Thursday, May 31, 2012

What a Father Is For

"There are 1.97 million children in the United States today who are growing up in single-mother homes." 

Absent fathers.  It's a problem that doesn't just affect individuals or even families.  It's a problem that affects an entire nation and, quite literally, an entire world. 

In Douglas' Wilson's Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families, he concludes "delinquent fatherhood" in America alone results in a $60 billion per year economic loss.

Wilson covers a lot in two hundred pages, from a social exploration of what he believes has led to this culture of absentee fathers to a Biblical look at what fatherhood should be.  At its core, Wilson's argument is that men must first establish a positive, meaningful relationship with God the Father if they ever hope to be the fathers God intended them to be to their own children.

In one chapter, he explores how fatherlessness derives from an atheism that has been progressively growing in our culture until our postmodern era where our Nietzschean denial of God as Father is simply now playing out in our denial of human men their roles as masculine fathers as well.

He says, "The Father is the forgotten member of the Trinity. Jesus we know...The Spirit dwells with us...But among conservative believers, what movement emphasizes the Father? ....And because we don't know what the Father is for, we don't know what fathers are for" (189-91). This is likely Wilson's most interesting and compelling argument.

A second most interesting concept is Wilson's statement that men have accepted "the idol of singleness" (p. 118).  He argues our society's encouraging men to "postpone" the age of marriage until the now-average of twenty-eight only serves to delay a young boy's taking up the responsibilities of manhood.

At times, I felt Wilson to be almost antagonistic in his word choices as if he was trying to incite the reader with his language.  And then there were several chapters in the middle part of the book, which I wish I would have just skipped since it seemed to be the author's attempt to play the "blame game"--it's the government's fault for legalizing abortions and denying men their rights as fathers.  It's the feminists' fault for transforming "masculinity" into something unnecessary and undesirable in a "men-and-women-are-really-all-the-same" kind of way.  It's the gay's fault for destroying the father's role in marriage.  Yawn.  It's like watching a historical debate on what was the real reason behind the Civil War.  Less blame, more constructive "where do we go from here."

And that is where I find Wilson lacking, in concrete, constructive ideas for men as to what exactly they can do to reestablish the role of fathers.  Yes, he says it begins with the reader. And yes, he has great quotes such as "In order to guard your children against the unbelief of atheism, we need to be fathers who overflow with gratitude" (p. 62). 

But ultimately, Wilson seems hesitant to go from historical analysis to application.  To his credit, the author does have a chapter towards the end that runs (literally sprints) through the gospel of John, listing everything said about God the Father to show earthly fathers what a Father should look like, what characteristics earthly fathers should imitate.  This is powerful stuff!!! But Wilson shoves it right at the end, stating he felt it was "too radical to put in an early chapter" (p. 189).

No!  Radical is the practical application that fathers need! I truly wish Wilson would have skipped the blame game chapters and focused more here on the characteristics of God the Father that men should be emulating.  This chapter alone (Chapter 14) is well worth discussing--with both men and women.

Overall, this book is worth reading.  With Father's Day just around the corner, it should serve as a wake-up call for men everywhere--what is at stake is not just economic or social.  What's at stake is a world full of lost souls.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reliving A Lazy Summer Evening

Late afternoon sun transforms short boys into tall ones who run races across the back lawn, their impossibly long shadows hinting at the grown men they will become only too soon.

But that time has not yet come.  The sun sets, gibbous moon rises, and manly shadows shrink back into the frames of two small boys who beckon me to leave the chores of adulthood and, instead, be a partner in their childhood pursuits.

"Swing us, mommy!"

Between watering fledgling azaleas, I walk over and give each child a push or two before moving the hose to the next bush, but this is not what they want, not really.

They desire my full attention, not just part of it.  And so the singsong begging continues, now with daughter joining in to make a three-part harmony.

"Swing us, mommy!  Swing us!"

Cheers erupt when I announce I'm done watering for the evening.

I push each in turn. Back and forth, back and forth.  Now higher, now not high enough.

"Sing the Moses song," demands Wyatt.

