Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Can't Find It!

If I hear the words "I CAN'T FIND IT!" one more time today, I might throw a temper tantrum.

I've lost my brain, Children, and I don't see any of you helping me find it.

No, I won't help you look for your paper, your pencil, your math book, your Polly Pocket shoe, your toothbrush, your socks, your cup of milk, your favorite stuffed animal, your football, your chess piece, etc., etc.

Until you return to me the parts of my brain that you've taken, Precious Little Ones, I'm incapable of helping you find anything.

I clearly need a Diet Coke....
Sometimes you just have to vent....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Salvation's Not Just A Prayer

I'm a skeptic. Far too analytical and doubting to truly honor the Lord much of the time. I'm more Thomas-like than I wish. I sympathize with Thomas when I read in John 20 him say, "Unless I see...I will not believe." God's working through my doubts though. He's not leaving me alone to struggle. I love that about the Lord. He meets us right where we are and dares to change us from the inside out.

That weakness said, I am extremely skeptical when I hear ministries boast of the number of people saved through their ministries each week. "Thousands saved every weekend." "We had 453.5 people come forward and accept Christ." Really? Really? It sort of makes me mad.

Salvation's not just a prayer. We know that, right? Right?
You should be a different person today than you were on the day you repeated the sinner's prayer. God's saving power should change us. If you aren't different, then you just repeated words. You cannot meet the Almighty God, accept His gift of forgiveness and salvation, and walk away unchanged. It's impossible.

So, does our presentation of the gospel lead people to merely accept Christ as a precaution so they don't go to hell? Confessing our sins and believing in Christ is the beginning of salvation...and yes, we are secure in Christ once we accept Christ as our Savior. The evidence of our salvation comes afterward. We are saved ONCE. But as Paul says in Philippians 2:12 we spend our lifetime working out our salvation. We say the prayer...and then God's saving power works to change us.

I wonder how many people have repeated the sinner's prayer thinking they've secured their salvation? How many think the prayer alone is the means to getting into heaven? Surely they know that the repetition of some words do not save. That's clear, right?

If you are saved...you are changed. It's good to ask ourselves, AM I CHANGED? Am I a new creation?

If you are saved...the Holy Spirit will be working in your life. Does the Holy Spirit whisper to you? Does the Holy Spirit guide you and comfort you and discipline you?

If you are saved...you cannot just sit in your sin. Can you struggle with sin? ABSOLUTELY. Until we take our last breath, we will wrestle with our flesh. But evidence of our salvation comes even through the struggle...it demonstrates that the power within us is in conflict with our fleshly desires. If you don't struggle with sin or even recognize your sin...ask God to have mercy on you and show you your sin. Only through seeing our sin will we recognize our need for a Savior.

So, when I hear of masses of people getting saved at conferences or church services, I always think, "Show me where these people are a year from now and then tell me how many of them are saved."

Salvation changes people.

Whatever It Takes

I was greatly encouraged by someone I deeply love this week.

Don't you love when the Lord working in someone's life motivates you to re-examine your own self?

We were having a discussion on making changes in life. Getting out of ruts. Growing spiritually. Discontentment in the status quo. We were talking about how sometimes drastic changes are necessary in order for God to work...not always...God can work through anything...but sometimes God leads us to make big changes. Sometimes you know it's God working when you are led down a path that you wouldn't choose in your own flesh.

Here's what challenged me. He said, "I'm willing now. Whatever it takes, Lord, to grow us, we're willing."


I thought many times this week, could I say that? Could I say to the Lord, "Whatever it takes...I'm willing."

Could I say, "Whatever is keeping me from you, Lord, help me change it. I want you more. I want you more than anything else in my life."

Hmmm...I'm challenged.

Here's the other wisdom I gained from this same conversation. We were talking about the exciting, "cool" life they live. Nothing necessarily sinful about the life, just faster paced. Here's the comment, "Maybe we're discontent in the 'cool.'" Discontent in the "cool"? I love it.

Wow. That has to be from God. To recognize discontentment in the midst of great abundance is straight from the Holy Spirit. Most of the time, we continually follow the lust for "more" and "more" never recognizing that it will never fill the void. If we only had this...if we only did that...if we only were able to... Even things that seem "exciting" on the outside promise to leave us empty if the pursuit is not for God Himself. That's a promise.

I love being challenged by those I love...even when they don't intend to challenge me.
I love watching the Lord stir lives.

