Friday, August 27, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

Now that school's back in session it is a lot quieter around here. No more fights over who got the Wii games out. No more blaring music pounding down the stairway. No more annoying noises just for the sake of noise.

I might turn on the TV to watch the weather, tune in the radio for a radio program, or pull up Pandora on the computer to listen to some music while I work, but for a large part of the day, there is silence. Well, until 3:12, that is, when the bus rolls to a stop at the end of the driveway.

Have you experienced the feeling of being in an uncluttered room? Maybe in an empty home you are leaving or moving in to? Maybe during a redorating or painting project when the room is cleared of furniture. It is so easy to hear any tiny sound. Nobody's going to be sneaking up on you in there!

Have you ever wondered how to hear from God? Well, the absence of my kids at home reminded me of a lesson in hearing God. Just like an empty room transmits sound so easily, a head and heart void of clutter transmits the still, small voice of God so much better. So in the midst of our noisy, crazy lives, how can we get a little piece of quiet?

1. Turn it off. If you desire to hear God, you are going to need to listen. God is a gentleman and very rarely yells to get our attention. Turn off the cell phone, iPod, TV, computer, radio--whatever is creating noise. The problem isn't really with the gadgets, but the fact that they take captive our attention.

2. Drive in silence. When you find yourself alone in the car, resist the urge to pop out the "Five Million Songs That Kids Love and Moms Loathe" CD and put in a little something more to your liking. Take a few minutes and breathe in the silence. You can spend some of the time in prayer, but don't hog the quiet. Just listen and see if God doesn't have something to say to you.

3. Turn it on. Okay, so maybe you are a person who never gets a moment's silence. I understand. I used to go to the grocery store at 10:00 pm just so I could actually go by myself. So, if that is the place you find yourself in life, don't despair. Get your iPod, a portable CD player, or just a set of ear buds. Now, download or pop in a wordless CD, or just tuck the ear buds (attached to nothing--no body will know) in your pocket. Most people won't bother someone who looks like they are listening to something. The beauty of music without words is that is lets your mind wander and your ears stay open. Keep the volume down low. This is not the time to jive, but an exercise in solitude.

The next time you want to hear from God or just find yourself in need of a little peace, give one of these tricks a try. Can you hear me now?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...7 Steps for Making Lemonade

You've heard the saying: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It means to take a bad situation and make something positive, something good of it. If you are a parent or if you are involved in ministering to others (and parenting really is a ministry), you know that some days working with people can get ugly. Here are some tips I've found that make parenting or ministry a little less like lemons and a little more like lemonade.

For many kids, their first (and maybe only) try at entrepreneurship (is that a word?) is setting up their own lemonade stand. One year during a garage sale, my kids and a couple friends sparked and idea. The kids thought they could use the captive audience to their benefit and set to work dragging their faded yellow and orange plastic picnic table to the driveway, constructing eye-catching crayon signs, and rounding up an assortment of plastic drinking glasses. They also arranged a small cooler with Twinkles, Ho-Hos, and Ding-Dongs to arouse the attention (and thirst) of unsuspecting shoppers. The deal was, they could keep any money they made, but they couldn't stalk the customers.

They did a fair business that day, aided by the sweltering heat, their cute faces, and their stellar salesmanship. It was fairly easy work too. They didn't have to purchase any of their wares, they made the lemonade with my powdered mix and my help, and they sampled the merchandise when business was slow. But thinking back on that memory, it reminded me that both parenting and  ministry are sometimes like making lemonade. But more often than not, it is more like making lemonade from scratch. Let's look at the seven steps in making lemonade and see what each step can teach us.

Step 1: Prepare your work area and yourself. You will need to gather your supplies and ingredients. For ministry this might include questions, a Bible, a lesson, notepaper. For parenting you will need questions, answers, a Bible, life lessons, natural consequences, and lots of money. You will need to prepare yourself by washing up. This might include spending time in prayer, learning how to hold your tongue, preparing some wisdom and knowledge, gaining a humble attitude.

