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This is what I found in our living room when I awakened on Sunday morning and walked down our stairs. Fresh coffee, candle-light, blueberry smoothies with whip cream, fresh blackberry almond muffins with jam and clotted cream, flowers, a pot of roses and cards.
What a blessing it is to be at a place in life where my children are so able to create beauty and memories and blessings for me. I have gone to such trouble for so many years to bake and decorate and make favorite meals with beautiful music and provide ambiance, that it is second nature to my children as well. (Though it requires just as much work and fore-thought for them as it did for me!) It is indeed a blessing to me as we have almost no active family or relatives in our lives and so our children, as young adults, have filled in some of those cracks for Clay and me as they have moved from children to adult companions.
One mother’s day, many years ago, when I was living overseas, my sweet mom sent me a letter. I had sent her some Austrian chocolate and she cherished that. However, she was pouring out her heart about something that was difficult for her. It had to do with mother’s day.
Though my father was a man of character and generous in many ways, as a depression child, he had always been frugal and the phrase we remember from birthdays and Father’s Day growing up was, “I don’t want you kids to spend money on me for presents. All I need is your love and respect!” So, consequently, we often gave cards and phone calls for the Mother’s Day and Father’s day celebration, but not elaborate gifts. My mother was writing to tell me how much she regretted it.
“I spent all of those years serving you kids and trying to make everything a memory. I shopped, cooked, bought you clothes and toys and stuck with you all through the years, served you as generously and faithfully as I knew how. There is a longing in my heart to know that what I did to give my life to you made a difference. I love and cherish your cards and gifts, but I wish I had known to train the boys to become more thoughtful. I think I would have made them more thoughtful husbands and fathers. I wish I could help them know that expense is not the definition of a gift–and that utilitarianism doesn’t minister to a person who is due love and respect. Flowers for me to look at all week brings me joy. Chocolates and pictures thoughtfully wrapped by a little child is not frivilous to me–it is what gives me joy.”
“Now, on Mother’s day, she wrote, I get a couple of cards, but all of my relatives and friends go out to lunch with their children, get elaborate gifts and are honored in ways that make them feel cherished. I know you all cherish me, but on this day, I feel lonely and invisible. (we have all lived out of state our whole adult lives.) I want you to remember to always train your children to give gifts and to show love in a tangible way, because it is a way of giving honor and thanks and appreciation to someone worthy in your life. But it requires training! Whatever you practice in these small ways now, will determine the way your children will treat you in the future.”
As I have thought about it over the years, I have seen that it is Biblical to give gifts– and to be generous! But the way I train my children to do so, is not just by doing it for them, (as my mom did–she was very life-giving and incredible at hospitality), but by practicing it with them. Giving is the very nature of God. He gave Adam and Eve and incredible gift of a gorgeous, magnificent world. He gave protection, provision and blessing to the Israelites–land with milk and honey, manna and quail along the way; Jesus ultimately gave His life. He is preparing us a wonderful place in heaven. Even at the birth of his son, the Holy Spirit brought a host of angels to sing gloriously and wealthy learned men to bring valuable gifts. Throughout scripture, Jesus says, blessed is he who gives generously, the widow, the good Samaritan, those who give cold water, the woman who washed his feet with her tears and broke a vile of expensive perfume on his feet to honor him. We are commanded in the old testament to give a tithe.
Giving is the very nature of our God. He gives us incomparable sunrises in the morning, twinkling stars at night, varieties of food, loving children–he gives and gives and gives. But, he tells us the thanking Him is the right response–the pearl merchant sold all that he had to buy the pearl of great price–Jesus. He honors David for his praise and dancing before God. He wins battles for the Israelites as they stand before Him praising Him. He commends the blind man for thanking him when all the others fell away.
When we dote on our children to be sure all of their needs are met and to see that they don’t miss out on any opportunity, we can be in danger of making them self-centered and self-absorbed. Giving our children opportunities to serve and give (at church in the toddler’s classes, baking cookies or bread for neighbors, visiting the local Home for the elderly (we used to give a once a month birthday party for all the elderly people in a home near us with a friend and her children–her idea–we made cards, a cake and created a party for all of them to attend.) Hosting teas in our home, collecting clothes and toys for families who are needy and then spending time as friends with them, serving at conferences, (our children started out very young giving chocolates to the moms who came to register at the conferences–our boys carried luggage.) Taking meals to a new family on the block. Visiting in the hospital and bringing flowers–all help our children learn to be thoughtful and to perceive themselves as givers. When we include them in the work, and let them have ideas, and bless them afterward, they gain a self-image of themselves as a person who has something to give–and whose giving makes a difference in the lives of others. Learning to serve and give is one of the most important character practices we can give to our children in a narcisstic culture which promotes selfishness of every kind.
This month, a friend and I were teaching a leadership class to our junior high aged kids. We required each of the kids to form teams and to choose a group to help and a way to help them. In the end, orphanages in Africa were given to, families close to home received gift cards and clothes and books, an abused child ministry received funding, a homeless shelter received almost a van load of clothing, a family received funds to apply to surgery, and a single mom’s clinic received baby clothes, diapers and books. All of this happened because a group of teens planned and executed the stewardship of giving of themselves as they learned about servant leadership. It required the selling of baked goods, silent auctions for service (ironing, babysitting, raking leaves, picking weeds, detailing cars, doing a craft fair and movie night for children, etc.)
Now, each of those who participated have a memory that out of their hard work and giving, many, many people were blessed. If it becomes a habit to be thoughtful and giving gifts of love and beauty, our children will become adults who give.
I now prepare the kids each year before my birthday and mother’s day by saying, “I can’t wait till Sunday–you kids always make me feel so special! You are so great at providing me with memories! You are such a blessing! Such great cooks! Your thoughtfulness always gives me a reason to keep giving.”
Having had many lonely holidays and birthdays without the support of family, has helped Clay and me to see even more how important it is to my children to be especially thoughtful. So, I make great effort to write cards, bless them for all of their wonderful attributes by telling them and giving some delightful gifts to say to them personally, “You are special!” When you give them the gift of giving to others they will bless people the rest of their lives and never lack friends! It is also a future investment in our own lives!
