Saturday, September 26, 2009

Praying for Your Children

There is something very powerful and faith building when your children have been enlightened. As a parent you invest so much into your children that even when you receive just a nugget of your investment bringing something forth, it gives you hope and increased faith.

It can be easy to get discouraged when as a parent you are pouring and pouring into your children’s’ lives but nothing seems to be coming of it. You wonder if your prayers are bouncing off the walls of heaven. You wonder if your example has been for nothing. There are seasons as a parent when you may go through times of hopelessness. Your children may be making choices that grieve you. Your children may have lost that passion and fire for God. Your children may be on the fence and you are so fearful that one wrong move and they will end up on the wrong side.

Recently I began something new. Being a writer one of my favorite things to do is journal. I went out and bought three nice journals for each of my children. I began to write daily prayers in them. One day I would pray for their health, another day for their friendships and then another day I might pray for a specific situation they are going through. What I like about this method of prayer for my children is that I can cover so many different things. They are also written in ink, permanent memories of the things that I have brought before God so that I can look back and see how God faithfully answered those prayers.

I seem to be going through a season of answered prayer—not that God doesn’t answer our prayers mind you, but there just seems to be this immediate moving of mountains lately that have really boosted my faith. It has also been an opportunity to show me that God cares not just about the spiritual things in our children’s lives but even the everyday things we may take for granted.

For instance, my oldest son has always struggled to get good grades. Not because he doesn’t understand the material. In fact, it has consistently been that he gets A’s and B’s on his tests but he fails to turn in work. He just doesn’t see the importance of getting his work done. I had more control over that in his earlier years of school; however, now that he is in high school, I have a lot less control.

I have never been able to understand how he could let the potential final grade of an A or B drop to a C or D, simply because he didn’t feel like taking the time to turn in an assignment. So this has been a huge frustration for me as a parent. How do you motivate a child who doesn’t care? We have tried everything—punishments and rewards but the truth was that it needed to come from within. He needed to make the decision that turning in his work is important.

So this summer in his prayer journal, I began to ask for God to change his heart with regard to this. When school started I didn’t lecture him. In fact only one time did I say anything to him about his grades and that was something along the lines of “You have a fresh start this year.” I left it all to God. I didn’t nag or scold him. Now I’m seeing the fruit of my prayers get answered. He is striving for A’s in all his classes and is doing that…if not, at least getting B’s. He suddenly cares about turning his work in. You see, it wasn’t me lecturing him. It wasn’t me warning him. It was God being allowed to move because I moved out of the way!

Here is another example. Throughout the time we were fostering the two little ones, my daughter had grew to really resent the situation at times. She couldn’t see the good in what we were doing…she was too wrapped up in judging the mom, seeing the negative side of things and how our family had to give up so much. I knew it was selfishness oozing out of her soul but she didn’t it. So again, in her prayer journal I began to ask God to change her heart. I stopped trying to convince her that what we were doing was the right thing because I knew she had to come to that conclusion on her own.

It wasn’t until last Wednesday, after all these months of being in the situation, that she was enlightened. Not only has the children’s mother begun to have a relationship with the Lord and faithfully coming to church but she brought her friend with last Wednesday who has four daughters. Her friend is living in a battered woman’s shelter and the whole story is a very sad one. We are now able to be an example and an influence to yet another family.

Well after I shared with my family all that God was doing, my daughter made the comment that maybe this was why we had become a foster family and how God wanted to save their mom and now her friend. Do you think I didn’t try to express this to my daughter through the course of our journey? But she couldn’t hear it; she couldn’t receive it because her heart was closed off to the idea. God had moved in her heart and opened it up to the truth.

Her whole attitude toward the mom, the situation and the little ones has completely changed. She is seeing God work and I know this will be a huge impact on her life forever.

Finally, I have to share a story about my youngest son. I’m not sure what my husband and I were thinking when we named him Jacob but let’s just say he has lived up to the reputation of that name. Don’t get me wrong…he is not a bad kid. But he is definitely the one child of ours that is more drawn to do the wrong thing. He is the child that keeps me praying much more. I see in him that he has the potential to do great things for God if he can just stay on the right path.

So of course, I pray about this frequently in his prayer journal. Just last week I got that nugget of my investment in prayer bringing forth something tangible. He was telling me this story about how at recess he was with his best friend Victor, who attends our church and another boy from school. Now keep in mind these are 10 year old boys. This school friend of theirs was saying how he thought a particular girl was “hot.” My boys are well aware of what I think about that phrase. It is a very demeaning way to describe any female.

So this boy asked my son and Victor who they think is hot and my son said no one. This school friend then asked him if he was gay and he said no, that he doesn’t think those things about girls and then his friend Victor said they were too young for that. These boys stood up for their beliefs and risked the ridicule that would be received. I was so proud of my son and saw that my prayers are not in vain. He can stay on the right path and it won’t be me taking him by the hand and forcing him to stay on that path. It will be God working through my prayers.

