New Adventures

Today our sixth grader graduates from the only school she has ever known. We toured the middle school this week and participated in a Step Up Day where the other sixth graders at the school also walked through a day as a seventh grader. Changing classes every period will be different for all of them. Crowded hallways will be very different for my girl.

Isabella’s class has essentially been together since kindergarten, and they are like brothers and sisters to each other. It is hard for her at the moment to conceive of the adventure before her. It feels unknown, a little scary, definitely uncomfortable. I experienced these same feelings as an eighth grader starting a non-traditional school, as a tenth grader moving from a small private school to a huge public school, as a 17 1/2 year old moving six hours away from her parents and family.

There are so many transitions in those school years and more that come through life and jobs and marriage and children. Sometimes it feels like things change every time you get comfortable with where they are. My sweet daughter is just beginning to experience the life changes that will come. I want her to learn the comforting fact that the God who created her and knows her better than she knows herself can be trusted. She can rely on Him to meet her every need through this big change in her life. She can depend on Him to meet her every need through every change in her life, big and small. I am still working on learning this lesson as life hasn’t stopped throwing curveballs my way yet. 🙂 I believe we keep learning how to trust our God more and more, in new and deeper ways as we grow in our faith.

I am so thankful that I can point her to the One who will be there for her without fail. I am by her side, but I am human. I am with her as much as my flesh will allow, but He is with her when it’s not possible for me to be there. As we celebrate this accomplishment and prepare for the future, I know there is no better lesson I could instill deep in her heart.

Congratulations, Isabella!! You make us proud, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭56:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭56:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭9:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Summer Is Coming and Time Keeps Ticking

My Kindergartener six years ago when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Six years ago, this sweet girl was finishing kindergarten. Today, she has one week left until sixth grade graduation.

Six years ago, my youngest was 9 months old. Today, she is about to finish first grade.

Six years ago, I was a stay at home mom with three little ones. Today, I have two part-time jobs and flexibility to drop them off and pick them up from school every day.

Six years ago, I was dreading summer. I got comfortable with having two kids at home most of the day. I was scared of the weeks and weeks stretching before me that all three kids would be home with me all day. Every day. I was overwhelmed at the prospect of SOMUCHTIME.

Every summer since then, I have experienced a similar anxiety as summer inches closer and the school year draws to a close. I did my best to get out of the house with the kids, to not always be stuck in those four walls and the one acre of space we call home. I need breaks, and it was good to go and do things, enjoying the weather and the freedom of summer with no coats/hats/boots. But taking three kids anywhere is…stressful. Intense. Mind meltingly loud and crazy. So sometimes I avoided it and just stayed home. Which was also mind meltingly loud and crazy, to be honest.

I survived those six summers. This year, as the school year nears its end and summer stretches out in front of us, I find myself irrationally calm about it all. One thing I recall from last summer is that it went by so quickly. It wasn’t easy (can we just not revisit spring/summer 2020, please?). But it was gone in a flash. I have enough summers under my belt to now realize that this one will feel the same way. I know it won’t likely be easier, but I know from experience that it will be short.

Time is ticking, it’s flying by me, and every time I try to grab it, slow it down, take a pause, it’s too fast for me. I can’t control it, but I can appreciate it while it is here. I feel like I’m getting closer to that point. I am grateful to have time in the summer to spend with my kids while they still want to hang out with me.

Just remind me of this post in about mid-July, okay?

Tough and Tender

I remember being told in Bible college that a life of ministry would require a tough skin and a tender heart. It’s pretty applicable for all of life, actually. I have heard it said that, as we age, we become more of what we already are. The kind person becomes kinder, the wise person becomes wiser. The cranky person becomes crankier, and the hardened heart becomes harder. Without the hope of Jesus who changes hearts, I can see how this is true.

When I think of tough and tender, I’m reminded of a good medium rare steak. To get a good crust on a steak, high heat is required. I have found that those times of high heat in my life, the really challenging circumstances and seasons have actually softened me inside. There are times when I respond wrong, and that grief over my sun and repentance that follows softens my heart toward other sinners. It has kept me humble and reminded me that there is always more to the story than what we can see. I also find compassion for others experiencing similar circumstances. My brokenness has given me deep compassion for others who are broken as well.

The toughness comes when I see what God has brought me through. That thing I didn’t think I would survive? I survived it. I’m still standing, and by His grace, I will survive the current one as well. I’m still not as tough as I want to be. I don’t want to be hurt by the little things, I want to find my identity in Him and not in the opinions of others. I am still working on these things. I have not yet arrived, but I press on.

Do you let the circumstances of life soften you inside? Are you growing more compassionate and caring toward others? Do you seek to know God and walk in Him so that you have a tough skin toward things that would seek to harm you or distract you from your focus? Today I am praying that you will seek both the toughness and the tenderness we need as followers of Jesus.

“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:10-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

More Than a Mom

I didn’t realize how easy it would be to place my worth in my mothering skills, essentially handing this small child control of how I feel about myself based on her behavior that day. It snuck up on me, this assigning of my own value to my ability to “make” this child do what I wanted her to do.

And so it began. It seems that many moms are given a compliant firstborn child, one who lives to please Mom and follow the rules. This was not my experience, and so it became easy to compare my firstborn to those of my friends around me, other kids at church, the kids at the park and the store. As they sat sweetly in the shopping cart at Target, my child screamed, protesting the forced confinement to a seatbelt and crying as though I had done the most awful thing she could imagine.

It was a hard switch for me, spending my days as a children’s pastor, beloved by kids and parents alike, to spending my days as mom with no accolades and lots of frustration. A couple of years later when my son was born, there was an easier stretch of time because he was such a great baby and toddler. I finally realized that the behavior of my oldest wasn’t completely due to parenting, but also included the influence of her own personality and choices. The experience of having a second child with a very different personality was very eye-opening for me. I honestly don’t think I knew how much my own self-worth was based upon what I perceived to be my success or failure as a mother until my second was born.

My third child was born a few years after the second. Three weeks after she was born, my oldest went to kindergarten. This was when the full weight of finding my self-worth in my “performance” as a mom came to bear on my soul. I was looking forward to sending her to school, to having time with the baby and having someone else take care of her for a few hours. Unfortunately, it was not the blissful experience I was expecting. I quickly discovered that my phone would ring with each misbehavior. I came to dread my phone ringing. Anxiety would fill my heart when I saw the school on my caller ID. They were so kind and gracious with her and with us, but it could not negate the fact that I felt like the worst mother on the planet who could not figure out how to get her child to behave.

The stress and depression was intense, and coupled with post-partum depression, it was a very sad and hard season for me. I found that it was hard work to untangle my value and worth from my identity as a mom. God was using these challenging times to shine a spotlight on my soul.

My awesome, spirited, independent kids

I was so frustrated that I couldn’t just read a book and fix it or follow a three step plan to make everything better. I am honestly still in this battle to find my value in who God has made me, who God says I am. It is hard work, but I know it is worth the effort. When I live out of my value in Christ, I am less likely to ride the roller coaster of finding my worth in my kids and their behavior or choices that day.

I find myself jumping into the conversation when I hear a mom say something like, “I can’t believe their kid did that. They must not care at all about his behavior.” I am so quick to remind them that a child is his own person, and he often makes choices against what his parents have taught him. Toddlers, teenagers, and everything in between are testing boundaries and seeking independence. Let’s offer grace to parents who are struggling with a challenging season of parenting. Let us remind the mom next door of her worth and value because she is made in the image of God.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭139:13-14‬ ‭ESV
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Rain or Shine

A few weeks ago, we had an amazing 70 degree day. I was talking to Matt after dinner, and I asked him a question.

“When it’s sunny and warm, do you feel almost giddy? Like over the top, crazy happy inside just because of the sun and warmth? Because I felt SO good today. I couldn’t believe how happy it made me to feel the warm air and sunshine!”

He agreed, which kind of surprised me. I figured it was just me, that he would say it was great but not as great as I described it. But he said he felt just as amazing that day. Then I wondered: does that mean people who live in warmer climates with sunnier skies feel this happy all the time? I lived about 8 hours south of here for 7 years. It was a much milder climate, but I don’t remember quite having this feeling.

My friend who recently moved to Florida was visiting, so I asked her. She said living there makes a huge difference for her husband, but it isn’t as impactful for her. I was on the phone with another friend last week, and I asked her the same question. She said that we probably have this feeling because of the full range of weather we experience. We get enough cold and snow during the winter, that when the sun and warm air arrives, we can’t help but feel ecstatic.

I think she is right. If we didn’t have the cold temperatures and gray skies of winter, we wouldn’t appreciate the sunshine and warmth as much as we do. I believe this is true in the story of our lives as well. When we face hard times and dark days, the joy that comes when we experience blessings is increased. The depth of sorrow is mirrored in the height of joy.

Some people don’t like winter. It isn’t my favorite thing. But after 20 years of living here, I can say that I am grateful for the range of seasons we experience. I love that it makes me so thankful for a beautiful spring day. I love that it reminds me of the way God works in our lives. Winter doesn’t last forever. Spring is on its way.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Flashback Friday: Fine Arts

In the spring and summer of 1999, I found myself working a part time job at my church that I loved and about to graduate from Bible college. I had not expected to graduate single, and I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I loved Springfield and the life I had there, so I focused on staying and finding a full time job for the time being.

After a few interviews that didn’t excite me, an opportunity came my way to work in the National Youth Department of the Assemblies of God. A friend circumvented the typical hiring process to interview me, and I knew I wanted to work there. I hated to leave the youth pastor for whom I was working at the time, but I knew this was the right job at the right time. As my mom reminded me a few times, you need a job with insurance after college. 🙂

I found myself buried in a summer season that was all about Fine Arts Festival. Processing registrations involved hiring high school students for data entry. I worked for the Speed the Light Director, so I learned a lot about that amazing program and about working for someone who travels all the time. Everyone in the office was traveling to Fine Arts in August, but I was late to the game and was going to stay behind. A few weeks before the event, the Fine Arts Director asked me if I wanted to go. My travel-loving heart was thrilled!

It was such an intense week, and one I will never forget. Our hotel was next to the convention center, but the convention center was a mile long. This was before step counting was a thing, but we walked an unreal number of miles that week. It wasn’t good news when you forgot something in your hotel room.

I don’t remember what exactly I did that week, I just know that hosting thousands of students for an even of that magnitude was an enormous feat. At the end of the week is the celebration service. Each category had an Award of Merit recipient who would sing or preach or play their presentation in the service. It was an amazing culmination of the exhausting, amazing week.

I was able to attend and help execute 2 more Fine Arts Festivals while I worked in the youth department. In my last year there, I headed up planning for the National Youth Convention in Kansas City.

I reminisce about Fine Arts Festival because I am looking forward to evaluating performances for students in my state this weekend. It has been a long time since I was able to be a part of a Fine Arts Festival, and I am so excited to help encourage these youth in their gifts and callings. God used experiences just like this to encourage me when I was this age. I believe He will do amazing things in the lives of these young men and women tomorrow. Fine Arts has expanded to include many areas it did not include 23 years ago, and I am thankful that it gives more kids the chance to showcase the gifts God has given them.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
‭‭James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Forever and Ever and Ever…

Forever. I used to try to think about forever in heaven when I was a child. I felt like my mind was spiraling as I thought about time never ending. It’s been a long time since I let my mind wander in that way, but I have been thinking about how God always has been. There was no beginning to God. He is eternal, which means He is without end or beginning. In order to believe that we will live forever in heaven with God, we must also believe that He has always been in existence. If He has no end, He must also have no beginning.

I know, I don’t delve into deep theological concepts often here, but I hope you will stay with me. It won’t be a long one. The fact that God has always existed is great news for us. A God who was not created but is Himself the Creator is a God worthy of my worship. If your god was created by someone else, wouldn’t that other person then be worthy of worship? If you worship a god who has a beginning, then he must also have an end. If your god has an end, well, how powerful then is that god?

The God I worship is eternal. I take comfort in worshipping the God who stands outside of time even as I am bound by time and all its constraints. I make decisions using the information I have in the moment, but if I seek Him and ask for His wisdom (James 1:5), He offers the wisdom that takes into account all things past, present, and future. I can trust that He knows what is best for me because He knows it ALL.

Pondering God’s eternal nature gives me peace and hope today. I pray that you will find the same.

““I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Failing from the Stage

My church had a Fine Arts competition when I was in high school called Music With a Purpose. I competed a few times, I don’t remember how many nor do I remember what year this happened, but I was probably 16 or so. We were out of town, and the competition was held at a hotel. I can picture the ballroom with a piano on the stage.

We were required to memorize our piece. I wasn’t accustomed to memorizing music. I had only taken piano lessons from my dad, so we never had recitals. This was a challenge for me, playing my piece from memory, in a competition complete with all the nerves and anxiety that comes with that situation.

I am a visual learner, and I have a memory where I can picture things I have read, where it was on the page, the font, etc. I remember being able to picture where I was in the sheet music as I was playing. It can be a real struggle for me to stay focused when I am playing. My mind wants to wander, and even with music, I find myself getting distracted and almost panicking when I realize it. I don’t really know what happened, all I know is that I could picture turning to the last page of the song and then my mind went blank. I think I hit a wrong chord and completely lost where I was.

I was frantic inside, I had no idea what to do. I kept playing chords to see if it sounded right. Finally, one of the evaluators said, “Just go back to a spot you can remember and continue on from there.”

That was brilliant advice to my teenage mind. I started from a spot I could recall and finished the song. I was so happy to walk off that stage yet also horrified that my friends and my youth pastor who I adored had all witnessed my failure.

Everyone was so kind and gracious to me, and as minutes passed, then hours, then days, I realized my world wasn’t going to end because of my mistake. I even played the song in church later (and managed to not forget any of it!). It was such a good, loving environment in which to experience this failure. I had the best youth pastor in the world and the best pastor I could have hoped for, and they continued to support me and encourage me every step of the way.

I have made a lot of mistakes on stage since I was 16. It has been 28 years of leading worship everywhere from tiny country churches to Assemblies of God Headquarters chapel. I am not perfect, but I am so grateful that I did not allow a fear of failure to keep me from doing something that brings my soul so much joy – leading others in worship.

If you are struggling to overcome a mistake or failure in your life, I encourage you to find support in your circle and be honest with them about the struggle. If you don’t have a circle of support around you, I know that is a hard place to be. Pray. Ask God to lead you to the right people, to bring you a few friends of the soul in this stage of your life.

Trust God to bring something good out of the failure. God used people who mess up because people who mess up are the only kind of people there are. This verse is a favorite of mine. I recall it often in my weak moments.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭73:26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Child-like Forgiveness

I recently required my oldest daughter Isabella to write an apology to her 6 year old sister, Evangeline. When Evie received it, she turned over the paper and replied with this note shown above. It says,

“Dear Bella, I forgive you. We will always be friends. Even if we fight our friendship can get back together after. Love, Evie (We can play Roblox and slide down slides together.)”

Forgiveness, freely given. She offered kindness to her sister in spite of the way she had been treated by her. She did not withhold forgiveness, telling her she would think about it and decide later. She forgave when asked, gladly offering her friendship and even acknowledging that any future fights would not damage their friendship.

I have grown in the grace I offer others and forgiving those who have wronged me, but I will freely admit that I can do better at this. Evie’s example is a great one for me to remember.

“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.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:12-13‬ ‭ESV
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Oh How the Years Go By

I have read over 100 books in the last 2 years, and quite a few have been on my kindle app. I wish I could remember where I read this, but at the moment, I am not sure which book it was. This really impacted me, and I have thought about it many times since reading about it.

The author referred to a study in which elderly men and women were recorded doing regular activities in public. I specifically remember the example of paying for groceries. They followed up at a later time and played the recordings back for them.

The overwhelming response of these men and women was shock and sadness. Many cried as they were struck by the slowness of their own movements. In the moment, they were not aware of how slowly they were moving, but as they watched it played back for them, they were sad to observe how much slower they were moving than they realized.

I tested up just reading about this study. Many times as I have encountered an older person since reading this, I have paused to recall this very fact. I remind myself that this precious person is very possibly unaware of how slowly they are moving or how much of a rush I am in as I check off one more thing of the list of to-do’s for the day. Instead of frustration, annoyance, even anger, I have found compassion rushing into my heart.

We rarely like to think about aging and what it will be like as the later years of life are upon us. I think about the juxtaposition of the life of a mom with young kids, feeling frazzled and overwhelmed with a grocery cart full of food and kids, versus the elderly woman in front of me, taking the time to fill out her check or painstakingly counting out the change as I watch. I tend to have much grace for that sweet young mom because I know those feelings. I can put myself in her place, and I remember how exhausting it is to do every. single. thing. with a baby strapped to my chest or a toddler yanking on my shirt.

The compassion for the elderly does not come from personal experience. It can come from watching our loved ones struggle or working in a setting with them regularly. However, I found this view from their own perspective to be an unexpected gift. I have a feeling I will never forget it, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to show compassion and kindness where I once fought to contain my impatience.