Stay Where You Can See Me

My pastor recently preached about the storm on Lake Gennesaret in which Jesus walks on the water, then Peter walks out to Jesus, but turns his attention to the storm and begins to sink. One of the lessons from that sermon was: If it gets so dark that you can’t see, remember, just because you can’t see Jesus, doesn’t mean He can’t see you. As long as He can see you, you are going to make it.

This is absolutely true, but it got me to thinking about when we would go on an outing with our boys when they were little. When they were infants and toddlers, they were always in a stroller or a shopping cart. When they were children, they walked with us, but had to hold our hands. When they got a little older, they didn’t have to hold our hands, but they still had to stay right beside us. Eventually our boys were old enough to be allowed to put a little distance between us and them in a store, but I always told them, “Stay where you can see me.” While the traditional advice is, “Stay where I can see you,” I chose the inverse because, in my way of thinking, if they could see me, I most likely could see them too, which ensured their safety.

One difference in parents and Jesus is that He can always see where we are. Scripture even refers to God as El Roi—the God who sees. David praised God in Psalm 139 for knowing where he was at all times: “You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me.” As parents we try our very best to keep our eyes on our children at all times, but if they are to learn any independence, we have to let them out of our sight from time-to-time. Unlike human parents, God never loses sight of us, even when we stray from Him.

One similarity between children and followers of Christ is that when we get comfortable with our situation, we can get distracted by things around us, like Peter’s storm or a shiny toy, and take our eyes off the one who’s looking out for us. Like a lost child, this can lead us into situations we are not equipped to handle. Storms and distractions are going to come in life, but if we commit ourselves to “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Heb. 12:2a, NLT), we will be able to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And…run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Heb. 12:1, NLT).

Jesus can see you. Stay where you can see Him.

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What I Know

I know what post-partum depression feels like. Fortunately, it was brief and I had support, but there’s a real disconnect there. What should be a time of joy is devoid of emotion and desire.

I know what anxiety feels like. It’s over-planning so that nothing goes wrong. It’s over-thinking so that every last possibility is thought through. It’s dreading doing fun things away from home because it’s way outside your comfort zone and your normal area of control.

I know what it is to experience panic attacks, irritable bowel syndrome, and stress/tension-induced migraines. They are painful, and nauseating, and frustrating, and debilitating, and frustrating, and confusing. (I noticed the repeat of the word “frustrating” in editing and decided it would be more appropriate to leave it!)

I know the thoughts that go through your mind when the doctor runs all the tests and the blood work is fine, but he leaves the decision about medicating up to you.

I know how important it feels to seem to have it all together.

I know how it feels when someone you care about attempts suicide. It makes you wonder what you could have done to help them and what they could have done to help themselves. It infuriates you that they didn’t consider how you would feel if they died. It scares you to no end that they might succeed next time—because there’s often a next time. And then it makes you ashamed that you got mad at them, because you know it’s much bigger than rational thought can account for.

I also know the damage that is done from the idea that praying and reading the Bible and having more faith will fix everything. Don’t get me wrong, my Jesus can fix anything. But, we are in these mortal bodies, and, sometimes with mortality comes difficulty. We know so much more now about science and medicine than we used to, which why we see so many more babies make it out of the NICU and cancers in remission, for example. But, often, emotional challenges and mental illness are treated like they’re a spiritual issue or something people should just get over. Many of these challenges can be managed with spiritual guidance and natural remedies, which are great resources, but I am so very proud of my friends and others who seek counseling/psychiatric care to support them. And I can’t speak highly enough of those who have utilized the gifting and wisdom of their doctors and the medication they prescribe to aid them in managing these difficulties.

The recent suicides of celebrities have brought this issue back into the spotlight, but let’s not forget that there are people around us struggling every single day just to keep going one more day. And they’ll be there next week and next month when it’s not in the headlines. Let’s do our part to remove the stigma of mental illness.

 

Romans 8:31-39, NLT

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Goals? Same.

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A few weeks ago in anticipation of my 20th wedding anniversary I created this collage and made it my Facebook cover photo. I showed it to my 14-year-old “niece” last week who awwwwwed and then looked up and simply said, “goals.” I know that in today’s vernacular, people (i.e. kids these days 🙂 ) use that word to refer to something they admire and aspire to. For the last week, the best response I can come up with for my niece is: “same.” (Older folks may be more familiar with the word “ditto.”) In a world where social media seems to be part of the fiber of our being, it’s easy to find plenty of “goals” that we compare ourselves to. Instead of admiring others and celebrating with them, we focus on ourselves and what we think we think we are lacking, which results in feeling like we will never measure up. No one said it better than Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The thing is, most of the time we’re only posting goal-worthy statuses, photos, and experiences. And that’s okay. Life is full of ups and downs, and social media isn’t necessarily the place to put the downs. With all that’s in me I want my marriage to be an example to my kids and my friends’ kids. But more importantly, I want them to know that the photos above are just exactly what my niece called them: “goals.” This is why we can’t allow the threat of hypocrisy to keep us from acknowledging the days when we have made great steps towards our goals. It’s important to celebrate and share our blessings; it’s also important to know that those are just a part of life.

What you see in this collage is everything from a sorority dessert party in college—faces of two young, dumb kids full of dreams and hopes for the future—to this year’s Easter photo—faces of two not-so-young people full of anticipation of worship and celebrating with friends. What you don’t see is the other part that happens along the way: the struggling to make ends meet, the disagreements, the tears, the apologies, the sacrifices, the getting annoyed at stupid little things, the illnesses, the crises, and all of the other stuff that comes with spending part of nearly every day with someone for 20 years. But the downs are what make the ups all the sweeter. We can post about the happy times because we have worked hard and earned them.

The Lord addressed this very thing long before social media. We sometimes forget that Scripture is given to us to help us, not just to give us rules. The last of The Ten Commandments can be quite a struggle for us these days: “You must not covet….” Merriam-Webster defines “covet” as “to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another.” The Life Application Bible explains that “coveting includes envy—resenting the fact that others have what you don’t.” A great way to avoid this is to remember that when we post the ups and we see other people’s ups, those are probably goals for the person posting as much as for the person following. So, instead of comparing ourselves to other people, let’s be the first to celebrate each others’ ups and renew our own goals, knowing that the person posting is probably doing the same.

 

P.S. If you really want to see goals, my husband’s grandparents celebrate their 65th anniversary the day before our 20th.

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Tips for a Lasting Marriage (Part 2)

Just like the movies, here’s the sequel a year later. After 21 Valentine’s Days with my husband, I guess I get to act like I know what I’m talking about, so here are this year’s tips.

Do Stuff Together

It’s so important to find activities that you enjoy doing together. For a lot of years, the only option we had was putting the kids to bed at 8:00 and watching TV or playing cards. And now that our kids are much bigger and we are much older, we still love doing it and even need it—just in our recliners now! It is nice, though, to be able to just take off for the day together sometimes. We also have found it enjoyable to spend time together at our kids’ activities. Many evenings and weekends have been spent together on the sidelines. Getting together with our friends, either with or without all of our children, is another activity we both enjoy. We share a favorite fiction author and mutually enjoy a few others. Pursuing our faith together is important to us, so I participate in the Sunday morning church class and service he leads. I know some people who actually enjoy working out together! There’s no wrong or right here, just make a point to do stuff together. Quality and quantity both matter.

Do Stuff Separately

Yes, two become one, but you’re still you, and you can’t be you if you never have your own thing. My husband struggles to find the time, but I wholeheartedly encourage him to go fly fishing when he gets the chance. Sometimes he goes by himself, and other times he goes with his friends. Rarely do I tag along, certainly not without some convincing!

I have taken up crochet in the last year. My man supports me in this and encourages me to attend my crochet club meetings, but it’s not something he will ever find himself doing! It’s imperative to note that I couldn’t survive without my close circle of girlfriends. The time spent on Girls Nights Out and group messaging is invaluable.

In addition to the authors my husband and I both enjoy, we each have books we like that the other just won’t touch. Even though we study and worship together on Sundays, our separate ministries are important to us as well. On Wednesdays, he leads an in-depth Bible study, and I lead a Women’s Bible study group.

Your relationship will benefit from the time spent apart, especially if you take the opportunity to do the stuff you enjoy. The adage is true for even the briefest of periods: absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Let It Go

This one’s a bit different than the other two, but it correlates to last year’s tips. If you’re going to practice forgiveness in marriage, you have to be willing to let go of a lot of things. One of the hardest of those is the need to be right or to prove your point. Often it doesn’t matter how right you are, it just isn’t worth the fight.

2 Timothy 2:23-24 instructs us on this issue: “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” Now look at this and replace “everyone” and “people” with your spouse’s name. Not an easy task, but it is possible with the Lord’s help. By following the wisdom in the aforementioned Scriptures, we can avoid the consequences mentioned in Proverbs 18:19: “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” If this kind of separation can happen with friends, it can certainly happen with spouses. Let’s do all we can to prevent it.

I haven’t learned the “let it go” concept as well as I’d like, but I have learned that I need to learn it, and that’s a start.

What do you and your spouse enjoying doing together and separately? What tips would you add for a lasting marriage?

Help. Don’t Help.

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I’m a list maker. A doer. A problem solver. A fixer. A helper.

I like to make things better.

Can you relate?

Unfortunately, some attempts to make things better, tend to make them much, much worse. There are some things that not only are not fixable by us, they aren’t fixable at all! And a lot of times, even if we can help, even if we can make it better, it doesn’t mean it’s our place to do so—nor does it mean the other people involved want us to try to solve their challenges.

In these cases, our efforts to help only serve the purpose of making us feel better. We really can have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for thinking we had all the answers, or knew exactly which Scriptures to say, or took the best casserole in the meal train. There is a time and place for each of these efforts to help, but we need to be sure they are wanted and that they are done with the right motives.

So, in the situations where our version of “help” is neither wanted nor needed, what should people like us do? My teenage boys tell me the only thing to be done is to say, “That sucks!” (To which I quickly respond, “You know I don’t like that word!”) Language aside, their point is well-taken. Most of the time, when someone shares their burden with us—however small or large it may be—they simply want us to hear them. They aren’t asking for answers or action; they’re asking us to care. Just knowing someone else cares about them and the issue they are dealing with is enough to help carry their load. But too often we’re, perhaps unintentionally, like the “fools” in Proverbs 18:2 who “have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.”

Even adding a comment as seemingly innocuous as, “I understand what you’re going through,” can often add a level of frustration and misundertanding that undermines our efforts at being compassionate. The truth is, no one, not one single person, can truly understand what another is going through. We often see this at the passing of a loved one. When I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s at 59, I recoiled every time someone mentioned their grandparent who had passed in their 80s with it. While they were making an effort at solidarily, instead of helping ease my grief, it made me feel even more cheated. Financial difficulty, job challenges, parenting issues, whatever the challenge may be, we can’t ever really put ourselves in another’s shoes, no matter how hard we may try. In these times, as difficult as it may be for us, I challenge us to limit our responses to the following three statements.

  1. “That stinks!” (Or some variation thereof: How awful! I’m so sorry! What a pain!)
  2. “May I pray for you?” Not just saying, “thoughts and prayers,” but actually praying for them right then and there, and continuing to do so after the conversation has ended.
  3. “Is there anything I can do to help?” If the answer is, “No,” then that just has to be okay. We simply cannot try to solve problems we haven’t been asked to solve. However, if we ask this question, we’d better be prepared to fulfill the need should the answer be, “Yes.” Even if the help they ask for is not the kind of help we are accustomed to giving, we need to be willing to give the help they need. Galatians 6:3 actually chastises us if we do not help others: “If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” Let’s just be sure to take this verse with the one before it, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” If the best way to share each other’s burdens is is listening, then let’s listen! If it’s prayer, then let’s pray! If it’s tangible help, then let’s babysit, bake a casserole, give them a ride—but not unless it’s the help they need, and not what we think will fix it.

So next time someone is telling us about a challenge they are dealing with, let’s step outside of ourselves and really hear what they are saying and care for them the way they need to be cared for.

Celebrating You!

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This is a day to celebrate! And you are the guest of honor. Maybe you have already changed diapers or chauffeured kids to school or balanced the bank account or started your work day. Congratulations! You, dear sister, are fulfilling your purpose. God is using you this very day to have an impact on His Kingdom. He has created and chosen you, and you alone, for this. No one else can be you or fulfill your calling.

Genesis 1:27 tells us we are created in the image of God Himself. 1 Peter 2:9 describes us as “chosen,” “royal,” “holy,” and “God’s very possession.” That means you! Regardless of how anyone else sees you, or how the world says you should be, this is how God sees you and how He enables you to view yourself.

The Lord’s instructions to the people of Israel in Isaiah 43:1 apply to you, too:  “Listen to the Lord who created you…the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.’” Even on those days when you feel like you don’t measure up and no one cares, know that you are His. When you make mistakes, or you barely check anything off your to-do list, know that you are His. You may never be famous, and your name may never be well-known in this world, but always remember that the One who matters knows your name and has called you by it.

And in those times when you grow weary of trying to meet expectations, be reminded that it is worth the effort to “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Choose your work wisely. You do not have to do everything people ask of you. There will always be someone who is disappointed in you for something. Many times, you may find you are disappointed in yourself even more than anyone else is, but the Master you are serving adores you and will reward you for doing the work He has called you to do. Fulfill your purpose and your calling each day.

