Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I once traveled to West Virginia, (Once was enough…Oh, I’m just kidding!) and was disturbed by the number of dead deer on the side of the interstate. Apparently West Virginia is not a good place to be a deer. Since returning to Alabama to live, I have noticed Alabama’s not a good place to be an armadillo.

Used to be opossums had a high mortality rate here, but I think that armadillos have taken the top spot. I once heard a joke that went like this:

“Why does a chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum it can be done!”

Well, these days, someone needs to help out the armadillos.

Almost every time I venture onto Interstate 59 through Birmingham, I see the remains of a too-slow armadillo. I’ve recently learned that armadillos have been in south Alabama for a while, but they are moving steadily north. I’ve sworn to my kids that should I ever see one alive I am going to catch it and bring it home if only to prove to them that live ones do exist. I should be able to catch one, they apparently aren’t all that fast.

I’ve not heard a public outcry over the loss of so many armadillos.
I know they aren’t all that cute, furry, or cuddly. But are we only saddened over the loss of the cute, furry and cuddly? Maybe we are. We do tend to place higher value on attractiveness.

I recently heard someone tell the story of how a young teenage girl was involved in a car accident, losing her leg as a result, and how the tragedy was made worse because she was so beautiful. I’m not even sure the person telling the story was aware that they had made that qualification.

Would the situation have been any less tragic if the girl had been less than beautiful?

It’s just human nature that we value beauty. I once heard of a study where infants were shown photos of different faces. Some beautiful, some, well… not. The babies all seemed to prefer the photos of the beautiful faces, their gazes lingering longer on those photos. Interesting.

I think, however, whenever someone excuses something as human nature, we need to be cautious. It should sound bells and whistles of warning in our heads. It’s human nature that gets us into trouble every time. It’s what got Adam and Eve kicked out of the garden, left Israel wandering in the desert for forty years, and Jesus crucified.

The Bible tells us that man looks upon outward appearances, but God looks on the heart. It’s hard for us to do that. It’s hard to know someone’s heart, but I think we are supposed to try, and that means we have to open ourselves up to relationships.

I once took care of an older gentleman in the hospital who had been injured years ago in an explosion. His face, neck, torso, and arms and hands were all damaged in the blast. After dozens of reconstructive surgeries, his appearance was still marred. If I am completely honest, had I encountered him casually somewhere I would not have likely thought, “Now there’s someone I want to know.”

Yet after spending a few moments in conversation with him as his nurse, I found his outlook on life inspiring. I also found that rather than sitting back all these years and feeling sorry for himself, he chose to speak to kids in burn/trauma units in an attempt to encourage them to keep going even though recovery from major burns is just the hardest recovery there is. Most in this world would devalue him based on his appearance, but to God this man is priceless and has much to offer.

I love the Brandon Heath song, “Give Me Your Eyes”. So many times, I’d just like to be able to see through God’s eyes as I look at people. I know there is so much that I miss when I look at others with my own limited vision. I’d love to be able to see past a pretty face to a broken heart, or past a somewhat homely face to see a heart of gold.

Body Parts Everywhere

Have you ever taken a personality test? How about a spiritual gifts inventory assessment? Both can be quite revealing. I’ve done both a few times. I’ve noticed over time that while my personality test results remain consistent, my spiritual gifts assessments do not always. I find that curious…
Forever my highest score on those assessments was the gift of mercy. Now mercy is like sixth on the list! I’m not sure what happened there. So if you find you looking to me for some mercy, perhaps you should keep looking. Used to, I’d pick up every stray animal on the side of the road. I’d also pull over for a turtle in the middle of the road, get out of my car, and move it out of harm’s way.
Sometimes having the mercy gift can be costly.
I brought one large turtle home for my kids to see, put it in my new garden tub to wait until they got home, and later found it’s shell had scratched up my tub! Come to think of it, that was the last stray I brought home… Well to my home.
I once rescued a cute little puppy from a deserted road. Since I didn’t have a fenced yard to keep it in, I dropped it off in my friend’s back yard, and left her a message about the dog saying I would find it a home. Her husband got home first, and decided he’d keep the dog himself, that is until it ate all their shrubbery, dug holes all in their fenced in yard, and chewed through their air conditioning lines. The gift of mercy can be costly. It quite nearly cost me a friend!
Still, I was quite disappointed that my gift of mercy had waned a bit, and equally surprised at what had moved up to the top spots. Things like apostleship, exhortation, and teaching. Wow. Now, I don’t prize one gift over another, (the Bible frowns on that) but I was simply surprised.
This unexpected change came to light as my husband and I had the opportunity to go with our three oldest kids to church and take personality tests and gifts assessments. It’s a new church for us, and it’s their way of helping new folks flesh out where they can best serve in the church.
It was a cool thing to get to do with our three older kids. We took the personality test first. This particular test is called the DISC. The test is based on the premise that there are four major personality types among people, and that most of the time we will fit into one of those categories more than the other three.
None of us were surprised with the results. I’ve often said my oldest son is me with boy parts. We laughed when our scores matched almost exactly. Neither were we shocked to see that my second son scored closely with his dad’s personality traits. And no one was surprised at my daughter’s results. She is a perfect mix of both my husband and me.
If you’ve never had an opportunity to look at yourself through the eyes of these types of inventories, I suggest you give it a try. The Bible talks about how we are all important parts of the body and how we all have an important function within the body of Christ. One that we were Tailor made to do.
I’ve seen churches that will take any willing body to do any needed job, whether the person’s giftedness is in that area of service or not. It rarely ends well.
We were all made to do something that only we can do.
If everyone in the body of Christ could find that thing they were made to do within the body of Christ, how much more would the church actually look like Jesus? What’s the one thing you are to do within the body? If you’re not sure, maybe a spiritual gifts inventory is a good place to start.

Lost Sheep

The only time I can recall that Jesus ever showed contempt for anyone was when He became frustrated with religious church folks. They just didn’t get it. I don’t ever see an account of Jesus showing contempt for the lost.

Sometimes I don’t think we get it either.

Lately I’ve seen a good many church folks looking down their noses at the lost. We expect the sick to behave as though they’ve been healed, and when they don’t we judge them out the wahzoo. We choose not to get too close for fear of getting dirty. We forget what it was like for us before we came to know Jesus.

Reaching out takes effort and planning. It doesn’t just happen.

My husband and I have always chosen to send our kids to public school. It was a conscious decision we made, just as parents who home school or send their kids to private/Christian schools make that conscious decision for their kids. For us, as we worked in ministry, it was about infusing our family into the community in which we lived. It was another way to rub elbows with those outside the Kingdom. I’m thinking that at the time, we had no idea what that decision would mean for our kids.

It’s not been without its down side.

For example:

When my oldest son started kindergarten, he came home from school the first week, told me he had learned five bad words at school, and he knew what three of them meant. He shared them with me, in alphabetical order, and defined the ones he knew. Great. And that was just the beginning.

Being children of the light in a dark world can be hard on kids.

As they’ve grown older, one of the biggest challenges for our kids has been learning how to keep a Kingdom mindset about the kids who don’t know Jesus. It’s having compassion over contempt. That can be hard. There are plenty of godless kids on the bus, in their classes, and in the school hallways. They use bad language, illegal drugs, and take part in all kinds of activities that will lead them down roads better left untraveled.

It would be easy for my kids to sit back and point a judgmental finger. It would be easy to have contempt and become frustrated. It would be easier still for me to have them stay completely away from those kids, but that’s not the life we have chosen.

What would be Jesus-like about that? Jesus said He came to seek the lost and heal the sick. I know my kids aren’t Jesus, but they are to be His hands and feet. I want my kids to have great Christian friends who will hold them accountable, and help keep them from stumbling, but I also want my kids to have a heart to help bring as many other kids to Jesus as they can. To do that, they have to put themselves out there and have Christ-like compassion.

My youngest son has a Star Wars action figure collection. He has dozens of these he has collected over the years. Recently, he lost one. Stop the world. He wanted off. He turned the house upside down looking for it. Foolishly I said, “You have tons of others, just play with them.” The look of shock on his face was huge. His reply was this, “But that one is special. I have to find it.” And he searched for days until he did.

That reminds me of the parable of the good Shepherd. Remember that story? Jesus said that a good Shepherd who owns one hundred sheep, and who has one go missing, will leave the ninety-nine to go find the one. It’s doesn’t matter that he still has ninety-nine good, obedient sheep.

He cares about the lost one.

There’s no better example of how it isn’t about us than that. We have to stop thinking it’s about us.

