A Letter From Mama Bear

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Dear Teacher,

My husband and I have spent 5 years building up our daughters self-worth– telling her she’s amazing, happy, a good leader, friend, person, and lots more. We’ve worked diligently at making sure her tiny ego is developed with armor comprised of unconditional love, realistic expectations, positive affirmations, and focused confidence in her and her abilities. We recognized early on during our time as foster parents that we must be diligent in speaking positive, life-affirming truths into the lives of children. Why? Because life is going to kick the crap out of them. Life, in general, is hard. People can be cruel. And we want to equip our child to withstand the hurricanes of chaos and hurt that will be thrown at her.

14021545_10209697413810478_2102402392498784207_nThese formative years and experiences are so important to the healthy start of my child life and you single-handedly dismantled most of our efforts with one phrase: “you don’t listen because you’re the caboose.”

During this ‘caboose talk’ you told her she’s a follower. You told her who she is. Really? Why? Why would you do that? Why would you think it was okay to tell my daughter who she is? It is not your job to tell my kid who she is or what she can do. “It’s mine,” said the overprotective part of my mom brain in a joking way (sort of). Seriosuly, though. It is her job. She will decide if she is a follower, a leader or a groupie.

Now… how do I know that it stuck with her? That it could be one of those formative phrases that shapes her personality, and turns into insecurities later in life? Because she quoted it back to me. Her little five-year-old brain was able to instantaneously recall the exact phrase to me as I was trying to encourage her to be a good friend and lead by example in your classroom. My darling, courageous, little baby girl responded to me by saying, “I can’t. I’m the caboose.”

“I can’t.” Those two words….. This phrase is NOT what I wanted my daughter to learn in school. School is meant to be a place where we learn about the world and ourselves. And so far, my daughter has learned that she is not enough, she lacks something. Why would you speak that into my 5 year old? Don’t you realize the words you say have power? You’ve been teaching for several years now, so you must understand how damaging these little, seemingly innocent, messages can be to our children.

Let me educate you: Research by UNICEF shows the most influential years in developing intelligence, personality and social behavior are birth through 8 years. They are the foundation that shape a child’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement at school, in the family and community, and in life in general. Recent research confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of the child’s brain. Early experiences provide the base for the brain’s organizational development and functioning throughout life. They have a direct impact on how children develop learning skills as well as social and emotional abilities. Children learn more quickly during their early years than at any other time in life. They need love and nurturing to develop a sense of trust and security that turns into confidence as they grow. They do not need people telling them they cannot be leaders.

I don’t think my expectation are unreasonable. I do not want you to give her a trophy for every little thing she does. I do not want you to treat her “special”. I do not want you to bend over backwards for her. I do not want you to lower your expectations. I want you to encourage her. I want you to speak positive affirmations into her life. I want you to teach her about the world, and encourage her to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor and living on the moon. I want you to be more intentional when you speak to my child, and the other 28 children in your class. It will be monumental in their development of healthy personality traits and behaviors.

Maybe you had a bad day. Twenty-nine kids in a kindergarten class seems excessive. So, maybe you were tired. I know my little girl can be stubborn, defiant, opinionated (all traits of a CEO, by the way). She pushes the limits sometimes, and verbally expresses her dissatisfaction when she is frustrated. I get it. But, if you weren’t tired, and you did get enough sleep the night before, and this is just too outside your modus operandi; then I suggest you stretch, grow and modify your methods. Perhaps research positive behavior modification and then see what a difference you can make in the lives of your students.

Sincerely,
The Mama Bear

A Tribute to My Husband on Father’s Day

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20160519_102124.jpgOver the years I have written about many of the wonderful and troubling experiences of our family. Yet, to be completely honest, you are only seeing half of the story. The unspoken truth behind my writings is that I have an incredible partner in life, Chris Boyts.

As today is Father’s Day, I thought that I would share a glimpse into the wonder that he adds to our lives on a daily basis, and acknowledge the difference he’s making in the lives of our children.

Please excuse me while I gush a bit. This is a gift to the man that I love dearly.

Here are just a few things that I am ever-so-grateful for…

He reminds me to slow down, notice the beauty around me, and live every moment to the fullest. He does this by encouraging me to say No and set limits, so I’m not overwhelmed by my responsibilities.

He demonstrates how powerful it is when a husband truly supports his wife. He is my biggest fan. He believes in me (sometimes more than I believe in myself). He knows exactly when to push me to live into my potential, as well as when to encourage me to slow down and nurture myself.

He sits and talks with our children as often as they allow, thoughtfully checks in with them if he feels like something is not right, shares his thoughts and opinions with them, and has earned their utmost respect.

He models to our daughters that romance is an important part of a good marriage. He is the perfect date. He really wants to know about me and my thoughts, processes anything I need to talk about, and asks great questions. And he models to our son the importance of being a caring, supportive husband.

He knows that it is the little things that make lifelong memories (like eating popcorn and cuddling on the couch).

He has the patience of a saint, never criticizes or judges, and takes the time to teach what he knows.

He sets an example of someone who challenges himself, strives towards excellence, and at the same time, always makes everyone around him feel great about who they are and what they have to share.

He takes pride in being a good father, a loving husband, a man of God… and he walks the talk everyday.

A heartfelt thank you goes out to Chris, your gallant deeds will be felt for generations to come. You are a true hero to our family.

20160611_211215.jpgAnd you are so loved…

How to be a Warrior-Wife

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Everyone who has entered into the bond of marriage knows — marriage is difficult! Life has a way of kicking the crap out of you when you least expect it, and learning how to navigate these hard times with a significant other can be tricky, especially if you don’t put the time and effort into building a strong foundation with your spouse. It can get easier with time, but during the process of growing into mature, selfless spouses, marriage requires a will to fight for the union. Unfortunately too many people enter into marriage with a false sense of reality. And when life gets hard they bail on their partner. The one person they’ve committed to be with until death is haphazardly tossed to the side. Marriage is not for the weak-minded or softhearted. Marriage is for warriors.

To be a warrior-wife you must be willing to go to war for your marriage and fight every single day; even if your spouse is (or seems) unwilling to work on themselves and the marriage. The commitment you made is supposed to be an unbreakable bond. One way to  ensure your marriage lasts is to become a warrior-wife. Being war-minded for your marriage doesn’t mean you are paranoid about something going wrong. That kind of anxiety has no place in a successful marriage. A war-minded woman takes proactive steps to strengthen the marriage bond to protect her family from negative influences.  She is prepared for anything. So, when life starts kicking the crap out you, the marriage will withstand hard times.

Here are 10 ways you can be a warrior-wife for your marriage and family.

1.A prayer warrior: A wife who knows the power of prayer intercedes for her husband and children. She doesn’t wait for the hard times to hit before she prays. She prays in good and bad times. When her husband needs prayer, he can ask his wife because he knows she has a deep relationship with God. Her prayers soothe and comfort her family. They rebuke evil and cast out negativity. They declare goodness and favor in their lives. Not only does she pray, but she also believes what she prays.

2A word warrior: A wife who uses her words to speak life and wisdom to her husband and children. She knows how to encourage herself and her family in the Lord. Her words heal, comfort, and correct with love. On the other hand, she doesn’t hesitate to speak in defense of her family when others try to harm them. She knows her tongue is a mighty weapon, so she uses it wisely.

3. A confidence warrior: A wife who makes her man feel like he can do anything he sets his mind to. She is constantly encouraging her husband, who she believes in, even when he doesn’t believe in himself.

4. A mother-warrior: A wife who doesn’t mess around when it comes to her children. She protects them. She cares for them. She teaches them about God. She teaches them about respecting themselves and about the importance of family. A mother-warrior believes her role as a mother is a divine responsibility and that God will hold her accountable for how she rears her children. As such, she does whatever it takes to make sure her children feel safe and loved; are fed and clothed; and are educated properly.

5. A financial warrior: A wife who can take a few dollars and make a meal that tastes like a million bucks. She doesn’t complain about what the family doesn’t have; instead, she knows how to make do with they do have. She plans for rainy days and helps her husband provide for the family.

6. A discernment warrior: A wife with the ability to see and feel what’s good and what’s bad for the marriage, because she prays regularly and hears from God. She can sense when someone has malicious intentions toward her family or when someone is genuine friend.

7. A household warrior: A wife who protects the peace and sanctity of the home. She doesn’t allow negativity to infiltrate the home environment because she knows the home should be the safest place in the world for her family.

