Saturday, August 29, 2009

It's Not Our Job to Judge!

I was standing in line at the grocery store today and the man behind me asked what happened to the lady who was bagging groceries. I laughed and said it always seems to happen to me. I get in the line I see a grocery bagger in and sure enough, when it’s my turn, they disappear. Well he didn’t find it as humorous as I did and went on to complain how ridiculous it was. However, he used a lot of expletives as he shared his opinion with me. I just smiled and reached down to get my milk from the bottom of the cart and then he bent down and got the second one for me. For the next few seconds, we had idle chit chat and of course I thanked him for getting my milk for me.

For some reason this insignificant incident sparked a thought in me. What if I had said to him, “Um, sir, could you please not use that kind of language around me? I find it, well, a bit offensive.” Do you think he would have bent down and grabbed my other milk for me? Do you think we could have continued to have friendly chit chat? In fact, I don’t know for sure but I would bet that by the time it was his turn and I was long gone, he had calmed down…simply because I had engaged in a friendly exchange with him. Do you know that your simple acts of kindness and friendly demeanor can really change a situation?

Now compare that to this. My daughter has a Christian friend who attends the same school as her. At one time this friend would go around correcting other students about their language. She would tell them how wrong they were to be using that language. After some time, this friend began to really turn off other children. They not only stopped listening to her but they stopped being her friend. What kind of a difference do you think she is going to make as a believer when no one will even talk to her?

I don’t want to get hung up on the whole issue of cursing. That really isn’t what this is about, although those were the two best examples I had. It extends beyond that to other things we see people in the world doing—smoking, living with someone they aren’t married to, drinking and the list could go on. Is it our job to go around pointing out the sins of others?

If you think it is, I want to challenge you on that. You see, one of the things I have tried very hard to teach my children is that we are not to judge others. People who don’t know Jesus are going to sin! It really shouldn’t come as a surprise when we see sinners sinning. They are only doing what they know to do. If they don’t know Jesus, how can we possibly expect otherwise from them? And if we want them to know Jesus, in most cases the way to do that is not to point out everything they are doing wrong.

The greatest example of this that my children have seen has been with our foster care children and their mother. In the beginning I battled with a lot of judgmental thoughts toward the children’s mom. I didn’t want to see her through my judgmental eyes because I knew it would keep me from seeing her through the eyes of Jesus. So I did ask for prayer from others about that. Through the course of time, I was able to see her in a new way. I was able to see that not only was she in need of a Savior but that I very well could have been in her situation if I had never come to know the Lord.

What ended up happening, I never would have imagined could…we started to talk. We started to share. I got to know her in a new way. And through the course of time, along with the example that my family has set for her, she began to seek what we had.

One Saturday when I went to pick her children up after a visit with them, she asked about coming to church. Now think about this…if instead of getting to know her and talking with her, I had spent the last few weeks berating her, do you think she would have ever asked to come to church? If I had pointed out to her everything she was doing wrong, instead of pointing out to her everything she was doing right (and believe me sometimes that took a lot of creativity to come up with), do you think she would have been interested in pursuing the path our family was on?

Not only did she end up coming to church but she had an experience that has changed her life completely. She is now serving the Lord, has made incredible changes in her life, loves our church and wants to see her children living for the Lord. Now we talk on a daily basis and we talk about prayer, the kids, church, what God has done—it is just incredible to me.

In just over a month, the children will no longer be living with us. They are slowly starting to get weaned back home. She now gets two nights a week where they stay over. We continue to build a friendship. I am able to share with her things that at one time I couldn’t have—because there was something standing in the way. It was my self-righteousness.

We can’t win people to Christ by pointing out everything in their life that is wrong. That isn’t our job. It’s not the job of our children, either. So if you want your children to be a light, they need to be sure that they don’t snuff it out before it ever has a chance to glow. These are reminders that I will be giving to my children as we begin to start a new year of school. I want them to be people that are others are drawn to, not put off by.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2)

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37)

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (I Corinthians 5:12)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Children Need to Experience Difficulties

I think every child/teen should get to experience what my 15 year old did last week. He was able to experience something that most of us will never have the opportunity to—and frankly, knowing the details, would probably choose not to.

The truth is we are a spoiled people. We are so used to convenience; instant cash, coffee, food, and the list goes on; and being handed things, that we hardly know what it is to go without. After all, if we have to wait more than 3 minutes for our fries, how many of us are quick to complain? Or if our beloved gadget breaks, how many of us have almost a nervous breakdown?

My son had to go through eight days without his modern conveniences. He was without his Xbox, guitar, cell phone and access to his family and friends. He didn’t get to sleep in until his usual time of Noon. Instead, he was woken every morning at 5 a.m. And it wasn’t by his sweet mother (yes, that’s me) delivering him a bowl of cereal. No, it was it to lights being turned on and shouts of having 10 minutes to brush your teeth and get dressed.

