I Often Don’t Like Easter Services

I often don’t like Easter services.

I don’t. I like parts of the service—usually. But I often come away less than satisfied.

The Easter story is packed with lessons:

The prophecies of Passover fulfilled
“Not my will but Yours”
Peter denying Christ
Christ bearing the punishment for our sins
By Christ’s stripes we are healed
The crushing of Satan’s head
Light in our deepest darkness
The defeat of death and the grave
Eternal hope
And so on, and so on, and …

It must be rather difficult for preachers to decide what to focus on. Most usually choose a topic that will speak to those who rarely attend church. (I think that’s a great idea.) And for those who want to break the story into meditation-size pieces, many churches offer several services the week preceding Easter Sunday. (Another great idea.)

But if I was the one planning the Resurrection Sunday service …

Continue reading “I Often Don’t Like Easter Services”

Experiencing Eternity in Moments

Five of us circled around a corner booth. We snuggled cups of warmth while sharing about our Christmases, wedding plans, and future concerns—close friends who never tire of laughing and crying and praying together. We stayed so long, one friend left an extra tip and I ordered dessert just to give a little extra money for the use of the corner. (Besides, I had resisted ordering the gluten-free turtle bar way too long.)

Are there people in your life you could spend hours with and be so content you fail to watch the clock? Like when you first fell in love, or when you get to escape the house to meet with other adult people. Time is simply not noticed. That is, until it starts blaring at you, “Time’s up! Gotta go! You’ve duties to fulfill!”

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Ah, time. It can be our dearest friend, yet strictest taskmaster.

My husband had January second off work so I took the opportunity to sleep late. I did eventually tackle some projects but first I enjoyed as much time with the Lord as I desired. My mood put me in an odd frame of mind, evaluating the way we humans measure time. Or more specifically, why we make such a big deal out of a new year.

Why do we bang pots and pans, toot kazoos, kiss our sweethearts, and cheer as a silly ball drops? (What’s with the dropping anyway?) Why do communities ring church bells and set off fireworks? Some years I think, “It’s just another tick on the clock.” I wonder, what God thinks of all the hoopla each 86,400th second of every 365/6 days?

So, I asked him. He answered me in the strangest of ways. He said,

“Eternity to me is little moments like this, loving my child. It’s right here. Right now.”

To God, time doesn’t matter nearly as much as people do. God’s not slow, yet not in a hurry. He just cares about being with us. Face-to-face. Heart-to-heart. That’s what He celebrates. God with man residing.

Time with God. It can be scheduled. It can put into a neat little box. God doesn’t care. He doesn’t notice how long or how short. He just delights in being with us. And He longs for us to notice Him and to take a moment to slow our steps and look Him in the face. That’s what sets off the fireworks in His heart.

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We often quote that a thousand years are like a day to God. It’s true. It’s written in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. In comparison to the God of eternity, a lifetime can fly past in a blink. But we often miss the middle of 2 Peter 3:8: “One day is like a thousand years.” Just think. God has the ability to turn those moments with us into a millennia of time. He can stretch the sweetness of an embrace into a galaxy of star bursts.

I don’t know exactly where to go with this response the Lord gave me—other than to revel in the idea that nothing matters to God nearly as much as being with His children. The only way to keep our world, and calendar, and to-do list in order is to be deliberate about ordering it all around time with Him—even if that time is for a few brief moments. Long enough to look in His face. See His love. Hear His whisper. Receive His hug.

This is the God who lives outside of time. When we meet with Him, He funnels eternity into moments. And those moments explode in our souls and change our perspectives, so we are not longer confined to the circumstances of “now” but free to live beyond now. Free to choose to not be defined by our current situations, but by eternity.

Believe it or Not, You are the Gift Your Family Needs

He swindled his parents repeatedly in order to support his prodigal lifestyle. He was intimidating and demanding. For years his mother sat in our adoptive moms’ support group as we encouraged her to buckle down. Eventually she attempted to make a stand, but the entire family, including her husband, turned on her. In grief and self-rebuke she back-pedaled quickly to restore peace.

Years later on a Mother’s Day, this son posted—for all his friends to see—how much he loved his parents and how grateful he was for their support. He sent her a long appreciative private text as well. My jaw dropped when she read his thoughts to us.

Lesson learned: successful parenting only happens when parenting according to your own gifts.

Christmas is the time of year we reflect on the gifts God has given us.

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So many gifts to unwrap and examine, embrace and soak into our souls.

But have you ever considered that …

you are a gift?

Like those Christmas goodies you make and offer with pride—feeling oven-warmed in your middle as people mutter mmm’s around mouthfuls—you’ve been stirred, shaped, baked, and proudly shared by God for people around you to enjoy. Of course there are those moments your soda zings a little too much, or your edges crumble, but the Master-Baker can apply a little extra frosting and His sweetness will overcome any messiness.

You’ve been enhanced and empowered, in a one-of-a-kind way, by the Holy Spirit. You know those things you do that people compliment, while you think “What’s so special about that”? These are likely your innate gifts—the tools God has given you to succeed. And whether you realize it or not, these gifts are what make you a great mom.

God’s never expected you to parent like I do, or like your sister does, or mom did, or neighbor or church friend does. He intends you to parent according to your natural abilities. Yes, we all need to work on our weak areas. But we also need to capitalize on our strengths.

Maybe you’re a kitchen dweller. Then joyfully serve your family there.

Maybe you’re an over-the-shoulder homework assistant. Use that time to love the most.

Maybe you crack jokes, play piano, whistle, snuggle, wink, wrestle, tickle, or make beds. I think you’d be surprised if you knew how much these gifts impact your children. They provide a sense of well-being and a deeper-than-conscious awareness of belonging. The overflow of your gifts provides a sure foundation as your children go to school, friends’ homes, jobs, and eventually independent living.

So, as your serve your family according to your natural tendencies, do so, first, as unto the Lord.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, (Colossians 3:23, NIV).

Then, do so confident you serve according to God’s design.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NIV).

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully (Romans 12:6-8, NIV).

When you serve as unto the Lord and according to the way He’s designed you, then your Creator is glorified. This, then, is our perpetual Christmas gift back to God.

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This is when He gets that same oven-warm joy deep in His middle.

Does This Gift Come with a Return Receipt?

In April of 2010, Tory Hansen put her seven-year-old adopted son on an airplane and returned him to Russia. Her reason was that her son frequently exhibit violent behaviors and she had run out of ideas for how to safely manage him. While the world reeled with scorn at Tory, my reaction was, “Good for her. Finally, someone is letting the world know what we moms are going through.” We, who are attempting to parent children with early-childhood trauma, attachment issues, fetal alcohol, and other effects due to the disruption of their original families, totally understood why Tory did what she felt she had to do. Few of us would do the same, but we understood.

In the first year or so of our new family, I asked a friend if she ever wanted to send her biological child back to where he came from. She quickly affirmed my suspicion. Children are just plain hard at times. We all long for days without the headaches no matter what level of difficulties we wrestle with.

Sometimes terminating a parent/child relationship is necessary. The same day the Tory Hanson story hit the news, another similar story appeared in our local papers. My close friend’s adopted son had taken a gun to his middle school.

This child had also exhibited dangerous and destructive behaviors. The parents had emptied their bank accounts for countless therapies, rehabilitation homes, and every measure possible to help their son. Yet the country insisted this child return to live at home. My friend and her husband refused. They longed to continue a relationship with their child, just not at home where he was a danger to his siblings and family pets. Eventually, as efforts with the country deteriorated, my friend had to terminate the adoption. I sat in two court sessions with her as she grieved—and rejoiced—her way through the termination process.

Exactly a year after she had written a letter warning the country of her son’s dangerous tendencies and her concern that he was now living in a home with young children, her son broke into his new family’s gun cabinet and took a loaded gun to his school. Gratefully, he had loaded the wrong bullets and no one was injured. How we’d wished the county had understood the true needs of this child and those of the foster/adoptive family. Had the help needed been available, maybe this boy would never have taken a gun to school and, consequently, spent several years in juvenile detention and prison.

In my own experience as a mom, I too dug in my mind’s drawer many times, looking for that return receipt. We had numerous icky and scary situations, including a few times when police had to be called. It wasn’t until our children matured, lived a few years on their own, became parents themselves—and after we had remained steadfast with our boundaries and consistent with our love—our kids eventually settle into a strong relationship with us.

So if you’re in a place where you wished you could return your child, first I want you to know you’re not alone. You are understood. And it’s okay to feel this way. After all, God Himself regretted creating mankind—more than once (Genesis 6:6).

Second, remain consistent with your boundaries. Children need these and need them communicated even if they continuously violate them and have to suffer consequences over and over. It doesn’t matter if the consequences achieve their desired effect. The fact that boundaries are communicated and consequences carried out, still provides a desperately needed sense of stability (for both child and parent).

Third, remember there is no child beyond God’s reach.

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Some things we just have to learn to leave to God. It’s at times like these we can rest in the truth that only God is the Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).

