What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

Have you ever wondered why some families are so close and some seem so distant? Why some seem so full of love and some are so full of anger? And why some seem so happy and some seem so sad?

All families are imperfect. In fact, all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. The degrees differ, but they all are!

So what makes for a healthy family? One that, even through life’s hard struggles, remains generally close, loving, and happy?

We can find the answer to this question from the Word of God, where we see principles we can practice for healthy relationships and close families. I want to look at two passages and pull a few principles from them that we can practice in order to have healthy families–

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

1. They are loving and kind. It is no secret that the Bible teaches us to be loving and kind. Many of us manage this outside of our homes but when we get home we throw off our good behavior and become who we really are inside–selfish and rude individuals who want our own way. But having a healthy family requires lots of love and kindness. And it starts with you and with me. We can’t expect our kids to be kind if we can’t manage it ourselves.

2 They are joyful. This word can haunt those of us who really struggle with being melancholy or with a flaring temper. But families overshadowed by sadness and anger make for kids who just want to leave and never come back. We cannot let the trials and struggles of life steal all of our joy. We will all have bad days–even bad months– but healthy families still find joy. And while laughter isn’t required, it is certainly good medicine for any family (Proverbs 17:22). Families that laugh together are happier. You have heard it said that families that “play together, stay together.” How important it is that we intentionally spend time together with our families, enjoying one another and practicing joy. We must ask ourselves: Do we bring joy to our family?

3. They are faithful. “Faithful” means loyal; reliable; steady in allegiance and affection; trusted; true to one’s word. As we read these adjectives, we can see how this would be invaluable to the health of a family. When we can’t trust each other, walls go up quickly. Let’s consider if we are true to our word? If we can be trusted to do what we said we are going to do? Whether it is making a promise to our spouse and then not doing it or threatening to discipline our kids and yet never following through, we must understand that this principle has a lot more facets than we would first think.

4. They are self-controlled. Ohhhhh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? This means that we practice self-control not only on the obvious things (such as our tempers) but also on the not-so-obvious–like our finances, our eating habits, and how we spend our time. Healthy families are balanced in how much they spend. They aren’t encumbered by debts they can’t pay and their houses aren’t full of things they can’t afford. Healthy families don’t drink soda and eat fried foods at every meal (or they will be unhealthy in more ways than one!).  And healthy families don’t spend all of their time in front of the TV or allow their kids to play video games or be on their phones without boundaries. Healthy families are self-controlled. Do we understand how important it is to set up boundaries for ourselves and for our kids that lead us to practice self-control?

5. They are patient and not easily angered. Oh, dear. Another really tough one. At least for me. But there it is in I Corinthians 13 (and many other places in scripture, as well!) Healthy families do not have members that are easily angered but instead practice patience with each other. Have you noticed how those members of the family that don’t practice this bring such strife to the family? This one can really add dissension to the family quickly–particularly if the other members of the family don’t practice principle #9!

6. They are gentle. What does gentle mean exactly? The dictionary tells us this–moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe. Does this describe you? This is easier for some of us than for others, isn’t it? Sometimes I will say something and my family will tell me I sounded harsh–and I didn’t even realize it! I just told my daughter the other day that I just can’t seem to gain victory over the tone of my voice. It can be rather discouraging for me–but I keep working at it! I don’t want to sound harsh or severe. When we do this, we tempt our family members to be defensive and angry. Think about the last time you were unhappy about something and then ask yourself: Did you express your concerns gently?

7. They rejoice with one another instead of envying each other. Oh, another really big one. How much grief and strife come from brothers and sisters envying one another? We only need to look at Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37) to see what comes of envy in a family. And this story has played itself out over and over and over again throughout the centuries. (Note to parents: Favoritism has no place in a healthy family! We parents have to take this so seriously, lest we destroy our families). When we are jealous instead of happy for family members that get a break or who succeed, this leads quickly to an unhealthy, unhappy family. Do you envy a sibling when they get something you wanted or are you able to rejoice with them? And another important question: Do you show favoritism with your own kids? (How would they answer that question?)

8. They value the truth. Families that are close communicate truth. There are few secrets between mom and dad (if any!). Communication is clear and truthful–not sarcastic and “beaten around the bush”. Healthy families talk about the important things and the big questions in life. Christian families use these discussions to grow their kids’ knowledge of the Word of God and the ultimate truth that is found there. Do you love truth? Do you share truth with your family?

9. They practice repentance and forgiveness. This one is talked about a lot and cannot be overestimated. Families that don’t keep forgiving, soon have walls so high, no one can break through. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness is a destructive root that weaves its tentacles through almost all parts of life, but particularly through a family’s well-being. Of course, forgiveness is much easier to give when the party who has offended practices true repentance over their sin. Oh, how important it is that we give genuine apologies that do not have any “buts” after them. You know what I mean–the ones that go something like this–“I shouldn’t have done that but you…” Those aren’t apologies, they are excuses. Do you give genuine apologies? Do you practice forgiveness “seventy times seven” in your own family?

10. They keep loving unconditionally–lots of grace and no grudges. All of these can be wrapped up with this final principle. Healthy families offer lots of grace to each other. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They keep on loving each other despite all of the imperfections and failures and sins. They don’t hold grudges when one member doesn’t live up to the expectations of another. Healthy families overlook small offenses. Do you give lots of grace? Or is your love conditional on your family members meeting your expectations?

And there you have it! Ten principles for a healthier and happier family. Of course, we live in a fallen world, so none of us can practice these perfectly. As I wrote, I was challenged on several of these that need much improvement in my own life.

I know that this list looks impossible to some of you. Some of you have a spouse or grown kids who aren’t practicing many –if any– of these. They may be selfish or angry or distant and they have no interest in changing or in working at building a healthier family. What to do?

I just want to encourage you to build a healthier family as best you can by incorporating these things into your own life. The tone of your family will change as you put these into practice. It won’t be easy and it won’t–most likely–be miraculous. But a few years from now you will look back and see how your obedience to the Word of God and the principles found there has changed your family. Just start with one principle today. Look at this list and determine which one of these you most need to work on.

While this list of ten principles is certainly not exhaustive, I do hope that I have encouraged you today to build a healthier and happier family! This is a never-ending endeavor and we can never be satisfied with status quo when it comes to our families, for we are investing for eternity!

 

{Please note: I am taking a break from Learn to Discern this week; more posts are coming.}

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Changed Lives: Jan

Changed Lives

Last year I started a series called Changed Lives. The goal of this series is to show how Jesus Christ is changing lives one life at a time. He is radically saving us and then transforming us into His likeness and using our trials for His glory and to further His kingdom. It is my greatest hope that this series will remind you that Jesus is still changing people! Several months have gone by since I brought you the last testimony but today I finally have another one to share. This one is by my dear friend, Jan. This story is a bit different than the others, as you will see. You may want to grab a tissue.

I met Jan around ten years ago when her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter were on a travel soccer team together. We quickly connected due to our like-minded faith in Christ. A year or so later, they started coming to our church and we became friends with the whole family. A few years ago, the unthinkable happened to this family. I have watched Jan face this unforeseen and unexpected hardship with strength and fortitude that could only come from God. I remember having a conversation with her sometime in the middle of all of this. She told me how she was continuing to listen to John MacArthur sermons on rides to and from work. She kept feeding herself good spiritual food through it all. This made an impact on me. So often our human tendency is to withdraw from solid spiritual food when bad things happen.

Even though, in many ways, Jan continues to travel in dark, unknown territory, I see her continue to trust God through it all. Please pray for Jan and her daughters as they continue their journey of getting used to a new normal. I believe her story will not only inspire you but will also challenge your faith. I know it is her greatest desire that God use this for His glory and I believe that He will do so.

Here is Jan’s story–

July 2016

The morning sky is a beautiful blue and the air is crisp and refreshing. It is a joy to experience such a day in the middle of July. We look up from where we are standing to see a peaceful field, swaying trees in the horizon, and orange lilies in full bloom. But the tears blur our vision and as we stand there with our arms around each other, we wonder if we will ever heal. I recall Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in the tears, and You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear…You’re teaching us to trust”.  I wonder if Lydia, 17, and Naomi, 13, are trusting more. Or do they, like me, only feel the pain? I’m not sure. There is only a grave marker there; the tombstone is not in yet. Some things are just not that important and I figure it can wait.

November 2011

Family Photo from 2013

Walt Disney World. The “vacation of a lifetime” so we have been told. My husband, Doug, and I had never experienced Disney but, for some reason, we wanted to make sure our family would experience it at least one time. We were in a transition period in our lives and it felt like a vacation to Disney would complete one item we had on our bucket list.

I had worked at The Hershey Company for 20 years and had resigned just nine months earlier.  Doug had completed his training and certification in Massage Therapy and was starting a business with another massage therapist while also working for a Chiropractor. Since Lydia, our oldest, was born Doug had been the stay-at-home dad and I was the working mom. (Maybe a better explanation is that I was the bread-winner, since all moms work). It was a good plan for us as Doug was a wonderful dad. He was a typical Type B personality and nothing seemed to bother him. He enjoyed his time with the girls at home, even home-schooling both girls (which was my preference, not his). We had an easy marriage, always supporting each other’s goals and dreams.

Our transition period was the plan for me to stay at home with the girls in their junior high and senior high school years while Doug went back into the workforce. We were all set for that change. Hershey had eliminated my position so I took advantage of a severance package. I felt like God had given me the gift of an extra and early year at home! Honestly, this was a huge step of faith for me as Doug had not yet graduated from massage school at that time. But I truly believed that this was what God was calling me to do. “Do you trust me?” seemed to be what He was asking. There were three specific happenings that led us to make the confident decision that it was time to come home. I would even classify them as “miracles”.

Miracle #1 At a 48th birthday dinner for Doug he announced that he knows what he wants to do in life. I am stunned. After being together for a little over 30 years, Doug finally knows what he wants to do? To give you a little more insight into this, you should know that we started dating when I was in 10th grade and Doug was a senior. He never went to school beyond 12th grade because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. The topic came up no less than 50 times in our years together but the answer was always the same: “I don’t know.” So this truly was a miracle.

Miracle #2 As we explored several schools for him to attend, it didn’t occur to me until later that Doug had not been in school for 30 years. He would need to take an entrance exam to get into the school. Since he was a quarterback and point guard and not an academic scholar, this would prove to be a challenge. He took the test and came close to passing, but, unfortunately, he didn’t pass. But since the economy was tight, admissions were low, and he was studying to be a massage therapist, they told us that they would “wave the entrance exam and see how he does”.  Miracle #2 complete.

Miracle #3 If this is not a miracle then I will classify it as a strong sign from God that this was the direction we were to take. After working for Hershey for almost 20 years, there was only one position that I had interviewed for. Every other move, promotion, or change was a tap on the shoulder. If they asked me to do something, I said yes. That included a move half-way across the country to Arkansas for 3 years. And then another yes when they wanted me to head up a project in the home office and another move 1,200 miles back. I always said yes and there was always a position ahead. But this time was different. As I walked into my boss’s office the human resources person was present. He began to tell me that the position I was in was being eliminated but that they created another job that I could apply for. Actually, the job description was what I was already doing. It was a simple choice, really: Just interview for the other job and continue with my Hershey career. Or was it a gift from God to trust where He was leading me? After all, I was planning to resign in one year, anyway, when Doug was done with school and had started his business.

Again, God seemed to be asking me: “Do you trust Me?”  I responded to this by resigning with a one-year severance package, trusting that Doug would graduate and begin his career. For just a short while, life was perfect. We were both so excited! Doug was thrilled about pursuing his newfound passion in life and I was thrilled to finally be home with our girls. We couldn’t wait to get started with this new plan for our lives.

Shortly after our Disney vacation I received a phone call from Doug’s sister. Doug had recently been in his hometown for a wedding and had stayed with his sister. While there, he had confided in her that something wasn’t right but he didn’t know how to explain it. I also was starting to feel uneasy about our situation but I brushed it off to a newness for all of us. Me being home and Doug being out in the working world was a really big change for us.

Doug’s sister insisted that I set up a doctor’s appointment just to make sure things were okay with him. I immediately agreed and we went in to see the doctor right before Christmas. The doctor explained that his slowness or sluggishness was probably caused by depression. But this didn’t explain another puzzling symptom: He was not able to write his name. He couldn’t connect the cursive letters together. Printing was fine.

We were in the midst of one of the most exciting times in our lives and the doctor was diagnosing Doug with depression? Neither of us believed him and so we proceeded with blood work and a follow-up appointment. Over the holidays I received a call from the doctor and he genuinely seemed giddy. He said he had found out what was making Doug feel different: His thyroid levels were very high and the appropriate medication should ease the symptoms. Of course, that was the answer! Since I had quit work we were in the process of switching insurances and had neglected to get his thyroid medication filled. It was as simple as that.

But three months later, Doug was still not better and his thyroid tested fine. This was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. No jobs, no idea what was happening with Doug’s health, and the girls were being home-schooled. What would we do with them? What did this mean for my dream to be at home? My plan to stay home with the girls was disappearing. I felt sick to my stomach.

At the time, I was teaching an evening class at a local college as an adjunct professor. I began to realize that I needed to find another job very quickly. Just the thought of having to do this was tearing me up inside. “But God”, I cried, “I trusted you!”  My dream of staying home with the girls was being taken away while, at the same time, my husband of 26 years was so different. At this point I would have described him as mentally retarded. He was acting so odd. For example, he’d walk through a door and let it close on us. Or he’d lean over the girls in church to shake someone’s hand and make them almost fall without even reacting. It was definitely a strange place to be.

I was able to get a better-paying job with benefits in April of that year. But it meant a commute of 45 minutes to work (compared to the 5 minutes that I had previously) and I was making $40k less and also had fewer holidays and vacation days than my original job at Hershey. And this new job gave me even less time with my girls. Around this time, my trust in God was wavering. I questioned Him many times; I really did not understand.

Through the rest of that summer and fall, Doug progressively got worse and we still didn’t have any diagnosis from doctors. The girls started at a Christian school and I kept working. It just didn’t make sense to me. I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was giving up my career to allow my husband to be the one bringing home the paycheck. I thought God was clearing the way for me to homeschool and enjoy my girls. I had trusted that this was what God was calling me to do. Nothing made sense to me. But I had no choice but to keep working and taking care of my husband and the girls. It wasn’t easy. Did I trust God? I said I did. Again, I didn’t understand. God had provided a job for me that allowed us to send the girls to a Christian school and, for that, I was grateful.

In early winter we got a diagnosis of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I had to research it since I had no idea what it was. We found out that it was a terminal disease with a life expectancy of anywhere from two to twenty years. I didn’t find that helpful. What would I do with a 49-year- old husband who has two to twenty years left to live? How do two young girls walk that journey along with me? I didn’t know how to navigate it myself, much less help them.

Of course, with this diagnosis it meant that we had some financial decisions to make. Again, the unknowns made this so difficult to make decisions and the experts in the industries were not really “expert” regarding our specific situation. I felt so very alone. I cried out to God to direct my decisions – it was only me making these huge decisions as Doug wasn’t able to really help me by this time. I needed to trust that God was guiding my decisions and looking over us.

As the disease progressed, life became more of “just getting through each day”. There was no time to really consider what this meant to our family or to consider what we would have done differently once he was gone. Would there be any regrets? Who knew? God had me in a place that was very unfamiliar. Caring for a husband who could no longer communicate, the majority of my time was spent cleaning up pee from accidents, waiting on him, arranging rides for the girls, trying to make their lives as normal as possible while the unthinkable was happening to our family, working full time, all the time trying to pretend that nothing was going on. Who was I kidding? Life for us would never be normal again – at least it wouldn’t be what we had once considered normal.

About this time, Doug started to take a huge decline every three months. We would adjust to the current condition and then he would make a huge decline again. We were never ready for each step downward. After he suffered a stroke on his 50th birthday, his needs increased dramatically.  He needed help to get dressed, to eat meals, to go to the bathroom, and checked on multiple times during the day.

The next decline scared me more than the first. The disease was characterized by a backward fall. One day when I was home with him I watched him get out of a chair, take one step forward, and then four backwards before falling. He was bruised more than I would like to admit from all the falls he had sustained over the prior months. I had a new goal: No more bruises. He needed someone to walk him everywhere, since he could no longer navigate on his own. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How were we possibly going to do that?  I had to arrange for someone to walk him everywhere, help him in the bathroom, and feed him while I was working and the girls were in school.

While we were dealing with all of this, we had another hurdle around that time. Doug had a condition that made him go to the bathroom every 1-2 hours, including the night time hours. I told my oldest daughter that between us, we could alternate nights staying up with him. She was off school for the summer, and for me, I figured how much different could this possibly be than having a newborn? I could do this. I took the first night and didn’t sleep at all. My daughter had the next night. I told her she could sleep as long as she wanted the next day, after his caretaker came at 7 am. I took the next night, and again, didn’t sleep at all. I obviously would not be able to do this and work full time. I was exhausted. After we talked, she agreed to take the night shift every night. What a blessing she was during that time. There was no way that I could do this by myself.

My oldest daughter went to two different week-long camps that summer. This meant that I had to care for Doug during the nights. I remember being at work on a Thursday during one of those weeks. I was sitting in a meeting when it hit me– I hadn’t slept since Saturday. How was I surviving this? God must have been sustaining me. We were continuing to trust Him in everything. We certainly didn’t know why He was allowing this, but we chose to trust in Him and what He was doing.

When the girls started back to school in late August, I was forced to get help. I hired a college student to take the night shift. Free room and board and a wage, too – seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I remember the day she moved in. I went for a walk and felt like I was walking on air. Just the thought of having another adult to take on some of the load and responsibility was freeing to me! This turned out to be only somewhat helpful. She often needed help with him during the night and I’d hear her quietly tiptoe into my room to wake me. We had given Doug a bell to ring when he need help but, unfortunately, once we passed the 3am time frame she wouldn’t even hear it go off. I would hear it, get up to help him, and let her sleep.

The next milestone came in October of 2013. I was getting him ready on a Saturday morning and could no longer get him up the steps. We were in the middle of the stairway when he fell backwards onto me. I’m not even sure how I got out of that dilemma. I do remember getting him upstairs and crying out to God for help. I truly did not know what to do at that moment. I came face to face with the fact that I could no longer take care of him in our home the way it was. I needed two people to assist him at all times and it was difficult enough getting one person. There weren’t any care facilities that would take him because of his age. I was not sure what the next steps would be and found myself completely and totally at God’s will. There was nothing I could do on my own. I was lost and saw no way out.

I cannot recall how we navigated those two desperate weeks. But what I do remember is God putting a name in my mind near the end of those weeks: A neighbor who worked for hospice.  I had no idea what her role was at hospice or if Doug would qualify for hospice or even if the insurance would cover it. In fact, I really had no idea what hospice was. But I had nowhere else to turn. At the end of my rope, I called Amy.

I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sister when I called Amy. Within three hours, I had a hospital bed, a lift for Doug, other equipment, and a hospice nurse coming in five days a week. I was overwhelmed. I went from one of the deepest pits of despair to having a solution in place in three hours. God had answered my prayers. I also clearly remember a return phone call I received from Amy an hour later. She said that they had a bed at their hospice facility in Harrisburg and that I qualified for a week of respite care for Doug. They would come and get him in an ambulance, transport him to the facility, and take care of him for a week. I was overwhelmed with relief, grief, and confusion. I said no, thinking how could I send him away?  It didn’t seem right. I hung up from Amy and looked at my sister. She had been there for several days, if not weeks, trying to help me. I was sobbing when I looked at her. My next thought was I need to do this not only for me, but for her. I had so many thoughts going through my head.  Amy called back. “Yes”, I said, “that would be a blessing”. I desperately needed some respite and my sister needed to go home.

I talked to Doug about this. As much as I could understand him, he seemed ok with the idea. I would follow the ambulance to the facility, make sure everything was fine, and then go home without him. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday, the girls and I headed to the hospice home to see him after church. I wanted them to know that he was being taken care of – probably better than we could care for him here. We went to lunch afterwards and tears once again stained our cheeks.

Doug came home a week later and he was confined to his bed. Hospice would come every day and give him a bed-bath and his daytime caregiver would prepare meals and feed him. It was easier to care for him at this point. No more getting up in the middle of the night to help him to the bathroom. He was bedbound and would be until he went to be with his Savior.

He had a palliative care doctor who came to the house every month. She was a blessing to us. In October, she said that Doug probably had until ‘summer’. Another month she said the beginning of the summer, and at another point she said the end of the summer. I know it was a guess but that put a timeline on his remaining time with us. This was a difficult discussion with the girls.  When it was ‘two to twenty’ years or six months, it doesn’t seem as final. It’s almost like the ‘tomorrow’ statement – tomorrow never comes. But the summer of 2014 does come, and it was painful to hear. At that point, we knew that Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2013 would most likely be his last. We also realized that his birthday in February would also probably be his last.  But what should we do differently? I didn’t know.

When my youngest turned 11 that January, it was extremely difficult for me. Instead of rejoicing with her for turning 11, my mind only went to one thought: For the rest of her life, when she talks about her dad or about her life, she will say that she was 11 when her dad died. That’s all I could think about. I knew this because my mother’s father died when she was 12 and I remember her many stories over the years– “I was 12 when…”

We continued to watch Doug deteriorate. He was getting thinner and thinner. It was very difficult to watch the changes. Bed sores didn’t come until near the end. He didn’t have many as we cared for him as best we could. He was also becoming very stiff and his hands and feet were starting to look like they had severe arthritis. The hands that had so gently massaged other people’s muscles were now deformed and motionless. What he loved most were the foot and hand massages that many of his caretakers would give him.

It was on May 19 that the hospice worker recognized that fluids and food were going into his lungs. He was now unable to swallow correctly. We had known to expect this as it was a symptom of the disease. So it was on this day that the decision was made to stop all fluids and food, since he would asphyxiate which, I was told, would be worse than starving to death. And those were our choices at this point. We “celebrated” our 28th wedding anniversary on May 17th. I knew it would be our last.

For anyone who has watched a loved one slowly pass on my heart goes out to you. Difficult does not describe what that is like. Morphine becomes a gift. Each day you think is the last and then it turns into tomorrow. There is no quality time– only waiting and tears. But God sustains and helps you get from one day to the next. And as you kiss your loved one on the gurney as he is being taken out of your home for the last time, you know you will miss him, but that you also know that –if they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have the hope that someday you will see him again in Heaven.

December 2016

As I look back and reflect on the past five years, I can see God in every decision. I know that He was with me. He didn’t take away the pain, but He let me know He was always there. On May 30, 2014 I said good-bye to my husband of 28 years. At this point, two and a half years later, I still have no idea what God wants me to do with this. But I still trust in His leading. He has never left me.

“The worldly things have become a little dimmer, and the things of Heaven have become a little brighter”.  I heard that from a pastor’s wife who lost her husband in a terrible car accident after church one Sunday as they were traveling back to their home. She did not seem bitter but, instead, said it with a sweetness that could only come from God. I now know what she meant.

John 14:2

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

As James 4:14 says

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

God has been faithful to us throughout the past five years. Although we don’t understand, we trust that He knows what is best for us. The girls and I prayed faithfully that God be glorified through our trial. Whatever happened, we wanted God’s glory to shine through us. This was our verse:

I Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

One of Doug’s care-takers responded to a gift and note that I left for her one morning:

Jan:

For some reason I just now turned the page in Doug’s book. I opened your card and tears just poured from my eyes. Not out of sorrow or pain but because I am so thankful for everything I had to go thru that has led me to be with you and your family.

 I learned the true Grace of God thru you. Though I love Doug as though he were my child it is your actions that I saw day to day that renewed my faith in God. To love someone is to love someone like Jesus loved us. Sick, poor, meek ….

 I know you are grateful for my care of Doug without you ever saying a word. God brought you and your family to me so I could see. It is I who is most grateful. I have recently had an experience with God that is indescribable. It has made me committed to do His will and taught me that without him I have no life. You and Doug and your family contributed greatly to my salvation. I love you and I love Doug.

 Thank you for the birthday present. But mostly thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

 When I asked her if I could use this text at his memorial service, this was her response: “Oh I would love that….I am going to be glorifying God for sending him and your family into my life…  For I came into a home where my Father was the center so that I would come to see the Light of Christ Jesus, My savior, family-fall-2016-v2through a family that witnessed the love my Lord has for all His children without uttering a single word. Doug was sent to me as a silent messenger and a righteous man. At my baptism you will all be mentioned for the selfless love you have shown me as Jesus asked you to do. Words aren’t enough”.

If all of this was for one soul to spend eternity in Heaven, it was worth it.

 


 

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

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People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!

 

 

Life as a “Fixer”

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I felt crushed. I was only trying to help. But I had just made things worse. Have you ever done that?

Most of us find ourselves one of two personalities–there are those of us who like to fix problems. And there are those of us who like to ignore them. There are those of us not afraid of confrontation if it will make things better and there are those of us who would rather have our arm broken than deal with any kind of confrontation.

I have always been a fixer. I don’t like confrontation, but I am willing to endure it if it makes things better. This has gotten me into trouble on multiple occasions. I think a little conversation and airing out will help, just to find out that it has actually made it worse. Some people don’t want to fix things. It takes a very wise person to discern when to speak.

Thankfully, by this point in my life, I have learned a lot and am much more cautious about when and when not to say something. I am certainly not perfect, but I felt pretty good about this…

Until I became a parent to adult kids.

My method became: I would notice something, so I would mention it. Just for the record this is a bad idea. I am learning, ever so slowly (as my kids will attest) to keep my mouth shut unless I am asked for advice.

I like to give advice. And, more importantly, I like to keep my precious kids from learning hard lessons. My intentions are good. They really are. But this is not what my adult kids want nor is it what they need.

As I have been reading through the Gospels this year, I have realized that I am quite a bit like Peter. Always talking. Always trying to fix things.

When the Lord was going to wash Peter’s feet, remember how Peter exclaimed “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8) or how about the time that Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to be killed? (Matthew 16:22). And, of course, we all know the time that Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26:35), only to deny Him three times later on in the same chapter.

I love that Peter is in the Bible as one of the Lord’s disciples. It shows me that the Lord can use those who speak too quickly. Those who are always trying to fix things. Those who are impulsive.

Going back to my kids, I have recognized that they need me to be a support and encouragement. They need me to speak kind words as they embark on their own lives. Unless I see something that is a biblical issue or has the potential of really hurting them, I need to keep my mouth shut. Of course, the opposite of this is to never speak at all to adult kids about anything. This isn’t good, either. Serious issues that could and should have been addressed lovingly by parents are often avoided and this ends up causing so much heartache, too. It is so much about balance.

This is a new and wild world I find myself in. It started when they were teens. Knowing when to speak. Knowing when not to. Always praying. Always praying.

Somehow my parents had this balance. I am trying very hard to follow their example. They were so encouraging. When we went to them for advice, they were not judgemental or critical. And, yet, there were a handful of times that they approached us about something of a concern. Because of the relationship we had with them, we soberly considered what they were saying. We were thankful they had shared with us. Through it all, they were praying for us and for the kids. We always knew this. It was like a safety net of support that we knew was there.

I hope to be the same for my kids. I hope that you are (or will be) the same for your adult kids. Our children need our love and support. They need us to pray for them (and for their kids when they come along). They need us to pray for things of eternal value–for them to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength; that they will hunger for the Word; and that they will love righteousness and hate evil. We need to be willing to speak, but only with great discernment and very rarely. Instead, we should use our words to build them up.

I hope I can do this as well as my parents did. I really do. I am blessed to have had such a good example. I know that many of you do not. I am not there yet, but at least I know where I want to be and that is always the first step, is it not?

While I know some of you are parenting adult kids, many of you are not. You probably wonder what to even take from this post (if you are even still reading). I hope that what you will take is that it takes great wisdom to know when and when not to speak. And it takes courage to speak when we should. How we respond will affect us as parents, as children, as siblings, as co-workers, and as church leaders. Whether we are a fixer or an ignorer, let’s endeavor to grow in this area.

 

Are You Planting Seeds or Building Walls?

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So often those of us who are passionate about the truth can be abrasive. We don’t mean to be. We don’t want to be. But we are just so thrilled to know the truth, we are sure the person we are talking to will be thrilled, too! When they aren’t thrilled–or worse yet, take the opposing viewpoint– we can grow frustrated, angry, and defensive. I hope to show you why this is never a good idea as we look at four different types of people with whom we may have the opportunity to share the truth of God’s Word.

But before we talk about that, this may be a good time to share that I have learned, after so many long years, just how important it is to not get so worked up about things that aren’t biblical issues. Oh, how I wish I would have learned this sooner!! (I could add a few more exclamation points here!) Those of you who knew me in my teens and twenties will attest to this. I used to argue over so many stupid things. My pride demanded that I prove I was right. How many bridges did I burn? How many walls did I build? My cheeks grow warm thinking about this. Thankfully, life has proved to me over and over again how often I get things wrong. Humbled, I have also learned that grace, love, and kindness are far more important than being right when it comes to issues that are not of biblical importance.

And the beauty of this is that if we are kind and loving and uncritical in our disagreements over inconsequential things, we will be given much more credence when we have something to say regarding God’s Word. Instead of having been branded as an unreasonable, harsh, and difficult person who builds walls, we have a reputation of one who is reasonable, humble, and kind, thereby opening the door to plant seeds.

Okay, so back to the list. As believers, we will have the opportunity to share God’s Truth with four types of people at one time or another. Here are a few thoughts on how a defensive, angry spirit will affect not only our relationship with them, but quite possibly their relationship with the Lord–

1. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of these will agree with us, but many won’t. It is important to never let side issues become major issues. Molehills often become mountains in these discussions. And this is how walls are built between people and churches are split. Now, it takes wisdom to discern if an issue is a molehill or a mountain, does it not? And this is where it can get a bit tricky. There are definitely many issues that qualify as mountains in the church these days. But how do we know what they are? The only way to do this wisely is to be reading and studying the inspired, inerrant Word of God and to be in sincere and biblical prayer, humbly asking God for insight. So many of us are still relying on childhood knowledge of God, spending very little time in the Word, and spouting off opinions and ideas that are ours–not God’s. This is a surefire recipe for division and disaster. And if we have determined that the issue is a mountain, let us remember in our attempts to speak truth that even this does not give us license for an unkind, angry spirit.

2. Baby Christians who are immature in spiritual things. Frustration or irritation in a conversation with a baby Christian can really yield some bad fruit. Many of them have not reached a place of humility nor have yet developed an interest in the deep things of God. If we come across as prideful and arrogant, we can quickly turn into their enemy instead of an encouragement. Instead of being an example of someone they should want to be like as they mature in Christ, we become an example of someone they don’t want to be like! This is not rare–and all because we leave love and grace out of our conversations so often.

3. People who are just starting to think seriously about God. He is drawing them and beginning a work in their hearts (John 6:44). Displaying a defensive and angry spirit is never a good thing but it can wield a deathblow to the heart that is questioning and has just started to open up towards God and the truth of His Word.

4. The unsaved who are antagonistic. These are perhaps the most frustrating for us. They think they know all the answers and have no interest in listening to our viewpoint. But a wrong response in these situations can mean the difference between light and darkness for a soul. This is for two reasons: First, I remember hearing a man give his testimony of how he came to Christ and he shared that this is just how he acted when he had a discussion with a despised Christian. So, the bottom line is that we don’t know who will or who will not come to Christ. We should never write someone off! And, second, is because people are always watching us. If we claim to be a Christian, they are watching to see if we actually act like one. When we get upset and defensive in the office or on the soccer sidelines as we discuss an issue with someone, they say “Aha! I knew it! I knew he (or she) was one of those legalistic, holier-than-thou types!” And a door closes. Maybe forever.

With each of these four groups of people we have the opportunity to plant seeds or build walls. We can say something with loving grace and kindness or we can say it with a harsh spirit. We can open doors or we can close doors. We must never compromise truth, but oh, how important that our resistance to compromise be accompanied by a warm and loving spirit!

God is the One who moves and works in hearts. The Holy Spirit opens eyes and God’s Word is powerful! We only need present the Truth. It is not our job to prove anything. We can walk away from a disagreement still as friends with the person with whom we disagree, confident that God is the One who works!

So I guess this is the question: Are we planting seeds with our words and attitudes or are we building walls? It has to be one or the other, as there is no in-between. Think about the last argument or disagreement you had with someone and ask yourselves these questions:

Was I unkind and brusque?

Did I need to prove I was right?

Did I raise my voice?

If the answers to these questions is yes, get on your knees and ask God to help you. He is faithful and it is never too late to change.

 

I Corinthians 13:1-8 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Colossians 3:12-15 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

 

The Birthday Party (or Self-Obsession: Part 2)

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After I published my last post, a couple of my friends contacted me to make sure they hadn’t been the ones to offend me with their words. I am so glad they did! First, so I could tell them they certainly had not and that my post had nothing to do with them, but also because they made me realize that I had neglected to say something when I wrote my post yesterday. (First, let me add here that I am fairly certain that the people I referred to in that post never read Growing4Life. If I thought they did, I would not have written it.)

But this is what I forgot to mention yesterday: No one owes me an apology. Anything I perceived to be hurtful is just that: my self-absorbed perception. I truly know that neither of those people meant to hurt me.

Have you ever caught yourself being driven by your perceptions of events rather than actual facts? Or perhaps of taking an off-handed comment and allowing it to take you into a downward spiral, far from the path of truthful thoughts? If you have, then you know what I mean.

So often we allow ourselves to hear something and by the time we are finished thinking about it, we have determined that the person who said it hates us with a deep, abiding passion (or some other similar, depressing, false thought).

If we continue to follow this line of thought, our spirit cries out for our “rights” to be approved and loved (as if they are rights somehow!) and our pride demands confrontation. But this is not usually the best way to deal with something like this.

It reminds me of an incident that happened to me long ago. One of my daughters spent a great deal of time with a group of girls. One day one of the girls handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party. The only problem was that my daughter did not receive an invitation. Oh, how hurt she was! How hurt I was for her! My gut reaction was to be offended and upset over this. Actually, I was very offended over this. Why does it always hurt us moms at least 20 times more when our kids are hurt than when we are hurt ourselves??

When I shared the incident with a friend, she suggested I “confront” this mother about this in Matthew 18 fashion. But, for whatever reason, I recognized that my offense wasn’t based on biblical doctrine, but instead on my own personal feelings. Young as I was, God gave me the wisdom to not follow that advice and I am so very thankful for that.

That little girl had every right to invite who she wanted to that party. It was none of my business. It also taught my daughter (and me!) a lesson in handling disappointment.

Do you realize that perhaps 80-90% of the things we are offended over are due to our own wrong perceptions, pride, and selfishness? Confronting someone about something that is based on these things is the makings for serious turmoil in our relationships.

I know this because I haven’t always so wisely refrained from confrontation. But I am learning. Slowly learning. And now, I confront less and less. Unless it is a sin issue that can be backed up with scripture, I try to stay quiet. Although, I have to admit here that this is much harder to practice at home than anywhere else! I am also learning that sometimes it is best to offer grace, even when it is a sin issue. Sure, sometimes people say purposeful, mean things or do unkind things to us which are certainly harder to forgive. But, unless it is a regular occurrence by the same person, I am learning to choose grace: To process and forgive and love without making a scene and without holding a grudge, giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to show much grace. This is so much easier to do when I remember just how much grace I need myself–from God, first and foremost, but also from those who know me.

God is so good. He meets us in our desire to forgive the small (and large) offenses that come our way and I can honestly say that He has helped me to forgive both actual and perceived hurts. He can and will do the same for you. If you struggle with this, He will help you. We serve a great God who not only has saved our souls, but who strengthens and sanctifies us in our everyday walk with Him, as well. He has given us His Word for our anchor and guide while we live here on earth and there is much there that is said on this subject of forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 is a good place to start.

Well, I promise not to flood your inbox every day, but I did want to do this quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I hope that it has clarified some things and that it has encouraged your heart. Have a great day!

 

Self-Obsession

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Sometimes I am still so amazed with how obsessed I am with myself. Seriously. How can this be? I think I have grown in this area of loving God more than loving myself and then I am criticized or minimized and I am back to realizing just how much I love me.

In the past few weeks, two specific things happened. In one instance, a ministry I have given my heart and soul to was completely–and quite unintentionally–minimized. In another, a project I was working on was criticized behind my back and that criticism found its way to my ears. In both instances, my first thought was: Why do I even bother? 

I have found in my life that these two things– criticizing or minimizing –are the two surest ways to knock the wind out of my sails. I get hurt, I get angry, I get frustrated.

But why? Why do these things bother me so much?

As I thought about this a lot over the past few days, I realize that it is because I love myself more than I love God. I get more angry and offended if someone hurts me than I do if they commit an offense against God.

I am quite ashamed to admit this, but it is just the truth.

When I can find my way back to biblical sanity–a place that is easier to find when I am walking with the Lord–I recognize that I can learn from comments that criticize or minimize–but only if I am willing to look at them honestly and humbly. When I can look at them honestly, there is potential to learn from them. When I am humble and stop thinking so highly of myself, the temptation to walk away from a fruitful ministry because of a comment seems silly.

And so my job is to examine whether or not the comment has truth or not and then to make changes if it does and to forgive and ignore if it doesn’t. That’s it. That’s what I am supposed to do.

I have to be honest with you– I did not want to share this today. It feels far too personal. But I believe that God wanted me to share this. So much so that I had nothing else to write today. Nothing. I was a complete blank– except for this.

And I recognize that self-love is a grave temptation for all of us. When we think we have it conquered, it rears its ugly head and reminds us that we certainly do not. It keeps us depending on and trusting in our heavenly Father for grace and strength. It reminds us why we so desperately need a Savior.

I also believe this dynamic–this self-obsession–is what keeps the body of the church from being unified on many occasions. It is what causes grudges to be held, forgiveness to be withheld, and ministries to fail. It is what causes rifts in families and great divides in churches.

All because of our great idol: self. 

And so God has continued to humble me. And while I don’t enjoy it, I am thankful for it. It is always good to be reminded that I am just a pinpoint–less than a pinpoint– on the timeline of life. God can accomplish His plan and His purposes without me–and without you, too. We are here to glorify Him and to make Him known, but He doesn’t need us. However, we do need Him. I think sometimes we get that a little mixed up and view ourselves as more important than we are.

Life is challenging. All of us face criticism or being minimized at one time or another. We face hurtful remarks and slander and gossip that swirls around about us. How we handle it is crucial and very telling of how much we worship self.

The next time this happens to me, I hope my journey to humility and honesty is just a little shorter. I hope that I will be less in love with myself and more in love with God. But I also recognize that this love of self is all-pervasive and ready to rear its ugly head at all times. We have to fight this sin very intentionally. And we can never rest because the path of self-obsession leads to a very dark and lonely place.

 

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31


 

One Thing We All Know For Sure

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A 48 year old man is on his way to a job when suddenly, with no warning at all, a car, driven by a teen-aged girl, crosses over into his lane. They are both killed.

A curious young boy steps too close to rushing flood waters and is swept away. He is one of 24 who are killed from flash floods in West Virginia.

A young family is playing on the lake beach of a famous resort. Suddenly, an alligator grabs their two year old and he is drowned.

The room is loud, the crowd is dancing and drinking, with no thoughts of eternity on their minds. Suddenly, shots fire. Over fifty are dead within minutes.

A man isn’t feeling well. He goes to the doctor and discovers that his body is riddled with cancer. Within months he is dead.

A 55 year old woman is on the beach on a windy day, celebrating her birthday with friends. Suddenly, a beach umbrella comes flying at her without warning, its point embedding itself in her heart. She is dead within minutes.

These are just six stories of death among the thousands that play themselves across the world every single day. Recent stories that you may have heard about. We don’t like to focus too much on death, but for just this one day, I want to talk about it.

There are a lot of opinions about a lot of things in this world. And with our new post-modern culture, we find that most people accept all opinions as true and valid. If you share anything about the Gospel with someone, you will most like hear something like this: well, that is true for you but it is not true for me. (As if 2+2 can equal 4 for me but equals 6 for them. The argument is so illogical I can’t stand it!)

But there is something we all can agree on–something that no one will argue over. There is one thing we all know for sure. And that is that we are all going to die. And, disconcertingly, few of us have absolutely any idea of when. This is not something we really want to think about, is it?

But perhaps we should think about it a little more often, because it would help us do a re-focus of a few things–

1. First and foremost, pondering death should make us think about our eternal destiny. Do I know where I am going to spend eternity? Am I confident in this? If you aren’t sure or are perhaps confused about the gospel, please read this post. If you think you are going to heaven because you said a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart, then I would ask you: does your life give evidence of your belief? Do you read and study God’s Word? Would your family and friends testify to the working of God in your life? While it is true that we only need believe in order to be saved, it is also true that true belief yields a changed life. (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 25:41-46) Is your life a living testimony of the work of Christ? If not, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

2. If we are confident we are saved, then we also have some soul-searching to do. Death should push us to share the gospel. Many have never heard the Truth from God’s Word. Oh, they may have heard parts of it or they may have heard mangled, twisted bits and pieces taken out of context. But many people still think they are working their way to heaven. What are we going to do about it? Our days are limited and we have no guarantees. Has anyone heard the Gospel from us? Have we planted some seeds along the way? Could we plant more? These are the questions that arise when we think of death.

3. If I knew I was going to die in 5 years, what would I do differently? Would I be kinder? Would I work more? Or less? Would I really try to fix my anger issue? Or climb out of debt so my family isn’t stuck with a mess? Would I make sure my relationship with my kids, my spouse, my parents was healed? We humans like to operate on “someday” time. Someday I’ll talk to that person. Someday I’ll work on this or fix that. But, for most of us, someday never comes. We focus on the everyday cares of life and rarely give attention to changing and growing, choosing instead to live very comfortably at status quo.

4. Death is a great reminder of God’s Sovereignty. He holds our days in His hands. God has even numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He knows everything–past, present, future. A day is as a thousand days to Him (2 Peter 3:8) God operates outside of time. We can rest securely in the care of our heavenly Father, knowing that we (and anyone we love) will not be removed from this earth before their time (which, by the way, is a concept that is SO much easier to write a sentence about than to actually live out).

5. Pondering death changes how we view our trials. We can become quickly overwhelmed with life and allow this to steal our joy, if we aren’t careful. Whether it be a houseful of children keeping us crazy busy or a bothersome physical trial, life can get us down. Whether it be a job that demands much from us or some relatives that suck the life out of us, life can move from joyful to draining in a short time. So much depends on our attitude. I feel a bit hypocritical even writing about this. I am very guilty of letting my circumstances control my mood. This is a constant struggle for me, but I am guessing that I am not totally alone in this (am I??). It is so easy to let external circumstances be the driving force of our lives. But we know that we should be controlled by the internal joy that we receive from the Lord and the peace that is available to us when we submit to His will. This is the secret to true and lasting contentment. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: With acceptance comes peace. Somehow when we think of death it gives us a different perspective on the trials that are plaguing us, doesn’t it? It brings them into proper focus.

6. When we think on death, it reminds us of just how blessed our ordinary days are. We move from one day to the next and complain a little if nothing exciting is happening. And, yet, ordinary can be swept away in an instant. Let’s appreciate it now–before it’s too late. Life changes. Sometimes it is very gradual and sometimes it is in a moment. How important that we appreciate each day and each stage of life. My daughter actually just wrote post on this. Maybe you want to check it out.

As you go about this week, I hope that you will think a bit on this. Who are the lost that you rub shoulders with every day? Do you have a passion to share the Gospel with them? What needs changed in your life to make you look more like Christ? What work does the Lord have for you before you leave the earth? Do you spend a lot of time complaining? Is it time to start working on a heart of gratitude and a spirit of contentment?

Life is short. And none of us has any guarantees. The time to shine our light is now. The time to change is now.

Because only the Lord knows what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

 

The Education Dilemma

Education Dilemma

Mandates regarding public education are coming from the federal level that cause any Christian parent –or any moral parent, for that matter– to shudder. Should Christians remove their children from the public schools? How does a family know when it is the right time to leave (or not leave) the public school system? And what is the best choice for education if the choice is made to leave the government-run schools?

Education has been a source of disagreement and contention among Christians for a long time now. Homeschooling, Christian Schools, and Public Schools all have their passionate supporters. But sometimes that passion turns into hurtful, arrogant remarks that cause dissension and strife. There is a lot of emotion and strong feeling around this very personal decision and many walls have been built between relationships because of it.

I have purposefully not written very often about education on this blog. I have my opinions, but, alas, I cannot find a specific command about this subject of educating our children anywhere in the Bible. And, so, that means that each Christian family is called to make a wise, thoughtful, and very personal choice about how their children are going to be educated. Thankfully, we still have that choice–at least for now.

But whatever we decide is extremely important. Adolf Hitler put it this way “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” I am not a big fan of Hitler, but he does have that right. And, so, it is crucial that we keep the hearts of our children, no matter which choice we make.

Any education we choose for our child will have its advantages and disadvantages and many different things will weigh into our decision. A few public schools still have quite a bit of Christian influence, while a good many are a lost cause. Some families have a decent, affordable Christian school nearby and some do not. Some mothers love the challenge of homeschooling and others do not feel gifted in this area. These are all things that will affect our decision about education.

It would seem to me that the bathroom mandate from President Obama probably has many Christians thinking just a little harder about how they are going to make sure their kids get a good education without being destroyed morally and spiritually in the process.

Making a change, however, can prove to be very confusing and challenging. Friends and family will list the pros and cons of their education system of choice. Very strong and loud opinions are spouted by our friends and acquaintances as to what they think we should do. But the decision does not need to be made by our parents, sibling, or friends. It is a decision that has to be made by each individual family. So how do we decide as a family what is the best choice for the education of our children? This very question came up in our Sunday School class last week and I have been thinking about it ever since. I thought of five factors we should all probably consider when making such an important choice–

1. What is the best choice for my child? If we aren’t careful, the choice we make will be based on a mother’s desire to work outside the home. Notice I used the word “desire”. While there are certainly some moms that are forced to work due to a variety of reasons and there are also some who work so that they can afford to send their children to Christian School, there are also so many others who work simply because they long for the satisfaction and fulfillment of a career outside of home life. One of the hardest things to do as a mother is to put the needs and interests of our children before our own. Our natural selfishness can cause our own personal purpose and fulfillment to trump what we know in our hearts is best for our children. This is promoted and bolstered by a world that sees “self-fulfillment” as the ultimate goal.  In order to make a wise decision about education, we moms have to cast aside our own desires and dreams and answer this question: What is best for my child?

2. Remember that soldiers are thoroughly prepared before engaging in combat. I so often hear the argument that we need Christians kids to be salt and light in the dark world of the public school system. While I believe there may be a few, valid reasons to choose to use the public school system, I do not believe this should ever be one of them. Just as a young recruit would never be thrown into the battlefield without intense training, so, too, should we never throw our children onto the battlefield of the world’s stage without first training them in the things of God. Our children are like sponges, soaking up everything they hear. While you may be telling them that the world was created by God, the government school system will be telling them otherwise. And while you will be telling them that there is absolute truth and right and wrong, they will be hearing the complete opposite throughout all of their years in the system. This will be confusing to them. They are not yet prepared to handle such conflicting messages. While you can work through this at home, it will take great diligence and lots of work to undo the damage done during their school days, as any parent with a child in public school already recognizes.

3. Consider your child’s personality. Each child is so different and, while some are born leaders and will never sway from the convictions they have learned at home, others are easily swayed by even the lightest of peer pressure. What is your child like? If they are a follower, public school (and even Christian school) could potentially be a very dangerous place for them.

4. Consider your family’s and each individual child’s communication style. Does your family communicate effectively about the stuff of life that really matters? Are conversations about God and the Bible and godly, life choices a natural part of dinner conversations? Does your child participate in these conversations? Does your child ask big questions and tell you about his day when you tuck him into bed at night? Do you know if she is struggling internally with a problem or question? If the answer to these questions is yes, then this will give you a wonderful window into what’s going on in their soul and mind, making any education choice feel a little safer. If the answer to this question is no, then it is important to consider the ramifications of this in regards to education.

5. Whatever choice we make does not eliminate our need to educate our children spiritually. How many kids do you know that have been placed in Christian School because Mom and Dad thought it would fix them? What they don’t recognize is that what is happening to their child is not about external circumstances but about what is going on internally and spiritually. But figuring all that out can be hard, tedious work that is sometimes messy, awkward, and incredibly difficult. It is so much easier to place a child in Christian School and hope that the teachers there will fix a rebellious child. But there is not any education choice that we can make that will fix what is broken or turn our child into some spiritual giant. The main responsibility for this lies in the home. It is our responsibility, as parents, to see that our kids leave our homes with a deep love and respect for God and His Word. It is our job to teach them that they are ultimately accountable to God and that they are sinners but are so deeply loved by God that He made a way for them to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. It is our job to teach them that the Word of God is their authority and to obey and submit to it joyfully. It is our job to teach them that obedience and submission to the Word will yield a joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling–albeit not trial-free– life. It is our job to teach them that the world is a dangerous, evil place and we are safest and happiest if we avoid its pleasures, its entertainment, and its lusts. It is our job to teach them to trust in God’s Sovereignty during difficult times, to forgive others just as God has forgiven us, and to love and serve others. This is our job as parents and belongs to no one else–not the school, not the teachers, not the pastor, not the youth group.

 

I hope these five factors will help any of you who may be struggling with this decision. Personally, I have experience with all three kinds of education–I went to public school from kindergarten through high school, I homeschooled our children for 16 years, and then our younger three children attended Christian School for several years. It is hard to believe that our youngest will be a senior next year. As I look over the past and consider the choices we made regarding our children’s education, there is one thing that really stands out in my memory and that is that God always showed us which fork in the road to take when we would come to a crossroads. I can think of at least three specific times where we agonized over what to do regarding this subject and the wonderful way that God so faithfully answered our prayers, showing us His will in this area of our family’s life. God, in His ever faithful way, provided very clear answers to our prayers. If this is something you are struggling with, take it to the Lord in prayer. If you are praying with a heart to submit and obey Him–no matter what answer He gives (even if you don’t like it!)– then you can be sure that He will answer that prayer.

And, finally, let me conclude with this–

We need to offer much grace and kindness in this area of education. We need to allow our Christian friends and family to make their own choices, based on their own convictions and circumstances. If we feel strongly that someone we love is making a wrong choice, the best thing to do is to pray for them. Strongly stating our opinion only leads to broken and strained relationships.

As our family approaches our final year in answering this education question, I find myself filled with compassion for those of you with young kids. It is an evil, pagan world we live in and this is spilling out into all areas of life, including the government schools. It will, most likely, only continue to get worse. You will have big questions to face as you raise your precious little ones. Get on your knees and ask God to show you what to do. He is faithful!

Psalm 121 is a wonderful reminder of this–

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.