When The World Is A Scary Place To Raise Kids

He was wearing next to nothing…

…and that’s with a generous measure of optimism.  We were driving home from church, and my 6 year old’s gasp made my gaze whip to the rearview mirror.  She was staring, horrified, at the rider of a motorcycle on our left rear bumper.  The rider was garbed in a head scarf, with no other clothing visible.

“Mama, why would he do that???”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard that question, and it won’t be the last.  I’m more than sure of that.  We’ve talked about a broad range of topics, and there’s plenty more to come.  I cringe when I think about this world my kids are entering.  If there were bubble-wrap suits for their souls, you can believe that they would be wearing them!

Sheltering…it’s my go-to response.

Cuddle those love bugs up on my lap and keep them little and blissfully ignorant.  But that’s pure selfishness (not to mention, it won’t work.)  Friends, we can monitor their friendships, curtail their electronics, sanction their reading, and even homeschool these babies of ours, but there is no sheltering them…not when the drive from church involves leering, nearly-naked people.  Not when hot button issues splash across the front pages of checkout aisles and on the airwaves.  Not when the latest fairy tale movie turns into a tug-of-war between opposing factions.  Not when even close relationships disappoint and are pock marked with imperfections.

No, sheltering isn’t practical, nor does it recognize our children as future world-changers.

They are people with a call on their lives, a mission to fulfil, and dreams that will almost certainly scare me witless.  They need to be protected from issues too weighty for their small shoulders, but only for a short season.  Faster than I am ready, we need to talk about gritty things.  They need to know that falling short is the human condition and that grace is the only thing that sluices through any amount of sediment.  They need to know that we all sin and struggle mightily.

They need to know that no heart is immune to foolishness, that no relationship is perfect, that people will disappoint and be cruel, but that Jesus is bedrock solid.

More than being sheltered, they need truth.  It’s what sets people free, and isn’t that, more than all the hovering and fretting, what they need?  If I get to the heart of the matter, I want my precious ones to be free.  I want them to soar, weightless and joyful into a world that is cold and disappointing, and I want the truth to be the wind under their wings.  And as we preach the Gospel to them, we imbed it on our own hearts.  There will be talks about the headlines in the future.  The bombings, the shootings, the stabbings, the ways children are exploited and abused.  We’ll need to talk about the horrors of Hitler and slavery and man’s sickening brutality to man throughout history.

If I send them out, sheltered from all that is negative, they have no immunity.  They need to be prepared for the dazzling and terrible things they will encounter in this world.  They need to know that evil is real, but that they don’t have to be afraid.  John 16 should be every parent’s speed dial when it comes to horrifying headlines and fear of the future.  When all is said and done, Jesus’ words in verse 33 say it best: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV).  When they’re little, we can lay the groundwork for those later talks.  The playground gives myriad examples of people being foolish or hurtful or selfish.  Heck, 5 minutes in our living room is plenty of opportunity to showcase all of those attributes.  Because, honestly?

The enemy isn’t out there, some wild-haired extremist or creepy guy with too many tattoos…the enemy is in your house, seducing you into believing that if you just do it right (whatever it is)…then everything will be peachy keen.

The enemy is in my superiority complex, my self-hatred, my secrets.  The enemy is in anything that tempts us to forget that Jesus is the way, the only way to ever get anything even halfway right.  Sheltering is ineffective, because although there is rampant evil in dark alleys and lurid magazines and locked behind prison walls…evil is as close as the nearest human heart: yours, mine, and even theirs.  Sheltering fails to recognize that we’re all terminal with sin, that Jesus is the only antidote for all of us – for the prim housewife and the tattooed biker, for the Hollywood star and the Hindu priest, for the homeless and the hedonist, the terrorist and the model citizen.

Speaking the truth all through the years about human tendencies, about how much we all need Jesus, about how prone we all are to forgetting all the important things and focusing on all the unimportant things…this can be even better than sheltering.  We can relate the Gospel to skinned knees and snobby kids, and it is equally relevant to nuclear warfare and genocide.  We MUST integrate what we’re seeing, (whether it’s unclothed men on motorcycles or hurtful words or coveting our neighbor’s sandbox toys) to the truth in Scripture that ultimately points back to God.  This is what it means to, “Talk about [God’s law] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8 NIV).  This is the dialogue that can continue through the years as they grow and mature – and it needs to. 

