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Archive for September, 2017

After a rough morning of trying to calm my hysterical child’s fears, I dropped the kids off at school and started praying for them on the drive home, like I usually do. But something just felt off today. I had a hard time concentrating, and felt like my prayers weren’t getting off the ground. I got home and started thinking about the things that had upset my daughter, and caught myself engaging in imaginary arguments on her behalf. I looked at what was on my calendar for today and quickly decided to reschedule a creative activity for another day when I had more energy. I felt sapped. Blocked. Oppressed. “What is going on, Lord?” I cried out in desperation. I looked outside and immediately knew the answer; it’s the smoke.

In case you live elsewhere in the country and are unaware, pretty much the entire Northwest is currently filled with smoke, and much of it is on fire. I live in a valley where smoke from surrounding wildfires tends to settle and linger every summer, but the thickness of it right now is almost like fog. Fog and smoke are oppressive. The heaviness of the atmosphere can lead to a heaviness of the spirit. But it wasn’t just the smoke that had brought me down, it’s what the smoke represents: fear.

Sometimes smoke is a sign of danger nearby, but sometimes it’s someone else’s fire that is causing smoke to blow our way. My daughter’s fear was like a smoke screen that blocked out the sun and any ray of hope that she might be able to get through the day without disaster. I tried to reason with her and help her overcome her fear, but in the end, I succumbed to it. The smoke that clouded her vision hovered over me, temporarily clouding mine. Smoke can make it seem like the sun is not shining. Fear also lies to us about our surroundings, making it seem like there is only darkness and no light. Both smoke and fear can cause a false sense of panic. The only way out is to rise above the smoke screen and speak the truth.

I took this picture in the nearby mountains where you can see blue sky above the smoke.

The truth is that the sun is shining above the smoke, and God is still on his throne. The truth is that there is no actual fire nearby, so the smoke in my neighborhood is only a threat if I’m out exercising and breathing it in deeply, allowing it to fill my lungs. In the same way, fear can only hurt me if I immerse myself in it and allow it to saturate my mind. I can stay in my home, where the air-conditioner filters the air, and be safe from smoke. Likewise, I can invite God to filter my thoughts, and trust the peace of Christ to guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:7). The Bible is the filter through which I distinguish truth from lies.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
– 1 Timothy 1:7

To put it plainly, when I am filled with fear – whether for myself or someone else – it is not coming from the Spirit of God. I mentioned that I “caught” myself engaging in imaginary arguments. The Spirit of God gives us the self-discipline to take our thoughts captive and bring them under the authority of Christ.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:5

When the smoke of fear is heavy all around us, it’s easy for fearful thoughts to slip in. We’re not under condemnation for feeling fear, but as mature believers we need to exercise the discipline of bringing our fearful thoughts to God and asking him to speak the truth over them. This self-discipline is God’s gift to us through his Spirit that resides in us.

God’s Spirit gives us power to overcome fear and temptation. The best way I know to exit the Highway of Fear is to get on the Scenic Byway of Worship. Whether it’s through singing praise songs, reading and agreeing with passages of Scripture that point to God’s majesty and sovereignty, or just praising God for all the ways he has delivered us and helped us in the past, worship expels the darkness and illuminates us with the light of God’s truth. Exalting God places our problems or fears in their proper place: at the feet of Jesus. And when I worship God, thanking him for his love for me, his perfect love casts out my fear (1 John 4:18).

The sun is shining, no matter what the smoke would have me believe. God will guard what I have entrusted to him (including my children); therefore, I will not give in to fear. It’s going to be a beautiful day, not because of my surroundings, but because I refuse to let the enemy rob me of my joy with his deception. Fear is just a smoke screen. I can rest in God’s provision of power, love, and self-discipline, trusting that he will always be with me and equip me to handle whatever comes my way. And that’s the truth.

 

 

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In just a few days I would be releasing my sweet little girl, whom I’d homeschooled since first grade, into the giant pond of public school for eighth grade. She was ready, but was I? After hours of tossing and turning, unable to sleep, I decided to get up and read for a little while. Suddenly, I remembered a promise I’d made to myself that I would read my junior high diary before sending my daughter to junior high school (in order to empathize with her and, no doubt, humble myself). Well, it’s now or never, I figured, so I uncovered the carefully hidden window to my past – that I’ve instructed my husband to BURN if I should die – and began reading. Yes, reading the thoughts of my superficial, boy-crazy self was as eye-rolling as I thought it would be, but then something unexpected happened. I found myself getting sucked into the exhilarating thrill of adolescence.

May 10, 1989
Today was cold and rainy and I looked like crap. After school I was standing against the wall when Billy Bob (names have been changed to protect the humiliated) very casually dropped his bag, then leaned up against the wall and said to me, “Hi, Brenda, will you go out with me?” I felt so dumb! I just looked up at him and said, “What?” He laughed kind of embarassedly and said, “Well?” Joe Cool and Donna Dippy were laughing, and I didn’t know what to say. So I asked him if he was being serious. He said I could take it however I wanted. Then there was a pause for what seemed like forever when neither of us knew what to say. I kept repeating the question and he kept avoiding it. I had to make a decision. He kept pressuring me for an answer and I kept stalling for time because I didn’t know how to avoid looking like an idiot.

If that doesn’t make your palms sweat, you must have repressed all your junior high memories. I obviously knew how this Shakespearean tragedy ended, but I found myself captivated by the drama and transported back to a time when the ups and downs of adolescence heightened the experience of being alive. I felt the feels again, and discovered that even the gloriously awkward ones punctuated the monotony of daily life with excitement. Just like a roller coaster, the bigger the ups and downs, the more thrilling the ride. As I closed my diary, I realized that I was actually excited for my daughter to begin her journey from childhood to adulthood and write her own story – awkward moments and all.

Only one thing stood in her way: me.

The challenge I faced when transitioning my son from homeschool to public high school as a freshman was overcoming all my fears for him. God, in his mercy, has helped me do that and has shown me that he will finish the good work he started in my son. But the challenge I face with my daughter is not my fear; it’s my pride. I think we can all acknowledge that anyone who writes a blog obviously thinks she has some valuable insights. Who better to benefit from all my smartypantsery than my own daughter? We’re so much alike that surely she would want to hear all my insights on all the things all the livelong day. Fear is what makes us keep hanging on tight when it’s time to begin letting go of our kids, but our pride (expressed through endless monologues and critiques) is what will make them cover their ears and try to squirm away.

As a teenager, I lived my own life, separate from my parents. I was driving by myself at the age of 15, going out with friends on my own, making mistakes and learning from them as I went. Reading my diary revealed that I wasn’t as fragile as I had previously thought. As a teen, I was learning how to stand on my own and also lean on God. I want my kids to know they can depend on me, but it’s more important that they know they can depend on God. When my love gets tangled up in my pride, I act as though the most important thing I can give my kids is the benefit of my wisdom so they won’t make the same mistakes I did, or so they’ll make the good choices I did. But my journey was for me to learn from. I must trust God to teach my kids just as he taught me, and acknowledge that he may not use me to teach them at this stage.

When our children were little, we were the ultimate authority on everything. We taught them how to walk, talk, tie their shoes, say please and thank you. It’s only natural that 13 years of practice would make us experts in…being experts. But when our kids enter adolescence, they are hardwired to begin to pull away and make their own decisions. We may think we know what’s best for them, but at some point our agenda is going to clash with theirs. How we handle those moments can make or break relationship. If they make bad decisions, we may fear that their future will be ruined, and fear drives us to tighten our grip. Likewise, our pride may be fueling our need to remain in control because we can’t imagine any other future for our kids than the perfect one we’ve envisioned. God dealt with me on this issue last winter when he cautioned me against going with my son to the Engineering program information night because God knew that was the future I’d been clinging to for my boy. Instead, I went with my son to the Automotive program orientation where I saw a light come on in my son’s eyes that was fueled by his passion for cars. I needed to let my dream fizzle out so I could get behind my son’s dreams. Our children’s future belongs to them, not us, and the only way we will remain in it for years to come is to focus on strengthening our relationship – not enforcing our vision.

If we will humble ourselves before God and trust him to guide our kids, then the door to relationship remains open. If our goal is to turn out perfectly behaved, high achieving, popular young adults, we may be able to control them with our myriad instructions and threats, but we will likely shut the door to relationship. However, if our goal is to build a solid relationship with our kids by supporting them when they face the natural consequences of their decisions, it is through that open door of relationship that kids will come to us seeking counsel and advice (instead of assuming they already know what we’re going to say because we’ve expounded on our views every chance we get). How can we take such a risk with our most precious treasure when the world is such a scary place?

Jesus gave us a picture of how our Heavenly Father treats us, his children. When we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we tend to focus on the father’s gracious response to his errant child who returned home after squandering his inheritance. But what I find fascinating is the father’s response to his foolish son in the first place. When the son asked his father to give him his share of the inheritance now, rather than wait until after the father’s death, the Bible doesn’t tell us that the father set a bunch of conditions, or gave his son a lecture on how to live wisely, or even argued with him. It simply says that the father “agreed to divide his wealth between his two sons” (Luke 15:12). Let that sink in. The father took a huge risk by letting his son go and make the biggest mistake of his life. He could have said no to the request and tried to force his son to make good choices. But would they have been the son’s choices?

The truth is, our Heavenly Father loves us so much he sent his only son to die for us, and yet he does not force us to obey him. He gives us free will to respond to his love or shun it. He speaks to us in gentle whispers, but doesn’t force us to listen. God has all manner of wisdom and help for us in his Word, but it’s up to us to read it and seek his help. When our selfish plans blow up in our faces, he doesn’t lecture us or say, “I told you so.” Like the father in the parable, he welcomes us home with open arms. Sometimes, the only way we will learn a lesson is by pursuing something foolish and learning from our mistake. If God is willing to take that risk with me, I know he can help me give my kids that same freedom.

The key to giving this kind of grace to my kids is to remember how much grace (and patience) God has shown me. Titus 3:2-7 has some good instructions for all believers that I’m personalizing for myself as a parent:

[Parents] must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

I think the reason I felt prompted to read my diary, that night, was to remind myself that I, too, was “foolish and disobedient” at times. I was certainly misled and made a lot of dumb decisions. BUT – God, in his mercy, never let me go. He patiently waited until I was done pursuing my selfish desires and ready to live completely for him. It is by his grace that I am made right in his sight – not because I always made good choices (which I didn’t) or because my parents made sure I went to church. Yes, I need to stay involved in my kids’ lives and support them by providing a stable home that is a respite from the stress of school, a compassionate ear, and an assurance that I will invest in their dreams no matter how different they are from mine. What they don’t need so much in this stage is my mouth.

My prayer for myself, this year, is a paraphrase (with many extra words because I have many extra words) of James 1:19.

Lord, help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and…

  • slow to say something critical
  • slow to insert my opinion
  • slow to make a situation about me
  • slow to pass judgment
  • slow to offer unsolicited advice
  • slow to argue my point to the death
  • slow to freak out over stupid stuff
  • slow to assume that my child’s current feelings/opinions are forever
  • slow to shut down an idea
  • slow to make my children’s problems my problems
  • slow to point out mistakes
  • slow to react to situations that require prayer
  • slow to become angry.

And when I fail to do this, I will fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him for being so merciful and gracious to me in my failings. Perhaps then I will have the proper posture of humility to address the failings of my kids. Perhaps then I will choose to show grace to them because of how gracious God is toward me.

Jesus, give me wisdom and grace toward my kids or give me laryngitis. Amen.

 

 

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