In case you don’t know, my son belongs to an organization called Civil Air Patrol, which is the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. The cadet program provides opportunity for growth in leadership, promotions and education in aviation. He has learned about integrity, respect and obedience to those in authority. It has made a real difference in his character.

On Friday, August 21st he graduated from Civil Air Patrol’s summer encampment. It was a nine day (for him only eight days since we got an early release for him) introduction to the structure and mission of both the U.S. Air Force and CAP within a military atmosphere. Part of the learning experience was hands-on activities that were designed to promote teamwork, along with developing their social and leadership skills.

My husband and I had driven the 8 ½ hours it took to get to Little Falls, Minnesota so we could enjoy the graduation ceremonies. My first glimpse of him, after a long eight days without any word from him, was as he was in formation. His “flight” marched in preparation for the Pass & Review parade. I took one look at his face and I was shocked to see utter exhaustion. I had never seen him look so incredibly tired.

Later that night, when he returned to our hotel with us after the awards banquet, he shared what he called the longest eight days of his life. Not only was he awoken early each morning, but the day was filled with activities, most especially things like drill, learning how to make hospital corners, how to take care of your uniform (which includes pressing the shirt and pants and polishing the shoes), marching in formation, classroom, and other hands-on activities. It was go, go, go. He said that one day felt like two. He would eat lunch and think it was dinner, only to realize he had only gotten through half the day.

They would go non-stop until lights out at 10 p.m. Then for two nights he had to serve guard duty—one night from 10 p.m. to Midnight and another night from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. He missed quite a bit of sleep on those nights and said that during classroom time, he was falling asleep. So he would have to stand at the side of the classroom to keep from falling asleep. He was given a real work over!

Now lest you think it was only a week of torture, he had some great moments, too. He was able to fly a 172 Cessna (and that meant taking over the controls completely), use a tank simulator that the soldiers on base actually use for practice, participate in a confidence course and witness other memorable things such as a tank driving by while he was eating. He also made some new friends. He loved the activities during the week but hated the lack of sleep.

I think he learned a lot about himself that week…that he can do more than he thought he was capable of. And even if he doesn’t realize it, I believe he also learned to appreciate his life. Who wouldn’t after an experience like that? In fact, Saturday afternoon when we finally made it back home, he stepped out of our van and said, “If I didn’t hate dirt, I would kiss the ground right now.”

As I have had opportunity to think about everything he went through, it has made me feel so incredibly proud of him. I have also come to realize that he experienced something that will stick with him for a long time. If he does decide to join the Air Force, he knows better what to expect. If he doesn’t join, he has still learned valuable lessons that I think all children could benefit from.

How quick are we to try and make our children’s lives so comfortable that we fail to see the need for them to experience discomfort and yes, sometimes even pain. I am definitely one of those moms that would much prefer to rescue my child from any sort of pain. I would love to solve all of their problems. But as they have gotten older, I have come to realize more and more the importance of them going through the rough times.

It is during the difficult moments in life that we learn the greatest lessons. It is when our faith is tested, our character is molded and we discover how very much we cannot make it on our own. To miss all of that is to miss some of the greatest blessings that our children could ever receive. Life is not handed to us on a silver platter. It has highs and lows, mountaintop experiences and moments in the valley. We have to learn how to make our way through all of it.

Next week my oldest will be going into 10th grade. He only has three years of high school left—a short amount of time to begin planning and preparing for his future. These are crucial years for him. My middle child will be entering 7th grade…in the midst of those sometimes turbulent middle school years, there will be opportunity for a lot of growing, change and difficulties. My youngest is at the end of his elementary school years, going into 5th grade. This is a time of where there is that pull between still being a little child and wanting to become more independent.

Like it or not, they are probably all three going to experience some difficulties this upcoming school year. I have no idea what they could be but I do know that anything that comes their way is for their good, and not their harm. And guess what? I know that I need to stand to the side. I need to let them work through it. I can’t rescue them or solve their problems. But what I can do is be there for them…to encourage and support them. I can offer my wisdom when and if it’s called for. But most important of all, I can pray for them.

Mom, it is okay for your child to experience pain, difficulties and challenges. Remember all the things that you have gained from the same troubles in your own life. But most of all, remember that your child is not alone. He/she has the greatest Helper, Counselor, Advocate, Friend that they could ever hope for—the Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Letting Go and Letting God

One of my favorite songs by Matt Redman is "You Never Let Go." The chorus goes this way:
Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

I am so glad that He never lets go of me! But I am also glad that He never lets go of my children! Yesterday morning I left my 15 year old at his Civil Air Patrol unit, where he would be traveling with cadets from his unit and other units to Ripley, Minnesota. He is going to be spending eight days there, on an active military base.

