Saturday, November 14, 2015

What God has taught me...

in parenting a prodigal could fill a book, let alone a blog post. I will try to keep it short, but long-winded writing is an apt descriptor of my style. Ergh.

First, God has taught me that I am a bigger sinner than I think I am. Yes, it has been said that parenting gives us a glimpse of God's love for us, but more than that, parenting gives me a glimpse of the offense of my sin against my Heavenly Father.

Am I the only one who chafes at having done this and that and those things too for the child who then rises up in ungrateful stance and metaphorically spits on my provision? Or to have counseled and advised and warned and pled with the child from a word of wisdom and experience only to have him do exactly the opposite thing? Or to have forgiven a child of certain offense and see him repeatedly return to the grievous thing?

So incredibly offensive, is it not?

And God nods His head in knowing mutuality.

When we could talk about Bill Cosby without cringing, one could credit him with a line from his parenting video where he describes that his mom cursed him with the words, "I hope you have a child just like you!" And then one day he did.

I am reminded of Genesis 3:16, "To the woman he said, 'I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to your children.'"

I understand that the word "childbearing" does not just mean the physical act of labor at birth but has an extensive enough meaning to include child-rearing. And rightly so, I suppose. Because modern medical science has the elixir of an epidural for the physical act of labor, but there is no anesthesiologist who rushes in while you are dealing with an angry teen shouting hurtful words at you to say, "Here, let me ease the pain of those contractions." Contractions of the heart no less painful and often more so than the ones that contorted our faces at 8 centimeters.

Just today I heard Dan Doriani speaking on work and faith. He mentioned that the Genesis 3 curse is on the ground, not on work itself. Meaning, the ground we are to work will give us resistance all our days. Certainly, the work of parenting meets resistance in one form or another all of our days.

Second, I have learned how God's kindness is intended to draw us to repentance, Romans 2:4. This verse was always a bit puzzling to me, particularly as it follows after Romans 1 and Paul's declaration of how men are storing up God's wrath for themselves. But look at its context here:

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Tied to the first thing I have learned is this second thing--God saved me. And I was not deserving of His salvation at all. Rather I was entirely deserving of His wrath. But His kindness, forbearance, and patience with me, for me, did its work of leading me to repentance. In other words, if God can save a big, old, ugly sinner like me, then I can trust in His kindness, forbeareance, and patience with my prodigal son.

Not only so but the model of God's kindness, forbearance, and patience is mine to follow in how I relate to my son. Showing grace to him is not a get out of jail free card that ignores the necessity of discipline or personal responsibility. Showing grace to him must flow out of the grace that God has first shown me.

So when he sins and sins often, against me or others, my wrath is ineffective. Responding firmly and boldly with truth, with patience, and with thoughtfulness to natural and/or necessary consequences demonstrates a forbearance and kindness intended to draw him to repentance versus a shrieking, hollering, irrationally angry mom slamming things around and making statements that land you in the halls of ridiculous parenting alumnae. (I have certainly exhibited the latter part of that sentence more than I care to admit.)

Third, I have learned to value the smallest increments of relationship and to be grateful for them as a gift from God during this hard period of prodigality. The "it could be worse" is not only true for our own relationship--and there have been periods of utterly worse-ness--but my heart is quite sensitized to the pain I see in other parents grieving for their prodigals. And it could definitely be worse.

As such, I do value the moments of tension free conversation, the opening up of his ideas and thoughts to me without guardedness and hostility, or the exchange of humor and mutual respect. I am grateful for the "more" moments of peace compared to the "less" moments our home as known. I am more keenly aware of how my tone and facial expression can either set up a moment for blessing or doom it before it really begins.

In truth, realizing how much I valued these small things with this son made me aware of how I had taken them for granted with my other sons. Rectifying that relational deficit on my part has enriched my relationships with them.

To sum it up, my son's prodigality has been key to my own sanctification. Full of valleys, yes, but there are also moments on small rises, hilltops, where I see and am grateful for how God is working in me even as I trust Him to work in my son's life. God truly does use our sorrows and griefs for the working out of our good and His glory.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Learning from a mom who has gone before....

Now that is a treasure in today's world. To sit and talk with a mom who is bald-faced honest about her kids' mess-ups and screw-ups and yet still lives out the gospel before them and has an unshakeable faith in what God is doing--THAT is a treasure.

I know one mom in my circle who has done that with me. She mentored me when my kids were young and she still mentors me now that my sons are older. Her love for the Lord and His work in her kids' lives is convicting and encouraging to me. I am grateful for the treasure her words and prayers are in my life. She is a unique gift.

