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How the presence of danger defines love…

I have a friend who had something horrible happen to her:

In the middle of the night, while she was peacefully sound asleep, a man broke into her house, busting down her door, stole into her room, dragged her out of her bed and into a vehicle and drove off.

Isn’t that awful? Trespassing! How horrible. How rude.

How loving.

How heroic.

How Christlike.

See, there’s one detail that change things dramatically.

Her house was on fire.

But there was this man. A hero. A firefighter who responded to the call and didn’t consider his own life dear to him but risked his own safety and well-being in order to bust down the door, plunge into the blinding smoke and flames, and rescue an unconscious woman from her bed. He dragged her out, put her in an ambulance, and away she went. She was in a coma for a long time. They didn’t know if she’d make it. By the grace of God, she survived. She’s a mama, about my age. Every day is a gift for her now, because someone recognized the danger, valued her life, and did the loving thing.

That detail about the fire changes everything, yes?

What is the “loving thing to do” depends heavily on the absence or presence of danger.

As my husband always says, the key to humble, Christlike rebuke or confrontation is helping people understand,

“You’re not in trouble, you’re in danger.”

Sin leads to death. Always. Destruction. Regret. Loss.

It is never loving to leave someone alone to die in a burning house. 

So of course, the question is, How do we define danger? Who gets to decide when that person’s in danger or not? Who determines the degree of danger? A house-fire is rather obvious, but we certainly shouldn’t break into someone’s house and drag them into the street just because they’re smoking a cigarette in bed.  Right? One could argue that that’s dangerous as well. Who decides?

Only the One who created us. Only the one who sees the end from the beginning. Only the one who knows the number of hairs on our heads, grains of sand on the shore, the ones who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who is alone wise. The only One who defines love.

In 1 Corinthians 5, there were some people who were in danger. Big danger. And all the people around them didn’t go into the burning building to rescue them. They didn’t think that was loving. It seemed rude. Judgmental. So they just stood around outside “accepting” the people’s decisions. In fact, they boasted about their non-judgmental attitudes! But Paul is livid. Why?

Because they weren’t rescuing people from danger. Sure, the steps he suggests taking are extreme. Basically like busting down the door on someone’s house and dragging them out of their beds. Crazy stuff. But later, in 2 Corinthians 7:8-13, we hear the beautiful result, that even though it was ugly at first, every though it was hard, even though there was grieving and hurt and anger and difficulty, that godly grieving brought repentance (turning from sin) which brought …

LIFE.

Rescued from death.

There was anguish. But some precious souls were saved from the fire because someone was willing to look rude and bust down the door of their life and drag them away from danger.

The truth is, we were all asleep in the burning house (Rom 3:23) but Christ made a way of escape by His blood, and now calls us to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), his firemen. Sure, at times our jobs are mundane, we’re cleaning our gear or washing the truck. But other times we’re called on to do something seemingly rude, something scary that might be misinterpreted, something that makes us scared out of our mind, because the presence of danger defines love. 

My friend is eternally grateful that a rude guy busted down her door and dragged her out of her house.

Thanks for reading. 

*Originally shared last year

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The power of declarations

I was at a loss. It felt like things were getting worse and no amount of good parenting seemed to make a difference. He was more and more anxious, he was overreacting more, acting more autistic, and just overall unhappy. I tried everything I knew, but kept feeling like I couldn’t reach him. I couldn’t reach down deep into his heart, into the place I knew was broken. It wasn’t just about behavior — he wasn’t behaving that badly, but something was off and I didn’t know what to do.

So I tried declarations.

Now, before you flag me as crazy, hear me out.

A friend handed me Raising Burning Hearts. I had never read a charismatic parenting book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m only a few chapters in, but one thing that struck me was: The power of declarations.

At first I was skeptical — declarations? I pictured my kids confused faces as I stood over them with my hands on their foreheads, shouting out, “You are the head and not the tail!” It didn’t seem like that would probably be a good idea.

But I was still intrigued — the author shares about the power of our words, life and death are in the power of the tongue, and I knew that I had been struggling with harnessing my words, with speaking words of life. But then on the other hand, I always struggle with this area, because Dutch doesn’t respond well to verbal praise–that is not his love language and he gets embarrassed easily. Even as a toddler, if I praised him verbally for potty training success, he’d get angry and run away. So I have to be very careful with my verbal praise, and wasn’t sure how declarations would fit into that.

So I started silently, without him around. As I was out on my prayer walk, I began just proclaiming/praying over Dutch as many scriptures as I could think of. It was a mixture of saying, believing, proclaiming, and praying. I wasn’t so much petitioning as I was laying hold of promises that are already said to be true in the Scriptures. It was like waving a banner of truth over the whole situation.

