Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Gifts that Last Forever

Little man reaches his hands up to his dad. "Daddy, hold me, please?" Daddy, adjusting his backpack and wiping sweat off his brow, grunts as he picks up the tall, almost-too-heavy-to-be-held blue-eyed boy. We are standing in a slow-moving line on a narrow sidewalk sandwiched between a busy Bolivian thoroughfare and the cold, hard, paint-chipped walls of the city's only immigration office, waiting to conference with an immigration officer.  Earlier in the day, our little four year old tearfully told us he was "really scared" of the police officers who check our paperwork before admitting us to the immigration building. Balancing baby girl on my hip as I shuffle along behind my husband and son, I gaze into that little man's eyes. "Aydon," I begin, getting his attention, "you know how Daddy is always willing to hold you when you are scared, and how safe you feel in his arms? THAT is exactly what God wants to do for you, always. You know, when I feel scared, I tell God how I feel and ask Him to take care of me. And you know what? He always takes care of me! He makes me feel safe. And He is always there for me." It is my deepest desire that when the little man grows too tall for his dad and I to hold him, as he becomes more and more independent of us, that He will find himself clinging to the Most High, the I AM, the Faithful, Merciful, Loving, Omniscient God who made him. 

This Christmas season has been a unique one for our family, missionaries in Bolivia this year, low on money. Having little has forced me to take a long hard look at gift-giving and receiving. There really are so many good things we can give our children: so many fun toys; educational books and games; memberships to clubs or myriads of special classes. But these gifts are so temporal. The provide pleasure for a few days or weeks, and soon loose their novelty. Don't get me wrong: I LOVE giving gifts, big or small, to my children. I have nothing against Christmas traditions. Yet, there are gifts we can give to our children that money cannot buy, gifts that they can carry around with them their entire lives.


http://www.flickr.com/photos/shereen84/3062251754/

Our babes are our DISCIPLES. Are we giving them the GIFT of faith-words and actions? Do we let them in on the ups and downs of our personal walk with God, so they can see God's always-faithfulness in our not-faithfulness? When a "thank-you-God" jumps to mind, are we speaking it aloud for our children to hear? When a burden is heavy for a friend, family member, stranger, do we take a moment to STOP in the midst of the steadily streaming to-do's, and invite our children to intercede with us? Are we willing to humble ourselves and confess our sins, our weaknesses, our wrongdoings and failures, ALOUD to our Father in Heaven, allowing our precious children to see us weak, yet unafraid, before a Holy God? Moms and dads, live your faith-walk unveiled. Your children will IMITATE you.

Our children need our empathy. Next time a difficult attitude or action manifests, give your children the GIFT of a walk in their shoes. Before the words of disapproval, of lecture, pour from your mouth, close it. Before taking a harsh, retaliatory, seemingly-justifiable sequence of actions and consequences out on your child, sit down. Take a deep breath. Ask God to give you eyes of understanding, to give you listening ears. Treat your child the way you would want to be treated. "A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger." Incline your ear towards wisdom. If you were your child, would you want to be yelled at, demeaned, spoken down to, even if you were in the wrong? Would you want to be punished? Would you respond well to being manhandled, shoved around, pinched, or slapped? What would lead you to repentance? Would it perhaps be kindness? WHO knows your child better than you? Go to Him. Pray aloud for your child. Ask God to make your child's heart soft, vulnerable enough to confess a wrong and be forgiven by her Creator because He took all the punishment; he yearns to redeem that which has been lost and broken. In the calm that proverbially follows in the wake of the storm, speak words of truth. Offer help and a listening ear. Be your child's advocate, his forgiving there-for-him in the ugliness, her one-who-is-willing to descend into the muck of consequences WITH her, not standing above her, quipping "Deal with it! You shouldn't have done what you did. It is your own fault you have to face these consequences." Isn't that how God treats YOU? You have been forgiven everything, FORGIVE the littlest in return.

Photo Credit: http://seekthingsabove.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/hows-your-prayer-life/
Prayer is a fragrant incense to God. He delights to listen to us, and to answer us. When we ask for wisdom, He is faithful to grant it to us. He has DESIRES for each of us He longs to reveal, if we will ask. PRAY for your children. Do not give up in despair. Fall on your knees when troubling behaviors manifest. Seek the wisdom from above. Walk into your children's room after they fall asleep. Gaze at them in the stillness. Pray. The words, dreams and desires, hopes and fears for your little ones, they will flow. Release them before the throne of the Almighty God. Give your children the GIFT of ceaseless prayers on their behalf. Our living God hears.

And when those sleeping babes wake in the night, summoning you to their side, for water, for comfort, for a listening ear, give the GIFT of being-there-when-they-need-you. Be a forward-thinking parent; realize they won't be little forever. The seeds of trust you sow will grow. Your child will grow. If your child were taken from you tomorrow, ask yourself what you would regret the most? Would you regret the sitting-by-the-bed listening, the drowsy snuggles, the running-to-the-kitchen for a cup of water drunk down thirstily by the mussy-haired toddler? Grump if you must, but do so silently to the Lord, who is always there for you. He will give you the strength, energy, the patience you need when your TV show, your paper-writing, your "date" with your honey, is messed up. You won't regret BEING there, in the darkest, scariest time of the daily 24-hour period, for your kiddo. 

Most importantly, our babes need to be led to God's GIFT, the Word (Christ) who, "became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth." (John 1:14) 


                                                            Photo Credit: http://blogs.christianpost.com/better-bible-study/

They need our daily reminders that only in Jesus is LIFE. Daily rejoice before your children in the good news given first to the shepherds: "For to you[us] is born this day in the town of David a Savior, Who is Christ (the Messiah) the Lord!" Remind your children about what really matters, what really brings meaning and purpose to life. Jesus says, "But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life." (John 4:14) Give your children the GIFT of an understanding of the forever-satisfaction found only in Christ.

Grace is unmerited favor. The GIFTS that will last are unmerited favor, favors that your children will carry with them FOREVER, favors that will outlast your presence in your children's lives. The Bible instructs us to WALK BY THE SPIRIT. Lasting gifts are given by God through parents. Let's make this swiftly-approaching new year one of being God's instruments of grace-giving to our children. 



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

First Time, With a Happy Heart

image: http://olivyaz.blogspot.com/2011/09/man-had-two-sons-matthew-2128.html

There once was a man who needed help taking care of his vineyard. And who better to get help from then his two sons? So, he ordered his first son: "Go work in the vineyard for me today." The first son, for whatever reason, defiantly told his father, "I will not!" The father proceeded to his next son, and told him, "Son, go work for me in the vineyard." The second son responded willingly and respectfully, saying, "I will sir." 

Let's pause the story here for a moment. Which son demonstrates willing obedience? Which son responds to his father immediately, with respect? Which son sounds defiant, disrespectful, and angry? Which son would be swiftly punished in most Christian homes because he needs to learn to be obedient the first time, with a happy heart?

Wait! Before you respond, let me finish the story. As the day wore on, the oldest son began to regret his refusal to help his father, and finally decided to go ahead to the vineyard and work. But the second son, though he responded willingly and respectfully to his father initially, decided not to go to the vineyard after all. 

No fair! This story has an unexpected twist! Now I am really confused. The disobedient son seems to be the obedient son, and the obedient son seems to be the disobedient son. But I thought obedience entailed an immediate, happy, willing response to every parental request! 

Hmm...maybe I should keep reading to find the conclusion to the story, for, yes, I am reading it from that wonderful, inspired, living Word of God in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 21, verses 28-31. I am reading a story told by the master storyteller himself. When the master finished telling his story, he queried his listeners, asking who the obedient son was: "Which of the two did the will of his father?” And the correct answer, given by the listeners?“The first.” The first son was truly obedient, because, you see, genuine obedience is making a reasoned decision to submit to someone else, and that decision does not always happen quickly or easily. 


I am reminded of the ultimate act of obedience demonstrated by Jesus when he went to the cross. Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus, before He did His Father's will, before He obediently went to the cross, " offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death..." Jesus knew that he was about to face the deepest darkest agony ever known to any human. He struggled with it. He even begged his father, loudly, and with anguish, not to ask Him to go to the cross. Yet, in the end, Jesus, in a beautiful demonstration of genuine obedience, went to the cross. He chose to do His father's will, though he knew it would cost Him his very life. Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered. Jesus learned what it meant to obey; He experienced the pain and agony that came with His decision. 

image: http://www.tillhecomes.org/let-this-cup-pass-did-jesus-change-his-mind/

So where did we get the idea that obedience is demonstrated when children jump up and immediately do what we say, with a happy heart? We could teach a dog to do this. We expect soldiers in the military to do this. But labeling this carefully-trained response given by our children as obedience is a concept not found in the Bible. In fact, obedience that is an automatic, robotic-smiling response to our every command is very shallow. For, every child knows if he or she does not "obey," then he, or she, will suffer. Doing an action in order to avoid pain or suffering shows us nothing of the actual "obedience" or "disobedience" going on inside a child's heart.

How would our parenting outlook change if we realized that obedience is often about "counting the cost" OF THE ACT OF SUBMISSION, and then deciding to submit anyways? For, from a child's viewpoint, every parental request entails a giving up of his or her desires, followed by a doing of something he or she does not really feel like doing. It is hard to stop playing legos, and then set the table for supper. It is hard to give up the rights to one's toys, and then share them with someone else. It is hard to stop swimming in order to get home on time to fix daddy's dinner.

In our house, both of our children daily "count the cost" of obedience. The little lady, who is really very little, usually "counts the cost" to mamma's embrace and words of understanding. The little man sometimes counts the cost with shrieks of "I don't want to!" And we understand, obedience is hard. We give the little man all the time he needs to feel ready to willingly obey. And the outcome of little man's cries, always met with understanding, love, and compassion, mixed with some matter-of-factness? A red-eyed, smiling guy, cheerfully declaring "Ok, mom. I'll do what you say! I'm ready now!" And when the task is finished, the parental request genuinely submitted to, there is a real pride in that little guy's bearing, a knowledge that he is able to do the right thing, even when it's hard, a confidence that any river can be crossed, any mountain climbed: a true obedience learned from things suffered.

Oh, the joy of parenting that allows us to walk beside our children each step of the way; the insight gained as our children mature! Moms and dads, as I have said so many times before, parenting by grace can get so loud and messy, but it is worth more than all the treasures that money can buy.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Arguing About Spanking

When my husband and I first decided we were never going to spank, we heard many arguments on both sides of the spanking fence.

Arguments against spanking included, "It's the same as hitting; you wouldn't hit your spouse, would you?", "Jesus would never have hit a child", "Spanking causes an increase in aggressive behavior", "Spanking really does not teach a child anything except to avoid being hit". If you spend any time online, reading blogs and discussions against spanking, you will find that there are some bloggers who are angry, who accuse spankers of abusing their children and being heartless. Interestingly, these ungracious responses are generally from those who do not follow Christ. I have not come across a Christian blogger or anti-spanker who ungraciously uses his or her penned words to yell, demean, and accuse parents who spank (though certainly there may be someone like this out there). Instead, among Christian anti-spankers there is a call towards parents who spank to simply reexamine their methods, and especially to take a clear-headed look at what Scripture says.

