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Posted on Oct 17, 2016 in Devotional, Love, My Crazy Family, Parenting, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 3 comments

A Good Father?

A Good Father?

When I was a senior in high school, I got caught with beer in my car at after prom. Seriously. Me. Beer. Did I drink beer? Nope. I still don’t. Nasty stuff. How anyone can stand it, I don’t know. But nevertheless, it was my car, my friends, and beer. I knew about it, allowed it, and got caught. The principal had to call my parents in the middle of the night. I was pretty sure death would result from my sin. Either that or every single privilege I enjoyed, including the car and the beach trip I was planning with those friends after graduation, would be taken away from me.

Shaking in fear, I walked into my dark house that night, wondering what punishment was waiting for me. I expected all the lights to be on, my parents furiously pacing the floor.

Instead, they were quietly laying in bed, just like always. As I tiptoed in their room, wondering what type of new torture this was, I saw my dad’s arm go out and beckon me toward him. Slowly, I walked toward that arm. He pulled me in closer. Then he pulled me down onto the bed. Instead of yelling (or killing me), he just hugged me tight. As my fear melted away, I began to cry. Somehow I managed to blubbler out the story: I’d agreed to let my friends bring beer because I wanted them to have fun. They’d said they were unable to let loose, dance, and have fun without it. It had never occurred to me that I could get in trouble for it. I wasn’t drinking and driving. I wasn’t drinking at all.

My mind often goes back to that night. My parents taught me a valuable lesson in the middle of what must have been very frightening to them. They said that a person shouldn’t be dependent on alcohol to have fun. If a person can’t have fun without alcohol, they have a problem. I’ve always remembered that lesson. A nice glass of wine with a fine meal is a different thing than the inability to enjoy oneself without it.

Beyond the alcohol though, another issue strikes me. I learned a lot about a father’s love. He could have raged at me, punished me extensively, or demanded that I stop hanging out with those friends. He didn’t though. He trusted that I’d learned my lesson (I certainly had) and let it go. He treated me tenderly, and he treated my friends tenderly too.

There’s a worship song that’s very popular right now, “You’re a Good, Good Father.” The first verse says,

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love
In the dead of night
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father.

Like my dad, my husband is a good, good father. He is the one who scrambles out of bed in the middle of the night at the slightest cry of a child. He answers their cries tenderly, holding them, rocking them back to sleep, and sometimes really irritating me. Why does he have to be such a softy? Can’t he command them to go back to sleep? But he doesn’t.

Not everyone has such a good father. Many fathers are callous, hard, and ready to pounce on their children at the least provocation. They yell and issue commands, not taking the time to listen and understand. And some fathers simply abandon their children altogether, or are so evil that the child would be better off if they did. Into the mess of this world, we have this beautiful song about our Heavenly Father. HE is a good Father, no matter what our earthly fathers are like.

So why is it that so many of us, myself included, run from this good Father when we sin? Why is it that we avoid God when we are ashamed of ourselves? We have a good Father who loves us fully.

He beckons us with open arms, welcoming us into His embrace, even when we have sinned woefully. He wants to hug us, talk to us about what happened, and help us learn something from it. He wants to deepen our relationship, not push us away.

I see it at times in my own life. When I feel deeply disappointed by the way things have turned out, so different than what I thought God had in mind, I struggle to embrace Him. I feel a little like an angry teenager, arms crossed, back turned to God. I haven’t left Him by any means. I’m still leaning against His throne, and I don’t want to leave. But I am so hurt and disappointed, I don’t think I can crawl into His lap right now either. Constant questions plague my mind. Did I do the wrong thing? Is this somehow my sin? Am I missing something? And I’m facing outward, away from Him, because I’m watching so expectantly to see what He will do next.

I have a good, good Father. Surely He has sent an answer, an unforeseen blessing, and it’s making its way up the road to me now. But I’m very near-sighted, and I can’t make it out yet. But I’m watching.

2016-03-27-11-52-05How much better could I watch from the perch of His lap? If, like my tiny daughter does so freely with her daddy, I could crawl up there, grab hold of his shirt and snuggle down, knowing without question the comfort and security I would find there, wouldn’t life be so much better?

What if we started running toward God when we sin? What if we cry into His arms, pour out our sorrow, share our frustration and disappointment openly? Our good Father can handle our pain, and He knows exactly what to do with it.

