Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Real Put-together Life

I walked into my dad's camper and was intrigued by the aging quilt that laid across his bed.  I recognized the handy-work--my kids have been cuddled up with Mamaw's makings for years.  My children have never met their great-grandma but they've heard many stories about her.  She left a profound impact on my life and my perspective on life in general.  She was a woman who wasn't impressed by spotless kitchens--who were they serving if clean and empty?  She was a woman who didn't obsess about a little dirt on her floor--clean floors don't tell the story of who's coming and going, or the work the family was able to do outside.  But you would be hard pressed to find dust on her Bible during her latter years--that book was moved, used, read, and internalized.

The quilt instantly reminded me of my heritage--I come from a long line of hard-working women.   However, this blanket looked different than others she had made.  My dad told me that Mamaw sewed it from her husband's overalls after his clothes had seen their better days.

Typical.  The woman wasted nothing. She also wrote a poem  about the clothes that were used to feed my father and gave it to my dad along with the quilt.  The covering smelled like the woods--my dad would spend days hunting and roughing it and then lay down to rest at night under grandma's gift.  Something in me didn't like seeing the quilt laying there dirty, stained and torn.  I wanted to preserve it--clean it and hang it somewhere so I could remember her.  For a moment, I wanted to display it, so that it could be seen, to keep memories alive of the woman I miss so much.

My grandma would roll over in her grave if she knew that thought.  The quilt-- stained, torn, imperfect as it may be, is doing exactly what it was designed to do.  Its destruction is what makes it beneficial.  And she would help me understand  that her quilts were made as illustrations of the way God intends for us to live: "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it." --Luke 17:33 

God says that if you want your life to last (particularly beyond the years you have left on earth), you have to "lose" it.  The Scripture literally means "let it be destroyed".  We have to suffer (whether big or small ways) in order to store up treasures in heaven.  We have to turn away from disregarding the things of God in order to enjoy the things God made.  We have to resist our own ways of understanding in order to have the rest God intended.  We give of ourselves in order to gain the relationships God designed for us.  We resign our control in order to retain self-control.  We have to be USED in order to be USEFUL.

Our lives shouldn't necessarily be pretty, preserved, or framed so the world can see how wonderful we are.  When a life is well-lived, it looks like my grandma's quilt that covers the chills of those she loved.  It's messy, perpetual, and layed down for others so that they can know how awesome God is.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A different kind of parent: yes or no?

Years back, I read a parenting book where the author suggested becoming a "yes" parent instead of a "no" parent.  He said that he made the conscious decision to say yes to his kids more than he said no.

My first thought was "how ridiculous."  It was clear to me that this author was a man who spent hours away from his family while his wife fielded the hundreds of questions that came at her in a day.  I'm sure other mothers can relate:

"Mom, can I...?"
"Mom, would you...?"
"Mom, can we...?"

I can not calculate how many times my children ask to do something that is either not good for them, not good for their siblings, or worse....a significant cost to my own time, energy, or money.  I mean, the kids would be constantly interrupting my daily plans.  My original thought when I read this author's suggestion was that if I answered yes more than I answered no to my children, I would be sleepless and moneyless.  And I've seen the parents who never say no to their children--in my opinion they are usually pushovers who raise spoiled children.

But then I took a running record of myself.  I realized how "no" is actually my first and natural response.  And as I listened to parents in the stores, and around town, and I thought, "wow...we all sound the same."   We parents have become broken records.  "No. No. No."  This is what we sound like to our children.  And I know something about the human heart (because I know my own): if we know that the answers are always going to be "no", then we'll stop asking questions.  Eventually, we won't ask--we'll do what we want, when we want, and won't bother to check with the proper authorities.  The end result to a constant "no" style of parenting is a calloused  child who may obey when someone is looking, but is just waiting for the chance to do his "own" thing first chance he gets.

When I think of God the Father, I realize that He deals with His children very differently than a mom like me who barked "".  When God created the Garden of Eden, it had numerous freedoms and only ONE restriction.   Scriptures say that He wants to give us the desires of our hearts--WHEN they are rooted in love and enjoyment of Him.  I didn't want to become a "yes" parent or a "no" parent, but I want to be a parent who models God's Fatherly love.  So I started becoming consciously aware of my answers to my children.

"Mom can I have apple juice?" she asks 2 minutes before bedtime.  Instead of no, I answer:
"You can have some in the morning."

"Mom, can so and so come play?" she asks while I have something planned. Instead of no, I answer:
"Let's look at the schedule and find a good time for her to play."

"Mom, can I have the latest video game equipment that cost hundreds of dollars and will consume my life so that I am a complete addict and want nothing to do with the real world God made?"
Okay, this is a hard one for me.  But what did Jesus do when people asked Him questions?  He answered with questions.  So now I have conversations like this:
"What makes you want one?  How do you think it will benefit you?  Do you think this is a good use of money?  How long will it take you to work for the money to pay for this?  If you got one, how will you control your time spent on it?"

Parents, we know that "no" is often the easier answer.  That answer cost nothing of ourselves.  It doesn't require us or them to think about deeper issues.  So I'm making a strong attempt to engage my children's questions so that they will never stop talking to me.  When the kids get older and the issues more costly, I want them to always feel like they can come and ask me, because I can help them, like God does, to see when the proper time and place would be and under the right guidelines for their wishes to be fulfilled.  God's style of parenting is so different than most of what we see--He isn't bowing to our every whim, but He entered our world, took care of our needs, and modeled a sacrificial love not based on pat, simple answers, but a growing relationship that wasn't easy on Himself.

My son has picked up on this conversation game the other day and asked me a series of ridiculous questions trying to get me to say no.  It has become fun for me to answer him with a positive series of words rather than negative ones. 
"Mom, are you an alien from outer space?"
"Son, it's about time you realize that your mother really is an alien."

Dear [parents], I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent so that....(the Gentiles) may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:11,12