I was amazed by how encouraged I was by the time I was done. Instead of my usual, “God please fix my sad situation somehow” it felt like aggressively believing, trusting, and calling into existence the spiritual realities that God says are true. It really felt like waving a banner of truth. I thought, “Man, I need to pray like that more often!”

But then I was really encouraged by that day. It was so much better. No tears and frustration, no anxiety over baseball, so much better. So that night at bedtime I quietly slipped a little scripture-declaration into my usual bedtime prayers over him. Each day I continued declaring scripture over him, my own heart and mind, over stressful situations as they arose, a little more each day. I found myself eagerly reading the scriptures, looking for more promises to lay hold of.  It felt like a way to battle, like each declaration of truth and scripture was a death-blow to the enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy.

And each day, he continued to thrive more. 

Now please understand: this isn’t a gimmick. I don’t mean: Declare your way to a new kid by Friday! But we are wise to proclaim the goodness of God, His truth, His Word, over our lives, and especially the lives of our children regularly.

Now the author had a specific, short declaration blessing she said over each of her 6 children every single morning before school. I don’t have an exact scripted version but I like the idea. So far, my declarations just go something like this …

Dutch, you are loved by God and me. You are a son, born again and adopted into the family of God. You are made in His image, you reflect His glory, you bear the fruit of His Spirit. He will complete the good work He began in you, He will sustain you to the very end and keep you blameless until the day of Christ. You are set apart for righteousness. He works all things for your good and His glory, and no good thing does He withhold as you walk uprightly. You were made for good works, prepared in advance for you to walk in. You are full of goodness, faith, humility, and love. You are patient and kind, you are generous and faithful. You can do all things through Him who strengthens you and nothing is impossible for your God. You have all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Jesus. You are chosen to declare His excellencies and display His goodness and glory. You work with all your might, as unto the Lord, and surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. You are blessed beyond measure because of Jesus Christ our Lord, who took our sin and sickness, who bore them away, forever, on the cross. You have spiritual gifts and a unique calling to fulfill as part of God’s glorious plan, for the redemption of all things and the coming of His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. You are loved with an everlasting love, and nothing can separate you from the love of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen! 

All of this is some form of scripture, and there are a LOT of scriptures to pick from, so you could create your own based on what biblical truths you most need to take hold of. Again, not saying this is some magic gimmick, but we definitely turned a corner last week and I’m convinced this played a part.

The more we raise His Word as a banner over our lives, the better. So let’s proclaim His excellencies over every circumstance, and see what difference it might make.

{You are loved by God! Have a great week. Thanks for reading.} 

photo by Mando Gomez

Land that I love… {A long confession}

I have a confession: I haven’t loved America.

Sometimes God’s leading is so surprising, the twists and turns He takes us on so unexpected, that we’re often unsure whether we want to even share the stuff out loud. Right? At least I feel that way sometimes.

I have recently been challenged by two issues—two convictions that caught me off guard because they are in such sharp contrast to the way I’ve always lived. Mere months ago I would have scoffed at the suggestion that my heart was off in these areas, and yet God has gently guided me, through prayer, His Word, conversations, and a few thought-provoking books, to take inventory of how my life lines up to what He says.

One of them was my attitude toward my country. I had become, in recent years, anti-American. Looking back, I see a few reasons:

My spiritual-sounding reason had to do with wanting to pledge allegiance to God, above all. I still remember my dad asking if my kids said the pledge of allegiance each day before school, as we did growing up. I chuckled, “Dad, my kids don’t even know the pledge of allegiance.” I’m ashamed to say that I felt proud of that somehow, like I was making my kids Jesus-lovers by denying them knowledge of our nation’s history.

See, my heart was right-ish but off-ish: We are ultimately citizens of heaven, this world is not our home, and so in my desire to have no other God beside Him, I wanted to be sure that no other allegiances neared the throne. That’s fine, certainly, of course my love for God trumps all other loves, but in my over-zeal for this I had actually neglected the land God’s called me to love.

This can happen in any area. For example, I can be so over-focused the outward mission of God, that I neglect my marriage and my children. I can ignore them while I’m off “reaching the lost.” The lesson for me this past year is that it is precisely IN the discipling, loving, nurturing, and caring for my family that I am best able to reach a lost world Christ loves. Our families, our relationships, our marriages, the virtue of our lives and the way we love others, were meant to serve as lights—cities on a hill—for all to see.

