The Sacred is Among Us

Monday afternoon found me in our beat up old van (we affectionately call her Bessie and keep praying her into a few more months of existence) driving our two youngest girls home from their first ballet lesson of the fall. Maggie reflectively asked, “How can God get to everywhere so fast?” I told her that God is already everywhere so He doesn’t really have to “get” to anywhere…He’s already there! Then I added that we have to remember that God is not like us, we can only be at one place at one time but God can be in every single place, even our old van, all at the same time. Mallory, finally piped in with full enthusiasm, “yeah, we are NOT God!” Well said, my little lamb, well said.

Yesterday, I was out for a run listening to a podcast from one of my favorite long-time mentors (not personally but through her books and now blog and podcasts), Sally Clarkson , in which she was speaking about reverencing God appropriately. In a culture that regularly shows disrespect to presidents, pastors and even service men and women, it can be easy to slip into a mindset that forgets that our God is due our honor, respect and awe. We forget that God is so much greater and bigger than us, we forget His authority over our lives, we forget that we are not God. As my little ones discussed, we are quite limited while God is limitless. And yet, how often do we fail to recognize that in His grandeur, He is always among us?

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name, worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” Psalm 29:2

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” Revelation 4:11

The Lord has me in an encouraging season of making Himself known to me at each twist and turn of my day. The intensity of the last several weeks for us, our oldest recovering from a concussion and our five biological children sick with mono, left me with very little to cling to save God Himself. It was an incredibly hard time for us but as I am coming out of the fog of tending to sick children, I can see countless ways that God used that time to strip away all that is unnecessary in order that I might see what is truly useful, good and right. And in that, He has renewed my strength and passion for motherhood. Hopes, goals and dreams for my family that have somewhat been lost in so many continual seasons of transition (moves, church changes and babies!) have been restored and I’m very grateful for the way He continually refines me and bears with me.

So the Monday afternoon car conversation coupled with the podcast had my mind swirling with thoughts of how I can practically help our children to see God in our everyday as He truly is…mighty, powerful, limitless, worthy of honor and glory. If we fall into the trap of thinking of God in much of the same way we think of man, how much more are our children likely to think of God as much smaller than He truly is? I want my children to not only be able to acknowledge that God is always with us but that He is also “other” than us and very much due our honor, reverence and praise.

My first thought turned to mealtimes. We’ve begun a rotation in which a different child gives thanks for our meals each day to keep arguments at bay (though certainly I’m glad that my children clamber to have a hand raised first to pray…I pray they are always that eager to talk with God!). But when certain little ones pray, I’ve also noticed a tendency to almost shout a “thank you God for this food!!!” Hardly, a prayer of respect and honor or that acknowledges the sacredness of God.  And so, yesterday, before lunch, I took the opportunity to talk the children for a bit about why we thank God for the food before us and the way in which we should thank Him. I had the kids imagine they had just entered the king’s palace and were walking into the throne room to thank the king for a good deed He had done for them. Certainly they wouldn’t dash in, scream thank you and run out of the room, would they? They laughed at the picture but I believe in settled in their minds…how much more should we not treat God this way? So we bowed our heads and I asked the kids to be quiet for just a moment (this can be tricky with Maxton though I’ve found that when everyone else gets quiet, he takes the que and joins in). In quieting our mouths and our minds, Maggie was then able to pray the sweetest prayer to God, thanking Him for our food and for our family. And I believe she honored Him.

Of course, this is just one example. Having our children be quiet in the sanctuary each Sunday is a way we teach them that this is a special place and a special day…we are going to act differently here than we would on the playground! When we take nature walks, whether talking about birds or frogs or trees, I try to point them back to the Creator of it all and how His creation teaches us of His character. What I’m finding, most of all, is that pointing my children to the Sacred among us requires that I am continually aware and acknowledging God’s presence in my day, not forgetting that I am so weak and needy of His grace.

“The great power in setting apart small units of time for morning, midday, and evening prayer infuses into the rest of my day’s activities a deep sense of the sacred, of God.” – Peter Scazzero

It simply won’t do to open my Bible in the morning and not allow my thoughts to return to God until mealtime prayer or bedtime reading. I must make the conscious choice to think of Him again and again and again that I myself might bring Him honor and glory as I walk through my busy days. And then, hopefully, I can bring my children into that same awareness…an awareness that glorifies Christ but also brings the gifts of beauty, peace and joy.

