“Sons and Daughters”

God has been taking me on a journey of painful renewal over the past year and a half.  My spirit has been restless for a number of reasons, and my faithfulness has been put to the test.  I wish I could say that I have passed this test with flying colors, but I cannot.  For one thing, I’m still in the fire of refinement.  For another, I have been stubborn and even lazy when it comes to my relationship with Jesus.  I know what He’s asking me to do, but I just don’t want to do it.  Sometimes, it hurts to be obedient.  It hurts to be faithful.  It hurts to be humble.  It hurts to forgive.  These are the things I have been struggling against.

The aggravating thing is that I have gone through much of this before and have pushed through to experience victory in Christ.  The peace and joy that come on the heels of my choice to be faithful are a heady reward indeed–worth every heartache.  So, I guess this current season proves that I am a slow learner.  Again.

Sigh.

I want to share a portion of one of my recent journal entries with you.  My hope is that you will feel encouraged by it.  Perhaps you even know someone who might be blessed to know that they, too, are not alone.

The kids and I went to an Iron Bell concert at the church last night.  It was a beautiful time of worship.  I regret that I still sometimes feel self-conscious during corporate worship, and I wish I did not.  Why do so many of us care how other people respond to You in praise?  I don’t know, but I sometimes struggle against the voices in my head.  Please forgive me when I focus more on them than on You.

The Iron Bell song that most grabbed my heart last night was “Sons and Daughters”.  The guitarist shared a beautiful testimony of the first time he really understood You to claim him as Your son.  This song is an outpouring of that moment, and it just reinforces, over and over, the pure and joyful love that God has for us.  One of the phrases God speaks in the song is, 

I sought you,
You were lost.
You were worth the cost.

That got my attention.  The cost was the cross!  The cost was the betrayal, the torture, the humiliation, the abandonment and the brokenness that culminated in the brutal crucifixion of Your Son!  My heart screams, “Why, Lord?  Why was I worth it to You?  Why would You do that for me?”

And I know in my heart that it is because You love me as Your daughter.  No price was too great for You to pay for my salvation.  This is such a humbling realization  While I understand the sacrificial love of a parent, this kind of love–Your kind of love for me–is beyond my comprehension.

I don’t fully understand why some people don’t have parents who pursue relationships with their children.  I don’t understand why some parents check out or give up.  The abandonment/neglect/favoritism that some children experience from their parents leaves a hole that is not easily filled.  

If only each of us could truly grasp that we have been chosen by You.  I am treasured by You.  I am enough for You.

Wow.

When my kids were little, I sang over them and I danced with them.  If they weren’t so appalled by these demonstrations now, I would probably still outwardly do these things with them.  Instead, I do them inwardly.  Songs of thanksgiving in my heart.  Dances of praise and wonder and hope.  The Iron Bell song I mentioned talks about You singing and dancing when You think of me.  This is such a beautiful and humbling picture for my heart.  Thank You, Lord.

I know that there are some people who have never had a parent sing and dance over them.  To be honest, there are people who have never had a parent think of them with any tenderness at all.  This song reminds me, though, that You are more than enough of a Father for the fatherless.

And, since You are also the Giver of all good things, I pray that You will restore broken relationships.  That You will bring the lost to Yourself and restore him to his family.  Thank You for being able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.

Check out “Sons and Daughters” by Iron Bell Music.

 

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It’s been a bad week for chickens here at Country Haven.

I was once again awakened at 3:00 this morning by a chicken calling for help.  Rosie once again refused to accompany me to the barn.  I was once again too late to save our bird.

The coop door had been closed, but the raccoon had somehow gotten inside.  This is the first time we’ve had this problem in the coop, and the wheels in my head are turning to figure out a solution.  I just can’t stop thinking about those poor birds out there.  Sitting ducks!  They were so flighty and nervous out there tonight; I bet egg production will be at fifty percent this week.  Can’t say as I blame them.  Most of us are much more productive when we aren’t under attack.

The good news is that there is one raccoon in the live trap we set.  This means that we’re making progress.  I don’t look forward to dealing with it in the morning, but it has to be done.  For now, it can sit out there and think about what it’s done.  Thieving varmint.

Do you remember what I said about the raccoons would be back…with diligence…and in greater numbers?  Even though we had shut the door, those critters are back and willing to work a bit for what had started as a free meal.  It’s a lot more difficult to get rid of them once they’ve seen a weakness.  Just like sin.  We invite it in, sometimes unintentionally but carelessly, and it grows.  Each day that it goes unchecked is a day that it grows in strength.

So, tomorrow will be a day of dealing with the consequences.  Get rid of our catch. Secure the coop.  Re-set the trap.  Make sure to put Rosie in the barn before bed.

 

Shut the Door!

I am so mad.

It is almost 3:30 in the morning, and I can’t sleep.  My mind is whirring, my blood is pounding, and I am mad, mad, mad!

About an hour ago, I was awakened by a terrified squawking from one of our chickens.  As soon as the sound registered in my sleep-drugged brain, I slipped on my shoes, grabbed a flashlight and ran out to the barn, calling for our dog, Rosie, the whole way.  Sure enough, there was a raccoon with one of our Black Australorps.

I yelled at it while it just stared at me, dying hen at its feet.  Ugh!  We were separated by two rows of fencing, and I had nothing with which to do battle.  (Though I confess that I fought the urge to hurl Dave’s new-from-Christmas heavy-duty Maglite at the thieving varmint!)  I yelled at the raccoon again, and it slowly sauntered off…choosing to hide under the coop.

Great.  The enemy is now camping out under the very foundation of its prey.

Just as I suspected, the chickens had not been properly tucked in last night.  Despite the fact that our neighbors just lost two young birds…and it’s most assuredly peak raccoon season…and reminders had been given, we had left the henhouse wide open.

With one last look at my now-dead hen, I shut the flap door on the coop.  On a hunch, I checked the garage on my way back to the house.  Sure enough, Rosie was still cozily curled up in her favorite spot.  She had completely ignored my calls for help.  She pulled back her ears and wagged her tail guiltily when I found her, and she refused to make eye contact when I quietly scolded her.

Dave asked if I was all right as I crawled back into bed, and I briefly gave him the synopsis.  He groggily commiserated with me, rolled over and was soon snoring.

But I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I was just plain mad…and I was mostly mad at the raccoon!  It was out there right now enjoying its middle-of-the-night meal!  As the wheels in my heard turned the situation over, I wondered at my position.  Why was I so angry at a raccoon?

We had left the door wide open.

No matter what excuses are made, we were ultimately the ones to blame.  The death of that hen is our fault, not the raccoon’s.  If we’d done what we needed to do to protect our flock, that Black Australorp and I would be both fast asleep right now.

There’s a proverb that speaks to this situation:  Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.  (Proverbs 25:28)

Ahem.

We lacked the foresight, the discipline, the self-control to secure our property last night, and the result was death.  And, beyond that, the raccoons will be back.  Once they know that a meal can be had, they will diligently return in greater numbers until the flock is completely wiped out…or until we stop them.  And, to be honest, the most effective method is not just shutting the flap before we go to bed.  The predators will increase in boldness, watching for opportunities at dusk and dawn when the chickens have been released.  We must trap and kill the raccoons to stop the problem.  More death will result.

I wish I could say that my lack of self-control has only wreaked havoc in the henhouse.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  When we neglect to nurture self-control, our lives are opened up to all kinds of mayhem.  If you’re like me, you often respond in anger toward the situation before you face the truth that your own action (or inaction) have put you in this position.  Its price takes an especially high toll when the consequences are paid by the people we love.  If you think about it, virtually every broken relationship stems from someone’s lack of self-control.  Addiction.  Verbal assault.  Betrayal.  Disrespect.

We–and our entire families–are made vulnerable when we fail to practice the basic tenets of self-discipline.  That’s a hard truth, isn’t it?

It’s also hard to admit that, once we’ve opened the door just once, the opposition digs in its claws and becomes stronger.  Sin grows, folks.  Whether we’re talking about abusing a substance, watching trash, speaking harshly, spreading a rumor or overeating, sin grows.  The more room we give it in our lives, the more room it takes, eventually claiming space in the lives of the people we love.  Maybe we knew we should shut the door, we wanted to shut the door, we really did mean to shut the door…but we left it wide open.

Dear friends, what door are you leaving wide open in your life right now?  What price are you asking your loved ones to pay?  What guilty pleasure is no longer worth the cost?  The door can still be shut.  The predator can still be stopped.  The prey can still be protected.  Stop making excuses.  Stop justifying sin.  Sleep in the peace you’ve been offered.  Resolve to shut that door!

Heavenly Father, You know what doors we need to close, and You freely offer us Your strength to close them.  Please help us choose what is right over what seems easy.  One step at a time.  Thank You for the fruit of Your Spirit and for the healing You bring.

Lunch with Connie

 

IMG_8156I had the lovely opportunity to have lunch with my friend, Connie, yesterday.  We enjoy one another’s company a good deal, which is quite fortunate since we’re next-door neighbors.

Connie and I both like to laugh a lot, and we both have a high propensity for crying when our hearts are touched.  Sometimes, we laugh and cry at the same time.  It’s therapeutic.

We have many of the same interests:  people, gardening, eating and raising chickens.  We also discovered yesterday that we both really like Michigan Cherry coffee and honey-roasted nut butter.  Our biggest interest in common, though, is Jesus.  We love Him, and we both like to share how He is working in our lives and in the lives of our families.  I like this about Connie.  She doesn’t stand on ceremony when it comes to sharing her heart.  She talks about God as though He is her treasured friend, and she even shares the tough things of life that most people don’t want to talk about.  I have never seen hopelessness in Connie, because she continually recognizes that Christ is her Hope.

She’s good for me that way.

Since Connie is old enough to be my mother (sorry, Connie…), I greatly appreciate her perspective on the various stages of parenting I’ve encountered over the past several years.  I tend to look too closely at one thorny shrub and forget the whole forest of healthy, beautiful trees around it.  Yes, the thorns need dealt with, but we also need to give thanks for all of that hardwood!  (Can I get an amen?!)  I often leave Connie’s presence thanking God for the trees.  Yesterday was no exception.

My kids are growing up.  My approach to mothering is changing.  The way I approach my 18-year-old must be different from the way I deal with my 14-year-old.  And, since this is my first time ever having an 18-year-old, I must determine, kind of on the fly, what that’s going to look like each day.  (My poor first child has been a guinea pig on so many levels!)  Add that to the fact that my 16-year-old acts a good bit differently than the last 16-year-old I had, and I can easily get confused and overwhelmed, because holy cow!  My kids are going to be out in the cold, hard world in no time at all!  I have so intentionally mothered for so long, but I am now seeing that there are so many other lessons I wanted to teach them and memories I wanted to make with them!  (And, yes, I’m crying…again.)

So.  Back to my friend, Connie.  When I told her of my worries yesterday, and how I keep trying to not worry, she gave me some of her straight-shootin’ advice:

Trista, you’ve just gotta trust Him.  Every time you find yourself worrying, just say, “I trust you, Lord”.

Well, there it is.  Thank you, Connie.

This morning, after repenting of my energy-draining, joy-sucking, habit-forming worry, I told the Lord I trusted Him with three of my biggest fears.  (Because that’s what worry is, folks.  It’s fear.  And the Word of God tells us not to fear 365 times, which means that there is one “fear not” for every day of the year.)

I then opened my Bible to John 14 and found a timely promise:

If you love Me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth…the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
–John 14:15-17a, 26-27

This beautiful passage promises a holy Counselor for us, free of charge.  The Holy Spirit speaks into our hearts, never leaving us to navigate uncertain waters on our own.  We are also assured that we can have the peace of God in this life.  We get to choose whether or not our hearts are troubled, whether or not we live in fear.  We just need to lean more firmly into the Holy Spirit for guidance and for peace.  We are not alone.  (Can I get another amen?!)

Thank You, Lord, for the friends you’ve placed around me.  Thank You for working in and through them to effect Your will in my life.  Thank You for being an active part of this phase of my parenting and for your vested interest in the lives of my children.  Thank You, too, for your precious Spirit, which You have poured out into the lives of Your people to teach us, guide us and encourage us, giving us what we need before we even know we need it.
I trust You.

Freedom Flow

A friend reminded me of a verse this morning, and it really hit the spot for my heart today.  I told her I would meditate on it while I was going about my business in the garden.

The verse is Acts 2:17, which says, “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’.”

As I was pulling weeds, mulching plants and smashing squash bugs today, there were two things that were continually brought to my mind regarding this promise.  The first one is that God is so good.  He has already given us what we need–often well before we even know that we need it.  This, my friends, is grace.  The older I get, the more meaningful grace is to me, because, as I know God better, my understanding of how weak I am in comparison to His strength is increased.  I am just so very…small…and yet He provides everything I need and so very much more.  Lord, please open our eyes so that we can see Your good gifts; help us not take them for granted.

The second thing that was repeatedly brought to my attention as I pondered this verse is the phrase “pour out my Spirit”.  This doesn’t sound stingy, folks.  God is not trickling, dribbling, finger-splashing His Spirit on us.  He is pouring it out.  It’s running down our faces, soaking into our pores, cascading down our shoulders.  It’s puddling at our feet, people!  God is standing over us, completely drenching us with the Power of His Holy Spirit.

Wow.

So, brothers and sisters, we have a choice.  What do we do with this spiritual waterfall–this shower of power?  Do we take cover under some place safe, some place familiar, some place where we have more control and watch from a distance?  Or, maybe we put up an umbrella to keep us dry, saving us from a socially awkward soaking.  Perhaps we just ignore it, refusing to acknowledge that it’s even for us.  After all, we know we’re saved.  What more could He possibly want to give us?

Or do we cup our hands and drink deeply of this opportunity that we cannot understand?  Do we stand out in the downpour of a Power we cannot fathom and let it soak into our souls, changing us, washing us, leading us into deeper water with God Almighty?

There is something terrifying about that kind of raw power.  It’s bigger than we can comprehend, and yet it is ours–not for our own gain, but for His.  We must become lesser so that He may become greater.  This pouring out erodes the human-ness in us, rounding us out with the greatness of our God.  It washes away the grit from our hearts and helps us to see things with the eyes of Christ.  It gives us discernment.  Wisdom.  Clarity of purpose and sweet counsel.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  Lord, thank You for giving us what we need to be free in You.

Praying to Prepare

I have often said that my goal is not for my kids to be happy.  Heaven knows I can be up and down from happy a dozen times in any given day.  Happiness is way too temporary–too situational–for me to wish for my children.  I want them to have something more–something lasting, something deep-seated, something eternal.

As I prepare for our oldest daughter’s high school graduation this week, I am compelled to pray big things for my children.  Life has a way of sneaking up on us, and I do not want them to be caught off guard.  I do not know exactly what they will face in this uncertain world, but I know that God does and that He can prepare them accordingly.

As I was reading Ephesians 3 this morning, verses 16-19 grabbed hold of my heart.  I pray this prayer over my beautiful children:

Lord, out of Your glorious riches, may You strengthen them with power through Your Spirit in their inner beings so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith.  And I pray that they, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of You, their Heavenly Father.

No matter what happens, Lord, no matter what situations confront them, no matter what deception awaits them, no matter what heartache lies ahead of them, prepare them with Your Truth, Your strength and Your power.  Fill them with Your love in order that they may be effective in Your purpose.  Thank You for hearing my prayer.  Amen.

Common Sense Parenting

I have sought your pity before, but you really shouldn’t feel too sorry for me.

I live with a counselor.

While this is exceedingly inconvenient and certainly obnoxious at times, it’s really a good thing.  Who doesn’t benefit from a wise, godly, non-judgmental (and free) live-in therapist?

As Counselor Dave was headed out the door this morning to his real job, he summed up a conversation we’d been having on parenting with, “Commonsense parenting just doesn’t exist in our culture any more.  The fact is that kids are mostly going to do what you make them do”.

In other words, we cannot count on our children to manage themselves with wisdom and maturity when they are little.  That’s why God gave them us.  We know what is best for them.  This is why we make them drink water and eat vegetables and brush their teeth and wash their hands after going potty.  We better understand the risks, so we teach them healthy behaviors.  We know the importance of sleep and the dangers of the internet.  We better understand the whole idea of “garbage in, garbage out”, so we are here to model healthy behaviors on a regular basis…and enforce healthy behaviors when necessary.

That last bit is the un-fun part of parenting, isn’t it?  And, sometimes it makes life harder for us.  When we stand our ground, the drama that unfolds is sometimes miserable–temper tantrums, pouting, silent treatment, harsh words.  No one enjoys these scenes.

But, common sense tells us that healthy boundaries are in the best interest of our children.  If we don’t think certain behaviors are good for them–playing video games for hours every day, taking their phones to bed with them, subsisting on go-gurts and cheetos, staying up too late, hurling anything within reach when angry–then it’s up to us to step in and implement change.  If our expectations are made clearly and lovingly, then they can be expected to obey them respectfully.  That’s common sense.

Our pastor is in the middle of a sermon on parenting.  He has reminded me that I am not expected to be perfect for my kids, but I am expected to be real with my kids.  I am also expected to be intentional.  My kids need me as a solid, continual presence in their lives.  They need me to acknowledge my mistakes with humility.  They need Dave and me to be a team–to set reasonable guidelines and to expect them to follow, giving positive and/or negative consequences as we go along.  They also need me to model, model, model Christ.  And, to do that, I must be actively pursuing a relationship with Him.  I cannot model what I do not know.  He has also reminded me that we’re in this for the long-term.  Our parental goals cannot begin and end with today (though there might be days when this feels like all we can do); our parental goals must be for the future.  We want to prepare our kids to be godly, productive, healthy individuals.

This parenting stuff is hard.  I’ll be the first to confess that there are days when I feel like I have failed, days when I flee my home at first opportunity and days when I have spent time hiding in my closet.  (I have not yet taken ice cream into my closet, but I think it’s only because I rarely have any ice cream on-hand.)

I guess what I want to say is this:  Don’t give up.  Fight the good fight for these precious people.  Be consistent.  Be intentional.  Be loving.  Be firm.  Lean into God.  When the going gets really tough, lean on Him.  Cry out to Him, and He will equip you.  He will restore you.  When you really need it, He will even give you rest.  Stay your course, my friend, and I will stay mine.  We are doing a valuable work.