Adventure All The Way

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I think anything is possible if you have the mindset and the will and desire to do it and put the time in. -Roger Clemens

With self-discipline most anything is possible. -Theodore Roosevelt

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

Oh my dear little Ellie girl. Only you are not so little anymore. Four years old now, and getting bigger and smarter every day!

In January we celebrated your Four-Years-Of-Amazing-Life on this earth.

In true Ellie fashion you planned an amazing birthday party that was anything but that which a stereotypical girl would want – Miles From Tomorrowland, space theme. We had planets and stars on the table. Planets and space-age shapes hanging from the ceiling. A rocket ship, pin the feathers on Merc, and Cosmic Cocoa. We had outerspace treats – Laserangs, Saturn’s Rings, Rocket Fuel…you get the picture.

And you were so happy. So very happy in your black leggings, bright orange Converse, and little boys size 5 Miles From Tomorrowland t-shirt.With braided pig-tails of course. And all your little friends running around with you.

I love how much you love space. Maybe you have the mind of a dreamer, just like your mama. You see the potential in people and things, and dream of all that can be. Adventure and excitement call your name.

As the song goes…Never could I go too far
Never could I fly too high
It’s all inside of me
Living out the dream
With my family

Adventure all the way
New places every day
Oh yeah, we’re going to zip
Gonna take a trip
In a rocket ship

We’re counting down
The engines on
The time is now to rocket!
Rocket!
Rocket!
Rocket!

Woa oh, I’m a hero to the core
And I’m going to explore
Way out!
Woa oh, No where ever is too far
I’m shooting through the stars
Way out!

Yes. Maybe you will be a dreamer too. Maybe your heart will long for adventure and excitement, for challenges and the sheer joy that follows with success. I see your beautiful little mind working even now, trying to figure out what life is, what your purpose in life is, and what to expect from life, what you can do in life.

“Why do you go to work, mommy?” Because that is what God has called me to do.

“Why does daddy go to work?” Because that is what God has called him to do.

“What is my job then?” Your job is to play and have fun. And to go to school and be kind and show God’s love to the kids there.

Your little wheels are turning, and even so young I see you yearning to know why. What? What am I here for? What do I do? What do I expect? 

But that’s the adventure my dear. You never know what to expect.

Life is the greatest adventure of them all.

And even I don’t know what life holds for you.

But never doubt, dearest, that you can go on that adventure. It is truly all inside of you – and you never can fly too high. You are a hero to the core – and you’re shooting to the stars.

So go explore. Go on some blastastic adventures. Live, and love, and fly, and dream. Because dreamers see where they want to go in life, and do everything they can to get there.

Always hold on to your dreams.

And no matter where your adventures take you, always know that you are never alone. For the One who has placed those dreams in your heart, and designed those adventures for you to experience, who sees you and loves you and knows you…will be there with you through it all.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

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When Middle Earth Becomes Reality…

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Fear does not have to make you cruel or cowardly, fear can make you kind. -Doctor Who

“To fear is to have more faith in your antagonist than in Christ.”
D.L. Moody, The Overcoming Life

Lately, I feel that my dreams have finally come true. And in a way of sorts, they have. Here I live, in my comfortable heated home, in a beautiful part of the countryside, with the ability to sit by my fire and smoke my pipe, and if it weren’t for the fact that I lack hair growing between the toes of my nonexistent tough-skinned feet, my life could nearly pass for the complacent, comfortable, unadventurous life of a Hobbit.

Middle Earth at last.

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

I am afraid that that basically sums up so many of us out there. So many of us Christians. Paralyzed by fear. Swallowed up with doubt. Empty as a clanging-gong or cymbal. Wholly without love or care. Or eyes that see and feel.

We are so privileged to live without fear of death or rape or hunger or pain. But of course, many will argue that we have many things to fear. And yes, we do. There is always the possibility of a horrible car crash, that vaccines will kill us, that non-organic food will cause our sudden demise. But really. We are so privileged, to be burdened by fear that in the perspective of the larger world, seem so trivial and mundane.

People are dying out there. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

And no one seems to care.

I literally don’t get it.

