Month: August 2012

An Accidental Pilot

Ever wake up one day and wonder how in the world you ended up where you are? Did your life turn out differently than you thought or hoped it would? Maybe better, maybe not as good as you’d hoped?

Our lives take turns we don’t expect sometimes. I can testify to the truth in that statement.

Matthew and I have been married for over twenty-two years so one might think that I would have heard all of my father-in-law’s stories. The man has some stories. But I sat with him at dinner recently and heard one, that somehow, I had not heard before. And it was a good one.

I had asked Paul, who had been a Navy pilot, if he had always wanted to be a pilot. He cocked his head to the side, and with a smile and a gleam in his eye, he said, “No. Have you not heard that story before?”

Here it is. Well, the abridged version. Did I mention Paul has some stories?

He had finished one year of college when he and a friend decided rather than going back to college, they’d join the Navy. Ah, the split second decisions of youth. The first time Paul had ever seen a plane was when he climbed aboard the one that took him far away from home to join the Navy and start boot camp.

It was during those early weeks of boot camp that he heard about the Navy’s new nuclear submarine program. Paul was always fairly adept at math and science, and the subject intrigued him. He inquired about it, and was told he could take an exam to test his aptitude for the subject.

On the day of the exam, he entered the testing room, took a seat, and was handed the exam booklet. He couldn’t figure out what any of the questions had to do with submarines. He raised his hand to ask about it, but the officer in charge told him to hush and take the test. He did.

But he had taken the wrong test. He had gone into the wrong room. His exam for nuclear submarines was in another room sitting there untaken. However, he must have done well on the exam he did take for before too long, he was assigned to the Navy Cadet Program that would lead to flight training.

The test he had taken was for future Navy pilot hopefuls.

He tried to explain to whomever would listen, but he was destined to fly…. Not submerge.

He did eventually get to take the submarine exam, and was offered the choice of going to flight school or going into the nuclear submarine training. In the end, he chose flight training.

I’m glad he did. My life would be far different if he had not. He would not have met my mother-in-law, and my husband would not have been born. Paul had an idea that nuclear subs sounded interesting, but God wanted Paul to soar.

The Bible teaches us that,

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23

I’ve never heard a better story of the Lord stepping in and changing the course of a life than that one. But those stories are too numerous to count in the lives of those who love Jesus.

We each have a destiny, a unique purpose on the earth. Sometimes we need a nudge from His hand to keep us heading in the direction He chooses. Sometimes the nudge is uncomfortable. Sometimes we walk through barren places on our way to fulfilling our purpose.

But take a look at verse 24 of Psalm 37:

“Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

He is with us, walking beside us, leading us by the hand so that we will not stumble. I believe the Lord had Paul by the hand the day he took the wrong exam, and every day since.

Parents, Working Ourselves Out of a Job

As my kids grow up and out, I have to learn to let them do things on their own. I’m not really so very good at this as my husband fairly regularly points out. I grew up in a home where my mother just did for us. She literally did everything for my brother and me until the day we moved out on our own. Laundry, cooking, cleaning. She did it all. When it comes to her family, my mother has a servant’s heart. It’s a wonder we don’t still live with her.

She did it out of love and out of a desire for things to be done right. It was mostly just easier to do it herself. I understand this completely. At forty-five, I have made it pretty well. I have had to learn lots of things on my own, but I’m a pretty smart cookie sometimes, and I have figured out that being a great cook (among other things) is not really a requirement. We get by. Thank the Lord for frozen, boxed and canned foods… and for a phone to call my mother to ask her how to do this or that.

Still, I am trying to help my kids along, so that when it is time for them to fly from the nest, they will soar rather than plunge. Case in point: Last week I sent my two oldest children to a new dentist on their own. You would have thought I was sending them up a creek without a paddle when I told them I would not be going with them. But they did just fine. No cavities.

I read somewhere once, that as a parent, if we are doing anything for our children-whether at two or twenty- that they can do for themselves, we are doing them a disservice. Ouch.