Whatever it takes, Lord, whatever it takes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Porta-Potty Chase

It's hard to portray competence when you're chasing your toddler around a porta-potty.

It started with a simple, "I have to go potty."
Deep sigh.
"Honey, there's only porta-potties out here on the football field, can't you hold it?"
"No, I think I'm going to poop my pants."

Deeper sigh...maybe with a little groan thrown in there.

It took 10 minutes to make our way to the row of porta-potties. They weren't too gross...the three potties lined up on the field. We picked the cleanest one.
"I'll wait out here with Noah...you holler when you are done."

"MOOOOOOM...I need you to wipe me."

I survey the situation...Noah's playing in the grass...no parking lots nearby...no strangers walking near. I decide to go in without him. Surely he's fine for a minute by himself.

I was mistaken.
The wiping took a little longer than expected.

I emerge from the porta-potty to find him running around the porta-potties.
Second mistake...I began to chase him...he thought it was a game...and ran faster.

No...No...No Noah...not between the potties...
And there he went...wedging his little body between two of the potties. His little cheeks rubbing the sides as he furrowed deeper and deeper out of reach.

I had to text for back-up. I texted my sister-in-law, "Noah's wedged between two porta-potties at football practice."

She knows me too well. She texted back, "Tell Savannah to watch him better."

Ha. Ha. Ha. I text, "She was supposed to be watching him, BUT she was sitting on the pot in the porta-potty. I thought he was safer outside. I was wrong."

I'm really trying to not make a scene. How far can he wedge himself before I should get desperate? Now my cheeks are pushed up against the outhouse as I try unsuccessfully to reach him. That stinker. He just giggles and giggles. I sneak around the back. I grabbed his little arm and drag him out.

Game Over.

One second. I took my eyes off him for a second (okay maybe 2 minutes) to wipe little buns and this is how he handles his freedom. Totally untrustworthy.

I can't make eye contact as I walk back to football practice.
I'm not going back to that football practice for a while...and I'm definitely wearing a hat and sunglasses next time.

And that was a good day of parenting...

Could you not keep watch?

"Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?"

The disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were supposed to be waiting for Jesus. Supposed to be keeping watch for Jesus. Their spirits were willing, their bodies weak.

As Jesus groaned in anticipation, prayed for the cup to pass, and submitted to the Father's Will, the disciples closed their eyes and slept.

I recently read a story Kay Arthur wrote about this very verse. She was tired and not feeling well on a teaching trip to Israel. In response to an acquaintance, she wanted to respond in her flesh. She struggled to not respond in her sinful nature. God intervened and amazingly she was able to witness in the face of this temptation to sin. As she later stood in the Garden of Gethsemane and read these verses, she deeply understood the truth of Jesus' words. "Could you not keep watch for one hour?" Is it so hard to keep watch for one hour?

Matthew 26:40-41 "So you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

I got on my treadmill yesterday afternoon for a whole whopping twenty minutes. I was tired...a little frustrated. I stared at the Bible memory cards on my treadmill and decided I'd rather let my thoughts wander. I'd rather let my mind go into that closet in my head where I hold memories, the past, blessings, curses, fears, temptations, idols. I go there when I'm tired, insecure, bored, anxious, sick, angry...Does everyone have one of those closets in their mind or it just me?

I sorted through the closet and came upon a past event where I still harbored some "what if's?". Yes, this one. I'll choose to think on this one while I run. I thought through the past and people involved. Got myself worked up a bit (it did help energize my running!). What if this situation had gone differently? What if? What if? What if? They weren't healthy "what if's" that spur you on to make changes. They were those "what if's" that leave you saddled and burdened by the past.

I hopped off the treadmill after 20 minutes feeling physically rejuvenated, mentally drained, and spiritually lacking.

I think God might have whispered to me. Could you not keep watch with me for an hour? In this case, twenty minutes. Could you not keep watch with me for 20 minutes?

The spirit is willing, but our bodies are so ridiculously weak.

I think I understand that verse a tiny bit better. Or I understand the disciples a little better. This life is but a breath when we consider eternity. Can we not keep watch until He returns? Can we not guard our thoughts, our hearts, our bodies while we wait for Him?

The next time I'm tired, hungry, and frustrated...the next time my mind wants to hide a while in its secret places, I'm praying God whispers that question to me...Can you not keep watch with me for an hour?

