Bowing Down

I had a potty-training toddler in my home this week.  Like most two-year-old boys, this one is not nearly as eager for mastering this milestone as the adults in his life, but he’s giving some half-hearted effort from time to time.  To increase his level of commitment, his momma is rewarding him with an M&M every time the deed is adequately done.  When I was handed the small container of M&Ms with instructions, I absent-mindedly set them in my bay window and went on about my business.

An hour or so later, Little Guy’s six-year-old sister came in and just stood near me while I worked in the kitchen.  After a few seconds, she inquired, “Why is he bowing down to M&Ms?”

I stopped what I was doing and looked at her.  “What?” I asked.

She jerked her head toward the bay window and repeated her question: “Why is he bowing down to M&Ms?”

I followed her gaze and took in the scene.  From her perspective, the shepherd in my African nativity display did, indeed, look as though he was paying homage to the tiny container of M&Ms!  I laughed and laughed!  I then explained that the candies were just randomly set on the ledge and lifted her and her little sister up to see the true recipient of the shepherd’s worship: Sweet Baby Jesus.

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I continued my work in the kitchen with a smile on my face, appreciating the good laugh this precious little girl had given me.  Life is almost always more interesting when occasionally seen through the eyes of a child!  What was so obvious to me was completely missed by my young friend.  I was tall enough to see the whole picture while she and her sister were not.

I wonder how many times I have looked like I was the one bowing down to something as ridiculous as M&Ms.  How many times have I been mindlessly going through life, paying little attention to the decisions I made, giving the very appearance of bowing down to that which is worthless?  From the perspective of the ones around me, where does my heart lie?

Lord, help me to speak, to act, to live as though You are the sole object of my worship.

 

 

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Monday Morning Prayer

Worn out.  Flat.  Empty.  Unwanted.  This is what I feel some days.

Lord, help me to focus on You and what is true.  When I fix my eyes more on who You are, I less concerned with how I feel.

Please show me today a glimpse of who You are.  Open my eyes so I can see Your glory and open my heart so I can become more like You.downtree

 

Steak & Salmon

Steak and salmon.

That’s what my soon-to-be-fourteen-year-old son wants for his birthday dinner.   Usually, I would have balked at such an expensive meal, but we actually have both of those items in our freezer right now.  He just happened to ask soon after having our first beef butchered and me finding a great price on some frozen salmon fillets.

Apparently, the days of requests for tacos or twice-baked potatoes and smoked sausage are long gone.  My kids have broadened their culinary horizons significantly.

It’s actually  kind of my fault.  I enjoy a variety of food, some of which doesn’t exactly make for a low-cost meal.  I have always encouraged the kids to try all kinds of stuff–especially regional favorites of various locations.  When in Kansas City, try the barbecue.  When on the coast, enjoy whatever fish are in-season.  When in South Dakota, order the elk or bison burgers.  That’s just the way I was raised to eat.

Thankfully.

We are so fortunate to have so many varieties of food at our fingertips–and at relatively low prices.  We don’t have to go to California to enjoy pomegranates or travel to Mexico for avocados or fly to Alaska for king salmon.  We can live anywhere in the U.S. and sample the flavors of almost every continent.  That’s pretty amazing.

So.  Steak and salmon are officially on the menu for my son’s birthday supper.  He tried to add shrimp, but I told him not a chance.   My freezer is not that well-stocked!

 

Free Labor

Not long ago, I was met with an interesting proposal.  A friend asked me if she could send her teenaged son out to my house to work.  For free.

Apparently, this young man had gotten a little bit too used to Mom and Dad paying for the things he wanted to do.  A youth event at their church was advertised, and the teen assumed that his parents had the money and were more than happy to hand it over so that he could participate.  I’m not sure of the specifics, but I can probably surmise the particulars of the conversation.  It is all too familiar to those of us who have children.

These wise parents recognized a trait in their son that they were not willing to encourage, and they decided to do something about it.  Instead of shaking their heads and muttering something about “Kids these days!”, they decided to act under their own convictions.  They want their son to work for the privilege of attending this retreat.  These parents realize that his levels of gratitude and understanding will increase with his level of personal investment.  Smart!  Since these folks don’t have the same opportunities for physical labor at their place as we do at ours, my friend decided to ask for my help.  Would I please allow him the opportunity to work hard for 3 hours on our little farm in exchange for a sewing class for my daughters?  They will be the ones to actually pay him; I just need to provide him with an opportunity to earn it.

Ummm…yes!

I made the stipulations that he and my son could have time to just hang out and play afterwards, and I wanted to be sure that I got to feed him a good meal for his time.  I told my son, Isaac, that he could order up whatever he thought they’d like for supper.   He will be working alongside his friend, honing his skills as an instructor and encourager.  (Well, theoretically, anyway.)

I admit that I am a bit uncomfortable making out a To Do List for someone else’s child, but I confess that I am super impressed with these parents.  Counselor Dave says that entitlement is one of the biggest issues that keeps today’s young adults from living healthy, effective lives.  My friend and her husband are recognizing the issue early on and addressing it in a proactive, intentional way.  They are taking direct steps in protecting their kiddos from the selfish habit of expecting a free ride in this world.  How admirable!

I was telling another friend about this situation.  She is a young mom with three daughters and a son.  Her immediate response was, “Wow!  I’d like you to keep this young man in mind for me!  When my nine-year-old daughter is looking for a husband, this kid may be a good option.  His parents are raising him up right!”.

Parenting is tough.  Good parenting oftentimes makes waves with our kids and raises eyebrows among our peers.  There is no step-by-step manual for every situation that arises.  And, even more frustrating, what works with one kid will often not work for another.  Positive parenting is this remarkable balance of firmness and grace–always on the watch, continually challenging the norm, firmly established in love.

I’m thankful for other parents who make these tough decisions.  I’m thankful for the ones who are willing to make themselves vulnerable and to ask for help.  I’m thankful for the ones who listen without judgment and share from their experiences.  What is so difficult for us now may make things easier for someone else later.  We were never meant to live our lives on an island of our own making.

So, thank you, sweet friend, for trusting me to walk alongside you in your parenting journey.  Thank you for loving your son enough that you are willing to make him uncomfortable for his own good.  Thank you for the example you are setting for my own children.  And, most of all, thank you for making yourself vulnerable to me; I now know that you are a safe place for me during my own challenging seasons of motherhood.

Into the Light

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Do you feel like the things you have loved most in this life have been stolen from you?

Do you feel like parts of your soul have died from abuse and neglect?

Do you feel like there is destruction all around you?

Stolen happiness.  Dead dreams.  Destroyed relationships.

Yeah…I’ve felt like that, too.

Guess what, though?  There’s Hope.

There’s Life–full, abundant, Life.

In Jesus.

He doesn’t ask much.  He just wants you.  All of you.  Broken, battered, incomplete you.

That’s seriously all He wants.

In return, He will breathe His perfection into your weakness and His joy into your heartache.  He will shine His Light through the cracks in your heart.  He will bring healing.  Restoration.  Full, abundant life.

It’s time to move on, dear one.  The promise is there.  You’ve just got to claim it.  One step at a time:  Walk out of the darkness and into the Light.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  –Jesus, Book of John, 10:10

 

Hold the Dam!

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“Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.”

Early in my marriage, I underlined this gem from Proverbs 17 and wrote “TRISTA!!” out in the margin.  I confess that I was often more interested in making myself heard than in truly resolving conflict.  As a matter of fact, I often created conflict just to make my point.  Looking back now, I wonder what in the world I was thinking.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking at all.  I was feeling.  I was feeling unheard, unjustified and unloved.  My emotions railroaded what my mind knew to be true.  My husband loved me.  He did not think I was a moron.  His most fervent wish was not to ruin my life.  In truth, he was not my enemy.

But, boy!  It sure felt like it at times!

Recently, that same husband (the most patient man in the world) and I were walking through a nearby high school to attend a seminar.  As is often the case, the halls were lined with encouraging pep talk-type signs for the athletic and academic teams.  One of them said, “Don’t Think.  Just Feel.”

Wow.  Really?

Is this what we’re teaching the next generation?  Don’t use your reasoning powers.  Don’t think through the situation.  Don’t examine your options and make an informed decision.

Just let your emotions call the shots.  If you’re mad, act on it.  If you’re hurt, act on it.  If you don’t get your way and life feels unfair, act on it.  Immediately.  Forget the consequences and act like a three-year-old.  Totally go with your feelings.

Like I said before:  Wow.

The fact of the matter is that feelings can be incredibly deceiving.  We all know this…if we actually think about it.  Healthy emotions can be a thermometer in our lives, but they can never be a thermostat.  In other words, emotions may reveal how the experiences of our lives are affecting us, but how we respond to said experiences should never be predominantly determined by our emotions.

People often say that, out of all of the things they could wish for in this life, they wish their kids to be happy.  It may sound strange, but I guess I don’t really want that for my crew.  I personally can be up and down from happy thirteen times in any given day.  I want my kids to have something much deeper and more lasting than happiness–the joy and peace that come from living for Jesus Christ in spite of our circumstances.  I want them to respond to their emotions with thoughtfulness and wisdom.  I want them to be able to discern what is true and what is not.  I want them to think more than feel.

When I relied so heavily on my emotions all those years ago, I essentially nullified my own voice.  My husband, who reasons better than he emotes, was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of my feelings that he eventually kind of shut down.  I breached so many dams on the soapbox of my emotions that, no matter how valid some of my points were, he learned to tune me out.  Looking back, I think I probably sounded a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wa-wah”.  Yeah, not what I had in mind.

When I finally started to reign it in and rule over my emotions, focusing on what was true and right, I had a steep hill to climb.  Not only did I have to re-train myself,  I had to re-train my husband.  It was my turn to be patient as I worked on re-building his trust in what I communicated to him.  It was a rough road.  And, the re-building took much, much longer than the breaching.  Yuck.  Maybe some of you have been there, too.

That same chapter in Proverbs tells us that he who covers over an offense promotes love.  In this life, I don’t want to be remembered as a dam-breacher.  As we’ve seen in the footage from hurricanes, a breached dam is a horrible tragedy with far-reaching consequences.  Instead, even if it means that I don’t feel like I’m heard, I want to leave the legacy of love.

 

 

Roadside Hay Baler

You may have passed us last night.  We were on the shoulder of an Indiana state road–old blue Chevy truck and a well-used red hay baler with a flat tire.

It was not our hay baler.  It belongs to our friend, Mark, and we were just borrowing it for a few days.  The last question I asked him before we pulled out of his drive was, “Mark, will you still like Dave if we break this thing?”  He smiled his ready smile and assured us that he would.

I probably should’ve gotten that in writing.

We’d been tooling down the highway, blinkers on, at a cautious 35-40 miles per hour.  We hit a bump, and a sheet of metal flew off of the baler and landed in the opposite lane.  Dave stopped as quickly as he could and ran back to get it.  Fortunately, motorists were paying attention and calamity was avoided.  Whew.  Unfortunately, Dave heard the tire hissing when we threw the sheet of metal in the bed of the truck.

We called our children first.  Due to the kind of long list of outdoor chores we’d left them to do, they did not answer the phone.  (My son assured me this morning that if we’d just let them watch a movie last night instead of mowing, feeding animals, etc., they would have been much more available to take our call.  I told him his observation was duly noted.)  Dave and I discussed calling some of our other neighbors, but we knew Mark was home and had an air tank, so we called him.  (Sorry, Mark.)

Dave and I discussed beef prices, upcoming auctions, his birthday lunch and a few other odds and ends as we sat on the side of the road.  I was acutely thankful for the folks who slowed down and went around us; it made a big difference in my personal peace of mind.  We also kind of chuckled about the shirtless guy who kept appearing at his front door window and peering out at us.  The beveled glass gave him a unique appearance at best.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking as he periodically materialized in the window.  I wonder if he had an air tank.

Mark got there as soon as he could, and we were glad.  Dusk was setting in, and there were no lights on the baler.  He aired up the tire, threw his tank in the bed and encouraged us to get moving, stopping as necessary to put in more air.

At our first opportunity, we turned off of the state road onto a country lane and bumped our way along toward home.  The potholes did the tire no favors, but we certainly felt it was a safer alternative to the highway.  We continued to stop to air it up as needed.

A couple of miles from home, the tank ran out of air.  Dave slowed down and tried to avoid bumps, but it was to no avail.  The goofy tire needed more air.  We called our oldest daughter, now in from mowing, and instructed her on filling and loading the air compressor.  She went to work on following orders.  We were about a quarter of a mile from our driveway at this point, and Dave wondered if he could pull up into the drive to at least get off of our narrow road.  He started to ease forward, and the tire fell apart, shredded.

By this time, it was almost totally dark.  Our neighbor, Adam, chose this time to step out of his barn.  Fortunately for us, he was wearing his superhero cape.  After a few moments of catching him up to speed on the situation, he had us back the baler into his driveway, brought out his heavy-duty jack and he and Dave were working to remove the tire.

Another blessing.

At this point, our daughter had appeared with the air compressor at this point, so I went with her up to the house and Dave soon followed.  We were home and the baler was safely boarded at Adam’s for the night.

What Dave and I thought would be about an hour together turned out to be more than two.  I don’t know that he or I would’ve chosen these exact circumstances for our date, but the time together was good.  We were reminded of how good people can be and how we can all make a difference in this world.  Our friend, Mark, and our neighbor, Adam, may not have set out to bless us yesterday, but when the opportunities arose, they did.  We are thankful.

I am also thankful that I didn’t allow myself to be consumed by all of the things I could’ve been doing if I had chosen to stay home.  For one thing, we wouldn’t have had to bother Mark.  Even then, though, I am learning that I need to take opportunities as they come.  Dave and I had lots of opportunity for uninterrupted conversation last night.  That’s a rare thing in my house.

Maybe once we get the tires replaced, the hay in the barn and the baler back to Mark, Dave and I can go out on a real date–one without temperamental equipment, speeding semis and creepy guys peering at us through the window.