Thursday, October 31, 2013

30 days of {thanks}giving


"all that we behold is full of blessings." 
 ~william wordsworth

i'm not sure if i want to call this a challenge or an opportunity or just a plain, old necessity.

whatever we decide to call it though, i do hope to call it a gift. 

you see, i've got a stirring in my heart to embrace this month of thanksgiving a little more ... well ... 
t h a n k f u l l y.

how about you?

want to come along?

i've loved having many of you with me in the october prayer challenge --- that's been my blessing. it's challenged me. held me accountable. made me organize my pictures. encouraged me to ponder words and scripture. it has even made me get up early every morning! most of all, though, it made me PRAY MORE for my kids. thank you, dear ones, for that accountability!

so, after a month of focused prayer, is our home now squeaky clean and picture perfect? --- nope! not in the least bit, but i do know that God heard my prayers (He hears my prayers) -- your prayers -- and that He is in the business of doing holy work ... even in our messy, crazy, most unholy kind of homes.

we pray. He provides. with His love and mercy He hears our words and He works on our behalf ... simply because He loves us.

and, by the way, i can't imagine a better deal out there.

i was thinking it might be a bit much to add another 30 day anything after our prayer-filled october. i mean, i don't want you to think me too zealous or too over the top or too anything. is it okay in the social media and blogging world to do back to back monthly challenges? probably not. someone would probably like to tell me to take a break. pause. chill. at least sleep in a little.

except what am i supposed to do with this stirring? tell me that, would you!

because in this last week of lovely october, i can't help but think about the coming november and all that comes along with this month.

i'm thinking about thanksgiving and giving thanks. i'm thinking about gratitude. and as much as i felt the need to pray MORE for my children last month, i am feeling the need to give MORE thanks to my God this month.

and i was wondering if i could wrangle up a little company. interested?

like, i can't have y'all over for thanksgiving dinner on november 28th ... (though, that would be some kind of fun) ... but i can invite you all to the table this month of daily thanksgiving.

even after those 31 days of pictures and scripture in october, i assure you, there's no shortage. i'd love to do something similar in november and each morning post a prompt --- something which moves us to a spirit of gratitude. a word and scripture which encourages us to count blessings and deliberately collect gifts.
"How my eyes see, perspective, is my key to enter into His gates. I can only do so with thanksgiving. If my inner eye has God seeping up through all things, then can't I give thanks for anything? And if I can give thanks for the good things, the hard things, the absolute everything, I can enter the gates to glory. Living in His presence is fullness of joy- and seeing shows the way in.”  ~ Ann Voskamp
i want this thanksgiving to be not about the right size turkey or the homemade pumpkin pie or the perfectly appointed table. i want this thanksgiving to be about GIVING THANKS. really. truly. seriously. giving and thanking. thanking and giving.

giving thanks to God for the good, sweet, wonderful gifts of everyday living. for the little things. for the big things. for the obvious things. for the hidden and even for the hard. yes, you read that correctly --- for the hard. can we use this month to GIVE THANKS for all of it. everything.

still want to come along?  --- i sure hope so!

because it's giving thanks for the hard which turns the key and let's us, as ann voskamp said above, "enter the gates of glory."

we must see it.
seek it.
uncover the treasure locked up in everything.
not just the obvious beauty ...
                              ----- but {sometimes} the hidden blessing of the hard.

do you believe we can give God thanks for all of it?

"in everything give thanks; 
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." ~ 1 thessalonians 5:18

God has taken our family through some hard things to show us a glimpse of His glory. what has He taken you and your family through? what hard place are you living in right now? when life is ugly and broken we don't always first think of THANKSGIVING, do we? but everything in me wants to enter those gates of glory ... and if it takes a spirit of gratitude, than Lord, make me MORE grateful.

still game?

i won't tell you that thanking God for the hard is easy, because usually it isn't -- but it's good. always good.

i can tell you it's good because i've walked a little way down that path. i know it in the big things like my journey with cancer and a cross country move with five kids. but i know it also in the smaller things, too. i know it when the sink is piled high with dirty dishes and the toddler has his 5th ear infection and there's no milk in the fridge and the laundry is beginning to smell and the husband is traveling and the bills have piled up and the woman is plumb worn out. i know giving thanks is good even in those every day, draining, ordinary, overwhelming kinds of things. i know it even when all i want to do is go to bed early and escape.

giving thanks doesn't always change our circumstances,  but it always changes us.
let's read that again.
giving thanks doesn't always change our circumstances,  but it always changes us.

a few years ago, i was helping my little guy with some homework. it was hard (for him). he wasn't getting it. defeated, we sat together at the kitchen table with our tears, frustrated words and bad attitudes. both of us. why couldn't he get this math? why did it have to be so hard? what was wrong? why him? why me? {ever been there?} i got up from the table to take a break and to go find myself a little patience. i made myself a cup of tea and wandered into the office where i had a note card sitting out on the desk.  "in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." yep. there it was. in my own handwriting. black and white and convicting. and the tears began to fall. {don't you just love when God sets us up like this?}

really, Lord?

give thanks in this? in third grade math? really?

i looked again at the words. IN EVERYTHING ...

i tried to find a loop hole. a way out. IN EVERYTHING ...

i tried ignore the card and focus elsewhere. IN EVERYTHING ...

i even tried to glare at the card.  IN EVERYTHING ...

so with my head bowed low on that desk i gave thanks for this difficult math and for this struggling boy and for this hour at the kitchen table. i gave thanks. and as the words began to come -begrudgingly and falteringly at first -- finally, the thanksgiving began to pour forth. and the more i gave thanks the easier it became to see something good in this ordinary, but hard, mothering moment.

it's not magic. it's not a mystery. it's meeting Jesus.
Jesus gets the glory when we give the thanks ... but we get the gift when we see His glory revealed  --- even in the hard, small, bitter bites of life.
so, my challenge this month ---

let's not race around in the first three weeks of november and then plop down at the table and try to quick remember each and every thing for which we are thankful. let's start on november 1st. let's take our time. let's treat it like treasure. let's hunt together for the gifts that God has so richly given. let's look at our minutes and our hours and our tasks and our tests with new eyes. eyes that are willing and wanting to see ... to really see every good thing God has provided.

let's be mindful. prayerful. grateful. thankful. in all things. every thing. even the things which cause us to put our heads down on the desk and cry.

still on board? i sure hope so! please leave me a comment or a message and let me know if you're joining me this month...i'd love to hear from you.
check out my facebook page for those morning prompts ---  a picture. a scripture. a challenge to give MORE thanks to God.* i'll also post (in the upper right corner of this blog) a link to the THANKSGIVING prompts each day. find it on facebook (remember you have to "like" my page and then continue to "like" the prompts each day to see it in your newsfeed -- that's just how facebook seems to work). 
also, feel free to invite a few friends to the table of thanksgiving. even that friend who is going through something hard ... invite her. invite him. there's no limit on the guest list at this party of praise and thanksgiving. the table is big. the need is bigger. 
let our grateful words be heard as we proclaim His goodness.

"praise the Lord! 
for He is good! 
His faithful love endures forever." ~ psalm 106:1

one last thing ... yesterday morning i attended the wednesday morning chapel at my kids' school.  it moved me to watch kids, kindergarten through 8th grade, jump around and sing this chorus:
With a cry of praise my heart will proclaim
You are good! You are good!
In the sun or rain, my life celebrates
You are good! You are good!
what if we lived november like these kids sang this song? jumping around and singing God's praise and believing with everything in us He. Is. Good. what if?

friends, let's not skip november.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

the secret of contentment {grace words wednesday}

not that i am speaking of being in need, 
for i have learned in whatever situation i am to be content. 
i know how to be brought low, and i know how to abound. in any and every circumstance, i have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
~ philippians 4:11-12

we are getting to that time of year again.

you know the time ... when the catalog companies start flooding our mailboxes with glossy books of wonderful, incredible, must-have items. they stack up on the kitchen counter or pile high on a desk corner. by mid november, if left unattended, they could very well consume a small room.

i do my best to toss them immediately.

from the mailbox to the recycling bin they go -- that is, when i'm on top of it.

i'm rarely on top of it ... so of course a few sneak their way over the threshold and onto our coffee table.

and when i find one or two lounging around in their sleek covers of temptation ... i force myself to look away. i don't trust myself with even a quick glance.  because, i tell you, these people are professionals. they know how to get to us {to me!} ... even in the safety of our own homes. especially in the safety of our own homes.

they invade.

they come calling. beckoning us by name. luring our lusty selves over to the dark side of unrealized desire.

and all it takes is a mailbox and few spare minutes.

with just one measly little peek, it can happen: perfectly content hearts can be crushed into a million little pieces of want.

"but mama, i want THIS THING..."
"but mama, i need THIS THING..."
"but mama, i must have THIS THING..."

it doesn't much matter what THIS THING is, does it? when that little string of desire is plucked with coveting fingers, our heart can hear no melody but the song of our longing.

my husband always tells the kids stories of how he, as a child, would wait for that gigantic sears' catalog to arrive at his home each november -- the hours he'd spend hovering inside its pages. circling items. underlining ideas. dog earring corners with his boyish desires.

was there any child growing up in the 70's and 80's that didn't take part in this catalog rite of passage?

now days we have computers. we don't even have to wait for those glossy books to be dropped in our boxes. we can access our wants and wishes anytime -- day or night, they are a mere website away.

and i'm just as bad.

at any given time i could go through the pottery barn catalog and find ten items i'm sure i couldn't bare to live without. it's like these magazine designers know me. they know the pictures to show and the buttons to push. they know my weakness. heck, they even know my color schemes. i'm blown away with their savvy shots and their feel-good photography. from table lamps to throw pillows ... they have me cornered.

i'm telling you, it's just better not to look.

here we are, about to step into november -- the month of great thanksgiving -- and so often we find ourselves sort of skipping over it a bit and looking into the next month of great gift-giving. this month where we should celebrate provision, but instead, often think more about purchasing.

and when we forget the thanks-thing and look only to the next-thing, the gift-thing, ... we end up stripping ourselves of the content-thing.

contentment: a state of happiness and satisfaction.

what a wonderful place to be. happy. satisfied. full. complete. enough. content.

it sounds like something I WANT. i am not content with my discontent. do you know what i mean? i want to live as paul describes in the philippians verse above, "in any and every circumstance, i have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." 

what was paul's secret? --- THANKSGIVING.
paul didn't skip november. what deepens our soul-content is giving soul-thanks for what we already have. if we bury our noses in books of more stuff, our eyes become blind to the treasure in front of our faces. our hands become numb to what we already hold.

as we begin our slide into november ... i encourage you {and me...mostly me!} to keep a lid on the longing ... to look instead for the gifts already given. to be content ... wherever. whatever. however. our gifts won't show up perfectly packaged in our mailboxes, but if we take the time to go looking - hunting - searching - counting - we will find them and we will find paul's secret to being content.

check back tomorrow! i'm going to introduce a new challenge-opportunity-gift for the month of november ... and i invite you to join me in thanksgiving ... in giving thanks. each day. every day. let's not skip over november.

