Planting Seeds

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. ~Psalm 133:1 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~Romans 12:10

Our God is relationship oriented. The very essence of the Gospel is his offer of relationship through Jesus Christ’s death for our sins. He calls us as parents to impart to our children the importance He places on relationship. The way we love one another is the display of the Gospel to the world. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) To speak consistently and clearly on the value of loving one another well is an imperative from Him. The culture we live in says that sibling rivalry and squabbles* are normal; just ignore them, don’t engage and they will mostly stop; children do it for the parent’s attention; they’ll grow out of it, etc.  No, I don’t think they will.

Encourage God’s love to grow between siblings – training them in righteousness applies real life here. There will be few relationships that will trigger flesh in a child more than a sibling. Welcome this. It is our opportunity to begin talking with our child about the Gospel. Just like in marriage, the intimacy of family life will highlight our natural desires for self.

It is also an opportunity to cast a vision before them in terms of why God purposely placed them in this family and in this order. Spend time looking at the why question that springs from their lips. Don’t run from the dislike they may spew at another. Sit in it with them, help them discern the lie they have welcomed regarding that sibling and begin instead to help them rewrite with God’s truth.

I think sometimes as believers we have bought the lies of the enemy that say siblings don’t have to like each other just because they happen to be born into the same family. Really? Where is God’s sovereignty in that? Do we really get permission to throw out the commands to love one another because we are “accidentally” born with annoying people? Or will we embrace the transforming power of God’s love that teaches how to love the difficult because we have been deeply loved? Do we understand that God has a purpose for our children as big sister, younger brother, etc to learn the truths about His love and lean/depend on Him to help them love and care for someone else. This walk right now as a child who follows Jesus will lead and prepare them for what He has planned for them as an adult.

We can break up fights and tell kids to stop yelling/hitting and if we stop there, we are missing the discipleship of our child. If all we do is fuss at the fussing, we will never help our child examine their heart as to what motivates their action or response. They may conform to our edict of no fighting, but the heart remains unchanged apart from Gospel application. Behavior can just go underground as resentment, bitterness, and ultimately hatred. And it will stunt their walk with a loving, forgiving God.

We have the rich opportunity to walk with our children in learning how to love intentionally the way we have been loved – forgiving fully, expressing frustrations in a way to seeks resolution and peace, and acknowledging their own contribution to the argument and why they are motivated to respond in sin.

 

*Now I readily understand the sin of man can cause deep fissures/utter violations within families – let me be clear, when a family is torn apart by mental illness, sexual violations, or physical violence, as a parent you must act for the safety of your child. I am not speaking of these times.

The Need to Meet

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:24-25

 

As a mom I have the privilege of walking with my children in the deepest parts within if they will allow. In a conversation with one of them the other day, when they were brave enough to crack open their heart and lay out their battles, I was struck by how common the battle really is. This one was aching, churning, and warring within over the lack of spiritual fruit and the feelings of worthlessness and doubt.

In this passage from Hebrews, the author has just stated that we can come before God confidently because of Jesus Christ’s blood shed for our sin – our faith is assured, our hearts clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with His water. We are to hold tightly to the Gospel because Jesus is faithful. He who justifies will continue to sanctify us, and one day He will return and we will be with Him eternally. But it’s easy to waver. It’s easy in the moments of the day to see sin, to see failure, and accept the enemy’s lies of defeat or discouragement.

If I can encourage you in one area, it would be to listen intently and pray fiercely in moments of discipline with your children. Be willing to be up long past your bedtime in order to allow the Holy Spirit time to hack off the calluses on your child’s heart to expose the soft tenderness underneath in which He works. Dwell with your children there in their exposure, not as the one who has it all sorted out but as a fellow sinner redeemed by His grace, seeking to walk out the faith He has given in the daily mess of life.

I am not one who is quickly convicted and repents with vigor; the Holy Spirit is patient, often tender, and works with me on my sin to bring me to repentance on issues. So why do I think that my young believing child is going to do an about face in ten minutes? I shouldn’t because I fully believe that most of the time they will hide behind an apology without delving into the motivations of their heart and allowing the ugliness of their sin to be seen and met with grace. Many days I have to remind myself to slow down and take the time to ask probing questions and really listen to the answers. Invest the time.

This verse is a bedrock verse for me in terms of discipling my children. I know we often quote this in order to support going to church, but I think it aptly applies to parenting and discipling anyone.

