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Day 3 St John’s VBS: Walk Beside Me

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The three year olds stood and shouted the song, twirling and swaying to the happy beat, but the smiling boy I saw in the nursery every week sat crumpled in the teacher’s lap, his eyes swollen from tears. Not even goldfish could persuade him to perk up. Its the first year at VBS for the three year olds. The kids that were babies just a blink ago, are now students, learning how to be without mom and dad in a classroom. They’re hearing about Jesus with their own ears instead of just from their parents’ arms, or maybe for the first time.

I peeked in on his class throughout the day to see if he would find confidence in his new surroundings, but the first day for him was a tearful one.

When I saw him on day two, he was tentative, clutching mom’s hand like a loveworn blankie, his face set in the stubborn lines of a pout. When I asked if he was ready for VBS, his mom gave a subtle shake of the head, “we’re not up for VBS today. But we’re really excited about coming to school.” My heart pinched a little. The very word that had become such a source of joy in my home had become a word they needed to avoid.  As I walked away I prayed to myself, “Lord, help him to have a good day. Help his mom to be strong.”

Sometimes the very things that should bring us joy become triggers of anxiety in our lives.

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As we skip along the cobble path of milestones, we eagerly anticipate the next big thing. For three year olds, its big kid panties, mornings away from parents, and eventually preschool. But we feel transitions as adults too, where our realities collide with our expectations. That gorgeous new house we just bought means we have to part with the pile of money we’ve been saving, and say goodbye to the old porch swing. The promotion we’ve worked so hard for marks a shift in the dynamics with relationships at work, as we step out of the shoes of co-worker and into the uncomfortable new ones as boss. The vacation we’ve awaited all year, comes and goes with a flourish, leaving us with unpacked bags and melancholy.

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Sometimes its the little things vbs converse provilethat cause us stress, like bringing our kids to VBS when they make it crystal clear that they do not want to be there. Maybe its as simple as feeling self conscious in the back of church, when everyone else seems to have found their way there.

We look at the disciple Peter who also struggles with fear and doubt in the midst of a storm. But God meets him in his doubting, saying, “Come.” When Peter sinks, Jesus helps him up and asks, “Why did you doubt?”

Jesus meets Peter with patience, reassurance, and strength in his moment of weakness. Peter not only walks again, but Jesus empowers him to become a great leader.

 

At the close of VBS on the second day, I went to the boy’s classroom to see how he was doing. His face was bright again. He told me about how he loved to go to worship, and he showed me a tower he built for his mom that reached a foot above his head. I’m so glad his mom found the strength to bring him back. That he was able to get through the struggle to find the joy on the other side.

We all have rough days, rough weeks, maybe even a rough year that we’d like to put behind us. But God strengthens us and walks us through it. He brings us  hope in our struggles. And as we show up, and worship him, he brings us joy again. Joy, strength, and hope to help us build towers that point to him.

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St. John’s VBS Day 2: Praying in Life’s Noise

 

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The small girl’s eyes fixed in her lap, her fingers twisted and untwisted together in an uncertain dance. Some of the children murmured Amen as the leader closed the prayer. She cupped her hand to her friend’s ear and whispered, “I don’t know how to pray. Do you?”

Its a good thing that the kids get to learn about prayer today at VBS as we dive into a lesson about how God hears Jonah’s prayers from the belly of the whale. This sweet girl probably isn’t the only one who’s struggled with uncertainty when it comes to her own ability to pray. No matter where we are in our faith walk, sometimes it feels like it takes work to have a rich prayer life.

Sometimes prayer can feel like trying to walk with your shoes tied together. You know that you’re just suppose to put one word in front of another, joined together in a conversation thats “trumped up” with Christian buzz words like holy, sinner, and blessed. But, when you try, you feel self conscious and tongue tied- tripping and stumbling over an incoherent string of confused speech.

Maybe we can relate to Jonah more than we might think. Instead of taking his fear and uncertainty to God in prayer, he tries to escape Him by jumping on a ship going the opposite direction of where God commanded.