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:2

 

“You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine

nature-333
My favorite of all birds…we have thoroughly enjoyed watching our little friends feed just outside our kitchen window and now they are preparing for their long journey south. I will miss their daily reminder of God’s intricate details in creation and His glorious beauty!

**I’m someone who loves to know what others are currently reading or listening to for encouragement in the faith, encouragement to draw near to God throughout the day and set our minds on things above. I thought I’d share a few of those things that have been soul food for me as of late:

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Death or Life?

I knew it was coming. The past few weeks have been so hectic and so busy and so full and we haven’t done the best job of juggling it all. We’ve been running and gunning and in a family of eight, that leaves little time for the important stuff…stuff like instruction, discipline, reproof and correction. Sin has been blazing all around this family the last few weeks but in the busyness (which also brings with it great fatigue), I just let it keep on blazin’. Oh sure, I could have turned on the sprinklers here and there and tried to put out a few embers. But I knew what we needed was more than the sprinklers…we needed those helicopters that dump that special powder that has the power to put out entire forest fires. We needed God Himself to slow us down, sit us down and bring His truth powerfully into our lives once again. And I knew it was coming.

fire

It rained all day yesterday which was actually kind of nice. At least until about 4:30 pm when everyone was starting to go stir-crazy and the house was getting louder and louder and I was feeling kinda cruddy from a head cold I’ve been battling the last few days. Kevin went out to the garage to work on Molly Kate’s Halloween costume (she wanted to be Amelia Earhart so awesome daddy that he is, he’s making a cardboard plane for her to wear!) and I sent all the kids out to the garage with him (again, awesome daddy that he is!). It didn’t take long…sure, there were a few shrieks of laughter as they bumped around the garage on plasma cars but before I knew it, there was whining, shouting, arguing and crying. You would have thought I sent them out to the garage and said “hey, I want you to go do as much verbal damage to your siblings as you possibly can!” So I opened the door, told everyone to clean up and come sit on the couches and not say a word. I think I even muttered something to the effect of “If you can’t use your words kindly, you can see what it feels like to not use any words at all!”

Mostly their time sitting on our couches facing one another in silence gave me time to think. It’s funny how many times we mamas dive into a discipline situation before we really think about the best course of action and we’re spouting off bible verses mixed with cliches mixed with our own anger like a half-crazed television preacher! We’re so scattered and flustered and usually so irritated that what’s on our tongue probably isn’t even beginning to reach their hearts. But one thing is for sure: we aren’t going to win them to Jesus by yelling and screaming and carrying on about sin and disobedience and the like. And in this particular situation, yelling and screaming and anger is what landed four little bottoms on the couches in the first place.

So I thought and I prayed “God, give me wisdom. Help me reach their wayward hearts.” I pulled up a barstool and opened my bible app and did a search for “tongue”. With their full attention and the house so quiet you could hear nothing but Mallory babbling in her crib, I proceeded to read several verses including the following:

He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; Psalm 15:3

Keep your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit. Psalm 34:13

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice. Psalm 37:30

Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips,
From a deceitful tongue. Psalm 120:2

The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver,
The heart of the wicked is worth little. Proverbs 10:20

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. James 1:26

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell…But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. James 3:5-6, 8

The beautiful and wildly gracious part about raising kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is that He often uses our discipline of our children to discipline us. I sat there reading these verses and several others and became a bit awe struck by the power of our words. I was quickly convicted of how regularly I spew forth death words…with my kids, with friends, with Kevin, with church members. As the kids and I began discussing what these verses meant, I could see personal defeat written all over their faces as they thought about how powerless they are in the battle against their tongues. So together, we looked to Jesus. He had the perfect tongue…the praise of His Father was always on His lips and not once did He utter a word of hurt, a false word, a word of slander or gossip or a word of death. His words were always life and His words have brought us life. We trust His death to cover our hurtful words and we trust His Spirit to tame our tongues. We recognize we are powerless and we look to the One who holds all of the power to change hearts and change mouths.

This is just one tiny window into one small moment but I do think this is what gospel living looks like. I don’t get it right very often…I am the mama spouting of this verse and that verse, giving myself a pat on the back for recalling a pertinent Scripture all the while my kid has completely tuned me out. But yesterday, in my willingness to slow down, take time and rest in God’s ability to pour that special powder over the forest fire our tongues had created in this home, I got to take part in a unique moment of family repentance…each one of us recognizing and admitting that our words are often full of death and asking God to take them, change them and bring forth life instead.

giveback-tree

This is My Cross?

