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Father of the Fatherless

Father of the FatherlessPsalm 68:5, ESV, David singing
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

It’s Father’s Day again. [When I first wrote this, it was my first one without my father.] For many of you, a fatherless Father’s Day has been a reality for some time now. Maybe he was never in the picture, or perhaps your loss happened along the way.

For me, it has been six months, and I’m so thankful I’m not breaking out in hives at the thought of writing this holiday column. It doesn’t mean I’m not still tender. I certainly can’t forget the amazing father God gave me. I honor him in my own private ways. My breath caught in my chest when it was time to purchase cards this year. I stood in the card aisle for quite a while just taking my new normal in. It’s moments like that one when I cry out quietly in my spirit: “Oh, God, I miss him. Give him a hug for me, Jesus!”

I lost my earthly father, but the beautiful promise of heaven is that I still have my heavenly Father, and so do you, if you choose Him for yourself.

This is a timely and also timeless message. Wars ravage, terrorists attack, senseless acts of violence prevail, human trafficking spreads.

Can you imagine if we all saw ourselves as we truly are: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Are There Foxes in Your Wheat Fields?

Are There Foxes in Your Wheat FieldsJudges 15:4-5, ESV

So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards.

We have been slowly working through the book of Judges in the Sunday School class my husband and I teach every week. After revisiting the cycle of redemption playing itself out over and over again in the book of Judges, we finally made our way to Samson, the infamous judge whose strength was his unshaven hair and whose heart was easily seduced by enemy women. Not exactly the hero one might picture helping Israel get out from under enemy oppression, Samson was fond of sleeping with the enemy.

For a quick review of biblical history at this time, Israel had wanted to define itself much in the same way as surrounding people groups did at the time. It wanted a national identity, a ruler, a king. But God’s plans were to have Israel follow Him, with allegiance toHim alone. He wanted to set it apart from other cultures and establish it as His own.

When the book of Judges begins, the Israelites had already made their exodus from their oppressor Egypt, wandered the desert, and reached the Promised Land: Canaan. All God had asked them to do was to clear out the land of all other people and to not make a covenant with any of them. They were not to intermarry or follow foreign gods.

Well, they made a sad attempt at clearing the land and then gave up, intermarried, and worshipped in the style of those they were living among. Yeah, not exactly obedience. Hence the first turn along the cycle:

  • Disobedience
  • God’s consequences to bring Israel back to Him
  • Israel’s repentance
  • God’s blessings on Israel

God, in His provision, provided Israel with judges, leaders who could bring His people back to repentance and help them fight their enemies. The problem was, by the time of Samson’s appointment as a judge, Israel had become complacent. The Philistines were living somewhat peaceably with them—but with Israel clearly the lesser nation.

God told Samson to keep a Nazirite vow and grow hair (as part of that vow). He set him apart, from his birth, to create a conflict with the Philistines so Israel could show itself mighty again. And how did He do this?

He used Samson’s greatest weakness: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Signature of God

Signature of GodStopping at the mailbox on the way home from running errands, I noticed a package. Curious, based on the accompanying card, I looked inside. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t breathe for about twenty seconds.

Before I tell you what was in the package, I should confess that I am a “deep feeler” personality. I feel on several planes at once, so I saw this object on emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical levels all at the same time.

Right there, seemingly from the grave, was

my late father’s signature,

captured on a small charm hanging from a chain.

His full name. The way I remember it on his invoices, permission slips, checks. Sprawled out in tiny font right in front of me. A piece of Dad. It hurtled me back decades. Decades. Suddenly, I was eight years old again, and that script had authority, significance, security.

Then I was mid-twenties, and there it was with the accompanying voice in my head:

“Doll, now make sure you invest this for the future. You’re going to want to pay attention to…”

I couldn’t move for about ten minutes in the car. Tears bubbled up, sobs came, lead weighted me down in the Dad-sized hole within my heart.

“Dad, is that you? Dad?”

I know it’s silly. I didn’t expect him to hear or respond to me, but for a fleeting few moments, almost all my senses felt keenly aware of the jolt and the memories packed deeply within that simple visual: his handwriting sprawled across metal.

Then: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Mistaken Crowns: When We Are Not the Answer

I could hear the ramping up of emotion in the dining area from my room upstairs. My youngest son, who struggles with anxiety, had just survived his first few days of the new school year and was quickly unraveling from holding it together for six hours a day in front of peers and staff. As ugly as the meltdowns can be, I could see from the short time they lasted and the quicker recovery period that he is developing coping skills. Even so, this particular afternoon, I really didn’t want to be the recipient of his angst. I had been in a lot of traffic and went to my room for a while to get my peace on.

But then, the storm—the one where lightning is starting to flash and a big crash of thunder will soon follow. I’m so used to being hyper-vigilant that I almost ran down the stairs, but then I stopped myself. I heard something. My oldest son responded to the distress signal and calmly entered the room, speaking gently, rationally, briefly, and directly to his little brother. He was following all the instructions I offered him recently on how to bring Little Man down a notch.

And it worked.

Mistaken Crowns.jpg

I began thanking Jesus out loud in my room because it was amazing to hear someone else step in and do a better job than I often do. It was a relief of dramatic proportions. After about 20 minutes, I came downstairs, asked Little Man how he could have handled his stress better for the next time, and quietly affirmed his older brother.

I was not the one God put on this assignment, and had I barreled ahead, three people would have missed a blessing. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Blessing From Broken Places

[This was originally written before Easter 2017 as I faced down my fears about April.]

April is wrought with good and bad memories for me, especially in recent years. My father’s birthday is in early April; his burial was toward the end of April. The events kick off memories around his death and burial that I’d rather forget. I had been doing so well, but as we turned a corner toward the end of March, I felt the need to “close my curtains” and only let safe people hold me close. “I will reemerge,” I told myself. “I’ll get past this. It will be okay.”

And while I was lamenting to a close friend, she told me she wants this April to be different for me, perhaps from this point forward. She recommended I “redeem” the pain.

Blessing From Broken Places
So I am.

I bought two plants, and call me eccentric, but I gave them names and placed them in the window of the common room where I look outside all the time. I need to see something grow.

I restocked the bird feeder for the first time all winter. They haven’t found their way to it yet, but it’s ready for chickadees and cardinals to land in front of my window.

A friend of mine brought me a set of pansies, completely unaware of my resolve to make April great. They are bright yellow, the color of the sun, of life, of hope.

I bought a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of happy dogs to put together with my daughter on weekends.

And on my father’s birthday, I will Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Collecting Jars: A Mother’s Obedience

It’s Mother’s Day once again, and after going through every card in the store, my son settled on making one for us to send. The occasion can be an amazing day or a painful day for so many for a variety of reasons: recent loss, unfulfilled motherhood, a difficult mother relationship, abandonment, etc.

I’m not the gushy Mother’s Day type. I consider it the highest privilege and best job I’ve ever had, but we avoid the crowds and keep it low-key in our house. It’s sandwiched between my husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary every year. There is plenty to celebrate in the month of May. We all simply want to be together. We don’t live near any of our family, so it has become a day to ourselves.

Collecting Jars_As I was preparing to write on the topic, I wanted to focus on an often overlooked mother in the Old Testament. She has much to teach us, and yet, her name wasn’t even included in the account. She is simply “the wife of one of the sons of the prophets.”

Ever feel like a description like that one? (Well, maybe not the prophet part!)

2 Kings 4:1-7, ESV, Anonymous author, possibly Jeremiah the Prophet

Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”

And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.”

Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few.

Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.”

So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her.

When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

First, let’s take a look at her situation. Her husband Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Burdens in My Backyard

Burdens in My BackyardI took my dogs out a few days ago and noticed some flowers scattered at the foot of the homemade cross in my flower bed. They were sprinkled so carefully: a layer of white petals creating a bigger ring with a smaller circle of pink petals inside, almost hugging the cross.

I was so touched by that, wondering which child put that there, or, did a stranger happen by? That would be unlikely, but it still intrigued me. I guessed the wrong child. My daughter had “prettied up” my little memorial,

my sacrifice, 

my pledge, 

my prayer, 

my surrender. 

Something about it called her in, and she adorned the holy ground there. To me, it was pure worship, adoration of what the cross means to us.

It’s a curious story how the cross ended up there. It all started in my therapist’s office. Yes, I have a therapist. [Feel free to reference some family therapy sessions if you like. If you find them as intimidating as I do to all be in the same room together with the eagle eye of a professional, this might bring you some relief.]

We were processing some events in my life since my father’s passing, and she suggested, in order to move on from some of the wreckage around it, I have some kind of ceremony or visual display of truly giving those ongoing concerns to Christ. That’s when I thought of Good Friday, when my husband and I went up with almost everyone else in the church service to hammer our own particular burdens to the cross. I’ll never forget feeling his muscles exert force along with mine to give those things to Christ. It was so beautiful and worshipful to do this corporately.

But what about in my own backyard?

I decided to nail two twigs together, place them firmly in our flower bed by the back door, and write a note to Jesus.

My note was simple: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Are the Bulls of Bashan Surrounding You?

Bulls of BashanShe came over to my house that afternoon trembling. Life had rocked her, and while she approached the finish line of a chapter of her life coming to an end, she was fearful. Who wouldn’t be? What if all the pieces God had helped her set into place suddenly were yanked away?

The fear was palpable. As I embraced her and held her hands, I could feel it. And so I prayed. There was no other peace I could offer than Jesus. My words were empty. I was rambling as usual, grasping at straws to bring comfort. But His words are always full, life-giving, and without end.

As I prayed, I reminded Christ of these words in His Holy Scripture:

 

2 Timothy 1:7, KJV

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

All I could do was remember His promise and speak it to her. I had no power of my own to take the spirit of fear away.

But I had the name of Jesus. And it was enough.

***************

Initial news of a diagnosis had come in. It sucker-punched

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Reshaped by Love: The Cross Before Me

Reshaped by LoveBleary-eyed with bed hair still wisping across my path of vision, I glanced down at the floor in front of the coffee maker. A shiny glimmer caught my eye, and as I wearily bent down to investigate, I saw that it was our cross cookie cutter, sharp side up, looking abandoned and almost unrecognizable against the dark browns of the coffee floor mat. I hadn’t seen it in at least a year. It usually resides in the small utensil drawer where infrequently used items like bamboo skewers and honey stirrers keep each other company. It was clear someone haphazardly tossing clean items from the dishwasher had jarred it free, not noticing it took a slight plunge to the floor. I know the child capable of this, and it gave me a pre-coffee smile, which is admittedly very difficult to achieve.

It reminded me of another time I found a wooden toy snake slithering along my floor near a 4 inch wooden cross made at Vacation Bible School. I was struck that day by the reality of spiritual warfare and how that sneaky serpent had been trying to get the upper hand ever since the Garden of Eden. But the cross. Christ on the cross put that snake under the heel of Jesus.

But this cross…the one waiting for me on a sleepy Thursday morning? It was a very powerful reminder of the road to Calvary, the one my Jesus walked this coming week so long ago.

Like the cookie cutter cross that at one point shaped many preschool Sunday School lessons in Play-Doh, the real truth of the cross Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Training With My Master

Training With My MasterI’m sitting in the very back of the dojo where both my sons train twice a week. My oldest son has been with the same shihan for 10 years. My little guy first entered the dojo in utero when his brother tied on his white belt. I don’t want to think about the amount of tuition we have spent here over the years, but it has been worth every penny. Both sons started their martial arts training for different reasons, and both of them have grown in so many ways.

As I listen to my oldest son whack a punching bag and review his self-defense with a man he has grown to trust over a decade, I also hear how easily he receives his feedback. They are currently preparing for a tournament as well as a visit from Grandmaster. A black belt test is not too far in the future. It’s a culmination of years of hard work. My son moves when Shihan directs. He fine-tunes his Fleeing Snake when Shihan offers correction.

Honestly, I’m pondering how beautiful this is, and why, as a parent, I don’t always get the same response. (Insert smile here.) Their communication is seamless. With strength, stamina, stability, and self-discipline on the line, trust is of utmost importance. Shihan will not recommend him to go before Grandmaster for a black belt until he is completely confident in his ability. Student must surrender to Teacher in complete abandon that all of this effort will lead to achieving the end goal.

Hmmm.

I’m thinking about my own walk with God in this moment. I’ve been trying to follow His lead for 37 years. Not all of that time has my faith been mature. Sometimes it still isn’t, but I’m an apprentice in training.

Our faith walk is so personal. We may each start out for different reasons.

Someone may have told us our Master was worth following Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Lazarus Moments: Trusting God With Decay in Our Lives

Lazarus Moments: Trusting God With Decay in Our LivesI kicked, slammed my body onto, and punched the dishwasher. It had spent the past six months vacillating between functional and dysfunctional. We would get about 15 good cycles out of it, and then it would suddenly start turning off after loading the first water cycle. No cleaning—only wasted water. Some days I would restart it 10 times. We were not friends. On those days I would hand-wash the build-up on the almost-nonexistent countertop while trash-talking my limping, lame appliance for deceiving me once again into thinking it was revived, healed, restored, capable. Nothing I could do in my own strength could make that confounded piece of plastic do my bidding.

Then, for two weeks, my husband and I taught our Junior High Sunday School class, focusing on the content-rich and highly symbolic account of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead.

John 11:32-37, ESV, Apostle John speaking

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

Jesus wept.

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

There are a few key points to mention before we make a crazy connection between the dying dishwasher and Lazarus—and our lives in general. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Pulling Vines: Landscaper of Our Hearts

Pulling Vines_Pulling with everything in me, I grabbed hold of some stubborn vines declaring war on my pachysandra and yanked away. The morning sun beat down with increasing intensity and my muscles pulsed in ways they hadn’t all winter, yet my focus remained steady and determined.

I’ve had enough of weeds choking me over the years. They crept in silently. I would ignore and eventually get used to them, not really seeing how big they were becoming—until one day I couldn’t see past them. I was horrified how they seemed to tower over all healthy growth in my life.

The same was true when I went to the mailbox one day. I saw an overgrown, out-of-control forsythia bush and almost didn’t recognize my own yard. My stomach turned. I was disgusted that I had let my lawn get that trashy, that I lost my vision for intruders, and that I’d let my guard down, given up, lost my fight.

Know the feeling?

I look back to a year ago when the repercussions of years of long drives to therapy, IEP battles, and the never-ending search for new answers, avenues to explore, and home coping strategies for one Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Are You Collecting Spoons?

Collecting SpoonsIn the middle of my van, right behind the driver’s seat, I keep a small crate in which I store items I need throughout the week: two Bible study workbooks, the latest coupon book for BJs, a catalog for The Paper Store, karate belts, and the Junior High Sunday School attendance clipboard. If I am stranded in the cold weather in the next few months, I may not have a blanket to keep warm or a flashlight to light my path, but I can study the Bible, clip coupons, window shop, and impersonate a brown belt!

For about two weeks, whenever I opened the van door, I saw a metal serving spoon poking out of my “car office” crate. It almost seemed to taunt me. For various reasons and meetings, I had been at my church about four times since taking the spoon home to clean after using it for Sunday School, but I kept forgetting about it.

My crate is supposed to be a placeholder for me, a reminder, a way to stay organized. And yet, despite my best efforts to keep everything in its proper place for the right time, that spoon got the best of me. For the life of me, I could not remember to return it to the church kitchen drawer. I held onto it, transported it all over the local area, and

carried something I did not have to.

Know the feeling?

Psalm 55:22, ESV, David singing

Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

I don’t know about you, but it usually doesn’t take me long to grab a burden, sling it over my shoulder Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When You Can’t Force Conflict Resolution

When You Can't Force Conflict ResolutionWhen there is relational conflict, is waiting a copout?

I would say that sometimes it can be, but there comes a point where we have to realize that even if we’re ready to move forward and heal with someone, we can’t force healing and readiness in others.

************************

I sat across from her pleading with my heart and eyes to offer me a different answer. She could not. She confirmed what I had been hearing from God in my prayer time:

Wait.”

Me: “I want to, but I can’t offer peace in this situation.”

