God Will Add

A year and a half ago Adam and I began praying about adding another child to our family.  We definitely desired it…but we were unsure of how to go about it or if it would even happen.

We have always wanted to adopt and so we initially assumed that adoption would be the route we would take.  But as we prayed and researched and questioned and discussed, we never felt a peace about it for this season of our lives…which, honestly, was really frustrating for me.  Because adoption was something we really wanted, my heart went back and forth and and up and down and round and round over it.

We had started the process of learning about and pursuing foster care years ago, even before Toby was born, so we wondered if that might be the path God would take us down next.  Yet still we wrestled.

In fact, I still have the notes I typed on the computer one evening last spring – trying to spill out all of my desires and fears and true motivations for pursuing adoption, foster care, or trying to get pregnant.

In May we decided that we would give it a few months that summer to leave it in God’s hands to see what would happen and go from there.  Toward the end of that month we went away for a beautiful week to celebrate our 10th anniversary…and came home with a tiny, growing, living souvenir.  God quickly and graciously answered our prayers and our questions.  And even though we didn’t know what road we should take or even IF and HOW we should grow our family, God did.

And He added.

Thus we’ve chosen a name for the baby girl growing in my womb.

Josie Elizabeth Johnson

Josie = “God will add” or “God will increase

To our Isaiah (“God is salvation“), our Tobias (“God is good“), and our Jack (“God is gracious“)…

God will add.

Our Josie.

We liked the sweet and playful spunk of the name (and we figured she’ll need it growing up with 3 big brothers!), but were sold on it when Adam remembered that his dad’s grandmother’s name was Josephine, from which the name Josie is derived.

And to that Johnson family tree, God will add.

Our Josie Elizabeth.

Elizabeth = “God is satisfaction” and “Consecrated to God

By God’s grace, we are still learning what it looks like to find our satisfaction in Him.  We have tasted and seen that HE is the only thing that truly does satisfy.  Therefore, we want to continue to claim the Truth that HE is enough regardless of the outcome of this pregnancy or the circumstances of her life.

We pray that she would be a woman who is, indeed, consecrated (“dedicated or devoted for a divine purpose“) to God – dedicated to Him by her parents, sanctified by His Spirit, and devoted to glorifying Him in her life and purpose.

God has added to our family and also increased our joy and our satisfaction in Him.  We pray that our family is a testimony to who He is and what He’s done…

He has rescued us by His merciful salvation,

Satisfied us by His goodness,

Given to us by His grace,

And added to the glory of HIS great name.

And for that (and more!), we give thanks.  

“I will give thanks to Your name for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things YOUR name and Your Word.
On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you INCREASED

The Lord will fulfill his PURPOSE for me; Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

Psalm 138:2,8

Thirsty Little Elephants

We had been in the middle of a difficult discipline week.  You know those weeks when your kids are obedient, it appears as though you’re really making progress, and you feel like a super success as a mom?  Yeah, that was definitely NOT one of those weeks.  I knew I was in a great battle for the hearts or my boys and felt fearful that it was one I was losing.

One particular morning I turned on “Zooboomafoo” (the “Wild Kratts” of the previous decade) for my little guys.  I was working in the kitchen when Chris Kratt’s voice stopped caught my attention…

“And if the matriarch or  leader elephant doesn’t remember where the waterholes are, the whole herd could be in danger.”

And I felt the Holy Spirit’s gentle, yet forceful prodding…

Megan, it’s YOUR job to daily show them where to drink.

And I don’t mean where to fill up their sippy cups or lunch thermoses.  I mean where to find the Living Water that they REALLY are thirsting for.  Not just the saturation they need for their bodies to survive, but the saturation of their souls that they need to thrive.

You see, elephants are huge animals in a hot and dry climate.  They must stay hydrated and cool and often have to travel hundreds of miles to find water.  And it’s the mama elephant’s job to smell it out and get her herd into position to drink.

And my calling as a mom to my little herd?  Show them they are thirsty and tell them where to drink.

I need to strive to help my boys see their sin – to show them the law and where they aren’t measuring up.  In doing so I need to show them their need for a Savior – the only One who was and is good.  Ultimately, I need to help reveal to them their thirst and where to get a drink.  I NEED to give them the Gospel.

“Dazzle [your children] with the message of Christ’s love and welcome, and then when you think that they surely must be tiring of it, go back and drench them with it again.  Steep their little parched souls in the blessings of the good news: Jesus Christ has already done all the work that needed to be done.  When in great relief from excruciating agony of soul he declared, ‘It is finished,’ it really was.  This is the message that we and our children need to hear over and over again.”

After all, without showing them where the waterholes are, my whole herd could be in grave danger.

“Raising good kids is utterly impossible unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of another.  You cannot raise good kids because you are not a good parent.  There is only one good Parent, and he had only one good Son.  Together, this Father and Son accomplished everything that needed to be done to rescue us and our children from certain destruction.”

And I’m sure those big ol’ mama elephants can’t get their children’s thirsts quenched unless they are first putting the the herd into position to drink…and then drinking from that same watering hole themselves.

“Give this grace to your children: tell them who they really are, tell them what they need to do, and then tell them to taste and see that the Lord is good.  Give this grace to yourself, too.”

– Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson (Give Them Grace)

Jeremiah obviously needed to remind God’s people of the same thing – to reveal to them how their adulterous hearts were running after insufficient water sources to try to satisfy their thirst.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

– Jeremiah 2:13

They had forsaken the Fountain of Life – the only constantly replenishing Source that could truly save, satisfy, and sustain – and tried to quench the thirst of their souls with temporary, man-made, and faulty cisterns that would eventually break and leak and, in some cases, eventually become prisons.

I would suggest that as moms we can often do the same things.

I can focus on behavior modification and external “goodness” and outward appearances.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on building their self-esteem and self-righteousness and nurturing their pride.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on high GPAs and athletic accomplishments and filling up their schedules.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on feeding them the “right” food and choosing the “right” schooling and orchestrating the “right” sleep schedule.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on only making them happy and giving them stuff and entertaining their socks off.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on trying to become, myself, their hero, their friend, and their wanna-be-savior.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on protecting and sheltering and hovering and holding.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I’m sure the mama elephant has many other roles and meets many other needs of her herd, but if she doesn’t take them to the watering hole, her herd ultimately won’t thrive in the ways that truly matter.

And neither will mine. Because if I’m missing the Gospel, I’m missing the point.

As moms, may we remember our highest calling.  May we consistently taste of the Lord’s goodness and drink of His grace ourselves.  May we lead our children to the Cross and tell them the story of a relentless Father Who freely adopts rebels, clothes them in His righteousness, and transforms them into beloved sons and daughters.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

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Little Mouths, BIG Praise

Small.

Insignificant.

Unsuccessful.

A few days ago these were the words that kept running through my head.  It’s not a new battle.  I’ve heard these lies before.

My husband and I have been called to minister and serve at a little church plant.  Every once in a while I have a little time to write a little something on a little blog that has a VERY little following.  I’m at stay-at-home mom that spends her days with little people, feeding little mouths and wiping little butts and getting little thanks or recognition or paycheck (okay, no paycheck).

There are days in my flesh and pride and temporal perspective when I long for more.  You know, for more of the BIG things.  Immediate results without the blood, sweat, tears, and waiting.  Recognition and respect.  Significance and success.  I want to know that what I’m doing matters.  That God is pleased.  In a sense, I found myself crying out for a bigger and more significant “mouth” for Him.  I wanted to be like a blazingly bright, loud, and flashy billboard that screamed the glory of God’s name…but, unfortunately, that at least had my name in some kind of bold font, too…you know, toward the bottom.

