Will you believe me? What about Him?

The Christmas banquet you attended with a boy…and your best girl friend. When the 3 of you arrived, you quickly learned you were 1 of 3 girls wearing that dress.

Dear 15-year-old me,

Let me jump right in with a question. Will you believe me when I say, “It all works out”?

Really. All your worries & fears about the unknowns. All your plans for the future…they may not turn out the way you imagined, but in most cases they’ll turn out even better.

Let’s start with your shallow biggest concerns.

Acne. Those zits that keep you insecure. Hiding behind lots of permed hair. Experimenting with toothpaste as a nighttime-miracle-acne treatment.  I have awesome news! Your skin clears up when you take the medicine, Accutane, in college. (FYI, those zits did serve a purpose…they helped keep away “those” boys and save you for the perfect one.)

Speaking of boys, I know it feels nice to have someone appreciate you, listen to you and laugh with you, but what you feel is friendship, not “true love”. Your need for love & approval will continue to drive your thoughts and decisions. Because you care so much about what people think, you tend to get your feelings hurt easily (fortunately you ‘toughen up’ some over the next 20 years).

Sometimes you get hurt unintentionally. But if a boy continues to treat you as “less than” or purposefully makes you upset…walk away! Because there is an amazing man waiting for you. The love you feel for him…it’s the real deal…worth the wait. He will make you very happy and appreciate your sensitive side. (And that “people pleasing” thing…oh sister,  someday, with God’s help, we will conquer it.)

Not only will God bring a handsome, tall, loyal, genuine, charming, positive, enthusiastic Texan (yep a TEXAN!) into your life. He’s got LOTS of adoring boys in your future (all Texans!).

FOUR sons who think you hung the moon. Who ask for kisses, squeezes and hugs every night before bed. Who cry if they miss the chance to get a kiss on the neck. Who fight over who gets to sit on your lap. They pour this unconditional love on you every day (sometimes in the middle of the night you get special “dates” with a particularly adorable 6 month old one).

The biggest thing I want you to know, God gifted you (not just as the fastest typer of the Sophomore class). Maybe not athletically (nothing wrong with a Senior on the JV tennis team), but He is laying a foundation now to use you in the future for His glory.

Again, you are striving in your efforts for approval. You think the more you do, the better you do it, the more you will be loved and accepted. I totally get it. But if you keep meeting with Him. Praying. Following His leading you will get to be a part of His hand in the lives of the hurting. You will be fully loved and accepted by Him.

Oh how I wish I had gotten this letter when I was 15.

To tell you the truth, I would love for a 55-year-old me to send a letter right about now. Letting me know my boys all “turn out” okay. That it was worth the twenty years of pouring pieces of me into their lives. That they all love Jesus & serve Him. That they are dating or married each to women who loves God first and them second (and all those daughter-in-laws love each other). Maybe a grandchild is due any day…

I wish hearing a “good report” from a future me would keep me from worry. Yet the reality is, I probably wouldn’t believe me, just like you probably don’t believe me right now (am I confusing yet? time travel stuff is complicated).

Here’s the good news. Someone, who created the world, who is outside of time, wrote you a Letter. In it He tells you over and over, “It will all be okay…really.”

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

But you forget. I forget. And we try to handle things our way. We worry about the unknowns, even when we know the One who knows it all.

So you and I don’t need reports from future selves to keep our worry “in check”. Really we need to keep looking at His letter. Keep reading His words, “it will all be okay.” Not because of anything we do, but because He has done it all!**

Love ya (a little self-love),

**That is the essence of grace. Unmerited favor. He loves us even though we don’t deserve it. Even “good girls” struggle to believe they deserve His love. Emily Freeman, author of “Grace for the Good Girl” just released a book for teenage girls to help them understand true grace, called “Graceful“. Wish I would have had her guidance 20 years ago!


Grace for Your Reality, not Your Imagination

In searching through some old journals God continued to speak to my fear.

Eight years ago I attended a women’s retreat at our church. A godly women, Vickie Kraft** was our speaker.

On my notes I scribbled the words: “What does God expect from us in crisis”…

The first thing: DO NOT BE AFRAID!

To “actively resist fear”, just as I had learned from Amy fighting her voices.

“When I am afraid,

I put my trust in you.

In God, whose word I praise,

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

What can flesh do to me?” Psalm 56:3-4

As I read this familiar Scripture I notice the repeated words: “trust” sandwiched between “fear”. When I am afraid, I will trust. And when I trust, I will not be afraid. I overcome fear with the decision to trust.

