Thursday, September 29, 2016

Silent Presence

Have you ever had one of those days where you couldn't wait for it to end, but then it never did? That's me right now. I'm beyond tired, but there is an endless supply of things in my head, a never-ending stream of thoughts and feelings and thoughts about my feelings...then feelings about my thoughts, and so on. And here I am.

The only thing I know to do is write, only what's bothering me isn't something I can write about. I pray, and that helps...but it doesn't "fix it." I actually woke my husband from his comatose slumber to help me...but guess what he said? He had the audacity to tell me to hand it over to God. Can you believe that? After years of praying for him to step up his spiritual game...I was semi-appalled when he actually gave me solid Biblical advice. My husband can usually "fix" things for me himself.

So, here I am pecking away at this keyboard wondering if it's worth it to go to bed at all since I need to be up in less than four hours. In college, I would stay up and take a nap after my noon class, but I'm not in college nor am I any longer the age of most college students. I try to sleep, but the kind of peace needed for a calm rest alludes me. Probably because I'm still carrying the burden. What was that my husband said about casting my cares and worries and problems on God? God's bigger than my situation...I believe that, right? But why would he even take my worries? And what are "cares" anyway? I'd settle for feeling numb for a while, long enough to recuperate the strength I'll need to pick my cares and burdens back up tomorrow...because of course I'm going to carry them around again.

My particular burdens might be disappointment, a heart-wrenching sadness, and this empty feeling in the middle of my heart that steals my breath away....but, your cares might be frustration, anger, and physical pain because you actually punched a wall. A guy on the bus could have a completely different set of cares: emotional pain from a broken heart, fear of failure, and wounds from a childhood abandonment. You just never know...

I believe that in the invisible, spiritual realm, our "cares" are visible. The guardian angels must cringe when they're assigned to watch over the guy with three suitcases of "cares" strapped to his back, but even the most put-together person will carry around a pocketful of cares.

So, what did I do? First, I did one of those "open to the Bible and point at a verse" experiments, only I didn't point to a verse. Instead, I pointed to a title or heading within the'll never guess what it was...I actually laughed out loud. PATIENCE IN SUFFERING. Ugh! The passage of scripture didn't apply to me, but still....come on! Next time "open and point" produced James 5:13, "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." I already tried the praying, so I began to focus on the praise part of the verse, and you know what? I actually have something very big to be thankful for...we got an offer on our house today. I hadn't thanked God for that yet because I was too busy crying or thinking about something else or feeling sad. But, as soon as I shifted my focus...I changed almost immediately. Today, I had forgotten to be excited about something I had waited for so long to happen because I was consumed with a form of grief that completely robbed me of my joy. So, yeah! The burden got smaller. It's still there, but when my focus changed...the "care" became lighter to carry. The last "open and point" delivered this verse, "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." And, that helped too. I did wonder something about that verse though, some information I may get from God someday if I remember to query him about it: "Dear God, it would help me a lot more if You would've left out the old part of the verse and it read: train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it." But today, the "old part" of the promise is in there as an encouragement I needed to hear. Funny that I hadn't actually pondered a verse I'd read at least a hundred times the way it truly read before this moment.

I put away my Bible, somewhat refreshed. And I could almost fall asleep, so I reread a poem I wrote last night. And the words spoke to me today, almost like God gave them to me yesterday because He knew I needed to hear them today even more than when I wrote them...maybe this poem can help one other person too...

"Silent Presence"

Sometimes there are no words for feelings.
Sometimes feelings are too strong for only one person to carry.
Even so, I am here.
I might be silent, but I'm here.

Sometimes time heals wounds.
Sometimes grace does.
Most wounds do heal though...
With enough proper care and rest.
Patience heals.
Peace heals too.

But, sometimes the healer comes in the form of grief.
What an unlikely salve God has given me to use.
Even so, I am here.
I might be silent, but I'm here.

We're all in this life together, my friends. So, let's practice a little casting today!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dare to Go Deeper...Our Kids Need Us!

Assuming your kid has grown up in church, would it surprise you if your child didn't know the difference between an apostle and a prophet? Seems kind of basic, but you might be surprised. I heard a Christian school parent say, "oh, like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" to a comment about our kids studying the minor prophets in Bible class. So, yeah...

