Grief’s Collateral Damage

Grief is a necessary part of human life.  Grief comes to us as we mourn the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a lifestyle, the loss of a prized possession or the loss of a job.  How we handle grief is what matters.  Do we take our pain and loss and become bitter or better about it?

This has been a year of deep grief for me and my family.  At first it was the loss of a job I dearly loved.  A month later I left my middle son at an airport hotel as he departed for a nine month journey around the world.  I had been with him nearly every day for nineteen plus years and the pain of not having him in my life for so long was deep.  A few weeks later my husband’s project came to a close and there was no work for him in the department.  He was unemployed.  We lost two incomes and we said good-bye to a child…how could we handle more?

November and December came and went and no one responded to the many applications my husband sent out around the IT world.  The new year brought few interviews, lots of calls and false promises, but no job.  The one offer he received was rescinded the day he was to fly out of town for training.  This was devastating and heartbreaking.  Every day for nearly a year, I have watched my husband suffer with great courage and an amazing attitude.

As he suffered the want of a job, I suffered the loss of mine.  My leaving was right but hard.  I went through the stages of grief and a year later still lament the loss.  It is hard as I continue to fight sadness with anger and depression.  What is worse is that in this journey I have also hurt those I love, which tears my heart to pieces.  In my anger and sadness I have incurred collateral damage and hurt my children.  Two have suffered silently (until now) and one has suffered vocally and has offered hurt back to me.  This was not my desire at all.  Being hurt was enough, knowing that I hurt others puts me over the edge.

I share this with you, the reader, because I have a choice to make.  I have repented to my God and children and now have to move forward.  I can choose to move forward with bitterness or I can make a choice to make our lives better.  Bitterness beckons like a siren, but I don’t want to listen to her luring song.  Better stands firm with a gentle hand outstretched to take hold of mine.  She doesn’t push but waits for me to decide.  She understands my desire to take hold of her hand and the desire to hold on to the pain that has become my constant companion.

I am going to choose Better.  I know this will not be easy as I am reminded often of what I lost.  I will trust God to help heal my wounds and the wounds of those I have hurt.  I move forward in confidence of my God’s forgiveness and His healing in this situation and in all of life.

Choices

Oh that I could go back and do it again.  I would make the choice to yell less, hug more and pray even more.  There would be fewer expectations, more training and much more grace in my parenting.  Going back is not an option but as a seasoned mother, I can move forward teaching and training those who are in the season of parenting young children.

Children are an immense blessing from the Lord, but sadly they are born with a will of their own and a bent towards that which is not good. In Psalm 51 the Psalmist says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.”  Isn’t it lovely that God desired our faithfulness before we took our first breath?  Only He knew we would fail in our efforts to be faithful.  Nineteenth century Bishop J.C. Ryle, in his book The Duties of Parents, tells us to “Remember children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong.”  It is their nature to choose what is wrong, but sometimes it is our nature to give them too many choices and opportunities to do this.

Do you give your children too many choices?  My daughter’s pediatrician  called me out when I asked my then two-year old if she wanted to sit on the table to let him examine her.  He asked me why I would give her the choice.  If she needs to do something, don’t ask…tell her what you want her to do.  From this gentle man I learned that there are certain times when we are to tell them what we expect, not give them a choice. For the important things they need to be directed and taught, not left to their own devices to choose, because on their own they don’t know what is good for them.

Being a parent is hard and a huge responsibility not to be taken lightly.  Some would like to be permissive in this endeavor and allow their children to find themselves and discover their own limits.  If we don’t teach them what limits and boundaries are they will not find good ones as they are prone to choose that which isn’t good.  They will also choose to help themselves over helping others.  Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Parents, this is our job, our duty.  We are to be the ones to train, teach and disciple our children when they are young and then release them to the Master Trainer, God, as they grow into adulthood.

Overweight

It’s time!  I woke up this morning and another pair of my favorite pants didn’t fit.  I am using a hair band to fasten my clothes and  have to wear these ghastly “shapers” to hold in the fluff…this is not where I want to be.  I knew my girth size was creeping up these last months but didn’t challenge it’s existence…until today.

