Souvenirs for the Soul: Wild Horses Are Not Lone Rangers

You don’t want to be out there after dark. It turns pitch black and there’re no street lights to guide you back to town.

Homeschooling afforded us some far-reaching field trips.

Some people call them family vacations. But since we traveled during the fall—after the heat settled down, the mosquitoes were hopefully dead, and the masses of other families were back home with their kids tucked away in public/private schools—and since I made sure our kids wrote in their journals, I choose to call them field trips.

In 2001, we planned a month-long trip, visiting several national parks and other western venues. To prepare for this adventure we started the basic academic subjects in early August. Additionally, I ordered travel magazines from the states we would visit. I assigned each of our children to pick an attraction for us to visit. Then they had to research and “teach” us about that place: why it was worth visiting, its history and unique features, and how should we prepare (special shoes, safety measures, precautions).

We learned about Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, and … I can’t remember … maybe Bryce Canyon. But our oldest wanted to us to hunt down wild horses deep in the desert outside Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Did you know wild horses don’t roam alone?

They live in one of two types of herds: a stallion and his harem and foals, or a group of bachelors. (I can just imagine how a bunch of would-be harem owners behave.)

So in Wyoming, we set out on a 23-mile trek, in the heat of a sunny afternoon, carefully traversing dirt roads, while scanning the terrain in search of a herd. Several miles into the trip we spotted one not far off the road. We got as close as we respectfully could, stopped our van, and waited.

In a matter of seconds we knew who the lead mare was—the one that took charge when we drove up. She and a few others trotted across the road in front of us, while she called for the others to follow. We could literally hear her encouragement. It seemed to take a little convincing, but they all eventually crossed over and kept on going—their long tails blowing in the breeze.

We’d been to Mt Rushmore and Yellowstone by this point, but nothing captured my breath like these beautiful creatures. Strong, determined, untethered owners of free-range.

This experience gave me a new understanding of what it means to be “wild.”

You can’t just do what you want, how you want, when you want. Humans, like horses, are meant to live in community. And we are all meant to follow a leader. One leader.

Now this isn’t a lesson on leadership. No, it’s a lesson about the fact that we can be beautifully wild, but we still live in order with others. We need each other. Alone we die; together we thrive. The only way to get along is by refusing to fight for the head spot, and instead regularly choosing to submit to that head.

And who is that head? Have you guessed it yet? It’s not Mom. It’s not even Dad. And it’s never, ever the kids.

God is our Head.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
(Colossians 1:18, NASB)

July 17 Hearts Moving toward Christ

For our wedding announcements Bob made the design in the above photo. It symbolizes two hearts, uniting into one. The only way for that union to happen is as each of us move toward Jesus (the cross). If one of us chooses to live outside the lordship of Christ, our unity will weaken. But as long as we continued to grow closer to God, we will automatically grow closer to each other.

This is true in all our relationships. Now, I know our children don’t understand how to live under Christ as their head. It’s a hard concept for any of us to grasp. But, I do know this: the best way to parent is to surrender our parenting to the Father.

July 17 Wild Side

How do we do this?

I’m curious what you would say. How do you as a mom surrender to God practically?

For me, it took a lot of listening. Getting past my emotions, be willing to set aside my agenda, and listening. It meant measuring my words, actions, reactions, methods of discipline, and expressions of love against God’s word. It meant apologizing when I needed to, and sometimes adjusting the consequences I had handed out in the middle of a hot and messy moment. And it meant redefining my expectations.

So, trapped and restrained mom, do you long to run wild?

You can. As long as you remember wild does not mean going solo. You need to surround yourself with others like-minded, common-experienced moms. And more importantly, you need to know and follow the voice of the great Head.

Souvenirs for the Soul: Dangerous or Stunning?

Call me unorthodox, but they didn’t look beautiful to me. Oh, they took my breath away, but they looked…

Dangerous

… like gaping jaws, ready to suck me in, crush me to pieces, and finish me off. I felt threatened by their enormous, jagged wildness. My initial response was to beg the Lord to keep me far away—at a safe altitude as I flew high above them toward my destination in Alaska.

Last week I shared about my experience flying over the Yukon Mountains . I related how I had to quelch the fear that those mountains could destroy me, and choose to marvel at their grandeur instead. I shared how at first they terrified me, until I decided to let them inspire me. Because once I got past my fear, I could see they were …

Stunning

… an endless, pristine display of God’s magnificence.

But you know what? Those mountains were inanimate. They were just sitting there. Somehow despite their lifelessness they had stirred powerful emotions. How is that? Because in reality, a piece of rock of any size can’t wield that kind of power. It has no control over my reactions. My fears were actually prompted by something deeper—more than likely a lack of understanding or experience with those mountains.

Souvenir for the Soul:

The same is true with people’s opinions. We have no control over how people view us. We aren’t capable, nor are we responsible, to dictate what people think. We can seek to better inform others, but in the end …

Whether they think we’re dangerous or stunning is their choice.

A couple of things to consider here.

One, we need to do all we can to be at peace with those around us, and then leave the results with the Lord.* It was the Creator, after all, that caused me to change my feelings about the Yukon Mountains. He is fully capable to change what people think—as long as they’re willing (something we can’t do a thing about either).

June 12 We have no control over how people see us

Two, the opinion we do have control over is our own. How do we view those around us, especially the ones that look dangerous? I’m not talking about an unsafe person who can physically or emotionally harm us. I’m talking about our mother-in-law, or neighbor, or coworker that we tend to avoid because we seem to frequently irritate each other. And, of course, our unattached children might very well fit into the dangerous category, too.

I wonder what would happen if we started viewing the “dangerous” people in our lives as “stunning”.**

Wondrous creations of God. What kind of difference might it make?

If I imagine what it might be like to have my feet on the ground—up close and personal—in the middle of the Yukon Mountains, I have a pretty good idea, my opinion of them would change dramatically. Maybe, the people we fear are like that, too. Maybe we need to take the time to draw closer: feel their soil beneath our feet, meander through their wildness, smell the fragrance of the flowers that grow in their crevices, drink from the waters that spring from their depths. I have a feeling we’d be amazed at their beauty.

June 12 Maybe its time we meander

A word of caution: We can’t crash land in their midst. We have to study guide books, pack water and energy bars, wear appropriate shoes, and examine the landscape to find the safest trails. We have to tread respectfully.

And maybe it would help if they got a closer look at us. Maybe this week might be a good time to extend an invitation. A smile. A compliment. A note in the mail. A cup of coffee at a nearby venue.

They may never change their view of us, but I have a feeling the Creator would like us to seek out our own fresh perspective of them. He’d like us to quelch our idea that someone is dangerous, and deliberately look for what’s stunning.

Without naming anyone, share in the comments three words that describe the stunning beauty of a person you used to think was dangerous.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
*If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21, NIV

**In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:12, NASB

 

Souvenirs for the Soul: Lessons Learned on Summer Vacations

Ah, the summers of my childhood.

Raised in a typical middle-class home, my parents somehow managed to take our family to new places across the country. Camping on Minnesota lakes. Visiting friends in the Missouri Ozarks. Stopping at the painted dessert, petrified forest, white sands, and the Grand Canyon, enroute to extended family in Arizona. I’ve a bucketful of memories from up-close-and-personal interactions with America the Beautiful.

My husband also enjoyed childhood opportunities to experience life beyond his home town. His parents took him to amazing places in the Northwest such as the Oregon coast, Crater Lake, and Yellowstone National Park.

So it’s no surprise we wanted to pass similar experiences on to our children as well. We are so blessed in this country with breath-taking panoramas, incredible histories, and opportunities to interact with both. I’m grateful our family has been able to experience so much of it together.

Jun 5 Travel

Bryce Canyon, Utah 2001

Father God loves it when we experience new people and places.

He gets to show us a new dimension to His creative powers and His love for mankind. In fact, as I’ve reflected on some of the places I’ve visited, I can think of several lessons God has taught me.

We don’t plan to travel this summer. As empty-nesters we have the privilege of avoiding the summer crowds, heat, gas prices, and bugs. But I thought it would be fun to share about some of the places I’ve visited over the years and the fun little treasures God has shown me along the way.

I’m titling this summer series Souvenirs for the Soul. I look forward to reliving some memories as I share them with you.

But you know what else I love?

I love to go places vicariously through other travelers.

I love the free ride their pictures and stories provide. Whether to the neighborhood pool or to the other side of the world, please, please, please, may I join you? All you have to do is share your pictures and stories in the comment section.

Oh, and this summer as you go, keep your eyes open to little lessons God has for you. In fact,

To give you an idea

… of what I’m talking about, let me share a quick lesson with you.

It was the summer before my senior year in college. I was actually by myself and it wasn’t a vacation. I was on the longest airplane ride I’d taken so far in my life, heading from Des Moines, IA to Anchorage, AK, where I was going to serve as a summer missionary. A couple hours into the flight I looked out my window and saw a view of endless, rugged, massive snow-covered mountains. The Yukon Mountains. I grew a bit spooked—thinking if this plane goes down in those mountains, we’ll never be found.

Before my imagination could spark a panic attack, I chose to focus on the beauty beneath me. I chose to allow utter awe to seep in deep. Total amazement at God’s incredible handiwork. Then God whispered a sweet little message into my soul. A message I turned and shared with the gentleman sitting next to me.

Isn’t this view spectacular? Such a testimony of God’s creative genius and ability. But the Bible says that when God created this He looked at it and called it merely “good”. Yet when He looked at the earth after He created man, He called it “very good”. We are the pinnacle of His creation. His prize. Wow! Isn’t it great to know we are valued that much? Loved that much?

If you find yourselves in places of breath-taking splendor this summer,

… remind yourself that to your Creator, you are even more captivating. You are so much so, that you were worth His laying down His life so He could bring you back to Himself.

June 5 Captivating.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Genesis 1:31, NKJV

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”

Pushed into the Deep End

{Oh, the stories! Stories of heartbreak, confusion, disillusionment, and despondency. Not just my stories, but others have them, too. Stories validate our feelings. Stories give us hope. My story of parenting five children adopted from Russia is shared often in these pages. But what about the stories of other such moms? You’ve simply got to hear them! The struggles we all identify with are present in their stories – along with the hope that not all is lost.

Today, I have the privilege of sharing words of wisdom from Sarah E. Frazer. Sarah understands the struggles of parenting a nonbiological child; but she also believes God’s Word. Sarah shares her stories and her hope beautifully. I’m so grateful she’s allowed me to share them with you today.}


feb-27-living-in-the-deep-end

Appalachian summers are filled with heat and humidity. 70 degrees feels like 90. On the really hot days, our family would pile into the minivan and drive three minutes up the hill behind our house. Mom would park at the bottom of the hill. My brother, sisters, and I would pack-mule it up the concrete path. Chlorine and 90’s music greeted us as we walked through the entrance to the city pool. The teenager behind the counter would smile, and pull out our family’s membership card. We dumped our snacks, towels, and blow-up rings in our usual spot: next to the baby pool, but within view of the deep end.

The water, cool and blue, beckoned us to jump. My ten-year-old brother would run to the deep end and climb the high ladder to dive into the 12-foot section. I was content swimming in the shallows. Even though I was a good swimmer, the dark blue water frightened me. I didn’t like to swim where I couldn’t see the bottom.

Sometimes my brother and his friends would sneak up behind me and push me into the deep end. I never found it humorous. I was always mad about it. I didn’t like the feeling of not touching. Panic creeped into my heart as the water lapped beside my neck, seeping into my mouth.

I wanted to know what I was jumping into. I still do. I’m a planner. Last year, I had a plan. As we began the adoption process, I was pretty sure I was prepared for the unknown, even planned for it. I thought I was ready for whatever God’s plan was for our family. But I wasn’t.

As I sat on a lumpy hotel bed in the middle of Zhengzhou, China, I realized I had just jumped into the deep end. And I was mad. The water of fear rushed around my face. I tried to grasp onto truth, but I felt my fingers slipping. God had called us. We had chosen this. But I felt pushed. Pushed into the deep end. I thought, This is not what I signed up for…..

Even a year later, I remember the feelings of drowning. The rushing water of uncertainty, creeping up and over into my comfortable life. It wrecked all of my hard work. Destroyed my plans.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11 (ESV)

In the middle of my ocean of fear, I couldn’t praise Him. One day I might praise God, but not today, I thought. I held out my hands, empty of praise and found a friend’s hand. Community surrounded our family. We knew the waters were deep, but God had not abandoned us. Until we could touch the bottom, they jumped into the water and held us up.

Living in the deep end, with the waters of fear looming close, brings me more to my knees and to Scripture than ever before. And to my friends. I poured myself into God’s Word and prayed every day for strength. I began living one day a time. It was all could handle as I treaded water. 365 days later, I’ve realized that’s ok. Our God provides just enough. Enough forgiveness. Enough strength. Enough hope. I’ve come to see a change in circumstances will not bring praise, only the truth of God’s Word and trust in His plan.