I don’t know what situations you are facing with your children. I don’t know what struggles are in your relationship with them or the poor choices that they may be making. It could be that your children are young yet and you have only begun to really think about how your prayers can make a difference. Know this…God can and does move on behalf of your prayers! They may not be immediate but they will happen. It may not always be in the way we like or in the method that we would choose. God’s ways are higher than our ways. His plan is always a good one.

Take the time to really lift up those prayers to the One who created, formed and shaped your children. I do recommend prayer journals as being a way to keep track of the times you have brought these things before God and then be able to look back and see how God answered them. I think it’s a wonderful legacy to leave to your children. Every single notebook or journal that I have written in for my children, I will one day give to them. What a treasure that will be for them.

Meanwhile, we have a treasure of written words from God. We have the Word of God to stand on. This is the legacy that He has given to us and not only must it be something we read but it must be something we treasure. Use the Word as your sword to combat the things in your children’s lives that would try to destroy them. You cannot go wrong with the Word!

Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Proverbs 30:5

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Whose Report Will You Believe?

So I have a question for you…whose report are you going to believe? I can still remember years ago when we would sing the lines to this song frequently in church:

Whose report will you believe?
I will believe the report of the Lord!

Well not that long ago one morning I was reading the account of the 12 spies who were sent by Moses to check out the Promised Land. The story is a riveting account full of all kinds of good lessons to be learned.

During this particular time of reading the account, what stood out to me was the name of the land…it was the Promised Land. Especially in biblical times, names carried a lot of meaning. There is a lot of meaning behind the naming of a land with the word promise—that means what God says is going to happen, is going to happen! The Israelites were told ahead of time that it was the Promised Land; it wasn’t like a surprise to them.

So we know the story, that 10 spies…10 out of 12 (bad odds!) came back with a negative report. How do you come back with a negative report when God has already promised you good things? The problem is that the spies only saw the things that looked impossible. Their eyes were fixed on the difficulties.

But two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, came back with an entirely different report. See, it’s all about perspective. They didn’t see the difficulties and impossibilities…they saw what God could do. They saw beyond the circumstances and believed that God’s word was true.

But isn’t that just like us, most of the time? We become so fixed on the way we see things that we fail to put on God’s eyes. Wouldn’t you love to have a pair of “God goggles?” These would be goggles that we could slip on at any time and suddenly see things through His eyes. How differently we would live each day!

However, I think that’s exactly what God expects of us. We may not have a literal pair of goggles to put on but we can certainly choose to view things through the eyes of faith. Faith really is a choice. We either choose to believe or we choose not to.

Recently my daughter came back from a friend’s house where she has spent many a time in their pool. Several months ago she had taken my husband’s goggles with her and came back empty-handed. She had no idea what happened to them. After all these months, on this last visit to her friend’s house she very happily pulled out my husband’s goggles declaring that they had been found. We asked where she found them. They had apparently gotten stuck in the filter.

Think about it. We often get our goggles stuck in filters. We see things very dimly or we see things with a very cloudy perspective. Then we take that and run with it. We make choices based on that or worse yet, we try to tell others what they should do as we are looking through those cloudy lenses.

You know, over the course of these last several years, I have run across a lot of “regulating” from other Christians. These are believers who are trying to “look after” other believers. Yet they fail to see how critical, judgmental and cloudy their vision is. I come from a background of homeschooling my children. My reasons for doing so were directed by God. It was the right choice at that time for our family. Then we entered into a new season when the right choice was to put my children in school. At each season, whether I was homeschooling or my children were in school, I was following the direction for our family for that time.

I can look back and see why we were in those seasons. I have never regretted any decisions because I knew we were doing what was right for us. Yet often I have been told by other believers that my choice was wrong—whether it was a non-homeschooling family criticizing my choice to homeschool or a homeschooling family criticizing my choice not to.

Whose report are you going to believe? Where has God sent you? Where is He leading you right now? Are you going to look through the eyes of your flesh? Or are you going to look through the eyes of faith? It might be time to dig around and see if you got your goggles stuck somewhere. Wipe them off and be amazed at how clearly you can suddenly see when you have God’s perspective.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lessons in Life and Death

Last night I attended one of the most impacting funeral services of my entire life. Over 1,000 people were in attendance for the funeral of a beautiful woman, Lori Dykstra. At 40 years of age, her battle with cancer was finally over with and the victory was hers as she is now with her Lord and Savior. She left behind a husband and four children, whose faith seems to be only stronger with her passing. Her life has truly made a difference!

