Sunday, April 9, 2017


No one told me that living with teenagers would be like someone taking my purse and dumping it upside down nearly every day.  At best I am scattered.  I am unproductive.  And I am frazzled.

Before the teenage tornado swept into my home, I considered myself a semi-organized person.  I mean, in my own topsy-turvy way that only makes sense to me, I had a system going on.   At the end of the day, I could put my hand on most things.  Now my husband might beg to differ, but he also happens to be one of those super anal organized people who can always locate every single pair of socks he owns and whose shirts are folded in his drawers all particular.

Lately, though, my organization is slacking.  Take my van, for example.  Currently, my van has 'most favored car status' in our home.  Which means sometimes trying to find where my keys were laid down last becomes a game of 'Who's on first? And what's on second?'  {Okay.  I'll admit that before teenagers, I had a slight problem with losing my keys.  But now I wear a lanyard and it has solved most of my problems.}  Getting back to my story, though.  My teenagers borrow my keys ALL OF THE TIME.  Not long ago they were missing for several days.  I was so sad without my lanyard around my neck.  I felt naked.  Then one day my daughter's friend showed up at the front door with my keys.  They'd been in her bedroom she said.

Since my van has most favored status and since teenagers never know their 'exact' plans until literally five minutes beforehand, they often 'forget' to get my personal stuff out of the van before they drive off.  A few nights ago, my purse traveled along with eight teenagers to a soccer game in Graves County.  My sons 'forgot' they needed money to get in the game and buy dinner.  But it was their lucky day because their mom's purse just happened to be right there.  So they made the executive decision to borrow my cash.  Of course they forgot to tell me this.  I discovered it the next day when I reached in my purse to pay for something.  Awesome. 

And then there's my clothing.  It's not unusual to walk into a ball game and see my favorite sweater on someone in the student section.  Or for my Nike shorts to suddenly disappear.  Gone forever.  While my Husband can put his hand on every single piece of clothing he owns, my clothing gets eaten at a catastrophic rate by my daughter's bedroom.   And if it doesn't get eaten by her room, then it somehow gets mixed in with one of the other four children's laundry.  Or maybe a teenage friend's laundry.  Or sometimes I come home from a XC meet and I can't wait to put on my comfy slides but they are on one of my teenager's smelly feet on the opposite side of town.  Of course, I find this out after I spend the latter amount of twenty minutes looking for them.

Or what about the bathroom?  Every time I need my bathroom, it's occupied with someone 'borrowing' our shower.

My mascara.  My mascara and makeup disappears on a recurring basis.

And I believe I've invested a small fortune in buying myself a new phone charger a long with 274 hours of searching for my missing phone charger.

Ear buds?  Don't even get me started.  I'd almost completely given up on owning a pair.  It's just not worth the amount of time I spend searching for the stolen things.  However, my husband did recently get a new I-phone and, feeling sorry for his wife, gave me his old buds.  I was completely enjoying the luxury of listening to music while running until I left them sitting out on my desk one day.  


I questioned them all.  Not me they all said.  I stared at them all wild-eyed in my blue robe with my hair in disarray and stormed all over the house looking for them.  I finally found a pair out in their car.  I snagged them.  I'm pretty sure they were too scared to cross me about it.  

That husband mentioned up there tells me it's my fault.  Don't let them borrow these things he says.  Don't allow this he says.  Hide your stuff he says.  But he doesn't understand.  I'm pretty sure it's part of the unwritten mom code that everything you own also belongs to all of your offspring.  And they know all my hiding spots.  Besides, if I hide things in new places I will just forget where I hid them.

Not only has my stuff been strung all over the West KY area, let's talk about time.  Like when my freshmen told me the night before Homecoming that maybe he really did need some new dress pants and a bow tie.  Oh and probably some dress shoes too.  Or the text from my other son letting me know the day before that he kind of forgot about buying a corsage for his date.  Or someone coming in my room right before I'm getting ready to crawl into bed asking if I can help with ten geometry problems.  Oh and proofread a paper, if you don't mind. 


Hey can you iron this shirt right now before I leave for school in five minutes?  And make my lunch while you're at it.  Can you wash my uniform before my meet that is in two hours?

Teenagers will also migrate to the room that you haven't bothered cleaning for a while and it will become their hangout.  Take Homecoming recently when all twelve people met at our house and somehow ended up in mine and Eric's bedroom.  The room that was completely ransacked from head to toe.  One by one they just kept coming in...until all twelve were hanging out in there amidst the unmade bed and dirty clothes all over the floor.  Because that's what everyone does before Homecoming, right?  Hang out in the parent's bedroom.  I finally joked that they could take their pics in our room if they liked.  They just stared at me because teenagers never get mom jokes EVER. 

Not only has my stuff and my time been stolen, let's talk about my sleep, or the lack thereof.  No one ever told me that I would be more sleep deprived with teenagers than I ever was with toddlers.  You can put toddlers to bed and know they are safe and secure.  You can go to bed at peace.  Not so with teenagers.  When my bedtime hits, they are often still out and about, driving or being driven.  Unsafe and unsecure.  And Mama bears just can't go to sleep until all the cubs are home.  And when the teenage cubs ARE home, mama bears still can't sleep.  Because teenagers are nocturnal and like to slam bathroom doors and kitchen cabinets at all hours of the night.  And they and their friends will do outrageous things like hang out on your roof at 2 in the morning.  Meanwhile my dear husband is snoring away.  He tells me it's my fault that I can't sleep.  Just go to sleep he says. 

Couple the teenage tornado with the fact that my younger two children still do things like leave their slick winter coat on the steps so their mama can accidentally slip on it and fall down the hard wooden steps on her back.


My black and blue, unorganized, sleep-deprived life is not my own.  I've been bought at a price. 

And so, I rest my case.  My state of mind has been taken over by teenagers and tumultuously deranged.  So if you see me at Wal-mart shuffling my feet, make-up-less and with unkept hair, wondering aloud why I walked in there in the first place, have pity on me.   If we have a conversation and I can't find the words I need or mutter unintelligibly, bless my heart.

Teenage identity theft has swept through our home.    

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Power of the Group

Two years ago I started running with a group of women here in Paducah and it has changed my life.  You see, left to myself, I am not the most disciplined person to get myself out the door to exercise.  I need accountability.  And a little pushing.

My group enables me to get my behiney out of bed and meet them for our 5 AM runs.  Believe me, I wouldn't be getting up that early for me, myself and I.  But knowing that people are waiting on me makes me do it.

My running group distracts me, in a good way.  Running produces a lot of randoms pains here and there, from a side stitch to a muscle or foot ache.  When I run by myself, it's hard to not fixate my mind on those pains and make them bigger and worse than they really are.  Not so with my running group.  My mind is able to focus on our conversations, which keeps the pain in check and out of the fore front of my mind.

My running group makes me a better runner. They push me in ways I would never push myself. They spur me on when I don't feel like it. I kind of don't have a choice--if I stop then I will have to run by myself. And most of the time I'm really not sure of the route or where we are exactly (since it's dark), so I'd probably get lost or end up running in circles.  Besides that, I'm a big scaredy cat in the dark.  Thinking that you can't stop on a run is good for the mind, because it's always looking for any excuse to give up. If the mind is tricked into believing there's no way out of running, it will stop trying to nag you into quitting.

My running group is eager to conquer an array of problems. Anything from parenting concerns to work issues, we got you. We're not even afraid to broach the political hot topics of the day. It's kind of like stepping into Lucy's Psychiatric Booth as we counsel one another through the ups and downs of life. It's much cheaper than therapy; the only downside is sometimes the one venting tends to run faster than normal. Of course, all of us Garmin wearing fools are more than happy to announce that we have ventured off pace!

On occasion one of us runners will injure ourselves. Left on our own, we are likely to talk ourselves into running on our injury. 'It's really not that bad,' we justify. This is when the group has to speak truth into the injured one's life. We remind her that she needs to stop running or she will have an even bigger problem to contend with. There have also been moments when we have to yell out 'Stop!' to one of our fellow runners when she attempts to cross an intersection and doesn't see an oncoming car.  It's times like these when the group steps in and serves as a warning bell.
Lately, we have been increasing our miles as we are training for a half marathon this spring. I have been amazed that I have been able to do this. I suffered from plantar fasciitis for so long that I really thought my long distance running days were over. Every time I express my astonishment that I am able to finish one of our long runs, Terri (a fellow groupie) replies, 'It's the power of the group!'

The power of the group.

I've been thinking about this phrase a lot lately. There IS power in a group and it doesn't just apply to running. It applies to many different aspects of life, especially spiritually.

Proverbs 27:17 reminds us that 'As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.'  When iron blades are rubbed together, each becomes sharper and more effective. Just as the people in my running group challenge me to become a more effective runner, I need people in my life to challenge me to be a more effective Christian. I need someone to remind me of God's attributes and His promises when I'm having a difficult day. I need someone to give me God's perspective from His Word when I am tempted to get caught up in the world's perspective.

In the same way that my running group distracts me from the pain and negative thoughts in my head, I need people in my life who believe in me and will encouragingly cheer and spur me on when I'm tempted to be down and out.

Just as my running group serves as a warning bell when faced with injuries or dangerous situations, I sometimes need the people around me to step in and caution me in regards to life's trajectories. I need to be told to stop and consider a decision or choice I am about to make. I need someone to ask me hard questions, reminding me to slow down and critically think through a dilemma.

