Monday, January 25, 2016

Standing Guard

"...guard what has been entrusted to your care."
I Timothy 6:20

Sometimes I liken parenting to being in the trenches of a battlefield.

Really, let's just be honest here.  That's how it feels at times.  And it doesn't really matter if your kids are still in your arms, hanging on your pant legs, running laps around you, or tuning you out with their ipods and headphones.

Parenting is just plain hard.

Last night my best friend sent me a reference and simply said "Put your name in there."  I was intrigued.  So I went and got my Bible, flipped to I Timothy 6:20 and read "Phoebe, guard what has been entrusted to your care".

Guard what has been entrusted to me.


Sometimes I don't really think of parenting like that.  I just think of things like, "Well crap, it's Friday and I forgot to work on spelling words with Eli all week.  I sure hope he knows them.  'ELI!!!  Do you know your spelling words?'"  And then I have them in the seat beside me as I drive them to school and quiz him all of the 2 minutes it takes to get them there.

Or the ritualistic chant that sometimes plays in my head: "Is it bedtime yet?  Is it bedtime yet?  Is it bedtime yet?"

You know how it goes.  Someone can't find their shoes.  Now a coat is missing.  One's out of jeans and the cat is meowing and hissing again because one of the toddlers is pulling his tail.  Another is yelling through the house "My field trip money is due today."  Someone hit their sibling and someone else is crying because they didn't get their way.  And the two year old is constantly calling someone a "booby trap", thinking she's just epically made fun of them.  She's so proud of herself.

Some days I just stand there shaking my head.

Trenches, y'all.  Trenches.

There are times I wonder if I have taught them anything at all, other than to say "stupid" and "daggum it".

My patience wanes.  I find myself wanting to retreat.  To run away hide.

And then I remember.

Guard what has been entrusted to you.

And suddenly this warrior begins to stand a little taller.  Because while these all seem like trivial matters, they're really spiritual battles.  Battles of teaching responsibility, patience, kindness, and watching what comes out of our mouths.

Sometimes it's guarding them against others.  Like saying no to sleepovers and then having to explain to them that it's for their best interest.  I mean, I don't know everyone.  And I don't know who else they might have over.  And I don't know what other kids might be there that have been exposed to some pretty horrible things that they might want to try or experiment with with my kids.  And so no.  The answer to sleepovers is always no.  I'm guarding what's been entrusted to me.  And it's hard.  So very hard because I know all, well, a lot of, their friends are having sleepovers.  But their safety is more important to me than hurting their feelings.  They'll understand one day.  Now isn't that day and that's okay.

Sometimes it's guarding them against an over-crowded schedule.  It's saying yes, you can play volleyball, but not volleyball, basketball, and soccer.  It's guarding our family time with a vengeance and showing them to value what's really important....what will remain after they're out of school.  It's saying yes, your friend can come over today.... but not today, tomorrow, and the next 3 days.  It's allowing time for homework and reading.  Time to sit down as a family and eat dinner together every night.  Time for movie nights and popcorn, family game nights.  Because those things are what will matter in the years to come.  Is there anything wrong with sports? Absolutely, unequivocally NO.  We love to watch our kids play.  But the problem happens when it becomes what dictates your schedule and multiply any sport times 4 kiddos and it can happen easily.  It's my job to guard what has been entrusted to me.  And an overcrowded schedule isn't guarding them well.

Sometimes it's guarding what they're allowed to watch.  Or how much time they're allowed to have on the Internet, if any.  It's standing over them when they do earn Internet time to play games.  It's having their Kindles set to only allow them access to age appropriate, educational websites.  It's not caring when they get mad because you give them the "you're not allowed anywhere except, do you understand me?" lecture every time they do get to play on the computer. And for those of you with older kiddos, it's blocking the Internet on cell phones or having access to their phone every single day to see what they've been looking at, texting, etc.  It only takes one misguided search for an addiction to form.  And I'll take them being mad at me any day rather than them having to possibly deal with an addiction.

