Striving to live authentically while pursuing holiness

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Some of what I've learned about homeschooling

17 years ago I decided I'd like to try my hand at homeschooling. It wasn't going to be forever. It would be just long enough to "get him ahead" and over the energetic boy years. Jon and I discussed it and decided it would be a good thing for our inquisitive, highly emotional, determined little boy. So being who I am (and coming with a teaching degree and no other kids at the time) I sat down and wrote out a curriculum for 3 and 4 year old preschool. Hahahaha!!! I laugh at that now, but at the time I was convinced he'd be "behind" if he didn't have that. Well, we worked hard, we had fun, we both learned (and cried) A LOT....and the rest is history. That boy graduated from our homeschool two years ago, hiked the Appalachian Trail, and is now about to graduate as an internationally certified commercial diver doing what he's always dreamed of doing.

Starting with his kindergarten year, we added a lot of babies along the way. In all 13 years of his "formal schooling" there wasn't one year without a baby or toddler for distraction. My youngest was 4 when my oldest graduated, and that was a close as we ever got. At times I questioned whether we were really doing the right thing. Should he be somewhere that he could be more focused? Was I giving him everything he needed to prepare for life? You have no idea how many moms have asked me over the years, "What do you do with your babies and toddlers while you homeschool? What are the tricks to keeping them busy and happy while you work with the others? HOW DO YOU DO THIS??" My answer: "It looks different every.single.day." If you want concrete answers and you're good with schedules and all that jazz, there are plenty of homeschooling gurus out there who can give you lists of ideas. But that was never me. Most days I just wore my baby in a sling or wrap or some other baby wearing device (we didn't have nearly the amount to choose from back then) and went about my day instructing here and there, listening to someone read, nursing the baby, loving on a toddler, refereeing fights, maybe doing some dishes, nursing the baby, listening to multiplication tables, reading bible stories, switching some laundry, preparing for co-op class, nursing the baby, on and on until we fell into bed and got up the next day to do it all over again. And I wouldn't change a thing.....

My reasons for homeschooling changed a lot over the years. I won't go into great detail over each philosophy, but I'd say every couple of years or so I'd realize I was doing this for a whole different reason than what I had been. Like I said, when we started it was just to "get him ahead" and have him be the smartest kid in 3rd grade (when I figured we'd put him in school.) Oh how I chuckle about that now. Literally LOLing here in my living room. Then once we went to the homeschool convention in FL, my husband told me we could never put our children in school!! We certainly couldn't risk what those schools would do to them!! Once again, LOLing here!! And so we warrior-ed on this not so well beaten path blazoned by the homeschool heroes that we had grown to love and admire. We believed that this was the path down which God was taking us (and I still believe that because I believe in his sovereignty) and this was the only way for our kids.

So here's the thing....none of what we did was wrong or bad or anything to hurt our kids, but we bought into a lot of crap along the way that could have if we hadn't decided to listen to our kids instead. There is a whole lot of stuff that many hard core homeschoolers want to heap upon you and "add to" the gospel to make their's the "best" way and ensure the "best" kids coming out of your home. And they will tell you, sometimes subtly sometimes not so subtly, that you are flat out wrong if you do it differently. I can't tell you how strong the push is for certain philosophies out there, and if I hadn't been the personality that I was, I shudder to think where I could've gotten lost along the way. I also believe my sweet, level headed husband saved me from so much garbage that could've led me astray of the real gospel and what parenting and homeschooling really is.

Somewhere along the way I started realizing that my kids would really be okay if we were to put them in school. Not only okay, but there were probably some things that would actually make them better human beings. This was novel to me. (If you're laughing right now, that's okay.) So every year we do a recheck of where we are, where our kids are, and we see what would be best. 

Somewhere along the way I begin to understand that this wasn't about having the smartest kids or making them into little geniuses. I realized that my kids were never going to be geniuses, actually, and that was okay and not the goal. And I actually cringe now when I see posts by homeschooling moms hailing "homeschooling" as being the reason why their kids are so smart. Let me tell you a secret...it's not. For every homeschooler out there reading at 3, there are 2 more that aren't reading until they are 10 or 12. If you laud homeschooling as the reason your little one is doing algebra at 9, there are plenty of others out there wondering what they are doing wrong since their 14 year old still can't grasp multiplication or their 11 year old is struggling with reading comprehension or their 13 year old can't write a correct sentence. 

Somewhere along the way I learned that keeping them away from all the bad stuff wasn't going to save them and make them into the good, obedient, helpful and mannerly kids that I had seen at the homeschool conventions. Yes, I had been jealous of those families. I had wondered how their kids had magically turned out to be obedient and mannerly children who loved one another and respected their parents when mine got angry, yelled at each other (and us), never obeyed the first time (we were lucky if they did the 3rd or 4th), and seemed unruly and disruptive. Sadly, since those early days I've learned a lot of what many parents did to keep their kids in line, and much of it was pure child abuse. I'm not saying that all homeschooling parents did that--in the least--but in so many cases, it was. And their children have grown up now to tell the world about it.

Somewhere along the way I also began to see the truth among many lies. My eyes were opened to much of the white-washing of American history done by homeschool (and many public and Christian school) curriculums and leaders. I saw much of what I had learned (or hadn't learned at all) in school was very slanted, to say the least. I realized that my kids needed diversity in their lives. They needed different perspectives than what they were getting being around people just like them. They needed to be in the world, not kept from it. And I wanted them to do that while they were still at home, having discussions with us, asking hard questions, and feeling the freedom to disagree with us if they needed. We always direct them back to the gospel. The answers are there. There is no church, religion, homeschooling philosophy, parenting philosophy, anything that has all the answers. They will all fail you. Only Jesus will not fail. I have learned he is the only answer, and that that answer can take many different shapes, forms and philosophies in this broken world where we live.

