My heart was beating wildly as I watched my son stand at the edge of a small cliff off the coast of southern Greece. The beautiful turquoise waters beckoned him to jump, but his feet said “no.” While I had watched seven older cousins make the leap, I wondered if giving permission to my youngest to jump off a cliff might have not been my best parenting decision.
Fear was gripping his little mind. There was the fear of physical harm if the jump didn’t go well, and the fear of humiliation if he decided to crawl back down the cliff. After all, his brother and cousins had already made the leap.
I tried to yell up words of encouragement when I remembered years ago, trying to get him to jump off the diving board at our local pool. If I remained on the side of the pool, he would jump off the board sideways, narrowly missing the edge of the pool. But when I swam out beyond the diving board, then he would jump out safely and swim right to me.
I immediately left the side of the cliff where I was safely watching from afar and swam out to where he would ideally land. I said, “Just jump out to me and swim my way, just like we used to do at the pool. Don’t look down, just look at me. I’ll be right here.”
What happened next was a combination of sheer terror and sheer delight (mine and his) as I watched my son leap from the edge of the cliff and into the water in front of me. Within seconds, he emerged from the brilliant blue, wide eyed and smiling. He swam right to me and screamed, “I did it!” He may have doubted the water, but he trusted me at my word, that I’d be there when he came up.
In his gospel, Matthew tells a story about the disciple Peter, who also towed the line between fear and trust.
I like the concept of setting some resolutions for the new year. I feel like January is a time of reset, a chance to take a deep breath and head into the next year with a plan to become someone, well… better. Numerous polls and articles list the top resolutions. Some people want to be thinner, some stronger, some wiser, some wealthier. Some want to be more generous, while others want to read the Bible more. Most of these goals have something in common—people want to be better versions of themselves. Let’s face it, we all want to improve. And the start of a new year gives us an opportunity to start fresh.
After all, the writers in the Bible are continually encouraging us to try and follow Christ’s example, reminding us to be… better.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Julius Caesar instituted New Year’s Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of New Year’s resolutions began in ancient times, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral bent—mostly to be good to others. To them, Janus was the god of beginnings.
Looking back, I realize that God is more than just the god of beginnings. He is God over our past as well. And sometimes, looking at what He has brought me through helps me to realize that He will also lead me forward in hope and confidence.
As I turn my head and look back at 2016, I am grateful for all that God has shown me this year. He has shown me great kindness through the love of my children. He has shown me great grace, in forgiving me when I have fallen far short of who I can and should be. He has shown me great compassion as I grieved the loss of two dear friends who left this earth far too soon. He has shown me great understanding, how that loss has changed me—sometimes not for the better. He has shown me great love when I have been somewhat unlovable at best and downright awful at worst. I am so grateful for the way in which he sees me as holy, thanks to the cover of Jesus’ sacrifice. And as I look back, I realize how that sacrifice and the love that continues is what has sustained me through this past year.
So, as the Romans chose to do, I will look forward to 2017, resolving to focus on what God has in store for me. I pray that it will be healing. For the sake of myself and for those I love, I do need to heal. But regardless of how quickly that happens, I resolve to look forward to wholeness—a completeness that can only come through looking first at Christ, and realizing that I am not alone. I am surrounded by other believers who will cheer me on in the year ahead.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
I hope you will join me in looking back and seeing the great gifts from the past year, and in looking forward to focus on the great gifts that lie ahead as we daily place our trust in Him. And know that you’re not alone. I, and many others, will be running that race with you.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power… (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
Let’s look forward to this new year together.
Amidst the wonderful smells of turkeys basting, gravy simmering, and pies baking, I smelled something foul this past weekend. I caught a whiff of it on the way to Grandma’s house, passing homes basking in the glow of twinkling lights and plastic nativity scenes. I stole a sniff of it when I noticed the peppermint creamer served alongside the caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice varieties. I couldn’t ignore the disgusting odor settling into our conversation around the Thanksgiving table as well-meaning aunts and uncles asked my kiddos what they were hoping might show up under the tree next month. The scent is not easy to ignore. It’s the sneaky stench of Christmas panic.