If I neglect my home, I miss the mission.

And if I neglect my homeland, I might miss His mission too.

Now, I can see the sadly shallow reasons as well. Like many Gen-X-ers, I was sucked in by an arrogant, anti-American attitude. Some of it is nothing more than mindlessly following the “cool crowd,” like insecure middle-schoolers. It’s cool to travel abroad, it’s lame to roadtrip America. It’s cool to eat ethnic food, it’s lame to eat American food. It’s cool to quote Ghandi, it’s lame to quote any of our founding fathers. It’s cool to bash America, it’s lame to laud America. Think about it: If you wanted to buy an American flag t-shirt, let’s just say you wouldn’t go to Nordstrom, you’d hit Walmart. The general attitude is that patriotic people are old, uneducated, narrow-minded xenophobics who shop at Walmart, love Norman Rockwell art and think the world is white. It’s sad to even write this, but it’s true. I would never have had any American-flag decor anywhere near my property or person—so not cool. Fourth of July parades? Please.

In so many ways, I never left 8th grade.

Added into all this is the misunderstanding that patriotism is the same as nationalism. Patriotism has been vilified, at least in my far-left corner of the country. If I dared to love my country, wouldn’t that mean I didn’t love the world? Afraid of being seen as a xenophobic, unwelcoming, ethnocentric, minority-hating person, it seemed safer just to join the crowd and scoff at America along with most everyone else under 40. Besides, the term “American dream” has become synonymous with self-seeking — most certainly not in line with gospel-living.

So what happened? The first was that during my 40-day fast, God gave me an overwhelming burden to pray for our nation. With Daniel 9 confession, repentance, and intercession, He began to make me care about the state of the country where He had sovereignly placed me. I was struck by the fact that God chose for me to be born here, and in a place of such tremendous privilege we therefore have a tremendous responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required.

We have traveled to 5 of the 7 continents in the world, and yet we know that God has called us to live and serve and minister here. We send much of our resources overseas, as we will continue to do, to help alleviate suffering, and we want to strive to draw attention to the plight of the poor worldwide, but how will I serve and love and bless this place where I live? Do I just turn up my nose in anti-American snobbery and lament at how she’s fallen?

Secondly, my heart began to change, quite simply, as I taught my kids history! Sadly, the one subject I sorely missed as a kid was American history. Honestly, I don’t remember ever learning anything about the history of our country. I think my 7th grade American history teacher had us fill out March Madness brackets and learn the state capitals and that was it. No disrespect, I just never learned about our rich heritage, I never saw the spiritual side of our nation’s founding, I never knew the whole purpose was that we’d be a city on a hill, a beacon of hope and light and freedom to the world around. I never knew the inscription on the statue of liberty, I never knew the words of Washington, Adams, Franklin, Lincoln…men who were, of course, not perfect, but willing to give their lives for the sake of this experiment in freedom called America.

And finally, I was struck by Romans 13, and the clear command to submit to governing authorities and while of course I have always paid taxes to whom taxes are due, it then says to give “honor to whom honor is due.” It hit me:

We have lost honor.

My close friends know, that when we felt God leading us to have more kids, He put several names on our hearts. The first was the girl’s name Honor. I was so excited to have a little girl named Honor.

Then we miscarried. While I was up all night going through the miscarriage, I prayed to God for clarity on what was happening. So clearly I heard:

This was Honor.

Now I believe Honor is safe and secure in heaven and I will see her someday, but I grieved the spiritual significance of what happened.

We have lost honor.

Sure, many of our leaders have done shameful things. No one is pretending they haven’t. But as I have earnestly prayed about how to relate to our leaders, I have consistently been led to this clear command: Honor. Just as you do with your husbands — you may not agree with every choice, you may even despise some of the things he does, but you honor and respect him not because he deserves it, but because God has commanded it. You get on your face and PRAY FOR HIM daily, not because He’s earned it, but because God commands it. Of course you may disagree, you may respectfully voice your vote and even make an impassioned plea when you think he’s gone astray … but you never cease to honor.

It saddens me to see so many Christians behaving in a dishonorable way. We mock our nation’s leaders, create disrespectful memes and hashtags, we use sarcasm and blatantly disrespect. How on earth do we expect our children to respect us when we openly disrespect those whom God has placed in authority over us? We will reap what we sow. During the 8 years of Obama’s term, even if I didn’t agree with what he did, I never disrespected him. Never to my children, never online, never in a joke or crass word. During the election, I saw a friend’s FB status that subtly made fun of Hillary Clinton. It was clever and funny, so I clicked “like,” but I was immediately convicted.