And slowly my anger melted into praise. Praise to the Father and Son who has revealed how deep His steadfast love truly is – especially while I learn to swim in the deep end.

Oh the river it rushes to madness
And the water it spreads like sadness
And there’s no high ground
Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees
Sara Groves

Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:7-8 (ESV)

I understand that the deepest part of your heart just wants this hard place to be over. I ask you to walk through whatever circumstance you are facing one day at a time. You aren’t alone and you are made to be exceptional, right here, right now. I wrote a book about living in a new normal and finding grace for the moment. The Glorious Ordinary is an invitation to study God’s Word in your everyday life. You can find daily strength, joy, and peace when you look in the Bible. Read more about the book here.


20170227-sarah-picAs a momma of littles and wife to a busy husband, Sarah spends her days making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, reheating her coffee ten times a day, and sneaking quiet time with her earbuds to drown out the screaming. Sometimes she worries her sticky tables, cluttered counters, and crumby floors are not enough. Maybe she’s not enough.

In the empty places of her heart, Sarah has found God is enough. Enough to satisfy all of our longings. Enough strength to do the work He has called us to do. Enough hope to lighten the dark path. Enough grace to cover all the mistakes. Enough joy, even for just today. Sarah invites you to join her @sarahefrazer.com as we study God’s Word in our ordinary days!

When God Became a Father

He wanted more. He wanted something else. Though surrounded by a multitudinous army who unceasingly lavished Him with resounding praise, He craved a smaller audience—an audience of one. Someone He could talk to—face-to-face, soul-to-soul. In a intimate place … like … a garden.

And so He dreamed and planned and designed. And out of nothing, using only words, He created a home—an explosion of microscopic grandeur. But this one—soul of His soul, breath of His breath—He formed intricately, purposefully, with His own hands.

And He became a Father.

In a single moment, He knew love.

feb-6-2017-in-a-single-moment

Joy of joys! Better than merely “good”! One of His heart!

He called this one Adam. Man. Red from the earth. A name to remind this one that without the breath of God, he would cease to be—he would return to dust.

He provided for this Adam a beautiful garden, supplied with every item the dust part of him required for survival. And He provided His own presence, necessary for the God part of him to thrive.

He assigned Adam a job: tend the garden.

He warned Adam of the one choice that would siphon his breath and doom him back to dust. He protected Adam, as long as he said no to that one choice.

Father wanted man to love Him back—if even a fraction. He wanted this child to experience the same ecstasy He felt. And so He secreted His presence from man—a divine hide-and-seek—hoping Adam would long for Him and seek him out. And, like any good father, He always allowed man to find Him.

He left that one tree to test man’s love. Would Adam trust Him enough to choose obedience? Would Adam look at everything God had provided for him and know deep satisfaction? Would Adam crave the presence of God above all else?

But if, heaven forbid, Adam chose the one thing God forbade, then God was ready. Man would have to leave the garden—banished from His tangible presence. But some day He’d provide a way back. It would be a long journey, but Father knew the way.

He would always be Father. He would always provide—though now that provision would require toil and bitterness. He would always protect—though sometimes His ways would seem cruel. He would always warn and instruct and guide—reducing His love to a set of laws and consequences. He would have to enforce these laws because man would fail—over and over and over.

Eventually, He would surrender His own breath so man could be redeemed. But He would revive and send it forth again as a Spirit. His very Spirit would breathe renewal to the Father-child communion He’d always longed for. And once again, Father would embrace His children. Though marred and scarred, they’d be back. Back in His arms.

And that’s all that mattered.


I don’t know what kind of human father you had. No matter how wonderful, or how horrible, he can’t begin to compare to Father God.

Father God designed you, created you, and named you His own special name. He walks with you, plays hide-and-seek with you, and stirs a longing for Him deep within your soul.

He provides for your every need. He guides you, instructs you, expects obedience of you, and disciplines you. He knows your frailties, and understands you are but dust.

He died for you, forgave you, rose again for you, and redeemed you. He set things right for you and now dwells moment-by-moment with you.

He comforts you, holds you, sings over you, and assures you.

You are His joy of joys, apple of His eye, breath of His breath, love of His love.

You are His child.

2017-feb-6-father-and-child

We all watch ourselves parent just like we were parented. Don’t we? Unfortunately, our parents fell short—some more than others—leaving us less than adequate models to follow. But God in Himself has provided a better—a perfect—example. To become the best moms possible, we need to study how God parents.

