It’s Only Adolescence, He’s Still There

Our son at 16.  Not too much as changed since age four, surprisingly.  He responds best to short sentences, words of affirmation, and ice cream.  He likes to spend time with his friends, though on a grander scale now, and makes a wonderful host for them in our home and a terrific buddy in theirs.  He likes to organize, a skill which has matured from creating lines of matchbox cars divided by color to reorganizing the rooms of our home in clean lines and careful attention to detail.

While he has tamed his thick, blond dandelion fluff to a sleeker style, some days he wears a milk mustache after breakfast.  His once small, sturdy self that wrapped around mine in a full-body hug has manifested in an adult-sized embrace that doesn’t realize its own strength.  He will soon trade simple morning rituals for a can of shaving cream and a razor, knowing too well that once he starts he cannot quit the unwelcome habit.

He loves unconditionally, even when some folks push the limits of trust or basic kindness.  He forgives in champion proportions.  He adores children, especially his young cousins, and prizes time with family above everything else.  Tangible love and care speaks to him, yet he asks for prayer whenever he faces obstacles in his mind or in his life.  God is as big as he was in the toddler years, and likely more evident.

Years ago, his Pre-K teacher informed the Graduation Day audience, “This boy will make a wonderful husband someday!”  Other parents chuckled and clapped.  I cried.  Those words, predicted so innocently about our boy, meant more to my heart than any report card ever will.

This boy has much to offer, undervaluing gold.  Most boys do.

Most boys possess intangible characteristics that those with an inward eye will recognize and honor:  kindness, compassion, forgiving hearts, loyalty, decency, gentleness, quiet strength, and joy.  They will suffer more than other people for these very characteristics, but will not change their stripes for love or money.

imagesNo matter how deep the puddle or pit of misguided decisions our boy faces — and he has — and no matter what his future brings — and it will — he will find a way to persevere.  The strength of his core has melded and buffered all through his childhood.  As he learns to access this strength, he will learn about himself in important ways; how he can work within this world to achieve great things for the One who created him.

The cranky craziness of adolescence will likely build and burn bridges all over the map.  Some may rise or fall or suffer some disrepair, but I do not think the supports under them change very much.  What God builds in each of us, as I can see so vividly in this boy turned young man, remains positioned for the long haul.  Some bridge piers may sit in deeper water or in more mire than others, while some stand in crystal waterways under clear skies, depending on a person’s path in this life.  But they sit, nonetheless, waiting to support the next seasonof life and growth.

Underneath the testiness, tiredness, and tom-foolery, our boy’s foundations sit waiting.  They might groan under the pressures he tries to balance every day, or rock a bit as he adjusts his stance and his view of what lies both behind and ahead of him.  But, I know without a doubt they are still there, and on the other side of this crooked teenage path, so is he.

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Bible Study How-To from the Trenches

Raise your hand if you know you should study your Bible, but just can’t seem to connect, even when you can find time.

Me!  Me!  Me!  ME!

I will be 49 in July, I have read through the Bible twice, I have entered into Bible study in the churches I have attended, and have tried either my own random cracks at studying, or have taken short-term studies that include a DVD and all the questions and answers a person might want to complete the task.

All that should stand for something, shouldn’t it?  But it doesn’t.

Not one of these methods found me devoting time to God in his Word.  Not one of them helped connect me to a daily need to read, know, and remember.  None of them acted as a catalyst to dig deeper.

What did help were a few handfuls of simple words.

Dear God, please give me a hunger for your word, and give me a heart to pursue it every day.”  Voila!  That door opened faster than fast.

My Bible study, over a period of about 6 months, grew to where it is today, which still has lots of room in the sleeves and length in the legs for more growing.  I’m continually learning, continually reviewing, and continually struggling to grow the way God wants me to grow, which feels hard, too stretchy, and far more messy than I would like.  I want pain-free growth and change, just the same as I want pain-free dental work.

I always, always, always want tried and true “how to” from someone who says he found success in something with which I struggle.  While one size does not fit all, I can at least glean from the harvest of someone else, though their scraps might be still too big for me.  I need to grow at my pace, not someone else’s.  And so, for your personal gleaning,
I offer my map to Bible study success …

Bible Study from a Comfy Spot on the Farmhouse Couch


Step One:  Choose a chapter each day.

I felt the desire to read and study in simple ways, at first.  I chose a chapter each day, usually by the “flip and point” method of randomly choosing from my fanned-open Bible.  I felt satisfied at feeling the call to read and pray, look and listen, learn and grow.  I took notes in a Specially Marked Notebook, so I would have official storage space for what God showed me through his Word. It began and stayed pretty much like a summary, and I jotted a few points here and there that I could apply to my life.  I did not do well at the actual application, I handled that more like suggestions for when all the planets align, the moon is full, I feel personally invited by God, and the Spirit moves me exactly the way I need to move, much like a marionette.  In other words, not going to happen with my stubborn self.

Yeah.  I think it’s clear where this first step led.  But, we have to crawl before we walk.

Within a few weeks, I felt a bit misdirected in my random ways.  God can guide us through what feels like happenstance or coincidence, but he works in neither of those mediums.  God has a never-failing plan, of which we play a part.  When we don’t take our cues, someone else will.  God keeps right on working over top of, around, and past our wretched, lazy, unmotivated selves, and he will also work with and through our inexperienced, untrained, slightly insecure, step-out in fear faith selves.  His ways are perfect.  Ours are usually faulty and half-baked.

I kept reading, outlining, praying, and repeating.  This method most closely resembles “trial and error”, and worked for me, because learning from mistakes helps me grow.  You probably find that true, too.

Step 2:  Find guidance from “gift” sources.

As I worked through, hunt-and-peck style, in study, I began to hear things from various sources about praying for the Spirit to help me understand what I read, to teach me what I needed to learn, to fill me, and to guide my study.  These were gifts, set out for me to open and use.  Praying gave me purpose.  I could pray and feel led to a topic to pursue, then use my concordance (large Bible reference book) or Google to find a Bible chapter or verse that spoke about what I had received from my prayer.

As before, I felt satisfied that I had direction and satisfied that I could see where I had grown.  No more plowing into territory God had not prepared for me first.

Connections between the text I read and the life I lived began to happen.  In prayer, when I felt the nudge to pray for a friend, I found references in the passages I read that day which directed me to deeper prayer.  I would later learn that my friend had some dilemmas she faced that very day, and that my prayer had been not only on topic, but on time.  Gifts to pray-er and pray-ee!

I did not always remember to pray before beginning to read.  Even when I did remember, I didn’t always feel connected to the passage.  Every day feels different, but God would show up outside that prayer and reading time, speaking through radio broadcasts, through family conversation, and through his Spirit working in my heart.

Growth like this felt slow to me.  I wanted it all, and I wanted it now.  God knows better.  He knows we need time, tending, understanding, chances to apply what we learn, and time to grow toward a new level of understanding and spiritual strength.

I had found the guidance I needed, rather than using the wing-and-a-prayer method.  The Holy Spirit does not shove.  Nudges and murmurings come in small ways, so “be still” takes precedence.  I had to learn to let the guidance happen.  I still have to work at this.

Step 3:  Attend a challenging Bible study.

I had attended Bible studies many times.  Some reminded me of some college classes, in which I felt the leader wanted only to have his own words or ideas repeated in every response, or I felt that I had missed a prerequisite course that would have really helped me feel less stupid.  Small group studies sometimes turned to gossip, or to self-help style outreach, rather than learning about God’s word and applying it directly to life in a serious and proactive way.

