The Story in the Scars

It was the Saturday before my first day of middle school. I was scheduled to babysit for a family from our church.  When I arrived, the couple was finishing up a few last minute details.  Their youngest son looked up at me and asked, “Do you want to see my dog?”

Without thinking twice, I said, “Sure.  Let’s go.”

Never one to shy away from any animal, I went right up to the dog.  What happened next was a blur.  I remember bending over a bit when all of a sudden the dog lunged at me.  When I picked up my head, I instinctively covered my face with my hands.  The young boy, horrified, yelled, “My dog bit you,”  and ran inside.

I stood there covered in blood.

The boy’s mother, a nurse by trade, ran outside to see what had happened.  She took one look at me and ran back inside to grab clean towels and ice.  I was in no pain, but I could see that everyone around me was visibly upset which made me quite uneasy.  In a few short minutes, the young boy’s dad was driving me to the hospital.

The thirty minute drive seemed like an eternity.  Few words were exchanged.  However, I do remember the father repeatedly stating that he hoped that my nose was not broken.  Not terribly comforting words.

Upon arriving at the emergency room, I was sent directly in to see a doctor.  My mother would arrive shortly after.  She came into the room and asked me to remove the covering from my face.  I did, and she promptly asked me to cover it again.

We waited for quite a while in the emergency room that evening.  A plastic surgeon was called.  I remember his name, Dr. Tuckman, which I thought was a rather funny, yet appropriate name for a plastic surgeon.  He was wonderful.   He was incredibly calm and had a soothing voice.  I remember him looking at me in the face, something that most had evaded doing that evening.  He had an incredible bedside manner.  He spoke very plainly and tenderly to me.  He assured me that he would work carefully and slowly to piece me back together.  He commented that once he had completed his work, there would definitely be some pain and my face would look beat up, but I needed to trust him.  He knew what he was doing and with time the scars would fade.

I would come to find out that my nose was severed in two, punctured, and torn.

I remember going home that evening and heading off to bed in silence.  The following morning I examined myself in the mirror and cried.  My face was discolored and swollen with lines of black stitches all over.  I was a mess.

With time, I began to heal.  The swelling and discoloration subsided, and eventually all of those stitches were removed.  What was left was nothing short of amazing.   Eventually my scars were undetectable to the casual observer.

I imagine that most of our bodies bear a scar or two, and each of them has a story to tell.  Some stories are painful, others humorous.  Some traumatic, others a badge of honor. Scars are evidence of both the pain our bodies have experienced and the healing that has taken place with time.  It is interesting how the two are married, how pain and healing work together hand-in-hand.  While scars typically fade with time, they never completely disappear.  There is always a remaining bit of evidence of past pain.

Not all scars are the same.  While some scars are obvious and out in the open for all the world to see, others are nearly undetectable or completely hidden from view.  Many people bear their scars alone or in secret:  The scars of wrong choices, missteps, and foolishness; at innocence lost, of sickness, of loved ones gone too soon; of harsh, cutting words, of disappointments, rejection, and failure.  Some scars cut down deep into one’s soul and change the very fabric and make up of who we are.  They shake our very core and change the course of life.

Most of us likely bear both types of scars.

There are so many people with a story, so many people whose scars speak.  So many people who have experienced hurt.  So many people who still look for healing from their scars.  For some, healing is elusive.  Many look for ways to soothe the hurt, to cover the pain, to forget it all together.

During this Easter week, I am reminded of how true and lasting healing is possible.  There is one set of scars that heals.

I can’t help but reflect on the ultimate story of pain and healing; the most powerful story found in the scars, the story of my Lord.  The Easter story doesn’t begin with Easter or Christmas, it begins before time.  Our Lord knew our desperate need; He was keenly aware of the separation that sin would cause between our Heavenly Father and His people.  In His infinite love He sent His son to be born a man with the sole purpose of dying to redeem me.  Me…an undeserving, sinful soul, in need of a way to Him.

So Christ bore my sin on the cross.  He was wounded for my transgressions.  He was beaten and scarred and became a vessel for the Lord’s wrath, all to pay the penalty of my sin.   All for me…for you…because of love.   Through His scars we can experience true healing, healing from our sins.  His sacrifice has loosened the chains that bind us, has bridged a great chasm, has restored us, has healed us in the truest sense of the word.  His resurrection defeated sin and Hell.

Would you consider who Christ is this Easter?  Would you contemplate those scars and the story they tell?  Do you search for healing?  You need not look any further than Christ.

 

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
 Isaiah 53:5

When God Leaves Mountains Unmoved

A few weeks ago my husband and I conducted a little experiment of sorts.  We gathered our children around the computer to watch a video clip of a church service from a very, very popular pastor.  This mega church leader and author is known for his uplifting, positive, and inspiring messages.  Regardless of how his message begins, the ending is always the same:  All will be well; the Lord will bless; you will be happy because that’s what God wants…your happiness.  The prosperity gospel defined.  This, my friends, is a dangerous, yet popular gospel and millions of people are drawn into the false hope that is preached.

We wanted to see if our kids could pick up on the erroneous ways of this kind of preaching.  Our children are getting older.  In a few years they are likely to be on their own, making their own decisions.  Would they fall for this hook, line, and sinker?

Well, we sat through roughly 15 minutes of the sermon.  Within two or three minutes my youngest, twelve, looked at me through the corner of his eye.  I looked back at him and asked, “What?”.  We paused.

“Mom, Dad; why did he just say that on the other side of the valley God has promised everyone blessings?”

Hmm.  “Hold onto that and keep watching,” we said.

As we continued we heard groans and comments from under the breaths of our boys.  Finally, my oldest piped up, “What in the world is this guy talking about?”

We stopped and talked for a very long time about what they had picked up on.  Blessings.  Happiness.  Prosperity.  Self.  Little God.

We were thankful that the boys picked up on the false nature of this teaching.  As we ended our time I pulled up a picture of the arena filled to capacity for one of the church services.

“Is that a concert,” one asked.

“No, it’s one of the church services.  This church has a membership of over 40,000 people.  They meet in a 16,000 seat arena.  There are a lot of people who fall for this and cling onto a false sense of who God is and how He works in our lives.”

You may be asking, “What’s wrong with someone giving hope to others?  Doesn’t God want us to be happy?  Doesn’t the Bible say that He wants to bless us?”

Our happiness is not God’s first priority.

I am not a Bible scholar, but I am unaware of any verse in the Bible that tells me otherwise.  We are a people of happy endings and lovers of a rags to riches story.  We want to hang onto the hope that God will fix, bless, and prosper.

He may.  But, He may not.

It is very easy to get pulled into this thinking.  Very easy.

A few weeks ago I was working on my last blog post.  It was a tough, pointed one that came from a very personal place.  This was a heavy piece.  I had read my rough draft to my husband before publishing the article.  He had suggested that I needed an ending paragraph to tie everything together.  He was right.  As I reread my piece, I was compelled to end the post on a high note…to leave some encouragement with people.  I typed away.  Once completed I had asked a dear friend to read things over one last time for me.  She did.  In her honesty (the mark of a true friend), she questioned my last paragraph.

What was in that paragraph?  The promise that God would make beauty out of the ashes.  The false promise that all would be well.  The misguiding promise that God is planning to fix all problems and provide a storybook ending.

I had done it.  I had written the happy ending.

I got to work and rewrote the ending paragraph so that it was Biblically sound.

This now leaves us with a question:  What happens when God doesn’t make everything all right?  Here is where the false teaching of prosperity and happy endings causes the most damage.  If we expect God to fix everything, and He doesn’t, we are often left feeling angry, let down, and bitter.  Our perceived lack of action from the Lord drives a wedge between our relationship with Him.  We begin to question and doubt His goodness.  We doubt His love.  We question His sovereignty and authority.  We doubt that He has a plan.  We simply begin to doubt Him.  Our doubting brings us exactly to the place where satan wants us to be.   Doubt does not come from a loving heavenly Father; it is a tool used by the evil one to draw us further away from the Lord.

I do not need to search for long to come across instances where the Lord chose not to remove hardships.  The life of Paul…imprisonments, shipwreck, snakebite, house arrest, beatings, stoning, mockings, plots of his death, loss.  Most notable is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a persistent condition that many have speculated about.  The word thorn is best translated “stake”.  From this we can assume that this condition was significant and intense.  Three times Paul petitioned the Lord to remove this thorn from him.  In His will, the Lord said no.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 7b – 10

As was with Paul, sometimes the Lord does not remove our thorns.  He permits them because He has a far greater purpose in them, a purpose that in our limited minds, we can not comprehend.  Storybook endings do not necessarily fit into the Lord’s earthly plan for us. Yet, through pain and sickness and loss He moves and works and refines, drawing us closer to Himself to make us more usable.

