Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Happy Face?


Joy, bless her heart, she was having a bad day earlier.

I told all the kids that we had to come home and do a quick 10 minute clean up in the family room.  Well, Joy was having a hard time and came and told me that she didn't want to obey, so we prayed that Jesus would help her obey, she gave me a hug and started to work.  Next thing I know, I look over at her and she is crying, doing her jobs, but crying!
I asked her what was wrong, her answer? "I am obeying but I don't want to, and I want to WANT to; I want to obey with a happy face, but my face won't get happy!"
Oh heavens, how hard it is not to laugh out loud sometimes.  I told her that she was obeying and that is what counted, and she said, "but Jesus wants me to obey with a happy face and I can't!"  so I assured her that sometimes we just obey because it is the right thing to do and that the fact that she was obeying anyway is what was pleasing Jesus.

Now here's the thing, I have seen many parenting blogs, books, speakers, etc harp on and on about the importance of getting your children to obey willingly, not because they are forced to.  I do of course, agree with this. However, I have very, very often heard it expressed not as "willingly" but as "happily", or as I so glibly have told my kids in the past (and where Joy got her idea from), "obey with a happy face."   I do understand what we are after here, there is a heart attitude where the child will sullenly do what they are told but they begrudge every step they take and this needs to be dealt with, however, the idea that a child must obey happily is not realistic either.

Seriously, think about it.  There are a TON of things I do and responsibilities I carry out simply because I recognize that I have to. Not because I'm happy about it. If I was doing what I could do "with a happy face" that would eliminate most of the housework, laundry, and cooking, and all of the errands and grocery shopping.
I'm left with two choices, 1) to do what I can do happily (yay!  only knitting, sewing, and gardening forever!) or 2) to somehow feel like I must fake my happy face and then go around with a constant guilt because I'm not happy about doing all this stuff that I (apparently)  should be doing so happily!

As amusing as this little interaction with my 6 year old was, it was a bit of a wake up for me as well.  I really want my kids to grow up and responsible, dependable, adults.  I assume that we all want this.  I would caution then the way we try to "simplify" our teaching and use a cutesy phrase such as "obey with a happy face" when we really mean to obey willingly.

I've even seen some folks go so far a to say that if you obey often enough, you'll learn to like it.  Nah.  I don't care how many times I "breathe a prayer of thanks for each little shirt I fold", I still hate laundry.  Maybe I'm a slow learner, but I'm not holding my breath for the arrival of that glorious day when the prospect of  another load makes me break into song.

Some people genuinely enjoy cleaning and organizing. You know what, that's great, but that's the way you were made, it doesn't mean that you have reached a spiritual level that I am still striving for.  There are things that I enjoy that some of you would find tedious, frustrating, or boring (although what is tedious or boring about a 150,000 stitch lace shawl, I can't imagine. It's the challenge, people, the challenge! the joy of creating!).

So back to my point, how about we reconsider what we require of ourselves and our children and go for a willing spirit instead of a "happy face?"
Happiness is fleeting, it is based on chance occurrence; Joy, peace, contentment, fulfillment: these are deeper, longer lasting, and built on one willing, obedient, step at a time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Temptation Toolbox

I would like to use this blog as a place to share my children's lessons as well as my ponderings for adults.

Here is a lesson I taught this past Sunday.

Temptation Toolbox


Theme: How to resist temptation; bible memory
Preparation:  Obtain a toolbox and a variety of hand tools.  Print out the handouts (links at the bottom).
Time:  I only have 10-15 minutes so I do the lessons quickly, but this one could certainly be beefed up to use more time and have more content.
Age: My group is mixed-age so it goes from 3-10, the younger ones are interested in the tools and even though they can't read, they like to receive the handout.

Introduction: Show the children the toolbox and ask them what it is. They should reply that it is a toolbox.  Open the box to reveal a variety of tools.  Hold them up and ask what kind of job would be done with each one.  Give a few wrong examples such as ask if we would use a wrench to hang a picture, or a screwdriver to fix a leaky pipe.  Continue in this manner until you have made the point that each job that you might encounter has a particular tool that is best suited for it.  State this fact directly.

Lesson: Put aside the toolbox for a minute and ask the kids if they know what temptation is.  You should get a variety of answers and be able to cobble together a pretty good definition from them.  Kids may begin to give examples of specific temptations, so try to steer back to what temptation really is- in kid language, when you really, really want to do something (usually something you shouldn't!).

Ask them if they know what they should do when they are tempted to do something wrong.  Allow time for answers which may vary from "say a verse" and "sing a song" to "don't do it."  If they don't mention scripture, you can mention it to them to get it in their minds.

Now ask for specific temptations, keep this quick, it is easy to get enough temptations listed very quickly!

