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Monday, September 14, 2015

First Grade, "Cain and Abel," and Second Chances

I started teaching first grade this year at a wonderful Christian school. I love teaching, and I love first graders! They are so fun, sweet, and honest.brutally honest! Just last week, a student told me that I did NOT use my best handwriting when writing on the board! Yikes! The same student asked me if I had trouble picking out my outfit that morning becausemy hair looked like it had not been brushed! Ouch! Honesty!!

Well, one of my favorite parts of our school day is when we get to dive into our Bible lesson. My kids are AMAZING at memorizing Scripture. They are always engaged in our Bible story. Right now, we are studying the Old Testament. Our first week of Bible class focused on Adam and Eve. Our second week focused on Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel. Each week, there is a Bible poster that accompanies the lesson. During week two, the Bible poster was a little graphic; it showed Cain hitting Abel and Abel cowering back in fear. One of my students said, “Mrs. Cochran, that picture is disturbing me (actually they said disturving)!” :-) 

When we began to discuss the story of Cain and Abel, we talked about how Cain and Abel each brought an offering to the Lord. Cain brought his leftovers (Bad Choice #1) to God, and Abel brought his best to God. God was not pleased with Cain, but He was pleased with Abel and accepted Abel’s offering. As a class, we discussed who made the right choice in bringing their offering.

Well, as the story goes, Cain was mad at Abel because God accepted Abel’s offering. Was that Abel’s fault? No! It was between Abel and God, just like Cain’s offering was between Cain and God. Even though Abel wasn’t to blame, Can was still steaming mad at him. Scripture records that “sin was crouching at Cain’s door, seeking to overtake him”, but God warned Cain that he should not let sin “master” him. At this point in Cain’s life, he had a very important choice to make. So I told my kiddos that even though Cain received a warning to resist sin, he still killed his brother (Bad Choice #2) anyway because he was so angry.

At this point, my kids were in shock. They couldn’t believe Cain actually killed his own brother out of anger (for something that his brother didn’t even do!). Then, we discussed that God came to Cain and asked, “Cain, where is your brother Abel?” Cain made a third bad choice, and in a disrespectful way, answered “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Bad Choice #3)

After this, we started discussing better choices that Cain could have made. One student responded, “Mrs. Cochran, after Cain killed his brother, he should have told God the truth. God would have given him a second chance.” Wow! That is so true! Not only did Cain kill Abel, but then he proceeded to lie about it when God was giving him the opportunity to be honest. My students were sad for Cain. They wished he would have been honest with God and believed the truth that if he would have been repentant, God could have given him another chance to make the right choice.

Second chances. How many of us need a second chance? Third? Fourth? Hundredth??? Maybe you feel like you’ve completely blown it in having little patience with your children. Maybe you’ve allowed anxiety to master your thoughts again instead of giving your cares to the Lord. Maybe you feel like you’ve messed up again in the way that you disrespect your husband. Maybe you feel defeated at how many times you have a bad attitude at work. Maybe you feel hopeless at how many times the same sins creep back in. Maybe your road rage has gotten the better of you again. Maybe you hit snooze for the millionth time instead of getting up to spend time with the Lord. Maybe you’re doubting your faith. Maybe you’re doubting if this life is even worth it. Maybe you’ve turned your back on your faith because you want to go your own way. Maybe you’ve never turned to the Lord at all.

Whatever your struggle is.Our God is a God of second chances. You have not fallen and will never fall too far beyond His reach. He will not give up on you even when you’ve given up on yourself. There is nothing that you could do that is unforgivable. If you are willing to trust in His love and forgiveness, then He is willing and wanting to forgive you and save you from your brokenness. He knows that we are fallen, and He knows that we are not perfect. That is not an excuse to sin more. Rather, that is a big flashing light bulb that shows how much we NEED GOD. You and I need the Lord. We need a loving heavenly Father to remind us of us love and forgiveness. We need a firm, yet gentle King who will extend grace and discipline to us in our failings. We need a sovereign and good Master that knows what we need even when we, who are finite and sinful, foolishly think we know what we need. We need a kind and consistent Shepherd who will guide is in the way that we should go. We need a patient Teacher who will show us how to live in a way that pleases God. We need Jesus Christ, the only One who can save us from our darkness and brokenness.

What we don’t need is guilt, shame, and self-pity. We don’t need cheap, empty, and temporary sinful gratification. We don’t need to believe the lie that we’ve messed up one too many times for the Lord to want us back. We don't need to stay defeated. We don’t need to run any further than we are now.

Instead, we need to run to the Lord. He loves you. He cares for you. He longs to have an intimate relationship with YOU a relationship that is only made possible be the saving power of Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life so that you could be made right with the God of the universe. Turn to Him today!

APPLICATION

1.              EVALUATE: In what areas of your life are you believing the lie that you don’t deserve a second chance that you’ve messed up too many times? Make a list (but don’t dwell on it!) of the things that seem to defeat you. Honestly, there’s not one of us who actually deserves a second chance. However, we serve a God who freely gives us grace, mercy, and second chances even though we are undeserving!

2.            MEDITATE: Psalm 40:1-4 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” Do you need a "new song" - one that is filled with victory instead of defeat? 

3.             PRAY: Pray with a heart of thankfulness to the Lord for loving you, forgiving you, saving you, and extending grace and mercy to you. Talk to him about the things that are on your heart your worries, your sins, your struggles, your fears, your dreams anything. He wants to hear it all because He cares for you.

4.             FURTHER STUDY: Read the rest of Psalm 40. Learn from the psalmist’s honesty and transparency. Find ways that he was open and broken before the Lord. Model your prayer life after Psalm 40.

I pray that whatever situation you’re facing, whatever sin you’re battling, whatever discouragement is ensuing, that you would turn to the Lord, not away from Him. Remember the simplicity of my first graders’ hearts and minds “Why don’t you just turn to God? He will give you a second chance!” It’s a hard thing to give yourself over to the Lord, but it is the most freeing thing you can do. In a first grader's mind, it's black and white - turn to God! In our minds, we see our sin and how undeserving we are - so that hinders us from turning to him. 

Think like a first grader! God longs to give you a second chance. Turn to Him!


Always, Jacquelyn

Monday, July 20, 2015

Scheming Against Life-Giving Communication in Your Marriage



My husband and I have been married for 2 years and 8 months! The pictures shown above are from our engagement pic session taken by my lovely friend Claire! (We are cute!) Patrick and I had a relatively short dating relationship before we were married. We met in November of 2011, began dating in December, got engaged in July, and were married on November 17, 2012 (and then got pregnant one month later, but that’s another story!). You could say it was love at first sight! During the semester that we met, we had been in a seminary class together. The class began in August, but we didn’t actually speak to each other until November! We’re both pretty introverted, so it took a lot of courage to initiate that first conversation! Anyway, needless to say, we hit it off from the first conversation. Our first “non-date” was to a coffee shop that only accepted cashwell I didn’t bring any cash, so Patrick had to pay for my coffee! I was so embarrassed. He had wanted to pay, so my blunder helped him out a little. After that, we were inseparable! We talked all day and all night and talked about everything under the sun. I think it was the first time in my life I ever stayed up past 12:30am, but of course it was worth it because I couldn’t get enough of Patrick Owen Cochran! The more we talked and spent time together, the more we knew that we had found someone we could see ourselves with in a marriage relationship. Exciting times! So in the quick 11 months, we dated, got engaged, planned a wedding (with lots of help from our families), and were married!
At that time in our relationship, we were members of a church that offered WONDERFUL pre-marital counseling from a pastor and friend whom we respected very much. Counseling was an exciting time, a time for planning and expecting great things in our new marriage. We chose two books to read during our counseling sessions. We would each read the books throughout the week, and then during our counseling sessions, we would come together and discuss questions and the high points of the books. The pastor would also bring certain topics to the table that we would discuss. Before counseling began, he asked us to state our fears about marriage, and we discussed those as well. One of the books we chose was called The Peace Maker by Ken Sande. Patrick had heard about this book from a friend, and so we decided that a book about conflict resolution and communication would probably be a good idea when beginning a marriage! We read, took notes, and discussed. However, reading, discussing, and taking notes on elements of good communication and conflict resolution does not make you an expert on those topics nor does it mean that you will put those skills into practice when you’re in the midst of trying to communicate effectively! We learned that very early on in our marriage
These are some of the topics of our first big disagreements:
-        The appropriate use of a butter knife (Don't ask...)
-        Who was going to drive on the last leg of our trip home from Alabama
-        Whether we should go shopping or go to Christmas in the Oaks

