Susannah Baker

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Finding a Friend

On October 10, 2017, Posted by , in Motherhood, Surviving School, With 1 Comment

Several weeks ago was the first week of fifth grade, or middle school, for my oldest daughter, Lillian.

She got into the car quiet as a mouse when I picked her up at the end of her first day, and little by little, as the evening wore on, she began to share about the events of the day and what had made her so quiet in the car.

Turns out she felt at the end of the day like so many of us remember feeling at the end of a day of middle school – a little unnoticed, a little faded into the background, a little like an old piece on a patchwork quilt.  Part of that feeling was a result of her quiet personality, and part of that feeling was just what goes along with the territory of middle school. She faded into the background at lunch, she faded into the background in class, and overall, she ended the day feeling…alone.  Even though she was surrounded by 64 classmates.

All summer (and let’s be honest, pretty much for all their lives) I’ve been praying for that “one friend” for my daughters…all four of them.  Because let’s face it, with four girls to raise, what else does one pray about at this phase of life besides friendships, sassy backtalk, and emotional drama?

If you’re a woman, when you hear the phrase “one friend,” you know who I’m talking about.  That “one friend” who saves you a seat at her lunch table come hell or high water.  That “one friend” who chooses you in class, no matter who the new girl or the cool girl is.  That “one friend” who invites you over on a Friday night, even if the most exciting thing you are going to do is sleep on her family’s pullout couch and watch a Fred Astaire musical…again.

I had a friend like that.  And she was a best friend in every sense of the word.  She was the cool kid and let’s just say I was…not.  But she always choose me.  And next to her I always felt like my place was secure.  And if I wasn’t picked on a Friday night by anyone else, it was ok, because I knew I would always be picked by her.

And that’s who I’ve been praying for for my girls.  And if we are honest, I think a lot of mommas pray that for their girls.  Because for some reason, we think our daughters can endure and weather anything as long as they have that “one friend.”

So last week when I began to pray my “one friend” prayer for my daughters once again, the Lord quietly responded with a simple statement in my heart: “You might be praying the wrong prayer.”

And immediately the words of Ephesians 3:17-19 came to mind: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Pause.

Apparently, being filled up with all the fullness of God, being rooted and grounded in His unchanging love, experiencing the height and depth, the length and width of a crucified Christ has nothing to do with having that “one friend.”

This was news to my heart.  Not to my head – I’ve known these verses, memorized these verses, prayed these verses for years.  But this time, the scripture translated to my heart.

My prayer for my daughters does not need to be, “O God, give them just one friend.”  My prayer needs to be, “O God, no matter what happens in my daughters’ day, fill them up with all the fullness of Christ.  Let them be so rooted and grounded in Your love, that no matter what happens, the knowledge of Your love, the knowledge that You are with them and always choose them and love to be with them, trumps any knowledge of despair, fear, shame, rejection, embarrassment, or sadness they might feel.  Lord, would You please be their One Friend?”

And I am telling you, my heart flooded with peace when I prayed that prayer.  Because that way, the pressure is off people.  It’s off that “one friend” or any friend for that matter to perform in a way that communicates unconditional love and acceptance.  And that pressure is transferred to God.  And I can count on Him as a mom of four daughters to love each and every one of them through every situation.  I can count on Him to choose them every single time.  I can lean on Him to provide in their hearts what no human heart can ever provide – the rooting and grounding nature of the unchanging nature of the love of Christ.

And that gives this momma’s heart peace.

I had to repent for the lenses I had been wearing and the expectations I had been placing on other people – fifth, third, and first grade people for that matter! – to be something to my girls no one could ever be except the Lord.  And I have been praying that prayer consistently ever since the Lord deposited it in my heart.

I don’t know what your prayers for your child or children have been over the summer or fall, and I don’t know what your expectations are when it comes to friends.  But I can tell you this, you and I both will be disappointed if we are waiting on that “one friend,” for our children, or even for ourselves.  Because what I am finding is that my daughter’s middle school feelings have the ability to pull up my own middle school feelings from years ago and make my feel like a fifth grader at a lunch table all over again.  And even as a forty-year-old, I have found myself praying that “one friend” prayer, hoping a human can deliver for me what only God can provide.

Because at some point, as an eleven-year-old or as a forty-year-old, the expectation of a “one friend” is going to fail you.  And what I am learning is that God designed it that way for a purpose.

Because how else in the world would we ever come to know and experience the love that never fails us if we could find it in a fifth grade classroom or at a forty-year-old lunch table?  And maybe that’s what the Lord wants to teach you and me and our children this school year.  Stop asking for the things that can’t help but let you down, and start asking for the one love, the one friend, that hung on a cross so that He could lift you to Himself and never let you down.  He truly is your Perfect Friend.

Some of you may have read this post last week, only to find it disappear from my blog site – I apologize for that error!  Last week’s post was meant to be Top Ten Things I Learned from a Hurricane, and this week’s post was supposed to be today’s, Finding a Friend.  I am trusting the timing on when it was read – last week or this week – was sovereignly ordained for each and every heart.  As always, thank you for being patient with me and all my technological errors!

Trusting the One Friend who never fails,

Susannah 

Learning to Listen

On April 3, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, Motherhood, With 7 Comments

Softball season is upon us.  Two of our girls are playing in a league this year, and, by happenstance, both girls’ teams are called Fury.  Same team name, same uniforms.  It makes for some pretty cute pictures.

Dinner seems to be pushed back later and later as the light lingers longer and Jason stays out in the yard giving bp to the girls or drilling them on grounders.  I have to say, with four girls, so many of the practical life lessons or duties fall upon me to do.  For the most part, girls just aren’t going to go their dads for lessons in fixing their hair, picking out clothes, recovering from hurt girl feelings, or taking them to the ladies’ room in a public setting (a new accomplishment for Mia Grace in our house this week).  So softball is one area where daddy is fully in charge in our house, and I am loving it.  It gives the girls good time to learn how to listen to their daddy’s voice.  “Stay low…eye on the ball…move towards the ball…swing hard…hands in front…use both hands…listen to your coaches.”

One of the many things that makes softball so much fun this year is that Lillian gets to play on the same team with her cousin, Katie.  This year is the first year that the kids begin to pitch instead of the coaches, and Katie is our team’s pitcher.  Bless her.  Most of the weight of the game rests on her ten-year-old ability to pitch, and for a laid-back soul like Katie, that pressure is something to which she is adjusting.

Katie is known in our extended family as “The Teletubby.”  If you don’t know what a Teletubby is, or need a memory jog, here is a reminder:

Katie typically lives in what we all affectionately call “Katie’s World,” and her answers to questions are usually monosyllabic sounds, not words.  Her favorite animal is the unicorn, and one of my favorite memories of Katie is when, for the first grade book fair, she came in full unicorn costume from head to toe.

So seeing her in this new role as a serious, focused, softball pitcher is something to which we are all adjusting.  My husband finally had to tell his sister, Katie’s mom, to zip her yapper and stop yelling instructions to Katie from the bleachers: “Keep your shoulders squared!”  “Get the ball out of the dirt!” “Keep your hand flat!”  “Focus!”  I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard after watching Cara watch Katie pitch.

Last weekend’s game started off well for Katie, but she wasn’t feeling great and was struggling with one of those deep-Houston-allergy-induced-chest-coughs that we all have around this time of year. By about the fourth inning, our lead was slowly being eaten away by Katie’s balls ending up in the dirt or way above the catcher’s head.

That’s when my brother-in-law, Katie’s dad, called a time out and walked out to the pitcher’s mound.  He stood there for a few minutes, toe-to-toe with Katie and spoke quietly in her ear.  Then he walked off, and the inning resumed.  And Katie struck out three batters right in a row, throwing all perfect pitches.

What was the change?  Was it a new vitamin or supplement he slipped her?  No.  Was it a change of uniform or new piece of equipment he had her put on?  No.  Was it any sort of disciplinary action he administered?  No again.  The change came from hearing her father’s voice and the wisdom that went along with it and obeying his instructions.

Her father’s voice steadied her nerves and reminded her of what she needed to do.  Her father’s voice was calm and comforting and provided much needed peace.  And her father’s voice was infused with wisdom.

My brother-in-law played in the Major Leagues for over fifteen years and knows the game of baseball as well as anyone.  He has watched pitchers struggle in the little leagues, the minor leagues, the major leagues, and even during the World Series.  He has encouraged teammates who are now in the hall of fame, and he now coaches high school and little league teams to encourage younger players.

As I sat there and watched, I realized I could learn a powerful lesson from Katie.  Life is full of stressful moments.  Every day I throw all sorts of pitches from the pitcher’s mound to my kids, my spouse, my friends, even acquaintances. A few are in the strike zone, but most are either hitting the dirt in a sharp word I’ve said or going way over the catcher’s head in moments of weariness and exhaustion.  Going through the exercises of daily life at the speed with which life happens around here with four young children in the last eight weeks before school is out leaves me little time to really stop and think about how to improve my game.  Most days, my feet hit the floor and I am throwing pitches as fast as I can just to keep everybody moving in the same direction, preferably sane, clothed, fed, and with as few tears as possible (a huge feat in a household with five women, six including the cat).

But like Katie, I not only have a good father, I have a wise father, who often calls time outs on my behalf from the dug out and ascends the pitcher’s mound.  And it is there, in those quiet places, that He counsels me, encourages me, advises and instructs me, if only I have the heart to listen.  My Father’s Voice steadies my frayed nerves when life is happening ninety to nothing.  My Father’s Voice corrects my stance and steadies my heart when my emotions are out of control.  My Father’s Voice cleanses me of my guilt and gives me second chances after my decisions hit the dirt or are so far out of the strike zone I think I should be pulled out of the game.

And like Katie, I have a decision to make.  I can let my Father’s Voice redirect the decisions I make in finishing out the game of the day, or I can try to keep playing in my own strength and skill set, with the balls hitting the dirt.

Today, like Katie, listen to your Father.  He is more skilled than the best baseball player that has ever played the game.  He is wiser than the most seasoned coach.  He is more magnificent than the greatest hall of famer…and it is your heart that He loves to coach, counsel, advise, and come alongside.  Day by day, moment by moment, hour by hour, you have access to the greatest Father a daughter could ever have.  So tune your ears to His Voice, follow the instructions He so wisely gives, and finish your game.

Yesterday, the girls had another softball game, and Katie held our team’s one run lead in the last inning.  She pitched like I had never seen her pitch before.  And when she struck out the last batter, and the game was won, guess where she ran?  Straight into her father’s arms.  Like Katie, do the same with your Father today; His arms and His Voice are waiting.

 

I wanted to let you all know that I will not be blogging as often during this season of spring, softball, and end of school. I am in the process of writing a new study for women that I am really excited to share with you all this summer. My goal is to have it ready to go by the beginning of June, so please be on the lookout for that & in the meantime, I would appreciate your prayers for the time and creative energy I will need in order to listen to the Lord and put on paper what He is speaking to my heart.  

Gratefully,

Susannah 

Remembering What We All Need to Know About Adoption

On January 30, 2017, Posted by , in Adoption, Encouragement, Motherhood, With 4 Comments

I don’t know where my daughter was the day she was born.  I don’t know if she was in a hut, laid in a pile of dirty rags or straw.  I don’t know if she was in a clinic, laid on a cold, metal scale to weigh her tiny body and cracked crevice of a lip.  I don’t know if she was in a field, laid in a nest of woven grass or beside the rush of a river.  I don’t know if the sound of her first cry, drawn from the healthy lungs God had given her, was met with tears of joy or a pang of sadness.  I don’t know if the sight of her face, her gender, and her parted palette was met with sorrow mixed with compassion or anger mixed with disgust.  I don’t know if her momma gave her a whispered name, one she still treasures in her heart, or if she left her name to the orphanage where she left her.

But I do know this.  Wherever she was on the day she was born, whatever emotions her mommy and daddy expressed when they saw her, whatever name they whispered in their heart, there was One above it all who held her in His heart, kept her safe those first few days of life outside the womb, directed her momma’s steps to a hut outside the Guangzhou City State Orphanage, and watched over her as her momma left and the police and orphanage authorities came in.

And those first seventeen months of life when she was without parents, He was getting us ready to be her parents.  He gave me her name long before I ever saw her face.  He gave her my eyes and a certain look that causes people to stop and tell me, “You know, you two look alike.”  He gave her blonde-haired, blue-eyed kindergarten sister, Lillian, strong prayers to pray for an adopted sister from China that kept her fearful momma going in the rounds of paperwork when I wanted to stop.  He gave her daddy a fire in his heart to tirelessly fuel our adoption journey from start to finish until the orphanage director brought her from back behind that curtain and placed her into our arms.

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I had heard that God’s heart was for the orphan, and I had read about it in the pages of Scripture, but I never really knew it until I looked full in the face of Mia Grace.

“Do not fear,” God spoke to my heart in the first few months of our adoption process, “for I have redeemed her; I have called her by name; she is Mine!” (Isaiah 43:1).  And “Mine” became her name, straight from the word of her Father who was weaving her together in her mother’s womb, long before we ever saw her face.

So while I don’t know many details about Mia Grace’s birth day, or her first birthday, I know exactly where she will be tomorrow on her third birthday.  Instead of shrouded in rags or hidden in any sort of darkness, she will be surrounded by the light of those who love her and shout her name in joy whenever they see her beautiful face.

And isn’t that the beauty of adoption?  It peals back layers of darkness to let light shine through.  It turns whispered sorrows into shouts of joy and gladness.  It pulls victims from pits of abandonment to place them into families of belonging, hope, and trust.  It rewrites stories of shame into stories of redemption, beauty, grace, strength, and love.  And it gives each and every orphan a chance at a new name.

Pause for a moment today, and reflect on the beauty and significance of adoption.  Not just Mia Grace’s adoption, or the adoption of another little one you know, but, if you know Christ and are known by Him as His child, the beauty of your adoption.  Your story of grace, your family of people around you who know you and love, brokenness, crooked nose, imperfections, and all, and call you “Mine!”

And if you don’t know Christ, today, today, make your story one of adoption.  Bow your knee and bend your life to the Father who parted heaven to seek you and save you in the broken body of His Son.

And consider spurring others on in their journey of adoption or continuing on in your own journey if you know that is where God is leading you.  Pray for families who have adopted a little one from another country or another ethnicity or another biological set of parents.  And pray that more orphans will be adopted; pray that God will stir families’ hearts to have the courage to start and finish the adoption process, even when it’s hard; and pray that our country and countries around the world will make the adoption process easier on those who want to adopt in order to provide strong, healthy, godly families for children who have great needs.

And consider giving to help others adopt, even if you cannot.  Adoption is an expensive, messy business, and the costs can be huge.  So your gift can go a long way in helping other families who want to open their home to a child but cannot do so without financial assistance.

Adoption isn’t something we do because it makes us feel good; adoption is something we do because it is good, and it highlights the goodness of the One who has adopted us.

So celebrate Mia Grace with us this week, and celebrate your adoption too into the family of God.  And then reach out and further the Kingdom of God and the Father heart of God and pray and risk and give and battle for the children God loves and has named and called His own.

Messy Kitchens, Messy Kids, Messy Parenting, Faithful God

On October 24, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Guest Posts, Motherhood, With No Comments

This week we have the privilege of reading and hearing wisdom from the messy kitchen and beautiful heart of Jeannie Hagopian.  Jeannie, too, lost a dear friend to cancer several years ago and has walked the same road of grief many of us are walking now.  Her wisdom and guidance over the past several months has been invaluable as she has given me permission to hurt, grieve, and make space for the mess and ache that death brings but to also hold hard to the Hand of God, trusting He will be faithful to lead us all down the path of hope and healing.  She gives us wisdom and encouragement on the path of parenting this morning, and in all places in our lives that feel a bit messy, where we stop, look around, and say, “Here, Lord, life doesn’t look like I thought it would.”

Jeannie grew up in South Carolina with her sister, Margaret, who has done a few guest posts here on the blog!  After college, she lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for a decade where she met and married Jesse.  Jesse grew up on Cape Cod, and slowly they felt God calling them to leave D.C. and move to the Cape to be a part of a church planting situation there.  They moved to the Cape 2 years ago and it’s been a hard transition in many ways, but their hearts are heavy with the need for the Gospel in the New England area and for Christians there to be encouraged.  Jesse and Jeannie have 2 children, Margaret (7 years old) and David (5 years old), and a baby girl due early December. 

You might be trying desperately to avoid the fact that life is messy.  Or you might be so aware of how messy life is that you don’t want to get out of bed in the mornings.  

Parenting (and the family nucleus) is at the heart of life; so, it should NOT surprise us then that parenting too is messy.  It can feel like parenting just offers up constant contradictions and “forks in the road.”

  • How do we provide structure while also being flexible to the unpredictable realities of life?
  • How do we show the Gospel of Grace while also setting clear boundaries from an early age?
  • How do we foster a sense of the priority of our family relationships while also reaching out to those who are most lonely and marginalized in our community?
  • How do we prioritize teaching our children true and beautiful things while simultaneously exhibiting love in action and responding to the needs of others?
  • When do we give a second chance or know when to kick the rebellious teenager out of the house when their choices are so destructive it could cost them their very lives?
  • How much do we protect our children from evil and confusing messages?
  • Do we spend over our grocery budget to exclusively buy organic chicken for our children or throw packs of the “buy one get one free” deal chicken in our cart and give more the child in a 3rd world country who needs a simple meal?

The questions and dilemmas and second guessing can go on relentlessly.  And our current cultural moment, Google, and pressures are not helpful in our fight for balance (and sanity!).  What’s right for one family will probably look very different for your own.  There are guiding principles and then there’s the million of gray areas that we’ll find ourselves wading into each day as we raise our children.

Once again, life is messy and our decisions are rarely clear and come with perfect peace.  I write this from the trenches of messy parenting.  I’m not writing this post because my children are well-behaved and have proven any method “successful.”  I have two strong willed children who are sinners in need of grace.   We have read a lot of parenting books, we’re honest with other Christians about our struggles, we discipline our children, we have family devotionals when possible, we pray a lot.  Sometimes our children are delightful additions to society and our home.   But guess what?  Our children have very defiant spirits; they have slammed doors in our faces and even spit on us, and most days I feel as if I am a broken record…”Don’t use that tone, stop hitting your brother, put your shoes on the first time I ask”…And I’ll think to myself, “This is not how I envisioned my parenting to be.”

If you fit in the category of “human”, then most of your relationships, endeavors, marriages, children, jobs, bank statements, homes and health are probably also NOT going quite as you had originally planned or hoped.  I always come back to this C.S. Lewis quote, “Imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes in to rebuilt that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.”  

So what is hurting you right now and not making any sense?  Don’t try to compartmentalize, blame it on someone else, busy yourself, or offer up a quick solution.  God has never promised to deliver us from these trials and messes.  He also never offered quick solutions to His children.  Because the reasons these trials are in our life right now are complicated, confusing and at times utterly unexplainable from our limited points of view.  BUT He has promised to be with us.  He has promised to protect our souls eternally if we are covered in Christ’s righteousness.  He has promised us that these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  This is messy but gloriously Hopeful.  And as Susannah wrote in her beautiful post on True Hope“The razor edge of hope is a hard place to walk.  Actually, it’s an impossible place to walk, save for the anchor tied to our souls that firmly fixes us to God.”

In your relationships and specifically your parenting, how are you doing at ultimately trusting Him?  Yes, part of trusting is being faithful with what is set before you but it is also casting all your cares and anxieties into His care. Steadfast minds and perfect peace are ours when our whole beings are trusting (Isaiah 26:3.)  How are you doing at encouraging your friends in their own messes to deal with their hearts before God before you immediately offer up advice or grumble alongside them?  Are we just offering each other a sleep training book, natural home remedy, glass of wine, or listening ear while ignoring the deeper (and sometimes more awkward question to ask!) like, “What would it look like for you to know Him more and love Him more in the middle of this mess?”

“Like everything else God calls people to, God doesn’t call people to be parents because they are able….Why would a God of perfect wisdom ask inadequate people to do such an important job?  The answer is so important to grasp.  God calls unable people to do important things because ultimately what He’s working on is not your immediate success, but that you would come to know him, to love him, to rest in his grace, and to live for his glory.”  Paul Tripp

To receive further encouragement on the messiness of life but the faithfulness of God, connect with Susannah this week on Facebook.

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Push Back the Darkness

On August 29, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Guest Posts, Motherhood, With 2 Comments

This week, you and I have the privilege of hearing again from Margaret Austin.  She shared a post with us in June entitled Motherhood as Ministry.  If you missed it, make sure to click here to check it out.  Today, she shares with us again from the trenches of motherhood, so if you are in a tough spot and need some encouragement, pull up a chair, and enjoy Margaret’s wisdom, wit, insight, and bold love.  Just to give you a recap on who Margaret is and how we know each other, I met Margaret five years ago when she had just moved to Houston and was pregnant with her firstborn.  Her husband, Thomas, played for the Houston Texans, but Houston was only blessed enough to have Margaret and Thomas here for a year before they moved again.  In the past five years, they have moved ten times because of Thomas’ career in the NFL, and Margaret birthed three babies in that time period – Adam (4 years old),  Isaiah (2 years old), and Hazel (4 months old).  After watching and admiring Margaret, I’m pretty sure NFL wives are just as tough as their husbands!  In the past year and a half, Thomas has transitioned from playing football in the NFL to coaching football at Clemson in South Carolina.  Yet through all of the moving, transition, babies, and change, Margaret has remained…Margaret.  She is beautiful, bold, never afraid to tell you like it really is, but never afraid, either, to obey the Lord and walk in obedience that path He has for her (even when it hurts).  Over the past five years, Margaret has made God more real and beautiful to me, and I know she will do the same for you as she shares encouragement straight from her heart and straight from the trenches of toddlerhood. 

Hi friends!

Margaret Austin here again, writing to you from the youngest years of motherhood. It has taken me over 2 weeks to complete this post because every time I sit down, someone needs a snack, wakes from a nap, needs to nurse, cracks their tooth on their stick horse, or jumps from the coffee table onto the couch for the 1000th time. So when I say I understand how the little years are, I promise you, I understand.

I’m writing today to share with you a phrase that I’ve been mulling over for about a month now. During our family trip to the beach, we visited an Anglican church where we recited a prayer that included the phrase “Lord, help us to push back the darkness.” I quickly wrote the phrase down because it struck me as such a powerful thing to pray for ourselves and our children. There seems to be so much darkness all around us every day in the news, and much of it is darkness that we can do nothing about except pray over. As I’ve been thinking over the phrase this past month, I have tried to think of ways that I can practically model “pushing back the darkness” for my children. (If your children aren’t repeating phrases you say or copying your mannerisms yet – just you wait. It is one of the main ways God is sanctifying me by showing me my own sin in the way my children copy the things I do and say!)
One of the ways I’ve specifically been praying that my children would learn to push back the darkness is by how they treat people who are not like them. Whether it is someone who has a disability, a different skin color, or is from a different socio-economic class, I want my children to learn to move towards these people, not away from them in fear of their differences. When we lived in New England, I worked with children on the Autism spectrum. We would take trips into the community to teach them life skills, and one thing that bothered me the most about these trips is the way people would either 1. stare and openly gawk or 2. hurry by with their heads down and never acknowledge my students. I hope that I can model for my children ways that we can move towards other human beings who may not look like us and treat them with warmth and dignity. I want my children to see me look people in the eye, ask their name, and move towards others. Oftentimes the way I see the darkness rear its ugly head is when people are fearful – they fear those with disabilities, anyone who doesn’t look or act or dress like them, and they move away in fear. But I think that Scripture speaks towards social justice issues repeatedly for a reason – we are called to push back the darkness by pushing towards those in need and in positions where they can be left unnoticed. I ask my children to look the cashier and bag boy in the eye and tell them “thank you,” which in turn convicts me to do the same!
The other way I am attempting to teach our children to push back the darkness is by being respectful towards other and owning up to their wrongs. I don’t just mean saying “yes ma’am” or a half-hearted “I’m sorry.” I especially want to teach my boys that they are to respect other’s bodies. This means we don’t kick, hit, punch, etc. Now, our family lives in a world of football and wrestling and going on bear hunts, so we are attempting to differentiate the difference in mean play versus when it is OK to play rough. (Any tips are welcome!) This has spurred me to pray that the Lord will open my eyes to my own sin first, and then to my children’s sin so that I can help them push back the darkness in their own hearts by owning up to their sin and asking others for forgiveness. Right now, my children are 4 years, 2 years, and 4 months old, so we learn these things in age appropriate ways. I have to remind myself that teaching in these small moments and in ways will hopefully add up over time, along with the conviction of the Holy Spirit that will come from the inside out.
Our pastor preached last week on what it means to “crush Satan’s head” (Romans 16:20) in our daily lives, and I felt like he directly spoke to this issue of “pushing back the darkness.” He said that we can crush Satan every day by living out the Gospel in our homes, workplaces, and schools. When we offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), and we respond to Satan by speaking the Hope of Christ to ourselves, our children, and those we come in contact with, we can push back the darkness and crush the head of Satan.
What ways can you help others in your life push back the darkness?

Back to School

On August 22, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Motherhood, Surviving School, With 11 Comments

It’s that time of year again.  It’s the time of year when summer slips away and school stands front and center.  It’s the time of year when schedules go to ninety from nothing, from staying up late and sleeping in to hearing the alarm go off to get everyone out the door for school at an hour in the summer when I was just shifting sides on my pillow.  It’s the time of year that is so jam-packed-full for moms that by noon we’ve answered more texts, run more errands, organized more piles, filled out more forms, attended more meetings, and made more decisions than we have in the previous three months combined.  It’s the time of year when my brain hurts and my body tells me that if I hear my alarm go off one more time at such an unholy and unhealthy hour, I will hurt somebody, prayerfully not my children.  The funny thing is, I keep seeing commercials and videos of parents leaping around in glee, ecstatic at the fact that their children are going back to school, presumably because it gives them so much more time to themselves to linger by the kitchen sink to drink a cup of coffee.

What planet do these parents live on?  And how can I get there?  Back to school in this house means an increase of craziness, not a diminishing.  And while I am looking forward to the structure and rhythm that school brings, I am already looking forward to the quieter, slow pace of…next summer.

But in the meantime, school starts today, and I want to figure out a way not to just survive the school year but to thrive in the school year.  Heck, thrive is a big word.  Let’s face it.  I would be satisfied with just getting through the school year without any major meltdowns.  I’m just going for progress.  Yes, that’s the word.  I just want to see progress this school year – in myself, my children, and in my home.

So what does progress look like?  I began asking myself that question at the end of the school year in May because last year, I didn’t see much thriving or progress in myself. It was a surviving kind of year.  The kind of year where we adopted a seventeen month old from China and were learning how to be a family.  The kind of year where I added a child to our home school model, so two days a week, my three oldest children attended school on a traditional school campus, two days a week, I homeschooled all three of them here at home, and Fridays were “free.”  Free to go on incredible, exploratory field trips and experience first hand about culture, museums, and the wonders of God’s creation, free to take extra lessons and become an expert in another language or a world-famous ice skater or equestrian, or free, like us, to lay on the couch and recover from the previous four days.  At the end of the school year, after adding a third child to our home days and a toddler from China who could barely crawl, didn’t know a lick of English, and enjoyed making meal times super fun and enjoyable by gagging and hoarding food in her mouth, I was worn out.  Worn.  Out.  Many of you know how much I love to read, and if this tells you anything, this summer, I think I read one book.  My brain couldn’t take anything more than that.  I simply rested.  And my girls rested too.  We didn’t do one math problem, or review any flash cards or phonograms.  We all rested.  Because we all needed it.

And I had lots of time to think about progress.  And this is what I came up with.  Progress never occurs without the Word of God in my life applied by the Spirit of God to my life.  No Word, no progress.  No reading the Word, memorizing the Word, meditating on the Word, understanding the Word, and surrendering to the Word, no progress.

So if I wanted there to be any hope of progress over the next school year, I needed the Word of God in my life.  It was that simple.

So this is what I did.  Beginning in June, I started to really think through the sin patterns in my life from the past school year.  In other words, I tried to really think over the times I lost it – lost patience, lost kindness, lost self-control, lost love – and started grasping for control through controlling anger or fear.  As I really thought through specific incidents, I began to recognize certain patterns in myself and in my children.

For instance, during times of the day or times in the school year of transition when life became really overwhelming, like the beginning of the school year or end of the school year, or like the end of the school day when my kids walk through the door to a calm, quiet, clean house and begin to talk, show me papers, ask me to sign things, tell me they’ve signed me up to bring things, and leave of trail of half-eaten apple cores, sticky nutella containers, backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, and dirty knee high uniform socks all over the house, I start to stress out.  I know I am supposed to enjoy these moments of children overflowing into every part of my calm, quiet, space, and I can hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “You are going to miss this one day,” but so often, I don’t respond to the chaos, I react.  And I always end up regretting my reactions later.

So to work on my responses to seasons of transition I know are coming up in my life, big or small, I memorized and meditated on Psalm 90:1-2, 10-17:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God…

The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!”

When I start to feel anxious about all there is to do at the beginning of school or end of school, when I start to feel like things are spinning out of control and I need to grasp to gain control, I think on the words of Psalm 90, I pray them back to the Lord, and I remember that God is my dwelling place; He is the stability of my times; He has been around before the mountains were born and the world was created, and He will be around long after I am gone.  My roots go down deep into Him, and nothing can move me or pluck me out of His Hand, not even four kids descending on a calm, quiet house.  And if I am asking Him to help me number my days, to give me a heart of wisdom, to establish the work of my hands, He will do it.  What doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done.  As one teacher at my daughters’ school said, I am to prepare, but I am not to lean on my preparations; I am to lean on the Lord.

As I continued to reflect, I also realized I can react out of fear, control, and anger with my children when I feel as though I haven’t accomplished in a day what I set out to accomplish or thought I had to accomplish for it to be a successful day.  I start measuring myself, my home, and my children by someone else’s standards that define “perfection” to me, and when perfection isn’t attained, I can start to feel like a failure.  And when I start to feel like a failure, I can begin to, unknowingly, take it out on my children.

So to help me with that struggle, I memorized and meditated on Ephesians 5:14-21:

“Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

When I start to feel like a failure, particularly at the end of the day when dinner, baths, piano practice, leftover projects and school work, plus my stack of to-do’s that hasn’t even been touched during the day all lies before me, I cans start to sink.  And I can start to want to numb.  Numb through eating or drinking.  Numb through thinking about the Netflix video I want to watch later.  Numb through texting or talking to a friend instead of engaging in the reality of the present around me.  But Ephesians 5 says don’t sink.  Sing.  Make melody in your heart to the Lord.  Give thanks in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It says don’t numb.  Feel.  Be Present.  Surrender.  And be filled.  Be filled with the Spirit.  So instead of numbing or sinking, I am trying to learn to sing, to put worship music on, music that points my heart and spirit to the Lord, and lean into Him.  I am trying to give thanks.  Purposefully and specifically for things that have happened during the day instead of all that hasn’t.  And it’s amazing how as I turn my voice, my heart usually follows in the same direction.

There are other verses I have memorized and am memorizing – Luke 15:19-24 for learning how to welcome my children home.  Proverbs 8:34-36 for learning how to listen to and walk in wisdom.  Colossians 3:8-17 for learning how to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, and humility.  Romans 13:10-14 for learning how to fight my flesh and fight for love.

None of these verses is a magic formula or wand that I wave or say and then “Poof!”, all of my negativity or controlling fear or anger is gone.  But each of these verses is a door that I can choose to open and a path that I can choose to walk down.  It is a step-by-step-by-step-by-step relearning of new habits to replace old ones.  It is a moment-by-moment choice to stop, and remember, and reconsider life instead of death.  Thriving instead of surviving.  Progressing instead of regressing.

I won’t always do it perfectly this school year.  I won’t always open the door and walk down the path.  Sometimes I will plunge headlong off the cliff.  But my earnest, sincere, humble prayer is that I will make progress.  And by the grace of God, because of the kindness of God, and empowered through the Spirit of God, I know that I will.

So here’s my challenge to you.  It’s not too late to start desiring progress this year.  Take the next week or two and begin to think about your own sin patterns and the specific situations and seasons of life that trigger reactions instead of responses from you.  Then grab your Bible and a stack of index cards, and write at the top of the card exactly what you’re fighting for and what sinful reactions you are fighting against, and then write the verse or verses you want to memorize below.

I punched a hole in the corner of my cards, put them on a ring, and focus on just one verse a day.  I write it out in my journal, try to say it from memory a couple of times, and the next day add one more verse to it.  It’s amazing how much my mind retains, even at the ancient age of 39!

Maybe you just want to focus on one verse this whole school year.  Awesome.  One verse of Scripture specifically applied to one reaction of the heart will make a huge and profound difference.  Or maybe you want to memorize and meditate on ten.

But whatever you decide to do, do something.  Don’t just settle for surviving.  Aim for thriving.  And as we lean on the grace of God through the Word of God, progress will occur.

“For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My Word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”  Isaiah 55:10-11

Summer Camp

On July 4, 2016, Posted by , in Motherhood, With 17 Comments

Last Sunday, we dropped our two oldest girls off at camp for one week.  I attended this same camp growing and loved every single minute I was there.  I loved my counselors, the friends I made from other towns across Texas and Arkansas, and the opportunity I had to try new things, like jumping off of a pamper pole, shooting a rifle, or making my way across a ropes course.

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Lizzie, our eight-year-old, was nervous but excited about her first year of camp.  She made a sign and taped it across the inside of her trunk: “Camp T Bar M…Here I Come!”  Every picture I’ve seen of her this week on the camp website contains a big smile.

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Lillian…not so much.  The day before she left, she pulled Jason aside, took his face in her hands, and said, “Dad, I know I’m not supposed to use this word except in regards to sin or Satan, but I HATE, HATE, HATE camp…I need your word that you will not make me go next year.”

Apparently the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, because when Jason was nine years old, his parents sent him to camp for a month and he hated every minute of it as well.  One of the greatest things my mother-in-law ever did was to save Jason’s camp letters.  They are the gift that just keeps giving every time we pull them out.  Since they are just too good to keep to ourselves, I thought I would share a few of them with you:

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Translation (I’ve kept the spelling as is just so you don’t have to miss out): “Dear Mom and Dad, I Hate (double underscore) this camp and you were wrong, it is not a blast. I was writing that good stuff because the counselors would see but now I will tell you from the bottom of my heart.  I hate this camp.  Pick me up before Monday because I can’t stand it.  I just got Mike’s shirt and your letter.  Pick me up soon.  I almost threw up and I threw up some the other day.  Pick me up soon, please.  This is a cussing camp a not-caring-for-camp, and that is No (double underscore with stars) Lie.  I hate it.  Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate (it’s true, he wrote “Hate” twenty-one times) it.  Will you pick me up.  They make you do stuff and they said they wouldn’t.  Pick me up soon.  Will you send me some Christian comic books?  Cause I am getting bourd.  They don’t do anything fun here.  God loves you and so do I.  Write back soon.  Love, Jason” (And he writes the word “Hate” thirteen more times underneath his name to underscore the point just in case they missed the overall tone and theme of the letter.)

