December 25, 2013

Fire in the Sky • A Story of Christmas

The hushed stillness of their hillside perch was a welcome reprieve. Now only a muted roar behind them, the bustle of crowded Bethlehem fell flat.

Marah leaned back with her hands in the cool grass and gazed down at Josiah. Even in dimmest moonlight, his young features bore uncanny resemblance to his father’s. It was unsettling and comforting at the same time.

Josiah’s chin tilted toward the dark heavens. “Mama,” he said, “Is it true about the fire?”

Sometimes Marah wondered if nine-year-old boys ever exhausted their stores of questions. Since Marah was the only adult to whom Josiah could bring his queries, she would make every effort to answer him.
“What do you mean, fire?”

Josiah looked at her in puzzlement, as if she should’ve understood right away. “The fire in the sky, Mama. The stories Papa used to tell me. The cloud in the day. The fire at night. Is it true, Mama?”

Marah’s breath caught in her chest. Things had been harder since Josiah’s father had died. Believing had been harder.

His mother’s silence a little too long, Josiah piped up again, “Mama, sometimes I wonder if the stories are really true. I think sometimes you wonder, too. I’ve never seen fire in the sky. But Papa wouldn’t have lied to us, Mama. So I think it has to be true, even though I’ve never seen it.”

Marah sighed. Tremulous words escaped her lips. “Those skies have been dark and silent as long as anyone can remember, Josiah.” An ache rose in her heart, the bitterness she normally fought to hide from her son. But tonight it was too much.

They had been happy once. From childhood, gentle Benjamin had loved Marah. He had possessed very little, but was generous with hard work and a contagious joy. Ben had been the best of husbands, and in due time he’d also lavished love on their son. Ever honoring the Shema, he had instilled the scriptures into Josiah’s heart at every chance. The family of three had relished working, saving, and planning together all year for their annual Spring trips to the temple. Though they had always expected more children to come along sooner, Benjamin and Marah were still only dreaming of little brothers and sisters for Josiah by the time he was five years old. There was joy in the dreaming, though. It could happen at any time.

Then the dream ended.

It was merely an effort to disentangle a friend from a brawl with a drunken Roman soldier. But in that one unfortunate moment, Ben was gone. For four years now, Marah and Josiah had struggled. In a swiftly arranged marriage of necessity, Ben’s distant cousin had become a harsh new husband. He did his legal duties toward them and no more. His money flowed liberally for his own pleasures and scarcely for his family’s provision. Josiah was afraid of him, and Marah had come to despise him.

When the census had been called for, Marah had begged for permission to stay behind with Josiah. The city of David might have been her new husband’s old stomping grounds, but it was a strange place to her. She longed for time alone with her son, for peace and familiarity. But that was not to be. Marah and Josiah had packed their things and trekked to Bethlehem along with the swearing, self-absorbed Judahite. No doubt he was flirting with a pretty young Jewess at this very moment, back at the overbooked inn.

Marah’s eyes flashed bitterly toward the starless sky. There was no use in pretending anymore. No use in trying to protect Josiah from her doubts. “Honestly, son, sometimes I think that even if God ever did show Himself through fire in the sky, He has certainly forgotten us now.”

A warm, tan little hand with dimples in its knuckles gently rested on Marah’s weary, chilled fingers. Josiah said nothing, but kept his hand on his mother’s, reassuringly. The child always had a way of doing exactly what his father would’ve done. Was Josiah’s persistent faith the result of youth or of Ben’s influence?

Minutes passed, maybe hours. It had to be at least midnight, but the distant hum of banter from Bethlehem continued. Marah smirked, thinking that if there were a bright side to her husband’s negligence, it was that it allowed her to steal away from the raucous city unnoticed. She cherished these tranquil moments with her son.

“Do you see that, Mama?” Josiah punctuated the silence that had fallen between them.

Marah leaned forward and scanned the horizon, but saw nothing new. She shook her head.

“Mama, over there!” Josiah jumped up, pointing out over the green fields veiled in darkness.

His mother squinted and thought she detected a growing illumination in the general direction of Josiah’s gesture.

“Mama, listen! I hear voices there, too!”

Marah heard nothing, but was captivated by the flaming brilliance that now overtook that corner of the sky. She stood also, and pulled Josiah close to her.

Marah and Josiah gazed in awe across the field. They had never seen anything like it before.