We were recently driving home from a college visit in Virginia.  Everyone in the car was snoozing, so as I was driving,  I turned on the radio to help me stay alert.  An unfamiliar song was playing.  As I listened to the words in the quietness of the car, I was brought to tears.  The words of this song summed up perfectly everything that I had been experiencing over the past few weeks; it brought all of my Bible readings and discussions regarding blessing, prosperity, and happy endings to full circle.   Here are a few snippets of the lyrics as well as a link to the song (with the lyrics).

Even If
by Mercy Me

…It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

Chorus:
I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul

Chorus:
I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

It is well with my soul

Like many of you,  I’ve experienced hardships of many kinds throughout the course of my life.  There have been times that my faith has faltered.  There have been times when I have ached for the Lord’s hand to simply move and heal and fix.  And while there have been times that the Lord has indeed moved and answered, there have also been times of silence.  There have been times when the mountain in front of me has remained unmoved as part of God’s plan.  Through it all my God has been good.  He has been faithful, and my hope still does rest in Him.

Are You Willing to Let the Lord Write Your Child’s Testimony?

As parents it is natural to contemplate what paths our children will take.  We look at their strengths and weaknesses and speculate what the future will hold.  We imagine how their lives will unfold.  We hope for smooth sailing, straight roads, and few bumps along the way.  We pray for health and success, safety and provision, triumphs and victories.  Down deep, we hope for ease and often pray for it expecting God to work within our pre-approved framework. Continue reading “Are You Willing to Let the Lord Write Your Child’s Testimony?”

A Tale of Two Christmases

It happened every year.  Two Christmases.  Two days that were as stark a contrast as could be.  Two Christmases  – one meager, one abundant.  One Christmas, simple, sacrificial, full of significance and hope.  The other, extravagant, a balm to soothe the guilty soul, void of meaning.

If growing up in a divorced home had one perk, it would be this:  double holidays and birthdays.  As a young child I quickly made the connection that a double holiday equated to double the number of gifts.  A birthday with mom, a birthday with dad.  Christmas at home, Christmas with dad.

Christmas at home with mom was simple.  We enjoyed decorating together.  The moments we spent hanging our knit stockings on the banister, adorning our tree, and arranging hand painted figurines were cherished family times together.   Evening car rides were highlighted by our traditional Christmas light search. Eight track tapes played Christmas music throughout the house, and I sang along with vigor.  The weeks preceding Christmas focused on Christ, on His birth, and on the hope that it not only brought to a searching world many years ago, but on the hope to which it could bring to men today.  Even at a young age I understood the significance.  Christmas was not about the gifts under the tree but rather the gift of Christ.

When Christmas morning arrived my brother and I would quickly run downstairs to peek at the tree and the unwrapped gifts.  And while the spread of gifts was sparse, there was never a frown, never a complaint, never a dissatisfied twang between us.  We knew.  We simply knew that Christmas was a sacrifice for our mother.  We understood that mingled between the stress of paying the bills and feeding her family was the desire to somehow have a Christmas with gifts under the tree and trinkets filling our stockings.  More times than not there was someone who helped, a secret someone with an envelope to ease mom’s burden.  We knew.  So after we forcibly pried our mother from her slumber, we enjoyed Christmas morning together.  We slowly opened gifts and were thankful.  We read from the Bible and were reminded of Christ’s humble earthly beginning.  Christmas was special and full of meaning despite of, or because of, it’s simplicity.

Christmas at home with mom meant Christmas with Christ; it meant Christmas because of Christ.  He was never given a back seat, was never an after-thought.  He truly was the reason for the season.  He was and still is the grandest gift of all.  No wrapped gift checked off a wish list can compare.  An empty stocking or a solitary present under the tree could not put a damper on Christmas.  We knew…we simply knew what Christmas was all about, and it filled our hearts with great joy, a joy that spilled over even after the last ornament was tucked away.   Despite our needy state abundant joy, happiness, and hope was to be found on Christmas day.

Shortly after Christmas, my brother and I would spend a few days with our dad to celebrate the holiday.   The relationship we shared with him could best be described as strained; he had left when we were quite young.   Typically, we were less than enthusiastic for our normal weekend visits.  But Christmas visits?  Well now, that was another story.  See Christmas with my dad was the epitome of abundance and excess.  We came to know from experience that our dad would shower us with a copious amount of gifts.  Anything we wanted was ours.

When we would arrive at dad’s house, we would immediately run to the living room.  I imagine that our mouths gaped open at the sight of the mountainous pile of gifts.  There were boxes big and small, all brightly wrapped.  There were bikes and play cars, televisions and stereos, even a pinball machine one year (no joke).   There were years of such abundance that we lacked adequate room in the car to transport both children and gifts back home.

