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.

 

 

A Letter To Christian Teenage Girls About Modesty From A Mother of Three Teenage Boys

I saw you at the pool today walking with your friend.  Your body barely filling out the teeny tiny string bikini you were modeling during your numerous walks around the pool grounds.

I saw you at the party walking ever so gingerly and carefully in your oh so high heels and itty bitty little shorts.  You were afraid to move the wrong way because there was no room for error with the height of your shorts and the depth of your shirt.

I saw you hanging out with your friends.  Your bra straps and cleavage taking up more space on your body than the teeny tiny “shirt” you had on.  Skin tight pants with an obvious thong…there was nothing left to the imagination.

I saw you…my boys saw you.  I imagine any male, young or old,  saw you and took notice.

You were made for so much more than this.

I do not write this with a finger waving at you in the air.  I do not write this thumping my Bible and preaching to you.  I do not write to you to cast blame or judgment.  I write to you to tell you that you are beautiful. You are treasured and created in beauty.  You are fairer than diamonds, more precious than the finest gems.  You are a masterpiece of the Lord, created just the way He wanted you to be, crafted by His hand.  You are like no other.  You are special, unique.  Your are beautiful.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.  Psalms 139:14

I wish that I could run up to you and look at you in the eyes and tell you that your beauty goes far beyond outward appearances.  Beauty is something within.  It’s a comfort in being you.  It is a feeling that exudes from a woman who knows that she is a child of the Lord and that her true value comes from Him.  Beauty actually has very little to do with a pretty face or a nice body.  Beauty goes much deeper.  It is found in a quiet, tender spirit.  Take away the fancy clothes, pretty hair, lovely make-up, and sparkling jewelry, and see that beauty is still to be found.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment… . Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. I Peter 3:3-4

True beauty has little to do with appearances.

I was recently food shopping and found myself stuck behind an older gentleman.  He was likely in his late 50’s or early 60’s, and with each aisle we traveled, I watched his head turn and his eyes survey many young women.  There was one commonality in the women he took the time to check out.  They were all barely dressed.  Not surprisingly, very short skirts, spandex pants, tiny tanks, and barely there shorts were to his liking.  His motions were very obvious and his gaze lingered in an eerie way.  I also noticed that there were some women who escaped his glance all together.  They must have been “ugly”, right?  Not so.  Those equally attractive women were dressed in loosely fitting shirts,  modest skirts, or knee length shorts.  They weren’t hanging out of their shirts or barely dressed.  This man had no interest in modesty.  He sought to disrespect and get a free peep from women with questionable attire.  It was completely nauseating.

You are worth so much more than the wandering gaze of that strange man.

I hope you realize that this is not a call for you to wear turtlenecks and floor length skirts or to have your hair in a bun and to throw away your lipstick. Not at all. It is a challenge for you to think about why you dress the way you do.  Are you looking for attention?  Do you want to feel sexy?  Trying to fit in with your friends?  Wanting to get the attention of a specific boy?  Looking for ways to intentionally challenge your parents?  I can’t answer those questions for you.

Please know that I can relate to you.  During the first two years of college (when I was young and thin), I absolutely found power in a low cut shirt and a tight pair of jeans.  I found that I could turn heads, meet guys, and get attention.  I also found out that the guys who were interested in my low cut shirts and tight jeans really had no interest in getting to know me for me.  I gave the impression by my choice of clothing that I was an easy pick-up.  I wasn’t interested in casual hook-ups; I was looking for a relationship.  Thankfully the Lord opened my eyes and showed me that He valued me and was actually interested in a relationship with me.  I found worth and the freedom to just be me in Christ alone.

I want you to know that there are parents who are raising their teenage boys to respect you.  They are being taught that your true value is not found in your outward appearance, where beauty can change and fade, but instead they are being taught to look for inward beauty, in your heart and mind.  They are being taught that a lady’s first love should be the Lord, as should theirs.  They are being taught to steer clear of temptation or anything that will cause them to stumble or fall.  They are being taught that you are more than just a pretty face or a nice body.  They are being taught that they are accountable to the Lord for the way they treat you.  I hope and pray that they follow what they’ve heard and what the Bible says, just as I hope that you will do the same.

