Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Back To School Is Like With Four Teen Boys

Week before school:

"We start school next week? When are we getting our school supplies?!"
"Maybe I should do"
"Oh yeah I have band camp starting tomorrow."
"Wait, what day does school start again?"
"I can't even remember what classes I'm taking."
"Wait, what day does school start again?"

Three days before school:
Me: "Guys, remember to write down what your teacher says you need for class, I'm getting everything on Wednesday."
All guys: "Yeah, totally, we will remember all the things. Also...when does school start again?"

Day Before School:
Me: "I have it all in this binder prepared, along with a sentimental back to school note from Dad and me, and a daily/weekly/monthly planner that you will probably destroy in about three minutes."
Them: "Yup, but it's really awesome thank you!"

First Day of School:
All guys: "Oh, our teachers didn't tell us we needed x, y, and z until today."
Me: "It's okay, we'll just have a million receipts this month and spend an obscene amount of gas money driving a fifteen passenger van twenty minutes to WalMart for the third time this week."

Blake: *takes guys to school and everywhere else plus completes his color-coded list of tasks for each day flawlessly*
Me: *feeds and cleans Addie and tries to complete not very organized to do list and consequently forgets to clean and feed myself and picks up guys from extracurricular activities and silently thanks Jesus over two thousand times for crock pots as I serve dinner to the family*
Us: "Oh, hey, spouse I love, I haven't seen you all day, how's it going?"
Guys: *walk in the door and immediately ask twenty questions that all relate to food*

Okay, so this has been the quick, comical, slightly exaggerated and obviously not remotely spiritual version of how back to school has gone for us. This is not how the entire school year is going to go, but the first couple of weeks involves a lot of teamwork and survival instinct. I have tried to sit down and write this several times, but we have been so busy. Also, I have no idea what day it is.

It's Wednesday, August 26. Good grief, where has August gone?

First of all, I want to thank anyone and everyone who interceded in prayer for us for any amount of time over the summer, because I want you to know that it was a truly great summer. Though not without struggle, it was a definite season of growth for our guys. As with any human being, not just at-risk teenage boys, we don't miraculously drop all of our sins and burdens in one afternoon and skip through the rest of our lives; but God has been so faithful. Even in the sucky parts of the summer--which were, thankfully, few--good things were definitely happening. And I don't mean "good" like "pleasant" or "enjoyable," but "good" as in "clearly God's doing and not mine." I saw hearts that were once completely hardened start to soften under the steady current of grace that flows through Willow Springs. I have watched the boys go from edgy and defensive toward each other to showing more genuine care and concern for each other than most of the guys in my high school ever had toward each other. God has been so good to our family and has placed a spirit of peace and safety over it, and I am so, so thankful. We feel your prayers and support, friends of Willow Springs. We are so grateful.

As for attitudes with school starting, the guys have done really well. I think they are too tired to bring any drama they might encounter at school home. Each of our guys have something going on after school, so they get home around dinner time and we all just sit around and be worn out together. Basically, like any of you with kids in school. You know exactly what I mean. As exhausted as we may be, though, I cherish the after dinner lull. We laugh together and have great conversations and "watch" a movie together (we talk through half of it, usually).

I'm just so proud of them. Even when they mess up (like we all do all the time every day), they have grown so much the past few months and have risen so well to the challenges those of us at Willow Springs have given them. Being a parent is so much more than setting and enforcing boundaries (though this is obviously important), it is about discipling your kids. It's about being vulnerable and honest and wearing all of the things Christ has done for you and all of the grace He gives out on your sleeves, where it is real, sincere, and effective. Transparency shouldn't negate respect, it should reinforce it. As a parent I could sit here and list all of the characteristics of a good man that I still want them to work on and grow into, and how I wish they would make better choices regarding whatever, but I also want to take the time to be excited about all the good they have done, and all of the good they are already doing. My focus right now is to work on what their hearts are bent toward--if their hearts truly bend toward Christ, the other stuff fixes itself. If they struggle to seek Him even in the midst of the voices and temptations that try to win their focus, that is more than most adults are doing today. Nothing in the world would make me more proud and feel more content as their house mom than for each of our guys to trust Christ and follow him as best as they could. I want that stability for them.

Intercessors, please pray for this. Pray that Blake and I have the grace and discernment to seize every opportunity to pour the gospel into them--this definitely is, and always has been, our goal. A few other things you can be praying for include:

  • The Mac House continues to be worked on, and is coming along so well. The sooner it is finished, the sooner we can get another set of house parents and more boys into the house. Please be praying for the completion of the house, the filling of the house parents position, and whatever boys God leads here. 
  • In addition to praying for the needs for the completion of the house, please also be praying for God's provision to fund the additional staff and residents. Not necessarily the if, because we believe God will--but for the who and the how
  • Having one boy with a license and one with a permit and car shopping is making me a nervous wreck. Please join me in praying that they would be safe and wise behind the wheel--and also for everyone in the high school parking lot, because I still remember my own high school parking lot too well.
  • For the love of all things bright and beautiful, let's pray for all of our teenagers to miraculously block out all of the pressure making them feel like they need a significant other to be worth something. Have a crush and get a Sonic drink, don't declare your undying love for someone who doesn't even know what they want to eat for breakfast. /end rant 

We are so humbled and thankful to be a part of what God is doing at Willow Springs. In the midst of ministry, we have been ministered to abundantly. Thank you, friends of WSBR!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Secret, Not-So-Secret Beast

This is a PSA to warn all of you of a beast who, though dormant in many ways for a long time, has become more and more prevalent as social media has become more widespread in our culture. This is a beast that has all kinds of camouflage; reproduces as quickly and is as annoying as lice; as destructive as a wildfire; as cunning as a serpent; as unassuming as an insect, but deadly. Sometimes it attacks quickly and suddenly, and sometimes it slowly wears down its prey over time.

This beast is called insecurity. While each person may have a different beast that wreaks havoc in their lives, I have seen firsthand the devastation wrought by insecurity, and it is one that seems to have attacked all of us at least once (but usually daily). I have been affected by others' battles with insecurity, but I have mostly wrestled with my own. Sometimes it oozes out of my phone or laptop screen. Sometimes I hear its whispers in the fitting room or in front of my bathroom mirror. Sometimes I feel it stalking me at church, or pretty much anywhere in public. I have even felt its presence make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when my husband safely holds me. Insecurity often functions as a parasite, using a human host to give it strength, making it even more difficult to completely eradicate. The moment you think you have thwarted it in your own heart and home, it enters into your brain through your ears, riding on the ill-chosen words of another. You may even be surprised that insecurity is often known by another name that seems to be the complete opposite, but is actually another disguise, another head of the same beast  pride. Pride and insecurity are often two ends of the same spectrum. Even Adam and Eve came to ruin because pride made them want to be like God, and insecurity made them wonder if God really had their best interests at heart.

Dearest reader, this beast throws us into a cycle that feels impossible to escape. Maybe even now you feel it creeping in as you read this, and you are now feeling insecure of your own insecurity. How do we escape the thought trap? How do we sever ourselves from this devastating demon?

First, I think we have to be realistic about what our insecurities are. I think we pray, and we talk to someone we trust who doesn't make us feel threatened, and show enough humility to lay those insecurities out on the table and deal with them. We evaluate them and ask ourselves if and why these things matter to us. We go to God and ask him to teach us to trust him, because our insecurities often thrive on our attempt to deal with them ourselves. And when God shows you what those insecurities are, we don't just try to put a band-aid over them, but completely remove the infected area. If there are buzzer topics that immediately send you into an insecurity downward spiral, change the subject. Be realistic about others' intentions, and remind yourself that whatever is going on in their lives isn't necessarily a reflection of what's missing in your own life. Or, remove the person's Facebook feed/Instagram or Twitter account from your timeline that you know makes you think destructively. Or, if you find yourself wanting to broadcast your day on social media in a way that makes you look more awesome than you are, that's insecurity, too (or, just get rid of Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, if you must). Pride and insecurity are as common but as varying as each individual, and it requires a constant and intimate dialogue with the Holy Spirit to truly deal with it.

When the words of others, whether purposeful or not, stick into my thought pattern, I have to replace it with God's Word. If I feel convicted, and it's about something from Scripture, then there is obviously something there that I need to confront. But when insecurity follows you like a shadow, that's not from Christ. Here are some words I have tried to tuck away, a light to keep away the darkness and expose what lingers in its corners:

"He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Ephesians 4:10-16

Insecurity divides and isolates. When the love of Christ permeates everything in us and around us, there's no room for it. Christ has given us all special gifts and talents that were given to us to be united in him, and for Christ to use this unity as a tool to further unite all people in him. God is in the business of redemption, and there is nothing redemptive about pride or insecurity.

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1-2

How can we be prideful knowing that our peace is only through Christ? How can we be insecure knowing that our hope is in the glory of God, knowing that is by his grace alone--unchanging and unwavering--we are saved? Shouldn't that take some pressure off of us?

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." James 1:19-21

Sometimes anger is a mask that insecurity wears. Sure, there is righteous anger, but too many times anger is driving with insecurity in the passenger seat.

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

Insecurity usually operates as a lingering malady. Conviction operates differently. It is swift and to the point. Insecurity makes us wonder if there is something wrong with us. Conviction makes us sure of what is wrong with us, and how to deal with it and move past it.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Insecurity serves no purpose other than to destroy. Conviction is there to discipline, to help us live a life of joy and abundance. Christ didn't come to make you feel good about yourself, but he also didn't come to remind you every day of how short you fall. He took care of it when he took the punishment for our sins. The awareness and conviction is step one. Following Christ and letting him change us--redemption and hope--is the next. The redemption of all things will reach its finality when Christ comes back. Insecurity is aimless, Christ is not.

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." 2 Timothy 2:1-7

There are lots of great things here, but what stood out to me was "no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." How often are our insecurities wrapped up in something that ultimately has nothing to do with the calling Christ has given us? What does my pant size have to do with sharing the gospel? How does comparing myself to the SuperChristianGlutenFreeMom next to me help me share the gospel? If a person I know has mentioned to a common friend that they aren't fond of me, does that person not liking me keep me from sharing the gospel? For the sake of unity I will absolutely do what I can to restore a relationship with that person that builds us both up, but if they just don't like hanging out with me, it doesn't have to define my day. Being imperfect often means making a lot of apologies and recognizing the areas that we fall short, but it doesn't mean we live there, or force others to live there with us.

The insecurity beast is one that has taken over my day far too many times. It is a beast that I constantly pray for the Spirit to expose and remove in me. I see it in myself and so many other women around me making us afraid to reach out to each other, and making us far too quick to condemn each other. Please know that if you are in Christ, insecurity should not be hovering over everything you do. If Christ isn't there, you shouldn't be either. If you struggle with insecurity and you are not a Christian, please know that there is freedom in Christ. There is nothing more stable than Him. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Mountain View

What do you do when it's a rainy day and the guys and Blake all go to Frontier City with the youth group? You catch up on your bloggin' and make pumpkin waffles for brunch with your toddler.

Yes, you read that right, pumpkin waffles. And before you roll your eyes at my impatience for fall, be honest and ask how I'm supposed to help myself when it's all rainy like it is today, and school is starting in nine days. It's like fall is calling to me and running to me with arms open wide. Yes. Bring it in, fall. You're awesome.


Of course, summer has been great. It's not that I'm not thankful for all of the things it has given us, especially last Saturday. I had my first piano recital with my first piano students. Somewhere my piano teachers must be cosmically connected in their uproarious laughter at the thought of me teaching piano--not for my lack of ability, but for my obvious distaste for practicing piano. My high school choir teacher is also probably joining in the joke at the remembrance of me telling her I "never want to teach music" when she asked what I was interested in doing with my music degree. I know, I know. The irony is almost too much to take.

 It started with me really wanting the guys to try music. Even if they hated it, I could live with it, as long as they tried. Though I have met people who don't have much musical talent, I don't think I have ever met anyone who has said they hate music. Everyone has some kind of music that resonates with them, even if it would drive me crazy (example: Rihanna. One Direction. Iggy Azalea. Etc.). So many people have found healing through music, and I thought maybe having even a little bit of an understanding of it would be good for them. The recital was a way for them to proudly show off what they had learned--on their part, however, it was mostly them doing something that was important to me.

All of my students did so well at the recital. They make it look like I taught them a lot, but mostly they are brilliant. Most of the time when I sat down to teach, they blew through whatever I was going to go over at that lesson in the first ten minutes, and the next twenty was me trying to figure out who is going to have to replace me when they outlearn my teaching abilities. And all of them, even when they messed up, performed so well. They held it together perfectly, as if no mistakes were made. Ugh, I am oozing pride and I can't stop. Sorry, not sorry.

These four guys have had a great, great summer. I'm so proud of them. They make our job easy.

I love this picture because I told everyone to pretend that the person closest to them has just said something hilarious. And Adeline was so not in on the joke.

After participating in a recital mostly out of the kindness in their hearts, the guys also hung out in the humid Oklahoma heat for almost an hour taking family pictures, which was also at least 93% for me. They didn't complain even one time. Not even with their eyes. Saturday felt like a day where all my family and friends just filled my love tank full, with no complaints and no hesitation. I can't express how much this meant to me, and how happy I am to have photographic evidence of this day. 

I'm really glad that Blake isn't too cool to do stuff like this with me.

My favorite thing about this picture is how skinny my arm looks. I wish I had like, a "before" arm picture and "after" from last summer to this summer.

I happened to find Adeline's precious little romper on sale at Target. I'm so glad we took these pictures with her in it because I think it's only going to fit her for about three days. Homegirl is growing like crazy.
She only managed to get a few knicks out of the apple, but it was pretty cute for picture taking. <3

I can't say that this awesome Saturday had absolutely no interest for the boys--they also knew that when all was said and done there were ribs waiting for them at home. Pinterest gave me another winner, y'all. That recipe is the bomb. 

 As awesome as my piano students are, and as awesome as the guys are, the truth is none of this amazing day or my life full of happiness would hold together without Blake. He takes my lofty dreams and my bleeding heart and helps me translate these things into real-life, attainable goals. Every day I am blown away by how great of a dad he is. Most dads our age (and some older ones) constantly have terror and uncertainty in their eyes, but not Blake. His faith and trust in Christ, and his devotion to Adeline, to our guys, and to our marriage, and his unsurpassable work ethic make him solid as a rock. Several times a day I just stare at him and think, "this man is just too good to be true." And he is. And he's mine. And I'm bragging because I am giddy at how much I don't deserve him.

So, as I stand here on my good-life mountain, I look back at the valleys that were and wonder at the valleys to come. I wonder at the "hows" of what God will do, but have no "ifs" in my mind. I don't wonder "if" God will keep coming through, but I wonder how He will keep doing it. This has been a difficult season for many Christians who look at what is happening in our broken world and wonder how to sort through it all, but I hope and pray you will find yourself in a place soon where you have a perfect view of the hope we have in Christ, despite the bruises and scars that happen along the way. From here, I have the courage to face the valleys in anticipation of God's faithfulness rather than fear of the trials that lead through it, and I am thankful.

Our family portraits were done by Hannah Melson Photography, to help raise money for a family in our church who is adopting a little girl. You can learn about other ways to support this sweet family here