Wish lists.

I was surprised in my Bible reading this morning. I was reading in Psalm 20 where it says, 

“May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!…May the Lord fulfill all your petitions” (Psalm  20:4-5)!

I realize that I have Christmas on the brain, but that verse made me think about Wish Lists. Specifically, what would be on my own personal grown-up wish list? The more I thought about it, the more I became genuinely tearful that my loving Heavenly Father would care about what might be on such a list.

To be honest, I tend to think my heart’s desires are too silly for God to care about. I also tend to not be much of a “dreamer” for fear that the LORD’s plans will supercede mine anyway. But this morning, I took out my journal and I wrote down my heart’s desires. Nothing too spiritual or impressive. Just the sincere wishes I have for myself and my family in the new year and beyond. 

I thought this exercise would make me feel like a spoiled child leafing through the Sunday ads and circling all the things that I wanted to get. But the result was actually quite different. As I found myself expressing wishes and concerns for the people closest to me, I became extremely thankful for the many, many blessings the Father has already lavished on me. A deep sense of peace and contentment and gratitude overwhelmed me. 

So as we eagerly wrap up this calendar year and look ahead to 2021, what are your plans? What are your petitions? What are your hearts’ desires? I encourage you to express them honestly to your Father. He knows what you need before you ask anyway, but oh how He delights in His children coming close to Him and asking.

And as you discuss Christmas wish lists with your children, how can you leverage that conversation to teach them truths about their generous Heavenly Father? He is the true Giver of every good gift we have.

And speaking of Christmas, I want to invite your family to join us in worship at New Covenant Bible Church as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will be having three Christmas services from which to choose: December 23 at 6:00 and December 24 at 4:00 and 6:00.  There are a variety of ways you can celebrate with us!

  • In Person: If you have been looking for an opportunity to return to church services, we would love to see you for Christmas.
  • Livestream: If you are planning on staying home this year, please connect with us through our Livestream service.
  • GNNNN: Hey families: the third episode of the GNNNN Christmas Finale is now available for your family to view online. What a fun honor it has been partnering with an amazing team to bring you these videos in 2020.

I pray your family has a happy Christmas. May the Lord truly grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.

Cheers!

Do something.

Hey ya’ll! Fun fact: our college girls are home!

Lizzy mentioned to me how strange it was that after being gone so long and experiencing so many new adventures the thing she found herself talking about with the ones she loves is….COVID.

I want to turn the corner. COVID is here. I get it. But certainly there are some other and better things to occupy our minds and fuel our conversations and spur our actions?

A friend told me this week that when an outbreak of the bubonic plague closed theaters in London, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra.

Sometimes when life gives us lemons, we need to get out of bed, take a shower, and get to work making lemonade.

Did you know:

  • Beethoven composed his greatest works, including the Ninth Symphony after going completely deaf.
  • Joseph Pilates developed a physical training regimen while imprisoned in an internment camp during World War 1.
  • And the Great Depression brought us inventions such as: Scotch Tape, the ball point pen,  chocolate chip cookies and the car stereo.

There’s no end of stories of heroes who made a positive impact on the world in spite of, or perhaps because of the challenging circumstances they faced. Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela. Or look to the scriptures: Moses. Joseph. Daniel.

Challenging times aren’t an excuse to disengage from life. They are actually times to let God use us to do something great. What amazing thing does God want for you right now? For your marriage, your family, your career, your prayer life, your gospel witness in your world?

Benjamin Franklin, another great hero borne out of adversity once said, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”

Let’s let God work in us and through us to do something great this week.

You don’t have to be.

What are you going to be for Halloween? Something pretend like Princess Anna or Darth Vader? Or something really scary like 2020 or the American Political Climate? 

In case you are struggling with how to fashionably dress your fur baby this year, the most popular pet costumes according to the National Retail Federation will be pumpkin, hot dog, superhero, cat and bumblebee. Wait—do people dress their cat up as a cat or how does that work?

I’ve never personally been a big fan of Halloween. Our kids have always dressed up and gone trick-or-treating and we’ve always welcomed the neighborhood ghosts and goblins to our door. But I guess I find real life to be disturbing enough without filling my mind with additional horrors.   

And speaking of real-life horrors, this week at NCBC Kids we will be talking about Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Imagine how terrifying that was to the followers of Christ. Consider the fear of living in that political climate and seeing that injustice done to our Lord. Nothing we could conjure up for our front lawn “decor” or for Netflix could compare with the forces of evil at work on that day.

I encourage you to use Halloween as an opportunity to talk to your kids about the results of that truly wicked Jerusalem night. Because our Savior was willing to go to the cross, He defeated once and for all every fear, every enemy and all darkness. This week’s episode of GNNNN may help you to begin that conversation. 