And here’s just one more.  This one happens to be my personal favorite, maybe just because I know how much my husband hates to dance even now as a forty-five year old:

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Translation: “Dear Mom and Dad and Bunch, They cuss here and I hate it.  They have disco too.  I wish you would pick me up.  Will you.  Please, unless you want me to hear cussing and probably copy, which I doubt.  This is a harable place.  Pick me up, please.  They make you do stuff.  I can’t stand it.  This is like a cussing home, I promise.  Nobody is Nice to me.  I was thinking of running away and hiding, I promise.  I just received your letter.  Pick me up Thursday.  Please.  It is freezing at night.  I feel like an ice berge.  Jesus loves me.  In fishing you get to fish for 2 minutes.  This is like a desert.  We had pizza and it was harable.  I hate (double underscore) this whole camp.  I can’t stand it any longer or I will have to hide.  God loves you and so do I but, pick me up or I will have to hide.  (And his last ditch effort to hit his mom where it counts…) Dear Mom I am not getting to read my divotional.  Pick me up soon.  Write back soon.  Love, Jason”

Please, please read these out loud and wipe the tears off your cheeks either from sorrow or hysterical laughter that a nine-year-old boy wrote such things as: “This is a cussing camp, a not-caring-for-camp,” or “This is like a cussing home, I promise.”  What does that even mean?!?  I couldn’t make these letters up, even if I tried.  And these are just a sampling – we have a whole book of them from his month away.

Thankfully, we haven’t received any letters home yet from Lillian quite this drastic, but I have a feeling she is not having the time of her life.  She is our official homebody, and a perfect day for her consists of sitting in a chair while she reads at least one or two books, making a few charms or bracelets on her rainbow loom, starting a craft with her sisters, and getting up sporadically to play the piano.  The longest trip she takes is from the reading chair to the piano.  She went to camp for the first time last year, and when we picked her up, we asked her if she liked it: “Yes!” she said, “I had a good time, but I don’t want to go back next year.”  Sorry, Lils.  We didn’t give her much of a vote in the matter.

Before you feel too sorry for her, her bunk is right next to her cousin, one of her favorite people on the planet, and right above her are two of her good friends from Houston.

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I sent her a post card this week with a quote from Jane Austen on the front that says, “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”

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Being a homebody is a wonderful thing, something I really appreciate about Lillian.  She reminds me to slow down and sit for a spell when life is spinning crazily out of control.  On the other hand, Caroline, our six-year-old, would prefer to spend every night away from home and is counting down the days until she gets to go to camp.  I’m just hoping she remembers to say goodbye to us on her way out the door!  She helps me get up off my tush and venture into the outside world when Lillian and I have decided to hole up like hobbits.  Everyone is wired differently, but sometimes, everyone needs a change in perspective to understand new things about themselves, others, the world around them, and even God Himself.  A change of location often provides that change of perspective, and summer is a great time to pick a new point on the map.

I wrote to Lils telling her that I was praying she embraced the week and the change of perspective instead of refusing to enjoy it and simply counting down the days until she returned home.  Sometimes our adventures we handpick for ourselves, and other times they are picked for us.  But I pray for all of us this summer, whether it’s a trip to a part of our city or to a neighborhood we have never seen before, or a different city or country altogether, we would be willing to trade location for perspective, learning to see the bigness of God, the beauty of others, and sides to ourselves we would never have known were there had we decided to stay…at home.

Motherhood as Ministry

On June 6, 2016, Posted by , in Guest Posts, Motherhood, The Seed Company, With 1 Comment

Motherhood is tough.  Especially motherhood in the younger years when everyone is in diapers and needs a hand, needs help, and needs Momma!  Sometimes (or, let’s face it – all the time!) mothers of toddlers and newborns need direct and special encouragement from the Lord that the work they are doing is significant, does not go unnoticed, and will not be in vain, no matter how many times your two-year-old has thrown himself on the floor today and yelled, “Mine!”   I can’t think of a better person to provide that encouragement than Margaret Austin.  I met Margaret five years ago when she was pregnant with her firstborn, and it was instant love, connection, and admiration for this dear friend!   In the past five years, Margaret and her husband, Thomas, have moved ten times because of Thomas’ career in the NFL, and Margaret birthed three babies in that time period – Adam (4 years old),  Isaiah (2 years old), and Hazel (9 weeks old).  After watching and admiring Margaret, I’m pretty sure NFL wives are just as tough as their husbands!  In the past year and a half, Thomas has transitioned from playing football in the NFL to coaching football at Clemson in South Carolina.  Yet through all of the moving, transition, babies, and change, Margaret has remained…Margaret.  She is beautiful, bold, never afraid to tell you like it really is, but never afraid, either, to obey the Lord and walk in obedience that path He has for her (even when it hurts).  Over the past five years, Margaret has made God more real and beautiful to me, and I know she will do the same for you as she shares encouragement straight from her heart and straight from the trenches of toddlerhood. 

Hi friends. Margaret Austin here, friend of Susannah. I got to know Susannah when my husband Thomas played for the Texans from 2011-2012. God placed Susannah and Jason in our lives at a time when we knew no one and desperately needed some friends! They had us over for a meal & we instantly loved them. I guess they loved us too because they let lonely me come over and spend the night quite often when Thomas was playing in away games, and we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with them that year. Susannah was such a dear friend to me, especially as I had our first son while we were living in Houston. She let me tag along on playdates, bible studies, & swim lessons.

God continued to cross our paths even after we left Houston through The Seed Company, a Bible translation company affiliated with Wycliffe. Susannah and I share a love for a man named Bernie Mays. Bernie is 84 years old and his life’s work has been translating the Bible for Bibleless peoples. Bernie began his career by flying linguists up and down the Amazon in Peru. Later in life Bernie helped start The Seed Company and was president for many years. Now Bernie is passionately supporting a language project in Asia, caring faithfully for his wife, Marian, and still flying his own plane. In fact, Bernie flying his own plane is why Susannah even asked me to blog in the first place.
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Thomas and I got to know Bernie better when we lived in Charlotte, NC as he resides just outside of Charlotte. After we moved to Clemson, South Carolina last year for my husband to coach football, Bernie flew down for lunch with a fellow Seed Company employee. He flew down for lunch again last week.

I’d been texting Susannah just a few days before to pray for my patience as a mother. I felt tired and discouraged and very, very impatient with my 2 active boys, my 7 week old daughter, and mostly impatient with myself. When Thomas drove up with Bernie and Kirk, I was having a rough day. In fact, I didn’t even make lunch for them this year–I was recycling a baby meal that someone brought over the night before! I was feeling weary of motherhood, trapped at home with a nursing infant, envious of my friends who seemed to have more freedom and less baby weight on their bodies. My boys seemed to spend the first half  of our lunch disobeying and being disciplined. They finally went inside for naps, and I felt like I could breathe and focus on our lunch guests. I hadn’t had time to say much during lunch besides, “Sit on your bottom. Eat your food. Don’t touch your brother. NO, you can’t have your paci until you eat your vegetables. Stop poking the baby’s nostril.”

