Mouths and Hearts

Want to know what a person is like? I mean, what their real, true character is inside? Pay attention to what they say. More specifically, how they talk about others. lips heart

My oldest daughter recently became friends with two girls in her new school. Right from the beginning, they seemed to hit it off and became inseparable. I was soon peppered with stories like, “We had so much fun in volleyball…”, or “You’ll never guess how hard we laughed at lunch.” When I asked my daughter what it was that she loved about her two new friends, she paused for a moment before answering.

“You know, in the all the time we’ve spent together over the past few weeks, I’ve never heard them say one bad thing about anyone. Not one word. They are always positive. Always kind. Always encouraging. Not only that, when we are in chapel, they are fully engaged in the worship service. They aren’t squirming or whispering like some of the kids. They are too busy praising God to be distracted.”

Jesus said, The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45 NASB)

exploding soda

What spills from our lips tells the world what is bubbling inside, just like an exploding bottle of soda.

As my pastor often says, a potty mouth is a sign of a potty heart. Likewise, a complaining mouth is the sign of an ungrateful heart, and a mouth who constantly criticizes is the sign of a heart who doesn’t love people as he ought.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren).” ~James 1:26

My friend recently posted this on her social media page and I thought it was a beautiful challenge.

stop complaining

The opposite of complaining is gratitude. The opposite of criticism is love. Love for people who are struggling along, just like we are. One of the best ways to use our lips to build each other up is to surround ourselves with friends who do the same.

1 corinthians 15 33

Speaking for myself, I need to do better but I should not make the mistake of patching the symptom and missing the illness. The answer is not found in my feeble attempts to muzzle my mouth or control hasty words flung during frazzled days. The issue is always found in the heart.

To have a mouth change requires a heart change. When we love Jesus more and yield ourselves to Him, everything else falls into place.

 

Advertisements

Game-Changing Prayers

What is the most under-utilized arsenal within the armor of God? The Breastplate of Righteousness? The Helmet of Salvation? Shoes of Peace? The Belt of Truth? The Sword of the Spirit or the Shield of Faith? All of these are critically important, and if you lack one you intrinsically hurt the effectiveness of the others. Hang with me, because this is a bit of Taraology here, but I tend to think the piece of equipment we most often dismiss is the one Paul tacks on at the end of Ephesians 6:18.

“Pray at all times…” ephesians 6 18

I know. We’ve heard it until it has lost its effectiveness. Pray and read your Bible. Read your Bible and pray. Why do you think pastors and leaders urge us to do it until they are blue in the face? Because these two things are our life lines to God. They are the game changers, yet we treat them as a chore in our spiritual checklist.

We tend to use prayer for the “heal the sick, help my children follow you, restore, guide, provide” kinds of situations. Those are awesome things to pray for and about. Sometimes, though, I think we should dig a little deeper. Perhaps we have resigned ourselves to the way things ‘just are’ before we have ever prayed about them. Let me give you a couple of examples.

A dear friend of mine told me how much she struggled after she was saved with the kind of music she listened to. She loved Jesus, loved reading her Bible and attending church but had listened to rock and roll all her life. That was what she connected to, despite the dark lyrics contained in many of the songs. She tried listening to Christian music and found it to be dull and vanilla. worshipThe songs all sounded the same, the melodies and chord progressions unimaginative and it didn’t help that the stations kept playing the same thirty tunes over and over again. (To be honest, I’ve frequently heard this same criticism from seasoned believers.) Instead of throwing up her hands and saying, “I’m just not into Christian music,” my friend prayed fervently that God would give her a deep love for Christian music. She continued to listen to the Christian radio stations and over the period of a few months, she fell passionately in love with it. When she tried to listen to some rock not long after, she said she felt disgusted and wondered why on earth she ever liked it in the first place.

Another woman was struggling with feelings of intimacy towards her husband. With the passing of time, their marriage (from her perspective) had grown cool in the romance department. Instead of growing bitter, or worse yet, looking for fulfillment from someone else, this wise woman prayed to God that she would once again thrill to her husband’s touch. God restored the intimacy of their marriage in profound and beautiful ways. She says they have never been happier.

