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Goodness Lite?

Having tried to live on diet foods – light versions of dairy products, sweet sensations without calories, and air-filled versions of breads – I can testify that such foods do not satisfy. Instead of eliminating hunger, these diet foods seem to fuel it. While I can eat a greater volume of diet foods, pursuing delightful tastes without the heavy consequences, the satisfaction, in my experience, is far less. In divorcing a taste from its corresponding nutritional value, I am trying to experience a good without its natural consequences and am not fulfilling the need that made me hungry in the first place.

This is the same with other goods. In our times, people pursue intercourse without the possibility of children or the lifelong ties of relationship, standards of living built on credit, and Sparknotes® versions of books or a Dummies® treatment of topics. We substitute in lesser goods or avoid bearing the whole weight of the good itself. In pursuing the taste of something while avoiding its costs, we lose the contentment that comes from experiencing the whole goodness of that thing – the good in its natural order, how it was intended to be received.

Conversely, if I accept the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood, I find myself made rich in relationship – the essence of humanity and eternity. If I accept the hard work necessary to earn an income, I receive satisfaction from the result of my labor and appreciate what I buy all the more. If I spend the time to read and understand a book, I experience the richness of linguistic nuances, plots and subplots, foreshadowing and character development, and so much more. In receiving a good and the time, effort, and consequences inherently part of that good, I experience its fullness.

I can attempt to consume a good on my own terms, immediately gratifying desires. Yet rather than fulfilling my needs, I only appease them. Alternatively, I can cultivate delight in something on itsterms. This means smaller portions, marriage and kids, fewer books read, and no jack-of-all trades label for me. Yet when I accept goods for what they are, my needs are satisfied. Life is full, and I give thanks.

 

 

Ponderings · Questions · Reorienting Myself

Who am I?

The question “Who are you when no one is watching?” helps a person gauge their honesty and integrity. Everyone could benefit from this self-reflection from time to time. A more pressing and important question for mothers could be, “Who are you when you are not loving your husband and children, tending the house, or preparing the next meal?”

“I do not know,” has many times been my puzzled response since I cannot think of a time in the last five years when I did not have an immediate responsibility or obligation. I make the time to read a little every day, and sincerely wish that I could play the piano, but who am I apart from a mother?

Motherhood involves a lot of emptying out of ourselves, consumes massive amounts of time and energy, and is a daily struggle against selfishness. So when I am at the end of myself or the end of long day, how do I fill my empty soul?

Podcasts, clothing, exercise, job or volunteer-related recognition, Netflix, blogging and more sit easily within reach to help me define or distract myself. What about God? I go to Him and must quietly concentrate to read His Word. I go to Him and am convicted by the anger I felt the previous day. I go to God, and this is not easy.

***

I become what I think I about. Reliving a frustrating situation does not help me “vent,” it instead strengthens neural pathways. Following my heart does not automatically bring happiness or fulfillment, for “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). No, I must put my thoughts where I want them to be. Sometimes this feels as if I am stooping down, scooping up the turbulent waters of my thoughts and feelings, and turning around 180 degrees before I set them down with a determined “plop.”

When I am not in the present moment with my husband and children, where I “go” really matters. Where I put my thoughts is not akin to choosing which pair of shoes to wear or what meal to order. Where my thoughts dwell is a choice about how I will live and interact with my world. In Philippians 4:8 we read, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Last year I extensively studied God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Really grasping that it is by grace I have been saved, I was able to see and love people who hurt me with abundant grace. What is deep inside spills out when we are “squeezed” by life.

Similarly, choosing who or what defines me is a decision made daily, and sometimes more often than that. Am I the things that I do, the position that I hold, or am I a creation defined by my Creator? Does my worth come from myself or from the fact that I am made in the image of God? Like the dandelions that perennially poke their heads through my cultivated lawn, again and again I tend towards trying to define myself and my worth. But oh!, the peace, comfort, and security that comes in knowing that I am simply because He made me and loves me. I do not have to struggle or strive to earn His love or be a self-made woman. I can freely live and abundantly love, unthreatened by what others think of me, unashamed by what I could not accomplish this day, and undaunted by my shriveling resume.

Today I loved God by seeking Him first. I loved my neighbors – the little people living in the bedrooms lining my hallway, the people across the street and next door, and the people in my inbox. I simply “was” today. And I “am” right now. And that is enough.

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That you may shine like the stars

My dear child,

You are soon off to school. Out of my loving care, going beyond my reach where you may be influenced by others and where you will encounter the world’s brokenness – a brokenness from which I wish I could shield you. But I cannot. Sooner or later you will experience it. You have already, in little bits and pieces. But the selfishness we experience at home, the trouble interrupting each other, and little upsets throughout the day do not begin to compare with the real havoc that Satan is wrecking in this world. Bad things, really bad things, happen. Sometimes we will be the recipients of those bad things, and sometimes we will, sadly, participate.

Yesterday you asked me to describe how big God is. Remember I said that He is like the numbers, continuing on forever to infinity? He is so big, that I can trust Him with you. When I am scared for you, I will choose to trust God and let Him be the perfect Father that only He can be to His children. When you seek Him, He will give you wisdom and everything that you need for life and godliness. Your eternal soul is safe in Him.

So as you leave the shelter that is our home, I pray that you will shine like the stars to bring God glory wherever your steps bring you. I pray that you learn what is good, true, and beautiful, and use your mind and heart for Him. Finally I pray that God enables me to give you a framework that helps you interpret what you encounter according to God’s great redemption story.

With love,

Mama

P.S. When you are hurt, remember that it is an opportunity to see God:

From One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

            I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

            To see through to God.

            That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God we endlessly crave.

P.P.S. The “stars” quote:

From Philippians, Chapter 2

Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey His own purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life.

Letters to Ivan

A little girl with open arms

Little girl speaks more everyday, the latest being, “eat birthday cake!” She very recently progressed from repeating individual words, my favorite being “tea cup,” to four and five-word sentences. Her favorite phrase, however, consists of two words, “Oh, dear!” Yogurt on her finger evokes an “Oh, dear!” She knocks a bottle to the ground and with crocodile tears welling up and overflowing her eyes, exclaims “Oh, dear!”

She remains extremely particular. Before the night’s adieu, animal friends, water bottle, and any book that she can spy must assume their “proper” places on the bed. Seeing the closet door ajar, she points and says “shut it,” and then worriedly stares at her two baby dolls who have slid a few inches down from their placement on the rocking chair. I tie a blanket seat belt around them. “Safe!” she sighs and settles under her blanket, with curls framing her head on the pillow. A farewell wave looks akin to a royal dismissal. Oh dear, indeed!

The next day she said “Hug, Mama, hug?” with arms stretched open as I knelt on the floor. “Yes, Sweetie, Mama wants a hug.” “Daddy?” “Yes! Daddy too.” She runs to him shyly and embraces his calves.

“Brothers?” she then asks with a twinkle in her eye that bespeaks the delight of giving. “Yes, your brothers would like a hug.” A beautiful bundle of particularity, emotion, and love runs down the hall with arms flung wide, ready to give, and receive, her brothers.

Her unfettered affection and my memories collide, reminding me that giving and sharing require open hands and open arms that make one vulnerable and create the possibility of rejection. I remember Jesus, who through His great love for us stretched out his arms on the cross. Not everyone accepts His offer of the forgiveness of sin; not everyone wants Him.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

We can choose to be safe, denying our need for love and rejecting the greatest act of love. Or, we can open ourselves to life’s biggest joys and greatest hurts, and humbly accept Christ’s work on our behalf. I choose to be vulnerable, for God is powerful enough to work all things, even hard and hurtful things, together for good.

Ponderings

Everything I needed to know about parenting, I learned from breaking my horse (almost)

When I was 11 years old, I spent a summer breaking my horse. In that process, I learned that there is no substitute for time. To train her into submission to my commands, I needed to show her again, and again, and again that following my directions brought treats, relief, and rest, while ignoring them did not. When my husband and I adopted a dog, we watched dog-training videos and read books on dog-obedience. The same theme emerged: there are no fast tricks to well-trained animals. Training takes huge amounts of invested time in regular teaching sessions, consistent consequences, and persistent reminders. There are no viable shortcuts.

The same is true with children (and ourselves, actually). In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell concluded that people reach proficiency or mastery of a subject after devoting 10,000 hours to that particular discipline. As a lover of statistics and the multivariate regression, I know that there are other factors affecting success or mastery. I agree with Gladwell, though, that 10,000 hours is a good starting point.

So what does that look like? 10,000 hours is more than 27 years when broken into an hour a day, or 18 years for an hour and a half a day.

When it comes to my kids, what virtues do I want to impart and how much time do I spend teaching them? I want my kids to extend mercy to people – not giving people what they earn or deserve. Imagine how many times I need to show mercy to them to teach this lesson. How many times do I give my three-year-old son stickers on the responsibility chart for simply attempting to be kind? How many times do I give hugs and sympathy to a hurting child who disobeys my warning about danger? (I reference small situations here, as I would always intervene in a situation if my child or someone else would be seriously hurt.)

One wise mother, who raised five successful adults, once encouraged me to imagine the type of person I wanted my then eight-month-old to be when he turned 18 years old, and do now what was necessary for him to be that person in the future. I am not talking about brainwashing or programming children here. As any mother will attest, free will is alive and well; there are no guarantees when raising children, who will choose for themselves. But think about how the life we make for our children predisposes them to certain habits or actions, particular enjoyments, and their view of the world.

What habits and character traits am I nurturing? If imagination and play are important (and I believe that they are), do I give my kids opportunities to imagine and play? If service is important, am I modeling that and inviting my children to take part with our time, talents, and resources? If I value knowledge of God, does how we invest our time every day reflect that priority?

As I write this at the end of a day, I am physically and mentally aware of how exhausted one becomes after a day of “playing.” Yet I urge us all to run the daily race with all the strength and resolve within us. Effective parenting requires lots of time, and quality time results from quantities of time. How we spend our time matters. What changes do you need to make to spend yours without regrets?