1.29.2014

We all need a kind word!


Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down,
    but a kind word makes him glad.
Proverbs 12

What a wonderful verse to inspire us to encourage the body of Christ!

Think of the dozens of things that cause anxiety, and weigh a heart down ...

loss of a job
death of a loved one
fight with a spouse
feeling ugly
a defiant child
illness
disappointing news
not enough money to pay the bills
infertility
an adoption that feels like it will never become final
loneliness
insecurity
a rift with a friend
fighting to make a "c" in a class that is beyond your skill level, but required
sick children
ailing parents
singleness, when the heart's desire is for marriage and family
rejection
being far away from family

All of these things can create feelings of frustration, fear, and discontentment, but Scripture says that a kind word makes the heart glad!  Not a kind gift, a bucketful of money, or a five-paragraph essay filled with hundreds of words of affirmation and praise. 

One word.

A KIND word.
A word that is able to evoke HOPE and JOY.

So what can we say to the heart that is being crushed under the weight of the cares of this world?  

I love you.
I'm here for you.
You are important.
You matter!
You do not have to walk through this alone.
The Lord will never leave you or forsake you.
I'm sorry.
I understand.
I'm praying for you - and I won't stop until the Lord answers!
I am thankful for you.
You can do this!
God is always faithful ... don't forget His character.
Don't quit!
Don't quit!
Don't quit!
It is a privilege to call you friend.
You can do ALL THINGS through the Lord's strength!
Our God is not a God of fear.  Trust Him.
There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother ... I am that friend ... let me love you through this.

And I am confident there are a thousand more!

All of us have days that leave us feeling weary and down-trodden.  All of us know what it feels like to be overwhelmed, wondering if there will ever be an end to our current trials.

And each of us have experienced the joy that comes when a friend takes the time to find us and say, "I am here - and I love you!" 

Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down,
    but a kind word makes him glad.

Lord, may we be people who continually seek to understand the hearts and minds of those around us.  
Because it is only when we understand ... when we ask the questions that matter ... when we draw out the concerns, the struggles, the fears ... it is then that we can speak the kind word - the right word - and make the hurting heart GLAD once again.
Thank You, Lord for such a gift as this!
To be used by You to bring hope and healing to Your children is a privilege not to be taken lightly ... nor one to be ignored.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:24,25

1.21.2014

As a mother, I have to look like the Savior.

(This was written with my son's permission because ... he wants "other parents to know how to help their kids.")


As parents we can place unrealistic expectations on our children, not even realizing we have done so until we see them falling down under the weight of such a burden.
How do I know?
Because I have done it.  More than once.
And the last expectation left a significant scar on the back of my son.  Luke.

Luke and I have been dancing together since the day he was born.  He came out of the womb equally ready for battle and affection, and we have been dancing with swords and hugs ever since. Our sinful stubbornness and innate desire not to look stupid keeps us in a seemingly constant defensive mode rather than one of humility and gentleness.  Oh yes, and the need to be RIGHT often clouds our thinking, judgment and ability to think of the other one as more important.
Oh, how the Lord is refining each of us every day!  And I have a sneaking suspicion that He can often be found with a little grin on His lips when He watches the two of us dance.  He knows WHY He put us together ... He knew how we would work, or not work, together ... how we would battle ... how we would shield ourselves with pride instead of showing our vulnerability ... and still He chose us for one another.
Mother and son.  By God's design.

When Luke answered the call of the Savior and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, I was ECSTATIC.  I rejoiced over him, celebrated with him, and shared the news with the world.
And then - I failed him.
He was 10 years old and I expected him to think, act, talk, and live like a mature believer.  Right NOW.  You say you love God?  Then obey Him!  Now!  Go on ... do it!
AAH!  How lame is that?  How CRUEL is that?

He has to start at the beginning.

Who is God?  What is His nature?  How does He show us His love?
What does He require of His children?
What is sin? What are the consequences of sin?
How does a person grow in Christ?
What does 'meditate on the Word day and night' and 'pray without ceasing' mean?
Now that I am saved, what does God expect me to do?

A brand new Christian does not know the answer to any of these questions!  