My son has never been away from home for more than a couple of days. And even then, it was only by his cousin's house. Still, I would find myself really missing him when he was gone for even a couple of days. I knew letting him go to this encampment was going to be very difficult for me.

For those who know my family well, you also know the history of my son and the many struggles and challenges we went through with him. At 7 years old he was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. The next few years proved to be very difficult as he battled with this condition and in turn, a sleeping disturbance that eventually required medication. The result of his sleeping disturbance was anxiety and irrational behavior. Throughout those years I homeschooled him and it wasn't until he entered the 5th grade that I put him into public school.

By the time he entered his middle school years, the tics had disappeared, the sleeping problems ended, he was off medication and his behavior began to calm down. From that point on, I watched a brand new child and now, young man emerge.

Civil Air Patrol has been the best thing that could ever happen to him. He has always been very patriotic (at 9 years old one Memorial Day he walked along the gravesites of veterans at the cemetery brushing dirt off every single little flag he passed), a WWII enthusiast, and intent on having a career in aviation. This has been since he was in the 1st grade. His love for the military has only grown.

It has been a pleasure and joy to see him take part in this program. When he earned his first promotion and I had the privilege to take part in the ceremony by placing his pins on his uniform, it made me so thankful for how far he has come.

To leave him yesterday morning was to leave behind a part of him in a way. I know he cannot possibly come back the same after an experience like he will have. He is going to participate in drills, classes, tank simulators, helicopter simulators, small-arms marksmanship simulators, land navigation courses, orientation flights, marching everywhere he goes, living in the barracks, and the list goes on.

He is really growing up! I cannot believe this is the same young man who at one time would sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" over and over and over again (smile).

Leaving him yesterday wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I knew crying would do him no good. It would only embarrass him. When we got there, the cadets who had already arrived were lined up in formation. My son suddenly looked very serious and I knew this was not the place to bemoan the fact that I was going to miss him very, very much.

It wasn't until later in the day, toward evening when I began to feel sad. I missed him. I wondered if he was going to be able to sleep. I wondered if he had regretted going or thought it was the best thing in the whole world. No cell phones, so no way to contact him. All I have is the hope that he actually uses the calling card I provided him whenever he gets free time. So it took a while for me to fall asleep.

When I woke up this morning, I wondered what he was doing. I knew he was up at the crack of dawn and had probably already accomplished more than I could even imagine. The sadness set in again.

Letting go is very hard. No matter what stage of life or what event in your child's life, it can be very difficult to let go. I am so thankful that even as I face those times of letting go, I can know that at the same time, I am also letting God. I am letting God have his way in my child's life. I am letting God take control. I am letting God work and move and form and shape my child's life. I don't have to fear (although that can be a battle) for if my God is for him, than who can be against him?

For me, at this moment in time, I am letting go to not only the experience my son is going through but to the possibility that this could turn into a career move for him. He could end up joining the Air Force. That both excites and frightens me. But I have never, nor will I ever, stand in the way of my child's dreams if they are what God has for him.

I don't know what you are facing today. You may be a young mom who is watching your baby suddenly emerge into a more independent toddler. It can be hard to let go of the baby stage. It may be your child is starting middle or high school for the first time. This is a brand new and sometimes worrisome time for parents. It could be that your child is making some choices that you don't agree with or know are bad for your child. Wow...that is really hard to let go of!

No matter your situation or circumstance, remember that as you let go, you also need to let God work. Loosening the reigns, entrusting your children entirely into His plans, watching your child is all part of letting go. But remember that as you let go, God has His hold on your child. And as Matt Redman reminds us, He will never let go!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When Your Heart Isn't In It

Have you heard the phrase that goes something along the lines of “My heart just wasn’t in it”? I have often heard that phrase used when someone has stepped out of ministry. They will say it was time to step down because their heart just wasn’t in it. Most of us would probably nod our heads in agreement and say, “You’re right. You shouldn’t do it if your heart isn’t in it.” But is that true? I would challenge you that it isn’t.

Let’s take that same phrase and apply it to a marriage. “You know, I have to get out of this marriage. My heart just isn’t in it.” Not so quick to defend that, are we? The truth is that we can’t pick and choose where our hearts can be “in it.” In fact, many times our heart, the part of us that relies on emotions and feelings, cannot be trusted. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Indeed…who can understand it?

Thankfully when I am most un-understandable, not only to my husband (face it ladies, many times our husbands just can’t understand us!), but to myself, there is Someone who not only understands my heart, He searches the deepest parts of it and He knows it. I don’t know what that means to you but I know for me it speaks to me very deeply. It tells me that I don’t always have to understand my heart because God does and whatever needs to be uncovered, in His timing, it will be done. Whatever is in my heart that needs to be dealt with, He will do it…again, in His time.