Somewhere along the way my kids taught me a lot of stuff. They taught me to question societal claims of how to have the smartest kids and whether that was even important. They taught me that "courting" wasn't going to save them from make all the mistakes I did. They taught me that adding rules to the gospel did nothing but heap guilt and sorrow onto all of our souls. They taught me about true forgiveness and grace. They taught me that just observing and obeying cultural norms was not the way to parent. They taught me to trust them and their natural curiosities about the world around them. I've learned that academics isn't the highest goal (or even one of the top 3) for me. Teaching the WHOLE child, knowing their hearts, listening to the beat of their existence to learn what makes each one of them tick is the desire of my free spirited heart.

Somewhere along the way God showed me that to "train up a child in the way they should go" doesn't always mean what we think it means. It's not a promise that if we teach our children the truth they will not ever stray. But I do think it means that we need to know our children's hearts. We need to see their passions and desires, gifts and abilities, and encourage those things. We should tailor their education (whether in homeschooling or school) to training them in those passions and talents. When we know our children's hearts, we can help guide them in those areas. There are no cookie cutter kids. They are all different and should be treated as such.

Like I said, my philosophy of homeschooling has morphed over the years into so many different things. I no longer desire to have the perfect looking kids because I know their hearts are no different than anyone else's without Jesus. I no longer care if my kids are the smartest or read the earliest or make the best grades. I no longer buy into much of the philosophy upon which the religious homeschooling movement was built. For the last two years I've really considered school, mainly for the diversity that it would provide my children. But I keep going back to my main desire for my kids' education and that is educating the whole child and knowing their hearts. I know people who do this well while sending their kids to school, but I know myself and I don't think I could do it. I am passionate about them finding who they are and pursuing that. If that includes college, fine. If it doesn't, fine too. Our educational system in America isn't really geared that way so I struggle. I've got one who has big goals outside of school and academics, and we need to gear our lives to be able to continue his education even while pursuing other interests. Plus, there's the fact that I can't imagine not hanging out with my kids all day!!

So for now, homeschooling is a good way of life for us. We will continue to be open to different thoughts and ideas and revelations from Jesus. Until something changes we will march on in this homeschooling life. We will watch and marvel at the amazing creations our children are. We will live free and unhindered by what society and culture tell us is important. We will keep figuring out how unschooling fits into the "rules" that TN gives us. And we will continue to train our children up in the way THEY should go, their each individual way, so that when they are old they will not depart from it, and trust that they will live the fulfilled life that God in his sovereignty has planned for them.

If you know me, you know I LOVE to talk about parenting and homeschooling. And if anyone ever wants to talk, just let me know!! I'm available, and talking is one of my greatest talents. ;)



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Grace, oh Irresistible Grace

Irresistible Grace. If you've been around the Reformed world of faith for any amount of time, you're most certainly familiar with this term. As reformed believers, we believe that the Grace of God is so irresistible that no one whom he has called can "resist" this call. We are not drawn to our Heavenly Father by the rules or laws in the Bible that we so often talk about. We aren't even drawn out of fear of eternal damnation. That one may work for awhile, as many "preachers and teachers" of the Bible like to use that one, and it makes for good numbers at revivals and numbers of baptisms each year.  (Sorry, I may be stepping on some toes there.) But after awhile, without a relationship with Jesus where one understands grace, even the fear of hell starts to wear. The only thing that truly draws people to Christ and keeps them there is Grace--undeserved, unmerited Grace.

(I understand that not all believers are reformed and probably not everyone reading this is a believer. That's okay. I think we can all agree that we need grace--whether from God or each other--and we are drawn to those who give it.)

So my question is this....if we, as believers, believe that we love our Heavenly Father because of his grace, why would we not want to parent our children the same way? It's something that I started thinking about years ago, and it has shaped every part of my parenting.

When I became a parent 20 years ago, I wanted what I think most Christian moms want. I wanted to know everything I could about bringing up my children for Jesus. I wanted kids who loved Jesus from an early age, and I wanted to "save" them from ever making the mistakes I did.  So what did I do? Well, I read books, I listened to moms who had well behaved kids, and I prayed that God would show me how to parent the way he wanted me to. (At least I got one thing right.) Now, I am not saying that it's wrong to read parenting books or get advice from veteran moms, but I'm just saying it probably takes a bit more of a litmus test than what I did. My thought now is, when asking advice on parenting, don't ask the mom with the well behaved 4 year old. Ask the mom whose grown child still wants to come home. (By the way, there is not just one way to achieve this. The secret is....there is no formula, only Jesus.)

I found myself pregnant in 1996, and guess what book came out that very year?? "On Becoming Babywise" by Gary Ezzo. I had heard of him and his study being done in hundreds of churches around the country called "Growing Kids God's Way." It was all the rage on how to make those little selfish 8 pound brats (who came into this world wanting to split up your marriage and nurse 24 hours a day) into self reliant, obedient, respectful angels who slept 8-10 hours by 2 months old. This "On Becoming Babywise" book was the secular companion. You didn't have to commit to the 10 week course, and it was available everywhere. Here it was--the answer that every young Christian mom was looking for. Here was the formula, right? I mean, how can you argue with "Growing Kids God's Way"??? And the person who gave it to me was someone I really respected who had a couple of children and seemed to have it together. So I read it, and sadly, I bought into it.

I'll admit, it seemed extreme. I mean, did babies really come into this world as manipulating little beings who could ruin a marriage if they got their way of making our family a "child centered" family? As a believer in total depravity, I guess I could buy that--maybe?? But all these other moms were raving about his book. Their babies slept through the night by 4 weeks, 8 weeks, etc. Their babies were on 3 hour eating schedules and having their nursing time, awake time, sleep time right on schedule. They were sleeping on their own and they didn't need to nurse to sleep. (I don't think I realized that that was even a big deal until Ezzo told me.) Actually, I didn't realize any of this was a big deal until Ezzo told me. But because if I gave into any of my baby's demands, picked him up when he cried, or (worst thing of all) let him sleep with us, I was going to make him into a selfish brat that would rule our house with his demanding ways....I read on and I paid attention.

Skip forward a few years. I had been a mom for a few years. I had figured out that all kids weren't the same. All discipline didn't work the same for every kid. And maybe, just maybe, there wasn't a formula. So I did a really crazy thing. I told my husband I thought that we needed to stop spanking our child and just show grace. He was three. He was angry. He felt our discipline was unjustified, and he didn't feel respected.

So our next child came along....and I was going to do it right this time. I never let her cry. She slept in my bed, right beside me, Ezzo be damned. But then I figured out around 3 months that she wanted to sleep alone. Hahaha!! (all babies are NOT the same.) And then the next baby came.....he slept with us for about 8-9 months and then did great transitioning to his bed. And then our next baby came.....and she stayed in our room for quite some time. Then another and another. And all these babies were shown all the affection, attention and love they needed, whenever they needed it.

I remember seeing a video a couple of years ago. It was from when my oldest was about 8 and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th were 3, 2, and 1. Several times during the video I told my oldest to stop doing something that was completely just childish. There was nothing "wrong" with what he was doing. He was being a kid. And eventually I sent him to his room. When I saw this video, I cried. I sobbed. I saw what I had done, and I couldn't forgive myself. You see, my oldest child's love language is "quality time." So every time I ever sent him to his room, sent him away from me, I told him "I don't want you around" even though that's not what I thought I was telling him. I just thought I was saying, "We need some time apart." But he heard, "I don't want you here." And now I know this. So seeing myself send him away for something so trivial just killed me.

I didn't understand grace. 

I didn't know that the way I had been conditioned to parent was without grace. He was supposed to obey what I said, when I said it. Right? Isn't that what the books said? First time obedience. That was the most important thing. Ahhhhh, how many things I didn't understand. 

Skip forward about 12 years. (Today, 4/9/17)

Sometimes things happen that make me think, "I so wish I believed in spanking right now." Today was one of those days. Some of you who know me may know that my youngest child (#6 who is also 6 yo/almost 7) has never been easy in church. Church was absolute torture from the time he was too old for nursery (when he turned 4) until about 6 months ago when he miraculously started being okay with children's church. Some Sundays though. Today was one of those. We have bagels downstairs at church, and Cedar knows that. So his routine is to go downstairs as soon as we get there, get his bagel and cream cheese and bring it up and sit with us. Today I waited and waited, and he never came. I asked Shepley to go check on him. She came back saying that he was downstairs, but he was in line to do the palm branches with the other kids. Oh no. I knew. I should've just told her to get him. But I thought, "Well, if he's staying, maybe he wants to..." Um, no. When the kids came in with the branches, all the others went straight to the front to wave their branches and sing. Cedar came straight to our pew, with his branch. I told him, "I think you're supposed to go up front" (still under some impression that this was his choice.) He walked out of the pew, turned back around and burst into tears. I got him calmed down, and church started. But oh something was off. He was sad and mad and off. Everything made him upset. When it was time for children's church, he refused to go. Well, that would be fine if he could actually sit in church. But with the way things were going, I knew that wasn't the case. So I tried to get him just to leave with me. He started kicking and screaming. I picked up his 65 lb. 54" body and walked out the front of the church with him pounding my back and screaming. Y'all. Here I am. A 43 year old woman with six children who obviously, to most of the world, has no idea yet on how to raise them. I took him downstairs, and I had a little chat with God. "Please show me if I'm wrong in parenting this way! We are testing this 'It's about their heart, not behavior' thing to its limits." He sat at the bottom of the stairs and yelled "Meanie" at me while I stood around the corner and cried. 

And then....oh and then.....Mary. Mary is a homeless woman who is always around at church. Usually I love Mary. We have good conversations, and she loves my kids. But today, today was not a good day for an encounter with Mary. She came right over (because of course Mary doesn't get subtleties of parents crying their eyes out over wayward children) and talked to me. I so badly wanted her to leave, but she didn't. She talked to me. She talked to Cedar. I couldn't even escape to take him outside because he had left his shoes upstairs in church and at Redeemer, broken glass is a thing. A big thing. Redeemer is a place of refuge for the unwanted, marginalized and outcast, and most of the time...they come with bottles. 

Cedar started running in circles, and Mary talked for a good 8 minutes on how unfair it was that Cedar had so much energy and she didn't. She kept saying to him, "Why won't you give me some of that energy???" And then acting honestly mad that he didn't. *sigh* I finally said, "I think you need to talk with God about that problem, not Cedar." I felt frustrated and alone. But grace. Once again, God gave me grace. Grace to talk to Mary and love her. Grace to forgive Cedar. Grace to forgive myself for not being the perfect parent with perfect kids. And then came the humility. Oh sweet humility that will never let me get too much beyond my station. No one will ever look at me and think, "She has it all together." And that's a wonderful thing because, most definitely, I do not. 

So I continued to talk to Mary because Mary doesn't leave. And Cedar started running races with himself and wanting me to count. So Mary and I counted together. And she delighted in him. She asked him questions like he was her equal, not like she was above him. And he answered. He allowed her in our game. He then started "walking in shapes" on the floor for us to guess. She was oh so impressed when I walked in a hexagon, and he knew it on the first guess. She said, "You homeschool that kid, don't you?" Haha! Yes, Mary, we homeschool. But I can't take much credit. 

Finally Mary left. She just quietly slipped away, out the door, and Cedar and I were alone. He held up his arms for me, and I scooped him up. He wrapped his legs around my waist and his arms around my neck. He laid his head on my shoulder, and he breathed me in. He knew I was safe. And then Jesus. I sat him down on a table, and looked in his eyes. I said, "Cedar, today is Palm Sunday. That's the day that we celebrate when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He went there to die, Cedar." Cedar nodded his head, as he already knew this. 

"Why did Jesus die, Cedar? Why did he have to die on a cross?" 

"For my sins." 

"Yep. For your sins and my sins and all the world's sins. He took those sins on himself."

"You mean he ate them?"

"Well, no. They were imputed to him. That means when God looked at him, he saw it like Jesus committed all of OUR sins. All the bad things we have done and will ever do were on Jesus. And Cedar, what happened three days after he died?"

Joyfully he exclaimed, "HE ROSE AGAIN!" 

"Yes, my darling. He did. He conquered sin and death. He conquered Satan." Then...
"Cedar, do you think you have something to say to Jesus?"

"Yes." (Bows his head, closes his eyes and folds his hands...) "Dear Jesus, I'm sorry for my sins. I'm sorry that I acted so bad. Please forgive me." 

"Cedar, what do you think makes you do those things?"

Cedar looked at me with questioning eyes. 

"Our flesh makes us do those things, Cedar."

"Our rotten, stinking flesh?" Cedar asked. 

"Well, yeah. I guess you could put it that way" all the while I was giggling at this point. "Even though Jesus has taken our sin, we still live in these earthly bodies. And they like to sin. We have to keep asking the Holy Spirit for self control everyday."

"I don't have much self control. It's really hard."

"Yeah, self control is really hard. Mommy has to ask God to help me with that everyday, many times a day. We have dark hearts that are filled with sin, Cedar. We need Jesus to clean them and make them pure." 

(Then Cedar starts asking about bloody, red hearts and how they pump blood through our bodies and all the things...)

"But, Cedar, does God ever stop loving you when you sin?"

"No, Mommy, he never does."

"Does Mommy ever stop loving you?"

"No, you never stop loving me." 

"I will always love you, Cedar, no matter what."

With trusting arms wrapped around me and eyes shining..."I will always love you, too, Mommy."

And so my totally frazzled, embarrassing parental moment was a lesson in grace. Every hard moment is a lesson in grace. And the more grace we give, the more we teach our children about the grace of our Heavenly Father. I committed years ago to wanting to get to their hearts. Their hearts were the goal. The behavior was a by-product, a symptom of a sinful heart. God wants my heart, and he gives continuous, irresistible grace along the way to getting it. Grace is what draws me to my Father, and grace is what draws our children to us.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: A Movie Review

I'll be the first to admit. I'm not the most qualified to do a movie review. ;) I honestly don't even like movies that much, and I only go to them if I really want to see a movie. So I may not be the most likely person to write this review, but because of the fact that I have so many friends who were so worried about this movie and all they had heard about it, I'm going to say what I have to say about it. I hope it will be helpful to some who are wondering.

Unless you've lived under a rock for the past 25 years, I'm assuming you've seen the original Disney movie. This one follows pretty much exactly the same story line so there's not a lot of surprise here. I'm assuming that there will be no spoilers, but just in case you're worried, stop reading here.

The story of Beauty and the Beast is one of sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption. It gives us the gospel. There is no beastiality, stockholm syndrome, "gay moments" or any of the other things that people are saying about it.

As we know, this is not an animal that she falls in love with. He is a selfish prince who can only love and care about himself. He is cursed by an enchantress and put under a spell that will make him a beast forever unless he can learn how to love and someone can love him before the last petal of the enchanted rose falls. So he's human. He's just under a curse.

Stockholm Syndrome, according to the dictionary, is this

"feelings of trust or affection felt in certain cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim toward a captor."

I can understand how one would interpret what Belle felt as "Stockholm Syndrome," but I don't think of it that way. Belle never fell in love with her captor until he released her. She started to see things in him when he was kind and loving, but when given the chance to be free, she took it. She had the choice to stay or go, and she left. She went to find her father. Only after she had been released and realized his true love and sacrifice for her, did she love him back in return.

Beauty and the Beast is a story first of sacrifice. Belle's love for her father is overwhelming. She has nothing in this world that she loves as much as him. She is weird and strange, living in a world where women don't read and books mean nothing. She is educated and a lover of all knowledge. She wants so much more than this "provincial life" that her little French town can offer. Her father goes off to sell his invention and gets lost in the Beast's forgotten castle lair. Belle goes to find him and sacrifices herself for her father's freedom. This is what amazes the Beast. This is the love that he's never before seen. This is what first draws him to her. Who would do such a thing? Sacrifice her life to set her father free? The Beast is intrigued by this beautiful girl.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes this girl see anything in this Beast until she tries to escape. When she does, she is attacked by wolves, and then the Beast almost dies sacrificing his life for hers. He cares about her in a way he doesn't understand, and he risks it all to keep her safe. Only then does she start to have any good feelings towards him. His sacrifice for her turns it all around, draws her in, and makes her feel loved. She, in turn, starts to see him in a new light.

Belle forgives the Beast for being her captor. She starts to see that he's not as bad as he seemed and he just needs love himself. They enjoy each other's company. The Beast starts to fall in love with Belle and realizes what true love actually is. When he finally realizes he loves her, he also realizes the only way he can truly love her is to let her go. Who can be free to love if they are held captive? So he does. He loves her enough to let her go, knowing that doing so means the death of himself. He will forever remain a Beast.

But the story isn't over. Belle comes back. She knows the Beast is in trouble, and she realizes that she loves him. She loves him because of his sacrifice and grace. She loves him because he gave his life for her. She loves him because of his beautiful heart. So she goes back. She goes back to save him from the true monster of the story, Gaston. And although it seems she is too late, her love redeems his life. The Beast is transformed back into a Prince because of the redeeming love of Belle. He doesn't die. He isn't lost. He is brought back to life, purchased by her love. 

And so you see, Beauty and Beast is a gospel story. It gives us sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption. Even the world, at it's deepest level, aches for this. We all ache in our souls to find true love and be redeemed. Hollywood knows it. They just don't know the true answer. 

And all the other stuff that the directors and everyone wanted us to worry about? It's not there. The absolute only other thing is maybe the two men at the end who "accidentally" end up dancing together (for literally less than 2 seconds of the movie.) Y'all, it's nothing. And even if there was, I'm here to tell you, there are gay people in your kids' lives, and if you don't figure out now how to talk about it, you're missing your opportunity! So take this opportunity to think about that! But go see this movie because it is the story of the gospel in a beautiful, mesmerizing story of Beauty and the Beast.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Election 2016

For my own sanity, this will be the last thing I post about the election. And I'm going to TRY not to comment on anyone else's election posts. We'll see. I was gathering my thoughts about the election, and it somehow became a blog post in my head. Ever since 1992, my first election in which I ever voted, I've heard every four years that it was the "most important election in our country's history." America would fall apart if a democrat got into office. Well, that year, Bill Clinton won the election. I remember the fear and apprehension I felt when I learned the results. Afraid for my future and for the future of any children that I might have, I couldn't even fathom how there could be people out there who voted for those Democrats! When Obama got into office, I was told that he was going to turn America into a third world country. Literally. For real, people. Third world country. I was terrified again. The only sane voice I heard was my rock of a husband telling me that it would, indeed, be okay. I admit, I questioned his sanity, but thank God he stuck with me! 
I've voted out of fear. I've voted for people just to vote against someone else. I've bought into the hype, the hysteria, the insecurity that I've been told I need to feel. When I look back over this, I am sad and disappointed. Because most of the people who were telling me these things were people who should've been saying, "God is in charge. God is in control. God is our rock and our fortress. We can trust him." But I'm seeing the same thing again this election year. The pastors that are proclaiming that this is the one that's going to change it all. And I'm sure some of you will try to convince me that this year really is different. One thing I know is that I serve a sovereign God, who appoints kings to their thrones. He knows the plans he has for us. He holds the whole world in his hands.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.....Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46 1-3; 10-11
Y'all, we can trust him even if the mountains are falling into the ocean!!! Do you know what kinda scary that would be?? Just think about it!! But we can trust him even then. Why?? Because HE IS IN CONTROL. He has the plans all written out. Not one thing can happen in my life, in your life, in the life of America or the world without his direction! Why wouldn't I trust him?? If I really believe that book that he wrote for me, why in the world would I be anxious right now? No matter who gets elected, he is still on the throne. He commands me not to be anxious. He tells me not to worry. He tells me that he will take care of tomorrow.
I will vote. I will vote my conscience. I will not vote AGAINST anyone. I will vote FOR someone. It will not be for either of the two major party candidates. I will vote knowing that my chosen candidate will not win, but I will sleep at night knowing that I didn't vote for any candidate that doesn't live by the character that I wouldn't want my children to emulate. I will vote with enthusiasm in my local elections. I will do what I can to change our country, starting with my own city. I'm proud that our governor said that TN would take Syrian immigrants because I believe that's what Jesus would do. I want to work with the immigration ministry in Knoxville to help these scared foreigners feel loved, welcomed and taken care of. I want to work towards racial reconciliation and unity in Knoxville and in all of America. I want to work toward a future America that's greater than it's ever been. To me, that means serving the oppressed, working towards justice for all, loving the least of these.
Maybe that's not possible. Maybe America is too far gone. But my desire above all things is to love God and love people. That's it. Maybe some people think that's too simple minded. Maybe it is. But it's what I see when I look into God's Word. The Word became flesh, and he dwelt among us. And when someone asked him what was the most important commandment of all, he said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself." So there you have it. Love God. Love people. When I look into the teachings of Christ, I see nothing about keeping safe or secure. I see that he tells us that we will be persecuted for his sake. I see nothing about making sure we have more. I see that he tells us not to worry about food or clothes or shelter for the future. I see that he tells us that life is precious. ALL life is precious, not just the unborn. Of course unborn life is precious! But so are immigrant lives, black lives, homeless lives, homosexual lives and all other lives that don't look exactly like mine. All lives are precious to him. And I don't find either party platform telling me that they believe that. 
Personally, I would think both options were pretty scary if I didn't know where my security lies. But I do know. I know because he has told me, and I believe him. I refuse to be anxious because I know that my Redeemer lives and he is in control even if the mountains shall fall into the sea. Even if Hillary Clinton gets into office. Even if Donald Trump gets into office. Even if all the next SCOTUS nominees are pro-choice democrats (because seriously, people, what have the republicans done about abortion laws in the past 43 years????) My Redeemer has a plan. He plans to give me a hope and a future. And I trust that his plan is better than anything I could ever come up with. And certainly better than anything any politician could!
So there it is--my unsolicited political opinion. And now I'm done. Come on, November, so I can stop reading all the crap in my newsfeed!! And Jesus will be glorified, no matter the outcome. He will still be on the throne.
"He has told you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God." Micah 6:8

Friday, August 19, 2016

Another Good-bye

You would think I would be used to these "good-byes" by now, but they just get harder. Each one seems a little more permanent than the last. I just watched him walk down the steps and into the living room first thing this morning for the last time in a very long while. He'll be gone for 17 weeks this time before coming home for Christmas. 17 weeks?? Do you know how long that is?? Because I can tell you. It's 119 days. 1/3 of a year!! I get by with telling myself that if I really need to, I can hop on a plane and get in a weekend visit. I honestly don't know if that can happen with all of the craziness here, but it's my comfort.

When we chose our family verse years ago, it seemed so honorable and right. But reality seldom feels easy or right.
"Like arrows in the hands of a mighty warrior are the children of ones' youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." Psalm 127:3-4
 Arrows aren't meant to remain in a quiver. Good arrows are molded and shaped to shoot far and fly straight. My first arrow is ready to fly. And he's flying far. He's seeking the life to which he feels he's been called. He will be learning, living and working with people who most likely grew up a lot differently than he did. They will most likely look, talk and act differently as well. These are the people to whom he feels led to love. He is not about sanitized Christianity in any way. He sees every person (no matter how well or badly they view themselves) as a broken, hurting soul, beautifully made in the image of Christ, in need of a Savior. And he loves them where they are. He struggles a bit with loving the "good" ones, the ones who think or act like they have it all together. He's learning that he needs to give grace to them just as most of us need to learn to give grace to the hard hearted sinner. Give him an ex-con any day over a church goer who can't accept differences in others.

Some people haven't been able to get this or accept this about him. That's okay. He's not always been easy to get! He's not exactly what you would call a rule follower. He does things and says thing to which many Christians cringe. Sometimes I think it's to prove a point. What 19 year old doesn't want to prove a point? He's got a hard exterior, and he can look kind of scary sometimes. He definitely has a "resting bitch face" (which, I'm not sure what you call it when it's a guy!!) and that keeps people from getting too close. If you are able to get close, you find a loyal friend for life. He doesn't look like what cultural Christianity says he should, but he's good with that. He doesn't think Jesus did either. He does not shy away from striking up a conversation with anyone about his beliefs and their need for a Savior, and every person whose life he's touched over the last year knows where he stands. He seeks out those whom he feels God has placed in his path to share the gospel. He's got a hard exterior and he's a bit rough so those are usually the people he attracts.

I didn't write this to extol his virtues, and I'm very well aware of his vices!! But most people who know him know those all too well so I don't really feel the need to balance it out with those! And for right now, I'm feeling somewhat nostalgic and sad that he's leaving so I'll leave it at this. I've really enjoyed the conversations we've had over the past few weeks and months. I see him digging into God's word, dissecting it, and struggling with living it out. I've seen him get angry and impatient and slip back into old, sinful habits. Then I've seen him realize, repent, and change. That's been super awesome to see. That's something that only the holy spirit can do. Because heaven knows, I was never able to. It's beautiful to see God working in your child's heart.

I am beginning to see how some parents are okay with just letting their kids live in their basement forever!! I think I might be good with that right now as well. The other kids keep telling him to stay. They don't want him to leave. Last night we spent hours watching old You Tube videos that he had made when he was 10, 11, 12. It was so great! Back before his voice changed. Every time I watch them, I see a little more into his soul. I think of all the dreams he had back then. I think of how he's been hurt and changed since then. He understands that everything that's happened has been a part of God's plan and shaping him into who he is to do the mission that's been set before him.

If you're a praying person, I'd appreciate prayers for his safety. He shared with me that's he actually nervous. He's never nervous. He knows how dangerous this profession is. It seems ironic that his most hated childhood saying, "safety first," is what he needs to remember now. We laughed about that together yesterday, and he realizes it's truth. So I pray that he will always remember "safety first." I do feel much better knowing that he is mature enough to take this seriously. And even with how nervous his is, he knows this is his calling. He will pursue it with purpose.

And tomorrow we will shoot our first arrow straight and far--far off to Prince Edward Island, Canada--to pursue God's will for his life. I pray that he will always listen to that still, small voice to lead him in the way he should go.

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Psalm 22:6

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Parenting through relationship....not Fear

I've been convicted recently to start blogging again....blogging about things that have been on my heart, things that I have been struggling through especially as my kids are getting older.

One thing that I see all around me and have to fight against myself is parenting out of fear. It's ironic because most of the people I see doing this are Christians...those of us who claim to believe that God is sovereign over all. We claim that our children are not our own. They are God's. We claim that God is the only one who can change hearts and behaviors. And yet we live and parent so differently.  Looking within my own self I see why. We are conditioned to believe from very early on that WE are responsible for how our children turn out. Of course, if asked, we respond differently. We say we know it's all God, but we parent like it's us. This is usually because we are afraid of the judgement that comes from the rest of the Christian community. We are told that our children should look a certain way, act a certain way, live and love a certain way. So we pretend that God is in control while secretly we prod, pray and even punish to make sure our kids fit the good Christian mold.

The Bible doesn't say much directly about parenting. I think this is on purpose so that each of us must seek Him and listen as he leads us in parenting our own children. But one example that I've gone to over and over is the story of the Prodigal Son. The Father, that Jesus claims is just like our Heavenly Father, never demanded his way. He loved and loved and continued to love. He gave grace and mercy even when it seemed ridiculous. Tim Keller claims in his book, "Prodigal God" that this story was less about the two sons and more about the Father. The word prodigal doesn't mean "wayward" as we so often would guess. But it actually means "recklessly spendthrift."

As Keller says, "It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son. The father's welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to 'reckon' or count his sin against him or demand repayment."
The Father recklessly gave grace, love and mercy to his son who had used him, taken everything from him and basically told him he wished he were dead. I'm wondering if this father was worried about what everyone around him thought when he gave into his son's demands that he give him his inheritance now. I also wonder if the son would've returned to his father's home if his father had made sure he knew he was wrong, written off, no good? What made the son think he could actually be forgiven by a father that he embarrassed in front of the whole community? The only answer is Grace. He knew his father would give him grace.

I'm pretty sure this son didn't up and demand his way one day. I'm pretty sure he must've had a reputation for doing just that. He was probably the defiant kid with angry eyes, crossed arms, and pouting lips about having to sit in worship. He was probably the kid who crawled through drainage pipes, jumped over fences and scaled the playground equipment to stand at the scary top when all the mothers were freaking out about how dangerous it was. He was probably the kid who decided to punch the wrong doer because he didn't want to be a tattletale and thought he needed to "take care of it himself." He was probably the kid who walked miles and miles to his girlfriend's house without anyone knowing where he was. He was probably the kid who used bad language and went barefoot to church. He was probably a lot like my oldest son.

And so maybe this father, like me, had to make a decision that his relationship with his son was more important to him than blind obedience. Maybe he had to come to the realization that he could never change his son's heart. Only God could do that by using his earthly father to show him the grace and love of our Heavenly Father. Maybe he decided that it mattered less what other believers thought of his parenting and more how his parenting affected his son.

I'm so grateful that God taught me so many of these things early on in my parenting. I'm grateful that he showed me that I needed to get to know my child and what he needed rather than to worry about what others thought. Oh, I can't say I was perfect at that. I failed miserably at times. But thankfully, I learned. I'm still learning, but I'm so much of a better parent today to my kids still at home because of what I learned in the early years. Do I still fail?? Um, yes. Fearful parenting shows up in a lot of different ways....

In this day and age of social media and internet, there are LOTS of things of which to be fearful when thinking about it from the world's point of view. Everywhere we are bombarded with people's opinions and warnings about what our kids should and shouldn't look at, participate in, etc. I'm not saying these warnings aren't good or helpful. As parents it's our job to know what's going on with our kids, what they are involved in and especially what is going on in their phones, computers or other electric devices!! But I've become aware recently that I had given in to the fear again.

My 14 year old daughter has been asking me if she can have snapchat for months. Literally, MONTHS!! She let me know that she was the only one of her friends who didn't have it. Who hasn't heard that one, right? She said she was feeling really left out and asked me once a week why she couldn't have it. Well of course my standard answer was that it was a dangerous app. Of course I trusted her, but I couldn't trust other people who might send her things. She told me that you have to accept people or at least give them your snapchat address. But all I had heard were scary things, things out of my control, things that made me want to shut her up in her room (without her phone) and keep her there until she was 25!! Yes, she has an Instagram. No, she's never given me any reason not to trust her. Actually, quite the contrary. She's made some really mature choices for a kid her age. Choices that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to make when I was in middle school. But still....snapchat is from the devil, right???

This isn't a new phenomenon. Parenting has always been scary. For my generation, my parents did everything they could to keep us away from sex, drugs and rock and roll. They probably parented a lot out of fear as well!! It's a lot of pressure thinking the way your kids turns out is all on you! Each generation has it's own dilemmas. Thing is....ours seems much scarier. I mean, it really is, right? How do we control this thing we call the World Wide Web?? How do we make sure that our kids don't fall into the social media trap and ruin their future lives by posting half naked, drunken pictures of themselves for the world to bring up in 10-15 years? How do we make sure that we keep our son's (and daughter's) eyes and minds pure and away from the porn that bombards them with just a few easy clicks? How do we keep our daughters (and sons) from being lured by child predators lurking on all the new apps that we don't know about....the ones who know just the right things to say to teenage girls looking to be loved and wanted? How do we keep the cyber bullies away or keep our kids from being the bully? As parents of this generation, we are on the front lines. We've been thrown in to this with no preparation and every now and then someone warns us of a new app, some new social media, a new way that the evil world can seep into our children's minds.

Last summer when all the craziness about Josh Duggar molesting his sisters and then cheating on his wife with prostitutes came out, I remember reading an article written in The Gospel Coalition that was spot on. It said (paraphrased) that while Josh Duggar's parents were so busy trying to keep the world out of their home, they forgot about the sin that was already in it. Our kids have sinful hearts. It's there without anyone having to show it to them. Parenting out of fear, keeping everything away from them, in my opinion breeds rebellion and breaks trusts. So what is the answer?

Well, I'm still trying to figure this out like everyone else. But something that I've learned from my earlier years of parenting is definitely....don't parent out of fear. Parent out of relationship. I determined early on to have relationship with my kids. I wanted open communication ALL.THE.TIME. So at our house, we talk about everything. We talk about things that others might be uncomfortable with. We talk openly about whatever subject comes up because I want my kids to know there is NOTHING taboo to talk to me about. This is something that my husband had a little bit of a hard time with in the beginning, but man, he is awesome. When my 14 year old daughter talks about her period or asks him to go get tampons, he mans up to the task. He endures the conversations with patience and understanding. We don't have cutesy, silly names for body parts. We call them what they are and discuss them openly because that's exactly what they are--parts of their body and nothing to be ashamed of, but some parts are definitely to be kept private, and they know that.

A quote that is so familiar that I absolutely hate is this, "You aren't supposed to be your kids' friend. You're supposed to be their parent." I know people will disagree with me here, and that's okay. But I would challenge you with this. What is your most important role in eternity with your child? Being their parent or being their sister or brother in Christ? I would say that it is absolutely possible to be your child's parent AND friend. You see, my daughter who had been asking for snapchat for months knew she could talk to us. She needed a little prompting by her older brother (who she had texted for advice) but she came to us Sunday night and told us that us not letting her have snapchat made her feel like we didn't trust her. She said she felt like we were being overprotective and unfair. She said it all very respectfully. *After talking to a friend whose daughters had snapchat and finding out some other information a couple of weeks ago, I had decided to let her have it among just her girl friends. She informed me that they were the only people she wanted to use it with anyway. So she had been using it for about two weeks at this point but she still was feeling distrusted.* We've also recently gotten "Circle" which is great for controlling the amount of wifi each child in your home uses. But it also has filters that just come on it. Some of those we've taken off. Others of them seem to filter things that are crazy or unknown to us. So we didn't have any of this stuff in place because we didn't trust our daughter, but she felt that way. She felt like we were treating her like she was 10 by not allowing her to have snapchat for so long and by having all these filters in place. That wasn't true at all, but one thing I've learned in parenting is that it doesn't really matter what your intentions are. What matters is how your child interprets it.

Our daughter felt that we didn't trust her and that we weren't listening. She came to us, plead her case and told us the reasons that we should be able to trust her. She told us that she felt we were being unfair and unreasonable. We listened. We heard her. We talked. We needed to apologize for things, and we also explained to her our reasons. We explained that it wasn't that we didn't trust her at all. It was that we didn't trust others. We knew of the dangers that lurked out there, and we wanted to protect her from that. My husband also explained that as parents, we were learning daily. No generation of parents had ever had to deal with this stuff before and it was scary. She listened. She heard us. She understood. But she also said that she would always come and talk to us first if anything ever happened. And that's when I realized it. I was parenting out of fear. I knew this about her. How did I know? Because she had done it over and over. She's shown me texting conversations that she's felt uncomfortable with and asked my advice. She's shared things with me that sometimes I'm not so happy about, but I don't overreact so that the next time, she continues to share. She's told me time and again that she's thankful that she can talk to me and tell me things. We share these things because we are friends, we are sisters in Christ. Yes, I am the parent, but I'm also her friend.

There are times when I've had to do things that didn't seem "friendly" like take away her phone or keep her from an activity she wanted to do. I've struggled at those times because I knew it was the right thing to do, but I worried about how it would affect our relationship. The thing is that it hasn't. It hasn't affected our friendship at all. That's because respect is a two way street. I respect her enough to listen to her and parent her as an individual, and she respects me enough to know that sometimes I have to do the hard stuff to keep her from falling farther behind in her school work or making wrong decisions. She knows I don't want to do those things. She knows it kills me to make her sad, but I sometimes do it because we all need discipline, and it's not easy to inflict that discipline on ourselves. Sometimes we need others to do it for us.

I felt compelled to write this today because of realizing that so many around me parent out of fear. Once again, I find it mostly among those who claim that they believe God holds the future. If that's what we really believe, let's live like it. The better relationships we have with our kids, the better we will be able to parent them. No, it's not always easy to have those relationships. Some kids are easier than others. With my first it was a huge struggle to keep that relationship. There were definitely things he didn't tell me on his own. But when I would go and sit in his room and prompt him, he would talk. No matter what anyone else's story was about him, I always listened. I didn't always agree, but I always gave him space for his story. And now that he's gone and meeting new people and seeing things in a different light, he thanks me. Every so often I get a text that just says, "Thanks for getting me" or "Thanks for listening to me" or "Thanks for letting me be who I was and not trying to make me into what you wanted me to be."

Our kids are going to be who God is making them to be. We cannot thwart his plan. Let's live like that. Let's give our "prodigal" kids a reason to come back home one day. Let's show our kids that they have our love, trust and friendship. Let's let them know that we make mistakes too and apologize when we do. And let's strive to always listen and let them be who they were created to be.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A different stage of life

It looks like it's been over a year since I've blogged. So much has happened, and I probably can't even remember half of it!! But the biggest change, of course, is that my first arrow has graduated from high school and is now on the Appalachian Trail for 5-6 months. He's given me permission to start a blog about his travels so if anyone is interested, I'll post it soon.

The next biggest happening I guess is that Cedar (arrow #6) is turning 5!! These two things coinciding have given me much pause over the past few months, and it definitely feels like a much different stage in life. I've never grieved over my children getting older--probably because I always have younger ones still coming up. But this time feels very final. There are officially no more babies in my house. Maybe he hasn't been a baby for awhile, but five just feels old. I've had a hard time taking it all in and accepting that there will be no more babies in our family. I don't think there will ever be a point in my life where I don't want more babies!!

Speaking of babies, I've made another big decision. I'm not going to be re-certifying as a doula. My certification ends in December. I've loved being a doula. It's been so fulfilling and has given me a place to grow a part of myself independently. I've learned so much about myself over the past couple of years, and I think I'm ever changing. At least I hope I am. I hope I'm always changing to look more and more like Jesus in every way. More loving, more patient, more accepting of others' differences. In part of this growing I've realized that with having a new teen, an almost teen and a tween (with two more following) life is way more hectic than it's ever been. Trand was never as busy as any of them. And now I'm the only day time driver. When Liza-Hill asked me recently if I had any doula jobs coming up, I told her "no." Her response was a relieved, "oh good!!" It's not my kids' job to sacrifice their time so that I can feel fulfilled. So for now, I'm done. I don't know what the future holds for me. But I need to focus on my home life right now. I will miss it, and I will miss the delivery room. But for right now, it's the best decision for my family.

God has been teaching me so much about giving it all to him. I've never been a worrier by nature. I've said many times in recent years that God made me this way because he knew he was going to give me Trand for a son! No more has that ever been true than now. Waiting on his phone calls every 5-7 days has taught me much in patience and reliance on Jesus. I have had much time to reflect this summer over my last 18 years with him. I don't want to make this a post about homeschooling or make anyone think that I'm saying everyone should do it. I totally and completely think that every family should make their own choice about schooling for their own kids. But over the years I have questioned whether or not we were doing the right thing for Trand. Would he be more social if he were forced to be with more people? Would he have an easier time making friends? Would he be happier? Would it spur him on to conversation more? But every time I would ask him if he wanted to go to school, he would look at me like I was crazy. So we didn't make that change. And I'm so thankful we didn't.

Homeschooling gave me a chance to know my son like I never would have otherwise. He's a hard kid. He always has been. He's strong-willed and determined. He's adventurous and loves an adrenaline rush. I'm so thankful that we didn't push him into a mold that society said he should fit. You may find it surprising that I was the one who encouraged him not to pursue college right now. He hated school work. He hated classrooms. He is an excellent writer, but that's not something he wanted to pursue for a career. He, like most upper middle class American high schoolers, just thought going to college was "the next step" even though he wanted to be an underwater welder--something that takes a commercial diving certification that requires a year of trade school.

I am not sure that Trand could've learned the life lessons that he's learned if he was in school. I'm not sure he could've grown in the ways that he needed and been ready for a 2200 mile trek at 18 if he had been in school. My goal in homeschooling has never been academics first. That's no secret. My goal has always been to help my children find their purpose, their passion, their reason for living and do it full out for God's glory! I want them to live BIG! Not in a box that our culture says they should stay in. I'm not saying college isn't for anyone. I fully believe that our other kids will go to college. They are geared that way. I don't know that Trand won't go eventually. But right now, he's got different things to accomplish.

It's not my place to share all his plans with the world. I've probably already shared too much even though I've read and reread and erased and typed over and over. But it's enough to say that he has plans! He has big plans, and I couldn't be prouder of him. I'm proud of how he's sticking to this trail even though he's wanted to quit so many times already. I'm proud that he's allowing Jesus to change him into the man he has planned for him to be. I see his heart softening. I hear it in the words he speaks and how he is inviting me into his heart in our conversations.

And I will stop because he would not want me to share more about him. I will only say what I have said his whole life--that he is the biggest source of sanctification God has ever used in my life. I am thankful. It's been a hard 18 years. What I wouldn't do to be able to have a do-over at some points of it. But it is what it is. God has taken it all and will use it all to shape us all into the people that he has planned for us to become. I'm so thankful that I serve a sovereign God that I can trust because he loves my children more than I do. I will continue to trust that he will keep him safe and sound, and he will continue to mold him into a man who looks like the very face of Jesus.