“Mama,” the boy whispered, eyes wide. “Fire in the sky.”

Marah couldn’t deny that it looked fearfully similar to the descriptions she’d heard passed down through dozens of generations—accounts of the glory of the Lord manifested as a pillar of fire. It had led their Israelite ancestors out of Egypt, signaling their salvation.

No sooner had that realization dawned than the light disappeared. Muffled thumps of fast-falling footsteps approached. “Men are coming, Mama!” Josiah said, as shadowy figures emerged from where the light had been.

Frozen, but not in fear, Marah gripped her son’s shoulder, wordlessly urging him to remain still. Five or six ragged men ran up the hill toward them. She recognized the men as shepherds, outcasts not fit for work in the city to which they hurried. Marah and her son would’ve retreated to safety if darkness and distance hadn’t shrouded them.

The shepherds cried out excitedly as they ran. Marah hoped Josiah wouldn’t understand any of their words. She’d heard about the foul language shepherds were known for, even worse than her husband’s. But her fears for the child's innocence were quickly displaced as the shepherds passed.

“Messiah. Here, in Bethlehem.” Josiah repeated their shouted words in a whisper, looking up at his mother’s bewildered expression. “They’re going to see a baby, Mama, the Messiah. What does that mean, Mama?”

Marah peered down into her son’s big brown eyes, her own amazement mirrored in them. She stroked his dark hair. Warmth filled her. The ache in her heart was replaced by something akin to mother’s intuition, an inexplicable certainty she hadn’t felt in four years.

And she knew.

“It means, son, that I was wrong. God has not forgotten us.”

Marissa Thompson, 2013

October 31, 2013

A Choosy Beggar

He sat by the sidewalk, dark leathery hands outstretched.
"Help me get a meal?" he asked us as we passed. So we turned, and we offered him the hearty remains of our recent lunch. His eyes fell on our gift, and his face fell as well. "No thanks," he said, backing away, "I don't like that kind of food. It just doesn't agree with me."

Half relieved we'd get to keep our food, half indignant that he'd dare turn it away, we walked on. Judgment seared across my heart. Beggars can't be choosers. I guess he wasn't very hungry, after all. 

I am the beggar. I extend my empty hands, pleading for more of God's presence in my life. When His own hands open to pour out His gifts, I balk at them. "No thanks, Father. I don't like that discomfort. I don't like this sickness or loneliness or season of waiting. I will not praise You for the mundane, the dead-end job,  the less-than-ideal. It just doesn't agree with me."

I push against what He offers— not leftovers to fill the belly, but sovereignly crafted means to fill me with more of Himself. I guess I didn't want His power in my life much after all.

Oh that I would graciously allow His strength to be magnified in my weakness.1 That I would learn to accept His mercies in every form, rejoicing that "He whose heart is kind beyond all measure gives unto each day what He deems best."2

Lord, help me not to be a choosy beggar.

October 3, 2013

Here's My Heart, Lord

I’m a lost cause. I don’t fit in anywhere. I will always fail at this. God has forgotten about me. All this work is for nothing. I don’t deserve this pain. Everything is against me. Nothing’s ever certain. It’s all a lie. There’s no hope. I have nothing to hold on to. 

By the end of a hard day, lies have crept into my heart. They're half-truths, subtle whispers that I begin to accept and live.

I find myself in desperate need of a daily day’s-end reset. I need renewal in the fashion of Romans 12:2. Like a guitar played too long without rest, my heart strings need to be tuned afresh.

This song has been powerful for me in those times of tuning. I gather my Bible and my journal, and pray these lyrics before opening the Word. I’m pausing to consider what lies I’ve accepted over the course of the day. I’m saying “Here’s my heart, Lord. Remove all these prideful, faithless thoughts. Replace them with your Word. Speak what is true.”

August 14, 2013

Why There's Repetition in My Prayers

I wonder if the people who hear me pray regularly grow tired of the recurring theme.

When I talk to God, I think of His character. I think of His holiness first. But before that thought is even complete, I encounter how great His love must be, since He is so holy, to allow and even desire that I know Him.

Let me tell you how extraordinary that love is.

Ephesians 2:1-10 is a presentation of extremes. Verses 1-3 paint a morbid picture. I was dead. Enslaved to this world and my own desires. In bondage even to Satan himself. Deserving the full blow of God’s righteous fury.

