Parenting children with hope & peace

What do you do when parenting your children seems next to impossible? Settling my heart in truth becomes vital. The Gospel holds my peace and hope.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ~Deuteronomy 6:5-7

Squabbling, fussing, arguing, complaining, and the dreaded whining are all common symptoms in my family on this parenting journey! And truthfully, I can do it all also! I often see an outbreak with a transition, busyness in our schedule, at the beginning of a vacation, or in stressful seasons of life. My children will fuss, demand their way, complain and as they grow into their teen years, they may seek to avoid or isolate.  Negative engagements are a guarantee, and if I don’t see them for their purpose, I miss something beautiful.

Unfortunately, I often get this perspective very wrong. In my selfishness, I want peace, quiet, ease, and happiness for all. I don’t want squabbles, whining, etc. so I will tend to shut it down quickly with verbal discipline.

Searching out the heart purpose behind a fussy child is the more significant work ~ one of His designs of family life. When I begin to embrace the heart pursuit God desires for each of my children, when I begin to filter their actions through the sieve of Gospel truth, then grace can grow within me for them in the moments of discipline. My heart undergoes a transformation before I ever engage in shepherding theirs. Prior to ever stepping into the bathroom where my child sits, I need to spend a few moments with Him. I need to seek what lies may be at the root of the behavior, determine what flesh is on display, and see both my child and the behavior the way God does.

And often before I can even engage in prayer over my child, I need to spend a few moments looking at the lies, flesh, or sin that welled up in me as all this erupted in my home. That’s just the truth. Most sin sparks sin in others. We have a saying in our home that sin is contagious and can make everyone sick within minutes! So whether the sin is divisiveness, selfishness, fear, worry, anger, pride, you name it, other people will soon be exhibiting symptoms in reaction to the initial sinner. We can all resent the mess out of this contagion, or we can use these moments to declare God’s power, His victory, and His salvation over our desperate need that is on display.

Let’s be warriors for truth! Let’s get down into the midst of the sin and call it out for what it is, not from pride or disgust, No! but from a place of grace and mercy that we have received and we now offer to the sinner in our midst. Let’s be more like Christ was with the adulterous woman or the woman who touched his coat – let’s explore the heart deep within and tend to the wounds, the lies, the fears and apply the salve of great grace, deep love, and complete truth that only Jesus offers through His death and resurrection. Let’s speak the Gospel to our children in ways that make it the most desirable, the most welcoming, the most trustworthy space for them to occupy.

We can create environments where Jesus can shine in all His glory because we are pointing to Him. As we set our own hearts on His truth, we confess our own need for Him as we fail.  We assure our children of God’s steadfast love when we resolutely love them despite their failings, despite their sin, despite their flesh. But just like God does not leave us in a space of unrighteousness but rather calls us out to walk with Him in truth and holiness, we also need to be faithful to truth and holiness. Calling sin a sin is not condemnation, not when my heart is humble to the truth that I too struggle with sin.

Parenting with purpose takes time.

And sometimes it feels like all I do is move from one sin moment to another when every child needs special touches and reminders of God’s grace in the face of great sin. But I cling to the truth that these days are the most valuable for the Kingdom. These moments proclaim to the next generation the goodness of our God. Only when sin bursts forth do we see our great need for a Savior. Only when pride declares a godlike desire for worship can we point to the only One worthy of our praise and honor.

These are the days when the worship music plays at full volume and we dance in the unstoppable grace of a God who showers us with love, patience, truth, and mercy.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. ~Philippians 1:9-11

voices

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. ~1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

Our children hear so many voices. We all do. Most of them speak discouragement, condemnation, comparison, disillusionment, or confusion. The words swirl around, almost creating a whirlwind of murmurings and prevent sound thought and good action. 

One of the most important roles I have in my children’s growth as they move into the teen and adult years is to be a voice pointing them always back to God’s sovereign plan for their lives and urging them to trust Him with all that they are. I choose to be a steady reminder that God is at work in their lives, He is for their good and His glory, and He is faithful to complete His work. So whether that is the stress of declaring a major, the emotion of dating, or the worry of what will happen because of a job or grade, God is at work. Nothing is outside of His pursuit of you, nothing is discarded, nothing is ignored. 

With eight children to parent, often I find myself wanting a set pattern to follow or a prewritten script for what should be said, what should be done. If I’m honest, that desire may be from laziness or uncertainty, and I would really like a guarantee that if I follow certain steps, my children will become “happy, well adjusted adults.” 

But Paul discipled the young church at Thessalonica the same way I am to walk with my own children. He exhorted each one. An implication from the passage is the uniqueness of each is valued as the exhortation, the conversations began about the truth of the Gospel. I can testify that God has been faithful to me and taught me the unique truths/needs of each of my children as I have cried out to Him. He has given me insight into their hearts, their motivations, and their insecurities.

Exhortation in this passage is an invitation with intimacy implied. It is calling to one’s side to implore, encourage, or teach. The power of coming alongside is profound – actually sitting shoulder to shoulder sometimes, to have discussions. The intimacy of body language says I am sitting with you in this, I am right beside you as you walk this out not only right now in conversation but also in life. The conversations can begin, and hearts begin to open and unfold. Then Paul says he encouraged and urged. Encouragement is personal and specific to the child, direct to their heart. Again this takes time and prayer to see the needs and speak into the darkness, the lies, the discouragement with the truth of Jesus Christ.

His word is enough. It is living and active. Allow His word to be the powerful weapon in the moments of urging. Never replace His word for the mantra of the day. His word slices through whatever lies or fears encircle the hearts of our children and discerns the thoughts and intentions of their hearts. I have seen more fruit from opening His word with my child and not giving any answers than all the times I have tried to preach the truth to my children.  Instead when I spend time just asking them what is being said, seeking their thoughts on His word and allowing them to wrestle out their lives in light of Scripture without opinion or statements at all, I create space and quiet for them to hear what the Spirit says to them. Equip them to grow in discernment by asking them to make choices in light of God’s wisdom.  

When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (v.13) Isn’t that our heartbeat, the desire that burns within as motivation when we invest in another? That they hear the one true Voice and know how to listen and follow Him. Paul prayed for this constantly, and we should too. May His voice drown out the cacophony in our lives, and may we walk worthy of the One who calls us out of this world and redeems us for His kingdom and His glory.

 

 

Holy Moments

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! ~Psalm 46:10

Mothering is full of holy moments. I have become convinced of this fact over the past twenty years. Moments of His glory displayed, His hope conveyed to a little one, His truth declared by a little voice. Sometimes I miss the holy moments. I miss their weight and significance, I miss His truth in that moment, and I miss my growth that He desires to foster. I overlook His imprint at all on the situation and instead want to make my own imprint, my own mark. I look wildly about, clutching at any hope or advice that is offered, desperate to do the “right thing.” And He calls to me, “Be still.”

Stillness before Him is not an inactive state of passivity. The command means to cease striving, relax. In the anxiety of the moment, the absolute best posture for me is open hands, upturned face seeking Him. I try to remember to take just a few minutes with Him (often hiding in my closet or pantry!) before I walk into the turmoil of the moment. The truth is the crazy of whatever is happening can continue for a few minutes while I ask Him for help. And in those quiet moments, He begins to work, reminding me of His deep love, His sacrifice for all my sin, and His grace.  He will give me insight to hear the hurt, see with His compassion, understand the driving forces that are beneath the anxiety, anger, or misbehavior. Scriptures come to mind. My heart stills. I can walk into the time with my child able to connect and then correct because I am connected to the One who sustains.

He redefines the moment in light of eternity.

There is holy learning as I choose service and humility to clean up a toddler. The trust I see in my infant’s face echoes the trust God calls me to have in Him. The quiet voice of the heavenly Father encouraging me on a hard, tantrum filled day speaks words of life and calm over me, dispelling my anger and hopelessness. His rays of truth slice through the justification and confusion of teenage angst. His peace in moments of worry and fear is unmistakable.

The steadiness of God’s faithfulness and love thrum in the panic and uncertainty of parenting.  The holy moments are for me. The sanctifying is for me, not for my child most of the time. He will bring glory to His name.

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 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.  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 those desires are wrong when put in their 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 our neighbors 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.

The root system of a tree serves as the anchor in a storm. It defines the health or illness of the tree.

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. They 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.

 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 with my older children, 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.

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.

Who do I know?

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” ~Phil. 3:8

If I seek to know Him and follow Him, I must immediately realize that the intimacy He offers is for RIGHT where I am. So my 8 children and my husband are the areas where God will grow my intimacy with Him the most. He doesn’t want me just “surviving” even 1 hour. He wants me intimately and fully dependent on Him. How practically does this play out for me?

~when my children are fussing, He wants me depending on His patience

~when my teen wants to be disrespectful, I am to seek His face before I respond

~when I don’t understand the little one’s potty choices, He has the wisdom for the crisis

~when the infant won’t sleep, He has the answers for sleep and the strength to walk the day out completely exhausted

~when I have more laundry, cooking, cleaning, errands than I can imagine, I am to rest in Him and set my my eyes on Him

~when my husband hurts my feelings or exasperates me, I am to run to the One who always meets my expectations

He alone knows all things, He alone has dealt with all sin, He alone commands respect. So either I survive doing my “best,” or I grasp hold of His righteousness and consider all my efforts loss and rubbish. Paul said it so clearly in Philippians 3:4-11- His Lordship, knowing Him is so great, gaining Him as a mother is true power, true righteousness, and therefore true faith. Can faith really grow apart from this decision that all I do must be nothing?
verse 7- “whatever was to my profit” — what do I attribute to my profit? my intelligence, my skills, my personality, my wallet, my husband, my children — all which I very easily can declare as pointing to my pedigree of goodness or worthiness just like Paul references in verses 4-6. But all of this is loss for Jesus. In fact everything about me is a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. Either I spend my day seeking to summon up whatever skill set is needed, or I remember the cross. For at the cross all expectations for my behavior and all that I have to offer was proven insufficient and worthy of destruction. Jesus alone offers everything I need for life and so therefore He alone offers all I need for today.

The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord – Do I get how far above everything else it is to know you, Jesus? Do I stop just on the other side of the cross, knowing you for salvation and knowing me for the day to day challenges? For you, Lord, I want to lose all things. Lord, show me how to do this, how to change my perspective that I may gain more of You. I so want to know You more intimately, to follow you and be your light here.

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