Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Vanity in Parenting


Vanity is defined as an excessive pride in or admiration of one's own appearance or achievements.

Often when we hear this word, we think of an obsession with our physicality or looks.

While I do struggle with vanity in this sense, it pales in comparison to my struggle with vanity in parenting.  Those of you who see me on a regular basis know that I don't pretend to have a good fashion sense or frankly even a clue about style.  If friends wrote in to one of those "What Not To Wear" television shows about me, I'd likely get on.  But I absolutely DO care about how my kids look to others, and not just in a physical sense. 

Let me explain myself further.

We would consider a person vain (in the physical sense) when they constantly focus on what they look like.  Perhaps they are obsessed with name brand clothing.  Perhaps they are first to mention another persons looks before anything else.  Perhaps they fret and obsess over presenting themselves as physically put together in whatever setting they are in.  Individuals with this struggle might curl their hair before heading to the gym or wear fake eye lashes in labor.  Just saying.

Well in parenting I can constantly focus on what my children look like.  Obsessing over whether they look smart, well mannered, considerate, mature, disciplined, creative, even beautiful or handsome.  When I look at other children I sometimes focus on these attributes first.  Sometimes, with certain people, I feel the need to present my house and family as put together, organized, and thriving.  I'll remind my children to behave and use manners when someone is coming over I'd like to impress.  I'm even guilty of sometimes dolling up little Allie-girl so people see her as adorable.  

Why do I sometimes do these things?  Because I have pride concerning my children's appearances and accomplishments.   I care because I feel that their appearances and accomplishments reflect back on me.   

The Bible teaches that man looks at the outward appearance but that God looks at the heart.

We find this nugget of truth from 1 Samuel 16.  Samuel is sent by God to the town of Bethlehem.  God tells him to go the house of Jesse where he will find the new king of Israel.  Now Jesse had many strong sons but God told Samuel to anoint the youngest of them all, David.  Why?  Because David was a man after His own heart.

God views my children and family in this same way.  He doesn't care if they are in the highest reading group in their class.  He doesn't care if they look hip and trendy.  He doesn't care if they appear well-mannered and disciplined to those outside my home.  He doesn't care if they are the star of their basketball team.  He doesn't care if they are master musicians or artists. 

He only cares if their hearts are seeking after His.  For when they are, their appearance and accomplishments are in His will.  Their motivation is drawn from their love and commitment to Him and His Word.  They want His adoration.  His praise. His recognition.  His stamp of approval.

The same is true for me as their mother.  God doesn't care about whether I look like a smart, creative, fun, and accomplished parent.  He cares if my heart's motivation is His.  I should care only that I receive His stamp of approval. 

Vanity in parenting is a slippery slope.  And its doomed to fail us.  Our children's appearance and accomplishments will never impress this world because frankly our world is full of critics and skeptics who are virtually impossible to impress.  Just look at the rising trend of competing parents.  Even if my kid was worthy of impressing others, most parents have a million reasons why their kid is better.  

This is a truth and lesson I'm slowly learning. God is chipping away at my vanity in parenting and exposing it as foolish.  I've begun to find freedom in presenting my children and family as works in progress.  I have become more vulnerable and real with other moms about my kids because I've finally come to the realization that I probably couldn't impress them even if I tried.  I want more of God's heart in my parenting.   

As I pray for myself and ask God to show me more and more of His heart regarding my children and parenting decisions, I cannot help but pray for my children as well.  They will struggle with vanity in some sense.  It's nearly impossible to avoid its' self-absorbing grip.  Wouldn't it be incredible if they could learn at a young age that vanity in a worldly sense is meaningless and doomed for failure BUT that striving after a heart like God's is a surefire way to receive God's praise!  In the same sense, wouldn't it be great if they could care most about pleasing Him (before others and myself) in their appearance and accomplishments!

Would you join me and let's pray for our children in this regard.

God,

Today I pray for my children and ask that you would protect their hearts from vanity.  I pray they would learn at a young age that striving to impress others with physical appearance and accomplishments is doomed for failure.  Protect them from obsessing over their physical appearance and accomplishments in order to impress those around them (even me).  I pray they would know that You care only about their hearts.  May they humbly seek after Your heart.   And may they strive to impress You with honest and sincere hearts that are fully devoted to You and Your will for their lives.   

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Boys Will Be Boys: How to pray about violent pretend play?

As a mom of two boys, I've never been quite sure how to handle all the violent play.

You know like the stabbing each other with swords and shooting each other with guns type of play.

The response I hear from a lot of parents is simple, "Boys will be boys."

