Eighteen is no Magic Number

  “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”  Psalm 127:3-5

Today, I put my two oldest kids on a plane to fly away to Ireland. They will be joining with the people of Celebration Church in Craigavon, Ireland in helping to spread the good news of the gospel there. It’s an unbelievable opportunity for the two of them and I am just a tiny bit jealous!

But all parents want great things for their children, don’t they? We want them to have things we did not have, experience things we did not experience. Landon is eighteen and Ryan will very soon be seventeen, as he almost daily reminds me now. My time to parent them is quickly coming to a close, right? My job with them is pretty much done at this point, isn’t it? I know there are days when they certainly hope so.

I do get frustrated when I hear of parents who feel that way. There are many parents who feel that once their child has made to sixteen and holds a driver’s license in their hands, they can breathe a sigh of relief and focus their lives elsewhere. Their job is done, they’ve done all they can. They hope the kid was paying attention, because they’re on their own.

I’d like to throw some cold water on that theory. I want to submit that as our kids grow into their late teens and even early twenties, they need parents as much or more than they have ever needed us. These are the years where kids make some of the most important decisions of their lives. They are deciding where to go to college, where to get their first job, what career choice to make, where to live and with whom, and whom they will marry.

We stuck with them at the little league baseball field, dragged them to piano lessons, helped them eat right, make good friends, and good grades in school. We were there every step of the way, but the minute their voices drop an octave and they begin to look like grownups on the outside, we dust ourselves off, give them a good luck handshake and move on with our lives? Who said we stopped being parents because our kids turned sixteen? Or eighteen, even? Because Uncle Sam says they are legal? What else do you trust to Uncle Sam to decide for you?

Not to insult our kids, but think back to yourself at their age. Think about just how stupid you were. Think of the decisions you made that you wished someone had taken enough interest in your life to have advised you against. Of course, our jobs as parents, if we do it successfully, is to work ourselves out of a job. Our kids are supposed to be able to handle life on their own one day. One day. But what’s our hurry? We’re tired? Of course we’re tired, but we signed on for this for the long haul.

Eighteen is no magic number. There isn’t something magical that happens to our kids on their eighteenth birthday. Now if they are thirty-five and still living in your basement, it might be time to push them out of the nest. But sixteen? Nineteen? Twenty-one? You’re not done yet. Of course things are changing, and bit by bit you have to cut those apron strings, but just don’t cut them all at once, or too quickly. You’ve made quite an investment in that life to pull out too soon.

Shoring Up Our Foundations

This week, as I drove to work one morning, I was passed on the interstate by a bright orange tractor-trailer truck pulling a tank of “Molten Sulfur”. Immediately, the thought came to my cracked mind, “I wonder where Lucifer is taking hell now.” It doesn’t take much to realize that Satan is indeed loose on this earth. While I actually doubt he’s driving molten sulfur trucks on I-65 in Birmingham, he is up to no good, for sure.

The people of my church were fortunate to hear a message from David Barton from Wall Builders today. According to their website, http://www.wallbuilders.com, they exist to:

“…exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.”

David Barton has been called “America’s Historian”, and after listening to him this morning, I can see why. David reminded us today that Psalm 11:3 says, “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” David is working hard to shore up our country’s foundations. He strives to remind us of what many in government and education want us to forget. Our heavy Christian beginnings.

While I felt as though I was sitting in a history lecture again, (pause*shudder) I did learn quite a bit in an hour’s time this morning. Everything I am about to tell you I learned this morning.

-Of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence, twenty-nine of them had seminary or Bible college degrees.

-The first Bible printed in America was commissioned by the Congress and intended for use in our schools.

-Dr. Benjamin Rush, member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence, has been credited with starting the notion of Sunday School.

-Early on, before every session of Congress, a prayer meeting was held. These were known to last two hours. Many times a Bible study would follow where together the members of Congress would search chapters of the Bible for wisdom and discernment.

-By 1820, the government of the US had mandated 1400 times for the all the people of the country to pray.

-I learned that many of the early political speeches were flowered with quote after quote from scripture. It was part of their everyday language. Many of the early members of Congress read the Bible cover to cover every year. No wonder the words repeated themselves in their speeches.

As we remember our fallen heroes this weekend, those men and women who died so that we can live free, let’s not waiver from the things this country was established upon. We were established on a firm foundation, rich in Christianity by leaders who openly professed Christ without apology.

Christians, we are mandated by Christ to invest until His return. We cannot neglect the responsibility we have to further the Kingdom until our Master comes again. (Take a look at Luke 19:11-27. It’s Jesus telling the parable of the Ten Minas and how the master expects his servants to mind the store while he’s gone.)

