The Boy in the Blue Shirt

This past week I chaperoned my sixth “Desperation” youth conference in Colorado. Some may call me a glutton for punishment. But they’d be mistaken. I am a privileged witness.

Every summer, several thousand teens gather in the shadow of the majestic Rocky Mountains to lift their eyes to the One who created those mountains. To cry out to the One who can move their mountains.

It just never gets old, seeing this generation rise up to take their place, with selfless faith. I never tire of watching them stand to worship the Living God, arms high and hearts abandoned.

The image I have each year as I survey the crowded auditorium is that of a vast field of wheat, swaying in the sunlight to the gentle rhythm of the wind. It’s an incredible sight to see.

This year, one particular stalk stood out in the sea of wheat: an unassuming, slim, teen boy wearing a t-shirt the color of a Colorado sky. This dude pulsated to his own internal beat, blissfully out of sync with the others. He was worshiping the Lord with extraordinary passion, completely unconcerned with his surroundings. A modern-day David, dancing before the Lord with all his might.

I was captivated by this beautiful example of consumed worship. That is, until he unknowingly backed up into a couple of steps in the aisle and fell, disappearing from view. I held my breath as several bystanders rushed to his aid and helped him to a nearby seat several rows in front of me. He appeared to be injured by his unexpected fall. For a moment he seemed to be shaken.

And then I watched, astounded, as he lifted his hands in his seat and simply continued worshiping. He wasn’t about to let a little stumble trip him up. No pain would prevent his praise.

Once again he reminded me of David, the psalmist, who frequently poured out his heartache and troubles to the Lord, but refused to allow them to silence his praise. David would cry out to God in the anguish of his soul, and in the next breath praise Him for His goodness and faithfulness. Nothing would keep him from worshiping his God.

I want to be more like that. Less distracted by my difficulties. More consumed by the character of the One who is Ever Worthy of my praise. Even in, especially in, my pain.

So thank you, boy in the blue shirt. For not caring what your peers think about you. For being willing to throw yourself fully into worshiping your King. For not letting anything stop you from lifting your hands in praise to the Most High God.

Thank you for leading me in worship.

But as for me, I will hope continually, And will praise You yet more and more. (Psalm 71:14, NAS)

 


 *This song really seems to capture the determination to praise God, even when it hurts.

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A Modern-Day Esther

“The person I want to be more like this year is ___________.”

This was the statement we were asked to complete as part of a group sharing activity at a recent MOPS meeting. (In case you’re not familiar with MOPS, it stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers. No, I am NOT a MOP. I guess I’m a MOT: “Mother of Teenager.” But I do serve this local MOPS group as a “Mentor Mom.”)

Ok. Back to the fill-in-the-blank. Because my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of anyone. So I opted for the standard Sunday School answer:

Jesus.

(It’s the answer that’s always right, right?)

And while I DO desire to be more like Jesus, after the events of this past week I now have a new name I would fill in that blank:

Naghmeh Abedini.

Have you heard of her?

She is a modern-day “Esther.”

Naghmeh’s husband, Saeed, a pastor, has been wrongfully imprisoned in his native country of Iran for his Christian faith. Naghmeh has advocated tirelessly over the past two and a half years for his release, boldly approaching visiting diplomats, writing letters, giving television interviews, and speaking publicly about her husband’s plight. This month she organized three weeks of focused prayer and fasting, calling on fellow believers to join her in believing God for a breakthrough in Saeed’s situation.

When she heard that President Obama would be unexpectedly visiting her hometown of Boise, Idaho on January 21, she believed it was no coincidence, but a direct answer to those many prayers. So Naghmeh sent the president a respectful, impassioned letter requesting a meeting. She called on her people to pray that God would make the improbable, possible. Like Esther before she approached the king, Naghmeh fasted and prayed for three days. The day before the president’s scheduled visit, she received word that he had indeed agreed to meet with her and her two young children!

She posted this on her Facebook page last night:

I got to meet with President Obama today! The kids and I were in a small office room with him and he was gracious with his time (we met for over 10 minutes). I told him that I had refrained from food for 3 days and prayed and fasted and God had ordained this meeting. He shook his head and smiled. I told him that the kids and I prayed for him and loved him (that as Christians that is what we are to do). He said he needed prayer. He said that getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family. Jacob then asked him “Mr. President, can you please bring my daddy home for my birthday?” President Obama asked Jacob when his birthday was and Jacob said March 17…President Obama said “I am going to try very hard to make that happen, Jacob. I am going to try very hard…” Praise God!

What an amazing story!

All because of her unfailing love for her husband. All because of her unrelenting faith in an Almighty God. All because she called people to fast and pray. All because she refuses to give up.

Yes. I want to be more like her.

More fierce in my love, more persistent in my prayers, more gutsy in my faith.

Unlike Esther, the end of Naghmeh’s story is still being written. We don’t yet know how it will end. (Whatever the outcome, we know it will be good. Because GOD is good.) But I’m thankful that, in the meantime, God is using her faith and boldness to challenge and inspire us, just like Esther, “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b, NIV)

Naghmeh

 

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We Build

Hands with ring

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established…
(Proverbs 24:3, NIV)
 

I can still see her, that younger version of me, newly engaged and mesmerized by the brilliance of her diamond ring as it reflected the ballroom lights. It’s a wonder I heard anything at all that first FamilyLife conference, so enamored was I with that ring on my finger, as I held the hand of the handsome guy who had dropped to one knee and placed it there. I was young, in love and starry-eyed.

Six months later and we were happily married, setting out to build a godly marriage based on the principles of His Word. We had been blessed with a good foundation, the best possible start. Six years further down the road we attended another FamilyLife conference, this time as parents of young children. We enjoyed “speaking in complete sentences” and calling each other something besides “Mom” and “Dad,” as we were encouraged to continue building our home on those same, unchanging biblical principles.

The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.
(Proverbs 14:1, NAS)
 

And then, somewhere in the course of the 18 years that followed, we slowly began to forget, drift. Hurts and disappointments came to visit. Stubbornness, unforgiveness and bitterness took up residence. I did more than my fair share of the tearing down and less than my fair share of the building up. Our marriage was in need of repair.

It’s bigger than we thought. It’s taller than it ought to be, this pile of rubble and ruins.”*

When the opportunity to attend another FamilyLife conference this past weekend presented itself, we both knew we needed to take it. It seemed to me we were each limping a little as we carried our suitcases into the hotel, this older version of ourselves straining under the weight of the rubble we had allowed to accumulate.

As we nervously took our seats in the ballroom, I didn’t even glance at my wedding ring, self-consciously scanning the room instead. The pre-marrieds were easy enough to pick out, all starry-eyed and hand-holding as they were. But to my relief, there were also some couples who looked a lot like us, a bit weary and weighed down. Many were our age or older. There was even one couple sitting near us who had been married for 43 years. All had come seeking encouragement and support.

We clear away what was, and make room for what will be.”*

Throughout the course of the weekend, we were reminded of the keys to a successful marriage. We were confronted with our individual failures to follow God’s plan and welcomed the opportunities we were given to confess and forgive. It wasn’t always easy. But God blessedly came, like a bulldozer, and cleared away the rubble.

“The God of heaven will give us success;
therefore we His servants will arise and build…”
(Nehemiah 2:20a, NAS)
 

With fresh but tender hope, we began to rebuild. At the end of the conference, we stood in that hotel ballroom filled with hundreds of couples who struggle just like us, held hands as we faced each other, and in unison tearfully renewed our vows. (We’ve got the certificate to prove it!) It was especially moving and meaningful for us since we will celebrate our 25th anniversary next year.

Our oldest daughter recently got engaged and plans to marry this coming year. At the conference I couldn’t help but think of her and her fiancé, as I remembered Chris and myself as a newly engaged couple and reflected on where we are today, almost 25 years later.

Here’s what I would tell them:

Marriage truly is God’s wonderful design and His beautiful gift. It’s okay to have stars in your eyes right now. But know that when the excitement of a wedding and the novelty of being newlyweds subsides, building a godly home will take hard work, humility and dedication. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down. Keep short accounts and don’t let the rubble pile up. But if it does, invite God to come and help you clear it away. Then you can resume building, with His grace and strength, for His glory.

To my fellow married couples (and myself!) I would say:

Every marriage needs some focused TLC from time to time. View your relationship as a sacred priority. Regularly invest in it. A couples small group or a FamilyLife conference are great places to start. Your marriage is worth it. The marriages of future generations are watching.

And to my husband of nearly 25 years, I offer this:

What I’m trying to say, in some clumsy way, is that it’s you and only you, for always.”*

There is no one else I’d rather keep building with. 18 years from now, if the Lord allows, let’s be that couple, sitting side by side at the FamilyLife conference, who’ve been married for 43 years.

Deal? 

*Lyrics are from “We Build” by Nichole Nordeman. A great video meditation with this song, on the work and commitment of marriage can be found at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9vSoefIrR4
 
For more information on FamilyLife conferences and other marriage and family resources go to:
http://www.familylife.com
 
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Let the Parents Come Unto Me

Hermann_Clementz_Christ_Blessing_the_Children_525

Jesus loves the little children.

And the big kids.

And their moms and dads.

I recently read a familiar passage in the Bible, the one in Mark 10 where Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me.”  Only this time I approached it from the perspective of a parent.  I was greatly encouraged by this glimpse into God’s heart for children AND their parents.  (I pray you will be too.)

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. (Mark 10:13, NLT)

Parenting is rewarding, challenging and humbling.  As a mother of three, I am constantly reminded of my need for divine assistance.  I’ve spent a good portion of the last two decades on my knees in prayer, “bringing my children to Jesus.”  My deepest desire, like those parents of old, is that each of my children would receive a life-changing touch from Him.  I come to Him because I believe He is the only source of true blessing.

But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Unlike the disciples, Jesus never gets tired of parents who approach Him on behalf of their children.  He is not irritated by our persistence.  He never scolds or turns us away.  We are not bothering Him.

Everyone knows it’s not wise to get between a mama bear and her cubs. Well, apparently it’s also not a good idea to get between the Lord and a God-fearing parent.  The well-meaning, but misguided disciples learned this the hard way…

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. (Mark 10:14b, NLT)

Jesus was ticked. (My paraphrase.) This is one of the few instances in the Gospels where we are plainly told that Jesus was angry. The Greek word for “angry” is aganakteo, which means “to be indignant, moved with indignation, be very displeased.”*  The scolders got their own little scolding.

I love the fact that Jesus is passionate about our kids, that He is moved by our requests.  I am touched that He has an emotional reaction to anyone or anything that tries to come between Him and them.  And us.

(He) saw what was happening. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Jesus was fully aware of what was going on.  He saw the obstacles impeding their intimacy with Him, just as He sees them now.  He is never oblivious to our situation.

And He does something about it.

Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (Mark 10:16, NLT)

When our daughters were each a few months old, we dedicated them to the Lord in a simple, but meaningful church ceremony.  We promised to “bring them to Jesus” and teach them His ways.  Our pastor laid his hands on them and blessed them.  Two of those babies are now all grown up.  Their younger sister is not far behind.

The same Jesus who heard our prayers then, hears our prayers now.  They remain His children, just as they will always remain ours.  He still longs to hold them.  Bless them.  Be close to them.

No matter how old they are.

Regardless of what blocks their path.

Dear parent, God knows it’s tough sometimes.  It’s trying and tiring.  Just keep trusting, praying and bringing them to Jesus.  He’ll clear the way.

You may be their parent, but you are also His child.

Let Him hold and bless you too.

*From The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

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Mom Marathon

exhausted-runnerI am a mom.

I am tired.

Anyone who’s had kids knows those two sentences often go hand in hand.

I guess I’ve earned the right to be weary.  I’ve been at this mothering thing for nearly 22 years now.  And with a newly-minted teenager under our roof, it appears I’ll be at it for a few more.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running a marathon.

In fact, if I add up the time from when our first child entered the world to when our youngest child will exit high school, the span is a little over 26 years.  A marathon = 26.2 miles.  Hmmm.  That must mean I’m in Mile 22 of the Mom Marathon.

No wonder I’m tired.

Believe it or not, I actually completed a couple of 10ks back in the day.  (Never mind the fact that I passed out after one of them.)  But I’ve never run a marathon.  Nor do I wish to.  I can only imagine the challenges of a race that long.

“The marathon is half over at 20 miles.” quipped distance runner Frank Shorter.  Apparently around miles 20 to 21 there comes a point where runners have used up their glycogen stores, and the race becomes even more difficult.  Exhausted runners are literally “running on empty,” and have hit the proverbial “Wall.”  It’s a phenomenon also known as “The Marathon Bonk.”

Could there also be a “Motherhood Bonk?”

It sure might help explain some things.

Like how my reserves seem to be depleted.  How my reactions aren’t always stellar.  How I sometimes wonder if I’ll make it through one more round of teenage drama.

(So while I may be going “bonkers,” it’s a relief to consider that it might even be “normal” and expected at this stage in the race!)

How do marathoners beat the bonk?  I turned to the Internet in search of some tips that might help me conquer my maternal marathon mountain.  The collective wisdom they had to offer could be summarized in just two words:

Don’t.  Quit.

Really?  Is that the best you’ve got?  Cause I was kind of hoping for a little bit more.

One marathoner put it this way:  “What do you do?  Keep going!  Your body will make the transition and you will push through “the wall” to the finish line.”*

Maybe those marathon veterans are wiser than one might think.  It sounds an awful lot like something the apostle Paul once said:

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13-14, NLT)
 

Life is hard.  So is parenting.

We’re all going to hit those inevitable “walls,” those times when we’re running on empty.  When we don’t know how we can possibly take another step.

Press on.  Push through.

God will give us the strength to put one front in front of the other.  And then do it again.  And again.  And again.

Because that’s how it’s done.

Along the way, He will refresh and refuel us.  He’ll supply everything we need to finish the race.  And finish well.

And so we keep on running…

 

(In church yesterday we sang the Hillsong United song “Running.”  It was timely encouragement!  Perhaps it will encourage you too!  Check it out here:  http://youtu.be/UOq5vmsTDWY )

*Source:  www.marathonrookie.com

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One Glass at a Time

I’m a member of “The Half Century Club.”  It’s not a club I really wanted to join.  ’50’ just sounds so much older than being a cool ’40-something.’  As soon as you hit that milestone you are bombarded with letters from AARP.  And as if being referred to as a “Retired Person” isn’t insulting enough, when you go in for your 50k mile tune-up your doctor will inform you that it’s time for Your Colonoscopy.

Yeah.  Nice little club you got here.

I successfully ignored both the AARP mail and the doctor’s advice until I was recently diagnosed with an iron deficiency.  At that point, a colonoscopy was more strongly recommended to rule out possible blood loss.  So, with a December 30th appointment on the calendar and a gallon jug of Colyte in hand, I set out to complete this rite of passage.

Something you need to know about me is that I have trouble finishing a glass of anything.  In college, when my sorority sisters were making “7-11 Runs” to get their “Big Gulps,” I was the one with the “Gulp.”  A two-cup pot of tea lasts me all morning.  So you can understand that when my assignment was to consume a half gallon of nasty tasting liquid–twice, in about a twelve-hour period–I was in over my head, so to speak.

Seeking help and commiseration, I turned to the Internet.  The best advice I could find involved holding one’s breath while chugging an entire eight ounce glass, followed by a big swig of a strong tasting beverage (clear liquids only, mind you) of one’s choice.  I knew this would never work for me, being of the “Gulp” variety.  I had to come up with another way to navigate these waters.

On the day before my procedure, I snacked on a cup of chicken broth while the rest of my family enjoyed their various lunches at the mall food court.  The broth was surprisingly satisfying and comforting.  I had my inspiration:  I would try tricking my taste buds by alternating the Colyte with sips of chicken broth when the evening’s “festivities” commenced.

When we arrived home from the mall, I prepared the broth and let it cool on the counter while I poured eight ounces of Colyte into a pretty crystal glass.  (A girl can pretend, right?)  At the appointed time, I took a spoonful of the broth, then the biggest mouthful of Colyte I could muster, followed by a chicken broth chaser.

Not bad!  I can do this! I thought.  The Colyte tasted like salt water, and the chicken broth was pleasant enough.  A few minutes later I had emptied the first glass.  Now all I had to do was repeat this.  15 more times.

About halfway through the first half gallon, I started to feel ill.  My stomach was bloated.  My head was pounding.  I was tearful, discouraged and completely daunted by the task at hand.  I did not see how I could possibly drink another drop, much less down another quart!

I attempted to pull myself together as I recalled the saying, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  My mantra became:  Just do the next thing.  I wouldn’t let myself think about the amount I had yet to imbibe, but would instead focus on the glass in my hand, as if it were the only one.  During the ten-minute intervals between Colyte cocktails I would try to be “in the moment,” enjoying my time “off.”  I tried to stay positive and maintain an attitude of gratitude–for medical technology, for the time over Christmas break to schedule the procedure while my husband was home, for our amazing digestive systems, modern plumbing, and anything else I could think of!

And I prayed.  A lot.  I knew I could only do this with God’s help.

Well, I managed to consume the first half gallon, spent some casual time in the little girls’ room, and retired to sleep off my Colyte binge.  The next morning I awoke, hung over with dread, knowing I had to deliver an encore performance.  My plan was to tackle the second half gallon with my own ‘Special Breakfast Blend’ of apple cider and Colyte.

And you know what?  I. DID. IT.  One sip, one glass at a time!  The colonoscopy went smoothly and the results were negative.  The doctor even commented on his report, and I quote:  “Prep–Excellent!”  I was so proud.  Best of all, I don’t have to go through this again for another decade!

In the meantime, I hope my experience is helpful to those of you staring down your own personal jug of Colyte, who may have stumbled upon this site.  Perhaps some of these principles might also be useful whenever any of us encounter an obstacle in our path which seems insurmountable.

Just take the next step.  Live in the present moment.  Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Be thankful.  Trust God to make a way.

And know that with His help, even a “Little Sipper” can become a “Big Gulper!”

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