Person offering me counsel: “Why do you think that is?”

Me: “Because I didn’t take it away in the first place. My actions did not cause any of it. They need to seek peace through and with Christ. Until they surrender that, I cannot offer what they seek, and I don’t want to go ahead of what God wants to do in each person’s heart. Besides, I would only screw it up since I do not have His peace to act on this right now.”

Person offering me counsel: “Then that’s your answer. You’ve prayed. You’ve sought godly counsel. You’ve daily surrendered this. You are so right to not go ahead of the LORD. He cannot be rushed.”

And that settled it in my heart—what, in many ways, I already knew:

While the reassurance came from another Christian, I needed to check myself with God. God would not Read the rest of this entry »

 

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The Blue Armchair and the Presence of God

The Blue Airmchair and the Presence of GodI could feel his presence as I entered each room. He had only been gone one year; past conversations and memories bopped around in my mind—random flashes of the past with no clear timeline. Dad making himself known in my heart and thoughts. His love was tangible. The house was pregnant with his solid faith and unconditional love. We missed him terribly, but we walked the legacy he set in place before us. With each step of remembrance, I felt his nod of approval, his pleasure.

It was the first time in his home since he had passed. I was so relieved his blue recliner chair was there, the leather worn in places where his hands used to push forward to fold out for a nap. The seat of it revealed the wear of a consistent presence like the dent in a blanket left by a warm dog after it gets up and stretches.

During some of our last visits, an external bladder pouch sat next to him on the floor, taking the role his cancer-ridden organ used to play. Sweet as he was, he used to ask if it would upset my children to see it. I was honestly glad they did. They remember the battle he fought so courageously and the toll it took. His robe would hang slightly open where the tube delivered its contents to the pouch on the floor. None of us minded. At the time, we were so grateful he was still with us.

I can’t look at that chair without seeing the red-white tufts of hair poking out over its high back or the freckled, hairy, lanky arms sitting on the armrests.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Diagnosis Sin: What Festers When We’re Not Looking?

diagnosis-sin-what-festers-when-were-not-lookingIt was such a relief to be wheeled into a private room (one of the benefits of an expected flu diagnosis) after a week of high fevers, chills, night sweats, vomiting, and massive body pain. God even delighted me with a feisty, redheaded nurse who got what little humor I had left in the humility of fluids coming out of me in all the wrong ways.

Earlier that day I had sought refuge at the clinic in town, only to find out I had been taking too much Extra Strength Tylenol for a few days. In my mind, you manage the flu by taking Tylenol around the clock as needed. I didn’t stop to realize Extra Strength Tylenol had different rules. Oops.

The visit there was an epic failure. The doctor spent more time berating me for my accidental overdose (later determined to not have damaged my liver after all) and treating me as if I had a pain med addiction than she did listening to my symptoms. Because none of my symptoms followed the logical order of the flu, she said everything was inconclusive and sent me home with strong orders not to take any pain meds for many days. Um, okay. Thanks for nothing. No chest x-rays ordered—just some blood work to make sure I shouldn’t be entered into a Tylenol recovery program STAT.

You see, she had tunnel vision. She was maybe six months out of med school with the script on her diploma just now drying. I am fairly patient with the learning curve, but she didn’t do her job completely that day.

As my husband can attest, I took my little plastic stomach acid depository in the car with me and contributed quite a bit to it all the way home uphill, in his very jerky stick shift car. I was in so much pain, it was all I could do. I threw fluids down my throat regularly and laid down again in agony, so defeated after a week of suffering and no answers, only to discover that without my friend Tylenol, my fever went to high levels; I was no longer able to manage my body temperature. I frantically called my husband back from dance and basketball drop-offs to collect the kids and get me to the emergency room. Operation Stop the Tylenol was not successful. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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God, Fear, and the Presidency

god-fear-and-the-presidencyMy brawny Shih Tzu Samson spent the entire morning running around afraid and jumping to high surfaces to escape a mouse while his slight little sister, Delilah, sat confidently on the floor, alert and nonplussed.

It occurred to me: This is me on any given day.

What about you?

Do we fear the issue at our feet that is taunting or stressing us, or do we know our Defender well enough to rest that He will eventually take care of that “mouse”?

I need to remember my advice to Samson: “Some days I am like you, Buddy. I jump to higher surfaces because I forget my Master’s care and strength. Rest, my little fuzzball. You are safe and very loved.”

Can humans royally mess up? Yes. Are there reasons to be fearful whenever the “other” candidate comes to power? Sure. Is this a particularly worrisome election year? Depends on whom you ask.

But this is not about the president or who runs Congress. I wouldn’t try to tell you how to vote even if I wanted to. You know why? Because our great democracy allows us to become informed as best we can and cast a vote in the direction we’d like to see the country go. We win some. We lose some. The pendulum swings.

What does God say about sovereigns and rulers—and what to do with fear?

For some folks, the fear may feel like it’s about our new president and what he stands for. It could be about ISIS. It could be about Korea, Russia, and nuclear missiles.

On some days, my fear starts right at my own doorstep about the future of my children, whether my newly minted teen driver will navigate slick roads, if certain relationships will ever repair this side of heaven. I understand fear. I struggle regularly with social anxiety. On some occasions, fear threatens to determine if I walk into an event or social setting, if I’d let it­—but I’m learning not to.

The author of fear is not God. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Is That You, God? Can I See Some Identification, Please?

is-that-you-godIn the previous post, we looked at the beginning of Gideon’s story in Judges 6, when God spoke the seemingly impossible into Gideon’s circumstances, but we stopped short of another twist in the account. Gideon’s need for reassurance went even further than the back-and-forth with the angel of the LORD. Gideon was called a “mighty man of valor” at a time when he was hiding in a winepress threshing grain, trying to stay under the radar so Israel’s enemy didn’t find him. Considering how weakened Israel was at the time, avoiding the enemy and living in constant fear, it is understandable how much he needed to be sure he was hearing from God.

Judges 6:17-18, ESV

And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.”

Speaking to the angel of the LORD, Gideon didn’t mince his words. He clearly asked for a sign.

Was this wisdom, or a lack of faith?

One thing is clear: Gideon Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Wheat and Winepresses: God Speaking Into Circumstances

wheat-and-winepressesHe was sitting in the middle of a winepress, hiding from his enemy, threshing wheat. Defeated and discouraged, Gideon was hardly a man you would describe as part of God’s inheritance of the Promised Land. If he didn’t thresh his wheat in secret, the Midianites, his enemy, would come and plunder the food, leaving him more hopeless and desperate than ever. And yet in the middle of this sad state, an angel of the LORD visits him:

Judges 6:12, ESV

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

Um, what now?

There may be circumstances in your own life where you feel completely done under, barely coming up for air, sitting in the dark threshing your own wheat just to get by, trying to manage making it through one more day. You simply want to go unnoticed and un-harassed. Oh, I know several folks sitting in that place right now. It was me last year this time. And I know that in these moments, we certainly don’t feel like “mighty men of valor,” but when God Himself calls us that, He has a clear vision of what’s ahead and how He is about to use us for good.

For good? In these circumstances of certain defeat? How can He possibly use it for good?

Well, Gideon sure didn’t jump in with both feet initially. He needed a bit of reassurance, some confirmation. Do you know why?

At first he did not Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Part 2: How to Make Holidays More Joyful

when-youre-in-pain_-how-to-make-holidays-more-joyful-2Last week, I listed five very basic, non-festive ways to find more peace and joy during the upcoming holidays if you’re dealing with loss or a difficult season of life. This time I want to focus on how to get through the celebrations, parties, gifting, and busy schedule on the low energy you may be feeling.

1. Simplify your calendar.

Another way of saying this is: Choose your events wisely.

Do not overload your schedule. While this may be great advice during any holiday season, it is especially important when you are feeling depleted, sad, or stressed. You do not have to see The Nutcracker, attend your neighbor’s open house, or participate in five Secret Santas or white elephant gift exchanges just because you have in past years.

You also do not need to focus on anyone else’s expectations or worry about letting people down. If they are true relationships, they will have grace for your “free pass” year. Introvert or extrovert, you only have so much energy to go around when your strength is spent right now getting through the day to day.

