Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tough to Swallow

I was in the 8th grade when I noticed that I was a little different.  Sitting across the table from a classmate, I was memorized by the way she ate a pickle.  She put the pickle in between the front of her top and and bottom teeth, then bit it off effortlessly.  It dawned on me that day that most people chew with their front teeth.  Maybe this seems simple to you, but for me, something like a pickle or sandwich means a lot of work.   If I tear into a yummy sandwich like my peers, the only thing I can pull off into my mouth is the bread.  To devour something so simple as a sandwich means double the time at the dinner table, and a lot of contorting and manipulating of food with my back teeth.  If I want to talk a lot during public meals, I often order soup or something of an easier nature.

Around my college years, I was told that my lower jaw was underdeveloped.  Every dentist and hygienist will attest to how "tiny" my mouth is.  This is why eating is a chore, I often have TMJ problems, pain, sore jaws, etc.  Most of time, the pain is manageable and flares up at friendly visits to the dentist, weather changes, singing, and strenous activity like running and jumping. (Hence, my valid hatred for jogging.)   I've been told the only solution for me is a 2 year process including braces and a surgery that breaks my lower jaw to bring it forward, and tens of thousands of dollars that I never seemed to muster up.

Although my jaw structure affects a lot, I have learned to live with it.  However the older I get, the more problems it causes.  The sleep apnea I have experienced over recent years is getting the best of me, and would be corrected if oral things were in their proper place and not obstructing my airways.  I have always thought relief was out of the question: even if we came up with the money that was well over the average yearly salary, the spending was hard to justify for me considering there are so many people who live in poverty and I have all I need.  And how in the world would I take time off from my kids to have my head all bandaged up?

And then yesterday happened.  A college friend in the dental field has been studying and training to find better orthodonic solutions for people like me.  At his office, a specialist looked at me and for the first time defined my real problem and a do-able solution.  It turns out that my underdeveloped lower jaw is not a root cause of anything, but a symptom of something that happened in my first year of life.  I have a massive tongue thrust (his words) and I never learned to swallow correctly.  My incorrect swallowing habits have caused my entire mouth to form incorrectly.  When infants are nursed or bottle fed on their backs or laying sideways, they have to overcompensate with their tongue to keep from choking.  Most children self-correct by the time they are autonomous, but not me and many others.  Decades ago, there were not those helpful lactation consultants in the hospital training new moms and babies to get the eating thing done properly.  So yesterday, I learned WHY my mother had trouble nursing me.  I learned that "normal" people swallow with their teeth together.  When the specialist had me close my mouth tight and swallow, I gagged.  Yes friends, there is actually a medical reason my mouth stays mostly open :) It turns out that my ability to lay down flat in bed and drink liquids comfortably is not a special skill set.  It turns out this same swallowing malfunction is why we currently have our oldest daughter in braces, why she and I are the last ones to be sitting at the table, and why she has struggled with reflux from day one.  Furthermore, my daughter's reflux is influencing her asthma.

All this, because our tongues don't do what they are suppose to do.

Although I hate being physically analyzed and publicly announcing the insecurities it took me years to overcome, I want you to know for your own kids.  If caught early, this problem is a much easier fix.  Also, I figured that writing in one blog was easier than explaining what may be happening to me in the coming years.  There is a solution for me and I am so, so happy about it.  It will take about 3 years, but with braces, retainers, therapy of sorts, and exercises on my part, I will have a noticably different face.  The structure of my mouth and jaws will reshape.  My husband will feel like he's kissing a different woman.  I have to retrain the way I eat, drink, swallow, and breathe (you mean all of you people actually breathe through your NOSE?).

Perhaps the scariest part of this whole deal is that Lord willing, in a few years I will have a bigger mouth. :)  Now THAT is tough to swallow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Problems: When We Can Bear them no More

I’ve been intensively reading through the Old Testament to get a better understanding of the whole counsel of Scripture.  The Old Testament disturbs me, but what I like about it is the variety of stories of God interacting with His people.  The Lord is creative and He doesn’t always do things the exact same way, but there are similarities with how He works in both the Old and the New Testaments.

One of the stories that troubles me most is in Exodus 5.  God had told Moses to confront  Pharaoh and tell him to release the Isrealites from slavery.  This made Pharaoh angry and he responds by giving more work to the Hebrews with less help from the Egyptians.   When the slaves can’t pull off the extra labor, the foremen are beaten.

This is the part I can hardly take, and neither could Moses.  Lash after lash, whip after whip imposed on the people of God because Moses obeyed the Lord.  The suffering is carried out by non-believers, but God let it happen, is primarily responsible, and let his prophet squirm: “Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?  Why did you ever send me?’” (vs. 22)  And this is the tension we see over and over in the Scriptures: God allowing and being directly responsible for the pain of His people.  There are four observations about this principle I’d like to make:

1).An individual will suffer intensely for a period of time because of a corporate purpose.
            I don’t like this but it’s true.  An individual Isrealite got beaten but his entire family got spared from slavery later.  In the New Testament, John the Baptist suffered in jail and by death.  Jesus didn’t go to His own cousin and save his life; instead He went about the town healing crowds and performing miracles.  And Jesus sent word to John in Luke 7:23 saying “blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.”  Basically he said, “John, you are blessed if you still believe me even though I am physically take care of others instead of you.”  And to this day John the Baptist is an example to many who are hated by the world.  It only matters what Jesus thinks of a person, and of His imprisoned, dirty cousin He said “that’s the greatest man ever born.”

2) Suffering is meant to be temporary.
            There is a fascination these days among evangelicals who equate suffering and worthiness to be a disciple of Christ.  I have heard individuals and pastors pray that God would allow us to suffer in order to bring Him more glory.  In my opinion, these people do not know what they are asking.  They are actually trying to be better than Jesus.  When the Son of God faced the horrendous cross He basically said, “Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.  But ultimately let what You want be done and not what I want.”
            The truth is, we can’t physically undergo suffering on this earth for long periods of time.   We will either die or be relieved.  Jesus suffered horribly for a few days.  He lives in eternity with all the riches of Heaven.  Jesus only spent 33 years of His eternal life messing with our junk-- the rest of His life is posh!  Those who follow Him will mimic His pain but more so His pleasure.  My own prayer is not that God would “let” me suffer for His sake, but that I will be obedient no matter what wonderful or horrible circumstance comes my way.  Obedience is what brings God glory, not suffering.

