I am just one among many

Last weekend I ran in a race. There were so many people participating—thousands of runners.  It was only my second race, and the first that was a really big-production type of race. I was amazed at all the pieces that went into it—the organization, the paid workers, the volunteers, the teenagers cheering us along the route, the free food at the end.  All I was doing was showing up and running.  And I was solidly in the middle of the pack of runners—not trying to beat the 2 hour mark, but just running to have fun and get in shape. I found one of the pacers who was going my speed and just stuck with him. I kept a steady pace and kept going. I didn’t try to rush out front, because I knew that the long-term view meant that each steady step, one foot in front of the other, was what was going to get me to the finish still going strong.  I was just another runner, but I had to run my race on my two legs.

Why does being one among many matter? We can feel so small and insignificant. And yet each individual has such a unique story, unique needs, unique gifts.  It is easy to want to be someone people notice.

But what if I am not really a “stand-out” person in my race/job/ministry/family? I think a lot of us these days try to ignore the fact that we are just one among many.  We might do this by posting on Facebook (I admit I did post a picture after my race…) so that our friends say how cool we are and make us feel like we aren’t just a part of the crowd. We might then think: ‘I got more “likes” than ever before—aren’t I so cool?’ Or maybe we try to keep getting better; we run more races and improve, so that we can say there are “more” people behind us now—we are more successful than they / farther up the ladder. Yet both of these responses ultimately fail to value the simplicity of just being one among many.

It is good to have big goals and to have heroes—just not when it means devaluing what we have right now.  I was reading an article recently where the author was talking about how he had dreams of being successful like a couple people he saw as heroes. But then he said that now, 10 years later, both of those heroes have fallen from their places of success and influence, and he realizes that “perhaps we can’t actually be our heroes. Indeed, often our heroes couldn’t really be our heroes either.”  Reformedish blog

Why do we as humans long so much to be in the spotlight? To be on top? Why do we envy those with more success, more money, more recognition? Why is it hard to be content to just be where we are and to meet the needs of those around us without any pomp and circumstance?

I am certainly not painting humanity as “all bad.”  After all, I believe that people are made in the image of God (as it says in Genesis 1) and that we therefore possess tremendous creativity and a desire to influence and help others, reflecting His character and heart.  Typically, I think most of us have mixed motives when we feel that desire for more influence/more recognition. Sure, it is partly pride and discontent; but it is also partly a desire to have a positive impact. Yet the self-focus can take over and poison the positive desires if we don’t pursue humility and fight against comparison.

It has helped me to remember that maybe we aren’t meant to see ourselves as the center of the story.  We should clearly not be at the center of other people’s stories (even our own children—we do not control or run their lives, despite our best efforts at times).  But I am also much happier and more content when I don’t see myself as the central focus of my own story either.  You might think that is crazy. How can anyone besides me be the center of my story? Well, it is strange if I think my destiny is up to me. But there is so much we can’t control. When God graciously interacts with people in the midst of this broken world with so much evil and loss, he shows that he definitely cares about us as individuals, but that in fact the story is truly about Him [for example: in the book of Ezekiel, God keeps describing what will happen to different peoples, and then says “Then you will know that I am the Lord”]. He is at work bringing about the ultimate rescue plan (as the Jesus Storybook Bible puts it).

Where then is my focus? Is it on how every detail around me relates to my story, or on how my life and relationships point to God’s story? When we focus on ourselves, we tend to compare to others instead of being thankful and living where we are placed.  A reminder of this truth is in John 21, when Peter is talking to Jesus about his own life and then shifts his focus over to John, asking “what about him?”  Jesus’ response is powerful: “[W]hat is that to you? You follow me!” (Jn 21:21-22).

The book of Hebrews also reminds us that we should “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb 12:1b-2). I want to fix my eyes, not on myself or on those around me, but on Jesus.  I want to run my race—the race that God puts before me, not one of my own making—with the people He puts beside me.

In the half-marathon last week, I met a nice woman, a fellow runner.  We started to run together. We had good conversation and encouraged one another.  She was just one of many fellow runners, but she was the one who made my race better. The people who won the whole race didn’t necessarily impact my run, but the person next to me did.  It is the individual real people we meet, who touch our lives, who give us moments of encouragement, that change us.

The little prayer of my heart therefore is this: “Lord, help me to run with endurance—loving, serving, and making a difference right where I am placed—and to keep my focus on the one who truly is the center of the story.”


I think Fall is the season of feeling like you should do “more.” Does anyone else experience this? There are needs and wants all around us, and I really do love to help… The kids soccer teams need more referees or team parents; the kids schools want volunteers for the classrooms, for councils and committees, and for their PTA meetings and fundraisers; the church needs more nursery workers and Sunday School teachers and home group leaders; the local foster care community needs people to engage more to help provide transportation and meals for families.

