One of my children has been going through a real challenging time lately. But that's his story, and not my own, so I am learning to not share details. Yet I am keenly aware, as I relinquish the story of his life to him, that these early chapters are producing in him faith, endurance, and maturity.
Consider it pure joy, my brethren,
when you encounter various trials,
For you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
And may perseverance have it's perfect result,
That you may be perfect and complete,
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial
Because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life
That the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:2-4, & 12
It's taken me 30 years of grappling to learn this lesson, but already I see The Refiner producing beautiful things in my boy's life with fire.
It is true, God uses the hard to turn our hearts to Him. The trials, tests and the tribulation are lovingly balanced in the same Holy hand that generously disperses blessings and unmerited grace. It is from the hand of a loving God, a kind and caring Father, that anointed trials come to us. Not by accident.
I had the immeasurable pleasure of speaking to a dynamic Women's group yesterday, sharing much of my own journey to understanding these truths... that God is kind, sovereign, purposeful and good, even in the darkest of trials. Today, as I honor my son by keeping his own journey private, I recognize that God is kind, and sovereign, and purposeful, and good, even in the darkest of my boy's trials as well. How marvelous. How wonderful. How confident I can be in the plans that God has for him!
"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord,
"Plans to prosper you, not to harm you,
Plans to give you hope and a future."
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally
finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6
I've heard other mothers of young children say, "I pray that God will spare my children suffering. I want them to have very boring testimonies." Personally, I don't pray that anymore. Suffering is the way to the cross. Suffering and trials are the refining tools of maturity. And I want that (maturity) for us all!
Hearts that cling to Him, are cultivated in lives that are painfully aware of how desperately we need Him. Theologically, we all can agree we need Him for salvation, but the life that clings, that passionately holds on and abides with tenacity, is developed via "various trials". Yes, the life that tucks in and stays close to the Light... has come fleeing the darkest of nights.
I don't know how the "tone" of this post is transmitting, though I hope you sense my faith, trust, and even joy. I trust God with my sons.
For (you) are His workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand
so that (you will) walk in them.
I am honored God gave all three of my sons to me, to nurture and admonish, ever pointing us all to Jesus along the way. As for my story, I've had to trust God more than ever before, and that's produced in me perseverance. Amazing to me, the same author is telling a similar story in the lives of my sons.
"Do you trust Me?"
"Yes", was my answer. And I did and I do. I trust the Lord with my 8 year old son, Brody, as he makes his way from my homeschooling side into a traditional classroom five days a week. But getting to that trusting place was a journey, one you may have sojourned with me here. I was happy to share the journey because I wanted to testify to the One who is so worthy of our trust. And as I shared, my heart filled with praise as I recounted the work God did in my heart. "Yes, I trusted Him with my Brody."
Then, in the middle of the very next night, I woke with a start. My heart was constrained within my breast. The room was dark and my mind was consumed with fear... fear over my first born son. Caleb had gone to bed that night with tears. He relaxed as I stroked his bare back, confiding as he calmed. He wept and said, "I can't get my writing done in class. I just can't focus in class to write. I just can't! I'm behind in my autobiography, and now we're starting our history research paper, and then I'll be writing my biography on Davy Crocket. In class! All of them in class."
And now I lay in bed, hours after he finally succumbed to sleep, thinking, "what can I do to help him? What should I have done? His writing was so good when we home schooled. He had a quiet room, with drapes we would close specifically for times when he would write. I didn't label it ADHD at the time, because I've never been able to read a paragraph or write a cohesive thought if there was any noise around me. Even classical music for heaven's sake! So I got it, and I gave him an environment where he could thrive.
But now, in a classroom with 24 bodies, complete with movement and noise enticing his focus away, he feels lost. And so I gave into tears and fears of my own, lost as to how I might help him.
Then, somewhere around 3:30 that morning the familiar voice came again. "Do you trust me?" "Of course!" I cried, "remember yesterday? I trusted you completely with Brody, even when it's hard..."
The dialogue trailed off. "with Brody, even when it's hard..."
You've got to be kidding me! Not him too!!! I've got to trust God with Caleb too? Even when it's hard? Oh no, especially when it's hard. It doesn't take faith to trust God when it's smooth sailing. Faith is for the fiercest gail. And in that storm, on the weak boat of your own understanding, at night's darkest hour, faith takes sight of a Savior, walking across the water.
Yes, absolutely, Caleb too.
The next morning I awoke Caleb the same way I had sent him to sleep, with the gentle stroke of a mother's hand on a child's back. When he stirred and wiped the sleep from his eyes, I spoke these words.
"Caleb, I've been talking to God about your school work. And I want you to know what sort of conversation the Lord and I had about you, okay?"
"Okay," he said with his raspy morning voice.
"Caleb, I trust that God made you absolutely perfect the way you are. There isn't a mistake in your whole body. God doesn't make mistakes. The bible tells us that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and I believe it! So that means God made you with this difficulty focusing in class. And so I am just going to choose to trust Him when things are tough. Can you do that with me?" He nodded. "You have got to give every school day your absolute best. And when you bomb, and you sometimes will, you are going to do the same project over at home in your room, on the weekend. This is not punishment. It is our way of partnering with your teacher to make sure you're picking up what she's putting down. Get what I'm saying?" He nodded again.
As I type this new testimony, I know I should expect some issue with my youngest in the days ahead. Therefore, right here, right now I'm going to choose to surrender him too. Choosing to Trust God with Asher's life as well.
These last days have been eye opening for me. I didn't know how weak my faith was, but I am thankful that God used these present trials to grow me.
The boys have been learning James 1:2-4 at school this week; three verses I committed to memory when I was their age.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds; because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish it's work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Of all the verses I hid in my heart as a child, these are the ones I have admitted most freely to not understanding. Until this week. I see now why we are to be joyful in affliction. Without the difficulties of life we would never be forced to trust Him, never need to persevere in faith, and therefore we would never mature and be complete in Christ. Yes, I am joyful today. Puffy eyed after a sleepless night, but joyful.
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
I sign off today with another pictorial tribute: This one goes out to Caleb's new teacher, and his new school, where the maturing process is underway, in the classroom, on the lacrosse field, during lunch, in chapel...
Today at the beach you dug a cavernous hole, then asked your friends to bury you in it. The only thing sticking out was your handsome face. Looking back I think how well your sandy tomb must compare to being the oldest child in our house full of strong-willed boys.
Absolutely fed up at times. Up to your neck! I get it.
And the toughest part of all must be when I zero in on you, and your behavior, and your heart. I know it is is usually your brothers who are touching your things, messing up your room, pushing your buttons, and causing you to explode. Once again, I get it. But I want you to get this, sweet heart; our home is the perfect, God ordained, training ground for the rest of your life. All the skills you need to deal with people as a Christian man will be cultivated right here in our home.
I tell you often, "Caleb, there is only one man you are in control of. That's you. You can't control your brothers, your friends, or your bed time (most of the time), but you must be able to control your own man." My boy, when you go to College you will likely have a roommate who interrupts you and plays music you don't like. Will you be able to control your temper and be kind to him? You will be, if you can learn it here at home. You may have a boss one day who talks down to you; will you be able to keep your head lifted high, knowing who you are in Christ? You get to learn that here at home as well. And one day when your lovely wife has a list of projects she needs your help on, and three little sons all vying for your attention and affection, you will need to know how to love them in the business of life. And you will! If you commit to learning to love here and now, in our home.
On the dry erase board that hangs by our breakfast table in the kitchen nook I have writen these words:
A new commandment I give you, Love One Another;
as I have loved you so you must Love One Another.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you Love One Another. (John 13:34-35)
I sang this verse in church during my growing up years, and it stuck in my brain and my heart. It is my hope that as I sing it and live it in your presence, that you too will be inspired and encouraged to love others. For Christ loved you first, my son. That truth, that reality, that knowledge is where it must flow from. But we practice it, the loving that is, here and now at home.
I said before, I know that it's hard. I get it. But I am praying for you and cheering you on as you practice love, practice this hard thing of loving despite the unlovely actions of your brothers, and even fumbles your father and I often make. We are just sinners saved by grace, my son. All of us. So let's practice love together, that the world will know we are His disciples.
So proud of you. I'm your greatest fan!
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control... Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit!"
There are days (even seasons) when the fruit of God's Spirit in our home has been sour and rancid; falling from the trees of our lives to the ground to decompose there. We've lacked loving words, a peaceful home, patient ways, kind actions, faithfulness toward one another, gentle eyes, and self-control.
Abide in Me, and I will abide in you,
and you will bear much fruit. (John 15:4)
While the Word gives the true formula for producing fruit in our lives and our home (by abiding in Him), we needed tangible lessons with our children, more encouragement, and a diligent focus on these life giving and sustaining character traits (fruits). Spending time in God's Word, abiding with Him there, and speaking of His goodness and purposes throughout our days are foundational, but I began praying for opportunities to drive the seeds deep.
One day, during our morning devotional at the breakfast table, we went over the fruit of the Spirit again. I asked the boys "Where does this fruit (and therefore our behavior) grow out of?" They all answered, "Our hearts."
Good answer, I thought. Then I confessed, "Boys, by about three o'clock every afternoon my heart doesn't feel patient or loving anymore. I start getting grumpy. But if I have God's Spirit living in me, I need to act like it if I feel like being loving, joyful, and kind or not. But did you know there is one fruit of the Spirit in my life that I can really grab ahold of when this starts to happen? It's not more love, and it's not more patience... what I need is self-control."
It was a revelation for me as I spoke the words, and I think all the boys, down to the littlest, understood what I meant. Since that blessed breakfast I haven't ridiculed them or me for lacking fruit, instead I've focused on the one piece of fruit that can keep the lack of others in check. Self-Control. "Boys, we're all tired and we're not being kind right now. You are a kind person, it's the fruit of God's Spirit in your life! But right now we're just so tired. So you need to use the muscle of your heart, that's the self-control, to make it through the rest of today with kindness.... Son, I know you are impatient right now, but you need to muscle through this with self-control and not act impatient. I know you can do this, because God's Spirit is right there in your heart, ready to help you!" And on and on encouragement (rather than correction) flows... Onto them and myself.
...take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Take those thoughts captives, Mama. Take that joyless expression on your face captive. Take the impatient sighs and slamming cabinets captive. Don't wait for the feelings (that we associate with the Fruit of the Spirit) to flood your heart, but take the outward demonstration of your emotions, right now, captive. With sheer determination and self-control, with the muscular fruit of Self-Control, take the lack of fruit captive!
Our family has begun Ta Kwon Doe at a nearby studio owned by a Christian man who is committed to teaching the tenets of Tae kwon do to his students.
While the children are expected to act courteously toward their Master and peers in class, show integrity and perseverance in the studio, and practice self-control and an indomitable spirit on the mat, it is for life that Master Truscott at Family Karate is training boys and girls today. Before students can even wear a white belt (which, by the way comes with a basic uniform) parents must attest to seeing these righteous attributes at home first.
I once heard Master Truscott say to the boys, "This is the order in which every Karate Kid repeats the Tenets of Tae kwon do. However, I think that Self-Control should have been first. Without Self-Control we can't consistently have any other character trait in our lives."
Ladies, we long for Fruit, in the lives of our Beloveds and in our own hearts. But let me encourage you today to flex the muscle of your heart, the fruit of Self-Control, when the other fruits seem to be slow coming or dying on the vine. God has begun a good work in you and your children, and He will bring it to completion. Take heart, do not grow weary! Take that weary heart captive, with self-control, and eagerly anticipate the harvest!