Here’s a little story from my own life…

The first time I went to sing in prison, I was terrified. I almost turned the car around three times and headed back home. I’ll never forget my white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel, or the moment I pulled off the road trying to breathe.

“Lord, I’m not sure I can do this. I’m afraid.” prison bars

He pressed a directive into my heart so simple, but it has changed everything.

“Ask me to take the fear away.” And that’s what I did.

For a year my daily prayer was, “Lord, make me fearless. I want to be bold in Your strength but never my own. Take every ounce of fear away and fill me with joy instead.”

There’s not much that can rattle me these days and it’s all because of Him. Stepping into a prison is no different than going to the mailbox now. (To be honest, I see much scarier stuff in Walmart.) planet walmart

If you’re struggling with obeying God because of fear, perhaps you should ask Him to take your fear away. Fear and love cannot coexist.

Don’t be afraid to pray “game-changing” prayers. Pray for those things you know align with God’s will. Pray believing He can do all He says and more.

Nothing is too big for Him.

The Thief: The Problem with Comparing

Jean size. That dreaded number on the scale. Checking account balances. Facebook friends. Instagram and Twitter followers. Awards and degrees. Points scored by your child at his last game. Job performance evaluations.

So many numbers and none of them are good or bad when rattled off in isolation. The only time we have a problem with any of the above is when we are tempted to compare these numbers to the stats of others.

thief of joy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. Not only is comparison a thief, it’s also a terrible judge. Speaking for myself, I tend to compare myself either to those who are way more put together than I am, or I compare myself to those who can’t seem to get their act together at all. The Ree Drummonds, June Cleavers and James Dobsons of the world leave me wallowing in self-loathing, wondering why I can’t seem to get my hot mess of a life in shape. So instead I look to those who are further down on the proverbial ‘getting-their-garbage-handled’ totem pole and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.”

But does looking down at someone else’s mess make me any better of a mother? A wife? A friend? A sister or daughter? No. It just makes me more prideful…and a much bigger pain.

compare highlight reel

That’s the problem with comparing ourselves to anyone else. It forces us to ride a pendulum that swings between pride and the lie that says, “You’re not good enough.”

The disciple Peter battled the same issue in John 21:19-22.

“He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow Me [walk the same path of life that I have walked]!’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray You?’ So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man [what is in his future]?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to stay alive until I come[again], what is that to you? You follow Me!’ ” (AMP)

God designed each of us with a unique purpose in mind…a purpose we do our best to throw away when we compare and long for the bodies, the families, the plans, the dreams, the goals, the bank accounts or the lives of others. Comparison breeds discontentment and discontentment leads to every other sin we struggle against.

flower comparison

God made only one you. There is only one person with your exact fingerprint. Only one with your exact strand of DNA. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Keep your  joy full today. Be who you were created to be. No comparisons allowed.

The Rodeo Clown: Learning to Be Seen

“Tara, why can’t you look me in the eye?”

My friend’s question sliced to the quick. We had been chatting for over forty minutes and the topic had drifted from the mundane to more personal waters. Personal makes me uncomfortable. When I know someone is peeling back layers and taking a peek underneath the mask I work so hard to keep fixed in place, the intensity of their stare is too much. I don’t want them to see the trembling mess I am.

coffee

So I take a sudden interest in my shoes. Or the couch cushion. Or the coffee cup clutched in my fingers. Anything other than their probing stare. I can feel it. Like a monster breathing against my bedroom window.

Whoever said real is the new black doesn’t know how terrifying real can be. Or perhaps they do. Maybe they are just farther along in the journey than I am and have learned how to face their fear with a courage I long to possess.

I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in His grace. That’s okay. Imperfect progress and all that.

Yet why do I still have trouble looking people in the eye?

If eyes are windows to the soul, I try my best to keep my soul shuttered and locked away from view.

tara 18 2016 (2)

At my friend’s pointed observation, I made some silly comment. Something intended to make her laugh. A joke. It’s what I do. She smiled, but she wasn’t through.

“Do you know what you remind me of? One of those rodeo clowns.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

rodeo clown

She smiled kindly, but she didn’t shy away from the truth. “You know what the original rodeo clowns were intended to do, right? They were meant to distract the crowd from the blood and gore that had just occurred between the bull and rider. They diverted attention away from the serious issues by entertaining. Cover the grotesque with a smile and a funny routine.” She squeezed my hand. “And sometimes a bit of grease paint.”

