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.

Do What Makes You Happy?

I saw this shirt on Old Navy’s website a few months ago. I love buying kitty shirts for my 6 year old kitty lover, so this one caught my eye. I was sad when I read the words.

There is just no way I am going to encourage my child to “do what makes you happy.” I have observed the philosophy of “do what makes you happy” destroy a lot of lives. When I wake up every morning, I have to do a lot of things that do not make me happy. Namely, waking up! This night owl would gladly doze until mid-morning and drop the kids off at school when I feel like it. It definitely doesn’t make me happy to get all three kids out the door on school mornings!

Guess what? If I do what makes me happy all day, I will be a selfish, spoiled mess. I know discipline and sacrifice are not popular words in 2022, and I am not implying that I am an expert in these skills. I am a work in progress. I recognize the importance of working on both of those areas in my life. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to then communicate to my children that they should pursue whatever makes them happy when I know that philosophy will not serve them well in adulthood.

I think we should all pursue our God-given talents. We should discover the ways He has uniquely designed us. By doing so, we can find how best we add value to the lives of those around us. Pursuing joy by seeking to make an impact in the lives of others is very important to me. If you want to say that is “doing what makes me happy,” I guess it could be that. But it’s much more than what makes me happy. I want my life to matter. I want to find fulfillment in my calling. I want to encourage my kids to do the same things as they discover their unique gifts and talents.

I didn’t buy this shirt for my daughter. Being happy is short-lived. We tend to fill our desire for happiness with temporary pursuits that don’t give us long-lasting joy. When someone asked Jesus what the most important commandment was, this was His answer.

““The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.””
‭‭Mark‬ ‭12:29-31‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Love the Lord. Love others. I don’t see much “do what makes you happy” in those words.

It’s something to think about as we raise our kids and consider our own life’s focus.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Neurodivergent. Brain health. These are newer terms working to remove the stigma of mental health struggles, and I am grateful for them. Some of you are really familiar with this terminology, and others have never before heard it. And that is okay. I’m not convinced that we don’t all struggle with brain health at some point in life. Some just spend a lot more time with it. I know people who have ear/nose/throat issues for much of their life, and others who seem to always have digestive problems or respiratory troubles.

But mental health/brain health has struggled to be recognized as a real, physical issue. It’s been seen as something over which the sufferer has control. They can fix it. Think about something else. Just stop acting that way. If only it was that simple. We don’t tell the asthmatic to just breathe normally.

I am very grateful that in 2022, resources are greatly expanded for neurodivergent people. Kids who don’t fit into the neurotypical mode are able to receive help that meets them where they are. They can be treated according to their abilities and their struggles, not expected to fit into a typical box. It is a lot more work to understand the neurodivergent child. Once you think you get them, then they grow to puberty and you have to start all over again.

I sat in a meeting today to help define ways my child needs assistance to succeed in school. That’s a really nice way of saying that we had to list many “shortcomings” or ways in which this child is not neurotypical. I cried when it was over. These people care for my child and want to give her the best possible chance at success. At the same time, focusing on all the ways she is not typical was…well, sad. I was sad that she has so much to overcome in the school environment. I am so grateful for the people who stand with me and fight on behalf of this child. I really could not do this all alone. Their insight is valuable. Their care for her is beautiful. It takes a village. I have always embraced that, and today it was a gift once again.

Today I cried. Because we are fighting hard for this child, fighting to give her tools she needs and help to succeed. And I pray that she continues to find the niches in which she fits well, the skills she has that enrich her life and the lives of others, and the ways God has gifted her whether they fit into a typical mold or not.

“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

When It’s Too Much

Some days, it’s just all too much for me. We took a little trip with the kids, and I now need a vacation from my vacation. I am exhausted, overwhelmed by the behavior of one child and the sickness of another. At the same time, I am filled with beautiful new memories of a 6 year old whose stomach bug made her vomit four times, and after one of them, she immediately prayed for Jesus to heal her tummy and help her feel better.

As I walked through the indoor waterpark, I was hit multiple times with grief for the best friend of my sixth grader whose mom is now in heaven. He will never have another fun trip memory with her, and my heart just can’t keep the tears from falling for him many days.

One child argued with us relentlessly in a restaurant. The sweet lady who brought us refills said, “Is she 12?” I said, “She sure is.” She said her granddaughter is the same age, and the mood swings are…well, in full swing.

Medical bills are due from all sides, and I struggle to keep up with everyone who wants money for something, to keep trusting God to provide, to find time to fill out paperwork and make all the phone calls and everything else needed.

And then the needs I don’t share. The words I can’t speak. The loneliness I don’t like to acknowledge, the many friends I miss and wonder why they must live so far away. It’s all too much for me. It’s too much for my mind to contain.

I fall to my knees. Three days with no time alone is a lot for me. Not even 10 minutes to think or pray…I feel it. So I pray and ask for fresh strength, for rest to feel refreshed tomorrow and the chance to find Him in each circumstance as they rise again.

I find myself drawn to worship songs that remind me of the truths I need tonight.

“I belong to Jesus. When the rain fell, when the floods came, when the wind blew, I was okay. You were right there, You’re in every step I take. When the night falls, when my heart aches, if I stumble, I will not break. You’ll be right there, You’re in every step I take.” (https://youtu.be/hgRxjHLRfw0)

One of my favorite chapters to read when life comes at me from all sides is Romans 8. This particular verse always brings me back to truth when lies invade my thoughts.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

He is for me. He is with me. He will never leave me or forsake me. He has the answers, and He will show me in just the right time. I share my jumbled, overwhelmed thoughts tonight because I am guessing that at least a few lovely people reading this will have similar trains of thought steamrolling through your brains, too.

I happen to believe that it is really, really comforting to know we are not alone in the hardships we face and the struggles that seem to have no end. If you need a little comfort today, please know that I always have a listening ear, and I love to pray for others.

Let’s not waste one more day entertaining the (admittedly numerous) troubles of this world. He is greater, and He doesn’t want us to try to solve them all on our own. Lots of love to you, friends.

Mending the Fence You Didn’t Break

Mornings in our house are not always pleasant. Some of us are not morning people, and others seem to wake up on the wrong side of the bed every day (maybe it’s our fault we pushed her bed up against the wall…).

Early last week, we had a particularly painful car ride to school. I think I have blocked out many of the offenses, but when the kids get out of the car, I always say “I love you, have a great day,” no matter what has transpired that morning. I tried to give one child her lunch, and she spewed, “I’d rather starve then eat something you made.” I said, “This is your chance, I won’t bring something for you later.” She slammed the door and stomped off into the building.

I can usually let the morning go and not worry about it at work. This wasn’t the case that day. I was frustrated. I even emailed the teacher and told her that she chose not to bring her lunch, so she would have to go without one. I didn’t want them to bail her out with an applesauce and crackers. I wanted her to be hungry, to pay the price for the way she treated me.

But as I often do, I prayed about this child and this attitude and what exactly God would want me to do in response. I don’t naturally bend towards grace. But I started to get the feeling that bringing her lunch would be a good thing. Letting go of the offense and not letting her spend lunch time getting angrier and angrier with me for “starving her.” (Obviously this is not reality, but this child’s view is hard to change.)

I wasn’t completely comfortable with going against my word that I wouldn’t bring her anything. But I felt God nudging my heart in this direction, so I drove through and picked up a couple of her favorite things. I was waiting when she came in for recess, and she looked confused. I said, “I want to start over. Let’s forget about this morning and just start over.” She hugged me. Her teacher said we could have the classroom to eat together if we wanted since they had other plans. So we were able to spend a little time talking as she ate.

This is a tiny glimpse into the struggles that occur daily in our home. I rarely share publicly, but I do want other parents and moms to know they aren’t alone when a bad morning, bad week, bad month plagues you and it’s hard to get past it. I didn’t really want to offer grace to my daughter. It was risky. She could have easily said, “I don’t want your lunch, I’m fine.” I risked rejection, but I believe God softened her heart at the same time He softened mine towards her.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

God’s strength fills in the weakest parts of me. Any strength I might have is no comparison to the strength He has. And that power is perfect, and is made perfect in my very weakness. Some concepts in the Bible go against our human understanding (the last shall be first and love your enemies are a couple others that come to mind). Strength in weakness doesn’t sound right to us, but when we trust God, He makes something beautiful out of our surrender to Him.

The rest of our week wasn’t in perfect. Behavior didn’t magically become wonderful. But when I think about that lunch, I have peace in my heart that I heard God and obeyed Him. I pray that moment will stick with my daughter, that she will see in it a reflection of the love and grace that Jesus has for her, too.

Dead of Winter

The dead of winter. It is cold. It is dark. It can make you want to grab a few blankets and a heater and hibernate for a few weeks. When I lived in Missouri, almost any amount of snow was cause for great alarm. I have been in Waverly for nearly 20 years (excuse me, what?), and I know by now that the cold and snow do not phase Iowans. Life goes on, people still go to work and church and sports and shopping and whatever else they feel like doing.

We went to a restaurant for my birthday dinner last week, and even though it was Friday night, I figured it wouldn’t be that busy. It was a bitterly cold evening,and I imagined that most people wouldn’t want to go out. I was wrong! You never would have known it was deathly cold from observing the restaurant that evening.

In the years that my children were little, we didn’t venture out a lot in the dead of winter. Bundling up kids, warming up the car (no convenient attached garage), buckling in car seats all for some meaningless errand or even just for mental health were a giant undertaking. So I avoided it. I also suffered with a lot of depression in those years. It took me longer than I wish it had to realize that it was worth getting out of the four walls of our house, seeing some sunshine, getting Starbucks, and even just letting them nap in the car. My mental health was worth it.

The dead of winter outside is sometimes mirrored by a wintry season of the soul. Often we keep those dark and cold situations to ourselves. We struggle within the confines of our own minds but never step out and bravely share with another soul.

Is it the dead of winter in your heart today? Is it hard to see what’s coming in just a few weeks? I promise that our God has not abandoned you. I use the dead of winter to remember all the amazing summers and beautiful things God has done through winters past. None of them were fun or enjoyable, but they drew me closer to Him and led me to lean hard against Him. He is big enough. He can handle my winter and my hard stuff and all the questions that linger on for years without answer. He may not answer when or how we want Him to answer, but He is working in ways we cannot see. Deep underneath all the layers, He is healing and restoring, and when spring comes, it is going to blow your mind. You can trust Him.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬
https://bible.com/bible/59/1pe.5.10.ESV