{grace words: thanksgiving * contentment * treasure * enough}

Jesus, would you give us hearts of gratitude and eyes to see the abundance of your daily gifts. would you give us words of thanksgiving. teach us contentment. show us the secret. we praise you, Lord. you are always more than enough.

for more {grace words} this morning ... head over to becky's post at 

Friday, October 25, 2013

the barn dance and grace

before i had even climbed out of my car, i could hear the music of their young voices.
as i came closer to the barn, there was no doubt a party was just inside.

light spilled from a couple of small windows up high.

laughter spilled from every weathered, white board.


this old barn held a hundred or so teens for a school dance. a little bit of country. a little bit of crazy. plaid shirts and cowboy boots and kids with a whole lot of foot stompin joy -- square dancing inside on the second floor.

i stopped to photograph the barn before going in ...before realizing i also had tears spilling unexpectedly. 

all this life contained. this wonderful, beautiful life ... just inside.

i was only a mama sneaking in to snatch a few pictures of my teens. they gave me permission. "sure mom, you can stop by and take some pictures." they didn't mind me showing up for a few minutes ... as long as i didn't overstay my welcome. i know the boundaries.

but i could hardly walk through those doors with dripping nose and weepy eyes. that would be a whole different story, right?

so, why the tears?

i could have blamed it on the cold, october wind -- this is minnesota after all. but if i'm honest, it was just that kind of day. a day full of unexpected emotion. so much had crossed my path in the past 12 hours -- from the very beautiful to the very hard.

so much to rejoice in. these kids inside this barn dancing --- whooping and hollering in the unfettered delight of good fun.

and my 16 year old son, tyler, who had passed his driver's test only a few hours earlier. a milestone. another opportunity to rejoice. something basic, but big. this boy who is so careful to do everything correctly in the car right now. i sat next to him and we drove home with that piece of paper tucked away in his wallet. the pride spilling and untucked. my son, who, as a toddler, always wanted me to hold him ... now driving me home. checking his mirrors. signaling his turns.

it wasn't just his milestone -- but felt a bit like mine, as well.

you know the joy of watching a child achieve -- a first step. a small trophy. a big fish. a home run. a driver's license.

this stuff. these barn dances and these milestones. homework at the kitchen table and pizza delivered for dinner and a tiny girl in her pink ballet leotard spinning and the dog barking and the washing machine swishing and orange leaves falling ... all of it good. ordinary. beautiful. gifts.

if i let myself stand outside and take it in from a distance, it does cause my heart to skip, to swell, to beat -- to gasp in gratitude. to give thanks. and sometimes, yes, to weep.

especially on a day like this where i had the opportunity to hear about harder lives. hard living.

earlier -- before the barn dance and the license appointment and the ballet class and the pizza delivery -- i attended a women's luncheon and heard stories of other teens. teens who have different kinds of lives. teens who don't have a whole lot of foot stompin joy. kids who might not have a mom or dad to encourage them on a test. kids who maybe haven't ever had the pride of a milestone met.

this luncheon was in support of the ministry, treehouse, which is dedicated to caring for at risk kids. kids who don't have much of a home or even much hope. treehouse cares for kids who have nowhere to turn.

the kids at treehouse come from abuse or neglect or all types of bad stuff. kids who turn to drugs, sex, violence. kids who never had a chance to be kids.

and i'm outside this barn on a cold, minnesota night overwhelmed with the mixing of country music and easy laughter. because standing there listening i am still hearing the video that played at today's luncheon. i'm thinking about the faces and the stories of kids who don't know what it feels like to dance with their friends in a warm, white barn on a thursday night in october.

and my heart breaks.

my heart breaks for the kids we pass every day of our lives. dozens. hundreds. kids who are broken and hurting. lonely and lost. kids who are cutting. drinking. running. kids who believe they have nothing to give. kids who are one step away from giving up altogether.

kids who are hurting themselves or hurting others.

kids who are just hurting.

this morning, tyler woke up with the anticipation of his driver's license.
this morning, one of tyler's classmates lost her mom to cancer.

tonight there was a barn dance.

and what played in my mind standing outside that barn was this:
      ---------- not everyone dances.

 not everyone in our world dances. and that's where those tears came from.

this sweet, 10th grade girl whose mama is now gone. she's not dancing tonight.

these desperate kids who have suffered all types of hurt. they aren't dancing tonight.

sometimes in our whooping and hollering we forget that not everyone's attending the dance.

tomorrow, the entire high school will go out and work in different service projects across the city of minneapolis. they will rub shoulders and shake hands with broken people. people who don't dance.

it will be amazing. the students will come back with stories. they will come back zealous and on fire to help others ... to reach out ... to do good ... to make a difference.

but first they (we) (i) must remember: not everyone dances.

there's so much pain in this world. i don't get it. i don't understand why my two teens get to be inside that barn dancing tonight and why other teens are on the outside hurting. i don't get that. i don't know how to make sense of it all.

but i do want to remember that when i get a glimpse of this goodness ... it can never be taken for granted. it's nothing i deserve. nothing i've earned. nothing i was owed.

it's grace.

the fact that my kids can dance or drive or anything ... is grace.  all grace. only grace.

this sweet girl who lost her mom to cancer today. that could have been us. when i got my cancer diagnosis a couple of years ago ... we didn't know. why was i given the chance to sneak into a barn and photograph my kids dancing tonight?  why was this woman taken from her family today?

why are some teens dancing and other teens desperate?

these aren't questions i can answer quickly ... but i still think they need to be asked. even when the answers aren't easy.

even if the tears are awkward and untimely ... we need them.

we need to remember not everyone's in the barn. not everyone's laughing along with us. it's easy to forget that sometimes, isn't it? in fact, we don't always want to think about it. it's much nicer to pretend we're all having a good time. i get it. i'm like that too.

and then God breaks my heart and reminds me.

standing outside a white barn in minnesota,  He makes me remember.

all is grace.

only grace.


“and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  ~ john 1:16

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

don't get mad, get even {grace words wednesday}

don't get mad, get even. 
okay, so it's not {exactly} biblical.
but i like it.
and, on occasion, it works.

like last week when i removed all the light bulbs from my teenage daughter's bedroom and bathroom. nine of them. taken. gone. hidden away.

total darkness.

i hadn't been plotting this cold-blooded act of parenting. there was no plan. no premeditation. in fact, it was kind of a light-bulb moment when the idea first turned on in my brain.

after being gone most of the day, i had grabbed a stack of laundry and carried it down the hall to her room. and there, no less than six hours, from her morning exit, i found at least seven of her lights beaming brightly. the afternoon sun streaming through the windows mixed with the blaze of bedside lamps was, for a moment, almost blinding.

and in this brilliant flash, i saw red ... and then i saw the cha-ching-cha-ching of dollar signs.

just this past week the electric bill had arrived.

it wasn't pretty ... and i was pretty done.

her dad and i have repeatedly asked her to turn off the lights before leaving for school each morning ... and for some reason, this request hasn't sunk in.

she's a bright girl. gets good grades. varsity athlete. tall. seems socially savvy enough. but there's been this disconnect with her light switch for a long, long time.

of course i had to share this moment on
facebook.  =) i love all the "likes"...
most of them from parents who get it! 
often i feel as if i just repeat myself.

over and over and over. again.

flip the switch on and off ... on and off ... on and off.

perhaps you know this cycle of which i speak.

if you're a parent, i'm sure you do!

we nag and needle and remind. we ask and plead and push. we jump on that merry go
round of parenting which spins us round and round with our easy expectations and simple requests ... and then hurls us off into a mud puddle of failure and frustration when our kids seem to ignore our wishes.

i am not the first parent to ride this wheel of bewilderment, and i'm sure i won't be the last. but still ... we get to a point when we feel like we either have to do something drastic or blow our cool. i've gone the blowing-my-cool route before, too .... not especially pretty.

so, standing in her room with an armful of clean clothes, i decided instead of getting really, really angry ... i'd get really, really resourceful.

instead of getting mad, i'd get even.

last year my friend, paige, told me that was her husband's motto in parenting. "don't get mad, get even." (you need to know that paige and hank have 6 kids. by the way, i always get the best ideas from big families -- i think it's quite often a matter of survival). hank's simple motto stuck with me.  i've thought of it several times since our talk last december.

... son leaves his new tennis shoes outside in the rain. they get wet -- he must wear them.

... another son fails to bring his soccer jersey to the laundry room in a timely manner -- he gets to wear a dirty, smelly jersey at his next game.

... daughter forgets her homework back at school -- she gets a poor grade and misses her recess.

it's called natural consequences. and they're good for our kids.

in fact, i think they're great for our kids. way better than mom or dad running around ranting and raving about light switches and wet shoes, right?

but these examples above, let's be honest, they are rather insignificant, right? kind of small potatoes really. i'm not sure my boys even care if their shoes are wet or if their soccer jersey stinks to high heaven.

there are other, larger kinds of consequences to poor choices or bad decisions though.

last week in our prayer challenge one of the words was righteousness. and i have to tell you, it's one of those big, hairy, ugly, even kind of uncomfortable words. none of us are righteous on our own, and yet we are told multiple times in God's Word to "practice righteousness," to "live rightly" or to "make right choices."

we can't earn our righteousness, just like we can't earn our redemption or salvation.

but, that doesn't mean we don't have choices. we do! and with those choices there will come reward or their will come wrath.

uh-huh, i said it. i did. i used the wrath word.

if you're like most people, you want to talk a lot about the reward, but not so much about that wrath thing -- reminds me of five kids i know. it's no surprise how we can verbally belabor a good grade or a great serve or blue ribbon ... but when we need to address an unfortunate action or a  mistake or a bad choice or just some plain, old sin all of a sudden the room empties out.

it's how we're wired. i'm not saying i'm surprised. i get it. i, too, love the crowns and compliments and kudos. i much prefer those things to consequences and condemnation.

who doesn't?

but here's the deal, sweet friends, psalm 7:11 clearly tells us, "God is a righteous judge." and, like it or not, the last time i checked, a judge deals with both -- sweet reward and dire consequences.
"and now the prize awaits me--the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return." ~ 2 timothy 4:8 
"for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." romans 1:18
there will be a day of judgment. God will return and He will judge us according to our lives. we will have to give an account. crowns of righteousness will be rewarded, just as the wrath of God will be revealed. this is not my opinion, this is what God's Word says. it's a big deal, friends. i know it's not a nice, warm, wednesday morning, feel good kind of discussion, but sometimes we just need to put away the fluff and the feel good stuff. we need to stop making excuses. we need to be reminded that what we do does matter.

i stole my daughter's light bulbs to get her attention. (and i'm really hoping it worked).

is God trying to get your attention? our attention? my attention?

has He taken something away or maybe even made things a bit dark? is there a chance that He is trying to make a point in your life?

thankfully, God's motto isn't: "don't get mad, get even." if it was, we'd all be in a boat load of trouble! i can't begin to imagine what that would look like in my life.

but God is Just and He is Holy and He does demand our attention and obedience.

what message is He sending your way today?

i could leave this right here. and it would be probably be enough to ponder for a while. but, i want to go back to that courtroom scene i mentioned earlier ----

God is the judge.

and we -- all of us -- sit in the hot seat clutching our collection of dirty deeds and dark secrets.

we deserve wrath.

deep inside, we know it.

and, what's more, we know we haven't got a case.

it's desperate. hopeless. a surely condemned situation.

but then Jesus enters.

He sweeps into the courtroom, coming right for us, and asks, "will you let me sit in your place?"

we have a choice -- yes or no.

if we stay in our seat, we suffer God's judgment.

but ... if we say yes to Jesus and surrender our seat to Him. He takes our place. He takes our sin. He takes God's wrath ... and He leaves it -- all of it -- nailed to the cross.

He, the one who knew no sin, covers our unholy, awful, ugliness with His beautiful, beautiful righteousness.

what we could not do for ourselves, He does for us.

and that's grace.

beautiful, undeserved, freely given ... grace.

a crown of righteousness or the wrath of God? which do you choose?

{grace words:
righteousness * grace * light * crowns}

Jesus -- it is in your mercy that you grab hold of us. it is in compassion that you demand our attention. when we are making choices which lead to dire consequences and even death, you are not silent --- sometimes, you even shake us up a bit. Lord, shake us free from our sinful ways. remove what you must to grab hold of our hearts. it's a scary thing to pray ... but we want to be all ours. we desire crowns of righteousness which come with surrendering to your Spirit. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

if you desire to go deeper on this topic, i'd encourage you to read through romans 8. i've included a piece of it here below.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.   ~ romans 8

don't forget to head over to BECKY CRENSHAW at THE WORD OF GOD AND A CUP OF JOE for her sweet grace words this morning! she's writing about a rendered heart ... 

Friday, October 18, 2013

because i love them

 i'm not sure there's any other possible explanation, but love.

i love him.

i must. otherwise i wouldn't have spent my entire morning in the middle of nowhere minnesota on a chilly, gray day with a group of mean looking men and a few even meaner looking women.

but i love my 16 year old son and yesterday was his firearm safety "field day." and so we got up early and drove kind of far and circled up with this interesting cast of gun savvy characters. and we learned more about firearms and amunition then i had ever thought possible.

go ahead, shoot me a question!

i know the GUN word is rather controversial in today's world, and let me just say, this post is not about THAT. i'm not making any kind of argument one way or another. no, the gun thing isn't important in this post, it just happens to be the setting for my story. we'll have to save that debate for another post friends. =)

but my outdoorsy-kind-of-kid wants to wade out a bit into the waters of hunting, and this field day was part of the process. and so there we were.

love her sweatshirt
hunting isn't really my cup of tea. i mean, we hunt all the time for missing socks or keys or receipts. i even hunt, on occasion, for a good bargain while i'm out shopping. but the kind of hunting my son is interested in exploring isn't really in my blood. i was definitely more the type to bring home stray animals as a kid ... my mother swears, one time i even dragged home road kill wanting to help it.

anyway, there we were: listening to this rather.. er, um...rough man talk: following his directions, signing the paperwork, taking the test, writing the check, sticking foam in our ears, shooting rifles (go ahead and imagine) and trekking through the muck of the minnesota horse and gun club ... or maybe it was the minnesota hunt and horse club. something gun, horse and hunt. let's just say when i went inside to find a restroom there were lots of stuffed things up on the walls -- even in the ladies room. (see my friend to the left).

remind me, again, how did i get here? oh yeah, i love my boy.

we do strange and uncomfortable things for our kids sometimes because we love them, don't we?

i bet you have a few stories of your own. things you'd never really have ever agreed to except that you had this child and she or he had this dream or desire or destination. you went along because you were the mom or dad, and then ended up looking around and wondering how in the world you got there. but knowing, regardless of how you felt about THERE, you were doing your part just being THERE for your child.

because sometimes we do things for our kids that really don't speak all that much to our own souls --- like chuck e cheese.

as a little girl, my middle daughter, sarah, adored the idea of chuck e cheese, mostly because it was a lot like forbidden fruit. mostly because i was never the kind of mom to really be all that passionate (or willing) about taking her there. so it became this really big thing in her mind. every time we would pass the establishment she would go on and on about how "all she has ever wanted to do in he life is go to chuck e cheese." well, we went there. once. and i remember feeling pretty close to how i felt at this morning's hunting lesson. how in the heck did i get here? if you've ever darkened the doorway of this little kids' mosh pit, you understand.

i had the same thing happen this past spring with my oldest daughter when we went shopping for her prom dress. i found myself at the world famous mall of america on the busiest prom dress shopping saturday of the year. my daughter and i were in the company of every other 17 or 18 year old girl (and all of their mothers) in minnesota. we waited almost an hour at one store to get into a dressing room. i was flabbergasted. i mean it, mad as a hornet and completely aghast at the idea of waiting 55 minutes to try on a dress, prom or otherwise. it seemed ludicrous. it was ludicrous. but it was also my daughter and it was the only weekend free for shopping and we were stuck. and, the bottom line is, i love her. and so we took turns waiting in this God-forsaken line to try on a dress which would cost too much money and that she'd wear only once. {trust me, it's better not to think too deeply on that}.

i'd like to think that because of love for my children i've also done more noble things than gun field day, chuck e cheeses and prom dress shopping. i know there were countless after hour trips to the 24 hour medical care facilities and late night runs to the drug store. there have been many early mornings when i've driven kids to 6:30 am practices ... or picked them up at midnight from a friend's house. one time we drove at 2am to pick up the middle daughter (miss chuck e cheese herself) from a sleepover party when she couldn't "make it through the night."

we've quizzed thousands of spanish words and bible verses and read the same, favorite, bedtime story books until the pages fell out. we've stayed up late frosting cupcakes or washing uniforms or consoling broken hearts. one time, when tyler was a little guy, his pet lizard wasn't doing so well, and we had a middle of the night conference call with a lizard expert. we ended up camping out on the basement floor cradling little "spikey" on our laps while attempting to share our body heat and feed him from a medicine dropper. i'm sorry, but prior to children, i just never imagined sitting on a basement floor, cradling a lizard and feeding him with a medicine dropper. these are the parenting things they don't tell you about before you sign up.

but it's in these very moments when our children connect deeply with us, isn't it? it's in these moments when our kids learn that they've got someone on their side ... no matter what. when we stay in a place despite our preference. when we camp out in the backyard or in the basement. when we stand in long lines for the prom dress or the concert tickets or the ferris wheel. when we throw the baseball to the boy who can't catch or play cards with the little girl who doesn't yet know her numbers. when we allow our kids to do science experiments in our kitchens or slide down the staircases in sleeping bags. when we choose mcdonald's over the salad bar place or an animated movie over a classic. when we put aside our own wishes or wants and meet our kids in the middle of their kid-kind-of-mystery ... we connect.

i'm not saying that the answer should always be yes! oh no, no, no ... if you've read anything on this blog in the past, you know, i'm not a mama who believes in always giving her kids their way. not at all. we use the word "no" rather often, in fact. and, by the way, the word "no" can also show love -- regardless of what our kids think! but in our parent-discernment we know there are times when we stretch ourselves for our kids.

maybe the word is sacrifice. because that's clearly part of this parent thing. but i think it has a lot more to do with just plain love. we love them.

and so, on occasion, we do some things which aren't quite in our wheelhouse, but we pull up our boot straps and we walk alongside our kids in their kid kind of worlds. and even if we leave with muddy feet or ringing ears or shaky hands, we know, more times than not, it was worth it.

i'd love to hear from you! tell me about a time when "it was worth it."

 on the way home we stopped off to check out the blaze orange and camo! 
again, not really my kind of fashion ... but, hey, never say never.

back at home, ty printed off his license/certification. i made him pose for this picture. 
told him he "owed" me. might use that one for awhile. =)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

wisdom {grace words wednesday}

some days i’ve got nothing.

i mean it: nada. zero. zip.

i know i’m the mom and i’m supposed to have all the answers. 
i’m supposed to always know where everyone’s uniform is and if there’s an extra bottle of ketchup in the pantry. 

off the top of my head, i'm supposed to know everyone’s shoe size and dress size and favorite food. 

i’m supposed to know what time we have to be at the game or the meeting or the party or the appointment. 
and how to get there. 
and what to wear. 
and what we were supposed to bring and say and do.

i’m supposed to have this mother-mind that keeps it all clear and clean and tidy--all perfectly under control and right on track. i’m supposed to ...

except, usually i don’t.

i don’t miraculously hold all the details and directions. i don't have eyes in the back of my head, a built-in-clock in my brain or the supernatural ability to discern my child's cry from a mile away.

i know some moms who do -- or at least it seems like they do. 

when a woman can throw out her family’s activity schedule and a well balanced meal plan two weeks in advance, i’ll be honest, it makes me a little uneasy. maybe even intimidated. i find myself staring. like the mouth-hanging-wide-open kind of staring. i think the word is gape or gawk. i quickly become a gawker or a gaper and i have to yank myself back to reality. yank myself back and then go buy myself a snickers bar or a chai tea or something to help me recover from the unnerving display of all that mama-resourcefulness and responsible behavior.

i do my best.

and i’m okay with that. well, usually i am. because here's the deal: i am not sure i’m supposed to be any better at juggling more details ... but i do desire more discernment.  

stocking the freezer with winter soups and comfort food casseroles is a good plan -- a great plan, in fact! but what i really need to squirrel away is more wisdom.

i want it ready to go. 

i want it on the tip of my tongue.

i want to have it all set in a place which makes it easy to whip out when needed. and oh, friend, it is needed. often.
it’s nice to know the location of a clean pair of socks or how many refills are left on the prescription or if it's my turn to drive carpool .... those are important and helpful pieces of information.

but isn’t it more important to be wise?

that’s where i want to improve. wisdom.

i want to know better how to address a sassy teenager or an out of control toddler. how to encourage a defeated daughter or a stressed out son.  how to make time for a boy who needs help with his homework or answer the call of a hurting friend. i want to know how to make dinner while offering advice about boys or college or mean girls or gossip.

i’m not entirely opposed to my kids asking me the whereabouts of their favorite pair of sneakers or if i washed their soccer jersey.  that’s all fine and good. but i really want to be the mom who helps them figure out the big stuff ... the bigger stuff. i’d love to be a mom who can help them make decisions, steer them in the right direction and uncover truth.

because this mom-thing isn’t just about having a well organized schedule at our fingertips. this mom thing isn’t about memorizing shoe sizes or knowing when we are running low on toothpaste. no, this mom thing is about being in tune with the state of our kids’ hearts and minds and relying on Jesus to provide wisdom accordingly.

"she speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue." ~ proverbs 31:26

that's the woman i really want to be

instead, somedays, i feel a little more like, "she speaks with impatience, and constant nagging is on her tongue." 


do you know what i mean? anyone else out there struggling with discernment? anyone else out their desiring her words to be a tad more wise and faithful and balanced?

God's word is clear: if we want to be wise, we must ask. let's be honest, we're not really born with it, are we? we must ask. just like king solomon did in 1 chronicles:

 "That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”(okay, seriously, can you even imagine?)
Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?" God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you."

seriously, what would you say if God said to you, "ask for whatever you want me to give you." if i'm honest here, i can think of a few (not so noble) things immediately. but at the end of the day, i know wisdom would be right up there at the top of my list. 

what is it you are asking God for today? 

{grace words: wisdom * discernment * faithful * instruction}

Jesus, would  you give this wordy woman some extra wisdom. help me to pass all thoughts, ideas, responses and words through the filter of you. control my impulses, temper my thoughts, restrain my actions and sift my words. i want to be speak your truth and your grace in all circumstances. bridle ME Jesus, and unleash YOU in all things. a-men!

i hope you are still following along with our october prayer challenge! this morning's word was wisdom! (yes, i planned that)! you can connect with the prayer challenge on my facebook page jody mcnatt - even the sparrow

don't forget to check out my friend, becky crenshaw's, {grace words} post. you'll find her at the word of God and a cup of joe!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

the truth about turtles

rarely do we get to see the full circle of something. 

i mean, i do see (often, in fact) the full circle of hungry children scrounging around in our pantry -- leaving the door wide open, leaving the light on, leaving the empty box out on the counter. i find the wrapper abandoned on coffee table and a sticky chunk of granola bar affixed to the couch cushion. sometimes, i even see some crumbs on the face. yes, i suppose the full circle of that is pretty commonplace. at least in this home.

but then there are other things. special things. rare things.

like the turtles which showed up on our driveway last week on wednesday. in the middle of a rainy evening.

baby snapping turtles. everywhere.
thirty, maybe forty. 

cute little guys.

 all of us tickled. delighted. curious. what were they doing here?

we slept that night with a turtle migration taking place just outside our front door. 

the next morning, we woke to find even more -- the party had grown.

clearly, they had hatched in our yard and were now heading for the creek. it's what baby turtles do.

a few months earlier -- june, i believe, i watched a big mama turtle amble into the flower bed outside our family room window. her massive body digging deep in the mulch -- laying her eggs. i snapped a quick picture on my phone to show the kids who were away at school. i knew she'd be gone by the time they came home. 

and though she soon traveled back to the creek on the edge of our yard, those eggs stayed all summer long. they stayed buried in a flower bed filled with black-eyed susans and purple coneflower -- at the corner of our house, just outside our window. growing. ripening. readying for the hatch-jubilee and triumphant turtle parade across our busy driveway. 

when the younger kids came home from school, it was all forces combined for the great turtle rescue event of 2013. teen girl, 10 year old boy and the five year old all working together to help these tiny turtles along. my youngest three children on a wildlife mission. one by one, each straggling turtle was carried to the creek bed. whether looking for a ride or not, they got one. it was a perfect, rainy day adventure. the creek was low, the mud was deep and the children determined.

later, with red cheeks and dirty everything, the threesome traipsed back into my kitchen telling stories of how they created a new home for the turtles -- "turtle cove." how they added branches and twigs and leaves. telling stories of how they worked together in the muck and played their part in this grand migratory moment.

when the oldest boy arrived home from soccer a couple of hours later, he too, threw on some creek boots and headed out into our version of the wilderness. he wanted to check things out. oversee the situation. approve. he's like that.

i found him awhile later on the driveway. soccer socks soaking.

boots muddy.

dog soaking too. muddy and in the middle of it all. ridiculously happy.

yes, that's a smile.

an event. a big mess. a wonderful taste of adventure. a slice of something extraordinary.

i watch my kids, and even myself, get all riled up at this kind of thing and it makes my mama-heart sing. i love the mess and the mud and the little bit of wednesday afternoon mayhem. it's unexpected and a tiny bit on the edge. it's different. it's almost like playing pretend. for them. for me.

because, the truth is, i like to be just a little bit on the edge of adventure. i like, now and then, to dip my toe in the water of something that feels just a wee bit wild.

but the truth {also} is ... i'm not sure i want to live there. stay there. camp out here.

i am pretty sure, this was fabulous for one wednesday afternoon ... but really wouldn't want to be dealing with the muddy mess everyday. and though it's fine for my kids, on occasion, to be handling baby snapping turtles on our suburban driveway, what if it's my kids wanting to someday wrestle alligators in the outback or move as missionaries to guatemala city or, even worse, head off with friends on a college road trip? do you know what i mean?

i don't mind the pretend risky living.

but how do i feel when it's a little more real?

because just like this mama turtle, i want to keep my kids in safe shells, nestled away somewhere nice. i want to control my level of adventure. and even more so, i want to control their level of adventure.

i like a little bit of drama ... a tiny bit of something ... as long as i'm the one running the show. as long as i get to pick out the props and set up the stage and dictate the script.

but what happens when we move from migratory turtles in the creek bed to something bigger? larger? wilder?

where am i in that kind of adventure?

when God says be bold, be brave, be outside your comfort zone ... what happens then?

because, we all know, sometimes he asks us to be someplace more than just on our driveway in wet soccer socks.

He has plans for us.

grand plans.

plans for adventure.

and like these tiny turtles bursting forth from their summer shells, i know my kids are all on the verge of bursting forth into a life filled with its share of wilderness ...

i won't be able to control it. and i might not even see the full circle of what it is. i'll get glimpses ... muddy footprints across my heart as i watch them explore, discover, travel, grow, expand, live.

because God didn't create us to stay safely nestled in nice shells or summer gardens ... He created us to head out into the break burst forth ... to be bold ... to become.
“remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. ~ isaiah 43:18-19
i know we're talking about turtles, not ships, but i have always loved this quote ... and think it applies!
"a ship in a harbour is safe, 
but that is not what ships are built for."
 ~ william shedd

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

{grace words wednesday} : when it feels like Jesus is across the lake

"when Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake ..." ~ mark 5:21

can you see the father pacing on the beach? the daddy whose daughter lay dying. the desperate papa wild with fear for his child. the synagogue leader standing helpless on the shoreline ... searching for Jesus.

Jesus who was out on a boat.
Jesus who was across the lake.
Jesus who was busy healing others.

can you imagine the man weak at water's edge scanning the thin line of horizon. waiting. wondering. wringing his hands in the anxiety of what if?

what if Jesus doesn't come in time?
what if Jesus can't help?
what if she dies?

we feel a little like that father sometimes,
don't we?

when our child has an issue or an illness or an incredibly challenging problem. we pace the shoreline wondering where God's deliverance is.

maybe even wondering where God is ...

i have felt like that father in mark chapter 5.

the very week we began the adoption of our daughter, bella, we were told she had gone into respiratory/cardiac distress and been hospitalized. while we were signing papers and readying documents and gearing up for a year long pursuit of this tiny girl from china, she was undergoing emergency open heart surgery half a world away.

bella was 18 months old and she spent four weeks recovering in a hospital. alone.

and there wasn't anything we could do about it. not one single thing.

on the other side of the world we paced for an entire year, not knowing much about how she was doing. updates were limited -- scarce, in fact. when we pleaded to find out more, we'd get a response like, "she's doing better" or "she's doing fine."

but you mamas and daddies know that "better" and "fine" don't quite cut it when your child is sick and 7,000 miles away.

as parents we want to DO SOMETHING.

from july 2009 until july 2010, i paced, i prayed, i pleaded with God to speed up the adoption and bring this little girl home to her family.

and if i'm honest, at times it felt like Jesus was on the other side of the lake ... out on a boat ... busy with someone else.

in mark chapter 5, Jesus returns to the fear-ridden father on the beach.

His boat hit the shoreline and in the middle of the assembled crowd stood jairus ... still there ... still waiting.
"then one of the synagogue leaders, named jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. he pleaded earnestly with him, 'my little daughter is dying. please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.' so Jesus went with him." ~ mark 5:23-25
did you get that?  i don't know if it was in desperation or in relief or maybe just in plain old exhaustion, but jairus, the powerful synagogue leader, fell at the feet of Jesus and began to plead for the life of his daughter.

this month, many of you have joined me in a 31 day prayer challenge, praying for our kids. we are already into week two and i don't know about you, but it has blessed me to intentionally fall at the feet of Jesus each morning and plead on behalf of my five. i've been praying for and with and about my kids for years, but something about this intentionality feels different. it's more like that pacing ... like wearing a path in the sand ... because of continual, regular, scheduled, committed prayer.

isn't that how we're supposed to pray 365 days for our kids? for ourselves? for everything? shouldn't there be a path well worn in the sand ... a patch of carpet threadbare by our bedside?

i'm not always that kind of pray-er -- but i want to be. when i encounter burdens or bruised living, i want it to be the first instinct, the first impulse, the first idea ...

oh friend, i don't know what kind of desperate pacing is taking place in your home right now. i don't know what kind of concerns or worries or heartbreak is keeping you up at night. but i do know each of you probably has something which you'd like to leave at the feet of Jesus. chances are there is (or has been) something about your child which keeps you on your knees. something which makes you look to the horizon wondering: where is Jesus?

because sometimes in our frailty we, like jairus, fear those same what ifs. what if Jesus isn't enough?

and just like in life, this story in mark 5 isn't clean cut and quick. no, it goes on with several interruptions. in the midst of their conversation about the daughter of jairus Jesus turned and healed a totally different woman. i know jairus had to be thinking, "hurry Jesus. come with me. forget all these other people. i need you. now. focus Jesus! Jesus ...Jesus ... Jesus!"

and, if that wasn't enough, just as they were about to leave, some people appear from the girl's bedside saying, "your daughter is dead, why bother the teacher anymore?"

jairus could have given up. turned away. shuffled home.

but Jesus overhearing them replies, "don't be afraid; just believe."

i know sometimes it feels like Jesus is far away -- (across the lake). it feels like surely He has too much else to do -- (healing another person). it feels like the situation is hopeless -- (your daughter is dead).

i know.

but friend, hold tight to His answer, "don't be afraid; just believe."

Jesus is always around. always available. and always able.

 "when they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, 'why all this commotion and wailing? the child is not dead, but asleep.' ... He took her by the hand and said to her, “talitha koum!” (which means 'little girl, I say to you, get up!'). immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around ..." ~ mark 5:38-42

one year after our daughter's life saving surgery in china, she came home. healthy. heart fully pumping. healed. i'll never forget our appointment with the cardiologist in that first week of her arrival. i'll never forget the doctor (who wasn't a believer) looking at bella's heart in the ultrasound room and declaring, "it's amazing. it's a miracle."

"don't be afraid; just believe."

"talitha koum!"

{grace-words: believe * around * available * able * talitha koum!}

Jesus, you encourage us: "come to me all who are weary and burdened ..." all who wring their hands and worry through their days and wonder about the great what ifs.  "come to me."  Father God, let our paths be well worn as we come. let us learn to bring our burdens and our fears before you. teach us, like the desperate daddy, jairus, to even fall at your feet and listen for your voice, "don't be afraid; just believe." a-men.

linking up again this morning for {grace words} with becky crenshaw over at The Word of God and a Cup of Joe ...  "if your kids resist Jesus."