A good, good Father is exactly who we have. No matter who our earthly fathers were, or are, we can rest in the embrace of God.

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Posted on Oct 1, 2013 in Wisdom | 9 comments

The New Girl

The New Girl

When I moved from Nashville to the rural Midwest, even though I was returning to a place that was once home many years ago, it felt a little like walking into a fog. Everyone already knows everyone else. I’m one of the few new people around, so it’s easy for others to remember me. But I face a sea of new faces, names, connections, and stories. Even those faces I knew as a child have changed, and the memory I had of them at 12 years old isn’t exactly fresh. The shops aren’t the same, the roads are a logical sequence of numbers and letters (but I do better with street names), people talk about things I’ve never heard of, and no one knows about all the friends I have in the other place.

One of the most challenging things for me in these last 21 months of marriage and relocation has been making those connections – remembering the person I’ve just been introduced to when they walk away, learning who is related to who (very important around here), catching up on stories I know nothing about. It’s a terrible feeling when I run into someone whose face I know, engage in conversation, but find my mind totally blank when it comes to their name, circumstances, or even where I know them from. It seems rude to tell them I can’t place them and ask for a hint. Instead, I often nod and smile and move on as quickly as I can. It seems the people I actually know are the ones who are often so kind and helpful, taking a moment to remind me of their name and how we know one another.

Another challenge for me has been when someone I’m getting to know talks about the other people in their life. Brother, sister, friend, child… I’m doing really well to know their name, face, occupation, and spouse’s name, but I do not remember the names of most of the other people in their life. So when they off-offhandedly refer to “Susan” I politely listen for a while, straining to find something that will help me make the connection. But when that connection isn’t made, I will actually stop them and say, “Please remind me who Susan is?”

These frustrations make it hard because I have a wonderful group of friends in Nashville (see photo above) with whom I’ve made all the connections. When Shannan mentions Michael she doesn’t have to tell me anything else to identify him. When Pamela mentions Sally, I can picture Sally and her enormous dog. When Penny tells me about The Jerk, there’s no need for explanation. It makes me homesick sometimes, the knowledge that I need to start all over again. Where I could once walk into a room of hundreds and immediately be greeted by those who know me well, I now see faces I want to know but can’t quite place.

Walking into a new place where many people already know one another is intimidating. I’ve joined a local mom’s group and went to a few meetings last year. People were kind, but I didn’t make any connections outside of the group. I signed up to join summer play dates but wasn’t contacted about any. So when it started back up this fall it was hard for me to go. The idea of walking in there, trying to get to know someone new, trying to make friends, made me exhausted. But I’d already paid my membership fee in the Spring, so I forced myself to go. Thank God for the sweet woman who saw me coming and walked right up to find out how my summer went. Within a few minutes of talking to her, I was relaxed and ready to take on a table full of new faces. And after the meeting, I pulled together all my courage and looked those ladies up on Facebook, sending them all friend requests. Whew! I think I used up my stash of courage for at least a week doing all that.

Being the new girl is hard, even for someone who appears out-going and confident. The truth is, I’m shy when in a group of people who all know one another. It’s hard for me to branch out, work the room, and try to catch up on the conversations happening around me. I can only imagine how hard it must be for those who aren’t out-going.

I’ve been “the new girl” many times, and this location has been similar to all the ones before.  Not counting moves for college (where everyone is basically new), I’ve been the new girl at least eight times in my life.  It seems like it might get easier each time, but I’ve found it to be more difficult.  It seems my capacity to reach out shrinks with each move, causing me to embrace the part of me that’s shy and introverted and only pull out the extroverted, out-going side on occasion.  I see the beauty in the tight-knit communities of those who’ve lived and worked side by side for most of their lives.  I understand the risk it takes to invite someone new into your well-functioning, comfortable group of friends.  I don’t find fault with those who have closely guarded friendships and seek to preserve their peace and identity as a member of an inner-ring of companionship.

I’d just like to encourage all my readers – no matter where you live – to look around you as you plan your next shopping trip, play date, or bonfire. Are there people in your church, parenting group, or extended family that are new? Why not invite them to join your group of friends? It’ll be a little more work for you to help that person find their place, but you might just make a friend for life.  If it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to invite that person again.  But maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that the new person brings life and joy and dimension into your group that wasn’t possible otherwise.

