Loving and Losing

I have spent the majority of the last twenty years either pregnant or nursing. And raising children.

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Image courtesy of Siriani Photography. Copyright 2011

Now, half my children are mostly raised. One daughter is married, one taking a gap year between high school and beyond, a third is a senior finishing her AA through a dual-enrollment program, and a fourth is an accomplished freshman athlete. My parenting responsibilities with them are basically done. And that is difficult…more difficult than I imagined.

 

Obviously, I am not the first to face this transition. Nor will I be the last. To be honest, though, I wasn’t prepared. Time has gone too quickly. Even though I’ve treasured as many moments as I could, even though many told me the years were short, even though they aren’t all gone yet, time has gone far too quickly. I wish I could get it back.

That realization, however, doesn’t prevent me from wasting time with my other children. My youngest isn’t even five years old yet. And stretched out before me are too many choices, too many obligations, too many opportunities to miss out, on something.

When I started my parenting career, nobody told me how painful this journey would be…how I would, at some point, no longer be able to control every aspect of my children’s lives, and how badly that loss of control would hurt. Nobody warmed me that being a mother was like wearing my heart on the outside of my body, with little protection from damage.

Nobody warned me.

That I remember…

Honestly, even if they had, I don’t know that I would have been able to understand. It’s like trying to explain flying to someone whose never been on a plane, or trying to explain snow to someone in the Amazon Rain Forest, or trying to explain giving birth to someone whose never been pregnant. It is very difficult to do.

So, I will pass on to other mothers the warning I wish I’d received…that parenting is painful, if you’re doing it right. And that pain is a sign that you’re doing a good job, you’re “fully vested” in the process. You see, if you were parenting and your heart wasn’t involved, that would be a problem. Can you really parent well when your decisions are based on how to protect yourself from pain?  Probably not…

And, in the end, that shouldn’t be the goal. Not if we truly love our children.

There is an old poem, the author of which I can’t remember. Nor do I recall the context in which I first heard it, but the concept has stuck with me for years. The basic gist is, the real test of love is for me to give someone the freedom to reject me. That is what we do with our children; we pour our hearts into them, investing countless hours, incredible passion, and unimaginable amounts of money, only to watch them walk away. Whether they embrace the values we so diligently tried to instill, or practice the lifestyle we modeled, or engage in the endeavors we invested in is totally up to them. What they do with what we’ve given is, in many regards, a test of our parenting…and regardless of the outcome, there is a level of pain.

The question is how to respond to the pain?

How we answer that question will, to a large degree, determine what kind of relationship we enjoy with our adult children. If we withdraw and guard against further heartache or disappointment, our children may interpret that behavior as rejection and respond in kind, ultimately ending any hope for a health relationship. If we stay engaged, give freedom, and keep our hearts open, a whole new relationship can develop, a beautiful relationship built on mutual trust and vulnerability.

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Image courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

We’re still in the building stage. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that I want to stay engaged with my children, in spite of the pain, because the pain of no relationship is far greater than the pain of a different one.

The Idol of Abstinence

The news is spreading across the Internet…Bristol Palin is pregnant, again. And she is still not married.

In most any situation, this would be awkward. But for Bristol, the issue is even more complicated. She’s been an outspoken advocate of abstinence for the last six years. And she has been paid a significant sum of money to be that outspoken advocate…to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Well…I guess we can see how well that worked…

 

abstinence idolYou know what I think? I think we’ve made virginity some kind of idol…as though it is the most important thing in the world to preserve and protect. Our children’s virginity is our measure of success as a parent (“well, at least they stayed pure…”) or our scarlet letter of shame.

But should that be the measure of success for us as parents?

Is our most important metric whether or not our children abstain from sexual activity until they say “I do”? Really?

What about rebellion?

We joke about it and make light of how teens rebel. In some ways we expect it.

But that is wrong.

The Bible is clear about a spirit of rebellion…it is like witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). And I’m pretty sure that is worse than having sex before you’re married?!

More than worry about rebellion, or purity, or behavior in general, what we need to worry about is guarding our children’s hearts. The New Living Translation says it best, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23.

Please, parents, don’t focus so much on your child’s “sexual purity” that you forget to guard your child’s heart. That is what drives their behavior.

Remember, sex is designed by God for our pleasure. Yes, it is designed to be shared between a husband and a wife. But, bodies do what they’re designed to do, whether they are married or not. Our children can very easily and quite by accident find themselves in compromising situations. They make mistakes. And so do we. 

