Restless Heart

bench-889222_960_720My heart has been thirsty lately–and when I say, “thirsty”, I mean parched. I’ve been distressingly pained with a desperate longing; anticipation of a fullness– or a completeness– I know exists because I’ve experienced its sense of peace and belonging –and often euphoric effects sporadically throughout my entire life.

We’ve all experienced this inconsolable thirst. When it isn’t stifling us, it drives us. It drives us to pursue external things or experiences that represent life to us or distinguishes our carefully constructed identity–material things, career ambitions, skills we possess as well as how we look, sound, and attract others to us. We try to fill the longing in our hearts with external platitudes—the part of us that everyone sees—and though they have their place in importance, they cannot, cannot fulfill the deepest yearnings of our hearts.

We cannot solve an internal issue externally and yet we try over and over again. When one thing doesn’t fulfill or sustain, we try something else.

In a world where performance and efficiency are everything, it is easy for many of us to stuff away these heart desires and focus on what we know to do, what the world tells us to do, and what has proven to gain some satiation. We’re good at replacing our internal needs with external things, like principles and programs; like work and church activities; like organizing and planning.

Busyness replaces meaningfulness. Efficiency replaces creativity. Functional relationships replace love” (Brent Curtis).

We live from what we “ought to do”, rather than from what and how we desire to do it. I believe we are all born with this thirst, this longing, this internal quest for adventure, intimacy, and beauty that, when pursued, lead us to discovering meaning and fullness in our lives.

Perhaps, we think what our heart longs for (even if we cannot pinpoint what it is) is unattainable–and we just have to live with unsettled feelings. Perhaps, we’ve come to believe this longing is some disorder, or we’re asking too much from life; or we’re dreamers, so we ignore the gentle ever-present whisper beckoning us, calling us to so much more than all of this, to so much more than external joys and pains and everything in between. Those who stuff, ignore, or discount these desires eventually lose heart–which in my opinion, is both a coping mechanism as well as the greatest loss of their lives.

No matter how you describe this thirst, it is the most important thing about us.

It’s important because the longing–the ever-present pull of our heart-strings toward something more is in actuality the voice of Christ—because it is “in the heart that we first come to know and learn to live in His love”. The heart–though many may discount its place or its role in our day-to-day activities, is crucial. It is here, in Christ– found in the deepest longings of our heart– that we find fulfillment.

Our exterior actions for Christ begin in the heart.drops-of-water-578897_960_720

“The heart is the wellspring of life” and its fount overflows with our faith, hope, and love (Proverbs 4:23). It is where we resolve to live sacrificially, to be a servant, to love in action and not merely in words alone, to be present. I cannot help but to think of Isaiah 29:13, where God laments, “These people…. they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.  This verse alone tells me that our hearts are important to Christ. It is where we—our identity—begins.  (Side note: I have spent a fair share of my life paying lip-service to Christ, rather than living completely sold out for Him. I have also spent a good share of my life looking for Him in the external).

I’m not sure how I didn’t stuff the longings of my heart during those years of external searching; during those years of utter shame and brokenness. I suppose somehow I knew (or learned) the longing I had always felt was in actuality Christ whispering my name, calling me Daughter, Beloved, Forgiven. I remember as if it was yesterday, and not 23 years ago, the afternoon I literally fell on my knees and begged the Lord to allow me a sip of His life-giving water. He surpassed what I deserved, what I desired. He filled my cup, and once it was full, He kept pouring. It spilled over the edges, soaking the ground, saturating my soul. As my buried my face in my hands, sobbing, “thank you, thank you, thank you”, I realized He was the desire of my heart!

So struggling this week, really struggling, with this unquenchable thirst, my initial reaction was to call my friend, go for a run, read, garden, open my hives (I’m an amateur beekeeper–so thrilling I can hardly tell you) in hopes to lull this unnerving thirst–and admittedly, I did do some of these things (OK, all of those things!)–but it donned on me (I’m so slow sometimes), while on my knees in my garden that I was going about it all wrong. I wasn’t going to the source of my joy, my life, my love. I was trying to find joy and contentment (the desires of my heart) without Him.

Why do I do this? Why do I fall away from Him?  I resonate with Paul, who cried out “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate to do” (Romans 7:15) I am so prone to wander, it’s ridiculous.

Here’s the thing–that thirst—that constant pull on our heart-strings, that beckoning whisper that reminds us that there is more to this life—that’s God calling us back to Him, reminding us Whose we are and who we are in Him. I have a lot of favorite verses, but today, my favorite is Hebrews 13:5, which reminds us that He “will never leave us or forsake us”. I am grateful for the thirsty times as well as the moments of utter saturation for God is in both.
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If I Had Parenting to Do-Over Again…

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Schneider Girls keepin’ it classy!

It never ceases to amaze me how many young mamas, friends and strangers alike, ask me for parenting advice. I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with the fact that my girls have grown into delightful, God-fearing women, but more so because as women, we want to learn from one another; we need one another. In terms of raising children, we want to know what worked and what didn’t work so we can adjust our course, if need be.

Sometimes we’re so desperate for answers, direction, or just need to feel we’re not in this unpredictable venture alone, that we’ll even heed the advice of perfect strangers. Such was my experience yesterday. A woman I had never met before and I found ourselves thrown together for a short period of time. Naturally, we struck up a conversation—about our kids. When I told her my girls were now nearly 21 and 16, she peppered me with questions, wanting to learn any inside information I might have, about what she should be doing differently or better or what she could expect in the future for her much younger son. Later that day, I found myself chuckling over the fact that I had shared the good, bad, and ugly of my parenting with a stranger and vice versa! Admittedly, I didn’t catch her name and I doubt out paths will cross again, but boy, was that an awesome conversation. It solidified to me just how much we need one another. We need to share our experiences, to build one another up, and walk this often tumultuous road shoulder to shoulder.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter over 21 years ago, I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. I underlined, highlighted, dog-eared, and thoroughly studied those books in more depth than I did any of my college text books. I prayed. I pondered. I daydreamed. I cried. I stressed. And I completely underestimated my ability and God’s sovereignty—but I didn’t know that for years to come.

All I ever wanted to be was a mom. However, I felt unprepared no matter my studious ways. Being a parent is one thing, doing it well is another thing entirely. Like most moms-to-be, I desperately wanted to raise my kids well. I wanted them to be well-adjusted, have the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, love all people, be givers, not takers, follow directions, live humbly– while at the same time understand they are treasures that exceed value. I desired with all my heart that my girls would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they belong to Christ and desire to live first and foremost for Him—not because we want them to, but in response to His love for them.

FullSizeRender (2)I envisioned being that spontaneous mom that would pull over to the side of the road when something in nature called our attention to it, so we could explore it in more depth. I dreamt of making thousands of wishes together as we blew tiny seeds from dandelions across the park week after week. I knew we’d dance in the rain, and splash in mud puddles until we were soaked through– and then do it all over again. I imagined oohing and ahhing over treasured creatures found in tide pools and eating sandy sandwiches while at the beach. I anticipated watching thunder and lightning storms late at night while huddled together under woolen blankets, just like I did with my own mama. I dreamt of telling stories around campfires and gorging on too many s’mores, not caring that bed time passed by an hour ago. Perhaps what I looked forward to most was cradling my girls in my arms after a long day of play together—and singing and praying over them as their heavy eyes found their way to a peaceful night sleep. I don’t think my dreams are unique to me. I think most mamas-to-be dream great dreams. We smile as we get swept away in thought. We run our hands over the soft cotton baby clothes, close our eyes and can practically picture our angel. For many of us, our DNA screams MAMA!!! It’s what we’re born to do and we know we’re going to be good at it.

Until we’re not.

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First haircut. Not what either one of us expected.

Until our thoughts start bombarding us with questions like:  what if I don’t know how to teach her all the things I’m supposed to or want to? What if I break her? What if I can’t nurse her? What if she doesn’t stop crying? What if she doesn’t sleep? What if she fails in school? What if she’s rebellious? What if she does drugs or gets pregnant or hates me, or… I had these questions and more. I didn’t obsessively worry about them, but the more I thought about them, the more I want to know the answers. I wanted to prepare. I wanted to plan. I’m just wired like that. (I like to think of it as being pro-active; my husband likes to think of it as being hyper-alert—tomato, tomatoe)! I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to combat certain behaviors or ensure I would raise a great, healthy, and happy child? So I called my mom—sobbing– because now I wasn’t only feeling unprepared, but feeling as if I might actually mess up a human being. I shared my concerns and short-comings with my mom, asking her how I was possibly going to manage to raise a child. I remember her words as if she had spoken them yesterday:

You’ll figure it out as you go”—Not what I was looking for, but she was right, I did.

Admittedly, our parenting has often looked like a plane sputtering along, thirsty for fuel, wearily doing what needs to be done, while other times, it has looked terrifyingly reckless and out of control– nose-diving toward jagged cliffs. This isn’t to say there haven’t been moments that feel very much like riding on the wings of clouds toward a setting pastel sunset, but there are fewer of these moments than I’d like.

It doesn’t mean my parenting is broken. It means my initial idea of parenting wasn’t complete.

Parenting is an act of enduring, sacrificial love and though I might have known this on one hand before my baby girl was placed into my arms, I understood it on a whole other level on the nights I cried myself to sleep because the day was so horrible. I beat myself up too often and didn’t ask for God’s help often enough.

FullSizeRender (3)Some days I am a stellar, on par kind of parent and others days I royally suck. Truth! So when people ask me for parenting advice, I tell them that I am perhaps the last person to ask because I am still learning.

However, if pressed, here are MY TOP 20 PARENTING TIPS: (Disclosure: some of these were learned through years of sweat and tears, others I am still actively learning)

1. Submit yourself before the Lord. This is not about you, but about Him through you.
2. Make self-care a priority. When you are filled up, you are a better version of yourself to share with your kids.
3. Parent intentionally, be present every single day.
4. Set realistic expectations for both you and your children—make them known to your kids.
5. Consider their learning style—not just what comes naturally for you.
6. Listen, even to the rambling and the inaudible words of their youth. If they don’t see us listening when they’re younger, they’ll assume we won’t listen when they’re older.
7. Whispering gets just as much attention as yelling. It quiets our stressed out kids (eventually) because they’ll want to know what we’re saying. My girls said they knew when I whispered it meant serious business!
8. Pray over and with them constantly. Some of my fondest memories are of my girls and I blubbering our way through some of our prayers.
9. Give them over to the Lord and allow Him to have His way with them. (This is hard and often painful—especially in their teenage years)
10. Allow them to fail, fall, and make mistakes.
11. You can be an authority without being an authoritarian.
12. Don’t rescue them (enable), but be there to help pick up the pieces afterwards.
13. Don’t do their homework, even when it’s obvious that other kids’ parents are—Kids need to take pride in their work, not yours.
14. Model godly character; and forgive yourself when you don’t.
15. Don’t stress about the little things. For example: It’s OK if your child’s outfit doesn’t match or if they go to school with two different shoes on. If they feel uncomfortable, they’ll fix it on their own. Allow them to be creative, even if it’s not your style. (When my daughter was in second grade, she decided to go to school in a pajama top, skirt and rain boots with her hair resembling a rat’s nest. And to top it off, she used her “Mary Poppins umbrella as a cane!) I cringed on the inside, smiled on the outside. She kept up with this creative dress for about a week. Now, she is entirely into fashion and make-up and has an amazing eye!)
16.Remember love is hard work. It’s not always stories and snuggles. Love means saying you’re sorry. And it means forgiving your kids when they mess up.
17. Allow your kids to see you cry, laugh, struggle, problem solve, pray.
18. Remember you are parent first, friend—later, much later!
19. Respect is earned, not just from them, but from us to them as well.
20. Treat them as little people—don’t underestimate their thoughts, questions, and ideas.