And the enemy saw my guard down and pounced with his lies.

You’re not good enough.

You should be more like them.

You are defined by what others’ say about you.  

You need to defend yourself, prove yourself, promote yourself. 

What you’re doing doesn’t really matter.

Like a broken record, the melody of these accusations played over and over again and a familiar fear of failure offered it’s melancholy harmonies.

Until Psalm 8 interjected a screeching halt to the repetitious, condemning, and self-centered song.

“Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is YOUR name in all the earth!

You have set YOUR glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    YOU have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Through the praise of children and infants.

The Hebrew used here is actually better translated as “young children (toddlers) and nursing babies”.  Little mouths.  Insignificant mouths.  Weak mouths.  

These are the mouths that give praise to His glory?  The mouths through which He establishes a stronghold against His enemies?  Little mouths that don’t talk well or can’t talk at all?!

Small.

Insignificant.

Unsuccessful.

Our 18 month old, Jack, isn’t talking much yet.  Compared to his big brothers, who seemed to come out of the womb speaking full sentences, our littlest boy has only a handful of regularly used words.  He understands what we’re saying and can follow our directions, but communicates with gestures and cries, grunts and squeals, babbles and pointed fingers, and a very limited vocabulary.  If he’s upset or has been wronged by his big brothers, he’s fairly helpless to express or defend himself.  And it’s hard to be self-promoting when you can’t even say your own name.

But yet this is the picture David chose to use in Psalm 8.  It is through these seemingly insignificant, weak mouths that God chooses to reveal His majesty.  Through which he silences the enemy.

Our little Jack sings with joy and dances with abandon.  He squeals with delight and laughs without a hint of worry.  He cries out to the ones who know him and will meet his needs.  He rests and follows and trusts.  And his little being makes a BIG deal of his mom and dad whom he adores.

This is what I am called to.  Not to seek the big, but to follow and be obedient in the little.  Not to worry about the next step, but confidently trust the One Who holds me.  Not to defend or vindicate myself, but to trust the One Who sees and hears and judges.  Not to be confident and qualified and in control, but to be aware of my weakness and inadequacies and unworthiness.  Not to toil and strive after other things to define my value or success or acceptance, but to set my eyes on the One who gave His life to graciously provide all of those things to me in Him.  Not to seek recognition or praise, but to gratefully and joyfully and adoringly give it to the only One with the name worthy of it.

God is most LOUDLY glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him alone.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. IT IS BECAUSE OF HIM that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become FOR US wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

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Ditching My Running Shoes

I have specific memories of one particular argument that I had with Adam just a few months into our marriage.  I don’t remember the specifics of what we were even upset about so it obviously wasn’t anything too terribly significant.  But it was enough that I know I was upset, hurt, and angry.  I hated conflict, hated confrontation, and hated the yucky emotions I was feeling…so I put on my running shoes and left the house.

It’s not that I wanted to run away from my marriage…but I DID want to run away from the fight.  It felt like too much work.  Like there were too many feelings to process.  Like it was too risky to bare my soul and bear someone else’s needs.

Maybe the reason that memory is so fresh in my mind 9 years later is that that’s the last time Adam ever let me run.  He has been the one in the midst of difficulty that pulls me close when I want to back away.  The one that makes me look into his eyes when in anger mine want to look down.  The one that makes me talk when it seems easier to keep quiet.  Over the past 9 years, he’s given me little opportunity to reach for my running shoes when he reaches for my hand instead.

While we were on vacation with our families last week, Adam and I snuck away for an evening to celebrate our upcoming anniversary.  We visited a quaint little nearby town, ate ice cream, and took a walk on a trail along the bay.  That boy that stole my heart once again grabbed my hand and asked me to share some memorable moments from this past year of marriage.

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This year of marriage that literally started with labor pains and ended in a different house in a different city for a different ministry.  A good year.  Not because it was easy and comfortable and euphoric…but because it was hard and stretching and pressed us closer to each other and closer to the Cross.  There were lots of fun and happy moments to chose from…but as I dug through my mind and dusted off my memories, I also remembered the really hard moments.  The moments of misunderstandings and miscommunications and taking stress out on each other and navigating through major life changes.  Moments when I felt too weary to fight for us.  When it was tempting to grab those running shoes and hide.

DSC_4969 As we walked along the bay that night we saw a tent being set up for a wedding.  A new bride and groom preparing to dive into this gift of marriage.  We talked about our own wedding and about the time we went to jazz club on our honeymoon and spit out fancy, expensive cheese and accidentally turned my mineral water into a science experiment by adding Splenda “to make it taste better” (we’re super cultured, guys).  We had laughed and felt horribly out of place, but we enjoyed the music and our time with each other.  That night on our honeymoon 9 years ago, I had asked Adam to dance with me and he promised to during the next slow song.  But there never was another slow song and I left disappointed.  On the way back to our rental house, however, Adam pulled our rented Jeep over along the bay, turned on the radio, stepped out of the door, and asked me to dance.  On that night so long ago, my heart felt like it would explode.

Nine years later as we walked and talked along another bay, hair a little more gray, faces a little more wrinkled, and feet a little more worn, Adam took out his phone, put on a song, and asked me to dance.  Barefoot on the dock, we swayed to these words…

Love is not a place
To come and go as we please
It’s a house we enter in
Then commit to never leave

So lock the door behind you
Throw away the key
We’ll work it out together
Let it bring us to our knees

Love is a shelter in a raging storm
Love is peace in the middle of a war
And if we try to leave
May God send angels to guard the door
No, love is not a fight
But it’s something worth fighting for…

Love will come to save us
If we’ll only call
He will ask nothing from us
But demand we give our all

Yes, I will fight for you
Would you fight for me?
It’s worth fighting for…”

Barefoot on the dock.  Heart exposed.  Hand in hand.  We were standing on holy ground.  Continuing on in a covenant with each other meant to be a picture of the One Who fought the ultimate fight for us and continues to pursue our hearts.

DSC_4948DSC_4952I want to still put on my running shoes.  Not to run away, but rather to run toward.  To fight what’s worth fighting for.  Because, after all, love doesn’t quit.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

– 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love endures.

Love hypomenō: to remain; to abide; to not recede or flee.

Love endures.

Endures labor pains and hormones and sleepless nights.

Endures growing families and changing dynamics and messy houses.

Endures loss and want and gain and provision.

Endures moving boxes and grief and change and starting over.

Endures crazy schedules and crazy boys and crazy risks in ministry.

Endures harsh words and mistakes and misunderstandings and hard confrontation.

Endures expanding waistlines and shrinking bank accounts and sick days and snoring nights.

Love bears all things.  Believes all things.  Hopes all things.

Love endures.  Love remains.  Love abides.

Love ditches the running shoes and stays close, pursues, fights, and dances on the dock instead.

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Discipling Little Hearts – Resources for Parents

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

– Deuteronomy 6:5-9

Over the past few months a few friends have asked us questions regarding what Bibles and devotional tools we use and have used with our boys.  I’ve only been at this mothering thing for a little shy of 7 years and I’m certainly no expert (and I screw things up a lot), but we really are passionate about seeing our boys grow in Truth, get excited about God’s Word, and want to follow Jesus.  I’m writing this post as a meager attempt at sharing with you a few things that we’ve learned and what has worked for our family.

There are very few passages that are such a challenge and “mission statement” for me as a mother than Deuteronomy 6:5-9.  My role as Mama and discipler of these precious boys can be wrapped up in those verses to the Israelites…

  1. Love God with all MY heart and all MY mind and all MY strength.
  2. Keep His Truth on MY heart (at the forefront of my thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors).
  3. Teach that same Truth to my kiddos…all day…and in many different ways.

Being on this side of God’s redemptive work on the cross in the New Testament, my charge as a parent isn’t just to teach them God’s commands or tell the stories of His faithfulness (though those things are extremely important), but also to point them to their need for rescue.  Their need for the cross.  Their need for continuing grace.  I want my kids to be completely enamored by and live in light of the Gospel!  What better news could I give them?!

I have found a few fantastic resources for learning how to communicate the Gospel and Truth to my boys (if you read nothing else, please check these out!)…

  1. Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Kirkpatrick and Jessica Thompson 
  2. Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce A. Ware
  3. The Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle

Books like these help provide a framework for which to build spiritual conversations around – whether we are disciplining, training, counseling, or just chatting with our boys.  Because I’ve found many kids’ devotionals to be primarily morality or behavioral based, learning how to incorporate Gospel truth into every aspect of life has really helped when we feel like we need to “add on” to what we’re reading with them.  Though I’m sure we don’t always succeed at it, we desperately want everything to point back to Jesus.

You shall talk of them when you sit in your house…

One thing that we strive for is to have family devotions at the dinner table.  Because of schedules and hosting people and just the craziness of life in general, we don’t always succeed at this.  But it has become such a habit for our boys that they now remember even if we forget or selfishly want to just rush on to the next thing.  I love to have the Bible open and for them to hear us read it.  Now it’s fun to hear Isaiah read it to us!  Here are a few family devotionals that we’ve really liked…

  1. Whit’s End Mealtime Devotions by Crystal Bowman and Tricia Goyer
  2. Exploring Grace Together by Jessica Thompson
  3. Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor (We read through this book a chapter at a time after dinner and talked about its symbolism.)
  4. Long Story Short: 10 Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski

…and when you walk by the way…

Teaching Truth to your children doesn’t nor should it always occur just during set “devotions”.  Strive to use every day moments to point your children to Truth as they begin to shape their own worldviews and character. Allow the Gospel to infiltrate every conversation (even and especially during correction and discipline).  I also want my children to hide God’s Word in their hearts and have Truth memorized in their little minds.  I’ve been using this resource to walk my boys through basic theology, gospel truths, and Scripture memory.  I keep this printout on our fridge. Each week or so we focus on a different “gospel truth” and choose one of the verses listed to memorize together.  This is something that even my toddler can understand and enjoys!  And I love, love, love hearing God’s Word in their little voices…

This book has also been helpful in drawing my attention to particular needs and learning how to better pray Scripture for my boys…

I also love filling my children’s minds with Truth using music!  Here are some of my boys’ favorites…

My boys are also starting to really get into listening to the Adventures in Odyssey CDs.  You can even buy CDs that that include stories that all fit a certain theme (bullying, family, humility, etc.).  These are great for in the car!

…and when you lie down…

Bedtime can be a great way to end the day focusing on Truth.  Of course, we  like to read different literature and favorite stories before bed, but we also want it to be a time to lay our children down thinking about God.  We LOVE and really can’t say enough about The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  We’ve read it over and over again.  It really has been our kiddos’ first experience with God’s Word.  Here are are a few other storybooks that we have used at either bedtime or during morning devotions.  They’re great stories that also include discussion help…

  1. Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt
  2. The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul
  3. Max Lucado’s Wemmicks Collection
  4. Adventure Bible for Early Readers (This is Isaiah’s primary Bible that he uses now.  When he first started reading we would have him read one Proverb before bed and then we’d talk about it.)
  5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Adam and Isaiah enjoy reading through these before bed and talking about the allegories available throughout.)

and when you rise.

Morning devotions became particularly important to me when Isaiah started school.  I wanted the last part of our morning routine before he walked out the door for school to be reading and praying together.  I also wanted to make sure that we weren’t just rushing out the door for church on a Sunday morning without focusing, praying, and both searching and preparing our hearts for worship.  I’m hoping that it becomes something that will become important to my boys as they become men.  Here are a few books that we have used for morning devotions…

  1. The One Year Devotional for Preschoolers (I didn’t love this one and feel like I often need to “add” to it, but it is good for starting a routine, Scripture reading, and discussion with teeny guys.)
  2. God’s Mighty Warrior Devotional Bible by Sheila Walsh (This one had some neat activities to go along with the reading.  I also liked that it used bigger chunks of Scripture.)
  3. God’s Armor for Me by Amelia Shearer (We used this to talk through the Armor of God when Isaiah started kindergarten and then focused on memorizing those verses from Ephesians 6.)
  4. Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones (We’ve gone through this one multiple times. I even like it for myself!  There is also a section in the back with help for further study.)
  5. The Kids Devotional Bible (We just got this one for Isaiah for Easter.  I’m not super crazy about it yet as I think the devotions often miss the point or the “big picture” of the passage leaving us to often have to modify or add to it, BUT it does have a devotional reading for each day of the year and is helping Isaiah read through an overview of the whole Bible, which I really do like.)
  6. Cubbies (Because we’re in the midst of a church plant that is only in the beginning stages of developing a children’s ministry, I’ve been going through the AWANA Cubbies handbook with Toby on our own at home.)
  7. My ABC Bible Verses: Hiding God’s Word in Little Hearts by Susan Hunt (I started using this one with Toby at about 3 1/2 years old and he really likes it.  He had just learned all of his letters and was excited to have a verse for every one.  Each time he learns a verse, we add it to our Bible verse alphabet wall in our basement.)

Because I want God’s words to be the first words my boys (and I) hear every morning, we have started reading and praying a Psalm or part of a Psalm together as soon as they get out of bed.  I can tell you it’s helped make a big difference in our mornings!

Here are a few books that I haven’t gotten to try yet, but would like to look into…

  1. The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm
  2. The Big Picture Family Devotional by David Helm
  3. The Gospel Project’s Big Picture Bible Series for Kids
  4. Get Wisdom!  23 Lessons for Children About Living for Jesus by Ruth Younts
  5. One Year of Dinner Devotions and Discussion Starters: 365 Opportunities to Grow Closer to God as a Family by Nancy Guthrie (for when the kids are a little older)
  6. Big Truths for Little Kids: Teaching Your Children to Live for God by Ritchie and Susan Hunt
  7. God’s Love For You Storybook by Richard Stearns (This one is written by the president of World Vision and includes stores of God working in countries all over the world.  A neat way to raise globally minded kiddos!  All of the proceeds also go toward World Vision.)

I should also mention that our devotional times as a family aren’t always, calm, quiet and focused.  My boys are active, noisy, typical kids.  My baby sometimes cries, my toddler sometimes whines, and my 1st grader sometimes gets distracted.  Don’t be discouraged if your time doesn’t always look or feel picture perfect.  Though we do our best to keep it consistent and focused and encourage good conversation and meaningful prayer time, it doesn’t always go that way every time.  Remember to show yourself (and your little ones!) some grace.

I don’t want our time together to be a legalistic list of things that we have to do to win God’s approval, but rather a time to create a hunger and thirst in our kids that it becomes something that they want to do because, as God’s children, we already have God’s approval through Christ.  I want them to want to do it because they’re tasting and seeing God’s beauty and goodness as they only thing that will truly satisfy and the thing they treasure most!

I hope that something here has been helpful to you and your family.  Are there certain books or resources or ideas that have worked well for you?  Please share!

933976_835651536874_1665795690_nHere are also some ideas for special occasions…

Easter Ideas

Easter Ideas

Birthday Ideas:

Birthday Giving Challenge

Birthday Giving Challenge (Part 2)

Another Birthday Giving Challenge 

Karate and Confidence

Last week Isaiah was invited to a classmate’s “Bring a Friend” night at his karate class.  Isaiah really enjoys spending time with this friend and was pumped to get to sit in on something new.

This is where the problem started: Isaiah assumed he would be sitting.  Sitting on the sidelines comfortably and safely with his dad.  Simply watching and observing and getting to hang out with his friend.

Isaiah was the only “newbie” there that particular night and he was invited to come out onto the mat with his buddy.  He stood with his friend and tried to follow what the students were doing…until the instructor asked them to turn and recite part of their “pledge” that they said every week to their parents.  Of course, Isaiah didn’t know it (nor did they expect him to), and he froze.  Panic spread across his face, followed by a rush of embarrassment.  He didn’t know what to do or how to do it.  And he hated that.

So he started to cry.  Right there on the mat.

The karate instructors were kind and helpful and handled the situation beautifully.  Isaiah went and sat back down on his daddy’s lap.  But then he completely shut down.

His embarrassment and fear of failure prevented him from interacting with anyone the rest of the time there.  The instructors tried to gently get him involved again, promising to show him exactly what to do.  But he wouldn’t make eye contact, wouldn’t speak, and wouldn’t participate in the fun things they had planned (which is completely uncharacteristic of my boy).

When Adam and Isaiah walked in the door that evening, I knew something had gone wrong.  My question of “How was it?” was met with a cold, silent stare from my 6 year old, followed by a “We’ll talk about it later” from my wise and patient husband.

But I could have guessed what happened.  And I cringed.  It was a moment when I saw all too much of his mama in Isaiah.

I was the kid that was afraid to try to new things…the kid that wanted to minimize the risks – the last one to learn how to ride a 2 wheeler, the first one to sit out from an amusement park ride, and the only one to avoid the monkey bars for my entire elementary school career because I was afraid of falling again.  But more than that, I was the one who despised failing or feeling incompetent.  A perfectionist by nature, I’d try to calculate my abilities and if I couldn’t do it well, I didn’t want to do it at all.

This past Saturday we were out and about all day having lots of fun, enjoying amazing weather and making memories as a family.  Trying to be resourceful and efficient, I threw dinner together quickly using leftovers and some other things I had on hand.  I patted myself on the back, looking forward to eating a quick, yet delicious dinner before heading back outside to enjoy the evening.

I called the boys in and washed them up for dinner before realizing that the chicken wasn’t even close to being cooked through.  And if I waited for it to finish cooking to a safe temperature, I’d have hungry boys and little to no time left to go for a walk (my plan) before bedtime.

To say that I was frustrated in that moment would be an understatement.  I huffed.  I puffed.  I tore myself down.  I was embarrassed and felt like a failure.  As I pulled other food out of the fridge and grabbed an emergency box of macaroni and cheese out of the cupboard, I snapped at my husband.  While we ate, I didn’t engage in conversation with my boys.  I shut down…and then I melted down.

The tears started streaming down my face and it was my turn to give Adam the “we’ll talk about it later”.  I realized that my “calamity” in the kitchen had very little to do with the chicken and instead very much to do with my heart.

In that moment, I felt completely incompetent.

I don’t have a job or a title.  I’m not Supermom or Pinterest Mom or Really-cool-niche-Mom.  I’m not quite exactly sure what my role in this new ministry adventure will be yet. I had been struggling with feeling like I was no longer “using” many of the skills and talents that I had used in past ministries…you know, serving in the ways I felt confident in.  Ministering to and with my husband and mothering my 3 boys left me very little time to do many of the “fun” things I felt good at.  Sooooo, in my irrationality of the moment, if I couldn’t handle simple things that I did know I have to do like cooking and taking care of my family, what in the world was I doing?!  Who in the world am I?!  In that moment, there was very little that I felt good at.

Though it’s been good and super exciting, this year has also been full of leaving the old and entering the “new”.  New baby, new town, new house, new church, new ministry.  I had never had 3 boys before, never bought a house before, never done church planting before.  I had stepped away from the things that I felt comfortable, safe, and confident in – many of those things that I felt good at – to step out into the great unknown.

And like Isaiah, I was startled by the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing.  And I hated it.

That night after the kids went to bed, I wept over my weaknesses and grew sorrowful over my fear of failing.  I wanted to shut down.  Wanted to walk back to the sidelines.  Wanted to run back to what I felt “good” and “expert” at rather than embarking on the new tasks God has had planned for me.

In those moments, I felt very much like Peter stepping out onto the waves (Matthew 14:22-33).  I had stepped out in faith, but then began questioning my own abilities, strengths, and self-sufficiency.  I felt myself scrambling to climb back into the boat.

Instead, like Isaiah, I did climb back into my Father’s lap.  But like Adam, He didn’t give me permission to run away or quit or act like a jerk.  And also like my husband, my Father used the perfect combination of comforting encouragement and loving, yet firm confrontation to show me my immaturity and to elicit repentance, all while bringing calm and confidence to my fearful and hurting heart.

While I spent some time reading and praying that evening, I came across 2 Corinthians 9 in two completely different books in two totally different contexts.  (After the 2nd time I figured it was some kind of hint and decided it would probably be a good idea to look my Bible for myself.)

When I did, I was struck by verse 8…

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

As I looked into the original Greek meanings behind the words that make up this verse, I was humbled and challenged by how fitting it seemed for me in that moment…

And God is able (“powerful; mighty”)

to make all (“each, every, any, everything”) grace (“merciful kindness through which God turns souls to Christ, keeps, strengthens, and increases in them faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to exercise the Christian virtues”)

abound (“overflow, exceed; abundantly furnished; excel”) to you

so that having all sufficiency (“perfect condition in which no aid or support is needed; mind is contented with its lot”)

in all things (“everything”)

at all times (“always, ever”)

you may abound (“overflow, exceed; abundantly furnished; excel”)

in every good work (“that which one undertakes to do; act, deed, thing done”)

am inadequate.  I am insufficient.  I am horribly weak.

And on my own I will fail.

But my God is powerful, mighty, and able to abundantly furnish me with the grace, strength, knowledge, and affection in everything He sets before me.  Here, I can stop scrambling to find that perfect condition when no help or aid is needed because my sufficiency and contentment are found in Him rather than in my own abilities or identity.  Then, and only then, will I overflow, exceed, and excel in the things God has given me to undertake – not for my own good or glory, but rather for His. 

“We tend to think of our strengths as inherently part of our identity.  Strengths are our value-add; our competitive edge.  But gifts connote grace.  A gift does not originate with us.  It’s something we receive from God and steward for his sake.  Therefore our gifts are not so much our identity as our offering.  And since God has given us these gifts, he’s not obliged to always put us in places where we can use them fully.  In fact, God frequently places us in positions where we struggle and feel weak for the very reason that he receives particular glory by showing his strength through our weaknesses.”

– Jon Bloom

Isaiah wouldn’t have had to walk away from the mat if he had humbly let the instructor show him what to do.  If only he would have allowed himself to lay down his own pride and insecurities for the expertise and proficiency of the one leading him.

I’m trying to not make the same mistake.

Because here, my strengths and my weaknesses become an offering.  Here, in the abundance of God’s grace, my identity, peace, security, and “usefulness” no longer are defined by nor are dependent upon me, but on the One I’m following.

And that is one thing I can most assuredly be fully confident in.

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This is Not a Race!

I’m not sure when it started.

I’m sure we were probably just in a hurry to get kids to bed.  And I’m also pretty sure I learned this little trick for my own parents.  (And fell for it often.)

What do you do to get kids excited to do something they really don’t want to do?

You enthusiastically time them (okay, you at least make it look like you’re going to time them…don’t judge) or you make it a race, of course.

So for the past few weeks when the boys hear the word “bedtime” they enthusiastically try to beat Daddy up the stairs to get ready for bath.  Little feet scurry.  Giggles ensue.

But sometimes so do tears.

Someone manages to trip or slide or fall.  Someone doesn’t win.  So someone begins to protest the race.

And because he’s the smallest mobile boy, poor Toby is usually the one that doesn’t want to play our game anymore.

“Mom, it’s not a RACE!  It’s not a race, Mom!”  

You see, the game is fun when you’re the one winning.  But when you’re the one with 3 years less experience on those little stubby legs…or when you’re the one to trip and fall and drag behind…you definitely don’t want to play anymore.

But we grown-ups do the same, don’t we?

Our little Jack turned 9 months old last week.  He’s a happy, smiley sweetheart of a boy…who also happens to not be terribly interested in being mobile.  He contently sits and plays or gets down and rolls around a bit if there’s something close enough by that he wants to get to, but a race?  He’s definitely not interested in that.

“So, is he crawling yet?”

“Isn’t he pulling himself up yet?”

“Is he cruising? Standing?  Walking?”

Nope.  And before you ask, he’s not driving yet, either.

And if I’m really lucky, sometimes those questions are followed by…

“Oh.  Well, let me show you a picture/video/complete narrative of my baby doing all of those things better than yours.  Oh, and did I mention they’re way younger than your baby?”

Okay, maybe they don’t exactly say it that way.  But that seems to be what this mama hears.

Jack’s belly is also really sensitive, leaving him falling behind in the race to conquer solids and finger foods.  And he’s also still a little peanut and small for his age (no doubt also having to do with the fact that he didn’t grow for 2+ months), putting us way behind in the growth race.

When I don’t compare and simply enjoy my sweet boy, none of this bothers or concerns me.  But when I start looking around? The questions and insecurities creep in…

Is there something wrong with him?

Why isn’t he like that baby?

What am I doing wrong?

How do I fix this?

And the deep recesses of my heart I feel those ugly twinges of comparison and jealousy and I wonder if he’s a failure.  If I’m a failure.

Mom, it’s not a race.

I remember the feeling with Isaiah as baby…and an absolutely terrible sleeper.  The Facebook statuses about babies sleeping beautifully through the night.  The books that told me I was doing everything wrong or doing everything right (and yet he still wouldn’t sleep).  The questions of whether or not he was a “good baby”.  All leaving me discouraged, frustrated, and insecure.

Now my 6 year old Isaiah can read better than a lot of middle schoolers I know…but he still can’t tie his shoes or ride a two-wheeler bike.

My 3 year old Toby has been speaking since he came out of the womb (okay, maybe not that early…but it feels like it)…but he’s still learning manners and is sometimes rude and disrespectful and can have an explosive temper.  He was potty-trained at 2 1/2…but it might be years before he can keep himself dry through the night (much like his big brother).

And those same questions, insecurities, and feelings can creep in if I let them.

We love the race when we are winning.  When we are at the head of the pack.  When we can give ourselves a good pat on the back.

When our kids are ahead.  When we drop the baby weight quickly.  When our houses are clean.  When our parties and crafts and meals are Pintrest worthy.

But when we’re losing?

We question.  We doubt.  We’re insecure and make excuses and want to hide.

Mom, it’s not a race.

Unfortunately, my wondering heart doesn’t just play this game in the context of motherhood.  As a pastor’s wife, I can often let the same comparisons and insecurities creep in.

Wow, they’re ministry looks way more successful.

Why aren’t we growing like they are?

Why is this taking so long?  

Why doesn’t anyone make a big deal of US?

And the deep recesses of my heart I feel those ugly twinges of comparison and jealousy and I wonder if my ministry is a failure. If I’m a failure.

Mom, it’s not a race.

And I find myself wondering why in the world it bothers me so much!  Unfortunately, what I’ve found is it’s easy to blame the person that asks the question or brags about their kid or boasts about their ministry (all things that I’m sure I’ve been guilty of, as well).  But those yucky feelings that those things induce in my heart...it’s not. their. fault.  In fact, it really has nothing to do with them.

“…When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

– 2 Corinthians 10:12

The problem lies in what’s going on in my heart.  Where my focus is.  Where my identity lies.  What and who I’m serving.

Because we are in the midst of a race.  But not the one I’m usually trying to run.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

– Hebrews 12:1-2

In this race, my identity is not based on how I perform or what I do, but on Who Christ is and what He’s already done and what I’ve taken hold of.  I’m called to run.  And run hard.  But not so I can boast about how good I am, but how good He is.

“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

– 2 Corinthians 10:17

I’m called to run.  Called to serve.  Called to strive for holiness.  Called to worship.

But not to run to commend myself.  Not to serve myself.  Not to claim my own righteousness.  Not to worship the created over the Creator.

And in these silly races we run and these temporal and fleshly games we play, no one wins.  We can strive and strive and strive, but there’s no reward.

But in this better race?

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

– 2 Timothy 4:7-8

There is a reward.  But even those awards and crowns are not about me.  I’ll eventually lay them back down at the feet of the One Who truly is the only reward worth longing and living for.

Mom, there is a race.

But let’s make sure we’re running the right one.  Not looking to the left or right.  Not shoving each other out of the way or pushing ourselves ahead.

Let’s run together.  Side by side.  Spurring each other on.  Eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of the race set before us.

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I Remember

One day last week I put a Veggies Tales video on for Toby.  It was one he had never seen before and I couldn’t remember the last time Isaiah had watched it. It really had been awhile.  Jack was napping and so I went about taking care of things around the house while Bob and Larry entertained my toddler.

As I worked I could hear he songs on the DVD…and my stomach started to turn.  A lump gathered in my throat and I felt like I wanted to cry.  What were these animated vegetables doing to me?!

Stopping for a moment, my senses brought me back to when Isaiah was a toddler and used to watch that same DVD often.  Suddenly I was transported in time.  And I remembered.

I’ve had this experience before, after all.  It was nothing new.  It happened when I got hand-me-downs out of Isaiah’s tub of 2T clothes.  I saw those tiny garments and felt the material in my hands and I ended up in a weepy pile on the utility room floor.  Memories of the season of life we were in when Isaiah wore those outfits came flooding back like a tsunami.  And I remembered.

It’s happened when I hear a certain worship song or smell a certain type of flower.  It happens when I taste specific foods from specific restaurants or when I catch a whiff of the smell of the doctor’s office.

My senses transport my heart back to a particular time.  And I remember.

This week 4 years ago, our 2nd child was due to be born.  The child who’s heart stopped beating before 17 weeks gestation.  The child who I, over 4 years ago, delivered and held his lifeless body.  Today there’s a greater awareness that something is missing…and a greater longing for our family to be restored.

And as much as I’ve healed, as long as time has marched on, as blessed as we’ve been, and as much as my head thinks it’s not on my mind or on my heart, grief often sneaks up and pounces on me.  Senses and experiences take me back to that so very sorrowful autumn and that painfully difficult spring.

I suddenly remember.  And it feels like yesterday.

It’s not that I’ve ever forgotten.  I always carry it with me daily.  We even planted a tree in our front yard in Martinsburg so that we always would remember.  But some days my senses cause me to feel it more deeply and respond more fully.

I don’t remember in an effort to be melodramatic.  I don’t remember so I can be pitied or get attention.  I don’t remember to be gruesome or dark or joyless.

In fact, I’ve started to welcome the remembering.  Because it also leads me to remember the richness of the grace.

