Soaking Up Each Moment

I woke up with a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It actually started last night, but it’s bigger today.

Christmas Eve. My kids are bouncing around the house like crazy people, playing with the new toys they got last night and guessing, their eyes full of light, what they will get today at Nana & Papa’s house. They’re picking out cookies for Santa – cookies they’re so proud of as they decorated them with such care. It’s the most wonderful time of the year…isn’t it?

Today, for the first time in my entire life, I won’t be going to my Momaw & Papaw’s house for Christmas. In the craziness of the Christmas season, we have one less place to visit.

Last night, at our Candlelight Service at church, my dad and I did “O Holy Night.” It was Momaw’s favorite song, one that she requested of us every single year. I was excited to do the song to honor her, but as I looked back at her spot in the pew where we sit and saw it empty, I felt empty, too. It just wouldn’t be the same this year…and it never would be again.

This morning, as I worked in the kitchen to prepare for our lunch at my mom and dad’s, that little pit in my stomach grew. I wanted to go to their house. I even considered going there later, with my kids, just to look around. I longed for my family to go there – my siblings and cousins – just to sit around on her couches and talk while we watch our kids play. It was weighing me down, putting a damper on the excitement of the day.

So, I did what I always do when I don’t feel quite right – I went to God. I told Him how I was feeling, how I couldn’t stand the thought of missing their house today. How it hurt to sing her song when she wasn’t there to enjoy it.

And just like that, I saw a vision in my heart. A vision of Momaw and Papaw, sitting together, listening to the beautiful songs of the angel choir in heaven. How our version of “O Holy Night” must have paled in comparison! She gets to celebrate the birth of Jesus WITH JESUS. What a celebration it must be! I am so, so thankful that someday, I’ll be up there with them to celebrate.

I saw a viral blog post recently – a woman with young children who was encouraging us to “say no” to all the craziness and stress of the season and simplify. And she’s right, to a point – we need to slow down and concentrate on the reason behind it all – the birth of our Savior. He came to earth as a baby – a baby born to a poor, young couple. Instead of coming as a King, He came in a stable. It’s such an amazing, humbling thing; we need to pause and reflect on it all, and thank Him for His incredible love and sacrifice.

But here’s where, in my opinion, she got it wrong: I think we need to take it all in. All the stress, all the places to visit and gifts to buy and wrap and food to cook…we need to find a way to savor it. Because as the years pass, we find ourselves having fewer people to buy for and fewer celebrations to attend. And I would give ANYTHING to be able to go back to my Momaw and Papaw’s one more time for Christmas Eve. I would give anything to see them smiling as our kids open their presents, enjoying the craziness of it all.

So this Christmas season, let’s enjoy our families. I am so thankful for the places I DO have to go this season, and the people I have to celebrate with. I choose to concentrate on that and the love that surrounds me and my family. Let’s try to look past the stress and the chaos and soak it every moment. Because we never know how many moments we’ll have.

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Thankful

My three-year-old just had one of those fits. Moms, you know the ones: those screaming at the top of his lungs, slamming his hands and feet on the floor, mother-of-all fits. If you DON’T know what I’m talking about…well, you must not have a toddler yet. And if you DO have a toddler but still don’t know what I’m talking about…well, don’t even tell me about it because if you do, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. (Just kidding. Kind of.)

It was over something so ridiculous, of course. I had warm water ready in the tub for him, but he was in the middle of a game of Star Wars on the Wii. He had been playing for about an hour – he’d had plenty of time. And the kid needed a bath. I had let him skip one the night before, as he had stayed in his pjs all day at my parents’ house while I was at work and I knew he hadn’t gotten dirty. I doubted he had gotten too dirty at my grandma’s house today, either, but skipping two days in a row just wasn’t going to happen. “Come upstairs, Brayson,” I called. “Your bath is ready.”

“I don’t need bubbles,” he told me. “Just use a baby wipe.” He actually requests a “baby wipe” bath daily. Once in a while, if it’s a late night, he gets his way. But 99% of the time, he doesn’t.

“Come up here,” I told him again. “You have to have a bath tonight.”

“Go upstairs and take your bath,” I heard my husband tell him. “I’ll keep the game paused for you, and you can play when you get out.”

On regular nights, this is where the negotiation ends. He may still insist he doesn’t need a bath, but he will still come upstairs, no force required. He will get in the bathtub and maybe grumble the whole time I wash him, but he doesn’t fight me.

Tonight wasn’t a regular night.

The next thing I heard was his little voice screaming at my husband. “QUIT!”

I then heard the Wii turn off and the remote being taken away.

He had progressed to a full-on cry at this point. My husband carried him up the stairs, while he kicked his little feet as fast as he could. He tried to smack my husband, which warranted a much-deserved swat on his behind. I took him at this point – I had to hold him like a football to get him into the bathroom. I took his clothes off of him while he fought me the whole way, then basically dumped him into the bathtub. He smacked his hands on the water, throwing it all over me. I pushed through. By the time I was done, I was probably as wet as he was, but dang it, he was clean.

Why am I going into so much detail over a hissy fit? Well, I want you to get the full picture. My sweet baby boy…the one you see on Facebook or Instagram or whatever else I post on…was gone. In his place was a crazy person. A person determined to get his way. A person convinced that he was right, when in reality, his parents knew better.

But what happened next – it’s the part that matters. It’s why I’m sharing this story in the first place.

I stood him up and grabbed his Batman towel that hung on the back of the door. When I turned around, his crying had stopped. His little arms were up in the air, and his hands were motioning for me. “I want Momma.”

I wrapped the towel around him and pulled him to me. He wrapped those little arms around me and hugged me tightly. “I love you, Momma,” he said through his sniffles.

“Shhh,” I soothed him. “Momma loves you, too.”

“I will always love you,” he said.

I melted. “I will always love you, too. Even when you have a hissy fit.” And just like that, all was forgiven.

I held him in my lap while I put his favorite Darth Vader pajamas on him. As I straightened his cape, I hugged him again, overwhelmed with gratitude that God chose me to be his mother. That’s when I heard God speak to my heart, and I wanted to share this message with you.

Parents, you know that no matter what your kids do – even when you want to scream at them or shake them – there is nothing that could change your love for them. Listen, I realize that as he grows up, he will probably do way worse than throw a fit over a bath. But I also know that he could never do something to make me love him less. Because I’m his mom. And Moms, no matter how they upset you, or let you down, or anger you, you still love them with all your heart. You would still give anything you could for them, including your own life. Your love for them is not conditional. It is not contingent upon good behavior. It doesn’t come with a list of rules they must follow in order to “earn” it. It just is. On the good days. On the bad days. It will always be there, no matter what.

That love, that unconditional, parental love, is the closest glimpse we have of God’s love for us. Because He loves you with an unfailing, unchanging love. No matter what you do. On your good days. On your bad days. He loves you when you screw up. He loves you when you are convinced you know what’s best for your life, when He, as your Father, knows better. He doesn’t love you because you have done something to earn it. He loves you, despite your flaws. Despite your shortcomings. And He would give anything He could for you – including His own life. HE ALREADY DID THAT ON THE CROSS. When you do mess up, He is waiting right there, ready to take you in His arms and soothe you – to forgive you.

This is the season for thanksgiving. To reflect on all of our blessings with gratitude. I don’t know what’s going on in your life. Maybe you have a lot to be thankful for. Or maybe you’re facing trials that make it hard to even remember what those blessings are. But if you can think of NOTHING to be thankful for besides God’s love for you and His sacrifice, know that HE IS MORE THAN ENOUGH. No matter what’s going on in your life, He is there. He never promised life would be easy, but He promised to be there with you…through anything. Ask Him to give you His strength. Ask Him for His peace. He can bring you comfort when you never imagined you could feel it. He can take that trial – no matter what it is – and bring blessings from it. In fact, He promises just that. Romans 8:28 tells us He will work ALL things for our good.

Many people can quote Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Who doesn’t love the image of power that comes with this verse? But if you read it in context, Paul actually has a different message. The verse right before it says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” He immediately follows with “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Paul is talking about what it means to be content. To be joyful and at peace, no matter what’s going on around you. To be content, in the midst of pain. Loss. Need.

The secret to that contentment is in God.

No matter what you’ve done, God loves you. No matter what’s going on in your life, He’s there. He may not change your circumstances. But He can give you the peace and strength and comfort you need to get through anything. Just ask Him for it. Ask Him to come into your heart. Ask Him to work in your life and more importantly, in you. No matter what you’ve done, you’re never too far gone for Him to take you back. He is waiting. His arms are open wide.

This Thanksgiving, as you count your blessings, remember to thank Him for His faithful, unconditional love – a love that is bigger than we can possibly understand. And no matter where this holiday season finds you in life, He is right there with you. He can help you find contentment in the midst of the chaos. Just trust Him to do what He promised.

Love and Loss

October 21, 2018. Sunday morning. I rushed around the house like most Sunday mornings, going about my usual routine of getting my family ready for church.

But then I got the phone call that not only changed my plans, but my life – my eighty-three-year-old Momaw had finally stopped fighting. She was gone.

As Chad and the boys and I drove to Wabash Christian nursing home to see her and be with my family before they took her body to the funeral home, my mind raced. An incoherent jumble of thoughts: childhood memories of swimming in her pool, then coming in to a “strawberry soda”(ice cream and strawberry crush) because she knew my cousins and I would be hungry; watching my children play with things she brought from her purse as we sat in church; her laughter. We sat at a stoplight in Carmi and I watched all the other cars around us, feeling jealous as they went on about their day, oblivious to the pain in my heart. It wasn’t fair that the rest of the world kept turning when for my family, it had stopped.

She was one of the strongest women I knew. Even through her battle with cancer, I sat next to her and listened with a full heart in church every week as she stood up and gave God glory and praise in front of the whole congregation. She had to be weak from the chemo and radiation, but she pretended not to be. She constantly thanked God for giving her strength and comfort through the process – an inspiration to our whole family. We knew she was hurting on the inside, but she knew how to look for her blessings in the midst of the trial. And I know that’s where her strength came from.

Family was everything to her. She was happiest every Thanksgiving as she cooked a big meal for all of us and just sat around the table, listening to the chaos that came with our family get-togethers. Kids chased each other and screamed (along with some of the adults who are really just big kids). We talked and caught up on things that went on in our lives and while she contributed to the conversation, she also just sat and smiled, listening with contentment.

When we, like all families, had an issue – when a situation found some of us angry with others in the family – she called me. “Katy, I’m not mad at anyone.”

I smiled. “I know, Momaw.” The truth was, I was still processing the whole situation. I didn’t agree with some of the things that had happened, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. It didn’t really involve me, but it involved some of my immediate family and in my loyalty to them, I felt some anger, too.

“Listen,” she continued, interrupting my thoughts. “Life is too short to fight. I choose to forgive, even before apologies have been given.”

I swallowed, fighting back tears. “You’re right, Momaw. Thank you.” There was the wisdom I had been praying for – like He often did, He told me what I needed to hear through Momaw.

She was fiercely loyal. When I was going through the darkest time in my life – when I experienced the ultimate betrayal, feeling lost as I packed up and moved with my newborn son back to Ridgway, where I’d grown up – she called me. “You will get through this. You will be okay. We are all here for you.” Her words echoed the words I had heard from so many in my family – and I was thankful for the support. But to be honest, it didn’t bring much comfort. I was terrified. I had to start over? I had to be a single mom? Of course, I thanked her, but I doubted what she said. I wasn’t sure I would ever be okay again.

I went to her house that weekend, seeking the comfort that came when around my family. All over her house, Momaw kept lots of pictures of our family. As I walked around and looked at them, I started to notice small lime green Post-it notes stuck on some of them. I leaned in closer and noticed that those Post-its covered up the link who was no longer part of our family – the one who had betrayed me. As I scanned the pictures, noticing more and more mini Post-it notes over his face, I started to giggle. Soon, it progressed to laughter. Like, real laughter. For the first time since it had all happened, I truly laughed. This was her small way of showing her solidarity. And it was hilarious. For whatever reason, her words and the words of the rest of my family finally began to sink in. I really was going to be okay. Someday.

But a few months later, as I still struggled in my anger with him and the whole situation, she leaned over and grabbed my arm. “You have to be friends with him.” I gave her a look, which she ignored. “You have to,” she insisted. “Not for you, but for Aven. You have to get along with him and keep the peace.”

I nodded, though inside, I thought, yeah right. Like that will ever happen. But her words stayed with me. And guess what? She was right. After a lot of prayer, I reached the point that I was able to do that. It will be the best thing for my son – he won’t have to see or hear us fight, won’t have to feel like he’s caught in the middle or betraying me if he wants to spend some time with his dad. Once again, God had sent His wisdom through Momaw.

She found joy in the smallest things. She loved her hummingbirds, and spent lots of time watching them eat from the feeders that hung around her sun room. She probably spent just as much time refilling those feeders several times a day, but it was worth it for her. She enjoyed them so much.

When she finished her chemo and radiation and the doctor told her the next step was surgery to take out the remaining tumor, she frowned. It was March. “Can I please get my flowers planted first?” Her flowers – another one of her joys – meant so much to her. She traveled around to different greenhouses and brought home flowers that filled her yard each spring, and she loved taking care of them and looking for them. He laughed and agreed, not knowing she never actually intended to go through with that surgery.

She was so generous. She would literally give anybody anything she thought they needed. She shared whatever she had. But she had a feisty streak – anyone who knew her can attest to that. Once at a local festival, my dad’s band played. She came to watch them, then they all stayed to watch Jerry Reed play after he was finished. My dad stood next to her, when suddenly, he saw a brown whirlwind fly past from the corner of his eye, hitting an obnoxious man who stood a few feet in front of them.

Dad looked over at Momaw and noticed she was no longer holding the brown paper trash sack from the food she’d eaten. He stared at her, then back at the man, then back at her. “Sue,” he finally said, “if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you just threw that trash bag at that man up there.”

Momaw leaned over, getting closer to my dad. “He needed to sit down.” Then she went back to watching the show. No further explanation or apology needed.

She was fiercely independent. Here she was, eighty three years old and battling cancer, and she insisted she still mow her own yard. She didn’t want anyone else to do it, especially around her house – they might mess up some of her beautiful flowers. When people would offer to drive her places, she would roll her eyes at me. “They think I’m an invalid. I can drive. I can get around.” So when she got it in her head that she wasn’t going to have that surgery, there was nothing we could say to talk her into it. “I’m too old for surgery. I’m not going to do it.”

She even asked a local doctor what would happen if she refused the surgery. The doctor, a friend of our family, was honest. “You will die.”

She nodded. “That’s okay,” she said.

She didn’t fear death. She knew where she was going. And when my Papaw died four years earlier, something inside of her changed. She had lost her best friend, and to be honest, her will to go on. Sure, she loved us. She loved watching her great-grandkids play. (As long as they weren’t being too rowdy – then she’d be quick to try to make them settle down.) But when Papaw died, a piece of her died, too.

I remember being at her house the day he died, sitting on the floor next to the couch where she sat. I watched her – the light in her eyes was gone, replaced by an emptiness I’d never seen before. We sat in silence for a while before she sighed. “We were supposed to grow old together,” she said.

It knocked the wind out of me. They had been married for sixty years – yet for her, it wasn’t long enough. He was truly her best friend, her world, her life. I looked across the room at my new husband of just a few months and held my stomach – the baby we’d just found out we were going to have. I closed my eyes. Lord, please let us have that. Please let us love like that, no matter what the years bring.

She was a rock for our family. She held us together when our crazy lives took us in all different directions. Her wisdom is instilled in all of us, and we will carry that with us as we go on.

Later on that day she died, I went to her house with my mom and sister to help pick out the outfit she would wear for the funeral. I ached for my own loss, but I ached even more for my mom, whose deep pain seemed to be engraved in her eyes and on her face. And for my sister, her eyes puffy from a never-ending stream of tears. As I left, upset and hurting, “I Can Only Imagine” came on the radio. And when I pictured her up there in Jesus’s arms, I smiled. She was no longer in pain. She was finally reunited with Papaw – something she’d wanted all along. Some of the pain was lifted at that moment.

My seven-year-old son, Aven, said that night, “Mom, Momaw doesn’t need her wheelchair in heaven, does she?”

“No, she doesn’t.” I smiled. “She’s running around up there. Spending time with Papaw and Jesus.”

Brayson, my three-year-old, said, “When I go to heaven, will Jesus play toys with me?”

I hugged him. “I’m sure He will. He will love to do that.”

Brayson nodded, his little face so serious. “He can be Luke Skywalker when we play Star Wars.”

God showed me, in the middle of the pain and sadness, the blessings that were all around me. Momaw is gone, but I will see her again. And while I’m still here, I’m surrounded by love. I’m thankful for the time I had with her. I’m thankful for the family I have who are still here – I am surrounded by strong, Christian men and women, and we can lean on each other in this difficult time. I’m thankful for a loving, merciful God who loves and forgives me and helps me to love and forgive others.

As we deal with her loss, we take comfort knowing that we will be together again in heaven. My prayer today is that you – whoever you are – can say with confidence that you will be there, too. If you can’t, talk to Jesus. Invite Him into your heart. Let Him work in in your heart and give you a life you never even dreamed of. Let Him surround you with His peace and rest in life’s difficult times. Let Him show you His plan for your life; trust me, I can tell you from experience that His plans are better than anything you could plan for yourself. Come to Him, just as you are. He loves you, no matter where you are in life, no matter what you’ve been through or done or gotten yourself into. Let Him guide you through your days on this earth, and find hope in Him for an eternity we can only imagine.

Freedom

This week, we celebrated Independence Day. Like everyone else, I spent the day with my family and watched fireworks and thanked God for this beautiful country and what it represents. Even in our nation’s horribly divided state, I am still thankful to live in the United States, where I am FREE. I can be what I want to be.  I can worship freely in our little church whenever I want with no worries of persecution. If I want to stand in the streets and proclaim my faith, no one will take me to jail or beat me for it – which is much more than my Christian brothers and sisters from many other countries can say. I am thankful for the men and women who have given their lives to give me that freedom.

I am working my way back through the Old Testament, reading stories I’ve heard since I was a kid – stories of Biblical heroes. Stories of men chosen by God to do His great work. But one thing I’ve noticed that means a lot more to me as an adult is that those “heroes” were anything but heroic at times.

