Examples to Follow

The waiting room at the doctor’s office wasn’t much bigger than a shipping container. We were packed in like sardines except for maybe two empty chairs. An elderly man eagerly talked to whoever would listen. He spoke with another couple near his age sitting across from him, right beside me. I sat amused and slightly horrified as he conversed openly and joyfully about the Bible and attending church. He asked the man and woman where they went to church as well. “This isn’t normal,” I thought, especially in public with complete strangers! A twinge of embarrassment and shame came over me as I saw this man doing something I should be too.

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Jesse and I stepped out of the waiting room to find a restroom. I needed a moment to regroup anyway. What in the world had I just seen and heard? Why was I ashamed? I asked God to forgive my initial reaction and help me to be like this man, who was bold and unashamed for what he stood for. He didn’t seem to care what people thought of him. Loving the stranger, a soul, was more important because he clearly loved the Lord.

As we re-entered the waiting room two women came out of the doctor’s office to sit as well. In one of the last available seats a Bible sat on it. When the older gentleman realized his Bible needed to be moved he cheerfully offered the Book for one of the women to read before he picked it up. He exclaimed that there was no better Book and that it was full of wisdom. I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open like a fish, dumbfounded at his confidence and sincerity. You could feel the tension mounting in this confined space. In a politically correct society this was a major taboo. “Doesn’t he know the social norms?” the thought flickered somewhere in the back of my mind. His actions seemed ludicrous but I wonder if Paul, Peter, or John the Baptist would have been tight-lipped.

 

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Over the past year I attended a Bible study going through the book of John. God began placing on my heart a desire and conviction to intertwine boldness with humility when speaking about my faith. I wondered what this would look like and saw wonderful examples starting with John the Baptist. Now I was seeing a modern-day John the Baptist of sorts. He was plain, simple, and straightforward, even in how he dressed, clad in an Alabama t-shirt and ball cap with jeans. This man simply started conversations and spoke truth. I saw a faith that was bold, yet humble and cheerful.

I kept thinking we need more believers like this. I wanted a backbone like that too, made from a place of love for people. Why is it that I can stand for God inside the walls of my own home, or at church, in places we deem “acceptable” but not in a doctor’s office, or the grocery store, or my neighborhood? I thought about what persecution for Christians in America would look like. What if I was arrested or worse for speaking about Christ in public? Who would still stand? Would I?

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I needed this man’s reminder to set my perspective on things of eternal worth. It wasn’t just what he stood for, but how he did it. Boldness with humility makes the Christian faith attractive, if not curious, for others to witness. Sometimes it is hard to “practice what you preach”, but the only way I know to do this is when I rely on the Holy Spirit to work in and through me. It starts with one small step of obedience after another. This older believer taught me more than he’ll ever know, and I didn’t get his name, but he left a lasting example to follow.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Need to Belong

The other day The Andy Griffith Show came on T.V. as I was eating lunch. I grew up watching this family show on recorded VHS tapes in the early 90’s. My dad is a huge fan and by default, my sister and I were also. It’s something I look back on with fond memories, watching television together as a family, not worried about anything offensive or awkward popping up.

 

This particular one was the only Christmas episode in the entire eight-year series, and is one of my favorites. But something occurred to me this time while watching. The character Ben Weaver is a local storeowner in Mayberry, and also a grouch. He keeps purposely breaking the law to land himself in jail. Sheriff Andy Taylor lets him go because “it’s Christmas” and his Season One pharmacist girlfriend Ellie, begs him to do so.

 

Andy, his family, Ellie, and a local family in jail for moonshining celebrate Christmas together at the jailhouse. The scene then pans to Ben, miserable and alone, standing on a trashcan outside the jail looking in at the joyful party. At that moment, the audience can’t help but feel sorry for him as he secretly joins with the others, sorrowfully singing “Away in a Manger”. We get a glimpse that his tough exterior isn’t all that it appears to be. Ben is in fact, lonely. He’s especially reminded of this at Christmastime.

 

Ben takes a tumble on the not so sturdy trashcan in the alley behind the jailhouse. When Andy goes to check on the commotion he finds Ben sprawled out, hitting rock bottom. Exasperated and dumbfounded, Andy at first begins to lecture Ben until it occurs to him that he would do this on purpose. Could the town grouch really want to join in celebrating Christmas with others? Andy is filled with compassion and the episode ends with Ben “arrested” but not before he generously hands out presents to the other guests at the party. Like the audience, Andy finally understands what Ben wanted all along- to belong.

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The universal message of needing to belong is what struck me. We all have a desire to be understood and accepted. God did not create us to live on our own tiny islands, but as a community, a family even. Every created person has a soul, and if nothing else we all have this in common. God enjoys fellowship within the Trinity, so why wouldn’t He fashion us to crave connection too?

 

Similar backgrounds, experiences, and interests are ways we connect to each other, but the one way that goes deeper than all the rest is a shared love and faith in Jesus. The Spirit knits are hearts together. I love getting to talk with another believer about the One we love most. It’s refreshing and encouraging knowing that I’m not alone. You don’t have to be alone either. Those who know the Lord as Savior belong in the same family. No matter what we look like on the outside or to the rest of the world- black or white, single mom or married, varying economic statuses- none of it matters when we are folded into the family of God.

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We are not on the outside looking in; we are guests at the Christmas party! And when we see someone like the character Ben, on the outside longing to join, we can share the joy and hope we have with him or her. Jesus came as a baby so that you and I would never have to be alone. Jesus accepted us even after looking at our resume. Believers have the assurance of belonging – we get to celebrate Christmas all year round. We belong to a family that will never cast us out and will never end.

Loving the Summer You Actually Have

We are right in the middle of our summer vacation. Maybe you and your family have gone to the beach, the swimming pool, played outside, grilled out or piled in the car for a road trip. We traveled to the beach at the beginning of this month which was a treat because we had not planned to go. Summer usually brings to mind ideal images of fun and sun, but it isn’t always like this. Summer vacation with children is not one big ray of happy sunshine the entire time. I know this, so by mid-May I was mentally preparing to “sink or swim”.

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I’m genuinely thrilled to spend this time with my son, but also slightly terrified. As the fun increases, so does the workload for mom. There is generally about a week of mental transition for me to shift my attitude in how I approach these “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”. I want to enjoy this precious time, to be fully present, not wish each long day away waiting for his bedtime to arrive. This can be hard on some days, but I know that my attitude sets the tone for the rest of the household. I don’t want to be the “grumpy mom”, so I wrote down a few ideas not just to endure the rest of the summer, but also like it.

Here are some ways to help you also love the summer you actually have:

1. Write a bucket list

Good for you if you have already done this! But it’s not too late to start if you haven’t. Jot down an overview of what you hope to experience or accomplish with your kids. Make sure to include lots of free and low costs options too. For example, make an afternoon of a water balloon toss and running through the sprinkler. Spend some time at your local pool, which usually costs a few dollars if you aren’t a member somewhere. Take note of interesting cities around where you live and make a daytrip to the zoo, aquarium, children’s museum, etc. Most afternoons Jesse and I go on walks in our neighborhood because that is something he really enjoys doing.

 

2. Write down dates of events

Is your city hosting a fireworks show? Or an outdoor family concert? Is there a $1 movie day? Write down the place and time or put it in your phone calendar so you won’t forget! Where we live there are a couple of websites that list things going on around the area. I look it over and make a list of the events I think might be interesting for us to do.

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3. Make a list of goals for that week

If I don’t write things down I either forget or feel very overwhelmed by my mental list. It just makes it easier to see on paper what I would like to plan for that week. This is also true in making lists for the grocery store and meal planning 🙂 Be sure to check your local weather so you can prepare for indoor activities if needed.

 

4. Have some kind of structure

I know this sounds counter-intuitive to the freedom of summer but I think having some idea of what to expect next actually helps children. For us, the days are separated into morning and afternoon activities. We usually come back home for lunch and have “rest” time (a.k.a. mom needs a break). Jesse lies down or plays semi-quietly in his room for 45 minutes to an hour.

We don’t pack each day from one activity to the next either. Leave time for the slow and even boring days because that is when creativity kicks in for you and for them! Remember that you are not an entertaining circus act – chores and adult life still happen, but don’t resent the interrupted moments with your kids either. It is definitely a balancing act, filled with lots of grace for moms and kids.

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5. Eliminate the clutter

I made a decision recently to try and stay off of social media as much as possible during summer vacation. I found myself constantly looking at my phone, as if the thing was glued to my hand. It made me wonder if that is how my son will picture me and it was convicting. I don’t want to send the message that this device or whatever I’m looking at is more important than him. So I decided to cut it out. Honestly it has been freeing for me because I needed to take a step back and make sure I had not become a slave to it. I think in our culture this is so easy to do because entertainment is literally at our fingertips so we never have to experience boredom…but I digress. I just know it has helped what I put my focus on.

 

6. Pray for how your kids will remember their time with you

Pray for a different perspective and attitude toward this ample amount of free time with your kids. Look at it as an opportunity to pour into them your time, love and wisdom. Seriously. Not every moment will be golden, but it can be a useful lesson for them and for you. (Sanctification anyone?) By God’s grace hopefully the good times will outweigh our moments of failure. Learning to love the realistic summer I have with my son, seeing it as a gift has helped me to enjoy our time together instead of looking at him as an obstacle to the “perfect summer”, because there really is no such thing to begin with.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Need more ideas for the summer? Here is a little list I made just for you!

 

*Bowling

*Library- check to see if your local library has story time for your children’s age

*$1 movie days

*Children’s museums

*Roller skating

*Ice skating

*Putt-putt golf

*Water parks/Splash pads

*local pool

*hiking trails

*arcades

*bike rides

*coloring/crafts/play-doh

*playgrounds

*sidewalk chalk

*blowing and popping bubbles

*neighborhood walks

*building forts with sheets and chairs

*playing board games and card games

*reading a book together

*treat them to McDonald’s, Chic-fila, etc. and have fun in the play area 

*use Pandora and put on a kid station for random dance parties!

*bake brownies or cookies together….can I come over?

 

I’d love to hear what you and your crew are up to this summer! What are some fun things you are doing?

 

 

Conversation Starters

A boy in Jesse’s class invited him to a birthday party recently. I bought a gift and marked the time/date on my phone calendar. The day of the party we arrived to find a few of his classmates in attendance, which I silently felt relieved that we would know at least a couple of the other party guests. Jesse immediately ran to a girl in his class, who is Hispanic. Like him, she is also autistic with low verbal skills. I had never met her parents before since she rides the bus. Other parents who pick up their children after school usually congregate outside the building under an awning. After almost a year, I became acquainted with a few of them.

I walked up to introduce myself to the girl’s parents and was surprised that they knew very little English. In fact, the mother could say maybe five words in English, leaving her husband to do most of the interpreting which was shaky at best. All I could think about was how this couple must have a hundred questions related to their daughter’s school. I could not imagine how lonely it must feel to live in a foreign country, not knowing the language, while navigating/advocating their child’s special needs education!

We attempted a couple of times to talk but the few Spanish classes I had in high school and college completely evaporated from my brain. Knowing how to count to 20 in Spanish or recite the months of the year was not very helpful in the moment. I wanted to communicate with the mother and by the expression on her face I think she did too. She showed me a picture of their other child and I smiled back. We were reduced to facial expressions and pictures. My heart hurt for her and their family.

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Then it occurred to me that Jesse might feel isolated in a similar way. I have wanted so desperately to communicate with him that it is easy to forget how he must feel too. A book I just read from an autistic boy’s perspective called The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida gave me a little more insight and sympathy on this. At thirteen, Naoki transcribed in Q&A form using an alphabet grid with the help of his mother and teacher. The book was later translated into English and has become a national bestseller. I definitely don’t agree with his New Age beliefs sprinkled throughout the pages but the core idea I took away from reading it was that we sometimes limit those who aren’t just like us. Whether it is a language barrier, intellectual, or physical, we often view them as less than the rest of us. Instead of learning what life is like in someone else’s shoes we are quick to treat the disabled or disadvantaged with less respect than someone we can relate to.

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I still do this on occasion to Jesse when I struggle to communicate with him or when he can’t calm down or because bath/bedtime makes him super hyper and giggly. The underlying fact is, when I don’t understand his speech or behavior I’m tempted to give up because we aren’t speaking the same language. It can be exhausting and frustrating. Yet I wonder how many times people with Autism or any other barrier are quickly dismissed because the ability to communicate easily is absent. We assume that there isn’t another way or that the case is hopeless. Reading this book gave me a different perspective, and for the first time, hope. Just because Jesse can’t speak in complete sentences like other children his age doesn’t mean he lacks intelligence or is less of a person. Naoki says,

 

“One of the biggest misunderstandings you have about us is your belief that our feelings aren’t us subtle and complex as yours. Because how we behave can appear so childish in your eyes, you tend to assume that we’re childish on the inside, too. But of course, we experience the same emotions that you do. And because people with autism aren’t skillful talkers, we may in fact be even more sensitive than you are. Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. And it’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or meltdown.” (p. 109)

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I imagine it might be like someone in a coma who can’t respond verbally or physically but can hear everything going on around him perfectly. His senses are a little thrown off, but mentally the coma patient can comprehend his auditory surroundings. Often doctors, relatives, and visitors talk over the patient as if he isn’t even there.

I’m learning to slow down and intentionally communicate with Jesse – mostly to understand him but also to treat him like I would anyone else without a disability. He’s only six so there will still be wisdom needed (and grace) for training and discipline because I often don’t know exactly what his level of comprehension is. But I don’t want to limit his abilities either. Sometimes that means pushing him a little, to gain confidence. Other moments are more grace-filled and tender, realizing he doesn’t have that specific skill-set yet. But it’s a start in the right direction. Conversation can happen in many forms, not just verbally. For us it looks like a smattering of sign language, spelling words out, hand gestures, pictures and one to two word phrases. We get by. And I am learning that I can’t put him in a box, because he always surprises me by refusing to stay in the mold that society has placed on him.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Insta-faith

I like Instagram. It’s my favorite form of social media because it gets to the point, along with posting a visual that ranges from inspiring, funny, or cute. We are wired in our culture to hustle, no time to waste, even in recreational things. Our society has transformed into an instantaneous one.

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The reason I know this goes no further than my own lack of patience. Whether it be corralling my son each morning, getting him ready for school, or waiting in line at the Starbucks drive-through, or impatiently tapping my foot for the Internet to load faster. I hate to wait. I’ve been trained for instant gratification. But this doesn’t follow the model for deep faith in the Christian life. On some level I know this, but I also want the fast track for spiritual maturity. There must be some corners to cut, right?

Last summer I decided to find an older woman in the faith to soak up all her Biblical knowledge like a sponge. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be mentored; in fact it’s a very good thing! I was just going about it the wrong way. Instead, it became a works based attitude (the more I know, the more I’m validated as a Christian) and a source of pride.

It seems that most of my sanctification does not happen mainly by acquiring facts about the Bible but through daily decisions, responses, thoughts, and people. People and situations are real sticklers for personal growth or failure. Honestly, sometimes I take one step forward and two steps back. Although new life in Christ IS instantaneous the moment we trust Him for our salvation, spiritual maturity takes an entire lifetime.

             For those of us who like to “get to the point” this is not great news, but it is gracious news. We learn to abide in His strength and remember once again that God is the Only One who makes things grow. So we wait. He reminds us to do this, as we trust in His limitless power.

We are limited beings and it isn’t until we realize this that humility can nourish faith. In Hannah Anderson’s book ‘Humble Roots’ she uncovers this wisdom with each chapter. She says,

“In God’s wisdom the very process of learning binds us to Him in a way that simply knowing the answers cannot. And so He asks you to trust Him. He asks you to live in dependence. He asks you to humble yourself to wait for Him.” (p. 130)

There isn’t an “Insta-faith” for deeper fellowship with the Lord. This is what makes it so beautiful and organic, something worth being patient for! Over time and trials, when we allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts, our character is transformed to look more like Christ.

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It’s a little ironic that the more I seek communion with God, I see how deeply underground and twisted the vines of pride around my heart are. If we take Anderson’s analogy of gardening, the uprooting and pruning of our hearts is tedious and painful. But we also know that it is needed for spiritual health and abundant fruit one day. Weeds of pride, disease of instant gratification have to be dug up, pulled out and treated if we want to persevere in this life.

