Monday, August 24, 2015

Cling Tightly

“Cling tightly to the Lord your God as you have done until now.” These words sit in my mind and heart on Day 1 of Relentless (The Epic Story of a Hardhearted People, Their Warrior God and His Unstoppable Love). This very first day of an unexpected study has forced me to come face-to-face with emotions and thoughts I’d rather leave buried.

Unlike many participating in this study with Hello Mornings, I didn’t start my day with the Book of Judges. Since solitude is a soul exercise I am working to familiarize myself with, I waited until everyone was off to school and work for the day so I could be alone in the quiet. I pushed aside the to-do list. I resisted the urge to exchange shouts with the world and embraced whispers with God instead.

With my Bible open, God was welcomed access to my heart. I contemplated every question and participated fully by completing the timeline. As pain began to pang my heart when faced with my past, I welcomed it. God reminded me of Ezekiel 36:26 which He used once before to do a work in me. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

I sat and wrote about my emotions and past and present day. My mind kept recalling the dirty dishes and laundry; the walk I scheduled into my day; the agenda of the week. My heart begged for more of this moment. More God. More quiet. More disentangling the mess inside my soul. 

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

Most days my life is full of noise. The kids wake up talking. Television numbs our minds. Technology distracts from our souls. My husband’s agenda doesn’t align with mine. Phones ring. Texts ping. Traffic. News. My mind is like a scrolling marquee of thoughts all day long.

Unless I am intentional, quiet and stillness will never enter my day.

I know that without solitude, the world and my mind obstruct my relationship with God. It is in solitude that I remember. All the distractions in this world make it easy to forget what God has done in my life. I wonder if that’s what happened to Israel.

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things He had done for Israel.” – Judges 2:10

The people of Israel were to remember all the mighty things God had done for them. God commanded them to talk about them often. Their children were to be reminded of the great things He had done. Yet they forget God. They didn’t remember that He had parted the Red Sea; that He brought them into the Promised Land; that He is the Giver of all good things.

The same happens to me and it’s why I must practice solitude. The shouts of the world are too loud and too accessible. Wake up in the morning and turn on the television. Get out of bed and check Facebook or other social media. Answer texts. Return phone calls. Demands. Demands. Demands. It’s a world of shouting that doesn’t welcome God.

Through Relentless this morning, I was reminded not only to welcome God into my day but to cling tightly to Him. Solitude is the best way for me personally to do this. Communication with God through His Word, the Bible, and prayer along with quiet rest. Are you in need of solitude so you can cling tightly to the Lord your God? 

You can get your copy of Relentless here or sign up with an accountability group here. I'd love to discuss what God is whispering to your heart as well! Let me know by commenting below. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Duggar and Daughters

Duggar and Daughters. Two words that will certainly get some emotions stirring. Even though most of us don’t know the family personally, this situation has a way of making it feel personal.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve even watched one episode of their reality television show. My experience with them is only from listening to Jim Bob and Michelle speak at a mom’s conference I attended. I went from thinking they were completely crazy to understanding their choices a bit. While I didn’t agree with them on every aspect, it seemed that they were doing their best to love God and love others.

The information that has flooded our homes lately comes to me from what has been written or broadcasted. I have zero firsthand information. I know there is always a bigger story than what is being reported but there are disturbing facts that cannot and are not being refuted that have made this situation explode. Truth or Tainted, my knowledge of the situation is much like yours.

This post is not to weigh in on any of the Duggars. I am not in their shoes and have no idea what they are feeling right now. Still, the situation has weighed heavy on my mind. My heart has grieved along with the public. If there is one place everyone agrees, it is that this is a sad situation… one that everyone wants to go back into time and change. Sadly, that cannot be done. Sin was chosen and the consequences are here. Therefore, we are left with the question “What now?” It’s a good question to wrestle with any time. What will we do with the mess placed in our laps? We all have them. It’s what we do with them that matters… because we cannot go back in time and undo what’s been done.

