When You’re Ready For It to be Over Already

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength~ Isaiah 40:29-31a

For the most part my son was a sweet and obedient little boy. However, there was one area he struggled throughout his childhood. Alex was (and is now) a kid who routinely spoke his mind, irrespective of the appropriateness of the situation.

 When Alex was six my husband took him to a local home improvement store where he saw a man dressed as a woman for the first time. Alex stared at the man for just a second or two, gave a slight nod, as if he had made his mind up about something significant and loudly declared that if men were going to wear dresses they ought to at least shave their legs. Alex charmed everyone within earshot with his thoroughly naïve but straightforward appraisal of the situation, except of course, the man wearing the dress.

 My son’s inclination to boldly speak his mind was not limited to the questionable wardrobe choices of others. Nor did it start when he was six. It started in early toddlerhood. To my utter horror, He would routinely ask total strangers the most personal questions imaginable. He also made a regular habit of informing the parents of other children when he felt their kids were misbehaving. He was notorious for correcting or contradicting any opinion he believed to be based on misinformation. Regardless of the age or person giving the opinion.

 As awkward, embarrassing and downright irritating all that was, nothing matched the level of humiliation I felt when my son would decide was ready to leave a gathering or a play date. Once he made-up his mind that he had enough fun for the day, he would approach me (he never once did this privately) and announce loudly that he was “done” and “ready for it to be over”. Once my initial inclination to hide under the furniture passed, I was typically overwhelmed with a very un-motherly yearning to murder my own offspring. For nearly a year of his childhood most of our outings ended with a lengthy lecture on the importance of not actually saying everything we think or feel.

 Alex’s desire to be done with any situation he wasn’t enjoying anymore was maddening. However, I do understand his feelings. Sometimes even grown-ups are done with a situation or trial long before God has decided it’s time for us to move on.

Lately, I have found myself saying some things to God that sound remarkably like the things my toddler used to say to me.

 It is not as if the trial we’ve experienced has been the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone. We have a great deal to be thankful for. We have a steady income, our kids are healthy, none of them are currently using drugs or openly rebelling against God, we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. My husband and I are healthy and our marriage is solid. In other words all the stuff that really matters in this life is still okay in our world.

 All that said, having a house that has sat on a stagnant market for the better part of a year has been hard. Our lives are currently on hold. The youngest is struggling emotionally. Living apart has been tough (to say the least) and our checking account needs CPR. However none of those issues compare to the spiritual bewilderment we have experienced as we waited for God to act on our behalf.

 There have been many times over the course of the last eight months when I have felt as if we were being tested (and failing badly). I now know I was wrong, at least about the testing part. We have been reading the situation all-wrong. It’s not a test.

 It’s an opportunity.

 Like any trial the last eight months has been an opportunity to learn to love and trust God even when life is a lot less than easy and the answers are hard to find. It’s been an opportunity to trust and to proclaim the goodness of God even when He has felt far away. It’s been opportunity to show the world what faith really looks like (Hebrews 11:1).

 I know this likely won’t be last time I will be given an opportunity that feels like a test. I am hoping and praying that the next time an opportunity disguised, as a misfortune comes around I will have the wisdom to recognize it for what it is sooner.

When You Hit the Wall

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith~ Hebrew 12:1-2

 There are a number of terms for it, some of them colorful. Sometimes it’s called “throwing in the towel” or “flaking out.” I generally refer to it as “calling it. ”The military calls it “deserting your post”, my kids call it “canning” and the English call it “bunking off”. I will not repeat the phrase my Father had for it; all you need to know is that it’s not the least bit appropriate.

 Runners call it “hitting the wall.” I am partial to that particular expression because “hitting the wall” is about more than quitting. Hitting the wall is a moment in a race that appears to come out of nowhere. Suddenly the runner is overcome with negative thoughts and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. Every muscle begs for mercy. The runner longs to just give up and go home.

 Hitting the wall happens for a number of reasons, some completely outside the runner’s control. Poor weather conditions, outside distractions, fatigue, illness or lack of proper training for that particular race can cause even the most seasoned athlete to long to bow out of the race and hit the nearest Five Guys. Whatever the cause, the bottom-line is simple. When a runner hits the wall, they have a choice to make. Do they give-up and go home or do they dig deep and muster the strength to finish the race?

 Runners are not the only ones faced with that choice.

At some point in the Christian life, every follower of Jesus hits a spiritual wall: a dark and ugly fork in the road where the walk of faith simply feels too hard and not worth pursuing. Deep down inside they don’t know if they can or even want to keep going. No Christian wants to admit they’ve hit the wall but everyone does at some point.

 Hitting the spiritual wall can come as a result of deep grief or profound personal loss. Sometimes it comes after a long period of remaining faithful in the face of what feels like endless disappointment. Mistreatment by other Christians can cause even the most mature believer to hit the wall. Other times, it’s a result of relentless attacks from the enemy. It can happen because of lack of attention to our spiritual life. Sometimes it’s a result of chronic overwork or discouragement.

 The causes matter, but not nearly as much as our response.

 There are two common responses to hitting the wall. The first is to get angry and run as far from God as possible. This reaction is born out of the belief that God could have and should have prevented whatever circumstances led to our confusion and misery. This all-too common reaction makes sense on a human level. However, it inevitably leads to spiritual disaster and is exactly what the enemy of our souls wants us to do.

 The healthy response to the hopelessness that occurs when we hit the wall is to run towards God. Running towards God begins with an honest conversation. We need to talk to Him about our situation and our feelings about it. This can be scary, many believers balk at the notion of being honest with God. It feels sinful and wrong to admit our anger and confusion out loud. Being real with God isn’t something we do for God. God already knows exactly what we think and how we feel (Hebrews 4:12). We get real with God for our own good, to keep from getting stuck in bitterness.

 Once we talk things out with God, it is time for an evaluation of our life and attitudes. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions:

 Is there sin we need to repent of (Acts 3:19)?

Are we spending time in prayer and reading the Bible (Hebrews 2:2-4)?

Are we isolating ourselves from other Christians (Hebrews 10:25)?

Are we blaming God for the devil’s work (Luke 22:31)?

Are we praising Him in spite of our circumstances (Psalm 22)?

Are we believing God will work out His plan for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28)?

Are we walking in faith or fear (Isaiah 41:10)?

 Once any necessary repenting is done, it’s time to trust. Trust that God’s love for you has not changed or faded. Trust that He is still on your side. Trust that this miserable, awful trial you are enduring will make you wiser, more compassionate and better able to serve. Most importantly, trust that God is good and believe that better days are right around the corner.

Because they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Back in the Game

 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1st Kings 19:12-13

 Six months of uncertainty has taken its toll on every member of our family, and we all have our own less-than-healthy coping mechanisms that we employ to mange the tough stuff of life. I eat in the short-run and snap if the pressure continues for too long. Neither of these responses is beneficial. Overeating has never changed anything but my pants size, and freaking out inevitably leads to guilt and increases rather than decreases my stress level.

 My husband’s preferred method of managing tension is busyness. He uses activity and work to avoid dealing with realties he doesn’t like. His approach is more constructive than mine (our yard is looking really good). Unfortunately it comes with it’s own set of unintended consequences. Including, but not limited to more stress from all the busyness. All our children take after either their Dad or I when it comes to dealing with the stresses of life, with the exception of one.

 This kid does not begin a project or hit the nearest drive-thru in an effort to avoid focusing on the harsh realities of life. Nor do they yell or freak out. Instead they very quietly go to a happy place inside their head and stay there until the storm passes. This works okay if the storm happens to be short-lived, but if the difficulty continues for any length of time, critical tasks are neglected which inevitably results in some unpleasant consequences.

 Recently some unpleasantness came home to roost, and we ended up having a long discussion about the importance of facing reality rather than running from it. It felt like a fairly productive conversation and I sent the child off to school feeling pretty positive about my aptitude for giving a good lecture.

 My smugness persisted until I opened my Bible and started reading. The passage I came upon that morning was 1st Kings 19. Elijah had been coping with a great deal of stress for a very long time. Elijah’s problems were certainly more pressing and far less first-world than mine. Elijah was a prophet who lived at a time when the people he was called to minister to had no real interest in God or in hearing messages from God.

