God With Us....When We Hurt

I weep.  I ache.  I'm drawn to the news reports, and at the same time am physically nauseated by them.  Just like you, I long to believe the myth that I can protect my children from every danger.  I make sure they wear seatbelts and bike helmets, take vitamins, look both ways before crossing the street, refrain from walking home alone...and on and on it goes.  I'm a mother.  That's what I do. 

But Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has punched us all in the gut.  We are forced to come to grips with the fact that we live in a fallen world, one that allows for another's free will to impart good -- OR evil.  As such, my personal control over my children's safety is severely limited. It's a harsh reality that shakes me to my core.

I assumed I was holding it all together, but as Dr. James Dobson and I addressed this tragedy over the Family Talk airwaves on Monday, I was overwhelmed.  We recalled the Scriptures in Psalm 112:  "Praise the Lord.  Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands."  Check.  I do fear the Lord, and I find great joy in His words.  But my voice broke as I looked ahead to what was coming in verses 6-7:  "Surely he will never be shaken....He will have no fear of bad news."  Thud.  Admittedly, I am shaken.  I do wince when I see a news bulletin emanating from my School District now.  Forgive me, Lord.  I desperately want to stand firm, but I'm incredibly frail and human. 

So, once again I'm driven to my knees.  Back to the One who truly holds my sons' and my daughter's eternity:  Jesus Christ -- not me.  The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Emmanuel....God with us.  And I realize anew that it is precisely because of this threat of terror pressing all around us that He did come to earth.  It's precisely why I cling to Emmanuel during this hallowed Christmas season.  Oh, God, thank you for coming to save wretched, evil humanity - lost souls like me.  We so urgently need You here with us at this time.

Coffee Convictions

Ask anybody who knows me:  I'm a coffee drinker. As such, I must confess that for the past several years, 3-4 times a week I've visited a national coffee shop chain on my way to work.  Their store is convenient and consistently offers up my favorite beverage, hot and perfect.

However, a few months ago while waiting for the barista to whip up my order, a poster on the wall caught my eye.  It was somewhat obscure, but it sure suggested the company's world view:  sexual diversity wrapped in anti-Biblical terms, global awareness bordering on earth worship, and idolatry of their product brazenly encouraging a "you deserve this!" mentality.

Right then I knew the time had come for us to part ways.  In good conscience I could no longer financially support behavior that grieves the heart of God.   Amazingly, that day I went cold turkey with this coffee chain.

It was a private decision, and one that I didn't necessarily advertise.  Just a simple act of obedience that I was personally called to take.  What I didn't know was the avalanche of blessing I was about to receive.

I started frequenting another coffee shop in town -- this one privately owned.  Because of my regular 7:45 a.m. after-car-pool routine, the workers there soon began to recognize me.  Imagine my surprise the day I walked in the front door and my steaming drink awaited me on the counter.  "I saw you drive up," the young man grinned.  It was then that I heard the praise music playing over the speakers.  "Hey, I love your music," I said, and he proceeded to tell me all about the Christian youth conference he had just attended.

The owner, too, noticed my morning visits to her shop.  On one occasion I stopped by much later than normal.  "Change of schedule?" she asked.  I hesitated, but offered, "Well, every Wednesday morning a group of us moms gather to pray for the kids at our high school."  "Whoa, really??  Moms get together and do that?"  "Yeah," I answered, "pretty cool, huh?"  "That's awesome!  I've never heard of that."  The following Wednesday I arrived just as she was training a new employee.  "Hey, Josh - get this -- this lady here goes to a prayer group at her school every week just to pray for her kids.  Isn't that neat?"  16-yr-old Josh smiled and shrugged.  I couldn't believe she remembered our brief conversation.

Relationships with that staff continue to build.  I learned that the owner's house burned down in our wildfires this summer; I've met Brett who's going on a mission trip to South Africa next Spring.  Yesterday Alec was pleased to tell me he got a raise because he had impressed the boss by memorizing my complicated latte order (Uh, I think that's a compliment...), and just this morning Ashley shyly admitted that she's nervous about her college Psychology final today.  I gave her a hug and told her I'd be praying.

And finally, there's the precious young woman with the pentagram tattooed on her chest who always has crude MTV videos playing in the background.  I assumed we had little in common, but when I dropped by recently during her shift she exclaimed, "Hey, where have you BEEN?? I haven't seen you in ages!"  Wow, really?  She noticed and cares?  Forgive me, Lord, for overlooking her.  You certainly don't.

Real people.  Real life.  Souls I would've missed had I resisted that tug from God.  I'd been so focused on what I couldn't have any more (convenient, perfectly-made coffee), that I nearly missed out on what was right in front of me.

What's the Lord been prompting you to change in your life?  It's likely there's a far greater outcome awaiting you on the other side.  Give it a try.  Who knows -maybe you are just the person the Lord's been trying to send someone else's way.  Come on...it's time to share the adventure!

Mary Didn't Have a Facebook Page

Right now I have 1,756 pictures on my phone.  Mostly of my kids or family events.  I love digitization which allows us to carry these memories around with us wherever we go!  As parents, we especially want to capture every magical and extraordinary moment in our child's life for posterity.  I also have dozens of friends who regularly post photo albums on their Facebook pages or blogs.  It's a fabulous way to keep in touch.

And yet, I recently attended a significant event in which none of us had our phones or cameras handy.  I was amazed how different the emphasis was.  As I look back, I realize that my recollection of that day has been permanently imprinted on my heart and mind differently than if it were digitized.

I think Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood this well.  After all, she had neither a Smart Phone nor a Facebook page; she didn't even have an instant Polaroid camera!  She simply had to tuck the precious moments deep within her heart.  While the shepherds were mesmerized at the discovery of her Baby in a cow's trough and proceeded to announce it to the world (a.k.a. post it on their Facebook page), Mary was apparently contemplating life in a very different way.  She quietly and poignantly retreated to her own thoughts.  I'm fascinated with the account of her response to the birth of Christ as recorded in Luke 2:19

"Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully."  Other translations explain it similarly:  She "kept all these sayings, weighing and pondering them in her heart."  She "meditated on them...turned them over in her mind."  One version even suggests that Mary couldn't escape her thoughts; she kept "mulling them over in her heart."  And my personal favorite:  "She treasured all these things."  Ahhh....what a description of sacredness.

At this Christmas season, instead of constantly reaching for a camera, what if we reached for a hand? Rather than being fixated by a laptop screen or Iphone, perhaps we fix our gaze upon the child standing before us.  Admittedly, we wouldn't be capturing it on film, but we would most certainly lock the moment in our hearts.  We might just ponder it, mull it over and yes, even treasure the season.  Oh, I know these memories would not be nearly as crisp as a Facebook post, but perhaps it's a way of balancing the emphasis a bit.

I have an opportunity to do this tonight as I head out to my son's high school Christmas concert.  Of course I'll snap a few shots -- but instead of having my hand on the Iphone the whole time, I think I'll grasp the hand of my husband sitting next to me, sink my eyes upon my boy...and drink deeply of this one-of-a-kind musical memory.

The unique thing about our memories is that no two are the same.  Tonight while I'm enthralled by the trombone section, the person on my left might be straining to see the percussionist in the back row...or the little sister on the sidelines dancing to her brother's clarinet solo.  We each capture life's moments in different ways -- and that's a good thing.

What moments will you find to treasure this Christmas season?

The Sparkle Box

"Only 25 Shopping Days Left 'Til Christmas!"  Really?  But I've still got so many items to cross off my TO DO list!  Let's admit it:  it's easy to begin hyperventilating thinking of all the wonderful things we hope to accomplish in the next 3 weeks.

I feel the angst because I absolutely love this time of year.  I love everything about it:  from the icicle lights on my eaves to the crooning of Bing Crosby over the loudspeaker at the grocery store; from the anticipation of seeing my college sons' faces at my front door to the wacky wrapping concoctions they'll place under our tree.  My heart wants to decorate the house lavishly, attend every special production and concert, shop strategically -- and yet still have time to cozy up in front of the fireplace with my snowman mug filled with cocoa.

But if I'm truly to make the most of every opportunity as commanded in Ephesians 5, I have some decisions to make.  I must consistently reorient myself to the inherent beginnings of Christmas, placing my yuletide emphasis on the reality that the entire world stops to acknowledge the Savior of our souls who made His entrance to our world in a crude and unimpressive fashion that night.  And for what reason?  Solely so He could die just a few years later, obliterating my sin and paving the way for me to spend eternity with Christ.  There's no other way to look at it.  Simply stated, the plan for my glory-filled future began on this very night with a hay-strewn manger and an obedient young couple.

Therefore, I'm compelled to shift the paradigm a bit and make a selective decision to honor this truth.  I must give back to the One who gave so much for me.  And actually, when I revisit Matthew 25:35-40, it's pretty simple: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."  Jesus wraps it up by clarifying, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

I was reminded of this on a recent Family Talk broadcast with author Jill Hardie.  Jill has penned an adorable children's book challenging us to teach our kids about this true meaning of Christmas.   She suggests that over the next few weeks we gently work into our lifestyle 2-3 acts of service to "the least of these" and in so doing, present Jesus with His birthday gift this year.  She goes on to recommend that we quietly document these on slips of paper and place them in a special place -- perhaps in a "sparkly box" up on the mantle.  Then, on Christmas day, before opening presents for one another, first open a gift for the true Guest of Honor.  Retrieve the box off the mantle, pull out the papers and read them out loud as a way of setting the foundation for that day's festivities.  It'll make a profound impact on your kids, and the rest of the day may just pale in comparison.  And who knows, you might even begin next year's Sparkle Box contributions right away.

For further ideas on how to build this tradition into your home, and to hear a dramatic reading of Jill's book, catch our Family Talk broadcast, "The Sparkle Box:  Celebrating Christmas in Your Home."

The Great I Am

Humbled. Overwhelmed with a shaking-my-head sense of awe right now trying to grasp that the God who calls Himself the great “I Am” would seek out and pave the way for a relationship with me. Needy, sinful, empty ... me.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I feel much like a little orphan girl bringing her stale bologna sandwich to the grand banquet table of nobility in the palace. And yet when I arrive, the King smiles and invites me to take a place at the table -- not at the kids’ table with the plastic forks and plates -- but at His table, right next to the Lord of Hosts. 

Instead of taking 5 minutes to read my thoughts today, let's enter his courts with thanksgiving and collectively bow before the "Great I Am".

Before You Eat That Turkey

I’ll never forget my first Thanksgiving back in the United States after living in South Africa for most of my childhood.  Nearly 20 aunts, uncles and cousins gathered around my Aunt Lou’s dining room tables in Upstate New York.  At an early age I discovered her tender heart, noting that she’d choke up as we took turns reading the Scriptures on gratitude that she had carefully penned and placed in front of our plates.  Oh, how proud I am to share a piece of her name! 

Aunt Lou has celebrated nearly ten thanksgivings in Heaven now, and that torch of spiritual training has been passed down the generations.  I vividly recall the year I was convicted to live a life of intentionality in our home; challenged to no longer assume my kids would pick up my faith simply because we shared an address.  Nope -- no faith by osmosis here.   If I wanted my children to learn the virtue of gratitude, I needed to teach it.

I’ll admit it was a bit awkward the first year I posted the 11 x 14 “I AM THANKFUL FOR…..” sheet on our refrigerator a week before Thanksgiving.  There were some rolled eyes and shrugged shoulders, but I promptly announced that we were not eating any turkey until all 20 lines were filled in!   A day or two later I was relieved to see that somebody had anonymously plunged in and taken the first step (actually, I think it was my husband….thanks, Steve!)  And slowly, the page began to fill up:  “I am thankful for my teacher, Mrs. Royal……for this warm house…..our new puppy…our church.” 

The next year I took a bigger step and widened the circle.  In preparation for my brothers’ arrival with their wives and children, I typed up slips of paper with each family member’s name on them followed by a blank:  “I am thankful for Kaleb because ­­­­­­­­­­­_________.”  “I am thankful for Uncle Chip because __________.” As each person entered, they drew a folded slip out of the basket.  Once again, sorry -- turkey dinner was on hold until everyone had completed their slip and returned it to the container!

After dessert and a football game, we gathered in the living room and passed the basket around the circle.  One by one we reached in and randomly pulled out a paper to read aloud: “I am thankful for Brittany because she’ll play Legos with me even when she’s tired.”  “I am thankful for Aunt Karen because of her enormous heart for young moms.”   I loved seeing the faces of the younger children light up in anticipation as their name was read and their character publicly honored.  Oh how a simple phrase of affirmation buoys the spirit, eh?! 

This year, let’s commit to being intentional.  So what if it feels cliché!  What have we got to lose?  And when your teenage nephew refuses to participate because he thinks it’s lame, simply have someone else double up and fill it out on his behalf.  After all, there’s a good chance he’ll be lurking around the kitchen corner, listening in as his name is read and he discovers for the first time that somebody in the family appreciates his knack for always fixing the computer when it’s broken -- or thinks he’s one pretty amazing big brother.

So next Thursday, why not top off that pumpkin pie with a healthy dose of favor and honor, intentionally sprinkled among those we hold dear.  Paul summed it up well in his letter to the Romans:  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:10)

The Greatest Victory on Election Night

This past Tuesday while the nation was glued to FOX, CNN, and online news sources, my little world was swirling in a different path. By 8 pm on November 6, my father-in-law, the precious 91-yr-old godly patriarch who gave me my amazing husband, breathed his last here on earth and stepped over
into Glory. I guarantee you the anticipation of hearing "Well Done!" echo throughout Heaven far surpassed any political announcement that was about to be proclaimed here on earth!   

While we made five or six key phone calls to family, our son peeked in on the election headlines. I  glanced at the screen and my heart sank as I saw the values and biblical convictions that I fight for on a daily basis being ripped away and mocked across the states. In one fell swoop I was watching both the land I love ... and the man I love, slip away.

Today, the Lord reminded me of an impromptu photo I snapped on my iPhone a few days ago. During one of our visits, my son sat by his granddad's bedside quietly holding his hand -- his right hand -- the hand with the twisted thumb. Even now I smile as I recall the oft-told story of his father valiantly warding off the doctors who recommended amputation after his curious 5-yr-old son reached into the gears underneath their wringer/washing machine! Oh, how we’ve loved that thumb, that hand ... and that man.

But today in this symbolic photo I see more than a man or a thumb: I see a charge to my generation. With the departure of this WWII Navy veteran, responsibility and stewardship of our great United States democracy and the spiritual legacy within it has now officially been transferred to Steve, me,
and our children. And I’m painfully aware of what Dr. Dobson often says: in a relay race the baton is not typically dropped in the straightaway -- it's lost in the exchange.

Evidently, more than a few batons have been dropped here in America, accounting for the blatant  amoral results we just witnessed in this week's election. But here's my vow and I shout it from my front door: The cry for new sprinters, new runners and new warriors has not fallen upon deaf ears.
I, for one, will carry that baton.

"For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name" (Psalm 61:5). I hereby pledge to defend that godly heritage with my very last breath. And I pray that one day my grandchild will hold my hand and take that very baton from me when I leave this earth.

We've Been Summoned

Joel 1:14  “Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly.  Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”

We’re just days away now.  With five of our six immediate family members registered voters this year, November 6th is a pretty big event in the Crane household.  As Christians living in America, we’re earnestly committed to defending righteousness, so it naturally follows that we’re equally committed to ensuring that the government to which we pay taxes, and the leaders whom we elect to represent us, adhere to the Founding Fathers’ historic Judeo-Christian standards.   Admittedly, the stakes are pretty high next Tuesday.  

And yet, I must confess I’ve been struggling with “voter fatigue.”  The spin, the rhetoric, the constant droning and debating can deflate even the heartiest of citizens.  Dr. Dobson himself admitted he’d been “vexed” the past several months, overwhelmed by the wickedness swirling around us as this national election approach.   Can you relate?

It was within this context that we welcomed National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force leader Shirley Dobson and two of her colleagues to our Family Talk studios this past Monday.  What a breath of fresh air…suave to one’s soul!   It was as if God Himself was saying, “Take a deep breath and exhale, LuAnne.  I’m still on the throne.”

In the broadcast, “Prayer for this Election and Beyond,” the NDP team enthusiastically described how a contingency of 300 prayer warriors descended upon Washington DC recently as part of a movement dubbed “The Summons.”  Mrs. Dobson pointed out that this was the same number of fighters that God gave to Gideon when they descended upon Midian (Judges 6-7).  Coincidence?  I think not. 

These dedicated men and women were not in our nation’s capitol to sightsee or petition their congressman.  No, they rolled up their sleeves and went about the hard work of prayer.  From 8 am ‘til 1 in the morning, these God-followers spread out across the city: from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill, the White House to the Rotunda, humbly and earnestly interceding for the Lord’s sovereignty to be manifest throughout our land.

Most of the Congressmen themselves were back home in state offices, but their young “twenty-something” staffers on the Hill opened doors and hearts and welcomed the team in; parched souls soaking up the sweet aroma of God’s presence in an otherwise secular world.   Amazingly, a remnant of prayer warriors remain there to this day, having secured a permit to camp out (literally “camp out” – they’re in a tent) on the ellipse of the White House, continuing this fervency of prayer right up until the election next week.

Other prayer movements have arisen as well, many capitalizing on a “40 Days of Prayer” theme leading up to this election.  Perhaps you’ve joined one.  Bless you.

We're keenly aware that at times in history, God no longer heeds our prayers.  The prophet Jeremiah was told by the Lord, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people….I will not listen to their cry”  (Jeremiah 14:11-12).  And yet, on other occasions, as we learn from the story of Jonah, He relents.  Who knows what hour the U.S. finds herself in now?  “The Summons” group reported they did not sense the voice of the Lord saying, “I’m done with America.”  So, in obedience, we press on.

I’m convicted to join in this chorus of prayer and cry out to the Lord on behalf of my country this weekend, perhaps even fasting a meal or an item as Joel suggests in the Scripture noted above. This is one summons I simply cannot ignore.   

To Halloween or Not To Halloween: That is the Question

I must have been about 16 the year my mom rigged up an incredible “Sliding Ghost” for Halloween that came flying down our entry staircase whenever the front door opened. It was a thrill to every trick-or-treater in the neighborhood who darkened our doorstep. I also remember the year a few of us joined our Youth Pastor in playing tricks on other teens as they made their way through a local cemetery on a nighttime adventure. It seemed like a goofy, silly season that let us all act like kids for a few hours.

Make no mistake: I grew up in a profoundly Christian home with two parents incredibly committed to raising their brood in the fear and admonition of the Lord. We never felt like we were selling out or compromising; Halloween just wasn’t a big deal. We enjoyed the fun of bobbing for apples in a friend’s barn, dressing up in wacky costumes, and eating way too much candy.

But then, I became a parent and things seemed to change. The innocence and silliness of the season began darkening, revealing more disturbed and violent sensations. Scarecrows turned to vampires. Ghosts turned to demons. Clown paint turned to oozing blood. Animals showed up tortured or missing. Death abounded. Evil lurked.

So here’s the question: Has the season actually changed...or have I? Probably both. As my children grew, I became increasingly troubled by the tone of this holiday, which I was seemingly supporting. I was personally confronted with a simple decision: In the precious few years I have to mold my children, do I want to spend even one day a year dancing with darkness?

It’s a quandary for parents. I appreciate the churches that throw those wonderful “Fall Festivals” for kids. Thanks to them, we have some adorable photos of our kids dressed up like Sylvester the Cat and a ladybug. I also applaud the home schooling groups that emphasize the “All Saints Day” aspect of the season by assigning papers on heroes of the faith. They’ve wisely chosen to follow Scripture’s direction that we “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

For me, it comes down to that foundational truth outlined in Ephesians 5:16. I intend to “be very careful, then, how (I) live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17). For this reason, we've chosen a pretty limited course when it comes to participating in Halloween festivities.

I’m curious: How have you settled this issue in your home? What does your family do when October 31 rolls around on the calendar? I’d love to hear about it!

NOTE: If you’re interested in exploring this issue more, check out an intriguing approach outlined in the book Redeeming Halloween, authored by Kim Wier & Pam McCune.

You Shall Not Pass!

One of my favorite lines from the "Lord of the Rings" blockbuster trilogy appears in Part One when the magnificent gray-haired Gandalf leads the fellowship of hobbits and humans, a dwarf and an elf breathlessly scurrying thru the Mines of Moria running for their lives.  The defining moment occurs as Gandalf comes to the realization that this chase can no longer continue.  Traditional battle tactics have afforded no victory and it’s time to confront the evil, the filth, the utter destruction – yes, the beast itself -- dead on.  

Our hero whips around 180°.  Straightening his frame to his full height, Gandalf squares his shoulders and faces the enemy eye-to-eye.  Thrusting his staff onto the rocky corridor between them, a defiant wizard shouts from the very core of his being, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!”

It’s time for more Gandalfs in the world.  Certainly here in America.  And especially in our homes. 

Just think of it:  On the world stage, our US Ambassador to Libya is brutally tortured and dragged thru the streets in mockery of our Judeo-Christian values; In America, our leaders on Capitol Hill refuse to defend a 200-year-old commitment to one-man/one-woman marriage.   And here in my backyard, under the beautiful backdrop of the Colorado Rockies, a crazed madman goes on a rampage in a theater senselessly murdering twelve innocent people. 

Why?  Perhaps because as Christians we’ve been running, primarily playing defense.  We’ve resigned ourselves to glancing over our shoulder hoping we can outwit, out-run or out-maneuver the enemy using traditional battle tactics.  We can’t.  We must turn and face it.

I love the Apostle Paul's admonition to the Corinthians:  "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds."  (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

As a mom, I'm called to wage war on a culture which brazenly tries to seep through the cracks and snare my family.  I must daily stand at the door frame of my home and with Gandalf-like boldness declare to the enemy, “No more!  You shall not pass!  You’re not getting my kids, you’re not getting my marriage, you’re not going to destroy my faith.  Enough!”   I will stand between the evil and my home and engage the battle.

Tough?  You bet.  Daunting?  Oh yeah.  And yet, I could never undertake such a calling with my own strength or my own resolve.  I'm neither a warrior nor a wizard; I'm a mere flawed human.  No, this battle for my family will only be won utilizing that divine truth cited by Paul.  The Old Testament sums it up succinctly:  ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty." (Zechariah 4:6).  But wait -- it gets even better: Moses reminded the Israelites: “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you...."  (Deuteronomy 1:29)  Fight for me?  You mean the battle's already been won?  Yes.  

Ahhhh.  Therein, my friend, lies the victory.

Crackers and “Grace” Juice

Our pastor had just wound up a terrific message on parenting by pointing out the importance of a grace-filled home for our kids. He beautifully explained that while, as parents, we most certainly need to identify the weaknesses and sins of our kids and work to correct them, our home also must serve as a safe house. When our sons and daughters mess up, they need to know the door is always wide open - that we will embrace them with unconditional, and often undeserved, love. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, I didn’t hear a thing that he said after that.

As a poignant way to close out the service, he had beckoned the ushers to head down the aisles and “deliver the elements” (a liturgical way to say “hand out grape juice and crackers.”) I took the large tray and passed it to my teenage son. He removed his cup, but upon pivoting to pass it to his dad, promptly bumped his arm spraying the entire ounce of bright purple liquid all over on his father’s khaki trousers. Yes, light khaki trousers. I jumped to reach for some tissues under my chair to help clean up – but in the process managed to knock MY juice all over my Bible and my shoes as well!

Needless to say the sobriety of this spiritual moment was lost on the Crane family. I madly dove into my purse searching for the emergency “Tide pen” (a staple in a home with 3 boys) and we attempted to mop up the mess.

As I sat there amidst the solemn congregation, the irony wasn’t lost on me: Wow, what an opportunity to extend grace, eh? Seated next to me was a boy who, in his haste and immaturity, truly messed up. Yet, his dad didn’t respond in anger or frustration. He didn’t even gesture wildly with a nonverbal “What do you think you’re doing!?” reprimand. He simply wiped down his trousers to the best of his ability, and then put an arm around the lad. And while my son’s wide eyes definitely registered a degree of shock and surprise…his mouth soon twisted into a wry grin. No fear. No anxiety. No worry of a slap to the face or a stern rebuke. That child was secure in the love of his dad.

Looking back over this week alone, I’ve certainly erred far beyond a mere spill of grape juice in my own life. I’ve been impatient. Selfish. Yes, even a tad arrogant at times. And yet, when I look into the eyes of my Father, what do I see? Grace. Compassion. Undeserved favor. Over and over and over again, He is my “safe house.” Oh, to be THAT kind of a parent to my children.

The Handwriting on the Wall

A few weeks ago my son bounded into the kitchen and casually mentioned, “Hey Mom, can I write on the wall? I responded just like you would: “Are you kidding me?!!” Now, number one: If you’re going to deface primary property owned by your parents, who, in his right mind, would ask for permission? And number two: what parent would give it?! (I still remember coloring my Yogi Bear bedroom curtains as a 7-y-old because that black outline of the pine tree was just begging to be brought to life. And I most certainly did not ask for prior approval.)

You see, my house is old and beginning to show signs of wear-and-tear as it is. The walls need a new coat of paint, a few windows are cracked, and the carpet is stained - especially on the well-beaten path up and down the stairs. I fight a constant state of entropy. And as my children are getting older, I was beginning to think we could actually get a handle on things and freshen up the place – NOT spiral further downward.

However, (sigh) – this particular child is an artist and, as Dr. Dobson would say: “Choose your battles, LuAnne.” After all, in the grand scheme of things, if scribbling on a semi-gloss pumpkin-colored bedroom wall keeps him off drugs and out of jail, who am I to stand in his way? So, I relented. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sure.”

He never brought it up again, and I assumed he’d either forgotten about it or lost interest, so I dismissed the conversation. A few days later, I was tossing his cross-country shoes through the doorway of his room and happened to glance up above his bed. There, freshly painted in crisp white lettering appeared the simplest of phrases: “He must become greater. I must become less.  John 3:30” THAT was the essence of my son’s graffiti rebellion. I was instantly convicted that I had nearly silenced such a profound expression of truth.

This same young man now lives 758.10 miles away at college. I miss him terribly. The room is stark and void of life. As parents, it's tough to pour your entire being into an eternal soul for 18+ years...only to release him or her. So, every few days I'll peek my head around the corner and be reminded of the cry of his heart, and realize anew that my children are never truly "mine" anyway - that the Lord simply loans me these little people. I'm blessed that my son has not only etched truth on the walls of his room, he's daily embedding it on my heart as well.

Oh Lord, may I embrace this handwriting on the wall every day of my life: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Quadrupling My Vote This November

I just quadrupled my vote for next month’s Presidential election. Nope, there’s no voter fraud going on here (who can forget ‘hanging chads’ from 2000?), but with a little extra effort, I helped make it possible for three more Cranes to cast their ballot.

You see, in 36 days my husband and I will head to the Retirement Center around the corner from us where we’ll stand in line clutching our precious fill-in-the-bubble paper ballot. (Somehow I just feel more empowered when I grab that little black marker!) We’ll exit a few minutes later proudly displaying “I VOTED” stickers the rest of the day.

But, for varying reasons, three other men in my life are unable to join us this year; my father-in-law is physically limited, and our two college-aged sons will be up to their ears in “New Testament Survey” and “Seismic Analysis and Design” classes on Tuesday, Nov. 6. All three earnestly want to participate but are encumbered at this season of their lives. And yet I quickly realized that all it took was someone saying, "Hey, let me help you with that! I’ll help you update your voter registration and request those mail-in ballots!" A few minutes online, a couple of signatures and…..Voila, done! They felt empowered -- and I just multiplied my vote.

I urge you to take a moment and think about your own family members. Is there a college student who’ll be out of state on Nov 6th? How about an elderly saint who has moved and needs to re-register? Maybe you’ve even changed your name or moved across town. Don’t be caught off-guard. Here in Colorado, the deadline to register is October 8th and in most other states the clock is ticking as well. It’s easy! You can get started at http://championthevote.com/

At times like this it’s good to reflect on a few verses of a rousing song that served as one of our nation’s de facto anthems before we officially adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1931. “Verse Four” seems especially pertinent right now.

My Country, ‘Tis of Thee
by Samuel Francis Smith

My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From ev'ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!

Our fathers' God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom's holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.

“What's So ‘BASIC’ About This Health Care?”

As the mother of four, I’ve personally had dozens of pre-and post-natal check-ups and hospital visits. Likewise, I’ve been to multiple doctors’ offices, ER facilities, labs and clinics with my children, and yes, even had to call 911 twice. In addition, my father is a retired orthopedic surgeon who was forced to relocate his practice and his family coast-to-coast because of skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance costs.

I’m not an expert, but I’ve certainly seen something of the health care system from many sides. So, as a woman, don’t tell me that government-subsidized contraceptives and abortions comprise my “basic health care.”

Instead, allow me to provide a snapshot of urgent health care issues impacting my gender:
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, killing more than 1/3 of us. Over 200,000 women die each year from heart attacks. (1)
  • It’s estimated that there will be over 226, 000 new female cases and even deaths from breast cancer in the United States in 2012 alone. (2)
  • Osteoporosis – 68% of the 44 million Americans threatened with this bone-density loss condition are women. (3)
  • Twelve million women are affected by a depressive disorder each year – double the number of men. (4) (Ironically, a 2008 study of women in Norway concluded: “...young adult women who undergo induced abortion may be at increased risk for subsequent depression.”) (5)
To put it candidly: please don’t insult my feminine dignity by reducing my medical needs to the ability to “plan” a pregnancy and snuff out the life of my pre-born baby.

Superseding even these truths is my own constitutionally protected Judeo-Christian convictions regarding the sanctity of life and religious liberty. Abortion and abortifacients directly contradict my belief in the sacredness of every life as decreed by an omnipotent and loving Creator. I am called to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” (Proverbs 31:8) Therefore, as a woman of faith, I will not promote, support, or fund such “health care.”

I fear for this nation and agonize with the prophet Isaiah, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

May God have mercy on America. And may women across her great shores have the strength to stand and defend their beliefs in the marketplace of ideas. I, for one, will.

(1) http://www.womenheart.org/resources/cvdfactsheet.cfm
(2) http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast 
(3) http://women.webmd.com/features/5-top-female-health-concern
(4) http://women.webmd.com/features/5-top-female-health-concern
(5) http://abortionrisks.org/index.php?title=Abortion-Related_Depression#Abortion-Related_Depression

Good Job, Mom!

I was talking with a friend about her 14-yr-old son’s repeated habit of making his siblings late to school in the morning. It seems he’d been spending nearly 30 minutes every morning primping in front of the mirror. Today the predetermined consequence went into play: He forfeited his ride and missed a morning of school.

After the house emptied out she figured their conversation would begin by helping him devise a morning “Time Management” plan -- when she suddenly felt the Lord tell her, “No…go deeper.” So she thought she’d talk to her son about why he didn’t like the way his hair looked, when she was prompted, “No, go even deeper.”

That’s when it began to dawn on her that the real problem had nothing to do with either the clock on the wall OR his hair: rather, standing before her was an adolescent who was painfully aware that he didn’t look perfect on the outside...and it hurt.

Instead of a one-sided lecture, they spent time opening the Scriptures together that morning. She directed her son to several verses that outlined his eternal significance to the One and Only Maker of the Universe. Wow, talk about a teachable moment (and it was certainly worth missing morning Algebra class!)

I stand and applaud this mom. She did it right.

It makes me think about the dozens, literally hundreds, of unnoticed occasions that you moms DO get it right: you take a deep breath and smile when you could rightfully get angry….you wrap your arms around that daughter when you desperately feel like throwing them up in despair…. you put down the dishtowel and listen even though it makes dinner late....and on and on it goes.

Why then, do we so often concentrate on what we do WRONG as moms? Stop and think for a moment. If you’re honest, I’ll bet you, too, can think of something you actually did right today. And if not – you know what? There’s still time.

Good job, Mom. God sees, and smiles upon you.

With Love to My Single Girlfriends

There’s one thing that can get me seriously angry (well, actually I call it “righteous indignation.”)

I get downright indignant when I look around and see all the single women in my life whose hearts are repeatedly wounded by clueless men. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not mad at the men. In fact, I like men in general and have four pretty amazing members of the male gender under my roof right now. No, I’m angry at sin. My heart weeps over the foothold the enemy has been afforded here on earth in this area. The one who comes to steal, kill and destroy has been extremely effective in annihilating dreams of marriage and family for so many of my God-fearing female friends.

You see, I am happily married and the mom of four kinda fun kids (count it five with my son-in-love.) So I KNOW that what they long for is, indeed, fulfilling. It is good. It is dynamic. They crave what God truly ordained for delight here on earth.

So why are these talented, dynamic, adorable (and yes even physically beautiful) female friends of mine still single? I don’t know. I wish I did. But I also know this is not where our hopes and dreams will ever be fulfilled: I’ll never be a size 4 here on earth (and actually, I’m asking for a size 0 in Heaven)….I ache when children get cancer…I’m visibly annoyed when the good guys don’t win.

But maybe that’s just it. If life were super fulfilling here, we’d not yearn for Heaven. The very fact that my single friends awake to this ache every day confirms the hope of heaven; admittedly, they probably wait in expectation of that eternity more than I do.

I salute you, single women. I salute you.

And, by the way, if singleness includes parenting for you – check out my friend, Meg’s blog of her journey!

Carpool Correction

Of course I know the rule: “Parents, please don’t use your cell phone while in the carpool line on our campus.” It’s a great mandate and one I agree with 100% -- in fact I’ve often frowned upon chatty moms during the chaotic afternoon dismissal time.

So of course as I approached the crosswalk line I desperately tried to tie up the conversation with my girlfriend on the other end of the line, but her riveting story just wasn’t coming to a close. I hunched over a little to the right of the steering wheel so the math teacher monitoring the crosswalk wouldn’t notice me. Whew -- I hung up just in the nick of time. Wrong.

As I pulled over to the curb to pick up my child, the crossing guard followed me and motioned for the window to go down. Feeling much like a 10-yr-old who had broken curfew, I braced myself for the lecture. “Ma’am, you know you’re not supposed to be on the phone in car pool line.” I stammered for a response desperately wanting to argue that I’d NEVER done this before, and did he see all the OTHER moms doing the same thing?! - when I looked over and noticed my 12-yr-old had just climbed into the car. Busted.

I swallowed my pride and assured the dutiful teacher I’d be more careful in the future. My son turned away, trying to hide a grin.

Sigh. Will I never outgrow wincing through correction? And yet I’m thankful for that gentle reminder that my son needs a mom who’ll readily admit her mistakes and accept a scolding. After all, wasn’t it just that morning I’d prayed for humility? Prayer answered.

Oh Lord, make me teachable.

He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. Proverbs 15:31

But Mom...I'm the ONLY one!

If you’re the parent of a middle school student who doesn’t have his or her own iPhone 5, you’ve probably heard this complaint: “But MOM…You don’t understand! I’m the only one, and I’m missing out on EVERYTHING!”

And you know what? They’re right. According to Dr. Brenda Hunter and Kristen Blair, the authors of From Santa To Sexting, they’re missing a lot. For starters, they’re missing:
  • That unsolicited “sext” from their classmate attempting to cyber bully the girl that sits next to them in Spanish class. 
  • A 10-20% reduced brain size due to overexposure to media and Internet. 
  • A lowered ability for creativity, especially in English class. 
  • Sleepless nights due to “hypertexting” as the phone vibrates under their pillow all night. 
  • 9 hours a day of recreational media stimulation 
  • The possibility of being denied entry to law school in a few years, as 40% of those institutions will check their social media pages before accepting him/ her as a student. 
So mom and dad, go ahead - deprive your kids. Be the parent. Say “no” to a personal cell phone, individual Facebook account and the onslaught of social media until your son or daughter is in High School. And in exchange, say “hello” to a little more innocence.

And oh, BTW…. assure them they’re not the “only 14-yr-old in America without one!” My son is the other one.

For more encouragement to parents of teens, check out Dr. Dobson’s powerful new interview “From Santa to Sexting: Protecting Your Middle-Schooler” with Dr. Brenda Hunter and Kristen Blair.

People…..and Pictures

It’s true. When scrambling from your home with the threat of rapidly approaching fire, you grab two things: People and pictures. That’s precisely what I snatched – and you would, too.

This summer, several on us on the Family Talk staff stepped out onto the porch with growing concern over what was mounting on the horizon. I live just beyond that hill (photo on right), so quickly headed out.

I was unprepared for what lay ahead. Rounding the bend heading into my intersection, a thick cloud of smoke loomed in front of me. I was turning left and heading directly into its path (photo below).

My 18-yr-old son was inside our home tossing items into duffel bags, shouting over his shoulder, “Mom, we really need to go!” On my last trip out the door, I literally swept a hand across the top of the piano snatching 6-8 of my favorite framed photos, threw my wedding album under my arm, and headed out to join the 45-minute traffic jam waiting to exit the 1.2 miles out of our subdivision.

For the next 12 hours we didn’t know if we’d ever return. Yet amazingly, due to the diligence of nearly 1,500 firefighters, that inferno never crossed the boulevard a mile west of us. Thank you, Lord!

Now that the crisis has passed, I reflect on what I took with me that day: People and pictures. Sure, the “people” part of the equation is easy to figure out – we’d all say that. But why the pictures? The same reason: People -- more people. Our photos contain faces of eternal souls we love: Little Kenny & Trevor donning oversized sunglasses as toddlers; my daughter and her husband on the beach in South Carolina; A precious three-generation-snapshot with my father-in-law; nephews and nieces in their finery on a wedding days. That says it all.

As the four of us reunited in the driveway of a friend’s house across town, we came to terms with it: Nothing else but people ever matters. Oh, to always remember that.

There have been a lot of natural disasters around our nation lately. What have you learned? I'd love to hear about it!

I've Got Your Back

It’s finally here! After a long summer break, next Wednesday I’ll reunite with some of my favorite people, as 8-10 of us moms escape to the lounge of a local business up the street from our public school where, for 60 minutes, we’ll “pour out our hearts like water before the Lord for the lives of our children.” (Lamentations 2:19)

For the next 9 months we’ll gather there weekly, standing in the gap for algebra tests, basketball tryouts, favor with teachers. We’ll pray girlfriends in -- and out -- of their lives. We’ll pray they reach out to the lonely new student in the cafeteria. We’ll pray they get caught if they cheat. We’ll pray they cross the parking lot safely. We’ll pray for the bullied….and the bully.

I make this a non-negotiable slot on my calendar because in a world that’s crushing my son at every corner, I want him to know his mom’s got his back. When he’s weak in his faith, his spirit, or his body – I’m there for him. He’s my son and I’d give my very life for him. Hmmm....I kinda think my Father in Heaven knows exactly how I feel.

Who else out there is praying for your student this year? Let me know. If not, you can find a praying group in your neighborhood here.

And – tune in for a brand new Family Talk discussion with “Moms In Prayer” Founder Fern Nichols, on September 6 & 7!

Million Dollar Hug for $0.42

We had just returned after several days of mandatory evacuation from our home on the northwest side of Colorado Springs. The Waldo Canyon fire came dangerously close to our neighborhood….but, amazingly, we were spared.

I opened the mailbox to find a greeting card with a curiously modified heading:
“As you settle (back) into your new home”

It was from my daughter, thousands of miles away on the East Coast. She’d been following the raging inferno that threatened the very home she grew up in. She found this card, modified it accordingly, and penned inside: “It makes me appreciate how you’ve made the house a home these past 14 years. I love you. Annette.” What a girl. What a million dollar hug.

In this day of instantaneous Facebook, Twitter, Texting, Email and IM exchanges, when’s the last time you actually selected a card, personalized it, slapped a stamp on it and dropped it in the mail? Today might be a good time.

Looking Above...And Beyond

It’s been one of those sober weeks in life. After a 2600-mile road trip, a 12-ft moving van, 2 vehicles, an LA-to-Colorado plane flight, and multiple trips to the V.A., Social Security office, bank, notary, etc., the godly 91-yr-old patriarch of our home, now lives safe and secure 10 minutes from us. It’s a wonderful, yet poignant, season of life. This stalwart businessman and legacy-maker that raised my husband into the incredible man that he is, is noticeably weaker and more vulnerable, and in need of our hands-on love and attention, which we’re oh, so ready to provide!

For a week our whole family stopped the world to focus our attention on Dad. And as we’ve journeyed through this transition, I find I’m not yet ready to move on as if nothing’s changed – because it has. I desperately want to stop and ponder this precious generational shift and all the emotions it dredges up, including: the awe of a life well-lived, the fragility of life here on earth, the joy of the 5th commandment to honor our father and mother – even the reality of my own mortality and a reassessment of my priorities.

And yet I can’t climb into a monastic hole and ponder right now….life goes on! Ironically, today our third child heads off to college. Once again our family will embark upon a road trip, but this time it’s 12-hr-drive in the opposite direction: to a college campus where he will now venture out on his own, pursuing the dreams God has birthed in him, and which Steve & I have been privileged to nurture and marvel at for the past 18 years.

What an odd moment. To look above us and see the legacy of an amazing grandfather, and glance below and watch the emergence of a young man (who, ironically again, bears the same name as his Grandpa Kenneth!)

And while it’s true that I cannot escape to a mountain of solitude right now to fully process all my emotions, I assure you, this moment is not lost on me. It’s changed who I am. In the midst of rushing from a Social Security appointment to a Wal-Mart run for college dorm supplies, I’m drinking in life at a deeper level, cherishing every moment. I’m not taking the “daily-ness” of life for granted any more. Seize the day.

Snowflakes in Summer

It’s 90° in Colorado Springs today, but a snowflake managed to float through our Family Talk doors: Enter Hannah Strege.

Marlene and Hannah Strege at the
White House.
Hannah is a blossoming young 13-yr-old who’ll be entering 8th grade this fall. She has met President George H. W. Bush, had her testimony featured in British and Australian Parliaments, and been introduced before Supreme Court Justices in Brazil. She loves acting in community plays such as “Horton Hears a Who” and “Peter Pan,” and is looking forward to her role in the upcoming “Seussical” production later this year.

As the world’s first “Snowflake Baby,” Hannah is glad to be alive and obviously, makes the most of every day! Her little life emerged from a frozen embryo on December 31, 1998 after being implanted in a grateful infertile woman named Marlene Strege. And just as every snowflake is unique and designed by God, so is Hannah – and the over 600,000 other embryos which have been frozen post- fertilization. Currently about 2,000 more await adoption.

Find out if your home is ready for a little snowflake to fall into your lives, or get more information on how you can support life at: http://www.nightlight.org/ snowflake-embryo-adoption

And catch little 2-yr-old Hannah singing “Jesus Loves Me” to Dr. Dobson here!

The God Who Sees Me

I’m a busy mom, just like you. Over the past 28 years of my marriage to Steve I’ve been employed part-time and full-time, worked in an office and from home, been a room mom, car-pool driver, Bible-Study teacher and a Moms In Prayer district coordinator. My four kids span a dozen years, meaning that when my oldest was a Sr. in High School, my youngest was just starting Kindergarten.

Add to that the all-too-familiar assignments of cook, chaperone, coach, comforter, personal appointment scheduler, barber, nurse and my personal favorite (NOT!) “Science-fair parent”, and I hope you can quickly see: I understand just a bit of your world.

And yet – even with all the life experiences and “kindred spirit” moments we share as women, I’m all too aware that there are many, many more hurts, challenges, heartaches and mysteries you’ve experienced which I’ll simply never understand. I get that. You’ve fought dragons, anguished over broken relationships, and tackled mind-numbing questions with which I’ve never had to wrestle.

That’s why I take enormous delight in the profound truth that we serve an intensely personal God. Sarah’s rejected handmaiden, Hagar, described Him best in Genesis 16 as “the God who sees me.”

That means that in the middle of the night when I’m awake with a feverish child – He sees me. When I move to a new town and am overlooked by everyone else – He sees me. As I mumble and stumble through my tasks as wife, mom, daughter, sister, employee, friend – He sees past my shortcomings and tenderly cradles my heart in His hands. And likewise, when you ache and struggle beyond what others can imagine – He sees you, too.

Here’s to our journey together with the comfort that when the world overlooks us – the One who made the world, never takes His eyes off us.