Welcome to my musings...

After a 3 year hiatus from blogging (too busy parenting teens to have time to write about it!), I have decided to revive my blog. I look forward to sharing my perspective on mothering as I am at the tail end of my child-raising journey. Nothing could be more beautiful, more full of joy and pain and anguish, than the divine calling of motherhood. I pray my musings will bless you on your own journey, and that you will feel encouraged and equipped!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Spiritual Epidemic, Part II

So now that we’re aware of the damage Satan is inflicting on our children, what do we do about it? It’s not enough to just acknowledge the battle; we must step up and prepare to fight. God never gives us a challenge without providing the tools to accomplish the task. So how does He tell us to go about training our children in spiritual matters?

I can think of no greater resource than He who created our children and wired their very souls to desire Him, so let’s look in depth at this passage (Deuteronomy 6:5-9) and heed His wisdom. First, He tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (vs. 5). It begins with us…if we are spiritually apathetic, our children will be also. Do your children see you modeling a relationship with God? Do they know that you spend time every day reading His word and praying? Do you actually do these things? If not, here is where it begins. We cannot expect to pass on to our children something that we do not already own.

Next, He tells us to have His commands upon our hearts and to impress them on our children. As we already discussed, this implies some serious action, not a casual approach. Again, how do we do this? He goes on to break it down for us into bite-sized pieces. “Talk about them when you sit at home…” (vs. 7). What does this look like? Do you pray at mealtimes with your kids, whether at home or out in public? Do your kids see you having a daily time with God? Have you taught them to spend time in reading and prayer each day? Even the youngest of children can spend a few minutes with a Bible storybook or children’s Bible. Your children are never too young to be taught this habit. This can easily be accomplished during nap or rest time for younger children.

Most importantly, talk to your children about God and tell them stories of His faithfulness to your family. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to put up “standing stones” to remind them and their children of what God had done for them. Every time they saw these stones they were to tell their children the stories of God’s faithfulness (Joshua 4:19-24). What a great idea! Come up with some version of your own family standing stones. In our family, it’s a faith box. I keep a small treasure box that is filled with trinkets that remind us of God’s provision. These are simple objects that, to us, represent a story. For example, a red construction-paper heart with a hole punched in it represents our youngest daughter, Lexi. She was born with a hole in her heart, which God miraculously healed before she was four months old. Another example is a pink ribbon, representing how He cared for my mother during her courageous battle with breast cancer. While this box was started for me, during a very difficult time for me spiritually, it has become one of my best tools to share with my kids the reality of God’s love for us. My oldest daughter has even asked me at times to share it with her friends when they have sleepovers. They love to hear the stories of what God has done.

Use events in their own lives to bring home to them the fact that God cares about even the smallest details of their lives. We learned this one with our oldest, when she was merely three years old. I’ll save the story for another blog, but suffice it to say that she now knows that God even cares about ragged little lost donkeys, and is big enough to help them find their way home. Don’t be afraid to pray about things that seem to be insignificant to you. Don’t let Satan convince you that God is too busy with the “big” things to care about the “little” things. God cares very much about the formative faith of a child.

Most importantly, make a commitment to have a daily family worship time. I once heard a speaker lament that we never, ever, forget or neglect to feed our children meals, but we more often than not let family devotions slide, if we do them at all. How can we not make time to teach them God’s word? It doesn’t have to be fancy, just consistent. A few Bible verses, or a story from a good children’s Bible (for the younger ones), maybe a song or two, and a family joining together in prayer. What could be simpler than that, and yet have such a profound effect on their futures? There are many resources available to accomplish such a task, but the main thing that is required is a heartfelt commitment.

Secondly, God tells us to talk about these things “when you walk along the road”. How do you spend your time in the car? Heaven knows we American parents spend plenty of time playing taxi driver. How could you redeem this time? Put away the video games and try listening to a Christian kids’ radio program (like Adventures in Odyssey or Jonathan Park, two of our family favorites!) and talk about the lesson behind the story. Work on memory verses together. Talk about what you see (“Isn’t that a wonderful rainbow God made for you to enjoy?”). Teach your children to see the needs of others. When an ambulance goes by, or you witness an accident, pray together for the people who are hurt. This will teach your children compassion and to view others through Jesus’ eyes.

The next time God tells us to be teaching our children is “when you lie down”. What is bedtime like at your house? Do you put your children to bed with a prayer and a blessing? How about telling them something good that they did that day? We so often get caught up in noticing all the things our children did wrong that day that we forget to notice their victories. Sometimes, those last sleepy moments of the day are when our children’s defenses are down and their hearts are open. We often miss this opportunity because of our own weariness and desire to have a few minutes peace before we, too, retire for the night. Do you have children who are prone to nighttime fears? Use that to teach them to turn to God for their comfort. Show them how to talk to God and ask for His protection when they are afraid. There are many Psalms that can be used to help them understand that they are not alone when you leave the room. A favorite of ours was Psalm 73:23: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” When one of our children went through a fearful phase, we helped her memorize this verse, taught her which hand was her right hand (also a useful skill!) and taught her to close her eyes and picture Jesus sitting by her side, holding her right hand securely in His. We won’t always be with our children to protect them from every circumstance that causes them to fear, but we can teach them to lean on the One who will be.

Lastly, we are told to teach our children “when you get up”. I think God wants us to start our day with directing their thoughts to Him. Are we thankful for each day that He’s so graciously given us, or are we just grumbling for a little more sleep? Help them to see that each new day is a gift from God, and that He has plans for each of us. Start with a prayer at breakfast, asking Him to guide us through the coming day and make us thankful for all He has provided.

So, back to that terrifying statistic I shared in Part I…that 70-88% of publicly-schooled children raised in evangelical Christian homes have lost their faith by the end of their freshman year in college. (Note: this number drops to 6% in homeschooled children.) Is this a given? Do we have any hope? Absolutely…God has made it very clear to us what we need to do to raise children that love and honor Him for the rest of their lives. In Proverbs 22:6, God assures us, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Will you join me in this monumental battle? Together, we could raise the generation that will change the world.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Spiritual Epidemic, Part I

Our world is big on parenting advice. Books fill the shelves in bookstores, offering advice on everything from potty-training to dealing with adolescent angst. We agonize over choosing the best technique to get an infant to sleep through the night. We debate whether we should set strong limits or no limits and let the child “find their own way”. We question whether or not they are being properly educated and whether they are being given enough opportunities to develop their talents through music lessons, sports teams, dance classes or acting auditions. Lately, however, I’ve noticed a gaping hole in what parenting books have to offer. While we seem to spend an incredible amount of time (and money) on all of these ephemeral things, what are we doing about the spiritual training of our children?

While most parenting books are silent on spiritual training issues, there is one book that speaks most emphatically on this subject, and it never offers faulty advice. The Bible makes it glaringly obvious how important it is for us as parents to pass on spiritual truths to our children. Deuteronomy 4:9 says: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” God cautions us to be careful, to not forget what He has done for us. He implores us to pass these truths on to our children, and to our children’s children. Psalm 78:4-7 says, “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.” Scripture is very clear that our primary role as parents is to teach our children to know and worship their Creator, and yet when I look around at our culture today, I see very little of this happening, even within the church.

One of the most frightening statistics I have ever heard was presented by Voddie Baucham at the Christian Home Educators of Colorado conference this summer. Recent studies show that 70-88% of publicly-schooled children raised in evangelical Christian homes will walk away from their faith by the end of their freshman year in college. 70-88%...Wow! That should absolutely strike terror in the hearts of Christian parents. There should be nothing more important to us than ensuring the continuation of our families serving the Lord, and yet we are failing miserably at this task. Think of the outcry there would be if that percentage of kids in Christian homes were failing to graduate from high school! And yet we are silent about this epidemic that is stealing our children…how can this be? Do we not realize that raising our children is actually a spiritual battle of epic proportions? Satan is on the prowl, hungering after our children’s souls, and he is using our apathy as his greatest tool. How does he do this? First and foremost, I believe he does this by convincing us that our children’s spiritual education is the purview of the church. “But I take them to Sunday school every week,” we think, “and we go on Wednesday nights, too!” And then when they reach the teen years, “Well, my kids are really involved in the youth group.” Those can all be beneficial things, but they don’t take the place of discipleship in the home. God gives us a very clear picture of what He expects from us as parents in Deuteronomy 6:5-9: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Let’s look for a minute at the word “impress” in this passage. What does that mean? According to dictionary.com, “impress” means “to affect deeply or strongly in mind and feelings; influence in opinion; to fix deeply and firmly on the mind or memory.” Does that sound like something done casually or occasionally, or something done with great purpose and forethought? It seems apparent to me that spiritual training of our children takes very purposeful planning; it doesn’t “just happen”. We must rise up as parents and reclaim the role God intended for us to fulfill and deliberately and faithfully bring our children up in the instruction of the Lord. If we don’t, Satan is waiting and he will find the time and the energy to do what we are unwilling to do…and the cost will be higher than we can imagine.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Spring Chickens


Today I am wondering who is this person who is inhabiting my body. I have to say that I am feeling every bit of my almost forty-one years tonight. It’s not physical—it’s on the inside. Every event today seemed to be mocking me, making me feel a sense of the passage of time.

It began with a wedding…the union of our dear friends’ twenty-six year old daughter. Alan and I dropped our kids off at a young family’s house so they could babysit this couple’s four children while we adults attended the wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony, complete with all the requisite items and including a few special touches all their own, such as a teddy bear (which has quite a story of his own) and bubbles blown as the bride and groom recessed down the aisle. Suddenly, in the middle of the ceremony, it struck me. For the first time, instead of being whisked back to memories of my own wedding (although there was some of that), I felt transported forward, imagining the weddings of my own precious children in the not-too-distant future. I realized that I am closer in time to that seemingly far-off day when my oldest daughter will wed than I am to that day when my husband and I said our own vows, even though it feels like just yesterday. It was a jarring realization…how could this be?

The reception was a lovely sit-down brunch. We were invited to join some young friends at their table, and upon sitting down, I remarked to Alan, “Looks like we’re the token old people at this table!” The other couples were all twenty-somethings and two of them were holding young babies. We had a delightful time with these young couples, but inside I kept thinking how we must look to them. I don’t feel any different, yet somehow we’ve attained the dubious status of a “mature” couple. When did this happen? Somewhere in between the diaper changes and the first steps? Or was it in the days of school beginnings, or at the transition to parents of a teenager? Part of me felt sad…I wanted to be one of them again, just starting out on their road together.

That evening I dropped our oldest child off at a high school girls’game night. Some young moms were hosting and acting as chaperones. When I arrived to pick her up, the group was involved in a rowdy game of Cranium. Question after question, I realized that I was the only one in the room old enough to know the answers or remember the events in question. They had never heard of the song “Mandy” (and my mind immediately began humming the tune while picturing ol’ Barry). When the young lady (trying to get them to guess Ronald Reagan) said “that OLD president that was shot” (to which everyone guessed “Lincoln!)”, memories flooded my mind of the day he was shot (I was home sick from school that day). I even knew who fought the War of 1812, although that one does predate me by more than a century! I would quietly mumble the answers and think “I remember that, and these people (kids and adults alike) weren’t even born yet!”. A later clue, which one young lady had to draw for the others to guess and which turned out to be “spring chicken” just seemed to rub salt in the wound. When the one giving the clue needed an explanation as to what exactly was a spring chicken, I cringed inside. The young mom answering her question replied, “You are one!” and explained that it meant someone who was young. I sadly thought to myself, “You may be one, but I am NOT.”

Most days, I embrace the season of life in which I find myself. Life is good…the kids are so much fun and showing the fruit of faithful discipline, being married to my best friend for almost twenty years is amazing, and I love the phase of life we are in. Today, however, I guess I had a wake-up call that shattered my serenity. I looked in the mirror and saw a few gray hairs, a few extra pounds, a distance between me and these young moms that I hadn’t previously noticed. It made me think of the time when I was a young teen and my dad described me to somebody as having blonde curls (when I hadn’t had blonde hair or curls for probably five or six years!). He still saw me that way in his mind’s eye even though I had long turned brunette and lost the ringlets (and maybe he still does). I guess in my own mind’s eye, I’m still that young mom in the prime of young adulthood instead of a heading toward middle-age “older” mom. Maybe tomorrow the whole idea of aging will be more palatable, but for tonight, I miss being a “spring chicken”.

Of Butterflies and Letting Go

June 26 – July 1, 2008

My oldest child left home for the first time today. Six days stretched out before me as vast as the Sahara as I thought of the 1400 miles between home and the city of New Orleans, where my little girl was headed for a choir festival. The bus carrying thirty-something excited teenaged choir members and one cranky director pulled out of the parking lot, leaving behind a group of parents with cheerful smiles pasted on their faces to hide the tears welling in their eyes and the pain welling in their hearts. Suddenly it seemed there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air I was breathing…my chest constricted painfully in the region around my heart and I found it nearly impossible to breathe. The picture of my little girl waving somewhat sadly out the window of the bus morphed in my mind to become a young lady in cap and gown and then a young woman in a wedding gown, walking away from me, this time forever. This was it, I thought, the first of the goodbyes…the letting go was beginning and I didn’t think that I could bear it. I looked around me and saw a few mothers surreptitiously wiping away tears, but most were smiling and all looked normal. How could this be? Was I the only one devastated by the realization that we had opened a door that could never be shut again? Or were the others just more adept at hiding these gut-wrenching emotions…or did they not feel it at all? I stumbled to the car, managing to hold the tears at bay, until from the 10-year-old in the back seat I heard, “Are you gonna cry now, Mom?” And the tears began…

There followed one of the longest days of my life. Funny how even a quiet child’s absence can make the stillness seem so magnified. The minutes ticked by and I couldn’t seem to focus on much of anything. Added to the day’s pain was the act of saying goodbye to my childhood home as my parents’ closed on the sale of their house…my home since the age of twelve until the time I got married. Finally, it was night and time to escape into the numbness of sleep. I went to bed with my cellphone parked nearby on the dresser…just in case. When the ringing of the phone shattered the absolute stillness of the night at 3 AM, I leapt out of bed in one bound and grabbed the phone, looking at the display to see who was calling. In the space of three seconds, I had covered all the dreadful possibilities: Molly was injured, sick, lost, unhappy, or…no, please God, not that. The phone number was unfamiliar, with an area code I thought to still be Colorado, but I really wasn’t sure. I answered the phone breathlessly, with panic in my voice… “H-h-h-ello?” There was a click as the caller hung up, probably realizing it was a wrong number and not wanting to take responsibility for waking some poor soul at three in the morning. My heart pounded as I repeated, “hello, hello?” If that caller had only known that he took ten years off my life with that one misdialed number.

The second day we received our much bargained for phone call late in the afternoon. The choir director refused to allow the kids to bring cell phones and it was only after much hard negotiation and firm posturing that she agreed to allow Molly to call home twice in six days. It was our daughter’s first time ever away from home alone, and we knew she (and we) needed to make contact to survive six days apart. She was nervous about her first steps out of the nest, and being out of touch for a week is just not how we do things in our family. The phone call finally came, after carrying around that cell phone for hours, repeatedly checking it to make sure a call hadn’t been missed. The tightness in my chest returned, thinking, what if she doesn’t call? The choir director had tried to renege on her promise of two phone calls, and I didn’t trust her to deliver on her agreement with us. My need to hear her voice was so great that it was a physical yearning. The phone rang, I answered, and within a few seconds knew she was okay, just from the tone of her voice. She admitted to having a hard time first thing that morning and to feeling anxious, wanting to just come home. Then they got busy with their very full schedule, and she started having fun. I could tell from the lightness in her voice and the speed of her words that she was embracing an adventure, as we had prayed for our sometimes timid child to be able to do. My mom genes kicked in, enabling me to refrain from saying, “I miss you so much…please come home”, and making me cheerfully say, “I’m so glad you’re having fun…tell me all about it.” We finished our all-too-short conversation (mandated by the choir director) and hung up the phone. My hand lingered on the button, reluctant to hang up and cut off that brief contact with my daughter, feeling as if the umbilical cord were being cut all over again. As the dial tone buzzed in my ear, the tears began again.

Two more days passed and a second call was received, even shorter than the first. Somehow, she sounded different to me…older, more confident even. She joyously shared some of her adventures (including feeding marshmallows to alligators) and when asked if the swamp tour was scary (she had not thought that was such a great idea), she nonchalantly replied, “No, it was cool, Mom.” I could almost hear the twang of the apron strings snapping, the footsteps as she walked off into her future. More tears followed, although they were mostly hidden due to the fact that we were in a crowded restaurant. Yet a sense of pride swelled, too, that our beautiful little girl was becoming such a competent young woman, facing her fears and trying new things without shrinking back. Maybe, as she grows up, I will, too, and God will enable me to turn loose of this beautiful butterfly that is forming. Please, God, not just yet…I don’t think I’m ready.

Finally, the day arrived when my precious daughter would return home. The hours seemed to pass even more slowly on this day, the hands on the clock somehow refusing to move. Favorite cookies were baked, her sheets were changed and flowers were purchased to welcome her home. Still it wasn’t time to leave for the airport…I felt like a child waiting for Christmas to arrive. After much cajoling, I finally convinced my husband to leave for the airport, well ahead of the necessary time. “We’ll end up sitting at the airport for an hour,” he complained, to which I answered, “Better at the airport than stuck in traffic, frantic because we know we’ll be late to pick her up! Plus, look, it’s starting to rain…what if we run into bad weather, or construction, or traffic, or…” He sighed a longsuffering sigh and got up to gather his shoes, keys, etc, knowing there was no arguing with Mama Bear desperate to see her cub. The hour-long ride to the airport was interminable and as my husband predicted, we arrived at the airport well ahead of schedule. I thanked him for being patient with me and reminded him again that I would rather wait at the airport and not be stressed. He smiled and shook his head and we headed into the terminal. The kids were anxiously checking the time and calculating how long it would be before her plane landed. We found seats in the airport and commenced the wait, visiting with other choir members’ families who were also eagerly awaiting the return of the kids. About forty-five minutes later, the first lime green T-shirts appeared up the escalator, waving wildly and pointing as they recognized familiar faces. One boy ran off the escalator and threw his arms around me, saying, “It’s Molly’s mom!” I pointed him in the direction of his own mother and resumed watching. All of the boys exited first, and headed off to baggage claim. A few more minutes went by with no sign of the girls. We correctly predicted they had stopped at the restrooms on the way out. Finally, more lime green T’s were visible and at last, there she was. I frantically studied her face, wondering if she would be so changed that she would be unfamiliar…but, thankfully, there she was, looking just the same. Her little sister reached her first and hung on for dear life. I was a close second, giving hugs and kisses and checking her over to see if she was truly returning to me unscathed.

She began talking excitedly, telling us of her adventures and how happy she was to be home. She pulled out Mardi Gras beads for each of us and hung them around our necks. The next several hours were spent hearing every detail of her trip and relishing the very sight of my girl. She gave us a photo tour of her adventures and we talked long into the night. Much to my relief, she still seemed like my little girl, just maybe a little more confident, a little more self-assured. My fears dissolved as she told me over and over how much she’d missed us, showing me that although my little butterfly has sprouted wings, her favorite place to fly is still toward home. Some of the apron strings may have been severed, but they have been replaced with strings of her choosing. Our ties that bind are deeper now than that of a child, they are the bonds of love that last forever. My precious girl may fly away someday, but we’ll always be part of each other, forever, no matter what distance lies between us. If I give her the freedom to fly, she’ll gladly return to me when she needs a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear, an unconditional love.

So, we’ve survived that first painful separation, and my heart is joyous once again at having my family complete. We’ve both learned and grown and realized what a precious thing is the bond called family. I’ve learned a little more how to place her in the hands of her Creator and trust Him for supplying all her needs. Maybe the next time won’t be so hard…or maybe it will be even harder…only time will tell.