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

May 22, 2020

Linn-Mar Class of 2020

This week we celebrate our twin daughters’ high school graduation. They call it commencement. I think it was near my own graduation before I learned that the word “commencement” actually means a beginning, not an end. Someone tell that to my heart because this feels an awful lot like a conclusion. A tear-jerker.

Brad Paisley expresses it poignantly in his song, “Last Time for Everything.” Or if you’re not a country fan, then maybe the end of the song Closing Time will ring a bell: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” (Fun fact: Semisonic actually got that line from the ancient Stoic Roman philosopher Seneca).

Things just don’t stay the same for long. We see this really clearly with our little ones. Compare a three day old with a three month old with a three year old. That early physical development is miraculous. And we as parents help them progress from total dependence to total independence–that’s the job, right?
Each milestone for our kids has been a bright beginning for them. Every new skill, from riding a bike to driving a car. Every new freedom from crossing the street alone to not having a curfew. Every step with Jesus from trusting Him as Lord to leading others to Him. With each new beginning, some level of their need for me has ended (Don’t worry, their last need, cash, will continue for years).

I admit, it stings a little. But I would be very selfish indeed if I fought it. They are ready for this next chapter and I am proud of them.

As Christians, what should our perspective be when faced with things like endings and beginnings? One word: Hope. Because of Jesus, we don’t need to get all worked up about the seasons of life changing. We don’t need to be filled with regrets about our past. We don’t need to fear the future. We don’t even need to fear the ultimate ending–death. Because in Christ, all these sorrows get turned to joys. Even death gives way to a life with no more goodbyes. No more worries. No more endings. That’s our living hope!

I’m trying to remember all that truth during this season for our family. This life is not meant to be lived looking in the rearview mirror, afraid of what’s ahead. It’s meant to be lived on purpose, face to the sun, running toward our own glorious Commencement Day.

So whatever ages and stages you’re in as a parent, enjoy them. Things don’t stay the same for long. Today is a precious gift.

Here’s to the class of 2020.

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining for what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

May 15, 2020

If you’ve been married for longer than five minutes, you know there’s truth in the phrase, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
It means, “…if you know someone or something very well, you can easily become bored with them and stop treating them with respect.” (The Free Dictionary by Farlex).

It’s the reason your spouse’s little quirks were cute when you were dating but now they drive you bananas. It’s also the reason a kid might consider a teacher/coach/friend/YouTuber to be an expert and his parent to be a moron. Don’t feel bad, moms and dads. It happened to Jesus too.

This week’s Bible Story tells of a time Jesus went back to His hometown Nazareth. He was rapidly gaining influence and popularity abroad. But back home, guess what? Familiarity led to contempt. “Who does he think he is?” they sneered. “This is just Jesus, the carpenter’s son. He’s no big deal.”

Their perspective was so toxic, their refusal to believe in Him so belligerent, that Jesus was actually astonished. You can read all about it in Mark 6:1-6.
What causes this phenomenon? Why did my husband’s fastidiousness appear incredibly responsible and honorable when we were dating, but it can be incredibly irritating now? Short answer? My sin.

To be more specific, my pride. Did you notice in the above definition it indicates a loss of respect? Our pride causes us to look down on others. Our pride can even cause us to look down on others who are WAY BETTER than us. (Case in point: Jesus returning to Nazareth). We don’t need a reason to be prideful. We don’t need training. It comes quite naturally and it comes out the worst with those we know best.

Coronavirus has put the “fam” in familiarity, am I right? Compelled to be in constant, close contact with our families is a recipe for contempt if we are not careful. Pray to recognize and resist pride as soon as it raises its ugly head. Much better to be humble, empathetic, patient, gracious. Not easy, but much, much better.

“…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
I’m praying The Holy Spirit will bring about beautiful things in your family through this season and beyond.

Family Assessment and Brainstorm

Before we get started on the specific steps in Nailing Christmas, use the following questions to assess how Christmas is currently going in your household.  This small step of preparation will help you be even more intentional in your Christmas focus.

Does your family have a Christmas fanatic?  If so, who is it? (You want to get this person’s buy in!)

