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I’ve shared on this blog before how God gave me a new spiritual name in my 20’s to symbolize the different direction he was taking me. For the first 21 years of my life my name was Ability. Much of my life was on a stage singing, acting, dancing, or speaking. But then God began to take me off the stage so he could root me in my faith and deepen my relationship with him. During this season my name was Availability, which is my old name – Ability – with my literal new married name, Vail. For the past 21 years I have sought to simply be available to be used by God whenever and wherever he wants to use me. I have mostly done short ministry assignments in a variety of places in the church, as well as homeschooling my children and occasionally blogging.

However, around the time of my 42nd birthday, last summer, God began to move mountains in my life. He released me from homeschooling my oldest child which forced me to face every fear I’d ever had about him in the weeks leading up to his return to public school. The voice of the enemy was so deafening in my ear with shouts of fear, but because of how close God had been to me earlier in the summer during the 6 weeks my mom was on hospice before she died, I knew that if God could sustain me while I was taking care of her, he could certainly take care of my son in school. However, the power of God to silence that screaming voice of fear was not activated until the day before my son started school, when I taught my Sunday School class the lesson God had been teaching me on parenting out of faith instead of fear. God’s power in our life is often activated by our voice when we speak in agreement with him.

It was then that I first discovered the power of my new name, Avail. The “Ability” part of Availability has been dropped because, frankly, whatever abilities I bring to the table don’t matter to me anymore. I’m not interested in being praised for my abilities – a former stronghold of mine. As I move into this third segment of my life (which, interestingly, can clearly be divided into segments of 21 with 3 distinct seasons of 7 years in each), God’s priority for my life is that my words and prayers avail much for the kingdom. It’s not my stage; it’s His. The word avail means

to be of use; have force or efficacy; serve; help
to be of value or profit

The root, which happens to be my last name, Vail, comes from the Latin valēre, to be of worth.

It’s no surprise, then, that the enemy first attacked me in my youth with the stronghold of insecurity. If God intended for my words and life to avail much for the kingdom – to be of value or profit – the enemy needed me to question my worth, or at least link it to my abilities so that when I failed or was no longer in the spotlight, I would doubt my value. However, as I activated my new name by speaking the truth over my life – the truth that I am of worth because Jesus died for me, and I was created for a purpose that God will accomplish in and through me – the enemy lost his power to bind me with fear. You and I were created to avail much. Our words have efficacy, which means “the ability to produce a desired or intended result.” If God has given you a promise for your life, don’t just think it, speak it! When the enemy comes against you with fear, boldly speak the truth and promises of God with praise and thanksgiving, and the enemy will flee!

Speaking God’s truth and promises over my son – that he is God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for him to do (Eph. 2:10), and that God will finish the good work he started in him (Phil. 1:6) – silenced the voice of fear. It also activated those promises in my son’s life. I have never seen him thrive and flourish like he has since the school year started. God’s hand is on him in a mighty way, healing him and maturing him in every way. God is blessing him and our relationship with him. Hallelujah!

Parents, what I’m about to share may be a hard pill to swallow, but here is what God’s been showing me about our words. When we believe God and speak his truth over our kids, it activates his blessings in their lives. If you read through the Old Testament, you’ll find several accounts of parents speaking blessings over their children (Noah, Isaac, and Jacob, to name a few). People brought their children to Jesus so that he could bless them. These blessings had power and efficacy. However, when we listen to the voice of the enemy – which often comes as the voice of fear – and speak words over our children in agreement with our fears, we are unintentionally speaking curses.

“Stop acting so weird or you’ll never have any friends,” we say to our child in agreement with the voice of our fear. And so the child becomes fearful of other people, wondering if people are rejecting him. As a result, he withdraws and becomes overly self-conscious. And ends up with no friends. Cursed by our words of fear voiced over him. 

One of the hardest things God’s called me to do this year is apologize to my son for agreeing with my fears and speaking curses over him. God told me, when he was 4 years old and in the midst of major upheaval in his behavior, that he would be all right. (And because God is always consistent, he spoke that same promise again recently.) However, for the past 10 years the voice of fear has often gotten the best of me, and I’ve reacted and parented out of fear that what I was seeing was going to be a forever thing instead of just a phase. (How do you know if you’re parenting out of fear? You’ll know it’s fear when you feel like you need to control your child’s behavior. There’s a difference between teaching our kids self-control and being just plain controlling.)

When my son started public high school, I wanted to talk to his teachers about his Dysgraphia because I feared that his writing difficulty would hinder him from finishing his work on time, but my son didn’t want me to. The reason why God also said no was because he knew that phase was over and there is nothing hindering him in his writing anymore. I honestly believe that had I kept speaking it over him, it would have continued to plague him, which is why God said, “Enough! Start believing and acting like you trust Me that if I say he’s okay, he’s okay.”

God’s revealed to me that my son and I were meant to be 2 threads woven together in a beautiful tapestry for the dual purpose of teaching me how to love and accept someone who is unlike me, and also speak words of encouragement to other moms of kids who don’t fit into the world’s mold. He gave me a precious, quirky boy who was meant to be different – and we were to delight in it.

This is now one of our favorite photos, depicting our epic failure as parents to recognize that 4-year-old soccer was not our sons jam. He was so miserable, but we learned our lesson not to assume anything with this kid!