Jacob, who is considered a man of God for his great trust in Him, was a deceiver. He tricked his brother, Esau, out of the inheritance he deserved and tricked his blind father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Yet God used him anyway. He didn’t wait for him to be a “good guy,” didn’t wait until he had it all together before he spoke to him and worked through him. And Jacob repented of those mistakes. He humbly sought his brother’s forgiveness and depended on God to restore their relationship.

Moses is one of my favorite stories. He had somewhat of a rough start, as he was born in a time when newborn male Israelites were to be put to death by order of the Pharaoh. I can’t imagine being in his mother’s shoes as she tried her best to hide him and ultimately decided to leave him in a basket in the tall grass by the water to let the Pharaoh’s daughter find him and raise him. She took him in as her own son, which could have changed his fate forever – he could have been royalty. But Moses knew the truth about who he was, and after he grew, he couldn’t stand to sit back and live in luxury while he watched his own people beaten at the Egyptian’s hands. One day, it became too much for him. His anger overtook him as he watched an Egyptian beat an Israelite, and he attacked and killed the Egyptian. Moses went into exile, terrified he would be killed for what he did and ashamed of his own confusing past. But that’s when God spoke to him and told him he would use him to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians. Moses used excuse after excuse not to go. He told God he was unfit to be a leader – who was he? Who would listen to him? How would he even talk to the Israelites with his speech impediment? But God didn’t care about any of that. He would use Moses just as he was – flaws and troubled past and all. And when Moses finally gave in and let go of his fears and baggage, God used him to do amazing things. He delivered the Israelites from slavery, just as God promised he would.

I am not even trying to compare myself to one of the Biblical giants we read about in the Old Testament. I am not a Jacob or a Moses. But like them, I have flaws. And I have a past. I remember a time in my life when I would think about talking to God again, after a very long absence from Him. But then I would think about the sin I lived in and say to myself, “When I get it together, I’ll come back to Him. Some day.”

I had it all wrong! God doesn’t want us to wait until we’re “good enough” to come to him. He’s ready to use us, just as we are, flaws and all. And He wants to give us freedom from that past that haunts us. So many people think that life with God is about rules – do this, don’t do that. But when we reduce it to that, we’re missing the point. It’s about FREEDOM. Freedom from those chains of past sins and mistakes. He can and will forgive anything you’ve ever done, and you’re never too far gone to come to Him. When He looks at you, He sees love. He sees the person He created and the person He made you to be. People will remember your mistakes. They will remember your past. But the Bible tells us that God doesn’t see us the way people see us. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

So while I’m thankful for the freedom we have in this country, I’m even more thankful for the freedom that comes from life in Christ. He’s ready to give you that freedom, no matter who you are, where you come from, and what you’ve done. You don’t have to fix your life before you come to Him. He is waiting with open arms to take you in, just as you are. Don’t do what I did, wasting your time living in the chains of sin, thinking you will “fix yourself” before you come before God. Let Him work in you today, messy past and sin and all.

Carrying My Burdens

Finally, after overstaying its welcome, winter seems to be moving out! Our days have been filled with sunshine, clear skies, and warm weather, and my boys want nothing more than to be outside. For my two-year-old, that means daily walks to the creek down the road from our house, where he likes to throw in big rocks and see how big a splash he can make.

Yesterday, he got the idea to ride his tricycle down to the creek. He just learned to pedal over the last couple months, and he loves any opportunity to ride.

I knew when he suggested it, he wouldn’t make it down there and back on the tricycle. There’s a big hill to climb on the way back, and his little legs would never hold out. But I didn’t discourage him. I walked beside him, smiling as he put his heart and soul into pushing those pedals and bending down to give him a gentle shove now and then to help him out. We both laughed as he sailed down the hill, his white-blond hair standing straight up in the wind.

Parking his tricycle in triumph next to the creek, his grin stretched from ear to ear. “I did it, Momma!”

“You sure did,” I said, holding my hand out to receive a very enthusiastic high five.

He threw the pile of rocks he’d brought in the tricycle’s pouch into the water, letting them splash one by one. When he finished, he mounted his trike again, ready to go back home.

But just as I expected, his now-tired legs didn’t have the strength. He only made it a few feet before he stopped. “I can’t make it go.”

I smiled. “It’s okay. Let’s just walk. We can carry it home.”

He got off the tricycle and watched me as I hoisted it onto my hip, holding one of the handlebars. He grabbed the other one. “I’ll help you, Momma.”

“Thank you,” I replied. Together, we climbed the hill heading home. He strutted as he clutched the handle. He was Momma’s big helper. I carried the weight of the tricycle and let him believe he was really doing some work next to me.

As we neared the top of the hill, he stopped again. “Momma, can you carry me?”

Again, I smiled. “I sure can.” I lifted him onto my other hip and finished the short walk back to our house.

It was such a small thing, but as I carried him home and looked down at him, his sweet little cheek resting on my shoulder, I saw myself in him. God spoke to me in that moment.

How many times have I set out to do something on my own, counting on my own strength to get it done? How many times has God given me those gentle pushes on my path, pushes I didn’t give him credit for because I only saw the work I was doing “on my own”?

And when I’ve failed…and I have, so, so many times…how many times has He carried the weight of my burden for me? Even when I didn’t see His hand because I didn’t know Him and all He did for me?

And when I was so weak, so exhausted I couldn’t go on, how many times has He picked me up and carried me the rest of the way?

I am so, so thankful for His love and forgiveness. But today, I am thankful for His quiet strength. I wasted so much of my life knowing who He was but not really knowing Him. For years, I failed to give him the credit where it was due, not realizing that without Him, I could do nothing. But He never demanded the glory – it was up to me to humble myself and see Him for who He was and what He was doing in my life and give that glory to Him.

We are so lucky to have a God who knows us inside and out – our thoughts, our flaws, our mistakes – and still loves us more than we will ever understand. A God who wants to walk with us and strengthen us, even carry us through life’s trials.

Jesus offers to carry our burdens for us. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). We can give Him our troubles, our worries, our stress, and He will carry that load for us and provide the rest we all so desperately seek.

I am thanking Him today for the many times He’s held me through life’s storms. I pray that I will never again fail to give Him the glory and praise for all He does in my life. He is still working in me, and He knows (even when I forget) how much I need Him. I am so thankful for all the times I can see His hand at work in my life. But I’m especially thankful for the times He is there next to me, carrying my troubles or even carrying ME, even when I fail to see Him. He is faithful, and He is good. Even when I don’t deserve it.

