Monday, June 30, 2014

Christian, why are you playing it safe?

When I talk to people about foster care, the number one thing I hear in response is "I commend you for being a foster parent, but I could never do that.  I would be so sad when the kids leave!"

I get it.  I get that feeling.  I too want to protect my heart.  I want to keep it safe, keep it hidden, keep it close.  I don't want to pour out my love, my time, my energy, never getting any return for it when the kids leave.  I don't want to cry.  I don't want to wonder what their life is like when they are gone.  I don't want to bear the burden of finding out later that after their parents got them back and moved them away, things blew up in their family again and they are back in the system.  And I can't do anything about it.  And I don't even know where they are sleeping at night or who is tucking them in or if anyone is even tucking them in.

I don't want to care.  Because caring hurts.  I would rather ignore the problem and play it safe.
Healing from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Dare*2*Dream, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

But the reality is that there are almost a half million children in the foster care system in the US today.  More than a third of them are adoptable if someone would step up.  And thinking about these numbers crushes me.  Because I know that it is more than just a massive number, that each precious one has a face, a story, a name.  And I am reminded of this by thinking about the six little ones that we have been able to serve so far in our time as foster parents.  And I know that each one of these nearly 500,000 children is precious, made by God, with potential to know Him and be known by Him.

And then I think about how my God is the Father of the fatherless.  I remember that he has tender care for the orphan, the afflicted and the needy.  And I think about how he has transferred his heart, his compassion for "the least of these" to my heart, and that I need to reflect his love for them by pouring out my life for them.

Most importantly, I remember that Jesus says that he came to bind up the broken hearted.  That implies that it is an expectation that as Christians, our hearts will be broken.  If you do any kind of ministry, any thing to serve others, your heart WILL be broken.  But the good news is: Jesus will bind it up.  And each time he binds up my broken heart, I find that it is actually a better heart than it was before the breaking.

So, Christian, don't play it safe.  Don't keep your heart in a little protective box, away from the sin and dirt of the word.  Put it out there.  Let it get stomped on, kicked around and beaten up.  Because you have the promise that Jesus will bind it up, and the promise that our work for the gospel and the inevitable trials that come with it will be rewarded in heaven.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Friday, June 27, 2014

On Joy in the Home

How would a visitor describe your home?  How would your children describe your home?  How would your husband describe your home?

By God's grace, all three of these questions would be answered with a description that includes the words, "full of joy."  One of the most important things you can do to build your house is to work hard to make it a joyful home.

Joy from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 John Taylor, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
A home that is full of joy is a display of the gospel.  It is a foretaste of the future joy that we are to experience in Heaven, a taste of the joy that comes from knowing God.

A home that is full of joy is obedient to the repeated commands of scripture to be joyful.

A home that is full of joy rejects the enemy's lie that God isn't good, that pleasure is bad and that joy can wait until Heaven.

A home that is joyful is full of the Holy Spirit, as true joy cannot come apart from the Spirit.

But this doesn't mean that working for joy isn't hard work.

Making a joy filled home is work for me.  As a recovering curmudgeon, my natural bent is towards frugality and stoicism.  Joy takes too much energy, too much time, and too much money.  I want to reserve these things for more important work, for Kingdom work!  But, alas, working for joy IS kingdom work.

"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
  Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad." Psalm 126:1-3

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Growing Empathy for Foster Children

I don't love everything about this video.  But I do think it is a great starting place for having empathy for children in the foster care system, which is especially helpful for foster parents dealing with the type of outbursts in the video...

Lord, please raise up more foster parents who love you and foster as ministry!  Please give all of us foster parents abounding love and patience with these precious children.

Monday, June 9, 2014

On Parenting Emotional Toddlers

Recently, a Girl Talk Blog (one of my faves!) did a series on dealing with emotional toddlers.  The timing was good as its something we are working through at the moment.  Here are several of the articles from the series, with a tidbit from each.  I highly recommend reading the whole series:

How Do We Deal with Our Daughter's Emotions? - "Emotions are from God and emotions are for God. Emotions have a purpose. They are to assist and aid us in directing our whole being and our whole lives to the worship of our glorious Savior!
But like everything else about us, our feelings have been corrupted by the fall, and if not “rightly handled” they cause all kinds of problems. If we are inclined to coddle our child’s emotions (giving them too much attention or credibility) or if we try to ignore our child’s emotions, either way they (and we!) will experience the consequences..."
Godly Feeling Flourish Behind Walls of Self-Control - "But a wall of self-control is not like the Berlin Wall, erected to entrap and exclude. It is a wall like that of an ancient city or of a beautiful estate that needs protection in order for the inhabitants to dwell in peace."
Teaching Toddlers Self-Control: A Few Practical Thoughts - "Teaching our little ones how to handle their feelings is some of the “grunt work” of mothering. It doesn’t feel fun, for us or for our kids, but it creates an environment in which we can experience wonderful, bonding, moments with our children. More importantly, we are tilling the ground for gospel seeds..."
When Momma Feels Hopeless - "Raising an emotional child is an emotional experience. I cried a lot in those early years of training Caly. It wasn’t just the lack of sleep or the long, exhausting days or the embarrassing situations, all of which took their toll—most of all it was the feeling of hopelessness that hung over me because all my efforts to teach Caly self-control seemed to be making little or no difference at all.
Consistent Parenting Leads to Self-Control - "Over time, as Caly learned the daily habit of self-control, we were able to expand her horizons. We began to participate in more activities, go on spontaneous outings, and focus on other training issues (such as eating her peas!). Through consistent discipline, Caly acquired the ability to respond with emotional self-control to all kinds of unexpected situations."
"What do you want to feel when you grow up?" - "As Christian parents, we have a grander goal than managing our child’s emotional outbursts: we want our children’s feelings to explode with affection for God.  We want our children to passionately love the Savior, tenderly love others, and serve the Lord with gladness (Ps. 100:2). We want our children’s hearts to be filled with God-glorifying emotions!"
The Playroom as Training Ground for Joy - "But according to Scripture, I should care how my children feel about picking up their toys or taking a bath or doing whatever it is I tell them to do. Scripture cares a lot about how we feel about obeying, and as a parent, I should too.
God commands us not only to give, but to give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7). We are not just to serve the Lord faithfully, but serve him with gladness (Ps. 100:2).
I am called to teach my children not only to obey, but how to obey cheerfully. “Cheerfulness” is one of the best places to start teaching young children how to handle their feelings..."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What is Christian Contentment?

Recently I read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs with some ladies from my church.  The inspiration for this series is largely from that book, and most of these writings are paraphrased or summarized from Burrough's writing in this book.

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13

'Family Christian Stores -- Devoted Duck -- Strength (Philippians 4:13)' photo (c) 2012, Joshua Smith - license:
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me."  This is a beautiful verse, but what does it mean?  Unfortunately this verse is all too commonly taken out of context, as Christians wave it around and print it on t-shirts to show that they can run a marathon or pass their finals or whatever because Jesus gives them strength.  This isn't Paul's intention with writing this at all.

The context of his writing is dealing with hardship and trials in life.  And Paul's trials were more difficult than a marathon, and much harder than the average American Christian will ever face:  
 "Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (2 Corinthians 11:24-27 ESV)
But through all of this, he was content.  How? Because he had learned to do all things through him who strengthened him.  This kind of settled state of heart is not possible apart from the grace of God.

What does this kind of contentment look like in the Christian life? Burroughs defines contentment like this:  "Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition" (p. 19).  There are a few things I will point out from this definition.

*It is an inward thing.  Sometimes I am able to keep my mouth from grumbling, because I know that complaining is a sin.  But is my heart content?  Or am I filled with grumbling, bitterness and discontent, though I keep peace outwardly?  This inward malcontent is as evil as outward complaining.

*It is quiet.  This does not exclude making a prayer to God about our burdens, or groaning in the spirit of the Psalmist.  But a quiet heart is sedate and still before the Lord, which is a result of trust in Him.

