The Big 50 Birthday Post

Sheri @ 50I woke up this morning to my 50 year-old self. Just like when I was 5, there were no big changes to report. But kind of like my 5 year old self ~ I am super excited! This morning Barb, my friend of over 18 years (who arrived in town yesterday) and I are getting ready to celebrate the Big 5-O by spending the day running around town blessing others in big and small ways!

Firefighters will receive morning bagels, nurses a basket of lunch goodies, a meal will be delivered, a dog’s adoption fee is about to get paid, notes are being sent and so much more! There are also a few friends here in my town who will also be out blessing others today!

But it’s not just happening in my town, my sisters, husband and kids are helping to spread kindness in Wichita, and Minneapolis, at Purdue University and the University of Minnesota, even in the Dominican Republic someone is going to receive an Act of Kindness today to celebrate these amazing 50 years I’ve been blessed to have. 50 Acts for 5o years!

If you received on of these Acts of Kindness and want to share about it ~ leave a comment! It seems to me that taking up space on the internet to share something good is, well…a good idea. :)

A Bin and a Prayer

While grabbing a book from the coffee table recently, I knocked my daughter’s book on the floor and out spilled little slips of paper from within. Written on the slips of paper were the names of people ~ friends and peers from school, as well as kids and adults from church, camp and more. I knew instantly these names had come from the bin. Let me explain…

Original Prayer Box Erin has been praying for others for as long as I can remember. When she was about 10 years old I really became aware of her dedication and discipline to pray; she had converted a Valentine’s candy box into a prayer box and in it she had placed both names and categories of people for whom she was praying. (I found myself sometimes telling you I’d pray for you and then forgetting – not nearly as dedicated as my 10 year old!) Erin had (and still has) a particular burden on her heart for soldiers, as well as the vulnerable ~ she had slips of paper in that box that included “foster kids” and “unsung heros”. At 10 years old I discovered she was also more diligent then I was to pray for the leaders of our church when I saw their names inside her box as well.

Today Erin is quickly moving towards being 17 years-old and the spilled slips of paper is evidence that she is still praying for those around her. Over Christmas she told me that her prayer box was very full so she was going to make a prayer bin instead, and so she has. It’s already almost full of names of those she prays for – names of friends and peers, even names those who have slighted her or hurt her feelings. There are kids she teaches in Sunday school, adults who serve alongside her at church, pastors and their families, soldiers – both named and unnamed, kids she has been a counselor for at summer camp, married couples within our circle, kids who are loners, popular and more. I am humbled as I consider her heart and passion for praying for others. She is my example.

So today I followed her lead and have created my own prayer box. I put in my own slips of paper with names that came to my mind, and like Erin, I will continue to add people to my box as life goes on. Also like Erin, I will weekly pull names out of my box and pray for their needs  – both known and unknown.

Thanks, Erin for leading the way on this important spiritual discipline.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:18

A Girl and her Prayer Box

I am working on a column about how my 16 year-old daughter leads me by her quiet example. Before I share that column it seemed important to give you some history, so I’m taking you back almost five years to show you the place where it all began. The column below first appeared in April of 2009:

April 26, 2009

A Daughter, a Prayer Box & Soldiers

Parts of today’s post are taken from a journal entry written April 17, 2009:

I am on a plane headed to Florida to meet my sister-in-law and I am sitting next to a young combat soldier named Kevin. He is headed back to Iraq to continue his second tour of duty. He was home for R&R; he gets fifteen days…once a year. He says he wasn’t exactly ready to go back, but alas here he is on the plane headed back to complete his duty. What an honor to be placed next to him. This is the second time in a row I have been placed next to a soldier on a plane.

On my last flight his name was Wendall. He was sitting in front of me, I tapped him on the shoulder and thanked him for his service, I then asked him if there was a way to pray for him.

My boldness is inspired by my youngest daughter, Erin, who is 11. One day about a year ago I found a 191 heart box on her dresser. It had been given to her with candy as its contents, but when I opened it this day the contents were sweeter than anything I could have imagined. It was filled with little strips of paper with names on them. Her candy box had become a prayer box. “Soldiers”, “Pastor Stan”, “Unsung Heroes”, “Foster kids” and more…at her tender age, how does she know to pray for leaders, soldiers, and so many others?

I told Wendall about this box, he told me to tell Erin he appreciated the prayers and would pass this on to his friends in Iraq. He asked for us to pray for his safety.

