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Posted on Oct 17, 2016 in Devotional, Love, My Crazy Family, Parenting, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 3 comments

A Good Father?

A Good Father?

When I was a senior in high school, I got caught with beer in my car at after prom. Seriously. Me. Beer. Did I drink beer? Nope. I still don’t. Nasty stuff. How anyone can stand it, I don’t know. But nevertheless, it was my car, my friends, and beer. I knew about it, allowed it, and got caught. The principal had to call my parents in the middle of the night. I was pretty sure death would result from my sin. Either that or every single privilege I enjoyed, including the car and the beach trip I was planning with those friends after graduation, would be taken away from me.

Shaking in fear, I walked into my dark house that night, wondering what punishment was waiting for me. I expected all the lights to be on, my parents furiously pacing the floor.

Instead, they were quietly laying in bed, just like always. As I tiptoed in their room, wondering what type of new torture this was, I saw my dad’s arm go out and beckon me toward him. Slowly, I walked toward that arm. He pulled me in closer. Then he pulled me down onto the bed. Instead of yelling (or killing me), he just hugged me tight. As my fear melted away, I began to cry. Somehow I managed to blubbler out the story: I’d agreed to let my friends bring beer because I wanted them to have fun. They’d said they were unable to let loose, dance, and have fun without it. It had never occurred to me that I could get in trouble for it. I wasn’t drinking and driving. I wasn’t drinking at all.

My mind often goes back to that night. My parents taught me a valuable lesson in the middle of what must have been very frightening to them. They said that a person shouldn’t be dependent on alcohol to have fun. If a person can’t have fun without alcohol, they have a problem. I’ve always remembered that lesson. A nice glass of wine with a fine meal is a different thing than the inability to enjoy oneself without it.

Beyond the alcohol though, another issue strikes me. I learned a lot about a father’s love. He could have raged at me, punished me extensively, or demanded that I stop hanging out with those friends. He didn’t though. He trusted that I’d learned my lesson (I certainly had) and let it go. He treated me tenderly, and he treated my friends tenderly too.

There’s a worship song that’s very popular right now, “You’re a Good, Good Father.” The first verse says,

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love
In the dead of night
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father.

Like my dad, my husband is a good, good father. He is the one who scrambles out of bed in the middle of the night at the slightest cry of a child. He answers their cries tenderly, holding them, rocking them back to sleep, and sometimes really irritating me. Why does he have to be such a softy? Can’t he command them to go back to sleep? But he doesn’t.

Not everyone has such a good father. Many fathers are callous, hard, and ready to pounce on their children at the least provocation. They yell and issue commands, not taking the time to listen and understand. And some fathers simply abandon their children altogether, or are so evil that the child would be better off if they did. Into the mess of this world, we have this beautiful song about our Heavenly Father. HE is a good Father, no matter what our earthly fathers are like.

So why is it that so many of us, myself included, run from this good Father when we sin? Why is it that we avoid God when we are ashamed of ourselves? We have a good Father who loves us fully.

He beckons us with open arms, welcoming us into His embrace, even when we have sinned woefully. He wants to hug us, talk to us about what happened, and help us learn something from it. He wants to deepen our relationship, not push us away.

I see it at times in my own life. When I feel deeply disappointed by the way things have turned out, so different than what I thought God had in mind, I struggle to embrace Him. I feel a little like an angry teenager, arms crossed, back turned to God. I haven’t left Him by any means. I’m still leaning against His throne, and I don’t want to leave. But I am so hurt and disappointed, I don’t think I can crawl into His lap right now either. Constant questions plague my mind. Did I do the wrong thing? Is this somehow my sin? Am I missing something? And I’m facing outward, away from Him, because I’m watching so expectantly to see what He will do next.

I have a good, good Father. Surely He has sent an answer, an unforeseen blessing, and it’s making its way up the road to me now. But I’m very near-sighted, and I can’t make it out yet. But I’m watching.

2016-03-27-11-52-05How much better could I watch from the perch of His lap? If, like my tiny daughter does so freely with her daddy, I could crawl up there, grab hold of his shirt and snuggle down, knowing without question the comfort and security I would find there, wouldn’t life be so much better?

