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. 

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)

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.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

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.

Let all you do be done in love. (I Corinthians 16:14)

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?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

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!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Autumn is a Season Perfect for Hospitality: Gather Your Friends and Family

There’s just something about autumn.

I can try to describe it with words like crisp, colorful, and cozy, but really fall is something that must be experienced to remember why it’s so special.  The smell in the air is different. The trees light up in blazing colors of red and orange.  The wind becomes fiercer and brings with it a coldness that sends shivers through bodies wrapped in flannels and scarves.

The season begs for bonfires, hot soup and warm bread, snuggling under cozy blankets, and gathering with family and friends.

Gathering. That’s my favorite part of autumn. 

When I was in college, I started meeting with a small group for the first time in the fall. This group was led by an incredible woman named Amy who brought us in for bible studies, hosted seasonal parties and wedding showers, and would gather us around her kitchen table for tea and conversation.  Her home was always open to us. Every fall I remember my time in my college small group, both for the sense of belonging created there, and because autumn is always a reminder of Amy’s unexpected passing.  Her death left a desire in me to open my home to love others like she loved me.

Recently, my family moved into our new home.  When we bought our land and built our house, our goal was to create a space where our family could thrive, but our hope was also to make it a place where people would want to gather. A place where they would want to sit outside on cool evenings watching a fire dance. A home where they would feel comfortable pulling a chair up to the table.  A porch where they would sit for hours.

Based on what I just told you, you could assume I’m great at this whole hospitality thing. Really, I’m good at a lot of things, but hospitality is not one of my strengths. I don’t cook because my family likes to eat meals that taste good.  My house is never spotless; there’s always a pile of papers on the island, clothes on the laundry room floor, or dishes in the sink.  Currently, there’s a path of muddy dog prints from the back door, through the kitchen, to my master bedroom that have been there for three days now. No lie.

In the past, this kept me from opening my home to others. I so desperately wanted, like Amy, to create an open home, but it was embarrassing to think people would enter my house and see all the ways I fell short. I kept walls up and doors closed, figuratively and literally.

But not now.  God has been using His Word to stir up a desire to swing my doors and my heart wide open. 

Throughout the New Testament we read stories of people gathering in homes and around tables. The early church made a point to function as a close community, to create a place of belonging.  Isn’t that what all Christians are called to?  The greatest commandment tells us to love God and love people.  And what better way to love people and live out our faith than to open our home and our lives to others. 

People don’t come into our lives because we have it all together.  Truth is, not one person walking this earth has it all together. It’s about time we take off our masks and start being genuine.  Embrace your imperfections because that’s what creates comfort and comradery.  Imperfect people seek out other imperfect people to do life together.

Life is busy and fast and hectic, but we only get one life to live. In this one imperfect life, we have the opportunity to leave a legacy of love.  As James 1: 22 (ESV) reminds us, we get to “be doers of the word and not hearers only.”

As the leaves change and the air turns crisp, may we have the courage to overlook our imperfect lives and bust our doors wide open. And may God remind us this is a beautiful season to gather and create belonging.                                                                                                      

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Enemy is Prowling: Three Ways to Keep from Being Devoured

Why did you even come?  They already have their friend group.  There's no room for you.

You have nothing of value to say, and even if you did, you would just sound stupid.

See?  They’re not interested in talking to you. They’re not interested in you at all.

Insecurity is a vicious feeling that festers in the mind and heart.  It will eat you alive.  It builds walls between us and keeps friendships from moving forward.  It causes relationships to sit idle and dead like stagnant water.

In the past month, I dealt with deafening thoughts of insecurity that threatened to immobilize me. I felt burdened at work, home, and church.

Thankfully, God’s truth is stronger than the enemy’s attacks and I realized something was not right.  I stepped out in faith and you know what I found?  I was not alone. Other women in my life were transparent about their own struggles.  All of us felt that sting of insecurity and realized it wasn’t a coincidence.

Here’s the thing.  The enemy will do everything in his power to keep us separated.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  1 Peter 5:8

Be on guard, friends. The devil is prowling.

It’s no coincidence two of my sweet friends quoted 1 Peter 5:8 to me this past week.  I also know it’s not an accident they both described the hunting patterns of lions to illustrate the same point. Lions don’t attack a whole herd. Instead, they look for the stragglers; the ones separated from their group. 

Isn’t that so fitting?  It makes perfect sense the devil would want to keep us separated from our community.  Of course he would want to make us feel like we don’t have a place.  We’re much easier to devour.

So, friends, how do we combat those feelings of insecurity that make us want to shy away from companionship and community?  Relationships are the key. 

1. Pursue an active prayer life.

Spending quality time with someone is the best way to get to know them.  The same is true in our relationship with our Creator. When we dedicate time in our day to be alone with God, both in talking to Him and listening, our relationship with Him strengthens. James 4:8 says if you draw near to God, He will draw near to you.

2. Keep active in a community of believers.

The enemy wants you lonely and alone.  He wants to convince you that you don’t matter, that you have nothing to offer, and that no one wants you.  His goal is to break you away from your support system.  

Don’t let him! 

If you feel like building a wall around yourself, that’s a great indicator to build a bridge instead.  Reach out to those around you and keep showing up. Be honest about your struggles because there's always another woman feeling the same way. I promise, it’s worth it.

3. Fill your life with truth.

If you want to have a better understanding of God’s character, look no further than the Word.  It is filled with truth we can preach to ourselves when the enemy starts prowling. 

The other night in church, small coincidences had me doubting friendships and my place in my church family.  The devil was hurling negative thoughts at me like small grenades of insecurity. I was battling the enemy's lies.

A few days before, my friend Suzanne reminded me that as Christians the devil can’t possess us, but he can sure oppress us. In church that night I was weighed down with that oppression.  It was suffocating. 

Then the light broke through. 

My God tells me I don’t need to find my worth in the way people feel about me, or who my friends are.  My worth is found in Him alone.  He’s the one who sustains me. He brings me peace. 

The devil started the battle, but God’s truth bomb won the war.

And just like that, the burden fell off my shoulders and I no longer felt shackled by insecurity.  God is my deliverer and my firm foundation.

A final thought…

If you’re not currently struggling with the enemy’s attacks, can you do me a favor?  Find the person who is standing at the edge of your community with one foot out the door and reach out to her. Be transparent with your own struggles and use that opportunity to speak truth into her life. Ask to pray with her and for her. Show her, that despite what the devil is whispering in her ear, she is still loved. Learn to recognize the struggle in others and reach into the darkness. 

“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

In doing so, we build up our community and build a hedge against the enemy looking to devour us one by one.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Devoted Are You?

Summer break never lives up to my expectations. 

I guess I should rephrase that.  Summer is great, but I get so caught up in summer break I forget all my well-laid plans.  Every April, I start dreaming about all the awesome, organized, restful, adventurous things I hope to accomplish and then about mid-July, I start feeling summer slipping through my fingers.  I’ll be back at school in a few short weeks, with months to endure before the next summer break.  It’s a vicious cycle, really.  I plan big, but enjoy being lazy...I mean restful.

One of the most important plans forgotten is the planned morning devotion, reading, studying, praying time.  When I dream about summer, I just know I’ll get up with the sun, before my kids wake, and spend some peaceful time in the Word.  Just me, my bible, my journal, and my trusty pen. Oh, and coffee.  Like one sweet pictorial representation of devotional perfection.

Break hits and real-life hits and nothing is as I dreamed.  Totally my fault, though.  When I don’t have to wake up at 5:30 am to get ready for work, suddenly I’m regressing to sophomore year of college and staying up way too late.  But 37 feels a lot different than 20.  For real.  Late nights equal sleeping in until my morning-loving children bust out of their bedrooms. 

Too late for my idyllic, kid-free devotional time. Sigh.

I settle, and I use that word strongly, for squeezing in time with God during my unorganized days.  I read a couple of verses here and there, a chapter or two in a book, a quick devotional, or a blog post.  Rarely do I sit and really digest what I’m reading. Instead I’m content to do the bare minimum just to say I did it.

Lately this has been weighing heavily on me as I’ve noticed I’m not as patient and not as kind as I should be, especially to those closest to me.  James 4:8 tells us that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. The truth is, I haven’t been doing my part and as I hurry through my scripture reading and prayer time, I’m not being fully devoted to God.  During the school year, God is a priority, but in the summer He sometimes becomes an afterthought as I focus too much on myself, my fun, my rest, and my needs.  Me, me, me.  I hate that.

When my identity is no longer intertwined with Christ, I am a shadow of who I should be.  I make myself an idol.

In the first chapter of The Fruitful Life, by Jerry Bridges, he hits the reader hard with some truth.  He writes that, “devotion to God is the only acceptable motive for actions that are pleasing to God.”  It begs the question, am I self-centered or am I God-centered? What motivates my actions.  It causes some pretty intense soul searching.  He goes on to write:

So often we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centered devotion.  We try to please God without taking the time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do.


This summer I haven’t been devoted.  Instead, I’ve been going through the motions and checking off lists.  I’ve been too lazy. 

Conviction is painful, but also awesome.  It’s God seeking me out to bring me back to Him and I plan on doing just that.  The Lord tells us when we seek Him, we will find Him, when we look for him with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). 

This is how I’ll seek Him.

Make Him a priority.
I may be great about giving God my monetary tithe, but am I good with freely giving him my time? Am I careful to devote time to him to both talk and listen? Making Him a priority means putting my self and my time to the side in order to focus on Him.  But really, everything is His anyway so I'm just giving it back.  From that perspective it is less burdensome to spend time with Him. 

