take them by the hand

Hi!

Another whole month has slipped by. I thought of doing a photo dump, and then realized a month of photos gets a tad long.

(Lunch gets a tad long sometimes, too.)

There are lots of pictures over at flickr. Click through for a glimpse of the month:


*****

“Take them by the hand…”

In the busyness of a day with four children, all of whom need different kinds of training and teaching and attention, and all done all together all day long (which requires a house keeping plan I have yet to quite master), this little phrase grabs me.

I write the plan and herd them along with the best of intentions: to nurture their talents and expand their minds and plant the Word of God deep in their hearts — but the leadership model shown by Jesus was not a “come on, hurry up, slow pokes,” sort of model. No, we’re to come alongside and walk with these young disciples.

And yes, that’s a nice concept and philosophy, but often I find I need to literally obey this verse. Take them by the hand. Not just the wobbly toddler who needs help down the stairs. That nearly-independent 8yo boy, too. The quiet 6yo who doesn’t seem to really need much. Go out of my way to take them by the hand. Invite them to sit in arm’s crook during read-aloud. Give those shoulders a hug while issuing next instruction. Hold their hand in the parking lot, and squeeze it twice (our special “I love you” code.)

The confrontation of sin and shortcomings can seem continual. How much easier the walk through confession and repentance when led by the hand.

from my journal: Isaiah 40

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Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints not is weary. His understanding is in searchable.

He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary , they shall walk and not faint. —Isaiah 40

There is no shame in realizing I have no might. Realizing I am more weak than yesterday! God is in the business of glorifying His name as earthen vessels are emptied of their own selves and are filled with Him.

This looks like “He must increase, I must decrease.” It looks like a growing awareness of my incredible lack, and greater knowledge and experience of His surpassing power to those who believe.

chubby babies, labor pains, and joy: gal 4.19

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you… Galatians 4.19

Some verses get lodged in your heart, always in the background, being mulled and processed and slowly shaping how you live and see life. This is one of those for me. Mike Tomford read it on a Sunday several years ago, and it’s been lodged ever since.

Today it comes to the forefront.

This makes sense, because May 28th is always a day that makes me think of labor, babies, and life. Twenty-four years ago, I was a 9 year old girl, scrambling downstairs at dawn with my siblings, excitedly tiptoeing into our dining room, peering through doorway past a cluster of my mother’s friends, hoping for a glimpse of the miracle taking place: a baby being born! She came, chubby and sweet, and Mrs. Colbert swaddled her and named her Butterball until a more suitable moniker could be chosen.

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She’s the cute brunette, still a little butterball-y!

And so May 28th, labor, and Galatians 4:19 all converge this morning in my heart.

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I’ve learned things about childbirth and labor in the last few years. I learned that it’s not easy, watching my strong and courageous mother, a woman I knew could take on the world, meet her match in labor. I learned that it can last for days as I waited for news of my first nephews’ arrival (and cried to Mrs. Kinnen, wanting so badly to take my sister’s place so she could just rest.) I learned that it can go much faster and more intensely than anticipated, when Jameson was born 4 hours and 15 minutes after my water broke, with barely 3 hours of contractions. I learned that it can include complications requiring life-saving measures, as my littlest brother was delivered by emergency c-section, and a niece followed suit several years later. I learned that it requires determination, that it exacts all reserves of courage, that it crashes like brutal waves and leaves you depleted only to find a new depth of strength. I learned that your last labor is not your next labor, and no two are exactly alike.

I learned that no one can promise you or tell you much about how it will go. The only true comfort is this: “There, that contraction is over. You’ll never ever have to do that one again.”

And the greatest joy is that there is a baby.

*****

I learned how to meet childbirth with Holy-Spirit inspired strength from my mother.

And I’m learning what it means to be “again in labor” as I watch my mother (and my father) persevere in seeing Christ formed in me and in my siblings.

All of those things about courage and perseverance and trusting for grace for this moment and not dwelling on how long that last labor was — all of those things, I see them doing still.

I’m learning that the ecstatic moment when you hear, “It’s a girl/boy!” is only the start of a life of laboring.

I’m learning that “I can’t do this anymore!” needs to be swiftly met with those scripture cards I wrote out for labor. He makes me able.

I’m learning to labor alongside. I’m learning that just as I am strengthened by my sisters and friends in a circle around my bed, wetting my sweaty forehead, rubbing my feet, whispering and cheering — so we strengthen one another as we each labor to see others come to maturity in Christ.

I’m learning that personal expectation and desires and any selfish grasping must be done away with. Just as I surrender my body to bring forth a baby, so we lay down our lives — our time, our energy, our money, our everything — to see people find Jesus and His purposes.

I’m learning what incredible joy it is to labor and pray and persevere alongside and then see someone dear be set free, fall in love with Jesus even more, set their hearts completely on Him.

Because this: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

*****

“It’s a girl/boy!” isn’t the end.

Neither is their 18th birthday, or high school graduation.

It’s not over until Christ is formed in them. (Yes, that’s a life-long labor we’re talking about.)

This is parenting that all believers are called to — married, single, childless — all.

*****

When the contractions keep coming, and you wonder how much longer, and no one can tell you?

There’s this:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” –Galatians 6.7-9

from Loving the Little Years

ecclesiastes 5.19:

Everyone to whom God has given wealth, and possessions, and the power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

“Blessings, like children, are not ethereal and weightless. Sometimes they feel like they come at you like a Kansas hail storm—they might leave a welt!

But if you accept your lot and rejoice in your toil, God will give you the kind of overwhelming joy that cannot remember the details.

Motherhood is hard work. It is repetitive and often times menial. Accept it. Rejoice in it. This is your toil. Right here.

Those are their faces. Enjoy them.

The days of your life are supposed to be full of things like this.

But joy is not giddy. It is not an emotional rush—it is what happens when you accept your lot and rejoice in your toil.

So rejoice in your children. Look them in the eyes and give thanks.

You will not even remember the work of all this planting when the harvest of joy overwhelms you.” (Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years, emphasis mine.)

in gentleness

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2.2)

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I know you won’t believe this, but sometimes those adorable little cherubs up there drive me right over the edge of sanity.

Well, actually, that’s not true. They may create the pressure, but the Bible explains so clearly that the desire to sin is in me. But that’s another topic for another day.

I find myself blowing my lid more often than I’d like. Sometimes I kick myself: “Danica, they’re kids. Be patient.” And sometimes I think, How else do I communicate that you may not attack your brother???

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to communicate anything to these little disciples but what God wants communicated. I’m just His representative, after all. When I ask a boy to deliver a message from Mama to the siblings, I’m not pleased when I hear him yelling at them with words and tone that I did not send. I expect him to begin with “Mama said…” and to continue with the kindness I first communicated. The strength of the command is in those little words, “Mama said.” If they don’t respond to that, we have a problem. But big brothers (or sassy little sister) yelling at them isn’t going to help the situation.

And so God “sends” me. This mothering thing is His assignment for me. I didn’t come up with it. I didn’t even dream of it. It’s just what He called me to one day, and I am thrilled to serve Him in this. I have become an evangelist, a shepherdess, a discipler, a teacher — in short, the mouth and hands of God to these precious lives.

If I am His mouth, then I need to simply echo what He’s asked me to say.

Sometimes I scoff at His ideas. I think, I’ll improve the message a bit. I’m sure that if I raise my voice a few notches, bark a little, grit my teeth — I think that’ll help get results we’re looking for.

He must cringe. Like I do when I hear the messenger yelling at my beloved children.

This morning, I read 2 Timothy 2:2 for the umpteenth time. Gentleness. The correcting is required; tolerating sin, turning a blind eye, making an excuse for them isn’t what I’ve been asked to do. But the correction is to be firm, consistent, and gentle.

I don’t always know what that looks like. But that doesn’t give me permission to throw out the Bible and say, “I’m gonna do it my way.” All it means is I better learn. And God will show me. He will tell me and teach me, but most of all, He shows me.

We have a gentle Shepherd, after all.

frustration, fear, and faith

If you’ve ever felt like life is hard, like you’re up against something bigger than you — you’re right.

There is a devil, and this is a war, and you’re his target.

This is a reminder I need all the time. Because things get tough, and I immediately start to fix and blame and “wrestle against flesh and blood.”

A few months ago, the Lord dropped three little words into my heart:

Frustration, Fear, and Faith.

This enemy of mine, he’s got me in his sites, and he knows my weak spots:

I work really hard, and then I get frustrated. Probably I don’t have to elaborate on why I would get frustrated, wondering why this isn’t working. That’s during the day.

Then I go to bed, and lay in the dark, thinking about my children that I love so much and all I want for them, and another shadow creeps into my soul: fear. What if something happens to them? What if they don’t get it? How can I watch them every second of their lives just to be sure they’re okay? [Resist the urge to get up and check them for the umpteenth time.]

It would be easy to fight these enemies by reading an article on How To Take A Deep Breath, or Count To Ten and Think Happy Thoughts, or They’re Just Kids So Chill Out. Finish the day with triple-checking every lock on every door and installing night-lights everywhere throughout the house. Ta-da.

Except that doesn’t really work, does it?

No.

Because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, and there is only one victory that overcomes the world and the Prince of it:

Faith in Jesus.

Faith changes everything. Faith most certainly changes the power of frustration and fear.

Frustration lurks, but when I am working by faith, when I am sowing by faith, I can speak to those feelings. I can speak with authority. I can know that God is at work in my children’s lives. That a tantrum at the grocery store and a bedroom that looks like a nuclear bomb went off and not listening in church isn’t the end. Nope. Sheree Phillips states so well how faith renders ineffective the frustrations we encounter:

Mostly, however, it [parenting] requires faith. Faith when we become discouraged at their lack of progress. Faith during seasons when they slip back into old habits. Faith when we realize we have started to allow arguing and bickering and anger back into our homes and we have to regroup. Faith when well-meaning friends say our standards are unrealistically hight. Faith when we’re tired and think it was easier when we didn’t have to do so much disciplining and encouraging and reminding.

As for fear? The shadows of fear and its paralyzing whispers are abolished by the declaration of God’s love and grace and power — and knowing that He is pursuing my kids. Every worst case scenario can go ahead and stop tormenting me, because nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ our Lord. The gnawing doubts about them not “getting it” are shut down when I acknowledge that I can’t save them, but as I exalt and lift up Jesus in our home, He will draw their little hearts! Just like He did mine!

I’m sowing in faith. I’m loving in faith. I’m praying in faith. And the hope on which my faith is built? Rock solid.

*****

The second stanza of an old hymn, hidden in my heart:

How sweet to hold
A newborn baby
And feel the pride
And joy he gives
But greater still
The calm assurance
This child can face
Uncertain days
Just because He lives

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives