Today my brother, Roger has travelled down to Lake Jackson by himself to visit us. (We’ve been in this house for close to 15 years and this is his first time to see it.) I’m grateful for the time we spent going to church, watching football, going out to eat, and just hanging out. He is not out of the woods yet, but he has come a long way. Today, he a different man than he was just a few months ago. He has a renewed faith. We are able to carry on great conversations.
Today, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my brother. I’m grateful for our new relationship. I’m grateful for his effort to come down to see us. I’m grateful to God for progress and for hope. Today, I praise God for all He has done and for His promise to be with us through all of our circumstances.
Matthew 28:20b – (Jesus speaking) – I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Romans 5:3-4 – . . . we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
I clutch the head tightly with the claw and strain to pry the nail out of the flesh leaving an open wound. Sometimes it splinters even more. The bent nails must be hammered from the opposite side in order to be removed. Reclaimed wood is rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered.It’s not very pretty. However, when used in the right context, it can be beautiful. The scars give it character and tell a story. It has rich history. The wood cannot reclaim itself. I must do the work.
My heart is the same. God has been reclaiming my heart piece by piece since the day I chose to follow Him back in 1985. Like the nails that must be hammered from the opposite side, He works from the inside out. It’s a painful process. He is hammering, ripping, tearing, and prying out the damage that I’ve done to myself with my sin. It hurts. It’s not an easy process and sometimes I recognize new splinters in the painful ways that my sin had affected me without my knowledge. The Holy Spirit convicts me and He opens wounds within me, but then Jesus offers healing and has already provided the salve by covering my sin with His own blood.
Like the wood, I am rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered. However, when I submit and let God put me in the right context, I become beautiful. I cannot do this on my own, but in His hands, I have character, a story, and a rich history that He can use for His glory.I become His creation as He molds me into His likeness in spite of my sin and in spite of my wounds. I am His and that makes all the difference.
It’s a week before Christmas. There’s lots to do. I’ve been working all week and finally get to come home. I’m so ready for the holidays away from students – away from work. I’m tired. As I drive home, I start to get excited about being home, being with my kids, having good family time.
I walk through the door and notice the lights are off. My bride is asleep on the couch and my kids are snuggled up beside her watching Mr Bean. They start talking to me and it disrupts Miranda’s sleep. I “shhh” them, but it doesn’t last long. I can tell they’re going to be talkative now that I’m here, so I get up and gently help Miranda to her feet and walk her to bed so the kids can be themselves without disrupting her.
I spend the next hour with kids bouncing up and down on top of me while we watch more Mr Bean. I try to relax and read a little, but the kids keep interrupting. I know it’s important to listen to Kesleigh telling me which coloring book picture is her favorite, but I really just wanna rest. I need a little “cave” time. When Miranda gets up, she sighs and says she wishes I could have gotten Kasen a haircut before we go see Santa tonight. She hasn’t been very subtle with her hints at taking him for a haircut for the past 2 weeks. I even took him one night earlier this week, but the wait was too long. I also remember that she had asked me to go to Best Buy to check on getting a phone for my mom, so I decide to try and get these things done before the 5 o’clock crowd is off work. Kasen and I leave right away, but when we arrive, we’ve still got an hour wait. I go to Best Buy and get the information we needed and then return to Supercuts. We timed it well, ’cause they called Kasen’s name from the hour long list just a few minutes after we arrive.
By the time we’re done, it’s time to meet Miranda and Kesleigh at the mall for dinner and Santa pics. We have a great time and the wait for Santa wasn’t bad. After that, we go driving around town to look at Christmas lights and stop to get the kids a McDonalds shake and then head to BrewNBake for hot chocolate for Miranda and I. The kids are getting restless in the car. They were downright annoying in BrewNBake and continued to be that way once we arrived home. I try to watch a tv show to unwind a bit, but I find myself hitting pause on the remote ’cause I can’t hear. Arguments over who is gonna take a bath first and whining about not being able to find the toothpaste lid – these are normal activities in our house. I’m tired of it. Miranda is tired of these things. I love my kids, but it’s definitely time for bed.
Finally, the kids are down and we’ve both kissed them goodnight. Now I can watch……wait, I still gotta call my mom about the phone. Oh, and get those contacts out of my eyes. Well, I’ll watch for 10 minutes and then do those things. As soon as the 10min are up, I get the contacts out and call mom. The whole time I’m talking, Miranda is correcting me. I don’t have the details quite right, but the gist of my message was the same. If she wanted to be so involved, why did she want me to call in the first place? OK – I hand the phone to her and she handles the situation with mom, masterfully. She’s good.