Matthew 25:40
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

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Posted on Jun 27, 2013 in Devotional, Marriage | 0 comments

Why Did God Make Me Wait?

Why Did God Make Me Wait?

A few days ago I snuck in a guilty pleasure, a 90-minute phone conversation with one of my good friends from our single days in Nashville.  We often discuss the meaning of life when we talk, trying to figure out our own crazy lives and what to make of it all.  We have wildly different ideas about theology, but it never seems to bother either one of us.  I thoroughly enjoy our conversations, both of us realizing we never answer the questions but enjoying our conversation anyway.

telephone_1950sShe began this talk with the provocative questions, “Why do you think God had you wait so long to marry Rick?  Couldn’t you two have married fifteen years earlier?  You knew one another.  You were both single adults, who wanted marriage and family life, so why did you have to wait so long?  And how does Rick feel about it?  Does he wish you’d found one another sooner?”  Rick couldn’t care less about these questions.  He just enjoys life where he is and doesn’t try to analyze it too much.  I’ve gone over and over those questions in my mind, trying to get to the bottom of the puzzle.

I gave her the practical answer:  Fifteen years ago, Rick worked too many hours to have time for a family.  I wanted to get my education, have a career, and enjoy city life.  I wouldn’t have even considered becoming a farmer’s wife in the rural Midwest.  It wasn’t until he “retired” from the business he and his father had together that he was ready to marry.  As badly as I wanted a husband, it wasn’t until I had worn myself out with trying to make my way in the world that I was willing to allow someone else to help me.  I didn’t add this part in our conversation, but the truth is that it wasn’t until I discovered how much I could trust my loving God that I could trust my life to a man.

My friend wanted to know if it was it God’s plan for me not to marry until I was 36 years old, not to have the longed-for child until I was 37.  And am I ticked about being placed at the end of a very long line, being forced to wait until the last few years of fertility?  (At least I was in the line…)  Was it God’s plan for me to wrestle with purity, to wrestle with my sexuality, for twenty years?  Ugh!  Why would God make me reach puberty in my early teens, command me to reserve sex for marriage, and then make me wait until my late 30s to marry?  Is He really that mean?

I have to believe that God is not mean, and He did not intend to deprive me.  Humans have convoluted His system, made life into something different than the ideal, and as a result we suffer needlessly at times.  As I look back on my life, I cannot help but remember a guy who adored me while I was in my teen years.  He was an active member of our church and committed to Christ, handsome, kind, and had a good job.  He and I came from a similar background and our families understood one another well.  He was too old for me, so we never had more than one ‘accidental’ date.  I knew of his feelings through things others said and the fact that he hung around a lot, not because he ever acted on them.  But I believe he might’ve waited for me if I’d responded differently than I did.  I was over-the-moon that he’d pay attention to me (he was so cute!).  But that’s where it stopped.  I thought I needed to go to college, work, live on my own for a while, and if I could get him interested in me I wondered who else I might be able to attract.  So I made a choice and he married someone else.

Years later when I finally did marry, I married a man a lot like him.  I have to shake my head in wonder at the whole thing.  I suppose I might have had a similar life to the one I’m living now, but without the years of struggle as I waited and tried to keep my desires in check.  (Who knows, there may have been a bunch of different problems though…)  So is it right to blame God for “making me wait”?  We can never really know how our lives might have been different if we had made different choices.  I can’t say that I wish I’d chosen differently back then.  I’m not even sure I was capable of making another choice.  I made an immature decision because I was immature.  I needed time to figure out my way in the world.  God knew the entire time what I needed and He sheltered me as I bumbled around, trying to figure it all out.

So the battle between free-will and predestination rages on for me.  God gives us free will, but He knows everything, so He knows what choices we will make.  Nothing surprises Him.  Knowing what choices we’ll make, He’s able to lay out a plan for us.  So He has a plan, but it’s based on what He knows of us, yet He created us as we are.  To me, it’s the unanswerable question.

