Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shepherding the fruit garden

I'm sure you clicked on this title just because it seemed an odd combination.
I was privileged to attend our women's retreat recently and though her message for the weekend revolved around trusting God, I really took everything as a parenting message.

You see, for the last three years, I have been struggling as a parent. The last time I'd attended my church's women's retreat, I had just lost a pregnancy and was trying again. Through that pregnancy, my older two were at challenging ages. One had just turned 3 and one was 15 months. The younger daughter was a joy and a delight until she began her quest for independence.

It then became a battle for control. Though we'd tried and failed control issues with the older one, the younger approached matters so differently, we didn't see that again we were fighting control issues.

It would take a long time to share what specific things we struggled with/against, but if you read through some of my first posts, you may glean insight if I shared a particular frustration.

My summary is this: I was exhausted, doubting my abilities as a parent, and wondering why the harder I tried, the worse it had seemed to be. Now I had three daughters, ages 2, 4, and 6, and we were still dealing with emotional meltdowns and lack of reasoning until she would come out of it.
Many well-meaning persons had offered their solutions, but just like the infant colic we went through with all three girls, not one thing worked.

I learned two things that I want to share. First, I learned that God wants us to parent like Him, and He's the great shepherd.
Shepherds rarely use their staff to correct the sheep. Sheep are trainable and there are many better ways to guide and correct them. Sheep are motivated by the presence of the shepherd. Parents with more than one child will underestimate the power of walking into a room when they hear perceived conflict or misbehavior. (and sometimes will learn there is no mischief at all, simply delightful sibling play!)
There is peace and not fear. The sheep adore their shepherd and flock to Him. (pun) His authority is from consistency, and they trust Him. They are not motivated by fear of consequence, but of respect and the understanding of protection and safety He has given them.

The second is the fruit garden.
I mentioned my exhaustion. Somewhere in my life, I gained the understanding that God was performance-driven. "If we obey God, He is pleased with us." How can that be true if His love is unconditional? Surely as parents, we fail on this one because our favor IS conditional. "I love you but I don't like what you're doing. Go to your room."
If God asks me to do something and I think to myself, "But I don't want to." Is that a sin? Does He send me away from Him?
The sin is in my heart and action following the command. God is patient, kind, gentle, faithful, loving, peaceful, joyful, good and self-controlled. (Galatians 5:22-23)
If I say "No, I don't want to" but still do what He asks, then "talking back" is perhaps not the same as "defiance". I am expressing my desire to avoid whatever I've been asked to do. Perhaps I am afraid, or I perceive it to be an unpleasant task.

Bottom line, "Am I teaching my children to please me or Him?" Do they fear His wrath or desire His favor? What will motivate better? Loving them or lashing out?

What is my goal? Disciples or Performers?
Even if I was gone, would they be motivated to do what is right? Is God the one they are trying to please? Or me?
I was a compliant child. Most of my friends were too. Our children seem to be less compliant from birth. Our parents cannot comprehend how their obedient children produced children that immediately question and challenge simple directions.

I have passionate children. They have a great ability to focus and are very determined.
Those same qualities in me are what have led to me completing the training to run a half-marathon. I've been running for almost twelve weeks. (See my post on how much I do NOT love running)
Others have been complimenting me on my dedication, and impressed that I've stuck to it.
I'm goal-oriented. These are all positives and to be desired.

To others, however, they believe my children to be stubborn and strong-willed.
"Why don't you control your children?!"
"Because God gave them free will." (statement I have only recently learned to use)
I cannot control how much dinner my child will eat anymore than I can predict when that dinner will exit or if that exit will be timed properly. It's out of my control.

So my focus should not be on controlling my children, but instead motivating them to be in control.
I am trying to model by asking myself if what I'm about to do is loving, peaceful, patient, joyful, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and if I'm exercising self-control.
Then, the focus is on God's fruit in my life. I hold them to the same standard. I'm no longer trying (fruitlessly) to control them.

Stop and think about that last adverb in parenthesis. Are you seeing it? It's taken me three years!

Instead, they are not battling Mom or Dad, but the sin nature inside them that the Holy Spirit is trying to prune out. We are unified, each trying to approach the situation as the Shepherd would. We are battling a common enemy, a similar frustration, and the more similar our temperaments, the more we can encourage each other in this battle!

This freedom led to me embracing James 1:2 New Living Translation.  Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
It's an opportunity? Yes. Now I have found that there is hope for me! This situation may feel long-lasting, but the yoke really is easy and light. All I must do is take care of my spiritual self, and point them to the same never-ending source of life and light, and I will enjoy spending time with them once again as they won't be draining me and I won't be drained.

Putting it together, our children are going to face challenges we compliant-generation children never imagined possible. Romans 12:9 (NIV) Hate what is evil, love what is good.
I believe they will be our warrior generation, with no ability to compromise their faith or values. Our daily struggles and victories are so important right now!

Take heart! You are not alone!

Joy vs. Fear (why I don't like Halloween)

Thank you for taking the time to value my opinion enough to read these posts.
The subject of Halloween can be approached from many angles and I want to clarify that this will be merely my opinion of celebrating joy or celebrating fear. This will not be a lengthy or scholarly discussion about the roots of halloween, the pagan rituals that have evolved into 21st century culture, or anything that poses the "should we celebrate" vs "should we not".

As a child, I enjoyed fantasy. My favorite books and cartoons were brightly colored bears, ponies, and Rainbow Brite and her sprites (and her unicorn, of course!)
One of the few times my mom took a photo of me dressed up to collect candy on Halloween, I was dressed as Shy Violet from Rainbow Brite. She even cut out cardboard glasses and used glue and glitter to decorate them to match the sparkling purple glasses that Violet wore. (little did I know how I would detest the need for glasses when I was older)

It was so much fun to dress up and have people comment favorably on my creative choice, then reward me with sweet treats I normally couldn't have. (because my parents didn't indulge us often)

My children are all girls, ages 6, 4, and 2. Due to our newspaper subscription, they are visually reminded on a weekly if not daily basis that there are costumes for sale, candy bars for sale, and that Halloween is soon approaching. They enjoy dressing up and this year want to be a kitty, a bunny, and the youngest just wants to join in.

What I don't like is that the word Halloween keeps coming up in their conversations, and usually around the same time, they'll begin playing in a manner that is not calm or peaceful. My oldest will chase the second-born or they'll play a version of hide-and-seek that is more akin to monster-seeking-victim. The oldest announces her arrival with a hearty "Rooaaaar!" and her sister echoes with a resounding shriek. The high frequency of her shriek is something I never could produce myself, it's ten times higher than a person's voice should be allowed to squeak.

We had a discussion this evening because the older one continued to "roar" or say "boo" in an attempt to scare, and her sister followed up with that piercing shriek each time, but would begin crying afterward and telling her sister she didn't want to anymore. (and then they would go right back to it!)

I asked the girls, "When we scare each other, are we honoring God?"
"No." "Are we bringing joy to our sisters? Or fear?"
"We're not doing that in our house anymore. This is like the difference between secret and surprise. I love it when you surprise me with something pleasant! You bring me joy!"
So, we started trying to "surprise" each other and say "peek-a-boo" instead of the scary "booooo" that we'd begun with.
The younger two would hide, and the older one would sneak up as quietly as she could, then try to tickle their feet (they were hiding under the couch with their feet out) and say happily "Surprise!"

That led to laughter instead of the awful piercing shriek, which was a delightful change!

What I've tried to explain to our girls is that we don't decorate for Halloween because we don't like things that are dark and scary and we don't celebrate them. If a person wants to hand out candy to children and delights in their creative choices and is happy giving them treats, I love that heart.
If a person delights in scaring children and waits outside their house so they can frighten them by pretending to be a mannequin in the yard, I really dislike that heart.
When it comes to October 31st, I have a joy in my heart because I have a darling nephew who was born that day. I celebrate his life!
Though I won't decorate my home, my goal is to discern the heart rather than pretend that a day is not there just because I don't like part of it. I want to teach my children to celebrate joy and surprise and wonder. Costumes can enhance that lesson, we can minister to other families who don't know that joy, and I don't want to tell my children that the reason we can't do what they perceive as fun is because Jesus wouldn't do it.
They're not old enough to get into the deep discussions that I said I'd avoid in this post.
Age-appropriate discussions aside, I am not trick-or-treating with them just because it's too cold on October 31st to be outdoors! So, we'll most likely be going to a local church carnival/harvest party and let them have fun and be kids and save the grown-up discussions for a little later.

Candy corn, anyone?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Facebook friending, A Cautionary Tale

I’m just curious.
There’s nothing wrong with just looking.
Oh how we justify behaviors that can cause much damage.
Sandy was a young woman in her early thirties. She was happily married, had a loving husband and darling children. She was involved in her church, loved volunteering at her kids’ school, and for all sakes and purposes was somebody that didn’t have a lot of problems.
She kept in touch with friends and family through Facebook, posting photos and looking at photos of her college friends’ kids.
Every once in a while, she’d have idle time and type in names that came to mind to see if she could find photos of old acquaintances.

One day, she thought of an old crush from high school. I wonder what David is up to, she thought. Perhaps he’s married with kids. I haven’t seen him in years.
So, she casually typed in his name and looked through his public profile. He was in a relationship but not married, and no children.
Satisfied for the time being, she left it alone. Somewhere in the following days, she again went to his profile and decided to “just send him a message saying hi.”
A couple days went by, but she did get a response. She was surprised by the excitement and thrill that she felt when noticing the message was from David.
“Hi, Sandy. Wow, it’s been so long! You look great, I really like all the photos of your family. Hope to hear back soon. –David”
Simple correspondence began between the two. At first, it really was innocent and just a series of messages reminiscing about high school and catching up on each others’ lives.
He sent her a friend request, which again provided elation she couldn’t quite comprehend.

In the meantime, life went on as normal for Sandy. She and her husband were quite happy in their marriage and she still was very involved with her children and in her church and in their school.
David was living far away, so Sandy really didn’t think anything was wrong with their communication back and forth. It wasn’t as if they were going to see each other or meet up for lunch behind her husband’s back. Still, it felt so good to have his attention.
She thought back to those high school days when she was shy and socially awkward and wasn’t even sure that David knew her name. Now she was attractive, confident, and had his full attention.
Surely they could have a great long-distance friendship, right? He was, after all, “in a relationship”, so he wouldn’t be pursuing her anymore than she’d be pursuing him.
Sandy’s husband noticed that she seemed happier lately. Her kids also noticed the change. She had an extra spark, an extra burst of energy. She hummed when she was in the kitchen, she smiled more often, she seemed less stressed out.
Everything seemed to be perfect until one day when David sent a message to Sandy letting her know that he and his girlfriend would be traveling to her city and wondered if he could introduce her to Sandy.
Sandy sat staring at her computer.
What was she going to do? How would she explain to her husband that she wanted to see David and meet his girlfriend, when on the inside, she had these conflicted emotions bouncing around? She hadn’t done anything to invite his advances and he wasn’t offering any, yet there she sat, feeling things she hadn’t felt in years.

Although this situation is hypothetical, it is a cautionary tale that can become an easy reality.
As long as we aren’t dealing with something right in front of us, we can put our consciences at the side and engage in dangerous dealings that seem very harmless. Any spouse intending unconditional faithfulness knows it would be a bad idea to meet up with a former crush or flame unless your spouse is present and even then, is still an awkward situation at best.
Why then, do we allow ourselves to email or send messages through Facebook or follow on Twitter these people from our past?
It is more tempting, I think, for people who are currently happy and content, than for unhappy persons, because we feel safe in doing so. “I’m so happy in my present situation that I would never actually do anything.” That lack of caution leads to entrapment. Emotional unfaithfulness can cause even deeper harm and trust issues, sometimes, because the justification says “I didn’t cheat. We didn’t even touch.”
All of these problems are symptoms of a deeper emptiness.
When you look back with your rose-colored glasses to that high-school crush or flame or ex, you remember all the good about that person. You remember all that you wanted and needed at that time and didn’t receive, and this person was idolized. You believed they could provide the fulfillment you were longing for.
Now that you feel whole and complete, you think that your current self can jump into your past and be attractive to that ideal of a person you didn’t have back then. You are trying to fill a void that you never surrendered. That void is an area of your life that still needs filling, though you believe your current situation is content.
The problem lies not in looking at photographs of people online, but in believing that a person from your past can be any different for you than a person in your present life. You have not been a part of his or her life for quite some time and you don’t know them or who they currently are. If you are a Christian, then there will always be only one source of fulfillment. Your longings are real and they do need to be met, but you are searching in the wrong places. The instant gratification of a “like” on your status or a message in your inbox or a tweet@you may bring short-term satisfaction, but like any temporary fix, will leave you empty and needing more.
It is only when we are deeply satisfied within our hearts that we will recognize these temptations for what they are, and handle them properly.