Saturday, April 28, 2018

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Today, I found Amy’s obituary.  As I unfolded the black and white clipping, her smiling face looked up at me from the page.  My eight-year-old daughter leaned over to see and asked, “Isn’t that the lady that was at your wedding? The one who helped you get ready?  I remember her picture from your wedding book.” 

Reading the small clipping, I did the math and realized it’s been almost 14 years since Amy passed away. She was 38. 

In a week, I’ll be 38. 

There are a handful of parallels between her life and mine and the truth is, she had a substantial influence on me as a foundational branch in my spiritual family tree. As a prodigal coming home to my Father, she gave me guidance and love. For that, I'll forever be grateful.

Life is hectic, so I don’t think about her as much now as I used to, but there are parts of her woven into the very fabric of who I am.  She came into my life at just the right time and left so suddenly that I never really had a chance to tell her how influential and important she was in my development as a young woman and a young Christian. 

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14

The most sobering aspect of life is how it is but a vapor.  We are here one day and gone the next.  Every day we live, every breath we breathe, is a gift from our sovereign God.

I may only have today.

I may only have this moment.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

We have the opportunity to live our days with intention, to squeeze the goodness out of every moment, and to love the people He places around us and sometimes right in front of us. 

Enjoy His big and little gifts.

Get up early to see the sky painted in various shades of orange and pink as it awakens to the sun. Watch a bird make a nest and listen to her sing. Walk barefoot in the grass. Sit back and watch the clouds float by.  Run in the rain. Eat a crispy apple.  Smell a spring flower.

God’s creation was made to be enjoyed.  And as you partake, remember to be thankful to the Giver of all good things.

"O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Psalm 104:24 (Read the rest of Psalm 104. You won't regret it.)

We were made to love.

Every day we have the chance to make an impact on someone’s life.  All we have to do is ask the Lord to open our eyes and prick our hearts.

"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Romans 12:10

It’s so easy to float through a busy life without making contact with those around us.  I can go through my day just checking off my to-do list without looking up to see where God might want to use me.  

How many times have we missed a chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus?  How many times have we ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit to stop and take notice? How often do we make ourselves the priority instead of being a vessel to pour out His love?

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2:14-17

Seek Him first.

The most important aspect of living an intentional life is time spent with the Lord. It is the foundation to living a life that matters.  The older I get, the more God teaches me about what it means to walk with Him. I know I cannot truly enjoy the people He brings into my life and all that He has provided, without enjoying Him first. 

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirst for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live, in your name I will lift up my hands.” Psalm 63:1-4

As I enter another year of life, Lord willing, He will keep teaching me to seek Him first, love those around me, and find the beauty in ordinary things.

Only the Lord knows the number of our days, so we should make each one count.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

See the Good; Be the Good: Why We're Adopting a Family Motto This Year

I love the promise of a new year.

As soon as Christmas ends, my mind starts anticipating the freshness that comes with starting on day one of the new 365.  When the calendar rolls over, I’m ready to make the leap into new adventures and, Lord willing, improvements to my life. 

This year, more than in years past, I’m looking forward to a blank slate and new perspective. It is not unusual for someone to make resolutions in anticipation of starting over, but I'm taking the idea of change and motivation a step further and bringing my family along with me. 

We’re adopting a family motto.

This past year was full of change for the Naaktgeborens.  We finished building our house and finally moved in at the end of summer. For the first time, both my kids were in school which meant more streamlined mornings.  I had the opportunity to write more, but was also bogged down by work woes. It truly was a year of highs and lows and, as a result, I found myself turning more inward.

Time for a change.

This year and beyond, my family will focus on loving God and loving people.  As we pursue God, our hope is He will use us to see the good and be the good in our own family, in our friendships, in our church family, and in our community.  

So, what does this look like?

See the Good

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the good, especially when a situation seems like anything but. It’s easy to get bogged down by trying situations, but much easier to endure when your heart is close to God.   Saturating your life with scripture and prayer gives you the ability to see the good in tough people and tough situations.

We walk through life sometimes with a black cloud of pessimism and defeat raining all over us, but it’s important to remember what Jesus tells us in John 16:33:

I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Jesus has already overcome the world; why do we walk around in our day-to-day lives like He hasn’t? As Christians we know we have eternity waiting for us, an eternity worshipping our perfect, loving, sovereign God.

God has overcome the world.  That gives us the freedom to see the good, the silver lining, in every situation because God works everything for good. 

It also allows us to see the good in the people we encounter every day.  We are quick to judge a person by a particular situation, but one thing I’ve learned in my thirty-seven years is that there is more going on than meets the eye.  Every person is carrying his or her own burdens. We shouldn’t be so quick to throw stones while we have planks protruding from our own eyes.

Part of loving others as God loves us is to maintain friendships and relationships despite all the imperfections.

Be the Good

Loving others also gives us the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  We can live lives where our fruit can impact others. Lives where we are doers of the word and not just hearers (James 1:22).

I want my family to bear good fruit and, in doing so, learn to look outside themselves.  By creating opportunities for good, as a family we can make a small impact in the lives of others. 

There are two ways to “be the good.” 

1. Doing good in private or secret is desirable.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

2. If doing good in secret is unavoidable, then ALWAYS give God the glory and the credit.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Here are some ways to be the good in someone’s life:
  • Write anonymous “just because you’re great” cards
  • Gift cards in small amounts (coffee, fast food, etc.)
  • Baked goods to bless others (my husband makes delicious homemade bread)
  • Hand-written notes or text messages to let someone know you’re thinking about them
  • Cards for nursing home residents
  • Family projects like raising money for or serving with various charities
  • Find random acts of kindness ideas on Pinterest and let your kids pick

Remember that putting God first in your family will lead to less selfishness and more selflessness.  My hope is that adopting this family motto and putting it into action will make seeing the good and being the good second nature in the lives of my family members.  And I hope they will pass along this tradition and legacy to their own children.

You’re Invited

See the good; be the good will be our family motto, but our hope is that you will join us in the pursuit of loving God and loving others.  Visit this page to download some simplistic designs to print or use as your desktop wallpaper to serve as a reminder in your everyday life.

Will you join us in seeing the good and being the good in your own families and communities? 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

When Parenting is Tough, Try These 4 Things

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. 

But, you know that don’t you.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post right now.  You read the title and thought, “Heck yes, parenting is tough!” So, let me say this to you right now. Solidarity, sister (or brother)!  We both know parenting is the best job in the world, but it’s also a butt-kicker. 

As awesome as it is to be a parent, it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 

It’s funny to say this has been a difficult week, because who am I kidding, it’s all been various stages of difficult.  When my kids were infants, I wondered if I would ever sleep again. (Side note to new moms - although elusive now, sleep does return…eventually.) Then came the toddler and preschool years, where my kids were funny, sweet, darlings who probably thought their names were “No” and “Stop that.” Now we are at the age where both kids are growing into their unique personalities.  They’re hilarious, mean, smart, gentle, hostile, joyful, tearful, soft, loud and a million other things in between. 

If you’re having a tough day, week, or year, here are some things that might help:

1. Pray and then pray some more.

Prayer shouldn’t be a when-all-else-fails life preserver.  Prayer should be our go-to everyday, regardless of the attitude of ourselves and our children.  Here’s the thing. We shouldn’t be living in survival mode when it comes to parenting.  Instead we should be training our hearts and minds, and working on our relationship with our Savior. When we come to God in prayer each day we work on our relationship with Him.  We surrender our time to Him.  We allow Him to work in us.  Our devotion to God and time with Him allows us to abide in Him, bear good fruit, and really live out the fruits of the Spirit. 

I need you to know that I am far from perfect in this area.  My time studying the Word and reading books far outweighs the time I spend with Him in prayer. And you know what? It really shows.  If I spend time with Him, I am more patient and better able to handle what is thrown at me that day.  But if I neglect that area of my relationship with Him, I get suffocated by the cares of life.  Prayer is key to me being a more effective, more loving mom.

2. Be Present

Did you know I’m the meanest mom ever? It’s true, just ask my daughter. But guess what?  I’m only the meanest mom ever because I care about parenting my kids.  Being present means being around and available to praise them, but it also means allowing my kids to receive the consequences of poor choices. Being present means listening to them and spending quality time with them.  It means letting them tell me stories, letting them hold my hand, letting them snuggle up in my lap. It also means talking them through sad days and letting them vent when angry.  And disciplining them when needed to help them grow up to be better, more well-rounded adults. My kids would choose time with me over their favorite thing any day because, at the end of the day, all they really want is to be loved and feel like they matter.

3. Say Yes

You know what word I say too much?  No.  Most of the time it’s warranted:

No, you cannot raise tadpoles in the living room.

No, you cannot wear your Halloween costume to school.

No, you can’t eat suckers for breakfast.

No is a popular word around here.

Truthfully, there are many times I say no out of laziness. If I’m in the middle of an enjoyable book, I don’t want to supervise an activity that involves paint, glue, or glitter. Sometimes, I don’t want to stop in the middle of loading the dishwasher to look at the eleventh block tower my son has built that day.

Whether it’s in the middle of being lazy or doing work, what does it hurt to take five minutes to say yes? Sometimes it only takes 30 seconds.  Sure, you had to stop what you were doing, but it’s totally worth it to create memories, see the look of pride spread over your child at your admiration of his or her creation, or just be part of a small, but special moment.

4. Remember their Uniqueness

Each of my kids has their own special personality.  I remind myself of this often.

Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated if they’re not conforming to who I think they should be.  It is my job to teach, love, guide, and discipline, but it's not my job to choose who they are as people. Being a parent is a very important job because you walk the line between raising them to be kind, well-functioning members of society and controlling them so much they turn into little robots (or worse…Pharisees. Yikes!). It’s a precarious balance that only God can guide (refer back to #1).

Let’s face it, not all our child’s personality traits are perfect.  That’s why we need to wisely guide them to use their powers for good.  Think about the Incredible Hulk (yes, I’m referencing superheroes).  Whenever Bruce Banner got angry he would lose it and Hulk out, but he ended up using his powers for good and became an Avenger.  You too can harness the unique personality traits of your children and help them use those traits for good. Bossy kids will grow up to be disliked, or even feared, but a bossy kid with the right guidance can be an effective leader.  Parents can help a sensitive child who gets easily upset learn to use that sensitivity to love others with empathy.  Think about your own child.  How can you help them think differently about the unique way they were made?

Parenting is tough, but remember you were given your child, or children, for a reason.  You have the awesome responsibility to love them, lead them, be present, and show them what it means to follow Christ. You can do this!