Unforgettable Quotes: Lessons I Learned from “Free Burma Rangers”

Photo from website: Freeburmarangers.org

Have you ever heard someone say something and it really stuck with you? It’s as though those words implant themselves in your brain and swirl around for a bit, before finally circling their way down to your heart?

Well, that happened to me this weekend. 

The week before the Coronavirus hit the “pause button” on life, several friends posted about a movie that was going to be in theaters for only two nights. It was a documentary about a missionary family who has spent the past 20+ years serving the people of Burma, as well as some additional time bringing food and medical aid to Iraq and Sudan. My friends were raving about the movie, but we were busy preparing for our teen drama production the following week, and I knew there was no way I could see it. Missionary movies are my jam, y’all! To say I was bummed is an understatement.

Fast forward six weeks, and I was thrilled to find out Lifeway was going to live-stream the movie on their Facebook page! 

So, on Friday night I put our boys to bed a little early, grabbed a blanket and some tea, and sat down with my computer to watch “Free Burma Rangers.”

Wow.

If you know me, it is not often that I am speechless, but this movie left me without any words at all. Dave Eubanks has a unique calling from God as a missionary soldier, and he and his family live out every verse in the Bible about laying down your life for others in ways you and I cannot even begin to imagine. 

This is not a great movie; It is a powerful movie. It is difficult to watch (definitely not recommended for children), and yet I could not turn away. It is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, all at the same time. You may need some tissues. 

And you may never be the same after you watch it.

I don’t want to share any spoilers, so that’s all I’m going to say about it. However, I did want to share a few quotes from the movie that impacted me and have been floating around in my head ever since. 

(I actually typed these up in my Notes app as I watched because they hit me so strongly.  I tried to dictate them as accurately as possible; any misquoting is completely unintentional and hopefully still conveys the same sentiment.)

1. “Go to the sound of the guns, go to the sound of need, and trust God to show you how to help.”

Wow. Am I the person who runs towards danger and need, or am I the one who runs away from it? Lord, help me trust You enough to run towards it.

2.  “Vengeance looks a lot like justice, but it is driven by hate. They both start in the same place- an injustice occurs. However, one response is done in a spirit of love, the other a spirit of hate. It’s not our job to bring vengeance or justice… we are simply to obey Jesus (in a spirit of love).” 

Think about that for awhile. When I watched Dave Eubank process this truth (God’s answer to his prayer for what clearly seemed like justice but in reality was vengeance) and then willingly submit, I was floored. Lord, help me listen and obey like that.

3. “Be bold in the things of Jesus and humble in the things of yourself.” 

I think I often get this backwards. Lord, change me!

4. “And so I prayed: Lord, what do I do, no matter what it costs?” 

And in this moment, what God was asking would cost him everything. Yet, this was his prayer. Lord, help me be that faithful!

5. “When bad things happen, I dare not complain. I believe where there is suffering, God is there. He will show us the way to go.” 

This quote was actually from one of Dave’s fellow Burma Rangers, his right-hand man and close friend. Lord, help me have eyes to see You in the midst of suffering. Help me look for You instead of complaining.

6. “Surrendering is saying YES… saying yes to all the good things God wants for you…” 

(…even, and especially, when they look different than what you expect). YES!! THIS!!

So often we think of surrendering as giving something up. How willing would we be to loosen our grip and let go if we realized that in saying “no” to ourselves, we are really saying “yes” to God’s best? Lord, help me surrender my desires and say “Yes!” to all you have for me!

This last point is a recurring theme for me lately, so you’ll probably be hearing about it quite a bit. But for now, I wanted to share these thoughts with you and encourage you to watch “Free Burma Rangers” if you get a chance. It is streaming right now HERE for free.

If you watch it, let me know what you think!

What are some movies or quotes that have made an impact on you? I’d love for you to share them!

Coronavirus, Toilet Paper, and Slowing Down Time

Friends, we are living in crazy times. Schools are closing in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, fear and cynicism are rampant, and people are hoarding toilet paper… I don’t think any of us ever expected this! 

I have read a lot of different perspectives and comments over the last couple weeks, and the words I’ve been noticing are frustrated, frightened, irritated, unnecessary, confused, and afraid, to name a few. 

The one thing I haven’t heard anyone say is, “I am so thankful for the coronavirus and the quarantine.  I wish time would slow down so we could really enjoy it!”

Nope, I think most people are just ready to get through this uncharted territory and get on with life… 

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I don’t usually choose a “word for the year.” I’m not sure why; it just hasn’t been something I felt compelled to do. 

But this year, a word chose me. 

As I prayed over all the changes and transitions this year would hold for our family, especially with Sarah graduating and going off to college, I found myself dreading the days to come. The years we spent homeschooling have created a strong bond within our family, and the thought of this stage of life (having all my baby birds in the nest) ending just makes me sad. I get teary-eyed even thinking about her last show and last prom and graduation. I never would have dreamed it would be so hard to launch a child into adulthood! How I wished I could rewind the clock or at least just slow down time!

So I poured all these things out to the Lord, all my grief and fears and dreading. And as I sat there lamenting the change of this season, the Lord whispered a word to my heart.

Embrace.

Embrace these moments, I heard Him say. Don’t dread them. Savor them, treasure them, immerse yourself in them. For you are right, they will be gone in the blink of an eye, and you don’t want to miss any of it because you are too wrapped up in your own pity party. Lift up your eyes, open your hands, and receive these little gifts of joy. You can’t make time slow down, but you can slow yourself down enough to embrace it.

Embrace.

That word has changed everything for me this year.

I find myself returning to it again and again. I’m not going to lie- there are still tears in this season of “lasts.” But they are joyful tears, the kind that overflow from a full heart, marking these moments as something to be treasured.

And that word- embrace– it shifts my perspective when I start holding on too tightly. It reminds me that all our days and years and moments are known and numbered by One much greater than me. It enables me to rest in His promises and seize the day, leaving the future in His hands.

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This word, embrace, has been echoing in my mind these past few days as well. 

Obviously, I don’t rejoice in people getting sick or being afraid or missing work. I realize it is a hardship for many, and it has altered everyday life for all of us. People need help with childcare and groceries. Events are being cancelled, and school and worship services are being held online. These are strange days we are living in… I mean, we just delivered a package of toilet paper to some friends, for goodness’ sake! Definitely strange.

Am I really suggesting we should embrace it?

That is exactly what I am suggesting. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Give thanks in all circumstances, not for them…

Sure, our lives are being disrupted. But in the midst of this strange circumstance, what can you be thankful for? Gratitude is the key to embracing.

For me, I am grateful that, just for a little while, time is slowing down. Our hybrid school has transitioned into a more academic, private school model over the past few years, and while there are advantages to that, I have really missed our homeschooling days. Between school, church, drama, small groups, college ministry, sports, Jeff travelling, and the girls working, it is not very often that all six of us are in the same place for very long. It has become difficult for us to even eat dinner together one day a week! 

And I miss it. 

So, the thought of having all of us under the same roof for a whole week, maybe two, with no outside activities and no place we have to be is like an unexpected gift! As I watch these not-so-little-anymore people growing up before my eyes, I have longed for time to slow down… and now, just for a little while, it has. 

For just a few days, we will sit at the table and do school work together, just like we used to. We will look for opportunities to be generous to those in need and share with our neighbors. We will eat home-cooked meals and play board games and watch movies. There are books on my nightstand and cookies ready to go in the oven. And yes, like any good mom, I have several cleaning projects for us to tackle as well!

On a bigger scale, I am not really sure what the next week or two (or more) will look like, or how this epidemic will ultimately affect our country, our world, and perhaps even our family. The reality is, it is way out of our hands and far beyond our control. Dreading it or resenting it will not help anything; it will only rob us of peace. 

Instead, I choose joy. I choose gratitude. 

I choose to let time slow down, and embrace it.

(And I am happy to bring you some toilet paper if you need it. Just sayin’!)

Open Hands

Last weekend, our Student Ministry hosted U-Turn, our annual discipleship weekend. Our theme was “20/20 Vision,” but by the end of the weekend we all left with a different take-away. God’s message was clear- He wants us to approach Him and our crazy, unpredictable lives with a posture of  “open hands.”

Open Hands.

What does it really mean to come to God with open hands?

It means coming to God desiring what He wants more than what we want. Our hands are open to receive whatever He gives, even if it is something we wouldn’t choose.  It requires recognizing that He is God and we are not; His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. But He is good and can be trusted.

This all sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, it is not so easily accomplished. 