For some reason, this puts people who spank on the defensive. Many people who spank query, "Are you calling me a bad, abusive parent? How dare you!" This defensiveness saddens me, because it prevents Christians from having a clear dialogue about the issue. This is certainly not always the case. My sister-in-law is an excellent example of a sister in Christ who disagrees with me regarding spanking, yet has never become defensive or accusatory. However, in many online forums and in the comment sections to many blogs, this defensive attitude presents itself.

And, without fail, along with the defensiveness, these Christians who feel attacked for their choices, point out the following: "We are interpreting the Bible literally", "Our parents spanked us, and we turned out great", "You are buying into modern psychology, and using it to interpret the Bible", "We know of neighbors, students, etc., who aren't spanked, and they are little hellions", "Just look at society today. Many people don't spank, and all children are brats because of it". After they present these arguments, the put a sky-high wall around themselves, and refuse to listen to the other side (because, after all, they feel they are right and therefore everyone else has to be wrong).

I would like to point out, first of all, that some of the arguments used by some of those who believe spanking is necessary are 100% experiential. If I were to use experiential examples to back up my belief that spanking children is not necessary, I am quite certain that pro-spankers would call me to task on my arguments.

If we are debating whether spanking is or is not a good tool with those who have not put their faith in Christ, then I think, by all means, we ought to use psychology, use studies, use experiences (though experiential arguments are week, in my opinion). As an aside: for Christians, after examining scripture, there is a lot to be gleaned from psychology-the study of the mind-so long as we measure all theories and conclusions against scripture.

However, when conversing with fellow believers, our "debating" should be conducted humbly, without name-calling and pointing fingers. Clearly, most Christian parents love their children more than themselves, and want what is best for them. Secondly, our conversation should begin and end with an earnest and hard look at what the Bible itself says. We should be willing to delve into the original Hebrew or Greek meanings of various terms; we should be careful to use context and genre as a guide to interpretation. Lastly, we should allow that all believers are capable of being led by the Spirit of God, and should make their own decisions. We should respect one another, and pray for one another. Perhaps if we follow these guidelines, we will be able to better engage in an honest conversation about what God has in mind for children and parents, without ridiculing, putting down, and accusing others of being wrong.

When I speak out, sharing my views about spanking, it is not to shame or put down moms who use spanking as a tool for discipline. Instead, it is my prayer, my heartfelt desire, to challenge fellow moms to parent with freedom and grace. I hope that we moms and dads, brothers and sisters in Christ, can begin to work together, instead of against each other, to look into the heart of Scripture, without preconceived notions of what is true, to find out what God really commands and urges parents to do as they disciple their little ones. It would be beautiful to unite with others in earnest prayer for our children, and to bounce ideas and knowledge and tips off of each other, to spur one another on towards love and kindness, compassion and humility, and to challenge one another when something is not right.

So, mommas, let's not shrink away in fear, or grow haughty and defensive, claiming that "our way is best". Instead, let us have speech amongst each other that is full of grace, seasoned with salt. After all, it is for the children that we speak.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bumbling Along

Tonight, the four-year-old took two hours to fall asleep. "I'm scared," he said. Husband was gracious enough to lie beside him the entire time. When he finally emerged from the darkened room, his energy and zest for life had drained considerably. When we began to converse, we bickered. It took us a while to work out how to vent our angst and frustration on something other than one another. 

Sigh.

It is so easy to project a perfect image as a blogger. It is easy to make it sound like the marriage is perfect, like the parenting is perfect, like the kids are perfect. It is easy to sift through all the bad and only write about the good.

After all, what mom in the trenches with her own little ones wants to hear about the four-and-a-half year old who wakes up surprisingly grouchy on some mornings? Who yells at his little sister, so in love with everything he does, "Don't look at me!!", leaving mom and dad surprised and clueless, feeling like bystanders at the scene of an ugly drama? No, uh-uh. Better to regale fellow moms with stories of success. So, I wait until the situation feels "under control" and then blog about the success.

Yet, is there such a thing as "success" in parenting? Success implies some sort of perfect, measurable outcome. And that is not what I'm striving towards. 

I'm in this parenting gig for better reasons than that. I want genuine, wholehearted, whole children who follow God and live in His love. And that means messy messes getting sorted through slowly, clumsily. It means that when the grouchy four year old manifests, I take a long, hard look at, well, at myself. Am I trying to be perfect, and so getting angry with my child for not also being perfect? Am I falsely believing that parenting is some sort of "weeding" process, where, when I pull enough weeds, a perfect little flower of a child will emerge? 

What is my job as mommy? The answer: discipler, nurturer, not model-child maker. 

So, the messes are ok. I will blog about them sometimes just to remind myself of this. The messes are opportunities to grow, to learn, to give and receive grace. They are chances to focus on the things that really matter, like matters of the heart. Contrary to public opinion, you can't get to the inward by trying to control the outward; you get to the inward by allowing messiness to seep out, to escape, to walk all over you. You take your child's hand, and you face it, together.

Mommy eyes always open with grace. Now, they see a precious little guy working through a new stage of development. Can I love him through it? Can I teach him constructive ways to handle those feelings? Is my walk with God genuine and grace-filled enough that he knows he can run to Him with His feelings, with his out-of-controlledness?

Messiness is all over our house these days. Sweet little one and a half year old girl has trouble at night. Sometimes, her sleep isn't long and restful. Mommy gets tired. Mommy growls when woken the fifteenth time in one night. Mommy faces her selfishness. Mommy lets daddy help her out when she needs a catnap, letting go of her fantasy of supermom. Always, the little girl leaves trails of destruction in her wake. Bottle of shampoo? Dump it. Cereal in a container to eat? Spit it all over the floor, then rub it around with your hands. Sometimes, I mentally scream at the never-ending cleanup multiplying before my eyes. 

Why am I sharing this? Because, just like our kids, being perfect is not the best way to learn and grow as a parent. The way to learn is by making messes, by not knowing what to do, by stepping outside of ourselves, looking in, and asking, "Why am I doing this? What really matters? What is my child going through on the inside right now? How can I show grace and compassion? How can I teach my child best?" Often, teaching looks messy, like helping that little man walk through an issue, or helping the little lady wipe up the water she dumped on the floor with a towel for the hundredth time.

So, obviously, I'm not perfect. I don't always give the best advice, and sometimes I have no idea what I'm doing. But where would be the adventurous walk with my Father through life, if I had some perfect method for raising my children? Where would be the falling into His arms at the end of the day, asking Him for wisdom and guidance? Where would be those amazing revelations of His vast wealth of love for me in my messiness if not in the loving of my kids through theirs? 

Fall into His arms, momma, and don't be afraid to be human, or, for that matter, to let your kids be.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oh Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say


Do you ever hear someone's story and then wish you could time travel to the past and change it for them? 

My husband spent much of his pre-adolescence in intense fear of, wait for it, black birds. He was afraid to walk under trees because he had a mental image of birds swooping down to peck his eyes out. And that is not the saddest part of the story. The real tragedy lies in the fact that the source of his fear was his home church. 


When my husband was still young, his home church showed a series of videos highlighting the events foretold in the book of Revelation. Enter the vision of birds coming to peck his eyes out. An even deeper fear had also taken root in my husband's heart. The fear of black birds was only a symptom. My husband worried that he would be among those whom God would not allow entrance into that heavenly home, the one that we as Christians are supposed to look forward to. He was taught that saying the right sinner's prayer, feeling contrite, and walking the aisle would allow him into heaven. Yet, with visions of black birds dancing in his head, he wondered: what if I didn't say the prayer correctly? What if I was never sorry enough for my sins? The inevitable answer: a tender young youth, feast for the birds.


This story makes me ache. If only I could reach into the past, share the truth of God's grace and love with this little one, perhaps I could have eased the suffering that followed him into adolescence. 


We were all children once. Some of us have forgotten what it is to believe like a small child. We need to be reminded: an intrinsic aspect of the child-life is a quest for answers from those he loves and respects; when she hears an answer, she will believe it. These little boys and girls will believe it because they trust us; they don't weigh each statement we make, using logical deductions and searching for proof. They simply believe. 


And the things the children believe will become a part of who they are. They will grow. They will either emulate their parents or rebel. Whatever they do, they will act on those things that have been built into them, either by fighting tooth and nail with them, or by embracing them, often without even knowing what they are doing.


If I, desiring strongly to usher my children into heaven (as though I could), fill their childhood with threatening stories about hell, Satan, and the judgment of God, it should not surprise me to see them grow into haters of Christianity, or, equally probable, incredibly fearful, insecure Christians (though they may not show their true feelings to me). It should not surprise me to see them, all grown up, mentally beat and berate themselves with well-versed self-beating-up mantras: "you're a wretched excuse for a human being; it sure must've been hard for God to give his life for the likes of you." Thus, every success, every talent, every complement given, by the child-turned-adult will be downplayed, ignored, buried far away from his or her psyche.


Is it needful to scare our children into heaven? Will any of us ever fully understand the degree of our "lostness"?


Yet, doesn't the Bible say that it is the KINDNESS of God that leads us to repentance? 


What if the focus of our dialogues with our children was on the incredible grace of God? My son, yes, knows that the payment for sin is death. But I do not dwell on the words "sin" and "death". To do so would only take the focus off of the beautiful centrality of Christ, broken, wounded, and given for us! My dialogue with my children, then, is all about God's grace. I talk often about how He died for our sins; how grateful that makes me; how we can run to him when we mess up, and how He forgives us. I hope that they grow up to be brimful of the truths of God's grace. Then, when they hear the stories in Revelation, they will relax with thankfulness into God's grace, knowing that, because of Jesus, because they do not have to live up to any standard of perfection, they have nothing to fear. 


Dear mommas, we must be so very careful with what we build into our children. The words we speak will leave a forever-imprint on their hearts. 


I read an article recently about the impact women have on society through their influence on children by author and blogger Samuel Martin. The article's impact was twofold: it sobered me greatly, and it inspired me! My children will be impacted by me. The people they touch will be inadvertently touched by me. The hard work of correct, grace-filled, truth imparting is upon us, mommas! Love those little ones by embracing them with the truth.


To read Samuel Martin's article, click here: The major role of women in the formation of the Hebrew Bible Thank you once again, Samuel, for your hard work and insight!


Friday, October 19, 2012

That Adorable, Bubbly, Brimful-of-Personality Nineteen Month Old



Emma Grace....My sweet grandma joyously informed me after you were born, that in low-German, which is her native tongue, Emma means "always". She went on to exclaim, "What a beautiful name: "Always Grace". Your great grandma is now in heaven, but one day I will share with you what she said about your name. May you grow to be a woman full of always grace!

A few weeks ago, your daddy was reading the story of Abigail in the Bible. He was impressed by her strength of character. She was willing to do what was right for her foolish husband and her property, in spite of her husband's decision otherwise. Your daddy and I want you to grow into this beautiful, confident sort of lady, and we know you will!

At nineteen months, your personality is beginning to reveal itself, a gorgeous flower opening to reveal those first tender, yet brilliant petals. You love climbing. Mommy has to watch you closely, and provide you with many safe climbing opportunities to help you get it out of your system. You also love animals. When you see the cat, you say "meow" and try to catch it (that crazy elusive creature!). You love driving through the Bolivian countryside dangling your little hand out the open window. When it is safe, mommy lets you put your head out the window. You love the feel of the wind in your face, and you squeal with glee at the occasional siting of a cow or horse or donkey in the road.

You are as extroverted as your brother is introverted. You can be tired and cranky, but when a new person enters your world, you morf into this cheerful little entertainer. You greet everyone with a smile and a loud exclamation of "ola" (one of the few words in your vocabulary...you say "mom," "dad," "dog," "Teddy," and "ola," and "hermana"). You love to hand the people in our little church hymnals, even if they already have one, and you walk around and shake everyone's hand at least twice.

Aydon is the center of your world. You adore your brother. If he hurts your feelings, you cry like your wonderful world is torn to pieces. Aydon simply says your name, and your face lights up. When he invites you to play with him, you run around and follow him excitedly. You agree to most any request he makes, unless he wants a toy that you are holding that you really like: then, you will stand your ground and scream at him if necessary.

At nineteen months, the best word to describe your learning style is "scientist". If an object looks interesting, you feel that it must also taste interesting. You like to quickly pop it in your mouth and then look to see if mommy is watching, a question on your face: "Will she say it is ok to eat this?" If mommy seems concerned, you decide to see if she is concerned enough to chase you down while you run with the object still in your mouth. You are fast, but mommy is always faster. Mommy lets you see how scared she is about the tiny object in your mouth, expressing her fear with words like "yucky!" or "owchie!".

You are a scientist with behavior as well: "What will happen if I pinch my brother? Will he cry?" "What if I pull the dog's tail?" "What if I touch the light socket? Will mommy pick me up and show that very scared face? Will she prohibit me from touching it even if I pitch a fit? (I'm pretty good at throwing fits, but I get over it really fast)" "What if I open the one cabinet mommy won't let me play in? Will she stop me? Does she really mean that I can never ever play in this one?"

Mommy knows that your job right now is to explore and learn through trial and error. She doesn't mind if you try things over and over, and if she has to gently and firmly stop you over and over: she knows that you are learning right now, fitting together zillions of brain-puzzle pieces to help you understand the world around you. I hope that once it all comes together, you will have a picture of a safe, cozy, peaceful environment in which you can thrive.

I am so thankful that you are still nursing, though the nursing at night is starting to make mommy very sleepy. Mommy is helping you learn that when you wake up, you can fall back to sleep without nursing. She does this by nursing you till you are almost asleep (or walking around with you), and then gently popping you off her breast, all the while crooning "night, night, baby." You generally drift back to sleep peacefully, and lately you have been simply soothing yourself by snuggling a little closer to me when you startle awake.

Although your independence is growing, you have the tendency to be rather clingy on certain days. Mommy holds you when you need to be held, knowing that inside of you many things are growing and changing and sometimes the confusion of it all just means you need some stability from me and daddy.

Sweet little Emma, I am so glad that you are part of our family. One day you will grow to be an independent woman. Daddy and I wish for you to grow up feeling wholly loved and free to make mistakes and try new things. We wish for you to have a tangible walk with God that will draw others to Him as well.

Love you so much, little girl!
Mommy

Friday, October 12, 2012

That Crazy, Adventurous Four Year Old



Time passes so quickly. It seems that yesterday, you were a tiny baby. You were our miracle baby, born two months early, and you called a tiny incubator in the NICU your home for six whole weeks. You have always wanted to stay close to mom and dad, and I think this is partially because a small part of you remembers being all alone for the first month and a half of your life.

I am so proud of the growing little man that you are. Sometimes, I am astonished at your courage. There is an old man in our town who likes to yell at you and chase you when you walk by. For a while, you were terrified of this man. Then, one day, you surprised as all. The man was getting ready to chase you, but you stood you ground and smiled at him. You kindly said "ola" (hello in Spanish), and extended your hand in greeting. Upon seeing this, the man threw up his hands and walked away. A few days later, we were in town again, and there was that old man. Once again, you greeted him kindly. This time, he laughed, looked at your mom and dad, and exclaimed "Me gano!" (he won!).

You have transitioned well to life in another country. At first, it was hard for you to not speak the language here. Now, you like to greet all the people you pass when we have church or when we walk through the town. You have a friend who comes to play with you a few times each week, and you and she have worked out an interesting way of communicating, partly in English and partly in Spanish.

You are certainly an introvert. Dad and I have learned that when you are "maxed out," you worry about everything. You worry that kids will take your toys when they come over; you even worry about the dog messing up your stuff. In these times, we have learned to help you take a break in your room, playing alone (with one of us in there if you are really worried) until you feel better. Usually, you emerge from the room happy and rejuvenated.

You used to really get upset with your baby sister. You were afraid that she would wreck your things (and sometimes she tried to). Mom and Dad had to make strict rules about toys, and stick to them. You had to keep important toys in your room. If toys were lying around the house, they were free for anyone, and if you wanted one Emma had, you had to trade with her (if she didn't mind trading). Sometimes, we have to revisit this rule, but more often than not (unless you are really tired or hungry) you talk to Emma and ask her for a turn, waiting until she is ready. You have also discovered that she makes a wonderful playmate, and often beg for her company.



At four, you are a very sensitive child. You do not fully understand the meaning of "wait." When mom and dad say "wait" you sometimes cry, believing that "wait" means "no". You do not always like it when we tell you not to do something; sometimes, you scream and cry. We understand how you feel: it is hard to not always get what you want, but when we stick with what we say, you seem more secure. Some days, emotions run strong: you are so fiercely happy one minute, and upset the next. When you are fearful (if you think mom and dad are arguing), you will become aggressive towards the dog. We have learned to have you sit to calm down, and to talk you through your fears. Talking calmly once you are breathing normally again really helps you feel better.

You absolutely love helping around the house. Mom tries not to push you into chores, as this would make you strongly resist them; instead, I often invite you to do chores, exclaiming, "Hey, Aydon, you are now big enough to.....". So far, you have learned to pour water and coffee into the coffee maker, and then start it, fry your own eggs (with mom's help), hang a bit of laundry, feed the animals, and help daddy fix things around the house. You LOVE to fix things.



You have the best imagination. You could play one "game" all day, sometimes all week. For example, you play police: you have a computer that you find robbers' locations with, a police car that you drive, and a jail. When Emma plays with you, she is a super ninja baby warrior. You play airport all the time also. You check your bags, walk through security, board the plane, and ride a bus to your hotel. You also imagine really silly things,  like that you are a super hero who can shoot fire out of your fingers. A few days ago, you shooting would turn villains into different articles of clothing, which you would then wear (while you were turning villains into clothing, you wore a pair of daddy's jeans on your head, making you look like you had long blue hair). If I am having trouble helping you listen (you daydream a lot sometimes), I play a pretend game with you that helps you do what you need to (I like playing pretend too).

You are swiftly approaching five. Dad and I have noticed that you are becoming more independent, realizing that listening to what we say is a choice that you could decide not to listen to. Dad and I stay near you when we tell you what to do, so that we can easily redirect you to do it. We keep our directions simple, and our tone calm, and often you comply. We have taught you that when we are asking you to do something, you may say "no, thank you," but if we tell you to do something, there is no option but to do it.

More than anything, we want you to have a relationship with your Father in heaven. You already understand, and have expressed gratitude, for Jesus' death on the cross for your sin. You understand many things about the character of God; you understand that the Bible is His word, written for you, so that you can know Him. You have a few verses hidden in your heart; you and mommy are working on learning more in the Sunday School class she teaches. You have a capacity to love and care for others, but mom and dad know that we must nurture and guide that generous, compassionate spirit as we transmit to you a vision for how you can love and serve God by loving and serving others.

I love you, Aydon. I make many mistakes as your mommy. Sometimes, I am not gracious or gentle or patient with you, especially when your emotions are strong. Like you, I would not make it outside of a relationship with our loving Father in heaven. I pray that I will let Him guide me as I disciple little you. With Him, neither of us will go wrong. I am excited to watch and see the man that you become, Aydon, for I know that he will be wondrous.

Love you always and forever,
Mommy

ps. Next post, I plan to write a letter to your baby sister

Friday, October 5, 2012

Always Grace



















photo credit: Nikita Kashner via photopin

Grace: Unmerited Favor. 

Grace is sometimes more easily given than received. 

Dear readers, I apologize for my long sabbatical. Adjusting to life in another country takes time.

Today I am reflecting on grace. Grace for moms. Grace for children. Grace for husbands. 

Many times since becoming a mom have I fallen into dire need for grace. And many times, I run from it! "No, God!" I shout. "You can't love me! Look what I've done! Look how far I've strayed from my ideals! Listen to the ugly thoughts of my selfish heart!"

And God relentlessly pursues me with His grace. He pursues until I can say, "For we (I) have known and believed the love that God has for us (me). God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16)

I am a dry well until I bask in that love. 

When I let God love me, weak, wounded, imperfect, I become a life-giving spring of grace. 

I can forgive my husband. I can unconditionally love that wonderful man God has given me.

When I let God's love scrub me clean, I see with new eyes the youth, innocence and beauty of my children. I bathe them in compassion, tenderly, gently, soothing away those big emotions expressed so loudly, not caring what others may think when the bathing gets messy.

Mommies, live in love. Abide in it, as a grape vine abides in its branch. Then, relax and watch the beautiful fruit slowly be produced in you.



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fear or Faith-Based Parenting

It happens on hard days. Little man gets upset and screams "NO!" He pushes his sister out of his way, terrified that she will grab "his" toy. Indignation rises up inside of me. How can this precious son of mine, dearly loved, make little red-headed sister cry, hurt and confused? Anger flashes in my breast, followed swiftly by icy-cold waves of fear. What have I done wrong as a mother? I want my home to be happy; I want my children to love each other, to treat each other the way they would like to be treated.


In moments like these, when I follow fear, when I let it wrap its lying tentacles around my mind, I revert to old patterns of thinking, patterns that say, "If you follow this method, your child will turn out great. You can control your child's destiny if you just do xyz." Fear makes me long to take matters with my children into my own hands, to believe that I can shape the person I think my child should be. 