How have our Western Christian hearts become so callous? Truly it blows my mind.

We have forgotten to feel. We have allowed our hearts to become stone, and fallen prey to the Devil’s lie that it could never happen to us…and that it shouldn’t.

As if we are simply too good to ever experience the horror of what so many others live day in and day out.

I get it. We have issues of our own. We have homeless people, and veterans who probably deserve more. Our education system is hugely flawed. Our politicians largely selfish. Our food system may or may not be healthy. The Mexicans keep crossing the border. We have too many taxes, not enough money, we work too much, sleep too little, we never have enough time. We have problems of our own.

We are Hobbits.

Plain folk, who have no use for adventures. Who care not one bit for those who live elsewhere. With our heads in the sand, and our hearts guarded by stone. We care not and do nothing.

But still, we fear.

It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply.

And the ache in my heart has been fully reawakened by the recent issue surrounding refugees from Syria that has become such a hot topic lately.

My first reaction to my fellow Christians is completely less than wholesome – they’re f***ing refugees for Gods sake!

Refugee noun someone who has been forced to leave a country because of war or for religious or political reasons; :  one that flees; especially :  a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution

And I don’t care if our of the 1000 of them are hurting women and children and one belongs to that infamous terrorist group who I won’t give the satisfaction of naming.

We can’t just ignore what is happening in the rest of the world.

With every chance we have to help, and every choice we make to do nothing, we only allow our hearts to be overtaken by stone.

In this highly political issue, I don’t pretend to know what the answer is. I am not saying that we allow them into our homes. Although I am not saying that we should not.

I only urge my fellow Christians to look at these people as Jesus would. To see the hurt and the pain, to acknowledge the sin and the shame, but ultimately to love and treat with care and respect.

Whatever that means for us.

“Bilbo saw that the moment had come when he must do something.” 

I urge you to prayerfully consider what it is that God would have us to do. Because I cannot believe for one second that He simply wants us to turn our eyes, blind to the reality that could have been ours.

 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

The fact is staring us in the face. And something has to be done.

And in my heart, I feel that the end is nearing.

As a child, the thought of the world ending or the though of dying was just too much for me. I have lived under the oppression of anxiety of these things for so long.

But it is amazing how God gives you what you need.

In one of my psychology classes I learned that normal development prepares you for death. And that the majority of people are truly ready to die when the time comes. I was very comforted by this. Death has scared me since I was young. And it is comforting to know that God has designed us to die, and die well.

I never thought that at 27 I would be alright with the thought that the end times are more than likely here.

A year or so ago, my pastor showed a video of a woman and her family who were being persecuted in some country somewhere. The family had the chance to leave the country, but chose to stay and share His love with whoever they could. The video told of the woman giving her life, literally, to the hands of the Lord. Then her husband, then her children. Through prayer, they committed themselves. And decided that if they were to die, their last words would speak of forgiveness to their killers.

I really struggled with this.

I made myself imagine being in this situation.

And it was hell.

But it is amazing how God’s word speaks.

So that we may boldly say, The Lord [is] my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. ~ Hebrews 13:6

This is the meaning of Azrielle’s name. Her name literally means the Lord is my helper. And this is her verse.

I always wanted my children to have names full of meaning…and sometimes I wonder if there is so much more awaiting them because of it.

And now I have peace. Because this woman- I wish I knew her name, and the rest of her story – has helped me to know with every part of my heart that no matter what is going on around me, no matter how He chooses to use my life and the life of those I love, He will be enough. He will give me what I need.

And I refuse to live in fear. 

And I will see people.

And I will do whatever it takes to allow my life to be the difference, to exude the love, and tell the story that gives Life to all.

Whatever it takes.

And so Kreade and Ellie…

“Things are drawing towards the end now, unless I am mistaken. There is an unpleasant time just in front of you; but keep your heart up!”

In this world full of so many things – decisions and choices, hatred and persecution, right and wrong and everything in between…never loose heart.

Because if it is the end, we have a job to do.

We must be the faithful church. The ones who persevere. The ones who overcome. The ones who keep His word.

We must be great and do great as we allow ourselves to be filled with His love.

And never loose heart.