Halloween does kick off the 8-week countdown to Christmas at my house. Now there’s a holiday I can get behind: Lights and carols and Jesus. All the candy with none of the creeps. 

As for this weekend, however you celebrate or don’t, be safe out there and remember one thing you don’t have to be for Halloween is afraid.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). 

Cheers,

Intentional.

Here’s a little story about me. When I was a mom of little ones one word kept popping up in every podcast, every Bible Study, and every book. It was a challenging word that hung darkly over my mind like this morning’s thick mist: intentional. Being told to be intentional in my parenting felt so demanding, so daunting and so daily. Survival: that was the goal most days. But parenting purposefully, with a plan and goals and expectations? That seemed impossible to even imagine. Nevertheless, I knew God was prompting me to be a more intentional parent, whatever that meant.

I started and stopped (AKA quit) many attempts at intentionality with devotions, chores, quality time, bedtime prayers, and dozens of other initiatives. I’m sure many of you are consistent rock stars with charts and calendars and plans and things. I was not.

But there was one way that I managed to be consistently intentional. I was determined to really know my kids. I became a student of them. What made them laugh? What frustrated them? What were their interests? How were they growing and changing? What were their “love languages?” Where was childish foolishness slipping into patterns of willful rebellion?

By God’s grace I simply wanted to intentionally know them as unique, interesting, developing individuals made in God’s image. Not just little people. But people-people. 

(God thought it would be funny to introduce identical twins as an added bonus challenge).

Knowing my kids has been a rewarding lifelong study. I have watched them willfully irritate each other, bully, manipulate, judge, gossip, be lazy and irresponsible, waste time, waste money, procrastinate, and repeatedly crash their cars. But I have also watched them overcome intense fears, deal with toxic friendships, deflect peer pressure, work hard to achieve goals, defend each other, befriend the lonely, wake themselves up early to spend time with Jesus, and devote themselves to following Him forever.

Intentionally studying them helped me be able to disciple them through the hard times and celebrate with them in the victories. Now that they are grown adults, I’m really glad I know them. Turns out they are pretty cool people-people.

So that is my story about how once upon a time God challenged me simply with the word “intentional” and how that affected my focus as a mom. I hope this encourages you wherever you are on your parenting journey. What is God’s challenge for you right now? Is He asking something of you that seems too demanding, daunting, or daily? That very challenge may be His way to bring you great reward next year or in a decade or two. He is faithful. You can trust Him.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3).

Get along.

Well folks, I bought my first Christmas present this week. Can you believe there’s only 70 days until Christmas!

When my kids were little, they always asked me, “Mommy, what do you want for Christmas?” And my answer was always the same. “I want you kids to get along.” 

Hey, we honestly had a pretty loving, unified and peaceful home. But kids will be kids and newsflash–kids will be sinners too. And any time they intentionally hurt or irritated or angered one another, it also hurt me. So I’d tell them, every single December, the best way they could honor me, and truly make it “the most wonderful time of the year” was by loving each other well. 

There was once a holiday season where Jesus had a similar request. He was celebrating His last Passover with his disciples. In fact, it was Jesus’ last supper. His final meal on earth.  

You know what it’s like when you’ve worked so hard creating a wonderful environment for that special moment–inevitably that’s when all heck breaks loose. The family photos. The birthday party. In the car on the way to Christmas Eve services.  

And as if on cue, right in the middle of His very special occasion, Jesus’ disciples started bickering. “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” Luke 22:24. 

I am! 
Am not. 
Am too! 
Am not. 
Am too! 
Mom!!!!! 

Or in this case, 

Jesus!!! 

And can you guess what Jesus says? “You guys need to get along!” 

In John chapters 14-17, Jesus gives a heartfelt and beautiful plea to his followers to love each other. Serve each other. Be at peace with one another. Live with joy together. 

He prays for us–that we would be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. That’s some serious unity. 

Our world is becoming more polarized by the minute. But my brothers and sisters this should not be true of us! Unity in Christ is not optional. It’s imperative. It’s the proof that we are actually His disciples. We gotta get along. And not a false peace, but real, true, family unity–the way we want our kids to love each other. 

So the next time there’s some big sibling rivalry or conflict in your family, let it help serve as a reminder and encouragement that brothers and sisters in Christ also should not fight. Consider: Is there anyone I need to forgive from my heart today? May we all sincerely pray for hearts which shine the sweet light of unity into this darkened world. 

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). 

Yay, joy.

Our family–Thanksgiving 2002

When I was a young mom with four kids ages 5 and under, I struggled with being joyful (Every mom reading this just muttered, “Amen, sister” under her breath.). The strain of having so many asking so much of me day after day after day was not only physically exhausting but mentally as well. Although I loved my kids desperately and was literally living my best life, I found myself becoming resentful of these little ones who consumed my resources and gave little back. Four little kids produce a lot of noise, bodily fluids, and chaos. That’s just life.

