My family lives on the generosity of others.
If you know me, then you may know that our family's income is 100% supported by others' donations. Our ministry at Hiawatha Church, my service at Tapestry Resource Center, and the work I create with Sandbox Theatre-- every paycheck we receive is money that someone else chose to give to us.
We don't take this lightly. We buy groceries, pay our mortgage, celebrate birthdays, and enjoy a thousand other small things that many others are unable to, simply because other people choose to invest in us. This reminds us -
first, that we are accountable to serve and to create with integrity. everything we do in ministry and in art has an eternal purpose, and we work HARD at doing it well. not because we owe those who give to us, but because we desire to honor their gifts with work that is truthful, loving, and relevant.
and second, that what we do is bigger than we are. it is incredibly humbling to know the names and see the faces of the people who pay your bills. it is even more humbling to see them give their finances joyfully to you. we are continually reminded that our small labors have great impact because an entire community of people participates in making it happen.
This Wednesday November 16 is GIVE TO THE MAX Day, a day to come together to raise as much money as possible for MN nonprofits in 24 hours. Our family is involved with three incrediblenonprofits, which many of you are already supporting.
Would you consider choosing ONE of our organizations to give generously to on Wed Nov 16?
Our opinion may differ from others', but rather than giving $10 to all 3, we encourage you to consider giving a generous gift of $30, $60, $100 or more to just one of the nonprofits that we are blessed to belong to. Please take some time on Wed Nov 16 to check out the websites, ask us questions, and consider how you can be part of making our ministry and art happen.
Also, if you are familiar with my work in any of these areas, PLEASE consider passing along this post to just FOUR people, asking them to consider donating on Wed Nov 16, too.
Again, we don't take this request lightly and we don't want anyone to give out of obligation. But we ARE excited to continue the work that God has given us and to bring others along in our journey!!! Grace and peace to you all.
Tapestry Pregnancy & Family Life Resource Center - tapestryfamilies.org -
noun. the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense.
I tend to think in black and white. Right and wrong. Fair and unfair. I take people at face value and I judge them based on how well their words and actions coincide.
It's one major reason why I spent most of my life not believing in God. Because most of the people I knew who claimed to have faith in God did not, in any visible way, appear to be living on that faith. They'd go to church on Sunday and spend the rest of the week full of worry, lies, immorality, and unkindness. I figured that either their god was a big hoax or he wasn't worth my time.
But then, on July 21, 1999, I had an encounter with YHWH that showed me, not only how wrong I had been, but how much more I had to learn about all the gray in this world.
As with any life-changing event, it came out of nowhere. The day started with me driving from Iowa back to Minneapolis to celebrate my ex-boyfriend's birthday. We quickly got into a fight and I ended up at 'home' at Michael's parents' house.
Michael got off of work earlier than usual that evening, gave me a call, and came over. We went for a walk through the neighborhood, and he asked me what I was thinking about the whole "Jesus thing." By this time - about 6 weeks after we met - I had read a Christian apologetics book that Michael had given me, and I was thinking alot more about Jesus than I ever had in my life. The book - written for Christians - approached the subject of faith from a completely intellectual perspective, and I constantly found my arguments against Christianity defeated.
So I told Michael that, in my head, I could rationally accept that Jesus was the Son of God who became a man, died, and rose from the dead. I no longer had any good reason not to acknowledge this as logical fact. But in my heart, I refused to believe it.
This, friends, makes all the difference in the world. At this point in my story, I wanted to disconnect myself from intellectually assenting to a truth without choosing to let it make a difference in my life. This is the difference between believing in Jesus and actually following him. For even the demons believe (according to James) but still they rebel against God.
Michael asked me why I would make a statement about Jesus' identity - a pretty big statement, like, he's God - but not want to accept this at an emotional and life-changing level. Because I don't want to be a hypocrite, I replied.
You see, I hadn't actually picked up a Bible yet. I didn't have a clue what it meant to follow Jesus or to call myself a Christian and the last thing I wanted to do was put a label on myself that had no real definition in my life. The last thing I wanted to do was be a sitting target for people just like me who mocked Christians and their weak, foolish faith. How could I claim to know God when I...well....didn't actually know God?
And then Michael gave me the wisdom that I have been living with ever since - he told me that it's not my job to figure out everything there is to know about God. He said that knowing God takes a lifetime of experiences with him, and that God is more than able to reveal himself to me, if I am willing to listen and learn from him. He said that all I needed to do was acknowledge God and ask him to come into my life, to show me himself.
And that made sense to me. In the end, I reasoned, I wouldn't be a worse person if I tried this whole Jesus-thing and it didn't work out. So Michael and I sat down on a park bench, and we prayed together, and God changed my life.
Many people say that they didn't feel any different after they turned their lives over to God; they didn't feel a sudden presence of the Holy Spirit come over them or have a rush of adrenaline. Their process of transformation was slow and gradual. But for me, it was instantaneous. I sat down on that bench because my rational, logical mind said that I had no more arguments against God and I should give Jesus a try. I didn't feel like I was a sinner in need of a savior. I wasn't lost and in despair, grasping for a lifeline of hope. It was the most intellectual decision I've probably ever made.
Yet, somehow, when I repeated the words that Michael was saying that night, my heart was totally and completely affected. I believe that it's because I came to God honestly, without pretense or preconceived ideas of what I was getting myself into. I simply said that I wanted to know him. And I meant it.
The funny thing about the real God is that even though he could force people to blindly follow him, even though he could wipe out all his enemies with one breath, even though he could show up and shut the mouths of fools - he doesn't. Instead, he is patient. He loves people enough to let them use their own minds and make their own choices, even if it means rejecting him.
And he - oh why, God? - lets idiots like me be his representatives on this earth. Because now that I am getting to know this God, the closer I get to him, the more beautiful and majestic I see him, the more I know that I am a hypocrite. As long as I live in this body of sin, I will claim to believe all sorts of things about God but turn around and live just the opposite. I am married to Christ but I am a whore who cheats on him with cheap, worldly thrills. And still, he lets me claim his name. He lets his reputation - what other people think about him! - come through what people experience when they know me.
So my prayer today is the same as the one I offered that summer night in 1999:
Lord, I am a sinner and I need you. Come into my life and change me. Let me know your holiness and make me like you.
The night that the Holy Spirit confronted me, after Michael left, I went into my bedroom, sat on the bed, looked up at the ceiling and said, out loud, "God, I think you are trying to say something to me. Will you please speak clearly, because I have no idea what is going on here?!?"
You could probably consider that the first prayer I ever prayed.
Shortly after that, on another evening spent talking with Michael, we ended up kissing on his couch. I told my boyfriend about it, and when he returned to town, Michael asked to meet him to apologize. So, while I was at work, Michael and my boyfriend spent three hours talking over coffee. During that conversation, Michael and he decided that the three of us would attend a church service together that weekend.
That Saturday evening was the first time I had set foot in a church building since I was a confirmed Catholic in eighth grade - and this service was nothing like the Catholic church! I found myself fighting back tears and wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. Afterwards, the three of us - Michael, my boyfriend, and I - went out to dinner. And during our meal, we jointly decided that I was going to move out of my boyfriend's apartment and move in with Michael's mom and stepdad.
This part of my story amazes me to this day. God was so obviously chasing after me, but at the time, I just had no idea. At the time, I knew that even though I wasn't a Christian, my life was headed in a direction that didn't include my boyfriend. At the time, it just seemed logical that I needed to end our relationship and find a new place to live for the remainder of the summer.
I moved my stuff out of my boyfriend's apartment, then headed down to Iowa to celebrate my 20th birthday with my family. On the way, my gas light came on while I was 40 miles from the nearest town, but I had to take a detour around said small town, which led to my second prayer ever - "God, I know you are not finished with me yet. You have more you want to say to me, so I'm going to trust that I'm not about to break down in the middle of nowhere with no way to reach anyone. Will you just get me to the next gas station, please?"
Which he did, but my prayer was forgotten by that point. I didn't mention anything to my family about Michael or any of our conversations. God really wasn't a part of that trip home. But God was patient with all of that. And he was waiting for me when I returned to Minneapolis...
Meanwhile, I know three sisters in Christ who have suffered miscarriages this year. Another gave birth to her stillborn son at 35 weeks. And many more struggle with infertility.
LORD, HOW CAN THIS BE?
From a worldly perspective, life isn't fair. Irresponsible parents should not be allowed to bring children into their cycles of destructive darkness. Healthy marriages should be able to produce blessed kids. Our hearts long for justice, for wickedness to be wiped out and for Goodness to prevail. Especially for the sake of our kids.
But, in this world, we have no hope for that ever occurring. In this world, our three-fold enemies of death, Satan, and sin are still at work. And in this world, in our natural, worldly state, we - the non-addicted, still-married, employed, responsible, followers of God - we are no better and no more deserving of blessings than any other parent. Which means that, in this world, there really isn't any more hope for our kids than for the children of those "other" parents.
