Welcome to my musings...
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
If you know me, you know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. I want to celebrate birthdays on the exact day. I want to bake the same kinds of cookies every Christmas. I want to have special activities that we participate in as a family that don’t vary much from year to year. Each of the traditions that we hold for Christmas have been lovingly and carefully chosen, some continuing from my childhood and some added as we became parents with children of our own. All of them mean something to me, from the most insignificant to the most important. Christmas Eve at our house is filled with tradition…and that is probably why it is my favorite day of the year.
Christmas Eve at our house starts with a smorgasbord of appetizer-type foods, and lots and lots of cookies. This tradition came from my grandparents, who celebrated their wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve by fixing a big spread of such foods, and inviting their dearest friends and family. Growing up, we did this in our home, even in the years we couldn’t travel to be with my beloved grandparents. My children now expect this, and talk for weeks of the upcoming foods (most of which are enjoyed only at Christmas). It’s not fancy, but it’s full of memories and loving preparation. As my grandparents did, we often invite other people to join us, usually people who need a place to feel at home for the holidays, or are feeling alone.
We continue with the reading of the birth of Jesus, often acted out by our children in full costume (dish towels make great shepherd headpieces!). We sing carols, we light our final Advent candle, and we think about the greatest gift ever given. We celebrate the baby, sent to Earth for us, and we pray for His return.
Our favorite tradition is how we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Every year, we each decide what gift we personally will give to Jesus for the coming year. It might be something we want to do for Jesus, or something we want to change for Him. Even the youngest child in our family will think of something they can give to Jesus, such as sharing their toys with their siblings. We then write this gift on a card and wrap them in a box with a big bow and place it under the tree. Every Christmas Eve, we open the box from the year before and share what our gift was and how God used it in the past year. Then we place our new gift in the box and tie it up once more. Each person is then given a helium-filled balloon and a magic marker, to decorate with symbols or to write something to represent the gift we have chosen. When we are all finished, we go outside underneath the stars, sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus” and release our balloons to heaven. I’m sure our neighbors have often thought we were crazy, but we don’t care--we are celebrating our Lord. And what could be a better Christmas present than that?
Feel free to leave a comment sharing your family's favorite Christmas tradition...
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
In the midst of the pain, I think of Christmas. I think of the agony God must have suffered when He decided to send His beloved, only Son down to earth to save a people who would mock him, revile him, crucify him. While the angels were rejoicing at Jesus’ birth, while the shepherds were overcome with joy at the good news, while the wise men journeyed many miles to find this special baby, God was weeping. He knew very well what would become of His precious Son. He knew we would reject him, beat him, and hang him on a cross. He knew there would be a time of separation, followed by a sweet reunion in heaven.
Paul will soon be with his Lord. He will be greeted with joy and with love by the Father who created him and has walked with him through this terrible suffering. Paul will cast off his wheelchair, his pain and his sorrow and walk beside Jesus on streets of gold. He will, at long last, be where he belongs. He will celebrate this Christmas, for the first time, with the One who made it all possible. While we are weeping, and mourning for his loss, he will be experiencing things we can only imagine. While we are celebrating Christmas and longing for the return of Jesus, Paul will be celebrating Christmas with Jesus. And some day, we will get to be there, too, and Paul will be waiting to welcome us home.
I don’t know why terrible things like ALS have to happen, especially to good people like my friend, but I do know that God isn’t absent in all this. He knows our pain, because He experienced it, too, voluntarily. He did this so we could have a home in heaven with him, so we could have peace, and hope, and joy. He is not absent in my friend’s life; He is there with her, sustaining her every day, giving her the strength to face each day and its challenges. He is there, holding her six children in the palm of His hand, storing up every tear that they cry and promising to be their Father. And He will be there, waiting to welcome Paul home as he breathes his last breath. Merry Christmas, Paul…it’s going to be your first REAL Christmas.
“First time to hear the angels sing,
Glory Hallelujah to the Risen King,
and a holy night is what this is,
for this is my first Christmas…”
from “My First Christmas” words and music by Carolyn Arends (c.2000).
A few hours ago, Paul was taken to heaven to meet his Saviour. For him, there is no more suffering or pain or sickness. Please pray for his family during this painful time.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I started my shopping early this year and have finished up well before Christmas. As I went out today to buy my last gifts, I remembered why I like to shop early—there were people everywhere, grabbing and buying and loudly debating if they had to purchase a gift for so-and-so, and if so, what should that gift be. I heard lots of “oughts” and “shoulds” and saw very little joy on people’s faces as they contemplated those people who should mean the most to them. I heard people worrying about money, and how they would pay for what they were purchasing. I saw teenagers spending hundreds of dollars…on themselves, and rejoicing over the great “stuff” they were getting. I saw men buying bigger and better light displays, presumably to one-up the neighbors. I saw cranky children, pointing and whining, “I want THAT for Christmas”.
Truly, it made me sad. I thought to myself, “This is not Christmas.” I don’t believe that Christmas will be found in crowded shopping malls, busy concerts or elaborate light displays. I don’t believe it will be found in fulfilled wish lists, overstuffed plates or hectic parties. But have I seen Christmas this year? Oh yes, indeed I have.
I saw Christmas today as I went to visit my friend who is patiently caring for her husband, who is suffering with ALS. She cares for all his physical needs (which are not insignificant, being that he is on a ventilator now), patiently sits with him and deciphers his difficult speech, sleeps and eats little, and still finds time and energy to love on her six children.
I saw Christmas the other day when I was listening in on my children playing upstairs and heard my youngest ask her older brother if she could borrow one of his video games. The usual reply is “not right now”, and it caught my ear when I heard, “of course you can…you can use them anytime you want.” My heart smiled as I witnessed the spirit of Christmas invading my home.
I see Christmas every night as my family gathers around our Advent wreath to spend a few moments reflecting on the gift given to us at Christmas by our Heavenly Father. I see it in the wonder on my children’s faces, the sweetness of their prayers, the joy in my heart as we read the Scriptures foretelling Jesus’ birth.
Christmas is found in the most unlikely places. It won’t be found in frenzied shopping malls, harried schedules and raucous parties. It is found in the humblest of circumstances, the most hopeless of situations, and the darkest of nights. Where pain and suffering live, that is where Christmas can be found. Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless and healing to the hurting. He is right there beside my friend, holding her hand as she holds her husband’s. He is with my children as they learn about the true meaning of Christmas and as their hearts fill with anticipation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. He is with each of us, no matter our circumstances, as we enter this most holy of seasons…we only have to slow down, open our hearts and witness the miracle of Christmas.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Do you ever look at others and think, “Well, sure, they can feel all those Christmasy things like peace and joy, but they don’t have MY life. I don’t have time to breathe, let alone contemplate the deep meaning of Christmas!” Or, “My life feels so hopeless right now, how could I possibly feel joy or peace?” If you are feeling any of these things this year, then I’m here to tell you that Christmas is for you.
Think about the Jews living in Jerusalem or Bethlehem 2000 years ago. They were living under Roman rule, subject to unjust laws and taxes and oppression. They were desperately looking for a Messiah to come and rescue them. They were also living in a period of silence. It had been 400 years since a prophet had spoken to them, telling them of a long-anticipated Saviour. Yet still they hoped, believing He would someday come and rescue them. They were expecting a king to come and save them from their misery and hopelessness. They held on to the words of their prophets and put their hope in a Messiah that they earnestly prayed would come soon.
Then one night, a tiny baby is born in the city of Bethlehem, fulfilling all those prophecies of long ago. Into the midst of their darkness came a bright light, keeping God’s promise to His people. Although their Messiah did not come in the way they thought he should (as a conquering king), God fulfilled all their hopes through this baby who would grow up to die on a cross for their sins, bringing them the hope of forgiveness and eternal life.
This baby not only brought the people hope, but joy. In Luke chapter 1, an angel comes to a young woman named Mary, telling her that she will bear a child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. She is an unmarried woman, betrothed to a man named Joseph. In those times, unmarried women who became pregnant were subject to being stoned to death for their sin. How do you think Mary felt? She had to have been incredibly frightened! She was very young, yet she responded with incredible faith and trust in her God, replying with some of the most beautiful words in Scripture, “I am the Lord's servant.” When she visits her relative, Elizabeth, the baby Elizabeth is carrying leaps for joy in her womb at the presence of his Saviour. Mary responds with an amazing song of praise and trust (Luke 1). Now, I don’t know about you, but I would probably not have responded in this way to the news that I was to bear a child, though a virgin! I think I would have been overcome with anxiety over what my people would do to me or think of me. Yet through all this, God gives Mary peace.
This Christmas, do you need joy, or hope, or peace? The good news is this: Jesus came not only to bring these things to the Jews of long ago, but to you today, in whatever circumstances you are facing. He came to earth as an infant, giving up his rightful place in heaven with His father to come just for YOU. He wants you to come to His stable this Christmas and find him, worship Him and let him give you HOPE of a future in heaven with him. He wants to take your burdens and give you peace in exchange, the kind of peace that makes no sense to us, but is very real indeed. He wants to bring you joy in the midst of difficult circumstances, joy in knowing that you belong to Him and that He loves you beyond measure and that He is coming back to take you home with Him. He wants you to celebrate this Advent season by looking not only to the past and His coming to a stable in Bethlehem, but also to the future, and to long for His coming back and to pray for His return. This year, Christmas is for you.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
So…what is Advent? The word comes from the Latin “Adventus Redemptoris”, which means “the coming of the Saviour”. It is a season of preparation and expectation, waiting for the Birth of Christ and for His return. It is a way to focus our minds and hearts on what Christmas is really all about…not Santa and reindeer and snowmen, but the birth of a tiny baby in Bethlehem who changed the entire world forever. I guarantee it, if you will consider adding the celebration of Advent to your Christmas traditions, you will have a Christmas that is unlike any you have ever experienced--full of true joy and peace in the midst of all the craziness that Christmas can bring.
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas…this year it begins November 30th. We celebrate Advent in our house by using an Advent wreath. The evergreen wreath itself symbolizes eternity (the idea that God is everlasting) and life (a symbol of newness and eternal life). The wreath contains five candles, each one representing something unique. The light of the candles itself symbolizes that Jesus is the light of the world, casting out fear and darkness. The first candle is purple (which represents repentance and longing for Jesus’ birth—it also represents royalty) and is lit on the first Sunday of Advent (11/30). It is called the prophecy candle and represents all of the prophecies in the Old Testament that Jesus fulfilled. The second candle is also purple and is known as the Bethlehem candle, which reminds us that God appeared to us in a humble form, being born in a stable. Bethlehem was located in the territory of one of the least powerful and least important tribes of Israel. This candle is lit on the Second Sunday of Advent. The third candle is rose-colored, and is called the shepherds’ candle. Rose is a symbol of joy and hope that Jesus is coming. The fourth candle is also purple and is called the angel candle. It symbolizes the angels’ peace and the message of good news that they brought, telling of the Saviour’s birth. The fifth candle is white (for purity), and is placed in the center of the wreath. It symbolizes Christ, the heart of Christmas.
The wreath is used by lighting one new candle each Sunday of Advent. The first Sunday (and every night that week), only the prophecy candle is lit. The second Sunday (and each night the second week), both the prophecy and the Bethlehem candles are lit. Each night of the third week (again, starting on Sunday), three candles are lit (prophecy, Bethlehem and shepherd candles). From the fourth Sunday until Christmas Eve, the first four candles are lit (prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherd, and angel candles). On either Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, the final candle (the Jesus candle) is also lit. As more candles are illuminated, we know that the coming of Jesus is getting closer. The anticipation builds as we expectantly watch for our Savior, just like the Jews of long ago. In our family, we usually light the candle(s), read a passage of Scripture (see suggested readings below) or a special Advent devotional book (many are available at your Christian bookstore), sing a carol about Jesus’ birth, and spend some time in prayer. This is a time to be quiet, to be thoughtful, to take a few moments out of our busy lives and focus on the gift of the Saviour, given to us at Christmas. We often dim the lights and make it a very special time of family worship together.
How about giving your family a very special gift for Christmas…make the time to celebrate Advent this year. I promise you, it will be your best Christmas ever.
Suggested Advent Readings:
Sunday, Nov. 30 Isaiah 53; Isaiah 40:1-5
Monday, Dec. 1 Isaiah 52:7-20, Isaiah 40:9-11
Tuesday, Dec. 2 Isaiah 2:1-5
Wednesday, Dec. 3 Isaiah 35:1-10
Thursday, Dec. 4 Jeremiah 33:14-16
Friday, Dec. 5 Psalm 89:1-4
Saturday, Dec. 6 Isaiah 11:1-10
Sunday, Dec. 7 Zechariah 6:12-13
Monday, Dec. 8 Micah 5:2-4
Tuesday, Dec. 9 Malachi 3:1-6
Wednesday, Dec. 10 John 1:1-8
Thursday, Dec. 11 John 1:9-18
Friday, Dec. 12 Mark 1:1-3
Saturday, Dec. 13 Luke 1:5-13
Sunday, Dec. 14 Luke 1:14-17
Monday, Dec. 15 Luke 1:18-25
Tuesday, Dec. 16 Luke 1:39-45
Wednesday, Dec. 17 Luke 1:46-56
Thursday, Dec. 18 Luke 1:57-66
Friday, Dec. 19 Luke 1:67-80
Saturday, Dec. 20 Isaiah 7:10-14
Sunday, Dec. 21 Luke 1:26-35
Monday, Dec. 22 Isaiah 9:2-7
Tuesday, Dec. 23 Matthew 1:18-25
Wednesday, Dec. 24 Luke 2:1-20 (Can now light Jesus candle in center)
Thursday, Dec. 25 Matthew 2:1-2; Luke 2:21-35
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Every Thanksgiving, we go around the table and share what we are thankful for that year. The answers have ranged from big things (we didn’t move to Kansas City, Grandma is now cancer-free) to small things (a new puppy, chocolate) and from serious to light-hearted. There is never a lack of things to be thankful for, even in years that have been difficult. God’s hand in our lives is always evident and our faith is always strengthened by the sharing of these things. This year, I feel overwhelmed by thankfulness…for who God is, and for what He has done.
Here are just a few of my “thank offerings”:
* I am ever so thankful that God IS…and that I am not Him. Life is so complicated and so full of trials, that I am blissfully thankful that I am not in charge. Thank you, Lord, that you are in control, no matter who is elected President or what is the state of our economy.
* I am deeply thankful that this world is not all there is…that Jesus came and died for me, so that I can look forward to a home in heaven with him.
* I am profoundly thankful for my parents and for the loving Christian home they raised my brother and me in. I am grateful for the things they taught me, for introducing me to Jesus, the unfailing love they offered and the legacy of faith they began in our family. I am thankful for the example of a loving, patient mother who understood the importance of motherhood. I am thankful for my dad, who has a heart the size of Texas and would give a perfect stranger the shirt off his back.
* I am incredibly thankful for my wonderful husband and for all he does for our family. I am grateful for how hard he works to provide for us, never complaining, even on difficult days at work. I am thankful for his unending love and faithfulness, for his wonderful sense of humor that keeps me laughing, and for his dedication to our children and our homeschooling. God has given this man so many talents and I am so thankful that I get to walk by his side and watch as God uses him to further His kingdom. After twenty years, he still makes my heart beat faster when our eyes meet across the room.
* I will always be thankful for my three precious children. I will never take them for granted after the months of wondering if God would grant us children at all…I know they are a miraculous gift and I treasure every day as their mother. I am thankful for Molly, and her valiant faith, her determination to follow God’s will for her life. I am thankful for how she is my right hand, helping me with every task. I treasure our late night talks and our Thursday night giggle fests over dinner at Café Mexicali. She takes my breath away when I watch her dance. I am thankful for Noah and his loving heart, which senses his mom’s every emotion. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of raising this remarkable young man who loves God and has big dreams. I am often awestruck at the amazing talents God has given him. I am thankful for Lexi, with her tender heart for both man and animal, and her joyful zest for life. I am grateful for every time she makes me laugh and smile and just enjoy the beauty of the world around me. She makes my heart overflow with joy when I watch her skip into a room, singing a happy tune.
* I am thankful for the church family that God has so graciously provided for us. He led us to just the right place at just the right time when we were hungering for Biblical truth, godly fellowship and a place to serve God together.
Truly, there are so many things to be thankful for this year…I can’t even begin to list them all. On Thursday, as we eat turkey with my brother and his family, my heart will be even more full than my tummy. Thank You, Lord, for all that you have so abundantly provided.
Monday, November 24, 2008
One of our primary goals as parents has been to teach our children to be thankful. We have found that this doesn’t seem to come naturally, and requires some concerted effort in imparting this to our children. It also doesn’t seem to be common in our society. From a very young age, we required our children to express their thanks for even simple things. In a restaurant, we taught them to order their own meals politely and then to say thank you when the waiter delivered their food. I can’t tell you how many times waiters have commented on their manners, which always makes me feel somewhat sad. Shouldn’t this be normal and not exceptional behavior? We have also required our children to write their own thank you notes when they receive a gift. We’ve taught them to express their thanks politely when someone does something kind for them, such as holding a door open or blessing them when they sneeze. Now, this act of being thankful is a habit in their lives and doesn’t require reminding. Being consistent in teaching these things when they were small has reaped a harvest of thankfulness in their lives.
How did we teach these things to our children? Mostly, it involves modeling. If your children observe you being thankful for what you have, they will be thankful, too. If they see you expressing yourself in thankfulness, they will be more likely to do so themselves. Occasionally, though, it has required more extreme measures. Once, when my oldest daughter was in first grade and going through a “grumpy” phase, we tired of her constant negative attitude. We began sending her to the bathroom to sing a few rounds of “This is the day that the Lord has made” (loudly!) until she could come out and be thankful. While, at the time, she thought we were being unjust and ridiculous, she still remembers this form of discipline and now laughs about it. On another occasion, our middle child was going through a phase of his own, being unappreciative and grouchy. We presented him with a new notebook and pencil and called it his “thankful” notebook. Whenever he was struggling with his attitude, we would send him to his room with his notebook to make a list of all the things for which he was thankful. We taught the children to take the words of Philippians 4:8 to heart and to think about things that are lovely and honorable instead of dwelling on what is negative.
As we enter into the celebration of Thanksgiving this week, take a look at your family. Are you living in a state of thankfulness or a constant seeking after more? Take the time to sit down as a family and talk about what God has given you and how you can show your thankfulness. Talk to your kids about what our forefathers endured in order to give them this great country that we have the privilege of living in. And instead of just serving up some turkey and mashed potatoes this Thursday, serve up something life-changing…the practice of thankfulness.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Does this sound like your job? Sometimes, this is what motherhood can feel like…an endless stream of chores, expectations and repetition. We feel like the maid, the nurse, the cook, the chauffeur. The repetition of each day’s activities can be tiresome, the sheer amount of work to be done overwhelming. Have you ever felt like this?
If this is your view of motherhood, no wonder you aren’t enjoying your role! Who in their right mind would apply for the position above?! Any woman would run as fast and as far as she could to avoid a job such as this. Yet this is what our world has convinced us that motherhood entails…being everybody’s unappreciated slave, with no benefits. Have you bought into this lie? Do you think that what you do is an endless litany of chores and housework with little reward, other than to fall into bed at night exhausted and then get up and start all over tomorrow? If so, bless your heart, no wonder you’re exhausted and joyless.
So, I’d like to tell you a secret…are you ready? It’s all in how you look at it. What?? Satan has stolen from us something beautiful and replaced it with something that seems ugly and unappealing. How has he done this? By convincing us that the description above is what choosing to be a mother entails. He has taken what God meant to be a noble and holy calling, and convinced us that it is unworthy of our talents. So, how do we combat this? By embracing what our Creator intended for us as mothers and by changing our vision of motherhood. When we step back and look at our role with a different perspective (an eternal one), suddenly the picture changes. When we realize the significance of what we are doing every day (impacting little hearts for God), we also realize that the things we are doing (even the seemingly endless tasks) have an eternal result, not just a temporary one. You are not just feeding those hungry mouths every day, you are feeding their spirits, teaching them to love and honor the One who made them. You are not just clothing them with jeans and sneakers, but with spiritual armor to fight the battle for their very souls. You aren’t just preparing them for pre-school, or high school, or adulthood, but for an eternity in heaven with the Lord of the universe. You’re shaping their hearts, their worldview, and their futures. Wow…who knew peanut butter and Pull-ups had such eternal significance?
So, how about this one…would you apply for this position?
WANTED: Loving, patient mother to nurture tiny souls for the Creator of the Universe. Opportunity to impact the future of the world by raising little ones to love Him with all their hearts and souls. Involves much heavy work and tears and prayer, but the rewards are beyond all that you can imagine. You will never be alone in this task, manager available 24/7 to offer support and encouragement. Instructions provided, with impressive results from faithful application of these principles. Rewards are diverse, ranging from the sweetest hugs and kisses ever known to an eternal reward of life in my palace (with all your loved ones) upon completion of your duties. Prerequisites include a humble heart and a willing spirit…this, too, can be provided upon request. Apply now for the most amazing experience of your life.
Which job would you like to accept? It’s up to you…it’s all in how you look at it.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Have you ever noticed that girls in today’s world rarely answer “Mommy” when asked what they would like to be when they grow up? This saddens me…we’ve lost the vision of motherhood as being a wonderful and godly choice of careers. Our little girls are taught from the cradle that they can be anything they want to be…and this is true. But what’s wrong with teaching them that motherhood is a beautiful choice as well? I have to confess, as my girls get older, I am much less concerned with what job they choose to do and much more concerned that they catch a vision for raising godly children. My husband and I not only have a vision for what we want our children to be, but what we hope and desire for our grandchildren. We believe the Bible teaches us to have a multi-generational vision for our family. Raising a godly family goes way beyond just managing to raise our kids to leave the nest at 18 and fend for themselves. It is about creating a legacy of faith for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, and so on.
This must include teaching our daughters to respect and aspire to the role of motherhood. Am I saying that girls can’t be doctors or lawyers or teachers, or whatever else they choose? Of course not, but I am saying that if we don’t teach our daughters that motherhood is a divine calling, a beautiful choice worthy of their talents, then we will fail in our attempts to further the Christian family in our society. When I was in high school, I aspired to be a physician. I won several scholarships and intended to begin a course of pre-med in college after graduation. But, during my senior year, God convicted me that what I really wanted to be was a mother. I was also convinced that I couldn’t “have it all” and be the kind of mother I wanted to be. So, I walked into my guidance counselor’s office, told her my decision, and switched my future major to something else. She looked at me in disbelief, shook her head and with exasperation in her voice (and not a little anger), told me I was “stupid”. She informed me that I was wasting my brain and would regret it. Was she right? Do I now regret giving up medical school for staying home and raising and teaching my children? Absolutely not. I am convinced that I chose what was best and have not regretted it one day since. Our world is teaching our precious daughters that motherhood is something you “settle for”, not aspire to. We must counter this teaching with God’s truth…that motherhood is precious in His sight, and is a very worthy calling.
I am convicted, however, that we often fail in passing on this vision by the example that we set for our children. Do they see us enjoying motherhood or just grumbling about the next load of laundry or meal to be cooked? Do they observe us joyfully serving our families in love, or putting on the martyr act? Are we making motherhood something appealing and rewarding, or does it look to them like a drudgery? I cringe inside when one of my children says to me, “I’m sorry, Mom, that you have to work so hard” or “We’re sure a lot of trouble, aren’t we?” My heart melts as I realize that I’ve made them feel like a burden, instead of a joy.
The next time you pass a mirror, take a look at your face…what are you showing your children? Is the face looking back at you one that is delighting in the role God has given you or is it a stressed-out, unhappy visage? What you see in the mirror is the image of motherhood your children are forming…will they want to follow in your footsteps?
Tonight, on the way to church, I quizzed my youngest about what she wants to be when she grows up. She answered, “I want to be a ballerina…or a nurse.” After a moment of thinking, she added, “No, what I really want to be is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children.” I smiled and enjoyed the warm and fuzzy moment…until my oldest daughter spoke up. “Me, too, Mom, only I want to be a stay-at-home mom who brings my children to you to homeschool.” I think she was joking…
Saturday, November 8, 2008
A couple of weeks later, after returning from Hawaii, I took a pregnancy test and was astounded to confirm that Alan was correct…our third child was due in November of that year. It was such a joy to know that God had blessed us with this child so soon after our decision to just trust him for a third child instead of pursue the medical options again. We quickly settled on the name Lexi (Alexandra for her “full” name) and chose “Elise” for her middle name as a testimony to what God had done (it means “My God is bountiful”). She was born in the middle of the night with her grandma and grandpa and great-grandma in attendance. Lexi was a tiny little thing (6 lb. 15 oz) and was easygoing from the moment she was born. She rarely cried, loved people and smiled all day long.
On our second day in the hospital, the pediatrician came to me and sat down beside my bed. He took my remote and turned off the TV (I remember I was watching “The Waltons” while I ate my dinner) and very reluctantly told me that he had discovered that Lexi had a hole in her heart. He was so apologetic, saying that he didn’t know how he could have missed it on her ultrasound. I remember replying that I was glad he had missed it…they couldn’t have done anything about it, and it would have ruined a very joyful pregnancy with worry. He told me that it was a very large hole, and in a bad place. It was possible, he said, for it to heal on its own, but very unlikely. This meant that our precious, tiny baby would likely require open heart surgery sometime before her 2nd birthday. I looked at her, sleeping peacefully in her bassinette and thought, “How can anything be wrong with her? She’s perfect!” The doctor left with these words, “I know you’re a Christian…you need to get all your friends praying.” So we did.
Two months later, we were scheduled to see the pediatric cardiologist from Denver. Our doctor had been monitoring Lexi’s progress weekly, checking her weight to see if she was thriving. Indeed, she was…she gained weight rapidly, ate well and seemed healthy. The cardiologist listened to her heart, abruptly pulled off his stethoscope and said somewhat gruffly, “What are you people doing here?” I patiently explained her condition and the location and size of the hole. He looked at me like I was stupid and replied, “There’s nothing wrong with this baby…she’s just fine.” I looked to our doctor for confirmation, who donned the stethoscope and confirmed the specialist’s diagnosis. He smiled and nodded and said that the hole in Lexi’s heart was healed. The specialist said that there was no explanation, that sometimes this just happened. We looked at our doctor, who had told us to pray, and smiled. We all knew exactly what the explanation was for Lexi’s healing.
Now that our little bundle of sunshine is nine, you can see that there is nothing wrong with her perfect little heart. She’s a joy, an energetic pixie full of life. She loves to dance (jazz is her favorite), read books, use her vivid imagination in many ways and most of all, to talk. Her quick mind and even quicker wit keep us entertained daily. Her love for God and for other people is something that brings us joy as we watch her mature in her faith. Her sense of humor is exactly what our family needed, as the rest of us tend to take life too seriously. She is a delight and a wonder, a colorful butterfly that flits from room to room, bringing joy into this mom’s life. Thank you, Lord, for your bountiful gift…my daughter, Lexi. Happy birthday, sweetheart…your mommy loves you very much.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
So, where do we go from here? As Christians in this country, we have suffered a resounding defeat. It feels like the end of the world, or at least the beginning of the end. The future seems bleak, and more than a little scary. It feels as if God has removed His hand of blessing and turned us over to those who do not fear Him. So, how should we respond? The answer is clear: we should respond in trust, and in faith, and in repentance. We should cling to the knowledge that God is still in control, and that we are safe in His keeping. Throughout the Old Testament, God used hard times to draw His people back into relationship with Him. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We need to repent—for our political apathy, for standing by and doing nothing while millions of babies are aborted every year, for not sharing the hope that we have with others, and for becoming so numb to the world that we live in that we don’t even realize what we’ve lost. God is calling us to rise up, to be silent no more. He is calling us to teach our children to be passionate followers of His, to be separate from the world and to never turn a blind eye to sin. He is calling us to trust Him, even when things look bleak. He is calling us to be the champion of the unborn, the protector of what is sacred and the voice of truth in a world that is drowning in lies.
We need to call on the name of the Lord and beg Him to forgive us. America is guilty of so many abominations. We can never be the country we were at its inception until we return to the foundation America was built upon…the Sovereignty of God. And if we do so, God promises to forgive us and to heal our land. We could, once again, be the great God-fearing country that our forefathers bequeathed to us. So, please, don’t wallow in discouragement and despair. Look at this as a new beginning, a revival of those whose hearts are committed to the Lord. Let’s be on our knees, praying for a new spirit to invade our country…one of whole-hearted devotion to God. And our heartfelt plea will be this…May God bless the United States of America.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
As a mother, how should we use this election time to teach our children? First of all, it’s a great opportunity to teach our children about the electoral process. As they ask questions, share with them how our country chooses a president. Teach them how important it is to choose carefully whom they will vote for, and especially to choose someone who will follow God’s leading in governing our country. Teach them to pray for the leaders of our country, and to pray for the outcome of the election. Consider attending a political rally or volunteering some time for a local candidate. Giving your children an understanding of the process and a respect for the privilege of voting will help them to be ready to assume this responsibility when they turn eighteen.
Even more important than teaching our children the mechanics of elections is to be sensitive to their fears. As children get older, they will sense the anxiety felt by their parents as the election nears. Hearing adults debate the candidates endlessly, and hearing each side bash the other in political attack ads can be very stressful for children (and for me, too!). This year, especially, the candidates are so diametrically opposed in their moral values that the stress is very real. During this time, we have an opportunity to teach our children something far more important than how the government works. We have the priceless chance to teach our children that God, and only God, is in control, no matter what the outcome of the election.
In our family lately, we’ve talked a lot about what God could be doing in this election. In reading the Old Testament, it is painfully obvious that the Israelites only turned back to God in times of suffering. When things were going well, they would merrily make their own way, away from God. Many, many times, God handed the nation of Israel over to a more powerful enemy to draw their hearts back to His. In looking around at America lately, maybe it is time for Him to do the same to us. If things don’t turn out the way we’d like in this election, we are confident in one thing: God knows what He is doing. If the candidates we favor lose this election, it’s not the end of the world. Romans 13:1 tells us that “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” Help your children to find comfort in that fact…it’s a great lesson in learning to trust Him even when we don’t understand exactly what He is doing. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; he guides it wherever he pleases.” God can use any president, just as he did the wicked kings of the Old Testament, to accomplish His divine purposes.
So, in this time of political uncertainty, do your kids a favor. Set them an example, first of all by exercising your privilege to vote (and by voting for godly candidates), by praying for the leaders of our land and for the election, and, most importantly, by teaching them to trust in God’s sovereign plan for the future of this great land. Let’s raise a new generation of true American patriots, who understand that America was established to be a nation that honors God above all else.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Last week, we took the kids to Disneyland while on our vacation in California. We happily walked up to an attraction that has been at Disneyland as long as I can remember. The Haunted Mansion was decked out in some new displays in honor of the upcoming holiday…Halloween. It was renamed “A Haunted Mansion Holiday” and had a new storyline. While we were waiting in the entryway (which appears to elongate and take you down into the depths of the mansion), a story was told about Halloween colliding with Christmas. It was a “Grinch who stole Christmas” type of story, with a character named “Jack” who came to ruin Christmas. People were laughing and pointing as we traveled through the mansion in “doom buggies” and watching as Christmas packages opened to reveal skulls and other scary fare.
All through the ride, which I’ve previously enjoyed many times (although without the added Halloween twist), I felt a coldness in my spirit. Watching “ghosts” travel around and seeing an animated head purportedly telling the future, I seemed unable to laugh. Looking around at the darkness and the portrayal of a spirit world, it struck me. Here was yet another instance of the world taking something dark and vile and turning it into entertainment for the masses. I could only look around and picture a laughing Satan and his henchmen, rubbing their hands with glee as unsuspecting people were taught to view something scary and evil as light and fluffy entertainment. It felt somehow sinister to me, like there was something roiling just under the surface that no one could see.
In the last couple of years, I’ve come to view Halloween much the same way. In previous years, we participated in Halloween, allowing our children to dress up in costumes and trick-or-treat in the neighborhood, without thinking too much of it. Then a few years ago, a friend gave us a pamphlet to read detailing the origins of this holiday. Halloween has its origins in the religion of Druidism, which is a pagan religion involving worship of evil spirits, particularly those believed to dwell within trees. As we learned more about this, we began to feel more uncomfortable with this holiday and whether or not it was appropriate for Christians. Finally, last year, as a family, we made a joint decision to no longer participate in this event. It gave me much peace to make a break with this tradition, feeling that we could no longer participate in it with a clear conscience. Even though I had previously viewed those who wanted nothing to do with Halloween as “extreme”, I now count myself among their number. The Bible is very clear about our having absolutely nothing to do with the occult (Deuteronomy 18:9-13). How can we claim to be Christians and then participate in a night that glorifies Satan?
In the same way, I’ve noticed that movies or books I enjoyed in the past now leave me with a bad taste in my mouth…particularly if we have chosen to share them with our children. Several times lately, Alan and I have rented a movie that we remembered enjoying as children, only to be appalled at the content when we tried to watch it with our kids. Movies that I remember seeing (sometimes more than once) as a child, and which were billed as family movies, are full of profanity and other unwholesome material. I’ve been surprised several times, as I don’t remember that being true (and I know that my parents were very careful what we watched). Obviously, the movies haven’t changed in the last 30 years, so it must be…me. I guess my ears are more sensitive to the sounds of foul language or the Lord’s name being taken in vain. I find myself more aware of the spiritual content as well, such as my recent experience at Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion”. Maybe you’ll think I’m just turning into an old fuddy-duddy, but I think there’s more to it.
I’ve started to see that we gradually become coated with thick, hardened layers of shell the longer we are exposed to the world. It dulls our senses to what is impure and we are unable to even notice when things are not as they should be. Lately, I feel like God is patiently peeling off those layers, one by one, and leaving my sensitive inner soul exposed to the foulness of the world. In some ways, this is good, as it makes me more aware of the world’s influence on me and on my children. At the same time, though, this is painful, as it makes me feel like a foreigner in my own land…uncomfortable with all that I see around me. Maybe that’s what God is trying to teach me.
For more information about Halloween, please visit Ben Alexander’s website: http://www.espministries.com/topic_halloween.html
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I had forgotten what a great message can be found in this charming movie. I can so identify with Marlin, Nemo’s father. At the beginning of the movie, he is shown to be an overly protective, somewhat neurotic father. He is so afraid of harm coming to his little fish that he prevents Nemo from experiencing much of anything. He is constantly warning Nemo of the dangers to be found in the ocean, and telling him all the things that he can’t do. Nemo finally rebels against this suffocating parenting style, and his rebellion gets him into serious danger. The movie goes on to portray Marlin’s desperate search to save his son and the lessons they both learn during their time apart.
I remember the first day we brought Molly home from the hospital. Alan and I looked at each other with a great deal of fear and trepidation upon realizing that we, alone, were now responsible for this tiny, fragile being. All of a sudden, we were the ones charged with the task of making sure this little person had food, shelter and all the emotional and spiritual nurturing necessary to grow them into a successful adult.
I remember the first time I held my son in my arms as he suffered from a serious asthma attack and as he struggled to breathe. I was filled with terror as he gasped and coughed, feeling helpless to provide his most basic need for oxygen. Many more of these nights occurred before Noah finally began to outgrow his very serious asthma.
I remember when the pediatrician came to me in the hospital and with tears in his eyes told me that my newborn daughter had a serious hole in her heart and would probably require open heart surgery a few months down the road. I looked at her perfect, tiny body and held my hand over her chest, feeling that heart beat and wondering if it would continue.
I once heard motherhood described as living forever with a part of your heart walking around outside of your chest. The fears and anxieties we struggle with as parents can paralyze us. We can be so consumed with the “what ifs” and the frightening possibilities, that we completely miss the joy and excitement of watching our children learn new things and celebrate new experiences. There came a point for me, as a new mother, where I literally fell to my knees and surrendered. I had to let go, and give God my children. They belonged to him anyway, and I had to learn to believe that He loves them best. I had to learn to trust Him with their lives, and with their futures. As hard as it was for me to accept, He loves them even more than I do, and He loves them perfectly. Psalm 112:7 became something to cling to: “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.”
Does this mean I no longer worry about all those horrible things that can happen? Unfortunately, no. Just ask my children…they will probably tell you that I constantly remind them to “lock the door” when I leave, rarely let them go to the restroom alone in a public place, and am frequently heard saying, “Be careful”. It’s an ongoing process, this letting go…and it doesn’t happen easily. But I believe that, ultimately, my children belong to God, and that He has good plans for them and that they are safe in His loving care. So, I’ll try to curb my Marlin tendencies, and give them room to grow…but I will gladly cross the ocean, just as he did, if my little fishies should need me.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
In contrast, we were having a great time. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. The park was uncrowded, since it was a school day (one of the benefits of homeschooling—you can vacation when nobody else does!). Our kids were excited to return to a place they had been previously and enjoyed a great deal. We weren’t on a schedule, and didn’t have any deadlines. My husband was NOT talking on his Blackberry and we felt free from all outside worries and responsibilities. The kids were having fun together, planning which attractions to ride, and which to skip. We felt unhurried and relaxed, just enjoying a day together as a family. At one point, as we were watching the kids ride something together, Alan turned to me and said, “You know, the next time Molly (our oldest) comes here, it could be with her own children.” The thought brought a pain to my heart as I realized how few family vacations we really have left with all five of us. It made me all the more determined to make the most of this trip, and to treasure these moments in my heart’s memory.
Life is so busy, and moves so fast. Sometimes we seem to forget that we really do only have our children for a season, not forever. In the midst of diapers and late-night feedings, it can seem endless. In the whirl of activities when they are older, it seems to slip through our fingertips like a wisp of smoke, gone before we can grasp it. I think Satan’s greatest tool to ruin us as parents is busyness. He distracts us with so much activity (even good ones) that we don’t realize how much time is slipping away from us. All of those important things we need to teach our children, or say to our children, or show our children are forgotten in the daily rush to get to the next soccer game. If he can just keep us busy enough so that we don’t focus on what really matters, he will win our children. And we make it so easy for him…
I challenge you today to look at your family life. When was the last time you just had some fun with your kids? When was the last time you gave your child your full attention as he told you about something that really matters to him? When was the last time you had a night of relaxing together, or playing a board game, or reading a book out loud instead of rushing off to sports or dance or a church activity? Look at your schedule and see if perhaps you need to make some changes. If you feel worn out, frazzled and unhappy, maybe there’s a reason. Make a pledge to take back your schedule and refuse to let the world dictate how you spend your time. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses—prayerfully consider what activities God wants your family to be involved in. Don’t fall for Satan’s lie that you are a bad mother if you don’t give your children all the opportunities that “everyone else” has. I remember facing a lot of criticism from others when my children were little because I refused to put them in preschool. I felt that it was more important for them to be home with me in those few years before they started school (we hadn't yet decided to homeschool them). I can assure you that my children bore no ill effects from the lack of preschool in their lives…in fact, they all learned to read before kindergarten.
Remember, God gave us these children to teach and train, but also to enjoy…are you enjoying yours or just rushing them from one activity to the next? All too soon, they will be grown and will lead busy lives of their own. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very precious time…and now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go have some fun with my kids out in the California sunshine.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
We are surrounded every day by images, music, advertisements and temptations that are the antithesis of the holy life we are supposed to live as Christians. Turn on the TV for just a few minutes and you will be appalled at the immoral messages being conveyed during prime family time. If the shows don’t disgust you, just wait for the commercials! As I was watching one of the few acceptable shows left on TV with my children tonight, we had to loudly cover up a commercial that was definitely inappropriate for little ears (and maybe mine, too!). I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems as if the boundaries are pushed farther and farther from what is pure every year. I remember as a child, my parents were very strict about what we were allowed to see on TV. While all my friends were watching “MASH” and “Three’s Company” and other such sitcoms, we were prohibited. My parents were very vigilant about what went into our minds and hearts, and for that I will be eternally grateful. What scares me is that now those shows would be considered very innocuous and innocent compared to today’s offerings, such as “90210” or “Sex in the City” or “Desperate Housewives”. Looking back, I can see that the darkness has gotten darker…and I fear for our vision as Christians and as parents. My husband and I have discussed how we constantly discover things that are in our worldview (how we perceive the world and right and wrong) that conflict with God’s teachings, yet we were unaware because they were so skillfully and deceptively introduced into our lives.
I fear that we have become numb to what is acceptable and holy in God’s eyes. Are we protecting our children from the darkness, or do we just say, “Well, that’s just how the world is…I can’t do anything about it.” Are we becoming blind to Satan’s tactics to win our children’s hearts? My husband and I have tried valiantly to protect our children from the world’s influence. We carefully monitor the movies, books and entertainment that enter our home. We homeschool our children so we can educate them in a God-honoring environment. We refuse to buy clothing for our children that we deem to be immodest or disrespectful. But is this enough? How do we counter a culture that is saturated with darkness?
There is only one answer...the only thing that drives darkness away is light, and the Bible tells us that Jesus is the light that shines on the “land of the shadow of death” (Isaiah 9:2, Matt. 4:16). It isn’t enough to simply shield our children from the darkness; we must also lead them to the light and teach them how to battle the darkness. As our children have gotten older, we have not just protected them from the world, but taught them how to deal with it. We often will discuss with them what we see or what we read in newspapers and ask them what they think of it and how they think God views it. We look at Scripture together to see what a Biblical worldview looks like and teach them how to deal with temptation and peer pressure. We are not naïve—we know our children will have to face living in the world as adults. We would be doing them an injustice if we simply sheltered them all of their childhood and then turned them loose in the world. Our vision for our kids is bigger than that…we want to raise world-changers, not world-avoiders.
I challenge you to think carefully about what you allow into your home. Take the time to talk to your children about the things that they see and experience and help them to develop eyes that see the world through God’s perspective. Evaluate your own worldview, and make sure it lines up with God’s word. Don’t be surprised if you find things of the world that have permeated your life…you are living in a land of darkness, and spiritual darkness causes spiritual blindness. Ask God to show you anything in your life or in your children’s lives that needs to change, and ask Him for the strength to do so. Decide to stand firm against the culture, even if it leads to judgment or ridicule from others. Don’t be like those fish…wait too long or be too indifferent to the world’s influence, and you, too, will lose your sense of vision.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Throughout my pregnancy with our son, we knew that God had plans for this baby. We had several scares of threatening miscarriage and yet peace prevailed in our hearts. God gave us the strongest sense that everything would be fine, even when it seemed to defy logic. At one point in my pregnancy, my brother put his hand on my burgeoning belly and prayed for this child, voicing his sincere conviction that this child was going to have a special purpose designed by God. A few months into this rollercoaster pregnancy, my husband came to me and said that he knew what our baby’s name was. When he told me, I somewhat doubtfully said, “maybe”. A few days later, standing in line at the pharmacy to get some medication for our older daughter, who was ill, I picked up a baby name book and idly thumbed through it. I turned to the name chosen by my husband and read: “Noah—meaning peace, comfort and rest.” A shiver went up my spine and a thrill through my spirit. “Okay, Lord, I get it. His name is Noah.” My husband and I had often talked about the unusual peace we felt during all of the stress of this uncertain pregnancy. Although we had not been told the sex of this baby, I felt pretty sure at that point that it was indeed a boy…and his name was Noah.
Noah has lived in our house and our hearts for eleven years now, and I am still filled with wonder at God’s hand upon him. He is a special boy, with many talents and a heart full of love for his Creator. He is a talented musician, both on drums and guitar, a gifted actor and a whiz with computers. He is creative, artistic and intelligent. He is sensitive, and reads his mom like a book. He seems to sense whenever I am down, or worried, or sad. He loves to help me with whatever task I am working on, and loves to spend time with his dad. Is he perfect? Of course not…just ask his sisters! But what gives me the most joy is watching his growing love for his Heavenly Father. Three years ago, he gave his life to Jesus and I’ve watched him grow in his Christian walk and learn to share his faith with others. It really doesn’t matter to me whether he grows up to be a famous musician or movie director, or a scientist who cures cancer. It only matters that he stays on the path of truth and never strays from his commitment to Christ. If he accomplishes this task, then the words of Proverbs 23 will hold true for me: “My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad…my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right…The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him.”
Those tiny feet we lovingly stroked are but a distant memory…I can now slip my feet into my son’s shoes to run to the mailbox. He almost reaches my shoulder and his voice no longer sounds like his sisters’ on the phone. He can do so many things, some of them far better than I can. But he is still my little boy, and I will always hold that picture of him in my heart. I know that God has great plans for him, and it thrills me to know that I get to be a part of raising this little boy into a great man of God. So, today, on his eleventh birthday, I will say a prayer, thanking God for letting me be Noah’s mom, and giving me the awesome gift of sharing in his life. Happy birthday, my precious son…your mom loves you very much.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
The play began, and in the first five minutes, my spirits sank. The language in the opening song contained several profanities, the costumes were less than modest and the dancing provocative. As the story progressed, things went from bad to worse. There was more profanity, promiscuity and homosexuality portrayed with each scene. We sank down in our seats and refused to applaud, waiting for the end of the interminable first act so we could pay our bill and escape. As I looked around me, my heart began to ache. The room was full of people laughing and applauding, greeting each new disgusting act with hilarity and approval. In the front row sat a family with a 10-year old girl, celebrating her birthday. I watched as she took in things that were utterly inappropriate for her eyes, and as her parents howled with laughter. A feeling of nausea rose within me, as I realized that we were perhaps the only two people in the entire theater who felt offended by these acts portrayed on the stage. As the first act finally, and thankfully, came to a close, we quickly ate our desserts, paid our bill, and fled. As we walked out into the cool night air, I felt defiled and overcome with sorrow. I thought about Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, and I began to cry as I mourned for my city.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the children present in that theater, and the awful things that had been implanted in their brains and presented as “normal” and acceptable. I thought how they had seen something that God had created to be sacred and beautiful profaned, both by the immoral sex presented and the rampant homosexuality. I looked at my husband and said, “I hate that this is the world we have to raise our children in!” Now, I’m sure that most of the people in the theater tonight were nice people, many of whom were possibly even Christians. Yet, they were so numbed by the world to what is profane, that they laughed at and enjoyed the spectacle, just like anyone else. As far as I know, we were the only ones to leave the theater at intermission…why wasn’t anyone else offended? I’m sure that some would label us old-fashioned or even judgmental for our disgust. Yet, God makes it clear to us that we are called to be holy and set apart and that we are to have nothing to do with the darkness.
Alan and I have commented many times lately that the older we get, the more conservative we get. As our children have gotten older, we are even more concerned with the things they are exposed to and how to counteract the culture. We have less and less desire to be a part of this culture, and more and more to know God and to live within His parameters. We see that this world has caused nothing but pain and sorrow and regret, and that only by shaping our lives to His will can we truly have peace. As we were getting ready to leave our table tonight, we overheard a comment by a lady at the table below us. She said to her companion, “Isn’t it wonderful to have an evening out filled with laughter.” Laughter that stems from polluted thinking isn’t refreshing to the soul…it is like the hysterical giggling of an overtired child which often deteriorates into tears.
It was an eerie feeling tonight…looking around the room at a bunch of people lost in hilarity and feeling like the only sober person in a room full of drunks. I felt as if we were the only ones who could feel the darkness and see that the man behind the curtain was really a horrible and bloodthirsty demon named Satan, instead of a nice, safe, “Wizard of OZ”.
I definitely don’t think we’re in Eden anymore…and I can’t imagine how Jesus must weep over us when he looks down on the moral cesspool we live in, full of people who are selling pieces of their soul for a little entertainment. I am so incredibly weary of having sin shoved down my throat every time I turn around. I am tired of being sold a bill of goods that says that promiscuous sex and homosexual relationships and anything that makes you feel good is okay. I’m tired of seeing children exposed to ugliness and profanity and immersed in darkness instead of light. When will we stand up and say, “Enough!”?
I feel a little like Dorothy, wishing I could tap my heels together and say, “There’s no place like home…” and be transported to heaven, where all is pure and holy, and laughter springs from the joy of being with our Heavenly Father, not from something that leaves us feeling defiled and unclean. Tonight, I am weeping for Fort Collins, and for America, and I am certain that Jesus is weeping with me.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Beauty is my friend, who patiently cares for her husband, who is dying of ALS. It is the pain on her face as she agonizes over wanting him to linger forever, and wanting his suffering to end. Beauty is the love that shines in her eyes as she tends to his physical needs and tries to keep their family functioning.
Beauty is my mother, enduring breast cancer without self-pity. Beauty is her enduring painful recovery from surgery without complaint, then turning around, as soon as she is able, to pass on the kindnesses she’s received to others who are hurting.
It is watching my church family rally around someone who is struggling and meeting the needs of those who are suffering. It is the Sunday school teachers who patiently teach each week, loving the children and teaching them about Jesus. Beauty is watching the faces of those gathered each week to worship together, lifting their hearts and voices in praise to their Creator.
Beauty is the look on my husband’s face as he gazes on our sleeping children. It is the patience as he gently teaches them to play a guitar chord, or change the oil in a car, or to fix a computer. It is the tenderness in his hands as he gathers them close for a moment, to hug, or tickle or tease.
I saw beauty in the lines on my grandmother’s face, earned by years of loving her family and providing for them, no matter what life brought her way. It was in the wrinkles on her hands from decades of hard work, serving those she loved. It was the gray of her hair, witness to the many trials she bore with grace and courage.
Beauty is a young mother, too exhausted to even sleep, yet patiently tending her children with a loving and gentle spirit. It is in a prayer offered up for guidance, feeling overwhelmed and yet determined to be all that her young children need. It is choosing to read one more story, give one more hug, instead of rushing off to fold laundry or wash dishes.
Beauty is my parents, celebrating almost 48 years of marriage, and the spark that still lights up their hearts. It is my father, tenderly caring for his bride when she is healing from surgery. It is my mother, meeting my father’s needs before he is even aware of having them. It is the beauty of commitment promised and honored without flagging.
None of these things would exist without the beauty of the One that surpasses all of these…a God who loves without failing, forgives without limit, and gives grace without recompense. They are a testament of who He is, and how He reaches down to each of us, in tenderness and compassion. So the next time you are overwhelmed with the difficulty of life, open your eyes a little wider and look around you…there is beauty to be found here on earth, in the shadow of heaven.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Most of the time, people were genuinely curious about what our life looked like. I have to say, we received more positive comments than negative, (such as “Wow…that’s great. I wish I could do that.”), and people were usually supportive (“good for you”). Occasionally, however, someone would feel it necessary to give me their very biased opinion on why homeschoolers were ruining the public education system (excuse me?) and berate me soundly for pulling my children out of the government-run schools. I usually tried to move on as quickly as possible, before my temper overcame my Christian charity. Fortunately, those instances were few and far between, and I soon became comfortable going about our business, no matter what time of day it was that we were out in public.
I have found that I genuinely love it when people ask me legitimate questions about homeschooling. There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than mentoring a new homeschooling mother, sharing tips I have learned and helping with curriculum choices. I don’t mind people’s curiosity, either. I know we look different than the average family and that people want to know what we do every day. I love what we do, and am thrilled to share what we’ve learned and how it has dramatically changed our lives. I do have to confess, though, that there are questions that set my teeth on edge.
First, my very least favorite question about homeschooling…”But when do you have time for yourself?” I’d love to just answer with the truth, “Well, I seldom do”, but I wouldn’t want to scare off prospective homeschoolers with the unvarnished truth! The truth is, yes, I’m very busy. If I’m not teaching my kids, I’m grading their work or planning for the next day’s or week’s lessons. If, by chance, I’m caught up on all of that, then there is always laundry to do or bathrooms to clean. But, honestly, so what? We have chosen to home educate our kids because we feel it is what God has called us to do. We think it is best for them and best for our family. How could that possibly compare with time for myself, to scrapbook or go shopping or get my nails done? I love my kids, and I love spending time with them. Sure, there are days when I’d love to just go to the bathroom without hearing, “Mo-o-o-o-m!” outside the door. But God has given me an understanding that the day will come, all too soon, when my job as a mother will be complete. Maybe then, there will be time for things I enjoy doing. But for now, my job is to teach and disciple my children, and I will happily devote myself to that task. Does that make me a saint? Of course not. I confess there are times when I hide in my closet (it’s a BIG closet) to have private phone conversations with my friends, or times when I beg my husband for a few hours off by myself, which he graciously provides. But I refuse to buy into Satan’s lie that I deserve “my time” when God has bountifully provided three beautiful children who need me, and are so much more important than anything else I could choose to do with my time. Because I asked Him for it, He has also given me a true love for homeschooling. It is definitely the hardest task I have ever undertaken, but I truly enjoy both the process and the results I see in our family.
Another question I cringe upon hearing is this: “How can you do that? I could never do that.” My answer to that one is: Yes, you can. God has never asked us to do anything that He is not willing to provide the ability or character to fulfill. If God calls you to homeschool your children, it doesn’t matter if you are a gifted teacher, or extraordinarily patient…He is all of those things and He is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). Don’t miss out on a huge blessing that God could have for your family because of fear or feeling incapable. If God can slay a giant through a little boy named David, surely He can render you capable of teaching your children! After all, public schools have only been around for a couple of hundred years…for centuries before that, parents taught their children at home. I’m sure that all those parents weren’t “natural” homeschoolers!
The one question that is probably the most commonly heard by homeschoolers is this: “But what about socialization?” The definition of socialization is “the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture”. Our answer to this question is simply this: We choose to have our children socialized by us, and by well-chosen companions, not by their peers. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” We have no desire for our children to look like the surrounding culture. Our children have plenty of friends, and are very comfortable spending time with not only their peers, but adults as well.
On the lighter side, here are some questions I have actually been asked:
--“Do you really only have 3 children? I thought all you homeschoolers had 12 children!” (Many homeschoolers do have large families since we view children as a blessing, not a curse—God chose to bless us with three.)
--“Don’t you homeschoolers all grind your own wheat and bake your own bread?” (Nope…whatever wheat bread is on sale is what graces our table.)
--“What went wrong at your house? Your kids are so polite.” (This one left me speechless.)
--“How did your kids get so smart?” (Yes, that one insulted me.)
--“Aren’t you worried that you can’t teach them high school?” (Well, I graduated high school and college with honors, so I must know something! Surely I haven’t forgotten everything I learned, or how to look up what I don’t know.)
So, if you’re curious about homeschooling, please feel free to talk to me. Just, please, keep in mind that we are just like you…trying to do the best we can for the children we love. And, please…don’t ask me when I have time for myself.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In the past, motherhood was something that was revered. In art and literature, the picture of motherhood was something beautiful, something desirable. Children were perceived as a blessing to the family, and as contributors to the family well-being. In paintings, mothers were depicted as almost saintly, often with haloes above their heads. In our modern day society, how do we see mothers portrayed? Think of the last TV show you watched or movie that you saw. Mothers today are often portrayed as worn-out, frazzled and resentful, screaming at their children and complaining about their husbands. They are perceived as “just a mother” instead of a successful career woman. How many times have you heard the term “just a stay-at-home mom”? When I first left my job (as a successful medical sales rep) to stay at home with our first baby, I remember being somewhat embarrassed at my husband’s office parties when asked, “And what do you do?” Somehow, it felt as if I were less worthy if I didn’t have a “real” job. When I replied that I was a mom, the questioner would usually respond with a patronizing, “Ohhh”, and turn quickly to talk to someone else. In spite of the fact that I knew I was where I wanted to be (home with my children), I still felt belittled and looked down on. I came to love the people who would respond, “Oh, good for you.” While I never questioned my decision to stay at home with my children, there were days when I battled the world’s whispers in my mind, telling me I was settling for something less than the best. I could hear the voice of my high-school guidance counselor in my head, telling me I was “stupid” for giving up my dream of medical school because I wanted to someday be a mother (yes, this really happened). Fortunately, I had a strong support network of other mothers who felt God’s call on their hearts to full-time motherhood, as well as the example of my own mother, and quickly learned how to be content at home. Now, after almost 15 years of full-time mothering (and now homeschooling as well), I can honestly say I never feel ashamed when asked what I “do”. I proudly tell them that I am raising and educating my children, and that they are a blessing to me and my husband. What made the difference in my heart and attitude? Easy…it was coming to understand that God’s call to mothers is a divine and noble thing, and that I am not settling, but embracing God’s best for me and my children.
God actually has quite a bit to say in His word about mothering. In Genesis 1:26-28, He tells us that we are made in God’s image, to reflect who He is. He gave us the task of making the earth productive; that also involves raising children who will carry on this task. In the Garden of Eden, God’s design was for men and women to partner and bear children and within the context of that family, learn to bring Him glory on this earth. God views children far differently than our world does today. In Psalm 127, God says that children are a blessing and a reward from Him. He also gives us a comforting picture in Isaiah 40:11 of how He leads us as we nurture our children: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” I love this image of God as our shepherd, gently guiding us as we lead our little lambs.
Scripture clearly shows that God views motherhood as a divine calling, not just something we settle for or are forced into. HE chose YOU to raise your children; it didn’t happen by default, no matter the circumstances of your children’s conceptions or births. Isn’t that humbling? The Creator of the Universe chose YOU and gave you these little hearts to shape and mold to bring Him glory. It didn’t happen by accident. God lovingly created each of your children (Psalm 139) and placed them specifically in your family. Understanding this concept will transform how you view your role as their mother. When you are changing that 20th dirty diaper of the day, or cleaning up spilled Cheerios (again!), or reading “The Cat in the Hat” for the third time in a row, remember this: You haven’t “settled” for a lesser job, you’ve chosen to be obedient to the God of the universe and honor Him with your decision to give your heart and time to your children. Maybe the way you spend your days isn’t glamorous, but it will have eternal ramifications. You are raising the next generation to love the Lord and live for Him…and who knows? Maybe they will be the ones to change the world.
Please understand that I am writing this specifically for stay-at-home moms. I know there are many of you who have chosen (or been forced by circumstances) to work outside the home (and that this can be a sensitive subject). I am not condemning you for that choice. I would not presume to judge you for what God has placed on your heart or to say that He cannot use you in a mighty way in the working world. I am simply trying to encourage those who have chosen to stay at home with their children, and who feel condemned or less worthy because of that choice. No matter what your circumstances, if you are a mother, then your role is a noble one. We are all responsible for raising our children to know and love the Lord, and yet our culture has placed so much false guilt and so many impossible expectations on us that we have lost sight of our primary calling. Next time you are struggling with your role as a mom (whether you are full-time at home or not), remember this: God chose you and He will equip you with what you need to accomplish this daunting task. Will you throw off the world’s teachings and embrace the role that God has given you? Then our tasks will be a joy and not a burden, and our reward will be beyond all imagining, both here and for eternity. After all, God doesn’t see you as “just” a stay-at-home mom, but as someone created in His own image with a noble calling and purpose.
Monday, September 15, 2008
During a recent trip to the grocery store, I had the misfortune of following a mother and her young daughter. The girl was about four years old, and had long figured out who was in charge…and it wasn’t her mother. She whined and manipulated her way down each aisle, begging for desired items and threatening to break into a tantrum if she was refused. As soon as the storm clouds crossed her face, her mother would begin to backpedal. “Oh, okay, honey, you can have that cereal/cookies/chips/etc.” I watched in disbelief as the girl controlled the majority of the purchases her mother was making. She spoke very disrespectfully to her mother, never receiving a reprimand. I seriously thought about changing my route in the store to avoid listening to this, as it made my heart ache. Here was a child, only four years old, who already knew how to get everything she wanted. She firmly believed that she deserved these things, and that it was her right to have them. My mind fast-forwarded to the future, picturing this girl at sixteen, demanding iPods, new cars, expensive clothes, and the freedom to do whatever she dared, with no thought for the consequences. I felt such sorrow at the likely future that awaits this little girl that I wanted desperately to stop her mother and say, “Have you ever thought about saying “No”? Who’s the grownup here?”
Later, I ended up behind this pair in the checkout line. The mother left the girl alone in line, while she went to find a forgotten item. It only took a few seconds for this girl to start working on me. “I want that magazine…it has Halloween pictures. I LOVE Halloween…I want that magazine!” I ignored her for awhile, until she began pointedly telling me, “Get me that magazine!” I looked her straight in the eyes and told her firmly that she would have to wait and ask her mother. Her lip stuck out and her brow furrowed, but I was saved the embarrassment of a tantrum by the return of her mother. The girl started in on her mother, who told her, “I already got you gum.” The girl retorted, “I didn’t choose that…you did. I want the magazine!” The mother sighed and reached for the magazine. Upon receiving it, the girl flipped through it and decided it didn’t have any pumpkin pictures in it, so she didn’t want it. I watched as she waved the magazine under her mother’s nose, telling her to put it back. Mom was busy writing a check and studiously ignoring her, so I finally offered to replace it for her. She shoved it at me rudely, turned to the candy rack and started demanding a lollipop. Her mother sighed again and replied, “I’ve already paid…I’ll find you a lollipop at home.” Again, I watched in disbelief as the mother caved in to each demand. They finally began to walk out of the store, when the girl noticed a rack of DVD’s and began demanding a certain one be purchased. The mother kept on walking and got halfway to the door before she realized the girl was not following her. She came back and took the DVD away, telling her, “We’ve already paid. We’ll buy it next time.” As they walked off, the grocery checker exchanged a look with me and just shook her head.
I wish that this were an isolated incident, but I’m afraid it is more the norm these days. Everywhere I go, I see adults catering to their child’s every whim, afraid to say the simple word, “No.” I see children with no respect for authority, believing they are entitled to whatever they want. I see parents arguing with their children, cajoling them instead of showing some authority. I’ve started to wonder, “Where have all the grownups gone?” We have become a generation of parents who are afraid to say no, afraid to discipline our children, being controlled by their every whim. I shudder to think what these children will grow up to be—adults who don’t want to work, don’t have respect for anyone, and who think they are entitled to whatever they want.
If you are a parent, please remember that God has given you the authority to raise and discipline your children. One of my favorite verses in the Bible regarding discipline says this: “Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them.” (Proverbs 23:13) Another nugget of wisdom from Proverbs says: “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.” (Proverbs 19:18) God takes our role as parents very seriously…He commands us multiple times to discipline our children carefully. He expects us to act like grownups…not abdicate that role to be controlled and manipulated by our children. We are certainly not doing our children a favor when we give up disciplining them. Instead, we are failing them and condemning them to a life as a perpetual child, without the wisdom and self-control that should come with adulthood. On the contrary, when we love them enough to raise them with love and discipline, God says they will bring us peace and be a delight to our souls. (Proverbs 29:17)
It’s time to step up to the plate…our children and our world are certainly in need of some grownups.