Can anyone else relate to starting an argument over something as trivial as a butter knife??? Looking back, it’s pretty embarrassing and immature!
Very early into our marriage, we realized that we had different ways of doing things. We had different expectations for mundane household tasks. We had different expectations for budgeting and spending. We had different expectations for how time should be spent. We had different expectations for marriage roles. And when our expectations differed, it was honestly easy for me to either have a fearful or critical spirit when Patrick didn’t agree with me. We also had different fears and insecurities about different aspects of ourselves and our marriage. Some of things were discussed prior to embarking on our marriage journey, but a lot of those things just sort of manifested as a result of being married.  
So, based on these either unmet, miscommunicated, or unfair expectations, here’s a good recipe for conflict that we have (unfortunately) discovered and semi-perfected
Miscommunication + Misinformation + Expectations + Fears + Insecurities + Negative Body Language + Critical Spirit = Conflict, Tension, and Disunity (By the way, NOT God’s will for a godly marriage)
Well, it would take entirely too long to dive into each of the negative topics listed above. Just know that they each critically play a role in creating and maintaining an atmosphere of conflict in your marriage (or in any relationship for that matter). We have to actively guard against each of these elements of negative communication if we want to participate in positive, uplifting, and fruitful communication with our spouse. Who wants to live in any part of the formula listed above?? That is not God’s design for our marriage.
It is, however, the adversary’s desire for our marriage. I don’t think we need to constantly dwell on the evil schemes of the devil, but we do need to be aware of them and on our guard against them because he is prowling around like a lion, seeking to destroy anything of God. If he can cause dissention in our marriage, if he can cause us to distrust our spouse, if he can steer our minds to focus on disappointments and unmet expectations, if he can gain a foothold of bitterness and insecurity, then he will do it. He will take every opportunity to destroy what God has put together. He wants us to roll our eyes and slam doors. He wants us to dwell on the ways that our husbands have not met our (unfair, unrealistic, and often poorly communicated) expectations. He wants us to feel critical, hurt, bitter, and alone. Because when we do, then our marriages will slowly crumble. And when our marriages begin to crumble, then we are not working as team to honor the Lord; we’re just barely trying to stay afloat. The adversary doesn’t want us to have thriving, God-centered marriages. If we are not on guard against his tactics, then our marriages will suffer. We cannot let that happen!
So, how can we be on guard so that we don’t fall into the terribly destructive formula for conflict within our marriages? By studying, memorizing, meditating on, and putting into practice the words of Ephesians 6:10-20.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Application:

1.      Know your enemy. We don’t need to dwell on the devil or be anxious about his power in this fallen world, but we do need to be aware and proactive against his schemes, especially his schemes to destroy and prevent godly marriages from thriving. In Matthew 4, he attempted to tempt our Lord, Jesus Christ. In Genesis 3, he successfully deceived Eve. In Job, he was given permission to test Job. He is scheming, plotting, and planning against God’s people. Are you prepared for that? Read Ephesians 6:10-12, 1 Peter 5:8-9, and John 10:10.
2.    Learn and practice God’s plan for guarding against the enemy’s schemes. Study Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:10-20, and James 4:7-8.
3.    Evaluate your own marriage. How has the adversary been plotting against you and your spouse? For us, it was all about expectations. I was expecting Patrick to do and fulfill things in me that only the Lord can fulfill. I was expecting him to know what my desires were without even communicating them to him! (See Does Your Husband Possess This Superpower?) So once you’ve determined how the devil might be working against you, how can you guard against his schemes? He is going to be actively working against the things of God, including godly marriages, SO we have to be actively working to combat his schemes!
4.    Pray, pray, pray! Pray for your husband. Pray for yourself. Pray for fruitful instead of critical communication. Pray for united desires in marriage. Pray for united goals as you seek to serve the Lord together. Pray for each of you to put on the full armor of God each day. Pray, pray, pray! (See Prayer: A Lifeline or an Afterthought?)

I pray that you will hold fast to the Lord as you and your spouse seek to pursue a godly marriage, and especially godly communication and conflict resolution. I pray that you will be a team working together for the Lord and for your marriage and family. I pray that you will be aware of the devil’s schemes, but not fearful of them, because our God is greater than anything that adversary could throw at us. Sister, plead with the Lord on behalf of your marriage! Pray for your husband daily. Don’t follow the formula for conflict; rather put on the FULL armor of God DAILY! Fight for your marriage! It’s worth it!


Always, Jacquelyn

Thursday, July 9, 2015

When Loading the Dryer Takes Longer than Expected

Have you ever taken a personality test? You know those long, 100+ question tests that ask questions about everything under the sun? I love taking them! I love answering a hundred questions about myself, tallying up the score at the end, and reading the analysis of “who I am”. There are usually two overarching issues about these tests: 1) I (over)analyze everything, and 2) I am very indecisive! I don’t need a personality test to tell me that! When faced with a test with 100+ personality questions where you have to read a statement and choose what your response would most likely be, it takes me forever to decide on each response. It takes so long because I sit there and analyze each statement and my potential responses. Usually, I identify with one or two of the responses for each question. Then, my indecisive self tries to analyze what my end results will say based on which of the two responses I end up choosing! These tests are supposed to be fun and enlightening, but when it’s all said and done, I’m usually stressed because I think that I probably didn’t choose the right answers due to my over analysis, so therefore, my results won’t be accurate anyway I’m a mess!

The whole point of this story is that personality tests generally define two kinds of people: those who are task-oriented and those who are people-oriented. The test questions that are specific to task-oriented or people-oriented personality traits always stump me. I think I am almost equally task-oriented and people-oriented. I’m task-oriented in the fact that I love to make lists, accomplish tasks, see progress, and feel successful about results. I’m people oriented because I love people, I love listening to people, and I love spending time with people. My love language is definitely quality time.

So, what does this have to do with loading the dryer?

Loading the dryer is a task, along with all of the other household chores that need to get done. When I get in a cleaning mood (this doesn’t happen often, but when it does), I like to get things done efficiently. I get in the cleaning mood, and I’m on a roll. I usually have several tasks going on at once. I’ll sweep and vacuum while Riley Grace is in her high chair eating her supper. Then, I’ll put bathroom cleaners into all of the proper places and let them soak. Then, I’ll rinse her supper dishes. Then, I’ll start a load of clothes. Then, I’ll go back to the bathrooms and start cleaning. Once the bathrooms are done, it’s time to put the clothes into the dryer you get the drift. I’ve got a cleaning routine, and I stick to it (that doesn’t mean that cleaning happens oftenit just means that when it happens, I like to have my tasks in order! Please don't ask Patrick how often I clean the entire apartment...!). Somewhere in the order, Riley Grace is usually taking out more toys, unfolding clothes, or spilling juice. (Can anyone relate??)

So back to the laundry

As it turns out, I have a new laundry helper. Yep, you guessed it. It’s this cool chick right here...Riley Grace. 



She is mesmerized with the dryer. When I load the washer or dryer, she usually stands at the doorway and stares, or she tries to close the dryer while I’m loading it. J One particular day, the washer had stopped, and it was time to load the dryer. Riley Grace was examining my every move. So, I gave her a wet sock and asked her to put it into the dryer. The rest is history. Now, she is obsessed with loading the dryer! It’s the cutest thing. Anddddd it’s also the slowest thing! She takes one piece of laundry at a time and loads it into the dryer. The bigger pieces of laundry, like towels and pants, take an even longer time to get in there! She has the most serious look on her face as she’s working. She knows she’s doing something important, and she is serious about doing a good job. At the end, she throws in the dryer sheet and slams the door. She is the biggest and most precious helper!

Now for a task-oriented person (me), this longgg process of loading the dryer does not bode well. We’re still 10 minutes into putting one sock in at a time, and at this point on my cleaning list, I should already be dusting by now! I could be thinking of all the time I’m wasting by prolonging this process. But thankfully for the people-oriented side of me, I do not count this prolonged processed as “wasted” time. On the contrary, these moments with Riley Grace in the “tilly room” (short for “utility room”, as my Grandma would say) are priceless. I have the opportunity to slow down with Riley Grace, show her that I love her and care about teaching her, and spend quality time with her. Oh, how I treasure these moments and her sweet spirit!

And so the lesson behind my new laundry routine (with my new helper) is

Mamas,

Slow down. Be in the moment, not ten steps ahead on what else you could be doing that would be more “productive.” Spending time with your kids loving, teaching, laughing, playing, disciplining, holding, listening, molding IS PRODUCTIVE. It’s a high calling from the Lord. Our society is so fast-paced. We have to work to have a mindset that doesn't stress out when we're challenged to slow down and be in the moment. Work at it! Your kids are worth slowing down for!

Take time to enjoy moments with your kiddos. Don’t be too busy for fun, light-hearted moments. Get messy with your toddler. Start a tickle war or a pillow fight. Do something spontaneous. Let them know that you can have fun and that you think they are fun to be with.

Take time to mold them and teach them. Don’t be too busy for precious, teaching moments. When I look back at my time with Riley Grace loading the dryer, I won’t regret that it took ten minutes to load the dryer, when I could have done it by myself in 30 seconds. In those moments, she knew I valued her. She knew I valued teaching her. And we both learned a lot from our time in the “tilly room.”

Take time to speak life into their lives, no matter how old they are. Don’t let the only words on your tongue be reprimands. Our words hold a lot of weight. Sure, we need to speak words of discipline from time to time. That's a necessary and good part of parenting that can also be a very teachable time. But we do not need to speak critical or belittling words, argumentative or complaining words, harsh or unkind words, pessimistic or exasperated words. Being a mom can be overwhelming, but thankfully, the Lord is our strength. He can give us all that we need to be the moms He has called us to be. And He can empower us to speak life into our children’s lives, even if we are tired, overwhelmed, or overworked.

Let them know that you cherish your time with them. You have a VERY important role. Don’t rush your time with them just so you can check off your to-do list. Your children will take note of all of your interaction with them, whether you invest in them or brush them off for another task. 

If your to-do list is more important than stopping to let them load the dryer no matter how long it takes they will know. If you are too busy for them, they will know. Don’t be too busy for the precious gifts that the Lord has entrusted to you!

The challenge is this: Show your kids you love them each and every day. Don’t be too busy to stop and cherish little moments with them. They need you to be there for them. They don’t need the house to be spotless and the dinner to taste like it came out of Southern Living. They need a Mama who is present and who has embraced her calling from the Lord to love, teach, and serve her children. Go love on your kiddos!

Lord, give us Your unconditional love, strength, patience, and wisdom as we seek to raise our children to be godly men and women. Let us show them what it means to be Christ-followers and to be kind, gentle, loving people. Do not let busyness creep in and get in the way of spending quality time with our children. Let our speech be seasoned with grace. And let us always rely on Your strength, instead of our own. We love you, and are ever so thankful for the gifts You’ve given us in our children.


Always, Jacquelyn