As I contemplated what I am going to do to alter my food intake and begin an exercise regimen, it occurred to me that I am only one of millions in our country who feels that added weight is a burden.  When I look around I don’t only see people carrying added physical weight on their bodies but I also see the extra weight of financial debt, the weight of too many responsibilities that inhibit them from enjoying their lives and the weight of too many activities that limit their time with family.  Okay, this was supposed to be a conscious decision to lose physical weight but now I am challenged by the weight of everything in life…why are we carrying so much extra?  How can we trim our excesses and get to a point where we are at peace in every area of our lives?

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT), “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” This tells me to get rid of all idol worship in this body/temple.  I have never considered eating good food to be idol worship but I guess if I find more pleasure in it than in God I am putting food where He should be.  In Proverbs 22:7 Solomon says, “Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.”  I know too well that financial debt is a huge burden to me and many I know.  It is like a noose around our necks and we must try to pay our debts and owe no one.  As for activities, Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   He knew we would be inclined to do more than we need to and take on more responsibilities than He requires of us.  I love that Jesus cares enough about us now that He said these words way back when.  We can learn from Him…learn how to let our souls rest in Him.

This exploration has gone much deeper than I intended.  Now am I not only considering what I need to do to lose weight physically, but how to trim the excess in other areas of my life.  There is a constant need to reassess our lives to see where we carry “extra”.  It’s not a one time fix but a lifelong pursuit to shed the excess so we can embrace all that Christ has for us in this life.

 

When Ideals Become Idols

“Then God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house where you were servants. Have no gods other than Me. Do not make for yourselves a god to look like anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.  Do not worship them or work for them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.’” Exodus 20:1-5a (NLT)

How quickly we turn something ideal into an idol!  Good things like marriages, babies, money,  jobs or possessions are great gifts from God but can become our objects of worship if we are not careful. The creation becomes more important to us than the Creator.

Some people want to be in a relationship or married and think the right person will make their life better and happier. In reality only a relationship with Christ can bring total fulfillment and before they know it, they are serving the created instead of the Creator.  If God isn’t our first love, we will have the tendency to put the person we are in a relationship with first, which becomes a huge burden on them and will make us sorely disappointed that they can’t fulfill our needs.

The woman who longs to be a mother thinks that if only she could have a child she will be happy. The ideal of motherhood becomes an idol for some women.  This happened to me before we had our first child.  I thought that once we decided to start a family it would happen quickly and that motherhood would be the acme of life experiences.  It took a long time, many tears and even an operation to get us to the point where we could have a child.  Although motherhood has been beautiful, it’s also been hard at times and quite a challenge.  This type of ideal for some women can quickly become an idol and one can find themself let down as expectations exceed reality.

What about the man or woman pursuing a career and moving up in the company to find purpose.  This person can become fixated on the ideal job fulfilling them and making them happy instead of Jesus meeting that need.  Money can quickly become an idol in our lives.  We think, if only we have enough money for this or that then we will be happy.  Money cannot bring true joy and happiness like Jesus can.

We must make every effort to submit our ideals to God and allow Him to direct us to His good and perfect will for us.  God speaks to us through Isaiah 48.  In verse 4-5 He admonishes, “For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze. Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them’.”  Do you have an image, an ideal or possession that you are clinging to more than God?  Are you claiming that this created thing is going to bring about your happiness and is making you who and what you are?  We must fight the tendency to make our ideals (images) become idols.  Every day we must submit ourselves and our possessions to Christ and give Him all we have.  In other words, don’t let ideals become idols…keep Christ first and foremost in our lives.  God can give us much more satisfaction, joy and peace than any created thing.

Thorns

Recently I was pruning my rose bushes.  As I went to remove some of my cuttings I was stuck in the thumb with a huge thorn.  It went through my glove and boy did it hurt…in fact it still hurt hours after it happened.  It was a painful reminder of my chore.  It brought to mind the pain of the thorns in Jesus’ brow and then the thorn that the Apostle Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  Paul said, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”    We don’t know exactly what Paul’s thorn was but we know it was a constant reminder to him of how weak he was and how he needed the Lord for strength.

The verses above say that Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to be relieved of his thorn and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”   God did not answer Paul’s prayers as he had hoped by removing his thorn, but rather in the way God saw was best for him.  After accepting that his thorn would be a constant companion, Paul then went on to say he would delight in his weaknesses, in insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties because he knew that in his worldly weakness Christ would be strong in his spirit.

For Jesus, the crown of thorns and crucifixion were the ultimate signs of weakness in the eyes of the people.  He was mocked, spat upon and beaten and then hung on a cross with that crown of thorns stuck deep in his brow.  The strongest man, the GOD of the universe, was called weak for submitting to death so that we could live and be strong eternally.  He cried out to His Heavenly Father in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” and then on the cross He asks, “My GOD, my GOD, why have you forsaken me?”  Even God’s own son had to experience His Father saying NO so that His strength would be made evident in weakness.

It is hard to admit weakness in our “LIVE STRONG” culture.  It is especially difficult for us to “delight” in being weak, being insulted, facing hardship and difficulties, and Lord help us when we have to face persecution.  Our culture expects us to have it all together, as we would be vulnerable if someone knew our weaknesses.  Our being perceived as weak might cause us to get overlooked for a job, get passed over for a promotion or not to get invited to the right places at the right times.

I believe my thorn is anxiety.  It has been a companion of mine since I was a child.  As a toddler I would ball up in the middle of my crib, hiding under blankets in fear that something would reach up under my bed and grab me.  I had to sleep with the closet light on every night of my early childhood.  It was fear that chased me through elementary school and beyond.  It wasn’t until I surrendered my life to the Lord that I was freed from incessant fear.  I thought that with God’s help I would be just fine, no worries, no anxieties and no more fears.  I was wrong.  I did indeed lose the extreme fear factor that I had as a child, but anxiety is and has been a constant companion in my Christian life.  It became more intense when I became a parent.

I have heard it said that anxiety is a sign of not trusting God.  Some people believe this and teach that it is a sin to be anxious.  I pray for peace on a regular basis and do receive it, but some days the anxiety creeps in despite my pleas.  It encroaches on my life when I am faced with uncertainty and at times when there is absolutely nothing I can do about a situation I am dealing with.  As a mother, this has often been the case because children are never predictable and the situations that arise in parenting are so out of my control.  Do I then believe that I am a hopeless case?  Do I believe that God isn’t listening to me?  No, I have to believe that God is listening but isn’t answering me the way I would like Him to.  If I wasn’t “tormented” at times with anxiety I would not feel the great need for God’s presence in my life.  I would coast on through without a care and would not seek Him as much as I do now.  As difficult as it is, I accept this thorn as a gift and claim God’s strength as my own.

Thorns might cause us to be ashamed or angry, but instead we should find a way to thank God for our weakness and rejoice in Him for giving us something to strengthen us and our relationship with Him.  Without our weakness, we don’t need God quite like we do when we are feeling strong and confident.  Although it would be nice to live free of my thorn, I choose to embrace it as a constant reminder that I need God as my strength, that I cannot do this life without Him.  In the end may I call my “tormentor” my gift…for it has brought me to a closer relationship with the One who made the ultimate sacrifice for me and you and who loves us more than we can imagine.  May we say with Paul, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,”

More is Caught than Taught

It is scary to think that our children are watching what we do more than listening to our words.  Do you remember the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do?” It is a fact that our children are going to do what we do and that our words may fall on deaf ears.

Years ago I was at the zoo with my daughter watching the giraffes frolic.  Right in front of us in BIG letters was a sign that read, “DO NOT FEED GIRAFFES”.  A lady and her granddaughter were beside us (also in front of the sign) feeding the giraffes.  A zoo keeper came out and scolded them and told them that the giraffes have a special diet and feeding them could make them sick.  The grandmother told the little girl…”oops, we got caught”.  I was shocked!  That little girl may grow up thinking she can break the rules if she doesn’t get caught.  This event made me ponder what I was doing and what I was saying and if my actions were speaking louder than my words.

What are our kids learning from us?  Are they learning to be obedient because we are being obedient?  Are they learning kindness because we are kind?  Are they learning to serve others because we do? Or are they learning their way around the rules because we’ve figured it out too?  Are they hearing us talk to others with unkind words or using impatient and inappropriate gestures?  If they see us do something or hear us say something, they are likely going to be doing or saying it too.

Do we want our children to see us seeking things of God or the pleasures of this world?  Do we want them to see or hear us praying and reading the word of God regularly or do we want them to see us watching what the world is doing on television and in magazines and trying to keep up with our culture?  Do we want them to see us seeking God’s approval and peace or do we want them to see us seeking the approval of neighbors and friends?  We must ask ourselves these questions if we truly want to raise our children to know and love God.  If instead of seeking God we are seeking worldly pleasures, the approval of peers and social status, then that is what they will want too.  Our children are our little apprentices.  They are learning more from our actions and examples than from what we tell them they should or shouldn’t do.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  We cannot impress God’s commandments on our children unless we first love God with all our heart, soul and strength as verse 5 says.  We can’t teach them if we don’t know it ourselves and we can’t know it if we don’t seek to learn it.

What is important to you as a parent?  Are academic, athletic and social accomplishments more important than your child’s spiritual growth?  These things in and of themselves are not bad but shouldn’t we want our children to know how to handle these things without compromising what they believe and WHO they believe in?  Wanting our children to succeed and do well in all areas of life isn’t wrong, but as Christian parents we should help them seek for more than what the world offers.  The best way for them to understand what living a Christian life is about, is for us to model it for them.  Does God expect perfection in this effort?   I hope not because that means we have failed before even beginning.  He doesn’t expect perfection because He knows we can’t attain it.  He wants us to love Him with all of our heart, soul and strength and to put forth our best effort to raise our children to serve Him in all they do, whether they are a genius, pro-athlete, debutante or even if they choose to do something even more wonderful, like become a parent one day.

It’s NOT Fun in the Desert but We’re Headed to the Promised Land

In my devotions this morning I was reading Psalm 78.  There are 72 verses in this Psalm telling us about the Israelite’s deliverance from bondage, their grumbling against God and plenty of instructions for us not to repeat their sins.  I have read the story of Exodus numerous times and always get frustrated when I read how ungrateful the Israelites were when God delivered them from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, gave them water from a rock and manna in the desert.  He was trying to lead them to a better place but they complained and even decided to follow their own idol god at one time while Moses was up on the mountain with the one and only GOD (Exodus 32).

It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s that I really studied and understood the Old Testament and the Patriarchs.  The New Testament seemed more applicable to my life as a Christian and it didn’t seem necessary to study the OT…until I did.  It was then that I realized how much I am like the Israelites.  This is the story of God’s people and as a Christian I am now one of them.  I, too, complain when God leads me to the “Red Sea” and asks me to wait on Him while Pharoah (life’s difficulties) bear down on me and sometimes I don’t think the “water” will part…ever.   It is I who complains and wails about what I used to have compared to what I have now and how it used to be better when…  It is I who complains of not having enough and then I am not grateful when He lavishes upon me more than enough.

We Christians are like the Israelites and so much like little children when it comes to how we respond to God’s leading.  How frustrating and difficult it is for us as parents when we do really good things for our kids but don’t get any gratitude in return.  After we give them what they need and protect them from harm they throw tantrums or treat us with disdain when they don’t get exactly what they want, when and how they want it.  Aren’t we like our children with God?  Don’t we act like spoiled rotten brats at times wanting more from Him?  I am ashamed to say it but I AM A BRAT with God sometimes.  He has been such a good Father to me, He has taken care of me and given me just what I needed but unlike the Israelites, who had no idea what their God could or would do, I do know and still choose to act like them.

Many times I have asked God to let me go back to “Egypt” because I felt secure there.  There was good food, there was a big house to live in, consistency of life and now there seems so little out in the “desert”.  The Israelites only remembered the pots of meat they had eaten in Egypt (Exodus 16:3) but had forgotten the relentless labor, beatings and heat that filled their day.  It is so easy for us also to look back on a time in our life that seemed really sweet and long for that day again.  What we forget is that life has been and always will be a struggle and we should ask ourselves, do we want that particular struggle or pain again?  Do we really want to go back?

The Promised Land is still awaiting us, you and me, as it was for the Israelites.  We must be born again and taken out of the bondage of sin, as the Israelites were taken out from under the bondage of Pharoah.  We must walk the sandy, hot desert of this life in order to be led to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8).  Along the way God will provide shelter, water, food and occasionally some amazing oases to rest by.  We are not alone in this desert walk either, we have each other and Christ. We also have the example of the Israelites who finally made it to the Promised Land and we have the assurance that we will too (John 3:16).

 

 

 

“Train up a child”

John’s Grimshaw’s father William, was a pastor and evangelist in the mid eighteenth century and traveled extensively.  His wife had died when their children were little and he had to leave his son, John and his sister Sarah, to live most of their days with their grandparents.  When he was ten John experienced the loss of his stepmother and then at 13, his beloved sister Sarah died while they were away at boarding school.  These events sent him into a downward spiral of despair.  His father brought him home from school to minister to him and have him apprenticed, but John was a rebel.  He drank his cares away, fathered a child out of wedlock and strayed away from the foundational truths taught to him when he was a child.  When John was 27, his father died but he was able to speak with John about eternity while on his death bed.  Four years later, John became deathly ill but right before he died he professed his faith in Jesus Christ.  He said “What will my father say when he sees me in heaven?”

This story brought Proverbs 22:6 to mind, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is OLD he shall not depart from it.”  This verse has a promise, not that we will always see the fruit of our labor in our lifetime, but that when our children are old they will not depart from it.  John’s father prayed for him constantly and was faithful in imparting the truth to him.  When his dad died he must have been so heart broken over the loss of his son spiritually.  He hadn’t considered what his son might do when he was older.

What a great sadness it is for those parents who pray for their children daily, model a Christian walk, instruct them spiritually and wait with great anticipation for that child to commit their life to Christ, only to see them turn the other way.  The promise in Proverbs is real and we must hold onto it and trust God’s timing in our children’s life.  J.C. Ryll, an Anglican bishop in the mid nineteenth century says in his book, The Duties of Parents, “You may not see with your own eyes the result of careful training, but you know not what blessed fruits may spring from it, long after you are dead and gone.”  He also speaks of the “Afterward”,  and references Hebrews 12:11 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews+12%3A11&version=NLT and Matthew 21:29 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+21%3A29&version=ESV.  Ryll says, “and ‘afterward’ is the time to which parents must look forward if they see not success at once, you must sow in hope and plant in hope.”

Do you struggle with a child who has turned away from or never turned to Christ? Do you feel that you have “failed” in this effort?  Take heart, it is our duty as intentional Christian parents to instill God’s Word into our children and it is His duty to see that what we sow and plant in our children’s heart produces fruit, even when they are OLD.

Baccalaureate

It is May and everyone is thinking about graduation.  Most of us have gotten an invitation or announcement and some are preparing to graduate a child from high school or college.  How did that happen?  The little child we held on our knee, watched as they danced or played tee-ball, is now walking down the aisle in cap and gown.  There is a flood of emotions as we rejoice in their accomplishment of finishing school and yet we ask ourselves if we could have prepared them better for life, for making decisions, for following their Lord.

At our church we have a Baccalaureate dinner and then a service the following Sunday to recognize high school seniors.  The families and clergy celebrate the graduates and pray over them…launching them on their way to college or career.  Five years ago, my friend Corrie participated in this event and I want to share what she wrote to the parents of young children at our church.  She had a graduate leaving home and she had recently welcomed a new baby into her home.  Please read what she wrote from her heart and think how you might prepare your child for his or her Baccalaureate.

Make This Your Baccalaureate

By Corrie M.

This Sunday, 20 high school seniors, including my son, Willliam, will process down the nave of our church for their Baccalaureate service. Thinking about it now makes me teary-eyed, but it also makes me think of you—my new friends in the Early Years Ministry. Your baccalaureate Sunday probably seems eons away, but trust me, it will be here before you know it and whether you plan for it or not.

 Many of you have heard me talk about how God has given me a second chance to be a better parent. Don’t get me wrong. By the grace of God, William has turned out to be more fun and finer than I could have ever imagined. But as I think about where our family was just three years ago, I know that without some crazy intensive work by God, we wouldn’t be participating in any church’s baccalaureate and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to share some thoughts with you. I have the unique opportunity to experience the end of one childhood in time to make changes for another. I won’t bore you with my whole story, but I have some thoughts I’d like you to consider.

This Sunday, I want you to think of the baccalaureate service as yours. Start preparing now… Like right now…

First, pick out five to seven photos of your child, including one baby photo (that’s the easy one) to be part of the slide show for the whole church. What memories do you want to share with your church family? Do they know your children or will the photos be only slightly familiar? The clergy might request photos of your child participating in church activities. Do you have any? I’m sure you’ll have t-ball, piano recital and travel soccer photos. But what about photos from first communion, VBS, fifth grade “fly up” to the youth program, Guatemala or Cuba mission trips, Dynamos, acolyting, reading as a youth lector, Real Life, serving dinner to the homeless as a family mission, summer trips to Universal Studios and middle school lock-ins? Do you have of these?

Second, you need to provide your child’s favorite Bible verse. Does she have one? Does she know the Bible at all? These kids are about to embark on a part of their life where they will probably need the Bible and its teachings the most. Wouldn’t you feel better if you knew your child knew the Bible in his or her heart?

Next, the clergy will say a few words about your child at the baccalaureate dinner. Do the priests know your child? Do they have stories and memories to share? The only way they will know your children is if you make a point to be a part of the church.

Finally, at the baccalaureate dinner you’ll be asked to stand, lay hands on, and say a prayer for your child. I am not sure how I will make it through this part without completely breaking out in tears. Is it right to ask for guidance on a prayer? I wish I could share our special prayer with you, one that we prayed together for years that he would recognize. There’s not one for William, but Phillip will have one!

It all started hitting home for me at the end of his junior year in high school. Where did the time go? In less than a year, he would be moving away from home. He would be making decisions on his own from what time to get up in the morning to choosing a career to how he’ll spend his free time. No one will be there to remind him of whose he is, what is right or how he should behave. My work is done. Or was it? I wish I had thought of all of these things when I made the decision years ago to not put the effort into church.

If you want church and God to be a priority to your child, then you have to start now. I know it’s difficult to get the baby ready for church. It’s much more difficult, however, to get that middle schooler or high schooler to go when you haven’t set the precedent. It is so cliché, but it all goes by so incredibly fast. Before you know it, you’ve committed to travel ball and you miss more church than you attend. Or perhaps you forgot about Wednesday nights activities and classes, and you’ve signed your little one up for ballet that prevents you from bringing the family to church on Wednesdays. I can’t urge you enough to make those decisions with next week’s Baccalaureate service in mind.

In one month, William will be heading off to college. So here’s something else to consider. What do you want for your child as you send them off to college? Through the years you will prepare them academically, physically and socially. What are your plans to prepare them spiritually? Do you put the same thought, time and money into their spiritual development? I bet that most of you already have a college fund. You probably read to them every night because heaven forbid they start kindergarten without knowing how. You teach them to cheer on your favorite sports team. But are you also making time to teach them to pray? Do you read the Bible together? Do you find time throughout your day to talk about your Christian life and the little things that set you and your family apart because of your faith? 

Are you preparing them with the end in mind?

One of our clergy spoke at our brunch last September. His message was loud and clear. Be involved in the church. Studies show that children have formed their spiritual beliefs by the time they are NINE YEARS OLD, and 95 percent of Christians were baptized by the time they were 18! Fortunately, my church understands this importance, hence the Early Years Ministry and the Children’s Ministry. Be active! Have your children be active. Surround them with older kids who make Christianity seem “cool.” Help them develop relationships with adults throughout church that can guide them whenever they won’t listen to you. Teach them the Bible—and if you don’t feel like you know it well enough to teach it, then take classes yourself. There are many adult education opportunities at our church.

The moment I found out that I was pregnant with Phillip (now 1), I prayed to God and committed to bringing this baby up in the church. All along, I have felt that he belongs not just to me, but to my church family. We are all here for each other. We need to encourage each other and help each other keep strong in the faith. We will all experience trials at different times—financial difficulties, family drama, strained marriages… but with God’s power and His gift of each other’s support, we can and will make a difference in the lives of our children.

So this week, as you are changing diapers and Oxy-cleaning onesies, don’t be so hard on yourself about getting everything you need to do done, or worrying about how you’re going to pay for ballet or soccer or piano. Instead, focus on the things that really matter—one baby step at a time. And remember to say a little prayer for the seniors—for this year’s graduates, but also those in your very near future.

 

Fairy Tales

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

This morning I was thinking how fairy tale-like our desire for our life, and the lives of our children, is. We want things to work out well and to be successful in our career, our finances, our parenting, etc.  We have dreams of romance in marriage, precious and healthy babies with chubby cheeks, obedient and sweet children and mostly we want things to go according to a plan…our plan.  All of this is desirable and good, but it’s not the fairy tale we really want but the “happy ever after” ending we long for.

When one looks closely at the fairy tales we share with our children, a great sadness or evil befalls the princess before her happy ever after begins. Think of the beloved Cinderella, before she is swept off her feet by Prince Charming, she suffers immensely with the death of her beloved father and then the oppression and abuse she suffered under her step mother and sisters.  In Beauty and the Beast, Belle was ridiculed by the townspeople and then locked in a castle with a monster before her happy ever after began.  Snow White, Rapunzel, Aurora, and Tiana all suffered before they enjoyed their “happy ever after”.

I think it safe to say that as Christians we do get to live a fairy tale life and thanks be to God we get a “happy ever after”.  All humans are born into sin, we suffer at some point in our life and then we die.  As Christians we have hope of eternal life, which is a very happy ever after with Christ.  This doesn’t mean we don’t face difficulty and suffering in the midst of our walk with Christ, but He walks through it with us and gives us the hope of never suffering again when our days here are over.  Jesus says in Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, a yoke is “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.”  A burden according to the same dictionary is “something that is carried or something oppressive or worrisome.”  When we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior we become yoked with Him and He helps us carry the load, the burden of this life.  As Christians we make the choice to carry a burden, suffer alongside Him and give up our own way and follow Him (Matt. 8:34).  The yoke itself is easy because it’s shared, but the burden is something we must endure and allow Him to help with if it is not to completely overwhelm us.

Sadly our children must also suffer. Suffering is inevitable and we should be aware of the importance of our yoking ourselves with them until they yoke themselves with Christ. When my daughter was little I sought to keep her from experiencing any physical or emotional obstacles. For some reason I was under the impression that I had to protect her from every bump, hurt and discomfort. Thankfully, through the wisdom and instruction of godly mentors, I was able to see the harm I would bring her by not allowing her to feel pain. As she and her brothers grew up I sought to walk with them in their difficulty instead of trying to fix everything. This was and is a huge challenge as I am a “fixer”, and as my children have grown into adolescence and adulthood in this ever-changing and unstable world, their burdens have not lessened but increased. For this I am grateful they have made their faith in Christ their own and are yoked with Him…although their burdens will always be felt by me.

What is your burden today?  A sleepless baby, a naughty toddler, a child going through a difficult time with friends at school, one who is acting out or perpetually making bad grades?  A spouse who is disrespectful or disinterested? Maybe you are in the midst of a difficult job change or unemployment.  Are you or a loved one facing a devastating diagnosis?  Maybe it is depression and there seems to be no rhyme or reason for your sadness but it is there regardless, and getting out of bed today was a great accomplishment.  I know this sounds sad but suffering is a reality to many people today and is to be expected by all at some point in life as Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.”

Life is hard.  No doubt you already know that.  When we are walking alongside Christ, yoked and carrying a burden with Him, He offers us rests, respite and joy in the journey.  As I wrote in my last blog, there are many NOs, NOT NOWs and WAITs in life but there is also YES in the midst of the NO.  Look for the joy in the journey, make sure you rejoice in the YES and trust His goodness in the NO, and have HOPE in the WAIT.  I write this in the middle of hardship, difficulty and grief in my own life.  Many days I don’t want to leave the comfort of my bed, I don’t want to see anyone or be seen, and I certainly don’t want to face another NO in this temporal life.  Instead of doing what I want based on how I feel, I allow Christ to fasten His yoke to me and I walk with Him through life in this world.  I choose to take heart as Christ has overcome the world, and my greatest hope is in the Happy Ever After when this life ends and eternal life begins.