So, Royal Princess, change those diapers as unto the Lord! Chosen Daughter, love your husband as unto the Lord. Holy Sister, sing, dance, work, drive, play, study, worship, teach, etc. Whatever your calling is, do it with the knowledge that the Sovereign Lord has called you by name, as he did Queen Esther, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), and you will receive your inheritance as your reward.

Teens in Church

Maybe, just maybe, part of the reason teenagers leave the church is because grownups assume they’re all bad and accuse them of misbehavior on a regular basis. Would you want to go to a place where people stereotype you? Isn’t it supposed to be the place where everyone is accepted? What if the teen actually is a bad kid—how is scolding them going to help? And if they’re not a bad kid or doing anything wrong, how does it encourage them to continue on a good path if they’re lumped with the rest? Is this the “Church” Jesus founded?

Here’s an idea: if you’re concerned about teenagers’ behavior, talk TO them—not AT them.

You just might find out that they are honors student-athletes, who have attended “your” church for over a decade, have been saved for more years than that, have been baptized (in water & the Holy Spirit) and are just on their phones because they’re waiting on their parents to wrap up one ministry before moving to the next—so they do, in fact, have a good reason for being in the hall.

Or you might find out that they have come to church without their parents because they need somewhere to feel accepted.

They might even need you to lead them to Jesus—instead of the exit.

Contrary to popular belief, teenagers don’t need loud music, flashy lights, and advanced technology to come to church. What they do need is: sincerity, the truth of the Word (not feel-good, surface-level soundbites), to feel wanted when they are there, and to feel missed when they aren’t. Not so different than any of the rest of us, huh?

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children'” (Matt 19:14, NLT).

I’m of the opinion that this applies to teenagers too, so let’s stop fussing at and about them, and let them come to us. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll stay with us.

Lemon Cake

My son has a knack for asking for interesting cakes for his birthday, like this Triple Lemon Cake, this M&M & Kit Kat Cake and this Donut Cake. For his brothers I have also done Twizzlers & Candy Bar Cake and Reese’s Pieces & Kit Kat Cake. This year, when he asked for a lemon cake again, I decided to go with a family favorite.

My husband’s grandmother was so very kind a few years ago to make me a book with copies of recipes in her handwriting, as well as her mother’s handwriting. This Lemon Cake recipe is one of those treasures.

 

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Lemon Cake

1 pkg Lemon Cake Mix
1 box Lemon Jell-o
4 eggs
1 3/4 c. Oil
3/4 c. water

Blend ingredients at medium speed. Put in greased and [well] floured tube pan. Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Remove and punch holes all over with ice pick. Pour over a glaze made of 2 cups powered sugar with 8-9 tablespoons lemon juice. (I find that 5-6 tablespoons of juice is sufficient, and you end up with more than enough glaze, so you could probably cut back on powdered sugar also.)

Enjoy with a glass of milk.

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Let me know how yours turns out!

Tips for a Lasting Marriage (Part 1)

This being my 20th Valentine’s Day with my husband, I want to share some of what I think makes a marriage last.

Work
Marriage takes effort, and it’s worth working and fighting for. Every situation is different, but in most cases, marriages can survive—and thrive—with real effort. As Philip Stanhope said “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” And as Colossians 3:23 (NIV) says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” If there was ever anything worth working at with all your heart, it’s marriage! I’ve seen couples come back from seemingly hopeless situations—through prayer, counseling, and WORK! You chose to be in love with your spouse in the first place—keep making that choice, even when it’s not easy.

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The Stupid Box

(Or How to Be Ready for Anything)

My boys have been involved in sports for about 11 years now. At our busiest: the youngest played recreational (think little league) soccer; the middle had travel soccer and middle  school cross country in the fall and middle school soccer and chess team in the spring; and the eldest had travel soccer in the fall and high school soccer in the spring. That was a crazy year, especially with none of them driving. Since then we’ve also had seasons in which the eldest two played on travel teams for clubs in two different counties and the youngest also played recreational soccer. And if that weren’t enough, they all three played indoor soccer this last winter (it was the eldest’s third season), thus insuring we never go more than 3 weeks without a soccer game. Oh, but don’t worry, the high schoolers are spending LOTS of time prepping for the spring season already! All of our events (games, meets, tournaments, etc.) are held in Tennessee and Georgia, two wonderful states where you never quite know what the weather is going to be. And soccer seasons usually start out in one weather season and end up in another. March 3 to the middle of May, or July to the middle of December, can run the gamut of temperatures. Not to mention how rain and snow can affect a season!

I give all that background to say: you name it, we’ve seen it! I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way, and since high school soccer starts in a few weeks, I’m sharing them with you—so you too can be prepared for anything.

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