We only have to look as far as Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 to understand why there is such power in a group:

'Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.'

A group can pick us up or take over the load when we don't have the strength to do so ourselves.  A group is stronger and more powerful operating together than when we try to operate individually. Groups have one another backs and can recognize danger that we ourselves might miss.  Two or more brains processing a problem is far better than one on its own.

Throughout the years, I have been involved in many 'power groups'.  They have come in the face of running partners/groups, Bible studies, church small groups, prayer groups, neighborhood friends, a marriage/parenting mentorship and a homeschooling coop.  Some groups have been as small as myself and one other person; others have been quite large. Some groups began specifically to meet the need of spiritual growth, others (like my current running group) started out meeting a physical need but has morphed into something more.

There is a quote I often share with my teenage children and my FCA huddles: 'You become like the five people you spend the most time with, so choose carefully.' Today I challenge you to consider with whom you are surrounding yourself. Are they making you bitter or better? Are they spurring you on to do great things for God or are they hindering your progress? Are they encouraging or discouraging? Do your times together include honest, transparent conversation or do these friendships stay at surface level?

Perhaps you are in a lonely season of life right now and you don't have such a group--maybe you've moved, changed jobs or such. My husband and I were in such a season after moving four years ago.  Even now, we still sometimes struggle to find our spot or sense of belonging.  I do believe with all of my heart that God wants to answer our prayers when we ask him to bring more fellowship into our lives; sometimes, though, he puts us through a waiting period of quiet isolation in order to fill that void with Himself and Him alone.  If we are willing to see this solitary season as a gift and a blessing, I believe it can be some of the most treasured time with our Father that we will ever experience on this side of heaven.  Such seasons, however, should not be the extended norm; we were created to be in relationship with both Him AND other believers, it's not an either/or.  Also, we need to realize that we have responsibility in the process of cultivating relationships; we can't expect to just sit back and wait for friendships to happen.  Relationships are a two way street and we have to be willing to do our part to pursue them.

How about you?  Do you have a 'power group'?  If not, I encourage you to commit to pursuing and praying for one in 2017.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Hi.  I’m a van.  A big white one at that.  And I’ve been given the privilege of writing to all of you this Christmas season.  For one, I’ve been at the center of all the 2016 family adventures, so it just seemed appropriate.  Secondly, I’ve had a pretty big year: I’ve been vandalized, become insta-famous and been to the beach.  AND just the other day I got pulled over.  Big happenings, big happenings. 

Before I get started on 2016, though, I’ve got to reminisce just a little and travel back in time.  I will never forget that cold, blustery day in 2007; I had just spent two weeks on the road traveling all the way from sunny California to Louisville, KY to meet my new owners.  I sat in the driveway on Lanfair in front of a two-story colonial brick home, wondering why this family had bought me.  Up to this point I had been a rental van driven for business use.

Suddenly, a slew of children came running out of the house towards me screaming like a bunch of wild Indians.  You would have thought that I was a Corvette or something.  They jumped in, so excited to pick out their seats.  The oldest child, who was eight at the time, quickly and proudly chose the very back seat.  Little did I know that one day that eight-year-old would be driving me…

It took me a while to become adapted to this new life of transporting these young children and their countless friends.  Many drinks and crumbs were spilled upon my once clean grey carpet.  Not only was I thrown up in and cried in, but their mother—the main driver of me--was just a wee bit near sighted.  She backed me into a car, two different poles and ran up on several curbs.  The years sped by and the miles stacked up, as I drove to Boston, NYC, Chicago and Florida.  Just as I was getting settled into Louisville, we upped and moved to Paducah.  No more interstate and thick-traffic driving for me!  Now it was all about rural roading and deer dodging.

And in a blink of an eye, that eight-year-old had his license… At this point, I had over 170,000 miles to my name.  I was becoming quite decrepit looking and most owners would have put me to rest.  But one person’s trash is another one’s treasure and this 16-year-old found me intriguing.  Maybe it was the fact that I’m from California that we hit it off.  Mostly, though, I think he liked that he could drive around a large number of friends all at the same time.  At first the parents wouldn’t let him drive me.  I was completely OFF LIMITS.  But as he got more experienced and gained their trust, they began to give in little by little.  I mean, let’s face it.  If I got into a tangle with another vehicle, I most surely would win.  I’m kind of a bully like that.

