Papa’s Skipped Naps

It was the mid 80’s and we were spending another year vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our growing family. Benny decided to set aside his daily naps to spend time making memories with each of our children. One by one, he took them out for lunch and to get ice cream, buy a T shirt or ride go karts.

With each passing year they started anticipating their time out with Dad. But they were kids. Did they look forward to it just because being the only kid meant getting a bigger dessert or an extra go kart ride? Would they someday realize that memories really were being made or would their own fading memories result in forgetting Dad’s Day Out?

It was quite a project, but we got a family picture done last week!

Last week we were on our annual vacation at the beach. (My People, as I fondly call them, are pictured here.) Early in the week I was sitting under the beach canopy when I heard my two oldest grandsons, 7-year-olds JJ and Wyatt, interacting over their afternoon plans. JJ excitedly told Wyatt he was going out with Daddy on his motorcycle for lunch. “Really? I’m going out with my parents, too!” Wyatt responded.

Before I knew it my eyes were filling with tears. The kids did appreciate their times out with Dad! And now a new generation is benefitting from parents skipping their well-deserved beach naps to make memories with their kids.

Sometimes we parents wonder if our kids notice. Do they notice that we pray for them when we tuck them in each night? Stay up late to help them with a school assignment? Go without clothes or shoes so we can spend the money on them? Rave over their scribbled Sunday School pictures as if they’re works of art? Skip a nap to say “I love you?”

As a mother, I sometimes feel unappreciated for the sacrifices motherhood continues to place on me even though my youngest is nearly 18. I still don’t buy myself things so I can bless them, pray for them most nights, skip sleep to babysit the little ones or help with homework, and rave over their accomplishments. The fact is, parenting is hard and often thankless work with delayed benefits.

But when we get a glimpse of those benefits, it can take our breath away.

On the beach that day I got to see the fruit of Benny’s sacrifices. I saw the same glimmer of excitement in the eyes of two little boys that I saw in their parents eyes decades ago. Each day little people talked about it being their day out, then came back to chatter about what they had for lunch or show off their new T shirt.

Are you a parent who wonders if the sacrifices you are making mean much to your kids? Do you find yourself longing for some indication that you’re efforts appreciated?

Sometimes thanks comes in ways we can’t anticipate. Last week Benny received a great big “Thanks, Dad” without anyone saying a word to him.

Delayed parental fruit can sometimes be more sweet than immediate gratitude. If you are struggling with wondering if your sacrifices are even noticed by your kids, be patient. Your willingness to go without sleep or clothes or gratitude is making you like the One who sacrificed His very life so you could have a relationship with Him. The daily choices you are making are noticed by Him…and will produce fruit that you can’t yet see.

Someday your kids will thank you. Just maybe without words.

And take it from a Granma of eleven…future generations will be blessed by your every sacrifice. So keep laying down your life. Someday the fruit will take your breath away.

The Little People who are benefitting from their Papa’s skipped vacation naps.

Advertisements

The Importance of Pointing

I’ve been thinking recently about the importance of pointing. And not just pointing, but pointing in the right direction. Let me explain…

In the past few weeks Benny and I have sat with several people who are going through really rough times. In our interactions, it’s been our joy to point them to the One who will not only get them through this hard season but will also be faithful to allow them to experience the good He promises to those who endure trials.

I’m still making my way through the Book of Exodus. Over the years I’ve learned from smart people that the Old Testament is just as much about the Savior as the New Testament. They were right! My heart has been freshly touched by how often these ancient words point to a coming Messiah. Just over the past few days two examples of how God was pointing to Another have nearly jumped off the pages to me:

  • The song of Exodus 15 is strikingly similar to Mary’s song found in Luke 2:46-55.
  • Exodus 15:16 speaks of “people by whom you have purchased” (the Hebrew word here means ‘created, redeemed, bought back’). Here is a loud echo of a coming Savior Who would redeem His chosen!

Thousands of years before Jesus would come to earth to die for us God whispered about His coming and then made His plan clear in prophetic declarations and strong hints.  (Just for fun look at Duet 18:17-19; Ps 22; Is 7:14; Is 53; Jer 31:31-34; Dan 7:13-14; Micah 5:2; Zech 9:9…and so many others!)

What does this have to do with my hurting friends?

Sufferers need to be pointed to God. From the very beginning of humanity and immediately after the fall God’s redemptive love has been on display. Genesis 3:15 points to the One to come who would bring a fatal blow to the tempter that had just invaded the garden of Eden. God’s loving and powerful intent to bring good out of bad is right there at the very beginning.

And it continues. Every book in the Old Testament points to Him. Page after glorious page says to the despairing, the stubborn, the broken and the hopeless: “Look ahead. Help is coming. I am with you and my good plan will be evident to you someday. It’s dark now but the light will come. You will see more clearly. I promise.”

The same God who had a plan for redeeming fallen and sinful people in the garden and in the desert; in Joseph’s pit and Daniel’s lions den; in the caves with lonely David and in discussions with Job and his friends…has a good and redemptive plan for your hard times. Our eternal God is eternally wise and good. As someone I can’t remember once said, “All of God does all that God does.”

I had to say that to myself over and over when I first heard it.

All of God — His wisdom, love, mercy, tenderness, goodness, sovereignty, kindness, power, grace — is meticulously involved in every single thing He does. He’s not loving but lacking power or gracious but not wise. Something that happened to you or me years ago wasn’t an act of kindness while what’s going on in our lives right now is because He’s sovereign and does what He wants.

No. Everything He does is done by all of Him. I can read in Exodus about Moses being the deliverer and know that he was pointing to the Deliverer to come because I’m on this side of the cross. This kind of hindsight also helps me look back to past trials and see the good that came out of them because…well…because the good actually came and I can see it!

But when we’re in the middle of trials and disappointments we aren’t there yet. Things are still dark, perplexing and disorienting. We’re tempted to wonder if God really does love us, and wish that His control would bring our spinning heart and world to a stop.

Reading Exodus is reminding me that God has always made a way for His people. His solution wasn’t always what they thought should happen. I can understand because even the good God has brought to my life as the result of past suffering still wouldn’t have always been my choice if He had asked me. I’m on this side of the cross but not yet on that side of heaven. Only when I get there will it all make sense.

The God who parted the Red Sea is still stretching forth His hand to protect and provide for His people. But imagine being an Israelite who crossed through the sea with huge, threatening, drowning waves looming nearby. I’m thinking many of them (including me!) would have much preferred a bridge over the water rather than a path through it. The God who spoke the world into being could have said “let there be a bridge.” But He didn’t.

God’s plans to get us through our difficulties can be scary at times, too. But when I’m afraid it helps me to know that all of God does all that God does. His eternal nature and unchanging character still motivate Him. History has seen the devastation of power without love. But love without power is just as frightening. Aren’t you glad our God is both — and more?

I’m grateful that the One who is parting my seas is all of God.

But like I told my friend this past weekend, I can see this now because I’m not currently in the middle of a storm. When I am I will need someone to point me to Him again.

6 + 5 = She Changed my Life

Who wouldn’t fall in love?

Granma doesn’t have many rules but there’s one really important one: my Little People aren’t allowed to get older than 6. I’m unapologetically unwilling to make even one exception.

So today my firstborn Little Person turns 6 + 5.

Little Fairy Princess

July 19, 2001 was a birth day for me, too. It’s the day the Granma in me was born. Before then I was Princess to my Daddy; Sheree (pronounced wrongly quite a bit) to most others; Honey to Benny; and Mom to my seven J’s. But a new “me” was born when Kayla Sheree rushed into my world.

Watching my girl have a baby girl was breathtaking. Kayla made her entrance in a room of family members eager to welcome the first in a new generation.  That day she didn’t have to steal my heart. I gladly handed it to her. This tiny little person immediately clutched my heart till I thought it would burst with love. I had wondered for months how it would feel. Would it feel similarly to the seven times eager arms had held my own newborns? Or would it take some time to fall in love with someone to whom I didn’t give birth? I had been a birth assistant numerous times and felt a sweet bond with the little ones I watched come into the world. Would the warmth in my heart feel like that…or different?

That sweet smile remains…almost all the time.

Even today she loves being “Sissy”

I don’t remember answering those questions. I didn’t have to. I realized I loved her that first night I learned from surprised parents that she was coming; loved her more when I saw her tiny body on the sonogram screen; loved her again for being used by God to remind my daughter of what she wanted to be more than anything; loved that my Jaime Sheree wanted to pass along my name to the next generation; loved her with intense anticipation as I coached Jaime through contractions and assured her she would be worth it all. And then loved her all the more when I held her in my arms that first time. Because of her I had a new name.

I chose Granma because I wanted a “real” Grandmother name that didn’t sound anything close to Nannie. You see, no one could ever replace her. When my kids saw my mother, there was a sparkle in their eyes I only saw then. Nannie was the object of special love from my seven J’s. So I would be Granma and no one could compare me to “the best grandmother EVER!”

There’s that smile!

Watching her grow up has been so much fun! One of the perks of being Granma is that I get to experience all the delicious joy with none of the weighty responsibilities! From birth Kayla has been smiley and pleasant. A “starter baby.” I warned Jaime not to expect future babies to be so easy. She later thanked me for the warning. Smile.

The best thing Kayla did for me is bring light into several years of darkness. The years preceding her birth were hard ones for our family, culminating in the sudden death of Mom and Nannie in July 2000. Her birth almost one year later to the day reminded me that joy really does come in the morning. After she was born there was something to look forward to each day. Even when I didn’t see her, I got to ask, talk,think and journal about her. Pray for and anticipate seeing her. Hold, rock and sing to her.

She made me smile and laugh and hope again.

I will never forget the day she ran to me for the first time.  It was the fall of 2002 and she was 16 months old. I was standing in our church lobby on a Sunday morning when I saw Jaime out of the corner of my eye. Momentarily, I heard that sweet little voice and looked down. From across the room I saw her trotting toward me with arms extended. And it was there! The sparkle! Could it be that she loved me like my children loved Nannie?

And so I loved her again.

Such a great big sister to Wyatt, Annie and “Nae Nae”

She keeps doing that to me. How can love keep growing like this? I love her for caring so deeply for others; working hard to help Mommy at home; spontaneously squeezing and kissing her little sister or calling Wyatt her “buddy”; getting excited about babysitting lots of nieces and nephews (and not just when Uncle Josh gives her money); thanking me over and over for “letting” her come over to help me clean; opening up to her mom about things she hasn’t yet realized most kids don’t talk to their parents about; kissing and hugging me at least 3 times before we leave; making me notes that tell me I’m the best Granma ever; standing next to me each Sunday morning so we can worship and hug; and exclaiming that she just had “the best day” of her life whenever we do anything special together.

She’s becoming a young lady way too quickly!

Does it sound like I’m pretty self-aware when it comes to her? LIke it’s all about what she does for me and how she has enriched my life and makes me feel special?

Her laugh still lights up my world.

Hmmmm. I think you might be onto something. One man said grandchildren are great because they are born with an understanding that their grandparents are far more wonderful and smart than their mom and dad ever realized. I’m sure part of why I adore Kayla is because she thinks I can do no wrong. (Like the day she asked why I had been crying and I told her it was because I had been asking the Lord to forgive me of some sin.  “Granma, you don’t sin!!!!” she confidently exclaimed.) Or maybe because she rescued me from a long season of heartache and sadness, so I’ve become overly focused on how my life has been enriched by her.

Becoming Granma ten more times to the Little People who have followed her so far has created explosion after explosion in my aging heart of fresh love for those with whom, by God’s saving grace, I will spent eternity. I regularly remind myself that they will become the grandparents of those I will not meet until That day.

No; being Granma isn’t about me but about spending myself to leave a legacy of godly womanhood for little girls to follow and little boys to look for when it’s time.

Recently she asked if I was planning to take her to Tea for her birthday this year. (Like her mother, I have to remember to think before I do anything with her because if she has fun it will likely have to become “a tradition.”) I asked how long she expected us to do this each year.

“Till I’m 6 + 100!” Looks like she and I will be having tea in heaven. What fun that will be!

But for now it’s time to get dressed for a birthday tea with 6 + 5.

Meet Dan and Myra

Dan and Myra (not their real names) were young, in love and eager to get married. People wondered if they were rushing it, but they just knew it was right. Plus, Myra’s parents were going through some tough times in their marriage and were selfishly putting their daughter in the middle of it. Dan’s mother loved Myra, and suggested they go ahead and get married soon rather than waiting until their planned date nearly a year away. Her son could marry the first girl he had brought home that Mom liked, and Myra’s parents could focus on the problems in their relationship. There were no complaints from the young couple about moving their wedding to just three months away.

They had a lovely wedding, then moved out-of-state for school. Within months, things started moving down hill…

Myra was deeply discouraged. They were arguing regularly, especially after Dan’s addiction to nicotine — which he had promised was no longer an issue — was exposed. His hiding and lies coupled with her fearful, condescending attitudes were eating away at love. She was homesick and tormented with “should we have listened to the don’t-rush-things advice” questions, while Dan wrestled with feeling insecure and ashamed of his willingness to deceive his wife over cigarettes. He wanted to believe her when she said the issue wasn’t cigarettes but trust; he hated the hurt in her eyes but didn’t understand why she was making such a big deal about it.

What happened?

There’s no easy answer to that question. But one thing is common: Completely understandable (and even biblically commanded!) desires for understanding, honesty, respect, affection and being valued by another often morph into demands that must be met…or else. Dan and Myra’s disappointments cascaded downward in a common journey through unmet expectations to the unknowing end of punishing one another for unfilled desires. Their once-passionate desire for each other became now-passionate hurt, anger, disappointment and hopelessness that things would ever change. They had good times together but the culture of their marriage was becoming sour.

Living in a city with no friends and family didn’t make it easy. But what would they have heard if they had opened up to others? Here are some things they, like others, would likely have heard:

  • “Wow. That’s just not right, Myra. He’s being a jerk. You can’t trust a man who started lying to you this soon! It’s time to lay down the law with him before he starts lying about other things.”
  • “Dan, I know how you feel and let me know if you wanna see a counselor. We did, and she really helped my wife to get a clue about how tough she was making it on us.”
  • “I’m not gonna watch you keep having to deal with this, honey. Your dad and I want you to know you’re always welcome here if you decide you need a break.”
  • “Oh, you two will be just fine. Every marriage and ups and downs. Just be patient and everything will work out.”
  • “Yeah, the same thing happened to me. You were just too young to get married. You hadn’t grown up enough to know what you really wanted. But if you end up hanging it up, you’re still young enough to find someone else.”

What Dan and Myra and every suffering person in conflict needs isn’t “fix it” advice but hope. You see, they wanted to stay married; to walk out the covenant they made; to have their spouse listen and take their concerns seriously; to believe they could work through their problems and actually have a better marriage in the end. And a part of each of them knew the responsibility for their problems was shared.

Hope acknowledges there are problems and sin patterns and weariness. Hope says:

  • He/She needs to change.
  • I’ve been wronged. Hurt. Overlooked. Disregarded. Not taken seriously. Unappreciated. Used.
  • This relationship is damaged. Broken. Frustrating.
  • I’m tired. Unmotivated. Angry. Fearful. Done.
  • But, wait…there is Someone Who was tempted to feel all things things and more.
  • And my spouse (or friend, sibling, parent, child, co-worker) probably feels those same things. too. I’m not the only one hurting in this situation.