My girls…I cannot say enough about them. God’s fingerprints are all over their lives and boy, does that ever make my heart swoon. FullSizeRender (4)

Yellow Roses; A Father’s Day Tribute

IMG_3711Today, marks the sixth Father’s Day, the sixth year of heart-to-heart conversations gone by, the sixth year of missing my Daddy’s big bear hugs and whispered, I love yous. I can still see him as he was, however– in his baseball cap and Levis, with that familiar side-to-side walk. I can still hear his calming voice and see his crooked smile as he’d cock his head to one side when he’d greet me, “Hey-ya Karyn”. When I close my eyes, I can almost feel him–his gruff hand in mine, smell him–his Old Spice soap, hear him–his laugh–ahhh, my heart smiles and weeps with the memory.

I wish I had held onto more of him when I had him here. I wish I had listened more intently to his words of love as well as admonishments; loved more deeply; given more freely. I wish I had hugged him a little longer; visited more often. I wish I hadn’t taken him for granted.

I wrote the following post a year after he passed away. And although it is not the anniversary of his passing,  it seemed fitting to share it today, on Father’s Day. I miss you like crazy, Daddy and love you abundantly more. Abundantly!!!


Written July 13, 2011

IMG_3712One year ago today as the warm sunshine poured through the large windows of room 335, I laid next to my Daddy in his hospital bed kissing his cheeks, his hands, his forehead… a million times over, embracing a precious memory with each kiss, saying good-bye, I’m sorry, and thank you with each remembered story. Though my mind has been swept over with these memories as of late, I do not write this morning from a place of sorrow so much as I write from a place of gratitude. Just a few thoughts and memories…

I kissed and nuzzled his cheeks a million times that day, feeling as though I couldn’t stop, not wanting that kiss to be the last one I ever gave him. His cheeks were rough despite hospice’s attempt to shave him. I found it endearing however, as my mind wandered to the days when I would sit on the bathroom counter and watch him shave after he’d come in the house from a long day of milking or working in his yard. I always loved watching this ritual. Still, to this day, I can see him shaving two or three upward strokes, then rinsing the blade in a sink of warm, sudsy water. I can still hear the tap, tap of the blade against the side of the sink and smell the distinct fragrance of his shaving cream. He sure got mad when I’d steal it to shave my legs as a teenager. I can still hear his voice as he’d yell from the bottom of the stairs, “Karyn Lee…bring it down here”. He didn’t even have to clarify what “it” was. We both knew.

His shaving cream wasn’t the only thing I would “steal” from him. To this day, nearly 20 years living outside my parent’s home, I have a reputation for stealing Dad’s flannel shirts. It didn’t matter if they were the “good flannel shirts” or ones he wore for milking or yard work. I just adored them and everyone knew it. Often, I would hear my name being called from the bottom of the stairs but it had a different ring to it. He wasn’t mad, like he was with the shaving cream. It was more like “I’m flattered, but honey, you gotta stop doing this”. Once he called me, a year or so after I had moved out and gotten married to ask if I had stolen his new flannel shirt! I didn’t…honestly… but still to this day, I cannot live down the fact that I would take his shirts and make them my own. In fact, my youngest niece calls me, “Aunt Flannel”, which makes me laugh because I only wear flannel shirts when I garden. I guess I still want to be just like my dad. I don’t have any of his shirts now and that crushes me. There was just something about his shirts that no one else, not even my dear husband’s shirts have. I guess I felt safe wrapped up in his over sized shirts, close to him somehow. Sure wish I had stolen just one more.

I held one of his hands almost the whole day, kissed every finger, traced the lines, and winced at his countless scars. I love those big, rough, and calloused hands. I always have. They spoke volumes about the kind of man he was– strong, able, learning, giving, sacrificial, loving. I still recall what it felt like to hold his hand, to have him give that little extra squeeze right before he’d let go. His hands engulfed my hand and I loved it. I always felt like his little girl when I held his hand…even when I was all grown up and had children of my own. I miss holding his hands, praying with him, and working alongside him. He taught me everything with those hands–how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, sweep a floor, milk cows, pull weeds, hug, love, give, serve…

One of his absolute loves was working in his yard. He had an amazing gift that dazzled people who would pass by. Though, like a true gardener, we never call it “work”, for it is something that feeds the soul in a way that nothing else does. I had the privilege to have my hands in his yard this week, to pull his weeds, to prune his Rhodies, edge his flowerbeds… The most difficult thing for me to touch were his roses…yellow, vibrant roses…these were his pride and joy. I saved them for last. And wept as I breathed deeply the sweetest scent…a scent I didn’t realize I associate with my dad no matter where I smell it.

On my knees already, I buried my nose into the spent pedals I’d just pruned and allowed the Lord to wash over me, to touch me with his tender grace once again. His mercy touched my brokenness and I knew I was safe and loved completely even without the touch of my dad’s hand or being wrapped in an oversized flannel. My Heavenly Father swooped down and held this broken heart of mine and reminded me of words I had read just that morning, “However serious we believe Good Friday is, we are confident that Easter Sunday lies ahead of us.” Meaning, that no matter what disappointments, frustrations, hurts, injustices, or loss come our way because of our faith, our hope in Christ, we KNOW Easter Sunday—the day of Jesus’ resurrection—and the fulfilling of His promise– is right around the corner. Christ did not promise an easy, painless life. He did promise however, that Heaven would conquer all in the end (Easter Sunday).

Death will be overturned and the fragrance of yellow roses will fill the air, I am certain of that!

My Dad’s heart desire was to meet Jesus…boy, did he ever speak often of this desire and believed as my favorite author, Brennan Manning, does that “Death is not the ultimate, but rather the final breakthrough into the waiting, outstretched arms of the Father.” He could not wait to see Jesus face to face. I often picture my dad on his knees before the emerald throne singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” with tears of great joy streaming down his cheeks and with a heart that swells with such love, such gratitude for ur Heavenly Father. I miss my Daddy terribly but I KNOW Easter Sunday will come for me too– and one day, I, too, will run through heaven’s gates. I will embrace my Lord, my God first, but then I am hugging my Daddy!

Until that day, I am hugging him in my heart.