I guess it all started shortly after we found out we were pregnant with Mallory. Sweet baby girl was not planned…well, not by Kevin and me! We have this tendency to just begin thinking about having another baby only to find out we’re already pregnant, which I know is something some women could only dream about. But when you’re one of those women who has awful pregnancies, it can be fairly unnerving. Somewhere around my throwing up for the 26th day in a row (and realizing that I have now probably thrown up no less than 500 times between all my pregnancies), I began to think “I really don’t want to do this anymore.” And that subtle mind shift, away from the truth of babies being a gift from the Lord and child-rearing to be a divine calling on my life to a more self-centered, self-focused “Eeyore” way of thinking, began to take up way to much space in my brain and my heart.

But, sadly, I didn’t really see it until Thursday morning. Wednesday was not a good day…Mallory didn’t take a single full nap so she spent most of the day crying, Maggie fussed and fussed to the point I was ready to jump out the window and even Molly Kate and Mikias (my usual happy-go-lucky kids) were in particularly bad moods, squabbling with each other over absolutely pointless matters (like the fact that Mikias had two Tic-Tacs instead of one…seriously?!?!).  By the time I was in the van driving to our Wednesday evening meal at church, I was fighting back tears and fighting them hard. When Kevin got home from church and we were finally able to talk, all those tears came flooding out. I couldn’t even put sentences together, talking in fragments that went something like “there just aren’t enough hours,” “I’m failing at everything,” “I don’t want to nurse anymore,” “I’m so tired of getting interrupted sleep,” “how do I take care of Maggie and Mallory at the same time?” and on and on.  Our conversation resolved nothing, which is typical as I knew I would probably have to work this one out on my own.  I went to bed utterly discouraged and tipping toward despair.

The next morning, after stumbling through reading my Bible, I picked up my copy of Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. We had been talking about parenting books at our bi-weekly MOMs group Tuesday night and I thought I’d flip through this old favorite and read a few highlighted sections. And this is what I happened to read:

This brings us to a third thing that Scripture tells us about our commitments as mothers. Romans 12:1 provides a vivid picture of what it means to give our whole selves to the Lord’s way of doing things: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

To fully experience fulfillment in Christ and fulfill his will for our lives, we must come to the point where we give our whole selves to him–our freedom, our time, our bodies, all of our possessions and gifts–trusting him to show us how to use all that we are for his glory. To sacrifice means to give up or surrender something of value. We are living sacrifices, which means that moment by moment, out of our worship of him, we are to surrender our own needs and expectations for the greater value of pleasing our Lord.

Oh, knife to the gut! God’s word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword and Thursday morning, the truth of Romans 12:1 cut through all the falsehood that I have been daily living out of to show me truth. For months now, all I’ve been thinking about is me. My needs, my wants, my desires…very, very little of my day was spent thinking of how I could sacrificially give myself to anyone. I mean, I was throwing up and living with 24/7 nausea in order to grow a person inside me…wasn’t that sacrifice enough? But God has slowly and steadily been calling the selfish me to an even greater cross…

I’ve been nervous lately that at any minute a really hard trial is going to hit…like cancer or death or financial stress. But I failed to notice that my days are already full of trials…a toddler fussing, children bickering, the baby wailing, little boys pushing and shoving, older children tattling, toothpaste smeared on the toilet, wet pull-ups left lying on the bedroom floor, a whole house being flooded by the fussy toddler who turned on the master bath when no one was looking, a growing-up daughter who needs quality time with her “too-busy” mother, an eldest son who needs more training in the English language, a house that always needs tending to, bills to be paid and a budget to be balanced, meals upon meals and loads of laundry that never EVER end. My days are hard…they are busy, rarely quiet, exhausting and lately, quite frankly, fairly miserable.

But they haven’t been miserable because they are hard...they’ve been miserable because my thinking has been oh, so wrong. Instead of willingly sacrificing my needs and desires to please the Lord in His call on my life as a wife and mother, I’ve selfishly coveted days that are easy and peaceful, with children groomed and happy around the breakfast table ready to joyfully start the day of learning and serving, maybe even lying on their beds quietly for countless hours of reading. In my cloudy thinking, it never dawned on me that these little people (whom I do love dearly and I can’t imagine my life without) are also the very means by which God wants me to learn what it means to pick up my cross and lose myself for His sake.  Motherhood (the journey I so long awaited and have found so much value in)…really, this is my cross?

So I put down the book and headed out for my daily walk/run (way more minutes walking than running). And as I do every morning, I began praying. I confessed my sin…my selfishness, my deluded thinking, my failure to give myself fully the Lord for what He might like to accomplish through me each day. And I begged for grace…grace to love more deeply, grace to give when I feel like I have nothing left, grace to endure the fussiness, the crying, the bickering, grace to invest and nurture and listen to stories about make-believe places. And you know what? God gave grace. Thursday wasn’t perfect…there was still squabbles and discipline and messes. I was weary and worn by dinner. And there was still a load of laundry that needed to be folded and put away. But…I wasn’t miserable. All day long I saw God give me patience and strength and love…there was kindness in my tone and time to just sit outside and watch the children play. I pushed Maggie on the swing, listened to a very lengthy story from Miles and Madden about a pretend game they had been playing and helped Molly Kate with her back-bends. I watched Mikias do a new flip on the trampoline and I snuggled with Mallory a bit more than usual. I poured myself out all day long, but not in a dreaded, frustrated, angry kind of way. More like in a way that gives true life…”For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.” Matthew 16:25

Tears Upon Tears

So my sweet little last born daughter finally made her arrival. After weeks of contractions, little sleep, lots of nausea and miles of walking, my water finally broke. Contractions actually started on their own without the induction of drugs and the most beautiful and tiny little lady made her way into the world on March 9th at 12:32 am. I fought hard to take it all in…I knew without a doubt that this would be the last time to taste the wonder of seeing your child for the very first time. The last time to stand in awe of a person made so fearfully and wonderfully by my Almighty Creator, the last time to experience that surge of adrenalin and anticipation as your body works to push into existence a tiny being, bearing your image.  While I hate hospitals and IVs and pain and honestly, I hate pregnancy, I absolutely love the wonder and amazement of bringing a baby into the world. That moment when they first cry is quite possibly the best moment I’ve ever experienced and it was difficult knowing this would be the last best moment.

So the last few weeks of her existence have been wild and crazy and sweet and tender and also brought with them tears upon tears. I’m not sure if I’ve ever really had the baby blues but I’m certainly experiencing a roller coaster of emotions at the moment. Add to that the fact that Maggie had an ear infection, Madden caught the stomach bug, Miles broke his arm, Maggie flooded our house (yes, literally!) and Kevin is going to have to have a minor surgery to remove a large kidney stone next week…well, it kinda makes sense that my emotions are a little out of whack!

But on a deeper level, I know there’s something shifting in my heart. For years, since childhood, I have longed for this season of life…pregnancy, babies, toddlers. My sister and I played “house”and “babies” more than any other game growing up and I knew as I changed from major to major at Ole Miss that in the end, I really just wanted to be a mom. Funny how God plants those desires so early.  And now, here I stand…the season I’ve longed for the last 20 years is so quickly about to be in the rear-view. And my heart doesn’t like it. I look down at the 7 pounds of intoxicating newborn cradled in my arms and I would give the world to stop time. I see my 19-month old toddler, chubby legs and chubby feet and chubby cheeks, bopping and squealing around the house with her brother’s toy sword and I’m desperate to hold on to the image. I look at my almost eight-year old girl, my firstborn who has blossomed into this beautiful young lady, one who works hard to encourage others and bring joy to all and I know without question how fast the time goes…you don’t have to remind me.  Tears upon tears race down my cheeks as I think about how quickly it is passing and how much I don’t want it to. I can’t stop it, time presses on and the days become months and the months become years before you can even blink. My newborn, my last little newborn will be riding a bike before I know it.

As all of this makes my heart ache, God has been peeling back the curtain to help me see that there’s a much deeper issue at hand. I’ve been banking my hope on this season and this season alone. I’ve convinced myself that nothing in life past where I’m currently at could ever be as great as being a mom to all of these wonderful little people, watching them grow, shepherding their hearts, schooling their minds, laughing at their stories and jokes. I’ve bought into the lie that my best life is now and in a few years, I will no longer have much to look forward to…no more exciting pink lines on a pregnancy test, no more ultrasounds to find out the gender, no more first cries, no more babies. But if I take God at His Word (and I do), then my hope is not anchored in babies but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ…which means, in a nutshell, the best is yet to come.

I have something far greater than ultrasounds and chubby toddlers to look forward to…I have the promise that I will one day obtain an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away (1 Peter 1:4). I have been promised that my God will bring me to His dwelling place one day and there He will wipe away my tears. I have the promise of heaven where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:3-4). I will one day live in a city that has no need for the sun or moon or light because the glory of God will be so bright (Revelation 21:23) and that’s pretty good news for this gal who hates dreary, gloomy, gray days! Yes, there is certainly much good yet to come…and the promise of all this good is bringing about a much needed change in my heart. May God’s grace help me to be a mother who treasures the moments of the here and now and all the beauty that such moments entail while rooting my hope in the promise He has made to me…that the beauty here is just a foretaste of what lies ahead.

Brand new baby and sweet loving toddler!
Brand new baby and sweet loving toddler!

 

Newborn cuddles!
Newborn cuddles!

 

Opening her eyes!
Opening her eyes!

And Can It Be?

Always one of my favorite hymns and a question that has repeatedly played in my head as I contemplate the salvific work my God has done in the lives of my two eldest children.  As a mom, I feel like I’m a navigating fresh waters.  As a Christian for over 22 years now, I feel like I’m seeing exactly what I would have expected to see.  But let me back up just a bit…

I grew up in a very traditional Southern Baptist Church.  I loved and adored (still do actually) my pastor, but as was the fault of many baptist churches in the 80s/90s, salvation was often reduced to just walking an aisle, praying the sinners prayer and getting baptized. Not that professions of faith, prayers of repentance and baptism do not have their place in one’s coming to Christ for salvation…but they certainly are not the “what” that saves you.  “For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith and this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God” Ephesians 2:8. I didn’t quite understand all that at the age of seven, but I felt enough in my heart to know that while friend after friend walked down an aisle at a revival or prayed with our Sunday School teacher that I just wasn’t ready to dive into whatever they thought they needed to dive into at that moment.  Then, after several more years of hearing the gospel, at the age of 12, I finally went to my parents with a feeling in my gut that I couldn’t ignore and told them that I was ready to turn my life over to Jesus and I wanted him to be King over my life (for some reason, I still remember using that exact expression!).  They walked me through the gospel again, carefully explaining why we were guilty before God and why Jesus had to die and I prayed with them that night that God would forgive me and make me His.  And He has been growing me in my faith by His means of grace ever since…praise be to Him who saves and Him who sanctifies!

In Louisville, while Kevin attended seminary, we were part of one of the most amazing churches and God used it greatly to prepare me for one of my greatest and most treasured roles, motherhood.  I remember many conversations with women older than I about raising our children in the gospel, what it looked like to discipline with the gospel in mind, what it meant to point our kids to Jesus in each random moment of the day.  Many times during a day, I see myself doing or saying something that I learned from one of these women…I am so indebted.  We also talked about what it would look like for our children to become Christians…how would we know, how could we be certain, what should we look for?  All of these conversations have stayed with me and as I’ve labored and poured out my soul day after day for the sake of the gospel taking root in my children’s souls, I’ve been carefully watching, carefully contemplating, carefully praying.

Interestingly enough, I’ve thought that Molly Kate has been a Christian for a while now. Somewhere between five and seven, she grew increasingly more aware of her sin and genuinely grieved it, she began to pay greater attention to God’s Word and desired to truly understand it and she often confessed that she knew the only way she could be forgiven was trusting in Jesus. But when she asked me if I thought she was a Christian, I would warily say “I hope so, but I’m just not sure yet” and that was the truth! How the world was I to know? Only God can judge the heart, only the Spirit tests the deep waters that reside there. “Oh Lord, how am I to answer her?” I would often cry out. Then it dawned on me one night…the longer I held her off, searching for some flashing neon sign to say “YES, SHE IS SAVED!” the more I communicated to her that it must take something else besides faith in Jesus to be a Christian. If I continued to say “I’m not sure” because I couldn’t see all that I wanted to see before affirming her in her faith, then she would continue to doubt that all it really takes is believing that Jesus died in her place to reconcile her to God.  So, we sat down and I turned the table, asking her if she thought she was a Christian. She confidently answered “yes” and I asked why and she easily and clearly put into her own words her belief in the gospel. Parts of her discourse were more theologically accurate than some pastors…I’m amazed at the wisdom and understanding God has granted her at such a young age! And after much more conversation and a time of sweet prayer, I could do nothing but rejoice in the work God had done to save her!

Mikias, on the other hand, has a completely different testimony.  From the time we brought Mikias home, he has always been such a literal child. We can never use metaphors or exaggeration with him…he takes every word as absolute truth! If you say you’re so hungry you could eat a horse, he thinks you’re headed to the store to find a mare and chow down! For this reason, I knew it would take a special work of God to work the principle of faith into his little heart. Mikias is also a pleaser, a legalist to the core and it is often hard for him to see his sin clearly and understand just how deep it runs because the truth is, he really doesn’t mess up all that often. I told Kevin once that I felt like Mikias would be one of those people that had to screw up big time before he could clearly see the treasure we have in Christ.  I didn’t want that but I feared it might be the case and so it was. Without exposing Mikias’ big ordeal, let’s just say he had a run in with sin that left him feeling completely helpless…for once he saw the entangling web the enemy uses to draw us away from God and he saw his own inability to overcome it. He broke and in his brokenness, all by himself without Kevin or I knowing any of this, he ran to God for forgiveness. He too knew that Jesus was the only way he could be forgiven and after a couple of long discussions, I realized that God had opened his eyes to see Jesus as His Savior. With Mikias, it was almost as if you could see the burden of trying to live a life pleasing enough to God lifted and he was finally resting in Jesus.

I’m recording all of this primarily because I want to be able to recount the details to them when they are older. But I’m also writing it all down because I think there’s a growing tendency in reformed Baptist circles to shy away from children coming to know Jesus as Savior while children and a push to “give it time” or “to see if there’s spiritual fruit for a number of years” before affirming salvation in their lives. And while I’m thankful that parents and pastors are much more inclined to test hearts and be careful to acknowledge true faith, I also see the danger of letting the pendulum swing too far the other way. I could be wrong…I recognize that I am fallen and there’s a small chance Mikias and Molly Kate do not have saving faith. But, the greater part of my soul feels secure in their confession and would rather begin discipling them as young believers, helping them to walk in the ways of Christ and understand His word than to be so fearful that I’m wrong that I hold them in some sort of spiritual confusion. So, once again, I find myself in the need of grace….the beauty of parenting that I’ll never outgrow…Lord, give me grace to teach them, to lead them, to disciple them, to make them want more of You!

A sweet day of rejoicing as Kevin baptized these precious two!
A sweet day of rejoicing as Kevin baptized these precious two!

 

Miles’ 6th Birthday

I’m back-tracking a bit here, but I wanted to make sure I recorded each child’s birthday this year.  What a special day to pause and reflect on how each child is a unique part of our family and how thankful we are that God gifted us the joy of parenting him/her.  Miles and I have surely had our ups and downs and everyone knows by now that parenting him has quite possibly been the most challenging role God has ever called me to…but because of the challenges, the sweet parts are made all the more sweeter. I truly see God growing my love and affection for this little boy with every passing year and while his progress has been slower than a lot of adopted kids we know, I’m so thankful the Lord has allowed him to overcome so much and all the while, his heart seems to grow more and more tender to the gospel.  This has been the year of ninjas for our Miles so I was not surprised when he asked for a ninja cake! In lieu of big parties (which quite simply, we just can’t afford with so many kiddos!), we told the kids they could invite one special friend to celebrate with us and Miles chose his newest buddy from church, Isaac.  They had a blast playing and we are happy he has found a friend!  Here’s a few pics of his special day in May:

Chowing down on Miles' lunch of choice, hot dogs and cheetos!
Chowing down on Miles’ lunch of choice, hot dogs and cheetos!
Miles and his buddy!
Miles and his buddy!
All the kiddos!
All the kiddos!
Super excited about his scientist kit from Poppa and Nana!
Super excited about his scientist kit from Poppa and Nana!
Opening his "big" gift!
Opening his “big” gift!
His new skateboard!
His new skateboard!
Lighting the candles!
Lighting the candles!
Make a wish!
Make a wish!
Ninja Miles!
Ninja Miles!

