It happened while my youngest daughter was in surgery. Another school shooting. As a result, I couldn’t cry and mourn the loss of 17 lives until today. I needed to stay strong for my baby girl.
But I was able to bring her home from the hospital. I was able to laugh at her sweet and funny comments, to squeeze her, to have bedtime prayers. The privilege of this is not lost on me.
And so today, I mourn. The increase in school shootings just this year cannot be ignored. Our country is facing an internal terrorism that keeps growing. But it strikes me as odd that we are surprised by this. When will we wake up to the fact that something needs to change?
I usually don’t add my voice to the cacophony of voices that arise after a tragedy. But my focus this year is on being a light in dark places and being willing to shine the light of Christ when difficulties arise. And so, I am compelled to say something.
The issue of violence against another human being is as old as time. The story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis 4 shows the result of pride and jealousy in the heart of one brother and how that resulted in the murder of the other.
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. ~Genesis 4:8
Just the verse before, the Lord had warned Cain that if he did not do what was right then sin was crouching at his door. If Cain did not rule over that sin, it would get the best of him. We know that it got the best of him, since he killed Abel because he was angry that his brother was rewarded and he wasn’t.
Tale as old as time.
The true issue behind school shootings starts in the heart of humanity. We all have sin crouching at our door, but our society glorifies sin instead of seeing it for the ugly thing that it is. We like to believe that everyone is basically good, until a tragedy occurs and we are confronted with the results of sin growing and ruling over a young kid, allowing him to commit murder of innocent lives. Since we are unable to admit that we are all desperate sinners in need of saving grace, we have to come up with excuses for why this tragedy happened. We blame gun control laws. We examine the shooters mental instability. We blame the authorities for not catching the signs. We blame the teachers, the parents, the school, social media, whoever and whatever we can to make sense of something that cannot be made sense of.
What it boils down to is this. We need Jesus. We are sinners who but for the grace of God will be ruled by our sin and do horrible things.
The message we keep feeding kids is that they are enough, they should do what makes them happy, that they should have it their way, and they should fight for their rights. Diet Coke’s newest advertisement, “Because I can” falls flat in light of a school shooting when the shooter could legitimately use that phrase to defend his rampage.
Do you see the insidious nature of sin? We are raising entitled kids who believe they can have it all and do whatever they want and then we are shocked when a tragedy like this occurs.
When I was in 6th grade, my class sang the song, “The Greatest Love of All” as part of an assembly. I remember my parents struggling with allowing me to perform with my class because they did not believe this song was proclaiming truth. In the end, they let me sing with my class, but they sat me down and we had a long conversation about how loving ourselves will never be enough. The message they shared was from Jeremiah 17:9…
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
Learning to love ourselves and trust our own instincts can be a dangerous thing, because we don’t always want the right things. In fact, without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are incapable of any good. We might be kind to others because we believe that is the right thing to do, but what happens when someone isn’t kind to us? If we genuinely examine our hearts, we will see selfishness and pride crouching at our door.
If this message isn’t settling right with you, it’s because we have a warped view of ourselves. We believe that if we admit we aren’t enough, then everything will crumble. We desperately need to believe we are good enough because if we’re not, what are we? What do we have? But the grace and the freedom, the hope and the joy that is found in admitting that we cannot save ourselves, that we are sinners in need of a Savior is the best news! We don’t have to rule over our sin in our own strength. We can instead accept that in our inadequacies, Christ is sufficient. He paid the price for our sins, so that we could have his strength at work in us ruling over our sin and allowing us to love others in the way He intended.
If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably because you agree with me that Jesus is the only answer for the horrors and the tragedies of life. But I want to be clear that I do believe that we need to take a much harder look at gun control laws. Should a semi-automatic gun be sold to anyone just because they can pass a background check? WHY are guns being sold anyway? What are the penalties for adults who own the guns that are used in school shootings? How can a young adult whose brain isn’t fully formed be able to purchase a gun without checking school and mental health records? These questions need to be answered.
I have read many opinions of people who believe the family of offenders need to be held responsible and I agree with this- to a certain degree. The problem is that usually by the time a person gets to the point of murder, the parents have not had any control for some time. In the case of the recent Florida shooting, it sounds like the authorities were aware of issues with the offender as multiple issues had arisen in the previous decade. It sounds like the adoptive mom tried to help her son over and over and over again. Which brings us to a different issue. Parents of struggling kids generally feel helpless. Many have tried to help their kids in whatever way they can. But if a teenage boy who is stronger than his mother decides not to take his medicine that will keep him stable, what can a mom do? Rather than labeling children and writing them off when they become too difficult, we need to have a shift in our society. We need to stop fighting against kids who exhibit irrational behaviors and start fighting for them. We need to provide support to parents who feel completely incapable of helping their children and we need to pour love on kids especially when we don’t understand their behavior.
