Following the Path Ahead

IMG_8465For the first time since starting this blog in 2012 I took this past month off from my regular schedule of blogging. Maybe you noticed; maybe not. It felt weird to me to forego this regular habit that helps me process my thoughts. However, this hiatus was a needed break from pressure I put on myself – primarily so I could relax during our vacation without having as much hang over my head. But the break was also necessary in order to devote what time I did have to work on my second manuscript that is due in August while also preparing for the release of my first book Get Your Story Staight: A Teen’s Guide to Learning & Living the Gospel in October.

Throughout this publishing process and as October 12th nears, what I have decided is the path I am on is much like one of the hikes we just did in Colorado called Conundrum.

I don’t know if the reason it was name that is what I suggested, afterall a “conundrum” by definition is a problem or puzzle often too tricky to figure out, but I speculated it was because of the constantly changing landscape that left us unsure of what the next curve of the path would bring.

At points we were in the forest and then we would come out in a valley of flowers before ascending up over rocks to the next view. Every segment was different so we never knew what to expect. Some portions were harder or longer than other parts, but there was always surrounding beauty if we just stopped to take it in. And at some places the path was fairly visible up ahead while in other spots determing how to proceed was less clear.IMG_8477 This pretty much describes where I have been and where I am going with my writing. When I decided to lead a group of sixth grade girls in a Bible study seven years ago, I had no idea it would lead me to writing curriculum and especially not a book. I am not one of those people who has always wanted to write a book, but I am someone that saw a deep need and developed a growing passion for teens to know the God who loves them and is well-pleased, not because of their performance or perfectionism but because of His Son’s.

So I got on this unexpected path of becoming a published author without having any clue what that looked like. Now I know and when people ask, “What takes so long?” I know that answer too! I’ve learned having a publishing contract and a manuscript submitted does not mean the book is done! Actually, I think it just means things are getting started!

During the many months of the editing process, sentences, paragraphs and pages get scrapped or changed which means rethinking and rewriting. Initially seeing the red editing marks and critiquing comment bubbles on the computer screen panicked me. I wasn’t sure how I would be able come up with a better way to say what I thought I had already said well. But through the pruning process of being stretched in my writing, I feel confident the book is better for it.IMG_8456 Now I’ve entered the final stage (I think, at least) for this book. This is when the marketing begins and what you will be seeing lots more of in these months surrounding October 12th. Going hand in hand with the promoting and becoming a published author, I will be unveiling my new website – hopefully as early as next week! At that point this blog will be merged into the website and I will give you a new link. If all goes as planned all subscribers to this blog will automatically be subscribed to the new site and will then have the option to also receive my future monthly newsletter.

Again, a curve in the path. Not sure of all the details or what it is going to look like. Nor do I have any idea what this book or the next will lead to, though I am fairly certain I can expect things to continue to change. A conundrum that could make someone like me, who likes to control and know what’s ahead, crazy! But one of the biggest things God is changing in me is the ability to be at peace on the journey. To actually stop and smell the roses. To not try to sprint up ahead to see further up the path. And, to trust that the One who laid out the path and can see over the mountains and past the valleys will give me just what I need to follow where He leads. How thankful I am He is in the business of growing us in grace. For our good and His glory!IMG_8491 IMG_8470

Another Peak Behind the Scenes of our Teens’ Selfie Society

IMG_2898If the title of this blog sounds vaguely familiar you may remember reading my post in which I initially shared the teen survey link that I have used as foundational research for a manuscript I am currently working on. Today I have the privelege of sharing some of the information cultivated from these surveys in a guest blog post for Rooted Ministry.  

Rooted seeks to transform youth groups by focusing on grace-driven and Christ-centered teaching. They believe, as do I, the solution to preventing the mass exodus of students involved in youth ministry from leaving the church once they move on to college and adulthood is prioritizing the preaching of Christ’s work and worth. Hearing about who He is for them, as opposed to a focus on law-driven, morality-based teaching, is the life-giving message they must hear to be firmly rooted in Him.

I encourage you to read more on the Rooted site after picking up my post there today. You can read it by clicking here.

Let Freedom Ring

imagesFor many, this July 4th rings of new freedom and I suspect a more resounding proclamation of our country being a “sweet land of liberty.” While I do not wish to discuss the actual Supreme Court’s controversial decision that took over Facebook this past week, I do have a concerning observation because of it.

If freedom and rights are what were being fought for and discrimination the basis for the change in the law, what has happened to the freedom to hold a differing opinion?

From what I’ve seen play out online pro-supporters are free to rejoice while those who say anything against the decision are being ridiculed…or discriminated against.  Don’t get me wrong because I know much of the minority opinion has come in the form of hurtful attack and self-righteous slander and this is wrong. But by the same token for those like myself who hold firm to the Truth of the Bible I’m not so sure freedom still rings.

There is obviously a great divide in our country, this is nothing new. But in the shift in public thinking what appears to be happening from this side of the fence is an intolerance to the Christian point of view.

For the first time in my life I am very aware that what I believe is no longer culturally accepted and many are adamantly opposed. Historically there is nothing new about this for the Christian. Throughout time believers have been called to live counter-culturally. For some this has meant persecution and death, but rarely have American Christians been called out of our comfort zones. And, therefore, generally don’t venture there.

I’ld say the majority of Christians either: Prefer their holy huddles over engaging “the sinners out there” or, they have grown so complacent in their faith that it no longer characterizes their lives or sets them apart.  Similarly, the church at large tries so hard to be culturally relevant we miss seeing how much like the world we have become.

In the changing landscape of our country, Christians and the Church are needed not to serve as the purity police, to offer up feel-good messages of morality and law, or to retreat. Christians and the Church are called to go out in love, to show compassion and to speak truth.

For it is only in hearing the truth of God’s word – about the work and worth of Christ – that hearts will ever change.  Only by seeing how glorious and full of grace Jesus was toward undeserving sinners that He will be rightly understood.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Corinthians 1:18

“So Jesus said …“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Christians – Let Freedom Ring!

To Live as the Favorite Child

IMG_8198As I write this my kids have been away at camp for nine days already and I have received all of two letters. Yep – just two. Between three kids! I figured out if they each wrote everyday (like I do ;) ) that would be a total of 27 letters by now!

Seriously, it’s fine. Based on a previous track record I knew ahead of time that one wouldn’t write at all. That child didn’t even want stationery in the trunk and considering there were still stamped envelopes in there from three years ago, I decided it was time to hand those over to a different child.

Now the other two normally do write, but according to me daughter’s letter I think she is taking advantage of her rest time to get her Bolivian counselor’s help with her huge AP Spanish packet, due when school starts back! The other one – I assume is writing and drawing in his journal because that is what he likes to do, but who knows with him.

What I love though is both who wrote signed their letters as “Your Favorite Child.” They have given themselves this title, but I’m glad they feel such love and security that they live according to the status.  Because you know what?

This is how we should live as children of God.  We are all God’s Favorite Child! 

All of us! He doesn’t favor one over the other because one is a better Christian, does more good works or hasn’t committed certain sins. Nope – all of His children are His favorite children!

I had never thought about this until reading a chapter in Kay Wyma’s book I’m Happy for You (Sort of…Not Really) on “finding contentment in a culture of comparison” – a book I’ve shared once before here.

In the book she quotes author Henri Nouwen as saying:

“Our God…does not compare. Never… I cannot fathom how all of God’s children can be favorites. And still, they are… God loves with a divine love, a love that cedes to all women and men their uniquenss without ever comparing.”

How amazing is that!

In our humanness that is hard to comprehend when we seem to not be able to not compare! That is, after all, how favorites are chosen- comparing one to the other.  And I’m not talking about children, it’s how we decide our favorite anything. Favorite shoes, favorite food, favorite vacation. We compare and contrast to determine which one is better or best.

But how would it change things for you if you knew God is not comparing and contrasting you to your neighbor? To your Bible study friend? To the room mom? Nor is He comparing the addict who slipped up again or your spouse whose sin is seemingly so much greater than yours ;0 to you.

