Our Father

I spent last week here:

 

Our Father
Panama City Beach, FL

Yeah, I’m rubbing it in.

But more to the point, my husband and I went to the beach with 130+ high schoolers from our church for a retreat. As retreats tend to go, we had a great time connecting with the Lord outside of our normal daily routines.

The most impactful part for me occurred the third night. During the message, the speaker, Greg Speck, invited students to accept Christ, to rededicate themselves to living for the Lord if they felt they had wandered off the beaten path, or to commit to continue pursuing Him fervently.

This is a pretty standard part of retreats, so I was not surprised by the invitation. But, almost as a side note, the speaker took an unexpected detour and began talking to the kids whose fathers have left them.

Understand, we are a predominantly white church located in an upper-middle class suburb. In other words, we have a higher rate of dads in the home than other sections of Memphis.

But for whatever reason, the speaker, an experienced communicator with teenagers and a man with four grown children of his own, felt the need to address abandoned kids. I found this a little odd given our demographic.

He explained that when he leaves, in the dad’s spot is a hole in his kids’ hearts only Jesus can fill. Counselors who knew this to be true looked at one another with tears in their eyes.

Then the speaker said something like this to the students, “If it’s been a long time since you’ve had a fatherly hug, or if you just need someone to speak some fatherly truth to you about who you are in Jesus, I’d be glad to do that at the end of the message.”

More tears.

I had only known most these kids about 3 days and already 3 popped into my mind whose dads had either left them or passed away. But what happened after the message blew me away.

Student after student lined up to wait for a dad hug. 

Students from affluent suburbs. Students who more than likely knew their dad at one time. Students who now come from broken homes because the divorce rate knows no economic nor spiritual boundaries. But also students whose dads are physically present in their homes but completely checked out emotionally.

The line stretched down the aisle as teenagers – people who are highly sensitive to what their friends might think about them – cast aside their egos out of their desperate emotional need for a connection with a father figure.

More tears.

The following evening – the last evening with the speaker – kids walked up to say goodbye and thank you to him. Others, still starved for father attention, humbly requested one more father hug.

The best part?

The speaker was not playing the hero to these students; he was pointing them to the only One who can permanently rescue them from their pain – their Heavenly Father. 

I watched this fallen, kind-hearted, imperfect man offer all he could – a hug and some words – and it was a beautiful example to these students of what God’s fatherly love looks like.  With his words and actions, the speaker not only modeled God’s love, but he purposefully pointed these kids to their true Father as the ultimate, perfect Source of fatherly love.

And you know what?

The speaker’s humble offering was enough. It was enough to give the students a glimpse of the One who can fill their hearts eternally and perfectly. It was enough to crack the shell that some of these abandoned students had around their hearts. It was enough to encourage some of them to open their hearts to God for the first time or once again after months or years of having turned away from Him.

And my hope in sharing this story is that it will be enough for you, too. You whose dad has died. You whose dad left before you were born. You whose dad left when you were a kid. You whose dad stayed physically but abandoned you emotionally. You whose dad is not enough. And, when we get down to it, that’s all of us.

Max Lucado tweeted this week, “We never outgrow our need for a father’s love. We were wired to receive it.”

Scripture says we believers are children of God (John 1:12). He is our Father, our perfect, never-failing, more-than-enough Dad of dads. 

Amen.

 

Spiritual Legacy: He Provides

I’ve never had a full-time job. As in, NEVER.

I guess that’s what happens when you marry an “established” man before you graduate college. Elian had a great job that met our needs. I finished my degree a year after we said, “I do,” working part-time along the way.

Once I graduated, our plan was to have children with whom I would stay home relatively soon. So hunting for a full-time gig was neither necessary nor wise at that point. I continued part-time work for a couple of years until I was 8.5 months pregnant with our first child. I took the last month of the pregnancy off and birthed an amazing little person in April, 2007, fully intending to stay home with her.

Lexi Baby

The more we thought about it, Elian and I came to the conclusion that my paltry part-time paycheck wasn’t so dispensable after all. I mean, we could make it, but it would be jeggings tight.

So we decided right after Lexi was born I would look for something part-time to give us some wiggle room. It helped both first-time grandmothers wanted nothing more than to babysit their little darling while I worked.

Summer started, and I had no idea what kind of work to look for. And, frankly, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to tackle a job search. Don’t get me wrong – my heart delighted in the gift of my precious daughter. I was completely and utterly in love with her.

But.

She wasn’t much of a sleeper and thought nursing was something she should do EVERY TWO HOURS FOR THREE MONTHS STRAIGHT. And, as any woman who has nursed a child will tell you, that equates to approximately 8 minutes of sleep each day for mommy. And that is a generous estimate. Add to that the mystery “colic” she had, which really means she was inconsolable for no apparent reason, and I was moments away from being committed.

Throw in a job search with the interviews and the “showering” and the whatnot, and all I could do was imagine my sarcastic response to a potential employer’s question like what are my “strengths” … I AM ALIVE AND SO IS MY CHILD. WINNING.

So, you see, I wasn’t feeling the whole work thing. I just wasn’t there physically or emotionally, and every time I looked at that little baby – 4 weeks old, then 6 weeks old, then 8 weeks old – I thought the same thing: she’s too little for me to leave her for work.

And yet. The financial wiggle room. It wasn’t there.

The days went on, and we continued to float along, wondering what we should do.

Then, mid-summerish, some friends came to visit us. At the time, they were our daughter’s appointed guardians if something were to happen to me and Elian. So they came into town to meet their possible future new addition. We visited a good long while, had some lunch, watched the baby’s every fascinating move.

Then they handed us an envelope. Obviously, I knew what it was – a congratulations-on-the-new-baby card. But it felt different in my hands.

It felt… thick.

It probably has a folded, hand-written note in it, I thought.

I pulled the card out and read the front. I don’t recall what it said, but I remember what happened next.

As I opened the card, $20 bills came falling out. More bills than I could count. My eyes filled with tears as the realization set in that many hundreds of dollars were sitting in front of me.

Overwhelmed, I searched our friends’ faces for an explanation. It went something like this, “We hope this small gift will help you be able to stay home just a little longer with Lexi.”

The Lord… through His people… I’m telling you… He provides.

I did stay home, worry-free, for several more months. As is the case with most colicky babies, once she turned three months old, all was right in the world. No more countless hours of crying. She slowed her roll and learned how to give me 3-4 hours between feedings, which meant my 8 minutes of sleep/day DOUBLED. I started to feel more human again. A part-time job fell in my lap. And I didn’t kill anyone.

The Lord… through His people… I’m telling you… He provides. 

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

Boundaries in Church

image via CloudTownsend.com

Years ago a book called Boundaries was released. I haven’t read it, but I hear it helps you decide when relationships are harmful and how to enact healthy limits to prevent permanent damage to your soul. There have been a bunch of spin-offs – Boundaries in Dating, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, etc.

To my knowledge, Boundaries in Church has yet to be written. But I’ve been considering the concept quite a bit lately.

I attend a large church in a Memphis suburb. Like most churches, our staff is over-worked and under-paid, and they rarely say no to meeting a need inside or outside of the church. In order to address all those needs, the staff constantly appeals to the church members for help (as they should).

I’ve heard it said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, and I’m feeling it.

Week after week, I receive email after email with opportunities to serve inside and outside of my church. And every time I read a request, my first thought is, “How can I fit this in? How can I rearrange things to make room for more service?”

Similarly, I learn of financial needs within my small group, within my church family, within my community, and abroad on the mission field constantly. And my first thought is, “Where can we find $10 a month to contribute to this cause?”

A lot of times I’ll say yes to that service need or commit to that financial need because I want to help and because I take seriously the Bible’s commands for believers to serve others and take care of those in need.

In other words, I feel a responsibility as a follower of Christ to say yes all. the. time. Don’t get me wrong, I want to serve and help. But I am getting tired. I am getting tapped. I am starting to respond to emails requesting help with, “UGH! Why can’t others step up?” instead of, “Yes, I’d be happy to sacrifice my time and money to help the Gospel go forth once again.”

And that’s where Satan and my flesh both step in and battle each other for control of my soul.

Satan wants me to feel guilty for even considering not serving or giving this one time. “You can always find $10 more and one more hour to donate to a worthy cause…. but you don’t want to… you don’t really love Jesus… you’re a fraud.”

My flesh swells with pride and says, “You already serve in so many ways! You LIVE at that church. You already give X amount of money to the church and missionaries and other charities. That 80% of the church members that don’t do or give jack need to quit being so selfish and step up! YOU do plenty. Sit back, feel proud, and refuse to do anymore!”

I don’t believe God would have me embrace feeling guilty or excessively prideful. He wants a different response from me.

But what?

As I think about priorities, I’ve been taught they should look something like this:

  1. Personal relationship with God (spending significant quality time with Him in prayer and individual study of the Scriptures daily)
  2. Family (spending significant quality time with them and making sure all their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs are sufficiently and exceptionally met daily)
  3. Occupation (accomplishing #2 requires money, and obtaining money typically requires working)
  4. Serving outside the home (inside the church, in the community, or abroad)

Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. #1 and #2 accomplish that, and #3 and #4 can also be focused on that if we so desire.

The Bible also commands Christians to use their gifts to build up the church (Romans 12:4-8), serve others (Matthew 20:26-28), take care of those who can’t take care of themselves (Matthew 25:40), and share the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ with others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Certainly, these things can be exponentially better accomplished if our #1 priority is attended to. If we have kids, the biblical commands to serve others, take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, and share the Gospel can ALL be accomplished within our immediate families as well (#2). Once our family members each enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, we’ll have to move outside of our families to fulfill the mandate to evangelize, but we don’t have to look too far: neighbors, our kids’ friends, their parents, etc.

Depending on your job, some or all of the biblical mandates can be lived out in our #3 priority.

And so our 4th priority is left as a kind of a catch-all. Whatever biblical commands we didn’t satisfy in priorities #1, #2, and #3, we can fulfill in #4. But if we’re not doing #1-3 well, maybe #4 shouldn’t be on our radar.

Maybe we shouldn’t use our time and money to serve outside of our family if we aren’t taking sufficient, no, exceptional care of our family with the time and money we have.

(Note: I am not talking about tithing in this conversation. I believe a 10% tithe is a non-negotiable no matter what state your family is in. When I talk about giving money in this article, I am only referring to giving above and beyond our tithe. (Leviticus 27:30))

All this to say, when an opportunity to serve or give comes our way, we should disregard Satan’s attempt to make us feel guilty and our flesh’s attempt to make us feel prideful and look at our priorities. Before we commit to service of our time and money, we should ask ourselves if we’re spending enough alone time with God, if our family is getting the best physical care we can give them (fast food is toxic, ahem), the best emotional support and spiritual training we can offer (this takes TIME), if our family has enough money to take care of itself (if not, consider using your extra time to get a J.O.B. before volunteering for something else).  If we can answer yes to all these things, and we still have time and money left, by all means, serve and give.

But if serving and giving means these other things suffer, even if these other things suffer because you are emotionally and physically exhausted from all the serving and the giving you’ve been doing, STOP IT! Cut back. Give yourself grace. Know that God understands. Know that God loves how much you desire to pay more attention to your relationship with Him and to take better care of your family He’s given you as a gift and responsibility.

Give yourself permission to set some limits. And give the 80% a chance to up their game 😉

Sometimes the Problem Lies in Lies

Lexi (5), Allie (3)
Lexi (5), Allie (3)

I heard a whimper coming from one of the girls’ bedrooms. I knew the three year old had been asleep for awhile, so I walked into the five year old’s room to see what the problem was.

She lay on her back, rubbing her blue eyes, a downcast look on her face.

“Why are you crying?” I asked my first-born.

“I broke Allie’s favorite chap stick…” she choked out.

My mind flashed back to the blue tube of Hello Kitty lip gloss I found in the dryer that evening. Melted.

I put two and two together and realized Lexi had left it in her pocket when she put her pants in the laundry basket. She must’ve realized her mistake as she lay in bed trying to fall asleep.

At first, I thought she was upset the chap stick was ruined. I approached the situation from that angle, explaining to her that chap stick was a dime a dozen, and we could, in fact, buy more. There are probably 10 tubes floating around our house at any given time.

But Lexi’s tears kept sneaking out of her eyes.

So I asked her again, “Why are you crying?”

Only this time I listened to her answer.

“I broke Allie’s chap stick…” she said.

Although her answer was exactly the same, this time I realized it wasn’t about the chap stick; it was about Allie.

“Allie is going to be sad…” Lexi elaborated. “That was her favorite chapstick. What <sniff> if <sniff> she <sniff> says <sniff> she <sniff> willnevertalktomeagaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain?” she sobbed.

There it was. Lexi felt guilty. Lexi was worried her sister would reject her. Lexi was sick she may have caused Allie sadness. Lexi anticipated a break in their relationship on account of something she had done, and it broke her heart.