Too often I know the places God is calling me, to slow down, to quiet my anxious mind, to spend time with him instead of flipping through my phone, but I drown His voice out with a world that demands my attention with Facebook status updates, news streaming on my web browser, and endless onslaught of texts, emails, messages, phone calls…etc. etc.

Today I’ve gotten to hear teachers affirming to kids that when they pray, God is listening! Wow! I wish I had had those truths affirmed to me as a fearful and uncertain child. But another truth that resonates with me today, from the story of Jonah, is something I struggle with more as an adult than when I was a kid.

Jonah knew God was there, waiting, but he busied himself and avoided hearing God. He allowed fear, stubbornness, and anger to stand between his relationship with God. Finally, as he sat in a belly of a fish, Jonah took the time to stop, to pray, and to listen.vbspray

Its easy to build prayer into a holy experience that can seem untouchable. If we can’t find that perfect moment or the exact words, its easy to put off praying, or like the child in worship this morning, think we “don’t know how.” But we don’t need to be in the belly of a fish to be with God, or even in a quiet room. If you’re a parent of young children, quiet doesn’t mean peace, but that your kid is getting into trouble.

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Take those imperfect moments, and your “unholy” words and talk to God. When your driving in the car, when your vacuuming, when you’re finding the self control not to scream at your three year old (umm…this girl). Cause God hears us, and He has a lot to say to us too- we just need to slow down, put our phones down, and have a conversation with Him.

And ask your kids how to pray, after today I have a feeling they might be able to teach you a thing or two.

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God Bless Our VBS Mess

 

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Many of us have VBS memories, from past years at St. John’s, or maybe from our own childhood church. Or maybe its your family’s first experience with VBS and you’re excited to see what its about! Today is the day we’ve been gearing the kids up for for weeks, and expectations are high. They are going to have THE BEST TIME, and you are going to get the house clean, or get a relaxing pedicure (guys get pedis too!) , or something awesome to celebrate your morning sans kids.

Maybe you motivated them to brush their teeth last night with the reminder of the special day ahead. You laid out their clothes and packed their bag. You set your alarm extra early so no one would be rushed. You went to bed with glowing anticipation of the morning.

But what happens when your kid is too excited to sleep, and ends up in a pile on the couch with dad? Or when your well intentioned alarm goes off and you hit snooze (three times)? Or when your sleep deprived child gets banana all over her crisp yellow shirt before you even leave the house (and puts the banana peel between the cushions in the couch).

Next thing you know, you’re hollering like a mad woman at the whole family, “YOU GUYS OVERSLEPT! We’re going to be late!!!” Shoes are flying, your head is pounding, kids are whining,  and your sweet VBS family has fallen into a sweaty bunch of  half dressed, hungry and tired grumps.

Or maybe your morning went exactly as planned like mine did (wink).

When our expectations don’t align with our realities, its easy to fall into the blame game. We blame others: my kids don’t listen, my spouse doesn’t help out enough, Grandma kept them up too late. Or, we blame our circumstances: VBS is too early, my kid has a touch of a cold, we’re overscheduled. Or we question our own worth and credibility: my kids would behave if I was a better parent, I’m not organized enough, they’re going to remember me as the mom that nags and hollers.

Stop. I’m going to share with you the VBS message your children are hearing today, and just maybe YOU could soak it in too? Its okay, I promise I won’t make you memorize verses or give up your snooze button. (Although both are worthy pursuits.)

God sent rain for 40 days to flood the earth, but He protected Noah because God saw that his heart was good.

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God knows you. He knows your heart. He know when you’re jealous, angry, and resentful. He knows how intensely you love your kids, He knows how desperately you want to succeed at this parent thing. He knows sometimes we just feel like scared children ourselves.

God knows us- He forgives us and He loves us. Instead of the blame game, instead of covering ourselves in the dirt of shame, when our plans don’t go as we expect, we can look to a God that sends olive branches and rainbows to our uncertain hearts. We can look to a God who sent His son so that we can be His children. We can rest in the knowledge that our kids are making their own VBS memories that will shape and mold them into the people God wants them to be- banana covered shirts, mismatched shoes, bags under their eyes and all.

