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.

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Just Be Held

The words to “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns are so powerful. You can find them here, and the official music video is here.

Lately, I’ve needed to just be held…life has certainly hit me out of nowhere. And I don’t know how not to hold on desperately to anything within my grasp. I am on my knees, and answers seem more than far away…they seem non-existent. What does it mean for God to be on the throne? What does it look like or feel like to be held, to have Him hold my heart? As I type this, I really don’t know.

I feel desperation, like the father of the boy who was demon possessed in Mark 9. And like that desperate father, I’m crying out to Jesus to help my unbelief. I am struggling with unbelief…not the kind that wonders if God loves me or if He is still on His throne, but the kind that wonders if this pain will ever stop…the kind that wonders if I will ever again see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). Because life doesn’t feel good right now, and “being held,” raising my hands, believing God is holding my heart…

none of those have made the pain go away.

When I was growing up, I thought Romans 8:28 meant that God would fix up my mix-ups and life would feel good. Then life collided with my beliefs and I discovered what a bad theologian and exegete I really was. God doesn’t promise to fix up my mix-ups and make life feel good. Jesus actually said that life would be hard, but we didn’t need to worry because He has everything under control (John 16:33).

So often, however, it feels like God is anything BUT in control. Life hurts. Bad things happen to good people. Good people do bad things. Bad people win. And the good guy finishes last.

How do we reconcile that with what we read in Scripture?

How do we come to terms with the fact that life doesn’t necessarily feel good?

Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that Scripture has much to say about suffering.

Psalm 34:18 says that God is near to the brokenhearted.

Psalm 147:3 says He heals the brokenhearted.

Isaiah 61:1 (ESV) says:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…”

This is Jesus. It is how He described Himself in Luke 4:18. The words are almost exactly the same.

What does it look like to let go? What does it feel like to really be held by Jesus…to truly trust Him to that degree? I don’t know…yet. But, I have a feeling that the God who came to earth to bind up the brokenhearted can show me.

I’m counting on it, actually.

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.

A Cord of Three Strands

I’m studying in Colorado right now, investing time in theological development classes for Cru. And I’m on my own; my family is still in Spokane. That is by design; it is easier to study and work on projects or assignments without the pitter-patter of little feet.

It is also the first time in my adult life that I’m on my own. Even before I got married, I lived with roommates or at home. I’ve never had space all to myself, even temporarily. It’s actually been very nice, too, for the most part. As the mother of many, I am surrounded by noise. It’s okay; noisy children are generally much healthier than quiet children…I’ll take the noise any day. But constant noise wears you down. Sometimes it is nice to sit in silence. It is also nice to be the only one making messes; it is so much easier to keep things tidy that way. Or to leave a mess out with no fear that it will be disturbed; very convenient when working on major projects over a period of several days. Cooking is easier, food lasts longer, laundry is quick and simple. In so many ways, living by myself is easier than living in a full house.

But, easier isn’t always better.

Since I’ve been in Colorado, I’ve been sick twice. Once wasn’t so bad; I kind of knew how to manage. The other was all sorts of awful. Fever, body aches, tummy troubles, exhaustion…the whole nine yards. And I was all alone…nobody was around refill my water cup or to re-wet the cool cloth I was putting on my head. Nobody to make me a smoothie or heat soup or wash the dishes while I was down. A whole day went by where I didn’t eat and hardly got out of bed. I was sick!

That experience drove home a lesson Solomon wrote about a long time ago. Ecclesiastes 4 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Generally I associate this with marriage. Indeed, that is the context in which I have heard it mentioned most often. And the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third part of the aforementioned cord is great for illustrating the strength available to Christian couples who rely on the Spirit in their relationship. But I think that oversimplifies and misses the point of what Solomon is saying, mostly because he isn’t talking about marriage in this passage. He is talking about community.

We use the word “community” quite loosely in our culture. We have community centers, we try to foster “community” while mourning its loss, both inside and outside the Church. We are more connected digitally connected

"Global Network Devices" Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Global Network Devices” Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

than ever in history, and more lonely than ever as well. I don’t think we are really experiencing the biblical idea of community, at least not as a general culture. And that is sad.

