Thank Heaven for Little Boys

If you asked me to tell you the first word I would use to describe today, it would be “miserable”. I’m dealing with the almost unbearable discomfort of the last days of pregnancy, I’ve got a cold or allergies or something (like I could breathe before that anyway!), my sleep was fitful, short and interrupted last night, and my toddler was crying about everything this morning. Everything seemed wrong. Going to the Walmart 5 minutes down the road seemed like an epic journey that I might not survive. ( I did, by the way. And only forgot one thing on my list.)

And yet, if I think about it for a minute, today has been an amazingly blessed day. Blessed for so many reasons, but mostly because of that same dramatic, crying toddler from breakfast. The boy who sang our favorite lullaby, “Edelweiss,” to me while snuggling on my shoulder because he saw me crying from the pain I was in. The boy who helped load and unload the grocery cart, even though he can barely reach, because he wanted to help his mama. The boy who joyfully snuggled up with me to listen to my birth relaxation cd’s (I may ask him to be my coach at the hospital). The boy who spent an hour gleefully watching the men at the “‘struction site” pouring concrete for a garage (extra thankfulness for a gracious family friend who invites said construction-crazed toddler to “help” at the worksite).

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This boy is in paradise. A very dirty paradise. 

My sweet son’s compassion for his family and his untempered joy at things that would seem so small to us truly blesses me daily. I love how he tells me every day about how we are going to go to Heaven and see God and do so many fun things (He strongly believes that a significant part of Heaven has to do with candy. Toddler theology). Yes, he still asks “why?” 8,436 times a day. Yes, he still cries about not being able to wash all the dirt off his toy trucks. And yes, I’m still a little nervous about how I’m going to handle two (two, two!) little boys starting soon. But this I know: God has put these boys in my life for a much bigger purpose than I can begin to understand. I mother them, nurture and teach them; but they recreate me in the image of the Father by the way they love and stretch and challenge and teach me.

From the moment I found out I was pregnant with each of them, until death do us (temporarily) part, I will be thankful. Thankful for the hugs and kisses and made-up songs. Thankful for the sleepless nights that remind me to pray. Thankful for the constant reminders that I cannot rely on myself. Thankful for being entrusted with a responsibility that I know I don’t deserve.

Thank Heaven for Little Boys…

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Somebody’s Baby

Hello again. Last time I wrote, I talked just a little about how having a son has been changing my life. Today I want to share a profound way that my son has changed my perspective.

 

To start, I have a confession to make, and this is something I’m really not proud of. So here goes. Sometimes when I’m out and about and I encounter a person who is somehow ‘odd’, I get a little uncomfortable. I know intellectually that there is no reason to be, but it’s an occasional gut reaction. And, sadly, I imagine that I’m not the only one who reacts this way.

 

There’s something about our human nature that reacts poorly to those we perceive as different. It’s the basis for all prejudice, be it racism, sexism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination. To an extent, our snap judgments help us quickly process the myriad of inputs we experience as we go about our lives, so they are useful. But when it comes to people, we need to use our metacognition – our ability to think about our thinking – to reach the truth, not just first impressions.

 

As I said, I have often found myself confronting these first impressions, and my usual rebuttal to myself is to go through the litany of “You don’t know them or what their condition really is; they’re just as important and valuable as everyone else.” Which is completely true. The problem was, I was addressing a gut reaction with a mental process. Sometimes that works, but often we need an emotional response to an emotional problem. We need something to strongly affect our core in such a way that it changes not only the way we think about things, but also the way we feel about them.

 

That is exactly what happened to me when my son was born. I remember one of my first forays into the outside world after he was born, I encountered one of the regulars at the store I was visiting, a person who, on first impressions, can make me feel a little uncomfortable, even though I know that I have no reason to be. This time, though, a new thought went through my mind: “He is somebody’s baby.” Just that. Just imagining, for a second, that at one time, he was a tiny, precious newborn, no different from his peers; someone small and helpless and sweet, and just as perfect as every other baby. Someone who was the absolute center of his or her parents’ heart. The moment I realized that, it completely changed the way I look at people. It spread not just to those who make me uncomfortable on first glance, but also to the people who irritate me, the people I am quick to judge.

