Perfecting Parenting

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I have long wanted to be the perfect parent.

When my children were born, I wanted them to come with a user’s manual. Instructions would have been nice. Especially after they could talk.

I wanted to parent my daughters well. Perfectly, actually. I assumed that if I encouraged and disciplined exactly the right way, I would produce perfect children. It made sense to me. I just needed to find the right formula.

I read and listened to Growing Kids God’s Way faithfully to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I tried to model grace and instill obedience. But sometimes my children disobeyed and said things that would have set James Dobson’s hair on end. And sometimes I said and did things that would have done the same.

The harder I tried to be the perfect parent, the more I failed.

I started family devotions with great excitement but became easily discouraged if they were poorly received. I nagged when I should have listened and was lenient when I should have been consistent. I compared myself to friends and even strangers. They all seemed to parent better. More consistently. More graciously.

Somehow I felt my children were walking billboards, advertising my competence as a parent. And a person.

As a result, they needed to make me look good. And often they did. But in the moments when I wanted to be respected most, my children performed the worst. Screaming when I said “no,” challenging my authority, eye rolling in defiance.

I rarely responded well and usually left those encounters feeling humbled and defeated.

God, in His wisdom, knew that was the best outcome for me.

Before I had children, I thought I was patient and easygoing. Focused on others. Not easily ruffled. But parenting has exposed my weaknesses and sin as I struggle with people who live and breathe in the space that was once reserved just for me. They have needs that must be met, sin that needs sanctification, and character that requires training.

And under that daily scrutiny, my real character is revealed. I am impatient. Irritable. Self-focused.

I get impatient with minor annoyances. Irritable when things don’t go my way. Self-focused about looking good.

These responses have revealed what’s in my heart. Idols, like respect, that I unknowingly worship. Good desires for obedience and order that have become demands. Sins I need to confess and bring to the cross.

For years I explained away my sin. It was my children’s fault, not mine. But God has shown me that my response is as important to deal with as their offense. My sin shouldn’t be ignored. God is bringing it to light for my good.

I am the one whom God is training through parenting. Continue Reading

When the Pain Never Ends…

prison

 

I don’t like struggling.

I want days with little drama, minimal stress, no pain.

But as I look back over my life, those simple, lighthearted days are not the ones for which I’m most grateful.

I’m most grateful for the days that I’ve had to fight for faith. The days I’ve called out to God in desperation and pain. The days that I have barely survived, struggled to make it through, wondered if life was worth it anyway.

Those days have driven me to my knees. They have molded my character, grown my dependence and made me see Jesus.

For me, that gratitude is often in retrospect. Looking back, I can rejoice at what God has wrought through my trials. When the pain is gone and only the fruit remains, I see the value of my suffering.

But for some trials, the pain never passes. The long-term ongoing daily struggles that grind away at us.  Chronic illness. A difficult marriage. A child who is “atypical.” A disappointing career. Financial worries. Depression. Unfulfilled longings. When we live with these wearing trials, we often fantasize about how pleasant and normal our lives would be without them.

I’ve frequently thought, “If I just didn’t have to struggle with this one problem, I could handle everything else.”

But in reality, this one overarching problem is the thing drawing me closest to Jesus.

I have learned from saints, living and dead, that I need to thank God for my deepest suffering. Believers who have thanked God for blindness, for prison and for quadriplegia. Unthinkable suffering that most would consider unbearable, these Christ-followers have seen as God’s gifts.

Gifts wrapped in black, but gifts nonetheless.

These heroes, George Matheson, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Joni Eareckson Tada have mentored me from afar, teaching me the value of my thorns.

Rather than summarizing their thoughts, I want to let their own words stand, as they each describe what God has done through their trials.

The first, George Matheson, was a well-known blind Scottish preacher who wrote the hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” He says of his blindness:

“My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory.

“Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbows.”  (Streams in the Desert, April 8)Continue Reading

Is God Really There?

is god real

 

“God, if you are real, please show me.”

He was desperate. In prison. Hopeless. His life was a mess and he figured he’d give God a chance. If God even existed, that is.

So he prayed. And waited. And looked for signs of God.

There were no answers written on the sky. But slowly God brought people and circumstances and books to open his eyes. A random cell mate reading a Christian book from Christian Library International passed it along. Which led to a Bible study. And a mentor through CLI.

Soon he knew. Beyond any doubt. This God that he had heard about was indeed real. And had called him out of darkness into light. And the world would never be the same again.

As I listened to the speaker, now out of prison and serving in full-time ministry, I was both grateful and amazed.

Grateful that God calls us through no merits of our own. And that He uses people and circumstances and ministries to show us His truth.

Amazed that I had spoken those very words to God the night before He revealed Himself to me. My story was very different but my words were spoken out of desperation as well. Life wasn’t turning out the way I wanted. My days seemed meaningless. My many questions unanswerable.

God couldn’t be real, I had assumed. I had given up believing in God a long time before. There was little evidence of Him in my world.

My life had been difficult.

I contracted polio as an infant in India and lived in and out of Canadian hospitals for much of my childhood. I spent months on end living on a hospital ward, isolated from my parents, my sister, and my peers.  By age 13, I had endured 21 operations.

While hospital life was lonely, it was less painful than the constant bullying that I experienced in the real world.  Nearly every day I heard the word “cripple.” Through elementary and middle school, I buried the hurt of that teasing deep, yet it constantly whispered to me that I didn’t count, that I didn’t belong, that I’d always be an outsider.  I learned to stuff my feelings, to please others, to be the good girl on the outside, but inside I was a self-absorbed mess.

I grew up in the church, but I wanted nothing to do with this God that I heard about. But at the same my life had no joy, just bitterness and anger. I knew something was missing.

So one night, in the darkness, I cried out to Jesus. I wanted the issue settled. I wondered, is God really there? So I simply whispered, “God, if you are real, please show me.”

My question was sincere, and I waited for a response. Some indication that I’d been heard. When nothing happened, I rolled over and fell sleep, my suspicions confirmed.

When I woke the next day, I wondered if I’d get an answer. I didn’t expect to. But to cover my bases, I decided to read the Bible. Reaching over to my nightstand, I pulled out an unopened RSV translation that had sat there untouched for years.

Flipping aimlessly through the pages, I read whatever passages my eyes landed upon. They didn’t make sense. As usual. Leviticus had weird rules and Chronicles had endless pages of names.  I was about to put the Bible away, convinced that God indeed was not real, when I stopped to ask a question.

“Why?”

“Why did all of this happen to me?  If you are so loving, why did I get polio?  Why have I had to struggle my whole life? How can You possibly be good?” I thumbed through the Bible one last time looking for answers.

It fell open to the Gospel of John and I began reading at John 9:Continue Reading

When Disappointment Comes…

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I received some upsetting news the other day.

As soon as I heard it, my heart started pounding and a cold chill swept through my body. I could barely process what I’d been told. It was completely unexpected. My first response was, “I can’t believe this is happening. Jesus, have mercy on me. And help me to respond well.”

When I had time to calm down and think through the next steps, my second response emerged. I asked God to fix the situation. Or, more accurately, to make it go away. I didn’t want to face it or walk through it. I wanted God to take it away, make it right, prevent me from suffering. That would be easiest for me.

And then came my third response. I’m not proud of it.

I thought: “Why me? Why do hard things always happen to me? Things were getting better – but now they are getting worse again. My life is filled with disappointment, but what more could I expect? My life never turns out well.”

I am ashamed as I write those words. Ashamed that I so easily fall into self-pity. Ashamed that I conveniently forget all of the incredible blessings the Lord has given me, particularly in the last year. When things are bad, I respond by complaining. Whining to God that my life is harder than other people’s.

I assume everyone else has perfect health. Fulfilling lives. Conflict-free relationships. Successful careers. Thriving children. Insignificant problems.

In short, I overestimate my problems and minimize other people’s struggles.

Now for a little perspective – this disappointing news was not life altering. It was difficult to hear, but not insurmountable. In the scheme of life it would be an insignificant event, but in the moment it was all-consuming.

So in the midst of my pity party, I call my sister. For those of you who don’t know her, she is my rock and my reality check. She reads and edits every one of my blogs and reminds me of truth when I forget it. She keeps me grounded.

So when I start ranting about how difficult my life is, she listens. She agrees it’s a hard situation. But then I start spiraling downhill, demanding, “Why me? Why is my life harder than everyone else’s?”

She pauses to choose her words carefully. “I know it’s incredibly difficult right now. And I will be praying continually for you. But don’t believe that your life is always harder than everyone else’s. Life is hard. For everyone. You don’t always know what others are going through.”

I sigh as I lean back in my chair. She’s right, of course. Her words remind me of the quote that I recently tacked on my door: Be Kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Everyone struggles. Worries about their children. Has hard days. Faces disappointment. Feels inadequate. Makes mistakes they wish they could erase.

After I get off the phone with her, I remember Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ words, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

And so I start talking.Continue Reading