Jul 25, 2017

Project Love: Brothers

Once upon a time, two siblings didn’t get along.  I was the sister, and the other was my little brother.

He would say mean things, and I would run away and cry.  But I was equally crafty;  I could always get revenge. (and then he would run away and cry.)  He made good movies.  I tried to copy him by making my own movies.  But they were ill-made, and I was frustrated.

I had to find my own talents, so I sat down and wrote a story about a dog fair.  He read my story and wrote a story about a cat fair.  We compared drawings, argued about who was the best photographer, and didn’t like the same animals.

But we grew up.  He thrived making movies and is becoming a skilled videographer.   I write stories, and he doesn’t try to copy them anymore…unless to turn them into a short film.  He’s an expert in gardening, so I ask him for tips with my lettuce and tomato plants.   And sometimes, when the sun is starting to set, we like to sit down together and talk.  Share our struggles.   Encourage each other.   Laugh about life.

We still clash and get upset at each other, but we learned something important:

Siblings can be friends.

The Bible is full of relationships gone wrong.   One brother killed his little brother (Genesis 4:1-15). Another man stole from his brother and had to flee for his life (Genesis 27).  Two siblings complained about their brother, and God punished them by striking the sister with leprosy (Numbers 12).

There’s a verse that sends chills down my spine.

"If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" – 1 John 4:20

We cannot love God if we do not love our siblings.

God is love.  If we really love Him, that love will be evident in our own life.  (1 John 4:8)  Thus, if you constantly clash, argue, nit-pick, or hold grudges against a sibling, you need to fix that.  Something’s wrong with your heart.  Solve the problem, and then seek God.

In the New Testament, there were three siblings who were tightly knit together in love.  Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were people who welcomed Jesus into their home with open arms.  They had completely different personalities, and sometimes they clashed.  But they were family.  And Jesus loved them.

Let’s be that family.  The family who overlooks differences and loves just the same.

We talked about relationships with sisters last week.  I’m going to turn it around and address the other side of the spectrum: brothers.

I have five brothers and one more in heaven.  And they all have different personalities.

One brother is extremely intelligent, understands anything math, computer, or science related, and is encouraging to have deep conversations with.

Another likes to sing opera, plays any instrument he can get his hands on, and brings laughter and hugs into our home.

My third brother is a videographer, photographer, great gardener, and pretty much everything else.   He plays the piano and has a great singing voice.

Next comes Gilly, and he is all smiles and encouragement although he's a farm boy who loves animals and working outside.

My youngest brother has a louder personality but is very serious and sweet if he wants to be. ;)  Although he won't admit it, he loves hugs and kisses and snuggles on the couch and holding my hand.  (I wrote this post because of him. ♥)

Although I love my brothers a bunch, I also struggle in this area.  So let’s jump right in.

Older Brothers.

This also applies to little brothers who are growing up.   =)   Older brothers are one of the biggest blessings in life.  They’re becoming men.  They’re getting busier.  They’re also getting wiser.  Their relationships with God are stronger than ever (ideally), and, because you’re their sister, you can reap part of that in deep conversations.   You used to chat about pets and your favorite colors, but now that’s gone.   Older brothers aren’t only siblings. They can be great friends, encouragers, and fellow prayer warriors.

Little Brothers.

What fun they add to the house!  Yes, they bring dirt and noise and chaos sometimes.  But they also give hugs.  They go on walks with you.  They’re always tickled to help you with cooking or other jobs.  They still hold your hand.

All brothers are different. Some are huggy, lovey brothers and others are more serious and reserved.  Like we did last week, I’m going to share some ideas of how we can build stronger relationships with our siblings.  And I hope you'll share your experiences in the comments.

I’ll start with little brothers:

  • Give lots of hugs.  They claim that they don’t like it, but they really do.
  • Complement them.  Point out what they’re good at.  A lot.
  • Let them do things with you.  Even if it makes your work harder it sure adds fun. =)
  • Ask for their opinion.   It helps them feel grown up and appreciated.   My little brother loves helping me with story ideas.
  • Have special one-on-one time with them.  Something like playing a game, going on a walk, exploring, or eating lunch on the porch (call it a date and they feel extra tickled! They’ll start begging YOU to "go out for lunch").   =)
  • Tell others how much help they are.  If the little brother hears you saying it, he'll get a huge smile!
  • Be interested in what they’re doing.  If they tell you something, really listen.

