Happy Birthday Mom

September 13, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

To my mom:

 

Everywhere I go, people come up to me and say “I just love your mom!” “I wish I had an ounce of the patience that she has!” “How does she do it?” People are drawn to your smile. You are real and genuine. You are truly happy. You are a strong woman. I’ve been around you all my life, and I can testify to the truth of this statement! I do not know a better woman than you. You are the most loving, caring and compassionate person I’ve ever known!

 

But I know that you would be the first to say that it’s only by God’s grace that you are who you are. You’ve shared stories of your struggles before you met Jesus, and you’ve shared stories of your journey since meeting Jesus. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make you perfect, but at that point, God starts a work in your life of conforming you to be like Jesus. It’s a continual work, and it isn’t finished until we reach heaven. You share openly with others that there was a time when you were “without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace…” (Eph. 212-14).

 

That is the most amazing thing about you! Jesus shines through you, and that is what is most attractive. Your words are uplifting and kind. His love flows through you to everyone you come into contact with. You are not a perfect person. You mess up like everybody else. But you are humble and are quick to make things right.

 

Coming up with this list of things I'm most thankful for in you was the easiest thing I've ever done! You're a gem. “Your children rise up and call you blessed. Your husband also, and he praises you! Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:28-29).

 

There isn't a specific order here, but as they came to mind, these are some of the top things I love and adore in you as a mom, a woman, a wife and my greatest role model!

 

Thank you so much...

-for giving birth to me (I now understand first-hand what a labor of love childbirth is, and I can not thank you enough!)

-for not stopping at 4 kids (as #5, I can say that I'm so glad to be here!)

-for siblings... All of them!

-for praying with us

-for carrying on joyfully even after nights of minimal sleep, and your display of God's sweet and enduring grace

-for letting us eat leftover pizza for breakfast

-for letting us rearrange the living room for our "forts" and "castles" with a combination of couch cushions, dining room chairs, cardboard boxes and duct tape

-for carrying around your “50lb” purse, which also doubled as our first-aid kit, diaper bag and catch all for sippy cups, sock, toys and everything else!

-for memorizing our likes and dislikes to a "t"

-for memorizing scripture with us from a young age

-for correcting not only our wrong actions, but taking the time to dig deeper and discover the underlying attitudes

-for not allowing tattling, but encouraging us to communicate calmly with siblings and work things out amongst ourselves whenever it was possible

-for setting up as our “super heroes” great women and men of the Christian faith (George Whitfield, Fanny Crosby, Adonirum Judson, Gladys Alyward, George Mueller, Amy Carmichael, Susannah Wesley, David Brainard)

-for reading us so many stories and biographies from these laymen, missionaries, hymn writers, preachers, evangelist, etc., and giving us a vision of what God can do through us if we live lives yielded to him

-for teaching us deep and meaningful lyrics from hymns of centuries past!

-for being patient and continually leading me in the right direction, though I was quite a handful!

-for telling us stories and teaching us life lessons from your childhood

-for reminding me time and time again to take my burdens to Jesus in prayer

-for showing me that Jesus could forgive me for everything I've ever done wrong, and give me a clean slate to start over again

-for unconditional love

-for teaching us to apologize by saying "I was wrong for __(what I said/did)___. Will you forgive me?"

-for choosing to forgive those who hurt you before (and regardless of if) they ever apologized or took responsibility for their actions

-for warning us that harboring bitterness and resentment in our hearts towards others is like drinking poison and hoping for the other person to suffer

-for blessing your enemies— literally. So many times I've seen people say and do incredibly hurtful things to you, and yet when those same people are in need, you're the first one to come to their aid, and give of your time, money and energy to see them prosper.

-for teaching us character lessons, and showing us that only Jesus in us can give us the power to do what we should when our own natural inclination would lead us to do or say something we shouldn’t

-for centering homeschool lessons around God's Word

-for speaking with soft words even when you feel like yelling, and teaching us kids by example that "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1)

-for believing in the work that Christ is doing in our hearts and holding us to a higher standard

-for knowing when to give advice, and when to simply give a listening ear, a hug, and a shoulder to cry on

-for the bold early tween/teen talks about how God designed our bodies and His purpose for sexual purity

-for the "I remember what it was like to be your age" talks, and helping me realize that I wasn't weird but completely normal

-for comforting me when I was emotional and praying me through a tough day

-for modeling hospitality by having people into our home regularly for meals and spiritual encouragement

-for not being a perfectionist, and for seeing the beauty in the toddler fingerprints on a newly cleaned window

-for always letting us make a pallet on your floor or sleep in your bed when we had a scary dream or were awakened by a thunderstorm

-for all the hundreds of outfits, wet sheets and pjs you patiently and endearingly washed for the potty-trainers over the past 20 years

-for all the times you let us "help" you with projects such as making meals, even when it took 2x as long and sometimes made more of a mess than if you’d done it on your own

-for the one-on-one outings to run errands with you, and the anticipation of knowing you'd always give us $1 so we could pick out a special treat

-for engaging me in deep and meaningful conversations and showing me that you cared about my opinion and input

-for listening while I talked

-for family meetings

-for letting us climb to the very top of the trees in our backyard, though the thought of my own kids doing this makes me so nervous!