IMG_20130331_153246_716I’m thankful I finally married Rick and that we have such a sweet little girl.  I’m thankful that at this time in our lives, he’s at home a lot and we are raising her as a team.  I’m incredibly thankful that Rick is the kind of dad who is available and involved in his daughter’s daily life.  He’ll be that awesome dad who can chaperone field trips and help with homework.  Both of our dads were young when they had us, faithful and responsible, and they worked around the clock to provide for us.  Both of our mothers sometimes felt like they were raising their children alone, but appreciated the husbands who made it possible for them to have homes and children.  Given the time he had to prepare, Rick is a good provider and a present parent.  I’m thankful to know who I am, not trying to raise a child while I strive and strain to become whole.  I’m grateful that within a few years of discovering that I want to be a writer, I was able to stay at home and focus more on it.

Whether it was free-will or God’s perfect plan for my life, it has worked out.  God has taken my mess and made something beautiful out of it.  God has allowed me my mistakes, seen my heart, and worked it all out for my good – giving me joy unspeakable.  He’s healed me from my struggle with anxiety and depression and set me free to enjoy the other parts of life that I wanted so badly.  He’s given me a loving and kind husband who is absolutely committed to Christ, a true man of peace.  In spite of all the options I passed by and questionable choices I made, hopefully the person I am becoming is one who brings honor and glory to Christ’s name.

Our phone conversation wasn’t all about me.  My friend has her own questions, wondering how life might’ve been different if she and her husband had known one another earlier, had different experiences.  Could they have avoided some of the problems they’ve encountered?  Might new problems have taken their place?  Interrupted in the middle of our conversation by the needs of our children, my friend and I laughed as we hung up, undisturbed by our inability to conclude our discussion.  We didn’t need to wrap it all up.  We just enjoyed trying to figure it out together.  We’re both in love with our children, in love with our husbands, thankful for the ability to devote ourselves to them full-time, and to sneak in ridiculously long phone calls every once in a while.

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Posted on Feb 10, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 2 comments

The Gentle Hand

The Gentle Hand

Through tears and trembling lips, a friend confided in me about an addiction she’s been trying to fight alone for some time now. 

Her big revelation didn’t surprise me.  I had known for over a year that she was dealing with it. 

When I told her that, she asked me why I hadn’t said anything, hadn’t asked her about it.  The truth is, I didn’t want to hurt her.  The truth is, I didn’t want to be the bad guy.  I didn’t think her addiction was that big of a deal, but I also knew she must feel terrible shame to not tell me about it.  I prayed for her and wished she would just come out with it, but I kept silent.  Confrontation was too hard.  I didn’t want to risk making her angry or causing her further shame. 

My heart broke for her as she sat across from me, nervously wiping away tears.  She was so afraid I would be angry with her, judge her, condemn her.  She lived for at least a year with that finger of shame pointing at her. 

 

As I think of that pain she faced alone, I realize I am culpable in her year-long battle.  I didn’t know about the problem before and am not even sure how long she’s dealt with it.  But I have known for over a year.  And she has fought it alone.  I told myself I was showing her respect by not saying anything, but was I just a coward? 

What would have happened if the first time I noticed the problem, I had asked her about it?  It would have been an innocent question at that time.  I didn’t ask her because I felt stunned and sure I was wrong.  I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by asking something that might sound like an accusation.  The next time I noticed it, I could have asked her about it and mentioned the other time.  Instead, I didn’t say anything and I noticed it repeatedly.  I hurt for her because I know her well.  I know her well enough to know she hated herself for it and yet felt that she deserved a little pleasure in life.  I know her because I know myself.  Our addictions are different, but I have battled my own.

Perhaps I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t ready to face my own addictions yet?  I did the cowardly thing.  I kept silent while she suffered.  If I’d had the courage to ask her about it a year ago, it’s possible that she would have suffered much less because I could’ve helped her face it then.  It’s possible that my silence, my cowardice, allowed my dear friend to suffer, to feel isolated and ashamed, far longer than if I had spoken up immediately.  It’s even possible that I battled my own problems longer because we weren’t walking out the challenges together. 

Sometimes it’s hard to deal with things right away, but it’s important in the long run.  This situation has been another lesson for me, another in a long line of similar lessons.  If we are willing to do the hard thing, face the hurt, and move through it, we find freedom in our relationships.  Free to love fully, to trust one another implicitly, and to confidently move forward.  We can know that our dear friends will put a gentle hand on our arm to halt us if they see us heading for trouble.  There is such security and safety in that freedom. 

Confrontation is hard, but sometimes it’s the most loving thing we can do.

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