Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Don't Avoid the Hard Work

"Can you please sound out this word, hon?" I asked.

She squirmed visibly on the couch.
I squirmed invisibly on the inside.

Her reading book sat between us, my finger poised underneath a word, and my eyes staring down at the page, assuming she was doing the same.  But when I I glanced in her direction, her eyes were fixed on the ceiling above her.

"Mommy," she started.  "How about I count the words, first?"

"No hon.  Just read them."

Well, can I see the other pictures then?
Can I do a different easy lesson?
Maybe we can take a break?
Can I have some water first?
How about we alternate words?
Can I please count all the words on the page first?

The requests kept coming.  My little "queen of distractions" was working very hard at avoiding hard work. If I hadn't been so impatient, I probably would have laughed at the irony of it all.

This whole thing should have taken 20 minutes.  We were well past 20 and not even halfway through.  Didn't she realized that if she would just buckle down and read the words, she could move on with her day?

I looked into her eyes and tried reasoning with her:

"Sweetheart, I know this is hard.  But the more distracted you are, the longer it takes.  If you just read the words, we can be done sooner!"

It's not that she can't do it.  My little girl is very smart, very capable, and very motivated on her own terms.

She just doesn't like hard work.
She'd rather talk about the work, than do the work.
She'd rather dance around the work, than dive into the work.

I'm afraid to say that I'm probably more like her than I'd care to admit.
I often feel busy with "things," but what I'm really doing is just dancing around the actual hard work.

I make lists.  And then I make lists of my lists.
I do all the easy work first and avoid all the hard things.
I always talk about the things I need to get done, or plan to do, but often never accomplish them.
I begin projects but lack the drive to complete them.
I'm full of ideas that are rarely actualized.
I'll avoid hard things by checking email. 25 times.
There are things that are permanently on my "to-do list," because I'm never able to cross them off.

I consider my ridiculous (and hard working) attempts to avoid hard work, and smile slightly at the ridiculousness of it.

Unlike us, though, the Proverbs do not treat this pattern lightheartedly.  In fact,  it speaks of it in jarring terms.

All hard work brings a profit,
    but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Probers 14:23

When I avoid hard work, I'm actually choosing poverty. 

I choose poverty because the most important things on my list never actually get accomplished.
I choose poverty because I continue in laziness rather than growing in diligence and dependence. 
I choose poverty because I say that God's glory is not worth my hard work (Colossians 3:23). 
I choose poverty because those unfinished items remain looming, condemning, and stressful.  

But it doesn't have to stay this way.  We can heed the wisdom of the Proverbs and avoid "mere talk" by working heartily, and in dependence, on the Lord's help.

As the Scottish preacher, Alexander MacLaren wrote, 

"No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. It is only when they are behind us and done, that we begin to find that there is a sweetness to be tasted afterwards... Accomplished, they are full of blessing, and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility, and hindering our communion with God. If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink, go straight up to it, and do it at once. The only way to get rid of it is to do it."

In all things, reading lesson or otherwise, this is what I long to teach my daughter.  I hope to encourage and empower her to "do it at once!" for the glory of God.   I long for her to relish in the reward of perseverance and hard work.  I want to teach her that Jesus Christ embraced the hardest of work -- and finished it -- so that we might work hard for Him.  

And as I sit down each day with my daily to-do list, this is what I pray that God enables me to do as well -- to face such unwanted, and challenging tasks, with a commitment to love my God and highlight His glory by diligently embracing His to-do list for me. 

Our hard work for Him proclaims boldly,  Thank you Lord, for working for me first. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Body Fails But Truth Remains

She sat slouched against the chair, white hair resting on the wall and eyes gazing on nothingness.  Her nightgown hung loosely from her body and her cane sat resting against her wrinkled legs.

Without any apparent prompting, she sat up straight and looked me in the eyes.

What day is it?  She asked.

It's Wednesday, Grandma.  

Wednesday, she repeated back to me.  But what month?  She persisted.  

December -- nearly Christmas time, I continued.  She looked at me -- satisfied with my answer -- then settled her head back down again and closed her eyes. 

Christmas music played softly in the background --

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels

Four times it happened -- four times asked, only minutes apart:  What day is it?

Each subsequent answer from my lips was less enthusiastic and more pained, as I witnessed firsthand the reality of an aging body and mind.