The Thief Next to Jesus

Good Friday. The day we remember our Savior and His cruel death on the cross. The day He TOOK MY PLACE in the death that I deserve, because He loved me. He knew when He came here the fate that awaited Him. Betrayal. Mockery. Torture. A slow, excruciating death. But He came anyway. Just to give us forgiveness that we don’t deserve. I can never thank Him enough. I can never repay Him for what He did for me.

But tonight, the one who is on my mind is the criminal who hung beside Him. A man who, unlike Jesus, had lived a life of sin. A man who society had deemed worthy of death on the cross, because of the crimes he committed. And as he hung there, nearing death, he confessed Jesus as Lord. “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” he said. And what did Jesus say? Did he tell him he was unworthy? Did he tell him his sins were too great, that he was condemned to die and go to hell because that was the punishment he deserved? No. “Assuredly, I say to you,” He told the criminal beside Him, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

I feel like sometimes, Christians, we’re missing the point. And when I say Christians, I’m including myself, too. It didn’t matter what sins that man had committed. It didn’t matter if he spent his entire life on the earth going against everything God ever said. The minute he confessed Jesus as His Lord and Savior – and that minute just happened to be one of the final moments of his life – He was forgiven. Heaven-bound. Did he deserve it? Of course not! But do I? Do you? Does anyone?

I have a past – one that does NOT include Jesus. I try to forget about it, because I know God has, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have nightmares about some of the things I’ve said and done. And guess what? I’m still far from perfect, despite all the work He’s already done in me. It doesn’t matter how “good” I try to be now. It doesn’t matter how many hours I spend in church, how much I give to those in need, or how many times a day I pray or read my Bible. That’s all good stuff, of course, but it’s not what saved me. Jesus saved me when He died and rose again, and the only thing I did to receive that gift is BELIEVE in Him and ACCEPT Him into my heart. That’s it.

We’ve never been more divided than we are today. And with that division comes such powerful hatred and cruelty. But Christians, are we helping the problem? Or are we stirring it up even more? It’s not wrong to stand up for what we believe in – in fact, we’re commanded to do so. But look at the way we’re doing it! Sharing hateful Facebook posts and memes, shaming the other side because they sin differently than we do. We’re no better than the Pharisees who were so blinded by their religious rules that they didn’t see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah! They put Him to death because He didn’t fit their idea of what a “religious” person should be. You guys, the Pharisees were some of the most “holy” people out there. They MEMORIZED the first five books of the Bible BEFORE THE AGE OF 12. They took the laws of Moses very seriously and when they condemned Jesus to death, they truly believed they were doing it in God’s name. They let their own religious rules blind them to Jesus’s message. They judged everyone around them.

Are we becoming modern-day Pharisees? Are we so high and mighty because of all the “good” things we do that we think we’re good enough to judge the world, when we’re missing Jesus right in front of our faces? The reality is, God loves EVERY SINGLE PERSON on this earth. He wants everyone to receive the gift of His Son and will give us to the very last moment of our lives to do so, if that’s what it takes. As Christians, we’re called to share His message with the world, so they will receive Jesus and eternal salvation. Are we doing that? Are we really sharing His message when we share hatred and judgmental social media posts? Or are we turning people away from the Truth with our religious rules and hateful speech? Life with Jesus is about freedom. It’s about relationship with Him. It’s about love. It’s not about rules and being “better” than anyone else. It doesn’t matter how “wrong” or lost someone may be – Jesus died for him, too. And we’re called to love, not sit on our throne in judgment and bully someone into thinking like we do. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not how Jesus reached people, and we sure won’t reach anyone that way, either.

I’m thankful tonight for His sacrifice and His forgiveness. I pray that I will never be a hindrance to His love and His message. I want everyone to know that there’s nothing you can do to make Him not love you. He will forgive any sin, any mistake you’ve ever made. Don’t wait until you think you’re “worthy” to come to Him. You’ll never get there. Accept Him today, and let Him come into your life just as you are right now – flaws and all. He loves you despite your past or even your present. All you have to do is choose to believe, to accept Him. He wants to do big things in your life. All you have to do is let Him in.

Thoughts from a Teacher in Today’s Schools

I have so many thoughts running through my head and my heart – a jumbled collection of ideas clouded by fear, devastation, frustration, and anger with no real organization or solutions in mind. As a result, I’m afraid this blog post will probably reflect the chaos in my heart, and that’s okay: I think it’s safe to say at this point, it probably reflects the way most of us feel right now. I will do my best to make it as cohesive as possible…bear with me.

First, I want to be clear that this post is not political, nor is it designed to point fingers at anyone. It is not intended to start a debate; I want no part in arguing. I don’t even identify myself as a Democrat or a Republican. The only label I am comfortable wearing is Christian. I hate politics and the divisive hatred it brings with it. While I do follow the news and the words and actions of our elected leaders and cast my vote in each election, I refuse to get into pointless heated discussions with people who don’t agree with my beliefs.

With that said, I think the one thing both sides will agree with is this: we, as a nation, are in trouble. The tragedy in Florida is only the latest in a series of violent acts – acts that are carried out against our children. Our CHILDREN. And instead of coming together, instead of mourning with those parents and families who sent their babies off to school, not knowing it would be the last time they’d ever see them, we’re fighting. Fighting over what needs to be done, over who is to blame, over what should happen next. And while I understand and appreciate the passion from which those arguments come, I also know that it’s not going to bring those babies back and it sure isn’t going to prevent it from happening again in the near future.

The truth is, somewhere along the way – okay, multiple times along the way – the shooter in Florida was failed. I don’t know his whole story or what it would have taken to get through to him, to help him realize his own worth and get the help he needed to get his life on the right track, but whatever it was, he didn’t have it. We can blame the fact that he was allowed to purchase a gun in the first place…we can blame the FBI and anyone else involved who didn’t respond appropriately to reports…but none of that gets to the heart of the matter.