Quiet time in the Word, without distractions.
Being devoted to God comes from a relationship with Him.  Relationships grow when we spend one-on-one time with someone and the same is true with our relationship with God.  I will make an effort to get up early, before the kids, and focus on Him.

Thinking and praying about what I study.
While devotion comes from a relationship with God, relationship comes from prayer and scripture study.  How do I know Him better if I don’t take time to really study Him and spend time with Him?  For me, I try to highlight and journal as much as possible so I can pinpoint what stands out for me that particular day.  It's also a point of reference when I pray and listen.

None of this will be without giving on my part, but isn't that the point?  Emptying myself in order to be filled by Him is the ultimate goal.  

What about you?  Has God been convicting you about your time with him?  Do you desire devotion?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Almost Minimalist: How I am adopting a simpler lifestyle in 5 small steps – Part One

If you saw my house right now, you would think I had no knowledge of the concept of minimalism. 

We are in the process of packing up one house to move to another and we look like a bunch of hoarders.  I’ve already taken thirty-ish boxes made up of linens, out of season clothing, toys and craft items, books, and random closet stuff to the basement of the other house. It still looks like I’ve not moved a thing.


The pile of boxes in my living room and the almost empty bookshelves are the only indicators of a relocation.

This is real life, people.

Despite the mess that is my life right now, I am very interested in the concept of minimalism.  I desire empty tabletops and counters, minimal furniture and décor, capsule wardrobes, and a modest house that is not consumed by stuff. I’ve made slight changes in my life to push me closer to this lifestyle, but as this preparation to move has shown me, I am nowhere close to where I want to be.

I know what I want minimalism to look like in my life and I have a plan to get there.  It will take time, planning, getting my husband and family on board, and some self-motivation.  It’s not going to be the easiest of tasks because it takes dedication, but I have an action plan that I believe will work for my family.

1. Delete Clutter

The Idea

For a while now, while prepping for our move, we’ve been living in chaos.  I’m not even exaggerating. Boxes, piles of random items, and all horizontal spaces filled with stuff.  Lots and lots of stuff.  Stuff I don’t even really care about, but I feel frozen when I look at it. Where do I even start?

Minimalism encourages us to clear out the clutter.  If we remove the clutter from our houses, it will help us live in a cleaner, clearer, more restful home.

Our Solution

We’ve been filling bags with things to both toss and donate.  I’m not going to lie though, there have been times where I’ve just cleared out a closet and tossed everything in a box without even sorting.  I know I’ve made work for myself later, but I also know half the stuff sitting in boxes right now won’t make the cut.  They’ll be sorted out to live life in someone else’s home or, in some cases, the garbage dump.

2. Small Scale Living

The Idea

Tiny house shows fascinate me.  For a few years now, I have been enamored with the idea of getting rid of 95% of my stuff and moving into a small home, possibly on wheels, and living a streamlined, paired-down life.  Living like this seemed so freeing. 

Until I went on a recent vacation with my family, that is.

Our Solution

There is nothing like one bedroom, kids on the pullout couch, one bathroom (aka one toilet) living to bring you back to reality.  Now don’t get me wrong, I could totally live like this. In fact, scores of people around the world would love to live like this. But at this point in my life, it's just not feasible. 
For the Naaktgeboren family, it is important to create a space where people feel comfortable and welcome.  Although we are moving into a larger home, from approximately 1300 square feet into 1500 square feet, it is still modest compared to other homes in our town, and certainly other homes in America.  So, while we need the room to spread out, we chose not to build a large home so we can maintain a level of coziness for our family and friends.

While we could certainly survive in a smaller home, we welcomed the opportunity to build a modest home suited to our needs.  Not too big, not too small, but just right.

3. Streamlined Wardrobe

The Idea

Walking into a closet that has minimal, but purposeful clothing is a goal I have for myself and family.  I find myself drawn to Pinterest posts that show capsule wardrobes based on season or style.  I love the idea of less laundry to fold and put away, and fewer clothing items laying in the floor of my kids’ closets and rooms.  Less clothing also means the ability to get rid of dressers in my bedroom, possibly creating a nice reading nook.  A better use of space, for sure.

Our Solution

Slowly, I have been removing out of style and out of size clothing from closets and dressers around my home. We dropped off bags at the local thrift store and I sent things to an online website to be consigned (  Updating my wardrobe has been easy, especially since I shop second hand from online retailers.  My goal is to create a small wardrobe for work and play that uses the same color scheme (black) and can utilize the same few pairs of shoes for these outfits. 

4. A Calm and Cozy Space

The Idea

Sometimes people hear minimalism and assume stark, white rooms with a single chair and no comfort to be found.  Our house is a home that’s meant to be used by the two kids, the two dogs, the cat who loves to snuggle, parents who like to veg out on the couch and watch Netflix, and visitors who will come to enjoy a warm meal and warm companionship.

