Friday, January 25, 2013


Tension rose as one of my sons persevered through some math.  He's generally a quick learner, but there's one concept that continues to confuse him.    An entire page of math re-do's and a mom peering over his shoulder was enough to send him into an internal fury.   (I often wonder if kids who learn quickly miss the important lesson of persevering through the difficult.   That's a discussion for another day.)    He worked and re-worked and then re-worked problem after problem.   Each re-worked wrong answer revealed that in fact, he was not understanding the lesson.  (Some might blame the teacher.   Probably valid.)

Normally, I would sigh deeply, groan, and then raise my voice in a high-pitched nag and fiercely re-teach the lesson.    (I also often wonder if a teacher who is spoiled with a quick-learning student fails to appreciate the art of patiently re-teaching.  Never fear.  I have a daughter providing me many an opportunity to re-teach...and re-teach...and re-teach.)     Anyway, today, I decided to change my traditional, over-reactive, over-emotional approach and throw him a long-term vision.

"This is called perseverance.    I'm proud of you for persevering through this difficult task right now.    Your entire life you will have to persevere through something you don't like or you don't understand, and this is your training ground for that.    Perseverance produces character, and character, hope.   And hope does not disappoint us."   I thought inserting the scripture in Romans about perseverance was a nice touch.      

Never one to mince words, he looked me straight in the eye and said,
"Well, I think perseverance sucks!" 
Perseverance sucks.
It does kind of feel like it sucks at the time, doesn't it?  

Perseverance when you want to quit.
Perseverance when you are facing a storm. 
Perseverance when there seems to be no answer. 
Perseverance when the answer isn't what you want. 
Perseverance when there's something else you'd rather be doing. 
Perseverance when breathing is just so hard. 
Perseverance when you are just plain tired of waiting for Jesus to come back.   

God's word says in Romans 5:3-5, "We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us."   

Perseverance feels like it sucks, but when you read that verse, my soul cries out for the strength to persevere.  If we take God at His word, perseverance develops our character.    The development of our character leads to our hope.    And God's word says that this HOPE---hope in Him---won't disappoint us because this hope is not based on anything temporary.    That's the hope that I want.   The hope that is never disappointed because it is placed on something that cannot be taken away.

If working through silly math problems is one step in my son's journey of perseverance, then I'm thankful for the struggle for him.  Someday, he'll have to persevere through something much more grand than the circumference of a semi-circle.    This is his training ground.

Teach him, Lord, to persevere.   
And I could use some refreshment in this area, too.  
Because my heart's cry is often the same as his...
Perseverance sucks.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Family Devotions

Family Devotions.
It's time to renew our commitment for family devotions. 
That sentence alone makes me cranky.  
We've renewed our commitment to have family devotions so many times that it's hard to get excited about another attempt. 
My first thought is..."How many weeks will we make it before we fall off the wagon?" 
We really, really, really want to have them.  And we should have them.             
Should.  Want.       
The should and the want are very different from the carrying-out part.      
It's 2013.   
Time to try again.  

Let me clarify what I mean by family devotions. 
The big kids read the Bible on their own. 
The big kids and I do a Bible curriculum as part of school. 
The little kids have a Bible storybook we read to them.     
My husband reads his Bible on his Kindle at night to get out of putting the kids to bed. 
The Bible IS OPEN daily in our home.
BUT...I have this vision of the seven of us spending time together while learning about God's Word.    Maybe a fire in the fireplace warming the room.   Maybe a little soft, classical music calming the chaos.   Maybe all of the kids with their mouths closed and ears open.  Maybe my husband and I smiling lovingly at each other as he teaches God's word and I nod in agreement.   
Definitely just a vision at this point.      

We picked Thursdays this year.  
Let's try Thursdays for family devotions.
There's no rhyme or reason for picking that night.   We've just tried every other night during the week and nothing has worked.   
Looking at our track record, it's OBVIOUSLY the night's fault that we've quit so many times...not that there's anything wrong with our commitment to the devotions.  
Thursdays it is. 
So, we began two weeks ago. 
Thursday evening came and almost went before my husband mentioned family devotion time.  
Woo Hoo.   I was sort of hoping he'd forget. 
There was so much energy in the house that it hardly seemed like the best time to collect the children, but my husband disappeared to gather his family devotional material so I began to gather kids.   Or herd cats. 
I can be kind of whiny.    
Why can't I gather the material and you gather the children, Dear Husband? 
Because he still had to prepare and I certainly didn't want to be the one leading the devotion.   Preparation time for devotions is as long as it takes all seven of us to find our way to one room.   
It's generally plenty of time.  There's always some battle to fight first. 
Toddler and the Little Daughter wanted to invite some friends.   
Teenager went to help Toddler with very specific instructions. 
"Toddler can only bring 3 animals to devotions from his room.  Three."   Teenager smiled.   
Middle daughter collected the three baby-dolls from the Little Daughter's room that would be joining us.     
This is why we don't have family devotions.   Getting ready for them is like an hour long process.  
Finally, the majority of us arranged ourselves around our fearless leader.
Teenager and Toddler were still missing, but too bad.
In my mind, I flipped the switch for the fireplace.  

What are we studying, Daddy?  
That was when I noticed what was on my husband's lap.   
His Bible.   And Wayne Grudem's book entitled, Systematic Theology.  
All 1167 pages of Systematic Theology.  
Oh my. 
He clearly thought too highly of my homeschooling efforts.  
This could be a long night. 

Before I could question the content we would be studying, Teenager entered with Toddler.  
Five friends flowed from their arms.    Five.   Five.  Five.  And I couldn't let that go.   
I had told him only three.    
"I told you only three animals could join us.    Go take two back."  
It's a mystery to me why I picked that moment to be a stickler for the rules.   I had let things slide all day, so I'm not sure why I chose to follow-through at that point.     Maybe I was exerting my authority.  
"But, but, but (Toddler stutters), I only brought three ANIMALS.    This one guy is Spiderman.  Not an animal.    And this other thing is a dragon.   Zach told me it's's a..."
The Teenager interjected, "It's technically a mythical creature, so I thought he could bring it too." 
Then Teenager smiled his charming smile.   Gotcha.   
So, there we sat...a dad, a mom, three boys, two girls, three baby dolls, three animals, Spiderman, and a dragon.  
Kill the classical music in the background.   It's just too much.        

My husband told us we were going to be talking about why we need Jesus.
Start at the beginning.   Good idea.
Second son piped up, "Do I need my Bible for this?"
"Are you kidding?  Ummm, yeah, you need your Bible.   Some people think a Bible is useful when we are actually reading the Bible."   
Sarcasm has no place in family devotions.  
But, seriously, "Do I need a Bible?"
Are we done yet?     

My husband began by taking us through a brief overview of the Creation and the Fall.
He's a good speaker and he totally had their attention.    
Cool.  They are listening.  Maybe 2013 will be different.  The year of the successful family devotions.   
Toddler disappeared, but we won't worry about him unless he's gone a really long time.   
Then the study led to Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac.  
Again, the children are captivated.   I'm kind of captivated, too.  
My husband is good.   He had us all under his spell. 
Toddler returned.  He brought his little toddler Bible and he opened it up on his lap.   
Someone.  Take.  A.  Picture.  
Aren't we just the sweetest family ever?   
Maybe for that moment we were.   But it wouldn't last long.  It never does.   

Toddler interrupted.    
"I want to tell you about Adam and Eve."  
My husband furrowed his eyebrows.   
The rest of us couldn't resist.  The Toddler was just so incredibly cute.
Tell us, Noah.  Tell us about Adam and Eve.    
So he stood up and told us the story with full body action.
He told us about the Creation.   He mentioned the fruit.  He talked about the snake.  
He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes dramatically.    
"And then...and you know what the snake said to Eve?"
"What did the snake say to Eve, Noah?"
I truly thought my three-year-old was going to quote from the Bible that the snake had said, 
"Did God really tell you not to eat from that tree?'"  
I honestly thought that's what he would say.   He's smart enough for that.   
We waited.   Waited for his brilliance to shine.   
"The snake said...the snake said..." 
Noah made eye contact with each of us to make sure he had our undivided attention.  
"The snake said....sssssssssssssss."  
And he wagged his tongue back and forth at each of us just like a snake would do. 
And then we all started to "ssssssssss" back at him.     
Because of course that's what a 3-year-old would say a snake said.   
It took minutes to turn the focus back to the devotions. 
My husband did his best to keep us on track.   
Together, all of us have only about a 5 minute attention span and we were pushing thirty minutes.  
I wanted to say, "That's good for a first devotion," and give him the universal finger twirl for "WRAP THIS UP."   But that seemed rude.  
So, I interrupted instead with a nice, closing summary.  
My husband looked at me quizzically.  I looked at him hopefully.
"Good thought." He said.  "But that wasn't really the point of what I read."  
Oops.   Should have kept my mouth shut.  Not helpful.

He did wrap up our devotion.  
Quite successful for our first one of 2013, I might add.   
My husband asked the Teenager to pray. 
As Zach and I were looking for a specific verse for him to pray for our family, the herd began talking.    Kids began fidgeting.  Stuffed animals began migrating.   
My husband...the man who had just masterfully kept seven of us still and fairly quiet for 30 minutes...stood up and made his way to the center of the room. 
As we all curiously watched, he proceeded to get in the push-up position and hold it for several seconds before he raised one arm and leg.   And then he actually balanced like that. 
"What is he doing?"  I asked the Teenager.  
"The plank, Mom.  We did it tonight at soccer."
Middle daughter and I exchanged an eyebrow raise. 
" you realize we haven't prayed yet?"  
"Oh, okay.   Zach go ahead and pray for us."  
I'm really not sure if he stayed in the plank position for all of the prayer.  
I was silently laughing so hard I couldn't even look up. 
As the kids scattered, I couldn't help but ask. 
"So, what was that?" 
He innocently asked, "What was what?"  
"The whole laying in the middle of the floor doing the plank thing at the end of devotions." 
His eyes lit up with joy. 
"I just wanted to see if I could do it."
He sheepishly added, "And I can."  

Best family devotion night EVER.  

I guess my family also had family devotions last week when I was gone. 
Apparently, having the mom there is optional.
I'm told it went well. 
My husband used my different personalities to describe the Trinity to the kids.  
And the Teenager ended the devotion in the plank.   

Oh well.   
A friend recently told me that she had to get over her vision of how she thought things  in her family should look and face the fact that they probably won't ever look that way. 
Away with the fireplace, classical music, and closed mouths.   
In with the snake noises, missing Bibles, and "the plank."
Family devotions will never look the way I envision.   
Perhaps, God can still be glorified.
Even through the plank.      

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

Happy New Year 2013. 
Slow. Down. Time.  How can it be time to celebrate another New Year?    I’m not ready.  Our children are growing up and they aren’t properly trained!    Ahhh.  We haven’t finished (or even started) what we wanted to get done in 2012, so how can we be ushering in another year?   The tension constantly exists between wanting to hang on tightly to our family as we know it, yet somehow keeping our hands wide open to allow time to do what it does…and change things.                   

God never changes.  That’s our anchor as every year we realize that life is constantly changing.   New ages, new phases, new attitudes, new trials, new successes, new sorrows, new joys.  Just life. The ever-fluid dynamics of life lead us craving our Heavenly Father, who always stays the same.   His Word doesn’t change--the rules in our home do.  Our Lord is dependable—we’ve been known to disappoint. God richly supplies all our needs, plus more--we meet needs according to the budget.  God is Sovereign--we pretend to be.  God is patient…we can be quick-tempered.  God whispers…what’s a whisper?  Thankfully, we can point our children to an anchor that is steadfast, loving, and always faithful.  Because our consistent inconsistencies would surely ruin them otherwise J.   

Could it be any wonder we had some spiritual hurdles this year?   Savannah accepted Christ as her Savior.    Hallelujah!    The very next day confirmed her need for a Savior when she proudly taught her preschool class the song, “We’re Sexy and We Know It!” (Clap. Clap. Head wag.)    Noah assured a preschool helper that in fact Spiderman WAS stronger than Jesus because Jesus does not have any REAL super powers.     And Madelin.   Sweet Madelin told her co-op class that prostitution (she meant persecution) spread the early church.    Sexy dances.   Powerless Jesus.   Prostitution .  The lessons are limitless.

Our year was full.    A family trip to the beach.    A new niece (Finlay Michelle...but I’m not proud J).   Friends.  Family.  Colorado.  Georgia.  Lake weekends.  Service at the church.  Youth group.  Gymnastics.  Dance.   Soccer.  Swimming.  Football.   School.  Work.  Tears.  Laughter. Groans.  Praises.    Living life is so daily.  The sinfulness and goodness bound up in our children continue to amaze us, and every part of our daily life leads plenty of opportunity for both to be seen.    The sinfulness of their selfishness.  The goodness of their selflessness.   The sinfulness of their greed.   The goodness of their generosity.   The sinfulness of their pride.   The goodness of their relationships with the Lord.   Yep, we can say with certainty, they are taking after their parents.   

