Strengthened through Struggle

 

weightliftingI hate it when my kids hurt!

All moms hate it when their kids hurt. And the worst hurts are the ones we can do nothing about. All moms know the deep soul ache of watching a child suffer, desperately wishing we could take the pain on ourselves for them.

In the midst of painful storms, difficult hurts and big disappointments with our children, we find comfort in knowing “this happened for a reason.” There is hope in knowing there must be some purpose for the trials God allows in our lives. But what is the reason? What is that purpose? Especially when what comes is so not what we expected and so terribly difficult that, as Paul says, “we despair even of life itself.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)

“No pain, no gain” is what athletes are told. To get faster and stronger, athletes train through pain, working their muscles to fatigue and even soreness. The not-so-technical explanation for this is that as muscles are strained with greater intensity, small tears are made in the muscle fibers. As those fibers heal, the muscle tissue grows stronger and able to work at higher levels. Over time, as muscles are worked, they grow bigger and stronger, able to do more work than before.

The scriptures tell us that this same principle is true with our hearts- with spiritual training. No pain, no gain. God uses trials to shape and sharpen us. And like a potter working his clay on the potter’s wheel, the pushing and prodding needed to transform the clod of clay into a beautiful vessel does not feel very good to the clay. So trials don’t feel very good to us, but some of the pain is soothed knowing there is a greater reason and purpose for the pain.

It is helpful to cast our struggling feelings against a backdrop of what we already know to be true. I find three things help me hold on through the hard.

  1. He is working all things together FOR US.

And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

We don’t need to see the good or know what it will be to trust God’s promise that that is what He is doing. He promises to work all things together- for those who love Him- for His purposes. As a weaver is working in different colors, textures and patterns, at times individual rows look quite ugly or out-of-place. But in the completed tapestry, all work together to produce a beautiful piece of art. We cannot see the completed work. We are only looking at this moment. But we can look at the Weaver and trust that He knows what He is doing.

  1. He is working IN US to make us more like His Son.

For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Romans 8:28

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:8

 The work God is doing in us – and in our children – is molding us into the image of His Son. And He promises to complete that work. He wants us to be like Christ – wise and strong, compassionate and overflowing with unconditional love.

  1. He is readying to work THROUGH US to bring others to His grace.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion and the God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 The struggles we face are not just for our good, but also for the good of those we will better serve in the future. We will greater offer grace and compassion when we have experienced them so greatly. Our hearts are softened to others’ struggles, and we more readily give comfort when we’ve been comforted. It may be years before we see this come to pass, but God will surprise us at the heart connections we will make with people facing similar trials.

God, show your mighty hand working for us, in us and through us. Even more, we ask you to show our children your mighty hand working for them, in them and through them in a way they can understand. May our hearts be strengthened through the struggles. Show your grace in the hard place. Write our story – and their story – for your glory.

 

 

 

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Get Back Up On Your Horse

BarrelRacing

The barrel racing competition at the Red Ryder Round-Up Fourth of July Rodeo was thrilling! The beautiful young ladies took command of their faithful horses and guided them smoothly and quickly through the course. Their great challenge on this day was foot-deep mud from the afternoon monsoons. Fighting against the sloshing and slipping of the mud, they still made it through. (You should have seen the bull riders fall into this stuff!) The junior competition followed the adults, and – wow! – these little girls were incredible! Fearless and fast, their times came in in the same range as the adults. The youngest rider was 4 years old!

Brianna was 9 years old. Her horse flew around the barrels and then finished lightning fast. But then suddenly, the front legs of her speeding horse buckled under in the mud as they tried to stop short of the arena gate. Brianna went flying off over the front of their horse. Then a split second later, the entire body of that giant horse flipped up and over itself, looking to us like it would land upside down right on top of the girl. The stunned audience couldn’t process what was happening, but thankfully, as helped rushed to the scene, we could tell that the horse had just missed her.

Both Brianna and the horse were helped back to their feet. And before we could start a supportive (and relieved) cheer, a cowboy – I wonder if it was her daddy – swooped that little girl back up and set her up on top of that horse again! Then came the big cheer as we watched the limping horse walk away with his brave rider back in her place.

