Sunday, April 28, 2013

Watching The Green Grass Grow

Our grass has started to grow again.  I welcome the green grass and flowering trees - I welcome summer!  As much as I am ready for warm weather, it's hard to believe that the school year is coming to a close.  I know it varies exactly when it will be happening for you depending upon where you live.  For some, school dismissal occurs as early as late next month.

Summer planning is in full force, and for some moms, the schedule is already somewhat set.  Camps, vacations, pool time, summer work schedules - there are so many things that can compete for our time during a period that is supposed to be a break or breather.  It got me thinking about what the summer will hold for us, and how I want to intentionally navigate it.

The pull to be busy during the school year is of course strong, but the pull to be so in the summer is equivalent, if not stronger.  The absence of school leaves a void that is easy to fill under the guise of enrichment - or even panic.  What I am going to do with the kids?  Plus, if the kids are busy, they will stay out of trouble, right?  I know all about mischief with two little boys, but I am not so sure.

Last week I read an interesting devotion about busyness.  It was well-timed.  Its author is the head pastor of the church where I am parish associate.  Jeff pinpoints the addictive undertone of our busy culture while challenging its value.  He writes,

Today I'm reading Ecclesiastes 2:17-26.  [It reads,] "So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.  All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?...What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?  All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest.  This too is meaningless...To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.  This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

The longing to feel significant is deeply rooted into our hearts and it is a strange impulse to figure out.  We want to feel wanted and needed.  And often we think we meet those goals by being busy.  Someone said somewhere that we think our value is connected to our velocity.  The faster we're moving - that must mean our lives are worth something.

Yet two things happen.  Our stress level goes through the roof; and though we're busy all the time we can't see that all the things we're doing actually contribute positively in any real way.  Our busyness does not lead us to significance.  In fact, as Henri Nouwen points out, we are busy and bored.  Yet we can't let it go because we've become addicted to our busyness.

We need to slow down and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  To ask, "Does this busyness flow from the work God has called me to, or does it come from my deep neediness?  Am I merely busy because I need the strokes from others in order to feel good about myself?"

In verse 26 Solomon writes, "To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness."

We no doubt have felt the urge to be busy as we make decisions about how we live our lives and how we parent.  We want happy and full lives, and we want our children to have them as well.  It is important to arm our children with skills, opportunities to be social, and achievements that can further their development.  These are all good things that can result from intentional programming.  But when our self-worth is derived from the pace of our schedules, we're in trouble.

Ecclesiastes is a tough book of the bible to swallow at face value.  Its discussion of meaninglessness casts a negative and pessimistic tone as we turn to it awaiting summer and its celebrations.  But a deeper look reveals wisdom that can lead to the pursuit of true meaning and satisfaction in life.

We need to make sure that the opportunities we are choosing aren't preventing time for more important ones.  Like seeing that friend we never have time for.  Or allowing our children to lay on the green grass and savor its warm summer smell.  If we don't teach our children to appreciate these things, who will?  And if the pace of our lives is too much for us (which I have certainly felt sometimes), then how can we expect littler people to keep up, especially gracefully?

May God be with your summer planning.  May you allow time for yourself to relax, and foster that kind of environment for your child or children.  I wish you the joy of an ice cold lemonade and children laughing.  And I believe that you can help your family have their best summer yet - bubble wand in hand and just being together.

Prayer:  God of green grass, God of laughter, Thank you for summer and your creation that comes alive.  May we honor you in our planning.  May we put you first and embrace quality time.  We know that real meaning comes from you.  Breathe meaning and true worth into our lives and families.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

To read Jeff's full entry or access his blog, click here:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Refining and Redefining

Note:  I wrote a special post yesterday reflecting on the events in Boston.  You can find it by scrolling down on my blog page.

I recently read an insightful article.  As I was preparing to speak at a dinner for women in ministry, I wanted to find something that could be helpful to all the women who were attending, regardless of how they were using their gifts for the church.  That is when I found "Strategies for Fewer Regrets in Ministry," which is written by Pastor Kim Martinez.  Although there is a definite ministerial focus, the article has insightful pointers for women in general, including moms.

The first pointer she mentions is about managing our expectations.  This is an essential skill, for we do encounter curve balls.  Those curve balls can sometimes abound in family life.  The key is to not let them derail us and to trust in God's overarching plan.  She states, "Just like Joseph, your path might be convoluted or curvy, but God has the big picture, and He will take even the most frustrating parts of life and make something wonderful out of them."  What a great reminder of God's providential care in our lives.

She also emphasizes that it can be helpful to take a step back and try to discern God's will rather than acting on our own.  She states, "Recently, I listened to my 21-year old daughter deliver great wisdom on this topic. She told me: 'I'm learning to manage my expectations. Instead of setting my agenda and trying to accomplish it, I am waiting for God to direct my path. I've decided that as long as I get closer to Jesus every day, I've accomplished my goal.'"  I like this message because it gives me permission to not sweat the small stuff and encourages us to focus beyond ourselves.