So here I am on a plane again and it is another soldier who sits down next to me. How honored to be placed yet again next to someone who serves on my behalf. I am excited to tell Erin I get to tell  another soldier that he is covered in prayer as he serves.

I learn he joined the army to get out of a tough neighborhood. He didn’t want to go the way so many around him were. The army has been good for him he says, but he is anxious to finish his time (2 more years) and start school. His first tour was in Baghdad and he says it was rough, he saw things he won’t soon forget. This current tour is in northern Iraq and its pretty peaceful. I learn his family is his mom and his sister. He says his mom cries whenever they say goodbye. I can only imagine.

He is sleeping, as curled up as he can be and his head is against the window. He looks so young, he is 22, I am 44, he could be my son. I think of my son, who is 14 and already growing into a man sized body, what if this were my son leaving for Iraq? I think of this soldier’s mom and I find myself praying over his mind, his body, his heart and his soul, may all be protected as he serves our country. May God’s peace fall upon him in great and abiding ways.

When he wakes up, I learn he has a six hour layover in Atlanta, I have felt in my spirit to give him some money for lunch and dinner. How awkward, how will I do that, I wonder? The plane is landing and I know I will regret it if I don’t listen to what I believe is the Holy Spirit. I turn to him and try to hand him some money, telling him I would like to buy him his meals today. “No thanks ma’am” he says very politely. “Please let me do this for you.” “No thank you ma’am.” he says again. I looked him square in the eye and said “Erin would want me to do this for you.” he looked down…took the money and said “Tell Erin I said thanks.”

192 Thank you Erin for being so big in your prayers, for your inspiration, for making me bold on your behalf. Thanks for being the kind of kid who would want to buy a soldier a meal – I know in my heart this is indeed what you would have wanted.

And be safe Kevin, we’re praying for you and your comrades.

You can click here to read about how another soldier’s name made it into Erin’s prayer box in 2011. And here for the one that made it into the box in 2013.

A King. A Threat. A Prayer.

In my Bible reading plan for today I was to read Acts 3, 2 Corinthians 7, Jeremiah 28, and Isaiah 36. So, I love when this happens….I read Isaiah 36 and thought hmmmmm….I wonder what happens next. (Seriously, I LOVE when this happens when I am reading the Bible!)

One King (Sennacherib of Assyria) had sent some guys (a field commander and a large army) to another King’s (Hezekiah of Judah) guys and basically said, Let’s make a deal – we’re going to wipe you out anyway, so quit basing your confidence on your King’s message that The Lord will deliver the city, He won’t. So come and make peace with us and then we will take you to a place where you will have plenty and not have to experience the hardship of what will come from battle. Oh yeah, and they throw this in, Furthermore…The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it. (note to myself…both claiming God gave them a message – in direct opposition of each other. Ever been in that position?)

I wrote this in my margin in summary of chapter 36, The people heard a threatening message. They also heard a promise…IF the gave in – or surrendered. I had to read the next chapter.

The cliff notes are that King Hezekiah heard this, tore his clothing, put on sackcloth (as a sign of great distress) and went into the temple of the Lord. This intrigued me because there are so many Kings in the Old Testament that don’t inquire of the Lord. I discovered there had not been a King go to the Temple and pray to the Lord in about 250 years! Now I was really paying attention, this King was someone I wanted to know more about.

He then sent his guys to Isaiah the prophet and asked him to pray. Margin notes added at this point are: 1) Go to the Lord, 2) Seek Godly counsel, 3) Ask for prayer.

There are more threats that come to the King through messengers and a letter. With the threats, they also give evidence of what is to come; they name the countries that have already been destroyed, the kings who are no more and ask about the gods of the destroyed nations.

Here is what I love about Hezekiah…he read the letter and then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And then he prayed to the Lord.

Really. Let this sink in…the King didn’t go to his army, he didn’t rally the people, he went to his God, who is unseen, and spread it all out before Him and prayed.

Pause. Margin note: Lay it all out before the LORD and pray.

He asks God to give His ear and His eyes to what is going on. He acknowledges the truth and severity of the threats but also the truth that the other gods were fabricated of wood and stone made by human hands. Then he asks God to deliver them from the hand of King Sennacherib – so that all the kingdoms would know the Lord, the only God.

God sends a message to King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah and it begins with this, “Because you have prayed to me concerning…..”
Margin note: Prayer matters!