The image of that little girl being lifted back up on her horse will be in my mind a long time, even more so then the horse’s body flipping up and over itself.

Everyone agreed that was the best thing they could have done – for Brianna and for the horse. Whereas I’m the mom who would’ve wanted to just hug her and hold her and share a good cry, I appreciate now why getting back up on the horse was the right thing to do. A quick hug is of course warranted, but the wise parent knows to help a hurting child face their fears right away- before they escalate and settle in. Get back up on your horse!

My daughter is on the high school diving team. She was working on a difficult dive when she over-rotated and hit the water very hard face first and hurt her head. The coach helped her up out of the pool, then helped her walk over to the diving board and told her to do the dive again. Then once she had faced that fear and done it again, they tended to her needs. I understand better now why that was important.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.  Isaiah 40:30-31

Our children will stumble and fall, and we as parents can learn to help them face their fears and keep pressing on. We can err on the side of too much hugging and holding, which hinders their ability to overcome the fear and grow stronger through it. And we can err on the side of shame and blame, expressing our disappointment and lowering our expectations for their future. Or, with God’s help, we can give a quick hug of assurance, and help them push through the fears showing them that we believe in them. They need to know we have their best interest in mind, and they need to know without a doubt we are on their side!

Get back up on your horse- I am here for you! You can do this! Keep going!

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14

So then I think about my own falls. And I think I need to learn this lesson for myself as well. How do I need to get back up on my horse- face my fears- and keep riding?

The image of the man lifting that little girl back up on the horse will remind me that my Heavenly Father is right there waiting to do the same for me. He knows what’s best for me and I can face my fears in the strength He provides. My flesh is quick to shame and blame myself, wallowing in the pain of the failure, throwing myself a pity party.

I am quick to get stuck down in the mud, when what I need is to lift my eyes to the One who is strong enough and wise enough to get me back up on my horse.

Get back up on your horse- He is here for you! He will give you strength to do this! Keep going!

I sought the LORD and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  Psalm 34:4-5

Lord, help us look to you to get back up on the horse you have given us to ride today. Help us press on to what you have ahead, not stuck in what we’ve left behind. Give us courage to ride- and in that be glorified.

 

 

 

 

If the LORD had not been on our side

WomanPraising

If the LORD had not been on our side- let Israel say- If the LORD had not been on our side.  Psalm 124:1-2

 Pause with me for a moment and consider what might have been, what could have happened, where we might have ended up- had God not been on our side. I can think about each member of our family- and imagine a completely different outcome in several of our most difficult situations- if the LORD had not been on our side.

It’s a little scary- well, actually, downright frightening- to imagine the pain and loss and tragedy the enemy may have wreaked in our lives- or we may have wreaked in our lives ourselves.

There are several scenarios the Psalmist considers:

“When men attacked us” (v.2)- The attacks of men take many forms- criticism, rejection, slander, or “anger flaring against us” (v. 3). Knowing the LORD is on our side, we are able to stand strong on truth, trusting that it is not men who define us but the God who created the universe. We are able to “take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the enemy.” (Ephesians 6:16). And ultimately, we are able to find healing from the hurt, and freedom found in forgiveness. The attacks of men leave deep wounds- but God protects us from hopelessness and provides for healing and even reconciliation.

“The flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away” (v. 4-5)- The storms of this fallen world beat against us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, how often can we proclaim, “this could have been so much worse”? We see God sparing us from total ruin and disaster, even in the hardest circumstances.

Paul writes of these near-death trials:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:8-9

 We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 Continuing in Psalm 124, a third scenario is described like this:

“Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (v. 6-7)- A predator has captured it’s prey, ready to devour it. But the snare is broken, and the prey escapes. Our predator is Satan himself, and just when He was set to devour us, His snare was broken.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  1 Corinthians 15:55

 Praise the LORD!  The death and resurrection of the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, broke the snare of Satan’s grasp on humanity. He died and rose again, breaking the power of sin and death- setting us free to live in all the fullness of the abundant life He gives.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I would still be striving hard after the approval of man. I would be struggling to find significance and meaning in this world. I would be seeking after my own glory- trampling on others all along the way. And I truly don’t know what I would have done in the countless tragedies that we have faced. I fear I would be lost in the hopelessness and despair, totally unaware that God is working all things for my good.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I don’t think I would have many friends, and I know I would make a pretty awful wife and mother. And maybe more than anything, I would be stuck in the shallow perspective of living only for this world, unable to see the greater blessings of an eternal outlook.