What if we started running toward God when we sin? What if we cry into His arms, pour out our sorrow, share our frustration and disappointment openly? Our good Father can handle our pain, and He knows exactly what to do with it.

A good, good Father is exactly who we have. No matter who our earthly fathers were, or are, we can rest in the embrace of God.

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Posted on Jul 18, 2016 in Parenting | 2 comments

Parenting 101

Parenting 101

Parenting. How in the world are we supposed to do it?

I don’t think our parents or grandparents wondered about this question. They knew how to be parents. They did what their parents did, with a few exceptions in abusive situations. Parents were the bosses. Kids were to listen and obey. If they didn’t, they were taken in hand immediately. If that meant they were spanked, so be it. If they were  shamed, it was for their own good. Better for your parent to shame you than to be made ashamed in public because you didn’t know how to behave.

Into this culture, we have begun raising our children. As older parents with a fairly good age gap between us (11 years), we complicate things by adding the challenge of different generations. Grandparents, aunts/uncles, teachers, and friends add in their ideas.

Popular books and parenting theories call to us that we’re doing everything wrong, and their ideas oppose one another. Be gentle! Be firm! Let them cry! NEVER EVER EVER let them cry! Be fastidious about germs and cleanliness! Forget cleanliness and spend every waking minute interacting with your kids! Grow/raise all your own organic, non-GMO food! Give them lots of meat! Meat is terrible for you; give them brown rice and sunflower seeds! Brown rice is the devil and will cause cancer! They must learn to sleep in their own bed and fall asleep alone. You must never put them down. Strap your baby to your chest and sleep topless so the baby can nurse around the clock. Seriously. All these things are real advice I’ve been given.

13466362_10209645823923182_2610048866543573992_nIt’s hard on me to know that someone doesn’t agree with my parenting decisions, even if I continue to do what I think is best. At the airport on a layover from our recent vacation, our 2 and 3 year olds were acting exactly like they should. They’d been awake since 4am, confined to car seats, plane seats, and the stroller. They had about 30 minutes before they’d be confined to more seats, so they were happily running and talking excitedly to one another. They weren’t being disobedient or disrespectful and I was enjoying their freedom.

Then I looked over and saw an elderly man looking at them in disgust. He was trying to read a book and was obviously very distracted and displeased by their behavior. Suddenly, I was on edge. While everyone else had smiles and seemed delighted by their harmless antics, this man grouched. The area was crowded and there was nowhere else for us to reasonably go, so we were stuck together. I decided that I wasn’t going to make them sit and be quiet, just to manage one person’s unrealistic expectations, but I did make sure they stayed away from him and kept their voices a little quieter. I thought of explaining to him that they really needed to get their energy out, but I decided to deal with my own discomfort and give them what they needed.

This type of situation plays out for me regularly. I’m sensitive to those around me, constantly weighing how my actions (or those of my children) affect others. I know it’s a fairly neurotic way of living and I fight it, but it’s still there.

My husband has no such neurosis. He is confident in his parenting decisions and doesn’t care what most people think about them. When I point out someone else’s discomfort to him, his response is to let them come talk to him about it. He’ll put them in their place. It’s a good balance for me.

13416943_10209600276704530_5027423477168529807_oMy two-year old son has begun testing his limits. He wants to do everything himself. If we do something for him, he screams until he gets to do it himself. This morning I handed him a juice cup, which infuriated him. He put it back on the table, let it sit there for a moment, then picked it up himself. I mean, really? But oh yes… This child who has been so sweet and compliant for the last two years is suddenly defiant, cranky, dangerous, and oddly clingy. “Mommy, hold-y,” has become as regular as “Me do it!”

Into this situation, I bring all my confusion and frustration over the best way to parent. I try it all, praying the whole time. At first, I try gentle and loving. I try to redirect him. I use humor and show him all the fun, safe things he could do. He rages louder as the water he’s playing with gets dangerously hot. I get down on the floor and ask him why he’s so upset. (Answer: Because me do it myself!) I hold and hug him. I rub his back. He kicks me and knocks my glasses off. I put him in his bed until he can calm down. He bangs his head on the bed and gets his foot stuck between the slats. The look on his face is pure shock at my betrayal of his comfort.