I know these are not simple questions and there is no easy answer. But I do know with absolute certainty that if we keep putting bandaids on this gushing wound, there will never be any resolution to this issue. We will continue to see these tragedies occur and we will continue to mourn the loss of life.
We need Jesus.
Picking “one word” to focus on for the year has been meaningful for me for several years now. Interestingly enough, I find that the words often choose me rather than me choosing them. This is definitely true for my word for 2018.
I began 2017 with the knowledge that I might struggle quite a bit. It’s one of the reasons that I chose to focus on the word “submit”, because I knew that there were some personal challenges that I would need to continue to deal with in my life. Choosing to homeschool our kids was the best decision we could have made, but I was not prepared to lose friendships as a result of that decision, nor was I prepared for the opinions that would be shared also as a result of that decision. It was brutal for me at times, but choosing to submit meant that I needed to let go of my own desire for reconciliation and peace and understanding and instead trust God’s timing and His work and His plan. This was not easy and it’s still not easy, but the process has taught me that I must be more concerned with His will than my own.
Last Fall, I joined a Bible study on 1 John and as we studied John’s words, I was struck by his teaching on “light”, particularly this verse:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. ~1 John 1:7 ESV
Back in April I had written a series of posts on “Shadow Walking“~ the idea that we should walk so closely to Jesus that we are in his shadow. I loved writing that series, but as I read this verse in 1 John, I started meditating on a different kind of walking- walking in the light.
Walking in the light exposes any darkness that might be in our hearts. It reveals the sin that can so easily entangle. It shows the ugliness inside of us. As I walked through this past year and the difficulties that came my way, I was overwhelmed at times with the sin I saw in my own heart, the anger that spewed out on loved ones, the pride, the selfishness and the laziness that seemed ever present. But I also discovered something else. When I was willing to allow the light to expose these issues, I discovered forgiveness and joy in abundance. I also discovered the veracity of this verse, the beauty of fellowship with others who were also unabashedly seeking to walk in the light.
There is a beauty to be found when we are willing to step out of the dark places and allow Christ’s light to shine on us. Oh, it is painful, so very painful, but it is eventually freeing, because there is no longer any need to hide. We can freely talk about our struggles, because the grace we experience is truly greater than our sin.
As I prayed about my one word for 2018, it jumped out at me; once again the word choosing me instead of me choosing it. LIGHT.
I look forward to what God has to teach me this year as I focus on “light”. We are barely into the new year and there have already been moments where God has confirmed this word in my heart, so I am looking forward to all that he has to teach me.
“Lord, let your light, light of your face, shine on us!”
As we prepared a centerpiece for our New Year’s Eve celebrations, we used twinkle light strands in mason jars and I cut out the numbers for 2018. As I looked at the picture later, I realized that I had inadvertently created an image for my one word for 2018. So I will be using that this year as well as the hashtag “dayelight” on my posts and pictures. It’s not because I want to draw attention to me. Rather it is a desire to point others to the TRUE light, Jesus Christ.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Philippians 2:14-16 ESV
Choosing a one word theme for the year, a word to focus on and learn from is not unique to me. Thousands of people have been choosing one word for years now and it is a compelling way to live, a response to New Years resolutions that never seem to stick.
Personally, I have been picking one word to focus on for several years. The impact of choosing one word has been significant in my life. “Intentional”, “deliberate”, and “brave” were fun words to focus on. “Dignity” was not. When “submit” began to surface as a focus for this past year, I was resistant at first. Submit is not a fun word. I’m not sure anyone wants to willingly submit. We like to be in control and we like to know that we’re right. We like to do what we want, when we want, how we want. Or at least I do!
But God had been gently prying my fingers off of my need to control for years and I was even beginning to see the incredible blessing found in living a life of submission. And so, I decided to embrace my one word for 2017 and explore what “submit” would mean in my life.
It hasn’t been easy. I have had to accept the loss of friendships that were important to me, the possibility of never seeing my Mama again, financial stress due to a major renovation project, feeling like a single mom as my husband needed every spare moment to finish the basement project, enduring technical difficulty upon technical difficulty over and over and over again. But with each hurdle, with each challenge, the Lord was lovingly whispering in my ear, “Submit, Becky. Let go. Trust me. My plan is perfect and my love for you is sure.”