Gradually as I share my own story with other moms, I am finding strong, persevering women who are first not ashamed of the gospel and therefore, not ashamed of discussing the sins of their children with an eye to the redemption of Christ.

These moms love their kids, believe in their kids, have done all they know to do for their kids, and are sorely grieved when their kids make really crummy choices and so then suffer the even crummier consequences of their choices. But these moms do not give up. Because they have chosen to not build a personal reputation upon the successes of their kids, they are not devastated by the failures. Instead, these moms have fixed their eyes upon Jesus, knowing Him to be the author of their own faith, and the One who completes what He has begun.

These moms are the ones who are restorative in their words of encouragement to me. And I talk with them every chance that I get. From them I receive perspective for the battle in front of me, the battle for my kid's soul, the battle against a seductive world, and the battle of my own sin. With them I have freedom to both laugh and cry as shared sorrow becomes shared strength.

But back to the previous discussion, I do not see moms like this in the blogging world. Maybe it is the cynic in me, but honestly, I think moms today do not blog about the mess-ups not out of some sacrosanct privacy of their kid, but because to blog about the mess-ups invites a criticism of our parenting.

There. I said it. Not popular I suppose, but it is what I think.

There is a party line that reads like this, "If I have kids who live by faith and respond rightly to Christ, it is only by the grace of God, not because of my parenting. I am wholly imperfect." Yes, I agree. But the outworking of the unstated is that we believe our parenting does make a big, fat difference in how our kids turn out.

If we did not believe that, then why do we spend so much time, energy, money, prayers, tears, sweat, blah, blah, blah, on our parenting? For the most part it is an all-consuming investment of a significant portion of our lives. Is it not?

And I 'm not trying to set up some argument here that our parenting does not matter. I think it does. But the line between the impact of our parenting and the life results in our kids gets blurred a lot of the time and gets really blurred when a life screw-up is in view.

Cue the substantial Biblical evidence of 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles where kings who followed the laws of the Lord had sons who did evil and kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord had sons who followed the laws of the Lord. In other words, if it was a hard and fast principle that good Christian parents always produced good Christian children, then we wouldn't even have the story of the prodigal son, right?

Why then does parenting by the Book matter so much?

1) Because God has commanded us to tell our children of His word and His works. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6:7; Psalm 78)
2) Because God has commanded a parenting relationship in His law. (Exodus 20:12)
3) Because wisdom for life is only found in His word. (Proverbs 1:1-9)
4) Because a loving parent disciplines his/her children. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

So, how does one wrap this up? Well, I do not believe we abdicate our Christian responsibility when it comes to our kids in sharing our faith. Our parenting does matter. We must persist in it according to God's word, humbly dealing with our own sin and failures, while humbly dealing with our kids' sins and failures.

But I think we must also remember that His work in our kids' lives will ultimately show His glory over ours. So when the inevitable sins and failures come to light, we need not fear for our "reputation." With an eye fixed on Christ, with a heart for the beauty of the gospel, we can see our kids' sins as we do ours, in view of the redemption that Christ has purchased for us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I wish that someone else was writing about this....

so I could learn from her.

The discussion of late has been on where are the mature women writers these days? When my boys were younger the blog world was filled with moms writing about their kids. Of course, back then, everyone had nicknames AKA code names for their kids because even though we were on social media we were suspect of it. Naming our real names or our kids' real names would most assuredly bring a stalker to our cul-de-sac.

Although, anyone who knew us in person and knew about our blog knew exactly who our kids were so those code names were really just figments of privacy. When it came to telling all the silly and all the fool that our kids did, our aggravations with and about, well, privacy and discretion were somewhat code words as well.

However, as those same kids moved past toddler years or elementary school years and gasp! began to read. Or as the blog we were writing became a bit more well known by the friends in our close circle who shared it with their friends in another state who told their friends in yet other states, well, then it was like finding out that your Christmas letter was on regular rotation through your grandmother's hair salon and it all seemed a bit TOO public.

Because, there always came the day when the kids featured in our clever, humorous, pithy blog posts found out that we were writing mostly about them (because where else does a mom find her fodder?) and they objected to having their lives shared on social media. How EmBarrAssing! Mom!

That is at least one scenario of what has driven the now mature moms of older kids into writing-not-any-more-land.

I think though, that there is another scenario. I think that for the most part every mom has her story of poop where it shouldn't have been and stomach bug disasters; of handling sibling rivalry and tears over a game loss; of funny moments at the kitchen table and aggravation at the messy rooms. These are the nearly shared experiences of parenting in the younger years. These are the experiences that we expect to happen and when they do, we read these events and empathetically nod our heads with her and comment something like, "I know just what you mean, sister!"

