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The best parenting tip? Hint: It’s not the chore chart…

In case you missed it…

I was honored (and more than a little intimidated!) to write a guest post this week for Club31Women, where they are all about equipping folks to enjoy strong marriages, healthy families, and joy-filled homes. And all I could think, as I recalled the early days of our parenting, was how I longed to get it all right. Thank goodness God has a good sense of humor–and that he is faithful in the midst of our mess!

 

It was one of those days. None of my “good parenting” strategies seemed to be working.

I looked at the chore chart on the fridge. Half the stuff was not done.

The character chart? The one where the kids could earn stars? Let’s just say we had a lot of white space.

And the Bible memory verse I had posted? Please. Why don’t they tell you to aim lower, maybe with something like John 11:35?

Jesus wept. Roger that.

As I said, it was one of those days. We’d had four kids in six years, and as I looked around at the mayhem (and found the missing cat in the refrigerator—“It’s the orphanage, Mom!”), something snapped.

“Can anybody,” I challenged, “tell me a Bible verse? Just one. I will take anything.”

Four little bodies stopped moving. Four sets of eyes (not counting the cat’s) stared into mine. Nobody spoke, until finally Robbie—aged 5—offered this:

“Don’t slip?”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Robbie back-pedaled. “Wait,” he said. “Maybe that one is a pool rule…”

Wanna see where this post goes? Click here to keep reading–and while you’re at it, check out all the fabulous marriage and parenting helps over at Club31Women.com.

And maybe pray for Virginia. Last weekend, she told us that she’s got her eyes on another kitten she wants to adopt…

 

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Never give up (on the people you love)

Two things this week have me camping out on the fatherhood of God and his dogged–relentless, even–pursuit of our hearts.

The first thing was the inauguration of U.Va.’s 9th president, Jim Ryan.

(And I know, I know. Some of you are like, “U.Va. again? Why does she always write about that?” To which I would say:  Hello? Did I write even ONE WORD about our victory over nationally ranked Miami, or last week’s road win at Duke? Feels to me like a U.Va. shout out is a bit overdue.)

(But this is not a U.Va. shout out.)

Anyhow.

In his inaugural address (which was fabulous; if you missed it, click here), Ryan likened teaching to parenting. He noted that both endeavors were based on the faith that the job–despite being a sometimes messy process with unfinished and imperfect results–was worth doing, and that as both a parent and as a university president, he would “never give up on the people I love.”

Which brings me to the second thing.

The second thing that happened this week was that I started reading Genesis.

You know the story. God makes Adam and Eve. And then they eat the fruit that they shouldn’t. And when they realize what they’ve done, they get scared and try to hide from God in the garden.

God knows, of course, that his kids are over there in the trees. And when he says, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9), he isn’t really after their physical location. He is asking where they are, spiritually–as in, where Adam and Eve are in relation to him.

I read that line and, as a parent, I thought back to the times when I felt like my own children were hidden. The times when they felt far away. Emotionally distant. Out of reach (even if they were just across the table, at dinner). The times when I watched them pursue relationships or activities or ideas that, I knew, would not produce good things in their lives.

The times when family life felt a little bit messy.

And then I thought about God, and how he must sometimes feel the same way towards us. Over and over again in the Bible (just as over and over again now), God’s children go wandering off, turning their backs on his love. And we see what God does in response.

Sometimes, we see his desire:  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)

Other times, we see his promise: My people are determined to turn from me…my compassion is aroused…I will roar; they will come…I will settle them in their homes. (Hosea 11:7-11)

Always, though, we see his pursuit. From the “Where are you?” Genesis question all the way to the “I stand at the door and knock” of Revelation 3:20, we see God calling to us. Wooing us. Inviting us into a life marked by purpose, passion, and joy.

And demonstrating, always and forever, that he will never give up on the people he loves.

So…that’s why President Ryan’s speech, taken together with the Genesis story, made me think about God. With one major difference.

Ryan’s presidency, like our parenting, can’t help but yield (as he freely noted) imperfect and unfinished results. But it’s different with God. With God at the helm, we can be confident that, having begun a good work in our lives, he can be counted on to complete it.

He will get the job done, and the results will one day be perfect.

(Which, even though this is NOT a U.Va. blog, is a promise that I would dearly love to see fulfilled on the field, as we take on the Tarheels tomorrow…)

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being the embodiment of love. You are patient and kind; you keep no record of wrongs. You protect, you hope, you persevere.

You never fail. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Let us never grow weary in doing good, especially to the people we love. And when we feel downcast or discouraged, remind us that you know just how we feel, and that there is a promised harvest, at the perfect time, for those who never give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen

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Lost (and Found) in Translation

“If you don’t say theethou, or thine, God might not know that you’re talking to Him.”

At least that’s what my Gammy thought. In her world, it was the King James or nothing, and every Bible verse she made us memorize (that’s all she ever wanted from her grandkids for Christmas) was chock full of the good stuff:

I in them and thou in me…that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, even as thou hast loved me. 

