Happily Ever After...Revisted


On a cool spring afternoon, the sun poured in the sliding glass door over a young mother and her four year old daughter.  They cuddled together in a rocking chair peering at the pictures in an over-sized book decorated with carriages, castles, and a handsome prince.  With each word the mother read of the Cinderella story, her daughter mouthed the memorized prose.  At the end of the story, they both said in unison, “And they lived happily ever after.”  “OK,” the mother said, “It’s time for your nap.”  The four-year-old reluctantly agreed, but asked, “May I take the pretty book to bed with me?”  When her mother relented, the little girl bounded down the hallway to her room, jumped into her bed, and snuggled herself under the covers. 

As she hugged the book tightly and closed her eyes, pictures of the prince who would rescue her from her boring life and sweep her off her feet began swirling through her head.  She imagined a busy seamstress carefully fashioning a wedding gown out of the finest taffeta fabric, lined with lace, and decorated with tiny diamonds and pearls.  She saw herself walking down the long isle in the cathedral filled with all of her admirers.  At the end of the ceremony, she dreamed of a carriage driver waiting to carry them off into the sunset.  It was here, in the sunset, that they would build a beautiful house, have fancy cars, and bring up children that would never disobey.  She would find true happiness, she thought, because she would find the perfect guy and she would be the perfect wife.

As the little girl made her way through elementary school she always kept an eye out for the perfect guy.  No one fit the bill.  Junior high, nada.  High school, still no one.  Then in college one tall, dark, handsome fellow caught her eye.  He even looked like the prince in her childhood book.  They dated all through college, and then in their senior year he proposed.  Her prince had come and he had even swept her off of her feet.  It took several months, but she found a gorgeous taffeta gown, ordered beautiful flowers, and made reservations with an amazing caterer.  They chose a beautiful church with a pipe organ, picked out their favorite hymns, and determined the order of worship.  On that long-awaited day, she walked down the long isle as the pipe organ announced her entrance with the Bridal Chorus.  After the ceremony, they joined their guests for an elegant reception.

After a wonderful evening, they headed out of the church to the waiting 1986 Nissan Sentra.  Hmmm...this was not the carriage she had dreamed of, but never mind, her loving husband would take her off into the sunset for the “Happily Every After” she had dreamed of her whole life.  Life was sweet.  They rented an apartment, found a great church, and made some lasting friendships.  Then, they took a Sunday school class on budgeting.  They both wanted to be frugal and save money, but they did not quite agree on how to spend the $50.26 they had left over each year.  Why did he have to be so stubborn? Why did he not see things my way? she thought; What about the “Happily Ever After?”  She consoled herself by rationalizing that once they made more money, she would not feel so confined by his silly budget.

Then, she got pregnant with their first child.  During the pregnancy, she went shopping with a friend for some baby supplies.  While the two friends were in the store, they were startled by the screams of a young child who laid face-down on the floor demanding that his frazzled mother buy him candy.  In her pride, she whispered to her friend, “My child will never do that!”  She had four babies in six years, and each one of her children threw a temper tantrum in the store, while she endured the disapproving looks of those around her.  Was this the “Happily Ever After” she had signed up for?  She could not figure out what was wrong with her disobedient children?

With the demands of four children, a growing law practice, and responsibilities at church, the time she had to spend with her prince was slowly slipping away.  She felt compelled to sign her kids up for soccer, t-ball, violin, dance, swim lessons, and art classes.  She took them to the library, to out-of-town field trips, and to any camp that would help her children excel in their activities.  When her prince came home from work, she was totally exhausted and ready to hand the kids off to him.   He wanted to spend time with her, but she just wanted to go to sleep.  He got frustrated, and she did not understand.  She did not feel loved, and he did not feel appreciated.  He finally put his foot down and asked her to only sign the kids up for one activity a season.  She reluctantly agreed.  Why was her husband demanding so much from her?  Was this the prince she had dreamed of?  She was starting to feel smothered. 

Her mind raced with discouraged thoughts, I am good with money, she thought, why does he make a budget and restrict my spending?  A true prince would not do that.  What is wrong with these kids of mine?  If they were the kids I was promised, they would not throw temper tantrums in the store.  Why is my husband demanding so much from me?  A true prince would let me do what I want and support me in my activities.  This is not the “Happily Ever After” I demanded...I mean...I wanted when I was a four year old child.  She began to feel like the fairy tale was not real after all.  Maybe it was unrealistic, she thought, to think that I could live happily ever after.  Maybe life would be better if only...

This young mother believed the lie that “Happily Ever After” meant that if she tried hard enough, she could escape trials, disappointments, and frustrations.  When things didn’t go her way, instead of looking inside at her own sin, she blamed the people around her.  When her husband tried to lead their family by instituting a budget, instead of being thankful for the responsible man that God had blessed her with, she fought his leadership.  When her kids disobeyed, instead of realizing that it was unrealistic to have perfect children, she got discouraged, thinking that she was failing as a mother.  When her husband guarded their time as a couple, she felt smothered and controlled instead of being thankful that he put their marriage as his top priority.

If you haven’t already guessed, that young mother was me.  I wanted a perfect life instead of embracing God’s promise to refine me through the trials, hardships, and disappointments that He promised (John 16:8; John 15:20; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim 3:12; I Peter 4:12).  I began to realize that many of my struggles were not with my husband or my kids, but with God who did not give me the perfect life that I had dreamed about; that when I struggled against God’s plan, I made me and the people around me miserable; and that God’s perfect plan for my life provided me with trials that helped me to rely on Him, recognize my sin, and grow in my faith.  

As I have tried to live out these truths in my life, I have been able to more easily relinquish my plans and submit to God’s will in my life.  Consequently, I have more quickly recognized my fault in the conflicts in our marriage and have been more humble in my apologies.  I have been more effective in disciplining my children because I recognize that my sin is as great as theirs, I need a Savior as much as they do, and we are all “in-process” in this journey we call life. I have realized that the difference between the “Happily Ever After” of my childhood and the one described in the Bible is that my childhood dream was to glorify me, and the Biblical one is to glorify God. 

I have determined to daily strive to completely and totally relinquish my life to God’s will.  Instead of setting out to reach my unrealistic goals for my life (ie. a trial-free life), I want to sit at his feet and be amazed as He unfolds His story in my life.  So, when I experience those trials, disappointments, and setbacks, I want to grieve the loss, but recover knowing that this is the perfect plan that God has set out for me in my life.  I want to have complete confidence that He is going to turn His story into a “Happily Ever After” that is way better than any story I could ever have dreamed up.