 

And then something truly miraculous happened in my heart. I began thinking more and more about this idea of a parent’s love for a baby. I thought about how much I love my son, a love that I couldn’t even begin to imagine before he was born. As I was thinking about it, I realized that God loves my son far more than I love him. That realization has helped me so much in trusting God to care for my son. And then I realized that God loved all those people, the ones I struggle with judging and loving, as much as He loves my son. That was an amazing realization, because it dawned on me that God’s love for humanity is so much more than a kind, general benevolence. I love my son with an indescribably fierce and all-consuming love, and yet God loves him, and by extension everyone, infinitely more than that, because He is infinitely more capable of loving than I am. Wow – that changes the way I look at people when I begin to understand the way God sees them. Mind officially blown.

 

But then God decided to take the smoldering shreds of my mind and completely destroy my old ways of thinking about one person in particular. The one person I had the most difficulty forgiving, the one I was the quickest and harshest to judge. Myself. It was like God spoke clearly to me and said, “You know how much you love that little baby you’re holding right now? You know how deep, and fierce, and strong that love is, how you are constantly telling him that there is nothing that can change your love for him, that you love him no matter who or what he decides to be? Now, do you remember how you just figured out that my love for everyone is infinitely greater than that? Do you realize that you are one of those people? I love YOU infinitely more than you love your son. You, One-Who-Fails-Daily. And I sent my Son, whom I love even more than you love your son, to die for you. Even though you can’t begin to deserve it, even on your best days.

 

Very rarely do you get such clear spiritual breakthroughs, and to have three of them cascading all at once left me speechless. To change how I see my community, my child, and then myself, to begin to really appreciate the value God has placed on each of us, to have even a fractional understanding of how great a price He paid to redeem us – this changes everything.

 

My hope and prayer for you is that you begin to see how treasured you are, and that you look at those around you with a new appreciation of their worth. May God blow your mind too!

Out of Control

Hello again. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. Just about five months, to be exact.  The last time I posted, I was bemoaning the impossible length of the last weeks of a pregnancy. Well, just days after that post, my pregnancy journey ended and the great adventure of being a mother began. These past four months have been nothing short of amazing. They have also been exhausting, exciting, terrifying, and thrilling, sometimes all in the same moment. Time has flown by, and I cannot believe my tiny little baby is now a chubby, cheerful 4-month-old whose life goal is to sit up alone. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time that he wasn’t a part of our lives. Every day is full of new discoveries, new challenges, and new ways to fall in love with a short, fat, bald guy.

 

Being a parent, especially a new parent, is a major learning experience. Learning how to care for your child, learning what each cry or expression means, learning how to function normally on 2 hours of sleep. For me, it has been more than that though. While I have learned a great deal about my son, I may have learned even more about myself. God has been using my daily (and nightly) experiences as a mother to teach me about my own shortcomings and strengths.

 

While I’m learning and growing in many areas (patience, planning, time management, multitasking), the central issue that God is working on with me is control. While I can’t say that I am always in control of things, I certainly like to feel that I am. I am a planner, a list maker, a spreadsheet-thought-organizer. I like to sort, label, and rearrange. When I found out that I was pregnant, I started planning. Planning the nursery, planning how I would feed my son, what kinds of diapers he would wear, how I would get him to sleep through the night, how I would discipline him once he got older. I researched online, read every book I could get my hands on, spent hours sipping tea with my mommy friends picking their brains. I was ready to have control of the parenting situation.

 

And then I started noticing that I had no control. Actually, I noticed that from the moment my husband and I decided that it was time to start our family. I had absolutely no control over if or when I would get pregnant (even though I had two specific dates in mind that I wanted to have my baby – haha!) I remember those few days testing to see if I was pregnant and feeling panic as I waited for the lines to show up – panic if I was pregnant, and panic if I wasn’t. Then I found out I was indeed pregnant, and I went to the doctor to confirm. I really like my doc, but I didn’t like what she said. I was 5 weeks pregnant at the time, and she wanted me to come back at 10 weeks to “see if it’s actually a viable pregnancy.”

 

That planted the seed in my mind that I could lose my baby at any time. I knew so many women who had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects, and my worrying mind started running wild. I asked my sweet husband to reassure me multiple times a day that there was no logical reason to worry. I filled my head with statistics to prove that there was very little chance of anything going wrong with my baby. But it didn’t shake the fear. Every symptom that I had or didn’t have sent me off to the internet to have my doom sealed. I was banned (by my wise husband) from searching those things anymore. And still the anxiety circled me. I knew it was unlikely that something would go wrong, but things do go wrong, and what was there to assure me that I wasn’t one of the 2% of this or 10% of that?

