Monday, June 30, 2014

Parenting with Love

A friend shared this article recently, The important thing about yelling, and it was the next thing in a long line of conversations about yelling I've had recently. I'm not exactly sure why it keeps coming up, but I can't help but pay attention to those things that do, those issues life offers up again and again for your attention. Today gave me a little glimpse as to why.

My two-year-old straight out smacked me in the face earlier today. Yes, smacked me. Yes, right in the face. And yes, if you know him, my sweet little boy. In the split second before I reacted, I saw about ten different scenarios play out in my mind, several of them involving retaliation. What would your reaction be if someone smacked you in the face? Yeah, that. This is not the first time it has happened, and I doubt it will be the last, and I am thankful for the many conversations about parenting I've had recently and the few minutes I spent in prayer this morning because I know they shaped my response.

I felt my blood pressure spike, and I took a deep breath. As I picked up my son, I caught my husband's eye and his wide-open mouth, his face saying exactly what I was thinking. Did that just happen? And now what? I carried my son upstairs to his room, and as I sat down with him in the rocking chair where I spent many a night nursing him as a baby, I almost started to cry. Why? Because this was sin. His anger, the frustration that pent up and shot out of him before he could even think, it was sin, and in that moment, I knew we were both getting a very early glimpse at the burden that he would (that all of us do) carry for life.

I could have yelled at him. I could have smacked him across the face. Instead, I explained to him what was happening in his heart. "You were mad at mommy, and instead of acting in love, you acted in anger. You hit mommy because you were angry." As I said those words, I could hear the words of my prayer from just a few hours earlier: "Lord, help me, equip me to forgive those who sin against me, remembering the great debt of mine that you have already forgiven." Straight out of the Lord's prayer and here I was, needing to heed it. I could have responded in turn, dumped my anger at what he did right back on him, but instead, Jesus called me to show love to my son, to turn and let him smack my other cheek.

"This is called sin, son. We all have this in our hearts. We all sin, every day." I'm crying just to write this. It is so hard. He is only two and he doesn't know. He doesn't know that he will fight this battle every day, and it really never gets easier to choose the narrow path, to choose the way of love, to hear Jesus's words ringing loud, drowning out our own shouts. "God sent Jesus to us for this very thing. He sent Jesus to us because in our sin, we are separate from God. He sent Jesus to us to become sin for us so that we could become righteous and be with God." I know he's only two and he doesn't understand, but I don't ever want him to remember a time when I didn't tell him this truth.

"God requires love. He tells us to act in love and that love is patient and kind. And son, that is so hard. It is so hard for us because we are broken. But you know what? Jesus heals us. He heals even our most wicked hearts." By this point, my son had rested his head on my chest, doing that pitiful little residual sob that kids do to make you melt. I rubbed his back and told him how much I loved him, how much God loves him, how much love hung on that cross.

I don't share this to shame my child. I'm sure many of you could tell far "worse" stories, and that's not what I'm after. I don't share this to have you praise my superb parenting skills or grace under pressure. I've conveniently neglected to share all the times I've totally failed as a parent. (Or, well, I did share about my anger in this post...). I share this for two reasons.

Reason 1: Think about your goals. What is the point of your parenting? What do you want for your kids? Do you want them to be wickedly smart? Do you want them to obey you at the glare of an eye? Do you want them to fear you? The Word pushes us as parents to teach our children the way of the Lord. That's what the Bible says is our job. It tells kids to listen to their parents, to glean from their wisdom. The assumption behind this is that the parent is doling out wisdom, is pointing to Jesus, is clearing the path for their children to walk that narrow road. And every parenting decision you ever make requires that focus. It's not about you. It's not about righting some perceived wrong against you. It's not about establishing your tiny kingdom. It's about teaching your kids the love of Christ. And if we don't keep that narrow focus, if we don't keep our eyes fixed on the cross, we will parent in all sorts of crazy ways, ways that do not honor God or bless our children.

Reason 2: You can always be a better parent. Maybe every single day for the last year, you have yelled at your kid. You have yelled and screamed, not as a form of discipline (because, as my husband says, yelling isn't a punishment), but just to vent your anger or frustration or disappointment or whatever else. Maybe it's the single, solitary way you know how to communicate to your children. Well, guess what? Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow is a new day and if you place your faith in Jesus, the Word tells us that He gives us new hearts. You catch that? Maybe your old heart is an angry, yelling heart, but in Christ, you already have a new one. You don't have to wait for it. You don't have to ask God for it. It's already there. You just have to use it.

It may seem impossible, but I'll tell you, if God can fix me, He sure can fix you. If God can change my heart -- from one that would desire to retaliate or punish or "teach that kid a lesson" -- to one that truly desires to see my child come to know Christ, to one that knows that is the only way my child's actions will ever please God, He surely can change your heart. Maybe yelling isn't your thing. Maybe it's the silent treatment or verbal belittling or shaming. I'm sure there are any number of ways we can reduce our children to their behaviors instead of seeing their souls, but whatever they are, the love of Christ can overpower. The love of God can overflow out of you and wash your children in the water of forgiveness.

Your child, your children, they are sinners. And you should expect them to act accordingly. It shouldn't surprise you (though it will). It shouldn't shock you (though it might). Most of all, it shouldn't cause you to lose hope. Jesus is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) Your kid falls into the "no one is righteous, no, not one" but he falls into the "whole world" too, the "whole world" that Jesus came to save. And guess what? So do you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

For Tomorrow

To my daughter on the eve of surgery:

Hey, Bitty.

We're standing right on the edge here, looking down the rock face, eyes wide and wholly unsure. Nothing about this is easy, but I'm pretty sure it's right. Before we take this plunge... before we start a whole new phase of your life, of our lives... there are a few things I want you to know.

1) We are not doing this to fix you, to make you whole.

Life with hearing loss looks different for every person, every family. I truly, honestly, 100% believe there is no "right" path with this, no way to go that is "the" way. It is personal and subjective. Every individual and family should weigh the decision carefully.

That said, your dad and I have weighed this. We have thought and read and prayed and sought counsel. We have examined our own hearts and plumbed our minds. We are doing the best with what we have. It feels so presumptuous of me to make this decision for you. You can communicate to me when you are tired or hungry or want to be held. But beyond that? How can I possibly know what you would want? What decision you would ask us to make? I can't. I'm stepping out here. We're making this call for you, and on some level, it feels wrong. It feels like a violation of you, a strike at you, at the way God made you.

It is so clear to me that God brought us you. Just-the-way-you-are you. Congenital-CMV you. Feisty-powerful-full-of-personality you. Deaf you. And no part of me is trying to change you. I love you! This is not about that. This choice isn't a way for us to make you into our own image. It isn't about wanting you to hear us tell you we love you. It isn't about wanting you to share our love of music. It isn't about wanting you to speak at your high school graduation. I will treasure all those things, should they be in our future, but that is not our motivation. That is not our "why".

We truly believe this is the best for you. We're your parents, and for some crazy reason, God has entrusted us with this big decision. We don't make it on our behalf; we make it on yours. And no matter how this goes, whether it works or not, whether you hate me in ten years for this or not, at the very least, I want you to know that this is for you. We want to equip you. We want to give you the best shot. We want to ease a small part of the burden life has put on you.

Please don't ever think this is about making you someone you aren't. Please don't ever think that you aren't enough for us just the way you are. Please don't ever think that we wouldn't love you if you never once heard our voices or spoke to us. I know how life can twist you up and make you doubt things you thought you knew. This is one thing I never, ever, EVER want you to doubt. You are you, and God gave us you, and we love you. Just you. All your ups and all your downs, we are right here, holding your hand, smiling through tears. Our love, our relationship, has no conditions, not one. We are bound forever, and nothing can change that, not even death (and certainly not deafness).

2) I'm afraid.

It's not natural to send your child into pain. And at least when offset with the benefit of saving your kid's life, choosing surgery can seem easy. Of course you'd allow your child to feel pain if it means they get to live. But this? Elective surgery? It scares me. We're choosing this for you when it's not something you need to live. You could live a full and happy life without this.

I also don't know how it will play out. Truly that is what frightens me most. I don't know how the surgery will go. I don't know how much pain you will be in. I don't know what recovery will look like. I don't even know if the stupid thing will work. It's so much not knowing that I can't think of it all at once or I start to hurt.

3) I trust the Lord.

But despite this fear, when balanced out with all the reasons in the "pro" column, with all the possible benefits, with how - if this works - it could completely change your life, we are taking the plunge. And when I weed through all my anxieties and fears, when I push them back and fix my eyes on the incredible world this will open you up to, a world of singing birds and your brother's infectious giggle and Pentatonix and the hum of a house full of friends, I get so excited and cannot wait for you, for what waits for you.

I could spend all day bouncing between my fears and my excitements, living in that horrid suspension of anticipation that makes my stomach knot. Instead, I want to picture God. "The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard." (Isaiah 52:12) Instead of all the what-ifs, good or bad, I have in my mind this picture of God, stepping out before you, before us, and making the way, then circling back to come behind and ensure our safety. I see it almost like the tender watchfulness of a preschool teacher, leading her charges across the street and keeping them as they move, her arms directing them and moving with assurance, cupping around behind them to protect them, a gentle hand on the smalls of their backs as they pass.

It is love that fills our God, love for you whose days He has numbered and whose hairs He has counted. And whatever comes of this, I trust. I trust that He seeks our good and His glory. I trust that He wants desperately for us to share in the love He has for us. I trust that He continually seeks to make Himself known to us, showing His grace and mercy and love at every turn. I trust that for all the joy that fills my heart at the thought of you hearing my voice, your dad's voice, your brother, God's road for you is best, better than anything I could contrive.

Once again, your extreme circumstances have shown me a truth that is at the heart of all our days. Your life is like a magnifying glass, and the assumptions that might have just passed me by get blown up in full relief. We all could spend our days bouncing between fear and excitement. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow and none of us know how that tomorrow will play out, not even with the "best-laid plans."

We all enjoy the provision and protection of a God who goes before us and who comes behind us. And when we move into His story, when we seek to see Him in our lives, we don't gain some magical understanding or come to know the future. We don't cash in on some promise to have all the money we'd ever need and health for eighty years. When we move into His story, we get God. And instead of fear and worry and anxiety and stress, we get rest and peace and joy and goodness. And I can hold my fear out on the palm of my hand and offer it to God. I don't have to bear it. It's not mine to hold.

So tomorrow, when they wheel you back and put you to sleep, when they implant a device into your head, when they dose you and send you back home, I want you to know most of all that God is with you. He has gone before you, and He will come behind you. And accompanying Him will be the prayers of His people. Your family, your church, your family's churches, your church's families - you have no idea how many people will be whispering your name, bringing you before God and asking Him to care for you. Honestly, there is no place here for fear. Love has taken up all the room.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Occasionally, I meet a mess that takes me wholly by surprise.

We've been carrying on with life around these parts, and unbeknownst to us, the cords behind the TV were multiplying. Now there are easily two dozen, and what all do they even do? Besides make a giant tangled mess that makes me want to throw things and kick the wall.

I breathe deep and begin the slow, mind-numbing, finger-stubbing work of demystifying these wires, and my mind wanders to entropy.

"Nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems."

Unless acted upon, all things in this universe start out organized and spiral into chaos, spinning out.

These cords obey this law of nature, spinning themselves out and seemingly spawning. They hide behind the bookcase and I never tend to them because I can't see them, don't interact with them. They do their job, I do mine, and we all go on our merry, spinning ways.

Until something goes wrong. And the magical internet man on the other end of the line says, "Ma'am, your modem was manufactured in 2005. I'd recommend getting a new one." And so here I sit, with this new modem made in this decade, and I meet my spun out wires and it's an awful mess. I unplug each one, pull them out straight, make mental notes of which goes where.

My mind wanders to my spiritual state as I pull each thread and I think, This is the why of daily maintenance. My soul, like these wires, tends from order to disorder, spins out unless acted upon. And it's why Jesus said, "Give us this day our daily bread" and not, "Provide for me my bread for the week." It's why each day's trouble is enough and why God's mercies come new every morning.

We require daily maintenance.

We cannot hide our souls behind the bookcase and expect everything to turn out fine.

We can't go about our daily doing, neverminding our hearts, and expect them to flourish as if they'd been pruned by hand, lovingly, carefully, steadily.

We abide by the law of entropy, and unless acted upon, we spin out.

I lay each wire carefully along its path, and I think how neglectful I am of my own soul, how stingy I am to feed it, how lazy I am to care for it. And the jumbled mess I started with? It is a reminder of how my heart looks when I ignore it, all confused and twisted and stuck.

I begin the task of plugging the cords back in and placing them carefully in order. They are neat and organized and simple. Ordered. They look fine... for now. But unless I act upon them, unless I tend to them, I will meet this mess again one day.

I'm not a neat freak when it comes to hidden wires, but I can't afford not to be a neat freak with my heart. I can't afford to leave it and let it be. I require the daily pruning of the Word. I require the daily love-shower of prayer. I require the daily still moment of God's clear presence because unless He acts upon me, I will slowly unravel, tangle, stall. I may not shrivel up or break, but I will stunt and cease to flower and fruit.

God made it this way for us. He knew the state of the universe, and He knows the state of our hearts. He knows we need Him and so He makes the way. He gives us the Word, and He gives us Jesus, the one who intercedes for us. And so He acts upon us, and so we flower, and so... and so we bring Him glory, daily, lovingly, carefully, steadily.