Thursday, May 11, 2017

Class of 2017





Graduation invitations delivered.
Party hosted last weekend to celebrate.
Slide show done.
Growing-up pictures spread throughout the house.
Senior check-out complete.
Senior track night over.
Grades in.
Graduation cap and gown hanging up trying to unwrinkle without having to be ironed.  
All that's left on my Graduation To-Do list is a big fat circle highlighting Friday.
Graduation.

Two days until graduation.  How is that even possible? 
I think every mom must say that as graduation nears...how did we get here?   
There might be something uniquely tender about walking toward graduation with the firstborn.  No matter how many babies you have left at home, the firstborn graduating marks a defining moment when the boundaries of the family unit expand outside the walls of our home. No longer will all my people be sleeping under the same roof at night.  There's something about that thought that gives my heart a little squeeze.  The floodgates of change seem to be opening.        
  
I admit I dreaded the thought of this...
Anxiously anticipated walking toward this closing...
Prayed that I would enjoy this whole process, but assumed I would just cry continually...
Asked other mamas who loved being mamas as much as I do HOW DO YOU SURVIVE SENIOR YEAR????
Purposed to focus on each moment and drag it out as long as possible...
Boastfully promised to NOT MISS A THING...

I've been surprised...
At what I've missed...
At what I've witnessed...
Amazed at how much joy there can be walking this last year of high school... 
Unprepared for some of the struggles that I never foresaw coming...

I missed him walking off the football field for the last time.  I had literally been waiting an entire year to watch my senior son walk off the football field for the last time. A YEAR. The game ended...we had lost in the state quarterfinals...our season was over...and my son was just gone. Gone.  Maybe I was bending down picking up toys from the bleachers...maybe I was texting my brother the final score...maybe I was hugging a fellow football mama...I don't know what I was doing but I completely missed it...the ONE memory I wanted for myself this year and it slipped by unnoticed...

The reality is that some memories of this senior year just weren't mine to share...moments my son had with his friends...school dances...discussions I've only heard about it in passing...private jokes between the brothers...conversations held late at night in the basement out of eavesdropping range...emotions of losing a friend to cancer that could only be understood by fellow classmates. Sometimes I missed a moment that could have been mine looking at my phone...or taking care of a toddler...or being lost in my own thoughts. I haven't made every senior event...I haven't seen every "last"...I was late taking pictures of his final courtwarming...I missed a football recruiting trip with him...the "misses" are endless in my mind...

BUT...I've also been surprised at what I've been allowed to witness...I happened to be there last year on the final day of school when my oldest walked out of the front door officially as a senior.   I got to see the head held high and the confident strut as he and a friend laughed with the easy laughter of a senior. They were walking toward final year bigger, bolder, prouder than ever before.  Oh my heart, I hadn't expected it to be so thrilling to see that moment.   The moment my junior became a senior...how could something I kinda dreaded be so shockingly exciting?

I witnessed my son processing through a hard college decision, whether to play football in college or not, and ultimately making a choice that he knew would surely make his mama cry.
"Go where you think the Lord is leading" we told him. 
But I didn't really mean it.  Stay close.  Come home for weekends.  Wouldn't that be best?  Think of your siblings...
Years ago someone wisely told me, "Your children following God's plan for their lives will probably cost you something."  No kidding.
We were driving to Texas for a soccer tournament when he said the decision was made.
I willed him not to say what I knew was coming.  Don't say it.  Don't say it.  Don't say it.
He said it.
I'm going to Cedarville, Mom.
All I heard after he said the name was 10 hours away...10 hours away...10 hours away... 
Thank goodness for sunglasses. I quickly blinked back instant tears; took several deep breaths; let my heart finish exploding; bit my tongue to hold back the torrential flood of words ready to overflow and waited until I could speak positive.
It's an amazing school. I can see why you want to go there. 
There. I said it. His decision made. Our blessing given.  All these months of pros and cons, all of the concerns we've asked him to consider about every school on his list, and this school emerges as his first choice.  Not MY first choice; HIS first choice.
The first decision he really gets to make that begins to plot the trajectory of his adult life.
And as I cried myself to sleep that night in a hotel room in Texas, I felt the first glimpses of joy emerge as I thought of this next adventure for him.  I lay there surprised that grief and exhilaration could intermingle in such a powerful way.
Goodness, I'll miss this kid, BUT OH HOW AMAZINGLY EXCITING for him.

I witnessed my son walking in for his last day of school.  An unanticipated gift.  The sophomore had taken their shared car to school early and so my senior needed me to drive him later for his last final.  "Can I take your picture?"  He turned and smiled.  Not even an eye roll (that I could see anyway.)  An unexpected moment given for me to capture. 
    

A friend who has done this whole senior year thing before told me that by the time your child gets to senior year, he will be so busy with a job, school activities, friendships, that you get an opportunity to practice living without him before you really have to.  That's been true for us.  Our senior didn't even get to go on our family trip last summer to Colorado because he was on his senior mission trip the one week we had off.  We had to vacation without him and practice moving through life minus one an entire year before I had anticipated. We survived...and lo and behold we even had some fun.  We missed him...talked about him...and then kept on living life.  It was a little foreshadowing of God's faithfulness in walking through the changes that are to come.     

This whole year as I've held on a little too tightly to our little three-year-old Hope, I've continually thought "Yesterday...just yesterday...Zach was this age..."  He was the toddler bawling his eyes out because I dared to leave him in church nursery for an hour...the one clinging tightly at a park because he was so afraid of playing with other kids...the lone four-year-old standing beside his dad on the t-ball field because no way was he going to stay out there without a parent.    But that four-year-old angel-faced, blonde-haired little boy is not the one going to college.  God did not ask me to send that kid away. He wouldn't have been ready.  It's the 18-year-old young man that's leaving.  The one who for year after year has been growing, stumbling, excelling, failing, persevering, making wise choices, making foolish choices, maturing, demonstrating immaturity, holding his head high in confidence, hanging his head low in defeat, leaning on the Lord for strength, struggling to believe there's strength through sorrow...all of these 18 years worth of tiny moments that have grown him into the young man he is today. That's the kid going away to school. While I still see glimpses of the little guy who thought that I was the greatest person in the whole entire world, I now see someone who is ready to begin a new phase of life with the support of his family, but no longer fully leaning on them to make his big decisions. It's a little terrifying to turn the disciplining of your child completely over to the hands of the Living God. All the training we missed, the lessons we didn't teach, the rules we didn't enforce, the attitudes we didn't catch...Lord, we offer this imperfectly trained young man up to you believing that YOU WHO BEGAN A GOOD WORK IN HIM WILL CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION.   You have been faithful to us. You will be faithful to our son.

Hidden amongst the final football pictures of the season, I recently found another gift. One of our faithful photographers had captured the moment my son left the field for the final time and he uploaded them to our team website. While I didn't get to witness this moment in person, the Lord saw fit to let me see my senior walking off the field for the last time....even if just in picture form. 
 
 
  

Our hearts are full of excitement for this graduating class. 
Lord, thank you for the blessing of giving us this child...choosing this one to live under our roof for these precious years..
Our souls overflow with joy at the privilege we've had in raising him...
Lord, grateful and thankful we humbly offer this one to you from the Class of 2017.
Be glorified. 

 

 
 
 
 










Thursday, March 30, 2017

To Whom Shall We Go?


"So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

NOAH LIVES

My son held it out to show me as he was heading to school yesterday morning. 
Still in the fog of losing a friend to a fast and brutal battle with cancer, my senior held out a patch given to him this week. It read, "NOAH LIVES"

"Do you believe that, Z?  That Noah really lives?"

"I do." he said.  

"Then that changes everything about how you walk forward through this grief."

All of the future planning and joyous yearnings for "what's next" that accompany senior year of high school halted in December when a fellow senior was diagnosed with incurable cancer and given only a short time to live.  Suddenly it was okay if time stood still on all of their future plans. It became hard to look too far ahead when that too far ahead might outlive a friend. But time never stands still and the short days of winter turned to blossoming days of spring and the senior class and our school faced a loss last week that I'm not sure anyone was prepared to handle. 

"What good can come from this?"  In his anger, his frustration that God didn't heal on this earth, his grief, my son asked that.  "What good?" I fumbled around. Gave some answers of the good I'd already seen.  I offered some verses of hope straight from God's word...verses I know he's memorized...I could tell he had long tuned me out. He really didn't want me to answer. Sometimes I don't recognize moments when I should just BE QUIET. 

A friend texted, "The truth is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don't always have a choice about being broken. But we do have a choice about where we let our brokenness lead us..." (Different by Sally and Nathan Clarkson).   

Questions. Fears. Doubts. Anger. Confusion.  Hope?
Yes, hope.
My son, his senior class, our entire school, and much of our community are grieving the death of this young man as we come face to face with our own theology on suffering and death.     
All sorts of thoughts and emotions. 
Hard questions being asked...
Maybe more unsettling are the hard questions not being asked...the unspoken...
The unspoken thoughts left to their own wandering can lead to some very dark places. 
Where will this brokenness lead us?
I'm trying to carefully urge my son forward to ask the hard questions (with your Bible open), feel this pain (but please receive the comfort of people around you), do not ignore the doubts (God is much bigger than any of those), cry while you walk if you have to (or cry while you sit), be still (physically and mentally still), go for a run (but take your phone and you better answer it if I call you), talk with your friends (but focus on TRUTH), speak with our pastor (he's a wise one to guide), listen to Noah's favorite song and remember him (laugh at some of those ridiculous memories) and even wrestle with the Lord if you must...
But DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK...
Do all of this at the foot of the cross because that is the only place you will find any peace.

"On hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?'...From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him."  In John 6, Jesus teaches some hard things that caused many of the disciples to turn their backs and walk away.  

Hard teaching.
Too hard for some of the disciples to understand and too difficult for some to accept, so they turned and walked away. 
It just was too much. 

Jesus asked the Twelve, "You do not want to leave too, do you?"

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."  (John 6:68) 

That's where I pray this grief takes these young students...takes all of us... 
Wrestle. Ask questions. Take your thoughts before the Lord.
Ask Him for belief as doubts surface.
But do not harden your heart to His voice right now. 
Where will you go if you don't go to the Lord?  Who else holds the answer to eternal life?
It may be hard and incredibly painful, we might not understand, and the good might seem difficult to find, but where else can we go, Lord?  You have the words to eternal life.
There's no other safe place to fall if not at the feet of the one who holds all the answers.
There are no answers apart from Him.   

Do not turn your back and wrestle on your own. There's will be no peace in human reasoning. 
Do not cast aside God's word.  There will be no hope without it. 
Do not harden your hearts.  There will be beauty from ashes for those who soften their hearts to grow through this.   

Where will this brokenness lead us?

"So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

We grieve with hope.   
Noah's funeral---the witness of his life and his amazing family---gave testimony to a choice to follow Christ and secure his eternity in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Those who knew him best gave testimony to his faith.  So, we say with confidence that Noah lives. 

That changes EVERYTHING about how you walk forward in grief.

Praise be to the Lord who holds the words to eternal life!! 
NOAH LIVES!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fighting Fear

"For God did NOT give us a spirit of FEAR, but a spirit of power and love and of self-control."
(2 Timothy 1:7)

Then why do I struggle so much with fear?   

I can't remember if there was a time in my life I would have used the word "brave" to describe myself.  Probably not.  But I don't think I would have ever described myself as fearful.  Then I grew up, got married, had kids, and something about loving my people so fiercely and being responsible for little ones revealed a capacity for fear that I didn't know existed. 

There's a line from the movie Avengers that comes when Captain America tells Bruce Banner, "Now would be a really good time to get angry."  Bruce Banner turns around and says, "That's my secret, Captain.  I'm always angry." 

I used that line with my husband not too long after I saw that movie for the first time.  Fear...I told him...that's my secretI'm always walking along the edge of fear.  It's my default emotion in times of great pressure, stressful situations, big decisions, disappointment, confrontation, basically anything uncomfortable, I tend towards fear.           

My mom had a seemingly normal broken rib last week (painful and slightly inconvenient for her well-planned schedule) from a fall through a hole in their floor due to a remodel.  Several days after the break, labored breathing led to a second ER visit where a scan showed her chest cavity filling with blood from an artery somewhere around that broken rib.  Normally those small arteries clot on their own, but as they watched the chest tube continue to fill with blood the doctor made the call that surgery needed to be done quickly. She needed a blood transfusion and they needed to find and tie off the artery before she lost too much more blood.  The cardiothoracic surgeon, one of the best in the state, had never had to go to surgery because one rib (ONE RIB) had caused such chaos.  My brother and dad, both anesthesiologists, had never once been in a surgery like this for one rib.  Normally such a surgery would be related to several broken ribs and other internal injuries.  So much for having the comfort of the family doctors~~they were as baffled as anyone why this one little rib was wreaking such havoc in her body.     