For the past two weeks, I've been teaching the children the Ten Commandments with a song I remember from my own elementary school days.  With our days of the week, months of the year, and books of the Bible songs, Wyatt has already learned that adding a tune to basic information is an easy way to learn.  And he wants to learn.

As we swing, he requests each of those songs in turn before we branch off, singing every song we can remember.  Any pause is met with a child starting another song or a complaint because I'm pausing.

And in that instant, I am a little girl again, sitting in a white metal frame swing beneath a large oak tree in my parents' backyard.

My mother sits next to me, much taller than I am so that I have to look up to see her face even when sitting down.  My hair is in pig tails and I wear a knit black sun dress with red and pink roses.  As I swat mosquitoes that buzz in my ears and bite my legs, she and I sing the songs of childhood.

"I see the moon and the moon sees me, down through the leaves of the old oak tree..."  When one song ends, another begins.  We sing together, uninhibited, until the darkness completely surrounds us and there are no more songs to sing without repeating.

After the songs stop, she and I just sit, my legs kicking the dusty ground every now and then to keep the swing moving and the mosquitoes at bay.  Daddy has long ago gone inside.  I can see the flicker of the television through the dining room windows even though I can no longer make out my mother's face beside me in the black.

There is only the squeak of the unoiled chain with each far-reaching swing of the pendulum and the ever present chorus of crickets and cicadas both below and above.

This is perfection.  I don't want this moment to end.

But of course, it does with my mother's call for bath time and sleep.

Now, I am the mother who sings until there are no more songs to be sung. Like me, my children live for the moment, in the moment, desiring it to go on and on forever.
The only difference between then and now is I finally understand a mother's call for the routine bath and bed doesn't mean she feels differently from her children.

A mother is just like those little ones--wanting to freeze time and make the moment last as long as possible, stretching it beyond to live in this moment that God has given her, to be thankful and satisfied with what is, not simply looking forward to what is to come.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Cure for a Boring Summer

Saturday afternoon ended with a snowball fight.  Yes, you heard that correctly--while mommy's back was literally turned pulling weeds and daddy was putting up a day's worth of gardening tools, three small children managed to have a snowball fight.

In south Louisiana.

In May.

In 80+ degree weather.

The catch?  Their snowballs were made of sand.

In minutes, all three of them turned from rosy-cheeked, sunscreen-coated children to abominable snowmen with sand sticking to every exposed piece of skin and forming a gritty mat on their scalps.

My oldest's explanation was a whiny, logical, "I just really wanted some snow! We never have snow!"

After closing my eyes and shaking my seemingly always-bobble-head in disbelief, I simply marched the winter warriors to the tub until all vestiges of their reindeer games swirled down the drain.

Chaos, yes.  Yet, this is sometimes what you get when you create a learning environment where creativity is encouraged, where imagination is preferred to pre-packaged scripts, where exploration and discovery are the rule rather than the exception.

Sometimes, chaos is just the price a mother must pay when she says "no" to entertainment and "yes" to learning.


With summer's heat prematurely shriveling still-tender springtime leaves on the small saplings, our household has already had to shift to mornings outdoors and afternoons indoors.

This has required foregoing our usual educational morning Tivo'd television until the afternoon when mommy exercises.  Honestly, I expected at least a few complaints.

And yet two weeks later, the change has yet to be met with howls, but instead with an "Ok, let's go!" acceptance.  Better yet?  The children's well-rested minds have been even more creative in their morning and afternoon explorations.

Monday found Wyatt finally painting and assembling the solar system model he's been wanting to build since early January.  Together, we looked at an artist's rendition of each planet's surface before he chose the best colors for a first and second coat.  Inexpensive Styrofoam balls stuck on toothpicks became Mars, Jupiter, and (yes) Pluto.  With small paint brush, he added stripes to some and red swirls to the sun.
The dress up box has taken up almost permanent residence on the playroom floor as each child has taken turns becoming and unbecoming.  Just today, I have been run over by a dragon, a princess, a butterfly, and a pumpkin; stung by a honey bee; and tickled by a monkey.   A couple dollars at a thrift store has turned into hours of imaginary story play.

The correct question to ask? "Are you a mean dragon or a friendly dragon?"

