A Spacious Place

A Spacious Place

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When I was a little girl, I would often play by myself. Our home was surrounded by mountains, our neighbors were cornfields and strawberry patches. Across the street was a cemetery and the small country church where my Daddy was the pastor. It was a beautiful and inspiring place to grow up, but it felt small and insignificant. Nothing ever seemed to happen in Pitman, Pennsylvania that was noteworthy. There was no big city excitement. The only “culture” was the migrant workers on various farms.

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And so, I would play in our front yard and every once in awhile, a car would drive by and in my childish imagination, I would watch the car stop in front of our house. A distinguished emissary of a foreign land would disembark and walk through the grass to the place where I was playing and ask, “Are you Becky Mills, the daughter of Lance and Carol Mills?” I would breathe out a “yes” and then find out that I had a very distant relative who had passed away and bequeathed his inheritance to me.

At other times, the inhabitants of the car were big time movie producers who were driving through our town looking for the next big talent. They would see me playing hopscotch and would know that I was the one they had been looking for!

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I laugh now when I remember my dramatic and elaborate imaginings, but as I evaluate them, it strikes me that we all have a longing to feel valued, to know that we matter and to feel significant. In our immaturity, we look for those longing to be fulfilled through other people. If only they would notice me! If only they would see how much I have to offer! But as I have grown older, I have begun to see clearly that we are meant to find our belonging and satisfaction in Christ alone.

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A few years ago, after going through a particularly difficult time, I came across Psalm 18 and as I read these words, I felt God’s love pour over me.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. ~Psalm 18:16-19, NIV

He- the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Alpha and Omega, the Ancient of Days, the Creator of the universe, reached down from on high and took hold of me- with all of my weaknesses, my failings, my insecurities, my sin issues, he drew me out of deep waters- from the difficulties that kept pulling me under and the problems that daily threatened to overwhelm me. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes who were too strong for me- He saw the attacks, the criticism, the judgment, the injustice- but the Lord was my support- not only did he see my hurts, he replaced them with Himself. He spoke his promises deep into my heart, turning my eyes from the crashing waves to look full in his wonderful face. He brought me into a spacious place- at the time I first read these words, I was sitting in our new home looking out on the huge field behind it and it was as if these words had been penned for me. I believe the “spacious place” is meant to have spiritual significance, but it was the sweetness of God that allowed me to see a tangible significance to these words. He rescued me because he delighted in me- in the margin of my Bible, I wrote, “I am his beloved”. How beautiful it is to know that God delights in us, not because of anything that we have done or have had to earn, but all because of who He is and what He has accomplished in us.

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We don’t have to wait for a distant relative to give us their money. We have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.” ~1 Peter 1:4 We don’t need to be noticed or recognized by random strangers because “the Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love, he will exult over you with singing.” ~Zephaniah 3:17

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I love you, Lord, my strength.

 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. ~Psalm 18:1,2

Homeschooling and Thriving

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This past weekend, a dear friend of mine showed me a bracelet that has her “one word” for the year on it. It was lovely. But it reminded me that I had completely forgotten my one word for the year. Me. The one who had inspired her to choose a word for the year in the first place.

Wake up call.

Five years ago when I first began choosing one word as a theme of sorts for my year, my word was intentional. I no longer wanted life to happen to me. I wanted to be deliberate about the decisions I made and the goals that I set. It was a pivotal year in many ways.

How could I have forgotten my word?!

It took me a few moments, but I finally remembered. My word for 2016 is “thrive”. Of course, I forgot. Because my life has been one of surviving rather than thriving these past 6 months. It has been a busy time, but more than that, it has been a time of heartbreak in my personal life. But as I take the time to reflect on this heartbreak, I see God’s hand clearly at work.

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He is using this heartbreak to remind me of my desperate need for Him. More than ever, I see how sinful I am (my pride, my selfishness, my stubbornness, my bad attitude) and I am unwilling to stay there. My heart cries out for God to do the work in me that only He can do.

So do I regret the hardship? No. Would I have wished for it? Of course not, but sometimes it is only through suffering that we are able to persevere and mature and become more like Christ.

Had it not been for this difficult chapter, I’m not sure I would have been willing to allow God to write this next one. He has given us the title for the chapter. It is called “Homeschooling”. I’m not sure what exactly will be written on these blank pages or what this will look like for our family, but knowing that the author and perfecter of my faith is clearly writing this story, I find myself at a place of peace and full confidence in Him.

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What do homeschooling and thriving have to do with each other?

This past year has been a rough school year. The kids were involved in different activities that resulted in staggered school starting times. My husband and I were exhausted before our days even started! In addition to that, it became evident that one of my daughter’s activities was not a safe place for her. The result was that in order for her to be involved, I had to be there as well. This was a huge time commitment for our family as we juggled all of the responsibilities in our lives. We were all stressed, emotional wrecks during this time.

We made it through, but we were carrying extra baggage as a result of this experience. There was no resolution, only a change in our own hearts and a shift in our thinking.

The truth is that I expected my daughter’s middle school years to be similar to mine. I expected her to find a core group of friends who would be loyal to one another, share experiences, grow together and walk through the tough tween years together. It didn’t happen. And yet, God’s goodness has been on display even in this. In the loss of some friendships this year, she has gained a stronger core of friends who are willing to love her for who she is, not for who they want her to be. For this, I am beyond grateful.

Another frustration this year has been the lack of clear communication between the schools and our family. This is partially due to our family being pulled in too many different directions, but there is also a breakdown in the school system. Grades are recorded on a parent portal. Sometimes. But you never know if the grades can be trusted. This resulted in several arguments with my daughter that could have been avoided.

There was also a huge discrepancy between the opinions that people had of my daughter. From one, I heard that my daughter was a mean kid and that she had no desire to change. From her teachers, I heard the exact opposite. I was told that she was kind and helpful and they wished that every kid in their class was just like her. To be honest, I do not agree with either of these assessments. She is NOT perfect (who is?!!), but she is seeking to allow Christ to change her. On the other hand, I don’t want teachers wishing that everyone was like my kid. I want  my kids to be in environments where EVERY child is celebrated for who they are and encouraged to grow and to learn and to be who they were made to be. This discrepancy opened my eyes to the realization that no one knows my kids better than my husband and I know them. Of course I knew this, but I think I was a bit naive in believing that adults in general will look for a child’s potential and nurture it, not make judgments on where they are now and treat them accordingly.

All of these factors brought us to the night when one of my children asked me “why is life worth living?”. I shared this with my husband and his response was “I think we need to consider homeschooling.” My immediate response of “Yes!” surprised me, but upon reflection, I believe that God had been preparing my heart for months to be able to answer in this way.

This is where the thriving part comes in! When my oldest entered kindergarten, I did not feel equipped to teach her. We butted heads over everything and as my husband and I prayed, we knew she needed to have different authorities in her life. Each year, this decision to send our kids to school was confirmed. But now? Now we are ready for this and actually excited. I no longer doubt my ability to teach my kids, because I fully understand that in my inadequacies, Christ truly is sufficient. If he asks me to do something, he will also equip me to do it.

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The friendships my kids have made along the way? We will continue to encourage those relationships. They will change and there is sadness in this, but we also understand that we cannot make decisions about our children’s future based on one aspect of their schooling.

The frustration with the communication with the school? This will be eliminated. Now I will KNOW if my kids aren’t completing their work in a satisfactory manner. And we will get to celebrate when they exceed expectations.

Our family motto a couple of  years ago was “Celebrate more, Compare less”. This continues to be a freeing concept in our family, but I have found that the school setting is in direct opposition to this. While I have sought to teach my children to celebrate others and not compare themselves with peers, they are given a different message. There is a pressure to put others down in order to feel good about yourself. My kids have been treated poorly and they have put others down and it is icky. The only ones I want them to compete with are themselves. My daughter was invited to her school’s award ceremony this year. Last year, she was not. She had built this ceremony up in her head, considering it to be a huge honor. And then the night came and she didn’t want to go. Her siblings were going to a friend’s home and she wanted to stay with her friends. But we went. And she learned a valuable lesson. She doesn’t need outside validation to determine her worth as a person. The piece of paper was meaningless. And she had to sit through a long ceremony and miss out on fun with friends. Meanwhile, her friends who have been so good and generous to her this year were excluded from the ceremony. She realized that the criteria for awarding students is flawed.

My son on the other hand had a “Moving Up” Ceremony and he received awards based on facts. He scored well on different tests and was awarded for them. The difference between these two ceremonies was striking. We will always celebrate our kid’s achievements, but we never, ever want their success to diminish the success of others. Every single kid in the world is gifted in some way and they all need to be celebrated when they live out this gifting in a way that brings glory to their Creator. I want my kids to fully understand and embrace this! There will be no tolerance of superior attitudes in the way we treat others. Celebrate more, compare less will continue to be one of our family’s key “rules”.

Having different adults share their opinions on how they perceive my daughter has reminded me of how important it is to teach my kids to listen to the right voices in their lives. Do the people who are making the judgment genuinely care about them? Are they seeking the best for my children or do they have an ulterior motive in sharing their opinion? We all have a tendency to listen to the loudest voices in our lives, but we need to learn that not everyone gets to have an opinion about us. If they aren’t willing to “walk a mile in our shoes” or if they don’t take the time to truly know our hearts, they do not then get the right to determine who they think we are.

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I am returning wholeheartedly to my desire to thrive this year. And I’m doing it by following God’s leading to homeschool my kids.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us,  [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

 Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

~Hebrews 12:1-3, Amplified Bible

Ramblings

My words have been stifled lately. It seems to be a recurring theme in my life, one that I can’t seem to break free from.

Writing in this place used to be effortless. It was a part of the natural rhythms of my life and I loved it. But life has grown complicated. My kids are getting older. Our church has grown. Ministry is at times overwhelming. We bought a home. I started working part time. We bought a puppy.

In the midst of all of this, I am seeking to just be. Be faithful to God and his plan for me. Be a mom who doesn’t forget every single thing (and failing miserably, by the way!). Be a wife who cares, supports and prays for her husband. Be a friend who is available to meet up for coffee and willing to have the long conversations.

It leaves little time for writing. It’s not that the thoughts aren’t there. In fact, I compose several blog posts in my head every week! But does it matter? Does anyone really need to hear what I think?

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A couple of weeks ago, I planned an under the sea birthday party for my youngest. It was a grand event and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But last minute preparation was stressful and my 13 year old daughter picked up on this. We were standing in the kitchen and she came up behind me and started quoting…

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 minds in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6,7

Wow. It was one of those blow-me-away moments. A moment I have prayed for. A moment where our emphasis on memorizing scripture has moved from a head knowledge into a heart knowledge.

It hits me in a new way this morning. I can’t manufacture goodness in my children. I can’t make them be who I want them to be (and I have tried!). I must simply be who I need to be. A mom who is flawed, who fails constantly, but who demonstrates her need for Jesus and runs faithfully to his feet.

My kids see it. They are smart ones (sometimes too smart!). They can smell hypocrisy a mile away. They don’t need a mama who pretends she has everything together. They need one who desperately needs grace and isn’t afraid to admit it.

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We sat together at a chorus concert last night and as we heard the song, All you need is love, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “That isn’t true, is it, Mommy? I mean, all we need is Jesus!” Yes, baby! All we need is Jesus.

I almost miss the significance of these moments, because they are tucked in amidst a million mundane ones. But there it is. The very reason my heart longs to pour itself out in words. I forget so easily as my mind races on to the next task I must accomplish.

Oh, Father God! Help me not to miss these moments or overlook them because I am too busy. Help me to ponder, to reflect, to treasure these things often in my heart.

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Oh, my sweet darlings! I love you so. You know this, right? I hope and pray that you can forgive me for the personal frustrations that I too often take out on you. I hope you know how incredibly dear you are to me. I pray that my voice would be louder than the ones who try to put you down or fit you into a box that you were never meant to fit into.

You are so loved. Not because you are perfect, but because you are you.

We arrived at the restaurant to celebrate a successful concert only to discover that I didn’t have my wallet. I only had enough money to cover a large fry and it became a teachable moment. So often we go through life expecting to get whatever we want out of it. But sometimes, we need to remember that we don’t always get what we want. Will we be okay with that? Will we be grateful for the many blessings in our lives when we have moments of missing out on what we hoped for?

Life is a series of teachable moments. Are we willing to learn?

Advice for my Middle School Daughter

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

Mom

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