Because when the world falls in on them, whether it’s in 6th grade or their 60’s, this is their shovel and their shelter: the sturdy grace of a risen Savior.  You and I won’t always be there, hovering and editing and protecting…but Jesus will never forsake those kids, just as He’ll never forsake us.

He’s all the shelter that they – and we – will ever need.

 

 

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When Suffering Hits Your Loved Ones

The phone felt hot against my cheek as tears streaked down my face.

My nose was raw and dripping, and a headache pounded to the staccato beat of my racing heart.  My friends – from both ends of the country – were rallying around me as my world crumbled.  I was adjusting to life with a newborn and a toddler, my husband was in the middle of testing for a new job that would require major changes, and I received news about precious family members that literally broke my heart.

I was stressed to the max, and found myself flailing often.  Sleep deprivation, grief, and major changes were seriously challenging my equilibrium.  Yet in the midst of it, my friends not only chose to walk through the difficult days with me, they pursued me.  Called me.  Texted.  Checked on me.  Made meals.  Held the baby.  Played with the toddler.  One friend flew out across the country to visit and help and make me laugh for a week.  I’ll never forget that week.  Another friend, who hates to cook, not only drove 30 minutes to make me dinner, she cleaned the kitchen and swept the floor.  We visited and prayed together, and there were a few crumpled Kleenexes by the time we were done.  Priceless.  I could tell you story after story, but you get the picture.

I am crazy blessed with incredible women in my life.  CRAZY blessed.  There are my prayer warrior friends, my encourage-with-just-the-right-verse friends, my listening friends, my speaking-the-truth-even-when-I-don’t-want-to-hear-it friends, my laugh-and-cry-together friends.  They have encouraged and blessed me in countless ways, but one of the biggest gifts I’ve received from them is this: learning how to be a friend to someone who is suffering.

Life is filled with heartache.

If it’s not our hearts that are hurting, it’s someone we love stumbling through pain and suffering.  It’s tempting to look away, to walk away, to distance ourselves from the raw, the vulnerable, the tangled and bewildering.  The truth is, if I can’t apply a pressure dressing, I don’t want to see gaping wounds.  You know?  I want to fix it, to say just the right things, to magically make it all better.  And if I can’t do that, then I want to run like crazy in the other direction, because I am utterly terrified of messing up.  Of adding to the burden.  Maybe you relate.

And when it comes to looking into their pain-filled eyes?  I’d rather play chicken with a freeway full of semi trucks.  I hate tears, and I hate to feel helpless.  But that is exactly what you sign up for when you choose to love someone authentically through a season of heartache.  You either walk away completely, or you say yes to all of it – the tears, the mess, the deep confusion, the simply sitting with them through it.  There are no words to fix a spattered heart.  Sometimes, you just have to hold their hand and not let go, and hope that it might be enough to remind them that Jesus won’t let go, either.

We get the privilege to choose to walk through the valley.

Yes, it is a privilege.  It’s a choice.  Not because we have to, or because we want to, but because we don’t want them to walk alone.  It’s love to sit with them in their misery and quietly acknowledge their pain.  It’s love to pray with and for them.  To get off the phone and fall to your knees on the spattered kitchen floor and weep as your heart breaks for them.  It’s the love Jesus said will mark us as His disciples.  There is nothing that turns good friends into family like walking the scorching sands of suffering together.

We get the privilege to be Jesus to the brokenhearted.

It’s easy to sing about being the hands and feet of Jesus, but it’s not always easy to live it.  It’s not convenient to change plans last minute, to write an encouraging note, or to pray without ceasing when the newness has worn off.  It’s hard to listen and not try to fix the thing.  (Oh, how I want to fix the thing!)  It’s good work, this being-Jesus-to-others.  You get to use the unique gifts of your personality and season to love like Jesus through the dark times.  I am no good at speaking comfort, but I can sit quiet (even if it kills me!), I can pray, and I can make some mean comfort food.   Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes and peach pie are my way of showing love, and I bet you have your way.  There’s no one right way to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Your gift might be encouraging texts, intercessory prayer, giving a hug at just the right time, connecting them with resources, taking them to coffee, sharing a verse, or a million other ways to remind them that Jesus is near to the brokenhearted.  It’s so beautiful to see the unique ways that we can minister love and pour compassion to others when they need it most.  Something as simple as a text saying, I’m praying for you can be a huge boost of encouragement!

We get the privilege to point the grief-stricken to Jesus.

We can give the hugs and encouragement, the gift of presence and meals and telephone calls, but we are not their Savior.  Your encouragement, my help, should always point them back to the original source: Jesus.  He is the only one who completely understands their unique pain.  He suffered for each of us on Calvary, and He suffers with them through the darkness.  They need to be reminded when they forget that the love of Jesus will never fail, even when they do.  And yes, even if you do – even if you feel like you’ve messed up this whole helping them through the dark thing, God’s got this.  People fail all the time, which is why we so desperately need a perfect and unfailing Savior.  Don’t ever forget that you are not the light source – you only carry the light.  There is freedom for them and you in this truth: ultimately, they need Jesus.  Point them, always, to Him.

And when the suffering of those you love overwhelms you, rest in this: Jesus holds you, too.

Grace and peace and hope-hugs,

This post first appeared on iBelieve.com on September 12, 2016.

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When Mother’s Day Is Thorns And Roses

Everywhere I turn this Mother’s Day, I feel surrounded by the reality that there is so much pain tangled up with all the pretty.

 

So many people grieving the loss of their own mothers, through death or estrangement or the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations.

So many people mourning over lost children – whether it be the children they always dreamed of having, or the children they yielded to adoption, or the children that are with Jesus, or the wayward ones who can’t wander a way out of their mother’s heart.

Wounded daughters, broken mothers…grieving women.

What if the sadness of what you’ve lost overshadows the celebration this weekend?

Is it okay to hide a broken heart under a pretty dress, to trace lipstick on a trembling smile, to write the cards when there are no words, and still live authentic?

I hope so. It’s what I’ll be doing this year.

This Mother’s Day is a potpourri of joy and loss for me.  We will be attending a big family dinner after church, and it will be good to spend the time with loved ones.  It’s a massive group of diverse personalities, and we are connected by blood, by marriage, and most of all, by Jesus.

But there are people missing from the table.

People I deeply love, family members who aren’t gathered in this noisy celebration crowd. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by all the blessings in my life, and sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the loss.  It’s a mixed bag, and I find myself nose to nose with the disparate realities this weekend.  If you’re feeling this tension between joy and pain, this tug-of-war in your heart…you are not alone.

Take it to Jesus.  It’s where I’m taking all my stuff, because I am just too tired to put it into words.  I’m sick of feeling it, sick of ignoring it, just plain sick and tired of it. Only He can handle it all – the tears, the laughter, the pain too deep for words, the awe of blessings not deserved, the stark disappointment of withered hope.

We have a refuge, a strong shelter who will hold hope for us when we’ve lost all of ours.  A place to go when the grief washes over, tsunami strong.  Tender words, whispered to your soul, when the silence of broken relationships is deafening. When grief crushes your heart, and you can’t find a way to breathe in the pain, turn to Jesus.  He has been carrying this pain for two thousand yearsYour pain.  Mine.

So when Sunday dawns, wake up with this truth settled deep in your heart: you are known and you are not alone with your grief.  Some day…because of a Sunday morning two millennia past…all our tears will be wiped away.

Life is roses and thorns.  Tears and laughter.  It’s okay to appreciate the beauty and feel the pain.

Grace and peace and roses (with Kleenex),

 

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When You Don’t Know How To Be Enough

There’s a special kind of loneliness that comes with being a woman in this culture that can deceive us into thinking that no one else struggles as hard or as ugly as we do.

In a world of instant updates and photo filtering and everyone being prettier and more put together than we are…it’s hard to ever feel enough.  Isn’t it?  You would think that reality TV and constant connectivity would promote authenticity, but no.  It’s easy to crop around the messy edges, to edit the struggle, the sin, the handicaps and varnish over the not-so-pretty sides we all have.

Maybe it’s steeped in the culture of the church-people, or maybe it’s just something that Type A’s and people-pleasers feel, but it seems like anything less than shiny sweetness is a scarlet letter of shame.  That it’s immaturity to struggle with grief, depression, unbelief, generational sin patterns, fear, backbiting and backstabbing, you name it.  Supposedly, (who came up with this, anyway?) there’s this unwritten script that says Christians are only ever tempted, but never succumb to sin.

That we never fall.

That we don’t struggle, mightily, all the time.

We preach the Gospel, but are we even listening?

Christ came to set free the chained, captive, hopelessly snarled up, ugly people – and He saves them every day.  When you make Him your Savior, it is only the first of many times that He’ll save you.  It’s been years in the making, this coming to realize that Christians – the real, authentic disciples, all of them – have jagged, scarred places.  We are not the second coming of perfect, and that is really okay.

Oh, I am up to here with pretending that I don’t have flaws inside and out, and cellulite, and a mile wide judgmental streak.  It’s unbelief that batters me, and the constant struggle to find any self worth, and shame and I have a go around about every 3 hours.  Is that TMI for you?  Life is a struggle, always.  Maybe you’ve felt a bit of the same?

Being “not enough” is enough to hush the sparkle in even the bravest among us.

It can feel hopelessly complicated, holding the pieces together and patchworking  out a ragged semblance of “good enough.”  It’s honestly exhausting, and in light of Calvary – completely unnecessary.

John 1:14 says this about Jesus: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NIV)  Following Jesus means that we will grow to be more and more like Him.  If we could just stop tiptoeing around grace and simply take it as ours, what a difference it would make.  If we could speak the truth about our struggles and blemishes, and receive some grace and truth in return from others…wouldn’t that change everything?  If we could extend some grace to the not-perfect ones that surround us, maybe we’d all breathe a little deeper and relax just a bit.

There are precious few people who have had the rare and questionable privilege to see me ugly cry, and even fewer who make me feel okay about it.  Maybe, could we be a bit less perfect and a whole lot more authentic?  Gentleness and flaws – they can go together.  Rough edges and mistakes need a soft place to land, and who better than us to offer it?  What if being the hands and feet of Jesus was less of a competition to dispense John Piper-isms and more of a coming alongside broken people as one of them? (Don’t get me wrong – I love a good dose of John Piper wisdom, too.)  But no theologian saves us – only Jesus.  Simply, only, always Jesus.

How well do we take the medicine we offer to the world?

This gospel we preach of a perfect Man crucified doesn’t mean we swelter under the unbearable weight of past mistakes or spend ourselves breathless chasing perfectionism.  It means we crucify the need to prove ourselves, every day.

It means we preach the grace of God to our own souls daily, as well as to everyone we encounter.

It means we speak the truth  – the truth of our own struggles, and also the truth that God is bigger than any sin pattern, any wrong done to us, any issue that we can face.  Preach the gospel to yourself first, every day, and then live it.

Maybe there’s a way out, and it’s as simple as finding those few people who will hold your real self with gentleness, and then becoming one of those people to anyone and everyone around us.  But first – go to Jesus.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NIV)

The struggle for balance, for peace, for freedom in Christ – it’s real.

We have to fight, every day, to live out this glorious salvation with authenticity, and grace, and obedience.  It comes with real life issues, in the broken places we all want to hide and the hushing voices of everyone who has ever not believed that we’re enough.

I have news, friends.  We don’t have to be enough anymore, because Jesus is.  He’s enough, and He willingly steps in to fill the gaping holes within us.  Really, it’s okay to be vulnerable with Him and each other, because we have the righteousness of Christ to define us.  He is enough – enough for you, and me, and all the broken places and mistakes in this world of ours.  Dear tired ones, it’s okay to be real, because Jesus is.  If He wasn’t, it would be too terrifying to admit that we struggle with sin in every form, every day.

But because He lives to intercede for us, the pressure to be “enough” (whatever that is), can slide off our To Do list as done.

Grace, peace, and lots of love,

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Flipping Fear

Have you ever gone to bed with the light on?

It’s what happens when you’re a 21-year-old me, having stayed up till 2 a.m. to finish a suspense novel.  And when it so happens that the main character (a single young woman) wakes up to find some psychopath leering over her bed even though the deadbolt was fastened and the windows were locked. Shiver.

Fear can drive us to the brink of the ridiculous.  (As above.)

But sometimes, fear isn’t silly in the light of day.  It’s toxic.  And it’s a toxin we don’t even know we’re ingesting.

It can keep us from sending that letter, having that conversation, making that new friend, letting go of the familiar.  It’s scary to leave the kiddie end and head for deep water.  You know, the 9 foot end where the diving board is.  That end.  Oh, yes, we’re going there.  To the not safe, the less-than-sure bet, the downright scary.

Fear is a thief.  It steals peace of mind, wholeness in relationships, and breaches (or exposes a breach in) your connection with God.

  • If fear of losing someone keeps you from fully engaging emotionally…you are making them lose you.
  • If fear of failing keeps you from living out your full potential…you are living self-handicapped.  The world is not as bright, not as beautiful as it could be, because it is missing what you could bring to the table.
  • If fear of the unknown keeps you from daring to be you…your personality is shrinking and withering as we speak.
  • If fear of ridicule is keeping you inside your shell, unable to connect authentically…you are missing out on community and all the benefits of being fully known, and fully accepted as you are.  There really ARE those kind of people in the world…you know, the kind that will genuinely and truly like you.

Is there a way to flip fear on it’s ugly head?  If we pick up our towels and head for the deep end, will we thrash and drown?

Sometimes, it takes just one person being brave even when they’re scared.

Could we do that?  Who knows what kind of chain reaction we might trigger?

I bet you’ve thought it through a thousand times, what it would feel like to fail, to fall powerless into the arms of the scary, to have the oxygen squeezed out slowly and mercilessly.  Did it ever cross your mind that you might not fail?  You might get the job, or you might find the love of your life, or that the kids might make it home safely from school, or that really, he’s not cheating on you.  And those people who might laugh?  They might.  Or, they might not.  Maybe they are as paralyzed by fear of failure as you are.  Maybe even if they laughed, they would secretly wish they had the guts to put themselves out there.

Haven’t you gotten sick and tired of living leashed to what if?  I am so done with it.  Maybe we could start to ask, what if not?  What if I don’t step out?  What will I be giving up by staying paralyzed by fear?  What will I squeeze to death by gripping it so tightly? Maybe, if we were honest, we’d realize that we’re already living half-dead and gasping because of the death-grip fear’s got on us.

And even if…will it kill you?  So it is the worst.  It happened.  What now?  Are you abandoned and alone? Never.  Hebrews 13:5-8 reminds us that God is not one to walk out on His promises.  And He promises never to leave you, never to forsake you.  As bad as this life is, for the Christ-follower, that’s the worst it will ever be.  To those who are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, THIS is as bad as it gets.  As my Dad always said, “This is the only hell I will ever know.”

Surely, there is an antidote to this poison.  A life preserver for the scary end.

Turns out, there is.  When I read that “perfect love casts out fear,” I feel rejected and riddled with the imperfections of my loving.  Because, surely, if only I loved better, I would not live so fearful.  But that, it turns out, is not the case.  It’s not our imperfect loving, but our imperfect comprehension of God’s love for us that lets fear get a stranglehold.

Perfect love – His, not ours – casts out fear.  When we know we are perfectly loved, the fear has no answer.  Love is your life preserver.  It keeps your soul afloat when there is nothing left to hold on to.

Stepping off the diving board is still scary.  We might fail.  We might flail.  Or maybe… we will find a buoyancy we never knew was possible.  Because perfect love cuts the dead weight of fear that pulls our head under water, and there is nothing, nothing that can mess with His perfect love for us.  When we understand that, we can stop the frantic thrashing and float.

Flipping fear on its head is not just for us.  Others are watching.  Maybe, when our fears start falling like dominoes, someone else could find their way out of prison.

There’s a lot at stake.  What if not, remember?  Love is contagious, and perfect love is downright irresistible.  It is only the unfailing love of Jesus that can lift the crushing weight of fear off of anyone’s chest.  We can point them there.  We can lead the way from the kiddie end to the diving board, and all the gradations in between.  But we have to be willing to jump in ourselves, to accept His perfect love that covers over all our deficiencies, and do the hard work of trusting instead of fearing.

We can do this.

How do I know?  Well, I’ve grown a little since my leave-the-light-on days.  When I’m tempted to fear, I try to catch myself and buckle on the life preserver of His love right away.  (Because, for me, when fear gains any kind of momentum, it takes exponentially longer to stop it.)  Some practical ways I “buckle up”:

  • Say the name of Jesus.  It really does help!
  • Repeat Scriptures that have to do with fear and God’s perfect love.  A few favorites are 2 Timothy 1:7, John 14:27, Joshua 1:9, Matthew 6:34, and Isaiah 43:1.  You can find more here.
  • Pray for God to fill me with peace.  Affirm my trust for Him, and ask Him for freedom from fear.

Flipping fear is the best thing we can do for ourselves, for our families and loved ones.

We were never meant to live helpless and scared, cowering under the covers waiting for the worst to happen.

The worst already happened on a hill just outside Jerusalem, and all the powers of darkness partied for three long days.  But then…

Love struck a mortal blow to evil, and we don’t ever have to go back.

Jesus is the difference.  He always is.  You can turn the light off and go to sleep, because this Jesus light lives in you, and the real darkness runs whimpering and defeated from Him.

Don’t let anything, not even fear, tell you different.

Grace, peace, and here’s to night lights,

This post first appeared on iBelieve.com July 5, 2016

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