a-girl-her-cat
Faith, Grace, Hope, promises

Relentless Pursuit

Jacob and Esau. The twins who fought, even in the womb. Animosity ran thick as they battled for their parents’ affection. Esau was loved by his father, and Jacob was his mother’s favorite.

It started with the birthright, when Jacob convinced his starving brother to sell it for a bowl of soup. Then, with his mother’s blessing, Jacob tricked his dad into giving him the blessing reserved for the oldest son.

A deceiver. Sinful from birth. Integrity was not high on his list of character traits.

Yet loved by God. Pursued relentlessly by God.

Wherever Jacob ran, God was right there calling him home, calling him to surrender to the One who loved him.

As Jacob was fleeing the fury of his brother and running to his Uncle Laban, he stopped to sleep.

As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. …What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Genesis 28:10-15

Despite his deceit, God was calling him, promising to bless him. Jacob was at the foot of heaven, encountering the Holy God of his ancestors. God was calling him—the deceiver—to a relationship with the God of his fathers.

But Jacob wasn’t ready to surrender. Intrigued? Yes. But he wasn’t there yet, not ready to fully trust the God of his ancestors, the God he had heard about but never personally encountered. He marked the place of his dream, named it Bethel, and made this vow:

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” Genesis 28:20-22

And on he went, continuing his trip to his Uncle Laban’s, running from the mess he had created back home with his deceit.

God went right along with him, pursuing him, calling him to surrender.

Jacob might have met his match in his Uncle Laban. The two were very much alike in their deceitful ways. But, Jacob worked faithfully for his uncle, marrying his two daughters and increasing his uncle’s wealth.

Eventually, Jacob grew tired of Laban’s ways and decided to take his wealth and flee. First fleeing his brother and now fleeing his uncle. He packed up his wives and children and flocks and herds and took off, hoping his brother had forgiven.

Right on his heels was Laban, chasing him down. But God warned Laban not to hurt Jacob. God was watching over him, protecting him, even as he ran yet again.

As Jacob started on his way again, angels of God came to meet him. When Jacob saw them, he exclaimed, “This is God’s camp!” So he named the place Mahanaim. Genesis 32:1-2

Again, God was there, pursuing Jacob. Jacob hadn’t chosen God, but God had obviously chosen Jacob. Wherever he went, God was with him.

Finally, the moment arrives. He’s within a short distance of his brother, Esau, the one who had vowed to kill him at their last encounter. I’m certain the fear was mounting, the dread of the encounter. Jacob would meet his brother, take responsibility for his actions.

Maybe, just maybe, this God who was relentlessly pursuing him really would be faithful, would keep that promise he made. Maybe, just maybe, he could trust this God of his ancestors.

So Jacob paused, took a step toward surrender.

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac—O Lord, you told me, ‘Return to your own land and to your relatives.’ And you promised me, ‘I will treat you kindly.’ I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant. Genesis 32:9-10

He sent everyone ahead of him, carrying gifts to his estranged brothers. He hoped to appease his anger, to soften his heart before they saw one another. But now, he just needed to be alone.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” …  Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. Genesis 32:24-26, 30-32

In the solitude, he found himself wrestling with God. This encounter was the life-changing moment he needed, the one where he fully surrendered. All the moments before. All his sin. All his deceit. Everything came crashing together in one final moment, a night where he wrestled with God, erasing all doubt and solidifying his faith in God. Trusting that the God who had relentlessly pursued him through every twist and turn of life would be faithful to keep his promises. Finally taking the God of his ancestors as his own.

The God who relentlessly pursued Jacob? He’s the same God who relentlessly pursues us. In our pain. In our sin. In our successes. In our failures. When we are faithful. When we are faithless.

He’s there. He’s calling us, wooing us to let go of everything, to trust Him with our very lives. He’s beside us. He’s promising us that every painful circumstance can be used for His purpose, for our good when we leave it in His hands. He’s around us. He’s putting His angels around us, protecting us, guarding us, from those who would wish us harm.

There’s nothing in this world that can keep Him from us. There’s nothing He can’t overcome. There’s nothing that will stop Him in His pursuit of us.

All He wants is for us to surrender, to let go of our burdens and our fears, our shame and our guilt, our sins and our failures. He wants us to turn it all over to Him, to let Him take it and make something beautiful. He wants us to trust Him, fully and completely, to take Him as our very own.