Does it seem exhaustive that our Christmas update each year describes each child?  With five children, they are so often lumped together as “one of the McConnell kids.”  To us, they are so much more, and each year we love introducing them and their own unique personalities and roles within our family.           

The teenager.   Zach, 14, loves deeply, provides comic commentary, leads quietly, and tests the rules.  He’s an excellent brother and friend, and values people above all else.   Watching the transition of boy to man has been exciting and humbling for us.   He’s active in his youth group and seems to have a gift for reaching out and bringing others in.  Football, soccer, and swimming are his sports.   Writing…and well, more writing are his favorite subjects.  His future plans may include going to the Air Force Academy…or living in our basement.  The verdict is still out, but here’s a big cheer for Plan A.

The rule-follower.   Josh, 11, shares feelings honestly, lives energetically, focuses intensely, and speaks openly.  He’s a rule-follower and task tackler by nature and loves to be in our good graces (Amen!).  Soccer, football, swimming, and piano are his activities.  Josh is gentle off the field playing beautiful pieces on the piano, but quite the touchdown runner with a football in his hands.  He gathers friends and loves people.   Math is his favorite subject.   He will “NEVER” live in our basement, but will possibly “allow his parents to someday live in HIS basement.”  Retirement…done.      

The middle-child.   Madelin, 9, loves, loves, loves being the middle child.  (What is wrong with her?) She loves playing “up” with her big brothers and playing “down” with her little siblings.   She competes with the boys, yet plays make-believe with her sister.  She’s a dancing soccer player, who happens to have a pretty good freestyle in the pool.   Madelin blessed us with many mornings of cinnamon rolls, and well, music. She’s our resident DJ.   Her sweet spirit softens our home and her spunkiness refreshes us.        
The drama queen. Savannah, 6, is lovely, tenderhearted, and oh-so-dramatic. She loves dancing, baby dolls, and playing with her little brother.   Homemade cards for us appear all over the house and she’s very quick to believe the best in others (including President Obama—she’s a closet Democrat.)  She’s fearless on snow skis and the boogie board, yet simple tasks like hair-brushing end in hysterics, “I’m going to leave this town!” (What?) Reading is…coming along.  Before any test we give her in school, she asks, “Are you judging me, now?” Child, a test is different than a judgment.  But yes, we are judging you, too.          

The story-teller.   Noah, 3, is articulate, animated, and bright-eyed in all that he says and does.  HE SPEAKS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.  He masterfully weaves Jesus, Spiderman, and sledding into believable stories that leave us begging for more of his tales.   He runs with the boys (always wearing his cowboy boots,) plays Barbie’s with the girls (maybe in a Batman mask,) and drinks coffee with me (with lots of cream.)   He’s everyone’s buddy, and we work tirelessly to be his favorite.   Noah reminds the bigger kids of the fun in having an imagination, and reminds his parents of how quickly childhood flies. 

Preston began the year in Afghanistan focused on protecting the guys on the ground in his A-10.  Do I really need to say again that he loves it?  Their deployment sign said, “The Mission is the 18-year-old on the ground with a rifle.  All else is support.”     I have my own version of that motto.    “The Mission is the husband, and the 14, 11, 9, 6, 3 year-olds in the home.   All else should be hired outJ.”  I’m mostly kidding, but I do often daydream about having a full-time housekeeper, cook, driver, and scheduler, so I can sit and simply read to my children all day.  Apparently, I still need my mom.        

Preston read the entire Bible this year.   I gave up in March.   Preston boogie boarded.  I snowboarded.   Preston volunteers for Awanas.   I find subs for my nursery shift.    Preston turned 40.   I think I got a new wrinkle (Savannah assured me it’s not new.  It’s always been there.)    Preston talks to the neighbors.   I shut the garage door quickly.     He likes movie night with the kids.   I like reading night with the kids.  It would seem both of us are needed in this house.          