I hear your cries for gun control. Trust me, as a teacher, I get it. I’ve gone through active shooter training. I’ve planned escape routes and imagined how to best protect and hide my students. I’ve long accepted the fact that if it came to it – and I pray to the good Lord that it never does – I would die protecting my students because I love them. I love every single one of them and would give my life without hesitation if it meant saving theirs. And I can say with confidence that every single teacher I know would do the same. It is a job we chose because we love kids and want to be around them, want to impact them, in the best possible way we can. We live in a society where as a whole, teachers aren’t valued. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t scroll my Facebook feed and then shut off my phone in disgust as I see yet another parent ranting about a teacher, followed by dozens of comments from other parents raging about individual teachers and the school system as a whole. I had a student tell me flat out, just this past week, that his parents didn’t like a particular teacher so they told him he could make her life as miserable as he wanted to. But you know what? That teacher would still take a bullet for that child.

Herein lies a piece of the puzzle of What is wrong with this world: Respect. And no, I’m not blaming our kids here. Our kids are merely a product of the environment – home, school, and media combined. They are what they see and hear and watch on a daily basis. How can we expect more out of our kids in this insane world we’ve brought them into? How can we expect them to respect their teachers and each other when they don’t see it out of us? Again, I’m not here to point fingers at anyone. I’m far from the perfect parent and make mistakes daily with my boys. My kids see me scrolling through my phone far too often, and then I get frustrated when they get too wrapped up in technology. Our kids will hear our words, but it’s our actions that will leave the greatest impact. When a kid sees hatred and violence at home, he becomes desensitized to the damage that comes with it. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t lie awake at night, crying and praying for some particular kid who told me about something disturbing he or she heard/saw/experienced at home. My ten-year-old fifth graders have seen Rated R movies that I won’t even watch. They play video games that glorify killing and beating people. It simply isn’t possible for a young, impressionable mind to take in that kind of violence and behavior and not be affected in some way. “Eh, I watched that kind of stuff as a kid and I didn’t grow up shooting people.” Maybe so, but the world we live in today is not the same world you grew up in years ago. The Internet and social media have changed the whole ballgame. These kids today – they face challenges that we as adults never even dreamed of during childhood. Let’s give them a break. Instead of putting all the blame on them, let’s root for them. Let’s try to change the world for them. Let’s let them see us coming together for each other instead of bashing each other and filling our minds and our newsfeeds with hatred. We can’t control the choices that every parent makes regarding their children, and so many of our kids don’t speak up about the abuse, neglect, and illegal behavior that occurs at home. We, as adults, have to step up for those kids. Become their voice. Offer them a mentor, a safe haven, whenever and however we can.

Back to the gun control issue: I get it. After Sandy Hook, especially, I was the first one to cry out that citizens shouldn’t own those military-style guns that can kill multiple people in under a minute. And you know what? I still believe that. It is an unpopular opinion in my little town in southern Illinois, and I have several male relatives who own them who are, if they’re reading this, sounding their war cry against me as we speak. “You can’t take away my Constitutional rights! You can’t take my guns!” But when it comes to the safety of my kids – both my own and the ones who are mine every day between 8:00 and 3:00 – I would do whatever I can to ensure we save as many lives as we can. Do I think there should be strict background checks on anyone buying a gun? Absolutely! Do I think our nation needs to look at our existing laws concerning guns and think about making some changes? Of course. But with that being said, I’m also not naïve enough to think that creating new gun laws will solve the whole problem. We all know that making something illegal does not make it obsolete. Look at the statistics of illegal drug usage. Of alcohol use by minors. If a criminal is determined to get their hands on a gun of some kind, he or she will find a way to do it. No, that doesn’t mean we should make it easy for them, but creating these laws will only create a black market for guns. People will still find a way to get their hands on them.

And so, I’m back to square one.

Parents, I hear your frustrations. I hear your cries that children are reporting bullying and other incidents, only to have “nothing done about it.” The truth is, there’s always something done about it. Schools have a protocol in place as to what happens when bullying or inappropriate behavior occurs. Those students who report it may not see it, as most action is handled in private as per privacy protocol demands, but something happens. The thing is, as teachers and even administrators, our hands are often tied. There are hoops to jump through for any serious consequences to occur. The sad reality is, if a student says something that makes another student uncomfortable but doesn’t actually DO anything, like commit a crime, there’s only so much that can be done. Instead of getting angry with our teachers and administrators, who are simply following the legal protocol, we need to call for a change in policy, nationwide, as to getting students effective help as soon as any alarm bells begin to sound.

I don’t have the answer. I do know one thing, though, and this is the part that won’t be so popular with a lot of people: you can’t really hope for any kind of change unless you bring God into this equation. We can’t continue to demand that He is left out of things and then get angry when He doesn’t seem to be here anymore. The thing is, He’s STILL HERE. Our Bible assures us that He will never leave us or forsake us. He didn’t cause this violence to happen, and for those who are shaking their fists at Him and blaming Him, I can assure you that He is weeping right along with us. But He does not, and never has, forced Himself on anyone. And as a result, sin runs rampant. When people don’t know Him and choose to reject His love, it allows Satan to get a foothold in those people and in turn, on the situation. Let me be clear about one thing: Satan is behind each and every one of these school shootings. He is a master manipulator. For those who are reading this, rolling their eyes…well, he’s manipulating you at this moment. I know because he used to have a hold in me, too. I know what he’s capable of. He is the one who convinces these poor, lost kids that violence is some sort of glorified revenge. But you know what else he’s behind? He’s behind all this hatred in our country. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and that’s why he loves division. As long as we’re all fighting, he stays in control and NOTHING CHANGES.

It’s time for us, as Christians, to step up. Maybe we can’t change the whole world, but we can start in our own little areas. It’s time to spread the message of God’s love, even if it makes people uncomfortable. It’s time to show our kids that they are created for a purpose, that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that there is more to this life than what they’re seeing in their schools and even at home. It’s time to help them see the joy and peace that God can give them, even in the midst of the worst circumstances. It’s time for us, as adults, to take responsibility for these kids. All of them, not just our own. It’s time to pray fervently – for our kids, for our parents, for our teachers, for our schools – because we know that prayers are not just empty words but powerful pleas that can move mountains.

I believe with all my heart, Christians, that if we want to see a change in this world, it has to start with us. So let’s come together. Let’s rise above the hate and stop getting caught up in all the arguing and blaming and pointing fingers. Jesus called us to spread His message to all the world, and we need it now more than ever.