Will you surrender to the still, small voice calling you to Himself? He’s waiting just for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dating, Hope

Dena’s Rules for Dating

denas-rules-for-dating

 

Hearts. Pink and red. Cupid. Mushy cards. Flowers. Candy. Love and romance.

Everything around us screams Valentine’s Day right now.

I’m not sure what feelings this holiday evokes for you. Maybe you are relishing the excitement of a new relationship. Maybe you are in the silent days of waiting for someone special, waiting your turn to celebrate love. Or maybe you are reeling from the pain of a shattered relationship, simply trying to hide from yet another commercialized holiday.

I have endured the last nine Februarys. ENDURED. Buried my head in the sand hoping when I woke up it would be over. Watched couples all around me completely lost in each other’s eyes while I sat in a corner alone. Mustered the strength to take one (or all) of my kids on a date while longing for someone special to take me on a date. Prayed, wondered, doubted when God would decide it was my time.

This year, I actually look forward to February. While it’s difficult to build a relationship when you are busy chasing kids, I am blessed to have my very own valentine this year. A new season. A huge blessing in an incredibly difficult year. A kind, considerate man who loves me AND my kids.

An answered prayer.

Maybe you aren’t yet where I am in this crazy walk, but one day you will be. Wherever you are, whatever season, I have a few thoughts on dating. Don’t short-change yourself. Don’t settle for less than the best. Be willing to listen to a few words of advice from someone who has been in the trenches for a very long time.

Wait. I know what it is to be lonely. I know what it is to feel utterly rejected, to wonder if you will ever be loved. I know what it is to be the only single in the midst of a room full of marrieds. The pain and anguish and loneliness are overwhelming.

I know what it is to dread February 14 every year, to wonder when it will be your turn to receive those beautiful flowers like all of your co-workers. I know what it is to watch all your friends get married while you wait…and wait…and wait.

But that’s exactly what I encourage you to do: wait. Wait until you’ve had time to heal from your broken heart. Wait until you are satisfied with God and God alone. Wait until you’re completely satisfied in your life, whatever it may look like right now.

Wait until you find someone who has also waited, who has taken time to heal. Wait until you find someone who is satisfied in life as a single. Wait until you find someone who is ready to follow God’s purpose, regardless of what it may involve.

Love is patient…and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 4, 7b

Love God. As I alluded to above, make sure you love God. Make sure He is in proper position in your life.

Are you seeking Him and His kingdom? Have you allowed Him to take your past, your mistakes, your pain, and use it all to transform you into His image? Have you allowed God to take all the broken, shattered pieces of your life and fit them back together into something beautiful? Have you tested Him and found Him completely faithful throughout your wilderness?

If so, you may be ready to move forward. Just make sure whoever you decide to date has done the same thing, has spent time getting to know the Savior and being transformed by Him. Make sure he is also seeking God above all else.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33

Friendship. It may seem strange, but before you decide to date, make sure you have a solid friendship. There will be times when the butterflies are absent, when the newness wears off. That’s when you must have a solid friendship upon which you can fall.

Take time to get to know him, all his quirks, his outlook on life. Is he there for you when you are down? Is she available to listen when your life is uncertain? Is he kind at all times? Is she considerate of your needs and wants?

Relationships are difficult, but when you are with your best friend it makes life so much easier. Friendship is the foundation of any love story.

Can I tell you a secret? Last spring, I was driving to work one morning, thinking about my friend. I felt certain God was on the verge of bringing someone into my life, a certainty like I had never had before. I became sad thinking that if there was a man in my life I wouldn’t be able to have Roy in my life in the same way. And that’s the very moment God hit me between the eyeballs with His truth.

My friend of 30 years? The one who has walked this ENTIRE nightmare with me? The one who endured many of the same things as I have? The one who has pursued me for NINE years while I was oblivious to him? The one who has fought for my affections even when I rejected him time after time?

He was right before me from the very beginning.

Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable? Proverbs 20:6

Love and Respect. Two powerful words, words that make the difference between “till death do we part” and divorce court.