 

Finally I did some positive web-searching and looked for affirming words for pregnancy. What I found was something even better, something I should have been looking for from the beginning. I found a blog (Grace for Moms) that listed 10 Bible verses specifically addressing fear and worry. I clung to those verses, pulled out my fancy colored markers, and wrote those verses out. I taped them to mirrors, my closet door, and the head of my bed. I said them over and over as I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, and fell asleep at night. And miracle of miracles, my fears didn’t have control over me anymore. Did they sometimes pop up? I’m embarrassed to say, yes they did, especially the really idiotic ones (such as, will a body part that clearly showed up on the first ultrasound somehow be missing on the second one? Not too proud of that thought process – I’ll blame the hormones!)

 

As predicted by my husband and statistics, nothing did go wrong with my pregnancy, and I delivered my beautiful, healthy, all-body-parts-accounted-for little boy on one of the two days I had been crossing my fingers for (though I realized that I had absolutely nothing to do with that). But again, in that process, God was teaching me that I have no control. During my pregnancy, I had spent hours studying and practicing the techniques needed to enable a drug-free birth. For me the idea of the natural-ness of a drug-free birth, combined with the safety net of delivering at the hospital seemed ideal. I would labor at home as long as possible, and then go to the hospital only when I felt that I was getting near the actual birth bit of this process. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and a good ability to use my mind to control pain, and so I thought it would be a piece of cake. Okay, I thought that I could make it, anyway.

 

The short version of my very long labor and delivery is that after over 48 hours of contractions, I was still untold hours away from being ready to deliver. My doctor suggested, and I agreed, that I should get the epidural anesthesia and a bit of something called Pitocin to help my labor move along a little faster. If I hadn’t received the drugs, I don’t know if I would have had the energy to push the baby out when the time came. It was not the “natural” birth I had hoped for, but I could no longer control the pain. Nor could I control the progress of my labor or the timing of my son’s birth. Almost exactly 24 hours after we arrived at the hospital, I first saw and held my little boy, and the world around me ceased to exist for a moment. I could try, I could use all kinds of descriptive language, but I still could never explain to you what that moment was like. If you’ve had a child, I think you can probably imagine it pretty well.

 

The next day they sent us home, and God decided that it was time to teach me even more about how little I really could (or needed to) control. Before my son was born, I had pretty clear ideas of how I was going to train him to eat and play and sleep with a careful routine that would minimize any negative impact on my own schedule and productivity. I wasn’t going to be a schedule freak, but I was going to be very regimented, and my baby was going to be very textbook. Yes, yes, I hear all of you who already have children snickering behind your hands at me. Okay, now I hear you laughing out loud the more you think about the ridiculousness of it all.

 

Sure, I can try to keep a general pattern of activities throughout the day, I can encourage him to nap when he seems tired, I can give him cues about when it’s time to go to sleep or time to play, but I cannot control my child at this point, because I cannot control his needs, and at this point in his life, everything is driven by needs, not by behavioral training.  Not to start any arguments about parenting styles, but based on my experience so far, parents who are able to “control” their babies at this age are either being fooled by a baby who naturally does what the parents are wanting (i.e. sleeping through the night), or they have controlled their child’s behavior at the expense of some facet of the child’s emotional well-being. When my son “decides” that he is hungry earlier than I was expecting, then I feed him. When he wakes up in the middle of the night because he is hungry, because he had a scary dream, or because his tummy is bothering him, I do my best to meet his need. I learned very quickly that we are both happier when I focus more on bonding with my son, learning how he communicates and meeting his needs, rather than trying to make him meet mine.

 

Not that there aren’t times that I get a little frustrated that nothing is getting accomplished because my whole day was spent feeding or soothing a little boy, or that I don’t feel exhausted when I’ve been up three times in the middle of the night feeding or burping or changing him. Not having control is inconvenient. In some circles, being a parent without total control (even of an infant) is not popular. But I’m less stressed when I embrace the fact that I don’t have control.

 

Not having control is also scary at times. Every parent struggles with fears about the health and safety of their children. I suppose it is even worse for first time moms. One example of this for me has been the fear of SIDS. If you have had a baby in the last couple decades, you know that there is an entire litany of rules for reducing the risk of your baby dying suddenly and inexplicably in their sleep. The rules may change a bit over the years, but every mom pays close attention and does her best to avoid the myriad dangers that apparently lurk during sleep. We must not have crib bumpers or blankets or stuffed animals in the crib. We should have our baby close to us and have a fan running to move the air around. The baby should always, always sleep flat on their back (if you let them sleep on their tummy or side, you are just asking for trouble, apparently). With all these warnings, which do indeed have merit, the new mother brings home a baby and, if she’s anything like me, becomes a basket case the first time she sets her precious newborn in his bassinet or crib for the first night.

 

It’s not so bad during the day when you walk by and check on them constantly, but at night, when you should supposedly be asleep, you worry that if you sleep for even a moment, your baby will stop breathing and you’ll wake up in the morning to your worst nightmare. But the fact is, you can’t really control something like SIDS. Now sure, you can follow the precautions that make it much less likely that something would happen to your child in his sleep, but there is a reason that SIDS exists as a cause of death for infants  – it is sudden and not explained by any other cause. You can’t prevent what can’t be diagnosed or determined.

 

While I still find myself peeking over the edge of the cradle and look for that rise and fall of his little chest when I happen to wake up at night, I’ve come to realize that there are some things I can’t protect my son from, and so no amount of staying awake at night or never leaving his side can ensure his health and safety. In fact, I know that at some points in his life, bad things are going to happen to him, things I cannot prevent. I wish I could, but life doesn’t allow me to completely control what does or does not happen to my child. The best I can do is use common sense to prevent the “bad stuff” that I can, and trust God for the rest.

 

And there we come to my biggest area of fear and lack of control. Ah, that trusting God with “the rest”. Like I said earlier a couple of times, bad things are going to happen. To all of us. Some things may seem worse than others, but none of us are immune. The risks for those really disastrous things may be statistically small, but if you’re the person they happen to, the statistics mean nothing. And that is where fear continues to try to get a new grip on me: something terrible is not likely to happen to me, but I cannot guarantee that it won’t. I can’t use the Christian/spiritual cop-out of “It will be okay; God is in control,” because while God is in control, I might still suffer tragedy. The real answer is that bad things are going to happen to all of us, but because God is in control, we can survive the tragedies and struggles of life, and we have the promise that something good will come out of our suffering. I don’t know what lies ahead for me or for my son, and I cannot control much of it, but I can trust and have a relationship with the one who does know and control the future.

 

Jesus, I Am Nesting, Nesting

Hi there. Yes, I am ashamed of missing the last two weeks of posts. I have been consumed by late pregnancy exhaustion and the irresistible need to have everything perfectly in order for this coming baby.

 

There it is, I’ve been nesting when I should have been writing. With the help of my miracle-working mother, I’ve gotten the whole house clean, organized, and presentable (yay to getting the car all the way in the garage again!). Thanks to my fantastic husband (whose first words after work most days are, “How can I help you now?”) we have all the furniture assembled, arranged, and repaired as needed. Thanks to Amazon and UPS, we have all the great baby gear and gadgets that we “need” but can’t find at our local Wal-Mart (the pinnacle of shopping in our tiny town). And thanks to my tireless washer and dryer, all those tiny clothes, blankets, bibs and cloth diapers are clean, folded, organized, and ready to go.

 

I have to admit, I’ve loved the whole process. Probably because I never got the must-scrub-whole-house-with-toothbrush type of nesting urge. That would be awful. But I have loved preparing our home and our life for this little guy.  It was so much fun to browse through pages and pages of baby stuff online and choose the things I thought would be most useful, most fun, and most representative of us and our son. I have delighted in folding and organizing each impossibly tiny onesie and matching every pair of ridiculously small socks (are their feet really that little???).  It is exciting to just sit in my rocking chair and look around the nursery, imagining it with its future occupant. It’s been a very satisfying experience.

 

When I first starting thinking about this post, it was really just going to be a fluffy little excuse for why I haven’t written in two weeks. The title was a fun play on the hymn, “Jesus I Am Resting, Resting”. (Those who know me well know I can’t resist a parody or a musical pun…it’s just how my brain works.) But as I thought about it, something clicked on in my head, and I imagined Jesus nesting, so to speak. Go there with me for a moment. When Jesus left the earth for Heaven after his resurrection, he had a few key roles to fulfill between then and his return. One of those things that he is doing is preparing a place for us.

 

Whether you think of it as a mansion, a home, or a room in God’s house, all of us who are believers know that Jesus promised a special, wonderful, individual place for each of us in the heavenly kingdom. (John 14:2-3) Just as I have been preparing a special place for my son in his new home, Jesus is preparing a special place for me in my future home. If you still think the pregnancy hormones are playing with my mind and I’m a bit loony, check out these parallels between my nesting, and Jesus’ preparations in Heaven.

 

 

  • We both want the best for the one we love. For me, that means having his clothes cute, clean and snuggly, making sure everything is safe, and adding in all the cute touches I can. I want my son to have the best I can give him. Jesus is able to take it further, because the place he is preparing is not just really good, but it is perfect. He doesn’t have to be budget conscious, nor does he have to worry that any detail will be unappealing. When I get to my heavenly home, it will be the ultimate in beauty, comfort (both physical and spiritual), and I will not be able to find a single fault with it.
  • Another thing Jesus and I have in common is that we are preparing our special places with the future occupant in mind, tailored to his or her individuality. That’s why my son’s nursery has blues and greens and forest animals rather than purple and glitter and My Little Ponies. In the same way, my room or home in heaven will not be the same as yours. It won’t be institutional and generic, like a convent, or even like a 5-star hotel, but will be perfectly tailored to you, as Jesus knows you. I can’t say exactly what that means in Jesus’ form of interior decorating, but I know that when we each walk into our heavenly homes, we’ll instantly feel that we are truly home, and we’ll think, This is exactly right for me.
  • On the other hand, our work of preparation is also reflective of us, the nesters. I picked woodland critters as a good neutral, slightly masculine theme for my nursery because I knew I would be welcoming a boy. However, I have no idea if he will share my love of hedgehogs (if not, he will probably not love that nursery) or if he will care that I chose the dark wood over the light for his furniture because it seemed more classy to me.  I don’t know for sure how the details will play out, but I am pretty confident that every room, house, or mansion that Jesus is preparing for us will contain clear and undeniable marks of his involvement. When you sit in your heavenly living room, not only will you feel that it was made just for you, but you’ll probably say to yourself, That bit over there, nobody other than Jesus would have thought to put that in. Also, Jesus had lots of experience with woodworking, so I’m expecting some pretty fabulous furniture and trim.
  • Another element common to both of us is excitement. With every onesie or sleeper that I fold, I get a little more excited about meeting, holding, and caring for my little boy. The simplest things, like arranging the blankets in a drawer or opening the bottle of baby lotion get me teary-eyed with anticipation. Jesus is no less (probably even more) excited about our arrival in our heavenly homes. His work is far more vast than mine, but I don’t think for a second that any of it is a drudgery to him. As he builds and prepares, he thinks of us, friends, and looks forward to the day that he can show us around the place he has made just for you and me.
  • Finally, we have something in common when it comes to time. I have a due date that is 10 days away, but in reality, this little guy could come tomorrow, or he could hold on until the beginning of October. I know it’s coming soon, but no one, not even my doctor, can tell me exactly when it will be. The certainty that my child will be born cannot change the uncertainty about when it will happen. In the same way, we are certain that Jesus is coming back, and he is going to take all of his sheep to their new, forever homes. He promised it, so it is certain. And obviously, every day that goes by is one day closer to it happening. But even though we know it is certainly coming, and coming sooner every day, we don’t know when it is coming, because only God the Father knows. Even Jesus doesn’t know when he’ll be sent back for us! (Matthew 24:36) No prophet, preacher, or Bible-decoder can tell you the date and time. I like to think of Jesus experiencing the same excitement and anticipation in waiting for our arrival in heaven as I do in waiting for the arrival of my baby.

 

So there you have it, friends. I’m nesting. Jesus is nesting. And neither of us are scrubbing walls with toothbrushes, I’m sure of it.

 

I hope these thoughts make you feel precious, treasured and loved, because you are. The savior of the world delights in you enough to spend thousands of years in heaven preparing a place specifically for you to enjoy for eternity. I spent a couple months preparing a room that will be inhabited for a few years. If that’s all I did for a child I already love more than I thought it was possible to love, I can’t even imagine the kind of love Jesus has for me, for you, when I think about all he has done, in coming to earth, dying on the cross, preparing heaven for us, and eventually returning to defeat sin and Satan for good.  It doesn’t even begin to compare. He loves you, precious one. More than you can imagine.

 

 

Tuesday’s Truth – You Can’t Handle It!

Hello friends. Yes, I realize that I was AWOL last week. I confess that the reason was an emotionally and spiritually crippling case of fear and self-doubt related to the impending birth of our son. Of course, all first time parents wonder if they are ready, if they’ll do well raising their children, etc. etc.  I, on the other hand, was suddenly sure that I couldn’t do it, that I was doomed to be an awful mother and that my child(ren) would come to resent and despise me. I wondered what on earth I had done in conceiving this child; not that I didn’t want to have my son, but that I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want to have me for a mother. My sweet husband let me sob out all my fears and uncertainties without interrupting me to tell me how irrational I was. I spent a good hour or two with my journal. Through those two things (as is usually the case) God opened my eyes up to the truth of the matter, and renewed my spirit.

 

Here’s the truth that I found. In a way, I was right all along. I can’t do this. I can’t be a great mother. I could quite possibly be a really bad one, there’s a small chance that I could be an okay one, but on my own, there is no chance of me being a really good mother. I am far too impatient, selfish, lazy, and critical to provide the loving and nurturing environment that my son needs and deserves. I don’t stand up well to extreme stress and sleep deprivation. All of that just adds to the fact that I’ve never been a parent before. You can see why I was indulging in some serious self-doubt last week!

 

But the truth is bigger than my absolute inability. The second, and much better, part of the truth is that I don’t have to do it on my own. I have an amazing support in all this. Now, I’m not talking about my husband, even though he is unbelievably helpful and supportive, and will be a fantastic dad. No, I’m referring to the fact that God is my support and strength in this calling just as much as He is with someone He calls to be a missionary, a writer, a doctor, or a preacher. Just because my mission is contained within the walls of my house doesn’t make me any less called or divinely equipped for the task set before me. I have the unlimited power and wisdom of the Creator of the universe backing me up as I take on this new challenge.

 

Here’s the thing. There’s this saying that goes around Christian and pseudo-Christian circles that always raises the hair on my neck just a little bit: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” It sounds so reassuring, doesn’t it? Well, the bad news is that it is 100% pop-religion positive malarkey. (There’s another term for it that my own mother would be horrified if I used, but you get the idea). What we should be saying to each other is, “God will never give you more than He can handle.”  If God didn’t give us more than we could handle, then we wouldn’t have much of a need for God, would we? What’s more, history, both in the Bible and beyond, is full of examples that prove my point.

 

Let’s name a few of them, just for fun.

  • Noah couldn’t have handled building the first boat in recorded history and proclaiming a coming flood amidst widespread mockery if God hadn’t given him the plans and the power.
  • Job was not naturally immune to loss, disease, or disaster. He simply trusted his God.
  • Moses was unqualified to speak before Pharaoh, to lead the Israelites, or to be the first and most revered prophet of Judaism and Christianity.
  • Gideon was not prepared, inclined, or qualified to lead an army against the Midianites.
  • David was not qualified, nor was he inherently capable of killing Goliath, or of later ruling the nation of Israel.
  • Mary was not naturally equipped to withstand the scandal and scrutiny of her unusual pregnancy, to raise the child-Messiah, or to endure the crucifixion of her son.
  • None of the Apostles had any pertinent skills or training for becoming religious leaders, with the exception of Paul. And he was in no way likely to be a first choice for leading Christianity into the wider world.
  • Martin Luther had no special background or qualifications that would have prepared him to be a leader of one of the biggest changes in organized religion since the break between Judaism and Christianity.
  • William Wilberforce had no particular talents or qualifications to spearhead the movement to end slavery in Great Britain.
  • Mother Theresa was not naturally equipped to run outreaches to millions, nor to become a global spokesperson for justice, compassion, and Jesus.

 

I could go on with even more personal examples of people who had been given far more than they were capable of handling on their own.  The fact is, God doesn’t choose us for difficult tasks because He knows that we can handle them, but because He knows that we will trust Him and turn to Him to get us through.  This is our reassurance: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

Here’s what I know: parenting is going to be hard. Not just learning how to bathe and feed and calm my newborn, although that will be enough on its own for several weeks. There will also be the discipline issues, the teenage troubles, the first heartbreaks, the sibling conflicts, the spiritual guidance. I can read all the parenting books in the world, and still not be completely prepared for what is coming as I raise this little boy and any other children we may have. If I try to tackle it on my own, I may have an occasional success, but I am guaranteed a high number of failures. If I turn to God as my strength and wisdom, though, I am guaranteed a high number of successes. The failures will come, but only because I will fail to rely on or listen to God, not because He fails me.

 

If you’re facing parenting struggles right now, whether they be with an infant or an adult child, you can join me in taking comfort in the fact that you can’t handle the situation on your own, but that you have access to the God who can handle it all.  Maybe parenting isn’t your struggle right now. The same rules still apply. You’re going to get more than you can handle. But you also get the One who can handle it.  If you trust that God cares about you and your situation, if you believe that He is able, and if you will surrender yourself to His will, He will do amazing things for you.  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

Tuesday’s Truth – The Gift of No

Welcome back, friends! Today I’m writing you from the unbearably hot and humid state of Kansas. Every time I see The Wizard of Oz, I wonder why Dorothy doesn’t do a little happy dance when she says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It alternates between blast furnace and Roman steam bath. But I digress.

 

What I really want to talk to you about today is an important parenting principle. Before you dismiss me based on the fact that the only parenting I’ve done so far is poking my belly to keep my little guy kicking, let me tell you that I’m not going to actually give you advice on how to parent your children (although if you pick something up from this, that’s great). What’s really going on here is that I was inspired recently by a parallel between parenting and God’s ways with us.

 

Like any first-born, first time mother who is paranoid and certain that she will completely ruin her child, I’ve been furiously reading every parenting book I can get my hands on. (Note: this is not actually a good idea.) There are many rules, schedules, tips, and tricks that you are apparently supposed to follow to ensure a healthy, well-adjusted child. Some will probably prove useful, others to be a useless burden, but there is one that has really stuck out to me even before I’ve had the opportunity to try it out. It just makes sense to me. I call it “The Gift of No”.

 

The basic principle is that it is important for you to tell your child no (although not necessarily to use the word itself) on a regular basis. Your child will develop better emotional and psychological health if they do not get everything they ask for. It’s good for them to be denied once in a while. It’s okay if they don’t get every experience, toy, or opportunity. It’s healthy for them to be allowed to fail because you don’t solve all their problems for them. From my time teaching young children, I can see that this is a true principle.

 

But as I thought about it more, I wondered why it was true. What is it about being judiciously denied certain things that helps a child become emotionally strong and healthy? It seems to me that there are four main things that the Gift of No teaches children. First, it teaches them that they are not the central, most important thing in the world. They learn that their desires do not outweigh the needs and desires of others. This kind of humility makes for a thoughtful, caring person. Second, it teaches patience and self-discipline. When a child does not immediately get everything he or she wants, it develops the ability to deny self. This helps a child learn to either wait for a better time, or to choose not to indulge themselves. Third, it teaches contentment. Through experience, the child learns that he or she can still be happy and fulfilled even without many of the things that he or she may initially desire. Fourth, it teaches the child to prioritize. When you can’t have or do everything you desire, you learn how to choose what is most important to you.

 

Now, you may be thinking, this is interesting parenting advice, but what does it have to do with issues of spirituality and Christian life? Well, as I was thinking through they why’s and wherefore’s of the Gift of No, it suddenly dawned upon me that this isn’t a new principle at all, but something that God instituted from the beginning of Creation, and that it is not just true in raising children, it is true in God’s development of us as well. Those four character qualities that we find important in the emotional health of our children are equally, if not even more  important in our spiritual health. God wants to develop in us others-centeredness, self-discipline, contentment, and right priorities. Those four are cornerstones of a healthy spiritual life. The Bible is full of examples of God giving the Gift of No to His children. Think through them with me:

  • God told Adam and Eve, “No,” when it came to the forbidden fruit in order to develop discipline.
  • God told Moses, “No,” when it came to entering the Promised Land because Moses had not prioritized obedience over expedience.
  • God told David, “No,” when it came to building the temple not only because of David’s prior actions, but also to teach both David and Solomon discipline and others-centeredness.
  • God told John and James (and their mother), “No,” when it came to promising them positions of honor in His kingdom to remind them that they were not more important that His other followers.
  • God told Paul, “No,” when he asked for the ‘thorn in his flesh’ to be removed to teach him contentment.

 

There are many more examples throughout the Bible, and in the lives of Christians throughout history. You’ve probably heard someone say that God answers our prayers three different ways: Yes, No, and Wait. We like the Yeses. We’re okay with the Waits. But we like to try to make all of the No’s into Waits, don’t we? We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes God is flat-out telling us, “No.” Not because He doesn’t love us. Not because He wants us to be unhappy. Not because He is being arbitrary. He tells us, “No,” precisely because He does love us, and wants us to be emotionally and spiritually healthy. When we accept that a “No” from God is just as loving and gracious as a “Yes,” then we are one step closer to being the healthy and whole person that He made each of us to be.

 

May you grow in grace!

Tuesday’s Truth – Precious in His Sight

Hello, friends! This week I’ve been thinking about children a lot. That’s probably because my little guy has been kicking and wiggling around much more over the past week, and I’m finally starting to believe that there is a tiny person growing inside me. The incredible excitement and the immense responsibility of his upcoming arrival have hit me hard lately as I research birth and child-rearing philosophies, as his little crib sits in the spare room waiting to be assembled, and as the pile of tiny clothes waiting to be organized grows. I know that the love I already feel for him can’t begin to compare with what I will feel the moment he’s in my arms. It’s hard to imagine. And as I was thinking about all of this, I realized something even more astounding. Even in all my maternal affection and devotion, I will never come close to loving my son the way that God loves him, the way that God loves all His children.

If you grew up in church (and probably even if you didn’t), you’re familiar with the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” One line reminds us that all children are “precious in His sight”. Sometimes children’s songs aren’t so great on theology, but this one is dead on. Throughout the Bible there are stories that make it clear how much God values children, as well as some pretty direct statements. Let’s look at just a few:

  • What was the first good thing that happened after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden for sinning? You guessed it, the births of the world’s first babies. (Genesis 4 )
  • God protected and blessed Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar, even though he wasn’t the son God had promised to Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 21:8-21)
  • God commanded the Israelites to instruct their children in the history of God’s relationship with His people and to teach them His laws and promises. (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • God chose a young boy, Samuel, to become one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
  • God chose David, barely a teenager, to defeat Goliath and the Philistines, as well as to become the king of Israel.
  • The Psalms tell us that God is intimately involved in the development of each unborn child (Psalm 139:13)
  • Jeremiah is told that God knew him before he was even born. (Jeremiah 1:5) We can assume that God knows each one of us just as well.
  • Many proverbs speak to the importance of raising children.
  • God allowed Elijah to raise the widow’s son from death. (1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • God allowed Elisha to raise the Shunnamite’s son from death. (2 Kings 4:8-37)
  • Jesus healed many children and raised others from the dead. (Matthew 17:14-18 Luke 7:11-17 Mark 5:21-43)
  • Jesus welcomed and blessed the children that were brought to him, over the objections of his disciples.  (Matthew 19:13-14 Mark 10:13-14 Luke 18:15-16)
  • Jesus used the faith of a child as the benchmark for true faith. (Matthew 18:3 Matthew 18:4 Mark 10:15 Luke 18:17)

Because children are so precious to God, we should be careful about how we view and treat children.

  • We need to see children as blessings and wonders, not as inconveniences, annoyances, or accessories. Children take time and effort, and are not often convenient, but we must see them as worth the investment.
  • We must commit ourselves to training our children, not only in the practical things of life, but in faith and virtues. We must be careful and intentional in the way we teach our children at home (directly and indirectly) and in the choices we make regarding both their academic and religious education.
  • We should strive to see our children the way that God sees them, as valuable individuals with immense potential. David’s family scoffed at the idea of him being anointed as King of Israel, but as God told Samuel, we are quick to judge by what we see on the outside, not what is hidden on the inside. (1 Samuel 16:7)
  • We need to remember that every child is valuable as a person and is “precious in His sight”. Having taught many children, I can tell you that it is sometimes hard to remember that the child who constantly tests your nerves and pushes the boundaries is just as precious as the one who always obeys and seeks to please. Our human nature tempts us to value the pleasant and easy things in life more than the difficult. But if we believe that every single child is created in God’s image and is made directly by Him for a specific purpose, we must learn to value every child equally. Does that make them easier to deal with? Some days yes, some days no; but it does help us keep our perspective. The good news is that if we are dealing with our children (or students) according to God’s ways, the most difficult ones often become the ones who make the biggest positive mark on the world later in life. Keep the big picture in mind!
  • Finally, we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s children, no matter our age. (1 John 3:2) As His children, we are loved far beyond what our minds can grasp. You are a blessing, a wonder, a valuable individual with immense potential. You, my friends, are “precious in His sight”!

Keep Smiling!