The Sigh of the Most High

“Keep going. They’ll eventually get it.”

This was a pep talk from my wiser than her years 15 year old. I am that person who needs affirmation from their own progeny.

We both knew how rough the morning had been. No one could find what they needed for a successful day – despite my rule about having your things together the night before. Attitudes were not stellar. Mouths were moving and excuses were flowing, but ears were closed and sense was halted.

It was a frustrating morning to say the least. I’d be lying if I said it was the first one.

And I sat there doubting in my minivan. “They will never get it!” I told myself.

Something no one tells you when you start your maternal journey is that children don’t typically learn something the first time. Repetition is key to successful parenting. And it may drive you slowly insane.

“Did you brush your teeth?” “Don’t forget to put your homework in your bag.” “Did you remember you have practice tonight?” “Mommy said you can’t wear that to school.”

The reason gray hairs come fast and furious is because you must often be the brain for however many children you have. It’s exhausting.

Parenting is a plodding work. Results are not usually instantaneous. It can take a lifetime to see results. And you most likely cannot take credit for the end product. (I can honestly say it is ALL of Jesus!)

Before you go swearing off children altogether, let me say this: the raising of children is the most important work on planet earth. The time, energy and money you spend is an investment in the future. It is of primary importance.

But in the mire of everyday life, motherhood doesn’t seem so life altering.

I arrived home from dropping my sage off at school so she could procure more inspirational quotes. I plopped down and opened my Bible to the prophets. And as I read I realized something.

I am just like my kids. They are just like me.

God gets my frustration.

How many times does humanity have to be reminded of the same things over and over by our holy God?

The Lord chose Israel, not because of their own merit, but because He could show His power through them. He gave them a code to live by. He repeated it several hundred times. Even the kings of Judah would write out the Torah to have their own copy handy.

But they broke the covenant. “All you have commanded we will obey,” they vowed to Jehovah. It didn’t take long to go back on their word.

Time and again God would forgive His wayward, forgetful children. He was firm, but patient. True to His Word though, this rampant careless disobedience would have to be punished so they would forget no more.

There is an interesting and much debated response that God has for His wayward children throughout Scripture. He repents them. Literally, He sighs over them. How often have you seen kids making obviously bad choices and just… sighed?

I do it. I sorta get what God was doing in those instances. It isn’t regret for creating, but a holy frustration with continual error.

The interesting thing is, this repenting (or the ESV word, relenting) also gives the idea to let up on or turn. The notion is that despite our sin and stupidity God shows mercy. He does not give us the punishment we truly deserve. Ever.

Millennia later, not much has changed. I sit here forgetting often as the cares of life and my own sin blur God’s presence and practices in my mind. Oh, He is still there. My perception prevents me from noticing.

And just like my kids who think mom will never find out, I play the same game with God. The difference is, He sees not only my actions, but the thoughts behind them as well.

At this point, if I am at all serious about my relationship with God, I must run to His Word to see the reality of my life. To be reminded of what I have forgotten.

In the Bible, through the Holy Spirit’s enabling, I find the means to adjust my perspective because I am reminded of what is true about myself, my children and my God.

He knows we will forget. He has provided the Holy Spirit and Scripture to remind us. And what’s crazy is that He never goes crazy in reminding His wayward, careless children of His ways. But He may sigh.

Still, God sees something in us that seems unattainable- we will eventually get it. We will someday no longer need the reminders and drilling because it will all be written on our hearts and ever before us.

Until then, press onward and upward. Live in the knowledge that God understands the frustrations of reminders. He does the same for us.

Truth in the Trench of Trials- #1

I couldn’t make this year up if I tried. Between several life changing diagnoses of loved ones, death of family members, bad news from even neighbors and distant relatives, the repercussions of a global pandemic, I can’t think of a single person I know who is not in a trial right now.

This has led to some moments of severe disbelief. I won’t even utter the phrase “This can’t get any worse,” because then life seems to do just that. And I just wrote it, so I am not sure where that puts me. I’ll let you know…

More than ever before, we need to be reminded of truth. This is one of the amazing purposes for God’s Word- to provide supernatural comfort and solace as we experience the very real effects of this cursed world on our lives. To remind us of what is true and point us back to the Source of truth in the middle of pain and frustration and grief.

All this pain seems like a bad dream. But it’s real. These trials are like none I have ever experienced in my almost four decades under the sun. It is so easy for me to go to worst case scenarios, over-reading every piece of news and overthinking every circumstance. I often feel like I’m putting waders on and purposely wallowing around in a tar pit.

So as I take this journey, I do hope to share some of what I am learning with you. Comforting with the comfort we have been comforted by. Reminders for myself in what seems like a wilderness wandering in many ways. Because, we all need reminders.

So this first truth is going to make every grammarian cringe, but it is the only way to word it: This ain’t it.

Humans are awful to each other. Disease eats at our bodies. Things fall apart. Relationships get messy. If this was all we have to look forward to- as many actually believe- life would be incredibly abysmal. And no amount of optimism would cure it.

For those of us who read the words of our Creator, we see there is a bigger picture at play. We have a future full of hope, beauty, unfailing love, and perfection waiting on the other side of the veil of death we see here on earth. And we must remember that. To be heavenly minded is life and peace.

This life, this world- it ain’t it. And yet so often we as Christian pilgrims treat this world like it’s our inheritance. We live like practical atheists, collecting our toys and awards and money and power. Gobbling it up desperately like a people starved for purpose and satisfaction.

Jesus Christ categorically and repeatedly points out the emptiness of these pursuits. He is the source of purpose and satisfaction. As you seek Him, you find these things.

Even so, the human heart has an intuition that there is something incomplete in life. As I do my seeking for Christ, I find Him, but I still yearn for more because He has more waiting for me. I call it a holy dissatisfaction, and the main difference between a holy dissatisfaction and a instinctual dissatisfaction is hope.

The holy dissatisfaction is in the statement “this ain’t it.” I long for a day when I will see with my own eyes all things made new. My eternal home is going to be better than this. So I will keep looking up to Christ in the trenches of pain.

The Reluctant Entrepreneurs

It was summer in the early 90’s. My dad did not want us sitting around, frittering our summer away watching mindless tv while waiting for our friends to come out and play. So he sat us down and presented us with an opportunity.

“I want you two to start a business. I will give you start-up money and it can be whatever you want.”

Now, there is a motto my dad had for us kids that you need to know: “You are free to make your own choices, but if you make the wrong choice, I will make it for you.” It was our safety net growing up. I see that now. At the time, we saw it as cruel mockery.

In other words, if Dad said to start a business, we were starting a business whether we wanted to or not.

My sister and I did not want to start a business.

Nevertheless, we dragged our feet and hemmed and hawed over what to do. Our “Shark” investor, aka Dad (Who will be known for the rest of this story as “Daddy Shark”. Just kidding.) pressed us until we finally committed to starting up a business making the most 90’s accessory out there- scrunchies.

The Proprietors years later…

Mom took us material shopping and got out the ol’ Kenmore sewing machine. Dad made scrunchie holders to present our wares. We even had a deal with our hair stylist to sell our product… it was a venture primed for success.

We were only missing a name. This was still extremely unexciting to us, but we had to come up with something. Anything. We both liked the hymn “Face to Face.” There is a line in the song that says, “Far beyond the starry skies…” Or was it because of the famous artwork of the notorious Vincent Van Gogh? I don’t exactly recall, but Starry Sky Scrunchies would forever be emblazoned in our memories.

So our days went like this: Wake up. Eat. Cut out and sew scrunchies while watching Matlock or Andy Griffith or Beverly Hillbillies. Eat lunch. Play with friends. Repeat.

The part of the day called “cut out and sew scrunchies” was not relished. Cutting material and elastic. Sewing and figuring out how to close the end. It was something we did because we had to- we had an investor and distributor to think of, after all. But we did it with the gusto of a toothless man trying to eat corn nuts.

I think I can safely say we hated it. We were so unenthusiastic about it that our production rate was maybe, MAYBE, 5 scrunchies a day. With my expanded knowledge of sewing, I know now we could have easily pumped out 4 to 5 times that amount in a morning.

Lack of motivation is all it takes to make a successful business model a complete failure. Our hearts weren’t in it. I don’t know how long that hairstylist left our scrunchies in her shop, but we didn’t sell many. They were really ugly.

Eventually my Dad let up on us. We should have been embarrassed or disappointed in ourselves, but we were only relieved. We were not entrepreneurs.

So let’s fast forward about 7ish years. My dad decided to start his own business- a sign company. We learned how to look at signs from an early age and were glad to help him get started.

We drove around picking up neon, looking for broken signage in need of repairs, mastering fear of heights in a bucket truck. I was once handed a book bigger than any college textbook I ever had, and told me to learn graphic design. Ha. Ha.

But I watched and learned as he worked so hard to provide for us and build this dream with God’s leading. He made it work when it looked like failure because he wanted it to succeed. He cared.

Dad always knows how to make us laugh.

My sister would eventually get married and move away, but I stayed. I remember telling my Dad before I got married, “I am done working for the family business.” I am no entrepreneur, remember? I’m pretty sure I even brought up Starry Sky Scrunchies.

But my husband caught the bug. He had the drive. He had the willingness to learn. So my Dad took a chance on a bike mechanic with a college degree in Health and Fitness.

This will be their 17th year together. It has had its ups and downs, but God has been so unbelievably good to us. And yes, I still play a part in this 20 year old venture, albeit small.

Those epic fails as a kid helped me for this life I live now. I now know if motivation wanes, business will fail. I now know that putting all of yourself into a project is a rewarding experience. I now know when an opportunity is handed to you, you owe it to the giver and yourself to give it your all.

This is just one lesson of many Dad has taught me over the years. Some lessons I had to learn over and over and some took right away. And right now, I am watching my Dad- our business partner, the Scrunchie Shark- fight for his life as cancer is trying incorporate his body. I am still learning from him.

While I am still no entrepreneur, I am willing to take what he has given to our family and give it my all. I may not be able to weld, or wire, or even operate a crane, but I can cheer and motivate and send invoices.

Who knows? Maybe I will start making scrunchies again… I hear they are back on trend.

Why My Kids Aren’t “My Whole World”

I love kids. You don’t have seven of them if you hate children. For as much as they can drive you up the wall and challenge everything you ever believed about humanity, they are amazing!

We love their sense of humor and their imaginations and the funny things they say. We adore the snuggles and kisses and “I love yous”. We breathe deep each stage, enjoying their milestones and cherishing the memories of their better moments.

Seeing as these little sweeties need so much of our time and attention- especially at the beginning of their lives- it is so easy to let their little lives consume us. They can become our whole world.

My kids have been my whole world many times. The most obvious time was after the twins were born. It seemed for at least a year that there was time for nothing else but them! Feeding two, changing two, bathing two, cherishing two… and then add the other five that still needed a mom as well.

There are seasons where we must spend a majority of our time wearing the hat of Mom. It is a worthy and God-blessed position to hold. But there does come a line where motherhood and family becomes idolatry.

Idolatry is when we put any person or thing or idea above the Creator. The basic commandment is Exodus 20:3- “You shall have no other gods before me.” The sentence presupposes that something or someone else can be put before God.

Sure, there are obvious examples. Wooden or metal sculptures representing lesser deities being bowed to and venerated. In Luke 16:14-15, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for making money an idol. Verse 13 points out that money can be served instead of God.

Matthew 6:21 tells us that what we place the most value in is where our heart is. Now, don’t mistake me here- our kids are precious. More precious than possessions and fame. Worth the investment of our time and energy and prayers…. but should they be our entire heart? Our whole world?

It really comes down to this: who do we love most and how is that apparent in our lives? In one of the harshest portions of Scripture, Jesus seemingly puts off his flesh and blood and declares that whoever follows God wholeheartedly is His family. (Luke 8:38-39) Never mind the countless times He talks about leaving family to take His cross.

So let’s set this straight. Your kids are an eternal work. They are precious souls you have been loaned to bring up in the ways of their Creator. You are a steward of souls-just as your parents were for you. You teach them the ways of God through your lifestyle, speech, and behavior towards them.

This is a vital calling. It is crucial to civilization and the eternal purposes of God. But parenthood is not the only calling you have. And I think, amidst the pouring of ourselves into these little ones, we need to remember God comes first.

When God comes before kids, we are going to make time to learn more about Him. We will make corporate worship a priority for every member of our family instead of making our kids the excuse for sitting out. We will say yes to the non kid tasks God has for us: whether it is discipling that new believer, or singing in the choir, or cleaning the church. Even if it takes time away from our babies.

This is all part of your training of their souls too- they need God first to be patterned in your life so they know what it looks like for their lives. They need to know that they are not the center of anyone’s world, and if they want to be great in God’s Kingdom, they must become a servant.

We have raised a generation that is, by and large, convinced that they are the center of the universe. They believe their parents are there for them alone. When diminished in any way- which will happen- their self worth crumbles. And the rest of the world is held hostage to maintaining their fragile egos.

You see, this idea of family idolatry isn’t an either/or situation. You can and should love your family. They ought to have your time and attention and affection in ways that no other earthly thing should. But not above God. And your utter devotion to God is not to the detriment of you family, but to their ultimate benefit.

I say that as someone who has been there. I have made my kids the excuse. I have not modeled a servant of Christ for them perfectly. And God gives grace… so much grace. But I fooled myself into thinking that my only job on earth was to be their mom… nothing else. And, eventually, the prospect is maddening because I knew that I was created to be their mom- and other things as well.

I’m a wife. I’m a very part-time accounts receivable person. I’m a writer. I’m a Sunday school teacher. I’m a comedian (in my head). I’m an Uber driver (for the kids). I’m a sewer and baker and historian and counselor and…. I’ve got other callings. They help me to be a better mom to my kids, but ultimately they help me to be a better servant for my Lord.

But guilt. Guilt will do a number on you. Make you do things that make no sense. Create a martyr instead of a mentor. I have thought that it is selfish of me to need a break from the kids. I have thought that getting together for a Bible study or coffee with friends was not something I needed. That my kids needed me more.

Truth reveals. It reveals that, in my case, I have plenty of time with my kids. I’m a stay at home parent. The few hours they are out of my sight are not likely to undo the countless hours I have poured into them. They need a mom who has her cup filled with Jesus more than they need her to watch another movie or play another game with them.

Another truth revealed: I am not raising children to stay children forever. They will become adults before you know it. And yeah, we can share lessons and formally teach them things about being an adult. The most they will learn is from the patterns you show in your own life. So what kind of adult do you want your kids to be? Model that, as best you can. You want them to make no time for individual pursuits? You want them not to be a faithful church member? You want them to be a taker and not a giver?

And since we must raise kids to be adults someday, we do have to teach them independence from us, painful though it is. Why? I, personally, want to be able to sleep when my kids leave the house. If I don’t start giving them independence at appropriate intervals, I will always doubt that they are able to handle the real world. Brief separation is healthy. Most seasoned parents never share this difficult but real part of raising children.

So, yes, I’m going to say it: Your kids shouldn’t be your whole world. It isn’t healthy for them and it isn’t healthy for you. Point your kids to the One we should be doing all things for- let Him be everything to you.

The simple and hard answer to having a different life

How is it possible to have your heart so full and yet so broken all at the same time? I don’t quite understand it, but I am there.

I am honed in on the gifts around me: my beautiful, unique kids. My handsome, loving husband and our wonderful marriage. My home. My family. My church family. My relationship with God. And so much more.

Reading that, the temptation is to think “Wow! Leah’s life is so together. Pinterest perfect, really…”

But that is far from the truth. Every soul has its’ cross to bear. Mine is not yours.

And at the same time that I count my blessings, I am also so broken for the needs of others, as well as the needs I still have.

Anxiety. Abuse. Broken homes. Depression. Eating disorders. Guilt. Hidden addiction. Phobias. Poverty. And so much more.

So, what is it? Did I win the genetic/universal lottery, that my life is the way it is? I can count major personal crises on one hand (though I expect them everyday). We have normal problems. Are my struggles just lame, or is my perspective just too sunny? What makes the difference?

My answer will make many cringe. It seems too simple, too self-righteous and too blasé. I can tell you- the answer is neither simple nor difficult. The answer is entirely based not on my own goodness, but is in every way a part of me.

Jesus.

I acknowledged my reality many years ago. I am a sinner. I am not enough. I don’t measure up. Seeing the dark reality for what it is gives one a desire for resolution, because nothing is settled- it’s all upset.

Only God gives us that resolution we long for. The dark sin that is our upsetting reality was taken care of by Jesus Christ. He took care of our sin problem by not only taking our punishment, but defeating our punishment.

When I depended on Christ’s sacrifice- not my ability to believe, or being moral, or even being churchy- His life became mine. His goodness, His enoughness, His perfection all became mine to claim. I stand forgiven.

But this is not just a moment in time- it is a lifestyle. Choosing Christ has to happen daily, hourly, minutely, secondly (and firstly too!). Putting aside my own reasoning and ways and putting on Christ’s ways is a lifelong pursuit and commitment.

This choosing Jesus changed my life trajectory. It morphed my future. Instead of choosing a career that built me up, I committed to one that built up others. Instead of marrying the guy who said all the things I wanted to hear and did all the things I wanted him to do, I picked the man who encouraged me to be more like Jesus.

It goes even deeper. The thoughts that I want to think about others, thoughts based entirely on feeling with no fact, I must choose not to dwell on. The fear and pain that I want hold tight to, I must let go. The real life problems that I want to freak out over and fix any way I can’t, I must give over to God and follow His commands for handling them.

It is that simple and that difficult. It is entirely based not on my own goodness, but is in every way a part of me.

Jesus.

And lest you think that I think I have arrived, nothing could be farther from the truth. Sometimes, too often, I fail to choose Jesus.

The unkind word spoken in anger. The hand wringing over the small and big problems. The priorities out of whack. The times I think my way will work better than God’s way.

I know who I am. I also know who God is. And even when I don’t choose Jesus, at any given time, a course correct is available and God will always help and accept me in that turn.

So I am spilling my heart to say this- there is always a way to course correct and choose Jesus. It’s a simple choice that may be difficult to execute. It is a choice based not on you and your abilities or lack thereof.

When choosing Jesus, I find no guilt or regret or shame. I find no need to overthink or have absolute control. There is peace. There is joy. There is an abundance in spirit that is hard to explain. Even when life gets really rough. The benefits to my soul far outweigh the difficulty in choosing Jesus.

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