Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Everyone Knows What That Stands For!

Ever had one of those mornings when you forgot to set the alarm and wake up, panicked, only a half-hour before your oldest child has to be in school?

Yep. Things were hopping at the Stair house today.

Fortunately, Boo is a pretty responsible kid, and most days she’s able to get herself ready in the mornings without major meltdowns over outfit choices or hairstyles. (Like her mother, she’s happy with jeans and a sweatshirt, and a ponytail!) She usually sets her alarm for 6:00 and is dressed and ready for school in just a few minutes, giving her plenty of time to finish any upcoming homework and write notes to her friends before school. (I did mention that she loves writing notes, didn't I?)

BRAGGING ALERT: In fact, I was so proud of our little Boo when she was presented the “Responsibility Award” for first grade at a school assembly last Friday. :-)

But did I mention that somehow we both forgot to set our alarms this morning?


That’s why today, at 7 a.m., I awoke with a start, looked at the clock, freaked out, briefly debated whether it would be okay for Boo to be tardy . . . sighed, and then crawled out of my electric-blanket-heated bed to head upstairs as fast as my groggy legs would go.

We still managed to have a good morning, with Boo getting dressed and having breakfast, along with her regimen of eye drops, in time for me to drop her off at school. (Hooray for our new elementary school, which is just five minutes from our house!)

But she didn’t have time to finish her homework before school, as she usually does. Not to worry; this particular assignment was not due until her next GATES class, which is on Friday. Still, I grabbed a pen and her paper on the way out the door and decided to let her do it in the car.

The assignment: “The ABCs of Thanksgiving.” Come up with something about Thanksgiving for every letter of the alphabet.

Most of these are really easy, and I have to admit, she came up with some good answers. I mean, "cornacopieas"? Regardless of the spelling, I'm impressed she even knows the word. Um, mostly.

As we were working our way down the list, thinking of all the yummy food on Thanksgiving—from “A?” “Apple pies!” to “S?” “Sweet potatoes!” (That’s my girl… she knows my favorite dish!)—we got to the letter “T.”

“That’s easy, honey,” I said from the driver’s seat. “Everybody knows what T stands for.”

Turkey! I thought. That's an easy one.

“Oh, you’re right!” Boo responded brightly, writing on her page:

Of course!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Giving Thanks

(This article appeared in my column "Haslet Faith," in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Haslet Style magazine.)

“Mo-om! Where’s my school T-shirt?” my first-grader asked on her way downstairs. “I can’t find it anywhere. Tomorrow is spirit day, and we’re supposed to wear our shirts!”

I was in the kitchen, washing dishes from dinner. “I don’t know, honey,” I said over the running water as I scrubbed pasta sauce out of the skillet. “Go check the laundry room.” I glanced at the dishwasher, trying to figure out how I could fit the skillet in the already overcrowded bottom shelf.

“Hey, Mom! It’s a shower night!” I heard my five-year-old call as she bounded past me on her way to the bathroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed she was holding a satin summer nightgown.

“Sweetie, it’s going to be forty degrees tonight. You’ll freeze in that nightgown.” I raised a soapy hand and pointed upstairs. “Go back upstairs and get some warm pajamas.”

“But Mom, I love this one! It’s my princess nightgown!” she pouted. I gave her The Look. She reluctantly headed back upstairs.

I finally managed to find a spot for all the dishes, squeezed a dollop of detergent, and shut the dishwasher door. As it hummed to life, I grabbed a damp dishcloth to wipe the table.

I’d only taken a couple of steps when a tiny hand grabbed hold of my pant leg.

“Mama! Mama!”

I stopped midstride and looked down at my two-year-old. Sigh. “What do you need, honey?”

“Wa-der, Mama. Pleeease?” He was holding his empty sippy cup, his wide blue eyes sparkling with hope. Honestly, could this boy be any more adorable?

“Okay, sweetie.” I sighed, tossing the dishcloth in the sink. I grabbed his cup and headed to the fridge to fill it with water. He merrily trotted along beside me.

“Mom! I can’t find my shirt in the laundry!” My first-grader appeared in the kitchen, clearly miffed. “There’s too much stuff in there! I can’t even open the door!”

I handed the sippy cup to my son. “Honey, I’m sorry,” I told her. “Your shirt is probably in one of the clean clothes piles, but I don’t have time to look for it tonight. Just wear something else instead.”

“But Mom! I need my spirit shirt! Tomorrow is Friday!”

I took a deep breath and reminded myself to count to ten before responding. One—two—three—

“Mama! Mama! Mama!” I felt my son’s familiar tug on my pant leg. —four—five—six—

“Mama!” The tugging continued, more insistent now. —seven—eight . . . Oh, forget it.

“What?! What do you need now, sweetie?” I tried to keep my voice from sounding as aggravated as I felt at the moment. If I have to do one more thing right now, I think I’ll—

He looked up at me with a broad grin. “T’ank you!” he said brightly.

I stood there for a moment, his sing-song words of gratitude echoing in my mind as I watched him happily totter down the hall with his cup of water.

We’ve tried to teach our children the courtesy of simple manners. How many times have we reminded them, “Remember to say please and thank you”? But something about hearing those words that night brought everything back into perspective.

Thank you!

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

The apostle Paul instructed the church, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV; emphasis added). I’ve known this verse for many years, but I have to admit that “Give thanks in all circumstances” doesn’t always make it on my daily to-do list.

To be honest, the last thing on my mind that frazzled evening was gratitude. I was too busy focusing on the dirty dishes in the sink, the ominous mountain of laundry, and my three children who needed to be bathed, dressed, and put to bed—on a night when my husband was at a church meeting and unable to help. It was a hectic night, to be sure.

But the apostle Paul’s command is not for us to “give thanks for all circumstances.” Instead, we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

All too often we get so caught up in our daily circumstances—whether good or bad—that we don’t take time to acknowledge the blessings God has given us. Yet God wants us to thank Him for His abundant provision and grace in our lives every day.

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally; that’s why we have to teach our children to say thank you. Thankfulness is something we choose, even when life is difficult.

Psalm 50:23 says God is honored when we offer Him “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Whether we’re digging though a pile of laundry, taking a sick child to the hospital, or watching our IRAs disappear before our very eyes, gratitude gives us a chance to look beyond our present circumstances to see the big picture.

See the Big Picture

So in the middle of that busy evening, with a kitchen that still needed cleaning and piles of laundry still taking over my house and children who still needed to be bathed and put to bed, I took a moment to step back and see the big picture of God’s plan and provision for us.

  • Thank You, God, for the dishes in my sink tonight. They remind me that You have provided food for our family and a house where we can gather together for meals.
  • Thank You, God, for that gigantic mountain of laundry. You have blessed us with plenty of clothes for our family, clothes that keep us warm on these chilly nights.
  • Thank You, God, for the church meeting Brett is leading tonight. Thank You for calling us to start The Church at Sendera Ranch and for how You are building Your church here to reach this community and to change lives for good.
  • Thank You, God, for our three beautiful children, whom you have entrusted to our care. As I give them baths and put them to bed tonight, help me to remember that each of them is a precious gift from You.

As I began to “give thanks in my circumstances,” I was amazed at the difference in my perspective. In spite of my frustrations, I began to see God’s faithfulness. Instead of regretting the petty things I didn’t have, I was truly grateful for the priceless things I did have.

Everyday Thanksgiving

Showing gratitude for God’s gifts to us shouldn’t be limited to the Thanksgiving holiday. Our heavenly Father is honored when we choose to thank Him for the many things He provides for us every day.

In this busy holiday season, let’s pause for a moment to reflect on God’s goodness. How has He blessed you this year? In what specific ways can you give Him thanks in your circumstances right now? Express your gratitude to God in prayer, and consider jotting down those blessings in a “gratitude journal” to remind you of God’s provision and grace.

And no matter what 2009 brings, let’s choose to keep this attitude of gratitude all year long. After all, we have so much to be thankful for. As we celebrate at Christmas, “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Now that’s a gift that deserves a big “Thank you!”

Monday, November 10, 2008

God Will Help Us

Boo is a letter writer.

She has been writing encouraging notes to friends and family as long as I can remember. It’s somehow hard-wired into her brain. As a toddler, she would sit thoughtfully with crayons and construction paper and make careful squiggles across the page. She'd spend plenty of time making sure she got everything "just right." Then she would proudly bring us her paper and translate for us the “notes” she had written to her cousins or grandmother or friends.

After she learned the alphabet, Boo’s letter-writing morphed into painstaking, letter-by-letter dictation.

“Mama, I’m writing a letter to Gran," she would inform me. "How do you spell ‘Dear Gran’?”

Sigh. "D-E-A-R . . ." I'd begin.

“Wait! Go slower, Mama! What comes after E?” she'd interrupt, crayon poised.

It would take an exasperatingly long time, but together we’d eventually work our way through, letter by letter, her special messages for loved ones.

Thankfully, she learned how to read at an early age (which was a huge blessing from God, considering those dark months when we weren’t sure if she’d be able to see, much less read, after a virus inexplicably attacked her eyes and she developed glaucoma at age three. But that’s another story for another day). So by age four, Boo was happily penning her own greetings to loved ones on a regular basis. Some of her letters were mailed, some were given to friends and neighbors and teachers, and still others decorated our refrigerator. Suffice it to say, our house suffers no lack of notes from Boo.

So last Monday, as I was clearing off the coffee table in our upstairs game room to be able to use it as my work desk (note to self: I need an office), I was not surprised in the least to find it cluttered with an assortment of construction paper, scissors, glue, crayons, and markers, residuals of the girls’ spontaneous craft time earlier that morning. As I neatly stacked the pile of papers and sorted them into clean-enough-to-use-again versus toss-this-in-the-trash, out of curiosity (and downright mommy nosiness) I peeked to see what kinds of things Boo had written that morning.

Here’s what I found (minus her name):

Regardless of which candidate you supported for president (which is beside the point here), I was struck by how Boo’s simple note to her first-grade teacher had the ring of truth to it.

No matter who is in the White House, God will help us.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1 ESV; emphasis added).

Whether you are elated or disapointed over the outcome of last Tuesday's election, you can rest assured that God was sovereign on November 4. His perfect plan (whatever that may be) was accomplished.

"Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings" (Daniel 2:20-21 ESV; emphasis added).

And now, as citizens of our great nation and servants of the King of kings, we have the privilege and duty to pray for Barack Obama as he becomes the leader of the free world.

"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2:1-3 ESV; emphasis added).

And as we kneel to pray for our nation and our president, we can pray with confidence, knowing that our good and loving God will hear and answer our prayers.

"The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord,
Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1 NKJV).
Because no matter who is in the White House, God will help us.
That's absolutely right, Boo.

P.S. For those of you who are keeping up with JJ’s unending questions, here are a few she’s asked in the past few days:

  • “Why don’t people eat apple cores? Why do we eat pumpkin seeds but not apple seeds?”

  • “How do you hear God? When I pray, I don’t hear Him talk.”

  • “What happens if you mix gasoline and water?”

  • “What is toothpaste made out of?”

  • “What’s the opposite of green?”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Inquiring Minds Want to Know. . .

Several of you who read my latest post e-mailed me to say how cute JJ was to ask so many questions. And many of you shared stories about your own inquisitive little ones.

To be honest, JJ’s questions keep me on my toes! Anyone who thinks that you’d have to sacrifice your intellect to stay home with your kids obviously hasn’t ever had a five-year-old. Or at least a five-year-old like JJ, anyway. Far from letting my mind turn to mush, staying home with my kids has forced me to develop the ability to think on my feet, every day.

Just for fun, I kept track of the questions JJ asked me in the past twenty-four-hours. Apart from the relatively benign ones (“Can I watch a movie?” or “Does this match?”), here are—I kid you not—some of the things she has asked me, from the gross to the profound:

Yesterday afternoon, playing in the backyard:

· What do ladybugs eat? (Um, they eat aphids, I think. And maybe grass.)

· How long do ladybugs live? (I have no idea. Put it in your bug house with some grass and we’ll find out!)

· What’s faster: a leopard or a cheetah? ([The girls found a yellow ladybug and were arguing about what to name it.] I think a cheetah is faster. I’m not sure.)

· Are roly-polies and ladybugs friends? (I don’t know. Go ahead and stick that ladybug in the bug house with your roly-poly and see what happens.)

Last night:

· How come Gran calls it “supper”? (Because some people in the South call lunch “dinner” and dinner “supper.” That’s what GG and Papa call it too.)

· What would happen if I put my boogers in this fairy wand? (Eww! Gross! Don’t do that! Yuck.)

This morning:

· Mom, I have a secret. I asked Boo to do my art homework for me. Is that okay? (No, honey, that’s not okay! You have to do your own homework. If you ask someone else to do it, that’s called cheating, and that’s a bad choice. Besides, how are you ever going to get better at drawing if you don’t practice?)

· Are cats fuzzy? (Yes, they’re fuzzy. Technically, they’re furry, but that’s close enough.)

· (Looking in the mirror) I wish I could have Boo’s face, except not with glasses. Her face is prettier than mine. Can I have Boo’s face instead? (What? Why would you want her face? You’re absolutely beautiful, just the way God made you.)

· (Taking a bath) What makes the soap turn into bubbles? (Uh, I’m not sure. The soapy part, when it hits the water, gets all bubbly. That’s just the way soap is. [Clearly, I didn’t pay enough attention in science class.])

Today at lunch:

· Can I see my bugs now? (Well, okay. Here’s the bug house. Looks like the ladybug is still walking around, but your roly-poly isn’t alive anymore.)

· What does “alive” mean? (Um, let’s see. To be alive means to be living and breathing. To have life.)

