Grace {How Lamenting Helped Me Find It}

I’ve been crying a lot today. I haven’t cried in a really long time. But, I’ve been crying a lot today. Nothing tragic has happened. No one has hurt my feelings. I’ve just been crying.

When I told my husband of my emotionally bad day, he didn’t really blink. I don’t have them often, and I pray this one is also temporary. He said, “Well, you’re a girl so… sometimes you just need to cry.”

He’s right. Sometimes I do.

I guess it just caught me off guard, because like I said nothing is really wrong. It’s all the little things that added up to one really big thing and the waters finally burst through the flood gates. Little things like feeling inadequate on how I handled a situation. Or some things that I left undone or didn’t follow through. And goodness if I could just learn that comparing myself to others is nothing but a malicious game the enemy likes to drag me to, make me sit in the stands and cheer for.  I can never win that game.

So I cried. I cried and lamented. Which, by the way, is different than complaining. Lamenting is expressing your grief and sorrow. Complaining is expressing your annoyance with something.

God encourages us to lament to him on days like today. Days when you just can’t stop crying and you don’t know why. He knows why. But He loves the intimacy you share with Him when you pour out your heart. He’s jealous for your time and expression and is very patient when you finally choose to take a moment to grieve.

I had grown faint from crying. Breathless and weak. It’s when I paused to float on the river of my tears that God whispered.

“Grace.”

I struggle so much with feeling inadequate. “God, I’m not good enough! I’ll never be good enough for you!”

“Child, Grace!”

Like a warm rushing wind it flowed through me. The reminder that His grace is always sufficient and I don’t have to be. I forget this way too much!

So, I picked myself up off the floor. Wiped my tears and started moving again. I started breathing again. My lament turned to worship and my sorrow to a tear-stained joy.

It’s not been my best day. But, I needed the cry. I needed the gentle reminders.

And I cannot survive with grace.

 

Hear my prayer, Lord;
    let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
    when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
    when I call, answer me quickly. Psalm 102

 

 

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Three Reasons I Stayed Off Of Facebook Through Advent

It wasn’t a hard decision. Wasn’t even hard to follow-up. For Advent, December 1st through Christmas, I decided to stay off of Facebook. I used it still for work and for this blog. But I stayed off the social part of the social media app. And I am so glad I did!

I Didn’t Miss Anything.

People still told me when someone died or when someone was upset. I even got all the good news. Some even shared their funny videos with me from their own phones. What I didn’t get was the hatred, polarizing opinions and slander. It was pretty awesome. And look! I lived to write about it.

I Didn’t Compare My Already Pretty Good Life To Other People’s Highlights

My life is pretty good. Two healthy kids. A husband who loves me. A job with purpose and a decent home. But just like the rest of us, my life can get messy. And I tend to compare my messy days to everyone else’s triumphant days posted on Facebook. So, this year I decided to remove the temptation to compare. I am sure some of you went on amazing vacations, got amazing gifts and had your long lost family members come to visit you for Christmas. And you can tell me all about it when you see me next time. Which leads me to another reason I logged off.

I Enjoyed Actual Face Time

Lunch dates. Breakfast Dates. Just evenings at home with my family. I laughed a whole lot with people that I love a whole lot. It’s so much more satisfying to lose 3 hours talking with a bestie than to lose them scrolling through Cyberspace. It filled my cup so much and I enjoyed the season way more than I have in many years.

I had the best Christmas that I’ve had in a long time. And believe me when I tell you it wasn’t because of the gifts. It was because I chose to spend more time with the ones I care about most, to guard my heart against the lies of comparison and to live in the moment given to me tied up in a precious bow from my Father in Heaven.  Every moment is a gift. And I am so glad I paused to enjoy each one.

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The Sacrifice of Christmas

It’s Christmas. My girls are actually getting along, the house smells of freshly baked ginger snaps and is filled with music saved only for this time of year. It’s kinda picture perfect. More like a miracle.

Among all the busyness and cheer of the season, though, I’ve been pondering something much more critical. The birth of Jesus is the reason to celebrate Christmas. We give gifts to those we love, tie them in a bow and move on with whatever the next year brings. But I am thinking of Mary today.