Despite the plethora of gifts, Christmas with dad was always lacking.  It was missing something that no earthly, material gift could replace.  There was a void present that no number of gifts could fill.  Had there been no gifts, there would have been no Christmas in my dad’s home.  What was missing from these Christmases was Christ.  Christ’s absence was very obvious to me.  His name was never uttered.  He was never referenced to.  His image never seen.  No nativity, no manger.  No opening of God’s Word.  My father never understood Christmas.  He never experienced its significance.  I would have exchanged every gift ever given to me simply for him to have known who the Jesus of Christmas was and why He came.  Dad never realized that Christ is the true giver of joy, and apart from Him, joy is at best momentary and fleeting.

As I reflect on these two Christmases,  I am thankful that the Lord allowed me to experience both.  They have been etched into my memory and serve as vivid reminders of what Christmas should be, as well as what it must never become.

Maybe Christmas seems to lack significance in your life.  Maybe you find that despite the fact that gifts are in abundance and your stocking is filled to the brim,  your heart feels empty, like something is missing.  I would challenge you to consider Christ this Christmas.  For only Christ will fill that void.  Only Christ will satisfy a hunger, a deep longing for something more.  Only Christ will bring hope, joy, and peace into your life.  I pray that this Christmas you will discover that tiny babe in a manger and see how your life can be changed forevermore.

Maybe you don’t know who this Jesus is.  Why did He come to earth in the first place, and why should it be important to you?  I would encourage you to take the time this Christmas season to listen and discover the Jesus of Christmas.

gift2

 

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks in All Things

As we gather together over the coming days our minds will naturally reflect upon all that we have to be thankful for.   And while it is important for us to reflect and remember that we are truly blessed, while we need to remind ourselves that we indeed have much, will we remember the challenges of this life?  Will we allow our thoughts to go back to the tough times?  Will we give thanks for those valleys?  For the struggles?  For the life lessons learned through failures, tears, wrong turns, and mistakes?  For us to truly say that we give thanks in all things, we must look at those times where the Lord was at work and call them good.

God’s intervening work in our lives is part of a master plan, a script crafted before our first breath was taken, a course plotted before time began.   Rarely are our stories uneventful.  They are often dotted with high mountain top experiences and low valley moments.  Our natural tendency is to give thanks to the Lord while we stand tall upon the mountain top.  We praise Him for victories; we call Him good when all in our life appears good.

But what about those valleys?  What about those not-so-lovely moments of life when we are stretched beyond our comfort zone, when we are struggling, when God’s refining work is indeed remaking us?  Honestly, calling God good in those times can be challenging.  Yet, again, if we believe that God is good, we must acknowledge that He is ALWAYS good.

As I reflect this morning on what I have to be thankful for, I am allowing my mind to go back to the unsavory moments of my life.  I am permitting myself the time to remember the low times, the scary times, the times full of tears, uncertainty and anguish.  For when I recollect those moments now, I can truly see the goodness of the Lord; I can see how His hand was at work in my life.  I can see that His glorious plan for my life was unfolding, and I give thanks.

So today I offer thanks.  I give thanks to the Lord for He is keenly aware of me and my state.  I give thanks because my life is not insignificant to Him.  I give thanks because He cares enough to intervene.  I give thanks because He changes paths and makes a new way.  I give thanks because I am never too far out of reach.  I give thanks because God is not finished with me yet.  I give thanks that I can come before Him just as I am so I no longer have to remain just as I am.  I am thankful for forgiveness, grace, and mercy.   I am thankful for my story…full of miry pits…with its moments of despair and hardships.  I give thanks for the gut wrenching moments and extended seasons that have allowed me to see the goodness of God, to see His hand at work in my life, to see hope and change.  I thank Him for sickness and loss and failings.  I am thankful that I can stand outside of the valley and truly say God is always good.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

How Will My Life Change After the Election?

It was roughly three years ago.  I was in my kitchen preparing lunch.  As I typically did, I turned on the radio to catch up on some news and the political talk of the day.  I listened for no more than five minutes then promptly turned the radio off in frustration.  I dried my hands and picked up the ringing phone.  It was my husband.  He usually called at lunch time to check in with the boys and me.

“I can’t do it anymore,” I snapped.  “I can’t listen to the radio.  I can’t watch the news.  I can’t read the paper.  I am powerless to change any of this.  I just can’t do it anymore.”