Because God uses flawed folks like you and me, he shines us up with his grace, and he calls us to live this life of sticky hands and tired bodies; a life built of hope and fears and whispers and hollers. He looks at us, with our frazzled emotions, messy houses, and grumpy moods,  and He says “I love you kiddo- take all the time you need.”

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St. John’s VBS 2016 Deep Sea Discovery

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I’ve always lived in places where water was scarce. As a kid, I was taught to turn off the faucet as I brushed my teeth, to take showers instead of baths if I could, to fill a basin of hot water for the dishes, and to pretty much skip washing my car. Okay, so I totally added the last one to scrape for an excuse as to why my van is always filthy.

When we lived in the desert, one thing you always packed for any extended road trip was bottles of water, in case you found yourself with a flat tire, covered in dog vomit on the side of an abandoned dirt road (a story for another time).

Now in Southern California, we’re quickly learning that we actually still live in a desert climate with watering restrictions transforming the lush landscape into patches of brown, dry grass.

Yes water is essential to life. Life looks different when water is scarce.

This week at VBS, the kids may have to forego their water day, but they are going to be submerged in water inspired stories that teach them about the life-giving importance of Jesus.

Because water brings life.

More important, Jesus brings life.

There may be a drought in Orange County, but friends it is going to rain giant droplets of grace and love at St Johns Orange over the next five days.

Follow the blog this week for daily updates as I join our St John’s volunteers and over 730 kiddos on an underwater adventure that teaches us about a God that gives rainbows for promises, answers prayers from the belly of whales, and calls us to be his miracle workers, with a basin of water and His life changing word.

A New Approach

Hi Readers,

I’m going to try something a little different. Normally one of my blog posts takes about 3 hours. I pray, I deliberate, I edit, and I take the things I publish very seriously. I know most blogs go for volume and posts that get a lot of buzz- but to be honest, popularity isn’t my goal. I recently took on a beauty writing position,  I have a crawling, breastfeeding, mama loving baby, and I’m leading my church’s mom’s ministry next year…in other words…3 hours can’t be  found!  So instead I’m going to write more frequent, short bursts on whatever song God is playing on my heart. Let me know what you think. I love comments, questions, honest feedback, or anything where I get to listen instead of just throw words out into this big dark blogosphere!

Much Love & Scoops of Ice Cream

Lindsay

To Say “I Do”…

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“I Do.”

Two syllables form a sentence that makes a promise we remember day after day in a lifetime together.

When we vow, “I do,” before all to hear, we’re saying we promise to love, respect, and honor our spouse. Its a big moment. A moment we can draw a big red dot on and say, after this point, my life was never the same; I was never the same.

But whether we celebrate those vows with expensive champagne and two hundred of our closest friends and family, or in a quieter fashion, with just a chosen few, the words are the same, and the promise doesn’t change, we look at our spouse, and we say, “I do.” “I do promise to stay by your side for life.”

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Its not a phrase you say often, “I do.” For such a big promise,they aren’t two words we say again and again. Maybe its because it sticks the first time, but I think its really because the words “I do,” are woven in the fabric of our lives together as a married couple.

Maybe the vows we say aloud to each other are few, to remind us that the promise is fulfilled in how we live it.

coy bride“I do,” is wrapped in flannel pajamas cuddled in the corner of the couch.
“I do,” pours like fresh hot coffee into my mug when I’m too exhausted to make it myself.

“I do,” fortifies me to insist I don’t want the last bowl of ice cream in the carton (when I do!)

“I do,” leaves my lips in the words “I’m sorry,” and “You were right,” or (the hardest) “I was wrong.”

“I do,” wets my cheek with his tears as he bows over me on the operating table as we wait to hear our babies first gasping cries.

“I do,” lies curled between us, as I crawl into bed beside him, when my anger prods me to sleep on the couch.

“I do,” is tucked  in wrinkles, winking in silver hairs, and glowing in angry red scars and white stretch marks as we look at each other and see someone beautiful.