Even in my living room, there is currently a tent made with conscripted dining room chairs and a crocheted afghan.  While I was not invited to attend, I heard that Eeyore had a birthday party by his "table" before Wyatt shoo-ed the twins away so he could read in peace for the library's Summer Reading Program...the promise of "prizes" is almost always an incentive to read more than you normally would, even if it's something you already enjoy.
Outside, we've planted, watered, and weeded.  The children have also learned to cast fishing rods, although it'll be several years before I put an actual hook on anything in the hand of these spastic casters.

Somewhere along the way, Wyatt dug up and "planted" a 6 foot tall sapling on the back porch. We giggled through a couple afternoons creating a silly song so he could learn (at his request) the months of the year.  We have painted the counter tops full of water color pictures, colored just as many with our trusty 64 box of Crayola, and broke our faces grinning over the twins learning to write their names in as many colors as are in the rainbow.

Clinging to the late afternoon shadows, we collected leaves and pressed them in a phone book to create a tree leaf identification book (maybe next week).  And by flood light in the late evening, Wyatt is even getting the hang of the granny shot in basketball.

This to-do litany isn't my usual type of post here, but with a country of children home for the next 2+ months, it's up to us as parents to look at this time as precious, as a chance for more time with our children in a culture that consistently wants to give us less.

Have a snowball fight (although maybe not with sand).
Camp out under the stars (or stars made of paper).
Build whatever can be imagined
Read books together by the stack.
Explore. Create. Discover.

We must not do the easy thing and give our children over to electronics but to relationships, must see this as not merely time to entertain them, but a season given to us to help cultivate their interests, introduce them to new concepts outside their interests, and to create lifelong learners whose desire is to always discover more...

even when the schoolhouse doors are shut and locked.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Share!? With My Brother AND Sister!?

I am a popcorn thunderstorm in summer, my irritation at repeated sibling unkindness breaking forth into storm--each drop beating harder in time on the metal roof as the waves of water fall, cooling the overheated earth.  Sometimes, the storm is calm and short, other times full of clashing cymbals that command attention.

A different tempo, a different rhythm, but always the same tune...

"God only gave you this brother, this sister.....He gave them to you as a gift, a blessing.  LOVE THEM.  They're all you have."

Most days, it really feels like my three children just don't get it.  But really, how can they? At this age, how can they fathom a world that is unloving, unlovely, and outright cruel, a world that will send you to your knees and stumbling back to someone who unconditionally accepts you?

The children and I routinely discuss the unkind actions of others when we encounter them--rude driver, rude child, etc.  We discuss how these folks maybe just made a mistake like we do, or maybe they don't have Jesus in their hearts, so they just don't know any better.  We have to love them anyway.

But to them, those people are the exception, not the norm.

Young children don't yet understand the closeness of sibling love, the intimacy of the family bond where love should be freely given no matter what...even if you're mean to them on a daily basis, even if you snatch their toy away, spit on them, and read a book a little bit longer just because you don't want them to have it.

And so, I spend my days repeating the same phrases when I could save time by posting a value menu on my shirt and pointing to the numbers.

"You need a number one: 'Was that kind?"

Add to that a number two, three, and four: a "'How would you feel if your sister did that to you?" with a side of 'Did you apologize for hurting her feelings?' and 'Did you ask her forgiveness?'"

And yet, there are glimmers of hope that love stirs between these three uber-competitive children who share each other's DNA.
With a late spring growth spurt for all, sharing food has been a huge problem.  Add to that two favorite fruits ripening on the farm, and it's been a recipe for rudeness and chaos.

Two long rows of strawberries in the garden with plenty enough to fill at least three small tummies, and still, they have nearly knocked each other down in the race for the biggest, ripest, must succulent berry.  And then there's my small blueberry orchard which has averaged maybe 4-5 berries per child per day.

As I weeded yet another out of control flower bed, Wyatt rounded the corner of the house from the blueberry bushes, him almost out of breath in excitement.

"I shared, mommy!  I really shared!  I gave Amelia the biggest blueberry just like Abraham."

Even with sweat pouring down my brow, I had to smile at this expression of love towards his little sister.  Yes, this was just like Abraham who gave Lot the first choice of land and who gave it willingly even when Lot chose the best part.  This was progress.