Not too long ago, I was meeting with a sweet mom in a coffee shop and she brought her two children along. They were sweet children, but they were all over her and ran her ragged. I was talking with my older children later about it and asked them what we did differently. It was humorous to hear how opinionated they were, but it also reminded me how intentionally we taught them to be patient and to wait their turn–because they all remembered it the same way. It is the concept that I call self-government–probably a Victorian character quality that I read about along the way and in a book about the principle approach to life.
The definition of self-government is the idea that a person learns to command himself, his impulses, his work habits, his emotions, His intellect and talents and rule over his will in a productive way. Children can begin this at a very early age, but it is also of utmost importance to adults–as one cannot be a mature believer unless one has mastered self-government and self-control and patience.
The idea behind self-government is that all of us have a power and authority over life that comes from within that can help us to master problems, obstacles, and can use our self-will to achieve great things. It is not about gutting out life in the flesh without the power of God, but it is the idea that we have a moral character that can be strengthened and under girded by our will and by practice. He who has cultivated this kind of strong character is useful and productive in almost all areas of life. It is what helps a believer to exercise faith and courage and perseverance in the midst of trials. It is what helps a pianist to practice long hours, an athlete to exercise rigorously in order to become a champion, a missionary to master a language and remain faithful in a foreign country until there is a multiplying ministry; a wife to bear up with grace when married to an immature husband; a mother who continues over and over to practice patience with a sick or rebellious child–governing life by mature, faith-based choices, not by feelings.
An effective way that we taught this to our children was through training. Usually it started out with will-training. The biblical principle for this is found in Deuteronomy. God tells the Israelites to obey Him, and if they do, they will be blessed. If they don’t obey, they will be cursed–there were consequences to their decisions. So He says, “So choose life and obey me so that you may live!” Similarly, in life all choices have consequences. Our children need to understand that “what we sow we will reap.”
I used to say to my children over and over again. “Daddy and I cannot make you into great people. You have the power to determine how strong you become by how you exercise your will. We can train you and teach you how to be good and how to be righteous, but you have to decide to obey and you have to decide that you want to become a person of godly character. God made you such a wonderful child, so I hope you will decide to do your best to become all that you can be. It is in your hands. It is yours to decide to respond, but I am praying and hoping that you will.”
When we appeal to our children’s hearts for excellence and choices of good behavior, then we are giving them the will and desire to be excellent all for themselves. Their desire comes from within and their motivation is from their heart. But if we train them behaviorally by always forcing them to do what we want them to do because they might get a spanking, or another kind of threatened discipline, then their motivation is to avoid spanking or harshness but not to please God or to please their parents, by having a good heart and responding in obedience.
This works itself out practically by helping them to train their wills to develop strength and self control. Our children always remember us saying all the time, “You have a choice to make. If you obey me, then you will be blessed. But if you choose to disobey me, then you are choosing disciplinary consequences that will be unpleasant.” for instance, if a toddler was whining, I would say, “Mommy is allergic to a whiny voice. If you can stop whining and use a normal voice, I will listen to you. If you want to keep crying and whining, then you must go to your room and when you can calm down, I will listen to you.” At which point, I would take the toddler and place them in their room in their crib.
Even our toddlers learned the self-control of calming down and responding in a normal voice–gaining control of their little spirits. Or, “If you don’t get your work finished by lunch time, then you will stay in your room and work alone while the rest of the children go outside for a picnic.” Or if you don’t get your chores finished, then you will have to clean the whole kitchen by yourself tonight. We wanted our children to find internal motivation to obey us and to learn that there were positive and negative consequences to their choices–just like in scripture. (Now, of course, the key to this is being consistent and following through unless there are mitigating circumstances–a child is ill, exhausted, overstimulated–often because the parent led the child to be overstimulated or exhausted because of a demanding and busy schedule–sometimes the only recourse a child has is to cry or complain if they have become physically or emotionally spent because of too much activity and demands on their young body.)
However, very young children, toddlers, don’t always process our wishes–sometimes when they are distracted, it takes their brain a 30 seconds to a minute to understand. We need to exhibit appropriate patience and gentleness to toddlers and babies so that they will learn to be gentle and loving. We also learned that we could distract our children to help them learn patience. “Mommy wants you to wait until I have finished talking to my friend. Here is a small cup of fruit and cheese. I would like you to sit on my lap (or in your high chair) and when you get through with your cup, it will be time for me to be finished with my work.”
When we were in church or a meeting, we would talk to the kids about how long they needed to be quiet and listen-we prepared them to know what to expect before we got into a situation. Clay made a “brief-case”–each a different color–a favorite Christmas gift–for each child that traveled with them for long meetings or times in the car or waiting at the doctors. We would look for fun puzzle books or coloring books or hand toys or a little legos or car, colored pencils, sewing cards, etc. We would pull these out for the kids to use when we visited others or had a situation that would require them to wait patiently. They never got to use these other times so that they always felt special–the quiet bags!
Training our children to our expectations also helped. “We will be in the grocery store for about a half hour. Here is a cup of cheerios that you can nibble while we are inside. If you stay patient and quiet for Mom, then when we are through, I will take you to the park and we can swing for a few minutes. If you misbehave, I will have to take you home. (or whatever consequences fit the plan.)
Before we went to someone’s house for dinner or before we had guests, we told the children what to expect. “Tonight, Mommy and Daddy are having some grown up friends over for dinner. We want you to serve them the rolls, Sarah; Joel, you greet them at the door and ask if you can get them a drink, and Nathan, you think of one question to ask our guest so that you can get to know them better. Let’s use our best grown up manners. This means eating your meal quietly, listening to the conversation and not interrupting, and waiting until Mommy can serve you, after I have served the other adults. If you can behave and sit at the table without fussing, like grown ups, then you can stay up an extra hour tonight to play. If you interrupt us too much, you will have to go to bed at the regular time and stay in your room and play until bedtime.”
Helping our children know what we expected of them in most situations before they happened gave them guidelines to follow. God was also this kind of trainer–he was very specific in the law to teach his children how to live life well and so we sought to let our children know, without fail, to know what the guidelines and expectations would define their lives.