We began homeschooling our four kids in the Fall of 2016. In some ways, I tricked myself into homeschooling, believing that it wouldn’t change my life all that much. I wanted to trust God with His plans for my life, but I wasn’t sure I wanted all of those plans to change! The truth is that homeschooling did change my life drastically, but by choosing to trust God, He also did the hard work of changing me. Choosing “submit” as my one word was a response to the change He was working in me.
Was I willing to accept the change in my schedule? Was I okay with letting go of coffee dates with friends? Would I be willing to embrace the focus of teaching my kids and letting go of my desire to write?
As I answered yes to all of these questions, God in His goodness graciously blessed me immeasurably beyond what I could have imagined. The blessing of having my kids at home, of eating every meal together, of knowing what they were learning and being able to direct their interests, of building memories and relationships, of seeing intentional friendships that built my kids up rather than tearing them down and watching the stress and anxiety that my kids had experienced dissipate was worth EVERY sacrifice I was being asked to make. My time was not as flexible, yet having my kids home revealed a blessing I hadn’t expected- having my oldest home meant that I could go grocery shopping during nap time or if a friend wanted to meet for coffee in the afternoon, I could do that without a preschooler in tow. As I submitted my time to the Lord, I discovered that I had more time. Interesting, right? But this is God’s economy.
When I first started blogging nearly seven years ago, I wrote a blog post at least three times a week. Writing was an integral part of my life and the relationships that I have made through blogging are very dear to me. This has been the hardest area of my life that I have had to submit to my Father’s hands. I went from writing about twenty blog posts a month to an average of two posts a month. I miss writing, but the decrease in posts meant that I was able to focus on finishing the book God had laid on my heart to write. My submission in this area has resulted in accomplishing a goal that was important to me. And so, it has become clear to me that a willingness to submit equals an opportunity for unexpected blessing. Not always in the way we expect and not usually in our timing, but submission opens our eyes to what God is doing, taking our focus from our plans and our way of seeing things. When we begin to see what God’s plan is, we realize that it is way better than our plans could ever be.
When I consider all of the technical issues I have had to deal with this year, it is almost comical. Unable to use my laptop for a week, because Sadie chewed through the cord in her puppy days and it finally stopped working. The remote control for our car no longer working, so the convenience of being able to open the doors by remote is no longer a possibility. Losing power for three days. My Kindle on the fritz. But by far the biggest difficulty has been the SIM card on my phone failing at the worst times and not being able to communicate until it was replaced. This has happened eight times over the course of five months, but we have been unable to replace the phone due to the aforementioned financial strain.
I have been unable to use my phone at the worst possible moments. Like my phone failing during a dear friend’s labor and delivery (I missed 42 texts!). Or when the kids and I were on a road trip. Or the weekend before Ainsley’s ultrasound and doctor’s appointment, so that I was unable to talk to my Mom. While all of this has been difficult for me, the focus on submission has reminded me that God is control and I can trust Him. Even when I am unable to communicate in the way I would like, He is good. When I am reminded to submit, I gain a perspective that allows me to be calm and content through situations that would have previously caused internal strife and external emotional outbursts.
But even with all of these lessons learned, I am still a work in progress. I still have to fight against selfishness and frustration and anger. I’m not always as gracious as I desire to be. I think that’s the point of choosing “one word”. It helps us to see areas in which God wants to refine us and then invites Him to do the work that only he can do.
The verse that God has impressed on my heart this year is from James 4:7- “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The verse that precedes this one talks about how God gives more grace to the humble. And there it is. When we submit, when we are willing to be humble instead of clinging to our pride, we receive grace. Submit = Blessing.
As I look forward to 2018, a new word is settling on my heart, but I believe I will save that for another blog post. If you are interested in hearing a great podcast about how others choose their one word, listen to this episode from Chatologie hosted by Angie Elkins. Her co-host for this episode, Stacey Thacker, has been a dear friend and mentor of mine for several years now. I had the joy of spending a couple of days with her and my boss at the MOB Society and also dear friend, Brooke McGlothlin, back in October of this year. These women love Jesus with all of their hearts and continue to be an amazing encouragement to me in my own pursuit of Christ. Stacey’s one word for 2018, “steadfast”, is taken from my life verse- 1 Corinthians 15:58. If you listen to the episode, you’ll see why I love her!
Did you pick one word for 2017? How has God used it in your life? How are you preparing your heart for 2018? Have you picked a new word for next year?
I would love to hear your answers! May 2018 be filled with joy and growth for each one of us!