While some people may not understand because their expectation levels do not match your reality at the moment, this is a good way for them to learn to respond with grace to those who are hurting. Or maybe you need space from people with inflexible demands right now. Either way, do not carry the extra weight around of pleasing other people.

Because I’m introverted, I limited my holidays outings to two occasions last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas: an open house at a friend’s house and a women’s Christmas tea. I also cancelled my involvement in Small Business Saturday at my church and a meal at someone else’s home. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. I had the enthusiasm for a few events, even though they were difficult because my father’s passing was still fresh.

I remember wanting to return home after the first five minutes at the open house because I met some very outgoing people who wanted to engage at a high intellectual level when I really just wanted to sit in the comforting presence of a few people I knew and sip something warm. I am very glad I made myself go, but I am also thankful I graciously stopped the conversation to be with low-engaging folks in the other room. I just needed to be with people, so I didn’t isolate, but I had no ability to fake holiday cheer.

Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. 

2. Be a minimalist in décor.

I have teens and a tween at home. Skipping all holiday décor was not a Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When You’re in Pain: How to Make Holidays More Joyful, Part 1

when-youre-in-pain_-how-to-make-holidays-more-joyfulLast week, I dove straight into some of the reasons my own holidays can be painful. Since I know many people struggle this time of year, I thought it might be nice to turn the pain around and find ways to make this season better.

Next week I will address holiday celebration more directly, but for now, here are some basic non-festive suggestions to ease the pain.

1. If you can be around a pet of any kind, do it.

Seriously, pet therapy is so healing. If you have resident furballs already, you know what I’m talking about. I have two Shih Tzus who love to hang out on our laps, but during my darkest hours last winter, I enjoyed my friend’s Golden Retriever and Yellow Lab. They sensed my sadness and immediately came to me. The Golden maintained a protective stance and leaned into me the entire time. The mere weight of that was comforting and ministered to me.

Is it any wonder that animals are so good for the soul? They were created by God, and He “knows” them.

Psalm 50:10-11, ESV

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.

God uses animals to describe the coming peace that Christ (root of Jesse) will bring. Isn’t that beautiful?

Isaiah 11:6-10, ESV

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

If you are allergic to pets, try cultivating a houseplant. I was given one when my father passed, and I’ve really enjoyed taking care of it and watching it grow. My younger son and I also grow a sunflower every summer. Working the ground is always good, so planting bulbs is possible this time of year—but hurry, Baby, it’s cold outside!

2. Nature watch.
Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When Holidays Are Painful

when-holidays-are-painful-3It was a dreary, overcast day when I pulled into the parking lot at the counseling center in New Hampshire. I had made the 40-minute trip so many times before, almost on autopilot, but this time it had been about eight weeks since my last visit. I knew we were approaching November, the month that shook me down—several times in my life, actually. Around this time last year, I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life in fetal position crying out to God from under the covers; the devastation of loss and grieving without a funeral where family could gather to comfort one another almost did me in.

So I walked into the nurse’s office, sat down, and must have looked very tired. She asked me how I was and kept staring intently as if she didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well.

“It’s closing in on the first anniversary of your father’s death, you know. How are you preparing for that?”

Um, yeah, so I’m not, really. I’ve done everything I can to push it out of my head. As Thanksgiving approaches and I remember how shut out I felt this time last year from holding his hand one last time as he lost consciousness, I just want to skip past all holidays and land on January 1, 2017. (I wouldn’t mind skipping Election Day either. Let’s just try again this time next year, shall we? Restart?)

You see, November and I go way back.

We got off to a good start when I started dating my husband (now of 23 years) on November 18, 1990.

Almost two decades later, circumstances derailed me. In the midst of significant depression Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Letting Go: When We Enter a New Chapter

letting-go-when-we-enter-a-new-chapterThis past summer I spent a week packing boxes with dear friends of mine moving back East from the West Coast. We made many trips to used bookstores, donation centers, and the dumpster. We wrapped their lives up into 11 categories—little compartments of 49 years of marriage rolled into newspapers, bubble wrap, and cardboard.

Waiting to be opened on the other side of a house sale and cross-country move, each box was evidence of life well-lived—together, real, and raw—caught within memories, fondly received presents, mementos from vacations, mugs for special occasions, and dated photographs. A mere song on the radio triggered a reflective wave of “remember when.”

We laughed ourselves silly going through shelves of books at 2 AM—how difficult it was to part with those pages from scattered memories and loved ones over five decades. We sobbed over discovered treasures from their childhoods. While not always easy, life had been good to them. I could see the value placed in considering each piece of it.

So, I asked myself:

How do we pack a lifetime into one 12 inch x 12 inch x 12 inch square at a time?

And the overall decision awaiting us as we dragged packing materials into each room?

Keep, donate, or throw out?

My friend, the wife, had so much courage, incredible stamina, and amazing strength as she divided her life into categories and choices. How do you take a 49 year marriage and family life and split it into thirds? How do you give away your life? How do you decide what to save and what to let go of?

I don’t know, but as I watched her do it, I knew deep within me that it is something we must all do. Self-reflection and life sorting is not only healthy, but it also opens space.

I had to move into a new chapter recently, one I really didn’t want: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Seeking Approval: He Still Looks for Me!

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Sitting on some uncomfortable bleachers, wishing I had brought some kind of back support, I watched my youngest son swim laps with his class in Lawrence, MA, this past week. He has received swim instruction here for seven years. I don’t even have to tell them he has special needs because they are so good with every child. I’m convinced the program manager can see directly into the heart and inner workings of each child within the first few minutes. She has an amazing ability to meet each child where his or her fears are and identify strengths and weaknesses. She knows what is holding them back.

Hmmm.

As I sat there in this rare moment observing Little Man at one of his happiest places—water—I wondered if I could get away with a few glances here and there to my Kindle. I thought I was being so sly, looking up whenever I anticipated it was his turn to work on a skill in a group of five children. My timing was almost perfect.

Lifting my eyes after reading a half-page, I noticed something I wasn’t expecting this time around: Even at 10 years old, becoming more independent by the minute, my Little Man

still looks for me!

After every accomplishment, he wanted to emerge from the water to meet my eyes. He counted on my silent nod, my approving smile—even my admiration.

And I asked myself this question: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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He Raises the Needy out of Affliction

he-raises-the-needy-out-of-affliction2Oh boy! Did that title catch your eye?

I hope it did! I think we all qualify as “the needy” from time to time. I certainly have!

It can (but does not necessarily) mean financial need, but it can also be emotional, medical, physical, spiritual, etc.

How are you “needy” today? Is everything copacetic? Nothing to complain about?

On one hand, if that’s true, I celebrate with you, but on the other hand, to some extent, we all have needs, so if we claim that, we are, well, um, kidding ourselves!

We may not be desperate right now, but there are a few things on our wish list. How could there not be?

  • God, please heal my child of this disease, this disability, this behavior.
  • Jesus, my marriage is a wreck. We are just, well—disconnected. Is he having an affair?
  • Lord, wow, I am really scared about my bills this month. What if they turn the heat off? It’s 20 degrees outside this week.
  • My child is hanging with the wrong set of friends and making bad choices. I need him to turn his life around.
  • I’m really scared my daughter is going to marry that guy. He’s not good for her.
  • My car is about to die, and I don’t have the money for another one right now.
  • I am being asked to do something dishonest at work, or I could lose my job. I need a way out of this.
  • I can’t get him to stop drinking.
  • I found porn on the computer and am not sure how to confront my family members.
  • I need more than that prescription is covering to manage my pain. I think I may be dependent.
  • Oh my goodness, I really miss him. Why did he have to die so young?
  • What if I never get pregnant? Will my husband still love me?
  • I forged a check once, and the law caught up with me. Now I’m afraid I’ll lose everything.

You get the idea.

Here’s the thing. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When God Said: “Enough!”

when-god-said_I was doing laundry and packing for our upcoming trip to put my father’s ashes in the ground. Spring Break wasn’t exactly a cheery occasion for us to prepare for, but we were looking forward to finally laying my father to rest with a few of our own personal touches.