How faithful are the wounds of a friend. Though difficult to hear, my friend was completely correct. Though God is restoring my broken places each and every day, there is still a part of me that longs to hide. A fragment of my spirit that lives in shame. Shame never wants to flaunt itself, does it? It covers. It distracts. It deflects. As Jennifer Dukes Lee worded it in her book Love Idol, “Because we can’t make peace with ourselves, we try to hide ourselves.”

Hiding can take all kind of forms. It doesn’t have to be the mousy little girl ducking behind her mane of hair and folded arms. Shame and insecurity can be wrapped in the Homecoming Queen or the public speaker or yes, even a rodeo clown. Some of us only want to be seen if we will be perceived as perfect…and we either avert our gaze or apply the grease paint because we know we’re not.

kintsugi 3Despite my struggle with people pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live. No, I think I’ll strive for the Biblical definition of perfect instead…complete. Complete in Jesus. Whole. Not lacking anything because His grace has filled the broken places where my own weakness is laid bare.

When we grasp hold of how much He loves us, deeply and scandalously loves us, it changes things. Shame flees in the light of His love. He becomes our safe place. The One we can tell our deepest fears, thoughts and dreams to and know they are held in the only hands strong enough to carry the weight of the world. No condemnation. Only grace.

One of my favorite names of God is El Roi, meaning “The God Who sees me”. A lowly slave girl discovered this firsthand.

el roi

” The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery…

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

                                                                        (Genesis 16:7-13)

If I am to be seen, I want it to be through His love-filled eyes. Eyes that see the blood of His Son marked upon my heart. Eyes that saw my faults yet loved me so much He would have rather died than leave me in the dark.

We all want to be seen in those terms. We all want to know that we matter. In the presence of Jesus, there is no need for grease paint. No need to hide. No need to drop our gazes in shame. He sees. He knows, yet He loves us all the same.

That includes rodeo clowns.

When Life Hands You…Wigs

 

Yes, I know the saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Sometimes there’s not a lemon to be found but a startling abundance of hair pieces. Hang with me and I’ll explain. lemons

Not long ago I ordered a pair of pants from an online store. I was supposed to appear on a television interview and I thought the pants would be cute paired with a top I already owned. The company promised the product would arrive before my interview. You know what’s coming. Interview day came. No pants.

No big deal, I thought. The pants were still extremely inexpensive and fashionable. I would have plenty of places to wear them when they arrived from the company’s warehouse in China. (Are warning bells going off in your head too?) Yeah, I had done a little research on the company after I ordered my too-late pants, which is never the best time to research a company. Ideally, one should research them before buying their product, but I digress.

Two days after my interview, I opened my mailbox to see a very small, very flat package. Return label: China. I frowned. This package was way too small to be my pants, but I’d ordered nothing else.

Intrigued, I slid the package open to discover the company had sent me, not my lovely pants I had dreamed about, but a wig piece instead. Say what?

wig piece

I wouldn’t have even minded that so much if it had been the right color.

I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter and looked up into the sky.

Thanks, Father. I needed that laugh.

matt with wigShipping that cheap wig piece back to the company would cost more than I initially paid for it so we kept it. You know what? That dumb little scrap of hair has brought our family and friends more laughter in the past few days than I imagined possible.

church signIf you find me on Facebook, you’ll see lots of silly memes, funny church signs, and goofy pictures. It’s intentional on my part. I’m currently taking a stand-up writing course and loving it. God loves laughter. He loves joy. I believe Jesus had a good sense of humor and loved to laugh. Have you ever been around someone who didn’t? Yeah. They can suck the air right out of a room with a single look. But the Bible says Jesus wasn’t like that. People came to Him in droves. They wanted to be with Him, to touch Him, to talk with Him. He is love and goodness and joy.

proverbs 17 22

As I’m typing this blog, the mailman knocked on our door with a package. A larger package. From China. Yep. My pants finally arrived. So where did this goofy wig piece come from? I have no idea, but I’m thankful for the gift of laughter God peppers throughout the journey. It’s a beautiful coping mechanism for the hard days, and makes the good days even brighter.

ralphie with soapA final word: Laugh, but keep it clean. No need to use that wig as a sham-wow.

