5 Important Things to Give Your Kids This Christmas

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When I was little, one of my favorite gifts was a tea party set that probably cost my parents about $5 in 1976. It wasn’t because of the pretty plastic tea cups and the chance to pretend I was fancy. It was for the hope that I would get to sit down and have “tea” with my most favorite people, which meant I got to have their time, their eye contact, and their attention.

My kids are adults in their 20s. LONG gone are the days when I can just give the gift of a dinosaur fossil kit or a train set to work on together. Once my kids hit pre-teen status they wanted game systems and laptops and high dollar items. They wanted to open gifts and get back to their video games and snapchatting their friends. Thankfully, as adults they’ve seemed to come full circle and value family time, which is the best gift they could give their momma.

If your kids are still little, enjoy the $25 toy price range while it lasts. More and more the trend is to gift older kids with “experiences” like trips to see an NFL game of their favorite team, or to go to the American Girl store, or a trip to Disneyworld. We’ve done all those things, but now that our oldest son is a Navy officer deployed on his ship in Japan, it has given me a whole new perspective on gift giving and truly what “gifts” I am glad I have given my children over the years.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on my childhood lately and so I wanted to share a gentle reminder for those of you with young children. I promise that this is not an attempt at giving you a sermon on “good parenting”. I simply want to share my heart from the perspective of a mom that has seen her fair share of good times and hard times in parenting, and what I discovered really matters in the big picture after they grow up. So take it or leave it, I think especially in light of the hard year many of us have had in 2020, here are some reminders on the most important “gifts” to give your kids this Christmas, and by default, some gifts you will give yourself.

  • LOVE YOURSELF – You will never be a perfect parent, but you will NEVER be the parent you truly want to be until you genuinely love yourself FIRST. Just stop right there. Some of you immediately bristled and thought of 3 things you dislike about yourself or you said in your head “who has time to do anything for ME???” You do. You have time, you just need to MAKE time. And it doesn’t need to take a lot of time. I’m not talking about just self care here, although it’s a good start. And you are VERY worthy of love. You aren’t going to do ALL the things you want to do to take care of yourself in a day every day so let’s just start with ONE thing and make it a priority. Pick ONE thing instead of being overwhelmed and doing nothing, and then one by one you can add more things. Drink more water, go to bed earlier or get up earlier, give your brain a “positive thought” bath, put that phone down and get outside, take a walk, do 5 minutes of meditation or prayer, spend an hour on meal prep once a week so you spend less time in the kitchen, hire a maid so you can spend time on a hobby. Whatever YOU need to do for YOU to refresh and recharge is so important and will give you more mental and emotional energy to LOVE your children more fully. You know what they say about putting your oxygen mask on first? It’s just true. More importantly, when you focus on truly feeling loved (this is going to involve your MIND and your SPIRIT in a much deeper way) you have a greater capacity to love others freely without obligation. Coming from someone who has looked to everyone else for love and affirmation her whole life, you will never get the love that you want from other people all the time. Even those that love you the most are going to let you down at some point. If you decide to LOVE and accept yourself first, regardless of your circumstances, you will feel more FREE to love others. How to do that when you aren’t feeling it? Start by reading Psalm 139 and know with confidence how much you are loved without obligation by your Creator, and then ask Him to SHOW you. He SO VERY MUCH wants to SHOW YOU that you are loved deeply and fully just the way you are. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+139&version=NIV
  • GIVE YOUR KIDS YOUR EYES – “Mom, LOOK!” Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just pull your eyes out of your head so your kids would leave you alone and you could get stuff done?! Ha, Ha! Seriously, give the gift of being SEEN and be intentional to focus your eyes on theirs. There is scientific proof that eye contact impacts brain activity. How many times have you said to your kids “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Well…do I need to spell it out for you? We ALL want eye contact. We all NEED eye contact. I have witnessed parents in the car rider line, or at the store, or at a restaurant, or at the park focused on their phones or something else and their kid is trying to get their attention. I know it’s exhausting when they want to talk to you 20 million minutes a day, especially right now if you are schooling/working from home. So pick and choose. Here’s one idea: Instead of half way listening and saying “uh huh” 10 times and not really processing what they are talking about, tell them “I’m going to cook dinner and you can watch your show and then while we eat together I want to hear all about what you wanted to tell me about recess at school today. I want to give you my attention so I can really hear you. Would that be ok?” (maybe you can even get in some “me” time by listening to a podcast or watching a show you want to watch while you cook dinner.) Give them a chance to tell you whether it is REALLY “eye contact” important (scale of 1-5) and if it means stopping what you are doing to listen then do that. If it is “always” important then you can start to gauge when to actually give it your attention and talk to them about balancing your time. It’s GOOD to model for them that they aren’t always the most important person in your life and yet they ARE one of the most important people in your life. They won’t be scarred for life if you don’t listen to every single story at the drop of a hat, because they also need to learn that they are not the center of the universe. BUT you cannot multi-task through a relationship with your children. Skimping on the eye contact has the potential for your kids to grow up feeling “unseen” and dismissed, and when they are teens and adults, having more than an obligatory relationship with you will not be a priority. Don’t let it be too late.
  • GIVE YOUR KIDS QUALITY TIME and “FRESH” TIME – I’m sure you know that your kids need quality time but what exactly defines “quality”? See above…eye contact and intentional attention. Throwing the ball, doing a craft, riding bikes, or family game night can all be good quality time activities that don’t have to take a lot of time. We’re all busy so it’s understandable that some days you have to make do with what you’ve got. Try to find a balance over a week’s time. I know a single mom who does her workout with her kids, even if she has to stop and start to help them. I used to give my kids jobs (aka a GAME 🙂 while grocery shopping and cooking…when they were old enough, of course (Can you go find the cereal in less than 2 minutes, can you wash the carrots as slow as a sloth, etc.) I’m still able to get things done, AND in the process I ask questions like “so if you could have any super power, what would it be?” and then just let them talk and be INTERESTED in what they are telling me. Repeat what they said back to them. (Are you kidding? She really said she liked your picture the best?!) That’s quality time, but be sure to also include some “fresh” time as well. Fresh time is that first few minutes when they wake up in the morning, or when they get home from school, or when they just finished a game/event. It is any time that they are most likely primed and ready to tell you stuff that is fresh on their mind, especially as they get older (maybe not so much when teens first wake up, just sayin’). The key is being aware and available when they are “fresh” and excited or emotional and ready to open up. Tell Grandma you’ll call her back. Pause the work project for 10 minutes. Turn off the TV. Turn away from your device. Tune in intentionally.
  • GIVE YOUR KIDS YOUR EARS – I know this pretty much goes without saying and really goes along with the quality time examples already stated but this has been a hard year for a lot of people and as resilient as your kids are, they may need to just be heard more than ever. Do a daily check in and ask them how they feel about X,Y or Z that you know is going on. Paying attention and KNOWING what they are focused on (a boyfriend, the game coming up, a test, being excluded in their friend circle, etc) goes a long way. Don’t assume or tell them what they are feeling. Don’t tell them to “get over it” or “move on” or “I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that” or “you don’t need them anyway” or any number of pep talk responses that all of us parents say. Instead, just listen, and THEN after lots of listening see if they want advice, or encouragement, or maybe just a hug. Consider that they might just be in “survival mode” like the rest of us and will say “fine” when you ask how they’re doing, unless you dig a little deeper. No one wants to feel like you are prying the life out of them so pairing listening with quality time is a great way to get kids talking. This is especially true for boys in my opinion. Ask them to help you with a house project for a few minutes and do it together then get them talking while you work, so it’s not just you staring at them trying to pull info out of their brains. Instead of “how was school?” ask a specific question about a class or relationship or activity OR try one of these questions while you are eating dinner, doing an activity together, or taking a walk. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/questions-every-parent-should-ask-their-kid/ IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: If YOU the parent need to talk to someone, don’t allow your kids to become your counselor or best friend. One of the most damaging ways that kids develop in attachment is feeling “responsible” for your happiness or helpless to fix your problems. It’s normal to be real and don’t feel like you have to hide your feelings from your kids, especially if you have had a hard day and they see you crying or mad for example, but if you are struggling with depression on a daily basis, please talk to a friend or a professional. And definitely NEVER talk to your kids negatively about the other parent or important relationships except the facts they need to know because making them a “confidant” confuses their boundaries for future relationships. There is a lot I could talk about on this topic, but in order to focus on the kids, I’ll save it for another time.
  • GIVE YOUR KIDS YOUR HEART – Yes, this goes without saying in what you give to your kids personally but I’m talking about show them compassion and empathy toward OTHERS. Let them see you listen to your sad neighbor in the driveway who just lost his job. Let them see you take a meal to a church friend who’s husband is in the hospital. You don’t need to take them with you for every sad event and definitely kids need to be sheltered from all the bad news but what they need most is to see that you are human and they need to LEARN empathy. There’s a balance. You of course want to shelter them with what is age appropriate and super heavy but demonstrating how to care for others is monumental in their emotional development and will make such a huge impact on their future success in the world. Don’t be afraid to show that you are HUMAN and talk in kid terms WHY you care about what is going on with your neighbor, or your friend, or on the news. It’s not just about showing emotion. It’s showing them how to SEE other humans as humans that matter.

Because of that tea set from my childhood, I have always felt it was important to be intentional to give my kids my time, my eye contact, and my attention. I think it has actually paid off for the most part because I am proud to have positive, accepting, and affirming relationships with all 3 of my adult kiddos. On most days they talk to me about what’s on their hearts, they call me to share good news, and they ask for my input on decisions, showing that they value my opinion. These are actually the most important “gifts” they could give ME. They don’t seem to be concerned that they only got to go to Disney a few times, didn’t always get the latest gadget, and got boring clothes as gifts sometimes. I have even had to apologize for doing some stupid parenting things…and they have forgiven me.

Kids need YOU more than they need a bunch of presents. I know you probably feel like 2020 has ROBBED you of all your parenting mojo and you are running on empty, but it is worth the extra effort, so KEEP TRYING! One of the most important things that both my sons said they learned from me was that “you are not responsible for my happiness”. They learned this from me when they were closer to adulthood in recent years (as I have worked through some childhood wounds) but we have had some GREAT conversations about it and in their own words it has helped them feel much more equipped to deal with anxiety, stress, and tough challenges in their own life. They have learned to take responsibility for their own happiness which makes me feel like maybe I didn’t do too bad a job when they were younger and didn’t know all the things that I know now. I think the most important thing they have learned is that I never give up on myself because I never give up on THEM.

One thing I am learning more and more every day is that I can only change what I can control and it won’t happen overnight. Change takes time so if you need to work on any of these “gifts” I’ve suggested, give yourself some grace, talk to your kids about how you want to do better in one area, and ask for their forgiveness in the ways that you may have fallen short. It’s never too late to improve your relationship with anyone. Don’t try to transform everything all at once. That’s impossible. Remember, God loves you just the WAY YOU ARE and He most likely gave you your weaknesses for a purpose. For example, I’ve been working on impulsive frustration and anger for years and it wasn’t until this year that I realized that I can’t pray for God to take it away because He has given me anger to use for GOOD against injustice in the world, so what I pray for now is that He would help me channel it in positive and affective ways, so it doesn’t come out in hurtful ways. This shift in mindset has truly made such a huge impact on my life in just the last 6 months.

One final thought…I can’t emphasize enough this truth: You were created ON purpose FOR a purpose and the greatest gift you could ever RECEIVE is God’s gift of love and grace. You may not know Him or think you need Him, and you may feel right now that He has stacked a lot of things against you this year, but I can assure you He sees you, He hears you, and He will never stop trying to reach you and rescue you with His love. And just because you are a parent doesn’t mean that you ever outgrow needing to be someone’s child so my hope is that you will KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that no matter how you were parented, you get to be HIS child EVERY day. Your kids NEED you to be the parent that they need, and you WILL be able to BE who they need only with God’s help. Let Him pour His love into you right now, in this minute. He is ready and waiting for you to RECEIVE.

What are you being challenged to work on and what gifts will you give your kids more intentionally this year? I’m working on some stuff too. We’re in this together. I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments and cheer you on! MERRY CHRISTMAS and may you know the TRUE Spirit of Christmas for yourself in the gift of our Savior Jesus.

“It is Finished!” – Finding Freedom in Destroying Shame

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“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:29-30

I’ve known Jesus most of my life. I was raised in a family with a long line of missionaries, and an extended family entrenched in ministry and serving the Lord. I think I was only 2 or 3 the first time I sang “His Banner Over Me is Love” in front of a church audience. There is an actual reel-to-reel recording of this from the early 70s. It was little more like “His batter over me…” but I digress…

At the age of 51, I really have no excuse for not understanding the full meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection from the dead at this point in my life. I mean, seriously, I have read the gospels and these specific verses about Jesus’ death and resurrection hundreds of times. I have waved palm branches on Palm Sunday, I have sung hymns, I have cried being moved by the Spirit, I have prayed deep prayers and been fully in touch with the Lord, I have been “saved” (although the Episcopal church calls it “confirmation”). I have done ALL the things in service as a Christian: I’ve fed the homeless, I’ve gone on mission trips, I’ve given money generously, I’ve worked on repairing houses in poor communities, I’ve taught Sunday School, I’ve been a Bible Study leader, I’ve served on committees, I’ve taken casseroles to friends who have been sick or lost loved ones, I’ve led worship, and I’ve been a foster/adoptive mom. I read my Bible regularly, I journal and reflect on the scriptures, I pray, I worship. And I seek to INSPIRE and encourage with God’s word, fully convinced of the POWER in the Gospel and a relationship with Jesus. I can check all the boxes of what a Christian is supposed to DO with an active faith.

And yet…

Shame has plagued me for most of my adult life. I have carried secrets and lies in the shadows, hiding my raw emotion on the wrong done to me followed by what I did in my youth from those wounds, stuffing it down, pretending it doesn’t exist. But it does.

With each loss, and hardship, and painful reminder since then that we live in a fallen world full of people I WANT to meet all my needs, and know that my expectations will always fall short (because NONE of us can meet all the needs of another person), I feel the shame of when I too have fallen short and allowed my wounds to wound others.

Some say, “But you can’t really feel guilty for things you did when you were 11, and 12, and 14, and 17!” But I can, and I do. The things I am most ashamed of in my entire life are things I did in my youth that have mostly been secrets I’ve kept between me and the Lord.

Still others say, “But don’t you know that you have been SAVED and Jesus died for all that, to take the guilt away, once and for all!” Yes, I DO actually “know” that in my head from what the scriptures say, but with messages from “God’s people” my heart has continually decided that He didn’t REALLY mean those things. He didn’t really mean ALL of the things did He? I somehow believed that I had to continually PROVE my worth by my actions. I believed the message that if I wasn’t willing to confess those things to the world, then God surely wasn’t willing to remove the shame completely.

What I’ve learned is that this is actually a LIE the enemy tells us. For if he can keep us reminded of our wrongs, and our hurts, and that we are somehow responsible for the pain that was done TO us, he has the power to keep us in a cage where we choose to separate ourselves from God’s ability to give us TRUE freedom.

God’s freedom is in the power of LOVE. His love says we are valuable. His love says we are WORTH it. His love says that when Jesus died on the cross He was thinking of ME. His love says that when Jesus said “It is finished!” He wasn’t just talking about the act of dying, or even that He knew He was going to overcome death in Resurrection, or that He had accomplished what He had come to earth to do. He was talking about US, and me, and you, and ALL of our wrong doing and the hurt and heartache that we have and will face in our lifetime. ALL of it, including the things we can’t even share with another human being. He was saying that He didn’t just come as “God WITH us” to take away the sins of the world, He came and died, and rose again to take away the shame, and the guilt that we carry day after day. It is FINISHED with His gift of grace, FOREVER. He IS saying today for you and for me, that we can hand it over and be DONE with it. Fine. Finito. Terminada.

So HOW to be done with it FOR REAL? How is it that we can simply confess our wrongs to God and be done with it? Don’t we have to confess these sins to the world? Don’t I have to be willing to lay it all out in order to be free of it? This has been the question for me for several years. The answer came with therapy and lots of prayer and wrestling with the Lord over it. Sitting with Jesus on my “patio of no judgement” every morning for the last 7 months, in the dark before the sunrise, staring at the trees, asking Him to take away the memories and the shame. And actually His answer came with a process to physically release it. He said to me in the quiet, “Let me have it. I am the ONLY one you need to confess to. It is FINISHED.”

He didn’t promise that He could take away the memories, but He did promise that He would take away the shame I have carried if I would LET Him have it. You see, confession is not for everyone else, it’s for US, the sinner. We get to CHOOSE to hand it over. It’s the act of RELEASING it into God’s hands that matters. I didn’t need to tell one other soul because my confession to HIM, and my willingness to let it out of the shadows for release by HIS power of redemption was all that was required.

And that was my answer. I hadn’t wanted to LET Him have ALL the hidden parts before because I didn’t believe I was worthy of releasing those things to Him. These small parts of me that I had kept hidden for so long, I now felt FREE with HIS power (not my own) to hand them over with full acceptance and grace and LOVE. In reality, this was a renewing of my MIND and what I believed about HIS power. It was about believing that HE was all that I need. Him alone. And that I am worthy because HE said so. I had to decide, do I believe Him, or not?

In the quiet of the dark, in the early morning, He said, “It is finished. You and I are going to terminate these lies once and for all.”

And so I decided to believe, and we did terminate the lies. Together. On October 22, 2020 I released my shame in Jesus’ name.

Here is my process for physically destroying the shame.

  1. I wrote out the words of what I did, including blaming myself for some things that had been done TO me. (I know…why have I carried guilt over THAT???)
  2. I wadded up the paper tight in my fist. I squeezed it to choke out the oxygen of it. I crushed the words with my hand.
  3. I held out my hands, opened my fingers, said a prayer of release (“I release this shame from my hands in Jesus’ name. I no longer will carry it. I hand it over.”) and simply dropped it on the ground.
  4. I stepped on it. I actually stomped on it several times and felt the anger of believing the lies.
  5. I pointed at it and claimed out loud “These are lies I will no longer believe and they have NO power over me!”
  6. I set it on fire and burned it to ashes. It actually took almost 5 minutes to burn up. That’s a long time for one piece of paper. I had to light it over and over to keep it burning and completely destroy it. I realized after this exercise that it took so long because I had choked out the oxygen of it when I squeezed it into a compact ball, which was significant because I had carried the weight of this shame for a LONG time, and therefore it SHOULD take a long time to burn. I took away the fuel of destruction but I was persistent in finishing the job in the end.
  7. I stomped on the ashes and kicked them into the wind, to be carried away, to be GONE forever more. I said “I destroy this shame in JESUS’ name!” and then “It is finished!”
  8. I closed my eyes and asked God to protect me going forward from any more lies of the enemy to twist this exercise of destruction into something that it is not. I asked for protection and provision as I learn and practice my new skills, believing the TRUTH of God’s love and grace, FOR REAL.
  9. I took pictures of this process and a video that I will keep as a reminder of this day of FREEDOM. I wrote out my process to document and refer to as a reminder that I AM FINISHED living with shame. I wrote that I was going to allow the FIRE of the Holy Spirit to fill the hole left behind when God removed the shame. I am going to let the FIRE of the Holy Spirit use my story for GOOD as I share it with others.
  10. I celebrated my freedom by telling my husband and my sons about this victory. My sons thought it was cool that I burned something on our patio 🙂 I got ready for work and thanked the Lord for a NEW day of living forever in His purpose. I thanked Him as well for the opportunity to write about my experience, that I might share my story and encourage others to live FREE as well. It was a regular day of normal, and yet it will forever be remembered as a new beginning and a fresh start. I drove to work with a feeling that a weight had been lifted. I sang praise music in the car and cried tears of joy that I had been released from my prison. Why had it taken me so long? But all that was behind me now. No time for regret!

Friend, are you living free? Or are you living with hidden secrets, guilt or shame? It’s time to say “It is finished.” You too can find FREEDOM in Christ today. (Did that just sound like an infomercial??? Maybe it kind of is? Maybe like me it’s a message you’ve heard many times and need to finally believe?) Don’t wait another day to hand it over. You do not have to carry it any longer. God can handle it. Believing that He has the power to take it away from you IS the first step. Hand it over. Give it up. Release it. It feels REALLY GOOD to burn stuff up. Just don’t burn your house down or start a wildfire. Allow the FIRE of the Holy Spirit instead to take the place of the hole that gets left behind when God removes it.

It is finished. I am shame free and on fire for Jesus more than ever before. He now has EVERY part of me. EVERY part. Not sure what He’s going to do now, but I’m willing and waiting. I am not naive enough to believe that the enemy won’t continue to try to twist the truth and mess with my head. God is on my side and I would humbly ask for your prayers my brothers and sisters to overcome this spiritual warfare, each and every time, just as I will pray for YOU.

I’m singing this on repeat, from “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury: No shadow you won’t light up, No mountain you won’t climb up coming after me. No wall you won’t kick down, LIE you won’t TEAR DOWN coming after me!” (Read Luke 15)

Let’s believe it. Together. We will destroy the shame in Jesus’ name.

Who Is Saving Whom?

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“Did you hear about the woman who kissed a frog? She was hoping it would turn into a prince. It didn’t. She turned into a frog too.” – Melodie Beattie, Codependent No More

***Personal note: I have been personally diagnosed as codependent by a professional. I am sharing my own understanding of codependency as I have lived it. Codependency has many definitions and has different challenges for each person. I am not a medical professional that is qualified to diagnose mental health issues. With that said, I am sharing my knowledge of codependency as it relates to Biblical scripture and the Christian life, through my experience. All of the info I share here is based on the book “Codependent No More” by Melodie Beattie, my own experience in therapy sessions, and various other resources all found online, including the Bible. If you feel you may be codependent, or depressed, please see a professional.

Christian friends, I’ve made up a new term. It’s called “Christian Codependency” and it comes from the False Gospel that is perceived by many Christians (especially new Christians and even those that are seeking or exploring who Jesus is…depending on what you were taught in church about salvation and discipleship) that once you are “saved” then we celebrate BUT you must PROVE you are saved by your actions in the real world. Those of us that are “Christian Codependents” somewhere along the way receive the message that we’re not good enough, even though the Bible says we are loved, we don’t fully believe it, and therefore we must go about daily demonstrating our worthiness. This might look like being overcommitted to missional service and getting burned out, or simply repeatedly walking through the cycle of judgement and entitlement.

Most likely, most “Christian Codependents” are actually codependent already. I’m not accusing the Christian church of creating codependents, although I believe it’s possible based on a person’s childhood past. I think the biggest concern is that it can be perpetuated by the Church and by fellow Christians and that’s what has been true for me.

WE as Christians mistakenly think it is our job to “save” those that are “lost” (or for a slightly different analogy that might help, they have fallen in the ocean among the rocks). We define “lost” often as not displaying these perceived actions that “prove” you are “saved” and we take it upon ourselves to “kiss” many frogs thinking we can turn them into princes (we jump in to save them, potentially putting our own life in danger because we haven’t learned to swim yet!).

We fail. Over and over. Because let’s face it, we all are pretty good at being human (and possibly bad swimmers) and even princes mess up from time to time. So we can’t REALLY save someone else from their behavior choices and therefore we are destined to fail when we believe that we have this power over someone.

Why do we fail? Because we don’t have the power to change or control someone else’s behavior. Not really. We can have influence. We can provide encouragement and accountability. We can even provide consequences. We often struggle to control our own behavior at all times though so why do we think we can control others? Who is really controlling who?

We get comfortable in our faith. We start to believe that we CAN have influence and change others. We HOPE for this because after all, we usually DO want to be a light for Jesus AND we genuinely probably want all those we know to hear the Gospel and have what we have, which is salvation through following Christ. It’s actually JOY that we feel and want to share it. But it can often get a little “muddled” in the process.

We repeat this cycle and become addicted to the idea that if we “kiss” enough frogs then we will prove our own value and worth. Along our faith journey we begin to think that we have been deputized as “gate keepers” to the flock of sheep trying to find their way. We think “I’ve got the answer to all your problems, it’s JESUS and therefore I’m going to be the hero in your life and fix you. You’re welcome!” We get focused on being RIGHT and become convinced that anyone not doing it “right” is not “in the club” of Christianity. What also happens is that we need “victims” to feel like the hero, so we allow oppression to happen and claim that people are “lost” so we can feel superior in our beliefs. We tell people to be afraid of going to hell so they “choose” salvation out of fear. We look down on a group of people that need saving, we come in and save the day, and then go home to our comfortable homes and congratulate ourselves for going on mission successfully because we “saved” more frogs.

I’m here to call this pattern of “rescuing” out. It’s Codependency. Once we find ourselves having an extreme motivation to CHANGE an individual’s behavior and seek control of their lives, then we have stepped over the line into dependent/addictive behavior and the Karpman Drama Triangle of Rescue/Persecution/Victim.

What is this Karpman Drama Triangle you ask? Oh, well let me tell you. I am an expert at living it.

You can find many graphics of this on the internet, but here is my own drawing for your reference. I have perfected living this cycle, so let me explain in more detail.

First, we Rescue. We see that someone “needs” us to save the day. We maybe didn’t have our feelings nurtured in our childhood, we faced some kind of trauma, or faced a hard thing where we felt we were alone in our feelings so to avoid the pain of that and the absent feelings of self-worth that develop, we decide that at least we can be “needed”, and this gives us the “high” that we need to feel better. Usually our “victims” of this rescue are those that we perceive or judge as needing “saving”. We think we will simply step in and be a friend when they are going through a crisis, trying to get their life together, or maybe they didn’t have it together in the first place. We think “I can fix this!” and then we proceed to give advice, do things for this person that were not asked for, and cover their tracks. We give them money, a lot of our time, a lot of our energy, and a lot of our spirit, which gets depleted. Which means we end up “serving” from an empty place as if we had a hole in our heart in need of surgery.

And so then this person or group of people we are trying to “save” might appreciate the help at first, but then they either repeat the same pattern of behavior or become resentful of our advice, our efforts, or trying to control them and they speak up OR they even allow GOD to do the work of restoration and they get better. But we don’t like that because when they don’t “need” us anymore, or our helping isn’t helping, or we can’t fix them anymore we jump to the next step in the Drama Triangle which is to Persecute. We lash out, we get angry, we get bitter and resentful. We accuse. We do things in anger that we shouldn’t do. We become entitled in our “rightness” and efforts to “perfect” and we persecute, judge and potentially become bullies. We even turn those we were trying to rescue into victims so we can become the hero again.

This is when we often move into the third step in the cycle which is to become the Victim ourselves. We are ashamed of our behavior. Maybe we adopt this role in the drama triangle because of shame from past choices. We don’t feel worthy of God’s love. We feel worthless because we feel like we failed as a Christian. We don’t understand why the person we were trying to help doesn’t appreciate us, or want our help or why they don’t just make better choices to improve their life and feel sorry for ourselves! We get depressed. We tell ourselves negative thoughts like “I’m just worthless as a Christian. I couldn’t even get my own spouse/child/brother/mother/friend to change and follow Jesus because they are still (fill in the blank of negatively perceived behavior) OR we turn this judgement on ourselves for messing up yet AGAIN, therefore I am a loser in God’s eyes. I didn’t do enough. God must be so disappointed in me.”

The best/worst part for a Christian Codependent is we start over and repeat the cycle with the next victim. We NEED another “hit” to get ourselves out of victim mode. We see someone “lost” that needs our help (and more accurately, someone we can look down on that will make us feel better about ourselves) and all of a sudden this opportunity to rescue starts the cycle over again because we feel temporary value and worth in being the hero. It’s a dopamine rush, or a new “high” in our addiction.

This is also where the frog comes in again. We keep “kissing” all these frogs, they never turn into princes, and we turn into a frog ourselves. Using my other example, we begin to drown because the tide is too strong for us on our own and we turn to artificial ways of coping. We don’t know how to break the cycle because we aren’t even aware we are doing it, and we don’t understand why we are so miserable inside, even while we smile on the outside and say “God is so good!” WE EVEN BELIEVE IT WHEN WE SAY IT BECAUSE WE HAVEN’T BEEN KICKED OUT OF THE “CHRISTIAN CLUB” YET but on the inside we are afraid that other Christians will think us a fraud, and they have no idea that we are dying underneath the dark shadows of codependency and have failed our duties of making more and stronger disciples for the kingdom.

Let me be clear on one important distinction. Not ALL Christians who do good works, who do missional service, who step in to “rescue” at soup kitchens, in homeless ministry, at crisis pregnancy centers, who serve veterans, take in orphans, mentor youth in need of encouragement, sit and hold hands with those in need of counseling or medical attention, and those who grieve with those who grieve, and serve the church in a leadership role…many are NOT codependent. So how do we know the difference and how do we know if we are not serving from a place that is centered in the Drama Triangle?

Before I get to that, here’s one way the secular or clinical world has used to flip the Drama Triangle to be a more positive angle. Being a Coach, Challenger, and Creator are much better labels and definitely have the potential to create more productive employees for companies AND can also help someone shift their focus back onto taking care of their own needs first, which is part of the biggest problem with the Drama Triangle in the first place (denying care of self while putting other’s needs first, having low self-esteem so try to feel better by taking care of other’s needs, feel bad about self so need others to “fix” to feel good, etc.)

For Christians, this can be a positive mental shift in how one goes about being a disciple of Jesus. When you think of yourself as a Coach instead of a Rescuer, it sounds like you are more a helper and encourager instead of an enabler. If you think of yourself as a Challenger instead of a Persecutor, it’s definitely more friendly, and these are the people that we think of that get stuff done so we respect them, right? And who doesn’t want to be a Creator instead of a Victim? I mean, that’s an easy one.

But did you notice that both triangles are pointing the same way, have the potential to deny self care, and definitely don’t leave a lot of room for Jesus to transform lives? Of this I am an expert. I tried being a Coach AND a Challenger AND a Creator all at the same time. As an expert codependent, I made myself my own project and decided that I could be my own hero and PROVE how capable I am to “fix” my life myself by reading all the self help books and improving my health while encouraging others. All I needed was a positive attitude, is what I told myself, and I’m already a positive person so I just need to stay focused on the positive! I’ve been doing that for 4 years since I found myself in a very dark place of loss, grief, and victimhood at the depths of codependency. It didn’t work. Life was messy. I failed and fell right back into the pattern of Rescue, Persecution, and Victim.

Friends, the key to breaking the cycle of the Drama Triangle is not found in self help books or just putting a positive spin on it. The solution to depression, loss, and grief is not found by shifting your focus to others in a literal “Jesus, others, me…in that order” mindset. Yes, the Bible DOES say love God, love others and deny yourself. It says “take up your cross and follow me” to truly be a follower of Christ. All that is true.

AND YET, the Bible is also full of TRUTH about WHO is the source of love and WHO is the source of everything that we do, and where our motivation is to come FROM. It’s Jesus. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. For without HIM we can do NOTHING. EVERYTHING points to Jesus, even in the Old Testament. So in this somehow twisted Gospel we have developed of our own making, we have decided that we can be Coaches, Challengers, and Creators of good things for God’s people without God truly at the center of it, and without giving Him EVERY part of us. We try to do our own rescuing and ask God to bless it. We persecute on behalf of God in the name of “righteousness” and condemning lawlessness without love of the actual people, and give ourselves praise for being followers of God’s law (forgetting that His Divine law to love HIM and love our neighbor supersedes any worldly law…Oh, and don’t we LOVE to say that this is “love” by making sure they aren’t “lost in sin”. This is not real love BTW, in my interpretation for we take the power of the Holy Spirit out of the equation.)

Oh and don’t we take pride in being “creators” and not victims. We create ministry and sermons and “new opportunities” to become a Christian and get connected in community, promoting the many ways we ourselves were lost but then found. We are full of creative ideas to market and package “church” in a new way for “real people” to take the focus off our own misery and onto others. We put a new spin on it and call it “contemporary” worship but it’s really the same box we’ve been living in because we haven’t let go of the NEED to feel better about ourselves, to be included in the “club” of Christianity where we really just want things to stay the same. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t want to change. We don’t want to let God deal with the stuff we are hiding in the shadows. We don’t want to feel the pain of the hard things of life so we are looking for a “rescue” and this is why we look at things we can SEE, and HEAR, and TOUCH, and SMELL, and TASTE to rescue us from feeling like victims all over again.

There is HOPE for escaping this cycle. I’m living proof.

The hope is in handing over the rescuing to Jesus, and checking our motivation. When our motivation is a natural response to being filled by a hurricane of God’s love, a flood of His intense heart poured into and received over our lives, and we are filled to the brim with a self love that can only come from high esteem in how God feels about us, His children, then THIS is not codependent Christianity. We serve as a mere “thank you note” without any obligation to receive any more gifts. We understand WHOM is doing the saving!

We understand that WE are the ones in need of rescuing

and we SUBMIT to HIS rescue.

The truth is, I had put myself in a “cage” of codependence because I didn’t want to feel my past pain. I wanted to move on and ignore it. I have known Jesus most of my life and yet ever since I was aware that I was making a conscious choice to follow HIM, I was not aware I had to be willing to hand over ALL of me to be changed. I was willing to hand over the parts that seemed less painful, until one day I couldn’t control what I was hiding anymore. No one really told me that HE would be doing the changing. I thought that I was the one that had to do the changing FOR Him. I thought I was to DO the work of changing and then would ask for forgiveness when I messed up. We hear “don’t be a slave to the law” so I would listen but be really hard on myself when I couldn’t keep up the perfectionism!

Jesus has a way of breaking into these prisons we lock ourselves in but He doesn’t always just bust you out like Joshua blowing his trumpet. Well, sometimes it can feel like the walls around you are tumbling down as He’s doing it! For me though, He was much more gentle about it repeatedly giving me a CHOICE. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve faced lots of hard things that led me to feel in need of a revolutionary rescue! I got so exhausted from trying to continually save myself and everyone else and kept picking up the pieces. But I finally realized that wasn’t Jesus Himself being harsh with me. He wasn’t the one that had put me in the cage. I had put myself there and He was inviting me to step out in TRUST.

He stands outside the walls of the Drama Triangle “cage” and invites us to step OUT into an open space of freedom. He encourages us to FLIP that triangle upside down and put HIM at the top as the RESCUER, at the apex, where we are powerless to actually climb out among the rocks, and the rubble, and the broken pieces without Him. He promises that if we allow Him to take us into the dry, desolate “wilderness” to deal with our past “slavery” to the world and the pain, loss, and grief of hard things, that He WILL BE WITH US. He is EMMANUEL, God WITH us in the wilderness and there is HEALING on the other side of it.

Jesus will be WITH us as Rescuer of our souls. Jesus will be WITH us in the wilderness of facing hard, painful things. Jesus will be WITH us in the healing that comes from knowing Him deeply, fully, intimately as a Savior. He allows us to be the ones to open the door of the cage, He crouches down as we sit on the cold, hard floor afraid to leave our prison, and the Rescue comes when WE make the choice to meet His loving eyes, take His hand, and step out in faith. He allows us to do this of our own CHOOSING, even if it takes us years to open the door.

Not all Christians are codependent but we should be cautious of the attempts of the enemy to pull us this direction. It’s spiritual warfare and deception at it’s finest. It was the first sin of pride that made Adam and Eve actually believe they could be equal to God. It has the same root of sin for us today, to think that we can “rescue” ourselves or anyone on our own, to somehow prove to Him we are worthy of saving.

We are called to “Go and Make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). It also says that without LOVE we are a clanging gong and noisy cymbal (1 Corinthians 13). So maybe, we try it God’s way instead which combines both ideas. Many scriptures point to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God” so I think the big picture and hierarchy of the Christian life with “Jesus, others, me” should actually involve putting yourself ahead of others. I know it sounds backwards but we flip it in codependency. The way we put Jesus first is by making ourselves a priority in getting filled up BY Jesus FIRST. It’s kind of how people say to put your own oxygen mask on first before you assist others. Codependents are trying to save all the other passengers first and struggling to breathe.

The way we “rescue” is we let HIM do the rescuing in our own lives FIRST and then as we allow ourselves to be in the “wilderness” with Him, allowing Him to change us from the inside out, then the natural consequence of that is an outpouring of love for others because we have “plenty left over to share” ( Matthew 14:13-21; 2 Corinthians 1:3-11) and guess what? Everyone WINS because most of the time what will happen is others see the LIGHT of Jesus in you before you are even comfortable talking about it, or you serve on mission without any regard of personal reward or gain and they will SEE it. You don’t have to actually talk about Jesus to introduce people to Jesus. Just be willing to BE a light that leads the way to HIS rescue and your job is done. God is not standing at the pearly gates ready to pat you on the head for all the frogs you kissed, or all the lives you “saved”, or all those you pointed your finger at “in love.” (whatever that means!) He’s going to ask you if you followed HIM and who saw HIM through you in the process.

In the Bible study I’m working on, I plan to go into much more detail about this cycle and how to break out of it in healthy ways. Until then, let’s recap. Love God, get filled up by God, follow God, others follow too, repeat. Will everyone that you meet choose to Love God or follow Him? No. Will your motivation become to control or change their behavior? If yes, you might be codependent. If no, you are probably acting in healthy missional service, IF you can accept people, flaws and all and know you might not be able to “save” them…you choose to love them anyway. It’s all in the motivation. (this does NOT mean we condone poor behavior or become a doormat!)

When you find yourself feeling an internal turmoil of frustration over someone else’s actions, or lack there of, not just once, or twice but continuously, it’s time to phone a friend. That friend is Jesus and then brace yourself for impact for it is not going to be easy in the “wilderness” while he does heart surgery on that hole called “codependency cancer”. As the wound is healing, which takes time, He will fill it with His love, if you let Him, and you WILL have plenty left over to share in genuine love and service, putting others first. Will you mess up? Absolutely. And you continue to fix your eyes on Him “the author and perfecter of faith”, allowing Him to draw you back into His protection. You have been rescued, again.

An Education On Education

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***This is an opinion piece that is all my own. My opinions are not necessarily the opinions of any individual, school district, or entity that I might be associated with. My opinions are based on the information that I have researched and interpreted for myself. Any errors will happily be corrected as I am made aware of any. Thank you for your grace and understanding as I am simply a teacher who believes in the POWER of education.

We need an education on education. More specifically, we need to understand education EQUALITY. We need to understand it’s purpose. We need to understand it’s origins. And we need to understand why it needs to be protected. Since I’m not a celebrity, or a famous YouTuber, or been invited to do a TED Talk yet, welcome to my class 🙂 I’m just a teacher. Just a teacher that cares about protecting public education. WARNING! There’s a LOT of information here, I know. I have been researching this information for several years and it took me a long time to put it together for you, so thank you for the honor of reading it and making your best effort to take it all in with an open mind and an open heart. This is IMPORTANT.

Education is not the same for every state but I live and teach in Texas so that is where I’m going to start. In 1845, Texas became a state, but it wasn’t until 1876 that the State of Texas adopted an amendment to it’s constitution guaranteeing a FREE public education. “Article 7 establishes provisions for public schools, asylums, and universities. Section 1 states, “it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools“. (Wikipedia) Let’s first make note of two key words: provision and efficient. These words mean “how do we FUND it” and “how good will it be”. Tuck that in your pocket for later.

Let’s take a look at some history in Texas between the years of 1845 and 1876, and beyond. During those 31 years between new statehood and a written constitution, Texas fought in the Mexican-American war over it’s border with Mexico, seceded from the union and was involved in the American Civil War from 1861-1865, and had ongoing involvement in the war with several indigenous peoples and America over land. Summary: there was lots of fighting and it would be fair to assume Texas lawmakers were a little distracted during this time period. The new Texas government did form a constitution and did begin offering public schools, although there were no established guidelines for education.

After 1865, the south had been decimated after the Civil War and greatly struggled financially to rebuild. In the northeastern states and across the west, industry was thriving and the railroads helped with continued westward expansion but the south remained primarily agricultural. The South also did not adjust well to freeing slaves. Most of the south did not accept the loss of the war and had not changed their opinions about how they viewed the treatment of black Americans. Many freed black Americans felt they had limited job opportunities because they had not been allowed to learn to read and write while in slavery. With the emancipation proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments added to the US constitution, black Americans were no longer “slave” but many were forced to become “hired worker”, enslaved on the very same land in a new role as sharecroppers. The land had to be worked by someone, and there was little money left to pay workers so many Freedmen struck deals with land owners to live on the land, work it and get a share of the crop as payment. This did not often work out well for the sharecroppers unfortunately. The hope was that Freedmen would eventually get to own their own land once they paid off their debt, but landowners often had many reasons to cut the payment.

Teachers, both black and white, began to teach those that were eager to learn in multi-generational school houses in an effort to provide an education, leading to more job opportunities. This included grandparents and grandchildren learning together and by the turn of the century, most black Americans had learned to read and write. Many fled the south however from extreme persecution and racial violence that persisted for generations, but many were able to use their new education to make a new life in the north. We still have much work to do as a nation and as we have learned in recent days, while we have made progress, EQUALITY in many areas of American society remains a continuous issue today.

It’s important to also note something else that was going on in America during Reconstruction. Before the controversial election of 1876, Republican President Ulysses S. Grant supported an amendment to the US Constitution that would mandate and prohibit the use of public funds for “sectarian” schools. Grant “feared a future with ‘patriotism and intelligence on one side and superstition, ambition and greed on the other’ which he identified with the Catholic Church.” Grant intended for public schools to be free of “atheistic, pagan, or sectarian” teaching. (Wikipedia) The Catholic Church was promoting the importance of separate parochial schools for Catholic children at this time, and many were facing anti-Catholic sentiment across America with the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants. America was primarily Protestant in the 19th century and Irish Catholics were afraid that their children would “lose their faith” in schools with primarily Protestant influence. So in short, Republicans were pushing to establish public school funding AND wanted the separation of “church and state” with the intention to keep schools “Protestant.” Am I the only one that thinks they were confused about what separation of church and state actually means?

James Blaine was the lead Republican Senator that had proposed the amendment in the Senate. This amendment didn’t pass in the House so it never became federal law. BUT, THIRTY FOUR STATES over the next several decades would adopt “Blaine Amendments” into their state constitutions, prohibiting the use of public funds for parochial schools. These amendments are still in place today. Texas was one of the first to do so with Article 7 added to their state constitution in 1876. Are any of you seeing the irony in where we are currently with Republican leaders in the Texas legislature today, in 2020 that are arguing for vouchers FOR private schools? Anyone???

So we’ve established that a FREE and public education is not a right as stated in the US constitution, however the 14th amendment guarantees protection for equal access for ALL children when a state establishes a school system. Let’s be sure this is clear.

Education is a PROTECTED EQUAL opportunity for ALL children, in EVERY school system in America BECAUSE of the 14th Amendment. Every child.

The FUNDING for a FREE and public education is not protected by the US Constitution, which means it is up to the STATES to pay for it.

This is what we call an unfunded federal mandate. We require you to do it, but we’re not going to pay for it. I’m pointing this out because we see a lot of this in school systems today at the state and local level in regards to funding. The State wants local schools to do something, but they’re not going to pay for it. This is why we are now in a pickle on funding because mandates actually cost money.

We have established what’s in the Constitution, let’s take a deeper look at funding. All of the following info is from the Texas Education Agency website, my school district website, or a simple Google search to define various terms.

Back to Texas: in 1840, the first Anglo-American school was enacted and during Reconstruction after the Civil War, 45 million acres of public domain was set aside for school support. In 1845, Texas established the permanent school fund. Texas settled the boundary claims it had against the United States and 2 million of the 10 million it was awarded was to establish this Fund. So, actually when you think about it, Texas took 20% of that and INVESTED in the future of public education! Pretty good, right? Especially for 1845!!! Think about how much money that would be today!!!!! I went ahead and did the math for you. That would be 67 MILLION. OK, that’s a lot of money but if you think about it, that would barely build a school now. Plus, there were only about 125,000 people in Texas then. We have about 27 million people living in Texas now. But it was a start. Moving on.

Since 1884 when the law was rewritten, the tax code and systems for accreditation and administration of independent school districts has been greatly debated, tweaked, and adjusted. I could bore you with a list of the actual history and changes but that’s not my focus here. There are two important things you need to know though: WHY and HOW does state funding need to match the EQUALITY that is guaranteed in the US Constitution.

On the surface, every one of us would say “DUH! OF COURSE, funding needs to match! We’re for freedom and individual rights and EQUALITY.” Ok, but let’s maybe look at some ways where it is not equal in order to better understand the WHY.

The school district where I work, for example, received a B accountability rating in 2019. The way TEA set up the school accountability system in Texas, my school district would have received an A in Student Achievement based on test scores, except the rule says that even if you meet the requirements you can only get an A if EVERY school in your district passes in ALL categories. That would almost be like saying that the kids in a class that EARNED As with mastery of the content, only get As if ALL of the students in the class get As. My district had ONE school fail in ONE area so they don’t get an A. And why does that matter? B is still a good rating right? Well, yes, but what many don’t realize is that the accountability rating is ONE grade for ALL schools in a district and is not giving the whole picture of the important and EFFICIENT work that an individual school or an individual student are doing, much less an entire district like mine that has over 53,000 students. This is simply not fair. I heard an economics professor doing an interview recently describe schools in Baltimore with failing test schools, that are promoting students to the next grade level, as giving “fraudulent” diplomas. I’m not sure about you but that ANGERS me. It literally makes me angry that he would take an entire school’s test scores and ONE student that may actually be BRILLIANT and yet maybe didn’t pass a test has to live with society thinking he has a “fraudulent” diploma. That’s not his fault, it’s definitely not accurate, and it most certainly is UNFAIR. WHY ARE WE ALLOWING THIS AMERICA???

MORE IMPORTANTLY, an accountability rating that is primarily based on TEST scores is perpetuating the idea that testing is the focus of education and this is FAR from the purpose. I personally have no problem with accountability. We absolutely need high expectations and rigor in education, and that includes some form of accountability. As humans we ALL need accountability or people would run stop signs and cheat on their taxes (I think this happens anyway, if I’m not mistaken???) We should be teaching our students ETHICS, problem solving, reasoning, critical thinking, social skills, creativity, analysis, and more. Good character comes from learning to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. This is modeled by the adults in a young person’s life, and learned NOT in a book or by mastering a test.

I do believe we can provide assessments for students to better understand where they are and where they need to go next in OWNING their own learning. The current testing system in Texas is not working. The STAAR is a test that requires kids to be “equal” when they are not in HOW they learn and what their needs are. This testing does not account for the numerous gaps between kids from poverty that often start school with learning deficits in vocabulary, simply based on whether a child has been read to before Kindergarten. In addition, I could go on and on about how much teachers are forced to “teach the test” because of the unreasonable rigor that is required, which limits greatly the time that is needed to teach the most important skills already listed, in addition to building RELATIONSHIPS, in order to reach the greater goal of being a productive member of society and the work force. It seems that it is more important for students to be expert test takers than critical thinkers and problem solvers.

The current accountability rating system affects funding because when people are looking to buy a house, what is the first thing they are going to care about if they have kids? They care how good the schools are. If you have a choice between an “A” school district and a “B” or an “F” school district, and you don’t know any different, you’re probably going to choose the one that got an “A”. If your school district is getting less than an A repeatedly, people are more likely to be overly critical of the school and/or move because they are busy people and believe quick sound bites like “your school district didn’t get an A” so they start thinking that the schools are “going downhill”. But THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE SCHOOL DISTRICT IS NOT ACTUALLY DOING QUALITY TEACHING. This rating affects property values and local property tax revenue, which affects the bottom line on funding. This accountability system is completely UNFAIR in regards to funding schools EQUALLY.

So you might say at this point, “Well, obviously this should be an incentive for schools and school districts to get their act together and figure out how to improve those ratings!” Yes, ideally that actually IS the plan. However, the NUMBER ONE predictor of low school performance has nothing to do with how good your teachers are, or how smart your students are, or how well you teach kids to master a test given on ONE day of the entire school year. No, the greatest factor is poverty. And if you live in a low economic neighborhood, the chances of that school having lower test scores and lower tax revenue would actually be high.

ALL schools have many factors that can make it difficult for students to learn. If we look at this simple chart from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a basic tool in Education Psychology, we can see for example that the priority should always be to meet the student’s physiological needs first (red), along with safety and security (orange). Unfortunately law makers and many others like to blame test scores and low ratings that often don’t give the whole picture (yellow, green and purple).

Let’s say for example, you have a student in an extreme home situation such as one parent is in a gang and not around, the other has a drug problem, and other family members inconsistently “help” parent this child. So this young student is a FIRST GRADER, the main caregiver of her younger siblings, but walks herself to school because she knows it’s where she’s going to get some food and at least be warm for a few hours. She falls asleep in class frequently because when mom is home she is usually fighting with her boyfriend, and keeps the child awake. How likely is it that this student is going to do well on a test, even with excellent teaching and preparation? This is actually a true example from my adopted daughter’s life when she was a 6 year old. She joined our family at age 15 after many years of growing up without the family support she needed, and then spent 7 years in the foster care system before she joined our family.

Now, imagine you have a school with quite a few of those students in similar situations. Many children (not just those in poverty) are not only coming to school with their physiological and safety needs unmet, they are coming to school without family connection, love and belonging, with low self-esteem, learning disabilities, and more. And the REALITY is, it’s not just kids in poverty. Rich kids have needs too. Middle income, 2 parent working household kids have needs too. Teachers in public school are charged with the responsibility to teach whomever walks through the door, at EVERY ECONOMIC LEVEL.

So what is the HOW? How do we make the PROVISION guaranteed in the Constitution EQUAL considering these economic disparities? Well, for one thing, the equality comes when we realize that students are NOT equal in how they learn and what they need. They DESERVE to be treated equally as individuals but that means that some will also need more attention to their needs and they may need more services than others like speech, dyslexia specialists, special education assistants that change diapers for disabled students, counselors, math specialists, psychologists, case workers for students in foster care and much more. EQUALITY recognizes that some schools might need SMALLER CLASSES to give more attention to students that have trauma and emotional challenges from a difficult home life. These students need teachers that will invest TIME and build a positive RELATIONSHIP with them. Schools in neighborhoods in poverty may benefit from more counselors and parent liasons who could support families with the education needs of their children. Teachers also need competent administrators who problem solve, support, and take care of the things that help teachers focus on teaching. And that doesn’t even address school infrastructure, supplies, and technology. All these services cost money.

No one likes taxes. Let’s talk though about what our priorities are as a nation and what we spend our money on. I think we need to focus for a moment FIRST on what we do to help third world countries make progress. Many Christian churches promote missions and sponsoring a child in another country. There are really three basic things that help GREATLY in these undeveloped countries. Clean water, health services, and EDUCATION. In order for a nation to prosper, there needs to be jobs, but people can’t get most higher wage jobs without some form of EDUCATION. Education has been the catalyst throughout history for many nations to THRIVE. We like to SAY that we value education in America, but what we really want are “babysitters” for our kids so we can WORK our 60 hour a week jobs and make all the money to buy our stuff, and for our kids to grow up and do the same. It’s a cycle in America that is burning us out, stressing our kids to the max, and has created a mental health crisis.

I am personally for smaller government and conservative economic spending…except for public education. I see education for ALL as THE INVESTMENT in our future, and a major way to help correct many of the issues we have today. If we’re willing to pay taxes for clean water, the fire department, trash pick up, etc. Don’t we also want good schools too? I mean, think about it. Don’t you think with a QUALITY education that a student is less likely to grow up and be a burden on society by way of homelessness, welfare, a dysfunctional family unit, or incarceration? Think of what we could do for mental health if ALL children BELIEVED that they had a brighter future? This belief does not come simply from going to school and walking into a building, but in the RELATIONSHIPS that are built and nurtured with a QUALITY education. This BELIEF comes when teachers and counselors and specialists say “I see so much potential for you. I believe in you. I’m going to cheer you on to pursue your PURPOSE!” An investment in the education of children provides them not just with the arts, civics, history, science, math, and knowledge for success, but with reasoning, initiative, imagination, creativity, and problem solving skills in order to prepare for college, receive advanced job training, and therefore pursue higher wage job opportunities. If it’s truly not just about graduating with honors, to get into a good college, to get the great job, to make all the money, then let’s make it more important that we focus on the OPPORTUNITIES that come with education and people that invest in little people who become grown up people. In short, EDUCATION CHANGES LIVES and helps young people graduate with PURPOSE. We won’t do this perfectly with every child, but education has the potential to greatly influence the possibility of a NEW generation escaping poverty and hopelessness.

To really get a grasp on what is needed to provide a QUALITY (aka efficient) education, we have to clarify a few things about education funding and then I think we might get a better understanding of HOW public school funding works:

  1. In most school districts in Texas, teachers are paid for 187 days of work. Yes, teachers get 2 weeks off at Christmas and several weeks off in the summer and other days, but teachers are NOT PAID for those days. It’s like someone that works an hourly wage job, for you are only paid for the days you actually work, except it is offered in a contract as a salary, and then the pay is spread out over 12 months of paychecks. Teachers also have required trainings we must do in the summer, which we are NOT paid for. The salary for 187 days of work does not have opportunity for overtime unless you have extra time requirements in your job description such as a coach, club sponsor, or administrator. We are expected to do the job thoroughly, and that often means we put in WAY more hours than we are paid for. The good news is that most teachers didn’t go into education for the money…we’re in it for the KIDS.

2. Something needs to be said here about “I pay taxes so I pay your salary therefore I want you to do such and such.” This is incorrect. Stop saying this because this makes you sound ignorant and I don’t think you want to be seen that way, do you? No. of course not. YOU, individual tax payer don’t actually pay MY (teacher) salary. You pay the state of Texas. Yes, the school district is collecting your taxes because the majority of it will come right back to your community schools and that saves time and hassle. BUT you are supporting the COLLECTIVE goal of funding public education which is a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT OF EVERY CHILD IN TEXAS. If you don’t have kids and you own property, you’re going to pay property taxes. If your kids are grown, you are still going to pay property taxes. If you live in an apartment or rent, your landlord is going to pay property taxes. If you own a business, you are going to pay property taxes. This is how it works. We ALL pay COLLECTIVELY to support the funding of public education. TEXAS is who pays my salary 🙂

3. The Federal government only pays approximately 10% of all school funding and it is tied to things like free and reduced breakfast/lunch (students qualify based on family income) and things like special education services. Remember a few paragraphs back when I talked about the services that are needed for ALL students to have EQUALITY? Remember I said that services cost money? The Federal government requires an EQUAL opportunity but currently does not pay adequately for it. This is tricky because schools also want local control to best serve the needs of our students and we don’t want the federal government to tell kids in Iowa that they have to do the same requirements as kids in Kentucky, when it may not apply to everyone. This is the issue with the cross over into State funding. I’m not sure the solution for this problem, but I do believe this is why it is primarily up to the STATE to invest it’s share, and up to ALL of us to hold our State representatives accountable to the Constitution.

4. Your local property taxes may have gone up because your property value is going up, which is happening right now in approximately 85 school districts in Texas. This means that a lot of people are moving into these areas (my school district being one of them). This is good for the WHOLE of the economy because that also means people have jobs, are buying property, they are spending in that community and they are contributing positively to your neighborhoods…hopefully 🙂 Homeowners look at their tax statement and what do they say? “Why are my taxes so high???” And then they get mad at the school district because they think that we raised their taxes. The taxes might in deed be high but let’s think again about who’s fault it is…not the school district. The State actually DECREASES it’s contribution to the local school district when your property values go up! I know, it sounds crazy but it’s true. The formula is set up in a way that I think they figure “you don’t need help from us, you’re rolling in the dough!” And NO, it doesn’t mean that more money goes to property tax poor school districts. The State PAYS THE SAME AMOUNT PER STUDENT (which they have tricked everyone into thinking is “equal”) regardless of whether the district is property “rich” or “poor”. It’s sad to me that many forget that the COLLECTIVE tax revenue is an investment in the young people of your community, which influences so many factors including mental health, economic stability, and could go a LONG way to influencing the family unit for the next generation. Successful kids also bring joy to the community in many ways such as sporting events, the performing arts, and other community events. This is a WIN for EVERYONE!

5. BONDS pay for BIG things like new buildings, safety and infrastructure improvements, or capital outlay items like buses and equipment. Your property taxes don’t pay for these things. It’s a completely separate fund! When your school district is having a bond election or a Tax Ratification Election, vote YES! WHY? Because it helps pay for stuff with minimal cost to you. Remember, we’re also focusing on investing. Now, if you don’t think your school district is managing money well then of course you should be asking questions and gain greater understanding about WHY they want the money for the things in the Bond. But in most cases, a Bond election or a TRE is not going to raise your taxes much. We’re talking a minimal amount spread out over a year, which may come out to less than $10 a month at the higher income bracket. When schools are not overcrowded and have the buses they need to get kids to school, this is a WIN for property value which helps YOU when you sell your house someday.

6. Now let’s talk a little more about the BIG part of funding! Drum roll…. THE STATE Funding. It’s actually not the biggest part of public school funding (somewhere around 30-35%) but it’s the most important. If you don’t like that your property taxes are too high then you need to call your congressman or woman EVERY DAY ALL YEAR TO ASK FOR THEM TO FULLY FUND OUR SCHOOLS. You need to call them and call them and call them again and drive them bananas. WHY? Because this is what got them to listen in the last legislative session in Texas and guess what? Schools got some money. We didn’t get a LOT but it was an improvement from getting ZERO increases for ELEVEN YEARS! That’s right, the Texas legislature gave school districts ZERO extra money for the last ELEVEN YEARS even though expenses continued to increase, because they “couldn’t come to an agreement”. (translation: Republicans don’t like to spend on education and Democrats supposedly want to spend too much so they just fight about it instead of compromising) The way it works, the state legislature pays a set amount to the school districts based on ATTENDANCE and here’s the EQUALITY part. EVERY student in Texas gets the same amount from the state. This amount is approximately $3000 LESS than what Louisiana pays per student and Texas has the 8th RICHEST economy in the nation. That makes Texas ranked FORTY-THIRD in the nation in education spending. 43rd. That’s out of 50 in case you forgot. That’s pitiful. It sounds equal, but it’s not accounting for unequal factors. So if you aren’t seeing a problem, I’m not sure I can help you understand it, because I don’t understand how we even got here. It’s NOT “efficient” that’s for sure as Article 7 of the Texas Constitution says it should be.

MANY of our kids are getting a dollar menu education and expecting them to pass a TEST that requires filet mignon.

7. One last thing on State dollars. The state of Texas collects sales tax on everything and that is the number one source of revenue for public education. So when you buy something, you can rest assured that you are supporting public education! YAY! This is how EVERYONE, no matter how much money you make, contributes to a FREE and public education. IF the State actually holds up it’s end of the bargain and gives an adequate amount of money to the schools instead of spending it on other things. (Like Governor Abbott said he wouldn’t use the “rainy day” fund to save teacher job cuts but then ran on a campaign promise to use it for infrastructure projects, OR Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ran on a campaign promise to give teachers 10K raises and then promptly got elected and fought AGAINST education funding reform).

WHEW! You have made it so far! Thank you! We’re almost there.

So what do we need to do to make this better? We need the STATE to do it’s part. We need people to stop asking for vouchers for private schools unless the STATE is going to FULLY FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION, not penalize schools for low accountability ratings and a “equal” test that is NOT equal. SCHOOLS NEED FUNDING. If a school is struggling they should get MORE funding WITH oversight to be sure they have the help they need, not CONDEMNATION AND A LACK OF RESOURCES or threats to cut teacher jobs. This only makes things worse. How would YOU like it if your boss said, “we’re cutting your salary because you didn’t meet your quota last Thursday. I know it was only one day of your whole year and you made us LOTS of money on all the other days but that’s the important day and sorry your work didn’t cut it.” I’m not sure you would think that’s fair. And it’s not fair for kids either to be judged on their performance on ONE test for an entire year AND for schools to lose funding because of these kids, who should NOT be treated like a business commodity.

Parents that want “choice” and lower taxes, I wrote this for YOU. You have ALWAYS had a choice. I support you making GOOD choices for YOUR family. You are the parent. Make your choice not dependent on money, and simply on what is right for your family. Texas has the money to do this right without raising property taxes. Are corporations paying their fair share or are they getting too many tax breaks? If you want the State of Texas to give you a tax credit for your child to go to private school or homeschool, then be willing to hold our lawmakers accountable to THE CONSTITUTION. Speak up and be in support of private schools having the SAME REQUIREMENTS and SAME EXPECTATIONS as public school AND be willing to accept EVERY child that wants to come to that private school AND provide transportation, meals, and supplies for those students, AND also stand up for schools in communities that NEED MORE FUNDING, because that is what EQUAL means. You can’t have a school without inclusion AND take away money from other kids to do it. That’s just legal segregation with a tax credit, which sounds like privilege to me, and definitely NOT equality.

SPEAK OUT AND FIGHT FOR THESE KIDS that deserve your support just as much if not MORE than your own. WHY? Because they belong to ALL of us. These are OUR children. These are TEXAS children. These are AMERICA’S CHILDREN. If we can FULLY FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION then EVERYONE wins. That would truly be a step in the right direction toward EQUALITY.

A Flood to the Heart

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On August 28, 2017, when our home flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we were greatly blessed by an outpouring of generosity. We only had 3 inches of water in our home and we had flood insurance so we were actually very lucky. It still took a YEAR of heartache, headache, and belly aches to fully recover, but our home was repaired better than it had been before. We were able to put many of our personal belongings upstairs before we evacuated so we didn’t lose as many personal belongings. We had a wonderful friend who allowed us to evacuate to his home WITH our 3 dogs. Thank goodness we had the forethought to evacuate so we weren’t one of those people on the news trying to shove a 100 pound Great Pyrenees into a boat. Yes, we are very blessed and God is GOOD!

Many other Houstonians were NOT so lucky. I have friends who lost EVERYTHING. I mean, the water was so high that they could not save one thing. One friend literally had to flee in the middle of the night (more like swim out!) and another friend was out of town and couldn’t get home in time before the water started rising.

These stories were not unique to MANY in the Houston area. Some didn’t have flood insurance, which was devastating. It was such a massive amount of water over 3-4 days, areas that never flood (and trust me, we are very used to this in Houston!) were suddenly inundated by rising water. Even today, almost 3 years later, there are some that are still slowly working on recovery as they are either doing the work themselves or having to save up the money to do a little work at a time. It was quite a catastrophic event for many.

Even in the midst of the destruction however, there were also so many visible signs of HOPE. Houston is a city that came TOGETHER in a big, hospitable way and showed the world that we have HEART.

There were strangers rescuing strangers. There were people with boats and kayaks risking their lives to go in and get stranded people off their roofs. There were every day heroes swimming into 16 foot deep underpasses to get people out of submerged cars. There were neighbors showing up to start the clean up in homes of people they didn’t even know. Restaurant owners opened up to serve food for first responders and shelters. Donations poured into shelters, so much so that they almost had TOO much! There were people dropping off cleaning supplies, casseroles, sandwiches and ChickFilA nugget trays, and WINE! We had probably at least 25 different people bring us food and supplies over the first 2-3 months of recovery and I know there were MANY across the Houston area that received the same generous blessings.

There were other less obvious blessings and heroes as well like companies giving free time off and first responders working overtime. I could go on and on about the many celebrity heroes as well such as our own Mattress Mack and JJ Watt who raised millions to support victims. The real story here though is how Houstonians, in arguably the most diverse city in the country, put aside any differences to help each other. I teared up multiple times just reading the many hero stories here https://www.houstoniamag.com/news-and-city-life/hurricane-harvey-houston-heroes

Thinking of the heart of these heroes is really where THIS story begins. When our home got to a point after 3 months where it was dried out and they were going to put the drywall and wood paneling back up, I wrote scripture all over the walls. Even though it would be painted over or sealed, I wanted to always remember praying over every room in thanksgiving after this hard season. I wanted to DECLARE this reminder that GOD was the one that had saved us and carried us through all the stress and recovery, even if we were the only ones that knew it was there. I wrote this scripture near our fireplace for it is the spot that at times warms the heart of our home.

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

I wanted this verse to represent WHO is at the center of our home, and our hearts. This verse also became very meaningful for me in this season of recovery. Often I wanted to show that I was fine on the outside, but inside I was struggling, desperately seeking to focus on God through extremely stressful days. I would be so stressed about decisions and workers in our home, and the DOGS, and take out for every meal. I felt I couldn’t complain because there were many worse off than us. AND I knew with confidence that God was going to work it out and our home would eventually be restored. It was simply a frustrating process and I chose to smile on the outside, stuffing down the mixed bag of feelings I was juggling every day.

This verse was also very true in that many months had gone by and people didn’t realize that our home was still being repaired. Some would see the pile of trash in the driveway that would accumulate and be taken away and accumulate again, but otherwise the outside of the house looked fine. We did get a letter from our neighborhood association at one point about the pile of trash! I was like REALLY??? They had no idea that our home was still “in progress”!

That’s a little like us too isn’t? Don’t we all seem “fine” on the outside but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re “in progress” on the inside? This is true for me for sure! This verse and this current divisive season have me reflecting on the 2 year anniversary of our recovery after Harvey and how much “progress” we have yet to make. So many Houstonians jumped in to help during this historical crisis. The ones with the boats didn’t stop and ask “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” before they helped someone into their boat. They didn’t turn someone away from a shelter based on the color of their skin. Strangers weren’t worried about whether their freedoms were being taken away when they created human chains in the flood waters to help someone to safety.

Today, my friends, we are facing a new crisis in America and I dare say it’s a crisis of the heart. Many are more concerned with maintaining “freedoms” or getting everyone on board with the “issue” they care most about, than caring for our neighbors. WHAT IF we were to stop for a moment and think about the true focus of our hearts? What if we were to consider that maybe we have become more concerned with “our side winning” (and the outward appearance) than with serving others?

That might sting a bit but I do believe that it needs to be said. My friends and those that think just like I do might look at my “outward appearance” with praise, and same for you (or the YOU that you show them), but the Lord is looking at the heart. Those that don’t like what they see might not be aware of the wrestling I’m doing with God, or the transformation He’s doing in my life. What may appear to not be “following the usual crowd” could in fact be following the heart of Jesus and what it means for ME.

Perhaps we might consider that all this division and push back is because we have forgotten that in a hurricane or other natural disaster we are really on the same team. During WW2 we united against a common enemy but this is really a matter of the heart of America in a crisis. Maybe instead of being afraid of “fake news” and reacting to cancel culture or jumping down the rabbit hole of a twitter war, we think about what it feels like to need a stranger to come along with a boat and extend a hand in rescue, without asking which side we’re on.

I’m not saying by any means that all of us have to suddenly agree on everything and stop being vocal about the issues that we care about. By all means YES, we need to speak up! But we CAN consider the heart of another, and perhaps not agree on which science to listen to as it continues to evolve. We all know that realistically it’s not possible for all racism to go away in 2020 (until we continue to MODEL hearts changing) and Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are not going to become BFF. But could we take baby steps?

As a matter of fact, in my opinion, I think the best part about America IS our diversity and the fact that we have many different creative people, of different ethnicities and cultures and religions, that have the ability to share their life experience and look at solving a problem from several different angles. Hey, Christians, we don’t have to have ALL the answers do we??? Maybe instead of being afraid of things that sound “scary” or dismissing something that seems out of control or controlling, we could try instead to listen to another view. Instead of focusing on the “outward appearance” of the American people, we make a conscious effort to acknowledge that we are ALL “in progress” on the inside.

With that said, I do believe that what we watch, and what we read, and who we listen to can steer the heart in the right or wrong direction, just like a flood can sweep over us. I believe that many times we don’t even see toxic messages infiltrate our belief narrative. We should also be cautious of anyone that is divisive, for they have become blind to God’s ways. Titus 3:10 says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” Those of us that call ourselves Christians have a responsibility to not be a “stumbling block” for others and therefore must protect our hearts. We all could do a better job perhaps of examining the state of our own hearts, and remove from our eyes and ears repeated toxic rhetoric and teaching, even if it’s familiar and “status quo.”

I believe that our Father God who deeply loves ALL His children, desires an abundant life for us. I believe He desires to flood our hearts with His love like a hurricane. This kind of love is what He wants to give so that we might have plenty to share! But in order to receive the flood of His love, we must turn over our hearts fully and completely, otherwise it’s just going to be a nice spring shower and we will miss SO MUCH of it. We cannot hold on to the parts we want to control. We cannot hold on to the parts we are afraid to hand over. We cannot hold on to the parts that we think might get damaged or changed. I can assure you friends that He knows what He’s doing. He created you ON purpose FOR a purpose and He LOVES you more than you can possibly hope for or imagine. And your heart will be FREE to receive it IF ONLY you will trust Him. Hand it over. Just hand the WHOLE darn thing over. It will be scary but it will be worth it.

Just like a flood destroys a home which can be repaired, God wants to send a flood to wash your heart clean, and then restore it to full glory! He sent a hero in a boat that is extending His hand and says “Come, I will save you”. His name is Jesus and if you let Him, He will be your best friend, especially when it seems the world has let you down. If you have accepted this invitation already, perhaps you need a refresher, just to remind you that God has not left you to your own “day-to-day saving”. God has not checked off the box that says “you’re IN!” and then leaves you to figure it out. I think this is where we get stuck treading water and forget that God is already doing the work in the world, but invites us to participate by putting our eyes on Him and allowing ourselves to be rescued! God is letting us off the hook actually for He’s not waiting at the Pearly Gates ready to pat you on the head for how many “lost people” you reprimanded. He’s waiting to tell you “well done” because you loved Him first, and you tried your best to simply love others.

This is MY story. I tried for so long to hold on to my own heart. I have known and loved Jesus most of my life but I haven’t always wanted to give him ALL of me. In my co-dependence I had convinced myself that my worth was dependent on “saving” others. I convinced myself that God expected me to “fix” the parts of myself that were bad and do better to show that I was ALL IN. When in fact, He actually just wants me to hand over my heart and let HIM do the repair work in me, and in others. It took me 30+ years of my adult life to figure that out. This season of Covid quarantine has been a hard, meaningful, insightful, sorrowful, agonizing, restorative, powerful, encouraging, and FREEING time for me. I have done some deep digging to pull back all the layers, and learned to open my heart wide open to a FLOOD of love from my Father God because I finally learned to truly love myself in the way that He does, with FULL acceptance and ZERO condemnation. He has shown me a new level of compassion for humanity as well because in my FREEDOM He’s shown me how His heart breaks for us. OH HOW HE LOVES US!

I want this love for you too. Will you receive it? Will you let Him in and hand over your full heart? If you have questions and doubts, that’s ok. What I can tell you is you have a friend on the journey and I for one would love to hear your story. Comment below or message me. You can also find me at https://www.facebook.com/TheAmateurAcorn You are not alone. I pray you FULLY receive His flood of love, straight to your heart.

Who Is My Enemy?

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When I choose to zoom in with my camera lens to capture a thing of beauty, it’s often easy for me to get so focused that I miss the big picture.

I might try a different angle to get the perfect shot, and this creates a situation where I am very focused on what I see, not on what I DON’T see. In my moment of obsession I could miss the fact that outside my area of focus there is a swarm of bees flying over head. Or I might not notice the family of bears that have come down the hill. The same would be true for us, and the battle for our own minds.

The truth is that sometimes we are so focused on the enemy we see, that we don’t notice the enemy we don’t see. Many of us right now are so focused on the “enemy” on the other side of a heated post, or on the other side of the political aisle, or a family member that wants to load the dishwasher a different way. We see the other person as the enemy. What we DON’T see are the spiritual forces, hidden from view, seeking to divide us. All of us.

My cousin Karla captured this picture of a closeup of a bee on some wild buckwheat this week, and it occurred to me that many creatures in nature are often so focused on what is in front of them, and meeting their own needs (hunger, thirst, survival, etc.) that they don’t see the greater threat. They might even be in a battle for survival and not notice the more dangerous enemy come up in their blind spot. Anyone remember “Jurassic Park” and the Velociraptors? They are hunting you and you don’t even see them before it’s all over. Could we be the same and completely miss the war that God is waging on our behalf against an unseen enemy?

Spiritual warfare is real. If you don’t believe me, who do you think is telling you that you are not good enough, not smart enough, or not successful enough? Maybe it’s as simple as your neighbor got a new car, your girlfriend decided she likes someone else, or your coworker got the promotion and you didn’t. The enemy whispers to you that you “should have” or “shouldn’t have” and therefore you believe the lie that you are worthless, and trying harder, achieving more, or getting more followers is going to fix all your problems. You feel guilt for eating the entire box of cookies for dinner and then beat yourself up with a pint of ice cream for dessert.

Yes, I know, the self help authors tell us it’s really as simple as recognizing that you wouldn’t speak to your kid or your best friend that way so why are you speaking to yourself like that? They tell you that you have limiting beliefs and just need to tell yourself positive thoughts. But it’s NOT that simple, is it? I don’t believe you ARE speaking to yourself that way. This is a whisper of the enemy, seeking to make you doubt your worth and therefore cause you to doubt that God loves you. And then, he convinces you that YOU are speaking this to yourself. Technically you are, but out of a false belief you have of yourself because you have listened to this lie over and over. Yes, that is limiting beliefs and it’s also not simply made better with positive thoughts and a completed “to do” list. The false belief came out of believing the lie, not because of your own failure to measure up. This is plain trickery that just pulls you farther and farther away from God until you call him out, the master of deception. And then we ask ourselves, “where is God in my misery? Why doesn’t God rescue me from this mess?” God gets the blame and we look for worldly solutions to our perceived unworthiness to make us feel better about it. Our greatest sin is looking to things, relationships, church and government leaders to make life better, but when they let us down, they become the enemy that we see, and we completely become unaware that we are being hunted.

Unfortunately, what happens next is that we model this for our children AND we perpetuate the problem in our relationships and in community. We react to the actions of people around us based on our feelings about ourselves and our situation and this is where the enemy seeks to really stir things up and divide us, escalating the problem of the spiritual battle. (sound like our political divide at the moment?)

Let’s take a look at this from another angle, or a wider lens from Proverbs 6:12-19

“A troublemaker and a villain,
who goes about with a corrupt mouth,
13 who winks maliciously with his eye,
signals with his feet
and motions with his fingers,
14 who plots evil with deceit in his heart—
he always stirs up conflict.
15 Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant;
he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

16 There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community
.”

Many of us as Christians would be quick to say, “Oh yes, I hate those things too. I condemn that!” But let’s read it again. The first time you probably read it thinking it’s talking about others and what God says “they” shouldn’t be doing. You would never subscribe to that as a “good” person, right? Now read it as if God is talking to YOU. Ouch.

Can any of us say we have NEVER stirred up conflict in our community? Can every one of us say we have never had “haughty eyes” and looked at someone that maybe dressed inappropriately, or did something we don’t approve of and we DIDN’T judge them for it? Sorry friends. I know it doesn’t feel good to admit, but none of us are innocent here. Not one of us. Yes, even if you feel it was “justified”. YES, even if you felt that “they” did it to you too, their children were acting like hooligans, they were not keeping up with their lawn care, they aren’t going to church enough, they are misrepresenting facts, infringing on your freedoms, and causing slander with their words. It’s still “haughty eyes” and “stirring up conflict”. All of it.

So now that I’ve burst your bubble, sorry 😦 I already burst my own bubble too, I promise. I’m not innocent here either. We’re all in this together! The point is that these are the things God hates. It doesn’t say He hates YOU if you do them. And it doesn’t mean He hates others that do them either. He hates the activities. He doesn’t hate the person. We also can hate the activities as God does, but we should not hate the people, for God is bigger than that and calls us to be FREE under His divine law. If He can give us FREEDOM in Christ, and let it go and still love, why can’t we? Therefore, we should confess this within ourselves and then release it into God’s care. We confess, we release, we change, we are FREE to love!

God does not “need” us to be judge and jury. He doesn’t. He is plenty powerful to take care of the “evil” of this world all on His own. I agree that sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. There are a lot of hurtful things in the world that we wish God would just send a lightning strike! Believe me! But our pride is in the way, friends, if we think that our judgment is what “go and make disciples” means.

What’s actually happening that we are blind to (because we have zoomed in our lens on the bee, sitting on a flower) is we are being “wooed” into these behaviors when the enemy distracts us by the pain and challenges of the world, and we lose sight of God. We zoom in and hyper focus on our enemies because we falsely think it gives us more worth and value in God’s army if we squish that bug! That’s a whole book right there!

Sidenote: we don’t get an out with “the devil made me do it” for that is actually what he wants us to think. No, we are not evil and should not beat ourselves up, for this is NOT of God, is a tool of division as well and keeps us from truly loving our peeps, but we do need to confess and make it right. The enemy is the tempter. We are still responsible for our choices. The enemy is the brainwasher. Jesus owns the whole “washing” business and calls us to come clean.

Romans 8 is one of my most favorite chapters in the whole Bible. I encourage you to sit down and read the WHOLE THING. But here’s a condensed section of verses.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesusbecause through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death…What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:1, 31-35, 38-39

Let’s get up close and personal on this. That’s just a lot of words to say that you are forgiven and not condemned. You are Loved. JUST THE WAY YOU ARE. You were CHOSEN. God chooses you, every day, whether you choose Him back or not. He pursues you even when you don’t realize it and He is whispering to you to come closer. Are you listening? He is CRAZY about you and made ZERO mistakes when He made you. He also loves your seen enemy. Whoever is in your life right now that you CANNOT STAND…God loves that person too, fully and completely. They may not know it because “hurting people, hurt people”. God is never going to give up though and you shouldn’t either.

So when we lean in, we are able to shift our focus off the enemy we see and onto God. We let HIM fight the enemy we don’t see. We let HIM be the one to take on the swarm of bees. We let HIM be the one to decide who is the real enemy and we don’t get in the way. We actually need to get out of the way and let Him do it! God is our Defender and we don’t even see all the battles He is already fighting on our behalf. He goes before us, He is behind us, He is over us, and He is WITH us.

Here is one caution though that we need to be aware of, especially for those of us raising children. The enemy approaches and he is relentless. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8 Remember the Velociraptors? The enemy is crafty and cunning and will even quote scripture. We know this to be true from MANY stories in the four gospels. We know it to be true way back to the Garden of Eden. Why is it that we convince ourselves that we are so wise we can SEE his deception with our own eyes? Why do we think we are righteous enough to have this figured out? Sorry, friends, we don’t and he’s that good. This is his full time job. We are really just amateurs. We don’t have it figured out one day and move on. He’s going to NEVER let up. Never. We can’t either.

Remember Proverbs 6, that we already read? “A troublemaker and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, 13 who winks maliciously with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, 14 who plots evil with deceit in his heart—he always stirs up conflict.” This is what we’re up against.

So what to do? There is HOPE! Let us pray friends. We must pray. We must worship! We must speak His word, and speak out against the schemes of the enemy. We must be quick to listen, slow to act in our anger, and slow to speak. We must pause and consider “is the enemy messing with me right now?” If you’re in a conflict, he probably is. Be wise to his ways and KNOW he not only knows your buttons, he will push them. Take a stand as allies with the oppressed, the persecuted, the demonized, and the marginalized. This is where the enemy loves to work the most in the hearts of the “righteous”. YES, even those you see as the enemy in front of you are not your TRUE enemy because they “know not what they do.” Jesus already called out the thief on the cross and said he would be with Him in paradise. This is no different than the ones that think Covid is a hoax and the ones that want to tear down monuments. We aren’t going to get our own way a lot of the time, and isn’t it more important that no matter what, we are in relationship so we can have influence, so that more people get to know and love the ONE true God? Or is it more important to win and be right? Because the truth is, the enemy is not selective and seeks to put ALL of us against each other and we just can’t let that happen, because then no one wins. We need to wise up and understand who the REAL enemy is.

God is going to win the victory in the end, make no mistake. He does not need our help to win the war. He IS calling us to look to HIM, to stand up and fight, not against each other, but against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” THIS is the real enemy. Are you paying attention???

Photo credit: Karla Moore

A Declaration of Independence

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Today is a day like no other in history. Many of us feel enslaved in our homes, fighting a virus in isolation. Enslaved by limited mobility, deflated economic progress, and the battle to find joy in a disconnected world. Enslaved by bigotry and racism that surrounds us, divides us, and infiltrates many aspects of life, in spite of laws that seek to free us from the bondage to our dark history. How do we find the HOPE that we seek?

HOW is the question I think we all are asking. There are many ideas and thoughts and I don’t have practical answers. I wish I did. I see the problem and I see the pain. I see the heartache and suffering we have caused. We are clearly NOT the “united” states of America, as much as we may have tried. I don’t even want to speak of the heaviness that is in the fact that it could still take generations to eradicate the evils that befall us. Even as I personally seek to listen, learn, and be an ally for those seeking justice and equality, I often feel that many in America, are still lost in their own declaration of independence from the corporate “We”, the People.

However, I believe there IS hope. We have seen an unprecedented number of Americans open their hearts and minds in recent days. I believe we are seeing a shift. I have seen it even within myself and others in my immediate circle. I for one have felt as if I had blinders on and didn’t even realize it, and the blinders have come off. It is horrifying to me to realize that I was very aware of my own world, raising my own children and intentionally teaching my students to be inclusive, absent of racism…so I thought, and yet it has been right under my nose and all around me long before I was born. I am learning that there was so much I didn’t know. I thought it was “over there” in another part of the country, and yet it is right here in our midst, like a snake hidden in the tall weeds. The missing history I never learned and the awareness of white privilege is no excuse, for we live in the information age and yet, how can any of us see what we have been unable, or unwilling to see?

Friends, I am renewed and my spirit is willing. I am making my own Declaration of Independence from ignorance. I refuse to be a part of the problem. I refuse to be silent. I declare that I will be an independent thinker separated from the masses of denial. I will use my ears to hear the stories, my eyes to see the injustice, my skin to feel the pain, my nose to smell the dirty bloodshed, my mouth to taste the bitter pride that has kept us from healing our past, and my heart and mind will understand what it means to be an ally. America, are you with me?

We cannot possibly correct these wrongs on our own, however. We must go even deeper to the roots. For this is not just an American problem, but a problem of humanity. For those of us that are believers in the One true God, we are called to be IN the world, but not OF the world. This complicates things when we continually seek to follow the correct path. It’s easy for us to get lost in the “weeds”, off the trail, and think we are doing the right thing by declaring our independence from the “wrong way” and making our own path to freedom. Many sins throughout history have been justified by the “word of God”, and we continue to do so, therefore fellow Christians we must REPENT of this deception.

We must come together, even with continued heartache and division that may surround us. I believe we all need our own individual Declaration of Independence, for we are only truly free when we, as individuals, break our own chains of bondage to the lies of the world that we listen to and tell ourselves. These lies tell us that we are not good enough. That we are losing the battle. That we are sliding backwards. That we are “just overreacting”. That there are attempts to erase our history. That “the others” are the deceivers. That those seeking change are to be feared. That we are “on the wrong side”. So, how do we know if we’re on the RIGHT side?

For me, as a Christian, I’m making the choice to not take sides in the world, I’m following Jesus who is for ALL and points to God, the Father, our Creator as our guide. I do believe God is on ALL our sides. He is FOR us, not against us. He sees us as PEOPLE, not “issues”. He sees us as His children, dearly loved. He sees the sin, as separate from the sinner. He is the one who will heal us. He is the one that truly has already given us Independence, for He has broken the chains of bondage to the idea that we need to save ourselves.

The lie is that we must work harder and do more to be in fellowship with God. The lie is that God does not SEE our pain. The lie is that God is distant and not present. The lie is that God is not big enough to handle your biggest struggle, or He is too busy to be concerned with your anxiety, or worry, or fear. The lie is that God does not hear our cries for freedom, or He has forgotten us. The lie is that it is up to us to “free” ourselves from the evils of the world, that we must yell louder, fight stronger, and push harder against the evils of this dark world. The lie is that we are not worthy of His love, care and concern.

The FIRST way that God describes Himself to Moses, (Exodus 34:5-6) when he asks His name and how to describe him to the people, is as Compassion and Merciful. God says that He IS Compassion. Not that He takes on this character trait as a decision. No, He is so much more. God IS COMPASSION. He embodies it. AND God already KNEW that He would be a God that forgives when we hurt each other, or turn away from Him. He KNEW that we would need “saving” before He created the first man and woman. He KNEW that by creating us in His image, and yet each of us being a small sliver of God, as part of the Body of Christ, that we need HIM, and we NEED EACH OTHER. (Romans 12:4-6).

So you see, we are INDEPENDENT and FREE because of Christ, and yet we BELONG to God, and to each other. Let’s take a look and remember a few important “rules” that actually give us TRUE Freedom:

  • Freedom of Spirit does not come by following “the rules” of the world. (“I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” – Philippians 3:9; “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” – Galatians 5:1)
  • Freedom comes through connection to the Body of Christ and all believers. (“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:15-16)
  • Freedom is not FREE. We are called to serve. (“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” – Galatians 5:13)
  • Freedom should not be used as a stumbling block to others. (“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9)
  • Freedom in Christ allows us to forgive one another’s faults, for we are forgiven by our repentance and can live in peace, knowing that GOD is the one that is JUST and FAIR, condemning the sins, not the sinner. (“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” – Colossians 3:12-14)

How will you view and act on your God given FREEDOM through the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for you today, my fellow Americans? Will we choose to “indulge ourselves” in independence, and lavish in the freedom that we believe we have been given by our government, or indulge in a rebellion against it? Or will we use our “freedom in Christ” to “break the bondage” of the “rules” of the church and the world, and serve one another in love under God’s Divine Law? (“Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’ The man answered, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:26-27)

My fellow Americans, we have a choice. We too can make a Declaration of Independence from the lies that have placed our spirits in “bondage”. We see in the New Testament MANY stories where Jesus demonstrates His healing power and how we are to live. One story is not more important than another, but for me it is a powerful reflection of how God uses us in the world when Jesus heals a group of 10 lepers and only 1 returns to give thanks. When the man returns alone to seek His direction, “Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” – Luke 17:17-19.

Sometimes we need to stop following the crowd that goes off to celebrate our “healing” and inclusion among the saved, and be the ONE that returns to give thanks and seek Jesus’ direction. When we sit at his feet, look for His guidance, we are declaring our independence and are FREE to follow when Jesus says, “GO!” For this divine choice to cling to the one who saves, is when we find TRUE freedom.

You CAN Buy Happiness!

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Did you know you can actually buy Happiness? Yep, I bought some at Bath and Body Works. It smells good too. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the REAL solution for finding happiness?

When I was grieving the estranged relationship with our adopted daughter back in 2016, which felt like a tremendous loss at the time, I started seeing a counselor. To be honest I was very angry in that stage, doing a lot of self blame, and was crying every morning on my way to work, simply to get the feelings out so I could function and do my job. I really could have used Happiness in a bottle during that dark time. I had forgotten how to find it.

So I asked for help. I found a therapist and started talking through it. During that process I embraced a new mantra and I started saying it to my family, including my other adult children when they were in a struggle. What I find most significant through that process, was my children told me earlier this year (3 years later) that this mantra has been the most important lesson they had learned from me…EVER.

I am the ONLY one responsible for my own happiness.

YOU are not responsible for my happiness. And I am not responsible for YOUR happiness. And in fact, NO ONE is responsible for ANYONE’S happiness. I am responsible for facing whatever life brings, and then choosing whichever route to happiness that is healthy for me, for however long it takes me. Ultimately, though, I am the ONLY one responsible for choosing my own happiness.

Now, is it nice when my husband is a nice husband and tries to do nice things for me? Absolutely. Is it nice when my kids do what they are supposed to do and help out around the house? For sure. Is it nice when my adult children call me, text me, and include me in their lives or we share good talks, belly laughs and fun together. That’s the best! Is it nice when a friend lets me vent and cry over wine and offers a girls night out? THANK YOU JESUS!

Of course, we all want good friends, or the significant other, or family members to make us happy, and you should be with people that are interested in being a part of your happiness. But when they don’t do any of those things, or when I feel lonely because I wasn’t invited to something, or someone I love hurts my feelings, I get to decide how that will affect my day to day choices. Yes, it hurts and it’s ok to be disappointed, and it’s 100% ok to remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship if needed, AND it’s positively OK to take the TIME to be in grief from loss and heartbreak. For a long time if needed. (please give yourself time on that if this is your situation! Pushing these feelings aside or stuffing them down, does NOT help the healing go faster.)

The bottom line is, ultimately there really isn’t one person on this planet that is going to make me happy 100% of the time, and we shouldn’t be dependent on them or expecting them to be the “fixers”. We are all human and we all make mistakes so we are definitely going to make poor choices and let someone down at least once or twice. I know I’m guilty of lashing out in anger once or twice…or ten…maybe…I’m still working on that. We all are going to drop the ball at some point and we most certainly will screw up royally. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

So really, when I say that YOU are not responsible for MY happiness, what I’m really saying is that I am not responsible for YOUR happiness either because I am most likely going to fail at some point in my efforts to make you happy. I won’t get it right every time and I shouldn’t expect YOU to either.

It’s important to say that I’m NOT saying bad behavior is ok. Nope. It needs to be addressed with grace and boundaries, and there are always consequences. However, we need to let each other “off the hook” MORE and be more understanding that everyone is usually going through “something”. We need to let OURSELVES off the hook more! When I mentioned seeing a therapist because of my relationship with our daughter at that time four years ago, I also needed to be less hard on myself for things that were not my job to fix, and forgive myself for the mistakes I had made. It was a process but I was able to let some things go that were out of my control, and that I wasn’t responsible for, and later apologize for some other things too, so that we could reach a place of reconciliation. Ultimately, we should all be more forgiving of each other and of ourselves, which leads to a peace and a happiness because you will realize that you are not perfect, but you are ENOUGH.

Now hear me straight. DO NOT PUT UP WITH ABUSE. DO NOT PUT UP WITH REPETITIVELY NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIPS. DO NOT KEEP UP BAD PATTERNS AND HABITS THAT HURT OTHERS. We need to change those situations by removing ourselves and/or getting help. It is OFTEN that we need some support and it is A-OK to ask for help. BUT often times, especially as Christian women, we put up with a negative friendship, or tension in a marriage, or a disconnected teenager, because we are either afraid of the loss, or afraid of the conflict, or afraid of the change that needs to happen…and convince ourselves that’s what it means to show “forgiveness”. FALSE. Each person has to decide what route to take to find happiness, and how long it is going to take for you to get there, but to find your own happiness you get to decide. Relationship wounds are healed in relationship. So everything may not get to be hunky dory right away, and the resolution may be out of your control. To find happiness, you either will need to get help, get out, or find a way to change, if that is what is needed.

It’s time to embrace the exciting possibility though of an endless supply of happiness! Even as much as I am responsible for my own happiness, I have found that really I can’t do life on my own. I need people to do life WITH so I need to remember how to be replenished and “fill my cup” so that I don’t end up dependent and depleted again. We weren’t meant to do life alone so God provides meaningful relationships, with imperfect people, but HE is actually who equips ALL of us to be what others need through the power of our friendship with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is who fills me up. He knows my needs. He knows my hurts and my faults. He knows my history. He help me remember when I need to stop and breathe. He knows my heartache. He fills in all the cracks and crevices of pain, if I let him. He provides friendship.

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes it takes me awhile to circle back around. And then I remember that I may not know or see how to move forward in the dark, but I CAN focus on the light ahead. He’s the light in the darkness and it is impossible for the darkness to overcome it. Is it hard right now for you to believe me friend? Light a candle in the dark and see what happens.

The light always wins.

Jesus was that small voice that whispered to me in the midst of my heartache, and reminded me that He was there. I knew I was not alone. I was reminded that the light has ALREADY won and I only need to take another step forward to get through the tunnel. Just one step. I can’t see where I’m going most of the time but I know for a fact that all my needs will be met and there will be an endless supply of Happiness on the other side. (not in a bottle of course, but the actual, real kind that comes from the Lord…but the smell good stuff in the bottle comes in handy too).

Paul wrote it this way, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:12-13)

Many times people do help me find my happiness but I’m working on not being dependent on it. For example, I’m trying hard to go to JESUS FIRST, before I call up a friend to vent. I might sit in my car and sing a song of praise at the top of my lungs or go to Him quietly in prayer, but this often is all I need to get me centered in focusing on the light ahead. It doesn’t always get me OUT of the dark, but it keeps me going in the right direction. God is who provides and WE are His hands and feet. I simply open my mouth to ask, and open my hand to receive. God provides. And so I CHOOSE happiness, receiving His light in spite of the dark, and then I have ENOUGH to keep going, and to share with others.

Prayer Points to HEAL our Nation

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I wrote these prayer points with the scriptures in mind. I encourage you to look up the scriptures included at the end of each prayer point, or within since including all the text would have made this 3 times as long. I hope spending time in prayer and in the Word will be a comfort and a blessing to you. Be encouraged friends and be thankful. God is good! I promise, even in the darkest of times, we must remember that darkness cannot exist in the light. So look for the LIGHT and then GO, be the light for the world! (Matthew 5:14-16)

1. Father God, We are a nation at war. And when I say AT WAR I mean, with each other, and with the “spiritual forces of this dark world” (Eph 6:12). LORD would you please COME and send your love and dwell among us (Rev. 21:3). Give us your WORD and empower us with full armor to fight against the forces of division. (Eph 6:10-18) Would you pierce our hardened and wounded hearts to see each other in humility, not as republican or democrat, not just as black or white or brown, not as police officer or “criminal”, not as mask wearer and non mask wearer, not as young and old, not as Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or Atheist…help us SEE each other as human, as YOUR children, each of us dearly loved, the light of the world. Remind us how to LOVE each other. Remind us how to CARE. SHOW US how to remove our pride from the equation, and move beyond childish quarrels. Help us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, and humility. UNITE US to to value ALL people, not put ourselves in categories of division, and then match our compassion with our words and actions. Help us to be laser focused on listening to YOU and to each other. (Colossians 3:12, Proverbs 1:30-31, James 1:27, Matthew 7:24-27, Psalm 10, 1 John 1:1-10)


2. I am WEARY Lord for I look around me and it seems that many have “blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts – so their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot TURN to you LORD and let YOU heal” our land. (John 12:40) I am in great despair Lord for how far away from you many that claim to follow you seem. I include myself in this weakness at times. Turn my eyes within to look at my own heart and the judgement of others. May I see clearly where I too must repent. Many have chosen to be divided over “issues” and take sides, placing a higher value on political affiliation. Please break our hearts for what breaks yours. Turn our eyes to see where we can do better. Thank you in advance for your GRACE which allows us in confession to turn from the distractions and idols in the world, including political parties, that keep us from focusing on and following you LORD, and YOU ALONE. May we see the narrow path and WALK in it. Help us SEE every person as dearly loved and seek to work toward your plan for reconciliation. (Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 9:23, Acts 5:38-39, Romans 12:1-2, Proverbs 28:13)


3. Give us ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts that care, hands to serve, and voices to PRAISE. Oh that we would SEE OUR BLESSINGS and be thankful! May we be willing to share! Show each of us how we can individually be a part of the solution. USE US LORD! Help us be problem solvers and discard our political and worldly affiliations for a laser FOCUS on YOUR WILL be done. But don’t allow us take on this responsibility of our own power. Help us to TRUST in you, and YOU ALONE as the source of everything, for without you we can do nothing. (Matthew 6:33-34, 1 Cor. 6:12, Romans 12:4-6, 1 Peter 4:10, 1 Peter 1:13-16, John 15:5)


4. I pray for the hospital workers around this country and around the world that are saving lives. I pray for our doctors and researchers and biologists, and others who are working to tackle infectious diseases, including Covid19. I ask for you to give them extra strength and courage and wisdom to seek your guidance and have the patience to uncover ways to heal, and hopefully prevent further infection. Give them an extra boost of persistence and sustenance. Pour out your love on their families that they would have ALL they need. May they KNOW that you are the source of their strength, courage and empathy for those in their care. (2 Cor. 1:3-5, Psalm 71:20-21)


5. I pray for our first responders. I pray for our police, and fire fighters, and EMTs, and all those that answer the call in the name of saving lives. Protect them as they do their work. Show them extra love, that they might not be weary from any condemnation from those that have lost trust, but show them that their value and worth comes from YOU and that they might see a way to be a bridge of healing in their communities. Turn them from any ways of the world that might be a distraction from their purpose. Give them extra love LORD. Provide all that they need so that they would have plenty left over to share (2 Cor. 9:8). Give extra encouragement to their families that worry every day for their safety. We know there are MANY trying to do the job they signed up for with a heart of service. Give them strength in wisdom to follow YOUR lead in doing what is needed, and empower those in the community to seek out ways to find reconciliation. (John 1:17, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 25:29, Galatians 3:24-25, Daniel 5:20)


6. I lift up our teachers, and all those making decisions in the education of our young people. We need endurance Lord and we need some encouragement. We have already faced so many challenges and yet our timeline for “normalcy” continues to be unknown, with the safety of our students and school personnel on our minds. Equip us to do what is required for the sake of our students in whom all our efforts are for. May all the energy and creativity and tenacity that is needed to teach our children, inspire them to be life changers, and keep them safe, come from you. (2 Cor. 4:16-18, John 10:4, Psalm 25:4-5)


7. Be with our city, county, state and federal leaders Lord. ALL of our leaders are facing great challenges. GREAT challenges. It is almost too much to bear! Lord, there are many opinions and ideas on how to solve all these problems, and much division. I pray that our leaders would turn to YOU and not depend on their own pride and power in seeking solutions. I pray that you provide all they need, not just to do their job but to be equipped and encouraged personally. May they TRULY LOOK for YOUR will and walk in it. Give them servant hearts. Remove any leaders Lord that have lost their way and are taking us down a harmful path, for you are the one that has appointed them to do good works. Raise up, equip, and sustain those leaders that will unite us and bring healing to our nation and throughout the world. May we turn and remember that YOU are the Leader that we need to follow above all others. (Eph. 4:15-16, 2 Cor. 3:5, Proverbs 13:10, Psalm 32:8-9)


8. Lord, I ask a special blessing on our children, and our moms and dads, and caregivers raising them. May WE be the example that they need to look to YOU. May WE be the comfort and stability that gives them security and peace, and point to YOU as to where our hope comes from. May they know without a doubt that they are loved and that YOU provide everything we need. And I ask a special blessing upon our orphans and those in foster care, and those that feel not cared for well in their homes. Would you intercede and show them extra love today Lord? Please shine your light upon them and give them a sign of hope for the road ahead. May they know that they are not alone and you are with them. (Luke 15:1-7, Romans 15:13, 1 John 4:4, Proverbs 22:6)

9. I pray for every weary heart today God. There are those that see no hope today and they are taking it an hour at a time. I pray they would seek you and be comforted to know that even though their pain is real, it is temporary. It feels like it will never end because they may not know a life without it. Remind them there is hope. Remind them that they matter. Remind them that they are enough, even though everything seems like too much to handle. Remind them they are still LIVING and they are already DOING what they are facing, so give them the strength to keep going. Show them where they can go to ask for help and give them the courage to cry out to you, that you HEAR them, and that you are and always will be the great healer and sustainer. (Psalm 91, Philippians 4:13, 1 John 5:14-15, Romans 8:26-28, 35-39)

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 1-800-273-8255

10. Finally, Father God, we pray that YOUR will be done in all the challenges we face. Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be YOUR name. YOUR Kingdom COME, YOUR WILL be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. LEAD US NOT into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13)

WHO is KING of your Heart?

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A friend shared a post this morning sharing her heart on how she is a Christian and loves everyone. She is patriotic and her heart aches for the division in our country. She stated many things that I agree with, including not being against the police as individual people. The point of her post was to share her lament for how police have been labeled as the enemy and wants acceptance for this from her Facebook community, while also being seen as a compassionate person herself to the current discord. I presume she was wanting to make clear that she is not against black people and is not a bad person, while still supporting the police. I believe she felt she would be attacked for this view and this ATTACK on people, especially Christian beliefs, is what I want to talk about today.

I made a much shorter comment on her post, but I would like to share these thoughts if I may, from my heart to all of you, family and friends who may be feeling the same tug of war within.

I would agree with all of these things and I honor you for WHO you are, not what you believe or stand for. I hear your heart and that is enough. You should never have to apologize for being convicted in what you stand for or the motivation for where it is coming from. Each person may even believe similar things and yet see a different angle on how they can be a part of the solution to the problem. We can all agree there is a problem and there’s not one easy way to solve it.

Each of us have value as given by our Creator and deserve a seat at the table. However, where we “sit” in a theater or in church, for example, gives us a different view. In the New Testament we have 4 different gospels and accounts of Jesus’ life while he was on earth, because it was 4 different human perspectives of disciples that walked with him. We can also agree in reading these gospel accounts that women were first to the tomb when they found it empty and yet during the culture of the time they would not have had a leg to stand on to promote what they had seen with their own eyes. It is WIDELY known among Apologists that this is a strong argument that the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection could not have been a “made up religion” for this very reason! For if the disciples had led with the testimony that WOMEN were witnesses, it wouldn’t have been believed by the masses and would not have gone anywhere. This is why it is so important that this account has remained a part of the gospels, for it is the TRUTH.

Would you have believed the women if you had lived at that time? If you had heard the story 4 different ways with different details, would you say that nullifies the fact that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead? Different perspectives can still have the same beliefs, and yet some critics say this points to contradiction in the Bible. I think you can have different accounts of the same situation, such as a car accident for example, and still agree on what you see, but maybe you react differently, have a different feeling about it, and possibly notice a different detail. When we study the life of Jesus most Christians do not get bogged down on these different accounts do we? No, we have learned to trust that there are different ways to see the same thing.

So my point in that is, you and I may agree on each of the beliefs you stated on who God is, who you are and what you stand for, but I personally see a need for a different way to solve the problem. I support the police as individuals and yet we are getting sidetracked as a nation in solving the problem by not talking more and addressing the systemic issues of racism and police brutality. We, as Christians, are getting sidetracked from our Biblical foundation because we mistakenly line it up with our politics. We are getting sidetracked with semantics, just like Christians are currently arguing within the church (and have been for hundreds of years!) on what carpet to put in the children’s wing, whether to have chairs or pews, and whether to keep the hymnals or put words up on a “contemporary” screen. Even more so, we have muddied the waters in recent days with who gets to be a church leader, who gets to teach Sunday School, and who is even allowed to attend. And dare I say we are FORCING this same guide on decision making to the rest of the world who may not even know who God really is? And what does the world see in us? Do they see the love and grace of Jesus? Or do they see the fighting? Have we become so self-righteous with our politics too outside the church building that we have FORGOTTEN we live in a secular world, where we serve a divine King, not an earthly one, who calls us to Love HIM, and Love ALL others above all else?

For me, looking for solutions to these societal concerns outside the church means we need to dig deeper and I think people are afraid to do that because it may not line up perfectly with “Biblical law”. Have we become the new Pharisees? This is hard work and it is probably even scary to consider possibly drastic changes in how we do things. There are a lot of unknowns. On the surface view for you, police are being attacked and labeled the “bad guys” and I don’t personally believe this is fair. However, many cops are NOT innocent in this…not even close. Police brutality is a REAL thing. I think that too much responsibility has been placed on them, with simultaneous oppression of entire communities, and we need to reevaluate their purpose and not just how we train them but the culture within certain communities of their role in society. In many places there is a feeling that cops are on a power trip. Not every place but in many. We have gotten bogged down in an “us vs them” society when many have decided the police are there to keep the “bad guys” away from us but this is systemic in that we are confused about the behavior we SEE and what defines someone as a “bad guy”.

I am afraid that as a country, even while many of us call ourselves Christian, we too easily pick and choose which sins are greatest and which “bad guys” need to be locked up, and which ones get a pass. This is the systemic problem that I don’t have a solution for other than feeling that we need to prioritize healing these damaged relationships within wounded communities. Wounded relationships are best healed by POSITIVE relationships, not more oppression or correction. People are hurting. I think there are many wounded hearts that feel the oppression as if they have been treated like caged animals. We’ve seen what happens when this goes on for a long period of time at Seaworld or with the “Tiger King”. Can we even possibly consider what this may feel like so much more intensely for human beings???

Perhaps, those of us that call ourselves Christians, could be the ones to build the bridge within our hearts first, seek God’s wisdom in the repair work that needs to be done, and not just fight for laws and rules because it is an election year, or because it is what we’ve always done. Maybe we shift our focus to fight for PEOPLE? All people. I personally have learned so much these last few weeks, simply by making a decision that I would be willing to listen, learn, peel back the layers of my heart to look within, and ask God to show me where I can be a better ally and a part of the solution. I’m not going to ever be perfect, and I’ve definitely had to already address some of my own failings, but I have made a decision to stand with my black friends and neighbors, because frankly, we have silenced their voices for a long time, and it is time to listen.

Ok, that should be enough, right? But I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I get it. You don’t like seeing ANY innocent victims being hurt and you want to include the police and others in that category, not just black lives. You know good officers and you’ve witnessed the good that they have done. What you’ve been seeing on the news looks scary and it feels like if we allow those things to continue, it’s going to be YOUR neighborhood next, right? I understand. I want the violence, brutality and bloodshed to stop too. I don’t want crime to come to my door either. Consider that your feelings on that may be limiting your view (remember, we talked about where you sit earlier?) to not be able to SEE that our black brothers and sisters need to be INCLUDED in your feelings of empathy. We can’t just focus on what we see, but on what we CAN’T see.

I would also ask you to consider this. Your sympathy for the police prioritized OVER the persistent acts of racism for hundreds of years, gives the impression that you are giving these horrific acts a pass. I hope it doesn’t mean that we have fallen into the trap of saying one is worse than another. I’m not sure how to make it more plain for you. HUNDREDS of years of the mistreatment of blacks and you want them to just let it go, get over it, forgive all the white people, and move on when it’s STILL HAPPENING. And you want them to stop making “such a fuss” simply because you haven’t seen it with your own eyes, it makes you feel like they are blaming you personally, and it’s uncomfortable to talk about? Oh, and because some radicals (1% of all, mostly peaceful protesters) burned down a Target and make you feel like they are going to “take over our country”?

I know I have moved into some harsh rhetoric. I know that stings a little. I think the current state of things requires that we talk about it. I promise that I don’t think I have all the answers. I think that unless we shake things up a little, keep our thinking caps on, and peek under the hood at how many police officers AND black men and women are dealing with the affects of years and years of TRAUMA, things will just stay the same, and we will continue to cause deep wounds. Might we consider that we are able to be grown-ups here that can listen to ideas and STOP being afraid of something that sounds “radical”. If we want things to be better for ALL lives, then we have to mean it. We can no longer ignore it or hope that it will just go away.

Let’s stop and take a deep breath. That’s a lot to take in and I agree, some things that are being talked about sound scary. You and I both know there is an enemy that wants to stir up fear in your heart so let’s label it for what it is and be objective. Things are not going to get signed into law over night, and racism isn’t just going to end because you have made some new black friends, so let’s be patient when we hear “radical” ideas and be willing to do the work. Let’s explore definitions and talk about experiences and what things could look like if we did things a little differently. Maybe “defund” to you doesn’t actually mean what it sounds like for every community. Are you willing to dig a little deeper and find out, if it meant that people that feel oppressed could live with less fear? Even as I pledge to continually speak up, we know these things take time. One step at a time.

So here’s a side note on politics, Christian friends, because even while I talk about seeing things from a different view and still being on the “same side”, how this affects your vote needs to be addressed. I’m not going to tell you how to vote, and I’m not really even sure why we are depending on the President or our politicians completely to solve these issues, honestly. Our government is really a reflection of US. We have put ourselves right here, where we are at this time in history. Yes, I believe that God ordains leaders, but we forget we have FREE WILL and a vote, and that doesn’t mean He approves of every leader. Do we need to go back to 1 Samuel 8 and remind ourselves what God said would happen when we asked for an earthly King? Have we forgotten what has happened throughout the Bible when there were good kings and bad kings? Have we forgotten what happens when church leadership is tightly connected to rulers? Have we forgotten that God has remained faithful to His people, even with bad leaders? He saw this coming. He saw that we would forget who our REAL King is. Maybe we should go back and reread that passage.

Your VOTE does not determine your beliefs. Could we PLEASE stop determining where we stand based on WHO is in office and acting like we need to be afraid of the outcome if “our guy” (or girl!) doesn’t get elected. I think it would also help if we stop condemning other Christians that don’t vote like we do. Thinking they have suddenly lost track of their faith is absurd and judgmental.

In a democracy, WE THE PEOPLE get to decide, so we need to TELL our leaders what we want. They should be firm in their convictions but don’t get to decide for us how things are done. We have a democracy that is at it’s BEST with at least TWO SIDES and multiple ways to look at a problem, so that we can hold each other accountable and create better solutions for EVERYONE. Why are we so afraid of the “other side” of things when it actually could create UNITY? Wouldn’t you rather be able to say that we were able to come together, even if we didn’t get everything that we wanted? Is it more important to you that your side wins? Have we forgotten that we are ONE Nation Under God? If your guy doesn’t win, God is still the KING of our hearts, is He not? Is He not capable of healing, restoring, and redeeming what we may have broken?

I was a full grown adult with 2 kids of my own, with many friends both Democrat and Republican before I met a Christian that claimed to be a Democrat. I was SHOCKED honestly. Shows you how sheltered I was AND how unwilling I had been to consider that there was “another side” to being a Christian AND an American. I’m not sure if there were other Christian Democrats who were just afraid to admit it or maybe they didn’t want to talk about politics, or maybe I didn’t associate with any. What’s even more scary is that up to that point I had always assumed that to be a Christian, it meant that you automatically voted Republican. I hadn’t considered that there was another option. It really opened my eyes to consider that I had been limiting the voices I was listening to, to pretty much people that were just like me. Since then, I’ve discovered that not only can you be a Christian and vote differently, but that tying our beliefs to a specific candidate can cause us to easily make the candidate the “king” and forget who is really in command of our heart.

When we put a person, as king of our hearts, other than God himself, we WILL lose our way. The Bible shows us stories of this over and over and over. It is in our nature. So the way I see it, maybe we take a step back, evaluate, consider who we are putting first as KING, ask God to confirm His leading, vote how your heart leads and that is A-OK. PLEASE VOTE, IT IS YOUR VOICE! Just remember, where you sit will determine your view, and there could possibly be someone that sees it another way. This doesn’t have to change what you believe for you to acknowledge that ALL men and women are created equal, all deserve a seat at the table, and all deserve to be heard. We can still claim to stand on Biblical truth and be on the same side, even while being on different “sides” of an issue.

I think we have a hard road ahead. We can agree that it is going to take compromise if we are going to move forward. We simply are not going to be able to agree on every issue of the world because in the work of making laws and running the government, either ALL lives matter, or no lives matter, and with many of these issues, it’s just not that simple. I think that as Christians, we need to remember that others are watching and we have an opportunity to take the lead on Loving your Neighbor. I think we should be able to agree that whichever side of the issue you stand on, and whomever you vote for, doesn’t determine who you make the King of your heart.

PS. #BlackLivesMatter – because until ALL lives matter to ALL people, black lives need to matter. To learn more about God’s heart for Racial Reconcilliation, go to www.bethebridge.com

Ships Were Meant to Sail, but the Anchor Gives Us FREEDOM

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Here in Texas stores and restaurants are opening up. The virus cases are still climbing but we are stir crazy in our houses and many are ready to show up at TJ Max like “OPEN OPEN OPEN”! I’m not writing to tell you what to do about whether you should go out or not. I will say that we all need to be responsible and pay attention to what’s happening in our area so we can continue to protect the vulnerable. What I do want to share though is a caution of a different kind.

I’m not here to judge or give you a lecture on your economic choices either, but here’s something to think about in regards to WHOM we put our TRUST and where we find happiness. Let’s face it, we already live in quite a commercial society. There is always someone selling us something. There’s nothing wrong with shopping. I am an Amazon-aholic after all. And I am a foodie so good food and wine with friends is my favorite. I think we all from time to time think we need that new streaming service, or the new game system that will keep our kids QUIET for a whole 10 minutes, or think a day of shopping is going to take away all the blues we’ve been feeling for the last 2 months. But do we really NEED that? It might make us happy temporarily but $300 later, we might regret putting that on the credit card, and find ourselves not truly any happier at the end of the day.

I truly would give anything to go to the patio of this fun little pub in our area right now with friends. But alas, I must be patient. Sigh. So with the attraction to all the shiny things in mind, I do want to draw your attention to this message from Hebrews 6: 17-20a.

“God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us.”

Paul is writing to the Hebrews here reminding them about the promise that God made to Abraham many years before. It is a reminder that God not only keeps his promises but that because we can now go “behind the curtain” (referring to the ancient times of the temple before Jesus when they couldn’t go behind the curtain to be with God) and Jesus has made a way for us, we can now fellowship with God and depend on Him to be the anchor for our souls.

I love the visual of an anchor. My neighbor made this beautiful wreath for our door! For one thing, I’m a Navy mom so the anchor inspires me to pray for my son who is serving and it makes me proud and thankful for all of those serving around the world to keep us safe! Secondly, I love the visual of Jesus as our anchor. It is one symbol that gives me a real peace.

For some, an anchor may feel restrictive, like it’s weighing you down and holding you back from your freedom. I can see how at times it may feel that way. After all, ships were not built to be safe in harbor. They were designed to sail! So if you imagine yourself as a boat, anchored down, never to go to sea, that can definitely feel discouraging. This is a little like how it has felt to be stuck at home these last 2 months, hasn’t it!?!

In the same way, some feel like they have to clean up their bad habits or get their act together before they can be a “good” Christian, and many will make you feel like it has to be that way. Those that want you to follow all the rules before you can call yourself a Christian or join their church are missing the beauty of being “anchored” with Christ! The TRUTH of the gospel is that you simply have to accept that Jesus is giving you a gift of FREEDOM and fellowship with Him. He has already made the sacrifice to welcome you into connection with Him. With Him, you are ALWAYS safe in HIS harbor.

I encourage you to actually think of an anchor in this way. Imagine yourself as that boat, anchored in harbor. There may be some slack in your line that allows you to drift. But the line holds you tight to that anchor and keeps you safe, centered, and gives you security. It gives you belonging and identity. It keeps you from straying too far and brings you back in. You know where your home is and you know in WHOM you can put your trust.

In reality, a ship WILL go out to sea, but the anchor and safe harbor is where you come home and find belonging. This is God’s promise. God is not expecting you to stop cussing, donate everything to the poor, and find joy in hanging out with your kids 24/7 without drinking a few glasses of Merlot. Actually, it is the promise that He’s made, that you can depend on Him, LEAN on Him, and find peace and HOPE in Him. This is an oath He has made and God cannot lie. Can we trust Him?

The answer is YES. If you don’t know this for yourself then I pray that TODAY you see Him in a new way. Perhaps you are not sure that God has been there for you. Maybe some really bad things have happened to you and you don’t understand where God has been in that. I can assure you that you are NOT alone. It is normal to wonder where God is in the hard stuff. I’ve felt this too and truly had to work through some hard things where I could not even comprehend why God didn’t stop it.

What I can promise you from MY story is that God is GOOD, He is faithful, and He will never leave you. We may not understand why something is happening or why God allows it, but the HOPE I have in Him is the visual of the anchor, never letting me go too far away, keeping me close to Him always. This encourages and inspires me because I have asked SO.MANY.TIMES. SO MANY. For Him to SHOW me that He has not forgotten me and He comes through EVERY time when I ask and look for Him. We don’t always want to see Him because we can’t imagine how He could allow some of these heartbreaking, stressful, and sorrowful challenges and losses. So we don’t look. We stop asking. We rely on people and some of those people let us down. We rely on things. Those things eventually disappoint as well.

Today friends, stop to look for Him. Cling to the anchor. What the world wants to convince you is that it can meet all your needs. Unlimited Reese’s PB cups. Interest free car loans. A huge sale at Macy’s! And even relationships. We think these things will make us “happy” and they definitely might. But I have learned that no one person, or shopping trip, or vacation, or great movie, or cheesy, yummy delicious pizza will truly make me as happy as being in fellowship with my Creator. He is the ONE that will meet all my needs…ALL my needs, for all of eternity. ALL of them.

It is easy to think that getting out of the house after weeks of isolation is going to solve all of our problems. It will definitely be nice to get back to some normalcy for sure. Just be cautious friends not just about your mask, social distancing, and hand washing responsibility, or your economic craziness of “let’s go buy and see all the things!” I know you want to. I sure do! Instead, cling to the Anchor.

Psalm 34: 8 says “Taste and SEE that the Lord is good. Oh the JOYS of those who trust in Him!” YES! I love this! I’m a foodie so this promise excites me because I know that God wants to give us a wonderful, abundant life of amazing experiences that fill the senses and bring great joy! I believe it. It’s not always going to be rosy and fun, but OH the JOY that will be in it too. I claim this promise and have decided to cling to it, just as I cling to Jesus, my Anchor.

If you think about it, this Anchor of Hope actually gives us FREEDOM. It means we can be at peace knowing that we are safe and secure in fellowship and friendship with HIM, the God who loves us and will never leave us. We know who we can depend on and lean in to. If there is a storm in our life, we come in from the sea and anchor with Him. This is the freedom to know that we do not have to face hard things alone, we don’t have to have all the answers, and we don’t have to save ourselves. I don’t know about you, but this helps me breath a little easier when times get tough. I know who to cling to.

Be encouraged friends. We will not be in isolation forever. Soon we will get to sail out to sea. Just remember where your harbor is and that your happiness and freedom lie in clinging to Jesus, your anchor.

Sideways Puzzle Pieces

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There’s something completely gratifying for me about completing a jigsaw puzzle. I’m not a runner but in some ways it feels sort of like the academic version of running a marathon. You have to pace yourself. You have to really push yourself to keep going through the hard spots. It can be completely draining. You might get so focused on completing a section that you don’t want to stop to pee or feed yourself. But, OH, the victory is SWEET when you finally finish!

Unfortunately you don’t have the crowd to cheer for you as you finish a puzzle, which personally I think would be super fun. I’ve tried to get my kids to jump on this bandwagon. To my dismay, they were not interested. Well, I guess marathon runners don’t have that right now either, unfortunately. Running a race by yourself on your balcony or in your backyard has to be one pretty amazing accomplishment, but a bit of a let down. Completing a puzzle at your breakfast table without any cheering may not seem to be quite that interesting a story, really…but just hear me out.

We are really mostly “once a year” puzzle people, but with lots of time on our hands at our house, like many of you, we are embracing the current social isolation situation to dig deep and find our inner puzzle champion. We don’t work on it constantly. We are both currently teaching from home and doing other projects, so we walk by and do a few pieces, or sit down for about 30 min at a time. Therefore, it is taking us about a week to complete a puzzle. We finish, and then we start on the next one. We have found that we do have to persist to finish, especially when we know the hard part is not as fun to work on. You might think that we are not as dedicated as other puzzle masters, but we are discovering the stuff we are made of! We are definitely not quitters!

I would say I am especially enjoying having the opportunity though to complete this activity with my husband. He is not a big gamer so while other families fill their days playing all the latest board games together, we sit quietly working through it one piece at a time, handing each other pieces that the other has been looking for, or ooing and ahing at completing a new section. My husband enjoys the challenge of identifying the mystery in how a puzzle fits together, one piece at a time, and then slowly discovering the big picture. He likes to work on it at first without looking at the big picture on the box but sometimes he caves for the challenging spots. (Not me, I’m a picture “cheater”…following it every step of the way) We might even find ourselves saying something like, “MAN! That section sure was a doozy!” and other exclamations. What is particularly fun about doing a puzzle with him though is accomplishing something “hard” TOGETHER and the exhilarating victory that is achieved at the end.

We have found ourselves staying up late at night to find that one missing piece. (Well…that’s really me…I’m the night owl) While sorting pieces that are similar, we have often been enlightened to realize that we were perhaps mistaken in thinking a piece was a cloud, when in fact it was the steam from a train, or a section of treacherous rapids. And we have discovered that we might look at a piece many, many times…for hours and days…only to suddenly turn it sideways and realize it was the piece we were looking for in a different section all along.

What if I told you that this is true in life as well, for we might be looking at the missing piece to a puzzle from the wrong angle? This was a revelation for me this week. I looked at this one piece for days trying to figure it out. I saw it as “flowers” growing UP toward the sky. Doesn’t it look like tips of flowers to you? I’m so glad you agree. I was confused about where it might fit in the big picture with pink sky, and all the other flower pieces surrounded by green. It didn’t make sense. When you are beginning a puzzle and it’s a big jumbled mess, you can easily misunderstand what you are looking at. It wasn’t until I began working on another part of the puzzle that I realized I needed to turn it and look at it another way. I had been looking at it sideways. As a matter of fact, it was my husband that looked at it and said, “Try turning it the other way. I think that is part of the trees.”

When you turn a piece of the puzzle another way, it can really change your perspective and open your eyes to new thoughts and ideas. The best part is the realization that you can finally make it FIT where it belongs and what you have been looking at as all wrong, suddenly becomes clear as day…or in this case, clear as the trees touching the sky.

Maybe it’s just my amateur puzzle master status, but something tells me that this might compare to the season we are currently in. What are you looking at in your life from a “sideways” point of view? I know there are a lot of things wrong with the world right now. I truly don’t mean to diminish the fact that people are sick and dying, and many are hurting, heartbroken, and struggling. Personally, I too have felt much sadness this week as we found out that we would not be given the opportunity to go back to school and finish the school year with our students. It is a GREAT disappointment, heavy with grief. I am extremely worried about many of my kiddos honestly. Some of them, their home life is not ideal and is perhaps downright unhealthy. There is no downplaying that. I am sad and frustrated that there isn’t more I can do to change it.

What I am offering to you, dear reader, is simply an opportunity to look at life, and the challenges you might be facing, from a different angle. It doesn’t change or diminish what is happening. It doesn’t mean you suddenly have gained control of your circumstances. And it doesn’t mean we dismiss the heartbreaking consequences of all the losses. However, how you might decide to look at your situation is all up to you.

It has occurred to me that life is actually one big puzzle. You won’t really complete it until the end of your life and you won’t know the big picture perhaps until you are gone. Maybe you will, but actually that’s when others will hopefully look at the picture of your life and say, “Wow, that is quite an accomplishment. I bet that was hard, but look how much goodness came out of it. That was a life well lived!” They will see all your achievements, your struggles, your challenges, your hurdles, your losses, and your victories. And every one of them are simply, at the end of the day, one piece in the big picture of a beautiful life you are LIVING.

For those of you facing depression, worry, and huge losses, whether it is missing so many final moments of your senior year, or the death of a loved one, or losing money from a missed vacation, or loss of a job, RIGHT NOW this FEELS like it is EVERYTHING. It is ALL loss, no matter how big or small it is. Please do not diminish what you are feeling as “insignificant”. It is significant to YOU and that is what SHOULD matter to the rest of us. All of us must do our part to acknowledge the many hurts the people around us are facing, no matter how insignificant we might think they are. So PLEASE hear me and do not misunderstand the importance here of my message.

Right now, it is everything because you hold this ONE puzzle piece in your hand. Right NOW, you are focused on THIS. You might be looking at it as “flowers on the ground”, when it is really “trees in the sky”. It is going to have an impact on the whole puzzle and you won’t necessarily know where it is going to fit in until later. So my point is…don’t try to see the big picture just yet. Feel the feels and focus on the moment. Focus on what’s right here, right now, what you can control. Just know, some day, you might turn it sideways and say to yourself, “OK, I see now where that FITS, and it is a part of my big picture, and it completes ME and who I am.”

I don’t know yet how the current situation is going to fit into my bigger picture of life but what I DO know is that God is using this time, and has given me an opportunity, away from my students, away from my “norm”, and away from lots of social gatherings and goings and doings, to draw me close to HIM. He has given me a gift of time for reflection and personal growth. He is helping me take a deeper look at some of the pieces from my life that I have been looking at “sideways”. Right now, it has become a time to look at some things that maybe didn’t seem like they fit right in the big picture before, and I am looking at them from a new angle. It is becoming a bit of a revelation of rediscovering myself in a new way. Quite a few of my puzzle pieces are still a jumbled mess on the table and I’m sorting them out. I’m embracing some of the hard things in my past, some of the really hard things to talk about, and looking at them as part of a beautiful garden that makes up my life. I wouldn’t be ME, without those puzzle pieces.

So friend, it’s ok to right now be in this time of surviving. It’s ok to be in grief. It’s ok to cry the tears. It’s more than ok to say that this SUCKS, or use a few other choice words. It’s even ok to be mad at God and ask Him WHY. Go ahead and talk to Him about it…He can take it. Just know, that I’m here to encourage you that some day, when you are ready, (and maybe you will choose to do it sooner, rather than later) you are going to pull out this puzzle piece and turn it sideways and say, “Ok, I now see this from a new angle and I see how it FITS into my life.”

For me, it’s taking the hard parts of my life and learning to GROW from them, letting them shape me in positive ways, and making a decision to create change in my life, or do what I can to improve life for others. Sometimes I do that quickly, and some puzzle pieces I had previously put back in the box until now. We can’t always see what to do with these pieces, in the moment, so I promise you, there will come a time, when you are ready, to look at it in a new way. We will grow, we will become stronger, and we will create a beautiful life.

Hold onto your puzzle piece, my friend. It’s ok to not see the big picture right now. There is HOPE though in knowing that someday you will. Perhaps you will feel like setting that piece down for a while, walk away, come back to it, and see it in a whole new way, or maybe your husband, or your friend, or your mom, or your counselor, or God’s patient loving voice will say, “have you tried turning that piece sideways?”

Unforeseen Provision

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I’m excited! Will you celebrate God’s provision with me today? You have no where else you need to be since you are home in isolation, so just grab a glass of wine, sit back and celebrate a NEW milestone with me. It’s kind of a long story. Are you really surprised friends? This is how I roll.

Here’s the backstory: In January of 2016 I was in a dark place. I was grieving but tried to pretend like I wasn’t because I didn’t want to be in that place. I’m kind of stubborn like that. But I was suffering physically and was experiencing tension in all my relationships, and it got to a point where I realized I had to ask for help. So I went to therapy.

Therapy is good y’all. Don’t be ashamed to say you need some. Let’s be honest. No one likes to be analyzed and asked “how does that make you feel?” I’ll TELL you how it makes me feel!!! It makes me feel weak and vulnerable, and I don’t like feeling weak and vulnerable. I’m the “plan B” girl. Something goes wrong, but I KNOW that God is going to work it out. I see the positive side. The glass is always half full or we get a new glass. That wasn’t happening in my life at this time. There was no “plan B” for dealing with loss, and I didn’t like it one bit.

But I went, I answered the hard questions. I talked about a bunch of crap. I realized that I had ALLOWED myself to get buried DEEP under some heavy things instead of dealing with it. I had told myself for so long “I’ll deal with that later” that I discovered there was a whole bunch of stuff that had gotten entangled and I was not modeling a healthy way to deal with disappointment and conflict for my children. And then after 5 months of that I was the little seed that sprouted one little tiny shoot coming up for air, barely peeking out of the dirt, and I thought I was cured! (wipes hands, says “that was that”)

Or so I thought. I jumped into turning my life around like I was fresh out of quarantine. I organized my house. I purged the unnecessary and gave away a bunch of old things. I dove full on into all my volunteer jobs. And I was the heaviest I’d ever been because I had been neglecting myself for YEARS so I did the obvious and started a “diet” AND a workout regimen.

Although it wasn’t a “diet”, it was a “lifestyle change” because diets don’t work. But let’s be honest, it was a diet. I actually had success and I really liked the plan. I lost 23 pounds in 6 months! I felt transformed! I was feeling really great physically and it helped me tackle a lot of inflammation and other issues. It was different than other diets and I did make quite a few lifestyle changes which set me up for success in the long term…mostly.

But then plot twist, in August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston and we didn’t have a kitchen for a year. Everything that I had been working on came to a screeching halt. I landed in survival mode, mentally back where I had been because that little sprout had barely made it out of the manure in the flower bed. And I gained all that weight back.

Everyone kept saying “think about how lucky you are you have flood insurance!” or “think about how lucky you are you only had 3 inches of water!” or “think about how lucky you are because so and so lost EVERYTHING!” or a hundred other things. That just made me mad because I AM THE ONE that is always thinking of the bright side and thankful for my blessings and KNOW that God will work it out, and I believed ALL of that, I honestly DID, but I was DROWNING, with a forced smile on my face, still pretending I was fine, and didn’t want to be reminded how “lucky” I was.

SO….fast forward, our house was repaired, better than ever, our boys graduated high school and college, we took a WONDERFUL trip to Europe together to celebrate their achievements, our relationship with our estranged daughter was improving, we got a bonus kid added to our lives and so I could finally focus on me again, right?

WRONG! I got back on track with the plan I had had success with before but this time I was working really hard (so I thought) and only having moderate success. I did 2 workout programs and lost a total of 9 pounds with the first one and 8 pounds with the second one…and it took me 11 months. Not too bad. But during the holidays I put those last 8 pounds back on AGAIN! UGH! I knew something was off though for many months but tried to just brush it off as stress and not getting enough sleep. I didn’t listen to the voice telling me to move in a new direction. I was forcing myself to do something that was familiar and GOOD for me, even though it felt the whole time like I was pushing against God. I was going through ALL the motions, but still not REALLY dealing with my mindset, even though I BELIEVED that I was.

This past November I faced a big personal crisis. My character was questioned in a false accusation and it literally rocked my world for about 5 days until I was exonerated. It may seem silly to put so much stock into what one person says when you know they are lying but we all know how this works. Someone gets on the news and NO ONE believes she is innocent after that. That was a nightmare that could potentially affect my entire family and thankfully God protected me from it. The liar confessed.

Here’s what happened after that though that has been the lightning bolt for my current mindset. More so than any other time in my life (or maybe I’m just getting old and forgetting all the other times) I realized QUICKLY that I AM NOT IN CONTROL OF ANYTHING. I’m not. I can control what I put in my mouth most of the time and I should (in theory) be able to control what comes out of my mouth, but in the day to day, I need to let a LOT of things go and shift my focus.

You know who IS in control? God. God is who saved me from potential devastation. He has saved me so many times and I already know that He is going to save me again in the future until He takes me home. I cried and sang and beat my steering wheel driving home last November and yelled at God “WHY AM I BEING BURIED ALIVE AGAIN??? CAN YOU JUST PLEASE GIVE ME A BREAK???” And between you and me friends, this was small in comparison to many other things I’ve faced. This was small in comparison to many things that other people have faced. It was as if this was the last straw and I was ready to have it out with God over what kind of light fixture we’re going to put in the bathroom.

And you know what? In the quiet whisper Jesus said “No. I can’t ‘give you a break’ because I am your FRIEND but you have not learned this lesson yet to depend on ME. You are going to share your story of how you came up out of the dirt, and I am the one that saved you. I am not always going to save you in the way you think I should. But you are going to FOLLOW ME and not follow the world because the world needs ME. You are NOT going to follow your own plan, you are going to follow MY plan. OR you can continue to try to do it your way and be miserable.”

It was crystal clear. I immediately leaned in. I worshiped. I turned up “Reckless Love” and sang at the top of my lungs on repeat! When a crisis happens I usually deal with the immediate needs of the situation and go into soldier mode. I often will turn to God after I’ve tried to deal with it myself, or after calling 3 friends to verbally process it. I don’t always think right away to stop and just give it over to God but I did this time. I opened my hands and said “I can’t fix this. I am going to trust you.” I worshiped. And He took care of it.

I vowed to be better at that. And yet old habits die hard. We had our usual crazy performance holiday season and then the recovery season of January. Meanwhile, God is just sitting there drinking his coffee, looking at his watch waiting patiently for me in the driveway in some beat up old mustang I imagine. He just smiles and says “Ok come on, let’s go”. And then I’m like “just one more second, I need to take care of something else first.” I like to imagine that is what He is doing but really He is very busy and loves me but knows that I am just the kind of girl that will join Him on the twisty windy path instead of the straight shot. He’s patient. He gets me.

So here’s the milestone part of the story. Are you still with me? God’s timing is not our timing. We like to think that we’re in the driver’s seat, waiting for Him to show us the burning bush, so we know where to go but really He KNOWS that it is going to take this long because I would not have been ready, nor would I have been the person I need to be, to do the things He wants me to do 2, 5, 10, 15, or even 30 years ago. Seriously. Some of you are already there, but me…maybe it’s the ADHD. I apparently have to learn the hard way. Or MAYBE this has been His plan all along, because He KNOWS what I need before I do??? Hmmm…

I first heard a call He placed on my life probably 30 years ago. But the call has evolved. It was really more of a promise kind of like when He told Abraham he was going to have a son, or when Jacob wrestled with Him and He changed his name. He has shown me bits and pieces of where I’m going along the way like my son being excited to tell me the twists and turns of all 7 books of Harry Potter while trying to not give away the ending. My story is unfolding and it’s not finished yet. I’m the one that is like “just tell me the ending already!” And He says “Just wait! it’s getting good!” And the promise is that we already know the ending. Jesus wins.

So friends, THREE things have happened this month. Well, really 4 and you all know about the big one. Yes, there’s a virus that has invaded all our lives because it has forced us into our homes in seclusion. But when I made the decision on these other 3 things, it was in January and at the end of Feb. and I had NO IDEA that we would be in this situation! It may sound crazy but I had a thought from the Lord, I believe, that I should prepare for a change so I did. I had no idea this was what He meant. He said “follow me.” And here we are.

What changes did I make? Well, for one I found online therapy. It’s called “Better Help” and I’m trying it. We’ll see. I don’t have much to say about it yet but Jen Hatmaker told me about it on her “For the Love” podcast (yes, she told me personally…just kidding…she doesn’t talk to me through cyberspace…I’m not that crazy) so I said “you know what, I need to deal with this noggin once and for all. What better time than while I’m already in isolation!” We ALL need to ask for help when we need it and I want to be the BEST version of me for my next steps so, I’m diving in. We’ll see if the little sprout can actually become a vine, or maybe some fruit this time.

Change #2? It seems simple enough but I decided to jump in and try a fat burner nutrition plan that I completely did not even think would work but it’s science so my husband and I followed the plan and have actually had amazing results. We have both lost 14 pounds since March 3rd. IN ONE MONTH. They say you shouldn’t lose weight too fast but that’s if you are starving yourself, and we are not. I feel really good surprisingly. I realized that I needed to make a change with my health in order to REALLY tackle TOTAL WELLNESS once and for all and I just wasn’t on the right plan for ME. The shift has taken a weight off my shoulders actually. It doesn’t mean that taking care of myself is not going to still be a battle, but I finally feel like I am in control, at least for now, sitting at home in my PJs. I’m going to keep going. I decided to follow God on this and He has blessed my choice.

The significance of this change is that I have lost more weight in ONE month than I did in a YEAR on my previous plan. It’s not like the other plan is bad. It’s just not the right one for me in the long term. The other milestone is that I am finally back to the weight I was when we flooded and NOW I feel like I can finally move forward with my long term goals. And more importantly, I am trusting God in something as “simple” as my personal health, so that I am learning that I can trust Him with the BIG things too. We often think that God doesn’t care what house you buy or what job you have, but He cares about ALL of your decisions. The big AND the small ones. I don’t know where I’m headed with this and I could easily think “Why does God care what diet I’m on, and how is one way to lose weight any better than another in the big picture, really?” I guess I’ll stick with it to find out! But I KNOW HIS hand is in it. What I DO know for sure is that He is equipping me for the journey ahead. He is providing what I need to do the work He is calling me to do.

The third change I made is that my friend Jennifer and I decided to not let fear get in the way and hold us back anymore and we are launching an online ministry. The vision is bigger than online but can you believe that we were preparing to do this in January before Covid19 was on our radar??? I said in the fall that I was going to finish a writing project for publishing and I have done that. I have actually 5 projects that are either finished or more than halfway finished. But I am now working on it more seriously to share my work. And I have lots of time to write right now. How ironic? I don’t think so. Stay tuned. But the vision for our ministry has been brewing for a long time and it is remarkable that it is needed now more than ever. We launched our ministry page on Facebook last week. Go check out Peace+Hope+Love Project. Please LIKE and FOLLOW us. Read a little about our vision and what we believe is God’s message that peace, hope and love is available to ALL of us, right now, in this moment. We don’t always know what we’re doing but that’s ok because we are just trusting God. As I’ve said all along here on my blog, you don’t need to be an expert to follow God’s call. He uses EVERYONE. He uses the pain. He uses the heartache. He uses the joy, the blessings, and the sorrow. And such a time is THIS that we are available and waiting for our next steps, aren’t we?

Yes! You made it to the end! Thanks friends for sticking with me through it all! Here’s my question for you. What change is God asking you to make in this season? In what ways is He asking you to TRUST Him? What blessings is He reminding you of right now? It may not make sense right now in this moment but if you listen, and take a step toward TRUSTING Him, I know He is going to bless it. It doesn’t always look like how you thought it would, and He doesn’t promise that it will be a walk in the daisies. He DOES promise that He will provide all you need. It will be unforeseen provision. And you will have PLENTY left over to be what the world needs, if you are depending on HIM. Truly.

Stay safe friends.

“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

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12 Marks of Character: Acceptance

It’s the new year and this week I’m giving my students the opportunity to speak up about how they can be most successful in my class. I asked them if they would like to change seats but before they make their request, they had to tell me WHY they want to move without being negative or critical of others. I asked them to focus on their own success.

