Slow Down and Breathe (guest post)

You don't have to meet someone in person to respect and appreciate them.
Leigh Ann is a wise and thoughtful parent who lives with purpose, like 
Intentional Parenting should be done. I've benefited from her thoughts many
times, and I know you will here. I'm so glad to welcome her here today.  Be
sure to connect with her using the links at the bottom.

I leaned against the wall of the clothing store changing area and worked to stay upright and attentive. My older daughters had an “urgent” need for new jeans, so I had promised a quick shopping trip after an already long school day and several hours of ball practice.

The week had been a flurry of practices, out-of-town ballgames, and church youth activities—the typical whirlwind of (dis)organized chaos.

So I sighed. And I leaned.

The changing area was empty (other moms fortunate enough to be home starting dinner) so the girls grabbed adjacent rooms. I closed my eyes and waited for the fashion show.

Until I heard a giggle. I looked, and there they were—just beneath the changing room curtains—three beautiful pairs of feet.

Three pairs. Three dressing room stalls. Three places in life.

Tiny baby feet—well, not so tiny. Six years old, mesmerized by her own reflection. Dancing to piped-in music. Thrilled to be a part of what her big sisters were doing. Bright-eyed and eager to follow bigger footsteps.

Middle-sized feet—stretching, yearning to slip into jeans perhaps “too old” or “too big.” Coming into her own. A girlish beauty with one foot in the teen years, one in childhood. A pair of feet on the threshold of possibility.

Almost-grown feet—stylish and trendy. Lovely, feminine, approaching womanhood, but still so much a girl. Feet that “must have” this or that. Always longing for something new, only to discard it a moment later.

Three pairs of feet. Different, but the same. A three-dimensional picture of the glorious spectrum of childhood. Innocent, hopeful, budding. Dreaming of possibilities, of a future.

Imagining life in the next dressing room.

As I waited for my daughters to model their favorite finds, I paused to take in the now gold-hued moment. My heart reached out to God: Please, Lord, let me remember this day. May this image be engraved on my heart and mind, a reminder to be thankful, and to pray for the girls individually and often. May I never be impatient with their life-seasons or push them into the next dressing room. Help me to nurture them where they are, in this time. Thank you, Father, for slowing my frantic pace and opening my eyes.

In the blur of the everyday, we need to stop and simply be. To open our physical and spiritual eyes and see what is before us. To gather priceless snapshots in time and tuck them away for another—quieter—day.

To be still, breathe, and be thankful. To live Psalm 90:12—Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

This day, this moment is a rare treasure. How will we breathe it in?

*

(Originally published on Just18Summers.com)

“In the blur of the everyday, we need to stop and simply be. To be still, breathe, and be thankful.” #IntentionalParenting wisdom–even on a quick shopping trip–from @LThomasWrites, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet) 

Have you had one of those “I have to remember this!” moments in parenting? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

 

IP - LeighAnnThomas_headshot2Leigh Ann Thomas is a wife, mother, grammy, writer, and chocolate enthusiast. She has penned four books, including Ribbons, Lace, and Moments of Grace—Inspiration for the Mother of the Bride (SonRise Devotionals) and Smack-Dab in the Midlife Zone—Inspiration for Women in the Middle (Elk Lake Publishing, 2019 release). A regular contributor to Just18Summers.com and InTheQuiver.com, she has also published with Southern Writers Magazine, Power for Living, Southern Writers Best Short Fiction, and other magazines and compilations. You can find Leigh Ann on her front porch daydreaming story plots or blogging at LeighAThomas.com. Connect on Twitter at @LThomasWrites.

 

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Stack the Stones and Tell the Stories

I love those historical markers you see along the roads. They’re embossed metal, with print so small you could never read it from the car, even if you weren’t zooming past. Some stand beside busy thoroughfares, but some are on quiet streets or by scenic overlooks. We stop if we can. (I guess we’re history nerds.)

When we read those signs, we learn a little bit of relevant history. But more importantly, we’re reminded that we’re standing where many others have stood: living, fighting, succeeding (and failing), dying. Continue reading “Stack the Stones and Tell the Stories”

I Am Not Enough (guest post)

Friends, you will be blessed by this honest, Spirit-filled post from my
virtual friend, Heather Bock. Receive these words from her heart, then
connect with her through the links at the end. And as always, we'd love to
hear what you think in the comments!

As a mother, I am broken. I am not enough.

Since the moment I knew life was growing inside me, I wanted so much to be enough. In fact, I wanted very much to be as close to a perfect mother as possible. I ate all the right foods, took the right vitamins, and slept the recommended way. When my baby was born, I read all the books, swaddled him carefully, and started him on solids, thinking carefully about which food to introduce first and watching for allergies each time. Continue reading “I Am Not Enough (guest post)”

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

It’s about creation. It’s about sovereignty. It’s about protection. It’s about salvation.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

I left one of my favorite Sunday School songs for last, and in these days after Christmas, when our minds still dwell on the baby in the manger, these simple words seem even more profound. In the tiny hands of a newborn rested all the world…in every sense of the word. He, through whom the world was made (Hebrews 1:2), figuratively held the Planet Earth in His hands.

He’s got the whole wide world in His hands.

Sometimes when we talk about the world, however, we mean all the people on the planet. Like in Joy to the World, there’s the line, “the weary world rejoices.” In that way, too, He holds us all. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt 10:29-30) and the number of days we’ll remain on earth (Psalm 39:4-5). He holds our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows (Psalm 139, Matthew 6:27, 34). Nothing happens without His knowledge. Truly, He is sovereign.

I’m struck here by the combined intimacy and sovereignty of our Lord. Think about that for a moment.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

“Hold my hand,” I told my little ones when we went into public places or crossed a street. In the same way, Jesus holds our hands as we walk through life. The Psalmist wrote,

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. -Psalm 138:7

Those tiny hands that reached for the dust floating in the stable’s light also protect us from everything that is not part of His will for our lives.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

When someone takes responsibility for something, we say, “It’s in your hands.” Christ Jesus, though no longer a baby, took responsibility for our sinfulness when He died on the cross. The nails that penetrated His hands and sunk into the wood behind them at the same time punctured the consequences of our sin so that we became free through His bondage (Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:9-11, Hebrews 1:3). He carried the salvation of the whole world in His hands.

All these ways we rest in Jesus’ hands? It’s not just you who reads this or me. Recall the other verses of our song:

…you and me, brother

…you and me, sister

…little bitty babies

…the mamas and the papas

…everybody

Maybe it’s simplistic, but this song brings me peace. I find rest in these facts:

  • He is the structure upon which our world stands,
  • He is sovereign,
  • He offers safety,
  • He saves.

The same hands that reached for dust in the stable’s light hold “the whole world.” (click to tweet)

Structure, sovereignty, safety, salvation—all because “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” (click to tweet)

When you sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” what comes to your mind? How does this song make you feel? Please share in the comments below!

Series Conclusion

I’ve known most of these Sunday School songs since before I could speak plainly. Simple or strange, silly or significant (or sometimes both!), they are the foundation of my spiritual worldview. I didn’t realize that fact until now, as I look back on the series. So, for me, returning to them as an adult affirms the fundamentals of my faith. They bring me back to some of the most important truths we possess as believers. Seems like I needed that this year. I pray they’ve done the same for you as we dug into them together.

 

ss-songs-whole-world
(c) Carole Sparks

Attribution: traditional American spiritual (several on-line sources)

 Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

If You’re Happy and You Know It

 

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is not technically a Biblical or theological song, but we used to sing it in Sunday School when I was a child, so I’ve included it here. The principles embodied within it are certainly Biblical, so let’s take a look.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  -Ecclesiastes 5:19

Four things God gives, which I’ve turned into questions:

  • Do you have what you need to survive? Do you actually live in abundance? Most of us do (though it may not always feel like it). God gave that.
  • Are you able to enjoy your material possessions? Such pleasure is good and right. God supplies not only our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) but the mental capacity and the presence of mind to appreciate it. If you’re distracted by the demands of life, feeling like you always need to do or get more, then your attitude doesn’t honor God (just telling it like it is here, like I tell myself way too often!). Trust and faith are so intertwined. Our faith creates the capacity for trust so we can let go of our stress and enjoy His faithful provision.
  • Are you satisfied with your work, home, and life-in-general? Contentment is such a treasure! Not that we should be complacent, but those who “accept their lot” in life find it much easier to be satisfied.
  • Does your work make you feel good? Mine does. When I write, my mood lightens. I am happy, and it overflows into the rest of my life. If you’re living out what you were created to do, your work will satisfy.

Confession #1: I sat down to write this post out of obligation, but already—with this first verse—God has shown me how blessed I am! Pausing now to clap my hands, as the song instructs. … Really; I did it.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  -Psalm 47:1

We sat mid-way back in an elementary school awards ceremony. You know the type. Many names, and each walks onto the stage whether their accomplishment is major or minor. The obligatory applause begins with enthusiasm but quickly dissipates. By the tenth kid, you can pick out his parents because they’re the only ones clapping in earnest. I tried—I really tried—to celebrate all the kids, but my hands started burning from slapping them together so much, and honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through the Psalmist, God commands us to celebrate Him. We’re not celebrating a minor accomplishment or a middle-grades promotion. We’re recognizing the God of the Universe! We’re called to clap. All of us.

Even when you’re not feeling happy, when your circumstances have stripped the smile not just off your face but out of your heart, you know you have reason to celebrate because, well, He’s God: Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, Omnipotent…you get the picture. And sometimes the exact thing we need in order to realign our focus and redeem our happiness is a simple song and a bit of hand-clapping. My brain has to tell my heart, “Yes, you are happy. You just forgot.”

Psalm 47 goes on praising God (Read all nine verses right now if you have time!), then it says,

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  -Psalm 47:6-7

 If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  -Psalm 68:3

Our satisfaction with God will inevitably show up on our faces. I’ve heard people say things like, “That Steven, he always has a smile.” I happen to know Steven, and I know why he smiles. It’s because He constantly walks beside His Savior.

Wearing a constant smile is not the same as a mask. People can recognize masks. It’s an authentic pleasantness that comes from a contented heart. This line in the song challenges those of us who carry so many burdens (read: responsibilities, worries, concerns, etc.) on our shoulders. Our internal attitude will show on our faces. If you can stay conscious of God’s faithfulness and content in His provision, your face will inevitably smile, with no effort on your part.

Confession #2: Sometimes my smile is faked. I’m still working on it.

 If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  -James 5:13

It’s not entirely clear, but the context in James 5 seems to be a group meeting. If so, James calls believers to share both their troubles and their happiness. We’re pretty good at sharing our troubles, at least the not-too-personal ones, but we often hesitate to share our successes or happiness. We’re afraid it may come off as bragging, or it may make someone without the same success feel bad or jealous. James calls us to share it anyway; of course, there’s a God-honoring way to share that takes out any personal pride.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy about it, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! It may be spoken, sung, or clapped. In fact, remember all the other verses to this song? They tell us to stomp our feet, say “amen,” turn around, etc. In the right situation, it might even be appropriate to leap into the air.

Confession #3: I embarrassed my teenager the other day when I leapt into the air just outside her school after she shared some fresh good news. (Okay, that’s not really the same kind of confession, I realize.)

The point is, acknowledge God’s provision and blessing. Don’t miss any chance you have to glorify Him!

So! I’m in a much better mood now. Not only did I get to write, which always satisfies me, but also, I got to dwell on God’s goodness, sufficiency, and blessing. I can’t clap and type at the same time, but there’s an authentic smile on my face. **insert happy-face emoji here**

Do you have any special childhood memories about this song? Has it ever convicted you, either as a child or an adult? What do you think about how/when we should demonstrate our happiness? I’d love to interact with you in the comments below! You can also share using one of the ready-made tweets below.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! (click to tweet)

If You’re Happy: more than a silly children’s song. Mine the Biblical truths with me. (click to tweet)

 ss-songs-happy

Note: For my “take” on joy v/s happiness, read On Joy. Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s okay.

Attribution: original lyrics unknown but refined by Alfred B. Smith, music by Isaak Dunayevsky (source)

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

 

Still to come:

  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Praying Peace Over Our Children

Well, we made it through Halloween, and now “the holiday season” begins in earnest. This is the time of year I simultaneously anticipate and dread, both personally and as a parent. Intentional Parenting through the holidays brings a special set of challenges that include travel, overindulgence (of food and gifts), missed bedtimes, and, as always, The Santa Question. For our family, the concerns have moved past Grandma’s uncovered electrical outlets and into issues of greed (“She got more presents than me!”) and getting along with extended family members (“My cousin hit me!”).

img_0847-2
Praying Peace Over Our Children (c) Carole Sparks

Speaking of cousins, excitement and anxiety are clearly first cousins, and easily confused by those who don’t know them well. This year, I want to keep the excitement in check and the anxiety at bay by using Scripture to pray peace over my children. Even more current, our national elections are a week away (!), and there’s tension throughout the country. If your children are feeling it, use these prayers right away to remind them of Who is in control.

We can be confident that our prayers align with God’s Will when we repeat His Word back to Him…and there’s something about saying Scripture out loud that increases its impact for everyone who hears it. So pray for your children in front of them. Lay hands on them if you’re comfortable with that. Substitute your child’s name for “my child,” if you want. Join me in blessing and encouraging our children through these verses!

Read Philippians 4:4-7, then pray verse 7.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Dear God, I pray that your peace, which we will never completely understand, will guard the heart and mind of my child through the presence of Jesus, our Lord.

I love the active, protective image of peace here—that it shields our emotions and thoughts. Anxiety eats away at our emotional condition, but God’s peace keeps us whole…and wholly His.

Read John 14:26-27, then pray verse 27.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Lord Jesus, we understand that your peace remains with my child, that you have given it to him. Thank you that this gift of peace isn’t given in the way the world gives. Help him guard his heart against trouble and his mind against fear.

What’s notable here is the intentionality of Jesus’ gift. He knew we would feel anxious and afraid, and He doesn’t want that for us! Remember, too, that the world’s idea of peace is a cessation of hostilities, really the negative of fighting or war. Shalom (Hebrew for “peace”), on the other hand, is a sense of safety or well-being, a confidence in God’s sovereignty, and a contentment with our circumstances. So when you pray this over your children, you’re not simply asking God to help them quit fighting or that He’ll calm their anxiety; You’re asking that they will be content and confident in life. (This verse is so rich with meaning! Check out The Power of Peace.)

Read Psalm 4:6-8 (or the whole Psalm), then pray verse 8.

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Heavenly Father, help my child to lie down and sleep now in your peace. You are the One Who keeps us safe, and we have confidence in you.

As king, David had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, not to mention enemies everywhere he turned. Through these next two months, there’s sure to be a lot on your mind and the minds of your children. With David’s words, we turn our focus from our concerns to God’s control, which leads to a better night’s sleep for everyone!

Read and then pray Romans 15:13.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I ask you, God, to fill my child with joy and peace as he increasingly learns to trust You. May the power of the Holy Spirit cause hope to overflow in him.

Look at the progression here. God fills us with joy and peace (two of the most common words of the Christmas season). The Holy Spirit then combines these two, resulting in hope. How’s that work? I don’t know, but isn’t it great?!? We can safely say, however, that there’s no real hope—no active, confidence-building hope—without joy and peace, which come from God.

This verse is also a great one to pray if you’re watching for your children’s readiness to accept Jesus as Savior and “boss of their lives” (a phrase we used instead of “Lord” when ours were little). Thanksgiving and Christmas create a spiritual openness in almost everyone. As your children hear about Jesus’ arrival on earth, be sure to emphasize the purpose of His coming. Talk about His love and faithfulness, leaving space for them to take steps of faith on their own. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work in their heart so they accept God’s calling to follow Him.

In the next two months, many things will arise to distract us from the “peace on Earth” that Jesus brought. I hope you can use these simple verses to amplify peace in your children and within your home.

Now, on to the holiday list-making!

4 verses to pray, promoting peace in our children through the holidays. (click to tweet)

Are you like me and you find it difficult to maintain low stress levels during the holidays? What verses help you regain your peace or promote it in your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: I’ve Got the Joy

When I recall this song from my early childhood, there’s hand-clapping. Only…we weren’t any good at it. The effort of my 3-year-old self to clap in time to the music was so strenuous that sometimes I forgot to sing.

My more introspective (or maybe cynical) adult self has learned to clap with the rhythm, but sometimes I look at the words to this song, and I’m the one asking, “Where?”

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart.

Sometimes, the joy feels so deep down in my heart that it isn’t springing up far enough to reach my lips or my mind. When joy becomes elusive, what then?

Fish for it. You know you still have it because the Scriptures say joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23). Use verses about joy to reach deeply into your heart and pull out the joy that’s stagnating down in that cave.

When the daily drag of parenting looms large, sing this simple song to yourself—a declaration of truth! (click to tweet)

Because the song repeats joy four times, consider memorizing four verses about our joy as Christ-followers. Then you’ll have them ready the next time your joy feels like it’s waning. Want some suggestions?

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place. -1 Chronicles 16:25-27

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. -Psalm 5:11

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. -Psalm 16:11

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:8-9

What happens when you start saying—I mean declaring—these verses to yourself? You bring your mind into alignment with your heart (where the joy already dwells) so that your outlook begins to change. It more closely resembles Jesus’ perspective.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

This joy that you know exists down in your heart…it’s a permanent thing. It’s there to stay. I don’t believe it’s something you can conjure up or create out of nothing. You can, however, call it up. (See my post, On Joy for more about this.)

Joy: You can’t conjure it up, but you can call it up. (click to tweet)

It’s about a refocusing…a shift in mindset from the groans of earthly life to the glory of the Kingdom.

I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart…
I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart
    to stay!

Time doesn’t permit a discussion of the additional verses to our song, but you can apply the same principle of Scripture memorization and/or application on your own.

Sometimes those simple songs speak truth into our hearts when we need it most. Let’s use this one for His glory!

What verse helps you maintain your joy? Please share in the comments below!

Attribution: according to hymnary.org, this one is by George Willis Cooke (copyright not renewed after 1926).

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Still to come:

  • Father Abraham (maybe—if I can get over how silly it is)
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
  • My God is So Big