Step 2: Gather some ripe lemons. The number will depend on the people to whom you are ministering. In a mentoring relationship you will need one. For parenting, a handful is adequate--I'll take three, please. In larger ministry settings, you could have upwards of 30 or even a couple hundred. It is important to note that the lemons must be ripe or you will not have success with your final product. You can't hurry the process.

Step 3: Prepare the lemons. To do this, first wash the lemons. In ministry this looks like bathing those little buggers in prayer. In parenting it looks like bathing those little buggers in prayer, and in, well, soap. Sometimes a little life-style ministry is effective too. You know, just getting into people's lives. The second part of prepping the lemons is to press them on the counter so they will release the most juice. This might look like it hurts the lemons, but it is necessary for the final outcome. In both ministry and parenting, this includes setting boundaries, applying discipline, and teaching. In parenting it may also include punishment.

Step 4: Add water to your pitcher. Without the water, the lemons would be too overpowering and bitter. For both ministry and parenting, a good dousing of the Holy Spirit will give the lemons just the right balance of tartness and refreshment.

Step 5: Add sugar. The sugar is the easy part. It's like icing on the cake, gravy on the biscuit. Sugar is all the stuff that is so easy to do in both ministry and parenting. It is the fun outings, the time spent investing in a relationship, the giving of gifts, the sharing of secrets, the good days of special memories and the not-so-good days of helping someone grieve. Sugar is inside jokes and on-going traditions. The fun stuff. Be liberal with the sugar.

Step 6: Cut the lemons and squeeze their juice. This step is easier when you've already taken the time to prepare the lemons. This requires getting right to the heart of the lemon, baring their cores, and then applying pressure so they give up every ounce of good that is within them. In ministry, this is when you ask the hard questions, take them to a new level, stretch them from their comfort zones, and teach them to give of themselves until they are empty. In parenting, this is when you help you children really know who they are with all the good, the bad, and the ugly of their hearts. When you ask the hard questions, stretch them to independence, and teach them how to be others-focused. This is the most dangerous of the steps. If you are not careful, you may cut yourself. Or you run the risk of not having prepared the lemons enough in advance and they squirt you in the eye. But, ministry and parenting can be messy business, so don't back down. Press on toward your goal, adjusting as necessary.

Step 7: Stir it all together and enjoy the fruit of your labor. Your job is now complete and you can sit back and relax or start a new batch of lemonade.

I'm sure there are many more days of sun and heat left in this summer for you to get started on making some refreshing lemonade. Just remember to follow the seven steps and your chances of ending up with a great glass of lemonade are high.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Check it out!

A simple lesson for children. An eternal truth for everyone. Summed up in nineteen words.

Check out the awesome and fun-filled website Devo Kids--Christian Devotions for KIDS where you can also read my children's devotion and read my bio.

Just click here. Couldn't be any easier than that! If you are a regular reader of Lessons from the Carpool Line, you'll probably recognize the story.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Heaven Forbid!

I'm baaa-aack. Did you miss me? Boy, does my family make it difficult to get my time in on the computer when they are all home. School's back in session, hubby is working hard preparing for harvest, and I can finally reconnect with my computer.

A few weeks back, when I went to register the kids at school and pay their book fees, I didn't take the kids with me. We were getting ready to leave on a camping trip, so they stayed home finishing chores while I drove the four short miles to the school. When I arrived back home a few minutes later, they met me at the door, two questions on their lips. The first question required only a short answer: Who's my teacher?

The next question called on all my powers of memory and recall to answer: Who's in my class? They wanted me to recite from memory their entire class list--all 20-some kids, times two classes! I could remember most of the highlights, but I definitely left some kids out. That's when they started asking about specific people. Is Kody in my class? Is Megan? Did you see Sarah on the list?

That got me thinking about heaven. God reminded me, through my kids' excitement, that there will be another day when a list is posted and we'll all crowd around wondering Who's on the list? Are my friends going to be here with me?

