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…

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!

Can We? Part 2 – Telling the Truth

Thanks for coming back. I hope that there are a few of you still sticking around after last week  🙂

Today I want to ask a couple more questions that we as Christians (or any ethical and/or religious people, for that matter) need to consider as we go out into the world of politics, patriotism, and public policy.  The questions we’re going to ask ourselves today deal with the issues of honesty and integrity. I hope that even if you don’t completely agree with what I have to say here, you will find some valuable thought to take with you this week.

So here we go:

Can we stop lying to our children by sugarcoating American History?

I love studying history. I love the cause and effect of it all, the subtle connections, the never-ending story it provides. I even love that it has the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wouldn’t want to study history if it were all shiny and happy and victorious, because then it would ring false. We know that our daily lives are a messy mix of good and evil, truth and lies, good guys and villains. How could we expect anything different from history? I don’t just love studying history, I love teaching it, too. Over several years of teaching elementary school, I found that history was about the most fun subject to teach because it lent itself to so many different kinds of teaching and learning. The projects and enrichment activities seemed endless.

But I also found something very frustrating about teaching history, particularly American history, and even more particularly, teaching it from Christian textbooks. When I read about American history in those books, I couldn’t help feeling like we were only supposed to serve up one side of the story. All of these men and women were supposed to have been brave, freed0m-loving, hard-working, God-fearing heroes and heroines. But what of their failings, mistakes, or outright sins? They were not even given a footnote. Here’s what I found, in a nutshell:

  • We were supposed to talk about Christopher Columbus praying on his ships as he sailed to America, but not about the Spanish explorers to the New World killing and enslaving the natives.
  • We should teach about the Puritans coming to America so that they could create a world where people were free to worship God, but not about how they themselves persecuted anyone who did not follow their version of Christianity.
  • Our children should learn about the Founding Fathers seeking American Independence because they loved God and wanted all people to be free from the economic and political tyranny of Great Britain, but they don’t need to know that the American Colonies had a far higher standard of living than any part of Europe in the 18th Century, nor that most of the Founding Fathers were humanists and deists rather than Christians.
  • We should teach them about the great soldiers of the Union Army, who fought the Civil War to free the slaves because that’s what Abraham Lincoln knew God wanted them to do, but not about the real causes for the Civil War or about how very little was actually done to improve the lives of former slaves.
  •  Our children should learn of the courage, determination, and industriousness of the Pioneers who spread our nation westward, but we ought not to mention the countless Native Americans that were killed, oppressed, relocated, lied to, and cheated so that the white settlers from the eastern states could have land to farm and mine.
  • We should praise the heroic way in which America saved the world from dictators, communism and genocide by bailing France and England out during WWI and WWII, but gloss over the many pleas from England during the Great War (WWI) for America’s help that didn’t come until the last year of the war, or the fact that while our soldiers were fighting against the genocide and concentration camps of the Nazis, we were busy rounding up all the Japanese Americans and putting them in internment camps because we couldn’t trust them as a race.

That is just a small sampling of the low points in American history. We, as a nation, have been greedy, violent, racist (to everyone from Native Americans, to African Americans, to Italians, Irish and Jews), and dishonest. That is not to say that we haven’t done some great things over the last 400+ years. We have one of the best constitutions out there. We have unquestionably free and fair elections. There are many good reasons why we have been considered the land of opportunity and the promised land by millions of immigrants. Like I said last week, I am extremely thankful that I get to live in America. I may be saddened or disappointed by some of the things I find in our country’s history, and frankly in some of the things we are doing today, but that does not make me any less thankful.

I think there are two reasons we sugarcoat our history, especially when telling it to children. First, we think that if we were to tell the whole truth, people would start hating America, and we would lose all our precious little patriots. I don’t think this is true. I don’t think that if we tell our children the whole story of America that they will become chain-smoking, nationalized-healthcare-dependent, multilingual expatriates somewhere in Europe. I think they will just have a better understanding of the whole nature of man. If, as George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” then we ought to make sure our children know and remember our whole history so that they can avoid repeating the negative parts of it. But how can they remember something they do not know? Are we condemning our children to repeat the failures of the last several centuries?