What is your favorite thing about Christmas? (Build on this.)

Do you have a Christmas non-negotiable? (Don’’t mess with this.)

What frustrates you about Christmas? (Work on reducing or eliminating this.)

On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you with talking to your kids about Jesus?  (Do you need improvement?)

On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you praying with your family? (Would you like to be stronger?)

As you look back over this year, is there a word or a phrase that comes to mind?  (Can you think of any Christmas-y spin on that?)

As you pray for discernment, can you think of any spiritual need your family might have this year?  (Can you create a Christmas theme around this?) 

What do you think has kept your family from NAILING CHRISTMAS?  (Be specific.)

What would NAILING CHRISTMAS look like in your family this year? (Be specific.)

Click here to continue with the next in the Nailing Christmas series.

Nailing Christmas

©LLB Images 2016

Christmas is coming!

For some readers that announcement provokes nostalgic sentiments and joy so tangible we feel it wrap around us like a soft blanket.  For others, a dread—a cynical, stressed-out and guilty dread—settles over our hearts like a winter fog even while we tell ourselves we should be, “in the Christmas Spirit,” whatever that means.

For most, the approach of Christmas brings an emotional concoction of both extremes.  We know Christmas should be a time of joy but we also admit that in reality, in our homes, it will be a time of added strain.

As Christians, this conflict can be exacerbated by the many platitudes that remind us that Christmas is no regular holiday.  For us, it is a Holy Day: celebrating the coming of our Savior and everything that has meant for us: our redemption, our renewal, our resurrection.

  • Jesus is the reason for the season
  • Keep Christ in Christmas
  • Wise Men still seek Him
  • It’s not about the presents–it’s about His Presence

And on and on it goes. We see these reminders on our social media feeds, on quaint rustic home decor and on bumper stickers in the church parking lot.  These words may function as a guilt trip reinforcing that we aren’t doing Christmas right. We know it’s all supposed to be about Jesus. He really is the reason for the season.  It really is our responsibility as parents to make Christmas less about the presents and more about His presence…but there are just so many forces at work to distract us from what really matters.  The spirit may be willing, but…still.

Is it even possible in the midst of Black Friday sales and company parties and white elephant gift exchanges and school holiday music concerts to make time to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way?  When outside expectations pressure us to have a perfect Christmas, can we really give our families a purposeful Christmas?

What if we didn’t have to conclude each Christmas season feeling like we failed it. What if when December 26 rolled around we could all collectively smile and sigh, “Nailed it.”

It hasn’t been perfect but I want to share with you what our family has done to intentionally focus on Jesus during very busy seasons of life.  We have raised four children less than five years apart.  We later added two adopted brothers to the mix.  We have been as busy as anyone at Christmastime.  But we have continued this one simple practice during the many years of elementary school parties, church pageants, basketball seasons, high school show choir extravaganzas and now the college years. We have created a tradition that continues to give our celebration significance.

I want to give your family a simple template to nail Christmas year after year.  It’s a simple tool that will help your family build a foundation for Christmas that could last for generations.  

The basic framework for Nailing Christmas is the Family Meeting.  Click to learn more…

Nailing Christmas consists of holding a couple of family meetings thoughout the Christmas season.  You are in control–you decide how many meetings, how often you hold the meetings, etc.  Our family does one each Sunday night for four weeks leading up to Christmas.

If you’ve decided Nailing Christmas is something you’d like to try with your family, more information will be available with future blog posts. 

Click here to continue with the next in the Nailing Christmas series.

Thomas, Marissa, Loretta, Jake, Jeremy, Alex, & Lizzy ©LLB Images 2017

Family Meetings

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Family Meetings have been a staple in our household.  We have gathered around our table or around the fireplace throughout the years to accomplish a lot of family business.   Anyone in the family is free to call and lead a family meeting at any time. The agendas for the meetings have been quite various:

  • What are we doing this weekend?
  • Let’s plan a family trip
  • There’s an upcoming home improvement project–and what this means for you
  • How do we not spend our entire summer vacation staring at screens?
  • How to change the toilet paper roll
  • Why aren’t people waking up on time?
  • Giving good news–or bad news
  • Let’s talk about adoption
  • How are we doing upholding our family values?