Hope doesn’t pretend things are okay because when things are going well we don’t really “need” hope, right? We need hope when things are hopeless. And hope, by definition, means I really think what I desire may actually happen.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines hope this way: “A desire of some good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable. Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.”

Dan and Myra learned that unmet wishes and desires had led to pain and anxiety in their relationship; which resulted in punishing one another with hurtful actions, unkindness, trivializing each other’s pain, and withdrawal.

Thirty-eight years later Dan and Myra are still married.  Only their real names are Benny and Sheree. The early years of our marriage are a confusing mixture of prized and hurtful memories. We were alone with no books or Christian teaching on marriage; no wise counselors; no married friends who understood.

But we had a Helper who sustained us with grace and hope.

When no one else is there, He is. When strife and sin damages relationships, the One who hung on the cross to bridge the impossible-to-close cavern between a holy God and sinful man lives to declare, “There is no relationship that I do not have the power to reconcile.”

Benny and I still disagree and hurt each other. But we’ve learned a lot from Dan and Myra about communication, comfort, honesty, humility and patience. The thing we’ve learned most about, though, is hope. When Christ died and then rose again, He proved that relationships can be healed and reconciled…however many times are needed.

And we’ve needed that hope over and over for four decades. He lied to me recently and I reacted with angry self-righteousness. Dan and Myra live on but they are weaker; quicker to ask forgiveness; more humble; and much more deeply in love.

All because He said “it is finished” so he could start and complete a good work in us.

That good work continues.

Taught by Tony

He’s 22 and between jobs; living with a friend and his family; trying to figure out what he wants to be “when he grows up,” as he says. I was talking to him one night last week to see how he’s doing and how I can pray for him during this time.

Tony mentioned two offers for jobs out of state but said, “I don’t know about that. If God leads me that’s one thing. But I don’t want to move out of state just for a job that may not be worth leaving my friends and church home. I don’t wanna just make a job decision but a life decision.”

How many 22-year-olds think like that? It seems like a small thing, but the value Tony places on brotherhood, biblical fellowship, having godly friends and counselors and serving in the local church is just plain counter-cultural.

It wouldn’t be wrong for him to leave. In fact, God could use out-of-state connections to lead him into a fruitful career down the road. But unlike many in his generation, he’s thinking rather than making impulsive decisions…and valuing the eternal over the temporal.

Some of the guys who give me hope for the future and are among my favorite people: L to R Jake, Ian, Eric, Tobin, Tony.

He’s one of many great young adults I know; 20-somethings who made some dumb mistakes when they were younger but who God has rescued. It’s easy to look at those coming behind us and think, “What are they thinking? Are they thinking?” But didn’t my parents and their parents ask themselves the same question about the generation coming after them?

There are certainly things about which we should be concerned with today’s youth. Never before has a culture been so exposed to the world — in many cases, a perverse one. The internet has put the world at their fingertips: a world with the force of education behind it. A force that can bring both the Library of Congress and repulsive pornographic images into our homes and in front of our kids when we’re nowhere in sight. Today’s young adult is barraged with opportunities to play, peruse and party in ways that weren’t even available to me when phones were tied to walls with cords and computers took up entire floors of college math buildings.

But like every generation, God is at work. Most every teenager and young adult who ever lived has been tempted with lust and premature independence and laziness and wanting to test the boundaries. The context just looks different now. Car backseats and facebook have replaced barns and handwritten notes secretly passed in class, yet wandering hearts remain. The albums Benny and I threw away due to unChristian content are now on some of our kid’s ipods and stuff from which walked away in the 70’s as categorically wrong for a “radical Christian” are back in our lives through kids who love Jesus just as much as we did.

More young adults that remind me of God’s faithfulness. I love them and how God is using them!

I don’t like these changes. I want radical Christianity to look the same in their generation as it did in mine: smoke-free, alcohol-free and (mostly) secular music-free living! The newly saved “Jesus People” of which I was a part threw aside those things that had ensnared us and reminded us of who we were before Jesus changed usYes, we probably thought a no smoking/drinking/secular music lifestyle made us holy and earned God’s blessing and favor. But, honestly,we didn’t think that deeply. We just wanted to put “the cross before us; the world behind us.” (If you don’t recognize those lyrics it’s ok…you’re young.) And, to us, the “world” was all the substances we abused and people we used and sins we committed that convinced us we needed a Savior.

In the midst of change, though, I’m reminded of something: God remains.  He is still wooing young hearts to Himself. He has always preserved a people to take the gospel into the next generation. And He will continue this eternal work.

When my husband, Benny, was building a police record as a young teenager that resulted in a three-year sentence to a boys penitentiary, God knew He was about to save him.  Then call him to be a pastor.  Then bring the judge that suspended his sentence to our new church where he would become an elder. Then take us to Florida where we would start a new church with our seven children and eleven grandchildren who shouldn’t exist because my parents were told I would never have kids.

