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.

Grace abounds

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~Romans 5:20-21

Grace abounds all the more! Where my sin increases, grace abounds all the more. I am a mess as a mother. I am impatient, selfish, judgmental, prideful, demanding my way, quick to get angry, and so much more. The more time I spend mothering with Jesus, the more I see how much He needs to change in me. Often I want to point to the places I’m doing ok or even managing well at the moment as testimony to how I am as a mother, but the truth is He is changing me day by day.

Through Jesus Christ, I have been rescued from the Law, carried out of a burning building where I was doomed to fail and ushered and welcomed into a new home. Clothed anew, fed and given drink, cleaned, given a place, given a purpose. But these gifts are inside the house of grace and gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of growing in faith is understanding the room, the castle, and the kingdom in which I now live. I need to explore and understand all the ways salvation changes me, what is offered, how Christ interacts with me, and what it means to walk with His Spirit.

Often we make the gospel a door we walk through back into the old life just with a tag change on our clothes. We’ve been saved, but we think we need to navigate the old burning house of law and works. We measure our righteousness by our works, check off lists of attributes we think we need to develop, and wonder why we experience a silence that feels deafening in our walk with God. We have a religion and not a walk of grace.

And I know my heart, I know my sin that resides and can reign. Sin isn’t just the glaring committed acts of wickedness easily labeled by others, but it is all encompassed by the independence of me apart from God for whatever reason. Sin denies God his glory and makes me independent of Him. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love the LORD you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

So how do I stand in a room of gospel and grace when I am desperately wicked in my allegiance to myself? My heart always pushes for self; the war, the battle is great as to who will reign. Shouldn’t I be kicked out, removed, or at least pushed to the edge? But God who is rich in mercy, whose grace abounds, who pursues us with a never ending love, He will not allow it! His kingdom isn’t sourced, powered, maintained, or dependent on me. Jesus Christ defeated all that I wrestle with at the cross. His grace sets me free! I have died to sin, united with Him in his death, and am now alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” His work in me slays the sin and self reliance and makes me a little more like Him every day. That is the work of sanctification.

Grace abounds – we now live in His kingdom of grace when we are saved. Salvation comes when we recognize our sin and turn to him as the only One who can free us from the bondage of death sin has inflicted on us. His death pays our sin debt. His resurrection assures us life eternal. His life in us is our new identity, and grace is our new home. There is no getting out of it, falling from it, walking away from it. You, Lord, do not flinch with the reality of my need for your grace. You readily supply more than enough. Your grace abounds!