Then there are the “shoulds” that we feel internally, even if they aren’t expressed desires from outside sources. For example, the feeling that I should do more preparation for the history lessons for home school; I should read more for my professional development; I should spend more time preparing for my mentorship times with girls; I should spend more individual time with each of my children; I should read more about trauma in young children; I should train more for my half marathon; I should do more sit-ups; I should cook more new recipes; I should find and use more coupons; I should dust more often; I should call those friends I keep thinking of and praying for, but not calling; I should journal more; I should pick up my violin more often, and on and on…

Our culture in the United States is full of “more.”

So how do we live in this culture without being consumed by it? Because, honestly, if I let that kind of thinking dominate my mental state during a particular day, what might result? Well, best case scenario, I feel inadequate and guilty.  Worst case scenario, I reinforce false concepts of the gospel in others, so that they think Christianity is about “measuring up.”  For example, I might (through my actions or words) subtly reinforce my daughter’s tendency (unfortunately inherited from me) to base her identity on how well she is doing and how much she is getting done…

A few possible mental directions come to mind in response to this pressure:

  • I can go “all bad” on myself by resigning myself to the idea that I am just a failure—I simply cannot measure up to people’s expectations of me or even what would I think would make me the “ideal” mom/lawyer/etc.
  • I can just go for it, and try to add as many things as I can, ultimately finding that I am not feeling better about any of it and instead feel burned out and frustrated that doing more didn’t result in the magical sense of “rightness” that I perceived would come in some strange recess of my mind.
  • I can just decide to banish all thought of inadequacy from my mind and “try really hard” to just not care what others think.

But I don’t really like any of those options. They don’t seem like solutions; they are more like reactions…. They each fail to address the deeper root in my heart of wanting to please others, wanting to seem good and “above average,” so to speak.

What, then, is the real solution? God’s Word points us to focus our hearts and minds on the person of Christ—on God himself.  We need to remember that He is “all,” so we don’t need “more.” He can give us all wisdom that we need (Js 1:5). He is the one worthy of our work and our effort, so we should choose to do all we do for Him, and not for the approval of others (Col 3:23). He is the one who establishes our plans and allows our way to succeed (Prov 3:5-6, Ps 37:5, Prov 16:3).

Even more importantly, He is the one who allows me to have the right motives in what I do (through the power of the Holy Spirit and the fruit He produces) and who has given me an identity rooted in Him, not in how well I am doing (Ephesians 1).  But why is this last concept so hard to internalize, even after years and years of experiencing God’s unconditional love as his adopted child? [Adoption is an important concept in scripture helping us understand the permanency and security of our relationship with God when we place our faith in him.]  I think it is because the culture continues to speak so loudly counter to these truths. For example, college students consistently experience the pressure and message that if they don’t get just the right grades and just the right internships, their dreams of career success will fall crashing to the ground; parents are consistently fed the idea that if they don’t offer their children enough extracurricular opportunities, their children will be at a disadvantage later; children are told (whether directly or indirectly) they are “bad kids” if they don’t meet behavioral expectations or don’t succeed academically; career women are told that they are failing to advance the important cause of women if they decide to take time off for a few years to focus on their kids.

What will we let speak to our hearts? I want it to be God’s Word for me. I want to serve out of joy and contentment in who I am and who God has made me to be and how He sees me, not based on how I think I measure up to the expectations of culture or colleagues or friends.

In Summer…

Summertime is interesting—more free time, yet it feels very busy.  Usually, we are off on a summer assignment with Cru away from home.  That is a different kind of busy—packing, adjusting to a new place as a family, and keeping up a very busy schedule as we minister to and with students. This summer, however, we are home (other than Jeremiah’s 2 week missions trip in June).  Then why does it feel so busy?  Well, partly because Jeremiah and I have continued to work from home (me just part-time of course), yet the kids have all been home (requiring invested attention).  In addition, it is partly because we have been giving a lot of emotional energy and time to helping our new little girl adjust to our family and to feel safe in our homeIMG_20160729_084018

We haven’t yet taken our family vacation, but we have had some fun family days, and the kids have stayed active entertaining themselves. As for organized activities, all four kids enjoyed our church’s Vacation Bible Camp. In addition, Isaiah, Bethany and Judah had a great time with swim lessons; they are now much more confident in the water, and love it when friends invite us to their pools.  We have frequented local parks, preferring the cooler morning hours before we go home and hide from the heat in the afternoon.  All four kids have such great imaginations–they IMG_20160625_122717make up worlds together, whether it is with Lego minifigures or with dress-up clothes.  Bethany has been doing some crafts for her doll and dove into reading with lots of library books. Isaiah continues to read everything he can, and then works on his next Lego designs.  Judah loves playing games and playing outside in the neighborhood.  IMG_20160628_172512

