This Is Going to Make You Stronger

I first noticed the couple as we ate lunch at a local restaurant after church on Sunday.

They caught my eye as I looked out the booth window because they were probably one of the cutest elderly couples I’d ever seen.

Before I looked away, they leaned in for a very passionate kiss.

Yeah, I accidentally saw two 75 year olds french kiss. Oops.

I returned my attention to my meal with a goofy grin on my face and a few minutes later, they were seated at the next booth over on the same side, both facing me.

I became very focused on my fried rice. But when I did look up, it was to see them whisper into each other’s ears, feed one other bites of food and kiss occasionally.

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Looking at my little family squeezed into the booth, I tried to ignore my youngest picking microscopic “orange balls” off her piece of sushi and threatened everyone else with the evil eye not to mention the words “fish eggs.” I thought about the whining and arguing that happened on the way to church between our kids and how my husband and I ended up turning on each other because of it.

There’s nothing like a good dose of parenting to shine a light on weaknesses in your marriage.

I took a bite of rice and let my mind wander to another Sunday, when Terrell and I sat on a couch instead of a booth, fighting for our marriage. I hadn’t eaten a good meal in days. Brokenness has a way of making you lose a lot of things, including your appetite for food and life. We sat across from a marriage counselor and we were desperate. My husband wanted freedom and I wanted forgiveness and we both needed faith to keep trying at our marriage.

“This is going to make you stronger,” The counselor said tenderly. His words sounded ridiculous in our weakened state. At the time, I didn’t know he wasn’t really referring to what landed us on his couch.

He was referring to struggle.

It looks different for every couple, but every marriage struggles in some way–for power, control, gratitude, forgiveness. You name it.

I glanced at my husband working chopsticks across from my and my urge to fight faded. I thought of our imperfections, the long road we’ve struggled down and how I wouldn’t trade any of it. Because it’s made us stronger. For the past 10 months, we’ve been in transition. He leads Mercy House and there’s been a lot of redefining, renegotiating, renewing. There’s been a lot of struggle to figure out who we are and how we do this. But we keep struggling towards each other.

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We are working on 21 years of marriage and there’s been every kind of struggle along the way. But instead of tearing us apart or pushing us away from each other, when we face them head on, dig in our heels and refuse to quit, we’ve discovered the difficult times have drawn us closer.

Embrace the struggle and let it make you stronger.” -Anonymous

I don’t know what season of marriage you’re in today. You might be doing your best to complete one year or you might have decades under your belt. But I do know when life changes (parenting, careers, home life), we change too.

And that’s why we have to struggle through it together.

Because it makes us stronger.

I don’t know if that little elderly couple was honeymooning or celebrating 50 years of marriage. I don’t know if they were making up or just making out.

I don’t know who they are or what story their lives would tell, but I want to be them one day.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

I sat on the edge of her bed and she didn’t even look up. I was visiting a friend who was not okay.

It was more than a bad day, it was a sad season for her.

But I wasn’t deterred from my mission to cheer her up. And I tried everything.

I suggested fun activities, reminded her of good times, quoted inspiring Scripture and offered to play encouraging music.

I got an occasional head nod and a shrug.

As I sat there in silence, I thought back to days when I haven’t been okay. Some days I could name the pain I felt and others I couldn’t. And I remembered what I needed the most.

And so I did what I should have in the first place: I hugged her and whispered in her ear, “It’s okay to not be okay.”

She sighed in relief. Permission to not be okay is sometimes exactly what we need.

We sat in comfortable silence for a long time. I reminded her that God loved these days the best–the ones we can’t fix on our own. Because He is there with us. He doesn’t always change our circumstances and we don’t always feel something new, but we aren’t alone. Sometimes that’s all we need.

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This Is What I’m Going To Do Today (In Response to the Supreme Court Ruling)

While my kids slept in on a summer morning, the world changed.

And I’m not just talking about new legislation.

On Friday, while some celebrated and others fell into discouragement, terrorists had a bloody field day on the world. Again.

Children lost parents, little girls were raped, men were beheaded, the poor faced another hungry night, women faced unspeakable oppression and innocent blood ran in the streets, while racial hate crimes and tension continue to divide our country. We might have paused to read a headline or shuddered at the atrocities our neighbors are facing, and then gone about our normal life.  I’m convinced if Christians spent half as much time praying for those suffering as we do arguing with those we don’t agree with, the Church would be stronger and our world would be a different place.

Children from minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to Islamic State in Sinjar town, make way towards Syrian border, on outskirts of Sinjar mountain

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It’s probably not shocking that our family disagrees and is saddened by this new law. We are also discouraged by the hate on both sides of the opinion and the lack of concern for the poor and persecuted in our world.

This isn’t the first time courts have tried to redefine truth based on cultural shifts or opinion. I still hold fast to a Biblical worldview, not a secular one and we choose to live by the truth in God’s Word.  I’m convinced that God’s love for mankind cannot be limited or defined by our culture and we will continue to look for ways to love people.

This decision may change Christianity in America. But I believe it needs to change.

We are too comfortable in our easy faith.

We are too concerned about our neighbor’s sin when our own is glaring.

We need less comfort and more concern for others.

We need to spend less and give more.

We need to cling to the Cross instead of fear.

We need less of us, more of Him.

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Our faith in action isn’t a To Do List. It’s a response to Christ laying down His life for us. We comfort and care because we have been comforted and cared for. We give because He has been generous to us. We love because He first loved us.

I want people to see my love for others louder than my opinions and doctrine. I want my children to see me love people. Period. Locally and globally. The Church hasn’t done a good job of both standing for absolute truth and loving  people no matter their religious beliefs, race or sexual preference. It’s time we do both well.

If we hold the Bible as truth, we know the end of time as we know it, will come. And we can let hope arise within us or walk in defeat. We can convince people we are right or we can lay down our life for those we think are wrong. We can spend our days bemoaning a Supreme Court decision or we can spend it on the Great Commission.

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One is easier than the other.

It’s easy to be right. It’s easy to ignore the needs of others.

Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

At the end of the day, this is what I want my kids to know: Love really does win- The Greatest Love of all defeated death, hell, the grave and every one of our sins on a Cross more than 2,000 years ago. No  matter what we believe, God is love and legislation can never alter that truth.

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I’ve heard over and over from other Christians in despair…”What now? What do we do now?”

God has not changed—and neither have his requirements for us. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8,

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do today: There are 8 young girls in India, rescued from a brothel where day after day they endured a hell I simply cannot fathom. They have suffered at the hands of evil men and for the first time in their young lives, they are tasting freedom. These 8 precious girls have been making hundreds of earrings for months now-it’s not only kept their hands busy, while they’ve experienced real love, it’s renewed their self esteem, restored hope and provided sustainable income.

I’m going to pray for them. I’m going to tell their story. I’m going to find 50 more women to buy their earrings so we can provide more jobs. I’m going to close my eyes and imagine their beautiful faces in the middle of their hell because it’s too dangerous for me to see their photographs.  And the next day I’m going to do the same with another group in Kenya, and then Ethiopia and the Middle East. Because that’s the need in front of me. This is how I can love the world around me today.

That’s what I’m going to do.

What about you?

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Parenting Doesn’t Get Easier. It Gets Different.

“Please tell me it gets easier,” she asked in the foyer at church while wrestling the baby in her arms and the toddler wrapped around her knees.

I smiled. And I remembered the long days and early bedtimes, the wrangling and chasing, the time outs and tantrums.

I’ve exchanged the physical exhaustion of motherhood with the emotional. I cry and pray and worry more over my kids now than I did when they would fit in my arms. A crib and gates and latches kept them close and safe. Now, the world is their playground and I can’t keep them from getting hurt. Bandaids and momma kisses don’t mend teenage angst or insecurities as easily.

When I looked into her weary face, longing to hear some encouragement, I knew some things were meant to be learned on our own.

“It gets different,” I replied.

I thought of how their independence has allowed me some freedom to pursue my dreams, not to mention the sheer joy that comes with watching them experience the seasons of growing up and fall in love with what they are good at. I thought about their humor and sarcasm and how I thank God for the laughter every day. Oh, and glorious sleeping-in Saturday mornings cannot be underestimated.

“Every phase is hard and good,” I continued.

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She adjusted her baby on her hip and sighed deep, “I just want to do something. . .” She didn’t finish her thought, but I recognized the longing for something bigger, something important.

“You are,” I responded gently.

Because the daily work matters. The foundation we lay when our children are young gives them a place to come back to.

I thought about my current season of parenting. I’ve watched my teens experience anxiety and some small bumps in the road in their self confidence this year. It’s been little things in the scale of life, but nothing is small when you’re a teenager. And it’s been painful to watch at times and I’ve felt helpless.

And I’ve wept over their heartache. But mostly, I’ve pointed them to Jesus. Because He can mend what I cannot.

Last week I curled up next to my teen in bed and we talked and argued a bit and worked through something hard she was facing. I listened and I ached. I couldn’t change the situation and I couldn’t stop either of our tears. As I tried to encourage her, my words sounded like spiritual platitudes in my ears. I finally said, “Honey, I know it may sound simple and too spiritual, but all I can do is point you to Jesus. He is all I have. He is the only One who can carry your burden. He is the only One who can heal this place in your heart.”

I left her room feeling like I had failed. Because as our kids grow, there are some things we cannot fix.

Parenting Doesn't Get Easier. It Gets Different

When I returned later to drop something off in her room, she was curled up next to her Bible listening to worship music. And even though she’s taller than I am and mostly a woman, all I could see was that chubby-cheeked, dimpled-hand toddler running into her Father’s arms so He could make it feel better.

So, yeah, moms, the exhausting physical wrangling and emotional wrestling and mundane work you do every day matters so much more than it seems. Every season has it’s ups and downs and challenging days. But our faithful love and discipline is building a solid foundation and a soft place to land.

Mostly, it’s pointing them to strong arms to run to.

And that makes different good.

This Just Makes Me Happy

While my teens were at youth camp this weekend, we turned our beige walls gray. And I decided to rehang all my favorite pieces of art and inspiration together to create a gallery wall.

Every time I walk in the living room, I smile.

It tells the story of our lives:

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1. The REDEEMED letters are my motto. This is my family’s word. We are a broken mess. But God.

2. The old white window frames are from a building that was being torn down in a town we lived in more than 13 years ago. It was a desperate season in our marriage and we’ve carried these old windows everywhere we’ve gone as a testimony of what God can do with something that seems useless.

3. A picture of the first 12 rescued girls at Mercy House. This picture is a constant reminder to pray.

4.  The word thanks underneath it. Because yes. We have so much to be grateful for.

5. This chalkboard art (that matches the tattoo on my foot) is one of my favorite verses.

6. It sits next to my favorite piece of art “Heart and Globe.” I love this because it shows God’s heart for the world.

7. This framed quote.

8. An eclectic license plate USA map because we love to travel.

9. The first 12 miracle babies of Mercy House. When I doubt and my faith is shaky, this picture reminds me that He can make the impossible possible.

10. This is my favorite picture of my kids.

What inspires you? What’s on your wall?

10 Things We Need To Teach Our Kids About Social Media

If I could give parents one bit of advice concerning their kids and social media, it would be this:

Hold off as long as you can.

Because once that switch is flipped, it’s harder to turn off.

In our culture, kids are interacting online earlier and earlier. And passive parenting in this area can lead to problems in others.

We’ve asked our kids to wait until high school to become active in social media and here’s what we’ve learned so far:

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1. Nothing is ever really private | Statuses and pictures can be shared and altered

2. Or permanently deleted | Everything is traceable. I read something really disturbing on Facebook the other day from an old friend and when I went back to show my husband because I was alarmed, it had been deleted. But it definitely wasn’t forgotten.

3. Some things are better said face to face (like apologies or confrontations) | Social media makes it easier for us to be cowardly. We need to teach our kids the value of looking someone in the eye and making things right. Sure, it’s harder, but they won’t forget it.

4. Remember there are real people with feelings behind every avatar | Lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of some harsh words. And sometimes I just want to remind the offenders that I’m a real person. I think it’s good to teach our kids that our (online) words can hurt.

5. It’s okay to disagree with someone’s opinion, but kindness always win | “If you’re not kind on the Internet, than you are not kind.” -Glennon Melton. It’s as simple as that.

6. Don’t let negative comments to your pictures, statuses or no likes at all change how you feel about yourself | This one is especially important to teach our girls. There’s this whole secret online code between mean girls and we have to remind our daughters who they are doesn’t change because of how people see them.

7. It’s easier to attain a bad online reputation than a good one-so watch what you say | We’ve all probably done something online that we regretted. Our words follow us.

8. Avoid drama | We all read and see things we don’t agree with and I want my kids to use self control and click away.

9. Don’t ever mention your location | Predators don’t lure kids at the school bus nearly as much as they do online. Our children need to know the dangers of over sharing.

10. Take a day of rest from social media | Recently, I asked my teen to take a break from social media. She wasn’t doing anything wrong or in trouble. I just noticed she was isolating herself and it would be healthy for her to take a couple of days off. Later, she thanked me.

My life has been changed by a social media love story and I’m so thankful for the online world. Let’s commit to protecting our kids by teaching them how to handle this powerful tool.

Fathers Are Not Idiots

My daughter pushed the grocery cart as I checked items off my list.

Light bulbs.

Super glue.

Father’s Day cards were next.

We stopped at the card aisle and I told my kids to pick out one for their dad, while I looked for one for my father.

I’m not a greeting card snob and I don’t spend hours hunting for the perfect one. But after 15 minutes and reading dozens, I had a really hard time choosing one card for my dad and my kids for their father, that didn’t send this message loud and clear: Dads are idiots.

Half the cards were about farts and beer and the other half were lewd or too generic and not worth the $3.99.

Is this what our culture really thinks of fatherhood? Is this really how we celebrate the men we call father on the one day of year we choose to honor them? Thanks, Dad for being the bumbling guy who is trying not to screw up his kids. Today, we mock you.

We’ve all seen the “idiot dad” characters and sitcoms where dad burns down the house cooking something hazardous in the microwave or loses the baby because he isn’t capable of you know, watching his own children.

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I don’t know who these men are.

One certainly didn’t raise me. I was raised by a selfless, generous man who taught me to love the world more than I love myself.

And just last week, when we had to keep our youngest home from church day camp because she had a low grade temperature, I went to her room to console her little broken heart (she really loved the camp) only to find her father beat me to it.

As I stood at the door and listened to my husband do it a hundred times better than I could, I was moved with his compassion for her. His too-big-body was curled up next to her on the pink twin bed and as she cried and whined about the unfairness of her fever, he was patient and tender and understanding. And then he prayed for her to get better quickly so she could return to camp.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of the gift he was giving his little girl: his time, attention and care. And more than that, he was showing her the picture of a Heavenly Father who listens and comforts and is there for us when we need Him.

I finally found an appropriate card for my dad that wasn’t offensive and my kids made their own for their Dad.

Because even if our culture doesn’t see it, we know the dads in our lives are anything but idiots.

Let’s do our best in honoring fathers this weekend.

Camp Mom

Summer 5

1. My 5 Rules of Summer for My Kids:

  •  Read to earn screen time
  •  If you can’t get along with your siblings, you can’t have friends over
  •  You get the Wifi/Netflix password when you do what I’ve asked you to do
  •  Get outside everyday
  •  Serve someone other than yourself at least one day a week

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2. The 5 Things We Always Have on Hand to Stir Up the Imagination:

  • Balloons
  • Copy paper
  • Blankets and sheets to build the perfect reading hideout
  • Water
  • Puzzles (our dining room table has a 2000 piece challenge right now)

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3. 5 Easy Snacks to Keep on Hand:

  • Trail Mix
  • Popcorn
  • Fresh fruit
  • Nuts
  • Boiled eggs

4. 5 Summer Recipes (That don’t include turning on the oven):

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5. My 5 Rules of Summer for Mom:

  • Stay home at least one day a week with no agenda
  • Accept help (from kids, husband, friends)
  • Do something I enjoy once a week
  • Teach my kids something new (like driving, Lord, help me)
  • Remember occasional boredom is good for my kids