There are some days I don’t have the heart to go on. It could be that a struggle in my marriage has been weighing me down. I don’t have the heart to keep trying. There are some days that my children wear me down and I feel like I don’t have the heart to carry on. There are some days when a relationship with a family member or friend may disappoint me and I feel that my heart just can’t take it. There are days when my work or my ministry involvement is more than I can handle and my heart just isn’t in it.

What if we always listened to our heart and reacted upon our immediate feelings? I probably wouldn’t still be married. I may have run from my responsibilities as a parent. I could miss out on the callings that God has in my life both in my career and in ministry. I could be suffering from broken relationships.

There are times when the pull in our heart is so strong we feel we have no choice but to follow it. It’s a dangerous thing to do. Whenever we are faced with something that involves a pull in our heart, we have to be sure the tug isn’t the enemy or our own flesh, rather than the tugging of the Holy Spirit.

How do we keep our heart in line with the will and plans of God? Proverbs 4:23 says Above all else, guard your heart… Notice, it says above all else—in other words, this is more important than reacting, following your feelings, making a choice, deciding, and the list goes on. In other words, before you make a hasty decision, guard your heart. Be sure that your heart is protected from making wrong or harmful choices.

You may be wondering how you exactly go about guarding your heart. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ (Philippians 4:7). There is a peace that will come from God. The best guard, the best defense in your heart is one that results from a peace that passes all understanding—the kind that only God can give you.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mountains of Adversity

Do you have mountains of adversity in your life? I believe we all do. The size of the mountain may vary but I know that many moms are dealing with some difficult circumstances in their lives. I know of one mom who is in the process of going through a divorce, an obvious difficulty. I know of another mom who is struggling to understand why love hasn’t been enough to heal a young girl from the demons of her past. And then there is the mom whose child is running away from God, making very poor choices in their lifestyle. These are definite mountains of adversity and may feel impossible to overcome.

Other mountains can be just the daily tasks that moms face—the surmounting struggles just to stay on top of things, to keep it all together, to balance everything that needs to be done. I know that I have had my share of struggles in this area; taking on two additional children has seemed to more than double my workload.

Last Sunday morning one of our pastors preached an awesome message called “Running on Empty.” It was a very practical, down-to-earth and yet spiritually impacting message. Running on empty could very well describe many moms. Sometimes we are running on empty and don’t even know it. There have been times when I have hopped into my van to run from one place to the next and suddenly I realize that I am very low on gas and need to get to a gas station now. I was oblivious to the fact that we needed gas because I wasn’t paying attention.

If we don’t pay attention as moms, we can think all is well but then suddenly something small happens and we almost lose it. Well last Sunday morning I lost it…not in the sense that I blew a gasket but in that the realization of those mountains of adversity hit me hard. I knew I was being stretched…taking care of five children, dealing with so many issues of being in the foster care system, dealing with the birth mom, working our lives around their visits with mom and dad, trying to stay on top of chores and keeping the house clean, maintaining peace and unity, finishing up an online course and trying to fulfill my writing assignments. Like I said, I knew I was being stretched as so many moms are. I don’t know too many moms who are not busy!

But I was running on empty and didn’t even seem to notice. As I listened to that message being preached, I knew God was talking to me. I decided to go up for prayer at the end, thinking that I was going to get my little boost to carry on for the rest of the week. However, as soon as my feet hit that altar, something inside me unleashed. I began to cry uncontrollably. It just seemed to come out of left field.

When prayer time was over, I was doing everything I could to try and stop crying. But I couldn’t stop the tears…they just kept coming and coming. All my mountains of adversity suddenly seemed so big, too much for one person to handle. Most times I will leave a service and feel like everything is going to be okay. I didn’t leave with that sense. It almost felt like I was bearing a heavier burden now.

It wasn’t until later that day that I realized I was in a season where my mountains were a bit bigger than normal. I wasn’t going to get a quick fix at the altar. I had to take a journey and face the trek up over those mountains. If you have ever read the book, “Hind’s Feet on High Places” you know about the journey that Much-Afraid had to take in order to get to the High Places. Although the Shepherd walked with her, she was not kept from the difficult journey she had to make.

Moms, if you are facing mountains of adversity, don’t wish them away. Don’t look at them as obstacles. Instead, look at them as opportunities to grow in Christ. Look at them as a time of being refined and changed. If you run from those opportunities, you are the one losing out. Deep inside I do wish my mountains of adversity could be gone. I would love to find myself back in the place I once was, comfortable with my life as it was. Yet I will not run from this because I know that once I overcome those mountains of adversity, I will be fulfilled in a greater way than I probably could ever have imagined.

And the great thing is…God can be found in the mountain! Send forth Your light and Your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell (Psalm 43:3).