Some of us love parenting so much we have forgotten that to be successful at it, we are supposed to work ourselves out of a job.

As Christian parents, we are also charged with teaching our children to lean on their Heavenly Father. While our lives here on earth are finite, it is their Heavenly Father that will go one long after we have said our final goodbyes. We have to teach them to depend less and less on us, and more and more on Him.

As kids growing up, my parents never wanted me or my brother to worry about money. I never knew when there was or wasn’t money in my parent’s bank account. They tell me now of times when things were lean and they didn’t know how they would make it, but I had no idea at the time. They didn’t feel that those kinds of things were something to worry a child over. I can appreciate that they wanted to protect us from that stress, but they also kept something else very important from us as a result.

I depended upon my parents to meet my needs. And they did. I never once wondered where my next meal would come from or if I would have a pillow to lay my head upon at night. They were always there to help me solve problems that came along in my life. What I didn’t get to see was what they did when a problem was too big for them. Where did they go when something too great for even them to handle came along?

Matthew and I try to handle those times a little bit differently. We are not trying to stress our children out, but we want them to know that while mom and dad can fix almost anything, we can’t fix everything, and when those times come, we turn to our Heavenly Father and ask Him for help.

Most of the time, when our kids come to us, we can fix what is broken or advise them how they can best handle a situation. I often tell them, “Mom can fix almost anything.” But on the rare occasion that there is no good earthly solution, we must teach our children to go to their Father in heaven for help. The best way to teach them this lesson is for them to see us doing that very same thing. When problems come that overwhelm us as parents, we don’t always need to go behind closed doors with those problems. Sometimes we need to show them that when there seems to be no answer, we trust that God will make a way.

Children need to know that when they leave the protection and provision of their parents one day, they still have the protection and provision of their Heavenly Father to rely upon. And they learn best when they see that modeled for them in us.

Raising Great Commission Kids

We are into the first week of school here in the Benson house. So far, so good. I am sad that our summer is over, but time does march on. My oldest is into his second year of college. Time, indeed, does march on.

I remember when he was starting to kindergarten. As a pastor’s child, we just assumed he should go to a Christian school. We looked into all the “best” ones in town, and one after one, we crossed them off our list. We found them to be just so very… separate. The Lord began to impress upon us how we are supposed to be salt and light in this dark and dying world and how could we do that if we were always separating ourselves from it? Sometimes when you work in ministry, it’s hard to cultivate relationships outside of church. I know plenty of ministers who don’t know a single lost person.

So we made the decision to put our kids in public school. I’m not slamming people that decide otherwise. Those who home school or decide on Christian schools for their kids do so for many reasons. I do, however, think when we make those decisions we are deciding, by default, to separate ourselves from a part of the world, regardless of our motivation.

My daughter would love to join a home school co-operative. She finds going to public high school a real challenge. As a child of the light, she feels the darkness brush up against her in the halls and classrooms. (If, as a Christian, you have ever found yourself in a decidedly non-Christian environment, you know the feeling I am talking about.)

She would love to be able to spend more of her time with her church friends who encourage her and edify her rather than among school kids far from Christ whom she is called to serve and lead. She is called to be among those who need what she has in Jesus. Those halls and classrooms are her mission field.

As a parent, I know for her to be home schooled or go to a private Christian school would be safer. I could put that protection up for her. I could, but God does not call us to a safe life, not really. You’d be hard pressed to find scripture that supports that idea. Actually the opposite is true. It tells us to go. Telling us to go into the world and be salt and light means we do have to actually go into the world. It’s not always safe there, but we cannot answer the call of the Great Commission from the safety of our Christian bubble. Our children can’t, either.

My job is to make sure she’s properly equipped to be in the world. I can’t just push her out the door and say, “Good luck with all that saving the world stuff!” She needs to know how to put on the full armor of God first. (Ephesians 6:10-18) The fight she faces is not really a physical one at all, but a spiritual one.

The helmet of salvation to remind her whose she is and that she is secure. The breastplate of righteousness to guard her heart as criticisms come at her for the different way she lives her life. The belt of truth to measure against ideas that are not truth. Her feet fit with the readiness of the gospel of peace to calm her and to share with others. The shield of faith to fend off attacks from the evil one.

Only when our children are fully dressed in that armor are they prepared to go into the world to make a difference. We can keep them safely locked inside our insulated Christian world, but that’s not how any of us came to be followers of Christ. Someone, sometime, had to venture out and come get us. It wasn’t safe, it was risky, but they did it for us.

If we want to raise up the next generation of Great Commission followers, we have to worry less about protecting them from the world, and concern ourselves more with preparing them for it.

The Real Deal

Brace yourself… I just watched the beheading of a young Christian in Tunisia by a radical Islamist. I told you to brace yourself. I had no idea what I was about to see when I clicked on the video link. We don’t show these things here in America, but this was a television report in a foreign land where the FCC does not exist.

Immediately, my stomach hurt. My heart ached. I thought I might vomit. I cannot explain the brutality. I quickly moved to stop the video, but I had already seen too much for my delicate sensitivities. This was not an instantaneous guillotine beheading. This boy’s head was hacked off while he was awake.

I would imagine he could have renounced his faith in Christ, taken up Islam and been celebrated. But instead he chose to die for his faith.

I once read a beautiful book called the Martyr’s Song by Ted Dekker. If you have not had the opportunity to read this book, please do.

(http://www.amazon.com/Martyrs-Song-Series-Book-With/dp/0849944996)

It’s not a long book, but it will help you have a renewed appreciation for those who have been martyred for their faith in Jesus. But be ready, while it is a work of fiction, it will mess with you.

We live a pretty charmed life here in the United States. We get to protest and converge on Chick-fil-a without reprisal. We can profess Christ on Sunday- out in the open without fear- and live like we’ve not met Him on Monday.

We behave as though Christians in the United States get the shaft. We have no idea. I once heard a minister speak who pastored a church in the Middle East who, along with his wife, was tortured and interrogated for thirty days in a warehouse before finally being released.

Here in America, we often feel as though we are all of the church… the only church that really matters, anyway. I don’t mean to sound so harsh, but these are our brothers and sisters who are suffering for Jesus. Really suffering. The Bible speaks of the martyrs. Their reward will be greatest of all. For to stand up and face death, all the while professing Christ as Lord, deserves nothing less. Revelation 20 says those who have been martyrs will rule with Jesus first.

We have been offended because of Jesus. We have been ridiculed. We are mocked in the media. Our Christian liberties are threatened. We have stood up for righteousness when it suited us. Poor us.

But do we stand in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters who have the faith to stand up under real oppression? Have we asked ourselves what we would do in those circumstances? Are we passing along a Christian legacy to our children that will have them stand should the day ever come where their very lives could be lost for a faith in Jesus here in America?

Not if the faith we teach them is about something they merely perform on Sundays, rather than something they are. Is their faith their own? Do they hold to it even in the far reaches of their hearts? Down deep, so deep in fact, that no man or enemy can wrench it loose? So much so that it’s hard for them to tell where they stop and Christ begins?

This won’t happen without our help. We can’t allow our children to “find their own way”. We will send our children to a time we won’t see so it is up to us to send them with a faith that will sustain them after we are gone, no matter what they may face.

They might not ever face any real persecution, but they will face trials and hardships as our world groans louder and louder for the return of the King. We make sure they have all the school supplies and latest fashionable clothing, but we often skimp on making sure they have a faith that’s the real deal.

The Lord instructed His people, the Israelites, to do this very thing. He wanted to insure that they would not forget His teaching. Speaking to parents, He said:

Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you’ll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that God promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth.” Deuteronomy 11:18-21

The young man I saw lose his life for his faith was the real deal. He will, for eternity, be rewarded for his great love of Jesus and his sacrifice. He is our brother, and he is a hero of the faith.

Stripes and Polka Dots and Brown Shoes, Oh My!

I can remember when I was growing up, when my mother was super stressed out over her mothering job, she would say, “If anyone had told me how hard being a parent was going to be, I might not have done it.” Now in my mother’s defense, my brother and I didn’t make her job easy sometimes. And I am sure she’s not the first or last to have uttered or thought those words. Yet in reality no one could adequately warn any of us for all the struggles, pitfalls, stressors, and challenges being parents will bring, and if they could, the human race would soon become extinct. Who would knowingly, really knowingly, step up and volunteer for the hardest job in the world? None of us.

In our minds, as young women, we only envisioned holding that sweet bundle of joy in our arms that gazed back up at us and cooed lovingly. The bundles that need us, love us, and depend on us for their very existence. It is that vision that drives us into motherhood. Our minds are blinded to the sleepless nights, exhaustion, mess, conflict, and self-sacrifice. And it’s a good thing… or like my own stressed out mom shared, we probably would have said, “No thanks!”

But we didn’t. We had babies. Some of us had lots of babies. Our quivers are full. I can remember an older country preacher gathering Matthew and I in close to him as he prayed over us that our quiver would be full of children. My eyes popped open as well as my mouth. Matthew and I were not even yet married, and he was filling my house!

Well, I wish I still knew this man, there are some things I’d like to ask him to pray for today! The Lord answered his prayer and Matthew and I now have four kids. TEENS. Thank you, very much.

I have loved being a mother. Every stage. Except for a few days here and there, it’s been my greatest joy in life. Even the hard days. Even the days when I wanted to pinch their little heads off. Even on those days, I would step in front of a speeding train to save any one of them. It has taught me much of God’s love for me. It has taught me much about His grace and forgiveness, too.

I recently picked up a parenting book. I thought it might be a good resource for a small group I hope to lead in the fall. It’s called “Grace Based Parenting” by Tim Kimmel. I am only a few chapters in, but I’m hooked.

Kimmel challenges parents to raise their children the way God raises His, with grace. I think he’s right. I’m not talking about grace that gives kids license to do whatever they want whenever they want. That’s not grace and that breeds resentment. I’m talking about the grace that must be paired with truth if it is, indeed, that same grace offered to us through Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Farther, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14)

Jesus came to show us how to live in both grace and truth. Grace is not grace without the boundaries. Conversely, truth without grace is just a set of rules that points to how much of a failure we are.

For instance, take my daughter’s Sunday outfit. She came skipping out to the car on Sunday morning wearing purple polka dotted skinny jeans, a white and black striped shirt and brown shoes. Brown.

My fourteen-year-old daughter has a unique sense of style, for sure…. But didn’t I teach her that brown shoes just won’t get it with a black and white striped shirt? And what about stripes and dots? Oh my.

Now in that next moment I had a choice to make. I could have made her go change. I could have. But I really couldn’t make my preference issues spiritual ones. Nowhere in scripture does it say you can’t wear dots and stripes, or brown shoes with a black shirt. I’m disappointed about that, but it’s not in there. What is in there is how females should adorn themselves.

Nothing Laura was wearing was going to cause any boy to sin in his heart. She was completely covered. In no way was her outfit going to draw the wrong kind of attention. It might have caused some to wonder if she had gotten dressed in the dark, or by a kindergartener, but that was the extent of it. She had followed the spirit of the law if not the letter, and that’s just what Jesus came to show us.

So I let her wear her odd pairings to church. And the world kept turning, and there was not an argument over her choice of clothes.

If the whole parenting gig is getting you down, or you feel like there’s just something missing, maybe you’ve forgotten to pair grace AND truth together. We want to raise children that will grow up to understand the kind of love the Father has for them. To do that, we have to raise them with that same love. So that one day, when we are dead and gone, no matter what they face in life, they will know of His great love for them.

