Teachable Moments: Taking the Fear and Stress Out of Parenting Challenges

“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!

Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.

When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!

I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move! 

But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!

Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind! 

Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.

And that is something to be grateful for!

“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”

When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.

When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence. 

When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected. 

The important thing is how we handle them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:

Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?

—Paul David Tripp

God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us! 

We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know. 

So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.

This is grace.

The Freedom of Self-Denial

“Mom, are you serious?? What is wrong with you? No one else in the world has stupid rules like this. I hate it! You’re ruining my life! You and dad are the worst!”

I sat there suppressing a smile and polishing my Mother of the Year trophy while the child-who-shall-not-be-named stomped out of the room.

Sorry, kid, this isn’t our first rodeo.

In case you’re wondering about the preposterous rule, Jeff and I recently implemented a “No technology during the school week” policy. You can imagine how well that went over.

Y’all, sometimes parenting is really hard. Okay, most of the time, parenting is really hard! Making our kids mad at us is no fun. Setting limits and boundaries we know they won’t like is terribly difficult. Listening to them tell us that we are ruining their life (and wondering if it’s true) is heart-wrenching. 

But sometimes a mom (or dad) has to do what a mom (or dad) has to do.

In this case, the reality is that our kids are different people when they are not using technology. When they know it’s an option, nothing else seems to matter. They rush carelessly through their schoolwork so they can get online with their friends. They overlook assignments or “forget” to study so they can be done faster. They lose sight of how much they love things like sports and other activities because their focus is on a screen. And though they hate to admit it, their aggression and anxiety skyrocket. 

However, when digital entertainment is no longer an option, everything changes! They take their time on their schoolwork and their grades go up. They spend time together— laughing, playing outside, making up games, and being creative. As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol. Our hope is that, through this process, they will learn the value of denying themselves and be able to choose it for themselves in the future.

In fact, on a few occasions, our older children have even handed us their phones, recognizing they needed a break from the digital world, but not trusting their own ability to resist the temptation. How cool is that?

As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol.

Unfortunately, it never gets any easier to deny ourselves what we really want.

Jeff and I started a new eating plan this week. I’m not going to lie; it has been tough. Our meals (I use that term loosely, lol!) are planned out for us, and our eating is extremely restricted compared to what we are used to. Honestly, it feels quite a bit like torture!

But it has also given me new perspective. I had no idea how much my life revolved around food. It is horrifying and humbling to recognize how quickly an indulgence here and there can become an all-consuming, insatiable hunger. Like my kids, I have overlooked the most important things in order to satisfy what my heart craves.  I have been ruled by the desire to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and I didn’t even know it!

However, this week, all that changed. 

This week has been an experience in self-denial. I have had to prioritize what is best for me over what I desire. I have chosen integrity over indulgence and long-term results over short-term satisfaction. My hunger pains have reminded me that while I may feel deprived, there are those who would consider my small portion a gift, an answered prayer.  As the week went along, my perspective shifted and I have grown more grateful for what I have been given instead of focusing on what has been withheld. 

I’m not quite there yet, but I am inching my way towards finding the freedom that comes from releasing an idol.

Friends, it makes me wonder. If my kids didn’t recognize how technology affects them and I didn’t realize how food affects me, what else in our lives are we blind to? In what other areas are we indulging our senses, feeding our feelings, and drowning in our desires? And what would happen if we chose to step back and open our hands, willingly denying ourselves of whatever it is that consumes us?

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

We live in a fast food world of self-indulgence. Super-sizing is expected. Entitlement is rampant. Just look at our political climate—we are so quick to claim a side, yet we have forgotten how to have a conversation.  We continually choose being right over being in relationship. We focus on our miniscule areas of disagreement instead of our larger areas of commonality. 

We are being deceived, friends! We are worshiping self-made idols and calling it freedom, when really we are enslaved to our own desires. 

I wonder what would happen if we all chose gratitude over greed. Would our world look any different if we decided to walk the path of self-denial? If, instead of feeding our selfish desires, we denied ourselves and sought to fulfill someone else’s needs? What freedom would we gain by shifting our perspective, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of someone else’s restrictive cruelty, we decided to find freedom through restricting ourselves?

This is the perspective we are hoping our kids will grasp— that while self-denial is unpleasant at first, it can lead to great joy and freedom.

Just a few things to think about as I count the minutes until my next “fueling”…

Letting Go and Trusting God

The wind was blowing against my face as I stood there, trying not to look down. The harness was fastened securely to my body. The guide tied the rope around an enormous tree and then his 5,000 pound pickup truck, assuring me I was safe. 

The rope was not going to break. 

The tree was not going to uproot. 

Everything was ready… the rest was up to me.

“Now, all you have to do is let go and lean back,” he said, shrugging his shoulders as though he wasn’t really asking much. Didn’t he know we were standing on the edge of a cliff, several hundred feet in the air? 

The last thing I wanted to do was let go and lean back!

He must have noticed my white knuckles gripping the rope, because he went on to remind me of what would happen if I didn’t listen. 

“I know your instinct is to hold onto the rope and hug the side, but trust me, you don’t want to do that. If you lean forward, you’ll slam into the rocks and it won’t be pretty. This is what you came here for! Just trust me; count to three, let go, and lean back, parallel to the ground. I won’t let you fall. Trust me!”

Trust me.

