Should God Be First?

When I was a young mom, it was difficult for me to put God first in a practical, everyday sense. I thought putting God first meant applying myself to spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and Bible reading and study. I absolutely loved spending as much time as possible in those areas, but I felt an urgent call to help when a daughter needed her diaper changed, meals needed to be prepared, naptime needed to start immediately (or was suddenly over), and many other things that, at times, seemed to nearly crush me under the to-do list. Plus, I was trying to be a good wife, which apparently was supposed to fall somewhere between putting God first and being a good mom. Because I couldn’t handle keeping even two of those in perspective, keeping three prioritized seemed disappointedly impossible.  I felt like a failure. Even on the days I felt like an adequate wife and a decent mom, I was still failing—at least, by my perspective—as a Christ-follower.

It wasn’t an identity crisis. It wasn’t a confidence issue. It was a spiritual misapplication. I was setting myself up for failure by holding myself to a standard God never intended. I needed to stop seeing God at the top of everything and instead place him in the center of everything.

Perhaps it’s just semantics, but the shift worked for me. I stopped defining my efforts as failures of faith and began defining every role and responsibility as an opportunity for faith. It was the same basic concept, but a slight change significantly altered my outlook and faith journey.

When I placed God in the center of everything, I realized I wasn’t choosing my daughters over him when I played with them in the yard and walked to the library. I wasn’t choosing my husband over God when I helped him with a house project or watched football. When God is in the center, he touches everything. I consider God’s perspective no matter what I’m doing. I find significance in the most mundane tasks, because I acknowledge there is purpose in it even if I’m uncertain as to what the particular purpose is. When God is at the center of everything, I’m confident the purpose of what I’m doing is to follow and honor him. When I follow and honor him, I’m placing him in the center of everything.

It’s not simply that God is first in everything. He is the absolute foundation of everything. He is invested in everything. He is interested in everything. That is true whether I acknowledge his investment and interest or not. My distortion of God’s position in my life doesn’t change his position. He will always passionately pursue me. The different that can catapult me farther and faster in spiritual growth is my willingness to line up my life with his will. I can shift my perspective and priorities so that he seems to be off to the side, but he’s still in the center. I’ve simply distorted what I see as reality. God is the center, and when I line up my life with who he is and who he says he created me to be, I have the full assurance of him impacting the practical details of my everyday life.

No matter what I’m doing, God is in the center and emanates to reach every circumstance in the circumference of my life.

Mom – Truth Is…

My mom doesn’t like to draw a lot of attention. In fact, she probably would tell me to forego a blog post in her honor, but she’s poured into me over the years, and I think it’s important I publicly share how special she is to me. Moms have a way of trying to minimize the truth when the attention turns toward them. It’s humility, which is a good thing, but there’s also a time to receive recognition and honor. I love you, Mom.

The truth is…she has loved me when I was unloveable.

The truth is…she has taught me when I didn’t want to learn.

The truth is…she gave me pieces of herself even when I didn’t ask.

The truth is…she sacrificed her own needs for mine.

The truth is…she took on much of my hurt and pain.

The truth is…she drove me countless miles, waited for me countless hours, and fixed me countless meals.

The truth is…she stood by my side even when I felt alone.

The truth is…she faced me with the truth when I didn’t want to hear it.

The truth is…she listened to my dreams and encouraged (and challenged) me with her words.

The truth is…she gave me a firm foundation of motherhood on which to build my family.

The truth is…she wasn’t perfect and never pretended to be. She tried to be the best mom she could be. And in my opinion, she was – and is – the best.

Thanks, Mom. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

50 Years of Marriage

My parents aren’t perfect. They’d be the first to admit it. There were times in my life I certainly thought “less than perfect” was an understatement, but those days are gone. My parents have done a lot of things well, and today, on their 50th wedding anniversary, I want to celebrate a few.

My parents are authentic. What you see is what you get.

My parents are giving. They’d help just about anyone they could.

My parents are relational. Those who know my dad will chuckle at this one. It’s definitely an understatement. I’m not sure he knows what a stranger is. My parents have developed some phenomenal friendships over the years, and I know they’ve been a blessing to many. For the record, hearing my parents share about their friends, they feel equally as blessed.

My parents invest. I’ve watched my dad work alongside young men, and I know a group of young women (okay, so they’re my age) with whom my mom worked for several years who love being around her. Making a difference in people’s lives is important to my parents. They see opportunities instead of inconveniences.

My parents parent well. One of the things I respect most about my parents is their willingness to let me and their other children be adults. It seems obvious to let adult children be adults, but it’s easier said than done. They’ve never tried to interfere with issues I’ve had (even though I’m sure at times they certainly want to shake me and tell me how to straighten myself and my life out). They advice without demanding. They consult when asked, don’t protect from consequences, and don’t say “I told you so.”

My parents enjoy life. My dad recently said, “We’ve nearly reached 50 years of marriage, and we’ve laughed just about every single day.” Not many people can say that. My dad’s sense of humor is a bit odd. He certainly enjoys his own jokes and is probably one of the goofiest people I know. I rolled my eyes at his antics at times, but now I actually find the same antics as endearing. My mom chastises my dad for his goofiness, but she laughs, too. They find humor in the strangest situations, but the laughter they experience alongside each other has carried them through dark days and made good days great days.

My parents aren’t done living. When they retired several years ago, they shifted into another gear instead of sitting back and letting time pass.  Mom began volunteering at the elementary school to help young students who struggle to read. Dad took on many projects with friends and at home. They started walking together regularly. They took trips, visited friends and family, and helped neighbors. They live each today as fully as they can.

My parents inspire me. Not because I want to be just like them. Not because they’re perfect. They inspire me because I believe they are the best people they can be.

Of course, my opinion is a bit biased, but I’m obviously okay with sharing it with you. I want to honor my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. And I challenge you to honor someone in your life today. Avoid empty compliments. Think of the people who really inspire you – not because they try to be perfect or have all the pieces in life neatly put together, but because they are who they are, fully experiencing and growing with each passing day. Share how someone has impacted your life, and let the impact create ripple effects through your life into others’ lives.

Mama Bear Claws

You can mess with me, but don’t mess with my daughters!

I have Mama Bear claws. I don’t like to be threatened, but threaten or harm my girls, and I’m ready to attack. I can restrain myself (most of the time), because I don’t want to fight my girls’ battles. Well, I might want to fight them, but I know it’s better for them to exercise their own skills in confrontation, problem-solving and personality conflicts. I know they have to learn how to deal with demanding teachers, territorial friends, unreasonable employers, and well-intentioned but sometimes misguided family members.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a daughter was unjustly treated by a teacher who seemingly wanted to flex her authority muscles.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a friend consistently talked to my daughter with disrespect.

My Mama Bear claws came out when I felt my daughter’s employers were taking advantage of her work ethic.

Few people have seen my Mama Bear claws, because I don’t call the teacher, friend, or employer and intervene. I want to equip my daughters to discern what the best course of action is. It’s not easy, because it’s not about retaliation (which is what my Mama Claws often seem to be all about). We have to balance respect for authority with the timing, reasons behind the confrontation, and future of the relationship. I don’t want to bad-mouth those in authority in my daughters’ lives, because they have to learn the balance, and they (usually) have to continue the relationship in some way.

My Mama Bear claws pop out quickly on the inside but (thankfully) rarely show their ugly, unmanicured daggers on the outside. Ironically, my daughters see them the most often and not in the way you might expect. In talking them through the possible solutions of dealing with the issues, my passion to protect my daughters often comes out in a bossiness to instruct my daughters (in loud tones of frustration). I’m not frustrated with my daughters, but that’s how my Mama Bear claws often show.

I’ve even scratched my husband with them. While discussing an important issue about our now nearly-grown daughters, he needs only to make one brief statement, suggesting something I think wouldn’t be beneficial to one of the girls in a critical area, and – I growl and swat (figuratively, of course). It’s not his fault. He’s simply trying to interact with me, which might not be a great idea when I’m in protect-my-cubs mode.

It’s not my intention to growl at and attack the ones I love. They’re the ones I’m trying to protect. My intentions and my actions don’t always match. I’m not trying to be hypocritical. I’m doing life the best I can, but sometimes I’m caught offguard. And in some of those offguard moments, my reaction might be to attack.

The times of crises are rarely times we can learn new coping strategies. We need to establish our habits in everyday life in preparation for times of crises. We know they’ll come – rarely when or in the way we expect them.

I’ve tried to using my Mama Bear claw moments as teaching times for my daughters as they wade through conflict, but also I’ve learned a lot about myself. It hasn’t always been pretty. God gave me my Mama Bear claws. They’re a gift for those times I, as the mama caregiver, need them for serious protection. But I can’t rationalize when I should (or shouldn’t) use them. That’s up to God.

It’s the same with everything God has given me. He created me uniquely…and in his image. In return, my responsibility is to steward everything he’s given me with intent purpose of fulfilling his will, not mine. That means I need to be familiar with his will. I need to know enough about God and draw close to him so in those times of quick response, I will stand up, sit down, speak up, or shut up…whatever he’s requiring of me for that moment.

Are you using what God gave you for his intended purpose?

Are you rationalizing or miscontruing any behaviors or relationships in your life?

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. James 3:3-5

You’re Wearing THAT?!

I used to prefer not to be seen with Mom – mainly when I was a preteen. She didn’t wear the right clothes according to me. It just wasn’t cool to hang out with her. She used to joke about how I’d walk several yards behind her.

I grew out of that stage. We walked side by side through the mall through most my teens years. We went to the mall together when I was home from college. I was wearing one of my favorite outfits. The style was a casual, sporty look. My pants were roomy and soft with an elastic waist and big wide legs. The top was similar to a fancy tshirt with ribbing on the sleeves and waist. It was light yellow with a bold print. I loved it. It was the 80s, okay? I wouldn’t wear it now, but it was cool then.