In the remembering of that physical and emotional pain, I’m humbled by the grace I was shown.  How I was carried by the God of all comfort.  How closely I eventually felt His presence and how desperately Scripture became my food and drink.  How deep the realization of my own depravity grew to be and how real the hope of Heaven became.  How much the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought such peace and the gospel transformed my self-rigteous and entitled heart.  How the taking away of something I wanted so badly led to the receiving of the only One Who could truly satisfy.

And I rejoice.

It’s good for me to remember.

As I’ve wrestled today with the emotions my senses have brought me to back to, it made me appreciate this Lenten season we’re in in a new way.

“Likewise, Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance – aimed at grasping the intense significance of the crucifixion – that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, the joy of Easter.”

– from Journey to the Cross

Lent is for remembering.  For stripping away distractions.  For denying ourselves familiar comforts so that we might remember the depth of our weakness and our need for a Savior.  For the taking away of something else so that we can be reminded of the only One Who can truly satisfy.  For remembering our Good Friday sorrow that gave birth to Easter Sunday shouts of joy.   For the awareness that something is still missing that will one day be restored.

“And that is what Lent is for, to reflect on our lives as they are and as they could be…

The point of giving things up is not to be reminded of how much we miss them, but rather to be awakened to how much we miss God and long for his life-giving Spirit.”

– from Journey to the Cross

It’s not done in an effort to be melodramatic. I don’t remember so I can be pitied or get attention. I don’t remember to be gruesome or dark or joyless.

Even Jesus himself calls us to remember

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

– Luke 22:19-20

When you eat.  When you drink.  Remember.

Isn’t this what communion calls us to do?  Engaging our senses to bring back Truth to the forefront of our minds.

When I hear those songs.  When I feel that bread.  When I taste of that cup.  If allow myself, I am taken back there.  To the depths of my depravity.  To my intense need for mercy.  To the foot of the cross.  To that tree where Jesus took the punishment for my sin, carrying my sorrow, and ensuring my standing with the Father.

I welcome the remembering. Because it also leads me to remember the richness of the grace.

And I long to be reunited with the One Who saved my soul.  I long to be free from this broken world.  To be restored.  And I rejoice that the grave was defeated and the work has been done!

It’s not that I’ve ever forgotten. I always carry it with me daily. But some days my senses cause me to feel it more deeply and respond more fully.

And I rejoice.

“…always carrying in the the body the death of Jesus, so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

– 2 Corinthians 4:10-12

So today as I grieve the carrying of my baby’s lifeless body 4 1/2 years ago, I will rejoice in how God used that adversity to humble and refine and bring LIFE to my heart.  Not only that, but I rejoice in the hope of heaven when I know I will see that baby again.

Likewise, as I grieve the weight of my sin and the substitutionary death of my Lord on that cross – that tree that is most worth remembering, I will rejoice in the resurrection that brought grace and LIFE to this undeserving mortal flesh!  And even more than being reunited with my child, how I long to see HIM face to face in glory.  Oh, what grace!

And I will remember.

…See His body, His blood
Know that He has overcome every trial we will face
None too lost to be saved
None too broken or ashamed, all are welcome in this place

By Your mercy, we come to Your table
By Your grace, You are making us faithful

Lord, we remember You
And remembrance leads us to worship
And as we worship You
Our worship leads to communion
We respond to Your invitation, we remember You

Dying You destroyed our death
Rising You restored our life
Lord Jesus, come in glory…

– Matt Maher (“Remembrance”)

Planting our tree in Martinsburg in March of 2011 in remembrance of our Heaven Baby.

Planting our tree in Martinsburg in March of 2011 in remembrance of our Heaven Baby.

Easter 2011 in front of our tree.

Easter 2011 in front of our tree.

In front of our tree in bloom in March of 2012.  The day we brought Toby home from the hospital.

In front of our tree in bloom in March of 2012. The day we brought Toby home from the hospital.

October 2015 in front of our tree a few weeks before moving.

October 2014 in front of our tree a few weeks before moving.

March 2015.  Adam cut the branches from our Heaven Baby's tree so that we can still remember and have them in our home in Hatboro.

March 2015. Adam cut the branches from our Heaven Baby’s tree so that we can still remember and have them in our home in Hatboro.

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201 Spring Street

My Sweet Boys,

Four months ago, we moved out of the only home you had ever known.  Yesterday that home was torn down.  It needed a lot of work…and the church is growing and needs more parking space.  When I saw pictures of that house being leveled, my heart hurt.  I cried…like a lot.  Not because it was such a nice house (guys, it was in pretty bad shape) or because we’re not happy where we are.  My heart hurt because of the sweet memories.  When I saw the pictures, scenes from those years of our lives flashed before my eyes.  There are things I don’t want to forget…and that I want you to know.

When Daddy and I moved there, it was just the 2 of us (and Gunther!).  Isaiah was due to be born in a month and was running out of room in Mama’s belly.  We had no idea what life would look like for the next 6 years…but we were excited.  We had no clue how to be parents…but we wanted it more than almost anything.  Some of our greatest joys and best memories involve bringing the 3 of you into that house and learning how to be a family together.

Isaiah James, you came into the world 8 days before your due date.  We had lived in the house less than a month and our friend Dave was working on putting dry wall up in the dining room.  Things were still a mess.  We weren’t really ready for you.  But you came anyway…and you came fast!  (And you haven’t stopped moving ever since.)  When we brought you home, you didn’t follow any of the “rules” or go by any of the baby books I had poured over for months.  Your sleeping (or lack of it) drove me absolutely bonkers.  We paced those floors with you.  We rocked you in that nursery.  We got on our knees beside that crib.  The first months of your life were hard…but they were also so rich and you brought us so much joy.  I can’t begin to tell you how much God used you to refine me and strip me of my pride.  That house reminds me that I’m not in control, but I have a loving Father that is.

When you were 2 years old, Mama had another baby in her belly.  We were so excited to give you a sibling.  But God turned our world upside when that baby’s heart stopped beating.  After 4 days in the hospital delivering our Heaven baby, we dreaded going back into that house…the home we were supposed to bring another baby into.  When we pulled into the driveway, we saw our garage door covered in cards and notes from the teens and college students that Daddy ministered to.  Grief washed over us later, but for the first hour, reading those cards helped give us such peace.  When we moved 4 months ago, there were still tape marks on that garage door from those cards.  They were daily reminders of the love poured out on us when we were so very sad.  We wrestled with God in that house over that baby’s death.  Boys, He met me there.  He carried me through those dark months.  He showed me more of Himself and He used that baby to change me from the inside out.  That house reminds me to hold things loosely, that God is sovereign, and that heaven is near.

Toby boy, oh, how we begged God for you.  When we found out you were growing in my belly, we stood in that kitchen so happy and yet so terribly scared.  Daddy held me and we prayed.  We were so afraid of losing you, too…but were so overwhelmed with gratitude that He gave you to us.  You filled that house with such laughter.  You brought us such healing.  You taught me how to trust and how to not fear.  You made happy messes and kept me on my toes.  Every day with you in that house was an adventure.  That house reminds me that, whatever our circumstances, God is so very good.

Jack-Jack, you only spent 4 months of your life in that house and every one of them was part of our transition and major life change.  You were ready to join our family on Mama and Daddy’s wedding anniversary, but I was in denial.  I played outside with your brothers and went grocery shopping.  I tried to eat dinner and laid on the couch in agony, determined that you wouldn’t be born that day.  But it was a good thing the hospital was just minutes away from that house because we almost didn’t make it in time!  We brought you home to a house full of noise and chaos and packing and emotion and change.  You just rolled with it.  You helped me enjoy those last few months there.  God used you to bring me peace when I was really scared of the future.  That house reminds me of God’s abundant grace upon grace and His gentle shepherding of our hearts.