  • Let us consider – In the Greek, the meaning here is to think up and down, exactly, attentively; to fix your eyes or mind upon. Let me consider my child, let me spend the time praying for the Holy Spirit to enlighten me to the climate of their heart, the winds of doubt or fear that may be blowing, the storm that may be quietly occurring underneath a thin layer of protection.
  • how to stir up one another to love and good deeds – to stimulate or incite in another the agape love solely based in the Holy Spirit and from which actions flow. Parenting and discipleship are not about behavior correction. It’s about pointing or directing that child to the truth of the Gospel in direct opposition to the lies of this world and calling them to walk in faith.
  • but encourage one another – parakaleo in the Greek; to make a call being up close and personal; to admonish or exhort; there is a legal connotation to this word – to make an exhortation from a close place that stands up in God’s court. This encouragement must come from intimacy, and intimacy grows with time invested.

So I want to encourage you – if we were across from each other at coffee or lunch, I would exhort you to spend time with the One who intimately knows your children, seeking His truth for their lives. Fight the impulse to make other things more important than seeking the heart of your child. Ask the quiet questions about their faith and listen intently to what they know and what they believe. Point them to the Word, to direct truths that meet their doubts or fears. We do not grow their faith – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we can walk together with them in their journey, encouraging and cheering them on. The laundry can wait.

 

 

Weighed Down

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. ~ Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety – Merriam Webster defines it as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Biblically the word in Hebrew has heaviness, fear, sorrow, or carefulness associated with it. Until a few years ago, I would not have said that anxiety characterized my life or was a big struggle for me. Now I may have been wrong or unaware, but certainly God has been faithful to reveal what I feel is a new struggle with anxiety to me in these last few years.

Several years ago we made a move, following steps the Lord made clear to us but still painful in the leaving of friends, familiarity, comfort, and ease. Following that move I would say that our lives entered a 3 year period where anything that could go wrong did. Medical crises, difficulty with a pregnancy and new birth, upheaval with work, uncertainty with income walked hand in hand with a new city, new friends, new routine for school. We began to hurtle from one major event to another, putting out the fires or seeking to moderate the issue, and I began to feel like the ball in a pinball machine bouncing back and forth between high stress issues without any respite. My friends who know me will probably agree that I tend to be more dramatic or animated than some, but I began to retreat into a place where I watched myself handle everything without actually engaging a whole lot emotionally. In my mind racing thoughts of what’s next, what should I do to prevent that, how can I set this up to not have repercussions seesawed along with thoughts of retreat, panic, and anger. My family was “treated” to either a high task manager or emotional mine field.

Proverbs warns that anxiety weighs a man down. To weigh down in this verse means to bow down, as in worship, to stoop. Anxiety will cause me to worship at the altar of fear, worry, control/organization, self reliance or inactivity. I will bow down, and it will not be to the only One who can help me in my need.  So how do I release or walk away from anxiety?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Reasonableness in Philippians 4 is gentleness. When I am anxious, often gentleness is the first thing to go. Anxious people aren’t often gentle or patient.  They are protective, grabby, impatient, and irritable. The posture of rejoicing despite the circumstances, pleading before the throne with thanksgiving, is hard. But as we look to the Word and worship Him, His peace is our guard, a military term for keeping watch and engaging all offensive and defensive actions necessary as a military sentinel would.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. As much as I don’t want to see it, anxiety links up with pride. Pride is the root cause of so many symptoms of sin, and it is the base of this one as well for me. Since the garden we have been seeking to be like God, and I am no exception. My anxiety was wrapped in the complete lack of ability to control anything going on and the deep pride within me that screamed that I should be able to handle this, that I should be able to walk this out calmly, that if I could just organize better or return to some way that had worked in the past, that I could turn this around and be the savior in these circumstances. I could not control the way my life was spinning, and it was an affront to me.  There is One who has conquered all, and He desires for me to choose the good portion as he told Martha in Luke 10. Inherent in this scripture is the link that humbling myself requires giving all my anxieties to Him, acknowledging His care for me, and allowing His timing for my life. And He will exalt, at the proper time. He will carve ways out of rock, make rough places smooth, comfort your fears, heal, lead, organize, and guide.

Many times I have quoted or heard someone quote Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And it seems like a pull up your bootstraps kind of verse, meant to exhort and make you just put all your worries down and walk well. But it’s so important to have context of what Jesus is saying when he exhorts us with this verse. Yes, this is the passage where Jesus is referencing the birds and flowers that don’t worry about their food or clothes, and he then says how much more does your Father love and care for you, the ones who are in His image. But verse 33 should be the emphasis, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When my thinking is aligned with kingdom work, anxiety can be nailed to the cross. The ability to peel off the anxiety that envelopes is related to my pursuit of Him. He will increase my understanding of what occurred at the cross, that Jesus’ death crucified my body of sin that I would not be enslaved to it but set free from it.

