Saturday, November 24, 2012

Confession 260: On Parenting

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him. 
Psalm 127:4

Lately, my children have been driving me crazy.  They're loud and demanding and stubborn and messy.  They question everything.  They're slow to listen, willful and always need to be in my presence.  Sometimes, I am tempted to go and rent a hotel room for the weekend so I can sleep and sit in silence for a bit.

My 4 year old is going through an especially trying stage.  The other day he threw a massive temper tantrum and was sent to time out.  When I went to talk to him about why he was in time out, the response I got was, "It's none of your business!!"  I fought back the urge to grab him and throttle him, opting instead to walk out of the room and shut the door behind me.  As he was screaming for me to come back, I calmly said through the door, "I'm sorry, sweetie, but you're not being safe right now.  Mommy will come back in when you show me you can be safe."  His response--toy cars pelted at the door.  "Ummm....that's not showing me you can be safe," I said.  It was a long evening.

Sometimes, as a parent, I just want to throw my hands up in the air and walk away.  There are days when I ask myself, "Whose idea was it to have children in the first place?"  I have a split-second of longing for the pre-children days. Of course, then I remember my good friends who have lost children and I think, "What in the he double hockey sticks is wrong with you?!  How can you take so much for granted?"  And then the guilt sets in.

Compounded with that is the guilt I feel about working full-time.  Part of me longs to be at home working so that I can get more accomplished here.  But, the other part of me wants paid benefits and a regular salary.  We need it, actually.  And, I'm not always good with my children day in and day out, 24 hours a day.  No matter how hard I want to be one of those mother's who is totally devoted to her children, I'm not sure it's in my DNA.  

Is there anyone else out there who struggles with this vicious cycle of parenting?  Am I the only one out there who doesn't dote on and adore my children every moment of the day?  Is it okay to want to run screaming from the house occasionally when my children are at their worst?

At the end of the day, I know my children are a precious gift.  We play and cuddle and laugh and create wonderful moments together.  I am proud of them, mostly, and see these sparks of God's Spirit within them.  I know they're good kids, and I know that the tantrums will pass.  As God is ever so faithful to me, so I will be faithful to my children.  I will trust in Him and listen to Him as I continue the journey of parenting.  It won't be perfect, because I am not perfect.  And, neither are my children. But I am going to hold fast to the knowledge that these children, loud, stubborn, messy, demanding as they are, are truly a heritage from the Lord.  And, my husband and I will do our best to make them a reward for Him.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Confession 258: Gratitude

When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow,  Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”
“Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his word.”

So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.

After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh.   

When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him,
“Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”
1st Samuel 1:21-28

November is the month of gratitude.  It is the time we set aside before our season of self-indulgent excess to give thanks for all of the blessings we have.  And, for many of us in the United States, those blessings are abundant.  I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately.  I’ve been thinking about what it means to be truly grateful.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a big difference between giving thanks and showing gratitude.  Thanks is easy.  It’s rote.  Someone opens a door for you and you say, “Thank you.”  You don’t even have to make eye contact.  My six year old son thanks me almost every morning for his apple juice in between large gulps.  He doesn’t even raise his head from the cup.  Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate that he says it.  But other than showing me he can be polite, it doesn’t mean much.

I think most of us can come up with a list of things we are thankful for.  I’m guessing if I asked you, yours would look a lot like mine.  I’m thankful for my husband, my children, my family, my friends.  I’m thankful for a job, for benefits, for a house, for food, for transportation.  I can say, “Thanks.”  The question I’ve been asking myself this year, however, is: Can I be grateful?  Can I look at my life and say to God, “You have given me more than enough.”  Can I let my gratitude fuel my actions?

The difference between giving thanks and showing gratitude, to me, is in the application of the sentiments.  While thanks is something we say, gratitude is something we do.  It is an action of appreciation we take when we are truly grateful for the blessings in our lives.  It is our cup running over and pouring out love to someone else.  

Gratitude is what Hannah showed when she took her most treasured gift, her long prayed for/longed for/agonized for son to the Tabernacle and gave him to God.  This child, Samuel, was the only thing Hannah had ever wanted.  Can you imagine the joy that filled her soul the day he was born?  Can you imagine how cherished he was?  How loved he was?  She could have said, “Thanks,” and moved on.  But instead, she chose to give something out of the fullness of her heart.  In gratitude, she handed Samuel over to Eli the priest, to be raised in service to the Lord.  She gave back to God what God had so graciously given to her.  And what amazing plans God had in store for Samuel!

The question I’m left with as I end this reflection is this: How can I show my gratitude for the blessings in my life?  For me, this means taking the time to literally show the people I love that I am grateful for them.  It means taking the resources God has given to me and using them to benefit others.  It means slowing down and enjoying what I already have.  It means taking my “more than enough” and giving it back to God for use in His service.

Gratitude is hard.  It puts others first.  It goes against the grain of our culture.  But I think, if I can get it—if I can show it—then my life is going to be a little more fulfilled.
Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Confession 257: The Faithful One

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Psalm 117:1-2 

Over the past couple of months, since school started again, my faithfulness in my daily Bible study time has been fairly sporadic.  Most mornings I rush out the door five or ten minutes late and settle for K-Love playing in the background of my thoughts as I drive to work, instead of spending some quality time in the Word.  The problem with this, for me, is that it is in the Word that I find myself drawing closer and closer to God.  When I am daily devoting myself to time in the Bible, I feel myself in sync with God.  I am more aware of his presence, I am stronger in my faith, I am more secure in my daily walk through life, and I am better equipped to serve others in need.  And, if I'm honest, there's a part of me that fears God will turn his back on me if I am not continually faithful to him.
So, it surprised me and spoke to me this past week when I saw God's faithfulness manifested in my life, even when I wasn't being completely faithful to him.  One day last week, I came to work feeling pretty down.  My heart and mind were heavy with some things that were troubling me.  When I looked in my mailbox, I found a card.  It was a thank you not from my principal.  The note totally lifted me out of my "funk" and my attitude was much more positive throughout the day. It was perfect timing.  Perfect.  God's timing always is. I saw God working again in my life later that week.  Another little thing occurred that reminded me, again, that God was faithfully looking out for me.  And here's the kicker--I didn't do anything to deserve it.

Sometimes I get caught up in the idea of having this reciprocal relationship with God.  I do what God wants, God shows his faithfulness to me.  And yet, that is so contrary to the way God actually works.  God IS the relationship!  God promises his faithfulness and he delivers, not because of anything I do, but because he is God.  God is faithful--period.  And he will be faithful throughout all time, regardless of the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of his children.  There is nothing we can do to earn it.  Conversely, there is nothing we can do to lose it.  If God's faithfulness depended solely on our ability to remain faithful, we never would have been given the gift of Christ!!

Don't get me wrong, our faithfulness is important.  We should always be seeking and drawing close to God, through his Word, prayer, worship and service.  The more time we spend with God, the more connected we will be to him and the better able we will be to live out his plans for our lives.  Yet, as humans, there will be times when our faithfulness fails.  But God's will remain steadfast.  And when we see the steadfast love of this Faithful One, I pray that we will be drawn back to him, safely secure in his love and promise for us.

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, November 2, 2012

Confession 256: Giving Beyond the Box

“For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you.  You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in a manger….Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good will to all men.”   
Luke 2:11-12, 14

It was late September when my kindergartner brought home the fall fundraising catalog for school.  Browsing through the plethora of cheap holiday “gifts”, my eye caught on the bright and festive wrapping paper section.  Looking at the multi-sized and multi-colored boxes so artfully positioned around the page, I said to my husband, “I want to have a big Christmas this year, with lots of presents for the boys to unwrap.”

Looking up from the allure of the bright and shiny packages, I rewound my brain.  Did I really just say that?  Whose birthday are we celebrating at Christmas anyway?  Oh right, JESUS’!!

Before the holiday commercial frenzy sets upon us once again, I thought it would be appropriate to remind myself, and anyone else who might read this, that the love of God entering into the world through Jesus Christ cannot be contained by a beautifully wrapped box parked under a festooned tree,   no matter how many lights the tree holds.  (At our house, it’s usually between 800-900.)

This season, I want to challenge us to give gifts to others that come from the abundance of God’s love and grace, rather than the holiday clearance sale at the department store.  Before we plunk down money on a gift for someone, let’s ask ourselves two questions:

1.       Does this gift reflect and honor the love of God that we are supposed to be celebrating this season?
   2.       Does this gift truly express the feelings of love, friendship, gratitude or appreciation I might have for this person?

And just a quick hint, dropping a bunch of money down on something shiny doesn’t necessarily make the item a gift of love, or, an expression of God’s love.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like jewelry as much as the next woman, but it’s not a gift I would value as much as, per say, a fun experience with my family.

In our society, most of us already have an abundance of “stuff” crowding out the living spaces in our homes.  Instead of adding to that, let’s use this Christmas season as a time to bring God’s love into the world, which was the point of the holiday in the first place.  Think about alternative gift giving.  Here are some ideas:

            Instead of getting your child’s teacher another coffee mug or kitchy item, make a donation of classroom supplies.  Get them a gift card to an educational supply store.  Volunteer to cover recess duty for a week.

          Instead of buying random gift items for extended family members, make a donation to their favorite charity on their behalf.  Better yet, make one large donation in honor of the entire family to your favorite charity and, by doing so, educate others about the good work that charity does. 

      Write notes of gratitude to your co-workers and deliver them with a loaf of homemade bread.  Or, get together with your co-workers and use the money you would spend on one another to adopt a family in your area.   Or, even better, adopt one of your co-workers and their family if they are in need.

      Scale back the money you spend on your children’s Christmas.  Instead of piling oodles of stuff under the tree, pick one nice gift you know they would really value and appreciate and leave it at that.  Then, take your children shopping to pick out clothes and presents for other children in need.  Let them wrap the gifts and help you deliver them to whatever organization you’re working through.

      For your spouse, make a date and spend some quality time together.  Make them a photo collage of the past year’s events that they can take with them to display at work.  Engage with them in one of their favorite activities.

The list could go on and on.  The point is, this holiday season let’s make an effort to think outside of the box—literally.  Let’s reclaim Christmas by focusing our efforts on bringing Christ into the world, showing his love both to strangers and those dearest to us.  Give Christ this Christmas.  Give His Love.  It’s brighter and shinier and bigger than any package to be found under a tree.

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2