Tag Archive | parenting

From Death, Life

IMG_3589This is my backyard. Looks good, doesn’t it? If you look closely, though, you can spot the imperfections. You can see the tracks the dog has made as he madly chases his thrown ball. You can see the weeds that have gone unpulled. And if you look closer still, you can see where some plants have just not made it, despite our attention.

Recently, I noticed several examples of places where we thought we had taken out a plant that was dead only to find, months later, that it is thriving again. This comes as a surprise to me, but it really shouldn’t, because it’s so much like God. He reminded me of that this morning.

First, around our pool enclosure we have rows of a pretty flowering bush called Ixora. We had a bad frost several years ago, and all those bushes suffered. Over the years the other bushes made a good comeback, but this little one never recovered. So my husband pulled it out.

Or so we thought.

Second, next to our koi pond, we had a little variegated plant called Stromanthe (at least I think that’s what it is). It grew and blossomed and did really well. For awhile. Then the leaves started turning brown. Though it was large and seemingly happy, something was not right in its little world, and it started to decline. I tried pruning it back, cutting away the dried brown leaves and trying to shape it up a little. But it didn’t respond to my touch. Eventually, we made the decision to pull it out and once again my husband did the deed.

Or so we thought.IMG_2048

Third, we had a beautiful avocado tree in our backyard tragically eaten by beetles. I wrote about that several years ago. You can read that story here. When we found a gnawed-upon fruit that the squirrels had discarded sprouted in the corner of the yard, we thought, well, what could it hurt? So we transplanted that tiny seedling into our front yard, watered it daily, kept an eye on it and hoped. You can read about that part of the story here.

And then something miraculous happened in all 3 cases. New life.

IMG_8106Our pulled-up Ixora is small but blossoming.

The seemingly dead Stromanthe is tiny but growing.

And that little avocado seedling is now a nearly 20-foot tall tree and has fruit of its own.

Amazing.

And the lesson here? Other than caring for, watching and hoping, we did nothing to cause the new growth. It was only and always in the hands of the Creator. Sometimes it took mere months to see the growth; sometimes, as in the case of the avocado, it took IMG_8077years.

In the letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7 ESV).

Do you have a child who is straying? Pray, love, care for, encourage, don’t give up hope. God is at work, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

Given up on your marriage? As long as there is breath in your body, pray, nurture, and don’t give up hope. Oh, please, don’t give up hope.

Do you see only death around you? Death of dreams, of chances, of families? Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

IMG_8102Make no mistake, we have had other plants over the years that have, simply put, died. The uprooting was complete and they never came back to life.

Sometimes children never come back to the Lord. Sometimes marriages fail, despite our best efforts.

But God.

He is still working. Sometimes the new life and growth is in our wandering child or our wounded marriage. And sometimes it’s simply and profoundly in us.

 

It Starts With Spilled Milk

After my post the other day regarding lying, I had a conversation with several young moms about how to encourage an atmosphere of grace in their homes when they are more prone to be rule followers.

spilled-milkThat’s a great question. I think it starts with spilled milk.

Surely every parent, sometime in their parent life, has experienced a child spilling milk or some sticky drink either at the dinner table or in the car or on the carpet. Your reaction to these accidents helps set the tone for bigger mistakes in your child’s future.

Mistakes are opportunities to grow and learn.

Here’s what I suggest could be said in different circumstances.

Your child spills his/her drink.

Oops! Well, I’ve spilled my share of drinks, too. Let’s clean it up together and see what we can do to be more careful in the future.

Your child breaks a favorite item of yours on accident.

I’m sad this got broken, but I know you didn’t mean to break it. It’s just a thing. You’re more important to me than that [insert broken item].

You forget to do something you promised your child you’d do. 

I’m sorry I forgot to do [insert whatever it is]. I was wrong to not follow through on what I said. Will you forgive me?

These are all common circumstances that every family can relate to. Building an environment where your child is not afraid to tell you they did something is critical to helping them understand that grace reigns in your household. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for their bad choices, but choosing to do something wrong and having something happen by accident are different.

Open dialog happens from a very early age. Listen to your children with your full attention. Ask them questions. Help them come to their own conclusions about issues. Let them express themselves in an appropriate, respectful manner.

With my kids, I found that there was a little bit of a Catch-22: We had such a close relationship that they didn’t want to disappoint me, even if I had never made performance a priority. The notion that lying to me is more disappointing than the original act doesn’t seem to get through their heads!

The most important thing I think I do is to keep telling them, “I love you.” And it’s never the person I’m disappointed in, it’s the choice. That is emphasized time and again.

 

Amongst many other forgotten things, I’ve had countless items borrowed and lost, and a favorite bowl knocked off the counter and smashed, all accidents. All covered by grace because the lossshattered-trust was unintentional.

But I’ve also had my trust absolutely demolished like that favorite bowl by a child lying right to my face. Things hidden from me because that child knew those actions would grieve me.

But grace wins every time. God will deal with the sin. I’ve given consequences for the actions to my minor kids. But for my adult children, I’ve cried, prayed, told them truth over and over, but ultimately, their decisions are part of the journey God has them on.

And sometimes that journey goes through the stream of spilled milk. Will it be a sour experience or a sweet one, ending in a pool of grace?

Freshman Lessons

ucfOn the brink of his first day of sophomore year, I asked my eldest what he would tell someone just entering college. Here’s what he said: Get a longboard and study harder than you did in high school.

That was it.

I would have wanted something like:

  • Always listen to your parents because they know way more than you give them credit for.
  • If you don’t know time management yet, learn it quickly because you’re going to need it.
  • Get enough sleep!

Th0se are some things that I would have said, anyway. But that’s not what I got. And that’s fine. I’ll give you, then, just a few things I would tell a person just entering college.IMG_0531

  • This is your time to do things yourself. You need to make the phone calls or send the emails to professors or financial aid offices or academic advisors. Trust that there are people around you who know a lot more than you do about college and your major, and their job is to help you. Don’t let opportunities to pick their brains pass you by. You have to take the initiative. Mom and Dad aren’t (or shouldn’t) be doing it for you.
  • College costs a lot of money, so even if you’re on a full-ride scholarship, you need to make it your priority. Believe it or not, you’re not in college to just make friends and have a good time. You’re actually there to learn things that might help you in a future career. The “study more than you did in high school” advice that my son wanted to give is good. Don’t blow off classes. Get a good assignment reminder app and USE IT. Zeroes will suck the life out of your grade. Don’t miss turning things in.
  • Just because you pick a major early on doesn’t mean you have to keep it. If you get into your studies and determine that you actually find the subject boring or just not what you thought it would be, it’s not too late to change. Maybe the last semester of your senior year is too late to change. Or maybe even your junior year is pushing it pretty far, but freshman and sophomore years are good times to really try and determine what you want to do. Don’t live someone else’s expectations for you. Figure out what it is YOU really want to do.

IMG_5024Do I wish my son had done some things differently? Yes. He thought he could breeze through and, as a result, he lost his scholarship. And he can’t get it back. But he’s not out drinking, doing drugs, sleeping with his girlfriend. He has a good job and a vehicle he’s responsible for. He’s respectful and doesn’t get into trouble. He learned his lesson: study harder than you did in high school. I expect that this semester will go a lot better than his previous ones.

As for the longboard: be careful of uneven pavement.

Hold Onto Hope

IMG_2048Awhile back, I wrote a post about my avocado tree. (See The Beetle Within Us) I was sad to have to report that, after just a year of bearing fruit, the tree had to be taken out because it was diseased by the ambrosia beetle. Well, we had a storm more than a year ago that knocked down part of our back fence near where the tree used to grow. In removing the old fence, my husband came across this 18-inch-high seedling that had been growing from a pit discarded by the squirrels in the corner of the yard.

Imagine our surprise and our pleasure at finding this small glimmer of hope that we could still have a healthy avocado tree in the future.

This seemed to me a perfect analogy for the life of a prodigal: There is always hope that there is life left in those who wander from God.

When the new fence panels went in, the seedling was transplanted to our front yard. It was so small back then, and it was hot out, so daily, even twice-daily, watering was vital for its survival. It’s now more than 10 feet tall. It is surrounded by other plantsIMG_5551, yet given its own space. When it was still very small, we could watch it, we could nurture it, we could pray that it would grow big and strong and eventually produce fruit. All we could do was give it the best environment that we knew how to give; the rest was, and still is, up to its Creator. It hasn’t borne fruit yet, but we hope it’s well on its way.

I recently read a phenomenal article by Abraham Piper, the son of pastor and author John Piper, whom I greatly admire. Abraham was a prodigal for many years, and his insight into how to love prodigals back to Jesus is something I think everyone struggling with this should read. The article is quite long, so you can read the entire text here (Let Them Come Home). The following points are his, with my condensed interpretation.

1. Point them to Christ.Piper contends that the real problem with your prodigal is not their behavior, it’s that they don’t see Jesus clearly. Therefore, the best thing you can do is show them Christ. Their only hope is to clearly see Jesus and His love for them.

