I get into my car on a ninety-degree day. The air is stifling. Beads of perspiration form on my forehead in seconds. The steering wheel scorches my hands. As I back down the driveway, it feels as if I’m being roasted alive. There’s no way I can survive those conditions for long. The heat is unbearable. Yet, I don't stop the car and jump out. I don't even roll down the window. Why? Because the first thing I did after I started the car, was turn on the air conditioner. I know it will cool me down soon enough. It only takes a moment to kick in. The discomfort is temporary, fleeting. It can't hurt me. Relief is coming.
We’re living in troubled times. Many people are distressed and scared, and my heart breaks for those who are struggling to find peace right now. But if we stop to think about it, there’s nothing truly exceptional about this moment in history. There has always been trouble, since man’s fall. War, plagues, famine—it’s all part of the human experience. Yet God, in his mercy, grants healing and restoration over and over, in a beautiful cycle of compassionate sovereignty. We hurt, then there’s a reprieve. The fighting ends. The plagues leave. The food returns. History proves that our present trials, however big or small, are temporary. And even more so, our faith proves it. Faith tells me that God IS working things out for GOOD, even now. Whether I see the result or not, God’s plans for His children are good, and He has not abandoned us. And faith tells me, too, that we’ll have perfect peace in heaven with Him one day. Pain doesn't last forever. Whether in this life or the next, relief is coming. That’s how we endure trials--with faith that they are temporary. The Bible says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)
Hang on. Relief is coming.
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
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My eyes open at the sound of someone’s feet on the kitchen floor. Mamas awaken at the softest of noises.
I hear the close of the refrigerator then cabinet doors. The coffee maker rumbles to life, and I know my son is up early, working on something special.
It’s time for me to get out of bed, but I dare not. It would be unkind to ruin his surprise.
Clinking of silverware on glass tells me breakfast will include jelly. Then my son comes in the room to ask a hypothetical question. “If” he wanted to make coffee, which he definitely isn’t doing right now, what button would he push. I provide the instructions, pretending I have no clue what he’s doing.
He leaves the room and I wait, and I keep listening, even though I’d rather be out of bed, and even though I don’t actually want breakfast. Choking down toast that I don’t want to eat Is a small price to pay for building his self-esteem.
While I wait, I wonder if he washed his hands. Probably not, but I won’t ask him. I’d rather risk E. Coli than damage his desire to serve others.
I wonder if he’s making a mess in the kitchen, but I fight the urge to intervene. A mess to clean is a small sacrifice for nourishing his servant’s heart.
I wonder if he might burn himself carrying the coffee, but I don’t go help him. The slight risk of a minor burn is preferable to bruising his fragile ego.
And when he comes back bringing coffee in one of my favorite mugs and toast with grape jelly (which was actually very good,) I act surprised and praise him for being so kind. I smile as if I’ve won the lottery. And the truth is, I have something even better. I have a child that loves me and wants to show it through acts of service. I have a child that, despite his many behavioral challenges, finds joy in making others happy.
So I’ll keep on pretending to be surprised by breakfast in bed, and that jelly toast is better than the best meal ever made, because the fact is, it’s about much more than breakfast. It’s an opportunity for my child to feel good about himself, and for me to tell him that I’m blessed to be his mother. And maybe, as he grows, his sense of self-worth will grow too, and maybe he’ll be able to approach every future task with the same sense of pride as his seven-year-old-self serving his mama breakfast in bed.
There are two versions of Christmas; you probably know. There’s the holy celebration of the birth of the Christ child—the One who came to rescue mankind from eternal separation from God and thereby demonstrated God’s deep love for humanity—where we sing His praises and extol His goodness. Then there’s the Christmas where a decorated evergreen tree becomes the centerpiece of our homes, and we sing songs about reindeer, bake cookies shaped like little men, and stress about finding suitable gifts for everyone on our list. It’s the same date on the calendar, the same holiday in name, but two very different celebrations.
Throughout the years, I’ve struggled to reconcile the two Christmases, to keep them balanced. I tend to focus primarily on the birth of Jesus up until the Sunday before December 25th, depending on when Christmas falls. Our church play and the imagery of the nativity are always the spiritual highlight of the season. Then my mind and heart give way to the excitement of family gatherings, classic holiday movies on television, and seeing joy on my childrens’ faces on Christmas morning. But should there be a balance? Should we even entertain the things that would distract us from the manger?