This is now one of our favorite photos, depicting our epic failure as parents to recognize that 4-year-old soccer was not our son’s jam. He was so miserable, but we learned our lesson not to assume anything with this kid!

However, the enemy also had a plan to spin a web of fear between my son and me, so that every time I ran headlong into fear I would attach that web to him and myself, thus tangling us up in a sticky mess. Every time I voiced my fear, and spoke words in agreement with it, we got more and more entangled in the web. But God, in his grace and mercy, has not only delivered me from the stronghold of fear through voice-activated faith, he has been untangling us from that ugly web. Glory to God!

Thankfully, the way into that mess was also the way out. When I apologized to my son for sticking that web on him, I said, “I revoke the curses I have unintentionally spoken over you.” I then laid my hands on him and began to speak blessings. I blessed him in every area of his life I could think of where I used to be filled with fear. I blessed his education, his friendships, his marriage someday, his work; everything God brought to my mind, I agreed with God’s good plan and spoke it.

I want my words to avail much for God’s kingdom and in the lives of my children. God’s word tells us that we will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:20). Our words have efficacy, especially in the lives of our children. Oh God, consecrate our mouths so that we speak blessings, not curses. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You.

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As we pulled up to the stop sign, my 12-year-old daughter spoke up from the passenger seat, “Mom, this is where we turn.” Yes, sweetheart, I know that. A few minutes later I heard, “Mom, turn right.” What in the world of driving has gotten into this girl! Am I suddenly incapable of navigating the town I’ve lived in for 35 years because my daughter is now 12?

This behavior continued for about a week until God gave me some insight into what was prompting her to act this way. As my daughter was, once again, telling me how to drive, I said, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been telling me how to drive lately. Is this because you’re wanting to let me know that you know how to get around town now?” She sheepishly smiled and said, “Yes.” I then praised her for her navigational skills, but let her know that she need not tell me where to go anymore.

However, there was more to it than that. Her driving commentary was really her way of saying, “Mom, I’m ready for more responsibility. I’m capable of doing more than I currently am. I need a challenge.” It’s hard to listen to what our kids mean to say when we’re distracted by our irritation over what actually comes out of their mouths. (Can I get an amen!) But when we answer the deep, unspoken need of a child’s heart, it has a way of correcting the child’s actions for us. Only God knows what that need is, but he will tell us if we ask (James 1:5). In my daughter’s case, she needed to be given more responsibility over her life.

From “B” Word to Blessing
Before I go any further with how this was accomplished, I want to say a word to fellow parents of strong, capable girls. For the love of our daughters’ futures, could we please stop calling them the “B” word, bossy? If we label our daughter’s gifts negatively, she will feel like who she is at her core is wrong, and that if she tries to use her gifts she will be rejected. Our strong girl – who was meant to make a difference in the world – will whither up and shrink back in fear, never fulfilling the purpose for which she knows she’s created. When a girl who is endowed by her Creator with gifts of leadership, administration, and organization is trying out these gifts by exerting them in inappropriate ways (say, over her big brother), we need to redirect her gifts in positive ways and give her something appropriate to be in charge of, such as a pet or a household chore that she desires (like cooking a meal or helping to plan a vacation). We can bring out the best in her by prayerfully giving her as much responsibility over her own life as is appropriate for her. (My daughter has had way more responsibility at each age than her older brother because she desired it and could handle it.)

Let Her Decide How Much Responsibility She Wants
The trick is to not burden her with more than she desires, just because she’s capable of shouldering responsibility. I’ve been guilty of this many times with my daughter, and she lets me know when she would like to just be a little girl for a season. And that’s okay. We went through one of those seasons last fall, when her brother went back to public school. I realized that because she was capable of doing the same level of work as her older brother, she’d already done the middle school curriculum I had, but she was not ready for high school in 7th grade! So we took a semester off of academics and focused on building relationship. I let her be a little girl (which she kinda missed out on for a few years) and played games with her, baked, did crafts (by the grace of God because oh how I hate crafts), read, found new piano music to learn, and went on long walks and shopping trips. It was a precious time for both of us.

Let Her Be In Charge of Herself
But that season ended in December. By January, she was ready to stretch her wings. So rather than let her take over my driving, I put her in the driver’s seat of her own education. I decided to pull out all our school materials and set them in piles by subject. I invited her to look through each pile and pick out her curriculum, then with a little direction from me she designed a learning plan for herself. The keyword I want to emphasize is herself. Before she can be in charge of anyone else – and she likely will be one day, because she has a desire and gifting to do so – she must learn how to be in charge of herself. The more opportunities she has to make her own choices, the happier she is and the more confidence she gains in her ability to make plans and follow through.

Oh the power of boxes to check off!

Oh the power of boxes to check off!

Provide Encouragement and Accountability 
The result of my turning over her education completely to her is that she now writes her daily assignments in a planner each morning, then checks them off as she does them without any reminders from me. Strong, capable, self-directed girls are a blessing! (I just ate a bite of a delicious peanut butter banana muffin she baked all by herself this morning. She is a truly a gift from God!) On Friday, we either have an afternoon tea time or take a walk together to discuss what she’s learning. As I give her responsibility, I must be careful to hold her accountable. She needs to know that what she does matters and will be noticed. (Don’t we all?) I also check in with her periodically throughout the day to see if she has any questions or would like additional resources. I am her mentor, but she is learning how to teach herself.

Reward Her with More Responsibility According to Her Desires
My daughter is now practicing her administrative and organizational skills in appropriate ways, and her reward for taking on more responsibility is that she gets to plan a family fun night at the end of each month because she loves to plan parties. And because that’s how God rewards us. When we prove faithful with little, he gives us even more responsibility and opportunities to grow our talents (see the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30).

Oh Lord, help us to see what’s really going on inside our kids and listen to what they mean – not just what they say – so we can train them up in the way they should go and faithfully develop the gifts you gave them. Give us godly wisdom and discernment to know when to pull them in tight and when to release them to fly. Show us how to reward them with more opportunities for responsibility when they are faithful with little, so they will mature into the beautiful creations you designed them to be. Thank you for loving our kids and faithfully giving us the direction we need at just the right time.

It was the middle of October, and my son’s intestinal issues had gone from bad to worse. Past doctors visits had yielded no helpful information, and my attempt to put him on a gut-healing diet earlier in the year had caused my extremely underweight teenager to start losing weight. So I sought council from a nutritional expert friend of mine on inflammation, in the hope that it would give me some direction on how to help my son. She told me what I already knew from countless hours of research: that toxins and certain foods cause inflammation, and inflammation is the root of almost all our diseases. I had read all about inflammation, but the more I researched, the longer the list of dangerous foods to avoid became, leaving me feeling even more overwhelmed and discouraged.

But then she said something surprising. She said that if we are believers in Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in every cell of our bodies, and only he knows what is wrong and how to fix it. We need the discernment of the Holy Spirit in all areas of our life, including our health. When we face physical difficulties, we need to seek God’s direction first (before Web MD) because God is our healer, whether he chooses to heal us through medicine, diet, or some other means.

This should not have come as a shock to me, since I have often experienced the leading of the Holy Spirit in other areas of my life, but I had been blinded to the fact that I had been turning to diet and the internet for healing instead of God. As the day wore on, I felt the familiar tug of the Holy Spirit on my heart, and God challenged me to believe that he wanted to heal me of my own intestinal issues. For three years I had struggled with bloating and cramping, and had identified corn, beans, yeast, onions, soy, and wheat as problems for me. Last spring, I attempted an incredibly strict “gut healing” diet to rid me of these issues – the same one that was a disaster for my son – but it only led to a small intestinal bacterial overgrowth that increased the number of foods I had to limit! I had done all the research, followed the wisdom of the “experts,” and only found myself pulled further into bondage to food.

That day, following my conversation with my friend, I realized that I had embraced the knowledge that God can set me free from bondage to fear, but it had never occurred to me that my physical bondage to food sensitivities and fear of food were areas of my life that needed to come under the authority of Christ. God said to me, “I want to heal you and set you free from your captivity to food so that you will know that I alone am God and have the power to heal. Food is not to be feared for I am the Creator of all things, and if I say it’s good, it’s good. Food is neither your healer; I am.”

Later, God confirmed this direction with 1 Timothy 4:3-5, in which the Apostle Paul is instructing Timothy to have nothing to do with teachings that call for abstaining “from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Essentially, God challenged me to stop believing that it is what I eat – or don’t eat – that gives me health. It is the manner in which I eat that matters. Am I choosing or excluding foods based on fear because of something I read, or am I accepting everything God has provided for me with an attitude of thanksgiving, believing that if I have prayed and asked God to bless it, he will make it safe for me? Who is my God, the Creator or his creation? I had embraced the philosophy that “food has power” because it seemed right in my eyes, but I then became a slave to fear and a whole host of rules because when we ascribe power to anything other than God, we end up bowing down to it and becoming its slave. I’m not saying we should all throw out sound nutritional advice or ignore food allergies, but rather that we need the Holy Spirit’s discernment in order to know which of the many competing – and often contradictory – voices we hear in medicine and on the internet are right for us! I can’t tell you what’s right for you, but God can.

So I told God that I believe that he is my healer, and that night I ate pulled pork on a wheat bun, salad with soy sauce and onions, and delicious chocolate cake! In the months that followed, each time I ate something that used to hurt me or that was on the “bad foods” list, I gave thanks to God for his healing, and asked him to bless it to my body. At first, I continued to experience some bloating, but each time I did, I said – often aloud – “Thank you Lord for healing me and blessing this food to my body.” And the symptoms would disappear. Last month my family went out for Mexican food for the first time in 3 years because, praise God, I am fully healed!

However, knowing that God is my healer, I still struggled over what to do for my son. By the last week before Christmas break he was discouraged by his physical discomfort and desperate for help. Having not heard a word from the Lord after months of prayer, I reluctantly turned back to the gut-healing diet, hoping that would help. But who wants to give up treats at Christmastime? Clearly, if I followed the wisdom I “knew,” which was to stop feeding him processed food so his intestines would heal, it would further discourage his spirit at a time when we should be celebrating. After 1 week of misery on the diet that resulted in symptoms that only grew worse, God finally spoke.

Celebrate. That was God’s direction for me, and his word over my son’s healing. God revealed that he was going to heal my son not through abstinence from certain foods, but through feasting on them! My instructions from the Lord were to do and cook whatever would bless my family and create an atmosphere of celebration. For my family, that means certain recipes that are a part of our holiday traditions. My son would not accept bacon-wrapped dates; it had to be bacon-wrapped Little Smokies! Just as God commanded the Isrealites to observe days of feasting, rest, and celebration of God’s goodness, God said to me, “Celebrate, rest, and watch for my deliverance.”

Sometimes God heals us through obedience to natural laws and following logical medical advice. I absolutely believe that. But sometimes God chooses to heal us in spite of those laws because he wants to open our eyes to the mighty power of God and will not share his glory with anything else. He wants there to be no question in our minds that our deliverance came from him! Friends, I never felt like I was supposed to pray for healing for myself because I just assumed it was God’s will for me to suffer. God allowed me to go through a season of suffering, about which I wrote in this post from last spring, because I kept turning to food and the wisdom of others to save me. In this season of my life, God is teaching me that I must trust him with every aspect of my life and the lives of my children, and seek HIS wisdom first, no matter how crazy it sounds.

So that morning, through tears of surrender, I made cinnamon rolls. I stopped worrying about whether or not what we ate was healthy – although we eat very healthy anyway – and focused on giving thanks to God. We began the habit of reading passages of scripture after dinner, then sharing something for which we’re thankful – a habit we’ve kept up since the holidays and hope will become a permanent routine. After we’ve shared, we each enjoy a piece of really good chocolate. Because God is good. He is worthy to be praised and makes all things for our enjoyment.

In the 4 weeks since our “celebration regiment” began, we’ve noticed a huge change in my son’s intestinal issues. His terrible symptoms are gone, he is healing, and we give God ALL THE GLORY! When we face our most difficult challenges and say, “No matter what, God is good and I will delight in his provision for me,” we don’t just get victory over the enemy and fear. We triumph and get the spoils!

You might think that this is a “how to” post on healing, or assume I’m implying that God wants to heal everyone supernaturally (which I’m NOT), and perhaps the reason why I have not felt God’s permission to blog throughout all this is that I might have been tempted to end this post right here. However, I hope that as you’ve been reading, the question that’s come to your mind is, “How could she know that God wanted to heal them that way?” Because while healing is part of my story and now my son’s, God’s purpose in healing was to teach me this message I share with you today: We need discernment from the Holy Spirit in ALL areas of our life – physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, mental, habitual – and it will only come through a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our healer and deliverer, and only he knows from what we need to be set free. If we look to any wisdom of this world to save us, it will only take us captive. No book or blog – including this one – will show you and me the path to a victorious life. We must be led along it daily by the gentle hand of Jesus. Freedom from fear is the victory; healing is just one of the spoils. 

So how do we develop spiritual discernment? How do we know if and when God wants to heal us or set us free from some sort of bondage? First, we do not seek a healing; we seek the Healer. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the beginning and end of our spiritual journey. If you have not asked Jesus into your heart by believing that he is the Son of God who died for your sins, was raised from the dead in order to conquer sin and death for all who would believe in him, and sits at the right hand of God interceding on behalf of those who love him, then that is the first step. When you have invited Jesus to be Lord of your life, then he gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit, who enables you to have the mind of Christ in your circumstances. (If you would like to do this today, please leave a comment so I can pray with you, although you don’t need me to pray in order to receive Christ into your heart. You need only to confess your sins to him and ask him to be Lord of your life.)

How do you know if you have the mind of Christ as you’re considering the choices before you? To properly discern the Holy Spirit’s voice from your own or other influences, you must:

  • Learn to distinguish God’s voice by reading the Bible, God’s revelation of his love for humanity and desire for relationship with us. God will not direct you in ways that are contrary to his Word. That’s why each time I’ve prayed for direction, I’ve specifically asked God to back it up in the Bible before I act on it. The beautiful thing about reading the Bible daily is that God almost always has the confirmation of his word to me right there in that day’s selection. I didn’t seek it out; he had it waiting for me on his appointed day. Don’t let the enemy discourage you if you struggle with doing this on a daily basis at first. We don’t read the Bible to impress God with our devotion; we read it to connect with him. When you miss a day, don’t stress about it. Ask God to give you a desire for his Word, and pick it up the next day!
  • Listen to Bible-teaching, Spirit-filled preachers and teachers, and belong to a community of believers. Pray for God to reveal himself to you through his Word and godly teachers. I receive direction from the Holy Spirit as God’s Spirit within me rises up with a resounding “YES!” every time I read the scriptures or hear a message from someone through whom God wants to speak to me. When all messages line up – even if it doesn’t make logical sense – obey.
  • Obedience is key to spiritual discernment. If you don’t obey when you know what God wants you to do, you will eventually cease to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit until some disaster strikes and you come seeking him. If you draw near to God, he promises to draw near to you (James 4:8). Obedience often begins with simply praying in agreement with whatever you’re reading in God’s Word. Pray, “Yes, Lord. Thank you for this truth I’m reading. Show me how to live it in my daily life.”
  • Finally, discernment is something for which we should earnestly pray and seek. Our lives on earth matter. There are eternal consequences to our actions. God healed my son and has been prospering him in public high school (after being homeschooled for the past 6 1/2 years) in order to pry my white-knuckled hands off of him, and show both of us that Jesus is his Savior – not me. He set me free from intestinal issues so that I would stop preaching that the gluten-free or grain-free diet saves, and instead speak the truth that Jesus saves. He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

Christ Jesus came to set us free from bondage. Sometimes that bondage is physical, and sometimes it’s spiritual. He loved us, while we were still sinners, and died to set us free. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed! Praise God and give him glory!