You and I don’t have to become discouraged and give up either. God is faithful to finish all He does, and that includes the good work He is doing in you and me. The Bible says we can be confident in knowing this (Philippians 1:6). And that is gracious news.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Truth telling for Moms

I’m a mom who daily lives under a rock of guilt and failure.

I haven’t given my six-year-old siblings to play with.

 I haven’t worked hard enough (or at all) today on his developmental skills.

 He’s spending too much time in front of electronics.

 I could do this all day.

 

I don’t know if it’s because Jesse has Autism and is an only child that I put this added pressure on myself, or if all moms do this. I suspect we each have our areas we struggle in, the lies we tell ourselves. When I stop the merry-go-round of all the ways I’m failing as a mom, God is gracious to help me fight with truth.

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The truth is, my son operates differently than other kids and so his activities and interests will look different as well. The truth is, I’m doing a great job as his mom, but I’m not perfect either. God knows this. The Lord didn’t wait until I had my act together before He gave me a son. It is in the process of raising him that I am sanctified!

The truth is, I am already “enough” as a mom, wife, friend and woman because Christ is enough and He lives in me. Condemnation has no place here. When I remember this, I breathe easier again, my shoulders begin to relax and I get to enjoy my son instead of focusing on all the ways I don’t measure up.

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If I stay hunkered down in guilt, I can’t clearly see the amazing blessings right in front of me. God holds out this wonderful gift and I reject not only the gifts of freedom and joy, but God Himself when I’m wrapped up in my own shortcomings.

Mom life is hard, but the truth is He gave you and me specific children, with distinct personalities and skills, to love, nourish, and raise for His glory. We get to teach them about the Lord who is our life.

             Our kids are gifts to enjoy, little lessons to learn from, means of sanctification. Preach this truth to yourself today when you feel like waving the white flag. God gives us the privilege and responsibility to care for the least of these, right in our own tribe.

It first starts with us loving Him as our ultimate treasure. That’s the place where we parent well and do anything well. Our relationship and growing love for the Lord will overflow on whatever else we put our hands to do today. We learn that even when we mess up or they do, there is grace and forgiveness extended vertically and horizontally. We start to live the message of the cross and that is the truth we need to tell ourselves everyday.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

A Gracious Receiver

 

I just finished a Bible study in the Gospel of John with a group of women all over my city. One of the questions in our lesson asked, “How have you seen the Lord’s love and knowledge of you in the way He tailors His correction especially to fit you and your circumstances?”

For me it continues to be a lesson of accepting God’s grace and forgiveness. I’m no longer “just a sinner”, but covered in Jesus’ righteousness. God wants to show me the freedom I have in His forgiveness over my sins, yet I stay wrapped up in all the ways I fail Him. Isn’t that silly? He has made believers as new creations but I cling to dust and ashes. I resist receiving what is already mine.

The past few months have been painful to learn this lesson. I feel like it should be the easiest one to have down pat. Grace is grace and believers live in a “sea of grace” (BSF Notes, Lesson 28, p.4). Yet growing in spiritual maturity is sometimes remembering that we forget the easiest lessons. And I need to remember every day.

Quick to acknowledge that I’m a depraved sinner, I often miss the very real truth that because of Jesus I am forgiven; redeemed. How many times we miss this life giving principle. When we can’t even accept our own failures as forgiven, how in the world do we forgive someone who has wronged us? Or ask for forgiveness from someone else?

We are hidden in Christ, cleansed from all shame. And the best part is that we have done nothing to deserve such mercy- it is all by the grace of God. That is the most humbling and gracious news.

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The Lord is actively at work in us, in the world, through all the brokenness. He is redeeming all things for His Glory, and He first starts with His Beloved- you and me. If we want deep faith than acknowledging our deep sin that cannot be cleansed apart from Christ is the first step. Then we move forward and receive the gracious forgiveness extended to us, bought for you and me on the Cross.

Live in freedom.

Walk in freedom.

Satan thrives on paralyzing Christians with our failures, but we have an Intercessor who prays for us- Jesus Himself (John 17; Luke 22:31-32). Even though we might stumble and fall, God is faithful to love us perfectly and patiently. All praise belongs to God, because anything we have already comes from Him, even faith. You and I can receive His grace and not live as one condemned.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April