I want to worship Christ, the One who has made me alive and will make me more and more in His image until the day I stand before Him. No more bowing to what I fear or what I cannot control.

 

target run

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

My almost 2 year old has a fascination with all things Superman and Batman. He loves to talk about his muscles and wear his pjs with either one emblazoned on them. And I absolutely delight in his cheerful talk about them whenever he spots something else that shows them. This week we were running errands, and I had planned to buy him his own superhero action figure so that he would stop taking his older brothers’. But after the second stop, he rejected the idea of climbing back into his carseat to go any further. So to distract him, I began to tell him my plan to get a Superman or Batman at the next store. Probably not good parenting, I own it. My husband calls me the master of distraction as a parenting tool. But it worked, the bucking and arching stopped, he was clicked in, and we were off. The conversation in the car went something like this, “I would love to get you something special, but you’ll have to wait until the next store.”

“Wait, mommy wait.”

“Yes, we have to wait.”

The entire way into the store the conversation vacillated between “Supman, Batman, wait, Batman,” eagerly insisting I agree with his mantra, scanning the store’s entrance ready for his blessing. Now I know where the superheroes are in this store, I wasn’t worried that they wouldn’t be there, and I was eager to give this precious boy a special gift. But I had other things to gather as well, so I knew the greater plan, the larger goal.

All through the walk to the toy section, all he could think of was “Supman” and all I could change his callings to was “wait, soon.” He would parrot back “Wait,” but almost immediately return to “Supman? Batman?” followed by my reassurances that we were heading there. His eyes remain glued on me, conversing eagerly in his little boy way.

But the moment we rolled out of clothes and into toys, his focus shifted. The intense gaze and concentration that once had been on my face willing to wait was now eyes darting, left to right, a growing desire for everything, anything! He just wanted to hold something! Our precious conversation was replaced with lunging, reaching, pointing and grunting as he saw me roll him right past so many wonderful things. We walked around an end-cap, and he spotted something he could NOT roll past – a large, rubber chicken with eyes that bug out of its head when the belly is squeezed. He grabbed it, and not only did it look ridiculous, but this “amazing” toy made a horrible, croaking, dying frog type noise, so endearing as I could just imagine having to hear that all day long! Yet at that moment longing/desire had surged in and overwhelmed his little heart and mind – this was what he wanted and wouldn’t let go of!

He was willing to forgo the promised for the immediate – how often do I do that?

How many times, Lord, is this me? Walking with You, eyes on You, walking in blessing/relationship, and then a desire springs up. The want completely shifts my focus from the riches of intimate relationship with You into a scrambling to gain the awful chicken of the moment – the easily broken, cheap, desired thing that has become what I long for, what I seek.

Nothing else costs as much as my Savior’s death for me; nothing else will remain for all eternity. Yet often I confess, abiding with Jesus, walking with Him, eyes fixed on Him is hard for me. My eyes slide to the shiny, new, exciting, popular, and then desire washes over me. There are times when I can stand beneath that wave, still rooted but now soaking, and regain my gaze on the only One who satisfies. But often that wave washes me into a current of longing that can carry me along.

God’s heart is for our very best, but sometimes His best requires my waiting. And just like Abraham I feel the need to “help” God orchestrate poorly what He can simply create with excellence. My son quickly put down the hideous chicken when presented with the action figure, for it paled in comparison even to him at his age. Often for me, my chicken takes the form of worry, doubt, or fear about the lives of one of my children – it may look shiny to the world even – a good concern over curriculum choices, goals, and outcome measures to ensure a child receives a good education for instance. But when my eyes set here and my trust is placed in these things, I have grabbed hold of a cheap unfulfilling substitute for His intention, His love and His plan for me in relation to my child.

The wave of mothering well, especially a far away college student, has swept me into a current of fear and worry. I have lost sight of my loving Father and His plan for my child’s life, that He really is the absolute best at drawing men unto Himself and deepening their walk with Him. And instead I pet the chicken of my ability to orchestrate conversations or activities to push my child to my objectives for his life. But the absolute foundational truth is God has plans for my child to grow him or her in faith and maturity, He is more committed and more in love with my child than I am, and He can be trusted to accomplish His will.

Sometimes the desire for comfort becomes the shiny toy I pursue, soaked from the desire to be unconcerned about money or finances. So I would sit in that shopping cart with my rubber chicken of ease and comfort here and miss the superman gift of knowing His faithfulness and supply, the deepening of the faith walk that brings glory to Him for eternity.

