Jackson Five Friday: A Better Answer?

Hi Friends,

I missed posting again last week because it was a crazy few days.  I started my job, there was a major fire on our street and I volunteered at my sons’ school almost the entire day and night on Friday for a delightful graduation banquet.  Then the weekend was full of its standard 8 games — although one was rained out and just in time for us to watch the Preakness.  It was a whirlwind and Monday arrived in a hurry.

In this new life of mine with a very enjoyable job in a beautiful office building with lots of lovely people, Mondays will be a little different.  I will be taking my boys to school, but won’t be coming home to rectify the domestic destruction wrought by the weekend.  Instead I’ll be dropping them and going straight to work.  Even without my own need to be somewhere, I’ve never managed to consistently make getting out the door smooth and peaceful.  But l keep trying, and I’m not above the occasional bribe either.  It’s actually pretty effective.  Everyone in the car by 8:40?  Yes, we can go to Chipotle after school.

This first new-life Monday seemed to be off to an impressive start, but after I put my work bag in the car, I went back in the house to get my phone.  When I came out again Sam was downright attacking Nate.  Upon investigation, I learned that the inciting event was Nate’s song choice.  He’s a Taylor Swift fan, and Sam evidently is not.

It was not my plan to lecture the boys on the way to school about “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Nor did I want to tell Sam that he would be disciplined after school (because honestly I am so much better at grace than consequences, but I especially abhor the delayed consequence).  Of course parenting often requires doing what we’d rather not do.

A friend brought the boys home, and I arrived a few minutes later.  Not surprisingly Sam was already out back shooting hoops.

When I called him in to talk about what happened that morning, he was immediately emotional.

“Why would you do that to your brother?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he sniffed.

I went on to explain how unacceptable his behavior was, how disappointed I was, how that should never happen again.  Somehow in the midst of it, I asked something again about why.

“I don’t know,” Sam repeated.  “I don’t have a better answer than that!”

I tried rolling my lips inward to hide my smirk, but without success.  The candid wisdom of that child!  Of course he doesn’t have a better answer than that.  We never do.  Harping on “why” can really obscure the point.  We are human.  We are sinners.  We do what we know we should not do (Romans 7:14-20).  In fact, I knew I should not be asking him why repeatedly, yet somehow I was.

Sticks and carrots can be somewhat effective in modifying behavior, but Sam’s is a heart issue.  I think we really miss the big picture if we fail to engage a child’s heart.  Overcoming sin is not the result of good training or “wise choices” or proper rewards or anything else touted as modern wisdom.  Overcoming sin is about knowing and becoming like Jesus, pure and simple.  Jesus came to earth to show us how to live.  If we know Him deeply, we’ll start acting more and more like Him.

So my prayer today is that Sam will know and love Jesus, that his motivation in life will not be to please us as parents, but to live for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you ever mess up and find yourself befuddled at how you could have done something like that, reasoning like Sam “I don’t know — I don’t have a better answer than that!”  I think if we are honest, we all do.  But the fact that we cannot fully eradicate the mark of sin in our lives should leave us more grateful than discouraged. Jesus doesn’t love us one iota less, no matter what we’ve done.  His love cannot be earned and it cannot be lost.  Praise God.

A pastor at my church recently said, “You cannot forgive a deserving person.  Forgiveness means they don’t deserve it.”

I forgave Sam.  Nate forgave Sam.  He didn’t deserve it.

May we realize we are forgiven every single day, and may we not let pride convince us that we deserve it.  Because we don’t.

I know, and I hope you know, the truth of John 1:16 “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Have a fabulous weekend!

With Love,

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Jackson Five Friday: The Daytime Date


Friends,

I hope you’ve had a lovely week and are kicking off a fabulous weekend. I kicked mine off by spending the day with my handsome husband. And really I cannot recommend the daytime date enough.

I know couples who manage to regularly get away without kids. I know others who are faithful to date night. We are not them. We’ve never been good about either.  Our guys are involved in sports to a semi-absurd degree and we don’t live near family, save my twenty-something niece.  Most of the time I’m also just longing to make family memories — although I won’t pretend that’s all the time.

Anyway, the daytime date is about the best thing that’s ever happened to parents of school-aged kids. My husband works long hours — twelve to fourteen hour days are not uncommon.  Once in a while, like today, he’ll take Friday off.   We spent the whole day together, driving the boys to school, hitting the gym,  then we headed toward DC to see World War II planes flying over the National Mall for VE Day.  We ate a leisurely lunch outside at a yummy spot in Arlington.  We had so much time to just talk.

At lunch Will said something sweet and sincere about what a good mother I am, which compelled me to tell him how I’ve totally blown it this week.  I told him how convicted I’ve been about something with one of our sons.  It wasn’t something I’d been thinking we need to talk about.  But  so many good things happen when you have quantity time — conversations can get beyond the tidbit summation of daily life.  Sometimes it’s surprising where the conversation ends up.

The namesake of this blog is Hebrews 10:24 which says we are to “spur” one another on toward love and good deeds.  The most effective spurring clearly happens inside meaningful relationships. So how are you doing spurring those you are closest to?  Do you need to carve out time to just be with someone?  If it’s your spouse, could you possibly make the daytime date work its magic?

I pray that wherever you are and wherever you go this week, that you will know you are treasured by the King of Kings and that He has a good and perfect will for your life that includes spurring!

With Love,

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Wedded Bliss Wednesday

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Well, friends, I missed posting last Friday because I hosted a little happy hour at my house that day.  But I cannot tell you how much I miss posting when I don’t carve out time to do it.  I was sort of in a funk a few days ago and I told my man, “I know this probably sounds crazy but I think part of my problem is that I haven’t written anything lately.”

That sweet man o mine wisely said, “I don’t think that’s crazy.”

This year is our twentieth year of marriage, and boy we’ve learned a lot these two decades.  We’ve learned to listen to and encourage one another in such meaningful ways.  It’s gratifying that Will knows just what I need.

And one of things I need is a good storyteller.  I love being told good stories as part of daily life.  God was so good to give me a fantastic storyteller.

Just yesterday he told me a great story when he brought me coffee to wake me up.

You’ll need a little bit of background to appreciate the story.  When I was a child we drove from Michigan to Florida a couple of times a year.  My mom loved the now ubiquitous restaurant Cracker Barrel.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s Cracker Barrels were rare, but we always, always stopped there on our road trips.  My brother, Jeff, who is 11 and a half years older than me, was totally against the long stop.  For anything.  And my own family has sided more with Jeff.  We do fourteen hour road trips with total stoppage time of about a half hour.  But my parents were different: Cracker Barrel was a must, even if there was a wait.  One time Jeff was quite irritated that we made the stop when we had been making such good time.

When the food came, things got worse.  Jeff bit into something sharp.  He reached in his mouth and pulled out something that shouldn’t have been in his pulled pork dinner.

“What in the world?!?” he said.  “My gosh that hurt!  It looks like a shark tooth,” he concluded.

My dad in his nonchalant, always understated way. looked at the specimen.  “Mmhh,” he said, “Looks more like a toenail.”

We all thought that was hilarious!  We could not stop laughing.  Well, except for Jeff.  He didn’t think it was funny, not in the least.

Anyway, all that is background for Will’s story.

Yesterday Will woke me up and told me about how he had made himself a post-workout smoothie with our twenty-year-old blender.  Yes, he’d been up for hours before me!  He said the blender was making all sorts of weird noises.  Then a little while later as he was draining the last of the smoothie,  he felt something foreign and hard and sharp in his mouth.

He thought of Jeff and his “shark tooth,” or was it a toenail as Roy had suggested.  Then he pulled the piece of blade pictured above from his mouth.  A piece of blender blade broke off and Will almost swallowed it.

I cannot tell you how funny and horrifying I found this story.  My man could’ve died!  Our lives are so fragile, just like David Goldberg falling off a treadmill.  You.  Never.  Know.  How can we not be thankful for every moment?  And I want to be, whether my husband almost swallows a blender blade or not.

But the Bible is also abundantly clear on this issue.  James writes unambiguously:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4: 13-14

I’m a mist that will vanish.  May I be grateful in every moment.  May my life be one lived for Jesus.

Thanks for reading.  It means so much.

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Jackson Five Friday: A Really Great Day

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Happy Friday, Friends!  It’s a chilly but beautiful day here in Northern Virginia where almost all the trees have leaves and vivid colors are everywhere you look.

Do you ever have a day just chock-full blessings?  I’m sure you do.  Some days pass without much to report, while other days can be pretty amazing.  Yesterday I had the amazing type.

First, I chaperoned a field trip to the Kennedy Center where the National Symphony Orchestra gave a performance for kids.  I thought I had been to something similar before with maybe a handful or so of the musicians alternating between playing and talking.  But yesterday was very different.  It was the full orchestra!  As in 100 musicians playing together!  Music, like anything else that is beautiful or true, reflects the majesty not of human achievement (which is of course impressive) but the infinite mind of the Creator Himself.  We heard Beethoven and Mozart and Mahler and Holst and Strauss.  The NSO meant to demonstrate the extremes in music, but for me, listening to it all felt more like worship.  Beautiful music glorifies God whether or not the performers acknowledge Him.