Fear doesn’t have to be big to be a problem…

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Fear can begin in its smallest form: worry. Vickie paints a picture in the quote above, of the path I create for other emotions and thoughts to travel when I worry. Even my smallest fears, invading my mundane as worry, require trust. 

 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Again this familiar verse involves repeated words: worry & tomorrow. Sandwiched between worry is tomorrow. Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself. Just do today. Don’t allow even a trickle of fear for tomorrow to enter your mind.

I absolutely LOVE what Vickie shared with us next,

There is no grace for your imagination.

There is grace for your reality.

When I worry about tomorrow, I am imagining what could happen. But I have NO idea what will occur 24 hours from now. Any thought I have about tomorrow’s concerns is imagined. Any feeling of fear I have comes from ignoring my reality. Not being fully present.

Next time I start to worry about the boy’s future selves–> STOP. That’s imagined. No grace.

Start to worry about what other’s think–> STOP. That’s imagined. No grace.

Start to worry about how a child could get hurt–> STOP. That’s imagined. No grace.

Instead be fully present. This moment, right now, is a gift. A gift of grace. It’s not imagined. It’s reality.

Do you struggle with worry or fear? Today when your mind starts to project and imagine what “could” happen, stop yourself, and repeat, “no grace for my imagination”. 

**Our women’s conference speaker was Vickie Kraft, a mother of five grown children. She obtained a seminary degree from Dallas Theological Seminary after her children left home (I think one of the oldest graduates). Began Titus 2:4 ministries, wrote three books (including “Women mentoring Women”) and for 14 years was our church’s women’s minister.

My “Bump Into Grace” Friends

*disclaimer: I received permission before including any of the following stories for this post. 

80% of our interactions are accidental. I should rephrase that. We didn’t plan on seeing each other, but God always had our “accidents” written in His planner.

Monday morning I felt like a metal ball in a never-ending pinball game, bouncing from need to need. The crazy wave never seemed to die down. When the sitter arrived I announced, “I’m ready!!” Unfortunately, there were still 45 more minutes of ‘crowd control’ (a.k.a. disciplinary measures and tantrums) to deal with before I walked out the door.

Driving away from the house, tears brimming, I said out loud, “I don’t want this life.” Just as quickly as the words slipped out, my mind filled with all the logical reasons why I really did want my life. Included in my gratitude list were boys who said “goodbye” with big kisses and hugs (and blows on necks…it’s a tradition). Despite the nuttiness of a morning, they still wanted to give me hugs. They live big and love big and forgive big.

My main goal for the afternoon was to mail out Quade & Price’s birthday party invites.  But the first step was to find envelopes large enough for the invites I created on my computer. I knew there was a Michael’s near the post office. So my half-aware brain headed towards Michael’s.

As soon as I walked into the store I bumped into a friend…a “bump into grace” friend. Since Quade was a toddler we’ve consistently bumped into each other at stores, museums, parks, restaurants… I leave our conversations refreshed. We go deeply quickly. We breathe grace in each other’s presence.

On this particular day I was super impressed to find her three kiddos perfectly behaved standing next to her, all quietly holding on to the cart. I encouraged them, saying “Wow! Y’all are doing such a wonderful job patiently waiting in line with your mommy.”

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My “bump into grace” friend, through smiling, gritted teeth, said, “You have NO idea.” I shared with her some of my morning. Including my theory that challenging behavior may have been due to a late bedtime from the previous evening’s VBS. She agreed. We exchanged goodbyes and I was off in search of envelopes.

I walked out of Michael’s empty-handed, just as my phone showed a text message from my “bump into grace” friend. Her text explained how a moment before I walked into Michael’s her oldest and youngest were playing an angry tug-of-war in with a Brave coloring book. Right before I saw them behaving perfectly, she had given the “mommy look” and insisted they both put their hands on the cart. Her middle child was just scared quiet. She ended the text, “nice to see your smiling face.”

As I looked up from reading the text I saw my friend driving through the parking lot. I held up my phone to show I got the text. We shared knowing glances. We get each other. I felt encouraged because I’m not the only one struggling through the challenges of motherhood. It helped pull me up from my belly gazing and “woe is me.”

She shared how it encouraged her to see me and know God is kind. Seeing me had re-colored her day. Instead of remembering the horrible “tug-of-war” incident she remembered my perfectly timed entrance.