But Bernie (and the Holy Spirit) knew just what my tired soul needed. Bernie started talking and he didn’t come up for air for about 15 minutes. He began telling me he admired me?! What on earth would an 84 year old man who spent his life doing important work for the Lord have to admire about a worn out stay at home mom? Bernie told me that he wanted me to know that my work as a mother was important, that I had no idea how God would use my children in the coming years or how my work might come to fruition. He told me that he’d struggled when his family lived in the jungle with whether or not he was doing the right thing for his family, living in such extreme circumstances. He’d wanted a comfortable, 9-5 life at times. But he’d pressed on and continued because this was where he felt God calling him.

This was especially encouraging for me to hear as I often struggle with wishing my husband would be called to a 9-5 job rather than one that requires him to work extremely long hours for parts of the year. Often I question if this job is family friendly, if our kids will turn out alright with daddy gone so much during certain times of the year and they are stuck at home with a frazzled, selfish mommy. But Bernie reminded me that if we have been called by God, He will equip us and our work will be our ministry. “Full time ministry!” he said. “What is full time ministry and who came up with the phrase anyway?! All of life is full time ministry, no matter what God calls you to do professionally.

By the time Bernie left, I had tears in my eyes and a very grateful heart. My husband was amazed at God’s timing, as he knew I needed a special dose of encouragement that afternoon. Bernie left me with a copy of a letter he’d recently written to his children regarding his wife’s painful illness, outlining what he was learning through it all. In the letter he wrote, “Is this really an ‘opportunity for great joy?’ If so how do we get that joy? The answer is to realize that joy is a choice, an opportunity. This disease wasn’t the opportunity we were looking for but for sure one God has given us. Joy is a choice that we can make…we can choose to surrender all we are and have to Him and trust Him completely. And we can choose joy even in troubled times.

Bernie told me that he had been watching me over the years of our wild ride with football, and that he admired how my faith had fueled my works, and that my works would be in vain if not for Christ. Well Bernie, right back atcha. I pray I am faithfully staying the course if the Lord allows me to live until I am 84. Until then, I will leave you with the words of this song Bernie shared with me:

Oft times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear,
We’re tempted to complain, to murmur and despair;
But Christ will soon appear to catch His Bride away,
All tears forever over in God’s eternal day.

Refrain:
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.

Sometimes the sky looks dark with not a ray of light,
We’re tossed and driven on, no human help in sight;
But there is one in heav’n who knows our deepest care,
Let Jesus solve your problem – just go to Him in pray’r.

Life’s day will soon be o’er, all storms forever past,
We’ll cross the great divide, to glory, safe at last;
We’ll share the joys of heav’n – a harp, a home, a crown,
The tempter will be banished, we’ll lay our burden down.

When We See Christ, by Esther Kerr Rusthoi

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Steadfast

On May 30, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Motherhood, Surviving School, With 11 Comments

First of all, Happy Memorial Day!  I woke up this morning with a grateful heart for all of the men and women stationed around the world who defend our freedoms each and every day.  Freedom to worship.  Freedom to dialogue openly about issues that are important to us.  Freedom to vote.  Freedom to live without fear.  And the list goes on and on.  As a kid whose dad graduated from the United States Naval Academy, I grew up with a built-in awareness and gratefulness for those who defend our freedoms.  I am so thankful for the reunions and visits to the USNA campus that gave me a small understanding of the cost of the freedoms I regularly enjoy.

A couple of years ago, Jason, myself, and my two oldest girls accompanied my parents to Annapolis for my dad’s 50th football reunion.  As we sat in the Navy-Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium and watched Air Force and Annapolis play, I was struck by the words around the stadium – all battles where the Navy and Marine-Corps had fought to defend our freedoms – and how those playing on the field now would go in just a few short months or years to fight in battles that were yet to be displayed to a watching world.

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For the full story of our trip to Annapolis and that game, read here – Playing With Heart.

But suffice it to say, today, and every day, I am thankful.  Thankful for the great sacrifice that has been given so that you and I can walk in freedom.

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(Believe it or not, that’s me on the far left, along with my friends Holly Casserly and Joanna Dawson, as a 19 year old visiting my dear friend, Edd Hendee, at the end of his plebe year at the Naval Academy.)

But in the midst of Memorial Day, and the great pause this holiday provides for us at this time of year, like I talked about last week, this time of year can be crazy for moms, and I mean downright crazy. I am not exaggerating when at times I think I might be about to lose my mind or not make it past the minute if I do not slow down, sit down, or lay down in the prone position for 48 hours at one time. I would think I was abnormal and really start to worry if I did not know that every other mother I’ve talked to this week feels exactly the same way I do.

It’s because our culture is nuts. Absolutely nuts. We are expected to go, be, do, and think in 100 different directions all at the same time. We are supposed to check our texts, keep up with our emails, coordinate everyone’s carpools, help everyone with their homework and projects, have dinner on the table, look presentable, exercise and workout to keep svelte and looking suave for swimsuit season, spend quality time with our children while planning playdates, future prom dates, and extraordinary Friday afternoon activities, all the while maintaining deep, quality friendships of our own in all of our spare time. And, oh yeah, be a great wife. My poor husband. Quality conversation consists of him patting my hand at the end of the day as I read or watch something on Netflix because I simply don’t have anymore words for anyone.   They were all used up by four kids and end-of-school madness by noon earlier that day.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I just want to learn how to enjoy a day, one full day in its entirety, without panicking or having an anxiety attack about all that I’ve left undone. I just want to be fully present wherever I am with a mind fixed with great peace on the Lord, confident I’m doing exactly what He has asked me to do. Nothing more and nothing less.

But it’s amazing how everything in our culture – and I mean everything – pulls us away from spending steadfast time with the Lord. And while I am talking about time spent with an open Bible, pen, and paper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, I am also talking about steadfast thoughts throughout the day. A mind fixed upon the things of God.

I will be minding my own happy business, enjoying a solitary moment with the Lord in prayer when WHAM! All of a sudden I cannot shake thinking about the shoes I saw perfect for summer and if they have my size. Or I have visions of all the summer camp forms with packing lists and health forms still waiting to be filled out floating around on my desk or in my inbox. Or I know I have exactly one hour before I have to pick up carpool, my little one is down for her nap, and I have space – restorative space – to read, pray, rest, or write, and all of a sudden, I hear my phone buzz. Ten texts and thirty minutes later, my time is whittled down to half of what it could have been, and I am anxious and stressed about the to-do’s I just read on my texts.

But Isaiah 26:3 says this, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you.”

This verse has calmed my heart many times through the years, but a few weeks ago, I was curious about the definition of certain words in the original Hebrew language. So I looked up the word stayed in my WordStudy Dictionary. Here’s what it said, “A verb meaning to lay on, to uphold, to sustain. It indicates placing or laying something on a person or animal, often in ritualistic or legal setting; a hand on a sacrificial animal…to lean against a wall with one’s hand….It has the sense of supporting or sustaining someone….In its passive participle, it describes a heart that is supported, sustained (Psalm 112:8).”

According to this definition, we are to place or lay our minds upon the Lord…and leave them there. The only way I know how to actually do that is to deeply trust whatever my mind, or hand, is leaning up against so that I don’t pull it away in times of distraction or panic.