Does he love you as Christ loved the church? Is he willing to lay down his life for you? Would he be willing to sacrifice everything, to surrender his very life to protect you? Is his love for you pure and complete? Is he willing to put aside his own desires to put you ahead of himself? Is his love for you constant and unconditional?

Does she respect you? Does she give you honor at every turn? Does she see your goodness, your purity? Does she always speak highly of you, in private and in public? Are her words those that bring life? Does she seek to build you up, never tearing you down?

Can you freely and openly talk to each other about everything? Can you lovingly confront and ask for change, ask for your needs to be met? Are you comfortable discussing every topic? Can you bring up difficult topics without fear of repercussions?

If love and respect flow freely, hold tight.

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:33

What about kids? Many of you, like me, are entering into this dating thing with kids in tow. It adds an entirely new dimension to building and maintaining a relationship.

Over the years, I have met more than one man who professed his love for me, but really didn’t want my kids. It wasn’t necessarily my kids; it was just that they really didn’t want to raise more kids.

My kids and I are a package deal. Period. No questions. If you love me, you will love my kids as your own. It’s nothing more than I would expect of myself.

Roy has two teenage kids of his own to throw into the crazy, chaotic mix I already have. But he always treats my kids as his own. They have so enjoyed having a man around, a man who always speaks kindly, supports them in their activities, loves them as his own. I enjoy seeing them interact with a man, a strong man who is tender enough to show his love for them. I enjoy watching them build a relationship with a father-figure and do father-son activities (shop for some unmentionables?!?! So glad I got out of THAT one!).

My kids love him, and he loves them. What a blessing!

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

Don’t rush. It may sound like waiting, and it’s similar. But, this nugget of advice is on the other end.

You’ve found someone. He has waited until God healed his heart. She has made sure God is at the center of her life. You’ve built a friendship. Love and respect flow easily between you. The kids are loved by you both.

Don’t rush. The temptation is to jump right in, to put a wedding date on the calendar and bring it full circle. But I encourage you to take your time, to do things right. Maybe there’s never a perfect time, but make sure you are listening to God, following His lead.

Have you taken time to make sure the walls are down, to make sure you know each other well? Are you completely convinced God has created you specifically for each other at this specific time? Are you fully ready to commit whole-heartedly without reservation?

Take your time. There’s no rush, no hurry. If he truly loves you, truly wants to spend the rest of his life with you, he will not only respect your desires but encourage you to take your time.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

I don’t know what Valentine’s looks like for you this year, but I promise God is still in control. Let Him heal your heart, and one day you will rejoice as February rolls around.

He is good…always and forever!

prayer

A Prayer for a Divided Nation

Father, my heart grieves for our country. You tell us that any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall (Luke 11:17). Our country is so divided, and it pains me to think of our nation falling. But I know we cannot stand without you at the center.

We know we must honor you, recognize you as Lord and Savior. We must acknowledge our sins and failures. We must be willing to surrender to you, to follow the plans you have for us. As a whole, our country has fallen away, turned our backs on you.

But, for the sake of the faithful remnant, we call on you to be merciful to us. You know there are those who continue to choose you, who continue to seek your face. You know there are faithful ones who desire to honor you, to point the world back to you. For the sake of the faithful ones, hear our prayers and save our nation.

This world continues to grow darker. We know the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18), but we cling to the cross. We know it is only because of the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, that we have forgiveness of sins and can enter into your presence.

As the world gets darker, we have an opportunity to let our lights shine brighter, to let your light shine through us to illuminate the darkness. May we reflect your goodness and grace for all the world to see. May we be purified as silver so the world sees an accurate reflection of you.

This country has become such a hotbed of dissension. I pray that we, as Christians, would lead the way in putting aside differences and learning to listen to those with whom we disagree. May we remember to be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry because we know that man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that you desire. Help us to get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept your word planted in us, knowing it will save us (James 1:19-20).

Help us to be wise in the way we conduct ourselves, in the way we live our lives. May we remember it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).

May we set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly temporal matters.  Because we are your chosen people, holy and dearly loved, help us clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. May we bear with each other and forgive one another… as the Lord forgave us. And over all these virtues may we put on love, which binds us all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14).

I pray we would focus completely on you so your perfect peace will rule in our hearts, since as members of one body we were called to peace. And help us to be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among us richly, as we sing to God with gratitude in our hearts. And whatever we do, whether in word or deed, may we do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:15-17).