This funeral service was more than just one of those times when you think to yourself, “What would others say about me at my funeral service?” It went beyond that. Instead of thinking about what others would say at your death, it prompted you to think about what others would say of your life. What are you doing now? What difference, what impact are you making in the lives of those around you and those you may not even know?

I guarantee you there were people in attendance last night who never personally knew her, but her impact was so far reaching. I am so thankful to have been one who did know her. We met many years ago in our Tuesday morning mom groups at church, Heart to Heart and Moms in Touch. What I most remember about her is in Moms in Touch, which is a group that meets to pray for their children and families. I remember her prayers, how she was especially praying for a particular family member. Her prayers were sweet and I can still hear her soft-spoken voice uttering them.

As I was journaling this morning, I asked God that what He stirred up within me last night would cause the woman of God that He has called me to be to begin to rise to the very surface…that my life could be so impacting. I can only imagine the hundreds of others who feel the same. It was just one of those experiences in life that you couldn’t possibly be the same afterwards.

Of course, I realize that there are many reading this blog who may not have ever heard of Lori, who weren’t able to attend her funeral…but let me reassure you, there is much that can be learned without having that firsthand knowledge of her and the incredibly beautiful life that she led.

Think for a moment about what you are doing with your life. What kind of a wife are you? Could your husband stand before others, as her husband did, and share how she truly lived as the Proverbs 31 wife? Would your son or daughter be able to declare to the world that you truly are the greatest mother they could ever wish for?

There were moments in the service last night that I felt almost like I was being disciplined. There are areas in my life that God was showing me needed some work. For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines… (Hebrews 12:6). He loves me enough to point out those areas. What areas in your life has God been trying to get your attention with?

A song came into my head this morning as I was typing this blog. The lyrics are a testament to the life of Lori but should also be a testament to each and every one of our lives. It’s called The Blessing by John Waller:

Verse 1
Let it be said of us while we walked among the living
Let it be said of us by the ones we leave behind
Let it be said of us that we lived to be a blessing for life

Verse 2
And let it be said of us that we gave to reach the dying
Let it be said of us by the fruit we leave behind
Let it be said of us that our legacy is blessing for life

This day, You set life, You set death right before us
This day, every blessing and curse is a choice now
And we will choose to be a blessing for life

Verse 3
Let it be said of us that our hearts belong to Jesus
Let it be said of us that we spoke the words of life
Let is be said of us that our heritage is blessing for life

'Cause blessings and curses are choices
Will we build up, tear down? The moment of truth is now

For your kingdom, for our children
For the sake of every nation
For your kingdom, for our children
For the sake of every nation
We will choose to be a blessing for life

I am so thankful for how God used her life and death to make a difference in my life and in turn, a difference for eternity!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When Things Get Difficult

Do you easily walk away from difficulties? When the heat gets turned up, do you run away? In the midst of battles, difficulties and problems in life, we can get the wrong perspective about things. Unfortunately sometimes we are duped into thinking that if it doesn’t feel right, it must not be right.

When our family first entered into this journey of becoming foster parents, one of the warnings I received was to guard my family. It was a fair statement. However, the logistics of that, what that exactly means could be questioned. Does it mean that if things get uncomfortable, it’s time to bail out? That question plagued me after a conversation with someone concerning the difficulties we were experiencing.

I was expressing to someone who was close to the situation, that we were feeling overwhelmed. It was not easy to take in two children who were not our own. It was not easy suddenly caring for little ones when we had already gone through that stage. There was an invasion of our space, our time, our finances and our hearts. The truth was that it was more difficult than we had ever imagined it would be.

The response from the person I was talking to? Then maybe we need to rethink what we are doing. If it is disrupting your family so much, then it isn’t worth it. You have no idea how easy it would be to feed into that! My flesh would love to say, “Absolutely! This is too much for my family. I need to guard my family so it’s time we bail.”

It’s interesting how believers will use what appears to be a good and logical reason for getting out of a difficult situation. It sounds so holy to say your family needs to come first, that they shouldn’t have to suffer. But aren’t we called to suffer? Aren’t we all called to carry our crosses? Who are we to say that just because something is difficult, or uncomfortable, or maybe inconvenient, that it isn’t meant to be. If everything in life came so easily, we wouldn’t need to trust in and rely on God.

Believe me…I have had to preach that to myself almost daily. I have gone into this situation with my heels digging in the dirt. Although my flesh has fought it, I have not given into it. I have chosen to follow the Lord. If I were to act on my feelings, to say that this is too hard for our family, I know in my heart of hearts that I would be disobeying the Lord….that we would all be disobeying the Lord.

Think about some situations in your own life. As a mom, our job is to protect, nurture, love and care for our husbands and children. We are to guard our families, no argument there! But guarding our family doesn’t always mean we try to fix what’s broken or what is difficult. It’s in those broken and difficult situations that we find growth and deeper trust in God.