Your Political Posts Have Changed My Mind

    About five years ago, I reluctantly created a profile on Facebook when my then 13 year-old son asked to join.  In just a short time, however, I became somewhat of a Facebook junkie.  I have enjoyed catching up with old high school and college friends and connecting with the new people I have met along the way.  Time easily passes as I thumb through a friend’s pictures, laugh at the funny things their kids say, or read the articles and the encouraging insights they share.
    During this election season, I have seen my Facebook wall light up with political posts that promote some healthy and some not so healthy political discussions.  The debates go something like this: One friend will post a sentiment urging Christians to vote Republican; another will post why the Democratic vote should be cast; yet another will chime in, “Neither view is right, we all need the hands-off government approach of the Libertarian.”  Inevitably, someone will post an e-card saying, “‘Wow! your Facebook post about politics has changed my mind and my vote.’ said no one EVER!”
    Well then, let me be the first to say, your political posts have changed my mind, or at least they have helped me to think through my political views.  They have encouraged me to make sure what I believe lines up with Biblical principles.  I came into this election year a fairly stalwart Republican, believing that no other political view fits within the Christian ideals better.  As I have read my Facebook friend’s political posts, I have taken the time to think through the ideas, challenges, and positions of people who have different views.
    One challenge in particular that has made me reconsider my political views is the following: Even though Christians ought to believe what the Bible says, they should not vote for amendments or particular politicians based on their Biblical beliefs.  The government does not have the right to legislate morality.   This argument took me back.  My very articulate Facebook friends who promote this idea seemed to have a corner on the truth here.  The Founding Fathers established our government on a principle that mandates the separation of church and state.  After all, it seems logical that we should separate our religious beliefs from the way we vote.  Even though this argument sounded right, I had a nagging suspicion something about it was wrong.  I searched through the Bible and read through the opinions of several of my favorite authors on the role of government and a Christian’s response.
    One pointed passage in the Bible on the role of government comes from Romans 13:1-5, where it states:
    [1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
    This passage says that God establishes governments; the government’s role is to carry out God’s judgement; and our role as citizens is to follow the laws set up by the government.  In other words, the absolute moral standards that God established before the foundation of the earth which are written on the hearts of every man (Romans 2:14-15*), determine the laws that governments establish, regardless of whether they recognize the God of the Bible.  For example, the Bible says, do not murder and do not steal.  Most governments have written laws that prohibit and punish both murder and stealing.  These laws, that legislators write, reflect the moral standards that God has written on their hearts.  Since murder, stealing, and other crimes are defined by the morals of a people, it is, therefore, one of the jobs of governing officials to legislate morality.  Even more important, the closer a government gets to God’s moral absolutes in the legislation the more successful that government will be. 
    If we understand that the government’s role includes legislating morality, and that the moral absolutes established by God at the beginning of time trump other people's ideas of what morality ought to be, then it doesn’t seem logical to vote based on any other standard.  Earlier this year, many states in the Union proposed a marriage amendment, defining marriage as between one man and one woman.  We as citizens of the US had the opportunity to vote our morals on this issue.  Since God set our governing authorities under him, then wouldn’t it make sense to vote according to what God has established as a moral absolute in this case?
    So, for example, what does God say about marriage - specifically homosexuality?  Leviticus 20:13a states, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.”  I Corinthians 6:9-10 says,
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 
Since God calls homosexuality an abomination, and says that those who participate in these activities will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, shouldn’t we as citizens vote for an amendment that will uphold God’s moral absolutes?
    Well that settled it for me, at least until I saw another post that went something like this: If we vote for laws that impose Biblical standards on those who do not adhere to the Bible, then we are forcing our morals on those who do not hold to these standards.  We should, on the other hand, be tolerant allowing people to live according to what they believe.  This made me think. . . The most civilized governments throughout the ages have promoted religious tolerance.  The governing authorities who forced their beliefs on other countries, and even on their own citizens perpetrated the most horrible atrocities in the name of religious purity (the Crusades, and Bloody Mary are two the come to mind).  This argument sounded very plausible and even vitally important.
    Religious toleration, however, doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did in years past or even in the United States when it was founded.  The modern definition of tolerance promotes the idea that people should blindly accept and condone the beliefs of those around them and treat those ideas as equal to their own.  Traditionally, however, the definition of tolerance merely encouraged individuals to live in harmony with people of different beliefs.  Romans 12 is a great passage that describes how a Christian ought to live within his culture.  Verse 18 hits the point home, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  As Christians, we are called to be tolerant in the traditional sense, but not in the modern sense.  God calls us to love those who disagree with us (caring for their needs, coming alongside them in their trials, and comforting them in their pain).  But he also calls us to confront them with their sin and offer them the hope of the Gospel.  This concept is evident in the Great Commission where Jesus encourages his disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)  Since Christians need the Gospel just as much as those around them, this confrontation should be carried out with the utmost humility.  This means respectfully and lovingly share the truths of the Bible with them in a non-judgmental way, a way in which we would hope others would do for us when they recognize sin in our lives (Matthew 18).  If we believe the Bible is the moral absolute governing everyone regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, then it is not loving to let them go on thinking their sinful behavior is just one belief among many.
    Wayne Grudem in his book, Politics According to the Bible, contends that Christians should boldly share their faith not just to their neighbor but also in the public square.  He provides the Old Testament examples of Moses, Joseph, Daniel, Jonah, Mordecai, Esther, Nehemiah, and other prophets who spoke directly to the Israelite kings and pagan rulers on behalf of Biblical principles calling these leaders to repentance.  Grudem also details examples from the New Testament like John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul, who just like the prophets in the Old Testament called their rulers to repentance.  Since God calls Christians to proclaim the Gospel to every creature, and the examples of Biblical characters who boldly proclaimed their faith in the public square, it seems logical that we as Christians should not shrink back from, at the very least, voting what we believe.  We might even need to go a step further and be an Esther or a John the Baptist of our time and proclaim the truth in the public square.
    My Facebook friends haven’t changed the way I am going to vote in this election, but they have helped me to clarify how to choose the best candidate.  Since God establishes those who govern, and He uses them to carry out his sovereign plan, I will choose leaders whose policies best follow the moral absolutes established by God.  As I present my beliefs with my friends, through my vote, and in the public square, it is vitally important that I do it with the utmost respect, humility, and love, tolerating people in the traditional sense.  In doing so, I will proclaim the truth of the Gospel, instead of encouraging people to think that the Bible is just one view among many.  If the outcome of the election is not what I hoped for, I can rest assured that it is God’s better and more perfect plan because it is He who places those rulers in authority over me.

*Romans 2:14-15 “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”

Dating in Marriage


One Friday afternoon, after we finished up a full day of school, the kids and I decided to make a run to the local Wal-Mart to purchase items for a gourmet dinner for two.  We bought cream cheese, crab meat, and pita points; all the fixings for a fancy salad; bread; salmon steaks; two kinds of wine (red and white); two individual cheesecake slices; fresh flowers and white tapered candles.   After we had collected all the food for the gourmet meal, the kids set about selecting the Lunchable of their choice.  By the time we got home it was already 4:00.  We had a lot to do in a short period of time, but we were pretty sure we could pull off the surprise before daddy got home at 6:00.  We got the antique china and stemware down from the cabinet and dusted off two place settings.  As I began to blend the cream cheese and the crab meat together to make the crab dip, my ten year old, started cutting up the vegetables for the fancy salad and neatly arranged them on the salad plates.  My eight year old carefully sliced the bread and put butter slices on the butter dishes.  My six year old took the lunchables up to the playroom and arranged them on the folding table with napkins and silverware.  The four year old started to set the table, but then became distracted by the cartoons on the TV in the living room.  So far so good.