Those were the first words that spewed from my mouth after my husband said hello.  I continued to explain that all of the political banter and divisiveness was affecting me.  Thinking about all that was wrong with our country was stirring up such angst within me that it was interfering with my primary roles in life.  I was a Christian, a wife, and mother.  The worry, concern, and disgust I had for the state of government and politics in general was taking a toll.

So from that day on, I tuned out.   No more radio, no more political talk, no more evening news, or internet searches.  No more blood pressure rising.  No more frustration over what I was powerless to change.  No more.  Simply no more.

I was going to put all of my efforts into the things that I could change, the things that I had control over.  My walk with the Lord.  Rooting out the unlovely parts of me.  Supporting and loving my husband more.  Being there completely for my kids and not letting my frustrations become theirs.  Although I had already been in the Word, been loving and enjoying my relationship with my husband, and spending good quality time with my boys,  there was this distraction, this gloomy gray cloud that hung over me.   I’m sure it robbed me of joy.  I know it robbed me of peace, and most importantly, it shifted my eyes off of the Lord.  That needed to change.

I really lifted this up to the Lord, and not surprisingly, He provided me with the direction that I needed.

I realized that the Lord had planted me in this time, in this country, in my state, as part of my town.  He placed me on my street, in my house, with my family.  All within His plan for me.  He called me to make this place, my home, my place of influence for Him.   Paul effectively stated the same belief:

…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation… Acts 17:26

While this little ol’ housewife from New Jersey wasn’t going to influence the face of Washington, the Lord did grant to me great influence in the lives of the people who are around me.  In fact, He has given you that same calling, that same influence, to be  a light to those around you.  Maybe that means your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your co-workers, or your friends.  The last thing this world needs is one more person jumping into the political debate.  The first thing this world needs is one more person spreading the Lord’s message of love and salvation.  Only then will the world truly change, only then can the face of Washington and our politicians truly change.

Now please realize that I am not advocating completely turning a blind eye to what is going on around you.  I am not saying that you should throw your hands up in the air and sit back and watch the government have its way.  No, not at all.  You do have a voice; I have a voice, and it should be used.  I am simply saying that if you find yourself in the position I was, where your mind is preoccupied, distracted, and troubled, you need to change gears.  You need to re-evaluate your priorities and remind yourself that there is One who is in complete control, even while the world seems to be spinning out of control.

So as I prepare to cast my vote this Election Day, I am reminded that regardless of the outcome, my life will not change.  I will still be a wife: I will still be a mother, and I will still have the same calling as a child of the Lord.   No change of leadership, no changing of the law will take that away.

 

 

 

Should Children Be Forced to Say Sorry?

There they were in the local Walmart.  Two young siblings arguing over a toy.  Tempers were flaring, voices were raising, and then, it happened.  One of the little tots smacked her sister in the face and grabbed the toy away.  A somewhat embarrassed and aggravated mother quickly took the young offender by the arm, pulled her closer to her sister, and demanded:

“Say you are sorry right now.”

With little jaw clenched tightly and nostrils flaring, the guilty sibling replied, “Sorry,” in a less than genuinely repentant tone.

All was good.  Problem fixed.  Happiness was restored to the world once more.

I could hardly restrain myself.  Despite my best efforts I felt my head begin to shake from side to side…I was shaking my head at myself.

For I was once that mom.  I was that mom who immediately pressed my young children into apology mode when they wronged someone.  I wanted  my little ones to go from angry outburst to contrite heart in mere seconds.  I wanted to believe that uttering that five letter word, s-o-r-r-y, made everything all better.  How naive I was!  How foolish!

Forcing an immediate apology is actually encouraging our children to lie.

As parents we somehow feel that as long as the word sorry is uttered, the situation has been taken care of.

Truth be told:  apologies have very little to do with actual words.  They have much more to do with the state of our hearts.  Genuine apologies come once we have grieved what we have done.  We should, at some point, become aware of how our actions have hurt others.  And, at that point, we should feel a sense of sorrow, a sense of disappointment only in ourselves.  Most importantly, we should feel grieved that we have sinned against the Lord.  We should feel compelled to make things right, first with the Lord and then with those we have wronged.

The process should be no different for children.  I realize that not every five year old is capable of the above thinking (but I am also not saying that they aren’t).   As parents, it is our responsibility to move our children in that direction, though.  It is our responsibility to take the time, to sit them down, and talk to them about their wrong doing.  Parenting takes time.  The true reality is that the only reason we force our children into immediate apology is so that we feel as if we have done something to fix the situation.  It is the seemingly easy way out for us.  Honestly, forcing an immediate apology does nothing but reinforce the idea that one can utter words they do not mean in order to get ones self out of trouble.