My young friend, Tony, is one example of many of the persevering, saving, sanctifying grace of God. He reminds me that God is faithful to take wayward or fledgling wanderers and turn them into seekers of Him. Past sin and rebellion didn’t disqualify Benny from grace and fruitfulness, and the Redeemer is still busy saving and preparing a new generation to take their place in redemptive history.

Do you know a teen or young adult who is either wandering or rushing

Tony at Redeemer Church

headlong away from God? Have a child whose spiritual passivity makes you wonder if their childhood prayer for forgiveness was really a demonstration of saving faith? Look at “this generation” with either eye-rolling cynicism or full blown fear?

I was that wanderer. My husband was running as fast as he could away from God. Several of our kids have made adolescent or young adult choices that broke our hearts and, later, theirs. Yet God’s faithfulness remained sure.

While Tony discerns God’s plan for him, that friend he lives with is my son, Jake. It was in my family room that he and I talked last week.

Tony, thank you for reminding me that God is at work. Faithful from one generation to the next. Powerful to save and sanctify. I don’t know what God has for you, but whatever it is will be good. Someday I pray God will grant the desire of your heart for a godly wife and a family. Whoever she is will surely appreciate your eagerness to prepare yourself to be a godly husband and provider. I hope all that happens where I can see it. If not, the values you’re communicating and living now will position you to be a pillar in His church wherever you go.

Oh…and when your kids make you nervous and you get afraid about their future, remember God is faithful. He really is.

What Forgetting His Wedding Vows Taught Ed

I’ve been blogging some about anxiety recently and wanted to share this helpful article by Ed Welch of CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation).  It was originally published in November 2010 on their website at http://www.ccef.org.  Really good stuff.

“When crises hit, everyone needs emergency numbers, and we must know them instinctively.

For our wedding, I wrote my own wedding vows and memorized them. The practice was popular then, less so now. When it was my turn to recite my vows and promises I, of course, went completely blank. Completely. But wait. A copy of the vows was in my pocket! The problem was that my mind went completely blank. I forgot it was there (and, knowing myself, my hands were probably in my pockets). All I could do was mindlessly repeat some of the vows that Sheri had just said to me. I hope I didn’t say, “I Sheri take you Ed,” but I can’t be sure. At the end of my vows I at least had the presence of mind to say, “And there is more I will tell you, but I can’t remember it right now.” I am very grateful that the quality of the vows don’t make a wedding official. We just need to get out a barely audible, “I do,” which I did…I think.

When emotions are strong, we need emergency “numbers”—not vows usually—but Scripture. When crises hit and minds go blank, we need simple biblical truths that can penetrate the fog of nothingness or panic.

And I do mean simple. Are you memorizing some of the great passages in Romans? You are blessed. But in a crisis—fugedaboutit. All that’s left are a few phrases from Psalm 23 and John 3:16, both in the King James Version.

I remember David Powlison saying that during a hospital stay, while in significant pain, he had access to one phrase, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps.46:1), and it was enough. It was both a reminder and a hope. It shaped his prayer. It was his prayer. Years of meditation in Scripture left him with an emergency number.

In my own most recent mini-crisis I was so thankful for truths that came quickly to mind. Three connected teachings became my emergency numbers:

  1. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet.5:7)
  2. God is good
  3. God is liberal – he gives in abundance.

I needed all of them.

I Peter 5:7 had recently replaced the biblical teaching on manna as my go-to passage. I especially needed the introduction to this verse, “Humble yourselves.” Casting our anxieties on the Lord is the fruit of walking humbly before him, and, in my own case, confessing my pride. Without that larger context, the verse is meaningful but ineffective.

“God is good.” I had been reflecting on that from a Sunday interchange, “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.” God’s goodness was, apparently, a big deal and I wanted to consider this attribute more carefully. Basically, I understood it to mean that God, for reasons I will never understand, is inclined to show us favor.

God’s generosity? That one was critical. My mini-crisis was such that I didn’t think I would be able to survive on the thought that God doled out grace only as needed. I had to know that he poured out his goodness so they we can’t contain or grasp it all. His style is to give until his gift spills all over everything (e.g., 2 Cor.1).

I certainly commend this three-some. The Spirit planted them deep in my heart when the emergency alarms were starting to ring. But my interest is more that every follower of Christ has his or her own passages during times of trouble.

Here is the short list of personal experiences that need emergency numbers.

  • Suffering of any kind
  • Fears
  • Anger
  • Temptations to sin

If you are in a close relationship, you also need an emergency number, which can double as a purpose statement. For example, “love more than need, love more than need.” This particular emergency number is not a specific passage but it is a faithful and succinct summary of a cluster of biblical passages on love.

The criteria for these passages are fairly simple.

There is no such thing as cheating with this one. Ask your friends or wise mentors for their passages. Feel free to shamelessly rip off their favorites. And talk about your own, so others can try what has been helpful for you.”

“The New Sexual Identity”

It’s very likely that you know someone who battles same-sex attraction…even if they haven’t admitted it to you. Perhaps you’ve experienced this common temptation as well. Either way, SSA is like other sins — it’s common to man.

I know numerous people who are tempted in this area. Some are still at war. Others have stopped fighting. Some have walked into homosexual lifestyles. Others are suffering alone because SSA is one of those temptations “we just don’t talk about.” Still others have watched God weaken the battle and are happily married today.

If you haven’t become aware of this yet, there’s a growing “Gay Christian” movement building. I wanted to share this helpful article from The Gospel Coalition website (www.gospelcoalition.org) written by Jeff Buchanan.  Jeff lives here in Orlando and is the executive VP of Exodus International (www.exodusinternational.org). As a believer who struggled with SSA, he has a well worn platform to talk about this important issue.

Whether now or later, please take the time to read this. Sooner or later, you or someone you care about may really benefit from this important information.

The New Sexual Identity Crisis by Jeff Buchanan

We live in a culture addicted to identity labels. We seek to summarize everything essential about an individual in a word, phrase, or 140 characters. With every label and category there comes another level of segregated identity, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of sexual identity.

One can look at the gay community and see the level of identity fragmentation represented in the use of acronyms such as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Ally). The sexual identity label has become a method of reducing individuals to a micro narrative of sexual orientation. In man’s created need to transcend himself, this self-referencing label creates a personal crisis of identity and purpose.

This sexual identity crisis has breached the church where labels such as “gay Christian” and “gay celibate Christian” are becoming more commonly used and accepted. Some Christians with same-sex attractions now say the evolution of common vernacular makes it acceptable to adopt these terms as accurately describing their experience. But are such labels compatible with our identity in Christ? Do they draw us closer to Christ? Here are six points for us to consider.

(1) Identity Distortion/Reductionism

Understanding our identity in Christ is essential for Christian living. When we were born again, we received a new identity, and we are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). We will share in Christ’s inheritance, and as we grow in the revelation of our new identity, we will increasingly be enabled to live according to God’s will. If our identity is “in Christ,” can we add to this identity without implying that Christ is somehow deficient?

With every additional label–whether it is occupation, gifts, interests, or sexual orientation—we detract from the complete work of Christ in our lives and splinter our identity into fragments. We become defined by our actions and our desires, which plays into the pragmatic mindset of “I am what I do.” Rather than looking in a mirror that is complete and unbroken where we can see a perfect image, we are content with piecing together a distorted mirror of our own making. In Christ we have an identity far greater than the sound-bite descriptions commonly found on dating services.

(2) Sexual Segregation

An identity based upon same-sex attractions can potentially create a segregated church community. Those dealing with same-sex attraction can be tempted to obsessive introspection and self-pity. The sexual identity label can create an “I’m Special” category that encourages narcissism. But everyone in the church struggles with various challenges and problems. No one’s struggle is unique. We must not let such differences isolate us from the strength found in a sharing community.

(3) Absolute Anchor

While some who suffer receive immediate explanations from God, others are challenged to wait. In the midst of waiting, we must always have hope. An identity rooted in same-sex attractions serves as an anchor that keeps us docked in our present circumstance. We have accepted our lot in life, and experience now becomes our identity. Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label that can deter interested parties.

(4) The Authenticity Trap

Many in this younger generation with same-sex attraction feel they must adopt the “gay” label in order to be authentic. Considering the word authentic means “not false” or “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features,” one must consider if taking on this label is defining a person by identity or by experience. Many mistake disclosure for authenticity. They are trapped by a cultural philosophy of “I feel therefore I am.” True authenticity can only be achieved by conforming to the image of Christ rather than idol of our desires.

(5) The Power of a Name

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21). Scripture is replete with examples of the importance God places on a name. Often, God would change someone’s name to signify a new beginning in life. God didn’t always give someone a name that exemplified who they presently were, but rather a name that reflected who he knew they would be one day by his grace. The labels and identities we adopt contribute to the perception of who we are and empower us to behold who we will become. That is why any name outside of Christ will always fall dreadfully short of God’s intent for us.

(6) Culturally Dictated Confusion

Some would argue that language is always evolving and the use of a “gay celibate  Christian” identity would be acceptable based upon dictates of today’s culture.  While it is true that definitions are subject to change, this reasoning doesn’t translate in the realm of gay sexual identity. The term “gay” can have vast socio-political and cultural connotations, and it raises such question as whether the person holds to a traditional orthodoxy on the issue of homosexuality. Are they choosing abstinence to remain chaste as a single person with same-sex attractions, or are they waiting until they can enter into a same-sex marriage? The use of this label to conveniently communicate one’s experience actually promotes confusion and misunderstanding.

It is not experience that determines who we are but rather our identity in Christ that enables us to be continually transformed in his image. As we disciple those with same-sex attractions, we must contend for a gospel-centric identity. To assume any other name is to look upon ourselves in a broken mirror. Only when we see ourselves in the reflection of Christ’s image will we find our true identity.

When Complaining is Okay

I’m still studying the Book of Exodus and am so grateful for how God’s word is affecting my heart. I’m encouraged, comforted, convicted, inspired…and I’m not even halfway through this epic book full of drama, romance, war, miracles and instruction. Who says the Bible is boring?

One thing I’ve noticed is how often the Israelites complained to or about Moses rather than taking their concerns to God. This is one of the numerous ways I’m seeing my own story on the pages of this ancient book.

As a younger Christian, I used to wonder how in the world people in the Bible could respond to situations the way they did. For example, how could the people who saw the Red Sea open up — and stay open long enough for 2 million people to cross over — so soon thereafter start complaining and accusing Moses of wanting to kill them?

Now I’m much quicker to see myself in the struggles of those who have gone before me.

When is complaining okay?

King David complained. He wondered why the wicked prospered seemingly more than the righteous; felt alone and abandoned by his closest friends; was hunted down by mean-spirited persecutors; suffered loneliness; and skirted death on numerous occasions.

There’s something interesting, though, about David’s complaints. They were directed toward God, not men.

“With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (Psalm 142:1-2).

Complain to God??? What about “do all things without grumbling and complaining?” Isn’t complaining just wrong…period? And no one should complain to God of all people — much less admit it!  “Yeah, this morning I had a great devotional time just pouring out complaints about all my troubles to God.” I don’t know about you but in the past I would have thought someone like this needs some toughening up. And I certainly wouldn’t admit it openly if I was that person!

The truth is we all complain; it’s just a question of who is within hearing distance. What is different about David’s complaints and the “no complaining” directives in the scripture?

“Hurling a barrage of complaints at Moses exemplified the natural tendency to assume the worst and to lash out at the nearest human target,” says my new favorite commentary.

In recent years I’ve learned that the Bible really doesn’t condemn complaining to God. When I do this, sometimes the light goes on to self-pitying attitudes about how I’ve been wronged, disappointed or hurt. Other times I recognize that anger or an attitude of entitlement (for encouragement, gratitude, praise, affection, or numerous other desires) is slithering out of my sinful heart. But I always receive the tender comfort of One who knows what it’s like to suffer.

David’s complaints weren’t the self-centered accusations “hurled” at people to whine and grumble about things not going his way. Rather, his complaints were the heartfelt cries of a needy, broken man who knew Who was best able to bring perspective, help, hope and change. David’s honest pleas for help are not the rants of an embittered, entitlement-driven man but of a vulnerable, honest struggler who knew where to turn for help.

Who are you complaining to? There’s Someone waiting to listen, adjust whatever is needed in your perspective, comfort and bring you hope, too. The truth is people hurt us. Circumstances crowd out our joy. Bad news comes. Illness happens. Children and spouses and friends mess up. And we bring our weakness and sins to the mix as well.

Like David, let’s complain to the right Person. Tell Him all our troubles. Pour out our hearts to Him. Open up our struggles and share with Him what He already knows and sees.  The fruit can be sweet. Conviction of sin. Promised grace to the humble. Hope, not necessarily for a change of circumstances but for a changed heart. Peace in the midst of the storm.

No wonder David reserved his complaints for his God. Reserving our complaints for Him governs our whining and positions us for real help from a powerful and eager Father.

When my Vacation Bad Attitudes (Mostly) Came to an End

Do you do regular summer vacations with your family? Then maybe you’re like me. I count the days starting when the laundry is done from last year’s vacation. Then about six weeks before this year’s vacation the work starts:

  • Sending out emails to ask about work scheduling. You see, all four of our sons work together and everyone can’t be gone all week. So before the planning can get into full motion I need to know who will be at the vacation house when.
  • More emails with the room assignments, along with meal and game night schedules. We girls split up the cooking and each adult/couple plans a game night.
  • Starting my Costco shopping list.
  • Convincing Julia (again) that the spiders that welcome us each year won’t eat her.

But the main preparation I find myself doing is in my heart. There’s something about the word vacation that suggests that my week should l be spent doing something other than what I do every other week of the year.

The Dale House.

Years ago when we had lots of young children I found myself approaching our vacation with a tinge of dread mixed in with all the joyful anticipation of another year at the Nags Head, North Carolina Dale House. (Or Narnia, as a friend called it.) For 23 years in a row we brought our crew — and a long list of friends — to that creaky, beloved old house with no AC, television or phone.

Each morning I was up early with antsy kids ready to get started on their day. I cooked; did laundry; tidied up the toys they left behind at bedtime; refereed arguments; swept up escaped cheerios; washed dishes. Sound familiar? Yep. It’s what we moms do every day. The kids and I loved having Dad around and over the years he became increasingly helpful. But the fact is Mom is always Mom wherever she is.

Josh and Jaime 1981 on the Dale House porch. One of my very favorite pictures ever.

That’s when I decided to start calling our vacation a Diversion. The Latin route means to turn aside; as when traffic is diverted due to an accident. Nothing really changes for the driver when this happens. The scenery just looks a little different.

We leave for my diversion in less than two weeks. All 25 of us will pack into a big old house just south of St. Augustine. My grandchildren probably think it’s Narnia. It has AC, a television and a phone. But it’s still a week where I get to cook; do laundry; tidy up toys; maybe even referee an argument or two; sweep up cheerios for eleven instead of seven; and wash dishes next to four other diverting moms.

But with different scenery.

On the steps of the Dale House in 1991 with the friends who joined us that year. We escaped, leaving 20 kids with some singles who joined us. Couples Night Out was a highlight of the week!