3) God usually brings relief right after the sufferer hits despair.
            I’m sure it was not fun to be the Egyptians’ slaves.  Although not ideal, slavery was manageable because the Isrealites were provided with food, water, and shelter.  The work was burdensome, but they were physically able to get the jobs done.  Being beaten was nearly unbearable, so was the insurmountable amount of extra work that was laid upon them.  This is what drove them to cry out more.  And this is when the Isrealites went from crying out to God to crying against God.  When believers get to that point where they are tempted to question God’s work or if He cares, or if He’s timely and attentive, that’s usually the signal they will soon watch God do the impossible.  This happened in the New Testament with Lazarus’ sisters.  These sisters had just watched their brother die.  Jesus didn’t go to comfort them immediately or heal their brother on purpose.  He actually said, “for your sake I am glad I was not there.”  Jesus intentionally let His friends suffer so that they would believe His power to raise the dead. Jesus always has more than the physical stuff in mind.  He’s got a spiritual plan that He’s working.  Our breaking points will turn into our belief and proof if we will keep our eyes open to what God is doing.
            I don’t know why God does this but I just know He does: he often lets His people go without earthly needs and will only give to them when they ask.  The Isrealites complained over and over that God didn’t feed them in time, or give them water promptly.  But God said all they had to do was ask.  The New Testament confirms this.  James 4:2 “You do not have, because you do not ask.”  And if we aren’t getting what we ask for, maybe it’s because we don’t want to honor God with what we are asking for.  If all we want to do is consume, God is not obligated to contribute.  So we often spend our time complaining against God and arguing with other people.  Here’s the challenge: you need physical provisions so you can live?  Ask for them.  You want to be debt free so you can give?  Ask God.  Keep asking.  And keep obeying.  You want a God-glorifying marriage?  Ask for one.   But if all you want is to be pampered and treated like a queen while your husband does the work…well, good luck with that.  (What’s amazing is that even in a case where the marriage fails beyond one person’s control, God gets the glory by the one person’s obedience throughout the marriage.)
            Do you find yourself continually arguing with a family member, boss, co-worker or God?  There’s a way to get what you want, if you can look past your selfish ambition.  The first step out of an argument is asking:  God’s people need to learn how to ask and what to ask for.

4) In almost every believer’s life, there will be seasons of both protection and pain.
            Those individual beatings of the Isrealite foremen were the last incidences of oppression done by the Egyptian taskmasters.  After this incident, God sends a number of plagues—that ONLY affected Pharaoh’s people.  The Hebrews were in a protective bubble watching pests bother and destroy other parts of the land, hail and darkness cover the Egyptians property but not their own, others die while they lived, and being amidst the sick while they stayed healthy.  Our New Testament Paul discovered this and writes about it in Phil 4:12 “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

And now for my big understatement: Suffering is hard.  There are a lot of questions I won’t have answered until Heaven.  But the Bible teaches me that there’s a story being written about each of our lives.  Bad stuff is going to happen.  More good stuff is going to happen.  And in my own story, I’m either going to crumble or carry on.  I’ll keep complaining or I’ll learn to be content in a God who is in control.  I will pout or I will persevere.  And when the end of my life draws near, I want to be one of the many who hear, “well done.  You didn’t give up on Me.”

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Raise Smart Kids

I have been hesitant to write this blog because people could easily misunderstand me.  In order to write something with the title “How to Raise Smart Kids,” I  
1) claim to have smart kids
2) have the audacity to tell other parents how to produce intelligent children

But that’s exactly what I am doing, writing, and proposing.  You can put your Baby Einstein videos away.  You can stop worrying about the best academic program to put your potential child prodigy in.  This blog is the last thing you will ever have to read for your future valedictorian, engineer, businessman/woman, lawyer, doctor, teacher, advocator, or minister.

I’m not going to tell you how to make your kid the smartest.  We seem to have an obsession in our culture with being the best.  This information is not to teach you how to make your kids better than mine, because of course, that would undercut the very thing I am trying to do with my own kids. I am going to pass on what the Bible says about raising intelligent and capable future leaders.  James 3:13-16 says:

“Who is wise and intelligent among you?  By his good conduct let him show his good works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

How do you raise smart kids?  The question for most Christians parents I know is not “how do we make our kids even smarter?” The question we need to be asking ourselves is “how do we make our kids better servers?”  Most of the people I know have some smarties in their family. We’ve got to teach our kids not to use their God-given capacities for selfish ambition.  Our kids can compete.  They should maximize their skills.  They should grow in all areas of their lives like Jesus did. (Luke 2:52)  But they should do so to further open opportunities to serve others and bring glory to God—not themselves.  Their intelligence should not only be displayed by their test scores, but by their good behavior, which proves they love God and other people.  Their actions should be carried out in meekness (strength under control).  And if a peer beats them out in a race or competition, we need to teach our children how to be happy for others’ success.  Because jealousy is demonic.  Jealousy threatens the unity of believers.  Jealousy keeps us from “weeping with those who weep” and “rejoicing with those rejoice.”  Jealousy is what Lucifer felt when he got himself kicked out of heaven.  In short, jealousy is stupid.

Christians, let’s not raise stupid kids.  The smartest, most intelligent people use their brain power to gain wisdom and produce good works that benefit the world, not just themselves.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Hey Mom, did you ever......?"

Thanks to comments made by people who have known me for a long time, my oldest daughter has had a curious interest in my teenage life before her Daddy.  Some of my life mishaps between the ages of 16 and 19 are down-right hilarious (now but not then).   I've got plenty of crazy stories, but there are some I’d rather not tell my own children.  I wish I would have treated others more kindly, made better decisions, and not entangled myself with certain people or fleshly desires. 

When our children ask us about the realities of the past, we have questions of our own to quickly wade through.  Will we tell them or will we not?  Will they use our mistakes as excuses to make more of their own?  Will they respect us less once they find out we didn’t always live up to the standard we hold them to?

A year ago, my kids learned that I spray-painted my uncle’s wall as a child.  They were stunned I would do such a thing, but that didn’t make them want to graffiti our own home.  That experience helped motivate me to be honest with them.  I have decided to freely talk about my own mistakes/sins to my kids in the appropriate times and to the extent that they can maturely understand them.  Here’s why:

1)      They need to see why Mommy needed a Savior.
2)      I want them to see with their own eyes how God works through imperfect people.
3)      I do not want to set an example of being shackled by shame.
4)      I’m expecting the end of my life to be better than the start.
5)      WHEN my kids mess up, I want them to know who to talk to.  Their imperfect mother will understand how to come to the Lord, ask forgiveness, correct mistakes, make restitutions and better decisions the next time.

This week, I’ve learned that friends and family members with good memories are a two-edged sword.   I would like to think better of myself than I really was.  But no—they have the stories to prove otherwise.  While a pain, I’m glad they are in my life to keep me humbleJ and real.  I’ve also come up a great parenting philosophy that I will continually speak to my children:

“Kids, do as I do, not as I did.”

Monday, October 8, 2012

Guilt: One Mother's Story

I sat across the restaurant table from my precious sister-in-Christ rejoicing about her new-found life in Jesus while simultaneously grieving about the pain she had to work through.  “Jane” had become a Christian just a few short months ago, and I counted it a privilege to have a front-row seat to her journey of faith and freedom.  “You know,” she contemplated with tears in her eyes, “I know I’m forgiven.  I can accept that for most of the things I did.  I’m not proud of being a waitress at a topless bar, but I can get over that.  But there’s this one image I can not get out of my mind.  One night, my husband and I were wasted on the couch.  My son stood at the top of the stairs yelling ‘Mom! Dad!  Feed me!!!  I’m starving!’   Tonya, I wouldn’t even feed my children.  I did not care.  There were so many days my kids were left to fend for themselves, making themselves ramen noodles while I fed my own drug addiction.  I can not forgive myself.”

What do you say in a scenario like that?  The darkness is evident—no right-thinking mother wants this to happen to her children.  How do you get over this guilt?  One doesn’t forget these types of things--that image will linger in her mind for years to come.  But it doesn’t have to haunt her forever.  Here are some ways to work through the sins we’ve committed that carry huge life consequences.

1.)    Rejoice that you now see clearly.
          Jane did not feel guilty when she actually WAS guilty.  The very fact that she can now feel guilty is a sign that she can finally see the difference between right and wrong.  Her conscience is no longer seared; she has moved from “dark” to “light”.

2.)    Understand what controlled you then and now.
          In Jane’s case, she was controlled by drugs.  They overpowered her every decision.  Now, she is empowered by the Holy Spirit.  As she continues to walk in the Spirit, she will yield to a different Master who will teach her love, mercy, service, kindness, and self-control.

3.)   Stop trying to forgive yourself.
           The reason so many people have trouble forgiving themselves is because the Bible doesn’t tell us to.  We are to accept God’s forgiveness that He extends to us, accept forgiveness from those we’ve wronged, and then extend that same mercy to others.

4.)    Use guilt as your motivator.
Guilt is useful as a safeguard and indicator, as I discussed earlier.  But once the damage is done, we can not repay what has been lost.  We can’t “make-up” for sin.  In Jane’s case, she doesn’t now need to feed her kids whatever they want whenever they want, buy them excessive toys to make up for her past neglect, or excuse any bad behavior now or in the future.  She needs to use that past life as fuel for the next life, like Paul did.  When someone carries out the desires of her flesh, she will neglect and abuse even those that she loves.  How much more motivated then, should we be to carry out the commands of the life-giving Word of God?  I told Jane to keep that image of her son on the stairs.  Next time she wants to fall down in depression over past transgressions, she can use that image to remind her of how she really needs to be nourishing her children.  “Your children will never be able to articulate their need for spiritual food like they can physical food.  But when the soul is neglected, this is the type of desperation our kids feel.  Feed them Jane.  From here on out, teach them the Bible.  Teach them about God.  Teach them about Jesus’ forgiveness and freedom and that we no longer have to be slaves to the things of the world.  Feed your kids the love and mercy that God has given you.”

I can happily say that Jane did and she does.  As she would read the Bible to her kids, it would be the first time that she had read it for herself.  Occasionally she’d email or call because a passage blew her mind, or a kid asked a question that she didn’t know the answer to.  Jane’s questions about God and the Bible taught me so much, and challenged me to find good answers to complicated passages.  She was reading and learning with fresh eyes and a curious spirit.   She once felt the heavy weight of condemnation, but is now motivated to live a God-centered life where the “yoke is easy and the burdens are light.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Musings and Memories: what money can't make

Though both my husband and I have college degrees and beyond, we certainly haven’t chosen a life with lots of moolah.  We were parents early in life, and there have been occasional moments in my children’s youngest years where I was sad about the inability to provide more material things.  As I reflect on those years, I’m satisfied that we had memories with our children that money can’t buy.

Our seminary days were cramped, but filled with creative experiences.  There were days my husband was sleeping in one room (he worked at night), the children I babysat were in the other beds, and my own kids would have to take their naps in random places on the floor.  But those were the fun times we “camped out”.  My son’s only recollection of those years is his mother chasing lizards and mice in the house--he misses those educational moments.  Years later, my husband and I didn’t muster up the cash for a privacy fence.  It was highly inconvenient for me to go outside every time the kids did, but without the “wall” we mixed and mingled with our neighborhood more frequently.  We have yet to purchase our kids play-set equipment for the yard, but I wouldn’t trade the times we had to go to the public parks—those conversations with friends and strangers were priceless and free.

My latest want, and soon-to-be-need, is another van (the old one burst into flames, remember?).   We currently have two 5-passenger vehicles, which means the three kids pile into the back-row seat.  This small vehicular contraption creates intense moments of loud noise, occasional pokes and punches, and strange smells.  Bucket seats and space would give me peace, but they wouldn’t give me the chuckle I had tonight.  Join our family in the latest car-ride conversation:

As we pile in the car, I remind my son to let his sister in first.
Son: “Ladies first doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t even rhyme.  It should be ladies last.”
Daughter 1:  “That’s alliteration.”
Son:  “Well, whatever.  It should be fellas first and ladies last.”
D1: “Nope.  Sorry.  Females first.”
                (horrid smell)
Son: “UGH! Who took off their shoes?”
D1: “Let’s have a stinky feet contest!!”  (giggle, giggle, feet go flying)
Daughter 2: “oh….wait….I can’t catch my breath.”
D1: “Mom!  Roll the windows back up, you’re letting our stink out!”
A few minutes later, “ah man, our feet aired out.  Next game: baddest breath.”

It would be nice to have bucket seats with the kids spread more than arms’ length apart. I am certainly not opposed to buying equipment, fences, and vehicles to make life less complicated.   But I have to wonder what opportunities, creativity, and conversations I would miss if I could have afforded my comfort along the way.  I've come to realize that most disadvantages have advantages somehow in the mix, and I relish those disturbances that have alliterations somewhere in the making.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Guilt: True or False

A few nights ago, I awoke to an annoying beeping sound.  I stumbled around the house to figure out what the noise was, located the smoke detector, and attempted to solve the problem.  The battery needed changing, but at 3:00 in the morning, I wasn’t coordinated enough to pull off the detector’s cover.  Being the good wife and mother that I am, I took the next logical step.  I shut all the bedroom doors, put a pillow over my head, went back to sleep, and let my husband change out the battery the next day.

Maybe I should have made stronger attempts to rouse myself and get the battery changed that night, but in a home full of solid sleepers, there was really no need.   The smoke alarm was not going off, my household was not in danger, I didn’t leave anything burning on the stove (this time), and there was no fire.  The beeping sound was an indicator—not that flames would engulf my house but that a simple battery needed to be replaced.

And so it is with guilt.  As discussed earlier, guilt can be your safeguard.  Guilt can be the incessant, blaring smoke alarm that warns you “get out of the house or burn”, and it can also be the quiet, yet unavoidable steady beep of the smoke detector indicating the need for a change.   There are times you feel guilty because you are guilty, and there are times you feel guilty because your standard or expectation for yourself is different from the Bible’s standard.

Here’s a short list of the reasons parents (particularly mothers) feel a false sense of guilt:

  • the child doesn’t act in the way he or she has been taught
  • your parents, in-laws, or friends tell you what you should or should not be doing as a parent (and there is no biblical/medical/legal basis for their opinions)
  • your child is sick due to something you did not cause
  • you made a bad decision because you did not have the correct information and were not capable of obtaining it
  • you were not able to provide something beneficial to your child due to lack of funds, resources, capabilities, or skills beyond your control
  • you made an extra-biblical standard for yourself and failed to keep it

Anytime you start to feel the twinges or beeping sounds of guilt, you have got to access the problem.  Figure out if you need to repent and change your course of action, or if you just need to “change your battery.”  Take inventory and ask yourself “Where is this guilt coming from?  Do my standards line up with God’s?  Are my expectations of myself the same as God’s expectations of me?  Am I listening to other voices when I should be listening to God’s voice alone?”

Picture yourself in God’s courtroom on judgment day.   It is both a frightening and freeing thing to be in the presence of God when all of your sin, thoughts, and deeds are exposed before the Judge.  But take heart, your own child will not be present as your prosecuting attorney.  Neither will your child be your defense lawyer.  This means that your child’s opinion matters greatly in your relationship with him or her, but it means nothing in your relationship between you and God.  Your eternal case will not have a summoned jury consisting of parents, in-laws, friends, pastors, or authors.  Your spouse will not be there as your bailiff, keeping order in this court.  Neither do you get to be your own caseworker, advocating your own case.  You alone will stand before God, your Judge.  He will spread your words of this life before you (Matt 12:36-37) to see if your heart practiced bitterness or forgiveness.  He will spread your works before you to see if they were produced by a heart of fear or faith.  Those who rejected God in this life will be shown all of their sin and cast into hell by the Judge (John 12:48).  But…those who have trusted Jesus have another person in the courtroom.  Hebrews 9:27-28 tells about our advocate and mediator: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Fellow Christians, please do not freak out when guilt arises.  Do not over-react.  There is no cause for alarm because the fire has been put out.  Do not run around guilt-ridden.  Learn to walk in the Spirit by changing your battery, replacing all of your standards, expectations, and opinions with the only One that matters.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Update: answered prayers

I'm working on part 3 of my blog on guilt, but wanted to give an update because so many people have prayed for me/us the last two weeks. 

A couple weeks ago, I wrote here asking that people would pray specifically for my daughter.  She is struggling being the "new girl" and misses her friends/and old life in Fort Smith.  Two or three events have happened that really helped her meet and feel comfortable with other kids her age.  We just so "happened" to be in the right place at the right time.

Many of you know Mrs. Sue.  She corresponded with me some, and wrote, "Praying your daughter has someone new move into her room."  Well, guess what?  Yesterday, a girl switched from another class into my daughter's.  This makes 8 girls in her class--an even number.  I don't know if they'll be friends or not, but that's not the point.  There is an even number of kids in my daughter's class, and now she doesn't feel like the odd one out.  Our daughter has a long way to go, but even her teacher wrote me and said she seemed lighter and happier this week.

I've learned and been reminded about several things through this situation:

1) I should be quicker to ask for prayer.  That takes humility on my part that I don't always have.

2) God is ready to give good things to His children.  I don't have because I don't ask.

3) It's not prayer that automatically "works".  God is powerful and He works in His timing.

4) God has a mysterious way of moving when petitioned by older, wiser, godly people.  This also happened to me when I first moved to Fort Smith.  We were fresh out of seminary, and I needed a part-time job to help with living expenses.  Mrs. Sue's husband Arliss, sat across the table from McDonald's and prayed that a church would hire me to do college ministry.  I almost laughed.  I said "Arliss, you know I love ministry.  But no church is going to hire a mom with three kids and no seminary degree to do college ministry."  The next week, Pastor Jeff called me into his office and told me to help the church and help my husband at the BCM, and he didn't care who got the credit.  For two years, my kids had no idea that I "worked".  They thought college and singles had parties at our house and that we went to the church office to get candy from the ladies' desks.

5) I plan on returning to paid work in January now that all of our kids are in school.  Arliss and Sue are among the first people I want praying for that job. 

In all seriousness, I am extremely grateful for my friends who think about me and pray for me.  What a privilege to be a part of the body of Christ.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guilt: Snakes and Safeguards

                   ( Part 2 of a series on Guilt.  For part 1, see Guilt: The Mother Load)

My neighbor proudly showed me his picture of the six-foot black snake he killed in the back yard.  I’m pretty sure he expected me to gasp at the sight or fall down and thank him for rescuing our neighborhood from the hideous creature.  To his frustration, I asked: “that’s a king snake.  Why’d you kill it?”

There has always been a tension between me and some of my best friends that I’ve watched have cardiac arrests at the mention of this animal.  It’s very hard to convince people who are deathly afraid of snakes that there IS something good about those slithery enemies.  As a country girl, born and raised, my dad taught me something most people seem to forget:

Snakes eat rats.

(I am aware that cats eat those too, but there are people who also mistakingly think cats are evil, man-hating creatures.  This blog is about snakes.)  Snakes not only eat rats and mice, they eat pesky insects that damage crops.  My dad didn’t grow an acre-and-a-half garden every year like this (rain or drought) by going willy-nilly with a hoe or shotgun on every meandering reptile that crossed his path.

Snakes, in and of themselves, are not a problem.  The problem is their poison.  If you don’t want to live in rat-infested homes or with damaged crops, you will learn to kill the poison and appreciate the snake.  