My first big outing with my young driver was taking a group to Homecoming in 2016.  It was such a hit that I was allowed to chauffeur a group to prom.  These excursions just whetted the palette and soon I was in high demand.  The summer of 2016 will go down as one to remember.  I may look like a white carton of milk on the outside, but my teenage driver really knows how to channel my inner Bentley {Soap Box Rant: Just for the record, most big white vans are not creeper vans.  I’ve been categorically judged all of my life; on behalf of all my fellow big white vans, please get to know us before you judge us. Okay, back to the story.}  I went on a day trip to Kentucky Lake and saw bison for the very first time.  I went bowling in Illinois and watched fireworks on the Ohio River.  However, the van rides cranked up a notch when my teenage drivers bought me an aux cord.  This is when things got serious {some of you may have noticed the plural word ‘drivers’.  Yes, teenage Grogan driver #2 had now entered the scene}.  What a life, driving around #vanbabes and jamming to the latest hits.  Clearly, though, my best moment had to have been when some friends from Louisville came to visit and I was called a chick magnet.  That’s when I achieved a status like no other white van in history.  Right around this time was when my Instagram account came into being.  I was living the dream.

Once school started, my teenage drivers (A Senior and Junior, respectfully) made me the official McCracken County Pep Van.  I attended all football tailgates and games and was given special parking privileges.  My roof was used for such things as bull-horn special announcements and couch sitting (yes, I once drove around the parking lot with a couch on my roof).  After one heated football game with a rival school, some not-so-nice words were written on my hood.  However, it was impressive to see the amount of people who called and texted from our rival school apologizing on behalf of this student.  It gave everyone pause to remember that a game is not worth getting heated and all worked up over.  The event caused the presidents of both school’s pep clubs to meet half court at the volleyball game the following week and shake hands before the game.  In a strange kind of way, I was able to bring these two schools together. 

With fall break quickly approaching, my young drivers begged the parents to drive me to Gulf Shores.  Well along in my years, I was a risky choice.  But after some serious praying and a week at the shop, I was a go.  Driving south down the interstate felt like old times.  I was footloose and fancy free.  It was a great week of cruising the beach strip with #vanbabes.  I held up well until the last two hours of our trip home.   That’s when my age finally caught up with me.  My engine died thirteen times between Nashville and Paducah.  It got to be kind of funny, having to pull over to the side of the road and start me back up.  Daddy Grogan would start me up and take off as fast as I would let him so that when I died again they could cruise at least two or three miles before pulling over again.  We were all extremely grateful to pull into P-town that night.  I immensely enjoyed what was most likely my last trip out of the state of Kentucky as currently I am probated to local area roads only.

I barely had time to recover from fall break before I was decorated up as the Mystery Machine for Halloween.  Fred drove me around town and to a local haunted house along with Daphne, Shaggy and Velma.  While that was a good time and all, it doesn’t even begin to stack up to what happened next.  I was entered in the Paducah Christmas Parade.  Clark Griswold—my new nickname for my Christmas-crazed teenage driver—decorated me as Rudolph, sporting large tree limbs decorated with Christmas lights out of each front window.  I also had a lighted wreath on my hood (acting as a nose) and lighted reins (ropes) hanging off the back of me with #vanbabes holding them and walking along behind.  Buddy the Elf stood on my roof, yelling many of his favorite quotes, including, “THE BEST WAY TO SPREAD CHRISTMAS CHEER IS SINGING LOUD FOR ALL TO HEAR!”  While my lights went out within the first five minutes of the parade and I looked a bit redneck, I still somehow managed to win third place!  I received $100 and a giant trophy that I proudly display in my front seat.  I am still wearing the lighted wreath attached to my hood, ducktape and all.  I’m quite sure that my festiveness had something to do with Mama Grogan getting off with a warning for rolling through two stop signs recently.

For a Big White Van, I’ve lived a full and long life. It’s been one unusual and engaging decade wrought with adventure. While I doubt that this happens, Griswold’s dream is to wrap up my decade of life by taking me and a van full of friends out west on a two-week trip after high school graduation. Word on the street is that they would drive me by day and sleep in me at night under the open sky. Of course, the issue with my engine dying every so often would have to be fixed, but there’s been talk of creating a Go Fund me page. <-- Mama Grogan says that idea is not even the least bit funny and DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. For the record, though, I think a visit to my old stomping grounds would make for a great 10-year anniversary trip, don’t you?

So this is the part of the letter where I take everything you’ve just read and create some kind of life lesson to ponder and bring us all back around to the real meaning of Christmas.  You might be wondering how a big white van could offer up any type of deep thinking philosophy.  However, being on the road gives me lots of opportunity to reflect on things.  And hauling young people around gives me a window into their souls.  What I’ve noticed this past year is how consumed we’ve become with image making.  I’m the perfect example of this.  I mean, I’m a van and I have an Instagram account!  Have you ever contemplated how much time we spend snapping images of ourselves in the form of ‘selfies’?  Then, we perfect our images with filters and such in hopes that others will gaze upon us and be impressed.  We post our images to pages we have created about ourselves in hopes that they will result in more followers and more likes.  Have you ever considered what the word ‘image’ actually means?  Webster defines it as: a visual representation of something: as (1): a likeness of an object produced on a photographic material (2): a picture produced on an electronic display (as a television or computer screen).  Interestingly, God’s ten commandments start with these words in Exodus 20: 3-4a: “You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them (emphasis mine).”

