Diving Into Change

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Today is my youngest daughter’s first day of her senior year in high school. That means that next year at this time, the school start date will mean nothing to me. I won’t receive any papers that need a parent’s signature or be putting school soccer games on my calendar. I won’t be receiving e-mails from the school office and my car will rarely travel to the town where the Christian school is located.

And that’s just how it is.

Many of us are experiencing lasts around this time of the year. The last time we take a child to college. The last child to enter kindergarten. The last time our kids will begin their year at the elementary school or the middle school.

But many of you are experiencing exciting firsts, too. It may that this year you are trying homeschooling or have decided to send your children to Christian school. Perhaps you decided to send your kids to public school. Yep, this time of year has a lot of exciting firsts and lasts. And, in some ways, we can prepare for them.

Life is full of firsts and lasts. It is full of changes and some of us handle change better than others. I am probably not one of the best at molding to change in my life. Which is strange, considering I have had quite a bit. As we all do, I guess. When I think I am getting better at this thing called “change”, a new change comes along to challenge my assessment of how I handle change.

Inevitably when I write a post like this one, some of you who have been through this time want to assure me that I will be okay. That I will love my new “empty nest” life. So allow me to assure you that I do know this. At least my head knows this. And I am not worried that I won’t find my new normal. I know I will. But getting there has been a tough journey for me. I still find myself on many occasions just having the thought that I want my old life back. Oh, there are some things in the here and now that I love. Changes that have been good changes and I would never go back to the old way. But as for how my day-to-day life has changed; the quiet house; not taking care of the needs of a large family…well, that is taking some getting used to. (However, I definitely don’t miss the extra laundry and cleaning. Just wanted to clear that up!)

As I have been processing all of this in the last few years, I have learned some lessons. I thought I may share some of this with you here today–

I remember to find perspective

When I think about those in the Middle East who have been forced to leave their homes or those in Venezuela who don’t even have the basic necessities for life, I am ashamed. I am easily brought out of my self-centered sadness when I remember how good I have it. Sometimes my thoughts will go to those Jewish families, ripped from their homes, separated, and placed on cattle cars in Nazi Germany. I have had none of that happen in my life. There are child sex slaves, thousands of them, operating even as we speak. Mothers across the world who are struggling to feed their babies and have no time or resources to play games or to homeschool their children. When I think about all of this, I am ashamed. How can I be sad in the face of all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had? Of all I have now? This thought pattern starts me on the path to–

Choosing gratitude

We can’t find proper perspective without being filled with gratitude. A thankful heart changes everything. And when we recognize our many blessings we naturally develop a thankful heart. Now, you may be thinking at this time that you don’t have the warm and happy memories. You may be dwelling on your memories of abuse and neglect or pondering your unhappy marriage. You may be staring at a change that has cast you into absolute shock. And it is in this place that you are wondering: How do I find perspective and choose gratitude here?? I am not where you are, so I want to be careful what I say. But I think it has something to do with remembering who we were as sinners and the vast grace and love that God has shown us. We can be saved from our sins and reconciled to God only because of His amazing grace and unending mercy. This is something for which to be thankful, no matter what is going on in our lives. Paul puts it like this in I Timothy 1:12-17–

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen.

If we are saved, we have a reason to be thankful. Which leads us to the next, very obvious step. As Christians, we know the One to whom we direct our most heartfelt thanks and–

We remember the One who never changes.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about this very thing, so I won’t elaborate much on this here, for fear of repeating myself. But, suffice it to say, we know that God never changes. And we know that the one Who never changes guides and directs all things, working all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28) Through all of this we also know that we are loved with a deep and abiding love. There is nothing that can separate us from His love, no matter what our earthly experiences are–

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

And so this One who never changes deserves the praises spilling forth from our grateful hearts. And a heart that is praising and thanking God is a joyful heart. Sadness has dissipated by the time I get to this step. This helps me to have right heart and mind to–

Set proper priorities

When I am sad and self-focused, I lose sight of what is important. I am filled with self-pity. I believe the lies that pour into my ears about my uselessness and irrelevance. And this is what makes me unusable for God’s Kingdom. Did you catch that? We are rendered useless for the Kingdom only if we choose to stay self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with our age. It has nothing to do with our physical limitations or our intellectual capabilities.

The only thing that can render a servant of God useless is their attitude.

Humility, contentment, submission: This is what will lead to a fruitful life, no matter what change comes our way. These attitudes or godly attributes are what will keep us setting proper priorities. They are the attitudes that will determine if we will be used by God throughout our entire lives or if we will become a useless lump of self-pity and self-absorption and a burden on those we love.

This is serious stuff. Where we turn when changes comes is a big deal. I heard a quote in a movie the other day. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend the movie as I turned it off after a few minutes (I don’t know why I keep holding out hope that I will find a good movie without filth made in the last five years, as it is just so rare anymore!) but, anyway, this quote is worth repeating–

Change is like a wave. We can resist it and die. Or we can dive into it and survive.

Yes, yes, yes! We need to dive into change. We need to submit to it and to roll with it. Resistance will kill all of the potential good for God’s Kingdom. It will rot any spiritual fruit. It will stymie our growth and render us useless. And so we must dive! Our future and our work for God’s Kingdom depends upon it!

And one final thought–I have found that it generally is not choosing one or the other for most of us. As we stand in the unrelenting sea of change, we have our days of resistance and we have our days of diving. But the key is to keep working towards the right choice until our sea settles quietly into a new normal. At least for a little while.