I could feel the sweat on my forehead. I was about to either throw up or chicken out (or both), when a verse popped in my head: 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make your path straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

*******************

Friends, have you ever found yourself having a hard time letting go?

Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. I hold onto:

  • Friendships and relationships 
  • Momentos- objects that remind me of the past, of things I don’t want to forget 
  • Traditions- they are the heart of our celebrations!
  • Expectations- both of myself and others
  • Regrets/past mistakes- I am pretty quick to forgive others, but not so easy on myself. 

Are there things on this list that sound familiar to you? Maybe you have a hard time letting go of control or fear or anxiety. Whatever it is, we all know what it’s like to struggle to let go of something we really want to hold onto. It’s not easy, for sure.

Which brings me to this weekend.

Tomorrow morning we are going to pack up our Yukon (with half a Target store full of matching dorm decor) and make the seven-hour drive to take our oldest daughter to college. We are so excited for her and so grateful she actually has the opportunity to go, given the ongoing pandemic!

But y’all. 

She’s my baby.

She’s the one who first made me a momma, the one we prayed about for years before the test finally came back positive. She’s the one that “mothers” her siblings and runs to the store for us and raps Hamilton songs in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru with me. 

How am I supposed to let go of my baby?

How do you take your heart out of your chest and just drive away? 

(And I thought teenage break-ups were hard! Sheesh!)

So, I find myself returning to these verses in Proverbs. I have prayed them over her strong-willed heart since she was little, and I will probably pray them over her every day of her life. But especially now, on this new adventure, these are the verses I’m praying. 

For her, yes.

But also for me.

Because it is not my natural instinct to let her go. No, my instinct is to hold her close, to protect her, to keep all my little birds gathered together in my nest, tucked safely beneath my wing. Why should she fly away when she can stay here with us?

Oh, wait. She was born to fly, wasn’t she?

It’s the reason we’re here. It’s the reason we’ve spent the past 18 years training her, discipling her, parenting her, and guiding her. We didn’t do all that work so she could stay home and watch Youtube! 

We did it so she could shine, so she could bring light to a world so full of darkness. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.”

********************

Standing on that cliff, I knew it was time. The guide smiled at me and nodded encouragingly. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, let go of the rope and leaned back. I took one step, and then another, slowly gaining confidence that I wasn’t going to fall. Before long, I was pushing back from the mountain, leaping and laughing, embracing the freedom and living my best life on the way down. 

I trusted the guide. I believed the rope was going to hold me. 

He was right; this was what I came here for. I was made for this!

And so is she.

It’s time to trust the Guide and let go.

What is it you need to let go of? Expectations? Fear? Control?

I’m praying God will give you the strength to do it, and that you will find joy and freedom as you do.

And if you think about it, will you ask the Lord to fill my momma-heart with an extra dose of peace on Monday? And pray for Jeff… I’m not sure a daddy ever really lets go of his little girl.

Thanks, friends.

Finding Balance When Life Feels Out of Control

What do you do when life feels out of control?

No, really, I’m curious. What do you do?

I started three different blog posts this week, and none of them felt quite right. There was something else lingering in the periphery of my mind, just out of reach, blocking me from carrying any thoughts to completion. 

I spoke with a friend who mentioned feeling emotionally out of control lately. It was not the first conversation like that I’ve had in recent weeks; the people around me just don’t feel like themselves.

Are you feeling it, too?

Our church’s Student Camp was first delayed, then relocated back to our church campus, and eventually shifted to a virtual event at the last minute. Family vacations have been cancelled or altered. School start dates are being pushed back, sporting events are being cancelled, and college kids across the country are wondering if it’s even worth it to pack.

Life feels uncertain, and there’s nothing we can do to change that.

It got me thinking… how do you respond when life feels out of your control? What do you do when the ordinary living of life gets overwhelming?

Maybe you get emotionally crazy, overreacting and lashing out at the people around you or withdrawing into your shell. Maybe you binge on Netflix shows or stuff your face with chocolate chip cookies (anyone else gained the Covid-19??). Maybe you go on a cleaning frenzy (if so, come on over!) or find other things to hyper-control, like exercise programs or home improvement projects.

Or maybe, like me, you just shut down.

I would never describe myself as lazy. With four kids, I am always busy, and even before kids, I have always been a do-er. I like to be productive, to have something to show for my time. I am fantastic in a crisis; I actually thrive in high-pressure situations! And even on vacation, I choose new adventures over relaxation.

So I’m definitely not lazy.

But I’ve noticed a weird thing about myself. When I find myself in situations I can’t control- a global pandemic, for instance, or a poorly organized project I’m involved in but not in charge of- I tend to shut down. I do what I can for awhile, but at some point, I get overwhelmed and totally check out. 

I do it when my house gets messy (think Hoarders). 

I do it when our schedule gets extra busy.

And apparently, I do it when the world shuts down.

Friends, this is where I have found myself these past several weeks. As we move towards a new, yet not so different season, my curriculum list is long and my to-do list is even longer. 

And I find myself longing to grab a good book and hide in my closet!

So, what do you do when life feels out of control?

And how do you get yourself back on track again?

I tend to think of life as though I am standing in the middle of a see-saw, trying to keep either side from slamming into the ground. In order to keep it balanced, I am constantly making little adjustments. I lean this way and then that way, but not too much- just enough to keep everything in the air. When something happens that pushes one side down, I respond by shifting my weight a little, so that one thing doesn’t overwhelm the rest of my life. 

