I can’t save my kids.
I can’t change their hearts.
This, at first, strikes fear in me…but then, relief. As it settles down and I think upon the promises of God, my sin nature, my limits, and His omnipotence, I remember that I cannot produce lasting change. But, I know the One who CAN. And I carry my children to Him in prayer and in conversation day by day. I can’t change their hearts; which is a relief, because honestly? If it were all up to me, I would either become too all important or I would sink into a pit of despair. And probably both within the same hour.
But what I can do is sow generously.
In what has become one of my favorite passages, Mark 4:26-27, Jesus says that the farmer works hard scattering and planting seed on the ground, and as he sleeps and rises night and day, the seed eventually sprouts and grows, and he knows not how. But when the harvest comes, he is ready then too. He doesn’t cause the rain or the sun – there are more things out of his control than in his control…So, he works, he waits, he trusts.
Can y’all relate here? I know I can. There are many variables over which I have no control over – so I work. I pray. I trust.
I sow gospel seeds and treasures.
I sow in prayer. I sow in discipline and consistency. I sow in laughter and giggles and fun messes. I sow in scripture and catechism memory. I sow in one more hug and kiss at bedtime. I sow in repenting often to them, in front of them, and to my husband. I sow in receiving new morning mercies for each day for these kids God has given me.
But, the accuser of the brethren will accuse me. He will remind me how I didn’t read an extra story last night and induce guilt. He will remind me that I’m just not enough for my kids – not doing enough, not repenting enough, not fun enough… and on it goes. And yet – how often do I take on his voice in my mind? How often to I, a child of THE King, actually agree with the accuser of the saints and accuse myself, being pushed by fear and shame, rather than led by love?
I was with a group of parents recently and the conversation turned with a downward and guilty tone (as it often can) to “I should have done more of ____” or “I guess I should be doing ____ better.” And my mind started shouting, “no! stop! This doesn’t sound like Jesus, this sounds like Satan!” So, I bravely said so.
Do we need to repent often? Absolutely.
Do we need to teach our kids the Word and be consistent in discipline? Definitely.
Do we need help from parents who are farther along than us and make changes as our kids grow and as we learn too? Of course.
But, here, the question is: are we being led by love into true self-reflection and genuine repentance, OR guilted into trying to do better in and of ourselves – not trusting that God will use ALL things for our good (and our kids good) and HIS glory. No, all things are not good; we do mess up. But God IS good. And He wastes nothing – not even our mistakes or sin. He is fully and completely good and powerful beyond comparison.
And so, we keep speaking the truth as we read the bible to and with them. We keep pointing them to the truth in our conversations. We keep abiding in the Word of God ourselves that we may know and speak the truth to ourselves and to our kids.
As we do, we plant seeds and we know not when they will produce a harvest, and so God sanctifies us in our waiting and active trusting.
We bury treasures of gospel truths and scripture memory and catechisms because when the Spirit awakens them to the truth, our children will have a treasure trove of His Word stored up within them in their minds.
Sow generously with your life; bury gospel treasure within your kids’ minds; pray, trust, and wait for the Spirit of God to open their hearts and minds, and continue the work He’s beginning in them, through you. You are His chosen vessel to work in these kiddos that He has graciously given to YOU.
May He lead you in love as you abide in Him.
It’s the first Sunday of Advent or maybe next Sunday is and we started early…regardless, and the hustle and bustle and treats and presents and crafts are beginning to hit us full force! My goals for this season are on a never-ending mental checklist. If you’re like me, you’ve likely already thought about the things you didn’t do last year, checked Pinterest or scrolled Facebook and gotten more ideas than your brain can even remember and made a list for yourself about how to make this Christmas great – filled with activities or crafts for each day so that your kids will remember that Advent is about Jesus…and yet, somewhere in the midst of all that, there’s a chance (if you’re like me) that we’ve lost the wonder, awe, and slow gazing upon Jesus that Christmas (and our lives) are all about.
There’s a chance that we will let all those good things become ruling things – crafts, desserts, and activities that will captivate our time and affection and attention more than Jesus. And friends, the things that rule our hearts are idols. If that stings you a bit, be assured that it stung, and keeps stinging, me too as I’m convicted and repent of my idols daily!
There’s a chance that we’re comparing ourselves to a multitude of things and people during the Christmas season, and in doing so, miss the simple, beautiful, pure joy of the God who came to be WITH us.
If we’re honest, we probably need to say “no” to a lot more things than we say “yes” to this December.
I’m not trying to talk you out of your favorite books, traditions, and activities – by all means, do the things that bring life to you and your family and point you to the wonder, awe, and joy of Jesus. Go to a Christmas party and celebrate because God has given you life and laughter and peace. Make that craft each day because you and your kids love it and look forward to the tradition of it every year. But don’t do these things just because the neighbor is or because you’re looking for your identity in that.
Gaze with wonder at Emmanuel and lead your children in doing the same. Point to Him in the lights, the songs, the Bible, the opportunities to give, and the gifts received. Slow down, breath in the wonder and grace of the season, and look to Him who came, be reminded of how that has changed your life forever.
I’ve been wrestling through this the past week, thinking about how to let the light in, point my kids to Jesus in even the simplest of ways, to keep their hearts and minds thinking on how Jesus came to be with us and redeem us. But, am I thinking about it for me? That’s where it starts – in my heart as I lead them.
Paul Tripp threw me a gut punch this morning in his devotional New Morning Mercies:
“It is dangerous to live without your heart being captured by the awe of God, because awe of God is quickly replaced by awe of you.”
Ouch, as I’m convicted, I’m reminded it is always His mercy that leads me to repentance, and I keep reading…
“We were created to live in a real, heart-gripping, agenda-setting, behavior-forming awe of God. But other awes have kidnapped our hearts. We need grace to see again, to tremble again, and to bow down again at the feet of the One who deserves our awe.”
Maybe the simple things we do with our children this season are enough, because Jesus is more than enough. And, He is worthy of my heart’s attention, affection, and awe, infinitely more than the perfectly done craft or baked good.
These are the questions I’m going to be asking this season, “did we gaze on Jesus today?” and “did we watch for the Light?”
And whether its through a reading an advent devotional before bed, baking some slice ’n’ bake cookies, driving around looking at lights, re-reading the Nativity story, making exquisite gingerbread houses (this one’s for you, not me of course!), secretly dropping off delicious cookies at our neighbors houses, singing Christmas carols and hymns, staying home in our PJs watching movies by the Christmas tree all day, or buying lots of great presents, I hope that the answer is “yes” we gazed upon the wonder and hope and beauty that is in Jesus in that seemingly significant or insignificant thing we did today; we watched for Him making all things new.
And if it’s “no, my heart was kidnapped by other awes”, guess what?
There’s grace for that. That’s why He came.
This may sound silly, but I’m always hesitant to start writing in a new journal…. I start filling up the last page and back cover of the old journal even more with tiny, illegible words and thoughts, cramming letters into the crevices of the worn out book, even though a fresh empty book longing to be filled may very well sit beside me. This has been particularly true since my MS diagnosis. Each time I feel like there’s such a fullness contained in the journal that I’m leaving behind. As if I’m going on a new unknown adventure and am scared to leave the old, known, familiar, wrinkled pages of the old journal (aka, adventure) behind. At this point you either: 1 – think I’m crazy, 2 – completely agree, or 3 – feel opposite because you are a journal-er and get excited about the new journal and blank pages waiting to be filled….and maybe I’m still a little weird regardless…
All that to say…I feel like my old journal is known – I know what pages I wrote certain scriptures, quotes, and prayers. I can fall back into it knowing it will speak truth to me. The crisp fresh new pages of the next journal (or phase of life) are beautiful and daunting all at the same time.
I imagine we all find ourselves in this place at some time or another, when a new portion of the journey, adventure, or mountain to climb awaits. Uncertainty, excitement, fear, and hope, all mingled into one giant mountain of mystery. I’ll get to the point….
I decided to start off the first page of my newest journal with a reminder of a truth that never changes, regardless of the circumstance or emotion, from the beginning of the day until the end, the beginning of the journal until the end…. here’s it is:
In Christ and because of His justification:
I have nothing to prove. I am fully known and dearly loved. I am fully forgiven. I am fully clothed in Christ’s righteousness. I am cherished, accepted and delighted in. I am no longer in the courtroom of condemnation or comparison because the verdict is in. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, It. Is. Finished. I brought nothing to my righteousness except my sin. I did nothing on the cross except bring my sin. He choose me because He loves me – because of Him, not me. However royally I mess things up or however wonderfully people applaud my gifts or my good day of getting it done and doing it right – that truth never changes.
I’m tempted to put myself back on trial for the “good” I’ve done or the bad, but the courtroom with the devil is no place for a beloved daughter of the King to be. I’ve nothing to prove because it is finished.
You too friend. You too. Let’s get up and live in that. The freedom and joy it brings is indescribable. It changes everything. To very briefly summarize Watchman Nee’s excellent book based on Ephesians, let’s sit in Christ’s righteousness as our own, walk out of His love for us speaking and living love to others, and stand against the schemes of Satan (Sit, Stand, Walk).
Now, do I do this perfectly or daily even? Absolutely not. I’m the biggest sinner I know and hopefully I will continue to see and know myself that way so that I will cling to His grace even more and judge others even less.
May our roots go deeper into His limitless love friends. I’ll close with some stanzas from the hymn, Rock of Ages:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy laws demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and thou alone
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
(Scriputres that speak of what I said in this post today so you can build your arsenal of truth: Ephesians, Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Romans 5:1, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 4:5, John 19:30 to name a few!)
A friend once told me, “Worry about tomorrow saps my strength for today”. That truth has hummed in my heart ever since. And, not only does worry steal my strength; worry over tomorrow causes me to miss the gifts He has for me today. The truth is that in the gospel, in Christ, there are thousands of gifts waiting to be seen – gifts always pointing to and drawing us to the ultimate gift – God Himself. He promises to be enough, completely sufficient. And because He is enough, He gives me grace for today, not tomorrow. If He gave me grace for tomorrow ahead of time, I wouldn’t need or depend on Him. Today, I have to trust He will provide it tomorrow. Today, I have to see what He has for me in this moment. This mundane moment. This overwhelming moment. The truth is, the grace He gives for today is enough. I have to trust the grace He will give for tomorrow and for 57 years from now will be enough as well.
The thought “manna” rings in my mind.
Manna for today. In the desert, when the Israelite’s tried to hold onto the manna that God had provided for that one particular day, it rotted. It caused unneeded problems. It was a gift needing to be received by hands that were open, not grasping and clenching the gift, asking it to provide life for tomorrows needs.
People always ask me “what was the hardest transition? 2 to 3 kids? 3 to 4 kids?” My answer is always the same. It is a resounding – ZERO to ONE! It was the first time I ever had to die to myself – like, really and truly. I think while it is a good question, behind the question the root is probably something along the lines of, “will I have enough grace or strength or time or love to give to the next kid?”
And the answer is No. You don’t. I don’t
But I have within me, literally INSIDE of me, the ONE who does! And He gives me grace for what He gives me – and not a moment before. Although, sometimes ,I will admit, it doesn’t feel like I have the grace needed for the hard conversation, the mourning over a loss, the embarrassing temper tantrum, the mystery of the unknown, or the feelings of inadequacy for what I’m called to do. That’s the moment when I have to speak loud and clear to myself instead of passively listening. Because contrary to the Disney princess mantra, the heart is actually deceitful above all things and it should not be followed, but led. (ok, heart rant over and back to HIM giving me grace for what He gives me!)
Richard Sibbes reminds me that, “God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives.” (The Bruised Reed)
Amen. And I’ll leave you with that beautiful truth friends.
I had a good MRI a couple weeks ago, from the brain through the spine. Meds and alternative strategies seem to be working well and I got a good report (for the first time!). As we left the MS clinic at The Shepherd Center, Ryan reminded me of this verse: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7) Or we could say, some trust in MRIs and doctors, but we trust in the Lord. We can take the good as we’ve taken the bad and our trust has to remain the same – steadfastly in the Lord – taking good news as a gift to be received, but not necessarily grasped and clung to for dear life, as if the gift provides the life. As Augustine says: “It is easy to want things from the Lord and yet not want the Lord Himself, as though the gift could be preferable to the Giver.”
It’s almost easy for me to trust in the big “scares”…I do say almost because I waver and still, He meets me in my wavering. The small things, on the other hand, the things I think I have control over and am sufficient to handle – those I forget and I make my flesh my strength….and I’m cursed in it. As Jeremiah 17 reminds me: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the dessert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in parched places of the wilderness…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought.” The image of the tree associated with this verse is so deeply meaningful to me it is tattooed on my wrist as a constant and permanent reminder of WHO planted me and to sink my roots deep into His soil, trusting Him.
It also reveals to me when I live “cursed”…Cursed in the way that my mind can’t turn off, can’t stop the comparison trap, can’t stop until everything is “perfectly” done, and tries to forecast the future protect myself. It’s tiring. Even in the good days – the days where the kids do well and we’ve accomplished in school what we (I) set out to accomplish, and we talked about Jesus and read the bible and prayed and got along, and on and on…I’m cursed in my mind when I trust in that because I HAVE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN AGAIN.
And I can’t. Because it wasn’t completely up to me in the first place. I lead and parent and plan and teach, yes. However, if my hope for myself and my identity lies in how all those things go, then I’m jumping into a ditch – either way.
Usually when I’m in this place, and the past two weeks it’s especially been in my ability to school our children proficiently, I realize I’m looking to myself way to much.
Can I have a “life-quote”? Well, either way, this is it: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely….Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.” (want a bit more? check out this article!)
I am my own idol when I think let me good days make me feel superior and my bad days cause me worry and feelings of “not enough”. They are two sides of the same coin of myself being an idol. When the kids obey and our schooling goes well and I’m not running on fumes at 4pm, I long to praise God for the gift instead of letting it provide life for me. It cannot provide life and hope and security. In the same way, on the bad days, when there’s hard news or the kids are crazy and I’m incredibly embarrassed by at least one of them and wonder where in the world they came from; I can praise God because the verdict on my life is in and He says that in Him I am enough.
I am fully known, fully flawed, and fully approved of IN Christ. Not in my good works or in my bad works.
And in Christ? YOU are too, friend.
I’ll leave you with a profound thought from the Puritan writer, Richard Sibbes:
“We must not judge ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but the smoke of distrustful thought. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root. We must beware of false reasoning, such as: because our fire does not blaze out as others, therefore we have no fire at all. By false conclusions we may come to sin against the commandments in bearing false witness against ourselves. The prodigal would not say he was no son, but that he was not worthy to be called a son (Luke 15:19). We must neither trust to false evidence, nor deny true; for so we should dishonor the work of God’s Spirit in us, and lose the help of that evidence which would cherish our love to Christ, and arm us against Satan’s discouragements.” (The Bruised Reed)