-for being ministry-minded, even when we were all young, and thinking of creative ways for us to catch a vision for serving others (raking leaves/stacking firewood for the elderly, baking cookies for neighbors, singing in nursing homes)

-for pulling out the rolling pins and cookie cutters and letting us make sugar cookies on a rainy day

-for praising us publicly, but always speaking words of correction in private

-for not gossiping or saying embarrassing things about us kids to others, but building up and speaking words of life instead (though in sure you have a boatload of hilarious stories you could share)

-for being an example of a godly marriage, and giving us confidence in your love for one another! (Even when we’d pretend to be grossed out by your kissing, we were grateful to know that mom and dad loved each other, and that nothing could ever come between that!)

-for your love for bargain hunting (clearance racks, thrift shops), and teaching us to us be good stewards of the money God gives us

-for teaching me the value of diligence and following through with what I started

-for being there for me during my labor and delivery, and staying with me for a week afterwards to help with baby, meals, house cleaning

-for the individual jars of pickles at Christmas

-for dealing with stomach bugs and flus, even in the middle of the night, and hugging and kissing the sick ones knowing that increased your chance of coming down with it yourself

-for staying up in the night with crying babies, rocking, cuddling and singing lullabies

-for keeping a mile-long med chart when we all came down with the flu or stomach bug

-for turning on a sprinkler in the backyard on summer days, and then mopping up water after us when we had to come inside for a potty break

-for the example of how you've reached out and invested into the lives of others, from the beginning of your marriage and still continuing till this day (opening your home to homeless, church bus ministry, personally bring people to church, leading bible studies, hospitality, love, giving financially, spiritual encouragement)

-for walking the walk you desired for us walk

-for your real and genuine relationship with Jesus, and for sharing with us regularly things you were learning from the Bible

-for not allowing teasing or hurtful words to be spoken

-for telling us to “Put yourself in that person’s shoes and ask yourself ‘Is that how I would like to be treated?’”

-for making a regular habit of asking us “How are you doing?”— and knowing if “Fine” simply meant fine, or if we needed you dig deeper with “How are you really doing?”

-for being a safe place to share our heart

-for letting us older kids pile on your bed after the littles had gone to sleep, and staying up with us till two and three in the morning just talking about life, dreams, and plans for the future

-for meals together around the family table

-for chipped beef gravy on toast

-for your hearty beef stew that had all us kids eating our vegetables and loving them!

-for holiday feasting on pumpkin pies and your delicious, buttery dinner rolls— and the balls of dough you would always set aside so we could pull up a stool and try to make our own miniature versions of whatever you were baking!

-for making the switch from white bread to wheat bread easy with lots of butter ??????

-for your homemade wheat pancakes that were so yummy we would (and still do) eat them plain!

-for buying our family a Champion juicer and teaching us a love for carrot juice, and also for the discovery of how it makes an awesome fruit sorbet (I remember some kids choosing that to be served at their birthday party over ice cream—it’s that yummy!).

-for saving every lost tooth in a Ziplock bag, and Sharpie-ing all the important data on it for us: age, date & time

-for our individual keepsake boxes where we could store our treasured items!

-for helping us cope with loss of pets, and the burial plot in our backyard for our favorite dog, Dixie

-for enduring years and years of squeaky violin and noisy piano practice, and cheering us on every step of the way

-for fun “music practice challenges” that required us to practice 5x a week for 6 weeks straight, the reward being that you took all the winners got to go out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants!

-for taking beginner music lessons and being taught right along with us in order to understand what we're learning and help us as new students

-for patiently tutoring us in our school subjects, and never discouraging us if we were having a hard time grasping a new concept. (I remember a period of time where you took a little group of us to Burger King from 6-8am for weeks in a row for extra-focused tutoring on some subjects! You’d buy a couple orders of tater tots, and then we’d get busy tackling our homework. We thought that was just the greatest! You always made learning so creative and fun.)

-for teaching us how to cut hair (we must’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years!)

-for getting your real estate license, insurance license & dealing cars, but embracing your career as “Mom” above all else!

-for realizing that as parents, you and daddy were responsible for every influence you allowed into our young and impressionable lives-- and guiding us to make good choices with the things we viewed with our eyes, the music we listened to and the friendships we formed

-for giving us the joy of getting to pick out outfits for the new baby (though things didn’t always match) and letting us try to feed the toddler his baby food (even though it would’ve been faster and less messy if you’d done it yourself)! We were on top of the world, and who needed pretend dolls when we got to love on, kiss and cuddle with the real deal!

-for the experience of grocery shopping in a 15-passenger van (often taking out a bench seat or two so everything would fit), and buying enough for a small restaurant!

-for hundreds of noses wiped, faces kissed, hands washed, hairs fixed, diapers changed, boo boo's bandaged and baths given

-for hundreds of loads of laundry washed and folded, long before any of us were old enough to lend a hand

-for unending dishes upon dishes, and the genius of eventually labeling everyone their own cup & plate to wash themselves after every meal!

-for the frugality of homemade laundry soap & baby wipes (we should really add up these savings!)

-for the inspiration you are to us all, getting up at 6am to workout-- and listening to awesome sermons on your OnePlace app to power you through!

-for sticking to your "one sweet treat a week" (for the most part ;-) and encouraging us all to eat better!

-for filling the kitchen with healthy snacks of cucumbers, tomatoes, apples and bananas, instead of chips and sodas, etc.

-for figuring out a hundred different ways to eat beans and rice, and feed a big group on a budget!

-for the creativity of keeping toddlers entertained with boxes of special puzzles and toys while you nursed a new baby! (I'm definitely keeping this in mind for future days!)

-for not comparing us to other siblings, but encouraging each of us to be the best that we can be with personalities, gifts and talents God has given us!

-for being a Titus 2 woman, and reaching out to younger moms with support, encouragement, and prayer

-for doing the "good manners chart" from time to time— giving us marks for "please," "thank you," "yes ma'am," and "yes sir," and a special prize when the goal number was reached

-for setting the clocks around the house to run 10 min fast in hopes that it would help us to get out the door on time and be more punctual!

-for filling our home with melodious Christian music, which even in the midst of chaos, would help bring about a peaceful environment

-for not using movies as a babysitter, but doing crafts with us, taking us to the park, organizing ministry projects, and thinking of new and creative ways to have fun together as a family

-for your selfless example of caring for your father when he moved in with us after his car accident

-for not saying "because I'm the mom and I said so!" but instead, leading us to search out the Bible for ourselves and encouraging us to form personal convictions based on God’s Word

-for praying us through tough times

 

 

…and the list could go on and on!

But thank you most of all for leading us to Jesus Christ!

 

Thank you for teaching us that Salvation is a free gift, not something we can work for, earn, or ever deserve. Thank you for showing us that it is by turning from our sins and to Jesus that we obtain this gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 

Thank you for showing us that, while we fall short every day, we can come to Jesus for forgiveness, He will pick us up and we can move forward. His grace is sufficient for every trial we are facing, and He will never leave or forsake His children.

 

Thank you for showing us the unconditional love of a Mother, and in this way, representing the unending, unfailing love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

We are forever grateful for your investment into our lives!

Thank you!

-Jessa

Quick Thoughts About Prayer

August 26, 2016

 

 

 

 

As Christians, prayer is a subject that gets talked about quite a bit. It is not abnormal for us to talk of the importance of a strong prayer life, and to read books and hear sermons about praying. But do we live as if it is vital? In other words, do we really believe that prayer is as important as we say it is? If we did, wouldn’t we make prayer more of a priority in our lives?

 

I know in my own life there is a seemingly constant battle within myself to not stand in my own strength. It is far too easy for me to wake up and not begin my day with little prayer. It is far too easy for me to make plans, work my job, or embark upon some ministry project without consulting my Lord and His Word, and petitioning Him for wisdom and strength.

 

Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in Him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.”

 

Jesus commanded us to abide in Him, but how can we abide in our Lord if there is no communication with Him? Prayer is our communication with God, and any relationship expert will tell you that communication is essential to a healthy relationship.

 

Furthermore, Jesus says, “Without me you can do nothing.” He does not say, “Without me you can do little.” He says “nothing”. Apart from God’s help, we cannot bear spiritual fruit, fulfill the Great Commission, or respond rightly when the children make a mess on their clean clothes two minutes before it is time to leave. I praise God that He is often so faithful to help me, even when I take that help for granted, neither asking Him nor thanking Him for it! But I definitely don’t want this to be the norm. I want to always recognize my need of Christ and live in perpetual gratitude and praise to Him.

 

Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” It does not simply say, “Be strong brothers! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Don’t be weak!” It says to be strong “in the Lord” and “in the power of His might”. How is this done? We must not be strong in our own strength, for it is weakness. As we already examined, without Christ we can do nothing.

 

The next few verses in Ephesians 6 talk about putting on the whole armor of God. The vivid imagery concludes with verse 18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thus with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”

 

Craig Hamilton wrote in his book Wisdom in Leadership: The How and Why of Leading the People You Serve,

 

The local church exists to accomplish things that aren’t possible. The church exists to see people transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light and to see them transformed into the likeness of the Son of God—all of which is impossible. But with God all things are possible, which is why we need to pray. Unless God is in it, nothing we do will be of any eternal significance.    (Hamilton 43.)

 

Is it okay to pray to God for help in praying better and more frequently? I believe so. In my own experience and to my exceeding joy, this has been a prayer God has been pleased to answer. One line to an old hymn says, “I need Thee, Oh I need Thee! Every hour I need Thee!”(Hawks, 1872). We truly need God every hour—indeed, every passing moment! May our lives reflect this reality by being prayerful.

We're Having A Baby!!!

August 23, 2016

 
 
 
 
  

 

 
 
We are overjoyed to announce that Spurgeon has a new title in life as “big brother"! We are so thankful that God is adding to our family. 2017 is shaping up to be a wonderful year already and we know Spurgeon will do a great job in his new role. Having Spurgeon has been such a wonderful blessing and we cannot wait to see the face of this sweet new baby (or babies!). 

Playing Southwest

August 10, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We’re going to absolutely crush Southwest!”

“I can’t wait to get out there and show them who is boss!”

My high school football teammates and I had been looking forward to this game against Southwest more than any other on the schedule. It was a chance to prove ourselves against a highly favored opponent. Southwest was well established, coached, and organized as a team, with plenty of hard-working players. We were a first year football team, still figuring things out, with only 13 players, but we had some talent on our team and a lot of confidence—a little too much. This was the third game of the season, and so far we were undefeated at 2-0.

I was starting at quarterback and this was my first opportunity to play football on a league. I was 17, a homeschooled senior, and taking some courses at the local community college. This was the closest thing to the fulfillment of my life-long dream of playing college football. In my youthful pride I walked from class to class on the community college campus thinking to myself, “I am a student-athlete.” I loved the sound of that.

Game-day morning against Southwest finally came. This would be a mid-day game. The sun shone brightly and the weather was pleasant, but as I strapped on my pads and went through warm-ups I was especially jittery. My adrenaline reached an all-time high as I glared at the Southwest players across the field going through their stretch routine. I dropped back to threw a couple of warm up throws to my teammates, tingling with excitement.

We had a tradition—if you could call it that for a first year team—of getting pumped up before we ran back out onto the field right before the coin toss. My buddy Daniel and I would push each other and yell, “You ready boy!?” as the rest of the team stood around us in a circle. Then we would turn to them and push and shove them a little, yelling to get them pumped up. There was a special energy today as we turned from our pregame tradition and charged through the poster that separated us from the field and Southwest.

A lot of thoughts raced through my head as I stood impatiently on the sidelines. Southwest got the ball first, taking the opening kickoff far down the field. “Come on guys! Tackle!” I yelled. A couple of plays later, Southwest scored an easy touchdown on a pass from the quarterback to a wide open receiver.

“That was too easy. Just wait until I get out there. I’ll run over, past, and through their defense.”

I loved playing physical; I was determined to be a tough runner that defenders feared to tackle. I never slid or stepped out of bounds to avoid hits—I wanted to deliver hits on the defenders, so they would be less eager to try to bring me down the next time.

Now was my chance to prove myself. Time stood still and the noise of shouts from fans on the sidelines seemed to fade to a hush. I walked up to the line and scanned the Southwest defense.

They were big. They looked fast. My gaze stopped and rested on their linebacker who was tauntingly pointing at me. I wasn’t going to have any of that. No intimidation for me. I was confident he would be sore by the end of the day. I smiled a taunting smile and pointed back at him. “You won’t be so cocky after I run you over.” I thought. 

“Down! Set...” I heard the cracking sound of helmets and grunts as the linemen collided as I dropped back to pass. Bobby was running right out of the backfield. We had successfully run this play before, but as the ball left my hand, my heart melted. A Southwest defender leaped up out of nowhere and intercepted the ball, sprinting for their second score.

Anger and fear welled up within me at that moment. I had to catch him before he scored; my ego depended on it, and maybe the game.I streaked down the field the fastest I had ever sprinted in my life, and I doubt I will ever run that fast again.

