You are Mine

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

It has been exactly twenty one years today since my husband and I went on our very first date. We met at a Young Life camp where we were both working one summer. We ate at my favorite pizza place, saw a movie and then got back to camp just in time to join in all the fun activities. It did not feel like a first date because we had common ground. We both were Christians and loved the ministry of Young Life. Over the course of the day, we found out that we had more in common. Getting to know each other became a priority over the next few weeks. I still had another month to work at camp and he returned to Texas to work for the local chapter of Young Life. Distance wasn’t that big of a deal, we kept in touch and continued to get to know each other through letters and long phone calls.

IMG_3403I was a recent college graduate and had not secured a job after camp was over. During one of our conversations, he told me that there was an opening in his town with this ministry. Only the Lord could have orchestrated the events that followed that placed us in the same city. It was exciting at first moving from North Carolina to Texas. The leaving behind of wonderful friends and family and moving was hard. The new quickly wore off and the reality of living alone for the first time ever was even harder. However, over time I found a place to belong, made friends to serve alongside. Then we got engaged and months later we were married on a beautiful fall day. It has been almost twenty years and seven kids later, but we are still dating each other and learn new things about each other all the time.

I had no idea what God had in store for us back then. My dreams of marriage and family pale in comparison to what our life has actually been. It has been difficult at times, but fuller than I could have ever imagined. We made a promise to each other, with God and to our friends and family that we would remain faithful to one another. We belong to each other and it is the Lord that keeps us bound tightly. I have wondered how in the world those who do not know and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and love of Jesus survive in marriage. He put us together and we intend to stay that way. It takes remembering who we belong too, what is inside of us and who we now are in Christ to daily love well in marriage. We live out of this love inside, not from a place of what was in our old selves before we accepted the offer of a relationship with Jesus. For me, my old  nature of selfishness, pride and anger can raise it’s ugly head at times. For that there is grace and forgiveness.

You know, I have thought that my time was wasted when I dated other guys during high school and college. However, the truth is that it made meeting my husband that much better. I had no idea how unselfish, kind, honest, honorable and fun a young man could be. While not perfect, he is perfect for me and loves well. Out of all the girls in the world, he chose me. For that I am so thankful and I would choose him again and again.

This past week, with our oldest off at camp and returning today, we have talked often about our Young Life days. It is fun to remember and be grateful. She came home tired, but full of life. I will say she had a hard experience last year at camp, but Young Life was totally redeemed this week. We are actually very thankful for last years experience because it made this week that much better and she appreciated it that much more. Having a place to belong makes all the difference. She actually did have the best week of her life…so far. We have spent the day hearing highlights and fun stories. She came home a bit more confident than when she stepped on the bus. I am reminded of the rainbow that day and can say again, “…the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

The biggest take away for her from this week made my heart smile. To send a child that is already in love with the Lord to more of an outreach camp, I had to wonder what she would gain. There were lots of hopes and prayers for this week and I knew God would pursue her. What she told us that meant the most came from the talented music guy working at camp this month. He just happened to be at camp with us when Maggie wasn’t even a year old. I love that! Fast forward 16 years, and she is now sitting in the audience. He is a faithful God! He said, “God said you are Mine”. It was such a powerful reminder to her that she is chosen and made new. He died for her and she is dead to sin and has Christ living inside of her. She belongs to the family of God.

And just like in a marriage covenant, we are in a covenant of belonging to God. It is not always easy, but when we remember who lives inside of us, we have faith to press on. The knowledge of love our heart and mind is almost too much. How can we not do anything but respond with our lives? It is quite a romance. And just like my husband and I when we were getting to know each other, we spent time together, read each others letters and talked often. The same is available to us as we fall in love and remain in love with God. He is just waiting to say the same to you, “You are mine.”

*I woke up with Galatians 2:20 in my head and was excited to hear one of our pastors teach on this verse this morning.

 

An Open Door

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time.”          Proverbs 17:17

With our oldest away at camp this week and so many memories flooding back, it has got me thinking about teenagers. So much has changed since I was their age, thankfully I have too. Technology and what it enables us to do is incredible. Information is a touch away and we can hold in our hand a phone that contains it all. We have no need to ask a person questions or open a book because of this access. We can also use our phones to order our groceries and either have them brought to our doorstep or drive up to the store and have them loaded into our car. A storefront is hardly necessary really because we can order anything online and it arrive 24 hours later. This is very helpful, but it can also add another cause to our isolation. Why leave home if you do not have too?

IMG_3874What about social media? I know I am not fully aware of the different apps you can use and that is fine with me. It has been a lot of fun to reconnect or stay in touch with friends and family using social media. However, is this adding more unnecessary pressure to our kids? If it seems like “everyone” has plans or has been invited to a party, but your child hasn’t, how do they feel? Alone and insecure maybe. I remember being at a restaurant one night and we watched a group of high school girls take a ton of group pictures. The background was perfect and they were all dressed up. Picture after picture was taken and each time they gathered around the phone to critique the images. This went on forever. What I noticed was their faces were full of smiles and laughter when the pictures were being taken, but the minute the phone stopped, their faces fell flat again. There arms were thrown around one another in unity and then quickly separated. If you saw these posted on social media, you would think they were having a great time. I saw pressure, insecurity, doubt and joylessness. Oh, I have done the exact same thing as a much older girl, so their is no judgement here at all. This just gave me a glimpse into their world.

When kids go to a Young Life camp, their phones are taken up and then returned on the ride home. They spend an entire week unplugged, but they have “the best week of their life”. I wrote a bit about this last time, but I think they are really onto something. When kids are placed in a beautiful environment, fed great food, lavished on with extravagant love, live in a community and Jesus is the main focus, lives are changed. Should this not be happening in our homes too? While food and shelter are often in abundance, what about community and Jesus? While most of us do not have a ropes course or a mountain to climb in our backyards, we do have something to offer. We can open our homes, listen, ask questions, and encourage. As a mom it is always fun to get to know the kids friends. When I see them gathering on our back porch, I am thankful. I do not hover, but I do make time to talk while making a snack delivery.

It is not always convenient to have people over and I really like our family time. However, I am more and more convinced that our home could be the place to be. It isn’t the one I had my eye on with lots of land, but it has a front door that can be opened far more than it is. Why not have community more often and less time isolated behind our screens? What about more time living in reality and less virtual reality? What if the love of Jesus is not only talked about, but lived out around a table of teenagers? What if our homes were filled with the voices of praise instead of silence? I can almost hear it now!

This is the life that happens at camp and it is phenomenal to be apart of. I remember as a teenager, the days after coming home were hard because I missed my community and the life it gave. I think kids today are hungry for that life too. Our churches offer wonderful youth groups and fun activities, but could we do more on the other days of the week? What if our homes became more of a camp like experience and we were open to whomever the Lord brought through our door? It may be two or three or it might be more. Our homes become a place to belong, not just for our family, but for others too.

Research is showing a rise of suicide, mental illness, depression, drug use and the list could go on, among teenagers. I wonder if we put a graph of increase of technology along side these tragedies if we would see a correlation? I am pretty certain we would. I do not blame all our problems on technology, but this seems pretty obvious. Would community, worship and love change this reality? I think it is worth a shot. Let technology do what it will and social media be enjoyed, but we can set boundaries and not let them lead us into seclusion. (As I type this I am very aware that I will post this one social media;) We can be better friends who love at all times and siblings, either in Christ or related, that help each other.

We have some obstacles in our way and that is frustrating, but the Lord knows what we need to make this community idea happen. I truly believe this was His idea and it started before kids as a spark and was greatly fanned into flame when we had our eye on that other property. It is about to be bought by someone else, but I trust Him. In dreaming about that place, tons of ideas came and I would love to see them lived out here too. So, we will see what He has in mind and follow His lead. I will keep you posted on His work!

I can say this from experience, life is better with a community to share it with. Each week I gather with women and study God’s Word. We read, discuss, pray and at one study, sing together. I am so thankful for these groups. This takes planning and an importance placed on protecting this time. It quickly becomes a habit and one I love. By the way, if you need a place to belong and grow, let me know and I will save you a seat. I know this works and believe it can help with what our teenagers are desperate for. After all, we were created to live as the body of Christ. A body is not just a leg or a neck, but has many parts that come together to function and live. As Paul David Tripp said today in his devotional book, “Life in this fallen world is hard. That’s why you need a community of love.” Let’s show this world what a healthy body looks like and love well in communities that welcome like Jesus. We might be made up of senior citizens or we might be a mix with a variety of ages, but we will be loved.

 

Celebrating

“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:32

 

On Saturday night, we put our oldest child on a bus bound for a Young Life camp in Colorado. She was a bit nervous and a very excited. Questions kept coming up, one circling the next, but being rooted in the main one. “Will I have a place to belong?” She isn’t the only one to ask this question. I could not answer that heart question untruthfully. I highly doubted she would be overlooked, but even if that happened, she is always in the presence of her Heavenly Father. She belongs, is loved and is secure. I pray she can rest in that and enjoy “the best of week of her life”. The other gift I had to offer her was that I had been a camper at this exact camp. Granted, that was a VERY long time ago. She called yesterday on a pay phone, since they do not have access to their phones – excellent idea that we should implement more. I am happy to report she is having a great time!

IMG_0274One of the things I loved about this camp experience was the over the top celebrating. It ranged from a huge square dance and pool party, to an abundance of food at every meal. There was also a fantastic concert by whatever talented artist was at camp that month. Music was heard often and you couldn’t help but dance. What made the celebrating that much sweeter was the place itself. Camp was designed to make much of God’s creation and eliminate the noise of busy and over stimulation of technology. Kids, leaders and workers live together in community, not isolation. The gospel is presented and lived out minute by minute. Everything is done with such excellence and points you back to the extravagant love of Christ. Real life, only found in Christ, is on display. Each activity, each meal, each message, all of it communicates to the camper that they are worth extravagant love. Excellence done with any other motive would be noticed immediately by a love depraved teenager.

Because it is in the mountains of Colorado, everyone can clearly witness what David writes in this verse, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). One night in particular when I was a camper, the Lord put on a glorious starry night display! I had never seem a shooting star, but I did that night against a sky full of stars. And as a very love depraved 17 year old girl, who had been running for a long time, I was overwhelmed with such extravagant beauty. Truth of the gospel and the desire Christ had for me to stop running and return home to a relationship with Him, collided in my heart that night. I have never been the same since. Praise God!

You see, I was so much like the son who was lost because I too had left “home” in the prodigal son story found in Luke 15. I thought I could manage on my own and did not really need a relationship with my Heavenly Father. I had plenty and mentally sat God on a shelf, telling Him I would return when I was older. Little did my young self know that God is not shelf size, but He is patient. So while I ran and lived an empty life, He waited at home. I know His gaze saw all my wandering, but lovingly watched for my heart to return. One turn in the direction of home and my feet knew instinctively the way back. And boy did He come running and meet me on the road!

As a girl my return speech sounded very similar to the prodigal son. “I’ll get up and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no know longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.” (Luke 15:18-19). If my Heavenly Father would have met me that night and immediately put me to work, maybe to pay for my foolish living, I would not have felt loved at all. I would rather have felt tolerated and provided for out of obligation. The striving to be enough in my fathers eyes would have lasted a lifetime with that kind of welcome home. However, that is not what happened at all for me or for the son of this story. “But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). 

You know what happened next in this homecoming? Well, the son spilled out his rehearsed speech, but the father did not even acknowledge it. “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-24). And just like that kid, I was restored and welcomed back home too.

Now I can not say that everyday since has been a celebration. No, there has been plenty of foolishness on my part. I have needed to be reminded again to, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with festive robes.” (Zechariah 3:4).  There have been times of starving instead of feasting on the Word of God. There have been times of worry and fear instead of remembering who my Heavenly Father is and how He is faithful. I need to remind my heart that He loves me and knows what my needs are and how to best meet them for His glory and my good. One glance down at my left hand should be enough to spark the memory of the ring of a covenant Him and I share. I belong to Him and He belongs to me.

And just like the good Father that He is, as we put our daughter on the bus, we witnessed a stunning double rainbow. “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13). Regardless of the message the rainbow is representing today, this was the original purpose. So, to me the rainbow was just the kindness of the Lord to remember and He brought this verse to mind, “Know that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps His gracious covenant loyalty for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His command.” Deuteronomy 7:9. God ran to meet me that night at camp and I was finally home. My daughter is now experiencing this beautiful place, but as a child who knows home already. She will join in the celebration of many who are just hearing and meeting their Heavenly Father for the first time or with ones who are returning home. Now that is extravagant faithful, love and worthy of a celebration!!

And one more thing. I pray our homes become places of celebration. I ask of the Lord to make us parents with open arms, embracing our children in whatever shape they are in. Move our hearts towards our children and anyone needing to know the way Home. May we all love with extravagance as dearly loved children, who see others as worth loving. Open our eyes to see those who have returned, but might need a reminder of the robe of righteousness they now wear because of the cross. Bless us, Heavenly Father, with the best week of our lives here or in Colorado.

*Thank you Kim Rogers for the picture!!!!

 

 

Lighting Up

“No one lights a lamp and puts it in the cellar or under a basket, but on a lamp stand, so that those who come in may see its light.” Luke 11:33

 

I came across this scripture this morning and just cannot stop thinking about it. Maybe because I am a mom and look for parenting wisdom continually, this made me think of kids. When they are born and entrusted to our care, we know we have been given a huge gift. We send out pictures and post updates as they grow on social media. We talk about them often and our world seems to revolve around their schedule. We document firsts and applaud even the smallest of accomplishments. The first few years seem to have really long days, but the years go by way to quickly. We send them off on their own more and more, asking the Lord to protect them and let them be a light for Him. We would not think of keeping them hidden, but want to see them shine.

IMG_3779One of our boys recently had this idea and knew immediately he wanted to share it with Apple. He spent a lot of time on the phone with Apple yesterday sharing his idea. He worked his way up from one supervisor to the next. He was finally given the number to contact a higher up and plans to place another call Monday morning. Did I mention he is 9 years old? He did research before placing his call and was confident in his design. The excitement continued all day and he is already planning his trip to HQ on their private jet! He has talked of little else. I watched as he shared all of this with his dad, who fanned into flame hope. The reality is that this idea will not go anywhere, but why crush a dream? He is learning that his dad believes in him, supports him and is cheering him on. What a way to light up a young kid!

When I listen to our kids hopes and dreams it is exciting. Last night we made a list in the back of our thankful journal of places we want to go. The destinations were all different and surprised me. They ranged from Africa to Alys Beach and all places in between. We realized that our youngest two children have never been on an airplane. After five kids, the expense and finding a rental car to hold us all was too much. Dreaming brought a wave of hope around our table and made me smile. Hope has a way of lighting us all up don’t you think?

We also read God’s word together as a family. We brought the light of truth and filled our hearts with what is unchangeable. Nothing fills us with light like God does. The more light we have inside, the less room there is for darkness. We then can go and share this light with a pretty dark world. Another practice we have is praying as a family. So we thanked God for so much and told Him our needs. Sometimes they are big and other times they are small. I like to share needs with our kids so they can see God’s faithfulness. Not always answering with a yes, but with strength in His will that can sometimes be not what I had expected.  He is trustworthy and that shines so bright when circumstances are dark, uncertain and with no end in sight.

So today on this bright, sunshiny day, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13). The light of hope, joy and peace is stunning in God’s people. No magic cream that promises “radiant skin” can hold a candle to the radiance the Holy Spirit can give you. Let Him shine in you and fill your homes today! I pray you also dream and watch to see what only God can do. We may not be flying in Apple’s jet, but the spark of hope is beautifully lit in the eyes of a loved child.

 

 

Imitating Love

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

 

Every now and then I watch my younger kids imitating the older kids. They pick up styling tips, hobbies and what to look forward to as they get older. There is one who literally walks behind the other mimicking every move. It is quite a compliment, but can be frustrating to the older one. I use to do the same thing with older kids. They were so much cooler in my eyes and I wanted to grow up as fast as I could to be like them. Everyone seemed to already be comfortable in their own skin and I was far from it. If someone could have just told me who I was or that I was loved, protected and valuable, would have been helpful. Just following rules or looking a certain way never quite changed my heart. Being told to change, drove home the you aren’t enough record playing in my head. The whole striving thing gets old and living from one reward to the next isn’t sustainable. You miss the mark more times than not.

IMG_3741Just a quick word of caution – be careful who you and your children are setting up as examples, ones worthy to admire. Look for ones that are modeling characteristics that line up with who the Bible says God is and those that walk in love. Look for people that serve and do not expect anything in return. A persons heart becomes evident pretty quick. Be mindful that the truth they live/preach is straight out of scripture. Anything else is just their opinion and not truth at all. Place Christ as King of your heart and ask for His wisdom in discerning the wise from the foolish. Not in a judgmental spirit, but as a boundary line.

Here is what we are seeing work in our home. We point ourselves and our children to the One who made us and loves us unconditionally. Remind our hearts each day by reading His Word. Read about the life of Jesus and how He walked, talked and interacted with people. He served and loved beautifully. He had such compassion and stopped to really see people. He saw needs and met them. People came to Him in times of desperation and He helped them. Many of us know what this feels like. The gift of help can be huge! Jesus was also always truthful and did not waver. These verses tell us to do the same. We then can walk into healthy communities and bring our unique gifts that He has entrusted us with. Unity is a beautiful thing and love is the glue!

Dearly loved children know in their hearts and minds who God is and act accordingly. Their identity is secure and they do not live to prove their worth. They belong to God and serving happens without a second thought. Again, look at Jesus and the relationship He models for us. He was so loved and gave His love for us by dying on the cross to pay what we never could. How can we ever question His love for us? The heart healing He offers is beyond anything I have ever experienced. The strength He gives is remarkable and often unexplainable. Love that is without end is just a whisper away and available to anyone. Wouldn’t you like to know the love of a father and live out your days as a dearly loved child? Your life turns into one of sacrifice because of love and according to this verse, smells pretty sweet to God. Sounds good doesn’t it?

*I took this picture yesterday while Damon was driving. Just like God to place a heart in the clouds.