book reports, teen drivers, and ISIS

         Recently my nine-year-old daughter was working on her book report assignment while I was watching T.V.  She had to fill in a chart explaining different components of the story and her thoughts about it: main character, setting, plot, etc…  She ran up from the basement with her paper and pencil and whispered in my ear, “Mom, what does the “plot” mean?  I told her it’s like when we play Balderdash and you have to write down a summary of a movie title, telling the gist of the story in just a few sentences.  She runs back down to the basement, and then a few minutes later she’s running back up the stairs.  She whispers again in my ear, “Mom, what is my opinion of the book?”

        I laughed and told her that I couldn't tell her that – she needed to write down what SHE thought of the book!  Later, I thought about how when our kids are little, we do pretty much tell them what to think about things.  Sure, they have their own will (some stronger than others!), but they mimic our opinions on all sorts of matters such as what we think about certain people, personal styles and tastes in food and clothing, and political and spiritual viewpoints. I always got a kick out of the comments my kids would make about their “mock elections” at school during presidential election years.  It was obvious that many kids were “parroting” what they had heard their parents say about the candidates and issues.

        Contrast that with the teen years which are largely about our children branching out and separating from us.  They sometimes take on different viewpoints, shaped by their experiences with friends, in school, and in our culture.  Our oldest daughter just got her driver’s license, and our middle daughter is fourteen. We have had animated - even heated - conversations over social issues and current events, and I am seeing first hand that they are in a different level of discovery mode from when they were little. And they are not at all asking me to tell them what they think about things. 

       As a parent, this can be scary, but I am learning that this breaking away is not only OK, it is necessary.  Because we can only hold onto other people’s values, beliefs and viewpoints for so long before we must decide these things for ourselves.

Image result for faith       And at a certain point, our faith must become our own.  Many people identify themselves as a certain religion or denomination because that is what their family is, and that is how they were raised.  Religious tradition can define us like an ethnicity defines us. We’re Italian, we’re Greek. We’re Catholic, we’re Methodist. But authentic faith involves a choice - a personal relationship with God.  All of my daughters have questioned elements of our faith at times, and my prayer continues to be that their questions and doubts will cause their hearts to seek truth, and that their seeking hearts will find answers that lead each of them into a deeper, more authentic faith and relationship with God.

       I recently heard an interview with Kayla Mueller’s family, and while her story is heart-wrenching, it shines hope like a bright star in the darkest, blackest night.

Image result for written letter       Kayla was an aid worker, and 25 years old when she was kidnapped by ISIS. She spent eighteen months in captivity until her family confirmed her death earlier this month.

       Kayla’s parents are Christians, and in an interview on the Today show they shared their story: they remembered their caring, compassionate daughter who always wanted to help others, they spoke about their faith in God, and how He has given them strength throughout this horrible ordeal.  Then they read a letter from Kayla, written during her captivity – they received it from fellow prisoners who had been released.  Here is an excerpt from www.today.com:

          “All that I have said in the previous letter stays true. Give your suffering to the      Lord, let our creator support you. Continue to pray, by God I feel your love and  your prayers.

          My heart longs to be with you all as... I have never felt before, but praise be to God you are in my dreams almost every evening and for just those brief moments in my sleeping conscious that we are together I am given a warmth. It's warmth enough for me to wake with a smile. Warmth enough to keep me company through the days, and warmth enough to keep my heart near to home and therefore to God, Mark 12:28-30. "The first of all the commandments is hear O' Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy souls and with all thy mind and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment.

          All my everything,

        This is not just her parent’s faith – it is her own.  She writes about God’s comfort and strength, about God in her waking, God in her sleeping.  She writes scriptures the best she can remember them – God’s word stored in her heart.  She encourages her parents to give their suffering to God.  This is a faith that sustains, and it is a faith that one owns. 

        In my suburban world, I am occupied with book reports, work, play practices, and a new driver in the house.  And more than once I've woken in the middle of the night afraid, thinking about ISIS and what is happening in our world.  It’s hard to really know the extent of the evil that is taking place and I worry how fast and far it will reach.  I worry about our safety, my daughters’ safety and their children’s safety, and I hope.  I hope that God will stop the evil, and I hope and pray that whatever comes, my faith will be strong and I will be found faithful.

       And I hope and pray for my daughters - that their faith will grow strong and become their own.  That God’s Word, planted in their hearts from the time they were little, will grow deep roots, will guide them, protect them, keep them on course, and give them strength throughout their lives. These three remain, and no one can take them away: Faith, Hope, and Love.  And the greatest of these is Love.                      


Why do you do the things you do, and who do you do them for?

            When I was living in Austin, I went to a women’s bible study, and the teacher asked us this question every week.  It stuck.  Almost 20 years later, I am still asking myself these two questions.  Because if I don’t consider why I do what I do, and who I’m doing it all for, my life can easily become all about doing things to make myself look better to others and to feel better about myself.

Image result for question mark            Lately it seems that other people are asking me these same questions, especially in regards to my spiritual practices.  Oh, they may be using different words, but they are the same questions.  Why do you go to church?  Why do you believe the way you do?  Why do you read the bible?  Why do you speak to groups of young moms?  Why are you in a small group?

            When I think about the things I do, the things I commit myself to, the groups I am a part of, and the work I strive to excel at, I have to ask myself whyIn all of my daily living, who am I living for?

            1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”  So, here goes…
            Why do I go to church?  Because it centers me and keeps me on track.
            Throughout my week, as I am navigating this journey called life, I can’t control all the twists and turns, ups and downs, treacherous weather, pot holes and cracks in the road.  And this vehicle I’m driving?  Well, it’s not straight from the factory with all the bells and whistles.  It’s been in a few accidents, and it’s in some ways broken – everything doesn’t work exactly as it should.  The alignment is a little off, and I find it consistently hard to not veer off course. 

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.
~Robert Robinson

            Going to church each Sunday centers me and keeps me on course.  Worshiping God with other believers reminds me how great God is and how much I need Him.  Hearing truths from the bible, even if they are basic and I've heard them a dozen times before, helps me live my life to honor Christ.

            Why do I believe the way I do?  Because I believe that Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are more than just holidays.  The historical events we celebrate and remember on these days impact my life every day of the year.  I believe that God came as a baby named Jesus into our world, that He gave His life so I could be forgiven, and He rose from the dead so I can live eternally, even after this life is over.  God’s amazing love and grace deserve my whole-hearted devotion.
            Why am I in groups?  Because I grow in groups, both in my relationships with others and in my relationship with God.  Whether it’s a small group, a bible study, a marriage workshop, or a grief support group, I have found that the right kinds of groups with the right kind of people shape me, support me, bring healing, and help me grow.   
            Why do I read the Bible?  It teaches me who God is and how I should live. 

            I opened Ephesians the other day and started reading chapter 4, and I didn’t make it past verse 2.  Always be humble and gentle.  Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

            I stopped right there and read it again, then again.  Like a light, illuminating my path, I became aware that in my home, in the relationships that matter most to me, I was not being humble and gentle, making allowance for other’s faults because of my love.  I've heard these words before, but I needed to be reminded.  I needed to recalibrate.

            Psalm 119:105 - Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

            Why do I write and speak to groups of women?  I love to encourage other women in their faith, friendships, marriage and parenting.  And I love to do it through writing and speaking.  God has wired each of us with unique personalities, temperaments and gifts, and when we find the courage to cultivate them and use them to bless others and honor him, we find our “sweet spot” – a place where we feel alive and fulfilled.

            Galatians 6:4 - Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that.  Don’t be impressed with yourself.  Don’t compare yourself with others.  Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.  (Message)

            How about you? Why do you do the things you do, and who do you do them for?
            Two little questions worth answering.