Less than a week after my mom’s funeral, the countdown to sending my homeschooled son to public high school began to tick louder, drowning out one grief with the sound of another. I’m not ready! He’s not ready! I’ve somehow got to cram ALL THE THINGS into the few weeks before school starts. Otherwise, I may get my report card as a homeschooler and find an F!

Fear. It’s a powerful emotion – especially when the fear is that we’ve failed our kids. It makes us do crazy things like ruin the last few weeks of summer vacation undoing all the years of allowing your child to discover who he is apart from his peers by suddenly reversing course and trying to make him “fit in.” (Lord, have mercy.) Fear makes us bombard our children with criticism and so many instructions that they begin to second-guess all their instincts. Parental love that has been warped by fear often turns into toxic control of every aspect of our kids’ lives, robbing them of valuable opportunities to learn through trial and error. Thankfully, God gently smacked me upside the head with a copy of Parenting with Love and Logic from the thrift store, with the “knock off what you’re doing” messages conveniently highlighted by the previous owner. (Subtle, God.)

He also used a fictionalized account of the life of King Hezekiah (one of the good kings of Judah in the Old Testament) to show me that I cannot place my hope in the ways our culture tells kids to find success. When Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz (a bad king), paid tribute to the Assyrians (the cruelest army on earth) for protection, he essentially made slaves of his kingdom. All their resources were diverted to Assyria, including God’s tithe. I realized that, as parents, we’re essentially “paying tribute” when we buy expensive clothes, purchase the latest gadgets, sign our kids up for activities we can’t afford, all in the name of not wanting them to be “left out.” We fear the “Assyrians” – the popular kids, the bullies, whoever it is you think will reject your child for not being “cool” – so we place our trust in buying their favor. But once we choose that road, we and our children are forever slaves to it.

At one point, Judah tried to make an alliance with Egypt, hoping that would save them. As parents who’ve lived through adolescence, we know that loners are targets for bullies, so we encourage our kids to do whatever it takes to be popular or form alliances. We put our hope in academics or sports, believing that being part of the “right” group will save them. When I was a teenager, I thought that if I just had a boyfriend, that would make me okay. Alliances make us feel powerful – until they don’t. Until we get a bad grade or miss the winning shot or our boyfriend breaks up with us. Looking to allies to save us still results in us being slaves to our performance and the opinions of others.

Thankfully, there is another way. Hear God’s response to Judah (and me) in Isaiah 30:15:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.”

It is a stinging rebuke, but also a sign of God’s grace and mercy as he spells out how to repent and do this parenting thing right. When faced with a battle between the world’s desire and God’s desire for our kids, we choose to return to God and do it his way. We rest in his unique plan for our kids, which will sometimes conflict with our plan for them to have an easy, outwardly-successful life. What if we don’t “pay tribute”? Perhaps that $.99 shirt from the thrift store will make our child more approachable to the kid who really needs a friend. (After all, Jesus’ ministry was usually to the outcasts, not the in-crowd.) What if I stop forcing my kid to do activities he doesn’t enjoy, but has been doing because I don’t want him to be “left out” of alliances? Perhaps saying no to something good will make room in his schedule for something better, like developing the unique strengths God gave him. We don’t have to work so hard to make sure our kids have all the right stuff and amazing resumes by the age of 16. Rest in God, and he will show us what is best.

In quietness – not nagging, nit-picking, fault-finding – and confidence in God is our strength. It is not up to us as parents to “fix” our kids, placing our magnifying glass over their quirks and weaknesses. Our job is to help them become the beautiful butterflies God designed them to be. It’s scary to think about sending our kids out into the world, and yet if they’re going to fly (and not live in our basement forever), we have to put our confidence in God. We may fail our kids, but he never will. We can confidently send them out into the world, knowing that God will never abandon them (Joshua 1:9). On the first day of high school, I shared this promise from Isaiah 30:21 with my son:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Ultimately, the voice we want our kids to hear is not our voice, but the voice of the Holy Spirit. As they cross the bridge into adulthood and venture out on their own, He is the one we want to guide them.

Bridge

Have you blown it with your kids? Me too. But it is never too late for God to redeem the failures that we place in his gracious hands. We don’t have to wring our hands in worry, wondering what to do. When we place our hope and trust in God, he promises to show us the way (Proverbs 3:5-6). He invites us to come to him when we need wisdom because he is a generous God who does not find fault with us for simply having questions (James 1:5). As we learn to rest and trust in God’s perfect love, our love becomes perfected. The result of perfect love is that fear is no longer holding the reigns in our parenting!