Just for fun, share your favorite joke with me today. Clean only, please. Let’s do some laughing!

Trolls on the Bridge: How to Keep Negative Feedback from Shredding Your Heart

I recently read this quote by Allen Arnold and it resonated deeply. “If God is pleased with your latest creation but the world ignores it, how do you feel? The answer reveals who you are creating for.”

thumbs up

Excellent question. I fall into this trap far too often. I hope people like what I’ve written. This new blog was a step out of my comfort zone. Will people read it? Will they like it? This doesn’t even have to revolve around writing. This could be about any situation. The secret fear is, “Will they approve what I offer? Will they approve of me?”

So many of us say we are living, breathing, creating, and doing for an Audience of One, but the truth is, when our creative offering is ignored by the masses, we suffer hurt. Disappointment. We may even feel insignificant or devalued. Such a reaction tells us the true condition of our heart.

What’s worse? Not having our creation ignored but having it, or perhaps even our very person, attacked. Ouch.

ecclesiastes 7 5Let me stop here and say I’m not talking about constructive criticism, although for some, any kind of criticism feels like destructive criticism. Wearing our feelings on our sleeve about something we create isn’t healthy. One of the best pieces of advice I heard early on when beginning my writing career came from Tamera Alexander. She said, “What you create, whether it be your book, your story, an article, whatever it is…that thing is not your baby. It is a product. You are not what you create.”

Great advice, and an excellent way to keep the sting from burning too deeply when criticism need be applied. And trust me, it will. No one is born the expert in their field. No one.
Constructive criticism is intended to build up. It’s based on love and wants the best for the other person. Destructive criticism wants only to harm. Its intent is to destroy, and is usually birthed out of jealousy or fear. So when you’ve been hit with negative feedback, it’s important to take a step back and analyze the source. There are four types of feedback sources.

  1. Lovers  

flatteryThese guys love everything you produce, say, and do. They love you. More of you 24-7. Of course, they would never dream of giving you negative feedback so they aren’t pertinent to our chat today, but beware. You should still take their gushing praise with a grain of salt. Don’t let it give you a big head. “…a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28)

 

 

  1. Critics

More or less, critics are people who are educated in the creative product you’ve released. They have opinions that are subjective but carefully thought out about why they do or don’t like something, how aspects could be improved, etc. Good critics should be about the product, not the person behind it. Constructive criticism from a critic can be extremely valuable. Just remember their opinion is subjective.

  1. Trolls

trollAh, here is where things get messy. Trolls will hit you with all kinds of negative feedback. They don’t like your product because blah, blah, blah. Some criticisms may seem legit, some utterly ridiculous and hurtful. In the midst of their barbs, it may become apparent to you these guys have never even read or used your product. What?!

Trolls are internet drama feeders. They love stirring up fights because they find it amusing. They will go after your creation, and possibly, after you just for the shock value of it. As a friend of mine recently put it, “Trolls are just looking for a goat to cross their bridge.” Someone to torture. Someone to mess with. Although it seems they are quite hostile towards you, they are probably indifferent. They really don’t care about you at all, one way or the other. They are just looking for some drama-induced excitement in their too-dull lives. feed the trolls

Word of advice: Don’t feed the trolls. Do not engage with them. Don’t try to make them like you. They are out for one thing: drama. You feed a troll, and they’ll keep hanging around the bridge. Starve a troll, and they’ll look for some other place to feed.

  1. Haters muppet haters

As a recovering people pleaser, this one hurts, but it’s true. There will be some people that hate you. There I said it. Let it sink in. They will hate you for no other reason than that. It’s usually based out of some sort of jealousy, but perhaps not. Maybe it’s a wound they are struggling with and you’re an easy target. Whatever the reason, there will be people that don’t like you. They will say the meanest, most nasty, soul-cutting things to you. You’ll have a choice in that moment whether to believe what they say about you and your worth or reject it. (Remember this: a lie can only harm us if we believe it.)

john 15 18You are not what you create. You were lovingly fashioned and knit together by God, designed for a purpose before you ever drew a breath. Haters spew venom because they have no love nor light. Trolls linger on bridges, but none of it changes one thing between you and the Author of Life.