And older brothers:

  • Ask them deep questions.  Discuss things with them.
  • Be willing to share your struggles.  And ask them how you can pray for them.
  • Respect their time, priorities, hobbies, and so on.  They’re growing up, after all.
  • Talk to them.  Don’t let life fly by without being a real family.
  • Random acts of kindness.  This is good for every age.
  • Know their love languages.  I hope you’re not tired of this one already. =)
  • Share what God has been showing you.  Have meaningful conversations.
  • Look for chances to serve them.  Do their chores, wash their laundry, etc.
  • Encourage them in their talents. Even if you don’t understand how anyone could enjoy what they do. ;)

Phew. We’ve had to fly through these family relationship posts. I think we could spend a month more focusing on loving siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents…but time is short.  So let’s pause here and remember what Jesus said.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:7-11

Loving others is hard.  It’s not always fun.  It takes effort.  But it’s so worth it.

As we work on building strong relationships with our family (brothers especially!), I would like to hear from you.  How are you striving to love more?  Do you have brothers?  What encouragement or advice would you give someone who wanted to become best friends with their brothers?

Now to live out Love.  ♥

Jul 18, 2017

Project Love: Sisters

Luanne shared a room with her two little sisters.  That was a disaster. Beds were constantly unmade, and dolls littered the rug, turning her room into a war-zone when she needed to walk in the dark.  What was worse was when Luanne needed to be alone. Phew! No more video chats or quiet discussions or alone time.  Toss that away, because there were two blonde-headed monsters barging in.  Look out world!

One night after her sisters kept her up past midnight chattering about their pets, Luanne had enough.   Her parents finally let the other girls move into their own bedroom.  Luanne made her bed.  She vacuumed the rugs and threw away old gum wrappers.  Pictures were taken down and new ones put up.  Finally the room was just right.  When visitors came over, Luanne beamed as she showed off her room.  With two less troublemakers, her life was becoming easier.

But Luanne failed to realize something.  Her little sisters weren’t monsters.  They might have been trouble makers, but they had potential for much more.
They were best friends in the making.

God selectively chose two girls to be Luanne’s companions.  Instead of accepting the gift with thankfulness, Luanne threw away an amazing opportunity.  As she locked her bedroom door, she locked away the hearts of two young ladies who needed her.  And she needed them just as badly.

Who are your troublemakers, dear friend?

I’ll tell you about mine.  God gave me three sisters to share my life with.  They each have completely different personalities than me.  We clash.  We "debate" about things.  We get mad.  But we're sisters.  And we love each other.

My 12 year old sister has two passions: her babies (meaning her sheep and goats) and China.  If she has any spare time, she’s outside with the animals or dreaming about when she’ll finally have mastered Chinese and be on her way to Asia.  But she’s more than that.  She also has a heart for giving.  If you tell her that you have a need, she’ll find a way to buy you a gift.  My little sister is growing up into a young lady.

My next sister is 10.  If you need to giggle, just hang out with her.  She’s known for her cute freckles, her contagious giggles, and her quiet personality.  All she needs is a book, and she’s happy.  She has read my novella countless times and is helping me with my WIP.  If I need story inspiration, she’s my go-to.   But she also has a love for her babies – two cute, potbelly pigs.  Her desire is to fly to Brazil to open up an orphanage for the lost in the middle of the jungles.

My youngest sister (we call her Baby T) is 3.  She’s the epitome of cuteness.   (I’m not even joking.) Everyone loves her huge, brown eyes and tiny body that’s just right for hugging.  Her favorite colors are pink and purple and brown and orange, and she likes sharing food, drinking tea, playing with baby dolls, doing puzzles, and reading books.  We also share a bed together.  =)

None of us girls are alike.  But that’s the beauty of it!  God gave us sisters to fill in areas we lack.  I’m often too serious – my sisters help me laugh.  I run out of story inspiration – they give me ideas.  Sometimes I need someone to spend time with – there’s always a girl waiting.

My little sisters have potential, as yours do.  It might be impossible to imagine at times, but they can become your best friends.

The apostle John wrote,
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." – John 13:34-35
God has loved us in a crazy, radical way.  He literally sacrificed Himself to torture and death just to save us - flawed, broken humans.  If that heroic Rescuer asked us to love others, what could possibly hold us back?!

Let's start by loving our sisters.

As I did last week, I came up with a list of places to start…but you need to add and modify them as they fit into your life.  And I want to learn about your own sisters!  Let’s be open with each other, shall we?

I’ll admit;  I asked my sisters for ideas to put on this list.  With multiple personalities we’re sure to cover everything, right?

(A quick note. Many of these lists for loving family members will have similar suggestions. For example, love languages apply to everyone.  Take what works best for you and your particular sister, brother, parent, and so on.)

  • Appreciate your sisters' unique personalities.  This might mean loving their pets, showing interest in their hobbies, or not being upset when they do things differently than you.
  • Find out their love languages.  Then act upon them. Buy them a gift, complement them, give them extra hugs.  (one of my sisters announced, "in case any of you don’t know, mine is quality time!")
  • Do random acts of kindness.
  • Take extra effort to listen to them.   And really care about what they have to say.
  • Do something extra fun.  That might mean a dress-up and make-up party.  Or cooking something together.
  • Let them borrow your things.  And don’t be upset if your stuff isn’t returned in brand new condition.
  • Help them.  If they don’t look like they need help, ask anyway.
  • Find something you have in common and have quality time together.  Especially just you and one sister.   Go on a picnic, do cross-stitching, or listen to an audio book.
  • Pray for them.  And ask what they need prayer for.
  • Talk all night long.   I mean it.
  • Treat them as more important than yourself.  Which includes not being bossy.  (I'm talking to us firstborns. *cough*)
  • Teach them what you’re good at.  And learn from their talents!
  • Have deep conversations.  Encourage them.   Let them know your secrets.

I share that as the last one for a reason.   Don’t just build friendships.  Build deep relationships.  Share your struggles.  Ask for prayer

My three year old sister loves sharing struggles with me.  We go on the swings outside, and I always have to ask her, "What's your struggle?"  While they might be silly, trivial things, it makes her feel special to share how she wants to put together her play house or help Mommy more.

Your sisters are never too young to develop relationships with.  God put you together.  BE BEST FRIENDS.

No, I haven’t mastered it nor am I close.  But I want to have this relationship with my three sisters.  Don’t you?

I’ll end with a handful of verses from Philippians.
"Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others… Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." – Philippians 2:2-4, 14-15
 Girls, let’s shine for Jesus.  And let’s develop unbreakable bonds with our sisters.

While we're here I would love to hear about your sisters!  How are you going to love them like Christ loves us?  And how did loving your parents go in last week's challenge?  Let's talk.  =)

Jul 11, 2017

Project Love: Parents

I need to apologize.

I just finished writing a post.  It was long and had many Biblical passages that explained the topic.  It sounded good.  You might have been impressed.

But it didn't flow.  It all felt wrong.  As I went outside glad that the post was written and done, I felt unrest.

There was nothing wrong with the post.  The problem was me.  Ironically, I was writing a post for Project Love...but I wrote it for the sake of writing a post.  I wasn't doing it in love for you or for God.  It was like a job I was scratching off my to-do list.

But God didn't let me post it.  Instead I'm sitting down for try #2.

Girls, we can do so many important things.  But if we don't do it in love, what does it matter?  Do you remember the first few verses in 1 Corinthians 13?  They say that even if we give all our money to the poor and have faith that can move mountains but don't have love...it profits us nothing.  Nothing.  All those good works would be utterly useless.

We must choose to do things in love.  Our lives should revolve around loving God and loving others.  Isn't that what Project Love is all about?  The first and second greatest commandments:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

I want this to encourage you.  I fail so many times.  I just did in my last post.  But God gives us second chances.  (remember Jonah?  And David?  And Peter?  And countless others?)  You're never out of His reach.

Now, because I love you, I want to encourage you in this next area of relationships.

Project Love:  Parents

We've heard a lot on how we are supposed to honor our parents.  It's a Biblical command (see Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20).  We should honor, respect, and submit to our mothers and fathers.  In a way, it's like a picture of our relationship with Christ - our heavenly Father who has adopted us into His family.

But how do we love our parents more?

To get our brains going, let's consider our own unique family.  God has put you in your family for a reason.  You have your dad and mom for a reason.  You and your siblings are the only ones who can be a Godly, loving child to your parents.  Did you realize that?

Godly parent/child relationships are important.  Children need their parents.  There are so many examples out there of bad relationships, the horror they bring, and the hearts they break.  I know some of them personally.  But what does a truly God-honoring relationship look like?

A child sees their parent as a friend and mentor.  They share everything - dreams, struggles, concerns.  The child feels safe.  She has someone to confide in, and her parent knows she can completely trust in her.  The parent encourages her to use her gifts to honor Christ.  Because of the relationship, both are encouraged in multiple ways, including their walk with God.

That's what I want in my life and in yours.  I want you to love your parents.  I want you to be able to trust them and be trustworthy yourself.  They should be the first person you go to when you need prayer, advice, or encouragement.

Having a strong relationship with your parents is possible.

I know because I have tasted a portion of it.  Don't get me wrong; I struggle in many ways!  But I know that I have a listening ear and someone I can trust in my parents.

