Dear Middle School Daughter of Mine,
This weekend, you became a teenager. I have thoughts of is this possible?!! and where did the time go?!!! But the truth is that 13 seems to fit you just right. It helps that you surpassed me in height this year. You have also faced some trials that have helped you to grow into yourself.
Your teenage years lie before you, ready to be discovered, navigated, explored, urging you to learn, to grow, to have fun. As you dip your toes into these new waters, it seems appropriate that I offer you some advice. After all, I have already passed through my teen years and so I offer you a compass, a map and a telescope to aid you on your journey.
Your Compass~ Fix your eyes on Jesus
You will be tempted to look any and everywhere else for your True North, but I want you to know that Jesus is the only Way through these sometimes turbulent, often unexpected discoveries in your teenage years. When your eyes are fixed on him, you will be able to face the difficulties that will come and you will be able to give him glory in the good and the bad.
This might sound simplistic, but you have already seen the importance of fixing your eyes on Jesus. This year hasn’t exactly been the easiest. You have lost friendships and your heart has been broken. But in some ways, this is God’s grace in your life, because you are learning lessons that most people don’t learn until much later in life.
Friends will fail you. Your siblings will not always like you. Your parents will not always get it right. Life will not be fair. If you are looking to any of these things to determine your direction, you will drift off course. But when you keep your eyes on Jesus, you will be able to weather these storms, understanding that you are not drowning and you will make it through.
Your friends will fail you and they will forsake you, but Jesus never will.
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5
Cling to this truth. But don’t overlook the first verse in Hebrews 13. It says this…
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” – Hebrews 13:1
Even when your friends fail you, when they reject you, when they don’t understand you, you must keep loving them! You don’t get to treat them poorly, because they have hurt you. Trust me when I say that I know this is hard. The old adage is true- hurting people hurt people. I know that you feel like you have been shot by a cannon ball, knocked over, unable to breathe. I know you never want to feel that way again, so you will treat others badly before they can hurt you.
I get this. But THIS is why it is so imperative to fix your eyes on Jesus- the one who endured unspeakable suffering to save you. The one who was willing to endure the ridicule, the false accusations, the beatings, the mocking, the slander, the complete injustice, so that you might have life eternal. As followers of Christ, we are asked to share in his sufferings, letting go of our own demands. There is great joy set before you, dear girl! A treasure box waiting to be opened! Don’t miss out on the blessings God has for you, because of a need to make everyone treat you the way you feel you deserve to be treated.
Your Map ~ The Word of God
You are a voracious reader. Ever since you were two and you insisted on sleeping with books in your bed, you have been a book lover. I love this about you. I love the adventures that you take via books and the way you get lost in a good story. Sometimes you will learn powerful lessons from the books that you read. But the ONLY book that should determine your life choices is the Bible.
It is God’s love letter to you, his plan to redeem humanity and restore us to a right relationship with him.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:3-8
Everything you need for life can be found in the pages of this book. But don’t ever think that you know everything in it. This is one of the dangers of being young and impetuous- and having grown up in the church. It is pride that makes you believe you have it all figured out. Keep reading. Keep exploring. There are intricacies to this map that you won’t even see after the first 100 times of reading it. So keep going.
It is my deepest prayer for you, that you would know Jesus and that you would love His Word. It’s a game changer. And for those who scoff at you and say that it is archaic and irrelevant- well, we know better don’t we? “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Don’t rely on the wisdom of this world, even the things that sound good. Allow your books and your reading to encourage a deeper passion for God’s word, a desire that cannot be quenched.
Your Telescope~ Grace
This is a lesson that I have only learned recently, so my prayer for you is that you would learn this now. The way we look at the world needs to be through the eyes of grace. God has lavished his love on us and we don’t deserve it. Not even a little. Understanding that all of our efforts, our strivings, our works and our service are just filthy rags, puts everything into perspective.
We are not better than anyone else. We all deserve death, but God in his mercy gave us His Son instead, offering us new life in Him. Because Jesus sacrificed his life in our place, taking the penalty for our sin on Himself, dying in our place, rising to new life and offering that life to us, we get to live! What an amazing gift!
But when we think that we deserved the gift of grace or that we are somehow better than others because of this gift, we are dead wrong. Believing these lies will cause us to look down our noses at other people. It will cause us to judge others, to hold them to a standard we have no right holding them to, to place expectations on others. This is ungrace. It is a trap that Christians so easily fall into.