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what that even means.  But one thing I am sure of is that while I know they are just pretending, I don't love hearing the words, "I'm going to shoot and kill you" come out of my little boys' mouths.  It's pretty disturbing actually.

Our family was taking a walk this past summer and we had a little boy come up to us with a pretend gun that didn't look so pretend.  He stuck the gun against Cole's forehead and yelled, "Bang! Bang!"

I kindly asked the boy not to stick his gun in my kids face.  Ever since I've become so much more aware of all the violent play children are playing.

I'd rather not get into a discussion about WHY boys play like this.  I'm sure there are many innate factors at play along with a plethora of environmental ones.  I'm not interested in debating video game playing nor discussing whether or not the 2nd amendment is to blame.  I'd just like to share my own humble thoughts and then discuss how we can pray for our kids in this area.

Just the other day as I was working on lunch, Grayden & Cole stomped through the kitchen on a mission to kill some invisible bad man.  I asked them why they needed to kill the man, couldn't they just put him in jail. 

"But mom," Grayden explains, "he is really bad." 

"Okay.  But I just don't like hearing you talk about killing a man," I said (well aware I was ruining their fun).

"But mom, he isn't real," he says exasperatingly.  "He's invisible."

Well that's a relief.

"Listen.  I don't like you pretending to kill a person.  Either put him in jail or pretend it's an animal you're hunting to eat."

Even as I'm typing out my handling of the situation I'm well aware that I could have handled it so much more intelligently.  But at the time it was the best I had in me.  Because like I said earlier, I never really know how to handle the violent play.  Should I forbid it?  Should I allow it?  Where should I draw clear black lines?  Where can the lines remain gray?  Am I making something out of nothing?

I've talked with lots of people about this, many of them men.  And, as you can imagine, I've gotten a wide range of responses and advice...leaving me even more uncertain as to how to handle it.

So recently I've asked the Lord for wisdom and, most importantly, for natural opportunities to impress on my boys the value of life.

God is so good about granting me my requests for opportunities with my kids.  And with this request, there was no exception. 

For the past few weeks I've been reading a fictional book set during the time of the sinking of the Titanic.  One Saturday at lunch, I just happened to mention to Keith how much I was enjoying the book.  Interested, the boys asked me what it was about.  So I began to tell them the story of the Titanic.  Surprisingly, they found it fascinating. 

The following week I grabbed a few kid-friendly books at the library about the Titanic.  We spent time that afternoon curled up on Cole's bed reading and talking all about the Titanic.  At one point while reading one of the books, I looked over at Grayden and he had tears in his eyes.  I stopped reading and asked him what was wrong.

"It's just so sad mom.  All those people died."

I was totally shocked at his reaction.  It isn't as though he is super deep and emotional like this very often.  Yet here he was, completely disheartened by the tragedy of the Titanic.

Cue that opportunity I had asked for.  

We spent the next several minutes talking about life and death. 

We considered the types of people who died on that ship, people very similar and people very different from us. 

We talked a little bit about the hurt and pain those people likely felt on that fateful night (both physically and emotionally).  

We discussed the greedy and selfish choices made by many in power that led to why so many people ended up dying. 

We even talked about the survivors and how they might have felt watching so many people die. 

It was heavy.  There were a few moments I wondered if it was too heavy for my little guys' hearts and minds.  But as the conversation ended I knew they had grown because of it.  The truth I hope they took from it is that life has great value.

Did this conversation end all the violent play? Of course not.  I'm still trying to figure out if and where lines need to be drawn.  But one thing is for sure, God gave me a unique opportunity to talk to my boys about life and death in a very sincere way.  Now I have something to draw from and use when I am talking to them about why I don't love hearing and watching them pretend to shoot and kill people.  I can remind them that death is real and it can be very sad, so it isn't something to be flippant and careless about.

As I've thought about what I'd specifically like to pray about concerning violent play, I cannot help but to fix my eyes on how God values life

His compassionate aim is to care for, restore, redeem, renew, and breathe life into all people.  What greater proof of how deeply He values us than His act of coming to this earth and laying down His life (a life of unequaled value) for us (1 John 3:16).  His desire is that "none would perish" but that "everyone would come to repentance" (1 Peter 3:9).  We, His people, are created in His image (Genesis 1:27).  We are His handiwork and can be a beautiful reflection of His glory.  Our children must learn to view all people as He does:  with great value.  Our children must learn to play with this view in mind; and our children must learn to live with this view in mind.

Will you join me in prayer?

Jesus,

I need You in parenting.  I need Your wisdom and discernment.  Would you help me sift through the parenting options I have and choose the wisest option when it comes to handling my children's violent play.  Would you grant me peace and freedom from making this parenting choice out of fear.  I also pray and ask that You would instill in my children Your view of people--a view that maintains that all people are greatly valued; a view that compassionately aims to care for, restore, redeem, renew, and breathe life into each and every one of Your children, even the "bad" ones.  May they respect human life and, like You, desire that none would perish but that all would come to repentance, finding salvation and restoration in You. 

   






Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Guilt-Free Motherhood: GET OFF THE THRONE

I love my children.  I know I am greatly blessed to have 3 healthy, growing children.  I love being a mom.  I know there are so many people in this world who desperately want to be mothers but can't.  And I love this season of life.  I know I will miss these years.

Nonetheless, I find motherhood to be my greatest challenge.  Hands down the most exhausting, perplexing, and intimidating journey I've ever walked.

And one of the toughest realities for me as a mom is the continuous guilt I feel.

Since the day I brought Grayden, my oldest, home from the hospital I don't think there have been many nights where I didn't lay in bed at night burdened by some feeling of guilt.

In those beginning years, I felt guilty about being tired all the time.  
I felt guilty about missing my job.  
I felt guilty about my lack of time for my friends.  
I felt guilty about neglecting my husband.  
I felt guilty about wishing someone else would hold my crying baby for a change.  
I felt guilty about feeling lonely. 
I felt guilty about my discontented heart for motherhood when for nearly two years I had pleaded with the Lord for a child. 

And as the years have passed and I've been blessed with two more children, the guilt I feel surrounding motherhood has only increased.

Now-a-days, I feel guilty about my lack of energy and my inability to exhibit a free spirit about anything. 
I feel guilty about not missing my job. 
I feel guilty about wishing my kids would stop talking, just for a few quiet minutes.  
I feel guilty when I exercise.  
I feel guilty when I don't exercise.  
I feel guilty when my house is a mess.  
I feel guilty when I clean my house instead of spending time with my kids.  
I feel guilty when I can't wait for my kids to go to bed.  
I feel guilty when I spend purposeful time with one of them and neglect the other two.  
I feel guilty when I can't sit down and play with them because I'm doing dishes, laundry, paying bills, mowing the lawn, or all the other little jobs necessary to keep this household running. 
I feel guilty when I plan and write a Bible Study for my women's group instead of having "school time" with them. 
I feel guilty when they have to remind me that I said I would do something with them. 
I feel guilty when I look nothing like Christ. 
I feel guilty when I lose my temper with them because they didn't get the memo about my schedule or my to-do's. 
I feel guilty when I take a little "me" time. 
I feel guilty when my husband hugs me after a long day of work and I am only thinking about finishing and getting dinner on the table. 
I feel guilty when I forget to check Allie's diaper 10 minutes after lunch and a fresh diaper rash appears as a result. 
I feel guilty when at the end of a day I look back and realize I spent very little purposeful time with my kids. 
I feel guilty when I grumble at all the mundane tasks of motherhood. 
And I feel guilty for feeling guilty.

So there you have it.  A glimpse into my guilt-stricken mommy mind. 

For some of you reading this you may not understand this guilt battle in motherhood.  If this is true for you, what freedom you possess!

But I'm certain that for most of you reading who are moms, you understand this battle.  Perhaps yours isn't exactly like mine.  Your guilt might not be as consuming.  Your guilt may look different altogether due to your own unique life circumstances.  Yet like me, in motherhood you still feel burdened by guilt. 

Quite recently I've become fed up with feeling guilty.  To be burdened by guilt more often than not isn't living.  It's complete bondage.  It's draining.  It's exhausting.  And truthfully for me, it's so incredibly discouraging.

The other day I was washing dinner dishes and I just began to plead with the Lord to teach me what I need to do, what I need to change, what I need to become, and what I need to understand in order to find freedom from such guilt in motherhood.  

As I searched His Word for answers I found some in the words of Psalm 103.  Read its words in light of this battle with guilt. 

**The word bless can also be translated praise

1-2 O my soul, bless God.    
From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing!


3-5 He forgives your sins—every one.
    He heals your diseases—every one.
    He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
    He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
    He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
    He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.

6-18 God makes everything come out right;
    he puts victims back on their feet.
He showed Moses how he went about his work,
    opened up his plans to all Israel.
God is sheer mercy and grace;
    not easily angered, he’s rich in love.

He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold,
    nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,
    nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.

And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
    he has separated us from our sins.
As parents feel for their children,
    God feels for those who fear him.
He knows us inside and out,
    keeps in mind that we’re made of mud.
Men and women don’t live very long;
    like wildflowers they spring up and blossom,
But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly,
    leaving nothing to show they were here.
God’s love, though, is ever and always,
    eternally present to all who fear him,

Making everything right for them and their children
    as they follow his Covenant ways
    and remember to do whatever he said.

19-22 God has set his throne in heaven;
    he rules over us all. He’s the King!
So bless God, you angels,
    ready and able to fly at his bidding,
    quick to hear and do what he says.
Bless God, all you armies of angels,
    alert to respond to whatever he wills.
Bless God, all creatures, wherever you are
    everything and everyone made by God.
And you, O my soul, bless God!

So here's what I heard,

What do I need to do?  
Bless the Lord. Fear and obey Him.

What do I need to change?
Spend my days blessing the Lord instead of myself.  My Lord is King over all.  My Lord is in control of all things.

What do I need to become?
A soul who blesses the Lord with all my inmost being and who never forgets his forgiving, redeeming, crowning, and renewing blessings.

What do I need to understand?
From everlasting to everlasting as I strive to fear and obey Him in motherhood, His guilt-free love is with me.  In all things motherhood, He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  And He will in fact satisfy my desire to be a good mother with His good things and He will make all things right.

I've determined that so much of the guilt I feel in motherhood is the direct result of forgetting that God is God and I am not.  Instead of blessing the Lord in motherhood, I'm blessing myself.  You see when it comes to motherhood I'm still sitting on the throne.  I'm still in control.  I'm still calling the shots.  I'm still as good of a mom as I can will and make myself to be.  And this seems fine until my control-freak and goal oriented self can't give myself a "praise Renee sticker" for doing A+ mom work on a given day.  When something feels out of my control or when I fall short of meeting a goal, then my mind flashes FAILURE across my heart in big, bold letters.  And this failure solidifies my greatest fear in motherhood..I can't do this.  And then the guilt eats away at me.

Psalm 103 is a kick in the pants reminder to me to get off the throne and start giving the Lord the blessing due His name.  For when my soul yearns to bless Him rather than myself the guilt withers away.  I am drawn to forget not His blessings, of which not a one burdens me with guilt.  Putting Him on the throne sets me free, and if "the Son sets me free, I am free indeed" (John 8:36).  And "it is for freedom that Christ has set me free" no longer to be "subject to the yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).

Moms, living in bondage to guilt isn't living the life of freedom we have been given in Christ.  So let's get off the throne, let's become souls who give blessing where blessing is due, and let's allow God to forgive us, redeem us, crown us, satisfy us, and renew us with a love that covers our guilt with an abundance of grace.

And let's pray for our children in this regard.  Let's pray they have the wisdom to get off the throne and become boys and girls and eventually men and women who bless the Lord, who don't forget His blessings, who obey and fear Him, and who live under the grace of Christ walking free from guilt and shame.

Lord,
Help me to break free of this bondage of guilt in motherhood.  As I strive to fear and obey you in motherhood, would you make everything right.  As I get off the throne and put You back on it, may You rule over and control all.  May Your sheer mercy and grace forgive, heal, crown, renew, and redeem me as I parent my three children.  Would you wrap me in Your goodness and may I never forget Your blessings.  May my inner most soul bless You in all things, leaving no room for the heavy burden of self-inflicted guilt.

And I pray this for my children as well Lord.  May they get off the throne and allow You, the King, to take Your rightful place.  May they learn to bless Your name and to never forget Your blessings.  I pray that as they fear and obey You, Your love would consume them and change them from the inside out.  May their inner most soul bless You in all things, leaving no room for the heavy burden of self-inflicted guilt.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Love Always Protects

When my little Allie girl was born and met her two older brothers for the first time I remember whispering to her, 

"Baby girl, you've got TWO brothers to love and protect you.  They will tease and toughen you up, but they will have your back.  And for that, you are truly blessed!"







I grew up with an older brother.  And while he did his fair share of teasing and beating me up, he also showed me tender love and absolutely protected me.  Especially as I got older, making sure I was treated well by "boys" and shielding me from many of the worldly pressures young girls face.  He and I have a special relationship, one that I've always been very thankful for.  I'm sure there were times he wished that he had had a brother, someone to wrestle and be rambunctious with.  And I'm sure he grew tired of my girly, dramatic ways.  Yet, he always was and has continued to be a kind brother to me.  He has loved and protected me for the past 33 years. 

So understandably, I long for my Allie-girl to be loved and protected by her brothers as well.  Tonight I caught a precious glimpse of my two young boys doing just that.

It's cold here, very cold.  And so my kids are bouncing off the walls.  After building a fort and telling silly stories inside of it, they all started to get antsy.  They couldn't keep their hands and legs off each other, wrestling, and doing whatever they could to get out their pent up energy from being inside all day.  I instinctively knew that if I didn't channel their energy I would have chaos on my hands.  So, I did what I often do when they get like this...

I made them run laps inside the house.

We have a split level and so there is one step down into our family room and one step back up on the other end that leads into our dining room and kitchen.  They start in the kitchen and run to the first step, jump down it and run through the living room, and then jump up the second step into the dining room, which then leads back into the kitchen.  They run this loop again and again and again.  Sometimes I time them.  Sometimes we race.  Sometimes we make up silly games.  Whatever it takes, friends.  WHATEVER IT TAKES.  I know you understand.

Anyway, tonight we began running our laps.  Allie girl is still learning to walk up and down stairs.  At this point, she still sits to go down them and gets down on all fours to climb up them.  For the first few laps she would run until she reached the first stair, then sit and scoot her way down.  When she reached the second stair she would get down on all fours and climb her way up it.  

Eventually she grew frustrated because she couldn't keep up with her brothers.  Her lack of skill climbing up and down stairs was slowing her down.  She would fuss and scream as they ran ahead of her (I fear she may have her mom's competitive spirit). 

With a little coercing from me, the boys agreed to help her move a little faster by holding her hand and helping her step down and up the steps.  At first she resisted their help, but eventually she recognized that with their hands to balance on she could get up and down the steps so much faster and easier (and not to mention safer).  So she went along with it and they ran lap after lap, Grayden and Cole taking turns holding her hand. 

It warmed my heart watching her squeal in delight as she walked up and down the steps holding their hands.  She would run freely on her own through the living room and kitchen but as she neared the steps she looked to them and held out her hand.  On a few occasions, Grayden tried to get her to walk up and down the steps on her own without holding his hand (he likes to try to teach her new things), but she was visibly scared and unsure of herself.  On each occasion, she would say in her little baby voice, "hand" while holding out her hand for him to hold.  Grayden would smile and say, "Okay Allie girl, I'll hold your hand."

I know this is a silly little story, but it very fondly reminded me of my own brother loving and protecting me.  Like I trusted my brother to protect me, my sweet little Allie girl trusted her brothers to protect her up and down the steps.  It was a simple but tender reminder that Allie would always have two brothers who love her and will do what they can to protect her...at least that is my hope and prayer.

1 Corinthians 13 is that beautiful passage in the Bible where God instructs us on how to love like He loves.  In verse 7 He teaches that love "always protects." 

I read a commentary of sorts from the website www.gotquestions.org that talks about what this particular instruction on love means.  If you don't mind, I'd like to share a direct quote with you as I feel it perfectly describes my own thoughts on the topic:

"God’s type of love protects.
That is, it watches out for others. It withstands difficulty.
And, if there is a shortcoming or fault in the loved one, love has the ability to cover it (see Proverbs 10:12).

Love is not based on selfish desire or even mutual benefit; rather, it seeks the benefit of the other person. Love aims to give rather than receive.

And one of the marks of love is that it always seeks to protect the loved one. This doesn’t mean that we excuse wrongdoing or seek to evade the natural consequences of sin; it means that we strengthen what is weak, shield what is vulnerable, and forgive what is provoking."

Oh how I am drawn to pray that my kids' love for others would protect!  That they would watch out for others and seek not their own benefit. 

And as I think about my growing boys, I absolutely want to pray that they learn to love their little sister with a protecting love like their Almighty God.  One that strengthens her when she is weak, one that shields her when she is vulnerable, and one that forgives her when she provokes. 


Would you join me today and let's pray for our children.  Let's pray that their love for others would protect like their God.  And let's pray that their love for their siblings would protect as well.




Jesus,
Your ultimate sacrifice on the cross was a perfect demonstration of love that protects.  Your love for us sought to protect us from death.  And Your love for us continues to protect us from the danger and destruction that sin creates in and around us. 

As I think about my kids and their growing hearts, I know they have much to learn about how to love like You do.  So I ask You today to teach them how to become people whose love for others protects! 

I pray they would watch out for others.   I pray their demonstrations of love would aim to give rather than receive.  Teach them to always seek to protect those that You've called them to love, not by excusing wrongdoing or seeking to rescue them from natural consequences of sin.  But rather by helping to strengthen those they love that are weak, by helping to shield those they love when they are vulnerable, and by forgiving those they love when they are provoking. 

Above all, may they love their siblings and others with a love like Yours, a love that tenderly protects!