· What’s “life”? (Life is, um . . . Life is what God gives to people and animals, to live and breathe and move. It’s what makes us different from rocks and toys and stuff.)

· So your daddy is like a rock? (Uh, no. My daddy died, but he is alive in heaven with Jesus.)

· Is your daddy in the ground, or in heaven? (Well, both, kind of. My daddy’s body is in the ground, but his soul is in heaven with Jesus.)

· What’s a “soul”? (Hmm. Your soul, or spirit, is what is inside you. It’s not your skin and bones but the inside part of you that thinks and loves and feels. The part that God made very special, in His image, and what makes us different than animals.)

Whew! See what I mean? And these are just a few of the things I’ve had to answer since yesterday.

Motherhood is a tough and often thankless job, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart—or mind. Every day, I do my best to nurture these three inquisitive children God has entrusted to us. And every day, I pray that I’ll be able to “speak the truth in love” in a way that honors God and helps them “grow up in all things, into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NKJV).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What Is God Doing Right Now?

“JJ, hold still so I can get your halo on straight!”

My younger two kids had been looking forward to the costume parade at their Mother’s Day Out for weeks. At last it was the long-awaited day, and JJ had woken up earlier than usual, bright-eyed and eager to don her costume to show her class.

It was Boo who came up with the idea of being an angel for Halloween this year. She even put an angel costume on her birthday wish list several weeks ago. And in typical younger-sister fashion, once JJ heard the idea, she immediately wanted to copy it. “Me too!”

Poor Buddy; at two years old, he doesn’t have much of a say in his costume quite yet. So upon hearing that the girls wanted to be angels, I decided it would be fun to dress Buddy as an angel too. That way, I could have my own little “choir of angels.” That would be fun! Would it be weird to have them sing Christmas carols on Halloween?

So on Wednesday, I unwrapped the costumes and began the process of transforming my kids into angels. (Not an easy process, mind you.)

Now, before I go on with this story, you have to know something about JJ. The middle of our three children, JJ is full of spunk and sparkle. She’s remarkably different from her older sister in many ways. If our children were poems, Boo would be rhythm and rhyme, in perfect iambic pentameter. She’s smart, organized, loyal, enjoyable, and (like her mother) a bit of a perfectionist. If JJ were a poem, on the other hand, she would undoubtedly be free verse. Or maybe a haiku. Something beautiful and fascinating that grabs your attention and makes you think.

And oh, how JJ makes me think. She has an unending assortment of spontaneous, profound questions that catch me completely off guard. Often in the mornings, before I’ve had my coffee.

This day was no exception. As I began putting on the layers of her angel costume—undershirt . . . robe . . . belt—JJ started asking questions.

“Mama, what are angels?”

Tying her white sash at the front of her robe, I answered offhandedly, “Angels are special beings created by God to worship and serve him.” Hmm, should the bow go on the front or the side? Maybe I should just tie it in a knot, instead of a bow. Do angels have bows?!?

“Mama, what do angels do?” Even at dawn-thirty, JJ’s mind was spinning as she was getting dressed.

I voted for tying a bow in the middle of the robe. “Um, let’s see,” I said, heading to her dresser to hunt for white tights that still fit. “The Bible says that angels are messengers from God, sent to help those who will inherit salvation. That means that angels give people special messages from God, and they help us.” This pair of tights is too small . . . This one has a run in it . . . Good grief, why didn’t I go through her tights when I changed out her closet this week?

JJ sat on the bed, wiggling her bare legs while I rifled through the tights. “So, can we see angels?”

Aha! This pair should work! I grabbed an off-white pair of tights (close enough) and started putting them on JJ as I answered. “Well, yes, honey. Sometimes. The Bible tells us about several times people saw angels. You know, like when the angel appeared to Mary to tell her the she was going to have a very special baby.”

“Jesus!” JJ interrupted, happily interjecting the answer while I cinched up her hose around her knees.

“That’s right, baby. And remember, when the disciples went to Jesus’ tomb, they saw two angels who told them that Jesus was alive.” I started racking my non-caffeinated brain. “Let’s see. And in the Old Testament, there’s a story of how God’s people were fighting a battle, and they were scared because their enemy seemed very strong. Then God opened the skies and let His people see the thousands of angels He had sent to help them fight the battle. And they won!”

“Wow, I didn’t know God did that,” JJ said, putting on her white sandals (since I already packed away her dressy white Easter shoes when clearing out her closet a few days ago—oops!).

That left us with the final touch to her angel costume—the halo.

As I brushed her hair in preparation for the halo headband, JJ asked, “Mama, what is God doing right now?”

Trying to brush out all the tangles without making her yelp, I answered in generalities, not giving her question much thought. “Well, honey, right now God is working out His plan for the world. He is sustaining His creation, drawing people’s hearts to come to know Him, taking care of all His children, and answering our prayers.” There, that should be enough brushing for now. Now where did I put that halo?

JJ handed me the halo, which she had been holding. She was clearly not satisfied with my answer.

“No, Mama,” she insisted, putting her hands on her hips and looking up at me in all her angelic glory. “What is God doing right now?”

Oh my. Now that was a big question out of such a little girl. My first instinct was to drift into Bible teacher mode, but how could I explain to a five-year-old that God, as an eternal spirit, is completely outside of time; that He accomplished His plan for the ages before the foundations of the world; and that to God, there is no “right now”—there is only an “always is”?

I knelt down to be at her level. I put down the hairbrush and looked her directly in the eyes as I answered her, this time, very carefully.

“Honey, right now God is doing lots of things. Right this minute, God is here with you, and He loves you very much. He is taking care of you, answering your prayers, and making sure you have all the things you need, like a home and food and a family who loves you very much. He made you as His very own special little girl, and He has an amazing plan for your life. And right now, He wants you to trust Him and love Him as He works out His perfect plan for you in His time and His way.”

“Oh, okay!” JJ said cheerily, apparently pleased with that answer. She bounced Tigger-like into the bathroom to admire her new costume in the mirror and top off the ensemble with some sparkly lip gloss.

Watching my spunky angel bound out of her bedroom, I couldn’t help but think . . .

Thanks for the reminder, God!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Family Ties

I always thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and have a career in business. Dad was a successful and much-loved sales manager at Lever Brothers, and after he went to be with the Lord, I wanted to honor his legacy by going into business too. So after flinging my graduation cap to “Pomp and Circumstance” along with the rest of the Marcus High School class of 1991, I packed my Izods and Jordache jeans, along with other dorm room essentials like a hot plate and mini TV, into my trusty Dodge Shadow and headed to Aggieland, where I had received a full academic scholarship and planned to get my MBA.

My freshman year, I was selected to participate in the business school honors program, joining a dozen or so students hand-picked to be instructed by the deans of each department. I was on a fast track to success in the business world. Dad would be so proud, I thought.

Trouble was, I didn’t care much for accounting. Or microeconomics. Or finance. Or many of the other classes along the way to my business degree. Come to think of it, I only truly enjoyed classes like marketing and advertising—subjects where I could be creative and write.

By my sophomore year, the situation was becoming quite a quandary for this practical-minded gal. How could I continue pursuing a career that I frankly wasn’t interested in? On the other hand, if I didn’t get a business degree, what on earth was I going to do? I talked to my mom and several trusted friends about my dilemma, and their suggestion was almost unanimous: why not change my major to English, where I could focus on what I loved—reading, writing, and being creative?

I had a ready answer for that. I couldn’t possibly become an English major because (1) I had no desire to be a schoolteacher and (2) I didn’t want to wait tables for the rest of my life. After all, practically speaking, weren’t those the only two career options for an English major? (Before you beg to differ on this point, yes, I know there are many, many other options. But at the time, I wasn’t aware of them. Just hang with me here.)

After much prayer, I sensed the Lord guiding me to a perfect solution: why not combine my interests and go into the business of writing? Aha! Book publishing!

I did a bit of research and found a respected Christian book publisher in the Dallas area. Convinced that I was following God’s leading, I boldly picked up the phone and gave them a call.

Did they have any part-time positions available?


Any summer internships?


Could I just come pour coffee or something, to see what book publishing was like?


Humph. Not exactly the “clear sign from God” I was looking for.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, I continued calling the publisher every few months, making sure they still had my resume and politely asking if they had any summer openings yet. I kept getting the same answer.

I had almost decided to go back to my previous summer job when out of the blue, I got a call from a professional-sounding woman who introduced herself as Laura Minchew, vice president of the children’s division of Word Publishing. She had seen my resume and was impressed. Would I be interested in a summer internship in the children’s book division?

Yes, yes, YES!

That was great, she said. Then she mentioned one other detail—it would be an unpaid internship. Was I okay with that?

Um, God, when I asked You to provide a job at a book publisher, should I have specified a “paying” one? After all, money is kind of important for me, being in college and all . . .

Of course I was okay with that, I assured her, swallowing my protests to the contrary. Sign me up! I’d start as soon as the spring semester was over.

So in May 1993, I donned my most professional-looking attire (in that era, no doubt something paisley with puffy sleeves) and drove to the offices of Word Publishing, ready to find out what the book publishing biz was all about.

And I’ve been hooked ever since.

Those of you who have stumbled upon your life’s calling—the place where your passion meets your paycheck—understand what I mean when I say that from the moment I walked into the world of Christian books, I knew I was home.

At Word, I was surrounded by talented, energetic, creative people who were eager to help authors effectively communicate their messages of hope and truth to thousands of people around the world. I couldn’t believe there were so many people who loved books as much as I did! As David Moberg, former VP of Word and a highly respected leader in the Christian book industry, once said, “We have ink in our veins.” So it will come as no surprise that after my summer internship, I continued to work for Word at every opportunity throughout my college days and then enthusiastically accepted a full-time position upon graduation.

Honestly, I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else! There was a synergy at Word Publishing that, ironically, defies description. It was a golden era of like-minded, highly skilled people who wholeheartedly rallied around a shared desire to publish top-quality, God-honoring books. The leadership cultivated a family atmosphere where every employee felt valued and essential, thus inspiring us to work even harder to produce excellent products. In every sense of the term, it was a dream team.

My dad would have been so proud.

But like the poet Robert Frost famously penned, “So dawn goes down to day / Nothing gold can stay.” Only three years after I began working there full-time, Word was bought by another publisher and moved to Nashville. Several people transferred with the company, but many of us whose lives and loved ones were in the Dallas area simply couldn’t make the move.

After tearful good-byes, our close-knit Word family was literally torn apart as we scattered across the metroplex. Several people, like me, continued to work for Word on a freelance basis, while others found positions at other publishers or companies.

Fast-forward twelve years.

On the eve of David Moberg’s sixtieth birthday, he had made plans to travel from Nashville to accompany author Max Lucado to a book signing in Hurst. A couple of former Word folks came up with a fabulous idea: This would be a great opportunity for a Word Publishing reunion! A few e-mails and phone calls later, the plans were all set.

On Wednesday, I had the privilege of reconnecting with my Word family. It was a delightful evening of hugs and swapping stories and catching up with dear friends. Sure, there were a few more gray hairs around the table, but the synergy and sparkle of the Word team still shone through. We still share a common passion, as well as the deep bonds that come with having poured out our hearts together for many years to accomplish a common goal.

At one point in the evening, my husband Brett leaned over to me and said, “Now I see why you loved working at Word so much. The energy here is incredible!” No matter the time and distance that may separate us, these people are, in every sense of the word, my family.

As I looked through pictures of our Word reunion this morning, I got to thinking, What would it be like if the church had this kind of synergy? After all, no matter where we worship on Sunday mornings, the congregation is filled with people who share a common passion (a love for Jesus Christ) and who are pouring out their hearts together to accomplish a common goal (spreading the gospel and developing fully functioning followers of Jesus Christ). We are, in every sense of the word, the family of God.

One of the great things about The Church at Sendera Ranch is that as a new church, our congregation does have a genuine excitement. Many people at TCASR have said that from the moment they walked into the service, they knew they were home.

Like the golden era of Word, TCASR is made up of like-minded, supernaturally gifted people who wholeheartedly rally around a shared desire to change lives for good. Our leadership cultivates a family atmosphere where every person feels valued and essential, thus inspiring all of us to work even harder to share the gospel and serve our community. In every sense of the term, it is a dream team.

It is my prayer that we will continue to sustain this level of connectedness and purpose so that many years from now, someone will lean over to me and say, “Now I see why you love serving at The Church at Sendera Ranch so much. The energy here is incredible!”

What about your church? Is there a synergy and sparkle among your church family that attracts others and makes them want to be part of what God is doing there? If not, what can you do to help cultivate that sense of connectedness and enthusiasm in your church today?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Time for a Change

“How do I look, Mama?” five-year-old JJ asked, as she bounded down the stairs.

It was Sunday afternoon, and the kids and I were getting ready to go to my mom’s house for our annual pumpkin carving with their cousins. I sent Boo and JJ upstairs with specific instructions to change out of their dresses into play clothes that they could get sticky with pumpkin goo.

I should have known better.

JJ’s ensemble of choice was eclectic, to put it nicely. I have to hand it to her, though. Technically, her outfit matched. She even pointed out that a pink stripe on her tank top blended with a pink flower on her shorts. Okay, she got me there. And I guess technically a khaki sun hat matches everything, right?

But it was fifty degrees outside—hardly tank-top-and-shorts weather.

Now, to JJ’s credit, Old Man Winter takes his time moseying down to Texas. While folks in other regions of the country have been shoveling snow out of their driveways for weeks, down here in Fort Worth, we’ve been lounging on our back porches on perfect 75-degree evenings. So it’s understandable that JJ would assume her summer outfit would befit late October. (After all, there have been years when we’ve opened Christmas presents in our shorts!) But we finally had a cold snap that seemed like it would last awhile. (Side note: my husband, who is from northwest Arkansas, and I disagree on the definition of cold. In Texas, the official definition is “anything less than sixty degrees.”)

I sent JJ back upstairs to change into long sleeves and jeans. And then, on second thought, I went upstairs to supervise.

Walking into JJ’s room, I realized why she’d had such a hard time selecting an appropriate outfit. There were piles of clothes everywhere!

Alas, it was that time of year again—time to change out the seasons and sizes of clothes. And I was woefully behind in getting the kids’ closets organized. To be honest, it’s something I dread. Don’t get me wrong: I love the feeling of having an organized closet. I just don’t like the process of getting there.

But JJ’s closet was desperately crying out for help. Most of the summer clothes hanging in her closet were a size too small and needed to be put aside, the winter clothes from last year had to be sorted through to find things that still fit, and I needed to go through the storage bin of hand-me-downs from Boo to find winter clothes for JJ this year. Oh, and I needed to mow through JJ’s shoes too. And belts. Oh, and socks—JJ’s socks were getting too small, so I needed to change those out too. Sigh.

It was time for a change.

So I decided to take off work Monday, and I spent the day sorting through piles of clothes and changing out all three kids’ closets. It was a painstaking process—each item in their closets had to be taken down and examined to determine whether it should remain. Some summer clothes could be set aside for next summer; others were too small and needed to be put away. Then I went through the bins of next-size-up clothes that had been handed down from older siblings or given to us by friends over the years. What would fit? What would be appropriate for chilly weather? Which outfits were outdated? What could we pass on to other kids? And then the process began again with shoes. And belts. And socks. And . . .

You get the picture.

It took me almost an entire day to sort through all of their closets, and I have to admit, I’m still not entirely done. But I’m getting closer to having those organized closets I love. I know exactly what they’re supposed to look like—I just have a bit more work to get there.

The process reminds me a bit of what’s it’s like to clean out the “closets” of our life before God. Let’s face it: we all have things hanging around in our lives that needed to be sorted through.

Some things are flat-out sins, things that dishonor God and miss the mark of His holiness. Those need to be confessed and tossed out. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There are things in your life that you know, beyond a doubt, should not stay. So get rid of them! Don’t take time to examine them, lingering over the memories you had wearing them—toss them out! They’re taking up space in your life that you need to fill with God’s righteousness and love.

Some things are outdated and need to be put aside. Are there spiritual practices you’re still clinging to, simply because “you’ve always done it that way”? Though our lives can be enriched by tradition (cue Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof here), there are some traditions that clutter our hearts and prevent us from experiencing new life in Jesus. Fittingly, our Lord described this with a parable about—you guessed it!—clothes: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old” (Luke 5:36). Are you clinging to any old traditions that are keeping you from a fresh, genuine encounter with Jesus? Set them aside today.

Some things in our lives are a size too small and no longer fit. Are you stuck in the same spiritual routine that you’ve been doing for years? Maybe you attend church on Sunday morning but haven’t made room for your faith in your day-to-day life. Or maybe you’ve been doing the same kinds of devotionals, or praying the same generic “God bless the missionaries” prayers, for several years. Just like every infant experiences physical growth, every Christian goes through a process of spiritual growth. Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your spiritual life. In what ways are you closer to God this season than last season? If you’ve been following Christ for several years but are still wearing toddler clothes in your spiritual life, it’s time to “grow up in your salvation” and “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (1 Peter 2:2; Ephesians 4:13). Pass on your toddler clothes by mentoring a younger believer, and press on toward spiritual maturity by “being renewed inwardly day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

As the seasons change and we begin the often-dreaded process of clearing out the clutter, let’s take hope in the fact that someday, we will no longer have to keep purging our lives of sin, old traditions, and immaturity. Like the perfectly organized closets I’ve envisioned for my children, God has an infinitely greater, perfect plan for all of His children. The Bible assures us that one day, our earthly, perishable bodies will be “clothed with the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:54). We will finally toss out the despair of this life and put on “a garment of praise” (Isaiah 61:3). And then—hallelujah!—we will be arrayed as the bride of Christ, “in fine linen, white and clean,” and we will dwell forever in the new heaven and earth prepared for us by our faithful, good, and loving God (Revelation 19:14; 21:1–5; Psalm 102:25–27).

And that, my friends, is change you can believe in.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Warming Up to True Community

The past four weeks, Brett has been preaching a sermon series called “Living Life in the End Zone,” based on Acts 2. Sunday after Sunday, he has been encouraging our congregation to experience true community not only by deepening our personal relationship with the Lord and serving in the local church, but also by reaching out to our neighbors to share the message and love of Christ in a practical way.

Like any good pastor’s wife, I have been sitting on the front row, taking good notes, and thinking about how proud I am of my husband for preaching the Word with clarity, boldness, and grace.

And then I take my copiously filled-in sermon notes home and promptly file them away. After all, like many pastor’s wives, I’ve heard most of this before. Many, many times before.

Not just from Brett, of course. I cut my teeth (probably literally) on a church pew. My parents used to pin my tithe to my diaper when they took me to the church nursery. My dad was a deacon and my mom was in the choir, and our family of five was at church every single week for Sunday school, worship service, discipleship training, Tuesday night visitation, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and every potluck and hymn sing and revival meeting in-between. Take seventeen years of that, add four years of college ministry, and then throw in three more years of seminary. Now top that off with ten years of marriage to a pastor, and you’ll begin to have an idea of exactly how many sermons I have heard in my life.

That’s why a specific event this past week turned into a truly amazing, God-sent opportunity to actually live out the truths I’ve been jotting down on my sermon notes.

It started last Friday, when our air conditioning went out. During the 90+-degree Texas heat, I might add. Oh, and I might also add that the manufacturer informed us that it will take at least two weeks for our replacement part to arrive.

Two weeks. In unrelenting, 90-degree heat. With three young children. And the two of us both working from home.

Can anyone say, YIKES!

Now, I have to admit that my first reaction to this news was something other than, “Lord, thank You for this great opportunity.” But we didn’t have money to replace the A/C unit, or even to buy portable fans to use while we waited for the part to arrive, so we didn’t have an option. We would simply have to endure the heat. For two weeks.

After a couple of days of sweating it out, I finally decided to send an e-mail to our church, asking if anyone might have a portable fan that we would borrow for a while. But to be honest, it took me awhile to work up the nerve to hit Send. After all, I’m not used to asking for help. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a master delegator and have absolutely no problem assigning tasks for a specific project. But when it comes to asking for help for myself or my family—well, that’s another matter entirely. You see, there's an unwritten rule in churches that pastors and their families are the ones who give help, not the ones who need help. And that’s pretty much the way we’ve been living the past ten years.

But oh my word, it was so HOT in our house. I had to do something!

When I checked my e-mail later that day, I was overwhelmed at the response. Dozens of people offered us not just the use of their fans, but even their homes. One friend invited our entire family to spend the night as often as we’d like—she had plenty of room for all of us, she said. Another dear friend let us know that she stashed a key outside, so we were able to use her home for the kids’ afternoon naps. Several moms offered to host the kids and me for afternoon play dates, so we could escape the heat. And still others have called us this week to check on how we’re doing and see how they can help.

In other words, our church is reaching out to us to share the love of Christ in a practical way.
It’s exactly what Brett has been preaching the past few weeks. Here we are, actually experiencing a true, Acts 2 kind of community!

There’s nothing more exciting than seeing God’s vision become reality. The past few months, we’ve been amazed to watch God build His church and draw us together as a church family. And this week, Brett and I were humbled and grateful to reap the blessings of the true community God has been building here at The Church at Sendera Ranch.

This Sunday, Brett is starting a sermon series called “We Hold These Truths,” covering the essential Christian doctrines. You bet your boots I’m gonna take good notes! And then I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for how God is going to put those truths into practice in our daily lives.

Stay tuned…

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Say Cheese!

A few weeks ago, our oldest child, Boo, donned her Disney Princess backpack and lunchbox and walked hand-in-hand with her dad down the sparkling-clean, creatively decorated halls of our new community school to start first grade. She bounced right into her classroom, sat at her desk, and immediately started catching up with her friends, many of whom she already knows from church and other neighborhood gatherings. After snapping several pictures, Brett went to the back of the room and chatted with a handful of other camera-laden parents, until he realized that all the parents—himself included—were actually hanging around the classroom for themselves, not for their children. The kids were all perfectly fine, thank you very much. (What a difference a year makes!) So he finally waved good-bye and headed home.

From day one, Boo has absolutely loved her class. It helps that the new school is Western-themed, so for our horse-loving daughter, it’s a dream come true. (Horses, horses, everywhere!)

At the end of the first week, Boo came home with a note from the teacher saying she had been selected as “Ranch Hand of the Week” and could bring a few pictures to share with the class. Not surprisingly, she made a beeline for my closet, in search of the dozens of photos we took during our summer trek to Aunt Jude’s horse farm in North Carolina.

As she was sorting through the pile of pictures and deciding which ones to bring to school (the one of her riding gentle Tessie... the one where she’s grooming the more rambunctious Bill… one of her helping walk the feisty foal Jake back to the stable…), she said to me, rather offhandedly, “You know what, Mom? If Ms. F’s class was like a body, then Ms. F would be the brain. Right, Mom?”

You'd think I'd be used to these totally off-the-wall questions by now.

Um, where on earth did THAT come from? Did Brett preach about the Bible’s analogy of the church being a body recently? Deciding to just wait and see where this was headed, I commented, “Sure, honey. That sounds about right. Your teacher would be the brain of the class.”

Boo was quiet for the next minute or so as she continued to sort through her pictures. Then she looked up at me and said, “Well, if Ms. F is the brain, I know what I would be.”

“What’s that, honey?” Since we were looking at pictures of the horse farm, I was thinking, Maybe the cowboy hat? The spurs?

Instead, I was completely surprised at her answer:

“If my class were a body,” she continued, “I’d be the smile.”

I thought my heart would simply burst with pride.

Yes, honey, that’s exactly what you’d be.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What's Gonna Happen?

“Mama, what’s gonna happen to me?”

Keeping my eyes on the road while trying to keep the frustration out of my voice, I assured JJ for the umpteenth time, “The doctor is just going to check you out and make sure you’re strong and healthy. Everything’s going to be just fine, honey.”

We were on our way to JJ’s five-year and Buddy’s two-year well visit at the pediatrician this afternoon. Since their birthdays are only one day apart, and since I had already confirmed that they wouldn’t need any immunizations, I decided to combine their appointments this year to save some time.

Buddy was nestled in his car seat behind me, contentedly watching an Elmo movie. He’s perfectly fine with doctor’s visits. Come to think of it, he’s perfectly fine with pretty much everything.

But JJ is a completely different story. We’re very grateful that, unlike our other children, JJ has no ongoing medical issues. But that blessing presents a small problem: because she hasn’t been around doctors and hospitals much, JJ is very apprehensive about them.

Okay, let’s be honest here: she’s flat-out terrified of going to the doctor.

As we pulled up to the doctor’s office, JJ had worked herself into we Texas gals call “a walleyed fit,” insisting with much weeping and gnashing of teeth that no way was she going to see the doctor today, thank you very much!

It took a little bribery and a lot of patience, but I finally coaxed JJ out of the car.

As the three of us walked into the doctor’s office, she gripped my left hand tightly and peered up at me, her blue eyes wet with worry. “Mama, what’s gonna happen to me?”

“Everything’s going to be just fine, honey,” I assured her, trying not to look as aggravated as I felt at having to answer that question yet again. JJ nodded, clinging desperately to my hand.

Somewhere between balancing my purse and diaper bag on my shoulder, one-handedly pulling out my driver's license and insurance card from my wallet, signing in the kids, and using my leg to block Buddy, who had let go of my right hand and was ready to bolt across the waiting room, it hit me:

How many times have I asked God that same question the past few years?

What’s gonna happen to Boo? Will her eyes ever be okay, or will she lose her vision entirely?
What’s gonna happen to our family when we move out here to start a church with no income?
What’s gonna happen to our kids when they go to school and I’m not there to protect them?
What’s gonna happen when we have our kickoff service this Sunday?

And on and on and on.

Like a worried five-year-old, anxious about a doctor’s visit she doesn’t understand, how many times do we face the unknown future with fear, rather than trust?

And when God takes us through something we don't want to do, how many times do we throw a walleyed fit? Oh, I don’t mean an actual kicking-and-screaming kind of tantrum, like JJ’s (although that might happen!). I mean that dig-in-your-heels kind of attitude that says, No way am I going to do that thing You’re asking me to do, God, thank you very much!

Yet every time we protest, and every time we ask God again, for the umpteenth time, “What’s gonna happen . . .?”—our loving heavenly Father patiently assures us, I’ve got it under control, honey. Trust Me.

I'd like to be able to say that I no longer worry about the future. But the truth is, I do. Especially when it comes to my family. So the next time I’m anxious and afraid, I hope that—like my sweet, worried little JJ—I will reach out and cling desperately to my Father’s hand.

And you know what?

No matter what the future holds, everything’s going to be just fine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans . . .

In May 1995, with my newly framed (and, as my husband would point out, oddly enormous) Texas A&M diploma adorning the wall in my tiny apartment, I began my first day as the public relations coordinator for Word Publishing. One of the perks of my new job was when my boss handed me a Franklin Covey catalog and told me to pick whatever I wanted. Anything!

To an organized, detail-driven gal like me, it was a dream come true.

