A couple of weeks ago we attended my youngest son’s school play. They did a rendition of School House Rock where a new teacher was having some serious conversations about whether or not he could cut it as a teacher. Throughout the program the School House Rock songs were used to illustrate how much this teacher really knew and build up his confidence to start his first day. It was a wonderful production and my synopsis doesn’t really do it justice. However, one of the songs they played, truly brought a tear to my eye, not just because of the childhood memory it invoked, but because of how far we have fallen away from the very concept. To see a group of almost 100- 3rd graders from incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds holding hands, and singing The Great American Melting Pot, filled me with joy and sadness at the same time.
I don’t think I realized at that moment, how much the moment affected me until this morning. The drive to get three of my kiddos to their various schools each morning takes me about an hour. During the second half of that drive, we travel through an economically depressed neighborhood. The street is lined with mobile home parks, and at the time of the morning we drive through, it is also lined with children walking to school. There are children from Somali families taking refuge here, there are Hispanic, African and Dominican children walking to school in large groups; the older children keeping an eye on the younger children. Many of the parents are walking with them.
What struck me this morning were the smiling faces not just of the children but of the adults as well. Many of them wearing yellow crossing guard vests as they man the street corners where children will cross to get to school. They smile and wave as many of the cars pass by. Then there are those who take this street as it’s a cross between to major roadways. They are booking it down the road, way over the speed limit in their high end cars. They don’t like the crossing guards, they don’t like the school speed limit signs, they like to slam on their breaks and honk their horns…schools crossings are an inconvenience to their very busy and very important lives.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10
I think that we’ve forgotten, that unless you are a full blood native american, you too probably come from a refugee family. Somewhere in your background either distant or recent, someone came to The Great American Melting Pot to start a new life, for a better chance for your children, to escape tyranny and oppression, there are so many reasons why. When did we become so much more important, more valuable and more entitled than everyone else?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
This morning broke my heart! I felt nothing but love for the incredible people living in this city who, to some, are nothing more than a commute slowing bother. I applaud the courage it took to leave behind everything they knew, to start over, and work for something better for themselves, and their families. I am so grateful to be an American, my family came here, some on the Mayflower, to start a new life and to build something great, to be a better example for the world. Sometimes, I think we need a reminder of that. I’m a French, German, English, Irish and Native American Indian, American and I am so proud of that.
Christ called us to be disciples of ALL nations, not when it’s convenient, not when it’s safe, not when they look like us; ALL nations. How can we possibly be the people we are called to be if we are just rushing by at 55 mph in our cars with tinted windows, wearing our dark sunglasses, not making eye contact?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
As I write this, I am praying that it will be received in the spirit with which it was written. It is written in love, for everyone, love takes time, intent and compassion. Please, don’t lose sight of who we are called to be.
When the idea of this series first popped into my brain, I thought perhaps there was too much similarity around the issues of stress, fear and anxiety. These three emotions are often used synonymously (I think that’s a word). However, as I’ve read and researched, although they seem to elicit similar responses they are very different emotions. While stress is felt when we allow ourselves to feel the pressure of the world closing in on us, fear is when we experience eminent danger causing us to fight or flee. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It can be a nagging and dragging emotion that drains us of our energy, focus and even our ability to move forward.
Anxiety in our world today is so prevalent that it also has a psychiatric definition along with numerous medications to help you overcome your anxiety. Anxiety disorder is defined as “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.”
A state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, sound familiar? Do you spend large parts of your day trying to control all the circumstances around you and worrying that things won’t turn out as you hoped, then becoming fearful of the outcome of that disaster, and allowing the expectations of everyone around to crush you to the point you just don’t feel like you can breathe? Anxiety is absolutely debilitating!
Many years ago, like about 8, we were going through an adoption process. My youngest son and my oldest daughter were living in our home as foster children. Marcus was placed with us the day he was born and his older sister came sometime later. Both immediately became part of our family, I was actually surprised how well they fit in and how complete my family became with them now part of it.