Though raised in this house with biblical truth and a Christian worldview infused into everything we do, say and read since he was in the womb, Luke did not know that salvation means NEW LIFE. He did not know that it requires putting off the old self so we can put on the new self - the fruits of the Spirit and the attributes of Christ.  
He is drinking from a bottle.  Watery, see-through milk that requires no effort to ingest or absorb. And there I stood, his loving mother, chosen by God to raise and train this child in righteousness, asking him, and expecting him, to chew, swallow and digest choice cuts of beef.
Um, Michelle?  Are you kidding me?!?

A child does not understand what full surrender to a holy God looks like.  They believe they love Jesus, but death to self?  Thinking of others as BETTER than yourself?  Living at peace with everyone?  Overlooking an offense?  Serving one another with a joyful heart?  Unconditional love?  Forgiveness?  These things require maturity, knowledge of the Word, and an understanding of who God is and what He requires of His children.  
It 
takes 
time 
to 
grow.  
It takes time to learn mastery.  
A lifetime.

It is my job – it is Dennis’s job - to TRAIN Luke how to live the Christian life. "These words which I command you to day shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them to your children ..." Deuteronomy 6.  Expecting him to "just do it" is as foolish as handing him keys to the car and saying, "Learn to drive, son!"  It takes more than turning a key.  A lot more.
My son knows how to open the Bible.  He knows how to read it.  But interpreting it, understanding it, and applying it – these things require guidance, patience, training, discipleship, and prayer.  

When a young or hurting woman comes to me for help, support, discipleship or encouragement, I jump into the deep end with both feet.  Fully clothed.  There is no hesitation, no time wasted, no excuses given for why it has been put on the back shelf.  I am ALL IN.
We study the Word together, we pray, I ask her greatest sin struggles and we talk through them, I hold her accountable, I speak truth even when it is hard for her to hear.  Reading the Word and praying are not optional.  I confess sin.  We mutually encourage one another.  And everything we share, unravel, and discuss is done in love ... with affection ... with the end desire being stronger, more refined, and godly women.

So why, WHY, did I not see the need to do the same with my son?
Why did I think a child was able to become godly all by himself when 40-year-old women are unable to do so alone?
Did I assume that living in our home, hearing the Word of God every day, faithfully attending church, and having family devotions would suffice?  Apparently so.  And I was wrong.  Very, very wrong.

So, I asked to meet with my son.
I sat him down on the couch, looked into his hazel eyes that reflect my own, and confessed to him:
"Luke, I have failed you. I train you in God’s laws and in His Word but I have not come alongside you to disciple you and teach you how to live what you are learning.  It is so much more than just reading the Word, Luke.  You have to be a DOER of the Word.  You have to obey.  Day by day – struggle by struggle.  
And I have failed you.  When you were saved at the age of ten I expected you to 'just know' how to live a life of holiness and self sacrifice.  I didn't give you the grace a child deserves. "When I was a child I spoke like a child, thought like a child and reasoned like a child."  I forgot that you have no personal experience of victory over sin, or seeing God’s power in your life.  I expected you, as a new believer, to live, act, behave, and respond like someone who has known Christ for decades.
And that was ridiculous, and unfair.  I am sorry, Luke.  Will you forgive me?"

Tears.
Hugs.
And a very quiet but firm, "Yes."

I placed unrealistic expectations on my son that were damaging, and unfair.  And I did so in the one area that requires the most delicate, honest, and purposeful care ... his relationship with Jesus Christ.

I did fail my son.  It was unintentional, but it left a mark.
The beautiful thing is - I am FORGIVEN!  By my son, and by my Father.

Though there are times I still want to pull my hair out and scream, "Are you kidding me?!?  How many times do we have to revisit this sin issue?"   And then I am reminded of a quote that a dear friend sent one day when Luke and I were dancing with swords:
"The strongest weapons take time and skill to fashion."

I am raising my son to be a Soldier for Christ.
It will not happen in a day.
I must be patient, forgiving, long-suffering, gentle, firm, truthful, and unconditionally loving ...

just as my Savior is
with me.

1.12.2014

Observe. Listen. Engage.

The Lord showed me something very important today.

If I want to encourage others - I have to be an OBSERVER.

The friend who wipes away tears during worship.
The woman standing away from the crowd, who is normally in the center.
An extra long hug.
A husband serving his sick wife quietly and faithfully.
A downcast face that is usually bright and eager.
The church member who arrives early and stays late - so everyone else can worship effortlessly.
The teenager who refuses to look at her mother.
The worship leader who practices and prepares each week to draw us into a time of reverence and awe as we focus on our God.
The pastor who spends hours pouring over God's Word and bruising his knees in prayer to stir us up to love and good deeds.

If I want to encourage others - I have to be a LISTENER.

The only way to have a reason to listen - is to ask a question ... "How are you?"

Surgeries.
Court dates.
Illness.
Job interviews.
Defiant children.
Difficult family relations.
A strained marriage.
Depression.
Stress at work.
Financial burdens.

If I want to encourage others - I must be a CHEERLEADER.

Engagements.
Wedding plans.
Pregnancies.
Recovery and healing.
Ministry successes.
Promotions.
Restoration of broken relationships.
Graduations.
Projects.
Spiritual growth.

Simply stated,

To be an encourager ... I must be ENGAGED.

There are so many things going on in the hearts and minds and lives of the people around me. Close, intimate friends, and those I only know by name.  And each one needs encouragement. Whether they need a warm hug and listening ear to get them through a difficult trial, or a note of congratulations and praise ... "how good is a timely word."

Observe.  Listen.  Engage.

Thank You, Lord, for opening my eyes to this truth today.  It was timely and purposeful, and a lesson I will not soon forget!

1.08.2014

Asking the question - and listening to the answer.

Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to answer the common, yet invasive question, "How are you?" when you are not doing particularly well?

It seems we have two options:  
1.  Slap on 'the mask' and act out the "I'm fine!" response that has been perfected on church patios for centuries.  The one who asked skips off to the next person, while the one who is struggling pulls the mask ever tighter, and falls deeper into the depths of despair.
2.  Let every single thought, struggle, complaint, trial, and circumstance tumble out of our mouths.

Neither are edifying since one is a lie, and the other is selfish.

But it seems to me there should be a third option.  Speak TRUTH when answering, while still maintaining sensitivity and appropriateness.  Something like, "Thank you so much for asking about me.  To be honest, I am really struggling right now, but I am not ready to discuss the details.  I would love for you to pray for me because the Lord has been faithful in the past, and I know He will be faithful again!  I just need to walk through this with Him."

Honest.  Sincere.  Does not hide that a battle is raging, but neither does it burden the listener with whining and complaints.  There is a time and a place to let the good, the bad, the ugly come spewing forth - but wisdom must reign when choosing the who and the when. 

Such a simple little question ... how are you? ... but often asked without any intention of listening to the answer, or worse, hoping to receive the automatic "I'm fine" in return.  It has become a rote phrase, offered without thinking or even slowing our stride while uttering the words.  

Such a powerful little question ... How ARE you? ... and needs to be asked when we are prepared to stop.  Listen.  Engage.  Understand.  Investigate.  Encourage.  Pray.

Because if we are willing to ask this question, and equally willing to answer it, the Lord can use us to fulfill the countless "one another's" He lists in Scripture.
Pray for.
Encourage.
Confess sins.
Comfort.
Love.
Build up.
Give preference to.
Serve.
Rejoice and weep together.
Care.
Accept.

What a precious gift to give to one of our brothers or sisters in Christ ... when they need it most.
What a precious gift to receive from our brothers and sisters in Christ ... just when we need it most.

And all because we are willing to ASK a simple, yet invasive and powerful question - How are you? - with honesty and sincerity, and with the patience and grace to let the one who needs us share in her own way, in her own time.  Whether she reveals every detail of her struggle, or simply asks us to pray because she is struggling, we are able to minister to her in a beautiful and unique way ...

because we stopped long enough to ask a question that matters - and were willing to be still,
and listen to the answer.

1.06.2014

I might be weary, but I am NOT giving up!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

This is the verse that was attached to an e-mail a friend sent me this evening.  She has no idea what I am struggling with, no idea of my inner battles, no idea what I need.  And yet - this verse exploded off the page and shot straight to the very heart that was in need of encouragement.  My own.

Do not become weary ... do not give up.  How I needed these words!

Before I became too excited about applying the verse to my personal struggle, however, I went to Scripture to read it in context.  I was thrilled to find it fitting and appropriate to encourage my weary soul and spur me on to keep running the race that requires focus, persistence, consistency, and sacrifice.  Every day.  Until Christ returns.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  Galatians 6:7-10

My fatigue is a result of many circumstances at present, but there is one area in particular which needs me to continue "doing good", and that is my role as a mother.

Every morning when I wake up to the faces of my children I begin to sow a field.  From the first word I speak until the last hug when they drift off to sleep, I am planting seeds that will either produce beautiful, healthy, desirable fruit ... or scrawny, withered, colorless fruit that is rejected by everyone.  I have a choice to water the crops with lean, fresh, living water, or drown them with stagnant, filthy water that will erase all chances of producing life.  And the result of my choices ... every teeny tiny one and every incredibly significant one ... will be seen, by everyone, when it is time to reap the harvest.

Do not be deceived ... a man reaps what he sows.

If I want to produce a 'crop' of children who are kind, respectful, strong, godly, thoughtful, hard working, self-controlled, tender-hearted, wise, gentle, loving, and willing to sacrifice for the needs of others, then I must be sowing those very seeds into their young hearts every time I am with them.  I need to water them with God's Word, and let the truth of Scripture cause the maturity and growth that comes from time spent with the Father.  Just as a farmer walks through his fields checking each row, making adjustments as needed, I must be looking past the actions of my children to see the condition of their hearts ... taking each weakness, flaw and need to the Lord in prayer, trusting Him to make the adjustments needed to produce the beautiful fruit I so desire to see.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

What a wonderful promise the Lord shows us in this verse!  But there is one little word that cannot be missed, or ignored:  if.

As we plant and sow our fields - whatever they may be - we WILL reap a harvest at the right time.  And here is where it all hangs in the balance ...
IF 
we do not give up.

A farmer who sows a field and then slowly begins to neglect it - because he is tired, bored, pulled in too many directions, loses interest, or becomes frustrated with the endless tasks that are a part of tending the field - he will be a farmer who has a dead, withered, pointless crop when the harvest comes.

The Christian life is DAILY.  It is hard.  It is challenging.
Motherhood is daily.  Hard.  Challenging.
Marriage.
Careers.
Ministry.
Relationships.
Everything that makes up life brings difficult moments, battles to fight, hurdles to jump.  And with them, the temptation to meet them in our own strength, and respond to them in our flesh.

But God promises - He PROMISES - that when we ignore self and choose the Savior, sowing seeds of righteousness and truth, we will reap eternal life.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
And even on our hardest days ... is there anything we desire more than spending eternity in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords?

I am tired.  I am weary.  And if I am honest, there are times I do want to give up and let every other runner in the race pass me by, not caring if I ever cross the finish line.  And then the Lord has a friend send me an e-mail which just happens to contain the exact verse I need to force me to tighten my laces, stretch my legs, and start running once again.
Because the truth is ... no matter how hard it is to stay in the race, I DO want to finish. And I want to finish WELL. 

Though I grow weary,
I will not give up!

Not only so I can so I can hear my Savior say, "Well done, good and faithful servant," but so I can be faithful and obedient to fulfill my part of this encouraging Scripture, and enjoy the blessings that follow obedience.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Right now, the people to whom God is giving me the opportunity to 'do good' - are my children.
And I am going to keep planting seeds that are worthy of the upward calling of Christ Jesus, because the only fruits I want to see in my children, 
are HIS.

1.05.2014

A quote on speaking - and Christ.

"The Lord hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him!" Exodus 16:8

The fact that God hears all that we say, ought to make us guard our words. But does God really hear every fretful word we say? Does He hear when we grumble about the weather, about the hard winter, about the late spring, about the dry summer, about the wet harvest, and about the grub-worm? Does He hear when we grumble about the drought, about the high winds, about the storms? 

Does He hear when we complain about the hardness of our lot? 

If we could get into our hearts and keep there continually, the consciousness that every word we speak is heard in Heaven, and falls upon God's ears before it falls upon any other ear - would we grumble as we now do? 

We are always on our guard when we think that anyone is within hearing. Are we as careful concerning what we say in the hearing of our heavenly Father? 

We are careful, too, never to speak words which would give pain to the hearts of those we love dearly. Are we as careful not to say anything that will give pain to the heart of Christ?

                                                                                              ~ J.R. Miller

1.01.2014

A new year - and a new word.

ENCOURAGE

:  to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope :  hearten 
:  to attempt to persuade :  urge 
:  to spur on :  stimulate

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25

This is the word the Lord keeps placing on my heart as I think about the year 2014.
365 days. 
365 days of possibilities.
365 days of unknowns.
Plans.
Dreams.
Desires.
Hopes.
And yet ... "The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord determines his steps."

So I am laying all of my plans before the Lord - and trusting Him to do with them what He will. 

As I think and pray about it, this is what living out the word ENCOURAGE looks like to me:

* Notes!  Notes!  Notes!  handwritten ~ on pretty paper ~ sent through the mail ~ left on car windows ~ slipped inside of a purse ~ tucked into a backpack ... notes filled with words of affirmation, Scriptures that are fitting for the moment, simple statements of appreciation ... being obedient to write as the Lord leads - with immediacy and joy.

* Journaling - for my guys.  Dennis, Micah, Luke and Caleb.  Every day, writing words of praise and love ... which will mean paying attention and noticing the things they do well.  Thoughtful acts.  Small kindnesses.  Acts of service.  Sacrifices made.

* Verbal words of praise for my non-reading children.  Smiles.  Hugs.  Affection.  Excitement.  Joy.  Interest in their interests.  Enthusiasm.  Expressions of delight.  Catching them doing GOOD - and praising them for it!

* Discipleship.  Investing in the lives the Lord has brought to me right now "for such a time as this" ... and praying for increased passion for each one.
- my children ... praying with each of them individually every morning ~ praying for them ~ faithfulness in reading the Word together every day ~ stopping everything to listen to them when they want to talk ~ and dating each child once a month with the only thing on the agenda for our time together: encouragement and praise!
- my girls ... monthly date to connect in person, weekly Bible study/accountability, praying with them, praying for them, notes of encouragement, remind them why they matter!

* Extended family.  Purposeful time spent together ~ phone dates for those far away ~ notes expressing gratefulness for their role and influence in my life and their love for my family.

* Friends.  This one kept me in deep thought for a while.  We are in a season of life when we are not able to see friends very often.  Gone are the carefree days when we would spend every Friday night together, have weekly park days, and live life side by side.  Careers of husbands, ministry commitments, sports/lessons/music/youth group for teenagers ... these activities make it difficult to see each other consistently.  There are some friends we literally see once a year.  Others we see weekly at church, on the patio or leaving the nursery, but do not enjoy a leisurely afternoon of stimulating conversation and good food.  This ought not be!

So, we made a list of all of the families we a) have not seen in years b) rarely get to see c) would like to know better and d) really miss and just want to be with them, enjoying who they are and remembering why we love them!  And we are going to invite every one of them to our home to enjoy a time of fellowship, laughter, refreshment ... and spend time encouraging them in the Lord and praying with them before they leave.  We are really excited about this!  Especially because we already have three dates on the calendar!

* Prayer.  Praying for my husband, my children, my family, friends, girls, youth group students, pastors, leaders, neighbors ... anyone and everyone the Lord brings to mind.  Because truly - there is no better way to encourage a brother or sister in the Lord than to take them before the Throne of Grace and lay their burdens and cares at the feet of the Savior.  The same Savior who gives us the desire, the ability, and the wisdom to encourage them in the first place ... and trust Him to do the rest.

These are my plans.  We will see what the LORD has planned as He walks with me through this new year ... accomplishing His will, not mine.