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A Summer Worth Remembering

Our backyard has become a sanctuary of sorts this Summer. This is a relatively new luxury to us. We have always had a yard, but there are a number of animal enthusiasts in this house, so more years than not, we've had at least one destructive puppy to chew any sort of patio decor to shreds and leap onto small children, causing them to run screaming for the indoors. Seeing as how I do not particularly love to sweat and stand no chance whatsoever of tanning, I've never fought the children on this issue. We always start strong, with high hopes and flower-filled pots. The last few years, I've even attempted to hang cute lights on our little back porch and dreamed of finding quiet time where I can hear my own thoughts and the frogs, too. After the third time discovering it has all been torn to shreds, I usually wave the white flag and surrender until the leaves change in the Fall.

I am not sure if it is the addition of the trampoline, the fact that our kids are getting bigger, or that the current puppy is a bit calmer than the ones who preceded him, but so far, so good. There's something healing about preparing dinner outside on the grill, then lingering with nowhere to go in the fresh air while kids play. Tiny freckles are popping up on tiny noses. Kiddie pools, sprinklers and slip-and-slides turn the most introverted children into thrill seekers. No screens or pencils in sight, imaginations are unharnessed and each one is free to explore, dream, and create his or her own adventure. Dirty feet, happy faces, wet clothes, and proud little hands cupping fireflies - these are all breathing life back into our weary, harried souls.

With the added margin, however, comes increased opportunity to look long in the eyes of these fast-growing people, to ask questions and actually take time to hear responses, and to ponder life's questions together. As parents, we have great intentions all year long. As believers, we always intend to equip our children with truth and to keep tabs on our children's wellbeing. As we are running out the door toward school each morning, looking for that shoe that can never be found and trying not to lose our minds, we throw up flare prayers and hope for the best. (Maybe that's just me.) Whenever life allows - maybe Summer is not that season for you - it is imperative that we look our children in the eyes, hear what they are saying, examine their hearts and discover what they are believing to be true, who they are listening to, where they are heading.

It's so easy to get caught up in trying to get to the place and do the next thing that we lose all intentionality with our children. Satan loves that and sure will get a foothold if we aren't claiming that territory and teaching them Truth.

As I pray and prepare for the Next Generation Coordinator part of my role at Ekk, it is as if God is opening my eyes wide to the places we have fallen short here within these walls. Where we see fruit - and hey, you mamas in the throes of thankless toddlerhood, those seeds you're planting now really will burst forth in time - we rejoice and praise God for the grace He's shown. Where we see our children pointing fingers instead of embracing, doubting instead of believing, or simply growing complacent in the comfort we've nearly killed ourselves trying to create for them, though, we must cry out to our own Father and believe He is more than able to fill in all the gaps when we place our trust in Him.

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." 
Proverbs 22:6

If that isn't the verse we all cling to with white knuckles....

My oldest child hasn't left home yet, but I have lived long enough to know it can be a long dang time between a boy's childhood and the time when he is an old man and there are a whole lot of mothers who fill that whole space waiting to see this particular promise kept.

I had a mentor who said frequently, "A+B simply does not always equal C in parenting." Truer words were never spoken. We pour in, plant seeds, love with everything we have, and our children in their own sin nature can still wander far from the path we painstakingly cleared for them. Is that a reason to stop grabbing them by the shoulders and setting them back on that path? Hardly.

Our pastor is doing a sermon series entitled "Fix My Family" this Summer and he's talked a lot about "Real vs. Ideal." Anyone who tells you their family isn't dysfunctional, somewhere, somehow, in some way is lying to you. We are fallen people. None of of us get it right. Even if it is all well and good while our little chicks are in the nest, Lord willing, they're going to spread their wings and fly and become opinionated adults, intent on raising their own families in their own ways, often in ways that make our own heads spin. We can talk until we are "blue in the face" and they are not going to hear us until they are ready to embrace truths for themselves. That's real.

The Word is not filled with many examples of families with healthy relationships, but it is filled with the ideal truths we should strive to live by. These are where we should aim. If God's plans really are to prosper and not to harm us and we believe that, we ought to be wearing out the knees on our capris this Summer asking God to help us land a little closer to the ideal plan He has for our families than we ever could trying to go this alone. 

My love and I have been outnumbered for so many years that we may be a little more aware than most that we are not equipped to be all and do all for all the children entrusted to us. We are spread a little thin on a good day, but God never is. I am continually beseeching our children to never follow us, but to run hard after Jesus. My job is to cry out to Him and do the best I can to love them like He loves them, like He has loved me. 

Doesn't that sound pretty?

Well, it can be. But then there are days like this one. I was warned all my life that I would "pay for my raising" and I made it several years thinking I had escaped that. Then, a beautiful little diva popped up who is every bit as stubborn as her Mama. While the rest of us having been blowing bubbles and toasting marshmallows over an open fire, she has been trying her best to tear her little world apart just to show us she can. I've tried everything I know, all the tried and true ways to reach her. Nothing. Nil. Nada. Zilch. She fears nothing and listens to less than that. She will look me square in the eye and promise to obey from now until the end of time, but the moment I turn my back, that girl is right back to her own agenda. It was all lip service. And, to be very transparent, that burns me up.

Mainly because that girl is a whole lot like the one I see in the mirror.

Praying for wisdom in how to handle this child - and how to look like something better than the very opposite of Jesus while I did so - on the way home today, I felt the Lord impress on my heart that I simply need to love her as He loves me. Not the cliche' image everyone else might imagine, not some bubblegum and rainbows approach, not even the most tried and true disciplinary tactic, but the way HE treats ME when I'm losing my mind and fighting with everything I have to get my own way.

"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made."
Psalm 145:8-9

Big shoes - those are mighty big shoes.

I worked in a nursing home one Summer several years ago and learned more there than I have ever learned anywhere. In various scenarios with my girls this week, the Lord has brought me back to one memory in particular. There was an elderly lady I adored. Her name was Mary (how appropriate) and I just loved to get her out of her room whenever I could. One morning, I popped in her room and cheerily asked her if she would like to go to the church service being held in the cafeteria. She declined. I coaxed her with my happiest face, assuring her it would be so great for her to have a change of scenery, and she might even be encouraged by whatever that man had to say. Finally, she grew tired of my persistent pursuit, and agreed to go - on one condition.

"I'll go, but you have to stay with me and bring me back if he yells at me."

Taken aback, I assured her nobody was going to yell at anybody. Her concerned expression didn't change. "If he starts yelling, you have to bring me back."  

I promised her I would stay with her and I'd bring her back if that happened. As I rolled her wheelchair down the hall, I heard her say these words that I hope I never forget: "That's not what my God sounds like. He doesn't yell at me."

That will preach.

When my children are tall enough to look me in the eyes through tears and share that someone has pointed a finger at them instead of embracing them, when my defiant little one is raging over not getting her own way, when whatever any of them are doing that make me think my head is going to explode, I pray I never lose sight of that truth and never hesitate to live it out before them. I'm a mess, but our God is a mighty God and He'll keep His word, hold us to the highest standard, and set far higher, even idealistic expectations for us. But never, under any circumstances, is He a bully who will try to scare us into submission.  The father we read about in a recent post who ran to his rebel child and clothed him with his finest robe, who threw a party for him upon his return didn't feel the need to first yell and be sure that kid had learned his lesson.  He loved Him. He was for him, not against him.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
Romans 8:31

My God doesn't yell at me. He is for me.

My children's God shows me grace when I fall short - and Lord knows I do every day - but I can't imagine it's His ideal will for me to yell at them. He didn't entrust them to me so I could be against them. 

"Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."
Isaiah 40:10-11

We are not in this alone. The same God who indeed is coming with might is capable of ruling our lives and the lives of our children. His arm rules for Him. The true reward is found in Him. Every wrong will be made right in Him. He will tend his flock - ALL of His flock - like a shepherd, gathering them in his arms, carrying them near, and guess what? He will gently lead us as we lead them.

Man, that's good news for a girl like me. 

I never have to look at my children falling short and come up with some amazing solution to purify them from all their sins. When A+B never produces a C, I can still rest in His promises that He will work it all together for our good and His glory. When my real looks nothing like His ideal, I can keep striving and following my Shepherd home. When this mother bear has roared until she's lost her voice, she can stop and remember that was never her role at all.

So, what does my God do when I'm losing my mind and fighting with everything I have to get my own way? Well, it goes against everything my flesh wants to do sometimes, but He draws me to Himself. He shuts the whole wide world out and spends some 1:1 time with His girl. My eyes are lifted and I am reminded of who I am, but more importantly, I am reminded of whose I am. He reminds me of all the times He's been faithful and known better than I have known, takes me back to the times when I raged outside a door that never opened, and then thanked Him profusely when I found something far better waiting behind the next door. He is trustworthy and true. When I am losing my mind and fighting, it's only because I've forgotten who God is to me and who I am in Him. 

The consequences of my actions rarely magically disappear. The harder I've fought what is right, the bigger the mess I'm left to deal with sometimes, but praise God, He's never been afraid to get right there in my mess with me and He's put me here to get in their messes with them.

These little ones I call my own for a little while? They've been His all along.  More than all the sweet fun in the sun this Summer, I want them to look back one day and remember their Mama and Daddy equipping them, in every season, for the battle that never stops raging in this life. More than the most effective discipline or the best behavior a child could display, I want to see a heart change in my child, for my child. Long after the ball seasons have ended and these fleeting moments in the backyard together have become memories, I want them to stand firm in the faith passed down to them. Then, I want them pass those life changing truths and that logic-defying love down to my grand babies, too.

"They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your might deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations."

[The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.]

Psalm 145:11-13


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