I speak firmly, raising my voice a bit to let him know I’m serious. He soldiers on, determined to have his own way. I physically remove him from the situation. He responds by trying to bite me. Yesterday, I picked him up off his tricycle and carried both him and the bike away from the road as a semi-truck went barreling by. While I carried him away, he kicked and bucked so hard that I nearly dropped him on the gravel driveway.

I am literally fighting  to keep him alive while he tries with all his might to kill or maim himself.

Finally, in total fear for his life and frustration with all the competing voices in my head that tell me to be soft and gentle and rational with this tiny dictator, I spank him. I warn him three times, then calmly pick him up and firmly swat his diapered butt twice. He crumbles into devastation that I would hurt him in that way, we hug it out while I tell him that I hate to spank him and never want to have to do it again, and then he toddles off to play nicely with his sister, no longer determined to die.

You can tell me that’s wrong if you want to. Tell me I should’ve taken him inside the house so he could find a new way to try to kill himself. Perilously steep basement steps, anyone? Tell me to wrap him in bubble wrap and pad my house from top to bottom, remove anything hot and take all the doors off their hinges. Seriously, there are death traps around every corner. Tell me that hitting him teaches him violence and that I’m abusive and unfit.

But keeping this beautiful boy alive is my job. And sometimes that means that I will scream at him (“Don’t touch the hot iron!”), ignore his cries while he sits in a chair alone for a few minutes, and even spank him.

Every day he is faced with things that his dad and I are allowed to do and he is not. He isn’t allowed to walk on the road alone, so should we stop so he doesn’t get confused? He isn’t allowed to use the stove, so should I stop cooking so he doesn’t think he’s allowed to use it? I feel like any kind of correction we give him is the same thing: parents correct, children receive. If he hits me back, he receives another corrective measure. Hitting is not spanking. They are very different. Even at two years old, he understands that concept.

But the truth is that I have no idea what I’m doing. As a nanny, I knew it all. If only parents could take care of their children like I did, the world would be a better place. As a parent, I am lost and afraid. I want to be consistent and strong, understanding and fun, scheduled and whimsical, with a clean house and yet free to play ball all day. I want to keep them away from sugar and super-normally stimulating foods that lead to overconsumption. I want them to enjoy their childhood without so much restriction they turn out weird. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, hoping these kids will turn out okay and know how much I adore their precious selves. Nothing will ever stop me from loving them with all my heart.

A Walk to beautifulLast year I read a book that changed my perspective on parenting and gave me some grace for myself. It’s called “A Walk to Beautiful” by Jimmy Wayne. Jimmy, a successful country singer/songwriter, tells the story of his childhood. He was raised by a drug-addicted mother, carted off from place to place, often left alone, watching as his mom bought drugs with their food money and he starved, and then was finally abandoned as a teenager while his mom went off with a man. Because a few people were kind to him (not over-the-top rescuers, but reasonably kind people), he was able to make something of himself. (I think this is an important book for anyone who works with children to read, helping us to understand what might be going on in the homes of children we encounter.)

A close friend tells me about her childhood from time to time and I stare at her aghast. She seems so normal and healthy, yet her parents almost completely neglected her. There were no drugs or addictions to explain it away. They were just completely consumed with themselves and church. Yes, church. (Sinners are we, one and all.) She wasn’t protected from bullies, fed regular meals, put to bed, or helped with her homework.

As soon as she was old enough to provide for her own basic needs (I’m not sure what happened before that), she found whatever food was around and ate that. She fell asleep wherever she happened to be in the house and slept there all night. She was put in school, but no one ever checked to be sure she was okay there or learning. No one combed her hair or helped her put outfits together. While the most basic care was provided, anything close to nurture was withheld. She learned to nurture herself and to give others what she was never given.

Into the face of those parenting styles, I look and examine myself as a mother. Hmmm…  I think I’m doing okay.