In this day and age where people freely say whatever they think, whatever they feel, I pray we as Christ-followers would remember the importance of speaking words of life. Help us remember that if we consider ourselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on our tongues, we deceive ourselves, and our religion is worthless. May we show the world true religion that you accept as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world (James 1:19-20).

Don’t let our faith be dead. Instead, help us show our faith by our actions. May we reach out to those who are hurting, those who are in need. May we be the hands and feet of Christ, meeting the physical needs of those around us. May we share your love by giving to those around us, by proving our faith through our actions. Never let us be all talk with no action.

Father, we long to see your face, to see your hand of grace and mercy over us. See our hearts as we bow before you. See our longing to know you better. May your remnant, your people, who are called by your name, humble ourselves and pray and seek your face and turn from our wicked ways, so you will hear from heaven, and forgive our sin and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Help us all to put away politics, to join forces together around our new president, to pray your blessings over him. Pour out your spirit of wisdom and reconciliation to our leaders. Give our president a heart that longs to seek you, to follow you. Give him a desire to sit with those who think differently, who have different agendas, and to listen, to find common ground, to find ways to bridge the gap and move forward together.

We pray for unity for our country, for its chosen leaders. We don’t always understand why things happen as they do, but we do know you are still in control. May we commit to praying for our leaders, for our country, each and every day. May we commit to doing our part to bring unity wherever we are.

We are yours. Hear our prayers, our pleas, for healing in our land. We know it can only come through you, through your mercies which are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness!

 

About Dena, Hope, parenting

We’ll Figure It Out

I was born an organized, detail-oriented, planner.

Literally.

My mom was unconscious for five days after I was born. By the time my mom and I were stable enough to come home, the nurses had me on a strict schedule. I would take a bottle and go to bed at 10:00 pm, and I would wake up crying for a bottle at 5:00 am. My mom could practically tell time by my schedule.

As a child, I remember getting upset when something interfered with my schedule, my plans. After all, order was the hallmark of my life.

But then I became a single mom.

Over the years, I have learned that organization and schedules are not conducive to single parenting. I would probably drive myself insane if I clung to my schedule like I used to as a kid.

Instead, my motto has become, “We’ll figure it out.”

“Mom, how are you going to get me to my pig show if you are taking Cassie to voice lessons?” asks my son.

“We’ll figure it out,” I respond.

“Mom, how are we going to pay for camp?” another child asks.

“We’ll figure it out,” I respond.

“Mom, how can we make cookies for my class if you are taking him to a game?” my daughter asks.

“We’ll figure it out,” I respond.

Honestly, I have discovered that phrase rolls off my tongue multiple times every single day.

Last weekend, my oldest had a robotics competition. My youngest had voice lessons. And my middle child was showing pigs. Three different activities. Three different cities. All at the same time. It leaves me, the mom who wants to be there to support all of my kids, in quite the conundrum.

“We’ll figure it out,” comes the rallying cry.

And, as always, we did. It was a long day, one that started at 5:30 am and ended at 4:00 am Sunday, but somehow we managed to get all three kids to their separate activities AND attend all three activities for at least a portion of the time.

Now, I’m the first to admit I had some help. My parents helped me shuttle kids to and from, and they did their best to attend and support as well. But, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mom was running non-stop, cheering all three kids on!

In some ways, I kind of like being the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mom. Oh, I’m much more comfortable in the organized, scheduled role. But, if I’m honest, it’s probably only because it gives me a sense of control.

I’ve reached the conclusion, however, that I am not in control. I didn’t have control when my life fell apart and I was thrust into the role of single mom. I wasn’t in control when my finances were crumbling. I wasn’t in control when my kids lost their dad. I wasn’t in control when my daughter was lying in the floor, her body convulsing from the seizure attacking her brain.

Truth is, I’ve never been in control. I might think I am. I might want to be in control. But, in reality, I have never been in control.

So maybe my rallying cry of, “We’ll figure it out,” is really more of an admission that I’m not in control, that I simply have to let go of my desire to be in control and trust the One who really is in control.

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:25-34

I can almost hear God saying, “Don’t worry. Just trust me, and we will figure it out.”

