Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Sacrifice Doesn't Come Easy

After my post The Love Has to Happen Now a couple weeks ago, I've had some very real conversations with people about the struggles of parenting.  Since writing out my experience, I've truly been more intentional in the moments I've had with my children (another post on that soon!), but I've still made tons of mistakes, had a lot of ugly mommy moments, yelled like an idiot and have completely failed at this whole parenting thing in many, many situations.  It's a process.  A slow, painful process.  

Sunday at church, a good friend of ours got up after the sermon and shared a testimony with the church.  He talked about the struggles he has with his four kids and how easily he gets frustrated with them--particularly at bed time.  He had a moment a couple weeks ago where he lost it.  He screamed and yelled at the top of his lungs at his kids because they weren't settling into bed like they were supposed to be.  He got ugly with his kids.  He got un-Christ-like with his kids. He acted like I do with my kids sometimes.  As he was talking, I was replaying a moment in my head I had on Friday night where I did basically the same thing with my kids because they weren't helping clean up their toys.  It was ugly.  I'm so ashamed of how I acted.  And that's basically the same situation he was describing.  Tears started to form in my eyes as I listened to him speak and re-lived my own situation in my head.

He continued telling us about how a few days later, he discovered a video on his phone.  One of his little ones had been playing with his phone during this whole ordeal and the whole incident was captured on video.  He sat and watched himself become this monster-like figure with his kids and it broke him.  He realized how ugly it was, how un-Christ-like it was, and he was ashamed.  He cried as he talked about it and asked for prayer and support.  It was everything I could do to not just break down and sob.  His testimony finally helped me put everything I'd been thinking and feeling into words.  Here's how it all finally came together for me in my head:

As Christians, we are supposed to follow Jesus and become like Him.  We're supposed to love others like He loved us--He sacrificed his life for us.  He literally gave up living for us. Love is a sacrifice.  It means putting the needs of others ahead of your own.  As a parent, it means sacrificing that time you'd rather spend watching tv or hanging out with your friends for time spent loving your children.  Love is a sacrifice. 

There is this account in 2 Samuel of David being instructed to build an altar to the Lord to end a plague on the land that God inflicted because of a sin he committed.  He's told to go build it on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  So he goes to this guy and asks to buy his threshing floor, but the guy basically says, "Take it, it's yours.  And while you're at it, here's some oxen and wood for you to use."  How easy this situation has become for David!  He's offered this opportunity to make up for his sins and end this plague for FREE.  Everything he needs has just been handed to him.  In 2 Samuel 24:24, however David responds like this:  "No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings (a sacrifice) to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.”  Our sacrifice--our love--can't cost nothing or it's shallow and worthless.  The more I read these words, the more convicted I am about the times when I've complained about how my children have inconvenienced me.  From another perspective, this means that how we're serving the Lord can't cost us nothing, either.  I've been guilty of complaining that my serving the Lord has inconvenienced me.  The fact that I've even thought those things makes me ashamed.  God gave me everything, so He deserves no less from me.  I will not present God a sacrifice that cost me nothing.  

We're also supposed to be patient with others--He is more than patient with us. Ephesians 4:32 says, "Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."  Our impatience with our children often comes from our inability to truly forgive them for when they misbehave.  We sometimes take it personally when they're acting poorly and it literally makes us angry.  If we are going to be true examples of Christ, we need to forgive--to not let the times they mess up constantly frustrate us.  We are constantly messing up, too, but God is faithful to forgive us and have patience with us.  He is full of grace and mercy--traits that we should also reflect.  

There's this pesky little verse in Matthew where Jesus tells us that we won't be forgiven of our sins if we don't forgive others.  That's a pretty scary thought when I think about how difficult it is to forgive sometimes.  It's probably not scary enough, to be honest.  We can correct our children when they misbehave and still show them forgiveness.  Our correction must come out of love, not anger.  Can you imagine what life would be like for us if God reacted to us when we mess up the way we react to our children when they mess up?  Let's be real:  I would have been struck by lightning years ago.

Ultimately, we want to train our kids to be like Christ, not just to follow the moral code of the church.  We want to teach them right and wrong, but we also want them to understand grace, mercy and unconditional, sacrificial love.  In the sermon on Sunday, our pastors shared an illustration of a man talking about his daughter who, in spite of growing up in the church, had turned from Christ.  He said about her, "We raised her in Church, but we didn't raise her in Christ."  I want more than that for my kids, and it has to start at home.   It has to start with me making myself like Christ.  They have to be able to see what Christ looks like by seeing Him in me.  That's going to require the love, the sacrifice, the patience and forgiveness that I wrote about earlier.  

It requires that I love the Lord the way I should and, in turn, love my kids the way I should. Ultimately, He has to be my number one priority if I'm going to love my kids the way I should.

It requires that I sacrifice time to invest in my relationship with Him.  It requires that maybe I spend less time on Facebook and more time actively paying attention to my children.  It requires me to teach my kids to serve, so they understand that being a Christian isn't just about following the rules, but about being the church to those in need.

It requires that I have patience with myself when I mess up and that I remember how infinitely patient God is with me when I'm feeling impatient toward my children. 

It requires me to forgive myself for the times that I've messed up in the past and to remember that forgiveness is also required of me.

It all comes down to the fact that we can't do this on our own, but we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength (Phil 4:13). 

God, show me how to love my kids, my spouse, my family, and the world like you do.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Love Has to Happen Now

I had a moment last night that felt so good, and then it made me feel really guilty.  I was putting the kids to bed by myself--which, let's be honest, is something that usually puts me in a bad mood anyway.  Bedtime is a fiasco.  Child #1 stalls like a pro.  She literally has to be handheld through the process some nights, just to get it done.  Child #2 is still too little to be completely helpful.  Some clothes he just can't seem to get on or off by himself.  He can't help it, but it frustrates me sometimes. Child #3 is clearly too little to be helpful, but that's still acceptable in a seven month old. :)

So this particular night, after tell #1 to put her pjs on for the fifth time (no lie), I hear #2 say, "Mom, the floor's wet.  I peed."  The kid peed in the bathroom, while on the step stool brushing his teeth.  He was less than three feet from the toilet.  I tried to be patient and handled it pretty well, at least on the outside.  Inside, I was feeling the rage mount.  I don't know why such small children can set me off like they do, but they do.  After cleaning up the pee, I found #1 child was still not dressed.  She was, in fact, lying on her bedroom floor just staring at the ceiling.  I have no idea what she was looking at or imagining, because I didn't take the time to ask.  I got mad.  I took matters into my own hands and dressed her, then I walked her to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

With #1 taken care of, I climbed in bed with #2 to tell him goodnight.  I was trying to be loving, but
quick.  I was hoping to accomplish something in the few minutes the kids were all in bed before Kraig got home.  As I was hugging him, however, he pushed me over and climbed on top of me, laughing and telling me that I had to stay with him.  In the very second it happened, I started to be mad--he was ruining my plan.  Instead, I started to laugh.  As I laughed, he laughed harder--and so did I.  It was a moment that hadn't been planned.   In fact, had I reacted with my gut, I would have ruined this beautiful, blissful moment with my son.  I'm sure it's not something he'll remember when he grows up--he probably doesn't remember now, but I will.

It was a rare moment when I let go and truly just enjoyed my kids.  We're busy people these days--always going from one thing to the next--and I'm constantly guilty of just trying to survive my days.  I'm finding that, for me, enjoying my days is more difficult than it used to be.  You see, there are these expectations I have for myself--about how clean my house should be, how I should look, what things I should be involved in.  These expectations are ridiculous and I know it.  They come from a world of people who are always putting on a happy, I've-got-it-all-together face, from a Facebook full of people who only post the most positive things in their lives (and quite possibly embellish those), from a Pinterest world telling me that my house isn't good enough, my floors aren't clean enough, my pantry isn't organized enough, my kids aren't smart/well-behaved/thankful enough, my makeup techniques are amateur, my wardrobe is outdated, my abs aren't ripped enough, my relationship with my husband isn't Godly enough, my "me"-time is lacking and that, all-in-all, I'm one good blog read away from fixing it all. It's exhausting, it's unhealthy, and it's not true.

I'm seeing even more these days how quickly the time with our kids passes.  Our oldest started kindergarten a few weeks ago.  She's now away from me for 7+ precious hours everyday.  It's 7 hours where someone else is teaching her, leading her and watching her grow.  It's good and healthy for her, but it's a constant reminder of how little time I have left with the other two.  So I've decided to make the most of it.  I'm not going to live in the past and regret the time lost, I'm going to purpose everyday to make the most of the time I have.  I'm being intentional to make special connections with each kid everyday, to make sure I spend time showing them that I love them--not just saying the words as I rush them off to bed at night.  Some days, I feel like I've barely even notice them in a real, tangible way.  I've spent the day focusing on my errands, or my volunteering, or cooking/cleaning/housework--maybe even on Facebook or Pinterest.  Regardless of the reason, I failed to connect with my kids like I should have.  Even just five minutes of intentionally connecting with your kid in a day can make the world of difference in their self esteem, in your relationship with them, and in how much they feel like they can trust you.  The other things will wait, but the love has to happen now.  I'm pretty sure that they're truly only little for like 5 minutes.  That's how fast it goes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should completely neglect our homes, our relationships, and whatever else we have in our lives to entertain our children.  I simply want to encourage you to not let these standards that we put on ourselves control our lives.  Our priorities need to reflect the correct order:  1) God, 2) husband, 3) children.  I'm afraid they often look more like this:  1) keeping up appearances for friends, family & the world, 2) me, 3) whatever else I can manage to fit into the day that I feel like doing.  Remember what 1 Corinthians says: "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  Remember, His approval is all you need.  Take time to let go and enjoy your kids.