If we want the Bible in our schools, then let’s put Jesus in the hearts of the students and teachers. (And parents, that’s means more than dragging them to church on Sunday.) If we want Scripture to govern our country daily once again, then Jesus must be in the hearts of our leaders.

We are taught that we are to seek first His kingdom, AND His righteousness. Then everything else will be added to us. (Matthew 6:33)

As we celebrate with friends and family this Memorial Day weekend, lets let it be about more than a day off from work. (and I do love that) Let’s remember those who fought and gave the greatest sacrifice to ensure that what we have as a nation continues for generations to come. It’s about the foundations, and ours are crumbling. We can shore those up, and stand against the enemy if we Christians decide to get involved. We may not agree with all of their policies, but if we elect men and women to lead us who first follow after Christ, we will remain a country united under God. And if we do this, Satan can drive hell all over Alabama and the USA. He just won’t find anywhere to park that truck.

Life Defining Women

I am blessed with great friends; Godly women who set their sights on things higher than the chaos of this world. Forget Desperate Housewives. These don’t have time for the neighborhood gossip, or the silly shenanigans around them. These are women who inspire me to want more for my own life. These are not death defying women, these are Life Defining Women. Let me introduce you.

Lisa is a Life Coach. She has always been a Life Coach, only now it’s official. She used to work on staff in women’s ministry at her church. She would meet with women all day long to encourage them, inspire them and pray with them. I know. She used to meet with me. Lisa went through a time when she no longer felt she was supposed to be on a church staff, but she wasn’t sure what God had in store for her. I would periodically ask her, “What’s God doing with you?” For a while, there was no clear answer. Yet over time, doors began to open for Lisa to reach across racial lines in her city and love women of a different race. Then He opened doors for her to love people on another continent. Now in addition to being a wife and mom, Lisa is a full time Life Coach and part time missionary. Lisa is a compass for me.

Debbie is fighting in the war against human trafficking. She didn’t intend to. She was a wife and mother of three who headed up the prayer team at her church. Through this she met someone who counseled people with the love of the Lord and helped them find their way out of dark places. Together, God showed them the plight of many of His girls. He spoke to Debbie’s heart and led them into a ministry called Compassion to Act. They just hosted the Restore Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina where, with hardly any advertising, over 500 people attended to hear about human trafficking. They have a dream of seeing many other Compassion to Act ministries popping up all over the country to join in the fight to rescue and restore these precious women. Debbie is the best example I have of knowing that “Its not about me”, and also knowing apart from God, none of it would be possible. Debbie is my prayer warrior and truth teller.

Catherine is a marketing guru and big picture visionary. But she is much more than that. She is a wife and mom, but also, Catherine has a heart for the disenfranchised and the unwanted. She opened her home up for a small group of women to come and learn how much God loves them. They came from every background you can imagine. Catherine spoke to them out of her own life experiences of walking both apart from God and then alongside him. She called her group, Soul Sisters. Like Lisa, Catherine has coached many lives, again including mine, and is now a Life Coach and an author. She is transparent, often brutally honest, (I love that) and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty… so to speak. Catherine is my visionary.

Tammie is also a wife and mother. Her oldest child is a special needs super star. I give she and her husband great credit for just how special he is. Tammie is a nurse, but her heart is with women. She hosts small groups at her home to encourage women from all walks of life and every stage of life to press into God and walk in his ways. Tammie’s heart breaks for the things that break God’s heart. Tammie coaches other women’s small group leaders through her church to make sure they have the support and encouragement they need to keep leading others to Jesus. She speaks truth into my life on a regular basis. Even if the truth hurts. I love living life with this woman.

Each of these women would not want the accolades I am giving them. (Compliments on their hair and shoes, yes, but accolades, no.) Yet I tell you a snippet of their lives to show you what I have learned. It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of this world. To spend time in gossip, or slander. To struggle for more or better. To seek after things that do not concern you and are not for you. Those are distractions put in our paths to keep us from doing the things He has called us to do. Set aside pettiness. Turn away from gossip and back biting. Close your ears to that stuff and open them up to what God wants most for your life. He will take you places you never dreamed you could go, and apart from Him, you couldn’t. Surround yourself with friends like mine. They will lift you up and encourage you. They will help you set your feet on solid ground.

Tammie, Catherine, Debbie, and Lisa– I love you.

From the Inside Out

We need new front steps on our house badly, but that costs a pretty penny. So it was cheaper to buy some time and just paint the ones we have. So that’s what I did. The paint I used is really cool stuff. It’s got gritty goop in the paint that will help us not to fall down the steps anymore when it rains. I’m not kidding here. But painting it on was like painting on mud pie mix. Not too much fun at all. The end result is really pretty though. If you didn’t know there were ugly steps underneath… well, you wouldn’t know.

I didn’t remake my steps. They are still what they are: old, weathered wood steps. They’ve just got a new outside. Inside, underneath the new veneer, they are unchanged.

Ever try to remake yourself? There’s a whole section in Books-a-Million where I live that says, “Self Help”. Many people have made many more dollars writing books to tell people how to put on a new coat of paint. A fake veneer that makes the world think some real kind of change has taken place and we are all new and improved. I think it’s funny, really. Telling a broken something to fix itself.

Self. Help. A broken watch can’t make itself run again, can it? No. The answer is no, of course. A watch has to be taken to someone who has knowledge about broken watches. And even then, it is fixed. Not made new again.

I can slap a smile on my face, try to improve my attitude, and try to see my situation differently. I can exercise, eat better, make new friends, and learn a hobby. Yet none of those things will fix me. Or you, either. They are not bad things, but they are much like a new coat of paint. After a while, just like my steps, the old is going to show through.

Real life change has to happen from the inside out, not the other way around. We need to be made new from the inside. This is what happens when we come to Christ and make him our Savior, our Redeemer. The Bible teaches that when this happens, we are made new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  2 Corinthians 5:17

There, see? New. Not fixed. New.

So forget the self-help books, television shows, and websites. It’s all just a temporary fix, what they offer. None of it makes anything new.

I do love my “new” steps. But I am not fooled. Eventually we’ll have to bite the bullet and get new ones.

Jesus is continually making me new. It’s a process called sanctification. Little by little I become more like Him until you’ll hardly see any difference. Oh it won’t be completed for a while. But bit by bit He makes progress. I am new from the inside out. Pretty cool.

Baby Open Up Your Eyes

Recently, I heard someone tell about a friend they had that was an unbeliever (non-Christian). According to them, their friend needed but one question more answered before they would believe. What was the question? “If God knows everything, then he knows what choices I will make. How, then, do I have free will?” As yet, no one has been able to answer this question to this person’s satisfaction. I am not surprised.

There is no shortage of answers to that question. The debate over sovereignty versus free will has raged for many moons.

My answer to the question posed is that the person asking the question doesn’t need an answer. They need an encounter. They need to come face to face with the Holy Spirit. Until they have that holy encounter, the “proof” they need to believe will evade them. There will always be just one more question separating them from faith.

Answers to probing questions from unbelievers are like crumbs that fall from a banquet table. They grab the answers up and are satisfied for only the briefest time, but before too long, they will be right back where they started. Unfulfilled, and spouting more questions. Only after the invitation comes to sit at the table and partake of the feast- and is accepted- will they be forever satisfied.

Questions will then no longer separate them from faith in the Lord. We often want to debate the finer points of theology with our unbelieving friends, but in the end, it is not our words that will open their eyes to understanding. Some things are meant only for believers to understand. Jesus spoke to the early Christians in parables with dual meanings. Only followers of Christ understood the double entendre there.

From the outside looking in, the Christian faith is full of things that seem odd. We are called upon to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. The world would tell us to do just the opposite. Check out Matthew chapter five.

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

That’s crazy stuff by this world’s standards.

We believe in a Savior who was born of a virgin, turned water into wine, walked upon a larger amount of water, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed five thousand with one little boy’s lunch, healed broken hearts, and came back to life after kicking death in the rear.

No wonder they have questions.

Coming to Christ doesn’t mean we get all of our questions answered. But those questions we have will become less important as we gain understanding of who God is and how he loves us. Believe me, I still have questions. But I have learned that while right now I see only a part of the picture, one day I will see it all.

For the most part, debating Christianity with a non-believer is like trying to empty water out of a sinking boat with a slotted spoon. So many times our answers just bring up more questions. While we are instructed at all times to be ready to speak to the faith that we have, we have to realize that apart from the understanding that the Holy Spirit gives, they will not fully understand what we take sometimes for granted.

Coming to faith is not a head issue. It’s a heart issue. More answers will not always bring more understanding. It’s a transformation that comes about when the Holy Spirit woos or draws us to Him. It’s a beautiful thing, a precious thing that opens up our seat at His table.

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber,because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11

Mothers are not Born, They Become

Mothers are unique. They are not born. They become. Some take to the job better than others, but there’s nothing like a great mom. Nature shows us some extreme examples of motherhood. The African cichlid holds her eggs in her mouth two weeks until they hatch- at which time she keeps the babies safe in her mouth for two more weeks. Everyone knows a mother bear is one of the most fearsome mammals on earth. You can put that claim to the test by making a momma bear feel her babies are in jeopardy. I just hope you can outrun her if you do that.

I love to celebrate Mother’s Day. I am blessed to be able to celebrate with my own mother. For several years I lived too far away to see her on Mother’s Day. I remember that first holiday away from her. I pretty much cried the whole day. So now I enjoy being able to honor her and do special things for her up close and personal on this day.

Of all the things I have done in my life, my greatest joy has been to mother. I had no idea what I was doing in those early days. There are plenty of books out there on the subject, but each baby is unique, and what might work for other babies, won’t likely get yours to sleep, or stop crying, or cure that rash, or make her eat her veggies, or make him stop biting his classmates, or whatever. Each child is its own individual… individual! The Lord gives them to the one mother who can sing their song, feel their heart, sense their needs, and read their uniqueness. I know my children like no other person here on Earth. Only their Heavenly Father knows them better

A good mother will happily lay down her own wants for those of her children. As mine have grown and matured some, I have been blessed to see them grow up in their relationships with their God. I see Him moving in their lives. Opening doors, closing some, too. I see them seeing Him move in their lives. I see them following after Him, listening for Him, and walking with Him. The joy of it all makes me literally laugh out loud sometimes. I realized one day not too long ago, that I am happier even to see Him working in their lives than when He’s at work in my own.

I used to say that the jury was still out on my kids when people would compliment or say positive things. Someone might say something nice about one or another of them, but I hesitated to accept those accolades for them. I know what a narrow way the Narrow Way really is. To step off of it is so easy. I was afraid to get too braggy about my kids, lest I become prideful only to see them misstep. (Pride does so often goeth before a falleth.) But I look at my children differently these days. I understand that while I have loved them with a mad, crazy kind of mother cichlid/bear kind of love, what they have become, and who they are as people, has much more to do with their Heavenly Father.

No, I don’t think the jury is still out on them. There’s not a “bad apple” in the bunch. I say that humbly, knowing that apart from the Father, Matthew and I could be looking at a very different picture. But because of Him I am blessed four times over.

Being a mother is exhausting. When my four were little, I used to say it was like a daycare at my house, only no one ever went home. Being a mother can be frustrating, even infuriating, but it can be equally fulfilling and satisfying.

These yahoos are mine for only a short while. Sooner than I like to think about, I’ll have to spit them out of my mouth for good. And if I am lucky, I’ll see them spend their lives loving mercy, acting justly, and walking humbly with their God. (Micah 6:8)

Now that makes me smile on this Mother’s Day! This video does too! Enjoy!

The Psychology of Happiness

“The Psychology of Happiness”. This was the title of a lecture I sat in on at work this last week. In all honesty, I was more interested in the free lasagna lunch that was offered, but I was also mildly interested in what the lecturers were going to say. Two of the counselors from the Employee Assistance Program where I work gave this lecture, complete with Power Point slides. I give them an “A” for their cute dresses and perky attitudes, but a lower grade on lecture content. Not that what they had to say was inherently wrong, but perhaps just a bit misleading or incomplete.

They produced evidence from several “studies” showing that with just a few concentrated efforts we can produce our own happiness and change our own lives. They suggested that thinking of one good thing that happened in your day, each day, would help you have a better outlook on your life. Okay. Nothing wrong with that. They suggested that daily meditation and exercise have also been proven to generate feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Again, I’m not arguing with what they had to say.

Yet what kept nagging at me through their entire lecture was not what they said, but rather, what they did not say. They kept indicating that we are capable, of our own volition, to manufacture our own happiness. We can be happiness generators, and that with just a few careful daily practices, we can produce unlimited happiness for ourselves. What they did not say, and perhaps because of the secular nature of the lecture, could not say, is that our happiness well will run dry eventually. This notion that we can manufacture your own happiness rings hollow when we don’t connect to the ultimate Source of joy

We whine about not being happy enough. We complain that our significant other no longer makes us happy… as if this is their sole reason for living. We gauge our life success by how “happy” we are. I’m going to suggest we trade our desire for happiness in for a desire for joy. What’s the big difference in the two? Happiness often depends on our circumstances. Joy on the other hand exists separate from our life circumstances. Ever meet someone that regardless of the trials they face manage to seem satisfied and content? That person has connected to the Source. Their joy does not run out.

One of the Fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galations 5 is Joy. When the Spirit of God is alive within us, we have joy in abundance. We don’t have to manufacture it, conjure it, perform certain duties to obtain it… it’s there. It’s ours for the taking. Now the ability to take hold of it in dire or troublesome times is a bit of a talent to master. Our ability to grasp it at all times depends on resting in the hope we have in Jesus. When we lose sight of our hope, we have a harder time holding onto our joy. It’s there. We just forget it sometimes.

As the lecture came to a close and our perky lecturers received the due applause from the audience, I felt badly for those who might give what they said a try. In all honesty, I wanted to scream that they had offered a temporary fix to a permanent problem. What makes us happy today will not always fill the bill tomorrow. But our JOY, our joy should be that constant hope in Christ. And Christ is forever. He is the well that will never run dry. Our joy is found complete in Him.