As I tried to pack in spurts, we were slammed with nonstop high school jazz band events and a nightmarish two weeks of seventh grade. The latter involved multiple projects, a massive genetics and cell cycle test, and endless homework, none of which was spaced out or staggered. My poor daughter was up until 11 PM most nights making sure she checked off her own assignment lists.

She went out the door one morning a complete zombie. She could barely eat, put her contacts in, etc. She was so rundown and discouraged. Her only sentence this particular morning was:

“I have to go back to school and get more homework to come home to.”

I finally put my foot down and respectfully told the guidance counselor: “Enough! She has worked conscientiously and nonstop for weeks. On my instruction she isn’t doing homework tonight. I’m just letting you know.”

[My husband and I are both products of public schooling and strongly believe in it, but we shouldn’t have to give our daughter an espresso drink to wake her up enough in the morning to head out to school. This is middle school, not college.]

My son, on the other hand, had a band event in which students were driving themselves and taking several other students along. Major highways. An hour away. Rush hour traffic. Seven teens in a van with a teen driver. I adore our school music program, but um, no! Because our car was in the shop, we could not drive. I gently asked our fantastic band director to please place my son with an adult driver, and if not, my husband and I were not comfortable sending him to the event. I hated confronting this, but this was my limit.

Enough already!

Sometimes, when we are beyond defending ourselves and fall weary in a heap onto the floor Read the rest of this entry »

 

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What’s Your Strong Tower?

whats-your-strong-towerThe chemo was wreaking havoc on his body. He wasn’t able to eat and was weakened to exhaustion. Where do we go from here? We may be killing cancer cells, but at what personal cost?

It’s not easy to hear this from almost seven driving hours away. If I could teleport myself directly to Pennsylvania for these conversations, I surely would, but I was digesting my latest email update from my mother about my father, and God gave me this Scripture: 

Psalm 61:3, ESV, King David speaking

For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

I felt strongly that we could substitute the word “enemy” with “cancer” because God had been sustaining my father on and off since 1981 through six different battles with this persistent foe. It had once again rented my father’s body and officially moved in. An unwanted tenant, it was taking more than major surgery to evict it, and at this point, we needed more than the words of doctors to sustain us.

We needed a fortress. We needed to seek a safe place to cry out.

Every fortress where we huddle in and regroup must have a tower, a high place that shows itself strong and imposing on the horizon— Read the rest of this entry »

 

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“Come to Me, All Who Labor”

%22Come to Me, All Who Labor%22

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” –Jesus, ESV

Matthew 11:28-30 is one of the most frequently quoted Bible passages regarding labor versus rest. For me personally, it has a more literal significance. As a little girl in the Presbyterian church I grew up in, I would lay my head down on my father’s lap as the sermon began. As I drifted off to sleep, this verse was the last thing my blurry eyes focused on. It was painted on the front inside wall of the sanctuary. These beautiful words penetrated my mind and heart every Sunday, even as a young reader and child of immature faith taking rest more immediately than perhaps the passage intended.

The best part was when I figured out it was Jesus doing the talking. When it’s Jesus talking in the Bible, it’s a promise I can hang my hat on.

It seems to me that rest is more or less what Labor Day seeks to offer us in its recognition of the “social and economic achievements of American workers” by taking off a day for observance.

But, what does it mean to really labor in a biblical sense? What does God require of us? How do we then get to the rest part? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Confidently Casting Our Cares: A Bee, the Bus, and a Bumpy Recess

Confidently Casting Our Cares I was having the most peaceful, productive, encouraging day. I had just finished up a videoconference with a professional collaborating with me for a special needs inclusion ministry we were trying to build within our church. After an hour and a half of bouncing ideas around with an expert I greatly admire in the field, I drew in a deep breath, composed an email to the ministry leaders at my church, and made my lunch.

I was jazzed. Passions of mine were not only being picked back up again, but they were riding the surf into deeper waters. This is the stuff I live for! I was being equipped to do it better. That was invigorating!

Then in came Kids One and Two.

Phew, no teen angst. Happy days. They shared a few thoughts and even made me laugh. A complaint or two was offered about it being Thursday and the snacks were running out (wonder how that happens?). Everyone moved on to showers, dressing for karate and dance, and homework. If you interact with any teenagers, you know that you have to prepare yourself for anything coming at you. Kids-metamorphosing-into-adults are a complex breed. I love them but never know which persona will walk through the door.

Ah. Another few moments to ponder the peace.

And then Bus Number 3 pulled up. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Have You Checked Your Equipment Lately?

Have You Checked Your Equipment LatelyI’ll be back in a few days to collect the equipment. Try to run the fans and dehumidifiers as long as you can stand it,” he said as he nodded reassuringly and left my house.

Seven air movers, two dehumidifiers, two walls, two ceilings, one floor, two bathrooms, and two vanities later, we are drying out a freak flooding incident that greeted us when we returned from church a week ago.

And his parting shot was:

We’ll be back to get our equipment.”

You know what? The equipment, while loud enough to have to shout to be heard over it, is not bothering me. Sure, I have to move the air movers to get to my cabinets. Yes, two bathrooms are currently unusable. Accessing the laundry machines is a challenge.

But I actually like the equipment. It makes me feel safe, in-process, moving forward, working toward a remedy. I dread its removal, to be honest.

Pro-vaccine or not, my whole family volunteered for flu shots this past autumn so we would be healthy and ready to see Read the rest of this entry »

 

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10 Strength Training Exercises of Faith

10 Strength Training Exercises of Faith“You’re getting stronger. I can see that about you. I can tell that you realize what isn’t in your control, and there is a peace about you.”

That was her assessment of me as I sat across from this professional who walked me through an emotionally difficult time.

Stronger? Really? You can see that?

See, the thing is: I feel stronger. I didn’t realize, however, that it was evident to anyone else.

But where does my strength come from?

Sure, the squats, lunges, and planks (one of my warrior princesses told me to add a “dead bug”) I do a few times a week are toning my physical body, but what about my spirit? How do I exercise that?

How did I build my spiritual muscles during a time when staying in bed, perseverating on what was out of my control, and escaping through other means were tempting alternatives?

Sometimes it was a minute-by-minute battle, but the choices were critical in determining if I ended up character-toned and feet planted more firmly in God’s amazing grace.

God’s Word offers me solutions and truth in every circumstance.

1. “Work out” according to His Word Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Passionate: Inviting God to Unlock Our Talents and Purposes

PASSIONATE-Inviting God to Unlock Our Talents and PurposesMy week consisted of my high school sophomore son’s history paper on the negative influences of social Darwinism on society and my third grader’s Wampanoag mishoon (canoe) project. The older one wrote an intense analysis that squeezed every brain cell I had just to follow it (although it was wonderful to be reading a paper like that again—especially one written by my offspring!). His paper flowed so well because of his passion for the subject, unlike last year’s history paper around the Indo-China Wars, for which he had no enthusiasm or interest.

My third grade son’s mishoon project required patience and varied approaches to focusing his ADHD superpowers long enough to remember the information he needed to communicate in a video presentation. I tried note cards with prompts. I tried rehearsing. Then I took a deep breath and left the room. I am pretty good at offering strategies to help his mind slow down a bit and order itself, but I was fresh out of patience and ideas. I wasn’t mean about it, but I took a break.

Enter my extremely calm husband, who decided to write out all the information Little Man (my third grader) spoke to him. Having it completely written out on cue cards, Little Man felt free to look up and let his full personality out during the video. Solving the logistical, executive functioning problem made a way for creativity to flow. It was as if we watched a door unlock and the real person come through. He instantly went into newscaster mode and ended up with such a charismatic presentation, he could run for president—oh wait, let’s not make that connection this year! [Smile.]

So, I’m just curious:

What gets in our way of letting our God-given personality and passions come out? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Last 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church (Part 3)

Last 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church

 

We continue this week with the last installment of a three-part series on healthy Christian churches. The goal of this series is not population growth in a church but to give our churches a “check-up” to see if they are healthy or suffering from dysfunction: toxic dynamics, wrong teaching, or unbalanced leadership.

The first 10 signs can be found at 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church and 5 More Signs of a Healthy Christian Church (Part 2).