Now I can finally settle and rest….huh? Oh, you want me to come look at the stuff you bought people for Christmas?? I say “OK,” but I must have said it with some sort of sigh or frustration. Miranda is now mad and explains that I’ve taken “all the fun” out of it for her. She’s right, I shouldn’t have responded with a frustrated tone. I hate that I made it “not fun” for her ’cause she really does enjoy shopping and finding deals. She loves when she gets to show off her purchases and is proud of her work. She does a great job and I love that she takes care of it, ’cause it’s so much easier for me. I shouldn’t have acted that way. I’m the husband who is supposed to “die” for his bride. In our marriage, I’m in the Jesus role and am called to love her as Christ loves the church. He died. I sighed…….I sighed. I know, you may say it’s not that big of a deal. You may say, “Steve, you did so many things right. You died to your own stuff lots of times throughout the day.” Maybe, but Christ died completely, and I didn’t. I’m called to love like He does, but I failed tonight.
LORD, please forgive me. Teach me to love like you. Teach me to be fully present with my children and not just listen half-heartedly to Kesleigh’s stories about coloring books or whatever topic she is currently ranting about. Help me to put down my devices and “do” with my kids – and with Miranda. Give me more patience or a higher tolerance for “annoying behaviors.” Show me how to train my kids away from those behaviors. Give me wisdom to recognize the subtle ways I react ’cause Miranda picks up on them all and I truly want to communicate my love for her in all my actions. LORD, make this season special and help us all to encounter You in each experience – with each family, with each other, in travel, in meals, in gift giving, and in all our interactions with each other. AMEN.
Everyone should experience these 50 things sometime in their lives during the Christmas season. I have already experienced some of these, but some are things I hope to experience.
50 Things to do during Christmas:
1. “A Christmas Story” marathon.
2. Sit in Santa’s lap for a picture. It still counts if you cry your way through it.
3. Adopt a child (or 2 or 3) from the “Angel Tree” at church, buy gifts for him/her, and deliver them.
4. Cut down your own Christmas tree.
5. Decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments that have memories attached to them. Never waste your time making the tree look pretty or having matching ornaments.
6. Sleep way more than you should.
7. Cut and decorate Christmas cookies with colored icing, sprinkles, red hots, etc. (Or just eat the ones your Aunt makes.)
8. Build a fire in the fireplace (yes, even if it’s 80 degrees outside) and read the Christmas story as a family.
9. Let the kids unwrap one gift on Christmas Eve, but make sure they get that same gift every year so there’s still no surprise.
10. Be intentional about spending some time reflecting on Emmanuel (God with Us) – Jesus. Here’s something I wrote about Him. Consistently Emmanuel
11. Participate in a live nativity.
12. Spend at least 100 hours placing exactly 6 colored stars on tree cookies made of green tasteless dough which you will sell to the nearest Christmas Tree Farm to make $$ for Christmas gifts. (This was for you, Laurie.)
13. Go Christmas caroling.
14. Be surprised when someone kisses you under the mistletoe.
15. Attend a candlelight service with your family.
16. Incur some kind of injury Christmas afternoon as you play with your new toy. (“You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”)
17. Give a memory to someone. Experience something together.
18. Unwrap “the ball” with your family. (It’s a tape ball with small gifts wrapped inside. The ball gets passed around a circle and you get to keep what you unwrap. You keep unwrapping until the next person rolls a 6 with a pair of dice.)
19. Watch the greatest Christmas movie ever made: Die Hard
20. Leave cookies out for Santa. Eat cookies left for Santa.
21. Dress up as Santa Claus so that a child believes at least one more year.
22. Instead of buying gifts, give $$ to your favorite charity.
23. Go to the trouble (in spite of the traffic) to take the kids to see some spectacular Christmas lights.
24. Go on a hayride.
25. Obtain an injury and get frustrated as you ignore the instructions and attempt to assemble the things Santa left your kids.
26. Take family pictures.
27. Re-gift. Or use gift cards to buy gifts for others.
28. Watch the eyes of someone you love as they open a special gift.
29. Play football in the yard with the whole family.
30. Put pumpkin pie on your shoe, pretend you came in from outside, and then when someone notices the “poop,” wipe it off with your finger and eat it. (My brother’s idea – and it was hilarious! My grandma is the one who noticed.)
31. Use an advent calendar where you get to do something (Ex: eat a chocolate, hang an ornament, etc.) each day leading up to Christmas.
32. Arrange for your children to play “Jesus” in some sort of local Christmas production. Bonus if you are Mary and Joseph.
