Waging War

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. ~2 Timothy 2:2

Discipleship – what is it? The word is a catchphrase thrown around casually but with little definition. No one would argue the command by Jesus in Matthew to go and make disciples, but many are stymied by what exactly making disciples looks like whether the disciple is your child or another believer. The truth is the word discipleship was never used in scripture. Disciples were first called Christians at Antioch in Acts, but the followers of Christ were all termed disciples in scripture. Jesus commands to go and make disciples, teaching what He had taught. Paul models discipleship in relationships with other believers in the New Testament.

None of us would ever declare ourselves unwilling to disciple the precious children we have been blessed with, but many times I talk with other moms about what tangibly does this look like in the day to day. What does it mean to actually “do” this with our children? Especially if we have never experienced it for ourselves? I think one of the best definitions includes the idea of pursuing a 3 prong agenda of grounding in and cultivating a love for the Word, teaching how to walk in relationship both with God and others, and how to serve/minister from a position that understands and extends the Gospel.

How do we ground them in the Word? practically? What is my vision, my end goal, the place I’m seeking to head to with this child (or this woman that sits at my kitchen table) over their lifetime? I often think in terms of word pictures, and I find with my children that teaching them spiritual truths inside of word pictures helps make the concepts tangible. One picture is given in Ephesians 6 for how we are to do spiritual battle for and with our kids. When our babies are little and have no spiritual understanding, we are the warriors with our baby on our back wielding our shield and sword, holding the world and the enemy at bay.

As they step into a walk with Jesus Christ, I need to introduce them to their sword and begin to show them its weight, strength, and sharpness. They now stand directly behind me in battle, still protected but beginning to learn the battle. We explore the goodness of the gospel – teaching them the truths that will anchor them in this unsteady world. We patiently walk them through all the points of their armor as it relates to their life, pointing out the protection of the helmet of salvation, the importance of feet solidly ground into the gospel of peace, the absolute must of His truth to hold their armor on. We teach them the importance of guarding their heart and pursuing righteousness. We point out the incoming arrows of lies, and our shield of faith absorbs the blows. When my children are young and young in their faith, my sword is active. I sharpen my sword openly, and my goal is teach them how to sharpen theirs alongside me. Mommas, if I can plead with you, God’s Word is living and active, it is so rich, so fulfilling, and it never returns void. He is Truth in a world that offers none. Spend time with Him in His word.

As they grow spiritually they need to move from directly behind me and my shield to beside me, with their own shield in front of them and their own sword sharpened for battle.  The onslaught will increase in intensity as they grow, for the enemy now sees another warrior. In these early years of walking with Jesus, the enemy sights a warrior he is desperate to incapacitate. He would like nothing less than to convince this young believer to stay in the fetal position on the spiritual battlefield.

I train them in how to wield their weapon, trust their armor, and stand behind their shield. My goals are to help them sharpen their sword and fall in love with it. The Word of God is rich beyond belief. Explore the scriptures with your children, memorize passages, marvel at the picture of Who God is – His faithfulness, holiness, justice, graciousness, mercy, love, and peace. Show them the redemption story that runs from beginning to end and worship Him together. I want them to understand the great perfect protection their shield of faith offers. Their faith grows as they battle and trust the Holy Spirit within them. We have the honor of standing next to them as they stand firm and encouraging them in their battles.

My place is right next to them so that I can protect them if I need to when a particularly fast or fiery arrow is launched with my shield or so that I can put my hand out to help stand them back up and give them protection as they replant their feet in the gospel. But if as a parent, I am still trying to lug my teen around on my back as I do battle for the both of us, I stunt them. They will be ill equipped. And if I am disinterested in the great battles they face, too busy to encourage, listen, and pray with them, they will believe the lie that no battle truly wages and that it is ok to merely exist on this epic wrestling stage.

I am called to be faithful to this discipleship arc, threading these concepts into conversations all along the way. But I am not the outcome maker. I have to trust that the same Holy Spirit that leads me, the Word of God that is my sword and the shield of faith that God gives and grows in me is also within them if they are saved.

They need to stand firm on this battlefield, knowing I stand beside them and will assist with the lies the enemy slings because soon enough they will move on the battlefield and will be on their own. Their Sword needs to be sharpened and that comes with use. They need to trust that their shield of faith holds against anything the enemy would like to fire their way because the days are coming when doubt, fear, misgivings, and discouragement will assault them. Their armor is vital to their defense. And my role daily is to pray. Paul warns us, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Their battle is great, the lies are numerous, but the enemy is defeated! Jesus is Faithful and True.

Come & be Satisfied

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? ~ Isaiah 55:1-2a

God has placed me in this passage of Isaiah for several months now, where everything else I study seems to point back to verses in this chapter. He keeps getting my attention over the word Satisfy. The question is, “Am I satisfied?” It’s a loaded question because it covers every facet of my life and I could argue that it isn’t necessary to be satisfied in all parts. I wonder if some would argue that a Christian may not be satisfied because this isn’t our home; we must wait for eternity to experience satisfaction. Culture tells us satisfaction should be our pursuit yet that we can’t get any no matter how hard we try.

When am I satisfied? What brings me rest and quiet? This question keeps rolling around in my mind as we finish the year and move into a new one. The right answer is I am satisfied in the Lord and what He has done for me. But what is the real answer? That is what I keep dwelling on. If you could peel back layers of self protective, good looking right answers, what really lies beneath?

As I look inward, I have to see the many areas where there is no satisfaction, where there is no rest, no stop in the quest for achievement. My flesh capitalizes on the current woman culture that declares that our value, intelligence, skills, etc should be on display. So I toil. I push for perfection. I seek achievement. This push may not be so that anyone else would see the accomplishments, but the invisible, unsaid idea that I must do ___________________ in order to have satisfaction leads me to work for a list that never ends. Ecclesiastes 6:7 predicts the truth, “all the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.” The bar constantly raises or changes so that there is always more to do/take care of/teach/contribute/avoid, etc.

He calls! He is calling you and me! He beckons, “Come! I know you have nothing to bring to the exchange. I know you are completely broken and everything you think you have to offer is valueless. Come!” He wants us to come in our poor, broken, unworthy, dirty state, hungry and thirsty. He offers satisfaction beyond compare – food and drink that is rich and good. The exchange must be there – the verb in the sentence is buy. The cost is greater than anything I can afford, yet free for all who come.

The world says satisfaction comes through doing.The domain is inconsequential – the same push for performance occurs in work and at home, in appearance and health, in the church and school. A lot of us may seek it in multiple arenas, yet so many women are weary, discouraged, questioning, and retreating.

There is no peace in this chase.

But God declares, “For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish” in Jeremiah 31:25 and “For he satisfies the longing soul and the hungry soul he fills with good things” in Psalm 107:9. Satisfaction is defined as not desiring more because you have all you need and implies being at rest/peace. In John 15, Jesus teaches me to abide in Him. In John 7 he speaks of the work of the Spirit in us that flows through and within us as living water. In the Old Testament multiple times God paints a picture of water that revives the dry, the poor, the weary and the thirsty.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry lands springs of water. ~Isaiah 41: 17-18

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desires in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. ~Isaiah 58:11 

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  ~John 4:14

Satisfaction comes from maintaining eternal perspective and remembering Who is in control. If I hope only in the now, I really am hopeless. Yet so often I look for satisfaction here, in the things of today. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Paul Tripp says we live as “eternity amnesiacs”- so focused on opportunities, needs, wants, and problems of now that we lose sight of eternity. But we have been given the great treasure of Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price of death for my sin and yours. His death and resurrection give me the open door for a relationship and all the blessings of relationship with God.

I simply have this treasure in this jar of clay as Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians 4. The light of the gospel of Jesus Christ  shines inside this jar of clay which is easily chipped, cracked, weak, and thin. But the glory goes to Him, not me. Satisfaction comes in knowing and worshipping Him, not striving to be worshiped or praised myself. When Jesus is manifest in me, His ministry renews my heart. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

God delights in answering restless hearts with His peace. Run wholeheartedly to His table. Sit in his seat of grace and rest. Stop trying to pay. Stop trying to dish up your own fulfilling meals and instead dine with the King. He will satisfy all of me and fill me to the uttermost.

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.  ~Isaiah 55:2b-3

 

 

 

 

My natural state

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  ~Romans 3:21-24

Nothing gives me a better picture of my own sinfulness than parenting a 2 year old. Whenever I have had a child in this stage of learning, the Holy Spirit has used that child to prick my heart about the rawness and completeness of my own sin. All eight have displayed overt selfishness, great purpose and will for their plan, self focus and a propensity to believe they are right. There is no hiding their true feelings, no tempering of their belief system for social mandates or manners, no holding back of their thoughts. But in those moments of wrestling with this back-arching, screaming, precious bundle, the faithful voice of the Lord beckons me to see myself.