We must look outside of this world for hope. But the fact is, from a spiritual perspective, life isn't fair, either. It isn't fair that the Most Perfect Parent watched the brutal execution of his Perfect Son. It isn't fair that God's innocent child bore the weight of guilty children's sin, that he suffered at the hands of Satan's servants, and that he laid in the chill of death. It isn't fair that Jesus fought - and defeated - our enemies and that WE get the rewards.
God's grace isn't fair but it is just. And it offers the only hope for comfort in the face of death, courage to resist Satan, and power to turn from sin. If we want a life full of Good, then it must be full of God.
Only God makes the parenting playing field level, for none of us comes even close to his patience, his mercy, his generosity, or his delight as a Father. Only God sustains us through the frustration and fears of dealing with disobedient, whiny, rebellious children. Only God can create life, faithfully watch over it, and redeem it to himself. That is the standard of good parenting to which, by God's mercy, we can aspire. Lord, help us!
Over a year ago, I read a book that challenged the choices I was making as a wife and mother. Inspired by the author, I pulled out a notecard, wrote down a little "mother's creed" to myself, and taped it over my kitchen sink. We don't have a dishwasher, so I spend alot of my time at that sink, and I often glance at that creed. I can't miss it, really. And I am challenged, each day, to decide if I'm going to abide by it - or ignore its wisdom. I don't remember exactly what I was thinking when I wrote each of the little phrases by those pretty hearts, but here is how I attempt to live some of them out.
PRAYS. The apostle Paul told the church to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." This could be the only advice I heed as a parent and life would go well!
My prayer life has always been my daily life. I set aside regular time to journal, but most of my prayers happen as my day happens, which means that my daughter hears alot of talking to Jesus. She understands that when we're upset, afraid, or worried, or someone is sick or in trouble, we go to God about it.
The other day, we caught a caterpillar, and she told me that she didn't want it to turn into a butterfly. I explained that this was how God made caterpillars, so there was no other option. She responded, with that precious childlike faith, that she would ask God not to do that. "Dear Jesus, can you please not let my caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Amen." I love that she saw God, not just as the creator of that insect, but also as the one who could change the way it was made!
PROVIDES. My role as a mother is to provide the opportunity and the freedom for my child to learn about life and her role in it. I provide daily necessities so that she is physically cared for, but I also provide emotional support, godly wisdom, new adventures, and a safe space for her to be herself. I model a life of thanksgiving to God for ultimately providing all that we need.
Maren and I talk alot about sharing what we have because it doesn't belong to us. She knows that God shares everything with us, so, out of thanks for his gifts, we don't withhold anything from others.
has FUN! I am really not a fun person, as adults go. But my kid wakes up each morning full of delight and expectation for what awaits her that day, and it is my privilege to share her joy. Many things in this life are NOT fun but she doesn't have to know that yet. Even better, she may learn (or teach me?) how to find amusement in the things we'd rather avoid. Every day, I let Maren choose at least one thing that she wants to do that day and I make sure that I am fully committed to having FUN while we do it. I don't have a biblical justification for this, but I do want my daughter to look back on her childhood and remember our silly moments. I think it draws us together.
has PEACE. As long as we live in this world, we will have trouble. We will be disappointed, discouraged, rejected, and possibly worse. We will suffer and we will fail. But if we have peace with God, through Jesus Christ, then our lives don't need to be ruled by our emotions, our relationships, or our circumstances. Instead, we can let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts.
A parent who possesses this kind of peace is not easily bothered when plans go awry or when children disobey. The peace of Christ gives parents the strength to respond to whining kids calmly, rather than enter into a screaming match. Christ's peace gives parents the ability to move through the day with hope and power and love. And ultimately, it points our children to the security of knowing and following Jesus - our Prince of Peace.
Of course, I am not perfect in this, but that's why prayer is at the top of my mother's creed! What about you? When you see my creed, what parts of it do you find difficult? Or how are you living out your own creed?
In some ways, this seems obvious. But for most of us, it is actually very difficult to live out. I think it's because the love between a mother and child is entirely natural - the moment you lay eyes on this little being, who is wholly dependent on and in love with you, your heart completely belongs to that baby. No matter how much they keep you up at night, how often they disobey, how simultaneously challening and demanding and manipulative they can be - we moms just can't stop loving those kids.
But the love between a man and a woman is completely unnatural. Not at first, of course - we all love the feeling of being in love, having a desirable man pursue us with romantic gestures and thoughtful acts of service. If we're lucky, we enjoy a honeymoon phase in our relationships, where nothing he does really gets us going and we're willing to overlook his tiny faults.
