Monthly Archives: November 2014

SNOWMEN ON MY TREE

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As we unpacked the 12 foot tree, assembled it, and started sorting through ornaments, I picked up one of the snowmen. I started this collection the year my first grandchild was born.  Every year since then I’ve bought another snowman ornament to hang as his ornament. I do this for all the grandchildren. But this year, the snowmen won’t be on my tree. Instead I will wrap them carefully and send them to my grandson and his new wife, who now live across the country.

When I began the collection it was with the intent that someday. . .someday far, far away…I would give them to him and his bride for their first Christmas together. Where has the time gone? All these snowmen–23 in all. I feel somehow close to all these snowmen. . .we have become close friends as I’ve hung them carefully on the tree each year with warm thoughts of my grandson and all that he means to us, the joy of sharing life with him.

Cherish the moments. . .and the precious people God put in your life. James 4:24 “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

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FAMLY DRAMA–(Part four)

2014-01-04 06.39.41

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REDEEMING THE PAST

About four years ago I got really serious before the Lord about my role as a prayer warrior for my family. I joined a small group to read and study Stormie Omartian’s book, How to Pray for Your Adult Children. Tears stain the pages of that book and it is now tattered and torn. God showed up in our little group of moms and we wept before God for our families. I drew a circle around me and said, “Lord, show me wisdom; create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Show me, Lord. Teach me, Lord. Oh, God, HELP ME!”

I’m reminded of all God put in place to answer the Israelites’ prayers to free them from bondage in Egypt. It took time; but He was faithful. Unbeknownst to me, God started moving. Through the most unexpected set of circumstances, we opened our home to a young man to whom we thought we could minister. Little did I know that God had brought me a new child to show me what I didn’t know-what I needed to know. He was my second chance. I would do an even better job this time; I had learned so much more over the years. I pulled out my cape and cool boots and began my FIX IT MOM approach with him. It failed—miserably failed. My cape and cool boots seemed to be losing their powers; he wanted none of it. Wouldn’t you know, this young man came with a degree in psychology and the gentlest of hearts and ways. He carefully and lovingly began to hold a mirror up to me so I could see what I was doing and why it wasn’t working (on him or others). Recently I asked him to advise me. First, he affirmed me and told me what he saw in my heart–it was filled with unconditional love for my family, and he expressed his gratitude for the blessing he had received to also be the recipient of this mom’s love. He said it is my love that has built up my beautiful and wonderful children into the amazing men and woman they are today. It was my unconditional love for him that was healing, restoring, letting him see and become the man he was created to be–and my passion for God had even drawn him, a former professed atheist, to discover who God truly is–LOVE. But a mom’s love must have boundaries between her and her children and those boundaries apply to both sides. There’s work assigned to moms and there’s work God holds for Himself (my student had become the teacher). He did not force or try to convince me. He just answered my question. I wondered how long he had waited for me to ask. He hasn’t even brought it up again once. I thank God for his loving, quiet and gentle ways of modeling right training and coaching.

Trials began to come—along the lines of the plagues of Egypt. “OK, God, I found my cape and cool boots in the back of the closet. I tried them on again this week–took them out again for a little spin. Are you aware they seem to be losing their powers?” “My child, they have never had any power. They represent pride in you. You only step where you shouldn’t with those boots on. You need to take them off and hand them over to me.” “Could I keep them, but just put them away—just in case? My children may need me again.” “Absolutely not. They are my children; I only loaned them to you. I will train them and teach them and draw them. Now give me the boots and cape.” “But God, can’t I help you.” “NO. You can pray and you can trust, but from here on, this is my work. You keep making a mess of things. But don’t worry. I love you and them. My name is the Jehovah Shalom, the God of peace, and I am in the redeeming business. You are almost a full-time job for me, but I am The Almighty so I can handle even the messes you create” (Isaiah 54:13). “Oh, God, I will pray and trust, but can’t I do anything . . anything at all?” “Yes, my child, you can abide in me. Receive my love and forgiveness, allow me to fill you and use you, to make you fruitful. You have to learn that you can do nothing of yourself. So for now, simply learn to rest and abide” (John 15:5).

“OK, God, I’ll try, but you know I’m an achievement oriented person—you made me that way. Resting has really never been in my vocabulary; I’m not good at this. Are you sure I can’t do anything at all? Praying and waiting are hard. You know I have learned so many great things from you since the children left home–maybe I could teach them to my children.” “You are wearing me out, my child. Can’t you see this is part of your FIX IT problem? Rule #1. there must be no teaching, training or FIXING unless they ask.” “OK, Lord, but I feel like a failure when I see them making mistakes that I know are because I failed them in some way.” “I didn’t ask you to be their mom because you would do it all and do it all perfectly. I only asked you to do your best. I’ve been faithful to continue to teach you and I will be just as faithful to them.”