Both have been instrumental in my life.  I grew up 100% a Daddy's girl.  I was the only one with brown eyes like him, and we even look alike. ♥ I love helping him outside and bringing him cold water in the hot summers.  We used to go to work with him to visit his patients.  (he works in the hospital)  He is an example of what a Godly father looks like.

And my mom has been equally a blessing.  She gave up her medical degree to home-school all 9 of us and became the best cook and most patient person I know.  Mom taught me to read and write and continually encourages me to use the gifts God has given me.  She knows all of my friends (and all their deepest secrets, muahaha).  That's because I know I can share anything with her, and she cares.  I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Think of your own parents.  How have they been a blessing to you?  How have they encouraged you to seek after God?  How have they loved you?  (and while you're thinking of it, consider telling them.  Write them a thank you note or tell them in person!)

Here's our next Project Love challenge.  Let's love our parents.  Not in a quick "I love you" type of way.  Let's build Godly relationships and develop hearts that want to serve and respect our parents.

I'm going to start building a list of practical ways to put that into practice, but I need you to contribute.  We need to work together to encourage, uplift, and point each other to Jesus while developing relationships that count.  I can't do this alone.  =)

  • Share Everything.  Your dreams, your fears, your struggles.  Be open with your parents.
  • Know What Their Love Languages Are.  And then use that to your advantage.  ;)  Do they feel most loved when you give them complements, hugs, acts of service, quality time, gifts, or something else?
  • Be a Peace-Maker.  Love your parents by loving your siblings, not arguing, and not complaining.
  • Treat Their Things With Respect.  This also includes the things they let you borrow...like "your" room, "your" bed, "your" flower garden, etc.  Does your room show that you respect what belongs to them?
  • Be Helpful.  Help your mom cook, do laundry, or do school with a little one.  Help your dad with his projects, bring him water when he's hot, and be open and willing when he needs you.
  • Babysit so They Can Go On a Date.  So much fun!  =)
  • Do Random Acts of Kindness.  Need ideas?  You might find some here.  (another idea...clean a bathroom.  You know you should.)  ;)
  • Do Something Special For Them.  For my mom, this might be giving her a foot massage or brushing her hair.
  • Pray For Them.  And also ask them how you can be praying for them.  It means more if someone knows you really care.
  • Tell Others How Amazing They Are.  Don't brag, of course.  But so many kids don't have anything good to say about their parents.  Why don't you love yours by complementing them in public or sharing with others how they've blessed you?

I hope some of these ideas prove to be helpful for you as you strive to love and serve your parents more.  Please share with us...what are other ways we can bless our parents?  Do you want to share some ways your parents have encouraged you?

Here's a verse to give us the right perspective before we set out.

"Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.  Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"  - 1 Peter 5:5

That's my challenge for the week.  Let's get Project Love rolling!  =)

Jul 4, 2017

Materialism – Stealing Our Hearts

Whack! The ax slams against the log with such force that it sends vibrations up into the man’s arm. He raises it for a second blow. Whack! The log collapses into two smaller pieces, sending splinters everywhere.  The ax is lowered onto the ground. Grunting, the man raises the wood onto his shoulders and brings it to his shop.

He shivers as he slips his coat off. Turning to the cold embers of the fireplace, he blows gently on coals. Ash puffs up into the air. The fire is dead. As wind blows through the air, the roof creaks. The man takes one block of wood, piling smaller bits of leaves and wood chips around it, and soon a fire is bursting into life. Warmth spills over and tumbles out of the fireplace and around the room like a child at play. Shivers vanish as the craftsman turns to a workbench.

The second piece of wood is carefully laid out. He stretches out his rule. Every action is precise and deliberate. Marks are made on the wood before it is cut. Slowly and carefully, cut by cut, the wood transforms into an image. Pieces fall away, revealing the gallant figure of a man.

It’s done! The figure is taken and stood on a place of honor. While the fire burns one piece of wood, warms the man’s house, and cooks his food, the second piece of wood is honored. And with his eyes lowered, the man bows before the figure and worships it.

The same log. The same wood. But one is an object of use, something necessary for life. The other is idolatry, stealing the place of God.

In Isaiah 44:9-20, God presents a story.   Although I’ve presented a different picture of the story (I encourage you to read the original for context), the same concept is true.

A man takes a tree.  With part of it he creates something useful for life.   It bakes his bread and prepares a roast.  But with the other the man makes an idol for himself.  He worships it, although it also is merely ash if put into the fire.

I’m not going to talk about idols necessarily, although that is a very important issue to discuss.   What I want to present is this: God created wood for a purpose.  But we can take that good thing and turn it against Him.   It can take the glory due His wonderful Name.

Let’s turn that around slightly.  God has given us other blessings. Look around you – what do you see?  From where I sit writing, I see my bed, my sisters' violet and mint-colored room, a bean-bag, a Bible, a laptop, and many other gifts.  They are all useful.  But do they take possession of a part of our heart that is supposed to belong to others?

Several months ago, I read an impacting book that opened my eyes in this area.  Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn addresses many topics such as prosperity, money, debt, and more.  But one stood out to me – materialism.

Before you turn around and dismiss this word, let me give you an idea of what materialism really is.  In a simple definition, materialism is taking something material (even something useful) and giving it too much emphasis and importance.   Randy Alcorn writes, 

“Materialism is first and foremost a matter of the heart.  God created us to love people and use things, but materialists love things and use people.” – Money, Possessions and Eternity

Materialism related to God (something taking God’s place) is called idolatry.  But during the month of July I want to focus on relationships in the family.  What does materialism look like in a household context?

I’ll give you an example. *ouch…examples*

I was researching for my novel when my 3-year-old sister walked into the room.  She exclaimed with a huge smile, “I thought you would be here by yourself!” With that, she proceeded to chatter away doing what 3-year-olds do.  (aka, playing with dolls)  I was left with a decision: either love my little sister by paying attention to her and smiling in return or turning back to my computer and continuing what I was doing.

Dun, dun, dun…

I kinda did both.  I listened to her and responded for a while…but then turned back to my computer to work on my research.

Do I love my little sister more than my book? Absolutely!  But, at that moment, was I loving her more than my book?  Did her little mind see me as a "loving" or a "busy" sister?

Living with siblings (especially those of us with large families), we have so many temptations to embrace materialism.

  • Not allowing a sibling to borrow something (just in case…)
  • Being upset when a sibling messes up your bed, a craft, etc.
  • Getting frustrated when a sibling makes a mess or ruins something you own
  • Being selfish and not letting them touch “your” things

So what’s most important? Your sibling…or your stuff?

I want to share another example, this time of someone who responded the right way.

One of my siblings has a green thumb and loves plants.  He had collected some rare ones, and, one in particular, was on his mind. Why?  After at least a year of waiting, it was about to bloom!  He was so excited.  At any moment, the long period of waiting would be over.

Alas, the next day an equally excited baby sister walked in.  She had just learned how to use scissors.  A beautiful flower lay on the porch, cut away from its stem.  My brother’s expectations were crushed along with the wilting blossom.

Now he had a decision.  He could lash out in anger (wasn’t it his right?) or he could forgive the unsuspecting troublemaker.  And, because God had been working in his heart and giving him a spirit of humility, he chose the right answer.

It’s your turn.

This month we are going to zoom in and focus on relationships within the home.  What do yours look like?  Do you love people and use things?  Or do you love things and use people?

Let’s make sure that the things we own are put into their proper place.  Unlike the man in the book of Isaiah, we need to keep our eyes focused on what really matters – loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength and loving our neighbors (siblings?) as ourselves.

Materialism is an issue of the heart.  Where is your heart?

Jul 1, 2017

the Rebelution | Hope Found in the Face of Death

This isn't my normal posting day.  We're still discussing Project Love on my last post and evaluating which areas we struggle with most and need encouragement, prayer, and Christ's loving help.  But I need to draw you away from that for a moment to share some bittersweet and precious memories.

Many of you were here back in September when my family experienced the miscarriage of our little brother.  (if not, you can read about it here)  As you know, it was hard.  Probably the hardest day of my life.  It drained me, and my emotions were everywhere.  But I can truthfully say that I wouldn't have traded Kalem's life for anything.

Why am I bringing this up again after all these months?  Well, in a way Kalem's life is part of me now.  It changed who I am.  At the end of March, his due date passed by...the day we were supposed to be holding his perfect, little body.  With those memories all around me, I wrote his story, and now, although time has passed, I want to share that story with you.

If you were one of those who offered prayer and encouragement back during the miscarriage: thank you.  Thank you more than you'll ever know.  I hope this story still touches your life.

And new readers, thank you as well.  You continue to encourage me.  I hope this first-time read will inspire you to live a radical life for our Savior.

Before I share it, I want to add something.  Several years ago I read a book that greatly inspired me.  Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris is one of my favorite books, and it changed the way I view my life.  If you haven't, please read it!

Because of that book, the brothers started a website dedicated to encouraging teenagers to push back low expectations and do hard things for Jesus Christ.  And (a little dream-come-true for me!), Kalem's story was accepted as a post on that site.  (You have no clue how excited I was that God worked that out!!)

Please hop on over to The Rebelution and read Kalem's story.  I hope it touches you like it has me.