13335915_10209494744186283_6157071877707785118_n (1)My children are well-fed, clothed, bathed, and nurtured. They are treasured and prized, not only by me but by their father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. They have structure and stability. They have a safe place to sleep and play. They have parents who are trying to teach them about God, grace and forgiveness, boundaries, and healthy relationships. We have fun together, we work together, and we occasionally try to sleep in the same bed together.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the rest of it is a lot less important than we think. We do our best, but the outcome isn’t up to us. We decide what works for our family and our own conscience. We deal with the circumstances we’ve been given in the best way possible.

For the time-being, I’ve put down the plethora of parenting books I’ve tried to study and decided to trust my instincts. It seems that God brings the right information to mind at the right time. At the time of this writing, my 2-year old has been making his way into our bed every night for about a month. It was sweet at first, a way to comfort him as he teethed. Now it’s gotten problematic and I’m ready to get him back into his own bed again. My 3-year old sleeps like a little champ, but getting her to sleep is a task… I’ve enjoyed rocking and singing her to sleep for the last 3 1/2 years, but I’m working on teaching her some new habits.

In the meantime, if you see a blank look on my face as my children act up, know that I’m not actually ignoring them. I’m simply scrolling through the massive amount of parenting information I’ve been exposed to and trying to figure out which way to handle the current situation. I’m gaining confidence a little each day. But I’m not the mama who unapologetically knows exactly what to do in each moment. I’m finding my way.

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Posted on Sep 18, 2013 in Marriage, Parenting | 4 comments

Naked and Not Ashamed

Naked and Not Ashamed

Today I find myself wondering how anyone can ever stand before another, even a trusted spouse, naked and not ashamed.  In our over-sexualized culture, images of perfection (not even real, but air-brushed) are everywhere.  They mock those who save sex for marriage and consider self-control impossible.

Lingerie commercials use models who have bodies covered with little more than glittering makeup to brazenly strut across our television screens.  They appear unashamed of their bodies, but stories of cutting and self-abuse filter out of their closely guarded world.  New shows glamorize adultery and betrayal.  Reality TV draws the viewer in with claims of competition and then baits them with underwear-clad, pencil-thin cast members who compete in physical challenges that often demand censors to blur body parts because they can’t keep their tiny cloth pieces held together by string in place.

Turn off the television and the billboards remind us.  Move to the country and magazines in the doctor’s office remind us.  Stop picking up the magazines and the catalog shows up in our mailbox.  Throw the catalog away unopened and see your neighbor’s teenage daughter imitating what she’s seen on the latest awards show.  Images of both desirable and undesirable bodies show up on the sides of our social media pages, our email screens, and even in newsletters from Christian celebrities.  They tell us what is acceptable and unacceptable, training us to believe that beauty can only look one way.

How am I, a 37-year old pregnant mother, to manage my emotions as the condemnation comes at me from every angle – telling me  I’m not thin enough, my hair isn’t long/curly/straight enough, my complexion isn’t creamy enough, my lips are full enough, my teeth aren’t white enough, and my legs aren’t smooth enough?  God-forbid I have any cellulite, varicose veins, or body hair!  It’s a full-time job to try to meet all these requirements.

In order to look like a supermodel, I need to spend hours each day in the gym; more hours planning and preparing perfectly balanced and healthy meals; even more hours removing body hair, smoothing and curling the hair on my head (adding hair pieces or extensions to make it thick and long enough); and even more hours getting facials, manicures,  pedicures, and body scrubs.  Let’s add to that time in the cosmetic surgeons office for Botox, lip fillers, a nose job, liposuction, a boob job, and a chin implant; then put makeup on my perfect complexion.  Fake eyelashes make my dark lashes thicker and longer, contouring deceives the eye so I appear to have more distinct features, and expensive powders remove any hint of shine.  After spending 16 hours a day on beauty treatments, where do we find time for a vocation, a family, or a social life?

tears_modelI’m convinced that’s why the models on the runway look miserable.  They’re furious about all the stuff they have to go through to have the privilege of representing the American woman to the world!  But if you take the time to do all these things and try to be the perfect woman, then people question if you have an eating disorder or need to find a job to occupy your time better.

No wonder so many like me find it nearly impossible to stand before our spouse – naked and not ashamed.