The Gift I Always Wanted – But Not Very Much

“Behold, children are a gift from the Lord … a reward …” (Psalm 127:3, NASB).

Sure, maybe a white elephant gift!

I didn’t just say that, did I? I’m not trying to be irreverent—and I’m not saying I think my children were lame jokes. But there were times it sure seemed God got me confused with some other lady when handing out “rewards”.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like I did. Let’s all just agree right here, this kind of feeling is normal from time to time. Just like the Prince Charmings we dreamed of finding, we’ve all been duped into believing we deserved precious little jewels to adorn us in public places, and sweet little cherubs to flit around our homes. Right?

What fairy tale convinced us of that fantasy? Not even the seven dwarfs were that delightful.

No, many times I more identified with the old woman in the shoe—frantically trying to keep up, falling further and further behind, until I was lost in a whirlwind of confusion. I’d probably have fed my children a little more than broth, and I don’t know that I would have had the energy to spank them all soundly. But the idea of sending them all to bed so I could have some solitude? Now that was appealing.

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Children aren’t easy to begin with. But when a mom’s typical load is weighted with the demands of SAFE children, we might frequently question what kind of gifts God has given us in our children. Here we are, “exemplary” women, obediently fulfilling the duties described as true religion (James 1:27). We think surely God will bless our sacrifices with grateful, compliant children. But the opposite—the extreme opposite—is our reality.

So how is it these children are a gift? How can a hardened, resistant child be any kind of reward other than the kind we’d just as soon pack up and hide behind a pile of blankets in the corner of our closet?

I once heard a woman say children are a gift from the Lord not because they are treasures to display, but because they are tools to transform us into the image of Christ. Oh! Think chisel, power sander, or hammer. Ouch! That sounds like the kind of gift my husband would like—though I don’t think he’d use it on my heart. But God does.

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Remember this scripture?

Do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his [child].
(Hebrews 6:5-6, NIV)

If you are at that point in life when the handling of these gifts hurts, let me assure you, in time you’ll see those gifts as beautiful instruments. They are indeed like diamond-headed drill bits. They cut deep—swift and painful. But the results are stunning.

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
(Job 23:10, NIV)

An Unexpected Thanksgiving Lesson

After only nine months of life as a new family, we buckled our six-, eight-, and almost nine-year-olds into the backseat of our two-door Honda Accord and traveled an entire day from central Minnesota to southern Illinois for our first Thanksgiving together. Settling in with snack buckets, water bottles, tiny toys, and each other, they rode (mostly) happily for hours.

A few days later, in a large room of a cousin’s heating and cooling warehouse, 30-40 of us feasted on all the traditional yumminess: turkey, dressing, and pies—the works—made only the way those Illinois farm moms know how. During our visit, our kids got to run through open spaces, visit ostriches, and be pampered by a host of loving Christian people.

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Yet on our way home, when we asked them what they most enjoyed of our Thanksgiving time, they responded, “Playing with Christopher’s toys.”

What? They didn’t mention the food? (They were often caught secreting a stash under pillows or in pockets, or stuffing their bellies so full they would throw up.) They didn’t recall those six-foot-plus-tall birds that puffed up huge when threatened? Nope. And, they didn’t say a thing about the rural setting, which also surprised us since two of the three had lived their early years in a similar environment. It wasn’t too surprising they didn’t say the people since there were none their age to play with. But Christopher was 17-months-old, and they liked his toys the best of everything they had experienced the past few days.

As they tried to explain their answer I began to realize, playing with bright-colored, noise-making, light-flashing, toddler-sized objects, was a part of childhood they never experienced. That first Thanksgiving for them was not about the food or the people or the historical significance. It was about catching up and filling in some empty places. And you know, this never happened again. It was like that one time, for those few hours, was all they needed.

Now I wouldn’t say that all kids need time in life to play with bright, flashing, annoyingly noisy toys. I do believe, though, they need to learn cause-and-effect and experience other brain-developing milestones that toys can often stimulate. I remember our adoption agent telling us we may need to spend time rocking our kids (which we did) or bottle-feeding them (which we didn’t) in order to make up for the lack of development such activities provide.

So, if your kids seem to take interest in activities more suited for younger children, don’t worry. They probably need to do so and their interest will probably be short-lived.

But what about us moms? What areas of development are we lacking? When do our responses reveal we’re not as mature as we thought? Where do we need to give ourselves grace to go back so we can fill in the empty places?

Are you like me where the two-year-old tantrums re-emerged and you realize you never fully learned to share or to be okay with not getting your way? How about the adolescent pity-party tendencies? Or the foot-stomping when things get stuck and don’t move along as smoothly as you’d like. Yep, that was certainly me. Still is at times.