With every click I am either creating–or destroying–a culture of honor. I would encourage Christians, no matter where you are politically, to uphold a culture of honor. Not because a certain leader deserves it, but because God commands it.

So how will I respond?

  • I want to diligently teach my children the godly heritage we have in America, that the whole purpose of American freedom was for the sake of others, not for ourselves.
  • I want to cultivate a culture of honor. I want to teach my children to honor their elders, veterans, those in positions of authority, because God commands it, and by obeying Him we will bless His heart.
  • I want to venerate heroes. Our culture has sunken into such a sad state of cynicism and pessimism. The news is almost always degrading, despising, discouraging. I want to put examples in front of their faces of heroes, men and women who have risked their lives for the gospel, for their country, for others.
  • I want to love my country. Not worship, not idolize, but love in a healthy way. I want to teach my kids to love this place where God has placed us, to be grateful, and to pray for her.
  • I want to celebrate virtue. Self-government and freedom will not work without virtue. I want to point out and draw attention to and celebrate example of virtue anywhere I see them. Politics are downstream from culture. By impacting our culture, we create the biggest impact of all.

And finally, we put up an American flag. 🙂 It might not be cool, but it will remind us of our commitment to pray for this place God has put us, to love her and earnestly implore that God will have mercy on us and draw us back to Him.

{Happy Memorial Day. Thanks for reading.}

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His pre-planned mercies make no mistake.

I heard the scream from downstairs:

“MOM! Dutch put an ANT on my cookie!”

And that was when I lost my mind. 

It had been a day. No, a week. No, a few weeks. And after lots of talks and tears and training and all that good stuff, we’d had a great day, the to-do’s were checked off, the day was coming to a close, bedtime was on the horizon, and I had zipped upstairs to grab laundry while they finished their dessert.

And then an ant. On the cookie. And when interrogated, the boy’s response is,

“What? It’s good source of protein.”

And with steam coming out of my ears I ranted and raved and did all the wrong things, and put the boy to work scrubbing floors and washing windows and folding laundry. Eventually, he repented, I softened, and the evening was redeemed, of course, but that night I couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming burden of so many things weighing on my mind. His recent inner struggles (being 10.5 and seeing how big and strong the other boys are becoming, while he stays small and gangly), plus the pressure of school’s end and feeling the crunch to finish, then my mental laundry list of all my loss-of-patience failures and wrong-responses–I tucked them in, then came upstairs and sunk to my knees beside the bed:

Help me, God. 

I poured it out:

“Sometimes I feel like I’m ruining them. Some days I think I do more harm than good. Certainly someone else would take the extraordinary raw material of Dutch and make something so much better than what I’m doing. I don’t feel like I’m the right mom for him. But I want to be. Please help me.”

And so I fell asleep.

The next morning I shuffled downstairs, groggy-eyed, for coffee. Jeff had come home late the night before, and had brought in the mail with him, and stacked it on the counter.

On the top of the pile was a hand-written card, to me.

I tore open the top, pulled out the card, and out slipped two stickers — two bright red car-window decals:

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“DUTCH MOM.”

Tears.

You are the mom for Dutch. 

This faraway friend, the one I only see once a year at most, something made her (days before!), snag those stickers and write that long letter of encouragement for my heart, even though she had no idea how I felt, what was going on.

You are the mom for Dutch.

My mom had said it, before he was born. At my baby shower. She had said,

“Always remember that God chose you to be Dutch’s mom. No one else. So He will personally equip you to be the mom that Dutch needs. Never doubt that.”

And of course I have, because we do, and we all need that reminder that this is not a mistake.

This spot you’re in: No accident

This challenge you face: No coincidence.

This life you live: No mistake. 

Sure, we make mistakes, heavens yes! But you are not a mistake, and this situation you’re in, it’s not a coincidence.

He gently whispers,

“I haven’t cast the wrong girl for the role, you just need a bit more practice, Love.”

So, Despair–where is your power? Hopelessness–where is your sting? I stand in the sovereignty of God — the God who led a girl to mail stickers before I even needed them. The God who pre-plans His mercies so they arrive on our doorstep–on our countertop–right on time.

New mercies delivered up when we need them most.

So, my friend: Take courage. His pre-planned mercies will meet us in our time of need, and you’re not mis-cast in this role you’re in. Make no mistake about that.

{Praying for you this week! Thanks for reading.}

 

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That slippery slope

I can only imagine his horror, anguish, that sinking, sickening pit in his stomach as he realized what he’d done.

How on earth could this happen??

In the moment it all probably happened so fast, before he could think straight, the slope was slippery by then and he slid down. Afterwards, perhaps he thought back to the scene, he could still feel the fire’s heat on his hands, his face, the cold night air on his back …

… the same back turned to his Lord.

Behind him, not far away, Jesus was being beaten, accused, slapped and spit upon …

… while Peter swore a third time, “I told you, I don’t know him!” 

This story always haunts me, you know. If the great Apostle Peter denied Christ, who am I to think I never would? So this time, as I re-read through the gospels, I decided to follow Peter’s Progression. Falling away is never sudden, and apostasy isn’t immediate. Anytime we backslide it is because of a slow turning, gradual drifting, a a lulling to sleep, a subtle shift. So perhaps, I thought, if we look at Peter and how he denied the Lord, we can go backwards and see his progression which will help inform our own lives. Here’s what I found.

  1. Mind set on things of man (not taking every thought captive): Mark 8:33

    Every action begins with a thought. In Mark 8, Peter takes Jesus aside to say that Jesus will not die on the cross. Jesus looks Peter in the eye and responds with the famous, “Get behind me, Satan!” Yikes! Peter’s statement provokes being called Satan?! Whoa! But apparently, Jesus saw this sin as severe enough for this harsh correction. Why? “You are setting your mind on the things of man, not the things of God.” It is of utmost importance that we understand the battlefield in our minds, and learn to take every thought captive and make it obey Jesus.

  2. Overconfidence in our own devotion (self-reliance): Mark 14:31

    In Mark 14:31, when Jesus begins to expound on the hard road ahead, of his death, Peter boasts, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” Oh, Peter. He was so sure of himself. He was so sure of his own devotion, and his boast smacks of self-reliance, rather than a humble acknowledgement that he was susceptible to sin. We can be the same way. We can see someone’s sin, something egregious perhaps, and say with disgust, “I would NEVER do that.” Well, yes I would. Yes I would. Even recently the Lord has shown me hard truths about how slippery is the slope to sin. The solution, of course, is not to live in fear or hopelessness, but to put our hope and trust in HIS keeping ability, not our own. The solution is to recognize that we MUST keep ourselves close to Christ, which leads us to Peter’s final step:

  3. Avoidance of suffering & distancing oneself from hardship for the sake of pursuing comfort: Mark 14:66-72

    When Jesus is first arrested, Peter is there and ready to fight. Many of us are eager for drama, and perhaps even like the idea of battling for the name of Christ. But then, when Peter sees the path of Jesus marked by persecution, not by fighting, when he sees the way of Christ walked out in suffering, not in crusading, he slowly and silently slips away into the night. He stays near, but at a safe distance, warming himself by the fire, pursuing comfort instead of Christ. It’s hard to know exactly how it happened, but next thing he knows he’s being asked about Jesus, and next thing he knows he’s vehemently denied Him three times, as the rooster crows and he comes to the horrendous realization of what he’s done.

I am Peter. I am prone to these same things, and this progression helps me watch for the signs of the slow fade. Thankfully, Peter is restored. In fact, Peter’s response after falling, is what encourages me the most.

Peter’s response:

1. RUNS to see Him risen.

I love that the gospels tell us Peter (and John) RAN (John 20:4) to the tomb to see Jesus risen. I’d expect that of John, for John was the only one who stayed at the cross during Jesus’ death. But Peter?? I’d expect Peter to be hiding away, crippled with guilt and shame, unable to face Jesus at all. But no. Peter knows Jesus’ love enough to boldly RUN to the tomb. He can’t wait to come back home to Christ! And then,

2. THROWS himself into the sea.

Later, when Peter is out fishing, and Jesus appears on the shore (John 21:7), Peter THROWS HIMSELF into the sea, and swims to shore to see Jesus. I love this! Peter doesn’t care a wit about his fish, the boat, his clothes, how silly he looks, all he cares about is coming back home to Christ.

That’s repentance. Repentance isn’t sulking, hiding, ridden with guilt and shame. Repentance is the running home, the throwing ourselves headlong into the sea of His grace and love.

And He receives us. He builds a fire and makes us breakfast and says, “Do you love me?” and gives us an opportunity to set our affections back on Him and begin anew, better than ever, because we’ve learned from our past. Nothing’s wasted. His love is lavish, His grace sufficient. Even for Peters like me.

{Thanks for reading.}

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Teaching kids to take initiative

When he showed up with our dinner, I could barely believe my eyes — this was a kid! What kind of kid does this??