Make the Point: Tell the kids that our best tool for resisting temptation is to say scripture verses (depending on time allowed, you may have time to refer to Jesus resisting temptation by quoting scripture) and just as we use specific tools to do various jobs, God has given us specific tools to resist temptation! 
Depending on the audience, if they are familiar enough with memory verses you could ask for an example, "What verse could help remind you if you are tempted to disobey your parents?"  and allow a child to answer "Children obey your parents."

Practice: At this point in the lesson, tell the kids that you want to give them a toolbox to help them with temptation and give out the handouts.  Give them just a moment to look at it, then go over it with them.  Give them a few practice scenarios so they understand how to find the temptation and then look across to find the "tool" to deal with it.

Additional Time: If your set-up allows, you can talk more about the importance of memorizing verses so they are with you all the time to help you resist temptation.  Also talk to the kids about finding verses (or asking an adult to help them find verses) that speak to them about their own personal struggles.  This is huge and if they can learn this as a child, it will benefit them their entire life.
Also, if you have parents in the audience (our kid's lesson is incorporated into main service) encourage them to use this with their kids. I can't say enough about the effectiveness of little children learning scripture that is specific to their individual struggles.

Handouts:
Two .pdf files are attached.  One is the cover and the other is the inside.  Experiment with your printer to figure out which way to reload the paper so that the inner list is correctly lined up with the outer toolbox cover.  Orient the printer to "landscape", print the correct number of covers (there are two per page), then reload the printer and print the inner list.  Cut the paper in half and fold each piece so that the toolbox is the cover and the list of scriptures are inside.

Cover
Inside

If you are more tech savvy than I, please feel free to rework these files so that they can be printed as a double-sided document.

You may share this lesson freely, however,  please link to this page rather than copying and pasting. Thanks.

Monday, July 9, 2012

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

This has been on my mind so although it's a bit off my usual path, I'm going to talk about it today.

I'm talking about respecting men. Not respecting the man you already have, that is a whole different subject, but about choosing a man who you do respect.

I hear so many young ladies talking about their boyfriends in terms of, sweet, sensitive, soul-mate, no one else understands him,  we "get" each other, he "needs" me.  Girls, I'm going to give it to you straight: God will give you girlfriends to be sweet and sensitive. What you want to MARRY is a man who you look up to and respect.

Is he a provider? Is he self-sacrificing?  Here's the thing, you need a man who, even when you completely disagree with the decision he makes, you can truly respect and know that he's making the best decision he knows for his family.  What you need is a man who even when you don't like him (and yes, those days will happen) you still respect him and trust him.

I see so many young ladies who are dating "projects", not men.
 Ladies, healing the fragile, broken, psyche of that sweet, tormented boy is not your job, most especially if he is your boyfriend/fiance. Yes, I know that as wives we are to be helpmeets, but there is a large difference between being his helpmeet and mothering him.

  No man is perfect, we are all human and we all come with some kind of baggage.  The more dysfunctional families and society become, the more likely it will be that your choice of companion is someone who does have baggage, even significant hurt.  Can I say again that fixing the young man is not your job?  Let him be mentored by a man and learn to be a man, then later if you become his wife, you can be is safe place, his soft place to fall, his haven. What you can't be (or shouldn't be) is having to constantly stroke his ego and hold him up. 

I was recently talking with a newly-wed who was wondering if it was ok for her to  tell her in-laws to "stuff it (her words)."  I advised her that no matter how badly they treated her husband, and let's face it, there are many very dysfunctional families who really might need to be told to stuff it, SHE couldn't do it.  Not simply for the fact that it would be rude, but because her job is not to step in and protect her husband, but to stand by him. There are many ways that women can emasculate their men and one of the best (worst?) would be to go over his head and tell his parents to stop being mean. Yikes. What would be next? The wife calling and telling her husband's boss off?
The thing is, I would much rather try and get ladies to understand this before they are married.

Do you respect your boyfriend? Or maybe a better gauge would be, do other men respect him?
Does he make hard decisions and stick to them?
Is he selfish?  Does he want what he wants, when he wants it, or is he able to delay gratification (without whining about it?)
If he gets a traffic ticket  (or some other consequence) does he accept it or whine about it?
Does he brag about doing things and getting away with it?
Has he ever blown off work to go have a fun time with you or "the boys?" (this would be a huge red flag)
Is he respected at work? (Because I know you aren't considering dating or marrying a guy who isn't working.)

I know, I know, the tortured artist suffering soul is SO much more interesting than basic, boring, and stable guys, but what we are looking for here is RESPECT, not RESCUE.  I'm not blaming young ladies for this; we've been telling you for so long to "make sure you get a guy who respects you!" (and that is true too) but I honestly don't think I've ever heard anyone tell young ladies to make sure to pick a man who they can respect.  Don't focus so much on him respecting you that you end up with a broken boy who you can lead around instead of a mature man who can lead a home.

People change, people grow, people mature. This is a process and should be ongoing. You will change after marriage and so will he, but if the basic foundations aren't there, marriage is no place to try and get them established. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Can a Mother Forget Her Baby?


This week has been filled with bits of news that have simply broken my mommy-heart. 

The young son of friends in Florida was in a freak household accident that resulted in gravely life-threatening skull fratures.  For many hours he was hanging by a thread between life and death, there has been a roller coaster ride of improvements and setbacks, and though we are trusting for it,  there is a long way to go for full recovery. 

I heard the heartbreaking news that the toddler of a friend in North Carolina has gone to be held in the arms Jesus, forever safe now in the hands that formed him.  He was born very ill and the fact that he lived until almost 3 years is amazing in itself.  Although I would never wish him away from the perfect life he now has, my heart aches and aches for my friends who are experiencing this loss.

Another friend is going through the valley of watching her child suffer extreme physical pain and knowing that there is really nothing she can do to ease it.  So many decsions to be made as the next two years of a long, slow, and painful recovery looms ahead. Oh how she longs to remove that pain and place it on herself!

Last night I got word that friends in Illinois who were joyfully anticipating the birth of their 4th child have gone from excitement to terror.  She is only 24 weeks along and for some reason, the baby is trying to come now.  Dialation, contractions, and water breaking; and now the moment by moment wait to see if all the powers of medicine can deny the body's urge to give birth has given way to the moment by moment wait to see what this tiny body can withstand here on the outside.

Dear Lord, what is going on?  All of these families love you and serve you.  Why do  these things happen to your people?    And what seems most unfair is that they are all children!

The thing I have learned since becoming a mother is that the one sure way to pierce the heart of a parent to to have harm done to their child.  Seeing your child hurt takes the reaction beyond mere sympathy or an emotional response and turns it quite literally into a gut-wrenching, physical pain.  
I can truly say that my understanding of love deepened a hundred-fold when I had children.  
I am not saying that the love for parents, for siblings, or even for spouse is somehow less, but it is certainly different. 
As a mother I can truly say that I would lay down my life for one of my children!

And yet, that is exactly what God did for us. How deep the Father's love for us!  God calls himself our father over and over in the scripture, for he truly is our leader and protector. He also  likens his love for us to that of a mother, nurturing, kind, and life-giving. 

 In Isaiah 49 God is telling the prophet how he will raise his people up. How he will feed them and guide then and how he has compassion on his afflicted ones.   The prophet replies and says that "The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me." 
To which God utters some of the most beautiful promises in scripture, Isaiah 49:15-16,"
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast 
   and have no compassion on the child she has borne? 
Though she may forget, 
   I will not forget you! 
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; 
   your walls are ever before me. 

Oh what comfort I find here!  As much as we humanly love our children and ache for them, the Lord's covering of love over us is even more, deeper, stronger, everlasting, eternal, and oh, how much more potent!  For though we parents long to take our childrens hurts onto us, though we would be willing to do anything to remove their pain, we are, in our human state, helpless to do very much at all.  Would it be wrong to say that the depth of our pain during these times can serve as a reminder of how much God cares as well?  

God is not bound by our frailties, we serve an amazing God, the one who spoke our entire universe into being is the same  one who wept at the loss of his friend (John 11:35).

The rest of Isaiah 49 talks about how the Lord will cause Kings and Queens to be foster parents and nurse-maids to our children when our own resources aren't enough. 
God will indeed prove himself and show us
"Then you will know that I am the LORD; 
   those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” Isaiah 49:23b

Again with the reality

warning: this ain't pretty.
So yesterday I got angry. Not just angry, but enraged, as in, given the opportunity, would have thrown someone down and beat them.  I guess I'm not supposed to admit that out loud am I?  In case it's not already obvious, the occasion had to do with one of my children.  Someone made cruel and heartless remarks about the special challenges that one of my children experience.  Momma Bear came out and she came out with no holds barred, all teeth sharpened, and the claws extended.

Thing is, the remarks didn't actually hurt my child. They hurt my feelings.  They cast aspersions on my mothering ability, they hit the deepest insecurities I have.

I've written about anger before and given the other side of the story, ie, that anger in itself isn't evil, rather it is a call to action.  My anger went beyond that.   There was the initial anger and then there was the seething, the feeling of helplessness for not being able to make the person(s) stand accountable for what they had said.  It bothered me the rest of the day. It kept me awake last night, wishing that I had a way to force the person to explain where they get off being so cruel  about a child who they've never met.

I lay there thinking of all the ways I could reply using cruel words myself in order to try and make them feel a fraction of my pain.  How could I hurt them so that they could understand how much they had hurt me?

And finally, in the recesses of my sleep deprived mind, I shut up long enough to allow the Lord to get a word in edgewise.  And suddenly there washed over a me a realization that I don't need to try and inflict pain on them to make them feel it.  The entire reason for their cruelty is likely that they have had pain inflicted upon them. Pain after pain, hatred after hatred poured out on them.  And just that fast, the anger was replaced with immense pity.
I know the amount of pain that I felt  and my desire to return it.  However, my desire to return it was focused solely on the offender.  How much more pain must they be feeling in order to want to inflict pain on anyone and everyone, deserving or not?  God let me glimpse for a moment how much a human soul can be crushed and broken to be so full of hurt that they spew out hurt indiscriminately.

There is so much hurt, so much brokenness, people's souls have been stomped so far down. And each time they spew out cruelty, it is returned with more cruelty, and before you know it, there is another person who isn't focusing their anger, they are just spraying it out like a water sprinkler.

There is of course a time and place for judgement and consequence, but in this situation, it was not my place to dispense either of these.  What ended up happening is that my rage stole an entire evening from me, I gave it place in my heart and mind and allowed it to rob me of rest.  Basically, I was very wrong.

Will I ever get to the place were my first reaction is pity and understanding?  I honestly don't know, but I do know that I have asked God to snap me back to my senses sooner next time; or perhaps I should say I've asked him to soften my heart so that I allow him to snap me back to my senses sooner next time.

And I don't want to lose that glimpse of the utter brokenness either.  I didn't like it, but my greatest desire is to see people through Jesus's eyes, and to grasp for a moment the unbearable pain  that must be fueling the cruelty, to feel the pity and compassion, to wish that instead of returning evil for evil that I could instead show them one drop of love, THAT is what I don't want to lose.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness


I learn from my kids every day, sometimes deep and wonderful things, sometimes things that are a bit unsettling.
Recently I've had the kids give me such a good lesson in mercy that I want to share it.  This actually happened twice with different children involved, within the past few weeks. I'll relate one instance for you.

Jonny has a beloved toy, a metal Elmo lunchbox.  He frequently has it packed full of any number of treasures and totes it around.  On the day in question, he was actually using as a lunchbox and had, among other items, a large apple.  All things combined gave the box a bit of heft.  Which was all just fine until he, for some reason, swung it at Joy's head and connected.  She got a pretty good whomp on the had and was crying a bit. As part of his consequence, I took away his Elmo lunchbox.  Soon his cries joined hers.  A few minutes later, two teary children appeared in my doorway, her arms around her attacker, Joy interceded for leniency on his behalf.  "Please Mommy, don't take his lunchbox for a whole day, He loves his Elmo."  I replied, "Joy, he hit you with it, on purpose, and hurt you. Of course I have to punish him for that."   "I know mommy," she said, "but he's sorry, I'm sure he is."

Wow.  Instead of demanding justice and the fullest extent of the law brought down on the head of the one who had hurt her, Joy was shining a lesson in grace and forgiveness to me.  On her behalf, I did decide to extend mercy to the offender and gave him his Elmo Lunchbox back after a 20 minute "time-out" rather than the overnight I had planned on. 

Of all people, I know that justice is necessary and in fact, I'm quite fond of it.  I am very weak in the area of grace and often find it hard to give grace to others; I'm a no-nonsense, not-longsuffering-for-foolishness kind of person.  

There have been a few instances recently that have hurt my heart as I witnessed them, strident justice, untempered with Godly grace and mercy, laid upon people who admittedly did wrong.  It is hard to understand how we as Christians who have been the recipients of boundless grace and mercy, can so easily forget how much we have been forgiven and be so eager to bring down justice on the heads of those who offend us. 

Again, I'm not advocating that we NEVER seek justice, but I wonder if we have so thoroughly convinced ourselves that "God is a God of justice, sin must be stopped!" that we have forgotten that Jesus repeatedly told us not to be surprised if people hate us and do wrong to us, that he told us to turn the other cheek and give our cloak.  

Looking at the scenes that played out between my children, I think I understand why a little better.  It's not because we as Christ-followers are supposed to be mealy-mouthed door mats, no.
It is because there is nothing like the experience of having someone whom you offended/hurt turn and intercede on your behalf, to bring a small ray of understanding of exactly what Jesus did for us to the lost heart of someone who has not yet understood mercy and grace.  Perhaps our mercy and grace and forgiveness is meant to be an object lesson that will pierce the heart of our offender. 
What if mercy and grace were our first reaction rather than something we are reluctantly driven to?  What if even when legal justice has been meted out we chose to pour out personal grace and mercy on those who offended us? 

This is a personal challenge that the Lord has shown to me through the gentle hearts of my children, not a sermon given from a place of having already arrived.   All I can say is that the change in the heart of child who was being punished when the "victim" asked me to show mercy was something that pure justice could never bring about. It spoke to my heart and revealed things to me that have always bothered me about those "turn the other cheek" teachings.