That’s when it began. Every three months or so we had to go to court for an update. I would worry about obscure possible relatives showing up and claiming them, what if the Judge changed his/her mind, what if my lawyer didn’t think we should have them, what if, what if, what if. My brain was constantly filled with anxious thoughts about what might, could, possibly, imaginably, vaguely, happen. I would start calling our case worker asking questions about every ridiculous possibility and she would finally tell me, “yes Betsy, that could happen, but worrying about it won’t change anything.”
The Bible can be very simple and direct, we however, have a tendency to complicate it. In Matthew 6, Christ is very clear about or propensity to worry. “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Matthew 6:27
In Matthew 6 from 25 through 34 Christ acknowledges that worry (anxiety) is something that plagues us all. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:31-34
Yes, I hear you, I wasn’t worrying about clothes or food. I was worrying about losing my children. But, I was worrying about possible (not probably) outcomes that I had no control over. I was spinning stories in my head and letting Satan live in my brain rent free!
God already knows the outcome, and better than that, His outcome is always going to be far better than one I could pull off. Not to mention my anxiety isn’t going to make a difference other than to have a negative impact on my health, relationships, walk with Jesus, and, and, and.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Marcus and Emily are a blessed part of our family. They were part of God’s plan for us all along, and my anxiety had nothing to do with it! Looking back I can see how allowing my worry to go unchecked and become a habit created so much tension that was unnecessary. It cast a constant, looming shadow across what should have been an exciting adventure and growth opportunity for my family. Luckily I serve a Sovereign and loving God whose Grace is sufficient. I don’t think I permanently scarred anyone!
Stress, fear and anxiety are NOT of God! At least, not in a perpetual ruin your day and darken your life kind of way. We are not meant to live in a constant state of any of these emotions. However, there is good news; Christ doesn’t want that for you either and He has provided relief in the form of the Holy Spirit.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
If you ask God to help you find peace and freedom from stress, fear and anxiety He will be faithful to answer.
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Over the past few weeks I have been joining a group of friends praying for one of their relatives. A young woman, who through extenuating circumstances was in an unrecoverable state, comatose, on life support and declared brain dead. I joined the saints praying for her, for her family and preparing for the inevitable. Although I did not know her personally, I do know her family, and having been in a similar situation where I had to make the decision for my own daughter, felt deeply for everyone involved.
While we prayed, my heart prepared for what I believed would happen, what I think everyone believed would happen. She was taken off of life support, and while her family stood by, waiting for the end, she opened her eyes. Yes, she started breathing on her own and began to speak. As her family prayed God moved.
Yes it would be easy to attribute this ‘miracle’ to medical means. Perhaps she wasn’t really brain dead, perhaps she was about to come out of the coma herself, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I am not a medical professional, I am believer that miracles happen every day; in big and small ways. As I was contemplating what had just occurred and watched the tears, the emails and the text messages fly, I had one question in my heart…why?
Why was this woman worthy of miraculous intervention and my own innocent 13-year old daughter, not? Why did I have to sit and listen to her heart slowly stop beating when taken off life support and not her voice saying “mom I love you”? In the midst of my emotional struggle I remembered something very important.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
First, as my creator, God does not owe me an explanation. Second, I can’t begin to understand all that is the universe and the plans that He has made for each of us. Plans He made long before each of us was born, plans to grow and perfect us, plans to bring us closer to Him and to bring Him glory.
I remember, years ago after Alex had passed, when we were going through the process to be licensed as foster parents. It was a rigorous process (as it should be) and one night after our class, I prayed. I asked God that whatever His plan was for our family that He would make it so out of our comfort zone that we would know it was His will. Never in a million years would Chris or I have imagined we would, in just two short years, adopt not one but three children.
Our daughter Alex had serious health issues, outside of her liver transplant there was significant cognitive challenges brought about through years of progressive brain damage. She would have lived with us for the rest of our lives, which we knew and embraced. However, we would probably never have considered adding to our family by adopting. Would I chose them over her, or her over them…no, I could never make that decision. His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways not my ways. He can see the whole picture from the beginning of time through to the end. He can design that which I cannot begin to comprehend.
He doesn’t owe me an explanation, because chances are I wouldn’t understand it any way. And you know what, I’m OK with that. The God and creator of the whole universe has my best interest at heart. He wants only the best for me, as attested in scripture by his promises and experienced in my every day life.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. Jeremiah 29:11
Time after time God has shown His love for me; He provides, saves, redeems and restores. Jesus forgives, defends, and heals. I have never been given occasion to doubt or question, although I still do, usually when I don’t get my way.
If you have ever struggled with the question of why; why me or why not me, don’t despair. This is a question we all meet at some point. The answer is both easy and terribly hard. We don’t need to know why, we need to trust that God, the creator and designer of everything has a plan, and nothing, nothing can keep Gods plans from being fulfilled.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” Isaiah 55:10-13
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“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20
Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me“. Hear the words he is saying, Being crucified with Christ means that we have partaken with Him in His death and resurrection. We have been made a new creation, and now instead of living as we were, being who we were it is Christ who lives in us. We are to identify ourselves with this single statement, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Can you come up with any greater statement of worth? If then we no longer live but Christ lives in us, shouldn’t we then live as He lived, love as He loved and give as He gave?
I have noticed that people who understand and know their value, I mean really know their value, always (and I mean always) value other people. It’s like knowing who you are gives you permission to treat those around you with respect and dignity. People who know who they are in Christ don’t need to establish a pecking order or earn respect via their status, appearance or possessions. They know who they are, so that kind of attention doesn’t matter to them.
In Matthew, Jesus is asked by the pharisees’, “what is the greatest commandment”, to which Jesus replies. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 28:34-40
I have had the opportunity to share this scripture several times over the past week and it continues to inspire me. Jesus is stating that you love God first, (yes Betsy we all know that part) but second is not to love others, as it is often quoted. The second part is to, “love your neighbor AS YOURSELF“. Yes, my dear ones, we are to love ourselves, we are to know our worth, only from loving God first and knowing who He is can we know who we are and thereby be able to love others.
This statement needs to ring true for all of us, regardless of where we are in life, what we face, what we’ve done, how much money we have or don’t have. You matter! Knowing who you are, really knowing who you are is the key to being able to show Christ’s love for others. Christ died for us, He died for you. You are worth more to Him than you could ever imagine. You should never settle for less than what you know God would want for you.
I want to shout out to several of my dear friends, and to some others that I know this is meant for. If you are currently struggling with a decision, I would ask you to consider the situation as if Jesus was physically standing there with you. Not because I want you to feel guilty, on the contrary, I want you to see the love on Jesus face as you make your choices. What decision would you make then, standing face to face with your Savior, knowing how much He loves you? How might that change the way you chose?
I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.
Your identity is in Christ.
That statement in and of its self is HUGE; however, we still fight the concept. Our work has become our identity. Our happiness is based on our work status and whether or not our job fulfills us. We want to find a partner who is as ‘dedicated to their work’ as we are. We talk about finding ‘work life balance’ not ‘life work balance’.
In a world where we are inundated day in and out on TV, social media, news, virtually every media outlet you can think of with finding and elevating our career satisfaction, it’s no wonder that so few do. After all, if hundreds of people can make millions of dollars teaching others how to be happy in their jobs, there must be a lot of unhappy employees out there. Work, job, career, vocation have taken the place of the only thing that can truly fulfill our lives…Christ.
No I am not saying that you shouldn’t work or that you shouldn’t want to be happy with the work you do. I’m saying that we should not be spending disproportionate amounts of time worrying, being anxious and crying over our jobs.
Recently I’ve had several individuals come to me with challenges that are rooted in their job satisfaction. They don’t feel appreciated, valued or perhaps challenged. They don’t feel they get paid enough or that the stress their job creates is wearing on them. I too have had some doubts recently about where my ‘career’ fits into my life. Then I read something that began to alter my perception of my job.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23
It doesn’t say work heartily for the things you like to do, or are fun to do, it says ‘whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.’ It doesn’t matter if I’m at home folding socks (which I HATE doing) or weeding my garden (which I LOVE doing) I am called to work heartily as if I’m doing it for God Himself. If we begin, just begin to start seeing our jobs as something we do for the Lord, not something we do that takes the place of the Lord, our feelings might change.
God does not want you to hate your job. Yes, that is another truth. God has given you the work you have to do, regardless of what it is, He can bring amazing things forth from it.
“I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor – it is the gift of God” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
The Lord blesses us with employment so that we have meaningful work, to provide for our families (2 Thess 3:10-13), to provide for those in need (Eph 4:28), and to live as part of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-16) He does not provide us this work so that we become the work, or so that work becomes our life.
All the labor of man is for this mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:7
I have spent the better part of my adult life striving to be the best at whatever I do. Early on I discovered that I could receive all kinds of positive reinforcement, awards, accolades and advancement if I worked harder, smarter and longer than anyone else. I achieved great success in the world…at what cost? I had a fancy office on the Potomac, traveling 3-weeks a month away from my family. I would introduce myself to people I met using my title as if it were my last name. I could never just be Betsy Stuetze; no, my true identity was found in what I did, my job title, not who I was. For the record; I was lonely, sad, scared, and desperately empty, and none of this could be cured by my job, my office, or my expense account.
Over the past year, some of which I’ve been serving as a bi-vocational pastor, I have learned that when you keep your (secular) work in its proper place, it can be incredibly satisfying. Our work can be a blessing to our families, others and ourselves. Our work can glorify God. Our work can have far reaching impact on those around us, however, it is not supposed to define you.
“Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” Colossians 3:17
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11
Can you imagine how it must have felt for God to experience His children’s extreme disobedience? To take it one step farther to have His children completely turn their backs on Him. After He created the world for them; He rescued them countless times from their enemies, blessed, raised up, and set them above…they still turned their back on Him, denied Him, cursed Him and turned their hearts toward that which is death. They chose death over their creator? It’s mind boggling, or is it?
For those of you with children, I want you to think about all those times our kids thought they knew better, turned their back on what they knew (because we taught them) and turned toward the unknown because their friends encouraged them, or a teacher encouraged them, or they were dared too, or we just aren’t as cool as whatever shiny object in the world is calling them. Yup, we’ve been there!
Recently my 8-year-old son has been going through a ‘phase’. Which basically means he knows better, and he wants what he wants, and he isn’t afraid to tell me so. In fact, more than once in the past few weeks I’ve been told how inadequate I am at parenting by this lil man. I will own however, how much it hurts.
This past weekend was particularly difficult, he had made some poor choices at school with regards to him listening and participating in class which led to him not being able to play Madden on Saturday (he’s preparing for football season to start and this is the ultimate consequence). This did NOT go over well. The conversation quickly turned in to a shouting match, which then turned in to him throwing everything at me he could get his hands on…primarily shoes. He’d yell at me about how mean I am, I would tell him that I love him, he would retort that if I loved him I’d let him play, I responded that I love him so much that I am not willing to reward him for bad behavior. On and on it went until we reached the apex of, “I hate you mom”, yup he said it, my heart was broken, I cried and told him one more time that I loved him and had to walk away.
To be clear, I know my son loves me, I would never doubt that. He is an 8-year-old who is trying to flex his muscles and find his way in the world. No throwing shoes at your mom is NOT ok in our home and was quickly addressed. That is not the point however, the point is that we as parents have a small glimpse of how God must have felt and now still feels toward His rebellious children. He loves us, he won’t give us everything we ‘want’ because it is often not what is best for us. And, like I tell my son, throwing a temper tantrum, is not going to change that. Giving in to their every whim is only going to make it worse and the important life lessons we want to teach them will be lost.
I love my son so much (all my children but this particular tale is about him), so I’m not going to give up, I’m not going to give in, I want him to be the amazing man that God has created him to be. Sometimes that means my patience is tested, my heart will ache, and my temper will rise. It’s all worth it because I KNOW that when he stops for a moment (usually takes about 20 minutes in his room), he’ll accept that what I tell him is true, that it is out of love, and that I only want what is best for him. He’ll see how I handle the situation (they notice EVERYTHING) and will learn from my responses that they are motivated by a genuine love for him.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans (along with many many other places throughout the bible) he shares the epitome of God’s love “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
God didn’t wait for us to get our act together to show us love, he didn’t abandon us to our own devices, no, in the midst of our pain and brokenness, in the middle of our sin and disobedience, he sent Christ to die for us…to show us the way, to bring us back to him, to fully express the depth of his love.
I will always love my son, forgive my son and be the best parent I can for him. Sometimes however, that means not giving him what he thinks will make him happy but giving him what will make him whole.
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It was just a normal day…well as normal as can be in our house, which is chaotic on the best of days. Chris went out to check the mail and there was an envelope for us, one we’d been waiting for. Addressed to the both of us from the State of Arizona. Quickly we opened it up and found two birth certificates.
We had started the process two years earlier to pursue adoption. We had a biological son but wanted more children and felt that adoption was where we were called. It was long, at times heart wrenching and required more than a few tears. After two years and a long list of disappointments, we were blessed to have not one but two children placed in our care for foster to adoption.
As I held their new birth certificates in my hand, reading over each detail like it was Willy-Wonka’s Golden Ticket… it struck me. They were mine, I mean really mine. Not just because some judge told us so, they were mine because my heart told me so. Standing in the kitchen with my husband holding these pieces of paper, and yes I was crying, they were mine.
The birth certificates were the legal documents that stated a fact that we had known for some weeks (takes time for the paperwork to come through) these two babies belonged to us. The documents, we held in our hands stated quite clearly that we were the parents of these children. Eerily enough, they looked exactly like our biological son’s birth certificate. I kept trying to find the seal or asterisk that showed we were only ‘adoptive’ parents…it was no where to be found. It was the exact same birth certificate that would be given to biological parents who had given birth to a baby…yup they were ours, (should have been saying ours from the beginning, sorry babe).
I would have never thought when we started the adoption process that we would have been so doubly blessed. Now to really throw you off, one year after their adoption was complete, we adopted one more. Making our family complete with two boys and two girls at home. But that is another story. I want to talk about those birth certificates…
When we adopted our children we made a legal agreement that they were as much ours as if we had given birth to them. We were responsible for them in all things, this was a conscious decision we made…a commitment to them for their entire lives. Equal to our biological son in all legal rights as heirs to their name and our family.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:14-17
I heard someone say once that adopting a child is the closest example here on earth of our relationship with God. He chose us long before we knew ourselves, to be His children. With all our faults, flaws and sins. He saw past all of that to what we were intended to be…from the very beginning…His.
Like my children; from their tiny fingers and their chubby cheeks and their temper tantrums and their arguments, missing homework, lost toys, nightmares, fevers and everything that goes along with it. I am mom and Chris is dad. We see past their pasts, through their mistakes and around their choices to who they are, our beloved children.
Reading the above scripture, the Holy Spirit is our birth certificate, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Can you imagine a better testament to our lineage? The Holy Spirit Himself testifies to the world who we are, sons and daughters of the King of Kings.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Our adoption as children of God is so complete that we are co-heirs with Christ. I’m not sure about you, but having Christ as a big brother can seem a bit daunting. Talk about big shoes to fill. However, I also know that He will never leave me or forsake me. He will guide me, lead me, carry me, fight alongside me and never let me fall. The Psalms are full of those promises.
Our adoption into God’s family is so complete that there is nothing that can separate us from Him. Why then aren’t we shouting from the rooftops for everyone to join us? I love the song by Audio Adrenaline Big Big House. It was my oldest daughters favorite and she would belt it out! She loved hearing about the table with room for everyone and that the house had lots and lots of rooms, a big backyard where we can play football.
Our table is not yet full; I think it’s time for all of us to consider who we can bring into the family.
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