Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Want To Be The Pathway

"No one comes to the Father except through me."    John 14:6

    I was raised with a focus more on God than on Jesus.  I imagined God like most kids do: extremely tall, with flowing robes and a long white beard.  He was up in Heaven, on a throne, far, far away.
     The exposure I had to Jesus was primarily His passion and crucifixion.  The artwork hanging in my childhood home showed the drops of blood He sweated during His agony in the Garden, and the open and bleeding wounds all over His body as He hung on the cross.  The messages were always that God was watching and judging, and Jesus was always bleeding and suffering for my sins.  Those messages are true, but they are not the whole story.
     Now as an adult, I've come to know Jesus as the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after the one missing, the man who challenges the teachers of the law and Pharisees to examine their own consciences before casting the first stone at the sinning woman, and the friend who washes the feet of His own disciples, as He came to serve, rather than be served.
     I know that boundaries, rules and consequences are critical tools to use when raising children.  It was the stern God and the suffering Jesus that intimidated me into staying on the straight and narrow (more or less).  But now it's the compassionate Jesus that inspires me to try again every day to live out His message.  
     Although it comes naturally for me to parent with a watchful eye, using boundaries, rules, and consequences as my tools, I need to balance out my toolbox by also parenting like Jesus. I want to be so invested, so compassionate, and so humble that my kids are motivated to make the right choices because of my example.  I want to ingest Jesus and His teachings so deeply that His grace fills me up to the point of spilling out and onto my children.  Like we are drawn towards a fire on a cold night, I want my kids to be drawn towards the warmth of Jesus' love radiating out of me.  I want my words and actions to inspire my kids to want to try harder, to want to be closer to God.  Like Jesus is the pathway through whom we meet God, I want to be the pathway through whom my kids meet Jesus.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Plastic Bins Loaded With Toys

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."    
Matthew 11:29-30

     I run a mommy-and-me program at my church every Wednesday morning.  In addition to a Bible puppet story, craft, and snack, there is twenty-five minutes of open play with toys donated by parishioners.  The toys are stored in four plastic bins kept in the closet.  The kids LOVE to help carry the bins out for play time, and then bring them back in after.  Most times it takes three or four kids to carry one bin, with a mom closely supervising, ready to intervene if someone is going to get hurt, ready to steer the group in the right direction, and ready to lend a hand to lighten the load.
     There is one little boy, named Daniel, who insists on carrying a bin all by himself.  Granted, this boy is incredibly strong for an almost-four-year-old, but he's still just a kid.  As he carries that bin, it bumps off of walls and almost bangs into other kids as he struggles under the heavy weight of it.
     Without a doubt, I am a Daniel.  No matter my age, or who offers to help me, I continue to carry heavy loads all by myself.  Obviously it's a control issue.  I want to carry my bucket all by myself so I can decide what I put in it, where I take it, and what I do with it all.  But when I get overburdened, or start crashing into walls and people, it's time to make a change.  Daniel is only almost-four.  Developmentally, he's supposed to be challenging boundaries, testing his capabilities, and demanding his right to do things all by himself.  But I'm a LOT older than almost-four.  I should have learned all those lessons long ago.  
     Fortunately, Jesus is a patient teacher.  Over and over again, He's teaching me that He's gentle and humble of heart; I need to learn to be gentle with myself.  He teaches me that He doesn't give heavy burdens; I need to learn that most of my burdens are of my own making and aren't necessary.  It's just like things are with Daniel: no one has asked Daniel to carry the bucket of toys all by himself.  In fact, there's eight other kids surrounding him, begging to help.  Likewise, Jesus isn't asking me to do anything all by myself either.  He's constantly surrounding me with people who are willing to help; I just need to learn to recognize my limitations, and accept that help when it's offered.
     More than the people around me, though, it's Jesus who is always patiently waiting to be the source of that help.  He's hovering over me, like the supervising adult hovers over Daniel, just waiting to intervene if I'm going to get hurt, ready to steer me in the right direction when I get off course, ready to lend a hand when things get too heavy.  Despite my control issues, and the fact that most of my burdens are self-created, He is offering to share the weight of each and every one of them.  The yoke He's offering is easy.  It joins us together.  It spreads the weight out.  It lightens the load.  All I need to do is ask.  Jesus is incredibly respectful.  He'll never overstep my boundaries.  The onus is on me to humble my heart, and ask for His help.  It is then that I will find rest for my soul.   