"The fact is, a work of literature should give us ourselves idealized and in a dream, all we wished to be but could not be, all we hoped for but missed. True literature rounds out our lives, gives us consolations for our failures, rebuke for our vices, suggestions for our ambition, hope, and love, and appreciation. To do that it should have truth, nobility, and beauty in a high degree, and our first test of a work of literature should be to ask the three questions, Is it beautiful? Is it true? Is it noble?" (Sherwin Cody, The Art of Writing and Speaking the English Language, 1906)
I say slow, he says fast.
I say pizza, he says hot dogs.
I say red-box, he says net-flicks.
I say bath, he says shower.
I say sweatshirt, he says bare-chested.
I say up, he says down.
Meet (dum dum dum...) Captain Contrarian.
I dubbed him thus over three years ago when I delivered a comedic talk for young moms entitled "Becoming Supermom!" In the opening I introduced myself to the gathering of women, by introducing them to the super-identities of my three sons.
Captain Contrarian was the super-identity of my first born when he was nearly five. Now at eight and a half he continues to leap over tall buildings in a single (super-contrary) bound each and every day!
It never ceases to amaze me how contrary this happy, healthy, loved child can be. It's as though he was wired that way in my womb. And as I have a naturally submissive personality, this has been a constant area of work for me as Captain C's mother.
Every day his contrarian ways move faster than a locomotive through our home, but tonight's contrary display of super-power took the cape.
While tucking him into bed I reminded him that we would be finishing up his book report in the morning. We went over the notes we had already jotted down and plotted out our display for his presentation. The name of his book is "Lady Lollipop" so I suggested something I KNEW would make my strong-willed boy melt with delight. "Why don't we go to the store and get a bag of lollipops to decorate the poster with? Then, at the end of your presentation, you can hand one out to each of the children in your classroom."
Surprisingly, the Captain merely shrugged and said, "No, I don't think so."
"Caleb" I said, in my best kryptonite laced tone, "I'm going to offer you this one more time, think carefully before you answer. Would you like to decorate your LADY LOLLIPOP poste-rboard poster-board with actual lollipops, (your most favorite candy in the world,) and then give one to each of your classmates at the end of your presentation?"
"Okay", I said with a smile. Then I changed the subject. Suddenly, as if awakening from his self-made nightmare, he cried, "wait, wait... I want to bring Lollipops! I want to bring Lollipops!"
"I knew you would like bringing Lollipops to school, Caleb. That's why I offered them to you. But you would rather fight me, refusing the very best candy in the world, rather than just receiving and saying thank you."
Tears were spilling down his face and soaking his Superman blanket by this point.
"Caleb, because you would rather be contrary than receive good from me, I am not going to give you another chance to earn them again. They were a gift that you refused. Next time... think before you turn down my offers."
First thing this morning I made him his favorite breakfast - homemade pancakes with bacon and strawberries. I cut his stack of hot cakes up and brought syrup to the table. He looked at the syrup (not our usual brand) and said, "I don't like that kind of 'dippy' I want the kind I like."
I smiled and said, "we are all out of that kind, but you can have this kind or none at all."
"I don't want any" he concluded and so I turned to my four year old and squeezed the sticky goo liberally upon his already drenched stack of pancakes. "Yummy" he exclaimed.
Again my first born was knocked from his supremely heroic high-horse, as he cried out "I want some...."
My words echoed last night's conclusion: "I know you like "dippy" that's why I offered you what I had to give, Caleb. But you would rather fight me, than take what I am trying to give you."
"You won't give me the syrup now?" He asked in complete shock.
"No, my boy, I will not."