“I do,” twinkles in the knowing look he gives me as we exchange a shared unspoken secret.

“I do,” wells with pride in my eyes as I look at my I dodaughter and see all the things I love about my husband in her.

“I do,” is folded in warm laundry, melted like the peanut butter he puts on his pancakes, sprayed in the scrubbing bubbles I foam the sink with after he’s shaved.But for us, “I do,” is also an admission that, “I don’t.” No. I don’t measure up. Neither does he.

But in the moments when we have nothing left to say, we look to a God Who says, “I do,” not just with words, but with His hands spread wide, His head bowed, and His final breath.

And we look to a God who breathes again, and says “I will.” God that gives us the grace, to forgive, to love, to trust… to say “I do” again.welovelogo

 

What I Learned from My Traitor Baby

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She was curled inside me for 9 months. Each night at midnight she squawks and cries from her bed so she can come curl against me until the wee hours of the morning when she clucks and coos in my ear until I crack open my eyes. She’s a mama’s girl in every sense of the word, and I love it. I relish every suckle, every cuddle, every smile, every wet kiss, and hair tug, and sweet baby noise that leaves her lips.

Then, at eight months old, she spoke her first word, “DaDa.” And then, her second word, “Hi DaDa!”

Yes my mama’s girl has dad on her lips.

I shouldn’t care…I (do)n’t care.

Every day I watch her pink bubble gum lips and wait for her to form those two syllables, like she’s smacking her lips, “MaMa.” Or even one syllable, “Ma.” We can go Southern style.

I know it will happen in God’s timing, “blah blah blah…” but, as my three year old would put it, “I really, really, really (repeat 6 more times), really want” her to say it already.

I want it so much that my subconscious mind stepped in.  For nights in a row, I started dreaming that she was saying “MaMa.” I would wake with a happy glow, until I remembered that my sweet mama’s girl is a turncoat. I look at her smiling face as she sticks her fingers in my eyes, mouth, and ears, as she gurgles and coos and I realize its only five in the morning. And as I look at her sweet little mouth, like in slow motion replay mode, she again forms the words, “Daaah. Daaaah.”

Then, one morning, after only 4 hours of sleep (because of said turncoat baby), I picked her up, walked around to her daddy’s side of  the bed, shook “DaDa” awake. Handing her over I went straight to the bathroom for a shower so hot that it reddened my pale skin, and I cried. Sobbed actually; big ugly sobs that you do when no one is looking.

I know what you’re thinking here. Melodramatic right? Agreed. But now I want you to look back on the last thing in your life you were waiting to happen. That thing that if it fell into place, it would change everything else. That thing you asked your friends to pray for you about, that thing that for some reason, God has been silent about. Maybe your waiting for it now. Now listen.

A few days ago our family was on vacation. The four of us were crammed in one hotel room. When Nathan and I finally got the kids to sleep, we propped open the door and sat in pool chairs on the pavement outside the door, passing a gallon of coffee ice cream back and forth. Yes- we waited till the three year old was in bed so we didn’t have to share- don’t judge. In our blissful moment, I heard the baby whining. I ran in to check on her, and in her sleep she murmured two sweet syllables, “MaMa.” I guess I hadn’t been dreaming it after all.

I wish she’d say my name in the day, but I know who she’s dreaming about at night.

This makes me think about all the things that are happening that we don’t know about. After all, as people, we’d like to think we know it all, we have control over it all, and our world rests on our own shoulders like the heavy Jansport backpack we trudged around with in high school. But so much is happening we don’t know about- in this world- and the spiritual world. Just think what God is doing in your world while you’re sleeping. Maybe our dreams are a way that God is preparing us for a future reality. Maybe those sweet dreams and whispers are the best part of this life.

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Stop scraping and scrambling and fighting for what God has already done, for what God is already doing. God’s timing is infuriating, and confusing, and perfect and beautiful; but we can rest in him, and know that we are His child- because the best two syllable name my girl can learn is “Father,” and its not the guy sleeping next to me.

 

Being a Living Sacrifice

They’ve seen Christianity in our fish symbols on our cars and in our Good News handouts. We hear it in crooning song lyrics.

They’ve met Christians that go to church, and bible study, and every other program.

Jesus came to Earth, not because Israel didn’t know of God, but because they needed Him to reconcile them to God. In infant hands and nail pierced feet our God lived the Gospel among His people.

Americans have heard of Jesus, some of them are knee deep in Jesus pop culture.

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The question I’m wrestling with, is how is God calling me to show them Who Jesus is? Its a question I ask every day, because the answer is a calling that grows and changes.

Yesterday I walked past a man on the corner with wrinkled face and dirty clothes. He held a sign in his shaking fingers that read, “Hungry Veteran: Help.”

I wanted to avert my eyes; to walk in a wider circle around him. Instead I sucked in a breath and looked him in his tired, amber eyes. I nodded and whispered, “God bless you.”

Tomorrow I wonder what it would looked like if I was a blessing? What does it look like for you?

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“Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you.” Romans 12:1

I Need You Mom

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Growing up, I chased after my mom like a bright ball of yarn.  I was the baby of the family. Like a leaf that follows you into the house or the last spoonful of peanut butter clinging to the sides of the empty jar, my family wasn’t expecting me when I showed up one afternoon as an extra pink line.

My teenage sisters would go to the movies and the mall, my big brother would roam the forest with neighborhood friends, and I would stay in my flannel nightgown with my pile of Barbies, following my mom from room to room as she busied herself with house chores. My mom never snuck off to the grocery store without me. I would be waiting at the front door, shoes on the wrong feet, mismatched clothes, a crooked smile and a stubborn resolve. At night if I heard the water pipes whistle, I ran up the stairs, stepping out of my pants, my underwear, disentangling my arms from my inside out shirt, and climbing in beside her in the hot bath, before she could turn me away.

When I look back, I can’t remember what we talked about. I can’t even tell you what she made for dinner most nights or what our bedtime routine looked like. What I remember was she was there. Her reassuring presence, her patience, her reliability. She was mom- the person that gave me comfort, the person that loved me through scraped knees, and bullies, and the awkward uncertainty of being a kid. When life felt like too much for my little kid shoulders to bear, she was there, so I didn’t have to go through it alone.

Sometimes as a mom, life feels like too much. In the midst of uncertainty, I dial my mom’s number and release an incoherent stream of anxiety, and resentment, and excitement, and fear. My emotions bubble over and spill into her lap in a stream of tears, and laughter, and sometimes just tense silence. There’s little of our conversations I can remember. I can only remember a handful of the advice she has given me over the years. But in those moments, what I need most is my mom- and she picks up, she listens, and she never gives up on me.

Often I question what I have to offer my children. The days come and go like the flash of passing traffic on a busy road. At night I feel like I have no more of myself to give. And the weight of motherhood rubs calluses on my small square frame.

But God reminds me that its not about the words I have to say, its not about my talents or my own ability. He calls me to show up, so that His power can be revealed in me. How often I want to run and hide because I feel like I’m not enough! But sometimes the greatest thing we can do is just show up, to just answer the phone, to never give up…and trust. Trust that we won’t be alone.

“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 (NIV biblehub.com)

Last night I tucked my 2 year old into bed. We read our book, and prayed, I gave her two round kisses and I turned out the light. Her soft murmurs that usually give way to the silence of sleep, erupted into wales.

“Mama! Mama!”

I cracked open the door, “Yes baby?”

“Cuddle me.”

I climbed in beside her in the toddler size bed. We lay there, two lovebirds, nose to nose, giggling and whispering until she surrendered to the weight of sleep. I kissed her head, and got up to finish my night time chores.

I know she won’t remember all that I say. She won’t remember every cuddle, or band-aid, or glass of water in the middle of the night, but she’ll know I was there.