But You Can’t Shoot Them

family-1432936_960_720Like most, my mind has been whirling with emotions, ranging from heart-break to anger and every emotion in between, over the violent mass shooting that took place earlier this week at Pulse, a LGBT+ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 50 lives were brutally and prematurely ended while an additional 50-plus were tragically wounded, causing an uproar over issues of gun control and our constitutional rights, in addition to an outpouring of support for the victims’ friends and family members. I have always loved seeing our nation– and world beyond– rally in the face of tragedy. It reveals there is still good in the world. And as much as I relish in bringing together community, wide-ranging in races, religions, sexual orientation, etc., I fear this support from fundamentalist Christians will wane and judgment of the LGBT+ lifestyle will resume.

No one wishes violence like open fire or hostile, hate-filled physical vengeance on others, but somehow we turn a blind-eye to snide remarks, jokes, boycotting businesses that support LGBT+, or even physically distancing oneself from this community in any means possible (I personally know someone who won’t get into the same car with an openly gay person). Instead, florists, caterers, and other businesses who refuse service to those in this community are applauded. Obviously, these prejudices are not tied to physical damage, but more so to emotional damage. And as Christians, we seem to be OK with that. Even if we are not engaging in this mistreatment, we also are not taking a stand in support of our brothers and sisters. It’s this mentality of:
You don’t have to like them, but you can’t shoot them.
You don’t have to serve them, but you can’t shoot them.
You don’t have to support them, but you can’t shoot them.

How big of us to draw the line there.

The problem with drawing the line there is it allows those outside the LBGT+ community to continue to look upon them with contempt, disgust, with suspicious stares—essentially continuing to intentionally oppress them. Without a doubt, this mars the image of Christ—the very characteristics of Him which drew us to Him. I cannot help but to think of 1 John 4:19, which reminds us that “We love because He [Jesus] first loved us”. Gosh! What if He condemned us like we condemn this community? What if He refused to wash our feet, take our burdens, forgive us, die on the cross for us? We did not earn that grace. We cannot earn that grace! Instead, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Can I tell you just how much that means to me?!!!

I can already hear the words of my nay-sayers. “But… being gay is a sin. We have a responsibility to call them out”. Ahhh, my dear friends, my heart aches over this on-going debate. It is not an “Us vs. Them” issue. It’s not about turning a blind eye or watering down the Word of God. On the contrary!

The Word of God needs to be lived and breathed and shouted—and remembered! God’s Word is a message of Love, not hate; not judgement—but gosh—I’m not sure the world, primarily this community, knows that.love one another

I’ve wondered as a Christ-follower, if I’ve missed the fine print somewhere—you know that seemingly unspoken expectation that we’ll band together to “love the sinner, but hate the sin”, which for the majority of people I know looks a lot like drawing the line at physical violence, not at hateful words, actions, or inaction. Does that fine print also caution us against showing this community love; that they have value, and purpose; that they are just as loved, accepted, and forgiven by Christ as we are? Though I am generalizing, I have to ask, how does the church–people desiring to imitate the character of Christ; desiring to live to a higher purpose/calling– justify this behavior?

Sure, we show love when someone has been shot and killed, but can we show love and compassion in the day to day activities? What the hell is the difference? I wonder what Christ would have done?

This is not merely a Christian issue, it’s a people issue.

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Just Say, “Thank You”

relaxed-498245_960_720Perhaps you have heard phrases such as, “under promise, over deliver” or “plan for the worst, but hope for the best”. Phrases like this are said by realists. They know unexpected things happen and therefore their goals, endpoints, or dreams don’t always have the desired outcome, so they plan upfront for a possible miscarriage of hope and expectation. This is wise in terms of business or finances, but in terms of most other areas, it is more detrimental than helpful. And admittedly, this is my default setting in relationships. After talking to many women, I believe it is for most of us; we deflect.

We meet someone and make excuses for why they shouldn’t or won’t like us or expect too much from us. In conversations, we dismiss compliments, minimize who we are, what we’re capable of, the things we have accomplished as well as successes we have earned– and on the same token we treasure those very things we hide from others. We worked hard for them. We even find our parts of our identity in them.

We undervalue our self-worth continuously—and when it comes to building friendships, it either weighs us down until we’re immobile and isolated or we timidly tip-toe our way into friendship, feeling our way around, deflecting—which, honestly tows a fine line between humbleness and pride—until we feel we are accepted and know to what level we are accepted.

The reasons we do this may vary from one woman or situation to another, but of the few women I know, we do it to beat others to their certain judgement of us. We know our weaknesses, so we point them out to others before they point them out to us or gossip about them behind our back. It’s a coping mechanism; a form of self-protection against our own insecurities, a way to control what people will think of us. It’s that whole, “if you can’t beat them, join them” anthem.

This helps no one. It belittles who God made us to be. He did not make us to be insecure, to make excuses, or even to try to win the approval of man. I know this in my head, but my actions reveal a different story.

Here’s a classic situation: I invite people over to my house. And even though I have cleaned profusely, cut and arranged fresh flowers, prepared a meal, the moment someone compliments something about my home, I make excuses for why their compliment isn’t really true. I might even beat them to the punch, if I see that they have noticed something unflattering. I point out how our house is in the remodeling stage and parts of it are unfinished, resembling the 70’s. I tell them that although I love decorating (And I do! If I did not go into teaching, I would have gone into interior design), I don’t really know what I am doing. I point out the miss-matched this and that or the…. In reality, I worked hard for that miss-matched item and I like that it’s slightly weird. I like that my house isn’t done being remodeled because I would miss dreaming and planning how I would fix up my fixer-upper. stamp-895383_960_720

I do this all the time. I struggle, I mean really struggle,  to accept a compliment (even if I really am having a good hair day!). I have a great friend who used to call me on this each and every time I would start to deflect. She would stop me mid-sentence and adamantly say, “Just say thank you”. This was hard for me. Saying thank you implied I agreed with the compliment, which wasn’t always true and even if it was true, I feared being mistaken as prideful. Still, I knew my continual rejection made others uncomfortable. They had gone out of their way to say something nice and I rejected it, which communicates disbelief and lack of trust in that person’s words. I don’t know about you, but I want my words to be taken seriously and as truth—they are an outward expression of my character.