The boys carefully arranged the bread dishes and salad plates on the table.  After I got the salmon ready to saute in a white wine garlic sauce, I went upstairs to put on my favorite black dress, high heels, and red lipstick.  The kids decided to change their clothes too.  The boys dressed up like waiters, in white shirts and black pants.  The girls put on their Easter dresses.  We turned on some romantic music and lit the candles.  My six year old carefully got the cheesecake out of the box and placed a slice on each dessert plate.  Once slice might have fallen on the floor, but we didn't mention that to anyone.  We took the crab dip out of the oven and placed the toasted pita points around the plate.   The girls stood by the front window waiting for daddy's car to pull up in the driveway.  When it did, they squealed with excitement and peered out of the garage door waiting for him to get out of his car.

When he walked up the garage steps, they asked him to lean over so they could cover his eyes with their hands.  They carefully escorted him up the back stairs so he couldn't see the surprise.  "Patiently," the girls waited outside his bedroom door as he washed up after his long day.  After he finished, they each took him by the hand and escorted him downstairs to the candle lit dining room, soft music playing.  They carefully led him to his seat, and when he sat down, they placed the cloth napkin in his lap.  Shortly afterward, they brought me in with a sly little grin on my face.  He told me how beautiful I was and how marvelous the dining room looked.   He even remarked about the flowers placed in the vase in the middle of the table.

After a few minutes of chatting, one of the handsome waiters walked in the room with a white napkin draped over his arm and handed his daddy a menu.  My husband noticed our favorite appetizer on the menu, and asked if we could try that.  Within a few seconds the appetizer was placed before us and the waiter asked if we would like some water in our cups.  Two giggling girls came in and asked if we needed anything.  I told them, "We are fine, you can go upstairs and eat your lunchables now."  Without a moments hesitation, they were upstairs eating.  The boys took turns bringing in each course of our meal while the girls came giggling downstairs at intervals to ask us if we needed anything.  We asked for napkins or bread and they ran to get what we needed and then ran back upstairs.  When one of our waiters brought in the dessert, I asked him to start the movie for the girls, so we could talk in peace.  After the movie had begun, we moved into the living room with our wine glasses and chatted, reconnecting after a long week.  

This date night, one of the first of many, remains a potent illustration in my mind of all the significant benefits of making a priority of dating in our marriage relationship.  Not only did my husband feel loved and special, but our kids were able to participate in the excitement of a special date between a husband and a wife.  When I have guilt feelings leaving the kids home with a pizza while I enjoy a nice dinner, I have been able to look back on that night and see that I am not only building my marriage, but I am also helping our kids to begin to build their marriages, even before they are married.  My husband deserves the credit for keeping this a priority in our marriage.

Since the beginning of our marriage, my husband has been diligent about pursuing me.  I tend to be more reserved and hidden with my emotions.  [These are just code words for the true fact that I am afraid of showing my emotions because I might get hurt.]  My reserved nature has not stopped my husband, however.  He has taken the time over the years to slowly peal away the layers of pain, fear, and pride, by confronting me, loving me, and pursuing me even when I have been obstinate and have tried to reject his attempts.  He has done this by connecting with me each night after dinner and each week on our date night. 

From the time our kids were babies, we tried to make a point to eat dinner together as a family.  After finishing the meal, my husband made sure we spent at least 15 or 20 minutes each night connecting without interruption from our little ones.  At first, it was hard for our kids to understand what "without interruption" meant, but after several nights of interruptions they finally got the message.  I can distinctly remember my husband telling the kids, "If you don't see blood, then it isn't a good reason to interrupt us."  At first it was hard for me to push aside the guilt of not attending to their needs (which were actually just wants).  But after 17 years of connecting with my husband each night, I am thankful for the closeness that I have with him, and I am thankful for the message that it has sent to our kids.  They know we love each other and they feel secure within our stable marriage and family. 

Tonight, on Valentines Day, my husband has planned a surprise for me.  I am pretty excited, I bought a new outfit, and have picked out some red lipstick to match.  The kids don't have same enthusiasm or excitement as teenagers as they did when our oldest was ten, but the same message is being caught....Love, when nurtured, abounds even in marriage.

Dealing with Disappointment


One crisp Saturday morning in October, after the sun, pouring in through the windows, had ample time to warm the living room, our drowsy kids made their way down the stairs eager to see dad after he had spent a few days away at the Catalyst leadership conference.  He lured them onto the couch by pulling up on his computer some of the crazy skits and silly videos he experienced during the conference.  After getting their attention, he poured into his children the challenging insights he had gleaned over the past few days...challenging insights that encouraged young leaders to make their lives count for eternity.  One presentation, in particular, captured his heart, and he hoped it would capture their hearts as well.  He told them a story of a nine-year-old girl who asked her friends and family to donate the money they would have spent on her birthday to an organization called Charity Water.  She set a goal to raise $300.00, which would help fifteen villagers have access to clean water.  He stopped his story to show them this video.  Because of this young girl’s untimely death, instead of $300.00, she raised over 1.2 million dollars.  Instead of fifteen people, she helped over 63,000 people. 

This story struck a cord with us because we had begun to notice a trend with our teenage children.  Throughout the year, our kids put many of the gadgets and toys they had gotten for Christmas, up on eBay.  The money they gained from the sales they used to buy the latest and greatest gadgets and toys.  We had taken several opportunities to share with them our concern that they were being taken in by marketing and a desire to have more.  After watching the video, we asked our kids to consider donating some of their Christmas money to Charity Water.  My husband said, “You don’t have to give me an answer now, but think about it. Let’s get together tomorrow afternoon, and you can let me know what you would like to do.” The kids went upstairs to the playroom, closed the door, and spent a long time discussing their options.  After church the next day, while eating Mexican food, we asked the kids if they wanted to share with us what they decided about Christmas this year.  Our oldest said, “We decided that we would like to donate ALL of our Christmas money to Charity Water.”  We did not expect that at all.  We had thought they would say, $25.00 each or something in that range, but not all of it!  Both my husband and I were blown away.  With tears filling our eyes, we told them how proud we were.

A couple of months later, when December hit, I started to second guess the kid’s decision to donate all of their Christmas money.  I felt lost without the task of buying presents on my plate.  I began to wonder what we were going to do on Christmas morning. I googled, “Christmas without presents” or “What to do if you don’t have presents to open on Christmas morning.”  As I clicked on blogs, many of the responses included statements like, “It is wrong to deny your kids presents on Christmas.”  The guilt started to set in.  What had we done? I talked with the kids about their thoughts on this, and they stood firm.  They still wanted to donate the money.  Why was this such a struggle for me, and not for them?  The week before Christmas came, and I found myself very relaxed and able to enjoy baking cookies, going to parties, and spending time watching movies with my kids.  I did not experience the frazzled feeling that usually overcame me during this week.  Christmas morning came, and the kids opened their presents from each other and from relatives.  They had plenty of presents under the tree.  After the last present was opened, my husband had the kids sit around the dining room table, and he pulled up Charity Water’s website. He clicked on the link and donated the money we had set aside for their Christmas presents. One click and it was done. No one cried or seemed disappointed. Our celebration of Christmas was just as sweet as any other Christmas.

So why had I struggled? As I reflected on the conflict in my soul, I realized that I believed I had the job of protecting my kids from disappointment. I thought if my kids were disappointed by the lack of gifts, it would ruin our Christmas celebration. Through this experience I began to realize that God calls me as a parent to help my kids walk through disappointment.  When their friends treat them badly, instead of trying to shelter them from the pain, I should take time to walk them through how to respond.  When they get a bad grade on a test, instead of explaining away their failure, I should help them learn from their mistakes.  When they disobey or sin, instead of excusing it, I should discipline them and point them to their need for a savior.  When I decide not to allow them to go to an event that “all” their friends are attending, instead of giving in to peer pressure, I should walk them through submission.  It is not my job as a parent to shelter my kids from the disappointment, the discipline, and the difficult experiences they have to face.  Rather, I should point them to an awesome God, who has brought every single situation into their lives to point them to Him. Dealing with disappointment was my struggle this Christmas, but it has helped me to be resolved to help my kids walk through their disappointments, rather than attempting to shelter them from them.

The Hurricane Miracle


The rain, coming down in torrents, beat against the front of our house.  We went about our business, that Saturday morning, trying to ignore the weather maps that clearly showed the worst part of the hurricane approaching our eastern North Carolina home.  I sat at my computer trying to get some work done while the gales of wind forced whistles through the windows over my desk.  One rather large gust of wind caused the walls surrounding the room to shudder which drove me down stairs to check the weather maps once more.  I snuggled close to my husband on the couch as he watched the weather man on TV pointing out the swirling clouds moving closer to our happy little home.  As my eyes were glued to the screen, I heard a little girl of ten say, "Don't worry, it's ok, I put a bucket under the drip at the front door."  She walked into the kitchen before her words penetrated my mind.  I dismissed them briefly, distracted by the warnings of tornadoes and floods.  As the commercial played, I ventured over to the front door to see what our nonchalant little girl had discovered.  In the entryway, I noticed a bead of water forming in the frame above the window surrounding the door.  A small drip splashed down on the hardwood floors below, missing the bucket altogether.  As I looked more closely, I noticed another drip hitting the bucket dead on.  Following the drip upwards, I noticed a stream of water cascading down the wall starting below the window high above the doorway.  Immediately, I called to my husband (the solver of all the household problems) and asked him what we should do.  The rest of the day we took turns mopping up the floor, wiping up the wall, and going outside to place towels and tarps around the front door to block the rain, pelting our house at a ninety degree angle.  When the towels and tarps were in place the dripping almost stopped, but when the wind blew the towels out of their position, the dripping increased to a pretty steady stream. 

On one occasion when a gust of wind blew the towels out of place and the slow drip began to flow faster, our twelve year old daughter approached me with tears in her eyes.  Distracted by the wet floor, I asked, "What's wrong?"  She replied trying to suppress her anger, "Who put my hamster cage on the back porch?"  Irritated by one more problem to deal with I snapped, "What are you talking about?"  Then, in a flash back I remembered.  One night about a week and a half ago, my husband and I were sitting in the living room, catching up after a long day.  The hamster cage was sitting on the bookcase near the fireplace.  The little hamster was happily running on its wheel, making a loud rumbling noise.  My loving husband, distracted by the noise, carefully cradled the cage in his arms as he took it outside and placed it on the shelving located on the back porch.  Oh no! I thought, that poor thing has been outside in the hot temperatures for over a week.  "It's OK!" I reassured her, "Just bring him in the house now."  "I can't!  A gust of wind knocked the cage over!  It is broken in several places, the bedding is scattered all over the porch, and I can't find my hamster anywhere!"  I ran out to the back porch and asked everyone to follow.  We spent ten minutes in the 40 to 50 mile an hour wind looking for the hamster, to no avail.  I reassured her that peanut was a spunky little guy, and he was likely hiding under a bush somewhere waiting for us to find him.  No one believed me. 
When we finally came back in, we went back to our posts mopping up the floor and trying to keep the dripping to a minimum.  My husband pulled my daughter aside and apologized for forgetting about her hamster.  She reluctantly accepted his apology leaving both of them feeling pretty sad.  Eventually, the wind and the rain became less and less and we shoved a paper towel in the crack where the drip was coming from, to keep the floor dry.  We ate a dinner of tuna fish and crackers lit by flash lights, hoping for the electricity to return before we had to go to bed.  Instead, we went to sleep with the windows open in the pitch blackness of the night.  When we awoke the next morning, the pleasant breeze and the cool crisp morning air led us to explore the damage outside.  As we stepped out on the back porch, we noticed the bedding of the hamster cage scattered about.  The only other damage we noticed was our gas grill that had been turned over on its side.  Fortunately, we did not have much to clean up.  I went back into the house for a broom, when I heard my husband call, "Get a box or a bucket or something to put the hamster in."  "What!?!" I yelled.  "The hamster is out here in the fallen grill...get a box quickly before it gets away!"  I bolted up the stairs to get the box that we had brought the hamster home in, and ran outside to where my husband was crouched on the side of the half opened grill top.  I positioned myself on the other side and put the box, lid opened, at the edge of the grill.  The little guy ran across the top of the grill and jumped right in the box, shaking with excitement, or maybe with the horror of the weather he had just experienced the night before.

My husband, overjoyed at the miracle he had just witnessed, ran directly to my daughter's room, gently and excitedly woke her from her sleep, and presented her with the gift he had in his hands.  She took one look inside the box and burst into tears.   The terrible blunder made by a loving father had turned into a miracle that would create a bond between a father and a daughter for a lifetime.  

As I reflected on the events of that hurricane weekend, I saw a picture of the life that we all live as parents.  If we are honest we all have made terrible "blunders": We respond to our kids in anger, with irritated answers, with careless or caustic, biting words;  we make selfish decisions, poor choices, and take detrimental courses of action.  In short, we sin and we sin and we sin against the children we love.  Before we had kids we were sure that it was because of bad parenting that the kid was throwing a fit in the candy isle.  We said to ourselves, Our kids were going to turn out right because we were going to be better parents.  But the truth is, we have a war with sin waging in our hearts.  We want to respond with patience, but more than not, we get irritated.  We want to discipline in love, but many times it is anger that rules.  Romans 9:21ff talks of this war that Christians fight daily.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 
Our daily struggle against the desires of our flesh gives us a clear picture of the depth of our sin.  The Bible says, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:5).  Just as a dead man has no hope of getting up and walking, so we, who are spiritually dead, have no hope of bringing any righteousness of our own before a holy God.  Even our feeble attempts at righteous works are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  So how do we respond?  Do we say with despair, "Fine, I give up!  I will always struggle with sin, and therefore my kids and my life is destined to be messed up!"  The answer is emphatically, "No!"  Romans 8 gives us hope.  
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do...
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
We, instead, respond with confession and then hope.  We confess each day that we are truly sinful and without hope accept for the Saving Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Then we live with hope; hope that God will use even our worst days as a parent to work good in our lives and the lives of our kids.  We can then live with confidence that God will take the actions of a sinful father or mother and bring about good (sometimes in the form of a hurricane miracle). 