The reality is, we are all need community and fellowship. We are all on the verge of falling down or needing help to get back up, but in so many ways we’re traveling in isolation, afraid to let anyone know our weakness or potential for falling. And we are worse off because of it.

I don’t have any wonderful solutions. Just the realization that community is a good thing and I want more of it. I am also equally aware that community isn’t instant, easy, or problem-free. Sometimes the people in our community contribute to our falls. Sometimes we contribute to theirs. Community is messy. And often painful. It is the opposite of easy. But in the end, it is so worthwhile. And the fruit of walking with people, through brokenness and failure, through pushing and being pushed, through helping people back on their feet and being helped…the fruit of walking in humility and brokenness with others is the treasure of community…of being truly “known” and knowing others.

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

That is a treasure that can not be replaced by digital devices, meet ups, or sterile community centers. That treasure can only be found in the hard work and muck of walking through life together…falling down and getting back up…in true community.

What do you value about community?

What do you fear?

How do those realities affect your choices on a daily basis, and what do you want to do about it?

 

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.

 

Connecting to the Heart of God

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 KJV

A simple truth, but so profound. God loves the world.

It is our privilege to help connect people in Spokane to the heart of God. And sometimes it is scary. Sometimes God asks us to do big things, that are clearly beyond our own human capacity. And sometimes, if feels like it is all about me, my ability, my personality, my creativity, my popularity (or lack thereof), my performance. Since I’m a broken, imperfect person, I fail. Often. Depending on my ability results in epic failure. Repeatedly.

Recently, God challenged me to step out in faith and take on a new responsibility. It is scary. I don’t want to do it. I could fail.

In the process of seeking the Lord’s direction (because I’m much more concerned with my performance than with obedience), I called a dear friend who is also a spiritual mentor. Instead of telling me how crazy I was for even considering adding something else, she began asking probing questions. Difficult questions. Questions I neither wanted to consider nor answer.

But consider I did. And God revealed that I have some deep rooted fear; fear of failure. He also revealed something else. It’s not. about. me. Nothing in this life (or the next) is about me!

And, my obedience is more important than my performance. Regardless of how well I perform, my success is determined by my obedience.

Sometimes, God gives really strange instructions! He told Jeremiah to take his belt off and bury it. Then later, God instructed Jeremiah to go back and dig up that same belt, then to wear it to preach a message to the Children of Israel. He told Hosea to marry a prostitute! And, Hosea experienced great heartache as a result. Those are extreme examples, yes, but examples, all the same.

Honestly, if you think about it, instructing a man to marry a woman who was already pregnant, with Someone Else’s child, or using shepherds as messengers, or having old women carry babies, or sending His Son as a common man instead of a king – those are all pretty crazy, even outlandish things to do. But God has done them.

And God continues to do outlandish things. Things like adopting Gentiles, and opening His Kingdom to “publicans and sinners”. He so totally blew the Pharisees away (to the point that they wanted to kill Him) because He didn’t fit inside their carefully constructed facade. In their eyes; indeed, in the world’s eyes, Jesus wasn’t much of a success story. Even today, he wouldn’t have been a success, not by our usual metrics of numbers and impact. Jesus left a ragtag bunch of social misfits, and only a handful at that. He didn’t launch any new movements, He didn’t leave any beautiful buildings, He didn’t transform His culture overnight. He didn’t even chase the Romans out of Israel?! But He was completely successful…He was totally obedient and accomplished everything His Father gave Him to accomplish. As a result, He completely changed the world.

And because that ragtag bunch of social misfits took the Great Commission seriously, they went and made disciples, who made disciples, who made disciples, to the point that, after about three hundred years, the Roman Empire looked nothing like it had in Jesus’ day. And eventually, disciples of disciples went to the ends of the earth, and people in the Pacific Northwest (which is about as far from Israel as you can get) are followers of Jesus as a result.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 KJV

 Such a simple verse, but what a profound, life-changing, world-transforming concept…we can connect with the heart of God!