*It freely submits to God's work.  Have you ever been to a chiropractor? If so, you have probably felt that what the chiro is doing during an adjustment is not natural, potentially painful.  The hardest thing for me is to get my neck adjusted.  Every fiber in my body says that I should tense up and not allow my head to be whipped to the side while my neck crackles up and down my spine.  But I have to force myself to relax, trusting that the chiropractor isn't going to break my neck (and guess what, he never does!), and is actually helping me.

This is what it is like to freely submit to God.  We trust that he is doing good, even when in our eyes, what he is doing seems scary or unwise.  A heart that trusts like this relaxes and freely submits to his work.

*It delights in God's work.  Many times we can look back and praise God for the good he wrought in a past hardship.  But the truly contented heart praises God for what he is doing in a current hardship, even if there is no way to see the good he is bringing out of it at the moment.  Burroughs puts it this way, "The height of this art of contentment to come to this pitch and to be able to say, 'Well, my condition and afflictions are so and so, and very grievous and sore; yet, through God's mercy, I am in a good condition, and the hand of God is good upon me notwithstanding" (p. 34).

He sums it up this way: "Whatever particular afflictions God may place us in, we must be content with them" (p. 37).

What are your current afflictions?  Is your heart at peace or do you grumble about them?  Do you delight in God's work in your life in this trial?  Is your heart still before God in this trial?  Take time to confess and repent of any sin that God reveals in this, and ask him to give you a heart of deep contentment, which is only possible by his grace.

Monday, June 2, 2014

May in Our Home

Hard to believe that this month has already come and gone.  Harder still to believe is that our little man is already 2 months old!  We are starting to get into a rhythm with Hudson, which has made for a fairly predictable nursing and sleep pattern (emphasis on fairly :) ).  I also made an exciting discovery which has made carrying him much easier (he's over 13lb now and getting to heavy for the Moby and sling, but not quite big enough for the Ergo, which is a much more comfortable wear)... I can wear him in the Ergo in a cradle hold position (ie sideways, with his head sticking out of the top but two feet hanging out of one side).  (If you try this, be careful because its not a recommended carrying position by the manufacturer and baby could potentially slide out of the side, but I always wear him snug and usually have one hand resting on him all times to help be aware of his position, so this hasn't been an issue)
The shirt just about sums it up...

Our garden is starting to sprout and grow.  So exciting!  But as our plants grow, so do the weeds.  So, we've also been weeding a lot this month.  But the work is already paying off: we got our first harvest this past week!  The quick growing, cool weather crops are what have come in first: radishes (which didn't do super well because I failed to thin them), lettuce, swiss chard and spinach.  Eating that first salad with baby lettuce greens and radishes was very satisfying.  And delicious. :)

Have you ever tried to get through the day with only three functioning brain cells?  I have.  Or at least that is how this entire month has felt.  A combination of getting to bed late (due to Alex's job), having trouble falling asleep, waking up at night to nurse, choosing not to nap in order to get stuff done around the house, carrying a fussy baby all day, choosing not to drink caffeine to help with aforementioned fussiness and giving all my body's needed nutrients to milk-making has left me feeling like a zombie most of the day.  Each day my to do list barely got touched as looking at it made me want to take a nap.  I know this is normal with a newborn, but I do hope that something changes soon because I'm getting behind in a lot of the big picture homemaking tasks I hope to accomplish (though, thankfully, the small picture tasks of laundry, dishes, cooking, etc are happening).  So, we are still at the point of just making it through the day each day.  I am content with that (for now) but hope it changes soon.

I did manage a small sewing project the last couple days of the month.  Esther has become quite motherly in the past 6 months, and even more so since Hudson was born.  One thing she likes to do is to "change" her stuffed animal's diapers with our cloth diapers.  So I decided to make couple doll sized cloth diapers for her to play with.  I thought she would be really excited about it, but she basically ignored it when I showed it to her after I was done.  Buuut... hopefully she grows into it. :)