I knew something had to change. God knew my mind had to change.

In His infinite kindness He led me to John 15 and I camped out there for years. Joy was the missing ingredient in my life. And in John 15, Jesus gives a counter-cultural recipe for achieving it.

Spoiler Alert: It isn’t more “me” time. It isn’t a break, a vacation, a run, a bubble bath, a glass of wine, or a date night. Those things can definitely be good and healthy things and it’s wise to try to fit them into your life. But they won’t produce lasting joy.

The only way to true joy is love. Sacrificial, die-to-myself kind of love. Putting up with them kind of love. This is costing me a lot, in fact this might just cost me everything kind of love. “Love each other as I have loved you” Jesus love.

To this day, when I feel joyless, stressed, under-appreciated, or basically filled with self-pity, love is the way out. The only way out. If I prayerfully force my mind to look outside myself at other people’s hurts and needs, I realize how many others have it much worse than I do. Then if I actually do something loving with a pure heart for someone else (whether it’s a clingy 12 month old or a grumpy neighbor)——inevitably, that is how Jesus’ joy has been and still is made complete in my heart.

It doesn’t have to be something monumental. It might just be a smile and a wave for that neighbor. Or stopping what you’re doing for the umpteenth time and without malice, listening to your child. I have learned that loving others produces joy.

And I’m not even a 2 on the Enneagram!

In the midst of life’s chaos, don’t forget there is joy to be found. The Holy Spirit accomplishes it for us when we live and love like Jesus. Begin to talk in your family about what others-first love might look like in your family, in your neighborhood, and in our derecho-damaged, COVID-crazy world.

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:10-12).

With joy,

Meant to.

I texted a dear friend late last night. I asked her to pray for me. I confessed I felt weary even though I know Galatians tells me not to! Nevertheless I was feeling weary of it all. It’s not anything new. It’s just 2020. It’s all just so disruptive, unpredictable, unstable, and cumulative

2020, seriously go home. 

I wish none of this had happened.

And if you love The Lord of the Rings like I do, that phrase, “I wish none of this had happened” instantly reminds you of a critical scene between Gandalf and Frodo. If you hate LOTR, I don’t even know how to help you. 😉

Frodo was feeling like I was——worse even. He’s like, “I’ll see your “COVID-19, Derecho Disaster” and I’ll raise you “Mortally Wounded by an Orc Blade and Hopelessly Lost in a Pitch Black Underground Mountain Maze Filled with Goblins, Chased By a Psycho Who Wants to Kill Me For The Ring Which I Must Destroy On This Impossible Quest Or The Forces of Evil Will Forever Defeat Anything Good and Lovely In This World.”

I’d be in a funk too, Frodo. Granted his is make-believe and ours is real life. But still.

And as expected, wise old Gandalf has a word in due season. When Frodo says, “I wish none of this had happened,” Gandalf explains:

“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world than the forces of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” 

Meant to.

What if we were born, lived our normal lives for years and years until March 2020, at which point we were meant to go through all the chaos we are going through?

Meant to——for what? Please. It’s not as if there’s an epic battle of good versus evil in which we are called to play an important role or anything.

Except there is. We certainly didn’t choose to live in such times. But here we are. We have to decide what we are going to do with the time that is given to us.

What should we do with the time that is given to us?

Have you noticed how neighbors are talking to neighbors suddenly? How months and months of isolation, followed by an impossibly rare natural disaster has broken down the barriers that were there three weeks ago? I bet many of you have met neighbors for the first time. I bet many of you have shared generators, hauled debris, have toiled blood, sweat, and tears side by side with people who last March you didn’t even know existed. I bet those people would now happily come over to your house for a cookout, for a bonfire, for a chance to retell the story of the storm. I bet you are in a position to “love your neighbor as yourself” like never before in your life.

What to do with the time that is given to us? How about the great commandment? How about the great commission? Love your Neighbors. Eventually make disciples of them.

I am seriously not a fan of this “COVID-19, Derecho Disaster.” But if we were meant to have it——that is an encouraging thought.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Time flies.

Road tripping to Arkansas!

This week I went to Siloam Springs, Arkansas— home of the beautiful John Brown University. We dropped off our twin daughters for their freshman year of college. My, how time has flown! It seems like just yesterday they were toddling down the hallway after a nap looking for some snuggles and story-time. Now here they are: Beautiful, accomplished, and competent young women – ready to take on the next challenge. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

I guess I just want to encourage you moms and dads this week — keep up the good work! I know how exhausting parenthood is. And how daily that exhaustion is. The sheer volume of practical, recurring domestic duties and the way they pile up — dishes and laundry and cooking and shopping and sweeping and bathing and feeding. It’s a LOT. And then there’s the weight of responsibility of raising a tiny little helpless soul to be a functioning, upstanding citizen and by God’s grace a thriving, maturing disciple of Christ. It’s daunting. it’s challenging. It feels unending. But it’s not.