I have a natural suspicion of God that needs curing. My innate reflexive thought pattern is to assume that God’s rules inherently withhold from me something I would be better off having or prevent me from experiencing something that would be of value to me. Therefore disobedience is something that begins long before the disobedient act occurs. The doubt, distrust seep into my thinking, but I often cannot see or identify them before they produce actions. Sometimes these actions look like wise moves, but in actuality they are reactive and fear driven.

From the beginning the serpent used the ideas of missing out or being oppressed and the temptation to be independent of God. God was blocking Eve from experiencing real life, of being like God, of knowing good and evil – that was his argument. His whispers have not changed. They are easily identified in the rawness of rebellion in toddlers, but these whispers speak just as well to me.

But God’s grace and His patience with us is also greatly displayed in the working out of disciplining my toddlers. Scripture over and over refers to the steadfast love of the Lord that never ends, His mercy that renews, and His affection for His people. He will discipline. In truth, I desire the discipline, for it declares whose I am just as my engagement with my toddler shows my commitment to my little one. The heartbeat of discipline is not to invoke physical or emotional pain or suffering. When discipline occurs in this way, it is wrong and merely punishment. Discipline occurs within the context of relationship, powered by deep love and wisdom and bounded by grace and mercy. God disciplines us with great constraint and with great purpose. He is a good Father.

Eyes and body position in discipline are two things important both for disciplining children and for walking with Him. When I discipline my children, it’s important to give them a place to sit, reflect and wait for me away from all the distractions of the other kids, toys, etc. So in our home, our kids go sit in the bathroom where they are given some quiet moments, hopefully to think about why they may be in there and be ready for discussion when I come. Then I will sit down and ask them to put their hands on my knees – this connects and pulls us close together, aligning their wiggly bodies to face me. I ask them to look me in the eyes as we begin to talk and root out what was going on in their heart and motivating whatever symptoms that caused them to be here in discipline.

Then when they see the crushing truth of what they did, how it impacted others, and why they did it (because really the why is so much more important than the what), we talk about what Jesus did for them. That while they were yet sinners who pushed sisters or spoke rudely to brothers, Christ died for them with a deep love for them that they may be free from all the self focused, self protective impulses that drive hearts to rebellion. I want their eyes to see in my own the hope and love that center on Jesus alone.

My love for them hasn’t changed despite their ugly, but more importantly and more profoundly Jesus has never withdrawn His love. He extends it in the face of rebellion and rejection. We leave the bathroom with the blessing of belief. Imparting to that child the hope of walking with Jesus anew in His deep love and affection echoes the deep love and affection I have for that child.

In my daily busyness of life, I find it very hard to hear the corrections of the Holy Spirit. I need consistent space to withdraw into the quiet of moments before Him, Bible open and heart listening. My quieted position before God gives me space and silence to hear His truth about what I have believed and acted upon in error or rebellion.

My eyes on my circumstances results in justification and rationalization. My eyes on Jesus will see His truth in comparison to the lies I have believed in the moment.

The essence of discipline is this: God walking alongside me exploring the sin of my flesh that causes the negative behavior/choices I make and helping me to understand the lies I have believed in the heart of me. He meets the sin and the lies with truth. He doesn’t flinch or turn away in disgust.

And He tells me to look in His eyes and see the steadfast love that stays there just for me. The love that took all this ugly to the cross, nailed it there, and canceled my debts cures me.  He desires that I walk out of His bathroom cleansed, with a renewed sense of His love and forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us for all unrighteousness. ~1 John 1:9

you, surrendered

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:28-29

You are exactly who God chose to parent the children you have been given.

The enemy wrecks us with this lie – that you aren’t the best parent, your kids would be better off with someone else, that woman is a better mother, that dad is a more diligent father than you. Maybe it’s the belief that you don’t understand your child, your personalities or temperaments clash so it will always be this tough. Maybe you’re weary of it all and just want to retreat from the rejection, the anger, the constant need for discipline without much apparent progress. Maybe you’re in a place where if someone could see the dark parts of your heart, they would see you just don’t like your child right now. You know you shouldn’t feel this way, yet you do if you’re honest. Your child is hard, battling, disobedient, rejecting, and just bone wearying. Maybe you lie in bed at night and swing between crying out for help and crying out for rest. Do you wonder if you’re just messing your child up or do you think it’s simply hopeless?

The enemy’s staccato drumbeats of retreat, fatigue, and doubt are loud in our ears sometimes. They seem to beat credibly that someone else would be better or that this is just too much. The banging that no progress is being made chants, “Why keep going?”

If there is one truth that we need to understand, it is this: We cannot parent perfectly. But we can parent surrendered to the One who does parent perfectly, and we will become His tool to work and display unconditional love, affection, and discipline.

And He chose you for them.

He chose you for each child He has given you.

He knew their needs and knew you were the best. Not because you bring anything to this parenting thing. He knew that you, surrendered to Him, would be a formidable, powerful force displaying love to lost unsaved children, leading them to Jesus, showing them their need for a Savior, that they too can walk rightly with God in peace and rest in a world fraught with fear and frenzy.

We must reject the cultural mandate that says we have to have all the right answers. No, we have to go to the Teacher. He knows our children intimately. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit searches hearts, understands the motivations that lie within, and knows exactly what to pray. John 15:7 reminds us that as we abide in Him, as we rest in His truth, we are free to ask anything and it will be done. God invites us to call unto Him and He will show us insights we do not know which include the mysteries of our children.

We have to stop believing that parenting is a sprint. Deuteronomy 6 & 11 paint the intimate way parents are to walk with their children, instilling in them the constancy and pervasiveness of relationship with God. The conversation of who God is, what Christ has done, and our response to Him should be hallmarks of our walk with our children. These truths color every facet of life. Discipling our children in the gospel is a race we will run until we die. It may change courses, the scenery may change, but the race ends when we stand breathlessly in front of Jesus Christ.

But until we become a people who abide with Jesus, who rest on Him alone, who bring all things before His throne, present all requests to Him and seek Him first, we will flounder. And we will be easy picking for the enemy who delights in discouragement and defeat.

So on the days of deep discouragement and doubt, when condemnation yells about my failures that day in parenting, I need to run to Jesus Christ. I need to stand before Him in light of the the truth of the gospel. He died for all my sin, including my rudeness, selfishness, impatience, anger or whatever has erupted from me that day against one of His children. And He is working in me to change me, granting me forgiveness with repentance. When I recognize my own desperate need for redemption and grace, my eyes can see the desperation within my child as well and the boundless love of the Father for that little one right there in the midst of their sin.

I must stand before Him, seeking first His way and not my own. I need to measure my words and my actions against His wisdom. My agenda for the day may need to die in order to make space and time to share the gospel with one of my children. My order of operations may have to be mixed up in order to hear the heart of a child being fooled by the lies of his or her flesh or the world. But no agenda, no career, no chore compares to the charge of sharing Christ with our children. When I understand what I have been given, I am far more able to embrace the charge of discipleship and lovingly lead my child to the Lifegiver every chance I can.

True Hope

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~Romans 8:24-25

Who hopes for what he sees? Me. What I mean is that I can hope for a little while for that which I don’t see, but when my timing doesn’t seem to be working out well and I’m not seeing results, my hope dims. It may even cease, or I can become cynical. But really I am fooling myself – hope that is seen is not hope. I really have the wrong definition of hope. Hope today implies a measure of uncertainty or concern around whether the longed for thing or event will actually occur. It lies close to worry and dreaming in implication. Hope in the Greek in the Bible is the expectation of what is sure or certain. True hope is characterized by confidence and trust.

Paul contextually is speaking about all of creation groaning and longing with us for Jesus to return. I am waiting and hoping for Christ to return, for him to complete his work of salvation. I look forward to the day when all the stuff of today melts away at his presence, when fear, pain and death are no more, when the ultimate purpose for my life is revealed. The truth is often I lose sight of that hope and look for things to hope in that are present – things I can control. Hope that is seen is not hope. My hope cannot be wrapped up in any of my own packaging.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Faith allows hope to grow. Hope is the joyful expectation of salvation, the confidence to rest, to trust. Faith is the proclamation of who God is in the face of impossible things. And Scripture is clear that God is the source of faith. Ephesians 2:8 and 2 Thessalonians 1:11 both point to His working of faith in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 include faith as one of the fruits grown by the Holy Spirit as we put to death our passions and desires and walk with Him. I cannot grow faith, but I can surrender to the One who does, knowing He is faithful to do this growth.

God is faithful and true. He is faithful to the work of salvation and sanctification in my life. At the cross, Christ died that I may be set free from all sin, including the sins of doubt and fear that paralyze and blind me. He is faithful to the daily work of changing me and making me more like Him; that is His sanctification. The ways life seems hard, fear inducing, lonely, not worth it — those are often the places God is at work growing my faith, assuring my hope. He is at work. I can name these areas of stretching, yet I resent these very spots.