Believers know that Mary was visited by an angel of the Lord who told her she would bear a child. Born to save the world. Her immediate obedience and faith is astounding. She doesn’t seem to blink an eye at this news. “Let it be so,” she says. I don’t know about you, but when I found out I was pregnant with my first born, I fell to my knees and cried. There was so much uncertainty. I had never been pregnant before. I was miles away from my hometown and I had no friends at the time. I felt very alone and my child was just an ordinary baby. I had dreams for her life, and what she would grow to be like.

I think of Mary and what her mother’s heart must have been dreaming for her child. Mary knew her child would be born as a sacrifice. Even a as a sacrifice for herself.

Let’s just camp out there for a moment and discuss the difference between death and a sacrificial death because they are very different. We are all born and we all die. It is everyone’s destiny. So, when I hear songs and read stories about how Jesus was born to die, it doesn’t impact me as much. So what? We all die.

Born to be a sacrifice. Now that catches in my heart.

To sacrifice something, according to my friend Webster, is to accept the loss or destruction for an end cause or ideal.

Back before Jesus was born to be sacrificed, people would offer up their best lambs, goats, cattle etc., in order to be cleansed of their sins. It was a filthy practice, actually. Ironic, huh? Beauty becomes filth to be made clean.

So, I am thinking of Mary in the filthy stable filled with animal waste, old hay and dirt. She’s giving birth to a perfect child. A child that no doubt she prayed over, wondered what he would look like and even thought about his future. How long would she have him? How long before she would have to say goodbye to her son? Before he was sacrificed…for me? And for you.

It gives me a new meaning to Christmas morning. It makes me think of Jesus’ little birthday party very differently. We were all born. We will all die.

Jesus’ difference is the sacrifice.

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Be Still {How I Overcame My Anxiety}

It’s not really crippling for me, but I can see how it could be. Anxiety.

I do struggle sometimes with feeling overwhelmed, out of control and over-worked. My mind races, which I hate. And I feel like the world is closing in on me. Suffocating me.

In more recent years I have discovered that if I call it out loud and tell others whom I trust in plain words “I am feeling anxious today,” even if I don’t know why I am feeling that way, knowing that others are aware and promising to pray me through a bad day, it helps me. There’s always a peace that comes from allowing others to share your burdens.

This week though, my anxiety decided to visit in the middle of the night. Do you ever have nights like that? You think things are good and you start to drift off and then suddenly you remember one thing you left undone. And then you remember what you need to do tomorrow. And the next thing you know you are listing off all of the things that went wrong or that could go wrong. Sometimes my mind just does a constant loop of what I should have said. I hate that one.

I was determined not to let these useless thoughts control me and lead me down the long lonely path to insomnia. (I know that one well too)!

Several years ago Psalm 46:10 took me in and adopted me.  I honestly didn’t know I was an orphan, but I had desperately needed Psalm 46:10 way more than it needed me.

Be still and know that I am God. 

There’s more to the verse but I’ll stop there so you can print it on a T-shirt.

It was in the quiet moments while everyone else in my house was peacefully slumbering, and my mind had started it’s midnight merry-go-round that God whispered to me.

Being still and knowing that I am God also means to rest and know that I am God. Rest and know that I got this. All of it. Breathe in My peace and pray.

Well, a few days ago I just started a new Bible study book, “Living Free: Learning to Pray God’s Word” by Beth Moore. So I started praying His word back to Him. I started speaking His language.

Lord, I will be still and know you will heal. Because you are God.

I will be still and know you will provide. Because you are God.

I will be still and know you will mend. Because you are God.

I will be still and know you will guide me. Because you are God.

And on and on.

Friends, I honestly do not remember anything more except the next morning when His mercies were brand new! There was no space between my prayers and the morning light.

There is no doubt in my mind that God carried it all for me that night. That he joyfully accepted each one of my burdens like carefully wrapped packages and set them at the foot of the cross.

I’ve not been promised I won’t ever have another rough night. I’ve not been guaranteed never to feel anxious and overwhelmed. The promise is Jesus. His power and His love for a child like me who needs constant reminding to be still.

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Parenting {How Prayer Helps}

I hate parenting.

I know. You’re all thinking it though. You hate it too.

Why does it have to be so hard?