A lovely young bride confides in me that her husband has never seen her without her shirt on because she can’t see the beauty other see in her and feels mortified by her figure.  A mother of three cringes when her husband touches her in the dark, horrified that the skin on her stomach is loose and he will reject her.  A handsome young man starves himself while lifting weights, gets his entire upper body waxed and goes to the tanning bed – in an effort to look chiseled and desirable.  While he’s able to get dates, he cannot allow anyone to get close enough to see beneath his thin veneer of carefully cultivated masculinity and wonders why he’s always alone.  A beautiful woman causes her body to shut down and stop functioning properly so she feels thin enough to find a husband.  These are real people I know.

Imagine what it was like back in the days when those words were written.  God made Adam and Eve naked and not ashamed.  They lived in a garden.  They were totally innocent and unaware of comparison.  They didn’t know they were too hairy, their skin was too dark, or that they would be more appealing to Americans with blonde hair and blue eyes.  They stood before one another as perfect beings, loved and accepted.

I struggle with these thoughts every day.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s every waking hour of every single day.  Sometimes I just give up because who could ever be perfect enough?  And then at times I fight, walk the tightrope of perfectionism, and feel happy when I find myself somewhat closer to the elusive ideal.  When I was a young teenager, 5’10” tall and weighing all of 135 pounds, I felt mortified by how overweight I was.  If only I could reach the golden number of 125…  But no matter how much I exercised and starved myself, my body simply refused me.  If I wanted to weigh 125 pounds, I was going to have to stop eating all together, and somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to get to that extreme.  I was a size 5 or 7, but my significantly shorter friends wore size 1 or 3.

Fifteen years later I hired a Christian personal trainer/nutritionist to help me meet my goals.  The goal he set for me was to weigh 125 pounds.  When I laughed and told him that was next to impossible, he confidently told me I could do it if I’d just follow his plan.  Forget the fact that 125 is considered underweight for someone my height, but okay….  A month later I was injured due to over-exercise and cancelled my contract with him.

Lately I’ve been questioning myself.  Why can’t I just find a healthy balance, cherish it, and be a good example to my children?  Why must I either walk a tightrope of extreme measures or give up all control whatsoever?  What is the healthy middle ground?  And how can I find it?  Am I too far gone to ever have a healthy body-image?

I never remember a day in my life when I wasn’t on some kind of a diet, someone scrutinizing my food choices and judging me for it.  I don’t know many women who grew up differently than me.  The way I looked was always a reflection on someone else.  And it was important to meet or exceed the American standard of beauty.  Whatever the cost.  I tried hard to measure up.  I even went so far as to take laxatives, throw up, and stop eating all together, but I couldn’t maintain the discipline.  I hated the way I felt, even felt like I was sinning, and decided it wasn’t worth it.  I would take responsibility for the food I put in my mouth, for the calories I consumed, and find a way to deal with the consequences.

When I look at my precious Eliana and her perfect little form, my heart cries out in agony at the thought that I will pass this self-hatred and comparison on to her.  I want it to stop with me.  I want to find a way to cut through the lies that our culture is already throwing at her every day and somehow teach her to love and cherish her body.  I want her to feel grateful that she’s healthy, that she has a body that functions properly and is strong.  I want her to look in the mirror and see that she is fearfully and wonderfully made.

And in her security with how she looks, I want her to know that she is so much more than the way she looks.  Please God, let her know that she is valuable for who she is, for her gifts and talents, for her wit and kindness.  I want her to be full of the gifts of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  I pray that she’ll be empty of comparison, self-loathing, and insecurity.

How do we teach our daughters to cherish and value themselves in a culture that demands perfection?  

How do we teach ourselves to accept and love our imperfections and scars?  How do we find a way to balance the instant gratification that’s available to us through processed foods and cosmetic surgery with the self-control that’s from the Holy Spirit?

I’ve searched my heart for answers and I’m still searching.  I’ve begged God for clarity, divine wisdom, and grace.  I’ve prayed for help to make wise and healthy choices, to use words that build up and do not tear down, and to show her through my example what a healthy and whole life looks like.

One day I hope to know what it means to be naked and not ashamed.  One day I hope my daughter will know the freedom of standing before her husband naked and not ashamed.  And I pray God will send her a husband who gives her no reason to feel shame but totally accepts and loves her the way she is.  I hope she will confidently walk away from anyone who even suggests that she doesn’t measure up.

As I consider a solution to the problem, the one that comes to mind kind of shocks me.  

What if I make a choice to embrace life to the fullest? To have so much life and love and joy that there’s no room for concern with self-image.

What if I fill my life up with so many good things – friends, love, laughter, children, fulfilling work, helping others, giving of myself – that I don’t have the energy to care about ridiculous things like cellulite (something even the thinnest, most athletic person can have)?

There are times when cultural norms will invade my joy-filled bubble and I’ll take some time to fancy things up a bit.  I may even hire a personal trainer to get back in shape after the ravages of pregnancy are over.  And if a facial is relaxing and I don’t have to go into debt to get one, I’ll enjoy it.  It won’t be to meet some standard of perfection, but be a way to relax and be good to myself.  Those things all have their place and we’re free to enjoy them, but when they become a measuring stick to guide our feelings of self-worth, they are tools to enslave us.

I’d love to know what are you doing to teach your daughters and sons to have a healthy self-image.  What are you doing to have a healthier self-image and stay off the tightrope of perfectionism?

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Posted on Jun 27, 2013 in Devotional, Marriage | 0 comments

Why Did God Make Me Wait?

Why Did God Make Me Wait?

A few days ago I snuck in a guilty pleasure, a 90-minute phone conversation with one of my good friends from our single days in Nashville.  We often discuss the meaning of life when we talk, trying to figure out our own crazy lives and what to make of it all.  We have wildly different ideas about theology, but it never seems to bother either one of us.  I thoroughly enjoy our conversations, both of us realizing we never answer the questions but enjoying our conversation anyway.

telephone_1950sShe began this talk with the provocative questions, “Why do you think God had you wait so long to marry Rick?  Couldn’t you two have married fifteen years earlier?  You knew one another.  You were both single adults, who wanted marriage and family life, so why did you have to wait so long?  And how does Rick feel about it?  Does he wish you’d found one another sooner?”  Rick couldn’t care less about these questions.  He just enjoys life where he is and doesn’t try to analyze it too much.  I’ve gone over and over those questions in my mind, trying to get to the bottom of the puzzle.

I gave her the practical answer:  Fifteen years ago, Rick worked too many hours to have time for a family.  I wanted to get my education, have a career, and enjoy city life.  I wouldn’t have even considered becoming a farmer’s wife in the rural Midwest.  It wasn’t until he “retired” from the business he and his father had together that he was ready to marry.  As badly as I wanted a husband, it wasn’t until I had worn myself out with trying to make my way in the world that I was willing to allow someone else to help me.  I didn’t add this part in our conversation, but the truth is that it wasn’t until I discovered how much I could trust my loving God that I could trust my life to a man.

My friend wanted to know if it was it God’s plan for me not to marry until I was 36 years old, not to have the longed-for child until I was 37.  And am I ticked about being placed at the end of a very long line, being forced to wait until the last few years of fertility?  (At least I was in the line…)  Was it God’s plan for me to wrestle with purity, to wrestle with my sexuality, for twenty years?  Ugh!  Why would God make me reach puberty in my early teens, command me to reserve sex for marriage, and then make me wait until my late 30s to marry?  Is He really that mean?

I have to believe that God is not mean, and He did not intend to deprive me.  Humans have convoluted His system, made life into something different than the ideal, and as a result we suffer needlessly at times.  As I look back on my life, I cannot help but remember a guy who adored me while I was in my teen years.  He was an active member of our church and committed to Christ, handsome, kind, and had a good job.  He and I came from a similar background and our families understood one another well.  He was too old for me, so we never had more than one ‘accidental’ date.  I knew of his feelings through things others said and the fact that he hung around a lot, not because he ever acted on them.  But I believe he might’ve waited for me if I’d responded differently than I did.  I was over-the-moon that he’d pay attention to me (he was so cute!).  But that’s where it stopped.  I thought I needed to go to college, work, live on my own for a while, and if I could get him interested in me I wondered who else I might be able to attract.  So I made a choice and he married someone else.

