Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Not New Resolution

New Year’s is my favorite time of year. I love Thanksgiving and I love Christmas, but there is something about slowing down right after the holidays that makes me long for a fresh start. I begin to feel all kinds of motivation and might have been known to overshoot the runway in my New Year’s resolutions. Not this year, though. Nope. I’m only planning to write a book, start a business, eat a salad every day, completely organize and keep my house clean, be emotionally transparent with my husband, and work my way up to 10 unassisted pull-ups in 2017.

You know, I hear a lot of voices in my head. Mostly little voices yelling “Mommyyyy!” or asking “Why?” a hundred billion times. And right now the refrain that runs through my brain a lot is the voice of Owen saying, “I do it myself.” Here Owen, let me help you put your shoes on. No, I do it myself. Here buddy, let me buckle you up. No, I do it myself. Morning bud, you want me to cook you breakfast? I do it myself. Hmmm.

I probably sound a lot like Owen when it comes to my longings for fresh starts and new commitments. Not just in New Year’s resolutions, but in my futile pursuit of perfection. I do it myself. Strap on my boots and gird up my loins and gather my resolve and all that jazz. I’ve been following Christ for 26 years, you know? Like a child growing up into independence, I start to think that I should have this. I can be more patient, more joyful, more loving, more selfless, more faithful, more perfect.  I can do it if I just try hard enough.

But then He whispers.

As you received Christ…

How did I receive Christ? Can I remember back that far?

As you received Christ…

by grace

through faith

by the hearing of the Word

by calling upon the name of the Lord

with nothing in my hands

As you received Christ, so walk in Him.

Well that seems backward. But His kingdom is upside down, after all. Or my vision is.

Again He whispers.

You have abandoned the love you had at first…Repent and do the things you did at first…

Repent. Turn around. Change directions.

Oh, I can’t do it myself. If I try, I am forsaking my first love.

I am a branch. He is the vine. I am a sheep, and He is my good shepherd. I am a child, and He is my Father. That’s how I received Him. Confess. Believe. Accept. Thank. Those are the deeds I did at first.

Owen often follows up his declarations of “I do it myself” with “Help, Mommy!”

That’s how I can repent. It’s a new kind of a resolution, except that it’s not new at all. It’s the very gospel, and it is my life and breath and joy. It’s the old, old story that I have loved so long.

Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s demands
These for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone
Nothing in my hands I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling

Here’s to a new year full of the first things, full of the gospel, full of grace. It’s still a fresh start. Let’s make goals and plan to meet them. (I did just buy a salad spinner, after all.) But let’s also rest in the finished work, and in the same way that we received Him, let us walk in Him.

Friday, December 2, 2016

To Number our Days

I used to spend so much more time spinning around , but partly because of the load of responsibilities that seems to grow each day, and partly because of the endless distractions I give myself to, and partly because I think I’m beginning to experience an aging process called inner ear failure, I just don’t spin like I used to.

But then you walked through the living room, and Pandora was playing a song, and the Spirit whispered wisdom into my heart.

So I turned away from something not as important and said, “You wanna dance?”

You grinned and grabbed my hand, and the dancing turned into twirling which turned into “Pick me up and spin me around Mama!” And so I scooped you up like I used to, or at least that’s what I intended to do. But you weigh a ton now, and when did you get so tall? And so the scoop turned into more of a heave, but I got you up and we spun. Your face was the only thing in focus as the background all blurred and I almost fell down, but thankfully I didn’t. You were so beautiful, laughing and spinning.

So teach us to number our days…

I don’t know what the number of my days or your days or any of our days will be. But that’s okay, because “number” doesn’t just mean to count. It also means to assign, appoint, ordain.

Most often, though, it seems like the days are assigning me.

But today God gave me grace to turn it around. To stop being passive about my time, to stop letting the moments fly away.  Just to stop. To be still enough to assign that moment to something so much more important than online snooping browsing or whatever it was that I was so wrapped up in.

So that we may gain a heart of wisdom…

Wisdom is more valuable than gold, more precious than all the riches on earth.  And it can be gained. It can be gained by pursuing it, by fearing the Lord, and now, I am learning, by numbering our days.

You are four years old, and I don’t know how you got so big. But all I know is that I want to learn how to number my days before you get much bigger. I want to number my days so that I will be able to gain a heart of wisdom, a heart that can discern what is the most important thing in each moment. Because one thing matters, and a million things don’t.

You matter. And so today, I choose you.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fruit on the Vine

I felt it coming. You can’t spend 8 ½ hours at the fair with three kids, two corndogs, and a bucket of Dippin-Dots and expect to have a pleasant evening once you get home.
No. No, you can’t. What you can expect is to have a scary evening where no one understands why they have to take a bath or why they have to brush their teeth or why on earth you are selling the camper. What? Where did that even come from? I don’t know, but that’s how our day ended. With  you, my dear six year old, accusing me of using a MEAN voice (and you were probably right) and me accusing you of being RIDICULOUS (which was completely accurate.)

And after the storm blew over, I went in to your room to have a heart to heart chat. I apologized for my mean voice and you did NOT apologize for your ridiculousness. I tried to speak to your heart; you rolled your eyes. I reassured you of my love, and you said, “You don’t want me to be happy.”
You’re right. The entire reason we are selling the camper is to destroy your happiness.

I shared examples from Scripture and from my own life to show how just because things don’t feel good doesn’t mean they aren’t done out of love. Oh, it was good. I was on fire with this talk.
And you looked at me with your forty year old eyes and said curtly, “I don’t see how that applies here.”

Wow. I’m done. I threw up my hands and kissed your forehead. I am helpless to make you understand, helpless to change your heart.
Later I was walking through the laundry room and the most unexpected thing caught my eye.

Babe, I didn’t even care that apparently we need to step up our spelling game in homeschool. The tears came instantly and I bowed my heart before the Maker. You see, there is one thing that you, my beautiful, serious, intense and independent daughter have never done in your life. And that is to willingly initiate an apology for something that you have done wrong.
I rushed to your room, but you were already asleep. Hours before I was looking into your fury, coming out in a show of disrespect and sass . Now I was gazing at your tender, peaceful, sleeping beauty, and I knelt beside you and gave thanks.

Now don’t get a big head, because a few days later I looked down at your paper during church and you had mine and your daddy’s names written in a circle labeled “Bad”, with an awful looking scary face drawn right above it. So, you know, you still have some issues.
But here is what I realized, and what I am realizing…

I can till soil, and plant seeds and water them, and do everything I can to nurture and protect – but I cannot make fruit grow. I can’t make it grow in my babies’ lives and I can’t make it grow in my own life.
Because I am not the Vine Dresser.

There are seasons in my life, and maybe I am in one right now, when I feel…stuck. Stagnant. Maybe even regressing. I feel surrounded by my faults and failures, by fears and doubts, by unmet expectations and unfulfilled desires. In those days I simply don’t see or feel the fruit growing.
But it is.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
And so it was that on a long day in the middle of an even longer week, in a dry season with you, my sweet girl, the Vine Dresser showed me a piece of fruit – small but utterly significant – and reminded me that He is always at work.

So I will celebrate that fruit in your life, and I will not grow weary in doing good, and I will know that fruit on the vine will never come from me. But it will come.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser… As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Walmart and Sweetness

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Okay, you each get $4.00 to spend on whatever school supplies you want! Have fun!"

I mean, come on. Here’s your budget, now I will set you loose in the school supply section of Walmart - let’s be honest, this is a fantasy straight out of my childhood.

Fast forward 20 minutes, past a blur of explanations that Paw Patrol bandaids don’t qualify as school supplies and reminders that you MUST look before you step/jump/run out into an aisle and orders to apologize to the people that you just crashed into and stubborn preschool “I will not do as you say” determination, and here we were, you hyperventilating over the fact that I will not buy the 4 slap bracelets in your hand and me trying to stay calm in the Walmart-tantrum-vortex.

And into the cloud of emotions, and my rising disbelief at how this was turning out, and the hopelessness of my desire to lecture you out of your tantrum, came a voice behind me.

“She’s so sweet, isn’t she?”

Are you kidding me? She is anything but sweet right now.

I turned toward the voice and saw a little old woman, white hair in wisps around sharp eyes. Eyes that cut right into mine as she said again, in a deliberate voice…

“Isn’t she, Mama? Isn’t she sweet?”

And the gentle rebuke from the Father spoken through this stranger cut me to the quick. I turned back around and saw you. Really saw you. I saw your pigtails and your swollen, tear-filled eyes and snotty nose and the way you broke your crying for a yawn, and I remembered the way you had come to my room at 2:00 that morning and flailed around, unable to go back to sleep, for the next couple of hours. And I know how hard it is to function on a lack of sleep as a 32 year old, and I think how much harder it would be as a four year old, and my heart filled back up with compassion instead of annoyance.

Yes. Yes she is. She is so sweet.

By the time I looked back up the little lady was gone, so of course we had to hunt her down through the wilderness of Walmart, and when we finally did find her I gave her a hug and thanked her, and she pulled back and looked at me, her eyes softer this time, and whispered, “I remember how it is.”

Honey, you are sweet. Your sin is not sweet and your tantrums are not sweet, but you – bearer of God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made, precious gift from the Father – you are sweet and valuable and important.

And this is part of what grace is, isn’t it? Looking past the outward appearance and into the heart, seeing the beauty behind the veneer, and being able to show compassion for weakness. I wouldn’t want any bystanders to judge you or write you off as a spoiled brat in Walmart, because they don’t know. They don’t know how alive and bright and funny and generous you are. They don’t know that you are the best helper I know or that your laugh can fill up a room or that you bring joy to everyone who knows you.

But I do. And I know your weakness. I know that you have trouble with self-control, and that you haven’t figured out yet how to handle your emotions when you are tired. And if I can remember those weaknesses in the context of who I know that you are, I can come alongside of you and direct you with grace.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever…

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

You see, dear one, this is the grace that I have tasted. I do not normally have tantrums over slap bracelets in Walmart these days. But I do set my jaw and shake my fists when my plans do not go right, or when people do not act right, or when my emotions do not feel right. And I have learned, and am learning, that God’s grace extends to me even, and especially, in those moments. He doesn’t write me off as a spoiled brat. He sees Christ in me and lovingly refines me every day.

Yesterday did not get much better in the way of meltdowns until you crashed into bed at 7:00 last night. And I imagine we will have more days like this to come. But I pray that I will always remember to see past the frustrations and hear that little whisper behind me as I strive to shepherd your heart… “She is so sweet.”

And you are. I love you, sweet sweet girl.

Friday, June 24, 2016

On Becoming One

Ten years ago, when we were still babies, we said “I do” and something changed.

I couldn’t look at you without laughing, and the words “husband” and “wife” were still foreign on my lips, but everything was different in a moment. We were one.

Three months later and we were dirt poor and living in the gospel ghetto, and you were pulling three jobs plus classes at seminary, and I was juggling a full load of school and a job and coming face to face with the absurdity of all my expectations about being a wife, and it didn’t feel so much like we were one anymore.

Ten years later, and I can look at you across the chaos at the table, with the six year old debating with anyone who will listen, the four year old snorting like a pig, and the one year old gleefully throwing his spoon off the high chair, and I know something I didn’t know then.

We are one, and we are becoming one.

Something monumental really did happen on June 24, 2006. Our two separate lives were irrevocably joined in a covenant, and immediately we were one.

But the working out of that oneness has been very different than I imagined. Iron sharpening iron is so uncomfortable, and as God uses you to smooth out my rough edges and vice versa, I can see that it will take a lifetime to complete the process.

We are one, and we are becoming one.

Those idealistic expectations I had when I was just a little bride? I don’t want them anymore. I want the real you, who has loved me when I least deserve it, and forgiven me seventy times seven, and pointed me to Jesus when all I could see was myself. I want the you who pushes me out of my comfort zone and kills roaches for me and takes our daughters out on “daddy dates.” You love me with all my faults, and I want you with all your faults, because you are the other part of me.

We are one, but I know that today we are more one than we were ten years ago. And so it will continue, until the day that Jesus come back or that I die, because you are not allowed to die first.

I love you, Coach. Happy ten years.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Tree Firmly Planted


That’s the best one-word description I can think of for the man who calls me his favorite oldest daughter. He is steady like a rock, steady in his temperament, steady in his teaching and preaching, steady in his ministry, steady at home. Even down to the catch-phrases he has used at opportune moments in our lives – like “Remember, you’re preparing today for tomorrow, but don’t miss the good things today” just before dropping us off at school, or “Bedtime for the Bonzos” at nighttime, or “Hold the rope” before field trips or youth trips, or “Hey darlin’, this is your dad” on the voicemail – he is fixed, like an anchor.

When I was four, or seven, or eleven, or sixteen, and I needed to find my dad, I knew where to look. Down the hallway to the last door, and I knew exactly what I would find when I creaked it open. It’s the image that is burned in my memory forever, the silent and constant image that would become more powerful in my history than a thousand words.

He would be there, on his knees, his Bible and notebook and books spread out all in front of him on the bed. Sometimes praying, sometimes reading, sometimes writing. But always there. And I would jump on his back or sit on the bed to talk or just smile at him and leave.

I always knew where to find him.

Steady. Like a tree. Like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.

I wish I was steady. I wish that was a genetic trait that I just inherited from my steady dad. But the older I get and the deeper I grow, the more I realize just where his constancy came from. It came from being there, on his knees, with the Word spread out in front of him. Always there.

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree, firmly planted by streams of water…

I want to be like a tree. Unmoving, firmly planted, always growing and bearing fruit. And today I am thankful for the real life example of a man whose delight in the Word of his God has resulted in a steadfastness that is rare in this day. And I am even more thankful that that man is my daddy.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Love is Different

Oh, it was a morning. One of those mornings full of protests and tantrums and oh my goodness the whining. World War 3 almost broke out during bath time. Somehow we survived and as we were miraculously walking out the door to get in the van, you perked up at a sudden memory (funny how fast things can change) and said, “The candy! Mom yesterday you said we could have some candy this morning!” And it’s not what you wanted to hear and not even what I wanted to say, but Honey I don’t think that’s such a good idea right now. “But you said!!!” Yes I did but things have changed.

And as we walked to the van I tried to explain, which is the part of me that I sometimes can’t stop even when I need to. It’s not that I want to punish you, but think about this morning. When we are already struggling with bad attitudes and tempers and tiredness, sugar is the last thing we need to add to the mix. It would only make things worse and harder to control our emotions. I think that waiting is the best thing for you. I’m not trying to punish you. I’m making a decision because I love you.

I am not here to debate the merits of allowing or withholding candy from children. “Let each one be convinced in his own mind,” and in eternity I doubt our convictions on sugar will be the hottest topic of conversation. But in that moment, candy convictions aside, you muttered something significant as you climbed into the van.

“It doesn’t feel like love.”

I get it, honey. You are so right.

Now, you don’t know this but before I was a mom I used to be cool and listen to music other than “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” and “Let it Go.” There was this one song in particular by Caedmon’s Call that went like this… “Love is different than you’d think, it’s never in a song or on a tv screen; and love is harder than a word said at the right time, and everything’s all right…oh love is different than you’d think.”

And it is.

We think love is romance and sunsets and happy endings. And there are those things, but there is also a collision of two self-centered worlds, and the hard work of learning to put someone else ahead of yourself. The daily grind becomes a crucible of self-denial, and you come to realize that love looks a lot more like struggling to become one flesh, learning how to forgive and be forgiven, laboring to extend grace instead of judgment, letting go of expectations. It looks like being fully known, learning not to hide, resting in a covenant, and trusting another person with your heart.

Love is different than you’d think.

We think love is on a Pampers commercial where a beautiful, rested, and clean mother smiles tenderly at her calm, happy, clean baby. And there are certainly those kinds of moments to savor (maybe minus the “clean” part and definitely minus the “rested” part), but much more often there are sleepless nights and crying-baby-induced despair and days without clean clothes or a shower. There are hours of pacing with a baby in your arms and hours of pacing with empty arms when you realize your baby is growing up.  There are soiled sheets during the potty training days and crumbs on the floor and then you realize that love is different than you thought. Love is embracing the person your child is, not who you thought they would be. It is a constant pouring out until you think you can’t go on anymore, but then you realize that yes, you can. It is reading books on the couch, teaching the art of brushing teeth, addressing heart issues instead of just behavior, and realizing that your very heart is walking around and you can’t protect it forever. It is teaching those babies how to think and respond and discern truth, and giving them up to their Creator a thousand times over because you understand more every day that you have no power to change their hearts.

Love is different than you’d think.

And you think that love is when your mom lets you have unrestricted access to candy, or at least a few pieces of candy. And I get that, I so get that. Because I think that love is when my Father gives me the desires of my heart, all of them, and now. But so often, love looks more like a potter molding his clay, smoothing rough edges and bending it into submission and firing up the kiln to make it strong. It looks like a shepherd’s rod and staff which guide, correct, and protect. It looks not like a change of circumstances but a change of heart – joy in the midst of trial, peace in the midst of trouble, hope in the midst of a storm. It does look like a Father giving His children the desires of their heart, but often only after He gently and over time changes what those desires are. And it looks like a holy and righteous King who sees humanity drowning in depravity and death and rebellion, and who trades His riches for ashes and dwells in the midst of the filth so that He can pay for all the debt that our sin has incurred. It looks like a Man dying on a cross with scoffers and gamblers and oblivious bystanders all around. It looks like an empty tomb and a satisfied God and a gift that we don’t have to earn because it’s already been paid for and we couldn’t earn it anyway. 

You have a lot of years to think about this and learn it. I have twenty-six years on you and I still don’t get it. But I’m starting to.

Love is different than you’d think.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

All the Things that Matter

I’m so sorry, she says, with big eyes and a downward tilt of her head.

I’ve heard that already. Two other times today, sweetheart, for the same thing.

Mommy I’m so so sorry.

I forgive you. And I am not angry. But I love you and I want you to know that this is not okay, so this time I’m going to have discipline you.

And I hand down the sentence, what it will be and how long it will last, and the change is instant and stunning. Remorse flees and in its place, red hot anger.

Fine, she says, with flashing eyes and a proud cock of her head. I won’t even eat supper for three days. And I’ll sleep outside.

It’s almost as bad as the time she was two years old and, so angry that she could think of no other words, she looked at me square in the face and shouted, “You’re a seventy-two!!!”

And I sigh deeply in my spirit, because I know how she feels and I am coming to know the gravity of this thing called sin. And I wish it didn’t have its claws in my six year old but it’s how we come into the world, and there is only one way to deal with it and that way is not within ourselves. But she is wrapped up in herself right now, and I know from experience that if you are wrapped up in yourself, you will never see the Savior.

Why are you angry? I ask.

I’m not angry, she replies, seething.

And more to myself than to her, I wonder again, Why are you angry? Is it because of the consequences? Or is it because you know you messed up?

Because if she is fuming because she will be deprived of her treat for three nights, then she doesn’t understand sin. But if her anger is spilling out of shame because of her offense, then she doesn’t understand grace.

And you can’t really have one without the other.

If you don’t know that you fall short of the glory of God, then you won’t know that you need to be redeemed. And if you don’t know that the wages of sin is death, then you won’t know that it’s impossible to be your own redeemer. And if you don’t know that the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord, then you won’t know where to find a redeemer. And if you don’t know that He died for you while you were still a sinner, then you won’t know that His love is unconditional and extravagant.

These are all the things I know, and all the things that matter. They are all the things that I long to teach her, and they all are swirling around in my head and my heart and she is sitting in front of me with fury in her face and all I can do is cry out in my soul. Cry out in humility because she is me before I knew. Cry out in gratitude because of the depth of Your love and the sufficiency of the gospel. Cry out in surrender because I can’t do anything to save my daughter from her deepest problem. And cry out in hope because You can.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Last night at bedtime I saw the stark contrast in my two daughters. We had been snuggling on the couch watching a movie when 8:00 rolled around. Let’s just get this out of the way: 8:00 is sacred. SACRED. Because 8:00 means that my beloved children who bring me such joy but who also talk without stopping for at least thirteen hours straight and say the word MOMMY four hundred billion times a day will now go to a separate room, fall asleep peacefully (yeah right), and allow me to eat my melted-then-frozen-peanut butter-coconut oil-maple syrup-chocolate chip-every single night treat in…get this…silence.

Sacred, get it?

So when the clock struck 8 I got off the couch to turn off the movie. “We’ll finish this one tomorrow, it’s time for bed!” (Can you hear how chipper my voice is getting now that it’s 8:00?) And that’s when I saw the difference, not for the first time.

Claire: “Mom, can we please, please, please just watch five more minutes? I remember what’s about to happen and it will be a great place to stop if we just watch a little more. Actually, I think if we watch just a few more minutes it will be exactly halfway done. It’s really not quite halfway yet. Mom, I promise we will not complain if we can just watch a few more minutes…”…and on…and on…and on…

Honey, I’m sorry but I’m not going to change my answer. It’s time for bed.

AK: “No it’s not.”

And there you have it. The six year old lawyer who argues her case for 10 minutes straight and the 3 year old free spirit who simply denies reality. A pretty accurate picture of these two small characters who live in my house.

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately. Even from the youngest age, we are ever using our words to try to define our reality, whether it’s through logic or sheer determination.  Maybe it’s because we’re made in the image of a Creator who loves to use words.

It started in the beginning, when the universe held its formless and void breath to see just how He was going to do His mighty work. If I didn’t already know the answer, I would have guessed that He would use His hands – maybe wave them or point them or clap them together. But no. He only spoke. Just words. But words that resulted in existence and beauty and light and life. 

Now, He did use more than words to create humanity. He used His hands and the dust of the ground and His holy breath. But then He spoke.  He spoke over His newest creation words that resulted in blessing and purpose and identity.

And then darkness crept back in, and the first man and woman believed the lie over the truth and the deceiver over the Creator and then they hid. And here came the sound of the Lord walking in the garden and His words – words that resulted in exposure and confession because nothing can be hidden from the eyes of the One who made them all. 

And everything seemed hopeless and ruined. And the words came that brought sorrow and grief and justice because the wages of sin must be paid.


There is the Creator with His words, always weaving life and light and beauty and existence because this is who He is. As just as He is merciful, and as gracious as He is holy. And the words came that brought hope. The seed of a promise, hope for redemption and a happy ending.

Maybe that’s why words are so important to us. Maybe they reflect this part of His image, as broken as it might be in our crooked souls. And maybe instead of arguing for a later bedtime, or denying that it is bedtime, or screaming “Everybody go to bed so I can eat my chocolate!!!”, we should recognize something that in our deepest souls, we crave desperately: our Maker’s words of life. May we seek out and meditate on and treasure these words, because this – this is where life is found.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.