This morning I have been doing a lot of thinking and my thoughts have led to the entanglements of life. For the most part, those entanglements involve people. People don’t come in the easy-care, wrinkle-free, stain-resistant department. People are difficult. Whether young or old, they require maintenance and time and energy and effort. I’ll tell you what else they require, they require a lot of patience and forgiveness. If you want an easy, stress free, drama-less life you’d do best to avoid people altogether. Of course you’d also miss out on the best of life while trying to sidestep demanding entanglements. You’d never have a big family fight but, you’d never experience the joy of reconciliation. You’d never lose sleep worrying about problems that are not your own but, you’d never know the great delight that comes in sharing the victories that are not your own.
The truth is, people disappoint us. They falter and stumble. This morning I was reading Romans 15 in The Message and several phrases really stood out to me.
“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.” Romans 15:1-3
One dictionary defines entanglement as ‘to twist together or entwine into a confusing mass’. Nothing about that definition beckons unto us saying “come a little bit closer”. As a matter of fact, it pretty much shouts “AVOID AT ALL COSTS”. When Henry and I decided to become foster parents we were cautioned by many to reconsider. After all, the foster care system is one entangled mess. I often call it broken, but, truly entangled is a better description. It is one thing to take a child into your home, it is another to deal with family visits and siblings and relatives and therapies and social workers and court appearances. We were cautioned but, we pressed ahead and in our fifteen years of foster care we fostered forty-five children. A few were there short term, maybe a dozen, but there were many who were with us for years and seven of whom we adopted.
When we were training to be foster parents one of my concerns was how I would feel towards the birth parents. Would I be able to be civil to these people who obviously didn’t want their children and had harmed them in some way? And then, as is so often the case, experience taught me differently. I began to meet these real, struggling, faltering human beings and I was for the most part flooded with compassion.
I remember once that a birth father showed up at our door early on Christmas Morning, pounding until we opened it. He held gifts in his arms and shouted at us to let him see his son. We had to try to calm him while we explained that his son was no longer there. You see, he wasn’t supposed to know where his son was because he would not respect the boundaries of visitation. Social services had found out that he had figured out the child was with us and after over two years of building a relationship with us, he had been moved. I’ll never forget the look on that man’s face when he realized that his determination to break the rules and outsmart the system had resulted in another move for his son. It was an entanglement.
Another time on another early morning one summer, I went to let our pooch out to potty and saw a vehicle parked in our driveway. Inside the car was the mother of one of our teen girls who was with us for nearly four years. She just sat there and I just stood there wondering what to do. I was in my housecoat and had rollers in my hair. I hadn’t even had my coffee. I decided to step to the car and she rolled down the window. “Would you like to come in for coffee?’ I asked. She looked so defeated and sad sitting there that I could hardly stand it. She came in and I hastily went and woke our foster daughter. “Your mom is here,” I told her, “come on, let’s fix her breakfast.” We did and I’ll never forget her comment that she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. It was an entanglement.
Once, we had a child placed with us rather suddenly. The social workers knew we could be counted on in a crisis and this was a crisis. The child’s parents were in a heated divorce and each accusing the other of endangering the child hoping to prevent the other from having visitation rights. Tempers had flared in the courtroom until finally the judge ordered the child taken into custody until it could all be sorted out. This was a Friday and that meant a long weekend ahead. The child wasn’t your typical foster care child. This was all new to him and to say he was traumatized is not an adequate description. He was nine years old and I already had two other nine year old boys, as well as several other children. He cried and cried. He would only speak to ask me to take him to his grandparents. I explained that I couldn’t do that but, I could keep him safe until he could return to his family. Finally, I asked him to tell me about his family and then I did something I wasn’t allowed to do. I searched for their number in an old fashioned phone book until I figured out how to contact them. His grandparents wept openly as I explained who I was without giving them a name or address. I’ll never forget their gratitude of just hearing from me, a total stranger that he was safe and being cared for. They had been praying, feeling totally helpless and alarmed. It was an entanglement.
One of my son’s birth mother and I spent a lot of time together. She was young enough that she could have possibly been my daughter herself. I kept her other children many times that weren’t in foster care to help her when she’d find herself in trouble once again. When she got straightened out enough that the judge was willing to give her another chance, I thought I would absolutely die. We were losing our baby. I had invested in her and now my reward was that she would have her son while we lost our son. See how entangled it gets? But I’ll never forget the day, just three days later when she showed up at my door with him in her arms. She told me she couldn’t raise him and she knew I was supposed to. He became one of our forever children through adoption.
If you will, scroll back up and read that portion of scripture from Romans once more. If you find yourself in a position of strength then take the opportunity to lend a hand to those who falter around you. Are you strong financially, then take that as an opportunity for service, not status. If you are strong spiritually, reach out to those whose faith may be faltering. If it really isn’t convenient to get involved, welcome to the life of extravagant love and get involved anyway. Not sure exactly how you can help? Then, ask how you can help. Wade right in. After all, that’s what Jesus did for us and He is our perfect example of how to live this life, even with all the entanglements.


I Didn’t Sign Up For This – Did You?

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls and catching us unaware. When that happens we sometimes  think ‘Whoa! I didn’t sign up for this!’  What we mean of course, is things aren’t turning out like we hoped. The wonderful expectations we had suddenly crash with reality and the result isn’t something we recognize much less something we hoped for. 

Sometimes the crash with reality is so jarring that we lose our balance and become confused as to what exactly went wrong and what exactly it was we were trying to do anyway. ‘How’d I get myself in this mess?’ You may be thinking. 

This disappointment could be a dead-end job, a poor business venture, the purchase of a money-pit house, a bad investment and other wrong choices. Financial hardship is tough, but it can be overcome with better choices. 

I think what really throws us into a dizzying downward spiral is when relationships disappoint us. People that we care about, people we trust, people that matter to us can betray, deceive and generally let us down. When this happens emotions swell and our opinion of self shrinks. After all, ‘What WAS I thinking?’

Self-doubt can be a result of broken relationships, dreams turned into nightmares and disappointment. Before long we may be asking ourselves, ‘What’s the point?’

A struggling or failed marriage is one sure example. No one marries with the intent to divorce. Yet, divorces happen every day. One or both spouses break covenant and the relationship dissolves. 

A distressed parent wonders what they did wrong. Guilt weighs them down as they decide they have somehow failed. Shame attempts to bind them until they feel powerless. 

An abandoned friend can’t comprehend that the person they trusted wasn’t the person they thought they were after all. They feel foolish for not seeing the truth. 

To these examples I want to speak a few words of encouragement. Your situation of disappointment may be slightly or vastly different, but I believe you too can take courage from what I am going to say. 

1- We can not control other people and in the end, we are not responsible for the decisions they make. We can love them, pray for them, forgive them, encourage them, attempt to teach them, guide them and advise them. But we can not make their choices for them. 

2- People make mistakes and we are people too. We need to forgive others and we need to forgive ourselves. Human beings are notorious for being hasty  and not thinking things through. They are sometimes reckless, impulsive, thoughtless and down-right mean. But that’s not all they are; it’s not all we are. A mistake is something we have done. It is not who we are. It is not who they are either. 

3- Make every effort to learn to trust again. Forgive, let it go, shake the dust off your sandals, see a counselor, take it to the altar, whatever it takes, find your courage to trust again. If you don’t, life will be lonely, your heart will be bitter, your future will be dismal. You can do it, it won’t be easy and yes, if you trust again, you can be hurt again. There is risk involved in every worthy venture. 

4- Find your courage to dream again, new dreams. Believe things can be better and different the next time you try, the next time you give your heart away. Make plans and develop goals and anticipate a better tomorrow. Remind yourself that no matter what is happening right now, it is only one chapter in a book of a lifetime. This isn’t the end of the story. 

5- Finally, sometimes you just have to accept things as they are even if you hope this isn’t how it will always be. I have a personal little beatitude that I often say to myself as a reminder when things aren’t going as planned. ‘Blessed are the flexible for they shall not break.’

Look, I don’t know if your marriage has suddenly ended or if your beloved child has landed themself in jail. I don’t know if your friend threw you under the train or your parent has rejected you. I don’t know if a church leader betrayed your trust or if a family member deceived you. I don’t know if your plans and dreams are piled in a heap of brokenness at your feet. 

What I do know is there is hope for today and yes, even tomorrow. What I do know is you can try again. What I do know is circumstances can change. What I do know is that different can sometimes be better. Don’t be afraid. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take one tiny but brave step forward and then one more and then another. 

Boundary Busters

“Only a fool plays a game with no rules.” 

A friend and fellow author posted this earlier today and it set me to thinking. Does that ever happen to you? Someone says something and it’s like a switch has been flipped and your mind starts whirring and the gears of your mind start grinding. Because of that very thing, I have a few things to say this morning about boundaries. 

It seems to me that I’m hearing an awful lot about boundary busters here lately. A boundary is a dividing line, the proverbial line in the sand, sometimes unspoken and invisible, but nevertheless firm and real. Boundaries are necessary. Boundaries in relationships are absolutely essential. I think boundaries are a sign of respect, respect for other people and respect for ourselves. 

As life progresses and situations change, boundaries must be adjusted accordingly. If you refuse to adhere to boundaries, trouble is bound to follow swiftly behind. 

Some boundaries are so firm that they are laws of the land. No matter how much you admire it and want it, it is not okay to steal what belongs to another person, for instance. 

Some boundaries are of a spiritual nature and they are spiritual laws (found in the Bible). No matter how wronged you have been and are offended, it is not okay to walk in unforgiveness, for instance. 

Some boundaries are expected to be respected at places of employments, dress codes, professional conduct and punctuality for instance. You want to keep the job, be considered for promotions and earn raises then you must abide by the boundaries. 

The boundary busting I have been witnessing lately are relationship boundaries. So, here is what I want to clarify and I don’t intend to be gentle. 

1- If you are married, you are no longer single. Seems obvious? Well, not to some people. They want to be married but act single. 

2- If you are a parent, you are responsible for taking care of your children. Surely people know that? Well, not some people. They don’t have time to be bothered with the welfare of their children. 

3- If you are a Christian, you are accountable to God for your actions, your words and your attitudes (heart condition). Surely that’s a given? Well, not for many people. They are constantly justifying what they know is wrong, determined to make it right. 

Look, y’all, these are things that should not need saying. These are things that should be clearly understood. But you know what? We’ve got a whole bunch of folks with broken thinking. 

In a day and age where everyone wants to live with no limits and no one wants to be held accountable for the actions they take, we are spiraling downward into a state of chaos. Chaos can be a bit exhilarating at first. But in the end, it is a very lonely place to be. 

You see, boundaries don’t only prevent you from mistreating others, they prevent others from mistreating you. Boundaries hold us responsible and they protect us from unfair expectations.Boundaries are good for those we love and good for us too. 

What Really Matters

I think if I could time travel to the past and talk to my younger self concerning life, I would likely tell myself to make sure my time and energies were spent on what really matters. Then, I’d explain further that what really matters are eternal matters. Finally I’d point out that what really matters is people because people are forever. 

I’m not sure how my younger self might respond or if a much younger me could really comprehend the truth behind what was being said. But, still, I’d try to convince and explain as best as I could because it is so important. 

I can’t travel back in time. I can’t change a thing about choices that have already been made, words already spoken and deeds done. But, I do have the opportunity to speak now to myself and my children and those who care to hear (read) my words of caution. 

This world has slowly and methodically devalued human life. Society encourages a far different viewpoint from my own. Take care of yourself, speak up for yourself, think of yourself, defend yourself, promote yourself. That’s the way of selfish ambition, stingy hearts, inflated egos and self-centered thinking. 

We get to choose with every action and every word which way we will go, which path we will take. We can ask ourselves a telling question. Does it really matter? Or perhaps we should ask a different question of ourselves. What does really matter?

Let me tell you what really matters to me. 

It matters to me how I live my life and how I treat others because I have openly professed Christianity. That means I represent Christ. That’s a heavy matter indeed. 

It matters to me that my children are kept safe, all of my children. The safety I am concerned about is beyond physical safety. I want my children to guard their hearts and choose God’s ways over the ways of the world. I want them to refuse bitterness, jealously and revenge. 

It matters to me that I don’t give the enemy of our souls a foothold into my life or the lives of others. God forbid that I would ever be a stumbling block to a struggling soul. God forbid that I stamp my foot and insist on being right when there is so much more that matters. 

It matters to me that in a moment of haste or anger, I may miss an opportunity to show love. I may overlook a divine appointment while impulsively reacting to a perceived offense. 

What matters to me is people, relationships with people. People last forever. People matter to me because they matter to God. I will choose people over having my say, proving myself right or putting someone in their place every single time if God will give me strength. 

So, what matters to you? Answer yourself honestly and then consider the consequences. 

If what matters to you is proving your point, speaking your mind, having a pity party or plotting pay back, you may find yourself a miserable, lonely person surrounded by your grudges and complaints. 

If what matters to you is what matters to God, make sure you are willing to swallow your pride, let offenses go, give the benefit of the doubt and walk in forgiveness. That’s required of those who follow Christ. That’s required when choosing to love people. But, here is the good news. In the end, love wins. In the end, that’s  what really matters.  


Let it Go

It’s a wonderful thing to have hopes and dreams. We are encouraged and given the strength to press on during times of hardship many times by reminding ourselves that we don’t plan to be where we are forever. If you are a planner, then you have likely plotted the manner in which you intend to get to that destination. As for me, I’m always happiest with a plan in place.

The thing about hopes and dreams and even plans is they usually involve other people. Other people can sure mess the plans up! Have you ever noticed? Just when you’ve got it all worked out, neat and tidy, another person, with their own choices (sometimes stubborn and foolish) derails your train of thought.

To add insult to injury, if these people were in a position to derail us, they are likely people we care deeply about. We’re talking your own children, your closest friends, family members that matter to you. We’re talking people whom you love, whom you want to provide for, whom you want only the best for.

Sometimes we refuse to walk away from the spot where it all went wrong. We may spend all of our energy trying to get that train going again, determined it will get back on track and arrive where we are sure it was destined to arrive. Finally, we realize, this messed up dream just isn’t going anywhere and we can dissolve into discouragement or turn our gaze in a new direction.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18, 19 NIV)

With the holidays upon us, we find ourselves placing lots of importance on TRAYditions, as my sweet grandma called them. It can be a good thing to treasure precious moments and memories. But, if we aren’t cautious we won’t have enough room in our hearts for the present, the new moments, the new direction that the Lord has placed before us.

One of the hardest train wrecks to walk away from is the horrific point of a wrecked relationship. Whatever the cause of the derailment, you find yourself bewildered, hurt, angry, confused, perhaps even bitter. These people you trusted have betrayed you. They weren’t who you thought they were. If you’re their momma you might even say you didn’t raise them that way. If you loved them deeply, now that they are gone, you hurt deeply. That’s the thing with love.

Don’t spend the holidays thinking of what could have been or should have been. Don’t be as stubborn as the people that have disappointed you by refusing to do what you said you would never do. Don’t miss a chance to hop on board a new train of opportunity, headed a new direction. The same verse above reads this way in The Message.

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”

So when the family gathers and in the days to come we enter this holiday season, things may not look just like you always hoped and dreamed. Let it go. Turn your gaze in a new direction. Anticipate something brand spanking new!

I Beg to Differ

This may not be the most popular of posts. I’m choosing to write it with that full understanding. You see, I’ve been reading a lot of articles, seeing cleverly done videos and impassioned views about awful/terrible/horrible social media. But, honestly, I beg to differ.

Social media has been a tremendous blessing in my life and I enjoy it very much. I have re-connected with former foster children, cousins I’d lost touch with and my lovely college roommates. Because of social media I get to peek into the windows of the lives of people I love but am many miles away from. Through social media I have developed real relationships with real people in other countries and places I have never been. I have been able to minister to, share devotions, teach, pray for, inspire, encourage, advise and connect with people that my present season as a homeschooling, stay at home #momofmany would never have allowed me to.

Can social media be bad? Well, not really. No more than a gun can be bad in it’s own right. Used properly, it can be a wonderful tool to accomplish a worthy purpose. In the hands of a foolish person, social media can be a travesty, a waste, destructive and dangerous – as could a gun, a club, a wrench or words being spewed out from a hateful tongue in person.

The problem is not any of these things, it is the people using them. Some people get carried away. They get angry. They have no sense of discretion. They may not practice common sense, common kindness or common decency. People can take what could be a useful thing and misuse it until society is in an uproar about it. People, you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them.

As a foster mother for fifteen years and now the adoptive mother of seven, I have been able to draw on resources such as blogs and chat groups who were facing similar circumstances that my ‘real life’ friends and family had no experience with. I was not shutting out the world, I was expanding my world. As a writer, I have gleaned so much from support groups and web pages, it is immeasurable.

The real culprit here is not social media. There is a deeper matter here that needs attending to. It is a matter of the heart. If you are ignoring your children to chat with internet buddies, stop it. But, understand this, if you had no internet, you may still do the same thing. If a person is intent on avoiding their real life they will find a way to do so. There are many ways to escape. In the past there were moms who escaped into the fantasy world of soap operas. How about books? You can hide there too. Working extra hours? Over committed at church? Such a busy schedule that you never see those you are avoiding? Drugs? Alcohol? If you are determined to escape reality, you’ll find your tool, but don’t blame the tool.

Moderation seems to be an almost obsolete concept. Moderation is a Biblical concept and for those who call ourselves Christians, it should be a healthy goal to strive for. When applied to the way we live our lives it keeps us out of the ditches of extreme behavior and extreme consequences.

If you have gotten carried away with your use of social media or your consumption of chocolate bars, develop a strategy to address it. But, don’t get on social media and tell people how bad social media is. Does anyone else see the irony in this? Don’t tell people to put down their phones, put down yours if you need to. Demonstrate moderation. Be an example of doing it right. If you are going to have a Facebook page or a shotgun. Learn to use it properly and practice safety measures. But, don’t tell me I shouldn’t have one because you don’t know how to use one.

Standing the Storm

Last night during a very poignant Family Bible Study I discussed storms with my 18yo son Jesse . I said, “There’s two things about storms you can count on Jesse, they will come and then they will go. Storms don’t stay, they always pass through, albeit, leaving destruction in their wake at times. We can’t control the coming and going of storms, we can only choose how we handle them when they do.”

I’ve been facing some stormy emotions and decisions and changes here lately. I bet you know exactly what I mean. I’m sure you’ve been there. Torn between trying to be courageous and do what you feel is right and being frozen in fear wondering if you are wrong. About the time you get your thoughts straight your body does something to complicate things, an ailment or illness, maybe just flat out worn out. About the time you recover from or make peace with that you’re knocked off balance because someone you love is struggling and in trouble. Before long you find yourself feeling windswept and storm-tossed.

So, what can we do about storms, how can we get ready and weather what must be gone through whether we like it or not? Living in Alabama and it being this time of year, the epitome of a storm is defined as a tornado. I guarantee you there’s not many of us who haven’t got a few tales to tell. Some have seen them, plenty have retreated to basements for safety, a few have lost family, homes, businesses, churches.

Last night tornados were in Arkansas where my youngest daughter is visiting with my mom. We sat and watched the weather channel and I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do but, sit there and pray. Prayer matters, it is important and powerful. But, for me in that moment, I wanted to take some type of action. Fear tried determinedly to grip my heart.

This morning I am relieved that my family members are safe and saddened that others who were someone else’s family lost their lives. My prayers are turned toward the hurting and bereaved. Today, these same storms will be headed our direction. There will be plenty to do in preparation. I’ll make sure the basement is in order and water and supplies and flashlights. But, after a while, I will have done all I can. Then, we will watch and pray.

Just like I told Jesse, we can’t control the coming and goings of storms, we just get to choose how we handle them. The very worst storms that we face in life may have nothing whatsoever to do with weather – tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes. The very worst storms we will likely face are matters of the heart. The loss of a loved one, the failure of a marriage, a child gone astray, a crisis of faith – these storms can destroy families, relationships and families. They can dash hopes and dreams, destroy plans and futures, demolish potential and sweep away years of invested love in what seems like a flash flood.

What then? What do we do then? When we’ve prayed and prepared and invested and tried and still the storm comes. Well, I can tell you what I’ll be doing. One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 6:13. The passage is best known for describing the armor of God a Christian should wear. But, the part that I have returned to many times is one phrase. ‘Having done all, NOW STAND’.

I’ve planted my feet firmly on a solid foundation of faith and convictions. I will do everything in my power to do what is right and what is wise and prepare myself. But, I will not crumple to the floor in a heap of whimpering defeat. I will not wrap myself in a blanket of fear and search for comfort in denial. I will not continue to do things the same and expect a different result. I will face my storms, I will take courage, and having done all, I will stand.