You know what’s even crazier? As I walked away from her car I asked if she could think of any office supply stores nearby to get envelopes. She pointed me to the Office Depot. RIGHT NEXT to the post office. Um, yeah.

Why didn’t it cross my mind to go to the very conveniently located office supply store for envelopes?

I believe God directed my steps.

“A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

He is kind. If we are willing to see His hand in our day we can see how He orchestrates “bump into grace” incidents.

Not just friends. Perhaps grace comes from bumping into a stranger (<—click to read). Or even through the world-wide web…

This week I received a Facebook message from a college friend I have not seen in over 13 years. She took time to tell me I have been on her mind. The night before she dreamed about my husband Bruce and I meeting her at a conference. When she woke up from her dream she prayed for us.

Do you know where my husband was when she messaged me? In Boston at a conference. I hadn’t posted it on Facebook. But I needed prayer while he was away. God had been kind. She had been available. She took the time to stop and pray.

Do you have friends you frequently “bump into” and God uses to speak to your soul and show you grace?

If you don’t have a real-life grace community, have you experienced “bump into” moments through online community? God speaking through the words of a blog post when you were at a breaking point? Scripture shared through Twitter or Instagram?

Ask God through His Holy Spirit to open your eyes to “bump into grace” moments. They are happening. My prayer is you don’t miss them!

What does Noah’s Ark have to do with your children’s salvation?

To quickly review the past “Wisdom from Murray” posts…

My man Murray sure has a lot of wisdom, huh?

To be honest the first time I read this next chapter I wasn’t sure if Murray made correct conclusions. I’m open to your thoughts/discussion in the comments section. 

“Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.” Genesis 7:1

In the last chapter we discussed how sin originated in Adam and has been transferred from fathers to sons for generations. By the time of Noah, the world was corrupt. Sooooo corrupt that everyone but Noah and his family would be destroyed. 

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In this horrific, epic event, I could focus on the wrath of God and the death of so many people. Instead Murray draws my attention to recognizing God’s grace and mercy in saving Noah & his family.

“It was the first act of redeeming grace on a sinful world…great principles of the economy of grace:

  • mercy in judgment
  • life through death
  • faith as a means to deliverance

Murray suggests not only was sin nature handed down from parents to children, but grace was passed down as well. Noah’s son Ham was worthy of perishing with the rest of the wicked world. Yet in the verse above (Gen.7:1) God calls for Noah and ALL his house/family into the ark. Ham was saved from the flood because of his father’s righteousness. 

In God’s sight, the family is one unit. The parents and children are one in sin and in grace. The original “Grace-Based Parenting” started at the ark.

“The parental relation has a nobler destiny: for the eternal life, too, with its blessings, the believing father is to regard himself as the appointed channel & steward of the grace of God“-Murray

No pressure, right? Parents are the givers of God’s grace. Murray goes further to suggest if the parent’s faith is secure, the child will be blessed by the parent’s righteousness. Not only is Noah saved by being in the ark…so are his children, even his sinful, unrighteous children. Undeserved favor (aka “grace”).

Compare God protecting Noah and his family in the ark, to my family. Murray implies, my “ark” (faith) in which I am to be saved is meant for my children too. The saving “ark” is for my children as much as for me. 

Not only is salvation not just to me, but also for my children. He commanded Noah to bring his family into the ark. He commands us to bring our children “into the ark”.

“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” Hebrews 11:7

Noah believed God would save his family. So much so he gave his entire life for the construction of this gigantic boat. “God always gives grace proportionate to the duty He requires.”(Murray)

The application is this:

  • live, act, pray for children’s salvation
  • make their salvation my one aim & joy in life
  • be assured my children are to be saved with me
  • let me confidently trust God for the salvation of every child!

We don’t just “hope” are children are saved. According to Murray we need to accept it in faith. Act in obedience. Bring them into the ark. 

Love these words:

“Your house will be to the child the ark where Christ is known and found.” Andrew Murray

What are your thoughts about Murray’s conclusions from the Noah account?

When you hit a tree…get back in the car

When my husband was 14-years-old he hit a tree driving his dad’s car.

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Bruce loved playing basketball in front of their garage. If a car was in the way of the hoop he was allowed to grab the keys and back the car down the driveway. On this particular day he was feeling overconfident and too quickly maneuvered between large trees on either side of the driveway…boom!

He quickly rushed inside where his parents were unaware of what had taken place.  In tears, he recounted what had happened promising to never drive again.  Upon seeing the damage, his father didn’t yell. He didn’t threaten. Instead he calmly told Bruce that they would get the car checked out.