Monday, September 12, 2011

No Greater Joy

A group of moms are praying this week for the salvation of our children. We are also praying that the saving work of Jesus would be evident in those already saved.

In the midst of the hopes and prayers I have for my children, I often get distracted by all the "other" good things I want them to "be." I want them to be gentle. I want them to be humble. I want them to be generous. I want them to be hardworking. I want them to be joyful. I want them to be quick students. I want them to be able to provide someday. I want them to serve. The list goes on and on.

More than any of those "fruits" of the Spirit...more than any success in life...I want them to be saved. I want God to call them. I want God to write their names in the Book of Life. I want God to pursue them and transform them and bring about His work in their life. Go after my kids, Lord! Please, relentlessly pursue my kids! And let it be evident...don't leave me wondering, Lord, if you've called them...if they're living out their faith or living out my faith...let it be evident that they are saved.

All I can do is lay them at the feet of Jesus and pray that He works His work in them.

A year ago I was talking with a group of women about raising children. I said something about understanding 111 John 1:4 better now that I have children. The verse says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the Truth." My heart's deepest desire is to see my children walking in the truth.

A good friend who has walked a rough road with one of her children wisely added, "You know, I'm not sure you totally understand that verse until you have a child not walking in the truth."

That's probably true. There's no greater joy for a Christian than to see our kids walking in the truth of God. I wonder if the opposite is also true. There's no greater pain for a Christian than to watch a beloved child reject the truth.

Wouldn't you love to never fully understand that heartache?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lincoln, MO and September 11th

Lincoln, MO. Population: 1089.
Rural Missouri.
A thousand miles from New York City.

The school in Lincoln, MO held an assembly today on their football field. Kindergartners to seniors filled the bleachers.
Air Force personnel from Whiteman AFB were asked to speak to the students about September 11th. Many of the students weren't even alive. The speeches were inspiring. A call to remember.
Just as inspirational is the town of Lincoln.
2976 forks placed on the football field by students. One for every person who died on September 11th.
That's a lot of time putting forks on a field...just to remember.
This little town in Lincoln, MO fighting to not forget.
That should encourage the victims of 9-11.
Lincoln, Missouri will remember...and they will make sure their children remember.

My husband agreed to speak. He was honored to have the opportunity. He could talk of freedom all day long. Here's his speech:

Good morning. I consider it an honor to come here to speak to the future of the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. I spent several days lamenting over what to say, what advice to give. I couldn't come up with any sage words of advice. Instead, I pondered what makes America great. America's greatness comes from you...and from others like you that come together under a common belief: freedom. Thomas Jefferson captured the foundation of American greatness when he penned these words in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." America united behind these words then and continues to unite behind them today. Our belief in freedom is one of the foundations of America. Our defense of freedom is why we are here today and one of the reasons I am in the military.

A little background---I grew up in small town Georgia, played high school sports including the greatest sport, football. I was blessed to continue to play football at the United States Air Force Academy. Honestly, I went to play football. Most of our football team accepted our Air Force Academy appointment just so we could play football. We were under-sized. Under-talented. Under-appreciated by bigger schools. As we played together through the years, I was able to see a group of young, small football players turn into an outstanding team of brothers, committed to each other, desiring never to let the other down. Winning football games was only part of it. By my senior year, the cadets had a greater perspective. Our commitment to each other went beyond the football field. We knew that together we would be counted on to defend our country, to defend freedom. This perspective had a calming effect on everyone. We could handle adversity better than most teams because football wasn't the end for us. We were going to be a team much longer. We actually were able to defeat more talented teams simply because we were a part of something bigger than just playing football.

Following graduation, I was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. I eventually became an A-10 pilot in 1998. As a first assignment I was stationed in Germany. Within weeks of moving to Germany came Operation Allied Force. We were sent to protect Kosovo from Serbia. Next, Operation Southern Watch. We flew the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq to protect the Shi'ite Muslims from Saddam Hussein. In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring freedom, we have been defending America against future attacks, but also defending Iraqi and Afghan people from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and those that threaten the potential for freedom in these countries. In every operation, I have been blessed to stand side-by-side better men and women than myself to defend freedom. Have we really defended our freedom in these operations? Debatable. In each and every operation, we were defending other people's freedom---the Shi'ites, the Kosovars, the Iraqi people, the Afghan people.

We don't know what it's like to not be free. You've always been free. I've always been free. Freedom is something Americans often take for granted. Have you ever seen someone who wasn't free? I don't mean someone in poverty. I understand we have poverty in America. I myself came from humble beginnings. But here in America, we do have a choice. We have the potential and the freedom to do something different. Many places in the world, including the countries mentioned earlier, they don't have that freedom. In fact, many of those countries are struggling to grasp freedom and to embrace the chance for freedom provided by the United States and our allies. These people have a look---a look of despair, a look of hopelessness. But these looks are gradually growing more hopeful. You have been a part of that. You have enabled the United States military and other agencies to provide hope to millions of people. You can see that in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Voter turn-out in these countries is astounding...even in the midst of intimidation and death threats. Only one thing motivates these people to risk their lives...the opportunity for freedom.

Back to 9/11. I had just left Germany and arrived at an A-10 training base in Tucson, Arizona when 9/11 occurred. I remember watching the aircraft crash into the towers in New York in shock and in anger. We were under attack and I wanted to defend my country, defend freedom...and I wasn't in any position to do that now. In fact, I would have to wait two more years until 2003. I knew I would have to train people that would be going overseas to defend our country...and that made me angry too. I could only sit and watch. But in watching, I saw the fear and courage of hundreds of Americans in New York and Washington D.C. I saw unassuming people stand tall in the face of danger to save their fellow Americans. People risking lives for those they didn't know. Many were first-responders. Many were not. Many just acted in a way succinctly described by former President George W. Bush when he stated the following after 9/11:

Great tragedy has come to us, and we are meeting it with the best that is in our country, with courage and concern for others because this is America. This is who we are. (George W. Bush)

This is who we are. We do respond with courage and concern for others. We do pay freedoms' price. As President Kennedy said years ago,

The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission. ( John F. Kennedy)

Your military through the years---consisting of many only slightly older than yourselves---have stood up for America and for Freedom. These people have done amazing things--saving lives, risking their own lives, making decisions at a moment's notice saving civilian lives. These people have paid the price, have sacrificed. Their families have sacrificed. My sacrifice has been minimal. Many Army and Marine troops have been deployed five of the last ten years. Why? Freedom. Freedom and the chance to ensure all American families have the chance to live out the ideals of our Declaration of Independence. No other military in the world has done this or sacrificed so much. Is it our excellent training or superb technology? No, not totally. It's the people. People just like you.

President Ronald Reagan put it this way,

Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. (Ronald Reagan)

So why is all this important? I won't be wearing a military uniform forever. My days in a uniform are numbered. You are the future of America. You will be the ones to defend freedom in that future. You will have to decide that you will not let your brother or sister down. This applies to everything you do---whether it's a football game tonight, school, or life. Will you meet the challenges of the future with courage? You will be afraid. I tell my own children, you can't have courage without fear. That's one definition of courage: the willingness to something in spite of your fears. So, as we remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11, let's declare we will stand for freedom. We will stand for each other. We still stand for America. Thank you and God bless.

Preston McConnell

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sept. 11

My husband's giving a speech tomorrow in remembrance of September 11th.
If he had finished the speech, I would write it down now. Instead I'm going to do my own remembering.

Was it really 10 years ago?

We all remember where we were when we heard.
I was in a billeting room on Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. Holding a baby. There was no alert that something was happening on the other side of the country. My mom called, "Turn on the television."
The second plane hit seconds after we turned it on. It would remain on for the next week.
The base immediately locked down.
Shock. Dismay. Devastation. Anticipation.
How did this happen? Are we safe? What does this mean for our country?
Our illusion of safety shattered. What are we going to do?
I remember the unity. For a brief period of time, we were all on the same side. We were all Americans devastated by an attack on our soil. We begged God to save us. For a brief second, we realized we weren't really in control.

I don't know a single person who died on September 11th. I didn't smell the burning fires. I never saw the rubble aside from on television. I didn't wait to hear from a loved one. My memories of September 11th were shaped by the television. The stories I know are the ones highlighted on remembrance videos. There are thousands of stories. I've only heard a handful.

We must feel safe now. The military must be doing their job. We freely question and analyze whether our response was right. That's a sign we feel safe. No one questioned if we would respond in those early days following September 11th. We just questioned, WHEN? When would we go after those who had attacked us? We anticipatingly waited.