Most of my thoughts are those of gratitude. Very often, I find myself thanking God that each one of my children are girls. Not that this prevents this type of situation from happening, but it certainly diminishes the potential. I cannot imagine how any parent would be able to protect their children 100% of the time from every evil lurking out there. It’s just extra sad when it happens in our homes where we should be safe with the people that we should feel safe with.

So, here’s what I think is important for us to learn from this situation (even if it’s just for my heart and what I would say to my girls):

#1: Sin has consequences. An adolescent boy chose to sin and now he and everyone involved in his life have to experience the painful consequences. There are consequences for him. There are consequences for the girls involved. There are consequences for his parents and siblings and wife and children. There are consequences for everyone that knew him. And because he was a public figure, there are consequences to each of us. Sin has consequences. Every. Single. Time. We must keep this in mind when we are faced with choices. The world will tell you to do what feels right for you. However, God tells us there is a filter outside of ourselves for right and wrong. We are to filter things through His Word; not our feelings. What feels right to you, especially in the moment, may still be very, very wrong. Have you thought through the potential consequences of the choice you are about to make? “Youthful indiscretions” don’t give you a pass on consequences. Have you counted the cost?

#2: Forgiveness is powerful. The choice to forgive does not go back in time and undo the wrong. Forgiveness does, however, bring freedom to the soul and gives everyone involved the power to move forward. We don’t extend forgiveness because the perpetrator is deserving. It isn’t even required that our wrongdoer come forward; repent and seek forgiveness. Extending forgiveness is for our benefit. We forgive because God forgave us when we least deserved it. God is our ultimate example for life and love and He forgave us as He died unfairly on the cross (in our place). I once read a quote that gave me a great visual to prompt me to extend forgiveness when I want to hold tightly to a grudge. “Bitterness is like a hot coal. The longer and tighter it is held; the deeper the burn. Like a hot coal, bitterness will leave a scar that even time cannot erase.” Forgiveness allows us to heal. We may have to forgive over and over again to experience true freedom but it is in our best interest to choose forgiveness. Even when we feel like they don’t deserve it or the one who wronged us hasn’t apologized, we still need to choose to forgive.

#3: Redemption is possible. I don’t care who is shouting the loudest and what they are shouting. God says that He can redeem our pasts… no matter what is in them. Do we believe it or not? I don’t want to be labeled for the rest of my life by the sinful choices I made in my past. I want to be forgiven and move forward with God’s power to change me. I do believe that Josh Duggar can change. I don’t know him or if he has changed but I do believe change is possible. No, I don’t think a teenager needs to be forever labeled for their sinful choices… no matter what they are. (Although I do believe boundaries should be put in place.) We are all susceptible to different sins. Sadly, this was his. Forgiveness and boundaries; but not condemnation. Sometimes I wonder if we say we believe Jesus changes us but then we point fingers and say “Well, not you… you’re the exception. You’re sin was too bad.” God doesn’t make exceptions! He sent His son to die for each of us and wants to transform each of us to become more like Jesus. With Jesus, we are able to become a new creation… everyone… no exceptions! "There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."

#4: Don't wear the victim label forever. In today’s society, we want to victimize everyone for everything. Yes, there are victims in this particular situation. They were sinned against and it will forever alter their life… but they can move forward. When our dog died, I came home one night to my daughter sobbing in her bedroom (well past bedtime). She had a picture of our beloved dog, the dog’s collar and was drawing and writing about the dog. I needed to help her close the book and put the memories away and give her sadness to God and rest and allow Him to heal her heart. Dwelling unnecessarily on our pain only brings more pain. While I think it is good to reflect and express our emotions, we cannot sit and stew. Forcing our minds to relive the painful memories over and over again don’t help us move forward. Yes, we will need to recall them (even forced to when we don’t want to sometimes) but we don’t want to wade in our pain forever. The painful reminders of sin’s consequences have a way of lurking in every doorway. There are places to relive those painful memories in an effort to move past them: counseling; among trusted friends; alone with God… but I would argue that the public arena is not the place to do this. You may have been victimized but you don’t have to forever be a victim. Let go. Allow God to heal your broken places. Become an advocate for others who need healing in this area if you want but don’t wear the label of victim forever. Labels don’t allow us to move forward. There is an entire life ahead of you. What do you want your future to be? In Jesus, we are victorious. Live there. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 15:57

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Friday, April 17, 2015

"If the world was perfect, why did you let it change?"