But sometimes, someone (or something- like COVID) plops in one of the seats, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t regain my balance. For awhile, I jump up and down on the other side, trying to make something happen, but to no avail. Eventually, I give up and sit down… or lose my balance and fall off altogether. Then what? 

That’s where I am now. 

So I have allowed myself a few weeks of resting. I have taken time to catch my breath, to read a few books, to just be lazy. 

But now it’s time to regain my balance!

How do I do that in a world that’s still out of control?

To be honest, I don’t really know. I just know I have to try.

So here’s my plan. I realize it may not work. I may fall off a few more times. I may need to stop again and catch my breath. And I may not actually regain balance until this crazy virus climbs out of the seat and stops making headlines! 

But I have to do something… I have to try.

PRIORITIES: START WITH WHAT’S IMPORTANT

First, I am starting with what’s important. I like to do things that feel purposeful, and unfortunately, urgent things often feel more purposeful than important things. Jumping off the see-saw has given me a chance to evaluate what (and who) is really important in my life. I want to make sure I am investing my time and resources there first. 

For me, that means God first (not necessarily the Church, not serving, not ministry, but my relationship with Jesus and time in His Word). After that comes my marriage and my children, then my health and my writing, and finally, everything else. 

I’ll be honest- all these things are continually fighting for my attention, and thus must be constantly reordered. I am not very good at keeping the main thing the main thing, so this is where I am starting.  And to do that, I need structure. 

STRUCTURE: BRING ORDER TO CHAOS

When I’m not completely shut down, I tend to be very organized. I love spreadsheets and label-makers, and I crave routine. So when things feel out of control, the best thing for me to do is streamline and simplify. 

Right now, I find myself drowning in excess. My kitchen counter is hidden beneath clutter. There are piles of various items scattered around our house, mostly because I’m not quite sure where to put them or how to organize them. My pantry is full of food (and I am grateful!), yet I can’t figure out what to make for dinner. I have so many ideas for blog posts, but nothing that’s ready to post.

It is time to bring some order to my chaos!

How do I do this? Well, my instinct is to make a 14 page to-do list and then feel like a failure when it’s not all accomplished by Monday. But I’m not going for finished, I’m going for BALANCED.

So I will schedule my time better this week. 

  • I will try to go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up on time. 
  • Without all the running around, my God time has been pretty consistent, and I want to keep it that way. 
  • I want to block off some time each week to work on my writing, so I can invest most of my time in Jeff and the kids, rather than being distracted and not doing either well. 
  • I will plan out meals so I’m not stuck at the last minute trying to figure out what’s for dinner. 
  • And I will make an effort to restore order to my home by attacking one pile or space each day.

In order to stay balanced, I am trying to keep this simple. I want to fix everything all at once, but I realize that’s not going to happen, so I am taking “small bites.” Whether I organize a whole room or just a pile, it is progress, and it helps me regain my equilibrium. For me, everything is connected, so bringing order to one area of my life inevitably impacts the others. We can’t discount the minor adjustments; sometimes they make the biggest difference!

You will probably hear more about this in the coming weeks. I need the accountability so I don’t end up back in the closet with a book, surrounded by piles and drowning in laziness! 

But I’d also love to hear how you react when life feels out of control, and what you’re doing to find your balance again. Maybe we can help each other.

Somehow it seems easier to catch your breath when you know you’re not alone.

Listening to the Right Voice: Hearing the Quiet Whisper in a Noisy World

Have you ever had so many voices competing for your attention that it was hard to even think straight, let alone know what to do? How do we learn to listen to the right voice?

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I played soccer when I was growing up. I started when I was 4 and played all the way through my second year of college. I played on rec teams, select teams, boys teams, and championship teams. For a long time, soccer wasn’t just what I did; it was who I was.

One of my favorite things about being a mom has been coaching our kids’ soccer teams, especially the boys. They are both really good players, but since Eli is older, he tends to dominate on the field.  He is extremely competitive, but he is also a pleaser- he doesn’t want to let anyone down. 

I noticed during one game he kept hesitating and looking over at me whenever he got the ball. When I asked him about it at half time, he said everyone was telling him what to do and there were so many voices that he didn’t know who to listen to. “My teammates all want me to pass it to them, you’re telling me to give and go, and dad’s telling me to score. I’m so confused, Mom! I don’t know what to do!” 

I looked my boy in the eye and reminded him that when he was on that field, I was his coach, so my voice was the only one that mattered. Mine was the voice of authority. 

The second half was completely different! He was totally focused on the game, and he did whatever I instructed. All he needed was a little reminder of whose voice to listen to, and then he had no problem hearing me and knowing what to do. 

Now, fast-forward a month or two, to basketball season. I get pretty into sports, so I’m not really one of those moms who sit quietly in the stands and smile at their kid. No, I’m pretty loud (my girls might even call me obnoxious, but whatever). 

I noticed again that Eli kept glancing over at me. This time when I asked him about it, he said he was confused because I was telling him to do different things than what his coach was telling him, and he wasn’t sure which voice to listen to.  

Oops. 

Hanging my head in shame, I told him to listen to his coach- the voice of authority on the court- and I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the game.

It was a good reminder to me of the power of my voice and how I need to be mindful of when and how to use it wisely.  

And it was a good reminder to Eli to listen to the right voice.