In Wyatt's next breath, he shared that she, indeed, had chosen the larger berry, but that this was OK because "So, now God will give us even more blueberries!!!"

Hmmm....a bit too literal on the interpretation of God's promise to pour out multiplied blessings on those who willingly share versus hoard them.  Yet, when I opened my mouth to contradict that theology, I found myself clamping it just as quickly shut.

Let him live in this joy that comes from a heart's obedience to God.  We'd discuss God saying "no" another day as we had before when those disappointments came. Now, live in the joy.
A few days later, the boys were tumbling together in the back yard, rough as little boys will be, but obviously loving each other.  Their laughter filled a whole hay field and the wood beyond.

Seconds later, someone stepped on someone's toe or wouldn't share or sprayed someone with water (accidentally, of course), and there I was again.

"Take a number one. 'Was that kind?'"

But for a moment, just for a single moment, I saw the bud forming on the vine and was encouraged to keep watering and pruning so that it blossoms.

Friday, May 18, 2012

When Getting Stuck at a Red Light Is Good

I wake to sing three little ones from nightly cocoons.  They mutter and stir, then stumble to the floor, their wings tightly closed as they follow in my wake to dress in the bathroom.

There are fewer and fewer mornings when nothing beckons on the calendar, but today, I don't hurry to dress myself and put breakfast on the table before they make it downstairs to the kitchen.

Instead, I sit on a stool, the monkey head rug soft under my bare feet.  With mommy only a foot off the floor, it's easy for everyone to sneak in a snuggle as part of the morning routine--a forehead kiss here, a comforting cheek-rub there, a rumpling of newly-shorn military-short hair.

Emerson is first to reach me.  My youngest by three minutes, he is my happiest morning child, always ready to face the day even when I may still want to hide my eyes that aren't quite accustomed to the intensity of light shining through the eastern window.

Elbows on my knees, I cover my eyes against the glare.  Suddenly, he shouts, "Rainbows!"

I raise up and look to where he's pointing.

Sure enough, the early summer sun has drawn a rainbow-shaped arc against the shower wall.  There may be no visible color that most would use to identify a rainbow, but to him, this is as exciting as a full array of seven colors.

His face is absolutely radiant at finding this early-morning surprise.

Hearing his proclamation, two sleepyheads dart in the bathroom door with the question, "Where!?  Where!? Where are the rainbows!?"

These three who were seconds ago reluctant to break out of their cocoons are now all ecstatic, bubbling with chatterbox joy as they take flight.


My eyes are attuned to rainbows. Whereas some people see crosses or the letter "Y" for "Yahweh" in their everyday lives as a sign of God's presence, my mother taught me to see rainbows.  I see rainbows at every turn, making me pause in continued wonder, and reminding me that I serve a covenant God who will not leave me nor forsake me.

That excitement never dims.

At five and three, my children are learning the same--to see rainbows everywhere. 

We were blessed with perfect rainbows just this past Thursday morning at a most unexpected place--a long red light.

Driving to prayer walk in a subdivision, the light stopped us right past a water truck parked on the shoulder of the road.  As we sat, the truck began shooting wide arcs of water in fire-truck strength bursts onto newly placed sod.

Our car literally rocked with squeals of delight as we four watched rainbow after rainbow form complete arcs then dissolve in the watery spray lit by the rising-sun.

If you happened to see us (or someone like us) a little giddy over a rainbow or maybe something equally simple, instead of thinking "what's the big deal," try joining in the praise with us.

It may be in a bath tub or at a red light or in your own backyard.

Find God in the simple.  Praise Him in the simple.  And prepare to receive the blessed joy that is anything but.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Child's First Flower

He's dropped seeds into rows of freshly turned earth.  He's covered newly planted tree saplings and rose bushes with handfuls of loose dirt before pounding with his fists and feet to get out the air pockets.  He's flooded every plant I will allow him to point a water hose at.

My oldest son, Wyatt, has spent all his young life helping a mother, father, and both sets of grandparents plant, water, weed, and harvest.  He knows the process.

And yet, today marks the first time Wyatt has successfully grown something that belongs completely to him.


