Few events have motivated me in my life like the 1996 Summer Olympics. I know, I know, it was twenty years ago, but it left an impact on my life. No, I didn’t become an athlete, even though I seriously thought I could become the world’s first nine year old self-taught gymnast; but it was the first time I remember truly looking up to someone in the spotlight. I thought Dominique Moceanu was the absolute coolest girl in the world. I remember reading her biography and standing in line to meet her at Gallery Furniture. I thought it was awesome that she was from Houston, just like me. I mimicked her floor routine and clapped along to Devil Went Down to Georgia. In the words of my mom, she sparkled. She had charisma, and she commanded attention.

As much as I loved Dominique, I came to respect Kerri Strug. My college roommate and I even had a Wall of Inspirational Women, and Kerri most definitely made the cut (another topic for another time). As I watched the video of her famous vault yesterday on its 20th anniversary, I got a little choked up. She was only eighteen, and she had the United States on her shoulders. Her vault was the gold medal deal-breaker.  Dominique Moceanu had fallen on both vaults, putting all the pressure on Kerri to stick it. On her first vault, she landed badly, hurting her ankle. It was apparent she was injured and scared. Her coach, Bela Karolyi, just kept saying “You can do it!” Another report said she asked him, “Do we need this?” When she realized we did, she pulled it together, did the most beautiful vault and put that foot down long enough to land with her arms and head held high. Only then did she let her self collapse to the floor in her iconic moment of Olympic fame.

What strikes me most is her obedience. She was just a teenager. She could have said “Absolutely not. I’m hurt, this is it.” But her coach told her we needed her, and she could do it. So she did. I would bet it was excruciating and more nerve-wracking than any performance I will ever give. I can’t imagine that type of pressure, especially at such a young age. When I look at most of the Biblical heroes though, I see a common theme. They obeyed what God asked them to do. Let’s take a quick look:

David- defeated a giant with a slingshot

Peter-got out of the boat and walked on water

Moses-led the Israelites out of Egypt

Mary- gave birth to Jesus

Daniel- refused to pray to anyone but God

Esther- would not compromise her values or abandon her people

Obviously, this is not, by any means, an exhaustive list, but it shows my point. Greatness comes from being obedient to God’s calling. Obedience may look like teaching Sunday school or making dinner for a church event. It may look like giving a twenty dollar bill to an acquaintance because you heard money was tight or a care package to a deployed Marine. God may lay on your heart to pay for the person behind you in line at Chick-Fil-A or to leave a note of encouragement for a coworker. God’s urgings are limitless. Obedience may be these everyday acts of kindness, but they could also be the stereotypical call to serve in “deepest, darkest Africa”. I don’t know what He will call me to do, but I do know I have to be obedient. Jesus told us in John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” (NKJV) It doesn’t get much simpler than that. We also read in James 1:22 that we must be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (NKJV) The Bible is pretty clear about obedience. Christianity is a faith of action. We cannot just “sit on our blessed assurance” as my Uncle Peter says. The Holy Spirit leads us to go and we follow.

If Kerri Strug would have chosen not to complete a second vault, we may not have won the gold medal. She would not have made history with her coach carrying her to the platform, and the Magnificent Seven may have been just another Olympic team. If David would have chosen to run away instead of fight, the entire lineage of Christ could have looked different. If Daniel would have given in and prayed to King Darius, we would not have the great example of faith and deliverance from the lions’ den. What amazing things could I miss out on by being disobedient? Hasn’t God proven over and over that miracles happen when we trust Him?  James 4:17 also reminds us that “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”(NKJV). So not only are we missing out on blessings, we are sinning when we choose to disobey. It will not always be the easy road- in fact, it might be the harder road. But, oh, it’s worth it. To know we are in line with God’s desires for our lives is such a wonderful place to be in. You can do it!


Get Back on that Bike!

“I keep messing up!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Hudson cry this phrase as he tries something new. Tying his shoes, writing the alphabet, swinging a baseball bat, riding a bike, you get the idea. Nothing of major consequence, but it frustrates him so badly. As an adult, I find myself slipping into this mindset, too. Ready to throw in the towel because I can’t get it right.

This week, I feel like I’ve had so many mess-ups. I joined in unkind conversation about another person. I let the desire to be funny trump being kind. I lost my patience with Harrison when he wouldn’t get in his car seat. I didn’t say hello to someone out of fear that they wouldn’t recognize me, and in turn, I felt unfriendly. Yes, in the scope of things, these are little mistakes. My word of the day app tells me they are “peccadilloes”, or small, relatively unimportant offenses. But they’ve eaten at me.

Like I tell Hudson (thanks to Daniel Tiger), “Keep trying, you’ll get better!” I can rest in the fact that I don’t have to be perfect. In Philippians chapter 3, Paul says, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV) I can’t keep looking back at failures. I learn from them, and then I press on. It would do me no good to wallow or stay frustrated, just like it would do Hudson no good to pout forever about his inability to write an uppercase R.