When I first learned I was pregnant with my first child, I fell to my knees and cried. I was only 24. I wasn’t ready for a baby!

I was so wrong. Sleepless nights, explosive diapers and endless crying was so easy. I can say that now because I am not in the midst of it. Those days were a breeze! I can totally handle a baby.

But I didn’t get a baby. I got a person! That baby has a personality, an attitude and mood swings.

I tell people all the time that I prayed to have boys. I wanted boys so bad. Growing up with brothers, I was used to the rough and tumble, the noise and the smelly socks. Boys are straightforward and come without all the d-r-a-m-a. Their fiances pay for the wedding and there is no cute hashtag for us moms with girls. (#BoyMom much)?

God laughs when you make plans. So, he gave me two beautiful girls.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my girls. #GirlMom

I love when they want to talk about the boys, when they ask me to blow-dry their hair and when I get the sweetest texts in the middle of the day. I love to shop with them and cook with them. I love to talk about their dreams and watch their eyes as they dance with thoughts of their future.  I even love their celebrity crushes and can remember how it felt when my own favorite boy band came on the radio.

I just hate parenting.

It hurts too much. And Mom, if you are reading this, you were right. It really does hurt me more than it hurts them. There. Now it’s in writing.

I can change a diaper. I can’t change a failing grade.

I can soothe crying with a pacifier.  I can’t mend a broken heart.

I can drive my kid to every activity under the sun until Jesus comes back. I can’t fully let go when they drive out of my driveway.

It boils down to the fact that I just feel helpless. Here I am, the one they have always called to when they scraped their knee or had a bad dream. But now real life is getting in the way of my magic mom powers and I can’t fix everything anymore.

What scares me even more is that, as teenage girls, I am sure there is more that needs to be fixed than what they are telling me.

I hate it.

So, what’s a mom to do? We’re in this for life.

Exactly!

Each moment builds to the next and stretches out into a beautiful life. My girls aren’t babies any more. And one day they won’t be teenagers either. They will be adults with their own worries and regrets. Hopefully, they won’t be in therapy because of me and the way I handled their teenage years.

So, I pray. I beg God for help and for guidance. For strength and for wisdom. I pray for their dreams to come true and for them to stay healthy. I pray for their minds to be focused on righteous and holy things. I pray for them to make good decisions and for all the stinky boys I wanted so badly to not lead them astray.

It’s still so hard and I still hate it.

But maybe that’s the point? Having teenage girls has done wonders for my prayer life.

When they were babies I prayed over them as I rocked them to sleep. I pray for them now as they pull out of the driveway. I will pray for them as they walk down the aisle and after we hang up from long distance phone calls.

Being a mom means my children always have someone who is praying for them. Their advocate during the tough times and  their cheerleader in the good times.

Thinking of it that way helps me realize what a privilege it is and makes me hate it a little less.

 

 

 

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Disappointment {Wants and Needs}

I wish someone would have told me that disappointments were a part of life. No one ever pulls you aside to tell you to prepare for failure. No. People always set you up for the win. They set you up to succeed and to get the little trophies at the end of the game.

Is this why we often feel stuck? We feel stuck in our jobs, our marriages and the relationships we have. We feel like our kids could always be more like someone else’s and not like the ones God gave us. Not that we don’t love our own kids. They just could be a little smarter. Cooler. Not as whiny. And goodness if they would just once clean their room without being asked!

We wish for different hair, different skin and a different body. We are not ever satisfied with what we’ve got as if our Creator didn’t know what He was doing. (Sometimes I do wonder though. Ok. There. I said it!)

But it’s got me thinking today. Disappointment. I’ve felt it a lot.  And someone said recently it’s because I put my expectations in the hands of my fellow humans. Hmmm.  Maybe. We are all pretty flawed. And I wouldn’t have written the above paragraph if I didn’t think there were truth in it.

I think, however, that it’s quite the opposite. The disappointment I feel is not because I rely too much on my peeps, it’s because I don’t rely enough on Jesus. I compare my circumstances on what I think others think and not what Jesus thinks. He, I am sorry to say, is not always my gold standard.

Also, I invented a new word today. Pharasitic. I think it’s pretty awesome and I am going to talk to Webster about it.  But I have been pretty Pharasitic lately.