8. A sexual warrior: A wife who isn’t afraid to enjoy physical intimacy with her husband. She initiates sex and enjoys pleasing her husband. When the love life goes lacking or gets monotonous, she steps up to re-energize things.

9. A worship warrior: A wife who is not afraid to praise and worship God. She knows where her help comes from, and she expresses her gratefulness wherever and whenever the Spirit moves her. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever,” is her praise song.

10. A purpose-driven warrior: A wife who knows that God has a purpose for her marriage. She’s willing to fight for it when others say she should give up. She partners with her husband to achieve their marriage and family goals. Her motto is “We’ll lock arms and stand together. No matter what!

Okay, so let me be clear about one thing — I have not perfected any of these areas. I am still continually working to be better in every area of my marriage. However, I am making proactive steps towards making the changes necessary to have a successful marriage. And I want to encourage you to embrace the warrior inside of you. As wives and future-wives, we don’t have to accept whatever life throws at us. God made us in His image, which means we have the power to create the marriages and lives we deserve. Every woman has a warrior on the inside of her. That’s why “a man who finds a wife finds a treasure and has favor with the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). That treasure is his warrior-wife who’s not afraid to fight for their relationship.

How Healthy Social Media Habits Can Strengthen Your Youth Ministry

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DM1408_100_DIGCliché notwithstanding, social media in all its forms is the ultimate double-edged sword. One edge blessing and one edge cursing. Whether we like it or not, it is here to stay, and it’s growing, so the trick is to embrace the blessing.

When it comes to youth ministry, embracing the blessing is not always an easy thing. Most of our youth know much more about social media than we do—at least, in terms of how it works and to navigate it. What they often don’t know is how to harness it for a greater good.

They don’t know how to take the long view when it comes to what they post or Tweet or Instagram, because they still have cognitive and emotional developing to do. They often make really awful decisions about how to use their Instagram account, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. Let me be clear that it’s not only teenagers who make these mistakes. Adults often make the same sort of mistakes when it comes to their own social media usage—but that’s another blog for another day.

In short, youth often don’t know how to practice healthy boundaries when it comes to social media. For those of us charged with working with youth in the church, I’ve found that that there are three key points to keep in mind as we seek to offer patient and supportive guidance to our youth: 1) Stay informed 2) Stay connected 3) Stay firm

1) Stay informed. I believe it is important for those who work with youth—especially in the church—to stay informed. Don’t know what Reddit is? Find out. Have no idea how to compose a Tweet? Ask a youth to teach you. Don’t understand the latest round of Facebook privacy settings? Do a little research. Have no idea what it means to “Instagram” something? Find that out while you’re learning about Reddit, too.

If you are going to do good youth ministry, you need to at least have a working knowledge of many of the various forms of social media—it’s a vast landscape, and you’ll quickly get lost in conversation about it if you don’t at least map out the major destinations.

Even better, while you’re working to stay informed, learn to use social media yourself for good (embrace the blessing!). Make a closed group for your Sunday School class or have the congregation follow your high school mission trip on Twitter. Blog daily from camp for those back at home or reach out via Facebook to a youth who is pretty shy but who might respond to a non-threatening “Hey there—glad you came on Wednesday Night! Have a great week!”

teen-tech-barchart2) Stay connected. Keep fostering connections with the youth you work with; connections that don’t depend on social media. For example, when you receive a private Tweet that says, “Can we talk?” Respond, “You bet. How about we meet for coffee after school tomorrow?” Chances are whatever needs to be addressed is going to take much more focus and intent than rapid-fire 140 character exchanges can provide.

Relationships cannot thrive in cyberspace alone. And our young people are craving authentic relationship. They want to be known. And if no one is willing to reach out to them in person, they’ll find someone online who will (which can have its own set of damaging and dangerous consequences).

Ask them questions about what they’re doing with their Tumblr, and see if maybe one of them will start a youth group Instagram. Let them know that even if you don’t entirely understand their fixation with it all, you’re at least curious about it. If you do, when things go badly for them in their social media universe, they’ll be much more willing to seek you out for help.

3) Stay firm. Create some rules around technology and Internet usage in your youth ministry programming, and covenant to all follow those rules.

Maintain your own boundaries, too—firmly. Sure, most of your kids follow you on Facebook, but it’s easy enough to have two accounts—one for them and your relationship to them as their youth minister or leader, and another entirely to vent your personal angst and random thoughts, or to share photos.

One of the things people often fail to understand about social media is that it is, in fact, a space. A digital space to be sure, but a space nonetheless and how you operate in that space matters. The same standards that apply in “real life” interaction should apply in social media interaction. It is every bit as public, every bit as dynamic, every bit as charged with personalities and politics as is our face-to-face life, and it has a history that can last longer than most our memories. Understanding this is crucial.

At the end of the day helping youth develop healthy boundaries with social media is about modeling. It’s about staying involved. It’s about presence. It’s about not discounting it all as some “kid thing,” and instead doing our best to both understand and work within a new cultural context.

Note to Self: I choose my husband

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13001223_10209532350166680_6516741132891657452_nNote to self: As a wife I have the opportunity to create a home that either supports or crushes my husband. I can make our house a haven of rest and peace, or a place of anxiety, struggle, dissension. I can choose to be affirming or critical. I can teach my children to honor and obey their father, or abandon them to their disobedience and suffer. I can be open and willing to meet my husband’s needs, or ignore them and also suffer. I can abolish ugly words in the home or be discouraged by them. I have a choice, but I have to act every day.

I choose my marriage. I choose my husband. Every day.

Evil, Suffering and God

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Why does God allow evil and suffering?

There are no words to describe the anguish felt by those who encounter suffering. There are so many tragic stories, so much pain. And many people ask the question, “Why? Why did God allow this?”

This has been a heart-rending couple of years for my home-state of Colorado. First came the wildfires, which ravaged the houses of hundreds of our neighbors – and prompted many of them to ask the question, “Why?”

And the tragic shootings that happened last year have been laid on top of the everyday pain and suffering being experienced in individual lives – maybe including yours. There’s illness, abuse, broken relationships, betrayal, sorrow, injuries, disappointment, heartache, crime and death. And perhaps you’ve been asking the question, “Why? Why me? Why now? Why does God allow evil and suffering?”

landing_evil_suffering_titleThat “why” question goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. And the 21st Century didn’t start any better. There was 9/11 and now the Syrian slaughters, and ISIS and murders in our own back yard on and on. Why all of this, if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people? Just last night I had a teenager message me “Why is there suffering in the world?”

But if you’ve never asked why our world is infected with pain and suffering, you will when they strike you with full force or they come to a loved one. And Jesus said they are coming. Unlike some other religious leaders who wrote off pain and suffering as just being illusions, Jesus was honest. He told us the truth. He said in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world.” He didn’t say you might – he said it is going to happen.

But why? If you ask me point-blank, “Why did God allow the gunman to lay down fire, murdering 3 people here in town?”, the only answer I can honestly give consists of four words – “I do not know.”

I cannot stand in the shoes of God and give a complete answer to that question. I don’t have God’s mind. I don’t see with God’s eyes. First Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

So when you ask about specific individual events and want to know why this particular thing happened, we won’t get the full answer in this world. Someday we’ll see with clarity, but for now things are foggy. We can’t understand everything from our finite perspective. And frankly, the people suffering from tragedy don’t need a big theological treatise right now; any intellectual response is going to seem trite and inadequate. What they desperately need now is the very real and comforting presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. And I’m so grateful that  churches and ministries in this community offer comfort and assistance during these difficult times.

But for us, let’s focus on the big, overarching issue of why God generally allows suffering in our lives – your life and mine. Friends, this is important: even though we can’t understand everything about it, we can understand some things. Let me give you an analogy.

Once Chris and I were driving through Illinois on the Dan Ryan, a very dangerous highway, full of car swallowing potholes, and it began snowing. The snow was thick and wet. Traffic was chaotic and we could barely see. It was frightening!

But then a snow truck appeared and I knew if we could just follow those taillights, we’d be headed in the right direction.

And the same is true in understanding why there is tragedy and suffering in our lives and in our world. We may not be able to make out all the peripheral details of why — they may be obscured from our view — but there are some key Biblical truths that can illuminate some points of light for us. And if we follow those lights, they will lead us in the right direction, toward some conclusions that I believe can help satisfy our hearts and souls.