Here’s something interesting that happened in one 5th grade class. One student shared that he would like to move because “these 3” (pointing to the 3 girls sitting closest to him) are “constantly distracting me with their talking about everyone”. He also shared some additional information that seemed to be sexist about girls that caused several other students to do that “Oooo, burn” thing they do when they join the latest cultural phenomenon to slam each other. They heard it as a put down. He meant it as a sincere “I’m trying to stay out of trouble here and tell the truth” thing.

I chose not to react strongly, because our children do not come with an instruction manual on how to advocate for themselves. Plus, I wanted to take this opportunity to show my students that just because someone might speak in a “mean” way, doesn’t mean they are a bad person, nor do they mean it in the way it sounds. I proceeded to see this as a teaching opportunity. I corrected the situation in this manner:

  1. I got the class’s attention after the “burn” disruption and then said “Ok class let’s talk about what just happened.” I didn’t just let it go or dismiss it or justify it.
  2. I addressed the student directly with the class listening but did it in a respectful way that they all knew that we were going to learn from this and be accepting of HIM as a person, even when he makes mistakes. I assured him that I believed he intended to advocate for himself instead of using a put down. He nodded. (I had to explain the word advocate, by the way). I reminded him that I was asking everyone to focus on their own success for this very reason. He nodded. I did this first because I wanted to be sure that everyone knows that my class is a place where everyone can make a mistake and is still accepted, and that I expected them to do the same no matter where they are.
  3. I told the class as a whole, “He was not intending to burn anyone. He was intending to advocate for himself, or stand up for himself. It is not necessary to react so strongly with the assumption that a person was trying to put other people down because your reaction is what causes people to sometimes make a fight bigger than it needs to be. We’re just talking about switching seats here, not the boundaries of a country. With that in mind, let’s all recite expectation number 2 together.” This is the expectation we have as a school where we say “We will not laugh at, or make fun of, a person’s mistakes, nor use sarcasm or put downs.”
  4. I then proceeded to return my attention to the student and asked if he could think of another way to advocate for his own success without putting others down. He said, “I would like to move so I am less distracted.” I said it was better and asked the 3 girls if this was an acceptable alternative. They agreed. I asked him to find a way to let the girls know that he did not mean it in the way it sounded, perhaps in the form of an apology. I did not say, “You need to apologize” so that he felt free to repair these relationships in his own way.
  5. I said finally, (and this is the most important lesson we teach our kids on acceptance) “The way our friend here stood up for his own success in changing seats was originally not the nicest way, but he fixed it. What we can learn from this is that what we say matters and HOW we say it can be hurtful or helpful. If someone asks you for something in a rude way it is ok to say that you did not like how they asked you and you would like them to ask nicely. They either will or they won’t, either way, it is still your job to stand up for yourself. You don’t control them. You control yourself. Someone being rude is not ok. However, we can also learn from this that people make mistakes and we need to allow them the opportunity to fix it without judgement. We need to accept each other as equals, all making mistakes, all trying to learn how to make things right.” Many of them nodded and seemed to get it. I was pleased with the results.

Friends, this is not a lesson on public school classroom management or conflict resolution. It’s a story about teaching acceptance. It’s something I believe we have stopped taking the time to do. Kids are rude to each other, adults are critical, everyone is in a hurry and speaking sharply to each other, we revel in a “burn”, and it is all ok. We gloss over it like it’s the norm.

BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE.

It starts with us, the grown ups. Whether you want to raise your kids with a more loose parenting style, or perhaps be more strict, it is honestly something we can all be addressing.

You might say, “Well, in the example you gave, it sounds more like teaching respect and grace.” Perhaps…I guess you could think that. But look a a little deeper. I think HOW we teach respect and grace is by teaching acceptance. It is at it’s core and that’s why I put it first. We cannot first show respect unless we ACCEPT someone as a human being deserving of our respect. You might just be a person that extends grace to everyone because you want to be a nice person. But chances are that you already have an ACCEPTING heart and see people as equally loved by God, which is frankly a gift!

Many people might say they are accepting on the outside because they want to avoid conflict, so they just keep their mouth shut. That’s called tolerance, and it’s important too. That is a great quality and happens in the mind.

Here’s a thought. I challenge you to pick one group of people that you have trouble accepting. It might be based on race, economics, religion, gender, body type, politically based, etc. Or it might be a bully in your life, your mother-in-law, or those of a certain political party. Be honest with yourself. Now don’t say it out loud or people will think badly of you. But let’s just say you chose IRS accountants. You are prejudice against those number crunchers and think they are ruining society. You haven’t told anyone for years and here you are deciding to be more accepting so you are going to picture them the way God sees them: Loved. Now that wasn’t too bad was it?

The idea behind acceptance is truly in how you see someone. When you put on your “God glasses” the world starts to look and feel a bit more warm, calm, and peaceful. When you believe that God loves that guy that just cut you off, or the mean girl in geometry class, or the criminal sitting in prison, JUST AS MUCH AS YOU then it is a little easier perhaps to be externally accepting and kind, even if you continually struggle with it in your mind.

I’m not saying you have to accept the actions of someone that hurts you. Practice separating the action from the person’s heart. People need opportunities to be SEEN differently than the way they think, feel, or how they messed up, even if it brought a prison sentence. The heart is what matters. Sometimes you won’t know someone’s heart and whether they truly deserve to be accepted/forgiven but it’s not your job to keep track of everyone and where their heart is at. You have a right to protect yourself and limit who you spend time with. I’m talking about heart care here. How you think and feel about others does matter.

One final thought: Our children need acceptance from us when they make mistakes. I’m not talking about “Oh, they’re just kids” and letting things go. I’m talking about being intentional about acceptance, so they KNOW that they are loved and cared about, REGARDLESS of what they like, what they believe, and the mistakes they make. Too many teens are depressed and suicidal because they are looking for connection and acceptance and don’t know how to get it. It starts with US, the adults in their lives. Are the teen years sucky when you’re a parent? Yes, quite possibly the worst. BUT, our kids need healthy boundaries, while at the same time, freedom to test the limits because that is how they learn to be who they need to be when they are “grown and flown.” Be their coach and love them. And I promise you, giving them acceptance means that you will become possibly one of their best friends as an adult. They will trust you and feel safe to talk to you. It’s the best relationship in the world to be friends with your adult kids. Plus, this means they are out in the world sharing that acceptance with others in their influence, which will make the world a much better place.

Try acceptance and then model it and teach it to your children. We need to be taking the time when teachable moments unfold to help our children understand why they need to model acceptance for others as well, and WHY we want to live in a world where WE are accepted. We can only feel accepted when we truly practice it with everyone else.

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Embracing 12 Marks of Character in 2020…For Our Kids

Warning. This is not going to be one of those “cheery”, motivational Happy New Year posts where I remind you grownups of the importance of resolutions and making a fresh, exciting start to a better you. Nope. It’s going to be about kicking you in the ass and reminding you that little ones are watching and you need to get it together, not just to lose some weight, get healthy, cuss less, drive friendlier, or spend less on frivolous things that cause you go into debt. Sure, go ahead, make all the resolutions. But no, this is about THEM, the little people in your life.

I saw a clip of a video recently where Mel Robbins interviewed an expert on narcissists and how they’re made. It’s not your genetics. It’s not a chemical imbalance. It’s not something you learn in school. No, narcissists are MADE by who raises them. Let that sink in.

Narcissism is an attachment disorder that happens to children when their emotional needs are not met. It happens when children are young. Parents are unknowingly creating narcissists that grow up to be adults that will have difficulty having positive relationships for the REST OF THEIR LIVES. It is a rewiring of the brain and therefore is almost impossible to be undone. And yes, it’s the parents, or whoever raises them, that do it to their kids.

Now before you stop reading and say, “Well, that’s not me, I’m a very present, involved parent that shows genuine love to my children. I don’t need to read this.” Ok, maybe it won’t apply to you, but could it be happening with a niece or nephew, or a grandchild? Or perhaps YOU’RE a narcissist so you don’t see it. Hmmm…that’s a heavy thought. I’m not judging you. Really I’m not, but maybe if you have little ones in your life you should keep reading to be sure you are doing everything you can to help them be happy and productive adults in the future.

So let’s dive in. What can we do about it? Obviously, most of us care even a smidge about kids growing up to be good adults or we wouldn’t still have our kids in the first place.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot actually because as a teacher, I see a lot of “narcissistic” tendencies in my students every day. Granted they’re kids and they are definitely very focused on themselves when they are little. That’s semi normal. But I’m talking about seeing a lack of empathy or concern for others at a young age which is concerning. For example, a student hurts another child and has no remorse, and is actually even unaware. Perhaps they even are glad to cause pain. This is not just “he deserved it” or “she’s mean and needs to learn her lesson.” Left unaddressed, these children grow up to only be focused on themselves and their own pain, whether they realize it or not. I mean, I don’t know about you but when I drive down the freeway in Houston, there is an epidemic of grown-up narcissists cutting people off and trying to be first, am I right?! Just kidding. (well, maybe I’m not?)

Now, I’m no expert, as I have made very clear in all my previous posts as the “amateur acorn”. I’m not a counselor, psychologist, or anything like that. I simply want to be the best version of myself and in turn, help others to do the same. I’m a teacher by trade, and a parent of grown-up biological and adopted children, but I am really a life-long learner, and hope that by default I can help do my small part to make this world a better place. So, in my “non-expert” opinion this is not just about narcissism. It’s about teaching kids empathy and how to be good humans. How do they learn to relatively focus on others enough to keep a job and perhaps a boyfriend/girlfriend around? You DO want them to move out someday, after all, don’t you? We are raising them to launch them into the world. Let’s not leave that to chance.

At my school where I teach, we implemented a new program this year for our students school wide and the entire staff even went to 4 days of training this past summer. One of the major tenets of this program is to teach and instill intrinsic character traits in our students so that we are operating more on a proactive response to conflict and discipline issues, instead of a reactive response. It’s more than just teaching social skills, but in a nutshell kids are learning to get along and to think more about how their actions affect others.

It’s been really exciting to see our students respond so well to this program and we have seen positive results. Other schools that have been using this program have talked about the affect it has had on families at home and in their communities. Kids are offering to help around the house, they ask for things with nice manners, and they are caring more about the well-being of their neighbors, to name a few positive consequences.

It got me thinking. What if WE, all the parents, were more intentional about teaching our children these same character traits instead of just dealing with things as they come up in public or perhaps assuming they are learning them by default at church, or from their friendships. We are often so busy going from point A to point B 24 hours a day, (while on our devices, might I dare say?). Are we really pausing to notice the little ways in which our kids are forming unhealthy character traits? Are we stopping to address the teachable moments or just letting it go to deal with “later”. Those teen years for sure will remind you that these little darlings don’t quite have the hang of caring about everyone else yet, so we have to keep trying, am I right?

So I propose we, the parents of the world, unite and focus in 2020 on 12 character traits that we need to be MODELING for our children and therefore teaching them, intentionally, not just “accidentally”. Let’s be more PROactive, instead of REactive. My kids are grown so they’re a lost cause. HA! (just kidding guys…I’m actually pretty proud of my kids and their character. No one is perfect around here, but if you go check out my social media, you’ll see…very proud of my kids.) Again, I’m no expert but I do hope to rally us together to draw our attention to these skills, that in my humble opinion are what makes us productive, nice, and happy humans as adults.

Life is going to throw some pretty tough crap at you so personally, I think we all just need Jesus. But it’s ok if you’re not a Christian. You are welcome here in this space and I would love to hear from you so message me if you have thoughts, ideas, and want to contribute to the conversation. We’re all in this life together on this spinning planet we call earth, and it’s going to take ALL of us contributing something positive to make it a better place for our children.

Let’s get started.

Each week for the next 12 weeks, I will be writing a little opinion piece about each of the following character traits. We can all focus on one a month for the year. Or perhaps as one trait comes up that needs more attention, focus on that one a little longer. This is not an exhaustive list. Make your own list if you want. Use a book by an expert. Whatever. The point is to DECIDE what matters in the big picture and model it for your children. BE the person that YOU want them to be. Talk about it, teach them examples, and plan opportunities for your family to practice what you preach. Don’t just wait to teach perseverance on the day when you stop at the grocery store after work, it’s raining, you just want to get some food for dinner for once instead of ordering pizza, and the kids are having a meltdown. Your kids will definitely learn about perseverance, but they might also learn some new vocabulary words too. Oh wait, that already happens every Tuesday? Maybe we should put some thought into how to change that into a teachable moment, perhaps. You got this!

Have a spouse that is not on board? Divorced and don’t have control over what goes on at the other house? No problem. All you can do is what YOU can do. Take a deep breath. Take it one day at a time. The reality is your kids are not doomed when at least one adult in their life is pouring love into them. If you are doing all that you can, KEEP GOING. Don’t give up. Talk to your spouse about being intentional with your children and building their character. Your spouse might seem disconnected, but might just not realize, and may surprise you. You never know, a disengaged parent might be the one to actually turn things around in a flash. And hey Dads, don’t leave the emotional stuff up to mom either. Your kids need your perspective. And listen Moms. Dads can contribute good ideas about parenting so let them try. I know that’s a stereotype that Dad only wants to teach them how to sled off the roof safely or burn coach roaches in the driveway but Dads have an important roll in your kids’ emotional development too, even if it’s not the way YOU would do it. The opposite might even be true. Embrace the strengths of BOTH parents and do the best you can. There’s no rule book here. Work together and make your own.

All joking aside for a moment. If you are in a relationship that is dangerous for you and/or your children, it is time to get some help. Someone that is abusive, an addict, suicidal, or harmful in some way is NOT going to get better on their own. Don’t believe the lie that they won’t do it again. If it’s you or someone you love, then the first step to healing is admitting there is a problem and asking for help. It’s never easy. NEVER. But it’s going to be ok if you TRY. So many of us have been there and there is no shame in admitting you have messed up and want to get better. We are ALL dealing with something so the worst thought you could have is that you are alone and no one understands. We might not know your exact situation personally but you are absolutely, 100% NOT ALONE. Call 911 in an emergency situation, message me for information on where to find help if you don’t know who to turn to or go here for more info https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

With an attitude of “we’re all in this together”, here are the 12 character traits that I believe we need to be intentionally modeling and teaching our children:

  1. Acceptance/Tolerance – we ALL need to learn more about how to accept others for who they are, along with their thoughts and opinions, while at the same time embracing our own strengths and weaknesses. NONE of us are experts at this. ALL of us need to be more tolerant. ALL OF US.
  2. Self-respect/Self-love/Confidence – there is a misconception here that we need to teach shy children to be bold and that confident children are the most important ones in society. This is false. I’m talking about teaching a confidence in each person’s worth and value. Each child needs to know that they are valuable and worthy of love JUST THE WAY THEY ARE, and this will give them the confidence to be who they want/need to be for the world, as well as defend themselves appropriately.
  3. Grace/Forgiveness/Peacemaker – as we learn to accept others and love ourselves, it is also important to learn to extend grace to those that fall short (and we ALL will). How do we teach our children to find peace when conflict arises, and learn to forgive?
  4. Faith/Hope – the importance of knowing where your hope comes from in hard times, and how do you know who to have faith in, or who to depend on?
  5. Critical Thinking/Wisdom/Discernment/Judgement – how do we make good decisions and know when to be accepting of someone or judge that it’s not a good person to hang out with? Critical thinking is also a huge part of making it as an adult in the workforce. Many of our students are struggling in our schools with learning this important skill.
  6. Tradition/Memory – the importance of embracing tradition and remembering where you come from and what makes you who you are. There is an element here of remembering the bad memories as well and learning how to use it for good.
  7. Appreciation/Gratitude – learning to not just say thank you, but to also be genuinely appreciative of the people in your life, and being grateful for even the little things.
  8. Joy/Laughter/Fun – It’s not hard to teach your kids to have a good time, but we also need to model for them how to find joy and fun in every situation. Finding joy in the hard stuff is one of the most challenging skills to learn for most of us.
  9. Humility/Obedience – a respect for authority is especially challenging to teach strong-willed children but teaching humility and the importance of putting others first to all of our kids can go a long way toward teaching obedience as well. This may be one of the most controversial topics we’ll talk about because of the wide variance in opinions, and yet every parent wants obedience from their children to some degree.
  10. Integrity/Discipline/Perseverance/Grit – there is so much we could talk about here, but I combined these because they overlap and are related in so many ways to being true to yourself and facing hard things.
  11. Empathy/Compassion – as already stated at the beginning of this post, this is probably one of the most important skills we can model and teach our children for their long term success in life.
  12. Love – this stands alone because the greatest of all these is love. Without love, we have nothing. But how do we define what it means to show love to others?

That’s the list I believe we could all use in 2020. I’m going to be practicing what I preach as well. Is this the year we will all have “20/20” vision and are intentional to help everyone around us see a brighter future for our children? I hope so. One month, one week, one day at a time. Maybe by default we will ALL find ourselves more fulfilled, living happier lives, as we focus more on others, and less on ourselves. Happy New Year my friends! Make it a great year, or NOT, the choice is yours.

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A Mother’s Request

My fellow Americans. Today is 9/11/2019. I want so desperately to write something profound about this day. I want so desperately to talk about it. And yet I almost can’t put into words what I’m feeling. It’s gut wrenching. It makes my stomach turn. I am heart broken. Still. 18 years later.

I didn’t know anyone personally that died. I was never in danger that day. I live in the Houston suburbs so I was far away from the traumatic events that unfolded. I really have no personal reason to have been so profoundly affected by the death and destruction of September 11th, 2001 other than the fact that I am an American, and I’m a mother. And I WAS.

Are you too feeling the pain of this America, as if it was your own son that was lost? I don’t know about you but that’s how I feel we SHOULD be feeling. Don’t get me wrong. The mothers that lost children that day and the mothers that sacrificed their children in the war that followed have every right to say that I don’t know how it feels. And I don’t. I can not imagine. Truly.

But when I say that we SHOULD be feeling this loss, it is because I think we have forgotten. We say every year “Never forget” but we have. We put out our flags. We have a moment of silence. We read names. We visit the memorial. We watch stories of heroes. We celebrate our First Responders. And PLEASE for the love of all that is good hear me when I say those are GOOD things that we should keep doing.

We have also forgotten, that we became something amazing and important that day. We, the American people, became US. We became WE. It was US vs. THEM. It was Americans helping Americans. It was strangers walking arm and arm and giving blood because we are AMERICANS. It was mothers with different color skin, and different beliefs, and different religions coming together because they shared the loss of their American sons and daughters.

We have forgotten how to be US. We have forgotten what it feels like to be a WE. We have forgotten how to be WE, the UNITED states of America, in spite of our differences, our problems, our challenges, and our hurts.

Am I being too hard on us? Maybe. But from MY perspective I am blessed with feeling like “we” in my family, and “we” in my job, and “we” at my church. But I don’t feel like this country is a “we” AT ALL. Not even a little bit.

I’ve stopped watching the news mostly because it is just us, fighting, or us, hurting each other. WE are Democrats vs. Republicans, not Americans.

WE are THIS side vs. THAT side, not Americans.

WE are MY beliefs vs. YOUR beliefs, not AMERICANS.

What is it going to take for us to really REMEMBER how to be a WE again? I hope not another 9/11.

Here’s my request. It’s from a mother with an American son who just got the call last week that he has been selected to serve his country as a Naval officer. It’s from a very PROUD mother who is willing to share her son for the defense of American freedoms. It’s from a very concerned mother who’s son was only in Kindergarten in 2001, and will always be her baby, but is now a man who loves his country and believes in our ideals so much he is willing to risk his own life for it.

My fellow Americans, just as my son is making the CHOICE to serve so our American children hopefully never have to know the heartbreak of another 9/11, we owe it to those that died that day to CHOOSE to find the WE in “We the people” and the US in being the UNITED States.

Stop fighting. Start listening. Stand up for what you believe in but keep the unity. Protest if you must, but do it in a way that shows other countries that we are the UNITED States of America. We CAN be ONE again. It will take a CHOICE.

Do it for me. Do it for MY son.

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Meet Me In The Middle

My heart was saddened last week while I was on a mother/son trip to California to hear of yet another shooting. This could be something that could be a repeat from a previous post so many times. So many times that it almost feels complacent.

I’ve started to write this many times before. My heart is grieving for these families. My heart grieves for the future families that will be victims because I know this isn’t going to be the last time. That’s what truly makes me angry. Everyone that writes about it, writes the same thing, over and over.

We ALL want something to change but can’t agree on the HOW. Some blame guns. Some blame mental health. Some blame the media for making shooters famous. Some blame society and the lack of connection we have with those around us. I would say it’s all of it, and we ALL are to blame because we aren’t doing enough of ANYTHING.

I don’t know the answer but I do know one thing that seems to me to be the easiest place to start making a difference. It’s not going to fix anything quickly, but it’s what we all should be intentionally doing if we want long term change to actually happen. We need to START. We need to DO. We need to take a step toward the middle.

We need to value life. We need to be compassionate. And we need to be intentional about it, not just reactionary. We need to actually care, not just say “we’re praying for you” when a co-worker or classmate is going through something…we need to show we care. We need to include people in our lives, even the ones we label the reclusive weirdos. Yes, even the ones that we try to include and don’t accept our invitation…we need to keep inviting and including. We need to actually have conversations with those different from us and see what they think. We need to hear their stories. We need to learn about each other and WHY we believe what we believe.

We need to model and teach empathy to our children. There’s a lot of talk about being “bullied” but it’s deeper than that. I see so many children that I teach every day that simply do. not. care. They are not concerned when someone falls down, gets hurt, or someone picks on a classmate. They actually think it’s funny. They join in and follow. We are raising children closed off from the real pain of the world because we are inundated with living in a virtual reality world between texting, social media, and entertainment and these kids are growing up in a society that is detached from real pain.

Please hear me out. There are MANY children and families that are sweet, caring, kind, and have a servant heart. So many. I could tell you thousands of stories of children that went out of their way to include the lonely child, that were sweet to someone hurting, and are doing great things to make the world a better place. We need to see and hear more stories about these people, BUT all it takes is ONE that does tremendous harm and the kindness of all the others gets forgotten. We give up because we think “what’s the point?”.

We are obviously not doing enough and this is the biggest reason that I have spoken up so often this last year on my social media about funding for public education. Education is our best PROACTIVE not reactive chance at creating a successful society, other than the family unit. Relationships and connection are what makes us truly human. And teachers that care truly change the trajectory of a child’s life. For example, how many kids do we hear about that have a tough home life and you hear about another adult, most often a teacher or a coach, that believed in them and helped them overcome obstacles to finish school and graduate. These are examples of beating the odds and we don’t hear enough about it because the drama overshadows and the media promotes what sells.

I’m not blaming the media. I’m blaming US, the “we” in society, because we pay to hear about the violence and the dramatic events that happen in our lives. We rubberneck the car fire, and pay for the tabloids. We watch the house wives, and gossip about the neighborhood girl that got pregnant in high school.

We do a lot more pointing and laughing, than we do acceptance and listening.

Life is hard and it doesn’t get easier just because you have good friends and family, but it gets more manageable. The children that are growing up with the hard things, and have positive relationships, will be more well adjusted because they will learn how to overcome. When you face hard things or scary things and you get through it, you KNOW that you have strength. When you have people alongside you that don’t bail when it gets tough then you know who your REAL friends are. It doesn’t mean life is easy by any means, and we are ALL going through something, but when we look out for each other, and say a kind word, and just provide our presence then it actually MEANS something.

Soapbox moment: The kids that have parents living in a bubble, fixing all the problems, are not aware of how their lack of connection with their children is HURTING them. The kids don’t know it either but they are acting out and “screaming” for attention with their behavior. We pacify it with ice cream, fast food, devices, Fortnight, select sports, and giving in to the fits. We are quick to defend our kids and forget that adults/teachers are human, and have forgotten that adversity teaches kids to become problem solvers. Young parents today were raised in a world where everyone gets a trophy so they don’t know how to say no, or how to handle disappointment, so they work so hard to make their kids happy.

We can’t protect our children from everything, friends. There is going to be scraped knees and bumped heads and broken hearts and hurt feelings and mean teachers and lost games and not getting picked and being BORED. These are the things that teach our kids how to overcome. It’s when they face hurt feelings, and loneliness, and mental health issues that aren’t addressed when they become increasingly a part of the statistic of adults that don’t know how to cope. When we don’t teach them healthy boundaries, and we tell them to stop crying and be tough, or we ignore their desire to express their feelings, or fix all their problems and make all their decisions, that’s when they don’t feel safe to FEEL and they don’t know how to cope. And that’s a dangerous place.

I’m not blaming the parents or their bratty kids, I’m really not. As I already said there are MANY good kids and families. And the REAL reality is that we are ALL FLAWED PEOPLE! So really, who am I to judge those parents? I haven’t done it perfectly. My adult kids are not angels by any means. Oh boy do we have some stories!

But Friends, we need to do better and we need to do better TOGETHER. Politics today has us wonky and defensive and we want to be “right”. We ALL want to be heard and want to find the right solution, but we like OUR ideas and OUR way of doing things, or it feels scary to do it a different way, or even a way that is against our beliefs. And we listen to politicians and the media spin the fear that the “other side” is against us and frankly “quite stupid”. We need to STOP LISTENING to the spread of FEAR. The other side might be full of it but have we stopped long enough to step away from the power struggle and try to understand? We might need to just consider that there is more than one way to do things and it’s ok.

I still believe that we need to go back and start with the humanity. We need to look for ways to support that struggling parent, and be open to receive help in return. We need to understand that cops have hard jobs and black lives DO matter and women have a voice and kids are to be VALUED and EVERYONE has “rights”. We may have pride and we may not appreciate the teacher or the neighbor telling us how they did it when they were raising their kids (cuz it’s 2019 and we “don’t do it that way anymore”…yeah, yeah) but what if they have good ideas? What if they want to just encourage you? Or what if your mom who is always telling you what to do, really just wants to help and she’s having trouble with how much the world has changed? And what if our politicians REALLY started trying to not be democrats and republicans and focus on being “right” but decide to be PUBLIC SERVANTS that look for ways to compromise. Maybe WE as a society start voting for politicians that put their humanity instead of their PARTY first.

We ALL have a voice and can contribute to the solution if we start listening to each other more…on BOTH sides. Again, I don’t have the solution. I am full of ideas but they may or may not work, and if we put our heads together, we might just find a way that is a step forward using bits and pieces of ALL our ideas. It may not solve the problem or even do a whole lot but it just might move us in the right direction and then the next idea moves us even closer, and then someone else comes along and says “how can I help?” instead of “you’re doing it wrong”. Maybe, just maybe we just might help people that are hurting, and help people heal, and maybe even save lives.

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The Resurrection Tree

This lace bark elm stands reaching to the heavens in my backyard, but it was once just a sapling that we planted, and this is the story of how it survived the odds and came back from the “almost-dead”.

The Resurrection Tree – a lace bark elm in my backyard

This tree didn’t always have it easy as it began it’s life. We planted it in 2007, the year that my father-in-law passed, as a reminder of the beauty in celebrating a life well lived. In 2011 it was thriving as a young tree but had a bit of a crisis and almost didn’t make it beyond it’s 4th year. We had taken in a rescue dog that year who turned out to be pretty destructive. One day we came out to the backyard to discover that she had painstakingly peeled all the bark off the bottom half of our beautiful tree, most likely just because she found it something fun to do. She subjected our poor tree to great trauma, leaving it bare and exposed, without much hope of survival.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my husband so mad over something destructive that has happened to our yard or home. Not even the hurricane damage that we have faced several times. This was HIS tree that he had worked so hard to nurture and grow for 4 years to that point. It was a symbol of life that had almost been destroyed. And to top it off, he is a dog lover and was trying to give this dog a loving home, but she had not been “loving” to our family in return. It was frustrating that she was so destructive and didn’t even understand the harm she had caused.

That’s a lot like life isn’t it? We may work so hard on something like trying to get a promotion, or achieve a goal, or nurture a relationship for YEARS and then one day we don’t get the promotion, we miss the goal deadline, or a relationship ends. The “bark” gets stripped away and all our effort seems lost. It feels like all that time has been wasted and we are starting over. It hurts even more when someone we care about is involved in causing the pain associated with these losses.

So what do we do when we are faced with loss and need to figure out how to move on, trying to find hope in the next morning?

Some would say, “It’s just a tree. Plant a new one!” Yes, in some cases of loss you could. You can definitely make new goals, set new deadlines, invest in new positive relationships, and even take baby steps as you learn to live life without what you once had. But that is not always easy to let go of the pain from the loss and sometimes we need to give wounds time to heal. And sometimes they don’t, and we need to find a way to live with the wounds on a new path.

Well, I can tell you that my husband put protective wire around this little survivor tree of ours and continued to nurture it and feed it and care for it. He continued to have hope that it would thrive and grow and reach it’s full potential. He was not willing to give up on it so easily.

Since then our lace bark elm has grown and thrived and amazed us with its resilience. It came back from the “almost-dead” and has brought beauty and joy to our yard, and our hearts. Plus, its branches, strong roots, and sturdy trunk are an example every day of how we can not only overcome the hard things in our past, but use what we have lost to gain greater strength.

This Holy Week I looked out at that tree and was inspired by its beauty. I looked up and was reminded of where we can find our strength when we feel like we have been stripped of everything and might be starting over. Our strength comes from strong roots. Our strength comes from a trunk and branches that help carry the weight. Our hope and encouragement to face starting over comes from others that might nurture our hearts when we are wounded.

Dear friends, this is the resurrection story.
For me, the strong roots are my faith in a God that I know loves each of us unconditionally. He loves us so much that He sent his son Jesus. Jesus is the strength in my life and the friend that I need when I feel that I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, and especially when I feel at times that all has been stripped away. Jesus overcame DEATH with me and YOU in mind. He has already carried that weight for us in the cross. He took our place so we don’t have to give up an abundant life with HIM. He believes in our ability to survive whatever we are facing because He has already faced it FOR us.

Yes, it’s hard, and painful, and you might even feel like you have no idea how you are going to make it one more hour of this day, but you ARE. You ARE right now because it’s a CHOICE. You are surviving and you are going to make it because you can CHOOSE to look to Him and what He has already done. Don’t look at what you’ve lost right now or how hard it’s going to be. Just look at Him. You will look at what you’ve lost and back again and it will slowly get easier to look at Jesus more often and less at the pain of the past.

You might be starting over. You might feel that you are buried in the ashes. People might even be telling you “just plant a new tree” and you have no idea how you could ever replace the one you lost. I promise if you are willing to TRUST Jesus that He is enough to help you RISE again, because He has already done it. He is the proof that He can do it again in YOUR life.

The survival of this tree isn’t the end of our story. It’s a symbol for what’s possible though. We have lost much in the relationship we once had with our adopted daughter who is now an adult and struggling with who she wants her family to be. Regardless of any role I might play in her life, my prayer has always been that she would see that even though it may feel at times like all the bark has been stripped away from her life, and she’s barely hanging on, Jesus is the one that restores and He is the one that has the power to bring her up from the ashes.

He has done this for me when I have had trouble reconciling how to move forward without her in our day to day life. This was a painful loss I have had trouble accepting as a “new normal”. But I have not given up on the hope, and the redemption that God promises. I KNOW without a doubt that He will redeem HER story and use it for good…someday. She already has a huge heart of compassion so I hold onto hope that the roots that we planted in her life will sprout and grow her into her own version by her choosing of a beautiful “resurrection tree”.

I believe it and I claim it.

I am praying for YOU to have your own redemption story to celebrate and share. Use your voice and inspire someone, be kind, embrace beauty, and be sure that others in your life know your story. Happy Easter friends!

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Boundaries: Saying No

A couple weeks ago I did a live video on The Amateur Acorn Facebook page about setting boundaries and the power of saying no. I shared a story about a man who was a great leader and influence on my life, Dr. Gordon Anderson. He was the Superintendent of Spring ISD when I taught there from 1992-1999. I learned so much from him, but in particular he demonstrated amazing leadership by:

  1. knowing my name
  2. being an intentional encourager
  3. modeling servant leadership with his presence

Initially, what I thought I learned from him was to serve and to make sure people feel noticed. He kept a spoon in his front shirt pocket to show the students that it was a reminder that even leaders are servants.

But over the years as I have thought of the influence he had on me as a young teacher, I have come to realize that it’s not just about serving freely and willingly. Yes, we need to be available and open to having an attitude of service in our jobs, our families, and in our communities. We need to be teaching our children to take initiative by all means and the importance of work ethic. And it’s also deeper than that.

As leaders we must also set boundaries and have the courage to say no. I think this is most important when it comes to our most important relationships. I’m learning more and more as I approach my 50th birthday this year that life is fleeting and it is when we say YES to our children, to our spouse, our best friends, and to the most vulnerable that have no one else, that we truly become the influencers in the world.

It is in our ability to say no to the things that most probably can wait, even if they are good things, and yes to the BEST things, that we truly demonstrate the power to change our community, our culture, and our world.

I’ll give you one example of something YOU can do to set a boundary that will make a GINORMOUS impact…I’m talking HUGE! When you FIRST pick up your kids from school, get home from work, or pick them up from anywhere when you haven’t seen them for a few hours or more, you GREET them and make eye contact, and then be willing to just listen for the next 20-30 min. And I mean EYE contact (not on your phone, not doing the dishes, not doing stuff for work) and let them talk. If they don’t talk at first, ask questions.

I have done this with my kids for years. I’m not perfect at it. Sometimes it’s just not possible to give them my attention if something out of my control is going on so obviously you aren’t going to be perfect either. And many times I was driving so obviously they wouldn’t be getting full on eye contact, like staring. But I truly believe that this is one of the NUMBER ONE things that has helped me build a STRONG adult relationship with them. My adult boys talk to me…like almost every day. They text me and tell me what’s going on in the news that they thought was interesting, or share a funny meme, or whatever. The other night we sat down to eat dinner and it led to a 6 hour conversation with a wide variety of topics. It was a beautiful thing.

I attribute the strength in our relationship with the fact that I made a boundary and I wasn’t really even aware of it. I said no to other distractions when I first saw my kids each day to give them my attention and affirm that they are important. This is also probably why they are confident adults and are not only initiators, but servant leaders too. They are world changers I am very proud of and much of who they are comes from knowing that they are valued and loved.

Take the time to think about what boundary you need to set. Feel free to say No, just for the simple act of knowing you need to say YES to someone important.

Boiling Point

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Have you ever thought about what gets you to your “boiling point”? What sets you off? What gets you feeling like you are DONE? It’s interesting to me that water boils at EXACTLY 212 degrees. Not at 211. It’s 212. What is it that triggers your boiling point?

When I get to what I think is my boiling point, it’s usually because I’m overwhelmed when I’ve taken on too much, or I am emotionally exhausted with high maintenance people, or I am extremely frustrated because I feel out of control. I can convince myself that I can’t give any more. I was thinking about this last week and what’s interesting to me is that the boiling point of water is an exact number, and then the water really has power to burn and harm, OR it can do GOOD, like sterilize water for drinking and help you prepare something like a warm cup of coffee.

For us, just being human, any of us think of it as an ending point in that we say “I’m done” or “I’m going to explode!”, kind of like a finish line. But REALLY if we reverse it and think of it as a STARTING point it changes everything. It’s the starting point of being on fire, of being over the top, and maybe even a little “extra” in the BEST way.

Today on Motivation Monday I want you to think about you’re boiling point as a starting point. What I mean by that is when we’re looking at setting boundaries, healthy boundaries for ourselves, which is what I’m thinking about a lot lately, it becomes a motivation for how you can set boundaries for yourself and make REAL change in your life. You get to create the life that YOU want so don’t wait until you are boiling over but if you get there, USE it as fuel to GET THINGS DONE.

Perhaps you’re at your boiling point because you are overwhelmed, and taken on too much. Maybe you need to cut back and you need to take care of yourself, so that you can have the energy and the mental focus to take care of everyone else that is important in your life. Maybe there are bad habits out of control. Maybe you need to stop yelling at your kids for bad habits and take the time to build a stronger relationship or just stop to TEACH them the social skills and self-care skills that will make their life (and YOURS) easier, and more rewarding.

I also think that it’s important to look at mental and emotional stability. For me personally, I know that when I’ve been in a state where I was very depressed and sad it was from circumstances in my life that had gotten me there. It’s very natural to be in that state if you’re facing loss or grief, but I think it’s also important to look at how easy it is to stay there. We all need to be on our own timeline when overcoming the pain of loss of course, but we also need to challenge ourselves to move beyond and not get stuck. Maybe we don’t feel like we have the ability to do more than we are doing, so we decide or we convince ourselves that we’re not capable of more today. And maybe we’re not. But we must be honest with ourselves and start to look at what’s next.

I’m going to challenge you to think differently friend. If you are in that state where you are sad, have faced loss, or are facing hard things and really struggling because you have so many things and so many people depending on you then first get professional help if you need it. Then, I encourage you to look at what is your boiling point and just stop, take a breath, and give yourself some time to get perspective. Look at where you can make some changes: what can you cut out, or add in, or maybe you just need some time to take care of yourself and recharge. It’s ok to be falling apart temporarily. Then come back in for another round in the ring. You don’t have to stay there, you don’t have to feel like you’re going to explode or overflow, and you DO have the power, the capacity, and the ability to move BEYOND your boiling point. Look at it as a starting point to something better, then set boundaries for yourself friend!

Last week I did a live video on my “The Amateur Acorn” Facebook page on boundaries and the power in saying no. Even though I didn’t get deep into it, this is something I’m going to be writing and speaking about quite a bit in the coming days because it is what I am learning too. We need to feel free to say yes to the people in your life that are most important and NO to the things that just aren’t going to make it into your “front pocket” (watch my Live video on my FB page for more on this story). Give them your eye contact, your time, and your attention. That my friends, is what really matters.

As I always say (and I am learning), you can’t be a superhuman so you must, you MUST depend on God to help you because we can’t do it alone. Ask God to help you, look to your community, your tribe, your people around you that support you and ask for help when needed. You can do more than you think you can, it just is a matter of your mindset and deciding where your boundaries are, where your limits are, and embracing the power of saying no. Then use that as a starting point to be your best self. It’s not easy, but it is easier if you try.

One step at a time, friend. You got this 🙂

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Read This: When “Less Desirables” Show Up At Church

This story in Relevant magazine got my attention and you need to read it. I want to be a part of a church where addicts, or the homeless, or troubled teens can show up and not be condemned. Sadly, I haven’t found that church because as much as many churches SAY they are accepting of real people, the PEOPLE that make up the church really are not that accepting.

It’s true. We ALL judge. We need to confess that. And as Christians, we especially need to go to rehab for our addiction to judging. Even the Presbyterians are judging the Baptists and the Baptists are judging the Methodists, and on and on about who has it “right” and is doing church “better”.

Appearances are what rules the world unfortunately and we are all guilty of judging someone by how they look, or what the have or don’t have. Social media has especially given rise I believe to the need for “likes” and “follows” and what you let people see. We often are not free to be ourselves, are we? I’m just as guilty, and as I write this I have regrets for the many times I was silent when I could have made someone feel more welcome at church, at my job, and in my community. I have judged parents coming into the school where I teach simply by how they look. I admit it. If they have too many tattoos or seem unorganized or even if they are dressed to the 9s. I even base judgement of the parents on the behavior of their kid! Perhaps it is a human flaw in all of us to elevate ourselves based on what we see around us? If we make ourselves “better” than others we feel good, but if we see ourselves as “less than”, our self-worth goes in the gutter.

Before we adopted our daughter through the foster care system, I admit that I was not always as compassionate as I could have been towards families in a crisis. If some mom showed up at church and looked like she didn’t have her act together, I would be nice to her of course but on the inside I was feeling sorry for her kids, thinking what a terrible mom she is. It is extremely embarrassing to even confess that, by the way. How terrible am I??? And did I do anything to HELP? No. Did I speak up to make her feel more welcome when I saw the condescending eyes all around. Nope. I looked on in silence with an awkward smile.

I actually grew up in a pretty compassionate family. My entire extended family on my Dad’s side have all been missionaries. Literally almost every single one of them, either short or long term. I was born in Taiwan, while my parents were in the mission field. I remember growing up surrounded by serving, giving, generous people who gave their time, sometimes limited resources, and LIVES to help others see and know God. My parents specifically taught me to not be racist against skin color and empowered me as a girl to know that I wasn’t limited to what society said I could do in this world. There was lots of helping out people that were less fortunate and even with as little money as we had at times, we knew we had to be thankful for what we were given because someone else had less.

Somewhere along the way, whether unintentional or not, I did learn that church was a place where you dressed up, you didn’t let people know you didn’t have your crap together, and most definitely never would let them know you might have good reason for them to confirm you were actually a “sinner”. Church (and extended family reunion weekends) were where you might confess that you were a sinner, but you didn’t get specific because for all they knew, you were actually walking the “straight and narrow”. You wouldn’t want anyone to know that you had been at a wild party the night before and didn’t have enough money to pay the water bill. After all, we’re not one of “those” families. So perhaps there was some subtle hints to the fact that we had to put on appearances and had firmly placed ourselves in a more elite category of individuals. I always thought of this as representing your best self before God…maybe it was actually a little too much pride, perhaps???

A lot has changed for me though, especially in the last 10 years. God has opened my eyes to a new way of SEEING people. I’m trying to see people for how God sees them, and who they are on the inside, not just their outer appearance. My family included. I’m still not perfect for sure and I still have to wrestle with those judgmental thoughts at times. But since we took that first step to open our hearts to fostering and adoption in 2009, it was God led, and God ordained that we would begin a journey to see what God sees…hurting people that need someone to LOVE them, simply because GOD does.

When we began the process to get licensed to foster/adopt, we began to see that parents that lose custody of their kids aren’t necessarily bad people. They are people that have not had the resources and support that others have had. I had loving parents who I never doubted cared about me. They were college educated and even with limited resources at times, have always done their best to provide a good life and help me be successful. Not every kid has that. Our daughter’s biological parents were high school drop outs with grandparents that were illegal immigrants. Drugs and alcohol were involved, which I’m sure were used as a way to cope with hard times. There were limited funds because of a lack of job skills. The kids stole food for survival due to neglect. There was abuse. Much of this is a result of generational “curses” that make it hard for families to break free from the cycle of poverty. Should we be judging or even condemning people for that? Maybe they don’t want to have a better life, but maybe they DO and just haven’t had anyone SHOW them that it’s possible. I know it’s true for our daughter, that even though we adopted her as a 15 year old, and poured as much love into her heart as we could for 4 years, at 23 she still struggles to escape a life she keeps running back to, where she doubts her potential because of where she “came from.” But does that mean we give up on her? I don’t think so.

People that don’t have money to pay the water bill and come to church with greasy hair might have messed up on money management but it doesn’t make them bad people. People that come to church because their rehab counselor suggested they get some “religion” are not worthy of being condemned. They just need support to LITERALLY stay clean one day at a time. And people that are trying to get their sh** together to keep their kids are not necessarily bad parents that should be shamed for saying a few cuss words. The world is hard on people. Maybe, WE the church should smile instead of stare and say we believe in them. Maybe we are more intentional about how we show God’s love and say we want to be their friend, and then MEAN it with our actions.

Church should truly be for everyone. And the Bible is clear, God’s Love IS for everyone. Do we believe and demonstrate what the scriptures actually say or are we stuck on the selective ones that give fuel to our judgmental fire? We have no problem pulling out the condemning ones to throw in people’s faces. But GOD’S overall message is clear, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
I think we can ALL work on being more INTENTIONAL to show it, don’t you?

https://relevantmagazine.com/god/when-cuss-words-addiction-and-shame-show-up-at-church/?fbclid=IwAR1j-0_pffIh2fCjZRI1RpBgtriHCOgIH1K4iO6KHNB1kTBponvIvJcicDs

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The Amateur Acorn

For the sake of transparency, I’m just gonna lay it all out there.

I’m a mess. Well, maybe I’m being dramatic. Just a little bit. I actually get myself to work on time almost every day and I’ve only forgotten my child at school one time. It’s good thing the baby has just moved on to college and I don’t have to deal with that whole school thing anymore. Oh wait. I’m a teacher.

I am quite frankly still a kid in my almost 50 year old heart, but I’m a girl who likes to get things done with an “it will work out” twist, and my husband is one-of-a-kind for putting up with me…a true rarity these days. However, I often suffer from that grave affliction of lots of confidence while still questioning my ability to actually do something A.Ma.Zing and wonder if you like me.

Good thing I don’t really have to wonder. I am actually qualified in a few things but really I’m perfectly NOT equipped for most things and God knows it. He said that He doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. He also said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My Power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Cor. 12:9

So there is the magic in this new journey I’m calling “The Amateur Acorn”. He’s my secret weapon. I believe God has a plan and purpose for our lives when we start out as an acorn, and it is up to us to CHOOSE whether we will follow that plan and grow to become the “mighty oak” that He is creating. It sure won’t happen overnight, but it’s only going to happen if we confess that we are weak, but HE is strong, and we need His help. That’s a hard thing to do in this independent, fast paced, me-first society.

I’m no expert in this area and in fact, one of the things I have really struggled with in recent days is grief, heartache, and loss that have manifested themselves in feelings of inadequacy and wondering if I’m even qualified to share my voice.

The TRUTH I’ve been reminded of though is that I don’t need a Masters in English to be a writer. I don’t need a seminary degree to share what I’m learning as a student of the Bible. I don’t need to be a politician to advocate for the things that matter or share my opinion. And I definitely don’t need to be famous to be KNOWN.

I know with confidence that I am known and my value and worth come from the Lord. And I know that no one else is responsible for my happiness, except for ME. So I still have days that suck, but I’m choosing to find my happiness in Jesus, my faithful friend that pursues me every day and reminds me that I am loved. Sometimes it takes a lot to crack this nut. There might be tears occasionally. And a Hallmark movie.

I do hope though that you’ll be my friend and follow along with the little time you have in a day, and that I might inspire, motivate, and encourage you to be all that you were intended to be as well. Or not. Whatever. I’ve been told I’m supposed to be cool about it and let you decide. I promise I won’t stalk you or anything. (Please pick me 🙂 )