If everything goes to plan, in just five days our foster children will be returning home. Many have asked us about how we are going to feel. We went into this knowing it was temporary. It was never a question as to whether or not these children would be returned…it was when they would be returned home. We never had it in our hearts to keep them. We knew this was for a season and for a reason.

God has done so much through this situation. At another time, when I feel its right, I will be sharing about this journey through possibly a blog or something. For now, we are quietly waiting for Wednesday, to hear the word that yes, they are going home.

We will continue to trust, even if our saying goodbye to them does turn out to be more difficult than expected…He has carried us through so much…He will continue to. God is faithful and no matter if you walk through the fire, the rain, the floods or the valleys…He is there.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Strengthened in the Lord

It’s said that before you can win the war, you have to win the battle…or something like that. All I know is that a war is something much bigger and it lasts longer. The outcome doesn’t happen in a day. Many battles, however, have been fought in a day. Battles are almost like smaller nuisances of a much bigger problem.

This past week it was all about the battles of life. Nothing major happened, no large scale conflict that you could compare to a war. No, it was one small thing after another that when put together…well, it felt like a war!

Believe me…I do try very hard to keep things in perspective. There are others around me dealing with some real hard hitting situations in life. They are those punch-in-the-guts without warning type of situations…cancer, death, divorce and the list goes on. No, my life is not that difficult but it has certainly been more than a little bit uncomfortable.

As challenging as I found the summer to be with taking in two young children and the struggles to become their foster parents, the lifestyle changes we have had to make and the schedule we have had to maintain…I had no idea what I was in store for when I went back to work this week. It was not just going back to work but it was also my children returning to school and our foster children returning to daycare. It was quite an adjustment for all of us. Of course, I tried my hardest to make it as smooth as possible for my family, which unfortunately meant that I took on the brunt of the stress.

Going into this week, I tried my hardest to alleviate the stress. I am an organizer by nature so it was nothing to get my house ready and in shape, to have the school supplies where they needed to be, to put together a schedule, to get all of the kids’ clothes organized, and whatever else was necessary to face the week.

I was not prepared, however, for the little battles that would creep up during the week—the chaos at my work, at one point not even knowing if there was a position for me as a preschool teacher, new co-workers as four of them left over the summer, new children—getting up so early again—waking five children up at 6 am and trying to get them all out the door within an hour—carpooling—figuring out how I was going to get the foster kids to their mom’s house—trying to keep on top of laundry—just one thing after another.

My first day back at work I got a headache that later turned into a migraine and throughout the remainder of the week, I was either dealing with headaches, migraines or just having that feeling of the edge of a headache. I was worn out, frustrated and discouraged. I thought to myself that there was no way I could do this.

Then one morning I was reading in I Samuel 29-30 about David. One small verse jumped out at me that really hit me. David wanted to help the Philistines fight their enemies but the Philistine rulers didn’t trust him. He and his men were sent back home. Unfortunately, while they had been gone, the Amalekites had raided their homes. They found their city burned by fire and all of their wives and children taken captive. Not only had David experienced great loss but so had the men in his company. They were so upset about it, that they were ready to stone David.

David wasn’t in a war…but he was facing some real battles. He had been rejected and distrusted. He lost his home and his family was no where to be found. The men he was leading had lost all they had, as well. I am quite sure he felt a tremendous amount of responsibility for that. Then to top it off, his followers were ready to kill him. Everything seemed pretty hopeless. Yet…I Samuel 30:6 says But David found strength in the Lord His God.

I had a sneaking suspicion that my headaches all week were because I had not found my strength in the Lord. I was trying to do battle on my own. I don’t know how it works for you but I know when I have allowed stress to take over me I experience headaches. That is almost always the way my body reacts. When I have been strengthened in the Lord, the battles don’t go away. Oh no, they are still there but suddenly I find ways to face my enemies. David found strength in the Lord and went to action. He didn’t give up.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have wanted over the summer to give up. It was at times a daily battle to not call up the caseworker and say, “That’s it! We are done!” When I went back to work this week, I wanted to give up. I wanted to say it wasn’t worth it, that I needed to quit. I would beat myself up often over the way I felt…that it was wrong to feel such a desire to quit. I told a friend one time that everyone thought our family was a hero for stepping in and taking in these children. I didn’t feel like a hero because I knew the attitudes of my heart and the thoughts that swam in my head. Yet…God began to show me that even though the desire to quit was there…I didn’t.

I know there are battles out there that you are all facing…in fact; you might even be in the midst of an all out war. DON’T QUIT! Don’t give up! Don’t retreat! Don’t turn tail and run! Face the battle but do as David did, find your strength in the Lord!