In the New Testament, we are told of the list that will be posted at the end of the world as we know it. The Lamb's Book of Life will be opened and the names of those who have been declared righteous will be read. I, for one, plan on being in the right line when that day comes. In listening to the excitement my kids felt about their friends spending 2nd or 4th grade with them, it reminded me that I need to get even more excited about my friends (and family) spending eternity with me.

You see, my kids had no influence over who got onto the same list that they did. But I can influence, with my words and my life, everyone whom I come into contact with each day. Winding up on the List of Lists at the end of time is no accident. It isn't even a reward for living right or being a good person. The only way to be declared righteous is through accepting the gift of grace and mercy that Jesus gave you when He died on the cross in your place. See, keeping with my metaphor here, Jesus is the best teacher to get. What's more, He offers every one of us the opportunity to be in His class. But He won't force any of us to choose His class (or His leadership in our lives). His ultimate act of grace is to give us what we want when we die--to be with Him or to be apart from Him. He leaves the choice to each one of us.

That will be a wonderful day when I arrive in heaven and see who is in "class" with me. I hope that you'll be there too. If you'd like to know more about how to get on the right "class list", please contact me and I'd be happy to help you. Heaven forbid that you're not there--it just won't be the same without you!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Get Me Outta Here!

We bought a camper this summer. Both hubby and I grew up camping with our families, but we've never camped as a couple and the kids have never camped, period. Well, that's not entirely true. They've slept in a tent in the backyard a few times and since we brought the camper home there have been at least two nights of "roughing it" in the driveway.

Last weekend while I attended a conference, hubs took the kiddos camping for the first time. They spent three days and nights cooking over an open flame, boating, swimming in the reservoir, hiking, biking, and slapping mosquitoes. They rolled in Sunday morning just as I left to teach Sunday school, spilling from the truck, glazed expressions, tousled hair, dragging pillows and blankets. They made it to church for the second service, but Jot slept through the whole thing.

It reminded me of another experience involving a tent, but it not camping. An experience God used to teach me that just because I think I'm aware and vigilant, my kids may still find themselves in trouble. Let me explain...

A few years ago, on a cold winter morning, I packed the kids, and my contribution to a pitch-in lunch, in the van and headed out to a playdate. After arriving, the kids descended the stairs to the finished basement, joining the group already playing in a pop-up tent in the middle of the room. I settled in at the dining room table, joining the other five or six moms already deep in conversation. Every so often, a cheer would rise up from the depths of the basement, and we would look at one another and smile or someone would comment, "They sure are having a good time down there!"

Our friend Dee arrived late, her three kids racing to the basement, drawn by the raised voices of their playmates. As Dee found her place at the table, the hordes from the basement emerged, sweaty and red-faced. "Thank goodness! Luke let us out of the tent!"


"We were stuck in the tent and we've been calling you forever. Finally when Luke got here, he let us out!"

"Yeah, we kept yelling and you didn't hear us. So we'd count 1-2-3 then we'd all yell 'Mom!' together."

It seems the zipper on the tent stuck, capturing the kids packed inside like sardines. What we thought were shouts of glee were actually pleas for someone to come and free them. Hot, sweaty, hoarse, and some near tears, they were finally freed by their late-coming friend. All the while I thought my kids were happy, content, and free, they were enslaved just below me in a faulty pup tent.

God taught me a lesson once again. Now matter how vigilant I am, danger and bondage lurk around every corner. I can never know without a doubt that my children are safe and secure. I can do everything in my power and they might be within shouting distance and still in trouble. That's why it's so important for my kids and I to have a Savior. Just like Luke saved the day for my kids and their locked-in friends, we need someone capable of coming to our rescue.

Unlike Luke, we don't have to wait on our Savior to make an appearance. Our Savior is just a prayer away. He stands ready to save us as soon as the plea leaves our lips.

So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Galatians 4:3-5).