Some of our family’s most important moments and memories have occurred during the course of a family meeting.  We have laughed and cried together as we announced the births and deaths of loved ones, empowered our kids to research their preferred potential vacation activities, taught practical life skills, discussed assorted Bible topics and made major life decisions.

This tool has been a helpful way to keep our whole family feeling informed and unified and loved. It has been a powerful way to bring scripture to daily life application. And it has been a means of really getting to know one another’s individual strengths, preferences, ideas, and goals.

There are three important tips we’ve found for having successful family meetings:

Be Concise

Be concise doesn’t necessarily mean keep it within a particularly short time frame.  It may mean that—but it doesn’t have to.  It just means don’t make it loooooong.  Don’t lecture.   Be aware if your kids are losing interest and wrap it up.  As a parent, you never want to sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown.  When your children are small, their attention spans are also small.  As your kids get older, you may need to be sensitive to their homework load for the night. Make it last just the right amount of time.  Leave them wishing for more not wishing it were over.

Be Inclusive

Ever notice how every group has one person who likes to monopolize the conversation? In your family, you already know who I’m talking about.  They like the limelight and they steal the thunder. As the leader of your family meeting, you have the opportunity to give everyone a turn to participate equally according to their ability.  Pray to become even more aware of the personalities of your kids and try to help draw out the quieter ones to feel involved and included.  This is a great way to teach about personality differences and how to be a healthy team.  Learning to be quiet and listen as well as learning to be confident and speak up are life lessons best learned first in the safety of the home.

Be Positive

Our kids have always been excited to assemble when a family meeting gets called. Some of our family meetings have been just plain fun but some have been called specifically for times of loss or instruction or correction.  If the only time we called the family together was for something bad, then I doubt the kids’ reaction would still be so eager. But even for the “downers,” we always tried to end on a positive note.  A prayer, an encouraging verse, a group hug, a word of praise from Dad.  Make them glad they can trust you to lead the family and make them glad they have each other.  If your family has been struggling lately with…with any of the things families struggle with…disrespectful attitudes, poor time management, ingratitude, etc. it may be time for a meeting. But use your discernment.  It may be time for one of those corrective meetings.  But it also may be time to just play some Twister or go out for ice cream or do something together just for the fun of it.

Life is hard and family life is complicated. Family meetings can help.  I hope this encourages your family to reap the benefits from these times of togetherness like mine has.  Why not call a family meeting tonight?

The Road Not Taken–a Marriage Metaphor

Autumn Path

Recently a group of young parents asked me and my husband, “How do you keep your marriage strong–especially in the second decade?”  This followed closely behind the question, “How did you teach your kids financial responsibility?”  It’s so cute that they thought we did either of those things very well.

I’m an English major, thus weird about things such as actually liking literature.  I even enjoy reading poetry too.  Are poets even a thing anymore?  They used to be the soul of the culture.  Now, I guess we have Lady Gaga, so…  For an English major I can sure get off topic quickly.

Anyway, one of my all time favorites is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.  You can scroll past if you’re gagging.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 
And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 
I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…That is the problem.  At least when it comes to marriage.

We have had some rocky patches in the past 22 years, to be sure. But when discussing our marriage, the metaphor I used was walking on a path.  When our marriage is happy and close we are walking on the same path.  We are facing one life together, with the same goals and challenges, hand in hand.

But there are times we have found ourselves walking on two paths.  Parallel paths, mind you–both trying to get to the same place (Happy Future), both pointed in the same direction.  But there’s enough distance between us that we aren’t quite unified. There’s a hedge or a ditch or maybe even a barbed-wire fence in between.

So it is easier to remain separate.  And it’s also very easy to justify staying a bit disjointed because after all, we are both going in the same direction (Happy Future!).  Hopefully somewhere down the lane there will be a break in the hedge, a miraculous bridge over the ditch, or a gate in the fence and we can reunite then. Don’t you think your marriage is too important to hope it’ll get fixed on your next anniversary getaway, Valentine’s Day or church marriage conference?  Plus it’s too painful, day in and day out to settle for holding hands over a barbed wire fence.  Your shoulder starts to cramp up and then there’s the barbs.

But trouble really sets in when we discover that our paths have now begun to diverge in this yellow wood of life. His path has turned toward work, deadlines, finances, volunteering, meetings, stress, and more responsibilities than he has time in the day to fulfill.  And “perhaps” my path has curved in the direction of my concerns: the kids, the kids’ schedules, the kids’ futures, the kids’ relationships, the kids’ health, buying the kids’ food, cooking the kids’ meals…

I actually firmly believe that obsessing like that over the kids is not a healthy way to be a mom, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. But maybe that’s what some other moms are doing?  What I really obsess over is what happens next in the Harry Potter series I’m finally reading. And when the temperature is going to break 70 degrees.

Nevertheless, my husband is not the parent primarily concerned with the kids’ stuff and he’s certainly not in the leastwise concerned about Hogwarts.  And I’m not really “up on” syntax, data mining, legacy codes or system analysis.  So I don’t particularly like his path.  He doesn’t have the luxury to hop over to mine.  Because money.

If we continue down our individual ways for long, it becomes increasingly difficult to merge.   You can’t even see each other after a while!  You aren’t heading toward Happy Future any longer. Then what?

There are really only two options and neither one is convenient. And both are time consuming.  And really difficult. And chances are you got into this mess because when the yellow wood of life got super busy and super stressful it was simply more convenient and faster and easier to stop investing in your marriage and lazily let your paths diverge.

But at this point, this far apart, the only two options for your marriage are:

Option 1. Grab your axe and start hacking your way toward each other through the woods.  This involves thorns and scratches and an axe, so I highly discourage this option.

Option 2. Retreat. Go back (maybe way back) to where your paths diverged.  Humbly meet back there, find out (through talking!) what made you start going it alone. Probably this will involve a date night. Maybe a series of date nights. Maybe a few evenings up past midnight talking on the couch.  But it’s crucial.

Why?  In our marriage we are motivated to do this work for a lot of big reasons. But also because we remember how much easier and happier life is together. Think about the challenges that would have been unbearable without each other.  Become determined to stay close from now on.  We don’t want a mediocre marriage. And neither do you.

And the one thing that helps prevent us from diverging in the future is having something in common.  It’s really easy after a while to discover that the only thing you share any more is the kids. And also a bathroom. But what about the things you love in life?  Find something you can love together. Every couple is different.  Maybe it will involve reading or exercise or hobbies or travel or volunteering or taking a class or binge-watching Netflix. Whatever works for you–don’t let yourselves stop having something to look forward to doing together.  And put it on the calendar if you have to.

So take The Road Not Taken by so many hurting couples.  Investing in your marriage may seem inconvenient, time consuming and difficult at first.  But it beats the axe.  When you’ve gotten back on the same path: forgive, hug, hold hands and get a move on. Happy Future is waiting for you.

Kiev Mall

Look! Here our shared path recently led us to an underground mall in Kiev, Ukraine!

Photo Blitz

First of all, I would like to give a shoutout to Dr. Kimberly Cruise and the staff at the 10th Street Iowa Eye Care.  They took such good care of the boys today.  Free exam, free opti-map, free everything.  And the diagnosis: Perfect vision and perfect eye health for both.

It’s hard to believe we are down to our last week together.  Now that the crazy busy holidays are behind us, we are settling in to more of a normal schedule.  Two things have definitely changed in our household since the boys arrived.  I cook three solid meals every. single. day. And we spend a lot more time together doing family stuff.  Two things have definitely not changed. Love rules. And teenage boys everywhere will play video games non-stop if you let them.

Not much else to add but I wanted to send a quick photo update.  Enjoy!

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.  Ecclesiastes 11:9

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O.’s all-time favorite: Risk

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Learned another new game: Ticket to Ride!

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Bonding time over a cell phone.

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Loving Poky and Cinco!

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Marissa’s birthday!

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Birthday dinner!

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Borscht gets a a thumbs-up!

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Ice skating does NOT get a thumbs up.

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Carousel ride was a big hit!

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Group shot!