What are those points of light? Let me go through five of them that I’ve personally found helpful whenever I’ve been prompted to ask the question, “Why?” The first point of light: God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

This answers the question you hear so often: “Why didn’t God merely create a world where tragedy and suffering didn’t exist?” The answer is: He did! Genesis 1:31 says: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

But if God is not the author of tragedy or evil or death, where did they come from? Well, God has existed from eternity past as the Father, Son and Spirit, together in a relationship of perfect love. So love is the highest value in the universe. And when God decided to create human beings, he wanted us to experience love. But to give us the ability to love, God had to give us free will to decide whether to love or not to love. Why? Because love always involves a choice.

If we were programmed to say, “I love you,” it wouldn’t really be love. When my daughter was little, she had a doll with a string in the back, and when you pulled it the doll said, “I love you.” Did that doll love my daughter? Of course not. It was programmed to say those words. To really experience love, that doll would need to have been able to choose to love or not to love. Again – real love always involves a choice.

So in order for us to experience love, God bestowed on us free will. But unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from Him. And that has hqdefaultresulted in the introduction of two kinds of evil into the world: moral evil and natural evil.

Moral evil is the immorality and pain and suffering and tragedy that come because we choose to be selfish, arrogant, uncaring, hateful and abusive. Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So much of the world’s suffering results from the sinful action or inaction of ourselves and others. For example, people look at a famine and wonder where God is, but the world produces enough food for each person to have 3,000 calories a day. It’s our own irresponsibility and self-centeredness that prevents people from getting fed.

In other words: look at your hand. You can choose to use that hand to hold a gun and shoot someone, or you can use it to feed hungry people. It’s your choice. But it’s unfair to shoot someone and then blame God for the existence of evil and suffering.

The second kind of evil is called natural evil. These are things like wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes that cause suffering for people. But these, too, are the indirect result of sin being allowed into the world. As one author explained: “When we humans told God to shove off, He partially honored our request. Nature began to revolt. The earth was cursed. Genetic breakdown and disease began. Pain and death became part of the human experience.”

The Bible says it’s because of sin that nature was corrupted and “thorns and thistles” entered the world. Romans 8:22 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In other words, nature longs for redemption to come and for things to be set right. That’s the source of disorder and chaos.

Let’s make this crystal clear once more: God did not create evil and suffering. Now, it’s true that he did create the potential for evil to enter the world, because that was the only way to create the potential for genuine goodness and love. But it was human beings, in our free will, who brought that potential evil into reality.

Some people ask, “Couldn’t God have foreseen all of this?” And no doubt he did. But look at it this way: someday you’ll be parents….maybe. Before you have children, you can’t foresee that there was the very real possibility they may suffer disappointment or pain or heartache in life, or that they might even hurt you and walk away from you? Of course — but you’ll still have kids…maybe. Why? Because you know, someday, there is also the potential for tremendous joy and deep love and great meaning.

Now, the analogy is far from perfect, but think about God. He undoubtedly knew we’d rebel against Him, but He also knew many people would choose to follow Him and have a relationship with Him and spend eternity in heaven with Him — and it was all worth it for that, even though it would cost His own Son great pain and suffering to achieve their redemption.

So, first, it helps me to remember, as I ponder the mystery of pain and evil, that God did not create them. The second point of light is this: Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.

He does this by fulfilling His promise in Romans 8:28: “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.”

Notice that the verse doesn’t say God causes evil and suffering, just that he promises to cause good to emerge. And notice that the verse doesn’t say we all will see immediately or even in this life how God has caused good to emerge from a bad circumstance. Remember, we only see things dimly in this world. And notice that God doesn’t make this promise to everyone. He makes the solemn pledge that he will take the bad circumstances that befall us and cause good to emerge if we’re committed to following Him.

The Old Testament gives us a great example in the story of Joseph, who went through terrible suffering, being sold into slavery by his brothers, unfairly accused of a crime and falsely imprisoned. Finally, after a dozen years, he was put in a role of great authority where he could save the lives of his family and many others.

This is what he said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” And if you’re committed to God, He promises that He can and will take whatever pain you’re experiencing and draw something good from it.