Why?  Because our hearts are deceitful. 

We think our hands are open, willing to receive whatever the Lord has to give. Yet, so often when I come to God believing that my hands are open, I am already clutching something else in my grasp. 

“Lord, heal me!” I cry, reaching out in faith for healing. 

“Lord, guide me!” I plead, seeking answers and direction.

“Lord, empower me!” I say, looking for opportunities.

And the whole time, I think my hands are open. I believe He will answer, and I know He is able to give me what I’m asking for. Surely I will receive it, according to my great faith, right?

Only I don’t realize I cannot receive anything because my hands are already full. If I look closely enough, though, I begin to see what fills them up… 

My expectations. 

I am reaching for healing, not the Healer

I am seeking direction, not the Guide.

I am seeking opportunities, not the Source.

I do not recognize Him when He comes because He doesn’t look like what I’m expecting. I do not receive what He has to give because my hands are too full… and yet, still empty.

Now, friends, we come by it honestly. The Bible is filled with people’s stories who were given what they desired and expected because they believed:

  • Hannah prayed in her barrenness and God gave her a son. 
  • Jonah prayed and God rescued him from the belly of a whale. 
  • Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for three years.
  • Blind men cried out to Jesus and were healed.
  • A bleeding woman was healed by just touching Jesus’ robe. 
  • The servant was healed as a result of the Centurion’s great faith. 

And on and on and on…

Surely all these examples confirm that God rewards those who trust in Him with whatever they are expecting from Him, right? After all, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).

But, wait. 

Paul was given a “thorn in his flesh” and pleaded with God to take it away, but He didn’t. Instead of fulfilling Paul’s expectation, God told him His power would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)

When John the Baptist, from prison, had his followers ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we have been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Mt. 11:3 NLT), Jesus sent them back to John proclaiming all the miracles he was doing as confirmation that He was indeed the Messiah. Yet, John still ended up beheaded at the request of Herod’s stepdaughter. (Matthew 14:3-11)

Probably not quite what he was expecting…

I don’t know about you, but I am not one to question the faith of John the Baptist or the apostle Paul. So, maybe there isn’t a magic formula after all!

Which leads us back to Jesus. If ever there is an example of how we are to approach the Father, it is Jesus. The Son of God could have commanded the heavens to open and the angels to come to His rescue, but He didn’t. He could have zapped the guards and turned the Pharisees into pillars of salt, but He didn’t. He did plead with His Father to let there be another way, though He already knew there wasn’t, since He was part of the plan all along. So what did he do?

He opened His hands.

“Not my will, but Yours be done.”

And there it is. Open Hands. No expectations, no demands, no hidden agendas. Just a surrendering of self and a willingness to receive with gratitude whatever the Father gave.

Which, in this case, turned out to be a far greater gift than we could ever have imagined.

Friend, what do you need to let go of in order to open your hands to Jesus? What hidden expectations are getting in the way of receiving what He desires to give you? What is it you’ve been desiring more than Christ Himself without realizing it?

It has been a week, and I am still asking myself those questions. 

My hands are open, Lord. Thy Will be done.

The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together. 

My New Year’s Prayer

Lord,

As I turn the page from one year to another, one decade to the next, there are many changes ahead. Some are known and some are unknown. A daughter leaving, a family changing, doors opening and closing before my eyes. 

The evil one whispers all the things that can go wrong. My mind begins to wander down dark, twisting paths where shadows linger and fear lurks. There is so much I cannot control! What if I make the wrong choice? What if it doesn’t happen like I planned? What if they walk away from You? There are so many what ifs…

But then I hear Your voice, a quiet whisper. 

“Do not fear, for I AM with you.” 

Your Spirit blows a fresh breeze of truth, and the darkness scatters like thieves at dawn. You are with me! 

I am not alone on this journey into the unknown. You go before me, shining Your Light onto the path ahead. I do not need to worry about the shadows; I will simply focus on the next step. Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. You will lead me, step by step. 

I reach for Your hand.

I glance back at the past, the road that has brought me to where I stand.  I now see only the blessings, the thread of Your Spirit woven intricately through each hill and valley, guiding me onward, closer to You. I stare in wonder at what You’ve made out of all my wrong turns and attempted short cuts. The dark times are still there, but as they blend into the design of Your tapestry, they are transformed into something more, something greater, something deeper.

Something beautiful. 

I breathe it in, and I am thankful. 

You stand behind me, shield raised, blocking the arrows of regret and shame and missed opportunities and whatever else the evil one can muster. The “what ifs” and “if onlys” lie lifeless on the ground, slain by the only One with the authority to raise them up. 

Yet, You do not. 

You cast them away from me and nudge me forward, into the Light. This is the path You have chosen for me, and I will not choose another!

Slowly, I lift my eyes from this course I travel, and I turn my gaze to You. 

I am reminded that You cannot be confined by our expectations or our calendar.  You are eternal; the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. You exist outside the bounds of time as we know it, and nothing is hidden from You. Not my past, not my future, nothing! Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence?

“My child, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

So, when I am consumed by the complexities of the moment, 

or anxious of the days ahead, 

or regretful of the years behind, 

this truth brings me comfort. 

You are the One who was, and is, and is to come!  

My life is in Your hands.

Advent: Obedience in the Unexpected

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” (Luke 1:38)

This was Mary’s response when an angel suddenly appeared and informed her that she had been chosen by God to carry the long awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world. “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

Is that how we respond to God when unexpected things come our way? 

Because, while we all consider Mary a hero on this side of the story, that title is generally earned by doing really hard things. Being the birth mother of the Messiah could not have been an easy task!

Let’s be real. If the angel were being a little more straightforward, he might have said something like this: 

“Mary, because you’ve been so faithful, God has chosen you for a most difficult assignment. Should you choose to accept this mission, you will endure public ridicule and shame. Your beloved Joseph will most likely believe you betrayed him. Since he’s a nice guy, he might quietly divorce you, but there’s always the risk he will have you stoned to death in the public square instead. On the off chance he sticks around, you know people will be whispering about you wherever you go. You will have to leave your family, your home…

Oh yeah, and this baby? Raising the Son of God will not be as easy as you think. The story will play out a little differently than expected. Eventually people will honor your place in God’s story, but first you must endure the loss of that which you love most. You must place this child on the altar before his heart even flutters within you, and you must promise not to hinder that which will surely shatter your mama-heart. This is a gift of great joy for all the people, but it will cost you tremendous grief.  So… are you in?”

Hmm…

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Now granted, Mary did not know all the trials that lay ahead, but she had to at least know the immediate repercussions of this unexpected announcement.

And still, she chose obedience, without hesitation.

In this season of advent, I am asking myself this question: When God brings me hard assignments, do I respond with such an accepting, obedient heart? With such trusting faith?

Do you?

Cancer.

Miscarriage.

Job loss.

Financial hardship.

Infertility.

Illness.

Pain.

Broken Relationships.

Sudden Loss.

These are hard things. Unexpected things. Seemingly impossible things

But nothing is impossible with God. 

The gospel accounts do not tell us why Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. But the fact that her immediate response was “I am the Lord’s servant” is a good indication of why she found favor with God. My guess is that Mary had proven herself faithful in the little things, day in and day out. She did not search for her identity in her beauty or her father’s name or her future marriage. She did not need the approval of others to define her worth. How do we know? 

Because she was willing to give all those things up without even a moment’s hesitation. 

What was it that enabled Mary to look past her personal sacrifice and welcome the will of the Father? She was the Lord’s servant, and nothing else mattered more than that. She knew the God of her fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the Great I AM, could not be wrong. Her life was in His hands; she could open her heart to Jesus. What had she to fear?

Perhaps we can draw some encouragement from Mary this Christmas.

What hard things are you facing right now? What in your life is not going as you expected? Our heavenly Father can be trusted! Like Mary, we can open our hearts to Jesus, and allow our Savior to usher in the joy and peace that can only be found in Him. We can choose to look past our circumstances, even in the midst of pain and loss, and welcome the will of our Father.

May we say with Mary this Christmas, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Teenagers: Our Greatest Investment

I have loved working with teenagers since, well, since I was a teenager myself! When I was a freshman in college, the speaker for our college Bible Study asked me one night if I would be willing to lead a weekly small group for 8th and 9th grade girls at his church. I remember thinking he was crazy… I was barely 18 at the time! But I loved Jesus so much that I said yes, and it turned out to be one of my most favorite experiences in college. They taught me way more than I taught them, that’s for sure! I had the privilege of walking with those girls for the next 4 years, and I am still in touch with most of them today. There is no greater joy than seeing how much they still love Jesus all these years later! 