As I got ready for church yesterday morning, I contemplated the tug of war between the Christmases and was struck by an unusual comparison: Christmas time is like a wedding and a wedding reception. The vows and exchanging of rings at a wedding is holy, the sacred part which is often followed by a let-loose party. The reception, big or small, is the celebration of what has taken place, though it rarely resembles the ceremony. At a wedding reception, the guests focus on the emotion of the day, if not specifically the reason for the emotion. In that way, Christmas is like a wedding and reception—a blending of the sacred and the secular, where the latter depends on the former. All the warm and fuzzy feelings, the less-than-holy feelings of Christmas, find their roots in a singular emotion, created by and embodied in God Himself: Love. We have love because He came. And the joy of the season, even feelings that don’t directly relate to the Christ child—magic, wonder, coziness, generosity, anticipation—are because of Him. Every good gift comes from God. So maybe there is room for the fun of Frosty and Rudolph after all.
Sticking to our analogy, let’s talk about the wedding crashers—unbelievers who celebrate the day set aside to honor Christ’s birth. Our Lord’s name is in the day, yet many who don’t claim Him still celebrate. It’s like not knowing the bride and groom but showing up for the party anyway. They’ll sing carols and bake cookies, string lights and give gifts, yet want nothing to do with the Christ of Christmas. But He came for them, too, whether they believe it or not. And while true joy can’t be found outside of a relationship with Him, a semblance of it exists in their singular version of Christmas, though they haven’t met the Source. Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet Him at the party. When Jingle Bells fades into O Holy Night on the radio, maybe they’ll be drawn to Bethlehem and closer to the truth.
As I think on it more, a collision of the sacred and the secular at Christmas seems fitting, really, because that’s what happened when He was born. The Holy One took on human flesh. A perfect God broke the plane between Heaven and Earth. The Most High took up residence in a fallen world. That’s the reality of Christmas. So as you sing Jingle Bells, think of Him. As you think on the manger, thank Him for the presents under the tree. Our celebrations don’t have to be at odds when we are secure in His lordship in our lives
The interviewer examines the candidate. Stained shirt and wrinkled pants. His hair is mussed and he hasn’t shaved.
“Thank you for coming in today,” the interviewer says, smiling.
The interviewee nods.
“I’ve reviewed your resume, and I’m impressed with what I see.”
The interviewer’s assistant chokes on his sip of coffee.
“I think we’ll be able to offer you a very competitive salary,” the hiring manager continues. “The job comes with a corner office and benefits start on day one. Are you interested?”
“Sir, what are you doing?” the assistant says. “He has no experience in our field. He has no experience of any kind! I’m not sure why you even brought him in.”
“I’ve already said, I like his resume.”
“But, sir, his resume is written in crayon. We haven’t done a background check. We know nothing about this person. And you want to give him a corner office?”
The hiring manager slides the crumpled resume toward the assistant. “See here? He has an excellent reference. That’s why I’m hiring him. This person’s word is all I need to know that he belongs here.”
“But our last candidate went to a top school and has twenty years of experience.”
“That’s true," says the manager. "But he doesn’t have the same reference.”
As Christians, we became children of God through no merit of our own. We were unworthy of being accepted, not qualified in any way to receive His grace. I’m still not worthy, but my advocate remains. Jesus’ name on my resume of faith makes all the difference. He vouched for me, called me worthy with his very life. It’s not a corner office, but I have something even better. I'm an unlikely candidate, but I have eternal life and fellowship with God, by the righteousness of my Lord.
Rom 3:20-25 (ESV):
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
The television had been off for two days. Behavior issues called for drastic measures. But when the two youngest woke me up before daylight on a Saturday, I gave in. I was too tired to engage and keep them quiet enough to not wake the rest of the house. Not without the help of a little electronic intervention. Still, I set a standard. I would choose the program, and it had to at least be educational. The kids, just happy to have television back, didn't complain.
I started the show then shuffled to the kitchen to drop frozen waffles in the toaster. While they cooked, I stumbled around like a zombie, picking up random things that had been strewn about the night before. The boys were happily watching the PBS cartoon. I heard the teacher character tell the students how a microscope works. "Magnify means to makes things bigger," she said. Instantly, God cleared the sleepy fog from my brain and began to grow an idea in my spirit. "Magnify means to make things bigger."
Magnify in Scripture means to praise. Psalm 35:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." But how might the common definition also apply? How can we magnify the Lord to make Him bigger? (The Greek word for magnify comes from the root megas, where we get the word mega.)
God is already all-powerful, so there is nothing bigger than Him in that sense. But we need to continually make Him bigger in our lives, of greater importance. We need to give him a bigger space to operate through us, by eliminating worldly distractions. We need to use spiritual eyes to see Him as bigger. It doesn't take a microscope. It takes removing the blinders of the flesh to see Him for what He is.
Let's look at three uses of the word magnify in Scripture that describe different ways in which God is magnified.
Psalm 69:30 says, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving." Being thankful makes God bigger in our lives. When we stop to recognize every good thing as a gift from him, we see him as greater--not some distant force, but an up-close-and-personal sovereign who is worthy of worship. He is literally all-encompassing, acting on our behalf in every facet of our lives.
Another well-known usage of the word comes from Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:46 (KJV) says, "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord." Mary said this in response to Elisabeth's proclamation in verse 45 (NKJV): "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” We can magnify God by trusting Him and believing in His promises. Take Him at His word. Even when you can't see the end from the beginning, and even when the road set before you is difficult--as surely it was for Mary--believe He will fulfill His promise to be faithful.
In another New Testament reference, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a group of Gentiles, the Bible says, "For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God..." (Acts 10:46 KJV.) Yes, they were praising God, but they made God bigger in their lives by exercising spiritual gifts. They put His greatness on display by operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It's interesting how all this study started with a line in a children's show, on a Saturday morning when I didn't want to be awake yet. It makes me wonder if the break we had from television for a couple of days helped prepare me to hear God better. Maybe my mind and spirit had a bigger space for Him to work. However it happened, I'm grateful for the message. I need God to be bigger in my life. I want to magnify Him through thankfulness, faith, and spiritual gifts.
Maybe a microscope isn't the best metaphor. Sometimes what I need is to view God like a word on a screen, with the web browser zoomed to 1,000%, and everything else pushed out of view except Him. (That's as high as the zoom will go; I tried.) That's what we all need sometimes. May God be made bigger in our lives today.
"O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." (Psalm 35:3 KJV)
The last couple weeks have been hard. Three months into our first foster care assignment, ugly attitudes have crept into my heart uninvited. I’ve worked to fight it—the “my four and no more” mindset (except in my case it’s five.) But as I struggle to parent this little boy who feels every bit mine one minute and like a stranger the next, negative feelings threaten to win. So, I’m doing some assessment. It’s time for an evaluation of the losses and gains of being a foster parent, and I hope you’ll read to the end for the results.
First, let’s look at some of the losses.
Patience: I’ve felt like a failure recently, not being able to keep my cool with a toddler who seems to have learned how to push my buttons. Emotionally, I’m not handling the constant meltdowns and tantrums well. It doesn’t matter that I’ve already parented three two-year-olds or that I have trauma-informed parenting skills now. It’s still hard. And the added stress of a fourth child has made me less patient with my other three, and sometimes with my husband.
Privacy: One of the most difficult things about foster care, for us, is the never-ending schedule of meetings; having people constantly checking on us and asking questions about every aspect of our lives. The licensing process was the hardest. Our home was inspected multiple times. We laid out every detail of our personal finances and provided complete medical histories for every person in our house. We were required to write about how we got along with members of our family growing up, our parents’ relationship with one another, and how we dealt with the most challenging events in our lives. And we had to share it all with strangers. Now that we have a placement, we have a minimum of two meetings per month, one of which has to be in our home. And though it’s probably not true, I always feel like I’m being judged on the amount of clutter in my house or the dog hair we try so hard to get out of the couch.
Peace: We almost had it made. Our kids were old enough that we could turn on a movie for them and take a twenty minute nap on a Sunday afternoon without worrying. Our children no longer cried when they couldn’t have ice cream for dinner or screamed because they wanted to put shoes on by themselves. Before a few months ago, I could sit and listen to an entire church service, undistracted. Now I’m grateful to make it through the singing, forget about the sermon. And sleeping through the night? That’s just a fond memory. Foster parenting has meant loss of the peace we were beginning to enjoy.
Now, let’s look at some of the gains of foster parenting.
Laughs: The little boy in our care is silly and fun, and he makes us laugh constantly. He loves to get a reaction out of us, and knows how to be a comedian to get it. In the stresses of day-to-day life, his laughter and the laughs he brings are blessings of refreshment.
Love: I’ve loved our foster son since very early in the process. Probably by the second day, he had my heart. The way he blows kisses to me and wraps his little arms around my neck just makes my heart swell. He knows how to show love. And we feel it from him every day. The love our three children have for him is phenomenal, and he reciprocates. Love grew in our house when little man entered our lives, and we place great value on that.
Life Lessons: I’m glad to be able to teach my children about sacrificing for others. The life lessons they are gaining from this experience will hopefully shape their behavior and attitudes as adults. Foster parenting teaches them that we love all people, including the ones that look different from us; that we should be compelled to care for those who can’t care for themselves; and, that an act of love is worth hardship, every time. And my husband and I are learning, too. We’re learning more how to rely on God when things are difficult and to praise Him more when things are easy. We’re learning to trust Him with unknowns and uncertainty. Foster parenting is teaching us many life lessons.
Loss of patience, privacy, and peace. Gains of laughs, love, and life lessons. Now that I’ve laid out a few things to consider, can you tell which way the scale is tipped? Is the bad worse than the good is good? We’re fond of saying that love conquers all, but does that automatically mean the gains are weightier because we love this child?
The truth is, the gains don’t outweigh the losses. The losses don’t outweigh the gains. They aren’t balanced and can’t be measured, because there is no scale. Our heavenly calling crushes the scale and renders the entire argument moot. My family has been called to foster care, and by my interpretation, all believers are called in some capacity. Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” Hebrews 13:16 (ESV) says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” It doesn’t matter if it’s easy or difficult, or if we feel like we're winning or losing. Our mandate to love others as Jesus loves (John 15:12) overrules any idea of gain or loss. It doesn’t matter if it makes us happy or if it makes us sad. What matters is that it’s right. Taking care of and loving an innocent child that has no one else, is the right thing. No more weighing it out.
Update: This post was started a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve had great improvements in behaviors and how we deal with them. What’s most important is that all along, our little man has been happy and healthy. We thank God for him.
I have an insignificant deformity on the top of my left ear. It's not very noticeable, and I hardly ever think about it. But it's been part of me since I was born. My birthmark. My three kids have their own marks. Each have a small brown circle on their skin--the oldest, on her leg; the middle, on her back; and the baby, on his arm. I've always been fascinated by these birthmarks, how similar but different they are; what causes them or why we have them.
The Bible says that to be a follower of Christ, you have to be born again (John 3:33). And that spiritual birth comes with a mark, too--something that brands us as believers, that sets us apart from the rest of the world. When we are born again, we have the Holy Spirit living within, and He changes us.
Galatians 5:22, 23 (ESV) teaches that the fruits of the Holy Spirit in a person's life are:
These are definite birthmarks that set us apart. We can only attain these qualities through a new birth in Christ. And we still struggle with flesh, making lofty ideals like patience and goodness unattainable without the Holy Spirit. They're not known as the fruits of the believer. The Spirit plants them, and we are responsible to grow them through a relationship with Jesus. That means spending time in the Word and in prayer. The more I pray, the more self-control and faithfulness I have. The more I read the Bible, the more love and joy I have. You get the picture. As the fruit grows, it's more noticeable to the world around us. It's our mark. A sign of our new birth. Strive to show someone your birthmark today.
Out of all the people in this big, wide world, I imagine there are a few who grew up to live exactly the life their high school selves imagined. Maybe there are some whose ten-year plan was realized to the letter. The dreams of their youth played out exactly as they had envisioned. Maybe a few. A very, very few. For the majority of us, that’s just not how it works. We grow, and our plans change, and life happens.
Whether your plans didn’t work out or you had no clear path to begin with, chances are, if you're anywhere upwards of age thirty, you can look back at your life with some measure of amusement and perhaps awe. "How did I wind up here?" you might ask yourself. And for the Spirit-filled believer, the answer is obvious.
Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
I can see them now. What were invisible road signs at the time, saying "Turn Here." God planted these markers along my path Himself, long before I started walking it. He knew the plan.
In my career there have been many turning points. Like when I was an eighteen-year-old part-time filing clerk in an insurance office and my boss offered to pay for me to take classes to get my agent license. I couldn't have known that his kindness would put me on a career path that would help me enter the corporate world and eventually leave the insurance field for a job in Information Technology. But God knew.
In my early twenties, I couldn't see that this cool guy--whose friendship I once described as the most platonic relationship I'd ever had with a guy--would eventually become my husband and father to my three children. But there was a singular moment when a spark ignited and changed the course of my life. I didn't recognize it right away. But God knew.
After many unexpected turns, I'm glad I'm not the one in control. I certainly never envisioned I'd be here on this writing journey, and I love it. One of the many wonderful things about being a child of God is being able to trust in His providence. You can trust him with the future. Go ahead and make plans, but leave room for holy detours. And never doubt where He can take you.
If you're not where you thought you'd be, there are two appropriate responses. Either thank God for all the turning points along the way, or be glad that He's not finished leading yet.
Just over a week. That's how long we've been a family of six. For the first three days or so, it was hard to grasp. It's an understandably difficult concept to go from being the parent of three children on Monday- picking out three sets of clothes, making three snacks at a time, tucking three kids into bed at night- to being the parent of four kids on Tuesday. But very quickly it became "right". It wasn't even our new normal. It was just the normal we were always supposed to be. Our "finally" normal.
Even as I express how relatively easy this foster care transition has been, and how right it feels, I fully understand that at any moment things could change. We're only responsible for this two-year-old boy for as long as someone else will let us be. Somewhere between one more day and forever, that's all we know. But for now, he's part of the family.
So, how does a stranger become family so quickly. Is it because he's adorable? No, though he is. Is it because he's a "good" baby? No, though he is. Is it because his laughter makes all our hearts melt? No, though it does. My children have taken him in as a brother, and my husband and I have taken him in as a son, for only one reason: GOD. It’s supernatural. Beyond our capabilities. God makes that kind of thing possible. Not us. Psalms 68:6a says, "God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains:"
The day before "A" came to us, my eight-year-old daughter said, on the ride home from the beach, "I feel like we're missing somebody." All of us were there in the van, including our two dogs. She wasn't talking about Grandma and Grandpa that we left behind at the beach. She was talking about "A", though we didn't yet know who he was. And I knew exactly how she felt. God had been stirring anticipation in our hearts for many months.
On our refrigerator, we have our names linked together, written out in magnetic Scrabble tiles. Just as easy as it is to add our foster son's name to our five, that's how easy it has seemed to make him one of us. He slipped right in like the letters of his name on the board. And it's a perfect analogy of what God has done for us.
In Romans 11, Paul uses the example of an olive tree. The natural branches he speaks of were the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. But we- believers who aren’t descendants of Abraham- being the wild branches, have been grafted into the tree. He added us into the family. He has made us a part of Himself.
Galatians 4:4-5 says it plainly. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."
How can someone become part of a family so quickly? God. With our foster son, it’s God’s love in our hearts and a divine plan that makes it possible. For the seeking soul, it’s a measure of faith and God’s grace by which they can instantly be made His child.
The bright late-May sunshine fell on my face, luxuriously warm. I closed my eyes and let my skin soak up it's energy as the corners of my mouth automatically drew upward in delight. It's rays reinvigorated my weary soul. But it was only for a second. The sun kissed me for a literal second, then it was gone. Back again. Gone again. Back again. Gone again. Over and over.
The swing on the back deck of my house was in just the right spot for me to experience the sunshine on the way up, but the backswing put me in the shadow of the house. I wanted to enjoy the sun, but I was tired, and the obvious solution didn't seem worth the energy- MOVE THE SWING! It's light-weight and slides easily, but I didn't do it.
How often does this happen in my spiritual life? I go back and forth between experiencing THE LIGHT and slipping into the shadows. I love the benefits of spending time with God but I don't always make the effort.
To be clear, as a child of God, He's always with me. But, because of MY actions, I'm not always basking in the fullness of relationship with him. And the solution for that is as simple as moving the swing. I need to move myself to do the things that I KNOW promote fellowship with God- spending more time in prayer and reading the Word.
We should aim not to only experience His presence at church or when we need something from Him. It should be where we live! Psalm 140:13 says: "Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence."
What are you waiting for? Take a step out of the shadows today. Let's move to where the Light is.
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Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!