We All Have to Grow Up

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photo: Katie Bowman, 2012

Rebekah has looked up to her big brother John since the day she was born. In fact, he is the one who named her “Bekah” after he couldn’t say her full name Rebekah. John was her first friend, her first fight, and her first fun! She has never known life apart from him and oh does she love him and look up to him fiercely.

It’s hard to believe that on Thursday, John will show her the ropes in his school. It will now be her school – they will go together. Actually, when Bekah was in her three’s and four’s (the hardest years ever for me), I often wished for her to be a little older so I could manage the meltdowns better. I struggled so much and I had no idea how fast it would go by and that it was only a season, soon to change. When I saw our recent church photo, I realized just how much our family is growing up. Kindergarten has come and it came so fast.churchfamilyphoto

In the same way that we don’t keep returning to preschool year after year, relearning the basics over and over again, we’re also called to grow up in our faith.

Do you ever feel that resistance not to want to change? I would rather stay in Neverland. I have been reminded of this a lot lately as I see my struggles, hurts, and habits for what they truly are in the bright light – kind of ugly – an insecurity, unforgiveness, or slothfulness in different areas. When I see sinfulness inside me, I’m reminded that I have a lot of maturing to do.

1 Corinthians 13: 11-12 says,

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

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Just as a child only has a limited frame of reference and understanding, spiritually we are the same. We can only see life from a limited point of view here on earth. Like my own children, my understanding is imperfect and I have much to learn about God. It’s like trying to see through a mirror that is smudged, cloudy, scratched, dirty, and even broken. My perspective isn’t what it should be.

But soon, we won’t see through a jacked up mirror. We will see face to face the glory and majesty of God and we will eventually know what we don’t yet know right now. Not partially, but fully. 

I’m thankful that while I have so much growing up to do, one day, I will see things as God sees them in its fullest. I will see his people the way he sees them. I will see his plan how he sees it. In heaven, the things we valued and were obsessed about here on earth will be a shadow compared to the beauty and light of Jesus, who is the only one who satisfies our souls.

Growing up and maturing is never easy. I might cry on Thursday or I might be happy and thankful for the break – probably both. But moving ahead is a necessity. When we move past the basics spiritually, we are changed. And it is then that we do begin seeing a little more how heaven sees and we are fine leaving Neverland in order to grow deeper and stronger in our faith.

When God Feels Far: From Barren to Beautiful

13000412_10102547634542308_443667638_oThis morning as I was getting breakfast and glanced outside our kitchen window, I noticed the first few buds beginning to burst with flowers. On Monday when my husband and I left for the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, there was no sign of new life. The trees were barren.

Today, even though it is dark and gloomy outside and thunderstorms and rain are in the forecast, there is an explosion of new life in my yard.

“Look kids! The flowers are budding!” I said.

They jumped out of their seats and ran outside to see. My son John snapped some photos of the new life before his big brown eyes.

During the winter months, the hardened buds and lifelessness from the trees are all we see but we know that in Spring, the buds are set up to blossom again. And much of the deadness all around us in the winter months actually protects the buds so they will sprout again and in the right time.

Similarly, I’ve gone through seasons of intense dryness spiritually where my soul is cold and numb to the things of the Lord. Where I don’t thirst for Jesus, the Living Water, as I should. Where I don’t treasure the gospel like I should and cling to his all-sufficient grace because I’m selfish, full of pride, the difficulties of life have choked me, and idols fill my heart. I have sometimes questioned, “Is God even working in the cold, winter months of my soul? Is he here?”

I’m still in a season of struggle or should I say “struggling well,” where I desire to be closer to Jesus and further away from my sin. But I know He is here just as sure as Spring promises new life.

I may not see the fruit in the waiting, but I know he is working. I may not behold what I want to “now.” I may not see change or growth in my anger, control, and people-pleasing struggles right away but it will come. This process of sanctification changes in each season and it is indeed a process of patience. Motherhood teaches me this every, single day.

We may not think we are growing or becoming a different person right now, but God sees the last paintbrush stroke on the canvas.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

In his grace, God carries us all the way to becoming more like his Son. It is always a gift of grace. And perhaps the greatest truth is that we can’t do it in our own feeble strength. But we can always look to Him for help.

What might appear as barren and cold in our souls, if we wait patiently, might actually be beautiful in due time. Just like the buds are exploding with new life, color, and vibrance, I know that God is fully able to work in our life in a way that we’ve never experienced before.

My One Word Resolution for 2016

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Several years ago, I ditched writing down the long list of New Year’s resolutions and instead adopted the idea of sticking to a one word theme for the whole year thanks to the website MyOneWord.org. It’s not that I didn’t fulfill my goals in past years, but when I fell short on them, I felt like a failure. Plus, I needed more simplicity and something different.

I loved the idea of choosing one word to inspire you the whole year and throughout each day. On our way driving back from Christmas vacation in the Midwest, I saw a church sign that read:

Daily devotion is better than a New Year’s Resolution.

That really struck a chord with me. I want to be devoted daily to the disciplines and responsibilities that are required of me right now, rather than being so committed to a pie in the sky resolution that isn’t specific or realistic.

In 2014, I chose to go with the word discipline. In 2015, I picked the word joy. And this year, it took me a few days to decide on the word C L E A N. I don’t know about you, but there are areas in my life that need some cleaning. I’m naturally a bit messy. I have to work hard at organization. My brain just doesn’t function in an orderly manner all the time. I want to be clean in the respect of my home.

Spiritually, I desire to have a clean heart and lips. I want my heart to be pure so I can more clearly hear from the Lord. I want to build others up this year with my words. I also want to have clean eating – less foods that include preservatives and additives and more foods made from scratch. I’m sure as the year progresses, I’ll find more areas that involve the word  C L E A N.

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In case you set some New Year’s Resolutions and are finding it difficult to stay committed to them, may I suggest that you choose one word for your 2016 instead? Some ideas for your word could be: balance, contentment, freedom, strength, trust, courage, prayer, simplicity, service, perseverance, peace, healthy, community, creativity, and more. It might take some time to think about which word suits you well. Once you have the word, write down why you chose it and what you hope to gain from committing to that word. You could go even further and paste it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror so it’s easily visible. The important thing is that you allow yourself to be regularly reminded of it so you can take daily action.

2016 is a clean slate and a time to start from scratch. May you have a great beginning, daily devoting yourself to the tasks in front of you right now.

Have you already chosen your one word? What word do you think suits you well for 2016?

Blessings,

Samantha

Summer in Holyoke: A Little Taste of Heaven

I was recently offered the opportunity to write a column for our local newspaper. It has been so much fun! This article was originally published in my column: Samantha’s Salt in The Holyoke Enterprise – September 3, 2015 (photos included in this blog post only).

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Jeremiah caught this rainbow a few weeks ago. Our new church home: First Baptist Church Holyoke (side & back view)

Before my husband began the interview process for his job in Holyoke, we never knew such a town existed on the map. The mountains were all we’d experienced in Colorado so it was a surprise to learn of the Northeastern plains. When we drove in for the first time and saw the cornfields, water tower, parks, elementary school, and nicely manicured lawns, I could sense it was a special place. The serenity is what struck me most.

I didn’t grow up in a small, rural town. I moved twice in my childhood and my dad’s work brought us to medium-sized cities on the east coast. During my summer breaks in college, I traveled overseas and did several out of state publishing internships. After I met my husband at seminary in Virginia, we moved to Dallas for more schooling. The big city has been our life for the past eight years.

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Breaking in our new yard. This will be the year of the John Deer 🙂

In June, when our big yellow Penske truck made its way to our driveway, I felt the baseline stress of the big city falling off my shoulders. The air was clean. The wide-open spaces refreshed my spirit. The slow pace of life was new to me and was what my soul had been craving. The orange, yellow, pink, and red radiant bursts of color in the sky at sundown gave me something to look forward to each evening.

Before we moved out, I wondered how the adjustment would go. Would I go into shock not having access to all the “stuff” and entertainment? Would it be difficult living somewhere more remote?

I miss those conveniences occasionally. But the majority of the time I appreciate fewer choices and less stuff. Less temptation is present to hit the Starbucks and Chick-fil-a drive thru. Amazon Prime has been my best friend. You can’t beat free two day shipping. We have taken a few trips out to the surrounding cities and it’s always nice to return.

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Will in the field of dandelions behind our house

My kids have found joy in exploring new swimming pools, lakes, parks, dirt roads, animals, and farms. My son got to ride on a combine for the first time and learn about harvesting. Our new church family has opened up their arms to us and is becoming the family we couldn’t bring with us.

The ability to hop on our bikes and ride to Subway, Heidi’s (the dirty chai tea latte is my favorite), mail a package without waiting in a long line, or peruse The Oak Tree is something I’ve never had before. And a 1-minute drive to the marketplace… it doesn’t get any better than that when you practically live at the grocery store with four young mouths to feed.

I realize the story I’m writing may be different when the streets are blanketed with ice and snow and all I’ll want to do is hibernate under the covers. Since it’s human nature, I will probably grow familiar with the charm and hidden blessings this little town has to offer. I know it’s not a perfect town- no place is. No people are.

12032349_10102246540751678_1138077519_nBut I pray that my heart will always find something to be grateful for here. Many people would love to live in such a place where you get the kind of “feel” you just don’t have on city streets. Where you meet some really special people who genuinely care for others – whether it’s found in a friendly wave, a genuine conversation, or in a surprise vegetable delivery on your front porch.

I definitely realize your perspective may be different than mine, especially if you’ve lived here all your life. I’m an outsider looking in. I find it amazing that you could stay planted somewhere for so long. But now I understand why. You’re in Holyoke.

As the leaves will soon fall to the ground and the air grows crisp, I will remember and be thankful for what this town meant to our family this summer – a little taste of heaven in the midst of a big transition.

And as the Lord wills, we do plan on staying a while.

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My One Word Resolution

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Thanks to the inspiration from MyOneWord.org, I’m losing the long list of resolutions this year and choosing just one word as a theme for the year.

D I S C I P L I N E

It’s the word that keeps coming to my mind, even though it’s not a popular one.

To take it a little deeper, I desire more discipline in…

speaking less and listening more

cultivating deeper relationships

relying less on caffeine

journaling about everyday life

affirming and uplifting my husband

not comparing myself to others

knowing Scripture

sitting on the floor with my children

wisely/intentionally stewarding the gifts and resources God has entrusted to me

putting letters in the mail

my personal time with Jesus

realistically working off baby weight

sharing stories of God’s love and grace

joyfully serving my husband and children

consuming less and creating more

giving my anxiety struggles to the Lord

controlling my emotions

being bold in sharing my faith

laughing more and stressing less

… and more as I continue to reflect on the theme of discipline in 2014.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. – the Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 9:24-27

Have you made any resolutions or considered choosing one word you’d like to focus on?

Book Review & Giveaway – Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior

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A while back, my former college professor and friend, Karen Swallow Prior, sent me a copy of her new book to read and review. She also gave me a copy to giveaway on my blog. I’m excited to finally share this with you as Karen is very dear to me.

Review – Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me 

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me author and beloved friend Karen Swallow Prior writes a beautiful and insightful memoir connecting her love for literature to her own life experiences and personal faith in God. From a very young age, books (and animals) have been an integral part of Karen’s life so it’s only natural that her first published book is titled Booked.

In each chapter, Karen skillfully weaves a great literature classic (Charlotte’s Web, Great Expectations, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Gulliver’s Travel and Jane Eyre to name a few) and relates the main and subtle themes of the novel to her life. Karen helps you see these classics through a biblical lens, ultimately leading you to a greater discovery of self and ultimately God.

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Whether you’re familiar with classic literature or not, you’ll fall in love with Karen’s humor, intellect, story-telling, authenticity, depth, and ability to “show” rather than tell a life story. It’s as if you were there with her in every emotion and experience. It’s difficult not to read on to the next chapter.

Having sat under Karen’s teaching for four years as a college student, Booked brought me back to my undergraduate years in Liberty University’s English Department where I fondly remember her contagious passion for the written word and for students to truly grasp just how much words have the power to change a life.

When you finish reading Booked you’ll be encouraged by the truth that God will meet you anywhere at anytime. As Karen writes, “He met me where I was. In the books.” And He reveals Himself in such a way for the purpose of redemption and life transformation.

priorAbout the author: Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband live on a 100-year old homestead in central Virginia with horses, dogs, and chickens. And lots of books.

** To enter to win a free copy of Booked, please leave a comment on this post. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and announced on Monday. 

New Article: 8 Non-Negotiables for Dads with Daughters- KirkCameron.com

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Lately, I’ve been inspired by the importance of the daddy-daughter relationship and I wrote about it recently on KirkCameron.com. After all, I’m a Daddy’s girl myself!

This was my first article geared primarily for dads and I’ve been so humbled by the response it’s getting and have really appreciated hearing from readers. It makes me realize this is truly a need in our culture today. Feel free to share your thoughts over there and thanks for reading!

8 Non-Negotiables for Dads with Daughters

A couple months ago, my kids were playing upstairs when my two-year-old daughter Rebekah starts screaming at the top of her lungs. I ran upstairs to find that she’d cut her eyebrow from jumping off the bed onto her brother’s train table.

Since it looked bad, I called my neighbor for help so I could take Rebekah to the Urgent Care clinic. After waiting and being seen, the doctor explained that she’d need three stitches. The nurses and I held Rebekah down while the doctor threaded her skin. Her eyes filled with tears as she shouted, “D-a-d-d-y … D-a-d-d-y!”

Read the rest over on KirkCameron.com

What to do With Miley

credit: eonline.com

photo credit: eonline.com

You’ve probably heard about Miley Cyrus’s performance last night at MTV’s VMAs. I didn’t watch the VMAs but I saw a clip on CNN and that was enough to know why everyone is shocked. My jaw definitely dropped. This morning I was debating about tweeting, “Mommas and Daddy’s: Don’t let your babies grow up to be like Miley.”

Then I thought long and hard about those words and I chose not to tweet them. I needed to shut my mouth and pray for her and really look beyond the show of it all and see the obvious brokenness. My heart grew sad for her because God wants so much more for her life.

Author and blogger Annie Downs wrote today:

While today’s headlines are tearing her [Miley] to shreds, we as Christians HAVE to sound different than the world. We HAVE to yell a different chant in her direction about how God made her on purpose and how she is valuable because of WHO she is, not WHAT she does. I’m not saying we ignore the influence she is having, but if we want to help her [and that is the question titling this post after all], then we have to look at her with eyes of compassion and have our words sound from there.

Eyes of compassion is definitely something I need because I’m initially judgmental and angry over things like this. I mean, rightfully so, right? But then I have to remember what God has saved me from and is saving me from. I’m no different than Miley, just a sinner saved by grace. And I sure need compassion from others every day.

My brokenness might not be manifested on a stage for all the world to see, but God sure knows my sins, struggles, and areas where I have yet to be Christ-like in. And the Lord knows that without him, I am a mess. I constantly need his forgiveness and grace.

I pray that Miley will come to know Jesus. I pray that Christians will extend unconditional love to her and help bring her to the One who can heal her brokenness.

Grace to An Imperfect Mom

225386_898597816168_55713931_42724790_2476659_nYesterday was just one of those days in motherhood. My three kiddos were extremely demanding, whiny, needy, disobedient, and hard to handle.

And I didn’t have much to give them. I have felt that way a lot lately being 29 weeks pregnant. I have felt like the imperfect mom a lot. But God always has a way of saving us when we feel like we’re at the end of our rope.

I remembered I had a bridesmaid dress fitting for my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. So last minute I asked my wonderful neighbors Angela and Aimee if they could help watch the kids. They got back to me immediately, were over in just a few hours, and held down the fort. Within only 10 minutes of driving down the interstate alone, I felt relief and like I could actually be a good mom when I returned.

That day I had also been struggling with lonliness and body image- two things I don’t struggle with regularly but do every once in a while. When I got to Alfred Angelo and tried on my dress, I opened the fitting room door to show the lady who did my alterations. We talked about how this was my fourth pregnancy and how my belly would grow more in the next few weeks before the wedding. A mom with her daughter overheard us and yells over at me, “This is your fourth pregnancy?” Her jaw dropped.

I wasn’t sure what she was meaning in her tone of voice.

“Yes it is, do you think that’s crazy?” I asked.

“No, you look so good!” she responded. “It looks like this is your first! I can’t believe it!”

I laughed and said thank you. It was reassuring that maybe I didn’t look like a whale afterall. The drive on the way back home was so pleasant and when I walked in the door, Angela and Aimee surprised me and had cleaned the whole downstairs of my house! They picked up everything on the floor, folded 2 big baskets of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, cleaned my daughter’s nursery, picked up the entire playroom, organized books and crafts on the shelf, and more.

They did all of this while watching their kids and mine (a total of 6 little ones).

My husband had also gotten home and picked up some needed groceries and surprised me with a dozen red roses.

I was amazed at Angela and Aimee’s generosity and thoughtfulness. They served me with their time and mad cleaning skills and helped lift me up. And who doesn’t always appreciate flowers from their husband to know he really does care?

I had no idea all of that was coming my way, but God did. He reminded me that He was there and working and cared about how I felt and the neverending demands of raising and investing in your children.

I don’t know where you’re at in your motherhood journey but I’m guessing that if you’re like me, you need more time to yourself. You need more time with your husband. Maybe you struggle with yelling, anger, impatience, balancing work and being at home, depression, finding real community, or comparing yourself to other moms and friends.

Maybe you struggle with all the expectations that come with Mother’s Day approaching. The reality is that our kids don’t always show their love and obedience to us even on that day. And we might even get in an argument with our husband on the way to church. I’m pretty sure that happened to us last Mother’s Day.

I think it’s safe to say that as Mommas we need to let go of expectations, our failures, insecurities, and our dreams of perfection and allow God’s grace to shower us like a cool, refreshing rain after the scorching summer heat.

His love is there to draw upon whenever we need it and it is in Him where we find our full satisfaction and joy. He knows we are weak too. We fall short every day. That is why we need him. That is why we need the body of Christ and each other. We need his grace to change us from the inside out and to give us hope.

Well by the time bedtime came, I didn’t have to do anything except help put my kids to bed. I felt renewed to love them again and give them the attention they deserve. Thankfulness flooded my heart. I laid my head down and slept the best 8 hours I’ve slept in a long time.

A Letter to My Son, On Manhood, Mission, & Meaning in Life

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This letter was inspired by the sadness in my heart from the recent headlines regarding young men in our city and culture as a whole.

Dear John Samuel,

I consider my role as your Momma and the time I have on this earth to raise you a serious responsibility and privilege to which I will be held accountable to God.

Every day I get to spend with you reading books, playing in the yard, cuddling on the couch, nourishing your belly, going on adventures, meeting people, having conversations with you about Jesus, writing letters and numbers, playing soccer, answering your questions, listening to your fears and concerns, disciplining you and more is a gift to invest in your precious life.

When I look at you I don’t always see the handsome 4-year-old, brown eyed boy that you are, but I see the man you will be one day.

That vision puts a healthy fear inside my heart to love and nurture you well.

As your Momma, right alongside Daddy, I promise to teach you as best I know how what it means to honor and cherish the women in your life. To treat them with love, gentleness and respect. To practice self-control, integrity, and perseverance. To be a man of character, commitment, and discernment.

I will help you understand what it means to stand up when everyone else around you cowards. To be a servant leader whose life is marked by humility, honesty and love- not pride, position, and power. To be a man who is stable, responsible and teachable. To follow and obey God’s commands to value and treasure all human life because He is our Creator and the ultimate authority.

As you grow older, you’ll realize how difficult it is to do the right thing. This world and your flesh will tempt you to neglect God’s goodness and follow your own passions and lusts. Don’t give in to these lies. The wide road will trip you up and lead to danger, destruction or even death. Follow the narrow road where you’ll find joy, wholeness, meaning, peace and abundant life in Christ.

As your Momma, I know I’ll fail you at times and let you down because I’m not perfect. I struggle at times to do what is right. You already know that. But God is perfect and will never fail you. He is the one who will help you become a man who influences others and brings peace, joy, and life to everyone around him. Not chaos, sadness, and harm.

In God’s strength, I will do my best to help you understand the purpose God has for you here on earth. I’ll do my best to teach you that meaning in life is found in Christ. When you know Him personally, you will see that He heals brokenness, redeems the ugliest situations, raises the dead to life and transforms the hardest hearts.

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3 arrows representing her 3 boys. Painting by my dear friend, Laura Short

I also believe that our home is the training ground for the mission you’ll be on one day. I believe that the discipline, love, security, and boundaries that happen in our home will greatly impact the man you’ll become. God has given you and your sisters (and brother on the way) as arrows for your Daddy and I to aim and shoot in the right direction.

One day, we’ll have to release you into battle where you’ll make your own decisions and choices. You’ll have the choice to put all that you learned about God’s word, life, and love into practice. And all Mommy and Daddy will be able to do is pray for you.

Until then, my precious child, allow the Lord to direct your steps. Follow His path and pursue holiness and righteousness. This world needs your voice. Your heart. Your life. Your leadership. Your God.

I love you and I’m cheering you on, son.

All of my love,

Momma

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court. – Psalm 127:3-5

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