2. Pray.
“Only God can save your children, so keep on asking Him to display Himself to them in a way they can’t resist worshiping Him for.”

3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
Don’t pretend that everything is fine. Don’t ignore their unbelief. Reach out and keep reaching out.

4. Don’t expect them to be Christlike.
“No matter how your child’s behavior proves his unbelief, always be sure to focus more on his heart’s sickness than its symptoms.” If they’re not believers, they’re not going to act like believers. Hearts need to change first.

5. Welcome them home.
No matter what they’ve done, if they want to come home, let them. If they have any desire whatsoever to be with you, let them come. You are going to be the best influence in their life. Make sure you aren’t pushing them away.

6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Piper says, “Be gentle in your disappointment. . . Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Your role is to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that you want your child to return to.”

7. Connect them to other believers.
If you know another believer you think might reach them better than you can, by all means, get them together.

8. Respect their friends.
Be hospitable. Her friends are someone else’s wayward children, and they need Jesus, too.

9. E-mail them.
“When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple of lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation—better than any correction—is for them to see Christ’s joy in your life. Don’t stress out when you’re composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s Word is never useless.”

10. Take them to lunch.
Have actual facetime. Even if it may hurt to hear what they’re up to, do it anyway. Your interest in them as a person will speak volumes to them. Make the time to get together.

11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Find value in what they like. Ask questions. Hear their heart.

12. Point them to Christ.
“This can’t be stressed enough. It’s the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.”

Be faithful and don’t give up.

 

When The Womb Runs Dry

9-25-02.2I remember with vivid clarity the day we learned I had miscarried our first child. We were traveling home from Colorado to Florida when I started spotting. After 4 years of infertility, the thought of losing this long-awaited baby was terrifying. When the loss was confirmed, it seemed my tears would never stop.

That was almost 21 years ago.

I have 3 healthy children, 13, 17 and 19. Although we lost 2 more babies in the midst, our quiver is as full as we want it. Yet when the realization hit that I was on the downside of menopause, I cried.

I loved being pregnant. I didn’t suffer the nausea of so many of my friends. Although worried during my second pregnancy that the same thing would happen as the first, it got increasingly easier to relax. Nausea-free pregnancies, problem-free births (well, there were 2 short stays in the NICU for #1 and #3, but all was fine in the end), pain-free nursing (although I had to supplement #2 and #3 because they weren’t gaining enough weight). After our infertility struggle, I felt very blessed.

I was 4 days away from being 35 when I had my first child, and I was almost 41 when I Xmas 04had my 3rd, so another pregnancy really wasn’t in the cards for us. But still, the idea that it would never happen again stirred up feelings I didn’t even know were there. Somehow we think childbearing defines us as women and when we find ourselves unable to do that, our self-image takes a hit.

Now, after 2 years of no more visits from Aunt Flo, I am mostly at peace with the situation, knowing that an infant in the house would really throw us for a loop, but the baby boom in the young moms around me causes some melancholy. My friends from high school and college are becoming grandparents, having started parenting a lot sooner than I, and my arms long to cuddle newborns again. I plead for time holding the young mom’s infants, but somehow someone consistently beats me to it.

I know that there are many who cannot bear their own babies. Some opt to remain childless, some adopt infants, some adopt older kids. I have friends in all camps. The struggle is real. When I didn’t know whether I’d be able to have children or not, each new birth around me was painful. Now, each new birth is a joy as I know that it’s my time to be a mentor, to let the younger women have their chance. I’m certainly glad to be able to sleep through the night! And it’s probably a good thing that my daughter and I won’t be hormonal at the same time once she gets in on the act.

IMG_4533Bearing babies isn’t what makes me a woman. It isn’t what gives me worth. It isn’t even what defines me. I am a mom and it’s a wonderful thing. But I am first of all a child of God. Nothing will change that. Instead of being defined by the blood I used to shed each month, I am defined by the blood shed for me on the Cross. It will never run dry.

 

Now excuse me while I go find a baby to hold.

 

 

 

When Dreams Die

cloud-tearsAs parents, we are told to never push our dreams on our children. If we didn’t make the swim team, we are not supposed to force our kids to swim. If we always wanted to be a rock star, we are urged not to hand a guitar to our kids and order them to play. I get that. We didn’t do that. No matter how much I love baseball, I didn’t make my boys continue to play when they didn’t want to.

But no one told us what to do when our kids’ dreams change.

