Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bold truth in firm love...

what the heck do I mean by that?

Well, let's see, here is a quote from an email I received from a mom with a question about her 6th grader. She said that she was asking for my counsel, "because of your extensive experience in raising boys through the middle school years, and your exceptionally high standards, and your complete lack of accepting excuses..."

Not only did that line cause me pause but I also laughed out loud. I readily acknowledge that I have a reputation as a straight shooter of sorts who will cut the bull, land the punch, and say it like it is.

When I turned 40, I announced to some friends that I had decided to take my Mimi's tactic when she turned 80 to say what I thought and no more holding back. To which one of those friends responded, "And how would that be different than now?"

Regardless, it is true that through the years my telling it like it is has varied both in truth (that it is like I am telling it), in maturity (spiritual growth and using godly filtering), and timing (honesty is the best policy but timing is everything).  And on many occasions, both at my fault and at no fault of my own, my speech has been interpreted as being without compassion, sympathy, and even gentleness.

And while I am not a touchy-feely girl, I do desire to evidence compassion, sympathy, and gentleness in my speech to others. I am very much a work in progress in all those things. Still.

So when someone comes to ask what I think about said child raising issues, I do not coddle the truth. I honestly do not think any mom has time or genuine need for less than the true truth. If she is brave enough to ask another mom what she thinks, while she certainly needs affirmation for her mothering, she also needs the truth she is asking to receive.

Affirmation for her mothering is firm love. I tell her what she is doing that accords with God's word, that demonstrates His grace to her, that speaks to her own spiritual growth, and is a blessing to the kingdom.

Affirmation is also bold truth to say and show her where she is coddling personal sin or denying what is really going on with her child. This is affirmation because it is God's grace when He shows us our sin and keeps us by His Spirit to confess, repent, and believe in truth. Over and over again.

It is not affirmation to falsely flatter a mom who is disregarding Biblical instruction regarding her child. For example, a child that is sassing his mom is not "just tired and needs a nap." He is being disrespectful and she is allowing that sin to continue by denying the sass (disrespect) as sin. Excuses are not a gentle restoring of the sinner (Gal. 6:1). When the Israelites were quarreling, grumbling, and complaining against Moses in the wilderness, did the Lord comfort Moses with the words, "They are just tired and need a nap."?

Of course not. The Lord dealt with the sin. And it was grace that He dealt with the sin in such a way as to point them to Christ. (Exo. 17)

Anyway, there are numerous examples of the sins of childhood and at least double that for the ways that moms (all of us) have wrongly excused the sin for an even greater number of reasons. Doing so will eventually lead a mom to the end of herself and when that mom asks me what to do, I tell her the truth.

Boldly. Firmly. Because it is how the Lord tells us the truth about Himself and His works in His word. Boldly. Firmly. There is no Book of Hesitations. No Book of Excuses. No Book of Denial. His Word is good and right and true and just and merciful and penetrating and sharper than a two-edged sword.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16

P.S. And lest anyone think that Jesus deviated from a bold and firm truth when it came to His words, remember that He was clear to say, "My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me." John 7:16 Numerous times Jesus repeated the statement that His words to His hearers were straight from the One who sent Him.

P.P.S. There is more to say on this I'm sure, but ending it here for now. I'll see what strikes next.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Not the other woman....

but the older woman is what I have become. Funny, hasn't it been said that you're only as old as you think you are? If that's true, I'm still somewhere in my 20's. With the wisdom of my 40's of course. Weird, right?

Anyway, older woman status has been driven home in several ways of late. Most recently has been the requests of younger moms with sons asking for advice in raising sons. I don't yet have an empty nest. My oldest will be 18 in July. My middle just turned 17. And my youngest will be 14 in two weeks. I still know myself to be firmly ensconced in the work of "raising sons."