It's saying no to parties and yes to modesty.  It's saying no to certain friends and yes to those that have proven themselves responsible and that are following after Christ.  It's saying no to TV and yes to family devotions.

But here's the one that always gets me.

Sometimes I have to guard them against what comes out of my mouth.  My impatience.  My tone.  My snide remarks.  The "What were you thinking?" comments.  The "Use your brain." or "I can't stand one more minute of the whining."  Sometimes it's me.  And that's hard.

I want to faithfully guard what has been entrusted to me.  And often that means constantly working on myself, ensuring that I'm not ever what hinders or causes them to trip up.

Recently amidst all the snow storms, pictures of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have been surfacing.  These men are dedicated.  It doesn't matter if there's a hurricane, snowstorm, or if it's 100 degrees, they are there and committed to fulfilling their duties ....they're faithful no matter what's going on around them.  I've even seen videos of them commanding respect from those there to watch the changing of the guards that were being less than respectful.  Their courage and dedication is inspiring.

And oh that I could be like them.  That I could stand in the face of whatever life throws my way and guard what has been entrusted to my care.  When it's hard.  When it's painful.  When it's me.  When I'm having to take a look at myself.  When they're mad.  When they're hurt.  When they don't understand.  When I want to give up.

Oh that I could be the guard they need me to be.

Because sweet mommas and daddies.... here me in this.  We only have them for a short while.  I know when they're little that seems like an eternity.  Like you'll never have them raised and out of the house only to miss having them there.  But I can look back 15 years ago when I got married and it only seems like a few short months ago.  And I'm sure you can look back to when you had your babies and think, "No.  Really.  There's no way almost 10 years have passed."

So stand strong.

Stand firm.

Stand ready.

Because He has entrusted to us the most precious, invaluable little people to guard.

May we be found standing guard, faithfully and courageously.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Running Your Race

It may come as a surprise to some of you that I used to run track in high school.  Less of a surprise may be that I wasn't all that good at it.

Our school had just started a track and field program when I was a sophomore.  Some of my friends and I decided we'd give it a try.  It was harder than expected but I also discovered that while I may not be all that great at competing, I do love to run and even all these years later still enjoy jogging several days a week.

But the competing part got me.  And by got me, I mean that I threw up before every single track meet my first year.  And by every I mean..... e.v.e.r.y.  Running behind all the buses parked in the gravel lots.  Hiding behind the bleachers hoping no one saw.  Praying to find a bathroom before it came up wherever I was at the moment.  It just became part of the routine.

While I had to battle my nerves, I still gradually began getting better and better.  I dropped 33 lbs.  Began shaving seconds, then minutes off my time.  There was one particular meet that first year that I finished next to last.  Yet I was excited because I had beat my best time and because, well, I didn't finish last.  I remember talking to my grandpa later that week and him asking me about the meet.  I told him where I had placed and even all these years later (19 to be exact), I still remember his response: "Well that's not very good is it?!".

I cried.

I had been proud of beating my time but then suddenly all I saw was the 11 people that finished before me.

I don't think he meant to hurt my feelings.  Yet I also can't deny that there I was, a 15 year old girl crying over not being good enough.

I had gone from focusing on my race to focusing on someone else's.

And the truth is, while this is a literal example, it also happens every single day in our lives in a host of other ways.

I'm trying to live my life, but somehow my eyes keep wandering to everyone else's.  And then the thoughts come.

I can have a breakthrough with a particular obstinate kiddo but then get on Facebook to see that someone did this incredibly elaborate thing with their kid and all of a sudden our breakthrough seems mediocre, at best.

I can get a great deal on a new pair of boots and then see that someone spent hundreds of dollars on a purse and begin feeling stupid for getting boots for 20 bucks, feeling like someone spending a ton of money on something suddenly discredits our finances or the great deal I got and the excitement I had because of it.

Why?  Why do we do this?

It's madness.  Yet we do it.

We can throw our kids a birthday party and then somehow feel like we've failed them when we hear someone talking about giving their kid $200 and renting out the theater for 50 of their closest friends (I mean, really, who has that many close friends), and topping it off with an elaborate cake.  It doesn't matter that our kid was excited and loved their party.  Now it just wasn't good enough.

But we do it on a deeper level too.

We can go to a conference and hear incredible speakers and instead of soaking in their knowledge we suddenly begin thinking things like "I wish I could teach like them.  I mean, really, why do I even bother leading our group?"

Or like when you look around you and see people with more kids than you and begin thinking "She does it so well.  I'm such a horrible mom.  Why can't I be more like her?"

Or you'll begin to look at their cute family and say things like "I wish we could adopt.  See how cute their family pictures are".  Although, I'm betting, you have no idea all the struggles and battles they've faced and are facing to get where they are.

But suddenly, following Christ in obedience looks differently because you're looking at someone else's race.

"Why does he get to have that job?"

"Why can't I go on that mission's trip?"

"Look at her faithfulness.  I wish I could be like her."

"I wish I could be back in the ministry."

"Look at them, always serving the needy.  Why can't I have the time and resources to serve like that?"

"Why does he get the good wife?"

But isn't the reality that we always take the good but seldom ever look at the bad those people have had to endure?  We somehow think that if we had whatever it is that they have that we'd be better, feel better.

But here's the truth.

We're never going to find contentment or joy when we're trying to run someone else's race.

So someone is on the mission's field and you wish you could do that.  Run your race.

So someone has the family you'd love to have.  Eyes forward.  Run your race.

So someone has more resources than you.  Keep on running.

So you feel overwhelmed with life, begging for the careless life of a friend.  Keep the faith, one foot in front of the other, running your race.

So you wish you could adopt.  Contact DHS, I assure you they'd be more than happy to get you started on the classes.  Then run your race like crazy.

So you wish your spouse was different.  Pray for them and run the race God has set before you.

Want to serve others more?  Schedule it.  Make it a priority.  And then run your race.

Because friends, looking around only slows you down on your race.  One of the things I remember from running track was to keep looking forward, lest you leave your lane and begin zig-zagging, adding unnecessary seconds to your time.  But this is exactly what we do.  We focus so much on other people that we don't even know which lane we're in anymore.  And at the very heart of the issue is our lack of trust.

We don't trust that the race the Father has for us is truly the best race we can run.

We think someone else's race would be better, easier, more fulfilling.  But I'm telling you, the older I get, the more I realize that true contentment and peace is only found in running the race the Father has set for you... however hard that may be.

So run like crazy and finish well.

Oh, and I ran a second year of track too and never threw up once.  I also earned the Most Improved award that year.

My point?  Eyes forward.  Stay in your lane.  And work on earning the most improved award.  You'll be surprised how rewarding your race can be.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Making Room

My house has been in complete disarray the past few days.  What I thought would be a quick and easy project turned into days of barely being able to walk through the house.

You see, I told the kids they needed to clean out closets and toy boxes and dressers to make room for all the new stuff they’ll be getting for Christmas.

Truth is, we do this pretty regularly to keep things manageable with 4 kids.

But what doesn’t get done is our room.  Our closet.  Our dressers.

And when everything was pulled out, it was a mess.

I had bags and bags of clothes.  We were carrying out trash bags of stuff I’d kept but now thought “why did I keep that”?

Making piles of stuff we could donate.  Piles we could sale.  Piles that were trash.  And yes, even piles of stuff to keep.

There was so much that there was very little room for anything else.

All this abundance.  Piles and piles of junk in the garage to haul to Abilities Unlimited or that will sit there and wait until Spring when we can have a yard sale.

No room for anything else… at least very little room.

And the reality is that just how my house has felt is how my heart has been feeling.

I have so struggled here lately.  Struggled with myself and been overwhelmed with the demands of everyday life.  With all the ‘stuff’ that goes with Christmas.  And even with things that have nothing to do with Christmas, although that’s certainly added to it.

I’ve been so consumed with letting all the kids put up their trees and decorate them.  With taking Christmas pictures.  With getting said pictures printed to go in all the Christmas cards that I personally handwrite in.  All the questions of “Now what did we get for Aunt Betty and Mema”?  “Did I get the costumes for the Christmas play”?  “When can we fit in dress rehearsal”?  “Do we have the same amount of presents for each kid?”  Going to this party and that.  Wait, I need my hair cut.  Maybe I can paint my toenails a festive red with gold glitter.  Oh, and I need to pluck my eyebrows.  And now all these presents need wrapped.  What do we need to bring to Christmas at Mom and Dad’s?  To Christmas at his parents’?  Oh and we need to schedule a night to go look at Christmas lights.

And I’m pretty sure at just 3 days until Christmas that my husband and oldest kiddo are out getting parts for the van and making a side stop at Burlington for some last minute stocking stuffers that I’ll act surprised about when I open.  You know, since Anna asked me if I wanted some earrings, what kind I might like.

You know the drill.

The hustle and bustle.  Fighting the crowds and traffic trying to fill all that space under the tree.

But….What if we spent that much time trying to fill our hearts instead?

Would we have a home full of gifts and stockings busting at the seams and still feel empty?  Would we sit there among masses of wrapping paper and wonder why we still feel there’s more?

We wonder because we know.

There is More.

Yet we’re just like the innkeeper saying “There’s no room for You.”

We’d rather have our gifts and gadgets. Our new pj’s and jewelry.  Our ipads and iwatches.  Our new phones.  Gift cards and goodies.

We’d rather run ourselves ragged trying to attend every party, gathering, family event, and buying presents for every possible person than to take a step back and see that the Greatest Present we could ever have has been and always will be waiting right in front of us.

I’ve had to ask myself: have you made room for Him?

Have you been intentional about keeping Christ in Christmas?

Have you relayed to the kids the true meaning of Christmas or made it about gifts (or Santa, or an elf, or whatever else you may do)?

Have I spent just as much time worshipping the One who  came for us as I have buying presents, shopping on Amazon, or making candy and gingerbread houses?

Have I cleaned out all the toy chests, and closets, and dressers of my heart to make room for the only One that matters?

Or am I still just like the innkeeper?

What if instead of buying into all the commercialization we instead set aside nights to read books that revolve around The Baby who came to save us all?

What if we baked Jesus a birthday cake?

What if we served others?  Gave to those who truly need?

What if we worshipped the One who came so that we could know what true peace is?

Would we still feel that longing that there’s more?  And would we still be trying to fill it with stuff that was never meant to fill that longing?  Would we still be cramming Jesus into a barn in our hearts, telling him there’s no room for Him?

When will we realize that Christmas was never about material possessions or a jolly fat man or a mischievous elf but rather about God Himself bending down to Earth, holding out his hands offering us the Lamb that would take away all our sins?  The Gift that always fills and lasts and sustains.

And when will we realize that our only hope is in making room for the tiny infant Who came to make us fully whole and complete and content in and through Him?

Making room isn’t for His benefit.  He’s wholly God regardless of the amount of our lives we choose to give Him.

It’s for our benefit.  Our peace.  Our hope.

I don’t know about you, but that’s more than worth making room for.

May you find the true spirit of Christmas this year, making room for what's Who's truly important and lasting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to Be A Big Sister (or Brother)

I'll admit.  I'm the youngest of three.  I know very little about what it means to be a big sister or a big brother. So when Anna wanted to talk last night and with tears in her eyes said "I don't know how to be a big sister.  What does that mean?  How do I do it?" I began recounting all the things my brother and sister did for me.

So, what's a big sister or big brother?

It's having your hand on mommy's belly waiting to feel your sister kick for the first time, then squealing when you feel it.

It's standing at the nursery window as they walk your sister in and beaming with excitement.

It's sharing toys, and suckers, and cups, and the chicken pox.

It's playing cowboys and indians in the field in front of you.

It's fighting over who holds the cat.

It's pestering each other in the back seat on road trips until Dad pulls the car over.

It's swimming in the yard after a massive rain and the ditch floods.

It's snowball fights.

It's playing baseball in the yard.

It's go-cart rides on the go-cart Dad built for us.

It's trips to the farm and laughing at each other as we tiptoe in the freezing water.

It's fighting and arguing one minute and then laughing at the other's joke the next.

It's saying you'll catch her when she goes down the slide into the 6 foot pool without a life jacket and then freezing as she bobs up and down and the lifeguard comes and gets her.

It's sitting on her and farting on her head.

It's holding her by the arm so she can't leave your room while simultaneously yelling "Mom, she won't get out of my room!".

It's throwing her favorite baby doll and breaking it.

It's laughing with them when they're hysterically laughing at you for falling and busting your shin on the footboard of the bed and you're trying to decide whether to laugh or cry.

It's laughing when they bring it up at family gatherings that you still have said dent in your shin.

It's telling her that when mom slams the door shut to yank her tooth out that it won't hurt, although you screamed like a baby when Mom did it to you.

It's introducing them to your favorite music and then getting mad when they mess with your boombox (oh wait, your Ipod, sorry, forgot we weren't still in the 80's).

It's watching cartoons together on Saturday mornings and arguing over who has to get up to change the channel (yeah, that was an 80's thing too).

It's sharing a bed until you're 13.

It's slip 'n slide birthday parties in the backyard and seeing who can slide the farthest.

It's having ducks and rabbits and squirrels and coons as pets.

It's hating the babysitter and that she always fed us hominy, then going to the bathroom to flush said hominy down the toilet..... and getting caught.

It's co-owning and bottle feeding a calf named Baby Norman and long after he was grown, still having him suck on your fingers like a baby.

It's crying when Baby Norman gets sold.

It's posing for pictures with Dad as he field dresses the deer he just killed.

It's being excited when the other shoots his/her first deer.... or chokes it to death.

It's being furious when someone picks on your baby brother or sister.

It's finding said person and punching them so hard they say "She hits like a %@*# freight train".

It's cheering her own as she gets in her first fist fight when she's finally had enough of the neighborhood bully and gives her the beat down of her life.

It's being happy for her when she's voted Fall Festival Queen and when she takes a nap, decorating the house to surprise her and as a way to surprise Mom and Dad when they walk in from work.

It's helping her sell raffle tickets and baked goodies.

It's laughing uncontrollably when they bring up the time you screamed bloody murder in the middle of the night when Dad was out of town, and Mom runs in the room with the gun fearing an intruder was in the house only to be met with "Foot cramp!!  Foot cramp!!!"

It's being in the same Spanish class in high school and dreading when the teacher passes out test papers because you feel sorry when the other doesn't do as well.  Then saying "It's okay, an 83 is still good" while you hold your 97 in hand.

It's being a slob so they can be excited to come to your house and clean for you, thinking it's cool to hang out with their big sis/big bro and his friends.

It's attending their high school graduation and cheering for them as they walk across the stage.

It's attending their college graduation and sitting through all of it, or you know, leaving early for the farm.

It's crying when she gets married and moves away.

It's being a part of each other's weddings.

It's being there when your nieces and nephews are born and adopted and coming to visit them.

It's holding each other next to the casket as you say the hard goodbyes.

It's sobbing when you pack up and move away, knowing your move hurts them as much as it does you.

It's encouraging them on the hard days and rejoicing with them on the good.

It's phone calls and texts checking in on each other and laughing at something funny your parents did.

It's being the Godparents to your nieces and nephews.

It's being excited about Thanksgiving and Christmas because you know that hopefully means everyone being together again.