We could gently correct them and help them develop life and relational skills gradually and systematically every day. This is what the verse means, train up a child in the way he should go—giving them patterns of life, relationships, ministry, relating to the Lord, over and over and over again, so that the patterns of righteousness we are training into their lives becomes familiar and second nature.
I am amazed now, at how naturally our children are at ministry relationships and speaking in front of crowds, etc. Each year before our conferences, we would train all of the children as to what to say to the adults they served, how to greet them, how to help them in our book store, how to set up the luncheons, and how to prepare something to speak or sing or perform for our conferees. Now, each of them, having been trained and corrected and rewarded and engaged in their parts of the conferences, added this experience to their souls and it became a natural part of their life’s expression. Each step along the way did not seem like we were necessarily making great headway, but after years of consistent training and experience, they became like the lives we required them to live.
Often, I see parents reacting to their children and blasting all over them harshly or on the opposite side, because the children were just acting out what they were natural at–immaturity–but had never been given guidelines and training. Or the other extreme is parents meeting their child’s every whim and finding children exhaust them.
Sometimes when people find out that Clay and I are grace-based in our approach to parenting, people assume that that means lenient and undisciplined. However, we were very idealistic and had high expectations for our children, but we instructed them through consistent training, not primarily through force and multiple spankings but through relational discipleship based training. Our philosophy also looked at each child differently–as an individual–so that we could best figure out what appealed to and reached teh heart of each child. Introverts responded differently and behaved differently than our extroverts. Boys were differently wired than our girls. Learning issues and maturity levels greatly influenced a child’s ability to be mature. All factors which cause us to understand that we needed to appeal to each child’s heart based on knowing the heart of each child.
No matter what philosophy we as parents have for disciplining children, we need to remember that our goal isn’t primarily to make them obey, but to motivate them to obedience from a sincere and loving heart. I did always feel that if I expected them to learn self-control and the ability to work harder, I also had to be sure I was meeting their essential needs in order to expect them to perform well. I needed to give them a routine life–plenty of sleep, naps when tired, not too much over-stimulation, nutritional food, life-giving, soul-filling words–so that their bodies could support my ideals and expectations for them as a mom. If they were exhausted because of being out too late, then if they cried, I would put them to bed–they didn’t need discipline, they needed to go to sleep.
Bottom line, discipline is more about relational righteousness training and taking time to instruct, train, praise and correct and strengthening a child’s moral character and will through the variety of all the moments of life, than a list of rules about and mandates about when and how long to spank or punish. The Holy Spirit grants each parent wisdom how to apply Biblical principles of training to each parent according to their own puzzle and their unique children–it can look different for each family and each child, but all philosophies that focus on reaching and training the heart, have a deeper influence on the outcome of the child’s soul. I have learned so much from reading scripture and pondering God’s parenting of me. May He give all of us grace and skill and patience!
Just an issue some moms in my group have been asking me about. Have a great week!
I so enjoyed talking and getting to know many of you precious Canadian moms in Hamilton last weekend. I hope now that you are home from the conference, your minds are still fresh with ideas, input and encouragement for your home! Sometimes when I idealize away from home and then return, I have to work a little to remember just what it was I was thinking about implementing when I got home in the midst of the fray.
A number of moms asked me about how to reach and motivate their little ones and especially how to keep the heart of preteens and teens when they start drifting away. I had at least 5 or 6 conversations in private about these issues as well as several emails when I got home. I thought I would just answer these questions on my blog instead of email so that if you are in the same boat, you might also be encouraged. I have definitely not been a perfect mom, but Clay and I have learned so much and see so much of His grace to keep us going along the way. I truly love my children as best friends and companions and though so many days were irritating, the fruit of remaining under the load of these years, cultivating patience, has paid off so much more than we could have imagined!
I think it is of the utmost importance to focus on the heart of every child–not on their behavior! There is a reason that God uses heart over 800 times in scripture–guard your heart; love with your heart; the Lord looks at the heart; man commits sin in their heart; etc.
Every child has a different personality and different capacities and abilities. If we really believe we are supposed to study our children and seek to release the passions and personality and drives of their hearts so that they can pursue God’s call on their lives, we will seek to be winsome, gracious, life-giving, encouraging. If behavior in their lives is our only focus, then when they are young, because we are bigger than them, we can force them to submit to us through pain or force, but we can do this and lose their heart to love and obey and have joy in following our wishes.
If, when your children are young, in the midst of training them and holding up God’s ideals, you also serve them and love them unconditionally, then you will be laying a foundation for them to be willing to listen to you when they are older–preteens and teens who are beginning to pull away.
There is a mysterious point when your children (all of mine have) will no longer be a child who wants to be “mommied”, but turns away toward the process of becoming an adult. No amount of seeking to retrieve the innocent years will make this new phase go away. Suddenly, it is God’s time for our children to begin growing up! Until that time, there is a window of opportunity to pour in foundations of morality, truth, values, habits, character, but then, suddenly, your whole relationship with your children will hit and you know that there will be a detour ahead–a different route to go!
You want your children to grow up and move toward becoming a healthy adult. What are the symptoms? For boys and girls, there will be more frustration and tears over seemingly small issues–moodiness and attitudes that you didn’t see before! “I want to do it myself.” “Oh, I don’t have anything to wear. I am so ugly.” This is all a sign of hormones surging–it is not about how good of a mother you are, but about your children growing up. I have learned some things over the years that have helped give me entrance to their hearts.
1. Remember a gentle answer turns away wrath, as it says so well in Proverbs. I think that if we could see a ledger of how high emotions surged, we would definitely have more compassion. Sarah, who has always been a jewel of a child, (and still is!) had lots of tears–even over things as simple as “Please empty the dishwasher.” She was never rebellious overtly, but everything in her life was magnified–each event was exaggerated through her new emotions. Joel, also easy going, had more attitudes and frustration seemingly out of the blue. Nate went full fledged into more extreme emotions and some anger expressed. I feel so blessed to have seen all of the kids mature into wonderful adults and I feel so close to them.