The second major blessing of the day was that a tree in my neighbor’s yard was cut down.  This huge and beautiful tree had been hit by lightening repeatedly.  There was growing concern about it falling, and if it fell, it looked like it would land directly on on our house, right above Nate’s bed.  Many times over the last few years I’ve made Nate sleep elsewhere in the house.  If I woke up to winds in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I moved him.  It may sound kind of silly, but I’m incredibly grateful that tree is no more.  There is a time for everything and it was time for that tree to come down.

Finally, last night my husband and I went to the annual fundraiser for the C.S. Lewis Institute where Ravi Zacharias was the keynote speaker.  I’ve heard him speak a number of times and Will and I met him a few years ago.  That meeting was memorable for us not just because we got to meet Ravi, but because the circumstances made it highly unusual.  We have given modest amounts to his ministry for years, and had dinner with a colleague of Ravi’s before the event.  When we got to the church where Ravi was speaking we were a few minutes late, but this colleague marched us right up to the front row.  We ended up sitting directly next to Ravi.  We were looking at each other like, “Should we tell them we aren’t the Bill and Melinda Gates of Christian Apologetics they must think we are?”  Last night when we talked to Ravi, Will told him about this funny encounter.  A friend kindly snapped the above picture just as we were sharing a laugh with Ravi over it.

Then his remarks at the banquet were predictably insightful and inspiring.  Not unlike the orchestra I heard that morning, an intellect like Ravi’s glorifies God.

One of my favorite devotional writers — the one I read most often — is Chris Tiegreen.  He said, “God’s glory is the point of all creation.  It should be the point of our prayers as well.”

Even as I give thanks for a particularly wonderful day and recognize along with the Psalmist that the whole earth is filled with His glory (Psalm 72:19), I am convicted that my prayers are often downright self-seeking.  I need to change that. Today and the days ahead may the point of my prayers be God’s glory.  What a paradigm shift — from me and my little worries, to Him and His glory.

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.( Psalm 72:19-19)

I hope you have a wonderful weekend beholding God’s glory and making it the point of your prayers.

Fondly,

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Jackson Five Friday: Love Thy Neighbor

Friends,

Last week I wrote that I would divulge an embarrassing, convicting story about my lack of neighborliness.  It was Memorial Day Weekend 2013 so we, of course, found ourselves at our beloved pool.  Will and I were relaxing on lounge chairs which faced the diving well.  A set of twin boys arrived that were older teens — totally adorable and fit.  These boys started doing their stunts off the high dive and I looked at them perplexed.

“Where do we know those guys from,” I asked Will.

He gave them a once over.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “Here, I guess.”

“No,” I answered.  “We know them from somewhere.”

Will was unconvinced.  “You’ve just seen them here before,” he said.

But I was sure I it wasn’t just the pool.

Imagine my surprise when I saw one of them a few days later hauling in the trash can NEXT DOOR.  I recognized these twins because they are literally our next door neighbors.

Yes, the words of Jesus can sting like the dickens: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  I can hardly love them without knowing them, can I?

Ah, but God is good.  He gave me a tiny little way to love my neighbor this week.  He faithfully orchestrates my life in such meaningful and undeniable ways.

Trash day was Wednesday and the ten-year-old, hockey-loving girl that lives diagonally across the street had left her lovely full-sized net near the trash can, just by happenstance.  A woman driving by thought it was a dirty rotten shame that this perfectly good net was being discarded.  I was sitting at my computer when I saw her tying the net to the roof of her car.  Obviously I had to stop her.

The sweet woman was grateful to learn the net was not being thrown away, and I helped her lift it off her car.  I think she was terribly embarrassed, but I was as gentle as I could be and assured her that I understood completely.  My little neighbor, that I know and love and would recognize anywhere, was beyond thankful when I told her about it.

Baby steps, right.  Baby steps.

Hoping and praying for more opportunities to love my neighbors in meaningful ways.  We truly have the sweetest street — busyness is the lone hurdle.  But now that spring has so vividly sprung and we are all spending more time outside, I hope to be a better, more engaging neighbor.

How do you fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor?

Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

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Jackson Five Friday: Contentment

FullSizeRender-9Friends,

Look at this picture of contentment captured in 2007.  The contentment of the sleeping babe is obvious, but it is the peace of the mama that most interests me.  I am that mama, and I can tell you that having a newborn for the third time was a season of life in which I’ve never been more content.  Part of it may have been that we lived in Florida, where the living is easy.  Another factor could be that my husband, because of his new job and lack of hellacious commute, was much more present in our day-to-day life than he had been with our older two sons.  But more than outward reasons, I was just in my groove.  Mothering was coming more and more naturally.  I didn’t feel an ounce of pressure to be anything outside of wife and mother.  I was thirty-five.  I knew who I was and what my purpose in life entailed.  I could sit like this with Sam on my shoulder for hours and watch the older boys play and not feel like I needed to be reading or writing or using my gifts.  I was exhausted at the end of the day and didn’t worry about not making a contribution to the world outside my own little family.

I realize there are millions of mamas who do not feel this way about mothering little ones.  They find it monotonous and full of drudgery.  I had the older two close enough together to know long days whereby a good and brief summation would be: I changed diapers.  Every season has hard moments.  But of all the stages of my life — and I’ve led a mostly charmed life — the thing I have felt I did the best was mother.

I have told my husband that as I transition out of mothering little ones (my youngest is eight), and prepare to go back to work on a part-time basis (yes, good gracious this job thing is taking it’s sweet time to get going), I am mourning the end of the era where I feel like I shined the most.

The thing is you may not relate to that at all, but what I know you can relate to is that a strong sense of purpose breeds contentment.  The picture above illustrates purpose just as much as it does contentment, and purpose may never be that simple again.  Certainly no snapshot could so aptly encapsulate my life now.  And I’m not alone in that.  Forty-something women aren’t always the most purpose-driven.  Mothering is still vital — our kids need us just as much in all kinds of respects, even if we don’t wipe their bottoms.  Yet we have time to devote to other things.  Using this time wisely seems to be an ongoing struggle for many of us.  The transition seems to be one of stops and starts.  I want to be prayerful and wise and discerning as I navigate this phase.  I want to be grateful, of course, because I know that giving thanks is a chronically overlooked key to joy.

But I am also praying for a stronger sense of purpose.  What am I called to do in this next season?  How can I achieve that glorious feeling that I had above: this, THIS, is what I am meant to do!

As I wait on clarity of purpose for how I should spend the little bit of spare time I have, I’ll cling to these truths:

  1. My ultimate purpose is to glorify God and love Him forever.
  2. I am called to love my neighbor as myself (and boy am I doing a poor job of this, perhaps next Friday I’ll tell you a funny but horrific tale of what a terrible neighbor I am).
  3. The story of my life is the same day after day, year after year, through every season: it is all grace upon grace.

John 1:16 says, “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace,” so I hope you recognize “grace upon grace” as your story too.  I hope you know the contentment of living out your macro purpose – glorifying God, and your micro purpose as well.  In short, I hope your life downright reeks of contentment.

Have a fabulous weekend!

With Love,

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Post-Vacation Blues

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My Friends,

I am a wretched ingrate. I have so much to be thankful for and yet I find myself more than a little sad that vacation is over.  The traffic. The hustle. The lack of gently swaying palms. The absence of my funny and uplifting man by my side all day and night. These are all unwelcome realities. I know it’s downright absurd to feel this way. People are hungry and persecuted and forgotten all over the world. That’s why I said I’m an ingrate. I am.

But what is the root of such doldrums? I know a perpetual vacation wouldn’t do me any good.  Sloth is a sure path to misery.  But I’m wondering if stuff is the thief of joy.  Maybe part of what makes vacation great — aside from reading my Bible every morning and then watching the sun gently arch its way out of the Atlantic, aside from the therapeutic sound of the waves crashing into the sand interspersed with the laughter of my sons — maybe part of what makes vacation great is the lack of stuff.

We do not have a particularly large house. We do not have trinkets or collectibles or even tons of pictures. I love a counter or table or floor with nothing on it, yet most surfaces in my home are overtaken by paper, or shoes, or clothes.  My entryway is a perpetual disaster.  Shoes in the Jackson home are surely part rabbit or something.  How they proliferate I do not know.  I have boys and I swear we hardly ever shop, and they wear uniforms to school.  Yet somehow the mounds of laundry look like the domestic version of the Swiss Alps.  And I know after thirteen plus years of motherhood these mountains will not be overcome.  I’m beginning to think they are part rabbit too.

So here’s my plan for the rest of the week: minimize!  I’m going to keep only what we love.  If we like it, it’s sayonara.  The thievery of stuff, the weight of things, the consumption of time over the maintenance of items that we merely like — these are former problems in the Jackson house.  It’s a brand new day, Baby!

Of course, I cannot help but point out that the wisdom of the world —  that is often presented as brand new insight — can invariably be found in the Bible.   “Essentialism” is a movement and a pretty good book which talks about more than just the accumulation of things.  You can find simplicity blogs and books everywhere you look, but Jesus warned us two thousand years ago to be on guard against greed.  “Life,” he said, “does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  When the post-vacation blues hit maybe it’s the perfect time to ask if the abundant life God intended for you is diminished by your possessions.

Hold me accountable people.  All you need to do is open my front door.

Fondly,

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