It's tears and laughter, joy and sorrow, prayers for each other, and simply being there.

So you want to know what it means to be a big brother or big sister?

Two words.

Be there.

In every season and phase of life, just be there.  Love them.  Defend them.  Be happy for them.  Pray for them.  And you'll never go wrong.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Just a Spoonful

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:16

Let's just be honest here for a second.  Can we do that?

Thanks.  I knew I could count on you.

Life is sometimes brutal.  So much so it takes the breath right out of you.

There are days I find myself begging, pleading, petitioning God to help me, to give me more grace to make it through the day... maybe even that particular moment.

Yeah, I'm weird like that.

I'm the one mouthing "Father, help me.  You have to help me".

My kids have learned, well, the older ones anyway, that when my lips are moving but the sound is absent, that they'd best retreat.

I've yet to decide if that's a good or bad thing.

I digress.  If you're new here, I do that often.  Just stick with me.  I have a point coming eventually.

So earlier today I was thinking of how to explain to someone how life is right now.  And what came to mind was simple, yet profound for me.

I thought "It's not that God gives me an abundance of grace each day.  He doesn't.  He gives me just a spoonful, enough for me to make it moment by moment."

Then I began wondering why I'm left with a spoonful when I'd like a dump truck full.

Have you ever felt that way?

Sometimes I think I'm just parked in that mindset...  that I've been shortchanged somehow.

But oh goodness.  I love the Father and how He speaks to us in those moments of weakness and doubt.

"Phoebe, my child.  If I gave you a dump truck full of grace, you'd never come back to me to ask for more, to seek my comfort and peace.  You'd be self sufficient and then I couldn't make you strong through your weaknesses, giving you the chance to show others my glory."

It brought to mind a quote I read one time:

“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
An abundance of grace would lead to pride which would lead to our thinking we no longer need the Father.

Isn't that how we work?  Things are going good so we're casual in our relationship with Him, praying when we remember, reading the Bible just when we feel guilty enough for not doing it and then going weeks or months again until the guilt builds back up .  Thinking we don't need Him because we're so great, money's in the bank, everyone is healthy and then.....

And then life happens.

Life always happens, smacking us in the face, reminding us that we've always needed the Father, whether we realize it or not.  Because the reality is that without His grace, we'd never even have those moments of thinking we don't need Him.

And isn't that backwards?  We don't "need" Him because all is well, but at the very core of everything is His grace that has sustained us and allowed us to have those moments in the first place.

And it's that same grace that gets us through the battles we'll all eventually face.  Yours may take on a different face than mine, but we're all going to face our own battles.  And each and every day, His grace is sufficient for those battles.

Every time I fall to my knees and ask for grace and mercy....

He gives me a spoonful.

And when I've licked every last drop off, you know what?  I find myself going right back to the feet of the Father and asking for another spoonful.

And He graciously always gives more, at just the right time, in just the right proportion.

When the kids are late for school and you're rushing out the door like a madwoman .... there's a spoonful.

When the doctor's office calls with the news you had prayed not to hear.... there's a spoonful.

When your husband walks out the door... there's a spoonful.

When you feel like 'failure' is all that will ever define you ... there's another spoonful waiting.

When whispers are spoken behind your back .... He's waiting for you, spoon in hand.

When you feel like ending it all ... He's bending down, offering you another spoonful.

When your marriage feels more like a boxing ring than an intimate friendship .. there's a spoonful.

When the bills are piled up and the bank empty... there's a spoonful.

When you feel like you just can't keep going .... lick off every last drop, He'll get you another spoonful.

Just a spoonful.

But it's enough.

Because He's always enough.

And through each and every spoonful, He's making me (and you) stronger.  And all the while, it brings Him glory.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  II Cor. 12:9-10
It's hard to feel weak.  But it's through those times that His power is magnified and we draw closer to Him.

May we boast in our weaknesses, faithfully seeking the Father.... spoonful at a time.