(I might not have known what John 17:23 meant but boy, could I quote it.)

Me, I’m an NIV gal. I got my first copy of a New International Version Bible back in the late ’70s and never looked back. Call me Gammy 2.0; I like what I like.

Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate a walk on the wild side, every now and again. Like, this past summer when we were in a remote part of Canada and I was starting to think of potato chips as vegetables because it had been awhile since I’d seen anything green, I was super grateful for how the English Standard Version renders Nehemiah 8:10:

“Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Talk about a user-friendly Bible command. (Can I get a side of Rosé with those chips? Thank you very much, ESV.)

Anyhow.

This week I found myself grateful again, this time for The Message translation. I have a Bible that puts my old faithful NIV on one side of the page and The Message on the other…

…because sometimes words can be confusing, and it helps to look at things from a different perspective.  Especially if the thing you are looking at involves suffering.

Which (as you know, if you’ve been around this blog for awhile) tends to be a tricky topic for me. I know God always uses hard things for good, but I struggle to embrace the place of disappointment and pain in my life. Or in the lives of the people I love.

And honestly? In the case of 1 Peter 4:1-2, my beloved NIV didn’t help all that much:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Those words were familiar, but they didn’t really add up. I didn’t think that I would ever be “done with sin,” and I hated the idea that I might be doomed to live my life in the pursuit of “evil human desires.” How was it, exactly, that suffering might help?

I stole a glance at The Message:

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.

Ahhh. THAT made so much more sense.

Jesus suffered more than I ever have. (I get that.)

And I should learn to think like he did. (I agree.)

And suffering can help wean me from the habit of expecting to get my own way.

Now there’s a provocative thought. I actually DO expect to get my own way–or at least I THINK that I should. I mean, I am pretty sure that most of my ideas have some merit, and that God should at least give them a try. And when he doesn’t–like, when things don’t turn out at all like I think that they should–I can start to get a bit grumpy.

You might even say tyrannized.

(Can anybody relate?)

The idea that I could get out from under my wants, and run after the good things God has, is mighty appealing. And when I consider the example of Christ and the whole “not my will, but thine” thing (which, you have to admit, comes off pretty strong in the old KJV), everything sort of falls into place. If suffering is what opens the door to surrender–to realizing, once and for all, that God’s way is a zillion times better–well then, bring it on.

(Well, maybe not “Bring it on.” Maybe more like, “Help me please.” But you get the idea.)

And in the meantime…

Let’s eat some fat and raise a glass to the English Standard Version, and to all of the whip-smart Bible translators out there. Thank you for doing all the hard work so that the rest of us can just kick back, eat some chips, and read.

😊

Heavenly Father,

Help us learn to think more like Jesus. And when we come up against suffering–when things don’t go “our way”–equip us to let go, like Jesus did, and embrace your will for our lives. Free us from the tyranny of living for what we want. (1 Peter 4:1-2, MSG)

Amen

Want your own side-by-side Bible? Click here for one option, or just put “Parallel Bible” into your Amazon search bar to see a whole bunch of choices.

 

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Shower the Pansies You Love with Love

This won’t be a long post. I could give you all sorts of excuses, but the main one is that I’m tired. Blame it on the Pansy Sale.

Officially known as the Fall Flower Festival, the “pansy sale” is the centerpiece of the Garden Club calendar (and, some might say, of our lives). It can get fairly dramatic–some of you will remember last year’s crisis, when I temporarily “borrowed” a few flats of Delta Pure Orange from the City of Virginia Beach and my pal Dee wound up getting clobbered for my sin–but this year, things seemed to go off hitch-free.

Or mostly hitch-free.

So inspired was I by my friend Jane’s “Container Gardening” demo at the sale…

…that I decided to plant my pots just like she did. I found some tallish green things, tucked in some ivy and a few ColorMax Lemon Splash violas, and patted myself on the back. #GreenThumb

And then I left town.

For five days. And when I got back…

The flowers were dead.

And do you know what popped into my mind, as I surveyed the crime scene? I’ll tell you. What popped into my mind was Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians, back when they were squabbling about whether they should follow Paul (who planted spiritual seeds) or Apollos (who watered them):

Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 

God makes things grow. Roger that. Whether we’re talking pansies or people, he’s the change-agent.

But it’s not like we sit back and do nothing. We’ve got a job to do, too:  We plant, and we water. And when we don’t (like, when we forget to shower the people we love with love) stuff dries up. Friendships wither. Spouses withdraw. Children don’t flourish the way that they should.

So that’s all.

Just a little encouragement from a D- gardener to water your plants, and your people, today. 😊

Heavenly Father,

May our words and deeds be rooted in love so that they produce great joy and encouragement. May we be refreshers of hearts. (Philemon 7)

Amen

And P.S., one more thing. Even if a relationship looks totally dead, it’s probably not. It’s probably like my violas, which turned out to be only (and who doesn’t love a good Princess Bride quote?) “mostly dead.”

A little water, a little love, and they’re back.

 

 

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Don’t Let it Sense Your Fear

Robbie and I had gotten an early start on our hike. We’d been climbing for more than an hour–without spotting even one other person–when we came upon a “Bear Alert” sign.

Don’t let it sense your fear.

That’s what you’re supposed to do (or not do?) if you meet up with a bear. That, and speak softly. To the bear.

That sounded about right to me. In fact, the “no fear” advice is the same thing I heard as a child, back when I was frightened of dogs. We didn’t grow up with pups (unless you count Duke, the black Lab we had until it ate my mom’s diamond watch), and I wasn’t sure how to behave around them. The fact that Mom had been wearing the watch when it disappeared loomed large in my mind, and when a strange dog came bounding up on the playground one day, I balked.

“It’s okay,” someone said. “It won’t hurt you. Just don’t let it sense your fear.”

It worked; the dog left me alone. And that day, something clicked in my mind. Letting something scary–be it a stray dog, a health concern, a bully, whatever–know you’re afraid never helps. All it does is bolster the threat’s position, while weakening yours.

Or, as Robbie might put it, “It lets the camel get his nose under the tent.”

Yeah.

Speaking of Robbie…

He was less enthused by the bear sign than I. I was standing there, blathering on about how if we DID see a bear, he should run, since he is faster than I am and our kids would want one parent to survive. I figured I could stick around–speaking softly–and at least buy him some time.

But my man wasn’t having it. Given the total lack of human activity and the fact that we were in a place we’d never ventured before (and probably also the fact that, being a gentleman, Robbie knew he wouldn’t just leave me chatting it up with a bear), he suggested we might want to turn back.

“Turn back?” I replied, incredulous. “We are almost at the summit!”

“We are the only people on this trail,” Robbie said. “We need to be smart.”

I scoffed. “The bears are not up here,” I said. “It’s breakfast time. They are down near the town, rummaging through people’s trash cans.”

Robbie stared at me. “Since when did you become a bear expert?”

He had me there.

And, since I am not, technically, an expert on wildlife of any kind (my favorite cocktail napkin is the one that says “Why yes. If drinking on the porch counts, then I AM outdoorsy!), I decided to read the fine print.

If a bear stands upright or moves closer to you, it may be trying to detect smells in the air.

Okay…

Once it identifies you, it may leave the area or try to intimidate you by charging to within a few feet before it withdraws.

Alrighty then. We had options. The bear might walk away…or it could charge.

Which is 100% just like real life.

I mean, we face dangers and threats all the time. And sometimes, like a disinterested bear, our fears just sort of pack up and leave: The test comes back negative. The money is there. That thing’s not a spider, it’s lint.

Sometimes, though, we find ourselves taking a charge. And sometimes, the charge is a biggie: It turns out to be cancer. He wants a divorce. It’s 2:00 a.m., and we know that this call won’t be good.

Stuff like that hurts. And when it happens, we can’t help it; we’re scared. We don’t know how to respond. Does the “don’t show fear” advice really work?

Actually…yes.

Scripture talks a lot about fear. In fact, “Do not be afraid” is the most oft-repeated command in the Bible. It crops up 70 times in the NIV (which is way more than, say, “Love your neighbor” or “Do unto others” or even basic stuff like “Don’t steal”). And that 70 times? That doesn’t even count related phrases like “do not fear” or “fear not.”

Clearly, God doesn’t want his kids to be scared.

But instead of just telling us to keep a stiff upper lip (“Don’t be afraid!”), God almost always links his command to a promise. Consider just these few examples:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Don’t be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you. (Deuteronomy 3:22)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

And this one, which I think is my favorite:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

What these promises (and plenty more) tell us is that yes, life will come at us hard. It might hurt. And sometimes we’ll be tempted to give in to fear. But instead of letting that emotion take over our hearts (and mess with our physical and emotional health, which all sorts of new research shows that it does), God wants us to know that he’s on it.

I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will fight for you. I will be with you.

Bottom line? God is for us.

And we are never alone.

Which is something that I told myself, over and over, that day on the hike. Yes, Robbie gave in to my begging, and we went all the way to the top. (He drew the line, though, when I suggested we sing, or that maybe we could pray for our kids. I think his exact quote might have been: “Let’s get out of bear country first.”)

(I love that man.)

So can I just close with two things?

The first is gratitude to my husband, who always keeps his head on a swivel so I don’t have to.

And the second is gratitude to our Lord, who says that he will NEVER leave us, and that the Spirit he gives us is is not one of timidity; rather, it is filled with power and love.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

You knew we’d be scared. Thank you for not leaving us to deal with our fears on our own. Help us to remember that perfect love–YOUR perfect love–drives out fear, and that because of your presence, we can have peace. (1 John 4:18, John 14:27)

Amen

 

 

 

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