  • Wouldn’t it eliminate the striving to be good enough?
  • Wouldn’t it help you rest knowing you are okay just as you are? 
  • Wouldn’t it help you believe that it’s not about what we do, but what He did for us? 
  • Wouldn’t it also convict us of our pride by pointing out the ways we think we are better because of what we do or don’t do? 

So back to the “What If” game that I introduced in a recent post:

What if we lived as if we were God’s favorite child?

Wouldn’t that be freeing?!

This is Grace

IMG_8193After a long week of writing and too many dreary days, yesterday afternoon I made myself take a break from my manuscript to just go lay in the pool. I had my music playing on the Drew Holcomb station when a song came on that I almost clicked to pass over. Instead I ended up with tears streaming down my face.

Before I could even reach for my phone to forward to the next song, I became caught up in the words of the story.  A story being sung from a dad about his daughter with words that could no better capture Grace.

The song is Dance with Me by Ryna Long. You may want to listen to it on YouTube for the full emotional effect, but I share with you the lyrics here:

“There at the table my daughter and I
Just ate the last of my mother’s pie
It’s the 5th of December and I act like I don’t know
Where it is she wants to go
She pushed back a chair and took my hand
Come into the living room and put on my favorite band
Dad it’s my birthday don’t miss your chance
Ask me to dance

So I said dance with me
Dance with me Jen
I’d love to feel you in my arms again
Dance with me, Dance with me Jen

I’d love to feel you in my arms again

Several years later my daughter and I
Can’t get along no matter how hard I try
She got herself a boyfriend who lives on down our road
His intentions, I don’t know
So on her birthday that same year
I went and put on that music she loved to hear
Said girl it’s your birthday don’t wanna miss my chance
And asked you to dance

Chorus

She turned her head and grabbed her coat
She didn’t look back and she slammed the door
Took a bus down to Texas with that boy down the road
Had no idea that he’d leave her there alone
She was drinking in her freedom and weathering the cold
Too stuborn to come back home
She finally got a job at a night time club
She was dancing on tables for men she didn’t love
She thought if my daddy could see me now
He’d never take me back – no way, no how
And how she longed to hear him say

Dance with me, Dance with me Jen
I’d love to feel you in my arms again
Dance with me, Dance with me Jen
I’d love to feel you in my arms again

Found out from her boyfriend who lived down the road
He left her in Texas and he moved back home
He had her address and I drove all night long
Just to fine that she was gone
It was 10 in the morning when I found out what she did
Left a note at the club, got in my car and drove home again
When she read it she cried alone
Hopped a bus and headed home
It was that note it read:

Dance with me
Dance with me Jen
I’d love to feel you in my arms again”

This is The Grace God bestows on His children!  Like this daughter, there is nothing we do to earn or deserve His love, and there is nothing we can do to lose it. He gives it freely, not because of who we are but because of how great He is. This is what makes grace so amazing! When we begin to get grace like this I don’t think we can help but be moved – moved to worship Him more and moved toward others in compassion.

What If…

FullSizeRenderLast week I walked into the kitchen to hear my kids doing their “What if” game, if that’s what you can call it. It’s really not a game, but a passive way of putting each other down.

One of them would say something like “What if (insert name of sibling) wasn’t strong?” to which another one would reply, “What if nobody liked (insert name of sibling)?”

After listening for a few minutes to this unwholesome talk, it was put to a stop. But the way it originally got started was not like this. It was simply from the constant barrage of “What if” questions – mostly related to sports – from my youngest that got the rest of us referring to it as his “What if” game.

“What if KD left the Thunder?”

“What if SMU never got the death penalty?”

“What if I get drafted into the MLB?”

That kid loves a story and has quite an imagination so in asking the questions he really just wants someone to dream of future realities with him. Today I want to ask you to play the “What if” game with me.

Just for a moment or maybe throughout your day, let yourself think on this:

“What if we all lived out our calling to love others as we love ourselves?”

WHAT IF? 

I don’t even think we can comphrehend how this alone would change things in our marriages, families, relationships with friends, neighbors and strangers, our workplaces, schools, homes, communities, churches and world!

So let’s just play it out with a few scenarios.

What if instead of nitpicking our husbands about all the way he fails, we looked for ways to serve, encourage and respect? What if these simple gestures of grace made home – and us – a safe place instead of a place he wants to avoid because of the constant reminder of how he doesn’t measure up to our expectations of him as husband and dad? What if not feeeling so beaten down anymore led him to  initiate more family time and to show more thoughtful care and love toward you?

  • Do you think there would be less divorce?
  • Happier marriages?
  • More secure kids?

What if more secure kids meant instead of them constantly comparing themselves and worrying about what others think, they were satisfied with who they are? What if knowing and resting in their identity in Him instead of striving to be somebody else enabled them to take their eyes off themselves to see others in need of a friend. What if by befriending the one on the outside or noticing who was being excluded that person began to feel loved and significant?

  • Do you think that woulds start a chain reaction?
  • Do you think there would be more genuine friendships?
  • Less cattiness?
  • Less tearing others down to build oneself up?

What if we adults followed suit by making time for coffee with a friend going through a hard time or calling up someone we haven’t talked to in awhile instead of busying ourselves with own agendas? What if we weren’t so wrapped up in our own lives that we even knew a friend or neighbor was experiencing difficulty?

What if church members actually lived out the gospel they profess to believe by sharing their brokenness with one another instead of pretending things are perfect? What if by taking off the masks and letting others see our weaknesses and sin, it freed others to do the same?

  • Do you think there would be more forgiveness and grace?
  • Do you think that would build better, more transparent relationships?
  • Do you think this might even make us more content, joyful, thankful?

What if this wasn’t all just dreaming and by God’s grace we really lived…

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

How awesome to see how loving others better would actually impact and change our own corners of the world.

IMG_8169

Don’t want to miss a post? Interested in receiving my future monthly newsletter? Enter your email to sign up in the top right-hand box!

Two Things To Instill into Our Kids Before College

UnknownTypically I embrace summer with a slowed-down schedule, but the first two weeks of it have been anything but slow. Even with my kids leaving for camp in a couple of days, there will be no true respite this season since my second manuscript is due in August and plans for our church-plant’s particularization service need to be underway!

Finally though after a long-weekend out of town I have had time to at least sit and process some very significant events I have been a part of over the last few days: an adoption, a graduation, a wedding and a meeting with a university president.  There is much I could say about any one of the first three events as they were sweet reminders of God’s faithfulness and the blessing of family and dear friends. But with my daughter nearing college  it is the meeting with Baylor’s president, who also happens to be a famous Judge (think Clinton-era), that is at the forefront of my mind. 

images-1

Specifically, it was his answer to the question my daughter asked him:

What makes a successful student?

While many things could characterize a successful student, what he said, without missing a beat, sounds more descriptive of a student from a bygone generation than it does today. And to be honest, I think it’s more telling of our parenting than anything else.

The two things he listed:

  1. Determination
  2. Service

What followed was a conversation reflecting on today’s world of “iPhones, iPads and selfies” as indicitive of our me-mentality and self-first mindset.

While we do service projects they are often done to boost resumes or to help us feel good about ourselves. Though there are genuine acts of service, for most students and parents alike our overall concern is for Self. We do not love others as we ought and we care way more about ourselves being first, getting ahead, receiving recognition and achieving what we want than we do about diving in, rolling up our sleeves and walking alongside someone else.

When it is convenient, sure, we will do something nice for another. But, if it encroaches upon our time, not so much. If it costs us little, okay, but how often we bail when it requires major sacrifice of our time, money and emotional well-being – Self!

Along those same lines is a sense of self-entitlement. A belief that we deserve something – not because we have worked hard – but because of who we are. In today’s world our kids are accustomed to getting what they want, when they want. Whether it be the newest fashion, constant entertainment, special exceptions to the rules, extentions on projects or extra opportunitites, they know how to manipulate for the betterment of themselves.

I am not saying there are not kids who work extremely hard against all odds to acheive goals. There definitely are, but by in large we as parents do everything in our power to shield our kids from disappointment, hardship and consequences by coming to their rescue or doing things for them.

But how is this preparing them for college and beyond when we know the real world does not always give us what we want? What is going to happen when for the first-time they experience rejection, can’t talk their way into something or lack the funds to do what they want?  Will they sink into a self pity-party or be able to rise above?

From the president’s assessment of what a truly successful student looks like, I am reminded of something my husband often tell my sons in regard to their sports. That is most coaches would hands-down take a kid who is a hard worker and a team player over the one with most talent because hard work beats talent every time. And someone who works to make others great knows what it means to be great.

So how about instead of leading our kids to believe success comes from being the best, making it to the top, earning the most money, receiving the most accolades, getting the wins or what they want, we reorient them to these Biblical truths:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” Colossians 3:23

… love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

To see these things in my kids is what will make them Valedictorians in my book!

Unknown

When There Are No Answers

  • images-1Where was God this week when the family went missing from the floods in Texas?
  • If He is all-powerful, why didn’t He save them all?
  • Why does He allow for such tragedies?

These are our questions. Variations of these same questions have been asked throughout time. Yet God’s sovereignty, goodness, presence and power can’t ever be completely comprehended this side of heaven.

I wish this wasn’t how it is. I wish we had the foreknowledge to see well into the future – to know things were going to be okay. To see how God would use bad for good. To help us to trust Him better. But this isn’t how it is and that is what makes faith, faith.

So we are left to wrestle with our faith, our questions, our doubts and our anger.  And, yes, we can be angry at and question God. He knows what is in your mind anyway and if you look at the Psalms you will see people praying their pain.

“O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep…” Psalm 88:1-6

This is how honest we can be before Him. And for those who are grieving and mourning the loss of loved ones, you do not have to sugar-coat the real feelings you feel. You don’t have to put a Christian-spin on your pain and pretend your faith is so great you don’t question.

One of my husband’s seminary professors used to say, “I pray for people when they are suffering that God would protect them from other Christians.” Christians who mean well but actually add more hurt by throwing out spiritual platitudes to try to help. 

So though we don’t know the whys, we have a God who knows what it is like to lose a Son and Savior who knows what it’s like to suffer.  A Savior who left his heavenly throne to enter in to the brokenness of this world so He could identify with us as Friend.

He did not come just to suffer for us, but He came to suffer with us. So now we have a resource to turn to with all of our questions, all of our hurts, all of our pain and all of our suffering. 

By God’s grace may we know this One who is a Friend to the broken-hearted and may we feel His presence near.

imagesDon’t want to miss a post? Interested in receiving my future monthly newsletter? Enter your email to sign up in the top right-hand box! For an additional post on the God’s sovereignty, see: When Disaster Strikes.

The Power in Our Words

When my son walked in the door on the last day of school he immediately pulled out his yearbook to show me what one of his fifth grade teachers had written. All year she has praised him for his journal writing and commented on how many journals he filled. He never was without a story to tell, which even surprised me, as a writer, knowing there are just some days that I’ve got nothing!

When I opened his yearbook to see her note I knew exactly why he was smiling and so eager to show me this…FullSizeRender Because she thinks he will be a famous sports writer, he believes he will!  

All year he has said this is what he wants to be when he grows up (after his professional baseball career ends, of course :) ) But, it wasn’t until the next morning when she texted me that I realized the extent to which the power of her encouraging words have impacted him. IMG_7975

“YOU ARE THE REASON I WANT TO BE A SPORTS WRITER!”

Of course! She is the one who has fostered this dream! Her encouragement has given him the confidence to believe he is a good writer and just having that belief is enough to motivate him to keep writing and to not be afraid to put his thoughts down. What a gift that is to him whether becoming a sports writer is ultimately what he pursues or not!

Simple words of encouragement can change our kids (and anyone else), just as simply as negative feedback changes them too. Our words are either a gift or a curse, but too often we forget to consider the real power of our words. Too often we only see what needs correction or change and neglect to give the life-giving words of praise.

I am so guilty of this. I see it in the faces of my kids when the first words out of my mouth communicate they have fallen short of my expectations. Just as I see the satisfying smile when they know I am proud of them.

The truth is my love is not tied to their performance and neither is God’s. But I see how they could think otherwise. 

By God’s grace I will speak more words of encouragement and affirmation instead of words that sink them into thinking they are not good enough and stifle their self-assurance. Words like-

  • “You look beautiful!” instead of “Is that what you’re wearing?”
  • “You make me laugh!” instead of “I’m trying to do something and you are so loud.”
  • “I’m proud of you for working so hard” instead of “Why didn’t you get an A?”
  • “You are so thoughtful!” when they treat their siblings special or help around the house instead of just remarking on where they fail.

Words like-

  • Thank you for being so patient when I was not.
  • I love how compassionate you are toward those who are hurting.
  • I love how your eyes light up when you smile.
  • I love that you aren’t afraid to try something new.
  • I love that you acted as your “brother’s keeper!”
  • I love you!

Words that breathe confidence and life. Words we should also be speaking to our spouses, friends, neighbors, kids’ teachers, pastor, the woman checking us out at the grocery store, the man in line next to us at the post office and the young mom with the crying baby on the plane.

You get the point – we all need to be encouraged and we all have the ability through our words to bring light and encouragement. So, thank you to my teacher/friend who reminded me of the power of words by the way she communicated to my son that he is a great writer. Perhaps someday you really will see him on ESPN :) !

Don’t want to miss a post? Interested in receiving my future monthly newsletter? Enter your email to sign up in the top right-hand box!  For an additional post on the power of words, you can read: Hurtful Words or Sticks and Stones?

Growing Up Along with our Kids

IMG_7905After twelve consecutive years in an elementary school, the curtain is closing on this chapter of our lives. When my first two moved on to middle school it felt like such big steps, but this time around my youngest and I are more than ready. 

Watching him transform into a teen-in-the-making this year has reminded me of how he was back in half-day kindergarten– just chomping at the bit to move up with the big kids. So though my baby will bid goodbye to a place he has called home for six years and to teachers whom we adore, there will be no tears.

IMG_7942

Thank goodness, no tears, considering how often I’ve cried lately over my oldest who is sailing into her senior year.  Makes me wonder based on our readiness for the youngest’s next stage, if by the time he is graduating high school that will be different too. Is that even possible to be ready for empty-nester-hood?!

I can’t imagine that now. It sounds so sad to have them all grown up and out of the house, but I am guessing just like now, he will be more than ready to spread his wings. And, maybe (just maybe) seeing him ready and having watched the older two go through it, I’ll be ready too. 

We’ll see… But I have noticed typically when we are in a certain life stage looking to what’s ahead seems scary, sometimes causing us to want to cling tightly to where we are.  

Just think about prior to becoming a parent and feeling unprepared to raise a child.  Then upon having one, God instantly gave just what was needed to care for the baby only now you are already looking in fear to what’s next.  Again, God gave you the ability and wisdom and before you know it you are onto the next stage that had also seemed overwhelming in the past.

I remember dreading when we would no longer have quiet evenings at home with the kids in bed at 8pm. Just the thought of having to be out of the house every night for all the kid activities sounded exhausting. And while it can be and an unexpected night at home is nice, the thrill of watching my kids play ball and do what they love while also socializing with the parents of their  teammates is something I love. In fact, with all the rain lately forcing our games to be cancelled I have felt sad stuck in the house and not out on the ball field!

Today I would never trade our life with teenagers to go back in time. Although easier emotionally back then, the joy in seeing my people mature and the conversations we now have is amazing. Six years ago though when my oldest was headed into the middle school years it was scary. 

Something wonderful I’ve discovered along the way is God is growing us alongside our kids! He makes us ready and gives us the grace to walk in what He has put before us. He grants us wisdom, experience, the ability to endure and to persevere through it all.

Knowing this has been true gives me hope for tomorrow (or rather next year) that even with college looming it too will be a stage to fully embrace and love as much as every other. Until then – you’ll find me clinging to where we are, wishing I could stop the clock!IMG_7947