I continued reading on through chapter 38. Hezekiah is ill and is at the point of death. He “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord…” In verse 5 God sends a message again through Isaiah and in part says, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears…”
Margin note: Prayer matters.

I just had to write about this reading today, and these are my overall takeaways:

  • I have felt threatened – if even in my heart – and there have been whispers of promises that began with, just surrender…it’ll be easier of you do. This hardship will pass if you just give in.
  • This is when it would be time to go and turn to God – even if I haven’t in a long time. However long its been, it hasn’t been 250 years. (!)
  • Seek Godly counsel.
  • Ask for prayer.
  • Lay it ALL out before the Lord. Ask for His eye and His ears. Ask not for selfish reasons but for a result that will make God known and bring Him glory.
  • Prayer matters.
  • Prayer matters.
  • Prayer matters.
    When I am praying for my daughter away at college, it matters. When I lift up friends who come to my mind, parents who are estranged, people suffering with illness with no relief, the prayers offered up matter. I don’t have a prophet coming and telling me the result of my prayers, but I have faith in what is unseen. When there is nothing I can do – there is. Prayer matters. I loved the richness of this word today. Thanks for taking time to read my thoughts on it. You can read Isaiah 36-39 here.

Kevin Steps in

As I write this, it is exactly one week from the day that Sheri will watch a mother be named American Mothers, Inc.’s 2011 Young Mother of the Year. We will no longer be able to refer to Sheri as THE Young Mother of the Year. We kid her that she will need to “give up her crown.” The reality is that there is no actual crown, and Sheri is even more humble about her abilities to parent today – especially when she compares herself to the other mothers in her network – than she was when she was named the 2010 Young Mother of the Year.

In honor of the passing of an age I decided to hijack Sheri’s blog and share the words I spoke at an event honoring Sheri this past year:

“Before I met Sheri I had a mental picture of what my wife would be like. She would be perfect in every way. Perfect hair, perfect face, perfect body, perfect judgment, always said the perfect thing at the perfect time – perfect, perfect, perfect. Then I met the Sheri, the woman I would befriend, fall in love with, marry – the woman with whom I would start a family. As it turned out, she was not perfect. However, it is in her imperfection that Sheri has become an incredible mother.

When our children were very young, Sheri recognized that she was not a perfect parent, so she sought help. She signed us up for parenting classes. She read books. She found mothers who had walked the parenthood path before she did and sought their council. She has taken every opportunity to learn to be a better mother.

Because she is not perfect, Sheri has made parenting mistakes and has learned from them. She has developed a set of experiences and tools that cover a wide variety of parenting issues. Mentoring younger mothers is a passion of Sheri’s. Since she has shared similar struggles, she is able to relate to young mothers’ challenges and is a very credible and sought after mentor.

And since Sheri has never been perfect, she has made mistakes in her life. Through those experiences she has been able to relate to our children’s struggles. She is able to anticipate trouble, and can speak to our kids from a place of empathy and compassion. They do not feel judged, they feel understood.

There is no better proof of this than the words of our eldest daughter written for a scholarship application prior to Sheri receiving the national title:

‘My mother’s wise advice, peaceful demeanor, and balanced life have not gone unnoticed, and she recently was nominated for the Young Mother of the Year award. She is currently Indiana’s nominee for Young Mother of the Year. This acknowledgment is something of a joke in our family, as my mother would never seek attention or reward for her efforts to be the best mother she can be. My mother is, truly, an amazing woman. She is selfless. She is resourceful. She is wise, intelligent, and empathetic. Her ability to know how people are feeling and relate appropriately to their emotions is impressive and even uncanny. Most teens vow never to become like their mother, but I aspire for the opposite: I hope that when I have my own children, the guidance and love of my mother shines through my character.’  ~Courtney Carlstrom, 2010

So Sheri is not an incredible mother in spite of her imperfection. She is an incredible mother, mentor, friend, and wife because she is not perfect and has used that to her very best advantage.

Sheri – we love you and are very proud of you. You deserve every acknowledgement you receive. You are OUR Mother of the Year EVERY year. Love, Kevin

This is a note to any husbands reading this blog entry: (Wives, feel free to show this to your husbands) Mother’s Day is coming. Write your wife a note letting her know why she would have your vote for Mother of the Year. It will be a gift she will cherish.

Fast Forward Three Years

I had just made it through my exercise class at the Y last Wednesday when a woman came up to me and asked if I went to Sonrise Church, I said I did. She went on to say she didnt know if I remembered her, but three years ago I had sat with her on the bench while she cried.

I immediately knew who she was. I had thought of her often, in fact on Monday our exercise class was turned towards a different wall and seeing the bench upstairs, I had thought of her yet again.

She went on to tell me how much it had meant to have me sit with her. She said at the time she had been embarrassed by the tears, but grateful to know someone cared. She also said that day had become a turning point for her.
I was humbled greatly, and now tears sprang to my eyes. Something so simple had meant so much. I knew I had to post the original newspaper column here and then the follow up that I was so graciously granted. Her words inspired me once again to make sure that I am willing to act when it is within my power to act.

In our culture we are so busy; I think its easy to simply mind our own business and keep going. But what if we knew that the time we take, the care we express, the love we share could make the difference in the day, the direction or even the life of another? Wouldn’t we lend a hand, share a word, or even sit for a moment?
Have you been impacted by an unexpected act? If so, click “comment” and inspire us through your story.

Rewind Three Years

This article was originally printed in the Journal Gazette on October 6, 2007.  

I was running at the Y when I saw her sitting on a bench, her face in a towel. At first I thought maybe she was just catching her breath, but as I got closer I saw her shoulders and knew she was sobbing. I looked around to see whether anyone she knew would come upon her, but she appeared to be alone.

As I got closer, I felt I should do something. Not being assured of what that was, I simply sat down next to her. She continued to sob, catching her breath, then sobbing some more, her face held in the towel.

Now what? I thought.
Awkward. Was my next thought.

Then Job’s friends came to my mind. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because his suffering was so great. Job 2:13

Knowing I had no words, I put my head down and began to pray silently for her. We sat like that for quite awhile, then finally she lifted her tear-streaked face and looked at me. I said, I’ll pray for you as I run, unless there is something else I can do for you now. She looked at me, extreme pain evident in her eyes and asked me searchingly, “Do you know me?”

Do you know me? I said No. But I was thinking, in a way the answer could have been yes. I have known sorrow so deep that I could not lift my face. I have sat alone.

She didn’t know that I was listening to the Newsboys song, Go and that as she came into view the lyrics being pushed through my earbuds were Everybody needs somebody’s shoulder to cry on, are you gonna lend a hand and assist? Someones needing a friend, I’m gonna send you.

I listened as she began to talk; she had recently moved here and was wondering where she fit, or more importantly…even if she fit. She wondered where she belonged.

Her question, Do you know me, has made its way deep into my soul today and I am wondering why. I believe we all long to be known. Do you recognize me? Am I needed? Accepted? If I didn’t show up would anyone even notice…or care? Do I matter? Do I make a difference?

How do we let each other know the answers to these questions? They are significant questions and quite frankly we’re all a little busy getting our stuff done. And if I’m being honest, when behind on projects and To Do lists, I’m not sure I feel like I can make the time investment it could take to let you know that: Yes, you matter. Yes, you are needed. Yes, you make a difference.

But if I keep my head down (like I sometimes do) in order to stay on track and avoid uncomfortable encounters, than I have missed it as a Christian. When I said Yes to Jesus then I also said Send me, and I am learning sometimes He really does say Go.

Its not always comfortable. Sometimes I say no. Sometimes I say later. But it is when I follow the promptings of my heart that I am reminded of Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those whom it is due when it is within your power to act. Do not say…come back tomorrow…when you already have it with you.

Think of the difference we would make if we all made even small efforts to let those around us (those we know, and those we do not) that we notice, that we care, that they belong. Are we going to lend a hand and assist?

Today, if you have it within you to act…then do.

Click here to read Fast Forward Three Years, an update to this article.

Ready for some Football

I love this time of year.
I love it even more when I see number 44 on the field.

I brought my camera to my son’s game a few weeks ago and when I got home, I uploaded the pictures and called him over to check himself out. I loved looking through these pictures, especially the action pictures I got of him. But this is what I heard as his eyes scanned the photos, “Too high. Ahhh…my head needs to be up. I’m WAY too high. Here I am a little too high” and more.

He loves this game. He continually strives to be better, puts in the time, works hard. And I learned that evening that he isn’t afraid to critique himself. He looked at himself and wondered what he needed to do to improve the play.

Its inspiring really. I wonder how much I could improve my game if I was willing to be critiqued. If I could look at the pictures and see where I need to put my head up, or put my shoulders down, to look and see if I am where I need to be to make the play for my team. Zach is inspiring to me in many ways ~ this is just one of them.