What I won’t be doing over Summer Vacation

As my kids have been counting down the days to summer vacation, I have been counting them down too. As a teacher, I too look forward to the end of the year—a break from lesson plans, grading, and lectures. I look forward to three months of rest, rejuvenation, and refueling. Everyone has their favorite time of the year. Summer is definitely mine.

We're King and Queen Of The World

But wait… I have kids of my own…and they require my attention. Perhaps rest and relaxation will need to be redefined.

When my kids were young, I remember wondering how in the world I was going to keep the little cherubs busy for 15 hours a day, 12 weeks in a row. I set up an elaborate calendar of playdates, swim lessons, and activities to keep their minds and bodies active. I tried to make every day a fun adventure. I compiled a list each summer of places we’d visit on sunny days, and places we’d go on rainy days. I took trips to my parents’ cabin, trips to McDonalds, and trips to Daddy’s office—just to let him know how much fun we were having. My kids loved summer, and wanted it to last forever. And part of me loved it too. But by the beginning of August, I was praying for deliverance from my scheduled craziness and together time. The start of the school year felt like a vacation from my summer vacation. 

My kids are older now, a teen and a pre-teen. Summer feels different now, and I feel different too. As I look forward to the end of the school year and the start to the greatest 12 weeks of the year, I’ve been doing some planning. But this year’s planning does not involve a lot of the things it used to. This time I’ve made a list of what I’m not going to do. I tried to keep it to a top five, but I somehow made it to a top six. Feel free to add your own to the list.

  1. I won’t be signing my kids up for too many activities. There is a summer camp for every activity, every week, and every sport. Do my kids really need to do all of them? I don’t think so. Will their art aptitude be stifled or corner kick stunted if I don’t have my kids running around each day trying to improve on their every talent? I say no. And, as the #1 chauffer-in-chief, this rule will also keep me from spending my summer in the car wishing away the greatest weeks of the year.
  2. I’m not going to let my kids make summer all about them.  Sure, it kind of is, but then again, it’s my summer too. And for summer to work the way it’s supposed to, there are things to do around here. There will be fun, but there will also be chores. At their ages, they can do virtually everything I can. This summer, I’m going to let them.
  3. I won’t be keeping my kids from being bored. Some of the most creative times of my life came from being bored. I remember cooking up some crazy ways to make a buck with my best friend, Andrea. We would use my Dad’s dental plaster to make hanging plaques and sell them door-to-door for a quarter. We built forts out of discarded wood with the boys in the neighborhood. We collected frogs and built them a sand castle to live in (they didn’t make it through the night). We’d ride our bikes for miles and lie in the grass in the middle of the outfield with our faces to the sky dreaming of what we’d be when we grew up. Boredom produced some great memories, and I want my kids to feel the freedom to dream. 
  4. I won’t be afraid to have people over even when my house is displaying the well-worn effects of sandy kids and last night’s dishes. I trust that they really are there to see me and that the status of my bathroom doesn’t define the status of our friendship.
  5. I won’t be afraid to relax. The success of the previous commitment will lead to the success of this one. If I can commit to having an open house that is free from my own judgment, then I think I will find myself allowing that time at the end of the day for relaxing rather than for readying. Sitting in the screen porch with a good book or sitting on the couch with my son are just two worthy ways to spend an evening. After all, it’s summer, and it’s fleeting. 
  6. I won’t forget to worship. Sometimes our weekends get a little out of whack. We forget that while Sundays are perfect for an early morning golf round or a little fishing out on the lake, Sundays are also perfect for spending time with God and those who gather to worship Him. 

Summer is almost here, and this year I’ll be ready for it.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1) 

 

 

 

Does sleep give me strength?

As I am reading through the gospels with my children during this Lenten season, I am struck once more by how often we read about Jesus making time to get away and talk with God.

sunrise out window

Mark records Jesus getting up in the morning, while it was still dark, to find a solitary place where he prayed. Matthew records Jesus dismissing his disciples and heading up to a mountainside where he could be alone with God. Luke writes how Jesus spent the entire night praying, calling out to God.