Likewise, guilt, in and of itself, is not a problem.  In fact, guilt is a spiritual safeguard.  It is the verb, noun, and adjective that can keep dangers and diseases from rotting our souls.  If we want a fruitful spiritual life and flourishing garden that nourishes those we are around, we will learn to pay attention to, and adequately respond to our guilt.
I will address false guilt in my next blog post.  For now, let’s look at how God dealt with guilt in the Old Testament.  Lev 5:14-19, 6:1-7, and 7:1-6 tells about the procedure for a ‘guilt offering.”  If there were any of God’s people guilty of an offense against God or another person, and there was a possibility of restoring the offense, that person would have to bring one of his own possessions and sacrifice it at the alter.  It did not matter whether the offender meant to do harm or not—the point is God’s standard was not met and there had to be a substitution for the wrongdoing.  The transgressor had to sacrifice something important to him/her-- an innocent animal without a blemish or imperfection.  Once the ceremony was complete, the guilty party would repay what he or she owed plus 20%.  These acts of worship were important for safeguarding the community—the public was reminded of the standard that keeps people from being harmed or robbed from God’s best, the offender was motivated to act justly and wisely in the future, and all the wrongs were made right.

We can appreciate Jesus more fully when we dive into the practices of the Old Testament.  If you are familiar with the New Testament, particularly Romans 5, you will understand that Jesus, who was perfect and innocent, substituted Himself for us on the cross.  We often do the wrong thing, whether innocently or knowingly, but now because of Jesus, we do not have to sacrifice ourselves or our belongings.  We can confidently say "I WAS guilty, but with Jesus I am no longer condemned." It’s a radical tension to live with, but the blood that should be on our own hands, is now on the hands of Jesus.

The world will do a fine job of trying to excuse your guilt from you.  You’ll hear the subtle reasons for your bad decisions—your needs weren’t met as a child, your environment wasn’t right, your parents didn’t nurture you, your personality just is the way it is, your ADD wasn’t medicated correctly.  But this country girl can tell you what the world is doing to you—they are killing your harmless snakes and letting the rats infest your heart, to the point that the guilty people don’t actually feel their guilt and the innocent people bear the weight of guilt that is not theirs to be responsible for.  Maybe we need to hear: “you really are guilty.”  We can't excuse it, cover it up, forget it, or remove it.  There is only remedy for guilt: Jesus had to die for it.

Still, there are many times Christians sin and make mistakes.  We have guilty emotions to keep us from further temptations, pitfalls, and sins.  Even though we are to trust in Jesus’ work, we DO still have to work.  But we don’t correct our guilt by making further sacrifices.  The new law is “Trust and obey”.  If we’ve sinned against someone, we ask forgiveness.  We pay back what we owe if that’s possible.  When we realize we’ve made a bad decision (on purpose or innocently) we just admit it, learn from it, and move on.  We can't keep hanging around the Old Testament ceremonies smelling the blood, feeling bad that we are not the perfect sons and daughters of God.  We need the courage to look that king snake right in the face, discern if it is useful or poisonous, step over him in obedience, and let the freaky thing do his job without freaking out about him. what ways does this analogy disturb you?  :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Guilt: the Mother Load

As a young child, I was advised on managing my emotions.  As a teenager, I was taught the value of hard work and operating a budget.  As a college student, older women coached me in the art of running a household.  As a young woman preparing for marriage, I spent hours in pre-marital counseling learning how to establish effective communication habits with my spouse.  But nowhere in my three seconds of pre-children counseling, was I prepared for the daunting task of managing my guilt as a mother.

I graduated college with a B.S.E. in elementary education.  I spent hours behind a desk learning how to be a specialist in classroom management.  Yes, I am certified by the State of Arkansas to teach the ABC’s and 123’s and beyond to multiple children by using Apple Annie, plastic teddy bear counters and geometric pattern blocks.  I am a trained bachelor of academic education, but somehow expected myself to be the master of motherhood. 

Unfortunately I found out that being a proficient mind-reader of my infant was a process and not an instantaneous skill given to me at her birth.   I had to learn that one cry meant “hold me”, consistent crying meant “feed me”, and multiple soft fusses accompanied by the moving legs meant “I need to poop”.  I failed to be a fortune-teller, unable to for-see the toddler quickly pull herself up in the bucket of the shopping cart, flip over, and land head-first on the parking lot pavement.  I released myself from that guilt when the same child made straight A’s in kindergarten (Whoo!  No long term damage).  I wasn’t naturally adept at managing the umpteen antibiotics, multiple aspirators, and Kleenexes that came with the ear infections.  And of course it was my fault that my children had the numerous ear infections.  I didn’t eat enough spinach while pregnant.  I should never have taken them to germ-infested grocery stores.  Instead, I should have been at home milking my own cow and tilling my flower-bed sized yard into a flourishing garden of beans and herbs and wheat.  I should have also played my genetics card right and married someone with big ears to counter-balance my tiny canals that passed on just the right amount of genetic conditions making someone susceptible to allergies and snot-blocked auditory meatus that resulted in multiple infections and five surgeries of two of my children.  Or I could have just realized sooner that we were all allergic to dairy.  I guess the cow would have gotten in the way.

It was hard to come to grips with the fact that I was no magician—unable to enchant my young ones to the exciting adventures of eating small trees and leaves in the form of broccoli and lettuce.  I did not charm my refluxed infant into rhythmical sleeping patterns in order to have a peaceful night’s sleep.  As a mother, I expected myself to be equipped as a judge between the sibling rivalry, a referee in their monopoly games/soon to be wrestling matches, a diplomat in the affairs of childhood disagreements, a politician that inspired my little followers with my riveting rhetoric, and a coach that produced winning champions and child prodigies.  When I don’t perform these jobs with correct discernment, skill, some creative acrobatics, and of course, a soothing, pleasant tone of voice that results in instantly well-mannered, healthy, responsible, and sensible children, guess what happens?   I get a visit from my undesirable companion: GUILT.

Guilt is a quirky little beast familiar to all moms who actually care about their children.   But I’ll tell you that I’ve found ways to contain this shrewd animal with his seductive eyes, sharp claws, and a paralyzing, poisonous bite.  At my house, he's trained to stay in his cage.  I hear him scratching every now and then.  Occasionally he escapes, but I’m quicker now and clever enough to trap him again.  He spends more time hearing me laugh at him than I do getting irritated or immobilized by him.

Next week, with Snakes and Safeguards. I want to pass on what I’ve learned about guilt: how guilt is both useful and useless, and what we mothers (or anyone else) are suppose to do with it.  Until then…
Grab a recycled spoon and have some lactose-free vanilla yogurt mixed with honey and topped with sugarless granola and pesticide-free strawberries.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Praying through the Pain

I usually write my blogs with other people in mind.  The teacher/counselor in me seeps out as I pass along the info and experiences I've gathered along my life.  I believe that there answers to everything problematic in life--I take pleasure in finding and giving answers.  Not to mention, I like sharing my opinion, and the blog forum gives me the outlet to do so even though no one is specifically asking. :)

But tonight, I have a different agenda.  This blog is about me and my problems, specifically one of my child's problems.  I need prayer.  Our family needs prayer.  I've already cried to God and don't want to text anyone this late at night.

I'll give the background story that most people know already.  Over two years ago, my husband and I made the decision to move towns for his job/vocational ministry.  The decision was a pivotal spiritual moment in our lives.  We felt God directing us to a college ministry on a different campus.  Individually and collectively, my husband and I pointed to Genesis 12 and studied the story of God's call on Abram/Abraham to get up and move to the land God would show him.  We were confident that God was directing us to get up and move again.  We aren't "fathering"  many nations like Abraham did--but, when it comes to evangelizing and discipling college students, in a sense, we are spiritually parenting a small part of the nations.  For this, I am truly happy and deeply satisfied.

As most of you know, nothing went smoothly for about two years.  Our house wouldn't sell for the first few months, my husband was out of town during the week and then came home for weekend daddy duty and husband hours.  Every once in a while, someone would ask me if I regretted the decision to move.  With the exception of a two week period of doubt in those two years, I said no every time.  I became a proficient reader of Genesis, analyzing every detail in the life of Abraham and Sarah.  I truly believed that just because things weren't "working out" did not mean God had quit working.  I constantly had to remind myself that this move was not about me and my family; it was about the advancement of the kingdom. 

Living in limbo and by faith that can't see around the corner has not been easy.  But by far the most difficult part of this process is feeling like a bucket-collecter for all of our children's tears.  For the longest time, one or all three would cry for Dad, cry over their former school, cry for their old house and neighborhood and former church, and weep because they missed their friends.  The hurt has been felt most deeply by my oldest daughter.  She is sweet and loyal and genuinely loves people.  It hurts her to leave people and she desperately misses her old life.  As in the story of Abraham and Isaac, I felt like we parents were continually putting our kids at the alter, holding a knife over them, waiting for a substitute provision of God to keep the pain from going to its deepest level.

A renewed sense of peace washed over me two weeks ago when my daughter said: "This has been really hard and I didn't want it.  But I think God moved us here for a reason and I think it was the best decision. I'm glad to live here."  She still believes that but this week has shed more tears.  She started school a couple of weeks ago (she had the choice of me homeschooling her or going to school when a spot opened up for her).  She's the "new kid" now and the 7th girl in her class of 19.  The other 6 girls have already paired up with their bff and our oldest daughter is the odd girl out.  She spends her recesses alone, swinging and reading, reminiscing her old friends as she watches others frolic about happily the way she once did.  She loves the Lord and longs for a Christian friend.  If  not a Christian, at least someone with character, but the truth is she is more mature than most her age and has a difficult time with the common cruelties of other children.

Once again, I feel like we're raising the knife over our kid.  We feel responsible because we are the ones who "climbed the mountain" by moving from Fort Smith to Central Arkansas. We're the ones holding the knife by our decisions.  And I just wonder, how long do we have to wait?  I don't believe God calls us to sacrifice our kids for the kingdom.  God sacrificed his own son so we wouldn't have to sacrifice ours.  But they do suffer.  My oldest daughter is repeatedly bound up by the lingering anguish of loneliness.  I know there are bigger problems in the world, but not right now for her world.

I know the answers.  This a time of struggle that will build her character.  She has to learn that God is her ultimate bff.  This situation will help her comfort others as she has been comforted.  There are answers, but there has been no earthly solution for two years and counting.  And at only 9 years old, that's a significant percentage of the life she's known.

So please pray.  Pray for my husband and I.  Pray for our kids.  Pray for wisdom for us and a solid friend for our precious girl.  I want to cut the ropes and put the knife away for good, but feebly trusting I'll hear a rustle in the bushes signaling God's provision for this tension.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Friends of Faith: the people that persevere

I’ve heard a lot of testimonies recently from Christians who were in troubled times and God instantly and miraculously delivered them from their troubles.  I love those stories.  I live those stories.  I can not list the many times God has protected me, provided for me, and proven that He is capable of making possible the impossible.  In Hebrews 11 (the famous Hall of Faith), there are numerous stories of those faithful men who “conquered kingdoms…shut the mouths of lions…quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword.”  There were women who received back their dead loved ones by resurrection, groups that walked through the parted Red Sea and watch the strong walls of Jericho fall down.  There is even a man named Enoch who didn’t experience death.  He just flew away in the sky.  Could that be me please?????

But there are other stories recounted in Hebrews 11.  There are stories of people who obeyed God when it cost them everything.  Obedience cost their homes, their property, control over their children, their reputation, and their own lives.  These are stories that are compelling to read about, and complicated to live out.

I know a few people whose names I could insert into Hebrews chapter 11.  They are dear friends of mine.  They are around my age, and in my opinion, not old enough to experience the hardships that have been placed before them.  For their own privacy, I can’t mention most of their names, but I can put their circumstances into categories: 

*I have two friends who are experiencing significant health problems.  Not the flu, or the allergies or asthma we deal with in my household.  Their health issues are life altering, making them unable to function in the every-day activity of life.  I’ve tried to pity them and they won’t let me.  They turn the conversation around and praise their Father. 

*Then there’s Sabrina, who was widowed in her early 30’s.  She’ll be the first to tell you that the single mom life mixed with grief is hard.  She doesn’t pretend.  But she just WON’T give into despair.  The harder life gets, the more she’s determined to trust God through it all.

*Then there are my friends who spouses have committed adultery.  Note the plural form of friends.  Some have been forced to divorce.  Some have reconciled and have a thriving marriage, leaving an incredible legacy for their children and covering a multitude of sins.  My friends feel rejected.  And yet they are resolved to trust in God’s faithfulness even when His own people can’t seem to pull it off.

*Then there are my friends who have children with special needs.  The care for these children is so constant, so tedious, and so demanding, with very little glory given to the parents.  These parents are exhausted.  And yet they endure.  They persistently show the love of the Father with very little earthly reward.

*Last but not least, my sister.  She is an able-bodied, capable and smart woman.  Somewhere along the way she’s realized that to those whom much has been given, much is required.  Right now, she is involved in a scenario that is tragic. She is offering help, aid and assistance for people at the expense of her time, money, emotions, and physical health.  She is simply sad.  And yet she is steadfast in proclaiming the Good News and being Jesus in the flesh.

The people in these five scenarios have no earthly promise that things are going to turn out okay.  They are people like in the Faith Chapter who have not yet “received the things promised, but [have] seen them and greeted them from afar, and [have] acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

These faithful people remind us to not grow weary.  We are to persevere no matter how simple or substantial the specific acts of obedience about God’s commands to love Him and others.  They are people who have figured out that God is good even when life isn’t.

When I was 18 years old, a roommate challenged me to memorize Habakkuk 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God the Lord is my strength….”

To put that passage in our context, I encourage you to live with this declaration: “Though there be no food in my pantry, no money in my bank account, no health in my body, no daddy for my children, no faithfulness from my spouse, no “normalcy” for my child’s future, no end to my friend’s pain, no glory in my circumstances, I WILL rejoice in the Lord.  I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God the Lord is my strength.”

Friday, August 31, 2012

Shocked and Awed by God and Sex

Every blue moon someone tells me that I like shock value and have an affinity for the spicy things of life.  I can't deny that.  Sometimes I make people laugh because they have a hard time believing I just said "that".  Sometimes I make people uncomfortable.  I want you to know, that my motives aren't (solely) to make people's eyes get bigger.  I want people's hearts to get bigger. 

Doctors will administer cardiogenic shock treatment to a physical heart in order to repair damage caused by lack of oxygen.  When it comes to the issue of sex, too many people's spiritual hearts have had an abundance of the world's perspective and very little of God's life breathing words and teaching.  I could shout my opinions on this subject all day.  But I want you to hear a short testimony from one of my friends.  This is a snapshot of the women sitting in your pews at church.  This is a story of a married Christian woman who has walked down the middle of a church aisle for her salvation and the middle of a book aisle for her orgasmic motivation.  This is a common story with an uncommon, but intended and wonderful ending.

"I recently went through something you've been talking about.  I was reading romance novels and romance movies to get "turned on" (excuse my bluntness) or to "spice it up"...until i read a book a friend recommended Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  It was SO good!  But I realized just how satan has tainted the beauty of sex and how God intended it to be....a friend was talking to me too around this same time about the book, fiftyshades of grey, and how ever since reading them it has "spiced things up" and that even though it was graphic it was a good story....I was able to tell her I was doing that too until i was convicted after what I had read in the 'God and sex' book. Now that I have a great perspective on God and His intention for sex I was able to tell her how much more I desired my husband than ever! Anyway, God's timing is great! My heart aches for all these married folks who have the world's view of marriage and sex. They have no idea how great marriage and sex can be. God intended so much more for us!!! Same with life in general! I just ache for these that just dont know how great God is!!! PS..i love to follow my husband too!! The view [from behind] IS great!! Ha ha!"

It's not that men's sex drives are too high and women's sex drives are too low.  It's that our view of sex is not high enough and our view of God is too low.  We are people that are content to settle for someone else's story instead of making our own.  We are content to live vicariously through a screen or human author's book instead of living out the pages of the Word that gives abundant life.  We accept "fake" and will not work hard for what's real and lasting.

May God bless you.  And if you're married, I wrote few words here, so that you can make more time for a fantastic night with your husband.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Parenting Philosophies and the Perplexing Plethora of Publications

Ten years ago this month, I became a primarily stay-at-home mom.  Three kids later, I have encountered another huge life change—my youngest child entered kindergarten.  The pre-school days have come and gone for me.  Some of those long days are a blur, but I remember well the anxiety I had about being a new mom.  I did not feel prepared to adequately handle the job, so I asked a lot of questions to those more experienced and set out to read books.  The first two I read were written by acclaimed Christian authors about taking care of a newborn. The content and practical application of those two books were completely opposite of one another, with bible verses to support each author’s philosophy.

I knew several families at the time who were very familiar with Babywise.  That book alone helped some of my friends have a peaceful and restful life.  That book also led some families down a path of tremendous heartache, like my dear friend whose child nearly died because of the counsel and the content of that book and the teachers/support group who taught it.

I was so confused.  Which way is right?  How can one philosophy bring both help and heartache to its readers?  Since that time, I have read a lot of books, but I think being an avid reader is both helpful and dangerous.  It’s helpful when authors teach us how to think.  It’s borderline dangerous when they tell you what to do about anything not clearly laid out in Scripture.

Here is my attempt to help those who like to read know what to look for while they are reading.  Parenting books generally fall into one of three categories:

Child-centered parenting or child-directive approach:
Within this philosophy, children’s bents, personalities, schedules, and the children themselves become the focal point of the home.  Much secular behavioral psychology stems from this philosophy.  Followed to its end, this philosophy gives license and creates entitlement.

Parent-centered parenting or parent-directive approach:
Within this philosophy, the parents set the schedule and the expectations.  The parents’ personalities and bents are more central than the children’s.  Many Christian parenting books written in the 70’s and 80’s were written to combat the child-centered parenting philosophies, but the solutions were written from a parent-directive approach.  Followed to its end, parent-centered parenting promotes legalism and creates exasperation among the children.

Gospel-centered parenting or Bible-based parenting:
One has to be very careful with putting books in this category.  Not every Bible-claiming book is Gospel-centered or Jesus-loving.  No matter how hard an author tries, he or she has a bent toward a child or parent directive approach.  However, with a Gospel-centered approach, the starting point of the philosophy lies neither with the child or parent.  Jesus’ expectations set the tone and schedule of the family.  Jesus is the Boss and the head of the home.

The Bible is the final authority in our home, we strive to keep Jesus the center, and apply the Gospel to every-day parenting.  With that being said, I have found other books written by Christian men and women to be helpful.  I read them with a critical eye, picking and choosing what I want to incorporate in my own home.  I'll admit, I am bent towards child-centered parenting.  I don't agree with that philosophy, it's just when I err, it is usually in that direction.

The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges:
The book has nothing to do with parenting.  The practical application of this book has everything to do with parenting.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp:
I found 80% of this book to be what I wanted my parenting to look like.  I disagree with his stance on spanking as the only physical discipline.  I hold many things in my “toolbox” of discipline.  No discipline is executed in our home without communicating, but I find time-outs, gracefully executed, have their time and place.

Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman:
This is a great follow-up to read after Shepherding a Child’s Heart.  Tripp and Plowman share the same parenting and counseling models, but Plowman gives more practical illustrations as a mother who has been there.

The Duties of Parents by JC Ryle:
This is not really a book, it’s a short pamphlet. It’s old-school and a bit legalist and rigid in my opinion, but really good for thinking through the responsibilities of parenthood.

Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas:
This book doesn’t focus on how to train your children, but rather how God uses children to train us.  I identified with Thomas’ struggles as a parent, and found the tension he described just as humorous in my own life.

Parenting: From Surviving to Thriving by Charles Swindoll:
I am ¾ of the way through this book so I can’t critique it well.  I can tell Swindoll has a child-centered bent but he uses the Bible as his starting place.  He encourages the parent to be a good student of the Bible and his or her own children.

A caution on James Dobson:
James Dobson has good things to say in every book he writes.  He is a brilliant man and I wish I had his brain.  However, readers just need to know that he himself claims not to be a theologian, but a psychologist.  Dobson starts with behavioral psychology and applies the Bible to it, not the other way around.  If you have a good Gospel-centered foundation, his tips are awesome and can help with short-term training.  But know that his teaching is about behavior modification, not heart change.  Followed to its end, his teaching can create robots or rebels.

Think of the Gospel as the leafy green things that are the base of your salad.   Any author’s methods are meant to be croutons or bacon bits or dressing.  They add great flavor.  Some think you can’t have a salad without these toppings.  That’s okay, but if your salad is primarily croutons, your children will have carb overload.  If you have a bowl of dressing with a couple of spinach leaves, your children can grow up to be fat diabetics with no nutrition.

Read.  Think.  Pray.  Scrutinize all teaching under the authority of Scripture.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dogs, Crazy People, and Germy Places: the Simplicity of Sharing the Gospel

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  1 Peter 3:15

I am often cautious to talk about ways I’ve shared the Gospel.  The main reason is because I have missed as many opportunities to share my faith as I have made.  I do not want to give an incomplete story of my life.  Another reason: when I read other’s stories about this subject for myself, I feel guilty about my inadequacies instead of praising God for the expansion of his glory.  I assume there are others who do likewise.  It is not my intention to impose some sort of false guilt on any of my friends.

Nevertheless, since I am around myself the most, I have more stories involving myself than anything else.  Secondly, knowing my failures shouldn’t make people feel better about themselves, it should make them feel better about a God who still uses a blundering, sometimes insecure, person to relay the most important message in life.  Thirdly, sharing the Gospel is not as hard as I once thought it was.  Fourth, I believe there are many people who'd like to share their faith, but don't really know where to start.  Here are three different scenarios that can hopefully motivate Christians to see that God’s mercy is great, His burdens are light, and evangelism is not a scary word.

The Park
A friend and I went to the park with our kids and my dog.  We were talking about an event coming up at church when my dog made friends with another woman’s dog.  The fellow dog-owner over-heard our conversation and began to briefly tell us her beliefs about religion.  She thought Muslims, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, and Christians all had good arguments.  She then looked straight at me and asked, “What do you believe?  How does someone get to Heaven?”

I had just a few minutes to respond by saying I think Jesus is the only way to Heaven. While I think the other religions are wrong, I in no way disrespect the people who follow those beliefs.  I had less than a minute to tell why Jesus is God and the Savior of the world.  The stranger left with her dog seemingly intrigued and still thinking about our brief conversation.

On Campus
I’ve been mentoring a student who is really working on sharing her faith.  She doesn’t understand why she rarely has spiritual conversations with non-believers.  So we started praying for them.  One day, we met at Starbucks and I prayed God would bring us an opportunity that day.  We had a great talk and then walked out the door to a fairly empty campus when I said “you know, I don’t know where anything is on this campus.  I need to give myself a tour.”  Out of nowhere, a male student walked up behind us and said, “Well, too bad you haven’t been here to listen to the crazy preacher on campus who tells us we’re all going to hell.”

I was trying to figure out how a need to be familiar with the campus and crazy preachers go together.  There was no connection.  Here was the moment I prayed for.  I asked the stranger what he thought about that, if street preaching was the best way to go about things, and what he thought about salvation, heaven, and hell.  For five minutes, this guy, the student and me dialogued about the reasons he won’t call himself a Christian and why he doesn’t like church but is open to Jesus.

Eating Food
My friend and I were eating fast-food together while my kids were in the play area.  My four year old comes off the slide and to our table and asks, “Are we all sinners?”  Strange question at that time, but I answered it, and my daughter ran back to the play area.  When it was time to leave, I gathered my kids’ shoes and found out that there was a four-year-old boy in the play area asking a lot of spiritual questions and my kids had been attempting to answer them.  The little boy asked me if I really thought we were all sinners.  I told him yes, there are sinners who follow Jesus and sinners who don’t.   The difference is that Jesus died to save us from our sin.   When a person trusts in Jesus, they don’t have to let their sin rule over them.  Jesus becomes your Boss.  He asked more questions, and I attempted to answer them the best I knew how in four-year-old language.

While I was leaving the restaurant, the little boy ran to the booth where two or three adults were sitting.  He told his mom, “Mom, we all sin.  We’re all sinners.”  The mom brushes him off and says, “no honey, we’re not all sinners.”  He adamantly responds, “Yes we are mom.  (points his finger) That lady told me we were, and I believe her.”  As I walked out the door, the little boy recounted almost word for word our conversation by the slide.

You may wonder why I didn’t stay to further converse.  Maybe I’m a chicken.  For sure, the four year old was doing a pretty good job and had the attention of those within ear shot of him.

Evangelism is not just for the preachers or the spiritually powerful or the bold.  In these cases, God used a dog, a street-corner offensive preacher, and two pre-schoolers with no prior saving knowledge of salvation to be links in the Gospel message.  God can certainly use you and me.  There are, however, four common threads that have given me the opportunity to speak into someone’s life.

  1. I pray for opportunities.
   Please don’t get the image of me kneeling beside my bed spending lots of uninterrupted time in prayer.  Prayer is my weak spot, and is the number one reason I spend much of my time being frustrated.  I do, however, regularly pray while fixing meals or driving in the car that God will bring the conversations to me, because I’m not that good at starting them myself.  Often, the kids will hear me pray an adapted version of the Lord’s prayer over them: “Father, glorify Your name in this family.  Your kingdom come, your will be done through ____(and I list my kids’ names,)  It’s a short prayer.  I’ve seen God answer it time and time again.  All of my kids have been a part of spreading the Gospel, even before they had received it themselves.

  1. I practice in private.
I use to feel incredibly guilty when I missed opportunities to speak truth.  My coach of a husband has helped me with this.  Now I use my missed opportunities to get better for the next time.  I mill the conversation in my head over and over, until I come up with good answers.  I visualize having a conversation with someone, and by the time the next opportunity rolls around, I am more prepared to present the Gospel.

  1. I’m in public with and in participation with other believers.
   I’ve never had the opportunity to share the Gospel with unbelievers while I was fighting with a believer. Though there are appropriate times to productively debate in private, God uses the unity of his own children to attract more children.  There is power when two or three of God’s people come together in His name.  Do we really believe this?  Or do we try to fly solo?

  1. I’m in the presence of non-believers.
This is self-explanatory.  We have to get out of our house and into the world.  There are times to eat at home, there are times to eat somewhere else.  There are times to play in the backyard, there are times to find public play areas.  There are times to sit alone and study, there is a time for Starbucks! 

And I don’t even like coffee.