Friday, May 16, 2014

My Recycle Bin Overfloweth

They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.                                                                                                                Psalm 145:7

      In our home, a recycle bin sits on the landing of the stairs leading to the basement.  When there's something to be recycled, I place it at the top of the steps, take aim, kick the item down the steps, and nine times out of ten, it bounces off of the wall and completely misses the bin on the landing.  My kids are well trained in dodging the debris littered all over the steps as they go up and down them.  (Unfortunately, they're not well trained to actually pick up the items and place them in the bin for me.  That's a challenge for another day.)  When my hands aren't full of grocery bags, backpacks, and sippy cups, I do my best to clean up the mess as I go to and from the garage.
    A few weekends ago, my husband had to travel to Pennsylvania.  On my own, with karate and back-to-back birthday parties, I never made it to the dump with all of our trash and recyclables.  The weekend rolled into a busy week, and neither my husband nor I had a chance to do a mid-week trip to the transfer station.
     After two full weeks of not getting to the dump, there was a bin overflowing on the landing, another one overflowing in the basement, and a huge black trash bag bursting with recyclables in the garage.  Even my well trained kids couldn't avoid the landmine going down the stairs anymore.  I was getting downright aggravated by the trip hazard and the monumental mess everywhere!
     Then I heard a whisper, "Be grateful."  I have no idea how I heard it in the chaos that is my household, but there it was, gentle but firm.  Suddenly, I started seeing the overflow of boxes, cans and jugs as a blessing!  How lucky am I that I have a husband who provides for us so I can buy food for my family?  How fortunate am I that there are farmers and workers who grow the food, harvest it, package it, and deliver it to the grocery store where all I have to do is reach out and grab it?
     Although I hope to someday cook less half-processed food for a healthier lifestyle, and therefore have less recyclables, I always want to view my recycle bin with gratitude.  As I do so, I want to say a prayer of thanks for the people whose efforts fill those boxes, cans and jugs.  Most of all, I want to say a prayer of gratitude to God, Who has blessed me so abundantly that my recycle bin, and my life, overfloweth.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Foul Language Phase of My Frustration

But he said to me, "My grace is for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  
                                                                                                            2 Corinthians 12:9

     My kids know to run for cover when I start screaming and yelling over the smallest infractions.  My husband knows to run for cover when I get quiet, so rock bottom that I don't have the energy to scream and complain anymore.  What neither my kids, nor my husband know about is the Foul Language Phase of My Frustration.
     The Foul Language Phase of My Frustration precedes the two phases mentioned above.  It begins when my well is getting drained faster than I can fill it.  In this phase, there is a running commentary in my head that includes every foul word in the book, a monologue that would put a truck driver to shame.  "Zack, if you ask me one more _____ time to play Minecraft, I'm going to throw the ____ computer out the window!"  "Mason, do I have to remind you every ____ night to put the ____ night time laundry in the ____ hamper?"  "Jocelyn, do you have to pull every ____ princess dress out of the ____ dress up box and leave them all over the ____ house?"  "John, every ____ dish doesn't have to soak in the sink for ____ hours.  Put your ____ plate in the ____ dishwasher!"  All of this takes place in my head, but I scream it so loud in there, it's a wonder they can't hear it.
     Until now, I've always indulged in this phase, letting the profanities fly in my head, getting some satisfaction from the fact that I'm growling back at whatever, or whomever, is annoying me.  But today, I'm seeing things differently.  
     I'm realizing that this phase is a gift.  Like the yellow light that glows on the dashboard of my car, this phase is the warning signal that my tank is running low:  I haven't run out of gas yet, but if I don't stop and fill up, I will be stranded on the road of my life, either screaming and yelling, or getting eerily quiet and withdrawn.
     I'm also realizing that it's not my kids' job, or my husband's, to recognize this warning sign.  It's mine.  Yes, it would be wonderful if they all just did what they were supposed to do and made my life easy.  But that's not reality, and this is not Heaven.  Instead, I need to snap to when the foul language starts flying in my head, and recognize the situation for what it is.
     This phase is a reminder from God that I can't do this mothering thing on my own.  If I'm not praying through it all, all the time, the downward spiral begins.  It's so much easier to stop and get gas in that moment when the light turns on, than it is to walk for miles to a gas station and back with a gas can banging against my thigh, or wait for hours for AAA with three kids cooped up in a minivan.  So too, it would be much easier to stop in the Foul Language Phase and pray for guidance and patience, than it is to scream and yell, giving myself and everyone else around me a head ache and bad feelings.
     I am weak.  I do stumble.  I do use foul language in my head like a truck driver.  But in these moments, if I turn to God for help, in my weakness His power is made perfect.


Have you identified your pre-melt down phase?  Have you ever tried praying through that phase?  Has it helped?  I'd love to learn from you and be affirmed that I'm not alone in my melt-downs and what precedes them.

Friday, May 2, 2014

This Tooth Fairy Almost Lost Her Wings

"Watch and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told."             Habakkuk 1:5  

     Mason lost a tooth last Friday at school.  There's nothing more exciting for a seven year old than to get one of those little plastic treasure boxes that the school nurse hands out to store teeth in, plus the promise of a visit from the Tooth Fairy!  
     On my end, I had just driven to Brooklyn, NY and back for the wake and funeral of a friend's father.  Needless to say, I was exhausted, physically and emotionally.  But when Mason showed me his tooth and the treasure chest, I gave him a big hug and an envelope.  I watched him painstakingly write his note to the Tooth Fairy on the outside of the envelope, put his tooth inside it, and then seal it.  (The Tooth Fairy that visits our house has a hard time finding tiny little teeth under pillows.  So we help her out by putting them in legal sized envelopes, with loves notes written on them.)  I then put on the movie for "Family Movie Night" to distract my kids, and snuck into my bathroom to put a dollar bill beside the sink as a reminder to myself to make a visit that night.  
     Five minutes into the movie, the six hour drive each way to Brooklyn and back hit me.  I was out like a light.  I only roused myself enough to put the kids to bed when the movie was over, then fell into bed myself.  I was so tired, I never even used the bathroom, something a mom who has delivered three babies NEVER does!
     When I stepped out of the shower the next morning, I saw the dollar bill beside my sink.  My heart plummeted.  How could I have forgotten?  What was I going to do?  As I played through the different stories I could use to cover over my mistake, I prayed.  I prayed to God to help me find a way to avoid smashing the dreams and fantasies of a little boy because I was too tired to follow through.  I prayed to the Holy Spirit for the right words to keep the illusion in tact, without actually lying.  And I prayed for a miracle:  an opportunity for a "do-over" to get it right this time.
     As I carried some dirty laundry into his room as a ruse to cover over the dollar bill in my hand, I bumped right into Mason.  He greeted me with his usual chipper "Good morning Mommy!"  I hugged him, holding my breath.  He had been up for over an hour and I was sure I was busted.  But, lo and behold, there was no mention of the Tooth Fairy, or the absence of a dollar bill beneath his pillow.  I was stunned!  What seven year old forgets about the Tooth Fairy and the money coming his way?
     Before it could occur to him, I sent him downstairs on some random errand.  I picked up his pillow, grabbed the envelope, placed the dollar bill beneath the pillow, and ran to put the envelope in my "memory box" before he could see.  Just minutes later, as I was preparing breakfast, I heard, "I can't believe I forgot!" followed by the patter of his feet running up the stairs to his room.  He came running back down with the dollar bill in his hand and a big smile on his face.
     I know most people think of miracles as the big stuff:  blind people regaining their site, walking away from a terrible car crash unscathed, cancer patients getting a clean bill of health.  All of those things are phenomenal, and I pray for them all the time.  But I can't really express the gratitude I felt to God that morning for my miracle:  an opportunity to erase my mistake, a chance to get it right so that a young boy could keep his innocence, and his belief in the magic of childhood.  It's times like these that I am reminded again how amazing God is, and how lucky I am that He is a God of the little things, as well as the big.