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at God’s role as Father in the Bible. I have a feeling we’ll find that God didn’t necessarily employ a set of skills or follow a list of “how to’s”. I think we’ll find He parented out of the deep recesses of His heart.

I don’t know about you, but I love delving deep into God’s heart and learning what makes it tick. So, pull out your shovels, and let’s dig in. We’ll start next week, going back to just after the very beautiful-but-sad beginning. We’ll look at the ways God parented the children He’d just kicked out of their garden home. Though they may not always have known it, He did not send them out alone.

I look forward to discovering with you what He was up to.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

Genesis 1:27-31 NIV

 

Like Mini-Cupcakes

january-16-mini-cupcakes

Oh my word! Making changes is like trudging through three feet of snow: fun, clean, promising, but slow and oh so difficult! Have you any idea what sort of new things a writer has to learn? Mercy me!

But listening to the Lord and following His lead, that’s become a little easier. The other day I read in Rick Renner’s book, Sparkling Gems from the Greek,* an explanation of the word “led” – as in, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God …” (Romans 8:14, NASB). This word “led” means to fall in line behind. That grabbed my attention.

For some reason I always thought being led by the spirit meant to listen and then go do – like a homework assignment to go off and do all by yourself. Oh my goodness, how much of a relief this gem is to me! Sure I need to listen, and I need to make choices to obey, but I’m not alone as I go forth in obedience. I simply get to step in line and follow the Leader.

Doesn’t that sound so much more doable to you?

And it fits so perfectly with my word for the year. I love the way the Lord is bringing this word, listen alive for me already in the first few weeks of the year.

So as I try to follow the Lord through this huge techy snowbank before me, He has already given me a few exciting opportunities to share His love with other audiences this year. The first one came up rather suddenly.

I got to write for a website called Defying Shadows. This site offers biblical encouragement to those cowering in the shadows – people dealing with mental illness, eating disorders, and other debilitating issues that cause one to want to hide. Defying Shadows has taken on the challenge of exploring the Bible verses that contain the words or idea to “fear not.” The Bible references this directive 365 times – once for every day of the year. The way this group is approaching this study is to invite volunteers to take an assigned verse and share what God is saying to them through it.

I heard of the opportunity and thought, Hey, I’d like a challenge like that. I’d like to see what God might say to me through some random verse. So I signed up. Within a few hours I received my assignment:

“O Jacob My servant, do not fear,” declares the Lord,
“For I am with you.
For I will make a full end of all the nations
Where I have driven you,
Yet I will not make a full end of you;
But I will correct you properly
And by no means leave you unpunished.
Jeremiah 46:28 (NASB)

My first thought was, What a weird verse! How am I supposed to write something encouraging from this?! But then I had one of those “ah-ha” moments and realized, I have lived this verse! And it didn’t take long for God’s grace to begin flowing through my thoughts.

We moms sometimes have to hand out some very stiff consequences. We wonder if we’re overreacting or being unreasonable. Well, not necessarily. Take a look at what God showed me through this passage here at #Fearless365.

The second opportunity God gave me was the honor to share lessons I learned when my husband dealt with cancer almost eight years ago. (in)courage, a women’s online community sponsored by DaySpring (the inspirational arm of Hallmark), sends daily devotional thoughts to a readership of well over 80,000 people. A handful of times each month they allow guest writers to contribute. After three attempts, my submission was accepted and published this past Wednesday, January 11. You can read my article here Where is God When Death Threatens Your World?

I encourage you to check out the (in)courage community. They truly have women’s needs at the heart of their mission. Some of their writers include Holley Gerth, Lysa TerKeurst, and other well-known authors who can communicate God’s grace beautifully. If you’d like to sign-up to receive their devotionals directly into your email box, go here.

Today’s post has been a little unusual. I needed to honor those who’ve allowed me to share on their sites and at the same time hope I’ve honored you with little meaningful tidbits – like a tray of mini cupcakes for you to choose from. As I continue to plow through all the tech challenges before me, I’m also growing as I listen intently to the Lord each day. He’s already given me some sweet morsels I look forward to sharing with you in the months to come.

I can’t wait!

 

*Renner, Rick. Sparkling Gems from the Greek: 365 Greek Word Studies for Every Day of the Year To Sharpen Your Understanding of God’s Word, (Tulsa, OK: Rick Renner Ministries: 2003), p. 18-19.