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Dear Emma:

Wow! What a month it has been! You turned 11 years old and you finished elementary school. Watch out middle school, here we come! Since I know without a doubt there is so much change ahead, I thought before we get in the thick of it all, it would be a good time to remind us both to be who God has created us to be and not to get caught up in comparing ourselves to those around us. The truth is, lovey, this is so much easier said than done, for there are times when all of us wish we were more talented, prettier, smarter, funnier, more athletic, etc… Even grownups struggle with this. For example, I’ll be the first to say, there are so many people that can sing and speak so much better than I can, and if I were to choose to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others I could very well feel inadequate and miss out on the opportunities that God has given me to use what I have for His honor and glory. That is why it’s so important to understand that while there will always be someone who is better at something than you are, no one can ever be YOU and fulfill the awesome plan that God has for YOUR life!

In addition to losing our confidence, what also happens when we compare ourselves to others is that we can start trying to become someone we are not. I was just reading the other day in I Samuel 17, the story of David and  Goliath. As I read the familiar story, I couldn’t help but think that when David first saw Goliath, for a fleeting moment he had to have felt a little insecure at how much bigger Goliath was especially at nine feet tall! In fact, David even allowed King Saul to talk him into wearing all of Saul’s armor which totally didn’t fit him and made it so that he couldn’t even walk. Can you imagine if he had tried to go into battle like that? I’m pretty sure it would have had a completely different ending. However, David quickly realized that His protection was in the name of the Lord not in someone else’s armor, and the same God that helped him defeat lions and bears would be the same God to help him triumph over Goliath. He decided to be himself and allow God to work through him rather than trying to be what Saul wanted him to be. There is so much power in this principle. We are most effective when we follow the plan God has for us rather than following after others. I share this with you, sweet girl, because there are going to be times when you are going to be tempted to try to be like other people rather than yourself. You may even have moments where you look at other girls and wish you could be them. I just want to say–don’t let yourself fall into that trap.  God loves you so much and made you just the way you are. The enemy wants nothing more than for you to feel insecure and inadequate. It’s how he tries to defeat, discourage, distract and derail us from the amazing plans God has for us. But here’s what I want you to know: you are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). You can be confident because He lives within you and empowers you (Philippians 3:20). And my favorite thing of all, you are a daughter of the King! And let me just say, when we choose not to accept who God has created us to be and instead choose to focus on what we feel doesn’t measure up, we are insulting our Creator. Sweet girl, He uniquely made you and me and created us exactly the way we are for a distinct purpose that He planned before the beginning of time. So you go, be yourself because everyone else is taken already! And I love how St. Catherine of Siena put it:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

When I was in graduate school, I was given this handout, and it has encouraged me so many times. It’s one that I want to leave with you and I hope you will read it often, lovey, for it paints a beautiful picture of just how special you are to God and to me:

You’re Special

In all the world there is nobody like you. Since the beginning of time,

there has never been another person like you. Nobody has your smile. Nobody has your eyes,

your, hair, your hands, or your voice.

You’re special.

No other thinks just like you do. In all of time, there has been no one who laughs like you,

no one cries like you and what make you laugh and cry

will never provoke identical laughter and tears from anybody else, ever.

You are the only one in God’s creation with your set of natural abilities.

There will always be somebody who is better at one of the things you are good at,

but no one in the universe can reach the quality of your combination of talents, ideas,

natural abilities, and spiritual abilities.

Like a room full of instruments, some may excel alone, but none can match the

symphony sound of the Body of Christ when all are played together because God set the

members, every one of them in the Body, as it hath pleased Him. Through all of eternity,

no one will ever walk, talk, look, think, or do exactly like you. You’re special.

You’re rare. And as in all rarity, there is great value. Because of your great rare value,

you need not attempt to imitate others. You should accept, yes, celebrate your differences.

You’re special.

Continue to realize that it’s not an accident that you’re special. Continue to see

that God created you special for a very special purpose. He called you out and ordained you

to a calling that is His special plan for your life. Out of all the billions of applicants,

only one is qualified. Only one has the combination of what it takes. Just as surely as

every snowflake that falls has a perfect design and no two designs are the same,

so it is within the body of Christ also. No two believers are the same, and without each member the

Body would be lacking and God’s plan would be incomplete. Ask the Father to teach you His divine

plan for your life and that it may stand forth revealed to you as it should unfolding in perfect

sequence and perfect order in such a way as to bring the greatest glory to His name.

You’re special.

~Author Unknown

Love You Forever,

Mom

Dear Emma:

There’s so many things that I could share with you about kindness, but the reality is, my love, you continuously show me what a kind heart truly looks like. Whether it be from your Sunday School teachers telling me how you love to find visitors who don’t know anyone and invite them to sit by you so they don’t feel alone or whether it be from other parents telling me about the sweet notes of encouragement you have written to make your basketball team friends feel so special, I have seen over and over a heart within you that genuinely cares about other people. I want you to know, sweet girl, that is such a beautiful quality that I pray you will always hold within your heart.

One thing I have always believed is that the greatest test of kindness is how we treat others who have wronged us. I will admit that it’s not an easy thing to do. In fact, let me just say that I am far from perfect, and I am still a work in progress with forgiving others. Sometimes I get it right, while other times I can  fail miserably…especially when it comes to those I love being hurt or mistreated. But I want to share a memory with you of a story that I posted on my Facebook page last year because it had such an impact on me. I share it with the hope that you will never forget how God used you to remind me of what kindness and forgiveness is all about.

“I saw it with my own eyes yesterday–a girl being anything but kind to my daughter. I have to tell you that every part of me wanted to go mama bear crazy and let this girl and her little group of friends know exactly what I thought about their mean behavior. Somehow I waited, but after we left the pool Emma got an earful. Everything from how she didn’t deserve this constant rejection (this has happened repeatedly with this girl) to the fact that I cannot sit by all summer and watch this girl act in such a mean way. Something had to be done. We discussed possible ways of handling it. Robb, of course, was more than willing to handle it and told us several things he was going to say the next time he saw her (Gulp). Emma assured him that she wanted to handle it…to which I was in full agreement. We went to bed and prayed asking the Lord to help us handle the situation. The next morning when Emma came downstairs the first thing she told me was that she had thought about it and had decided to share Ephesians 4:32 with her friend: ‘Be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as  God in Christ forgave you.’ There’s so much I love about this. First, instead of getting caught up in all the drama, she choose to use God’s truth to direct her words, and I love how God laid this verse on her heart overnight. We had not even talked about this verse, yet she woke up with it on her heart. But as I thought about it, perhaps the most powerful thing is how the Lord put that verse on her heart not just for her friend but for ME because the second part of the verse had MY name all over it–‘Forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.’ As I thought about it, I had spoken to Emma about making sure that we don’t respond unkindly because that is not what Jesus would want, but not once did I ever mention forgiving this unkind friend. I was too riled up to even think about that, but as my sweet girl quoted the verse to me, it was as if God Himself was telling me with a megaphone, ‘As quick as you are to expect people to be kind–I expect you to forgive because I have forgiven you.’ Hence, whether forgiving comes easy or not, it’s what God has instructed us to do. So today we will head to the pool and do just that. We will be kind, we will forgive, and we will know without a doubt that we are pleasing God and doing what is right. Is there really anything greater? And the best part is–when we lay our heads on our pillows tonight we will have no regrets. Thank you, Lord, for showing up and showing this mama’s heart Your perspective and Your heart. Help me not to get caught up in how I FEEL about situations but to respond in what I KNOW is right and true. Help me to see others through Your eyes and to always be willing to forgive just as You have forgiven me.”

The reality is, lovey, whether we are 10 or 45, we all want to be loved, appreciated, and valued by others. We all  want to matter. Often, friendship makes our lives so much sweeter and makes us feel so special, but it can also bitterly disappoint us when it fails to meet our hopes and expectations. And it’s in these moments when we have been hurt or disappointed that we have to make sure that we don’t let it change our hearts and who we are. Regardless of what others do, we must remember that we are responsible for our own actions and how we respond to others, and we can never go wrong by showing kindness and forgiveness. No matter what, I also want you to always remember that there is a FOREVER FRIEND who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24) and who has promised to NEVER leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b) and who will meet our EVERY need. In fact, He loves us so fiercely that He even gave His life for us. And because of that, we can CELEBRATE that in Him there is no greater friend. We can look to Him to learn how to show genuine kindness, forgiveness, and love because He alone is the author of love and kindness and the only perfect example to follow.

Love you forever,

Mom

Dear Emma:

If I had to pick a quality that everyone struggles with at some time or another, it would be humility. The reason why this can be a struggle, sweet girl, is because it goes against the very core of our human nature. The truth is: deep down inside, all of us want to matter. We all want to be significant. And sometimes that pursuit can take over within us and cause us to look for our value and worth from our accomplishments, to seek constant approval and applause from others, and to base our identity on what others think rather than what our Creator has told us in His Word. That is why it is so important that you know who you are in God’s eyes, for not only will it give you the confidence that you need in life but it will also keep you grounded in truth and humility as you understand that it’s not about who we are…but rather, it’s all about whose we are and His work within us.

One thing that I have learned along the way is that when we know who we are in God’s eyes, we are able to believe in ourselves and the incredible plan that God has for our lives. Now, I’m not talking about exalting ourselves, bragging, or constantly singing our own praises. Definitely not that. What I am talking about is a confidence that we are uniquely made and have talents, ideas, and abilities that were given to us by God. Often, I have seen that people who are confident are looked on as prideful while those who are constantly putting themselves down and who are unable to accept a compliment are considered humble. However, the reality is that those who are constantly focusing on their insecurities, putting themselves down, and paralyzing themselves with fears of failure are actually the ones struggling with pride because the focus is always on themselves–what they can’t do, what they don’t have, and what they will never be–rather that on who God has created them to be and what He has called them to do. When we truly believe that God’s power is within us and that He will do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), we can be confident and humble both at the same time because we know that it’s not about us and it’s all about Him.

If you look in Proverbs 31, you will see a woman who knew who she was and had the confidence to live it out. In fact, not only was she confident but everything she had her hand in turned out to be successful. What I find interesting, is that not once do you read about her second guessing herself, questioning her abilities, or giving up in defeat. No, it was quite the opposite. This woman never stopped using what God had given her to live out what He had called her to do. She was able to accomplish so much because she didn’t waste time standing around wringing her hands on what she did or did not have; instead, she was confident in how God made her, how he gifted her, and how He would use her. Thus, we can see from her example that not only is its okay to be confident in who we are in Christ, but it is essential. Lovey, here’s what I hope you never forget: You are created in God’s image, you are His child, and He loves you fiercely and has a phenomenal plan for your life. If you will hold on to these truths, you will be confident and that confidence will not be one that is prideful and focused on yourself, but rather one that is rooted in the understanding that any success or accomplishment gained is from God at work within you and all glory goes to Him (I Corinthians 1:31).

The Bible has a lot to say about pride. In fact, it’s one of the 6 things that the Lord hates (Proverbs 6:17) making it something we should all take very seriously and guard against. Scripture also tells us that pride leads to destruction (Proverbs 16:18). So how do we keep pride from creeping into our hearts? Well, the best example of who we can learn from is Jesus. In Matthew 10:10-28, the disciples were arguing over who would sit by Jesus in His Kingdom (which by the way, this was not the only time their prideful hearts wanted to know who was the greatest). Patiently, Jesus answered them by saying, “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” That really is the key, my love. If we want to live a life of humility, we must keep our eyes focused on pleasing Jesus and using our lives to help and serve others. I love what C.S. Lewis says: “It’s not thinking less about yourself; it’s thinking about yourself less.” Therefore, when we choose to think about ourselves less and to focus our hearts on others, we can avoid falling into the trap of pride and selfishness because once again, it’s not about us but rather about the opportunities all around us to help others and make a difference.

Here’s the best part of all–when we have a servant’s heart and live with humility, God has promised to bless us and honor our faithfulness. I remember as a teenager working at a teen camp every summer. It was an absolute blast, and it is where I began singing. Each week, I had the privilege of singing at all the meetings and even got to do a full concert every Friday night. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. However, I need to tell you that in addition to my singing responsibilities, I was also given the job of cleaning the girl’s bathroom every day. Now, I’m not talking about your nice clean little bathroom upstairs–I’m talking about one shared by 100 or more teenage girls! Let’s just say that it was far from glamorous! I remember mopping that nasty bathroom floor and cleaning some very dirty toilets one day, and for some reason I began singing “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). I’m pretty sure that He doesn’t have to lift you very high to be higher than cleaning bathrooms. LOL! But here’s what I learned: if we will be faithful and have a humble, servant’s heart in the small, thankless tasks in life, then we can be trusted with the larger opportunities down the road. “Before honor is humility” (Proverbs 15:33). I have often thought about all of those days cleaning bathrooms, and I find it so interesting that it was also the same time that God opened up the doors for me to sing and to do what I absolutely loved to do and what I am still blessed to do to this very day. I want you to always remember that God honors humility, my sweet girl. It’s not to be confused with insecurity. In fact, it’s far from it. Humility is confident, it’s bold, and it comes from a heart that loves God and loves people. Micah 6:8 sums it up best, “He has shown you, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Love You Always, Mom

 

 

Dear Emma:

The other day I was going through some papers and came across one that I will always treasure and just had to put into a frame. Apparently, you had been in Vacation Bible School and had been asked the question, “What is an example of something that really scared you, but you chose to be brave and overcame that fear?” You listed the following: getting bucked off of a horse, going down a big zip line, and getting baptized. Oh, how I vividly remember all of the above. In fact, my stomach still gets a little nervous thinking about them.

It’s a good thing, lovey, that I wasn’t there when you got bucked off that horse or you might not have been allowed back on that crazy thing! However, after your daddy recovered from seeing you flying through the air and knew you were fine, he helped you get back on the horse because he knew how much horses meant to you. So, with a determined look in your eye, you climbed back on that horse and have been riding ever since. Way to go! By choosing to face your fear, you have been able to continue to do what you absolutely love to do the most. So proud of you, sweet girl!

Now, the zip line, that’s another story…that ended up being more like you helping me face my fear! I’ll never forget how excited you and daddy were to take the plunge off of the platform that loomed 40 ft. off the ground! I, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with it. Being far from a thrill-seeker and, as you know, one that struggles with motion-sickness, going on a zip line was definitely not in my plans for that day (or any day), but I was very happy to watch you…happy until I heard these words:

“I will only go down the zip line if mommy goes with me.”

My heart sank because I knew in that moment there was no way out because how could I help you conquer your fear so that you could enjoy a phenomenal experience that I knew you would love, if I wasn’t willing to conquer my own? I remember you being so torn with wanting to go so badly but being completely scared to do so. I knew in my heart this was a defining moment: would we turn away in fear or step out into it?

After thinking through the whole situation,  I very reluctantly agreed to do the zip line with you and began to put the harness on…all the while wondering what in the world was I thinking. These kinds of things truly terrify me, make me sick, and present a very real possibility of looking like a complete spectacle with arms and legs flailing wildly out of control the whole way down. Yet, I knew that despite all of the above, this was a life lesson for both of us, so I took a very deep breath and continued on.

Seconds before stepping off the wooden platform, I began to second guess the whole thing and even said, “I really don’t think I can do this!” But as I looked over at you standing next to me on your platform and saw the way you were beaming with excitement to do the zip line side-by-side with me, I knew I couldn’t back down.

So, before I could change my mind, I closed my eyes, took another deep breath, and stepped off the platform into the air. My stomach and heart both felt like they had risen into my throat, I never moved a muscle throughout the whole ordeal (pretty sure I was in shock), and to add to my terror I ended up going backwards the whole way down! Yes, backwards! Do you remember that? Nothing like not knowing when or how you are going to land on your very first trip down! You, on the other hand, squealed with delight and LOVED every moment of it as you gracefully glided through the air with your arms outstretched like a princess. You went on to do it several more times and even got choked up when we had to leave. 

Beyond just being happy that I survived the whole ordeal, I walked away knowing that we had both experienced an important life lesson that when we face our fears we can conquer them. Life has so many things in store for both of us and what a great reminder to not let fear hold us back.

The last example you gave was probably one of your greatest fears: getting baptized. You accepted Jesus into your heart when you were three years old and you were not afraid to tell everyone about it. You have always been bold like that. However, getting up in front of the whole church was a different story, so we knew you needed to wait until you were ready. When our neighbor’s daughter (whom you greatly admire) got baptized, we thought you would be inspired to follow her example and do the same. But much to our surprise, we left that service and you emphatically proclaimed, “I am NEVER doing that!”  Thus, we decided that we would not push at all and let you work through your fear no matter how long it took. Again, much to our surprise, you decided out of the blue after a church service that you wanted to get baptized the very next Sunday which also happened to be Mother’s Day. You didn’t want us to tell anyone ahead of time or make a big deal out of it. (Who me??? I don’t make a big deal out of anything! I can’t imagine what you were talking about! LOL!) I’ll never forget how nervous you were, but your mind was made up and you followed through with your decision to follow Jesus in Believer’s Baptism. Your dad and I were so proud of you and our hearts were just bursting with excitement as we watched you so bravely plunge into the waters and rise out of them with such a huge smile on your face! Yet one more example of rising above your fear and for sure the best Mother’s Day gift ever!

The truth is, lovey, we all have fears. The Bible is full of examples of people who could have been paralyzed by fear. Think of how Moses and the Israelites must have felt when the Egyptians were chasing them down to kill them. As they passed through the waters of the Red Sea that had been parted, I’m sure they felt a little panicky and wondered if the waters were going to stay parted for them or if the Egyptians were going to catch up to them. And how about Daniel who was thrown into the lion’s den with no way out? How terrifying was that? Or what about Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego who were thrown into the fiery furnace? Just seeing the flames and smelling the smoke would have done me in! None of these people knew if they would even make it out alive, yet they chose to rise above their fear and to place their complete trust in God.

I don’t have to tell you that life is hard sometimes. Unfortunately, you’ve heard a lot of words lately that I wish you never had to hear. Words like Pneumonia, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Alzheimer’s and Hospitals. You and I have been praying every night in bed for all of these things, and you’ve watched me do my best to be brave when, if I’m honest, my heart has been heavy and scared. But my prayer is that through it all, you have seen the way God has carried our family through. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us and to give us strength and courage when we cry out to Him. I hope you never forget that, sweet girl. No matter what happens, God, the Maker of heaven and earth, is always with you! He is your strength, your help, and your everything (Psalm 124:8).

A famous quote by John Wayne that I know you’ll love is: Fear is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.

So, you keep saddling up, sweet girl, and know that God is with you and your daddy and I are here cheering you on and ready at any point to help you face your fear…even if we have to jump 40 feet to conquer it!

Love you forever, Mom

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Dear Emma:

A few years ago, I was out of town singing and you went with our neighbor Miss Julie and her daughter Kayla to an event at their school. While riding in the backseat of their car, Kayla mentioned that she had to write some thank you notes when she got home. You were only about 7 or 8 years old and your response was, “Oh, that’s your life too?” When Miss Julie told me the story, we both chuckled, but actually the more I thought about it, I couldn’t have been more proud of you as your mom because in that moment I knew that you got it! You truly understood that showing gratefulness is not a one-time thing, but rather it is what we do for a lifetime.

Lovey, we live in a world where gratefulness is sometimes hard to find. People don’t always see the importance of recognizing when others give of their time, money, and heart, and it can even come across like it’s expected rather than appreciated. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Ungratefulness has always been around. Even the Bible shares a story of blatant ungratefulness in Luke 17. As Jesus entered a village, he was met by 10 men with a serious skin disease. In fact, their disease was so bad that these men had to live separated from their families and society. Talk about a lonely and miserable life! These desperate men stood afar off from Jesus and lifted up their voices begging Jesus to have mercy and heal them. Jesus told them to go to the priest and show themselves, and as they went they were healed. After the fact, when they each saw that they were healed, only one returned to thank Jesus and give Him the glory. Wow. I can’t imagine being healed from such a miserable disease and not thanking the One who healed me. Yet, when we get too busy and do not choose to show our thankfulness to God and to those around us, we are just as the other nine lepers whose hearts were self-absorbed rather than grateful.

Gratefulness is a choice of the heart, a choice to recognize and give thanks for acts of kindness and deeds of love by those around us. 

I want you to know that I love the way you so willingly show your gratefulness by making beautiful cards for your teachers, writing thank you notes for all your birthday and Christmas gifts (pretty sure your record is 25 thank you notes that you wrote for your Nancy Drew Birthday Party last year) and for the way you always say thank you with big hugs to those who do nice things for you. Don’t ever change that, sweet girl, for not only does it bless other people but it also creates within you a grateful heart. And I truly believe that there’s nothing sweeter or more beautiful than when we are grateful for all the good things in our lives and for all the people who have shown us kindness and love.

Love you forever, Mom