Being a single mom has taught me to let go of so many things, to not stress about things over which I have no control. It’s taught me to simply let go and trust God, to ask Him to lead and direct my steps. It’s taught me to trust His ability to provide for me and my kids, to trust that He will care for even the smallest details of our lives.

I’m not perfect at letting go by any means. I still struggle with how I’m going to pay for college or if I will ever be able to retire. I still get uptight when things don’t go my way. I still get exhausted from chasing kids all over the country. I still long for this season of life to be over.

But as I learn to let go of my desire for control, I enjoy life more. I worry less, and I trust more. My stress level drops, and I laugh at the stupidity of my life.

Most of all, I get to the end of each day and realize that my fears were unnecessary, that His grace was sufficient, that His power is made perfect in my weakness. I realize there’s no better place to be than in His hands, in His loving care. It’s such a gift to know that even when I’m not in control, He is.

Thank you, Father, for your sovereignty, that you are in control of every detail of our lives even when life seems to be spiraling out of control. Thank you for teaching me to release my cares, my burdens, and trust you to meet my needs. Thank you for loving me so much that you meet my every need. Keep my heart, my mind, focused on you, seeking you and your righteousness so I can be certain that all my needs will be met. Help me as I partner with you to figure these things out. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

Just for Laughs, parenting

Parenting Is NOT for Wimps

Sometimes parenting is really hard.

This week has been one of those difficult weeks with my kids. My kids are great, and I know I am incredibly blessed. But, with everything we’ve been through, it’s understandable that we have our struggles.

Struggles with faith. Struggles with the past. Struggles with the future. Struggles with growing up. Struggles with staying on track. Struggles with obedience. Struggles with life.

And, struggles mean decisions have to be made, decisions that are my sole responsibility. Decisions that lie squarely on my shoulders. No one to turn to for advice. No one to back me up. No one to balance my weaknesses.

It’s. All. On. Me.

Just to give you a sample of our week:

One child (who shall remain nameless to protect the…guilty) has a bad habit of leaving the bedroom…filthy. Clothes strewn all over the floor. Wet towels left wherever they are dropped. Dirty clothes piled in the closet, not grasping the purpose of a washing machine. Food wrappers in the trash can where dogs can find them. Beds unmade. I think said child may actually grow up to be a hoarder!

Oh, we have had many, many, many conversations about the condition of this bedroom. Threats have been made. Everything has been pulled from the closet and left in the middle of the floor, leaving said child to clean it up. Said child would like to have the bedroom redecorated, and I’ve promised to spend the money AS SOON AS SAID CHILD CAN LEARN HOW TO KEEP THE ROOM CLEAN.

Nothing. Has. Worked.

Nothing.

Apparently said child isn’t as serious about redecorating the room as I am.

So, Saturday morning rolls around, and I make it VERY CLEAR that no one goes anywhere nor does anything until rooms are clean and laundry is done.

An hour or so later, I enter the room of said child who is on the bed watching TV. I again announce that no one goes anywhere nor does anything until rooms are clean and laundry is done.

This announcement is made multiple times throughout the day.

As evening rolls around, said child asks if he/she can spend the night with a friend.

“Is your room clean? Is your laundry done?” I ask.

“No,” said child answers, head dropping low, “but my friend can’t do it tomorrow.”

“I’m so very sorry,” I answer, feigning sadness over said child’s failure to do what was asked.

Yes, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was teenage temper tantrum. There was foot stomping and pouting.

And there was no sleep over.

Do they ever learn?

Can I just say that discipline is NOT my strength? I love my kids, but I’m a push over and they know it. More often than anything, it’s just my forgetfulness in the midst of my crazy, hectic life. They ask, “Can I…?” and I answer yes before I stop to check their rooms.

I know I did the right thing, but why does it hurt so badly to discipline? Why do I feel guilty when I’ve given ample opportunities for them to follow through with obedience? Why is it so difficult to make my kids experience pain for their bad choices?

But the long weekend wasn’t over.

Another one of my children asked to go cycling with friends on Monday since they didn’t have school.

Now, you must understand that my child’s friends are avid bicyclists. We are talking 500 mile bike tours across the country. I expect to see one friend winning the Tour de France in the future! He’s that serious about his cycling!