I chose a classic leather binder in—what else?—Aggie maroon, with two-page monthly calendar inserts and all the accessories a girl could want, even the combo ruler/page trimmer/calculator! My day planner was absolutely indispensible during my years in-house at Word.

Fast-forward thirteen years. I still use the same Franklin Covey planner and two-page monthly calendar inserts. I’ve pared down most of the accessories over the years, but one thing hasn’t changed. Each time I open my planner, I see the words I wrote all those years ago on the very front page:

The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
—Proverbs 16:9

It’s an ongoing reminder for me that no matter how much I plan and organize and take care of the details, ultimately God is in charge of what happens.

That lesson has hit home for us the past few weeks. Here are just a few snapshots of how God has rearranged our plans:

  • In the middle of writing his sermon, Brett’s hard drive on his laptop unexpectedly crashes—losing not only his sermon, but also files and promotional materials that will need to be recreated for our church.
  • As I’m preparing the kids’ lunches for a church picnic, I hear a smack! and a scream, followed by JJ holding her head, drenched in blood. A close encounter with a plastic golf club resulted in a gash on her forehead that will have to be glued in the ER.
  • One afternoon, Brett suddenly doubles over in excruciating pain, so I hurriedly load the kids in the minivan and rush him to the hospital. The next few days are filled with doctor’s appointments and tests and blood work to diagnose and treat the problem.

Whew! Everything I had neatly penned into my trusty planner’s calendar spaces suddenly changed. Apparently, God had something else in mind for our family.

And the same is true for The Church at Sendera Ranch. It’s been a week of prayerfully thinking on our feet:

  • When the designer for our door hangers fell through at the last minute, we scrambled to create the piece and get it to the printer lightning-fast to be ready to distribute on Saturday morning.
  • When our expanding children’s ministry outgrew their current meeting space, we arranged another location for kids to meet this Sunday—with room to grow.
  • When we found out that the worship leader we’ve been waiting for isn’t able to come after all, God blessed us with another, very gifted person to lead worship for our kickoff service this Sunday.

(In a recent e-mail, an author described church planting as “dancing on a moving floor.” Yes, my friend, that’s exactly what it’s like!)

So what do you do when your best laid plans, as the poet said, go awry? Like we did this past week, you close your day planner and prayerfully search out what God is up to. And then, as Blackaby and King suggest in Experiencing God, you join Him where He is already at work.

The past few weeks, God has been directing our steps in ways we hadn’t even considered. And He wants us to trust Him to provide what is necessary to reach our community with the great news that He is changing lives for good.

I'm finally starting to accept the reality that things here, on the front lines of God's work in our family and our community, may not always fit neatly in my daily planner. So keeping Proverbs 16:19 in mind--and writing in pencil now--we are making lots of exciting plans, and the Lord is clearly directing our steps.

I can't wait to see what God has in store for The Church at Sendera Ranch as we officially kick off on September 7, and during the weeks and months and years ahead as He continues to grow and develop His church!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Living with All My Might

One of my random personal traditions is that each year, on my birthday, I reread the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, most of which he penned at age nineteen and read once a week for the rest of his life.

Each year, at least one of Edwards’s resolutions stands out as something I’d like to include in my own life. (In fairness, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the resolutions; for example, I have been known to crack a joke or two on Sundays, unlike #38!) Some years, I’ve been inspired by Edwards’s resolutions on Bible study, faithfulness, and living for God’s glory. Other years, I’ve been impressed with his resolutions on time management and temperance. One year in particular, I took to heart his resolution not to speak evil about anyone or “suffer anger toward irrational beings.” (Suffice it to say that pastoral ministry can be really hard sometimes, which is probably why Edwards included these statements!)

This year, I paused at resolution #6:

Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

I’ve read right past that one before. After all, it’s early on the list, and there are more than sixty others to get to. But this time, I stopped right here, at resolution #6, and said a hearty amen.

That’s exactly what I’m going to do this year—live with all my might.

As I reflected on the past year, I realized that my thoughts all too often began with the word someday. As in, Someday, when our medical bills aren’t so high, we’ll be able to take a fun family vacation. Someday, when the demands of church planting aren’t quite as life-consuming, we’ll finally get on a “normal” schedule. Someday, when the kids are all in school, I’ll start writing again. And on and on.

But this year, I’ve resolved to live with all my might. I'll stop talking about someday and start figuring out ways to make things happen today, right now, in the context of our life and family and current circumstances.

So I’m going to find inexpensive ways to have fun with the kids, from catching perch in our neighborhood pond to going to free Fridays at the museum. And though pastoring The Church at Sendera Ranch will always be a major life commitment, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of God's amazing work here in our community. Plus, I'm finally writing for fun again—I've started this blog!

From on outsider’s perspective, not much has changed from last year. Our kids are still very young, our finances are still very tight, and our time is still very limited. And yet here is my resolution:

Every day of my thirty-fifth year, I am resolved to live with all my might, so that God can use me to emblazon His glory on my family and friends and neighbors, while I do live.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Holy Moley!

As anyone who lives in Texas knows, there are only a few weeks of honest-to-goodness spring squished between the chilly winter and the hundred-degree days of summer. An all-too-brief respite between raucous late-night thunderstorms that send you searching for the local Doppler radar and the blistering days when you can’t touch your steering wheel or send bare-legged children down playground slides. During one of these precious few mornings, when the temps were pleasantly cool, school was still in session, and the community pool was not yet open, it was peaceful as I rocked on our porch swing and watched JJ and Buddy play in the backyard.

I was sipping my second cup of coffee when JJ came running up to me, exclaiming, "Holy moley, Mom! Holy moley!” I wondered, How in the world did she hear that expression? I mean, the kids haven’t watched reruns of the old Batman TV show—not that I know of, anyway.

I peered into her outstretched hand to discover—a roly poly. Aha! A “holy moley.” Sweet JJ, she was so excited that I didn’t have the heart to correct her.

Flash-forward to Mother’s Day. (It’s already 91 degrees outside.) My mom gave JJ a small, round plastic case with teeny-tiny slides inside, called a “Pill Bug Playground”—only she crossed out “pill bug” and wrote “Holy Moley Playground.” JJ gleefully took it into our backyard and soon unearthed two “holy moleys”—ready for their new digs. JJ took them everywhere with her that day—in the car, in the living room, even in her bedroom while she napped, so “Emmy” and “Somersault” could nap with her (totally enclosed in their little plastic case of course—eew!).

It's fun to watch how much JJ delights in her prized “holy moleys.” How precious to realize that somewhere under all her boundless energy and curiosity and excitement and joie de vivre, there is a very tender heart.

Holy moley! It sure does make this mama proud.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Queen for a Day

The thunderstorms that rolled in yesterday put a damper on our plans to go to the playground (one of my favorite ways to burn off the kids’ energy by dinnertime). So instead, we stayed inside and tried to make the most of the afternoon.

The four of us paraded upstairs, where Boo pulled out the Dance Praise 2 mat and started some fancy footwork in the game room. JJ headed to her bedroom to put on a play and asked me to join her. “I’m going to be the princess,” she announced, pulling out a tiara and her favorite purple dress. “Okay. What should Buddy be?” I asked, as her younger brother nosed around beside her in the dress-up box. “Oh, he can be the boring guy,” JJ said dismissively. Hmm. Okay. I handed Buddy a hard hat and instructed him to “be boring.” He put the hat on backwards and grabbed a toy baseball bat. “O-tay, Mama!” He grinned broadly. Huh. That boy couldn’t be boring if he tried.

I turned back to JJ. “What do you want me to be?” She handed me some costume jewelry. “You can be the queen!” she announced. Then she reached into the dress-up box and handed me her prized Disney Princess magic wand—the kind that you push a button and briiiing! Your wish comes true.

Bejeweled with my magic wand, a sparkly tiara, and pink beaded necklace, I took my place on my “throne” (JJ’s bed) and began my reign as “queen.” It went something like this:

Buddy grabs JJ’s lip gloss when she’s not looking.
JJ: “Hey, give me that! Hey! HEY!”
Buddy, clinging to the lip gloss with all his might: “AAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!”
Me, waving my magic wand: “JJ, don’t fight with your brother!” Briiing!
JJ giggles and smiles. I unfurl Buddy’s clenched fist, retrieve the lip gloss, and grab a tissue to wipe off the glittery pink goo from his cheek.

A few minutes later . . .

Boo, coming into the room: “Hey, what are you guys doing?”
JJ: “We’re having a play. I’m the princess!”
Boo: “No fair, I wanna be the princess!”
JJ, firmly: “No. You can be the maid.”
Boo: “I don’t wanna be the maid! I’m wanna be the princess!”
JJ: “Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!! I’m the princess!!!!!!!!”
Me, waving my magic wand: “Children, get along!” Briiiing!
JJ and Boo giggle at me and reach a compromise: JJ can be the princess, but Boo will be the empress. (Smart kid, that Boo.)

This went on for about ten minutes, with the “royal subjects” (mostly) agreeing to do what the “queen” commanded with her magic wand. And with each briiiing!, I thought, Hey, this is great. We should play this game more often!

Don’t you wish there were some kind of “magic wand” to grab on those days when you feel like you’re about to lose your cool—or your mind?

Stop whining! Briiing!
Take your nap! Briiing!
Clean your room! Briiing!

Or maybe for you, it would look more like,

Overdue bills, disappear! Briiing!
Marriage, be restored! Briiing!
Someone, pay attention to me! Briiing!

But we all know that’s not how God created us. After all, if we had a magic wand, we wouldn’t need Him! What our loving, heavenly Father really wants for us is not a carefree life, but a faith that clings to Him amid life’s struggles.

A year ago, my husband sensed God’s call to plant a church. So we sold our home in Austin, packed up our family of five, and moved to Fort Worth with the assurance of God’s calling—but with no church members, sponsors, or financial aid of any kind. It was just Brett and me, our children, and God’s call.

One of the verses I kept going back to during those faith-clinging, loaves-and-fishes days was Psalm 37:5: “Depend on the Lord; trust him, and he will take care of you.” I often found myself reminding God of this verse: “God, we’re completely depending on You here. See this? You promised that if we depend on You, You will take care of us!” And then I’d sense God’s gentle response: Yes, my child, I know you are depending on Me. But do you trust Me?

Humph. I was kind of hoping God would just wave His “magic wand” and give us everything we needed. Poof! Here are your church members. Poof! Here’s a salary for Brett. Poof! Here are your building and church office and worship leader and staff and children’s ministry workers and . . . You get the idea. But instead, God was teaching me to trust Him.

And He still is.

I’m no longer reigning as “queen” around here; that game ended all too quickly yesterday. But I am a daughter of the King, depending on and trusting my heavenly Father a little more each day.

And that’s the kind of royalty I’m proud to be!

Friday, August 29, 2008

If Every Day Could Be My Birthday . . .

… I’d awake to the smell of strong coffee already brewing in the kitchen;

… I’d be able to roll over and pull up the covers for a few more minutes, with the blissful knowledge that this morning, the first in a long time, I am not in charge;

… I’d hear the twitter of three excited little voices in the living room, saying, “C’mon, let’s go sing her ‘Happy Birthday’!” “No, Dad said we can’t wake her up!” “But I wanna give her our present!” “Shh, she might hear you. We're not supposed to tell her we got her pot holders!” “Mama! Mama? Mama, where are you? Mama!” (that’s my two-year-old);

… I’d finally admit defeat and get up, realizing I do not have my husband’s ability to sleep like Rip Van Winkle through the hullabaloo;

… I’d open our bedroom door and take exactly four steps forward before three sets of feet come charging down the hall: “Mama! Mama! Happy birthday!” Then I’d walk ponderously the rest of the way into the kitchen like an eight-legged race, with all three kids hanging off my pajamas.

… I’d be quickly ushered to the kitchen table by children whose hands are smeared with telltale marker smudges, urging, “C’mon, Mom, open your cards!" "Open mine first!”

…I’d strengthen my finger muscles by prying off twenty strips of Scotch tape from each of the handmade, folded cards and then let the kids gleefully pull the tissue paper off the gift bag to reveal the pot holders I asked for . . . oh! and a fun gift from my husband—my favorite sweet treat, Little Debbie Nutty Bars (or as I sometimes affectionately refer to them, “my freshman fifteen”).

… I’d swat away three sets of fingers from my precious box of Nutty Bars: “No! These are Mommy’s!” Pleeeeeeeease, Mom! Sigh. “Oh, okay. We’ll all have some later today.” After all, Nutty Bars are much better when shared, and that way I won’t feel as guilty for splurging.

… I’d drive my oldest child to first grade and then return home to find the kitchen clean and my husband watching our younger two kids playing in the backyard. He'd greet me with a kiss and offer an unexpected gift: a few minutes alone with my laptop, to finally start the blog I've been talking about wanting to write for months now.

Ah, if only every day could be my birthday! Sometimes, I admit, I awake so bleary-eyed that it’s hard for me to see past the piles of laundry, pressing book deadlines, and seemingly endless demands of ministry. But on days like these, God opens my eyes to see this beautiful mess as a gift of His grace. Those piles of laundry are from my amazing, adoring husband and our three incredible, spunky kids who show me a little more about His love every day. Those pressing book deadlines are God’s marvelous provision for our family, allowing me to stay home with the kids and still have my dream job—I get paid to read, edit, and write great books! And those ministry demands are far more than the details and dailyness of planting a church—they’re lives changed, marriages restored, and our community transformed by people who are coming to know our Savior and experience His love.

Thanks for the reminder, God. I needed that.

Oh, and one more small request: when the kids and I break into that box of Nutty Bars in a little while, could you please keep them from going straight to my hips this time? Just this once?