But when it comes to sharing the unpleasantries and difficulties of the older childhood years that maybe, perhaps, we think reflect badly upon us--is this what causes us to stop talking? Do we fear that if we speak out on the dining room table arguments at our house that there will be no one to say, "I know just what you mean, sister!"?

My son has rejected God. My daughter is pregnant. My daughter is addicted to drugs. My son is failing school. My daughter was caught shoplifting. My son was kicked off of the team.

These are not the things we "expected" to happen while living in the younger years. Our expectation is that these precious children in our home will grow up to embrace the values and beliefs of us, their adoring, loving parents. Sure, we will deal with sin. Everyone deals with sin. But when it comes down to it, we do not expect that their sin will rival our own.

We may assent to the truth that each child must make his/her own response of faith and therefore, responses of choice, but I think we live out in expectation that because we have poured the gospel, the catechism, the worship, the hymns, the preaching, the family worship, the devotions, the youth trips, the Sunday lunch discussion over the pastor's sermon, into them that of course, of course, of course, they will make the response of faith in God. And from that response will pour out nothing but good, solid, righteous fruit. The sins of the world, of the "faithless," will not touch these.

And then it does.

There is so much here. I can't write anymore on this right now. I will write more later.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why would you write about a prodigal child?

I had to ask myself this before I started these blog posts because the discussion at hand was on the privacy and need for discretion related to our older children. So I thought about why I would write about a prodigal child.

1) I am not the only mom living with this reality.
2) I wish that someone else was writing about this so that I could learn from her.
3) In the absence of someone else writing about it, I decided that I would focus on writing what God has been teaching me in this reality.
4) I cannot ignore this reality with myself or with my child. If there was ever a call for honesty regarding the realities of eternity, it is now.
5) I love my son, and in all things I undertake to treat him with respect and love. Bold truth spoken in love is taking its form this way, for now.
6) Do not presume that I have told all things. I understand discretion.
7) I desire for God to be glorified in this reality though it reveal my many sins and errors. God will be glorified in my son's life whether in salvation or in judgment.

I imagine #7 bothers you the most. More about that later.

First, so I know that I am not the only mom living with this reality. But as I alluded to in my first post, mom get togethers, no matter the age of your child, focus more on the accomplishments and transcript building achievements than they do on the how do you say, "dirty laundry" events of life.

Usually, if I hear from a mom who also has a prodigal child, she is typically much older than I and the child is a grown adult who has left the home and is living on his or her own and is not going to church. About half of those conversations then also include the phrase, "But I know she/he accepted Christ as a child so I am praying that she/he will one day return to the church."

Honestly, I do not know how to respond to this statement. While yes, I know specifically of a time when this son told me that he prayed to receive Christ as His Lord and Savior, I have witnessed multiple life years of seeing no fruit, no repentance, no desire to grow, distaste for things of God, spurning of values and beliefs, and clearly spoken statements to the effect that he does not believe.

Now of course, I am not some hard-boiled pessimist who never hopes. I am, however, a realist when it comes to God's Word and what He says does or does not demonstrate life in Him. I regularly wrestle with the parable of the sower, wondering if seed that falls on the rocky places and springs up quickly, then withers because it has no root is a definite only verdict. My wrestling leads me to prayer and in prayer I ask God to prepare the soil of this son's heart, for I know that constantly His word, His seed, goes out. I do not believe in a complacent trust for a long past VBS prayer of current zero result. For even if said prayer was authentic, I am praying for a life that demonstrates the work of the Holy Spirit.

The hard part always circles back to my own sin as it is easy to fall into pious responses that communicate lack of love for him, i.e. holier than thou conversation does not create a winsome witness. So while not every interaction of words and actions between us will DECLARE the gospel, "I am cooking this dinner for you because God has provided spaghetti for us sinners tonight just as God has provided Jesus for salvation. Will you believe? Take and eat!" Every interchange of words and actions between us should declare the gospel, "Supper is ready. Let's pray."

Loving him by serving. Praying for his day. Asking about his day. Offering help with his school and activities. Being present when he talks. Appreciating his art and music. Even disciplining him when necessary with grace. All interactions of words and actions are to declare the gospel. That is the hard to live out work of the day.

I know that I am not the only mom living with this reality of a prodigal child. To that mom, I am listening. How are you living out the day to day gospel before your child? What will you share with me in how to persevere?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sundays are hard....

Sundays used to be hard because getting out the door on time with all the people dressed, cleaned, fed, and Ready To Worship The Lord! was a task that brought all of hell's minions to bear upon every.little.detail. Shoes were missing. Pants were dirty. Shirts were not ironed. Someone was having a stomachache that required 38 minutes in the bathroom. Cinnamon rolls burned. The toilet was stopped up.

It was perfectly normal that by the time everyone got into the car, we were all grumpy, grousing, and in need of new salvation.

I kid, I know once saved, always saved. But do you know what I mean?

All my boys are older now and responsible for their own maintenance and upkeep for the most part. I left the business of wiping noses and bottoms many, many years ago. They do their own ironing. If they are wearing dirty pants, it is their own responsibility. And sometimes they get to church wearing tennis shoes because the church ones could not be found. I decided years ago that the battle of fashion was not the hill to die upon. As long as the "unpresentable" parts are covered, match or not, we will, however, be ON TIME.

The boys even make breakfast for the family as part of the Sunday morning carousel. I am all for that part of a Sabbath rest!

Sundays are hard in that as I'm getting ready in the morning I know that it will be a day of weeping. Weeping as the gospel is presented. Weeping as the hymns and songs are sung. Weeping as the words of God's grace preached to my soul reach deep into my own understanding while at the same time reminding me that as of yet, a son whom I love, does not hear nor see nor love its beauty for himself.

We sit on the back row of the church not because of my weeping, although that has become its own gift of sorts to not cause overmuch distraction. We sit on the back row because of all the wide shoulders of growing boys that do not fit on the shorter pews. It is important to us to sit as a family. And by all rights, we are a family by name, mailing address, and tax returns. But we are not a family in that one as of yet, a son whom I love, only participates in the liturgy of faith as an external rite.

So I weep. The affirmation of faith, the corporate confession, the words of encouragement, the pastoral prayer, all pieces and parts of what gives my own soul rest and strength for the week also brings pain. And pain brings prayer. Prayer for these words to not bounce off of a heart but to penetrate it. Prayer for the preaching seeds to sink deep roots into soil prepared by the Holy Spirit and not be choked out by life thorns or eaten by birds. Prayer that the most musical of sons will hear with his heart the hymns of faith.

In the denomination I grew up in, my prayer life didn't happen until the altar call when I fervently called out for someone, anyone, to please go speak to the pastor so that we could get to the restaurant on time. Now, my prayer life begins the moment I walk through the door.

I believe in the efficacy of the preached word. I believe in the privilege of corporate worship. I believe no matter what hell's minions might bring to bear on the details of getting out the door on a Sunday morning that every grace moment given with this son whom I love is potentially the grace moment of faith.

"You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD, my God, I will praise you forever." 
Psalm 30:11-12

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Living with a prodigal....

In this day and age I think almost everything has to have a caveat to prevent misunderstanding. And then of course, even a caveat can go wrong and require its own clarity. Oh vicious cycle of confusion!

But for the sake of what I am writing, I am defining "prodigal" as in Luke 15, "The Parable of the Prodigal Son." Meaning: I have a son, whom I love, who has rejected our family's beliefs, values, and faith; and who if he could, would, like the younger son of Luke 15, take his inheritance and live for himself in "reckless living."

Now, lest you think every day is fraught with hostility and gospel shouting sessions, it is not. Most days in fact, this son is polite, respectful, funny, and helpful. Most days he does not walk around glaring and declaring, "I have rejected God. Get out of my way!" I have come to mark those days as common grace.

But on the un-most days, his words and life practices declare a reversal of how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven." His prayer more closely resembles the following: If there is a heaven, great is my name. My kingdom come. My will be done. On earth as it is in my imagination."

As you might imagine, when that prayer has played on the reel in his head enough times, when life in the "kingdom as we know it called the home" does not go as he imagines it should, then there is quite definitely a stormy time for all. This reverse kingdom situation extends into school life and his views on entertainment, into his spare time activities and into his views for his future. He endures authority only for the idea that eventually he believes he will live without any at all.

On either set of days, with varying degrees of success, I have learned, painfully, that I am responsible for how I live out the gospel before him. Constantly my own sin of my own views of "personal kingdom" are confronted as I live under authority. When I complain about things not going my way, do I remember to think and so acknowledge that God's sovereignty in the situation is actually my best place? When I am frustrated by another's actions or choices, do I remember that I am responsible to forgive as I have been forgiven? When I am discontented with the providence full on my plate, do I confess that what I have is good and sufficient because God has provided?