“There is this one thing you can do–you can love your children even as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12). “OK, Lord, that’s easy. You know I already love them with my whole heart. Maybe I could make a list of all the wonderful things I love about each one and put it in a frame they could sit on their desks to remind them how awesome they are to me and you.” “WHEW—I think I may have given you a touch too much of the achievement spice. They already know you think they are awesome and that you love them. Take it slow. That wasn’t what I had in mind, but I will show you my way.” “And, Lord, maybe I could make a list of our family’s values. I got this idea from a really cool family and I think it would be awesome to make this for my family–to pass down through the generations–way cooler than a coat of arms.” “What part of taking this slow did you not understand? Do you think maybe this might be something your children would enjoy creating with you rather than your forcing your idea of values on them? Just wait. I will show you the way. I have something else in mind for you first.” “What, Lord?—I’ll do anything. I’d give my life for my children.” “Just wait. WAIT. Be sure you read this verse in its entirety—I repeated the wait part again at the end—just to make sure you hear what I’m saying to you. I will show you and give you strength. For now, WAIT” (Psalms 27:15).

One night, when I’d stepped in with my boots and cape again, my youngest son said, “Mom, I love you with all my heart, but you think you have to fix things. I know you mean well, but people won’t change their attitudes and opinions because you try to tell them what they should do–even if you are right. People have to want to see themselves and only they can change themselves. You need to stop.” Had he been talking to my new son? As I lay in bed that night reflecting on what he said, I began to talk with my heavenly Father again. “God, is this an area of pride in me? An area where I lack faith in you? Oh, God, please forgive me. Please give me wisdom.” “Ah, humility. Dependence on me. Now we are getting somewhere. Since you asked for my wisdom, I will give it because I love you. Did you notice that the reason you heard what these two young men had to say was because 1) you asked and 2) they shared wisdom with you from a position of humility and love? Unasked for advice (regardless of your heart) feels like criticism and hurts the other person. Wisdom begins with knowledge and you must humble yourself and seek knowledge and be willing to align your ways to mine if you want to be wise.” “OK, Lord. Humility was not exactly what I had in mind when I asked if there was anything I could do. But, this time, I’ll do it your way (James 4:10).”

“Aw, my precious child. Now you are on the right track. Humility is very good—now we are really getting somewhere. Humility is the exact right place for you to start (I Peter 5:6). Now begin to seek knowledge. I will give you understanding and then you’ll know what the right things are for you to do. You always want to do first. Doing must always have its roots in humility. I revealed the secrets of my wisdom and power to you because you asked, because upon examination I saw that you have a pure heart toward me and others and because you were diligent to seek my face. . .not because you are my smartest or wisest child. I asked you to write the book on my wisdom and power because I knew writing it down might help you understand and retain more of it. Now it’s time for you to begin your doing with what I’ve taught you. Humility was the exact right first step. Now turn over that cape . . .yes, and especially the boots. . . and trust me. Seven of my Jehovah names are names of redemption. You can’t begin to do this work; but I can and will complete the work begun in them. . .and you. I am faithful (Philippians 1:6).”

“Yes, Lord.”

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FAMILY DRAMA–(part three)

2014-01-04 06.39.41

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRAINING STRATEGIES WE CAN USE IN RAISING OUR FAMILIES (in no particular order):

  1. Start with humility. You can’t do this alone—you desperately need God.
  2. Forget perfect. My family could regale you with stories of my failed attempts to create perfect. Just relax and be together.
  3. Make family gatherings fun. Yes, play games—yard games, board games, cards/dominoes, work a puzzle—whatever.
  4. Make time for family to get away together whether for a meal or vacation.
  5. Make time for each person to share the good, bad and ugly in their life since you last gathered. Each needs a safe place where they can be heard. They need to celebrate victories—good grades, a job promotion, a special award. They also need a forum where they can share their needs or ask for forgiveness for shortcomings or failures knowing they will receive support and encouragement. They need to know that there is one place they can be transparent knowing this group will have their back. (Can you imagine how powerful for your children to see you doing this with your parents and siblings?)
  6. Model right behavior between you and your parents so your children can see how to deal with you when they grow up.
  7. Establish family traditions. Don’t force your ideas of traditions you hold dear. Ask them what is important to them. Maybe you don’t have to bake pumpkin bread this year.
  8. Together identify the values your family holds dear and post them in your home. Make a copy for them when they leave for college or establish their own home. These should be things together that you cherish about home and who you are as a family. Create them and annually review and adjust.
  9. Make a list of all the character qualities God wants to see in you and your children. Ask Him to open doors so you can learn/teach these things effectively to your children. Be strategic. Be inventive. Be responsible. Ask God to show you His way.
  10. Validate your children.
  11. Be a role model.
  12. Serve God from your heart.
  13. Show them how God is changing you. Don’t be afraid to be transparent with them and let them see you fail but get up and grow.
  14. Have a thankful heart.
  15. Be a forgiver, not a hoarder of past hurts and disappointments.
  16. Be a peacemaker.
  17. Be gracious and hospitable.
  18. Model generosity.
  19. Don’t allow gossip — teach your children to hold each other and even you accountable to take it to the source.
  20. Teach proper communication skills to your children. Let the family hold each other accountable.
  21. Teach listening skills.
  22. Teach your children how to deal with hurt feelings lest they turn into resentments which turn into bitterness and that into a critical spirit and that into slander and that into revenge/malice.  Ask Eve or Jacob–it’s a slippery slope.
  23. Teach confrontational skills to your children. Model it. Train them carefully. It will protect their hearts.
  24. Teach the way to handle anger.
  25. Teach leadership skills.
  26. Teach them the 7 types of knowledge (Proverbs 1).
  27. Teach and model ethics.
  28. Teach them the value of hard work. Help them start a business–lemonade stand, yard work, etc.
  29. Allow failure; teach them to get up and try again.
  30. Encourage their creativity.
  31. Help them identify their talents and spiritual gifts. Provide opportunities for them to strengthen them.
  32. Trust God for provision.
  33. Have God’s vision for His world (get involved with your church’s mission program or local homeless shelter or food pantry)
  34. Put God first in everything you do. Seek His ways.
  35. Pray with your children.
  36. Find opportunities to celebrate each family member and their achievements.
  37. Tell them your faith stories of God’s leading and provision.
  38. Don’t send your kids to Sunday School–take them.
  39. Help them memorize and hide God’s word in their hearts.
  40. And above all. . .LOVE. . .let it rule your hearts and ultimately every action and conversation.

Now if you can do all of this perfectly (and let’s not forget the 21 meals + snacks weekly, laundry and housecleaning, your  marriage relationship and your job), you will certainly deserve a medal. Now note that this list doesn’t include clubs, sports activities, sleepovers or a zillion birthday parties. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but be careful lest you substitute entertaining your children for training your children. If you are like me, you want to be the perfect parent–your children are amazing, so of course they deserve the best. But life happens. We are untrained–those little bundles of love didn’t come with instructions. I certainly didn’t get all this right. I’d have given anything for this list and the training I needed to actually do all this. Give it your best and just keep giving it back to God and trust Him to fill in the gaps.

The verse I cling to is Isaiah 54:13: “All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.”

This is no doubt just a small beginning list. . .please send me your thoughts and strategies that have worked and I’ll share with the group.

FAMILY DRAMA–(Part two)

2014-01-04 06.39.41

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where did I go wrong? What is the key difference between the men I teach and the family I raised?

Well, there are lots of differences. For starters I think my kids are way better looking than anyone in my classes—and they are way smarter, too. And would you like for me to tell you how successful they are? They are amazing young people. And their spouses—all I could have dreamed of for them (surely handpicked by God for them just as I prayed all those years). And my grands?—they are obviously way better looking and smarter than anyone else’s grandchildren. If you knew them you’d no doubt agree. Even the dogs are just way cool. Just ask me. I have pictures, too.

Despite how amazing they turned out (I’ll have to give God the credit for that one), there are things I did wrong. Really wrong. For starters, I felt it was my responsibility to not only expect but to also force my children to do right. Part of that mindset was passed down from generations before me and some of it was the culture of the day—kids were to be seen and not heard. We said ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes sir’ and we did as we were told. The culture shifted right underneath my child-rearing days. Humanism was being taught in our schools and children came home determined to make their wills known. While the more passive personalities appeared to adhere, they were sitting on the outside but standing on the inside, ready to make their decisions for themselves known given a first chance. The more strong-willed said, “Oh, yeah? Well, watch this!” So my forceful strategies and fix-it approach became the mantra of parenting. They say hindsight is 20/20. Can anyone give this mom a mulligan!

With the guys in the program we don’t demand. We don’t force or punish. We establish expectations and boundaries and enforce them. We teach. We coach. We encourage. We inspire. We then let God and His Holy Spirit take these truths and draw them to righteousness, changing their hearts and not just their actions. Let’s look at what and how we teach. I’m sure you will quickly see ways you can incorporate some of these principles into your parenting and home life with just a few adjustments for age and the framework of home.

WEEK 1

  1. We teach trust—yes, we play all sorts of games where they have to depend on each other to succeed—to survive. We make it fun. There are blindfolds, ropes and balls—children’s toys. Who knew you could teach important principles with play (even with adults).
  2. We teach community—we gather first thing each morning to talk about what is going on with us, to share what we are learning. As teachers we don’t come up with the question of the day—we let the guys take turns leading, asking the question of the day and leading the group interaction where each takes a turn standing in the center of the circle answering the question. At first they resist; many are petrified of speaking in public. But by the end of the five weeks, they all love this hour more than anything else because they get honest, share their thoughts and feelings, tears flow and hearts open. And before each takes his seat once again, they have to lead a song. It may be the Hokey Pokey, a favorite Christmas carol, an old hymn of faith or an Elvis rendition complete with fake microphone and shaking hips. . .but the play comes out even if some cannot carry a tune. The memories of those morning times together will live in their hearts forever. Now wouldn’t this have been a cool way to do morning devotions with my kids?
  3. We teach the principles of love. What is it? What does it look like? Can anyone say I Corinthians 13? Oh, we make it fun and practical—but it’s I Corinthians 13.
  4. We teach the principles of forgiveness—what it is and what it is not. How can we forgive the grave wrongs done to us? Why must we forgive? We invite them to begin the journey. The doors close and the hurts they have carried for so long spill out. Before God can fill our hearts with His love and peace we have to empty it out of all the stuff we’ve been hoarding for way too long.
  5. We teach the principles of wisdom (Proverbs 1) and I share the teachings from my book.
  6. We teach listening skills and “I” language. And the group self-moderates the process throughout the five weeks. If you are heard using “You” language, they will stop you and ask you to rephrase your statement. We have to retrain our minds and our mouths.
  7. We teach confrontational skills. When someone hurts your feelings, what are you supposed to do—go tell everyone you know or take it to the source? How do you begin and guide such a conversation? The group holds each other accountable to use our template for working through hurt feelings and disagreements (Matthew 18:15). I teach this, so why don’t we practice these principles within the family?
  8. We teach them how to deal with angry people without allowing it to infect them.
  9. We help them to identify their differences and commonalities.
  10. They begin a financial management track and a computer skills track.

WEEK 2

  1. We teach them about themselves—you’ve no doubt heard of the Myers-Briggs tests. We start there. They obviously learn about themselves but they then quickly realize there are 15 other types who process information differently than they do.
  2. We teach them about their differing communication styles, conflict styles, and their love languages. Add this to all the obvious differences such as age, ethnicity, family background, culture, area of the world you were raised in, etc. (and we don’t even have to throw female hormones into the mix because it is an all male class) and they begin to see WHY disagreements and misunderstandings arise and they begin to strive to learn before they react or judge.
  3. By the end of the week we teach them to not only understand each other but to also value the fact that they are different—to learn that they need each other’s differences to make the group stronger.
  4. We help them identify their values as individuals for these values will guide their individual decisions throughout their lives. We also lead them to identify the common values they all share. These are posted on the wall for all to see and refer back to as they make decisions. Are they true to their values?
  5. We provide time for feedback (which lets us continue to improve the program).

WEEK 3

  1. We identify and record achievements
  2. We help them write a personal statement of who they are—their elevator speech (a statement responding to the question “So tell me about yourself” that you can share in the time it takes an elevator to pick you up and deposit you on the next floor) which speaks succinctly to their strengths and passions. It gives them validation and identity.
  3. We develop their resumes and teach them to talk about their work histories and dreams.

WEEK 4

  1. We bring the community in to review their profile (that has no name or picture on it) but lists their values, experiences, personality types, hobbies and interests. The community leaders then make suggestions about what might be good experiences or job options for this type of person. It lets the guys see themselves and their futures through someone else’s eyes.
  2. It’s all about exploration.
  3. It’s about refining their resumes, learning interviewing skills (how to present themselves to the public), how to answer the hard questions and overcome obstacles.
  4. It’s mock interview time. Time to dress for success and to build confidence.

WEEK 5

  1. We teach leadership skills and help them understand their leadership style. We actually ask them to develop a product, produce and distribute or install it. They form their own company, select their leaders for tasks based upon what they’ve learned about each others’ strengths. They have to work together. Suddenly it is no longer hypothetical, it feels very real. They have $100, the clock is ticking and they need to make it happen.
  2. The last class is about networking. We were meant to be wind beneath each other’s wings. Like the birds flying in V-formation, they take turns leading, they look after their own, they stay together, with each flap of their wings, they give lift to the other one. And we invite them to begin to network and join with the greater Richmond community.

Now running in the background of all of this:

  1. There are daily chores—cleaning bathrooms, the kitchen, trash collection, the chalkboards, putting up and down of the computers, setting up for each class, leading group times, lunches to be brought in, etc. The guys establish teams and responsibilities and hold each other accountable.
  2. We also have life stories. Each evening before class dismisses they get in a room and close the door.  One of the men is assigned to tell his life story—all of it. These are men are alcoholics, drug addicts and felons. Trust me, they have some stories. They didn’t end up in a homeless recovery program without quite a story–and it always begins from their home life (or lack there of). Each class participant is charged with honoring their brother by providing input (both positive and constructive) as appropriate in the form of a letter they will write that night to their brother. The next morning, after devotional time, they sit face-to-face, one-by-one, right hands clasping right hands and review the check sheet provided to them of positive and construction thoughts and then they read their letter to their brother. It’s hard to open up and tell all the things of their past; and it is hard to both give and receive feedback—but they all know they will be in that seat. They honor each other with honesty and sincerity. The guys inevitably say they learn more about themselves through this process than they ever thought possible. They learn that others care about them, that they have strengths that they never saw and weaknesses confirmed by several brothers that they now know they must consider and address. They’ve told all their secrets, they are transparent before their brothers and they learn they can still be loved.

COMMENCEMENT

  1. We celebrate them.
  2. They are asked to give back to others
  3. They are given an opportunity to be an inspiration and encourager to others

My key take-aways. We teach. We unveil our frailties. They lead. They make decisions and set expectations. They monitor and hold each other accountable to the group’s values. We coach. We encourage. We inspire. We celebrate and light the way. Who knew that there were so many things to teach and model when God said, “Train up a child in the way he should go. . .” (Proverbs 22:6)? You mean there’s more than just taking them to church, and teaching them to bless their food and say their nightly prayers. . .and please stop fighting with their siblings and buckle their seat belt? Now I’m not saying I didn’t teach my children tons of great things or that God didn’t use me in spite of myself to do so in their lives–did I mention that they are amazing? I’m simply saying that increased knowledge has brought me more understanding of right ways that I wish I’d used, that I wish I had been more strategic about training and less diligent about policing.