Eventually, though, romantic love fades away and we're left with the hard work of actually loving the man we married. And there is nothing natural about it. Our natural selves expect to be right all of the time; we want him to know what he's done wrong and how to fix it without having to explain it to him; we want him to work a good job, then come home and help with the housework, instead of retreat to the video games, and plan romantic getaways that sweep us off our feet. We don't want him to complain about any of our faults but be completely responsive and immediately change whatever he's doing that we don't like. That is how we naturally want to relate to our spouses.
Instead, if we are the people of God, we are called to treat our husbands with respect. Not because they deserve it, or because they've earned it, but because how we treat our husbands reflects what we believe about God. And that, my friends, is why loving our husbands is infinitely more important than loving our children - because our relationship with our husbands communicates the nature of our relationship with God, a relationship that we hope our children will one day choose for themselves, a relationship that - for both us and for our children - is infinitely more important than any human relationship we will ever enter into, as parents or as spouses.
I am the first to confess that it is way easier to hug my adorable little girl than it is to make sure my husband is greeted each evening with a kiss and a loving hello. It's more fun to read books and snuggle with a 3 year old than it is to communicate about a budget or schedule quality alone time.
I believe that God is in those moments with Maren, that he is honored and delighted when I share my love with her. But I also believe that he is glorified when I serve my husband, and that the way that I move towards Michael, the way that I prioritize him and support what he needs, is an act of worship, one of the most important acts of worship that I get to do while I am on this earth.
Before I dive further into today's topic, I want to acknowledge that I have many dear friends who have used some of the methods that I reject and who downright disagree with my perspective. These women are excellent parents who I often turn to for advice! I know that their consciences are clear regarding the decisions that they have made. What I share, below, are the choices that I've needed to make in order to keep my conscience clear as well.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When my husband and I were confronted with all of those first-time-parent questions, and when we couldn't see a clear reason to make one choice over another, we would always resort to the "What would have happened in the Garden?" answer.
Of course, Adam and Eve didn't have children in the Garden of Eden. And our home is nothing like that perfect paradise. What we were really asking was, "how did God design families to work?" In other words, so far as we can understand, how are we as humans made to relate to one another, especially as parents and children? If we really trust that God created this little person, and gave her to us, and remains sovereign over all of us, then what decisions are really important and which ones should be recognized as "little stuff"?
For example, consider the controversial issue of babies and sleep. Where should they sleep? When should they sleep? How much should they sleep? How do I make them sleep? Why can't I, as the mother, GET MORE SLEEP?!? When Maren was born, I felt like all the moms I knew were talking about their children's sleep "schedules". It seemed like their kids were as regular as a timeclock. So I spent the first six months of my daughter's life trying to figure out her sleep patterns and force her into a structure that I could regulate.
The problem is, I'm not a structured, regulated person. And my child hated every effort I made to make her into one. I remember breaking down in tears one day to my husband, frustrated that I never knew when Maren would need a nap so I couldn't plan anything because I didn't want to disrupt her sleep schedule. He calmly spoke into my meltdown - "honey, do you really think Eve spent her time worrying about when Cain and Abel would sleep? she probably just strapped them to her back, went about her business, and took care of them as things came up."
Translation: stop being someone you're not. stop trying to make your kid someone she's not. just pay attention to what your baby is saying to you, and act accordingly.
Thinking about the Garden, about the pure joy of walking in the presence of God and trusting him for every need, in every moment, changed the way I thought about parenting. I knew God had made me to be a Mama, and I was certain that I knew my baby better than anyone else. So I just started listening to them - to my perfect Father, and to my little child.
I know there are mothers of every shape and perspective, with different preferences and lifestyles. I know that life is no longer as simple and beautiful as it was designed to be and that we face a thousand complex issues related to parenting. But I believe that it is my sin, and the foolishness of the world, and the lies of our enemy, who keep me from fulfilling the Grand Purpose that God has for me as a mother.
I believe that it is only my weakness that ever causes me to ignore my crying child. I believe that it's my pride that says I deserve to have work outside of the home. And I believe that it's my selfishness that tries to make Maren do things my way, or in a way that would make it "easier" on me.
I want to live in the freedom that belongs to me in Christ, the freedom that allows me to delight in my child without worrying about what's going to happen next or how she compares to any other kid. I want to be so secure in my identity, which is hidden in Christ, that I refuse to manipulate my daughter or neglect my calling as her mother. I want to go back to the Garden and sing and dance as a child of God who knows that his hand is more than powerful enough to hold me up and provide for my every need.
So, that's how I try to make decisions about caring for Maren. I ask God to show me how he designed our family and to give me the courage to live like it.
What about you? What gives you freedom in your outlook on parenting?
The problem is, while this may make us uber-efficient workhorses, it rarely results in genuine quality time with our children. And if there is one thing I am certain of as a parent, it is that children absolutely desire personal, face-to-face, focused attention. They instantly know if your time (and, by extension, your affection) is being divided. And they will do anything to get you to look at them rather than the [phone, computer, television, cleaning rag...]!
So, despite my internal tendency towards juggling seven responsibilities at once, I have made some very practical - and what I have deemed, necessary - choices about laying aside multi-tasking in order to prioritize my child.
Turn off techonology. When I'm with Maren, I make a concerted effort NOT to check email, Facebook, or text messages. I don't answer my phone unless it's my husband or I have the time to actually talk to the person calling. For me, I need to consciously avoid technology or else I begin to think that it's more important - in the moment - to deal with an email rather than dance in the living room with my daughter.
Avoid tasks. When Maren is awake, she gets my time. Which means that I usually save washing dishes, folding laundry, and other household chores until she's asleep. If we make a mess together, then we clean it up, and, as she gets older, I expect to involve her in general cleaning (such as after meals), but for the most part, I don't do tasks when we're together. I never want my kid to think that I'd rather deal with a pile of dirty dishes instead of get down on the floor and push trains around with her.
Listen attentively. As much as possible, I look straight at Maren when she talks. Which, right now, is almost constantly. If we're in different rooms and I hear her voice, I ask her to come speak to me directly (or I go in to her). Even though I can hear her while I'm typing, texting, or cooking, I am not giving her my full attention unless our eyes meet. Then she knows that I value what she's saying, neither of us gets frustrated with the conversation, and we can experience total joy in a shared moment. This works especially well when she is upset about something. If I pause, hold her, and listen to the emotions she is expressing, we can quickly overcome whiny, complaining outbursts. This makes for a happy mama and child.
Communicate directly. If I need to focus my attention on other things, I let Maren know first. I explain what I am doing and why I need to take care of it at that time. I ask her not to interrupt and expect her to wait patiently until I can return my focus to her. This helps her understand that I haven't forgotten her and that she will receive my attention soon. I think it also teaches her how to communicate to me what is important to her.
When in Doubt, Choose the Kid. My to-do list can get awfully long. There is never enough time in the day for everything I want to do. But there is no doubt in my mind that Maren is the absolute best use of my energy. She will only be in this moment, at this age, for a fleeting blink. She has the pure joy of childhood right now - the hopeful expectation of each new day, the wonder at every new discovery, the unconditional love of being with her Mama. Why would I ever choose a stinky toilet or an electronic message over HER?!?
What about you? Do you think multi-tasking as a parent actually works? Or what other tricks do you have to show your child(ren) that they have first priority on your time?
Today's post will be brief, as it's more of a disclaimer...
First, I only have one child, who is not yet 3.
Translation: I don't know squat about parenting. I will do the best I can to speak only from my own experience but EVERYTHING I WRITE SHOULD BE TAKEN WITH A FULL SHAKE OF SALT and a healthy side of meat.
Second, if you are not already aware of this, I tend towards non-traditional methods of parenting. I don't actually know what I mean by the phrase "traditional" but it would certainly be accurate to state that I don't do anything just because it's the commonly accepted practice. Which is not to say that I actively seek out alternative parenting styles in order to rebel against the system; it is more a reflection on the fact that I am insanely confident in myself and don't feel any need to get the approval of our society to make the choices that I do.
IF YOU TEND TOWARDS CONFORMITY - you may be appalled by what you read here.
Third, due to said abnormal self-confidence, I don't have much research to back up my opinions. In cases where I felt I needed statistics/facts/"proof" in order to make an informed decision, I have loads of studies, books, and external references to back up my choice. But most of the time, I parent with common sense, my gut instinct, and a whole lot of faith.
IF YOU SECOND-GUESS MOST OF YOUR DECISIONS, you may not want to follow the methods you find here.
Fourth, I should make it clear upfront that I believe every child is unique and that the absolute best thing any parent can do is KNOW YOUR KID. I confess that I judge other parents all the time - in my head. [Thank God I've learned to stop some things from coming out of my mouth!] But ultimately, I don't know their children so I CANNOT know if their choices are any better or worse than my own (broadly speaking. If I catch you swinging a bat at your kid's head, you better believe I'm going to step in).
With all this said, I'd love to ruminate on subjects that are of particular interest to you. So if you have any questions you're working through as a parent, specific areas you'd like to hear my opinion about, or want to challenge/criticize/judge anything you've seen me do as a parent, please leave me a comment!