I'm in the moms' group that is quick to say how much I have learned about the love of God for us once I had children. Yes, me too! I've learned so much. <insert motherly glow>

But the other side of that group's experience is how much I have learned about my own sin and God's forgiveness and grace for me once I had children. And while I would never, ever, never, have thought that living with a prodigal son would be for my best, it is. A small part of the ongoing redemption picture is that as God works through all things, these hard things, He is growing me in prayer, in practice, in thanksgiving, in earnestness for the gospel, in humility of grace, and in conviction of personal sin.

A New York minute is too slow when I think how quickly I would take all that I have learned for myself to see my son believe. But for right now, God has not given that choice. I can, however, rest in, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

Yes, Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My name is Lisa, and I have a rebellious teenaged son.....

If there were a support group for moms like me, I would be at every meeting making that same statement. I would weep with others as I have wept alone, and I would share the bits and pieces of hope that break into the darkness even as I would listen to their own glimpses of hoped for better. I know the intimate ache of a son who does not find delight in the Lord.

Unfortunately I have not found such a support group. Instead I have discovered that if or when I talk about my son's rejection of the Lord, it usually makes other people uncomfortable. Hard news does not find a place at the table of announcing accomplishments, awards, and achievements. In a community where pride in our sons and daughters is its own virtue, a difficult statement is a frowned upon indiscretion.

No Christian mom or dad wants to believe such a thing. How could it possibly be true? Haven't our kids been raised in the church? They are at youth group every Sunday night. They attend discipleship groups and serve on far and near mission trips. They not only know the answers to the Shorter Catechism, but they can speak the questions with you as well. And, if quizzed, they can even take you step by step in how to be saved.

Yes, he can for the most part. But he has also said quite clearly that he wants nothing to do with the Lord because he does not believe. He has said, even respectfully, that he only attends church and its functions because he knows it is a "rule" of the house. He admits that once this "God-thing" sounded all right, but now he states that it is just not for him. His life and practice do not demonstrate repentance.

You try telling someone those things in person and see if the main reaction isn't a tight lipped grimace accompanied by a sad shake of the head. All the while avoiding eye contact with you as they think how to change the conversation quickly. Ah, but first throw out a Bible verse that will solve it...."Well you know, God says, 'Train up a child in the way he will go and when he is old he will not depart from it.'"

Leaving me once again to consider if his rejection is my fault. Is my own struggle with sin lived out before him so devoid of victory that all he sees is hypocrisy and weakness? Has my own painful sanctification caused him to think it is hopeless to overcome sin? Has my lack of mercy and grace with others, including him, caused him to doubt the mercy and grace of God? Yes, yes, and yes. I am certain that on more than one point my lack, my debt, my trespass, my sin has been of negative value in his life.

However, I am equally sure he has seen and witnessed my confession and repentance when I have sinned against him and others. He has heard my humility and thanksgiving for forgiveness of sin. He has even known and albeit grudgingly admitted receiving mercy and grace personally at my hand. Still he confesses rejection of faith.

We have had all, ALL, the theological discussions on faith, sin, salvation, repentance, forgiveness, and grace. We have gone through the -tion words: justification, redemption, sanctification, propitiation, and glorification. We have answered to the best of our ability hard questions of "Why did God let sin into the garden? Why did Jesus have to die? Why does God allow bad things to happen? Why doesn't God answer all my prayers? How do we know that we are right and the Buddhists are wrong?" My den could be renamed the Areopagus for the number of apologetics sessions the walls have heard. Still he confesses rejection of the Lord.

I know how one is saved--by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit who brings the spiritually dead to spiritual life, giving them faith to respond with belief. I confess the sovereignty of God in election. I believe in the promise of the covenant that these things are for you and your children. Yet I have a child, a child of the covenant, a baptized child of the covenant, who lives as a covenant breaker.

What then have I learned in these four plus years of soul's travail?
1) The Holy Spirit is the One who convicts of sin and gives spiritual life
2) God is sovereign in salvation
3) Each one is responsible and accountable for his or her response to God
4) I cannot save my son AND I am responsible in word and life to witness to him the gospel of Jesus Christ as I have opportunity and breath in my body
5) Knowing he is saved by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone will be a joy beyond measure, BUT I cannot make his salvation my idol

Perhaps he will one day believe what he sang as a little boy, "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know." Perhaps the Lord will in His mercy grant him the repentance that leads to faith. Perhaps the lived memory of Bible verses and church sermons and youth group talks and our den apologetics will one day be a part of a glorious awakening of his spirit. Perhaps one day.

But until that day, it is hard and it is grievous and there is no easy answer. Do not be a part of a community that pretends or ignores or pithily dismisses the ache of moms like me who just like you love their children and pray fervently for their entrance into the kingdom.

There will be more to say.