That is the beauty of a relationship with a God who knows and understands our brokenness. He has already made provision for our sin  and He empowers us to walk in His strength.

Brokenness with repentance is a precious thing.

Rebellion, on the other hand, is ugly and has few remedies.

So I ask…what do you really want? A child who does all the right things but for all the wrong reasons? Or do you want a child who may or may not stay morally/sexually pure, but they recognize sin when they commit it, love Jesus, and are willing to repent when they make a mistake?

What is a better measure of success?

Guaranteed Outcomes?

I wish life had guaranteed outcomes. I really do.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I wish that it worked like a vending machine; you put a certain number of coins in, you make your selection, and tada…whatever you want comes out of the little slot.

 

 

 

Or you go to the coffee shop and give them money and they give you a cup of joy with foamy creaminess.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Unfortunately, life does not have guaranteed outcomes. You can invest your entire life in something, only to have it collapse into a heap before your eyes. You can invest your life’s savings into a “guaranteed” investment opportunity, and watch your future disappear in moments. You can make “all the right choices” and still deal with negative consequences, through no fault of your own.

That can be especially true in parenting.

Parenting, it turns out, is much like a crap shoot. You can make your choices, but you really don’t know what the outcome will be for a very long time. And even if you do all the things that “experts” recommend, you can’t guarantee outcomes, especially as children get older. It isn’t like when they are young and you can control all the details of their environment. In the end, control shouldn’t be the goal anyway. Having worked with college students professionally and raising a few of my own, over-controlled home environments leave children weak and unprepared for the real world when they leave home, and be assured…they will leave.

But, it still seems like we should have some guarantees…some sort assured return on our investment, especially when we try so hard to be faithful. And when you don’t get the outcome you expected, prayed for, worked towards, and invested in, it is very disappointing. Such has been my reality lately. God and I have had many a serious conversation on this issue, usually involving tears, and a great deal of meditation on what the Bible says about parenting.

And what the Bible says about parents.

Which led me to Daniel.

In the opening verses of Daniel, we find out that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all taken to Babylon after Judah fell.

What I find intriguing about Daniel and Co. is that in a generation so corrupt and disobedient that God sent them into captivity, these four young men were different…very different. They were so in love with the Law and the Law Giver that they resisted the peer pressure and indoctrination of the Babylonian Empire, remaining true to God and His ways through out their lives; Daniel for more than seventy years.

That didn’t happen by accident.

It happened because their parents did a fantastic job raising them

in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

We can tell by the outcome that these parents did a good job, in the midst of a perverse generation where so many others failed.

Judging by the results, these parents did everything right. And I am very confident watching their boys be carted away by the lawless, heathen Babylonians was not the outcome they’d expected. And they probably never knew what the real outcome was. If they were anything like me, they struggled with what God allowed to happen.

On further reflection, though, I’m struck with the reality that God loves our children more than we do. Indeed, Jeremiah 29:11 is just as true for them as it is for me…God knows the plans He has for my children, and His plans are for good, not harm…for them or for me.

Romans 8:28 & 29 talk about God’s plans as well. He promises to use everything in our lives to make us more like Jesus.

That is absolutely the outcome I desire for my children…what more could I want for them than to be more like Jesus.

I am beginning to learn, however, that it won’t look like I want it to; it won’t be the neat, tidy package all wrapped up with a bow like I planned. My children will experience heartache and disappointment. My children will make poor choices and suffer consequences…consequences I would try to protect them from. But, in my desire to protect them from pain, I might also prevent them from truly knowing God, from being able to find comfort in Him. After all, when do we get to know God the most intimately?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Through pain.

We can’t get to know God as Healer until we need to be healed.

We can’t get to know God as our Strong Tower until we need some place to hide.

We can’t get to know God as Comforter until we need to be comforted.

It is in those moments, when we most need Him, that God helps us understand His love in a way ease and comfort never will.

Suffering can build intimacy and faith.

Suffering can develop trust and confidence.

This has been true in my life. And as painful as the process may be, it is what I pray will be true for my children…

intimacy with God…a deep abiding confidence in His character, regardless of circumstances.

As I walk a broken road with children whose hearts I can no longer protect, the One who has so faithfully carried me is proving that He can also carry them. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Generations

What a privilege it was to share at the Valley Assembly Mother Daughter Tea on Friday, May 8, 2015. Below is what I shared with the ladies gathered for a “generational” fiesta. Hopefully you are blessed and encouraged as you think about how generations impact your life.

Me and my girls, and dear friend Cynde Tilton...multi-generational.

Some of the “generations” at the                                       Valley Assembly Mother-Daughter Tea

It is easy to just brush over or ignore the value of generations. Yet, we are all part of a generation, and none of us want to be brushed over or ignored.

Some of us are “Gen Xers”, some of us are “Mosaics,” some of us are “Baby Boomers,” and a few of us may be of the “Greatest Generation,” those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. My grandmother is one of those. A war bride, she found herself a widow with a young son in 1943; she’ll be 96 in November, a widow again after burying my grandfather in 2010. My mom’s parents were married in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. They lost a baby due to malnutrition and knew the value of a dollar. The impact of those experiences has left its mark on at least two generations.

A great crowd gathered to celebrate mothers and daughters.

A great crowd of mothers and daughters.

Some of us have been part of a church for “generations.” Our parents attended the same church when we were small that now we bring our children to on Sunday morning. Some haven’t been around that long; you might say they are “first generation” members. Some may be “first generation” Americans…our parents were born in different countries and emigrated here for one reason or another. Some of us may be able to trace our heritage back to a president, or even the Mayflower.

We talk about “generations” of cell phones. Iphone 6, iphone 6S, Samsung Galaxy S6, Nexus 6, Nokia Lumina 830, LG G Flex2, and not to be forgotten, the BlackBerry Classic. How many people scramble to get the newest generation of their flavor of smartphone? It is crazy, sometimes!!

We can also talk about “generations” spiritually.  And each of us can trace our spiritual heritage back to a rag tag bunch of social misfits who watched Jesus ascend into Heaven. They took seriously the final words of Jesus (Matt 28:19, 20) to make disciples. If not for the faithfulness of many (mostly unnamed) faithful disciples and disciples makers, we wouldn’t be here.

We see the influence of previous generations all around us. And those generations are important. We wouldn’t be the same without them.

What a privilege to highlight what God's Word says about generations.

God’s Word has a great deal to say about generations.

Generations are important to God, too. The word “generation” or “generations” is used over 200 times in the Bible. He was especially concerned about future generations as the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land. He was very specific about what parents were supposed to pass on to their children, so they would never forget what God did when He delivered them. They were supposed to keep some manna, and the stone tablets onto which God carved the Ten Commandments. They were supposed to keep the staff that Moses carried before Pharaoh, too. But something happened. And the message didn’t get communicated. And the Children of Israel forgot what God had done. They abandoned God’s ways and eventually God did what He said He’d do; that’s why Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves in Babylon.

When Jesus told the Disciples and the others who watched Him ascend into Heaven to “go and make disciples” He had a specific idea in mind. It wasn’t just praying a prayer. It wasn’t necessarily attending church as we know it, or reading the Bible every day. It was learning to live in step with God or the Holy Spirit like Jesus did when He was on earth, and like He encouraged His disciples to do.

So, what does it mean to be a disciple? And how is it different than being a “convert?” And how do you “live in step with God”? To phrase it another way, how do you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit?

First, what does it mean to be a disciple? A disciple is a pupil or learner. In Jesus’ day, a disciple was someone who would actually live with the teacher. Paul, before his conversion, had been a disciple of Gamaliel’s. John the Baptist had disciples, as did some of the Pharisees. It was more than something they did on Sundays…it was a lifestyle.

Today, being a disciple means learning what Jesus taught, and trying to live by those principles. But first you have to actually have a relationship with Jesus.

Being a disciple isn’t just about praying a prayer. Being a disciple is about following Jesus, living the way He lived.

What does that look like every day?
It looks like living by the Golden Rule, and really applying the principles of 1 Cor 13.
It looks like letting our communication be seasoned with grace, and
Speaking edifying words that minister grace.
It looks like not borrowing trouble, and bringing everything to God
Through prayer and supplication.
In many ways, it looks impossible.

That’s the value of having someone mentor and encourage you as you seek to follow Jesus. They can help you see what it looks like.

The thing about discipleship, and being a disciple, is that the life God calls us to live is truly impossible, in our own strength. The fruit of the Spirit, the ability to love like God does, the freedom to extend grace…that all comes from the Spirit at work in our lives, not because of anything we do on our own. As the Spirit of God is free to work, we’ll see the evidence in how we interact with others. The challenge is to stay in step with the Spirit.

Unlike the song says, though, you don’t stay in step with the Spirit, or grow spiritually, simply by reading your Bible and praying every day. It isn’t like a recipe, especially if you do those things just to do them. It is more like a dance.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a magic formula. You can’t guarantee outcomes. Life is still full of challenges, and we still wrestle with what Paul calls the “old man”. We make mistakes, and we deal with other people who make mistakes. The amazing part, however, is that God’s Spirit gives us the strength to live differently (1 Cor 3:1) and we can, by learning from generations who have gone before us, how to live like Jesus, how to “be” disciples.

 

Not So Merry Christmas

For most of my life, Christmas has been a time of wonder and magic, and not because dreams come true. Christmas has been a wonderful time because for as long as I can remember, family has come together for laughter and merry making, all centered around the birth of Christ. Oh sure, there may have been some conflict here and there, but my childhood memories are free of such distraction. Even my adult memories have been mostly joy-filled.

A few times, however, life has been anything but merry over Christmas. One of the hardest was twelve years ago when I was grieving the death of a precious baby girl delivered into the arms of Jesus far too early. It is tradition to decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. But I didn’t want to; I was still so devastated from my loss that it was virtually impossible to even think about being merry, let alone invest the energy to make it happen.

Our then 7 year old daughter, however, would have nothing of my humbug attitude. Single-handedly, she got the decorations out, and engaged everyone in helping put them up, even her Scroogely mama. I will never forget how God worked through that time, or through that precious girl.

Fast-forward twelve years, and once again I am facing a holiday that isn’t quite so merry. The reasons are different, but the heartache is all too familiar; disappointment and loss, well seasoned with rejection. The enemy’s lies are mingled in, making today not quite so merry as it has been in years past. And I find myself at a cross-roads. Today is supposed to be so fun, the highlight of the year. Families gather to exchange gifts and laugh. Most of my Christmas memories are sweet and joy-filled. Do I let the pain I am experiencing today overshadow the joy of what we are celebrating? Do I allow the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy steal my joy, kill my excitement, and destroy my holiday? Or will I allow the Spirit of God to comfort me, sooth my wounded heart, and fill my soul with joy that is not dependent on circumstances? And what will life look like if I do?

Honestly, I am wrestling right now…that’s why I’m writing. It is far easier to write about walking through heartache than it is to actually do it. And to walk through with grace, keeping my eyes on Jesus instead of my circumstances…that feels almost impossible at this moment, truly.

A dear friend told me recently that I need to focus on the big picture, not the brush strokes. And today, in reality, is just a brush stroke…just one single brush stroke on a room-sized canvas. It feels like a huge black splotch, but since I know the Master who holds the brush and chooses the paint, I know what I’m experiencing isn’t an accident. And, if I can step back from the momentary pain (as overwhelming as it is) to gaze in the face of my Savior, I can live as though it is true that God holds the brush and chooses the paint.

But that choice is more difficult to make than it might at first appear. It requires experiencing the pain. It requires acknowledging the heartache. And it means letting go of both…which is also hard.

God holds the brush, and He controls the paint. He is a master craftsman and I can trust Him. Even when it doesn’t make sense. And I pray that everyone else who is struggling on this festive day, for whatever reason, will be able to step back from the moment and gaze at the big picture, seeing both the brush strokes and the Master Craftsman who holds the brush. And in seeing, be able to rest, embracing the comfort and peace He offers, as difficult as that may be.

A Long Obedience

Have you ever seen an ad (or a movie) where someone does a good deed, and before you know it, a whole community has joined them? Yeah; me, too. Those images always leave such warm fuzzy feelings in my heart. And I want to be part of something special like that.

My experience, however, hasn’t quite played out that way. Honestly, I’ve done lots of good deeds all alone; no one has ever known. You probably have, too.

Almost nobody notices. Virtually nobody remembers. Nobody is cheering, or giving awards, or helping with the efforts.

You can probably think of your own examples; times when you gave even though (or especially because) nobody was watching. The goal isn’t to be noticed; good deeds have their own intrinsic reward. But sometimes it seems like somebody somewhere should care that you’re making sacrifices to benefit someone else.

Perhaps you’ve never done it, but sometimes I figure if someone is doing a good deed, it must be because they have time. Or it is convenient. Or they don’t have anything more important to do. But, if they are anything like me and you, most of those people do have something else to do, and helping isn’t necessarily convenient, and they really don’t have any more time than we do. They are just choosing to use it differently.

Why, you may be asking, am I bringing this up? Well, let me tell you. It is because God gave me an object lesson, in the sleet and rain.

We live on a busy street. And we are responsible to keep the sidewalks clear. Initially, my son wanted to shovel the snow; he loves shoveling, and wanted to earn a littlIMG_00002278ae bit of money. But, as the sleet turned to rain and the snow got heavy, I knew he wouldn’t be able to get the job done. So, we traded places. And I started shoveling.

My plan was not to shovel that long; I just wanted to get the snow off the sidewalk so pedestrians would be safe (and we wouldn’t get sued). But as I approached our property line, God started tugging at my heart. Our neighbors hadn’t gotten their sidewalk shoveled yet. I needed to shovel their walk, too. So, I kept shoveling. And as I did, God and I wrestled, a lot.

I didn’t want to shovel for my neighbors. They haven’t always been very friendly. On occasion, they have been decidedly unfriendly, actually. And it was wet, and cold, and I had other things to do. And when the big vehicles drove by, they splashed gross mucky slush up on me and the sidewalk, further weighing down the already heavy snow.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t care. I would do the right thing, because it was the right thing, and that would be that. But I don’t live in a perfect world…and even if I did, I’m not perfect…

And because I’m not perfect, I wanted somebody, anybody, to help me. I wanted God to turn back time so I could accomplish my oh-so-important to-do list. I wanted somebody to notice and say good job. I wanted something. And, because I’m not perfect, God heard all about what I wanteIMG_00002285ad.

Thankfully, I wasn’t struck by lightening (which I really did deserve), and God showed me that what I needed was an attitude adjustment…to praise God in every circumstance, even this one. So, I offered a sacrifice of praise, thanking Him that I can still shovel snow at my age (not that I’m that old, mind you), that I had the tools to do the job without freezing (gotta love modern conveniences like waterproof boots, insulated gloves, and warm coats), that I have a sidewalk to shovel  (I could be homeless, or live in a tiny apartment with downstairs neighbors who hated living under an elephant herd), that I have a shovel, and that I have neighbors to bless with a simple act of kindness. Mostly, I chose obedience; I chose (what felt like) a long obedience, in the same direction. And, the job got done.

More than the job, though, was the lesson God taught me about obedience. It doesn’t always feel good. It doesn’t always make sense. It isn’t easy, or convenient, or fun. But, when I choose obedience, God can make even an unpleasant experience blessed. What a mighty God we serve. And how gracious, able to take my rotten attitude and bless me as a result.

Disappointment and Success

My three oldest daughters applied to staff a leadership camp we’ve been involved with for the last six years.

They were turned down.

I’m disappointed.

But, as we’ve contemplated why they might have been turned down, I’ve been reminded again of what is true. Acceptance and success aren’t always based on character. Sometimes people are considered successful because they have a lot of money. Or because they have nice things. Or because they are friendly and popular. Or because they are friends with the right people. Sometimes, the gems get missed because they aren’t obvious to the casual observer.

God knows.

He knew what Israel would be looking for in a king. Someone who looked the part; tall, handsome, energetic, winsome (at least in some ways). He also knew what lay behind those good looks and winsome personality; a man without character. A man who would be led astray by the influence of popular opinion and who’s confidence was in himself rather than where it belonged. God knew, when He sent Samuel to anoint the king, what the journey would be. He knew.

God also knew what kind of king Israel really needed, even though that future king was only a shepherd, and a kind of scrawny one at that. God told Samuel, in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees…man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” NASB.

God said David was a man after His own heart, and he proved to be a good king. Actually, he was one of Israel’s best. And God promised he would always have a descendent sitting on the throne of Israel.

Even Jesus wasn’t that impressive, as far as world leaders go. He never owned a home, never led an army. Before He died, He lost all of His followers! And if you want to talk about impressive, you won’t be listing any of His disciples in that bunch. A rag-tag bunch of social misfits, they were anything but impressive. Yet, Jesus knew what lay in their hearts; He knew their unrecognized, untapped potential. And He used them to change the world! He knew that what mattered wasn’t what people could see. What really mattered was what people couldn’t.

Obviously, I’m a little biased about my children, and I am so proud of the young women they are becoming. I think the organization that rejected them was wrong. I also know that if my girls had needed the experience of serving with this organization, God would have worked it out. They didn’t, so He didn’t.

Instead, God is giving my precious, beautiful, amazing daughters (like I said, I’m a little biased) an opportunity to learn about disappointment, in the comfort and security of a loving home. It is an opportunity for them to “keep their crowns on”  no matter what the world tries to do, and to begin learning the definition of true success.