I know that this post will not be relevant for all of you, but it is my prayer that– for those of you who, like me, are struggling through a life change right now–this post will give you some hope and some direction.

 

What an Incident With a Gorilla Showed the World

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So last week (or was it the week before?) one of the really big news stories was about a boy that fell into a gorilla’s cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. Zookeepers ended up shooting the gorilla to save the boy’s life. While it is a tragedy that the gorilla had to die, I think it is a far greater tragedy to hear what America had to say about it. It really showed us exactly where we are as a nation, didn’t it?

In case you are wondering what I am talking about, let me get a little more specific and give you four things that were confirmed through this incident–

1. First, this incident showed very clearly that love and tolerance only extend to someone that fits in with the proper, politically-correct agenda. There is ZERO love or tolerance if you step outside it. The mother of that boy and the zookeepers have felt the viperous hatred of many in this country, many who probably consider themselves loving, tolerant people. If we unpack this a bit, we see that what is defined as love and tolerance in this crazy, upside-down world, isn’t really either. True love extends grace and mercy to those that we disagree with or who behave in a way that angers us. True tolerance says I can disagree with you without calling you names, destroying you, or needing to force you to agree with me.

We saw this very clearly in the treatment of this naughty boy’s mother and, also, in the zookeepers’ decision to put down the animal for the safety of the boy.

2. After 100 plus years of being inundated with the atheism belief system in our schools, the world is more upset about the death of gorilla than it is about the death of a person. From the thousands of babies who die each day at the hands of cruel and heartless abortion doctors (this was expressed so clearly by Matt Walsh in his post about this incident) to the Christians dying every day at the hand of Isis. Where is the uproar? Where is the cry for justice for human life? It has disappeared into the chaotic morass of what is this culture. A morass where the value of human life has been reduced to that of less than animals. Thank you, Mr. Darwin.

3. Third, I noticed that those who are constantly shouting “Do Not Judge! Do Not Judge!” often seem to be the first to judge in situations like this. Don’t you find this rather ironic? We live in a world that is absolutely obsessed about not judging others or telling anyone they are wrong about anything (since there are no absolute values) and yet, when a gorilla dies because a boy enters his cage, the truth shows it’s ugly head. We all judge. It is how we are created. And, further yet, it is what we are supposed to do. The question is not whether or not we judge between right and wrong. Instead the question is what standard are we using to judge? If we are Christians, it is the Bible. If we aren’t, then it could be just about anything.

4. And, finally, it is so interesting to see a world that attacks a mother for having a son who behaves in just the way a boy would behave whose parents have followed the popular child-rearing techniques. Did you follow that? Let me explain:

Modern-day parents are told that spanking harms a child. They are told that they shouldn’t say “No” or they will be in danger of breaking his spirit. Children are to be allowed to do whatever they want, wear whatever they want, eat whatever they want. This philosophy of raising children doesn’t only lead to self-centered, bratty adults, it leads to naughty children who do things they shouldn’t do. I don’t know anything about this mother. I don’t know how she raised her boy. But, I can say this–I think it is absolutely amazing that more stuff like this doesn’t happen! With so many disrespectful children who do not obey, I would expect this to happen every day in some zoo across America.

Let’s just say that this mother is parenting in this modern way, just as many parents are (even many Christian parents have been sucked into this damning philosophy of raising children). Let’s suppose that she has followed what she has heard on TV morning shows and magazines and the internet. Isn’t it so incongruous that the world that encourages her to let her child run free would condemn her when he does just that?

 

And so the incident with the gorilla really gave us a true picture of this nation, didn’t it? And something is really wrong with this picture. I don’t have any advice or deep spiritual insight to give. Only to encourage you to keep your eyes on the Lord. He alone is our rock and our fortress. He alone provides the way of salvation. The sea around us may heave, the winds around us may threaten to knock us over, but we have an anchor that will not fail.

 

The Education Dilemma

Education Dilemma

Mandates regarding public education are coming from the federal level that cause any Christian parent –or any moral parent, for that matter– to shudder. Should Christians remove their children from the public schools? How does a family know when it is the right time to leave (or not leave) the public school system? And what is the best choice for education if the choice is made to leave the government-run schools?

Education has been a source of disagreement and contention among Christians for a long time now. Homeschooling, Christian Schools, and Public Schools all have their passionate supporters. But sometimes that passion turns into hurtful, arrogant remarks that cause dissension and strife. There is a lot of emotion and strong feeling around this very personal decision and many walls have been built between relationships because of it.

I have purposefully not written very often about education on this blog. I have my opinions, but, alas, I cannot find a specific command about this subject of educating our children anywhere in the Bible. And, so, that means that each Christian family is called to make a wise, thoughtful, and very personal choice about how their children are going to be educated. Thankfully, we still have that choice–at least for now.

But whatever we decide is extremely important. Adolf Hitler put it this way “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” I am not a big fan of Hitler, but he does have that right. And, so, it is crucial that we keep the hearts of our children, no matter which choice we make.

Any education we choose for our child will have its advantages and disadvantages and many different things will weigh into our decision. A few public schools still have quite a bit of Christian influence, while a good many are a lost cause. Some families have a decent, affordable Christian school nearby and some do not. Some mothers love the challenge of homeschooling and others do not feel gifted in this area. These are all things that will affect our decision about education.

It would seem to me that the bathroom mandate from President Obama probably has many Christians thinking just a little harder about how they are going to make sure their kids get a good education without being destroyed morally and spiritually in the process.