Press on. Pray for those who hurt you. Love with abandon, even those trolls and haters. They must hurt deeply to have so much acid spill out. Here’s a thought: every time you’re confronted with hurtful feedback, instead of lashing back or wallowing in tears, as we all so often want to do, bow your head and say a prayer for that mean person. Talk about agape love in action.

After all, trolls need Jesus too.

galatians-1-10

“To Do” or “To Be”?: Exchanging Checklists for God’s Presence

Not long ago, I finished up a beautiful study on the book of Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. She challenged her readers to do something I love: to make a to-be list instead of a to-do list.

I’m prolific at creating master to-do lists. They give me a sense of control, a sense of accomplishment and keep my cluttered mind from letting crucial jobs slip through the cracks of my faulty memory. (Correction: these things give me illusion of control, accomplishment and clearer brain function.)

Despite my love of meddlesome to-do lists, I think they are overrated. Our culture is so consumed with “do more”, schedule-juggling, organizing, managing and rearranging that we’ve lost sight of something quite important. Call me crazy, but I think we’ve got the whole cram-more-into-your-day-and-wonder-why-we-need-caffeine-and-stress-management-to-keep-up thing down.

No. Better organization isn’t the problem. What we choose to tackle in a day has less to do with a checklist and more about what our priorities are. In other words, to do is not nearly as important as to be.

As yourself the question, “Who do I want to be?”

For you hard-core list makers, start writing. I started my to-be list and, in just a few minutes, I was running out of room on the page. list making

To Be:

Compassionate

Loving

Kind

Less prideful

Less stubborn

More flexible

Teachable

Heart to serve others

Look at people through God’s eyes

Wise

Slow to speak

Serene

Joyful

Encouraging

Prayerful

Seeker of God’s heart…

The longer I gripped my pencil, the more I realized I was circling around one person, one focal point. All these character traits and more were compressed and displayed in the person of Christ. Scanning the list, it became clear…I want to be like Jesus.

Flip over to 1 John 2:6 and you’ll see that John worded it this way: the one who says he abides in Him[Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  

So to be like Jesus, I just need to walk like Jesus. Got it. Check that off the list.

If only it were that easy.

That’s kind of a tall order, you know? It’s like saying to be a great basketball player, just play like Michael Jordan. To be pretty, just look like Cindy Crawford. It seems unattainable. Impossible.

little boy basketballmichael jordan 2

Before I crumpled the overwhelming list in my hand, I took a deep breath. The Lord knows I’m not perfect, and He knows I have, and will continue to, mess up. That’s why He sent His Son.

The idea isn’t to be sinless…it’s to strive to be like Him. To please Him. To know His heart. To let Him mold me into the image of His Son.

So like any good, organized girl does, I made a list.

How did Jesus Walk?

  1. His prayer time with God was long and a priority.
  2. He sought out the broken, rejected, abused, mistreated & social outcasts.
  3. His concern was doing God’s will, and ONLY God’s will.
  4. He battled temptation with scripture.
  5. He touched the untouchables.
  6. He made people mad.
  7. He spoke the truth.
  8. He was a God pleaser, not a people pleaser.
  9. He wasn’t consumed with material wealth.
  10. He did not chastise the broken for being broken. He offered them Living Water instead.
  11. He served those he knew would betray and abandon Him.
  12. He wept for people who rejected Him.
  13. He forgave.
  14. He offered compassion.
  15. He loved people, even when they were messy.

This list barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I may never be all I should be, but with His help, I can strive to respond like Jesus, to show forgiveness like Jesus, to extend a hand like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

There’s an old story that claims when Michelangelo revealed his masterpiece statue of David, a man asked him, “However did you create such a breathtaking work out of nothing more than a block of lifeless marble?”

Michelangelo replied, “It is not difficult. A person need only chip away the parts that do not resemble David.” sculptor

That’s what God wants to do with us—chip away all the hard stuff in our hearts and lives until we look like His Son.

A good way to start? Drop the to-do lists and focus on how to be like Christ. Spend time with Him. We are who we hang out with. When we shift our focus on to-be, our to-do list rewrites itself.

And isn’t that a relief? No more to-do lists.

Check.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are other ways that Jesus walked? Are you a list-maker? Have you ever switched your to-do list for a to-be list? What differences did you notice in your focus?

The Civil War, Messy People and Jesus: Why I Write

 

With my debut book release with Tyndale scheduled for summer of 2018, this week I’ve begun the daunting task of writing another story. It’s set in one of my favorite time periods…the Civil War.

This isn’t a new assignment for me. This will actually be the fourth Civil War story I’ve penned, uh, typed, but the research involved is always staggering. Always bloody and gruesome, yet filled with heroism, astounding tales of beauty and forgiveness…even humor.

lincoln beardPeople like 11 year-old Grace Bedell who wrote Abraham Lincoln a letter when he was running for President and convinced him the population would find him much more appealing if he grew a beard. (He listened.) Or fiery John Brown or the reckless zeal of Roger Pryor who, after firing the signal cannon that launched the attack on Fort Sumter, thought to celebrate by grabbing what he thought was liquor from the physician’s supply. Instead he swallowed iodide of potassium and almost poisoned himself to death. belle boydOr the eccentric Belle Boyd, who rode horses into parlors for attention and fancied herself the most beautiful, heroic feminine star the Confederacy could ever produce.

There are other stories of drunkards and misfits, spies and traitors, women and Zouaves, generals and cowards . All of them fascinating. I suppose what is most interesting to me in studying these odd assortment of lives is how often they acted, and reacted, and lived and died for a cause or an ideal. They all claimed to be ready to meet their fate with a hero’s fortitude, but peeling back the surface, most of these fascinating legends were terrified of one thing…the hole inside.

In reading their journals, the cry for significance screams from the pages of now still ink pens and dry blotters. They signed up to fight or spy or whatever their task was without a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the Union or the Confederacy or the Underground Railroad or whatever ‘the Cause’ was. But for some of them, it was their chance to be seen. Heard. To matter.

They wallowed in insecurity. In fear. They were desperate for a father’s love. For a mother’s love. To catch the attention of a beau or a spurned lover. They were tired of being rejected, or had been pampered and spoiled to a sickening degree. Some were abused. Some were desperate. All were messy. All were broken. All were consumed with a need to “make their mark”. vinicius-amano-145607

Yet most refused to look deeply at the reason why. Scores of these legends would have rather thrown themselves in front of bullets or screamed through a hellish battlefield than look at the demons inside.

We’ve often heard it said “History repeats itself.” I don’t know that history repeats itself so much as human nature repeats itself. We’re all a jumbled mess of broken hearts desperately yearning for love, stumbling about in the shadows looking for that illusive something. No. Correction. Someone. Jesus.

Heart _But it’s easier to fight for a cause than look at our own pain. Easier to drown in noise than face the truth of silence. Easier to follow the crowd than stand the rejection of walking alone.

That’s just one more thing that makes Jesus so remarkable. As I sat watching the sun break through a cloudy sky during our church’s sunrise service, the pastor said someone I’d not considered. He spoke softly. “Upon having the nails driven through his hands and feet, and being lifted high, Jesus could have chosen at that moment to say ‘It is finished’ and breathed his last. He didn’t just die for us. Instead, He chose to suffer for hours and feel our pain as well.”

jesus painJesus chose to feel the pain. He leaned in to the crushing agony, the numbing screams of severed nerves, blood loss, asphyxiation, rejection, shame. He stared unflinchingly into the darkness. And because He smashed death and darkness to pieces when He arose, He offers freedom from the misery of it all.

This is why I love to write. Whether past or present, real or allegorical, all people are broken. Over and over, the human condition reminds us of our need for redemption. For Hope. For a Savior. As I write, I unearth more of my own brokenness as well. Writing is discovering the shadowed, scarred corners of my heart and understanding how God has redeemed them. How He has redeemed me…that discovery then bleeds over the pages of my story world and the struggling characters inside.

So I begin again. The names and characters will change. Plots and places will be altogether different. Their motivations and crises will alter but the Hope that will transform their lives will remain the same. Praise God, He is forever the same.