Finding Satisfaction in Life


Three small children bounded out of bed at 6:30 am.  I groggily pulled myself out of bed after a night of nursing the newborn at 11:30 pm, 2:30 am and 5:30 am.   It seemed unfair to be forced to get out of bed while the baby was finally back to sleep.  As I made my way down the steps, I heard screams coming from the two-year old, "He pulled my hair!" she exclaimed.  Her brother, four years older, stood above her as she laid writhing in pain on the floor.  As I began to interrogate him, I was interrupted by a teary-eyed four-year old who whined, "Mommy, I'm hungry, and we don't have any milk."  Distracted from the two in conflict, I searched the pantry for food.  "Hmm," I said to myself, "I guess I need to go shopping today."  How I dreaded the shopping trip to Walmart.  After nursing the newborn, getting the kids fed with the scraps left in the pantry, and making sure everyone had clothes and shoes on, I finally had everyone strapped in car seats by 10:30 am.  I knew I only had an hour to fit the shopping trip in until the next feeding.  Could we make it through the store in time?  I can do this, I thought.  As I walked through the isles searching for enough food to last us a week, my kids, under threats, held tightly to the cart.  After the first 10 minutes, the oldest child realized that holding onto the cart really wasn't all that fun.  He reached out and pinched his brother, provoking a squeal and making him let go of the cart.  This got his little sister giggling, and she let go too.  Soon, the whole group was pushing, pinching, and screaming as I scrambled to throw food in the cart and corral my kids back to their positions.  This scenario repeated itself several times as we trudged down the isles of the store.  I could feel the fatigue setting in.  The sleepless nights were beginning to take their toll.  I felt tears of anger creeping up behind my sleepy eyes.  Then a sweet little old lady approached me.  "Are they all your kids?" She asked.  I was sooo tempted to say something bitterly sarcastic, but instead, I said in my sweetest Christian voice, "Yes, they are."  Finally, we made our way to the check-out line only a couple of minutes before the baby's feeding time.  As we inched our way toward the conveyor belt, the two-year old decided to show everyone she was wearing big-girl pants...only she took off both her pants and her pull-ups.  The boys started squealing in laughter.  At that moment, I looked straight at my two-year old and said with all of my wisdom, "You know if a policeman sees you doing that, he will put you in jail."  At that, the boys starting laughing even harder, and the two year old started crying at the top of her lungs.  It was at that moment that I realized that being a perfect mother was an unachievable goal. 

As I look back over the sixteen years that I have been a mother, I know without a doubt that this incident was not my first failure as a mother, and it certainly was and will not be my last.  My failure over the past 16 years has become a sweet reminder to me that perfection is not the goal.  Complete and total surrender is.  Surrendering my goals to be a good mother, a spotless homemaker, a loving wife, and a superb homeschool mother with stellar children, to a loving Savior, who has a much better and more effective plan for my life.  As I miserably fail at each and every one of these goals, I am reminded that God WILL use my failures to bring about his purposes.   For God's power is made perfect in my weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

If I recognize my weaknesses and leave behind the goal of maintaining the image of perfection, then God's power will be perfected in me.  I don't have to struggle in my own strength to maintain the image of perfection because it is not me who is doing the perfecting.  It is God.

Philippians 1:3-6 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

I Thessalonians 5:23-24 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 

He is the one who began the work.  It is he that will bring it to completion.  There is nothing in these verses about me bringing about my sanctification about me keeping my salvation in the balance.  It is God who is doing it in me.  So, when I sin, fail my kids, my husband, or my friends, instead of becoming devastated and impotent as a Christian, I look at these times as opportunities to learn the lessons that God is teaching me.  They are simply course corrections, times in my life that God is molding me and shaping me into the person He wants me to be.  God uses my failures as a mother to make my kids into the people he wants them to be.  Wow!  That takes the pressure off my shoulders.  I don't have to trust in my own strength to keep it all together.  It is God's strength and His work in my life that brings about His perfect will.

If I believe in a God who is Omnipotent (all powerful), Omnipresent (everywhere present), Omniscient (all knowing), Omnibenevolent (perfect in goodness), then I will believe in a good God who can and will work all things in my life together for His glory and my good (Romans 8:28).  "All things" includes even my failures and mistakes.  It includes even the trials, disappointments, and struggles I am faced with.  When I read verses like Philippians 4:4-7, I can say with confidence that I can rejoice in all circumstances knowing that my good, all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere-present God is working in even these circumstances for my good and His glory.

Philippians 4:4-7  4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Being used of God no matter which path he takes me on, whether it looks like failure in the world's eyes or not, is my goal.  Fulfilling His purposes in my life is the only truly fulfilling path I can take.  All other side trails will only lead to frustration and discouragement. 

Laura Story's song Blessings reiterates this truth.  She says that God brings all the circumstances in our lives to bring about good.  She underscores that even the hardest trials that we go through are brought to us by God, who has our good in mind.  Instead of trusting in a good God that has brought about all of these things for our good, she sings to God, "We cry in anger when we cannot feel you near, we doubt your goodness, we doubt your love."  She goes on to explain, "When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win, the pain reminds us that this is not our home."  She sings, "What if my greatest disappointment and the aching of this life is a revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy."  If we could come to the place where we realize that our greatest accomplishments, the money we make, the toys that we buy, the people we are friends with will never satisfy us, and instead realize that our only satisfaction can come from laying down our lives and surrendering our will to the one and only God of the universe.  It is only then that our failures won't devastate us;  our wrong decisions won't cripple us; and our unrealized hopes and dreams won't bring us crashing down.  When we get to a place where we can truly say like Jesus, "Not my will, but Yours, be done," (Luke 22:42) because we trust that God's plan is good, it is infinitely better, and it is the best plan for our lives.  It is then and only then that we can truly be satisfied.

Squawking at God's Gifts


The view of farmer's field out the windows beside my desk distracts me from the busyness of life.   In the midst of grading papers, several deer will captivate my attention, and before I know it, I am catching their stroll across the field through the lens of my camera.  On the mornings when I venture out of bed early enough, I am easily drawn into contemplating the magnificence of God's creative hand as he paints a beautiful sunrise right in front of me.  A few weeks ago, I noticed a flutter of wings out of the corner of my eye.  As I looked up from my work, I saw a pair of bluebirds perched on the fence posts right beneath my window.  The two little birds repeatedly darted up and down off their perch on the fence in search of a juicy bug for breakfast.  It was right then that I decided to put up the bluebird box that had been sitting in my garage for several years.  A week or so later, I set the box in place and wandered to the edge of my garden, and began digging a trench for the landscape timbers that I bought earlier that day.  Again, I noticed a fluttering out of the corner of my eye.  Both bluebirds were sitting on top of the box looking right at me.  I walked very slowly and carefully around the edge of my yard toward my back door in search of my camera.

After I got a few good shots, I went back to my digging.  The closer I got to the bird box the more agitated the birds became.  At first they flew close to my head thinking they might scare me off.  Then they sat on the fence post squawking and flapping their wings.  I relented and went in a little miffed at their obvious ungrateful attitude toward me.  I provided the box for them, rejoiced over their discovery of the box, and took pictures commemorating the event.  Yet they did not trust me enough to let me near.  They accepted the box as a gift, but did not want any part of the giver.  I told my husband what had just happened and he responded, "That sounds just like our response to God's provision in our lives."  Isn't that how I respond in so many ways to the gifts that God has given me throughout my life.  When my husband angers me, I am all too quick to squawk at God, "Why didn't you provide me a husband who was more (fill in the blank)?"  When events don't work out the way I had planned, I squawk again, "Why didn't you work out the details the way I had hoped?"  When trials enter my life, I squawk again, "God you don't know how much I am suffering, why are you putting me through this?"  When I make these statements, I am decidedly telling God that I will take the gift (my husband, my life, my kids, the people around me), but I want control over how I will use it, and I don't want Him interfering.

A few months ago, my 16 year old son told us that he would like to stop homeschooling and go to public school next fall.  I fully expected my husband to discourage him by carefully explaining the merits of homeschooling, but instead he said, "You are old enough now to make this decision.  Take some time to pray about it, searching out all the options, and let us know what you decide."  I am not going to lie.  It was right then that I began squawking.  It was a silent squawk.  No one heard it, but it was a squawk none-the-less.  I did not trust God to lead my son to the right decision.  I wanted to force my own agenda on him, because after all I knew better.  Instead of following my inclinations, I listened to the wisdom of my husband and let my son have the freedom to make this decision.  The following week we found ourselves sitting in the high school counselor's office listening to all the options.  She explained that because my son had not taken his high school courses in the order prescribed by the school system, he would have to take at least three of these courses over, possibly in summer school.  I was so relieved, I knew my son would not go for this.  But when we got out to the car, he said, "Well that sounds pretty good."  Squawk, squawk...I could hear the squawking building...God what are you doing?  For a month and a half I called the school counselor repeatedly trying to get her to agree to count the courses and work with us.  My husband and I continued to pray that God would lead our son to the right decision.

During this process, God began reshaping my heart.  He brought me to the realization that graduating my children from my homeschool had become an idol in my life that I wasn't willing to give up.  As the weeks passed, I began to trust in God's work in my son's life rather than trusting in the schooling option I thought was best.  During this time, I slowly began to pry my fingers off this idol and let God take control.  I prayed for wisdom for my son.  I prayed that God would lead him where He wanted him to be.  I began to be at peace with whatever the Lord led him to choose.  After several phone messages left on the counselors voice mail, I finally received the deciding call.  She told me that all of my son's classes would transfer over, but they could not be accepted as honors level or AP level courses, which would bring his grade point average down significantly.  After I hung up, I shared this information with my son.  He responded immediately with, "When do we sign up for our homeschool classes."  I was shocked.  When I had finally let go of my idol, God gave me what I wanted.  I wasn't jubilant. I didn't gloat. I didn't say I told you so.  I was simply glad that God had led my son where He wanted him to go and extremely thankful for the wisdom of my husband.

I am hoping that next time when I am faced with a gift from God, I will let go of my agenda, I will trust that He is working, and I won't squawk so loudly.

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