We believe because we’ve seen what Jesus can do in our own lives. We’ve seen what prayer can do, what choosing love can do. We’ve experienced His power. Let’s help the world experience it, too.

His Perfect Plan

I started praying to God about a week ago, asking Him what message He wanted me to share this Christmas. It’s been about three months since I last posted on my blog – I’ve been working on the first draft of a new novel and I’ve let it consume most of my writing time. But a week ago, with the first draft under my belt, I prayed. God, give me the words You want me to say.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I sat down at my computer more than once throughout this past week, sure that once my fingers touched the keys, the words would flow through them. But they didn’t. I was blank. Come on, God, there must be something You want me to say.

The more I thought about this mental block, I realized it wasn’t only affecting my writing. It was affecting my daily life as well. And that especially included my prayer life. This thing, this burden in my mind, consumed my thoughts daily.

I believe in transparency, and I try to be as open as I can when it comes to sharing my life – including those parts that are far from perfect. But this issue isn’t one I can share so freely, as it involves another person, and I also believe in protecting the privacy of those I love. And so, I will leave it at this: there’s an issue that impacts my life in a big way, and I can’t do much to control it. It’s something I’ve been praying about for over a year, but for whatever reason, I haven’t received the answer I seek. I go to God about it often – daily – and ask Him to fix it. That’s what the Bible says to do, right? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what I’m asking for is in line with God’s will. I know it’s what He wants for the person I’m praying for and for everyone else involved. Yet…it still hasn’t changed.

I’m not angry with God for not answering my prayer yet. But I can’t help but become frustrated. Why hasn’t anything changed yet? Why can’t I hear Him this time?

This morning at church, our youth group put on a fantastic Christmas play. I laughed out loud over and over again, along with the rest of our little church, which was packed with people. But at one point, the play took a serious turn and one of the kids read from Luke chapter 2, the story of Jesus’s birth. And as I listened to that story, I couldn’t help but picture Mary and Joseph, who must have been so overwhelmed by what was happening. I imagined what Mary must have been thinking the night Jesus was born. God, I trust You. I’m willing to give birth to Your Son. But the inn is full, and I’m in pain. Your Son can’t be born out here in this manger, in the midst of animals. She was so young, so innocent. This isn’t the way this is supposed to happen, she must have told Him. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.

But Jesus was born that silent night, exactly how He was supposed to come into this world – a humble birth, unfit for a King, yet absolutely perfect. Exactly the way God said it would happen over and over again in the Old Testament. I’m sure Mary couldn’t see that at the time, but when the shepherds came and shared their amazing story of the angels who had appeared and led them to Jesus, the Bible tells us that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She saw that His plan had been perfect all along, and all her worries had been for nothing.

Jesus came here to be with us. God loves us so much that He couldn’t stand the idea of our separation from Him, so He became one of us to be the sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t have to come down that night, didn’t have to enter this world in that little stable. He chose to. Because He loves us. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, He loves us. At my very worst, most unlovable moments, He still loved me. And because I accept Him as my savior, He doesn’t even remember those moments. When I mess up – and I do, every single day – He still loves me. And He forgives me.

And one of the most beautiful parts of having Him living inside my heart is this: this burden that has plagued me for so long can be given to Him. I believe in the power that comes from dropping to my knees and laying it all at His feet. I’ve done that, over and over again. But I realized this morning that I’ve been praying about it, laying it at His feet, and then as soon as I say “Amen,” I pick that burden right back up and carry it around with me. I think about it, obsess about it, wonder what I can do to fix it. And the truth is, only He can fix it. I had to lay it down once and for all today, to truly let go and just trust that He has it under control. And when He finally answers this prayer, it will be in His perfect timing, and I will be in awe of his plan and realize that my worries have been useless.

I’m so thankful for a savior who loves me and wants to carry my burdens for me. All I have to do is seek Him and turn it over to Him. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). That doesn’t mean He’s going to fix my problems right away; it means He will give me peace in spite of those problems. And for that, I am overwhelmingly grateful.

He chose to come here, to be with us. Even if He never does another single thing for me, that will be more than enough. But His gift goes even further than eternal life. No matter our histories, no matter our darkest secrets, He still looks at us with love. He sees us not for who we are, but for who He created us to be. And all we have to do is invite Him into our hearts! I didn’t do anything to deserve His love or His forgiveness, but because I choose to accept Him, He gives it to me freely.

If you don’t know Him and the peace and love that only He can give, please, accept the gift of Jesus this Christmas. Give Him a chance to work in your heart, to make your life better than you ever imagined it could be. Experience His perfect love and all that comes with it. Let Him carry your burdens.

He’s waiting with love.

Is This The Last Week???

There’s been a lot of talk this month about the apocalypse. I’ve seen multiple articles in my Facebook newsfeed about this Saturday, September 23, being the day of the Rapture. If you haven’t read about this, I encourage you to do so. I’ll admit, the case being built for that day is interesting, based on Revelation 12 and an alignment of Jupiter, the sun, and the moon and the fact that it falls during the time of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana and the Fast of Gedaliah. Research it and decide what you think about it for yourself.

But I’m not here today to tell you the world is going to end this week, especially not specifically on September 23. The Bible tells us clearly that “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). I don’t believe we can pinpoint a specific moment this will occur.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Jesus promised us in John 14:2-3 that He would return. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” And he also told us to look for signs. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31). So maybe we can’t predict the exact day or time, but that doesn’t mean He wants us to be blindsided by the end.

Will the rapture happen on September 23? I don’t know. But here’s what I do know: the Bible promises that He will return and it gives us signs to look for so that we are not surprised by it. Sure, a lot of people are laughing at Christians who are looking for those signs. Guess what? The Bible promised that would happen. “First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of, and laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: ‘So Jesus promised to come back, did He? Then where is He? He’ll never come! Why, as far as back as anyone can remember everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation” (II Peter 3:3-4). This, like many other prophecies in the Bible, is coming true right before our eyes.

So what does the Bible tell us to look for?

“There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7-8).

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6).

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Timothy 3:1-5).

 

You guys, this stuff is unfolding right under our noses. Pretending it’s not happening or that it’s ridiculous or crazy is FOOLISH. You can deny the predictions for specific days, but you can’t deny the condition of our world and the things that have happened this past month alone.

I know that like so many others, my words will be dismissed by many. But I can’t live with myself if I don’t share this with everyone I can – especially the people I love. I’m NOT telling you to prepare for September 23…I’m telling you to prepare for TODAY. Because the reality is, if we don’t know the day or the hour, it could be today. If you were to find yourself, mere minutes from now, facing God and the Final Judgment, would you go to Heaven? If you hesitated, if you weren’t sure about your answer, I’m begging you to fix that right now.

Here’s the truth: I spent way too many years of my life claiming to know God and that Jesus was my Savior, but the reality was, I lived a life that did not include Him. The Bible speaks specifically to people like I was: “Whoever says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:4). Believing in Jesus is the first step, an IMPORTANT step, but even Satan believes in Him. If you believe in Him but don’t do anything about it, do you really believe that He is who He says He is?

I tried for so long to do things my own way. I knew who Jesus was, but I didn’t surrender to Him. I’d let him in on Sundays and occasionally through the week (usually if I was struggling with something and needed some help), but when it came time to live my life, I didn’t want Him getting in the way of my “fun.” I found myself constantly dissatisfied. “If only I had ______, I would be happy.” (You can fill in the blank with whatever you want. A new job? A different house? A marriage? A divorce?) I would set goals and get what I wanted, but still find myself unhappy.

Then someone said something to me that stuck in my mind: We are designed to desire a relationship with our Creator. We long for Him, even though so many of us don’t realize it. We look for things in this world to fill that gap, but until we allow Him to come in – to TRULY come in, not just when it’s convenient – we will never feel true contentment.

I finally reached the point that I knew I couldn’t continue to do things my way. I had to surrender, even the parts I didn’t want to surrender. I was scared. Why would He want me? By that time, I was one of the worst sinners. I’d done things that kept me awake at night. I was selfish. Hateful. Spiteful. So undeserving of Him. Why would He even listen to me? Why would He care? Why would He let me come back?

But the Bible tell us that God is willing to forgive all that stuff from our past. God promises that He will be “merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). He will forgive and forget! And all we have to do is ask and surrender. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

When I finally surrendered, a weight I’d been carrying for years was lifted from me. For the first time in my entire life, I found true contentment. Does that mean everything is perfect? Of course not. I still experience heartache and stress. My classroom doesn’t always run the way I want it to. My kids mess up. My marriage has its struggles. But the difference is, now I’m not doing it all alone. I’m studying my Bible and talking to God and asking Him for His guidance, and He provides it. He gives me exactly what I need in each trial I face. When I don’t know what to do, I can give my anxiety to Him, and He takes the burden from me. And in the face of it all, I STILL FEEL CONTENTMENT. I have a peace that doesn’t make sense most of the time.

I WANT THIS FOR ALL OF YOU. I want you to experience His love in a real way and see how He can transform you and your life. And when the end comes, I want Him to take you into His arms and welcome you to Heaven. And you can have it! All you have to do is ask. Surrender.

Someone recently told me, “I can’t go to that church. The walls would fall in.” I’m here to tell you, those walls are strong. And they’re built for people just like you and me. If God could work in my life and forgive me, He can do so for anyone. So give Him the chance to do what He promised He would do. Let Him work in your heart so that you can have the life and plan He created especially for you. I promise it will be better than anything you could have imagined for yourself.

He’s waiting with open arms.

A Prayer for our Schools

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another school year – my tenth year in the classroom. In this house, an odd mix of excitement and nervous dread fills the rooms as my soon-to-be first-grader prepares himself for something new (“Why did the summer go so fast, Mom? I thought we had almost eighty days off! What if I don’t have friends in my class? What if I miss you too much? What if I just want to play outside but I’m stuck at my desk for hours?”).

Tonight, as I make plans and get ready for my junior high students, I am overcome by an overwhelming urge to pray. Again I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Our schools, and our kids, are facing a world we’ve never known before – a world filled with hatred and pain on a scale we’ve never seen. And tonight, I’m turning to God and asking Him to be with us, to protect us and bless us as we navigate this new year.

Lord, be with our kids as they come back to us. You have created each one in Your image, each one with a specific purpose. You know their potential and see them for both who they are and who they can become.

Be with the super students, the overachievers, the ones who excel in school. Help them continue to do big things in the classroom so that they will go on to do even bigger things in this world.

Be with the ones who struggle, the ones who want to succeed but don’t have the same abilities as those straight A students. Help them to see that You have blessed them with talents and abilities and that Your plan for them will be amazing. Help them to find the path You have created for them, and let them know that they, too, will go on to do big things in this world.

Be with the students who don’t want to be there, the ones who don’t enjoy the classroom and feel stifled by the school routine. Help them to find their passion, their creative outlet.

Be with the ones who want to be there – not because they enjoy class, but because for those seven hours each day, they feel safe. They know they are free from whatever plagues them at home – abuse, neglect, hunger. They know they are guaranteed meals.

Be with the students who hate school – not because they don’t enjoy the classwork, but can’t even concentrate on learning because they feel like an outcast. Help them know they are loved and accepted when other students don’t make them feel that way. Help them see their worth in Your eyes.

Soften those students who are angry at the world. Help them to find their place in the middle of the chaos and give them a heart to know You and Your love.

Be with the parents and guardians – the involved PTA moms and dads who volunteer in the classroom, the ones who don’t know or care how their kids are doing in school, and every parent in between. Help them find ways to love and support their kids and set them up for success in school and in their lives.

And finally, be with our teachers and staff. Fill us with patience and wisdom. Help us to connect with each of our students, both in our content areas and in their lives. Help us to love them fiercely, as our own kids, even when it’s not easy. Help us to show them that in us, they have an ally, a confidant, a mentor, and a friend. Help us to be who they need us to be so that each and every student can experience success and most importantly, love and inclusion. Help us to be Your hands and feet each and every day. Help us to see each student through Your eyes, to love them as you do – for who they are now and who we know they can be.

Mighty God, please bless our schools. Help those students and teachers who know You to be Your light in this dark world. Keep all of our students safe, both in and out of the classroom. Help us all to have a successful year and to feel Your joy and peace, no matter our circumstances.

Thank You for hearing our prayers and loving us so completely. I ask these things in Jesus’ Holy name. Amen.