A month and a half ago when I was teaching the first semester of ESL classes, Thursday evenings turned into special time for my husband and children.  After I handed the children over to their father, he went directly to Chick-Fil-A for the restaurant's Family Night, complete with free crafts, indoor playground, ice cream (!!), and a life-sized cow walking around.

"It's a person inside a cow costume," Wyatt wisely informed Amelia "...Or maybe it's just a cow." 

As most moms can imagine, a night without mom saying "no" to things like cookies, ice cream, sugary lemonade, and suspect behavior in the playground was a huge hit.  Thursdays became the one day of the week I could get the children to do anything I wanted simply by mentioning that eating establishment's Rumpelstiltskin-like name and the words "tonight with daddy."

Help pick up your sister's room? Sure, mommy.
Put up your newly washed socks?  Whatever you say, mommy.
Eat all your lunchtime vegetables? I'd love seconds.

It was a win-win situation until one night, Wyatt came home with a small Styrofoam cup decked out in foam stickers. Inside was black dirt.  He was beyond thrilled.

No, he didn't know what kind of seeds were hidden under the wet potting soil, but he'd chosen them himself--three of them--and it was very important for him to water it every day as well as give it lots of sunshine to help it grow.

A few days later, three seeds had miraculously sprouted in the kitchen window.

He watered.  I watered.  It's wonder the poor seedlings didn't drown.

After a week went by, I transferred the three small plants to an outside pot.  One promptly bit the dust.  Then, a second one bent its head to die.  I figured that was the end of it and was ready to offer my condolences to the grieving parent.

Yet, Wyatt kept watering each day, praying for the seeds to grow, ever being the good mother hen by shooing away his inquisitive twin siblings when they got too close.  Only God could save these ill-fated plants.

As days passed, the first feathery leaves branched skyward; I thought maybe marigolds.  But, the two remaining plants' carrot-like leaves kept rising higher and higher like a magic beanstalk.
Wyatt was successfully growing two coreopsis plants.

Last week, we watched in anticipation as the small blossoms gave increase, swelling with fullness until their time.

That time was today, a single blossom's jagged-edge brilliance opening in full.

"Do you like it," he asked, looking at the half dozen other buds not yet open.

Of course I did.  It was beautiful, even more so because I knew God had grown this boy a flower despite the heat, the over-watering, the constant jostling.

"I picked pink," he suddenly remembered, "because you and Amelia like pink."

This is the same boy who drove her sister crazy this evening by repeatedly calling her "Captain Crunch" (a la Veggie Tales).  She doesn't realize how much he loves her.

But I do.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Teach a Child What Love Means

I am battered and blue from a week of "Mother's Day" reminders that have sought to bludgeon Americans with guilt--cheap spam pot shots in my email's Inbox and on the television, another upper cut in the weekly coupon circulars from my mailbox, and the final knockout in the Vegas-style neon store signs flashing by the road side.

If you love your mother, you will buy her, tell her, give her, show her, write her, cook for her.....and on Sunday!  No other day will do!

Does a mother really feel loved when she hears/receives such protestations on a day when it's socially compelled?  I just don't know.

As a mother, myself, "I love you" was one of the first phrases my children heard me say.  No one forced me to repeat it to their chubby faces whose muscles weren't yet developed enough to repeat it back to me.  Even now, I voice my love every day to each of them in turn because I want them to hear the words as well as see love in my actions.

But to a child, what does that phrase really mean? When you're still too small to take off the training wheels or hit a junior-sized basketball goal without help, how can you truly understand such a nebulous concept as "love"?


Wednesday afternoon found me lugging in heavy bags of groceries while my oldest son curled into himself into the naughty bench.  Just another growth-spurt tantrum for this budding Icarus, trying to fly sunward with wax wings.

As usual, Wyatt was supposed to think about his actions, talk to God, and get control of himself so we two could then talk.  Instead, he buried his face in a pillow, covering it in salty tears and snot, and grew more upset rather than more penitent.

Cold groceries no longer forming a lake on the floor, I sat down and pulled him my arms.  He only sobbed harder, a glimpse at my little boy peeking through the cracked older boy shell he wears like a coat too large for his small frame.