On the one hand, I was so proud of Lexi in that moment. She’s always been a pretty sensitive, thoughtful kid, but this level of empathy was something I’d never known was inside her. I’m thankful she was way more concerned with her sister’s feelings than the material object that was forever ruined.

On the other hand, though, my heart broke for Lexi. I wanted to protect her from any lies she may believe about herself as a result of this situation. I wanted to make sure she didn’t come out of this thinking she was a horrible person or undeserving of her sister’s love or exempt from God’s grace when she makes mistakes. In short, I wanted her to know how infinitely valuable she is to me, to Allie, and to God, even in the midst of mistakes.

It took a half hour to convince her everything was going to be ok. I went downstairs and replayed the conversation for my husband, commenting how difficult it was to get through to her. He said I did a good job, but then he observed, “And this was an ‘easy’ one….” implying Lexi’s problems are only going to get more complex as she grows up. “Yeah, ” I agreed, “but they’ll all probably revolve around the same theme.”

I imagine all of our problems can be reduced to losing sight of who we are through God’s eyes. Our mistakes, our circumstances, our purposefully wrong choices can all lead us to believe things about ourselves that aren’t true. Like maybe we aren’t good enough for God to come through or to forgive us or to extend us grace. Or maybe God doesn’t love us. Or maybe we will “always” sin in certain ways – that’s just the way we are. Or maybe we don’t even think we were created by a God, so, not surprisingly, we don’t believe a God can help us.

Lies. Lies about who we are. Lies about Whose we are. Believing lies can cause of a lot of our problems. And sometimes having problems can cause us to believe a lot of lies. And, when we’re exceptionally confused, both can happen simultaneously. I’ve heard. From a friend.

The good news is God can and will help us determine which of our beliefs are true and which are false. And once we label our thoughts as true or false, we’ll know which thoughts are worth pursuing and which should be discarded. And God will help us do that too.

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. (Psalm 51:6)

 

 

How to Help Your Husband Be the Leader of the Family

I felt the anger begin to churn in my core. My muscles became concrete, my jaw locked. I tried to stop the emotion, but it kept coming. I diverted my eyes because I knew they would burn a hole right through him if I looked up.

The Bible study I had been in – I had led – 5 days earlier spoke of times like these. What was I supposed to do when I felt like this? I couldn’t remember.

But I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. Experience had taught me that much. I needed to talk to the Lord about my anger before even thinking about talking to my husband.

Several hours later, God helped me gain some perspective.

It went something like this:

Sometimes families have to make decisions. And sometimes the grown ups in the family disagree about what to do. So, to prevent stalemates, inaction, and civil war, God said: when the husband and the wife disagree about something, defer to the husband so a decision can be made and we can all get on with our lives.

That’s not a direct quote.

But, more or less, it’s one of the several points of Ephesians 5:22, 24 and Colossians 3:18.

Hierarchies like this are employed all the time in successful businesses and effective governments. There is one ultimate boss who gets the final say so things can progress. If he’s a good boss, he respectfully listens to all sides of the topic, considering carefully his options, and then chooses what he feels is the best course of action.

In the case of the family, God chose the man to be that boss. We can speculate why, but why isn’t all that important. It is what it is.

As the woman in my family, I am not the boss. But I have a CRUCIAL role that equally determines the quality of life my family has.

While my husband may have the final say on decisions, my reaction to his decision determines the emotional temperature of my home and the confidence of my husband moving forward.

One of my biggest earthly responsibilities is to help my husband be the leader of our family. I can do that by supporting him in the decisions he makes. I can’t control what choices he makes for our family, but I can underscore that I believe in him, I trust him, and, even when I disagree, I support him no matter what. I can maintain our team mentality and encourage him to make decisions he feels are best. By doing so, I free him up to embrace his God-given role as leader of our family, not fear the responsibility and the backlash from me if he makes a decision I don’t agree with.

When I do my job well, my husband feels loved, and my kids feel secure. The atmosphere of our home is not icy or tense because the parents are disagreeing. On the contrary, I show my kids how to trust God’s design for our family and His sovereignty over our lives.

God blesses obedience. If my husband ever happens to make a “wrong” decision, God will still bless our family if I have been a supportive wife. What is there to fear?

Want to help your husband be the leader of the family? Whatever choices he makes, be peaceable.