This panic likes to boil up like a pressure cooker. It starts sometime in November and increases in strengths and potency as we move into December. I don’t really know if this sense of panic is only reserved for mothers. I can’t imagine this impending dread is gender specific. I just know that it’s real, that it’s palpable, and that it is already threatening to overtake that sweet, lingering aroma of Thanksgiving thankfulness—a time that we are supposed to give only gratitude. No gifts. Just thanks.
I have decided that this year, I’m going to be intentional about keep the air around me fresh from the stench. I made a choice to at least preserve the month of November as stench-free. This is not easy as my stack of Christmas cards sit unlabeled on the dining room table. The smell is difficult to ignore as I open up the paper stuffed with shopping ads and coupons. The aroma of greediness and busyness threaten to overpower my sweet smell of peace. But I am trying. This year, I am trying to ignore the sneaky stench of Christmas.
My kids are obsessed with the show, American Ninja Warrior. It is a program of intense moments, showing men and women tackling an obstacle course of tremendously difficult challenges, starting with the easier feats and moving on to these crazy, complicated tests of physical endurance. One of the most difficult obstacles is the “warped wall.” It’s a nearly vertical climb of 12 feet… that means these people are basically running up a wall, in Spiderman fashion, without a web to assist them.
One of the women who completed the course was asked how she tackled the warped wall obstacle. She said, “I picture myself getting over the wall, not getting up the wall.”
I only wish I could apply that kind of philosophy to the walls I face. Whether it’s a physical hurdle, a relational wall, or a spiritual one, I tend to stand at the bottom and stare at the problem—wondering how I’m ever going to make it up.
I have a little plaque on my front hall table that says, “Faith is… picture it done,” a quote famed by Josiah Cullen, an 11-year-old boy who has an innate gift to see God’s words in action.
Faith is, picture it done. – Josiah Cullen
So why does it seem that when faced with an obstacle, we tend to focus on the obstacle itself, instead on the power of the One who can not only get us over the wall—but can even destroy it if He chooses?
From weekend getaways that bring bellies aching with laughter to late night conversations that bring sleeves wet with tears, friendship is surprising.
I had all the friends I needed, until one day I didn’t.
The yearbook sentiments of “BFF” and “Always and Forever” which seem oh so true when you’re 18 and going away to college prove pale in comparison to saying an actual goodbye after decades of friendship when you’re pushing five decades old yourself. I wasn’t prepared for that final goodbye of my BFF.
As I stood by her grave site I thought to myself, Yes… friendship has certainly surprised me.
I never thought that as a grown-up I’d need to call another adult woman at four in the morning because I was so emotional that I just needed to hear the voice of my friend. I never thought I’d so look forward to a coffee date with another mom with whom I shared so much in common—from parenting philosophies to prayer, favorite books to beloved vacation spots. This friendship journey has taught me a lot about the complexities of relationship with another human being, and has taught me even more about myself.
I’ve stopped sleeping again. It’s not so much that I’ve consciously decided to give up this restful time, I’ve simply not been able to make it part of my evening repertoire. This isn’t something I’m proud of. I’m not getting more done or trying to be efficient with my time. My closets aren’t more organized. My Tupperware drawer is still a mess. I simply cannot get to sleep and stay asleep. No amount of warm milk, sleep aids, or reruns of old sitcoms can get me to settle in for a good night’s slumber.
Instead, I worry.
I worry for our world.
I worry for my kids, especially my soon-to-be high schooler. So many changes are happening for him right now. Pressure for school is mounting. Commitment for sports is unyielding. Attention from girls is escalating. I feel him slipping from my arms and from my influence. My role as a Mom is changing every day and it’s all so new for me. The pressure is overwhelming, to shape this young man to make wise decisions, to call on the name of the Lord for guidance, and to honor others in his quest to live his own unique life.
Even though I know I shouldn’t, I worry.
Big crocodile tears formed in the eyes of my youngest as he stood in the doorway of my bedroom about an hour after I’d already put him to bed for the night.
“What’s wrong,” I asked, “Did you have a bad dream?”
He said, through the tears, that he had forgotten about a project that was due tomorrow. He was supposed to provide some “supplies.” He’d forgotten… and now he would never get it done on time. Sobbing now, my boy buried his little head in my shoulder as I tried to console him.
I finally got out of him that what he needed was some “insulation” for a solar house he was building. Newspaper, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam would work, he said. I’ve learned from previous late-night homework mishaps that it seems to work better to just hunker down and get the work done before the head hits the pillow. Otherwise, getting to sleep proves to be a challenge.
So we rummaged around the basement for a few minutes and settled on an old TV box that contained some Styrofoam. He was elated to find that my basement storage room contained many treasures. Truth be told, I could have probably provided Styrofoam for the entire class.
We packed up a grocery bag full of the “insulation,” and put it by the back door. I brought my son upstairs to tuck him in and held him long enough to feel that he was still shaking, and although he was exhausted, he wasn’t ready to let me go.
I wasn’t ready to let go either.
“Why are you still shaking honey?” I said. “You are all set for the morning, and we did it in five minutes. Now you can sleep and tomorrow’s a new day.”
“Mom,” he said, “I should have done better.”
It happened once again, that all-too-familiar conversation I had with a friend of mine who had found herself in a complex situation. She had let someone take advantage of her good nature and she didn’t know how to dig out of the hole in which she had found herself. She had tried to have a conversation with the offending person, tried to right the wrong, but to no avail.
So, she called me. After listening to her issue and offering some suggestions on how to fix the problem, she thanked me for my time and said, “I just wish I was more like you. You’re just so tough.”
People started calling me “tough” way back in junior high School. I wasn’t tough in the strong sense, just tough in the “I don’t take any guff” kind of sense. I’ve always wondered where that tough exterior, that no-nonsense type of personality comes from. Like most behavior traits, I assumed it was born out of my family structure. Growing up with three brothers and no sisters, I was kind of on my own to either stand up and be counted, or sulk back and be belittled. I feel like I chose sulking more often than standing, but maybe my perception was a little off.
I loved debate and persuasive speaking. I enjoyed putting together (and winning) arguments of any kind. My high school teachers encouraged me to become a lawyer. At my wedding rehearsal dinner, the advice my brothers gave to my future husband (in front of everyone) was, “Don’t wrong her. It won’t go well for you.”
I was the girl in high school who other girls would elect to stand up for a friend who was being bullied. I was the girl who was coaxed by her friends to tell a teacher how unfair his grading was. I was the one my siblings would elect to ask Mom or Dad permission to do something they knew we weren’t allowed to do.
Tough? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but I’ve never much liked it as a descriptor.
To be honest, I’d rather be sweet.
Sweet is defined as: having the pleasant taste characteristic of sugar or honey; not salty, sour, or bitter.
When people call a Christian sweet, it usually means they reek of God’s goodness, that they embody the graciousness of Christ. They hug. Their eyes sparkle. Goodness spills out of them like water from a gushing hose. I know these women. I love being around these women. I wish I could be more like these women. They give without reservation. They encourage without judgment. They love unconditionally and unreservedly. They always have an encouraging word and apply an appropriate Scripture passage to the situation.
I should be sweet. But I’m not. Read More
In talking through the Easter story this week with my young son, he asked an interesting question.
“Why didn’t people like Jesus? He helped people. He made their diseases go away. He even raised that little girl from the dead. Why would people want to kill him?”
He asks a compelling question. What could this man have possibly done to cause the people who celebrated Him and revered Him as Messiah, to do an about face—to turn on him and cheer for his death?
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 situation, 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