Sometimes You’re Just Happy When They Eat

I was one of those single people that looked with disdain at wayward children – well, really at their parents. “Can’t they control their kids?” “If that were my child, I’d train him not to do that.” I thought, You teach, you say No, you discipline… Simple really. A formula. Parents whose children flagrantly disobeyed must be too lazy or too liberal and, in my eyes, they failed. There I sat, judge, jury and prosecutor all wrapped up in one.

Then I had a child of my own. Once Isaac hit a certain age, we began correcting him, training him. No, Isaac, don’t touch the stereo. Wow, he obeyed. So compliant. This is a breeze. Three seconds later, however, the little hand goes for the knobs again and this time, my stern No, has no effect. Finally, we teach him not to touch the stereo and for a few days it sticks, but then we try it on the road, at a friend’s house. She has cooler knobs and flashier lights and suddenly my No, falls on deaf ears once again. So my little darling disobeys me in front of my friend and I get Reality Check Number One: children obey only sometimes, and in public they could care less about saving your face. So you suck it up, apologize to your friend and try the old Distraction Method. Man, now those children of the poor moms I prosecuted look like angels.

And then there are the notions I entertained about table manners and eating habits. I had no patience for sticky tables, crumby floors or children who refused to eat their vegetables. Surely children can be taught to eat everything — and neatly to boot! Well, here comes Reality Check Number Two: sometimes you’re just happy when they eat. As we proudly transferred our little man from a high chair to booster seat at the table, I offered him a nutritious little meal: chicken, noodles and peas. If he ate that, he could have a cookie. Ha! The peas were promptly stuffed into a little hole in the booster seat, the chicken spread out on the table and hammered with the spoon and the noodles. I’m not sure what happened to the noodles, but I’m sure they did not make it into Isaac’s stomach. Should I try something else or send him to bed hungry? Hmm. That would make for a miserable night. So Isaac had cookies for dinner. True confessions of a humbled mom.

I’m happy to say that most of the time now Isaac eats his noodles and chicken. But peas still have enemy status and the hole in the booster seat is still a cool repository for various food items. There are usually crumbs on the floor and the table is often sticky.

Oh, and finally I must confess attitudes towards the TV. My child will not see a TV until he’s 5, I thought. So, why then have I memorized all of our Baby Einstein and Baby Praise videos? I know the order of songs and puppet shows by heart. Reality Check Number Three: a content, occupied child at various times during the day is a greater blessing than large sums of money, and sometimes I could kiss that square box.

So I’m eating a lot of humble pie these days and I’m in awe of any mom who can keep their children alive, fed and happy. And if they have more than one bambino, they have truly reached Saint status in my eyes.

Pray For Our President

Forty-four years ago my father walked into a Southern restaurant wearing his US Army uniform and was told, “We don’t serve your kind here.” I can only imagine the bitterness, rejection and anger he must have swallowed back as he turned around and walked away. How many Black men knew this indignity, this insult, this slap in the face? How many have had to forgive such transgressions and even far worse? And how many of them rejoiced and wept as a Black man took the oath of office and became the most powerful man in the world? I chuckle as I think of those restaurant owners trying to turn President Obama away. Justice is indeed sweet.

Oh, I know our new President is pro-choice, and in the early days of his campaign I struggled with voting for him. Especially after having a baby, the stench of abortion sickens me. So I went back and forth, conflicted but wanting to do the right thing, not the emotional thing. Yet I kept hearing a voice inside saying, “Perhaps God has a different agenda right now.” He is allowed, isn’t He? He is God Almighty. Time will tell if that was the Holy Spirit or just I talking, but as I sat watching the Inauguration and seeing the tears of men from my father’s generation and hearing the likes of Cicely Tyson praise the Lord within ear-shod of millions, I cried, and then smiled and felt elated about our new President.

Perhaps God’s agenda includes healing deep, neglected wounds and building a bridge to those struggling on the wrong side of town. Perhaps God wanted to infuse hope and life into an entire people group with hidden scars and dark memories and declare, “I haven’t forgotten you.” Perhaps it was time to display in living color that Martin Luther King’s dream is really coming true, right before our very eyes.

Who is to say that Rick Warren won’t be for President Obama what Billy Graham was for many presidents: an advisor, confidant and friend? Who is to say that Obama can’t change and realize that life really does begin when that egg and that sperm unite and God declares, “Let there be… LIFE.”‘ Vulnerable, microscopic, but God-breathed. Everything is possible. That was on the lips of so many on the Washington Mall, and as Christians, that’s what we believe.

Let’s focus our prayers, thanking God for the healing that has already taken place and interceding for our President, that He might remain humble, fear God and seek His perfect wisdom.

And check out this video. A picture is worth a thousand words:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/01/22/inauguration.peter.turnley/index.html

Growing Up

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut 8:2-3).

There are desert times with the Lord. Times when we wake up desperate for God and find only enough nourishment in the Word for the day. We pant for His presence and yearn for His voice. Those are the weak times, when His grace alone carries us through. We feel frail, brittle and we cling to Him as a sash clings to the waist of a man (Jer 13:11). We are utterly humbled as we realize complete dependence on Him. I spent a lot of years like that. Each morning presented a fresh challenge to trust Him and lean on Him. Many days were spent wearying God with my prayers and cries as I tried to hold on and stand on His word.

Then a few weeks ago I attended a church women’s retreat. It was at a lovely resort and my husband graciously took time off of work to stay with our son so that I could enjoy 36 hours nourishing my depleted spirit. There was plenty of alone time as well as great sessions with an anointed speaker. In the afternoon I sat in my hotel room looking at the autumn brilliance and I realized that at that moment I no longer felt desperate. I mean, I still hungered for God but I didn’t approach him from the standpoint of utter need. Rather, I drew near to the throne of Grace with deep gratitude, joy and fulfillment. I felt like I had to get to know God all over again on different terms – no longer as his needy, fretful child, but now as a peaceful, contented woman. Still a daughter, but now a grown daughter. I saw more of His majesty that day as He was magnified before me as the God of the Universe, not just the shepherd of my needy soul. And I literally asked, “Who are you?” as I felt him right there in my room.

Don’t get me wrong, those feelings of utter need returned again at different times in the weeks since; I experienced them as I faced my rambunctious son after getting too little sleep, and when I felt lonely for God as the busyness of life cascaded over me again, and when nameless insecurities visited my soul. Still, deep inside I know something has changed; I have grown up. There will always be times when I need to crawl into my Father’s lap, but then there are others when I stand before him as a woman, smiling and in love with her Creator.

Christian Dating

Jessica told everyone about the interview. This is what she had been praying for, hoping for, waiting for… An interview with a high tech software company; this would put her computer science degree to good use! The position sounded perfect on paper – and the pay and benefits more than she’d ever dreamed of. Why, she’d be making more than any of her peers; her days of meager, frugal living would finally be over. She bought her first power suit and made sure she looked perfect. Then, that Monday morning, she left with plenty of time to spare for her interview. She had done her homework and researched the company well – and it showed. The interview went perfectly, and she was sure the job was hers. They even took her to lunch afterward and spent a bundle on her meal. At the end, her potential boss, Mr. Jones, shook her hand and said, “That was wonderful, Jessica. You may be just the one for this position, but can you come back in a week for a second interview?”Jessica couldn’t completely hide her disappointment, but quickly regained hope and said, “Sure; I’ll be here!”When she got home, she called her family and friends giddy about the job. The next week, Jessica went back for the second interview, and then a third, and then a fourth. During one of the interviews, Mr. Jones even had her do some programming – to prove her skills. And then at the end of the day, he shook her hand, thanked her and asked her to come back for yet another interview.

This went on for six months.

Six months later, Jessica went back for her twenty-fifth interview, tired, discouraged, but managing to keep a modicum of hope alive. Over the past six months, Jessica had written a lot of software, did some significant trouble shooting and became privy to many of the companies internal issues. She had also been wined and dined by the president, office manager and several employees. They all had nothing but good to say about her, but they also never offered her the job. At the end of that day, Mr. Jones took her out to the nicest restaurant ever, and at meal’s end, he got up and he shook her hand and said, “Thank you so much for these last six months, Jessica. They’ve been very fruitful and we’ve enjoyed getting to know you. But I don’t think you’re the right person for the job. Have a nice day.”And with that, he walked out of the restaurant and out of her life forever.

Six months of interviews and nothing to show for it! The company had gotten some nice perks, but she was left empty handed. She consoled herself that she had learned a lot and had even made some new friends. And after a few weeks of mourning, she started her job search once again.

Soon, she got called for an interview at a very promising company. She wondered why this company had been interviewing for years and still hadn’t hired anyone for the position, but she chose hope, bought another new suit and walked forth with regained confidence.

If that story really happened, most of us would think Jessica a fool. How could she let herself be strung along and used for six months, giving her expertise to the company and receiving nothing in return? The company benefited, but she did not. And yet, that’s what modern dating looks like – and intelligent, capable men and women succumb to this system everyday.

We comfort ourselves saying, “Well, I learned a lot.”Or, “Well, we can still be friends… “But really, we’re just trying to make ourselves feel better for wasting months – or years – of our lives.

There is a better way.

The truth is, men and women who go through these cycles of relationships again and again become hard. There’s an innocence, a passion and a joy that is lost as hearts are repeatedly given away, used and broken.

We are forced to become more and more detached in order to survive. We’re told not to put too much of an emotional investment in new boyfriends or girlfriends – which inherently denies who we are (i.e. relational). Then a layer of emotional residue clouds our true selves and makes it all the harder for the next person to really find out who we are [1].

Believing that we can successfully guard our hearts from hurt through a maze of dating relationships is like believing that seat belts save lives in airplane crashes. Telling people to go through relationship after relationship and suppress their emotions is like telling someone to eat without taste buds. It is inherently impossible [2].

This is NOT WHAT GOD INTENDED for his sons and daughters!

Now, I’m going to drop a few bombs and here’s Bomb # 1:

Dating is a serious adult activity with a specific goal in mind: marriage [3]. Like the interview – the goal is to discover if you like the candidate or if you like the company and then get the job! The goal IS NOT to give or receive perks with no long-term intention of hiring.

In the past, it was shameful for a man to take a woman out more than 4-5 times and have no intention of marrying her.

The book of Proverbs talks a lot about the dangers of squandering one’s wealth. Well, the truth is, if you do squander it, chances are, you can get it back. There are lots of stories of Hollywood stars losing their fortunes only to regain greater ones (Will Smith comes to mind immediately), but you can never regain time. The years eaten by temporary relationship are wasted years. God is certainly redemptive, but something is lost (your teens, twenties, thirties…), that you can never get back [4].

Today, we settle for non-committed, open-ended relationships, where we give all or almost all emotionally and/or physically, only to break up and have nothing to show for it in the end. We tell ourselves that we learned stuff, but in the end, we’ve gone through a mini-divorce, from which it takes even more time to recover.

Bomb #2: Therefore, do not date until you’re ready to get married! By ready, I mean mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even financially.

Mentally and Emotionally Ready: Are you ready to think about someone else? To put his or her needs above your own? Men, are you ready to be the leader in your household? To gain and retain the respect of your wife and children? Women, are you ready to yield to your husband – and even submit at times? Are you ready to do what is best for your family, even if it means getting out of your comfort zone and dying to yourself?

Spiritually Ready: Do you have a living, active relationship with God, where you can hear His voice and receive His guidance? You’ll need it! Men, are you ready to lead your family spiritually – to take the initiative to find a church, lead your family in prayer and Bible study, keep your own relationship with God vibrant and growing? Women, do you realize that only God can meet your deepest needs? Do you know how to access His presence?

Financially Ready: Can you support yourselves without working around the clock? I do not know how marriages survive when husbands and wives work opposite shifts and have different days off. I’m sure this can work, but it is not the best – long term. Can you control your spending? Are you in agreement about debt, savings and giving? Men, if your wife gets pregnant before you plan, can you support the family without her paycheck? If not, are you willing to do what it takes to do so – even get a second job?

My husband was raised to believe that a man should buy a house before he got married. And so, the week after we returned from our honeymoon, I moved into the house he had purchased four months previous. I don’t think that’s a rule for everyone. But I certainly appreciate the principle of provision behind it!

Bomb #3: Most things that you need to know about a person, you can discover in the context of a friendship. A week before my husband started to pursue me, God had instructed me not to date for six months. I had come out of a series of relationships that looked hauntingly similar. I had chosen the same kinds of men and made the same kinds of mistakes in all three cases. After the third, I said to the Lord, “I don’t EVER want to go through that again! I’d rather never marry than experience that kind of heart ache again.”After praying with some friends, I felt like the Lord wanted to lead me on a journey of healing: discovering His love, provision and protection in a more tangible way. He wanted to truly be the Lover of my Soul and teach me to find satisfaction and fulfillment in Him. THEN, I would be in a healthier place to choose the right man. He also asked me to make a list of things to look for in a man and told me not to ever settle for anything less. I wound up with a list of 18 character traits to wait for unequivocally.

So, when my husband asked me out for coffee, I agreed, but told him half way through our time together, “I’d like to be friends, but God told me not to date…. for six months.”His response? “Ok, I’ll wait.”

Over the next six months we did indeed build a friendship. There was no romance: no kissing, no expensive dinners, no gifts, no physical contact, no romantic words – nothing but a platonic, friendship with plenty of boundaries. I proceeded to spend Friday nights and Saturdays with the Lord, reading, journaling, walking. Getting healed. We purposed NOT to communicate everyday so that we wouldn’t become distracted or obsessive about the relationship. He respected what God was doing in my life and what God wanted to do in His life. He had only recently gotten saved and he knew he needed to grow spiritually if ever wanted to marry me and be the spiritual leader in our home.

And guess what I was also doing during those six months? Checking off my list. Each time we interacted, God showed me one of those 18 qualities and then when my list was finished he showed me that Marvin possessed above and beyond what I asked for or imagined. Scriptures confirmed it, friends confirmed it, my heart confirmed it. After six months, I knew what I needed to know. We dated for a month, got engaged and then married four months later. SUDDENLY GOD!

Now, I know everyone’s story is different; there are no molds, no formulae, no set patterns. But there are some principles that were helpful and I believe can help others: Our friendship was crucial. But that didn’t happen naturally. (We had to set boundaries like not communicating everyday and keeping romance out until we knew God’s plan.) We deliberately withheld time and affection so that hearts were not given away prematurely. It took God, the accountability of friends, and good old-fashioned self-control to build a friendship, which was the cornerstone of our relationship. Any Godly relationship will require the same.

I want to end with two stories of courtship in Scripture:

Gen 24:67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Gen 29: 9-11, 18-20 Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept…Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.

The first story is that of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac and his father realized it was time for Isaac to marry. So Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for his son. The servant, by divine wisdom, looked for and found certain character traits in Rebekah (for example, she had a kind, servant’s heart). This was quickly confirmed, for as soon as Isaac saw her, he knew she was the One and married her without hesitation.

The second is of Jacob and Rachel. Jacob, too, knew he wanted Rachel the moment he saw her, but he was required by Rachel’s father to wait 7 years for her. He submitted to Laban’s wishes and put his personal gratification on hold and waited patiently for her.

We can see a few key principles in these stories:

* Isaac knew when it was time to get married and he (and his father) did what it took to FIND a wife. He felt the need both physically and emotionally. Remember, there is only ONE righteous way to fulfill sexual needs and desires: through Godly marriage. It is better to marry than to burn with passion (I Cor 7:9)! Today, too many men and women find sexual gratification outside of marriage and this makes men in particular very casual about finding a wife. The sex drive is supposed to help propel men and women to grow up and get serious about getting married.

* He (via his servant) had certain good, reasonable criteria for a spouse and he didn’t settle for second best.

* Once he found her, he took decisive action.

* Jacob was also decisive but he was willing to wait for Rachel in order to do the right thing. In this way, he proved his love for her again and again.

* Their courtship happened in the context of family. His access to her physically and emotionally was limited and guarded [5].

Here are some other points:

Isaac FOUND a wife. I believe that the man’s job is to do the finding, pursuing, convincing. He who finds a wife finds a good thing and receives favor from the Lord (Prov. 18:22). Women should pray for God to bring His best and prepare themselves for marriage (physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially), but I believe pursuing is good for a man and waiting is good for a woman. It instills in each some very important character traits. NOTE that Isaac did not seek a sexual partner, a fun companion or a date for Friday night, he sought a WIFE and in her, he found all of those things plus more!

Second, it’s important for Christians to have standards beyond just finding another Christian. Friends and family will help us to know if our standards are unreasonable, but too many Christians settle for a man or woman who goes to church on Sunday and avoids blatant sin. A good marriage takes a whole lot more than that!

Once we know we have met the right one, it is good to make our intentions known and not string another along for years of dating and confusion. Some couples will need to wait to graduate or find a job to marry, but otherwise, there is usually no reason for a courtship to last longer than a year.

In today’s world, most single adults live apart from their parents, so Jacob’s courtship of Rachel at her family’s home is hard to translate into a modern context. However, the principle is simply this: don’t date in isolation. Do things in groups, where close, discerning friends and/or family can “check him/her out”and confirm his/her character. Limit your time alone, especially while you’re seeking God’s will. Significant time alone and romance will only make God’s plan harder to discern.

You may believe that experience is the best teacher. Actually, the original saying is this: “Experience is a costly teacher; a fool learns by no other way.”Some of you reading this will choose to date the modern way – for fun – and learn the truth the hard way. But my hope is that some of you will learn from my experiences and mistakes and spare yourselves months or years of heartache. Be a wise man or woman and don’t have a stubborn heart. It is better to be alone on Friday night, while waiting for God’s best, than to be heartbroken on Saturday, kicking yourself for wasting your time and squandering your gifts and talents on a company which has no intention of hiring.

References:
1. Maken, Debbie, Getting Serious About Getting Married; Crossway Books, 2006. 148-149.
2. Ibid. 149
3. Ibid. 150
4. Ibid 152
5. Ibid 159

Letting Go

“You’re on edge,” my husband stated on the way home from church this past Sunday. “No I’m not; I’m just tired,” I said defensively. After all, it’s not very spiritual to be on edge after a church service. Silence. I could tell he was trying to decide whether to “go there” or not; he was kind of tired himself. But, thankfully, he decided to probe and I soon softened and admitted that yes, I was edgy. Tired was normal, but this was different. I felt like I could lose it at any moment and that I was desperately trying to hold it together.

“You should go have a quiet time this afternoon. Just leave the house and find a place to pray. Stay for a few hours if you need to.” Wow. Really? That sounded GOOD! I love my husband and thank God for a sensitive man. There is something about leaving the house that is freeing in itself. I felt lighter already.

So, I took my Bible and my journal to a local Panera’s, bought some coffee and a bagel and started to journal. What’s wrong with me, Lord? Why do I feel like I’m about to explode? The church service was good. Everything at home is good. I have no complaints, really. And then the Holy Spirit began to speak, “You’re worried about Isaac – all of the time.” Busted. He was right of course. I worry, Is he sleeping enough, eating enough? Are we disciplining him right? Does he have enough variety? Is he on par developmentally? Will he nap today so that he’ll be cheerful at the barbecue later on? Will he get a good report at his one-year check up next week? And this was just the tip of the iceberg. I realized that most of the time I walked around like ticking time bomb. Worried, fretting, anxious, nervous – all about Isaac.

Then the words of a song we sang that morning came back to me, “How great is your God?” Is God big enough, great enough to take care of Isaac? Is He bigger than my mistakes? Is He big enough to give me the wisdom I need? Of course He is, He’s been giving me wisdom all along. I seek His counsel about anything from napping schedules to fun activities to discipline to healthy eating. You name it, I ask God about it – because I feel utterly inadequate all of the time.

And that’s what I had forgotten. God and I are in this together. Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband is tremendously helpful and supportive. In the evening and on weekends he is THERE, one hundred percent. He’s an excellent father. But let’s face it, I am with Isaac all day long, forty to fifty hours a week; that’s a lot of time and a lot of tension. I had forgotten that I’m not doing it solo; the Holy Spirit, who is the Parent of parents is my advocate and helper.

And He showed me something else too. It was time to let go. The first of many, indeed, a lifetime of, letting goes. That afternoon, in Panera Bread restaurant, I put Isaac in God’s hands. “He’s yours, Father. You love him infinitely more than I do. I give him to You to take care of, watch over, protect. I can’t be there when he’s sleeping. I can’t prevent the falls as he’s learning to walk. I can’t make him grow or make him happy. Only You are omnipresent.” And pain gripped my heart as I realized I would have to do this, this letting go, thousands of times more under far more harrowing circumstances (the first day of school, the first bike ride to the store; the first slumber party, the first solo drive in the car, the first trip to college…). Ugh. Walk with me, Jesus, down this path called Motherhood. Strengthen me. Let your peace rule my heart.

Isn’t it amazing how everything good and beautiful, even maternal feelings, in the hands of the Enemy can become bad? You see, if I fail to trust God with my son, I will become an overbearing mother. This is how mama’s boys are created: nervous mothers smothering their sons and stunting their growth. No, God has called me to raise a strong, secure man of God, not a wimp, and to do that I’m going to have to take my hands off and trust God with every aspect of Isaac’s life. If His eye is on the sparrow, surely He is watching over my son.