The next day my husband wanted to play basketball again. He asked his father to back up the car.  “No”, he was told.  “You move it.  If you don’t get out there and begin driving again then this will stick with you for a very long time.  You need to get this behind you.”

His dad was wise enough to realize if Bruce didn’t get back in a car and conquer his fear then he would be paralyzed by failure. He also wanted to instill confidence. To let Bruce know that he trusted him.

A few weeks ago I “hit a tree.” I felt the weight of responsibility in caring for four boys. In my assessment I was failing.

Because of my failings, my boys were ruined. RUINED!

My wise husband (he gets it from his parents) encouraged me:

“Ruined is a strong word, Heather. It implies the boys cannot recover. Do you really think in just 6 years you have set their course for the next 80 years? They aren’t ruined.”

He was giving me a chance to get “back in the car.” To let go of my fear of failure. To see each day as a new opportunity to redeem the day before.

I wanted to pass on the gift of redemption to my boys. Remember that AWFUL doctors appointment I mentioned in a previous post (Re-tying Heart Strings)?

I was not as wise as my husband or father-in-law in how I handled that situation. When my boys “failed” I announced: “I will NEVER take all four of you to the doctor again!!”. 

And yet, only two weeks after that doctor’s appointment from “h-e-double hockey stick” I found myself taking all 4 boys to the doctor again. Instead of assuming another failure. I decided to allow this to be a chance to redeem themselves. Their opportunity to “get back in the car.”

This time I set them up for success:

1. Chose a better time of day

I was able to get an appointment first thing in the morning. Much better than after school with a two-year-old who needed a nap.

2. Reviewed Expectations

I explained they:

  • would obey me the first time (as my 6-year-old says, “slow obedience is no obedience”)
  • would treat each other special (no hitting, biting, pushing)
  • would be responsible (don’t touch things that don’t belong to them)

3. Explained Consequences

If they did not do the aforementioned, they would not get a sticker/sucker from the doctor.

4. Brought Snacks

When all else fails…give them food.

5. Adjusted my attitude

As the mommy, I set the tone for the day. I decided to use a positive, happy voice. Smiled more. Laughed. Encouraged what good behavior they did exhibit.

They did it!! They redeemed themselves. You should have seen their faces after the appointment. They were so proud. Instead of feeling the shame of misbehavior & disappointment, they felt the joy of success.

It taught me a lesson. Not to give up so quickly when failure happens. Give myself a second chance. Give my boys another chance.

As we head into a new week, is there an experience your children can redeem? Do you need to give yourself a second chance this week?

Timely quotes on Easter & Second Chances:

“Jesus overcomes sin and death as well. This is our Christian faith. This is our hope. With Easter comes the good news of Resurrection, the excitement of second chances and the revelation of God’s greatest miracle: raising God’s Son to be with us!” -Rev. William Kramer

Peter who denied Jesus not once or twice but three times!:

“Yet, after his resurrection, Jesus went looking for Peter. You see, Jesus had died for Peter. He died so that Peter’s sins could be forgiven and so that your sin and mine could be forgiven. That is why Jesus forgave this man who had vehemently denied him. What is more, Jesus restored Peter and set him free. In a matter of a few weeks Peter preached the first Christian sermon. That sermon was about the forgiveness of sin. Out of his defeat, Peter learned something. He learned that God is the God of a second chance.” –Haddon Robinson

“Was I good today?”

He looks up at me with eager eyes, longing to hear my answer:

“Was I good today, Mommy?”

His simple question breaks my heart.

The truth is: “No child, you weren’t ‘good’ today. Remember when you hit your brother when he had done no wrong? Didn’t you say ‘no’ when I asked you to wash your hands? Weren’t you the one to steal my Diet Dr.Pepper & drink it secretly in the dining room?”

But I don’t list off his offenses. Instead I respond with, “What do you think?”

Cautiously he admits “I was medium good.”

After he is tucked in bed & dishes are washed, I sit on the couch and replay our conversation. I’m convicted by my unintended messages.

In my longing for some semblance of peace & order with our “new family”, I have given the impression that everyone needs to be “good”. That love is given only to the “good”. That perfection is attainable.

I’m giving this message because it’s the message I believe for myself.

At the end of each day as I crumble from the list of failures, I cry out to God, “Was I good today?” How can I be deserving of Your love with the mess I made today?