<Deep breath in>  Yep. I’ve not only been disappointed by you people, I’ve been pretty judgey (that’s a new word too).  I’ve been working so hard trying to keep up and look pretty against all you prettier and smarter gems that I have found myself stoking my fires of pride.

Ouchie. That stung a little.

But I know what I’m doing, right? I’m 42…wait. Not yet. I’m 41 years old. I’ve seen a thing or two. I’ve got it going on. My kids are smart, (albeit messy). They both love Jesus and it shows. My husband, let’s just face it, he’s awesome and a great dad. I love my job. I have healthy parents who are still married after 51 years. And my friends are the bomb dot com!

Even with all of that, I struggle. I struggle to realize I am wanted and not needed. There is a difference, my friends. God doesn’t need me to fulfill His plans. He wants me to fulfill His plans. God doesn’t need me to love Him and serve Him. He wants me to love Him and serve Him.  I think that is where my disconnect lies. I think that is where a lot of us start using the fuzzy math. Want and need are not equal.

I think once we realize who wants us (Hint, look up) we can set aside the disappointments and we can stop being so Pharasitic. Hey! I used it in a sentence! My mother would be so proud!

 

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Plan B {The Time Our Vacation Re-Routed Us}

Plan B. It’s not usually what we wish for. Plan B is the plan we go to when what we really wanted falls through. Plan B is settling for something less. Plan B is second best. Leftovers. Plan B means that something went wrong.

One of my favorite quotes is “God laughs when you make plans.” I heard it first when I was a kid, but it’s become my life’s mantra. Life with two teenage girls and working in ministry doesn’t always go the way I planned. In fact, I never planned for girls and I never planned to work in ministry. God laughs at me a lot!

I’ve learned in my four decades on this God-created earth that most of the time my plans are not nearly as good as what God has planned for me. Sometimes His plans don’t seem as good, or as fun or as rewarding as what I think I should be doing. But I have also learned that going with the flow is a lot less stressful and following as the Spirit leads is a whole lot more rewarding than doing things my way.

My family had planned a trip to the panhandle of Florida for months. We planned to spend two days basking in the sun on the white sand beaches, playing games together in someone else’s condo and unplugging from social media. Ahhh…

But, God had other plans.

Hurricane Michael rerouted our plans from the panhandle of Florida to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, a place my family had never been. Turns out no matter where you are, God is still working. And He still uses you if you are willing.

We enjoyed time at the beach, fresh seafood and unplugged family game night. We took all the pretty beach pictures and stayed up late laughing (and fighting over bed space). We took a spontaneous trip to the French Quarter in New Orleans. But we also had our eyes opened to just how small our lives are and just how much hurt there is in the world.

I normally do not take any cash with me anywhere anymore. But I had read ahead of a restaurant we wanted to try that took only cash, so I visited the ATM before we left town. And for some reason, I decided I should take more than I would need for the restaurant. I mean, you never know.

But God does.

God knows there’s a man on the New Orleans streets waiting there to entertain you to make a living. God knows there’s a woman driving desperate in Gulfport, Mississippi who humbles herself enough to stop you to ask for gas money. God knows there’s a man riding his bicycle outside the shopping mall who’s hungry for breakfast. And God also knows He’s blessed you enough to be able to give it to them since they asked.

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. -Jesus

Luke 6:30-31

My husband wonders aloud, “Do we just have a sign on our foreheads that says we’ll give them money or something?”

I like to think it’s Jesus whispering into their ears and pointing our way. I like to think His face shines before mine and people know it’s a safe place to be human. Maybe those people won’t use the money for the reasons they asked. It doesn’t matter. It’s a lesson in obedience, a lesson in giving, a lesson in life that things don’t always go the way you think they will go. Vacation plans change. Life gets messy. But God is always there. The Spirit is always leading. We are always on the mission field no matter where we originally planned to go. I am convinced that we were exactly where we needed to be at exactly the right time.

Plan B can be beautiful. And if we are taking God with us, it’s always His Plan A.

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Misfortune: A Lesson In Humility

They say that bad luck comes in threes. I am unsure why they say that or who they are, but ok. If that’s true then I am done.

Busted hot water heater. One.

