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My strict, German-American grandmother believed that after disciplining your child, “you should be able to go off and sing a song.” I comprehend her point: Discipline out of love, not anger. But in fifteen years of parenting, not once has this soprano assigned consequences to a child and then felt like busting a melody. Wanted to scream? Definitely. Cry? Of course. Laugh at melodramatic antics? Sometimes. Phone a counselor? Possibly. Sing? Never.

You raised three beautiful girls and five mischievous boys, Grandma. After delivering punishments, what on earth did you sing? “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen?”

Yesterday, there was an FBI (Formidable Behavioral Incident) in my home. When it was over, I did not sing. I prayed. I analyzed my child’s actions and my reaction. At some point, Grandma’s “singing philosophy” resurfaced and I began amusing my brain by fishing it for “Fitting Songs to Sing After Making My Child’s Life Miserable for His or Her Own Good.” Here is my selection:

1. The chorus of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler:

    An analogy jackpot, crooning this chorus could provide timely parenting cues.

  • “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” – Stand strong on moral, character, or safety issues. Fold on exasperating non-issues such as a son’s Justin Bieber bangs that consistently bury luminous blue eyes (as a random, hypothetical illustration).
  • “Know when to walk away and know when to run.” – Keep a calm, in-control, poker face when disciplining…even when yelling, snickering, or sobbing beg introduction. If this isn’t possible, walk away and “deal” consequences later.
  • “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table, There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.” Avoid evaluating a child’s end-result character based on the current hand your dealt. Keep working; the “game” is not over yet.

2. Get Back Up by TobyMac  –

We lose our way,
We get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again.

    There is always hope for my child’s behavior. And my parenting.

3. It is Well With My Soul, Kutless Version-

    Reserving this hymn for particularly distressing episodes could offer comforting revelation that at least something is right in the world.

4. The ending of Billy Joel’s  Just the Way You Are

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

My children do not know Billy Joel’s song, but I think they would recognize its theme. After dispensing discipline, I have been unsuccessful in implementing Grandma’s proverb “to go off and sing a song.” But I have told my kids I love them…no matter what. And that’s a tune I hope they remember. 

_______________________________________________________________

Singer Icon: Matma Rex, Wikimedia Commons

Whether mental or written, I always have a To Do List for the day. Regrettably, the success of any given day is measured by what I accomplished. To Do List completed? It was a good day. Oodles left undone? The inner voice of Perfection enumerates precisely where I failed and suggests schedule modifications for the following day. Lately, Perfection’s been preaching.

My husband’s rotator cuff surgery has slashed our children’s taxiing fleet in half and shredded my To Do Lists. The six week loss of Terry’s dominant arm and his ability to legally drive has me logging additional hours as caregiver and chauffer. (No sardonic comments about backseat drivers will be inserted in this space.) I am enjoying our extra time together and do not mind being supplementary hands for slicing chicken, buttoning shirts, or tying bows. Yet at the end of the day, Perfection’s expectations make no allowance for added responsibilities or people inhibiting production.

Most women are accustomed to putting their family’s needs before their own. Under Section II of both wife and mother job descriptions, “Tolerates frequent task interruptions” is highlighted. We stop what we are doing to tutor algebra, counsel social dilemmas, or move the family van from its station beneath the basketball hoop. (Acknowledgments to my son, Jesse, for supplying the final example as I attempted to complete previous sentence. Sigh.) Even most of the objectives on our To Do Lists–such as cleaning the house, grocery shopping, or working to provide financial support–aren’t singular ambitions. They’re set for the well-being of our families. Helping others is rooted in woman’s genesis–God’s “I can’t find a suitable helper for Adam, so I’ll design one.”¹ So why do I still get frustrated by unfinished things, when I know unfinished people are my created purpose?

Jesus’ primary To Do List could have read like this: Do my Father’s will. Love people. Teach people. Heal people. Die for people. The disciples didn’t think little children belonged on his list, but Jesus scolded them and called for the kids.² After his cousin John the Baptist was murdered, Jesus’ To Do List included finding a quiet place and resting. Jesus and the disciples had been so busy helping people, that even the essential task of eating could not be checked off their To Do Lists.³ However, when they got to their relaxation destination, an anxious crowd of “sheep without a shepherd” was already waiting. Compassion consumed, Jesus delayed his individual hopes in order to heal the sick, teach “many things,” and feed 5,000 hungry men, plus women and children.⁴

Goals provide purpose and focus. God’s Word sets spiritual goals such as loving God with your whole being, loving your neighbor as yourself, going into all the world to preach the gospel, or doing everything you do the name of the Lord Jesus.⁵ The problem isn’t goal setting. The problem is defining success based on personal or cultural values, instead of the Lord’s requirements: 

He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

God’s To Do List could be simplified to six words. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

How idiotic would I sound if I rationalized my misplaced priorities with words? “Uhh…Lord, I didn’t do justly by my injured husband…but I’m caught up on laundry.” Or how about, “I didn’t offer my child mercy…but I completed a great post on kindness.” Wee bit feeble.

Last night, while Perfection was pointing out clutter and listing unmet writing objectives, I went through my revised To Do List. Did I…

Do justly?

Love mercy?

Walk humbly with my God?

It was a good day.

——————————————————————————————————————————

¹Paraphrased from Genesis 2:18-22

²Mark 10:13-16

³Mark 6:31

⁴Matthew 14:9-21; Mark 6:26-44

⁵Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 16:15; Colossians 3:17

Since I educate children to see life through “biblical worldview lenses,” I like to think I recognize when our materialistic culture is clouding my perspective. After reading an unremembered story in the thirty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah, however, I decided my worldview glasses need an updated prescription.

In the biblical account, God sets up Jeremiah. He instructs Jeremiah to invite the Rekabite¹ clan to the temple and serve them wine. Problem is, they decline the wine since Rekabites have abstained for years…HUNDREDS of years. Why? Their forefather Jehonadab² had commanded his sons not to drink wine. Or plant vineyards. Or sow seeds. Or build houses. Rekabites were to be tent-dwelling nomads. File:Uvas.jpg

I imagine that some Rekabite wanderers would have preferred to raise a roof, plant a garden, grow grapes, drink wine, and claim personal pieces of the Promised Land–rather than follow the outdated counsel of a dead guy. But that was the point. God’s “Rekabite Wine Experiment” turned out to be an oversized object lesson for the people of Judah. The Rekabites faithfully honored a human forefather’s ancient commands, while Judah refused to obey God the Father–despite His speaking to them “again and again.” Consequently, God pronounced disaster upon Judah, but bestowed the following blessing upon the Rekabites:

“You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jehonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered. Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says:

‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.³’”

That was it? Pitching tents, packing tents, bundling belongings, toting babies, herding stubborn livestock, walking, hunting, gathering, obeying primitive orders…and that was their reward? I delved into chapter 36, hoping to discover where God promised the Rekabites prolific gardens, tasty grapes, and restful, secure homes. And that was where my worldview was out-of-whack. God was not miserly, mean, or forgetful. He was offering the Rekabites the greatest gift–the blessing of children who would serve a loving God; acreage in eternity. Among those of us who believe in the reality of heaven and hell, who would not sacrifice cultural comforts for the promise her children would serve Him? What does it profit us if we gain the whole world and lose our children’s souls?

I think I wanted immediate relief for the Rekabite nomads because as I wander through life’s trials–trying to obey God the Father–I hope to be rewarded (any day now) with an earthly, peaceful “land flowing with milk and honey.” I guess I keep forgetting that Israel’s “milk and honey” was served with walled cities, giant men, angry heathen kings, idolatrous temptations, and war.

The truth is, Christ “himself is our peace⁴” and rest for our souls.⁵ He is enough.

And that tranquil “land flowing with milk and honey?” My new glasses see it clearly. It comes with streets of gold and a mansion.

¹NIV, 2011. Other Versions: Recabite, Rechabite

²Also: Jonadab

³Jeremiah 35: 18b-19

⁴Ephesians 2:14, John 14:27, Philippians 4:7

⁵Matthew 11:28-29

⁶Photo Credit: Tomas Castelazo, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

 

Once my toddlers-with-a-death-wish became school age and my perpetual game of “Eyes on the Diminutive Demolition Crew” was over, I thought parenting would be easier. No more embarrassing calls (yes, plural) to poison control reporting my son’s fondness for backyard mushrooms or diaper rash cream. No more sprinting to snatch a future mountaineer before he or she nose-dived off yet another soon to be obstructed household pinnacle, and no more frenzied searching of circular clothes racks in the mall’s largest department store…where my daughter played unannounced games of hide-and-seek. 

In my mind, older children meant reason would replace impulsiveness, family members could function more independently of one another, and household chores would be distributed to relieve Mom’s workload. I could blissfully return to a full-time career; balance triune roles of wife, mother, and professional; help financially support a comfortable lifestyle; and find time to pursue personal interests. Delusional.

Somehow I neglected the parenting pamphlet explaining that raising children does not simplify with each age-incremental stage. Only the challenges change. My dad’s advice, “You’ve got to be smarter than they are,” was appreciably easier to accomplish when “they” were two and  five–versus twelve and fifteen. I was also ignorant that the same darlings who could be bribed or compelled to follow my schedule as toddlers would develop time-consuming, wallet-emptying, automobile-depreciating and laundry-multiplying customs called “agendas” upon entering school. Agendas contain social, academic, athletic, spiritual, entertainment, hunger-inspired, musical, and fashion elements. When teenagers are involved, each element’s potency is raised to the thirteenth power.

Agendas highlight parent-child priority disconnects and generate difficult parenting decisions such as: What comes first…homework or friends? What is our family’s activity saturation point? What (or whose) influences reside outside the boundaries of appropriate?

A difficult parenting decision surfaced this week when my son asked to spend spring break in Arizona with a trusted friend’s family. Besides missing him, choosing to let Jesse go would place so many events outside my protective influences–from sunscreen slathering to a thirty-six hour round-trip drive. Somewhere in my fear-centered debate a quiet voice reminded, “You’re not the one who keeps him safe.” And I’m not. I am simply an instrument in the hands of the one who does. As I write these words, Jesse is traveling…and I am praying phrases from Psalm 91.

“Letting go” is one more reason an older child does not equal easier parenting. My mountaineers are still nose-diving off pinnacles, plunging into independent futures, and I can’t always be there to catch them. I must continually choose to trust the hands that can.

It will be ok, though, because parenting will be easier when my kids are in college.

Right?

Last week I cleaned out the lonely cupboard above our refrigerator and discovered a tub of Metamucil with a 2006 expiration date. Not wanting some dumpster-diver’s gastrointestinal overdose on my conscience, I decided to responsibly dispose of the over-the-counter medication by washing it down my garbage disposal. Metamucil dissolves in water…right? Its whole purpose for existence is to unclog “pipes”…right?

My husband and I wasted an entire afternoon below our kitchen sink…shop-vacuuming water and attempting Metamucil Wall Demolition. A bottle of liquid drain opener. A plunger. Two borrowed plumbing snakes. Baking soda and vinegar. A high pressure hose. The failure of two amateurs did not alarm me, but pocketbook panic arose when the exceptionally nice Plumberman (who refrained from mocking, lecturing, or rolling his eyes at my Metamucil disposal technique) toiled outside for forty minutes with his fearsome industrial snake and returned proclaiming he would “need to work under the house.” Ninety minutes and eight feet of shiny new two-inch pipe later, Plumberman emerged respecting the pleasant-smelling, gelatinous ooze I’d created. He called it “impressive stuff.” Said it “seemed to grow” out of the four segments of pipe he’d disemboweled. Snapped pictures to share with the plumbing community.

Annihilation of the Metamucil wall was a cinch compared to my ongoing efforts to destroy my fortress of self-made security. I didn’t realize how thick this wall was until deciding to resign my full-time teaching job last June for family reasons. On paper, there was “no way” my husband’s teaching salary could cover the mortgage, car payment, master’s degree loans, private school tuition, orthodontist bills, car insurance for a soon-to-be driving teen, sports fees, and little things like food, water, and electricity. Even after much prayer for direction and believing God had answered, I kept hanging on to my walls of financial “security” and double-checking. “Are you sure, God?”

Rahab, a prostitute, understood about walls.¹ Her home was built into the wall of Jericho, and ten of twelve Israelite spies had previously determined Canaan’s cities too fortified to conquer. But Rahab believed that Israel’s God was stronger than Jericho’s walls, so she hid two enemy spies and requested refuge. The saving of her family, recognition in the Hebrews 11 “faith chapter,” and a place in the lineage of Christ reward Rahab’s decision to let God be her wall.

King Zedekiah, in Jeremiah 38-39, did not fare as well. Zedekiah trusted his own advice and Jerusalem’s walls instead of the Lord’s promise that he and his family would be spared if he surrendered to the Babylonians. After the “city wall was broken through,” Zedekiah lost his sons, his officials, his position, his eyesight, and his freedom. Jerusalem was burned to the ground, its walls torn down.

I understand Zedekiah. God asking him to surrender to evil adversaries wasn’t logical by human standards. But commonsense did not persuade Rahab to leave Jericho’s walls and join a horde of homeless foreigners who’d been wandering a desert for forty years…faith in God did. A prostitute trusted God; a king did not.

My secure wall of a salaried paycheck crumbled with September first. That month, God reminded me of Zechariah 2:4-5:

 Jerusalem will be a city without walls

because of the great number of people and animals in it.

And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD,

‘and I will be its glory within.’

What is more impassable than a wall of fire? And that’s what I want…God as my impenetrable wall of fire, my fortress, my strong tower–so he can be the “glory within.”

God has faithfully been that wall of fire, graciously supplying every need of my family. I still get fearful, pick up bricks, and start to build. But I have a costly reminder of what happens when I endeavor to construct walls…

Metamucil, anyone?

¹Joshua 2:1-21, 6:16-24

Ask my fifteen-year-old daughter Hannah to define junior high, and the Greek mythology buff will retort, “The Social Underworld.” By association, parenting during this era teetered at a similar depth. Although Romans 8:28 promises Christians “all things work together for good,” we don’t always get to see or understand heaven’s purposes for heartache. This mom is grateful that God has answered her daughter’s “Why?” with at least partial insight. She and I were recently listing some “good” outcomes when I asked,

“Do you see how God was directing you?”

“Mom, you’ve got to stop using that word.”

“What word?”

“Directing. That implies God gently guiding you. I was shoved in the back like, ‘I’m going to make you so miserable you have to change.’ Shoving, mother. Shoving.”

She’s right. Sometimes, God shoves. Or drags…like the time God’s angels protectively yanked Lot out of Sodom. Or flattens…as when spiritually-sightless Saul was leveled and blinded on the road to Damascus. Joseph’s involuntary relocation to Egypt began with shoving into a cistern, continued with pushing into prison, and ended with “the saving of many lives.”¹

In Amos 4:6, God tells Israel, “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town.” Gave empty stomachs? Gave? This sounds suspiciously like shoving. God goes on to list other “presents” He sent Israel such as: drought, blight, locusts, plagues, and war. But five times He reiterates why he shoved, “Yet you have not returned to me.” God longed for a relationship with his children and was propelling them to change, but they did not.

In my family, pain produced change. After nine years in a private school with 60 classmates, Hannah transferred to a mega public school with a freshman class of over 500. Consequently, I resigned my full-time teaching job–mostly to focus on being mom during her transition. Change has produced challenges, but also spiritual growth, new relationships, exciting opportunities, and contentment. However, the effect of shoving that has impacted me most deeply began several weeks ago when we picked up one of Hannah’s new unsaved friends for youth group. The next week, the girl returned on her own. The following week, she brought a friend. Shoving to a new environment has afforded two souls the opportunity to hear about Jesus. The New Testament church in Acts was shoved out of Jerusalem by persecution…and the gospel was spread.

Yes Hannah, sometimes God shoves. But the shoving may protect, develop perseverance,² grow faith,³ discipline,⁴ or push us and others…right into His waiting arms.

¹Genesis 50:20

²James 1:3

 ³I Peter 1:7

⁴Proverbs 3:12

Sometimes, my twelve-year-old loses pants. How does he lose pants? Lost socks, I understand. Lunch box, I get it. But pants? They were ON HIS PERSON when he left the house this morning. Ok, so there was a clothing change for soccer practice or an afternoon at a friend’s. But were the athletes in the changing room oblivious to renegade trousers that were not the floor’s size? Doesn’t some mother wonder how alien pants beamed into her home? Pants just seem too big and too important to lose.

Some days, I lose faith. How can I lose faith? Lost dreams, I understand. Unfulfilled expectations, I get it. But faith? I put on the SHIELD OF FAITH before I left the house this morning. Ok, so it was pummeled by financial strain, future uncertainty, a family illness, and an ugly situation where wickedness seemingly triumphed . But doesn’t my renegade heart register that I am unable to name one instance where the Lord failed me? Do I need to erect a backyard Ebenezer stone in order to remember “thus far the Lord has brought” me¹? Faith is just too big and too important to lose.

The Israelites lost faith to the extent God sent them into exile. In Hosea 1:2, God said Israel was “guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.” Yet the very next chapter includes one of the most beautiful and demonstrative passages of God’s compassion towards His faithless children:

 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;

I will lead her into the wilderness

and speak tenderly to her…

I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips…

I will betroth you to me forever;

I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.

I will betroth you in faithfulness,

and you will acknowledge the Lord.”

 Hosea 2:14, 17a, 19, 20 (NIV, 2010)

The betrayed desires the betrayer. The Faithful seeks out the faithless. The Holy One not only allures the vilest adulterer, He cleans up her mess (verse 17) and betroths her in faithfulness.

When I lose faith, the source is usually easy to identify: I am focused on the temporary and not the eternal². I don’t understand why God allowed something to happen. I am battle weary. Prayers are not answered my way or on my schedule, so my me-obsessed-self  begins to doubt.

As I berate myself for lack of faith, I remember God’s tender response to faithless Israel, and II Timothy 2:13 comes to mind:

 “…if we are faithless, he remains faithful…”

 There’s hope in that promise. Hope that restores vision and rekindles…faith.

(Author’s Note: I usually let my writings hibernate and then revise before sharing. While this piece was sleeping for a couple of weeks, I reorganized my son’s chest of drawers. I laughed when I found…another child’s pants.)

¹I Samuel 7:12

²II Corinthians 4:16-18