But if you find yourself in the stages of new hormones and feelings expressed through your children, now, for a moment, ask yourself the question, “When I am having a bout with hormones and anger or rage or emotions come upon me with no warning, how do I want others to behave towards me? I want them to treat me gently and to give me grace, understanding that it is not my real self. And so my teens want this from me! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
2. Recognize that the most important desire of most teens is to be liked and desirable to kids their own age. This is not bad, it is normal. We want our children to want friends and to begin being attracted to the opposite sex! It means they are healthy and preparing for marriage. To react to them in fear and harshness is not godly. We may have fearful feelings, but our children don’t want us to react to them in harshness and fear of what they might do. They are straining towards us learning to trust them and to understand them. Though they don’t always talk about it, kids want to have someone safe like us to tell their deepest feelings to. If we have kept their relationship strong throughout elementary years, we will have a foundation to continue building on during the teen years.
During this phase, it is more important to hold their heart in respect and gently, than it is at this time to choose treat them as small children and to focus on their failures. There are bigger issues at hand—more temptation and pull toward the culture and other teens–even “Christian” teens who don’t have any of our values.
It is about this time of life when I begin making regular effort to take my children out for a date alone occasionally. Afterall, I remember that Jesus gently talked to Peter at a dinner that he served the very night when he would fall away–and it was at a breakfast when he reinstated Peter to “feed His sheep.” Food and personal time open the heart to instruction. I have the opportunity, then, to share a passage from scripture, a warning of some issues I see in lives of their friends. I try to avoid approaching them to produce guilt (unless they are in rebellion or sinning blatantly). But I keep painting God’s purposes for them as young men and young women in a winsome way–”You are such a treasure. I see you making good decisions. I think God has a real purpose for your life.” I know that deep inside, all of us long to fulfill God’s purpose as a drive. We want to feel that we are a part of something greater–His kingdom–it is what we were created for! I tell them of my trust in them, my belief that God will use them as a light–it gives them something to live up to!
If my daughter likes clothes, I take her out to buy a t-shirt and then for a treat. I take my boys out for breakfast or for coffee. I always try to set a stage of love and acceptance. It gives me entrance into their hearts. (Sometimes these dates take place in my bedroom or out on our porch–just away from the others.”
I look at John to see what Jesus said about his own disciples. In John 17, Jesus said in the high priestly prayer, “While I was with them (the disciples) I was keeping them in thy name which though hast given to me.; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
I have realized that keeping them in His name means staying close to them, praying for them, being available for them–even at all odd times, so that when they want to talk (usually late at night–especially during back scratches or back rubs–that I need to be there, so that when they find themselves in any trouble temptation or danger, our personal time is already established. My children have a habit of telling us everything–everything! But this way, we don’t doubt where they are or what they are doing, because we know they will tell us.
It is so tempting during these years to tire of these pushy and sometimes irritating kids, but don’t stop! Don’t give up and especially don’t hand them over, in your weariness, to this culture. Avoid deciding that going to public school is a good option–just because you are weary. Polish your ideals and get back on track–have a rest if you want, but this is not a time to give up! The stakes are high as to what kind of scars will be made on their lives if you don’t hang in there. Don’t battle the small issues (taste in music) but make your battle grounds the things that really matter (morality, loving God, drugs, alcohol, bad companions.) Do what you can to take them on trips or to give them bigger arenas or jobs or make your home the place of fun–movie nights, dinners, parties.
All of this, of course, comes at a big cost– To be this way, it costs us what it cost Jesus–everything!
I PREVIOUSLY HAD A GREAT QUOTE HERE FROM ANOTHER AUTHOR, HOWEVER, SINCE CLAY AND I DON’T SUBSCRIBE TO MOST OF HIS WRITING OR PHILOSOPHY, I REMOVED IT TO PREVENT CONFUSION. BUT I WILL JUST QUICKLY REWORD WHAT HE SAID THAT I LIKED TO GIVE THE SAME IDEA.
To follow Jesus, we must carry our cross. We must give up our lives, die to ourselves–our expectations, dreams, rights, in order to be surrendered to His kingdom and His work. This goes against the world and is not understood. To serve in this worthy battle, we must be singleminded as all good soldiers must be in a war–and give for this short time to everything that will focus on our end goal–to redeem, to win spiritual battles, to work hard, to not lose heart and to take courage and stay faithful. We are not of this world, but waiting for a time when we will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. Therefore, we must prepare our children for this and model to them the type of sacrifice it requires from Jesus’s followers to engage in the battle and to be a part of winning the war. Serving in love is the bottom line, even if it costs us our lives.
Moms, God is calling us to a work that is quite important–He will give us the strength and supply us with wisdom one day at a time. He will listen to our prayers. But most of all, we have to be willing to bend over backwards to meet needs and to encourage and to figure out a new game plan, because we are His guard in a fallen, tempting world; we are His hands and words of comfort and wisdom; and we are His voice to tell our children that we love them and believe in them, even in the midst of their immaturity. May He give grace to each of you today!
The past few days have been a little daunting to me. I am getting ready to go to Canada to speak in a few days. Joy has a leadership project that we will work on and present tomorrow night (including making cup cakes for those who attend.) We celebrated Nathan’s 19th birthday this weekend–with all the pressure of a birthday breakfast and presents–tonight we will have family over for dinner to celebrate the birthday dinner with them as they are close friends. Wednesday, Sarah and Joel are leaving for a long trip to Boston in search of some possible answers to a new college for Joel (if anyone has any spare room for prayers–please pray for God’s favor and grace for Joel as he pursues his dreams!) and need my help to get ready for the trip. I have to teach two Bible study classes tomorrow both for the encouragement of moms and then I have to teach 2 leadership classes on Wednesday for the junior high children in my coop class. In the midst of this, everyone still wants to eat and wear somewhat clean clothes and I need to pack for the trip and finish preparing my talks for Canada and provide for my two children who will hold down the fort at home. Did I forget to say I am helping Sarah turn in some book proposals to publishers before she leaves on Wednesday. And, oh yeah– I guess I should at least acknowledge Clay and a few of his needs as I help him get ready for our trip. Not to mention financial issues we are struggling with, long range decisions for Nathan that have to be made this week and on and on. You get the picture! And I know that each of you have lists of duties, worries and pressures to match mine!
I awakened early this morning with the stress and worry about all of these things and more. One thing I know, though, is that it is a familiar place to be. Every season of this journey has been fraught with ups and downs and demands. I have come to view my life as somewhat of an obstacle course never knowing what hurdle will need to be jumped, what mountain to be climbed or what path to be forged.
Yet, the advantage I have is that I have perspective. I have seen the Lord bring me through so many such courses. When I come into His presence and spend time in his word, He has been there for me–I didn’t always feel His presence, but I took His word and promises at face value and rested in them and then practiced taking steps of faith, one day, one issue at a time. And now I can look back and see that He has used each part of the journey to shape me–my character, my love, my humility and compassion and learning to rest in Him. But the more I have learned to put all of my issues into his hands (along with my feelings of loneliness, fear, weariness and deep emotion), I have learned to leave them there–with Him who is able and will accomplish His will in His time in my life.
These verses have been some of my anchors:
1. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (I need heart and mind guarding so that I don’t spend unnecessary energy and time on worrying–so I give it into His hands and picture him taking everything and working on my behalf as his daughter.)
2. “In this world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b The definition of courage is: the ability of facing difficulty, danger, fear or pain without being overcome by present circumstances and instead acting with resolve and strength of mind and behavior. I have made a decision of my will to take courage–practicing being strong, practicing habits of putting one foot in front ot the other to believe in a good outcome from a Father who is good. Courage is believing and behaving as though God will indeed be faithful. These habits create a life of faithfulness which lays a foundation of a life well-lived and well-built.
3. “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances and I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and having need. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” I have had to grow in character as I walk in God’s ways–to stretch my capacity to work, to stretch my capacity to love–to resist the down feelings and to learn to cultivate a content attitude and to practice being joyful in front of my children and family.
It has been through these things that I have had to grow up–but obeying the Lord in these places has made me more the person I wanted to be. Obedience usually leads me to peace and ultimate joy. I can indeed only do all that I have to do in the power of His Holy Spirit–not by might or by power–but by His spirit. I can, by faith, and by putting one foot in front of the other, do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
I have told my children that it is best to decide to like and embrace God’s will–because having a bad attitude about it will not make it go away and indeed will make the pressures and circumstances worse. I have also noticed that bad attitudes or depressed feelings or content feelings behave much like plants in garden. If I water and nurture the depressed or negative attitudes they are what grow even stronger. If I water and fertilize faith and obedience, they are what grows.
I am a wimp at heart and was never prepared to have such responsibilities. I do think it helps all of us to know that we all feel overwhelmed and most moms never get the break they deserve. (That is why you brave and generous women are my heroines!) But I see that those sweet moms who find themselves able to persevere, to not remain in a complaining spirit, to trust God, are building in their homes wonderful souls who reflect the gold of their mother’s multiple decisions of faith in God’s word. These children are developing into great people and God knows it is because of the faithful labor of His precious mothers who knew that their labor would result in godly generations.
I must off to start on my list-but this is my prayer for all of you precious ones in the midst of your labors today: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
II Thessalonians 2:16-17
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.- Genesis 1:1
God, the artist created the heavens and the earth. Psalms tells us that the heavens are declaring His glory. He created a place worthy of our admiration and marvel. There are vibrant colors, pinks, fucias, purples, greens. There is texture–a puppies or kitten’s fur, rough rocks, gritty sand, cool grass to lie in. Smells–lavendar, roses, coffee, bacon cooking, cook grass to lie in. Sounds to enjoy-the rush of a waterfall, to lure of music, the growl of al lion. Movement to be experienced–dancing in the breeze, running swiftly in the sunshine, swimming in pools of water. Words to ponder–romantic phrases, inspiring exhaltatations, soothing and comforting and loving. Thoughts to think and ponder–scientific order and origins, computers, trains, cars to create, stories to touch the heart, psalms to lift our minds to heaven. There is no end to what we could think of to ponder the artistry of God.
In Romans 1: 20, we read that, “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and His divine nature” have been clearly seen through what was made, so that people are without excuse when they don’t believe in Him.
As we were reading this verse this week, a lesson about His design lived itself out before us! Two mountain jays continued to build a nest high in the tree outside of our window. A pesky squirrel creeped up to the nest as he adeptly climbed the tree to the top and was just about to pounce on the imagined eggs that are out of our sight. The two jays began squawking and swept down upon the squirrel and chased him through the yard. It was such a fun sight to behold. Joy commented that if even the birds take care to build a home for their eggs and then fiercely protect the precious eggs, that shouldn’t adults, made in His image, do even more!
As I have pondered this the past few days, I have thought that if God’s creation bespoke of His attributes, nature, and power, shouldn’t the composing of our own homes and crafting of the art inside our homes also speak of His artistry–His nature, His power, His attributes? Colors, sounds, textures, words, music, tastes–all alluring and beautiful and meaningful? The most important attribute, however, should be His diving nature–revealed through the way we live in front of our children. They should be surrounded with the oxygen of His love, thanksgiving to Him, energy to create and work, wisdom to share, –that every day, our children are confronted with the living God by the work of our hands and the labor of love we accomplish in His name and through His power inside of us. Our home life and atmosphere are what truly build excellence and intelligence and soul into the warp and woof of our children’s being–the daily investing by each moment lived in the presence and for the audience of our divine creator.
Many years ago, I started having a “holiday” table–Actually, I do change centerpieces, put out a new array of books, change the front door entrance planter, and redo the coffee tables in my living room and den. But, I want my home to be an interesting, captivating, creative and colorful place. I use small lidded plastic boxes to put the decorations in–(the valentines box has numerous kinds of hearts that friends have given me over the years–some to hang, some candles, some glass trinkets’ the fall box contains some leaf and floral arrangements; July 4th box, red, white and blue stuff and a George Washington statue, etc. etc.)
At this point, though, I have what I call a holiday table, that is always changed first. It is the place where people always come in. I bought a large, old English antique hutch at a second hand store. It stands in our entrance hall. The top of the hutch makes a natural place to bring color and beauty in the welcoming part of our home. At Christmas, there is an old creche that my grandmother crafted with her own hands. At Easter, it is decorated with pussy-willows ornamented with delicate painted eggs hung with care, collected in markets in Vienna and Poland when we were missionaries.
This week, I decided to make it a blue table–with spring objects and pretties—a colorful plate with a finch surrounded by boughs of spring, bright blue flowers and a lovely glass maiden, as well as a wonderful dark blue tea pot and cups–just given to me as a surprise by an angel friend who graced me with a gift which completed a small set I had begun. Always on our tables and around the house are candles (always in glass so I don’t burn the house down!) and books displayed. I have a couple of lovely children’s poetry books that are displayed on every page with a classical piece of art. Great for spring display!
If our homes are filled with beauty and the shadow of God’s creativity, our children will not only hear the messages of our devotions and prayers, and school books, but they will breathe in the atmosphere of color, great tastes and smells, dancing music, great stories, loving hand rubs or back tickles and they will expand in their souls to understand that our God, the original artist and designer, is indeed worthy or our love and adoration–because they will know that He is the author of all things great and alive with His pleasure and blessing.
(Now to all of you wonderful moms–I would like to abuse you a little! Please forgive my taking advantage of you. Joel, my 21 year old, and Sarah, my almost 24 year old, are taking a trip to Boston next week. I was wondering if there would be any families along the way who would be willing to keep them in your home overnight! Clay and I would feel so much better knowing they were in good company and safe! They will be traveling toward Boston through Iowa and Illinois and then upward and coming back down on their way to Kentucky to visit my oldest friend who is almost like their own aunty–who lives in Earlington, Ky. If this sounds like an acceptable adventure to any of you, you can write me at Sally@Wholeheart.org or to Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah at email@example.com. They also need a family to stay with in the Boston area. Thanks ahead of time for your loving and generous concern–it has been one of our greatest joys over the years to meet such wonderful friends as we traveled! You can hear some of Joel’s music and his newest composition by going to eucharisto.wordpress.com . The Night as Bright as Day is his newest composition. The picture on this website is when he and Sarah had just come out of a rainstorm and had caught a train in England where they worked last summer. A prayer or two for God’s guidance and favor in his life would also be appreciated! Aren’t I the pushy mom? )
Blessings to each of you today and grace in your moments!
Sally (Sally@wholeheart for those of you who have been asking for my personal email! I read everyone–but am often so busy with my daily life, I don’t get to answer all that I should, but I do read and pray for my sweet moms in cyberspace each day!)
Articles on this blog copyrighted 2008
The past week, I have been flooded with lots of Biblical thoughts in response to various people and issues in my life–but since I am in the midst of writing two books and taking care of life, I don’t have as much time as I would like to post. So if it is rough and unedited, please know that I know. One of my sweet friends was blasted by a “well-meaning” friend about her lovely daughter–who is by God’s design a thoughtful introvert and reader and creative type. I just wanted to address this as there are all sorts of people out there who could make us feel inadequate about our mothering or even ponder if we are ruining our children.
Job’s friends pontificated–elaborated in confident tones and words–about why Job was suffering–and most it was utter foolishness. It only had the effect of discouraging Job and made him introspective–even though he was picked to be in this spiritual battle because of his righteousness. We are always going to have Job’s friends in life. (we call them irps at our house–irrational people, plural) We have even been known to say, “oh, I have been irped again!” No matter how diligent you are or how much work you do, you and your spouse and your children are going to behave in an embarrassing manner-or immature way or they are going to break someone else’s standard–more than once! And your Job’s friends will be sure to tell you what you are doing wrong or how unsocialized your child is or how their children are much more advanced than yours, or whatever.
I am thankful that I finally came to understand that my audience was God. He knows me and my limitations and the limitations of my family and children and He is still on my side.(He strongly supports them whose heart is completely His. Also, He is mindful that we are but dust.) All children are disappointing to someone as some point–that is where faith and unconditional love are made to move in!
Even in ministry and speaking, I have even learned that before I even get up to speak, someone in the audience is against me or doesn’t like my choice of dress or something. It is just part of putting my ideals out there. If I listened to every critical comment that was made to me, I would have given up my ministry and my ideals long ago.
However, I am free in God to like who He has made me to love and believe in my children and to be patient and grateful with the husband I have been given–because He who began a good work will complete it in Christ. It is part of a woman’s grace to be gracious to those in her family. I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until the day He fulfills it. If I had given in to my insecurities and inadequacies I felt before others, I would have given up on this road to ideals a long time ago–and it is just a part of the journey–the ups and downs of emotions–I would have always been depressed or become neurotic–which I have been on occasion.
But, I have had so many life circumstances, given to me by God, that have taught me that fitting into the mold or expectations of others was not God’s will for me. As a matter of fact, I feel that if I had followed all the advice of friends, I could have easily cultivated rebellion or resentment in the hearts of my children. But, God gave them to me for me to love them, discipline and nurture them according to their bent and according to the wisdom and intuition He would give to me through my mother love.
For instance, all of my children had areas in their lives that didn’t fit the box of anyone else. Sarah is a dreamer, introvert, close to her mom–how many times did I hear we were too close to each other. Now, my co-writer and bestest friend–and yet she travels all over the world in ministry, speaking and encouraging others. I am so grateful we are so close. Joel, so abstract and artistic that at times my mom thought he was deaf because he wouldn’t hear me when I would talk to him or ask him to do something—he is extremely responsive and helpful and submissive and loyal–but i had to speak to him eye to eye and face to face to help him know exactly what I wanted him to do. Now he is a composer, creative, brilliant absent minded professor but still dependable and hard working but not at all time oriented–always in the clouds planning or creating.
My Nathan didn’t sleep through the night until he was 4 (ended up he had a digestion disorder we didn’t know about!) He also is an extrovert and adhd–really, really-and he also has some clinical disorders that have plagued him over the years. (Got them from me.) I had so many people who told me that he just needed more discipline–”you are not spanking him enough!” I also had a number of friends who were critical of his behavior and immature bouts over the years. Instead of supporting me and helping me, I found their critical eye to be devastating. I was so introspective about my inadequacies with my “mysterious” child. And yet, I know in my heart, that harshness and spanking and criticism would created standards that he would never have been able to live up to–I know that I would have alienated him in his heart from me.
As I would love Nate and validated him whenever I could, spent every day of his schooling years sitting with him through hours and hours in reading and math and written work–when everyone else told me he needed more independence. I had a sense that this great spirited child was wonderful and responded to attention (middle child–second boy!) and that he was soaking up my passion and love and stories deep in his heart.
Joy is a fire-cracker, confident, a performer, outgoing, always wants to be doing something—strong sense of personal justice and ready to fight you about it! But a great heart and afterall, she has grown up around 5 parents! Each one was a different recipe and required different amounts of heat! Yet, none of them has fit the mold–and it was just to much pressure to worry about, anyway. I knew that God wanted me to enjoy life and to be flexible and creative with the particular puzzle he gave me to solve.
We held the line on chores and helping all to be excellent in character and behavior and serving people and in learning little by little to being loving and patient and kind in relationships, but it was year in year out and my very strong spirited children were always resilient! There were, however, many, many ups and downs. I wish I had been more patient with all of my children, really as I think about it and kissed and hugged them at nights all that they needed. (Sometimes Nate would forget that I had prayed with him and wanted one more assurance prayer. I would think, “Am I spoiling him? Is he manipulating me?” I know now that his disorders were beyond him–he responded so well to gentleness and love along side training and holding a high standard in our family. I had two other ocd children who felt more secure when I gave them the long rituals of hug, kiss, pray, absolve guilt, hug, kiss again. But really, what did it cost me?
Just this morning, all four happened to be home, lounging with the totally depraved golden retriever in our midst as Joel played his new composition which he is going to perform for Berklee school of music in Boston at the end of the month. (Please pray for favor for him!) We were enjoying, critiquing, chatting–all in our pajamas at 10 in the morning and I am here thanking God that my children are such wonderful individuals–filled and broad and alive souls, dreaming about the areas of life they will conquer.
But now I know that some of it was just personality–I myself often feel that my personality is too much for some people–I am strong and passionate and opinionated and restless and adventuresome–a one per center as Myers Briggs says–and I often feel that way amongst crowds! Yet, I believe God equipped me with this out of the box personality because of His calling on my life–to teach and write and travel and speak and host and everything else He has put in my life to do–a part of my dna.
As to my real out of the boxer, not much has changed, but I have changed and experience so much joy with knowing him. At almost 19, Nate is still very much out of the box, too–loud, dresses his own way, has all sorts of interesting friends, musical tastes and activities–but I love who God made him. He is intelligent and insightful (all that reading and all those passionate devotions.) He has a heart for the lost and has a real ministry with the “far out” looking kids. He is writing incredible music and has big dreams–quite a natural performer–music, acting, etc.–definitely an artist sort. He loves his mom and dad and has had to take some strong stands for the Lord, over and over again and has passed many tests of integrity–but trusts Him every day. He has written non-negotiables in his cell phone–he is not a tame lion, but he is God’s and I believe that God has great plans for his life. He doesn’t fit the mold, but then neither have Clay and I, or Sarah or Joel or Nathan or Joy. All that to say, live true to your own family culture–and be faithful to God. Don’t perform for others, but live daily in His freedom and power and grace. We have been criticized for years by many people for our ideals. We have had to work through many pathways of difficulty.
But I only wish I had just rested in the Lord more and fretted less about the details of life that seemed to loom large in my mind. Not that I have already become perfect, as Paul says, but I press on for the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. I have to keep reminding myself to believe in God and to trust HIm every day and to wait for more prayers for all of us to be answered–especially as I watch my children launch into life.
I have lived through so many seasons of fear and see that the hand of God was working and that He is loving and He has used all things to work together in our lives. I seek to enjoy each day as an adventure in God’s hands and nurture a heart that has learned to enjoy the ride. I don’t know how it will all turn out–but I know who will be there to do things beyond my own imagination and yet in the end, according to His will which is what I really want. It is for freedom that Christ set us free–give your children the gift of freedom from fear, from other’s criticism and from performance. Blessings–more later as I have time!
Thursday morning was the first day, I think, in a whole year when I had Joy all to myself with everyone else out of the house for a whole day! (Sarah is in Kentucky with a dear friend of mine, Nathan in California, Joel and Clay at work!) We lit candles and sipped our own hot mug of brew in the quiet of my bedroom where no one could find us.
I then had the most wonderful time of reading to her and then teaching her about Abraham and Isaac. We spent almost an hour and half looking at different scripture about him–God calling him to leave his home to follow Him; the promise of a nation outnumbering the sand on the seashore coming from His line–becoming a Father of a nation; his waiting period for the promised son; the birth of Isaac; the sacrifice of Isaac; the passages in Hebrews of him and Sarah living by faith.
“Indeed, If they had been thinking of that country from which they went out (their home!), they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:15
We talked and talked about how we are here temporarily and will some day go to a heavenly country. We talked about Abraham giving up his treasure into God’s hands, knowing that He could trust God to hold and keep all that was important to Him–and how indeed God provided the lamb stuck in the bushes–he had already planned to provide for Abraham, but gave Abraham the chance to worship by yielding his treasure and showing God his heart of trust. We talked about how great a nation, throughout history, the Jews became–how God multiplies the work of faith and service we do to make it beyond what we can imagine–just like he did for Abraham. We ended on Romans 12:1-2–the need for us to yield ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice to God which is our spiritual service of worship–just like Abraham did and to be willing to go anywhere, do anything for the privilege of serving God and doing His work on the earth!
I could almost see her little heart swell to the greatness of His calling on her life–I wonder how God will use you? I wonder what it will look like for you to live by faith. Look at how God has blessed and led our family as we have served Him. She then said, “You know, Mom, I used to sometimes worry about the possibility of us moving somewhere for our ministry and wondering if I would be willing to give up my friends, but I gave that to Him last week, knowing that I would rather serve Him and watch Him do great things, than to hold on to my little world and fears.”
I realized again why I love homeschooling–I have the time to have access to my sweet princess’s brain and heart and time to discuss really important things and to love her and nurture her without the hurry and worry that the imposition of a regular schedule might bring. I cherish the times I can train her for the realm in which she will some day rule and bring His light. I love knowing that she and I are such close soul companions because of all the focused time spent without the competition of so many others that she would have if she was in the company of hundreds and hundreds of kids every day. I am preparing to send my children out, and probably away from me, but they will go with hearts and minds filled with stories of heroes who lived differently–boldly, bravely, intentionally for Christ’s purposes–to bring light and beauty and truth to their world.
Joy’s concluding thought was, “I hope I have 12 kids so I can really have a lot of leaders to send from my home. I can’t wait to have my own domain so I can make a place where greatness can live and be made every day as I teach my kids.”
It is all about loving God and passing on the baton of His love to our children. Enjoy your day of training your own royalty to rule over the kingdoms God will give to them. And be sure to enjoy the moment–it will pass more quickly than you know!
Grace and peace!
“In the twilight of our lives, we will be judged on how we have loved.”
St. John of the Cross
Ahhhhhh! Finally, after ten days, I have more than five minutes to myself! It is truly a phantom to think that any woman can do it all! I have found in my own life, that if I am attending to the needs of my children, Clay,home, close friends and family, I really have to economize and prioritize my time, as my life pretty much demands every moment of me! I do, more and more with each passing day, sense how important my role as a mother and godly woman is and I do get such joy out of it–as I daily see the results of my many years of striving toward the goal of being a woman after God’s own heart and serving those around me for His glory.
Now don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that I always feel loving towards these strange people who inhabit my home! But because of my love for the Lord, which is more dear to me each year, I keep putting one step in front of the other and see, with the eyes of my heart and mind, the power of my work to fill souls with great thoughts and causes and love for God’s kingdom. Mostly, though,I see more clearly how much I am a living picture of God’s reality every day, by exhibiting the fruit of the spirit, by giving cups of cold, refreshing water, by serving and giving of myself and my wisdom and teaching and by always taking the initiative to speak life and joy and wisdom on a daily regular basis.
We once had a friend who was very pious. Her attempts to be spiritual and to pray and to “work” for God, I am convinced, was out of a heart that was striving to figure out how to really know God and serve Him sincerely. Yet, the result of all the denying of self, and speaking piously and working, working, working, left most the people in her life feeling guilty and feeling a bit cold and far off from her. Since it is obvious she had not experienced the grace and peace of God, she could only give out of a soul of performance which brings about death to relationship. She often only spoke in religious phrases and with each passing month seemed more cold and drained of life. Just the result she wouldn’t want.
As I have been pondering this situation, in contrast, I have realized that when I am in the presence of someone who really walks with God, I feel there is such an evidence of life and joy and goodness and well-being and grace and faith. When one is washed with the unconditional love and grace and mercy of God, the result is peace and thankfulness of heart and humility. Of course the few that I can see really exhibit the life of the Lord, aren’t above discouragement or humanity, but there is a palpable sense of a way of walking with God and having made a decision to please Him and to trust Him through the ups and downs of life. There is a security I feel in being with them, because I know their sails have been set toward the King and His Kingdom and I can trust in their integrity to continue journeying in the right direction with Him at the helm. I feel a rest in my relationship with such people because I know I am safe in the hands of mature, seasoned lovers of God who will love me and accept me and point me to Him gently as we walk this road of life in fellowship.
On Saturday, we were getting ready for Easter lunch in which we had about a dozen people coming for lunch. Joy had peeled hard-boiled eggs to make deviled eggs. She then got a bright idea of how to make it easier, even though I had suggested the easiest way to fill the eggs. The result was a mess everywhere–I have never seen so much egg yellow on the hands of any one individual! How in the world had she managed to make such a mess? This at the end of a long afternoon of cooking and counseling another teen! She could sense how irritated I was with her! The Lord then gave me eyes to see this hormonal, young woman-my sweet little girl in the throes of growing up. She had “hurt” eyes as she watched me clean up her mess! Then I sat her down, and after having a couple of minutes to think about what I was going to say, I told her how much I appreciate all the ways she had been available to help me in setting the table and going shopping and putting up with the several hours of work we had all done. I told her that I didn’t always get my cooking right and how frustrated I often felt when I had put a lot of time into something like making bread or trying a new recipe, when it failed or tasted terrible. I told her I loved her said, “I am sorry if I offended you in any way. You are such a treasure to me and I know you were trying to do a good job. Thanks so much for all the ways you have helped me this week.”
The result was that a few minutes later, she climbed into my lap, all long, gangly almost teenage legs and all and said, “I am so thankful that you always love me, mommy.” a kiss on the cheek and she was gone.
I know that the older I get and the more I see my own selfishness and immaturity, the more grateful I am that I know I don’t have to perform for the Lord. He is mindful that I am but dust, and yet He still calls me His own special child. The amount of times in which He has had to bear with me and love me and give me grace has made me so much more apt to love and forgive and bear with my sweet, but immature children and husband and friends. I know they will make mistakes and be selfish and sinful just like me, but I know that I can only please God and have peace in my own heart when I choose to love them back. And in loving them, my own heart swells with more love and good thoughts and a generous heart.
For instance, this is how it works in my own life. Sometimes, I will have a critical thought toward Clay or the kids or a friend. I know that if I foster the thought, it nurtures self-righteousness and resentment and anger. But when I choose to look at the relationship with eyes of love, to take the thought or attitude captive, I can get perspective–this is a person dear to me, I have a history with this person, they have a personality that comes with many flaws as mine is—I am not primarily the focus of their lives–they do not live to hurt my feelings! I need to remember that love covers a multitude of sin. (Or I remember that this person is immature toddler or exhausted baby or hormonal young woman or middle aged hormonal woman or somewhat retarded “teen” young man or a tired, worn-out husband from days of work.) Then I remember how much I need grace in all of my own fragile times. I also call to mind–I will please my precious, patient Lord Jesus if I obediently act in love. So, I cover the person with grace, say words of patience and kindness and then I am amazed that my feelings of love usually follow and the relationship even gets better. This is not a formula that always works–I am not looking for always having the right results–but it is a way of life, that practiced over years and years, has turned my heart more towards loving and resting and accepting and in return being so blessed in such love that the Lord pours out into my heart. I have learned that if I sow love, I will reap love. Such a blessing to me in return. And all learned at the feet of He who loves me most and best.
Indeed, in the end, how we loved will be a measure of how we lived. May God give you grace today to love well and to walk on His pathway of love and grace.