Continuing this practice will have devastating results as our children grow into teens and adults.

We’ve all seen adults who have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions.  We see them shift the blame and make excuses for their behavior.  They are quick to point out the faults of others to divert attention away from their own shortcomings.  We see the stone like faces and hear the robotic, emotionless words uttered by one who has been forced into apology, and we know in our gut, that they likely don’t mean it.

I need not look any further than Psalm 51 to show me what true sorrow for one’s sin looks like.

A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

A contrite heart is one that is sincerely remorseful and seeks to make things right…not for the purpose of saving face or avoiding trouble, but to genuinely mend fences, to make things right, and restore fellowship with those we have hurt, particularly the Lord.

Our children have to get that message.  They just have to.  Forcing an immediate apology will never produce a contrite heart.

So how does the parenting process change?  Well, I’ll give you a scenario.

A few months back, one of my boys lied to me.  He lied about something silly, but no lie is small, and no lie should be ignored.  I showed him scripture.  We talked at length about the tangled web we weave when we lie.  We discussed how there is a breakdown of trust when one lies.  I expressed my disappointment.  I inquired as to why he didn’t feel compelled to speak honestly to me.  We had a good conversation.  I finally asked him what he needed to do in order to make this situation right.  He knew that he first needed to go before the Lord and seek forgiveness, and, he would also need to make things right with me.  He owed me an apology.

After our discussion, my son was sent off to his room.  I gave him a bit of time to himself, then checked in.  In all honesty, I completely went up to his room expecting him to apologize to me.  I mean, thirty minutes had passed, his heart was surely contrite by now!  When I poked my head in, I was greeted by a pout.  I finalized the amount of time he needed to spend in his room and left.

We ate dinner.  He got ready for bed.  I tucked him in and we said goodnight.

Nothing.

The next day came and went.

Nothing.  No apology.

The next morning came and I was literally biting my lip.  My heart wanted to scream, “When are you going to apologize to me?”

I restrained myself.

At lunchtime, my son came up to me and apologized.  He said that he was sorry for lying to me and thanked me for taking the time to talk to him about it.  I hugged him, affirmed my love for him, and offered my forgiveness.

A contrite heart restored our fellowship.

Something happened when my son was given the time to work out his wrongdoing.  He actually realized what he had done was wrong.  He was sorrowful.  And eventually, in his time, he knew he had to make it right.

That is what we need to strive for.

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Sharing the Gospel with Those You Are Close To

My eyes quickly scanned the email.  I felt my heart begin to beat a bit faster as I digested its words.  I had been selected as a finalist in Good Housekeeping’s Cook Your Heart Out contest.  This meant I would receive an all expense paid trip for two to New York City and would have the opportunity to participate in the final cook-off to win some money.

I was beyond excited.  I called my husband and told him the news.  The prospect of participating in the cook-off was great, but I was really looking forward to getting away with my husband.   I could count on one hand….actually, I could count on one finger, the number of times that we had gone away alone over the course of our twenty years of marriage.   Our children were younger at this point.  New York City was a short drive away.  We could easily get home if need be.   This was simply perfect.

As the time drew near, I received paperwork from Good Housekeeping.  I needed to declare who I would be traveling with.  Then it happened.  My husband looked at me one evening and said,”Kim, I don’t think that I should go with you.  I want you to take Sharon.  I’ve been praying about it, and I really feel led to have her go with you.”

I wish I could tell you that my response was a delightful one, but I questioned, I asked why.  All selfishly.

My husband’s response was not so selfish.  “We’ve been praying for opportunities to share our faith with Sharon.  I think that this is that opportunity.”

Well, he was right.  Sharon is a dear, dear friend to our family.  She is family to us.  We love her like a mom, like a grandmother.  We’ve shared our faith in bits and pieces, but we had prayed that the Lord would give us boldness to share with her further.  Sometimes sharing your faith with the people you are closest to is hard.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  We don’t want to put a wedge in a dear relationship.  We do not want to offend someone we love.  We do not want to ruin what we have.  I’ll be honest here; I have given all of those false fears the power to hold my words back.

“Yes.  You are right.  I’ll go ask her.”

And I did.  I told her all about the trip, all about the cook-off, all about all of the exciting events that were planned.  Then I asked her if she would like to accompany me.  She didn’t hesitate in saying yes.  So it was settled.

I prayed a lot over the coming weeks before the trip.  I prayed that the Lord would give me boldness to speak, that He would provide the right opportunties, the right segues, at the right time for me to share my heart.  Sharon was not “into religion”.  She had dabbled in Buddhism, was into Kabala when it was en vogue, she believed that God was any god that you wanted him to be.  She did not like to be forced into a religion or put into situations where it was thrust upon her.

Our family’s faith in the Lord was not new news to her.   On many occasions we had shared our faith and our hope with her.  My husband’s words especially have always given her comfort.  There have been times when she has wanted him to come and pray.  But he was not going on this trip.  I was, and I needed to have those fears of offending, alienating, and ruining taken away.

The day finally came.  A shiny black Escalade arrived at my front door to pick us up.  Our luggage was loaded into the back.  My kiddos ran outside, gathered around me, and gave me big hugs and kisses.  Then my husband circled us together on the sidewalk and prayed.  With one last round of goodbye hugs, I was off.

Sharon and I sat in the middle row of seats.  We drove two blocks, no more than sixty seconds, when the driver asked me, “Are you a Christian?  I saw you praying with your family before leaving.”

What?  Wait!  Did he just ask me what I think he asked me?

“Yes, I am.”

“Me, too!,” he said.

And for the next forty five minutes the two of us shared our testimonies.  We shared our journeys.  We spoke of how the Lord opened our eyes, cleansed our sins through His Son’s death, and changed us forever.  Although I was talking to the driver, I was very, very mindful of who was listening on.  The Lord put the words into my mouth, the scripture that needed to be quoted on my tongue, and had ushered in an opportunity to share His plan for salvation so effortlessly.  Not only did Sharon hear my story, but she heard the driver’s as well.

As our driver navigated the streets or New York, the conversation died down.  I sat there is quietness reflecting on how the Lord orchestrated that drive.  He had orchestrated this trip.  He gave the perfect opportunity to share.  He used a pretty weak vessel in me that day to share His plan for salvation.  I sat there in awe.

My weekend in New York was lovely.  I experienced so many wonderful events, met new friends, and cooked my heart out.  I had some wonderful chats with Sharon, and the two of us simply enjoyed this unique weekend together.

Maybe you have that someone in your life that you know needs to hear about your hope in the Lord.  Maybe that someone is a very close friend, a neighbor, or a beloved family member.  Maybe, like me, you have fears and worries.  You do not want to offend them or ruin your relationship with them.  I can assure you that the Lord does want you to share His plan of salvation.  Rest assured, He will provide the right time, the right opportunity, and He will fill your mouth with the words to say.  Pray for opportunities and remember these verses:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.  So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…
2 Timothy 1:7-8

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…
Romans 1:16

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

 

 

 

Removing the Weeds from Our Life

A few years ago I had the crazy idea that I would like to try my hand at gardening.  That was a laughable proposal.  I don’t have the best track record with plants.  After neglecting houseplant after houseplant and watching them wither up and die,  I finally declared to my husband that the only things I was responsible for keeping alive were the kids.

I can’t really call myself a gardener.  I am better described as one who attempts to grow edible plants in a given space with limited success.  Yep, that’s me!

It seems that each year has its comical growing disaster.  There was the year that the Terminex man accidentally sprayed my entire garden with poison.  In a fury I tore out the entire garden that summer.  Then there was the time that some mysterious plant grew and grew and grew.  It took over the entire bed and spilled into the driveway.  It was some kind of squash plant, but it never bore fruit, and it simply wasted an entire growing season.  Then there was the year that the deer ate nearly every consumable part of the garden, and the groundhog ate each and every melon (all of them).  I could go on.

This year has been no different.

When planning out my growing space this year, I dedicated a rather large swath of ground space to grow Kirby cucumbers.  It was my hope to make pickles this year.  I had successfully grown cucumbers before but had never grown this variety or actually seen what the plant looked like.  I planted my seeds and tended to them, and within due time, I saw little sprouts popping up.  I was pleased…very pleased.  Nearly all of my seeds had sprouted.

However, with time, my husband began to question what I was actually growing in that one spot of the garden.

“Kim, they’re weeds,” he would say.

“No they are not.  They are growing only in the area where I planted the cucumber seeds…no where else.  Look at how uniform they look…like someone planted them.  They even have little white flowers on them…lots of them.  We’ll have so many cucumbers we won’t know what to do with them.  Just let them be ,” I would say.

It seemed that each week my husband and I would have this back and forth exchange.  I always ended the conversation with the same line: “Just let them be.”

And we did.  And those little plants grew and grew.  More and more tiny white flowers bloomed.  They grew strong and tall.  I was waiting, just waiting to see the first sign of a little cucumber growing.  Surely it would be any day now.  There are tomatoes that are growing, beans that have been harvested, kale that is flourishing.

I waited and waited and waited.  Nothing.

I finally had to admit that those “plants” were weeds…beautiful, flourishing, seemingly authentic, but garden robbing weeds nonetheless.  I yanked them all out.  What was left?  A big, empty space, evidence of my refusal to see the truth.  More time wasted.

Despite my best intentions, cucumbers were never destined to grow in my garden.  Regardless of what the label on the front of my seed packet said, I had not planted and tended to cucumber seeds.  I had spent my time watering and caring for weeds.  Sounds awfully silly, doesn’t it?  But how often do we cultivate weeds in our own lives?

I am always amazed at how easily weeds not only grow but thrive.  Their job is to invade and steal the space and food that the good plants need to flourish.  A garden where healthy, food giving plants and life-stealing weeds coexist is an unhealthy garden and one that is never destined to flourish as it could and will not bear good fruit (or vegetables for that matter).

If weeds are allowed to flourish in my life, how will I bear fruit?  Those weeds, whether they be jealousy, anger, lust, laziness, selfishness, lack of self control, or a whole host of other struggles, will choke any good that I am feebly attempting to cultivate.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control.”
Galations 5:22-23

So what does a good gardener do to battle the weeds?  First, they need to identify the weeds.  They need to acknowledge and see that they are present.  They have to actually be looking for them.  Then, they patiently and painstakingly work to pluck each and every one out.  Just once?  Oh, no.  It is a daily exercise.  New weeds sprout up all the time.  Just as soon as the old weeds are pulled, new ones are just waiting to breakthrough the soil.  Lastly, gardeners yank out those weeds from the root.  Just superficially pulling off the visible portion of the weed won’t do.  You’ve got to go to the source of the weed to kill it.  You need to find the root.  Sometimes that root is deep and strong, and it takes effort to extricate it.

What a picture the Lord provides us with here.  What an illustration to each of us as it relates to our own lives.  If it is my desire, with the help of the Lord, to cultivate good fruit in my life, as described in the fruit of the spirit passage above, I need to be working diligently like the gardener.  I need to identify the areas in my life that are weeds.  That’s the first step and sometimes the hardest.  Then I need to be systematically removing them from my life.  I need to be on my knees daily working to rid my life of those weeds.  Most importantly, I need to be prayerfully trying to get to the root.

I am so thankful for the everyday lessons that the Lord sends along through His creation.

The Issue at Heart

As I wake up this morning to the news of last night’s shooting in Dallas, I am yet again saddened.  I am saddened for the loss of life.  I am saddened for the families.  I am saddened that there will be a void in the lives of some, a vacancy once occupied by a dear loved one…a husband, a wife, a sister, a brother, a friend, a neighbor, a mother, a father.  I am saddened by the state of our country.  I am saddened that this story has repeated itself so often.  I am saddened that I must once again sit down with my children and forcibly pry their eyes open just a bit more to show them the reality of the world.  I steal a bit of their innocence every single time we have these talks.

I’ve had a lot of practice of late in finding ways to accurately yet compassionately tell my children about the news of the day…Minnesota, Louisiana, Orlando…the list goes on.  Today it is Dallas.  Yet this morning, in the quietness of a still sleeping house, as I try to rehearse in my head the words I will use to inform them of the events in Dallas, my heart is burdened by one question:  Where is the respect and value of human life in our society?  Where has it gone?

Expendable.  I fear that is how life is viewed.  Simply expendable.

The weapons of this world are devastating when used for evil.  Yet there is a weapon more powerful than any firearm, more devastating than any weapon fashioned by man.  It is the human heart.  For pent up within the human heart are all kinds of evils.  The Lord has known what we sometimes prefer not to acknowledge:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick;  Who can understand it?”  Jeremiah 17:9

There is no law that will change the heart.  No legislation will contain what is stored up within.  The heart is the true issue.

For decades our society has taught and legislated that life is indeed expendable… from the tiniest of lives formed at conception to the gray-haired generation nearing their last days.  “Inconvenient” life can simply be discarded, forgotten, taken.  How is it that we are remotely surprised at where our society is?

What is the solution to this sad state of affairs?  Thankfully there is one plan whose goal is to capture, heal, and restore the broken.  It is a plan to take the dark heart and its evil ways and make it new.  Salvation through Jesus Christ.  Period.  Nothing less will do.  Nothing less will make a change.

Dear God have mercy on us.  Heal our land…heal our hearts.