“Train a child in the right way, and when she is older, she will not stray from it…” – Proverbs 22:6
So I have been spending much time, thought, and prayer into this question of what it means to live fully. And today I have one clearly defining answer. Because today, I celebrate my oldest child’s 13th birthday.
We began this day like all other birthdays in our house. With a celebratory breakfast, presents, and cake (or in her case, pie) for breakfast. We do this for all of us, because, maybe like some of you, we may not all be home together for dinner. A sad commentary, but a reality in our busy lives. So breakfast it is.
And for this all-important move into adulthood, one of her gifts was a brand new investment account, all her own, with cash ready for her to learn how investments work. We will spend the precious few years we have left with her (ONLY FIVE!!!) teaching her how to manage her own portfolio.
When my son, 11, asked me if he too would receive his own account at 13. I told him that, yes, that was my plan. As he began planning what he would do with his “riches,” I explained something very important to him. And I realized that it is one of my highest callings in this life.
I explained that we would not just be “giving him money.” But, instead, as his mom, it was my calling to teach him and his sister three critical things in this life before they leave home:
If I do those three things, then I will have prepared them for life. Because everything else flows from these three disciplines: compassion, good relationships, good citizenship, independence, good decision and problem-solving skills – the list goes on.
Some of you may disagree, and that’s ok. But for me, it is crystal clear that I don’t have a lot of time left. And I have a lot teach about daily life, along with the spiritual and the relational. And I don’t believe that God would have given me these two gifts without expecting me to make caring for them my top priority.
A side note, I don’t believe that caring for them means doing everything for them. I believe it means teaching them to do for themselves. I believe it means creating an environment where I model how to live a disciple’s life, and encourage them to develop their own faith. It means making sure they can cook their own meals, clean their own homes, and make their own doctor appointments. It means helping them to learn to deal with difficult people, disappointing circumstances, and hard choices. And yes, it means teaching them to work for what they get and to take care of it once they have it.
This might not seem like a great life ambition to some. But to me, with only FIVE YEARS left, it seems pretty sacred. From here on out, I will live as a teacher.
“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved; and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. I AM the Good Shepherd.” John 10:9-11
It has been a couple of years since my last post. Seminary, work, raising kids has taken all I had to give for quite some time. But praise God I finally finished seminary. And I was fortunate enough to become provisionally ordained in the United Methodist Church a couple of months ago. And I find myself finally able to breathe again after years of stress and deadlines. My mind is opening up, and my soul is renewing. And today, I felt like reconnecting through this channel. I love engaging with folks this way. At one time, there were many that shared thoughts, prayers, and reflections through this venue, that would have otherwise, never have met. I would very much like to see that again.
I am in a stage of transition. And those times can be difficult. They are confusing, and some days I don’t know what to do with myself. But God is always there speaking. So I thought I would share what He is saying to me now. My friend, Shannon Hancock, posted this on her yoga FaceBook page a few days ago. And it was exactly what I needed to hear:
“You have mastered survival mode. Now it’s time to live.”
Wow. That hit me so profoundly because that is what my therapist has been pounding into our conversations for the past few months. You may think that is funny. Me too. But the fact is, I have lived in survival mode for most of my life; always working as hard as I possibly can, always worrying about the next thing; never being truly at peace. Always, always striving toward the next thing…
But now my gracious Savior is speaking something new into my life. He tells me it’s time to stop surviving and start living. I honestly don’t know what that exactly means. But I am really looking forward to spending the rest of my days listening and finding out. He is giving me the most gracious gift of this transition time, and he is speaking peace into my soul.
So I am going to listen deeply, share what I hear, and hope to be an encouragement to my brothers and sisters out there that might be seeking the same.
My Good Shepherd,
All glory and honor and praise to You, my Lord. You lead me beside still waters, You make me lie down in green pastures because I don’t have the sense to do it myself, You restore my soul. Teach me to live and live well. Show me the abundance You create for me. Quiet my mind from everything that pulls me deeper into the world, and help me to learn what it means to truly live instead of just survive.
So, it’s springtime in Alabama. Flowers are blooming everywhere, birds are singing… I am existing on a healthy diet of Zyrtec, Mucinex, and Robitussin… I love spring but hate allergy season. How can I feel as if I am drowning at the same I am so thirsty and can’t speak? Antihistamines are ok I guess, but I have been walking around feeling severely dehydrated for about a week. So I am constantly looking for something to drink.
I was meditating this morning over Jesus hanging on that cross. He said so few words, however, one thing He said stays with me: “I thirst.”
Of course he was thirsty, between the blood loss from flogging, the physical exertion of carrying the cross, and the ever-present dust in that desert, I can imagine his thirst was like nothing I have ever experienced. It had to be torturous.