So, I practiced. I know this sounds silly, but I did. As they say, “Fake it until you make it”. My mouth would say, “Thank you” while my head would be swimming in doubts. I literally had to remind myself of the Psalmist’s words, I am fearfully and wonderfully made; I know that full well”. (Psalm 139:14). Admittedly, I do not, yet, know that “full well”– though my heart longs to. I want to graciously accept His compliments and live boldly and unapologetically from that sacred place. And it is sacred, not something to discount.
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What has happened over the years of just saying “thank you” is I’ve learned to genuinely smile when someone sees something good in me. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have the back story or see the imperfections. What they see is good. They like it (or me). A complement is flattering and accepting. It reveals to us that we are not invisible, worthless, or discounted. We have been seen and appreciated, which is what we seek and continuously pray for year after year—sometimes through painful tears. God uses people to share His acceptance and love for us in countless ways and I am certain giving compliments is one of those ways.

The excuses we make are nothing short of toxic. It doesn’t matter if they’re based on fact or falsity. If they keep us from leaning into the truth that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, then our eyes on more on ourselves than on Christ. It is my prayer that God would seize my heart and help me to believe and live from who He says I am in Him, not in the world.

hands-1047634_960_720Thank You, Lord Jesus for never giving up on me; for loving me like You do; for finding me beautiful and special and delightful. Thank You for giving Yourself sacrificially on my behalf because You wanted me; saw value in me; knew me. Thank You Lord for caring for me, taking my burdens and shame. Thank You for forgiving me and wiping my slate clean—again. Thank You for your gift of eternal life with You. Thank You for loving me with an endless love.

I’m so glad He doesn’t come back to us with excuses as to why He doesn’t deserve our gratitude and praise. Can you imagine how we’d feel if He discounted our praises to Him?

Just Say Thank You

The Secret Life of a Waffler

food-863484_960_720A Waffler, not to be confused with makers of the sweet morning delicacy, is one who bounces between one or more things indecisively; one who is torn; plagued.

I’ve always known I was a Waffler. The battle has existed from the time I was a wee girl, which even then led me to play a role I was never meant to play; the role of the “good church girl”. Growing up in the church, I became bilingual—fluent in Christianese as well as World, but it was a role, not reality.

I wanted my words and actions to be pure of heart, honoring to Christ, but they weren’t always because they were often done out of expectation. I wanted to believe all I heard, but some things begged for answers to questions I feared to ask. I wanted the love songs I sang to the Lord on Sunday mornings to genuinely reflect my heart, but they didn’t. How could I say I loved someone I didn’t really know? I wanted the words in the Bible to jump off the page and penetrate my heart and morph into this intimate relationship with Christ that I kept hearing about, but rarely saw. I wanted God; I wanted to feel Him and when I didn’t, I just kept following all the rules— the self-imposed rules, the subliminal rules, and the rules bellowed from the pulpit week in and week out. Boy, did I know the rules! And boy, did I hope they would lead me to Christ.

As a young girl, I was certain the rules lined the yellow brick road, which would eventually lead me to Jesus.

The-RulesI like rules and boundaries. It makes succeeding—winning– easy. But what I discovered in this quest to know Christ more and who I am in Him is that rules do not equate relationship, nor do they equate salvation or anything else except to meet the expectations of others. And this is where I have struggled—and I think many of us have– because we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking if we _______, then God will ______. We’ve made our relationship with God contingent upon what we do, rather than what He did!

I struggle with my identity in Christ. I really do. I am fully aware of all the things that should disqualify me from God’s acceptance, forgiveness, and love. My defects stifle me and tarnish the relationship Christ desires for me. I do this by believing that Christ sees me as I see myself. In my head, I know this is far from the truth, but my heart consistently clamors to catch up.

I think so much of our Christian faith is spent in evaluation mode; looking inwardly, measuring ourselves against “God’s Standard” (which by the way is often man’s mislabeled standard) or adding and subtracting this behavior or that behavior in hopes to meet…I don’t know…holiness (I guess that’s what we’re after), that we spend more time thinking about ourselves than worshiping Christ.

Holiness means to be “set apart”. God sees us as such; clothed in His robes of righteousness, not in our inadequacies and sins.

I do not have His eyes. I cannot see what He sees.  I cannot even comprehend what He sees, but I believe in Him—and that has to be enough; has to be! As I write these words, I can practically hear the words of Hebrews 11:1 being whispered in my ear:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

Without a doubt, I believe God’s Word is infallible. I know, to my core, I can trust every word, every promise written. I do not question it. So if I don’t question it, why am I not living as if “He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world” (Romans 8)?

God is FOR us—not against us.

But we live as if He is. We replay our past sins and failures and live from the platform of condemnation when God clearly states that “in Him there is NO condemnation” (Romans 8:1). In order to truly live freely and embrace our identity in Him, we MUST accept and believe this. He did not come to live as man and die a brutal death for us to essentially die with Him. No! He came so that we might have life and life to the full (John 10:10).

I wonder what would happen if I started reconstructing my identity based strictly on God’s Word?

Who Does God say I am?

bible-1068176_960_720God looks beyond my defects, faults, failings, inadequacies and sees something I have yet to comprehend: my worth, my value; that I am His daughter. His beloved. His Delight. In Him, my identity is secure. It’s not contingent on what I do or not do.  It’s based on what He’s done.

I think that’s it…we, like Peter (the dude who walked on water), have to keep our eyes on Jesus because when we don’t, that is when our enemy whispers all our self-doubts, shame, and insecurities over us and we begin to sink. God’s view of us hasn’t changed, ours has.

I am learning I must affirm the identity Christ has assigned me and learn to live from this place for Him. I cannot do this if I keep feeding my insecurities. I am not discounting my past, sins, or failures; I’m just refusing to live from them anymore. I want freedom. I want Truth. I don’t want to waffle anymore.


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The Greatest Lie Ever Told

woman-1043030_960_720Shame has been kicking my ass all week. I should have expected its Karate Kid moves; its swift sweep of the leg because I called its bluff. Somehow, I defied my puny self-confidence, mustered all my gusto, looked shame in eye and courageously said, “Let’s do this”.

Somehow, I thought if I tried hard enough, worked intentionally with a well-organized plan (all other Type-A’s raise your hand!), I could snuff out this looming shadow of shame that seems to follow me everywhere I go. I’ve managed to outwit it here and there over the years; always temporarily; always reappearing when and where I least expect it.

Shame is not the same thing as feeling guilty or convicted; although it certainly does categorize itself alongside these other internal thrashings. The primary difference is guilt and conviction are based on truths; shame is based on lies. Shame’s lies subtly creep into our hearts and sabotage us, causing us to feel unworthy while choking freedom from our lungs, replacing it with constant doubt, evaluation, depression, isolation. We deeply desire acceptance, but we become invisible because we know we can’t measure up to our own standards or others’, let alone God’s. Ahhh, God’s standard.

Perhaps this is the standard I find myself falling short of over and over again. Who doesn’t? And I believe this self-imposed (I’ll get to this in a minute) standard keeps us from returning God’s acceptance, desire, embrace, and living life to its full. He pursues us and we hide because if He knew the real us…we assume He will reject us— and God’s rejection… would be unbearable.

woman-1006102_960_720Herein lays the great lie we tell ourselves; the one that keeps reinventing its packaging so we don’t recognize it at first: I am unlovable.

Or how about these: I am not worth love, attention, devotion, acceptance, protection, forgiveness, friendship… And when life kicks us when we’re already down, we nod our heads, both expecting and accepting it because we deserve it.  We don’t fight back. We wallow in it. Its darkness rolls over us like storm clouds moving in from the east; quick, confident, all-consuming.

Shame is something we continuously feed. Think about that. Shame would cease to hold us captive if in fact, we starved it; stopped thinking, dwelling, and living in the regrets, embarrassments, the things we or others have done, or not done, to us.

Author and speaker, Christine Caine, points out that shame, “greatly hinders our ability to receive God’s unconditional love—and share it with others” —because it implies that our self-doubt, our shame, our insecurities– whatever you want to call it– overrides God’s purpose in our lives.

Shame filters everything.

For lack of a better analogy, it’s like wearing rose-colored glasses. Everything we view is distorted. We do not see truth, such as God’s unconditional love for us, accurately. It’s as if someone is talking about the yellow ducks bathing in the pond, but all we see are orange ducks. We argue with our friend that the ducks are in fact orange, but our friend as well as passerbyers insist there are no such things as orange ducks– and the truth is these ducks are yellow. We cannot see the ducks as others see them no matter how much we strain or squint our eyes because we still have on the rose colored glasses. Therefore, we cannot tell others the ducks are yellow; just as we cannot truthfully and emphatically share that God loves unconditionally. Make sense?bird-water-summer-sun-large

So what do we do?

We have to confront. Short sentence, huge undertaking. Brennan Manning (my favorite author) writes, “Great deeds remain undone and the possibility of growth into greatness of soul is aborted” when we don’t confront the lies that crowd out our freedom in Christ. Left un-confronted, shame continues to whisper insinuating lies to us, assaulting our character, destroying us piece by piece.   Perhaps, the key to understanding this struggle is that when we are internalizing the whispers that destroy, we are unable to hear the ever-present voice of Christ. He is always, always communicating to us. We have to choose who we are going to listen to and who we will believe. This is imperative! It’s honestly, a matter of life or death.

I love how Steven Furtick, author and pastor at Elevation Church addresses this issue: “Sometimes we stand by passively waiting for God to fix the issues that He’s called us to FIGHT IN HIS STRENGTH. We have to GIVE UP HOPE that it’ll ever go away. Every second you wish God would take away a struggle is a FORFIETED OPPORTUNITY to overcome. YOU HAVE TO FIGHT BACK. Your spiritual life depends on it. Because the voice you believe will determine the future you experience”. record-1264177_960_720

To fight this battle—and it is a battle—we must take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor 10:5) This requires up to take each thought and trace it back to its origin and then ask ourselves if it is in fact true, if it in fact it aligns with God’s Word.

So this week, feeling unlovable because of my past, I had to ask myself, “Am I really unlovable?” When I boil this down to the truth and make it obedient to God’s Word, I have to take off the rose colored glasses and see that in fact, the truth is:
I am ridiculously loved (Jn 3:16)
I am redeemed (Eph. 1:8)
I am forgiven (Col. 1:14)
I am completed by God (Eph. 3:19)
I am God’s masterpiece (Eph. 2:10)
I am not alone (Heb 13:5)
I am growing (Col. 2:7)
I am promised a full life (Jn. 10:10)
I am victorious (1 Jn. 5:4)
I am set free (Rm 8:32)

And here’s the kicker: I was gifted this identity all BEFORE I breathed my first breath, BEFORE I had the opportunity to earn– or ruin– His gift of unconditional love for me. BEFORE! (attempt to grasp that word). His love is not contingent on what I do or don’t do. His love is based on fact, not on our feelings. (Admittedly, I’m still learning this!)

That’s the truth.

The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). I need this reminder—some days more than others, like this week.

God foreknew everything about me and chose me anyway. I have nothing to live up to, but everything to live from—from the “awareness of divine acceptance” (writing more on this topic next week).heart-700141_960_720

 


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Dear Baby I Aborted

Dear Baby I Aborted,

Today is the twenty-third anniversary of the day I aborted you. That decision wrecked my spirit. Going to counseling shortly afterwards, I was encouraged to name you and grieve you properly. I named you Alyshia, which means Truth.

The truth is I didn’t consider you
The truth is I didn’t see you as my daughter
The truth is you were an inconvenience
The truth is you didn’t mean anything to me
The truth is I didn’t love you
The truth is I was embarrassed by you
The truth is I thought you would ruin my life
The truth is you reminded me of my sin, my hiding
The truth is I thought your dad would leave me
The truth is I thought my parents would disown me
The truth is I feared the judgment of the members of my church
The truth is I wasn’t ready to be a mother
The truth is I did not consider adoption
The truth is I cared more about myself than you
The truth is I didn’t understand the value of a life
The truth is I didn’t consider your contribution to our family, to our world
The truth is I thought I could dispose of you and not look back

The truth is I did look back and continue to every single day
The truth is I was wrong
The truth is I am eternally sorry
The truth is your dad and I regret our decision every day
The truth is I could have made it work even if I ended up alone
The truth is you were made in love
The truth is even if I could not have raised you, someone could have.
The truth is I heard your heart beat
The truth is I saw your unformed body light up an entire room
The truth is I hurt you
The truth was blinded by the immediate circumstances
The truth is I didn’t think long-term
The truth is I did not think I would grieve you
The truth is your value exceeds that of rubies and gold
The truth is you are a gift from the Lord
The truth is I see you in my dreams
The truth is I still cry
The truth is I still feel shame and embarrassment, not because of you, but because of myself
The truth is I struggle to function on this date, the day I chose to abort you, every year.
The truth is Satan still uses this against me.
The truth is your life ultimately saved mine because it led me to Christ
The truth is every life has value no matter the circumstances
The truth is you are my daughter
The truth is you would have been an amazing big sister
The truth is I love you
The truth is Jesus died on the cross for me
The truth is I have been forgiven
The truth is I am still learning to live in His grace

The truth is some of God’s people are going about saving babies lives the wrong way
The truth is some of God’s people use hateful words and condemn those who need grace
The truth is a woman in this circumstance needs more love than you can even imagine
The truth is we’re all flawed, all sinners
The truth is even those who call themselves Christ-followers judge abortion harshly
The truth is Church is a hard place
The truth is we need to stop wearing masks
The truth is we need one another where we are and as we are

Thank you, baby, for teaching me about truth,

Love,

Mama

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Dear Boy Dating Our Daughter 3

portrait-1212097_960_720This is the final installment of “Dear Boy Dating Our Daughter“. This series of letters has been written as a communication tool only as a way to discuss the often difficult topic of dating  with our children, our expectations as parents, in addition to what we hope and pray they look for and be in a potential spouse.


Dear Boy Dating Our Daughter,

Over the months, we have seen you legitimately love our daughter, not merely the idea of love. Your love for her is not conditional, but is based on your mutual love for Christ and the desire to continue to grow both individually and together in Him. The love you have for one another edifies. It encourages, builds up, and comes alongside her in her rights and in her wrongs, in her joys and in her pains; in her ease and in her struggles. It says I am with you through it all; I want to be with you through it all. Seeing love in action like this brings more than a smile to our faces because it is exactly what Christ had in mind when He put the sacraments of marriage into place and you’ve been taking purposeful steps in this direction for some time.

The fact that your relationship bears a sense of security and protection for our girl, in addition to the fact that your actions match your insightful and focused promises to give her your best causes our hearts to swoon. We can only imagine how she feels!

We have seen your “we” identity grow with each passing month so much so that you’ve become nearly inseparable. Marriage is not such a scary word anymore, but one that ignites an unmatched joy. We knew this day–the day you begin building up the courage to ask us for our blessing to marry our daughter– would come. We’ve been preparing our hearts and minds for it since her birth. Even as we held her in our arms, we knew that one day we would be handing her over to another man worthy of her love and devotion.

We began praying over you the day she was placed into our arms and with each struggle, pressure, etc.  she has encountered throughout the years; we knew you very well might be experiencing similar situations. So as we prayed for wisdom and strength for her, we prayed the same for you. Our hope has been that when your paths finally met (and admittedly, we have been eager to meet the man we will one day call son), you would not only encompass strength, exhibit a character that has elements of depth, wisdom, loyalty, unconditional love for both our girl and Christ, but also who is working toward having martial substance to offer our girl.

Plan Ahead

write-593333_960_720We bet your eyes just widened and a subtle fear rattled your heart upon reading the second part of that statement. It sounds a little scary, perhaps resembling high expectations. Yes, high expectations, but not unattainable. Here’s what we’re talking about. If we were to ask you how you will provide comfort and security for our girl as your soon to-be wife, we hope, even if you have not yet reached these goals, that you have prayed and begun planning so that you are ready to present your best, in both character and provision, to our girl at the time of proposal.

One word of caution: plans for provision do not start once an engagement has taken place. An engagement is a time to plan your wedding and honeymoon and fine-tune—fine-tune, not start, how you will provide.

She is your helpmate, but you are the head of the marriage. We expect that you will take the lead to communicate and take action in this area We’re not asking that you be wealthy or have a multitude of material possessions. No, not at all. What we are asking is that you have an idea of the outward tangible affects you can offer her; things that will not draw her into a life of debt and constant worry about finances. Marriage is hard enough without having to wonder where your next meal is coming from or if the roof over your heads will be there tomorrow.

Love is a great start, but it is not enough.

“A groom who knows he is strong inside faith and character stands tall and proud. He is ready to assume the full responsibilities of marriage with deep, inner assurance that he desires and can provide for his wife” (TN).

Roles

It’s important to talk about the roles in marriage and expectations of one another in those roles. Our girl comes from a tradition home where mom cooks, cleans, rears the kids and works part-time. Dad works full time, mows the lawn, and takes out garbage. He is primarily responsible for paying the bills. Your marriage doesn’t have to look traditional. It does have to be something you legitimately see eye-to-eye on and can live the rest of your days resentment free.man-vacation-people-summer-large

We know the two of you talk at length about everything under the sun. You have talked about your strengths and weaknesses as individuals and what those will look like in a family unit. Differences have the ability to bring depth, perspective, and beauty to a marriage so long as you have a plan for how to deal with them and can communicate respectfully.

Conflicts

Tommy Nelson (I’m such a fan) note that conflicts come from one of five sources: 1) a failure to communicate. 2) financial difficulties 3) sexual difficulties 4) problems with the in-laws or 5) disagreements about child-rearing. Take the time now to discuss your expectations in each of these areas and how you will work toward resolving such issues.

rings-481143_960_720Parents’ Promise

We want to assure you that when you are ready to ask our daughter for her hand in marriage and we see your relationship is rooted and established in Christ in addition to being prepared to care for her to the best of your ability, we will proudly give you our blessing. We will not stand in the way to join what God has brought together. We will welcome you into our family, call you son, and rejoice in the celebration of your union. We will not interfere in your marriage. We fully expect our girl to “leave and cleave” and will encourage her to honor you in every sense of the word. We will pray ceaselessly over your marriage.

Marriage

chapel-966557_960_720We believe marriage is a vow made before God to love the person who is standing by your side regardless of what happens (outside of abuse and marital betrayal) and for as long as you both live. God is the “author”of your relationship. He created you for our girl and our girl for you. He is so over-the-moon exhilarated at your union. Without a doubt, marriage is a public celebration of two flawed people coming together, trusting God to be the “completer” of their relationship. A wedding is a sacred moment. Marriage is a sacred lifetime. It deserves honor, respect, attention, and every effort you can make. Start now.

We treasure the gift you are to both our daughter and to our family. It will be an absolute honor to call you son.

Love,

The Girl You’re Dating Parents


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Dear Boy Dating Our Daughter 2

Last week, I began a short dating series titled “Dear Boy Dating Our Daughter”. These letters will serve solely as a communication tool for my girls. In no way would I ever consider actually sending these letters. I’m pretty sure any boy interested in our girls would run for the hills! I decided to write this series because my own dating experiences were…subpar and completely misguided. It is my hope that my girls don’t date as a way to find their identity, but as way to live fully in who Christ already says they are.


Dear Boy Dating Our Daughter,

We see how you open the door for our daughter, caution her to watch her step when you see an obstacle ahead, how you offer her your coat when you sense she is cold.  We see how you look into her eyes as she talks and how you follow up with thoughtful questions in hopes to understand her better or challenge her to think or see things from a different perspective. You are a gentleman. It seems as if you know that romance and respect are closely linked.

A woman who feels respected automatically feels as if she is being romanced

Luke Text

We’re not saying be romantic to or with our daughter. We’re saying, be respectful to our daughter. They look different, sound different, and in the end, respect will gain you a girl who will fawn over you far more than if you simply tell her she’s beautiful. If you struggle to show her respect, she will struggle to believe you really care and (eventually) love her. Your choice, but choose wisely.

The more time you spend dating, the greater your respect should become for one another. How and where you spend your time together is critical to the health and success of your relationship. Although you might balk at the parameters we set in place, such as spending short periods of time together, but over a prolonged period—and in a public setting, let us explain why. First, as a built-in safeguard against temptations and secondly, because as you spend time together, you talk about a variety of issues—some deep, some not so deep; you experience one another in a variety of situations that bring out different levels of stress, joy, and comfortableness. If you keep plowing ahead without taking time to digest what you’re discovering in one another, you may miss some valuable follow-up conversations. Remember, dating is an evaluation time. You don’t need to hurry the process. Hurrying always leads to mistakes. We’ve mentioned to our girl that dating is like savoring an exquisite piece of chocolate, not inhaling it.pexels-photo-large

What we know of you so far is delightful. Admittedly, we even get a little weepy because we love seeing our girl so happy. But, we’re cautious still because we also know that ANY MAN can do romantic things for a period of time, be on his best behavior for a season or two, show good manners, even exhibit respect for a while. “A while” or “a season or two” isn’t good enough. Sorry. A real man doesn’t “win” her over and then regress back to animal kingdom! No, a REAL MAN listens and continues to listen, even to the words unspoken. It’s called being present, being intentional.

“Listening is a universal sign of wisdom” (I wish I knew whom to credit for those well strung words).

It nearly goes without saying that good listening results in better understanding. Good listening leads to asking thoughtful questions. Put another way: Good listening plus good questions leads to seeing the person’s inner thoughts and convictions. Listening sees the real person. This is where respect will be nurtured and has the ability to lead to a lifetime of mutual admiration.

Dear boy, you have to know we have raise our girl grounded in respect (it is *the* keyword in our house). She will respect you before you have done anything to deserve it. She will build you up, encourage you, support you any way she knows how—and even in ways she has yet to learn. She understands your reputation is the very rhythm of your heart and she will live to honor you in that place. She will always act on behalf of your best interests, even if you do not always see her actions as such. We have raised her to look upon you as “the only apple tree in a pine forest”. You are the object of her delight, but she lives to a high standard—as we hope that you do as well.
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The standard? God’s. Yep, His. It is our hope that you have such reverence for God’s standard that you would honor it and never allow your own agenda or “needs” to supersede His. God has called you to be a warrior—to love our girl as Christ loved the church. God’s plan for you is His best, it’s completely necessary, scandalously ridged, and incomprehensibly rewarding. Don’t let anything sneak in to spoil the purity of your relationship. This requires constant evaluation, endlessly battening down the hatches, unceasing prayer for protection and strength.

Obviously, we’ve talked all about sex without actually mentioning that awesome three letter word! To paint a better word picture, I’ll borrow Tommy Nelson’s analogy:

“Would you set a fire in your living room? No? Do you have a fire place in your home? If you have a fireplace, you likely set a fire in your living room, but you keep it contained in the device made explicitly for keeping a fire contained—your fireplace made of brick, glass, and metal, with pokers and screens all designed to keep the fire precisely where you want it. That same analogy applies to sexual fire in a relationship. Keep in bounds. A fire kept in bounds provides warmth, happiness, and comfort. Out of bounds it destroys everything in its path”.

man girl bikeDating is exhilarating. We love that you are investing in our girl. Please pace yourselves, not because we are crazy, slightly over-protective parents (!), but because ultimately you desire to live out your relationship according to God’s plans, not yours—not even ours. Eventually, the two of you will develop something so precious—a “we” identity—this is what we call the sweet spot. It’s where you’ll shine more brightly because you’re working together, pulling together, dreaming together. This togetherness is worth fighting for. Warrior on!

Love,

The Girl You’re Dating’s Parents


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