Let's talk about what growing up in church means for kids these days. First of all, my oldest baby girl was born 20 years ago, at the beginning of the push for big programs to replace the traditional Sunday School snore fest. I remember the "Sunday School" of yesterday...mainly because my family were the "every time the church doors are open" church-goers. So, I memorized the kings of the Old Testament, which ones over Israel in its entirety (Saul, David, and Solomon), then which kings were Southern and Lower Kingdom kings. I remember memorizing the books of the Bible (Old and New Testament) every single year. I sat in a wooden chair or at a desk and learned about the Bible, God, Angels, Jesus, the Tabernacle, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Beatitudes, the 12 Apostles (more if you count Paul and the one who replaced Judas), and I learned about Biblical prophets, judges, priests...and the difference between them. My kids didn't get that. They got flashes of the miracles of Jesus...they got Creation and the Flood (with great interactive graphics because their imaginations probably wouldn't picture the Tree of Life or the Ark's cubits correctly). My kids didn't learn the "book work" of the Bible; they got the fun stuff. 

No wonder my oldest child barely knew anything about Solomon (she knows more now)...but seriously guys, we rarely expect our kids to know much at all about the Bible beyond the (incorrect) application of Jeremiah 29:11. Oh wait...for all you parents with child athletes, there's also the Ephesians 4:13 nugget for success. I mean, what do kids these day really need to know beyond John 3:16 in order to tell their friend about Jesus anyway...

I'm not saying the children's programs aren't "better" than they used to be. They are better in a lot of ways, but having a "video game" type of children's program doesn't mean it has to be vague in application, always happy, or benign in conviction. I'm sure there are still a few places out there that teach the meat of the scripture every week, but let's be honest about the quantity of these hypothetical places. Seems like we've replaced the quality of Biblical knowledge our kiddos get at church with top quality multi-media programing. At least we don't have bored kids. Right? 

At least there's that.

Last month, my youngest daughter at the ripe old age of 11 wept because she thought she didn't understand the Bible. I asked what she was reading and stopped panicking when she said "Revelations." She was worried that if she didn't understand what she was reading that it meant that she really didn't believe in God, or Jesus, or a multi-eyed, six-winged angels of terror guarding a throne. We talked for a while, and I told her to start with John or Matthew because those books, in my opinion, give a good overview of the life of Jesus. She's currently reading the last chapter of John (several verses have been highlighted in bright yellow)...The main thing is that she's excited about reading and learning...and she's even using a regular old paper copy of the Bible and totally managing without any fanfare. I mean...she's not even using an digital or online version of the Bible!!! 

Parents...we cannot blame the church when our kids don't know the difference between a prophet and an apostle...I mean, we could blame the church, but we're the ones "serving our time" in the classes on Sundays. Some of us are even the ones choosing the curriculum and regulating the Sunday children's programs. We have no choice but to blame ourselves; after all, we are the ones God entrusted to bring up our own precious children. Us. We. The buck stops with the parents. We are the ones who can speak up and change things in the churches...and, we can get serious about teaching Biblical principles and knowledge at home. Some of us leave the Bible education to a Christian school. Usually the subjects are sifted through the lens of Christianity, but,'s a school, and they also teach Math, Science, PE, Art, Music, History, Spelling, Reading, Grammar, Spanish, etc.! So don't bank all your money on a school that's main focus is to  provide a regular education in a Christian setting to also be the main (and sometimes only) influx of Biblical teaching for your child. 

When children have a grasp of who God is to them: their creator, their good Father, their friend, etc., they want to follow Him and believe in Him and dwell with Him. Once a child learns about God, he often opens his heart to Him. But, kids need to know who God is, and we must be the ones to stand in this gap and teach them. I need to stand in the chasm of spiritual ignorance for my own children; it's the huge gap I've ignored because I created my own false security when I dropped them off for an hour and fifteen minutes in a classroom at church (once a week) and expected someone else to give them the meat of the Gospel. 

See...the Sunday School of my day eased the load of Biblical instruction that was always supposed to the parents' responsibility. The thing is the "old way" of doing Sunday School (and having children sit in the main service) made me more knowledgable about God, BUT my parents reinforced Biblical principles and knowledge at home. My dad read to me every night from a huge book of Bible stories, and my mom prayed with us. I noticed my mom's Bible open on the kitchen table a lot of mornings, and my Dad served others in the church and led his family by example. My kids may have seen or heard this from me, but not enough. 

Let me spell it out: The command to bring kids up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord was given to parents. God gave children to parents (not schools and churches), and we need to take the command to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord seriously. Most of us are failing to teach our kids about the Bible...about Biblical characters and their timeline...about spiritual gifts...about actually submitting to and following Jesus. We excel at helping kids feel good about Jesus. We teach them about love and do a good job with grace and compassion as well. But, do our kids know how to hear God's voice? Do they know who wrote Ephesians? Do they know the things you learned in Sunday School?

Dare to go deeper. 
Dare to lead your kids deeper. 
Dare to dig deeper yourself. 
Dare to dig deep enough to uncover the belief.
Dare to believe God for the relationship He longs to have with you. 

p.s. Good idea alert...Last year, one of my kids read the book of Proverbs by looking at the calendar date. If it was the 10th of the month, she read Proverbs 10; it works out nicely because Proverbs has 31 chapters. She got this idea from a remarkable teacher who encouraged her students to start reading the Bible this way. The main thing is to start reading...begin learning...take the dare!

p.p.s. Part of what prompted this post was the lack of resource material out there if you wanted to start going deeper. The Bible should be the text, of course, but many of us want/need to follow an outline or have supplemental guidance. The material I did find for middle school aged students is, I suggest spending time in study on your own then sharing that with your kids. I'm doing that...starting with Judges. If I can do it, you can too.

p.p.p.s. I feel a need to write that we currently attend a church without a bunch of hoopla in the children's department (or the youth either)...the children's ministry servants and pastors and small group leaders are excited to share with our kids personally each week, and this is one of the many reasons we love our church. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Circles: Sometimes We Need to Say "No."

Sometimes when I write everything comes together seamlessly, smoothly. And I read it back and think "did I write that? Because it's actually pretty good." Other times, the words swim in my head. Swimming a type of stroke that never reaches the shore. Thoughts, feelings, daydreams, hopes, fears, sadness, joy...all colliding in a jumbled mess of words that don't make sense. Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic...I did watch the movie, Inside Out, with my kids tonight...but, you know what I mean.  Sometimes, we know what to say, and sometimes there's just too much to say and it all comes out in a tangled mess of redundancy. That's me today (tonight, or whatever you call 4:30am when you haven't gone to sleep yet). 

Why? I want to know why. Why can't I just fall asleep? Some people can sleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. But, I can't. Maybe because sometimes, I need to empty my soul first. On the bright side, the inner turmoil brings me to a quieter place, a place where I get to know God. He hears all about one kid's social struggles, one kid's attitude problems, one kid's heart cry, one husband's work load...and then there's me trying to carry it all. I don't even know what my own personal struggles are sometimes because I'm busy "fixing" and praying and fretting over other people's problems.

My friend Mary Beth once told me about these circles, invisible circles around all of us, circles that hold within their border the things and people we're actually responsible for and to. Sometimes my circle is crowded because I steal things from other people's circles. I actually do that a lot. For some reason, I get it in my mind that the grocery sacker's forgotten lunch is somehow my problem. Or, the stray dog that keeps running from me requires my continued chasing until I get it into my car (which never actually gets accomplished). I am a problem borrower. My own inefficiencies remain hidden most of time. I will almost do anything for anyone, but I've had to remind myself lately that just because I can do it doesn't mean that I should. 

I'm learning to ask this question before I commit: Is my emotional tank full, or is it empty? If the answer is "empty," then I need to rest for a while instead of always "doing." Sometimes, you have to say "no" so that you can say "yes" later. Then, in the meantime, let yourself off the hook...that's the hardest part.

There are things other than actions to say "no" to, emotional things like shame and peer pressure, judgment and fear. Negative attitudes we have about ourselves do not belong inside of our circles. Don't let people who foster negative thoughts stay in your circle or speak into your life; tighten the borders of your circle of responsibility. The circle analogy helped me process being okay when I forget (and my child also forgets to ask me) to sign a school planner. Because if it isn't signed, she WILL live, and so will I. Truthfully, her school planner belongs in her circle anyway, not mine.  Negativity of any kind does not belong in anyone's circle because it's the opposite of God-honoring. *Ephesians 4:29-32, "...Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them...Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander...instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." If anyone (including ourselves) brings you down instead of lifting you up...that voice does not belong in your life. Sometimes there's damage done within our circle boundary...from people close to us, and in those times we need to rely on God enough to let Him "tighten the border" for a season because it's a privilege and an honor to dwell in my circle. 

In my late night brainstorms, I often read to quiet my mind. Tonight, I read from a book I hadn't picked up in over 5 years. I read all the underlined places from the last time I read Henry Blackaby's On Mission With God. Here's the nuggets God patiently used to strengthen my circle borders and clear my soul:

1. p. 107  God often has to move us out of our comfort zones to serve Him better. 

2. p. 140 Each trial you face equips you to accomplish your mission with God. You may not understand why you must go through one more trial when you think you are already prepared for anything. The Father, however, knows what further character development you need to match the assignment He has for you. If you are facing a test or a trial right now, look at it closely to see what it is God wants to teach you through it. 

3. p. 166 Even knowing the mistakes you would make, God chose you.  *We are not random. Your life story matters.

4. p. 96 Often God uses the one who's overlooked. 1 Samuel 16:7, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

God doesn't usually tell us what will happen. That's why it's called faith. So, look around your circles. Clean out the clutter. Tighten the circle, rein in the borders. Then, pour your life into your circle. Forgive mistakes. See the heart first. Rest when your tank is low. And, say "yes" more than "no."