Luke records Jesus crying out to God in prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. And when Jesus did that, Luke writes that an angel from heaven “appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22: 43). While Jesus was crying out to God in the garden, his disciples were nearby. Although he’d asked them to pray, they were sleeping.

As I closed the book for the night, tucked in my boys and headed off to my own bed, I began to wonder… how often, at the end of the day, I choose sleep over prayer. I sleep as a way to escape the problems of the day rather than cry out to God, as a way to gain strength to face those same problems.

In the Garden, on the night Jesus was betrayed, we see God once again offering something Jesus desperately needs. As a response to Jesus’ prayer, as a loving response to Jesus’ cry for help, God, gives Jesus strength.

Oftentimes, when faced with what seems like an impossible task, I find myself doing one of two things—either running around frantic, trying to control the outcome, or shutting down—sleeping—in order to avoid it.

But Jesus’ approach is different. On that particular night, He must have been physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and spiritually stretched. He knew what was coming. The task must have seemed impossible. But instead of running around or sleeping off the stress, He goes directly to His Father. He cries out to God. And God, in his mercy, gives him strength.

Many years before that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, David, God’s anointed King, spent a lot of time crying out to God. When he found himself in an impossible situation, this man of God, this man after God’s own heart, held nothing back as he expressed his distress to God. Psalm 13 is particularly telling of his need to cry out to God. Read the contrast from David’s first few lines to his last few lines.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?…

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

David cries out to God. He lets fly his frustration. But by the end of the Psalm, David changes his tune. His attitude is reworked. Somehow, as the words pour out, God pours strength in. By the end of the Psalm, David writes, BUT I TRUST YOU.

The night Jesus prayed in the garden, I can only imagine how much he might have wanted to just close his eyes and sleep, hoping that when he woke, it would all be over. Sometimes the problems of this world bring us to that point too, where we wish we could just make it all go away.

But God has a different way. He shows us that when we cry out to him, he responds. He responds with exactly what we need to accomplish what he has set for us to do. In his mercy, God gives us what we need. All He asks, is that we cry out to him.

Then Christ, with the understanding of someone who’s gone through a time of weakness, turns around and offers the same strength to us.

 

Dear Lord, we thank you for this time before Easter—time to reflect on the story of your great sacrifice for us, of the pain you must have felt leading up to the crucifixion, and of the humanity of Christ, for it is through his humanity that we see how to come to you, how to cry out to you, and how to pray. Thank you for always responding to our prayers with exactly what you know we need. Help us to remember that your grace is sufficient for us and that through our weakness, your strength shines through. In gratefulness, we give you praise. Amen.

 

Go ahead, call me FAT

mountain arms open

This past week we mourned the death of one of the greatest evangelists our world has ever known.  At the age of 99, Billy Graham went home to the heaven he so passionately preached about. Countless news outlets, social media outlets, churches and ministries posted the message: He is Home! What a glorious day for Billy Graham, for in his earthly death, he met Jesus face to face.  Praise God for His promise of eternal life.  Billy Graham is now living that reality.

Billy Graham’s family gave touching tributes to his memory and powerful Gospel presentations. One that really caught my attention was a statement from Nelson Graham, Billy’s son. In his tribute to his father, Nelson claimed that Billy Graham was FAT.  After getting our attention, Nelson explained.

“My father was F-A-T. He was Faithful, he was Available, and he was Teachable … May we all be that way.”

In just a couple of sentences, a son summed up the life of his father.  In just three words, Nelson Graham let us all know what was important to this renowned evangelist and teacher. His father loved the Lord, was present for anyone who expressed a need, and displayed a humility apparent to all who had the honor of knowing him.

In a culture that applauds what we can produce, what we can show, and how many likes we get on social media, this message is quite contradictory. It was a great reminder to me to keep my desires and motivations in check as I make my way in this world.  Let’s face it, that is not always easy to do.

We sometimes spend our time and energy attempting to obtain recognition and acknowledgement for what we have accomplished.  We strive and complete to earn a prize from the world that says we  are the best at what we do.  We want to be remembered for what we did well in this life.

Living a FAT life means keeping our eyes squarely on God, his work in this world, and his work within us.  In Psalm 37, David gives us a good road map to becoming faithful, available, and teachable.

Trust in the LORD and do good;
            Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
      Delight yourself in the LORD;
            And He will give you the desires of your heart.
      Commit your way to the LORD,
            Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

Often times, I charge ahead with a goal or a dream and ask the Lord to bless it rather than submitting to the Lord and having Him determine my path.  This is not the way of someone who is both faithful and teachable.

God offers us more encouragement on how He can guide our steps if we let him lead the way.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

As for being present, I have made some changes this year to slow that tide.  It means saying no to things, some very good things, in order to be present with those I am attempting to serve.  My students, my small group, my colleagues, and my family.  For me, being present means not being so overscheduled that I cannot adjust my day to make room for someone who needs my ear. It means spending more time in God’s word than ever before. Breaking busy is hard. It’s counter-cultural. And it’s worth it.

Franklin Graham, another of Billy Graham’s sons, closed his comments with one that gives hope for all who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.

“My father preached on heaven, told millions how to find heaven, wrote a book on heaven, and now he’s in heaven. His journey is complete.”

So, feel free to call me FAT. I consider it a compliment.

A King nobody wanted

One of my practices during Lent is to read through a book called “The King Nobody Wanted,” an old book of my mother’s that she saved from her childhood—a book that she read to my brothers and me each Lenten season when we were growing up. It tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. While deeply rooted in Scripture, it reads more like a novel, and is responsible for much of my understanding of who Jesus is, what he did here on earth, and why he had to die so that I might be able to live.

jesus crown of thorns

While I certainly didn’t understand it at the time, I believe my Mom was reading this story each year as a way to help us prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. And now that I’m the Mom, I do the same. As life swirls around so quickly, readying our hearts and minds is both gratifying and necessary.

Jesus walked with his disciples for years, teaching and training them to understand the impact of His work on earth. And when the time came for Him to say goodbye, He took the opportunity to gather with them one last time, in the upper room, to celebrate the Passover feast and to remind them once again, how deeply He cared for them.

The Passover feast was celebrated each year at the same time. It was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it observed the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus took the opportunity to celebrate the symbols associated with Passover and infused them with fresh meaning as a way to remember the sacrifice He was about to make, a sacrifice that would save us from death and slavery as well—a spiritual death and a spiritual slavery. While his disciples may not have known it at the time, Jesus was preparing their hearts too.

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22: 17-20)

Jesus would offer his body so that we could be passed over by the wages of sin that plague our daily lives and instead, be restored to a right relationship with God the Father.  He poured out his blood so that we could be spared from the iniquity that causes not only a spiritual death, but leaves us separated from God. He offered himself up for each of us as a once-and-for-all, everlasting and Holy sacrifice, so that we could have an eternal connection with the One who is sovereign, who is mercy, who is always with us.

The days preceding Easter are a wonderful time to prepare our hearts. Your tradition may call for observing Lent, attending services, or giving something up to recognize the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.  Perhaps you read through the gospels or watch a Passion drama. Regardless of what you choose, recognize that Jesus took time to prepare the hearts of his followers for what was to come. He knew how painful it would be for those who loved him to see him suffer and die on a cross. But He also knew to let them know that this would not be the end, but only the beginning of a fuller life lived in relationship with him.  

And as He prepared to leave those he loved, Jesus reminded them that because of His sacrifice, this life is not all there is. And until that time when they would see Him face to face, He would always be with them, just as He is always with us.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Father, thank you for what you did on the cross for us. Help us to prepare our hearts and minds the same way that you prepared the hearts and minds of your disciples, so that we can understand the true depth of your love for us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Placing Hope in Donald Trump

Are evangelicals feeling a sense of buyer’s remorse after helping Donald Trump win the White House? My interview with Stephen Mansfield, author of Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him.

CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast.

Stephen Mansfield

Can studying the Bible be a delight?

I always figured that anything that required study couldn’t possibly be delightful. But one of my Bible Study mentors has challenged me to see it differently with his book, Delights and Disciplines of Bible Study.  Listen in on our conversation HERE on Faith Radio. Delights and Disciplines large photo

Why do they call them dust bunnies?

My son came home from school one day and grabbed the dust pan and broom. I had wondered if this boy who rarely jumps into chores without my prompting had suddenly become responsible and independent during the course of the school day.  As I was getting ready to sit down and congratulate myself for training him right, I heard him say, “Got it!” With that declaration, he grabbed a Ziploc bag from his pocket and carefully poured in the dust bunnies he had collected from under our couch. 

ash-wednesday

By the expression on my face, he could see that I was quite confused. “It’s for science,” he said. “We are studying what kind of stuff makes up dust. We’re dissecting it!”

I didn’t know if I should be proud or offended that he knew just where to find these suspicious little dust-globs.  I thought that I’d been successful at keeping those little buggers hidden. When it was time to host a party or even just a friend or two, I would take great pains to go through the house collecting and eliminating these pesky little reminders that people actually live in my home. I much prefer creating the impression that my family so squeaky clean and happy that even the dust bunnies don’t gather here. 

But my son knew better. He knew just where to find the shady characters. And now, he was going to dissect the very dirt that can expose me for what I am… a hider, a fake, a person who needed help. By literally sweeping the dust under the rug, my house appeared clean and free from people who might want to dissect it.

Dust is not something we want on display. It’s not something we proudly hold up as a prize to be earned. Rather, dust is unwanted, something to hide. Dust is, well… dirty.

Sometimes I clean up my life the same way I clean up my house. I polish, sweep, and scrub away anything that might give the impression that I am somehow less than. I sweep some things under the rug like failures, mistakes, and shame. My “dust” could be the argument I had with my brother, the anger that sometimes takes over, or the regret that still plagues me from my childhood.  Polish up. Sweep away. Buff and shine. Yes, I clean up quite well.

But on Ash Wednesday, we enter into that sanctuary buffed and shined only to kneel before the altar and receive the sign of the cross with the dust of the earth. We allow ourselves, our whole selves, to be seen. We put it all out there. We walk back down that aisle exposed for who we really are. And we see the dust on others too. 

In that dusty cross placed on our foreheads, we are reminded where we came from. We are reminded that we were once just dust, but in the hands of our creator, we became something beautiful. We became sons and daughters. And even in our dirty, broken state, we are still deeply loved. And because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are clean.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

Dust is a public testimony to who we really are—broken people in need of a Savior. The dust removes the façade that Christians are somehow cleaner or brighter or better than others.  Rather, the ash on our foreheads reminds us that from dust we first came and to dust we will return.  There is a richness in that dirt… a transparency to our condition. The dust levels the playing field and points instead to Christ.

So this Lenten season, consider gathering those dust bunnies in a Ziploc bag, not to dissect but to acknowledge that even dust can be beautiful when touched by the hand of God who loves us. 

*Lent begins this Wednesday, February 14th

Scribbles of Love

As I strolled through the greeting card aisle at my favorite Hallmark store, I perused the choices for a Valentines card for my hubby.  I repeat the same diatribe in my head each year. Do I go silly or serious? I seem to have many choices… fun and flirty, or sentimental and romantic. Which way will I tell my husband that I love him? And which card will he pick for me? My mind is a flurry, not to mention my heart.

I am grateful to report that no matter what card my husband chooses for me, it’s the words he writes by hand that always speak to my heart.  He has a way of reflecting on our current valentines cardsituation, noting both challenging and uplifting events from the previous year, and always concluding that we, he and I, are in this life together, that the seal on this relationship remains firmly stuck in place.

I am thankful for those words.  I do not take for granted that he takes the time to write them.  But I am especially thankful that he considers each year an opportunity to walk together down this road called marriage. And each time I read the words scribbled on the card, I am reminded of the importance of telling my husband how I truly feel, especially as it applies to love. Read More

Do you love your kids more than your spouse?

Sometimes our spouses take a back seat to our kids. Come on… I can’t be the only one. Author Becky Thompson challenged me to rediscover marriage in the midst of motherhood.  A good reminder as Valentine’s Day approaches. Click HERE for my podcast with Becky Thompson on her book, Love Unending.

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Parenting teens is not for the weak at heart

Staying up late when my teen wants to talk is just one thing I’ve learned I MUST do.  Great conversation today with Dr. Jim Burns today on Understanding Your Teen.  Want to understand yours? CLICK HERE for the podcast.

understanding your teen