Learning from Little Ones: lessons from children about fear, hope and love.

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Before I had kids I had many great ideas about how I would rear them, what I would teach them and how they were going to obey me ALL of the time.  (Cue the smirks and snorts from my parent readers.) Then my oldest daughter was born, and the first time that my newborn cried for longer than ten minutes for no reason that was obvious to me, I realized that I would never be able to control her or any other children that would come along.  I realized that I had become officially enrolled in the Motherhood School of Sanctification.  (And it turned out that my oldest was the easy child.  The next one…well let’s just say that we call her Hurricane Georgia and let that give you an idea about her tendencies.  And the third is turning two this week, so the jury is still out on him!)

As a Christian mother, the most important idea that I want to communicate to my children is this: that God loves them with an everlasting love that cannot be shaken.  It’s a love so strong that He sent His only perfect Son to Earth to live a humble life, to be ignored, persecuted and then killed so that they, my children, could know freedom from sin, peace in the face of persecution, joy in God’s presence, hope for their promised reward in Heaven, and the love of Christ for the world.  It’s a love that casts out all fear and hopes for what God has promised.  It’s something that, for me, supersedes any other pursuit in their lives: education, financial success, romantic relationships, etc.  Sure those things are important, but I don’t believe that they amount to much or provide sustaining happiness apart from Christ.

So early on, I began to try to teach these things to them.  Most modern Christian moms will visit Pinterest or simply Google to find inspiration for ways to share the Gospel in creative ways with their children.  And I certainly did that a couple of times, but anyone who knows me well knows that I am not likely to laminate or craft a thing, so Pinterest quickly frustrated me and I started thinking about one of the first instructions in the Bible regarding teaching your children about God.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up,” Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (emphasis mine).

This really encourages me because it recommends using the most powerful tool we have in order to teach: our own testimonies of God’s work in our lives.  And I have lots of stories about that!  (And I like to talk).  I decided that I would: a) commit to doing regular devotionals/scripture reading with my children, b) commit to regularly praying with them and for them, c) be very honest about my testimony (age appropriately), my walk with the Lord, and welcome any questions they may have about Jesus.  That’s it–no fancy plan or methodology, just a diligent commitment to sharing my love for my Savior with my kids.

The first few years of doing this with Vivienne were a little disappointing, mostly because of my own unrealistic expectations.  (Many of you moms know that we think that our first children are incredibly mature, and it isn’t until the last child is born that we see them for the babies they truly are).  Sometimes the principles that I was teaching her were repetitive and simple, and I kept wondering when she was going to grasp these faith foundations.  I persevered though, even when I was frustrated and tired of reading about Jonah and the whale or Jesus in the boat with His disciples for the 13th time, because I trusted that God would take these seeds and produce ripe fruit.

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Vivienne recognized Jesus as her Savior and acknowledged His leadership in her life at four years old, but still I was skeptical.  Why?  Because of my own testimony in which I prayed to “accept Jesus as my Savior” at six years of age without any heart commitment or full awareness of my decision, and then proceeded to live a self-centered, lustful, idolatrous life until I was 25.  My husband and I prayed with Vivi, but told her that we were going to be watching and listening to see if her heart had truly yielded to God.  And in the last year I have been stunned, moved, humbled by the deep truths that God has spoken through my six-year-old daughter to me.  I have worshiped the Lord in tears, and with a grateful heart, for the love she now has for Jesus and her desire to share Him with other people.  Here are some of the things that I have heard her say:

-“Today my friend didn’t feel well at school, so I went to a quiet place in my classroom (because I know that it’s best to talk to God in a quiet place) and prayed for her three times, and then God healed her!”

-“I know that sometimes bad things happen because there is sin in the world, and that’s why people need to know Jesus.”

-“At my birthday party today, how will I know when it’s a good time to tell my friends about Jesus?”

-(After a family hike in the woods, she stopped to sit on a bench and pray and thank God for the hike.  I asked her about her prayer time.) “I had a GREAT prayer time!  I told God thank you and He said ‘You’re welcome, and I love you and I’m glad that I made you.'”

What touches me deeply about these statements from my precious daughter is that they  demonstrate the Lord’s faithfulness to me and to her.  I have prayed many times that He would speak to her heart, despite my failings and missteps.  I am not a perfect person or mother–far from it.  Often I lose patience with my children, sometimes I yell at them, sometimes I’m too tired or wrapped up in housework to do a devotional with them.  There are even times that I am sick of being mommy and don’t want my kids around–GASP!  I regularly sin in front of them, whether they realize it or not.  But my Father has been faithful–something, some small thing or things that my husband and I said, or did, or read, resonated with Vivienne and impacted her deeply, even at her young age.  And God took that small thing and spoke to her little heart about the grace and love He has for her through Jesus Christ.  And now, she KNOWS Jesus.  She LOVES him, not perfectly, but genuinely.  It is beautiful to witness the relationship that she has with the God of the universe, growing everyday into something authentic and unique to her and Him.  And I have to believe that He will bless it.  Their relationship is something bigger than me, and although God may have used me as an instrument in her learning about Him, He deserves most of the credit for cultivating what was planted.  I know that she will have tough times.  I know that the temptation to sin will one day become a constant struggle for her.  I know that she will make large and small mistakes–that she will hurt people and that people will hurt her. But I have peace because His Spirit rests on her.  I have hope because of what Paul says in Philippians 1:6:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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And knowing this also gives me hope for my other two children.  Georgia is very different from her older sister–she doesn’t care about perfection, she acts on her whims, she has a dominant spirit that is self-confident and doesn’t readily admit failure or mistakes. For her, fear is a recurring stronghold.  She is fearful of losing my love and my approval and does not like to come clean when she has messed up.  The other day she did something that she knew was wrong, and when I first asked her about it she tried to change the subject.  I held her gently but firmly and looked into her eyes, asking her again to tell me what happened. Her facade crumbled and she started crying in my lap telling me that she was afraid.  She didn’t want me to be angry with her, and immediately I thought of the scripture about perfect love casting out ALL fear, and how so many of us look just like little Georgia when approaching a righteous God.

We are inherently fearful of being vulnerable before Him, of exposing our weaknesses and failures, so we avoid issues, we blame-shift, we change the subject.  But God perfectly loves us and His reactions are always right, justified and tempered with grace.  We can trust Him, so I tried to communicate that to Georgia, to show her a smidgen of His patience and grace, and after a few minutes she confessed and she seemed to feel relieved to know that my love hadn’t wavered, that I was still there and willing to love her.  Sometimes it is discouraging when she does things like this–when she wants to brush her sin aside, when it seems that she doesn’t really see the need for a Savior, but knowing that God made her too, that He crafted her little persona, and that He will fulfill His plan for her, gives me hope and peace.  I can rest in that and have patience, and continue to tell her about Him until the right seed is planted.  And I see a picture of me in her as well, who I used to be before I met Jesus, and the person I can become when I am tempted and struggle with one problem after another.  I am grateful for Georgia, for her beginner’s walk with the Lord, and how she reminds me to be hopeful.

A recurring thought I’m having this Christmas season is how genius God is, that He would send a baby to kick-start His great rescue plan, to deliver people from fear, to give them hope and to demonstrate His love for mankind and then, in my own life, bring these things full circle in the lessons that I learn daily from Him through my own babies.  Praise the Lord, for He is good.

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When Your Faith Makes You Unpopular: Being a Bold Disciple in a Postmodern World

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I was in a social setting recently where I saw a lot of people that I haven’t seen in many, many years.  There was a strange twist to this scenario because of social media–we all knew enough random details of each others’ lives to feel confident starting a conversation, but Facebook familiarity is no substitute for the comfort you have after years of quality time.  There were a handful of people at this event that have remained good friends of mine as time has passed.  We KNOW each other–we know that there is more depth, more fun, more complication in our lives than the highlights on Instagram and Facebook.  But most everyone else used social media as their stereotype gauge, which if we’re honest, is something that we all do.  We can’t help it!  And I have a feeling that my stereotype for the night was: Conservative, Fanatical Bible Thumper. I came home and told my husband about some of my disappointing encounters and he said, “Well honey, you do have some divisive opinions!”  I said, “So do you!”  To which he replied, “Yeah, but I don’t share like you and also I don’t care what most people think.”

It is very easy to hide behind a computer screen and say what you want, think or feel.  It is not so easy when you realize that your views are counter-cultural and oftentimes even offensive.  As I get older, it becomes more and more difficult to be a conservative Christian in the world.  I know that my life would be much easier if I would just acquiesce to social trends and religious relativism.  I wouldn’t have to bite my tongue, be concerned about how I come across in mixed crowds, pull my girls out of Kids’ Yoga at the gym because I don’t feel like explaining why we don’t believe in Chakras and energy flow.  In these awkward moments, it would be much simpler to deny what I believe and who I am for the sake of being liked a little more.

But I simply can’t abandon my beliefs.  And it’s not because I’m pig-headed or stubborn.  It’s because I have met Jesus, He has changed my life in a very real way, and I love Him too much.  I don’t share my testimony and my religious views because I am hoping to convert people or win arguments.  I do it because I am so grateful for what God is done in my life that I just enjoy telling others about it.  Sometimes it’s an overflow of my thoughts, sometimes it’s because I sense that something I have learned from God and experienced in my walk with Him may comfort someone.  Yes, there have been times that I have posted something in frustration over what I see happening in our country, but when I do this I am not so much angry with specific people as I am heartbroken over a country, a world, that is turning its back on Jesus, Who loves us and gave His lifeblood for us.  He rejoices over us and wants us to return to Him so that He can give us abundant life, not a fake life that is fun for a few years and then runs dry and leaves us exhausted and wanting (Zephaniah 3:17, Hosea 14, John 3:16, John 10:10).

This post is for those Believers who are tempted to give up and give in–be bold, speak up for Jesus!  Speak up in love, not judgment or condemnation (1 Peter 3:15,16).  Yet practice discernment and prayer in choosing your time, place, audience and method of testimony.  Our job is to show the glory, the awesome nature of Christ, which is represented by the Holy Spirit in us.  It is God’s job to woo people, to show a need for repentance of sin and to change their hearts.  You don’t have to work so hard to do that, Christian.  Just love.

This post is also for those who DON’T believe.  I know we Christians can seem strange, and there’s a good reason for that, but if you get around a GENUINE Christian you shouldn’t be able to doubt their heart or their concern for you.  Don’t be afraid of them, don’t be afraid to be their friend.  A genuine Believer just cares for you and wants to show you the goodness of Jesus, in whatever way speaks love and life to you.  We may be weirdos, but we’re usually weird in a good way.  I want to thank the people I call friends who aren’t Believers like me, who may not agree with me on various social and political issues, but who have given me a chance, who remain kind and have permitted me to earn a place in their lives.

I am choosing to spend the next few months silent on social media about faith and politics, instead focusing on praying for our nation during this election season while also building more relationships in my community and looking for ways to serve people.  (There may be a few people right now applauding me shutting up–you’re welcome.)  I’m sure that I will feel tempted to open my mouth here and there, but there is a time for everything under the sun, and besides, sometimes silence is louder than speech.

I leave you guys with some words of encouragement from the master Himself.

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved…So do not be afraid of them.  There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Matthew 9: 22, 26)

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“...In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16, 33)

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4, 14-16)