That tinge of dread I use to have is gone. Once I realized that there is no vacation from serving my family my attitude changed. I do get to sleep a little later, but as soon as the pitter patter of little feet on the ceiling of our downstairs bedroom begins, I start thinking about getting to spend the day with my people. Yes, it involves the same kind of work I do at home. Only more because while my at-home family is shrinking, my people are multiplying so there are lots more cheerios to sweep up.

Are you going on a vacation this summer? Whether you’re a Dad or Mom, aunt, uncle, sibling, cousin or friend — join me in thinking about what an amazing opportunity we have to “esteem others as more important than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3) during a week our culture says should be for us to rest, be served and relax.

What a way to incarnate Christ to others.  Help me, Lord!

A 50-year-old Abduction Story is Still Teaching Me

I’m battling some anxiety about things these days. But that’s not new. Fearful thoughts have plagued me for years. It seems to have started with an attempted abduction by a creepy stranger when I was seven. I don’t know if my bouts with anxiety are somehow connected to that — could be unrelated. But that’s the first time I remember feeling afraid. Really afraid.

In the small town of Greenbelt, Maryland in the early 60’s the local police had started doing presentations at elementary schools about how to respond if a stranger approaches. They had come to Center Elementary School to speak to some wide-eyed kids, including me.  I remember thinking no such thing would ever happen in our little town where everyone knew everyone and kids ran around safely without concern about bad guys showing up. Why would a stranger think a kid would fall for getting in his car to find a lost dog or get candy anyway? That was just silly.

I was shocked to find this picture of the detached garages in Greenbelt similar to the one where my friend was abducted. Photo credit: http://www.nps.gov

Just one week later, Pam and I rounded the corner after school to walk through a row of garages and he was there leaning against the back of a blue car. Smiling. Asking our names. Inviting us to go with him to get ice cream on that warm spring day. I studied his face; made a mental note of the color of his car; and memorized his license plate number. Just doing what the police said I should.

The problem was telling my parents. You see, my friend agreed to go with him!  I couldn’t believe it. Pam was in the same police presentation as I was. Yet when I tried to pull her away she pulled against me, trying to get me to come along. As I turned to run he said, “Hey!” I turned. “If you tell anyone about this I will find you and hurt you,” he said with a firm but hushed voice. I can still see his dark, glaring eyes.

I couldn’t fall asleep that night. I kept seeing those eyes and rehearsing his license plate number, afraid I would forget. I remember thinking I didn’t want him to find me…or my baby brother who was in a crib in my parents room next door. I wrestled with whether or not to tell my parents. Finally, I rushed to their room sobbing. Within hours the police had picked up the mean-eyed man; discovered that Pam had been returned home (my parents never told me if she had been harmed); and called us in for the lineup.

The weeks…or was it months?…between his arrest and the court date seemed to take forever.  My parents told me not to be afraid because the police told him he could never come back into Greenbelt. Back then, kids were told not to tell their friends about stuff like this to avoid a panic. Pam didn’t come back to school and ended up moving. I remember walking to school with my neighborhood friends and feeling scared that he was lurking. I didn’t tell my parents I was scared. I wanted to be brave; to live up to the police commendation of me being such a courageous and smart girl.

Years later it came up that I really was scared for those tense weekday walks to school and back before the trial. Mom was sad that I hadn’t told them. It was then I learned a police escort followed my friends and me daily…unseen.

Today I’m thinking about those days. Sometimes when I’m afraid I’m still hesitant to admit it. I want to be brave and not cowardly. I want to “live up” to the encouragement I’ve received about walking through difficulties with a trusting heart. I’m realizing that there’s still a bit of that little blonde seven-year-old still inside who wants to keep my fears quiet so everyone will think well of me.

I’m in pretty good company. In Philippians 2 Paul talks about sending Epaphroditus to Philipi so check on everyone so that he “might be less anxious.” And in 2 Corinthians 4:8 he speaks of “being perplexed, but not driven to despair.” The apostle who warned us to be “anxious for nothing” struggled himself with anxious and perplexing thoughts.

Are you anxious? Fretful about money; a needed job; a struggling or wayward child; years of singleness adding up; a difficult situation with a friend; ongoing challenges in your marriage?

You’re not alone. Temptations to fear are common. Trusting God, as a pastor friend of ours once said, “can be just plain hard work sometimes.” It’s hard for me right now in some areas. Yesterday I told Benny about my fears. It wasn’t easy. I felt childish and vulnerable and not brave. Yet there’s peace in being known as one who struggles with the common temptations of believers throughout history. Paul didn’t hide his anxiety and perplexity and neither should I.

I want to deal with my anxiety; to see it for what it is — a common but treasonous response to hard things that tempt me to doubt God’s proven faithfulness, protection, provision and care.

Today I’m reminded that Someone is watching over me. He’s with me everywhere.  And He’s not watching from an unseen distance but dwells in me. Because He was willing to die on my behalf as proof there is nothing He is unwilling to do to love and care for me, I can repent of my anxious thoughts and cry out to Him for fresh faith.

I can trust Someone who has demonstrated His unrelenting commitment to help me, even when the help I need is to believe He’s still actively and lovingly there. Only God could use something that happened to me 50 years ago — something scary and bad — to remind me of His watchful care.

His eye is on the sparrow — and I know He watches me.