Do you ever have those moments when life just seems to stand still? When you walk through it in slow motion?
This happened to me recently on an impromptu trip to one of my favorite places, an amusement park in Pennsylvania. It is one that I grew up going to and so many of my childhood memories were made at that place. The kids and I were returning from a quick trip to see friends of mine when we passed by signs for the park and as it was close to dinner time and we had to stop anyway, I made a quick decision to stop at the park.
The great thing about this amusement park is that there is no admission fee which makes quick stops possible. My oldest two wanted to go on the new roller coaster and as I am a thrill seeker myself, I encourage this kind of bravery. Even the long line and the extra wait due to a car being taken off of the track did not dampen our excitement about being at our favorite place.
We enjoyed a dinner of pizza and Crystal Light Raspberry Ice (another childhood memory!) and then it was Gibson’s turn to pick a ride. He chose the flume, a water ride that was built during my teen years. One of my favorite days at the park was with my youth group. Each car on the flume ride holds four people, so three of my friends and I went on the ride over and over again (15 times in a row. Yes, we were counting!). It is still one of my favorites, so I was excited to experience it with my precious boy.
He wanted to go in the front by himself to which I acquiesced, but after the first hill, he made the comment that he almost fell out. And there you have it. My worst fear. Rides don’t scare me, but protecting my little flock? Well, it is terrifying at times. For the last hill, I was my boy’s seat belt, wrapping my arms around him, holding him firmly in place.
He loved it and I loved the time with him. When you have four kids, you have to be strategic about spending time with them individually and when those times come, they are all the more special.
We laughed on our way back through the park, because it felt strangely reminiscent of our time there the summer before. Last year, we were with their Daddy and it had been an intentional trip. It is a tradition to end the day with funnel cake, but the skies had opened up and dumped on us on our way back to the car. Daddy still managed to get the funnel cake safely to the car, just in time. This year, as we walked to our car, we decided to forego the funnel cake, because the skies were once again turning gray.
My youngest is at the age where she wants to be independent. She does not like to hold my hand and we didn’t have a stroller (impromptu trip and all), so the entire time we were at the park, I felt like I was on high alert, super vigilant in making sure that she was close by and not wandering off. Taking a tram to the far end of the parking lot seemed like a perfect solution to our end of the day experiences.
We got off the tram, but had to cross the road to get to our car. This was the moment where time stood still. My focus was on holding my squirming two year old, trusting that my little ducks as I like to call them would fall in line behind me. But my blonde haired boy was anxious to get to the car and he just took off.
A sound came from my throat unlike any I have ever heard before. I could see it all happening before me, the tram to my right, a black truck to my left, my boy running off in front of me. I couldn’t see the car that was coming in the opposite lane, but I knew it was there. I screamed and the most remarkable thing happened. He heard my voice and he jumped back.
As the car passed by, we walked the rest of the way to our car. I handed off the baby girl to her sister and grabbed my boy and just held him close. He wanted to shrug me off, but there is something fierce in a mama’s hug when she understands the enormity of a situation.
He heard my voice and he listened. Time stood still and my boy was kept safe.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me. ~John 10:27 NKJV
This verse has new significance to me as I write these words today. My son heard my voice and somehow I knew what he needed to hear in order for him to listen and to follow. It makes me wonder, do I recognize my Good Shepherd’s voice as I walk through life? Am I listening for Him, seeking to follow in whatever direction He leads? Or do I run haphazardly through life, ignoring His voice, because I think I know what is best?
I think we can have this faulty view of Jesus, believing that if we follow Him, we will miss out on things. We think that He wants to keep us from having fun and that following Him will mean a life of drudgery and servitude. As I contemplate this scenario with my boy, one could say that I did indeed keep him from doing what he wanted to do. He just wanted to run to the car. What was so wrong with that? But I knew more than my boy did in that situation. I had not forgotten that we were crossing a street and I valued his safety.
Also in John chapter 10, Jesus says this…
I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. ~John 10:10
What our Good Shepherd actually desires for us is an abundant life. He can see the pitfalls and the dangers that await us and He desires to protect us, to guide us and to lead us. This doesn’t mean that everything in life will be grand if we follow Him, but it does mean that our lives will be full with all of the best things. It means that we will never be alone on this journey and that we can trust His goodness.
I am so grateful that my boy heard my voice and that he listened. I pray that I would do the same, listening for the still small voice of my Shepherd and following His voice, wherever He leads.
I wake up early in Nicaragua. This is a strange thing for me as my natural tendency is to sleep until the last possible moment and even then I get out of bed begrudgingly.