We had arrived only a few days earlier.  It had been nearly a year since we last saw her face, but she had forgotten.  She asked for our names again, the children's names.  Her language often consisted of unintelligible shouts mixed with incoherent mumblings.

The body fails.  Discretion fades.  Memories slip.  Things once familiar become foreign and unrecognizable -- names, dates, places, memories.  There is a sadness and a sobriety in aging.

A sound roused me from my reflection -- the same voice, but this time, not asking for the day or month.

This time, she sang.

Not with incoherent ramblings, but with clarity.  Not with perfect pitch, but with perfect lyrical memory.

Loudly and clearly, she sang every word:

O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing came on after a few seconds pause, and her voice joined in with the recorded choir -- each word with lyrical precision until the song played its final notes.

And only then -- after four verses of perfect accuracy -- did it occur to me.  Long after our bodies fade and our memories fail, our lips will pour forth words that we've treasured up into our hearts.

For this fragile and aging woman, the familiar words of Christmas carols poured out -- hymns she had likely sung each year for nearly a century.

The treasure of the newborn Babe, the angelic melodies of Advent, the lyrics recounting that star-filled night -- a cemented foundation deep within her soul.

The words that we treasure now will certainly pay dividends later.

What you say matters.
How you worship matters.
What you teach to others matters.

Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your ordinances.  
Psalm 119:43

Scriptures, hymns, timeless truths of God -- these are more than just words.  These are the concrete for the soul.  Long after your memory fades and your eyes fail and your body slows, your heart will pulse with words of truth.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hope for the Parent Who Faces the Unknown

Tomorrow morning, the sun will still be hidden beneath the horizon when we scoop her tiny body out from underneath of her warm blankets, slip on her favorite slippers, and grab something -- anything -- that reminds her of home.  The streets will be quiet and front porches dark when we buckle her into a chilly carseat and drive through a tranquil neighborhood.

The ride will be quiet, with tired eyes staring out a foggy window and hands clutching tight a soft blanket.  She will likely break the silence with the same question she always asks when our days begin in the car before dawn--

Which doctor will I see today, mommy?

I will stare at those trusting brown eyes in the back seat.

Lots of them, hon, I will say quietly.  Today is the day that God could heal your body. 

We will walk -- or carry, rather -- our four year old through the revolving hospital doors and follow the signs to the bustling surgery center.  Unlike our sleepy neighborhood, a hospital never rests.

We will help her slip into one of those too-big, off-the-shoulder hospital gowns with the useless tie in the back, and she will snuggle close while we wait for instructions.

She is scared.  But she is brave.  

She doesn't know what will happen, but she knows that mommy and daddy love her and desire her best.  For better or worse -- she trusts us.

And trust gives her the courage to walk into the unknown.  

What she doesn't know is that mommy and daddy are scared too.

Elective surgery.  

She doesn't need it.  There's no guarantee it will work.  Many doctors have discouraged it.  But we chose it anyway.

It wasn't the obvious choice.  It's just what seems best. 

How do you decide to subject your child to pain if you don't even know that it will help?
When do you ask a child to follow your leading when you aren't even certain where to go yourself?

We may not be unshakably certain of surgery, but we are sure of one thing:

We long for something greater for her.  And love always compels us to look beyond who someone is, and hope for what they could become. 

And so we do what seems best.  And even if our decision is faulty, even if our worst doubts or fears come true, we have this bedrock of hope:

While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. 
(Hebrews 12:10 MSG)

Our "best" for our children is based on limited knowledge and mixed motives.   But God's best is rooted in sovereign power, in infinite wisdom, in perfect love.  God always --always -- does what is best.  So although we are scared, or doubting, or second-guessing our choices, we too can be brave.  We too can trust.  

And trust gives us the courage to parent through the unknown. 

Our faithful Father will always use every decision -- every circumstance -- for the eternal good of His children. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Give Them Room to Practice

I must have done the drill a hundred times -- those same ten measures -- until my fingers hurt and all the keys started to look the same.   But slowly -- ever so slowly -- my muscles started to instinctively move where I wanted them to go.  Reflex kicked in, and what felt impossible the first time, felt natural the hundred and first time.

Practice had paid off.

Manuella Hoffmann (2008), Creative Commons
Practice is a normal, and expected, part of life -- something every parent encourages in their children.  Whether it's learning to crawl, do long division, pitch a baseball, or master a sonata, God has hardwired our bodies and minds to learn, develop, and master skills -- provided that we put in the appropriate practice.   

Practice pays off. 

But unfortunately, many of us tend to encourage practice in lesser things.  We rush our children to dance class but ignore their poor attitude on the way.  We spend hours practicing writing skills but neglect the countless angry outbursts it took to get there.  

The Bible validates the need for practice, but it urges us to consider those things which have lasting value:   

Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 
1 Timothy 4:7-8

There is no shortcut to godliness in our children -- it takes practice. Yet when it comes to their character, we often assume that our children will just naturally "learn" to do the right thing.  They will grow out of phases; they will pick up skills by being around us.  On the contrary -- godliness requires intentional training, and many, many, many occasions for practice.  

Perhaps you are like me.  Maybe you spend much time practicing lesser things -- ABC's, catching a ball, tying shoes -- but you tend to neglect the practice of godliness with your children.  Perhaps some of these scenes sounds familiar:

  • You call you child to come to the table for dinner.  He doesn't listen. You repeat yourself four more times before he stands up.  You sigh, hoping that one day he'll just "grow out of it."
  • You daughter demands the pink balloon that she spies in the grocery store, to which you promptly reply no.  A meltdown ensues.  You reprimand her whining and make it through the grocery store as quickly as possible.  But who's to say it won't happen again?
  • You ask your child to clean her room and they stomp up the stairs while rolling their eyes.  You have told them a million times to have a better attitude -- why won't they listen?  

Too often, training stops after we tell our children what they may NOT do.  

Don't hit your sister.  
Don't speak to me like that.  
Don't throw food at the table.  

We administer a consequence, and then we assume we've done our job.

And while these things may be necessary and appropriate, they are incomplete without the chance to practice.   The two must work in conjunction -- practice must always follow discipline.

Imagine those same scenes unfolding in your home -- each ending with an opportunity to practice: 

  • I called you for dinner and you didn't come right away.  You need to stop what you're doing immediately and come as fast as you can.  Let's go back and do again.  
  • I know you wanted that balloon, but when we don't get what we want, we need to have self control and a thankful heart.  Instead of whining, you can say, "ok, mommy." 
  • That's a rude way to respond to mom when I tell you to clean your room.  Your attitude is important to God and shows a heart of obedience.  Listen to how I say it, and then I want you to try again.

Next time your child disobeys, see the opportunity through the inconvenience.  Give him one of the best gifts he could receive from a parent -- the chance to practice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thank You, Anonymous College Student

One look at the computer screen, and the tears started pooling in my eyes.  How could the prices have gone up that much in only 24 hours?  I buried my head in my hands and cried -- tears of sadness, tears of anxiety.

Every year, we board a plane and travel across the ocean to visit family -- the one time each year when my children get to see, enjoy, and bond with their paternal grandparents.   And every year, my heart sinks just a little bit more when I look at the rising cost of flying.

But it's not really about the money.  It never is.  This annual trip is worth it, regardless of the price tag attached.  And we've always had enough, more than enough, to travel each year.

So why, then, did my heart sink and my fingers tremble when i saw those numbers on the screen?

Because it's really about sonship.  It always is.  I have a Heavenly Father who faithfully and abundantly provides, yet I regularly live like I'm an orphan.  My heart can fear and my fingers can hoard because deep down, I forget that I'm His child.

I know it in my mind -- that I'm a daughter of God -- but I live like my Father is uninvolved.  And don't orphans always need to fend for themselves?  So I see the numbers.  And I fear all over again.

I cried and prayed the whole drive home.  
Lord, help me believe in the little things that you are my Father!

I walked to the mailbox and pulled out an envelope -- no return address, no name -- just an anonymous "thank you " note with a monetary gift.

I wept for the second time that day.  This time, not in sadness, but in conviction.  How fickle my heart is -- how slow I am to believe who He has declared me to be!

So, anonymous college student -- thank you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You will never know how timely your gift was.  Your gift was more than just some crisp bills to help us pay for expenses.  Your gift was the eternal truth, and a precious rebuke, that I am a daughter.

Thank you.  
Thank you for helping to open my eyes to see the generous provision of our Father.
Thank you.
Thank you for helping to open my fist on the tight grasp I can have on my possessions.
Thank you.
Thank you for helping to open my heart to the vulnerable, yet completely secure, position of being a loved child.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From Generation to Generation: Teaching Them Truth

She taught us the song when I was 10 on the windy drive to our summer vacation.   We sighed, rolled our eyes, pleaded to return to our games.  She insisted, she won, and the cassette tape went in.

My mother, with hands on the wheel and eyes focused on the road,  directed each phrase to her unenthusiastic children in the back seat:

God's on His throne, no need to worry.
God's on His throne, so I can rest.
God's on His throne, and I can trust Him.
Almighty King, God's on His throne.

Twenty years later, I remember the words clearly.

Tonight, I rock my baby boy quietly in his room, while tears fall down my cheeks.  Another hard day was ending, with helpless thoughts and frantic prayers crowding my already exhausted mind.  He looks at my teary eyes, and removes his thumb from between his lips.

"God on throne, Mama," he says, before reinserting his thumb and snuggling deep against my chest.

I manage a weak smile and begin to sing the words to an often-requested bedtime song.  He sings along in his mumbled 2-year-old voice.

I sing of God's Kingship, of God's Sovereignty, of our rest.  Together, we sing God's truth for weary hearts.

I rock, and I think back to my own mother, singing to a car full of moody children.  Little did she know it, but she was teaching truth to her future grandson.

Thank you to my mama, who faithfully invested in me, and planted the words of truth in my heart.
Thank you to my son, who unknowingly asks me to recite God's truths when I need them the most.
Thank you to the Lord, who promises His covenant faithfulness to the generations. 

To all the weary mamas out there -- persevere.

Persevere through exhaustion.
Persevere through uninterested children.
Persevere in your worthy calling.

Persevere, because you are teaching truth to the generations.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

When Loving Feels Inconvenient

Thirty minutes until company arrived.

Apparently, my children didn't get the memo.

In the short span of a half-hour, they managed to pee their underpants, dump out every single lego, fall down the stairs, rip a few pages from the library books, and throw up on the couch.  Their stubbornness hit an all-time low and their need for training and redirection tripled.

So much for the hors d'oeuvre tray.

Sometimes, I feel like they know. They know when I'm feeling the pressure of the clock or the to-do list.  They know when I need the least number of distractions -- and that's when they offer me the most.

Maybe it's just imagined.  My emotions are high, the pressure is on, and so it seems like the interruptions, are harder and more plentiful than normal.

Or maybe it's not imagined.  Maybe messes and needs do increase.  My kids might not know, but someone else sure does.  And he will do whatever it takes to ensure that I stumble.

1 Peter 5:8 tells us:  

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith (ESV). 

You have an Enemy.  And it's not your child, or your spouse, or whoever else is getting in the way of your to-do list.

It's the devil himself, and he's prowling around, waiting to pounce and devour.

And here's the crazy part -- Peter's warning wasn't written primarily for those facing extreme persecution or sexual temptation.  Peter's warning is written to church leaders, responsible for caring for their flock. 

Ironic, isn't it?  

This warning comes right in the middle of an exhortation to care for those entrusted to you.

Your relationships with others -- specifically those under your care -- will always be a source of vulnerability and temptation.   You will regularly need to choose between loving your flock, and loving lesser things, like hors d'oeuvres, being on time, having a clean home, or feeling appreciated.  And while it's often possible to have both, are you tempted to despise or ignore your children's needs when something lesser is on the line?

The pressures of parenting and loving others will feel greater when you have something else to attend to.  But amazingly, they are actually opportunities to love more effectively.  Imagine -- in the midst of busyness, interruptions, and needs -- speaking these words to the ones you love:

It's ok that we're running late -- you're more valuable than being on time. 
I know that it was an accident -- I love you more than I loved that vase.
Yes, I just washed those clothes, but I'm so thankful you enjoyed your time playing outside.
I don't mind if dinner gets cold, it's more important that we talk about this now. 

Resist the devil.
Stand firm.
Know your weaknesses.
Be mindful when things feel "urgent" above all else.
Remember your primary calling.
Pursue and love wholeheartedly the little flock that has been given to you, especially when it means giving up the lesser things.