Little Drummer Boy

My youngest child will start middle school in one week. Gone are the days of elementary school forever…

Hurray!

No more class parties, field trips, book fairs, or Boosterthons. I know some moms mourn their children moving on from elementary school, but for the last fourteen years I’ve had at least one kid there. I’m ready to move on.

From almost the time of his birth, his older two brothers have dubbed my youngest son the family drummer. Nearly a year ago, for his birthday, Evan received his first drum set. If you ask Evan what he is, he will tell you he is a drummer. (He’s more of a “drummer in training”, but let’s not squelch the dream, okay?)

Glad your kid isn’t a drummer? It does get loud, all that beating and rata-tat-tatting, but I don’t mind. I love drums. We all have a rhythm inside of us. Our heart rhythm is what keeps us moving. Hearing a good drummer just speaks to my soul, somehow.

Evan’s dream is to play drums one day at our church. I tease about how he is going to take John Mark’s place on stage at Church of the Highlands one day. Except that I’m not really joking at all. John Mark is one of the talented drummers on stage leading worship during the worship services. They keep him in a large fish bowl so that the drumming doesn’t get out of hand, but I’d like it if they would just turn him loose.

Helping a child find his passion in life is a parent’s greatest joy. Watching Evan play the drums makes me smile. He’s got a ways to go before John Mark has to watch over his shoulder for Evan, but give it time.

We made the decision for Evan to join the concert band in middle school. In all honesty, he doesn’t really care about being in the band. He wants to learn to be a percussionist. Anything that will help him attain his goal. He wants to play drums for Jesus. He’s my little drummer boy. This is an opportunity to learn things that will help him reach this goal.

But before that could happen, he had to try out all the other musical instruments in the band and be judged on them. It was no shoe in that he would make the drum line.

He tried out for drums first. He did well. He’s a drummer, remember? But he only scored a nine out of ten on his tryout. The rules stated that to make the drum line, you had to score a ten out of ten. To say Evan was bummed was an understatement.

“I don’t want to play any other instrument, Mom.” He whined.

“It will be okay”, I told him. “You won’t have to.”

Still, he had to try out on the other instruments anyway. He faired well on the trumpet and even better on the trombone. Both judges gave him nines. The trombone judge gave him a nine plus. Evan was not happy about it.

With his shoulders drooping, he looked at me and said, “I guess I could play the trumpet.”

I asked him, “Are you a trumpet player?”

“No.”

“What are you?”

“I’m a drummer.”

So I told him:

“Then don’t lose sight of your goal. Don’t let someone else tell you who you are or what you should be. People will try to side line you and distract you from what you feel passionate about. Don’t let that happen. Those judges mean well, but you are not a horn player. You will have to show the band director your passion for drums.”

Gathering his resolve he said, “I’m a drummer. And I want to be a percussionist!”

So the time came after Evan had tried out on all the instruments that we were to meet with the band director and see what instrument Evan would be assigned to play. I told Evan he would have to step up and show his passion. He would have to convince that band director that sitting before him was a drummer, not a horn player… in spite of his scores.

We waited for a long while as other kids stepped up to the table to meet with the band director. One by one, each one was assigned an instrument. The closer we got to our turn, the more confident Evan became.

When finally, our turn came, we sat across from the band director and Evan handed him his judge’s sheet. He looked it over, and asked Evan, “So, you scored well on a few of these. Which instrument did you think you might want to go with?”

“I’m a drummer.” Was Evan’s confident reply.

The band director looked at Evan for a long while before saying, “Yes, I believe that you are. Drum line it is, then.”

The smile that broke across his face was priceless. I really hope that Evan learned a great lesson that day. Passion, God given passion, is not something we should ever allow any one person to derail. We might be told again and again that we are not good enough, but if the Lord has given us a passion, then He will give us the ability.

I think one of our most important jobs as parents is helping our children discover their passions, and then teaching them how to hold onto them.