September 11th rejuvenated my husband's love for this country. A readiness. A willingness. An eagerness to be used. And I was ready to send him in those early days. Go do something.

The focus of the military mission changed for this generation of soldiers...at least it changed for my husband.
Their missions became personal.
They weren't fighting to protect a foreign people from a foreign enemy on foreign land.
They were fighting to protect Americans.

George Bush stood on the rubble of the Twin Towers and yelled into a bullhorn, "I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people---the people who knocked down these buildings will hear from all of us soon!"

I remember my husband's focus that day.
When are we going?
Come on. When are we going?
Send us.
A fierce, determined energy.

He would go. Two years later.
He would spend the months and years after 9-11 as an instructor pilot training other pilots to go. He would train others to do the missions that he wanted to do. It was no less an important job, but I know he would rather have gone himself. He got his chance. 2003, 2004, 2007, and an upcoming December 2011 deployment. Just over a year of his life would be spent "there." He would say that's not much compared to most military people today. But it's something.

The mission is still alive. It's debated. It's critiqued. It's questioned.
That's good. That's what we do in a free country.
Are we doing the right thing? What should we have done differently?
Don't forget to be thankful we can question these things now.
We weren't free enough in the days following September 11th to question much.
In our security, we are free to question.

And while we're wondering if we did/are doing the right thing, don't forget...
Soldiers will keep doing their jobs while we sleep in safe beds and contemplate whether we are doing the right thing in this war on terror.
Firefighters will keep walking up the stairs while others contemplate if the towers are going to fall.
Paramedics will keep compressing a lifeless heart while others sit frozen in shock.
Heroic citizens will risk their own lives to save the life of a stranger.
God will still be in charge.
Don't forget what it felt like on that day to truly act as one nation.
Our unity is rare these days. It's sad that it took tragedy to pull us together.

It's good to remember September 11th.
I don't think about it everyday.
Is that a sign of how far we've come or that I've grown numb?
I don't know. It's good to move forward, right?
I've thought about it more lately with an upcoming deployment.
All of us were touched that day.
Don't forget that cost.
Remember September 11th.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alone with Noah

We got to spend three days alone with our little guy.
Aside from the two days we spent with him in the hospital, that's one of the first times we've truly been alone with him for any extended period of time.
In big families, you steal private moments with your children.
Going to the grocery store with one child becomes an opportunity for one-on-one time.
Grabbing a Diet Coke at Quik Trip is another date.
The five minute walk to the football field counts as private time.
Three days? Three days alone with one child rarely happens.

It made me realize how often I'm in a hurry. Mentally I'm always managing something. My mind is constantly juggling. I'm rarely just living in the moment. I'm always planning the next moment.
Yep, I'll play catch with you. We have ten minutes.
No, we can't make cookies. We're leaving in four minutes.
Quick game of cards. Quick, Guys! It's time for football.

Two things I thought of while I just had Noah.

First. Do I ever play with my kids until they are ready to quit? No. I always call off the fun.
I've never heard them say, "I'm done swinging, Mom. Stop pushing me." I always stop pushing before they are ready.
I've never played catch until they are tired of playing catch. I'm always saying "Okay, 50 more." Always counting down.

For one three day period, I tried. We pushed Noah around the block on a little bike and never once looked at our watch. What did we really need to do anyway? We just enjoyed the walk. It was so refreshing.

I took him to the park and went down the slide with him over and over again. He kept giggling and saying "Gin, Mommy! Gin!" Even though I really wanted to be done sliding, I kept sliding just for him. It really was quite fun.

Second. Have I taught my kids to enjoy the things in life that are not dependent on income? They aren't promised any income when they grow up. Wouldn't it be a great gift to enjoy the things with my children that they will always be able to enjoy regardless of their financial status in life? A sky twinkling with stars. A walk by a gentle stream. A night of reading. A sunrise. A sunset.

We took a walk last night as a family and Josh said, "I haven't seen the stars in a while."
The stars haven't gone anywhere, Josh. We just haven't taken the time to notice.
I'd like to enjoy God's creation more with my kids. You can freely enjoy that anywhere.

Noah got pretty bored without his brothers and sisters, but what a special gift to us. A handful of memories of just him. Sliding down a slide. Riding a little bike. Reaching out just for us. He won't remember. It probably didn't mean that much to him. It was special for us.

The next time we will probably be alone with him will be when he's 15.
I wonder if he'll still want me to push him on the swing.