Let me explain. My husband frequents a local coffee shop, and gets to know the baristas. He had often chatted with one in particular, a guy named Christian. Turns out one day Jeff had shared with him about a difficult season we were in. In response, (after asking Jeff’s permission), Christian took the initiative to coordinate—and personally deliver—dinners out to our house the following week.

Now, I was already floored that someone I had never met was willing to bring us meals (we live a long way out of town).

I was further floored that this person was a guy (sorry, but usually it’s the moms who think of things like meal-delivery!).

But I was completely floored when this guy showed up and looked barely old enough to drive.

He was 21. With a wide, bright smile, he was respectful and kind, talking at length with our kids, admiring our home, and hand-delivering a nutritious meal made by his mom. He was clearly a go-getter, working part-time while also going to school and pursuing his passion in a creative career while also serving in his church.

I soon discovered he was one of 7 brothers … all homeschooled.

Ah. As soon as he left, I looked at Jeff and said, That’s why we homeschool. I want to raise kids like that.

It’s remarkable to see young people who take initiative. That is, they don’t just follow the rules, do the least amount of work possible, wait for someone to offer them options, or live self-absorbed. They are proactive, looking for ways to grow, learn, excel, serve. They take responsibility.

They’re leaders. That’s what I want for my own kids, and probably you do too.

As parents, one of the critical transitions to help our kids make is from being merely responders (obeying our commands), to initiators (proactively seeking to do good). This had already been on my radar all year, and the interaction with Christian encouraged my efforts all the more.

So, here are 4 suggestions for teaching our kids to take initiative: {Read the rest over at Simple Homeschool…thanks!}

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To do today: Win their hearts

This Mama has had a crazy busy few months, and Friday was my last speaking event for the season and the sun is out and I am READY to get low with my littles and catch bugs and dig holes and play games and I was reminded again of this — playing with our kids, winning their hearts, is of eternal importance. Hope this encourages you this week: What you do matters.

~

I plunge my hands into the muddy water, winning his heart in this imaginary world of war.

“I just destroyed your aircraft carrier, Dutch. You’ll need a way better design next time.”

He looks up at me delighted,  eyes dancing, sun sparkling in his blond hair. Soon, Heidi skips across the yard.

“Would you like to come to a party at my house?”

Her face is light, eyes full of anticipation. For a moment I marvel at her eager vulnerability. It is one thing to invite someone to your house for a party. That’s a risk.  It is quite another to invite someone to an imaginary party.

Every time a child invites you into her imagination, she risks.

I see it most clearly in Dutch. We had settled down into Heidi’s playhouse, seated in miniature chairs sipping water-tea from plastic cups. Dutch grew quiet for a moment then looked me in the eye.

“I got a new job, down in LA.”

He says the short statement and waits for a response.  It’s such a simple, mundane interaction–something most moms do every day. You play pretend, that’s what you do. But the enormity of it washes over me, as he waits for my response.

Will I take him seriously and play?  Will I accept this invitation into his innermost world? In just one sentence a child may open up her heart and world to us.  How do we respond?

“Oh? Down in LA? What are you doing there?”

A quick flash of joy comes across his face–and he continues in his deepest most serious voice. It’s a big job, overseeing all those aircraft carriers. Only two days off a year–Christmas and Easter. The pay is good though–$200/month.

We talk, like this, most of the afternoon. Heidi explains how her friend “lost her medical” and had to have her legs amputated. Then she had to go to DHS. (Having had Julie in our life informs their imagination in humorous ways sometimes.) Later, Dutch is a WWII veteran. He tells me detailed stories of his heroic escapades, explains the intricacies of the war when I dig for more information.

And I have to chuckle to myself, Too bad we didn’t do school today.  I could almost see their little minds blossoming, opening, like little buds of creativity, connecting and exploring and risking and learning. And what an honor–a privilege–to be allowed into their innermost world of imagination.

Before Dutch was born, my sister-in-law threw me a baby shower. Each woman wrote one piece of advice on a little card. My pastor’s wife, a wise woman I’ve known 30 years, wrote:

Win your child’s heart.”

She explained,

Win his heart, so he will never want to disappoint you. Love is a better motivator than guilt. A desire to please you will carry him through more temptation and struggle than all the rules and right answers in the world. Win his heart early on.”

There are many ways to do this. I haven’t mastered them. But entering our children’s imaginary worlds–with enthusiasm–is one of the most powerful ways to pursue their hearts when they are young.

Few invitations are more sacred than the invitation to enter the imaginary world of a little soul. 

When we enter in, we win

Go play. 

{Have a wonderful week. Thanks for reading.} 

*Originally posted April 2014.