At the end of our conversation, I hugged him close and said, "You know mommy loves you, don't you?"

"No." he stated solemnly, barely a whisper.

I repeated the question, jokingly this time to brighten the mood; yet, he stood firm.


In his eyes, a loving mother would not punish him.  I understood. Even so, it hurt my heart.

Thankfully, God brought to mind Hebrews 12:6: "the Lord disciplines the one he loves."  Ears perked up as I told him how God disciplines even this mommy and his daddy.  Then, I asked him how he knows mommy loves him.

"She takes care of me when I'm sick."
"She gives me healthy food to eat."
"She reads with me."
"She plays games with us."
"She pushes me on the swing."

He stopped.  That was all he could think of.  Ugh.

Did he know I scoured the thrift store to make sure he had nice clothes to wear because I loved him?  Did he know I washed and folded those clothes because I loved him? Did he know I helped him write stories because I loved him? I built train layouts because I loved him? Picked up toys? Taught him to shoot a basketball? Took him on nature walks? Let him pick and eat all the blueberries and strawberries without asking for any for myself? Organized "festivals" to celebrate the first of Spring and Autumn? ......Disciplined him?

All because I loved him?

No.  He didn't.  But with that knowledge stated aloud, his eyes were less clouded.  He snuggled in closer.

This lack of understanding of what love is--it's a universal problem.  Poet Robert Hayden wrote this same concept concerning his father's love: 

     Sundays too my father got up early
     and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
     then with cracked hands that ached
     from labor in the weekday weather made
     banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him....
     What did I know, what did I know
     of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Only when the child turns parent will he truly be able to understand the many sacrifices of love his parents made for him.  But until then, it's up to mothers and fathers to teach their young that it's not just about one highly commercialized day to show love, to teach the many ways others can show love to them and that they can likewise show love to others.

If we don't teach them that love is more than a fuzzy feeling or words on a page... If we don't teach them what love looks like in everyday action, how will they ever know?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It's O.K. to Say No to Organized Activities

My children usually don't know the difference between baseball, football, basketball, and soccer.  The outdoor toy box houses all four balls, but for the most part, they're only used when I personally bring them out to encourage the development of these skills.

My father did the same with me.  Every summer, he played softball with my brother and me in the vacant field adjacent to our house.  After a long Saturday's work, he would stand with sweat pouring down his face as he taught me to keep my eye on the ball, hold the bat properly, and drop to the ground if someone hit a line drive straight at me.  After my grandparents poured a concrete driveway and put up a basketball goal, he taught me to play HORSE and Around the World, sometimes with roller skates on my feet. Then, there was badminton, bocce ball, croquet, and horseshoes in the back yard under the big oak tree along with my least favorite--volley ball.

Sports were always fun.  Sports were something I chose to do versus something I was compelled to do. Although my brother and I were always competitive (to the tune of a lot of sibling "stomping off the court"), it was less about winning or losing than having a good time.

Our days were not filled with ball practice, weekend-long games in the blistering sun, and calendar fruit-basket-turnover each time it rained.  Yet, they weren't spent sitting in front of computer games either.  Although we were occasionally allowed a weekend foray into daddy's Atari or an evening in front of a boring-by-today's-standards Crystal Caves computer game, my brother and I filled our days with reading, flower & vegetable gardening, board & card games, painting, sewing, cooking, playing noncompetitive outdoor sports, and living in the great outdoors with all the science lessons we could learn firsthand there.

In today's society, my parents would have encountered the social pressure to sign me up as early as preschool for some organized activity, whether it be some sport or dance.

That works quite well for many families.  Their children adore playing ball or performing at dance recitals.  But most of what I hear from parents is a tune that doesn't even pretend to mimic happiness.  Instead, it seems they are lining their child up for multiple activities because society implants the fear they will irrevocably warp their child if they don't enroll them in something social.

Unsolicited, I am the ear that hears the complaints, the grumbling, the anxiety over being a mere chauffeur who hustles this child from one calendar event to the next.  "You just don't know how it is...but you will!  Just you wait!" said one friend as she sighed.

I can't help but sigh with her and think, "This can't be what God intended."  This is a rat race I simply don't want to enter.

When I allow my children to choose the direction their play goes, it's never too long before the ball is commandeered for some other project--a monster trap, a decoration for their special place by the fallen tree in the Little Hundred Acre Woods--or abandoned altogether before the three of them run off for something more interesting, something that involves more words and intellectual imagination than physical skill and coordination.

They beg to be pushed on the swing set and for me to sing along with every song and nursery rhyme in their repertoire. They beg for another and another board game each day--Junior Monopoly, Zippity Zoo, Dinosaur Train Trouble--and share the same difficulties I did with learning how to be a gracious winner and loser.

They spend hours building and rebuilding mazes of wooden train track above my head, flipping through and "reading" mounds of picture books, running through the strawberry and blueberry patches, finding insects, helping plant seeds and watching them bear fruit.

Most recently, with Wyatt's new-found ability to read, they've begun stringing together individual magnet words across the dry erase board.  When I heard a stream of uncontrollable giggles, I had to peek my head in, interrupt two little boys' free play.
They pointed excitedly to the board.  I walked closer to read aloud one line: "Frisky Curious hair."  My audience's feet left the floor as both erupted again in giggles.

"Read this one!" Emerson said, joining together more nonsensical words and phrases.  More giggling.


No, I'm not raising the next Nolan Ryan, Shaq, or Peyton Manning.  I'll leave that to someone else whose children feel the call in their bones.

What matters to me is that as my darlings grow, I teach them to pursue godliness and righteousness as they pursue their own interests, find their own loves, even if it's not what society considers the norm.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Blindly Planting Seeds

It's not often God gives a front row seat to a nature lesson about the parable of the soils.  Even less often that He makes me feel pink-cheeked foolish in what I've been trained in since childhood--gardening. 

My parents and in-laws have taught me about soil--about what plants need what kind, about why back filling with the original soil is better than with a mixture of potting soil, about where to take a sample if something isn't growing that should be.  Last week, I even had my father-in-law take the old John Deere and scrape away the hard red clay he had kindly shored-up the garage slab with last year because I knew my new flower beds would fail if composed of this natural concrete.

And yet, even with all this knowledge, I made a mistake, murdered a few trees in the process, and was humbled once again.


One afternoon this past winter, my mother stood by the "swamp" and commented about the pine trees growing near the murky, kidney-shaped pool of water.

My tongue instantly started wagging in self defense.  Those weren't pine trees.  They were cypress trees, and dying ones at that.  The paper that accompanied the wad of saplings husband and I had planted the previous winter said so.

"No," she reiterated, confident in her assessment.  "They're pine trees."

In the back of my mind, I had thought the same thing last summer but had convinced myself I was wrong. Walking over, I stooped low, ran my fingers down the soft yellowing bristles before drawing them to my nose.  Sure enough, the scent of pine was strong.

I immediately stood and looked to the far back of the property where a dozen leafless sticks shot up out of the ground.  Suddenly, last summer's tree drama with the drought made perfect sense.

Without leaves and the identifying sap-smell of evergreens, the trunks of the two-year-old loblolly pine and cypress saplings had looked identical in the bag, both rough to the touch, sloughing off their skin like growing caterpillars.  And so, I had mistakenly planted the pines in the ever-moist soil that killed one and left the others with a sickening yellow hue.  The water-craving cypress trees had gone to the far back with its dry, dusty soil, airy frond leaves wilting with every afternoon sun.

That very day, I dug up every cypress and pine tree, moving back to front and front to back, all the while wondering if it was too late.  

It wasn't.

As we enter a second summer, every struggling sapling is now thriving since being placed in the right soil.

But ever since my simple mistake, I've been drawn to the parable of the soils.

In Jesus' parable, a farmer scatters seed to have some eaten up or trampled on when it falls on the path, some sprout and wither when it falls on dry, rocky ground; and some being choked out by thorns.  Only the seed that "fell on good soil...came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than sown" (Luke 8:8).

Christ then explains that the seed is the Word of God, the different soils reflecting the heart of those who receive the Word:

Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (v. 12-15).

I wonder about the farmer spreading seeds on rocky ground.  I wonder about him even more when I hear he scattered some on the path (?!?)  Surely, this farmer didn't intentionally, knowingly spread seed on bad soil.  Did he?