Boys, over the years that house became the Grand Central Station of our ministry at Martinsburg Grace Brethren Church.  It was regularly filled with people…so much so that you would often wake up asking who was coming over that day.  When you were a baby, Isaiah, Mama taught Jr. and Sr. High Sunday School classes in our living room while you napped.  The girls loved to see you and you absolutely loved being the center of attention.  After you went to bed on Sunday nights, teens would come over for Bible study.  They regularly crammed into our living room to study God’s Word…and then spread out all over our house to pray together.  I loved walking through and hearing them talk to God…and looked forward to the day that you could, too.  Toby, by the time you came along, every Sunday morning our house was filled with college students and young adults.  We read the Bible together, talked about the gospel, and prayed for God to change us.  You couldn’t wait to see “the big kids” each week and they couldn’t wait to see you – regularly fighting for your attention (smart phones usually worked best ;-)).  They were even there, Jack, the Sunday after you were born – marveling at how beautiful and tiny you were and imagining who you were going to grow up to be.  Guys, you were so loved.  They absolutely doted on you.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that a lot of the times that they came to see Mama and Daddy they really were just coming to play with you.  You were so lucky to have so many outstanding young people to look up to.  That house reminds me of how grateful I am for the people that have poured into your little lives.

There were knocks on the door late at night.  Phone calls early in the morning.  People dropping by to talk to Daddy, to ask him a question, or to pray with him.  Daddy’s intern, Ben, spent MANY hours with us in that house.  Isaiah, the second he walked in the door, you had his utmost attention.  You’d steal him away to play drums or blocks or cars or read books.  He made you laugh and you made him smile.  Jenny worked with Daddy for a few years at the church and became our dear friend and Isaiah’s favorite baby-sitter.  She fed your imagination and turned that house into a circus ring, the jungle, and outer space. It was just normal life for you boys to have 20 young adults around your dining room table.  They knew where our dishes were and where I kept the hot chocolate.  They saw us be a family.  Watched Mama and Daddy handle conflict.  Saw us discipline you.  Heard my exhaustion and my desperate need for Jesus in this mothering gig.  They saw us on our good days and our bad days…and it was quite humbling.  Dusty, Ryan, and Laura, Jared and Janae – they spent many hours there hanging out with us – with you.  They became a part of our family.  Almost like your big brothers and big sisters or aunts and uncles.  Every year different engaged couples would also come into our living room and sit on our couches while they prepared for marriage.  We loved it – and they were great reminders of how beautiful and hard and fun and challenging marriage is.  I sat on our backyard swing many different times with many different girls – though I remember each of them by name.  We talked about life and boys and figuring out what it looked like to follow Jesus.  They challenged me and brought me to my knees and I loved it.  That house reminds me that discipleship is up close and personal and involves sharing your life with others.

Though Daddy was a pastor and our house was the church’s, your Daddy was so good about stepping back and making his family his first priority and most important ministry.  He played with you, made you special breakfasts, prayed with you and over you, and took you for bike rides in the parking lot.  Sometimes that meant saying “no” to things that people expected him to say “yes” to.  Sometimes that meant shutting off his phone or not answering his emails.  Sometimes that meant leaving town on his day off to protect his focused time with you.  Sometimes people criticized him for it or talked behind his back about it, but it didn’t matter – YOU were that important to him.  That house reminds me that our first calling is to shepherd and disciple YOUR hearts…and that you have a really awesome dad.

So many friends came to visit us in that house.  Friends from Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Africa, and France (to name a few).  Before he was married and had a family of his own, our friend Jeremy stayed at our house so much that Isaiah called the guest room “Jermy’s room”.  Our friend, Jack, once spent a whole month with us and there were months when our friend, Seth, was there every weekend.  Ruthie and Casey drove to be with us right after our baby died and the Irvings came for several holidays.  There were many pots of coffee made, many board games played, many prayers prayed and tears shed, many hugs given, and many, MANY laughs (mostly because of your Daddy).  That house reminds me that long-distance friends can still be friends for life.

You made friends of your own in that house.  Keith and Annika, Cade and Carter and Colton, Eva and Brittian, and many others.  We piled waaay too many toys in that sunroom and it was almost always a mess, but you had so much fun.  I can still see you dressed up like cowboys or ninjas or animals, still hear your sound effects and giggles and stories, still smell the cookies being baked and popcorn popping, still taste the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and popsicles, and still feel the squishy hugs and tiny high-fives.  That house reminds me of how blessed it is to share.

For those 6 years, we were less than an hour away from your grandparents and aunts and uncles.  Everyone would congregate in that house for your birthdays and Easter and for brunch on every Christmas Eve.  We loved that you could know your Papa and Nona and Pappy and Grammy so well and that they could visit (or babysit) whenever they wanted.  Papa chased you in circles through the house and pushed you on your swings.  Nona took you for walks and rocked you to sleep.  Pappy played his guitar for you and fed you sugar.  Grammy read you books and snuggled with you on the couch.  They helped with so many projects – fixing things or making things or painting things.  That house reminds me of how special it is to have family.

That house was far from perfect.  The basement constantly flooded until it was closed off.  The ceiling leaked over our bed and over the kitchen sink until it was fixed.  The bathrooms were quirky, the carpet was stained, and before we left we didn’t have any heat.  That house reminds me that “stuff” doesn’t last and that this world is not our home.

Daddy and Mama didn’t just have to figure out how to be parents there – we also had to keep learning how to be husband and wife there, too.  There were misunderstandings and times when we sat on the couch staring out the front window in silence – not knowing exactly how to enter into each other’s worlds.  We had to learn to say “I’m sorry” and practice forgiving over and over.  There were hard, discouraging, and painful trials that we had to walk through together – times I had to listen to Daddy be angry and confused or watch him hurt and cry when he faced discouragement in ministry, and times when Daddy had to literally pick me up off of the floor while I grieved or talk me down when you boys had threatened my sanity.  But there were also times of such joy – such deep love.  Your Daddy and I talked for hours, giggled like we were kids, danced in the kitchen, and kissed…a lot (someday you’ll appreciate that).  That house reminds me of how passionately I sure do love your Daddy.

Oh, Isaiah, Toby, and Jack, I remember sitting on our swing in the back yard almost 7 years ago, belly bulging with a growing baby Isaiah.  I rocked back and forth and prayed and imagined a little boy running around that yard.  Lilttle did I know, that one day I’d get to watch THREE little boys play in that yard.  There are so many memories, so much fun, and so much love.  We really were (and are) so very blessed and that house we lived in for 6+ years is a sweet reminder of that.

The house wasn’t anything special in and of itself.  It was imperfect, outdated, and inefficient.  It wasn’t worth much.  We could have done whatever we wanted to make it look better on the outside, but it still wouldn’t fix its brokenness.  (“You can’t polish a turd,” your Daddy would say.)  But it was what happened on the inside of that house that gave it life.  What made it worth remembering.  As I looked at the pictures of the house being demolished – roof caving in, inside walls becoming outside walls, making room for something new – it reminded me of my own heart.

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IMG_5049Boys, there is nothing particularly special about me.  On my own I am broken, sinful, and terribly weak.  I could dress myself up and parade around my talents and “good works” and self-righteousness, but none of that would matter.  As God continues to tear down my walls and crucify my flesh, it’s Jesus that fills this shell.  He is what gives me life.  Makes me new.  Determines my worth.  Breathes in me purpose and meaning and joy.