So I stayed with that image for a while, thinking about his reason for willingly being there. – So I wouldn’t have to. Plain and simple. My Savior decided to go through that torture so that I would not experience the price for my sins. How do I make peace with that?
Just for kicks, I walked around my house looking for liquid. Orange juice? bottled water?? Hmm. 3 kinds of gatorade… sweet tea? YUM! There it is… Dr. Pepper! YES! Ahhhh, I am a new person.
I had over 17 different beverage choices in my house to quench that thirst this morning. 17! And had never thought twice about what a luxury I had. Some people might find themselves feeling guilty for it. “There was Jesus hanging on a cross for me, with no water to drink. Here I am a sinner, with more than I can consume… How awful is that?”
But I don’t think those words were given to us in the Bible to make us feel guilty. I believe they had another purpose. Jesus tells us in John chapter 10 that He came, “So we could have life and have it abundantly.” He didn’t say, that we were going to have to scrape the dismal ground to get by. (Although, I feel like I have been there too at times…)
No friends, much like a parent, Jesus chose to sacrifice Himself, and He wants better for us. I don’t think He begrudges us some of the little pleasures in life. However, that is not the message I get from this scripture either.
What I take away from that passage is that Jesus was human. He understood our most basic physical needs, more so than some of us. And in His grace and mercy, He wants to provide them for us. We may never be wealthy, but I do believe He wants to shower us with necessities and extravagances (every now and then…) because He loves us that much. He wants us to trust Him to provide. He wants us to run to Him with our worries and needs. What is stopping us friends?
Do we fear rejection? Do we fear showing weakness? Do we fear that He is unable to provide for us?
Do yourself a favor. Walk around your home. Pay attention to the small things that make your life good, easier, more comfortable… Then consider the source of all your gifts and ask yourself, “What should I be asking for?” “Is there something else He wants to give me?” Joy, Peace, Contentment… He is the giver of all good gifts. He is faithful to supply our every need if we leave it in His hands.
Forgive us when we don’t notice the multitude of good things you send our way. Help us to be aware of your presence in our lives and homes. Speak to us in ways that we can understand, and lead us into a more trusting relationship with You. Thank You, Lord, for all the things we don’t even see.
In Christ’s name we pray,
“I thank my God every time I remember you,…” – Philippians 1:3
I was returning home this morning from taking my kids to school, and I was flooded by memories of my grandmother. That was kind of surprising, but I stopped my car in the driveway and just let the memories flow. I have to admit, I don’t think of her that often. She passed away 15 years ago, a lifetime considering how far I have traveled down life’s path in that period.
But, as I sat there, the biggest smile came to my face and heart as I remembered specific encounters with her. She was not a television caricature of a grandmotherly figure. She wasn’t a sweet, little old lady making cookies every afternoon. However, she did make a chocolate cake to die for.
Instead, my grandmother had a hard edge to her. No doubt, she was a result of her upbringing during the Depression and such. I knew she loved me fiercely, but not in a warm and fuzzy kind of way. She took bluntness to an almost offensive level. She never sugar-coated anything. She always spoke the truth (as she saw it,) and never seemed to take your feelings in account when doing so. (Memories of “He’s just not that into you…” are flooding through my mind.). She wasn’t malicious, just honest.
She was the hardest worker I have ever met in my life. She was always working. If not at her job, then in her garden, her kitchen, anywhere she was, needed something done. She rose at 5:30 each morning, cooked breakfast and set off to work. And she didn’t stop until late that evening.
She occupied herself with caring for my brother and me. I just realized this morning what a stabilizing presence she was for us in what, many times, was and unstable childhood. I spent every weekend with her from the age of ??? until I was 15. Weekends filled with favorite foods, favorite tv shows, and anything else I wanted. I remember distinctly going to the dime store for banana icees and lollipops bigger than your head. She took me to see my first movie, Snow White, when I was around 6. She read me the same book before bed for years, because it was the one I wanted.
Living in a small town, all our high school ball games were broadcast on the radio. So even when she couldn’t make it to a basketball game, I knew she had sat by her radio listening, because later, she would discuss what the announcers had to say about my performance. She probably didn’t understand everything she heard, but her heart was there.
She sure didn’t mind sharing her opinions about the people I dated. And she was wide open on stressing the dangers of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, wild parties and the backseats of cars! Nothing was off limits for her.
But here was the greatest things about her: she loved me, no matter what. She had this unconditional love that was steadfast, never-wavering, and always looking out for my best interest. I am convinced that she would have loved me the same whether in her living room or visiting me in prison. I won’t say she always believed the best about me, her honesty made sure of that. She never thought I was perfect, however, regardless of where I was in life, she loved me anyway.
What a perfect model for understanding my Savior. I can understand His love for me, because I have experienced it with her. I believe in His unchanging love and ever-flowing grace because I have experienced it with her. And, like my grandmother, Jesus is self-sacrificing, always looking out for my best interest. He is my safe harbor in the midst of the storm and the place that I run to when in need someone to love me unconditionally. Just like her.
I hope that you have someone in your life that represents that kind of love. If you do, maybe spend some time remembering today. Or even better, if they are still with us, call them up and say thank you. God places those “channels of grace” in our lives to bless us. May we be forever thankful for them.
Thank you for my grandmother. Thank you for reminding me of her today, and showing me how very much I was loved as a child. What some wonderful memories. Help me to love with the same steadfastness as she did. And lead me to be a grace dispenser to those most important in my world.
In Jesus’ name I pray,
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” – Luke 23:25-28
So, according to Jesus, this is the key to life. The greatest commandment. But what does it mean? How can I love God with everything I have? As a good friend reiterated to me a couple of days ago, “You can’t give an “A” effort to everything.” And she is right.
So how does my devotion to God work with family, work, school, and all the other things that are important in life? I don’t have all the answers, but I do think I took a step closer to understanding this week.
First of all, I work for a church. I have the great privilege of working with a whole group of holy people, of which I am the very, very least. But their influence is good on me. So you would think I would be on top of things spiritually, but to tell the truth, I am not.
For Lent, our church offered a do-at-home, Bible study for families. I admit, my family has never done an actual Bible study together (CHURCH WORKER ALERT!). My only consolation is that possibly some of my dentist friends have children with cavities. But my spiritual failings as a parent are not at issue here (maybe??.)
So we decided we would be faithful and do the study together. It is on the Gospel of John. Things started off wonderfully. We sat down after dinner Sunday night, opened our Bibles, and one by one, began to read chapter 1.
It was amazing! I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to sit there, for over an hour, with my children and listening to their thoughts about these sacred words. I was inspired by their depth of knowledge (Thank you Sunday School Teachers!) and their eagerness to be there. I was so thankful that we were doing this together. Surely this was something that would be easy to continue for the remainder of Lent, for we all enjoyed it so. This would be great!
Then Monday happened. We got up, rushed to work and school, ran home, started laundry, started dinner, started homework…. And as we were cleaning up for dinner, the thought occurred to me, “We all feel terrible, it’s late, we will just skip tonight and catch up tomorrow.” The truth was, allergies and some other issues had hit us hard that day, and we did all feel pretty much like doing nothing. Plainly put, I was just weary and in a bad mood. It wouldn’t hurt to miss a night. We will catch up.
However, my ailing children had other ideas. We were going to do that Bible study, sniffles, sneezes, coughs and everything else! I am ashamed to say that I tried to talk them out of it; reasoning that we all needed our rest. They would have none of it.
So out the Bibles came. We read, prayed and discussed. And it was wonderful. It renewed my soul. I had fun with my kids, again listening to what their thoughts were. We held hands and prayed. We not only prayed for our own needs, but some of those we knew of in the community. It was the best thing I had done in a long time. And I don’t know if the kids enjoyed it so much because we were doing something together, or if they were just that excited to read the Bible. But either way, their enthusiasm was contagious. I was thankful they had insisted. Because, with just a little resistance, I was more than willing to let that opportunity pass us by.
So, what does the scripture above mean for me? By not allowing ourselves to focus on the negative, (We can’t because….,) we were blessed. By staying with the positive (We will, regardless…) my soul was refreshed with new life. It wasn’t easy, it took what seemed to be the last of my strength that day. But Jesus was there and He was faithful. I think I am beginning to see…
Peace my friends.
Most gracious Lord,
Thank you for continuing to strengthen and encourage my family. Our hearts are willing, but our minds are weak. Forgive me, for putting all other things first. Have mercy on me, and continue to lead me into faithfulness, especially when it isn’t easy. Thank you, for your work in my children’s lives. Help me to live as a better example and teacher for them.
In your precious name I pray,
“Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing…” – Luke 23:35
One of my most favorite activities is a Monday morning contemplative prayer group that meets at our church. It is a time of deep reflection and conversation with God. I was there this morning and had such an experience that I just had to share it with my brothers and sisters.
Our meditation this morning was on Luke 23:35. Those unforgettable words of grace that Jesus spoke from the cross, “forgive them…” Our meditation to begin this Lenten season was the question,
“Lord Jesus, make me aware of anything I have done unknowingly to create a barrier between us.”
A great beginning of conviction, confession and repentance for the season.
I left our prayer chapel and begin walking into the back yard of our church. I had a special place in mind to go and contemplate the vastness of Christ’s grace. Almost skipping along, I was praising my Jesus because, as the good Christian I am, I always try to do the right thing. I would NEVER intentionally sin (right???) But my Savior, Jesus, he has my back. Even when I, UNKNOWINGLY, make a mistake He is right there to forgive and forget. So all is good and I can go merrily on my way. I serve a great God.
So I prayed my prayer, asking Him to forgive me of my unknown faults and looked forward to sitting out on a bench with Him telling me what great job I was doing. But something else happened. As I walked across the back yard, I was strongly re-routed to our prayer trail. I physically somewhat felt a force saying, “go here.” So I turned up the hill and encountered something that stopped me in my tracks. Our trail is lined with scripture signs, all chosen by our church family when the church building was erected nearly 10 years ago. Each one coming from the heart of God. This is the sign to which he led me:
Well that is a bucket of cold water on my good mood! At first I wanted to protest. I don’t judge people. I am a grace-filled Christian that loves everybody. All my friends tell me so!
But, in my heart, I know that is not true. In my heart, as I stood there, listening to what my Lord had to say to me, I knew that He was speaking truth. I am doing my best, yes, but I still have so far to go if I am to be the person He wants me to be. He calls me to be a grace dispenser in the world; to show every person the love He has for them. I fear I may never get there. But I trust in that vast grace to catch me when I fail.
These types conversations with Jesus are not easy, and they are rarely pleasant. But friends, they are so necessary. I want to walk with Jesus. I want to have a real relationship with Him. But that means getting past the superficial conversations that help me to pretend I’m OK. That means listening when He tries to point me in the right direction, and not protesting that I am already there. It means letting go of my pride, and clinging to grace offered me by His divine perfection. By protesting my innocence, I live a lie. But I am only lying to myself, because He already knows my heart and my attitudes. The road to true humility is a hard one friends.
Let’s do ourselves a favor for the next few weeks, beloveds. Let’s take off the masks. Let’s approach Jesus in all honesty and humility and just listen to what He has to say. I believe in doing so, we can be transformed as never before. Let this be our new beginning…
Your grace is incomprehensible. I like to think of it as a warm, fuzzy blanket. But today, in your righteousness, it is more a cold shower of reality. Speak to my heart, Lord. And keep speaking until it is changed. Cloak me in humility, so that I might listen instead of reject you. I praise You. For You are the God of second chances. Thank you for never giving up on me.
In Your holy name I pray,
“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.
With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
As we come fully into our journey this Lenten season, I have one piece of advice.
Hopefully, through prayerful consideration, you have made some decisions as to how you will drawn near to Christ over the next six weeks. Some of us will give something of value up: fasting, resources, time, etc. Some of us will take on a new activity: Bible study, prayer time, or serving.
Whatever the Spirit has led us to, it will be good. However, I want to remind us all why we are making such efforts (outside our norms) for this time. These activities are, each one, a means of grace; a way for our Lord in heaven to reach out to us. They are channels that He will use to speak with us, to transform us, and change our hearts.
Notice I said, “He will use…” This is an important point. Don’t miss it. When we make choices to change our behavior, many times those changes become an eventual burden, a means for disappointment in ourselves and an eventual feeling of failure. Much like the proverbial New Years resolution, most of the time within a few weeks we give up and feel a sense of “why even try, I can’t do this…”
However, spiritual practices are the exact opposite of New Years resolutions. Spiritual practices are led and fueled by the Holy Spirit; not our own resolve. They are God’s way of ministering to us. They are not some test of will He demands of us to test our faithfulness. They are an expression of His perfect faithfulness toward us.
So, my friends, when the inevitable happens: you miss your prayer time, you don’t have time to read your Bible, you eat the cake… Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t give up. Accept the grace that is being offered to you by our loving Father, and try again. He will stay with you. And He won’t judge you for slip ups. He applauds you for your efforts, and runs to meet you wherever you are. You are beloved, not condemned.
Consider this, Lent is a great starting point for a lifetime of walking closely with our Savior. It isn’t a one and done proposition. Let this time be one of permanent transformation. And don’t worry, God has promised to do the heavy lifting for you. Just relax, soak in the blessings, and do the best you can. Our God is faithful to pick up the pieces when we fall. Remember this is a time of powerfully over-flowing grace; not one of condemnation. Embrace your weakness and accept all the love that God wants to give you.
With much grace my friends.
You do love me with an everlasting love. How can I thank you for this? I am overwhelmed by your faithfulness toward me. Help me, Lord, to follow You more faithfully this Lenten season. Show me what I should do, and empower me to do it. Thank you for not holding my failed attempts against me. And help me to remember, that my strength always comes directly from You.
In Your almighty name I pray,