Our Solution

Minimalism and comfort can certainly coexist.  This involves rooms that are not full of furniture, counters and surfaces that are clear of clutter, décor items that have meaning, and an overall less-is-more approach. While we will not have clutter, we will have items that create a cozy atmosphere.  There will be nice smelling soy candles to create atmosphere, a basket of blankets next to the couch, and rocking chairs for porch sitting.  Our home will be a place of peace and comfort.

5. Simplify Life

The Idea

Simple living is a concept I admire because, in a world of stress and noise, it allows a slower, quieter pace.  When I think of simple living, I think of gardening, making homemade meals, playing slow, soft music (I love the Laid Back Beach Music Radio station on Pandora), reading a good book, taking an evening walk, and just adopting a slower, more intentional life.

Our Solution

Moving from a subdivision to 10 acres in the country has been a great motivator to slow down. We’re encouraged by a piece of property that will allow for some livestock and chickens, a garden and orchard, a pond with fish, and woods for exploring.  It practically begs for its owners to adopt a simpler way of living.  We have also built a house conducive to rest and relaxation with plenty of room for outdoor living.

Our hope is to use these minimalist concepts and apply them to our new life at Naak Acres. 

Have you thought about adopting a minimalist lifestyle in some form or fashion?  What steps have you taken to move in this direction?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Loving My Neighbor: Help Me to See with an Eternal Perspective

My sight is something I have never taken for granted.

When I was a teenager, I had one eye with perfect vision and one that was terrible.  The good eye got me through writing papers, looking at chalkboards full of notes and equations, and allowed me to only wear glasses when I was behind the wheel of my car.  Over the years, my vision got progressively worse and without corrective lenses, I was like the blind guy written about in the eighth chapter of Mark who told Jesus that he could see people, but they looked like trees walking around.

Fast forward to two years ago when my vision began to weaken even further.  I couldn’t see anything without corrective lenses and it wasn’t much better with my glasses or contacts.  In my job where I looked at computer screens, paperwork, and faces all day, seeing clearly was important. I was often plagued by headaches, had a tough time with eye contact, and struggled emotionally with this decline in sight.

God is so good to send us the right people at the right time and for me that was my new optometrist. She gently told me my eyesight had deteriorated due to a cataract in my left eye.  It was very rare, she said, to see one in a person my age (at that time 36) and she would send me to the eye surgeon ASAP.  I cried, partly out of relief and partly out of disappointment. Even with the surgery, my sight would never be perfect. My doctor cried with me.

Post-surgery, my vision is better than pre-cataract, but is still a struggle. If I have corrective lenses in both eyes, I can see distances well, but struggle to read.  If I remove the corrective lens from my left eye, I can read perfectly, but cannot see far away or safely drive. 

My vision will never be without problems. As I sit here writing, I am trying to adjust to another new prescription in my left eye.  My sweet eye doctor has made it her mission to help me adjust to my new sight, especially after another laser treatment to the cataract that grew back over my artificial lens.

The one thing I know is that nothing is perfect in this life.  We have sickness, sadness, and grief, all of which exist in a fallen world. 

I’ve learned through this journey that what is seen here in this life is not as important as what is seen through eternal eyes.  Everything I fix my eyes upon here on earth will fade, so I should give attention to what is not seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Recently our pastor taught out of Hebrews 11:13-16 and the focus was on our future home. The writer reminds us this world is not our home because, if we are Christians, then our home is with our Heavenly Father for eternity.  This world will pass away, so it is best to put our focus on eternal things.

My sight here is faulty and sub-par, but it is just temporary.  What I should be focusing on is the sight that impacts eternity. 

My prayer is for an eternal perspective.

Help me to see the marginalized in my community and world who need someone to meet both their spiritual and physical needs.

The Bible is very clear about taking care of those in need and going to the ends of the earth to share the good news of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us.  The book of Isaiah is thick with encouragement to defend the oppressed, seek justice, take up the cause of the widow and orphan, and do good. God’s word compels us to see those in need and let God use us and the resources he’s given us to provide. Matthew 28:19-20 instructs us specifically to “go and make disciples” and various New Testament passages encourage evangelism. Shannon Martin, in her book Falling Free, puts these concepts together and reminds the reader that God sent His son to the earth to take the position of a humble servant. She states if He left his elevated position for a lowly one, it “should send us running breathless into every busted-up city, every barred-up shack, every cave, every cell, every pain-drenched street corner we can find in order to bring the good news¹."

Help me to see those in need of a friend.

Working in the public school system, I am very aware there is something lacking in our culture.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t just plague our children; it is prevalent in our adults as well. The more technological we get and the busier we are, the more we build invisible walls between us.  

Just look around.  You’ll see it in the people you encounter every day.  Maybe you’ll even see it in yourself.  As connected as we are with the press of a button on our computer or smart phone, it is a shallow, weak connection. It's like using dental floss to tow a broken-down vehicle.  This false sense of connection can lead to loneliness and isolation, and a lack of real friendship.