Here’s what I can do: I can refuse to get caught up in gossip. I can remove myself from unclean speech. Ephesians 4:29 says “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” I can go back to the junior high mindset of “one put-down equals two put-ups”, but that doesn’t take the sting out of a hurtful comment. It’s best to go with Thumper, and “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

I can also put pride aside and just say hello next time. So what if someone doesn’t remember me? Does it hurt anyone to receive a kind greeting? And if they do, then it shows I care and I remember too. “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23 NKJV)

As far as losing my patience with my kids, Lord help me! Pray, pray, and pray some more! And when you get done with that, pray. I go to 1 Corinthians 13, which is referred to as the love chapter. It is usually used in weddings to set the tone for a marriage full of Godly love, but it most definitely applies to parenting as well. “Love suffers long [aka “is patient”] and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NKJV, emphasis and notes mine) Discipline, yes. Yell and scream over something inconsequential? No. Deep breaths. And pray.

God has given us the answers. He knew we would feel like we aren’t good enough- because we aren’t. He died because we aren’t good enough, and never will be. Following Christ means we keep trying to look more like Him every single day. Crying because we keep messing up will only leave us feeling defeated and won’t get us any closer to our goal. Have a good cry when you need to, repent, ask for forgiveness, and do better.

Our Prayer

Father God,

So many thoughts today. We awoke to news of more killing. More shooting. More terror. How many more lives will be lost until our nation realizes we need your Light? Our world has become such a scary place. Forgive us. Please protect our law enforcement. Protect them from acts of hate and from anger- from them and towards them. Help our people learn to fear You instead of each other. Heal the wounded bodies, hearts, and minds. Help us to look beyond color and see hearts, souls that You created. Let us truly be Your people. Help us speak with compassion and show Your love. Let us forgive and move forward with renewed hope and mercy. We give thanks that Your mercies are new every morning. We trust You because You know the end of the story. And no matter what, the ultimate victory has been won on the cross. Our God is greater. Our God is sovereign. May Your kingdom come. Amen.

So I Read Les Mis…

How can you tell if someone has run a marathon? Don’t worry- they’ll tell you. (Love you Daniel!) This is kind of how I feel about having read Les Miserables. Sorry to basically everyone I know for pulling you along on this journey with me. I’ve been glued to my Kindle for the past month, trying to read at least 2%, or about 25 pages, (but often more) every day. There were times when I was glued to the screen, wanting good to come from a sad situation or clinging to Marius and Cosette’s innocent romance. I was so moved by Jean Valjean’s life.

Our church did a ladies retreat based on Les Mis several years ago, and I very sadly had to miss it. But one word echoed as women relayed the weekend’s lessons: Grace. While the book is a fictitious novel, it relates so much to the Bible. Victor Hugo had a tendency to go off on (long) tangents, which were, at the time, seemingly irrelevant. Until a detail was explained by something he had mentioned many pages back, or you truly needed a back story to understand a situation. Do I wish I could have learned a little less about the sewer system of France, yes, but it helped convey just how much Jean Valjean went through to save Marius. As I have been studying the book of Isaiah, I have been so discouraged and saddened by the amount of destruction, desolation, and anger I’m reading. I want so badly to get to those familiar verses like Isaiah 43:1-2 (NKJV) “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” ” or Isaiah 61, which tells of the Good News of salvation, how Jesus will bind up our broken hearts and make beauty from ashes. But when I sit and think about how much different my life is now because of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, I cannot help but be humbled and awed at His amazing, undeserved grace. God no longer wipes out entire countries for their sin. Do we face consequences for our sinful nature? Absolutely. We live in a scary world where tragedy strikes every day because of sin. “But He gives more grace”- James 4:6 (NKJV). We would never understand how much this means without the back story.

Just as grace is sprinkled throughout Les Miserables, the Gospel of the New Testament fills even the most unexpected stories in the Old Testament. We see prophesies foretelling Jesus’ birth and crucifixion. We see Noah faithfully following God, ultimately saving his life, as nonbelievers suffered death. We see God’s salvation and our resistance in Hosea. When I learned to look for the Gospel in each and every Bible story, it changed the way I studied. Just like when I read strange details in Les Mis, I knew I’d better pay attention. Nothing in the Bible is meaningless. Each and every word was God-inspired. We can’t pick and choose what to accept and believe, and we can’t chalk anything up to only applying in “Bible times”. God knew the timeline of the Bible’s audience. If He felt we needed a new text, He would have provided it.

At the end of the day (see what I did there?), I’m so glad I read Les Mis. It fit into my challenge as “A book over 600 pages”. Challenge accepted, and nearly doubled. It was definitely a struggle at times, but I fell in love with the characters, and it struck me emotionally. Okay, I cried. It is such a beautiful story, and if it made me think about Scripture, then that’s even better! Quotes like “If there is anything more heart-breaking than a body perishing for lack of bread, it is a soul which is dying from hunger for the light.” or “What have we to fear, we who believe?” are still resonating with me. So now I really want a bumper sticker or a t-shirt or something to say I did it. (A quick Google search didn’t come up with anything, but there are some pretty funny Les Mis shirts out there.)

Enjoy your Fourth of July weekend, everyone!

“To love, or to have loved- this suffices. Demand nothing more. There is no other pearl to be found in the shadowy folds of life. To love is a fulfillment.”- Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo