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 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!

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,

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.