The truth is, we were all created for community.  From the very beginning, God didn’t think it was good for man to be alone.  God’s word gives us encouragement toward friendship, fellowship, relationship, and family. This starts with being more aware of the those around us and being willing to pursue those people.

Help me to see those who need mercy, not judgement.

Have you ever been the target of someone's judgmental attitude? It's a terrible feeling to receive judgement from another when really what you need is comfort.  If I mess up, I want someone to speak the truth in love, but certainly not forget that love is part of the equation. In dealing with our neighbor (friend, family, or acquaintance),  it is important to always remember the plank in our own eye before passing judgment on the speck that ails our neighbor’s eye.

Whenever anyone asks me for a book recommendation, I always tell them to read Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker.  It is full of wisdom and many, many quotable passages, but one part I always remember tackles the topic of being judgmental. Hatmaker writes, “We are only qualified to administer mercy, not judgement, because we will pull up many a beautiful stalk of wheat, imagining him a weed².” It is not our job to stand in judgment of those around us because no one is too low or too sinful for the grace of God, including you and me. Our responsibility is to show love and mercy.

Help me to see, REALLY see, the people I’m with every day.

Whenever anyone famous dies, an outpouring of admiration floods the internet.  I read articles listing all the ways a person was appreciated or labeled as good for the all the endearing qualities they possessed, and I wonder if their loved ones and admirers ever shared their thoughts with the person while they were living. It seems like a waste and a shame only to build someone up after death.

We can speak life into our family and friends.  We have the opportunity to see the good in them and make sure they know what qualities make them admirable. What’s the harm in saying kind words and pouring out encouragement? If I see my child being helpful to her sibling, I should say so.  If I know one of my dear friends is a great listener, I should point out what an awesome gift this is.  If I admire the confidence in one friend, or the humbleness in another, they should know I see these traits and hold them in high regard. 

We’re blessed to be with our family and friends so frequently it’s easy to take them for granted. My hope is to care for those around me, let them know how loved they are, encourage them, and point out all the wonderful traits and qualities that make them unique. We should spend more time building people up and see them the way God does...with eyes that see from an eternal perspective.

¹ Martin, S. (2016). Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

² Hatmaker, J. (2014). Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks your Comfortable Christianity. Carol Stream, IL: NavPress.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Women Mentoring Women: Building a Spiritual Legacy

“Let’s use that one.” The sweet, older woman pointed at my five-year-old son’s right hand.

He's a lefty so he often reaches out to shake hands during our church's Sunday morning greeting time with his dominant hand.  After giving us all "good morning" hellos accompanied by a handshake, she stopped to greet him, taking care to subtly emphasize the use of the correct hand. Leaning over, she grabbed his hand and looked him straight in the eye. “Squeeze tight. Little boys should have a nice, firm handshake.” She smiled and walked on to the next person.

I love the wisdom and confidence that comes with age.  Who’s not going to take advice from a spunky, wise personality wrapped in the body of a grandma? Sign me up for all the sage advice you can give me. 

I know some people are opposed to the idea of growing older.  They do all they can to avoid it, but it’s inevitable.  For the record, I am not opposed to aging.  Once my gray hairs started their mission to make me salt and pepper (the hair color, not the nineties rap group), I embraced them.  Yes, it’s not as easy to sit in the floor and play with kids and I always make a weird groaning sound as I hoist myself up from sitting criss-cross applesauce. But really, the benefits do outweigh the creaks, aches, grays, and wrinkles of getting older. 

One of the fun things about getting older is that I don’t care nearly as much what people think of me.  You should see what I wear to Walmart…I fit right in.  Age has also allowed me to be more patient and empathetic than in my younger years because I have had more time to mess up and be forgiven. 

But the best benefit is something I have looked forward to for a long while.  I get to be the older woman written about in Titus 2 and man, do I love it.

Titus 2:3-5 is used as an example for Christian women who wish to mentor and be mentored. The ESV version says:

 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

There is a lot of info packed into these three verses.  Basically, older women should live in such a way that they are an example for younger women. They should impart wisdom about attitude, character, life, and family.

As someone who was one of these younger women being taught by word and example, I have a huge respect for spiritual mentoring.  Once I became a Christian, I was a new creation, but it was comforting to have an older woman to be a living illustration of someone with a solid walk with Christ.  It was also helpful and sobering to have someone to speak the truth in love when I would fall short. (Sweet memories with Amy)

Last week I happened to stumble upon an email from Amy dated thirteen years ago.  In it she talked about a few of us leaving and how she missed our group. We were ready to face the world – getting married, going to grad school, moving to new towns, and starting new lives. We were sure to take her wisdom along on our new adventures.  She also talked about meeting with a new group of ladies and commented about how “young” they were.  Just as we were once young and in need of guidance.

She appreciated her role as a spiritual mentor and wanted to continue pouring into others.

Now I have the opportunity, as the older woman, to be that example and speak that truth. What a blessing it is to spend time with younger women and be a small part of their life. Being in this position means a lot of listening and asking questions, transparency, a lot of praying, and it means being available.

It is awesome knowing I get to be a part of something bigger than myself.  A spiritual legacy where Amy poured into my life and I, in turn, get to pour into the lives of others. It didn’t start with Amy and it won’t end with my college ladies.  It’s a blessing that keeps flowing. A legacy rooted in Titus 2, but lived out in women across time and distance. 

So, what does spiritual mentoring look like?

It can take many forms.  Some churches match older and younger women, where the older women have the responsibility to guide and mentor. Sometimes women decide to seek out these relationships on their own, looking for someone in need of mentoring or for someone to be a mentor. In both cases, this could look like one-on-one meetings in homes or restaurants where conversations happen over food or coffee, or over the phone when time permits. It could also take the form of small groups of women learning and guiding together.

Whatever the venue, the ladies’ ages, or the length of time involved, prayer should guide these relationships and commitment is key.  It’s a tangible way to love your neighbor as yourself and live out the guidelines provided in Titus 2.

Do you have a spiritual mentor? Are you a spiritual mentor?  What about your church?  Do they have a program for older and younger women?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Extending Forgiveness When People Let You Down

It’s interesting how people come and go in our lives.  Sometimes we lose people because of physical distance; sometimes we lose them because of emotional distance.  Lives change, jobs change, and neighborhoods change, which can all lead to changes in who we spend time with and who we choose to befriend. Occasionally we lose people because they have wounded us with hurtful words or actions that are like painful daggers.  Or maybe we’re the ones doing the wounding.

A few years ago, I left a budding friendship because of hurtful words spoken in anger. The side of me that understood human emotions and motivation knew the anger was coming from a place of hurt and anxiety, neither of which was caused by me.  I was just the unfortunate recipient of those words. As I left that evening I cried out of hurt and embarrassment and I lost confidence in that friendship.

For a long time after, my stomach would knot up when I thought about that encounter.  That experience festered in me and I couldn’t even think about that person without feeling strong emotions. 

But you know what?  God is good.  He is a God of forgiveness and asks this of us as well.  Colossians 3:13 tells us to forgive if we have a grievance toward someone and to forgive as Christ forgave. Ephesians 4:32 echoes that notion by telling us to forgive each other as Christ did for us. Matthew 6:14-15 tells us that if we forgive others, then our Father in heaven will forgive us. 

In my thirty-seven years, there have only been a handful of times that I have felt deeply wounded by another person.  I would say I’m pretty good at letting things go and most of the time it’s easy for me to see the best in someone despite their shortcomings. By the grace of God, He keeps bitterness from festering.  I know for some it is difficult to forgive, especially when words damage and attitudes are foul. 

The truth about forgiveness is that it not only paints a picture of mercy and grace poured out for another, but as the one doing the forgiving it frees us from bitterness and anger.  In some relationships, the person needing forgiveness may not know or care, but it’s still important to forgive. It’s healthy to forgive someone in our own heart to not be burdened by a past offence. Forgiveness is good.

One of the places most susceptible to conflict is within our closest relationships.  Loving our friends and family is not an easy task because with them we are most vulnerable.  What happens when they let us down?  Again, it’s easy to hold on to grudges and allow bitterness to take root, but it’s also important to know that people, including you and me, are imperfect.

Although God created community and friendship and love, we cannot put our faith in imperfect people.

No person can complete you.

Not your friends, not your kids, not your spouse.  No human being is capable of providing all you need to make you whole.  No person walking this earth, or sitting next to you on the couch, or holding your hand can ever fully close your wounds or make you feel complete.

Only God can.

Only God can bring peace and perfect love.  Only God can fully satisfy our longing for relationship.

When we put others in a position to do only what God can, then we are destined for disappointment.  Other people will let us down.

Every. Single. Time.  It’s inevitable. 

To me, that’s why forgiveness is so important.  If God can forgive us as we fail Him over and over and over, to infinity, then we must learn to be more forgiving toward those who fail us. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

And hope they’ll forgive us as well. 

Although that friendship didn’t move forward from that upsetting evening, I have forgiven that person because I too am in need of forgiveness. I feel like Paul who says in 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” I may not have persecuted or murdered Christians, but I am a sinner guilty of words that damage, hurt, and destroy.  I commit sins of the tongue every day. If I am extended mercy and forgiveness, how much more should I extend that same forgiveness to others? 

I am thankful I have a merciful God who covers a sinner like me with overflowing grace and I pray I won’t have spiritual amnesia when it comes to extending forgiveness to others. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Overcoming Disappointment with Truth

Frustration. Annoyance. Disappointment. Anger.

All these feelings came rushing at me the day I realized someone was building on the property right next to mine. 

For years Jonathan and I had been casually looking for the perfect piece of acreage on which to build our future, forever home.  On a cool, crisp, fall morning we happened upon a beautiful property surrounded by tall trees and blackberry bushes galore, with a pond in the back corner of the cleared portion of land.  The property stretched back deep into the cool, shady woods where I imagined my kids creating adventures that would stick in their memories for a lifetime.  It was perfect for us.  We could build and not see a neighbor.  Trees would bookend our house and we could sit far from the sleepy country road.

We bought the property and painstakingly drew and re-drew our plans for the house we would build with our own hands.  When it came time to dig out the side of the hill for our future basement, we were ecstatic.  Finally!  We were breaking ground on our forever home.   

A few days later while visiting our freshly dug plot, I noticed someone had cleared the trees on the acreage next to ours.  At first, I thought it might have been the electric company, then I noticed that flags had been strategically placed in the outline of a house.  A house that was too close, in my opinion, to our property line.  A house that disturbed the sight line from the large porch I had so meticulously planned.  The house that messed up my sunset view.  The house that muddled up the life I envisioned on that property.

I cried. 

Jonathan asked if I still wanted to build.  He told me it was not too late to sell and find somewhere else and I’ll be honest, I thought about it.  I fully entertained the idea of starting the process all over again, but then I remembered the wonderful things about the property and I still wanted this to be our forever home.  

Although I tried to get over it, I still I allowed myself to become bitter.  I was disappointed with the timing, I was angry with the placement of the house, and frankly, I was just bugged by the whole situation. 

And then God dealt with my heart.

I took time to think about my feelings and knew I had to deal with the negative emotions that festered in me.  As I traveled down the path of confronting my bitterness and disappointment, I realized I was angry at the situation and that my perfect ideal had been shattered.  In all this, God reminded me of two major things.

1. God is sovereign and I am not.

As much as I would like to make plans and think my way is the best and only way, that is foolishness.  Proverbs 16:9 tells us, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  The truth of that verse, and many others, is that God is sovereign.  My God is the creator of everything (Colossians 1:16) and the giver of all good things (James 1:17, Psalm 84:11), so I can trust him when something I perceive to be inconvenient pops up.  Plus, what I consider to be inconvenient is really God’s way of growing me. 

Jerry Bridges, in his excellent book Respectable Sins ¹, explains that we should be thankful in ALL circumstances, both the good and the bad, the large and the trivial.  He references Romans 8:28-29 where Paul tells us that for those who love God all things work together for good.  All our circumstances help shape and mold us to be more Christ-like. This is the good of which Paul speaks, which is much better than our notion of good things like success and comfort.  As Christians, this is the good for which we should be thankful. This is grace God gives us. 

2. Loving your neighbor is sometimes inconvenient, but always worth it.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, his answer was two-fold.  Love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40).  I’ll admit the second part is harder because your neighbor (myself included) isn’t always lovable. 

When our neighbor cut down his trees, tore down the large, antique, red barn, and bulldozed the brush, he not only opened our sight line to his house, but down the road as well.  Trees no longer hide us from neighbors; now we can see them and they can see us.  We have lost a bit of privacy. 

Sitting on my porch lamenting my lack of seclusion, God reminded me of why we chose this land and why we designed our house the way we did.  Hospitality is our goal.  Opening our home to current friends and those we would like to befriend has been a cornerstone of this project.  Seclusion, isolation, and solitude are nice, especially for this introvert, but God desires for my family to love our neighbors.  That means breaking down barriers and walls that keep others out.  It means opening doors to friendship, loving those around us without asking anything in return, and loving the unlovable.  Sometimes it means embracing a lack of solitude and a too close neighbor.

Ultimately, I am thankful for inconvenience.  It allows me to see where God is working in my life and in the lives of others.  It reminds me that God is sovereign, that He is good all the time, and it is not all about me. May I never forget! 

¹Bridges, Jerry. "Unthankfulness." Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007. N. pag. Print.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Welcoming Rest: Saying Yes to Slowing Down

It feels as if the plague has hit my small town.  School is out today and tomorrow leading to the weekend, allowing us a four-day buffer to kill off all these germs that are sidelining people left and right. The Naaktgeboren family is currently in quarantine.

Days like today are a good reminder. When life seems to be going non-stop and I forget the importance of taking breaks, sickness swoops in or the weather sidelines plans.  Sometimes we just need to slow down and let the world continue without us for a few minutes, an hour, a day, or even a long weekend.  Life says hurry up, but there are a multitude of reasons to allow yourself to rest.  Rest creates healthy minds and healthy bodies. 

Genesis 2:2-3 tells us that our perfect, wise God rested. He created all things, found that it was all good, and on the seventh day he rested.  In Mark 6:30-31, Jesus encourages his hardworking disciples to get away and rest. And there’s a reason why God commanded his chosen people to observe the Sabbath.  Hard work is balanced by rest.

Rest is beneficial. We should welcome it.

Do something easy.
Resting sometimes means giving our brains a break from working too hard. I love to sit on the couch under a blanket and watch a movie or read a book.  It’s nice to escape the present and dive into a different world for a while. 

Do something with intention.
Some people like to rest by doing things that bring them joy.  I have friends who unwind by cooking a meal, baking some bread or sweets, crocheting, writing, or working in their garden.  For me, watching a show while I fold laundry is actually relaxing.  I’m technically doing a chore, but the way I’m doing it counts as resting. Double win.

Invite the quiet.
I have a people-focused job, and while I love it, sometimes I just need to be by myself.  Reading a book or listening to one of my calmer playlists usually helps.  If it’s been a particularly trying day I might take a very rare, but very coveted nap.  This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is just what I need to feel refreshed.

Turn off the world.
A few years ago, I made the decision to turn off the work email notifications that were constantly bombarding me from my phone.  Every time it would ding, I could feel my stress levels rising.  One of the best choices I have made is to keep work at work and not let it interrupt my life outside of school.  Creating this separation has made my home life more peaceful and has allowed my home to be a better place of rest.

For some people, turning off the world might mean taking a break from the news or social media.  In recent months, the information coming from these sources has been saturated in negativity. Negativity is stressful, not restful.  If you feel this stress, it may be time to take a sabbatical.

Invite some snuggle time.
Cuddling up on the couch is pretty relaxing.  I love to sit between my two kiddos and share a bowl of popcorn while watching Netflix.  Snuggling up with my husband and kids allows me to slow down and enjoy my rest.  It makes rest time even sweeter.

Repeat often.
Make rest a habit.  Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed or stressed out.  Don’t wait until you are sick, tired, or sick and tired. Set boundaries in life between work and rest and stick to them.  Really enjoy and savor your time of rest and relaxation and hopefully you will find yourself healthier and happier. 

Welcome rest in your life.  It doesn’t matter what form it takes for you, as long as you make it a priority.  

Step away from busy and choose rest.

What are you doing to be restful?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sweet Memories: Reflections on Life and Legacy

I love coffee.  No wait, I adore coffee.  Is there a stronger word than adore? If there is, then that is how I feel about coffee.  Sometimes though, especially when I am fighting sickness, I’ll switch it up a bit and put a kettle on the stove for tea.  This morning was made for tea.

The smell of this brewing dark drink touches my senses and triggers sweet memories.  I love that God wired us to have scent memory. Smells can transport us to another time and place and allow us to feel connected to people, places, and events. This blend, with its sweet, spicy aroma and a hint of citrus, always takes me back. Maybe that’s why this tea has a home in my cabinet. It makes sure those memories always have a home in my heart. 

Saturday mornings we would gather at Amy’s house and squeeze around the table in her breakfast nook. I still drink my tea the way I did back then. Honey with a splash of cream. We would sip our hot drinks while savoring warm cinnamon rolls from the oven.  Each of us would share our hearts over open bibles, pens and journals, and a Beth Moore study.  All of us young, all of us college-aged, being mentored and loved on by an older, sophisticated, Godly woman.

I loved this time together, but the beautiful thing about this friendship was that it extended beyond Saturday mornings.

Amy knew I was a broke, college kid working to pay my own bills while also juggling school and ministry. As I prepared for my trip to Young Life camp in Colorado, she made an unexpected visit to my apartment.  When she left, I discovered cash on my dresser, her way of making sure I could afford to eat and maybe buy a t-shirt in the camp store.   

Ephesians 2:10 is forever imprinted in my mind and in my life. While serving others, she encouraged us to remember that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

As a young bride, clueless about my own wedding day, Amy helped me navigate wedding planning and even volunteered to coordinate the day.  

Other memories involve trips to Walmart for matching hats, scarves, and gloves, traveling to a Bebo Norman concert held in a little coffee shop in Knoxville, and dinner parties at her house. I share some of these memories with the other ladies in my group, and I know they all have individual memories special to them.

Beyond all these things is the fact that Amy cared about us.  Really cared.  She loved us in our high moments and she loved us through bad decisions and choices.  God knew how much I needed her at that point in my life.  God knew I needed someone to guide me through my mistakes and challenges. God knew I needed someone to be honest with me about my sin, but to also pray me through it.

Not long after I moved with Jonathan to Sparta, I received a phone call from our friend Chad.  Amy had suddenly passed away. 

I have always trusted that God is good. I have always trusted that God is sovereign.  But, death still stings.

I prayed and struggled with what to do. How do you honor someone who has made such an impact on you? How do you celebrate their life? 

For me it has been to live my life in a way that passes on her legacy. 

I want to keep leading bible study with college-aged, young women. 

I want my new home to be a place of openness, comfort, and hospitality where everyone feels welcome.

I want to live in such a way that others see Christ through me. 

As I take my last sip of tea, I realize that Amy has crossed my mind a lot lately. A reminder of love and a reminder of legacy. A reminder to be His workmanship and walk in good works, just as she did.