“Where there’s life there’s hope.”

Do not allow your hearts to become stone. Even if we are called to lay down our lives for the brethren.

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.”

And when that day comes, I will see you when all things are made new.

“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” John 3:17

 

 

The Boy I Never Wanted…

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” J.M. Barrie

“For each of us there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God’s will, to be what God wants us to be. ” Thomas Merton

We all have them. Preconceived notions. Dreams about how life will be. Expectations. Desires.

And we never stop to think that life might turn out to be different than what we expect it to be. Different than what we imagined.

But reality suggests something different than our delusional expectations and oblivious wanderings down the road that we call life.

And then it hits us in the face. Like an acorn falling off a tree. Or a slap in the face. Faster than we could ever dream.

Harder than we could ever believe.

Our first baby was perfect. Looking back, she was probably as close to the perfection of baby Jesus as you could get without actually being Jesus. And we wandered through life, oblivious to reality, and enjoying our delusional wanderings. Dreaming of the next baby, hoping God would give us a boy…further adding to that picture of perfection: a boy and a girl. What could be better?

I always dreamed that I would have a baby boy. Having all sisters, it was hard not to. I always wanted a brother. And there was definitely a piece of my heart that longed for a son. You know, that sweet little baby boy face. With the perfect newborn pictures with sports themed props. That sweet little baby boy that would wear all of those adorable baby boy clothes that I had been googling over for years… The boy who would finally give me what I wanted for so long. A sidekick. A new, exciting adventure. The final piece in my picture of perfection. The boy I always dreamed of. The boy I always wanted.

But dreams are hardly reality.

And sometimes you get exactly the opposite of what you wish for.

Sometimes you get the boy you never wanted.

The cranky, screaming little ball of fury and rage that is more like a parasite than a sidekick. The one that screams loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear if you put him down God forbid for two seconds. The boy who is anything but sweet. The boy who is so hard to love, that your heart stops longing. The one that throws up on, and hates wearing all of the adorable clothes. The boy that is a horrendous adventure, your worst nightmare, and anything but perfection. The boy of my nightmares. The boy I never wanted.

And even when the incessant crying stops, more challenges arise. Now instead of screaming during mommy potty breaks we have moved to blood curdling screams throughout the entire grocery store. Terrifying screams in public places filled with people. Tantrums and meltdowns over the slightest stimuli. And don’t even mention the church nursery…I can’t remember the last time I was able to listen to an entire sermon.

He is what you call a high-needs child. For some reason, one that I still can’t understand, God gave him this temperament.

He was born with it and will live with it for the rest of his life. That’s just how temperament goes – it is stable over the lifespan.

I always wondered what it would be like to have a child with ADHD.

I think that I could have handled that.

I don’t handle the stares in the grocery stores. The admonishing looks as he is half pulling down my shirt our of sheer rage that I won’t let him swipe the credit card while simultaneously chucking a package of baby yogurt because he doesn’t want to put it on the belt. I have cried a few tears in the privacy of my euro-car many times after grocery store experiences. People just don’t understand. They don’t care. And they don’t want to.

And I worry so much that he is going to be totally misunderstood his entire life.

I mean, it took me 18 months of his life to finally understand him. To figure him out. 18 months of day in and day out to finally “know” this boy. So how will others every understand? And how will they ever come to appreciate his temperament for what it is?

Because the reality of the boy I never wanted is this: he was the boy I needed.

Other things I might have understood. I might have dealt with better. But I never would have grown.

Because God has a way of taking our plans and re-writing them to accomplish His plans. His plans in which we actually experience growth, instead of delusions of perfection.

Because we are not perfect. And neither is life.

And maybe Kreade will be misunderstood all of his life. His passion might be mistaken for behavioral problems. The feelings he feels so much more intensely than you or I may get him into trouble throughout his life. His energy might be a challenge in so many settings.

But he is the boy that I needed. The boy his daddy needed. The boy his sister needed.

The boy the world needed.

The boy that God wanted.

And his name will serve as a reminder. A guiding principle or belief. No matter what people think of him, he is loved. And God has a plan for this passionate, energetic, intensely feeling child. And he will be what God wants him to be.