How can we as parents use these ideas and principles to train our children? And if we have failed, how can we redeem the lost time, our failed efforts of the past? Come back for Part 3’s strategies for use with our families and Part 4’s story of redemption. I’ve simply opened the door to start this conversation. Many of you are gifted at training children, please share strategies and insights with us. This is your learning community.

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FAMILY DRAMA–(part one)

2014-01-04 06.39.41

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The holidays are approaching. Most of us are starting to make shopping lists, buying and wrapping presents, toying with menus. We want to make this a special time for our family—the best holiday ever. We dream of those Norman Rockwell gatherings where everyone is picture-perfect happy. And we do our best to make it perfect. Yet deep in our hearts we know that the likelihood of us all making it through much more than a meal without some sort of drama somewhere, with someone, would take a miracle second only to Peter walking on water.

In a recent interaction with a friend, we noted the tension in our conversation, the elevation change of our voices, and how emotional we each became when we began to talk about the holidays with our families. Boy, this is a touchy subject (for us all); after all, it’s about our families—those we cherish. I want to approach this subject with the respect it deserves—with tenderness and love, humility and transparency. I have the most amazing family ever (ask me, I adore my family and the in-laws and grandchildren are so special to us). Make one disparaging comment about them and I’ll fight you to the finish. But truth be told, we ain’t perfect (see my blog’s Meet Carol disclaimer that if you are looking for perfect, you need to find another blog, but if you can allow God to continue to mold me and you want to grow with me, then read on).

I write with total humility and fear before God for He has been teaching me that I don’t know it all, that often I’m part of the problems in my family (if not THE problem), and that I need to continue to grow and learn. For example: I must confess to being a FIX IT mom. If there is any (and I do mean ANY) dissention in my family, I pick at it and keep picking at it until it is a bleeding sore because I just want everyone to love each other (and God) so badly. I keep thinking that if I try one more time, they’ll each see the part they need to fix, see what they are doing to cause the problem, that surely they will say they are sorry, and I can check off that issue and we can all move on. (Can’t you hear the mom telling her little children to kiss and make up?) WHEW! Next issue please! Fix it mom to the rescue again–where is my cape and cool boots? (Yes, I know writers are only supposed to use one exclamation point for every 50,000 words, but this is about our families)!!!

Can’t you just see how blessed my family has been to have to endure this approach from me? In my efforts, it seems that instead of being at odds with one another, they all become at odds with me. Why me? What did I do? I was trying to fix things. (I hear the AMENS echoing through the emails of my family already.) There’s change that needs to occur and it needs to start with me. I am usurping God’s role and acting as the Holy Spirit in their lives, trying to point out what they need to do or not do, where they each made a mistake. EVER THE FIX IT MOM! Now note that I am not critical or judgmental, don’t take sides—I point out what each is doing to hurt the other one (thank the Lord for this one pious point I can cling to), I just want to fix it. Don’t you know the Holy Spirit is appreciative of all the help I’ve given Him over the years? How blessed my family is to have a fix it mom. The amazing love they had for my efforts when they were children has only accelerated as they have moved into adulthood. Bless my heart!

Let’s get honest. In our family, just like in yours, stuff just happens. And if it hasn’t yet, don’t give up. The holidays are coming. Beautiful trees, priceless ornaments, halls of greenery and delicious food aren’t enough. I’m just being transparent here. Misunderstandings come up—from nowhere; out of nothing. Luke 17:1 says “Then said He unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” Let’s face it, there were divisions between Paul and Silas. There were divisions between the disciples. If we look at Scripture, we see that even Cain and Abel in the first family had divisions. I wonder if Eve struggled with being a fix it mom; apparently, she wasn’t so good at it either. Oh me, and look at Abraham’s grandchildren—they sold their brother Joseph into slavery. There were even divisions between Jesus and His earthly brothers. So what are we to do? It seems hopeless–makes me want to give up and hide in the closet. But maybe that’s not the best approach. Besides, with all the shoes in there that I can’t seem to part with, there’s barely room for me.  And my cool Fix It Mom boots and cape are nowhere to be found.

God’s redemptive Jehovah name for our families is the Jehovah Shalom—The Lord our Peace. This is His plan for our homes, our desire for our families—that we live in peace and one accord. It’s the desire Christ has for His family. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Hear the desire that we rise above the offenses that are bound to come and choose love and peace.

My dad used to say that we can expect conflict in our marriages/homes and in our churches because these are the two things Christ established here on earth. So guess where Satan is working overtime to have a victory, to divide and to destroy? You guessed it!

As I’ve mentioned, I work with a 5-week transition program for men leaving recovery and transitioning back into work. When they arrive in class week 1, they don’t love one another at all—in fact, they don’t even pretend to like one another. They’ve lived close, in a barracks situation, for 8-12 months and they can barely tolerate each other. We spend precious class time with interruptions about all their disagreements with each other. So exhausting. Yet at the end of the five weeks, these men would die for one another. They are brothers. They sing and play and laugh and love–and there’s not a decorated tree or pumpkin pie to be found. Now understand that I created the program, for crying out loud. What is it that creates this bond and unity? What did I do right with the program and wrong at home—where it really counts? Can we bottle it and take it home with us? I’ll place my order for a case today, regardless of the cost, and spike our drinks with it—well, maybe a drop or two in the pumpkin pie wouldn’t hurt either–just for good measure.

So come back for Part 2 and let’s see what secret ingredients to unity we might discover from this program and in Part 3, let’s try to come up with some strategies we can use this year with our families to begin to build harmony and unity—to strengthen the bonds of love and peace. And if you, like me, have some redeeming work to do, don’t miss Part 4.

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Ho-Ho Horrible Holidays

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Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Christ came to fulfill the law given to Moses and did so completely. Yet, in this verse we learn WE can fulfill the law of Christ by bearing each other’s burdens.

It’s a long story of happenstances but God directed my path to the Grief Share session last night at church. The topic of the video and the discussion was surviving the holidays.  As we went around the room of about 16, each took a turn sharing their loss and the dread in their hearts of the looming holidays.  There were tears and pain spilling out into the midst of these precious hurting friends. It struck me that I’d passed many of them in the hall, sat next to them at church, shared a meal with them and yet I’d not seen their pain. Maybe if I’d have looked closer into their eyes, listened more carefully to cues, etc., I might have seen their struggle. Emotions were tender; death had had a victory.Holidays loomed like an insurmountable wall ahead.

I look back to that first year we lost Heather.  She passed on October 28th and we’d already put her Christmas presents on lay-away back in the summer so we’d be sure to be able to afford them.  We’d just paid them off and they were stored in the closet ready to be wrapped and placed under the tree.  Now what were we going to do?  I decided I couldn’t bear to go through Christmas with those toys in the house.  They had to be returned. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask someone to do this task for me; but for whatever reason, I decided I’d do this alone.  I may not be able to give them to my little girl, but I would return them.  It was the holidays, so the lines at the customer service desk were long. . . it felt like they were miles long. I stood in line for what seemed like an eternity, my heart beating, my palms sweating, barely able to stand in that line, holding back the tears by only a thin thread.  Finally it was my turn.

“What can I do for you?” the young clerk asked.  “I need to return these,” I said in barely a whisper. “What? Why would  you return toys the day before Christmas?” he asked. Silence fell in the whole area as all eyes looked straight at me. “I looked him in the eyes and said, “My little girl died. Please take them.”  I’ll never forget the look on his face as a groan made its way from the depths of his soul and out of his mouth. There had to be at least 50 people in the immediate area and no one breathed or made a sound. Now don’t ask me what snapped in that moment, but I began to laugh. It wasn’t a laugh of joy but of deep sadness, of laughing lest I break down and bawl my eyes out. He was in shock and I was shaking. He took the toys, gave me my money and neither of us said a word-I just laughed the saddest, most hysterical laugh you can imagine as this sea of people parted like the Red Sea allowing me to escape.

That whole scene still ranks as one of my most bizarre memories. It was one of the saddest moment of my life. Why was I laughing so uncontrollably?  I don’t know, but sometimes life is just so dramatic that laughing becomes a form of crying. This year there will be returns to be made, hearts to be mended, memories to be gently handled, doors to be closed on Christmas pasts. There are those all around you who are hurting.  They’ll wear a smile so you can’t see the pain in their hearts. But God knows and He comforts. Ask God to let you see and be an instrument of support and comfort to someone this holiday season as you fulfill the law of Christ.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the joy of the coming of the Christ child.  He came so He could die once for all, conquering death for us. He knew the pain man suffered at the hand of sin and death and He came that Christmas morning to redeem man. He came to take away death and replace it with eternal life. Christmas is the holiday for sufferers. It’s the holiday when Christ came to take away suffering. Celebrate the victory He won for us and that we will see our loved ones again.

If you are struggling this year, just know that it is normal to have a hard time during the holidays. There is  help on line at http://www.griefshare.org/holidays. Find a support group; they’ll give you hope and walk it out with you.

Sending you a virtual hug from my heart to yours. And may you find peace and joy this season in Him.

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TIME-Tick Tock (part 3)

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As we continue our discussion of time, there are two references in scripture to “the fullness of time” and both of them have to do with the Lord Jesus Christ. As parents we adore our children and all of our times revolve around them. In the early days it is about making sure they have a bottle and a dry diaper and all the love we can bestow on them. Then comes first words and first steps, learning and growing and exploring. What do they need or want? As we’ve aged it has become all about when they call or come, when they make time to include us. So, we can understand God’s focus: it’s all about His Son!

Galatians 4:4: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. . .” God who knew all things from the beginning had been marking time until His Son would arrive on an earth bound by the law.  What a glorious day that was for us and for Him. His Son came to fulfill the law–to set man free. We see The Father, indeed all firmament, heralding His Son’s birth to shepherds and wise men. It was time! His Son was revealed to man:  step one in the process of redemption–He came to fulfill the law, to break the bonds of sin on man, to conquer death, hell and the grave. This time is history. As Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Ephesians 1:10: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him. .  .” And so the process continues until the reason the Son was sent can be fulfilled as God gathers us together in Christ, redeeming mankind unto Himself–the Creator completing the redemption of man, His creation. I found it interesting that this reference made time plural; in other words, all time (all processes of time) come together in the revelation of Jesus Christ. This time is still to come–still in process.

In II Thessalonians 1 we see that when Jesus shall be revealed it will be a day of judgment and of vengeance on unbelievers. And for the believer it will be the day He is glorified in us and that we will marvel at Him. Oh what a day that will be: the fullness of time when He shall be revealed in all His glory and His saints (that’s us) will be glorified in Him and will glorify Him. I think those heavenly angels just might be having a choir retreat to prepare for this glorious worship service even as I type this blog.

In Beth Moore’s study The Children of the Day she points out an interesting fact about time. These verses depict time as coming toward us.  We human types think of time as slipping away, as wasting or losing time (and certainly there are references in Scripture to our redeeming time). Yet in these references about time, God speaks of time as coming. Beth pointed out that as we draw closer and closer to the coming of all time (eternity with Christ), mankind is becoming obsessed with time just as we might begin to count down the days to the coming of Christmas (or our vacation).  None of us worry about it a year in advance, but let us get close to the event and we start counting days and hours. The fullness of time is drawing near and our obsession with time is now counting the nano seconds as the Father makes ready to reveal His Son in all His glory! It’s almost time.

Don’t be overly concerned with times past and how man got here. Our key verse cited in part two says it is incomprehensible to us. But get ready for His revelation. Philippians 2:9-11: Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

His time, all time, eternity is coming. The clock is ticking, the process of His time is drawing close to completion. Get ready!

I Corinthians 1:7-9: Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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TIME-TickTock (part 2)

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KEY VERSE: Ecclesiastes 3:11: He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Scientists are fascinated with time. They argue over how many dimensions there are to our universe. Some of my latest internet searches show theories for 10, 11 or even 12. But most agree that TIME is the 4th dimension. It’s some of this theoretical analysis of time that leads us to notions like time travel.  Science was not my fave subject so you can relax, there will be no discussion here that is meant to bend your mind around speculative theories with mathematical explanations.  WHEW! So take your space suit off and let’s just see what God has to say about time.

From the beginning, God lets us see Him as a timekeeper (Genesis 1). Peter reminds us, however, in I Peter 3:8 that time with the Lord is very different (e.g., a thousand years is as a day) than the framework for time that we earthlings live by. God speaks in terms of infinity which is just too unfathomable for mortal me to wrap my head around.  I just have to accept that His ways are higher than my ways; His thoughts are higher than my thoughts; and His understanding of time is way higher than mine.

Time as we know it was established on day four of creation when we were given a sun and moon to mark days, seasons and years. (NOTE: do a study on the evolution of timepieces and you’ll see that it is only in recent centuries that we have become interested in marking hours and minutes and seconds. . .and subsequent divisions of same). Now let me quickly point out that God kept track of time in days in the first three days of creation, but we are not told what instrument He used to mark those days. Were they the thousand year kind of days or a 24-hour day? We are not told, just as we are not told how long it was from the beginning when He created the heaven and the earth in Genesis 1:1 to verse 2 when the Spirit moved on the deep, or how long it was from verse 2 to verse 3. Theologians and scientists can debate this one for centuries to come. My theory is that God didn’t think we needed to know the details and that we probably wouldn’t understand it all even if He had shared it with us (see our Key Verse). Certainly He would have had to send another book (or two or three) to lay it all out for us in a way we could understand.  Explaining the theory of time and relativity, however, is not the purpose of the Bible. Revealing Himself and His Son to us, showing us the way to live here and pointing us to His Son, who is the way to life eternal with Him in the Kingdom, is the purpose of the book.  So if God didn’t think I needed to understand (or that my mortal mind could not understand), I’m going to just leave all that be. When we get to heaven we will understand infinity because it will be relative to us. He’s certainly revealed enough to us in Scripture to keep our inquiring minds busy here on earth as we seek to know more and more about Him and His ways relative to our life here and the preparations we need to make for eternity with Him.

From the first use of the word time, (Genesis 4:3 referencing Abel’s first offering), it is referred to as a process. Other examples include the process of planting and harvesting and the process of time for a woman to conceive and give birth. It becomes evident that our God is a patient God. He starts a good work and completes it–in process of time.

So if God started a time clock on Day 4, and He considers time a process, what would be the end of the process?  What would be the completion of time as we know it here on earth?  What is the process of earthly time all about?

Stay tuned for Part 3 in my next blog.

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TIME–Tick Tock (part 1)

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I’ve always watched time. When I was a teen, my first job at Southwestern Company was typing letters to our salesmen. Back in the olden days this meant that we typed every last word of every letter.  There was a really big clock on a post wall right in front of my desk and I played a game with that clock to see if I could type more letters hour after hour, day after day. Let’s just say I can now type 120 words a minute perfectly–mistakes slow you down.

After we lost our first child to cancer, holidays were always hard–really hard.  On the fourth Christmas after God took her to be with Him, we had two new sons and a daughter. Things were busy and our home was filled with the joy of these precious ones, but there was still a huge hole in my heart.  Christmas came on Sunday that year and I’d bought our oldest son one of those Fisher-Price dolls for boys with a jacket  he could button and shoes he could tie. Oh, how he loved that doll. As we prepared for church and all the stops we’d have to make at our parents’ family gatherings before we would return home again, I asked Jason to give me the doll. He pitched a fit, but I knew we’d never see that doll again if it travelled with us. So, I took it away from him and tried to explain that I was going to put it on the top shelf of his closet where it would be when we returned.  He threw himself on the floor and pitched a fit; he told me he ‘hated me.’  That was hard to take from the three-year-old I adored with every breath I breathed. But nonetheless, I didn’t give him back the doll.

Mom and dad came over that evening. After mom and I put the children to bed, I shared with her how my heart was still hurting over Heather’s loss. People expected me to be over it by now; after all, I had a new family. I opened up about how I was feeling toward God.  How could He have done this to me?  What had I ever done to Him to deserve this?  Deep in my heart I was angry with God.  That was  hard for me to admit to my pastor’s wife mom–but my feelings were raw that Christmas day.  I also told her the story of Jason and the doll and how he had said he hated me. It had been a tough day.

Mom said, “Carol, Why did you give Jason that doll? Why did you put it up?”  I said, “I gave it to him because I wanted him to have it and enjoy it. I put it up because I knew what our day was going to be like and I didn’t want him to lose it.” She then asked, “And why do you suppose he pitched such a fit?” “Because he didn’t understand that it would be just a few hours before we would be home and he could then play with it. He doesn’t understand time yet,” I said. “Well, Carol, do you suppose that if you expect your child to accept your decisions based on your perception of time vs. his, do you suppose that God might have a different perspective of time than you do? Do you suppose you might consider trusting His decision?”

Mom continued, “And, by the way, how did it make you feel when Jason told you he hated you?” “I hurt, of course. But I knew he was just expressing his hurt at me because he didn’t understand why I took the doll.” “You didn’t give it back even though he pitched a fit, right?” “No. I knew what was best for him.” “Did you love him any less?” “Of course not. I understood he was just hurting; that he didn’t understand that my act was part of my love for him.” “Well, Carol, then I’m sure that God isn’t rocked off His throne because you are angry with Him because He knows your understanding is limited to your earthly perspective of time and it is indeed this limitation that is the cause of your pain. He has broad shoulders and will comfort you and not condemn you. He understands why and how you feel.”

That day I cast all the cares of my broken heart on Him. I placed my faith and trust in a God whom I knew loved me and I knew nothing could come to me that was not filtered through His loving hands. His time, His ways, His choices for my life.

But my interest in God’s heavenly clock vs. my earthly clock was piqued. My God, my daughter (and now my parents and grandparents) live in a world with a different time basis. Stay tuned for my next post.

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INTENTIONAL THANKSGIVING

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During this month we host our families for dinner, post our gratitude for 30 days on Facebook or Twitter and make a real effort to remember to be grateful for all that God has given us. I’ve recently even been added to a private gratitude Facebook site. Reminders and special ways of encouraging us to remember to have a heart of gratitude are important because it is so easy to let our hearts  and minds focus on the negative.

As we look at those God has placed in our lives, it is especially easy to focus on the their shortcomings. After all, we’ve seen them up close and personal rather than some photo-shopped version of them on a magazine cover.  If you open the door of criticism just a crack, you can be sure there will be a full-force invasion of your heart and mind designed by the accuser of the brethren to separate you from those God intended for you to love and be loved by. He is even so bold that he stands before the throne of God accusing us daily before our Heavenly Father desiring to separate us from His love and favor. I’m sure that you, like me, know that he has a comprehensive list he can recount before God and apparently he doesn’t take the month of November off, replacing his accusations with accolades, just because it is Thanksgiving. But praise God, Revelation 12:9-11 tells us that there will be a day when the accuser of the brethren will be cast down.

Accusations and criticism are just synonyms for judging and God warns us to ‘judge not lest we be judged.’ This certainly doesn’t sound like a road we would want to travel. He goes on to say that we will be forgiven to the same measure that we forgive those who trespass against us.  Translations of Matthew 6:12 use the words trespasses or debts. In other words, when someone does something we consider wrong, we hold them in our debt. Matthew 18:21-35 tells us the parable of the two debtors. How can we hold someone in our debt when God has forgiven us of so much?

Whether it is a spouse, boss or coworker, family member, friend or neighbor, it is dangerous to start down the judgment trail. It’s an easy path to travel because no one is perfect. After all, we were made from dust (that’s sifted dirt). I’m often reminded that before I can focus on someone else’s shortcomings, I need to take a good look at the beam in my own eye (Matthew 7:3). You may have reached perfection and feel you can now demand it of others, but most of us know we are still just works in progress. So why do we want to hold others accountable to a standard we cannot be measured by?

This year for the month of November I’m going to take thanksgiving to a whole new level, closing the door to criticism. I’m going to cast down the accuser from my heart and mind. I’ve made a list of those God has placed in my life and each day I am going to write down something good I’ve seen in them or received at their hand. I’m going to take it a step beyond gratitude and replace any critical attitudes with accolades and honor. I will use my list to bless them before my Heavenly Father each morning. Thanksgiving is an intentional choice. I choose to live intentionally thankful for those God has given to me. Maybe I’ll keep my list all year long.

MY PRAYER: Lord, I am humbly thankful for your forgiveness and love and ask your help in graciously and lavishly extending it to others.

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