Seventeen years.  We stand amazed that 17 years have passed since we said our vows.   We had no idea what we were in for all those years ago, and we stand amazed at God’s faithfulness to us.   Amazed He has preserved our family.  Amazed we are finding joy in the journey.  Amazed that His grace could really be that great.   We HOPE in Jesus…the author of our faith…the joy of our salvation…the secret to peace in this crazy world.   Our HOPE in the Lord will NEVER disappoint.   

We pray that same HOPE for you in 2013.    

God Sees

When your child is missing, there's a brief period of time when you know they must be right there.
They just can't hear me.   They must be hiding.   They have got to be here.  
The more time that passes, the more the panic rises.  
Where are they? 
Why aren't they answering?   
Frantically, you search and search, knowing that they must be here.
Under the bed.  In the backyard.   Maybe in the closet.     
I don't know how much time passes before you begin thinking the worst. 
It's probably not too long before your mind begins racing. 
Time stands completely still.   
Completely and utterly ceases...your heart and mind explode...
Where.  Is.  My.  Child.  

My brother and sister-in-law had one of those heart-wrenching experiences a couple nights ago.   
My sister-in-law out for a walk with the dog.   The dog that would bark if anyone came anywhere near the house.   The watch dog.
My brother in the basement with the three kids.    Watching cartoons...and maybe a little football. 
The four-year-old goes upstairs.
The front door is unlocked.
How much time passes is unknown, but there comes a moment when mom comes back and dad comes upstairs when they realize...where is Owen?  
He's obviously hiding.  He's maybe fallen asleep somewhere.   But where? 
Why won't he answer? 
Both search the house...the closets...the basement...the garage...
Did he go looking for mom?   Did he open the front door and wander the Denver neighborhood knowing that mom was for a walk?  Or worse...did someone come in the house through the unlocked door?  
That's improbable...but when your child is missing...improbable becomes real and very terrifying...
It was freezing.  It was getting dark.  
Where is he?  The neighbors?   No one had seen him, but they join in the hunt.    
And the police are called.
Because it makes sense that he's somewhere in the house, but what if...what if he's not...
My mom is called.  
And I am called. 
Pray.  Just pray.   He's missing.  

My brother drives around the neighborhood. 
Runs through the nearby parks. 
It's getting dark.  And it's so cold. 
Where could he be? 
Forty-five minutes is too long.    

He runs back into the house hoping for good news, but the look on his wife's face tells him that in fact, the little boy has not been found.    
The policeman continues his search.  Calmly.   Methodically.   They get calls on this and normally the child is found in the home...asleep somewhere.  
But what if?  What if? 
And they've already looked a dozen times.  
Where could he be?  

They, again, search the bedrooms. 
Under the the closets...
The sheets...the sheets haven't been thrown off the beds...
The pillows are lifted...the ones that look completely undisturbed...
And under the pillows, the sweetest little feet that my brother had ever seen...
Laying flat under the pillows lay a small child wearing shorts and a t-shirt...sound asleep.
The life of a family unraveling as they search for a little boy that was never in any real danger. 
Relief...and weeping...
The little boy safe and warm, and safe and warm.  
Thank.  You.  Jesus.  

God knew the whole time where Owen was. 
I imagine as they frantically searched and hearts picked up speed, the Lord's eyes never left my nephew.   What a beautiful picture to envision the Lord's eyes keeping watch as he slept.       
God's eyes see all.  
That's an incredibly uncomfortable fact when we are living in sin.
Where can I go where He will not find me?  
Can I go anywhere where He won't see?  
But what a relief that God sees ALL when your child is missing. 
God knows.   He sees.  He sees.  
I'm so thankful that as we prayed for my little nephew and begged God to show them where he was,
that our God knew and protected and directed.

A first-grader sitting in a classroom.  God sees.
A mom leaving her child with a babysitter.   God sees.
A teenager driving alone for the first time.   God sees. 
A group of college students spending their first night away from home in the dorms.  God sees.
A family at the beach trying to keep track of all their kids.  God sees.  
A husband on a trip far from his family.   God sees.
A daughter who has wandered far from home and the faith she knows.   God sees.  
A widow, alone and burdened by daily life.  God sees.  
A four-year-old missing as the night grows cold.  God sees.

Psalm 139:7-12
Where can I go from your Spirit?  
Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far
side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand
will hold me fast.  
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light becomes night around me,"
Even darkness will not be dark to you;
for night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.