Poor Judah, however, has also had his fair share of sickness this summer, starting with a high fever from a tooth infection that required a tooth extraction, then ending up with a bug that lasted for a couple weeks and left him tired and weak. Sadly, I know exactly how he felt from personal experience…

Our little girl has had some fun firsts this summer too. Well, firsts as far as we know—it is hard to tell sometimes with kids this age, since kids from hard places can’t always distinguish between what they wish had happened and what really happened. Even if they do know, it is difficult (and even painful) to admit that a memory they really wish was true, didn’t happen.  Sometimes I think it is partly wishing they had been part of some of the family memories they hear us discussing, so they make up something similar with the people they have loved.  Other times I think the stories originate in wanting to forget the hard times, replacing them with hopes and wishes, sometimes a bit extreme in their scope.  I remember at one point with our first foster son, he insisted he had definitely gone to the moon with a particular loved one. You can’t get upset at them for lying in that moment, when you can sense the longing deep inside. This little one also changes her stories quite a bit. Some are extreme (like the claim of having gone to India and ridden an elephant), but others are a mix of reality and wishes, and seemingly neither she nor I can completely tell where one begins and the other ends.  I’m not going to worry about the details, however.  The stories will either sort themselves out over time, or our new family adventures and memories will come to the forefront in the storytelling, allowing the need to “impress” with the other stories to fade, and hopefully leaving behind a desire to share past memories in the safety of deep relationship.  I will keep listening.

We are pretty sure some exciting firsts have been involved, however.  She loved Vacation Bible Camp at oIMG_20160726_112938ur church and still sings the songs she learned there.  It was so fun to watch her excitement at the animals when we went to the zoo!  She has decided that giraffes are her favorite animal, though she also loved watching the little turtles swimming around too.  After experiencing our hammock in the back yard (we think also a first), she now has a new favorite way to relax.  We have some more firsts ahead too–tent camping for a night, and going up to the mountains for a few days to hike around, splash in a river, and hopefully pick wild blackberries.

Ah Summer!  As we wind down Summer and gear up for the Fall, we are very thankful for the time together we have had. I am trying to treasure the moments in my mind and heart, before the next season has come and gone…

Comfort to those in pain…a story from Argentina

I turned a corner and saw her crying, standing about 10 feet away. I and my partner for sharing that day, Melanie, walked over to her and I asked if she needed help with anything. She turned and said, “Can I have a hug?” So I hugged her for a few moments while she cried on my shoulder.

Juli (name changed) was worried about an upcoming test, not knowing if she should take the risk of taking the test she did not feel prepared for, in case it lowered her grade. She was under so much stress. That was the moment I saw her–she was overwhelmed with the pressures of life and I was there to merely comfort her.


Other team members sharing the gospel at the spot where I first met Fran

Her teacher came out to talk, and they spoke for about 10 minutes about the situation. Juli decided not to take the test, but to focus on her other upcoming tests.  Knowing she now had a bit more time, I re-started the conversation.

Melanie (my teammate) and I were able to have about a 45 minute conversation with Juli, helping her move from a place in which she was trusting in her own good works to be right with God to trusting in the saving work of Jesus on the cross for her right standing with God.

After our conversation, she gladly gave us her information to get connected with Vida Estudiantil y Professional (the name of Cru in Argentina). She then gave both Melanie and I big hugs, thanking us deeply. All of this happened because I was available to help in the moment someone needed it.

Hope and Patience

I don’t know about you, but I am often impatient for change.  OK, it isn’t just change—I am often impatient, period.  There are many ways this shows up—I will first mention a few of the unimportant situations (yet it is these types of circumstances that I somehow allow to alter my attitude for the worst, at least temporarily): waiting in line at Costco when I know I am going to be a few minutes late to pick up one of my kids somewhere; waiting for my computer to download something I need to read or work with; taking the time to figure out how to fix my computer when it is acting up (I am the worst at patience with technology). Then there are the more serious, long-term waiting situations: waiting for a relationship to heal; waiting for my heart to heal from pain I have experienced; waiting for a long-desired circumstance that I am trusting God for and have done all that I can to prepare for; waiting for my own growth or growth areas in my children’s lives.

That last one really strikes a chord right now, particularly in relation to my parenting.  I am so thankful for Godly wisdom about parenting from God’s Word, insightful books, wise friends, asking for God’s help, and just plain experience. Yet somehow knowing what is good to do doesn’t always translate into it working perfectly.  Patience is what I still need a big dose of. Why? Because change doesn’t come in a day; because impatience leads me to sin against my children; because the goal of parenting is helping our children to grow in heart, mind and body, not just behavior.  Patience. It seems like it should be a simple word, a simple thing. Wait…

Waiting is not simple. It is funny having a 4 year old all of a sudden again because I am experiencing the stage “in isolation” so to speak, without the 3 year old part and without being involved in character formation during the first few years.  I think 4 year olds in general are not the best at the “wait” concept, but it is particularly hard for this precious little one.  For example, I handed her a frozen Go-gurt and cut off the end, then I said “wait just a minute for it to unfreeze enough to push it up.”  20 seconds later, the other end had been bitten off and she is wondering why the yogurt wouldn’t come out… I then had to explain that it is hard to eat with both sides opened up… Waiting is hard.

But waiting is important. As an adult, I have come to realize just how little I control outcomes. I often cannot make much of anything happen, and certainly can’t dictate the timing.  So I have to wait; not waiting impassively, but waiting actively. I wait by investing time, energy and work, and entrusting the results to God.  But that sounds easier than it is—trust God; simple, right?  But somehow I get tired of repeating the same advice for the 500th time to my ten year old. He is super awesome, but somehow certain principles just don’t take root very easily.  I need God’s kind of patience to be faithful and wait on God’s timing, not my idea of patience…

Absent miracles (which God can do, though he usually chooses to use natural growth processes as he designed them), God’s normal way of functioning is with gradual growth that occurs over time when the right circumstances and nourishment are present. There are many verses in the Bible to encourage me to keep my focus on planting, watering, nourishing, and waiting on the Lord.  For example, I have been reading in the prophets lately and noticing just how much patience God had for his people, and also how much patience the people had to have in waiting on God to fulfill his promises—still hard even though they knew he was a faithful God full of steadfast love. One place that stuck out to me is in Lamentations.  Before the great hopeful statements in Lamentations 3:21-23, the prophet says in verse 18 “my endurance has perished…” Then he cries out: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” and mentions the Lord’s steadfast love and mercy and faithfulness!  It reminds me that my hope is not based on my endurance or even my own ability to keep hoping, but in God and choosing to remember who he is.  Verse 24 then affirms that “I will hope in Him.” This is a decision of the will.

Contrast modern society’s instant gratification focus. In this day and age, if we want something, we order it online. We even can get rush shipping. If we text someone, we get worried if they don’t respond within the hour.  And then there is the modern “life hack” concepts that show up in hashtags, etc., where we are always looking for shortcuts to success and solutions, etc…  It is like people think they deserve to get what they want faster. They are so used to fingertip solutions that they don’t think anything should take a long time and require persistence and perseverance.

Bottom line: patience is hard. But it is one of the first fruits of the spirit, and the first descriptive word that is tied to “love” in 1 Corinthians 13. In other words, if I truly love someone, I will show them patience again and again. I am so thankful that God’s steadfast perfect love means he has shown me patience again and again… So even if it isn’t vogue in this fast paced society we are in, I want to keep learning about patience; I want to keep asking God to help me grow in patience; I want to walk in the Spirit so I can display patience.  I will keep my focus on God’s steadfast love and mercy, and continue to hope for change in God’s timing.

Kids from Hard Places

Being back to 4 kids again has been another adventure. I am not able to share any details here about our current placement in order to preserve confidentiality, but I can speak in generalities about foster care and what God is teaching me.

Children from hard places are precious and beautiful. Yet when they enter into your home, whether it is temporary or permanent, it is tough to always know how to feel. It is one of those strange things because family, neighbors and friends who have been aware of your fostering journey say “congrats” on the new placement.  And rightly so—it is exciting.  But it is also hard—hard because that child has had tremendous loss, and they are hurting; hard because you are entering into that hurt right along with them, and it means a lot of ups and downs.

Such ups and downs are particularly present when the child is not a baby that you can bond with through babywearing and bottle feeding (something I have loved doing with several of our foster kids)—connecting with kids in the next stage takes tremendous focus, intentionality, thought, and often the right words, expressions and gentle touch at the right times. Yet there is also tremendous joy, because the little ones “just want to be loved” (to quote Maria’s words to Captain VonTrapp); children eat up the attention and love to feel safe.  For example, a little girl might slowly extend her heart, choosing to risk by trusting. Then fear comes in and she closes up; she pulls back the trust a little bit; then she extends it again—yes, no, yes, no—it is a bit of a dance. You try to be consistent. You want to be consistent, and to truly display unconditional love, but you know that your tone is not always quite right; that your patience is not interminable… You also recognize that the adjustment your other kids are going through is pulling your attention towards them too…

Yet there is powerful hope underlying the whole experience. Why? Because you get to be part of helping a child learn what it means to be loved, safe, and accepted, and not because they deserve it or are doing everything right, but just because they are who they are and that is special. Because you know God made them and loves them too.  Unfortunately many kids—especially those who have been in foster care for a while—are used to being labeled “good” or “bad” and see themselves that way. They are on the lookout for if someone is “angry” in order to figure out how to react. But they can only be free once they understand relationally that they are safe and free of labels and judgment. That cannot happen overnight, and many emotions emerge, erupt and bubble up in the process. [If you want to learn more about helping kids like this, a great resource we have found is the TBRI work of Karyn Purvis—shameless plug].

As I connect with a new little one in our family, I have hope for the long term, and I have hope for the now.  I cling to some promises in scripture, like Galatians 6:9, which says “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Sometimes, however, I do feel weary. So what do I do then? Well, if I am relying on my own strength, I get frustrated that I am weary and I blame myself for each and every mistake and every negative thought. But if I am thinking rightly, I remind myself of the Gospel—the good news that, just as I love my children whether they obey or not, God loves me, and my right-ness is only because I am “in Christ.” So I can remember that the gospel is not just for when I first believed in Jesus, but for each moment. Colossians 2:6-7 says “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” My strength and my power and my growth and my hope are “in Him,” not in perfectly following my plan of how to be a great foster mom. Yet I can grow, “built up” in truth and grace and “walking” in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now that is indeed good news.

I love the prayer in Colossians 1:11-12a, and pray it for myself and others: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, …” I can’t help but notice the repeated focus on thanksgiving, present in both the Colossians passages I have mentioned here. Maybe God is telling me something.

So I also pray: “Thank you God, for entrusting another little one to my care. Thank you for blessing me by giving me both way more joy than I deserve (as I see the smiles and hear the contagious laughter that only a child can produce) and continued growth by reminding me just how much I need your strength for each day.”

The Danger of Comparison

  • Her house is cleaner…
  • She runs more and does core exercises every day…
  • She doesn’t let the dust build up in her house…
  • She does more crafts with her kids…
  • She is doing more science with her homeschooling…
  • Her kids have memorized more scripture…
  • She makes time to develop herself and reads more…
  • She actually practices her instrument regularly…
  • Her floors are spotless—she must mop more…
  • She feeds her family less processed foods…
  • Her 5 year old is a better reader than mine…
  • She is more organized in how her kids do chores…
  • She is mentoring more girls than I am…
  • She is more accomplished in her career…

These are the kinds of thoughts I have from time to time. Notice the wide range of comparison. Notice that no human being could actually be good at all of those things, yet I am dissatisfied with myself for any number of them at any particular time. Granted, this is thankfully not my actual state of mind most of the time, because I know and love my Heavenly Father, who made me and gave me gifts and calls me his child. I love being part of a family (the family of God), with a father whose acceptance of me is not based on my performance or measuring up, but rather on His sacrifice and His free gift of mercy and grace.

I once heard that when we compare, it is usually comparing our weaknesses to someone else’s strengths. I have noticed that when I, and other people I know, focus on comparing, it robs us of finding joy in serving with our strengths, and prevents us from forming authentic relationships and close bonds with people. In fact, I have found that relationships immediately gain depth and closeness when I authentically share my struggles, embrace others in their weaknesses, and take opportunities to encourage and appreciate others when I notice their strengths, rather than turn it into a self-focused moment where I am missing out both on encouraging them and on giving God glory for the different gifts He gives different people. Comparison is incredibly selfish and prideful. Comparison is isolating and lonely.

I recently read a book called Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman, where she encourages us to embrace “smallness” and the “ordinary” in our lives as amazing things to be noticed and enjoyed.

God’s Word also encourages us to live simply, focused on Jesus, and on loving and serving one another. I love the reminder in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” If we trust in God instead of ourselves for our goodness, our forgiveness, our righteousness—then we have no need to compare. We have no need to try to prove ourselves. Instead, we are free from the trap of pride and comparison and guilt—we are free to love and serve from a place of joy and with a desire to bless.

That is indeed good news! I am so thankful to God for the family and the opportunities he has blessed me with, and I pray each day that, instead of falling into destructive habits that hinder joyful service and obstruct healthy relationships, God will give me strength to walk in these truths, knowing that because of the power of the Gospel, my identity is in Him.