That house in Martinsburg will soon be forgotten.  And boys, I’m sure we will eventually be forgotten, too.  But the Jesus that filled those walls and filled our hearts is what I want you to remember.  What I want you to cling to…no matter where we go.

I love you to the moon and back,

Mama

A few weeks after moving in in July 2008

A few weeks before moving in October of 2014

A few weeks before moving out in October of 2014

Dance Like No One’s Watching

My Isaiah really likes school and has made the transition to a new school look like a cake walk.  He typically bounces the whole way home every afternoon and has lots of smiles as he tells us all about his day.

He does, however, have days from time to time when he comes home upset about something…someone teased him or he didn’t have enough time to finish his lunch or he didn’t understand something in math class or he couldn’t play with the blocks at recess.  And one day last week he came home particularly bummed out.

I know my boy and I know when he’s trying to bravely hold back tears.  He gives quick answers to questions, makes his eye contact very brief, sticks his tongue in his cheek, and shrugs his shoulders.  This particular afternoon, as he told me no one wanted to sit with him at lunch, I saw the eyes dart, the tongue hide, and the shoulders shrug.

I also happen to know that my boy is a lot like his mama…who is a lot like her mama…who is a lot like her mama…who could, if left unbridled, have the tendency to let one yucky circumstance bring up ALL of the other recent yucky circumstances and turn into one. hot. mess.

Seeing the eruption ready to happen, I asked him to sit with me and urged him to talk.  He curled up on my lap on that same brown recliner where I had spent hours nursing him as an infant and holding him when he just wouldn’t sleep anywhere else.  Now my big 6 year old boy, with tears no longer able to stay pent up in his big blue eyes, told me that sometimes he gets picked on…he couldn’t find anyone to play with at recess either…so he had to sit and draw by himself.  And just like in those “first-time-mama-how-do-I-get-him-to-stop-crying” moments years ago in that old recliner, I simply held my baby boy close.

My heart broke and my mama bear instincts kicked in full gear.  I’ll admit it…my knee-jerk reaction was “That’s it.  We’re homeschooling.”  But though God certainly may call us to do that sometime further down the road, for that particular day, I knew it wasn’t the answer.  I knew this was what my husband and I had been consistently praying for – yet another opportunity to preach the Gospel to our boy and teach him to preach the same Gospel to himself.

We went back over recent family devotions and talked about letting God’s incredible love for us penetrate so deeply in our hearts that it doesn’t matter so much when other people don’t like us.  A love that stopped at nothing, even the death of His Son, to win us back and bring us to Him.

But then he pulled out the big guns.

“I tried to show them my drawings and they didn’t like them.  I just want them to tell me I’m a good artist.  I just want them to say I’m good at drawing.  I just want them to love me.”

And I heard way too much of myself in his disappointed cries.

I just want someone to notice my…

I just wish someone would tell me I’m good at…

I just want them to thank me for…

I just want to feel as valuable as…

I just want to know they love me and know that I’m worthy of it…

And as I gently preached the Gospel to my 6 year old, this 31 year old mama had to preach the Gospel, once again, to herself.  I felt the Holy Spirit reminding me of my fleshly struggle of treasuring the approval and praise of others over the treasure of the One Who created me to show His worth and His glory and His great love for those He died to save.

Oh, how quickly I can get discouraged or distracted or disheartened when I don’t have the approval and praise of others.  When my worth is more determined by pats on the back I get or the “likes” I can count.  When my acceptance is based on people rather than on the God of the Universe.

J.D. Greear said, “It’s one thing to know that God has accepted you fully in Christ; it’s another thing for that to become the weightiest and most defining reality in your life.”

And something that we give weight to becomes something that we love…and something that we love becomes something that we ascribe worth to…and something we ascribe worth to ultimately becomes something that we worship.

So when we start the “I just wanted them to…”, what are our hearts revealing we’re actually worshipping?  And how silly of us to even consider it.

“And on and on it goes…everything the world has to offer, God is better and more abiding.  There is no comparison.  God wins, every time.”

– John Piper

And this God?  This God of the universe that knows my name (Isaiah 43:1) and keeps my tears (Psalm 56:8) and numbers the very hairs on my head (Luke 12:7) chose to place His love on me.  Not because I was worthy…but because He is just that good.

“…the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession

It was not because you were more in number…that the Lord set His love on you

But it is because the Lord loves you

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him…”

– from Deuteronomy 7

God chose Israel as His people NOT because they were many in number (because they weren’t), or because they had so much to offer Him (because they didn’t), or because they obeyed Him perfectly all of the time (because they couldn’t).  He loved them because he chose to put value on them.  He loved them just because He loved them.

And He did the same for me…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

– Ephesians 2:4-9

i am approved and accepted by the God of the Universe. Not because of anything I’ve done or am good at, but because of the Father’s great love and the redeeming work of His Son.  What a difference it makes for my heart when I cling to this truth!  No matter what I’m doing, how I’m serving, or what I’m trying, if my motivation is simply a response to the incredible love that’s been set on me, the approval or thanks or affirmation of others doesn’t matter so much.  I can be free from insecurity because I know I’m already loved and accepted…and at the same time, I can be free from arrogance and pride because I know that love and acceptance was not given because I was worthy of any of it on my own.

A few days after that little episode, Isaiah and I attended our first Mother/Son Sweetheart Dance at his elementary school.  We got dressed up and put on our dancing shoes.  We ate pizza and dipped goodies in the chocolate fountain.  They took our picture and gave me a flower.  And we danced.  Oh, did we dance.

But when we first walked into the gymnasium, though music was playing, no one was really dancing.  Elementary aged boys were running in circles, chasing each other, or wrestling on the floor…and their moms were around the perimeter of the room talking with each other or looking down at their smart phones.

I waited to see what my boy would do…and without hesitation, he grabbed my hand and started dancing.  Right there in the middle of the dance floor.  All by ourselves.

As my eyes darted around to check our surroundings, I felt my own insecurities creep in.

Are they watching us?  Am I over-dressed?  Under-dressed?  Do I look like a big goof?  Do they think I’m a good mom or just a weird one?  Are we even supposed to be out here?!

But then I looked down at my boys face.  A little face lit up with a huge grin, dancing like no one was watching.

He didn’t care what the other kids were doing.  He wasn’t looking to see if they were watching him.  It didn’t matter what he was wearing or if they approved of his dance moves or even if they liked him.

All that mattered in that moment was that he was dancing.  And not just that, but he was dancing with his mom.  It was my hand he was holding, my face he squished his cheek up against, my eyes and smile he sought for approval.

But he didn’t even seem worried about that.  He knew I already loved him…not because he was a good dancer…or a good artist, good student, good brother, or good kid in general.  He knew I loved him just because I loved him.  Because he was mine.  And with that confidence, security, and approval, my boy danced like nothing else mattered.

Isaiah did find his buddies later and cut a pretty impressive rug with a pile of 1st grade boys…but I’ll never forget those first few minutes on the dance floor…when God once again used my sweet boy to speak truth to my distracted heart.

That God of mine that chose me, loves me, and accepts me without condition…

So that I can dance like no one’s watching.

“The really cool thing about God’s love is you don’t have to work hard to keep it.  That should make you want to shout, ‘Yippee!’…

The truth is our hearts won’t be happy with anyone’s love but God’s.  Until we can be happy with God’s love, we will always want more and more people to love us.  Even when we think that our friends’ love is the most important, God’s love really is, because it doesn’t change.  He just loves you that much.  He is just that kind, and He is just that good.”

– Jessica Thompson (Exploring Grace Together: Devotionals For the Family)

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