I think it’s okay—even necessary—to allow ourselves to go back and relearn some lessons we “should have” mastered by now. Aren’t you glad our heavenly Father is patient with us? I think He’d rather we be intentional about growth than have us ignore our weaknesses and deny our need to revisit some lessons. We can’t fake maturity around Him; so we might as well quit trying to kid ourselves.

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What if we got really honest, embraced our lack, opened our spirits to learn, and started pushing bright buttons and enjoying the simple tunes our hearts need to hear?

Like . . .

Rejoice in the Lord always.
Philippians 4:4

Be anxious for nothing.
Philippians 4:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

In everything give thanks.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

One Word Holidays

I’ve never forgotten how her hands shook nervously as she opened gifts her first Christmas with us. I’ve always wondered what caused it. Was she afraid she would be disappointed with her gifts? Was she so overwhelmed that there were gifts just for her that she couldn’t contain her excitement? Did she feel undeserving? Did she feel the gifts would require a response she didn’t know how to give? Were all the lights and sounds and decorations and foods and pretty wrappings just too much stimuli for her system? She was eight years old and probably didn’t understand why herself. I don’t think she ever regretted the experience. I just know the holiday somehow overloaded her nervous system and her body had a hard time handling it all.

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Just last week I had a conversation with another one of my (now adult) children about how the holidays always cause depression to the extent that he prefers to stay hidden away. This is not uncommon at all. Most SAFE families experience major behavioral issues during the holidays. I don’t know if it’s because somehow the family festivities remind them that they can’t experience this goodness with their birth families; if the holidays still feel a bit foreign and they just can’t find a way to feel at home with them—even though they long to; if they feel they don’t know how to celebrate as their new culture dictates; or if it shines too stark a light on lifestyle differences between them and their parents. For some reason, holidays are simply tough.

So if holidays are difficult at your house, welcome aboard. It’s normal. In fact, knowing this might help you anticipate difficulties and take steps to minimize the struggles. This may mean major changes are needed for your family. The following are some ideas that you might actually find fun to try.

• Keep things as simple as possible.

o Decorate lightly.
o *Buy only a few gifts.
o *Attend one (or no) holiday event.
o Celebrate each holiday only at home.
o Keep meals simple and include mostly foods your kids are comfortable with while introducing one or two holiday foods.

• Relocate holiday celebrations away from your home so your child can feel the needed stability in the sameness of their home environment.

o Celebrate only at an extended family member’s home.
o *Take decorations, gifts, foods, etc. to a nearby hotel for a fun overnight.
o *Celebrate the holiday at a recreational facility (indoor water park, amusement park, skiing, or vacation spot).
o Search your area for restaurants that are open that day and enjoy dinner there. Then return home and celebrate with familiar activities (movies, games, outside play, etc.)

• Start over from scratch and involve your kids in creating your own unique traditions. This gives them a sense of contribution and personal identity with the holidays.

o *Have them help bake cookies.
o Hand make decorations.
o Bring something from their original culture into the holiday.
o Share stories of memories from holidays with their families/countries of origin.

• Provide opportunities for them to focus on others and keep personal expectations to a minimum.

o Serve a meal at a local shelter.
o Deliver meals/gifts to needy families.
o Carol at assisted living centers or hospitals.
o *Work to earn money to buy gifts for family members.
o *Hand-make cards or gifts for family members.

We did very few of these things—only those marked with an *. Most of the above are just ideas off the top of my head to help get you started with your own ideas.

In our experience, we had more difficulties when the kids were older—when all were in their mid to late teens. I remember six tough Christmases in a row. In fact, the seventh Christmas, our kids were finally all adults, so Bob and I didn’t celebrate with them that year. We did things for them, and had short visits with some of them, but for the most part we avoided the anxieties that had become too routine. Now, I can happily say, we love celebrating with them again.

I know we parents get so excited to share our warm traditions with our children. But sometimes our children just can’t grasp the heart of it all. So, keep your traditions in a special place in your heart, while creating new ones for the family you’re becoming.

What if you …

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What would your word be for this upcoming Thanksgiving?

For those of you who’ve created manageable ways to enjoy holidays with your SAFE children, I’m sure other parents would love to glean from your insights and ideas. Would you mind sharing with us here?

As I write to you each week, I mostly try to keep the focus on practical spirituality rather than a how-to focus; but for some reason this week I felt led to share this with you. So is there a biblical principle to reinforce this idea? I think there is. How about Jesus’ words to Martha?

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”

John 10:41-42 (NIV)