Like a Two-Year Old Mastermind

During my precious morning time with God today, I couldn’t help but recall grocery shopping with my son when he was a precocious two years of age. Why? You’ll see. But first let me start with those dear recollections…

At two years of age, my son could carry on a full conversation and liked to offer his opinions about purchases on our shopping expeditions. In addition, he also liked to escape the confines of the cart and help push. Oh, he was mommy’s little helper for sure! Therefore, when I recounted my activities of the day to my handsome husband, I certainly described how Josh and I shopped together!

Together. He and I made a team.

Granted, at two he didn’t exactly have much to offer. Yet it was my joy to accept his help…and to tell his dad all about how he and I shopped together. As a unit. One fantastic grocery-shopping team!

Sweet, sweet memories.

Yet what if my son–at the advanced age of two–had decided that he was the mastermind behind the grocery shopping adventure. That he determined when we would shop. That he had the final say on purchases. That he, essentially, exercised ultimate control over when and how he shopped.

Oh…definitely more interesting…and not so sweet to recall.

I couldn’t help but ponder a bit over those thoughts when I read in Isaiah 5:21, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Woe to those who think their own brains possess such skill in judgement and discernment simply because they are so incredibly smart and gifted. All by themselves. Just good at it. Comes naturally, you might say.

[Total humility coming right about now.]

I also recollected how as I began to grow in my knowledge of God’s word, comprehension came easy to me. My mind could quickly understand a verse and then mentally pull up other verses that correlated for a fuller picture. If I had learned a verse, it stayed in my mind ready for immediate access. My women’s bible study lessons grew filled with side-notes of parallel verses and additional concepts that rounded out a fuller image and meaning in my mind. And although I never insisted on sharing those thoughts at our discussion table unless called upon (and thus thought of myself as humble), I in time grew proud.

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

I had become a two-year old mastermind of a shopping expedition.

Thankfully, God allowed me to get a huge dose of humbling. It came in the form of ME/CFS, which can make it quite difficult to string together a sentence, let alone deeper understanding of Scripture. God has so graciously taught me that HE is the source of any and all wisdom and discernment I possess or gain.

He made my brain. He wrote the Scripture I study. He causes the connections to form. He. His Spirit speaking into my spirit. The Great I AM breathing into His creation words of Life.

And then, like a gracious Father, He so often says, “Look what we did together.”

But I know the truth.

He did it all.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

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).

God’s Face -> Cutthroat Decisions

“In the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy [age 16], [Josiah] began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images” (2 Chronicles 34:3).

To my never-ending delight, I get to enjoy the role of mother to two pretty nifty young adult children. And much like young king Josiah, they have faced the challenge of growing up in about as un-Christlike a culture as you can find. Whereas Josiah’s father, Amon, endorsed that culture by choosing to do “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 33:22a), my husband and I have tried our level best to choose, and to encourage our children’s choosing, of God’s highest–even in the small, unseen places which don’t play out on the big-screen of life.

Thus our little family has marched on, trying to evaluate our choices in light of God’s Word with a longing to stay sensitive to His Spirit’s direction. To the encouragement and conviction of some, and to the amusement and bewilderment of most, we don’t watch certain TV shows, go to certain movies, indulge in certain video games, nor read certain books. We don’t judge others, we simply try to judge our actions through God’s eyes. Imperfectly? You bet! But we’re in there swinging!

It should come as no surprise, then, when either of our thought-filled children come to us to talk about past choices–to wonder if they missed the boat in regards to the pleasures and delights this life has to offer. Or to ponder future choices–to consider what those will cost in light of past decisions. As many of their friends embrace all the cultural options available to even Christian youth, my children cannot help but speculate on what they might have lost out on, and will they continue to “miss out” if they maintain their trajectory.

The answer is yes. They have missed out on what our culture has to offer, and, yes, they will keep missing out if they stay their course.

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Christians who love Jesus and determine to seek His ways do NOT get to play both sides. We cannot serve God and indulge our flesh. We do not get to explore all the allures of our culture and maintain spiritual purity. We cannot sate our soul with societal pleasure and the fulfilling joy of the Lord.

And wise parents won’t allow their children to believe they can.

Furthermore, wise Christian parents will train their children when they are young to seek God’s face and act on God’s guidance.

You will note that as King Josiah sought the God of his father, he felt compelled to take action and purge his kingdom of the things which provoked those around him to serve their cultural gods. He didn’t just not participate–he went on a seek and destroy mission!

Seeking God will do that in a person, for to truly encounter God’s face will result in decisive cutthroat action. As a matter of fact, if we don’t find ourselves tearing down cultural idols in our lives, perhaps we should wonder if we’re really seeking God’s face.

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

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).

Heartache: The Vestibule of Heaven

Having children is one of life’s greatest joys. They enter our hearts and homes as tiny receptacles, seemingly designed to draw love out of our deepest reservoir. Even the more introverted of us find ourselves learning what it means to freely and wholeheartedly give love to these precious little ones.

As they grow we find that our love, too, grows in like stride. We learn to love through disappointment, disobedience and disruptions of all ilks. To embrace our full reflection of God through our parenting, we must also quickly learn the difference between love of a higher and of a baser sort. Training our children to become more like Jesus requires hard core choices not designed for the weak of character or purpose.

Truthfully, the highest hurdle I have faced in my challenge to exhibit godly love for my children has been when I have watched them face head-on the raw, bitter disappointments in their lives.

The unkind words.

The exclusion from parties.

The unmet expectations.

The broken hearts.

In these solemn, pain-filled moments I find the woman I long to be in my deepest core must encounter  the woman I want to unleash in that place and time. For many an uncounted hour, it appears “mama bear” will surely win. She has valid points backed by the fire of conviction. Thankfully, God has restrained her outwardly; but inwardly she’s an out-and-out mess, locked in a stressful pattern of emotional thinking.

I recently had to confront my own inner “mama bear.” (She’s hardly a lovely lady.) I, too, had valid points–based soundly on scripture. Thoughts about the certainty of trials and the grooming of character through them. Regardless of the soundness of scriptural truth, mama bear had a tough time letting go of her emotions. A real tough time.

Forcing myself to re-read a quote so challenging that I’ve taped it to the inside of each bedroom door in our home, I confronted myself and–the next thing I knew–found myself kneeling in repentant tears before my God.

In that moment I had to admit that what I truly desired had been for my child to receive the accolades of earth more than the rewards of heaven. By doing so, I had been willing to cede valuable training in eternal treasures for the mere gratification of temporal pleasure. Although in a rose-colored world, I would find it charming if my child could have both, the premises handed me in scripture assure me that character comes with a pretty steep price tag.

As an adult, I know and accept this fact. As a parent, I find I struggle to accept the same fact for my child. Yet embracing a higher love for my child–a love that desires God’s highest and not my own–I must acknowledge and yield to these character shaping moments.

And pray that through each painful situation, I will not be the one who inhibits my child from entering that sacred “vestibule of heaven.”

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

To see the quote that challenged me so, read my blog, “Others May, You Cannot.”