There are young men who are being taught to love and respect you and to appreciate the beauty of a modest young woman.

I pray that you will realize the great love your Heavenly Father has for you.  I hope that you realize what true beauty is.  My desire for you is to respect yourself enough to think about the way you dress.  Think about why you dress the way you do.  Please know that there are young men who are being taught to value you for who you are.  Seek them out.  Wait for them.  Don’t compromise yourself.

 

This post was first featured on Life in the Van.

Being Generous With The Little You Have

A poor widow.  Two small, seemingly insignificant, copper coins sat inside of her hand.  She was among the others who had come to present their offerings at the temple treasury.  Others had more than her; many gave more as well.  Yet,  Jesus was there watching,…observing.   He saw the rich give much.    He saw the widow.  She gave but a few cents…all that she had…those two small coins.

 “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on’”  Mark 12:43-44

Insignificant?  Not so.  Jesus saw this woman’s heart.  He saw her willingness to give all that she had…not out of her surplus, but out of the little that she had to live on…to survive.  Those two copper coins had value, great value in the eyes of the Lord.

A drought filled land.  A woman gathering sticks to build a fire.   She was to prepare the last of her rations for her and her son.   Elijah arrives in Zarepath and encounters the woman.  He requests a bit to drink and some bread to eat.  She explains her dilemma.  She has but a handful, a mere handful, of flour and a bit of oil in a jar.  Elijah’s instructions? Go and do as planned, but she was to bring him the first little cake of bread.  She was not to feed herself or her son first, but to meet his need.

 “For thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.’  So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days.  The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.”  I Kings 17:14-16

A tight week, with little food.  Mouths to feed.  Empty wallet.  A smiling face at the door.  A tin foil wrapped package.  A bit of extra ham to give.  A need met.  A lesson learned.

What is the common thread in each scenario?  Each woman followed the prompting of the Lord and gave not out of her surplus, but out of the little that was had.

The widow gave all that she had to live on as an offering.  Surely the Lord would have understood if she had kept a coin for herself.  There were others, wealthier people, who would give.  How would she survive?  Yet, she listened to the prompting of the Lord and gave all.

The woman at Zarepath had but a handful of flour and a bit of oil.  She was prepared to eat with her son, then die, for there would be no more flour, no more oil left.  There must have been others with more food, others with more resources to care for this man Elijah.  He would not want her son to starve.  Surely he would understand.  She followed the prompting of the Lord and served another first with the little she had.

The friend with a bit of extra ham.  She had a husband and five children to feed at home.  Leftovers could make a meal or two for them.  She wouldn’t have to cook tomorrow night.  But there’s this family.  Times are tough for them right now.  Oh, but what good would a little bit of ham do?   She’d be embarrassed to offer something so small and insignificant.  There must be others who are helping them, others with more than her, others who could better meet their needs.  She too followed the prompting of the Lord and has been the basis for a life lesson that has literally changed my life.

There are many people who believe that generosity is exclusive to those with healthy bank accounts.  They believe that giving must be out of their surplus…their extra…the part that they really don’t need.   They believe that others who are better off are better able to meet the needs they see around them.  They believe that a little gift won’t go very far or do much good.   I am here to tell you that all of those assumptions are false.  They are lies.

The Lord can use the little we may have to not only be a blessing to those around us, but to show His goodness and provision to them as well.   We have no way of knowing what good a few dollars will do.  What impact a winter coat or a pair of shoes could make.   How a bit of food can not only fill a belly but a heart as well.  We do not have the foresight to see how the Lord may take our seemingly small gift and multiple it.

We simply need to do a few things.

  • We first need to pray that the Lord would open our eyes to the needs of the people around us.  Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own lives that we can be blind to what is going on around us.  Pray for eyes to see.
  • Secondly, we need to follow the prompting of the Lord.  If you see a need, have means to meet that need, and sense that the Lord is moving you to action, do it!  Pray for ears that hear the Lord’s prompting.
  • We need to trust the Lord.  We need to have faith that the Lord will take our little gift and use it in a mighty way.  We need to trust in His plan.  Pray for a heart that trusts in God’s plan.
  • Finally, we need not advertise our giving.  If the Lord allows you the privilege to meet a need, that should be between you and the Lord.  There is no need to announce it to the world.  If it’s possible, I would encourage you to give in secret as well.  Pray for lips that are restrained.

If you doubt how far a humble gift can go, I leave you with this:

There was a boy with a five small barley loaves and two fish…

 

 

Lessons from Dad

Father’s Day comes and goes each year.  It’s one of those bittersweet days.  I love to celebrate my husband and the wonderful dad that he is to our boys.  Yet, inevitably, at some point during the day, I reflect on my own dad.  Our journey as father and daughter was an interesting one.  I learned some of life’s greatest lessons from my dad.  Our story is marked by a sad beginning, a turbulent middle, and redemptive ending.  I hope you’ll stick with me.

It was Thanksgiving evening.  Dinner was done, guests had said their goodbyes, and the house was in a bit of disarray.  I was only five years old, my younger brother a year and a half.  I obviously don’t remember the specifics of the day, but nonetheless, that Thanksgiving would be a momentous one.  For on that day my dad left.  Simply took his belonging and walked away.  Our lives were changed in an instant.

My father returned to the Bronx where he took up residence in his mother’s spare bedroom.  To my father’s credit he remained involved with my brother and me.  We regularly spent time with my dad and grandmother.  He helped my mother out financially and maintained the house.  And while I was too young to fully understand our new family arrangement, it all just seemed odd to me.  However, I looked forward to those weekend trips.

I remember one specific visit where my father introduced my brother and me to a new “friend”.  She was apparently someone that my father had known for quite some time.  It was then that my young mind began to put the sordid pieces together.  My mother would fill in the gaps for me.

Within two years my parents’ divorce was finalized, and soon after, my father would remarry.  His new wife, the woman with whom he had been involved with while married, was young, and I frankly never gave her a chance.  I would not allow myself to like her.  I would not allow my heart to be open to her.  My mind was made up.

Future visits with my dad were marked by tears, unhappiness, and loneliness.  And as my father and wife began their new lives together, my sadness would turn to anger.  While my mom struggled to put food on the table, when there were times when the electricity was shut off, when birthdays went by without a gift, my father seemingly basked in the glow of his new home, new car, new toys, and new children.  Our twice monthly visits would become monthly visits, then every other month visits, then holiday and birthday visits, then would simply fade away.  Our visits were replaced with phone calls that were more obligatory than anything else.  My anger was slowly turning to hatred.

I entered high school seemingly happy on the outside but longing for love and acceptance on the inside.  I am fully aware that many young people in similar situations can get themselves into trouble, can wander down the wrong path, can look for love in all the wrong places.  I was fortunate, for the Lord put a father figure in my life in high school.  I was in the band, and the band was my life.  Our band director really became my dad during those vital years. He took a genuine interest in my life.  He went so far as to having me over to his house for dinner with his family.  I imagine that there were plenty of fellow classmates who envisioned a “Mr. Holland’s Opus” story line, but no, that was the farthest thing from the truth.  To me, this man was the closest thing I had to a father.

While high school graduation was a happy time for most, it was terrifying to me.  All of the stability, acceptance, and love I received from friends and others would dissipate as we all went in our separate directions.  I remained local and commuted to a nearby university. It was there that I realized how easy it was to find love and acceptance in the arms of all the wrong people. I was desperately looking to fill the void. I look back on that time now and see how the hand of the Lord protected me. I put myself into some precarious situations, some, downright dangerous. Yet, amazingly I was kept safe. I should have been an 11:00 news story.