You might say, “No, he can’t in my circumstance. The harm was too great, the damage was too extreme, the depth of my suffering has been too much. No, in my case there’s no way God can cause any good to emerge.”

But if you doubt God’s promise, listen to what a wise man said to me when I was researching my book The Case for Faith: God took the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe — deicide, or the death of God on the cross — and turned it into the very best thing that has happened in history of universe: the opening up of heaven to all who follow Him. So if God can take the very worst circumstance imaginable and turn it into the very best situation possible, can he not take the negative circumstances of your life and create something good from them?

He can and He will. God can use our suffering to draw us to Himself, to mold and sharpen our character, to influence others for Him – He can draw something good from our pain in a myriad of ways…if we trust and follow Him.

Now, the third point of light: The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil.

A lot of times you’ll hear people say: “If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, then why doesn’t He do it?” And the answer is that because He hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean He won’t do it. I wrote my first novella several years ago. What if someone read only half of it and then slammed it down and said, “Well, Selena did a terrible job with that book. There are too many loose ends with the plot. He didn’t resolve all the issues with the characters.” I’d say, “Hey – you only read half the book!”

And the Bible says that the story of this world isn’t over yet. It says the day will come when sickness and pain will be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed. Justice will be served in a perfect way. That day will come, but not yet.

So what’s holding God up? One answer is that some of you may be. He’s actually delaying the consummation of history in anticipation that some of you will still put your trust in Him and spend eternity in heaven. He’s delaying everything out of His love for you. SecondPeter 3:9 says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. “To me, that’s evidence of a loving God, that He would care that much for you.

Point of Light #4: Our suffering will pale in comparison to what God has in store for his followers.

I certainly don’t want to minimize pain and suffering, but it helps if we take a long-term perspective. Look at this verse, and remember they were written by the apostle Paul, who suffered through beatings and stoning’s and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness and far more pain that most of us will ever have to endure. These are his words:

Second Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles” — wait a second: light and momentary troubles? Five different times his back was shredded when he was flogged 39 lashes with a whip; three times he was beaten to a bloody pulp by rods. But he says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Paul also wrote Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Think of it this way. Let’s say that on the first day of 2016, you had an awful, terrible day. You had an emergency root canal at the dentist and then ran out of pain-killers. You crashed your car and had no insurance. You get fired from your job. Your girlfriend/boyfriend/mom/dad/dog got sick. A friend betrayed you. From start to finish, it was like the title of that children’s book: Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

But then every other day of the year was just incredibly terrific. Your relationship with God is close and real and intimate. A friend wins the lottery and gives you $100 million. You get promoted at work to your dream job. Time magazine puts your photo on its cover as “The Person of the Year.” Your relationships are idyllic, your health is fabulous, you have a six-month vacation in Tahiti.

Then next New Year’s Day someone asks, “So, how was your 2016?” You’d say, “It was great; it was wonderful!” And they’d say, “But didn’t it start out bad? Didn’t you go through a lot of trouble that first day?”

You’d think back and say, “You’re right. That was a bad day, no denying it. It was difficult at the time. It was hard. It was painful. But when I look at the totality of the year, when I put everything in context, it’s been a great year. The 364 terrific days far outweigh the one bad day. That day just sort of fades away.”

And maybe that’s a good analogy for heaven. Listen to me – that is not to deny the reality of your pain in this life. It might be terrible. It might be chronic. Maybe you’re suffering from a physical ailment or heartache at this very moment. But in heaven, after 354,484,545 days of pure bliss — and with an infinite more to come — if someone asked, “So, how has your existence been?”, you’d instantly react by saying, “It has been absolutely wonderful! Words can’t describe the joy and the delight and the fulfillment!”

And if they said, “But didn’t you have a tough time before you got here,” you’d probably think back and say, “Well, yes, it’s true that those days were painful, I can’t deny that. They were difficult, they were bad. But when I put them into context, in light of all God’s outpouring of goodness to me, those bad days aren’t even worth comparing with the eternity of blessings and joy that I’m experiencing.”

It’s like the story that British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life — and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, “How old are you?” The boy said, “Seventeen.” Reid asked, “How many years have you spend in hospitals?” The boy said, “Thirteen years.” The pastor said with astonishment, “And you think that is fair?” And the boy replied: “Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me.”

And He will. God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever. Let the words of First Corinthians 2:9 soak into your soul: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” That’s absolutely breath-taking, isn’t it?

Finally, Point of Light #5: We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.

We’ve all seen examples of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter, to reject God, to become hard and angry and sullen, can cause another person to turn to God, to become more gentle and more loving and more tender, willing to reach out to compassionately help other people who are in pain. Some who lose a child to a drunk driver turn inward in chronic rage and never-ending despair; another turns outward to help others by founding Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

As one philosopher said: “I believe all suffering is at least potential good, an opportunity for good. It’s up to our free choice to actualize that potential. Not all of us benefit from suffering and learn from it, because that’s up to us, it’s up to our free will.”

We make the choice to either run away from God or to run to Him. But what happens if we run to Him?

I started this talk with part of what Jesus said in John 16:33. Now let me give you the entire verse: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

In other words, He offers us the two very things we need when we’re hurting: peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future. How? Because he has conquered the world! Through His own suffering and death, He has deprived this world of its ultimate power over you. Suffering doesn’t have the last word anymore. Death doesn’t have the last word anymore. God has the last word!

So when tragedy strikes, as it will; when suffering comes, as it will; when you’re wrestling with pain, as you will – and when you make the choice to run into His arms, here’s what you’re going to discover: you’ll find peace to deal with the present, you’ll find courage to deal with your future, and you’ll find the incredible promise of eternal life in heaven.

As I’ve been saying, all of us will go through pain and suffering. But let me end by going back to this specific tragedy that took place two days ago here, just a few miles away. For all the things it leaves us confused about, one of the truths it clearly illustrates is that life is so fragile and short. These people were going about their business! They had no clue that this might be their last moments in this world. Friends, in this sin-scarred world, we never know when death will come knocking. Often, we don’t get any warning when a heart attack strikes, or when a drunk driver crosses the center-line, or when a wildfire sweeps through a canyon, or when an airplane loses power. And so the question I’m compelled to ask you is this – “Are you ready?”

One of the first verses I memorized as a Christian is 1 John 5:13: “These things I’ve written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”

22377329368102199_Tl6jAX4y_fGod doesn’t want you wondering. He doesn’t want you steeped in anxiety over whether you’re headed for heaven. His infallible, inerrant Word says you can know for sure.

Don’t rely on the fact that you come to church or you’ve gone through some sort of religious ritual in the past. The Bible is clear that we can be religious but not be in a relationship with God. Religious activities and affiliations never saved anyone. Salvation comes from knowing Christ personally and receiving His provision for YOUR sin and YOUR future. It comes from making him YOUR Savior, by asking Him to forgive YOUR every sin, and by asking Him to lead YOUR life.

But it doesn’t happen automatically. It doesn’t come by attending a great church, or being baptized, or taking communion, or hanging out with a bunch of Christians. It comes from deciding in your heart that you want to turn from your sin, to stop trusting in your own resources, and to accept the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased on the cross and is offering you as a free gift. THAT is how you gain God’s peace and confidence.

So settle it now! Resolve this today, at this moment, so that if tragedy were to strike, your eternity with God would be secure. I don’t know all the ways God is going to draw some good from your bad situation, but wouldn’t it be something if He were starting right now, with you personally, and using this message to bring you into His kingdom at this very moment? Let the pain open your heart to Christ. Let’s take what was intended for evil and watch God start creating something good from it.

How do I prove love to my adopted child?

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One of the most monumental and unforeseen obstacles I have faced as an adoptive parent is how to prove my love to my adopted child. This issue seems to be made more complicated by the fact we adopted him through the foster care system as a preteen. Adopted children struggle with feeling connected, loved, a part of the family; and foster kids are truly plagued with doubt and confusion over their feelings towards their caregivers. Love is often a foreign concept to them, or has been displayed in unhealthy ways. They are unfamiliar with how healthy love is supposed to feel, the way it works, and how it plays a role in relationships. By the time a foster child is adopted they have been disappointed time and time again by people who made promises they didn’t intend to keep, and their ability to trust is depleted. They often arrive on our doorsteps as empty hollow shells of their previous selves. They are void of every emotion that may open them up to be hurt. As parents we become frustrated when the only emotion they seem to posses is anger. We cannot understand why they can’t “get it”. Why can’t they see how much we love them? Or why we love them. We cry ourselves to sleep after a long day of giving and giving, with no reciprocation. We often feel like giant stars, burning bright with good intentions and open hearts, doing everything in our power to make sure that child feels loved. And yet, our struggling kids are like black holes, sucking every bit of light from us, draining us dry, and leaving us feeling lifeless. For people who have never experienced this kind of one-way relationship with a child I probably sound heartless, cruel. But, the reality is my heart is full, caring, and in constant search of a relationship with my adopted child.

It’s been quite the journey. Our family has been through hell and high water with our son. But here we are. We are still his parents and he is still our son. He has pushed us away. He has pushed and pushed, and run away, and hurt us over and over again. And, yet, we stand next to him. No matter what. It’s been nearly 6 years since he arrived on our doorstep a broken little shell of a boy, and one thing I have learned is that only time, consistency and open communication can prove my love to my child.

Consistency comes to me like second nature. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Be a person of your word. Do not make promises you don’t intend to keep. Yadda Yadda. Time comes naturally as well. Obviously. But, there’s no rushing it. Trust me. I’ve tried. Time takes time. And you have to allow time to work for your benefit, instead of fighting it, or trying to rush it. Now, the concept of open communication with my child? Much different story. It took awhile for me to learn. I used to bang my head against the thick wall our son had built up around himself, trying to make him listen to me. Then one day I realized in order for him to feel validated and safe, I needed to listen to him. This wasn’t easy, and it took consistency and time to learn.

Learning how to listen, and creating moments of safety, allowed my son the freedom to open up and share his feelings. This was incredibly difficult sometimes. I had to learn to pick my battles and tell the protective Momma Bear laying in wait when to pounce on problems and when to let them slide. I quickly discovered it could be hurtful when I didn’t look at the situation from his perspective. I had to learn how to not take it personally. So hard to do, by the way. Learning how to listen to my son has taught me those uneasy feelings of his stem from somewhere deep within him, and were created long before he entered our home. But, now I’m the closest person to him and I’ve created a safe place for him to share those feelings of fear and anger, and so they pour over onto me.

Nathan has discovered a talent for drawing!

Children in foster care experience a grueling nightmare when being removed from their homes. They suffer serious abuse or neglect at the hands of people they should be able to trust. Then they are placed in the care of complete strangers, consequently experiencing additional severe emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems. Physical problems often arise as a result of these experiences. Most children who have experienced abuse, neglect and foster care learn to shut down and look out for #1. They go into survival mode. Children in foster care, or who have been adopted through foster care, often struggle with blaming themselves and feeling guilty about removal from their birth parents. They wish to return to birth parents even if they were abused by them. Children can be left feeling unwanted if awaiting adoption for a long time. Their feelings of hopelessness grow if there are multiple changes in foster placements. They have mixed emotions about attaching to foster/adoptive parents, and feel insecure and uncertain about their future. They are often reluctant to acknowledge any positive feelings for foster/adoptive parents. Having said that, most foster children show remarkable resiliency and determination to go on with their lives. Sometimes, they just need a listening ear and an open heart to hear them. After all, they deserve the opportunity to be heard; to share these doubts, fears, anxieties.

When you open your home and heart to children in need of care; this task is both rewarding and difficult. However, learning to listen and then validating your child’s feelings through genuine sympathy/empathy, is an essential skill. The relationship with the child will be better, because the more validated they feel, the less conflict you’ll have. You will also find that validation opens children up and lets them feel free to communicate with you. They will be less likely to close up, or “shut down”, emotionally. Most foster/adopted children live in an emotional shell. Sometimes you see glimpses of that shell opening and then without warning it can slam shut! But remember, if there is a communication breakdown, if there is a wall between you and your child, it was probably built with the bricks of invalidation. And this may have been built up over time, so it will take time to break it down. This can sometimes feel like a slow and tedious process. Just remember, when you consistently listen and validate your children, you are allowing them to safely share their feelings and thoughts. You should be constantly reassuring them that it is okay to have these feelings, and demonstrating that you will still accept them after they have shared their feelings. (This is very important, because these children are so fearful of rejection.) Be sure to let them know that their perspective is highly important to you. This will help them help them feel heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted. And they will know they are loved.