The second reason many parents and teachers avoid telling the whole history of America to their children is that they feel that the children aren’t capable of understanding it, or that the truth is too unpleasant for children to hear. I do not think this is true. Children are much wiser than we give them credit for, and much more able to process this sort of information while they are young, because they have less rigid constructs of how the world must be. When you are 7 or 8, you are perfectly willing and able to stretch and change your understanding of the world because that is something that is happening on a regular basis as you grow and learn. What is more, children are better able to absorb the personal aspects of history than most of us adults. Teach a child about the Trail of Tears or the horrible segregation of blacks and whites in the South, and those children will be able to empathize and respond with compassion. Tell an adult (who presumably is unaware of these facts in history) about the same things and they will say, “How sad, how unjust. I’m glad we know better now,” and walk away unchanged.

Children are capable of understanding and hearing unpleasant things without being scarred for life. Perhaps not in gory detail, but certainly they can handle a larger measure of the truth than we think. This is even true of the most seemingly sensitive children. For example, I once had a student who was very intelligent, but also possessed a very vivid imagination. Imaginary frights and foes easily took over her mind, and thus she had a very low tolerance for scary or suspenseful stories. One would expect that she would not be able to handle the more unpleasant aspects of history. However, I found out quickly that she could absorb and understanding things that she knew were true, factual history. If you told her about a dragon coming to burn down the school, she would have nightmares about it. But if you told her that thousands of Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears, she would be able to logically process that into her understanding of American history. Let’s stop insulting our children by telling them half-truths and lies.

There is another reason that we out to change the way we dispense history to our children, and that is the issue of our own credibility.We have a culture, as parents and teachers, of consistently lying to our children. We lie to them about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. We lie to them about how we feel. We lie to them about others. We lie to others in front of them. We have woven this culture of dishonesty so deeply into the framework of our lives that a natural part of growing up is the process of pulling all the lies out so that we can reorganize our worldviews. Sadly, because we distrust so much of what our parents and teachers told us, we pull out even the truth that they did tell us and discard all of it together.

Do you never wonder why so many young adults turn away from the faith they were raised with? Think about it: if you tell me that Santa is real, and then he turns out to be a myth, ditto the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny, how is God, or Jesus Christ, any different? They are all just good stories to get me to behave as a child, but are no longer relevant now that I’m in charge of myself. And why should I believe it just because you told me about it? You also lied about how much you liked Aunt Agnes’ lamb stew and about how “beautiful” your sister’s wedding dress was, because those lies made your life easier. Maybe you lied to me about religion, faith, and salvation because those lies made your life easier. Yes, we may have to be selective about how much detail we share from the more violent parts of our history, but we hurt our children more by lying to them than by telling them the truth.

Can We Stop Using the World’s Ways?

I’m not a big fan of politics. I have an especially hard time reconciling the beliefs of Christians in the political realm with their actions within that realm. This has nothing to do with their particular stands on taxes, abortion, marriage, jobs, trade, or immigration. It also is not because I feel that Christians shouldn’t be involved in government and politics. It’s just that I constantly get the sense that the Christians  (and the moral conservatives of other religions) are denying everything they supposedly stand for by the way they conduct themselves in the public arena.

Let me show you what I’m trying to say. We’ll transfer this concept into the area of evangelism. Suppose a missionary or preacher wanted to bring as many people to God and salvation as possible. Preaching the Gospel wasn’t working as fast as he wanted, the radio spots weren’t getting enough attention, so he decided to try a new tactic. He mailed out flyers stating that he would personally pay the college education for the children of anyone who accepted Jesus (even though he couldn’t possibly deliver on that promise). He sent out emails to his faithful members, emails full of libelous and scandalous “facts” about the other ministers in town (not a bit of which was true; but his faithful flock passed these “facts” along to everyone on their mailing lists). And how did he pay for all this? Well, because he was doing “the Lord’s work,” he took all the money that was originally earmarked to build a new food pantry and soup kitchen, and he paid for his campaign of salvation.

What were the results? Many people came to the church, curious and excited about the prospect of something for nothing. They heard the Gospel preached, but that wasn’t what they came for. Very few believed and were saved, and several true believers that had been in the church for years were so disgusted with the preacher that they left for another church. And the food pantry/soup kitchen? It never was built. There wasn’t enough money.

No pastor, evangelist, or Christian who is sincere in his or her beliefs would condone any of what our hypothetical preacher had done. He was deceptive, he started false rumors, and he misused the financial resources of his congregation. The sad thing is, when it comes to politics, we seem to think that these tactics are just fine.