Mouse Hockey

I’ve watched a fair amount of the Olympic games over the last couple of weeks. It’s great to see those young athletes going for the gold. To achieve Olympic style greatness requires a goodly amount of stick-to-itiveness. It requires us to set aside things that distract. Things that want to pull us away from that which we are called to. It is a single-minded determination that brings champions to the medal stage. When we are called to a purpose, and we each are, staying focused on that purpose is a challenge.

Our family has recently taken up our own sort of odd Olympic event. As I watch some of what is now considered “Games” material, I have hope that our new event might one day make it into the Olympic Games. Even some of the past Olympic events like Pigeon Shooting and the Long Jump for horses give me hope for our event.

I’ve mentioned before that our house is nestled in the woods with all the flora and fauna. Sometimes the fauna wants to come inside. This is not pleasing to me. I have three cats who are welcome inside, this is enough.

Occasionally, a field mouse will decide to venture in. I’m not sure why. Did I mention the three cats?

A few nights ago, while my husband and I were both occupied on our computers, my youngest son came barreling upstairs to announce that there was a mouse under our stove. “How can you tell?” I asked. “Because all three cats are staring at the stove.” He replied.

Okay. Could be. We’ve been through this before.

My husband and I decide to go check it out. On the way down, I ask, “What’s our plan?” Meaning… should one of the cats actually catch it, what do we do then? Matthew was not ready with an answer. I don’t think he was convinced we needed a plan.

But we soon discovered that we did. About the time we got to the door of our kitchen our smallest cat, and best hunter, lunged for the little mouse that had decided to make a break for it. His ability to scoop up little critters, while having no claws, is impressive.

We have experienced this situation before. We all went into mouse mode. Evan ran upstairs to close off all bedroom doors. I closed off all the doors on the main floor.

My daughter climbed up on a chair.

We knew our kitty would not go in for the kill right away. He likes to play with his food. He also knew we would try to take it from him.

I stood at the ready in the opening to the kitchen that leads to the den, armed with a mop. My husband, stood at the door to the dining room, armed with a broom. The cat made his choice, faked left and broke right. I went left and he shot past me and up the steps with the mouse in his mouth. We chased him, mouse in mouth, back downstairs and into the dining room this time. Again, we took up posts at the doors, armed with our mops and brooms. Each time the cat would drop the mouse for another game of chase, it would run toward us and we’d push it back into the dining room with our tools. The mouse would slide back across the hardwoods toward the cat who would continue his game of …well… cat and mouse.

Finally, my husband handed off the broom to Evan and grabbed a cardboard box from the basement. Since it did not appear the cat was going to kill the mouse anytime soon, (he was enjoying the game to much) the plan, then, was to trap the mouse in the box and dispose of it.

Our game of mouse hockey was full of excitement and a lot of screaming and laughing. I’ll skip the part where, when the mouse ran over his foot, my husband screamed like a girl.

I have to hand it to the little rodent, he gave a great effort, too. Together, we closed in on the mouse with our brooms, mop, and box. With impressive talent, my husband managed to trap the little thing in the box and close the lid. We were fine for the cat to kill the mouse, that’s all about the call of the wild and survival of the fittest stuff, but we are not mouse killers.

With the mouse securely in the box, my daughter and I walked it FAR away from our house. We set the box down by the side of the road, and hightailed it back home. We did take note of a house not too far away that has sat empty for a while, now has people fixing it up. I’m thinking that little mouse, and the two who showed up two nights later are coming from there. Great.

We are perfecting our skills in the game of Mouse Hockey. Unfortunately, or fortunately, one mouse did not survive the cat. But we move into mouse hockey mode like a well-oiled machine now.

Practice makes perfect, whether it’s a track and field Olympic event, Mouse Hockey, or something like our Jesus following, heart winning, Christian life. When we are called into action, we slide into it like a hand in a glove. It’s who we are then. We are ready, because we have prepared.