But I understand their questions, because when my boys were toddlers, preschoolers, elementary, and middle school, I was always looking for a mom just slightly ahead of me to ask how she did thus and so or what to do when the son did this and that. The questions come both from bewilderment over what in the world to do as much as from a need for affirmation that you are not raising the next Manson.

It can be bleak as a mom to know to whom to turn and ask in the noise of parenting articles proliferating in magazines, books, and social media. Fortunately, I was able to find a spiritual mentoring mom who took me firmly by the chin and told me to raise those boys to be "assets in the kingdom and not liabilities!" It became a mantra for me.

Seeing a 4 year old have a tantrum might have an element of cuteness to it (oh he's just tired), but is that what I want to see when he is 14 and bigger than me? A 6 year old that can not control his emotions we chalk up to immaturity (and it is), but if he is not taught how to control his emotions, than what will be the result at 16 years old (dangerous, reckless, lack of self controlled behavior)? Based on her counsel, I began to filter my decisions through the long view questions of, "Am I willing to see 'this' behavior from this son when he is a young man, a young husband, a young dad?" "What is the Biblical principle happening here?"

Long view parenting means that we don't parent for the moment but we parent for the lifetime of that child who will eventually be required to take a place in society as either an asset or a liability.

It was valuable advice and this woman is still one that I can go to for those questions that plague the moms of older sons--jobs, girls, cars, college, life choices, etc. I imagine that even when that empty nest comes, she will be a beacon of counsel for how to interact with my adult sons.

So now the younger moms are coming to me with similar questions and I have to quickly blink my eyes to realize how rapidly the years have passed and although I still feel very much in the thick of it, I have the Biblical responsibility to do as my spiritual mentoring mom did for me--to speak the bold truth in firm love.

Speaking bold truth in firm love--yep, that's what I'll blog about next time. Put on your steel toed shoes.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mondays are a favorite day...

for me in my weeks right now. For many I know that Monday is not good. It signals a return to labor, to stress, to tension, to tasks undone demanding to be done.

But I'm a part-time girl at the "job outside the house" and Monday is my day to both recover from the weekend and to prepare for the week. There is time for a leisurely walk with the dog, for sitting on the porch to drink coffee and read my Bible, to meal plan and grocery shop, to read and study and write for upcoming teaching, and to stay in pajamas or at least comfy clothes until a 3:00 shower.

(I think one of the greatest things is an afternoon shower because it speaks to all sorts of non-hurried, relaxed indulgence.)

So Mondays are a current favorite day for me. However, this Monday has been a somber one as I've thought about the death of Kara Tippetts. I've thought and prayed for her family and friends who are enduring an incredible grief juxtaposed against incredible peace for their joy in all she has gained in being Home.

I've attended two funerals in the past year, both for men that I only knew incidentally, but I know their families and at both funerals, my tears just flowed. Because I know the hurt of grief intimately and I know the collision of faith and belief at the point of great loss. It is a clashing sensation of trust and bewilderment. Grieving with hope is a gift, but death should affect us greatly even as Christians because it speaks to how utterly broken this life is.

My Monday favorite has been a gray, drizzly, and sobering day as I contemplated a family waking up to once again realize the absence of a beloved wife and mom. All my same activities were accomplished, but with the heavy heart of one who longs with those I only know through a blog for the restoration of all things in Jesus Christ to be realized on earth as it is in heaven.

We do not and cannot know the days appointed for us. We have, as Kara did, the daily decision of choosing intentional joy, authentic grace, and unwavering trust. Even tomorrow as I go to work, I will have before me the same choices that she did even though I do not knowingly face a similar outcome.

I don't know how to end a post like this. It's neither light-hearted nor utterly depressing, just achingly real as every life marches to an ending. May the ending be glory filled because we chose well in choosing Jesus every day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Spring cleaning....

and all its requisite labors has been happening around these parts the last several days. While it is a relief to get rid of the clutter and see the original surfaces of things like floors, desks, cabinets, and the like, it is as much as an emotional labor as it is a physical one.

I'm one of those that has memories attached to things that others would quickly label as "junk." That shirt I was wearing the last time I held James. That book that was given to me after my first year as a Bible teacher. That brochure that I used to plan our family trip to Williamsburg.

Agh. I wish that I could easily toss those things. And sometimes I am able to break the bond, remember the moment, smile (or shed a tear) and "let it go!" But other times that thing, whatever it may be, just goes into the deal with it later pile.

This year's spring cleaning may have been invested with a tad bit more emotion, I will confess. Nate, my oldest son, went on his first college visit the same weekend that I was at the homeschool convention with my youngest son planning his high school courses while my middle son was at home playing a big regional soccer game. Between Thursday and Saturday my heart was in three very different places.

Spring cleaning was on the tails of trying to mentally group and re-group how very different one year from now will be in our lives. We are at the beginning of an ending of sorts. Spring cleaning in a year will involve packing one up for a move out of the house and not just a re-organization of his room.

As one friend would write, cue "Sunrise, Sunset."

So--clutter was removed. Memories were remembered. Some things just moved from one pile to another. And tears were shed that I blamed on the dust that is stirred up from all that cleaning.

Friday, March 6, 2015

If doing the same thing over....

and over again while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, then fixing your focus on all that you cannot change while expecting a different result is certainly the definition of frustration. Infinite frustration.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." 

Wikipedia explains that this poem is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, and its most common association is with the Alcoholics Anonymous program. 

But as a mom of teenaged sons, I'm inclined to think that a mom on her knees and carpet fuzz in her nose hairs cried it out in the closet one dark night of the soul while interceding for the soul of her son.

In many cases I vividly remember the infinite frustrations of being a teenager. I realize now as a mom that I had no vision for the infinite frustrations that my parents must have experienced as they witnessed me wrongly focused on that which could and would not make me happy. Ever. While stubbornly focused on those things which I mistakenly thought could and would make me happy. Not ever.

Enter the mom's curse, a la Bill Cosby's wife's voice, "I hope you have children just like you!"

And then she did.

In most families where all are biologically related, I hear the picking apart of various traits through the genetic tree--"She's as stubborn as her Aunt Patsy," or "Well, that is clearly the Nicholson in her." In my family where in at least two cases there is not a genetic linkage, there is still the spiritual one where as sons of Adam and as daughters of Eve we seek not that which God has said is good, very good, but we choose that which promises better while only delivering worst.

And over and over and over again both in insanity of soul and frustration of spirit we lather, rinse, and repeat.

On the outside it all looks so simple. When you're counseling a friend, it all sounds so simple. But when your son is the one circling in frustration, it is not so simple.

It is at about this point in the blog post that a resolution should be on its way; at least for the writing. Neither the reader nor the author will have that in this one. Yet. While every day is a step towards some form of resolution, the story is still in process; it is not finished.

Hence the "Serenity" prayer: help this mom to have peace for what she cannot change; courage to change what I can; and wisdom (from the Only Wise God) to know the difference. And bring my son's heart home to You.

Monday, March 2, 2015

And then all these good things began to happen....

right after I accepted Jesus.

That's the paltry paraphrase of an "encouraging" story I heard on a Christian radio station the other day. Yes, I'm a bit snarky about it.

For years I've said that the reason church marquees don't post, "Follow Jesus and suffer with Him!" is because that message is not really one that brings in the crowds. Doughnuts and a coffee bar are more welcoming by far.

And it does not matter one whit that Jesus used language like "count the cost" and "pick up your cross and follow me." We seem to still hear some twisted refrain of follow Jesus and all will be temporally well. It's a soft sell of an evangelical preamble for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--all to be had this side of the Jordan.

I don't know the woman who called in with her encouraging story and I am not disregarding the sweet goodness of God to show His hand in her life through real and temporal blessings. However, I can't help but think of the many people who heard this "testimony" who believe in Jesus, who have also trusted in Him, and who are smack dab in the middle of a dang, miry pit wondering, "How long, O Lord?"

Temporal blessing is not the promise of Christ. Eternal life is. And the distance between the temporal and eternal is greater than the measured days of a mortal life. Choosing Christ, believing on Christ, living for Christ is the greatest thing you can do in this life, but doing so to get a greater life is not just a rose colored view of the cross, it is a cheap one.

And interpreting our salvation as that which only gets us a better life is the cheapest of the cheap.

Jesus did not die so that you and I could get a promotion at work, win a contest, or have a great parking spot. All of these I've heard as testimony to what being saved has done in a person's life. Gah! What in the world?

How possibly do those words stand in the same vein of "testimony" as the ones from Hebrew 11:37-39, "They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect."

The gift of salvation secured on the Cross by Jesus Christ is not a punch ticket for temporal benefits. It is an everlasting seal of the Holy Spirit, a guarantee of our inheritance, and for the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:14)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pregnancy transformation...

is what happens soon after that positive pregnancy test. In fact, before you take a pregnancy test you may have some signs of change--feelings of nausea and queasiness, heightened smell, an aversion to some tastes, and usually what prompts the test is being late for the monthly visit of Aunt Flo. But there is something that happens mentally when a woman sees that clear blue or pink line--all of a sudden everything that happens to her physically is filtered through the news that she is now pregnant.

An ache on the lower left side--ligaments stretching? A bout of heartburn--because you're pregnant, of course. A darker patch on your skin--that darned pregnancy mask. Positive testing women pick up the 72nd edition of What To Know When You Are Expecting and read every sign, symptom and symbol with the expectation that they will experience each and every one. Even the ones you don't want to actually experience.

I'm not pregnant, but this illustration came to mind when thinking about a question I was asked on the whole, "is someone really saved or not" issue. I always cringe when I'm asked that because I know that most of the time the one asking will not like my answer. The one asking is always asking about a loved one, a dear family member or friend, someone that they desperately want good for and in asking the question they are really asking for reassurance about their loved one's eternal state.

I've got loved ones just like that so I understand the groan and ache of heart that precedes the question. But the part they don't like to hear, the part I don't like to say, but the part that must be said is that a person who is truly saved will be transformed in their lives in heart, mind, and actions. True salvation affects external life changes because true salvation is the regeneration of life from within that can't help but flow to the outside.

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death  in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." Romans 6:1-4

Someone who has said the prayer or walked the aisle or signed the card or attended the revival and has had the outward, external signs of salvation but is still living for self in most if not all respects, who is hostile towards Christian fellowship, who is unrepentant regarding their sin, who does not desire to know the Lord through His Word, who is defensive regarding life begs the question, what effect, if any, did those outward, external signs of salvation have?

Hence the illustration of pregnancy. A positive pregnancy test will only lead to actual physical transformation that proves to be a real pregnancy, that of a real life growing within and a baby born after nine months. Before a woman is shown to be pregnant externally with the swelling belly, breasts, and ankles, she is indeed pregnant. But the fruit of that pregnancy cannot be hidden and she would be hard pressed if she continued to insist she was pregnant if no external signs ever appeared and certainly if no baby came after the requisite 40 weeks.

However, our current evangelical culture does not seem to think it strange in any sense for person after person to claim the positive line test of salvation and then live week after week, month after month, even year after year, with not the first external evidence of an internal event.

And here is the thin ice. No one knows the heart of another. How and when and by what means God saves one and His Holy Spirit begins to work in that heart and bring about change is all of His timetable and no one else. And I know that to even indicate that a person is not saved (because of no outward life changes) is the pile on invitation of the year for calls of judgey judgmentalism and legalism and lack of grace and unkindness and all that.

So I can only expect first in my own heart that true salvation will affect true life change in my own life and pray that the many loved ones where the question still hangs will be found justified in Christ and not in anything else.