I’m here to tell you: that level of parenthood not only has an ending but that ending sneaks up quickly on you. I’m a country music lover and so in the words of the incomparable Brad Paisley, there’s a “Last Time For Everything.” And you usually don’t know when it is happening.

Somewhere along the way my kids climbed off my lap and never climbed back up. I don’t know when the last bedtime story was. The last bath. The last tuck-in.

But I do know when the last meaningful conversation was: their last night home. Until 2:00am. We talked about college and money and church and love and responsibility and friendships and how unbelievably blessed we are. They are two of my favorite people on the planet. They aren’t just my kids—they’ve become my best friends.

Of course I will always be their mom. But this transition to friendship has been satisfying and incredible. It is literally the cumulative result of all those tedious, exhausting, difficult, challenging parenting days and weeks and years. so keep up the good work parents! The payoff is worth it.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Fear of death.

Phobias!

What is the silliest thing that you’re afraid of? That’s the Icebreaker question on this week’s GNNNN. We are asking it to prompt a discussion of fears in your family. This week’s Bible story is the account where Jesus calmed the storm. He performs this miracle to remind His friends that He is God in response to their cry, “Don’t you care that we are all going to die?” (Mark 4:38).

I’ve asked some of my friends that same Icebreaker question (mostly for fun and future pranking) and their answers have been everything from rats (that is NOT silly) to balloons, bridges, birds, tapeworms, ticks and tsunamis.

As kids, all our fears seem equally valid: bees, thunderstorms, monsters. But as we mature, we diminish some and dismiss others. But some we hold onto and decide, “This one. This one is for real.”

Fear of heights, needles, snakes, and the dark are some of the most common adult phobias. But did you know that 25% of Americans fear an IRS audit (1)? An estimated 12% of American adults are afraid of clowns (2)! Strangely, according to one 2017 study, more Americans are afraid of water pollution ( 53.1%) than of dying (20.3%)(3).

Fear of dying, though. Pretty sure that one’s gonna climb the list in 2020. Trying to not catch or spread this potentially fatal virus has changed the way we shop, work, school and worship. It’s changed the way our entire society now operates. Please understand: as a young woman, I suffered from significant and paralyzing anxiety. I am super compassionate to those who live in fear or battle anxiety on a daily basis. And I know COVID-19 has certainly amped up the environment where those fears can thrive.

But let me challenge you…What if even the very real, very pervasive fear of death could be diminished for us as maturing believers? What if it we could be free from it?

I heard a challenging quote many years ago that has stuck with me and helped me. It helped me when my baby niece was diagnosed with a rare cancer. It helped me when my friend and my nephew left for military deployment. It helped me when my teenage children drove home at night from hundreds of miles away. Or traveled alone in a third world country. It helped me through the deaths of three young nephews, a dear sister-in-law, and my father. It helped to ground me during many times of worry, crisis, and grief…when the possibility of death also includes the reality of death. It has reminded me that I (and my family) am safe in God’s hands at all times and in all circumstances–even in the midst of this global pandemic.

The quote is from Stonewall Jackson, a genius Civil War general and devout Christian:

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” (4).

Belief that our days are already numbered by God as the scripture teaches, has brought me incredible peace and stability even when the world seems dangerous or my loved ones seem to be going into “harm’s way.” If you want to live Bold and Brave, that quote will help you do it.

In the meanwhile, look out for wolves, snakeskins, cats, horse teeth, going airborne on the I-80 Interchange, getting your fingers sliced off while ice skating, and of course, don’t let the bedbugs bite.

Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15 (NIV)

With love to you and your family,

ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: A dear friend recommended a book to me that I read last fall. I promptly ordered an entire case and gave it to friends as a Christmas gift. If your world is rocked with fear and anxiety around death and dying, I highly recommend it to you. It is a short and easy read-but one of those books where you want to pause and reflect after every other paragraph. Literally life changing. Paradigm shifting. Empowering and encouraging. Remember Death-The Surprising Path to Living Hope by Matthew McCullough
WEB SOURCES: 1. Fear a tax audit by IRS? Don’t – the odds are with you 2. 20 Childhood Fears That Stick with You Until Adulthood. 3. Inc.com “Forget Dying and Public Speaking, Here’s the 47 Things Americans Fear More in 2017” 4. Stonewall Jackson Quotes