When a friend invited me to try a new Bible study designed by Kay Arthur, called “Precepts”, I performed a spur-of-the-moment acceptance.  As time for the study grew closer, I began to have misgivings, as I often do when I don’t take care to answer after prayer, thought, and asking my husband’s input.  I felt the desire to back out for selfish reasons — not wanting to drive 90 minutes round trip, and not wanting to step out of my present comfort zone.  Also, the thought of homework, which our Sunday School teacher can never get anyone to do, felt a bit on the ominous side.

But I went.

On the very first meeting, I felt amazingly energized.  The Precepts study style requires homework between meeting sessions, and I jumped into that work with exuberance I have never previously felt in group studies.  Precepts provides all the questions and focuses of study, and while following it, teaches the learner how to ask his own questions and how to translate the Bible’s message personally.

At the twelfth and final session, I did not feel ready to finish.  The small group I had met with twelve times had grown in many directions as well as bonded, and now we needed to go forth and multiply.

The Precepts technique works for me.  I will take another official study very soon, probably online, and challenge myself to understand the technique in deeper ways.

Step 4:  Take off the training wheels.

Armed with the experiences of 6 months of Bible study trial and error, guidance, and technique, an invitation came to me to attend a women’s conference with Lisa TerKeurst, guest speaker.  Yes, please!  I follow Proverbs 31 devotionals via e-mail each day, and Lysa’s words and encouragement have flowed from sources like KLOVE Radio, Facebook at Proverbs 31 Ministries and at her official FB page, Lysa TerKeurst. I signed up as fast as I could pray, think, and check with my husband about it.

At the conference, we heard from Lysa about her current book, Uninvited, and how our relationship with God can cover all forms of human rejection that we may have faced or will face, and that giving our first minutes of the day to our Creator can make the difference between a good day and a great day.  All good.  The nugget I found at this conference, a treasure I keep with me every day, is the devotional app Lysa introduced to us, called First 5.  I downloaded First 5 that day, and began reading and studying with it the very next morning.

Hallelujah, Amen.  Why?

This daily reading and study, named for the idea disciplining ourselves to giving our waking moments to God as a personal sacrifice, and as our first connection of the day, has changed my life, has given me another leg up on connecting with and learning from God’s word, and has made me want to learn even more.

Step 5:  Kick it up a notch, stylize, grow, and love God’s word.

First 5 stands as the one devotional/study I have done that has remained with me for many months, and I look forward to it’s fresh and timely instruction on a new chapter every day.  I can interact with others, if I wish, or keep to myself.  Every day can be a little bit different!

Along with First 5, I continue the Precepts method, usually working on the chapter from the current day’s First 5, as well as branching out into other books.  For instance, now, I work through the First 5 chapter in 2 Samuel in the morning, and in the evening, I am roaming Genesis, chapter by chapter.

I have found greater joy in reading and studying, and include some word study (from the Hebrew and Greek, usually using Google and my big ol’ concordance).  No one could have paved this path for me, other than God.  No one could have suggested the stops I have made along the way.  Certainly, I can find encouragement from others as I share what I have discovered and connected.  That’s a great aspect of the Christian community a person build when attending a church and other faith-based activities — others will smile in a knowing way when they recognize themselves in someone’s struggle or victory.  Some will come alongside and help push through the tough spots, and still others will offer simple encouragement.

Each of our paths may look very different from anyone else’s, and that’s why it’s a walk in faith … God has a plan for each of us, and we must find our own way, rather than copy, mirror, or mimic anyone else’s path.

The time to start?  Now.
Who’s stopping you?  Probably you.
Who’s in this with you?  God.  He knows everything, is everywhere, and created the whole thing to begin with — no doubt, he’ll make a great guide for you, too.  All you need to do is pray and take that first step.

What We Miss When It’s Gone

Teenagers.  Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.  We have two fine examples here, with the term “opposite” appearing more opposite than day and night, summer and winter, hot and cold.  A pastor once said, “You don’t know how opposite “opposite” can be until you have more than two children.”  We stopped at two, and I sometimes wonder how we could handle more.

Our teens earn something new every day:  greater and greater independence from us, their parents.  Yes, earn.  We have helped push them toward independence in small ways ever since changing that first diaper, as we searched for first smiles and graduated to more difficult milestones through the 18 years of their residence under our roof.

Did we realize then that we found reasons to look forward to the next rite of passage passing?  Can we admit how much we wanted to see what came next?

Yet, I have always felt sadness as each phase passes, some more melancholy than others.  Moving from crib to bed felt right.  No longer needing a highchair gave a sense of wholeness at the dinner table.  Still, I missed our “old normal” when the new replaced it.  Sadness came from stacks of folded, outgrown clothing … except for socks.  Socks make laundry a little nuts, so new socks feel like a reprieve. At least they start out together, even if they play hide and seek on a regular basis after that.

How could I have known I would feel so jubilant when my toddler could finally, finally put on his own shirt without the reminder to push, push, push that little armie through the tunnel?  I think I uttered an audible sigh of relief when our daughter could, at long last, pour cereal and milk without encouraging chirps from me, without me hovering near enough to redirect the flow of either substance in the event of a shaky mis-pour.

Don’t misunderstand that all of this repetition bores me and I have trouble keeping my attitude fresh when my task is not, which explains why my first job as a newlywed, as a file clerk, felt more like more curse than blessing.  It’s not selfish, it’s my wiring.

I never have missed those file clerk days, but I do find I miss my children needing the simple things. The things I can do. Neither child asks me to tie a shoe at all, much less in the specialty of the house Double Knot. Not once does a small hand find mine for safekeeping while we cross parking lots and streets.  No one wants me to wait at the end of the driveway for the bus these days, or stay at soccer practice to cheer and provide a sense of security that Mom is “there”.

And in a few short years, I will miss their presence in my everyday world.  I like to think I can handle their flight from the nest, and I can.  I think.  I know they will succeed, stumble, fall sometimes, and succeed again.  However, I don’t quite believe I can handle the spaces they have occupied all these years void of their presence, nor can I imagine them not being the bringers of repetition through the needs they depend on me to meet.  Needs that I have so readily met, even if they felt like endless file cabinets with a constant conveyor belt of material to sort and distribute in the right places.

I will miss the repetition of childhood learning, the repetition of adult-building, the repetition of maturity beginning to bud in all of its diverse areas.  I will miss building my family when it is time for them to take that responsibility on their own.

I will miss it, all of it, when it is gone.

Doing What I Was Made to Do

I put off until tomorrow what I can do today.
I second-guess my thoughts, my desire to act, and my to-do list.
I procrastinate.

In talking with my husband a few days ago about deeper subjects, I asked, “Do you know what I really love to do?”  The poor man.  He saw this as the set-up it resembles.

He listed what I do appear to really love:  cooking, baking, Bible study, my current outreach, mothering, Jesus.  All correct, but none the answer to my question.  When I told him, he appeared a lot surprised.

Because he had no idea.
Because I have never actually voiced it.
Because, my own mind,  I have labeled it as a selfish activity and a wasteful choice.

I love, most of all, to write.  

I salivate, really salivate, when one of our children requests writing help for a school assignment.  Lately, I have lived on Cloud 9 while our daughter pulls together college scholarship essays.  Even empty blanks on a form call to me at a base level.  I feel compelled to write, read, revise, reread, revise, write some more and repeat.  Gimme, gimme!

Why it took me all these years to speak this truth, I do know.

1.  The act of writing takes time, a commodity that does not replenish.  Justifying the time, for me, feels difficult.  Not a good excuse, but true.
2.  The true thing.  Writing requires truth, at least the kind I feel compelled to offer.  This makes some people (who might be party to the action/activity/dialogue/thought) experience some uneasiness.  My people, they have feelings.
3.  Writing causes isolation, either as an after-effect of #2, or due to separation from others to chain together the words that don’t chain well in the day-to-day noise level and frenetic activity of a home.  Writing does not make a good group activity, that feels selfish and distant to those outside the writer’s cerebral world.

Words want to escape my brain onto paper or into ether.  Scenery on a road trip, a coin falling to the ground, a toddler breaking into a comedy act, each contribute possible topics to an unwritten list of others gleaned from all over the place.

Serving a purpose. This makes taking up writing good.
Using the gift.  This makes writing good and right.
Helping others.  This makes writing good, right, and purposeful.

And so, I try again, to do what I was made to do.

Be Strong and Courageous: You Have What It Takes

I favor one book of the Bible over others from time to time, the Book of Joshua. It makes an easy read with clear lessons, some appealing action, and bit more obvious obeyance of God’s commands than other biblical accounts sometimes muster in me. Like the Israelites, I tend toward hard-headedness.

My reason for favoritism stems from one command to Joshua. Right off the bat, God says straight to his new leadership recruit, “Here’s your ‘To Do List.’ Now, be strong and courageous as you set out on this impossible path with these impossible people.”

Paraphrased, of course, from Joshua 1:1-9.

A substitute leader of the Israelite nation “this close” to staking its claim to God’s long-promised Promise Land, Joshua had a job ahead of him. He watched Moses succeed and fail, soldier on and struggle, and then found himself with the title, “Leader of the Israelites,” yet no practiced job skills or even a résumé to wave as proof to the people. 

How did this happen?  It happened, because God knit Joshua together in the womb (Psalm 139:13). He knew all about Joshua before he was ever born, and stocked him full of potential that He, God, would draw out at the proper time. It was no secret to God that Joshua had strength and courage. He knew the ingredients list better than Joshua did.

He knew all about Joshua before he was ever born, and stocked him full of potential that He, God, would draw out at the proper time.

Imagining Joshua’s slack-jawed reaction to the announcement that he would now lead thousands of whiners and complainers — rebellious humans — into the unknown. People very much like me, who want what they want when they want it, and they want turn-by-turn GPS, to boot. Like myself, they may also feel put-upon when asked to:

  • Do something
  • Do things differently
  • Wait patiently
  • Trust God (after many experiences of His promises coming true)

Lord, really? You don’t have the right person. I can’t stand up to these people. I haven’t done this before. Me? Are you sure?

I have said these things and reacted in disbelief on many occasions in my life. Currently, they manifest as we raise teenagers in our once-happy home. You don’t have the right person. I can’t stand up to these people. Me? Are you sure?

And this makes Joshua so important to me, I think. Joshua had a whole nation of teenagers (or toddlers, coworkers, group members, etc.): self-centered, complaining, ungrateful, easily-irritated, not displaying the faith cultivated in them often or well, and demanding that management meet all wants and whims immediately. Oh, and they don’t ever seem to comprehend simple, step-by-step instructions, or clean up after the evening manna.

Joshua had his hands full with the group of difficult people, alone, and on top of that, had to take over fortified cities and set these troublesome tribes of Israelites up in their new homes.

But, Joshua never acted on his own. At the beginning, at least. There, my lesson lies.

God knew Joshua had what it took to not only lead people, but to lead an ill-equipped army of cantankerous men into battle against foes more numerous and far better prepared for the fighting than they. 

Because he is the LORD. He gave Joshua what he would need before Joshua even knew he needed it. He gave Moses as a role model, honest and forthright, so that when Moses disobeyed God in a simple task (calling out water from the rock with one strike of the staff in Numbers 20:2-13), Joshua could see that Moses would persevere, though he had short time and would not set foot into the Promised Land, himself, due to what seemed a small act of disobedience. Disobedience is disobedience.

And so I revere Joshua for taking God’s command to immediate action. He did not pace and ponder prior to taking the helm of the Israelite nation. He put his nose to the grindstone and discovered the qualities God called out in him as he obeyed by stepping out in faithful action.

Joshua had God-given potential, put into his being by God and for God, that would come out as a big surprise only to himself and those around him. God always knew what Joshua could and would accomplish.

We all need this Joshua attitude and action combination, knowing that God gave us that potential and will call it out when the time comes. I can’t name a single day that Joshua-copying would not come in handy, and now, when I forge ahead on the unseen path with pitfalls, bumps, unclear turns, and foggy future steps, I feel more able to “want what I want when I want it”, but it has nothing to with my selfish bent or my fickle human heart. 

I think the phrase, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called,” makes less sense than it could.  I think “God provides potential” more accurately sums it up. 

We have the equipment for the tasks we face before we enter the world. We must trust God to call it and unleash it when we step out in obedience. 

Blessings!

Epiphany

January 6, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Epiphany.

Today’s date marks the visit of the Three Wise Men, or Magi, to the Christ Child, after years of following a star to just the right place. Today represents a day of eye-opening, understanding, and new hope in something long in coming to this world.

And, it’s the day of un-decking the hall, as our family’s official end to the Christmas Season. A day of drab. Decorations carefully packed in boxes and strands of clear lights unplugged, wound neatly and relegated to safekeeping in the basement for next year.

I miss the lights. I have learned that about myself, that I look forward to the plugging in of hundreds of little lights on wire, and that I anticipate the early arrival of darkness at this time of year … because we will see the tiny lights all the more clearly and for longer periods each day (thank you, Standard Time).

For several days after the clean-up, I miss the light of the Christmas Season, and I find it no surprise that folks around town put out varying colors of lights and other decorations for almost every other holiday on the calendar.

We humans seem to want more time with those lights.

Yet, we just celebrated Christmas — the birth of the Light of the World. God in human form, come to earth to show us the great light of hope. We have that hope here, every day, when we profess belief in Jesus, admit we sin, and that we believe Jesus died on the cross, and rose again for the saving of our sorry selves, when we don’t deserve it.

We have these beautiful strings of light to represent The Light, and yet I mourn the loss of the visible electric version?

What is the matter with me? I HAVE the Light. I can share the Light. I love the Light. The Light never leaves me.

So, as I pack away the last of the boxes and wind up the last string of lights, I see our home return to the normal, without cords and wires stringing from windows and mantles and railings. I remember that, likewise, in a very loose interpretation, Christ returned to heaven, out of our sight on this earth, BUT (da-da-da DUMMMMMM) He left His light to shine within us for sharing.

Our home may not glow and twinkle and spread rays of light across the snow outside and across the faces of those who enter here after today, but my heart can take on the job, and my words can share a much more important Light every day.

The Power lies within me, and you, too.

What Am I Doing Here?

It’s about time.  Procrastination is the enemy of everything.  So here I go. Blogging.

This, from one who used to scoff.  Who really wants to know the details of others’ lives?  Who wants to read about struggles, successes, face-plants and perfect landings?

The answer seems clear:  we all do.

Though the Internet is full-up on blogs, with new ones crowding in daily, there is always room for someone wanting to try his wings on the writing front.  The online world has a knack for providing the transparency necessary for “real”, or it can offer the anonymity required to keep it all under your hat in an “out there” kind of way.

Worth an eyebrow raise, when you think about it.

The Internet.  Who knew something that used to sap the phone line and take 20 minutes to load one page of scanty information would become such a place of research and connectivity with wireless capabilities of its own?

While I have blogged before this, after years of poking fun at the idea,  I have also fancied myself a would-be-could-be-should-be writer, dreaming of knocking out that children’s picture book or a volume of essays.  Maybe a cookbook.

None of those, so far.

I fritter time, apparently.  What with laundry, meals, taxiing teens, working at my role as a wife, and making time for God everyday (that’s first, but sounds good here at the end, I think), I don’t know how I ever worked full time and provided more than pasta and a splash of jarred sauce for dinner every night.

Here’s my try in this space.

It, like everything else, remains a work in progress.