Dear Family and Friends,
How does one sum up a year filled with incredible moments, deep sadness, amazing adventures, personal achievements, hard work and remarkable growth? As I was contemplating all that 2017 has held, I had the thought that if a movie were to be made of any year in my life, this one would be a contender.
To begin this exciting year, Dave and I had the opportunity to go on a cruise with two of our dear friends. We snorkeled in Honduras, kayaked in Belize, shopped in Costa Maya and celebrated Dave’s birthday with an ATV tour and more snorkeling in Cozumel. On board our ship, we enjoyed playing shuffleboard on a windy day, drinking our coffee and journaling on our balcony, bowling, enjoying the many different restaurants and simply spending time with our friends.
Spring brought unexpected challenges and sweet joys. In March, our town was impacted by a powerful wind storm and we lost power for three days. It was a difficult and cold few days for us, but we were determined to see it as an adventure. We piled mattresses into our fireplace room and had a sleepover that our children will never forget!
There were several times throughout the past year when I thought I would never see my dear Mama again. Her health has been precarious at best, so when my sister suggested that we surprise her by going to see her over Mother’s day weekend, I was thrilled. For years, I had been working on a book idea to tell a bit of my Dad’s story and how it has impacted mine. God laid it on my heart to finish the book, so I spent three weeks writing and editing and praying. When I arrived in Kansas, I was able to present my Mom with my book. Our time together was incredibly sweet and I praise God for his gift of extra time with my Mama!!
One highlight of our year was the opportunity for Dave and Ethan to fly in a glider. Ethan has a keen interest in flying, so for his 12th birthday, a friend of ours invited my guys to fly with him. It was an exciting and exhilarating day- a birthday to remember!
When we began homeschooling our kids in the Fall of 2016, we quickly discovered two things- homeschooling is a perfect fit for our family and since we will be doing this long term, we needed to devote a space to our new lifestyle. We were already outgrowing our fireplace family room, so we made the decision to finish our basement with the hopes of using it as our family room and then utilizing the fireplace room for our homeschool room. In June, demolition began. Dave has worked every spare moment since to transform our basement into a beautiful and cozy family room space.
This whole process has been stretching for all of us as we have had to adjust our entire lives to this seemingly endless project. But God’s goodness has been felt through all of it and we are so thankful for Dave’s hard work and persistence. There are still a few more things to finish up, but we are already in love with this new space!
Other exciting moments this year included Lindsay’s performance in Anne of Green Gables and voice recitals. She continues to excel in the arts and is continuing to write books (she just completed chapter 9 of her current book!) and we enjoy the opportunity to support her. Ethan earned his red belt in Tae Kwon Do and continues to take saxophone lessons. His creativity and love for learning are emerging and we love that we get a front row seat to his growth. Gibson is quick to learn and has become a voracious reader. He loves science and geography and is able to memorize facts and scripture easily. We are excited about what the future holds for him. Ainsley loves to dance, play with her siblings and go to preschool. It is a privilege to teach her and see her excitement for learning.
We made the decision to join a local cooperation of homeschool families called “Gloria Deo Co-op” at the beginning of this school year. The kids love everything about co-op. They each take three classes and I have the privilege of teaching preschool for four precious little girls (including Ainsley) while they are in class. It has been a joy to see their excitement each week!
In addition to finishing our basement this year, Dave preached through a few sermon series. He preached through Hebrews in the spring and his fall series was on the five solas of the Reformation- scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone and to the glory of God alone. Personally, I am so grateful for his faithfulness in preaching and for the humble way he presents truth for God’s glory .We celebrated twenty years in ministry together this year and we are so thankful for God’s faithfulness to us all of these years! If you want to listen to any of Dave’s sermons, you can access them at the Orchard Community Church website.
I continue to do online work for The MOB Society– a ministry to Moms of Boys. My work is primarily in customer service, but I also have the opportunity to write prayers for our monthly and now quarterly prayer calendars. This opportunity has been a gift in my life and I can clearly see how God prepared this for me in order that I could still homeschool my kids. He is so good and faithful! I am still in the process of revising and editing the book that I wrote for my Mom in the Spring. I hope to have it self-published in 2018!
From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas! May you know the hope that was born in a manger, the salvation that Jesus freely gives to all who believe and the love and joy that is ours in Christ. The baby in a manger changed everything and we pray that the significance of what we celebrate will be at the forefront of your celebrations this Christmas and every day in the New Year.
Merry Christmas with love,
Becky (for Dave, Lindsay, Ethan, Gibson and Ainsley)
“Shame on you!”