At the end of this list is a “bonus” sign listed, but really it is essential in the same way as Number One (Christ is the center of conversations, preaching, teaching, programs, prayer, worship, and all decisions.) Be sure to check it out because we begin and end with who God is, and really, isn’t that upon whom our faith is built? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Run Like Holly

Run Like Holly

I had just finished reminding my children to be careful with my cousin’s beagle Holly. She has some spinal issues that give her pain once in a while. We’re used to being rough and tumble with our ornery Shih Tzus, but around Holly, we aim for being more delicate.

Imagine my surprise when, outside, Holly suddenly took off in a beagle dash across the side yard, giving chase like there’s no tomorrow.

I got the distinct feeling she was giving us her best, showing us what she could do, impressing us.

How does a fragile dog suddenly pick herself up and run like a strong, youthful puppy?

Motivation. Who is she running for?

Where does she get the sudden strength when she’s otherwise a bit weak?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

How about you? Who are you running for?

What motivates you to be your very best?

Like Holly, I’ve been a bit Read the rest of this entry »

 

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5 More Signs of a Healthy Christian Church (Part 2)

5 More Signs of a Healthy Christian Church, Part 2

Last week we discussed 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church in an effort to take the pulse of our churches and discern whether they are healthy or suffering from dysfunction: toxic dynamics, wrong teaching, or unbalanced leadership.

This series is not intended to determine metrics for church growth. It serves more as a checklist to measure the heart, practice, and biblical integrity of our individual Christian churches.

Be sure to revisit our starting point in last week’s blog post, but here’s a quick recap of the first five points covered:

 

  1. Christ is the center of conversations, preaching, teaching, programs, prayer, worship, and all decisions.
  1. Conviction (repentance) and grace are both present.
  1. The church welcomes and includes children, individuals with special needs and disabilities, and the mentally ill. This takes place from the top down.
  1. There are sinners, still working through their sanctification, in the church.
  1. The pastor is not a solo act. He is accountable to his denomination and/or affiliation.

Picking up where we left off, let’s examine five more signs of a healthy church. How is your church doing? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Our Journey For Joshua

Our Journey For Joshua

Once again, it is my great delight to share a piece from Tammie Wommack’s beautiful heart here at Espressos of Faith. Tammie lost her son Joshua in 2008 to suicide. Ever since, she and her husband Rick have been slowly healing and are passionate about sharing their journey, hope, and paths to finding peace and joy again with other grieving families. They are also fiercely committed to suicide prevention. Their story is an amazingly redemptive one. I hope your heart is encouraged and loved on by her sincere words.

Tammie and I first crossed paths in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where we were both living at the time, rocked by different circumstances in each of our lives. God has reconnected us, and I’m so thankful for her courage, vulnerability, and willingness to be used by God to help others. May God continue to bless you, Tammie (and Rick)!

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As Rick and I travel around this beautiful country, moving from one destination to the next, we eventually find ourselves heading back to Clarksville, Tennessee, for many reasons: our precious grandchildren who keep us young, our friends who have been a lifeline and anchor for us on this grief journey, business matters that must be taken care of so we can stay on the road, doctor appointments, etc.

Our arrival to Clarksville is always mixed with so many different emotions. My heart, mind, body, and soul begin to prepare days before we get to what I call the “Joshua Zone.” I brace myself for the overwhelming rush of emotions that I know I will experience.

Grief is truly a very rough and long roller coaster ride. For me, the emotions are always followed by the temptation to drink alcohol so that I cannot feel that rush of emotions I know await me as I enter the city limits. I feel like I have to be constantly on guard.

The length of time we stay and the number of our visits has varied over the years, but the feelings are still just as strong now as they were the first time we had to travel back there after Joshua died. It seems I am never really able to let my guard down until we are heading out of the city of Clarksville, Tennessee.

While I write about my grief often, I don’t always talk about my temptation to Read the rest of this entry »

 

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5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church, Part 1

5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church, Part 1I think from time to time it’s good to do a “wellness check” on our churches. Over decades of church participation, I’ve been able to reflect on unhealthy congregations from the vantage point of safe, healthy ones.

With some regularity, I watch hurting folks crawl out of churches, still strong in their faith, but damaged and limping from the psychology of unhealthy leadership. Twice in my life, I, too, had to detox from churches that damage.

Why is that? How did well intentioned, theologically sound, God-fearing pastors and ministers of the Word end up being instruments of harm?

And really, no church is going to be perfect, so what’s the big deal?

To be clear, I do not have a theology degree. I do not currently have a paid staff position of ministry (although I have in the past). I have been merely an observer of brokenness within the church and have studied what it is that leads faith-filled, humble people to run for the exit ramp after years of trying to make it work.

I prefer to take it from the positive side. If you find your church has most of these elements, then I would say Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Healthy Boundaries: Loving People With “No”

HEALTHY BOUNDARIES- Loving People With %22No%22Recently, I’ve found myself saying “no” more frequently. Admittedly, when we go through difficult seasons, we definitely draw more inward and limit our interactions and involvement. That’s a normal response when we need more mental and emotional energy to process the harder parts of life.

Even so, I’m becoming more comfortable with “no” and finding it to be another way to love people. For one, it’s being honest about ourselves instead of making false promises. Good intentions are a beautiful thing, but when we regularly can’t carry them through, we become people who disappoint.

In child-raising or managing employees, “no” can be a friendly word that clearly delineates where the guardrails and boundaries are before they are accidentally (or intentionally) crossed. Children tend to feel secure when they know expectations; this is also true in the workplace.

So why are relationships so difficult?

Why do we struggle at times to place down a healthy “no” in our closer relationships?

Is it because: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dental Shaming: Dear Pediatric Dental Hygienist

Dental Shaming-Dear Pediatric Dental HygienistI wrote the following to my children’s pediatric dental office. I did not want to mention their name, as a courtesy, because overall I’ve had a great experience there, and it takes a lot for me to put down someone’s business. We all need grace and second chances.

But I had to write it. And I had to share it. Because I know other parents out there deal with this. I know you struggle to get your child comfortable with going, and there can be something so subtle as tone and attitude that make or break the positive experience for a child.

I left the office before I spoke from my anger. I consulted friends, slept on it, prayed about it, and decided to send this. I measured each word carefully. I hope they take my advice and use it as a learning tool. If nothing else, I helped Little Man’s voice be heard. I don’t care how someone makes me feel, but he walked out of there feeling completely defeated, and a pediatric dental hygienist with a bad attitude is not someone we base our self-esteem on. Shake it off, Little Man. I got this. You worry about chasing butterflies and checking on your cabbage plant.

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To the attention of the office manager, the dentist, and the hygienist who treated my son yesterday:

I wanted to discuss my poor experience yesterday at the 4:30 PM appointment for my 10 year old son. What I’m about to share with you will hopefully be used as healthy feedback for your staff. We all have bad days now and again, but when I see a consistent problem that can drive people away from your business, I would like to share with you my experience in hopes that you use it constructively for the future.

First, let me say that I have had mostly wonderful experiences over the years with everyone in that office, from front desk staff, to all dentists I’ve encountered, and every dental hygienist, except for one, the one who did follow-up with us, alongside the dentist, around 5:20 PM yesterday.

We have had her before, and I was less than pleased by her tone and attitude toward both child and parent in several experiences, but my older son is a teenager and could blow it off. Not everyone is going to click. I don’t have to like someone to have them do a great job with my child’s teeth.

Fast forward to yesterday. My anxious/special needs child (10 years old) was reasonable and compliant. I even expressed some of his concerns and needs to the first pediatric dental hygienist who greeted us (different from the one who cleaned his teeth). When I came back for the report: no cavities. The dentist and I were having a lovely conversation when I asked about how well he was doing brushing. The dental hygienist interrupted and spoke in an inappropriate shaming tone, something along the lines of this:

“We called his bluff, Mom. He did a good job preparing today right before the appointment, and so now, Mom, we know he can do it, and there’s absolutely no reason he can’t take care of his teeth like this all of the time. That was far too much plaque for him. He shouldn’t have to be cleaned to that extent. There’s no reason he can’t do better. He proved it today that he’s capable so you need to hold him accountable.” 

This all was said in front of my son, by the way, as if he were an object in the room and it was her job to give him a lecture.

Let me just say that I don’t mind honesty, but the delivery was insulting and shaming to a child and a parent.

I sat there, stunned at the tone (not the content….I don’t mind honest content). It’s not the first time she’s left me ruffled in her lack of bedside manner and condescension.

What she doesn’t know is he spent 20 minutes brushing his teeth 3 times, flossing, gargling. 

What she doesn’t know is he was desperately afraid of displeasing her based on a previous experience.

What she doesn’t know is the toothpaste flavor is difficult, but he didn’t complain.

What she doesn’t know is he chews his toothbrushes for sensory feedback.

She doesn’t know I had already done a lot of work to get him comfortable coming in to the office to be less anxious in seeing her in the first place. I was already exhausted trying to make it a good experience for both my child and the hygienist ahead of time.

After taking a deep breath and composing myself, I said something like this:

“You know, what you just said may be important, and I agree that it is, but with this particular child I see so many specialists for so many things and get told difficult things all the time, that what you just said isn’t as important to me in light of that right now.”

When the dentist asked if I was okay, I said:

“I’m overwhelmed, to be honest, by this. I’m going to need to leave now.” 

My only requests:

1) My children’s charts get flagged so that none of them have this hygienist ever again. If that requires rescheduling future cleanings, I’m happy to be flexible about that.

2) Please make sure those involved read this. I believe every bad experience can lead to greater understanding and personal and professional growth. I would like to think the office staff involved in my situation feel the same way.

The moral of the story is: Yes, he does need to brush his teeth better. But, my son is a child with multiple issues. He was compliant. He did what you asked. He didn’t take up extra time, really. But you do not know his personal battles, and teeth do need care, yes, but so does the whole person. I have bigger battles right now.

There are ways to communicate truth about how to have better dental health to parents without shaming and embarrassing both parent and child. Her response was offensive and completely inappropriate. This is a pediatric dental office. You never know what someone is dealing with in the “whole child” when you express concern over the dental piece. The dental piece is one piece of a whole child. Instead of shaming, try encouraging and graciously communicating the concern. It goes a long way to build trust and understanding. These are children.

Best,

Bonnie Lyn Smith

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Dental Shaming- Dear Pediatric Dental Hygienist2

*This blog has been shared at any link highlighted here: Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin Tuesday, Women With Intention Wednesdays, Grace & Truth, A Little R & R, RaRa Link-Up, Me, Coffee & Jesus, Dance With Jesus, Blessing Counters, Coffee & Conversation, Saturday Soiree, Tell His Story, Find Stability, So Much at Home, Faith-Filled Fridays, Reflect His Love and Glory Link-Up, Bonbon & Coffee Linkup, and Christian Mommy Blogger.

More of my personal story of uncovering my child’s special needs can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (includes Book Club Discussion Questions).

 
 

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5 Reasons to Lick a Shut-up-sicle (and 5 Reasons Not To)

5 Reasons to Lick a Shut-up-sicleEcclesiastes 3:1,7, ESV, King Solomon speaking

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…

Years ago, a dear friend, trusted mentor, and fellow editor introduced me to a word with which I simply cannot part ways: shut-up-sicle. Once I wrapped my mouth around that powerful little descriptor, I was on my way to any and all usage possible. It fits so many situations, doesn’t it?

“Why don’t you lick a shut-up-sicle already?”

“Oh, man, I might need to pass out the shut-up-sicles today. Everyone is talking at once.”

“Sure wish I had brought my shut-up-sicle with me. I said more than I had planned to.” 

Yeah, such a beautiful word. I’ll admit some possible uses can be a bit unkind, so I’m not recommending them. [Smile.] Today, I’m really thinking more in terms of my own need to grab one and lick it at a slow pace. When we have nothing left to say and/or whatever swirls through the filter of thoughts is better left unexpressed, the most challenging approach to a perplexing situation or problem can be to simply

shut up.

Several times in different scenarios in my life I had reached a point where I did all I could do, and God was not telling me to move forward. He was calling me into a period of shutting my mouth. I know it was Him because He confirmed it with Scripture, sent godly counsel to affirm it, and gently put my mouth to sleep.

What I mean by that last part is that, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Exchanging My Sackcloth for Gladness

Exchanging My Sackcloth for GladnessSometimes we think if our pain isn’t instantly taken away, God has somehow left us. God doesn’t abandon people. People abandon people.

And people walk away from God.

Despite my heart’s desire, I wasn’t able to see my father as he lay dying for about 10 days between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December. The choice was made for me.

The wreckage that has left in my heart and mind in the days since, just three and a half short months ago, cannot even be adequately described. Pain like this does not even have a name or definition. Grief doesn’t quite describe it. Trauma comes close. It’s like three elephants sit on my chest every day. Sometimes they get off to go get something to eat, but they usually wander back without warning and sit back on top of me again. It’s paralyzing.

Maybe you have made it through or are currently facing something similar.

I don’t know much right now, but I do claim this: I know more than I ever have how near God is to the brokenhearted because when the elephant sits on me, the panic that ensues only calms down when I remember Christ is holding my hand.

Please understand: I don’t stop hurting. It’s not a rescue.

It’s a presence, and it’s one I can fully trust.

Why? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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In-Between Ministry and Miracles: The Purpose of the Wilderness

In-Between Ministry and Miracles: The Purpose of the Wilderness

I took a deep breath and carried out my plan. I had prayed about it for a week, wondering if it was the right thing. I read the Bible, poured out my heart to God, and then quieted myself to listen for a response. What I heard as confirmation came from several trusted sources speaking in unity.

It was very difficult and painful, but it was very important. I didn’t treat it lightly. I was incredibly afraid to act on anything without God speaking into it. It’s not that I thought a lightning bolt would strike me down in a moment of acting solo and impetuously. I simply knew that not consulting God did not yield good fruit. I had to remain in the Vine as my source.

John 15:1-9, ESV, Jesus speaking

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

Before I made a big move, I went to my own personal wilderness to pray. I’ve learned the hard way over time that I tend to be rash and make hasty decisions. I needed situations, trials, and heartaches to discipline me in self-control, patience, and seeking counsel. Oh, and chipping away at that whole pride thing. There’s that.

This wasn’t something that came to me on my own. I found it while teaching our Junior High Sunday School class about Jesus’s miracles.

We discovered that Read the rest of this entry »

 

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A Necklace and the Intimacy of God

A Necklace and the Intimacy of GodIt was December when I received this text: “Hey, Bonnie: Did you happen to get any mail from me this week?”

Oh, wow, mail. I hadn’t gone to my mailbox in days. I usually love Christmas cards, but I had just lost my father, and I knew the mailbox was either filled with Christmas cheer or sympathy cards. I treasured both, but some days I simply couldn’t read any.

I sent my daughter to the mailbox, and she brought back a few advertisements, some bills, five cards, and a small package.

Great. Mission accomplished. I tossed everything else in a pile on the floor and eagerly opened the package.

Oh my goodness!

Inside was a necklace with four charms: The Lord’s Prayer, a heart, a cross, and an angel.

The note read something along the lines of: “I thought you could wear it to remember your Dad.”

My heart caught in my throat. I had not told my sweet cousin about my wish, my regret. I had not shared with her that just that week I had told my husband to get our daughter some jewelry because I wished my father had bought me just one piece that I could wear to remember him by. It just wasn’t Dad’s thing. And yet, my heart ached to Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Is That God Waking Me Up?

Is That God Waking Me Up

I woke up in the middle of the night. An old wound reopened. My mind was rushing, and I could not for the life of me understand why certain memories were flooding back upon popping one eye open.

Didn’t I take care of that business, Lord? Why am I awakened by this?

Truth be told, I was having a hard time sorting out whether I was being tormented (which isn’t God) about something in the past just to derail me and disrupt my peace, or if God had woken me up to sort through something.

I was aware of the small trigger that had set off the memories, but I felt I had dipped them in His amazing peace, prayed them down, and stepped off the memory platform.

Apparently not so.

Ever have something come back and revisit, and you’re not sure what to do with it?

Yeah, me too.

Whenever this happens and old tapes play in my head, I have two choices (because ignoring them doesn’t work): Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Take It to the Healer

Take It to the HealerWe drove to the Deep South for post-Christmas fun with my husband’s sisters, their families, and his Dad. As I looked out over the Alabama fields, I told God:

“My heart hurts. What healing do You have for me here?”

I believe He always wants to heal our wounds. It’s part of what He went to the cross for.

You know what? I found His hugs, warmth, and love in watching young cousins have light-saber battles and in playing rowdy games of “Nuts” with my nephew and nieces. I watched each God-given personality interact and shine. I saw their faces as once-babies now in mostly/almost adult form.

And I thought of this verse:

Psalm 27:13, KJV, King David speaking

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

We must see God’s goodness in everything He gives us because death, disease, addictions, injuries, and sin are thieves we can become embittered hating if we don’t focus on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. At times, it’s a minute-by-minute choice, or else we’d lose our minds and hearts to deep grief, shame, or disillusionment.

Sometimes, seeing His goodness is so hard for us because of our incredible pain. He knows this, so we can ask Him to help us. We absolutely should.

John 15:7, ESV, Jesus speaking

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Our family of five, along with two rather compliant Shih Tzus, began our road trip back from Alabama and traveled as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, when the text came in that my 26 year old cousin Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Redefining Unconditional: How Our Son Completely Changed Our Lives

I was so honored to have the opportunity to write a very personal piece at Rosevine Cottage Girls a few weeks ago. Cheyenne asked me to join their series on the “unconditional love of a special needs parent.” Oh, yes, please! You see, I believe this article is for any parent. Our children transform us and chip away at selfishness and pride, if we’re willing to let our parenting experiences shape us into better people. Parenting of any kind is saying “yes” to the changes that happen within us when we welcome the possibility of unconditional love into our lives.

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For two years, I would sit at his basketball games and silently sob.

Not because Little Man (our youngest son) wasn’t as good as the other kids were. (He wasn’t at the time.)

Not because I was embarrassed to be the only parent with a kid on that team not keeping up.

Redefining Unconditional_ How Our Son Completely Changed Our LivesI would weep because he was cognitively stuck. Like a computer sluggishly trying to process a hard drive full of information, he would stare. The game went on around him, and he lagged 30 seconds behind. He would run down the court just as the team was turning around to head the other way down the court. Then he would remember, briefly, to “guard his man” before getting lost in the loudness of the gymnasium, the overstimulation of the ball bouncing around him, the fast pace of the kids racing past, and the pure anxiety of being in slow-motion when everyone around you is on pace. He would peel his hangnails and wear a perpetually worried look on his face.

My heart would ache and shatter not because he was different but because it was an indication that once again, he was suspended in that time and place called dysregulation, for whatever the reason, and we would need months to partly climb back out again.

Join me over at Rosevine Cottage Girls to read how Little Man changed our lives for the better.

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Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Love Knocked: It’s Time to Answer

I opened the door to find her standing there in thepouring-down rain, hand outstretched toward me with a Peppermint Mocha and Salted Caramel Square just waiting to delight me inside a paper bag. I greeted her with bedhead, three-days-worn pajamas, and a defeated face. Not sure when I had last showered. She doesn’t even drink coffee from my café of choice, but she had the barista handcraft a beverage just for me. She didn’t come in. She took her soaked self back to the van, having delivered friendship in a cup. And it was the real deal in every way:Love Knocked

friendship

and

good coffee.

Before that knock came, I got an email:

“You home right now?”

Me: “Yes, upstairs resting.”

Nothing mattered to me right then. I had tried to drag myself out all day to get a coffee just to be somewhere and exist outside my own grief, but I couldn’t. I listlessly made three breakfasts, packed three lunches, sent three kids out the door to three different buses, and went back to bed. All I knew was that Dad was dying several states away, and that phone call was coming in any minute. I was in some kind of nightmarish limbo—stuck and free-falling.

Then, that knock!

I wanted to but could not in any way will myself to answer it. I simply couldn’t leave my bed. I didn’t know it was raining. I wasn’t even sure who it was. But the knuckles rapped a bit stronger and then my phone burped. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When You’re Stuck, Like Me

When You're Stuck, Like MeThis article was first published at Your Tewksbury Today, where I wrote in real time as I processed the loss of my father during Advent 2015. While this was two months ago, to the day, I feel it is important to revisit it; it is part of an ongoing series I am writing on grief. Sometimes it is a stuck place, and we need a little help to get unstuck, but it’s not just grief that leaves us feeling this way. We can land with legs up in the air, unable to find our ground during any kind of loss: relationship disappointment, abandonment, betrayal, a crushed dream, etc.

I hope you find something in it to bring you or someone you know peace and comfort as you/he/she experience/s the inevitable: mourning what was and adjusting to the new normal.

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I was stuck—a stuck mouse to a glue trap in my grief. Arms and legs flailing in perpetual motion but no ability to move forward. My sweet father lingered in a place where peace was promised ahead, but he had to cross the precipice by himself, and there was nothing I could do about it. The push-pull of those last days brought such conflicting feelings that penetrated my very marrow. Waking or sleeping, all I could do was picture the glory ahead and a sweet man with fingers gently reaching up to wait for the hand of Christ.

When I look at my youngest son’s limbs, hands, and feet, freckled and long, I see my father. The auburn wisps around his face? Another genetic transfer. For years, when we lived in the Marshall Islands, we would send his hair clippings to Dad to show him that beautiful autumn fire that successfully lived on in the gene pool.

Last week I found myself holding my breath just looking at my son. I was grateful my father was so evident in his appearance. I walked around half-completing tasks, afraid to be in public when the phone would ring, immobilized in my favorite IKEA chair with both dogs on my lap, and unable to fully clear a table, finish a load of laundry, or make a meal. Time. Stood. Still. I was waiting for the crossover with a grief that engulfed me for what would be—a fearful anticipation of life without Dad. I could not move on.

What about you? Have you found yourself stuck in grief, fear, disappointment, shame, or disillusionment? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dear Dad: A Letter to God

Dear Dad- A Letter to God

Do you ever write letters to people in your head—things you wanted to say, unfinished business, sentiments that pressed on your heart and didn’t let you go?

Sometimes I wake up at night and have a three-page letter downloaded straight into my heart.

Right now, for my father who is living* through cancer and chemo hell, parts of my letter would look like this:

 

 

Dear Dad: 

I hate that you are struggling. If I could be with you in person more frequently, I’d just want to hold your hand. Pray silently. Sit at your feet. Watch you sleep. Bless you. Read you Scripture. Share a few memories. Make you smile.

I’d say I didn’t always respond the way I should have, that I often was too quick to react in my youth. I’d tell you if I had to do it all over again, I’d talk to you about your “corny” country music and be willing to discuss the different jazz artists you grew to appreciate.

I’d tell you I’m sorry I stuck my tongue out when I was 3 years old, that spitting out my peas onto your dinner plate wasn’t nice. I shouldn’t have made eating and the dinner table such a scene of drama.

I might state that I could have been more gracious when you taught me how to drive and more grateful when you would pick me up from a late theater rehearsal. While we were generationally farther apart than the parents of many of my friends, I wasn’t really embarrassed by you; I was just a teenager who thought that I was.

I would share with you that I watched you healing on that couch from radiation many years ago while you let me put barrettes in your amazing hair because that’s what you do when you have daughters. You play barbershop. I’d be less angry that you won UNO sometimes. I’d be more mindful of the times I got to “camp out” on the porch with you in the summers and wouldn’t make comments about your snoring.

I wrote a book, Dad. It wasn’t everything it could have been, but it was my first attempt. It was about God. I hope you could see the Presbyterian roots deep within my theology, Dad. How I really did understand Christ, the propitiation for our sins.

If I could just lay my head against your robe, Dad, like I used to rest it on your lap during the sermon, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I can be a spoiled brat, but my heart is trying to be more like Jesus, Dad. I hope you can see that in me. I hope I make you proud.

My letter would say so many other things, but I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

What about God, though? What about our Father in Heaven? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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