Bacon, Zombies And Back to School: An interview with my kids

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mia and zaneYesterday the kids went back to school…Mia, to first grade and Zane, to preschool at home with me. I sat down and asked them both a few questions about school and about themselves before the year gets started. I think the differences in their answers clearly reflect their unique personalities…

Mia

1. What is your favorite part about school? Getting to play on the big playground. All the first and second grade gets to play together so I get to see all my friends from last year and I get to make new friends. I made a new friend named Lily. I didn’t get to know very many of the names for the kids in my class…but there were two boys who didn’t go to Cherokee last year…I don’t know their names…I will find out and tell you tomorrow.

2. What do you look forward to learning this year? I don’t know what we are going to learn about this year…my teacher hasn’t told me yet. I already know how to read chapter books but maybe I will learn some more about science. My teacher told me that Ms. Kelly is the science teacher this year because our old science teacher is filling in for someone who was going to have a baby. So now there are only three kindergarten teachers, I think.

3. What do you want to be when you grow up? I used to want to be a teacher, or an artist or a doctor but I’m pretty sure that I just want to be an actor now. But not like a movie star…just like the kids on the Disney channel.

4. Who do you like to play with? Lillian and Jacob and all my friends at school and Brynn and Kate and all my friends at church and all my cousins…Bryce and Collin and Brooke…oh and Bronson, but he doesn’t really play yet…and Carly, when I get to see her.

5. What is your favorite tv show? Full House…but I watched them all already.

6. What is your favorite food? Bacon!

7. What do you like to do? Ride my new bike…I like it so much, I can’t stop riding it. It’s a princess bike and it’s bigger than my old bike and it has a place for my baby to ride and it has a bell. It can go faster than my old bike too. But it’s not as big as Anthony’s new bike so he goes a little faster than me. 

8. What is your favorite color? Pink and purple…and all the colors

9. What do you like to wear? I like to wear high heels but sometimes they don’t fit very well because my feet are SO SMALL! They are so tiny!! They are like the size of a toddler! 

10. What is your favorite place to go? I like to go to Ohio but we don’t get to go there very much.

 

Zane

1. What is your favorite part about school? Playing outside for recess

2. What do you look forward to learning this year? Umm…I don’t know. Can I just have my chocolate now.

3. What do you want to be when you grow up? A cooker, remember!?

4. Who do you like to play with? My scooter and my ninja turtles.

5. What is your favorite tv show? I like this (as he points at the tv…which pretty much means that he likes whatever he is watching at that moment)

6. What is your favorite food?  Happy’s Pizza!!!

7. What do you like to do? Play zombies with Bryce

8. What is your favorite color? Blue

9. What do you like to wear? My soft ninja turtle pajamas

10. What is your favorite place to go? The new mall

 

To Grieve and Give

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Have you ever read an open status update or blog post that you feel is directed toward you?…Things not to say to someone going through a divorce….What you shouldn’t say to someone who just found out they have cancer….The most insensitive comments I have received since my dad died….and you find, in fact, that you have said at least one of those things. Your heart sinks and you feel rejected. Though you tried to genuinely offer a listening ear and share your experiences without being offensive or presumptuous, you are left feeling as if you never want to try to help again when your comments are criticized.  You truly hoped and prayed to provide comfort only to be told your acts are unacceptable because you didn’t say exactly the right thing, at the right time, in the right tone.

But I also know…when I am in pain, I think it’s my job to offer advice in a public, open context to those who want to console or help me…because how else will they know how to respond unless I tell them exactly what to do and not do? how will they know how not to hurt my feelings?….don’t ask about adoption when I’m suffering with infertility…don’t offer suggestions about an illness you have never experienced….don’t pretend like your cat being sick is the same as my daughter having spinal surgery…I want people to say something and not avoid me but I don’t want them to say something that will hurt me and I don’t want them to say anything that will make me doubt and I don’t want them telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I can unintentionally set up a parameter of guidelines that can never be contained…a pile of standards that can never be met. I want comfort from someone who is genuine, knows everything about my situation, is always sensitive to my feelings and never allows awkward silence. And I want to place blame and hold grudges against anyone who can’t get it just right.

I’ve had to remind myself often as I have endured difficult times that the amount of wisdom a person has is not a measure of their heart….and sometimes suffering is a lesson in my own pride. Sometimes in order to actually receive comfort I have to be willing to give of myself, let my own perceived rights go. Some of the most loving people have left the most hurtful impressions on my mind when I was suffering, not because of thoughtlessness or ill intentions or even because what they said was necessarily wrong…but because of my own expectations and my own selfish view of the situation. When I was struggling with infertility a friend approached me with her own predicament….”I think I might be pregnant” was all I heard and I shut down. How could she be so insensitive? How could she be so ignorant? I’m sitting here knowing that I may never have any children of my own and she is complaining about the inconvenience of getting pregnant a year too early. I didn’t take her perspective. I didn’t offer any comfort. I ruined the rest of our day and our friendship because I was selfishly focused on my own pain. I failed to see that she had no one else to turn to. I failed to see that she was as confused and scared as I was. Pain creates tunnel vision, it creates rights in our mind that aren’t ours to be taken.

We are called to be humble, we are called to put others first, we are called to comfort and create peace among our brothers and sisters in Christ…with no exceptions. Suffering doesn’t offer us a free ticket to be selfish…a pass to correct in bitterness instead of love. People don’t generally intend to be insensitive but sometimes they are…it doesn’t give me license to be insensitive in return. By pointing fingers and giving unsolicited advice and guidance in how to best help me, I’m not creating an avenue for comfort, I am creating a wall of isolation….pushing others away with the rules I have created for them. And in our hearts we begin to say, “I will only accept your help if it comes to me exactly like I want it.” No one will ever experience the exact same pain in the exact same way…no one will ever know exactly what to say…no one can read my mind to know what I want, especially when my feelings are indistinguishable to myself. So if I don’t want to sit alone in my pain, then I have to get over my rights and my feelings and let someone try to help…even if they fail.

Suffering is a part of a sinful world. As long as there is sin in the world, there will always be suffering. And as long as we are on the earth we are called to serve others…in a constant, never-ceasing way. So the balance between these two things cannot exist in a one or the other scenario. They should always exist together in a constant tandem. We don’t stop serving and thinking of others when we are going through a difficult time. The world tells us, “you just lost a baby, you need to take time to focus on you. You just be selfish for a while. You deserve it.” But that is not the stance that the Bible takes. In turmoil, in grief, in pain, in suffering our lives are not about us and if we take the view that love and service must cease while we grieve or suffer than we would never find a chance to reach out…we will always be reaching in.

On either side of suffering…experiencing it first-hand or ministering to someone through it…it is about keeping a cautious mouth and a heart that is eager to serve. It is about counting others as more significant as yourself, no matter what you are going through. I am not saying that there isn’t time to stop and grieve and allow healing. If you need to take a break from some things or pull away for a while, there is nothing wrong with that. But when time goes by and your life is still marked only by grief, then service has stealthily slipped from your radar.

As I write this I think about a dear friend who lost a baby last month in the second trimester of her pregnancy. She gave birth to a tiny, lifeless son who she loved very much. From her own account, the staff at the hospital was very helpful to her. They took pictures, gave her gifts and made sure she had all she could to remember the little life that grew inside of her. She found out that not all women get this kind of care. Many are sent home with no mementos and no resources. She nearly immediately set to work making sure that other women got the kind of special attention that she did. She contacted friends and family to begin giving donations so that she could compile resources for these women who have lost a child like she did. She is currently contacting hospitals, businesses and partnering with other organization to ensure that this area does not go untouched and overlooked. In the midst of it all she continues to grieve. But in the midst of it all she continues to give. (Check out The Ezra Project on Facebook for ways that you can help out).

And yet another friend of mine lost her husband to ALS only 20 months ago. In the midst of it all she fought to live amongst the pain, continuing to come to church, pouring into my life when we first moved here and repeatedly helping friends and opening her home when she truly only wanted to stay in bed and never get up again. At the time of her husband’s death and in the months to follow, grief was her life and it surrounded her and in that time she was taken care of and she cared for others. And now as time has worn on, she is reaching out even more. She has spear-headed the efforts of bringing a Griefshare program to our church so that she can help others who are dealing with the death of loved ones. She continues to grieve for the loss of her husband. But she also continues to give…and to an even greater capacity as time goes on.

You Are Not Who You Think You Are

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Days had been spent hovering over my daughter’s damaged body. Her whimpers sent me stumbling across the room in the middle of the night. I spent long days curled up next to her. Her tiny body looked even smaller in a massive hospital bed.

Months had been spent planning doctors visits. My patience was thin with doctors who cancelled appointments without enough notice. I was on the edge about talking to nurses. I was disappointed that life might not look the way I had always imagined it to look for my daughter. And I feared the steps ahead of me.

Years had been spent with the knowledge that her body was broken. All the minutes passing without answers or without a planned course of action made me panic over the future. I pictured her as a playful 6-year-old trapped in the prison of a body that wouldn’t let her walk. I imagined her as a ostracized teenager, unable to ever be free of diapers or a catheter. I fought, I cried, I prayed.

But through it all I had always counted on one thing…I was the mother of a sick child. If all else seemed awry, I could bank my trust on one thing…my daughter needed me.  I had a purpose to my life and that purpose was to take care of my daughter and make sure that she could be well again someday.

So as we wheeled Mia down to a regular hospital room…away from ICU, away from her debilitating wires and medicines and masks…I struggled to find real joy. She was happy again and I knew she would be able to walk and dance and run and play like a child should and yet I mourned what I had lost. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t the appointment scheduler, the medical advocate and the permanent fixture on the church prayer list. I felt like my identity had been stripped away with the slice of a scalpel. And even as my daughter strengthened and thrived, I felt like I had disappeared. And I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this…

A middle-aged man clings to life after a mysterious stroke sent him into a tailspin of declining health. He endures long hospital stays and life threatening procedures. All this, after over a decade of mysterious symptoms that continually went without explanations. He is broken and mystified and lost in the endless wandering on a never-ending path. Twelve years of being sick without a single explanation….a torential downpour of loss….unable to work….unable to drive….with pain being a constant reminder of what is attempting to label him as weak…all these things make it so easy to forget that he is not just a medical mystery. His speech is littered with medical jargon and he is well aware that the only topic he can seem to pull from his traumatized brain is his medical history. He has forgotten that he is not defined by symptoms or a diagnosis (or the lack there of). He can’t remember who he was before all this happened. He even fears what it would look like for him to be well again. Who will he be if this is how his life continues? Who will he be if one day it all just goes away? He is not just his illness….but who is he?

In the dark hours of the night a wife walks the floors of a 1970s bungalow, praying that this time will be as smooth as the others. As her husband is whisked away by the blurred faces of an ambulance crew she walks through the usual process in her mind…pack a bag, follow the ambulance, wait as her husband sleeps through meds, wait as the doctors come in and out, wait as the endless hours creep by, and then go home. It had become a solid, expected ritual. She pushes away the thoughts that this time might actually be different…he might not get better, she might come home alone. Since her husband got sick ten years ago, her life has been consumed by being his caregiver. He requires all her work, all her strength, all her thoughts, all her time.  Silently and shamefully she craves the freedom that his death would create and yet she fears the obscurity that it would bring. What would she do without him? Who would she be? Who is she now?…she doesn’t even know anymore. She can’t just be the wife of an ailing husband…then who is she?

A teenage girl stares blankly into the full-length mirror on the back of her bedroom door. Her eyes snag on every curve and lump and she wishes that she could become less…less and less until she becomes nothing. Walking away, she picks up a notebook and quietly scrawls her final calorie intake for the day…celery…0….and she feels that she has won, yet in the grand scheme of things she always feels like she is losing. She wants to be free from it but she doesn’t know who she is without it. She fears what lies ahead in a ritual-free future full of endless possibilities. She clings to the safety of what she knows and what it seems she will always be and has always been. If she isn’t just her eating disorder…then who is she?

We all have things that we feel define us…relationships, jobs, hobbies, talents, past experiences, conditions…and exposing those representational entities through loss can be devastating, especially when we have allowed them to consume us. It doesn’t have to be so dark on the other side, because deep down we are not just a mom…we are not just a caregiver….we are not our illnesses or even our hobbies and talents. At our core we are children of God, created for His glory on all the different avenues that he sends us down. We are heirs of the King of all creation with a promised inheritance of no less than all the treasure and gifts that heaven can offer (Ephesians 1:3). We are wrapped seamlessly in the identity of Christ (Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:3)), the Savior and Messiah of all mankind, so that no matter what may fall away from our earthly existence we are still forever and always righteous, chosen, honored royalty with a future of boundless opportunity to serve the one who made us. Our lives change and with it the labels we have placed on ourselves, but if you are a Christian then one thing can always stay the same…you are not your illness, disorder or disease…you are not your job, title or task….you are not your talent, hobby or persute…you are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). You are sons of God (Galatians 3:26). You are children and heirs (Romans 8:17). You are a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). You are a conqueror (Romans 8:37).You belong to Christ (Romans 1:5-7). And nothing can take any of that away.

 

Bad Guys and Other Scary Things: A Christian Perspective on Stranger Danger

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At lunch the other day, I walked in on my kids talking about their views on the ever-present topic of the danger of “bad guys” and the “stranger danger” rules that my daughter had learned in school. “If a bad guy comes, I will rip off his mask,” Zane said with a snarl.

“Zane….bad guys don’t always wear masks,” Mia retorted with an eye roll….”If I see a bad guy, I will punch and kick and hit him. And if a bad guy grabs me, I will yell FIRE so that everyone will look”. Since she had been to school already, she knew a few practical rules that her teacher had taught her about “stranger danger”…and though these rules can be helpful in a tight spot, they don’t always encapsulate the entire story.

I challenged them with a soft bit of truth in the form of thought-provoking questions…”Did you know a bad guy can look just like me? There can be people who look nice but are really trying to hurt you. Do you think you would be able to tell if someone was a bad guy?”

My kids returned my lesson with blank stares. So I continued, “I will pretend to be a bad guy and you show me what you would do if I was trying to get you to come with me,” I started with my 6 year-old daughter with the intention of her being an example to my 4 year-old son. I began in a calm, comforting voice, “Well, hi little girl. I’ve been passing out candy to all the kids at the park but I seem to have run out. Would you mind coming over to my car with me so I can get you some too?….”

And before I could continue, she shouted in her meanest, toughest voice, “No. I won’t go with you!!” She usually errs on the side of complete mistrust of anyone she doesn’t know. She has always been intimidated by new people and cautious of new situations. But her leery outlook often inhibits her socialization. So, I turned to my son, who had been listening to everything we said, “Oh, you are such a cute little boy. I have some ice cream. Would you like some ice cream?”

He nodded, “My mom lets me have ice cream.”

I continued, “Well, I left it over there. Would you like to come with me?” And with a naive grin he nodded sweetly and my little game became a shocking truth. My sons friendly, loving spirit is a detriment to his safety. It’s a characteristic I don’t necessarily long for him to overcome entirely, but I do want him to be safe. So, how do I teach my kids to be kind without being naive? How do I teach my kids to enjoy meeting new people and to allow new people into their lives without terrifying them into mistrusting everyone? How can my kids know what to do if they get separated from me without them being overly unnerved by being lost?

Part of the answer to these questions is that we are always to trust God. We can’t control every situation that our children encounter. I send my daughter to school and pray that she is safe. I pray that the regulations that the school has set up will protect her. I pray that she and her teachers will make wise choices and I pray that those who I am trusting for her care will not take advantage of her. And I occasionally leave my son with babysitters. I pray those who watch over him will know his impulsivity and keep him from hurting himself or wandering off when he makes rash, dangerous choices. My own care is faulty. My own instincts are imperfect. I lose sight of him at the park, I become wrapped up in a book while I’m watching him play in the front yard. And just this last week, I had to quickly leave my children with a nurse I had never met in order to get an unexpected x-ray. As parents we have to leave a lot to God’s perfect sovereignty and that often is the most terrifying part of this equation.

But the other side of these questions is our own responsibility and that is where much of the confusion lies. In our attempt to be conscientious, the scale becomes weighted in the direction of worry and fears. We try to remove all instances of danger by keeping them close and creating unnecessary isolation. Or we create a mantra of “God is in control” and we lose sight of the job we’ve been given. It is a huge responsibility to guard a child’s safety but it doesn’t have to be frightening to you or the child. It’s not always as simplistic or straightforward as we would like to make it but it also doesn’t have to be so complicated either. I am certainly not an expert on child safety…but over the last week I have been observing, gathering information, and asking questions, so that I could break the confusion in my mind over the dichotomy between avoiding strangers and building relationships. Here’s what I came up with…

When discussing the concept of “stranger danger”, don’t give kids too many rules. A small list of general rules is better than a huge list of specifics. If they know that it is generally the best idea to ask a parent first before taking anything from someone else…if they generally know it’s not safe to go into someone else’s house without permission…if they generally know it is only ok to talk to a stranger when a parent is close by…then you don’t have to fill in the blanks with every possible scenario that may arise. As in so many other areas of life, thinking skills are much more important than rote memorization of rules.

Talk about people that they can trust. Kids shouldn’t fear all strangers…on occasion, that can be as dangerous as thinking everyone is a friend. Firemen, policemen, sales clerks, and neighbors can be a huge help to a kid in trouble, but many kids feel paralyzed with fear because of too much emphasis on “stranger danger”.  While this particular point could become bogged down with a long list of “what-ifs”…the truth is, a stranger in public is often safer than someone they know in private.

Give them opportunity for practice. Kids don’t always have the best sense in dangerous situations but if they are given a chance to practice making choices for themselves they will know what to do when a crisis actually arises. If you shelter and guard your child at all times they will not know what to do when they are put in a position to choose for themselves. They can’t sense danger as well if they have never been exposed to what danger can look like. And, on the flip-side, if you guard them too closely, they will have difficulty knowing when they can actually build a relationship. It may be helpful to take cookies to a neighbor, or to strike up a conversation with someone in line at the grocery store and then have a discussion later about why that particular situation was okay and what scenarios would not be okay. “It was okay to take cookies to the neighbor because we have talked to her a few times in our yard and Mommy was with you. It would not be okay to go over to her house if I was not with you, even if she invited you. Maybe when we have time to get to know her better we can go over together.”

Don’t think you’ve covered it if you talk about it once. I showed my son how to call me or my husband in an emergency. After we had gone over it a few times, I expected him to have it…but he didn’t. Not because he wasn’t listening, but because it takes repetition and application to learn something, even for adults.

Don’t overdo it. Some parents give their children too much information to deal with. They can’t comprehend adult situations and they shouldn’t have to in order to stay safe. But you can also “under-do” it too by thinking that it is too much to even mention the possibility of someone hurting them. Then as a child approaches the age to understand, it is helpful to open the lines of communication about difficult choices and to present more drastic applications.

Be your child’s advocate. If you are uncomfortable with the way a stranger is talking to your daughter, speak up. She will learn from your assertiveness. She can learn from your instincts. Your fear about what people will think of you could be a clear avenue for your child to be taken advantage of.

Create an environment of openness. A child shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up. There shouldn’t be a broad stroke of shame covering talk about your body. There are times and places to be frank, and there are times and places to be private…your child should know the difference. Privacy should look completely different from shame. And wrong choices don’t always need to be punished. Kids don’t have the same reasoning as we do and it’s unfair to punish them for something that they were ignorant of. Sometimes a grace filled discussion is enough to replace negative thoughts or actions with positive on)es and provide afluid line for children to express their worries, opinions and concerns in the future.

And so, being cautious about strangers does not have to equal isolation and rude behavior. Galatians 5:14 says we should “love others as you love yourself” (The Message)…strangers are people too, so we are called to love them. But we don’t have to be ignorant either. Children have a special place in the kingdom and we are to protect and guide them.  We are actually instructed to follow their example of faith. And anyone who causes them harm faces the wrath of God. (Matthew 18:3-6).

The This, or That of Spiritual Character (Hebrews 5-6:12)

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Appointed or Exalted? In Jewish culture, the high priest position was one of divine appointment. He was chosen according to family line and had the utmost responsibility of representing mankind before God, making a sacrafice to cover the sin of all the people. And these verses describe the similarity of the position that belonged to Jesus. He was the Great High Priest who, because of his humanity, could deal gently with man. But the text makes it clear that neither of these positions were ones of self-exaltation. These important titles were given only by appointment. No high priest was given his duty because he chose it, or because he placed himself higher than all the others…as Christ was given his calling only by the sovereign hand of God. In serving God and ministering to others, are you exalting yourself by seeking recognition and authority? Or are you humbly waiting for God’s clear appointment so that you may humbly serve him? Don’t rush forward in service just to receive a title or position, wait upon the Lord and he will give you a place of high authority, His authority and He will receive the glory that He deserves.

Meat or Milk?  I’ve met plenty of people, wearied by the endless debate over theology or trampled by the shame of simply not being taught, that have thrown their arms up in frustration over the path to deeper spiritual knowledge. These people need others to come along side them and given them encouragement and support. But this passage is talking about those who know better but refuse to listen. They have become comfortable with where they are and what they know and are unwilling to contemplate anything beyond the basics of Christianity. I understand the resistance. It is difficult to make time, it is painful to stretch your mind in directions it hasn’t been. It is time consuming in a world with little time to spare. But digging into the meat of the Word of God is life changing. We settle for far less because we are not willing to grow. We only glimpse the smallest fraction of who God is and what He does in our lives when we become lazy about becoming more spiritually mature. We are students when we should be teachers, we are stuck in the same old sin when we could be experiencing freedom, we lack discernment, and we fail to fulfill our place in the body of Christ.

Holding Fast or Falling Away? This is such a debated and confusing passage. Is it possible to know the gospel and trust in Christ and then one day decide it’s not for you and leave it all behind, forfeiting your spot in heaven? Can you really turn your back on God after a lifetime of serving Him and in the midst of grief or confusion make an irreversible decision to live without Him? Pastor John Piper sheds some light on the verses.”This passage says that there is a spiritual condition that makes repentance and salvation impossible. And it says that this condition may look in many ways like salvation, but it isn’t. And it leads to destruction. And so this text is a warning to us not to assume that we are secure when our lives have some religious experiences but no growing fruit. And the reason for showing us this serious situation is so that we will flee from it, and move to solid ground and lasting joy.” It is difficult to convince someone that they need to be saved if they are so completely convinced that they are a Christian that they are unwilling to hear the truth.

Sluggish or Imitators in Faith? It is important that when we are made aware of such downfalls in our Christian walk (as we have discussed from Hebrew 5 and 6) that we seek to make the necessary changes. Don’t let chiding from a Christian brother or sister lead you to resentment but let it spurn you on to seek better and deeper things. Don’t let laziness or pride keep you from serving God to the best of your ability. Seek to be true imitators of the faith who through patience inherit the promises of God.

 

Reflections on Suicide: For The Sake of the Body

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Someone I cared about killed herself last week. And so the questions began to flood my mind. Could I have done something? Why didn’t I send that text a day earlier? Why didn’t I spend more time with her? Why didn’t I call? Could I have said the one thing that would have convinced her not to do it?…and in an attempt to comfort my grieving heart, I tell myself, “God is in control. If He wanted me to stop her, I would have. If He had something for me to say, He would have told me. I had no way of knowing she was going to do that. There was nothing anybody could have done. She was going to do it anyway…it wouldn’t have mattered what anyone said to her.”

That is all a lie. I know better than to think I am incapable of speaking truth to someone who is hurting. I know better than to think that my prayers are ineffective to change someone’s heart. I know better than to let someone suffer alone for the sake of my own insecurity, inadequacies and fears. I know better than to think that God would speak to me if I’m not even listening. And I know better than to allow my life to spin busily along, allowing my schedule to overtake fellowship. She was my friend and I failed her. I failed to be a godly influence in her life, as I fail so many more of my Christian brothers and sisters. But now is not the time to beat myself up…it is a time to wake up.

I’ve always known how important it is to spend time alone with God. From the time I could speak, I was taught to pray. From the time I learned how to read, I was taught to have my Bible open constantly and to carry it as a precious, sacred message from my Father. When I became a teenager I was taught to call on the Holy Spirit for guidance in making decisions in my life and to know what to do in difficult situations. But somewhere along the way, as I traveled into adulthood, all of these disciplines became a means for me to feel better about myself and to get what I wanted out of life.

I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to find joy. I wanted not to have any difficulties and I wanted relationships to be easy. I used prayer as a means to ask for freedom from pain. I used reading my Bible as a way to root out bad habits and sinful patterns, not because I was genuinely grieved by my sin but only because I was tired of dealing with the consequences. I only called on the Holy Spirit in an attempt to avoid my own embarrassment from saying or doing the wrong thing. It was all about me and my personal growth…it was never about my place in the body of Christ.

Reading the Bible is a means for syncing your thoughts with the thoughts of God. As you read the scripture and are enlightened by its truths, the way you think will begin to look more similar to the way God thinks. When you fill your heart with the truth of scripture you can begin to change what you say and how you act. The Bible tells us that “the good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)You will be more ready to speak truth to a friend who is hurting if your heart is already filled with the love, thoughts and words of God. You cannot expect to be attuned to God’s voice or to the hurts of other people if you are only focused on yourself or if you are not reading His words at all.

Prayer gives us complete access to the throne room of the King. We can influence the path of the future by our requests to Him. We can receive wisdom and authority to carry out His will by simply asking Him to give us those things. We have free access into the presence of the all-knowing leader and so often we neglect that gift. I am often disappointed when I miss an opportunity or fail to be the kind of influence I had hoped to be, but I am unwilling to prepare properly by constantly seeking the counsel of the all-wise ruler. I can make a difference in the lives of those in the body of Christ, but I have to be prepared to do so.

The Holy Spirit is God Himself, living inside of me. All the wisdom, power, strength, love, mercy, and joy that is God, is dwelling inside of me. All the spiritual gifts that heaven has to offer are available through him…but the Spirit’s existence is often unnoticed and so those gifts are forfeited.  I tend to neglect his eternal presence in the mundane occurrences of life, leaving me tragically unprepared, or unaware, when a dire situation arises. It is our responsibility to memorize scripture that the Spirit can draw from when we need it most. It is our responsibility to call on the Spirit daily. God does not allow our laziness and lack of discipline to be rewarded…we cannot receive a prize for something we didn’t do. So, study and prepare, memorize and meditate so that you are prepared with wise, biblical advice to those around you who need it most.

And so, while reading the Bible, praying and seeking the Holy Spirit are all very effective in directing our personal spiritual growth, we cannot keep that progress to ourselves. For the sake of those you love, increase the amount of influence that God and His Word have in your life. For the sake of all believers, build your faith and store up scripture to use when others are weaker…for when one member is weak, we are all weak. If we seek only our own growth, where would the body be? If we become too focused on our own strength, the other members suffer.  Discipline yourself to read, study and pray…not just for yourself, but for the sake of the body. We all must be more spiritually prepared. There are lives…and souls…depending on it.

 

 

I’m Not Guilty and Neither Are You

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Standing in the parking lot of my daughter’s school I struck up a conversation with a woman who was obviously older than the rest of the mom’s huddled around the doorway waiting to pick their children up from school. “My son’s wife died of cancer last year”, she said, “and then he was in a car accident a few months ago…so now I am taking care of him and his son. I feel like I am taking care of everyone else right now but myself…but then I feel such guilt because I’m not doing enough for my grandson. So I’ve put him in swimming lessons and t-ball and we are thinking about soccer. But I just can’t seem to keep up. I feel like I have the opportunity to make it all right for him…even though he doesn’t have a mom and his dad isn’t doing well, I want him to have better.” Her answer for guilt is to give her grandson all the opportunities she can. Her answer to a better life is a full schedule and a variety of activities and experiences. For her, and for so many mom’s, we push down the reality that the world is hard and confusing and we bandage over it all with forced growth and a plethora of opportunities for our children, convinced that if we just help them do more then life will be better for them. Is a busy calendar actually helping a child become a stable, intelligent, successful adult? Is it okay to just let your kid be a kid…and not feel guilty about it?

To start, the bustle of activity isn’t always manifested because of the need for distractions. It is not necessarily that people want to keep their kids busy…because often times their lives outside of activities are already busy enough. Between homework, family responsibilities and normal everyday happenings there is enough going on to make a child overwhelmed. But factor in a sick parent, a financial crisis or a blended family situation and you have a recipe for anxiety. With all that already exists that we can’t control, why are we adding pressure on ourselves with things we can control? And if we aren’t just trying to give our child something to do, what are we attempting to do?

There is this unseen force that pushes moms to feel that if they don’t prepare their children for everything and give them every opportunity to succeed then they will miss out or be weaker or fall behind. Our expectations for our children are much too broad.  It is unrealistic to think that a person could succeed at everything, especially to the degree of feeling confident and fluent in that area. And I would argue that to allow your child to choose the activities that they participate in based on what they feel like or what their friends are doing, is a disservice to the child, especially as they become young adults. In that scenario you are not training your child to discern what is good and helpful for their growth. A lifetime of such choices adds up to an indecisive, confused adult.

The process is like sculpting a monument. It may look like an unidentifiable mass when you begin, but as your child grows and develops you may begin to see strengths and weaknesses and interests and gifts. As time passes it becomes more evident as to what a child would be most successful in to pursue as an adult. As strengths and interests arise, then we can direct our children and guide them toward activities that will be most helpful to them.

My daughter has natural rhythm that was obvious before she could even walk. She loves making up songs and she has a wonderful knack for picking out tunes on the piano. And so my husband and I have guided her into exploring the piano and have plans for her to take lessons next year. My son however, shows more interest in building, baking and creating with his hands I give him opportunities to help me in the kitchen, guide him in forming objects out of play dough, give him measuring cups and spoons to divide beans into containers and  I support his obsession with Legos. As he develops, so will his skills, and I can direct him to participate in more age and developmentally appropriate activities. Soccer and cheerleading are an option just as long as they do not begin to interfere with our ultimate focus and goals.

I have seen too many children that dabble in everything and are pulled in so many directions that they no longer have the ability to discern what is good and what is not good for them. They have lost their ability to focus and no longer have the capability to be excellent at anything because they are too busy trying to be good at everything.

Many junior high and high school students never even see their families anymore because they have been trained to fill their lives full of activities. They are running from baseball to track to choir to cheer camp. So, some of the most impressionable years are influenced most strongly, not by the loving guidance of a parent but by school teachers and coaches.

I’m not saying that participating in sports or clubs or lessons are bad. Extracurricular activities can be very good at teaching kids some very valuable skills like selflessness, sacrifice, discipline and teamwork. The problem arises when the child is no longer looked at from a spiritual perspective. Is signing my daughter up for soccer the best choice for her spiritual well-being? If she is struggling with cooperating with others or tends to be lazy and undisciplined?…then maybe a team sport would be a great framework for addressing these weaknesses. And some activities are actually helpful to discover what a child is not good at or an area in which he or she needs to work on. It is our job as a parent to discern what is best and most helpful for building the right skills and values into our child. It is not our job to keep them busy and entertained.

And why the guilt? Feeling guilty is a proper response when you have done something wrong. But have you actually done anything wrong if you aren’t keeping up with all of the other kids? If you are feeding your child, loving him, disciplining him, teaching him and encouraging him then what is there to feel guilty about? God will not hold you accountable for not signing your child up for t-ball but you will be responsible before HIM for his or her spiritual growth.

Whether I put my children in extracurricular activities or not, I must choose to stop playing the comparison game. I have to choose to intentionally treat my children differently when it comes to extracurricular activities as to ignore the need for success in all areas and to focus on what my child is actually good at and is interested in. If I choose to give my child a break and just let them be a kid, I will not fear they are falling behind and I won’t feel guilty for it. Because I’m not guilty for doing any of those things…and neither are you.