourself to determine whether or not you – or your child – are ready to date.
- Why do I want to date? If it’s because all your friends have boyfriends and you feel left out, because you feel prettier when you have a boyfriend, because you like the attention, or because you don’t like paying for movies – you’re not ready.
- Am I ready to think about marriage? I can hear the groans already. But seriously, if you are a young woman seeking after God, then dating is not a sport or a hobby or a science project. It is the way you get to know the young man who will eventually be your husband. Not that you should marry the first guy you date (though that’s pretty cool when it happens!), but that possibility should be there. If you’re not within 2-3 years of seriously considering marriage, then don’t date. You are setting yourself up for temptation and distraction – both of which can hinder your relationship with Jesus.
- Do I really understand I Corinthians 13? That’s the “love chapter” in the Bible. Know that chapter, memorize it, and then live it out with those close to you – your parents, your siblings, your friends. If you can’t get along with your little sister, if you and your parents fight every time you try to talk, if you constantly jump from friend group to friend group…you are not ready to date.
- Does this guy love Jesus? And I don’t just mean is he a Christian. The Bible says we are to be “equally yoked” – this is more than just sharing the same basic faith. You, hopefully, are someone who is passionate about knowing and serving Jesus. You want a spouse with the same passion. Don’t settle for anything less, I don’t care how hot he is.
- What do my parents think? If your parents say you can’t date, then you can’t date. That’s where our daughters, ages 15 & 17 are. We aren’t trying to, as my younger daughter jokes, force them to “commit social suicide”. We are trying to help them focus first on their relationship with Jesus so they will be ready to make godly choices when the time comes for them to start dating…Age 30 ;). Also, if your parents don’t like the guy you like, trust their judgment. If they’re wrong, and that really is the guy for you, God will work it out. In his time. He is all-powerful, after all.
Dating is fun, and the memories you make dating your future spouse are sweet. But don’t rush it. You might feel like you HAVE to date, that this guy you’re crushing on is the best thing since Snapchat. But even what we think is the best is nothing compared to what God has planned for us. Wait for God’s guy in God’s time.
“Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe—and you’re ready. ” Song of Songs 2:7 The Message
Most girls crave relationships. We want to be known and loved and thought about. We want to share our feelings, our ups and downs, our questions and frustrations with those who will listen and understand. We spend hours watching movies and TV shows that glorify these kinds of relationships – perfect marriages and friendships where brief struggles are resolved and everyone lives happily ever after.
The reality, of course, is that friendships aren’t always beautiful, and marriage isn’t always perfect. There are glimpses of beauty, of course, and moments of perfection in these relationships. But anytime sinful humans are involved, there will be tears, frustrations, annoyances…Our friends can be draining, our guys can be insensitive. Or vice-versa! Feelings get hurt, we say things we regret. What we thought was the “perfect” relationship, we realize, is flawed. Disappointing. So we “start over” with another friend, another guy. But no one can live up to unrealistic, super-human expectations. So the cycle continues.
UNLESS we understand this: What we are craving – a soul-deep, unconditional love – is already ours! The God who created us gave us those cravings, and they will only be fully satisfied in Him. Not even the greatest of BFF’s or the most amazing of boyfriends/husbands can truly meet all our needs. They aren’t supposed to! In fact, one of the greatest paradoxes in life is that the more we try to find fulfillment in another person, the more empty we feel.
However, when we fully surrender to the One who loves us more than we can possibly imagine, we find everything we are looking for. We find true, soul-deep, unconditional love. And God’s love in us allows us to love others without unrealistic expectations. God’s love in us allows us to forgive offenses and be patient with shortcomings and always hope for the best. It even allows us to walk away, if a relationship is destructive. Because the only One we “need” is the One who will never leave us, forsake us, or let us down.
So, as you consider what your #relationshipgoals are, don’t look around. Look up. The “one” is already there, already loving you and listening to you and knowing you. You already have what you want.
A former pastor used to say we’re all either entering a trial, exiting a trial, or in the middle of a trial.
It sounds pretty rough, I know. But those of us who have been walking with the Lord for a while know this is true. And, honestly, as I look back on a quarter century as a Christian, I realize that the times I feel closest to God is when I am in the middle of a trial. It’s in those times, difficult as they are, that I am desperate for Him. I need time in His word, in prayer, in fellowship with others, to get through each day. I know God allows trials, in part, to do that – draw us to Him, remind us that He is our strength.
But what about the in-between times? I’m there right now – though I’m slightly afraid to admit it. (As if I could “jinx” myself. Silly.) I am, in my former pastor’s words, “between storms”. The “storm” of moving and the difficulties involved in that have abated. The storm of having my first child leave the nest is on the horizon, but it’s not here yet. Life is pretty easy right now.
And that’s the problem.
I find myself pushing “Snooze” when I should be getting up and spending time with God. I allow my thoughts to drift to lesson plans and grocery lists during church. I choose staying home and reading over getting together with friends. I don’t “need” those things. So I do my own thing.
As a result, I am feeling distant from God. I am missing the passion I have when I’m in the “fire” – not that I want to be there! But I do want that closeness, that longing for God, that nearness to Him. I don’t want to have to enter a storm to force me to His side. I want to live there, to dwell in the shadow of His wings.
After 25 years of knowing Jesus, I feel like I should be better at this! And there is certainly growth, don’t get me wrong. But I still get lazy, complacent. I still allow the fire of passion to get dulled in the daily routine of a comfortable life.
In short, I still need Jesus. Even in the “in-between”.
We’ve all been there. Someone we care deeply about is contemplating – or actively pursuing – something (or someone!) terrible. What do we do?
As a confrontation-hater, I like to “just pray about it” and avoid the person. God can change them, right? And He is in control. So He will make sure that loved one gets the message. I’ll jump back in once God has done His thing….Until, as a confrontation-hater-that-occasionally-explodes, I just can’t take it anymore and then I say something I deeply regret.
This strategy doesn’t really work all that well.
And it’s definitely not biblical.
God certainly calls us to pray for our brothers and sisters. But we are also called to action. Galatian 6:1 tells us that believers should seek to restore someone who is in sin. Matthew 18 shows us how to do it: 1) confront the person one-on-one 2) if he/she doesn’t listen, bring in another person 3) if the person still doesn’t listen, bring him/her before the church.
God takes sin seriously. Sin keeps us from fully experiencing His purpose in our lives, from doing what God has called us to do, from knowing Him. How can we say we love someone, then, if we allow him/her to continue in sin? If we “just pray about it”, but do nothing to stop him/her?
This means that even us confrontation-haters need to confront – one-on-one first, then with someone else, if that isn’t effective. We need to be willing to bring in church leaders, as necessary, if the second step fails.
We don’t do this because we’re angry or harsh or judgmental, but because we love people too much to allow them to continue down a path that will destroy them. Occasionally, this means that we have to establish boundaries that mean a relationship is put on hold. Again, not because we are angry or trying to hurt someone, but because sin is serious. We are called to reflect God in every way – His love and His righteousness.
Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” Sometimes, the greatest love we can show someone is to refuse to enable them to continue walking down a path that will destroy them.
When I began my AP Literature class this week, I told the students the key to success in that class can be stated in two words…
Students who rush through the AP readings (complex literature with many layers) miss most of what the passages are about and can rarely analyze the passages correctly. But students are so conditioned to rushing through so much of life – the downside of having the world at your fingertips – that the idea of slowing down is foreign.
As I wrote those words on the board (Hangman-style, as requested by the students), I realized that I need to follow my own advice. Not for AP Lit, but for life. I tend to rush through much of my day. I multitask far too often and still find tasks that I have forgotten. I finish one day while planning the next. Too often, I only half-listen to my husband when he talks to me because my mind is somewhere else – where are the kids? Did I leave the coffee maker on? Did I make the copies that I need for tomorrow…?
I need to slow down. To enjoy each moment. I don’t want to keep looking back at my days and realize I spent them distracted rather than engaged. There’s nothing wrong with planning. But rushing in life, as in AP Lit, can keep me from missing the true beauty right in front of me. It can prevent me from enjoying the people God has placed in my life right now.
Worse, it can keep me from God Himself. When I am rushing, I fly through my Bible study and prayer time because I am thinking of what comes next. How many lessons has God wanted to teach me, lately, that I have missed because I am not slowing down and listening to His voice? How many people has He placed in my path that I have ignored because I am too involved in my own plans to consider His?
This teacher needs to follow her own advice and Slow. Down. Enjoy each day because God hasn’t promised us tomorrow. And because tomorrow has enough worries of its own. And because God is here, today, and He has plans for me today.
Maybe you need this reminder, too. It’s so easy to rush, so easy to be distracted. So incredibly easy to focus on the temporal and neglect the eternal. But there is a remedy: Slow. Down.
“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Ps. 118:24 (emphasis mine)
Several years ago, my friend Amy told me about a book she read that discussed how parents celebrate the “firsts”, but often miss the “lasts”. Usually it’s because we don’t know when those “lasts” will be…the last time we read a book to our child in bed, the last lost tooth, the last Band-Aid we apply.
Tomorrow, however, is a “last” that I am very aware of. Tomorrow is Emma’s last “first day” of school.* That also means that, after more than decade, it’s the last day all three of my kids will start the same school together.
This is the last year we’ll have a “first day” picture with all three kids, the last year my girls will play volleyball together, the last time I’ll teach Emma in my English class, most likely the last time I’ll direct her in a play.
All our lives will be different next year. Ellie and Thomas don’t know a world without Emma in it daily. And, while I am aware this is part of the “deal” as a parent, knowing that my nest will soon be emptying is a sad thought. My kids are two years apart – by the time I get over Emma leaving, Ellie will be a senior. Then Thomas…
These pictures are from the kids’ first day at school (in Madrid, Spain) – the first time all three were in school together. It is hard to believe I took those 10 years ago. Hard to believe we’ve been to three different schools since then, moved across the Atlantic and across the US. Hard to believe those adorable little babies are now all amazing teens on the brink of adulthood.
So I am celebrating this “last”. I am pausing to thank God for the years He has given me to parent my children, to buy school supplies and go to volleyball games and kiss hurts and host slumber parties. I am thankful for kids who love Jesus and love each other and bring us joy. I am thankful that, while this may be a “last”, Lord willing, there will be many, many more “firsts” to come.
*We are on a modified year-round schedule: school starts in July and ends in May.