Making a change, however, can prove to be very confusing and challenging. Friends and family will list the pros and cons of their education system of choice. Very strong and loud opinions are spouted by our friends and acquaintances as to what they think we should do. But the decision does not need to be made by our parents, sibling, or friends. It is a decision that has to be made by each individual family. So how do we decide as a family what is the best choice for the education of our children? This very question came up in our Sunday School class last week and I have been thinking about it ever since. I thought of five factors we should all probably consider when making such an important choice–

1. What is the best choice for my child? If we aren’t careful, the choice we make will be based on a mother’s desire to work outside the home. Notice I used the word “desire”. While there are certainly some moms that are forced to work due to a variety of reasons and there are also some who work so that they can afford to send their children to Christian School, there are also so many others who work simply because they long for the satisfaction and fulfillment of a career outside of home life. One of the hardest things to do as a mother is to put the needs and interests of our children before our own. Our natural selfishness can cause our own personal purpose and fulfillment to trump what we know in our hearts is best for our children. This is promoted and bolstered by a world that sees “self-fulfillment” as the ultimate goal.  In order to make a wise decision about education, we moms have to cast aside our own desires and dreams and answer this question: What is best for my child?

2. Remember that soldiers are thoroughly prepared before engaging in combat. I so often hear the argument that we need Christians kids to be salt and light in the dark world of the public school system. While I believe there may be a few, valid reasons to choose to use the public school system, I do not believe this should ever be one of them. Just as a young recruit would never be thrown into the battlefield without intense training, so, too, should we never throw our children onto the battlefield of the world’s stage without first training them in the things of God. Our children are like sponges, soaking up everything they hear. While you may be telling them that the world was created by God, the government school system will be telling them otherwise. And while you will be telling them that there is absolute truth and right and wrong, they will be hearing the complete opposite throughout all of their years in the system. This will be confusing to them. They are not yet prepared to handle such conflicting messages. While you can work through this at home, it will take great diligence and lots of work to undo the damage done during their school days, as any parent with a child in public school already recognizes.

3. Consider your child’s personality. Each child is so different and, while some are born leaders and will never sway from the convictions they have learned at home, others are easily swayed by even the lightest of peer pressure. What is your child like? If they are a follower, public school (and even Christian school) could potentially be a very dangerous place for them.

4. Consider your family’s and each individual child’s communication style. Does your family communicate effectively about the stuff of life that really matters? Are conversations about God and the Bible and godly, life choices a natural part of dinner conversations? Does your child participate in these conversations? Does your child ask big questions and tell you about his day when you tuck him into bed at night? Do you know if she is struggling internally with a problem or question? If the answer to these questions is yes, then this will give you a wonderful window into what’s going on in their soul and mind, making any education choice feel a little safer. If the answer to this question is no, then it is important to consider the ramifications of this in regards to education.

5. Whatever choice we make does not eliminate our need to educate our children spiritually. How many kids do you know that have been placed in Christian School because Mom and Dad thought it would fix them? What they don’t recognize is that what is happening to their child is not about external circumstances but about what is going on internally and spiritually. But figuring all that out can be hard, tedious work that is sometimes messy, awkward, and incredibly difficult. It is so much easier to place a child in Christian School and hope that the teachers there will fix a rebellious child. But there is not any education choice that we can make that will fix what is broken or turn our child into some spiritual giant. The main responsibility for this lies in the home. It is our responsibility, as parents, to see that our kids leave our homes with a deep love and respect for God and His Word. It is our job to teach them that they are ultimately accountable to God and that they are sinners but are so deeply loved by God that He made a way for them to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. It is our job to teach them that the Word of God is their authority and to obey and submit to it joyfully. It is our job to teach them that obedience and submission to the Word will yield a joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling–albeit not trial-free– life. It is our job to teach them that the world is a dangerous, evil place and we are safest and happiest if we avoid its pleasures, its entertainment, and its lusts. It is our job to teach them to trust in God’s Sovereignty during difficult times, to forgive others just as God has forgiven us, and to love and serve others. This is our job as parents and belongs to no one else–not the school, not the teachers, not the pastor, not the youth group.

 

I hope these five factors will help any of you who may be struggling with this decision. Personally, I have experience with all three kinds of education–I went to public school from kindergarten through high school, I homeschooled our children for 16 years, and then our younger three children attended Christian School for several years. It is hard to believe that our youngest will be a senior next year. As I look over the past and consider the choices we made regarding our children’s education, there is one thing that really stands out in my memory and that is that God always showed us which fork in the road to take when we would come to a crossroads. I can think of at least three specific times where we agonized over what to do regarding this subject and the wonderful way that God so faithfully answered our prayers, showing us His will in this area of our family’s life. God, in His ever faithful way, provided very clear answers to our prayers. If this is something you are struggling with, take it to the Lord in prayer. If you are praying with a heart to submit and obey Him–no matter what answer He gives (even if you don’t like it!)– then you can be sure that He will answer that prayer.

And, finally, let me conclude with this–

We need to offer much grace and kindness in this area of education. We need to allow our Christian friends and family to make their own choices, based on their own convictions and circumstances. If we feel strongly that someone we love is making a wrong choice, the best thing to do is to pray for them. Strongly stating our opinion only leads to broken and strained relationships.

As our family approaches our final year in answering this education question, I find myself filled with compassion for those of you with young kids. It is an evil, pagan world we live in and this is spilling out into all areas of life, including the government schools. It will, most likely, only continue to get worse. You will have big questions to face as you raise your precious little ones. Get on your knees and ask God to show you what to do. He is faithful!

Psalm 121 is a wonderful reminder of this–

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

A Million Little Choices

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Each year on Mother’s Day, we have a Child Dedication Service at our church. This is very different than infant baptism, as it is not about the salvation of the child but, instead, to indicate the sober decision by the parents to raise this child up in a godly, Christian home. Yesterday, I had the great privilege of watching my daughter and son-in-law dedicate their son to the Lord, along with ten or so other families.

As I watched each family walk up, holding a precious baby in their arms or taking a small child by the hand, I thought back to the dedication services of our own children. We were in a smaller church at the time, so we would usually be doing the whole thing solo. In fact, my husband and I carefully picked an appropriate song for each child and even sang a duet together at each dedication (I am not really a gifted singer, so that will tell you a little something about how small the church was!)

But I realized something yesterday which I was rather oblivious to when we dedicated our own children–

Walking up to the front of the church and having the pastor pray over you and your child is the easy part. True dedication is made up of a million little choices.

Choices like–

Will I choose to scream over spilled milk or come along side and wipe up the milk and the tears lovingly?

Will I choose to hold my precious children and read Bible stories and other good books to them or will I set them in front of the TV after a long, hard day?

Will I choose to patiently work out the sibling quarrels or lay on the sofa yelling at the children?

Will I choose to learn and grow by reading and studying the Bible and other godly books or will I fill my free time with frivolous, temporal things?

Will I surrender my desire for perfection and choose to teach my children how to do chores around the home or will I just do it myself, because I can’t stand the way they do things?

Will I yield myself to the Lord and His will, or will I exhibit self-righteousness and discontentment and show my kids how not to walk with God?

Will I act differently at church than I do at home, or will my life be an example of holiness and godliness both at church and everywhere else?

Will I apologize when I’ve messed up, or will I arrogantly refuse to?

Will I spend time on my marriage and, by doing so, give the children the security of a strong and faithful home, or will I neglect it and keep them all wondering if there will be an eventual divorce?

Will I criticize and nitpick and punish in anger, or will I lovingly and gently discipline, correct, and guide?

Will I follow the world’s advice on child-rearing or will I follow God’s Word?

These, and many others, show our true heart in dedicating our children. Most of the church will never really know if this is the stuff that is happening at home. Most families show the best versions of their little group when they are at church. Only those we live with truly know the real us.

What would your kids say about you? Your spouse? Your grandkids?

Would words like godly, holy, kind, loving, supportive, and joyful be used? Or would words like angry, irritable, depressed, unhappy, selfish, and critical be used? How does your family view YOU?

It is a sobering question, is it not? And this question has everything to do with this business of dedicating our children to the Lord.

I can vividly remember an incident from when we were raising our first teenager. She wanted to do something that I didn’t want her to do. It was not a biblical issue and there was nothing wrong about what she was asking. I can remember my husband very patiently asking me “Why?”

Why didn’t I want her to do that?

And you know what? I didn’t have an answer! It was just my own selfish agenda, that’s what it was. It was one of those moments that hits you like a rock: I’d better give up my own selfish agenda or risk losing the heart of my child.

It was an easy decision and my daughter was able to do what she desired to do– which I can’t even remember what it was anymore (which goes to show you just how unimportant it really was). It was one of my million little choices. And I don’t regret one bit making the right one. I just wish I would have done that even more often.

We made so many mistakes, but, along the way, God kept teaching us both what it means to dedicate our children truly to the Lord. And we kept learning. In fact, in this new stage of parenting adults, we continue to keep learning. Life is one never-ending journey of learning. Just when you think you’ve nailed a stage down, you move on to the next one.

But, as we grow and change, may it be towards the Lord and may it be more like Jesus, so that God’s faithfulness spills over and down and through all the cracks of our weaknesses. May we never grow hard and calloused and bitter. And through a million little choices, may we show ourselves dedicated to not only raising godly children, but to being a godly example and a bright and shining light of hope in the dark world around us.

 

On Being a Mom to a Mom

Five Generations

Last weekend, our world changed forever. Our first grandchild came into the world and our lives will never be the same. Many people had told us just how wonderful this moment would be, but, just as becoming a parent truly defies description, so, too, does becoming a grandparent.

As I held this miniature human being in my arms, I couldn’t stop staring in absolute awe at the miracle of this new life (evolution is categorically impossible on just this one point alone). Staring at the tiny, perfect features of my first grandson, I felt blessed far more than I deserve.

When people would talk to us about becoming grandparents, most of the talk centered on the grandchildren (of course!) but one thing I didn’t really think about until this week is how this new life changes the relationship with my daughter.

We have been gently discovering this since her wedding a couple of years ago and have been learning to pass the baton on to the next generation. But with the birth of their child, it feels more official somehow. And I recognized that my husband and I are stepping off of center stage and are now moving into a support role.

It is a strange feeling and will take some adjusting for me and yet the time is so right. It is my turn to be for her what my mom has been (and continues to be) for me. She provided unwavering and consistent support as I took on one of the hardest jobs in existence: Motherhood. She provided godly counseling and sometimes just let me cry as she listened to my heartaches. And she rejoiced with me, almost as excited as we were when a baby started to walk or a child lost a first tooth. Oh, how I desire to do the same for my daughters and daughter-in-law as they take their turn at being a mother.

The picture above was taken over 70 years ago. The only person alive today is my aunt, who is the young girl in the photo. My grandmother is the beautiful lady standing on the left. At the time, she probably had two children. She went on to have two more, my mother being her fourth. When this photo was taken, she was experiencing the sleepless nights, the strong wills, the sibling rivalry, and the endless cleaning and cooking that comes with raising a family. It was her turn to face the challenges of motherhood. But time passed, the years went by, and it became my mom’s turn. And then it was my turn. And now, all these years later, it is my daughter’s turn.

As our roles are changing now, I have been giving a great deal of thought to how important it is for us grandmothers to find a balance between interfering bossiness and cold indifference. Somewhere between those two is the loving balance of being there when they need us and yet giving them lots of space to grow together as a family without our “two cents.”

I am starting to understand why some families have so much trouble. Some mothers are just not ready to step off of center stage and take their support role. This can cause a lot of stress in families where there is great effort in trying to keep “Mom happy.”

As I have been thinking on how to take on this new role, the little phrase I used to say to my kids comes to mind: Be a blessing, not a burden.

I want to not only love my grandchildren deeply and fully, but I want to do the same for my kids and their spouses. I desire to encourage with my words, rather than be the constant critic. I want to build up and offer support as they take on this new role of parenting, rather than fill them with self-doubt and frustration.

I recognize that our actions and reactions as grandparents can make all the difference in the world in our family dynamics. I want to make sure grudges and bitterness find no place in my heart. And that I love my in-laws with the same love with which I love my own kids, instead of making them feel like outsiders.

I won’t do any of this perfectly, of course. But this who I want to be. Who I want to become. 

And so time marches on and I am now in the grandmother’s spot in that photo above. I still have to shake my head a bit as I ponder it all. It feels just a bit surreal. But I am quite confident that I am going to like being the mom of a mom. Sure, it will take a little getting used to, but I am thrilled to watch my daughter and her husband with their little guy, knowing that he is in the hands of two people who love the Lord and love each other. I am deeply grateful in knowing that these new parents desire nothing more than that this child they have been entrusted with grows up to love and serve Jesus.

Really, how blessed can you get?

 

Dear Christian Parent–

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Dear Christian Parent,

My heart aches for you as you try to raise your children for the Lord in a post-Christian country. Years ago, when I was a child, parents received some help from the culture. While most people were not genuine Christians, they did view the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule as truth to live by. This was what their parents had taught them and what their grandparents had taught their parents, repeating the pattern of many generations. The Bible was generally considered a guide for life and very respected among the general population. Of course, this changed forever about a generation ago.

This means that most of the advice you will hear currently on parenting will not be based on scripture, but instead will be advice that finds its roots in humanistic wisdom. This can be very confusing because the way you are being told to raise your kids is almost like night and day from the way your parents raised you or your grandparents raised your parents. How do we know what is the right way? As you might guess, I suggest we turn to the Bible for this. It teaches us the basics and then common sense fills in the gaps.

I have noticed a very disturbing trend among non-Christian and Christian parents alike: The kids are made the center of the family. Life revolves around these adorable little people. As infants, they decide when they will eat and sleep and even in whose arms they will reside. As they get older, for fear of squashing their “tender spirit”, many parents will let them choose what to wear, what to eat, and when they will go to bed. They will buy them everything they can possibly afford and rearrange their whole schedules around a child’s schedule. If what the child wants doesn’t line up with what Mom and Dad want, then cajoling and bribing will often take place. Most parents–and these are parents who want to genuinely want to do what’s right–truly believe that this is the best way to parent.

But have you given any thought to the possibility that it is not?

Before we can determine what is the best way to parent our children, we probably need to think about what our goals and hopes for our kids are. As Christian parents, our dearest hope should be to raise children who embrace God’s plan of salvation, walk in holiness, and grow up to honor and serve the Lord. If this is our goal, then this means that certain things need to take place to prepare the child’s heart for that choice.

First and foremost, they need to learn to live under the authority of their parents. God has set it up so that children first learn about living within boundaries at home. The problem is that few children have many boundaries anymore. From immediately answering the demands of an angry infant who cries the instant they are put in to the crib to cooking special meals for their finicky toddlers, Mom and Dad are actually living under the authority of their children.

This is how so many parent and, honestly, I don’t blame you at all if you parent this way. It’s what you have been told makes you a good parent by the world at large (and sometimes even by the church). But it doesn’t have to be this way. This type of parenting saps so much of the joy from family life because the parent is always tired and feels out of control. God never set it up this way. Proverbs 22:6 says that we are to train up our children. This means parenting is very intentional and not reactive. It also implies that the parent is in control, not the child. It is impossible to train a child who doesn’t first obey.

And, if we follow this pattern of parenting to its logical conclusion, we will realize that many parents today are training their children to be self-centered and demanding. This training will not magically dissipate when they become adults. No, instead, it is our job to start the process of godly training when they are old enough to start wriggling away from us on the changing table.

If you think through the obvious ramifications of child-centered parenting, I am sure that you will agree with me that when these children grow up they will become adults that —

1. Believe the world revolves around them. It will be a difficult transition into the real world when they realize that it doesn’t and I see many adults who can never quite get over this. They cause drama everywhere they go and think the world is falling apart when they don’t get their own way.

2. Believe that they are the final authority of their world and that what they say goes. Instead of turning to God’s Word in humility for life’s answers, they have been taught that they know best. They become prideful and arrogant. They are not teachable in any way because they believe they are always right. This is what Mom and Dad have taught them.

3. Believe they are entitled to the good life without working for it. These individuals sap the life out of society instead of building back into it. From Mom and Dad buying them a piece of candy in the store to keep them quiet to spending thousands on a club sport when they are a teen, many of these kids have never worked a day in their lives. Many don’t even help around the house with the chores. They have never equated material blessings with hard work.

I know parents don’t want this for their children. And it is downright hard to look into the eyes of a sweet, but defiant, child and demand that they obey you and then consistently provide consequences when they do not. It is especially difficult because magazines and morning talk shows and maybe even most of your friends tell you otherwise. And, yet to not do so, is a great disservice to the child. In fact, children thrive with boundaries. They actually are much happier when they have them. It is one of the most loving things you can do for your child.

Proverbs 29:17 Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.

Second, we need to prepare our children’s hearts by teaching them the Word of God and then validating that teaching with how we live our lives. So often we want to rely on Sunday School and other church programs to teach our kids. But do you know how many children go to church and then end up walking away from the faith as twenty-somethings? Most of the kids that stay true to the faith are the ones that saw Christianity lived out vibrantly before their eyes. You see, anyone can take their kids to church. It takes humility to live according to God’s Word and transparency to set a good (never perfect) example of the Christian life. It takes dedication and hard work to have family devotions and/or to have family discussions about things like creation, abortion, sexual orientation, holiness, and sin. Teaching your kids to use the Bible as their grid for every decision will prepare their hearts to be obedient to God as they head off into their futures. Showing your kids that you use the Bible as your own personal grid when making decisions adds necessary validity to your words.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Third, make sure your kids know that there is nothing they can do that will keep you from loving them. Be an example of unconditional love to them, demonstrating– albeit in a very flawed and human form– God’s all-encompassing love for each one of us.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Fourth, find a family that has kids living for the Lord and find out how they parented. These families are getting harder to find, but there are definitely still some around. I know when I was a young parent, I learned so much from those that were a few steps or a whole lifetime ahead of me. These are the ones to listen to because these are the ones who have proven that their way worked! Anyone can write a magazine article or become a psychologist. Model your parenting after a family who has adult Christian kids who love and serve the Lord.

Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.

And fifth, and finally, dedicate to pray for the best thing. Academics, sports, and the arts are important enough. But, eternally, the best thing–the only thing–that will matter is the soul of your child. Be sure that you pray often and fervently for the souls of your children. I never cease to be amazed at how God’s grace covers the weaknesses of those who truly desire to raise their children for Him. My husband and I experienced (and continue to experience) that kind of grace in a myriad of ways. God is so faithful to those who pray for the souls of their children.

James 5:16b The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

In conclusion, I just want to encourage you to raise your children for the God who created them. Shut your ears to worldly counsel and study the Word of God. Immerse yourself in biblical child-rearing resources (you can find some that were helpful to me here). Godly parenting is certainly not easy but it is the best way–for your children and for you, too. Yes, we live in a crazy, mad world. Yes, things look bleak. Yet, none of this has surprised God. He is still in control. However, it does look as if your children are most likely going to have the opportunity to stand for Christ in a way that we did not have. Train them to do so! Instead of sending weak-willed, undisciplined eternal adolescents into this world, make it your goal to send your kids out as bold and strong soldiers for Christ!

Don’t lose heart!

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Never Regret Growing Older

Never Regret

I could almost hear the little voices from the past. One child asking a question, another one needing a drink, all of them laughing and sometimes fighting. The normal family stuff. The large expo building I was in echoed with memories. Years ago, when the kids were all younger and we home-schooled, we had made many memories there as we set up for a big garden show each year.

I found myself swallowing a bit of nostalgia as I remembered. And, once again, I pondered this thing called time.

How could it possibly have gone so fast?

In a few weeks I will have officially lived for half a century. Half. A. Century. And yet, in my head, I just don’t feel that old. I was talking to a dear friend of mine who is turning 75 this year. And she said the same thing–she just doesn’t feel that old. Time just keeps passing, but inside we don’t feel like we are aging. Of course, while our minds try to fool us into believing that we aren’t really aging, our bodies seem to take great glee in reminding us that we certainly are. 

It’s funny. I used to think that fifty was so OLD. And I guess if you are reading this as a twenty or thirty-something you are thinking that same thing right now. But then there may be a few eighty-somethings reading this and to them, fifty doesn’t sound all that old. But maybe none of that even matters.

Maybe it’s how we redeem whatever time we have been given. However long that is.

I am not sure if it is my upcoming birthday or my realization of how quickly time passes, but the death of country singer Joey Feek last week really hit me hard for some reason. I never heard of her before her illness. I was not a diehard fan of her and her music. But her story showed up on my Facebook feed a few months ago and since then I’ve seen some of the posts on the beautiful blog her husband was writing as they walked through this journey of cancer.

And then on March 4 her life here on earth was over. She was 40 years old. She had two grown daughters and one baby girl, a 2 year old.

Around that time I had been starting to groan a little inside that my 50th birthday was moving ever closer. How could I possibly be 50? But her death stopped my negative thoughts and changed my perspective. I have had ten wonderful years with my family that she will never get. I have been able to watch my babies grow up. I have watched countless soccer and basketball games. I have had the honor of watching three of my four kids get married. And the excitement of hearing that my first grandchild is on the way. Joey Feek will never have those things.

Many years ago–perhaps when I was twenty-something, I was browsing through a Hallmark store and found a little plaque that said these words:

Never regret growing older
It’s a privilege denied to many

At that point, my 50th birthday felt like it was light years and a lifetime away. In fact, I doubt I spent much time contemplating it at all. But for whatever reason, I picked up that little plaque and it still sits on a dresser in our bedroom. And it has reminded me through the years of the blessing life is, no matter what age we are.

Oftentimes when I write a post like this, people will write and tell me that 50 isn’t so bad, so let me assure you that it is not the actual age that is of any concern for me. I look forward to this new era of my life. Instead, it is the fleeting nature of time that I am still working my brain around. It’s not that I am dreading what is ahead of me, it’s that I am stunned and a little saddened by what I am leaving.

It reminds me of when we decided to move out of the first home we owned. Even though we were headed to a wonderful, new house, it was still sad to leave our little rancher where so many wonderful memories had been made. It had been our home for nine years and had rung with laughter and crying and arguments. It had witnessed birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and a myriad of home school days. Even though we were moving to a home much better suited for the needs of our growing family, there was still a touch of sadness that hung over that day.

And that’s just how it is with change. Even good changes often bring a little sadness with them. But life is not stagnant and it does keep changing.

And so that means that my milestone birthday is just around the corner. But that’s okay. Because I am just thankful to be alive. Every day I am here on earth is an opportunity to serve my Savior and to love my family. Having the opportunity to have done that for 50 years is a privilege! And I guess we should treat it as such.

So if you, too, are reaching a milestone birthday this year, let’s do away with the black balloons and gag gifts. And, instead, let’s celebrate! God has been good and we have been blessed. Lord-willing, we will have more birthdays for which to thank Him.

 

The Truth About Rock Music

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Wait! Before you write me off as being way out there, give me just a moment of your time. Please.

Let me first say that much of what I have learned these past few weeks isn’t really new to me. I had just conveniently located it to the very back of my mind where it wouldn’t inconvenience me. It is so disturbing and uncomfortable that it was just easier not to remember.

But then came a couple of Bible studies that required some investigation into the rock scene. And, suddenly, I found myself wading through all of this stuff again. Only in the last twenty-five years it has gotten so much worse that it is mind-boggling–and absolutely frightening.

In fact, I feel like I landed in a pit so full of satanic iniquity and such wicked depravity that some of the actual photos and footage that I saw in my research will be indelibly etched on the canvas of my memory forever–it was that disturbing and heinous.

Rock music has always had a satanic influence. It does not really take all that much research to figure that out. Just google the Beatles and Hinduism and you will see it almost immediately. They were very open about their Hindu activity and even secular websites confirm this. But, as wild as the 60s were, the society wasn’t quite ready for outright false religion and songs promoting open sex and drug use and so many of their song lyrics had double meanings and hidden agendas.

Of course, all the changes in the last 50 years have made hidden agendas and double meanings unnecessary. This has happened through a very systematic hardening of our consciences. And so evil and ungodly lyrics have been eagerly accepted by a fan base that doesn’t pay any attention at all to what they are filling their brains with.

(Again, as I mentioned in Love and Snakes–I find it not only inconceivable that so many Christians are  paying such little attention to the wickedness of this music, but I continue to be astounded that there are so few of us Christians sounding a warning and when we work up the courage to do so, we find ourselves marginalized, criticized, or ridiculed by fellow believers!)

I started my study on the Billboard website with some of the songs listed as Top Ten on the pop charts over the past month. What I found were foul, crude, worldly lyrics promoting all types of sin. While some were worse than others, not ONE was promoting God’s kingdom. All were instead varying degrees of darkness.

I then moved on to the artists themselves. Who were these people that were coming into our homes and cars on a regular basis through their music?

With the 80s influences of Madonna and Micheal Jackson– who were perhaps some of the first openly satanic artists to be played on the radio– the way was paved for many more to come. Recent rock stars such as Beyonce, Kesha, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Eminem, and Nicky Manaj (just to name a few), have filled the American culture with an abundance of ungodly, crude, and sexual lyrics and, even worse, very graphic music videos. This, of course, I suspected before I started doing my research. What rather stunned me however was the plethora of satanic symbols and images. As I studied, I found that many of these artists claim to have sold their soul to the devil or to be possessed by demons. This was by their own admission, recorded on video or found in reputable sources.

Now keep in mind –this is the music that is playing on the Pop Charts of America. This is the music that is playing in our grocery stores, at our hair salons, and in our doctor’s offices. These are the artists that most American Christians are listening to.

It’s funny because when I heard Lady Gaga sing at the Super Bowl the other night, I thought, “Wow, she has a really good voice.” Sure, she looked a bit strange but she wasn’t too way out there, looking almost normal. However, unfortunately for me, I was aware of who she really is and some of the images I stumbled upon from her concerts and videos are the most disturbing I have ever seen in my life. If Satan can show himself as an angel of light then I guess Lady Gaga can also sing beautifully, even though what she has represented over the past decade in our culture is of such hideous darkness it is almost impossible to comprehend.

So why do I share this here? On a blog dedicated to spiritual growth?

I write it here because I think most of us are absolutely clueless regarding the danger this music presents to our spiritual health. We just allow this music to play in our homes and in our cars and in the ears of our kids–never giving it a second thought. The tunes are catchy and for some reason that seems to be all we need for it to get our seal of approval.

It is so easy to fall to peer pressure in this area of music. I know that I, myself, was quite guilty of this. Years ago, I learned quickly that if I mentioned my concern about rock music, I would be called narrow-minded, ridiculous, uneducated, etc. etc. Eventually, especially as my kids grew into teenagers, I got pretty tired and I let my guard down just a bit. Oh, we were still really careful, but it was truly exhausting and I didn’t want to come across as too out there for my kids’ sake and so I conveniently moved all of this to the very back of my mind. I just tried to forget all I knew. It was just easier. At the time.

I would definitely go back and change that if I could.

But fast forward my life to just a few weeks ago when I found myself up to my eyeballs in the lewd depravity of the rock music industry. I just can’t even begin to describe how awful it all is. And maybe worst of all–how precious and beautiful young girls and boys, many of them Disney stars as youngsters, are morphed into larger-than-life rock musicians that promote everything God abhors and how so many of their fans–usually tweens and teens– just follow them down into the dark pit.

How can we stand by as soldiers of the Light and not sound an alarm??

God is light. We once walked in darkness, but now we walk in the marvelous light! We are to walk as children of the light, which means we are to not only turn away from works of darkness but we are to expose them (see verses below).

If this music is something that beckons you or someone you love, may I encourage you to do your own research? I think you will be more than a little alarmed and shocked at what you will find out. And may we pray for deliverance of ourselves and our families from the evil influence of this demonic music.

 

Ephesians 5:8-13-For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit[b] is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.

John 8:12Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Acts 26:17-18I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now[a] send you, 18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

I John 1:5-7This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

I Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Living in Stepford

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I can still remember the “made for TV” movie called The Stepford Wives  in the 1970s. It starrrd Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie fame and, for whatever reason, made quite an impact on me. Many years later, maybe in the 90s, they remade the movie but I never watched that version, so I don’t know how similar it was to the first one.

The original movie was set in the town of Stepford, where an evil thing was happening –the husbands of the town were replacing their real wives and children with perfect robotic versions of them. Barbara Eden’s character gets wind of this and the movie is about her and her children fighting for their lives. The plot is a bit vague in the back of my mind and I don’t remember much, but I do remember one thing–it was creepy seeing all that “perfection”.

Yes, dear.

No, dear.

What do you want for supper, dear?

It wasn’t…normal.

Sometimes in life we see families a little like this. Of course, we know they are real people, but from the outside all looks to be quite perfect–at least for awhile. And, yet, in so many of these families the kids walk away from the Lord when they grow up. Why is that?

I have spent some time pondering the effects of legalism on a family. Why do some families who live by a set of rules have their kids grow up practicing a vibrant faith, while other families, living by those same rules, lose their kids to the world?

I believe this is a very valuable discussion, because many of us have grown so afraid to lay down strict rules for our children because we are so afraid of losing their hearts. But I don’t believe that one leads to the other. In fact, I have seen as many kids walk away from the faith who had permissive parents as those who walked away from the Lord under the care of strict parents.

So what is the key to raising kids who love the Lord? If it isn’t a set of rules or not having a set of rules, what is it?

It can be puzzling for us to see these churches and families who look a little like Stepford, But, perhaps, some of them, like the Pharisees, have never been cleaned from the inside out.

And so perhaps that is the answer to my question–

Some families are only focusing on the outside set of rules–concerned for their reputation and outward appearance. These families leave little room for discussion and use terms like “because I said so” and “you’re grounded” quite often. But other families are more concerned about their children’s walk with God, and they focus on the heart, recognizing that this is the fountain from which a holy life springs. These parents spend just as much time communicating and discussing the Word of God and what to live a Christian life means as they do disciplining bad behavior.

Actually, if you really think about it, legalism is just another false religion, isn’t it?

Last year I wrote a post on this topic of false religion. Here are a few paragraphs from it to remind us what exactly makes a religion true or false–

False religion teaches that your eternal destiny lies in your hands in one way or another. It will teach that you need to do something in order to be saved. Oh, they all vary in what that something is and they might even throw in as part of their doctrine something about Jesus saving you from your sins, but false religion will always require something other than faith alone.

Ephesians 2:8-9 confirms this–

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

And so if we teach that we must add something to be right with God, we become heretics. This makes legalism damning–for it is a set of rules that needs to accompany saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Does that mean we need to toss all rules to the wind?

Of course not. Just as we need laws and policeman to enforce them to keep the public safe and secure, so we need to have some rules to keep our children safe and protected. It is our job. But we can never make the rules the heart of our parenting.

And, as our kids grow into teens, our rules should always have a reason based on the Word of God. For it is there we want our young adults to find their authority. It is there we want them to go with their questions and decisions.

Our family has been accused of legalism so often I can’t count. It seems in this culture, convictions and legalism equal the same thing. But I want you to know they are absolutely not the same thing.

Making a choice to do or not do something that is based on our love for Jesus and our desire to be like Him is not legalism. That is called a desire to be holy and pure, as commanded in scripture on multiple occasions (I Peter 1:15-16; Colossians 3:12)

And so, as believers, we shouldn’t pretend to be living in Stepford. And, honestly, who are we going to win for the gospel with that kind of Christianity, anyway? It looks impossible and the results are mixed, at best.

So let’s be real. Let’s make sure the world knows we aren’t perfect and that we continue to battle with sin each and every day. Let’s stop trying to look so perfect to the outside world–as if by becoming a Christian, our life somehow becomes perfect. But let’s also make sure we continue to strive to live a holy life, putting rules and guidelines in place that help us in our desire to be more like Jesus and to live a life that honors God, all the while keeping the focus on our hearts and the hearts of our kids, knowing that this is where all behavior is rooted.

And let’s remember the important difference between legalism and conviction, not allowing fingers pointed at us and voices calling us “legalistic” and “narrow-minded” to keep us from doing the right thing as we strive to live a life that is holy and separate from the world.

 

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!