Through my study of Psalm 103 He answers:

 “The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Ps 103:8)

I may not have been “good” today, yesterday, or tomorrow.

YET, the Creator is abounding in love for me…a sinner, a failure. He shows me compassion & doesn’t react to my mistakes in anger. He goes beyond that…

 “He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

(Ps 103:10-12)

My sins deserve severe consequences…death, in fact. He doesn’t treat my sin with death. He removes my sin from me as far as is possible.

When He looks on me, He not only sees “good”, He sees Christ’s perfection.

When I cry out, “Was I good today?”, He loving answers, “You were perfect!”

I want my unintentional message to my sons to be: “You are loved child no matter what choices you make.” To say it in my actions, not just my words.

My prayer is the same as Andrew Murray’s:

“O Father, open the eyes of all Thy people that with each little babe Thou givest them, their faith may see a goodly child…so the eye of faith sees in each little one a divine goodliness.” (How to Raise Your Children for Christ)

(that’s not a typo…goodliness not godliness)

There will be bad behavior, but with prayer and the strength of the Holy Spirit, I want to see my boys the way God sees them. Divinely good. Made perfect through Christ’s sacrifice.

Yes there will be training in truth & discipline. But I desire to balance truth with grace. To exchange my bad habit of responding in anger & frustration with patience & calm reproach.

I want them to know they are loved, so they don’t have to ask “Was I good today?” Because it won’t matter.

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Developmental Surges: Another Excuse for Misbehavior

Days after getting frustrated with my 2-year-old’s obstinate behavior I learned he had the flu. Then he was diagnosed with a double ear infection. I told myself: “No wondered he was being challenging. It wasn’t my bad parenting. He just felt bad! Whew!”

Now that I had an excuse for his behavior I could give him (and myself) more grace. I’ve done the same thing with: teething, lack of sleep, hunger, etc. “He hit your son. I’m sorry. He’s tired.”

But what if your child has gotten all their teeth, is healthy, well-rested, & full but still acting wacky, here is a new excuse to use: a developmental surge.

Years ago when I read about “developmental surges” in the book: “Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, I was ecstatic. It finally explained what I had observed in my sons.

Here is what she wrote:

“Kids go through developmental surges. You can mark it on your calendar.  Somewhere around their birthday and their half birthday, you can expect trouble.  They get cranky and uncooperative.  They might be incapable of doing what they were able to do just a few weeks before.  Nothing seems right.

They’re easily frustrated.

Every time you turn around, they’re crying about something else.  They won’t cooperate.  They want to be held and then push you away when you hold them.  They’re angry–angry at you, at the world, and at themselves.  They are more easily upset by anything.”

(celebrating his 4 1/2 birthday a couple weeks ago…helps explain his challenges)

Yep. I’ve witnessed it. I’m “fortunate” enough to have 3 out of 4 boys with birthdays within 6 weeks of each other. So two times a year they all go through their developmental surges at the same time. Now my 4th child was born exactly on their half birthdays…meaning all 4 boys will be “developmentally surging” around the same time!

But what exactly happens to cause these meltdowns?

“The developmental theorists tell us that this is a time of disintegration, a time when children are moving from one stage of development to another.  Their inner systems are restructuring, creating a new, more complex way of understanding the world.”

In more simple terms:

“Think of five building blocks.  Stack them once on top of the other until you have a tower of five blocks.  This is your five-year old–his inner structure that controls how he sees the world and responds to it.

It works well for him, but as he nears his sixth birthday, changes begin to occur.  A new block will be added to the structure, but it won’t just be added to the top of the stack.

Instead, the tower will come crashing down;

it will disintegrate and a new structure with six blocks will be formed. This time it may be in the shape of a pyramid, with three blocks on the bottom, two in the middle, and the sixth resting on top.

It will be a totally different structure.  During this construction time, which can take four to six weeks, everything that was working well for your child doesn’t seem to be operating anymore.  He becomes overwhelmed easily and is more vulnerable to spill-over tantrums.”

Well, Happy Birthday! 4-6 weeks of disintegration.

I know that I should be parenting with grace every day. No matter how they feel or what is going on developmentally. But I’m human. It’s hard to remember they are sinful just like me. Sometimes it’s nice to have these tangible reminders that some of their behavior is out of their control. Of course, I still set standards of expectations, but give them a break when they are struggling to meet those standards.

Have you heard of “developmental surges”? Do you find it to be true with your child(ren)? Any good birthday meltdown stories you’d like to share?

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