33. See Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas production (or at least listen to the recording each year.)
34. Wake up way too early as your kids anticipation gets the best of them.
35. Secretly open a gift, seal it back up, and then act surprised on Christmas morning.
38. Use baby powder to leave footprints from the fireplace to the place where Santa left the gifts. (But make sure you make the footprints go back too – my parents missed that last part.)
39. Count the number of Jesus figurines you can find at grandma’s house.
40. Ask your grandma/grandpa about how they remember spending Christmas as kids.
41. Eat monkey bread.
42. Enjoy a “White Christmas” and do some sledding, have a snowball fight, or build a snowman.
43. Take the family skiing over the Christmas break.
44. Take the family to an old barn and read the Christmas story there among the animals and smells.
45. Bluebell Peppermint Ice Cream – it’s only made during the holidays.
46. Search the sky for Santa’s sleigh.
47. Get stranded due to icy/closed roads in some random west Texas town on the way to a ski trip. End up having to sleep with the animals ’cause there is “no room at the inn.” (It was Quanah, TX and the people of First Baptist Church were very gracious with their gym. They even let traveling pets sleep there.) Here’s a post about this experience: No Room at the Inn
48. Drive all over the country trying to see all your relatives and in-laws on Christmas Day.
49. Snack on Homemade Chex Mix, peppermint bark, and peanut clusters.
50. Celebrate Emmanuel!!! (Jesus = Emmanuel = “God with Us”)
Things not to do:
1. Get so busy trying to do the things on this list that you forget #50.
Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
I don’t know what you hear when you read this verse (or hear someone using it to tell you how to raise your child), but this is what I hear: “Raise your kid right. Teach him all the rules about how to live a Godly life and how to treat other people and when he is old, he will live that way. Train him to be a Godly man, and he won’t go down the wrong path. Whatever you teach him or forget to teach him, will determine how he will live and if he will be a productive member of society.”
Well..I hear something like that anyway. However, this is NOT what the Scripture says. I’m not going to debate all the ins and outs of what I hear, but I do want to point out what the verse actually says. Charles F Boyd says:
“The phrase ‘in the way he should go’ does not refer to some prescribed path that every person should follow. In the Hebrew language, the phrase is better rendered, ‘according to his way.’ And the Hebrew word for ‘way’ is derek, which literally means ‘bent’ and refers to a unique inner design or direction.”
This verse is not about rules and a path, but about a relationship with my children. It means I’ve got to learn how God made them – their spiritual gifts, their skills/abilities, their passions/heart. I need to work at God’s side. God designed my children a certain way for His specific purposes and my role is to watch them closely, to recognize God’s handiwork, and then to join Him to strengthen and grow those gifts within them. I need to pay attention to the people in their lives and the opportunities that God presents to them. All of these things can be pieces to discovering God’s will for their lives. In order to “train them up in the way they should go,” I’m going to have to know something about the way they should go. Building close relationships is my best chance at getting that part right.
In the world we live in, it’s clear that people are able to accomplish more when they operate in the their strengths. That’s what this verse is about: finding our kids “strengths” (spiritual gifts) and then training them to develop those gifts to their full potential.
Home is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Home is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Home calls us away from strife and beckons us into its’ safety. It’s where we find true rest. It’s where we find peace. Home is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Home is where we are meant to be. I love home.
My house is not my home. As we evacuated our house and our town this week, these things became much more clear to me. I looked in the rearview mirror and watched all of our earthly possessions grow small and smaller, shrinking as we distanced ourselves from the path of the hurricane. It was very surreal. This week, I have struggled between the fear of losing everything and the knowledge that we already have all that we need in Jesus. We have our family and yet, my faith is intermingled with unbelief.
“Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” – Mark 9:24
When we drove away, I made some decisions. I decided that I was willing to lose everything that we left behind. I “let go” of our house. I now understand, that I was able to make that decision with confidence because I knew that we would always have a home. Jesus is our home and He has promised to never leave us. He is with us even in the midst of the hurricane. Would I miss certain things? Of course. Mostly things with sentimental value…. Items that are “more” than they actually are. However, in the end, even those things fall short of what Jesus Himself can provide.
Read my first paragraph again:
Jesus is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Jesus is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Jesus calls us away from strife and beckons us into His safety. He is where we find true rest. He is where we find peace. Jesus is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Jesus is where we are meant to be. I love Him.
PS – We have returned from our evacuation and our house has remained dry. Everything has remained the same. However, I have not remained the same. I have been changed. As a community, we have much work to do. I plan to help my neighbors. I’m praying that together we will experience this true “home” as we work side by side. Pray for us.
While skiing during Spring Break, Kesleigh hit a tree with her head! She was flying down the slope and was out of control, but she was too scared to just lay down and fall. Instead she sped down the slope, crossed another run and ran straight into a tree. As a dad, I watched in horror and screamed. My heart sunk as her head bounced off the tree. She was wearing a helmet, but I could see her little eyes close as she fell to the ground and then she didn’t move. I imagined the worst. Was she alive? Was she paralyzed? I was there in just a couple seconds, but those seconds were long, difficult, and frightening. She was conscious. She was crying and scared, but she was alive and appeared to be functioning in every way. I was relieved and thanked God as I grabbed her little body and held it close to mine. I just held her for a while. I was grateful for helmets. Hers had a dent about the size of a softball on it.
Someone came by on a snowmobile and asked if we needed Ski Patrol. I declined and said that I thought she was OK. I was right. She was OK physically, but emotionally, she was not OK. She didn’t want to ski again. She was done and I must admit that I understood why. She had experienced something that would have shaken anyone.
Together, with many tears, and at a very slow pace, we worked our way back down to the lift and then back to the house where we were staying. She opted out of skiing the rest of the day. I didn’t blame her.
The next day, she wanted to try again and so we went out with her cousins and everyone. She was a different skier. A slower skier. A more controlled skier. Unfortunately, at her new pace, she couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group. We had to let them go on without us and so she cried. Grandma stayed with me as I watched over Kesleigh. She didn’t enjoy herself that day. She was sad that everyone went on without her, but she was too scared to speed up. She cried that her legs hurt. She whined saying she couldn’t go any further. She laid on the slopes and refused to get up over and over again. I don’t think she smiled the whole time we were on the mountain together. Skiing was not fun for her anymore. As her dad, that broke my heart, but I must admit that I was not having any fun either. I was growing weary and impatient with her whining and complaining. Yes, I knew she came by it honestly, but I also knew her potential, and I didn’t want to let her settle for staying home and not skiing. She had already fallen in love with skiing and I didn’t want to allow her to deprive herself of all the fun she could have simply ’cause she was scared. Fear can do that, but I felt like this was a perfect time for a lesson in perseverance. (It would test my own as well.)
For the rest of the day, we struggled. She didn’t want to stop, but her pace, her whining and complaining and crying made me want to stop. Even grandma grew weary and tired of Kesleigh’s attitude. When we got home at the end of the day, my mom told me that she thought I should win the “Best Son” and “Best Daddy” award for staying back and watching over them on the slopes. I was shocked ’cause I didn’t feel like I had been a good dad at all. I was really feeling impatient and tired. I felt like I had been short with Kesleigh and maybe even pushed her too hard a few times. Mom thought I had been patient, but mom didn’t know the thoughts that I had been fighting all day.
Here’s what I realized. I can be really patient and I don’t mind going slow when there is effort being made. As long as we’re moving forward, I’m OK with slow and methodical. I struggle when there’s complaining and whining and excuses. At those times, I’m not patient at all. I just want to keep moving forward and none of those things helps the process so I grow weary and lose patience.
Here’s my plea: If you need someone to be patient, put forth some effort. Don’t whine, complain, or make excuses. Just keep working toward the goal.
I can be patient when there is effort. I think we all can.
PS – The 3rd day, Kasen chose join us to help his sister and she did much better. By the end of that day, Kesleigh was back to her normal pace, but wiser with controlling her speed. That’s my girl!!! Proud of my boy too for sacrificing some of his ski time to help his little sister.
Kesleigh told me I was her “Worst Dad.” She went on to explain that her other dad was God. I guess that means I’m OK with being her “worst dad.” Maybe that should even be my goal? Keep propping up God and showing her how great He is so that I sort of fade into the background of her life. Wow….it’s hard to say that, but that’s truly what I want. I want her to be so in love with Him that I’m secondary. I want her to know that in Him, life goes on and she can find everything she needs with or without me.
“It is more blessed to give than receive.”These are words that we hear often during the Christmas season. However, whenever I hear it, I usually have this little “cringy” sort of thing in the back of my neck. (No. “Cringy” isn’t a word, but it’s the perfect adjective for my feeling.) Here’s why I feel this thing:
James 1:16-17a – “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
Ultimately, Jesus is the only giver. We can’t be givers ourselves, unless we have received from Him first. We must first be receivers before we can become givers. Anything I can give to someone else, well…anything that’s worth giving, in some way first came from Jesus himself. Maybe this is also part of why He made this statement. He understood that anyone who is a giver has already received from Him. We become “more blessed” when it all comes full circle and we begin to reflect who He is as the giver.
Psalm 23:1 – “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
If we are in Christ, we are given all that we need. There’s nothing we need that He will not provide. This is the meaning of the phrase “shall not want.” It means He will provide and we can live satisfied and confident that we will be given all that we truly need. As people who have all that we need, we are in the perfect position to share. . . to give. When we realize that most of our stuff is just stuff and the things we truly need can not be taken away, it becomes much easier to give. Not only is it easier to give, but giving actually becomes a natural expression of the love we have for others. We also begin to reflect the character of Christ to others as well. At that point, we also become more grateful to Christ for all that we have been given and ultimately, we worship and glorify Him.
So, I’m in agreement with Jesus. “It is more blessed to give than receive.” But I’d like to point out to the world that we can’t give until we have first become receivers of the greatest gift in the world – Salvation in Jesus Christ.That alone is the greatest blessing, but we become EVEN MORE blessed when we begin giving to others out of this abundance. Our primary position is one of “receiver” and then our goal should be to become a “giver.” Or maybe the better way to say it is that our primary position should be to “give” good gifts understanding that the only way to do that is to receive from Christ first?
What do you guys think?
PS – I don’t think this has any real bearing on my previous thoughts, but it’s interesting to me that these words of Jesus (“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”) are not recorded in the Gospels. They are recounted by Paul (Acts 20:35) as he speaks to the Ephesian elders. There are many things that Jesus said which are not recorded in the Gospels themselves, but this is the only one which is referred to by Scripture itself.
Surrounded by strangers, my mind raced. . . .she’s not here? My heart sank. I went into denial. She has to be here. There’s nowhere else she can be. My heart sank deeper.No. It can’t be. No! No. No. No. My baby is missing. The tears started rolling down my face as I slammed my face into my hands.
My extended family (brother, sister, in-laws, nephews, nieces) was skiing in Angelfire, New Mexico and Kesleigh (6yrs old) was a brand new skier. We all started at the top of the mountain together and headed down a run we had done together multiple times that day. My son Kasen had a little spill and so I stopped to help him and allowed my daughter, Kesleigh to continue down the slope with our group. After getting Kasen settled, we raced toward the rest of our group and caught up with my brother about 1/3rd of the way down. He pointed Kesleigh out to me quite a ways down so I sped up and headed in her direction flying past lots of other skiers. I could see her with my sister as she turned a corner. When I made it to the turn, I saw my sister helping her son get up but didn’t see Kesleigh anywhere. She told me that she must have followed the others on down to the ski lift. There was only one ski lift at the bottom of that hill and she had been skiing with our group all morning long so I felt pretty good about meeting her at the bottom, but raced down to catch her anyway.
That’s when my mind started racing and my heart sank. She wasn’t there. Where could she have gone? What could have happened?Maybe it’s irrational, but I imagined some crazy abduction case or that maybe she had not made it down the mountain and was stuck hanging over the edge of some cliff. Why did I leave her? How could I have let her go on without me? Why? OK…….OK….Calm down. What should I do? OK – be smart. Alright. I asked my family to head up the lift looking for her and then to make another run down sweeping the area in search while I waited at the bottom in case she came down in the meantime. Waiting. . . . Oh, this can’t be. What kind of father are you? Is she alone? Please God. Keep her safe. Bring her back to us. Time moved so slowly. Please God. If I can’t be with her, please put someone else with her to help. My phone started ringing. My sister. She said they had seen Kesleigh from the lift and that she would come over the hill at any moment where would be able to see her. Thank you God. Thank you God. Thank you God.Oh. . . . there she is. As she approached, I could see her whole body quivering from her cry. She skied right into my arms and held her quivering dad who couldn’t control his own crying.
Evidently, she had crashed near my sister in between some trees where no one could see her. By God’s grace, and as an answer to prayer, another skier just “happened” to stop a few feet away from her and heard her crying. She helped Kesleigh out of the trees and got her back on her skis. After waiting a few minutes for someone to come looking for her, they decided that we must be waiting at the bottom. She told me that she knew she’d find some very worried parent at the lift. She was right. I couldn’t thank her enough and have prayed for God to bless she and her family many times since that day. She was an answer to prayer.
After the whole incident, Kesleigh and I talked about it and she forgave me for not being there. She also learned that God is watching over us and helping us even when no one else is.God never leaves us or forsakes us.Even when we are alone, we are NOT alone.