Different Does Not Mean Wrong

Don’t you love how sometimes God will push the recall button of an old memory to teach a new lesson? Of course, then I have that whole “Hey, wait a second…” moment as I realize that obviously He has walked me down this path before. On the other hand, sometimes those wonderful old lessons can yield a brand new crop of results.

Scenario #1: Shortly after marrying my perfect dreamboat of a man, I slowly began to comprehend that he had some slight, hardly worth mentioning…um, flaws. From toothpaste tubes to toilet paper, from dirty socks to dirty dishes, would you believe he handled all those things incorrectly? Surely he must have noticed that each time he picked up the toothpaste it had (yet again) been left neatly and perfectly squeezed from the bottom! TP flap: over the top. Socks: right side out and NOT in balls. Dishes: rinsed as a minimum standard.

Ahhh. *sigh* The sweet saga of that first year of marriage.

As the weeks and months went on, he grasped the “proper” way of tackling all these little odds and ends correctly. (And, much to my delight, my bare bottom never touched cold ceramic in the middle of the night again!) In the due course of time our little married life became a family life; and as much as I would have contented myself with “correcting” any and all little shortcomings, I found my hands filled to the brim with a newborn who thought sleep was overrated. Thus, this groggy woman gratefully accepted any small assistance my wonderful soulmate offered.

One sunny morning, as I emptied the dishwasher, I happened to notice that–in spite of getting loaded “incorrectly”–all of the dishes came out…clean!!! Each one just as clean as the next, and all just as clean as if I had loaded and ran the dishwasher myself!

At that moment, God’s truth shot across my mind and my heart: different does not mean wrong.

Uh oh. My mind suddenly raced hither and thither gathering up all the details and instances of judging my husband through the lens of right v. wrong instead of allowing him the respect of simply doing something differently. And the repentance of my heart transformed into a new freedom in my marriage as my happy soul sang out, “The love of my life isn’t wrong–he’s different!!!” Of course, once I truly, whole-heartedly embraced that fact, I began to appreciate his differences in the most delightful of ways. (Although–and I gotta hang on to this–leaving dirty socks inside-out and in a little ball can never be right!)

Scenario #2: As many a parent before me has noted, the years flew by. The baby boy I once cherished in my arms has transformed into a man leaving for college. The lessons I spent years teaching him have taken hold in his heart. He no longer throws rocks in the pool just to watch the splash, nor does he ride his roller blades down the hall. No Legos litter the floors of our home, nor does he simply out-n-out disobey my words. He treasures me. He honors me. He frustrates me.

While praying for my two children this morning, my mind stumbled over a disparity within my heart as I prayed that they would each cherish God’s wisdom as they chose and set priorities for their lives. My prayer for my daughter came easy as I imagined her sticking to her guns and walking in discipline in all that God called her to do. My prayer for my son, however, seemed to stick a little. Why was that? What caused this inconsistency within my heart over two young people who each love and long to serve the Lord Jesus Christ?

Well, like any smart person should do, I asked the One who created me. And guess what? An old, beautiful refrain came leaping across my mind: different does not mean wrong!

My darling daughter, who seems to prioritize in a way which is comfortable and easy for me to understand–for it aligns familiarly to my own, makes praying for her regarding her choices and preferences come more naturally. (That’s not to say she’s not unique; her style’s just more…well, similar.) My son, on the other hand, zooms through life with his own methods and priorities, which varies so distinctly from anything I could dream up. (This probably makes him very much like that guy I married!) Because his actions and agendas leave me puzzled, however, does not make his wrong and mine right: it merely makes them different from each other.

What do you know? God made my son unique!

I tell you this in faith that the same Lord who taught me to appreciate the beautiful differences in my husband–which transformed my marriage!–will employ His Spirit to work His sweet changes in how I respect, pray for, and cherish that singular persona known as my son. May God alone continue to mold him and shape him in HIS image. And I’ll stand in the background and pray with the love only his mother can have…a love that already knows that God’s molding comes with pain, but a love that he can trust will forever hold a soothing balm.

“For we are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ, that He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Sweet and Upright Words

I have a confession to make. As a 50-year old woman of two young adult children, I still struggle using the correct words to teach and train. Anybody with me?

Sad, ain’t it?

Despite my head knowledge that my children have arrived at the ripe old ages of 21 and 18, I find ugly words like “Don’t…” and “Stop…” creeping harshly into my disciplinary technique. Rather than exhorting and encouraging them to more thoughtful and adult actions, I find myself correcting them with that nasty ole “mom voice.”

Example of shame: Yesterday morning I noticed my daughter pouring hot water into her teacup with the pot positioned where it could easily dribble into the “xylitol” bowl. However, instead of using words of respect, I found this gem shooting out of my mouth: “Hey! Don’t pour that over the xylitol!” And, of course, said comment was made in front of her younger brother, who happened to simultaneously chuckle, which I’m certain made her feel about six.

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Oh, and don’t even get me started on the ugliness that finds its way into the corrective measures I take with my son! Somedays I simply feel like Paul when he penned, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Though perhaps I should cry out, “Who will set me free from this tongue of death?”

I know that a host of mothers have gone before me in this transition of role; of going from mommy to mom to mother of adults. Many have done this beautifully, I am sure, while others like me have struggled, and others even have sadly failed. Sure, these children still live in our homes, but (and I need to truly understand this deep in my heart and mind!) we will lose relationships with them and respect from them if we cannot grant them the respect of a fellow adult. That does not mean that our teaching and mentoring days are over–they have merely changed shape.

God has granted us age and, hopefully with that, the wisdom of those years. Not only that, but He has freely given us the wisdom of the ages: His solid word. When we spend genuine time daily in the Bible, we find that it transforms our hearts and minds. Ultimately, then, we will find that since “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), our words will begin to reflect the word we truly “have hidden in our hearts.”

Proverbs 18:21 states that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” I have watched my words crush my children, but I have also witnessed God use my words to bring life and understanding into their hearts. Interestingly, the words that crushed came in a torrent; the words that brought life settled sweetly and succinctly like a seed well sown.

God used the words of Job to convict me this morning. And from that place of brokenness I pray for those of you who also find your words striking out hurtfully at the precious ones you love: may you spend genuine time before God in His word, may His word challenge and change you, and may He, in turn, use you to speak life into those around you.

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words” (Job 6:24-25a).

Walk Boldly in Your Kingdom Role

My darling, precocious daughter.

My darling, precocious daughter.

She was such a little thing–that precocious toddler of ours–but she simply wouldn’t obey me. I told her to do something. She stubbornly refused. The whole scene played out as though I weren’t even uttering a word. Actually, the whole scene played out as though I weren’t even in the room! There she sat, continuing in her own little world of play and ignoring my now repetitive requests.

Frustration!! (Every single parent knows what I mean!) And frankly, though I hate to admit it now, I didn’t know what to do.

An unwavering certainty started settling itself across my heart and mind. Undeniably, a truth arose in my motherly breast: I was the mom here. No other mom was going to magically show up and make my daughter obey me. This was God’s new role for me–and I needed to walk in it.

Rapidly my mind raced to grasp and sort all the gleanings I had gained regarding motherhood. Compassionate nurturer. Kindly supplier. Faithful corrector. Ah…faithful corrector–my missing link. Thusly armed with my new comprehension, I stepped boldly into my full role as mother.

I couldn’t help but recall this scenario when I considered Esther’s plight after Mordecai challenged her to plead for her people before the king. Granted she was the queen, wife of the king, but the Persians had this nasty little law about putting to death anyone who appeared uninvited before the king’s presence–unless he held out his golden scepter toward her, thus extending his favor.

In her time as queen, no doubt, she had grown to understand other aspects of her role. Reign in the women’s quarters. Appear in her finest at state functions. Hasten to the king at his request. But this role? How could she ever walk in such a strong calling? How could she present herself and find that presentation enough?

We all know those feelings. We come supplied with a handy list of our shortcomings. If others can’t figure out why they shouldn’t accept us in our role, we could probably tell them several reasons. But there we vulnerably stand anyway. Heart racing. Doubts pulsing. Fear rising. But we stand. We must. For this is our role.

Each new bride or groom, each new parent, each new employee, each new landlord, each new pastor, each new anything, must understand what their role entails and step boldly in. Will we make mistakes? You betcha! Will our shortcomings show? Undoubtedly! But if God has called us to a new role, we have no other choice but, with eyes fixed on the King of kings, to step undeterred in what He has granted us to do.

Actually, that’s not quite true, is it? Esther had a choice. With great wisdom, however, Mordecai counseled her that God would supply relief and deliverance through another, but the cost to her would be great. You see, we can choose to not walk in the role God has conferred on us, but at what cost?

What if I had chosen to not walk in the full role of mother? What if I had elected to simply love on my children and provide their needs? What if I had decided that disciplining my daughter and son was too much work, or felt that perhaps it might impede my “loving” relationship with them? Would I now have a twenty-one year old blessing of a daughter? Would I have an eighteen year old blessing of a son? Or would the cost to my life and home be grievous? And, since my children must learn discipline, who then would God have raised up to serve as their tool of correction?

I don’t know what new role God may have opened for you. My daughter currently has a new role, and both my son and my daughter have new roles looming before them as God takes them into new arenas. But I do know the same holds true for you that holds true for them–and that has held true for me. God will provide and equip for that to which He has called.

Walk boldly in. He is with you.

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13b-14).

Not Just Any Mother

We must have made a dismal picture, my brothers and I, that summer’s day in 1977, for it was the day that our mother stepped from this earth into eternity. With all the fear of my thirteen–nearly fourteen–years, I fled from her room just seconds from her last gasp. As the intensity of my pain mounted, I could bear it no more and found myself running down a cold, sterile corridor, flying past the stark waiting room to face the grayness of an unusual June sky. My dad, showing what felt to me a rare compassion, followed with the dreaded news, and as I threw myself into the warmth of his arms, the heavens let forth their tears and wept.

Today, as we celebrate the role of mother, I cannot help but consider the kind and loving soul that shaped my younger self. Within her gaze, I truly understood what it meant to know love. Her open laughter over my antics and childish statements cast a net of acceptance around my heart, while her firm hand of discipline built a barrier of safety which melded me deeply into foundations of trust and security. With her alone did I know the loving sanctuary of true childhood.

The summer of my ninth birthday, I recall her gathering her children to the kitchen table of our Eddyville home. With gentleness, she shared her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and what it meant to her and changes we could expect to encounter. Yet with all the ignorance of a child, I simply nodded my understanding…while not understanding at all.

My beautiful, loving mom.

My beautiful, loving mom.

Over the next few years, I watched my beloved, beautiful mother slowly fading away. Her hands began to jitter and lack strength, and her steps began to falter. Although not fully grasping the totality of where this would lead, I became unquestionably familiar with insecurity and fear as I watched her move from a walker to a wheelchair to a hospital bed placed prominently in our living room. The pinions of any hope gave way when my step-father transferred her to a care center, and we three children moved to live with our dad.

Visiting this bedridden woman, who could no longer speak and needed others to care for her most basic needs, became part of our bi-weekly, and then weekly, routine–complements of our grandparents. Yet in her presence, I no longer felt the safety and understanding which had once bound my heart so sweetly. It felt strange and, quite frankly, I did not want these visits–I did not want this life.

But then, those beautiful blue eyes would rest on me, and I could almost tangibly feel her sorrow and pain as she gazed on the face of a daughter she could no longer reach out and touch, and for one moment my heart would squeeze with the realization that the love she held for me stood unchangeable.

Stands unchangeable. For in eternity–in the presence of God–pure, sacrificial love never falters nor fails. It waits stalwartly. And it bears witness to the mother I have become, and am yet to be.

I may have made a rather dismal picture that June day–a tear-streaked, motherless girl, wanting desperately to run, but with no place to go until finally finding refuge in the arms of a distant father. Yet over time I have found limitless shelter in the arms of the Most High. Unerringly patient, His love has filled me to abundance, and through His immeasurable love He has guided me to become a mom that my own precious mother would smile upon.

Interestingly, I find that the physical weaknesses which plague me daily compel me to consider the greatest gift a mother can give her child–the same gift my mother gave me, even at her weakest. It’s not the physical tangibles that our culture extols on this Mother’s Day–housework, errands, laundry, cooking, hostessing, chauffeuring, etc., etc.–things at which I fail miserably. No. The gift which each child will treasure for time immemorial is the accepting, encouraging, disciplining love springing forth from the heart of a mother.

The rarest, most precious of gifts.

Thus, while my mom could not be just like any mother, she could be that forever link of love which deeply instilled in my heart and my mind–indeed my very innermost being–the knowledge of an eternal, life-giving love–a love filled to overflowing with acceptance and encouragement, beckoning my soul to find refuge in God’s almighty truth and limitless forgiveness. And for these richest of reasons, I find my heart bound deeply with a cord of understanding on this Mother’s Day to my very own precious Not-Just-Any-Mother.

Thank you, Mom.

“Her children rise up and call her blessed…” (Proverbs 31:28a).

Be a War Horse

Have you ever seen the movie, “War Horse”? Well, hold that thought in your pocket: we’re going to come back to it, I promise.

In the mean time…

I have simply relished my morning time in God’s Word as I’ve steadily made my way through Second Chronicles. The tales of king after king waltz across my mind’s eye in vivid color as I gaze upon their risings up and their fallings down. All their strengths and weaknesses seem to come alive, tantalizing me with their vibrancy of truth.

This morning, after I finished the brief chronology of Jotham, I could not help but contrast him with his father, Uzziah; particularly, I am certain, because I quickly noticed I had penned an underline of their individual summaries on the same small page–and each of these sentences contained an identical word: the Hebrew word chazaq.

Now I don’t lay claim to any sort of scholarly understanding of ancient Hebrew, thus when a word or phrase catches my eye I gratefully look it up on http://www.blueletterbible.org. Accordingly in these instances, the word chazaq means to grow strong. But check out this little note: “Verbs of binding, tying, girding, are applied to strength, inasmuch as with muscles well bound and with loins girded, we are stronger; on the other hand, if ungird, the weaker.” Hence, these two men grew stronger because they were girded up.

However, though each started out in the right direction, they each had different outcomes.

Uzziah: “But when he was strong (chazaq) he grew proud, to his distruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16).

Jotham: “”He became mighty (chazaq) because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6).

Hidden in these parallels lies a remarkable truth: nothing challenges the character of a man like growing strong. If you want to see the true makeup of a man, give him a measure of success.

And I could not help but think of my son.

After months of prayer and hard work, Josh made his verbal commitment to play football for a college yesterday. A dream come true. A measure of success.

Who will he become?

I desire with my whole heart that he will make the choices which will lead him to grow strong like Jotham–that he will “become mighty because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God.” I pray he will choose to bind himself to his God–that his strength will come under the control and direction of his Lord.

Enter the War Horse.

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“War Horse” was a movie by Dream Works. This photo is to their credit. (But isn’t it awesome?!)

I can think of no other creature more magnificent–more inspiring–than this massive beast of power and obedience. Though mighty, he devotedly yields his strength and abilities to his Master. He rushes not ahead nor lags behind any of his Master’s orders, and executes all commands with a mere nudge. He will serve his Master until his dying breath.

This is what I want for my son. This will become my prayer.

I can see him in my mind now, waiting for orders, refusing to budge until he receives them, and then executing them with every fiber of his being. I see him fully girded, eager to be about his Master’s business, yet exercising control until the the call comes. I see a yielded, strong young man–a man with power under control, “useful to his Master for every good work.” I see a War Horse.

“And He will make them like His majestic steed in battle” (Zechariah 10:3d).

 

That One Perfect Moment

Every once in a great, great while, I have the joy of lying in bed with the simple content of knowing that my life is positively, absolutely, undeniably wonderful. And provided that I don’t overthink every little aspect and detail, for that one moment in time, my life truly feels perfect. As is. No questions asked. Simply perfect.

That happened to me this past Sunday night–the evening of my son’s seventeenth birthday. God had more than answered the desires of my heart toward my son. His carpool mom, with two of his teammates, had shanghaied him Friday evening for a birthday dinner. Another of my friends had made him rich, chocolaty birthday cupcakes, which she had dropped off on Saturday, complete with a “Happy Birthday” banner, balloon, and candles. But the greatest desire of my heart, God answered with abundance. My deepest hope was that I would feel up to allowing Josh to invite a couple of friends to join us for his birthday lunch, and God gave me that–AND I felt up to having them over for a couple of hours afterward. (Granted, Brad and I laid in bed and watched a movie, but I didn’t have to tell my son “no” to such a simple request!)

In addition, this past weekend our church had hosted a worship conference geared for “the next generation” of worship leaders as well. While my son couldn’t attend as much as he had wanted due to baseball practice and getting kidnapped, he did make it to the bass workshop, where the instructor offered to Skype with him–merely to bless him.

It’s funny how, as a parent, the greatest blessings in life come through watching God tend to our children!

After contemplating the weekend in terms of my son, my heart skipped to my beautiful daughter. She graduates from bible college next month, and her heart is seeking God’s highest for her next step; not grasping for opportunities, merely surrendering to God’s plan…whatever that may be. And I have no doubt that He will never let her down.

Then on to my wonderful husband, who serves his God, our church, our family and me oh-so faithfully.

My heart filled to overflowing.

Suddenly I thought my whole being would burst with joy as I considered heaven. For that momentary sense of perfection on earth will never wane in eternity. We can overthink any aspect we want, and will find nothing lacking. Each little loose end will be neatly tied-up in a gorgeous bow. Every sin forgiven–the ones we’ve committed as well as those committed against us. No weight. No debt. All gone. And all of life’s deeds will be done. Complete. Perfect not for but a moment, but for all eternity.

“O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness” (Isaiah 25:1).

What God Came to See

Like all normal parents, I suppose, I relish the joy of watching my child succeed in any venture. When she was in high school, I loved watching my daughter dance or act or sing. I delighted in hearing the applause and accolades just for her. As for my son, I savor each hoot and holler when he triumphs in a sports endeavor–of which there were many in football. This baseball season–not so much.

Nope. From that point of view, his baseball season has been painful. While praising our son on one hand, his coach rarely puts him in a game, which has served as a point of confusion to us all–especially since he’s a good ball player. And I’m not sure it helps too much when other parents come to us and voice their own confusion. While it does comfort us to know we’re not just imagining a skill level he doesn’t possess, it also kind of just “bums us out.”

And I know, that as parents, we do not stand alone in this.

Many parents have walked this path before or alongside us–and many will walk it after.

Yesterday I was able to go watch my son’s baseball game. (For those of you who know me, or who follow my blog, you know this does not come easy.) While I did, indeed, watch his game, I did not for one moment watch my son play. Drained from the exertion it took to go to the game, I immediately went to wait in our car as soon as it ended.

Expecting a disheartened baseball player to slip into the back seat (especially since we gave up four runs in one inning and lost the game), I was surprised when a joyful son took his place instead, immediately inquiring as to my health with his very first words. As a matter of fact, the three of us chatted and goofed around all the way home, simply enjoying the day together.

But yet I could not help those feelings of hurt from arising–all the wonderings of why coach continually excluded my son from playing. Although I have told myself–and others–time and again, “It’s okay; I’m not raising a high school baseball player, I’m raising a man of God,” I could not suppress those disconsolate emotions from raising their ugly little heads.

I finally reached a conclusion: one month–just one more month of baseball. I can do that. Just one more month.

How self-defeating is that?

Then this morning, God spoke a new understanding into my heart. A joyful, illuminated understanding! One I can’t wait to share with you, because if you haven’t felt this as a parent–if you desire God’s highest character in your child–you will.

The greatest thing my son has to offer his team is NOT his bat or his glove–it’s his character. Yet godly character does not prove itself when things are hunky-dory. Godly character proves itself when life doesn’t go as planned–when it’s painful, when you’re getting your nose rubbed in the dirt. Those situations serve God’s greater plan–the witness and testimony that support the words of a Christian. Even a teenaged Christian.

A current statistic says that 70% of teenagers raised in church will walk away from their faith once they graduate from high school. (For a great blog on this, read http://marc5solas.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/ .) Think about that. Look at your youth group, Christian high school, or, in this case, Christian baseball team, and calculate how many of those teenagers will still serve Christ a year from now–or two–or…

With this in mind, I see that that the truest gift my son can give his team is the way he lives out his faith when the cards aren’t dealt his way. His attitude when coach doesn’t call his name. His encouragement for his teammates when they get to go do what he deeply longs to do.

Learning that God is still good and still God despite painful circumstances stands strong as a lesson one can never embrace early enough. Likewise, choosing a God-honoring attitude–not a self-indulgent one–brings a far greater joy to God’s heart than all the playing time in the world.

So, what do you think God (his heavenly Father, the same One who said, “I will never leave you”) came to see at my son’s game yesterday? I now know, He came to see a living testimony. While all the parents watched to see a son on the field, He came to see eternity taking root in a young man’s heart.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart'” (I Samuel 16:7).