And then I reminded him of the day we went to Disneyland just the two of us. I had pointed out "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" and reminded him of the fun we had had reading "The Wind and the Willows" together. "Want to go on it, Caleb? There isn't much of a line now." He shrugged his contrary shrug and said, "No." And so I smiled and we walked away. Barely out of fantasy land and he stopped, breathless, all power-gone, and simply said, "I wanted to go on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."
On that contrary day I had spoken similar words to my beloved contrarian: "I knew you would like it, Caleb. That's why I offered to take you on the ride. But you would rather fight me, than receive the good things I want to give you." And on we walked to discover more fun together.
When I write the words down this way I seem so calm and collected. But know that it takes all of my own super-strength to carry on lovingly forgiving, consistently correcting, and gracefully displaying tenderness in the face of his childish ways.
So where does that super-power of love and grace come from when I can better identify with Lex Luther than any super hero? It comes from the Super-One who loves me unconditionally, forgives me graciously, and corrects me consistently. He is my parent as I parent Captain Contrarian. And so I want to love my child as my Father has loved me, to surrender to the forgiveness that my Father has lavished first on me, to walk in the gracious footsteps that have led the way, and to stand firm in the same consistent correction that my Father has shown me in the fire of his love.
Stand firm, sweet Mamas. Take deep breaths. Pray before you respond. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Press on. In His strength. in His Super-power!
Let us not grow weary in doing good,
for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart!
We moved last week. Out of our spacious home and into a little condo down the hill. We're enjoying our simplified existence with fewer things to put away, more cuddle time and laughter on the couch, and jaunts to the community pool for a family plunge.
We didn't have much to bring, actually. We sold a lot of our furniture to the newlyweds moving into our family house. Even our big bed and bedroom set, which leaves Matt and me sleeping restlessly in the full bed that used to grace our guest room. Let me take this opportunity to apologize to the couples who have endured nights on this little mattress. Yicks.
We also left both our kitchen and dinning room tables and are now breaking bread around Matt's desk. The computer is set up on a bedside table, and our TV is dressing up a file cabinet. Fancy digs!
Of the tangible things we left behind, I will miss the old kitchen table and the even older chairs my mom and I painted for my first apartment most of all. So glad I get to carry my memories with me easily. No matter how many I keep, they never strain my back or take up too much attic space.
But, like I said, we are all very happy. Life is sweet and simple, and the boys are loving it. We are too, minus the sleepless nights.
Many other things were left behind at our old home or given to good will. The most profound, however, were things invisible and intangible. Unkind words, selfish hands, "scawy foughts" (that's scary thoughts at bedtime), disrespectful and dishonoring behavior toward their father and me, laughing and hitting during dinner prayers, and not coming when they are called.
Life had gotten pretty difficult in our family. I'm not blaming them. Matt and I obviously let them get away with poor behavior far too much. So when we moved here to our little pad, we told them their bad habits had been left at the old house. Then Matt and I commited to one another that our inconsistency had also been left behind.
And somehow... MIRACULOUSLY... and with the help of LEGO mini-figures and a reward chart... it has worked! Seriously worked! Brody's walking into his classroom without grabbing me or showcasing dramatic tearful goodbyes; he's gone to bed without "Scawy foughts" almost every night since moving into our condo; Asher gets up, gets dressed, comes to the breakfast table and even asks to serve his Brother's first; and Matt and I have also left some of our less attractive behaviors behind.
How in the world, you ask, did we manage to avoid bringing them along? We simply told the boys that we had not packed them. "But did you bring all of my toys?" Brody was quick to ask. "Yes, of course!" We assured him.
That darling boy has been as amazed at his good behavior as we are. I've found him litterally dazed and confused, mumbling, "I'm being such a good boy... I'm just being such a good boy" over and over to himself.
Check out this (very) short video clip of Caleb at the dinner table tonight, showing me how he used to react to a new dish at mealtime. All the boys laughed and so did I. People always say, "one day you'll look back and laugh at the most awful stuff. This was one of those days, I'm happy to say.