CHAPTER 1

Washington D.C., 1861

            Cadence Piper walked down the darkened street, clutching her reticule to her middle. Her booted footsteps clicked loudly against the gritty walk. She winced at the echo that drifted back from the inky alley to the right. A shiver crawled down her spine…

dark street

Raising a Wild Child Without Losing Your Mind

 

wild nate 3 (2)Wild child. Stubborn. Headstrong. Independent. Strong-willed. Although, having been one of those myself, I suppose I’ve always preferred the term “steadfastly-minded”. You know the type of kid I’m talking about. If you’re not sure, here’s a checklist.

You might have a wild child if…

-You’ve considered purchasing a taser as a disciplinary tool. Okay, not really. (But maybe.)

-The medical personnel at the ER know you and your kid by name. er

– Your kid can unlock any child-proof device invented in under 3.7 seconds. Sometimes less.

-Your eye twitches sporadically for no apparent reason, although you suspect it’s trauma-related.

-You have, not once, but twice caught your child coloring the family dog with a sharpie.

-Your child has a talent for stripping naked at the most inopportune times.

-Nothing strikes fear in your heart more than silence.

-You see his footprints on the hood and top of your car. (Kudos to Lori Miller for this one.)

-Things break so often in your house, you no longer cringe or jump at the sound of crashing or cracking glass.

I feel your pain. Not only was I a wild child, but I am now raising one. I mistakenly thought I had this whole Mommy gig figured out until I had Nate. Boy, was I in for a shock. nate and tp

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion. But getting them to that place? Well, that’s the hard part. So much patience. So much determination. So much….everything.

After my latest battle with my little fireball, I fell into my bed, too tired to think. Reaching for my Bible, I flipped through the pages, begging God to either give me some encouragement or come back right away and spare me from my current misery. Do you know what verse He led me to? 2 Peter 1:3.

” His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Did you catch that? Peter says God has already given us what we need. So why don’t we always feel like it? Especially on the hard days? I think it’s usually because we’re fixated on how we feel, or how the world tells us things should be, rather than on God’s promises and rest.

This subtle but profound shift in my thinking has made a big difference in how I interact with my little guy. Here are a few things I’m learning along the way.

  1. Set aside time to recharge. Stay close to God. Start each morning with Bible study and prayer. Will everything go perfectly in your day? No. Will kids still scream and Cheerios still spill? Yes, but the way you handle things will change. Life goes on, but your perspective will shift. Staying close to God will transform you.

this day is yours prayer 

  1. Refuse to join them in their chaos. Little people have big emotions. When Nate was only a few months old, I remember one instance where he screamed so hard he passed out. When kids of any age are overcome with out-of-control emotions, the worst thing we can do is yell back. Such behavior only causes the situation to escalate to volatile levels. It’s our job to help them learn to identify their feelings, manage them and not be dictated by them…a hard task if we can’t do the same.
  1. Give them choices within defined boundaries.

My son loves his Donkey Kong shirt. He wants to wear it every single day. The problem with wearing the same shirt every day is eventually it begins to smell.

Three days ago we were choosing clothes to wear for the day. When I asked what he’d like to wear, he immediately shouted, “Donkey Kong!” I told him, “Sorry, bud, but Donkey Kong had to take a bath.” His brows lowered into a scowl, and I could see the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm front. He grit his teeth. “Donkey Kong.”

I could have pulled another shirt from the closet and said, “This is what you’re wearing today. Deal with it.” Instead, I pulled two other shirts out and let him choose. “Here are your choices today, buddy. Captain America or Star Wars?”

i've got the power

Suddenly, Donkey Kong was forgotten. Why? Because I’d given him a measure of power. He got to decide. He had control. It was minimal and within boundaries but still, control is what my little man craved.

Pick your battles carefully. Does it matter if your kiddo wants to wear mismatching socks or their shirt inside out? Think about the goals you have for your child. The long-term goal determines how you handle the day to day stuff. Focus on the big picture and let the quirky things go.

  1. Don’t be too proud to apologize when you’re wrong.

Every parents messes up at some point. Despite my best efforts, I’ve yelled when I’ve meant to keep calm. I’ve eaten Nutella from the jar when I’d determined to have an egg-white omelet. I’ve shown my kids what not to do…emotionally, physically and spiritually. So when I scrape bottom, the best way to teach them how to handle failure is to model the next step…humility and seeking forgiveness.

They are going to make the mistakes I do. They’re human. What better way for them to learn to seek forgiveness from others than to see it sought and lovingly offered within our own home? And kids are so quick to forgive. They are marvelously, beautifully filled with sticky grace.

  1. Remember God put you and your child together. mom and nateEvery time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory.

It seems the key to raising a wild child is this: relationship trumps everything else. Children who know they are loved, even when they mess up, seem to handle life, setbacks, their imperfections, and everything else, much better than those who don’t. Rules without relationship fail.

Love as you want to be loved. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. And keep your sense of humor handy. You’re going to need it.

What have you learned raising a wild child? What tips would you give to a struggling parent? What would you add to the list “You Know You Have a Wild Child If…”? I would love to hear!

But I Have This Treasure

You know the feeling. A cold, clenched stomach. Darkness. A pounding heart. All you want to do is hide. You beg the eyes fixed on you to disappear but they won’t. They gape and you wonder what they must think, how they must see you. You feel worthless. Exposed.

I’m talking about shame.
DCF 1.0

Is there a more miserable feeling?

Growing up with a seizure disorder left me with plenty of fodder for times to reflect on this feeling. Most of the time I felt normal. Included. And then suddenly, my world would go black. Time would stop. I felt as if I were walking out of a dark hole where time had disappeared and I couldn’t quite place what was wrong. Slowly, sleepily, I would come to the realization that everyone was staring at me.

It was odd and terrifying. Surreal and confusing. Yet there was little I could do.

Of course, there are other moments of shame that stick out in my memory. For instance, playing on the basketball team my junior year of high school. The ball had bounced around on the rim before I managed to brush my fingers across it, pulling down the rebound before using the adrenaline in my body to immediately put the ball right back up. It fell through the net with a satisfying swish.

It would have been a glorious moment if that particular shot hadn’t been for the opposing team.

Ouch.

Anyone who has a pulse has experienced the horrid emotion of shame at some point. Sometimes we can look back on those moments and laugh them off. Other times, the pain cuts too deeply, its scars are too jagged and thick for laughter. Just thinking about that moment causes us to relieve the shame all over again.

dog

Thankfully, I feel that cold emotion far less these days. Not because I don’t mess up just as much as ever but I’ve learned that shame is a fiery dart flung by the enemy. He wants me to wallow in misery, to turn in on myself like a hermit crab, to push people away. But I refuse to do it anymore.

Several days ago, I was driving in the car with my kids, reflecting on these very thoughts. We had been enjoying a fun day, one of those rare times when everybody was in a good mood and the laughter was infectious. I reached an intersection where a huge log truck was preparing to turn left. I slowed early to allow the driver plenty of room to turn but he had other ideas.

He wanted me to go first, to turn left despite the fact that I couldn’t see who might be approaching from the other direction. When I hesitated, he threw up his hands and began screaming at me from the cab of his truck. Ugly words. Hateful words. It didn’t take a lip reader to understand what the irate man was saying, ahem, cussing at me.

cranky 3

And suddenly my happy balloon burst as feelings of inadequacy and hurt rushed over me. After all, he was cursing me out right in front of my kids, compounding the insult. And they noticed.

My good mood dissipated for a moment before I remembered a verse I’d studied the week before.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7

We have this treasure…Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what that cranky driver thought of me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter when I’m accused or when mean people lie about me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter what society tells me about how I must look or how to cling to the fading scraps of youth. I have this treasure.

I have Jesus.

This simple reminder is a shame buster. It’s impossible to want to hide and cower in fear when you remember that Jesus is crazy about you. He’s living in you. He took all that shame on Himself and crucified it to the cross. love of Jesus crossIt’s gone and you’re free. You have a Treasure the rest of the world doesn’t understand and many can’t claim.

As I drove away, I patted my chest with my free hand and whispered to myself, “But I have this treasure….” And I left the screaming, miserable truck driver in my rear view mirror.

No matter how you’re treated, remind yourself that if you’ve been redeemed, you have this treasure. No one can take it away. It’s yours to keep.

And it’s the perfect way to stop shame in its slithering tracks.