****************

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk to the College group at our church about the book of Esther, and I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well. I know, I know, most of you guys out there are already tuning me out, thinking it’s totally a chick-flick thing, but I want you to hang with me!

There is so much in the book of Esther we could focus on, like how God raises up people “for such a time as this” or how God is always at work, even when we don’t see Him. But as I read through it in light of our current circumstances, I couldn’t help but notice all the different “voices” clamoring for attention. 

Friends, I have to be honest… there are so many voices and so much noise all around me these days that I find myself hesitating like Eli, not sure which voice to listen to. Enter Esther. As we walk through Esther’s story together, notice which voice each person chooses to listen to and how that decision makes all the difference. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING TO THE RIGHT VOICE

The story of Esther begins with King Xerxes, the King of Persia, having a banquet for the people of Susa, while his queen held a banquet for the women. At the end of the week, King Xerxes commanded his servants to bring Queen Vashti to him so he could “display her beauty” (ie, show her off) to the people. For whatever reason, she refused to come, and the King got super mad (after 7 days of partying, you can imagine he was probably not thinking very clearly)!

1. King Xerxes listened to the voices that resonated with his feelings  (Esther 1:13-21

As was customary, the king sought advice from the “experts in matters of law and justice… the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king.”  He asks them, “According to the law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” 

If you notice, their response does not answer his question. If there was anything illegal about what the queen did, they do not bring it up… instead, they appeal to the current culture, the king’s pride, and his emotions.  Verse 21 says, “The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed.” 

King Xerxes was a man driven by passion, and this passion often blinded him to truth. As a result, he often listened to the wrong voices, ones who manipulated his emotions for their own benefit and purposes.

This makes me think of Pontius Pilate standing before a crowd of Jews, offering them the choice of who to set free- Jesus, the Teacher and Healer, or Barabbas, the worst of criminals. Many in the crowd had been shouting Hosanna and honoring Jesus just days before, but now were so quickly and easily swayed by the emotion of the mob. 

How often do we get carried away by the voices around us, the ones appealing to our emotions? 

2. Esther listened to voices of wisdom

So the king dethrones Queen Vashti and has all the beautiful girls in the kingdom brought before him for a giant beauty pageant so he could choose a new queen. (Umm, shallow much??) Our girl, Esther, finds herself in this group and quickly wins the favor of the man in charge. He gives her special treatment, singling her out as a good choice for the king. 

In verses 10, 12-13, and 15 we learn Esther was in the habit of seeking out and obeying wise counsel.

  • She trusted Mordecai to know the cultural and political climate and listened when he advised her to keep her nationality quiet. 
  • She trusted Hegai to know what the king liked and didn’t like, so she asked for only what he suggested. 
  • We see her more than once seeking advice- not from the other girls, not from all the guards, not even based on her own opinion- but from those who had actual knowledge and experience with the situations she was facing. 

I can’t tell you how imperative this is in today’s social media culture. 

I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Lucretia Berry of brownicity.com. She emphasized that one negative aspect of social media is how it elevates everybody’s voices and makes them equal, which causes the voices of wisdom to be drowned out. If everyone is an expert, how do you know who to believe? The reality is, not everyone is an expert and not every voice needs to be heard on every subject. Instead, Dr. Berry, who is an educator with extensive research in issues of race, said she often avoids speaking on social media, but instead shares her voice quietly with those who have a heart to listen and learn. 

If everyone is an expert, how do you know who to believe? The reality is, not everyone is an expert and not every voice needs to be heard on every subject.

This reminds me of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He has just defeated the prophets of Baal and is now running for his life from Jezebel, who is determined to kill him. After being on the run for 40 days, he spends the night in a cave and then basically tells God he is tired of not hearing Him. “God, I am doing everything right! I stood up for you, I’ve risked my life, I’ve been hiding out for over a month… WHERE ARE YOU???”  God tells him to go stand out on the mountain and wait for the voice of the Lord. 

  • A great and powerful wind tore past, but God was not in the wind
  • An earthquake rocked the ground, but God was not in the earthquake
  • Next came a fire, but God was not in the fire
  • Finally, after the fire came a gentle whisper…

GOD WAS IN THE WHISPER.

In my experience, the voices of wisdom are often the quietest. Truth doesn’t feel the need to shout or make a spectacle or play on your emotions. Sometimes they are bold, yes, but often they are quiet. Esther took the time to step away from all the other voices and really listen for the quiet voices of wisdom. 

How often do we step away from the noise and really listen for the quiet voices of wisdom?

3.  Haman and King Xerxes listened to the voices of Pride & Power

So, the King makes Esther his queen, not because of the content of her character, but because she is super hot (well, it’s true; read your Bible). And he also makes another guy, Haman, his next in command. Haman is feeling all high and mighty because of his new position, but then gets all upset because this Jewish guy, Mordecai, refuses to bow down to him. So, rather than just punish Mordecai, Haman listens to the voice of pride and devises a plan to exert his power over ALL the Jews in the kingdom. That will show Mordecai who’s in charge!

It turns out the king is easily deceived when Haman appeals to his sense of pride. He twists the truth just enough that King Xerxes doesn’t notice and believes him without question. Without realizing what he’s doing, he, too, uses his power to preserve his pride because he listens to the wrong voice. 

How often are we deceived by voices that appeal to our pride or sense of power?

Be aware- this can look different than we think. 

Sometimes it looks like preserving our heritage. Sometimes it looks like defending the weak. Sometimes it looks like standing up against evil, when really it’s just making us feel good about ourselves. Sometimes it’s not standing up against evil because we are afraid to lose our power or position. 

In Ronne Rock’s book, One Woman Can Change the World, she talks about God being the God of the “ampersand.” (I had to look it up… it means the ‘&’ sign. Who knew??) So often we like to put God in a box, stating He is for this and against that; He is this thing, but not that thing. And while that is true in certain cases, more often the Bible reveals He is “both, and…” 

  • He is justice AND mercy. 
  • He is sacrifice AND abundance. 
  • He accepts us as we are AND asks us to change
  • He is our Judge AND our Defender
  • He has compassion AND allows consequences

There are times God has led me to respond with mercy and similar times when He has required me to discipline justly. In one circumstance He may ask me to speak up, while other times He tells me to remain silent. In Exodus 17, God tells Moses to strike a rock with his staff to bring forth water, and then in Numbers 20, He tells him to simply speak to the rock this time. Moses’ determination to do it his own way results in him not getting to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  

There is no easy answer, friends. The voice of pride and power are often convincing… it requires asking the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and listening for the quiet whisper of God in reply.

4. Esther & Mordecai listen to the Voice of God

When Mordecai finds out about Haman’s decree to kill all the Jews across the entire nation, he mourns the news and sends a message to Esther, urging her to defend their cause to the king. Esther, feeling caught in the middle, reminds him that approaching the king without being requested is likely to end in her certain death, especially since he has not sent for her in 30 days. 

Mordecai’s response (Esther 4:13-14) reveals a Higher perspective, a clue that he was listening to a Kingdom voice. Though he is used to advising Esther, he does not give her a plan this time; he simply gives her a perspective

Basically he says, “God promised our Fathers a long time ago that we are His children and He will not abandon us. He will find a way to save us, one way or another. But Esther, perhaps one of those ways is YOU. Who knows? What if God orchestrated all these things in your life for exactly this moment, so He could accomplish His plan through YOU?”

Esther’s reply also reveals what voice she is listening to:

  • She surrenders her own will
  • She fasts and prays for 3 days (and asks her community to seek God as well)
  • She serves the king AND Haman
  • She serves him AGAIN before petitioning… waiting on God’s timing, His wisdom for her words, etc.

Do those words sound familiar? Surrender. Pray. Serve. Wait.

(It sounds a lot like Jesus to me.)

Remember, God comes in the whisper.

Haman had a plan, but He didn’t plan on God. Esther didn’t have a plan, but she chose to listen to God and walk in obedience. The result is a story of God delivering the people of Israel through the faithfulness of two ordinary people seeking HIS voice in extraordinary circumstances.

Did you know that the word “GOD” does not actually appear at all in the book of Esther? And yet, maybe that’s the point. 

When there are too many voices shouting all around us, or when God seems to be absent from our circumstances, it is THEN that we most need to listen for His voice. He is still working, even when we don’t see it. He is still present, even when we can’t feel it. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the noise of everything going on in our world, step away from all the voices. If you are feeling swayed by emotion or enticed by power or protective due to pride, turn off the voices, and get alone with Jesus. 

He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

He is our Coach, our Authority, our Expert- 

His voice is the only one that matters.

And He comes in the whisper.

Embracing Transition: 4 Steps to Making the Most of a Milestone

Last weekend, a “corona-month” later than planned, we celebrated Sarah’s high school graduation. She put on her cap and gown, took a bazillion pics with her friends, listened to some fabulous speeches, and FINALLY received her high school diploma.

With the turning of her tassel, she transitioned into a new part of her journey, ready or not!

It sounds cliché to say we blinked and she grew up, but honestly, that is how it feels…

Graduating from high school is such a milestone. It closes the door on one chapter and ushers open another. All eyes are turned to the future, every step leading forward to whatever comes next! 

Our sweet Sarah cannot think about anything now except college. She is focused on what she needs, who she’ll meet, and what she’ll experience. And she should be! She is embarking on a brave new adventure.

The miles stretch out before her, just waiting to be traveled!

***************

This milestone got me thinking about those mile markers along the interstate. I often think of them as telling me how much farther I have to go, but really their purpose is to remind us of where we are and how far we’ve come. That little number on the side of the road is the sum of all the miles we have travelled so far.

Most of the time, I get caught up trying to use that number to determine how many miles I have left on my journey, but when I do that, I miss the whole point!

I forget to celebrate how far I’ve come. I miss out on the landscape of that particular part of the path. And if I’m not careful, I may even end up overlooking an opportunity to take a better route.

4 Steps to embracing transition

Friend, are you partway along a path, in need of a mile marker to give you perspective? Maybe your path is:

  • A weight-loss journey
  • A new adventure, like college or a new job
  • Parenting small children
  • The pursuit of a dream, like running a marathon or writing a book
  • A long-term career goal
  • Finishing a degree
  • Parenting teenagers towards adulthood

Whatever your journey, here are some steps you can take to help you embrace your transitions and make the most of this moment.

Step 1: Reflect on the past

When you find yourself at a mile marker, take time to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come. Most likely there have been some bumps in the road, maybe even some failures along the way. Don’t be afraid of them! What have you learned from your struggles?  How are you better as a result? Are you more focused, more compassionate, more motivated?

And make sure you celebrate your victories, too! The distance you’ve traveled deserves recognition, regardless of how long it has taken or how many times you got sidetracked. A mile is a mile, no matter how you slice it! Pat yourself on the back for your progress.

Step 2: Embrace the moment

Next, look around. Notice the beauty of where you are- the different scenery, the opportunities for growth, the friends who are travelling this path alongside you. Each of these is a gift, and they are not promised for the entire length of your journey, so embrace them now!

Soak up the encouragement.

Learn what you can.

Try something new.

Make some memories.

Reach out with gratitude.

And above all, embrace this moment!

Sure, you still have a long way to go, but none of us is promised tomorrow, so don’t wish away today. You are at this particular mile marker only for a short time, so enjoy it!

Step 3: Adjust your course

Take assessment of where you’ve been and where you’re going. Make sure you’re still headed in the right direction, and make adjustments if necessary. Perhaps you’ve realized there’s a better way to get where you’re going; maybe you got off track, or your destination has changed along the way. This is the time to change course, to alter your direction, to make sure you’re taking the right path.

Here. Now.

At this mile marker.

Don’t waste anymore time going the wrong way or spinning your wheels. We are only on this earth for a little while… make it count!

Step 4: Move forward in hope

When you find yourself at a mile marker, reflect on your progress, embrace the moment, adjust your course, and then MOVE ON. Life is all about the journey, after all! Don’t get complacent, and don’t give into fear or deceptive voices. 

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.’’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

Live into this truth and move forward with hope and confidence, knowing that you do not journey alone!

This is my advice to Sarah and her friends as they transition into this next stage of life, and it is good advice for the rest of us as well. 

Reflect on the past.

Embrace the moment.

Adjust your course.

And move forward in hope.

Moving Forward

Have you ever felt like your world has suddenly stopped and you’re not sure how to move forward?

It’s a bit overwhelming.

My senior year of college, I went through a difficult break-up (I’m talking about a give-back-the-ring kind of break up). I haven’t thought about it in a long time, but back then it pretty much rocked my world. Not only did I have to navigate the logistics of calling off a wedding, as well as all the feelings that come with the end of a serious relationship, but I also found myself suddenly needing to rethink all my future plans. 

I felt like I was drowning- it was hard for me to focus on anything else.

This was a problem, because life continued all around me. My professors didn’t cancel class just because I was going through a break-up. My broken heart did not excuse me from writing papers and taking tests.  I was still expected to show up, to go to work, to fulfill my obligations. 

Life went on, and I was supposed to go on with it, whether I knew how or not.

So, I woke up the next morning, climbed out of bed, and just did the next thing. I didn’t always do it well, and I cried a lot in between, but I did it. I put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward. 

Step by step.

Over time, moving foward became a little bit easier. I was able to reflect on that relationship and learn from it. I was able to take responsibility for my part in things, and identify ways I needed to grow. I knew what I was looking for and what I needed to avoid. And all the while, I kept moving forward in the other areas of my life as well.

It took a long time before I was able to open myself up to love again. I wanted to, but I was afraid. I was scared of messing things up, of losing a friendship, of losing myself. It was hard, and it was scary. I wasn’t sure how to move forward.

I am so grateful for friends who walked that journey with me. They were so patient with me when I wasn’t sure what I wanted. They encouraged me to take risks and to take my time. They listened as I processed my ping-ponging emotions and spoke wisdom to my wary heart. 

Above all, they loved me well and continually pointed me to Jesus. 

They helped me move forward.

Moving forward didn’t mean I forgot, nor did it mean I didn’t care. It was simply a necessary part of life, so I did it. I didn’t really have a plan; I just figured out my next steps as I went. 

Many of you know this feeling well. Perhaps you have lost a spouse, or parent, or even a child. Maybe you’ve had to let go of a marriage or a dream. Whatever the case, you know what it feels like to hardly be able to breathe, and yet somehow have to find a way to continue moving forward. 

One tiny step at a time.

The past few months, and the last week in particular, have made it difficult for many of us to know how to move forward. 

We don’t want to move on too quickly. 

We don’t want to be insensitive to others.

We don’t want to act like nothing ever happened.

We don’t want to say the wrong thing or not say the right thing.

We want to make a difference, but we’re not sure how.

We find ourselves paralyzed, not sure when or how to move forward.

And yet, life continues on around us. Family and children and work await our attention. For just a little while, the world seemed to hold its breath, but at some point it needs to exhale and start breathing again.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay to move forward. 

You don’t have to forget, and it doesn’t mean you didn’t really care. Your emotions may still be all over the place, or you may be confused about what to do next. It’s okay- in the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “Just do the next thing.” 

The “next thing” looks different for everyone. Some of you may be called to change a diaper while others are called to change the world. 

Whatever you do, do it in love, and it will be a step forward.

The morning after my college break up, I grabbed my Bible from my nightstand. I had been reading through the Psalms, and my Psalm for that day was Psalm 30, which was so timely. This verse in particular instilled in me the strength and hope I needed to move forward:

“Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” -Psalm 30:5

Joy comes in the morning!

I don’t know about you, but it’s time for me to start moving forward.

I don’t have all the answers, or even a well-thought out plan, but that’s okay. I just need to take a step, and I’ll figure the rest out as I go.

Pandemic Roots: Are Your True Colors Showing?

Well, friends, we’ve reached that point in the pandemic in which our true colors are beginning to show… 

It’s a little embarrassing.

It turns out some of us are not quite the shimmering blondes (or brunettes) people thought we were. Others of us are perhaps a little, well, grayer than we appeared in March. Let’s just say there are definitely no “Pantene commercial locks” flipping around our shoulders right now! 

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, there is a steady demarcation line working its way down our scalp, slowly revealing our true colors to the world. 

And y’all, these roots aren’t pretty.

If you’re like me, you might be hiding them under a hat or pulling your hair into a ponytail, hoping no one will notice. I’ve even been spending time outside, hoping the sun will lighten them up a little and make them blend in better. 

Are you having any luck?

Yeah, me neither.

Or maybe you’re like some of my friends who have decided to take this opportunity to boldly show their true selves to the world. Instead of covering up those roots, they are putting them on display, vowing to no longer conform to societal beauty standards, but to be their own person, gray hair and all! 

I admire them, I really do. 

But it turns out I’m not that brave.

Maybe if I had that real pretty silvery gray hair, I would consider it, but I don’t. No, my roots are kind of a muddy-blonde-infused-with-clumps-of-mousey-gray color. I’m not sure they even sell shades like this in a bottle, because it is not exactly the look people are clamoring for. 

“Ladies, spread a little ‘dirt gray’ on your hair and get that ‘still-stuck-in-quarantine look’ in no time!”

Yeah, not really a hot seller.

I have never really considered myself a vain person. I mean, I barely wear make-up, I detest clothes shopping, and my boys think I’m dressing “fancy” when I put on a pair of jeans. So it has kind of surprised me to realize how much it bothers me to have other people noticing my roots. And they are noticing! 

Which got me thinking…

I’ve realized the longer we remain enclosed together within the boundaries of our home, my hair is not the only thing showing its true colors

It’s definitely easier to point it out in those around me, but it’s been happening enough now that I can’t deny what is evident in my own heart. Some of the “roots” growing out of me during this unusual, uncomfortable time, like my hair, are also not so pretty. 

Selfishness. Laziness. Impatience. Gluttony.

And I am not the only one. This break from our normal routine is revealing many of our heart-roots: 

As a nation, we have seen hoarding and arguing, disagreements and name-calling, all over things as silly as toilet paper.  We have found ourselves resistant to surrendering our individual “rights” for the well-being of others. We have found a way to make even a virus political, opting for divisiveness and slander when there are such great opportunities for generosity and compassion.

Our “busy-ness” has been stripped away, and we have found not just empty schedules, but also empty hearts, revealing idols we didn’t even know we had. We miss our entertainment… perhaps we hadn’t realized until it disappeared just how much time and money we spend on those “extra” things.

Families are gathered around the dinner table every night, which is unusual in many homes. We have been given the gift of time together, and yet, often we find ourselves choosing the numbing comfort of the digital world over investing in our spouses, our children.  It’s just easier; after all, Netflix doesn’t talk back, and our Facebook friends like everything we say!

Misdirected worship. Laziness. Selfishness. Pride. 

Thankfully, these traits are sneaking out only at the roots- most of our lives are dominated by our better virtues. Someone must look closely to see these unsightly “grays”. However, the more time that passes, the more these traits become evident…

Unless we do something about them.

Just like with my hair, my initial instinct is to hide them. Cover them up, pretend they’re not there, and no one will notice, right? Only, roots have a way of continuing to grow until they can no longer be hidden.

Then what?

Well, I could just accept that they reveal who I really I am inside, and put them on display for everyone to see. After all, if this is the real me, I should be okay with that and so should you, right? This is just the way God made me. 

But it isn’t really. I know that, and so do you. 

While I am all for being genuine, there is no value in pursuing the worst version of myself. Just because the roots are there doesn’t mean that is all that’s there. 

Do we let weeds continue to grow in a garden? If so, after awhile they will choke out the real plants and take over the entire space. But  the weeds weren’t planted there by the gardener. So, when people look at the garden, they aren’t actually seeing a true reflection of what the garden was intended to be, but something it became on its own.

I don’t want to hide my roots, but I also don’t want to wear them proudly, embracing a tainted version of myself. So then, what’s a girl to do?

When I go to the hair salon, I ask my stylist to help me be the best version of myself. I don’t want to leave looking exactly the same, nor do I want to look totally different. I still want to be me- just better! So she looks at my hair, my skin, and my roots. She points out the mousey grays (thanks for that) and the uneven bangs, and then she begins to work her magic. Somehow she is able to blend them all together, adding highlights and shades of my real hair color, transforming it into something new.

Something real. Still me, but better. 

So I find myself bringing these heart-roots to Jesus. I don’t want to ignore them, and I don’t want to embrace them. I want to name them, learn from them, and then allow Him to transform them. By adding Light and Truth, He can blend impulsiveness into boldness and change greed into generosity. He can add shades of patience and kindness and humility, transforming my whole character into something better. 

Still real, still me, but better.

More like Jesus.

Let’s Celebrate Easter Like Never Before. Oh, wait…

Friends, it finally dawned on our kids last weekend that we would not be able to go to church this Sunday. 

“Wait, you mean we’ll be stuck at home on EASTER SUNDAY?? Mom, it won’t be Easter if we’re not at church! That’s never happened before! This is not okay. We have to do something…”

If you know me well, you can imagine how excited I was about seizing this teachable moment. My girls say I have a “small group leader voice” that I use in moments like this…  umm, whatever. But if I do, I’m sure I pulled it out for this one!

“Well, guys,” I said (probably in my SGL voice), “that’s not exactly true. What are we really celebrating on Easter? Think back to what happened that first Easter morning…”

  • Where do we find the disciples? (hint: They weren’t at the temple, where they?)
  • Where do we find Mary? (hint again: Sshh! She wasn’t at the temple either.)
  • And where do we find Jesus? (okay, so they got the point!)

The reality is we have never had a better opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus more authentically than this year. After all, the first Easter happened outside in a garden and inside a living room and wherever else people happened to be when they heard the good news. The life-changing news.

“I have seen the Lord!”

Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw the Lord?

I mean, when you truly realized what Jesus had done for you- that He loved you enough to die for you, suffered unspeakable pain and loss for you- and not because you and I were worthy, but because we are worth it to Him?

I was a teenager when someone shared with me that I wasn’t here by accident; that God created me and loved me and had a purpose for my life. For the first time I began to understand how much Jesus willingly went through for me and what it cost Him. It still overwhelms me to think anyone could love me that much!

And then I found out the rest of the story… He is alive! He rose from the dead, appeared to a bunch of people, and went up to heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit here to live within us and guide us. Wow. 

He didn’t just love us in the past, but He loves us now, and He wants to love us forever!

That’s pretty good news! And it changed me.

Friends, have you seen the Lord? I mean, really seen Him? Have you seen Him working in your life, changing your heart, guiding you in wisdom, transforming your perspective, bringing beauty from ashes? When you do, it changes everything.

He changes everything.

So this Easter, as we gather in our homes with our children, let’s make the most of this opportunity to tell them the Good news. Let’s not just read them a story from a Book (although we should!), but also share the truth of a God who is alive today, who loves them unconditionally and is active in their life. Let’s help them connect the dots between His story and their story, so they too can tell others, “ I have seen the Lord!”

********************

Easter 2012

In case you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few things the Heath Fam is planning to do over the next few days to celebrate Easter and Holy Week at home:

(Btw, you should know I always have A LOT of ideas… and we usually only do about 20% of them! But I figure 20% is better than 0%, right? #winning)

  • Talk about what was important enough for Jesus to do and say in His last week of life.
  • Thursday morning: Read/discuss how Jesus washed the disciples feet (John 13:3-17) and think of ways our family can serve others, then do it- make cards, give to the Food Pantry, etc.
  • Thursday evening: Remember why they were celebrating Passover Feast (read about Moses and the plagues from a Children’s Bible or watch The Prince of Egypt) and make the connection between Passover & Easter, then read Mark 14:12-26 and take Holy Communion together. Maybe take the kids outside to pray, as Jesus did, for God’s Will to be done here on earth, even when it comes at great cost to us.
  • Friday evening: Recount the events following the Last Supper leading up to Jesus’ death. Maybe watch a reenactment from a Jesus movie? We are hoping to do an informal Good Friday service with our kids using readings from the events preceding the crucifixion and Jesus’ last words from the cross. If we do, I’ll try to video it and share it on Facebook in case it’s helpful to some of you. *Editing to add a link to an on-line Good Friday Service with Chris Tomlin and Max Lucado!
  • Saturday: Discuss how sometimes God is silent and it feels like He’s not working, but it’s only because we can’t see what is happening behind the scenes…
  • Sunday: Time to celebrate!! Lots of ideas:
  • Wake the kids up with some jammin’ praise music!
  • Read about that first Easter morning when Jesus appeared to His friends. 
  • Worship online with our church family (First Redeemer) and… possibly have a cul-de-sac worship service with everyone in their own driveways.
  • For littles, use Resurrection Eggs or make resurrection rolls. 
  • Download The Chosen series and/or watch the Jesus movie from Sights & Sounds theatre.

Your celebration can be simple or extravagant; do whatever works for your family. And feel free to share more ideas in the comments! But don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate Easter like never before. Oh wait…

Palm Sunday Reflections

Where was I as You entered the city?

Was I walking near You 

while the people shouted Your name?

Was I leading the donkey 

or walking beside You,

Feeling important

because those who had gathered

finally knew who You really were?

This was what we’d been waiting for!

“Hail King Jesus, Son of David!”

Or was I in the crowd

among those who were cheering,

Swept up in the excitement,

the emotion of the day?

I think He’s the one…” we whispered,

laying our cloaks down before You,

recalling the rumors, the stories, the hope…

Hosanna! Hosanna! 

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

We waved our branches and sang Your praise,

and then…

went on our way.

Or perhaps I was standing apart from the crowd,

wearing my robe of importance,

hiding my envy beneath a veil of self righteousness

Unwilling to bow and quick to accuse.

Teacher, rebuke them!” 

I said condescendingly,

threatened by how Your humble sovereignty

revealed my arrogant soul.

You looked at me and laughed, 

knowing nothing could silence Creation’s praise 

in the Presence of the Creator!

Lord, if I’m honest, I see myself in each of them:

The sincere, yet self-seeking, destined to flee disciple

The self-serving, easily swayed crowd

The self-righteous, “better than thou” Pharisee…

Oh, forgive me, Jesus!

Rid me of all these “selves”

which might hinder me 

from recognizing, revering, and remaining with You.

Make me willing to lay down my life

and take up my cross

to follow You.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” -Matthew 16:24 (NIV)