Here comes the fear...
I texted my husband with the update..."I'm afraid"...
It takes all my energy to go into battle against it while I wait...

Through years of recognizing my tendency to be flooded with fear in the waiting, I've realized that I'm completely too weak to fight the battle of fear on my own.  I have a pile of 3x5 cards with handwritten verses that help me remember TRUTH when everything in me is wanting to cave in to fear.  I pull out my fear verse cards and I recite...and I don't really hear the verses at first, nor do I fix my mind on them at first, but I still recite. There's power in the Word of God.  It's all I know to do that works.  Only God's Word soothes...and even that is a fight because in those moments when I'm most afraid, I tend to actually fear Him (not the Godly fear that leads us to bow and worship), but the fear that causes us to tremble at what He might ask us to walk through.  So, I have to pull out my verses to remind myself of who He is and what He promises.  Over and over again I recite (sometimes out-loud, sometimes in my mind) because I'm an incredibly slow learner and it takes me a while to hear what He has to say to me. I have to remind Him (as if He's not perfectly aware) I'm much too weak for this, Lord.  His word reminds me that YEP I AM WEAK, but that's okay because HE IS STRONG. (2 Corinthians 12:10)   

Psalm 16:8 "I have set the Lord always before me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken."   
(Tell that to my quivering stomach.)

Psalm 46:10 "BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD." 
(Shaking Soul, BE STILL, and KNOW that I AM GOD.)

Isaiah 26:3-4 "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is kept on thee because he trusts in thee." 
(I trust you, Lord.  I trust you, Lord. I trust you, Lord. Ummm, Lord?  Waiting on that peace here.)

John 14:27 "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled; do not be afraid."     
(Lord, but I'm so afraid.)

Psalm 62:1-3 "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation--He is my fortress, I will never be shaken."  Repeat as a command to my soul.   "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation--He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." 

Isaiah 43:1-2 "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; YOU ARE MINE.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."

Isaiah 41:10 "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." 

My boys' beloved choir teacher recently held a concert where all of her choirs sang beautiful hymns.  She shared that as a young girl she used to memorize the hymns sung in her church so she wouldn't have to use the hymnal.  In later years, she told us that the words to those hymns comforted her as she walked through difficult times in her life.  She let us in on her motivation for picking these hymns, "These kids don't know that in memorizing these hymns, I've given them an arsenal to use later in life when things get tough."  

An Arsenal.  
Preparation for battle. 
Verse cards are that for me...an arsenal to combat the lies of the enemy...to combat my weakness to fall prey to fear.
  
I know the exact chain of events where I realized how powerless I am in moments when life is shaken.  I've told the story before because it was eye-opening to see that I AM NOT STRONG and but by God's grace will I completely fall apart in tragedy.   

Years ago, we had just moved to Tucson and my boys were ages 1 and 3.  I remember my husband leaving to fly one day and mentioning that the flight was going to be a challenge so could I pray for him.  He'd been a military pilot several years by this point so I didn't fret every time he was in the air like I did early in his pilot training.  He was a flight lead and a pretty okay pilot.  He was leading a friend of ours that day on a flight; this friend had much more experience than my husband so I probably didn't think anything about it. I can't even remember if I prayed for him.
But I do remember the call later that evening. 

"It's me.  I'm okay.  It was terrible.  My wingman bailed.  I had to emergency land. They are bringing me back---I'll be to the area in a couple hours." 
That was it.  He was just gone and I had no idea what in the world he was talking about.  My little guys were naked ready for a bath and so I washed them quickly in the water as I thought about his phone call.  Very unsettling.  My phone started ringing again just as I got them out of the tub. 

"Our pilots are all accounted for."  That was it.  I think it was the squadron commander's wife who called.  I was still so confused.  I said something to her like "Preston said his wingman bailed. Is something going on?"  She paused, "All our pilots are accounted for."   The second time she said it I knew what this was. I'd heard of it from other wives...been told the protocol at every base we had been stationed...but I'd never been in a squadron that had to utilize its emergency phone procedure.  It meant a plane had gone down and a call meant your pilot was safe.  The fear closed in quickly.   
Someone else called.
"Turn on the tv."

I only heard bits and pieces.
Collision.
Two A-10's.
One pilot found.
Searching for the other pilot. 

My husband's call repeated in my mind. 
"It was terrible." (Collision)
"I'm okay." (One Pilot Found.)
"My wingman bailed." (Searching for the other pilot).
"I'll be back in a couple hours." (But what has happened and who will you be after this?)

It didn't occur to me that I had received a call that said all our pilots are accounted for. It didn't cross my mind that there were two other A-10 squadrons on our base. My husband said "terrible", "wingman bailed," and "I'm okay" in one quick burst.  I knew the story on the news had to involve him which meant our good friend had to be the one missing.  In that moment, I became absolutely paralyzed with fear.  From the top of my head to the tips of my toes, every cell in my body participated in the anxiety. Thinking of my husband and what he must have been through in the last hours...aching at the thought of the missing pilot and his family (our dear friends also with small children)...wondering what happens now (was it his fault?)...paralyzed I sat on the floor as my naked boys ran around and played and tried to get my attention (and maybe even peed all over the carpet)...I sat staring at the TV begging God for news that they had found the pilot alive.  I loved the Lord, believed His good in my life, studied the Bible, and memorized scripture, but the fear that overtook me in that moment stunned me. 
Where was my faith as I sat there waiting?  I felt it abandoned me.   

The phone rang a little later. 
"Do you know Preston is okay?" 
Our friend...the friend I thought was the missing pilot...his voice echoed through the phone telling me my husband was okay.  I was still so confused. 
"What?  What?  What is going on?  I know he's okay.  What about you?  He called me and told me the flight was terrible.  His wingman (I thought YOU) bailed.  They are bringing him back from somewhere a couple hours away because he had to emergency land."

Our friend's voice again, steady, "I just realized you might think we were involved.  He doesn't even know what's going on back here so that's why he wasn't more clear in what he said.  I did bail out of the flight...BEFORE TAKEOFF...because my jet broke.  I didn't even get airborne.  Preston's jet had some issues when he was flying and he had to emergency land at this other airfield because it wasn't safe to fly back to Tucson.  Someone from that airfield is driving him back.   It WAS a terrible flight.  But not a terrible flight in light of what's going on back here.  There has been a crash and they are searching for one pilot, but all the pilots in our squadron are accounted for. " 

I got off the phone and sobbed (and sobbed and sobbed.)  I cried in thankfulness that my husband was okay and that our friend was fine and that my husband's cryptic phone call had absolutely nothing to do with what I was watching on the news.  I bawled for the wife and mama who hadn't gotten a call and was watching the news while her world blew into a thousand little pieces as they searched for her husband...I cried for the other pilot, the one found.  For a moment in time I had thought I belonged to the surviving pilot and I had tasted one tiny drop of the hard road that guy was going to walk as the survivor.   

Much too late that night, when someone brought him back into town, I got a chance to hang on to my husband while he profusely apologized for his poor choice of words in describing his flight.  I explained to him my response as I had waited for the news...how I was engulfed in paralyzing fear...how I couldn't even focus on our naked children ("Are they still naked?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. "I think they had fruit snacks for dinner.").  I hung my head as I explained that I always envisioned myself being so strong when crisis hit...that I thought I would be this pillar of great trust in the Lord whenever life around me started shaking...but instead, there I sat, so afraid.

I think all of us tend toward some sort of sinful exaggeration of emotion when left to our own strength.  We can be overwhelmed by our anger, depression, despair, self-pity, FEAR, dependency, bitterness, or any other spirit that sets itself against the truth of God 's Word.  I'm learning how important it is to prepare. Arm your arsenal with truth. It's hard to build a faith and fight the battle when the raging winds are howling and the fire seems to be closing in. Spend the calm days in God's word building up faith so when the storm hits that faith can be the lifeline to which we cling. 

As I got the call that my mom's surgery was successful and they had found and cauterized the leaking artery, I was once again struck by the power that fear can have in my life.  I was reminded of how enslaving my own fear can be. I actually fear my ability to fear like an unbeliever (see, I'm always afraid of something.) 

"Will I ever conquer the tendency to jump straight into overwhelming fear?"  I don't know, but I do know every time I struggle through it, there is an opportunity to lean into God's word and practice believing itMy fear reminds me of how weak I am and also reminds me of His faithfulness in pushing me toward a more trusting faith that believes His good no matter what assignment He gives me.     

Lord, help me to have the discipline to build my faith before the storm hits and help me to arm myself for battle before the first arrow flies. Help my unbelief that leads me down that road of fear.

"Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."   (Psalm 73:25-26)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Happy 2017

Happy 2017!  It’s THAT year…the year on Zach’s letter jacket---I just knew Jesus would come back before now (there’s still time!)  You see, we are almost professionals at adding babies to the family…but letting one go?   Not sure how to do that.  We are only Day 20 of this year and 2017 already seems uncomfortable.  Not "bad" uncomfortable just "cracking my illusion of control" uncomfortable. Two kids enrolled in public school as of two weeks ago (don’t ask), a three-year old who is NOT potty training herself (I thought she was smarter than this), Preston serving the role as interim head football coach (plenty of time??), three college choices still on the table (why won’t he just go where I tell him?), and a bulging schedule that works perfectly for two children (which four kids should we give away?) Is it too shallow to pray that God teaches us to be comfortable  in our uncomfortable?
 
 
 
 
     "Shall we accept the good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). Layered…our conversations, our emotions, our schedules.  Our giggles and tears intertwine...our fears and courage waver…our triumphs and failures rise and fall. It’s all there held tenderly within the boundaries of 2016.  Our year held unique highs and lows…a new permit driver (less cautious than the firstborn), a breathtaking homeschool ballet performance, state quarterfinals in football, a totaled mustang, several ER visits (we ER hop now to avoid investigation), and three hundred (million) soccer games.  We had a Royals foul ball “caught” by one happy 6-year old, church camp, plenty of lake weekends, Camp ThompConnell, an ambulance ride, sweet moments mentoring young girls, a week with family at Disney World, a promotion (followed by the grief and contentment of turning it down), and 365 days worth of more. In October, God graciously allowed us to make it to Georgia in time to be with Preston’s mom, Mama V, before she surprisingly passed away. No one was prepared and while her family sat planning an unexpected funeral, the sweet noise of her grandchildren playing baseball outside filled the grieving room. Life. We celebrated her life (and wept at our loss of her) in Georgia one day and the very next day celebrated a conference championship win with our football team. Odd.  Life lived in the midst of sorrow…just as she would have wanted. Celebrations and tears; mourning and then the relief of morning; and then all those in-betweens where we are building our faith to accept whatever the Lord brings…the good and the adversity.    
  
 
Zach, the energetic senior, is a college t-shirt hoarder and has fully enjoyed a year of college visits. (Now decide already!) If Hogwarts really existed, that would be his first choice. Knowing his love for children and the sciences, he envisions his future job will probably be something combining the two (he says pediatric oncologist or fudge-maker.) He enjoyed a senior mission trip this summer working with underprivileged kids, a week at Boys State studying government (he absolutely does NOT want to be a politician), and an amazing football season making All-State receiver with over 1500 yards. What a joy it has been to watch him mature in the Lord and even if he’s 10 hours away next year (BE STILL MY HEART), we will always (be able to find him with FIND MY IPHONE-what?)  be thankful that God picked him to be our firstborn.
 
Josh—the studious sophomore, generally works through his homework before he does his fun. He loves structure and thrives when he knows exactly what’s required of him (“tell me the rules.”) He does every sport ALL OUT. This year brought him an assortment of different sports braces and wraps (and his own bottle of Advil) collected through several frustrating injuries. A high ankle sprain plagued the early part of his football season and Preston encouraged him saying “Be patient. Athletes get hurt.”  I encouraged him, “Slow down. You won’t get hurt if you don’t go full speed. Josh loves math, choir, and socializing. He still plays the piano for our youth worship band (thankfully we have one that practices music) and he uses his humor to lighten up our tense moments (“the doc can’t believe with these muscles I’m not on steroids”).  
 
Madelin, the artistic 7th grader, loves pointe shoes and soccer cleats.  We can’t decide if she’s a soccer player masquerading as a lovely dancer or the reverse.  When she asks to do some new activity, we say “NO!” because she loves every new thing she tries. She just got braces (her fingernails get a break!), and has coped with this change by perfecting ridiculously silly faces. She thinks Pinterest is straight from heaven and loves to create new things. She’s mastered the art of quietly blending in with the purpose of overhearing EVERY private conversation had in this home. She loves FINALLY being in youth group and helping me (she’s a baby hog) in the church nursery. Her persistence in her quest for an Instagram is impressive, but to her dismay, we still have enough energy to say no.
 
Savannah, the event-planning 4th grader, uses every emotion and event as an opportunity to celebrate (or “at least give me a cuddle night.”). Soccer gives her a chance to display her competiveness and ballet gives her a chance to practice some graceJ. She’s our hand-made gift giver and regularly hides notes for her brothers in their lunches. They repaid the favor with a lunchbox note on her first day of public school and you would have thought they bought her the world. Her awareness of other people is a gift and she loves to love others in tangible ways. Oh her sweet emotions…if we had a quarter for all the hurt feelings her college would be funded. 
            
Noah, the conversational 1st grader, might just be the quarterback in our family (if only he didn’t like baseball more!). His soccer coach nicknamed him the “Little General” because he loves directing people (the kid does have some good ideas).  He’s only been in public school for a week, but we assume he’ll be voted First Grade Class President by the end of the month. Outgoing Noah loves to lead people, loves the outdoors, loves baseball, and loves conversation.  He’s masterful at word usage (with passionate expression) so we see him as a future lawyer, politician, or game show host.  He loves going to school and told me he’s sorry he doesn’t miss me but he just forgets about me during the day.  
  
Hope, our delight, turned 3 on Christmas and she has no idea what it’s like to not be completely smothered in love. There’s always someone to entertain her, to dry her tears, to tickle her, to love on her. We might be either raising helpless or royalty. Actually, she really is quite independent and probably our biggest daredevil. Her trusting heart believes someone will always be there to catch her. She can carry on full conversations with adults and explain why she likes to potty in her pants and why she has coffee breath (“my mom lets me drink her coffee.”)  Her favorites are “chokers” (Jolly Ranchers), lip syncing to Trolls movie songs, anything pink, and dancing.  Each sibling has a sweet relationship with her--a special “fin, noggin, Dude”  handshake with Zach, chasing games with Josh, airplaning with Madelin, and playing, playing, playing with Savi and Noah.  
 
We are learning that uncomfortable is a gift…a good gift from the Lord. As Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Circumstances are an expression of God’s will…the secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”   There’s sweet freedom in relinquishing the need to see what’s next. We don’t know how to do 2017, but God knows how to do it and He will give the grace and wisdom for the moment. Our prayer is to have a heart that says “It is well” to whatever comes from the Lord's hands this year.   We pray that for all of us that 2017 is full of all the richness of life.  
 
With Love,
The McConnells
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pray

As my children get older, the more silent I grow in my advice on parenting. 

Sitting in an oral surgeon’s office, the doctor talked kindly of my daughter undergoing anesthesia.  I anxiously listened with only a bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse to keep the toddler occupied.  My hands repeatedly squeezed drop after drop into the little one’s palms.  She furiously rubbed it in…drop after drop…over and over again. That’s what you do when you forget the diaper bag. Anything in your purse becomes a toy.  The doctor’s eyes lit up when he asked about our other children and found out there were six.  One would think birthing six children might make someone an expert.  Not so.  The more you have the more you realize how absolutely so very little you really know.   

“I’m a new dad.  What advice can you give me?”   I stared at him blankly.  Advice?  My toddler was sanitizing herself to death, what advice could I possibly offer?   If only he had known.  I was in the middle of a text argument with one (heaven forbid we actually have the conversation in person), another had been left at home throwing a ridiculous “you are way too old for this” tantrum, one was waiting for the discipline sentence to be issued after being caught in a hefty lie (if lies could be weighed,) and my husband and I were in disagreement about a situation and having to hash it out in the garage because there are SO MANY EARS inside our home.  Seriously, Doc, I’m the one needing advice.    

The wisdom in him to even ask.  His humility caused me to pause before speaking. With careful words, I submitted, “I used to have a lot of advice on parenting.  But now, every child of mine has blown my last piece of advice out of the water, so I’m sorta left with nothing wise to offer you right now.” 
He replied, “All of our friends with a baby and a toddler have all sorts of helpful hints to give us.  My wife and I are trying to figure all this out.”

 “Yeah, well, I have teenagers now…there’s something about teenagers that is silencing me.” 
A missed opportunity to witness to a young family.  Overwhelmed by my own feelings of inadequacy and shortsighted failures, I offered no hope---WHEN I HAVE HOPE---to this new dad.   I’ve thought about that conversation often in the last months.  Why didn’t I give him the only advice that has transcended every stage, every issue, every attitude, every fad, every disappointment, every struggle, every argument, and every sin?  Why didn’t I tell him what my only lasting hope has been?       

Recently, a lovely woman from our church had a baby shower and we were asked to fill out a card with advice for this mom. Again, I stared at the card blankly.  I had arrived at the shower trying to over-control my teenager’s plans for the weekend (he had gently nudged, “You don’t have to control  this, Mom.”)I had thrown an adult “you’re way too old for this” tantrum in response to another child’s minor offense , and  the toddler had been drinking cream soda all morning from a sippy cup and I had no recollection if I was the one who put it in there.  
PRAY.

That’s all I could write on the advice card for the baby shower.    
PRAY.

I wish I had told that to the young doctor with the new baby.  Pray for your children. Earthly advice on child-raising changes with the times.  Pray for your children.  Pray for their hearts to be changed. Pray that they will meet Jesus face to face and be broken. Absolutely broken by their own sin. Pray their brokenness will lead them to grace and in that moment of amazing grace that they will fall madly in love with the God who knows everything about them…EVERYTHING…and loves them PERFECTLY.
We can lead them to scripture…take them to church…encourage wise friends…discipline disobedience…push them to study…teach them to pray…sign them up for youth activities…give them good books…make them to be kind…tell them our stories in hopes they won’t repeat our mistakes…

But, we cannot bring about the one thing we want most…we cannot change their hearts.  Only God can take a heart that is inclined toward selfishness and sin, and turn it toward Him. So, we pray continually, giving thanks, that God has the power to do the work that we cannot do.    
In a few hours, my oldest son will drive to school for the last time as a junior.  He’ll sit through an assembly, clean out his locker, pay his lunch bill, and turn in a final assignment.  The bell will ring and he will stroll out of those school doors as a senior.  He’ll spend the summer visiting colleges, working at a fast food restaurant, going to church camp, and training for his last school year of sports.  He’s fairly kind, knows scripture, and has a “life plan.”  None of that matters at this point, if he doesn’t truly know Jesus. 

So, we pray.

We pray for God to bring about the thing we want most.   Ezekiel 11:19 “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” 

There’s great relief in leaning into the Lord to do this work.  Great relief. If it was up to us to save our children, we would most definitely screw it up.  But in God’s grace, He has taken it upon Himself to do the saving…to change the hardest of all hearts.  I've always wondered why God would entrust sinful parents with the job of raising sinful children.  It seems like a plan doomed to fail from the beginning.  Sinners raising sinners. Yet, as my oldest son nears days when he is no longer under our roof, I'm resting in the great comfort that God did not entrust the act of saving to us.   He has perfectly completed that act Himself.  Praise God it's not up to us!
All of my tendencies to hide in my failures as a parent or even to boast in any momentary successes are quieted by the transcending hope that the God who saved me is the only one with the power to save my children.   God kept the impossible job for Himself knowing that we were perfectly incapable of doing it ourselves.  So, we step back, pray, and ask God to do His amazing work of changing a heart.  
And then we wait...   
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Ten Minutes Left To Play"

There's an endearing and annoying aspect of having a mix of older and younger kids in the home.  The teenagers give their opinions, a little too freely, about the best way to parent the little people.  Because they've lived through our parenting, they are full of suggestions on how they wish we had been as parents to them.  We regularly hear things like, "I always loved when you..." "I really hated when you and dad..." "That never works, Mom, why do you do that?"  "Why don't you try this..."  "I think they would respond better if..." "Remember when you used to..." "Why didn't we ever do this..." "Remember that thing we started and never finished..."      
I can't wait to repay the favor of unsolicited advice when they have children.      

One particular pet peeve of my firstborn is my habit of always giving the little ones a "Ten Minutes Left to Play" warning.

"You know that ruins everything, Mom," he claims.

I have never understood his complaint.  "How can it ruin everything when I'm warning you that you STILL HAVE ten minutes left to play.  It's almost as though I'm reminding you to ENJOY YOUR TIME because it's almost over." 

"See...that's what I hate about it, Mom," my oldest teenager says.  "I used to panic when you would give us the warning.   What should I do with my last ten minutes?  How did my time go so fast?  I don't want to be done playing.  I don't think I'll be able to have a good attitude about leaving even though the time-keeper has given me the ten minute warning.  Now nine minutes left.   Maybe I'm down to eight.  Seven.  Panic.  Panic. Panic.  What should I do?" 

I have always defended the warning, "But you always knew the fun you were having wasn't going to last forever.  There was always going to be an end.  I was warning you so you would enjoy those last minutes even more." 

He has never relented in his complaints of this habit.  "But I don't think that way, Mom.  I would spend those last ten minutes in absolute dread of the end.  I always wished you would have just told me at the moment it was over.  No warning.  Then at least I wouldn't have known that my last ten minutes were my last ten minutes." 

Weird. 
I guess I kind of understand his point.   But not enough to remove the phrase from my vocabulary.
I still have been known to give the little ones a ten minute warning even though the firstborn protests. 

Since we are still in the first half of the school year, I didn't anticipate anything unusual in the mail a month or so after school started.  The pile of mail always overflows from our delay in walking the 50 yards to the mailbox.  How can that short walk result in such procrastination?  Our small mail slot bulged with paper.  Normal bills.  Typical junk letters.  A late birthday card for my daughter.  Grocery ads.  More junk mail.  A postcard size flyer rested on the bottom of the mail pile almost hidden by the Price Chopper ad.   I glanced quickly at the flyer on class rings and dropped it in the trash.  Class rings.  Not yet.   

Wait.
Wait.
  
I grabbed the flyer out of the trash.
 
Summit Christian Academy
Class of 2017
Order Your Class Ring Today

In that second, I heard the dreaded countdown,
"You have ten minutes left to play."

2017.
Can it really be time for this stuff already?

The year my firstborn came into the world, I don't think I ever figured out his graduation year. I really have no recollection of ever focusing on that year.  2017.  So far away.   Some days it seemed too far away.  The days crept by.   The years sped on.  There was a false security that time would somehow be on my side in the raising of children.  That somehow I would escape my children growing up.  Faster and faster the years have gone...yet there was always next year.  And the next.  And then you blink and the child that you thought would never sleep through the night is ordering a class ring.  In that instant, there's this horrific realization that time didn't choose you as the favorite and that you will share the same fate of most mothers...you will truly have to launch the child that has filled every corner of the home with his presence out into a life of his own.  The infant that was completely dependent for life grows into a young man that was created to live independently from the control and protection of his parents. He develops a mind of his own, desires of his own, and ultimately he will have a life of his own outside of the boundaries of his immediate family, and that is a very, very, VERY good thing.  (Can I say it again for my heart to hear...it is a GOOD thing...a very, very, very, VERY good thing.)  His job is to grow...to change...to mature...to own his faith outside of our home.  That's what they are supposed to do. While always present the reality that my children won't stay under one roof forever, there's been this blissful naivete that maybe, just maybe, the year that changes the dynamics of our family won't come.   Maybe we can just stay like this forever.
And then the mail arrives and in a second I get the warning, "You have ten minutes left to play."

I've spent years being the recipient of older moms stopping me (generally in the middle of a terribly embarrassing outburst by one of my children) and encouraging me that children grow up so fast...enjoy them.  I've turned the corner of life and become the mom reiterating that message.  I sent my cousin, who is juggling two very small children, a snapshot of the class ring postcard, "Order Your 2017 Class Ring Today."  I texted her "Enjoy the seemingly never-ending days of little ones because one day you will get a postcard like this in the mail and it will be for one of yours."  (I like to encourage others with discouraging thoughts.)   She sent me back a picture of her two-year old holding out little hands that were completely covered in poop.  Her text back read, "Is it too much to say, 'Poop on the fingers today; class ring on the finger tomorrow."  Perfect. 
 
So, what am I going to do with these "ten minutes"?   I'm understanding my firstborn son a little more these days and his dislike for my warning that time is running out.  Can't I just stick my head in the sand and pretend this isn't coming?       

The panic doesn't help spend time wisely. 
The regret of years lost doesn't motivate me. 
The fear of what lies ahead doesn't bring lasting hope. 
And I'm far too bent on enjoying these last ten minutes to let myself grieve what hasn't happened yet.  My nostalgic nature wants to throw on the sackcloth now and wallow in my sadness that my family will, my family is changing.  My tendency is to hang on to the past a little longer than healthy...to turn "remembering" into a shrine of "how great life was when all my children were home" and miss the moments placed in front of me.   

Our amazing, 10-2 football season just ended in the District Championship game last weekend.  Following this last game, my eyes found the seniors on the team.  I watched their parents watch them.  After many hugs, tears, and an emotional talk given by the coach, our four seniors slowly made their way to the goalposts.  They took off their helmets and just sat there for a while under the lights.  Sitting side by side, they shared the endzone with one another for the last time as high school football players, while the rest of the team let them have their moments alone.   My husband snuck in behind me and gave me a hug. Together, we quietly observed them.  Finally, I shared my thoughts, "Do you realize this is the last time that it isn't the last time?"   I let that soak in for a while.  The last time it isn't the last time.   

When he didn't say anything, I figured it was because he was overcome with emotion.

I was wrong.  So very wrong.  Instead, he looked at me completely puzzled, "What are you talking about?  It's not the last time." 

"Yes, but it's the last time it's not the last time."  What doesn't make sense about that? 

And I completely lost him with that thought.  Blank stare.  Clueless head shake.  He gave me a little squeeze of pity and walked away to find some reasonable man to talk to...one who would talk to him about what a great season it had been and not someone who would talk about the game being the last time that it wasn't the last time.  I know him well and these words waited on the tip of his tongue, "WHO THINKS THAT WAY?"  UMMM...THIS CRAZY MAMA THINKS THAT WAY!  He left me alone to spend my last time before the last time envisioning how I will feel when it really is the last time. I'm pretty sure he shared a chuckle with a fellow coach at my nostalgia over next year's nostalgia.

Enough.  
Enough. 

It's one thing to have moments of sadness, nostalgia, grief, fear, or uncertainty at the changes that await, but to wallow in it?  To be paralyzed by it?  To MISS the present thinking about the future?  This is not how I want to spend these days.  A friend in the same stage of life recently shared that she wants to understand, to really grasp, Proverbs 31:25 that says, "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at days to come."  Her prayer is to learn and to trust that God can teach her to laugh at the days to come.   To laugh even as she launches a son who has aspirations of joining the military and becoming an Army Ranger.     

Yes!  Yes!  I want to laugh...to look forward to...to delight in what is coming next.  Whatever that looks like.  The thought of spending the next year and a half grieving my changing family terrifies me more than the actual thought of letting go of my son.   Tears...that's fine, sadness...it will come, but I want to laugh at the hope of what God will do next trusting that even if it doesn't look like I imagined, I can still laugh with joy at the unknown. 

So, how in the world does a mama who has crazy thoughts like "the last time it's not the last time" combat the numerous moments to come that will most certainly evoke great emotion? As one who loves her children at home, how do I laugh at the reality that my future days will include children growing up and not being at home?        

First...thankfulness.  Give thanks.  Give Thanks.  GIVE THANKS!!  I can't stop the wave of emotion that hits regularly regarding this changing season of life, but by God's grace, I don't have to drown.  The practice of giving thanks.  Thankfulness crowds out dread.  Thankfulness stomps on the fear.  Thankfulness opens the door for laughter.  When I awake in the middle of the night, wondering how in the world the kindergarten little boy sleeping down the hall will be able to be happy without the presence of his older brothers in this home, I give thanks.   Thank you, Jesus, for brothers.  Thank you, Jesus, for relationships that can be kept precious even from afar.  Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of loving others.  Thank you, Jesus, for the joy you will bring this little boy even as his brothers leave this home and the excitement he will experience when he gets to visit.   Thank you, Jesus. 

Second...believing God for His good.  Jeremiah 29:11 was not written only for the high school graduate.  The promise was given to the Israelites who were living in exile at the time.  "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.'"  While that promise is lovely for the teenagers heading out into the world, the promise is also for me...for my husband...for our family.  God has plans...and those plans extend far past this snapshot of time that I have children in the home.  Those plans will unfold until I'm called to my heavenly home, and so I can believe that God's good plan for me reaches into the next seasons of life. 

Finally...don't practice borrowing from tomorrow.  I'm having to preach to myself not to spend much time imagining what life will be like my son's senior year.  Or what does "what's next" look like? There is grace for those moments that I can't borrow when I think about it today.  I can't spend too much time envisioning the changes happening in my family.  There's joy for those days...even if those days happen to be hard...there's joy waiting there to be experienced.  God equips us for what He calls us to do, so I have to trust the grace to live in this moment believing that the strength will be there for tomorrow...no matter how tomorrow looks.  Hebrews 13:21, "May the God of peace...our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will and may He work in us, what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." 

It's inevitable that we will continue to feel the pressing in of time as we sit through senior advising appointments, plan college visits, and discuss plans for the future.   The snowball of launching a child is picking up speed.   But as I hear the warning that we only have ten minutes left to play, I can practice instantly giving thanks.   Thank you, Jesus, for these precious days of preparation.  Thank you, Lord, for the wisdom  you will provide.   Thank you, Father, for giving us grace to laugh at what's to come.   I believe God for His great plans (not just for my children, but for me too!) and I'm trusting that we will be surprised by the indescribable joy that will come during the moments that I envision as the most difficult. 

"She laughs at days to come..."  Oh, how I want to believe God will surprise me with this treasured gift of laughter, which can be confidently based on God's omniscient/omnipresent/omnipotent character.  He knows all.  He sees tomorrow.  He's all-powerful.   Because of who God is...we can laugh.    

And that's most definitely how I want to spend my last ten minutes...laughing.         
    
       

 


 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Go With Him

"When your husband asks you to go somewhere with him, GO, or he'll quit asking."

A friend gently encouraged me with that several years ago when my husband surprised me with a once-in-forever trip to Hawaii for our anniversary.  I offered her a pocketful of heartfelt excuses on why this trip should not happen. 

1)  "I hate flying."  (I even turned that fact into a fight with my husband claiming that if he truly loved me, he would never have planned a trip requiring such a long airplane ride.)
2)  "I'm terrified of the ocean."  (Thanks to Jaws, I'm part of an entire generation of ocean-goers ruined by that incredibly realistic movie of a shark taking revenge.)
3)  "I don't want to be that far away from the kids."  (Never mind that my parents had joyfully offered to stay with the kids that week. That was not the point.)
4)  "I especially hate flying OVER the ocean."  (Combine two of my biggest fears and the result is a borderline panic attack at the thought of crashing into the ocean...and surviving.)

I overflowed...burst forth...with passionate reasons this trip should be postponed.   "Not canceled," I claimed, "just postponed."   Postponing the trip provided the hope...the potential...for something major to come up that would wipe this trip off the books FOREVER. 

Go.  With.  Your.  Husband.

So, we ventured to Hawaii, braved the airplane ride, frolicked ankle deep in the ocean, and came home pregnant.  (Not really. I was actually already 7 months pregnant when we went, but it sounded like a good souvenir from a trip to Hawaii.)  We truly had a fantastic time and I was incredibly thankful that my friend didn't let me sit in my excuses and fears, and encouraged me to GO and love my husband by choosing to spend time with him.  

So, today...

My husband texts..."Want to go to lunch with me?"

Obviously he's been fired...or he needs to introduce me to a son he didn't know he had.
(Oh My Word...I have no idea why my loved ones chide me for being a worst-case scenario person.  Doesn't everyone think this way?  An optimistic pessimist; one who prepares how they are going to positively react to the worst possible situation.)       
"What happened?" I texted. 
He texted back, "Nothing.  I just thought it might be nice to go to lunch with my wife."

Had he sent the text, "Can I come home and help you with something?" 
Capital letters, "YES!"   Because I have this crazy thought pattern in my brain that says "If he loved me, he'd want to help me, not just want to be with me."  Help equals love in my book.    

Had the text read, "Can I come home and keep Hope for you so you can take a nap since I know you didn't sleep well last night?" 
Enthusiastically, I would have sent back, "YES!  Hurry!"

But to take time off to go to lunch?  Hmmm...let me get back to you on that.  All I could think of were the dozens of things I wanted to get done today.  And the kids weren't going to school themselves.  And the laundry wasn't going to fold itself.   And...and... My friend's words from years ago tickled my ears.  "When your husband asks you to go somewhere with him, GO, or he will quit asking."

I texted back before I could think about it too much.
"Yes, let's go to lunch."

Then I thought about it.  My mind instantly blew up with better days for this lunch...better times...more convenient seasons of life.   I started a new text, "Friday would be better..."  For some reason, I didn't send it.   Maybe because this is the first time my husband has asked me to lunch in seven years of living in Missouri.  Maybe he knows me well enough to know that I would most likely say, "How about another time?" My husband wasn't asking me out to lunch on Friday.  Or Thursday.  Or when our kids are a little older.  He was asking me to lunch TODAY. 

What in world might happen if the laundry doesn't get folded or some third grade math flashcards are skipped?  Could we possibly ever recover from such a setback?  It might ruin the schedule for the year.   

Way back when we were dating, if my beloved had called and said "Hey, can I come see you for a couple hours?" I wouldn't have thought twice about clearing my schedule,  "HECK YA, you can come see me. How soon will you be here?"    I would have raced to brush my hair, exchanged tennis shoes for some seriously cute Birkenstocks (after all, I did go to college in Boulder), and I would have counted down the seconds until he arrived, energized by a silly giddiness that occupies early enchantment.   

When did my daily chores become more important than spending time with my husband? 
Probably so long ago that I can't even recall the moment I first chose the chore over the person.
It's happened more than I care to recall.

It's no coincidence that today my husband asked me to lunch.  Just this morning, I prayed that God would help me-teach me-to really love my husband.   To really really love him.  Not just partner with him, not just like him as a person, not just tolerate him, but to really love him.  I wasn't sure what that might look like today.  I guess it looked as simple as clearing the schedule when my husband asked me to lunch and GOING with him, joyfully, as though there was nothing else in the world that was more important.  Loving my husband better will most likely always involve recognizing the opportunity to set aside the schedule and choose my husband over my "to do" list. In reality, my husband always has a hundred things "to do," but today, he wanted to have lunch with his wife...he chose the relationship over the work.  So he asked the question.  I swallowed my excuses and went.  GO...or he will quit asking.   

We had a quiet lunch with the two little ones. (Where are the older kids in the family when we need them?) There were no earth shattering discussions, no romantic candlelight, no life-changing decisions, and thankfully no surprise introductions to a long lost son, just the choice to make the marriage relationship a priority.  The choice to look away from the "stuff" and look at one another.  One small choice at a time has the potential to add up to a legacy of making the marriage a priority.  So the opposite is true also.  How much sweeter would our marriage be if we purposefully practiced prioritizing each other a little more...or maybe a lot more.   

Jesus showed us how to love in a way that I'm realizing I don't really understand.

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 John 3:16) 

This looks different for everyone, but for me, laying down my life might look a little like this...choosing people...prioritizing my marriage above all other earthly relationships...choosing to read a book to the littlest when I want to put her in front of Barney...choosing to make an extra sandwich for the teenager at 10:00 pm...choosing to turn off the phone and look at the changing seasons...choosing to lay down my "schedule" for a lunch date with my husband...choosing to extend grace when I really want to lash out...choosing to forgive quickly... 

The schedule survived today and the laundry will eventually get folded (and seriously, who cares if it doesn't? It will all be re-washed in two days anyway).  There was greater satisfaction in choosing to love someone else than in choosing to love my plans for the day.   There was deeper joy in choosing to GO with my husband.       

I love many people in my life...I could probably fill pages with family and friends that I "dearly love."  Yet, I'm so selfish...so selfish.  I know very little about how to love sacrificially. I always hang on to a piece of myself when I'm loving others, protecting myself just a bit.  I'm asking God to grow in me a spirit of love that enables me to love with the same depth that caused Christ to lay down His life for such a sinner as me. By this love, the world will know that we are His disciples. (John 13:35)

It might be years before my husband asks me to go to lunch again in the middle of the week, but goodness, I'll send the "YES!" text back quicker next time he asks.  I trust that God wants to grow His love in us so much that tomorrow another choice will be presented allowing me to extend love to my husband.  God is good like that to give us chance after chance to grow in ways that honor Him.  In this world, there might be no greater opportunity to learn how to love like Christ loved us than within the walls of our home with our husband or wife.