Tuesday, June 18, 2013

From Infant to Pubescent: hope for when you can't enjoy it

There is a group of people that I have much compassion for.  Perhaps I pity them.  I definitely want to encourage them.  I'm not necessarily talking about the poor or the broken-hearted or the fatherless or the widows...I'm talking about a very specific group of women:

the new mothers of young children.

I was in this group once, but am now a few years removed from that title.  I vowed that I would never tell a young mom what I was sometimes told "Just wait til you get to the teen years--then parenting becomes really hard."  I swore while in the midst of diaper changes and sleepless nights, I would not forget what my life was like.  

Ten years into parenting and then it happened.  I nearly forgot....

I was working in the baby room at church about a month ago.  For the first 10 minutes I rocked happy babies while sitting on my keister.  No baby was talking to me, no one was asking questions, and none of the children were running through the room. For a second, I had this ludicrous thought: "Why was I SO stressed out when my kids were little?  These babies are so sweet and the room is so calm."

You know what happened.  Eventually the contented, drowsy infant protested my sleep-inducing endeavors.  No longer was he satisfied in my arms...or on the floor...or in the crib...or in ANY bouncy, swingy contraption.  It wasn't long before I realized another crawler had grabbed my drink that I nonchalantly placed beside me and poured it all over himself.  Halfway through the worship service, the toys that had pacified so many children were now covered in drool and flung in every direction on the floor.

And as I made my way to the laundry room of the church, my senses came back to me..."Oh yeah, now I remember."

I remembered again as I was talking on the phone to my young friend with a first-born six month old child.  With her sick baby in the middle of the teething stage, it had taken us three weeks to coordinate that one phone call.  My friend had gotten her baby down for the treasured afternoon nap and called me to talk about motherhood.  We talked for an hour about the relentless care it takes to keep a newborn alive.  We talked about the struggle most moms go through when they realize their social life no longer consists of people their age.  For my young friend, our conversation was the only hour of the day she could talk to me.  The rest of the hours were spent attending to baby's every need.  But while I was on the phone my 6, 8, and 10 year old entertained themselves in the house while I sat on my porch.  My children played, fed themselves, and managed not to damage any property.  In fact, they were creatively figuring out how to solve our current household problem:  flies.  I suppose I've never introduced my children to the fly-swatter, so while I was on the phone, they busied themselves by making home-made fly traps with index cards and glue sticks.

(yes, this contraption actually CAUGHT a fly)

Then I remembered once more during a 3 day get-away with multiple families.  While in the hotel, the families with pre-schoolers had to constantly coordinate their schedules around naps.  My family did whatever we wanted.  Sometimes that meant we entertained a baby so the parent could tend to other children.  As I watched adults tote portable high chairs, cut their toddlers' food, spoon-fed their infants, strap and unstrap bibs, it dawned on me that I no longer have to physically feed my children; I simply introduce them to the options and they can fill a plate themselves and find their own napkin.  As I watched mothers and fathers wrestle their children down to change diapers, tie shoes, and search for missing hair-bows, I realized that a new era has occurred for me: I simply speak, and out of the room comes a self-dressed, potty-trained, fairly well-groomed child.
I further remembered when our families went to the hotel pool--every child age 3 and under refused to actually GET IN the water for more than 2 minutes.  The toddlers busied themselves with every contraption not made for children's use.  They took it upon themselves to transfer water from the pool to the floor, lounge chairs and tables.  One particular child spent fifteen minutes gathering shoes and throwing them into the water.  As for my school-aged children?  They actually SWAM.  I am happy to report they also practiced their diving skills as they retrieved every sinking sandal and fallen flip-flop.  Needless to say, those parents of the young children sat for maybe 15 seconds at a time while I and a mother of teenagers read books, chatted in complete sentences, played on our phones, and occasionally asked our older children "hey, would you get that shoe?"

I don't mean to sound like my post-preschool/ pre-puberty stage of parenting is now simple, easy or a breeze, but it is a breather before encountering the hormonal teen years.  My relationship with my children is less physically-exhausting and more emotionally-exhilarating than in the younger years. I spend less time putting them in solitary confinement because of their fits and more time socially-coordinating their friendships.  We still have problems, but I have the sleep and mental stamina to quickly find solutions.  And instead of wondering what I do all day, I can now actually make a list of the things I do in a day.

So, mom, your time is coming.  It doesn't happen overnight, but if you're diligent now, one day you look back and realize how long the days and short the years were.  Take all other pressures off yourself because you have one HUGE job--to keep your child's terrible twos and toilsome threes contained to the pre-school years. You don't want them reeking havoc on people and property for the rest of their lives, but take heart, you've got approximately a five year window to get the task done. The training that it takes to get your child from a consumer to a servant, from a self-worshipper to self-sufficient is tedious, tiring, and monotonous.  You SHOULD be tired.

I remember now why young parents are so exhausted.  But the good news is after parenting for ten years..... I *almost* forgot.
"So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up." Galatians 6:9

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who's Your Daddy?

On a visit to the optometrist the other day, I watched the doctor with fascination as she tested my three children.  I was intrigued by her gadgets and contraptions, had great respect for her knowledge, and appreciated her thorough communication with me.   She further captured my curiosity when she  examined my youngest child and remarked “I have no doubt these kids have the same daddy.”

This doctor has never seen my husband.  She hasn't looked in his eyes or even seen his face.  And although our children share similar features with their dad, this ophthalmology- uneducated mom doesn't think my kids have their father’s eyes.  My husband’s are bright blue and captivating while the kids’ eyes are hazel and cute.  The youngest is far-sighted, the middle child has 20/15, and the oldest is near-sighted.  However, with the right amount of examination, a trained doctor can see what my naked eyes can’t--that the size and shape of the children’s optic nerve are remarkably similar.  The making of their optic nerves reveal that those three children were made in the likeness of one dad.

This experience made me wish it was just as easy to tell who the children of God are.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone could look at me for less than 60 seconds and say “I know who Tonya’s Father is.”?  If someone were to examine me, he or she might catch me in the few moments of anger I have toward the people I love most.  One might find me frustrated rather than free, worried rather than worshipping rightly, discouraged rather than disciplined.  One might catch me in a moment of gossip, with a condescending tone, or impatient spirit.  There are times when my heavenly Father may not be as obvious in my life as I want Him to be.

And so it is with the many who call themselves “Christians”.  Believers and unbelievers alike find it hard to figure out who the authentic followers of Jesus are, because the walk doesn’t always match the talk.  However, the Bible makes a clear distinction between the “saved” and “unsaved” in 1 John 3:10:

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Note the criteria mentioned in John 3 for true followers of God:
1)      someone who practices righteousness

This means that Christians will sin from time to time, but they do not PRACTICE sinning.  A believer may have a moment or season of anger, lust, pride, envy, jealousy, etc, but this does not characterize a child of God.   Upon examination of one’s life as a whole, one should be able to see the sinful habits being replaced with godly ones.

2)      someone who loves his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ 

This means it is contradictory to love Jesus and detest His people.  A believer chooses to forgive their church member for an offense rather than remain bitter against them.  Followers of Jesus lovingly correct a church leader that they feel is wrong rather that criticize or condemn him/her.  Christians are more concerned with their brothers and sister’s walk with the Lord than the way in which s/he conducts matters that are not sinful.  Disciples dispel fellow believers’ drama rather than create drama or run away from people’s pain.  God’s children choose to encourage, uplift, teach, serve, and help fellow brothers and sisters rather than isolate themselves from the Church.

Did you notice what was not in this list?  The Bible doesn’t say a person’s correct theology will ensure his eternal security.  1 John 3 doesn’t mention how often Christians should read their Bible, go to church, how many charities they should be involved in, how adept their evangelism skills are, or EVEN how to love unbelievers.  These are all good things, but are not evidence of the children of God.  Those who are trained by Scripture can recognize the similarities in God’s children much like the optometrist could infer the likeness my kids have with each other. 

In my own life, I can “see” God’s heart when I’m with my parents and in-laws who are actively involved in two opposing political parties—the love, care, and respect they have for each other is bigger than their political differences.  I recognize God’s children when at play-dates with my friends who home-school, public school and private school—we can enjoy and learn from each other even though we have different educational philosophies.  I experienced the beauty of God’s children when I taught a bible study consisting of students from 7 different demoninations—they could discuss Scripture respectfully despite their differing interpretations of it.  And every Sunday I witness my church enjoy each other’s presence regardless of the color or economic status of specific members.

Who are the real Christians?  We look different from each other.  We have diverse styles.  We have various gifts, strengths, skill-sets, weaknesses, struggles, and personalities.  Some of us are near-sighted at times when others see clearly.  We have different perspectives; we don’t always “see” life the same way, but we worship the same God.  We are made in His image—and that is most evident when we practice His ways and genuinely love His people.