For 4 years our eldest lived and breathed JROTC. He rocked the uniform; he earned the promotions; he participated in the competitions; he won the awards. We emotionally invested ourselves in the dream he expressed of flying in the Air Force. We spent countless hours coaching him through his application to the Air Force Academy. We made sure that we were checking in along the way, ensuring this is what he wanted to do. When the Academy didn’t pan out, we wholeheartedly threw our support behind his entrance into UCF’s Air Force ROTC program. We bought the Air Force T-shirts and put the bumper sticker on our car. His dream became ours.

Then, one day a few weeks ago, he told us he didn’t want to do that anymore.

Wait. What?

He had decided he wanted to drop out of his college ROTC program and change his major. Now, for a freshman just halfway through his first semester, changing his mind on a major is not a big thing. But what happened to the dream?

I felt like I had whiplash. What was I supposed to do now? I had the bumper sticker, for crying out loud!

OK, step back. Take a deep breath. Here are 3 things to do when their dream changes and your dream dies.

1. Assure them that you will support them whatever they decide. Of course, my younger son then informed us that he was moving out tomorrow and heading to “Hungaria” and joining the circus. Seriously, though, Justin needs to know that it’s OK to explore options, as long as he’s doing it for the right reasons. Is he changing for fear that he won’t succeed at what he wanted to do?

2. Give yourself room to grieve the dream, and let them in on the process. I shared with both my sons how I was feeling about this change, and that, in the process, I would be asking questions more for my own sake than for his. (That’s the conversation where the circus came up. Thanks for keeping things light, Son.)

3. Ask them how you can help. With a change of major, even in freshman year, came the need for a conversation with a new advisor in the new college of study. All this had to happen fairly quickly so he could register for his next semester. My question to him was, “What would you like me to do for you?” He asked me to research a couple of things for him relating to what he was considering pursuing next. I can do that. And I can pray. Pray for him and for us as we try to refocus.

I really don’t care what he does. I honestly don’t. He can be a garbage collector (though that might not be the best use of a college education), as long as he is listening to the Lord and doing what He wants him to do.

Getting a bumper sticker off the car is another issue.

image from sourceseekers.com

Mama Bear Goes Too Far

halloween candyMy eldest child has food allergies. He is most severely allergic to dairy, but peanuts and seafood make the list as well. We discovered his dairy allergy when he was just 6 months old. Ever since then, we have, of course, taken precautions to ensure that he does not consume dairy. He’s almost 19 now, so he’s pretty much on his own.

When classmates would have birthdays and bring goodies to share, I asked to be informed ahead of time so that I could provide an alternative for him. When people who didn’t know about his allergy gave him something he couldn’t eat, he was taught to tell them thank you and bring it home for another family member to enjoy. We occasionally had neighbors bring some baked goodie by, and even relatives who forgot his limitations sent boxes of homemade or purchased treats for Christmas gifts, and he couldn’t enjoy them. He was sad, but he got over it. He’s not fond of his situation, but there’s really nothing that can change it except an act of God.

Halloween was one of those days that could have been completely frustrating for him. He really wanted to go out trick-or-treating, but knew that he would be able to have very little of what was handed out. Imagine not being able to have chocolate. {shudder} But, for a few years anyway, he still participated, then came home and doled out what he couldn’t have to his siblings, leaving the Twizzlers, Smarties, bubblegum and other innocuous items for himself.

He didn’t complain; the allergies were his reality, like it or not.

So, imagine my wonderment when a friend shared this image on Facebook:

halloween memo

What in the world could this parent have been thinking? Getting free candy from neighbors is not a right. Teaching your child that the world will cater to them is just plain foolishness. I understand wanting to protect your child. I understand not wanting them to feel left out. Truly I do. I have lived it for 19 years. But what I don’t understand is the mindset that because my child can’t do something, no one else’s should be able to either.

The lesson a child will learn from that is that they are entitled to what everyone else has. The world should look out for them. Their needs come before anyone else’s.

If your child has severe allergies, don’t send them out trick-or-treating. Tell them, “I know it stinks, buddy. I’m sorry. Let’s think of another way we can have fun.”

I believe it’s a different situation when you have a peanut-allergic child in childcare or preschool and you ask people to not bring in peanut butter, because any inadvertent contact can cause them to react. I have no problem with that. I understand peanut-free flights on airplanes. Peanut oil can be pervasive. But we’re talking trick-or-treating here. It’s totally a choice.

Suggesting that your neighbors only hand out carrots, raisins or other such items is ludicrous. It’s OK for a child to be sad about missing out on something. I think “devastated” by not getting candy is overstating it a bit. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes reality stinks, but you just have to learn to live with it.

And by the way, if I were to “practice responsible parenting,” I probably shouldn’t let me child eat candy at all!

That mama bear went a bit too far.