Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Leave the Light On

Photo Courtesy of Google Images

Every year around Christmas time I feel like there is a new theme God brings to my mind. This year, it has been lights. I love Christmas lights. Adore them. They make me happy. I'm not a good winter, cold weather, gray days kind of person. We don't have many in Florida, but we have enough to make me start feeling a little melancholy. Seeing bright lights at Christmas time always makes the "winter" dreariness a little more bearable.

A few Sundays ago I was trying to think of something new to do with the kids in children's church. I happened to see an extra string of lights laying around and decided to use that to teach them what Jesus said about being a light. 

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." 

~Matthew 5:16

We plugged in the lights and talked about what a difference they made in our sad, dark room. Then, we unplugged the lights and talked about how without the power, there wasn't much to them. That's when we talked about how Jesus is the light that shines in us.

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

~John 8:12

After the events of last Friday, it felt like a darkness fell on our country. It was a devastation that even those of us not closely related couldn't escape. Pain. Despair. Questions. Hurt. Betrayal. 

I've heard people talk about not being able to celebrate Christmas or feeling guilty if they were. I totally understand that sentiment. I was at my work Christmas party when we stopped to watch the breaking news. A room full of women who have devoted their lives and careers to working with and protecting children cried in the midst of cookies, cakes and gifts. 

While I would never even want to imagine what those families are going through, I do understand loss at this time. In fact, although I lost my Daddy on Christmas day,  today, December 19th is the day that he became unresponsive and was taken to the hospital. He never woke up. So, for me this is the day that I feel I lost my Dad. As he left this earth on Christmas Day, people would always comment on how the holidays would never be the same. And, that was the truth. But for me, that loss has caused me to have such a deep appreciation for this time of year. I experienced God's peace in a way that  I never had. As crazy as it sounds, I also feel like because it happened at this time of year, it is almost easier because things are so crazy and busy, I just don't have much time to dwell on it. It doesn't mean it's easy. Just easier.

When news broke Friday, it was overwhelming. I finally had to turn the news off. I just couldn't take it. There would have been a time that I would have wanted to know every detail, follow every new lead that broke. I would have felt that I owed it to those families. God taught me about that when I lost my Dad.

For 2 weeks after he passed I would lay in bed unable to sleep. Scenes from the hospital would replay in my mind constantly. I felt haunted by thoughts of my Dad suffering. I wondered if I would ever sleep again. Finally, one night I asked God, "Do I have to think about this? Is this necessary? Can I heal without replaying these thoughts?" And God brought His Word to my mind.

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble,whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. "

I decided that I would have to make a choice to not let my mind linger in dark places. I would have to work at thinking on the noble, just, pure and lovely things. Basically, I would have to search for the Light in that situation and focus on Him. He was there and He used so many people to be His arms and feet caring for and ministering to our family. He was the hope. He still is. 

We live in a dark, dark world. The enemy came to "stealand to killand to destroy." (Job 10:10) and he has certainly done that. We have to remember that the enemy does those things, not our Heavenly Father. Jesus said, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." He is the Light in the darkness.

I've never craved that Light more than I have this Christmas season. Our world needs it more than ever. 

Last night I got home late and was surprised to find that Josh had decorated the outside of our house with Christmas lights. It did more for my heart than I could ever say. I cried. Over Christmas lights, y'all. I felt conflicted. Is it wrong to light up the house and celebrate while others suffer? Others may disagree with me, but I feel that more than ever, we need to celebrate. We need to celebrate the life we have and the people in it. We need to celebrate the Light that God sent to shine in the darkness. And that Light needs to shine in us, as well. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Roller Coaster

Motherhood is such a roller coaster, isn't it? My ride this week has felt like one of the ones that makes it onto the list of "Top Most Terrifying Rides" or something to that affect. The highs and lows have been intense and the recovery time in between has been brief. I think I have emotional whiplash from the quick turns.

Some of the highs have been some sweet conversations with my kids, seeing the finished product of a handmade present Eli made for his Daddy and wrapped by himself, and creating a fruit wreathe for Eli's Christmas party at school.

The lows have been hard. Tough conversations with my kids about things they were exposed to that I wish they hadn't been. Feeling very irritable and frustrated because they are excited and want to help with Christmas things, but sometimes I'm not patient enough to let them help. Wading through a house covered in laundry and unfinished projects and constantly feeling like I can't keep up. Am I the only one?

I have always been an overachiever by nature. That's not to say that I have always successfully achieved the things I've strived to, but I can say that there is no doubt that nothing else in life has made me feel more inadequate than motherhood. I can't think of anything I've done in life that would qualify me as "the best", but I also can't think of anything that at times makes me feel like the bottom of the barrel worst. Except for being a mom.

I've come to the realization that a lot of it is control issues. Let's face it, from the moment you bring a baby home you learn very quickly that there are just a lot of things you are no longer in control of. The fact that your bathing schedule revolves around someone who weighs less than 10 pounds and can't talk is your first clue. Then, they get older and it takes 14.5 hours to get everybody ready for school, and you forget to grab the pillow pet for your kindergartner, and you are toting a fruit wreathe and remembering you forgot to write 3 notes so your kids can ride the bus home. Then, you are relieved to see another kid get dropped off late that looks like he literally just rolled out of bed. Wait. Was that just  my morning?

I have a tendency to be really hard on myself. I think my most used phrase this week has been "I'm a failure". Not only am I a failure, I'm also a little melodramatic. :)

fail·ure (flyr)
1. The condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends: the failure of an experiment.
2. One that fails: a failure at one's career.
3. The condition or fact of being insufficient or falling short: a crop failure.
4. A cessation of proper functioning or performance: a power failure.
5. Nonperformance of what is requested or expected; omission: failure to report a change of address.
6. The act or fact of failing to pass a course, test, or assignment.
7. A decline in strength or effectiveness.
8. The act or fact of becoming bankrupt or insolvent.
On the other hand, the definition of success is:
suc·cess (sk-ss)
1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted: attributed their success in business to hard work.
a. The gaining of fame or prosperity: an artist spoiled by success.
b. The extent of such gain.
3. One that is successful: The plan was a success.
4. Obsolete A result or an outcome.
As I look at these I begin to understand why I feel so defeated most of the time. Both of these talk about achieving or not achieving something desired, planned or attempted.  And therein lies the issue. I am a failure at keeping up with my children's socks. I am a failure at always feeding them healthy food. I am a failure at teaching them to pick up after themselves. I have not achieved the desired end results with those things.
But are those the marks of motherhood? Of course they are important things, but do they define motherhood? I guess that is what is so hard. When you leave the hospital with a baby you are given instructions on feeding and bathing that baby. You are told how to care for yourself until you heal. But no one hands you a job description with specific duties and responsibilities. Whether you succeed or fail depends heavily on how you define those terms.
I know people who consider keeping their kids alive and them graduating from high school the highest goal. I know people who micromanage every second of their child's life and consider sending them to school with a hair out of place a failure. Having 3 children and having worked with many children over the last several years, I've realized that a lot of times I feel like I'm on a roller coaster as a mom because I have jumped on somebody else's ride. Instead of learning what my goal for motherhood is, I've tried to latch onto other's ideals for raising children. So with that realization comes the truth that I need to know exactly what it is I am trying to accomplish as a mother.
When I got married, I knew what kind of wife I wanted to be because the Bible told me what kind of wife I should be. (Proverbs 31, Colossians 3:18). As an employee I feel confident in who God wants me to be. (Colossians 3:17) I learned about being a friend, too. (Proverbs 17:17) But it occurred to me that when God handed me one of the most important jobs of my life, I didn't invest much time in seeking what He had to say about it. I think that is because I thought mothering would come naturally. Some parts do. A lot of parts don't. That's because I am an imperfect human with a sinful nature. The human part of me loves being able to dress my kids in cute clothes, cuddle with them and feel the pride when they do something great. The imperfect, sinful part of me gets tired and grumpy and frustrated and is often selfish when I need to be selfless.
Our society has a tendency to see children as tokens or status symbols. We parade them around or relive our childhoods through them. We work hard to give them things and experiences. We run ourselves ragged going to activities and trying to make memories with them. And none of those things are bad, unless those things begin to be more about us than about the kids. Often it seems like we become more concerned with proving what great parents we are and less concerned with actually nurturing the relationships we have with the blessings we have called children.
This has been my struggle. My kids have reached ages where we are dealing with new issues. They are becoming more independent, more exposed to life. I can't always shelter them the way I would like to. They have their own thoughts, personalities, and struggles. They always have, they can just communicate them better now. They are more than faces I put on a Christmas card. They are living, breathing people who need to be mothered. They need love and compassion and guidance. And every now and then, a talking to. I don't always know how to handle every situation. Sometimes I mess it up big time. I question why God thought it was a good idea to give kids to someone as imperfect as me. Did He think that through? Is it fair to these kids? Then, I am reminded as my kids begin to deal with things like feeling like people don't want to be their friend or not undrstanding math, the one thing I have experience with is being human. I don't have all the answers, but I have experience with the struggle.
 We recently received a Christmas card with a picture of Mary holding baby Jesus that says, "Kissing the Face of God". And I began to think about Mary and what it meant that God would choose her to be the mother of His Son. And then I wondered, why isn't there a book in the Bible totally devoted to how Mary raised Jesus? Wouldn't that be great if we had a play by play of what kind of mother she was? Did she read to him every night and bake cookies? Did she let him cry it out or did she rock him to sleep? I don't know why those early years of Jesus' life weren't considered important enough to be included in God's Word, but I'm going to bet that those years were filled with a lot of learning. Mary was human too, and that's what God needed. For God to become Emmanuel "God with us", He needed a human to help Him journey through an earthly existence that would include pain, questions, trials and temptations. And He needed a human who, while not perfect, would depend on and point her children to the One who is.
As I began to search for what God's Word does say about children, the most common thing I read is that we are responsible for teaching our children, not just what we have read about God, but what we have experienced with God.
"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”
-Deuteronomy 4:9-10
I found these verses and they spoke to me more than any others. Jacob recognized that children moved at a different pace. I always fall in this area. I become the most frustrated and impatient when our life is busy and we are doing too much. I do not always remember or recognize that I need to slow down and that we need to move at "the pace of the children". Their hearts and minds are tender and they need more time to develop and explore. It is my job to keep life manageable and control the stress level. It is also my job to help my children grow at their own pace, not pushing them to be like someone else or pushing them to grow up too fast.
"Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”  But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die.So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
-Genesis 33:12-14

It is also my job to encourage my children to praise God. I can do this by taking them to church, but the greatest way I can do this is by them hearing me praise God.
"Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
-Matthew 19:14

"Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger."
-Psalm 8:2
"But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.  “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,

“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”
-Matthew 21:15-16
Verse 25 was shared with us when we first went into ministry. But I just recently paid attention to verse 26. It says the righteous (God's Children who have accepted Christ as their Savior) will be generous and their children will be a blessing. I think it is so important that while we live in a culture that teaches us to perform for applause and to take what we can get, what we should really desire is for our children to be a blessing to others. Again, we see that they learn that by observing it in our lives first.
"I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be a blessing."
-Psalm 37:25-26
Discipline is always a hot topic button. I don't want this to cause controversy. I would never pretend to be smart enough to tell you how to discipline your child. In fact, I believe very strongly that every child is different and responds to different forms of discipline. I will say, just make sure you discipline them! Things that are cute when a child is 2 will not be cute when they are 10, I promise. The Bible teaches us that discipline is a way we show we love our children and that we save them from destruction later in life. I hate times when I feel like all I do is get on to my kids. But,  this is a part of motherhood that cannot be ignored.
"Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."
-Proverbs 13:24
"Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death"
Proverbs 19:18
"Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire."
Proverbs 29:17
At the same time, we have to check ourselves that we are not causing issues for our children with our own sinfulness. It is so important that we deal with anger, bitterness, frustration, jealousy, fear, anxiety and a whole host of other issues that affect us all. The greatest gift we can give our children is to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts. Regardless of how we feel about them, if we are hurting because of other issues, it will become their issue. We will end up taking it out on them at some point.
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."
-Ephesians 6:4
"Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged."
-Colossians 3:21
We have to trust God. That's just all their is to it. His grace and mercy are truly the only way we as human, imperfect parents can raise children in this world. We need His grace to cover our parenting mistakes and our children need His grace to cover the mistakes they will  make. I had the wake-up call this week that my kids, as awesome and perfect as I think they are, are still human. And no matter how I raise them or what I teach them, they will deal with sin and at times they will make bad choices. This hurts my heart. But this verse reminds me that the amazing grace of Jesus is that we get to see how He works in the lives of His people, and sometimes those people are our children.
"When they see among them their children,
the work of my hands,
they will keep my name holy;
they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob,
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel."
-Isaiah 29:23
We need to appreciate and enjoy our children. Society tells us that they are a burden. They cost money. They take our time. They steal our youth. We tell ourselves we're too busy, we're too broke. The truth is that it doesn't matter what God has given us, if we can't learn to enjoy it we may as well not have it. 

"A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he."

-Ecclesiastes 6:3
Our children need love. The real kind. The kind that teaches and disciplines and listens. The kind that wraps arms around them and blesses them with the knowledge that they are cared for. We can't merely speak words of praise to them, we have to show them in our actions.
"And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them."
-Mark 10:16
"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
-1 John 3:18
Ultimately, our job as parents is not to buy the best toys, take our kids to the most activities or cook the healthiest meals. Our job is to teach them how to be more like the Heavenly Father. As we share in the sufferings that are this life and teach them what it means to be co-heirs with Christ. Until that day that we shall be like him!
"Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
-Romans 8:17
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
-1 John 3:2
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."
3 John 1:4
This is the kind of mother I want to be. I'm not there yet. But, having researched and written this out, I feel like even if we're still on a roller coaster, I know where this ride is headed. And truth be told, this is a ride I would wait in line for anytime!