Proclaiming who God is and what Christ has done in the face of impossible things places my hope on the correct One and anchors my soul. My shield of faith protects me from every arrow, every lie, every fear the enemy and this world want to throw my way. So what do I need to proclaim? What truths do I need to realign my hope with?

He is Savior and Redeemer despite my sin and for my sin.

He is Counselor and Teacher who leads me to His perspective and readies my heart for His ways.

He is sovereign in the face of feeling as if life is out of control.

He is true peace in the midst of the storms of finances or jobs.

He is truth when I am surrounded by the lies of compromise or confusion.

He is the Way giver when it seems like all ways are wrong or blocked.

He is Hope when everything seems hopeless.

He is unchanging Love in the face of a demand for performance.

He is completely engaged in a world where attention is fleeting.

He is trustworthy and takes care of my people better than I ever could.

He is full of grace and mercy, meeting me on my prodigal road with arms wide open.

He has successfully dealt with my past, steadily walks with me in my present, and firmly holds my future assured.

Help me, Lord, to hope in all that You are.

I haven’t moved

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” ~Hebrews 13:5-6

I have learned to love getting up early in the morning while everyone else is sleeping and spend some quiet time with the Lord. Often during the day I feel rather attention deficit, as if I never complete a thought all the way to its conclusion. In the quiet of early morning, my thoughts are clearer, there is less noise crowding the truth of God’s Word and less activity for my attention to be divided over.

Until my little early riser picks up his head and calls for me. Then all bets are off. He is a child who is tightly bound to me, desiring my presence always, wanting to be in conversation with me continuously. In the course of a 30 minute morning window, he will sit with all his toys right at my feet and probably say my name at least 150 times (breaks down to approximately 5 times a minute) His head swivels often to check to make sure I am still in my chair, and he tries incessantly to pull me into his conversation and his play. So this morning he wandered behind some chairs with his play, and suddenly looking up, he panicked and called for me.

“I haven’t moved, buddy. I love you.”

He peeked around to see me and then ran to fold himself into my lap, reassured that in that moment he wasn’t as alone as he had felt.

I was struck with my sentence that God doesn’t move. He doesn’t.

In the difficult, the busy, the painful, or the lonely, God doesn’t move. He loves you and me. If I’m honest, there are many parts of the day where I try to escape my little shadow, shake him off for a little bit while encouraging him that he can play with another sibling. But I am not God, thankfully. God never needs a break, never sneaks away, and never tunes us out.

In Joshua 1, Moses had died, and God imparts to Joshua the authority of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” The author of Hebrews takes this Old Testament promise and pulls it into the New Testament as a promise for the saved. He promises to never leave – in the Greek, the word means to slacken or loosen a grip, to relax or release. This word choice also implies a refusal to let sink – in the Gospels, Peter desperately wanted to walk on water to meet Christ. And we can all point to his heart and his reasons for leaping out of the boat, overeager to go to Christ, desperate to mimic.

But Jesus never allowed him to sink.

His grip on Peter never faltered despite Peter’s impulsiveness, and He pulled him out of the cresting waves, calming his anxious heart. His righteous right hand upholds and sustains (Is. 41:10,13)

He also will not forsake you – to leave behind, desert, or abandon. He will always be with me. His presence, His companionship, His friendship, and His fatherhood – they are never withdrawn. When all others in this world seem to have abandoned me, He faithfully sustains, ministers, and encourages. I however can move; unfortunately I can easily drift. That is the warning of the first part of this verse. My flesh can seek to be self sufficient. The presence of God then seems far away, but my repentance brings about restoration.

So we can confidently say – because of these truths of who God is and what He has graciously given me in relationship with Him, confidence becomes a hallmark of my life. Psalm 118:6 is the quoted verse here in Hebrews: The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? Confidence is not because of something I do or a feeling I sustain. My confidence must rest in the truth of His faithfulness and strength. There is a song that says, “Help me let you go, help me give up control, of the God I made you, when  my fear has contained you.”

God doesn’t move, but often I do. I may place on God the limitations of presence and loyalty that I have experienced with people. I find myself behind the looming chairs of fear, doubt, and worry. He doesn’t let go, and He never abandons. He is faithful to us, patient and long suffering in his steadfast love for us.

 

Growing an Oak

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. ~Psalm 1

Many years ago, God showed me a word picture that realigned my thoughts on raising my children and gave me a vision that has helped so much in the difficulties of discipling and shepherding them. Troy and I moved into a home that was in essence new construction. I excitedly began planning how to landscape the lot, choosing trees, shrubs, and perennials with care with an extremely limited budget. I love gardening and could just imagine the beauty that would soon become my yard! I anticipated the maturing of all the plants and how different things would look in different seasons.

Over the course of the next few years, the yard became just that – a yard – to be cared for, weeded, tended. We had a house full of children and were very busy in the middle of raising them. I have been blessed with very exuberant children – full of zest for life, confidence, “leadership qualities” they say. One of my friends has said that I don’t seem to get the quiet, retiring child (and I’m not sure that was a compliment!) And in a season of real challenge with one of my little ones, I remember beseeching the Lord on that child’s behalf, wondering what would work better, create better change, do what I saw happening in other people’s kids. And God brought me to 2 scriptures – Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17. So I began praying fiercely for this child with these passages, asking the Lord to show me this strong tree growing in my child. I was looking for tangible results, conversations of that child’s faith deepening, hearing beautiful prayers, seeing a child who managed their strong sin issues in family dynamics, desperately seeking to see the life that the Spirit brings.

And I will say this – none of that is wrong when put in its rightful place. Prayer, mommas, is THE MOST POWERFUL thing we can commit to doing for our children. Pray for their heart to be tender to the Gospel, open to His truth and His working in them. And look for the fruit that you may commend them and encourage them – but watch your reason. You see, in those moments I was hunting for this child’s maturing for my gain – my peace of mind, peace in my home, to look like I had a kid who was well behaved, to measure up to the other kids I saw around me and therefore to appear to have this parenting thing down, otherwise known as pride.

I would walk outside in my yard, tending to the flowerbeds and having conversations with God. One of these difficult parenting days, I escaped outside to walk in my yard. I walked to where I had planted an oak tree. When it had been planted, I remember being disappointed in its size compared to the cost for it. I knew oaks were slow growing, and when this baby tree came to my yard, all I could think was that I would never see it really be what it had the potential to become. Then I walked around the front of the house and noticed that the neighbor’s house had lost a beautiful pear tree the night before in a storm. The tree was cracked in half, crumpled across their driveway. And in that moment God defined for me His perspective for my children.

A pear tree is a fast growing, ornamental tree with big branches and beautiful foliage in each season. Until it’s not. The root system of a pear tree is shallow or high and tends to circle around the narrow base of its trunk, sending out intertwining rootlets that fail to provide strength and instead create instability that leads to falling or death. The branches of the tree all diverge from a single, short trunk as well which allows for the beautiful display in the early years. The wood however is weak, and the trunk of the tree often cannot take the stress of wind gusts causing the tree to crack.

The root system serves as the anchor in a storm. It defines the health or illness of the tree. Oak trees have a slow growing root system that begins with a tap root. A tap root grows vertically downward. It will only then begin to grow its branches outward, but ultimately the roots of an oak occupy a diameter 4-7x the tree’s crown and total hundreds of miles. Oak trees grow very slowly because not until their taproot is established and root system in place will they begin to establish greater foliage and branch growth.

I need to embrace the fact that I must create environments that God can grow oak trees, not pear trees. But that’s all I do – I cannot ever grow the tree. That is the work of God alone. He sees the root, not me. He monitors the growth where it matters, but I only see the branches and leaves. My outlook needs to be committed to a long range vision, working daily in the short term for something that will take years to develop. And I need to stop looking at all the other trees being grown and comparing my trees to them because some of them may just be pear trees. Roots take a long time to grow in oak trees, but once established, oak trees aren’t easily damaged with a season of drought or even heat. Growth is abundant and consistent in trees well established.

Often the beauty of the oak tree is in its age. As a mother, I am committed for the lifetime. This task seems hard at times, discouraging at others – mainly because we cannot see the end result. We cannot see when or how our children will become the oaks of righteousness (Is. 61:3) we desire. The magic number for the maturation of an oak is not 18 years, nor is it the number for our children. We need to stop having that mindset! I’m not done when they turn 18 or leave for college or even when they get married.

My role has changed from nose wiper and discipliner to listener and exhorter, but the child hasn’t stopped growing, the branches may not be spread yet at all, and tap root growth may still be happening. Am I committed to the process of pointing back to Jesus if that means this oak tree doesn’t become one until I am gone? Yes, and I hope I die with callused knees from many years of interceding on their behalf.