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love…And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:16-19

Lord, thank you for loving us first. We surrender our death-grip on our kids because you love them and know them better than we do. We place our confidence in you, our loving God, not in alliances. Give us eyes of faith to see your vision for our kids so that we will train them up in the way they should go – not our way, but your unique way for them (Ephesians 2:10). May we return to you and find our rest (Matthew 11:28-29). Quiet us with your perfect love and cast out our fear as we confidently look to you for our strength (Isaiah 40:31). Amen.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep after having had a special time with my mom in which the veil of Dementia was lifted and she told me she loved me for the first time since her stroke, nearly 3 years ago. My grief bubbled to the surface as I acknowledged that she is approaching the finish line of her time here on earth, and I will be losing someone who was once my dearest friend. So I came downstairs to work through my emotions with God, my Counselor. He said, “Come out to the patio. I have something to show you.”

Dear reader who is struggling with loss or pain today, I invite you to join me on the patio. Pull up a rocking chair next to me and let your gaze fall upon this image God wanted to show me in my backyard. Hear God’s precious words to me (and, perhaps, to you today).

Church steeple and cross

I died on the cross because of my great love for you. I died for your mom and all who would believe in me, so that I could make a way to bring you home to me someday. I died and was raised to life so that you also may also be raised to life with me forever, so rejoice! When I come to get your mom, although you will no longer see her, she will see me in glory!

Stand up and walk to the corner of your yard. Look at the fireworks happening right now across town. Those fireworks are nothing compared to the celebration in heaven when one of my faithful followers is received into glory. Now look behind you at the approaching lightning storm. This is where you stand: the storm of life on earth is bearing down upon you, flashing around you, while you strain to see the future glory of heaven in the distance. But in between them, right next to you, is the cross, the symbol of my love for you and presence with you. While you stand in this place between sorrow and hope, you must choose to fix your eyes on me. 

The storm is approaching. Feel the wind as it picks up speed, drying your tears and cooling down the hot, summer air.  I asked you to bring a blanket out with you because even though it was hot when you first came out, I knew you would need it now. I know what you will need in the coming storm, and you can trust me to provide it before you know you need it.

When the lightning flashes, look at the cross. There are many distractions in this world, but fix your eyes on me and I will keep you from stumbling. The enemy wants to use the lightning and thunder of adversity to scare you, but see how the lightning lights up the cross in the dark night sky each time it flashes? As long as your eyes are on me, the lightning will showcase my glory and goodness. My perfect love casts out all fear.

Listen to the rain as it begins to fall and water the parched ground. The enemy may try to frighten you with lightning, but I send the rain to refresh and restore. Do not fear the storm because there are blessings for you in it. In this season, I want you to not hunker down until the storm passes by, but sing in the midst of it.”

And so I sang. Hymns and choruses I haven’t sung in years, rocking in my chair beneath the patio shelter and the blanket God knew I would need. Thunder rolled, lightning continued to flash, and my words rose to heaven: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

As the rain subsided I looked to the cross, now barely visible, and was surprised to hear a song request.

Sing that song you sang to me when you were 5 years old in the Christmas musical, dressed up as Tiny the lamb. I loved that one.

Really? Okay… “Sleep, Jesus, sleep. You must rest free from all harm. Sweet lamb of God, precious holy one.”

No, those aren’t the words. The last line is, ‘Sweet lamb of God’s precious child I am.’ Remember that you are my precious child. Long after your mother is gone from this world, you will still be my precious child. I was there through all those memories your mother has now forgotten. She may not be able to remember your past anymore, but I do. I have always been there. I will always be here. The sun has set on the cross today, but it will rise again tomorrow. Keep your eyes on me, my precious child. I love you.

Yes, Father, I will keep my eyes on you and sing your praise in the storm. I love you too.

A while back I mentioned to my husband that since we’re both hanging on by a thread, it’s a good thing our threads are tied together. His response was, “I don’t have a thread; I’m hanging onto yours.” Perhaps you can relate? The past few months have been some of the most difficult of my life. In addition to the the time-consuming, strict diet I’m on in order to heal my intestines and address food sensitivities, I’m also helping out my parents 2 or 3 days a week, as they adjust to my mom’s loss of abilities due to her vascular dementia (a terminal illness that gets progressively worse). Add to that the high stakes pressure of homeschooling high school and you have a recipe for a breakdown. And that’s pretty much what happened last week.

But sometimes a breakdown is exactly what we need because we finally realize we can’t keep going on in the same way. Something has to change. As I cried out to God in frustration, I realized that the change I needed was to let go of the thread of hope in my circumstances getting easier, and grab onto the thread of hope in God to walk with me through whatever comes today and tomorrow. Hope in circumstances will often disappoint us, but hope in God never disappoints. As I began to shift my focus off of my discouragement and onto God, the following path for navigating this season of my life began to unfold. If you’re also dealing with a stress trifecta in your life right now, I invite you to join me on this path of hope.

Remember That There Is a Purpose in this Season – But It’s Still Just a Season
The overlap of all these stressful situations in my life makes each one feel enormous, but the truth is that eventually my mom’s mind and body will be healed in heaven; eventually my kids will graduate from high school and I will no longer be homeschooling; eventually I will be able to incorporate more food into my diet and find a new normal. All of these things are part of this season, but it will not last forever. I cannot plan my way out of this season (no matter how hard I keep trying to do just that!) or control how long it will last, but I can rest in the knowledge that God is still working out his plan for my life in the midst of the challenges I’m facing.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

What if the difficult season we’re in is exactly where we need to be in order for God’s higher purpose to be accomplished in us? What if the heat and pressure I feel is part of God’s refining process in answer to my prayer to make me more like Christ? If holiness is a higher pursuit than happiness, then perhaps God occasionally needs to accomplish the former at the expense of the latter in me.

Pray For God to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
One of the threads I’d been hanging onto was the hope that if I just did high school “right,” then everything in my oldest’s life would turn out right. But the problem with putting your hope in your plans is that it is usually accompanied by terrifying fear when something – like life – interrupts those plans.  Panic set in when I realized that having to be increasingly involved in helping my parents meant I couldn’t do high school the way I had planned. But into my frantic heart, God whispered an invitation to trust him to meet my needs by simply asking him each day to give me my daily bread, then resting in his provision. So I let go of that fabulous high school plan I’d carefully crafted for my son. In this season, I am learning to take life one day at a time, trusting God to point me in the right direction each day. So far the result has been a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere in our home, more interest-led learning because that has once again become a higher priority than checking things off a list, a better relationship with my kids because I’m nagging less and listening more, and my digestive issues are finally healing as I am slowing down and focusing on just one or two goals a day (since the underlying cause of my issues, I’m convinced, is stress).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

Receive Your Daily Bread With Gratitude – Even If It’s Squash Pancakes
Many aspects of my life are beyond my control right now, but I can control my attitude. I can choose to resent my situation and spend all my energy bemoaning my woes in an endless loop. Or I can choose to celebrate life with my mom and treasure those moments when I see glimpses of the woman who lovingly raised me. I can choose to focus on making memories and building relationships with my kids in their remaining years at home, instead of worrying about what will happen when they leave. I can choose gratitude for what I have instead of pining away for what is lost. It is not easy to choose gratitude for what you have when it’s not the thing you wanted, but the Apostle Paul – who knew all about suffering – offers us the key to unlocking the secret of contentment in all circumstances:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:12-13

Did you catch that? The secret to contentment is strength from God. I can’t do it on my own, but God invites me to pray for the strength to face each day, whether I feel well fed or hungry. I’m learning to accept that my literal “daily bread” right now is squash pancakes, and though my daily bread may not taste great, it is enough. What I’m doing for my parents and kids is enough. Because God is enough.

I Can Let Go of My Thread Because God is Already Hanging Onto Me
When life doesn’t turn out the way we’d planned, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the change and unrest around us. But God does not leave us alone to struggle through difficult seasons. In fact, in my personal experience, God is even closer during times of trial because he is inviting me to put my faith to the test – not to see if I will pass, but to see that HE is faithful in all circumstances. We may never know how big God is until we take our eyes off of the wind and waves and look to the One who is right there with us in the storm, whispering to our heart, “Peace, be still.”

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:2

Notice that the above verses don’t say “if” but “when” you feel like you’re drowning in your circumstances. Look up. See his hand of protection covering you from waves of bitterness and despair. As children of God, we are constantly reminded in scripture to not be afraid; not because we have nothing to fear, but because God has promised he will never abandon us. We can let go of our death grip on being in control of our circumstances because we know that God will never let go of us.

Accept That This New Thread Can Be Part of Something Beautiful
When we moved into our house, I carefully measured and planned our landscaping in the backyard. Ten years later, almost nothing I envisioned has worked out the way I planned. The raspberry bushes took over the corner of the yard and grew over one of my bushes. The elegant white rose bushes I planted both died, then came back to life as smaller, red roses. (What the what?!!) The neighbor’s lilacs and lilies grew under the fence. And you know what? It’s all beautiful! If I had held onto my original vision and yanked out the spreading raspberry bushes, I would have missed out on the abundance of delicious berries we enjoy and share each year. (And the bush that they covered was not meant for full sun, and was dying anyway.) The rosebushes I planted looked sickly every year, and every time we had a gusty wind all the petals would blow off. But whatever this other variety is that took over happens to be hardy and better able to tolerate our growing conditions. And the lilacs make my day every time I look out my window. I had such great plans when we moved in…but had no clue what I was doing. I’m learning that there is beauty and wonder to be found in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Perhaps letting go of my plans will clear a path for something even better.

Also spontaneously growing in the bark patch are weeds, grass, and chives (another oops), but we're going to focus on the pretty lilacs.

Also spontaneously growing in the bark patch are weeds, grass, and chives (another oops), but we’re going to focus on the pretty lilacs.

So I’m letting go of my thread, hanging on to God, and believing that the tapestry of my life that God is weaving will be something so breathtakingly beautiful that I will someday fall to my knees in wonder and say, “Yes, I see it now.” Until then, I will have to see the beauty in God’s plan with eyes of faith, believing that the God who turns ashes into beauty will grow something beautiful in me. Right here. In this season.

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
– Jeremiah 17:7-8

Your schedule is full of All The Things a “good” mom does: You juggle kids, home, cooking, relationships, finances, church responsibilities, kids’ activities, and possibly a full-time job (or if you have babies at home, you have a 24/7 job, bless your sleep-deprived heart). You collapse at the end of the day in front of the computer where you see pictures of All The Things the other moms are doing and wonder if you’ll ever measure up. Then someone reminds you that it’s Ash Wednesday and – oh, by the way – on top of all the sacrifices you’re making, Jesus would like you to make one more for the next 40 days so you can relate to his suffering. GREAT!

Dear stressed out mom, if that is you, can I just say that Jesus can relate to your sacrificial giving to your family, and he promised that his yoke – the things he asks you to do with his help – is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Fasting something during the season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter plus Sundays, on which no fasting is to take place) can be a valuable spiritual discipline for those of us who need God to help us develop self-control – one of the Fruits of the Spirit – as we focus on saying no to the desires of the flesh that hinder us from experiencing freedom in Christ. But when you are weary from running your race, Jesus invites you to find rest in him so he can grow the other Fruits of the Spirit (like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.) in you. When you are empty, you have nothing left to give or sacrifice, and must come to the Giver of all good things to be filled up.

So my Ash Wednesday – or any day – invitation to the weary is to go on a date with Jesus for the next 46 days. (I suppose you can forgo it on Sundays, if you’re going to church, but I find that I especially benefit from quiet time with Jesus before I walk into church because I have many words, and I need God to sanctify my mouth. And my entire Sunday School class says, “Amen.”)

Light in the darkness.

When I say “date,” I mean exactly that. Set up a beautiful space with as many things as you can think of that make you feel special, like you’re on a date. What do you enjoy? What makes you feel nurtured, loved? Is it being outside in your garden or on your patio? (Being outside is too big a distraction for me because all I can see are the weeds and yard work I need to do, and that tends to lead to discipline from God rather than comfort…) Perhaps you have a sunny window where you can enjoy a cup of tea while the little ones nap. Maybe there’s a piece of artwork in your bedroom that you love, and you could pull up a chair, light a candle, and turn your back on the pile of laundry on the bed. You may have to do a little cleaning to get rid of any distractions and put a little effort into making your date space beautiful, but I promise it will make a difference in how you feel about your time spent with Jesus. Why? Because YOU ARE WORTH IT.

You are worthy of beautiful things. You are beautiful to Jesus. You are his precious treasure. When you are on a date, you feel special, and sometimes we need physical reminders of just how much God cherishes his time with us. We know in our heads that Jesus died on the cross for us, but do we feel in our hearts the depth of his love and enjoyment of our relationship with him?

I can tell you from personal experience how much this concept has changed my relationship with Christ. I developed the “discipline” of daily quiet time with God at the beginning of the day years ago, but in the past two years God has been growing the fruit of joy in my life by first teaching me how to find my joy in him, and secondly, by encouraging me to incorporate things that bring me joy into our time together. As I began to infuse my quiet time with sights and smells that delight me, and listen to his whispers of love to my heart through scripture and healing devotional books, I could not help but fall deeper in love with my Savior.

And that’s what Jesus desires most from you; not your sacrifice for him, but your love and relationship with him.

Quiet Time

Here is my “date” space with Jesus. I put twinkle lights on our fake tree to brighten up the dark winter mornings, and light scented candles (to cover up the smell of our disgusting dog who is a third wheel on our date). I curl up under a cozy blanket and savor a good cup of coffee (because coffee is God’s gift to moms) while I meditate on God’s Word and talk to him about my day. In this environment, I have a heightened sense of how precious I am to Jesus because it makes me feel precious. (If you struggle with low self-esteem, it’s especially important to incorporate physical reminders of his love for you into your time together.)

I’m currently reading Beth Moore’s inspiring book, Audacious, and would also highly recommend Jen Hatmaker’s, For the Love, to anyone in need of grace and a good belly laugh. But for date time, I can think of no better book than the Jesus Calling one year devotional (not as a replacement for scripture, but as a supplement). Some might balk at it being written in first person, as Jesus speaking to you, but it was simply the author’s way of sharing what Jesus was saying to her through the scriptures noted at the bottom, not an attempt to add to scripture (so let’s not get into a theological debate in the comments section, okay?). However, I found that the first person messages helped me to overcome the negative voices in my head – “You’re not good enough, and you’ll never be as good at that as ______, so you should just give up.” – by allowing Jesus to counter them directly through words of grace and encouragement.

The devotional messages may not be direct quotes from Jesus in scripture, but I believe they come directly from his heart to you and me. We cannot overcome the negative messages from our culture until we learn to recognize the voice of Truth. Jesus said that his sheep would know him by his voice, so if you are bombarded by negative self-talk, I would encourage you to go on a date with Jesus every day during the season of Lent. Learn to recognize His voice, and The Truth will set you free! If you don’t want to buy a devotional book, just read through one of the Gospels and focus on the words and character of Jesus.

Let him woo you, dear sister. The Bridegroom loves his Bride, the Church, and you will find the emptiness in your heart that will never be filled by doing All The Things, satisfied by his love and grace toward you. I leave you with some of the words from today’s message in Jesus Calling (the italicized words are a direct quote from scripture):

Trust me enough to spend ample time with me, pushing back the demands of the day. Refuse to feel guilty about something that is so pleasing to me, the King of the universe (Luke 10:41-42).

Don’t fall into the trap of being constantly on the go. Many, many things people do in My Name have no value in my kingdom. To avoid doing meaningless works, stay in continual communication with me. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you (Psalm 32:8).