In the same verse, the word trust means this: “to attach oneself, to trust, confide in, feel safe, be confident, secure; to be careless…The basic idea is associated with firmness or solidity. The word expresses the sense of well-being which results from knowing that the ‘rug won’t be pulled out from under you.’” I love that definition. We are to lay our minds upon the Lord confidently, safely, securely, knowing that the rug will not be pulled out from underneath us. In other words, we can deeply trust and rely on the God we serve and upon whom we lean.

How that practically plays out in my day is this: in the mornings, I must go to Him regularly, dependently, not needing anything from Him – not trying to get a lesson out of Him that I can teach or a Bible study I can write or a word I can share – but simply go to God for God’s sake. Because He is my good Father and in His presence, I experience great peace.

It means that during the day, when I pause to pray about a choice I need to make or a scheduling decision, I pause to hear His voice…and then I obey it. I don’t do whatever I want to do or makes sense in my logical, rational mind (although sometimes I do), I simply follow where He leads and trust that He has His highest and my best in mind.

It means that when I have a choice to follow along the path of the regular restorative rhythms I have set in my days and week, I follow it. I don’t check email. I don’t check texts. I pray. I listen. I write. I visit with a friend. I do the things that bring peace and joy and not just accomplishment.

And it means that when I blow it (which is often), I turn to embrace grace instead of condemnation, forgiveness instead of shame, and love instead of self-hatred from a God who is steadfast even when I am unstable and is there to catch me every single time I fall.

I am learning slowly, ever so slowly, that the steadfast mind doesn’t rely upon self but on the Steadfast One, no matter how uneven the ground, slippery the slope, or exhausting the season is. And there is a God whose love never fails and whose steadfast arms never let us go, as our minds choose to fully rely and lean upon Him.

“There is a way which seems right to a man,

but its end is the way of death…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”

Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 3:5-6

 

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What We Hold In Our Hands

Last week Mia Grace (our cute-as-a-button 2-year-old adopted daughter from China) and I were at her weekly Occupational Therapy appointment with “Miss Julie,” my new favorite person on the planet.  Julie Ploetner runs PolkadOT Pediatric Therapy, and her office is pure heaven for Mia Grace.  The minute she walks in the door, she heads straight for the rice pool (literally, a blown up plastic pool filled with rice and tiny plastic treasures of all shapes and sizes).  She slips off her little shoes (sister wears a size 6-9 month shoe…her feet are TINY) and slips in the rice to play and pour and sift and sort to her heart’s content.  After she’s had her fill of rice, she heads on over to a massive cushion with plastic frogs and turtles on top to see how many she can carry in her hands on her way down the massive “mountain” of fluff.  It’s always good times in Miss Julie’s office.  It’s amazing what spending time on pillows and swings and in rice tubs can do for one’s body and soul.  I’m thinking adults should try it more often.

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But as I sat there by Mia Grace, watching her sift rice through her little fingers, I was (very unconsciously) holding tightly onto a plastic necklace made up of stars and hearts.  I would squeeze it with one hand, and then pass it to the other hand.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  All of a sudden, Miss Julie looked at me and said, “Is that comforting to you to hold on to that necklace?  I’ve noticed each time you are in here you like to hold things in your hands.  You must have a lot on your mind.”  Wow.  I’m pretty sure I looked at her like someone had caught me with my hand in a cookie jar.

“Well,” I said, “I’ve never thought about it.”

“But now that you say that, yes, in fact, it is very comforting.  I always like to have something in my hands or I feel purposeless.  Ungrounded and anxious about just sitting still.”

True confessions in PolkadOT Therapy.  I considered right then and there if I needed to slip off my shoes and climb in the rice next to Mia Grace for a little therapy myself.

But Julie got me thinking, all week in fact.  This time of year for moms can be downright stressful. Saying goodbye and finishing anything well always is.  And saying goodbye to an entire school year with your kids takes a lot of time, focus, and energy.  On top of that, the new season of summer looms on the horizon, and a blank slate stares at moms in the face, waiting to be filled in whatever way we think our family needs.  No pressure.

But there is pressure.  And that’s what Miss Julie picked up on.  I often travel through life, especially this time of year, with a low level of continually burning stress.  Through every appointment or conversation, I am present in body but my mind is running a million different directions sorting through every list on my desk and in my head. I constantly fight feeling behind or like I will never catch up.  So at rare moments when I am just sitting, like I was doing during Mia Grace’s appointment, to focus my stress, to help my out-of-control feel more in-control, I hold things in my hands, or in this case, press the heck out of a plastic necklace.

Geez.

There has got to be a place for our stress to go that doesn’t have anything to do with plastic necklaces or what we can control with our hands.  I am learning, more and more, that I have got to leave things in God’s Hands, especially during times of the year when I am more prone to stress.

My husband, Jason, was teaching on Sunday morning about taking big risks for God.  Taking risks to love other people well, to forgive when you don’t want to, to reach out and bless someone with a kind word…because people are dying all around us for a touch, for a word, and for us to be risk takers in this area of love and kindness in the Name of Jesus.

My tendency when the word “risk” is mentioned is to start thinking about risking all of our finances and giving everything away to the poor, risking all of my community and moving to India to share the Gospel, or risking my life and moving to the Middle East.  But in the quiet of that moment in Sunday School, the Lord whispered to my heart, “What about risking all of your stress and putting it in My Hands?  What if your greatest risk this week began with really trusting Me?”

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – I think God does want us to risk big things for His Name when it comes to our finances and our time and our very lives.  But I think He wants us to start with risking our hearts and who we really choose to trust.

The words of Jeremiah 17 came to my mind, and I’ve been thinking on them all week: “Cursed is the one who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.  Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.  For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

So this week, when I’ve been tempted to press something with my hands, I’ve been working on pressing the words of Jeremiah 17 into my heart.  I’ve been working on practicing the presence of the Lord and the presence of people He puts right in front of me by trusting Him with my lists, my time, and the plastic necklaces I hold in my hands.

I practiced it last night when we celebrated Jason’s birthday and the girls made him silly cards and wore silly hats.

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I practiced it when we pulled out the dvd player and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the middle of the week for a birthday treat instead of answering emails and checking more things off my to-do list.

I practiced it by going up to the friend I never see in the grocery store and talking for ten minutes instead of ducking my head and praying we didn’t catch eyes simply because I didn’t have time.

I practiced it when Lizzie asked me to slow down this morning and scratch her back instead of getting on with fixing breakfast.

I practiced it by letting the girls enjoy cake pops this morning as a “last day of homeschool” treat instead of doing our usual routine.

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And I practiced it this morning with an open Bible in one hand and a pen and paper in the other, recording all the ways God has been faithful to us this year, even when I have been faithless.

And I’m going to continue to practice it throughout the days ahead by intentionally trusting the Lord, putting all things into His Hands, instead of holding them so tightly with mine.

This morning when I saw my friend Brandy and we were laughing about the craziness of the end of school, she said, “It’s a good thing this is our last week because they either need to shut school down or send me away.  At this point in the year, those are the only two options!”  Amen, sister.  But until the last day of school, the last homework assignment, the last teacher gift, and the last packed lunch, let’s continue to encourage one another to keep our gaze on the One who holds us all together, even our plastic necklaces, with His Hands.