Praise the LORD! God Himself has been on our side. Let us all resound as we consider the what-might-have-been’s. Let us cling to Him and trust in Him and seek His glory in all we do.

What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  Romans 8:31-37

Crucified with Christ

EmptyCross

Good Friday.

As a teen, I remember coming to the realization of the gravity, and really the gruesomeness, of the crucifixion of Christ and wondering why we call it Good Friday. It certainly didn’t seem good that Jesus was put to death on a cruel cross. It didn’t seem good that the One who had the week before paraded triumphantly through a crowd shouting “Hosanna!” was now laid bare to suffer before a crowd hurling insults. And it didn’t seem good that God’s One and Only Son bore the fullness of our sin and was separated from His Father in death.

Now later, I see the goodness- the very good-ness- of our Savior’s death. It is good that He would choose to take on our sin and once for all pay its penalty. It is good that the sacrifice of this sinless Lamb of God brought us righteousness and reconciliation with God.

God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1:19-20

Because He died for our sins, we are counted sinless before God- and that is good. It pleases God.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  Matthew 16:24-25

Yes Jesus died for us, but He also asks us to follow Him in that dying. He invites us to die with Him- not in a literal dying as He did on the cross (though some will be called to pay the ultimate price for their faith), but He calls us to die to our sinful nature.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:24

Followers of Jesus crucify their sinful natures by (1) denying themselves, (2) taking up their cross, and (3) following Christ.

Denying myself- Clearly we sinners most naturally think of ourselves first. We like the world to revolve around me, myself, and I. Yet we are called to deny ourselves- for the sake of Christ. What I have found to be true through many different challenging circumstances, is that the Lord will set before me ways to learn to deny myself. Or as I call them, “flesh killers.” When I was planning a special “me” day shopping and getting a manicure, and my child turned up sick, He gracefully forced me to deny myself. When I thought I had a new direction, and my husband and friends agreed it was not right, I had to “kill the flesh” again.

While daily we face short-term interruptions and inconveniences that cause us to conform our will to His, many of us face “long-term flesh killers.” A chronic illness for parent or child, a child whose physical and emotional and mental needs are ongoing and long-term, a husband who is absent- either literally or figuratively. These extreme challenges force us to daily deny ourselves as they whittle away- sometimes gash away- the flesh within. I wonder if we can learn to welcome them more as we see their benefit in this war against self-centered sin.

Taking up my cross- As the cross was where our Lord suffered, so our cross represents the sufferings of this life that we are called upon to carry. He did not promise that we would be free from suffering, but promised rather to be with us through all the suffering that comes.

All in this world suffer much- in many different ways. What Christ promises, if we will deny ourselves, is the peace and the power to persevere. And in that we experience the joy of “sharing in His sufferings” (Philippians 2:10).

We can all think back through the most difficult seasons of our lives- and there we see God’s nearness was most evident. He is here in the hard. Though it would have been hard to say it then, I would not have traded those hard days, for in them I grew closer and more dependent on God. Lord, give us the faith to ask you- “Jesus bring the rain.”

Following Christ- Our Lord calls us to follow Him in daily Christ-likeness- in the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:22). His life as told in the gospels clearly displays this godly example. We are told in Romans 8:29, that we have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The beauty of sanctification is that Chris is making us more like Himself, and giving us a heart more ready to follow Him.

Denying myself. Taking up my cross. Following Christ. Here’s where I want the fullness of this Good Friday to settle into my mind and heart.

As we honor the crucifixion of Christ, may we join Him in the crucifixion of ourselves.

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.   Galatians 2:20

 

Hope Surrenders to God’s Whisper

Stillplace

Over the past two years, we have looked at hope- special hope- as it holds as an anchor for moms of children with many unique needs. We have seen that hope trusts and hope rejoices. And we have seen that hope surrenders- to God’s will, His way and His word. Now here we look at how hope allows us to surrender to His whisper. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21

 You’ve heard that voice before. In a moment of fear or uncertainty, you heard it. Or in chaos or confusion, it’s been there. In the loud, it has reached you. God’s whisper.

His Spirit comes near in our times of need and gently instructs us on how we should go. He speaks quietly, but clearly, to our souls, and we can choose to listen and obey, or go our own way.  With our hope secure in God, we can surrender to His whisper, even when it seems to go directly against our gut feeling.

The LORD said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  1 Kings 19:11-12

 We sometimes look for God to come in the loud thunder of the wind, earthquake, or fire. Send me a sign, Lord! Yet, often He comes in a gentle whisper, speaking softly to our heart and mind to assure us of His presence and direct us in His peace.

Can we listen for that whisper- even in the loud we often find ourselves in? Crying kids, fighting kids, even just laughing kids, can be very loud- bringing on “mommy” headaches that can be excruciating. We know we have to keep our cool even the crazy, or else we will all lose it, right?

Susanna Wesley was the mother of famous preacher John Wesley in the late 1600s and early 1700s. She birthed 19 children of her own, though 9 of them died in childhood. She was responsible for managing the household and all of the children’s education. Talk about crazy!

Susanna is known for her very strong faith and commitment to God. In their small and crowded  home, she would make time to sit in her rocking chair and lift up her apron to cover her face. This was her “prayer closet” time, and all of the children knew to leave her alone for those important moments.

How can we follow this example? We can be committed to our quiet time with God, even in the chaos. We can intentionally listen for God’s whisper even in the noise. That may happen for just a moment in the bathroom (yes, you have the right to go to the bathroom by yourself!), in the shower or in your car once the kids are dropped off (you will be amazed at what you will hear if you’ll turn off the radio!).

My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  John 11:27

 Jesus is the Good Shepherd, laying down His life to protect and provide for His sheep. We can hear His voice if we’ll listen above the noise of the other sheep. We can know His voice, as it is very different from the voice of the world or of Satan who wants to steal, kill and destroy.  He knows us, and we can follow Him.

Susanna Wesley was a woman full of wisdom, and thankfully, much of it has been passed down through the generations. One quote of hers that I find especially encouraging is this one:

“I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”

What little space has he placed me in? What small voice is He speaking to me with? Have I tried to make life more grandiose, glamorous and complicated? Have I surrendered to the whisper of His will, His Word, and His ways?

When I surrender, there is serenity.

When I pause, there is peace.

When I believe, I am blessed.

When I stop wrestling, I can rest.

 

Calf Muscles and a Reminder of Who’s in Charge

growing-boy2

Last night my husband was out of town, and my son asked if he could “have a sleepover.” At 5 foot, 5 inches tall and fourteen years old, he still loves sleeping in our bed when one of us is away. I love that!  Around 3:00am, I got up to let the dog out, and as I crawled back in bed, there was a very long, bony leg that had stretched over on to my side of the bed. That thing was hard! And big! As I grabbed ahold of his calf muscle to move the leg back to his side, I had a flashback that brought me to tears.

See, when Zach was about two weeks old, we flew to a family reunion. On that trip, I carried him in my front pack baby carrier (which, by the way, we had not had for baby daughters 1 and 2, but my goodness, did it come in handy for baby #3!). I very clearly remember wrapping my thumb and first finger around his teeny, tiny little calf muscle. My finger went around his leg and nearly as tight as it could get back to my thumb to encircle the calf. I asked God in that moment to help me always remember how little that leg was- and how little my son had begun.

The Lord was faithful to answer that prayer last night as my same thumb and first finger can no longer come even close to touching around that calf muscle. It is bigger and stronger, and runs faster and jumps higher.

And I have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now, of course, we have provided our son with food, clothing and shelter needed to grow. But I have not put any effort or resource into growing that calf muscle. God has just done it!