That parable is our example to follow. We could sit around and hold hands with all the Christians we know, criticizing the lost folks, or we can go get them and help bring them home. They might be dirty from their travels, but they’ll clean up just fine. It’s not easy, but its the life I want for myself, and it’s the life I hope we are teaching our kids to have.

Church Lady

We recently joined a really big church. Really big.

So big, in fact, that they have multiple identical services, at multiple locations and times. We still usually choose to go Sunday mornings at the main church. We just like that. But this weekend we chose to go to the Sunday evening service.

It felt weird to be at home on a Sunday morning. We slept in. Not our norm. It was nice, I’ll admit, but odd. Even more odd was my weekly grocery trip. I went this morning, apparently with all the other sinner/losers not at Sunday morning church. I was surprised at all the folks there. I felt the need to scream, “I’m going to church tonight! It’s an identical service to the one going on right now! Really, I’m not blowing off church for groceries! I love Jesus!”

Honestly I didn’t care. I just pretended to be backslidden, godless, and unconcerned.

I went about my business of shopping, and forgot about the fact that I was shopping during my normal church time. That is, until I was ready to go and was trying to find a short line in which to check out. Even on Sunday morning it was difficult.

Finally I spotted one, and I was making a beeline for it when a lady in a pretty black blouse and slacks suddenly cut me off. Had there been gravel to sling it would have pelted me as she slid in line just in front of me. As she staked her claim in line she turned to me and said,

“I’m sorry, I hope you don’t mind. I have to pick my son up from Sunday school, and I don’t want to be late.”

I chuckled at her, and said, “Sure. No biggie.” I mean, dressed in my jeans and ratty t-shirt I obviously didn’t need to be anywhere nearly so important, did I?

And then something occurred to me. I usually do my shopping for groceries after church with the godly masses on Sunday. It’s usually a horrific experience. So many people, so little room.

Getting up and down the aisles is like working your way through a maze with dazed people all in the way. But today, shopping with the heathen was great. The aisles were clear, the people were nice, and they politely moved aside if they saw I needed by. In the south, even the backslidden have manners.

The only self-proclaimed churchgoer in the building was the one who made sure she pushed her way to the front, and put her needs above everyone else’s. It made me laugh, and then it made me cringe. How many times do we Christians come off that way?

Have you ever had someone cut you off in traffic only to find they have a fish symbol stuck to the back of their car? I’ve heard from waiters and waitresses that Christians are the chinciest customers of all, leaving little or no tip for the service they get. We don’t always paint Christianity in the best light. Often the picture we portray is everything Christianity isn’t.

As for the church lady who cut me off in line… What if I was not a believer? How would that insensitivity have come across to me then? It would probably only reinforce once again why I would never want to be one of those people.

Still, I have to ask myself, how many times has that lady been me?

Last First Day

Well it’s back to school time, and I packed my crew off to their first day of school today.

We have a first day of school tradition. I always make the kids stand still long enough to snap a first day of school picture. I can’t say it’s their favorite thing, but they humor me. I love to go back through them, and see how much the kids change from year to year as they scurry off to school. Truth told, so do they. It truly is amazing how much they change from year to year.

It’s what happens when you feed kids. They grow.

I have to just about force feed my youngest kid. He’s not a big eater. I call him my pseudo vegetarian. He’s not a real fan of protein. He’ll eat his weight in rice, but who wants to fix rice every day? The others have their own food likes and dislikes. My kids are taking their lunches to school this year, and deciding what to pack in each lunchbox has been taxing.

My kids aren’t huge sandwich lovers, and none of them want to eat the same things. I decided to let them all pack their own lunches for school. We had a dry run last night. It was quite an event with the four of them in the kitchen together.

After that, we all sat down in the den to talk about the morning rush that would be coming at sunrise- who should get up first, who would need to leave first, and so on. All four kids share a bathroom, so school mornings can be tricky.

That done, we got down to talking about the year. We discussed how important grades would be, how our focus had to change from the lazy days of summer back to their studies. It was thrilling. The excitement in the room was electric. Not really.

All that done, we ended our little back to school party by asking God to bless us all this school year. I had each of the kids pray, and as they each talked to God about their year it was nice to hear the things they were trusting God for.

Remember, if you feed kids, they will grow. This is true of spiritual things as well.

As they prayed, I heard them trusting God for great friendships, good teachers, commitment to their studies, and good focus.

Then it was my turn to pray. It was at that moment I realized this would be my oldest son’s last back to school party. He is a high school senior. The next day would be his Last First Day of school. It would be a whole year of lasts. This is going to be quite a year for him.

I lost it there for a minute or two.

Once I could speak again, my prayers for my kids included all that they trusted God for and more. More than just what God can do for them, I want God to use them this school year. It is my prayer that other students and teachers will see Jesus in them, and that my kids will have opportunities to share His love with someone.

That they will grow not only physically this year, but spiritually in their relationships with God. That they find their purpose wrapped up in His purpose for him. It’s a tall order for four kids… but God’s pretty tall, I think.

Fight For Your Kids

My husband recently handed me a new book to read called Parenting Beyond Your Capacity by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof. Reggie had given it to my husband himself recently at a summer camp for teens where they had worked together.

Another parenting book. I was interested. But I read the back cover and the chapter titles and tossed it back at him, telling him very piously, “I could have written that book.” It said everything I already believe to be true about raising kids. I had even recently posted a blog about it all.

So the book sat untouched on my husband’s desk for a few weeks. I even got a little perturbed by it sitting there all published.

It seemed to taunt me, as I would walk by. Finally I had had enough of its attitude and decided to read it for myself. I challenged, “Okay Reggie, tell me something new. Tell me something I don’t already know and believe about parenting. I dare you.”

For the most part I sat there reading and saying, “Yeh, yeh, I know. I believe that already.”

But then about mid-book there it was. It stopped me in my tracks. I had to read it several times to make sure I had taken it all in correctly.

I have three teenagers in my house. Well, two and one who’s so close she’s already counting herself as one. If you are the parent of younger children and you think you’ve got it hard, forgive me, but just you wait. I realize that diapers and potty training are taxing, little league and ballet class can take over your life, but nothing compares to the raging hormone years. You may think your toddler has an independent streak, but she doesn’t have car keys to back it up.

It’s the teen years where kids fight hardest for their independence, and we parents fight the hardest not to give it to them. It leads to a lot of fighting. I remember my own teen years and the struggles with my own parents. I challenged and they stood their ground. I pushed. They pulled. It seemed I was always zigging when they expected me to zag.

It’s enough to make any sane parent want to throw their hands up and walk away. We’re tired of constantly fighting with our kids. We fight with them. We fight with our spouses over them.

The teen years are tough.

About six months ago I stopped fighting with my teens. I’m not really sure it was a conscious decision. Our family had gone through an unbelievably hard time, and I just wanted them to get to the other side of it intact. I began to see the end goal I had in mind for them rather than the immediate daily situations/rebellions/obedience issues as my focus. We still argued. We still had disagreements over things, but something had changed, and the authors of this blasted book had put words to it. This is what I read…

“Every family fights, but there is a world of difference between when you fight with someone and when you fight for someone. When you fight with someone you want to win. When you fight for someone you want the other person to win … When you fight with someone walls are built up. When you fight for people, walls come down.”

My mouth fell open, and I backed up and read the paragraph again. And again. Seven months ago I stopped fighting with my teens, and started fighting for them, and I didn’t even know it until I read it in that book. I so wanted what we had been through as a family not to cause my kids to waiver in their faith. I wanted to see evidence of their lingering relationship with Jesus, and I wanted them to enter adulthood with that relationship intact. That desire kept me up at night.

In every fight there is a winner and there is a loser. Before, I had been concerned with winning the fights with my kids. I wanted to win, and by default then, for my kids to lose. But what good parent wants their kids to lose?

I still set boundaries and rules, I still expect my kids to meet those expectations, and I’ll even explain the rationale for the rules and boundaries if I want to. (I don’t always want to.) Yet I’ve learned that my kids will accept the rules and boundaries better and obey quicker if they know they can trust me. If they know that above all else I am fighting for them, more than I am fighting with them.

Why does this matter? I think Reggie said it best when he talked about how long after they’ve left our care, we want our kids to trust the One who is really in charge and who fought the ultimate battle for them. Just like the people of Israel, they can rebel, disobey, and be ungrateful, but it doesn’t change God’s desire to continue in relationship with them. They can follow Him, obey Him, and they can trust Him.