As we were leaving the mall, a small child walked in the other direction with her mom. We heard her ask, “Mommy, why does that girl have on her pajamas at the mall?” (This was before the popular phase of wearing pajama bottoms.) Mom took full advantage of the turn of events. She rolled her eyes in disgust at me and exclaimed that she was just “too mortified” to be seen with me. She immediately quickened her pace to distance herself. Of course, I ran after her – while laughing so hard I could barely see where I was going!

What’s one fashion style that appalls you?

What’s the most embarrassing fashion trend you’ve followed?

Fashions are fleeting. Relationships are not. It was more important that my mom and I spend time together than to be concerned of what we were wearing.

And why do you worry about clothes? Look at how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves. Matthew 6:28

Dress in the best God has to offer. You need every piece of God’s armor, but as you read the following verses, consider which one he’s encouraging and equipping you with right now to meet your needs.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against the devil’s evil tricks. Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world. That is why you need to put on God’s full armor. Then on the day of evil you will be able to stand strong. And when you have finished the whole fight, you will still be standing. So stand strong, with the belt of truth tied around your waist and the protection of right living on your chest. On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong. And also use the shield of faith with which you can stop all the burning arrows of the Evil One. Accept God’s salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers, asking for everything you need. To do this you must always be ready and never give up. Always pray for all God’s people. Ephesians 6:11-18

Tradition

tradition noun \trə-ˈdi-shən\  an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.

When does a tradition begin? How does a tradition end? Which do you prefer? Isn’t it odd how we each react to traditions differently? Some of us thrive on tradition. We’re comforted by routine. We want dependability. We seek the familiar. Others are energized by change. We want to try something new. We like adventure. We seek variety.

Many of us like to balance between the two. That’s me. I get bored doing the same thing over and over. I thrive on the challenge of balancing many different types of tasks, travelling to new places, finding solutions to new problems. Yet I like some things in my life to be consistent…so I keep my house clean, walk almost every day, and have (somewhat) predictable eating habits. I don’t need every family gathering to be exactly the same as the last one, but I like some familiarity.

…and today I experienced some of that familiarity.

The “tradition” didn’t begin as a tradition at all. My mom was simply feeding her family. But Mom’s fried chicken and french fries became a favorite as we were growing up on the family farm. Perhaps it was because she could make a lot for people helping in the fields or because the chicken tasted good, hot or cold, when she delivered it to my dad during harvest. I know it wasn’t a favorite because it was quick and easy, because it made a mess, and the fried food odor permeated the house for the entire day! 

My memories of many family picnics and gatherings include fried chicken and french fries. Yum!

Then the three of us daughters grew up. We didn’t want to eat fried foods as we watched our weight. We weren’t at home as often, so Mom didn’t need to make big meals. We had other favorites we requested during family gatherings. Fried chicken and french fries were misplaced in the shuffle of childhood memories…until recently.

I don’t know who mentioned it first, but I think it was at the girls’ gathering this Summer, which has become another family tradition, where all the girls from three generations spend a Summer weekend together. Once the memory seed of the scrumptious meal was planted, the campaign was on!

I’m not going into details, but suffice it to say several of us have varying perspectives of what transpired over the past couple weeks. A couple of us decided to employ persuasive techniques such as encouraging everyone in the family to text, call and Facebook Mom to “request” fried chicken and french fries at the upcoming dinner. Involving the grandchildren was genius. After all, what grandma says “no” to her grandchildren’s requests, such as…

“I’m so excited for the chicken! I can’t believe you never told me about fried chicken, how sad. And the fries sound AMAZING.  If you need any help, I’d be glad to help. I can’t believe I’ve been deprived of this family tradition for so long.”

and

“Grandma, I cant wait till the famous fried chicken-yum !!!! And your homemade ice cream!”

Not everyone perceived our tactics as creative and encouraging. I’m not naming any names, but one person in the family accused us of being “whiney and pushy”! Humph. But no one can deny our campaign was persuasive.

Yes, the house smelled like fried foods, and we probably all still smell like a fast food restaurant. Yes, we could have eaten a much more healthy meal (fortunately, none of us have doctors’ visits or blood tests scheduled for this week!). Yes, we could have eaten something much more simple to fix. But in typical Mom and Dad style, they went above and beyond and added to the menu: freshly harvested corn, homemade apple sauce, and much more, including fresh fruit pies and homemade ice cream.

(Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Dinner was delicious. While I don’t expect a repeat menu soon, it’s okay. What’s more important to repeat is an even better tradition…getting together with my family. My favorite memory of the day is of Mom turning away from the hot, greasy stove with a huge smile to face the three of us daughters. Despite the exhausting work, she was just happy that most of her family (missed you Caitlin and Ian!) were together for a couple hours. And for that moment, we were actually getting along!

It takes wisdom to have a good family, and it takes understanding to make it strong. Proverbs 24:3