Five things I am glad we did when the kids were small

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What a month it has been in my house.

The wedding preparations have reached fever pitch (nine days to go now!) and my youngest just turned 18.  I am well and truly on the edge of saying goodbye to raising kids and it has made me a little pensive.

Because of my personality, I have found myself thinking about family life and things that I wish we had done differently.  It is easy to have regrets because my husband and I were young parents and we made a lot of mistakes.  We were way too strict with our children at times and not strict enough at other times.  We (actually I) lectured too much.  We didn’t pray near enough and consequently we often parented in our own strength which was completely ineffective and sometimes hurtful.

But, as I leave this season and rather reluctantly step into a new one I have also found myself thinking about some of the good decisions we made.  Some were accidental and others were intentional, but all were the result of the unending grace of our good, good God.

 1. We intentionally kept life simple when the kids were small.

Paul and I decided quite early on that we would keep weekends as free as possible.  When I think back over those years I smile.  There were endless Saturdays of make believe in the back yard and walks to the park.  We decorated bedrooms with colourful murals and worked on school projects on the kitchen table.  The kids learned to swim at our local pool.  Rainy Saturdays, of which there were many, were for movies and lots of lego.

Resisting the temptation to fill up our time with outside activities wasn’t always easy but it paid dividends in our relationships.  We had time for each other and time to just be a family.  I have no doubt that the bonds we built then are the bonds that hold us together now.

Because simplicity makes room for the good stuff.

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When you keep the family schedule from getting too crazy you leave room for important conversations.  There is space for emotions to be worked through and conflicts to be resolved.  A routine with margin allows children to explore who they were created to be and what they enjoy doing before committing to loads of activities and the expensive paraphernalia.

2.  We made time with extended family a priority.  When my brother got married in California, we took our three kids, rented a house and enjoyed every second.  When my other brother got married four years later in Colorado, we did the same thing.  These were costly ventures, both in time and resources, but those memories are priceless because they impressed on my children that they belong to something and that they are part of a tribe that loves them.

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Every birthday my kids ever had, they wanted their grandparents to come.  For many years our Christmas day was divided between the two sides of the family.  We would open presents with my family, have lunch together and then scoop up children and new toys and head to my in-laws for present opening and an evening buffet that no one was hungry for.  Did I resent such a busy day sometimes?  Yes, a little.  But when we lost Paul’s dad 10 years ago, the first thing I thought was how glad I was that we shared those moments with him.  My kids reminisce about those family Christmas days with fondness and gratefulness.  It was totally worth any sacrifice on mom and dad’s part to see the joy grandchildren bring to grandparents, and vice versa.

3.  We made a small, family church the centre of our lives.  My kids were raised in a small church and they grew up serving.  You name it, they have done it.  They have set up chairs, played drums, done audio visual jobs, played guitar, sang, performed dramas and helped with fundraising for missions.  They were part of something that really mattered and they were loved by the people they did church with.  Each of my children were baptised in front of people who had been at their baby dedication and many of those same dear friends will be at my daughter’s wedding.

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Investing in those relationships was worth every hour we gave to it and has produced young adults who still love church and still love God.  I am so grateful.

4.  We spent money on experiences, not stuff.  As our children were growing up we may have had a house full of second hand furniture and ebay bargains, but we have had some fun together!  Some of these adventures cost almost nothing, like our annual camping trip to the beach on the South coast of England.  Others, like our mammoth trip to the western United States, had to be saved for.

Last week, when we all got together for my son’s birthday, the subject of vacations came up.  My grown children lit up as they remembered swimming in the rain in Devon, driving through Joshua Tree national Park and surfing with missionary friends in the Pacific Ocean.  I am absolutely sure that they have forgotten the times they had to wear their sibling’s hand-me-downs or the modest Christmas and birthday gifts the had but they will never ever forget building a house for a family in Mexico or seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

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5.  We bought the ugly house with the backyard.  When we found out I was pregnant with my youngest, we knew that we needed to move and so we got a pile of house details from the Estate Agent.  There were adorable cottages and slick modern town houses and then there was one really ugly 1950’s semi. We kept ignoring it, but having exhausted the other choices, decided to at least visit.  It was just as unattractive as we had feared.  There was yellow wallpaper and brown carpet and a weird room that had been added on with Formica flooring and wonky walls.  But the backyard was long and wide and as soon as we set foot in it we pictured our four kiddies running around.  So we bought it.

For the last 18 years we have lived our lives in that yard.  We have had birthday parties and July 4th barbecues. Bikes were raced and puppies trained.  There were paddling pool afternoons and snowball fights and late evening smores.  Friends have joined us for barefoot badminton and Paul and I have spent hours talking and praying as the sun set.  The improvements to the house have consequently been very slow and even now we aren’t really finished.  But as I make the homemade wedding confetti from the flowers that frame this little piece of heaven, I have absolutely no regrets.

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Because no one gets to the end of their life wishing they had bought more shoes or upgraded to a better phone.

And, when it comes time to give your daughter away or move a young adult into their first apartment, you will find great comfort in remembering all the sunsets and sandy toes that you have spent your money on.

If we make relationships our top priority, in the midst of all the busyness and demands of life, we are living life well.

And maybe if we spend our life enjoying and serving others and worshipping and following God there will be no regrets that really matter.  

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Choked and forgetful

 

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Deuteronomy 8.11 jumped off the page today.

Make sure you don’t forget God.

Whatever you do, don’t let this happen.  Prioritise your remembering.  Don’t forget who He is and who He made you to be.

But it is so easy to forget.

If life in 2018 is marked by anything, it is marked by distractions.

And, these distractions don’t wait in line like polite customers at the Post Office!  No, they crowd in like shoppers on a black Friday.  They jostle and pull and stampede. And yet often we don’t even notice.  That is why they are so dangerous.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus doesn’t pull any punches about distractions.  He says they actually choke good things God has planted.

Why doesn’t that scare me as much as it should?

It is possible, even probable, that I can miss opportunities from God just because I am busy with something else.  I can miss God’s voice because louder ones have my attention.  I can completely forget promises He has spoken to me.

I can forget Him.

Matt Chandler says, ‘”Find the things that stir your affections for Christ and saturate your life in them. Find the things that rob you of that affection and walk away from them. That’s the Christian life as easy as I can explain it for you.”

Maybe it really is that easy.

Maybe the grace that I extend to myself to watch what I want to watch or buy what I want to buy or do what I want to do is actually slowly, quietly stealing my passion for God.

Because, whether I want to believe it or not, my affection and my passion are not endless resources.  The are finite and they have to be spent very carefully.  

Jesus said that we can only follow one leader and that a life focused on earthly treasures has no energy left for heavenly ones.

Mary understood but Martha didn’t.  You can’t be two places at once, so choose wisely.

Jesus tried to teach the rich young ruler that you can’t follow God and obsessively love your stuff at the same time.  Our hearts just aren’t that big.

Jesus teaches us, again and again, in His parables and teachings, that what we chase is what we love the most and that loving God means choosing Him first.  

And choosing to put God first isn’t a spiritually vague concept.  It means deciding every day to minimise distractions and to give Him my very best, not my leftovers.

I know it is a battle.  Life is busy.  We have a wedding in less than three weeks and university application deadlines are looming.  My dishwasher just died and my hair needs to be coloured.

But I have the power to decide what I think about when I wake up and what I think about as I fall asleep. 

We all do.

Remember Jesus today.  Count your blessings and your answered prayers.  Turn worries into a conversation with the only one who can do anything about it.

Relax, He is in control. 

Believe, He is good.

Smile, you are adored.  

Remember, you are His.

 

 

 

Stairs that lead to miracles

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Sunday’s sermon was about Daniel and I can’t stop thinking about him.

You know the story.  King Darius has been tricked into making a law that would hand down a death sentence to any man or woman who prays to anyone or anything other than the King.  Daniel hears the news.  His response is simple.

He goes upstairs, opens the window towards Jerusalem and prays like he has done three times a day, every day of his life.

What an understated moment in Bible history!

Daniel is faced with a horrible execution of unthinkable violence and he just does what he always does.   It sounds so unspectacular, so uneventful.

But it really isn’t.

It is a glimpse into the secret life of a man of God, just before he receives his deliverance.  We are made privy to the backstory, to the secrets behind the miracle so when the miracle comes we understand.

My youngest is learning to drive.  He will be safe on the road when the mechanics of driving a car are automatic to him so that he can handle unexpected situations without having to think too much.

And so it is with me.

The enemy of my soul dreads the day prayer becomes my automatic response to difficulty.

He knows there is a place of victory available to me when God’s presence and His Word become non-negotiables.  He knows that when I no longer believe the lie that discipline is legalism, I am on the way to a powerful, overcoming life.

And it can start today.

When I feel too busy, I can pray.  When life is good and I have nothing to worry about I can pray.  When I don’t feel like it, I can open my Bible.  I can slowly, daily wear out the carpet that leads to my prayer spot.  I can keep going until prayer is like breathing and God’s Word has become the place I go for my answers, without exception.

You see, disciplines are slowly grown.  There are no shortcuts or microwaved entrees when it comes to habits and character.  Eugene Peterson calls it a ‘long obedience in the same direction’.  What a beautiful description of following Jesus every minute of every day.

Because most of the time following Jesus looks somewhat ordinary.  It isn’t, of course, but its miraculousness can be hidden within our daily grind.  We get up, meet with Him, worship and commune with Him and then we cook or type or iron or change diapers or draw buildings or run companies.  And we do the same thing the next day and the next.

When small problems and troubles show up, we remind ourselves to do what we always do. When disappointment arrives, or fear or betrayal, we just do what we always do.  If something happens that we don’t understand, nothing changes.

We climb those stairs and open that window and tell God He is all we need.  We listen for His voice.  We turn our eyes away from circumstances and towards the God of promises and faithful, loving care.  We decide to believe He is good.  We allow His Word to comfort and redirect and change us.  We raise our expectations of the miraculous and flex our faith muscles.

We remind our hearts that God is very, very big and lions and kings are very small.

And then when a big crisis hits, there is no big decision to make.  It has already been made.

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

 

 

 

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Tethered to goodness

Thinking today about escaping puppies and wandering souls.

 

2014-05-20 06.42.11We didn’t know there was a gap in our hedge.

Our previous labrador, Rudi, have never discovered it.  But three days after we took ownership of a six-month-old puppy named Buddy, he found it.

It was an unusually warm spring morning and having let Buddy out into the garden, we were enjoying coffee in our pyjamas.

The doorbell rang and it was our lovely next door neighbour with Buddy in her arms.  While we had been relaxing, Buddy had escaped next door, gone in through her back door that was open, up the stairs and right into our neighbour’s bed!  I was absolutely mortified!  I still blush when I think about it.

Unfortunately, it was so much fun that Buddy decided he would regularly visit his new friend and because our boundary is a hedge instead of a fence, every time we fixed one gap, he would find another.

In the end, there was only one solution, a very strong tether.  Every time Buddy was playing unaccompanied, we would tie him to a tree so he couldn’t escape.

Tethering is a very effective solution for wandering.

In one of my favourite hymns, we find these words,

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Every time I sing that song, I think how painfully true it is of me. Like a natural reflex, I suffer from an innate predisposition to wandering.

My thoughts wander.  My desires wander. My schedule and my plans wander.

My minutes and hours and days wander regularly from my Heavenly Father to pretty much anything else.

It frustrates and embarrasses me.

Why can I remember movies and magazine articles but not Sunday’s sermon?

How on earth do I get to the end of the day without making time for Jesus but I have never, ever forgotten to eat or get dressed or check Facebook?

Why is it so hard to focus when I am reading God’s Word or praying?

These lyrics make an interesting suggestion, though.  They suggest that God’s goodness is our fetter.  A fetter is a chain that was used to bind prisoners around the ankle.  It prevented escape, just like Buddy’s tether.

What a beautiful picture.

God’s goodness is the ultimate antidote to wandering. 

Not rules or responsibility or religion but only the goodness of God keeps us content enough to stay close.

So, one answer to our propensity to wander off is to constantly, in every way possible, remind ourselves of the unmatched, unrivalled goodness of God.

Every time, in the midst of busyness and distractions, we take a moment to remember how good our God is, we are tethering our heart to His.  We are ensuring that there is only so far we can drift away from His presence and His will.

With less than five weeks to go to my daughter’s wedding, I have to put this into practice daily.  Otherwise, my thoughts will be consumed with ribbons and glue and Pinterest pins and to-do lists and I will begin to believe that small, earthly things are really important and big, eternal things are unimportant, just as long as I find my wedding shoes and the florist gets the right shade of roses.

It is a battle we fight every day.  It is the battle for our hearts.

And our secret weapon is the knowledge of how good God really is.

So, whatever we are doing today, we can make worship the theme tune.  Just turn on some music, sing the words, believe the words, and live the words, even while driving the car or folding the laundry (or 120 orders of service!).

Find scriptures and quotes about our good God, decide they are true and display them where you will regularly see them.  Today I have put a little reminder by the kettle because I certainly need that truth as often as I need caffeine today.

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If you struggle to believe and trust in the goodness of your heavenly Father, may I suggest Bill Johnson’s book, God is Good.  It is a life-changing study of the character of God that will tie you tightly to Him as you understand the depth of His love and the certainty of His goodness.

Try making it a habit every day to write down three things that you are thankful for.  Ann Voskamp says in her book, One Thousand Gifts,  ‘The real problem in life is never lack of time.  The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving.’  That is because when we stop thanking God, we soon forget His goodness.  The next step is wandering away, searching for goodness elsewhere.

It is a funny thing but Buddy never tries to run away when we are in the garden with him.  When he is enjoying our presence, there is nothing else that can compete.  He knows we are good.  He knows we are his source of food and play and petting and walks.  He just forgets sometimes.

It is the remembering that keeps us.

Today, whatever you are doing, determine to remember how kind and loving and good our God is.  Remind yourself, in every way possible of the truth of the unchanging character of Yahweh.

Stop pulling.  Stop straying.  Stay close.

An abundant, joyful, purpose-filled life is only found in the presence of our good, good God.