Monday, December 21, 2015

When All is Calm

The song, "Silent Night," has intrigued me for years. Just consider these words:

Silent night, holy night 


Is "calm" a foreign word? Let's define it:
"Undisturbed by passion; not agitated or excited; quiet; tranquil; as the mind, temper, or attention."

All is calm...

Maybe "calm" is plain English, but the concept is rare. How do we get to that place? God knows the way, but we may have become too busy to allow Him to show us how to get to calm. After all, we have cookies to bake, gifts to wrap, cards to send, concerts to attend...

All is not calm under these conditions. Calm doesn't like crazy.

Christmas is the only birthday celebration known to man where the Guest of Honor is so steadfastly ignored. During this season of run-run-go-go-do-do-do, Christ is often forgotten, and the calmness that comes from time in His Word is forfeited. 

A starved soul is an agitated soul. The solution? Feed your soul as you do your body: regularly. Daily. Without the Word of God, we are anything but calm.

Pause. Grab your Bible and sit down. Hug it. Read. Pray. Thank God for His "unspeakable gift." Don't rush this process. You have all day to run like a marathoner. Please pause.

Missing out on the calm that God provides is like missing a flight because you didn't give yourself enough time to get to the airport. The ticket is yours, but poor planning can rob you of a seat.

Silent night, holy night. All is calm...

With Christ, all is calm, even when everything around us is not.

"Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." 
Proverbs 8:34

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Our Children Are Surrounded

At a recent ladies' conference, I made this statement in a workshop on parenting adult children: 

"Stop apologizing for the spiritual condition of your children. This is unnecessary. If their relationship with the Lord is off course, that's between them and God." 

This statement was prompted by the frequent times ladies would tell me about their children being "away from the Lord," often with a tone that seemed confessional. While completely sincere, this is a practice that really serves no purpose. I'm not sure where we got the idea that we need to explain our children to others, but it's a mistaken notion.

If you have multiple children, you will have multiple outcomes. If you have only one child, you may still have multiple outcomes as behaviors and choices fluctuate over time. Doesn't anyone else remember making some of the grandest mistakes during the younger years?

People talk as if spiritual warfare, including trials raising children, is something brand new. We seem to have forgotten that there is nothing new under the sun. "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Spiritual warfare is as old as Scripture, but perhaps we thought that our families would be exempt. After all, we go to church, read our Bibles, pray daily, and much, much more. Wouldn't that at least protect our children from the world?

Parenting was already a hard job. There is no profession on earth that has such an enormous impact on others than parenting. Teaching students comes close, but parenting is both teaching and training, which are two distinctly different things. In fact, perhaps because we're confusing the two today, many are dismayed at the outcome.

Teaching imparts information. Training provides practical skills.

When we're depositing chapter-and-verse by the hundreds without the corresponding training on how to live it, we can expect system failure. Memorizing dozens of verses is not the same as training, anymore than memorizing an instruction manual will make you a technology pro. Without training, the instructions are merely accumulated and in some cases, disregarded or discarded later in life. Too many "award-winning" Christian children are morphing into young adults who are unsure of their spiritual standing. They may even still own the trophies and ribbons won at Awana or Master Club, but have no idea why they should care about walking with God.

Many children are drinking poison because someone changed the label to trick them into taking the first toxic sip. They have been duped, and the poison has caused a worldly delirium that makes them imagine that enemies are friends and loved ones are foes.

How many times must we see a child walk away from God before we'll understand that our teaching is too heavy on image and too light on substance? We have been downloading vast amounts of pre-selected and pre-screened information, pressed the "start" key and then wondered why things weren't working like the manual said they would. Just like computer programs, there were "bugs" in this system of child-training.

But wait a this a blame-the-parents tirade? No, because parents are only part of the equation. Parents are often easily blamed for faulty outcomes with their children, but how many of us did the best we could, only to have a result that was completely puzzling? It's not just the parenting process; we've also got competition for their hearts.

The influence of "evil men and seducers" is at an all-time high. "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." (2 Tim. 3:13)  The team of deceivers is running out of time and losing ground, so they're resorting to cheating, deliberate lies and a last-minute rewriting of the rules.

Satanic oppression in the form of dishonesty and distortion is at pandemic levels, and our precious children are surrounded by this demonic influence, even in "safe places" like Christian schools and yes, even in homeschool. Don't be deluded: Oppression is a game of coercion with a goal of domination. The agenda of those who hate Christ is this: To weaken our faith and cause insecurity mingled with doubt.

What better way to weaken the faith of Christians than to attack their children?

Christians schools are not exempt from attack, and neither is the home. Just ask any parent that trained a child at home, expecting a far better outcome just by limiting the number of influences. We can limit influences, but we cannot erase them. We are all in the same battle, and we need to accept the reality of spiritual warfare. War includes atrocities and casualties, without respect of family lineage.

What can we do about these perilous times?

  1. Beg God to protect your children. Prayer is a power tool that is often left unused, like an unplugged yet essential appliance. This is not the time for "now I lay me down to sleep" prayers. This is the time for agonizing prayer coupled with intermittent fasting. Pray for wisdom, protection, guidance, prudence, endurance, and anything else you can think of to benefit the spiritual well-being of your children.
  2. Stop lying to yourself about hazards. If we give our children tools that make it so easy to access things that will harm them, we are doubling our workload and increasing the risks. What purpose does it serve for a child or teen to have a handheld computer in the form of a phone or tablet? Plain old ring-a-ling cellphones exist, but even elementary-aged children are toting smartphones with Internet access. "Oh, don't be so old-school. Everybody has a smartphone." Perhaps it's time to admit that we're giving into societal pressures to keep up with others, and by keeping up, our children are tapping a screen and heading into darkness.
  3. Beware of the "mice." Keeping the home environment pure without making it unrealistic is a constant challenge. Understand that unwanted influences only need a crack to get in. Just like mice, media in many forms can slip in unnoticed and you may not realize they're in your home until you see little "calling cards." Mice leave droppings. The influences of the enemy also leaves "droppings" in the form of changed spirits. When a child is unusually negative and disinterested in spiritual things, something else is filling their soul. Hungry souls eat spiritual food. Full souls can't tolerate it and would much rather have junk. When you suspect that something has infiltrated your home, get to the bottom of it.
  4. Increase practice sessions. Stop focusing how many awards your child earns and work harder at training them how to live in a very anti-Christian world. How will your children withstand the attacks of these coming days if all they have is a trophy that says they had perfect attendance and memorized the most verses? Again, teaching is not the same as training. Spend more time role-playing and practicing some actual situations that could and probably will come up, such as being invited to try a drug "just once," or being pressured to share "just one kiss." 
  5. Ask the Lord what to do. There are times when we are honestly stumped, and we need to remember that God already has the answers if we'll allow Him to lead us. And God's solutions may not look like what we would have chosen. God sees things differently than we do. Too many times, we are guilty of trying to fix things "our way." After all, if we can fix something, then we can tell others what "we did" to repair it, making us the ones that get the glory rather than the Lord. Learn to ignore the noise of pride. Humility improves our listening skills, making it possible for us to follow instead of striving to lead. The Lord doesn't need our instructions cloaked in prayer requests; we need Him. We don't know it all. 

It's tempting to think that our current culture is to blame for the incredible decline in spiritual health, but it's actually an age-old battle. I saw this quote recently in a book that was written in 1942, but the author made a statement that sounded like he was living in 2015:
"Man is by nature under the taskmaster Satan, who wants to keep him in bondage, and to do this, he offers many false attractions, lies and misrepresentations. All the forces and powers that he can possibly muster are used to keep souls bound in misery." (Lindsey, Albert. Wilderness Experiences. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1942. Print.) 
These times are perilous, and our children aren't the only ones in peril. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come." (2 Timothy 3:1) We'd better be on guard, too. Study the Bible daily, treating it as non-optional. Wear out a patch of carpet with the imprint of your knees from prayer. Live a life of godly integrity, and model what it looks like to walk with God. It's not over yet, and we are not without hope. 

"Surrounded" is never the same as "defeated."

"Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee." 
(Psalm 25:21)

Suggested study assignment: 2 Timothy 3:1-17

Read more in Keep the Heart eMagazine: 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Eye is Consumed with Grief

Do you talk to yourself? Many people do. I just said this to myself today when I was thinking about writing this blog:

"Oh Francie, nobody wants to read about your lingering grief."

And then my self said to self,"Well, they don't have to read it."

So, if you don't feel like reading yet another article  about the grieving process and how it leaves a person feeling disoriented, pass. But I can tell you this: grief is a graduate course in life studies, and everyone takes the class at some point. The education earned in this course is invaluable, and yet if we could, many of us would opt out. 

Wisdom comes in the strangest gift wrapping.

"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." (Ecclesiastes 7:4)

Grief makes us wiser, but this kind of wisdom hurts, because it is only gained by loss.

I complained to my sisters of a stomach ache and digestive problems that have been plaguing me since our Mom passed to Heaven. Not surprisingly, we've all been having the same problem, and we're certainly not all eating the same foods, so it's not our diet! Grief has made digestion secondary in importance, as our bodies strive to deal with the exhausting stress of adapting to life without our treasured counselor and confidante. 

I just want to pick up the phone and dial her number and hear her voice and ask her about her week. 

I just want to go into her house and holler, "Hey Mom, it's meeeee," in my sing-song voice. And then I want to hear the smile in her voice as she says, "Hey Francie, it's good to see you." She would say those words every time, even though we just saw each other days ago, and her words were always followed by a motherly hug.

I just want to know that she'll be in the kitchen at the table, waiting for me to bring her lunch and stories from the conferences I've been teaching. I want to hold her hand and pray with her before she eats, and then kiss her forehead. I want to hear her laugh as I share some of the crazy things that come up, such as the time I got led off the airplane by the head of the TSA, only to find out that he was a member at the church where I would be teaching. (He scared me good, and I still owe him.)

We're in the process of packing up the contents of Mom's home. It sold fairly quickly. A friend of mine said it was all those loaded candy dishes that I spread around the house (Mom would have approved). My sister Janelle said this to me as we were leaving Mom's house to get some rest before another round of packing: "We're not saying goodbye to Mom; we're just saying goodbye to brick and mortar."

Until then, we're going through bouts of questions like this: "Who am I now that I don't have any living parents? An adult orphan? How does an adult orphan operate?"

We are the grace of God and the goodness of family and friends. But there are some days when four adult women feel like four little girls, and our eyes are "consumed with grief" as the tears spring from seemingly out of the blue. Triggers are not necessary. All we have to do is be awake and we're vulnerable. Couldn't we just have one more day with our precious and beloved Mom? Just a "warning day" so that we could say a proper farewell?

Someone said that it is not as hard to grieve the loss of a parent as it is to grieve the loss of a spouse or a child. Who comes up with these things? Grief is exhausting, regardless. If there is anything that I am gleaning through this process it's this: I'm creating a mental catalog of things not to say.

When you don't know what to say to a grieving person, try this: "There are no words." And then follow it with a big silent hug. Don't break the beauty of this with a single word.

I was doubled over in tears simply because I found a packet of seeds from Mom's garden. The seeds were in a wrinkled white envelope stuffed in the back of a kitchen cabinet, carefully labeled  "Cleome flowers" in her lovely handwriting. I will plant those seeds in the spring. Most likely, those seeds will be watered with tears. The loss of a parent is not as hard? That depends... 

We we raised by a widow. That made her the closest person that we had in our lives on this side of Heaven. Children raised by only one parent have a different relationship with that single parent. Often (but not always), it creates a stronger bond. Those that have been raised by both parents have their affection divided by two. How often have you met someone that is closer to one parent than the other when they have a choice? Not so for the children of a single parent. You're either bonded like plywood or not. 

Our bond with our Mom was beautifully tight, and now the plywood has been pried apart.

There are days when I feel cut off from the world. I wonder to myself, "Why are people going on with life as if nothing has changed?" And then I battle my thoughts, feeling abandoned when in reality I am not. "For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee." (Psalm 31:22)

Oh I am very sure that God hears me when I cry. Grief brings a different sound to crying. It's a siren-type of wailing that is unrecognizable. There are some days when I'm not even sure I can face the to-do list, but then God provides supernatural strength and before I know it, I'm moving through another day. God gives courage mingled with strength, but we have to remember to receive these free gifts from Him. After all, we are not without hope, even though some days it feels deceptively like that. "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord." (Psalm 31:24) When my courage is almost gone, I flee to the Word. And then a soothing sigh escapes my body, and I go on.

It's been over five months now since Mom's passing, and her absence from us represents her presence with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). We are fully aware that we'll see her again someday, but we are here and Mom is "There." And "There" cannot be accessed by a phone call. Imagine if we could pick up a phone and call Heaven! But we cannot, so our faith has to rest in the knowing that we'll see her and our other loved ones again, and even more; we'll see Jesus. 

I wonder if Jesus feels forgotten sometimes when we're grieving? The tendency is to focus so much on the loved one that has passed away, and the Lord is often pressed into the background. Lord, please forgive me. You are worthy of the foreground, and you are the Comforter.

Is Mom resting in Jesus' bosom right now? Has God provided a tiny window from Heaven that He opens now and then so that Mom can see us? Does she know that we're struggling but that we'll be all right because God is with us? 

All these questions and ones I didn't even know to ask will be answered someday.

"Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly." (Psalm 31:7)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Gardening Therapy

When I go into my garden I work hard, but it doesn't feel like work; it feels like therapy. I often end up with sweat drops inside my eyeglasses, and I look like I've run a marathon. Sometimes I'm tempted to hum the tune, "If They Could See Me Now," as I am normally picky about being well groomed, but in the garden all grooming is off.

Sometimes I'm just enjoying the beauty of each unique plant and praising the Lord for providing such bounty. Other times, my heart is heavy, and I may be laying my burdens down as I'm on my knees, weeding and weeping. Sorrows could be rolling over me like sea billows, but after a session in the garden, I can agree with the songwriter of that popular hymn: "It is well with my soul." 

I am no master gardener, but God certainly is, and He patiently teaches me life lessons as He cultivates my heart while I'm tending my little plots and pots:

Dead-heading: If I'll clip the spent and faded blooms, most plants will reward me with at least double the amount of new flowers, if not more. This is what God is doing when He alters our lives. He's removing the "spent blossoms" and encouraging more vigorous growth. Blossoms are multiplied this way, and we are improved as God "dead-heads" the old and makes us new.

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Watering: I had neglected the garden for a few days and when I returned, I found drooping plants that seemed to be screaming, WATER ME NOW! I ran for the watering cans, and spoke lovingly (yes, I talk to my plants) as I watered the potted peppers, basil , oregano, and Swiss chard. By the time I had finished watering all pots and flower beds, the potted plants had revived. We are revived when we drink freely of the living Water. I never have to be spiritually "dried up," as the living Water of God's Word is scattered freely all throughout my house (and even in my car). I own at least ten Bibles. Why wouldn't I read at least one of them to quench my thirsty soul? No good excuse.

"But whoseover drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
(John 4:14)

Fertilizing: I am a huge fan of Bloom Booster by Miracle-Gro. We have a short growing season in Minnesota, so we have to plant quickly, abundantly, and fertilize often. This is especially true for flowering annuals, which tend to put out lots of greenery without blossoms if we're not aggressively feeding the plants. Isn't that true of us, too? We've got this little vapor called life where we're born, then we grow, moving quickly through the seasons of life before passing on to our Heavenly home. God wants us to to have an abundant life. Our flowering season is short. We only have a few bloom cycles and then...

"As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth."
(Psalm 103:15)

Pinching: Coleus plants will reward a gardener with quadrupled growth if they will do one thing: pinch them. This is a process that takes only minutes, but the results make it look like someone spent hours in the garden tending these plants. Instead of leggy, spindly growth, pinching encourages branching and produces tremendously strong plants. God pinches and prunes us to encourage growth and develop strength, making us more productive and beneficial. We don't like the pruning, but we do appreciate the results of the new growth and increased strength. 

"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."
(John 15:2)

This has been a year of trauma, sudden loss, and residual grieving. But God gave me a garden where I can go and walk with Him, talk with Him, and know that I am His own, just as the songwriter said. The only difference between my gardening therapy and the lyrics of the song, "In The Garden," is that I never "come to the garden alone." God is always there with me. And He knows when I'm watering the garden, even with my tears.

I'm going to water the basil. And then I'll pinch it. And God will tend to my heart.

"Thou tellest all my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?"
(Psalm 56:8)


By C. Austin Miles, 1913

I come to the garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses,

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,

The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

All photos are from Francie's 2015 garden collection.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Oh You Beautiful Doll

When I was a little girl, I had a doll with a adjustable hair. Push the button on her tummy while pulling her hair and the hair would suddenly "grow." I don't remember the name of the doll, but I do remember wishing I could push a button on my tummy and pull on my hair to make it longer. The image of long hair was a status symbol for women, and even as a little girl, I got the message that my short, fuzzy hair wasn't meeting the movable standard of beauty.

I had quite a doll collection, and while the "grow-hair" doll as I called her was one of my favorites, the prize-winner was my talking doll. I could pull a string and she'd talk (although her mouth didn't move). Did anyone else own a "Chatty Cathy" doll? She was so cute, but she was plastic. With batteries.

Have we become plastic Christians? Are we just beautiful dolls?

Plastic Christianity happens when the public person and the private person aren't merging. In other words, the person in public is a vision of ever-pleasant loveliness; while the person in private is not nearly as attractive and much harder on the nerves. With the public person, the hair is just right, the clothing is coordinated, and if you pull the imaginary string, the "doll" will say just the right thing. 

In private, the "doll" morphs into something not so cute.

The best appearances are temporary performances, and while looks can clearly make a person seem to be magnetic, the body is merely the soul carriage. Just as God had to remind Samuel that "tall, dark and handsome" weren't on his short list of requirements for a King, we must remember that a fine figure doesn't necessarily equal a finer Christian. We have way too many good looking bad actors, and it's failing horribly as a magnet to Christ. We are paying full retail to buy the lie that "looking good" trumps being godly.

If our only point of excellence is a beautiful form and face, what happens when we're old ladies and with aged forms, wrinkled faces and thinning hair? Even plastic gets old and brittle. This hyper-focus on outward appearance turns us into preoccupied, aging beauty pageant contestants. God is not looking for a Christian version of Miss America. He's looking for a woman with a heart for Him.

"...for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

The longer we pretend that image makes the woman, the less effective we become. What good is it to have every hair in place if our family has to live with an emotional volcano? Will a visitor at church be more richly blessed if our purses match our shoes? Do we need new outfits for every outing, or are we trying to impress others with our "outward appearance" of being all put together? There is nothing wrong with wanting to be polished, as long as we're humbly leaving the polishing cloth in God's hands. 

When we polish ourselves, it's often so that we'll win the admiration of others. When God polishes us, He's removing rough edges and bringing out a godly shine so that people will see His image in our countenances. Our polish makes us brash and prideful; God's polish makes us gracious and compassionate. Our polish draws people to us, while God's polish draws people to Him. Do people want to know Christ because they know you?

Chatty Cathy's ability to speak only worked until the batteries ran out. If we're not careful, we'll end up just like the plastic doll that ran out of power. Plastic is cheap and abundant, but genuine, God-fearing and God-loving Christianity is precious and rare. You can't be a beautiful doll forever, but you can be a beautiful Christian for life.

"Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised." (Proverbs 31:30)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Silver Linings

Mom was playing an Oldies station on the clock radio on a recent family vacation. You know the sound: tinny music coming through crackly static, but recognizable tunes. "Look for the Silver Lining" was playing on this particular morning, and it made me pause and pay attention:

A heart, full of joy and gladness
Will always banish sadness and strife
So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life...

Hmm. This woman was singing about silver linings, but I heard this: The condition of my heart will affect my outlook on life. We can't completely avoid the rounds of alternating gladness and sadness, but we don't have to stay stuck in the sadness time zone. I've never wanted to banish gladness, but sadness can feel like wearing dumbbells around the neck, so it makes sense to want to shed those weights eventually.

How can we find the "sunny side of life" when the storm seems to be parked directly over our house?

1. Thank God for the good, the bad, and the ugly. "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Knowing a verse is not the same as living it. Just the other day, I was driving down a snowy road and said out loud, "Lord, thank you for good tires on this car." I would rather not drive in snow, but I can thank the Lord for a nice warm car with good, recently rotated tires.

2. Remember that good lessons are tucked into bad experiences. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard the words, "I know. I know." Too many times we miss out on growing during a trial because we think we know so much already, but learning abounds within the classroom of affliction, and even though it doesn't "feel good," it's still good for us. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." (Psalm 119:71)

3. Guard (keep) your heart. The flu has been going around like crazy this season, and yet some of us haven't caught it (yet). Minimizing exposure is always a good practice. The same is true in life: minimizing exposure to negatives is essential. Do you really need to read the details of another global disaster? How many times do we need to view images of tragedies? Will that television program with "Dr. Know" really help your spirit? An unguarded heart has more dart holes. "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:23)

Stormy? Look for the silver lining. The sun is just behind that cloud temporarily.

(Photo credits: Happy Accidents Photography, AKA Francie's vast seashore collection.)

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...