Pastor Martinez reflects upon the fact that her career path hasn't been linear as a result of staying at home with her children.  She does not view her time at home as lost time.  Instead, she appreciates the value of it, for she grew in wisdom.  She states, "You don't have to walk the same path as your male counterparts in order to have a valued voice. You do need to let God develop you through all of life's detours and experiences."  So whether you are a working mom or a stay at home mom, God is growing you through the experience of motherhood and giving you a perspective that is unique and needed in the world.

What is vital in our respective journeys is that we have good support.  I especially liked her encouragement to form what she termed "mastermind" groups.  She describes them:  "The point of a mastermind group is to find five or six of the smartest people you know and make them a part of your life. Meet regularly, and let them give you input. Some of the most productive people I know have two or three mastermind groups — one for their spiritual walk, one for their ministry walk, and one for life in general. The term 'mastermind' is new, but the concept is old — at least for women. Women walking together can make a difference."

I want to provide an opportunity to refine our work and find support as mothers in this blog.  That appears to be the focus of mastermind groups too.  There indeed is power in numbers, especially in collective prayer and discernment.  It is intriguing to explore Pastor Martinez' suggestion creatively and with intentionality.  Some of you might be in a moms' group or small group that is functioning in this way.  If the group is too big, you loose intimacy and sometimes honest feedback.  But what a difference strong supporters by your side can make to propel you forward in your goals and Christ's plan for your life.

Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20, NRSV).

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for not being done with us yet!  Grow us in our ability to esteem our important work as mothers and intentionally build good support structures.  When we are functioning healthfully and happily, with our eyes focused on you, we know that you can work great wonders through us.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

To read the full article referenced above, click on the following link:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

In The Wake of The Boston Marathon

Perhaps it was through divine providence that my post this week was about faith.  The tragedy and manhunt surrounding the Boston Marathon certainly had us depending on it.  Faith that God's hands would be with the injured and the brave people who ran to the victims' aid.  Faith that God's arms would surround and comfort those who were left mourning, like the family of the deceased eight-year-old boy.  And faith that God's protection would be with those who were scared and scrambling as the manhunt ensued.  Praise God that the second suspect has been captured and healing can begin.

My post included a reflection on the importance of faith's conviction:  "Conviction that we are not alone. Conviction that God's goodness is alive in our broken world. And conviction that new life out of ashes is always possible through Christ."  As Boston and the country recovers from the real and figurative ashes of this tragedy, we can see signs of new life at work.  We saw it on Friday as the Watertown community came together with tears and cheers for each rescue vehicle that passed by them after the suspect's capture. 

This sign of thanksgiving and togetherness was echoed in the media's encouragement to "look for the helpers."  Mr. Rogers, the popular children's television icon, coined that phrase as a sign of active hope in tragedy.  He said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."  Hope was alive in Boston, for there was no shortage of helpers - of real heroes.

I heard a Christian radio station expand upon Mr. Rogers' advice.  Mr. Rogers reflected upon the importance of adults comforting their children in troubling times.  He said that it is important to remind your children that they are safe in your presence and that you as a parent are always available to listen and be there for them.  It made me think about God's promise to do the same for us as his children.  Psalm 46 begins, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea..." (NIV).  The Lord is our strength and will never abandon us.  We may not understand why things happen, or why sin can have such a devastating effect on our world, but we can always trust that God's power is alive.

It is through the eyes of people who have suffered that we can see the suffering of others anew.  We can work to bless others and bring understanding to those who are in pain.  We can bind together what once was broken, and in our effort to mend fences, the holes in our heart can heal too.  The miraculous promises of our Savior are active in the world partially to the extent that we open ourselves up to be those "helpers" - in the broader communal sense and at home.  I have not shared the events in Boston with my children, for they are still too young.  But I can attempt to model the kind of compassion that I want to see in the world. 

May peace find you as you reflect upon these happenings.  And may God's enduring light shield and strengthen your heart. 

Note:  To read my devotion about faith referenced above, "Warning: Peaks Ahead," click here:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Warning: Peaks Ahead

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture comes from Hebrews.  This little book hails from the New Testament, not the Old, despite what some may think because of its name.  Inside is a poignant and inspiring description of faith: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (11:1).  It is with assurance that we know God's promises are true, and it is with conviction that we can then craft our whole lives around that fact.

Faith requires a leap, for even its scriptural definition acknowledges a certain lack of proof.  It's a conviction of things sometimes unseen.  Recall Jesus speaking to his disciples after his resurrection.  There was Thomas seeing and touching the holes in Jesus' hands from the crucifixion.  And our Lord says, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).  Jesus knew about the leap his subsequent followers would need to make, but he promises blessing.

Faith in its own right is our greatest blessing.  Indeed, there are times in our lives that it serves as our only leg to stand on.  There are times when everything else disappoints.  And just when we think our faith may let us down too, that's when we can respond with faith's conviction.  Conviction that we are not alone.  Conviction that God's goodness is alive in our broken world.  And conviction that new life out of ashes is always possible through Christ.

If I am honest, the times that my faith is the most tried is when there are mountains ahead.  I can get overwhelmed by their presence and revert back to selfish ways.  Instead of trusting, I can look for an easy way out.  But not only does this undercut my belief in what God can do, it prevents God's glory and all of its blessings from coming to absolute fruition in my life. 

Are you currently facing mountains as a mom?  If so, I invite you to read the following devotion.  It comes from a booklet by Sarah Young entitled 40 Days with Jesus: Celebrating His Presence.  She writes as if Jesus is talking to you:

Follow Me one step at a time.  That is all I require of you.  In fact, that is the only way to move through this space/time world.  You see huge mountains looming, and you start wondering how you're going to scale those heights.  Meanwhile, because you're not looking where you're going, you stumble on the easy path where I am leading you now.  As I help you get back on your feet, you tell Me how worried you are about the cliffs up ahead.  But you don't know what will happen today, much less tomorrow.  Our path may take an abrupt turn, leading you away from those mountains.  There may be an easier way up the mountains than is visible from this distance.  If I do lead you up the cliffs, I will equip you thoroughly for that strenuous climb.  I will even give My angels charge over you, to preserve you in all your ways.

Keep your mind on the present journey, enjoying My Presence.  Walk by faith, not by sight, trusting Me to open up the way before you.

Young's writing style is intimate and therefore powerful as Christ talks to us and makes faith personal. She presents a great lesson to remember on the road of life.  Sometimes faith is the road, and sometimes it is all of the tools we need to make the journey.   Whatever you might be facing in your personal life or in the care of your child or children, remember the blessings that God promises for standing strong and choosing right.  When we walk by faith and not by sight, that leap will never disappoint us.

Prayer:  Dear God, Help us to stay tuned in to your voice and your directives.  Give us the ammunition we need to walk by faith and not by sight, trusting in your promises instead of fearing the mountains ahead.  We praise you for your faithfulness in advance of our journeys.  In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Note: Young's devotion is from "Day 3" in her booklet.  In addition, the scripture referenced above comes from the New Revised Standard Version.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bear Hugs and Birthday Wishes

I wanted to start by relaying a heart-felt thank you to all of my readers.  This blog has logged over 2,000 hits as of this week, which marks its first three months.  Please continue to pass it on!

I love it when my older son wakes up in the morning.  Well, I don't like it when it is at the crack of dawn.  But when I am sufficiently awake, I can hear his pitter-patter down the hallway to our room.  I get out of bed, and he gives me a big bear hug.  Everyday.  And for those of you with boys, you know that these opportunities dwindle the older that they get. 

Just as I enjoy it, he does too.  He doesn't want to start the day without his big hug, and then he is off to the races.  I am pretty sure he doesn't stop until he collapses at night.  But there is something in that moment of scooping him up into my arms.  It takes me back to when he was a baby.  And it reminds him of my unconditional love.

My younger son enjoys quick cuddles throughout the day.  But he becomes the most cuddly at night.  He puts his head on my shoulder as I sing him songs.  He becomes as still as a mouse as I rock him to soft melodies.  Then I place him in his crib with his plethora of stuffed animals.  Each one has a name, and each one is a crucial member of his sleeping arrangement - trust me.

Both of my sons experience comfort in different ways, but each needs to feel loved.  They experience my love through their respective rituals.  Their need for reassurance and care is no different from our own.  God has created us with a hole that only he can fill, and the rituals that we create space for in our daily lives have the opportunity to fill us too.

One of those rituals is prayer.  Now I am not talking about kneeling on the floor surrounded by quietness in a room flooded with sunshine.  That is well and good.  But this week I found myself having a poignant prayer while driving my kids to school with their chatter in the backseat.  I am reminded of one Mom who wrote a book entitled, "My Monastery Is A Minivan."  So true.

During that prayer, I was reminded of how God continues to care for me.  This past week was my birthday.  It was wonderful hearing from old and new friends.  But remembering friends' birthdays can be a tricky enterprise.  Sometimes we get too busy and unintentionally let the ball drop.  I know I could be more diligent.  Sometimes we fall off when there has not been the desired reciprocity in the past; after all, that's human nature.

But it is amazing to consider the fact that we worship a God who always remembers.  This God rejoices on our birthdays as only our Creator could.  And this God doesn't just reach out once a year, but every hour of every day, with a message of love and an invitation to friendship.  Whether his invitation is reciprocated or not, in fact even in the face of oppression on the cross, his invitation stands.

Whenever your birthday lies this year, remember your Creator will be the first one with balloons.  You were created special.  You were created with intention.  And whether or not you have reciprocated his invitation lately, realize that God gives unlike the world.  The offer stands.  Let your Creator hold YOU in his arms today.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for creating each of us with intention.  Grow us in our ability to hear your voice and remember your heart-felt invitation.  We praise you that you are always calling, Great Comforter and Lover of Our Souls.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27, NIV).

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