Category Archives: Christianity

Favorite Bible Verse

Standard

YouVersion, the free Bible app I sometimes use on my phone, recently sent me an email that listed the top ten Bible verses most often bookmarked by their users. Here they are:

Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

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

Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Romans 12:2 – Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 3:6 – In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I Corinthians 13:4 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It’s a good collection. There are so many treasures there… promises, comfort, encouragement for the journey. Great verses. Is your favorite there? Mine isn’t. Philippians 4:6 is high on the list, though. As someone who has struggled all my life with fear and anxiety, the assurance that I can cast my cares on the One who made me and loves me offers great strength.

My favorite verse (right now) is Romans 10:23 – Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

I know a lot about hope. Hope that startles, hope that rises, hope that quietly wraps around you and keeps you holding on for one more day. In my life, I have seen God come through over and over. Sometimes He flies in like Superman and sweeps away the obstacles; other times He simply assures me of His presence–a small, warm light glowing through the dark, just bright enough to illuminate the next step. And then the next. And the next.

And I take those steps. I take them trembling. I take them stumbling. But I take them, because I know they are leading me to the home that was promised. And that He who promised is faithful.

So do you have a favorite Bible verse? What is it? And why?

Bits and Pieces

Standard

*Last night, after sending the kids to get their pajamas on, Paul and I settled down on the couch with our laptops to play a little World of Warcraft together.  Before long, out comes Caleb in his footie jammies, asking, “Can I sit with you guys?”  I patted the sofa next to me.  “Of course, kiddo,” I said.  Only then did I see that he was holding something in his hands.  “I have a computer of my own, see?” he exclaimed proudly.  He had taken a piece of orange construction paper, folded it in half, and drawn a keyboard and screen on it.  He sat back against the couch and set his “laptop” up on his knees to play, just like Mommy and Daddy.  How cute is that?

Dell and Crayola team up to create the ultimate in ultralight computing...

Dell and Crayola team up to create the ultimate in ultralight computing...

*Once, when I was a kindergartner in Michigan, I spent the entire recess getting dressed in my snowsuit and boots.  The teacher was going down the line zipping zippers and fastening gloves and tightening boot laces before sending each student to the playground, and I happened to be last in line that day.  Just as I was walking to the door to go outside, the bell rang and all the other kids came streaming back into the building, faces red with cold and laughing at their sledding adventures.  I burst into tears from the disappointment.

I hadn’t thought about that memory in a long time, until this year, when we came back to school from Christmas break with three feet of snow still on the ground.  Suddenly, the simple act of sending my students out to recess took on gargantuan complications, and it took me a day or two to realize that I had to make some adjustments in the procedure.  Now, I schedule ten minutes of class time before recess for getting into snowpants and hats and scarves and gloves and boots, and another ten minutes after for getting out of them.  (Yes, that’s twenty minutes of preparation for a fifteen minute recess, but such is life in North Idaho.)  Another lesson came from the K4 teacher in the room next to mine, who has been doing this for winters without number.  She doesn’t spend all that time on zippers and laces and stuffing tiny feet into puffy snowsuits like so many nylon-encased sausages.  Instead, she has a hands-off policy: she’ll talk a child through the process (“sit down and pull your snowpants on like you’re getting into a sleeping bag”, etc.) but she won’t do it for them.  As a result, her students get ready to go out all by themselves, and much more quickly than if they had to wait for her to get around to help everyone.  I started doing things the same way in my classroom this week, and it has helped immensely.

*Katie will be participating in the area-wide private school spelling bee next Thursday.  Knowing my proud history of spelling bee glory, her teacher has kindly invited me to come along and bear witness to the victories and defeats of the next generation of spelling wunderkind.  Kathy has agreed to take my class for a couple of hours in the morning, and I am looking forward to being there with Katie, either to share in her moment of triumph or to comfort her in her disappointment, as my mother comforted me.  Spell on, sweet girl!

*Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday.  What a joy it was to explain to my class why we celebrate the birthday of this remarkable man and the impact he had on American society!  His dedication to Christ’s teachings of love and equality burned through our national consciousness like a wildfire.  While we still have work to do to realize his vision of an America where men “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”, he made some of the first mighty strides toward that goal, and planted that dream deep in the soil of our country’s soul.  The reverend knew, as many of us today do not, that the first rule of positive change is love.  We can’t get anywhere we want to go without it.

Merry Christmas!

Standard

christmastreestar

This morning, we got a text message from Daniel, my newest brother-in-law.  It said:

Wishing you the very best in this time of yearning between the now and the not yet.

Happy Christmas

Daniel & Amber

On this day of family, food, and friendship, I pray the same for you–both the yearning, and the fulfillment of it in Jesus Christ and the home He has prepared for those who love Him.

Happy holidays!

Safe Sex

Standard

This dire statistic led the news this week: according to a recent study, 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. About twice that many are sexually active. Educators are aghast, while parents are shocked and dismayed, and why shouldn’t they be? After all, this is the enlightened age of comprehensive sex education, where condoms are passed out during health class and the safe sex mantra is splashed across prime time television in funny commercials and serious public service announcements alike. Students in public schools are presented with all the facts about intercourse, conception, and STD prevention at a very young age, armed with the knowledge which proponents of such education swear will keep young people safe from the traumas of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.

Except it isn’t working.

May I respectfully suggest that something is broken in the way we talk to kids about sex?

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe in comprehensive sex education. I just don’t think ours is comprehensive enough.

Information about STD prevention and contraception are important, but too often our treatment of human sexuality in relation to teens stops there, light years away from finishing the picture and telling them other things they need to know about having sex–like how it can impact their emotions, their relationships, and their futures. For example, studies show that teenagers who are sexually active are almost three times as likely as their non-active peers to suffer from depression and to attempt suicide. There are correlations between teen sexual activity and a broad range of negative experiences, including increased drug use, higher dropout rates, and less successful marriages later on. In contrast, teenagers who abstain from sexual activity are 50 percent less likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to graduate from college. They are less likely to engage in other risky behaviors and tend to form healthier, more emotionally mature relationships in adulthood. Even among teens themselves, there is a growing realization that early sexual activity is a mistake. Over half of teenage boys and nearly three-fourths of teenage girls who have engaged in sexual activity report that they wish they had waited. Sex is a whole lot more than a simple biological process; it’s also a complex mental, emotional, and spiritual act, and to ignore its far-reaching effects would be irresponsible.

There’s a pretty hot debate raging between proponents of current “safe sex” education and the “abstinence only” group, which believes that teaching kids about contraception and disease prevention is tantamount to sending them out in pairs with hotel keys in their hands. While I truly believe in teaching the whole truth of sexuality, I am concerned with the underlying anti-abstinence tone of those who tout “comprehensive” sex ed. From schools, from entertainment media, from politicians, the message a teen often hears is: “We know you’re going to have sex no matter what we say. With all those hormones swirling around, you just can’t help it. And frankly, if you don’t do it, we’ll think you’re a little weird.” It’s as if abstinence has been taken off the table as a realistic choice in today’s world. We need to challenge that assumption.

As a Christian, I’m teaching my children, as I was taught, that sex is wonderful, exciting, fun, and intended to be fully expressed only within the boundaries of a loving marriage. I knew, when I was growing up, that I was expected to wait, and though I sometimes struggled to honor that expectation, I did wait. Believe me, I experienced the same desires, the same passions, the same hormonal surges that teens everywhere experience, but I knew that I wasn’t a puppet of those forces.  I always believed, because it was what I’d been taught, that I was capable of controlling myself. I made choices, I drew hard lines in my relationships with the opposite sex, and I didn’t step outside of those lines, though the temptation was definitely there. At age 22, I came to the marriage bed a virgin, and twelve years of great sex later, I don’t have a single thing to regret in the experiences I passed up as a teenager. I truly hope that my daughter and my son will be able to say the same.

I realize I’m in the minority. And maybe you don’t agree with me that sex is meant for marriage, but can we at least agree to stop setting teens up for the fall with our message of helplessness and victimhood? Let’s empower them to make their own decisions about sex–first, by acknowledging that the impact of human sexuality reaches far beyond the physical to touch the very emotional center of a person; like a pebble dropped into a pond, it ripples out to effect every other part of a person’s life. And second, we can empower teens by showing our confidence in their ability to choose abstinence and self-control, even in the face of physical and societal pressures. Sure, they should know all the facts about protecting their bodies from pregnancy and disease, but they should also know that in the end, having sex is a choice, and not a biological inevitability.

Thank You

Standard

This Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a day of feasting, football, and family–not to mention friends, fart jokes, finicky four year olds, and fifty foot parade floats. It’s a day for generations to assemble and share laughter and sweet potato casserole recipes, a day for competitive games of Trivial Pursuit and falling asleep in the recliner with your mouth open. It’s a day to share all the old stories (like the one where Kathy put me in charge of the gravy and I turned it into something resembling turkey-flavored jello.) It’s a day for tradition. And I so love all of that. It’s important, though, amidst all of the foofala, when we’re pushing our chairs back from the table and unbuttoning the top button on our pants in gustatory delight, to remember what the Thanksgiving holiday is all about: giving thanks.

So this week, Thanksgiving week, I’m going to post every day about one of my blessings. I have so many, the only hard part will be choosing seven. Because I’ll tell you right now, I am one very rich girl. My cup runneth over. My heart is full. I am blessed far beyond my deserts. (Desserts? Did someone mention desserts? That could be a whole day of thanks right there…)

Today, the first day of my week of Thanksgiving, I am kicking off the gratitude by giving thanks for my Number One Blessing. Because what I’m most thankful for is also the One I’m thankful to. My biggest, best blessing is that I am a child of God, saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, and heir to an inheritance that will outlast everything else I have in this world. God loves me. He died for me! And now I get to be with Him forever. That pretty much blows all my other blessings out of the water.

So thank you, Father, for the blessing of being a part of your family. I hope my life shows my gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pick Me!

Standard

Caleb and I have a little ritual. The Pick Me ritual. When he climbs into my lap for a cuddle, when we’re dancing around the living room in crazy circles or playing at the park, when I tuck him into bed for the night, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by waves of mushy mommy love for this irrepressible tornado of a boy that God has given me.

“You know what?” I ask him.

“What?” he replies, already grinning because he knows what’s coming.

“If I could choose any little boy out of all the little boys in the whole, wide world to be my son, I would pick….YOU!

Me?” he asks, smiling big.

“Yes, you,” I confirm, before we both collapse into tickles and laughter. I soak up these moments like rays of fall sunlight, knowing that four years old quickly becomes fourteen and that time swallows up childhood rituals faster than Caleb eats chocolate chip cookies.

Sometimes it’s Caleb who initiates the exchange. Especially when we’ve had a tough day, a day filled with “don’t”s and whining and mutual irritations, when he and I are at odds with each other and obligation has temporarily eclipsed delight in the parent-child bond, I often find him at my elbow, looking up at me and asking, “Will you pick me, Mom?”

So I do.  “You know what?”  “What?”  Big grin.  We go through the whole thing again, and by the end of it we’re both smiling, remembering once more the joy of being loved for exactly who you are.

Sometimes Caleb asks me to “pick” Katie, or Daddy.  He listens as I choose Katie from all the little girls on the planet, as I single Paul out from all the world’s “grown up boys.”   I think it’s his way of affirming and enjoying the sense of being part of our family. He reminds me that we all belong to each other, that we are drawn together out of the world to make this unit, this place of safety and acceptance and growth and trust. The four of us.

It’s a good feeling, being picked. I want my children to grow up knowing that feeling. That way, I hope, one day they’ll be able to fully recognize God’s love in picking us to be His children. They’ll take hold of His invitation with both hands. They’ll fearlessly give themselves up to belonging to Him in the same way.

They’ll pick Him back.

Fighting Fair

Standard

Our first married fight had all the usual elements of a tantrum: tears, yelling, overly dramatic accusations of fatal character flaws, and two people completely and irrevocably convinced of the moral superiority of their own positions.

We hadn’t been home from our honeymoon very long, and we were only beginning to learn what it meant to evolve from a dating couple to a married one. We were both still students, and our apartment just off campus allowed us to remain involved in all of the social activities and friendships we’d enjoyed throughout our college experience. In fact, many nights found Paul back in his old stomping grounds, hanging out at the guys’ dorms, drifting from room to room to shoot the breeze, mooch pizza, and play video games.

I didn’t have a problem with this, at first. I’d arrive home from a seven o’clock class, stir up some Ramen noodles for myself, watch a little TV, do my homework, and busy myself with the hundred wedding gift thank you notes I had left to write. But as one hour turned into two, then five, and midnight came and went with no word from the man who was supposed to be sliding into bed next to his brand new wife, mild irritation would turn to worry, worry would turn to anger, and anger would dissolve into tears as I started to imagine all the terrible fates that could have befallen him. Just about the time I was imagining what I would say to the police officer who came to give me the bad news that my young husband had been struck down by a gang of murderous bikers, in he would walk, smiling broadly and goofily unaware of the tempest of emotions roiling inside his hapless bride.

The first couple of times it happened, the relief of finding that he was okay eclipsed everything else, and the leftover bit of honeymoonish glow that still suffused our tiny apartment quickly swept away the anger I felt. Finally, though, things came to a head.

It was two in the morning on a weeknight. I had worried, I had wept, I had even called around to a couple of his friends’ rooms to find out if they had seen him–only my fear for his well-being overcoming my aversion to an act that, to me, had “naggy wife” written all over it. And, to be honest, I was embarrassed to admit that my girlish fantasy of true lovers wanting to spend “every moment together” was already riddled with holes, pierced by the reality of life with a flesh and blood man instead of a fairy tale hero. Paul had never stayed out so late without calling before, though, and I was sure that this time he was lying in a ditch somewhere, his life’s blood ebbing out in a dark and widening pool as he struggled to remember the license plate number of the long haul trucker who had run over him. When he finally walked through the door, he walked into a full-blown hurricane.

I won’t go into detail about what was said, mainly because the merciful fog of years has faded the memory a bit. Somewhere amidst all the hard words and tears and recriminations and hot defensiveness, we each managed to make our points. We were new at the whole arguing thing, so we might have wasted a few words and thrown a couple of low blows, but when the smoke cleared at last, we had reached an understanding. Paul promised to let me know where he was going and when he’d be home, and I promised not to call out the National Guard if he was a few minutes late.

One issue down, five thousand two hundred ninety-nine to go.

***

Our marriage group topic this month is The Healthy Handling of Conflict:

Icebreaker: Can you remember the very first argument you ever had as a married couple? What was it about?

1. Do you, as a couple, have any rules for “fighting fair”?

2. As individuals, we start learning our patterns of handling conflict when we’re children, from watching our parents fight. What habits, good or bad, do you think you’ve carried over from the way your parents argued with each other?

3. Many conflicts have their roots in unmet expectations. We each come to our marriages with certain presumptions about our partners and our relationships. Describe a time when you and your spouse encountered a difference in expectations. What did you do to resolve it?

4. Some relationships are characterized by a pursuer-withdrawer dynamic, that is, one partner is more likely to bring issues up for discussion, while the other tends to avoid these discussions or pull away during them. How does this play out in your marriage? What compromises can help a couple to break out of this pursue-withdraw pattern?

5. Every marriage seems to have one or two “hot button issues” that come up over and over and never get resolved. How do you handle these sensitive topics in your marriage? How important is it to reach a resolution on those issues?

6. What is one positive change you can make in the way you and your spouse deal with conflict?

Tug of War

Standard

I’ve been a Christian almost my whole life. From the time I could talk, I’ve been talking to God. From the day I could read, I’ve been reading His word. I’ve seen amazing, life-changing things happen in His name, and my life has been transformed by Him.

Even so, I’ve gone through seasons of heartache, of doubt, of forgetfulness, of despair. I’ve had moments when I looked up at the sky and wondered if Anyone at all was looking back at me. Times when I couldn’t hear His voice in all the clamor of the world, or see His face in the unfriendly crowd around me. Times when the suffocating weight of trials seemed about to snuff out my faith for good. Finally, the tiny, frightened question would escape my heart and whisper itself into the empty air: “Am I alone?”

Every single time, God spoke the answer: “NO, you’re not alone. I’m here.”

Sometimes His voice was quiet, coming in like the breeze, a gradually dawning awareness that the light was a little brighter, the darkness a little less oppressive, the end of the tunnel in sight. Sometimes it was loud, a sudden, booming answer to prayer, a rescue unlooked for and overwhelming in its completeness. Every time, it came with the realization that He had been there all along, holding back the flood that threatened to to drown me, fighting for me, pulling me closer to Him.

If you haven’t experienced that rescue, then this video might not touch you as it touched me. I was crying by the end. And I am so, SO thankful for the One who rescued me.

*this sketch was performed at Winterfest in Knoxville, TN. The song is “Everything” by Lifehouse.

Running the Race in High Heels

Standard

Last night was my first night to teach the women’s class at church. We’ve split the sexes up for several weeks so that the men can attend a series on pornography, and I was asked to take the ladies’ class.

First reaction: I think I’d rather roll around in a pit of rattlesnakes with my shoes on fire.

Second reaction (and the one that actually came out of my mouth): Um, okay.

I hope nobody saw my knees knocking together. It’s funny; I have no fear of speaking up in class when I’m sitting safely in the crowd, but something about standing up in front of all those eyes requires a Herculean effort.

Did you know that, in surveys, the majority of Americans list “public speaking” as their greatest fear? It ranks at number one, just above “death”. Why is that, I wonder? It’s not as if you’re in physical danger (well, unless you’re Ann Coulter speaking at the University of Arizona, in which case you have to watch out for airborne pies.) Most people don’t bite, and, in fact, want to see the speaker do well.

Anyway, class went swimmingly, helped along by a wonderful discussion and a very friendly audience. I’ve known most of these women for years, and not one of them has ever bitten me. The series is called Running the Race in High Heels, and is about the unique challenges that Christian women face in their lives of faith. Last night’s session was about lust, and specifically dealt with pornography, extramarital affairs, and the hypersexuality of American culture. That’s a lot to cover in an hour. Also, I had to say “sex” out loud in the church auditorium. Many times. That’s not usual.

The discussion brought up a lot of good points, some of which I may go into in a later post, but right now I have to get back to working on next week’s lesson, which will deal with the lovely womanly habit of overcommitment. We fill up our days, end to end, with activity, become giant lumps of stress, and still have trouble saying “no” to more without guilt. I’m convinced that a billboard message I read is true: God’s To Do List for us is much shorter than ours.

Feel free to share your thoughts; you know I love them! (And I might actually be able to work them into my lesson!)

Help for Marriages

Standard

Something is happening this summer, something that I’m very excited about. In an effort to better support and encourage vibrant, healthy marriages, our church is launching a Marriage Support ministry, built around the idea that good marriages don’t just happen, but benefit from having the right tools, working hard, and leaning on the strength and wisdom of others.

The centerpiece of this fledgling ministry will be marriage support groups, small groups of four or five couples that will meet together monthly to discuss marriage-related topics and to get counsel and encouragement for struggles they are experiencing. My hope is that members of these groups, over time, will grow closer to each other through this sharing, providing a safe and therapeutic atmosphere in which each couple can feel comfortable not only reaching out for help before problems balloon into crises, but offering up their own experiences for the benefit of other couples facing obstacles that they have already conquered.

I got the idea from a Gary Smalley book, Making Love Last Forever, in which he described a small group of reliable, lifelong friends to which he and his wife would turn for a listening ear and godly advice when a problem cropped up in their marriage that was too big for them to work out on their own. “What if”, I wondered, “everyone had such a resource available to them?”

In the Bible, we’re told over and over again to lean on each other, to teach each other, to encourage each other. It says we are to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received” and “carry each other’s burdens.” Doesn’t this also apply to our marriages? At some point, we all need to ask for help. Instead, most couples experiencing difficulties in their marriages react in just the opposite way: they circle the wagons; they pull away from intimate friends; they turn inward, putting up a mask that says “everything’s hunky dory, thanks very much,” while inside their private world, fortresses are collapsing, bombs are exploding, and the bond that holds them together is eroding a little more every day. Finally, the last cord breaks and their divorce is announced, shocking everyone around them and causing a waterfall of comments like “They seemed so happy together!” and “I didn’t know anything was wrong.”

We live in a mind-your-own-business culture, but we are designed to live in relationship with one another.

So why bring this up on my blog? Well, I could use your help in a couple of ways. First, please pray for the effectiveness of this ministry, and for those who are involved to have open hearts. This isn’t just a place for those whose marriages are already on the rocks. Every marriage goes through peaks and valleys, and every couple has something to teach as well as something to learn. Second, I would love to hear your ideas. If you were going to be a part of a group like this, what topics would you want to cover?

The groups will be discussion-oriented, and I’m in the process of writing discussion guides that will serve as a loose structure for meetings. Here are the topics we’ve already come up with. What would you add?:

*The God-Centered Marriage—How to Be True Spiritual Partners

*Fighting Fair—Healthy Handling of Conflict

*Are You Listening?—Clear Communication Skills

*B.F.F.—Maintaining Friendship in Marriage

*Beyond Flowers and Candy—Keeping Romance Alive

*Mutual Submission—What Does It Look Like?

*Bliss in the Bedroom—God’s Purposes for Sex

*You and No Other—Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

*Healing the Wounds—Forgiveness and Restoration After Past Hurts

*Looking Ahead—Creating a Family Mission Statement