Transforming Thoughts on the River

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)

They flow, curving through Northwest Montana.

The North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork.  Swan. Whitefish. I most appreciate these rivers in late July. August, if the smoke hasn’t settled in like a thick, wool blanket.

The hot sun bakes my shoulders. Sweat trickles down my back. My eyes blink, squinting in the sudden brightness as I step out from the dappled darkness of the trees to the rocky “beach.” Thorns and bushes scratch my legs and my feet twist, walking over flat, large stones. This place was riverbed not two months ago.

An old favorite chorus at church growing up proclaimed, “I’ve got a river of life, flowing out of me. It makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Opens prison doors sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up a well!”

How freely does that river flow through me now? Have I somehow dammed it, leaving only a trickle?

I tuck the thought away. 

Deep, slow breath.  It smells cooler here, immediately next to the river. I smile, it always does.  My baseball hat feels like a winter stocking cap. Now sweat drips between my brows, furrowed as I squint. It is sweltering.

Still, I hesitate at the edge of the water. The rushing, constant roar of the water muffles the little voices behind me.

A step.  The initial shock of icy cold is unpleasant, 90 degree heat and all. I always have to pluck up my nerve.

Another thought surfaces:  The kids were babies.  Yesterday, wasn’t it?  We were bleary-eyed.  Arms locked in a clutching position.  Our voices gentle, babbling noises and delighted smiles.  Shhh and da-da-da-da.  Repeating words with delight – “leaf” “rock” “river!”

It carries us. 

I have been trying to grasp and hold.  Slow it.  Stop it.   Sometimes I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day.  Waking every morning to the same everything…mind-numbing, monotony.  But then it rushes by, dizzying.  When did my oldest spring up, nearly as tall as me? There are no toddlers or babies in the house anymore.

I cannot control how it flows.  We are out here in the middle, being carried forward.  We can’t go back upstream.  We can only position ourselves to navigate what’s ahead.

I realize that my feet and shins are now comfortable.  I am exactly the right temperature.  Red, brown and grey rocks are clearly visible beneath the clear water.  It’s low today.  Shallow. 

A yellow leaf floats past.

The red raft drops next to me.  Half ashore, half bobbing in the current.  Sides streaked with grey mud.  The kids shriek as they splash into the water, too.  The littlest slips on a rock, barely keeping his balance.

Jesus’ words to the woman at the well now rise to the surface of my mind, “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.   Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

We climb aboard.  One paddle per person.  He shoves the raft out from shore, holding it momentarily from drifting downstream as he swings his legs over the side.  We’re off!  Slowly following the leaf downstream.

Ahead, the water spits and churns.  “Everybody paddle!”  Our paddling is uneven, adults on one side, kids on  the other.  The raft responds, turning to the left.  For several moments we head toward the spitting, churning section sideways.  From the back, Kagan dips his oar a few times and we right.   Nose forward we now squarely face the “rapids”.

The boat jerks violently several times.  The youngest begins to cry.  He huddles in the bottom of the raft, chewing on his life vest. 

Minutes pass.  We now face only a long stretch.  We are moving swiftly, but there are no more bumps to face.  I attempt comfort.  The illusion of safety has been lost.  He is impervious to my assurances.

I think of the disciples, long ago on the sea of Galilee.  Grizzled fishermen terrified by a powerful storm. Jesus, sleeping in the boat. 

Half an hour later, our youngest child’s continued crying is now under my skin.  It feels like a splinter, uncomfortable and annoying.  It’s self-indulgent.  Sharp words rise to my tongue.  As they begin for form, I feel a nudge in my spirit. 

“You can be very like him, Becky.” 

The sharp words evaporate before I release them.

In life, I am swept in the current.  I am tossed and jostled and dropped in the rapids.   I have fastened my life preserver.  I clutch my oar. But, just like this little one, like those disciples, at times I find myself huddling in the bottom of the boat.  Eyes screwed shut against the sun and scenery, ignoring the Parent who rides with me.

At those times, terrified questions leak from me:  “what’s next?”  “Remember that trouble!?!” 

Our raft floats to the edge of the river, now caught in an eddy, gently turning.  The crying continues.  So do my thoughts.  We paddle, just one side, and the raft turns another circle.

I find my thought swirling, too.  “I’ll always be like this” “Who do I think I am?” “It’s already too late…”  Vivid embarrassment, guilt and shame from past failures color the thoughts and the circles are no longer lazy, but frenetic.  All that remains now is those feelings.

A new thought pierces the barrage.  The oar of Scripture gently slows the swirling:

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”  (Philippians 1:6).  My ineptitude will not defeat God’s good work.

“The Counselor, the Holy spirit, whom  the Father [has] sent will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  (John 14:26).  I will not forget.  I will hear.  I will see.  I will proclaim.

The Spirit carries us along. Jesus knows what rapids lay ahead.  Those rapids I did not anticipate yesterday?  They were no surprise to Him. He positions me to navigate.  He gives me the oar and guides my strokes. 

We paddle on one side, then the other.  Our arms burn slightly with the effort.  It’s work.  Forward  motion now. 

The boat noses back into the current, and begins again downstream.

It’s slow now, barely moving.  The littlest one’s tears have slowed, but he is still huddled there in the bottom of the raft, clenching his life vest for security.  His big brother jumps off the side of the boat with a shriek of delight.  Cool water splashes us. I laugh at his joy. 

I remember Paul’s words, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  (2 Cor. 3:17-18).

The youngest looks up.  His sister offers him cherry, her own teeth stained with the juice.  Conflicted for a moment, his desire for one of his favorite fruits wins out and he lets go of his vest to take it.  Soon, he is reaching for more with both hands.

He might have fun yet. I think I will, too.


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the problem with rules

“Hey! I told you to pick up that scooter!” I found myself hollering at one of the kids.

“I know, but that doesn’t seem fair! You said this morning that you wanted us to be responsible for picking up the things we got out and I didn’t leave that scooter out today! And, yesterday, I had to wipe the table down when it wasn’t my job!”

My blood boils as I let this child know that: (1) this response is disrespectful and disobedient; (2) child is correct that everyone should pick up, but (3) child should pay more attention to child’s own actions than child’s sibling’s actions (as my pastor would say, “drive your own car!”); and (4) everyone is driving me stark, raving mad.

It occurs to me that I am raising a bunch of lawyers. In a typical day, I go to great lengths to define my expectations for critical happenings and then spend the next 5 to 10 minutes clarifying what I’ve just said as the kids shoot questions at me. I define words (“well, mom. You said a “while,” but how long do you mean, exactly?”) and otherwise attempt to close all loopholes (“so, no candy this morning. But, what about gum? What if Bob’s mom offers us cookies? That’s not technically candy…and it would be rude to say no…”).

As I once again fight the urge to pull my hair out in frustration, I think of the apostle Paul — the lawyer. “I would not have known what sin was except through the law…apart from law, sin is dead.” (Romans 7:7).

Parenting these days seems to be a microcosm of this particular truth. The more I set specific rules, the more technical my kids have become about meeting those requirements. It’s as if something inside them comes to life that needs to defy the rules — or, at least get as close to the line as possible, without technically breaking the rules. This time. The kids are motivated to merely meet the standard rather than embrace the spirit behind the rules.

Aren’t we all like this?

The law, it turns out, was not enacted to save us; but to show us our natures. We are unable to perfectly meet the holy standard. We fail — both intentionally and by omission in countless, creative ways.

Focusing on the transgressions only; however, does not rescue us from the cycle. I for sure issued my child consequences that day. But it doesn’t get to the root of the issue.

The root of the issue is this sin that causes the child to focus on self.

Try as I might to persuade myself that this is primarily a childhood problem — as I hear my own words and phrases and logic repeated back to me through my kids — I realize it is not. I, too, have sin that causes me to focus overly much on myself. In that space, overly focused on “me,” I experience the law – and my own internal list of “do’s” and “don’ts” – raise to life a rebellion in which I perform mental gymnastics. Test loopholes. Ask God to define words. Then feel either smugness when I am victorious or shame, when I fail.

I’m beginning to learn, friend, that to begin digging at that root we do not need more rules. No, we must change focus to Jesus.

The first and most important commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Delight ourselves fully in Him. To love Him in this way, we gaze upon Him and obedience follows naturally because we want to please Him. We act not to earn approval or mercy, but to be near Jesus. The specific do’s and don’ts lose their importance. What matters instead is the spirit behind the law.

Jesus taught: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love-” (John 15:10-11). If we remain in Jesus’ love, obedience flows from that source.

So, let us be powered by love, not legalism, friend. Our question not, “what is permitted here?” But, “what does the Spirit tell me would please Him here?”

As you begin your week, wherever it finds you: suiting up to deal with arguing kids, pouring energy into a job that sucks the life out of you, sleepless from waking with baby and a marathon of cleaning up messes and praying for nap time — let us pray together, for one another. Lord, out of your glorious riches, we ask that we, your children would be, rooted and established in love so that we may have power together to grasp how high and wide and long and deep is the love of Christ. To know this love that surpasses all understanding–that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-18). Amen.

If you could use a reminder to pray to be rooted and established in love, click here to sign up for the free graphic I created.

p.s. If you, like I, sometimes need some practical tools to deal with your kids … I recommend several books, in no particular order: Loving our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen by Faber and Mazlin and any Love and Logic books.

Work in Progress

Quiet morning, busy week.

Feeling the pressure mounting and experiencing every of minor thing gone wrong as particularly annoying.

Dishwasher? Still broken. Printer? Offline. Kids? Bickering.

Anybody else facing challenges these next few days?

The mix of challenges is as different as we are. Personally, I found myself rushing home hungry to a house of tired kids, thinking of the work I didn’t *quite* get to finish, vaguely anxious about the logistics of traveling by plane Wednesday (should I try to carry on all my luggage? will all those 3 ring binders fit? do I have travel-size shampoo?).

I caught myself yelling, “STOP YELLING!” at the kids the other night. Shockingly, it did not stop the yelling and about the second time, I yelled my directive, I realized that my modeling on the issue was leaving something to be desired.

We all desperately need a reset at times, don’t we?

When we find ourselves yelling or avoiding or ignoring or whatever our particular “tell” is, let’s take a deep breath. Right when we realize it.

Then, let’s remind ourselves: when our time, energy, patience and smarts just aren’t enough, it is there Jesus shines through all the more. Friend, we still have to show up, we still might have to bite our tongue, or talk when we would rather pretend we weren’t actually present…Yes, yes. But the first step of faith, friend, is stopping in our tracks right then to listen to Him speak over us, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (1 Cor. 12:8).

The power of the “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [Who] is before all things and in [Whom] all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15, 17) gives us His power in our weakness so His glory is shown.

That’s the next step of faith: showing up, with this belief in hand, giving it our best, and surrendering to Him the results.

Easier said than done, I know. So let’s breath Him in deep and encourage each other — His power is perfected in our weaknesses and He is more than enough.

Vocabulary and Communication

There are two seasons in Montana: winter and road construction. It’s not winter anymore, which means it’s currently road construction season.

This year, one of the main thoroughfares right in our little residential neighborhood has been under construction for several weeks.

It’s fine, except that my habit of taking this road is so strong that I am always headed that direction before I remember it’s closed. Last week, one of the kids was in the car with me as we set off:

“Hey, mom, the road by the waterpark is closed, remember?”

“Oh, right,” I slow to turn around.

“But, we when went to the waterpark Tuesday, Sarah’s mom went this way. You can turn by the turkey trail and drive by the houses.”

“Huh?” My family calls a little walking/bike path in town “the turkey trail.” The “turkey trail” begins at a road, but then meanders through a bit of a wooded area, next to a gully where there is no driveable road. Also, our entire neighborhood is residential, meaning: all there is is houses.

“Which way did you go?”

“Drive by.the.houses. Don’t turn around! We can go if we drive by. The. Houses. The HOUSES, mom!”

“Look, around you! There are houses everywhere!”


I ignored the child and we took the detour road I knew would surely get us around the road construction. My child was unhappy that I did not act upon their suggested directions, but I couldn’t. I literally did not know which street they were talking about.

Too often, communication is like this. We know what we mean, but we don’t have the right vocabulary to actually convey that meaning to the person across from us. Worse yet, even when we know what we mean and do our best to convey it with the vocabulary we have, the words get twisted in the air and lodge themselves sideways in the recipient’s heart.

Sometimes, while we think we know what we mean, we actually don’t.

I was reading the account of Adam and Eve the other day for Bible study. Genesis 3 says, “The man and his wife were naked and they felt no shame.” This is literal, I believe. But I’ve begun to realize that it is deeper than literal.

Adam and Eve were fully known by God.

They were also fully known by each other. I am not just talking physically. I am talking, their deepest desires, dreams and beings were plainly visible to each other and their core self was fully accepted by one another.

What must it have been like, to never experience the frustration of miscommunication? To never use a series of words and immediately know that the person has not actually received what you meant? To be able to truly understand and be understood without work, without something going awry?

After they ate the fruit, they felt fear, shame and hurt. They literally ran and hid from God. They also hid from each other, covering themselves. Then they lied and blamed one another.

We all do that now, don’t we? Our human condition makes it inevitable that we experience a variety of pains. Both physical and deeper, emotional and spiritual pains. We spend a good portion of our lives creating ways to cover up our deepest desires to protect ourselves from these hurts, navigating who we can trust with what parts of ourselves (if we are courageous enough to keep trying), telling ourselves and others falsehoods and blaming others for things we ourselves have contributed to.

God’s heart was filled with pain in the Garden. One of the crowning achievements of His loving, brilliant, good and beautiful creative work had chosen to sever their intimate relationship with Him. We turned to walk down a dark path filled with confusion, violence and hurt. He could see it all, the terrible things, the innocence injured, the way even something simple like driving to the store will highlight our inability to really communicate with each other. He saw it all, and what was His response?

Knowing the fiery judgments of God recorded later in the Bible, I expect His immediate response to be: “do you have any idea what you have done!?! Do you know what this means?!?” I respond this way, when I am hurt and the consequences for someone’s foolish decision is permanent and awful. I expect the curses and consequences to be Jesus’ immediate reaction.

But Jesus — who knows all things — walked through the Garden in the pleasant cool of the day, knowing what it all meant, and called out, “Adam, where are you?”

He still calls out. He walks through this unpleasant and sad world and calls to each one of us, “where are you?”

The lyrics of a Steffany Gretzinger song capture this poignantly:

Come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me;

There’s no need to cover what I already see;

No need frightened by intimacy;

Just throw off your fear and come running to me.

We don’t have the perfect vocabulary to respond to Jesus. We don’t know ourselves well enough to come fully out of hiding. God must teach us — through His word, the Bible and in community with other Christians — but as we take our tentative steps, He moves closer. Jesus does not misunderstand us, even when we do not have the perfect words to tell Him where we think we should go around the detour.

Let’s come out of hiding, friend. We are safe here with Him.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24).

Lessons from a Broken Dishwasher

Monday night, we finally admitted that the dishwasher is broken. Over the last several months, we’d been noticing our bowls weren’t *quite* clean when the kids went to unload them. We made adjustments in our loading and rinsing, but there was no corresponding positive adjustment in the cleanliness of our dishes.

I — in typical pragmatic laziness — decided that although there were teeny flecks of food on the bowls after washing, the heat cycle of the dishwasher surely sanitized everything adequately. So, we persisted in use. Over the weeks, the bowls became flecked with larger food particles. The garbage disposal quit working. We could stand it no longer.

We pulled up a YouTube video and began poking around the disposal. And then the dishwasher. We came to realize that we needed a professional. I called the professional, and they will arrive to *hopefully* repair the dishwasher on Tuesday. So we have been washing all our plates, bowls, cups and utensils by hand since Monday.

It’s not life-changing. It’s a first-world problem. It’s annoying and frustrating all the same. And, it’s been a good reminder. For some reason, in the age of technology, we think that we can find the answers ourselves. No need for experts. No need for professionals. At times, we believe that we are omniscient. If we are savvy enough with our internet research, we can know all things.

We also seem to think that we are omnipotent. Since we can know all things, we should have the power to fix all things. Our marriages. Our kids. Our parents.

Except, my broken dishwasher. And my broken disposal.

Part of faith, I’m learning, is admitting that, although I could probably know more, I am not held to the omnipotent standard. Part of faith, too, is trusting that I can’t do it all. Although the information is out there and we could probably fix this or that, God does not expect us to be omniscient or omnipotent. He’ll do that part, and take all the broken things and make them beautiful in His time.

Go ahead, call the Professional. Wait for Him to arrive, and trust His expertise.