I get a few advertisements each week from political campaigns. They have two messages: 1) The other candidate is ruining your life and everything else in this country, and if he is elected, you can pack your bags for the end of the world. 2) Our candidate will make your life better, will stop all crimes, will make everything you disapprove of illegal, and will vastly improve the economy. Anyone who thinks logically can quickly spot the problems here. First of all, a president cannot do either thing so completely. He cannot ruin everything, nor can he fix everything. Now, that doesn’t mean that I think that each candidate is equal; certainly you will find that one of them has more in common with you and seems more likely to improve things to your liking. Second, there is no way for all of the things about “our candidate” to be true. He can’t eliminate taxes and increase spending. He can’t make more things illegal and lower crime. Use your logic, folks!

I understand that this is marketing, and we humans like to hear the simplest, best-case scenarios. But if the election of our leaders is up to each of us, I’d prefer the “us” to be educated about the facts, not just suckered in by shiny promises and fancy-dancy adverts. If we can’t be trusted to sift out the truth from the lies, why should we have the right to decide the fate of our nation?

Have you ever listened to talk radio, especially political talk radio? Here’s a tip: If you have really, dangerously, low blood pressure, just switch on your local talk station. Within 10 minutes, you’ll be just fine. I confess, I used to listen to these shows, mostly because the only other radio stations my car would pick up played a confusing mix of Justin Bieber, Li’l Wayne, and MercyMe. That’s all one station, folks. You see my dilemma. But then I started listening more closely to what these hosts and their guests were saying, and also how they were saying it. I found four themes. 1) Fear – whatever the “other side” is planning, it is going to result in disaster. Therefore you should side with us. 2) Anger – whatever the “other side” is saying, it is evil, it’s a lie, they’re just doing it to make your life difficult. 3) Tunnel Vision – whatever the “other side” is saying is wrong, because they are saying it. Only our (my) way and our (my) opinion is right. There can be no discussion, no variance. Hold the party line, boys! 4) Hypocrisy – the “other side” is always lying, stretching the truth, drumming up negative sentiments, fear-mongering, making false promises. Um, and what is it we are doing? Oh, right, just presenting the objective truth so that everyone will know that we are right. I don’t know about you, but to me, those things don’t seem to be the way that Christ or the Apostles changed the hearts and minds of the people in Israel, Rome and Greece.

What about campaign finances? Now, I don’t want to get into an argument here over legislated spending limits or anything official like that which might be on your ballot this year (it will be here in Colorado). That’s not the point. You can hold your own opinion on who should be allowed to spend how much on what parts of a campaign. The laws are not the issue here. What is at issue is how we as individuals choose to use our money. I understand that part of the thinking behind donating to a party or a candidate, whether you donate $25, or $250,000, is that you are helping change the world by getting your candidate elected. To some extent, that is true. But there are two problems with that. First, how much of that money is really necessary? Is a 600 million dollar campaign 10 times as successful as a 60 million dollar campaign? Second, how much is your candidate really going to change things for the better? A few tax dollars here, a few immigrants there, a couple jobs one way or another – unless they are able to do something radical, there is usually only a modest amount of change.

But imagine this with me for a minute. What if the couple that donated a combined $10 million to the Romney Super PAC or the businessmen and entertains who donated a combined $36 million to the Obama Super PAC had instead donated that money to funds that would target homelessness, hunger in the US, education deficits, struggling single mothers, and at-risk teens (all using proven, effective methods). Would that change our country drastically? You bet it would. And yet, if I asked those donors to give even $100,000 to a jobs program for recovering homeless men or for a crisis pregnancy center that finds homes and jobs for teen mothers and connects them with adoptive parents who will care for their babies, they would probably balk.

Again, I don’t think any law is the answer to this. I think that we need to wake up and realize that no candidate, no president is going to be able to make the amount of impact on the issues that matter to us, whatever they may be, that we could make if we took our money power and combined it, large donations and small ones, and put them towards directly affecting the issues. But maybe we do realize it; maybe the saddest thing of all is that we know our money could be more effective somewhere else, but we are too eager for the power and recognition that comes with being a political backer that we just don’t care.

And finally, the one that really just irks me. The one that makes me wish there were a way to ban certain people from using the “forward” button on their email. Yes, you guessed it: the hyper-indignant, oft-forwarded, absolutely-true, must-read-this, ALL-CAPS-SCREAMING email giving you all the facts that you never knew about who “the other guy” really is, and what will really happen to America if “he” and “his cronies” are elected. Would you believe that Barack Obama is a communist, gay, atheist Muslim who was raised by jihadists and is secretly plotting the Arab invasion of American by giving the banks too much power and letting the Mexicans cross the border? It’s all absolutely true, according to Stephanie Van Winkerflump of the American Society for Political Truth. Or so the emails read. I may have condensed a bit. To prove the point, there are photos, emails, voting records, and YouTube videos. (They can’t put it on YouTube if it’s not true, you know.) I mostly have conservative and Republican friends and contacts, so this is the stuff I get. I’m sure if you were more in with the liberal crowd, you would know that Mitt Romney is part of a secret society along with George Bush (either one – pick the one you hate most) which uses baby endangered animals for their ritual sacrifices, he really has 12 wives (he’s a Mormon, after all), he used his tax shelters and businesses to funnel millions of dollars into offshore accounts to help pay for his 12 wives and 37 children, he leaves his (non-hybrid) car idling in the driveway for more than 10 minutes, and there is some possibility that he is actually an android. It’s all absolutely true, because that guy from that TV show that’s on after the one I really like said so. Celebrities wouldn’t lie. That’s why they get to be so famous.

We pass on all this total nonsense because we like the idea that “the other guy” is so awful. It makes our guy look a lot better. Fact is, if we were to get them in a room together without all the political bunk, they’d probably be a lot more similar than they are different. They’d probably even agree, at least in principle, on a lot more things that we think. But we like the world to be black and white because then we don’t have to use our thinking muscles. Well, let me challenge you, all you political-forwarders out there, next time something shows up in your inbox that presents horrifying facts about the opposition or makes dire predictions about the future, do some research before you hit “forward to everyone who’s ever been in my address book”. Check out snopes.com. Do some googling, and make sure you’re not getting your info from someone else who got the same email. Bottom line: if you can’t be sure that every single thing in that email is true, just don’t forward it. If people already have the same views as you, sending them more lies isn’t of any worth, and if they don’t, then it is just plain wrong to try to convince them of your stance by using lies. If “our” position is the right one, then we shouldn’t need made-up “facts” to convince people of it.

 

So what do you think, can we do it?

Biker Chick, or If At First You Don’t Succeed, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Still a little dark...glad I don't have to leave any earlier

I rode my bike to work this morning. It was lovely. It takes about the same amount of time as driving my car – though the fact that going to work is downhill means I get a nice little workout on my way home- and it allows me to turn my focus more toward appreciating the beauty of God’s creation around me (rather than trying to avoid hitting said creation, especially the meandering “we own the road” deer that seem to outnumber the human residents of this town). If you had known me as a child, this would be a shocking revelation. Me? On a bike? Without needing medical attention? Not possible.

The Bike and I, a play in 3 acts

Who doesn't want handlebar streamers?

You see, I have always had a love-hate relationship with that two-wheeled monster, the bicycle. My first bike was a fantastic creation with purple wheels, neon stickers and colorful handlebar streamers. But it was not the pink bike I had clearly specified on my list for Santa. Eventually we made up, and I learned to like my bike, especially when I discovered that I could leave purple skid marks on the sidewalk. It seemed like the bike and me might be a match made in heaven after all. We did have our little squabbles, like the time I tried to go all Evel Knievel and ride my down the hill from the front yard to the back. The boys next door did it all the time, and it looked so cool. My first grade understanding of physics wasn’t all that great, and I neglected to notice the fact that our side of the hill was signifcantly steeper than the neighbors’. Needless to say, It was a good thing my mom insisted on me wearing my very uncool helmet, because otherwise I would have several nifty scars on my forehead, and probably some serious brain damage. But in general, the bike and I got along well, and I even got to ditch the training wheels. I was well on my way to the Tour de France. Or at least the Tour de Block.

It didn't look exactly like this, but it seemed about this intimidating

A couple of years later, I got a “big-girl” bike. A purple and hot pink mountain bike. It was totally rad, to use a phrase of the times. I rode it a grand total of about 10 times before it tried to kill me. I was trying to steer, really I was, but there was an irresistible magnetic force to the rolls of discarded carpet in the church parking lot where I practiced my fancy riding. I had always dreamed of flying, but that wasn’t quite how I imagined it. Mercifully, the bike was stolen during a move later that year. And there, with my narrow escape from death-by-demon-bike, my riding career was apparently over. Once in a while I would be at a friend’s house, and would end up borrowing their brother’s bike to try to ride to the 7-11 for a slurpee, but I pretty much thought I was going to die each time. I developed a type of sour grapes philosophy about biking, deciding that it was a dumb way to get around, only slightly better than running (both of which I knew should never be done for fun).

Shade is definitely a good thing when riding in the East

Fast forward about 15 years. While living out East, we discovered a beautiful trail through the woods not far from our house. It was great for walking or jogging (for others to jog, not me!). On a trip back to our hometown, we retrieved our bikes from our respective parents, and came home to ride the trail. It seemed like a good way to spend time together and get some much needed exercise as well. My first time on the bike, I managed to get about 100 yards before I realized that I needed about 30 feet to go around other people on the trail, and that trying to ride over the bridge across the river was like trying to ride through a herd of longhorns in a cattle chute. But my sweet husband was encouraging, and I kept practicing. Later that weekend, we decided we would ride our bikes down to the cute little island in the middle of the river. We got about a quarter of the way there when my bike went off the edge of the pavement, and in trying to correct my path, I ended up flipping my bike over and landing in a mangled mess. No permanent damage was done to the bike or to me, but I had a sore ankle and a nice bruise on my knee for several days. And yet, I didn’t give up. It’s sad to say as a grown woman, but I was really excited the first time I made a 5 mile roundtrip without a) falling over or b) having a heart attack.

In Which I Move to Hippie-land and Become a Biker

My beautiful trail

Not too long after that, we decided to move ourselves West, to a beautiful small town that is incredibly bike-friendly. There are trails all over the place, and in spite of being in the mountains, the town is really pretty level. Actually, bike-friendly is an understatement. Every shop downtown has a bike rack out front, it’s not surprising to see several children or small dogs in trailers behind bikes, and even tiny children are seen riding their bikes to school each day. Bike-crazed is a more appropriate term.  I started researching commuting and grocery shopping by bike, and got really, really excited. When we were house-hunting, one of the requirements was that it be close enough to ride our bikes downtown for events and shopping. When we finally found a house, it was not only close enough to downtown to bike everywhere, but it was also only about 100 yards from the entrance to the main bike/hike path through town. It was just over a mile from work, and a mile and a half from the grocery store or the main drag downtown. As they extend the trail system, I’ll also be able to ride my bike to Wal-Mart. I love the idea of the bicycle trifecta – green transportation, money saved on gas, and exercise without adding much time to my schedule.

Pride Goeth Before a Fall…

All ready to go...

And so, just days into the school year, I decided I would ride my bike to work for the very first time. I had my brand new basket on the front holding my lunch and purse so charmingly. I left plenty early so that I would have time to enjoy the scenery. I kissed my sweetie goodbye and pedaled off down the street, so proud of myself. I turned onto the bike trail, reached up to adjust my helmet, and then everything went wrong. Apparently the adorableness of my basket had thrown the balance off, and when I tried to single-hand it, I sent myself skidding off the edge of the trail. As any physicist will tell you, inertia is an absolute bear. The bike went sideways, and I went down and forward. I landed in the gravel and prickly grass at the edge of the trail, immensely thankful that there was no one around to witness my divinely appointed comeuppance.

One of two crash sites

I picked the gravel out of my palms, dusted off my khakis and beige sweater as best I could, and got back on the horse…er, bike.  “I can do this,” I thought, with only the slightest of tears of pain and embarrassment welling in my eyes. I continued on bravely. “Woohoo! I have conquered the bike…yeah!” went through my mind as I turned the corner to the street my school is on, followed shortly by, “Uh-oh…you’ve got to be kidding me!” as the gravel shoulder of the road reduced the coefficient of friction that had been holding my bike upright to nil and I crashed, yet again. I picked myself up quickly, lest a passing motorist (heaven forbid a parent or student) see me in my shame. Now feeling summarily reduced from my normal 5-foot-11 stature to about 3-foot-6, I pedaled very, very carefully the last tenth of a mile to school. Somehow I managed to make it on time and without severely noticeable injuries to my person or my wardrobe.

Safely parked at school

I was left with a healthy fear of the road and a bruise the size of a grapefruit on my leg, which lasted for a good few weeks. My shiny new basket still fit on the front of my bike, but had acquired a peculiar crooked tilt. I also had the pleasure of going back over the entire trail searching for my cell phone which had made a McQueen-esque escape from said basket. In all, though, there was no lasting damage, if you don’t count the basket’s re-alignment.

The Moral of the Story

Lesson learned, I was very cautious as I biked to work over the next several days. I felt quite accomplished when I was able to ride home from Safeway with a full basket and a bag of groceries to boot. My dear and I began making a habit of biking to the farmer’s market each Saturday morning, and quickly realized that we were going to need more baskets and racks if we were going to continue bringing nature’s bounty home each week. Just as I had planned, we were spending time together, getting things done and moving our bodies into a much greater state of health.

Who wouldn't want to ride here?

One day, I realized that I didn’t think biking for fun or for transportation was so dumb, like I had when I was a kid. Not only was it acceptable, it was something I really enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those die-hards that I see here biking up mountain passes in the snow. I still hold on to my vestigial laziness and comfort-seeking behaviors. I’ll ride to work as long as it’s not actively snowing or raining, the temperature is above 20 degrees and the wind is under 30 mph (which can sometimes be an issue here!). I feel stronger and healthier each day that I ride, and I also feel something else – a sense of accomplishment. I had failed and failed, and finally I had succeeded.

When we fail at something, especially early on in the process, it is easy to convince ourselves that we just don’t have what it takes. We deceive ourselves and give up because we don’t want to fail again. Isn’t that the worst kind of pride? We can’t bear the thought of being a failure, so we refuse to fail. If only someone could show us all the wonderful things we are missing by not adjusting our methods and trying again. I imagine that seeing those possibilities laid out before us would revolutionize our way of thinking about life. Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “A righteous person falls seven times, and rises again…” If we give up the first time we fall, we are not exploring the full potential that God has created us for. Will the falling still hurt? Well, sure it will. Will we run up against things that are really difficult? Definitely – that’s a part of life. But if God calls us to do something, then nothing can stop us. Please don’t think that this means that anyone can do anything just because he or she wants to. Not everything is good for us, or part of God’s plan for us. Sometimes we will reach a point where we are right to give up and try something else. But that point is never after the first fall. God is reaching out His hand to help you back up. Will you take it, and try again?

May your heart be glad!

A Serious Heart Condition

Welcome back. I hope that you have had a restful (or at least joyful) weekend. We’ve been fighting several dread diseases around here, so it was good to take a break, though I have missed you all.

Alright, I have a bit of a confession to make. My heart was not particularly glad for much of this past week. I could make some excuses: sick students, lack of sleep, lots to do, blah, blah, blah. Or it could be the time of the year. We’re a couple of weeks out from spring break at school, which means we are in a time of meltdowns for everyone, teachers and students alike. It’s like lap 402 at Daytona, week 37 in a pregnancy, or mile 24 of a marathon; you’re bored, tired and ready to be done, but you can’t give up now because it would make all the struggle thus far absolutely worthless. It can be hard to find joy when you’re in one of those seasons. The weariness can cast a shadow over all the great things that are in your life.

If I am honest as I look back on my week, there were several heart-gladdening things – the afternoon bike ride with my husband, the 2 nights of fabulous sleep, the evening spent enjoying the company of friends – and yet, I woke up Friday with clouds forming right over my head. I was like a walking thunderstorm. Husband not paying enough attention to me? Bang! Lightning bolt! A 6-year-old not displaying as much sense and maturity as I would like? Pow! Another bolt! Stubborn student? Crash! The storm is in full force now! One mildly critical comment? Crack! Another day destroyed.

But then, in a completely unexpected way, which I didn’t quite grasp at the moment, God taught me a really important lesson. What was the means of this great teaching moment? A playground merry-go-round and a handful of squealing little kids. Usually, I’m just an observer at recess. Especially on days when I’m not in the best of moods. But for some reason, I decided to give into the kiddos’ pleas for me to push the merry-go-round.  And then, in a real moment of spontaneity, I jumped on and joined them in the dizzy-fest. They were thrilled and giggling, and I laughed like I had not laughed in a long time. it was the silliest thing I had done in weeks. I was also incredibly joyful.

And here is what that ride on a merry-go-round taught me: If you are going to have a glad heart, you simply cannot take yourself too seriously. I realized that those moments when I was the most cranky or downright angry were the moments when I was so sure of my own importance, wrongly believing that I was the most important person in my world, that it was only me who could be counted on to make my students who they need to be, that I was too good to be worthy of any suggestions for improvement. The times over the whole week when I was happiest were when I was focused on others, when I completely abandoned any thought of my own image or importance.

So what about you? Have you been taking yourself too seriously lately? How has it affected the joy level of your spirit? Let me challenge you this week to make a point of taking yourself less seriously. If you want extra credit, here is your assignment: Do something this week that is completely silly and lacking in dignity. If you need some help, I would suggest you find your nearest and dearest 5- or 6-year-old; I am sure they can give you a few good pointers!

May your heart be glad (and just a little silly)