The words ricocheted through her heart, the tears falling fast. She had heard these words spoken many times in her childhood, but was unprepared to hear them again as a grown woman. But maturity had taught her a few things and this time, she didn’t hear the words in the same way.
As she prayed about her response, she realized a few things. In this situation, she was not sinning. She had merely shared a struggle that was met with this harsh response. Her desire was to show love and kindness, but she had been hurt and misunderstood. When she expressed her need for more time to work through this struggle, it was met with these harsh words. Prayer reminded her of the love the Father had lavished on her. It reminded her of her purpose- to bring glory to God alone, not to strive to live up to man’s ever shifting standards.
“You’re such a jerk! Why can’t you be like the other girls?”
Reminiscing about these words spoken by a teacher three years ago, brings tears to her eyes. These were unfair and unkind words spoken to a child who was struggling by an adult charged with helping her students grow in maturity. But the words have seeped deep into her soul. Maybe she is a jerk. Maybe there is something wrong with her, because she does think differently and she can’t quite seem to fit into the boxes that others want her to fit into.
Several years ago, I began studying the concept of grace, because I had come to realize that while I understood grace on an intellectual level, there was a discrepancy between this knowledge and my experience. Grace was great of course, but was it really amazing? I wasn’t sure.
And so, I began to read and to contemplate and to pray and as I did so, I discovered that grace IS truly amazing, but it is only understood when one recognizes and believes the truth about their own sinful state and their desperate need for Christ. Without this understanding, grace is just a nice little blessing that we recognize on occasion rather than an overwhelming sense of gratitude for how deep and vast the love of God is and how He has poured that love out on us and IS pouring it out from a well that never runs dry.
All of the “shame on yous” could never truly teach me to see the depths of my own sin, but seeing the lengths that God was willing to go to in order to draw me into relationship with Himself has changed everything for me. I didn’t deserve it (this was the crucial piece of this puzzle that I had to wrestle with and truly accept!). There was no merit of my own, no goodness on my part that could make me right with God. If there was, why would Jesus have come to this world, humbling himself and becoming obedient to death on a cross? Isn’t that utter foolishness if I could save myself?
I had dipped my toe into the pool of grace and now I wanted to dive in. Grace was beginning to wash over me and I wanted more.
Shame had been a motivation in my life for as long as I could remember. Figure out what people want and try to make them happy was an unspoken mantra. Don’t admit your inadequacies. Be who people want you to be and all will be well. But cracks were beginning to develop as I experienced more conflict with others when I pushed back on the inconsistencies I saw. The truth was that it was impossible to please everyone no matter how hard I tried.
A friend posed this question to me in one of our conversations- “Do we live in a grace-filled or shame based environment?” And perhaps a better question, which environment should we be living in?
This question has been resonating in my heart ever since. When I am tempted to say “what’s wrong with you?!!” to one of my children, I am learning to bite my tongue. Because while I am legitimately frustrated with their behavior in the moment, I desire lasting change in their hearts, not a momentary shaming that will result in a desired behavior change. Instead, I want to seek the grace-filled response. This takes time. It takes a willingness to listen to their hearts, to truly understand the motives behind their behavior. It involves leading them to the throne of grace where they are invited to come boldly in order to obtain mercy and find grace to help in times of need (Hebrews 4:16, KJV).
I have learned that shame condemns, but grace convicts.
Shame leaves us feeling miserable. Once again, we have failed others and we need to try harder the next time.
But grace leaves us feeling free. It shows us that we’re not supposed to trust in our own faulty strength, but instead, we get to run to the throne room and trust in Jesus to be our strength.
Shame emphasizes our inadequacies; grace magnifies Christ’s sufficiency.
Shame focuses on our own guilt; grace focuses on complete forgiveness.
Shame points fingers; grace points to Christ.
I have found that when we are focused on being grace-filled, shame based environments or attitudes stick out like a sore thumb. Shaming others is manipulative. It is an attempt to exert control over others. As a parent, it can be a response to embarrassment (and when you have outside-the-box kinds of kids, there is ample opportunity for this!). When you are surrounded by shaming behavior, it is defeating rather than life giving.
But when others are seeking grace as well, there is a beautiful communion of spirit. There is a like-mindedness that draws hearts towards truth. There is a freedom to fail, because there is no condemnation. Admittance of sin is celebrated, because it means that forgiveness can be sought and true heart change can occur. There is a desire for all things to be brought into the light, for a quickness to admit fault in order to seek peace and righteousness.
If you have never considered what kind of environment you live in, might I encourage you to do so?
Here are some passages that encourage grace-filled living: