New Chapters

I made it through my son’s high school graduation without completely falling apart. I really did pretty well. It was a nice day that we celebrated together as family and friends. No real big hoopla, just barbecue and cupcakes served on paper plates.

Surprisingly, the ceremony itself was a fairly dignified affair. The teachers all proceeded into the school gym in their black robes, followed by the students in their red robes. The large room was packed with family and friends all there to cheer their students on across the finish line.

One by one different speakers took to the podium to share words of encouragement and wisdom for the future. Without fail, each one mentioned that these kids were now starting a “new chapter” in their lives. By the time the fourth speaker took the stage and talked about this “new chapter”, I was like- enough with the “new chapter”!

But it occurred to me then, that I, too, would be starting a new chapter in my own life. I have never before been the parent of a high school graduate. And just like those kids graduating, I really have no idea what this new chapter will bring. I mean, I have a few ideas, but reality will be just as different for me as it will be for them.

I am ready for this new chapter. I really am… as much for me as for my son. I won’t be as involved in the direction of his story anymore. I will have to take my place on the sidelines and watch his story unfold. I will be on the edge of my seat eager with anticipation.

I worried some over the last few years about this day. Had his dad and I prepared him enough for real life? Will he be ready to make good, sound life choices? Will he want to cling to his faith and chase after his God? Will he define success in life with what really matters? Does he know what really matters?

A few years ago, I was speaking at a women’s weekend retreat, and heard the mother of a teenage son say these words.

“Coming this weekend was a hard choice for me. I only have so much time left at home with my oldest son before he graduates high school. I really hate to miss one minute with him.”

My oldest son was just starting high school at the time, and in all honesty, I thought she was a bit touched in the head. After all, I had plenty of time left with my son… or so it seemed. But time marches on, and before I realized it, I was thinking similar thoughts about the time I had left with my own son at home.

Our lives are uniquely planned with these new beginnings. They come wrapped in all kinds of situations. Marriage is a new beginning. New babies bring new beginnings. Graduations, birthdays, new jobs, new years, all can bring new beginnings. Even loss can be a new beginning.

That’s how things work in God’s economy. The Bible teaches us that his mercies are new every day. We may scrape the bottom of the mercy barrel by the end of the day, but when we open our eyes the next morning, our mercy barrel is full again. (So wishing I had a bank account that worked that way.)Each new day is a new chapter in our lives. How often do we get up from bed with plans for our day to proceed in one way, only to find they turn out completely differently? One phone call, one email, can change the course of our day, even the course of our lives.

We foolishly like to think that we are the authors of our own lives, and the masters of our own destiny. But the true Author and Master is patiently working all these things together for our good. While we cannot forget there is the enemy out there who would love nothing more than to derail us and mess with our heads, when we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, he will be faithful to complete the good work he began in us… throughout every chapter of our lives…

…Whether we are a newly graduated high school student, or a forty something mother learning to step back and let her son fly.

Congratulations Graduate (For Landon)

Tomorrow is the big day. My oldest son, Landon, is graduating from high school. I know it seems hokey to say it, but where did the time go? I remember his first day of kindergarten. He did fine. I cried all day and showed up a full hour early to wait in the car line to pick him up. Lame. I know.

Since that day, I am happy to report that I have not cried over sending him to school a single time. I fully expect to cry through his entire graduation ceremony tomorrow. I’m just being realistic. Ceremonies make me cry.

I cried at all his Cub Scout awards ceremonies. I cried when he won swimming medals. I cried when his dad baptized him in the swimming pool at the YMCA in Charlotte, North Carolina. I cried at his preschool graduation, his kindergarten graduation and his fifth grade graduation when his class sang, “I believe I can fly”. If I am completely honest, I am crying now as I write this blog.

Yes. Tomorrow, I will be toast.

I have never seen another kid so ready for life. While I will be crying, he will be whooping it up, ready to take the world by the horns. He’ll be sitting all antsy in his seat at graduation thinking, “Let’s hurry this thing up!” I’ll be savoring every word spoken, and trying not to let my blubbering embarrass my family.

I don’t cry because I am sad. Not really. Not this time. This time I am so excited for Landon to see the life God has planned for him. I see things slowly unfolding before him, and I see him eagerly stretching his wings to go meet those things. My tears tomorrow will be of joy and perhaps a little of nostalgia.

Four days after graduation, Landon will climb on a plane and fly across the big pond to England. He is joining other students and adult chaperones from our church on a mission trip to Birmingham, England for nine days. He’ll be sharing his faith with the hurting and discarded in that far off place. I am surprisingly calm about the whole thing.

I think of Hannah in the Old Testament.
She had prayed hard for a baby. She prayed for a long time. Finally she told God that if he gave her a baby she would give it right back to him. So God gave her Samuel. True to her word, Hannah took the baby and gave him to the Priest to be raised in the temple. As a mom, I know how hard that must have been.

I have a dear friend who often tells me that her children have been her greatest blessing, but that they belong to the Lord. She means that. She has Hannah’s heart. As I feel the apron strings pulling loose from Landon, I too realize that my children are only mine for a time. They aren’t really mine at all. They’ve just been given to me for safekeeping. They belonged to the Lord long before I knew them.

My tears tomorrow will start long before the strains of Pomp and Circumstance reach my ears. My heart will be big and my joy even bigger. I know God has plans for Landon. Plans not to harm him, but to give him a hope and a future. What mom could ask for more?

The Journey

My friend posted on her Facebook page:

“Meeting people where they are in life makes for a sweet journey. Trying to meet them where I think they should be… not so much.”

I love this friend.

Life is really all about relationships. We can pick and choose “perfect” relationships with friends and family (yes, you can choose to have familial relationships or not), but you may look around to find that your scope of friends/family is quite small. Perfect relationships just don’t happen along all that often.

Steven Curtis Chapman happens to have a song playing on the airwaves these days that says, “You were meant to be touching the lives you have touched, and meant to be here making this world so much more than it would be without you in it.”

Just ponder on that thought for a moment. If life is all about the relationships in our lives (It is), and if God is indeed sovereign (He is), then perhaps we need to stop sometimes and consider the people we cross paths with on a regular basis.

We may scratch our heads and wonder just why a certain person keeps popping up in our lives. We might just as well prefer they didn’t. Some people take a great deal of effort, don’t they? Don’t we much prefer to hang out with those few people that make life easy and enjoyable? I do. I really do.

It’s true that we must keep closest people who encourage us in the faith, who hold us accountable for our walk with Christ and who are themselves spiritually healthy. This is a lesson I have tried so very hard to ingrain in my kids. It is my sincere hope that when they are asked what was it that their momma taught them, in addition to “Always wear clean underwear”, I hope they will say, “Mom always said that my closest relationships need to be with spiritually healthy people.”

I teach that to my kids for a particular reason, and it’s not because I want them to limit their friendships to only those who are spiritually healthy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Instead, I am all about my kids reaching out to their friends that need a relationship with Jesus. But this is only successful if they have folks to help keep them from straying from the path of righteousness.

It has been said that if you lay down with dogs you’ll get up with fleas. Only Jesus was able to walk with the ungodly and come away unstained. Good friends in the faith can help you pick off the fleas.

Even Jesus had close friends in the faith. Out of his twelve disciples, he kept a few closest. Not to keep him on the straight and narrow, after all, he is the very definition of straight and narrow, but to set the example for us to follow.

I am thankful for the people who have met me at different times on my spiritual journey. They have taken me down the road, walked with me and taught me how to love more, give more, and seek more than just a passing fancy with my Savior.

Had they tired of me because I was not where they thought I should be spiritually, I would not be where I am today. And where’s that? Still in need of blessed friends to walk with me on this journey.

Look around you. You are meant to be touching the lives that you are touching. You may think it is all for nothing, but it’s not. Just make sure that you are surrounding yourself with great friends in the faith. They are essential, and totally a blessing from the Lord.

To all my friends who walk this road of faith with me, thanks for making this journey so wonderful.

One Little Wrong Turn

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how simple it is to make a wrong turn in life. One small decision to take a step in the wrong direction can lead down a road we never meant to travel.

I was sitting with one of my great friends at church on a Wednesday night. The worship time was fantastic, yet thanks to the Coke I had purchased and drank prior to the service, I really had to go. So as soon as the music ended, I scooted out to the bathroom. I was in a hurry because I didn’t want to miss out on anything in the service. Our Wednesday night services are an hour and a half of awesomeness. I rushed out of the auditorium, and I headed for the bank of doors that lead to the bathrooms.

On my way out of the auditorium, I ran into a couple of men on staff at church, almost quite literally ran into them in my haste to go, said a quick hello and hurried on my way. The doors to the bathroom number about six or eight. (We have a lot of potties.) Men’s doors to the right, women’s doors to the left.

Heading left, I hurried on to the bathroom. I grabbed the door, flung it open and rushed inside. Looking up I saw a bank of shiny silver urinals on the wall in front of me. That and two very surprised men. Oh great.

Never slowing down, I said, “Oops!” spun around and headed back out the door I had just entered. It was then that I saw her. The woman who had entered in behind me. Her eyes were wide open as she apparently also saw the bank of urinals and quite surprised men. I grabbed her by the hand and yanked her out the door with me. The one that was clearly labeled, “Men”.

We both stumbled out the door laughing and quickly headed into the next door that led us to our much nicer much more women’s bathroom. She told me, “At least we were together in there!”

But here’s the truth about that. We didn’t go in together. She actually followed me in thinking I knew where I was going. I can’t completely fault her in that. I must have appeared like a woman on a mission who knew exactly where I was going. Why wouldn’t she follow me? Only she was wrong. I was in such a hurry, I missed my mark by one door.

Not only did I make a wrong turn for myself, I led someone else down that same path… funny this time, but still wrong.

That’s the danger in not paying attention. We cannot only hurt ourselves but we can jeopardize someone else. That’s why the Bible cautions us not to be a stumbling block to others. We really can’t afford to be asleep at the wheel. This is a recurring problem for me. I rush so much that sometimes I miss the clear signs right in front of me.

I think I know it all. I push ahead sure of where I am going and what I am doing. I don’t take time to listen. I don’t take time to be still and hear. Following after God isn’t supposed to be as hard as I sometimes make it. I just need to remember that to follow God means I am to follow…

After a final glance around the women’s room with it’s pretty seating area and goody baskets, I headed back into the auditorium and slid back into my seat beside my friend. I leaned over and whispered to her, “The ladies room is much prettier than the men’s…”

A High Calling

Motherhood is indeed a high calling. When my first son turned a year old, I celebrated the fact that I had made it a whole year and had not left him anywhere unintentionally. For scatter-minded people like me, who are forever losing things, this was something to celebrate.

Since then I have learned that motherhood is much more than just keeping up with where your kids are…. Even though it is important and gets monumentally harder the older they get.

I have often wondered when I would feel success as a mother. When does that day come for a mom? When can she sit back, put her feet up and say, “Yep, I did it. I am a mothering success.” For most days we go through life feeling as though we have fallen just a bit short of the mark. We loved too much, or not enough. We disciplined too much or not enough. It is a rare day when we actually tell ourselves, “You are the mom of moms. Accept your trophy!”

My first son graduates high school in a few short weeks. In all the time since his first birthday, I still have not left him anywhere unintentionally. He has his own wheels now, and while I may not always know where he is, thanks to GPS phone tracking, I at least know where his phone is.

My kids are all growing up. The clock ticks louder in my ear now, telling me my time with them at home is growing shorter. As I watch this happen before my eyes, I am evolving a little as a mom. God has shown me recently a few things I didn’t used to understand completely.

Mom’s are really in the middle. We stand in the middle between our kids and our heavenly Father. We besiege the Father with prayers for our kids. Prayers for safety and health. Success and happiness. For salvation and faith. For good grades and good friendships. Thanks be to God for His abounding love or He would have tired of my frequent petitions for my kids years ago.

We also stand in the middle for our kids as we lead them to follow the Father. When they are little they follow us as we follow Him. They learn by our example, whether good or bad, how to follow Him.

While as moms we will pray for our kids until our dying breath, at some point we have to step out of the middle and allow our children to follow Him on their own. At our house we call this making your faith your own. This isn’t something that happens overnight. But I am seeing it happen and maybe for the first time in my life as a mom, for just a moment I think, “Yep, I did it.” But then I quickly step aside and know that it isn’t me.

To watch your child follow their heavenly Father apart from you, is truly splendid to see. For as they let go of your hand, and take hold of His, the peace in a mother’s heart is unmatched. While mothers try so hard to be all things to their children, in our imperfections, we fail. But our perfect God never fails. As I see God taking the hand of my oldest child, I can almost see His face as He looks to me and says, “It’s okay, I’ve got this. He’s going to be fine.”

And I know he will be.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the tireless mothers who love till it hurts, work till they drop, go without so that their kids don’t have to, and pray till their knees wear out.

What Good is One Shoe?

How often have you been driving down the road and see one lone shoe on the side of the road? Or lying in the middle of the road? Usually it’s a flip flop, sometimes it’s a tennis shoe. Do you ever wonder what happened to the other shoe? I do, but that’s just how my mind works, I guess. What good is one shoe? I mean, assuming you have two feet, one shoe doesn’t do you much good.

I work for quite an unusual lady. I mean that in the best sense of the word, and I am not saying that because she’s probably going to be reading this and I really need to keep my job. I have been blessed to work for some truly wonderful people in my life and this lady is no exception. You’ll see what I mean here in a minute.

She recently shared this story with me.

A few years ago she had the privilege of caring for her aging parents. Unfortunately, her mother had fallen and broken, not one, but both of her wrists. Ouch. She was taking her mother to the doctor one day and had decided to pull up to the curb in front of the clinic and double park long enough to help her mom out of the car and inside. She was wearing her nurse’s uniform at the time and clog type slip on shoes. (Brand: Clarks. This information is important in a minute.) As she worked to get her mother out of the car and safely up on the sidewalk, she lost one of her shoes… down into the city sewer drain. If you spend the money to buy Clarks, it’s no fun to watch one go down the drain.

So there she stood with one shoe off and one shoe on, in downtown Birmingham, still needing to get her mom to the doctor, and finish her workday at the hospital. With only one shoe.

She finished getting her mom out of the car, onto the sidewalk, and suddenly remembered she had a change of clothes in her trunk from the previous Sunday. And she had a pair of shoes. Never mind that they were Sunday dress shoes, at least they were a pair. So she put on her dress shoes with her nurse’s uniform.

It was then she had the thought,

“What good is one shoe?”

So she took the Clark’s shoe she still had, walked back over to the sewer and flung it down with the first one. She told me she figured if someone found the first one, they might find the second one too and have a nice pair of shoes!

I’m not sure I know anyone else in the world that would have thought of that in that moment, but I am so glad to know her.

The Bible teaches us that faith without works is dead. This doesn’t mean that we are saved by our good works. No, that saving business is all Jesus. But good works are just a natural byproduct of a living, healthy and active faith relationship with Him. They don’t make Him love us more, they just make the relationship sweeter.

Just as one shoe is no good to anyone without the other shoe, so is faith without good works no good. The reverse is similarly true. Good works are fine apart from faith, but good works apart from faith serve only the worker in the end. Of course, those who received the benefit of the work are served, but in the end the worker gets the satisfaction of having done something, and so that part of him that desires affirmation gets a good stroke.

When good works are paired with faith, or come as a result of faith, it is God who is ultimately served. “Whenever you have served the least of these, you served me.” Matthew 25:40

For those of us in Alabama, as we live in the aftermath of last week’s tornados, we have a real opportunity to pair faith with good works to help our neighbors. No one should be excused from helping. We can all pray for those hurting. We can give what money we can to help the needy. We can add a few extra things to our grocery cart for those in need and drop them buy a donation center. We can go to work sites in communities hardest hit and help sift through the rubble and clear it away.

Hold a hand, dry a tear, give a hug. Share Jesus. We can do that.

Arise, Church…

Last Wednesday will stand as one of the worst weather days in Alabama history. Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, I was used to tornadoes. They would pop in and out at will, taking down one house while completely leaving the one next door untouched. We would marvel at the seeming precision of those twisters. Never before had Alabama seen a tornado stay on the ground the way this killer tornado did.

The day started out with storms that wreaked havoc on communities, but they would not match the ones to come later in the day and into the night. As we watched the footage coming out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama we were all dumbstruck by the sheer power of this storm. This storm that was now heading to our town.

Since that day, I have seen video after video and photo after photo of the devastation left in the wake of the storms that ravaged our state. One in particular, a friend had posted on her Facebook page with the warning to turn down the sound on the computer while watching. The young videographers were not meteorologists or professional storm chasers. They were college kids from Tuscaloosa. Like most college kids they had more time than good sense, and had chosen to head out into the storm with their video camera. I’m sure their parents will fall flat out when they see this video.

These kids got dangerously close to the tornado that chewed up their town. They were awestruck by its power, but still did not have the maturity to see the real danger they were in. That said, their footage is amazing. At one point, they stopped their vehicle on the highway and watched and filmed the twister as it headed toward them. In a panic, one student (using some really colorful language- hence the warning to turn the sound down) pleaded with the driver to back up out of the way. Finally, the driver complied, and the tornado crossed the highway in the exact spot where they had been.

Continuing in their amazement, they decided to go check out the destruction the storm had caused up ahead. What they saw is disturbing, but they still marveled at it all, they were completely taken by surprise when a woman appeared from nowhere screaming for their help.

She had been in the path of the storm and had managed to survive, but she was hysterical.

They let her into their car, and tried to let her use their cell phone, but she was too unhinged to dial it herself. It was not until then that these foolish would-be storm chasers realized the human element in the equation. They realized then, that there must indeed be more people suffering, and worse, in the path of this storm. The realization instantly changed the mood in their car, and a small measure of maturity set in.

That realization has now hit everyone. As the stories of destruction, loss, and survival came in the understanding became clear that so many people would be in need of help. I watched interviews of local and state officials calling upon the federal government for help, and as I did there was a stirring in my heart that said,

“No.”

This is not the time for the government to stand up. It is time for the church to stand up.
It all comes down to the church being the church. So many of us here in the south go to church because it’s the “Southern” thing to do. Its time to stop just “going” to church and starting “being” the church as well. We are the hands and feet of Christ. We are His army, here to show his sacrificial love and power. Governments fail, but God never does. What an opportunity to allow God’s glory to shine through his church to reach out to those in need with His great love.

I was blessed to see this in motion yesterday as I worked in Hueytown at a distribution center set up by Church of the Highlands. The stacks of bottled water were higher than my head. The donations of food, clothing and personal care items filled the abandoned car dealership where we were working. My kids and I worked most of the day with people we had never met. I didn’t even find out their names, nor they mine. It wasn’t important who we were. It was important who Jesus is, and that because of Him we were compelled to help.

We filled truck after truck with items needed by those who had lost everything. Each item put on the truck by the hands of Christ. Each case of water delivered by His feet. At the end of the day, as I rode back to the Birmingham Dream Center, (http://churchofthehighlands.com/dream-center) we passed by church after church with people just like me giving their time, money, and items to those in need. I saw disaster relief trucks from Samaritan’s Purse and other Christian disaster relief organizations. God’s army is on the move. Won’t you stand up and join the forces? Will you be the church?

Yes, let’s stop merely going to church and forevermore be the church….