Then in verse 4 we encounter the conjunction “but.” With a beginning as dark as verses 1-3, this is a beautiful word. It signals a transition to something completely different.

The tone of the text reverses. The darkness lifts. The story becomes a victorious one bursting with words like alive, saved, raised up, grace, kindness, gift. Rather than living enslaved to all things nefarious, I now live with purpose.

And what made the difference?

“God… because of the great love with which He loved us.” His love changed my whole story.

Pardon the repetition. It’s not meaningless, I promise. As long as I’m awed by His love whenever I think of Him, I will pray:

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love.”

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV

July 31, 2013

When Love Looks Like Sixty Cents

I counted my change last night. After I scoured the living room floor and the bottom of my purse, I had $2.27 in quarters, nickels, and pennies. I also had an overpowering craving for a cinnamon roll.

My husband is well-acquainted with my frequent compulsions for milkshakes and cookie dough and chocolate and the like. He sweetly gave in and agreed to drive down the road with me in search of cinnamon rolls.
I found them— a perfect can of Pillsbury refrigerated cinnamon rolls, with the Cinnabon trademark and the much-too-small cup of icing included. There was no price listed anywhere near them on the store shelf, but why would cinnamon rolls cost more than two dollars? I proceeded to check out.

They rang up at $2.85. I was just about sixty cents short. Without hesitation, Steven reached into his wallet, scrounged for his own spare change, and supplied the difference.

Maybe I’m being a little sentimental. I’m not going to mask it, though. Times have been hard financially, emotionally, health-wise, and even in our marriage. It’s been a rough few months.

So when he handed the cashier his own change to buy cinnamon rolls that he didn’t even want, he may as well have handed me a dozen roses. Or to put it into my love language, he may as well have handed me a dozen peach milkshakes, a chocolate bar, and a good book. I was touched.

We’re in our third year of marriage. This amount of time is awkward. It is short enough that we are still in the phase of “the struggling young couple just trying to get by.” It is long enough that we take each other for granted. But I think I’m starting to see what couples who’ve been together for decades knew all along:

It doesn’t take impressive acts to keep romance alive. Love is expressed when you give up your last sixty cents without a second thought. Sometimes the power of the gift goes unnoticed because it comes so naturally to give to the person you love. You don’t even consider it a gift because that person is part of your own self. But that is exactly what makes it so much more significant.

There was a time not too long ago when his gifts were sushi dinners, days out-of-town, expensive boxes of fancy fudge paired with Starbucks. These days, he gives a milkshake here and there, tolerates giggles and messes while I slumber party with nieces, and pumps gasoline for me because I hate doing it. I prefer this quiet love to the gift-showering shown in movies and occasionally seen in our courtship. I want the love of a man who gives me his spare change as if he were simply spending it on himself, rather than one who expects to be recognized for grand gestures.

We have a little saying with which we’ve teased one another since our dating days. It's been altered to express love and thanks in many different scenarios between us. It goes something like this:

I love you, Steven. Not because you gave me sixty cents to buy cinnamon rolls.
But that has a lot to do with it. :)

June 6, 2013

Pursuing Purpose & Finding Peace

Do you know that feeling of overwhelm? When you have an infinite to-do list scrolling through your mind over and over, like a stock ticker at the bottom of a television screen? When you’re furiously rushing through a task just to reach the next one and mark it off the mental list? I experience this chronically.  

Last week, though, I think I finally found the “off” button for that to-do ticker. 

I was racing down my list of tasks for both work and home, feeling the pressure of a dozen empty check-boxes that seemed to be multiplying. I was stressed, fatigued, and feeling defeated because there was no way I could accomplish everything before the day was over. 

Then this question whispered its way through my mind: Why is all of this so important?

For almost all of the tasks that most burdened me, there was a basic purpose: to save time, to save money, or to save face. Do you find this to be true?
  • We rush to get something done now with the goal of creating more time for ourselves later.
  • We do “extra” work with the goal of saving money— growing our own produce, making homemade cleaning products, line-drying laundry
  • We sometimes pressure ourselves simply in the twisted hope of saving face. (What would friends think if they stopped by and there was dust on my doorframes?)
Once I had recognized this immediate purpose, I wondered what I would actually do with all that time and money and reputation I was supposedly saving.

I couldn’t think of an answer. There was no significant, big-picture purpose for the rush on all of those “to-do’s.”

That was the moment when the ticker stopped scrolling.

In pursuing purpose, I found peace. 

April 29, 2013

Change of Plans

I was out in the garden, staking up a tomato plant. The silence was extraordinary. No birds. No breeze. Blue skies directly overhead.

With no warning, a flash shattered my concentration, followed instantly by a ground-rattling boom. Raindrops began to splatter on my hands, while I rushed to finish stabilizing the tomato cage.

As I ran through the lightning-punctuated downpour, the distance between my garden and back door seemed further than usual. So much for my outdoor to-do list. I sat inside catching my breath, drying off, and thinking deep thoughts about planning.

Working from home, I have the privilege of planning many elements of my work schedule. On a monthly basis, my husband carefully plans what we will eat. In college, I could plan exactly how many study hours I needed to invest in order to earn a certain grade. Part of my job now is even helping college students plan their studies, plan for personal growth, and make time-management plans. I plan what I'll wear a day in advance. I plan for how long it will take me to drive to church. I have a plan for which housekeeping tasks I'll complete on certain days of the week.

Today, running through that sudden April shower, I was reminded of the limits of planning prowess.

According to the weather website, it wasn't going to rain until 7:00 in the evening. I had written out my daily schedule based on that, with outdoor action items planned for the early afternoon. And in one flash, my perfect schedule was made insignificant. I'm disappointed, yes; but I'm not going to beat myself up for not accomplishing the rest of my garden tasks today. There was a bigger plan than mine for this day (God's), and it fulfilled a bigger need (rain).

Sometimes I need to step back and look at life this way as well. Facets of my life are drastically different from the way I always wanted and expected them to be. My carefully plotted long-term plan is so skewed by now, I'm not even sure what I want the schedule to look like for the next five years. But I'm trusting that there's a bigger plan, that God is working to fulfill a bigger need. I can't keep going back and analyzing what went wrong, what I could've done differently.

No, when April showers come and rearrange your day, you realize there's nothing you could've done to stop that rainstorm. Likewise, I couldn't have altered this life-path God destined me for.

So here I am indoors, sipping water from a mason jar, listening to the thunder, and wondering, what do I do now? I tear the top page off my notepad and toss the afternoon to-do list into the trash. I write today's date at the top of a clean, white page a blank page, ready to have fresh goals listed there.

And I see it now
When my plans lie crumpled in the wastebasket, just then my life is prepared to have written upon it new plans, new goals, dreams I never would have considered before.

A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9 

March 14, 2013

Not Having a Thing

For about two years, I have really struggled with not having “a thing.”

You know what “a thing” is. You hear about a 5K and say, “Whew! I could never do that, but Kate could. Running is her thing.” The topic of art comes up, and you think of someone you know who's a genius with oil paints, and you say, “Painting is Christina’s thing.” Or maybe you know someone who’s all about dressing well, and when those seasonal catalogs come in the mail you think, “Jessica would love to see this. Fashion is her thing.” 

I don’t think I’ve had "a thing" for a few years now There’s not really one interest or skill that people identify me with. 

In high school, music was my thing. I played piano, flute, violin, and whatever else I could get my hands on. I took classes and private lessons. I studied music hard on my own. I taught music lessons. I signed up for college as a music major. Then I attended a Summer Music Academy where I realized that discipline can only take you so far in music; at some point, there’s got to be talent. Oops. I started college with a different major and could no longer devote significant time to music at all.

In college, leading children was my thing. Everyone knew me as the girl who loved working with kids. I started a children’s choir, worked in daycares and schools, babysat a lot, had a job as a nanny, taught children’s classes at my church and other churches, majored in Elementary Education, and volunteered for absolutely every opportunity available to work with children. I loved it. But somewhere along the way, those opportunities slipped away. I got a different job, got married, moved to another town, went to a new church. I didn’t get to interact with children much. Nobody had any clue that I was passionate about teaching kids.

And now here I am. I’m still zealous about investing in the next generation, but now I do that in ways that aren’t as visible to others. I still love music, but I gladly relinquish that to be my husband’s “thing” rather than mine. (He has the talent, after all.) By profession I’m an academic coach, a title people don’t quite understand even when I explain it. I dabble in painting. I garden a bit. I adore good literature and a quiet house. But I can’t think of any one pursuit that I would consider “my thing.” 

I’m learning to be okay with that.

I’m slowly coming to peace with the truth that I don’t have to distinguish myself with "a thing.” I don’t have to spring to people’s minds whenever they think of music or children or art. I’m not a nobody just because I’m not outstanding at one role in the public eye.

What matters is that whatever I do, I do for the glory of God. 

I don’t have to be known as the girl who worships God through working with kids or through music or through art or through writing. I’d rather just be a girl who worships Jesus with all my heart. Period.

My identity is in Him, and His glory is "my thing." 

January 22, 2013

The Joy Dare

I have been deeply ungrateful. I bet you have too.

Consider this:
Every time you or I complain about anything, we're really saying, "I'm not thankful for what you've given me in this moment, Lord. Take it back. I don't want it." Even though He says in Romans 8 that He works all things together for our good, to conform us to the image of Christ, we're ungrateful for the refining fires. I've written before about my struggle with discontentment; it is, at heart, a struggle with ingratitude.

I'm not thankful for the weeks when we don't know how the rent will get paid. I'm not thankful for diseases that afflict the people I love. I'm seriously not thankful for the painful moments of being the only woman in the group who can't join the conversation about toddler trials, when all I ever wanted was to mother a houseful of children and start young at it too. I'm not thankful for hospital bills, broken washing machines, or midsummer car rides with no air conditioning.

My heart says: These parts of your plan, God they're a mistake, clearly. They'll never work for my good. Take them far away from me. 

I can spend so much of my energy being ungrateful that it sucks the joy right out of me. I become like the Israelites in Numbers 11, who had miracle-food from God's hand spread all around each morning; yet they lost the wonder of that mysterious entrée and complained about missing out on the spices and side dishes of Egypt.

Have you ever been there?

In 2011, I ordered a little book called One Thousand Gifts. While that neat brown package was on its way to my mailbox, something was eating away at my newlywed husband's insides. We had no clue until extreme pain drove us to the emergency room on a Thursday night and kept us at the hospital for two weeks straight. In those two weeks my husband had a major operation, was laid off from his brand new job, and began a very dark road to recovery. As he lay in the intensive care unit, monitors of all sorts softly beeping while he slept,  I started reading the book that had arrived the day we went to the hospital.

The book spoke of God's goodness even in the hard times, even in death and loss and pain. It spoke of that joy that comes with knowing God is good, and that His plans for me are all gifts meant to make me more like Christ. Ann Voskamp writes, "When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become a gift?"

It was hard to view as gifts that hospital stay, that lost job, those dark months that followed. But if I deserve nothing no life, no moments, nothing precious to me (which one must have in order to feel loss or pain at all) then wasn't every moment and every thing a gift?

So on Easter Day 2011, in a clinical, pale blue hospital chair that had become my desk-sofa-bed, I took Ann up on her Joy Dare. I started writing in a gratitude journal, recording "gifts" from God that I didn't deserve. Skillful doctors' hands. Being allowed to stay by Steven's side in ICU. Beeps from monitors that kept me awake all night but reminded me he was still breathing. 

Almost two years later, I'm still not thanking God profusely for every trial. However, the discipline of daily recording His gifts to me forces me to confront my ingratitude and practice thankfulness. It helps me give thanks for gifts I would've overlooked otherwise.

Groceries. An extra hour of work this week. Truth that does not change. Lunches at home with my husband. Fresh eggs in the hen-house.  Purple blooms on front-yard weeds. Early morning rays through fog. 

At the beginning of 2013, I started over with my journal. I want to be more consistent in listing gifts every single day of this year. I want to end up with over a thousand gifts recorded in my little book. So every day I write down at least three. No repeats allowed.

Fingers digging in soft, cold garden dirt. Vegetable seeds not yet sown. Sun-soaked white towels on the clothesline. Routine. Soap. The ability to read. 

I'm currently at #112. One hundred twelve separate undeserved gifts God has given me so far this year. And it's only mid-January.

January 10, 2013

Five Ways I Want to be Like My Mama

This blog is all about my journey toward living purposefully, with the result that home is a pleasant place. My mama does that better than anyone I know. 