Leaking sunroof. Two.

Vehicle dead in the middle of the road. Three.

All in less than two weeks, so if we’re sticking with this theme maybe I’ve got something else up the road in week three. <pauses. prays.>

In reality I’ve been prepared for all of it. Emergency fund in place just for such a deluge of ‘unlucky-ness.’  Yep. It’s been drained. I think I actually heard it scream for mercy as I transferred the funds out of it to pay for my sunroof repair this morning.

I do a lot of reflecting when things like this begin to happen. There’s got a be a lesson in all the madness, right?

I’ve really been arrogant these last two weeks. Truly. I’ve been acting like these inconveniences have been a personal attack on my busy and comfortable lifestyle. I have honestly questioned why in the world God would allow these things to happen to me. I tithe. I minister. I do good deeds. I should be rewarded and safe-guarded. I should continue to be comfortable.

So, my bestie comes to pick me up (Thanks!) today to take me to pick up Harvey. (That’s my car). And I found myself doing nothing but complaining to her. She was, as all good friends are, a good listener and just let me vent about how inconvenienced I was. I had spent my morning stuck at home car-less and held hostage by the painters who had come to finish repair from the hot water heater damage.  As I was talking to her I realized how ridiculous all those complaints sounded when I said them out loud.

“Ok. I’m done complaining,” I said. And she casually changed the subject to remind me I needed to write. She has this way of encouraging me through conviction. I am not sure how she does that, but I appreciate and hate it all at the same time.

I came home to a finally quiet house. I sat in my favorite chair and prayed. I caught up on my Bible reading and of course, because He’s a good teacher, God kept showing me in 2 Chronicles one word over and over.

Humble.

It’s not a very popular word these days. We believe we are entitled to things simply because we think we are good. We think the world needs our brilliant ideas, our contributions and our time. But let me just remind you of something.

It’s not about you. It’s not about me.

Nothing we do. Nothing we say. Nothing we give or take away is for ourselves. It is all filtered through the hands of our Creator and then turned right back for Him to receive the glory.

So, when I find myself in a flurry of misfortune I have to remind myself that it’s all meaningless if I don’t praise the One calling the shots. I can’t complain about a busted hot water heater if I have been provided hot water, a luxury millions in this world cannot afford. I can’t express disdain for a leaky sunroof when God sent the rains on a dry land and *bonus gave me a reliable car. And I don’t want to talk about the car dead in the middle of the street because honestly, it’s car number four at our house. Four. As in, we-only-have-three-drivers-and-four-vehicles four.

I am abundantly blessed and all I could do was complain.

Father, forgive me.

 

 

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Simple {Having an Expectant Heart}

Simplicity.

I’ve always believed that less is more. Fewer activities. Smaller houses. Closer friends.

So, why is it a surprise then, when God shows up in the most humble ways?

Lately I have been amazed at how God has been responding to me. And if you are in a place where you feel like God has forgotten your hurt, maybe it’s time to get back to basics.

My heart hurts a lot. I know a lot of people who are hurting and God has wired me to practically feel physical pain when those that I love share their hurt with me. I’ll be honest and say that can become quite burdensome if I don’t keep it in check. I retreat a lot. I go off by myself a lot. I am not at all uncomfortable spending an entire day in solitude.

It’s during those times when I am still that I can hear God the loudest. Notice I did not say that He speaks the loudest when I am still. I believe He is always there waiting to say something, I can just hear him better when I am still. I draw up on Psalm 46:10 a lot. I have to.

Because when I am still I notice. I notice when He answers me.

I have two teenage daughters. (Prayers are always welcome on my behalf). They are loud, busy and always moving girls. They are always playing music too loud, running off somewhere or engrossed in the latest YouTube craze. Each one has a flair for the dramatic and have their own theater and dance outlets. They are priceless beauties and I am losing my grip on them more and more each day. As it should be.

Imagine a typical evening at my house when each one in their separate rooms have on their own favorite song. I don’t know about you, but if my favorite song is on, it ain’t at a low volume.

So it is with my girls.

What happens if I call to them? Do you think they would hear me? Do you think they would notice my voice?