 

Marked By Love

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Recently after I became a mom, my mother gave me a gold necklace with three little letters. M-O-M. I wear it every day, because it is a visible reminder of all that she gave up to shape me into the person I am. Three little letters in the word MOM, but a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, a lot of responsibility give import to that little three letter name. And as my own mom handed me that necklace, it felt like she was passing her promise on to me. A promise she made when she became a mom- to take on the job with all its challenges and sacrifices, all its sacred beauty, with as much courage and grace as she could muster. A promise I try  to keep for my girls every day.

A couple days ago, my sweet baby E fell asleep with her cheek rested against my chest, drool escaping from a suckling mouth, the hair on her head curling from sweat. When she woke up her flushed face was marked with three bold letters M-O-M. I felt terrible. The whole time her cheek pressed against my metal charms, leaving an imprint against her precious skin. I didn’t notice that I was leaving a mark on her.

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Looking at her emblazoned face I remember the Flannery O’Connor story I read in high school. A child loves to visit the monestary to visit the nuns, but each time she leaves, they give her a hug and their crucifixes leave an uncomfortable mark on her face. As O’Connor sums it up, whether we mean to or not, “love always leaves a mark.”

I run my thumb over the rivets in her skin and think about each imprint my touch makes on her tender soul. I think about how often my fingers touch her, to dress her, to wash her, when I rock her to sleep, when I tickle her soft tummy or trace her beautiful face.  My grooved fingerprints marking her even when I don’t realize it.

Today my 2 year old brought home an art project. With her hand, and two small feet in first position, her prints made the “o” and “v” to spell the word “love.” I smiled knowing that she giggled as the teacher tickled her feet with the wet pink paint brush; I knew she clapped her hands when she saw the prints her little feet left on the paper.

With two square magnets I put her picture of LOVE on the refrigerator. My daughter pointed and shouted, “my hands and feet are in love!” Her words resonated truth in my ears.

Our hands and feet are the very center of love. Without them, love would be just a word; but with them, love lived out in walking beside each other, holding hands, and carrying each others burdens, in praying, in preparing food, in washing feet. Love made flesh in infant size hands and feet, in hands that healed, in feet that followed, in hands and feet with nail size wounds.

But whether we mean to or not, our love leaves a mark on the beloved. When I see my daughter smile beneath the glow of my attention, I know that my love makes a difference, but what I don’t realize is how her love for me frames everything I do. Even the ugly things I say, when I don’t have my mom voice on, or my heart is tired and patience is waning, even those things are on display in her pretty square frame. The stuff that she remembers, the stuff that makes an impact isn’t always the stuff I do when I think she’s paying attention.

The reality is, I’m always on the clock. And as her mom, her love for me is cut out from the scraps of every day life, not just church days, or holidays, or days when I put on my mommy badge.

Yes those three little letters matter a whole heck of a lot. Its easy to believe that we can wear it like a light sweater on a hot summer day, bringing it along, and tossing it off when we don’t need it; but the title wraps around us, giving us comfort and warmth, sometimes stifling us.

When I worry over the marks I leave on my daughters. How my every day words, the angry and the loving ones,  will shape them into women, I remember God’s grace. How God could use the ugly nail marks of hate to write the most beautiful story of mercy and love. How God can use even my mistakes to form my daughters into the women that he made them to be.

There is no pride in love, there is no fear in perfect love. And love is something my girls cannot have too much of. God marks me as His child. He loves me as His child. He gives me my hands and feet and eyes and heart to look and love and serve and mark my children with my love, and with His love. I can look past my toddler’s paint smeared hands and bruised knees and cracked tooth and see pure beauty. My daughters look past my stretch marked skin, the wink of wrinkles peeking from the corners of my eyes, that will eventually become like ravines, they see me at my worst, and call me Mom. Because despite the marks that life leaves on us, love heals us. And God gives us each other to love.

Baby E’s eyes widen and sparkle under my attention. Her two toothed grin spreads across her face and she wraps her clumsy hands around my cheeks and leans in for an open mouthed kiss. My cheek is marked with her sweet saliva. My chest feels swollen and full. Under the warmth of her love, I am marked as M-O-M, and that mark makes all the difference.