Setting my mind on His ways – Psalms 26:3 states, “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.”  I want this to be the testimony of my life.

paths

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. ~Isaiah 42:16

So much is changing – territory is changing, scenery is looking different, the terrain is  making me stumble again. The familiar path of parenting has changed and the walk is new, unclear.

I distinctly remember the first weekend we had our newborn son home. The feelings of wonder combined with fear overwhelmed me. I had no idea what journey I was embarking on, yet I was so thrilled to be going. I didn’t know what certain cries meant, had no idea what he liked or disliked, couldn’t imagine his personality or the joy that getting to know him would bring. And God has been faithful to lead. His knowledge and depth of insight into each of our babies has been fundamental guidance as I’ve walked this path of motherhood. Many, many times I have cried out for His guidance, and many times I have realized I have stepped off His path and tried to forge ahead on a new one. His gentle teaching and His wise voice have led me back and centered me on this walk with my children.

But I’ve never seen this land before. I don’t know if I should admire or dislike the scenery. As with most new things though, there is a hesitancy to like the unfamiliar because I want to compare it to what is known and what is known is comfortable. I don’t know how to parent these older teens – I don’t know the pitfalls up around the corner to prepare for or the scary land filled with danger that we will have to walk through.

I’ve been through the preschool and elementary/puberty years now so many times that it’s almost become recognizable. I almost feel like a tour guide! “Up here you will see the mountain of Seeking Independence followed by the River of Contentment. The child will climb this mountain and then float here for a wonderful while before dropping into the Rapids of Doubt & Insecurity. They will need you to push them up the mountain sometimes and then you will need to help them get their boat ready before the rapids hit. Make sure to make the boat as waterproof as possible to ensure safe travels and prevent sinking”

I know a lot of that path. oh, I may miss a turn or curve, I don’t profess to have it perfected. I may forget an area or a new predator may have moved in that will surprise me somewhat but for the most part it is familiar territory with grooves to walk in. And I have learned to look to Him and trust Him to guide me on this journey. Yet at one point it too was unclear, dark, scary because of its newness. But He was faithful all the while, the ultimate tour guide. And here we are again.

Yet You declare You lead me and guide me for I am blind. You turn the darkness into light and make the rough surfaces smooth – You do not forsake me on this parenting path. You are the perfect Father, with perfect insight into what my child needs to hear, do, go. You know what equipment will be needed, where to stop and rest, where to seek shelter, where it tends to be stormy. You are not worried about a storm that never seems to end or a land that looks impassable. Let me turn to You, seek Your wisdom, and wait patiently for your guidance. Thank you for being faithful. Let me sing praises to you as I walk with you, holding your hand, safe in the knowledge that you lead perfectly.

Just swing

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” ~Luke 8:24-25

“Stop panicking and trust, Momma. God knows. Your job is to trust Him. He’s got this.” Those words from my daughter. They draw me up sharp and take my breath away.

We have one child who has a serious aversion to movement, just cannot take the swinging motion of being thrown up by her daddy. You can forget any bikes, swings, or roller coasters. She will completely panic if she feels movement-wise out of control, and you cannot convince her that you have her and will hold her safe. She’s in full out panic mode protecting herself in that moment, wildly flailing about, screaming, crying. Inconsolable if she feels as if someone bigger just took advantage of her and threw her around.

And this is me so often with God. In the last 3-4 years of life, we have had alot of crazy – illnesses, deaths, changes, births, new cities, new schools, injuries. And I feel like I have somehow gotten on a roller coaster that I never wanted to ride, and I can’t get off. I may swing high and enjoy a moment of exhilaration but the plummeting back down can fill me with such panic or fear, wondering if I will crash.

We see it in the story of the disciples out on the lake with Jesus. The storm comes that pounds and rocks the boat with such ferocity that the disciples panic. Several of these men are well seasoned fishermen who have seen storms like this before, yet they see the waters flowing into the boat, recognize the power of the storm, and are scared. The Bible recounts this story in 3 different places (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25) and in each recounting Jesus is asleep. The disciples begin to realize the boat could sink or capsize, and they wake him frantically asking him to save them. In Mark 4:38, they say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” and in the other two passages they cry out that they are perishing and ask for salvation. They are panicking!

