Christianity, Family, Homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting

The Arduous Struggle: or Prayer and Peeling Carrots

ElisabethElliot (older)I was thumbing though some old files and came across a little gem.  It was an article from the May, 1999 issue of The Gatekeeper, Elisabeth Elliot’s monthly newsletter. The article, written by Elisabeth, and titled, “Motherhood:  The Most Difficult and Rewarding Job” said this:

Mothers are always on call, expected to have all the answers and limitless energies. They’re supposed to do everything; it’s taken for granted.  How can you be and do everything expected of you?  What you need is an habitual sense of the presence of God. Think that Almighty God, who created the stars and keeps the seasons revolving in perfect rhythm, is there in your kitchen, in your bathroom, in the laundry room, in the grocery store.  Mothers, be prepared for an arduous struggle.  Your calling is impossible without prayer, the comfort and instruction of the Scriptures, and fellowship in your church.

If you’re feeling anxious, without peace, it just may be that you have not made time in your schedule for study in the Scriptures and prayer.  It is essential, no matter what you have to forgo, no matter which people in the church you’re going to have to say no to, no matter how crowded  your schedule may be at home, you must somehow, but the grace of God, make time to read your Bible and pray.

God knows you can’t always be thinking of Him.  You have to put your mind on what you’re doing.  You have to concentrate on that recipe.  You have to study those homeschool geometry lessons that you forgot so many years ago.  You have to concentrate on measuring out that medicine for the sick child or making up the grocery lists and menus for the next week.  This means that you must concentrate in your quiet time as well.  Then learn to turn back to God throughout the day.

Try looking up to the Lord with a hundred little looks of love during the day.  Every now and then lift up your eyes, lift up your heart, and remember that Christ is in you.  He dwells in you.  He gives you the gift of grace.  (Don’t forget grace – you need it!  We need it every hour of every day, every minute of every hour.)  Learn to pray while you’re peeling the carrots, driving the car or cleaning the house.

Remind yourself that the materials of your work and play and all of your daily life are hallowed by the presence of Christ, by the presence of His infinity in the midst of your finiteness.  Remember that Christ is present even in the weak and the mean and the ugly.  In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it for Me.”

Our thoughts and desires need to be more referred to Him, determined by Him.  We need to ask for wisdom in mind, holiness in will, and a mind and a will made one with Christ.  Living in his presence – in your kitchen and in your laundry room; loving, which means to will the good of another, not allowing any hardship or sacrifice to deter us from helping them; and looking  for His best.

To this I say, Amen.

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Christianity, Motherhood, Parenting

The Weaver

woven clothIn 1976 Corrie Ten Boom (WWII concentration camp survivor and author of The Hiding Place)  spoke at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.  Elisabeth Elliot (wife of murdered missionary Jim Elliot) and their daughter Valerie attended the lecture*.

Later that week Corrie invited Elisabeth and her daughter to join her for tea at the house where Corrie was staying. They enthusiastically accepted.  Over piping hot cups of tea Elisabeth asked Corrie more about her life in the concentration camps and about her book,The Hiding Place.  She also asked Corrie a number of questions about God and suffering.  At one point in their conversation Corrie walked over to her suitcase and pulled out a piece of satin, showing Elisabeth and Valerie the tangled web of threads on the underneath side of the cloth. Corrie then recited for them the poem The Weaver  by Grant Colfax Tullar:

My life is but a weaving betwixt my Lord and me,

I do not choose the colors – He worketh steadily

Ofttimes He weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride,

Forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.

Not till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.

After she finished Corrie turned the cloth over revealing the beautiful and intricate pattern on the other side.

Moms, parenting can be challenging.  It can be difficult.  It can be devastating.

Do not lose heart.

God said, “Never will I leave you.  Never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5.

He is the El Shaddai, “the God who is Enough.” And He weaves your life into a beautiful pattern.

(*Story of Corrie Ten Boom and Elisabeth Elliot taken from The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter,  March/April 1998.)

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Christianity, Family, Motherhood, Parenting

The Unexpected Reorienting of My Self-Centric Universe

large_baby universe

It’s all my children’s fault.  I blame them.  One day I could choose when to eat, where to go, what to wear and who to think about.

Then I gave birth.

Twenty years ago a shriveled little person blasted away at my self-centric solar system.  To put it another way, I was cataclysmically displaced from being the sun in my own planetary dance to being just a large, chronically tired, spit-up covered planet lumbering around a tiny ball of incredibly powerful flesh.  The magnetic pull this child possessed was mind-boggling . Life was now about her and no longer about me.  Living from this new vantage point took, shall we say, some adjustment.

solar-system-people-funny

A few weeks after the birth of our first child, my mother came to stay with her while my husband and I escaped for a badly needed date.  We had done nothing but minister to our extremely colicky newborn ever since we arrived home from the hospital, and, man, did we need a breather.  I was excited for the fresh air and change of scenery that a walk in the park and a movie would bring.

My husband and I did indeed have a lovely walk in the park that day, though we talked of nothing but the baby.  Then while sitting in the movie theater watching the The Sandlot,  that Mighty Little Sun’s indomitable gravitational pull started to engage.  My thoughts kept turning toward home. Was she crying for us?  I wondered.  Was she hungry? I worried.  What if I didn’t leave enough milk to satisfy her?  What if my mother doesn’t hold her correctly?  What if she won’t take a nap?  Is she wondering where I am? Does she feel I’ve abandoned her?

And round and round I orbited.

From almost the moment the movie began, I paid little attention to the scenes before me and instead sat in the dark worrying.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t focus on the movie for more than sixty seconds without thinking about that child.  Finally, after staring at the screen for maybe thirty minutes, with no clue about what has happening in the story, I gave up trying to watch the movie and thought, instead, about this crazy new gig called parenthood.  Everything was so different now.  Heck, just a few months ago, I had sat in this very same theater and enjoyed a movie with ease; I thought about nothing but what was being projected before me and how much popcorn was left in the tub.  But now I can’t do that.  What’s wrong with me?!?  Can I no longer go anywhere or do anything without my child’s well-being following me like a planetary moon? Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my life?

I knew in my heart the answer was yes – this was the way it would be. Forever.  And just to prove it, twenty years later I still worry about this same child (who is now an adult) when she drives her little tin-can of a car down those ice-covered, Midwestern, wintry highways; and when I am out-of-town I wonder what she is doing back at home and if she’s okay.  Her gravitational pull is still strong.  And now there are three other suns tugging me equally hard into their orbits as well.

I have learned many lessons since those early years of parenting, but during that afternoon in the movie theater I learned two of the biggest:  one, that my life would never be the same again and, two, that my self-centered lifestyle would have to go.  I had read about it many times in the Bible – all that “giving up your life for others” stuff.  But it was one thing to read about it and another thing to put it into action.  Twenty years later, I am still adjusting to life as a planet and not a sun.  Maybe one of these rotational cycles I’ll get it.

1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is; that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

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Christianity

I Must Become Less

feetOnScaleI know ’tis the season to be treadmilling, but this is not a post about weight loss.

It’s about self-loss.

In this post-Christmas season where we strive to rid ourselves of our caloric over-accumulations, it is more important to rid ourselves of…ourselves.

Ask any Christian which verse in the Bible best sums up the gospel message and they will most likely tell you it is John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”), and I would agree with that answer.

But what if someone asked which verse best sums up a Christian’s response to that gospel?  In other words, if we point to John 3:16 for God’s plan of salvation, what verse points to what we do next?

My answer would be John 3:30.

While John 3:16 is the head knowledge of the gospel, John 3:30 is the feet.

In John 3:30, John the Baptist, speaking to his followers, states, “He must become greater, I must become less.”  You see, John was baptizing people in Salim.  Jesus was baptizing people in a different region.  John’s disciples noticed that fewer people were coming to them to be purified and more people were going to Jesus.  Concerned about this shift, John’s disciples questioned him about it. Here is the exchange:

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

In this passage John is saying, Look guys, there’s no need for concern.  This journey I am on is not about me, it’s about Him. Jesus’ arrival fills me with joy.  People leaving me to follow Him is just how it should be.  Take your eyes off what we are doing here and focus instead on Jesus.

So while John 3:16 succinctly explains God’s redemptive plan, John 3:30 succinctly explains how to live as Christians under that plan; by practicing self-loss.

But this is no easy task.

Just as I would rather be facing a plate of warm cookies than a cold treadmill, I often would rather do things under my direction than God’s.

I need to become less.

Lord, help me to get let go of my selfish ways.  Your ways are so much better, but my ways feel more comfortable and easy.  You are the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Help me to lose myself so that I may gain You.

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Boys, Christianity, Fatherhood, Parenting

Well Then, Let’s Go

father & son working on car engineOver the weekend a group of teenage boys came to our home to join our son in a building project for school.  The project required the use of multiple power tools.

At one point in the afternoon a sander, a circular saw, overhead lighting, a speaker and a space heater were all running at the same time and…..

Can you guess what happened next?

Trust me, it’s not a hard guess…. Continue reading

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Christianity, Parenting

Subdue Our Hearts

horsebreakersI was reading a daily post from Joni Eareckson Tada’s ministry.  (You can check it out here.)  In the devotional, Joni said something I loved:

“Gaining contentment means equalizing your desires and your circumstances….It is wiser to subdue your heart to match your situation.”

I like the word subdue.  It makes me think of a cowboy taming a horse.

You see that picture above?

That horse is me sometimes when I shop at the mall or visit a fancy bakery.

I walk into the store, look at all the wonderful things around me, get a case of the “drools”, and promptly become unsettled in my circumstances.  Oh, I want that, I think to myself, and my desire for the thing becomes overwhelming, despite the fact that I may not need it or be able to afford it.

It’s all I can do to walk out of the store empty-handed.

Unfortunately it’s the same for our kids.

They are constantly bombarded by print ads, commercials, and pressure from their peers to buy the latest things.  Merchandisers convince our children that their product is either the “thing they need” (think red skinny jeans from Gap), “the thing that is better than past things” (think Xbox One or PS4), or the “thing that is a must-have part of a collection or series (think Skylanders – if you don’t know what any of these are, be glad).

All those messages convincing our children to buy things can turn the little darlings into, well, bucking broncos.

Littlest pet shopWhen my daughters were little they loved to play with “Littlest Pet Shop” animals.  Cute, big-eyed, and oh so collectible, these little plastic replicas of the animal kingdom were high on many kids’ must-have lists.  Every time we went to Walmart they wanted to check out the Littlest Pet Shop section of the toy department to see if there were any new animals available.  But they already had many of them at home.

Many.

Many, Many.

But they weren’t content with their many animals because new and improved animals came out every few weeks.  There was the sparkle series.  Then the magnetic series.  Then the minis series.Then, of course, there were the mice – the cutest of all the LPS animals.  They loved the mice most and wanted every kind of little plastic rodent they could get their hands on:  mice sitting up, mice sniffing the ground, mice eating cheese, etc .

Their desire to collect these creatures became a bit obsessive (as Joni would say, their desires exceeded their circumstances).  It came time one day for my husband and I to step in and try to subdue their hearts.

If you are feeling a bit trapped in the spending treadmill with your children, may I suggest sitting them down for an honest discussion about contentment; especially during this Christmas season. Here are some ideas to help:

1.  Explain to your child that they may feel happier with that new toy or that new shirt for a week or two, but the happiness won’t last; a new “best thing” will soon be waiting to entice them.  Draw from past examples.  Are there toys that your kids enjoyed for a brief time then left in a closet to gather dust?  Give an example in your own life where you thought something would make you happy, but the happiness was fleeting (for me, it was when I was six years old, shopping with my grandmother, that I spotted a wonderful plastic telephone that said “hello” and “how are you today” when you dialed it – yes, dialed.  It sang a siren call to me from the top shelf of the department store.  My grandmother lovingly bought it for me and within two weeks I had shoved it on a back shelf in my room.)

2.  Don’t let your child buy things on impulse.  There have been many things I have purchased, or the kids have purchased, that didn’t look quite so incredible sitting on our kitchen table, or after a good night’s sleep, as they did displayed in the store.  If there is something your children thinks they really want, have them go home and sleep on it, and see how they feel about it the next morning, or the next week.  There’s a good chance it won’t feel quite so important.

3.  Explain that God wants us to be content.  God knows that when we are satisfied with our circumstances, no matter what they are, we will feel closer to Him.  When we are more focused on that new Lego set in the magazine ad than our neighbor’s well-being, or praying for a friend, there’s a problem.  I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”  Or, how about Phillipians 4:11-13 where Paul says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

4.  Model contentment for your children.  Let them hear you say “no” to something you really want and explain to them why you chose not to purchase the item.  Let them see you hungry for God and not that cute pair of shoes in the store window.  If you are worried about finding time to shop for that perfect gift more than finding time for Advent there’s a problem.  (Yes, I am preaching to myself here.)

5.  Model contentment for your children.

Oh, did I say that already?

Why, yes I did!  Because it’s THAT important!  Your children watch you more than they hear you.

6.  Lastly, but certainly not least, stand your ground.  Don’t be afraid to say no to that Lego set that they so desperately want, even though your basement is already overrun with little bricks.  Don’t hesitate to suggest something different than yet another plastic action figure. The toys my husband and I picked out for Christmas, that weren’t specifically on our children’s wish lists and leaned toward the educational (think science experiment set or artist’s markers), sometimes turned out to be their favorite gift.   Be loving, but stand firm in your convictions and remind your little dears that you are older and wiser.  😉

771096__christmas-cross_tJesus told his disciples, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14:27

God gives us the power and the example to subdue our heart, and, as parents, He has given us authority to help our children subdue theirs.  This Christmas season let us rope in our hunger for “stuff” that moth and rust will destroy, and, instead, keep our hearts subdued to better revel in the glory of  Jesus’ coming to be among us.

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Christianity, Family, Parenting

Tim Keller on Parenting and Sacrifice

parents.parentThe words “parents” and “sacrifice” often walk hand in hand.    As parents we must feed our children, making sure they are clothed and warm, and spend time with them, but the parenting essential that tops the list is sacrifice.  It is in the rich soil of our sacrificial love (“my life for yours”, or agape, love) in which secure children grow.  Now, by sacrifice I don’t mean the “work-a-second-job-so-my-kid-can-have-that-newest-i-phone” kind of sacrifice (That’s turning your children into idols.  We’ll save that for another post).  I mean the “stay-up-all-night-to-monitor-your-child’s-high-fever”, or the “let’s-work-through-these-math-problems-together-again-until-you-completely-understand-them-even-though-I-would-rather-be-watching-the-championship-football-game-right-now” kind of sacrifice.

Why is sacrifice at the top of the parenting essentials list?  Because Jesus did it.  He performed the Ultimate Sacrifice – he demonstrated substitutionary love.  Jesus sacrificed his body for us so that we may live with Him forever.  We sacrifice ourselves for our children so that they may live, and grow, and prosper and flourish emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.  This sacrifice – this agape love is the most powerful expression of love we can show our children.

Tim Keller, author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, explains the idea of sacrificial love  in his excellent book Jesus the King.  In chapter 12 of the book, titled “The Ransom”, Keller explains the impact of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice using parenting as an example:

“When you have children they’re in a state of dependency.  They have so many needs; they can’t stand on their own.  And they will not just grow out of their dependency automatically.  The only way that your children will grow beyond their dependency into self-sufficient adults is for you to essentially abandon your own independence for twenty years or so.  When they are young, for example, you’ve got to read to them and read to them – otherwise they won’t develop intellectually.  Lots of their books will be boring to you.  And you have to listen to your children, and keep listening as they say all kinds of things that make for less than scintillating conversation.”

“And then there’s dressing, bathing, feeding, and teaching them to do these things for themselves.  Furthermore, children need about five affirmations for every criticism they hear from you.  Unless you sacrifice much of your freedom and a good bit of your time your children will not grow up healthy and equipped to function.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of parents who just won’t do it.  They won’t disrupt their lives that much; they won’t pour themselves into their children.  They won’t make the sacrifice.  And their kids grow up physically, but they’re still children emotionally, – needy, vulnerable, and dependent.  Think about it this way:  You can make the sacrifice, or they’re going to make the sacrifice.  It’s them or you.  Either you suffer temporarily and in a redemptive way, or they’re going to suffer tragically, in a wasteful and destructive way.  It’s at least partly up to you.  All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice.”

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