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." 

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.   

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."

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 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 is a GOOD thing...a very, very, very, VERY good thing.)  His job is 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 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 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.


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 look forward 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, 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 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.  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.  




Thursday, May 14, 2015


Our dear friend stepped into eternity with her Lord and Savior this past weekend.  As my own children awoke and gifted me with handwritten Mother's Day cards, her children awoke to learn their mama had gone to be with Jesus.  She's no longer in pain and finally free from the cancer that poisoned her body.  Amen.  Oh, but her young they understand God is good?   Do they believe He will never leave them or forsake them?  Can they still see Him through their sadness?  Do they know they don't have to be so brave right now?  While she is whole, healed, and in the land of no more tears, her family walks through hard days and those of us on the edges lift her loved ones up in prayer...that peace will overwhelm their fears, that God's people will serve them well, that our Lord's perfect love will bring comfort.    

Often I hide our old family Christmas letters in books that I've read, so that on the rare occasion I open a book to re-read, I might find a note about our family from years past.  It delights my heart to read of who we once were and how we've changed.  The letter I found this week was penned many years ago during dark days, a hard season for our family.  It was a year I contemplated staying Christmas card silent because I was sure anything positive I wrote would be dishonest.  When I opened the book and saw this letter folded within the pages, the year at the top of the letter gripped my heart.  "That year really sucked," I thought. I skimmed to the end of the page wondering what the final message could have possibly been during this year when we were feeling hard-pressed and squeezed on all sides.
The letter ended with a story I had long since forgotten...I don't know who originally told the story, I don't even know the context of which the story was first told or where we had heard the story, but I do remember during that challenging time for our family, the word picture seemed to sum up so much for us.  Can there be peace in the midst of a storm?
The letter from so many years ago ended with this story...        

"We heard a beautiful word picture the other day.  Two artists were asked to paint a picture of 'peace.' The first artist painted a beautiful mountain lake that was completely serene.  There wasn't a cloud in the bright blue sky; there wasn't a ripple of waves on the clear water; there wasn't a hint of a breeze in the towering trees.  The scene portrayed was breathtakingly perfect.  The other artist's picture of 'peace' was quite different.  He painted a raging river that roared with chaos.  The sky was cloudy, the water churning, and the waves crashing.  The scene screamed was overwhelmingly unsettled.   Yet, over this tumultuous water stretched a small tree branch.  A little nest was cradled softly amidst the tree branch and in that nest snuggled a little bird.  This delicate bird rested soundly...trusting...quiet...'peaceful' in the midst of the storm...completely undisturbed by the danger surrounding him."

Peace in the midst of a raging storm.  Rest amongst the chaos.  Stillness in the turbulent.  All of this impossible without Christ.  The holder of the storm, the rock on which we stand, the keeper of our lives...HE, only HE, brings peace which surpasses all understanding.  And sometimes, we have to fight for that peace.   Fight against our flesh to believe Him and wrestle with our fears to trust Him.  My mind says it's not fair for a family to lose their beloved mama and wife at such a young age.  Focusing on my idea of "good" leaves me anxious, fearful, and maybe even a little angry.  So, we fight to believe and lean into God's word.   We repeat verses over and over and over in our minds that remind us who God is even though sometimes it's hard to see His goodness from our earthly perspective.  We take captive our thoughts and make them obedient to His word, not obedient to our own human analysis.  One verse that brings peace to my fears for this family is from Jeremiah, "'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.'"  God's plan is not to destroy this family...even though it feels "too early" for her to be in eternity and they're "too young" to have lost their mom. God holds them and His plan is to bring good...even if we can't see it yet.   We can believe what we don't see because we know His character and His character never changes. We can believe in this family's hope and future because God says we can believe that.    

Phil 4:6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

"The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

Peace in the midst of the storm flies in the face of human reasoning, but yet God promises peace to guard our hearts and minds as the wind howls and the waves crash.   Peace guards...posted outside of our aching hearts and anxious minds, peace allows His truth to speak louder to us than the chaos of hard circumstances.

The artists had two different perspectives on peace.  One 'peace' required no conflict; the other 'peace' magnified by the conflict.  Is it possible that peace is that much more magnificent when the circumstances scream there should be none?   How often I pray for the picture surrounding me to change believing falsely that's the only way to get back to a place of peace.   Peace in the midst of the storm is one of the beautiful promises tucked in Christ.  True peace doesn't have to wait for still waters; true peace takes its most amazing, divine stand while the storm rages.

Friday, May 1, 2015


If a blog could be whispered, I'd whisper this one.   Some trials in life suck the breath out of our lungs, squeeze our heart to the point you think it might explode, quiet the words that normally flow easy.  Some things silence our wordy prayers and leave us with simply heart-crying groans. Words seem insufficient...and the words you do say seem shallow, silly in the midst of such ache.  Maybe I'm at such a loss because it's not my story. I'm inside the story enough to ache, but too outside to fully know how God is being faithful.   It seems impossible, yet I know He's faithful.  I believe He is faithful.  HE IS FAITHFUL.

Today, a friend walks the valley of the shadow of death, the number of her days limited.  We all thought maybe she would be the one...maybe she could be the one to fight this cancer for ten years and get her kids through high school.  If anyone had the temperament to do that, it would be her.   After a rough week at chemo, she'd sit with the two-year-old Puggles at Awanas and say, "I can feel crummy at home or I can feel crummy here.  I'd rather be here."  Even as the pain has overwhelmed in the last weeks, she said, "I just need to get this managed, so I can get on with my day." And against the medical odds, we all hoped that she would be the one who would beat it.  

The Creator of her body, the Lover of her soul, the Heavenly Father who knows how this story ends, seems to be walking her home.  I whispered to my little guy this morning, "It seems she's going to get to go Home."  He smiled, "Oh good.  Now she will be back at church."  I corrected gently, "Not this home on earth.  Home to our Heavenly Father."  He whispered back, "That's so good for her. She will be so happy to be with Jesus. But I'm so sad for her kids."  He grabs my neck and gives me a generous hug.  And I feel so spoiled because I have the energy to hang on tightly to my kids, and make them breakfast, and give a test, and use the word "tomorrow."  My journey on this day seems so easy...and not too far away, this friend's valley is so hard...   

We cry out to God for peace for the family and her two young children.  We cry out for comfort for her.  We pray against a spirit of fear for her and for her beloved family and friends.   In a stolen moment with a couple girlfriends around her hospital bed, we promise her that we will pray for her children long term.  That as we pray for our own children's purity and gentleness and salvation and spouses and...and..., that we will also pray for hers.  That her children will be prayed for by other mamas who know the deepest longings of a mama's heart for her children. It seems unfair to promise a mama that you will do for her children the one thing that she longs to do for them herself. Yet, there's nothing else we can offer...and maybe, aside from a miraculous healing, there's nothing she wants more ...than to know her children will be prayed for.        

But mostly, we groan.  We groan and trust that God understands the language of hurting hearts.
 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's Will."  Romans 8:26-27      

We trust He intercedes for us as we don't know what to our prayers seems we seek to trust without seeking human understanding...we groan because there simply aren't words powerful enough to express... 
 As Kara Tippetts wrote in her blog  during her final days, "There will be grace for this..."

So, our hearts groan for our dear friend who is journeying through the valley, and we whisper,
There WILL be grace for this...     

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Root of Bitterness

A feverish baby woke me early.  
A list of grievances from weeks past made sleep restless anyway, so the excuse to get out of bed brought relief that finally the night was over. 
Rocking a fussy one seemed simple compared to the weight of all the chips that I had allowed permanent residence on my shoulders over the last weeks.
The bitterness had crept back in slowly; hardly noticeable at first glance.  It rested quietly in my spirit, ignored mostly, but still allowed to permeate my thoughts.  Thoughts become speech; speech becomes action. Before long, the bitter began lacing my conversation about certain topics with a touch of sarcasm; a hint of hardness surrounding my talk; the edge of a critical spirit waiting to offer an arrogant opinion.  Only unchecked bitterness can result in such anger and frustration.   
Unresolved conflict in relationships, unmet expectations of life, and the pride of thinking higher of oneself than we ought, tend to open the floodgates to all kinds of past issues. 
Moments forgotten from times past...offenses overlooked, but not really overlooked just put aside for another day...all of the yuck of yesterday resurrected.
Generalizations allowed the freedom to make bold, over-arching judgments.
Words like never and always enter carelessly.
You never...
We never...
It always..
Anger strangled as I laid my little one back down in her crib. 
Not anger toward the little one who had pulled me from bed; for she cuddled and loved fiercely in her need.  
What is my problem?  No single incident could incite such emotional ugliness.
No single incident except the brushing aside of the root of bitterness that never fails to eventually produce fruit that chokes out the good.   
When we want an excuse for our sin, we hunt desperately for the scapegoat that allows us to take the edge off of our own conviction of wrong and place the blame somewhere else. 
It's not my fault I'm acting this way.  I have reason.
I began to justify.  The excuses ready to bear the brunt of the blame for my internal battle.      
I started the mental list as I rocked alone, no longer softened by the gentle breathing of the baby.  I was left to give full vent to my sin. 
For this reason...I'm so angry.
For this reason...I'm allowed bitterness.  
For this...I resent.  Who wouldn't?
All of the things I'm disliking about myself these days cast away from my ownership. 
And on and on my list grew in the wee hours of the morning. The frustration energized by my endless pursuit for justification.
On and on I rocked alone. 
It's no coincidence that the one in bitterness is often left to themselves. 

When I thought I would surely pop from the listing of excuses, the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit pressed in--the Counselor that doesn't allow sin comfortable living space in a child of God's spirit--the awakening of the status of the heart that doesn't allow for Truth to be absent from the equation.  There are no excuses in dealing with our own sin; God's word burrows into the dark places and reveals the ugliness of hidden sin, our own deceptive hearts that try to deceive us into believing that we are excused.   The weight of our sin comes to light.  Oh, it's so ugly, and so overwhelming, and so seemingly unchangeable.  Just when we think we might be doomed forever, Grace gently enters; to cover, to restore, to heal, to breathe life; the undeserved gift that unveils the sin and offers us new mercies in exchange for our repentance. Turn back and be renewed.

We all have our own reasons for hanging on to a bitter spirit.
Some reasons seem more worthy than others.     
Some stories make bitterness understandable. 
Some circumstances make living joyfully hard to do.
Some seasons of life are just plain more challenging than others.
People hurt us.  We hurt others.  We are disappointed.  We do the disappointing.  
And life doesn't seem to ever really look the way we thought.  
But we are never excused to bitterness.  
Never.  No matter our story. No matter how hard the fight against it.  Bitterness is never God's best.
Jesus came so that bitterness, resentment, and anger don't have to steal life from our days.
Their power to destroy us broken by the grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers.   We forgive...we let go of what steals our joy...because we know the depth of our own need for forgiveness. 
I could never be sinned against more than I have sinned against my Heavenly Father.  I could never be the keeper of right and wrong because I'm not always wise in the keeping of right. 
I hate the root of bitterness that creeps into my life.  But I often water it, leave it to sprout, and then eat of the fruit that was permitted to grow. 
The image of one clinging to years worth of justifiable reasons for anger and bitterness haunts me.  
Life had been hard for her.  My heart still breaks for her years later.  Yet, there's a nagging in the heart of a Christian that whispers the question when we see years worth of harboring such bitterness,  "Is this the one hurt that could never be forgiven?"   "Is this the one thing that Jesus didn't die for?"  We don't ever get to own the right to bitterness; the poison fruit that grows from it should spur us on to fight the roots of bitterness we see in our life on our knees with all our might.  To press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus has called us to.  There's such beauty when a testimony is given and years of hard and heartache and sadness are coupled with God's grace and forgiveness and joy.   Perhaps that's why Kara Tippett's testimony ( of living her life with such purpose, joy, and grace while dying of cancer has captivated so many of us. She could be bitter and angry at the broken journey she's been asked to walk, but instead I heard her say on a broadcast something like "We choose brokenness over anger."  There's a sweet release of comfort to hear that difficult can be journeyed without succumbing to our natural tendency toward bitterness and anger and our right to justice. We crave seeing God's power in action.  We long hearing of God's promises lived out in real life.  Beth Moore (in her study of Daniel) reminds us of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who came out of the fire that could have incinerated them, but instead "the hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them" (Daniel 3:27).  They didn't even smell of smoke.  Impossible. Only God enables someone to walk through the fire in such a way. 

Hebrews 12:15 "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

Letting go of bitterness always costs us something.  It may cost us our treasured power over someone; it may cost us our excuses to not deal with our own sin; it may cost us our pride. But letting go of bitterness promises to bring about fruits of the spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.  I've seen my own bitterness isolate me in certain ways and lend an edge in certain relationships. Turn back and be renewed the Holy Spirit nudges.

I have a vision of the way I long to be as an older woman. I want to be like my mom.  Not that she's an old woman, she's actually quite young and beautiful in all ways, but her children are grown and her grandchildren growing.  I want to be one like her who speaks with gentleness, kindness, love, and joy at days past.  I want to be over-flowing with grace-filled speech as I grow older and I want to always be looking for opportunity to extend forgiveness and ask for forgiveness in all my relationships.  I long for there to be no sharpness to my comments; no harbored grudges that poison life of its promised hope.  I long for my grown children and grandchildren to feel refreshed in my presence in years to come because the stench of some hard yesterdays were not permitted permanent residence in my spirit.  I become this older woman by fighting bitterness today.  By choosing Kara's attitude (Jesus' attitude), my mom's attitude, and letting myself be broken by life's hardships and not bitter and not angry and not hardened.

I've been rocking in that chair a lot today.   My baby is still feverish and she needs lots of loving.  As I move closer toward uprooting this bitterness that strangles, I can't help but notice the life it breathes into my family.  I'm reminded that tending to the garden of my soul requires the continual weeding of the ugly, the rotten, smelly, in order for true beauty to have room to grow. It promises to be well worth the fight.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Happy New Year 2015

Many years ago I gave up sending Christmas cards before Christmas. Too stressful for this unorganized mama.  These days I wait until the Christmas ornaments have gently come off the tree and the twinkling outdoor lights are carelessly crammed in tubs before attempting to pen a New Year's letter.    With today's technology, my husband wonders the point.   Does anyone really care to read about our family in a letter?  No one writes Christmas letters anymore. They live on Facebook, so what is there to write about?     
But I don't live on Facebook. I'm way too undisciplined to have an account. And I'm old-fashioned, so I still, still, still write a Christmas letter.  Each year I love thinking on my family...remembering moments in the year...envisioning each child and who they're becoming...who we're becoming as we get older.  We are changing...all of us. The letters are sent snail mail to friends that live far and I'm sure only read to see if we are having another baby, but it's worth it for me to take the time to summarize our year. I recently found a folded copy of one of my letters written back when we had only our two small boys. I wrote in the innocence of being a young mama...hopeful of days to come...exhausted from sleepless nights. I read the letter and laughed out loud in annoyance at my talk of tired...if only I would have known that fourteen years later, I'd still be exhausted from sleepless nights.  And what in the world did I have to be so tired about back then?  Anyway, our 2015 letter finally was written and sent.  It seems to get later every year.

Happy New Year 2015!
One hundred shoes pile beside our back door.  Two hundred hairbands fight for a home (“on the floor” Preston says).  Eight voices layer the air each trying to outtalk the others.  Twenty-eight “one on one” relationships must be maintained within our walls. The constant hum of life never quiets. One begs for more freedom; another demands continuous monitoring.  Two crave constant cuddles; two tolerate our hugs.  Three love organization; five evade orderliness.  When things are good, they are very, very good.  But when things are bad, they are MAGNIFIED! We can go from gentle to nasty in 0.7 seconds.   Gracious to offended in 1.3 seconds. Loving to hateful in a single breath. It’s truly impossible to find one moment when “all is well” with everyone, yet somehow in the midst of the highs, the lows, the lovely, the yucky, the teenagers, the sleepless nights, we can say confidently…ALL IS WELL…simply because we know Jesus.      

Six years in Missouri is starting to feel like some roots.  While we miss the mountains of Colorado, the warmth of our desert assignments, and the adventure of Germany, there’s beauty found in the accountability that comes with stability.  Well, and there’s always fabulous Lake of the Ozarks that proves to be our family’s favorite weekend spot through the summer. There are moments, though, when Preston and I look at each other and say, “It’s time to move. People are getting to know us too well.”  Our weeks blur to months as we train kids, cheer at sporting events, spend precious time with extended family, love on friends, serve at church, run away to the lake, and try to gracefully and purposely manage this one life that has been given to us.                     

We are the McConnells…so often lumped together by our good and bad, it’s easy for us to parent our kids in a herd-like manner, demand the same from all, and miss the individuality of each person in our family. While we are all undoubtedly part of the same family, our strengths and weaknesses differ dramatically and I love to introduce our dear far-away friends to each one individually each year. Once a year, the kids get six lines to themselves J.     

 Zach…the gift of example.   Whether he wants the role or not, God chose him to be first…and God knows best. He loves his siblings; cares for them; demonstrates mostly wise choices (maybe a handful unwise) all while acknowledging that he’s the object of his parents’ inexperience and needs extra grace J. He continues to enjoy football, swimming, reffing, school, guitar and tackled a new role this year in helping behind the scenes with the set of the school play.   His favorite milestone came with his driver’s license even though his car boasts two carseats (keepin him humble!)  AMEN to a third driver! Given a choice, he would probably prefer solitude (impossible in this house,) but he fights his preferences (with some promptingJ) and stays engaged.          
Josh…the gift of loyalty.  There’s freedom found in Josh’s relationships with all of us because he will always defend…always stand by the object of parental or sibling wrath.  While he does his own share of quick-spoken words, he’s quick to ask for and bestow forgiveness. His hits on the football field can be heard in the stands and he has quite a knack as defender in soccer.  Josh tackles his school work and piano with focus and looks forward to going to high school next year with his brother. (I already miss him!)  He energetically balances the world of teenager and kid by enjoying his friends, but also playing Legos (and light-saber battles) with his little bro.       

Madelin…the gift of presence.  She stays when everyone else disappears…to help with chores, to give words of encouragement, to lighten the mood with a funny comment, to eavesdropJ.Her presence calms our chaos and she works behind the scenes to help make everything work.   She’s crazy fast on a soccer field and beautifully graceful in ballet.   We can’t bear to make her choose one because she’s just so lovely at both.  We tease that her OCD tendencies have been curved by both her big family and through sharing a room with a free-spirited sister, although she regularly begs everyone to do a “five-minute” clean up just so she “can think.”       

Savannah…the gift of compassion to our family.   She both exhibits great love for others and requires enormous love from us.   She needs us…all of us. God nestled this tenderhearted one in the midst of many to assure her, love on her, encourage her, cheer for her, and of course, discipline her.  Soccer and dance are her loves and she dives into every activity and every emotion she feels with all of her heart. Our walls, fridge, baskets, overflow with her drawings, letters, and homemade cards professing her gigantic love and saying we are the “Best Family Ever” (these often follow “discipline.”) She quite possibly will have a dozen children as she’s begging for us to have twins (ummm…no. NO.)   

Noah…the gift of passion to our family.  Noah’s in constant conversation, story-telling, asking questions, sharing family secrets, and teaching us a better way to do things. “Dad, I’ve been playing soccer all my life and this is how you kick the ball,” so we remind him that being five doesn’t equal “all-knowing.” (”Of course, those sixth graders want to play soccer with me, Mom.”  And strangely, they do all love him.) His rebellious streak has led him to favor the Kansas City Chiefs over the Broncos and to favor baseball over all other sports. The Royals had no greater fan than Noah during the World Series and he loves to run bases at our closest park. It’s a heart-tugging sight to see this little boy in a baseball cap lovingly carrying around a glove.         

Hope…the gift of unconditional love. Aside from magnificently kissable cheeks, she’s done nothing to “earn” love except to want to be loved by us.   She’s our reminder that God simply loves us…just because we are…not because we can ever work for it. Hope Selah celebrated her 1st birthday on Christmas and she serves as our go-to girl when we need unity---we might not all like each other at any given moment, but we always agree on our adoration for this yummy baby!    

Preston and I have quit chasing after quiet this year and we are learning (always learning) to find stillness within the noise. Our greatest purchase was our twelve passenger van (I love it!), which now drives for sporting events, youth events, girls’ night out, and family road trips. Oh, what joy we find in seeking Jesus in this overflowing, unpredictable life!   Colonel rests on Preston’s record, waiting for him to decide if that’s the road for us. Our prayer-“Lord, can we have both Colonel and Lee’s Summit?”   It looks like we can’t (but we pray for it anyway), so we wait, knowing that our two oldest kids want a vote in this. Perhaps, the career has moved over and no longer gets the biggest say and maybe, just maybe, our abundant life in Lee’s Summit is worth turning it all down and staying a while longer.  ALL IS WELL…even in the not knowing.   

We pray you find 2015 a year full of amazing love, abounding wisdom, and overwhelming peace! Love to you always!
The McConnell Family