Now don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that Instagram, FB or Snapchat in themselves are wrong. The danger is the amount of time we spend doing it. How we spend our time will always indicate what images or idols we are bowing down to. God’s Word tells us in Genesis 1:26 that He created us in His image to reflect Him. He sent His son to this earth in the form of a baby many years ago to save us from ourselves. To save us from our self-absorption and our self-consumption. When we turn to Jesus and put our hope and trust in him, we become His image bearers. Being His Image bearer means we are Christ followers who reflect Him with the hope of attracting others to Him and not ourselves. But are we more consumed about having our own followers than we are about being a Christ follower? Are we more concerned about the wording of our tweets than we are about the reading of His Word? Are we more concerned about building ourselves up to please men or building others up to please God? Do we live for an audience of One or a virtual audience of thousands? Little devices that can fit in our back pocket have become the norm. But should our preoccupation with them and ourselves be the norm? Has this preoccupation become so big in our lives that there isn’t any room left for Him? Wow, for a van I just did some serious preaching :)

To close, I just want to thank the teenage drivers in my life for seeing the opportunity in me.  They could have easily been embarrassed of my ugliness.  They could have focused on the fact that I’m a bit of an eyesore.  Instead, they chose to take what most would see as a lemon and make some lemonade.  They turned trash into a treasure and now we have a year full of unforgettable, crazy memories.  This is what Jesus does for you and me.  His forte is taking our junk and rubbish and transforming it into something beautiful.  He looks for the unlovely and the ordinary, the lowly and the average.  He’s not interested in the Mercedes and the Cadillacs of this world who have it all together and can basically drive themselves.  He searches out those who are willing to open their hood, admit there’s a problem and allow Him to do some tinkering.  He wants those who will belt out some Carrie Underwood over the speakers, move on over to the passenger seat and let Him take the wheel.  May you sit back in 2017, let Him do the driving and enjoy the ride.


P.S.  Owen wants all of you to know that you can rest easy cause he’s planning on taking me over in 2024.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Middle Pages

For the past three years of our morning school routine, Owen and Jeremiah have always been in Phase Three.  You see, every school starts at a little different time and each child is in one of three time phases.  Phase one, is our 6:45 lone middle-schooler departure.  Phase two, is our high schoolers, Joshua and Sophie.  Bringing up the rear are the two littles.

I have always loved this time I get with Jeremiah and Owen.  Some people talk about cherishing the time with their children that comes right before bed time.  For whatever reason, this 'cherished time' for us is in the morning.  While they eat their breakfast and I pack their lunches is when we tend to have the best conversations.  But the last 10-15 minutes that we spend outside playing while waiting for the bus is perhaps the most treasured of all.  

They go through different phases of what that playing entails.  Sometimes, it's Knock Out.  Other times, it's soccer or baseball.  Right now, the sport of choice is Ping Pong.  

Sometimes, I will play against them (they find my skills wildly funny).  But most of the time, if I haven't gotten to do so already, I read our faithful kids-version 'Jesus Calling' out loud to them while they ping and pong.  Then, we take turns praying out loud as the ball bounces back and forth (I'm teaching them to multi-task, an art form which their future wives' will be ever so thankful).  Though before you get visions of Kum-ba-yah in your head, let me just shatter that for you right now.  It's disjointed.  It's often interrupted.  And I'm quite certain they're not always listening.  And some mornings when Owen announces he forgot to do some math problems or science homework, we are doing well to just not miss the bus.  

As disjointed and imperfect as it is, though, it's special because it's OUR TIME.  It's consistently a time we have, just us

Jeremiah likes to remind me on a very regular basis that this is his last year in Phase Three.  Next year, he will be going to middle school, leaving Owen all by his lonesome.  "Mom, this is my very last first day of school at Concord."  "Mom, this is my very last second day of grade school ever..."  

Wes loves to announce almost daily:  'Guess what, Mom?  Next year you'll have three kids in high school.'

They find extreme joy in bringing these facts up often.

I am someone who has a hard time not thinking about the approaching end.  For example, when we go on vacation, I get depressed on the first day because my mind keeps reminding me that the last day is just around the corner.  When I'm reading a super great book, I get depressed as I get closer and closer to finishing it.  I just don't want it to end.  I want to stay right there in the midst.

Maybe some of you can't watch Hallmark commercials.  I can't watch the social media posts of everybody's children going off to college.  It tears me up every single time.  I don't even have to know you that well to be a goner.  

These days, as I watch the ball get pinged and ponged, you can probably figure out what goes through my mind:  I've got a Junior and a Sophomore.  Next year, we will have three in high school.  Who am I kidding?  Owen and Jeremiah--they're basically almost in college.  

And my stomach goes in all sorts of knots and inside I fall into a heap.

And that right there is the angst.  The rub.  It's that tug in your heart that you feel as a mama, wanting to be able to stop time and just be.  But we can't.  We have to change and adjust with each passing season.  

So friends, tread lightly.  I realize that Joshua is just a year away from his senior year and that everyone is scheduling their senior pictures NOW, but give this mom some time to relish the middle pages.  To adjust and prepare for the final chapter.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

It's Friday but Sunday's Coming!

I remember it vividly.  The season after my mom passed away.  I was so angry.  I was angry about the entire situation, the chaos that had surrounded her death, all the things that went wrong and the fact that she had died.  I felt empty.  Life seemed meaningless and futile.  I felt betrayed by God and in my anger I just wanted to shake my fist and walk away.  I was standing at a crossroads of belief.  I could either choose to keep traveling with God--whom I wanted to yell and scream at--or I could choose to say, 'Good Riddance!' and go it alone.

As I wrestled with this, I heard God say very loud and clearly to me: 'Faith is choosing to follow me even when you don't feel like it.  It's choosing me when everything isn't rosy and beautiful.  It's choosing me in the bleakest of days.'  

My questioning, my crisis of belief, brought me face to face with Hebrews 11:1 and 2 Corinthians 4:18:  

'Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.'  and 'So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.' {emphasis mine}

Faith.  Defined as 'strong or unshakable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence.'  The word I had tossed around so arrogantly and casually before.  Now I was having to decide if I could truly walk it out down to the core of my being.  

I did not end up walking away that day.  Instead, I ended up choosing Him, even though I didn't feel like it.  I chose Him because I knew in the deepest place of my soul that not choosing him would have been even more despairing.

I read something this morning that sums it up well:

'Desperation is better than despair.  Remember, our faith did not create our desperate days.  Faith's work is to sustain us through those days and to solve them.  Yet the only alternative to desperate faith is despair.  Faith holds on and prevails.'

I let my faith hold on that day and in the months to come, it prevailed.  God showed up in the smallest and most mundane ways--in ways that a passerby would have missed.  In ways that only spoke to me.  Sustenance for my soul, it was.  Just enough to keep me going and trudging on when I didn't feel like it.  Day in and day out, holding onto that faith applied salve to my wounds.  Little by little, it solved the seconds and the hours. 

Today.  Today we celebrate what we refer to as Good Friday.  The day that Jesus was nailed to the cross and died a horrific death.  Had Jesus' disciples been told on that grey, dismal afternoon that one day this ugly, chaotic day would be referred to as Good Friday, I'm quite sure that they would have found that absurd.  The day their Teacher, their Rabbi, their best friend whom they loved dearly, had died a brutal death?  Are you kidding?  What 'good' could be found in that?

You see, they too, were in a place that many of us find ourselves-- in circumstances that feel anything but good.  Circumstances that, in and of themselves, just downright stink.  Situations where we can't see a sliver of silver lining.  Just like us, they couldn't see past the moment.  Past the darkness.  Past the death.  Past the tomb.

We're told that hindsight's 20/20 and it's ever so true.  Had the disciples known on that bleak afternoon that Sunday was coming, maybe Friday being called Good would have made more sense.  While Jesus had tried to prepare them about all that was about to take place, they didn't have the slightest understanding or know-how to actually comprehend it.  That is, until after. 

After--when the tomb was empty.  After--when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared right in front of their eyes.  After--when they finally had eyes to see and ears to hear.  

Sunday came and with it came victory!  Grace cancelled out effort and work-based religion.  Life overcame death and despair turned to hope.    

Just like the disciples, we may find ourselves stuck in the darkness of Friday and not able to see the glorious light of Sunday.  In our Friday moments, we have to consciously choose to believe that Sunday is coming.  The dawn of a new day.   

I suppose this is what I did so many years ago after my mom's passing. I chose to take hold of faith even when I didn't necessarily feel like it.  To hold God's hand rather than go it alone.  To say "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!'

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

When obstacles and trials seem like prison walls to be,
I do the little I can do and leave the rest to Thee,
And when there seems no chance, no change, 

From grief can set me free,
Hope finds its strength in helplessness, 
And calmly waits for Thee.'

Thursday, March 17, 2016

In the Darkest of the Dark

My friends.  My friends have walked through the unimaginable tragedy of losing a child.  They have literally been down to the depths of hell and back.  It's been a few weeks since the funeral and now--life goes on.  It goes on for all those around them.  It goes on for their two younger children.  It goes on for them even.  They get the excruciating task of walking forward and doing the normal things in life when life is anything but normal. They are left with a huge gaping hole in their heart that can't be fixed.  Yes, God will and is beginning the healing process, but it will be slow going.  While the pain will diminish over time, nothing will ever quite be the same.    

I've had the privilege of being up front and personal, of being right in the eye of our friends' storm.  I've had the honor of watching our friends cling to Jesus in the center of their trauma.  Here's what I got to witness of my mama-friend:  years and years of personal Bible study and prayer coming to fruition right in front of my eyes.  You see, for years and years, day in and day out, my friend spent time getting to know her Father.  She spent time in women's Bible studies.  She spent time in prayer.  She and her husband made it a habit to take their family to church.  This was not just one portion or compartment of their life.  It was the center of their life.  And when she found herself in the eye of a storm one Thursday afternoon, guess what kept her from being swept up?  The One whom she'd spent all those countless hours with, day after day, year after year.  The One who knew her before he laid the foundation of the earth.  The One who knows what she needs before she knows she needs it.

Those days and days of spending with her Savior.  They were training camp.  They were strengthening her for such a time as this when He knew she'd need to recount all those promises she'd studied in His Word.  For the darkest hours of the night when she would need to cling to Him.  The past four weeks I have literally watched my friends be a pillar of strength.  I have watched their foundation stand strong and not topple.  I have witnessed a house built upon the Rock and not upon sand.  I saw an inner strength and ability within them that wasn't them.  I saw my mama-friend grab her friends' hands in the darkest hours and not ask for prayers, but lead the prayers.  I saw her husband lead her and himself through difficult decisions and then gather up friends and family and explain things with strength and clarity.  Minute by minute, God has sustained them.  He gives them what they need when they need it.  He even gives them glimpses of His glory that emboldens them to trudge through the muck and mire of the present.

These days, I worry about the generations behind me.  The generation that has grown up amidst the cell phone technology.  Those that have never known what life was like unplugged.  I worry that they aren't learning how to be quiet and read God's Word and let it truly saturate their minds and thoughts.  I worry that they're not adequately experiencing training camp, that they're not putting in the time that it takes to build spiritual muscle, the time that it takes to build a sturdy foundation that will not topple.  I worry about all of us, really, how we are letting every inch of our lives be filled with activity and movement.  We have lost the art of being still.  Being still and truly knowing our God.  With each distracted moment, we are allowing our spiritual muscle to atrophy.  We are letting it get weak and flabby.  And weak and flabby can't withstand the weight of catastrophe.

One day, for each of us, adversity will strike.  It's not a question of if.  It's a question of when.  When that happens, I want to be like my friends.  I want to know God so well that I cling to Him like a well-worn blanket, full of familiarity, safety and warmth.  I want His promises and words to invade my mind as naturally as my heart pumps my next breath.  

My friends.  My friends are going to make it--not because of their own ability or strength, but because of their God's.  They are going to make it because they are resting in the shadow of His wings and they are tapping into the one and only source that is able to supply what they need, exactly when they need.  He enables them to run and not grow weary, to walk and not be faint.  He promises to never, ever leave us or forsake us, even in the darkest of the dark.  

I find great comfort in that.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them,  for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."  Deuteronomy 31:6

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27“The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”  Matthew 7:23-27

"Those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint."  Isaiah 40:31

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pressing on Toward the Goal

Once upon a time in a race of life, there were thousands upon thousands of runners competing for a prize. The course was a mixed bag of highs and lows and twists and turns. Some miles were relatively flat and easy-going, while others were mountainous and rugged—filled with rough terrain and uneven footing. The playing field was a talented bunch, displaying a diverse set of strengths and weaknesses. While victory was within reach for each of these participants, so was defeat. The competitors’ responses to the challenges, distractions and hard knocks they met along the way would ultimately determine their outcome. The participants were from all walks and stages of life:

Running on Empty was full of promise and potential; he was gung-ho and over-zealous to conquer the world. He started out strong and seemed unstoppable. Unfortunately, this over-zealous trait ended up being his down fall. After saying yes one too many times, this one flitted from one activity to another, forgetting to refuel along the way. A people pleaser by nature, he made other people’s happiness his goal. Soon, too much over-commitment with little rest and a to-do list forever long resulted in burn-out. Running on Empty began losing his fire for obtaining the prize. Overcome by weakness and hopelessness, he sat down in the middle of the road and couldn’t go on.

Control Freak had the most proper and precise running form of all. This athlete worked harder than anyone else, determined to come out on top. He had a stellar training plan, with every minute of every hour of every day accounted for. Unfortunately, Control Freak was too scared to let go of his way of doing things. He was too afraid of taking chances and risking failure. Over time, the unknown challenges of the course and the constant ‘What-If’s’ that plagued his mind were simply too much. Worry overcame his mind to the point that it affected him physically, rending him only a mere shadow of what he could be.

Pinterest was the most lovely competitor of all. Sporting the best running gear around, Pinterest had it going on. All of the other competitors were quite impressed (and a bit envious) of his style and appearance. After all, he appeared perfect. Pinterest attempted to create a perfect, heavenly home in the here and now, not realizing his nearsightedness was forfeiting his right to the real thing. Pinterest got so cozy and caught up in beautifying the course that he lost interest in running for and obtaining the prize. He finally stopped running altogether, settling down in his darling home full of home-made delights.

Accolades was quite talented and showed great potential. So much so, that he was a crowd favorite and was reminded often of his greatness. But Accolades became too reliant upon the affirmation. He started running with his cell phone, recording every step he made on social media. He compared himself to others, measuring his worth based upon how many ‘Likes’ and ‘Comments’ he obtained. Accolades got so caught up in boasting in his present life and what other people thought about it that he lost sight of the prize. One day he took a wrong turn while texting about himself and never got back on course. He’s been distracted ever since.

Life of the Party was the runner all of the other participants wanted to hang with. He kept the course fun, fun and more fun. Life of the Party filled every inch of the route with good times and entertainment. Fantasy Football, Netflix, X-box, nightclubs, social gatherings, you name it. If it was entertaining, Life of the Party was all up in it. The party stops and leisure activities became so consuming that Life of the Party lost interest in moving on down the course towards the prize. When he pulled out of the race, several other participants who he’d influenced along the way followed suit.

Shame stood out tall and confident at the start line. He had great hope for a strong finish. But, he began running with a crowd that persuaded him to take paths he later regretted choosing. Even though he finally got back on course, he couldn’t shake the voices that screamed he was unworthy of the prize. Shame hung his head in guilt; feeling like an undeserved misfit, he limped along at a snail’s pace.

Embittered began with light feet and a skip to his step. Things seemed promising. But somewhere along the way, another participant tripped him up and caused him much grief. Rather than letting this go, Embittered held on to the hurt and let it fester into unforgiveness. Year after year, Embittered continued to harbor hurts from others, allowing them to weigh him down. Finally, the unforgiveness was so heavy he could no longer keep moving, nor did he have the desire to keep moving. Instead, he sat on the side of the road in his misery, hurling insults at the other participants as they ran by.

Running on Empty, Control Freak, Pinterest, Accolades, Life of the Party, Shame and Embittered—each one of these runners represent sin struggles. While each struggle is a little different, they all have one thing in common: they represent an emptiness in the human soul that wants desperately to be filled with something. I can definitely identify with every one of these runners, some of them more than others. Perhaps your sin struggle has a completely different name associated with it. Whatever it is in our lives, it entices us to move off the race path. It entices us to keep choosing wrong things over and over again, until one day we realize we are further off course then we ever meant to get.

Here’s the wonderful part of the story, though. This race isn’t over yet.   Every one of these runners can choose to get back on course—and so can you and I.

It begins with surrendering. Surrendering our struggles to the One who can heal our hurts and fill us up. What does this look like exactly? It’s as simple as talking to God about where you are failing, where you are messing up and where you are stuck. 1 John 1:9 tells us that ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ We cannot change on our own—it requires asking for help from our Lord God ‘who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ (Eph. 3:20).

The next step is spending time with Him by studying His Word. This means making room for Him in our lives. Never in the history of mankind have we lived at a more distracting time then right now. We have more information and entertainment at our fingertips than we know how to handle. Setting aside a time ‘to be still and know that He is God’ is becoming more and more difficult in our noisy, techy world. But we must fight each and every day to make this happen if we are going to live in God’s strength and not our own.

Last, God’s Word tells us in 2 Cor. 12:9 that ‘His grace is sufficient for you, for His power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’  Notice that the word ‘Grace’ includes ‘race’.  This is great news for Running on Empty, Control Freak, Pinterest, Accolades, Life of the Party, Shame and Embittered (as well as you and I)! They and we can get back in the race! They and we can ‘press on toward the goal to win the prize of Christ Jesus’! But not on our own accord. Human ability, left to itself, gets lost in the wilderness. Only God’s amazing grace will result in a worth while race. His power rests on us and through us when we humbly admit our weaknesses—it’s then that we will see His ability, not our own, raise us up and carry us over the finish line.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me,

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now, I see.

T'was Grace that taught...

my heart to fear.

And Grace, my fears relieved.

How precious did that Grace appear...

the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares...

I have already come.

Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far...

and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me...

His word my hope secures.

He will my shield and portion be...

as long as life endures.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus!” Phil. 3:14