But the sun rises early here and so do I. The early mornings are filled with charm. The sun is already warming me as a soft breeze blows through reminding me of God’s goodness, his sweetness to me in allowing me to experience difficulty and blessing almost simultaneously. The birds wake early as well, their conversations swirling around me. They have no sense of propriety. They say what they want to say when they want to say it and for some reason this too is charming. Sometimes I feel afraid to share my thoughts freely. Perhaps this is discretion. I pray that it is, but sometimes I wonder if I am not saying what I need to say for fear of repercussions, secretly wondering who will find issue with my words this time.
This saddens me the way we are so quick to judge one another, to criticize, to demean others. But it also saddens me that I allow the opinions of others to affect me in this way.
This was the word our missionary leader, Dan shared with us our first morning here. It means to be calm. When things change unexpectedly and they don’t go the way we want them to go, tranquilo. When we face delay after delay in our flight schedule which results in arriving without our bags, tranquilo. When we struggle with the language barriers, tranquilo. When plans change again, tranquilo.
Tranquil happens to be my favorite word, but somewhere along the way, I have become a bit more controlling about my life and the way I want it to go. Being here in Nicaragua is reminding me to let go of my false sense of control. After all, I am not trusting in Jesus when I try to manipulate situations to work the way I want them to.
The result of tranquilo living is a restful life. It is peace in the midst of adversity. It is continuing to trust when situations seem to be spiraling out of control. It is not acting in a mean or spiteful way when it doesn’t go my way.
Tranquilo reminds me to let go of my own way and to fully trust God’s plan for me. It means that I don’t get to say any longer that I am not a morning person. It means that I can appreciate cold showers. It means that I can jump into a pool in shorts and a t-shirt. It means that I can step off of a platform and trust that the cable will hold and the guy on the other side will be able to stop me.
Today we are going to a school to lead a VBS program for around 150 kids. I will admit to you that I am nervous about this. The craft we have prepared is fun, but I am not sure that it will work with 50 kids at a time.
I don’t know how this is going to go, but what I do know is that God is always faithful. And if a craft fails, but he is glorified, then we have succeeded.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:6-7
Seventy two hours. It’s a huge number, especially when those hours involve a road trip, when they mark the time spent in a minivan.
Thirteen movies. Some watched more than once. Because who can resist a cute little two year old when she says, “Watch a wovie?”.
Forty eight state, two Indian nation, five Canadian province and one District of Columbia license plates. We were hopeful that we would see Hawaii, but it didn’t happen. And apparently, no one lives in Wyoming (or at the very least, they weren’t driving where we were)!
Fifteen meals at restaurants in two weeks (3 of those were at Chick-fil-A. Of course!). I ate some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life. My son tried alligator and it was actually quite good. But bring on the salads and home cooked meals! My stomach was in an uproar!
Sixteen different states. The kids enjoyed filling in their passport books and we saw parts of the country that were completely new to us. I loved the swamps of Louisiana. We were surprised by the beauty of Oklahoma. The Flint Hills region in Kansas was one of the most astounding places I have ever driven through. The diversity of our country is quite amazing and it has only increased my desire to see it all!
Four thousand three hundred some miles. For those who want to know, that is the distance from sea to shining sea and half way back again. And that is why this journey earned the hashtag #epicroadtrip !!!
Fourteen memorable animal sightings. The most surprising was a dead black bear on our way to Virginia. We saw a flock of gorgeous pink birds in Louisiana. The Longhorns in Texas and bison in Ohio were both fantastic. Our two year old said “cow” and “horse” repeatedly. (Also, “Nar-nar” and “Dumpy Dog”, but that’s a story for another day!). Armadillos and a road runner were pretty cool to see too. Two of my children claimed they saw an alligator. Driving from Texas to Kansas was one ranch after another and I loved every single one!
Five different beds. Our families were all so very generous to us and we all slept comfortably except for the first and last nights of our trip. The first night, our two year old would not stay in her Pack-n-Play. So she kept us awake until 3 AM at which point, I took her and we shared her Pack-n-Play mattress on the floor. The last night, we went against our better judgment and shared the beds with our older two. They are not used to sharing a bed. Enough said.
Three epic meltdowns. Based on all of the previous numbers this number might surprise you. But what might surprise you more is who had those meltdowns.
I kicked things off on our journey from Alabama to Texas. My husband was in charge of navigating our trip and so when he said that we would be driving through New Orleans, I was super excited. The closer we got to the city, the more my excitement grew. I wanted to drive over Lake Pontchartrain. I wanted to have beignets in the French quarter. I wanted to see the homes with the double balconies. I wanted to hear a jazz band playing on a street corner.
But as I watched our route taking shape, I realized that we were not going to go through the city like my husband had said. My disappointment was acute. We were so close and we drove right on by. My disappointment moved quickly to anger. You said we were going through New Orleans!!, I spat out at my sweet husband who quickly grew irritated with me. I thought we were, but I was wrong. And we are not driving an hour out of our way on a 12 hour road trip!, the reasonableness of his response only frustrating me more.