The other day as Nikelle (almost 13) was doing her homework, she mentioned her assignment to me. I'm supposed to think of a question that I would want to ask God if I were sitting on a bench with Him. Then I am supposed to write what I think His response would be.

Honestly, I was a little nervous for her. I remember speaking up about my relationship with God when I was in school and the responses were not always encouraging. Still, I was curious to see what she would write. 

Today she needed to memorize her piece because her teacher liked it so much. She is going to recite it with some other kids in her grade. (I guess I didn't listen all that well to what this was about.)

I asked her if I could share it because I love her heart. I love that she doesn't taste fear yet in sharing thoughts about God. I think it's an example to the rest of us.

The first line is her question to God and the remainder is what she believes God's response would be in answer to her question.

"If the world was perfect, why did you let it change?"
I wanted something precious to treasure,
something for pleasure.
When I looked down from above,
I wanted to see something I love.
When I made my creation,
I wanted it to be something I could have faith in.
I created the light, the dark,
living things, even tree bark.
When the world was unblemished
I was almost finished.
So I set down some rules
so that my creation wasn't full of fools.
Everything was fine,
so purely divine.
Until sin stepped in my way,
that horrible day.
She took a bite,
he did the same without a fight.
Things were no longer perfect
I couldn't even look at it
Ever since the serpent said lies to her face,
what a disgrace
I couldn't talk to imperfection
even thought it was in my direction
So I sent them out
I had to leave them without a doubt
My perfect sparking gem
Well, let's just say it was no longer them.
Now I give everyone a choice
so that they can use their voice.
They can say "I will follow"
or they can continue to wallow
There is one way to be perfect again
Just listen, obey my commands and then
I'll wash your darkness away
so that you can come into my home and stay
Everything will be completely okay
just like my perfect world that was destroyed that day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fresh Start in Parenting

I'm linking up today with Jill Savage for the Hearts at Home Blog Hop, "Third Thursday Thoughts". Check out what other moms are saying on the topic, "Unleash your Power to Start Fresh" at Jill's blog.

Have I truly equipped her to face all the ugly in this world?

Will she make the decision to love God and live in grateful response to all He’s done for her?

How will she handle adolescence?

Why doesn’t she want to talk to me?

What if she makes choices that ruin her life?

She’s the firstborn, so we’ll likely screw her up the worst.

My mind was constantly flooded with worry for my oldest daughter, in particular. I so desperately want to protect her; shelter her… I was overwhelmed with the responsibility I was given and I was trying to control the circumstances until God broke in.

Just over a year ago, my daughter and I crossed the finish line for her first 5K. We weren’t breaking any records. She hasn’t stepped foot out the door to run since. But we spent time together and in that moment, God spoke to my heart about the importance of quality time. More than anything, my daughter just wants to “be” with me.

I’m so grateful for the couch to 5K program and our time together because it taught me a lesson… It’s never too late to start. As fear overwhelmed my heart on my daughter’s future, I thought what was done was done. It’s not easy to change the way you parents after 11 years, but I did.

Parenting has a way of enlightening one’s self to their own selfishness… and I am the queen. It was a year prior to our race that my daughter first asked to run with me. I made excuses and didn’t let her. Running was my thing and I didn’t want to be interrupted. What I learned is that my daughter is a gift; not an interruption.

It’s really an ugly thing to stand face-to-face with your own ego. My life has been so self-centered for so long that I wasn’t even honest about it.

That’s why we finally did the couch to 5K. I told myself I wouldn’t waste the opportunity… and I’m so glad we did it… even if she isn’t interesting in completing any in the future.

Currently, I’m not running any races either. I’m adjusting to this new stage of parenting. There are only a handful of short years left before my oldest becomes an adult, That means more hard conversations... Uncomfortable talks are avoided until I think I can’t put them off any longer. I’m learning this dance with her of pressing for answers when necessary and giving her the freedom she needs to grow into herself.

I’ve quit trying to control the circumstances. There are times my husband and I tell her that we are not comfortable saying “yes” even though we grant permission anyway. We are trying to instill Truth in her so she will learn to ask questions for herself. Most importantly, we are realizing this is her life. It’s her relationship with God. He is the one writing her story and a little failure may be part of her growth.

I thought parenting was all about protecting my children. God is showing me that it is more about equipping them than anything. I have zero control over their tomorrow.

The best thing in all of this? His mercies are new every morning. I feel like I screw up this parenting gig quite often. Each day, however, brings new beginnings.

We may step on each other’s toes a bit as we learn this dance… but in the end, we’ll be grateful we did it. The mother-daughter relationship is a beautiful thing and I’m so grateful I get to watch her blossom into the women God created her to be.

Who knows... maybe we'll both work on the couch to 5K together again. Each day is the opportunity for a fresh start, right?

"Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." - Lamentations 3

One of the tools I’m currently looking forward to is Dr. Kathy Koch’s new book, Screens and Teens:  Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World (March release). This is a new area for us explore together and I’m so thankful for the tools to equip me to equip her.
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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

Dear Friends and Family,

As I think back on this past year, my mind has difficulty sorting through the stories in an effort to determine what to share in such a brief space. Time seems to move too quickly, making moments more difficult to capture. And yet, Christmas has a way of helping unwrap the memories.

The line “Nothing is impossible with God” from the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke plays over in my mind. We have witnessed this in an extraordinary way in our own family over the past 12 months. Rod can give account of how he felt imprisoned by his job only to see God deliver him in a way that still blows our minds. He had no leads for a new job and yet found one placed in his lap. For the past six months, he has been enjoying the freedom of employment with Codilis & Associates. The story is amazing! If you haven’t heard it, you may want to ask him to recount the details. This current job is one he can see himself at for the rest of his life, God willing. There is opportunity for friendships as well as learning and growth. Most importantly, however, this job allows our family to enjoy his presence on a more consistent basis. Overflowing with gratitude, Rod is adamant that this precious gift of time he has been given will not be wasted.

I continue to focus my time at home. As the girls get older, my main role seems be that of taxi driver. Coordinating all of our schedules keeps me on my toes. When I’m not focused on running our household (who am I kidding… that’s my full-time job), I enjoy spending time with friends and serving in the church. I’m currently working to adjust priorities as needed in order to best live in the moment and for the day at hand.

As I read for Advent, I am reminded that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was likely only about 12 – 14-years-old. (The Bible doesn’t say specifically, but this was tradition back in those times.) With our oldest, Nikelle, being 12 ½, this fact brings the story of Christmas into a whole new light. In so many ways, she’s just a little girl. At the same time, this new stage of parenting has our thoughts more honed in on her future life as an adult. In just a handful of months, we will have a teenager! Our oldest is the musician and artist and is extremely even-keeled like her dad. Nikelle continues to play the flute in the school band. She has also joined the All City band which she loves. They will be travelling to Colorado in May and Rod will be chaperoning. (I think he’s ecstatic to experience the fullness of life as a band parent.) If you ask her, she will tell you music equals life. It may very well appear that way in her world as she has added piano lessons to her week this year as well. She’s excelling wonderfully and it’s a beautiful thing to listen to our daughter create music. We pray she will be able to use this talent to worship God and share His love with others. This past summer, she went on two trips with the church youth group. Getting a taste of what freedom from her parents (as well as from her little sisters) feels like, she is anxious for more trips in the future. While she has not yet quite passed her mother in height, she is taller than many adults at this point and cannot wait until she can look down at me. We are so grateful for this beautiful young lady God has given us to raise for Him.

As I think about what to say in regards to Jaycie, it just came to my mind how much she would have enjoyed being around the baby Jesus. She is a magnet for little ones. It’s such a joy to watch her take care of her little one-year-old friends. They just love their Jay Jay and she loves them! Most exciting is that her cousin, Cassandra, (who was married this past August) is expecting her first baby. I know Jaycie will work hard to win the love of this little one even with the competition of other family members vying for the baby’s attention! Jaycie is in 3rd grade now and makes us smile often. Our middle daughter is the comedian of the family as well as the deep thinker. It’s always around dinner time that she cannot seem to contain the goofiness. Constantly, questions poor out of her on every topic. Recently, I came across a post-it note she had written that said: "God is perfect. We are not. Listen to God and Poof! We are His!" It’s this simple mindset of welcoming God into her world that reminds us to keep our hearts open as well. Jaycie has come such a long way from the little girl who wouldn’t leave my side. Because she’s such a hard egg to crack, there are still many who are unable to witness the “real” Jaycie. Yet in our home, we thoroughly enjoy watching her blossom into the person God created her to be. And it’s especially fun when others get a sneak peek as well!

Andelise can sing “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” this December. It’s a bittersweet moment as we exit this period of parenting younger children and so many “firsts”. She is in her final year as a Kindergartener at Our Savior Lutheran Preschool. We are so grateful for the partnership these teachers have had with us in preparing our girls for a bigger world. While their collaboration in sharing Jesus with our children will be missed, we look forward to what is to come. If all goes as hoped, Ande will join Jaycie at Eisenhower Academy next year. Our youngest is full of life and a confident leader. She loves people and hates to be alone. As the athlete of the family, she is quite thrilled to have figured out the jump rope! She’s enjoying learning how to read as well as attend AWANA where Grams is her leader. Ande embraces each day early to be certain no one leaves without saying goodbye. “Wave to me and blow me a kiss” she reminds us as she reciprocates from the front window. She’s busy until the moment bedtime comes. And I won’t lie: bedtime is sweet relief for us all. 

Christmas brings with it all kinds of ideals especially as portrayed in all of the beautiful songs of the season. “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…” “Deck the halls with boughs of holly…” “The fire is so delightful…” “Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright…” “I’ll be home for Christmas…” “Have yourself a merry little Christmas…” And I feel these ideals clash with the realities of everyday life that doesn’t get put on hold because “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…”

However, one line from the song, “Joy to the World”, has been replaying in my mind and begs for me to revisit. “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room...” I find myself pondering ways to do that. More specifically, I wonder what in our lives takes up space in our hearts making it difficult to include the very reason for this season.

One necessity to keep the joy in the season is to let go of these ideals written in the tunes that play through my mind. The reality is that head colds prevent us from enjoying the beauty of Christmas lights. Band concerts and school programs fill up our calendars stealing time away from the fireplace. 5 different people have 5 different desires and “family ideals” conflict in a way that threatens our holly jolly anything.

The most threatening destruction for this family is that of busyness. Busyness steals our intentionality. Busyness works to divide our family. Busyness does it’s best to keep us from God. Busyness creates chaos leaving the only option for living as response mode. This is not okay. More than anything, we want to be intentional about life. And absolutely nothing should be more important than preparing room in our hearts for Christ.

Not only during this Christmas season, but in the upcoming 2015, you will find our household making every effort to “Prepare Him Room”. Above all else, this is what matters to us. This is our prayer for you as well. It’s the very reason for this season as well as for our existence. “Joy to the World! The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room. And Heaven and Nature Sing. And Heaven and Nature Sing. And Heaven and Heaven and Nature Sing.”


Tristi and Family