I think the answer is "yes" in the allegorical sense, because he didn't know.  He didn't have eyes to see.


Each week, my pastor, my children, several other warriors, and I prayer walk, going door to door in the neighborhoods within a five mile radius of our church.  We pray for each home, each family.  We pray for the Word of God we leave behind to take root in their hearts and flourish.

Yet, we are like that blind farmer, throwing seed on the path, on rocky, thorny, and parched ground.  There's no way for us to know.  There's no way for me to know.

The home whose front yard was covered with tombstones and a bloodied plastic baby doll for Halloween may be the best soil in the neighborhood on which to plant seeds.  The half a million dollar home with its well-manicured lawn and concrete drive may be the most parched soil.

I can't know. 

And in that acknowledgement comes God's voice, reminding me that sometimes I can't tell where the seed will thrive and where it will wither and die.  But that's not my job.

The only task He has called me to is to spread the seeds to the four winds, not pick and choose whose hearts I think are ripe for the planting.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Rumination on Rumble Strips

"What's that noise," asks one of my three backseat drivers.

I glance in the rear view mirror and sigh without changing my trajectory, knowing he and I are about to replay the same scene we do almost every time I drive down this stretch of road--same questions, same unacceptable answers.

Whump whump comes the noise again along with a mild electrifying vibration that sends a buzz through our bodies like an electric toothbrush.  "It's just the rumble strips in the center of the road."

"Why are they there?" he asks, as if this is something new.

"They're to warn people when they cross the line and go into the other lane of traffic or off the edge of the road."

Even firmly belted into his car seat, Wyatt still manages to jump in place to show his dismay that his mother can't drive (again).

His voice hits a new octave.  "You mean you're not in your lane!?  You could be killed! Don't you think you should drive on your side of the road?"

I sigh (again).  This is a conversation I won't win.  Instead, Emerson picks up on my rising blood pressure and joins in the fray to parrot Wyatt's concern.  My foray into the other lane is obviously concrete evidence of a much deeper problem that will require me to take driving lessons, have my license revoked, or give them the wheel.

As usually happens, I try to stay calm as I explain logically until I remember logic means nothing to my three preschoolers and end the discussion with one of those phrases every mother says she'll never use until she becomes a parent--"Because I'm the mommy.  That's why."


A year or more ago, the State started adding rumble strips down the centers of every repaved road, whether or not head-on-collisions were a pattern on the highway or not.  It's like someone just went out with a grown-up, heated play-dough roller and melted a textured fence in the asphalt.

A safety precaution?  Yes.  Annoying?  Yes, yes.

Here in the country--deep country--some days, I go a few miles before meeting another vehicle. When I can see a mile in either direction, why turn the curve sharply when I can inch that right wheel onto the extra-wide shoulder or the left wheel just across the median and make my path smoother?

This is not erratic behavior.  This is a philosophy of life I wrestle with in life in general, especially in my relationship with my heavenly Father.

It all comes down to wanting to reach my destination the easiest way possible.

Don't get me wrong.  I love the "new me" me after I've gone through God's refining fire and wouldn't trade these past experiences for what they've made me.  God gives the most extreme makeovers you've ever seen.  To transport a person from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light? From rags of sin to the robes of righteousness? From narcissism to servanthood?  Indescribable.

And yet, as much as I love the results, I don't like the fire.  I don't want to turn the wheel hard where the road curves sharp.  Why can't I just reach the same destination by rounding out the curves and making the journey easier on this earthly shell?

What's more, those warning sounds when I hit that textured fence in the road sometimes aren't even warning me of danger since there's none around.  They're just there to teach me the pattern of staying within the lines, no matter how curvy the road because it is the road He has set for me to travel versus the one I choose.

In God's economy, there is no cutting corners. It just doesn't work that way.  In becoming like Christ, if I seek to make my path smooth, my destination will be the same, but I won't be.

The journey is the destination.

I still chafe at the sound of that monochrome zebra fence snaking in front of my house.  That's not likely to change soon.  But in my spirit, I'm trying harder to see the process as the goal and stay between the lines.