 

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When stuff comes up …

I did some digging this weekend. I wish I could say it was the kind in the garden, the fun and recreational kind where you sink your hands into some soil and get those good seeds planted, full of hope, in eager anticipation of salsas and salads come late July. I’ll get to that too, Lord willing, as faithful May is finally bringing us the sun. (Hooray!)

But this weekend I did the inward kind of digging. The soul-searching, heart-rending, truth-seeking kind of digging, the kind you have to do when stuff comes up.

I was speaking at a retreat, on my beloved topic of Flourish. This has been my longest running retreat—for five years straight I’ve been teaching this material, and I finally rewrote my notes because they were so worn and marked up with margin scribbles and underlines and highlights that I could barely read what they said. Plus, I needed the process of re-writing them, to let the good work go deep into my own heart once again. The result will be, Lord willing, an ebook. I’d love to give you an expanded version of these materials in an ebook form so you could go through the process on your own. Pray for me, that I can carve away time to make this happen?

So, sometimes stuff comes up. When you’re gardening, hopefully you have some tender shoots pop up—your zucchini and sugar peas and the feathery tops of carrots. But usually, you get some other stuff too. Yes? Some weeds. And it’s true in our spiritual life too, some weeds come up, the bad stuff, the stuff we don’t want around, and it can be disheartening. But let me tell you what’s more disheartening, when something comes up, and you take it to the Lord, and He responds with …

“It’s deeper than you think.”

Awesome. The physical version of this is when you go to pluck out a weed and discover it’s anchored down so deep you can’t even dislodge it. You tug and tug and all you end up doing is maybe tearing off a few of the leaves, just surface stuff, and the nasty root system is still completely in tact.

*sigh*

So what do we do? What do we do when staring down a gargantuan weed we can’t quickly yank out?

We dig it out. And it can be disheartening but we’ll do it if we care enough about the state of our souls, about the purity of our lives, about the quality of our worship. If we care enough about Christ. See, certainly we can get entirely too caught up self-tinkering and miss out on the bigger picture of loving and serving the world. We can get so self-absorbed that we miss out on the mission of God. Let’s not do that. But it is equally important that we don’t get so caught up in the mission, the ministry, the going and doing and serving and giving, that we neglect the health of our hearts.

Last week at church, when we prayed over our worship time, I saw a picture of a red heart, and God was cutting off the dirty, darkened, slimy edges.

Sometimes God needs to cut off the corrupted parts, so our worship can be pure again, so our hearts can be clean, so our minds can be made-over entirely for Him.

Let’s not neglect that part.

Because it is SO easy to throw ourselves headlong into outward things without addressing the dark places. Our first ministry is to the Lord. Only as our worship is sanctified, made holy, made pure, will our ministry, our outpouring be that as well.

Of course I would never want to discourage someone from loving the poor, loving the church, loving evangelism or giving or serving or mission. But these must always and only be an overflow of our first love: Him. He is our first love. Our first mission. Our first ministry.

We’re only fit for outward ministry, as God does a deep inward ministry in our hearts. Paul said it like this:

A large house contains not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay. Some indeed are for honorable use, but others are for common use. So if anyone cleanses himself of what is unfit, he will be a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)

With all that is in me, I want to be useful to the Master. I think you probably do too. 

And so, when something comes up, that weed that won’t budge, we dig down deep into the truth and love of God, and ask Him to uproot anything that doesn’t please Him. What belief, attitude, habit, mindset, desire, thought-pattern … what seed has taken root and slowly grown, unseen, until it suddenly surprises you and rears its ugly head. Yes, it can feel discouraging to see it, but take heart, friend, the good news is: God’s allowed it to grow up past the surface, to be seen, so that He can root it out forever. You’re not alone in the process. He’s guiding and providing. He’s pulling for us, and it’s worth the effort to dig. The heart that’s free will flourish.

{For whatever digging you must do this week…it’s worth it. Happy May Day & thanks for reading.}

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Hope for the wayward heart

I would say I’m sorry for how sporadic posts have been these days. On the one hand, I know it’s a not a big deal. I rest in the knowledge that no one is out there refreshing my site moment by moment, eagerly awaiting new content. 🙂 I’m not that important.

But, I also know that I’m called to write, and frankly, I haven’t wanted to. Sure, I’ll repost something old, that’s safe enough, but I haven’t wanted to freshly bare my soul out here in the wide-open internet spaces. Safer just to keep my laptop–and life–shut.

I’ve had dozens of people ask, “Are you ok??” Yes. I’m ok. It has just been a unique season like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It isn’t one thing. It has been a season of battle, a season of stripping away, a season of pruning, of weakness.

Sometimes we wonder, when walking through trials, “Is this spiritual attack? Or is this my sin? Or is this God sanctifying me?” Of course, the answer is always:

Yes.

Yes, at any given time we are facing an onslaught of the enemy, we are dealing with our flesh and the lingering effects of the fall, and we are being lovingly pruned, shaped, sanctified, by a good and gracious God. While we are wise to not be ignorant of the enemy’s schemes, we can rest in the truth that: If I am in Christ, the worst Satan can do is sanctify me. There is nothing God cannot and will not use for our ultimate good. 

See, this isn’t a good-and-evil battle where the two sides are equally matched. We might feel outnumbered and overwhelmed, but like Elisha encouraged his faint-hearted servant,

“Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

We are on the offensive, friends.

But even so, this doesn’t mean we do nothing. The battle is real, and it has been raging, and I have wanted to shut down, close up, withdraw. I have felt weary and wondered what it looks like to fight when the issue at hand, the thing that’s up for grabs, the thing that’s being battled for … is my heart

How do I win my own heart? 

Yesterday at church, God gently revealed the answer. I saw that I had been, as AW Tozer calls it, “tinkering with my soul.” That is, going in with a little change here, a little tweak there, like a retired man spending the day tinkering with an old car, without really accomplishing much at all.

The word yesterday was, “In order to return to our first love, our affections must change.” Yes.

My affections. It’s heart stuff, not behavior stuff. It’s heart stuff, not a tweak here and there. Like the men in Mark 7 who were all about adding external safeguards to make sure they didn’t sin, but Jesus reminds them that that will never work because sin comes from the heart.

Sin is simply misplaced affection

So now what, then? I woke up this morning aching with the question, “How do I change my affections? How do I change what I love?”

We change our affection by changing our attention

Our hearts simply follow our soul’s gaze. 

“The man who has struggled to purify himself and has has nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.” (Pursuit of God, p. 91)

Ahhh. My heart sighs relief.

There lies the whole of my duty for this day: Fix the gaze of my soul on Christ. Stop tinkering, start looking. Put His truth and unchanging Word before my eyes and heart and trust Him to woo back my wayward heart.

That’s hope.

From one wayward soul to another… let’s fix our gaze and trust Him to do the rest. Happy Monday, and thanks for reading.}

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The rest is thrown in (What promise!)

Their little eyes widened as the words sunk in: One HUNDRED times as much!

We giggled to ourselves thinking of receiving back one hundred toys, or one hundred cookies, or one hundred houses or sisters or brothers. Of course the essence of this promise isn’t about calculating or counting, it’s written to convey an important promise:

What you give up for God, He’ll give back in a better way, beyond what you can imagine. 

We were studying the Rich Young Ruler, and how sad he was as he shuffled away from Jesus, as he gave up the greatest opportunity that had ever presented itself to him. I actually found myself tearing up as I told the story, thinking how tragic it is that so many (sometimes myself included!) give up the greatest invitation ever because we can’t let go of our stuff, our rights, our way.

But it’s so fun that immediately after this story, Jesus gives a promise. And it’s a big one! He marvels at how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom, but then makes this mind-blowing statement promising that all those who give up things for God’s sake will receive back one-hundred times as much. Wow!

I have seen this wildly lavish love from God so many times. It’s nuts! I’ve been amazed at this truth that when we seek our own pleasure, our own way, our own stuff, we end up poor, we walk away sad, nothing satisfies.

BUT. When we seek the kingdom, when we give up our stuff, our way, our life, we find ourselves spoiled rotten by a generous God, lavishly loved and blessed. Sure, there’s still tribulation, trials, challenges. But the abundance so outweighs the burden.

God is GOOD. His way is good. His plans are good. Oh that we’d give up our own way to seek His and discover the goodness! When we seek our own we lose, but when we seek Him, we find the rest tossed in as well. It reminds me of the CS Lewis quote:

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. -CS Lewis

Or this quote captures this beautifully. So true! Not seeking our own, in a selfish sense, is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness. Amen!

“If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can.

But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow human beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are. The resources of the universe move at his bidding, and he can easily command them all to subserve your welfare.

So not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. It is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness.” —Jonathan Edwards (Charity & Its Fruits)

May we take this route. When we seek His kingdom, the rest is tossed in as well. Let’s go this way! Happy Monday. Thanks for reading. 

*Originally shared last year, still true as ever. Looking for email delivery of posts? Sign-up here: https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=KariPatterson  (Thanks!)