And yet, relying on a method, believing that I am the shaper of my child, would be nothing less than idolatry, a closed fist shaken in God's face, declaring, "I can do this by myself;" a muted hiss in God's ear, "If I trust you to work in my child's heart, you might not come through for me."


Fear breeds anger. Fear and anger nurture a controlling attitude, an attitude that reacts harshly to the child's misbehavior, an attitude that triggers septic, toxic, manipulative, ugly, words and actions.


Fear will reign until we turn our eyes, not to striving harder to be kinder, more full of grace, more able to instruct and teach and admonish our children, but to the One who made us, the One who died for us, the One who lives in us, who is there to grant us a life devoid of fear:


And the fruit of the Spirit is: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith,  meekness, temperance: against such there is no law; (Galatians 5:22-23 YLT)


When we throw out fear, our mommy eyes turn towards Christ, where we remember: 


and those who are Christ's, the flesh did crucify with the affections, and the desires; if we may live in the Spirit, in the Spirit also we may walk; let us not become vain-glorious -- one another provoking, one another envying! (Galatians 5:23-26 YLT)


Instead of grabbing my son, yelling at him, punishing him, I turn my eyes heavenward. I see my redeemer, who lives, sitting at God's right hand. My redeemer! How often do I harbor hatred, anger, judgmental thoughts, towards my brother or sister in Christ? And yet God, because of Jesus, forgives me! My son's behavior is no different; in fact, he is acting out of childish immaturity, out of an inability to control all of his frustrated urges. 


"Thank you, Jesus, for dying for my sins, and for those of my children," I whisper. "Son, I forgive you, just as God has forgiven me."


I am able to fulfill God's mandate: "And the fathers! provoke not your children, but nourish them in the instruction and admonition of the Lord."  (Ephesians 6:4 YLT)


Picking up my son, I place him on the couch, gently. "Thank you, Jesus, that as a mom, I am not a slave to anger." 


I admonish my child: "In our house, we do not hit or push each other when we are angry." 


I instruct him: "When sister has a toy that you are worried about, you can call mommy for help. You can also trade the toy she has for another. Let's practice."


Sometimes, when he is really upset, we pray: "Jesus, thank you for dying for our sins. God, we need wisdom in this situation, we need help calming down, we need you, oh, we need you." 


It is easy to rely on a method to calm our fears. It is easy to seek retribution from our children when they do wrong. It is much more difficult, but, oh, so worth it, to go to the cross, to put our eyes on Christ. Doing this reaps a harvest of peace, joy, love, and forgiveness. Mommies and daddies, don't grow weary in parenting under the shadow of the cross! Let Jesus be your example as you deal with the little ones: 


People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)











Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Big Changes Ahead

It is about time I blog. Yes, I DID say that I was going to reformat my blog, and I am still going to do that! I appreciate all of yall's patience. Hubby and I ordered a new camera, so I am hoping to start adding pictures to the blog. But that is not the biggest change--we are going to be moving our little family to Bolivia in May! 


I am so excited to continue sharing with you all my parenting journey from Bolivia! In January, when a mission organization known as DM2 (begun by my dad) asked us to go to Bolivia as missionaries, we deliberated for a long time. It is HARD to consider uprooting your children to a place where there are infectious diseases, where other children speak a completely different language, where there are no libraries with free programs and fun books. BUT, we decided that bringing our children along on a journey of extreme faith in a FAITHFUL God would indeed be a priceless gift for our little ones. And when we think of what we want our children to be one day: men and women of confident faith, who love and serve others, going to Bolivia and ministering to fellow believers there, sharing grace with them, is SO EXCITING!


So, hopefully you all will bear with me, and continue to follow my blog amidst sporadic postings. We will make our move in May, so I may not have many posts that month, but in the months to follow, I plan to post at least twice a month, as we will have some internet access.


God be with you with you all this week! Keep looking to Him for wisdom as you parent! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dear Child of God

Dear Mommas and Poppas, when was the last time you sinned? How many of you have a habitual sin that you do over and over, even though you know you shouldn't? How many of you act on an unkind, angry impulse on occasion, only to deeply regret your actions afterward?

It would be dishonest of me to tell you that I, a redeemed daughter of God, do not struggle with sin.

And how does my Father respond?

The first thing my Father does, because of His Son's sacrifice, is to draw me to Himself. He does not abandon me. He does not turn His face away from me in disgust, though my sin is vile, and it reaps a rotten harvest.


Yes, there is no denying that sin brings despair and corruption. Like that time I was angry and yelled at my husband: a rift formed in our relationship, my children became insecure, I felt sick and hopeless.

But when we sin, because of Jesus, anytime we choose to, we can call out to God, to our Abba, Father, and He will meet us where we are at. We do not have to cower in fear, terrified of what consequence He might impose on us for the terrible destruction we have wrought, because, don't you see, child? Sin brings death, misery, ugliness. 


Yet, Jesus is our Redeemer. He is our hope in the midst of our despair. 

It is a beautifully crafted lie of the Deceiver which says that when we are tangled up in our messes, the only way out is for God to come after us with a whip, for Him to make us pay for what we have done before our relationship with Him can be restored.

Dear parent, every time you spank or punish your little child for his or her often impulsive, often unintended, wrongdoing, you are giving your child a graphic, very misleading, picture of the way that God deals with His children. 

The picture is this: When you do wrong, God uses His hand to hurt you. Yes, He inflicts purposeful pain on you. (hmm...doesn't that sound a bit like God is sitting up in heaven, concocting various consequences that will hurt enough to keep us from acting like we shouldn't) "Shame on you, you stupid child! Why did you have to go and do that again? You only got what  you deserved!" God seems to shout.


No, I am not saying that God doesn't allow us to experience pain at times--but the purpose of this pain is for us to cry out to Him for help, not to get us to stop acting so bad, not to somehow cleanse us from sin-guilt. Think of the prodigal son--the loving daddy in that picture did not bail his son out of the consequences of his bad choices. Why not? Because the source of life and happiness for that prodigal child was only to be found in his Dad. When the prodigal returned home, the daddy welcomed him with open arms; he did not punish him first, and the son received true life from his Father.

Dear child of God, mommy or daddy, allow me to be very direct: How can you meet out punishment on your children for the things that they did wrong, the things that they cannot go back and change, even if they want to, when GOD DOES NOT DEAL WITH YOU IN THAT MANNER?


If you want to give to your children what you get from God when you do wrong, it should look something like this: "Son, what you did was wrong. It is wrong to hurt others, and when you pushed your sister, that was wrong. You must face what you have done wrong; you must face the fact that you have hurt her, and apologize to her. Although what you did was wrong, I am not going to abandon you. I forgive you. I am going to walk beside you as we work on setting things right. Your sister may not forgive you. You may have to wait a long time for your relationship with her to be restored. But I will be beside you all along the way. I will not abandon you or turn my back on you." 

God is not a pushover. When we sin, His Spirit will work to open our eyes to the fact that what we are doing is wrong. The longer we continue in sin, the more deaf we will be to the still, small voice that is our Daddy, calling us home. But, no matter how long we persist, as soon as we see our sin, as soon as we recognize the ugliness of a life apart from our Father, we see that He has been there waiting for us all the time, arms open wide, full of love.


Moms and Dads, meet your children where they are at. Teach them right and wrong; don't block the consequences that their wrongdoing inevitably brings. But BE THERE FOR THEM, not against them, applying a belt, a switch, or a hand, to their little bodies, when they make wrong choices, when they wreak havoc because they are too weak to deny their impulses. MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE AT, walk with them through the consequences, loving them all the time. DON'T be the hypocrite and take the stance of judge, jury, and jail time, when, EVERY DAY, you yourself struggle with bouts of wrong behavior, and God is there for you, full of love, without reproach.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Does God Spank His Children?

I am saddened when I hear a Christian, a dear redeemed child of God, say "God spanks His children." Why does this sadden me? Because it misrepresents God, and it takes away from what Christ did on the cross on our behalf.

The only support I have ever heard for this idea comes from Hebrews 12. Hebrews 12:6 reads: "FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It certainly would appear that this passage teaches believers that God spanks His children, due to the use of the term "scourges". 


A sound principle to use when trying to understand any Scriptural passage is to never lift a verse out of context when interpreting it. In a previous post, I went step by step through Hebrews 12, so I will not do that here, but, for the sake of this discussion, here is a summation: Hebrews 12 is a passage that was meant to ENCOURAGE believers to ENDURE persecution. The author is urging readers not to give up in the face of hardship, keeping their eyes fixed on the goal (as though they are runners in a race), remembering how Jesus suffered at the hands of angry men. 


In fact, Jesus, the author of our faith, the perfect Son of God, was scourged for our transgressions, and thus all of us are able to be received as God's purified sons and daughters. Isaiah 53:5 reads, "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed."


Through Jesus, through His scourging and death on our behalf, WE ARE HEALED. He took the punishment for our sins! Hebrews 12:6 needs to be seen in the context of what Jesus did on our behalf, and in the context of the passage, which refers not to punishment for wrongdoing, but to God's training of His children as they face hardships and, indeed, persecution in life. God urges believers to endure hardship as from His hand; there is no reference in this passage to hardship being a punishment for wrongdoing. If there was, then believers would be urged not to sin, so as to AVOID hardship; believers would be cautioned to question whether hardship in their lives was due to their misbehavior. But that is NOT what this passage teaches...in fact, the passage encourages believers to EMBRACE hardship as discipline (paideia, training). They are encouraged to ENDURE, and to see hardship as a sign that they are, indeed, God's children (believers should not worry when they face hardship that God has forgotten them, or that He is angry with them, or that He is working against them).

The purpose of a spanking is to cause a behavior to cease, or, as some parents believe, to rid their children of sin-guilt. We need to really think about God's discipline as laid out in Hebrews 12 and ask ourselves if spanking aligns with God's discipline of His children. God doesn't discipline His children to relieve them of sin-guilt--that is what Jesus did; when we feel guilt for our sins, we are supposed to look to Jesus as our high priest who has made intercession for us already (this is actually discussed at length in the book of Hebrews). In my next post, I will discuss how God's discipline of His children differs from a spanking. 

Our Christian culture says that spanking is biblical; it says that if moms and dads choose not to spank, then they are disobeying God's command. The implication, then, is that God spanks us grown ups too. If that is the case, we ought to live in constant fear of God. Every time hardship or persecution enters our lives, we need to ask ourselves: what did I do wrong this time? We need to strive very hard never to do wrong so that God won't need to punish us. Furthermore, we will always fear that when we do wrong, God temporarily takes the stance of "judge," rather than that of "Abba, Father." In short, we will not live in love, for, as 1 John 4:18 states: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." It is time for us to look outside of our cultural norms, and to really dig deep into God's word, being careful not to jump to conclusions based on what we are taught, but based on what Scripture is actually saying.