 Elijah had spent the last few years dealing with fallout from a drought that came as a result of the nation’s spiritual disobedience. Food became extraordinarily scarce. When he wasn’t busy scrounging for food and saving a widow and her son from certain starvation he was running for his life from a formidable and extraordinarily evil woman. Jezebel and her weak-willed, equally awful husband both wanted him dead, no matter the cost.

 Ultimately the pressure wore him down and found a cave Elijah and hid in it. There he threw himself a fairly impressive pity party. Elijah was loudly asserting his own goodness and grumbling that he was the only faithful follower of God left in the entire world when God showed up.

 In classic God fashion, He did not have a whole lot to say. God did not remark on Elijah’s moral superiority nor did He reprimand him for his crankiness and self-absorption. He simply asked (and I’m paraphrasing here) what Elijah was doing in a cave and why he had gotten his head out of the game he had been called to. He calmly corrected some of Elijah’s flawed views, gave some direction and explained where he could go to find some friends and get some much-needed support. Then He departed and left Elijah to get on with his assigned tasks.

 This passage tells me two things.

 First, God understands exactly how stressful this life can be for His people at times. He is a compassionate God who does not judge us or turn against us when our response to life is a bit too human. Thankfully, God’s love is not contingent on our perfection. It also tells me that the only correct response to stress is to find a way get back to doing that thing we were called to do. Freaking out solves nothing, hiding has never once made an issue disappear and overeating ultimately adds to our stress when we learn our pants no longer fit. The right response to stress is to run to God, look for like-minded people who will support us through our trials and get back to the work God called us to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Got This

 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze~ Isaiah 43: 1-2

As a rule I am not much of a worrier. Nor am I super laid-back. I am definitely not someone who has conquered worry through spiritual efforts. Rather, my inclination to avoid excessive worry is strictly practical. I have learned the hard way that worry wastes time, squanders energy and has the power to change precisely nothing. I am an outcome-oriented person cursed with a bit of a lazy streak. Consequently, I typically avoid any activity that does not ordinarily result in some sort of payoff. Worry does not achieve any sort of tangible outcome. As a result, I typically don’t worry about all that much.

 Until recently.

 Over the last few weeks I have found myself worrying about all sorts of strange issues at the oddest times of the day and night. From a strictly commonsense perspective, some of these worries actually make sense.

 When we put our house up for sale almost five months ago, the market was solid and houses in our area were selling at a steady pace. Within what felt like minutes of putting OUR house on the market, it dried up. Only a handful of properties have sold in our area since August. My husband and I have been living apart for months and the arrangement is expensive.

I worry the house will never sell.

 My husband has been subsisting on microwaved popcorn and cold cereal for months now. I worry he will develop scurvy or beriberi or some other rare nutritional deficiency. My handyman skills are rudimentary (to say the least) and so all the chores my husband normally does are not getting done or they’re not getting done poorly. I worry the house will fall down on us while we are sleeping. Our eleven–year-old has began to revert back to some old behaviors recently. I worry about how all this is affecting her. I worry about moving in the middle of winter, I worry we won’t move until spring or summer or that we will never move. God has provided through this whole stupid mess but that hasn’t stopped me from worrying my head off about money.

 And those are just the worries that actually make some level of sense. The really weird stuff hits me hardest around three in the morning. That’s when I worry about how the dogs will adjust to the move, global politics, scary viruses becoming airborne, fiber and if we are getting enough of it and whether or not I remembered to shut the garage door. Once I exhaust those worries I move on to questioning every choice I’ve ever made and then I wonder if painting the entire house a different color will make it sell faster.

 The other day I came across some much-needed encouragement from an unexpected source. The seventh and eighth chapters of Daniel recount some rather peculiar dreams that foretell some unsettling future events. The implications of the dreams are at best a bit creepy and the content is so strange that it has kept scholars and theologians debating the deeper meaning of the text for centuries.

 It was not the content I found helpful. It was the context. Daniel recorded his dreams at a point in history that was both personally and politically chaotic. He was a slave who had served as an adviser to one king (Nebuchadnezzar) for all of his adult life. Nebuchadnezzar was not a great guy. He was a brutal narcissist with a capricious streak. That said, he was also a capable leader, teachable and had over time he had developed a healthy fear of Daniel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar had proven himself to be an even more erratic and cruel leader than his granddad without the leadership abilities, teachable spirit or fear of God.

 I believe God gave Daniel a peek into a future he would never live to see, in the midst of what had to have been of the scariest times of his life, to remind him and, by extension, all of us. That God has this. Whatever it is, God has it. God has our future tightly in His grasp. Nothing surprises Him. He has whatever is keeping you up at night too. Whether it’s a house that won’t sell or a health problem or a job loss, or a kid that has gone off the rails, or something even worse.

 God’s got it and He has you too.

Hearing God

You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives~ Deuteronomy 5:24 NASB

 Most conversations about hearing the voice of God go in one of two directions. Some confidently claim that they hear from God all the time about every minute detail of their life. God speaks to them audibly on every topic imaginable, from the serious to the mundane.

 These lucky people do not weigh the pros or cons of any decision. They don’t agonize over which job they ought to take or whom they should marry. They don’t even worry about where they should go for dinner. They have all the answers because God tells them exactly what to do all the time.

 On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who awkwardly confess that they have never heard God speak. They read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis but they admit that they have never actually heard from God. These folks typically feel like second-class citizens when compared to the first group. In their most honest and raw moments they wonder if God really loves them or if they are even Christians.

 I believe that God speaks to all of His people at least some of the time. I also believe that there are situations when we don’t hear God’s voice because we have preconceived notions about how we think God will speak. Those biases can interfere with our ability to hear what God is saying. We want (and sometimes even demand) an audible voice when He is intent on using another, more subtle approach to speak into our lives. Following are the most common methods God uses when He has something to say.

 The Bible- Psalm 119:105, 2nd Timothy 3:16

 Contrary to what you might have heard, the Bible is still God’s preferred means of communication with people. God will never tell anyone to do anything that directly contradicts biblical teaching. If you want to hear God speak to you, begin there.

 People- 1st Samuel 25, Acts 17:16-33, 2nd Samuel 12, Judges 1:8-9

 When God wanted David to understand that his craving for vengeance would lead to his destruction, God chose to speak those words through the quiet wisdom of a young woman named Abigail. When God wanted to proclaim the reality of His existence to the people of Athens, He used the words of Paul to communicate that truth. God still uses men and women to communicate truth to one another. For that reason, it is critical that we prayerfully evaluate the encouraging as well as the not-so-encouraging words of our friends, family members, pastors and even the people we don’t really care for. Sometimes when people speak it’s not them speaking, but God speaking through them. We will do well to listen.

 Strong impressions and still small voices- 1st Kings 19: 11-18, Acts 15:28-29, Acts 16:6

 In my experience, God seldom says, “Do this” or “don’t do that.” But he does speak to His people through impressions or a strong sense that we should or should not do something. The only time we should ignore those impressions is when the activity or course of action we are considering violates clear biblical instruction or principles.

 Circumstances- Exodus 2:5-8, Acts 8:1-8

 Little in life is more frustrating than feeling we are being forced into a course of action by circumstances outside of our control. Thankfully these situations are not always the tragedies they seem to be at the time. Sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances are really the just the hand of God guiding us towards His will for our lives.

 I honestly do not know if God talks to some folks more than others. It’s certainly possible; God deals with people as individuals and He is free to do whatever He pleases. I do know that God is good and that He never leaves us alone. I also know that if we need direction He will give it to us, but that direction may not come in the form we are expecting. It is our spiritual responsibility to keep our hearts and spirits open to God’s will in whatever way He chooses to reveal it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

 One issue every blogger I know struggles with is transparency, or how much personal information to share with their readers. Everyone agrees that some personal sharing is clearly a healthy thing. Sharing allows readers to really know the writer and reminds both the reader the writer that life is a journey that none of us have completely figured out.

 Conversely, everyone ought to avoid the temptation to turn their page into a personal confessional. Assaulting an unsuspecting stranger with awkward private information borders on emotional abuse. Knowing personal details about a person you have “met” only in cyberspace can leave a reader feeling stunned and uncertain about what do with the information given. It’s a little like seeing your Grandmother in her underwear. No matter how innocent the circumstances, it can be difficult to shake the sense that you have somehow done something terribly wrong.

 I struggled mightily to balance all this as I debated where to go with today’s post. My angst has been complicated by my (undeniably prideful) desire to look like I have it all together even when I quite clearly don’t have a clue. The truth is that I am currently in a place where nearly everything in life feels ambiguous and I have more questions than answers about more issues than I care to discuss. Even after doing all the Christianly things I know to do (Bible reading, fasting, prayer, etc.) I still have no tangible answers.

 All that to say that I am not approaching today’s topic as an expert who has everything all figured out. Rather as one who is on a journey of discovery. I am learning that finding peace in the midst of the chaos of not knowing what to do next, by:

 Admitting I don’t know-

 There is something incredibly freeing about admitting to God and everyone else that I don’t know what to do next. Owning my cluelessness has allowed me to be open to possibilities that I would normally never consider. And I am beginning to suspect that God likes it when we come to a place where we have no other option than to trust in Him, rather than our own understanding and worldly wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 Taking time everyday to be still-

 Not knowing what to do about a valid problem is a nerve-wracking situation. When our nerves are wracked, the inclination is to run headlong into activity. Busy is not a bad thing, but frenzied, chaotic activity just leads to anxiety and a decreased capacity to problem solve. The answer is to get alone with God every day, fill your mind with promises from Scripture and meditate on God’s goodness (Psalm 46:10). It feels counterintuitive to be still when life is uncertain. But stillness recharges our batteries and empowers us to deal with the stuff we don’t understand and increases our ability to see our problems from God’s perspective.  

 Tackling the obvious-

 Not knowing what to do about a particular situation does not mean we should sit back and do nothing about everything. Make a plan and then prayerfully tackle the obvious stuff that you can do something about. If you are concerned about future job security or finances cut back on spending and polish up your resume, or take on a second job. If it’s your kids or your marriage that have you flummoxed, read a book or take a class and improve your skills. Choosing to be proactive will not provide magic solutions for every problem, but it will help you stay positive and it may prevent new problems from cropping up.

 Keep on keeping on-

 1st Corinthians 13:12 tells us that every Christian will experience times when direction is unclear. It’s just another one of the trials Christians are promised in 1st Thessalonians 3:3. The good news is that these periods of uncertainty can become the very thing that makes us stronger, wiser, and better able to minister to others. The key to becoming better, not bitter, in the face of a trial is to cling tenaciously to the belief that God is good and that He has your best interests at heart. Especially when circumstances are saying something entirely different.

 I have not enjoyed this period of my life. I’m a bit of a control freak and I like at least looking like I have all the answers. But even I have to admit that this period of my life has been instructive. Through it all I am slowly learning that faith is not about having all the answers. Faith is a journey of discovering, learning to trust and understand the one who does.

 

 

The One Skill Every Child Must Have to Survive

 Last week marked the beginning of winter semester at the university where my son Alex attends college. He and I caught up after his first day of classes and chatted about his day.

 Just when I thought our little talk was drawing to a close, Alex said something that promptly reinvigorated the conversation. He casually mentioned that he’d had a tough time getting around school that day. Apparently the campus was swarming with parents who were hanging out, introducing themselves to the professors, looking for things, and even attending classes with their children.

 I was suddenly intrigued and bursting with questions…

 Really?

Was it parents’ day? (If so, why wasn’t I invited???)

Was there a problem at the airport, forcing parents to stay in Tucson?

Were the parents actually sitting in on the classes?

Were the kids embarrassed, sitting with their parents in college classes?

Were the professors annoyed?

 My son explained that it was not parent’s day, nor were there any issues at the airport that he was aware of. Some of his younger friends had informed him that not only did parents introduce themselves to the professors and sit in on the classes, but a few raised their hands to ask questions on behalf of their children. Surprisingly, the kids seemed to be perfectly okay with the unofficial “bring your parents to college day” but there was some serious eye-rolling going on among the professors.

 At first I thought the whole thing was a little weird and kind of funny. It simply never occurred to me to attend college classes with my kids. I just presumed that if they were old enough to enroll in college, they were capable of introducing themselves to the professors, finding nourishment, and locating their classrooms without my assistance.

 Later, I was struck by how unfunny the whole thing actually was. This sort of thing is a symptom of a problem that cripples many middle-class kids. Well-meaning parents have become so fearful regarding their kids’ safety, comfort level, and overall happiness that they have gone to extremes to shield their kids from harm or distress. In the process, some have missed the entire point of parenting and failed to teach the one skill everyone needs to survive in this world: Self-management

 Self-managers know when they are hungry, tired, cranky or sick and they understand how to deal with those issues appropriately. Self-mangers are not afraid to participate in life because they know how to recognize and protect themselves from dangerous people and situations. Self-managers take care of their own needs, treat people the way they wish to be treated, problem solve, have common sense and self-discipline, and are capable of healthy communication with other human beings. A child should be adept at the basics of self-management by the time they reach puberty. Sadly, most are not.

 There are three ways parents can teach self-management.

 Encourage children to take controlled risks-

 There is a lot of debate over how many and what type of risks children should be permitted to take. Some believe kids should be insulated from even the most remote danger. These are the people who want to hand out bulletproof blankets to kindergarteners and put helmets on children before recess. Others think kids should be permitted to wander completely unsupervised. Wisdom lies between the two extremes. Children cannot learn to manage risk without taking risks, and they learn by doing. Kids should be coached about safety and then given age-appropriate opportunities to walk to the park alone, pay for things, ride their bikes unsupervised and walk around a store or mall without Mom and Dad by their side.

 Limit the use of technology-

 Good communication skills are essential to self-management. Technology (especially texting) keeps kids from developing the skills necessary to actually talk with other human beings. Kids need face-to-face communication to learn to read non-verbal cues and to understand how their words affect others. If kids are allowed a cell phone before puberty, parents should insist it’s used for phone calls only.

 Do not eliminate negative consequences-

 Consequences are the fruit of choices. We do kids a disservice when we cushion them from negative consequences. If a child is inconsiderate, irresponsible, rude or careless they should be made to deal with the fallout of their choices even if it’s inconvenient or embarrassing for Mom and Dad.

 In the early years, parenting is all about protection and provision. Loving parents do everything within their power to provide for and guarantee that no harm befalls their young child. As kids mature, parenting priorities must shift. If they don’t kids will grow up with all of the passions and aspirations of adults while missing the maturity and wisdom to manage and make the most of those passions and aspirations. The skills gained through the teaching of self-management lay the groundwork for a life of productivity, happiness and holiness. Without the capacity to self-manage, no one—no matter how loved they were in the early years—will ever reach his or her God-given potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Purpose

 

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose~ Romans 8:28 NASB

 

This week I learned that the word purpose is one of the most loaded words in the English language. It came to light following a conversation with one of our kids. The exchange started innocently enough when I vetoed chocolate cake after dinner. I defended my use of veto power by patiently explaining that candy and cookies at church, followed by ice cream at lunch and peanut butter cups for an afternoon snack, was more than enough nutritionally deficient “food” for any one person in a single day.

 The child was clearly not persuaded by my insight so I launched into a discourse concerning the long-term health risks of consuming excessive sugar. I was on a roll so I went on to expound (rather eloquently I thought) on the hazards of developing bad habits early in life and the differences between an empty calorie and a healthy calorie. I was feeling pretty smug about my communication skills until I noted the blank expression in her eyes and realized that I was not having the impact I had hoped for.

 The death spiral of doubt came the next morning while I was reading a devotional of all things. The author warned against allowing anything to pull you away from the purpose that God has for your life. Rather than being encouraged to persevere in my God given purpose I was suddenly filled with uncertainty and doubt.

 My mind immediately traveled back to the conversation I’d had the night before with my child. It got me thinking about purpose and whether or not I somehow missed mine.

I cannot explain why that particular situation struck me with what can only be described as an existential crisis of confidence. It could be that recent changes in my life have rocked my confidence. Some would say it was the devil. It’s also possible that I am simply an over-privileged first-world Christian with too much time on my hands to ponder such things.

 Once I got my emotions in check I did a search of the Scriptures looking for some wisdom. I think I was hoping to find an example of a man or woman seeking their purpose. To my surprise, I could not find a single example. I concluded that there are only three possible explanations for this:

 We are the first generation of humans to be concerned with our purpose.  

Prior generations had the subject of purpose all figured out and did not feel the need to ask.

They understood some truths we have forgotten.

 The first two possibilities are highly unlikely. People are people. The fundamentals of what make us human do not change. And people everywhere, in every time, and in every place have cared a great deal about living lives that are both meaningful and significant. We are not the first generation to ponder our purpose in life. Nor will we be the last.

 I do believe that the men and women of the past may have understood a significant truth that I briefly forgot in the midst of my angst the other day. They understood that God’s purpose for each individual is less about doing and more about being.

 Like most folks, I tend to think of purpose in terms of things that I do. For most people, finding purpose tends to all about getting a degree, doing a job, making money, starting a ministry, raising a family. While it’s true that God wants people to be industrious and hardworking (2nd Thessalonians 3:10). I’m discovering that God is far more concerned with whom we are becoming rather than what we are achieving. If a man or woman is in the process of becoming holy, righteous, and fully submitted to God, the details of the doing tend take care of themselves.

 According to Scripture, people fulfill their purpose in the mundane things of life as much, if not more so, than in the things we see as big. God cares little about our net worth, how many degrees we have earned, the awards and honors that adorn our office walls, or even how many people we preach to every week. However, He is keenly interested in how we use our money, do our jobs, use our words, raise our families, treat our spouses, who we gossiped about and how forgiving we are.

 We find our purpose in this life when we take whatever it is we are doing, no matter how mundane and seemingly insignificant and commit to doing it in a way that reflects the goodness and glory of God to the world around us.

 

 

 

      

 

 

The Hardest Question

For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help~ Psalm 22:24

 From time to time I get a message or phone call asking me to share my opinion about a particular issue. Because the issue in question is inevitably thorny, contentious, and well above my pay grade, I generally dread these requests.

Such was the case this week.

 A sweet, mature Christian friend who is deep into the grieving process asked me to consider sharing my views on one of the most controversial issues of our time. She had some very well thought out, heart wrenching questions. The emotion behind them broke my heart.

Following is a summary:

 Why does God allow people to feel pain at death?

Why is it okay to blunt the pain of death with medication but not to use the same medication to hurry up the process of death?

If death is inevitable, why is it wrong to end life and reduce the length of time a person suffers?

Death and pain in childbirth are both a result of the Fall. Why is it okay to eliminate the pain of childbirth and not end a life that is destined to death a little early?

 Death and suffering are deeply emotional issues. No decent human enjoys seeing another human suffer. Suffering becomes even more personal when the person suffering is someone we love. All of this is made thornier by the fact that most of us are isolated from the only two events in this life that are common to all people: birth and death.

 Few of us have witnessed a child being born. Fewer have seen a person die. Most of us obtain our “education” on these subjects from television programs. Anyone who has actually witnessed a birth or death knows that the TV version of these events bears little similarity to the real-life version. The deaths we see on TV are typically swift and painless; the person quietly draws their last breath, closes their eyes peacefully, and goes serenely into the great beyond. This is NOT how death happens. Death is normally a long, messy, painful process that is excruciating to witness. Our reflex is to shorten or avoid any process we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with.

 End-of-life issues are further complicated by the gift of medical knowledge. Our society has been blessed with medical expertise that makes it possible to save people from what would have been inevitable deaths just a few years ago. As wonderful as technology is, it creates some unintended consequences. Doctors possess the knowledge to prolong life but sometimes lack wisdom as to how and when that knowledge should be applied. Prolonging life often means prolonging and even intensifying suffering.

 I am not stupid or arrogant enough to pretend I know everything there is to know about this issue. I do not. That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain is that it’s not wrong or sinful to use medication to ease the suffering of a dying person. Proverbs 31:6 is clear on the issue of pain relief at death.

 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!

 The use of alcohol is a contentious issue amongst Christians but one fact is clear from this verse: a legitimate use of alcohol is for pain relief at the end of life. If it is acceptable to give alcohol to a dying person then I cannot see any reason why it would be wrong to use morphine for the same purpose. As for the whole childbirth issue, I honestly don’t know whether or not pain relief during childbirth is a sin.

 I certainly hope not.

 Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “assisted suicide is a sin.” However, most Christians believe that assisted suicide falls pretty neatly under the category of “Thou shalt not kill.” This particular commandment is an imperative statement clearly lacking the wiggle room needed to make a well-defined and compelling biblical argument for assisted suicide.

  I had my first experience with death and suffering at nineteen when my beloved Grandmother died of lung cancer. I was not there when she died, but I did spend a lot of time with her in the weeks prior to her death. Those visits were some of the toughest things I have done. As an unsaved teenager, her suffering and the dignity she maintained as she suffered impacted me in ways that are difficult to express. Her death caused me to evaluate my own mortality in a way I had never considered before.

It caused me to seek God.

 Death sucks. There is nothing good or redeeming about it. Death is the most visible reminder of the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3). It makes a sad sort of sense that the single greatest consequence of mankind’s sin and disobedience would be painful and would linger until the earth is fully liberated from the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4). But God, in His infinite wisdom, sometimes brings good things out of death and the suffering of others, when we are willing to submit to the process.

 

 

 

Five Mistakes Even the Best Mothers Make

Having a young child in our home for the first time in nearly a decade has driven me to do and think about things I haven’t thought about or done in a very long time. Things like chore charts and discipline methods, dance lessons, parent teacher nights, Disney movies, themed birthday parties, homework, sleepovers (ugh), and the social politics of fifth-grade girls (more ugh).  

I read parenting books compulsively and am far more attuned the parenting I see going on around me. I will shamelessly ask anyone I meet who has adopted or fostered an older child for advice. My hope is that I will glean some wisdom and insight that will empower me to maneuver this latest challenge God has placed in my life.

One question I typically ask Mothers of older kids is:

Is there anything at all you wish you could do over?

 Even the Mothers I have admired most confess at least a few things they wish they had done differently. After countless conversations I have concluded that even the best mothers would like a second chance in at least some areas. Following are five mistakes even the best Mothers make:

 Failing to become a student of your child-

 Many of the older Mothers I have spoken with deeply regret not understanding who their kids really were and imposing their own goals on their kids. I am convinced that the number one responsibility of a Mother is to assist her child in knowing and understanding him or herself. Kids need to be aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  It is not a Mother’s job to decide what a child should do and then guide them toward her goals for their lives, but rather to observe her kids and help them to dream dreams and form goals based on their own unique talents and abilities.

 Thinking bad behaviors are cute-

 Intense competitiveness, smart mouthing, nitpickiness, precociousness with the opposite sex, melodrama and enhancing the truth can be oddly charming on adorable little children. Those same actions become less charming and even offensive when you’re dealing with an older kid or an adult. The next time your little cutie gets cozy with the boy or girl next door, saunters out in a skimpy ensemble, demands they win for the hundredth time, tells you a whopper of a tale, or says something saucy, try and imagine what that behavior might look like on a fourteen-year-old. Any seasoned Mom will tell you that it’s easier to break a habit in a child than in a teenager

Disregarding the spiritual-

 Every human being has a dark side. It’s our nature. Belief in the God of the Bible has helped keep the ugly side of humankind in check for eons. Taking your kid to church and teaching them to apply Christian principles to their lives will go a long way in helping to keep narcissism, greed, violent tendencies, and self-interest from spiraling out of control in future years.

 Not finding out what they really think-

 Even the best Moms can be guilty of telling kids what to think rather than finding out what and why they think what they think. When we push our views without listening to theirs we drive wrong thinking underground where the wrong thinking becomes embedded in their character. Ask questions to discover what your kids believe about issues. Don’t jump to correct every little thing they say or they will shut down and stop talking. Instead, ask them further questions about why they think what they think and then gently help them see the eventual end game of a faulty belief system.

 An unwillingness to change your mind or admit wrong-

 Admitting we got something wrong and changing course in front of our kids is one of the most uncomfortable and humbling things in the world. We have to do it on occasion because it is extraordinarily prideful and foolish not to. It’s not as if they won’t figure out on their own that we don’t actually know everything. Kids desperately need role models who are willing to humble themselves, apologize when wrong and change course when necessary.

 One truth I am relearning is that good parenting is not really about being perfect (whew!). Good parenting is about loving our kids enough to help them discover who they really are and what they might be good at. It’s about modeling grace and humility. Good parenting is about looking ahead at what present behavior might eventually become and loving our kids enough to educate them about the God who loves them even more than we do.