Pre-Parenting, Discipline and Sin

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A fabulous article entitled “Parenting is First About My Sin,” by David Mathis recently appeared on the Desiring God website. While the entire article remains an essential read, a summarizing quote is:

“The wakeup call for parents — and for fathers in particular — is that we are sinners too, adult sinners, and our sins have even greater repercussions than the missteps of our children, and tragically our children are often the objects of the dragon still within us. It’s not as if we’re sinners only in our relationships with other adults, and above the law when parenting our children. We are sinners in every facet, and often most dangerously so in our parenting.”

While they didn’t have a direct effect on the fact that my husband and I didn’t have children earlier in life, certainly the awareness of our own specific sins and weaknesses has made us cautious and prayerful as we approach parenthood. Each of us has struggled hard with a “pet” sin. I’ve addressed his struggle (with his permission) in other articles, but today I’ll simply highlight my own. Especially in light of the knowledge that we’re having a girl, my history of an eating disorder causes me to fear for her.

Does my past make her more vulnerable to the same sins? (Specifically in my own eating disorder I call these out as addiction, idolatry, pride and fear.) Will she fight for a sane and realistic body image her whole life? Will she battle fear in the face of social eating? Will she see herself as better than others when she’s fit and thin? Will she find herself devoting more time to her appearance than to her Savior? Will she learn these sinful behaviors from me?

Finish reading this article over at www.mydailyarmorschristiandigest.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Missing Peace, Chapter 13, Extension

Keri looked like a bleary water color painting through my tears. Long blond hair, hung like a pale sheet to her shoulders.

I never noticed how plump her cheeks are, I mused. I don’t want to look like that! How on earth am I supposed to trust a fat therapist?

I wedged my hands between my bony buns and the seat cushion. The woven material left checkered marks on my palms. My fingers felt wooden, like fine branches on a winter tree, brittle and dead. Keri’s office was always 71 degrees, but I was so cold. My dietician, Cheryl, said that I was because I had no fat for insulation, I just needed to fill out a little.

Despite the chill, my belly burned with anxiety. Heat crept up my throat and dried my tongue. I dreaded these conference calls with my parents. It was terrible trying to decipher the inflection in their voices. Dad always sounded put-out or resigned. Was Mom on the edge of tears? Perhaps they’d rather be doing anything else. I was such an imposition.

Jenny and my folks left three weeks earlier at the conclusion of our Truth in Love week. Nothing had changed. Within hours of their departure, I believed again that they didn’t want or need me.

Safely out my sight, buckled into stiff airplane seats, surely they had commiserated. “Well, I’m glad that’s over,” I had imagined my dad saying.

“She still looks too thin. I don’t know if she’ll be ready to come home in a few more weeks,” Mom replied.

I never thought this day would come; slightly more than a week away from my original discharge date. But what if I couldn’t go home?

Keri and I stared at each other across her desk. She had that aggravating, steady, therapist-gaze of a person fully zipped up internally, leaking no emotion, giving away no sentiments. Keri had the perfect poker face. I knew she cared about me, she had said so. But I was just one of her five patients, part of her job.

“Barry and Janis, are you there?” Keri spoke into the speakerphone on her desk.

My parents’ voices crackled across the miles from Oklahoma to Arizona. “We’re here,

Keri.” Dad was always brief and to-the-point during conference calls.

I took a deep breath to quell my earlier sobs and suck back my tears. The taste of an abominable lunch, chicken nuggets, canned peaches and celery, clung to my taste buds. Lard seemed to be oozing through my pores; I watched my thighs flatten wide and fat against the seat.

“One less-healthy meal every now and then won’t hurt you.” Shani had tried to assure the eight girls at her table. “I promise.” Then dug into her lunch with pleasure. Like tortured prisoners, we followed suit.

“Abby, are you there?” Mom’s voice was slightly warmer than Dad’s.

Oh how I wished she would come rescue me. I wanted to bury my chin in her shoulder and inhale her mom-scent, a mixture of Amber Romance from Victoria’s Secret and the fading fragrance of Scruples’ coconut conditioner.

“MmmHmm.”

Keri’s office smelled antiseptic, belying the homey decor. I grabbed her neon pink Kush ball and twisted my fingers through the sticky, slimy tentacles. Adult voices echoed in an alien language around me. Insurance, doctors’ notes, insignificant issues to my teenage mind. I picked the legs off of the Kush ball and wound them around my fingers watching my fingertips turn blue.

“Abby was unable to gain the suggested three pounds since our conversation just over a week ago.” Keri’s announcement of my failure brought me back to reality. “Because of her slow weight gain, her treatment team is suggesting an extension of her stay here at Remuda Ranch.”

Silence.

In my mind, Mom stepped out of the bedroom with the cordless phone so that she could see my dad tethered to the landline in the kitchen. He rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, palms up in resignation. Mom blinked on a tear, tilting her chin up to keep the waterworks dammed behind her eyelids.

“Abby?”

Bile surged in my throat. As much as I wouldn’t have minded being rid of lunch, I couldn’t throw up. Then, they would accuse me of being bulimic and I’d never leave The Ranch.

“Whatever,” I managed. “It doesn’t matter what I want. You guys are calling all the shots anyway and what I think doesn’t really matter.”

The tension of suppressed sobs pushed tiny hiccups through my lips. I couldn’t hold it back much longer.

 

Truth – in the other half of the story

The Prodigal Son has been bugging me lately – because I’m not him. I think most Christians read this story and try to fit themselves into his shoes. They bemoan their wayward habits; then praise the good Father who welcomes them home with forgiveness. Honestly, the more I read this familiar story, I am starting to think the Prodigal had it more “right” than his good-guy big brother.

Years ago, I remember being irritated with my younger sister who seemed to get everything she wanted. Jen got the go-cart she asked for, the kitty, the overnight at a friend’s house, her favorite story at night and on and on. I remember asking her once, “How on earth do you do that? Why do Mom and Dad always say, ‘Yes,’ to you?”

“They don’t,” she insisted, “but they’d tell you, ‘Yes,’ more often too if you just asked.”

At the time, I huffed that I was too mature, I didn’t need to impose upon my parents’ generosity. I wasn’t going to beg for things. I was simply grown-up, dignified, self-sufficient and respectful. It wasn’t polite to ask for things.

Well… Now I think I had my theology wrong. 

Most of the time, when we read the brothers’ parable in Luke 15, we focus on the younger boy, the rebel. He’s the one who barged into his dad’s office and demanded to have what was coming to him. At this point, we don’t know anything about big brother. He’s probably out in the field, working his weary little fingers to the bone, thinking about how disciplined he is, how he must be Daddy’s favorite, how he deserves everything he gets.

You know the rest of the youngest’s story, the philandering, the famine, the pig food, his devastation and finally his return and groveling before Daddy. But do you remember where big brother was when the youngest showed up on the porch? He was out in the field – again, probably working his weary little fingers, thinking about how disciplined he was, how proud Daddy must be of him – especially since that good-for-nothing little brother of his ran off.

And the party started without him.

I don’t think Jesus intended for us to tune out the rest of the story. A full eight more verses round out the parable. Big brother (me) finally came in from the field sweaty and tired. The sound of revelry grated on his nerves, exacerbating his fatigue. When he found out that his little brother had come home safe and sound, he staunchly (on principle I’m sure) refused to join the party.

After a few minutes, Daddy came out to encourage his oldest. He got an earful. “How dare you! I’ve been the good son! I’m the one who has never asked you for anything. I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I’ve followed all the rules – and you never did anything special for me!”

“All that I have is yours.”

What do you think of that? All along, all of Daddy’s store houses, fields and wealth were available to his oldest son. All of Daddy’s riches, servants and companionship was simply there for the ASKING.

I realize that’s how I behaved toward my parents in many respects and certainly how I (and I venture most life-long Christians) behave toward my Heavenly Father. I believe the reason we don’t see more miracles, the reason we don’t enjoy more abundant life and full joy, the reason that we do not have peace, wisdom and contentment – is because we do not ask.

Matthew 7:7, “Ask and you will receive…”.

Luke 11:9-13, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

I wonder how much God has stored up for our inheritance, that we’ve never even seen, dreamed of or dared to ask for. Do you realize that since Jesus came and died and redeemed us, we are sons of God and heirs of promise (Galatians 3:29), heirs of all that Christ purchased for us – life and joy and peace.

In the story Jesus told just before the story of the Prodigal son, he spoke of a shepherd who was more excited about finding a lost lamb than he was about 99 sheep who stayed obediently within their stall. I don’t think that’s because of simple relief. I don’t think it’s because he loved that stray so much more than the others. I think it’s because suddenly, that little stray sheep realized how rich and privileged he was to belong to a shepherd. After his rebellion, he knew how good his shepherd was and how safe he was in the shepherd’s arms.

Anyone in any relationship knows how good it feels to be appreciated. God finds His greatest joy in us, His children, when we acknowledge, ask for and enjoy all that He is for us. Don’t miss out!

Privilege of Loss

I’ve been blessed to go home to the mid-west multiple times in the last 12 months. My checkbook might not be feeling very blessed, but it did survive!

First Kylie was born!

Then, a couple months later, poor Kelsey got sick. Then Chelle got married! Each time I am swept off my feet by how much I love my sisters… and their husbands… and their daughters… and my parents. I am in love with steamy-hot Kansas and Oklahoma. I am in love with what will always be home.

Quite literally, I live a nomadic life. Patrick and I unpack as little as possible with each move, just to avoid re-packing it later. I am of the mind that if we don’t open in the two years that we live somewhere, everything in the box is disposable. He doesn’t agree. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

When I flew home after Kylie’s birth, I felt buoyant. I had enjoyed every moment, hugged at every opportunity, stayed up late, and soaked all the life out of every flicker of the second hand. But suddenly, as Kelsey drove away, and I stood on the curb outside DFW my heart lunged toward my feet.

Oh how it hurt.

To leave.

To leave Kylie.

To leave my sisters.

Say goodbye for longer than a restful night.

The pain was all-consuming. I wandered into the airport feeling lost and listless, panicked and angry. What time would pass, what days would lengthen Kylie’s little body? What progress would be made toward Rachelle’s wedding day? What tears would drip without my knowledge? What happy moments would I never experience?

Never mind that I would have my own happy moments, tears, friends, joys, growth… my own life. I would miss them. The pain wedged itself in my windpipe and fought each inhale for my whole flight home. Slowly, it loosened…

When Brave ran into my arms at my own front door,

When Patrick came home and we sat down to watch our favorite TV show together.

That’s another privilege of pain I realized. Do you see it? What if there was nothing wonderful about my sisters? Nothing compelling about home? Nothing to long for, look forward to? Isn’t it far better to have someone to cry for than to shed no tears at all?

Recently, my Bible study girls shared prayer requests. One of the girls asked for prayer for her grandmother. Another one mused out loud, “How blessed you are to have had grandparents for over 30 years!” In my self-pity moments after a sad goodbye, I don’t stop to be grateful for the fact that I have someone to miss.

My grandfather died last year and it hurt deeply. But I had loved him and been loved by him for 30 years.

I am certain that I would rather feel the pain of longing, the ache of loneliness and the tears of goodbye than to have no one to love, no one to miss, no one to hug goodbye.

“I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.” Tennyson

Too Much of a Good Thing

Too much of a good thing?

I remember as a kid, my mom telling me, “You can’t play with Julie today. You’ve seen her every single day this week. You’ll get tired of each other and get into fights. That’s what happens when you get too much of a good thing.”

I know you’ve seen the woman who took a beautiful shade of blue and put too much of a good color on her eyelids.

There’s probably a food you used to love until you indulged yourself one too many times and it’s no longer a welcome taste.

Everywhere we turn these days, we’re reminded how good exercise is for us.

There’s a demoralizing quote by the Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, “A woman can’t be too rich or too thin.”

If that’s true, then there is truly no such thing as too much of every effort to achieve a woman’s highest goal – rich and thin.

But, let me confess a few things that I feel God has brought to my personal attention about the innate value of fitness.

There is no innate value in fitness. 

That’s a hard thing for a fitness professional to admit. There is no eternal gain in being able to run a marathon, no lasting reward for being able to see indentations between your abdominal muscles. Even though our jealous minds might try to tell us otherwise, no one is a better person because they get up at 5 a.m. to jump up and down like they have ants in their pants or perform pull ups from suspension cables like a monkey.

I recently was called to take a hard look at the money I spend in the fitness industry. Money for the gym, money for certifications, magazines, sandbags, other equipment, DVDs, online tutorials, special clothing. If I spent that money on my “adopted” child in Guatemala, wouldn’t I being making a bigger, more eternal difference?

Energy. I love that bone-deep fatigue that results from a killer workout. I love being able to actually feel the EPOC (oxygen deficit) as my metabolism rises to compensate for intense exercise. I love longing for my pillow at night because I “worked” so hard. But did I work? Did I change someone’s life? Did I get to know Jesus more deeply than yesterday? Did I serve my husband, tend my home and if so, did I find satisfaction in these things? Or was my greater happiness derived from my tiny personal success?

I’m not denying the value of exercise. I know it is essential, and I personally love it! I’m so glad that God gave us durable feet to pound out frustrations on the pavement when we run. I worship my Creator when I experience the pleasure a stronger accomplishment and when I see the amazing things He has made me capable of. However, I am firmly convinced that the only reason God endowed me with these abilities is for His Glory.

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” I Timothy 4:8

 

Ready, Set, 333

I’m almost ready. All my extraneous items are packed snuggly away in the guest bedroom. My husband threatened to post here last night. I walked into the guest room to add one more item to my non-necessities pile and he accused me of pulling out a 34th item. No such thing! I should do it, just to see if he actually notices and if he would actually tell on me!

This morning, I got a phone call from my mom asking if I could fly to Texas to spend some time with one of my sisters. She just had emergency surgery and is feeling blue. My mom has been staying with her, but has to go home at some point. Would I be willing to come keep Kelsey company? Not such a terrible request as I would get to spend time with all three of my sisters and my niece Kylie.

It was an immediate gut reaction to groan, “I hate to pack!” But, I think one of the most beautiful things about this Project 333 endeavor is that I could toss all 33 items in a modest suitcase, zip it up and fly away without a thought! No wondering if I packed matching outfits, no wondering if I will look cute. The only consideration would be to remember my underwear, socks and toothbrush! I may never go back! However, I would have to control myself once I got there. It seems to be a habit to go shopping with my sisters. I’m on a clothing diet, no buying anything new!

So here are two closet-purging, Avon purchases. They promptly expelled four skirts that I haven’t worn in years and a dozen brightly colored sweatshirts with screen printing. I’m still waiting on a pair of black pants to be delivered, one white, collared poplin blouse and a pair of navy leggings. 

Here’s what I am wearing for the next month:

3 pair of jeans

4  nice, solid long-sleeved t-shirts

3 sweaters

3 cardigans

4 nicer collared shirts

1 denim jacket

2 pair leggings, one pair yoga pants

1 skirt

2 very casual t-shirts

3 sweatshirts

4 layering tanks

2 scarves

2 belts

So, how did I do? Am I missing any essentials that you can think of? I have ordered a Versalette, but it won’t arrive until April.

{r}evolution apparel Introduces the Versalette from {r}evolution apparel on Vimeo.

So what do you think?

Can you go there with me?

Past the land of not enough,

Past the glut of way too much.

Brutally ignore the whining ego,

Willing notice what can forego.

Indulge in the simple,

Revel in less.

Notice the clarity,

Wonder at scarcity.

Change my heart?

Turn your mind?

What revelation might I find?

At the end of a month,

Still abundantly blessed,

But peace. Contented now,

With less.

 

 

Wagon Driver

I wrote this little fiction story for a contest based on the one-word prompt “employment.” To all my stay-at-home-mom friends and especially to my own mother – Thank You!

Bethany laid her head down on her desk. She felt the flame of tears seeping toward the corners of her eyes. “I can’t cry, I won’t cry,” her daily mantra marched through her head. “I’m doing the right thing.”

Just as she gained composure, Conner appeared before her, hauling his little red wagon.

“Conner! How many times have I told you not to bring that inside?” her tone raised in frustration, her voice cracked too,  belying her near brush with tears. Muddy tread lined her white berber carpet from the garage to the school room where her desk was. One more menial job to add to her pathetic to-do list. No pay, no commendation, no recognition, just endless days of the same: muddy shoes, nightmares, temper tantrums, breakfast followed by lunch followed by dinner and a stack, make that stacks of dishes.

Yesterday, she had met the new neighbors on their tiny cul-de-sac of rental homes in suburban Virginia. “What do you do?” It was always the first thing anyone asked. They meant, “What is your employment?”

She imagined they were mentally comparing their paycheck to hers. “I work at home.”

“Oh? What is your business.” Bethany tried to be glib when she endured this conversation. “It doesn’t pay very well,” she would always smile. “I’m a stay at home mom.” She willed herself not to say, “I’m just a stay at home mom.”

“Oh.” No one ever knew where to go from there. Usually, she offered them a way out, returning the question and asking about their occupation. It never failed, “I’m a pediatrician,” “a teacher,” “a lawyer,” “an accountant.”

“Mom!” Conner was still parked at her feet, his wagon shedding clods of dirt. “Can you take me for a ride?” Bethany realized she was staring a hole into space as she replayed yesterday’s scenario.

“Take the wagon outside. Then come help me clean up the mess you’ve made. After that we’ll see about going for a ride.” Her throat squeezed even as she stretched a smile across her face for Conner’s sake.

It took a full half hour to remove the muddy tracks from the carpet. The whole time thoughts of how many more valuable, wage-worthy things she could be doing traipsed across her mind.

What do you do?

“Well, today I spent half an hour scrubbing the carpet.” She might not know law, or be a teacher, but she could tell you how to remove blood stains from white socks. She might not own a pair of pumps, but she could find the best generic deals anywhere.

Finally, Bethany bundled Connor against March’s chill. As she lifted his

dough-boy, four-year-old into the wagon, she felt the ache in her throat relax slightly. She held him to her chest of an extra second and let her chin rest on his straw colored curls.

Before she had gotten pregnant, Bethany could run a 3:45 marathon. She had been proud of her athletic ability. More than once, a complete stranger had touched her upper arm and marveled at her toned triceps. Short skirts had made her feel a little smug, knowing that few women had such shapely thighs.

Now? Tedious wagon walks were her most strenuous exercise. Rising early enough to have 30 minutes to herself before Connor woke was the only reason she was tired – no more long runs. Bethany locked the front door and picked up the wagon handle.

“Mom?”

“What, Connor?”

“I have to pee.”

Pants zipped, shoes re-tied and perched once again on his royal, red throne, Connor rode happily for three blocks.

Bethany knew better than to push her luck. Anything longer than 40 minutes and they ran up against hunger pains, multiple bathroom breaks or nap time. They rolled up to the front porch and parked the wagon, outside.

“Thanks, Mom,” Connor clambered over the side of the wagon, not waiting for help. “Wait out here, I’ll be right back!” Still roiling in her own thoughts, Bethany didn’t argue but sat down on the stoop.

She began to worry when Connor was gone for a full 10 minutes. Finally, she heard the screen door creak behind her.

“Here, Mom,” Connor stuffed $200 of wadded Monopoly money in her hand. “You’re a great wagon-puller!”

Run Baby RUN

Obviously, endurance is important in a marriage. You’ve got to survive the honeymoon, then the seven-year itch, then the kids and dirty diapers, the moves, the financial catastrophes, the football games and shopping trips, the burnt dinners, the in-laws and late nights without courtesy phone calls.

For many of these posts, you have endured my cloaked complaints about the ups and downs of marital bliss.  I can tick off the idiosyncrasies that I have endured but I haven’t humbly given credit to my husband’s endurance.

A prime example of his endurance and patience is our recent road-trip back to our roots in Oklahoma and Kansas. Patrick drove 20 hours each way. He stopped every 2-3 hours for my pathetic bladder. He allowed my dog to climb up, back and over the seats when he wanted to sit in my lap. He let me pack home twice as much stuff as I packed to begin the trip. And he barely complained at all!

Have you ever considered how you have benefitted from another’s endurance? I’m not just talking about putting up with you (that may or may not be a chore). Patrick and I have prospered in direct proportion to our parents’ endurance. Both of our parents’ are still married – my own just celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary! CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU, DAD AND MOM! All of our grandparents honored their wedding vows well over 6 decades, till death parted them. Now, I easily run to the arms of my mom or mother-in-law with full assurance that they will advise to the preservation of my marriage – not to simply tickle my ears.

I have been noticing and admiring endurance in many aspects of life, recently. My sister, Kelsey and her husband have embarked on a long blessing that will require great endurance. I introduced you to Kylie , in November. Doubtless children demand endurance!

My youngest sister just got engaged to one of the most fantastic men. She endured a long, sometimes long-distance dating relationship while she waited for God’s perfect timing for the marriage. I’m sure these last few months of waiting for the date to arrive will seem to stretch on forever, but it will be worth it!

What are you enduring? Is it painful? Is it in high hopes of a wonderful future? Is it worth it?

As Christians, our high calling is to be Christ-like. Endurance is an indisputable requirement to imitate our savior.

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.  Hebrews 12:2

It will all be worth it.