And I would love for my child to spend his days cycling, enjoying the fresh air, getting the exercise. BUT WE DO NOT LIVE IN AN AREA THAT IS CONDUCIVE TO SAFELY RIDING BIKES.

After quickly answering, “Sure, you can go riding,” I backed up just a little.

“Where are you riding?” I asked.

“To Chickasha,” said child answered.

Now, please understand that Chickasha is a town approximately 30 miles away from our home. Most of the roads around us are narrow, no shoulders, and dangerous enough in a car.

But to be on a bike? With no shoulder? With drivers distracted by their phones? Just three teens on bikes traveling 60 miles round trip?

I stayed awake all night, wrestling with the decision. I mapped out their route, looking at Google maps satellite imaging to check the roads. I prayed…and prayed…and prayed some more.

When morning rolled around, I began to bounce the situation off those close to me, those whose parenting I respect, those my CHILDREN respect. Everyone came back with the same answer: it’s just too dangerous, too big of a risk.

I decided I had to be tough mom. I had to tell said child there would be no 60 mile cycling trip with friends.

Oh, the pain and disappointment! Oh, the sadness in the eyes! Oh, the anger boiling under the surface! Oh, the sulking that lasted an ENTIRE day!

As I drove to work after telling said child no, I cried. I cried because I was exhausted from wrestling with the decision. I cried because the burden of making every decision alone is heavy. I cried because I knew my child was severely disappointed.

The tears stained my face. The prayers wafted to heaven. The sadness overwhelmed me.

“Now you know how I feel,” I heard the gentle whisper of my Father.

Yes, when my Father must discipline me, it hurts His heart. It hurts His heart to cause me pain, to cause us pain. It hurts His heart to see us in anguish. It hurts His heart to see our sadness, our disappointment.

But He knows discipline is necessary to mold us into His image, to grow us and mature us. He knows it’s necessary to help us become all He wants us to be. He knows every good parent disciplines his child…out of love.

And sometimes, good parents have to say no to a fun activity because the child doesn’t understand the inherent risks. Children may only see the positives, but a wise parent looks beyond the joy and sees the hidden dangers lurking behind the shadows. A good parent sometimes simply must say no.

Just as I had to say no to my child’s cycling trip, sometimes God answers our prayers with a solid no because he sees the hidden dangers. It’s not because He’s trying to withhold something good from us. Rather, it’s because He wants to protect us, to give us something even better.

Same with our failure to clean our room (in other words, obey our Father’s instructions). He knows we are sometimes lazy or fail to listen. He knows we sometimes rebel by choice. He knows we aren’t always good at obeying. AND HE MUST DISCIPLINE SO WE LEARN TO BE OBEDIENT TO HIS VOICE. His voice, His commands, are always for our good, even when we don’t understand. He wants to grow us into mature Christians, molded into His image. He can’t do that if we fail to obey. So He disciplines.

Just as I disciplined my child because I know it’s what best, He disciplines us because of His great love for us. It’s not pleasant. It’s not fun. And, He doesn’t enjoy it any more than we do. As a matter of fact, He weeps with us, over us, just as I wept over my children this week. Parenting stubborn children is hard work.

I really am thankful my Father loves me enough to discipline me. I’m thankful He looks down the road and sees the inherent dangers and loves me enough to protect me. I’m thankful He watches over me, even when I am a difficult child. What a joy to have a Father who loves me so!

I pray you, too, can look at the discipline the Father sends to your life and understand it is out of His great love. I hope you can understand that when he tells you no, it’s because He’s looking down the road and seeing the dangers lurking for you. I pray you can grasp the goodness of the Father.

Now, I hope you will excuse me while I go make my children clean their rooms…

Grace, grief, Hope, Pain and suffering

Definition of a True Friend

Life falls apart. Unfortunately, it’s simply part of this…life.

For example, Job lost everything. He lost his wealth, his servants, his children. Wave after wave of loss hit him, without time to even breathe between crises. He was left mourning, devastated, in despair.

When Job’s life first fell apart, however, he was blessed with some amazing friends who came alongside him. Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite joined Job in his mourning.

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Job 1:13

Job’s friends stepped in and mourned with him, offering him the ministry of presence. Not a word was spoken as the attempted to absorb the magnitude of the situation. Then Job began to lament his fate, the loss of everyone and everything of importance. His words were filled with pain, anguish.

Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?…I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes. Job 2:11, 26

And that’s when Job’s friends turned on him.

Oh, they didn’t mean to turn on him. They thought they were being good friends, seeking to turn their dear friend from the error of his ways. They longed to see him repent of whatever sins plagued his life, whatever he had done to bring this calamity upon himself.

But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart. You are terrified when it touches you. Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence? Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope? Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed? Job 4:5-7

Job, I’m sure, was taken aback. He was righteous, a man of integrity! How could his friends turn on him, think he had done something to bring about this calamity? Didn’t they know him better than that?

And yet the rebukes continue.

You must have refused water for the thirsty and food for the hungry. You probably think the land belongs to the powerful and only the privileged have a right to it! Job 22:7-8

Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you. Listen to his instructions, and store them in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored—so clean up your life. Job 22:21-23

But Job continues to cling to his innocence.

I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food. Job 23:12

As we read through the book of Job, most of us are likely angry at Job’s three friends. After all, we know the back story.

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” Job 1:8

Yes, Job had been specifically chosen by God to be tested, to face the trials of this life. He had been chosen not because of his sin, but because of his righteousness.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever walked through the trials of this life only to have your so-called friends lecture you instead of supporting you? Or maybe you have been the friend that tried to help correct someone who was suffering because surely he/she was responsible for the calamity in his/her life.

I’ve been both.

I’ve been the friend, failing to recognize the pain of my friend and instead accusing her of sin. Instead of being discerning and loving, I was judgmental and critical. Instead of simply ministering to her by my presence, I felt the need to correct her. Oh, how I wish I could go back and correct my words!

Even more so after I was the one devastated.

You see, I suffered a horrible divorce. As I struggled to get out of bed each day, overcome by the loss of my security, my dreams, overwhelmed by depression and confusion, I turned to my friends.

“You just need to pray more,” she said.

But my soul was in so much anguish I couldn’t pray. And, I wasn’t sure I trusted God. I needed others to pray for me.

“If only you had been a more supportive wife,” she said.

But in the deepest recesses of my heart I knew I had done everything I could to love and support my husband. I always put him ahead of myself, always put his wants and needs, his hopes and dreams, ahead of my own. When other husbands complained about a lack of support, my husband would tell of the love in our home.

“It was your nagging,” she said. “Your husband never would have sought comfort in the arms of another if you hadn’t nagged him to death.

But I knew I was kind, considerate, loving. I chose to love unconditionally and trust God with the rest.

“If you had forgiven the affair, your marriage would have been restored,” she said.

But only I knew how I had offered forgiveness, worked at reconciliation. I know how I not only extended forgiveness to him, but also to the woman he was sleeping with.

And as I struggled with the pain, the devastation, as I listened to the well-meaning but misguided words of my friends, no one knew how much my faith was shaken, how I wanted to run from God. No one knew how disappointed I was in a God who called me to marry this man knowing he would one day betray me. No one knew how torn I was about whether I should ever again follow this God who had failed me.

I’ve now come full circle. I’ve heard from my Savior, experienced His goodness and grace. I’ve seen Him heal my devastated heart and put my life back together. I’ve developed a love and compassion for others who are hurting.

And I’ve come to understand something: like Job, my devastation (divorce) was not the result of my sins. I don’t know if God had a conversation with Satan, but I do know God gave permission for my life to be tested. And He has used the trials to mold me into His image, to prepare me for a ministry He laid out for me in advance.

And I promise never to be one of those “friends” again. Ever.

From this day forward, my words will be encouraging, full of hope and comfort. I will remind others that God’s grace is always sufficient, that He works all things for good.

My words will be discerning, knowing the depth of pain and devastation. I will seek the wisdom to speak words always seasoned with grace and truth.

My words will be loving, words of compassion and empathy. They will reflect the same love the Father has lavished on me.

My words will be kind, words of life and gentleness. I will always try to remain fully aware of my own sins so I never become conceited.

I pray I will always be the friend others can trust to help them through the darkest days of their lives. Will you join me in making that commitment?

Dating, parenting, sexual purity

Life as a Model

When Cassie was about two years old, everyone was gathered around the dinner table. As I sat the food on the table, Cassie looked at me and innocently said, “Mom, you did d–n good.”