Grab hold of grace, sweet girl. Look at others through its lens. Don’t think of yourself as better than others. Celebrate their successes. Mourn with their losses. Do not judge. Instead, point them to Jesus. Show kindness and mercy and love. Be patient with those who mistreat you. They are on a different journey. Pray for them. Ask forgiveness when you fail others.
But understand this- true lovers of Christ will seek to love you in the same way. They will offer grace to you, because they understand the depths from which they have been saved. Do not allow the judgmental, critical, harsh, demeaning voices to define you. While there might be some truth in what they say (and you can and should learn from these things!), it is only the grace-filled voices in your life that you should truly listen to and take to heart. These are the people who genuinely love you and desire what is best for you. They are the ones who take the time to know you rather than making hasty judgments.
I know the judgmental voices are louder and the ones that ring in your head. But they are wrong, Lu. You are not defined by your mistakes and your failures. You are not defined by your emotional outbursts or poor choices. You are defined by Christ’s power at work in you, changing you from the inside out.
All of the treasures of this world are worth nothing compared to the unshakable treasure that awaits you through Jesus Christ. May you pursue Him with all of your heart.
Happy 13th, sweet girl!
I love you,
I have several friends who have children on the autism spectrum. I admire the way they fight for their kids to get the help they need. They have learned that while it is important to have expectations for their children, those expectations must be tempered with compassion and discernment.
I see this same heart cry in other friends who have children with varying difficulties; ADHD, behavioral issues, turrets, anxiety. The list goes on. Parents today face so many issues with their kids that at times, it can become overwhelming.
But one of the hardest stages is the undiagnosed stage. Parents know that there is an issue. They know their kids better than anyone else and are fully aware of their child’s need for support and assistance. But until the doctor has signed off, they are unable to move forward in getting their kids the help they need. No one WANTS the diagnosis and yet for the child’s sake, the diagnosis represents opportunities for progress, rather than the constant feeling of being in a holding pattern.
My kids have not been diagnosed with any particular issues, but they all have unique struggles. There are times when I feel like I need to constantly defend them. Please show them grace, I beg. They are a work in progress, I cry.
You see, my kids are on a different kind of spectrum, one that we are ALL on. It is the sin spectrum and no one is exempt. It says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
The problem is that not everyone understands the gravity of the sin problem we all experience. There is a common belief that man is basically good, therefore, if we all try a little harder, we will be the best versions of ourselves. By ignoring the sin problem, we think that life will be easier. No one wants to think badly about themselves, right?
But when our sin is left undiagnosed, there is no opportunity for change. We are left trying to fix ourselves and the older we grow, the more obvious it becomes that we have a problem that we are incapable of fixing. And so our hearts continue to break and we continue to try putting bandaids on the problem.
I understood my diagnosis of sinner when I was 4 years old. My parents and my sisters were the first missionaries in my life, telling me about Jesus and explaining my need for him. I understood this need then, but for most of my life, I have struggled with truly understanding my utter depravity. I was a good girl. I did a lot of “right” things and so it was hard to believe that I was truly awful. My Dad would talk about being saved from the pit and he would get teary when he would talk about being a worm. But I didn’t get it. I was saved before I dug a pit for myself. My pit felt more like a little hole in the ground. And if your problem seems small, then the grace needed will be small as well.
I wanted more grace. I heard others talking about grace and their eyes would light up. We would sing about amazing grace and it stopped me short. What’s so amazing about it?
I began to pray that I would have a deeper understanding of grace. I’m convinced that God loves these kinds of prayers, not because He wants us to struggle, but because He can see the end result. He knows what His work in us will produce and He can’t wait to get started.
And get started He did! He took me through a painful season. I began to see that all of my righteous deeds were filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Sure, I was serving and volunteering and doing a lot of great things, but my motivation was myself and my own glory. Ick. I began to see the ugly parts of my heart, the areas that I kept hidden. Or so I thought. They began to pour out, almost as if Pandora’s box had been opened. My pride, my anger, my bitterness and resentment. Gossiping. Manipulation. Comparisons. Selfishness. All on display before me.
And I discovered in my heart the truth I had always known in my head. While we see sin as a spectrum with murderers on one side and white liars on the other, God sees sin as sin. It separates us from Him and the divide is just as wide regardless of the sin committed. We need a Savior and there is nothing we can do in ourselves to make ourselves right with God. If you are struggling to understand grace, please hear this. You can never make yourself good enough for God. There is no earning a right relationship with him. The number of times you go to church, your faithful prayers, your baptism, your confessions, your ability to recite the chatechism- NONE of this will save you. Only Jesus can. Only by accepting his sacrifice on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins, only by believing that He was raised to new life and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, only by believing that he has given you new life in Him can you be saved.
We have received our diagnosis. We are all on the sin spectrum and nothing we do can fix this issue. Only grace can step through and give us hope. Are we willing to accept Christ’s advocacy on our behalf? Are we willing to lay down all of our own striving and fully trust His gift of grace in our life?
If not, we look like my kid trying to lick her elbow.
Remedy: By faith alone, by scripture alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone, for God’s glory alone
I woke up this morning feeling more tired than when I went to sleep last night.
I try to write only to be interrupted by a little one who needs a diaper change.
I sit on my couch and try to decide between writing a blog post or folding a load of laundry.
The laundry wins. It seems to be winning a lot lately. The distractions are endless, the needs constant, the expectations looming and the desire to write gets diminished with every attempt that is foiled.
Because writing is hard. Actually, the assumptions, the criticisms, the judgments- those are the things that are hard. Writing is cathartic. I need to write, to express my thoughts, to take what gets all jumbled in my head and make sense of it all somehow. But the voices grow stronger when I write. The opinions get louder. And I confess that I listen way more often than I should.
My writing is stilted, my growth stunted, and I find myself surviving rather than thriving.
I have grand arguments in my head. I contemplate what I would have said in the moment if I had the courage (or opportunity!) to say the hard things. And then I convince myself that my discretion and wisdom have won the day, meanwhile the niggling feeling at the back of my mind persists. It’s better to say too much than to never say what you need to say again and say what you need to say, and let the words fall out play on repeat in my head.
Three of my friends celebrated book releases this week and I am thrilled for each one of them. It’s an exhilarating thing to be an author’s friend, because writers are generous with their desire to share the joy in their work.
But these celebrations remind me of my own feeling of being stifled. I’m stuck it seems in an invisible trap. Yearning, longing to break free, but continually being pulled back. Some of the bonds are self inflicted. It is easier to fold a load of laundry and watch a show on Netflix than it is to do the hard work of constructing thoughts in a meaningful way. The never ending nature of my work is an easy excuse for not taking the time to pursue my writing. The needs of others abound and I get lost on social media with the feeling that it-is-my-job-after-all.
My writing seems frivolous. It’s not going anywhere, I surmise, so why take the time to do it? I need to see results and if the statistics aren’t what I would like them to be, why should I keep spinning my wheels?
And then the voices. The disparaging ones, the naysayers, the critics- everyone has something to say. It might not be intentional, but it levels me. It might be just an offhanded comment, but I’m left reeling. Often times, it is a person who is hurting and so they lash out at me. I take their hurts on myself and try to heal them, all the while forgetting that I am NOT their healer and their burden is not mine to bear.
And so I run to the only place that has the answers, that contains the truth, that sets me free. I run boldly before the throne of grace, laying down my hurts, my busyness, and my desires. In that place, I am filled once again, not with myself, but with Jesus. In Christ, my thoughts move from my own plans to His will for me. The voices decrease as He increases. I don’t waver in my faith, but stand firmly on the foundation of My Rock.
Greater is He who is living in me than he who is living in the world and when You don’t move the mountains, I’m needing You to move… I will trust in You play on repeat in my head. My heart begins to trust in God’s perfect plan and His perfect timing. I refuse to be wrapped up in myself and open my heart to others.
His Still Small Voice becomes louder than the cacophony that surrounds me. He quiets the waters, the wind subsides.
I am safe. I am His. I am loved.
Reach out in love to one. Hurt another.
Give generously of your time, talents and wealth. Someone will think you are stingy.
Serve others. You didn’t do enough.
Smile frequently. Your motives will be suspect.
Genuinely care about others. Forget to send cards and it doesn’t count.
The weight is crushing. Desiring to love others fully and well. But falling short.
I want to run with my arms flung wide.
Free from expectations, opinions, criticisms, judgment.
But freedom can’t be found in trying to please humans. Ever.
Because it’s never enough.
I will disappoint. I will fail. I will mess up. I will make mistakes.
My head is back, my arms extended, my hair blowing in the wind.
I’m choosing freedom. In Christ.
Choosing to believe what He says about me.
I was bought with a price.
He has given me his righteousness.
He is making me like Him.
I don’t have to prove this internal working of the Spirit in my life. Because you will never see it, if you are always judging me by human standards.
I am living in the shadow of the cross.
As I accept this freedom that you have extended to me, may I in turn extend this same love to others. Rid me of myself. The judgments, the unfair expectations, the criticism. May I see others through your eyes, seeing what you can do in any heart, rather than how I want people to be.
Help me to soar!
Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. ~Galatians 1:10