Years later when I finally did marry, I married a man a lot like him.  I have to shake my head in wonder at the whole thing.  I suppose I might have had a similar life to the one I’m living now, but without the years of struggle as I waited and tried to keep my desires in check.  (Who knows, there may have been a bunch of different problems though…)  So is it right to blame God for “making me wait”?  We can never really know how our lives might have been different if we had made different choices.  I can’t say that I wish I’d chosen differently back then.  I’m not even sure I was capable of making another choice.  I made an immature decision because I was immature.  I needed time to figure out my way in the world.  God knew the entire time what I needed and He sheltered me as I bumbled around, trying to figure it all out.

So the battle between free-will and predestination rages on for me.  God gives us free will, but He knows everything, so He knows what choices we will make.  Nothing surprises Him.  Knowing what choices we’ll make, He’s able to lay out a plan for us.  So He has a plan, but it’s based on what He knows of us, yet He created us as we are.  To me, it’s the unanswerable question.

IMG_20130331_153246_716I’m thankful I finally married Rick and that we have such a sweet little girl.  I’m thankful that at this time in our lives, he’s at home a lot and we are raising her as a team.  I’m incredibly thankful that Rick is the kind of dad who is available and involved in his daughter’s daily life.  He’ll be that awesome dad who can chaperone field trips and help with homework.  Both of our dads were young when they had us, faithful and responsible, and they worked around the clock to provide for us.  Both of our mothers sometimes felt like they were raising their children alone, but appreciated the husbands who made it possible for them to have homes and children.  Given the time he had to prepare, Rick is a good provider and a present parent.  I’m thankful to know who I am, not trying to raise a child while I strive and strain to become whole.  I’m grateful that within a few years of discovering that I want to be a writer, I was able to stay at home and focus more on it.

Whether it was free-will or God’s perfect plan for my life, it has worked out.  God has taken my mess and made something beautiful out of it.  God has allowed me my mistakes, seen my heart, and worked it all out for my good – giving me joy unspeakable.  He’s healed me from my struggle with anxiety and depression and set me free to enjoy the other parts of life that I wanted so badly.  He’s given me a loving and kind husband who is absolutely committed to Christ, a true man of peace.  In spite of all the options I passed by and questionable choices I made, hopefully the person I am becoming is one who brings honor and glory to Christ’s name.

Our phone conversation wasn’t all about me.  My friend has her own questions, wondering how life might’ve been different if she and her husband had known one another earlier, had different experiences.  Could they have avoided some of the problems they’ve encountered?  Might new problems have taken their place?  Interrupted in the middle of our conversation by the needs of our children, my friend and I laughed as we hung up, undisturbed by our inability to conclude our discussion.  We didn’t need to wrap it all up.  We just enjoyed trying to figure it out together.  We’re both in love with our children, in love with our husbands, thankful for the ability to devote ourselves to them full-time, and to sneak in ridiculously long phone calls every once in a while.

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Posted on Nov 6, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 1 comment

Ignorance is Bliss?

In a conversation I had with a woman in her late 50s who was describing the abusive childhood of a loved one, she repeated a commonly used excuse for the irresponsible behavior of the parents.  How often have we heard this phrase: “They did the best they could with the knowledge they had”?  That phrase is usually followed or preceded by a horror story of child abuse or some other atrocity.  I decided a long time ago that I despise that phrase, that excuse. 

I do realize that we often do things out of ignorance and on some level that will always happen and cannot be helped.  No one can know everything or understand any situation fully but God.  Perhaps that’s why God is infallible?  He knows everything and sees each situation from all sides.  But I don’t mean to get into a theological discussion of God’s perfection, so moving on…  As I was saying, I do understand that each person will make mistakes out of ignorance and this is to be expected.  The reason I so despise the phrase mentioned is because it’s often is used to excuse behavior that is reprehensible.  When a small child is beaten with a board full of nails for saying a curse word he’s heard his father use a million times before, then forced to “confess” by repeating that curse word and is so frightened he can’t remember it, is then forced to guess what curse word he said then beaten for each incorrect curse word he guessed until he’s nearly dead – that is inexcusable.  Don’t tell me the father didn’t know any better.  No one is that stupid.