For months, there's been a blog post sitting in my drafts folder titled simply "My Mama." It contained a few disorganized thoughts on things I love about my mom. That draft drew my attention recently, because today is my mama's birthday. I'm not revealing how old she is; but she probably wouldn't mind if I did. She's the kind of lady who would gracefully tell you her age if you asked, and she'd add that she's thankful for every year. (Granted, it's probably easier to respond that way when you still look as angelic as my mama does.)

Everything I'd written about my mom in that original draft was a quality I desperately hope to grow into. So I tried to fit those jotted thoughts into some order. Now my challenge is limiting the list to only these five.

1. I want to be courageous like my mama. 

    She comes across as a docile, easygoing woman; and she is. But there is a fierceness in my mama's loyalty to the people she loves. No number of miles can keep her away from a daughter or grandchild who needs her. No challenge stops her from nurturing the people in whom she invests her life.
    When I was a kindergartner, my mom was at the primary school with me every day, volunteering in my classroom. Then, before I started first grade, my parents believed that God was leading them to teach me at home. Back then, homeschooling wasn't popular. It wasn't totally unheard of, but it certainly wasn't the hip trend it has become in many circles of late. There weren't as many support systems in place as homeschoolers have now. I imagine that my parents met a bit of opposition from well-meaning people who didn't understand why any woman would take it upon herself to educate her children at home. But armed with the conviction that this was God's calling, she did it. She made learning fun; she made it lovable. She stuck with it during the difficult years. Twelve years later I graduated from home school high school. I continued to love learning throughout college and now enjoy working as an academic coach for college students. A huge part of my job is passing on the same love for learning that my mama instilled in me. What a gift her courage has given me!
   It took courage for my mom to dive into a pursuit so unfamiliar and so different from what society expected. I want to have that kind of courage. When I'm convinced of God's leading, I want to jump wholeheartedly into His will and pursue it no matter what.

2. I want to serve with joy.

   My mama sings around the house as if it were great fun to do the most mundane chores. If you saw her washing dishes, you would think she just loves standing there wiping away the grime while she hums a hymn. She doesn't just do what needs to be done; she does it with class.
  I can't recall how many times she told my young self, "Now, Missy, try to have a sweet spirit." By that she meant not to simply do the job; but to do it with joy. God loves a cheerful giver, after all (2 Cor. 9:7). He must really delight in a woman who folds her family's laundry with a smile on her face and a song in her heart. I'm still working on that.

3. I want to never complain; my mama doesn't.

    I've got a lot of maturing to do on this one.
    I can't recall my mom ever complaining about a long wait. I don't think she's ever complained about the weather. She doesn't complain about hard work, even on weekends. She definitely does not complain about my father. I certainly never heard her complain about finances or lack thereof. In fact, no matter how tight times might have been, she always told us children that our family was exceptionally blessed, and we believed her. (We were blessed with her. That's for sure.)
   When everyone else is complaining, my mama starts finding and naming all the good in the situation. If there's no good to be found, she might sing a song to lighten the mood anyway. There may have been times in my teenage cynicism when I would've labelled her a Pollyanna; but there are so many days now when I long for my mom's ability to pinpoint the blessings through the darkest storm.

4. I want to honor and respect my husband the way my mama honors and respects hers. 

    Both my mom and dad speak incredibly kindly to one another. My mama has always told us daughters that we have the best father in the whole world. The praises she offers him in front of the church members he leads are the same things she says about him in private. She speaks only highly of him and never, ever criticizes or belittles him. Growing up, she made sure we also spoke to and about our dad with respect.
  I've been married for two years now. I've discovered that even if your husband is amazing, the temptation to nag and criticize is strong. That's why there are times when the strongest thing a woman can do is keep quiet. My mom is a strong woman strong in the quiet way she honors her husband. I want to be like that.

5. I want to assume the best of people. 

   "Mama simply just loves everyone. I wish I could be like that." My sister and I both recently expressed this thought after a conversation about how our mom accepts and loves people. She thinks the best of them, even when others doubt them. Maybe it's part of her special gift for finding the good; maybe that extends to people, too. However she does it, my mom pure-heartedly loves people who I view with skepticism. When I'm judging, my mom is nurturing. I take my time and make people prove they can be trusted. My mom just loves 'em.
  I think this describes the way my mama loves people:
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  1 Corinthians 13:4-7
In fact, all five of these imitable qualities of my mom's could be summed up in those verses.

Happy Birthday, Mama.
I want to be just like you when I grow up.