And isn’t it by God’s grace that we have provided the food, clothing and shelter anyway?

It is God who works in you to will and act according to His good pleasure. Philippians 2:19

 God is the Creator- and He is still faithfully working to shape my son into the man He made Him to be. He is working in him to grow him physically and spiritually and intellectually and emotionally. GOD is doing that, not me.

It is God who works in my son to will and act according to His good pleasure.

We as moms are pretty good “control freaks.” We are good at working hard to keep everything in control. We work to control our family’s schedule, our family’s meals, our family’s behavior and our family’s appearance. But we are also pretty good at forgetting who’s really in charge.

Last night as I held that giant leg, once so tiny in my fingers, I was reminded of who’s really in charge. God created my son just as he was born- fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13-14). And God is still the One working in Him to grow Him exactly how He has ordained. He invites me to be a part of this process, but I need to remember that this child is not mine to grow. He is God’s.

Of course, not one of my children is perfect- from a human perspective. Each has their unique challenges and weaknesses, strengths and gifts. Their uniqueness-es serve only to more magnificently glorify the great creative Creator. My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). They also serve as reminders of who is in control- and who is not.

How can we better remember that God is in charge- working His will in our children’s lives?

Reflect on the past and the progress that has been made. Think back on where you were a year ago, five years ago, or where you were when your child was born. How has he or she made progress- even if only small steps- in the last week, month and year? Look at old pictures and reminisce together. Most importantly, look for God’s touch, His presence, along this journey- and give Him great thanks and praise!

Ponder the possibilities and dream big for what is to come. You know better than anyone else what all is packed inside each of your children. Imagine where God is headed with that! Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Glance ahead to the beautiful unfolding of all God brought this chosen child here to be and do.

And pause to be thankful and content for what is. Still your heart from all the rush and stress daily living can often bring, and be thankful. Make a list of things you’re thankful for today- even the littlest things. Rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:16-18).

I’m so thankful God is in charge- and I am not. There is a deep peace that comes in the surrendering of my way, my control, my plan, to His. His is far better than I can imagine. He has wisdom and power and resources beyond all human knowing. And He is working all on our behalf- for our good and for His glory.

Take this scripture and fill in the name of your child- and remember God is working in him or her. (You can also try plugging in the name of your husband, or your frustrating coworker or family member, or anyone whom you need to remember is in God’s hand too).

It is God who works in ______to will and act according to His good purposes. Philippians 2:19

Let Moms Receive Their King

CrownonGround           

It’s become almost embarrassing. The first three notes of the first Christmas song rolled out as Advent begins never fail to send me straight to tears. Big tears. Sometimes almost to a full-on sob. It’s that time of year again.

It’s those songs again.

It’s the celebration of the arrival of my Savior again. And that’s what makes me cry- and keep on crying. He came for us.

Each year it seems a different lyric will really get to me. Usually it’s in the lines of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”- as that one has so much rich theology in it. But this week, it came to me in “Joy to the World.”

Joy to the World- the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king

Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing

Let earth receive her king.

In that, I seemed to hear, let Lori receive her king.  What would it look like for me to truly receive my king? There are several dictionary definitions for “receive”- all which seem to apply.

  1. To assimilate through the mind or senses
  2. To permit to enter- to admit
  3. To accept as authoritative, true or accurate- to believe
  4. To welcome, to greet

How can I assimilate through my mind the King of kings? Will I give Him permission to enter my heart and have admittance into my life? Will I accept Him as authoritative and true- will I believe? Is my heart open to welcome and greet Him upon His arrival?

As busy moms, so often caught in the urgency of daily living, struggling just to get by, we can take these next few weeks to prepare to receive the King again into our lives. Reflect afresh on the radical coming of this Great King- His quiet invasion to redeem our broken world.

Receive His peace. Isaiah’s prophecy called Him “Prince of Peace.” And it went on to say, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7). With His reign, Jesus offers His people peace. Under His rule, we can find rest. He longs for us to cease struggling and battling on our own, and instead, receive His peace, letting Him wage the wars for us. As Mary held her infant Son, she knew His peace. The world in turmoil surrounded them, but she knew peace. We too can know that peace as we behold our Prince of Peace.

Receive His freedom. “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” (Luke 4:18) Jesus came to bring freedom, yet so many of us live in bondage. We live shackled to our fears and failures, our issues and insecurities. We hang out in the prison cells whose locks Christ opened long ago. Twila Paris sings the line “Even we who call His name so often miss the treasure.” Yes, we who call His name often miss the treasure of the freedom He was sent to proclaim. When we receive Him as King, we must also receive the fullness of the freedom He provides for His children. Daughters of the King, our shackles have been released.

Receive His reign. If He is the King of me, I have to consciously choose to place Him on the throne of my life every day. I have to choose to live under His authority, and give Him charge of my daily decisions and circumstances. As the dictionary definition says, it is a decision to “accept as authoritative, true and accurate, and to believe.” It is a decision that begins with believing that He is a capable King, and that He is a good King. We know He is capable because He is the Creator of all. He has the authority to protect and to provide for that which He made. And we know He is a good King. His purposes are always for His glory and my good (and my good is always to draw back to His glory). We know He is good because He sent His Only Son- “He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16).

The line that follows after “Let earth receive her king” is a challenging one.

Let every heart prepare Him room.

How can I make room in my heart to receive the King? I think it starts with a good clearing out of pride- “I can do it by myself” and “I don’t need anyone to help me.” We need to clear out fear and trust this King with everything. And we need to clear out bitterness that often grows over time and settles into stay.

Will you receive your King this Christmas? Will you receive His peace and freedom? Will you give Him full reign over your life and the lives of your children?

To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.  John 1:12

As we receive Him, we are given the right to become His children.

We are daughters of the King.  Let heaven and nature sing!

Thankful for Dads

DadandLori1

I woke up this morning 750 miles away from my Dad. For the last 20 years, I have worked to celebrate him on Father’s Day, usually from my far away adult world, while also celebrating the great dad that my husband is to our family. The more years that pass, the more I realize what a gift I have in my dad. I realize that his faithfulness, kindness and unconditional love are rare. And I realize that his character has helped me better understand the character of God.

I’m thankful for years of special memories- hiking the Colorado mountains, fishing New Mexico streams, cross-country camper trips to my Grammy’s house, and always seeing him in the stands for my volleyball games. My dad was present, and very active in our lives. (And he still is). He took time to pass along wisdom and life tips to my sister and me. (And he still does). He always knew what to do in a crisis, and he always told too many “punny” jokes. For all he gave, and all he shared, and all he taught, I am very thankful.

Years ago I was in a Bible Study that looked at the influence our earthly fathers have on our understanding of our Heavenly Father. We filled out a chart with lots of characteristics, both positive and negative, and checked those that described our earthly dad. Then we turned the page and did the same for how we view God. And then on the third page, we laid the two sets of answers on top of each other. It was so insightful to see how similar the two lists were. People who had angry fathers tended to see God as angry, or people who had strong fathers tended to see God as strong, etc.

I am thankful for my own father, who wasn’t perfect, but had many God-like characteristics for me to experience, and for so many fathers I see that are living out the love, strength, wisdom and closeness of God for their families.

Thankful for dads who play. Dads are usually better than moms at play time- or at least that has been my experience. Dads communicate a lot of love through teasing and wrestling and joking and giggling. Moms tend to be more preoccupied with the “serious” things and taking care of all the details for daily living. Playing dads teach us to be happy and joyful, and not take life or ourselves too seriously.

May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  Psalm 68:3

Thankful for dads who pray. Dads who set an example and lead out spiritually for their families teach more by their actions, than by their wise words. Guiding their children with wisdom they have sought from God, and extending God-like compassion and grace, set a life-long impression of their Heavenly Father.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Thankful for dads who stay. Several years ago I helped our church start an outreach for parents of children with special needs. I was expecting moms and dads to come, and share an encouraging Bible Study, and support one another on this hard journey. What I didn’t expect though, was that the parents who came would be primarily single mothers. Single moms raising one or more children with special needs on their own. Yes, I had read of the high divorce rates of these families, but I didn’t want to believe dads could actually leave their wives and children with so many challenges. Yet it happens more often than not.