I’m sure the shock on my face must have been priceless. I looked quizzically at her dad, his face as confused as my own.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” I began, “I’m not sure I understood you.”

“You did d—n good,” she repeated.

My ears still weren’t quite certain I understood her two year old language skills.

“Could you say it again, honey?” I asked nonchalantly.

“You did d—n good,” she said innocently.

After asking Cassie to repeat herself a couple more times, her dad decided to ask for clarification.

“Cassie,” he asked, “what did you say to your mom?”

“I said she did d—n good,” Cassie said matter-of-factly.

“Yep,” her dad said, “that’s what she said.”

With all the kindness and grace I could muster to hide the absolute horror growing inside of me, I gently told my precious daughter that we don’t use that word.

“Where did you hear that word?” I asked.

“From Dora,” she answered.

I’m not really sure why she blamed Dora the Explorer for her language that day. I have probably watched every episode of Dora with my kids, and I don’t think I have ever heard her curse.

But I am quite certain my innocent two year old heard that word somewhere. It’s not a word she would have simply come up with on her own. And I am also absolutely certain she didn’t hear it from me.

In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Titus 2:6-7

No matter how you look at it, kids learn an awful lot from what they see modeled. Whether it’s their language (oops) or their attitude or their kindness, kids learn more from what they see than what they are told. As the saying goes, more is caught than taught.

My daughter’s little faux pas is the perfect example of learning by example. By bad example. I hope I am living my life in such a way that my kids learn the right things from me.

As I think about what my kids see, I hope I am modeling a Christ-centered life. I want to model Christ in these areas:

Model love. More than anything else, I want to model love to my kids. I want them to see love pouring from my soul, flowing to them. I want them to see my love for God, a love that impacts my every word, my every action.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.Matthew 22:37-39

I pray my kids see in my life a great love for God and a great love for others.

Model grace. Our world is full of judgment and criticism. It’s full of division and intolerance. But I want my kids to see grace oozing from my pores. I want them to know that where there is sin, grace abounds.

It’s tough to balance grace with truth. I know my kids have to learn there are consequences for their actions, but I want them to know grace will always be poured out liberally. I want them to feel safe coming to me, sharing their failures, knowing they will still be loved and accepted. I want to be a vessel of God’s grace…to them and to others.

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11

Jesus frequently extended grace to the worst of sinners, including the woman caught in adultery. May I model the same grace in the way I live my life.

Model purity. Dating has hit our household. My oldest son is dating a wonderful young lady. My younger son is hanging out with a girl from his class. And I am dating a man the kids call my Royfriend. It’s a really strange dynamic when dating hits the entire house at the same time.

But it also makes me acutely aware of the example I am setting for my kids in the area of purity. How do I conduct myself when I am with my friend? Do I go on overnight trips with my male companion? Am I working to maintain my purity?

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Ephesians 5:3

I must be committed to following God’s plan for my life, to living a life of purity, so my kids have an example to emulate.

Model devotion. Devotion to God is a key to living this life correctly. I want to make sure my kids see my devotion to God.

Am I excited about what God is doing in our lives? Do I recognize His work? Am I giving God my heart, my time every day? Am I making church a priority in our lives?

A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. Psalm 84:10

I pray my kids never have reason to doubt my devotion to God…and to them.

Model humility. I really am quite certain it was not me who taught my then two year old her first curse word, but if it had been, I hope I would have been humble enough to admit my mistake. Trust me. I’ve messed up plenty. When stress gets the best of me, my children seem to be the recipients of my bad attitude. And then I have to pause and admit my sin and ask their forgiveness.

And that takes humility.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Ephesians 4:2

Yes, as parents we are called to model the Christian life for our children. As Christians, we are called to model the Christian life for non-believers. How are you doing? What areas do you need to work on so that your kids have the best example in this life? Where do you need to adjust your life to be a better example to others?

Lord Jesus, this life is hard. We stumble and fall every single day. We fail you, our families. And yet, you forgive, extend grace, and set us right once again. May we always be keenly aware of your grace and mercy poured out over us. May we plumb the depths of your love. May we know the unsearchable riches of life with you so we might live from the overflow poured out over us. In Jesus name we pray.