Kreade, I want you always to remember that even though I never wanted a boy like you…I am so thankful that God gave you to us. Seeing the world through your passionate eyes is an experience that words really cannot describe. Everything is so much brighter in your eyes, so much more exciting, and so much more beautiful. You were the boy we needed. The boy who has taught us so many things – to trust, to let go of perfection, to breath.

I want you to know that God understands you and has created you with a purpose in mind. Use your passion to show the world His love. Use your energy for His glory. Use your intensity to be great for Him.

And if you feel as if others view who you are as anything less than perfect…remember this:

“”My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly will I rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 

Because the world may view your temperament as an infirmity, as I once did. But now I understand…God views it as a strength.

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…We Do Not Lose Heart

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

– Edmund Burke

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
― Abraham Lincoln

A while ago I had the harrowing experience of attempting to debate justice and mercy. I hate debates. My blood rushes to my head, and I get sort of dizzy and I have a very difficult time collecting my thoughts and expressing my argument. This is made even worse by the fact that I take a very, very, very long time forming my opinions and thoughts on matters of life and this world; they sort of become a part of who I am. They form me and define me, and I feel so attacked and condemned when I don’t see eye to eye with someone. Then I get really angry and I just want to bash the offenders head against something and hope that I knock my view point into them.

But I am realistic. And I know that not everyone will feel the way I do. Though I wish they did sometimes.

I haven’t been able to get the conversation out of my head. It has bothered me so much so as to keep me up at night. I fear that we forget that we are all people. All imperfect people who are just trying to find our way in this world. And sometimes our faith causes us to feel better-than-you, and we use it as a reason for passing judgment.

And yet judgment has already been passed. And we too were found guilty.

I understand the need for justice. I’m a soon-to-be psychologist and I’ve read the research that tells us swift consequences are most effective, for children and adults alike.

But in issuing justice and the consequences thereof I just hope that we see people. That we really see them. That we really try to understand.

Maybe it’s just psychologist heart…the one that breaks when you learn that not everyone can fit into the mold that society has created. The one that aches for people when you see the evidence of how stressors in early childhood, experiences throughout the lifespan, and how poor choices from the important people in their life causes them to be different. And some of it, though so many Christians would like to deny it, some of it is biological too. It’s who they were made to be. Genetically inherited traits that put them at risk for so many of the things that fall outside of societies perfect box. Because when you were abused as a child, when your mother was never around, when your father did drugs, or you have a family history of mental illness (don’t try to tell me it’s just a lack of faith) your brain develops differently. DIFFERENTLY. They are not the same. And though it does not excuse their behavior, I wish that it would help people understand.

You are lucky.

That curfew your parents had for you…that’s nothing.

Remind them tobe subject to rulers and authorities. To obey. To be ready for every good work, to speak evil to no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward men appeared. not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:1-6

So is the justice we issue and the judgement we pass too harsh? I’m not here to debate that. I’m here to encourage you to use your authority and position which allows your to issue justice and pass judgement to see people. While you do what you feel is necessary, please, take a second and just consider who the person is and why they are the person that they are. Maybe they deserve a second chance. Maybe they deserve some extra support. Maybe they don’t. But they at least deserve to be seen, to be loved, and for goodness sake they deserve our prayers. We can’t just issue justice and pass them by.

We could have been them. In a different world. In a parallel dimension. In a new version of reality. Wherever and whenever, it could have been us.

I really don’t have all the answers about justice and mercy. I wish I did. But perhaps God does not intend for us to  know all things.

I do know though that God wants us to be like Him. And we were once foolish and disobedient, and yet God extended His mercy to us. So shouldn’t we extend mercy to others? To that parent of your student that blew off their parent teacher conference? To that kid in your class that got caught for using heroine. To that addict who backed into your car in the parking lot. And even to the drunk driver who hits and kills your loved one.

Idon’t think that extending love and mercy in any of these situations is easy. But I do think that God does call us to extend it. After all…who are we? Sinners just the same. In need of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness too. Only we know it, and they don’t. How much more so do our actions speak than our words?

But even I with all my heart is not so great at practicing what I preach. Though I feel I do a fairly good job at work extending mercy and trying to love, I know there is more that I can do.

Lately I have come to appreciate the people in this world that I see loving as He does and extending mercy and a second chance like God gave to us.

It’s really quite beautiful. And if you know what I know about people, the way experience causes them to develop, and you see the reasons for who they are…it can almost bring tears to  your eyes. It’s inspirational. And I wish I had the confidence to just take a chance with people.

My father-in-law does a pretty good job with this, I think. It might be the family joke that he hires anyone who is a felon, addict, thief or generally non-typical member of society;I personally think that it is awesome. I think that it is love and mercy in action. And it is God working through him.

I think that he sees people. And their potential to know the love of the father. He gives them a chance. And sometimes it doesn’t work out for him. But I guess you never know the seeds you have planted. And then sometimes it does. My father in law once hired a mechanic to work for him, and there was a whole history of those bad things that don’t fit into societies box. But hired he was nonetheless. I remember this mechanic, I don’t recall ever seeing him smile. But my father in law gave this guy a second chance, and the short version of the story is that the mechanic now knows the love of Christ. He knows the mercy and forgiveness. He has a hope and a future. We saw him when we went for ice cream with my in-laws a few weeks ago. It was the first time I ever remember seeing the guy smile. He told me that by the love and grace of God he was still able to keep his long hair.

Wow. Just wow.

I wish I could be half as awesome.

When we were camping my father in law told me about picking up a hitchhiker who disclosed to him he had just been at some sort of drug festival. Really, the man is just a magnet for these non-conformers. He gave the guy a ride and shared the gospel message with him.

I wish I was half as bold.

But really, it is inspiring and encouraging to see that there are Christians in this world who see people. Who see beneath the exterior of the-world-can’t-touch-me to the hurting soul in need of a Savior. And I just wish that more people would allow themselves to be half as used as my father in law allows himself to be.

Because people are worth it.

Ellie and Kreade, I’m so glad that you get to have a real life example of what it means and looks like to extend mercy and love to those who we might think deserve it least. Remember that not everyone is the same, we are all unique and have unique experiences that form us. Sometimes, people just need a bit more prayer and support. I pray that you will be as bold as your Pa, as as full of love and second chances. Don’t lose heart my children. Allow Him to work through you, and you will see miracles. Because you were worth His son giving His life on the cross. We all were. Let your ministry be seeing people, as He has seen us.

Therefore since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 4:1

When Again I Wish I Were An Elf: Thoughts On This Sad and Broken World

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.”
― Albert Camus

“My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.”
― Jim Henson

Work lately has been…well honestly it has been depressing. I wish that I could share all of the stories of my students. But believe me when I say, this year has been full of heartbreaking stories of the lives of children Ellie’s age.

This world is so full of sadness. It is so full of pain. It is so full of evil and heartbreak and rage. It is sad and broken. And sometimes…sometimes I just feel so worn down by all of the negativity and sorrow. And I wonder what God’s purpose could be in all of it.

Why is this child experiencing abuse? Why is this woman the victim of domestic violence? Why is he choosing to drink his life away? Why, why, why? Why is there so much sadness, so much brokenness, and so much pain?

Halfway through this year I experienced a staffing change and had a new teacher join me in my classroom. It has been a rough spring. As I said before, it has really been quite depressing. These kids come to school, having experienced so much of the sadness and brokenness that the world has to offer. And what can you do? They’re full of anger and most days it just seems like you’re never enough. Friday morning my co-teacher and I were talking about this. She told me a story about driving home the other day after picking her daughter up…she witnessed some sort of domestic dispute involving a man and woman and less than savory words. After telling me this story she threw a thought out there…

This world is so full of hate. There is so many bad things going on. And what are we supposed to do? It’s just so depressing…

And it’s true. This world is an awful place. It is filled with awful people, and awful things.

And what can you do? It doesn’t take long until you begin to feel dragged down by all of the hurt and all of the pain that you see happening all around you. And your mind kind of begins to just shrink into itself and try to forget the world…there is safety inside yourself. Or maybe instead of withdrawing, you just harden your heart and stop feeling. Your heart can’t handle all of the brokenness and sadness…and you slowly develop a sort of immunity towards the pain in this world.

I’ve been in both of these places before. Working as a Head Start teacher I’ve seen so much pain and so much brokenness. And among children so young at that. And sometimes when it starts to be too much I’ve found my mind retreating and my hard turning to stone.

How is a person supposed to handle it all?

How are we really supposed to be surrounded by all of the horribleness of this world we live in and be able to feel? How are we supposed to see the pain and yet live on? How are we supposed to feel the sadness and yet thrive? It just doesn’t make sense. So we allow ourselves to become depressed. And we mentally and emotionally withdraw from the world, and maybe even from the people around us. Because the truth is, the world is sad and broken.

But we’ve got it all wrong.

When my co-teacher threw that question out there my heart immediately responded. I realized that I had been withdrawing into that safe place, amidst all of the chaos and brokenness my class has been experiencing. So I told her the only thing that I have ever experienced to have made a difference in combating the harsh realities of this world.

I pray. 

The only thing I’ve ever found to help in situations that seem just too unbearable is prayer. Because sometimes everything we do is not enough; but prayer is. A while ago I had a child who had witnessed their father shoot their mother. Obviously, this had quite an affect on this little one. Every nap time this child would kick and scream and fight…and I would sit there rubbing their back, trying to soothe. But it never helped. No toy, no amount of rubbing, nothing ever helped. And one day out of desperation I began to pray…and like the flip of a switch the child calmed, and drifted off to sleep. I did this every nap time until the child went of to Kindergarten. It was then that I realized just how powerful praying in the name of Jesus is.

Reality it, this world is a sad and broken place. But the truth is, we don’t have to be sad and broken about its sad and brokenness.

God calls us to have hope.

1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

We are supposed to face this world, along with all its sadness and brokenness with hope.

I know I’m wicked nerdy…but I can’t help but visualize one of my all time favorites here. And no wonder I have claimed that J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary masterpiece The Lord of The Rings changed my life.

The battle of Helm’s Deep. Please tell me you all have seen it!

The Elves part of the wall, of course, will suffice for this illustration.

It was a battle doomed from the start. The “good” guys were far outnumbered. There was no way that they could win. Yet they faced their enemy, remembering the words of the Wise one…”at dawn, look to the east.” Even when the battle wore on, and it seemed as if defeat would occur momentarily. Still, the “good” guys held on to the hope contained in those words. Though they did not know exactly what this hope was made of, they held the hope nonetheless…despite the sorrow, tragedy, and despair of their world in the midst of that battle. And at dawn, their hope came. Turning the tides of the battle and chalking up one win for the “good” guys.

Sometimes I wish that life was more like LOTR. It often seems that physical battle might be easier than the mental, heartfelt battle that we experiences again hopelessness in our reality. But sadly, I will never be an elf.

Though I can hold on to hope as these literary creatures did.

Because God calls us to be hopeful. Despite the sadness and brokenness that surrounds us.

And what is this hope?

It’s the hope that I can face any tragedy and know that I am not alone. It’s the hope that I can combat sadness and brokenness with prayer. It’s the hope that despite it all of this suffering, God has a plan. And it’s the hope that someday…someday we will be free of this world and all of its sorrows.

And we will live forever with the One that has loved us despite it all. The one who loved us enough he allowed his physical body to be broken, and his human heart to feel all of the sadness of everyone who ever lived. But the sadness and brokenness he bore through His death resulted in life.

And it ended with Hope for all of us.

So Ellie and Kreade, I hope that you learn to face this world despite all of this brokenness and sadness with hope in your heart. Yes, this world is a tragic place. But the hope in our heart causes us to fix our eyes on Him. And on living forevermore in the presence of His glory.

The Greatest of These

We love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.
Friedrich Nietzsche

The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love.” 

― W. Somerset Maugham

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 

― Anonymous, Holy Bible: King James Version

It’s what motivated Professor Snape. It drove Frodo Baggins. It caused Bella to become a vampire. And it was the ultimate reason for Jesus to go to the cross. Love.

 
There’s no doubt. I’m slightly obsessed with this theme. This driving force behind life itself. It seems to be a central theme in so many stories and books and movies. Love is what motivated Professor Snape to play the role of double agent – without his love motivated actions, Harry Potter just wouldn’t be the story that it is. Love is what gave Frodo Baggins the strength and the drive that he needed to destroy the One Ring – love for his family, the Shire, and his friends. Without the love driven actions of Frodo the Lord of the Rings would not be the literary classic that it is. Love caused Bella to enter the unknown of being a vampire – and from it we engage in the story and screenplay of adventurous vampire love. Without the love He held for everyone who has ever and will ever live Jesus might not have had reason to endure the cross. Love drives us. It’s woven in throughout our culture in books, movies, and songs.
 
Not only does love motivate, inspire, and drive out actions, it is also essential to live. As a psychology student I have studied the theme of love as applied to child development, adult development, social interactions; the list goes on. Love surrounds us. It permeates us. And the truth is, we need it. Natural studies have yielded heart-breaking information. Children who grow up in orphanages often experince failure to thrive. And why? Because they don’t establish love based attachment that is essential for normal and healthy development. Failure to thrive. Just think about that. A life so severely affected because there was no opportunity for loving attachments. We need love. And not just as a child. Studies od adolescent and adult development yield information that loving relationships are essential for continued normal and healthy development. We don’t ever stop needing to be loved.
 
And yet love is often something that we refuse to give.
 
We hold our love inside, telling ourselves that we don’t need to give it out. We keep it to ourselves, believing that it’s better that way. That other people don’t really need it. If we don’t give out our love we minimize the risk of getting hurt. We use it as a weapon; if I withdraw my love from you I can use it to hurt you, when you do things that hurt me, make me angry, or cause me pain. We use it to mainpulate, to control; and suddenly something that is so essential, so pure and beaultiful becomes a thing that is twisted and used.
 
If love is essential to life, why do we withold, use, and abuse it?
 
And when you are a Christian love is all the more essential. The greatest of these is love. Not only did love inspire Jesus to bear the cross, he commanded us to live in love. But Christians can be those who use, abuse, and withold love more than those who don’t. We forget just how important love really is; and how we are commanded to live in it. We who know the ultimate source of love tend to hold on to it, to keep it to ourselves, and to refuse to share it. We fail to remember that we need to live it, to walk in in, to speak and breathe and let it be the reason for everything that we do.
 
When I got my tattoo – infinite love – I did it as a constant reminder of just how much God loves me. This year I have realized that in addition to receiving the love of God, I need to act in the power of that infinite love. God put a million doors in the world for His love to walk through, one of those doors is you. I love this song. It reminds me that I am one of those doors. And even when people hurt me, the truth is, I’m still called to love them. And what can my love do but help? Sometimes I am so angry at my father for the choices that he has made. But still, I am called to love him. And so now the heart on my neck serves as a reminder not only that God loves me, but that I need to live out His love for those around me.
 
Perhaps we all could take a bit of inspiration from our cultural tales of love. While they may be only fiction their themes ring true. Let love motivate you. Let love drive you. Let love be the cause for everything that you do. And never forget that the ultimate sacrifice that love has made.
 
So, Ellie, as you grow up I hope that you enjoy the tales of love and life as much as I do. And more than enjoying them I hope that you realize just how important love really is. Not only is it fun to read about love inspired adventures, to watch a love story unfold in a movie, or to sing about, but love is essential for life. People need love. And not just those who make you happy or who you like – even the ones who let you down, or who seem to be “unlovable”…they might be those who need it most. Always remember that not only does God love you, He wants you to share that love with everyone around you. Don’t hold on to it, give it out, live in it, speak and act in it. Afterall…the greatest of these is love.
 
 
 
 
 

(Advent)ures of Christmas

“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” 
– Benjamin Franklin

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Some say that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Others, the most stressful. To me, it is what you make it. Having an almost-two-year-old this year has certainly helped to make this season wonderful. While moments of stress certainly do occur when I’m trying to wrap presents and Ellie insists on adding her own bazillion pieces of tape, overall having a young child brings a certain joy to the season. You see the world through their eyes and are caught up inn the wonder, adventure, and excitement of it all. 

However, it is also a season of choice. The age old religious debate: to Santa Clause or not? I grew up “believing” in the Jolly Old Fellow. As a child, my extended family were all “believers” and so it was really inescapable. But Ellie is blessed with an extended family of those who believe in Him who began this yearly tradition with His lowly birth. And so, we decided not to encourage the whole Santa Clause story. In my opinion, this is easier! Not having to try to convince and keep convincing my child that this man in the North Pole is real is way less stressful than focusing on the Truth of this season. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means condemning any Christian who chooses to embrace Santa Clause with their children. My husband and I have simply chosen a different perspective. 

And it really has been quite an adventure.

During Thanksgiving I figured that if we were going to to this, we were going to do it right. It’s basically the only way my mind works. There is a right way and a wrong way and major anxious meltdown if things don’t go the “right” way. But anyways, that is a different story for a different time. So, luckily my mom had given use a great little curriculum of sorts to celebrate Advent. So we decided to go ahead and use it with Ellie. This Advent curriculum contained a story book and 12 ornaments for the tree. Each of the 12 lessons focuses on a name of God; which I always find to be so encouraging. I thought it might be a little bit over Ellie’s head, but hey, why not go a head and give it a try? Unfortunately, this awesome Adorenaments curriculum is no longer available through Family Life; we were so lucky to have my mom pass it on! 

So try we did. And she fell in love. The first ornament was the Baby Jesus…day after day she would run over to that Christmas tree and stand there and say “Hi Baby Jesus.” When she went to bed at night it was back to the tree for “Bye Baby Jesus, love you!” So we continued reading each devotional about the meaning of the names of God and how they relate to Christmas and Ellie would excitedly hang each ornament on the tree. Of course, who knows how much she is really taking in and understanding. But hearing your not-even-two-year-old talk about baby Jesus brings so much hope to your heart regarding their future relationship with Him. Besides, as an early childhood educator I believe firmly in the importance of early experience in shaping a child’s life. It is never too young to begin teaching, and you never know just what children are “catching” …until they spill all that they’ve been absorbing in a breathtaking display of their new-found knowledge. 

Through the eyes of a child…you feel that wonder and excitement to learn about the One who created you, that thirst; even at almost-two. Ellie practically begs to “read Christmas story, dad?!” every day. It’s beautiful. Instead of learning a story about someone who doesn’t exist and will let her down…she is learning about someone who is the Truth, who will never let her down, and holds her life in His hands. These are her first experiences grasping just who He is. And it’s beautiful to watch.

Not only does it melt your heart to see your nearly-two year old embracing Jesus and God and the Christmas story, but it has challenged my husband and I. It has always been important to us that Ellie grow up seeing what it means to be a Christian. But with both of us working full time, me in school, the demands of being homeowners…honestly we haven’t been the best example. Sure she sees us working through problems in positive ways, yeah we bring her to church, yes mom goes to women’s group, we live our examples at work and the list goes on. It is easy to justify the fact that we really don’t take much time to sit down and read God’s word. But the fact remains. This is an area in our relationship with Him that needs a bit of help. 

And this adventure with advent was apparently just what we needed. I wondered aloud the other day what we were going to do when Christmas was over and we had not Jesus story to read; perhaps we should look into getting another devotional to do with Ellie. And when Klayton told me that he had been thinking just that it was quite obvious that this was what God had been planning. So trusty Amazon yielded some great results; I found a book of five-minute devotionals and a one year book of devotions. Although if you think about it too much it seems a little sad that our toddler gave us the kick we needed to get into the habit of diving into God’s word, I suppose it could be worse. 

I hope that continuing to explore who God is with Ellie helps us to gain a new perspective of Him. Afterall, being a child is a theme throughout the New Testament: “Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). While these verses probably have some deep spiritual meaning, for me they are confirmation that we all could stand to be a little more like Ellie. So embrace that desire, embrace that excitement and wonder, and bounce up and down with excitement as you open your Bible in your adventures of knowing Him more. And Ellie, I pray that you never lose your excitement for “Baby Jesus”, and that your heart continues to be open to knowing and loving Him…through all of your life.