When there are no instructions…

When my twin daughters were 3-years old, I walked in the dining room (though we called it the “yellow room” because, obviously, it was painted yellow and seeing as how there were no table or chairs, there was also no dining happening in there) and found them standing by the low, open windows taking turns punching through the mesh of the window screen.


After I pulled their tiny fists out, my next move was to say, “Why are you doing that?!”


Their response was: “You never told us not to.”


That’s when I knew I was in trouble. How could I ever think ahead enough to give them the rules and guidelines for every situation before they come up? It was an impossible task. I had never dreamed that it would be necessary to sit my sweet cherubs down and say, “Listen up, girls. It’s a beautiful day so mommy wants to open the windows. This metal screen is here to keep the bugs out. No matter how fun it might seem, don’t start punching it. Got it? Great.”


Now that I’ve been a mother a bit longer I see that specifics aren’t always required. My girls have been with me for nearly 15 years, so even though we don’t have rules for every scenario, they know my basic feelings and they can speculate what I might say or think or feel on the matter. Over time, they have discovered the essence of my parenting just as I have learned so much of their strengths and predilections.


When all else fails, the whole idea of “When in doubt, don’t” comes to mind in these instances or at least “When in doubt, ask mom or dad.”


Of course, that’s not to say they always do just as I would have them do. They aren’t robots. But I am fairly certain that they have a twinge of guilt when they do something that doesn’t line up with our family philosophies. At that moment, I want them to pay attention to that slight to painful spasm so it doesn’t become commonplace and calloused.


This is how I feel about reading ancient texts from God’s Word. I wish God gave Moses “Ten Commandments for Your Teen and Her Cell Phone” along with the other Ten. I wish God had inspired Paul to write a postscript to his letter to the Ephesians stating exactly what to do when the only people running for political office are yahoos you wouldn’t hire as a babysitter. I wish we had specific rules for when these specific issues arise, but that would make the Bible so large and cumbersome to study that no one would be able to get through it all. Let’s face it, it’s hard enough to get through ONE book of Leviticus.


In place of step-by-step instructions, I want to humbly learn the character of God. What does it mean that God is love while at the same time He is a consuming fire? He is unchanging yet we can come to Him looking for mercy. He is perfect and just and faithful.


Even when I don’t know for sure what to do, I can look at God’s reputation and His preference for righteousness. I can listen to that soft voice of the Holy Spirit whispering to me of God’s direction for my life. I can hear it saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Soccer fanatic

It would be an understatement to say that our 6-year old son Ezra loves soccer. His pet fish is named “Messi” after the Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi. His favorite thing to wear is a soccer jersey. He thinks that the best possible scenario for fun is the combination of him, his brother, his father, and a soccer ball.


Seeing that Ezra has only lived with us for just a little more than a year, we know that this love of soccer can’t be wholly attributed to our prompting. It started way before we met him. Though soccer ranks somewhere around 6th place in popularity in America, it’s #1 in the world. All you have to do is take an international trip to experience this. My husband and I saw this firsthand when we traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ezra’s birth country.


Ezra was 3-years old at the time. He was shy and uncertain of these American strangers (us) who were so foreign to him in speech, appearance, and pretty much every other way. Bouncing a small soccer ball, we persuaded him to come outside to a gravel parking area near our hotel room. Once outside, I videoed Ezra timidly playing a game of catch with Brent. Then, without warning, instead of just catching and tossing, Ezra stuck out his head to make contact with the ball and bounce it back to Brent. For the next 4:37 minutes of video footage, Ezra expertly headed the ball as Brent happily realized that this was a soccer-loving, little boy.


Fast forward to present time. Ezra is on a soccer team with 5 other kids. Chanting like a cloistered monk, he prays the night before a game or practice: “Please no rain. Please no rain. Please no rain.” He cheers for his team’s victories—large or small—and empathizes with the opposing team’s defeat (which is tricky because it’s always anyone’s guess who actually wins these free-for-alls).


This past Saturday his enthusiasm may have exceeded his sportsmanship. When he stole the ball from an opponent and dribbled it down the field in an uncontested breakaway, he mockingly waved to the players as he passed them, saying: “Goodbye everyone.” Then he took a shot and hit the post. Pride goeth before a fall.


Speaking as a completely unbiased observer, Ezra is the best 6-year old soccer player in the universe. As I watch him play now, I think about the countless hours he and his Congolese friends played soccer in the dry dirt of the lots surrounding his orphanage. This was a game meant to engage a variety of ages and sizes. They only needed a soccer ball—or something homemade resembling a ball—and rocks or sticks to designate the goals. They didn’t wear fancy cleats or shin guards or uniforms. They were barefoot in hand-me-downs and the best thing they wore was the smiles on their faces.


Who’s to say if Ezra will continue to play soccer or if this is just a passing fancy? Time will tell if his love for this game will diminish and he will make room for other sports and activities in its place. What I can tell you is that his experiences playing soccer as a small child has made him the player he is today—fast, skilled, fearless. It has shaped and equipped him.


When I’m in an especially introspective mood and I think of my past, I can see how I was being prepared for my present situation. Relationships, jobs, events, heartbreaks all work together to give me a piece of what I might need now, just like Ezra’s early Congolese soccer experiences combine to create the soccer enthusiast I see each time he runs out onto the field.


Soon after my husband Brent and I were married, my in-laws treated us to a trip to California. We toured the coast and visited all kinds of amazing, glamorous places.


One of my favorite memories was a tour of Hearst Castle in San Simeon. It’s a beautiful palace built over several years during the first half of the 20th century by a wealthy newspaperman named William Randolph Hearst.


Every inch of the “castle” was dripping with over-the-top grandeur. Driving up to the estate, we were even greeted by zebras grazing in the fields nearby. There were turrets and ornate vaulted ceilings and a dining room table fit for a king and his 20 best friends. It was almost too much for us broke newlyweds to take in.


The four of us were joined by a host of other tourists as we followed a tour guide in and out of many rooms (though not all—there are 56 bedrooms) and through various parts of the grounds.


When we came to the Roman Pool (an indoor swimming pool), I was left speechless. Millions of tiny blue, orange, and gold tiles covered nearly every surface. The water from the pool reflected the blue tiles in an infinite echo of serenity and brilliance. To drive home the ancient Rome theme, there were statues of Roman gods and goddesses placed along the edge of the pool. It was stunning.

Not everyone in our group shared my opinion. A fellow tourist, a man in cargo shorts and a white, sleeveless t-shirt, held his camcorder aloft his shoulder, narrating his videography.


“Indoor swimming pool,” he droned, sarcastically. “Whoop-de-doo.” He was unimpressed.


Brent and I thought this was enormously funny. During Hearst’s lifetime, this guy probably wouldn’t have been allowed to clean the pool, let alone take a guided tour through it, and yet there he was, belittling the beauty and splendor of this place.


I told my 11-year old son that story just the other day and it got me thinking: How often do I devalue the miraculous and the splendid with no other excuse than my own self-centered ignorance?


When was the last time I really appreciated a sunset? They happen every day but how often do I stop and take note of them? Especially those cloudy evenings when the streaks and smudges made by the clouds are lit up by the sun’s dying rays and magnified in brilliant pinks and purples and oranges.


How long has it been since I held a tiny baby? Wrinkled fingers and toes. Paper-thin eyelids. Infant yawns and sleepy grins. Like all of us, this child began from something microscopic. What’s more miraculous than that?


Lord, let my “whoop-de-doo” moments be sincere and frequent. Thank you for all of the changing seasons but especially springtime with its feats of beauty around every corner. Help me to stop and enjoy your everyday magnificent displays!

Firm foundation

Going on a cruise for Spring Break sounded like such a good idea. Just think of all the places you can go and all the things you can see! Everyone tells you about the all-day access to food and the fun excursions and the swimming pool on the ship but no one tells you about the post-cruise misery.


I’m not talking about the piles of laundry or the unavoidability of going back-to-work/school. Nor am I discussing the fact that now that we’re home, no one is coming in my room while I’m at supper to turn down my bed and leave cute animals made from hand towels and washcloths. No, my problem is something else. Days after the cruise has ended, my brain still thinks I’m on a boat.


Though on dry land, the floor still slopes and slants. I have to reach out and lean against the wall to steady myself when I walk down the hallway at home. My head feels heavy and my feet shuffle slowly. My own mixed-up body betrays me.


I’ve been told that I’m waiting for the motion sickness medicine I used throughout the trip to wear off. Ironically, the medicine that kept me from feeling nauseated on the boat is now making me feel nauseated on land. Go figure.


This seasickness has got me thinking about what’s underneath me, where I find my footing, and what gives me the most stability. I think of Jesus’ parable about the wise man who built his house upon a firm foundation.


Jesus tells this story at the end of his famous 3-chapter long sermon in Matthew. He tells the people how to be blessed in Matthew 5. Then He continues with practical rules about how to treat others and how to live a holy, fulfilling life in Matthew 6. By the end of Matthew 7, I wonder if the minds of the people were swimming in all these instructions. It’s hard to remember that this may have been brand new, unprecedented information for Jesus’ audience.


So in His wisdom, Jesus gives the people an object lesson. He tells them that all of these practices He has given them can be like the foundation of a house. When (not if) the bad times come, the house will stand because the foundation is solid. On the contrary, hearing what Jesus teaches but not authentically living them out loud leaves them with shifting sand beneath them.


Somewhere in our mixed-up brains, we say that freedom in Christ is the permission to live any old way we want. The teachings that made our salvation possible look irrelevant or old-fashioned. But Jesus offers a practical guide to home-building. He says, “Give to the needy. Don’t worry. Love your enemies. Store up your treasures in heaven.” Make these the bedrock for your life so that the storms won’t topple you.