Being a small group leader soon led to an intern position, which eventually led to a full time Youth Ministry position once I graduated. I will be honest… looking back, I realize I didn’t have a clue what I was doing half the time!

So I spent most of my time mirroring what I saw in the leaders around me.

I am eternally grateful that God gave me the most amazing adult leaders in high school who believed in me, loved me unconditionally, and showed me what it looked like to walk with Jesus. I had rock-solid Youth Ministers in my circles who answered all my questions and modeled servant-ministry as they led with passion and integrity. And most importantly, I just really, really loved Jesus and teenagers, and I believed God was going to work in their lives.

And I prayed.

A LOT.

He did work in their lives, too; sometimes through me, but more often in spite of me. I was simply given a front row seat to watch… It was the best job in the world!

I always wondered if I would “outgrow” my love for teenagers, but so far that hasn’t happened. How I relate to them has certainly changed; I have become a “bonus mom” now, instead of a cool college girl they look up to (okay, who am I kidding? “Cool” was never an adjective one would use to describe me- I was always a big dork! Nonetheless… you get the point)

 In addition to being mom to two beautiful, fun, smart, sassy, Jesus-loving teenage daughters (love you, girls!), I have also had the privilege of leading a small group of (now) Senior girls for the past 3 years. There are no words to describe how much I adore these girls or how grateful I am for the way they have begun to truly seek after Christ! My time with them each week really is a gift.  

As we get closer and closer to graduation, however, I find myself wondering if I have done a good job preparing them for this next phase of their lives.  When they are tempted, will they stand strong or will they fall? When they are lonely and uncertain, will they seek security in Jesus or the world? When they are searching for Truth, will they turn to their friends or to the Bible? Will they remember they are a treasure, and wait for the guys who treat them as such? Will they continue to seek the path God has for them, trusting Him to lead the way? These are the questions I am asking myself. And as a mom of a Senior girl, I question and pray even more.

Oh, how I pray they cling to Jesus! 

 Because I find teenagers so engaging, it makes me sad to hear the way so many parents talk about the teen years, as if they are something to dread.  Yes, they are hard, no doubt. But they are also wonderful and enlightening and soul-searching and fun! As parents, our roles begin to shift from directors (who are pretty much in charge of everything) to coaches and encouragers. I read one time that a good coach, after laying the ground work in practices and playbooks, puts his arm around his players and asks what they think they should do next. He may offer some perspective and insight that the players lack, but otherwise he begins to turn over the decision making process to the players while he steps into the role of encourager. Yes, sometimes they will fail. But oh, how exciting it is when they succeed!

I love this illustration! So I thought for my next few blog posts, I would share some of the important things God has taught me in my many years of serving teens, such as how to really listen, what teens need most from the adults in their lives, and how to pray for your teens. Please do not think for a moment that I have mastered any of these things! Most of them I have learned from consistently doing them wrong. And I will be the first to admit that I am much better at doing these things as a Small Group leader than I am as a parent, which my kids will be more than happy to confirm!  I see the two roles as serving different purposes, which often derails me, but the skill set required truly is (or should be) the same for both. 

So if you are a parent of a teenager, have kids who will eventually be teenagers, or maybe you teach or volunteer with teenagers, I hope you will follow this series.  

Our world needs teenagers who love Jesus and live their convictions.

In order for that to happen, our teenagers need adults who will step into their lives and show them how very much God loves them and what it looks like to walk with Him.

I am grateful for the adults who were willing to do that for me- God used them to change my life in ways they will never know. Jeff and I are beyond grateful for the adults who have stepped into the lives of our daughters, and how God continues to love and grow them through their investment. I pray He will use me in the same way! And I hope that some of the things He continues to teach me will help you make a difference in the lives of teenagers, too. If you have specific questions you would like to see addressed or want to share some insights you have gleaned while investing in teens, feel free to comment! Let’s commit together to letting God teach us how to truly love our teenagers.

Waiting for Hope

Hope.

That is the word God has been whispering to my heart this week.

It has been in my devotional readings everyday. It has popped up in several Facebook posts. It was the theme running through our College Midweek service. It was even written in glowing Christmas lights on my neighbor’s yard when I drove home last night! (I’m not kidding…talk about a sign!)

It is the first week of Advent in the Christian calendar, and the focus for this week is hope. As I think back on the beginning of the Christmas story, I am reminded that God’s people had been waiting for what must have seemed like forever for the promised Messiah to appear. Hundreds of years, nearly a thousand, had gone by since the prophets proclaimed God’s message of the One who was to come. Their land had been torn apart by savages, their government overthrown, their people scattered among the nations. So much time had gone by that the stories of old were just that… ancient stories, passed down through generations, of a time long before when God had favored their people. But it was clear that God had changed His mind and turned His back.

Their great-great-great-great (you get it) grandparents had let Him down one too many times, trading long-term loyalty for a fast-food faith, and they were left living the repercussions. Sure, even in the midst of their betrayal, the Father had promised the Messiah, the One who would change everything. How they longed for Him to come!

But that was a long time ago…

Perhaps they forgot what it was like to hope.

*******

 Jeff and I were married for 5 years before we had our oldest daughter, Sarah. We spent three of those years trying to have a baby. At first, we waited pretty patiently, trusting in God’s timing and continuing on with life as usual. After awhile, though, we knew something wasn’t right. We read all the articles, counted the days on the calendar, met with the doctors, ran all the tests. It was in God’s hands, we knew; still, our hearts broke a little with every negative test result. At the same time, it seemed like every other young couple in our little church plant chose that moment to start having babies. I remember buying hooded bath towels and lavender bath wash, smiling through all the baby showers and joking about not drinking the water, only to hide my tears in the bathroom where no one could see.  The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years.

I remember what it was like to long for someone I wasn’t sure would ever come. 

I, too, almost forgot how to hope.

*******

But then one day, out of the blue, when everyone was just going about their business as usual, an angel appeared to a teenage girl, and the message he delivered breathed HOPE back into the world once again! God had heard His people and He would no longer turn away. It was time. There would be a baby!

Wait, a baby? 

Yes. That baby changed everything.

*******

Our baby changed everything too. I was so in shock when the test was positive, I ran straight to Jeff’s study and handed him the pee stick.  No cute t-shirt or video announcement for us! No, we just sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor and cried at God’s faithfulness. We were so busy having faith that we hadn’t even realized we had lost hope, until suddenly our hearts were flooded with it once again! I think I took at least 4 more tests after that just to be sure! It’s amazing what a little hope can do. God could have chosen to answer our prayer in a different way, and that would have been okay, truly. Our hope came in the form of two lines on a stick that day, but ultimately our hope came in the promise fulfilled all those years ago, when Love chose to put on skin and dwell among us. Emmanuel. God was with us! We were not alone. That is our hope

And so, as we begin this season of Advent, I want to remember what it was like to wait so long that I almost lost hope, to be afraid to be expectant after so much disappointment. I have been there. Some of you are still there, I know.

“But we cannot lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

We must remember God’s unfailing faithfulness…

A Promise made.

A Baby given.

A Savior sent.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,

for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Let us remember… and hope. 

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” –Romans 15:4

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13

A New Challenge

I have started a new challenge.

I know, I know… tomorrow begins the busiest season of the year, and most of us are still in a turkey coma from Thanksgiving dinner. There are trees to trim, gifts to buy, cookies to make, and carols to sing.  The calendar is overflowing with Christmas parties and various events of the Season, on top of all the ordinary madness that comes with a family of six. So who in their right mind would add in an extra item on the daily to-do list when there is already so much waiting to be done?

Me, that’s who!

You see, I’ve been in kind of a funk lately. I am so very blessed… I have an amazing husband, really great kids, good health, financial provision, faithful friends, opportunities to serve- more blessings than I can even put into words! I am grateful for each of them, and I do not take them for granted. So why have I been in a funk? I am not really sure. It just happens sometimes, I guess.

For whatever reason, I have felt kind of disconnected from myself, like I’m looking at my life through a window from the outside instead of living it from the inside. I am nostalgic for old times and old friends. I flip through old journals and photos and wonder where the time has gone. I find myself trying to freeze the moments we share as a family before our oldest daughter leaves for college next year and this season of life morphs into something new. My life is flashing before my eyes and slipping through my fingers all at the same time, and all I can do is watch it happen!

So I made some time to walk this week, to be outside by myself, alone with God and my thoughts. I saw my life reflected in the transition of the seasons- the vibrant colored leaves beside the bare tree branches, the brown leaves crunching underfoot while ducking under the bright red holly berries, the stillness of the lake amidst the scattering of flustered birds… it was nice to move and to breathe and to soak it all in. I realized there is not enough quiet in my life these days.  It is a busy season- not just Christmas, but having 4 children at the ages they are, plus ministry life and making dinner and doing laundry and homeschool days… there is a lot of NOISE. Good noise, blessed noise, sacred even, all of it a gift! 

But sometimes my soul thirsts for quiet.

And for whatever reason, my heart and mind find quiet in writing. It is an emptying process, one that fills me and centers me and reminds me who I am (and Whose I am). But with all the noise of these days, I do not find time for it often enough- no, I do not MAKE time for it. 

Enter the challenge.

I have joined a challenge to write at least 500 words every day for the next month. I do not expect them to be words worth reading, only words worth writing. In the busyness of these days, I fear I sometimes lose my real voice, and I’m hoping that writing consistently will help my find it. I do not think I am brave enough to post all my random ponderings, but I will include some, for accountability to myself if nothing else. If you happen to take the time to read this or anything else I write, thank you! Feel free to comment or ask me if I’m writing; comments and suggestions will be appreciated, as I have no idea what to say after today! But if no one reads this but me, that’s okay.

My heart is open to an audience of One, and that’s who I write for anyway. 

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Last weekend, my husband and I took our oldest daughter to visit Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky (but that’s another blogpost entirely!). Before we left, we stopped by the campus bookstore and I purchased a devotional book, This Day with the Master, written by Dr. Dennis Kinlaw. He was president of Asbury (then) College many years ago when Jeff was attending Seminary across the street, and Jeff has often mentioned the influence he had on him both personally and spiritually, so I figured it would be a good buy. I have not been disappointed!

As we begin the Advent season, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my prayer journal yesterday, inspired by the December 5 entry in this book. The Scripture reading was 2 Chronicles Chapter 30, in which King Hezekiah decided to honor God by inviting all the scattered people of Israel to celebrate the Passover Feast in the temple of Jerusalem even though they were a month late. This is the part that really stood out to me:

“Since many of the people had not purified (or prepared) themselves, the Levites had to slaughter their Passover Lamb for them, to set them apart for the Lord…” But King Hezekiah prayed for them and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the Law. He said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God— the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”   (2 Chronicles 30:17-20, partially paraphrased)

What a beautiful passage, Lord! Your people turning back to You and You receiving them, “even though they were not properly cleansed.” The motives of their hearts were pure and that was enough for You to accept the sacrifice made on their behalf. A gift of grace before the coming of the greatest Gift of Grace!

Dr. Kinlaw’s devotion uses this passage to talk about the importance of “Holy Moments” which change lives and the world— forever.  This passage is a reminder of how preparing our hearts before our recurring holy moments can make them even more impactful. When I go on a trip or host a party, there is so much involved in the preparation: planning, organizing, cleaning, packing, decorating, etc.

How little I prepare for spiritual moments compared to how much I prepare for everything else!

Forgive me, Lord.

How can I prepare my heart to receive You in a new way this Christmas?

First, I need to make room for You in the “Inn.” Not cast you off into the leftover rooms, but clear out space for You so You have the place of honor in my life. Practically, this means making my time with You each day a top prioritygetting up earlier if necessary, allowing enough time to really listen to You, choosing this time with You over other things. And not just “having God Time,” but coming expectantly, ready to see You and hear You and learn from Your Word. With our crazy schedule and chaotic life, this is more of a challenge than I would like it to be! But I know that is where my preparation begins.

It also may require some cleaning up and decluttering of my heart, mind, and schedule.

Lord, help me get rid of the things I store inside that really don’t belong there, things that just take up space and distract me from what matters. Some of these things are harmfulbitterness, unforgiveness, discontentment.  Most, however, are simply “good” clutter that must be intentionally removed if I want to make room for the coming of the Christ Child.

Oh, what peace is ushered in with the creation of holy space!

As I prepare my heart to receive You this Christmas, my heart sings out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” God with us.

GOD… with us.

God WITH us.

God with… US.

Please come, Lord Jesus! My heart is waiting.

Let every heart prepare Him room…