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Archive for the ‘life’ Category

I want to be a good parent … don’t we all?

We want to be a soft landing, a steady hand, good council, a consistent voice and always pointing in the right direction. We want to be their reliable protector, their sure guide, their fair disciplinarian, their comfort.

In short, what we want is to do the tasks of parenting perfectly, so that they avoid mistakes, hurts and danger.

“Planning out my children’s lives isn’t my job. My best job as a mom is to be obedient to God. God’s job is everything else.”

As I agonized over a struggle in the life of one of our children, one day, I came across the quote (above, by Lisa Terkurst). It was as though God placed it right before my eyes, his finger pointing to it, as if to ensure my attention.

Our three are not children, not school-aged. Though two still live at home, though one is still (for eight more months) a teen, they are all societally, legally and self-actualized adults.

I am no longer responsible, in any way (except by my own choice) for their hygiene, their meals, their education, their housing, their transportation … the list goes on and on.

Never, ever, has it been my responsibility to plan out their lives. Not when they were children, not when they were teens, not now that they are adults. That is their responsibility, their freedom.

The Bible tells us, as parents that we are responsible for:

  • discipline and instruction (Ephesians 6:4)
  • training (Proverbs 22:6)
  • basic necessities for life (1 Timothy 5:8)
  • modelling the honouring of our mother and father (Ephesians 6:2)
  • blessing them (Proverbs 127:5)
  • encouragement (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
  • teaching them to love the Lord God (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
  • saving up for them (Proverbs 19:14)
  • showing compassion on them (Psalm 103:13)
  • teaching them to care for the Earth and living things (Genesis 1:28)
  • teaching restraint (1 Samuel 3:13)
  • teaching them to obey (Ephesians 6:1)

Nowhere does it say to plan their life for them.

So, who in the Bible is a model of good parenting?

More to come on Thursday, with a story about a parent who allowed their children to plan their own lives.

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It’s a story I had heard enough times that I could confidently re-tell it to completion. There is a difference, though, between telling a story and fully understanding it’s message.

As I listened attentively to the pastor tell the story of the prodigal son, my mind was illuminated to the details and meaning as never before.

I have never quite understood (or maybe I did) the reaction of the older brother as I did Sunday morning, listening to the pastor share the message … but it was not that which caught my attention, my heart’s attention, the most.

It was the return of the younger son.

He is off in the big city, not a hint of any money from what he had demanded from his father, starving as he watches pigs eat their fill. He decides he will go back home and offer himself as a servant to his father.

He plans what he will say:

“I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).

Then he heads home.

Head bowed.
Shoulders slumped.
Moving at a snail’s pace.
Rumbling in his tummy.
Fear and dread in his soul.

Why fear and dread?

Where do you come from? I come from a small town … a very small town, that was still a village when I lived there and the population was under two thousand. Everyone knew everyone, and everything about everyone (at least they thought they did).

This young man, the prodigal son … he knew that returning to his father was the easy part (remember, his father willingly gave his son what he asked for … not what he was required or expected to do … not what was culturally acceptable to ask for). What he was fearing was his return to his village.

In Jewish society, to have left the village in such a shameful way, to go live with, spent his money on, slept with the unclean Gentiles … would all mean that he would face a kezazah (means “cutting off”) ceremony. He knew that as he arrived in the village, the people (older men) would greet him, breaking a large clay pot at his feet, as a public shaming of how he has cut himself off from his village, from his father.

This is what was in his son’s mind as he considered going home, as he took each step closer to the village.

His father knew of this ceremony too.

And the father knew his son.

So …

“ … while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son” (v. 20a).

Aristotle had said, “great men never run in public” and perhaps he knew of the societal norms within the Hebrew society at the time that Jesus told this parable.

It was okay for servants to run, even women were permitted to run (but just a bit), but a man, a patriarch … never. That would be unacceptable, disgraceful!

The father in the story (who we know to understand as representing God himself) saw his son “while he was still a long way off.” This father had to have been looking for his son, perhaps at the village gate. I think we can surmise that he was planning on circumnavigating the villagers and the custom of kezazah.

“(he) threw his arms around him and kissed him” (v. 20b).

The Return of the Prodigal
Pompeo Batoni, 1773

I love the image above, of an oil on canvas, by Pompeo Batoni. This painting, more than any other I have seen before, communicates the mercy that this father offers. Not only are his arms open wide, but see his right hand, grabbing onto his cloak, in an effort to wrap it around his son … in an effort to shield his son from the consequences that are due him.

It is then, in that moment of mercy when the father steps between the son (us) and the wages of sin, that the son abandons the speech he planned in his mind, for a confession born in his soul:

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21).

And when the father says let’s party, it is a celebration of the lost sheep.

“Behold what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God–and we are!” (1 John 3:1)

Our heavenly father loves us so much that he waits at the gate of the village for our return, prepared to ensure that we will not be “cut off” from a life with him.

” When we find the insufficiency of creatures to make us happy, and have tried all other ways of relief for our poor souls in vain, then it is time to think of returning to God.” Matthew Henry Commentary

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Soul Satisfying

A chill in the air, with just enough wind to blow snow from the trees branches. The Wonderdog leaping (yes, leaping) through the snow … physically expressing the joy I felt from within.

I was experiencing a delightful, soul satisfying walk in the snow.

Those who know me, know of my love of white, frosty precipitation brightening our winter skies.

Snow is not a common experience in the Pacific Northwetwest. More often our precipitation is wet, cold and the skies dreary. My Canadian East Coast upbringing meant that winter and snow were synonymous with each other (from as early as Halloween to beyond April Fools day).

Though I forget just how long those months can be, how frustrating it is to haul garbage cans to the curb each week (when the curb is covered in multiple feet of snow), how the mat at the door is always wet, the torture of pushing a shopping cart through an unplowed parking lot … I still miss the white stuff, and revel when there is even the slightest chance it might appear.

I love how it brightens the night sky, how it illuminates a lamppost’s light, how it coats whatever it touches, how it changes plans, slows us down, draws our eyes outward and upward.

A walk in the snow was the medicine I needed most. It satisfied this weary soul, replenishing me with joy.

“For I will satisfy the weary soul,
and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

Jeremiah 31:25

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Uncomfortable

No one wants to be uncomfortable … it’s just … uncomfortable.

As I was doing a short yoga video recently, I was more aware of certain muscles than I had been in a long time. It is not that they hurt, just that the movements stretched the muscles to the edge of what was comfortable … and I was made aware of that edge.

Later I was thinking about the exercise of stretching our muscles in other areas of life.

Just like it was hard, uncomfortable, for me to stretch my muscles (ok, lets face it, it was hard to turn the yoga video on), it is hard to do other uncomfortable stuff in life.

Going to an event where you know no one … that can be uncomfortable.

Speaking to a crowd … that can be uncomfortable.

Going to the dentist … that can be uncomfortable.

Saying I am sorry … that can be uncomfortable.

Having to get up in the morning, leaving our homes, driving on the highway, going into our workplace … those can all be uncomfortable.

Of course, these things that can make us uncomfortable are also fears.

Fears, like the uncomfortable feeling in my muscles, require two things of us:

  1. respect
  2. refusal to give up because of it

We need to respect our fears/discomfort, acknowledging that they may be communicating to us that we need to be cautious about our next steps. If I start to feel discomfort when I am stretching, that is a precursor to pain. Discomfort is like a warning sign … for discomfort as well as fears, signalling to us to keep our eyes open, be aware.

We also need to refuse to give in to discomfort/fears. When I feel discomfort in my muscles, I might need to stop for that day, but I need to return to the exercise, so that my muscles continue to be stretched, little by little. It is the same with fears, they may cause us to pause, take a break or look around to see if there are any dangers, but our fears should not cause us to halt permanently, for those fears can be stretched making us more able to endure how they can make us feel.

Fear, like physical discomfort, is a nasty feeling, but we need not fear the feeling of fear itself. We have been created to do the difficult, the brave, even the frightening.

Our Creator has given us his presence, in all situations … so we are never left alone when fear appears.

But now, God’s Message,
    the God who made you in the first place
    the One who got you started:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
    trade the creation just for you.

“So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.”

Isaiah 43:1-6 (The Message)

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Learning is a life-long process, with non-stop homework, assignments, societal grading of our effort, as well as self assessments.

A couple of weeks ago I published a post called Naked and Exposed, where I wrote about my struggle with the sin of gluttony.

A lifetime of struggling with this sin has taught me many things that transfer (I think) to any sin (and we all sin).

Here is what I learned about sin, through my struggle with my own:

  • the harder you try to fight it, the more obstacles are in your way of success (think of Satan tempting Jesus in the dessert, oops desert … when Jesus was hungry, he tempted him with bread)

Doesn’t that always happen?! We get it in our minds that we are going to try harder, and as soon as that iron is in our souls, something tempting is right in front of us. It is as though, right out of the gate the cosmos is setting us up for failure … of course we know, it is not the cosmos, but Satan … the same one who tempted Jesus, in the desert.

  • bad advise always comes from people who are not going through what you are going through (though his problems were not caused by his sin), Job, after losing everything, ‘advised’ by his friends at the gate, asking him what he did to deserve the struggle he was in the midst of).

How many times have I heard (perhaps in not so many words) ‘just don’t eat so much’ as advise to lose weight. If it were that easy to curb the sin of gluttony, duct tape across the mouth would do it! Gluttony is not simply about eating, there are the functions of the brain and of the emotions that also need to be addressed … as is often the case with the sins we are inclined to keep doing.

  • bad choices can lead to opportunities to sin more easily (think of King David, when he should have been with his soldiers on the field, he was at home in the palace when he sees Bathsheba bathing).

When we know what sins we are most tempted to commit, we also need to know what times, places and situations put us the most at risk of committing them. If I am down, or stressed I am more apt to sin. If I am too busy, I am more apt to sin. If I have not made time for creativity, I am more apt to sin. If I allow my schedule to be too full of people, with little alone time, I am apt to sin.

  • when you are tempted to sin, turn to the Bible, not away from it. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, his every response was with scripture, in the form of “it is written”.

So, how do we finish strong, as spoken of in Hebrews 12:1-3?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

A number of years ago I heard Mark Spurlock speak on finishing strong. He provided three encouragements for how to accomplish this goal:

  1. embrace the race – not our speed, but the quality of our run … perseverance!
  2. refocus often – eyes on the prize, the finish line
  3. run in groups – “let us” … be in the habit of being with other believers

Whatever it is, sin is hard to overcome. It takes a lifetime of living and learning, progressing (and regressing). We are not perfect beings, but that doesn’t stop our pursuit of excellence.

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The Wonders of Life

Just a couple of weeks ago, those living in the Pacific Northwest were treated to a spectacular lunar eclipse.

Earlier that evening, forgetting the significance of what was to occur later, I marvelled at how big and bright the moon appeared in the sky. I drove home, listening to the news on the radio … not a mention was made of the lunar event to come, yet I kept noting the beauty of the moon.

It wasn’t until I got home and read numerous posts on social media about the start of the eclipse that I knew the excitement of this lunar event. I stood, eyes to the sky, watching the marvel unfold.

As I think back over that event, that evening, the real marvel was not the lunar eclipse, but that first sight of the moon earlier that same evening … so bright and big, and appearing to be so close.

The eclipse was exciting, noteworthy, but the moon is a wonder itself, just for appearing each evening.

The everyday things … that hot mug on a cold morning, the sunrising, the laughter with friends, the delight of bulbs greenery poking through the ground, rest at the end of a full day … these are the wonders of life, the things that bring delight to our days.

“All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful,
the lord god made them all.
Each little flower that opens,
each little bird that sings,
he made their glowing colours,
he made their little wings.
The purpleheaded mountain,
the river running by,
the sunset and the morning,
that brightens up the sky.
The cold wind in the winter,
the pleasant summer sun,
the ripe fruits in the garden,
he made them every one.
The tall trees in the greenwood,
the meadows where we play,
the rushes by the water,
we gather every day.

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Holy Dirt

A new semester dawned last week at the school where I work.

The semester experience is new to me, for I had never attended nor worked in a school with such a timetable, and I love it!

To be in the midst of deep, dark and damp (in the Pacific Northwest) winter and have opportunity to start over is a great refreshment.

Our learning support classroom contains a new batch of students, with new and diverse strengths, needs and abilities. Those of last semester have a break from us, and we from them.

As each new class came and went, impressions began to develop about the new students.

Such new starts, with new students, make a sentence, familiar to those working in education, pop into my mind, constantly, as those impressions cross my mind:

Parents give you the best kids they have.

I love that sentence. It reminds me, not just that each student is the child of someone, but that they are also a human soul created by God, with a purpose.

It reminds me that I need to treat them gently, kindly, like the precious child of man and God that they are.

First impressions are never to be invested in too greatly, for their truth is based on the equivalent of a one hit wonder … with little substance to create an entire# life story.

So the semester begins, with a sense of freshness, newness … and a sense that the fresh soil sitting in the seats is holy ground.

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