By this time in my life, I was a strong, independent, self-reliant young woman, but on the inside, there was that little girl, immature, vulnerable, naive, and hurt. The gap between my father and me was now a wide chasm. I hated him. I vowed that he would never earn my forgiveness for he was too undeserving. I would never allow all the years of pain and hurt to be erased. I would never give him a pass. He would never walk me down the aisle. I remember making a statement once that I wouldn’t even care if he died.

Those feelings don’t just happen overnight. There is a progression. Hurt – Sadness – Anger – Hatred – Bitterness. Each one building off the last; each one defining more of who I was. I realize now what I couldn’t see then: hatred and bitterness did more to harm me, than my dad. I carried around a backpack full of burdens everywhere I went. It dragged me down into the muck and the mire. My deliberate attempt to hurt my father, resulted in only one person being hurt…me.

For those of you who know me, you may have picked up on the fact that there is something missing from the above story: the Lord. I was saved early and grew up in the church, however, the older I got, the more I simply ran through the motions of religion. There was no relationship with the Lord, and that was obvious. It was during those turbulent college years that the Lord would grab hold of me. In reality, He had never let go of me, but He had to shake me pretty hard in order to get my attention.

Through accidents, sickness, and heartbreak, the Lord would bring me to my knees. He would open my eyes to the self destructive path I was on. One night after returning home from class, I sat on the hood of my car and stared out into the starry sky. I broke down in tears and cried out to the Lord. Life wasn’t good; I had no joy, no peace, and no hope. It was then that I realized that the love I had been searching for all of those years was always there. It wasn’t to be found in my earthly father but in my Heavenly Father. I took a vow that night, a rededication of sorts, to simply stop what I was doing. I was going to let the Lord direct my path.

Not surprisingly, our faithful God did direct my path. Within a few months he ordered my life and brought stability to it. I met my future husband, graduated college, and got into the workforce. In due time I would become engaged, and as I began to plan for my new life, the Lord reminded me that I still needed to deal with my old one. He impressed upon me that if I didn’t deal with my dad and my feelings, I would bring a lot of baggage into my marriage. After much prayer I decided to write a letter to my father. It was a long one. It was respectful but honest and blunt. I intended to mail it to him, but the letter never made it to the post office. This would be something I needed to do face to face.

I called my dad and told him that I needed to talk with him. I warned him that I needed to get some things off of my chest. So we set a date and my fiance and I sat down at my father’s kitchen table with my dad and his wife. I read my letter to them. Twenty years of hurt and anger were laid out on the table. There wasn’t much conversation to be had, just a lot of listening. He didn’t dispute anything I had to say. At the end, I told my dad that I forgave him, words I never thought I would utter. With that, we left. As the door closed behind me, I felt the weight of that burdensome pack fall off. I hadn’t realized how the weight of hatred had been holding me down. I felt free…literally.

Soon after, I was married. My father attended the wedding with his wife. My mother and brother walked me down the aisle, not out of spite, but out of love. I danced with my brother, not my father, again not out of spite, but out of love for my brother.

With time, my husband and I would reach out to my dad. It was a bit awkward at first for everyone, but new beginnings have to start somewhere. We had occasional phone conversations and a visit here and there. We didn’t focus on the past but on the present.

Within a few years I would give birth to my first child. This event would really test my heart. I remember calling my dad when my son was born. He and his wife came down to our house within a few days. They brought dinner and a shower of gifts. They were exuberant, like grandparents should be. However, this new found excitement did not sit well with me. Phone calls from my dad would become more frequent. Requests to visit were common. Random gifts were commonplace. What was up? Then the dark part of my heart spoke up. I told my husband, “So my dad thinks that he can just waltz into my life and be grandpa. What about all the times I needed a dad. What? Am I supposed to just forget about those times?”

Yep. That’s exactly what I was called to do. I had forgiven my dad….or so I thought I had.

“I, even I, am He who wipes out your transgressions, for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

Isaiah 43:25

That verse hit me right between the eyes. What does true forgiveness look like? It is choosing not to remember the past. It is putting it away, far away from our minds. I don’t believe that we can truly forgive and forget. Our minds are not set up in a way to completely forget. All of our life experiences make us who we are. We just can’t pretend they aren’t there. But, we can choose to not remember them. When I looked at my dad, I still saw a little bit of the hurt. I hadn’t let that all go.

So how do I really accomplish this forgiveness thing? Well, I didn’t need to look far to find the perfect example in God himself. I surely was not (and am not) without sin. I had done some downright ugly things. I turned my back on the Lord. I was in need of forgiveness. I sought forgiveness and it was granted to me. How did the Lord view me?

“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature. The old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

Once forgiven, the Lord doesn’t look at me the same. He doesn’t look at me and see my sin; He sees me as new. He chooses not to remember my sins. If the Lord did that for me, how could I do anything less for my dad?

And from that day on, I chose not to remember. I chose to see my dad for who he was now, not who he was then. And as a result, the Lord blessed me with a good relationship with my dad. I looked forward to visits with my dad. I found joy in seeing him be a grandpa. I enjoyed our conversations. I would chuckle as he would call me from Target to find out what size the boys were wearing or ask me if the boys would like a certain toy. And with time I heard something from my dad that I never heard before, “I love you.” And for the first time in my life, I knew he meant it. Priceless.

The Lord would grant me only but a few years to enjoy this new found relationship with my dad. Oh, but how thankful I am for those years no matter how short they were.

So, today I remember my dad for the good dad he was, for the great grandpa he was, for the changed man he became, and for the great lesson of forgiveness and love I learned through him.

Love and miss ya, Dad!

 

The Night God Arrived For Dinner

dinnerIt was nearly dinner time.  For the first time ever, I wasn’t sure what I was going to serve for dinner.  It wasn’t for a lack of inspiration or that I hadn’t planned, it was because my pantry was nearly bare, my refrigerator was just about empty, and my freezer was a vacant wasteland.  I had three little mouths to feed and an empty wallet.  Payday was tomorrow, but I still needed to get through today.

With the economy in a downward spiral, my husband’s employer had spent the last two years making cuts.  People were let go, benefits were cut, co-pays sky rocketed, hours were slashed, and mandatory unpaid furloughs were put into effect.  While I was thankful that my husband still had a job, there was no denying the fact that we were struggling to just survive.  That was also the time that I was at my sickest with Lyme Disease.  I was barely able to function and live, nonetheless be employed to help with the bills.  And as for the bills, there were many.  The doctor bills and lab bills flooded our mail box.  It was a tough time for us….a humbling time for us.  Yet, it would be during that time that we would see first hand the Lord’s promises played out.

I went to my kitchen and gathered what I could.  There was a bit of rice and some veggies left in the fridge.  “It will fill their bellies,” I thought, “and I’ll find a way to make it yummy.”  I remember one of my boys asking what was for dinner.  I was honest.  I told him that I didn’t have much, but we would enjoy dinner nonetheless.  My husband came home from work, and I told him to expect a pretty humble supper that evening.  I was broke, and I didn’t want to use my credit card…we didn’t have any way to pay for it.   I continued to cook.

Then, there was a knock at the door.

I opened the door to find a familiar face.   It was a woman that I worked alongside of in our homeschooling co-op.  We had a working relationship; we would attend meetings together and talk “business” on the phone.  We rarely, if ever, had a social get together or a casual, non business related phone conversation.  Yet, she was one of the few people who knew of our struggles.   She always made sure to ask how my husband was, how work was going, how we were doing.

Standing on my porch she sheepishly told me that she had cooked up a large ham for her family and had some leftover meat that she felt led to bring over to us that evening.  I think that she was unsure of how I would react to her offer.   Sometimes personal pride can cause us to act in ways we shouldn’t and turn down things that we need.  I thanked her and told her that I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for that evening’s meal.  I accepted the tin foil wrapped package, hugged her, and waved goodbye.

As I turned around I saw the eyes of my three boys looking on.  “The Lord provided dinner for us this evening, boys.  I never want you to forget this moment.  I always want you to remember that when God promises to meet your needs, He will.”

And with that, I cried.

So, that night as a family, we sat down to enjoy our rice, and veggies, and ham, and we thanked God for meeting today’s need through our friend.  We thanked Him for impressing on her heart our need, for her listening to His prompting, for her taking the time to drive to our home, for her not questioning what good a little ham could do.  We thanked Him that we were able to lay aside our pride and receive.

My children were all old enough to remember that night.  We still talk about it.  Wrapped up inside of that little foil packet was more than just a meal, it was a life lesson like no other, one that none of us will ever forget.   We saw scripture and promises come to life.

 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

In the year to follow that same smiling face would greet me at my front door several more times, each time with something to offer.   A winter coat for one of the boys.  A shirt for me.  Some homemade soap.   A bag of clothes for the kids.   They were all little expressions of her care and concern and big reminders from God that He had not forgotten about our needs.

My husband would tough it out at his job for nearly two more years until making the excruciating decision to leave his long time employer in search of something more stable.  Those years were rough, but the Lord would continue to provide in many ways:

  • $300 left anonymously on my front porch
  • grocery store gift cards given to us by a neighbor
  • a church member buying us a freezer and providing some groceries nearly each week
  • great success in selling unwanted and unneeded items on eBay
  • neighbors, friends, and complete strangers hiring my husband to do work on his unpaid days off
  • cards with money or giftcards
  • small successes as I started out in my venture of competitive cooking

Each event, gift, or opportunity came at just the right time to meet a very specific need.  These were not coincidences…I do not believe in coincidences.  They were evidence of God’s provision…of His care.  They were reminders to us that God knew of and was very aware of our needs, and that He had it all taken care of.

The same God who provides for the birds of the air, Who has numbered the hairs on my head, is indeed concerned about my life and my needs.   They do not slip His mind; He does not turn a blind eye.  No.  He knows me;  He hears my voice, my cries, and knows it is me.  He is aware of my needs even before I am.   He not only cares, but He WILL provide in His perfect timing.  It is a promise that He has made to His children.   I’ve seen it first hand; I’ve lived it.

I do want to caution you here.  Sometimes the things that we see as needs are nothing more than wants.  The list of what we really need to survive is actually quite small.  On the evening detailed above, my family did have food.  It was humble and not plentiful, but there was food.  I am keenly aware of that.  Yet, God chose to provide a little bit more, not with the plan of filling our bellies, but with a plan to fill our hearts and give us the hope that would be needed to endure that very rough time in our lives.

I want to leave you with a few verses that mean a great deal to me.  They remind me that God knows me.  He sees my needs and will provide.

Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Luke 12:7

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25-26

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:12-13

Come back next Monday as we look at how generosity is not exclusive to those who have much.

 

 

Beautiful Words and Dirty Laundry

It was just a few hours before they would arrive for dinner.  A family from church would be coming over.  They had never been to our home before.  I honestly was a little stressed, as I typically am before guests arrive.  My house is not fancy or big or full of Pottery Barn decor.  I, like many of you, lead a hectic life, with a lot on my plate.  I don’t always keep my house as tidy as I should.  What if they see a dusty end table?  A stray sock in the living room?  A sink full of dishes?  What will they think?  More important, what will they think of me?

I bet some of you can relate.   You want everything to be in its place.  You want to give the impression that you’ve got things together. Surely if my house is not up to standard they will think I am lazy and will judge.

“We need to vacuum and dust and get the laundry off of the sofa.  Someone needs to get on their hands and knees and look under the sofa and all of the furniture.  They have little kids; they will find everything.  Make sure your room is clean.  Tidy up the porch. I’ll clean the refrigerator.  Make sure the dishes are put away.”

There was no shortage of commands to be handed out that day.  Everyone had a job to do.  I am not exactly sure why I thought that it was important to clean the refrigerator.  Who in the world is going to be looking inside of my refrigerator? But, you never know, so better to be safe than sorry.  What utter lunacy!

“Mom, where do you want me to put all of this laundry that is on the sofa?  I don’t know if it’s clean or dirty.  It’s not folded?”

“Just put it on my bed and be sure to close the door.  I’ll figure it out later”

And with five minutes remaining until arrival, I gave one final run through.  All looks well.  Okay, I think we are done.   I could finally breathe a bit.

“They’re here.  They’re here.” And with that we opened the door and welcomed our friends inside.  The dads and kids went sleigh riding across the street, while the moms stayed inside and chatted.  We would share dinner and dessert and enjoy some wonderful conversation and fellowship.

At one point in the evening I excused myself to head upstairs.  Our first floor restroom was out of service due to some renovations.  So everyone had been directed to make their way to the second floor if need be.  Our house is kind of small.  When you reach the top of the stairs you have a bedroom to your left, right, and directly in front of you.  The bathroom is in the hallway off of the master bedroom.  As I made the turn toward the bathroom I paused and there before my eyes was a gigantic, mountainous pile of clothes.  My bedroom door had been left open for all the world to see.  I tilted my head back and dropped my shoulders.  There was no mistaking the fact that everyone had seen it.  I was kind of mortified.

So, I went downstairs and looked at my friend, “So, I guess you saw my huge pile of laundry.  Sorry about that.  I just didn’t get around to it.”

I call her response that followed “the most beautiful words any mother has ever said to me.”  They are words that have been etched in my mind and continue to warm my heart each time I think of them.

“Oh, I was so glad to see that.  It is beautiful.  I just wish that the pile was bigger.”

I wanted to cry…cry tears of joy.  With those few words I felt all of that pressure to be “together” dissipate.   My huge pile of laundry made both of us feel normal.

I began to tell her of the craziness that had occurred just before her arrival.  How I wanted to make sure that everything was just so.  Why do women do this?  Because we wonder what people will think.  I tried my best to give the impression of togetherness, but my “dirty laundry” was still visible for all to see.    As moms  we try to measure up, and we endlessly compare ourselves to the next woman…to her home, her kids, her clothes, her cooking, her whatever.  We feel inadequate and view everyone else as “super mom”.  It is so destructive.

After this little episode the Lord began to show me that outward appearances do not always represent reality.  Someone who appears to have it all together on the outside may very well be a mess on the inside.  And vice versa.  People have a tendency to do exactly what I did: they paint a picture that they want the world to see.  Oh, they likely have some “dirty laundry” that they want to remain hidden, but regardless of how well it is stowed away, it’s still there.

How thankful I am that the Lord is not concerned about the outer man.   The inner man, the heart and soul of a man, the part that no one can see, is what really concerns our Lord.  The Lord sees through walls and facades; He is not tricked by our outward efforts to appear “with it”. He is not impressed by fancy homes or beautiful things or finely coiffed hair.  Fine clothes and fancy cooking are of no worth.  The Lord looks at the heart.

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

Please don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with keeping a lovely home or having nice things.  We are certainly not called to be slobs either.  It again all comes down to our hearts.  What is our motivation?  Is it to impress people?  Is it to make sure people think that we have got it all together?

I urge you not to do that to yourself.  Do not compare.  Do not assume that everyone else but you has it all together.  Be concerned with your heart, for your inner man, for that is the Lord’s concern as well.

An Inconvenient Meeting

As I mentioned in my last post, my son had found a tick embedded inside of his shoulder.  Try as I might I could not remove the tick.  I was on and off the phone with my husband discussing ways to remove the little pest.  My oldest son was scouring the internet in search of some solution.  We tried tweezers, squeezing, Vaseline, liquid soap; we even lit a match, blew it out, and touched the tick’s back with the hot end.  Nothing.  He was not going to budge.

I thought to myself, “This is absolutely crazy.  How difficult can this be? Why in the world can’t I remove this minuscule little creature?”

Even my husband scratched his head at my seeming inability to do this simple task.  “How are none of these things working,” he asked.

We were both at a loss, and my son was at his wit’s end, so off we were to the doctor.

Frankly and honestly, I really didn’t have time for this today.  We had to do school work…tests…things to do.  We already had had a topsy turvy kind of week.  This visit was not on my agenda today.  I must admit that my insides were a bit agitated by this monkey wrench.  But, this is life, and life has it’s little unexpected, unplanned, inconvenient, tick-in-the-arm kind of moments.

Soon after checking in at the office, my son was called back to see the doctor.  Within ten minutes of that, we were asked to take a seat in the back.  There is a large common area where people wait to have blood drawn, have IV treatments, or like us, wait to see the nurse.  The nurse was quite busy that day, and as we waited, one person after another filed into the common area.

A woman, likely around my age sat next to me.  I nodded and smiled as she sat down.  The nurse quickly popped her head into the room to see us.  She asked us to show her where the tick was and took down some information.  She apologized in advance for the wait.  So my son and I waited, and we waited some more.  Then the woman next to me spoke.  In a few short sentences, she told me her story.

“It’s a good thing you came here to have the doctor remove the tick.  I have Lyme Disease, and it’s caused real problems for years.  I didn’t know I had the disease.  I got pregnant and passed antibodies to my son.  Now, he’s sick.  He’s really struggling, especially in school.  We had him in public school, then moved him to a private school, but he just can’t seem to handle anything.  The school officials think he is faking his illness.  We are frustrated and have decided to pull him out of school to homeschool him.  I’m not sure I can do this.”

And in that moment I knew exactly why I could not seem to extricate the tick from my son’s shoulder.  I realized why a simple task had become impossible.  I realized that the Lord had a meeting arranged for me.  He cleared my schedule to make room for this very encounter.

See, that woman’s story is my story…almost exactly.  I’ve had a little experience with Lyme Disease myself, been pregnant during my illness, passed antibodies along to my kids while pregnant, have one son who is sick and struggling, and, to boot, I homeschool.   Coincidence?  Oh, no.  This was an orchestrated meeting.  No chance or alignment of the stars here.  This was the Lord placing me in specific place, on a certain day, at an exact time, to say a few simple words to someone who needed them.

And with that I turned to her and told her that I understood exactly what she was going through.  I knew of her personal struggles;  I knew of her son’s struggles.  I knew of her apprehension regarding school.  I then briefly told her my story.  She looked at me and said one word, “Really?”

“Yes, really,” I responded.

I introduced her to my son.  She spoke a bit more in depth about her son’s struggles.  She questioned her ability to homeschool.  She was unsure and scared.  We talked about curriculum and such.  She then looked at me and said, “Just tell me that I can do this.”

“Yes, you can do this,” was my simple reply.

And that’s why I was there, to speak words of encouragement to a mom whose shoes I have walked in.  I was put there to show her that she is not alone in her struggles, in her concerns.  My schedule was cleared so that I could have this encounter.

All at once and rather abruptly, both of us went our ways.  She was called into the doctor’s office, and the nurse came in to take care of my son.  We quickly exchanged names.  I asked her where she was from.  “Connecticut.”

Connecticut?  Really?   She had come from two hours away to have this doctor’s appointment in New Jersey?  She had navigated Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey morning traffic?  She arrived when I arrived?

There are no coincidences in life.  They are providential, planned meetings of the Lord to carry out whatever His will may be.

These verses from Proverbs say it best:

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.  Proverbs 19:21

The Lord is always at work.  He is not just sitting around casually in heaven as an observer.  He is in control of all things and orchestrates our coming and going.  Oh, how fast we can be to complain or moan or gripe when our best laid plans are disrupted.   How easy it is to become frustrated by life’s inconvenient moments.  We can get downright crazy when delays or setbacks come our way.  Yet, the Lord is in control of all of these things.  He is at work.  His plan is simply unfolding, and you may have the privilege of being part of it.