I heard that phrase many times while I was growing up in the form of, “I’m sorry I hurt you.  I did the best I could with what I knew to do.”  And I decided I hated it.  I was not the one beaten with boards, thank God!  But in a pastor’s house, you hear horror stories every day.  People bring their problems to their pastor and I paid attention.  Ignorance was sometimes an excuse, but it struck me as totally unreasonable.

I made a decision somewhere around the age of fourteen that I would not let that be an excuse for bad behavior in my life.  If I didn’t know something, I would find out.  And I have built my life on that concept.  I’m a researcher.  It may appear that I make quick decisions and don’t take the time to think them through.  I am a decisive person.  But what many don’t realize is the number of hours I’ve spent searching for answers to questions I don’t have to answer yet, so that when the day comes that I do have to make a choice, I can choose wisely.  I rarely decide anything without much research and forethought.  When I do, I usually regret it. 

Ever since the day my brother was born when I was nearly eleven years old, I have known that I want to be a mother.  I began to research parenting and did all I could to apply the principles I learned to the children around me.  When I was in my early twenties, I finally put down the parenting books because I realized I was driving myself crazy with all this theory and no one to practice on.  I haven’t picked up another parenting book since then, but I’m a really good babysitter and aunt! 

The point is, I didn’t want to make parenting mistakes out of ignorance when the time came.  I haven’t picked up any more books since then, but I’ve been a diligent student of my friends with children.  I’ve watched how they do things, asked questions, and made mental notes for myself. 

In my mid-twenties, a friend challenged me with a unique understanding of Scripture as it relates to the end times and Christ’s return.  She walked me through the Scriptures to prove her point of view.  As she did this, I realized I disagreed strongly with her, but I couldn’t articulate why.  I KNEW she was wrong, but I couldn’t walk her through Scriptures myself to show her why.  I became furious and had to walk away from the conversation before I lost my temper.  I wasn’t angry with her, but with myself for not knowing more so I could discuss it with her.  I’d been a Christian all my life, was a pastor’s daughter, the product of several Christian schools, and had even spent a year in Christian college.  Yet I was mute before her argument.  That realization drove me nuts.

A few years later I enrolled in seminary.  The major paper I did for my last systematic theology class was on this very subject.  I was determined to understand it and refute it.  When I finished that paper, I felt such a sense of accomplishment!  I went back and talked to her about it and was finally able to explain why I disagreed with her.  I didn’t change her mind (darn it!), but I was no longer ignorant either.

Proverbs 13:15 says, “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”

What good would it have done for me to have yelled and shown my anger toward my friend that day when I didn’t know what to say to her, just knew I disagreed with her?  I kept my mouth shut until I had good understanding.  She had no idea I had been so worked up by what she said.  When I went back to her years later, we had an intelligent conversation about it and she was touched that I cared so much about her ideas that I went and studied the matter out to be able to answer her.  We are still great friends to this day and every once in a while have to acknowledge our different opinions on the end times.  This is done with no animosity, but respect.

Proverbs chapter four is full of admonitions to get wisdom and to make sure we understand things. 

Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom! Get understanding!
      Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
       6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
      Love her, and she will keep you.
       7 Wisdom is the principal thing;
      Therefore get wisdom.
      And in all your getting, get understanding.
       8 Exalt her, and she will promote you;
      She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
       9 She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
      A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”

We often do shameful things out of ignorance; things that embarrass us later.  We can’t explain why we did them except, “I didn’t know any better.”  But Proverbs urges us to seek wisdom and understanding.  Instead of shame, it promises that we’ll have an ornament of grace, a crown of glory on our heads. 

I try to live my life by the words of Proverbs 4:13, which states, “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.” 

What would the world look like if we all sought after wisdom and understanding?  If we all tried to understand the best way to do something before we did it?  What would the church look like if just the Christians did that?

There’s no way I’ll ever know all the things I’m interested in, curious about, or need to know.  I wish I could, but when would I sleep?  I realize how little I know, which drives me to learn more and apply myself to getting instruction.  Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.

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