Of course not. They continue dancing in their bedrooms or (and I have no idea how she does this with her music on let alone in the quiet) continue to work her Pre-Calculus homework.
I have to go directly to each one of my children, tell her to turn the music down so I they can hear me.

Do you need to turn your music down?

God’s not going to yell to get your attention. He’s just not. He’s a still small voice that speaks whispers into the hearts of those who are listening for it. He’s working every single moment of every single day and He delights in giving you your hearts desire.

But, can you hear Him? Do you see Him working?

What is so cool about God is that He’s God, but He doesn’t boast about it. He’s so complex but so very simple. He could move mountains. He can heal the sick. He can mend broken hearts. But He’s not going to be obvious about it. He’s a bit of a seek and find kinda guy. You gotta be looking for His handiwork in the every day.

I needed God to show up today. I needed a reminder that He’s still here even after a long week. I headed to my quiet space and told Him that.

And this is how He responded. This is the whisper into my heart.
Why do you need me to show up if I am always there?

It was so simple. And I was reminded of the beauty of that truth. He is always there. In everything He created.

So, then I just wanted a simple reminder and confirmation. And you know what the Creator of the Universe did? He sent me a tiny bird to dance and dazzle me in the treetops.

Simple right?

But I was looking for it. My heart was expectant.

I think sometimes we don’t get what we ask for because we don’t expect God to follow through.

Why wouldn’t He?

Why would your Father give you a snake instead of what your heart desires? (Luke 11:11)

We aren’t looking for it. We are too busy on our devices or we’ve got our music too loud. Or our calendar is too full to just be still.

How many blessings have I missed because I wasn’t expecting the simple but looking for the extravagent?

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Expect More From Your Children This School Year

I write a lot about seasons and how I love Summer so much I could probably squeeze it to death. And with the end of my children’s Summer break coming to an abrupt end next week, I’ve been clinging to it with white knuckles. But, I also know that all seasons serve their unique purpose. There’s a rhythm to it all. A cadence and melody. And if it were Summer all the time I am sure I wouldn’t appreciate it like I do.  But I’ve never been able to disprove that theory so I may never know.

My family eats outside on our patio almost every night in the Summer time. I love the informal nature of it. We eat. We linger. We enjoy our time as a family while we wait for the lightning bugs to come and dazzle us from the tree tops. Some nights we’ll spend hours out there laughing and talking. Some nights we rush through it.

Tonight we talked about how great this Summer has treated us. We have a new driver in the house with more freedom. Summer camps and long overdue family reunions. We’ve relaxed. We’ve played. And we’ve worked hard too. (VBS anyone?) We’re satisfied with how we’ve lived our life the last few months and looking forward to what the next season will bring.

It’s our last year in middle school and the ever important Junior year of high school. Neither one of my beautiful girls is looking forward to the busyness or the workload. It’s my blog and my girls, so I can brag without restraint that they are both straight “A” honor students. They work hard.

But they also know that is what I expect from them. I don’t expect all A’s but I do expect them to work hard and to do their best. The end result is that they are well rounded kids respected among their teachers and peers. They each have their own interests in choir, dance and theater and they both do well.

That’s not enough for me.

I’ve been thinking about the lives we lead today. Too busy to breathe some nights and we collapse in bed anxious to do it all over again when the sun rises. We program our children with dance and theater. T-ball and academics. We expect straight A’s and accolades.

Do we expect them to know Jesus?

When given the choice between recovering from the busy week on Sunday morning and sleeping in or treating Jesus like He’s part of every season in our life, what do we choose?

We are charged with truancy if we choose not to send our children to school.

What’s the penalty if we choose not to take our children to church?

If we don’t send our children to school, they fail and can’t go to college.

I won’t say that if we don’t go to church we can’t go to heaven, because that’s not true. But if we treat church like it’s optional how can we expect our children to think a relationship with Jesus is a necessity?

There is no Jesus season. He’s not around only at Easter and Christmas. We can’t take a break from His presence in the Summer time just because we went on a beach vacation. He’s always there. On the first and last day of school. On the ball field. At the dance recital. During the opening curtain call. We don’t get a Jesus break because He never takes a break from us.

I’d rather my children fail in school than to fail in realizing that their most important relationship is with their creator.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. Proverbs 22:6

 

 

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