First Fruits

I knew it was going to be a long day.  The past two nights children were up later than usual, summertime activities and swimming were taking a toll on everyone’s energy levels and birthdays always seem to create an element of chaos.  So when Madden woke up fairly grumpy, whining and complaining on Wednesday (his 4th birthday), I wasn’t the least bit surprised.  Nevertheless, we had a super-fun day (or that was what I was aiming for!) ahead of us, and so, we dove in to the day-long celebration.  From our breakfast stop at Krispy Kreme to the splash pad at the Atlanta Zoo, Madden complained or pouted or whined about a dozen times.  Though weary and disappointed that he wasn’t able to enjoy his special day to the fullest, I continued seeking to make his day enjoyable as any good mama would…and even his siblings were bending over backwards, trying to please Mr. Impossible.  Of course, there were still lots of giggles and smiles…when the kids got the entire zoo playground to themselves and when they fed the giraffe for the first time.  But I felt like the over-arching theme of the day was discontentment, fatigue and complaints…not quite to joyful birthday I had envisioned!

Then came the cake and ice cream…about two bites into his cake (which I spent about four hours making, at least!), he looks up in all seriousness and announces “I don’t like this cake.” Forcing back tears, I looked at him and calmly and kindly said “that’s okay…you don’t have to eat it.” I could tell the other kids were stunned and Molly Kate quickly tried to cover up his remark by assuring me that he just thinks the icing is too sweet (which I do believe ended up being the case).  I told the kids that it was fine and that Madden just seemed to be struggling with complaining that day.  I got up to get Maggie ready for her nap and I think Kevin may have mentioned something to Madden about his attitude.  Then we all headed to our rooms for rest time, which I certainly needed by that point!

A few hours later, as I was helping the kids get bathed and dressed for Wednesday evening dinner and bible study, Madden suddenly looks at me and says these words…”Mommy, I’m sorry that I’ve been complaining a lot today.” It was the sweetest, most sincere moment of repentance and I was and am so thankful that I happened to be in the middle of reading a book about giving the grace of the gospel to our children. I got down on my knees, looked into his beautiful blue eyes and said something to the point of “you know, Madden…Mommy has a hard time not complaining too sometimes, especially when I’m tired.  But you know what? I know that even on days when I complain, God still loves me because I have put my faith in His Son Jesus.  Will you ever be able to stop complaining?” He shook his head and I said “that’s right….Who is the only One who can help you stop complaining?” And he quietly answered “God.” And I reiterated the truth that is already taking root in his heart…that our God is the only one powerful enough to break the evil in our hearts through the righteousness of Jesus…we can never do it on our own.

These conversations happen often with my children, but for some reason, I reflected on this incidence with a bit more gratitude and a few more tears.  You see, of all my children, Madden is the one I probably spoil the most, discipline the least and the kid I have spent the smallest amount of time teaching Bible truths.  If his salvation was up to me and my efforts thus far, he’d probably never know Jesus as Savior.  But, praise be to God that He is the One who saves whom He wants to save…and praise be to Him for the grace He’s granted my little boy to see his sin, to ponder it for a while and in humility, to come to me and repent.  I recognize that is no small thing and I rejoice in seeing these first fruits of the gospel taking root in his heart.

I’m reminded of this passage…one I reflect on often as I persevere in raising children…sinners who need the light of Christ…

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

I recognize that God is the One who unveils, God is the One who gives sight to the blind, God is the One who shines the Light into a dark heart…and I know that my children need Him to do that work in their lives more than they need anything else.  May God grant me the grace to press on in the ministry of mercy and not lose heart as I teach, correct, train and rebuke this little crew He has entrusted to me.

Here’s a few moments from Madden’s big day…thankfully, there were still smiles abounding:

Balloons at Krispy Kreme!
Balloons at Krispy Kreme!
Breakfast of Champions!
Breakfast of Champions!
Yummy!
Yummy!
Zoo Time!
Zoo Time!
Empty playground means plenty of time to play!
Empty playground means plenty of time to play!
Loving the slide!
Loving the slide!
Cuthbertson Train!
Cuthbertson Train!
Madden's favorite part of the zoo!
Madden’s favorite part of the zoo!
Present time!
Present time!
Excited about the Jake Hideout!
Excited about the Jake Hideout!
Happy Birthday to Madden!
Happy Birthday to Madden!
The many faces of my little man!
The many faces of my little man!
Mommy and the four year old!
Mommy and the four year old!