Yet they have just spent days with Jesus watching him heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. They have listened to his teaching and marveled at the truths he taught. They have seen evidence of his power, authority, and might. But in the storm that night, I think these men absolutely thought they were going to die and then looked over and saw the peace Jesus had in his sleep and it may have just bugged them completely. They desperately wanted safety and knew the power they had seen displayed earlier was their only hope. Often when I am in full freak out mode, not trusting or believing, I want everyone else with me to feel my panic and join me in despair. But the wisdom my child offered parallels what Jesus asked his disciples. “Where is your faith?” Now my daughter can’t change anything but what she is able to do is speak words of life, reminders to redirect thought patterns to the One who is able to handle all storms, obstacles, and catastrophes. I love that Jesus in His great mercy and grace calms the storm with a word. Then He challenges the disciples’ degree of faith.

Trust – to be confident, sure or bold; refuge. Psalm 9:9-10 declares, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” and Psalm 13:5, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” David wasn’t confused – his heart in Ps 13 was aching, throbbing with the longing of being somewhere other than where he was. He wanted the sorrow and pain to end and joyful communion with God to be his daily walk. But then he actually stops and sees God.

I think that is the key posture I forget. In the midst of my freakout, can I calm enough to consider the One who can calm this storm, stop the madness, or do I just keep spinning? Inherent to any mother is the understanding that when your child is completely unglued, if you can just get them to look at you and listen to your quiet, calm voice, they can focus, stabilize. What do we often say to a child in tremendous angst? Sshh, listen to me, quiet, calm down, focus.  Isn’t that what our Father in heaven says to us over and over? “Abide in me,” “Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” “Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things” Scripture tells us over and over that our God cares for us like a bird cares for her young, compassionately loves us, remembers our frailties, delights in our seeking Him. And even in the boat, Jesus doesn’t give a lecture to the disciples first while they are so frightened. He calms the storm first.

The truth for David and for me is that His steadfast love offers salvation, intimacy and relationship, and hope for eternity. He has declared Himself Lord over every circumstance of my life. The question becomes do I allow Him the rightful place as Lord? Or do I seek to self-protect, denying His perfect protection? Am I like my flailing, panicked child, so fearful of the movements and changes that life brings that I lose sight of the Great Almighty, the One in whose shelter I am invited to abide? Or do I swing, trusting that He is able to control the movement? Do I remember that He has dealt bountifully with me?

He Leads Me

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” ~Is. 40:11

Being a mom is hard work. It really doesn’t matter if you have 1 child, 3 children or 8, in my experience the hard things of parenthood are there. Because the hardest parts aren’t juggling schedules, feeding kids, or putting them to bed at night.
The really hardest part of caring for my children is the battle in my mind that I am really NOT doing this well. The fear that I won’t or don’t know what to do in a given situation, the concern that I didn’t say the right thing to a child or lost my temper when I should have been patient, the replay of different scenes from the day can overwhelm me with thoughts that I messed up. That I fell short. That my children need something more than what I offer. That if I could just do better…

Women all the time want to be impressed with how many children we have and somehow then believe that whatever they are walking through with their 2 shouldn’t be as difficult as they were thinking because in comparison they have it easy and could never imagine life with 8. But I promise you I was thinking all these thoughts with my first little one so many years ago when all he did was nurse, sleep (not much) and cry (a lot!)

God will gently lead you with your young. There have been so many times through the last 18 years of mommyhood that I have cried out to the Lord. And this verse has become a bedrock for me – He cares for me with my young and is gentle towards me. He leads, so I can follow Him. When the way seems unsteady or scary or when I feel like I am royally messing it up, He gathers the lamb and gently leads me.
Context is so important in scripture and Isaiah 40 is one of my favorite places to run to when I am discouraged, weary, questioning, or longing for answers. This verse 11 sits in the midst of the declaration of who God is in his omniscience and omnipotence. Verse 18 asks, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” He is the great I AM, the mighty Creator, the Mighty King, the Holy One. As you read through this passage you see Isaiah listing off all God has done, everything He holds together, the power He wields, and His declaration that He is beyond comparison.

And I cannot help but realize that my problem teenager, temper tantrum throwing two year old, rowdy preschooler, or moody middle schooler is not a problem for Him. And He promises to gently lead me.
The last part of Isaiah 40 speaks to our discouragement: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” (v.27) How often have I felt this way and believed the lie that I am all alone in this struggle? If I could just convince other moms of this one thing – you are not alone. He is with you. He is committed to you. He is carrying you as you tend the little flock you have been entrusted with. And when you feel weary and at the end of your strength, confused and at a loss, or just wanting to quit, “He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youth (or moms) shall faint and be weary, and young men (mommies with babies!) shall fall exhausted; BUT they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
You can walk out today with your precious little ones because the greatest parent of all gently leads you and gives you strength for the task.