I huffed and I puffed and realized that I needed some time away from my husband. But how does one do that on a road trip in an enclosed space?!! So, I crawled back with my boys and watched a movie. By the time it was over, everything was back in perspective and I was able to apologize and be grateful for my husband once again. The rest of Louisiana and Baton Rogue made up for what I felt like I was missing by not seeing New Orleans.
I share this part of the story, because there is freedom in admitting my imperfections. I respond badly at times. Actually a lot of the time. I had expectations and I wanted what I wanted. The result of my selfishness was that I lashed out at my husband who takes such good care of our family, who loves me beyond reason, who patiently deals with my topsy-turvyness.
Most of the time, my kids don’t see their parents upset with one another. The truth is we have a pretty great relationship. But sometimes our kids need to see that we mess up too and we desperately need Jesus to be at work in our lives. We need grace and that was completely evident in my epic meltdown moment. I pray that they will remember how we resolved it and how their parents love each other, not because we are easy to love, but because we will always fight for each other and work to love one another even through difficult times.
The other meltdowns are not my story to tell, but in both of the other cases, we saw lessons learned, we saw forgiveness take place and we saw grace poured out on our family. It makes me wonder why we try so hard to hide our imperfections, our messes and yes, our sin, when it is really in and through these very things that Christ’s power is truly made perfect. I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that their parents have it all together and miss out on the fact that we are constantly thrown at the throne of God’s grace.
Not surprising to me was that there seemed to be a theme to the songs that came on the radio station that we listened to when we weren’t listening to movies. Over and over we heard the reminder that God takes our brokenness and our mess and he makes it beautiful. But if we never admit that we have any brokenness, how can he make it beautiful?
It’s in the admittance of sin and the submitting to God’s authority in our lives that he does something extraordinary in us.
This is freedom.
And all this from 72 hours of an epic road trip.
It’s a question that has been thrown around a lot lately. What side are you on? When this line of picking sides is drawn in the sand it separates people so fully. Anger and mistrust lie on both sides resulting in attacks and behavior that is demeaning.
These lines are drawn over so many issues- racism, same sex marriage, political affiliation, socio-economic status, even denominations- and while I think discussions and challenges on these issues are good and can be effective, too often these discussions result in further divisions and deeper chasms.
When Jesus drew lines in the sand, it was to challenge the crowd to consider this- “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” ~John 8:7 (speaking of the woman caught in adultery).
The beauty of Jesus’s approach is that one by one the crowd disperesed without one stone being thrown. Some will say that the message of Jesus here is that no one should judge another unless they are without sin. And this is true. When we truly understand that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), we are able to move from judging others in their sin to recognizing the grace that we have received in Christ when we have accepted his gift of salvation.
I believe that one of the reasons we are so quick to judge another’s sin is that we don’t truly understand the meaning of sin. We categorize sin- my pride and my greed are not nearly as deplorable as your theft and murder- but we need to understand that God does not categorize sin. In God’s eyes, sin is rebellion against Himself. It is anything that puts our own way first. It is intentionally OR unintentionally removing God from the throne of our lives and putting anything else in that place.
We judge someone else’s sin until we realize that if we are honest with ourselves, we are simply sinners saved by grace. If my sins were dragged out into a public square, the situation would be just as dire as the woman caught in adultery.
But the message of Jesus here is not simply to not judge others in their sin. Jesus goes on to say one of the most profound statements in scripture- “Women, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord”.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more.”
This statement is so beautiful to me, because the truth is Jesus COULD have condemned her. He was without sin. He was free to judge. But he could see her heart and he knew the repentance that was inside of her. And then he told her to go and sin no more.
Jesus could say these things because He was fully God. Too often as Christians, we can begin to think too highly of ourselves. We puff ourselves up with knowledge and we can debate and argue with the best of them. We hide behind standing up for truth and we forget that WE ARE NOT GOD. We cannot see into someone’s heart and we cannot change their heart. But Jesus can.
And so, I am drawing a new line in the sand, a new side, because I believe that Jesus came and sacrificed his life to save us from our sins, NOT so that we would yell at each other from our own soap boxes. That is the side that I want to be on.
I believe in a BIG God, One who is capable of changing any heart where it needs to be changed. I believe that He loves even the worst of sinners, but he loves them too much to leave them in their sin. He WILL change any heart that humbly comes to him, seeking to be changed by Him.
By the way, we all need this change in our lives. Until we die, we should be seeking Christ to change us, to make us more like Himself.
Because I believe in a big God, I am convinced that my role in life is to point others to Him. I do not know a single person who has been shamed into a change of heart, but I know plenty who have discovered the love of God that brings peace, hope and joy beyond human explanation.
I can’t condemn anyone, because I am a sinner. But I believe in a God who doesn’t know any sinner He can’t change. And so my feet are firmly planted on His side and my prayer is that I would faithfully point others to Him.