After the game, my Mom even told me that she looked up and thought to herself “Is that my son running down the field so fast?” I was gaining rapidly on the Southwest defender. I was going to knock him down so hard he would fumble, or at least regret that he intercepted my pass.

We reached the ten yard line…the five…I dove toward him with all that was within me and landed face down out of bounds as he waltzed into the end-zone for the score. I touched him, but barely.

I slowly got up and there was the linebacker rubbing it in a bit with a “How about that?” gesture. I shook my head and looked down. “I deserve this.” I thought. I remembered Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Immediately I felt God convicting my heart. He seemed to say, “That wasn’t Christ-like. Are you playing for my glory or your own?”

“You are right. Forgive me, Father. Forgive me for my pride.” 

We lost that game. Though we no longer had a winless record, I learned a valuable lesson. After the game I shook the Southwest linebacker’s hand. “Good game man! Hey, I am sorry for taunting you like that out there. That wasn’t Christ-like.” He accepted my apology, and even apologized for the taunting on his part.

God’s Word says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV). As a Christian, not only do I owe everything to God as my Creator and Sustainer, but also as my Savior. Jesus paid my sin-debt with His own blood, and now God doubly owns me. This is a lesson I am still learning each day. I have by no means arrived, but I will always look back on that pick-six against Southwest as God using adversity to reveal my pride so that I could repent and live more for His glory in all that I do.

For that, I am grateful.

Speaking Hope

July 23, 2016

 

 

 

 

The world is a difficult place. We need only open our eyes and look around us to see pain, brokenness, and death. Things are not as they should be, and that is a fact that needs no arguing for. The past century has been the bloodiest in the history of the world, and who knows what lies ahead in the next? Those of us who have not had loved ones taken away by violence have, no doubt, lost dear friends and family members to sickness, cancer, heart attacks, or car accidents. In such a world as this, broken by sin, what is our hope supposed to be?

Christians are often characterized as having future hope. We are those who look for “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (English Standard Version, 2 Cor. 5.1). This is true. The apostle Paul, himself a man well acquainted with disease, suffering, and persecution, wrote under the inspiration of God, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8.18) and also “to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phi. 1.21).

But our hope is also a present hope. We have hope for today. Our hope is rooted in the reality of the gospel and a God who is deeply concerned about every aspect and detail of our lives. To show this, let us examine what happens in conversion. Ephesians 2 says to believers, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2.1-3). Before God saved us, we were following our sinful lusts and thereby contributing to the brokenness caused by sin in this world. The subsequent verses explain how God snatched us from this deadly and destructive state, by grace through faith, and gave us life when we were dead in our sins. Then verse 10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God has good works prepared for His people to do. This is the glorious reality of sanctification. God does not just save us from the eternal consequences of sin, but also saves us from sin itself, by degrees, in our life on this earth. Day by day He is making us more like Christ (Rom. 8.29), and though we will not be sinless here on earth, He will complete the work He started in us (Phi. 1:6) so that in heaven we will be totally pure and free from all sin.

Okay, so what does this have to do with the struggling single Mom, the teenager in juvenile detention with only a broken home to return to, or the parents whose child has recently gotten hooked on cocaine? In the gospel we have infinite power. It is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1.16). As we already examined, God changes lives. He works from start to finish to save from sin, heal hurts, and restore brokenness. If sin is the problem with the world, the gospel is the answer. Only the saving, converting, sovereign grace of God will turn sinners into saints. The more sinners are transformed by this grace, the less violence, pain, and brokenness, we will have in the world. This is our hope for today. As we go out and speak the gospel, making disciples for Jesus, the Holy Spirit works to save souls and change lives.

This grace of God is free and powerful. No matter what sin towers like a grim giant in an individual’s life, the grace of God, through faith, stands taller to overcome it (1 John 5.4-5). This grace turns violent thugs into gentle evangelists. This grace turns prostitutes into Godly wives. This grace can take a murderous man like Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the early Christians to death, into the apostle Paul, who gave His life for Christ and for others to see His glory and be saved. Perhaps you are struggling with some sin today. Maybe you are broken. Maybe you have only months to live because of cancer. Come to Jesus, He will not reject you (John 6:37). Believe in Jesus! You will never be the same person. God will change you from the inside out. The power of God that has transformed so many others will come into your life and transform you! Come as you are. Bring your sins to Jesus, and let Him wash you clean in His cleansing blood. As the old hymns goes, “Just as I am, and waiting not, to rid my soul of one dark blot to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!” You will be one less individual contributing to the brokenness of the world, and one more bringing the hope and healing of Jesus to broken, suffering, and dying people.