Two things I would like to say in light of this. First, if you are a dad who is staying, thank you. And if you are a wife of a dad who is staying, be thankful. Be very thankful. Press in close to God for strength and cling tightly to each other through the hard. You will display the faithfulness of God as you do.

Second, if you are a mother raising children on your own, you too can press in close to God for strength. He is your perfect Heavenly Father, and He is that for your children. He loves each of them more than you do, and promises to take care of their every need. My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

God is your heavenly husband: For your Maker is your husband, the LORD Almighty is His name. Isaiah 54:5 (Read the whole chapter for more promises).

God is their heavenly father: A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows. Psalm 68:8

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  I John 3:1

As we honor fathers on Father’s Day, let’s be thankful for the dads who have been a part of our lives and our children’s lives. And let’s work to  trust our Heavenly Father to heal our hurts and meet our unmet needs with his perfect Fatherly love, compassion and care.

Is He not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?  Deuteronomy 32:6

The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8

 

Praise from a Place of Pain

PraisingBeachMy good friend sings in our church choir. She always sings with all the strength of her beautiful voice, lifting the name of our Savior high in song. But tonight, she seemed to be singing with an extra depth, an extra vigor, and an extra true joy shining on her face. I could hardly watch her without some of my own tears springing forth. I am one of only a few who know the hard she is facing and the great depth of the pain from where she is coming to praise God the way she does. Difficulties in her marriage and with her child are almost insurmountable, and she is struggling with grief, betrayal, anger, anxiety, hurt and confusion.

It is easy to give God praise when life is beautiful, but how can we give Him praise when life is hard? He is pleased when we praise Him from a place of blessing, but I believe He receives even greater glory when we praise Him from a place of pain.

To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. Isaiah 61:3

Isaiah’s prophecy about the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord was proclaimed hundreds of years later by Jesus as He began His earthly ministry. He told the people “Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:22) He proclaimed Himself as the one who brings us a new garment in the midst of our ashes, mourning and despair. Christ covers our pain with praise.

The contrast of the light of praise to the darkness of our pain makes it shine even brighter. Light a candle outside in the afternoon sun and it can’t hardly be seen. But light it in the darkness of midnight, and its light shines forth enough light to comfort your fear and guide your feet.

Praising God in our pain is “heart” work. It is making a conscious choice to lift our hearts and minds above the pain to see God still reigning on His throne. And it is choosing to praise Him there.

Why are you downcast, I my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.  My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you. Psalm 42:5-6

The Psalmist here speaks of a conscious decision to place his hope in God, reaching out from his downcast and disturbed soul to look for his Savior and God. He “remembers” God as he moves his mind from his pain to praise.

In times of great pain, our emotions can be all over the place. We have to allow our minds to lead out over our hearts seeking truth and perspective that move us towards Christ. We want to seek Him first and follow hard after Him even in our pain, and not be swept into even greater pain by letting our hurting hearts guide our decisions. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Praising God in our pain points others to Christ. God uses our pain and the hope we hold on to through it to draw others to Himself by faith. As they see us hurting, yet hanging on to Christ, they see genuine faith lived out. They see a hope that they want to have. Our pain has a purpose in our lives, yes, but also in the lives of those who are touched as we live through it.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  1 Peter 3:15

Praising God in our pain calls Him in close. Psalm 22:3 says, “You are holy, and you inhabit the praise of Israel” (KJV). When we praise God, He inhabits, He lives in our praise. Psalm 75:1 says, “We give thanks to you, O God, for your Name is near.” He is near! He is here! He is pleased to dwell with those who are dwelling in His praise.

Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. Jeremiah 17:14

It’s hard to describe in words, but we have a funny tradition at our house. If someone falls or trips or in some crazy way hurts themselves, they follow it by getting back on their feet, raising their hands and proclaiming a simple, “I’m okay!” Praising God in our pain is somewhat like this. Though we may be hurting, from our own shortcomings or someone else’s, we raise our hands and let God and everyone else know, “I’m okay!”

We can be more than okay as we choose to lift hearts to our God and Savior still seated on His heavenly throne. As we praise Him there, we shine His light to others and call Him in close to see us through. May God give us greater faith to praise Him from our places of pain.

Strong Woman, Good Mom

MothersDayFlowersMother’s Day 2015. Today we celebrate moms. We celebrate our moms, our stepmoms, our grandmothers, and our mother-in-laws. We send cards and flowers to some, and share brunch with others.

And we celebrate the joy of getting to be moms. We are thankful for our husbands and the children who made us moms. We celebrate the privilege of getting to be the one that they call “Mom.”

This year more than ever before have I seen the need to celebrate moms- not just on this day, but on every day. So many moms I’ve met are needing encouragement. Visiting with women on international mission trips and sitting beside the baseball field, swimming pool, and dance studio here at home, I have talked with countless moms who are beat down, stressed out, overwhelmed, and just plain exhausted.  And while all of us are wrestling with the many daily tasks moms must take on, we are wrestling with even deeper questions of value and worth. Am I doing enough to help my child succeed? Am I helping my child make the right choices?  Am I spending our time and money the right way? Will my child be okay?

Being a mom is hard. It is hard physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. People sometimes compare parenting toddlers and parenting teenagers, as if one is easier than the other. While the demands and challenges may be different at different ages, it’s all very hard. And it’s hard everyday.

I think just admitting that to ourselves first, and then to others, can bring a great deal of relief and freedom. In Romania last summer, I met several groups of mothers of children with special needs. Each time I met with them, I would start out with the simple phrase, “I know it’s hard.”  It would amaze me what a difference that would make in the look on their faces. “And I know it’s hard everyday.” Their whole countenance would relax, and several would start to cry, when we admitted this is not easy, and no one does it perfectly, and acknowledged the daily challenge that rules their world.

We open ourselves to grace and to the strength God provides when we admit the task is bigger than we can handle on our own.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

When I would finish meeting with these precious mothers, I would take hold of their hands, look them straight in the eye, and with the help of a translator, tell them simply, “You are a strong woman and a good mom.”

That’s what I wanted to resonate with them long after they went home that day. Those simple, true words of blessing that I prayed would counter the discouragement and despair they came in carrying. I pray today that I could share those words with other mothers in need of the same encouragement.

You are a strong woman. Just as God gave you the strength to bring your children into the world, so will He give you the strength to carry them through it for the time He’s given them to you.

You are strong physically- loads of laundry, bags of groceries, double strollers, and sleeping toddlers. Her arms are strong for the task. Proverbs 31:17

You are strong mentally- balancing checkbooks, calculating pre-algebra problems, dispensing medications, and following new recipes.

You are strong emotionally- managing anger, dealing with disappointment, working through sadness, and giving patience.

And you are strong spiritually- drawing near to God, leaning on the Holy Spirit, following Christ and resting in Him.

And you are a good mom. Good moms want the very best for their children, which of course every loving mother does. Good moms work hard with the resources they have to make the best life for their children. Good moms do the best they can in each day, and wake up again to try again the next day.

Good moms, however, are not perfect moms.

Good moms make mistakes, and give themselves grace when they do. They let their children make mistakes, and give the same grace to them.

Good moms know that God is taking care of them, as they take care of their children. And they trust God to be the perfect provider and protector for all of them.

Good moms know we are all on a journey, growing closer to Christ and to each other as we grow up in years. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

You are strong woman. You are a good mom. Who do you know needs to hear this today? Do you need to tell yourself this today? Let’s be moms that admit how hard our jobs are, and build one another up as we tackle this one hard day at a time. Let’s turn far away from comparing and criticizing and expecting perfection from others and from ourselves. Let’s trust God with our children, and lean on the strength, wisdom and joy He provides. Let’s serve Him as we serve them.

And let’s remember that the motherly love we have for our kids is meant to be only a small taste of the perfect Heavenly Father love God has for us. The love He had for us before we were mothers, the love He has for us as we mother, and the love He will have for us forever.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Colossians 3:12

We love because He first loved us.  1 John 4:19