When God Seems “Mean”

“God is so mean,” Brennan pronounces as I hold him on the rocking-recliner in his bedroom.

“Why?” I inquire.  A bit take-aback, to be honest.  I never know how to respond to these type of statements.  I realize my response can be pivotal to his understanding and relationship with God.  As much as I like my kids to be real, I also often wish they just compliantly accepted what I consider to be Truth and never asked difficult questions or struggled with faith-issues.  That would be so much easier!

“Because He’s not helping me fall back asleep!” Brennan says with frustration.

It’s 11:30 p.m., the night before his first day of first grade.  Though he fell asleep almost immediately upon putting him to bed early at 7:45 (my desperate attempt to make up for weeks of late nights and our crazily quick turn-around from summer vacation to first day of school), he has been awake again since 9:45 p.m.  He desperately wants to go back to sleep, but his little sleep-deprived and excited body won’t let him.

My mind thinks a thousand thoughts as I hear his reason for thinking God is mean: How cute that he would be turning to God during this time of trying to fall asleep.  I remember that I prayed with him earlier in the evening and asked God to help him fall back asleep.  I wonder if I’m teaching him to think prayer is a “magical pill.”  I want him to know he can turn to God for everything, but wonder how to help him understand everything we ask for we may not “get.”  I wonder why that is so myself!  I’m glad that he feels the freedom to be mad at God.  I’m scared that he is mad at God.  I want him to know it’s okay to be mad at God.

“I understand, Brennan,” I say as I hold and comfort him.

Pause.  I’m not sure what to say next…if anything.

“God gave you a mommy who can hold you until you fall asleep,” I hear my voice say softly.  I’m not sure where those words came from, and I’m not convinced they were what Brennan needed in that moment.

“Hmph…” he responds, as he snuggles in closer, “I wish I were asleep right now.  I still think He’s mean.”

I rub his back and give him a kiss on the top of his head.

My thoughts continue to wander as I hold my frustrated boy.  In the midst of wondering what to say to Brennan and processing what I think about how he feels, I realize I’m kind of mad at God, too!

It’s the night before the first day of school.  We just returned home from two weeks in Florida less than 24 hours ago.  I’m tired, I’m coming down with a sore throat, and things haven’t gone as smoothly as I like today.  My day was filled with unexpected errand-running (despite my best efforts to have everything ready before we left for vacation) and a whirlwind of activity.  Though I got the kids to bed early, my evening has been interrupted by Brennan’s inability to fall asleep.  I had hoped to have laundry put away, the breakfast table set, and lunch boxes packed by now.  Not to mention, I had also hoped to be in bed sound asleep.  Instead, not only was I not in bed sleeping, none of those other things had happened.  This sick momma needed a good night of sleep before an early school morning, and it wasn’t happening!  Yes, I must admit, I’m a bit frustrated at God myself for not helping Brennan fall back asleep!

So how do I face this reality?  How do I come to grips with things not going my way?  Especially when a part of me believes God could be a bit more helpful in this situation, if He so chooses.  Isn’t one of the perks of being a Christian the ability to take my requests to God in prayer…and for Him to help me?!

As I hold my frustrated little son, who thinks God is mean for not letting him sleep, I grapple with one of the biggest questions Christians have for God:  Why does it seem like God doesn’t answer our prayers?

And I ponder my response to Brennan, the unplanned words I heard come out of my mouth: “God gave you a mommy to hold you until you fall asleep.”

I worry my response seemed to be avoiding his reality.  Who cares that I’m holding him?!  He’d rather be sleeping.  Yet, at the same time, I hope that reality gives him comfort, comfort in the midst of frustration.  The same God who we feel is allowing something “bad” to happen (not falling asleep), is the same God who has also put many good things in place for us, in the midst of our discomfort and disappointment (a mommy to hold him).

What can I draw comfort from as I hold my child, frustrated that I’m not in bed, sound asleep?  To be honest, in the moment, I couldn’t really find anything.  But a day later, as I’m typing through this experience, I realize God gave me a special time with Brennan, the night before his first day of school.  The night before a big day for me ~ my baby was heading off to all-day school.  All three kids were now in a stage of life that once seemed light-years away.  As much as I’ve looked forward to this day, now that it’s upon me, I’m a bit sad and nostalgic.  The laundry got done, the breakfast table got set, and the lunches were made.  I was a bit tired, I must admit.  But I now have the memory and experience of holding my baby and rocking him to sleep, the night before he officially became a “big boy.”  There are few things I enjoy more than cuddling with my children.

Things will not always go as planned in this world.  God does not promise a smooth road through life.  Trials (much bigger than a lack of sleep!) and struggles will come our way.  Prayers we fervently pray will not always be answered.  But God does promise us this:  He will be with us.  He will comfort us.  He will give us good things in the midst of the bad (a mommy to hold us, a child to snuggle).

As I tucked Brennan in to bed the next night, I read to him from The Jesus Storybook Bible.  We were reading about Moses and the Israelites, wandering in the desert:

So there they all were.  Grannies, granddads, babies, uncles, aunts, children, moms, and dads.  Out there in the middle of the desert.  They had blisters from all the walking.  They were hungry.  And thirsty.  And much, much too hot.

‘We don’t like it!’ they said. ‘It stinks!’

As I read those words and thought of the Israelites reality, it reminded me of me…and Brennan.  We were tired.  We didn’t like it.  We were mad at God.  Just like the Israelites:

‘God doesn’t want us to be happy,’ they said.  It was the same lie that Adam and Eve had heard all those years before.  ‘God has brought us out here to kill us. God doesn’t love us!’  But they didn’t know God well, did they?

I was finding myself impacted by these words, written for children.

Every day of their journey, God kept on showing his people how well he would look after them, if they would trust him, and obey him.  When they were hungry, God made the sky rain with food. . .when they were thirsty and started quarrelling, God made water flow from a rock. . .And still God’s children didn’t trust him or do what he said.  They thought they could do a better job of looking after themselves and making themselves happy.  But God knew there was no such thing as happiness without him.

My mind raced with all I knew about the Israelites.  Forty years ~ FORTY! ~ of wandering and waiting on God.  Forty years of tiredness, hunger, sand, struggles.  I’m sure they prayed.  And I’m sure they felt like God didn’t hear or answer their prayers.  Yet, as we look at it in the whole picture, God was always there.  God cared.  God provided.

God knew there was no such thing as happiness without him.  That is why we pray.  He won’t take away all the hardships of life.  Those are there whether we know Him or not.  But with him, in the midst of all the struggles of life, He can bring us happiness.  That’s His promise to us.

Somehow, as I grow in this knowledge and this perspective, I hope and pray that my children will grow in the knowledge and perspective as well.  That in the midst of life not going their way, they’ll ultimately recognize that only through God can they find joy in the journey.  That He is there, even when it feels like He isn’t.  And that He gives us other good things, even when the thing we ask for isn’t what we get.

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.    Jeremiah 31:13

Posted in Children and Family, Faith and God, Mothering, Struggles and Sorrows | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Gift of MOPS

MOPS_square[1]I use to take MOPS for granted, not truly aware of the important role it played in my life as a mom. Kind of like a kid with parents. They may not think much of all they have because of having parents in their life: a home, clothes, food, love, care, guidance, and instruction. Security and a safe place to land.

I’ve been attending MOPS for twelve years. Yes, twelve…I was shocked when I realized that’s the equivalent of attending first grade through twelfth grade. That was my entire childhood. How in the world am I old enough to have been doing something, parenting-related, that long? In fact, just as mind-boggling to me is that some of my current fellow MOPS moms were as young as twelve years old when I attended my first MOPS meeting. I’m still in shock as I type these words.

To me, MOPS and being a mom pretty much go hand in hand. I’ve never had one without the other! But as excited as I was to attend my first MOPS meeting (for this I-can’t-wait-to-be-a-mom person, MOPS was on my list of things I couldn’t wait to do), I quickly settled in to the MOPS routine. I loved MOPS, but had no clue as to how important it was to me.

I clearly remember the moment I recognized the significant role MOPS has played in my life. I was talking with a non-MOPS friend several years ago. She was a mother of young children, all pre-school age. She was sharing some of her struggles, insecurities, and concerns related to raising her children. Things such as dealing with tantrums, potty-training, bedtime issues, “losing it” with her kids, wondering if she was messing up her kids, dealing with mommy-guilt, and certain she she was the only one struggling with so many of these things.

As she shared, it struck me that MOPS was a place where I shared all of these things with other moms. And other moms shared these things, too. Because of MOPS, I knew I was not alone. Because of MOPS I had a place to be real and vent and be encouraged by other moms. Because of MOPS I heard from speakers, who not only gave perspective, wisdom, and guidance, but whose experiences also verified that what I was struggling with wasn’t abnormal or uncommon. As I listened to this mom, I realized she needed MOPS. If for no other reason, than to know that she was not alone. And as an added benefit, to receive support, encouragement, and relationship.

I am at the end of this MOPS journey. My baby will be graduating from kindergarten. Today is my last MOPS meeting. Though I’m a bit nostalgic at the thought, I’m also ready. As I’ve attended meetings this year, I’m amazed at how different my life is now. The baby issues and toddler struggles are no longer a part of my life. They are a sweet memory. Yes, the days were long and hard, but because the years did fly by (yes, they really do…it’s just the days that are long!), what I now hold on to is all that was sweet (and am thankful to be through with all that was difficult and draining and hard related to those early years of parenting). Of course, I’m on to new joys and struggles.

I leave this wonderful MOPS stage of my life, thankful for all that I received, and not wanting to take any of it for granted. As a reminder to myself, these are the gifts I have received from MOPS, each of them symbolically wrapped up and tied with bows:

  • Encouragement
  • Support
  • Perspective
  • Sweet friendships
  • Instruction and guidance
  • A place to be real
  • Love in the midst of being real and admitting where I had messed up
  • Laughter and fun interaction
  • A needed break from my children!
  • A place to encourage others, as I moved farther and farther along the motherhood road
  • Connection with other moms throughout the community, some who are very much like me and others who are not, but all of us bonded together through this thing called motherhood
  • Biblical perspective, guidance and encouragement
  • A place to be reminded of the joys of being a mom
  • A place where I know I am not alone
  • A place to grow not only as a mom, but as a person and a woman
  • Leadership skills and experience, as I served on steering and led table groups for most of my years at MOPS
  • A wonderful MOPPETS program for my children (with wonderful loving teachers)
  • Memories of meetings, experiences, and people
  • A strong base in which to move forward into this next phase of motherhood

The prophet Isaiah shares these comforting and encouraging words in Isaiah 40:11:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

MOPS has been one of the many ways in which Christ has gently led me. I am a better mother, person, friend, wife, leader, and Christian because of MOPS. MOPS has been, even when I didn’t realize it, a gift to me on this journey as a mom. A gift from Him, as He gently leads me.

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Confessions of a People-Pleasing, Recognition-Desiring Momma

“I think I might get the Sunshine Award tomorrow,” Micah, my third-grader, informs me one evening recently.

My heart sinks. I happen to know that if he was the recipient of this award, I would already have been contacted by his teacher. I’ve received no such phone call or email.

“Really?” I respond with interest to Micah, “why do you think you might get it?”

“Because I’m nice to people. And I haven’t gotten it yet. I’m pretty sure I’ll get it this year,” he responds confidently.

Little does Micah know how much my heart has been hoping (for four years now!) that he would receive this award. And that year after year, when he has not been the recipient, I’ve had to do my own soul-searching: Why hasn’t anyone noticed Micah? Have I failed as a mother? Why is this award so important to me?

“What do you have to do to receive the award?” I ask him, knowing the answer, but curious as to how he perceives the Sunshine Award.

“Be nice to others and do kind things.”

“And are you nice to others? Do you do kind things?” I ask.

“Yep,” he replies, not even feeling the need to further explain.

“Like what?” I probe.

“I don’t know,” he says, “I’m just nice to other kids.”

I prod him for some examples, so he shares a few.

“Those are great, Buddy,” I respond. And I take the conversation a step further: “What’s more important,” I ask, “being nice or winning an award for being nice?”

“Being nice,” he responds, casually.

“You’re right,” I said (as much to myself as to him!). “And you know what?” I continue, “sometimes we do nice things that others may not even see. What’s important is that you know that you are kind and loving to others. Even if teachers don’t always notice. Even if you don’t win the Sunshine Award. I hope you win the award, Micah, because I know that you’ve been kind to your friends. But you know what, Buddy, even if you don’t, I love you. Even if you don’t, you can be proud of the nice kind things you’ve done for others.”

Honestly, this speech is as much for myself, as it is for him. I struggle with these things. With wanting to be recognized, admired, thought highly of. I’ve had to work through these issues personally, and now I find myself working through them in connection with my children. Not just for their sake, but for mine. It’s easy for me to feel like a good mother if my kids do well, succeed, win awards, and are recognized.

I’m all the more aware of this tendency in relation to this award because Kiersten was a Sunshine Award recipient in kindergarten. I was proud…too much so, I’m afraid (quietly proud, but proud nonetheless). Not just proud of my daughter, but proud of myself as her mother. Clearly, her kindness was due to my great parenting skills. Silly, silly me.

Of course, this set the stage for my hopes for Micah. Kindergarten came and went for him. No Sunshine Award. First grade…nope. Second grade. Once again, no award for Micah. He has to get it in third grade, I told myself (the final year it is given). I had done the calculations. Each class in each grade has two recipients (a boy and a girl). No one child can receive the award more than once. So, if there are seven classes in each grade, that means that by third grade, twenty-one boys in Micah’s grade have already received this honor. And by the end of third grade, twenty-eight boys altogether will have been Sunshine Award recipients. Surely Micah is one of the twenty-eight “nicest” boys in his class!

So when I realized that Micah will never receive this coveted award (coveted in my mind), I had some real soul-work to do. Part of me wanted to proclaim that is is unfair to give out such awards. Part of me wanted to promote my own son to his teachers. A big part of me ached for him (and, quite frankly, for me).

But I must step away from the award, from the outward recognition of an inner quality. I must remind myself what I told Micah. What matters is who you are, even if others don’t see it. I know Micah to be tender-hearted and kind. He loves his friends. I know he’s not perfect, either. He talks when he’s not supposed to. He’s active and struggles to sit still. He’s shy around teachers and adults and engages in minimal conversation with them. This is my child, for good and for bad, and I know where he shines and where he struggles. And I (along with Randy) am working on these areas of weakness.

Recognition is part of life. Awards will be given and awards will be received. How wonderful it is to receive them! How heartbreaking it is to not! My job as parent is to help keep my kids grounded, both when they receive awards and when they don’t. To not allow the winning or not-winning of awards to dictate one’s sense of goodness and character.

I want my children to make choices based on who they are, what is right, and the values Randy and I are (hopefully) instilling in them. And to do these things, whether they are honored for them or not.  And when it comes to the Sunshine Award, I want them “to love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).  That’s reason enough.

A few days after the Sunshine Award incident had come and gone (and Micah handled his not-receiving-the-award amazingly well. He barely seemed phased by it!), I observed Micah with a group of friends. This group of  eight boys were picking teams for a football game. Micah was one of the team captains.

On his second pick, Micah picked a boy who was not very athletic. I took note of that. When it came down to the final two boys, and it was Micah’s turn to pick again…I saw him hesitate. Then, he did “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” to make his choice. Again, I took note. I wondered if Micah did both of these things out of kindness. Sensitive to the fact that the non-athletic boy wouldn’t normally be picked early in a “draft.” Careful at the end to not leave one boy as the “last one chosen.”

Later, I commented on my observation to Micah. I asked him why he did both of those things. He shrugged and said he didn’t know. I pressed him a little more (why did you pick the non-athletic one? Why eeny-meeny-miney-mo?). Finally, he admitted he didn’t want anyone to feel bad.

Never have I been more proud of my little boy. He had made kind choices, simply with the motive of caring for others, and not for the motive of being noticed or recognized. The timing of this observation is just what this people-pleasing, recognition-desiring momma needed.  I realized I was more proud of catching his private acts of genuine kindness than I would have been to observe a ribbon placed around his neck for all to see.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Galatians 1:10

 

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God at Work in Little Lives

6187141-crown-of-thorns-hung-around-the-easter-cross[1]What do tic tacs, an older sister, a DVD, and a carton of eggs have in common?  They are all accomplices to one of the biggest decisions in each of my children’s lives. The decision to ask Jesus into their hearts.

Each is a story in and of itself, but I will attempt to summarize them briefly.

For Kiersten, it was tic tacs. At age three, she was adamantly against anything to do with asking Jesus into her heart (I know this because as an over-eager mother of my first child, I was trying really hard to get her to!). I finally realized it would be wise to just drop the issue (for fear that I was actually pushing her farther and farther away from ever making that decision!). Several months (or more) later, Kiersten came to me and asked, “Mommy, what is a Christian?”

Surprised at her sudden interest, I gladly (yet cautiously) explained to her what it meant to be a Christian. I was equally surprised when she declared that she would like to become a Christian; she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart. So we prayed together. Immediately upon finishing the prayer, I discovered the reason for her sudden interest in Christianity:

“Now I can have some tic tacs,” she gleefully announced, with the “Amen” barely off our tongues. I knew there must be a story behind this.

Apparently, in a very irresponsible moment, my mom informed Kiersten that only Christians could have tic tacs (“Who are those tic tacs for?” Kiersten had asked her, eyeing the ever-so-tempting tiny, colorful pieces of candy. “Christians,” responded my mom, not knowing what she was setting in motion. That’s when Kiersten traipsed off to find me…).

Of course my mom and I, once we had realized what had happened, tried to set things straight. We told Kiersten that Grandma was just being silly; you didn’t have to be a Christian to have a tic tac. Asking Jesus into her heart was a big decision; one we only wanted her to make when she was ready. She could have a tic tac without being a Christian.

She informed us that she was glad she asked Jesus into her heart, she believed everything I had told her, and she wanted to be a Christian. Not just for the tic tac.

Skeptical, I observed her and talked with her throughout the following weeks. It became clear that her decision was sincere. As far as a three-year-old could grasp, she had taken that step of faith. She had begun the journey, and in a way that I could have never conjured up! God had used a tic tac (and a silly Grandma) to soften her little heart towards Him.

With Micah, it was big sister Kiersten. After my experience with Kiersten, I was determined that there was no need to try to push that decision on Micah too early. But apparently Kiersten had other plans.

I may never know (until I get to heaven) what discussion led up to this moment, but I will never forget the day that I overheard my six-year-old daughter leading my three-year-old son in a prayer asking Jesus into his heart, while sitting at the bottom of our stairs. If only I had recorded it!

In the midst of my busy life (baby brother Brennan was only a few weeks old at this time), God used an eager and engaged six-year-old sister to help Micah take the first step in his journey.  To this day (six years later), Micah remembers asking Jesus into his heart at the bottom of the stairs with Kiersten.

An finally, Brennan…and the DVD and carton eggs. Just before Easter, when Brennan was four-years-old, he became quite interested in a children’s DVD about the life of Jesus. He had discovered it amongst the many DVDs in our media drawer. It soon became his favorite movie; he literally watched it every day for weeks.

During this time, Brennan received a box of Resurrection Eggs from his preschool. He was quite intrigued by these eggs and wanted me to tell him all about them. So, we sat down on the floor and began going through the eggs together.

Each egg contained an item and a bible verse. These items and verses each represented an event from the last week of Christ’s life. So, as Brennan pulled the leaf out of egg number one, I told him that it represented the palm branches that people waved on Palm Sunday as Christ entered Jerusalem. Amazingly, I didn’t have to explain too much, because Brennan was quite familiar with each event (from watching the movie). When he pulled out the picture of praying hands (from egg number three) and I told him about Jesus praying in the garden, Brennan immediately remembered it from the DVD, and informed me that that was right before the bad guys got Him.

Towards the end of the Resurrection Eggs (egg number nine, to be exact, the one with a spear in it), I asked Brennan if he knew why Jesus died. It hit me that Brennan knew a lot about the story of Jesus dying, but I wondered if he knew why He had died. His response was that Jesus died because bad guys got Him.

“Yes,” I agreed, “but He really died because He loves you.” And I continued to explain Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth and dying on the cross.

I had no intention of encouraging him to ask Jesus into his heart right then. I just wanted to begin the conversation with him, and explain the why behind the events of the Easter story. And he was an eager audience.

As a way to convey to Brennan that this is something to do when he’s ready, I told him that I have Jesus in my heart, Daddy has Jesus in his heart, and so do Kiersten and Micah. I was about to say, “And some day, when you’re ready, you might decide to ask Jesus into your heart.”

I didn’t get a chance to say that because, just as I was telling him about Kiersten and Micah, he started to cry. Really cry.

“What’s wrong?” I inquired.

“I want Jesus in my heart, too,” he sobbed.

“It’s okay, Brennan,” I reassured him, “you can ask Him when you’re ready. You’re still little.”

“I want to ask him now,” he cried.

So, we prayed. And Brennan asked Jesus into his heart. Once again, God was at work. The timing of the DVD and the Resurrection Eggs. And even a little brother’s desire to not be left out…to be like the rest of his family. God used those things to start the journey in a four-year-old’s life.

I share all of these stories because I am so amazed at how I had nothing to do with the timing of any of them. And I’m so amazed that each child had their own unique angle on what led them to make their decision.

Yes, I had to be able to discuss with them what it means to be a Christian, and how to become a Christian, and answer their questions, but I feel strongly that God gave me the right words.

I am also aware that this decision is only the beginning of a life of learning about God and loving God. They will grow in their knowledge and understanding. And my prayer is that God will become more and more real to them each day. Those initial prayers are not the end of the story, nor are they a guarantee that they will never have doubts or that they will never stray from their beliefs. I believe that a day will come when they will need to embrace this faith in a new way. They will want to recommit their lives to Christ with a new understanding. Not because their childlike prayer wasn’t “real,” but because they will be older. It will be the next major step in having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I use to think (before I had kids), that once all my children had accepted Christ as their Saviour (if, indeed they did), that I could breathe a huge sigh of relief. My “job” would be done. I now believe that this is when the real work begins. The story isn’t over; it is just beginning. God is and will be using me, my husband, and others in their lives to live out our faith and to teach and to train. Ultimately, they are His. But He has entrusted them to us.

I love how God works in mysterious ways. How He takes common things, common people, and common events, weaves them together in His perfect timing, and uses them to draw people to Him. To soften hearts. Tic tacs, a big sister, a DVD, and a carton of eggs. Who knew that they would all be key elements in the spiritual journeys of my three children?

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Everyone Else Is Doing It…

iPod touch picture“Mom, when can I get my own email?” eleven-year-old Kiersten asks me as I pick her up from school.

“Not for a while, Kiersten,” I respond, never giving a specific age or timeline.  I’m not willing to be held to anything yet!  The truth is, I have no idea.  And furthermore, I’d be happy for it to be a very, very, very long time.  I see no need for her to have one.  I think of all the spam emails I get.  The junk emails that are quite inappropriate (even in just their subject line).  She’s too young to be faced with this.  She sees her friends every day at school (or weekly at church), she doesn’t need to email them.  And I’d rather her write actual letters to her long-distance friends.

“Well, everyone else has one,” she says.

“Who?” I reply, not quite believing her, so needing some hard facts.  She comes up with two names.

Later that same day, as I’m setting the timer for her time to play games on the iPod touch (the iPod that she and Micah share, that they both saved up money together for almost a year!), she asks me,  “Why can’t I just play whenever I want?  Everyone else gets to play whenever they want.”

I kind of believe her on that one.  She just started playing “Words with Friends” with several of her friends.  From the moment she gets home from school, the iPod touch starts binging throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, signaling that someone else has played a word and it is now her turn to play.

“Everyone else…” Twice in one day.  Over technology-related activities.  This phrase was already fresh on my mind, from the chapter in my mom’s book that I just posted on my blog (click here to read).  Thirty years ago it was the TV that my brothers and I were begging to watch because “everyone else” got to watch whenever they wanted (or so it seemed to us).

As my mom reflected on our constant begging for more TV, she mounted her soapbox (her words) about the evils of TV (balancing it out later, by clarifying that TV is inherently neither good or bad).  At the bottom of it all was her frustration about the constant begging of us kids, which put her, the mother, in a position of defense.  Not a fun place to be as a parent.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to not even have this item in the home that causes so much desire for little kids and so much struggle for parents to manage?

That’s where I find myself so many times as a mother.  As I experience Kiersten’s desire for email and more iPod time, and have the often daily struggle of telling my children, “No, you may not watch more TV.  No, you cannot keep playing the iPod, your time is up.  I’m sorry that you’re in the middle of a game.  No, no more Wii for today.  You’ve played plenty.  I’d like you to find something else to do,” I find myself wishing these items didn’t exist!  Wouldn’t life be so much easier without them?  I, too, want to mount my soapbox and defend my stance for putting limits on these things.  I even want to take it a step further and say I wish these things had never been created.  I hate monitoring them and dealing with the constant requests.  Even though my children know the rules, they still keep asking for more!  And it’s so easy and tempting to “give in” as the parent…

Yet, I’m not willing to take all things technical completely away.  I’m not about extremes.  I know that, used sparingly and at opportune times, these things can be good.  We’ve had many fun family nights of playing Wii together.  In the middle of the winter, when outside play is limited, a game of tennis or basketball on the Wii is truly a fun alternative.  Sometimes a little downtime playing an iPod game is a good option, too.  I remember my brothers’ “electronic football” game and how much fun we had playing it!  And Words with Friends can be a great (and even educational) way to connect with friends…especially when you’re the only girl in the family (and the oldest) and sometimes get a little bored with the games your little brothers enjoy playing!  And the television.  I will always sing the praises of PBS and have to give them partial credit for playing a role in the education of my children.  And never before have I realized how good The Brady Bunch really is!  Who knew?!  Not only do my kids love to see and enjoy the family life and antics of this dated family (they get a kick out of the clothes and the home decor), but they also get the added bonus (whether they know it or not) of observing some good family and moral values (which is hard to find on TV these days).  I’ll take reinforcements any way I can get them!  Not to mention, the lure of this program later in the day is a perfect reward for completed homework!

Yes, when functioning smoothly, technology has its perks.  On paper, I can work it beautifully into my daily and weekly schedule, choosing when, what, and how much is appropriate.

But alongside that, comes a bit of reality.  I have the perfect plan, but my children seem to rub up against it.  Push the limits (not turning off the TV right when their program is over, playing Wii or iPod beyond the beeper that signals that their time is up, begging for more time, more programs…more, more more!).  That’s when I want to throw it all out the window!  My children are becoming addicted, I worry.  My children don’t know how to entertain themselves.  They’ve lost their ability to be creative and use their imaginations.  To play together and enjoy each other’s company.  To just “be kids” and have fun.

So I have to step in and become the mom.  To make hard, unpopular choices.  Just this past weekend, my husband and I had a long talk about this (as he, too, was experiencing their push back and “addiction”).  His suggestion:  no Wii or iPod touch for a week (well, he actually said a month…I suggested we take it one week at a time). Every Sunday evening, we’ll gather as a family and discuss how things went the previous week and make a decision about the upcoming week.

It’s now Friday of our first week with no Wii or iPod touch.  And it has been a glorious week!  Knowing the hard-core limits, my children have risen to the occasion.  They weren’t thrilled with the announcement, but they’ve accepted it and haven’t even asked to play either item!  They’ve found other things to do.  They’ve looked more forward to their one TV show for the day (The Brady Bunch at six o’clock).  Brennan gets an extra half hour of TV (PBS), since he’s only in school half day.  They’ve played together, worked more diligently on homework, and come up with other things to do.  No longer do I have to deal with arguments over whose turn it is to play the iPod touch, what Wii game to play (if they are playing together), and frustrations over losing or things not going “their way” during some game they are playing.   I was beginning to feel like my role as mom had become limited to mediating, moderating, and controlling all aspects of technology amongst the kids in our home.  And in the midst of my attempts to control, I felt completely out of control!

I think I see a future of less “screen time” in our family.  Just because we have them, doesn’t mean that we (they) have the right to play them every day.  These items are for “special occasions” only.  And I think we all will enjoy them more that way.  And in the meantime, we can enjoy each other more!

As I linger over a question my mom raised ~  “Who is in control?” ~ I think of the changes that Randy and I have made this week.  “Everybody else” is not in control.  The Wii, iPod touch, and TV are not in control.  Coming up with a plan as husband and wife ~ parenting partners to our children ~ I feel that Randy and I are back in control.  And a part of me believes strongly that my children are glad.  They want structure and limits.  Even if they don’t know it.

So even if “everyone else is doing it” (and whether that statement is true or not!), we aren’t.  And I’m okay with that.

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Who’s Influencing My Children?

As promised, here is the chapter on TV from my mom’s book.  I’m tempted to introduce it with lots of my own thoughts and convictions (and even confessions!) on the subject, but that would defeat the purpose of posting it.  It speaks for itself and it captures, I think, the struggle many of us face ~ not only with the TV, but with all things “screen.”  I love my mom’s balanced conclusion and find myself challenged to “be in control” of all of our media options.  I hope you find it helpful as well.

WHO’S INFLUENCING MY CHILDREN?

by Miriam Huffman Rockness (1979)

“Can we watch TV, Mom?”  David sets his books and lunch box on the high chair and looks at me with bright hope and expectancy.  It never fails to amaze me how he faithfully asks this question that through the years has been consistently answered in the negative.

“Not until four o’clock, honey.”

“How come?”

“You know we never watch TV right after school.  This is your time to play.”  I answer with what strikes me, under the circumstances, as a monumental show of patience.

Everyone watches TV after school.”

“That’s right,” echoes Kimberly.  “Everyone.”

“I doubt that,” I respond, measuring each word carefully.  “But even if they did, you know that isn’t how we make our decisions.”

“I’ll choose a good program that won’t scare Kimberly and Jonathan.”

“The programs aren’t bad, Mommy,” Kimberly adds.

“I know the programs aren’t bad, but I just don’t think anything is on now that is that good.”  I go on to explain how precious time is, how many good things there are to do.  We limit TV because we want them to live life, not just sit back and watch others live life.

David and Kimberly look up at me with expressions that simulate total incomprehension.  David shrugs his shoulder and says, “C’mon, Kimberly, let’s go ride our bikes.”

Am I too strict?  I ask myself.  There is nothing in the programs they are pushing for that is harmful.  After a busy day in school, shouldn’t they just be free to sit back and be entertained for a while?  I review our policy:  They have a daily block of time set aside for their choice of several pre-determined programs.  We check the TV guide for specials which we attempt to make a shared family time.  Then there are their morning fragments of “Captain Kangaroo.”  No, in proportion to their other activities, they see plenty of television!

I begin to bristle that I let myself be put into a defensive position.  I’m convinced we approach the whole thing from the wrong angle – if it’s not bad, it’s OK we allow, rather than choosing from the enormous smorgasbord of programs that which is edifying and good.  By default, we’ve let the question become “Why not?” rather than “Why?” making it a matter of acquiescence rather than choice.

I mount my soapbox and continue to build a defense of our position.  I think of the vast number of messages our children are subjected to, input that is shaping their thinking and in turn their character.  I am realistic; I can’t put blinders on my children, and even if I could, I wouldn’t.  TV is only one of the many voices that shout their conflicting messages, that have something to say about everything.  But it happens to be one influence I can still control.  There is so much at stake.  When you cut through it all – the mundane activities surrounding mothering – my deepest concern is the kind of people our children are becoming.  They cannot help but be influenced by the values that bombard them.  Values so often in conflict with what we are trying to stress; the importance of the inner man, the person we really are – in a word, character.

I don’t want to tune out other messages altogether.  I just want to keep up with their input so I can help them learn to be discerning.  I will not always be able to screen their TV input, but I refuse to abdicate my filtering role while my children are still so moldable simply because of their demands, or because it is expedient for me.

By now I am gesturing eloquently from my soapbox and am becoming increasingly possessed with a desire to dismount and rip the TV from its life line on the wall.  Show it a thing or two.  But I begin to cool as I consider how it has enriched our lives:  the concerts we’ve enjoyed in the comfort of our sitting room, our trips to faraway lands, the exposure to values and life-styles of another time and place, drama that has carried our emotions the full gamut – together . . . When I hear Jonathan count to thirteen, I have to admit he didn’t learn his numbers from me!  So I kick my soapbox aside, and reassume a more realistic posture, that of a mother simply trying to make decisions that will be in the best interest of her family.

No, like most everything else, the TV is  not inherently good or evil.  It holds the potential for either.  The fundamental issue is, who is in control?  The TV?  Or are we in control?  I believe it places far too great a burden on the grade school child to have to make these quality-of-life decisions.  As parents, we will continue to assume the responsibility of determining the amount of time spent watching TV and the kind of programs watched.  We will continue to allow our children choices within our choices, knowing the day will come when they must exercise their own judgement.  I would hope by then we will have established a pattern of selection that will provide a kind inner monitoring for their own positive choices.

*This exerpt from my mom’s book, Keep These Things, Ponder Them in Your Heart, is posted in response to my previous post, “Out of Touch.”  Without a TV for one week (yes, that doesn’t seem long, but it was…trust me!), I had plenty of time to ponder the role of TV (and all things “screen”) in our home.  It also gave me a chance to appreciate the value of being “out of touch” and how this truly allows us to actually be in touch with our inner lives…our soul.  And our Creator.  If you enjoyed this post, I’d love for you to read that one, too.  Just click here.

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Out of Touch?

“Mommy!  Come quickly!  The TV is smoking!”

Not quite able to wrap my mind around the words I’m hearing (The TV is smoking?!  What in the world must they mean?!), yet clearly hearing urgency in their voices, I quickly head towards the living room.

And, just as they said, the TV was smoking!  Smoke was literally coming out of the top of the television set.

Never having been in this predicament before, and having no framework by which to be prepared for this type of emergency, I thankfully had the wherewithal to unplug the TV.  Clearly, this was the end of our television set.

And, it was the beginning of five days without a TV.  Yes, five days does not seem like long.  But it only takes five days to realize how much a part of one’s life a TV is!  Even when you think you don’t use it much!

I could go into all the details of that week without television, and tell you about the concerns of my children (“What will we do without a TV?!) and my own surprising “TV withdrawal,” but that would be a completely different discussion.  Suffice it to say, it was a week of my own internal dialogue of the good and the bad of TV and my role as Mom (and person!) in relation to this flat-screened object that makes its home in our house.

My mom, in one of her book Keep These Things, Ponder Them in Your Heart, voices her own struggle with television (thirty-plus years ago!).  In her concluding paragraph in her chapter on the television entitled “Who’s Influencing My Children?” she writes:

No, like most everything else, the TV is not inherently good or evil.  It holds the potential for either.  The fundamental issue is, who is in control?  The TV?  Or are we in control?

I could go in to more detail of my own thoughts from my week without TV, concerning this issue, but my mom does it so well that I will actually post that chapter here on my blog in a few days.

Instead, I’m focusing on another issue that came to light during my five-day TV hiatus. During this time, I was reminded of an experience a few years ago.  For almost two weeks, we were without both phone and internet (and that was before I had a cell phone!).  I was basically cut off from all communication!  Thankfully, Randy had internet at work and would check my emails for me during the day.  And he had a cell phone, so I could also make calls at the end of the day, if need be.  And, at the time, I was at church quite a bit throughout the week (MOPS, Bible Study, preschool), so I was able to check emails there and use the phone.  But while at home during the day, I was utterly and completely cut off from all communication with the rest of the world!

I made it through those two weeks (obviously).  It was a struggle at first, and a huge lifestyle adjustment, but what stands out to me the most was the good that ended up coming out of it.  By being out of touch with the world, I was able to become more in touch with myself and God.  I was given the gift of time.  Of space.  And, surprisingly (or not!), it was refreshing.  And restful.  And good.

Edward W. Bok, in his book, Twice Thirty, talks about this very thing.  Though written in 1925, his words still can speak to us today.  And challenge us.

In the chapter, “Out of Touch in Florida,” Bok reflects on his decision to spend three months of the year in Florida.  An amazing business man (editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal for thirty years and quite active in the community and society of Philadelphia), his friends couldn’t understand why he would leave for three months!  Especially when staying in touch wasn’t as simple as picking up a phone, sending an email, or texting or twittering.  “Madness,” was their response to him, “You will get out of touch.”

He muses over this phrase in his book:

There are minds which cannot conceive that to get “out of touch” may sometimes mean to get into touch.  Is it inconceivable that to sit and read and to let the world pass before one for a bit and yet not be of it or in it, may mean getting a larger perspective of truer vision?  That these overbusy days may well cry aloud for a quiet stock-taking?  Those there are who are afraid to be alone, but those there are also who seek for the spot where one can be apart and take an inventory of the things that count and are not of the flesh.  Some natures there are who feel it incumbent to take a personal accounting…to invite the inner self and bring it to the surface.  Some natures grow larger from such contacts; some thoughts come at such times that go deeper; some lives there are which become fuller and richer from the moments of quiet repose and aloofness from the traffic of the world.

How true are these words, even today.  Especially today!  How out of touch from the world I felt when I had no phone or internet!  Yet, by being out of touch with the world, I was truly able to get in touch with myself.  And as I was out of touch (or out of sorts!) last week without our TV, I was more able to “take inventory” of things.  To “go deeper” as I evaluated life.  Without the TV for my own personal downtime, I had the time to contemplate the role of this device more deeply in the overall life and functioning of our family.

And to delve more deeply into myself, as mentioned above by Edward Bok.  And as mentioned once again in another quote from his same chapter:

If three months of glorious sunshine in a climate so gentle as to be caressing [or in my case, one week of no TV, or two weeks of no phone or internet] has put me “out of touch” with some things which in the minds of my friends [or the mind of myself, Kimberly Rockness Wood!] seem important, is it not possible that I have been permitted to come in touch with other things which are vital and likely to be more enriching, more satisfying, and perhaps a bit more deep-reaching?

Life is back to normal in the Wood household.  We have a new television.  I’ve established some new routines.  I’m happy to be in touch via phone, cell phone, and internet.  But my week of no TV – my week that afforded me extra time and hearkened me back to life without phone and internet – was a good reminder.  A reminder, and a challenge, to intentionally choose to put myself “out of touch” from time to time…even when there is a TV, a phone, and internet access in my home!  Because it is good for my soul.

* You can now read my mom’s chapter (from her book, Keep These Things, Ponder Them in Your Heart) about the TV.  Who’s in control?  Is TV good or bad?  How do we raise our kids in a culture where they feel like “everyone else is doing it” when it comes to things such as watching TV?  See how my mom processes through some of these questions thirty years ago in this chapter.   You’ll be surprised how convicting and relevent it still is today!   Click here to read it.

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Play With Us!

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“Mommy, come play with us!” Micah calls to me as I settle down with my book on the sidelines.

We were at Kiersten’s basketball practice.  Normally I carpool with another mom; she takes the girls to practice and I pick them up.  The other family was out-of-town, so I was driving Kiersten both ways today.  Since it was a fifteen minute drive each way, I decided to just stay at the practice.  Plus, it would be fun for the boys.  I knew there would be an open court for them to play on, so I brought an extra basketball along.  We don’t have a basketball hoop at home, so this would be a treat for them.

And I brought a book for me.  I was in the middle of a good book, so I had secretly calculated “reading time” for me while the boys played.  I thought I had planned things perfectly by setting the boys up with a fun activity during Kiersten’s practice.  I had been anticipating this time all day!  Guilt-free pleasure reading!

So I was caught off guard by Micah’s request.  Play with them?  Couldn’t they just play on their own?  I thought they’d go running off without even thinking twice about me.  I was flattered that Micah wanted me to join them…but I really wanted to read my book!  Reluctantly, I set down my book.

“I’ll give them fifteen minutes,” I thought to myself, as I attempted to steal the basketball out of Micah’s hands.  By then I’m sure they’ll be having enough fun that they’ll be fine continuing on their own.  I pour myself into the moment, anticipating a reading reward for myself at the end.

But after fifteen minutes, it was just Micah and me…Brennan had become bored.  The basket was way too high for him, so he was frustrated.  And we only had one ball, so there was nothing else for him to do on his own.  My plan wasn’t working.

I came up with a “Plan B.”  Take them to a nearby playground.  They had never been to this playground before, so it was full of new and exciting possibilities for them.  I knew that they would both be happy there.  Which meant I could finally read my book!

So, off to the playground we went.  Once we arrived, Micah and Brennan went running off immediately to explore their new surroundings.  I found a nice bench.  Eagerly, I opened my book.

“Mommy!” call two little voices before I can even read the first word, “can you play with us?!”

I sigh deeply.  I am so tempted to say no.  They can play by themselves.  According to my plan, this was supposed to be “my time.”  Just taking them here was a special activity.

But then I look at them.   Two little blond heads.  Two eager little faces.  Two precious boys.  Two little boys who won’t always be little.  Two little boys who won’t always be begging me to play with them.  The book will always be waiting for me.  These little boys won’t.  Some day they will be grown and gone.  I’ll wish they were little again.  I’ll wish I could play with them again.

It just so happens to be December 14.  The day of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  I think of those parents who dropped their kids off at school that morning.  Those parents who had no idea this was the last time they’d see their child.  Those parents who would give anything to hold or play with their child one more time.

I set down my book.  The book can wait.

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Papa Panov and Advent

images[1]In the reading that our family follows for Advent, the second candle that we light is called the Bethlehem Candle, which “shines to show us that Christ came to us in the quiet of a stable in Bethlehem.”  So that week we focus on baby Jesus.  On his humble beginnings.  That He is a gift to us.

As we read and discussed this concept, Brennan asked, “What is our gift to God, Mommy?”

He asked as sincerely as only a five-year-old can.

I had been wondering how I’d transition into reading the Christmas book I had chosen to read to the kids that night, Papa Panov’s Special DayI had just checked that book out from the library and was excited to read one of my childhood favorites to them.  I was reading it whether it fit the Second Sunday of Advent theme or not!

I love when these perfectly unplanned moments arise.  The theme of Papa Panov was the perfect answer to Brennan’s question.

“What a great question,” I say to Brennan, “In fact, the book I’m about to read to you ~ after you get your pajamas on and get ready for bed ~ talks about that.”

So, the kids eagerly ran off to get ready for bed.  Fifteen minutes later we were all gathered in the boy’s room to read the book.

“A long time ago, almost too long ago to remember,” I begin, “there lived an old shoemaker.  His home was far away, almost too far to imagine, in a small Russian village.”

This story goes on to tell about Papa Panov, who “was not very rich…but neither was he very poor.”

It was Christmas Eve.  Papa Panov, who was typically quite happy and who would“sing and whistle and shout a cheery greeting to people passing by,”was actually feeling sad and lonely.  He missed his wife (who had died many years before) and his children (who had all grown up and gone away).

In his sadness and loneliness, he took out his bible, sat in his chair, and began reading the Christmas story.  He read about how “a little boy, Jesus, was born, not in a good warm house but in a cowshed because there wasn’t any room at the inn.”

“‘Dearie, dearie,” said Papa Panov (who lived in his one-room shoe shop), ‘If they had come here, they could have slept on my good bed and I would have covered the little boy with my patchwork quilt…'”

He continued to read about how “the rich men travelled across the desert to bring wonderful presents for the little boy Jesus…”

“‘Dearie, dearie’ sighed Papa Panov, ‘if Jesus came here, I shouldn’t have anything to give him'”  Then he smiled as he remembered something.  He took down a box from a shelf.  “He opened the box and unwrapped a pair of tiny shoes.  Papa Panov held one small shoe in each hand…They were the best shoes he had ever made…  ‘That’s what I would have given him,’ he murmured.”

As he continued to read the Christmas story, Papa Panov (who was very tired) fell asleep in his chair.

Suddenly, he heard a voice, “Papa, Papa Pavov!” he heard. “‘Who is it?” cried Papa Panov, looking around him and seeing no one.

“‘Papa Panov,’ said the voice again.  ‘You wished that you had seen me, that I had come to your little shop and that you could bring me a gift.  Look out into the street from dawn to dusk tomorrow and I will come.  Be sure you recognize me for I shall not say who I am.'”

Papa Panov did not go to sleep that night.  He wanted to be awake so as not to miss the first person to pass by in the morning.  As dawn approached, he made a pot of coffee and waited.

Finally, he saw a figure coming down the street. “Perhaps this was Jesus,” he thought.  But it was only the old roadsweeper.  Papa Panov was frustrated and disappointed.  He really wanted it to be Jesus.  But as the man neared, Papa Panov felt sorry for him.  He looked very cold.  And how terrible to have to work on Christmas Day!

So Papa Panov opened the door and called out, “Hey old chap!…How about a cup of coffee?  You look frozen to the bone.”

So the roadsweeper came in to the warm shop.  “It’s very kind of you, very kind,” he said.

Papa Panov continued watching for Jesus throughout the day.  Many people passed his shop throughout the day. “Merry Christmas, Papa Panov!” many of them called out.  The old shoemaker would nod and smile back.  He knew them all by name, but none of them were Jesus.

He then saw someone he had never seen before.  It was a young woman carrying a baby.  “She was very thin, her face was tired and her clothes were shabby.”

As Papa Panov watched her, he called out, “Hello, why don’t you come in and warm yourself?”

“‘You’re very kind,’ she said, as he stood aside for her to enter his little shop.”

She refused the bread and soup he offered her, but willingly accepted the milk he offered for her child.  As he fed the child milk, Papa Panov noticed the baby had no shoes.

“…A thought came to [Papa Panov’s] mind.  He pushed it away ~ but it came back…The tiny pair of shoes he had made so long ago ~ they might fit the baby.  So Papa Panov got them down from the shelf and tried them on the child’s feet.  They fitted exactly.  Perfect!”

After the mother and child left, Papa Panov resumed his perch by the window.  Hours passed, but still no Jesus.  He began to be afraid.  “Perhaps Jesus had come and he had not recognized him.  Perhaps he had passed by quickly when Papa Panov had turned away just for a second to poke the fire or boil the soup!”

As he sat back in his chair that night he said to himself,”‘It was only a dream after all.  I wanted to believe it so much; I wanted him to come.’  And two great tears welled up behind his spectacles and filled his eyes, so that he could hardly see.”

“At once it seemed as if there was someone in the room.  Through his tears Papa Panov seemed to see a long line of people passing across the little shop.  The roadsweeper was there and the woman with her child ~ all the people he had seen and spoken to that day.”

“And as they passed him by they whispered, one by one, ‘Didn’t you see me?  Didn’t you see me, Papa Panov?'”

“‘Who are you?’ cried the old shoemaker, struggling out of his chair, ‘Who are you?  Tell me.'”

“And then came the same voice as the night before… ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me water, I was cold and you took me in.  These people you have helped today ~ all the time you were helping them, you were helping me!'”

“‘Dearie, dearie,’ said Papa Panov slowly, pulling at his long grey moustache.  ‘So he came after all.'”

“So,” I say to the kids as I close the book, “how does this answer Brennan’s question about what we can give God?”

Of course, they got the message:  we can love God by loving others.  Giving to others is giving to God.  It doesn’t matter your age.  It doesn’t matter where you live.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have.

Long after the children are in bed, I’m left with the simplistically powerful message of Papa Panov. It is a beautiful reminder to me of the importance of caring for others.  What I’m struck most with is that it can be so simple.  I often feel like I need to sign up to do “great things” (volunteer at a soup kitchen, sign up for a big church-wide event to “care for others,” etc.).  Those things, though they are very good and can be excellent tools and activities through which to teach children how to serve and care (and can be truly heartfelt and helpful and meaningful), sometimes can become one more thing on my “to do” list. Have I cared for others this season?  Check.

I want to work on simply loving others.  Of having an ongoing spirit and attitude of caring:  Engaging with the other moms in the kindergarten pick-up line.  Talking to the college neighbors who rent the home across from ours and baking cookies for them.  Sharing what I have with someone in need.  Showing interest in those people whose paths cross my daily life.

I want my children (and myself!) to see everyone as potential “Jesus’s.”  That as we are waiting for Him (to truly meet Him face to face some day), we are caring for people along the way.  Whether we do it in large venues for big groups of people, or in small venues for one single person.  Even a family member (maybe at times, especially a family member!)

As Advent is over and all the that goes with it (both the beautiful and the crazy!), may this simple message of the Bethlehem candle ~ and Papa Panov ~ linger on throughout the year.  May Brennan’s question be at the forefront of my mind:  What is my gift to God?

May I be looking for Him everyday, in my every day life.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”                                                                        ~ Matthew 25:35-40

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Taking in the Weather

I woke up the morning of the election only to discover that I didn’t know who I was going to vote for that day.

This is a scary confession for me to make.  Scary because some people may have judgmental reactions to this.  Some may wonder why in the world I’m not clearly voting for _________ (fill in the blank as you may).  Others may be appalled at my apparent lack of preparedness.  How in the world, after months upon months of political ads and political discussion, could I not have done my homework and decided on my candidate of choice?!

Let me explain.  When I went to bed Monday night, I knew who I was voting for.  I wasn’t planning on waking up undecided.

Let me also explain that my indecisiveness had very little to do with the candidates.  It had everything to do with me.  With the journey that I’m on right now.

Eugene Peterson, in the forward to his book, The Wisdom of Each Other, tells this story about a man named John Muir:

In the last half of the nineteenth century, John Muir was our most intrepid and worshipful explorer of the western extremities of our North American continent…

[in 1847] Muir visited a friend who had a cabin, snug in a valley of one of the tributaries of the Yuba River in the Sierra Mountains…One December day a storm moved in from the Pacific ~ a fierce storm…It was for just such times this cabin had been built:  a cozy protection from the harsh elements…

[but] Muir, instead of retreating to the coziness of the cabin…strode out of the cabin into the storm, climbed a high ridge, picked a giant Douglas fir as the best perch for experiencing the kaleidoscope of the color and sound, scent and motion, scrambled his way to the top and rode out the storm, lashed by the wind, holding on for dear life, relishing Weather:  taking it all in ~ its rich sensuality, its primal energy.

This story is background information for an illustration that Peterson uses later in the forward to explain “religion vs. spirituality.” This illustration so accurately depicts the spiritual journey that I’ve been on in recent years:

The word “religion,” following one possible etymology (not all agree on this), comes from the Latin religere, “to bind up, or tie up, again.”  The picture that comes to my mind is of myself, having spent years “getting it all together,” strolling through John Muir’s Yuba River valley, enjoying the country, whistling in self-satisfaction, carrying my “life” bundled in a neat package ~ memories and morals, goals and diversions, prayers and devotion all sorted and tied together.  And then the storm comes, fierce and sudden, a gust tears my packaged life from my arms and scatters the items every which way, all over the valley, all through the forest.

What do I then do?  Do I run helter-skelter through the trees, crawl through the brush, frantically trying to recover all the pieces of my life, desperately enlisting the help of passersby and calling in the experts, searching for and retrieving and putting back together again (rebinding!) whatever I can salvage of my life, and then hiding out in the warm and secure cabin until the storm blows over?  Or do I follow John Muir to the exposed ridge and the top of the Douglas fir, and open myself to the Weather, not wanting to miss a detail of this invasion of Life into my life, ready at the drop of a hat to lose my life to save it (Mark  8:35)?

For me, the life of religion (cautious and anxious, holding things together as best I can so that my life will make sense and, hopefully, please God) and the life of spirituality (a passion for life and a willingness to risk identity and security in following Jesus, no matter what)  contrast in these two scenarios.  There is no question regarding what I want:  I want to be out in the Weather!  But far more often than not I find myself crawling around on the ground, gathering up the pieces of my life and tying them together again in a secure bundle, safe from the effects of the Weather.

The past couple of years have brought some big changes to our lives.  A storm has blown through, so to speak.  Not a storm in the form of a death or physical tragedy and not a storm that the average onlooker would even notice.  Yet a storm that has still impacted us and has caused us to experience loss.  Loss in the form of some changes in life that weren’t part of my “plan” ~ my nicely tied up package.

Just like Peterson’s image, I had been walking along a lovely river valley, carrying my “life” all bundled up nicely.  I knew what I wanted, where I was going, and what I was taking with me.  I was happy with my memories and morals, goals and diversions.  My life was easy and good.  I liked it.  I was full of self-satisfaction.  And I praised and trusted God in the midst of it.

So it made no sense to me when a storm came through and tore that bundle from my arms and scattered all that was in it every which way.  Because in my mind, everything that was in it was good.  It didn’t need to be torn from me.  I found myself desperately trying to crawl about (helter-skelter!) and pick up the pieces and bundle them back together…like they use to be.

I felt like I was the “innocent bystander” and didn’t deserve the changes that had come my way.  But slowly, I began to see (how I began to see are separate stories in and of themselves) that I was right where God wanted me to be.  He was the Weather, and it was not a mistake that my bundle had been stripped from my arms.

As I wrapped my mind around this idea, I was slowly able to release those items that I had been comfortable with my entire life.  Rather than trying to frantically gather them all back up and put them back in my bundle, I “opened myself to the Weather.”  I let all of my comfort items (all those things I thought I needed to live a “good Christian life”) go.  And I slowly began to wait and see what items would go back in.  Maybe some of them would be the same…yet in different forms (maybe I still needed a “water bottle,” but a different brand, style, and/or color).  Maybe I didn’t need some of those items at all anymore (maybe the box of granola bars wasn’t necessary).

Of course I’m talking in cryptic form…a blog is not the place in which to share some of the specific details of my storm.  Yet I hope my message is clear.  God was (and still is!) working in me.  And He was doing it in ways I didn’t expect or understand…and in ways I didn’t even think I needed!

As difficult as it has been (and still is at times!), I am so thankful for the storm.  My faith is stronger.  My understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and trust in Him is much deeper.  I have gone from being what Peterson calls “religious” (holding things together as best I can so that my life will make sense and please God) to what he calls “spiritual” (having a passion for life and a willingness to risk identity and security in following Jesus, no matter what).

No matter what.  Some of the changes that have been brought about in my life (our lives, collectively as husband and wife) are things that (I must admit) I negatively judged others on in the past.  In many aspects, I’ve risked my identity as I’ve pulled out of things.  I’ve also let go of many of the securities in my life.  And in doing so, God is drawing me closer and closer to Him.

I’m turning to God for direction like I never have before.  Not just doing things because they are supposedly the “most Christian” or because that’s what I’ve always done.  Some things may stay the same (as I “own” them and choose them) and some things may change.  And I’m doing a lot of waiting.  Of taking one step at a time, not always knowing where the next one will take me.

And that’s what I think my “election morning dilemma” was all about.  It was one more thing I’d had in my nicely tied-up bundle.  I had always voted a certain way because, well, that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.  But that morning, I realized that the “right answer” might not be what I thought it was.  At the same time, it might be.  I didn’t know!   I had heard compelling arguments on both sides ~ both for and against specific candidates~from wonderful Christians who I respected and admired.  Rather than just assuming one side was “right” (as I’d always done), I was more aware than ever that the overall answer as to whom should govern our country was not necessarily black and white.  I was ready to consider both sides and come to my own conclusions…with God as my guide.  What did I think?  I truly didn’t know.

Of course, I didn’t have the time that morning (though I did try!) to figure it all out.  But that’s okay.  My questioning was the first step ~ in yet one more area ~ in letting go of “what I had always done.”  Another item from my bundle to be evaluated.

As I stood at the ballot station that day with the choice of president before me, I paused.  Not because I didn’t know who to vote for; I had come to a decision before heading to the polls. Who knows how I might have voted, had I had more time to truly weigh both sides…but I knew my choice at that moment was my own choice, and I knew why I had chosen it.  I paused to appreciate the significance of that moment.  A symbolic moment of moving forward.  A moment of acknowledging the soul work God was doing within me.  Just that morning, I had read this quote by Lilias Trotter on my mom’s blog:

 And the growing point of our soul is the thing with which the Spirit of God is specially dealing, and all depends on faithfulness there.

My mom went on to quote another author, Bruce Larsen, in the same blog post:

Surely this is how the Holy Spirit wants to work in each of our lives.  Everyone of us has a spiritual growing edge.  We all have mastered certain skills and subjects and disciplines and formed certain attitudes.  Our tendency is to sit back and make this the sum and substance of the Christian experience.  On the other hand God says, ‘Well done,’ and then moves us on to new areas that we can grasp and master.”

Letting go of my comfortable and security-producing package has been my “growing edge” these days.  And election day gave me one more opportunity to grow and trust and intentionally consider what to put in my bundle.

I pictured myself atop the Douglas fir tree ~ taking in the Weather.  Not knowing which way the wind would blow, but trusting God in it…and in me.  Not just in this decision, but with my entire life.

You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that.  You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next.  That’s the way it is with everyone “born from above” by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.  (John 3:8, The Message)

Posted in Faith and God, Heart Ponderings, Self-Discovery, Struggles and Sorrows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments