Monday, August 16, 2010

Where is Daddy?

When Absence Doesn't Make a Heart Grow Fonder

Emma recently took on the habit of shouting out "Dada, dada, dada, dada..." as soon as we drove into our neighborhood.  We would pull up to the house and her hands would shoot up like a ref calling a touchdown.  With a big "yeah!" Emma would toddle into the house in pursuit of her beloved, and often hiding, Daddy. 

That habit has now disappeared.

Daddy has been away for 5 days.  Less than a week to me, an eternity to little Emma.  For the first few days, she would wander the house, looking.  When someone said the name Daddy, her face would brighten and she'd be off on the hunt.  And up until Sunday, she would still cheer when we pulled into the driveway.

We have tried the life size cardboard cutout affectionately known as Flat Daddy.  She gives it a suspicious look, she's not fooled.  To her, Daddy is gone.

As I held her close tonight, rocking her again to sleep from an 11pm teething pain, I thought a lot about her and her Daddy.  She loves him with all her heart, but just 5 days away from him and her affection is waining.

Then I thought about my Heavenly Daddy.

I go through seasons when I long to see Him, seasons when with excitement I start my morning ready to witness His presence in my life.  But there are other times when my affections simmer, times when I will go days without a thought of looking for Him.  Emma loves her Daddy and she would look for him constantly because He was constantly there.  My Heavenly Daddy is constantly present as well, but it is I who am unfaithful. 

Emma has gone 5 days without her Daddy, and now she has forgotten to look for him.  When I go 5 days without looking for my Heavenly Father, I begin to forget where He can be found.

What a humbling reminder that I need to keep seeking God daily!

Please take time today to pray for my girls -Emma, Jordan, and Kaiden.  It is a short trip for Daddy this time, but the impact on their hearts, and on mine, has still been great.  And please pray for the families whose Daddys are gone for far longer.  May they know the Heavenly Daddy who is always present.

And Lord, Heavenly Father, thank You for always being present.  I cannot imagine surviving this life without You.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No More Tattling!

Church Discipline in the Home

You can put down your "spanking spoons".  That is not what I am talking about!

Our Pastor spoke on church discipline last week.  Church discipline is the process by which we are to hold one another accountable in living a Christ-like life (See Matthew 18).  For those not familiar with church discpline, here are the basics: 

Step 1 "Go to your brother" Go directly to the person and discuss the issue. 

Step 2 "Bring a witness"  Bring one or two others along to meet with the person - not for the purpose of taking your side, but for listening to and giving judgment concerning the situation. 

Step 3 "Bring it to the Elders" You and your "witnesses" bring the person to the attention of the Elders of the Church.  The Elders will then meet with the offender, counsel the offender, and if the offender does not repent, the Elders may choose to remove them from the fellowship of the Church.

A friend said to me afterwards, jokingly, "Hey, can I use church discipline on my kids?  Can I haul them to the Elders when they won't listen to me?" 

"Yes! Absolutely!  Kinda."

If God designed the church to be a family, and God has given instruction for how the church is to operate ~wouldn't it make sense for those same ways to work in our home?  Here is how:

Step 1:  "Go to your brother (or sister)."  When two children have fight, they should not bring it straight to the parents.  There is no place for "tattling" in the Christian home.  They must start by trying to work it out together.  When one is sinning and the other finds them in sin or is hurt by their sin, they should not come running to the parent but instead encourage their sibling to make a right choice.  (Dangerous situations are obviously excluded!).

Step 2:  "Bring a witness"  If the siblings cannot work out the problem, or if the one sinning chooses not to stop, it is time to go get Mom.   When my children come to me, I must listen fairly to both sides, and give judgment -- allowing the offender an opportunity to repent and change course.  I say "get Mom" because I am usually the one home when it all happens - but obviously either parent may come in as mediator.  As my children age and their world expands, they will learn of other adults or trusted friends who can help them in solving a conflict.

Step 3:  If the issue still is not resolved, it is time to bring it before the "Elders".  Not the Elders of the church, but the Elders of the home -- the united team designed to work as "one" and guide the family in Christlikeness.  This is when Mom and Dad meet together to address a sin issue that just doesn't seem to stop.  One excellent, and biblical, punishment is to remove the child from the "fellowship" of the family.  Have the child eat alone and spend all time alone as the family continues its time together.  This is a true to life consequence since, as we all know, those who are not kind and loving to others will not have friends.

By teaching this diligently to our kids, we are creating the next great generation of leaders for our church!  Children who are trained to hold one another accountable in the home will grow into adults who seek to live rightly and peacefully with one another.  This lifestyle, loving one another while maintaining a devotion to righteousness, is the ultimate form of evangelism.  For they will know we are Christians by our love!

And you thought you were just settling a dispute over who gets the cookie!

Now for my military friends... who are the "Elders" of your family during a deployment?  When only Mom is around, what other adult will back you up and stand in agreement with you when a discipline issue arises?  In our family, it is Mr. Tuck, our chidlren's Sunday School teacher.  If my kids get near Step 3 when Daddy is gone, I just remind them that they will need to go and see Mr. Tuck.  We have needed Mr. Tuck only one time... and thank God for him!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Countdown

26 days left.

26 days until I will no longer look like I "have my hands full".

26 days until the middle child becomes the oldest, well, at least from 8 to 3.

26 days until our Little Miss Sunshine heads off to be a light in the world.

26 days until Kaiden starts kindergarten.

Kaiden, 2004
Of course I am over thinking the whole thing. Of course I am thinking back on all the wasted days we could have gone to the park, could have gone to the zoo, could have baked cupcakes at 10 am just because we were home and had the time.

But now her days will be full, and our house will probably feel a little empty.

I thought of jamming a thousand things into our last weeks - something special every day - plus a fun calendar or paper chain to go along with the them. 

Kaiden, 2010
But instead, I find myself just wanting to sit with her in my rocking chair and be still.  The time for a thousand things has come and gone.  Now is the time to hold her, hug her, and remind her just how much God loves her and has a wonderful plan for her life.

It will not be easy to watch her walk through the doors of school that first day.  But the comfort for me is this, though she leaves my arms, she will always be held fast by the Lord.

Lord thank you that you hold each of my children safe in your arms.  Life has clearly shown me that nothing of this world is sure, except for your presence.  Give me wisdom in the days to come as I remind Kaiden of how to recognize your presence.  May she always remember that you Lord are with her always! 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm Back, I Hope

What a long few months it has been. I finally checked my blog today, assuming my last posting had been sometime in late May. Wow. April 10th. That is sad.

So what kind of a summer has it been? Well, the "Happy Birthday" sign hung in my dining room on April 9th is still haning there, nearly 4 months later.

That is the kind of summer it has been.

But enough of that. I'm back. At least I hope I am.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Parenting with Grace -- Seized by Temptation

The house was full of guests, and it was quiet time. Short on space, I had then 3 year old Jordan sit on my bed with a few books, hoping she would take a short nap. Beside the bed, in a crib was Emma, peacefully sleeping, for now. Emma normally napped for two hours, but today, thanks to Jordan, Emma's nap lasted 30 minutes. I never did get the full story as to how Emma woke, but certainly Jordan was the instigator. Not what I needed on a busy day full of company!

I was not happy with Jordan that day. I was frustrated and overwhelmed. I felt bad for Emma knowing that she was going to have a difficult evening with lack of a good nap. But what would have been appropriate punishment for the offense? I actually opted for no punishment. In my heart, I knew that the circumstances had made it impossible for Jordan to obey. I had not worked through all the logic in my mind, but I knew I could not punish.

The following day, I Corinthians 10:13 came to my mind: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I then understood the reason my heart was uneasy with punishing Jordan. She had been tempted beyond what she could bear. And she had been tempted by me! Yes it was a full house of people, yes it was a situation in which the best scenario could not be found. But I should have taken an extra few minutes to think through how Jordan would do being so close to Emma during quiet time. I had placed Jordan in an impossible situation.

But wait, isn't life full of impossibilities? Don't children need to be taught to obey no matter what? Doesn't God give us impossible assignments such as "Be Holy"? Yes, but that is where grace steps in.

When God gives us impossible tasks, his grace, his presence is available to fill the gap between what we can do and what he expects. This gets a little deep in theology, but follow me. When God commands us to be holy, we strive for it, fail at it, then God's grace through the death and imparted righteousness of Jesus Christ fills in the gap for us. We are not holy, but God's grace, Jesus Christ in us, makes us essentially holy. And what about the other impossibilities of life? God's grace is present in those, too. For when we are weak, then he is strong.

God's grace is present in temptations as well. First, he says that he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. He graciously only allows into our lives what he knows we are strong enough to resist (strong meaning our human efforts + his strength). Second, when we are tempted, he provides as way out!

In Jordan's quiet time disobedience, there was no way out. Not only had I placed her in an impossible situation, but then I left the house to run errands (don't worry, other adults were still present!). Had I been home, I would have continued to check in on Jordan, give her gentle instruction and direction, and possibly removed her from the room when I realized the impossibility of resisting the temptation of waking Emma. My presence would have been her saving grace. But my presence was absent.

God's grace, God's presence, is never absent for those who love him. I am not a perfect parent, I will never be able to be perfectly present, perfectly gracious, and perfectly wise. I will continue to place my children in situations where they will be seized by temptation. I will continue to forget to graciously provide a way out. But what I can do is take a few extra minutes when a disobedience occurs and see if a lack of grace has created the problem.

Imagine that - a lack of grace on my part can actually cause disobedience! I still call it disobedience, because the expectation was not met. But instead of punishment, it is time for training. Go sit in a chair together, talk about the situation and the expectation and talk about how to resist temptation.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Every Sunday we fill the pews, listen to the messages, and are thankful for the grace God extends to us daily. But as we pile back in the van, does the grace continue? Do we extend grace to our kids in the same way God extends grace to us?

We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Do we consider our children as our neighbors? For if we, loving ourselves, seek from God mercy and grace, should we not also extend mercy and grace in equal measure as we have received?

A friend and I had a challenging conversation about parenting and grace last week. My job as a parent is to accurately reflect the nature of God in my relationship with my children. Unfortunately, I tend to only reflect the character of God as Judge.

"What does parenting with grace really look like?" After years of parenting in an authoritative manner, my friend has found that the discipline was creating obedient bodies but was not reaching the heart.

This is a frightening realization for any parent. If obedience, our children's or our own, is not from the heart, we are nothing better than Pharisees.

"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Matthew 15:8

How have we come to this? How is it that devoted, prayerful parents, parents dedicated to teaching the principles of faith, have children whose hearts are on a permanent moral vacation?

Somewhere along the line, many of us were given a promise. Discipline the child and he will love you. Discipline the child and he will not stray. Train him up in the way he should go and he will not depart. Yet their hearts are departing.

About two years ago, I came across a verse that has radically changed my focus in parenting.
Romans 2:4 - Do you think lightly of the kindness, tolerance, and patience of the Lord, not knowing that the kindness of the Lord leads to repentance?

That's what I really want, repentance. I don't need my kids to think my way, act my way, live my way. I need them to live with a soft heart, willing to see their own sin and need of a Savior. If the Lord leads me to repentance with kindness, can the same be true with my own children? In order for me to accurately reflect God in my children's lives, I must learn to discipline with kindness, tolerance, and patience. In other words, I must parent with grace.

But the question remains, what does it look like to parent with grace? It is not a quick formula or an easy to memorize method, because that is not how God deals with me. His love for me, and his discipline of me is unique. Therefore, parenting by grace will look unique in each home, and for each child.

In the coming weeks, I will be reading the Bible with an eye out for moments of grace. I am looking for where God shows us grace, and then thinking about how I can extended that same aspect of grace to my children. I will share what I find here on my blog, along with a good dose of humility for how often I fail in my endeavors of grace.

A final thought from Psalm 103:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

Lord, help me today to remember that my children are but dust. That they, just like me, are in constant need of compassion and grace. Lord I cannot love them like this in my own strength ~ for my own heart is often far from You. So begin in me, help me to accept that I am in need of grace.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Delightful Interruption

It is "Spring Break" here this week. And what that means for a preschool family is a complete loss of all things that bring order and schedule. Throw in a time change and we have chaos! This morning we all overslept, then dragged around attempting to pull ourselves together for the one thing on our to-do list, storytime at the local library.

With Emma still on last week's time schedule, I thankfully had extra minutes on my hands after getting the older ones fed and dressed. Then the phone rang. I recognized the number and paused to consider answering it. I am thankful I did.

My grandma called.

Grandma McLaren is 90 years old and lives in an assisted living center in southwest Iowa. She occasionally calls me on accident, since my name is the first on her cell phone contact list. Today's accidental call was a real blessing to my day. I enjoyed 45 minutes of visiting, sharing stories, and hearing of the health struggles she has recently faced.

After retelling a very difficult and frightening situation she recently endured she paused and said, "You know, God sure did take care of me."

That's how I want to grow old. If God grants me to live long enough to lose my license and be moved into a nursing home, I want to be able to hold in my heart the truth that God takes care of me. So often, older people struggle with anger and bitterness from years of unresolved issues. But Grandma is so thankful. Yes, she has moments of frustration. And yes, as she told me today she sometimes wants to yell at people who don't treat her like an adult. But she is thankful. She is thankful for her children who work together and discuss everything before making decisions on her behalf. She is thankful for falling in the middle of the night because it caused the doctors to find the severe infection in her inner ear that may have taken her life. And most of all she is thankful for her Lord who took care of her through it all.

Would you like to grow old in a graceful way? Old age brings to the surface what we attempt to hide in our hearts for years. But the Bible, the Word of God, doesn't let us keep things hidden. Grandma has faithfully read her Bible for decades and allows God to show her the hidden things of her heart that need refining. And now the years of her faithfulness are showing through in a heart of thankfulness.

A thought that makes this day valuable

"The years teach much which the days never knew"

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Learning to Walk

Emma is learning to walk, and so am I. I am not very good at it, spiritually speaking. I keep thinking that I am very skilled and can walk on my own with no help. But truthfully, I am as weak as a city girl traipsing through the jungle in flip-flops.

When teaching Emma to walk. I don't have her look at her feet, I have her look at me. I hold her outstretched hands, talk to her joyfully, and draw her feet forward without her even knowing it. She isn't walking by herself, but that does not matter to her. She in enraptured with my smiling face and thrilled with the movement of her feet.

In my spiritual walk, though, I have been doing a lot of staring at my feet. I think of all the things I need to do, I think of all the things I have done wrong. I look at the treacherous path I am attempting to traverse and all the sores on my feet.

I need to get my eyes off my feet and on the Lord. I need to see His face and not the obstacles around me. Just like Emma is completely captivated with my smile, I must be captivated by His mercy, His patience, His grace. Only then will he be able to gently draw my feet forward and I will walk with joy.

Why Did Kaiden Take the Dirty Dishes to the TV Room?

"Sorry mom, sometimes my brain just forgets where I am going."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Time for the Least

It was 10:40, twenty minutes past when my "relief" was to have arrived. I wanted to be in the worship service, caring for my own children, enjoying the music. But instead, I was still working the front lines, doing duty in the 4 year old Sunday school classroom.

Most days, I love my job. Mark and I teach the 4-year old class Sunday School class each week. It is a joy and a challenge. But this morning, my heart was not in it. And my heart was hardening with each minute that my escape was being delayed.

After some reordering of rooms, the teachers for the next hour came in and I readied for departure. A small hand tugged at me. "Can you read me a story?" "Just a sec.." I said, without giving it any thought.

I prepped the next teachers, giving them the lesson plan and a rundown of the schedule. I grabbed my stuff and turned to leave. Then the small hand found my sleeve again. "Can you read me a story now?" "Oh, I'm sorry, I guess we didn't have time. I'll read to you next week."

Tears welled in the gentle trusting eyes. I had broken the heart of an innocent child. I had used quick words and a quick promise to cast what I deemed an irrelevant request.

I sat down slowly, took the child on my lap, and asked which book we should read.

"Let the Little Children Come to Me" Stories of Jesus and the Children.

I opened the first page, it wasn't a simple three word story book. This was a detailed account of the work of our Lord in the lives of children. I was tempted to skip a line here and there to make the story quicker. I just hoped she couldn't read well enough to notice.

But I looked at the drawing of Jesus, welcoming children, taking time for children, serving and saving children. I don't think He would have skipped lines just to make it to the worship service faster.

I could still hear the worship music drifting out from the sanctuary, but the draw suddenly wasn't as great. I still longed to be with my own children, but they had Daddy with them in the pew, and he loves them as deeply as me. Right then, nothing mattered but this one small child, and a simple book about the Jesus who loves children.

Lord thank you for moments like these that slow me down and cause me to remember what really matters. Thank you for loving the children, all the children of the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dancing with My Father

We concluded Lia's memorial service with the song "Field's of Grace" by Big Daddy Weave. I chose that song because in the days following our loss, whenever I thought of Lia, I would see a young girl, long flowing brown hair, dancing in a field of flowers. "Fields of Grace" captured the image perfectly for me - a little girl dancing with her Father God in fields of grace.

I have listened to and enjoyed this song numerous times in the past 2 years, but it seems I have missed one critical truth - the song is in present tense. While enjoying the song and having a brief dance with my Father God while singing it, I have always thought of the Fields of Grace as a place in heaven. The song speaks of a place where religion dies, where we lose our selfish pride, where we run and play, and where we sing new songs of praise. All of that is true of heaven, where we will know His perfect presence, but how often do I think about having that same joy in the here and now?
I don't want to wait for heaven, I want to dance with my Father God today.

I am tired of feeling that this season of life, full of dishes, diapers, and discipline, is void of joy. I refuse to believe that lie! Some mommies I have known seem to just accept the drudgery and move forward from day to day, accepting the season and not expecting joy. But not me. I am fed up with waiting for the challenging days to end. I want to have joy every single day! I have to believe that my God is great enough to make every day a day of joy.

I think that though I enjoyed the "Fields of Grace" song many times these past years, I have been missing out. I thought Lia was the lucky one. I thought she was the only one of us truly dancing. But I want all of us to dance, me, Kaiden, Jordan, Emma, and yes, even Mark. I want us all to know the joy of living in the graceful presence of a loving God.

All of these thoughts have stemmed today from my contemplations about a new book: "Dancing with my Father" by Sally Clarkson. I look forward to reading her pursuit of joy. She of course has struggled with despair, but her drive is that joy, true inner joy, be a constant in her life, regardless of the outward circumstances. And that is my desire, too. To know, and live out, and dance in the joy of the Lord, no matter the season of life.
When you see the little girl on the cover of the book, think of Lia. But think also of your own spirit, the child of God inside of you who longs to know the freedom of joyfully dancing with the Father of grace.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Good 2009

It has been a challenging year.

Adjusting to life with 3 kids, another long deployment, health problems.

I was beginning to hate 2009. I was beginning to be glad it was over. I didn't want to celebrate the New Year because I thought it would make me reflect on the old one, and I didn't want to go there.

Then came Baby Jared.

Baby Jared is my friend Sarah's 3rd baby. Her first, Noelle, is a friend of my daughters. Her second, Jeffery, I am looking forward to meeting in Heaven someday. And on December 30th Baby Jared was born.

In 2007 and 2008, were difficult years for our church as 6 women, including myself, lost children. In 2009, 6 babies were placed into each of those arms. Samantha, Emma, Sarah, Timothy, Gus, and now Jared.

I was beginning to think that 2009 was just another year full of challenge and trial. But in this single year, each family has been blessed. And for that I am thankful.

So to my mommy friends Aylin, Billie, Nancy, Katie and Sarah... I joyful wish you a happy 2010. May our hearts be as full of hope as our arms have been in 2009!