Choose My Battles?

boxing-gloves-picLast week my husband suggested that I more carefully “choose battles” with my twin 16-year olds.  Spending so much time together during the summer apparently had me criticizing them about “stupid things”.

While I might have dismissed my husband’s comment ;), I was convicted while reading a statement from Ruth Graham, located in the book: Billy Graham in Quotes.  She writes, “Never let a single day pass without saying an encouraging word to each child…” (pg. 41).

That hit me hard because my son was nearby looking sad.  Not mad, not angry, just disappointed that I suggested he get a haircut.  His hair is one of the battles that I’ve (for the most part) kept quiet about because he is a hockey player and having “sick flow” that sticks out of the back of the helmet is quite the rage.  I looked up from my book to see his expression which probably had less to do with the haircut and more to do with the previous hour.

“Your bedroom floor is always a mess.  Why don’t you bring the laundry when you go upstairs?  Did you seriously just leave the door open again, letting out the air conditioning?!  Can you please, just once, put the wet towels in a separate laundry basket?! Did you read anything today or just watch TV?”

His response?  “Mom, I cleaned all three bathrooms, did the dishes, and took out the garbage.  Did you notice those things?”  I had, but instead of praising the good, I focused on what needed “improvement”.

I had wet eyes as Proverbs 10:19 jumped into my head.  Just to make sure I got the hint, God dropped Colossians 3:21 into my mind:  “…do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Leaving my kids with heavy hearts due to “unnecessary comments” is a change I need to make.  So, I decided to abandon criticism and my drill sergeant tone of voice.  Within two hours, my resolution was a vapor and I promptly had something to say about my daughter’s shirt neckline being too low.

Her response? “Go ahead, make me feel bad again about the clothes I wear!”  All I heard was “again…”  I immediately tried to diffuse the situation, but she waved me off and stormed down the hall.

I have three really good teenagers and the four of us are particularly close.  This fact makes it especially terrible that I don’t always think before I talk.  I questioned why I am continually in their business and realized that although they have grown into young adults, often, I still attend to them as if they were ten.  There’s a major mind shift required by parents when kids become “upper-teens”.  Where monitoring the amount of texting and TV time was previously a sign of good parenting, during these years, such things become “battles”.

My daughter was recently watching “baby videos”, as we’ve been transferring old VHS tapes into DVDs of the kids when they were little.  All you hear are praises and encouragements spewing out of my husband and I on those tapes.  “Good boy!” “Great job!” given with serious enthusiasm from both of our “big” personalities.  Staring at the screen, I was reminded that those adorable cherub faces at 4 years old are the same people, just in bigger bodies…needing the same encouragement but less micro-management.  I again resolved to eliminate criticism.

It’s been a week since my resolution went into effect and it has been exceedingly more influential upon me than my kids.  I’ve picked up the laundry several times to find wet towels on top of good clothes.  The door is continuously left open on 80+ degree days.  They’ve plopped down to watch television while a mountain of clean laundry the size of Everest sat directly in front of them, waiting to be folded.  My mouth has either remained zipped or I’ve gently asked they take the clothes upstairs to their rooms.

What an enormous exercise in self-control.  About “choosing battles”?  There is already a societal and spiritual battle raging to destroy our kids.  I’m not “choosing battles”.  While I’m still making suggestions, I’m “choosing encouragement”1Thess5:11

10 Things I Believed at 25 That Proved False by 45

Ahhhh, to be 20-something… Like most during those years, I had very definite impressions about how my life would progress. I would eventually learn, and after serious resistance – accept – that life has a way of detouring, surprising and wearing down a person, leaving a few disappointments along the way.

You may detect a touch of mid-life cynicism, but however you label the post, women I know in their later forties are experiencing a few discontents. We tend to hide them, worried that if we share our disappointments, it will replace the otherwise pleasant image people have of us. We fear earning a reputation as a complainer if we dare talk about the thoughts that dominate our 2am insomnia. For those of us “in the church”, we definitely don’t want to be judged as being ungrateful.

At 25 I believed…

1. What goes around eventually comes around.
What you send out often does come back, but life is unequal.
Some really bad people live into their 70’s without consequences.
Some really good people get really bad cancer.
Life is unfair in many ways for many people.

2. Maturity will finally belong to everyone – women will stop gossiping and men will stop gawking.

I was the naive 20-something who sincerely believed that once everyone became an adult, immature behavior would cease entirely.
Most often, what you see in someone at 25 will hold true at 45.
The scarce numbers of people who become better humans practice self-discipline and work hard to change. The effort is worth it, but few will bother.

3. My life would be anything but ordinary.
While marriage and parenting are adventures all on their own, it’s not the cocktail parties, fancy dresses and life of relative ease that I expected.
My life has been largely conventional. And there is blessing in ordinary.

4. Being nice always pays off.
I was stunned for many years that no matter how caring, nice or genuinely thoughtful I was toward a person, some people were still unkind.
I’ve tried to jump start my kids on this truth: people will find fault with anything-even good things. Not everyone will like you and that’s ok. We answer to God, not them.

5. Blood is thicker than anything.
Many people have sweet, fun and tender-hearted relatives who would rather die than upset each other.
Other families go out of their way to intentionally hurt each other. After years of confusing heartache, I learned that spending time with blood out of obligation is just wasting time. Perhaps not entirely applicable here, but even Jesus asked, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” (Mat. 12:48) Friends are the family you choose.

6. That one, brilliant pastor would finally be able to explain to my inquisitive, deeper-than-most mind the harshness of life.
No one can.
I’ve met some intellectually gifted, deeply genuine pastors whose hearts eventually lead to the same place as mine: on this side of heaven, we simply will not understand the unconscionable suffering.
While a significant amount of earthly sorrow is the result of a person’s poor behavior, much suffering is simply enigmatic.

7. Unlike everyone around me, I would enjoy a pain-free marriage. Hands down, my husband and I are among the most normal and committed couples you’ll meet in a world of truly crazy marriages. We have been married for 22 years, and are both utterly devoted to our family. But marriage has peaks and valleys and all couples are imperfect.
I love Hallmark movies and every Disney princess story, but real life is not a fairy tale.

8. Those 40-something women were eating way too much McDonald’s.
Hormones-schmormones. That’s what I thought at 25.
After going through early menopause at 40, I gained 10 pounds in a month and never ate fast food. Then, clothes that fit the new me 10lbs. heavier, suddenly didn’t fit me at 45.
Hormonal changes are real. The weight can go up or stay the same, but the dispersion of the weight is fearfully unpredictable.

9. Those 40-something women weren’t exercising.
It takes double the effort at 45 to earn the same physical results I did at 25. Who has “double the time” while raising three teenagers?
At 25, I was only doing three things: working on my Master’s, working, and working out.

10. Having faith will eventually get easier.
I know my bible better than I ever have and for me, faith is harder.
Years of observing our global, moral deterioration. Depraved abuse, abductions, perversion, lies, seemingly endless unanswered prayers…
Living in a society that names what is blatantly “wrong” as “right” makes it seem like the dark side is winning. Of course, the days are numbered and we know the Good One wins. (Rev. 22:20)

Desensitize My Kids?!

Throwback Thursday from 5/8/2013

I was participating in a women’s prayer meeting at a church where I was relatively new. Until that day, I regularly offered prayer for others, but rarely requested any for myself. As my children began Middle School, I realized that it would take the proverbial village to protect my kids from the stunning corruption widespread among American youth.

That morning I mustered up the courage to ask for prayer that my kids would not grow desensitized, but remain kindhearted despite the shocking revelations that they are eventually exposed to at that age. I had recently confirmed for them that, “Yes, one German man and his team of assassins murdered multiple millions of people. Yes, Edgar Allen Poe’s writings are disgusting and disturbing. Yes, several men flew airplanes into buildings wanting to kill Americans.” The Holocaust, 9/11, and murder-filled literature, were upsetting to my 11-year old twins. They had also experienced their first pains of meanness from other kids.

Relieved that I had asked the women to lift up my kids in prayer, I experienced a temporary feeling of peace about the changes that Middle School had brought.

Pushing in my chair to leave, a 50-something, confident woman approached me. I expected her to confirm her intent to pray on my behalf. Instead, she blurted, “Your kids need to get desensitized.” Huh? I was confused, slight angry, and embarrassment rose up in my cheeks. Noticing my facial contortions, she offered, “I retired early last year, having been a Middle School Principal for many years.”

I stared at her without response.

“It’s just that the world is a terrible place and kids are awful. Your kids need to be desensitized or everything is going to bother them.”

Finding my tongue, I retorted, “not everything is going to bother them, but injustice, prejudice, and blatant violence against others should trouble them. I don’t want them to ignore or walk away from such things. I want them to be responsive toward others.”

She smiled at me in a condescending way, patted my hand and said, “Well, I’m just telling you from experience that it’s better if they get desensitized.”

My mind was outraged and my feelings hurt. I had expended terrific effort to train three kids to care. I was not about to conform to the ways of this world in a lazy, irresponsible effort to create more zombies. All that came to mind at that moment was the group of teens who watched, cheered, videotaped and photographed the brutal beating of one of their “friends”. Then, they uploaded the unconscionable horror to YouTube. While I know that level of degeneracy is rare, the day to day lack of sensitivity is rampant in Middle Schools and High Schools across the nation.

One of the great battles for Christians (unless they are the sort who cut themselves off from contemporary life) is to remain kind when they’ve had a string of wrongs hurt them over the years. In addition to the unforeseen events like earthquakes, hurricanes, and illness, we unfortunately also endure heart trauma by the entirely avoidable meanness of others. It is natural to grow hardened.

All humans make big mistakes and bad decisions. We err and say hurtful things. The difference between desensitized and remaining sensitive, is remorse. The desensitized person doesn’t experience regret, sorrow or repentance. There is no reflecting or pondering or consideration of the consequences.

Despite the bad advice of the retired principal, I choose to continue the hard work of raising three human beings who care. My intent isn’t to shield them. I encourage “speaking up”, even to those in authority, when appropriate. All of my kids play competitive travel sports and are not ones to shrink back from conflict when necessary.

They are acutely aware of the world’s evil, feel sad when they are treated unjustly, but always move forward strong and confident. I’ll never believe that desensitizing children so they feel little, if any, compassion, is wise or responsible parenting.



Trouble Will Come. Why Am I Surprised?

“In the world you’ll have trouble.” John 16:33

Many people draw closer to God when trouble comes. I tend to step back, surprised by it. As if I should somehow be immune. I am a passionate prayer partner for others, but struggle when it’s personal. While I lean into God for the big stuff, I can seriously fuss and step back over the smallest of “troubles”.

“…do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

My teenager lied. Big time. But about something ridiculous. It hurt no one, nor involved anyone. The extension of a lie from months ago when we knew it, but couldn’t prove it; then unexpectedly, I caught him mid-sentence lying. I was stunned. Did I not just five minutes earlier finish reading seven glowing, all incredibly-l o n g letters of recommendation, with more on their way, for college applications later this year? Weren’t the words still in bubble comments floating through my head including “gentleman” “the finest student I’ve ever had” “respectful” “sincere” “nice to all fellow students”…and more?

All of those things are true. This 17 year old boy stands out from other kids his age because he is sensitive, smart, athletic, and thoughtful.

He is also human. But I forget that and immediately launch into crazy woman in my personal pain, feeling like a failure of a mother, wondering what I did wrong to have this child lie, hiding it for months – nonetheless about something completely inconsequential.

I wonder: do I give him room to be human? Or was I too quick with, “be sure your sin will find you out!”? I sure didn’t take two seconds to consider that I too am a liar, having been a lying teenager back in the dark ages when I was one. But! I protest silently, I’m raising them better, pray more… why, God?

It got worse. Another issue came up just as I was calming down. Nothing to do with drugs or alcohol or the usual teen nonsense. It hurt no one. Still, it wasn’t good and I was sad, and mad, and surprised – again. I considered how many days while he was at school I prayed specifically for him. And, now? His mistake – I take it personally.

“Children will lie at one time or another. The question is not if they will, but whether or not lying will become something they believe they can get away with.” Stormie Omartian

We deliver the consequence, days pass, and all I can think of is the prayer that went into this boy. I am mad at God for not responding as I had planned. I do not spend a second focusing on my son’s good or God’s good. No time thinking about the volunteering my boy does, the love he shows…that this wasn’t earth-shattering. I take no time to consider that this is part of teenage life and I am acting completely irrational. My husband tries to talk me down from the cliff, but I don’t listen. I do not consider that my daughters and my son are observing how I handle these two disappointments. I blame God silently. He could have prevented my son from lying by giving him a more truthful heart. Hadn’t I directly prayed for that?

Just then, I remember that 48 hours prior to the lie being discovered, I asked God – literally asked Him out loud – to reveal to me if my son was lying. I was tipped off by a sister in the house that there may be a lie lurking…

Okay, so maybe that prayer was answered. Directly. Prompter than most.

I settle, but continue to berate myself for subconsciously holding them to an unrealistic standard that I don’t even live up to. I berate myself for being so foolish to think that somehow my kids would be “good” 100% of the time. But oh, there is so much good. I refuse to see it. I focus on the two bad things revealed within two days.

My husband grows increasingly weary with the looming, likely job loss. We will be fine, but it’s still hard. He’s tired. So much change at work. Then, he comes home to the lunatic wife freaking out about her teenager lying. Not letting it go. He bows his head and rubs his temples and I see that I’m no Proverbs 31 woman lately.

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!“ Acts 7:51

Then, a 5-year old boy dies a horrible death and godly parents are in pain and we attend the memorial and my 15-year old is in mourning. She only held him at church a few times on Sunday mornings. But she knows her God and she knows He is bigger than childhood cancer and she believed Him to heal on this side of heaven. And, He didn’t. And the girl grieves like nothing I’ve seen from her. She shies away from her daily devotion and prayer time. She questions deeper than most adults. Because she cares and loves Him. She’s hurt – for herself, for the family. I watch her break down on and off and see her wrestling with God, questioning the value of intercessory prayer. I spout out the usual Christian-ease statements like, “we pray because Jesus did”. Ugh. I can’t even stand my hypocrisy as I’m mad again – mad that my baby girl is struggling with her faith. Mad at God that He still lets Satan prowl. I refuse to see that this could possibly strengthen her faith.

My friend learns that her cancer is at stage 4. I weep. He can heal this.

Another friend with a threatening ex-husband must fearfully attend court. Again. He could put this man in jail once and for all.

“The question is not: “Will you and I have these moments of loss and dizzying confusion?” The real issue is: How will we respond to these inevitable and unavoidable moments?” Ann Voskamp

I reach for my gratitude journal (see my last post) and the numbers name the “hard eucharisteo”. The tip of the pen pierces the page as my jaw clenches. No sweet sentiments about the Mama bird and her eggs that I’ve been watching and photographing daily…

My anger melts into a silent protest. I do not pick up my bible or pray formally at the morning table. I am talking to Him throughout the day, but mostly firing out questions at Him, simultaneously sorrowful over my blasphemy. He pulls at me.

“I will never leave you…” Hebrews 13:5
Ugh, but why? I’m awful right now and You’re still pulling at me?

I tire of the anger stretch, of the two-days of sobs for the grieving family, the teenage mistakes, the friends in pain, that leave the forehead ache that no aspirin can remedy. I am indifferent to prayer. What for? He pulls at me still. I scour the bookshelf and revisit, “Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?” by Philip Yancey.

I read, then skim, knowing that He is Him and I am not and I am feeling sorrowful. Much sin is our own fault. We live in a fallen world, disease entered with the first bite of the fruit and so on… Above all, some of the gut-wrenching sadness and tragedy is undeniably inexplicable on this side of heaven.

The next morning I can’t help myself. I reach for the Word, sit at the kitchen table after lunches are made and kids are finishing up their grooming for school. I don’t ask them to sit and get a blessing like I usually do.

They leave and I squirm in the seat like my own son did three weeks ago. I know better, practicing faith and living it throughout the days, but not in my personal disappointments. I believed that the prayer prevented (and still do), but free will and God’s will are very much alive. Good can, and often does, arise from the ashes. Is 61:3

And I quiet enough to learn lessons that really, I already know…

ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I am CHIEF among sinners.

Open the fist of control! There is free will and teenagers need to exercise it.

Surrender the near-adults to His care. For heaven’s sake: TRUST ME ALREADY.

Mistakes are a part of living. They are not all-encompassing of my parenting, my family, nor my teen.

Stop over-reacting. Oh Lord, forgive me! May the fruits of the spirit show up in the unwanted “surprising” moments.

Stop being surprised. Trouble will come.