Archive by Author | bethstoddard

Micah 6.8: Beth’s Take

Last week’s message was inspiring; I always love me some Sammy Frame. If you missed it, check out the service here.

As we planned the service, I had that refrain from Courageous by Casting Crowns running incessantly through my brain, that bit about “seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God”. Great way to memorize scripture.
I’m still singing it this week.

Framing these words from Micah into context as a parent, I’ve been thinking a lot about seeking justice and how that’s worked in my family. Of course, we aim to be fair and justice and help others. But the concept is a great deal larger than what we see in our immediate range of vision. I want my kids to understand that the world is a lot bigger than what they experience living in Powhatan, Virginia.

A change of scenery opens up possibilities. In order to give my kids opportunities to catch a broader view of the world and the ways in which they can engage, we’ve made summer missions a priority. Every year, since junior high, each of my kids has gone on at least one mission trip. Financing for these trips has taken priority over vacations, activities, and stuff. We have had to choose, and we’ve foregone trips to Busch Gardens or the beach in order to prioritize missions.

The most powerful change agent in the spiritual formation of my five kids is short-term mission trips.

Through national and international World Changers, M-Fuge and The Dream Center, my kids have seen what life is like in other places. They’ve seen poverty in the third world. They’ve witnessed discrimination in Easter Europe. They’ve sacrificed comfortable beds and warm showers for 12-hour work days. They’ve learned how to put a roof on a house. They’ve built fences. They’ve befriended homeless heroin addicts.

Because they have experienced these things, they own the truth about what it takes to seek justice. It’s not just a concept, a command, or something you should do when you grow up. They have put themselves in a position to seek justice and to bring change.

Most of this was out of my control. As the mom, I simply said, “Yes. You are going.” I wrote the checks, I helped a bit with the fund-raising, but mostly, I invoked my parental authority. It wasn’t up for debate. They joined the team and made the trip.

And as a mom, it’s always a little scary. Watching your kid get on a van to drive to New Jersey brings mild discomfort. Putting three daughters on a plane to Macedonia is terrifying.

In every case, it drives you to your knees.

I’m a better parent because my kids have done missions every summer; I’ve learned to depend on God. Their eyes have been opened to see injustice. The end result is spiritual growth. In fact, they know more than I do about what it really means to serve others. They’ve seen and experienced more than I have. Most of us, as parents, want our kids to have it better than we do. In this case, they’ve surpassed me already. And although I’ll be pleased as they achieve life goals in education, careers and relationships, I can’t think of anything that makes me prouder than seeing my kids strive, in whatever small way they can, to seek justice for people who live in challenging circumstances.

If your desire is to raise your kids to love God, I can’t think of a better investment than six mission trips – one for every summer from 7th through 12th grade. I’m not sure there’s anything that has had a more powerful impact on our family. For me, it’s parenting 401; when they’re old enough to venture outside the nest, send them out to change the world.

Major props to Angie Frame, Erik Edwards, Jackie Heberle, Dana Brawley, Lonnie Brawley and others who prioritize mission trips for students. You change lives, and it matters.


Sydni with friends in Puerto Rico.


Create In Me: Beth’s Take

I might be alone on this blog in my reaction to the message this week, since Angie DID the message at PCC.  (You can see it here.) She may be weighing in here with more thoughts, though; so stay tuned!

“Create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51.10

Psalm 51 has long been one of my favorite passages from the Bible. The subtitle says “A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan had come to him after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.”  It rocks my world that a guy who did such a bad thing gets a prominent role in the story of humanity God gives us. There’s a lot that resonates with me in this psalm.

I’m a strong believer in context; any time I am reading scripture, I find it helpful to read before and after. The power of where we focus is upheld by the knowledge of what surrounds it. So, this morning I’m looking at all of Psalm 51. I encourage you to do the same, even before you continue reading; you can do so here.

So – with some context, here are my thoughts.

I wrote a song, some twenty years ago, that began with the simple request found at the beginning of this psalm: Have mercy on me, O God / according to your steadfast love. I sang those words honestly, asking for mercy and redemption. According to your great compassion / Blot out my many transgressions / Cleanse me from sin. Undoubtedly many songs have been written around these words; it is a beautiful piece of plaintive poetry, applicable to all who walk this world. We desire mercy. We crave redemption.

I sang those words to the best of my ability, according to the measure of forgiveness I understood that I needed. Twenty years ago, it applied to my life as a young mother and a new Christ-follower.. A decade later, with my marriage shattered in pieces and my family devastated, those words poured from my lips again, rooted in the desperate and unpleasant knowledge that my capacity for sin far outweighed my understanding of the need for mercy. The mercy I needed, the forgiveness I craved, was much more than I’d ever understood before.

I was so moved by Angie’s description of her daily request, in the minute details of her days, that God would create in her a pure heart. This, I think, is an excellent way to live; taking the specifics of life before the one we believe created all life in a plea for assistance. No, not for assistance, but something more specific: for cleansing.

The metaphor in this psalm goes on to speak of cleansing, washing so that we would be “whiter than snow”. That’s an interesting request for those of us living in this day and age, when what ricochets around us in our culture leaves streaks and stains that have become imperceptibly acceptable. We grin and bear it, shy away from labeling anything as “sin” lest we offend others or find ourselves staring down accusations of being judgmental.

I can explain away most of my actions. I live in my head enough to recognize that my worst behaviors are often reactions, habits, crutches, things born of weakness and insecurity. The word “sin” is such a harsh label; it speaks of something dark and so wrong, without explanation or excuse. It’s a bit easier to contemplate motivation and psychology, ask for forgiveness and move on towards better choices and a more redemptive way of life. I have heard enough hellfire and brimstone, full of legalistic challenges and condemnation. I’ve heard it from the pulpit in the past and I hear and see it today from religious folks who fill the airways and the internet with labels and proclamations. Identifying the sin of others allows us to separate ourselves, draw black and white lines of division and set up a clear choice for who wins and who loses.

I believe in the gray areas; I believe in the love and grace that Jesus offered, in the questions he asked and the direction he gave.

But there is this hitch, this issue of sin. Somewhere, somehow, we must identify what it means to fall short, to transgress, to have need for cleansing. If we don’t know why we need it, what’s the point in asking for a pure heart and a steadfast spirit?

Too often, we are willing to settle for cheap grace. We glow with the promise of love from a faithful God, we accept the invitation to salvation, to community, to restoration and redemption. But unless we are willing to acknowledge that we need this restoration –  there is little need for redemption to mean anything other than a warm, fuzzy feeling; a pat on the head, a gold star on our efforts.

There is this: I long for a clean heart and a steadfast spirit. I am inspired to live my days in the midst of this need, asking – as Angie does – for help in the specific moments. But I am convinced that there is an underlying truth to my understanding that I shouldn’t cuss at the guy who cuts me off in traffic, or roll my eyes at the lady in the check-out line who is taking FOREVER, or my tendency to be selfish with money. And so on.

We’re not basically good. We’re basically wired to survive, to accommodate our lusts, to please ourselves. As my friend John Ivins said in his message last year, we want what we want. We need to be refined.

We need redemption. That, I believe, is the point of the story, the reason Jesus came, the reason we acknowledge him to be at the core of our salvation from ourselves.

Asking for a pure heart comes with an understanding that we need help. Towards the end of this psalm, David says, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Here’s to our brokenness.

May it lead to pure hearts, steadfast spirits and a world changed by people willing to live out grace.

Sabbath: Beth’s Take

Boy, do I remember being in Angie’s shoes! At one point in my life I was parenting four kids under the age of five. It was insane.

Really. Insane. At that point, a person simply does not have enough hands or hips to manage that many little people. You move on a wing and a prayer and learn to give direction with any number of menacing, encouraging or happy facial expressions.

As a mother with young children, the idea of Sabbath was something of a joke to me. The most peaceful moments I found were pushing a shopping cart through the aisles of a Super Walmart at 10PM, when the kids were in bed and their dad was at home. I escaped with Cap’n Crunch and the delicious freedom of focusing on what brand of pasta was the best buy that week. It was a moment or two; maybe an hour at the most, but it was my time, and I found a small measure of peace in it.

A lot of years were like that. I’ve never been one to relish the early hours before dawn; I’d rather sleep. When my kids napped, I tried to nap. And I’m not sure I ever got into the practice of anything remotely resembling Sabbath in the truest sense.

Ironically – and unfortunately – I learned to understand the concept of personal rest when my kids’ dad and I separated. For the first time, I was faced with long expanses of time – often an entire weekend – without the responsibilities of parenting. Emotionally, it was devastating at first. But eventually, I learned what it meant to make the most of that time. I learned how to Sabbath.

It looked like sleeping in a little bit on a Saturday morning. Listening to music – really listening, rather than just having background noise – and feeling the emotional impact of something beautiful. Eating a meal alone, maybe something fixed for one at home, perhaps a salad at Panera.

More than anything, Sabbath is escaping the tyranny of the clock. These days, with three of my kids out the door in college and two relatively independent teenaged boys at home, there are days when a relatively unscheduled day is rather easy to do. Not because there’s so little to do – there is always something to do, whether it’s a load of laundry or a dirty bathroom at home, or if it’s a service to schedule or a person to contact through my job – but because I have intentionally decided that it is in my best interest to find rest in my days. I seek Sabbath several times a week in little snippets of down time; unscheduled, uninterrupted, intentionally without any focus other than being still. It may only be 30 minutes, but I believe it keeps me in a right rhythm.

Fridays are the one day each week where a complete day of rest is possible. It rarely happens completely, but if I am intentional about my schedule and my weakness, I can rest. Usually it means getting away; an afternoon walking the grounds of Maymont, a day alone wandering the halls of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, a walk in the woods behind the library, an entire day at Richmond Hill. These have all provided terrific Sabbath experiences for me.

I want to model this kind of life for my children; I want them to recognize that I have chosen rest over the insanity of an overbooked schedule and an unwillingness to let things go for a few hours or an entire day. Recognizing the value of Sabbath in some form keeps us from self-absorption, from thinking we are needed to keep the world spinning.

We aren’t.

It took me a while to figure that out. It was a good lesson to learn. Nobody is indispensable, and it is God who keeps the world on its axis. Sabbath reminds us.

Sabbath: Angie’s Take

One of my last seminary courses was Sabbath Keeping. Every Monday my husband and I convened with a professor and other seminaries at a local retreat center. We ate breakfast, discussed readings, and prayed together. And then we had hours on our own. It was fall, my absolute favorite time of year. I sprawled out on a blanket under a tree, under a warm sun and a crisp breeze. I wrote. I read. I slept. I slept some more. (I was in the early days of my first pregnancy when exhaustion and fatigue were reality.) We’d re-group and discuss and pray some more. Then my husband and I would go out to lunch. It was perfect.
I enjoyed setting aside a day for Sabbath keeping.

Then I had that baby. Then I had another one. I don’t know what Sabbath is anymore.

That’s not entirely true, but it feels like it. I am pretty good about not working—doing my job that I get paid to do—on Fridays or Saturdays. But it doesn’t feel like hanging out at a retreat center for hours, reading, writing, and sleeping.

Now, even when I’m with my family and having a “Sabbath,” I have no quiet time alone. I go to the bathroom with an audience. I play peek-a-boo with a toddler while I bathe. By the time the kids are in bed, I’m exhausted. I enjoy catching up on adult conversation with my husband. And I go to bed. That’s what my “days off” look like at this stage in my life.

I believe those days at home, with my family, without working except for checking e-mail are extremely valuable! They are not restful. They do not rejuvenate me; they exhaust me. They are important and necessary.

But I find other ways to enjoy the feeling of Sabbath. If I get to ride into Midlothian (the nearest civilization) for work, then I’m conscious about enjoying that time alone with myself and God. I make a point at least once a month to camp out in a coffee shop, or to coffee shop hop between a few. On those days, I usually read my Bible, blog, and process. I anticipate those days, and I LOVE them.

I’m curious to hear how other parents celebrate Sabbath.


Welcome to IMPRINT: Parent Edition! Angie and I will be offering our take on each verse from the current IMPRINT series at PCC. We’ll unpack the implications and our own experiences as parents.

Between us, we’ve got seven kids, ranging in age from 18 months to 21 years.

We’ve got something to say.We bet you do, too; we welcome your dialogue and conversation!

Thanks for stopping by. Leave us a comment and let us know you were here – and what you’d like to talk about.

You can get to know Angie a bit better by checking out her blog; Beth blogs here.

We’re glad you stopped by!