Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Back to School: Supporting Families as a Church Family

 Yes, I have a ton I need to be doing. Proof of Progress and Notice of Intents are due to the school district; college applications, both for full-time and dual enrollment need to be done. I have mounds of paperwork from last school year to sort through and file, plus lesson plans for next school year to complete, print, and bind. Books are covering the office floor and the year's broken pencils and dwindling paper supply needs sorted and re-stocked. It's summer for a homeschooling Mom. But I am not the only one getting ready for a new academic year - so are public schools, private schools, youth programs, and children's programs. This has been on my heart and mind for several week, and I felt it was worth taking the time to put into words.   

My heart is for homeschoolers. I in no way want to minimize the struggles faced by our public schooling families. They are very real, and also deserve our attention, but that isn't my area of experience. (I also think many of these ideas could be helpful for public school families.) Heading into our 17th year, I have homeschooled through a wide variety of situations, talked with a lot of different families, and seen and experienced both successes and failures.  Too many of our churches are dealing with 21st century families with 1980's style support - and it isn't working. I think the #1 reason I hear of families stopping homeschooling is a lack of support. Mom is overwhelmed and/or doesn't know how to solve problems. Students want more experiences and opportunities than can be provided at home.  Struggling learning. Special Needs. High school. 

We all know education is important. We all know discipleship is important. Yet, too often when families hit burn out or blocks to providing the education they want for their children, the answer they are given by churches and the community is - "There is always public school". We all know that. But there are reasons we didn't choose that for our families to begin with. That isn't an answer - it is sometimes a way for churches and communities to keep from feeling guilty for not following through on the responsibility taken at baptism and church membership to support parents in raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So I want to give a list of some ways churches and church members can help their families - both little and big ways - and encourage both to prayerfully consider what you may need to do. 

#1 - Support parents - Some people are saying "Well, of course" and others "We want to help the kids", but the best thing you can do for any child is to support their parents. When parents are burnt out, overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling lost, they cannot give children what they need. Talk to your parents and find out what they need. Here's a few questions you can ask parents:

     - What are the biggest blocks for you to be educating and discipling your children the way you want to?

        - How can we help you overcome those blocks?

With this, please be asking yourself some questions about your adult, children's, and youth ministries:

        - Who is volunteering and why? Are your parents the ones teaching and running everything simply because if they don't, those opportunities for their children won't happen? Do they know they can step back if they need to, or want to, and those things will still happen? (I no longer volunteer for children's ministry. If I have to volunteer, my children do not attend. It is a mental health necessity for me.) 

        - Are you providing regular times of discipleship, rest, and refreshing for your parents?  The "Leave it to Beaver" days are well over. Your homeschooling parent is with her children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many are also working part-time and even full-time jobs, volunteering at Scouts, dealing with special needs, playing the roles of multiple teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, bus driver, school nurse, custodian, and curriculum supervisor, all while trying to keep up the normal "housewife" responsibilities. Many of the Dads are working long hours, and even multiple jobs, to support his family. There are single-parent families homeschooling, where the parent is doing the job of 2 parents plus entire school districts. THEY NEED TIME OFF. They need time to be discipled, to learn,  to worship, and pray without interruption, to be able to rest, to simply breathe. 

#2 Encourage church members to use their interests, hobbies, talents, and professions to help teach and support the children and youth in your church.  It could be as simple as inviting children to work with the Grounds Committee in planning and planting gardens. Even better, instead of flowers in your church beds, put in vegetables that the children have grown from seeds under the supervision of your master gardeners. Have teens work alongside the adults in building projects and running sound and audio. Use as much of the work within a church as learning opportunities for your youth as you possibly can. Ask for your hobby automotive tinkerer to invite teens to help with oil changes and tune ups. Your physicist could be helping a teen study for AP exams. A plumber could walk a family through replacing pipes. Your special education teachers and social workers could be helping with resources, methods, and ideas. Your retired elder could be teaching theology and philosophy to a family or local co-op.  Let them learn alongside their church family those things which parents may not be able to teach at home or those things they just need a little help with. You may have a mom who just needs help with laundry, or someone to read to the preschooler, or to rock a fussy baby, or run multiplication tables and memory verses, or bake the gluten free bread. You are investing in the next generation of Christ's hands and feet. The value of those relationships and skills cannot be underestimated. 

#3 Build a library - This is so simple, yet could be a huge blessing to so many families. Most churches have a library already. Those that don't, should. Public libraries cannot always be relied on for material and, I am finding, they increasingly have less of the type of material I need. Stock your church library with not just theology and Christian books, but classics, biographies (especially of people of faith), homeschool encouragement and methods, and even curriculum. Remove those old copies of the Prayer of Jabez, or the fluffy stuff like "Best Life Now" and "Purpose Driven Life", and replace them with C.S. Lewis, Homer, Alcott, Whitman, and Augustine. One of the biggest needs for parents (with both time and money) is being able to get a hands-on look at material, and maybe even being able to try it out, before purchasing. A place where there is curriculum available to look at, check out, and try out would be an enormous blessing! For those who have the space, also include manipulatives, specialized art supplies, science supplies, etc... If you are really invested a laminator, binding machine, paper cutter, and other tools to make notebooks, worksheets, and projects.

#4 Develop a book depot - Along with a library, a stash of books any student can take as their own. This could be a great ministry to not just homeschool families, but public schooled students who cannot write in books, cannot bring them home, or are having to share. Encourage your church members to take advantage of clearance sales, bulk sales, thrift stores, or even their own dusty shelves, to provide a stock of literature students can take. Everything from Plato, to Narnia, to Peter Rabbit. School supplies are always appreciated too. Stock up both your public schooled kids backpacks and your homeschooled kids shelves with paper, crayons, markers, binders, etc...

#5 Open and offer your building during the week - Provide classrooms, kitchens, gyms, fellowship halls, nurseries, etc.. for art, playdates, PE, music lessons. One of the most frustrating experiences I had as a homeschooling Mom was trying to find a place for 4 families who wanted to work together to do science and art. Have you ever seen 20 kids gathered around a dining room table trying to watch a frog dissection? We simply needed space where we could make a mess and easily clean up - but our home churches (where we tithed, volunteered, and served) all said "No" while those rooms sat empty all day.  One of the best experiences was our home church opening up its hallways for a high school physics assignment so we could measure force on a surface with little friction. Do you know how amazing it would be to have a church gym open in February to let kids run?! I know there are liability and budget issues which need to be considered, but find ways to work with those before shutting down the idea. You will find most homeschool families are more than happy to clean up after themselves, repair anything broken, or even provide volunteer hours in exchange for space. 

#6 Know your state's homeschool laws and find what help is needed for compliance and limitations.  Every state has different laws. A few are very unregulated, with little reporting, and full use of public school resources. Some have very heavy oversight, testing, portfolio reviews, and limited to no access to after school activities, special ed services, sports, or fine arts in the public schools. Those limitations are often things which force families back into public schools. I have seen homeschool bands with over 120 members, all volunteer run, with 3rd through 12 graders. I've seen homeschool footballs teams, soccer teams, science and math teams. But they require space and volunteers. (Maybe your church choir director would be willing to direct a homeschool choir? Or you have young adults willing to organize and coach a sports team?) I know families with special needs struggling to provide therapies and interventions - and often all they need is someone to show them what to do or financial help to provide private therapies and accommodations. Maybe you have qualified people who are willing to help with assessments - standardized testing and paid assessors can get expensive. 

#7 Help families who want to homeschool, or a private school, but can't. This is a much bigger commitment, but part of our responsibility.  It could be as simple as networking families to share education and childcare responsibilities. It could be setting up a fund for scholarships. It could be purposely employing parents and allowing children to be there working next to Mom or Dad. Maybe, you are being called to open a school for those who can't afford private school - even if it is simply one multi-age classroom. 

What can you do? What can your church do? How could your business help? Its back to school season. How are you going to help your community go back to school? 


Saturday, April 10, 2021

fault lines: A review

 Voddie Baucham's new book Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism's Looming Catastrophe should be on every Christian's reading list. If you embrace the social justice movement, it should make you think, research, and soul search. If you embrace Trump's America, it should make you stop, think, and soul search. It isn't perfect, but it draws a line in the sand - do you stand on the side of the Gospel or on the side of the world? 

Fault Lines

For full disclosure, I have done no real reading on the social justice movement. Not because of a lack of desire, but because family needs have demanded all my time, energy, and focus.  I needed someone else to break it down for me, but because I don't have the time to read widely, I wanted someone who I knew I could trust to remain faithful to those things on which I refuse to compromise - the authority of Scripture, the pre-eminence of Christ, God before country. But given so much of Black Lives Matter verbiage revolves around the "black story", it also needed to be someone who has lived that story. 

That is why I chose Voddie Baucham. I have watched him over the last 15 plus years stand up to both liberal and conservative forces. I have seen him stand up to powerful church and political leadership. I have heard him unwaveringly voice unpopular guidance in encouragement to put Scripture ahead of tradition, culture, and popular wisdom. He has been an advocate for justice within the American church long before it became fashionable. He also is a black man, the decedent of slaves, who was raised in inner-city poverty during desegregation by a single-mother.  Theologically reformed, well educated as a theologian and cultural anthropologist, and currently living in Africa, he holds a very unique set of credentials and perspective for a complex and challenging time.   I do realize that choosing an author who holds to similar fundamental beliefs as I do could lead to a certain amount of confirmation-bias.  I also felt if anyone could challenge where I could be wrong, while holding tight to those things which cannot be compromised, Dr Baucham could. 

"Growing ethnic tension is a problem - but it is not the main problem. While troubling, it is no match for the truth of the Gospel and the unity it creates among those who embrace it." (p.3)

Dr Baucham opens his book with defining terms and tracing the philosophical roots of Critical Social Justice, extensively quoting and footnoting from primary sources,  from Marx's Conflict Theory to Critical Race Theory. He then gives an autobiography, describing his own story of being black in America, how he got to where he is now, and his journey to Christ and ministry and the following identity crisis. What does it mean to be black and a Christian? Which comes first? 

He then jumps into the crux of the book - How does Critical Social Justice (CSJ) line up to Biblical Justice? He breaks down the statistics and talking point used to support CSJ with contrasting statistical analysis and examples, demonstrates examples of media bias, and finally jumps into analyzing the philosophy and definitions used. He shows CSJ to be not an analytics tool, but a worldview and religion with its own theology, liturgy, temples, and priests. His conclusion is that CSJ is antithetical to Biblical Justice, uses definitions which prohibit any type of dissent, and is in fact more harmful to People of Color than helpful. 

The last third of the book looks at how CSJ has worked its way into Evangelical Christianity, subverting Biblical Justice and the Gospel. Using examples from the Southern Baptist Convention and statements by well-known and respected Evangelical leaders, he demonstrates how Marxist ideas have quietly entered Evangelical verbiage and discussion.  He offers this summation:

I believe we are being duped by an ideology bent on our demise. This ideology has used our guilt and shame over American's past, our love for the brethren, and our good and godly desire for reconciliation and justice as a means through which to introduce destructive heresies. We cannot embrace, modify, baptize, or Christianize these ideologies. We must identify, resist, and repudiate them. We cannot be held hostage through emotional blackmail and name-calling. Instead, we must "see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8)  (p. 204)

Finally, he offers a way forward for Christians, but not a political strategy. In fact he specifically says we cannot fight this war with politics. Beginning with 2 Corinthians 10:3, he says the root of the problem is spiritual, it is a spiritual war we are fighting, therefore it must be fought at the spiritual level - prayer, boldly speaking the truth in love, taking every thought captive to Christ, and maintaining the unity of the Church.  Finally, he gives an appeal to boldly preaching and living Biblical Justice - that God has broken all barriers, that Sin is the root of all injustice, that Christ satisfied the demand for justice on the cross, and true healing can only come from repentance and forgiveness. He ends with his own powerful forgiveness story. 

He maintains a spirit and tone of compassion and understand toward those who have willingly and unwillingly embraced CSJ. He urges active and compassionate listening to the stories, the fears, and the hopelessness. He readily acknowledges that racism is a growing problem and many people of color have legitimate reasons for fear.  He advocates for seeking equality, justice, healing, and unity. He simply comes to the conclusion that Biblically, the only place it can be found is in Christ. 

I found the writing to be choppy at times, but to be fair that could have more to do with the constant interruptions I had! I would have liked to see more specific examples of actions which could be taken within both black and white churches, but given his conclusion, and that the book is already 250 pages, I can see why it is not there. I did question his final conclusions about "white guilt" - not because I don't believe Christ's death and resurrection has satisfied the need for justice and forgiveness, but because the sins of the father's are carried several generations, and a covenantal view would say we do bear some of the repercussions of that guilt. 

In the end, he confirmed and helped put into words much that I was already thinking. He raised concerns I had but couldn't completely put my finger on. He also challenged me to evaluate how I have allowed books to influence my theology instead of informing my reading of Scripture. I think for those who are already against CSJ, there is a need to look at his reasoning, and question where the same thing is being done in other areas - especially in evangelical politics. Where has human reasoning and desire supplanted the Gospel? Where do we fight political battles that are really spiritual battles? Where are we using law to replace the Gospel? While he is focused on neo-Marxism as it applies to CSJ, while reading I saw much of the same lines of thought and reasoning being used to justify nationalism, conspiracy theories, and conservatism. He draws a firm line with CSJ. I question whether or not many of those opposed to CSJ still stand on the same side, but over different issues. Can it be that neo-Marxist thought has crept its way into even the most conservative Christian political circles? 

Monday, June 1, 2020

When Racism Became Real for a White Woman

***This was originally intended for friends and family on my personal Facebook page, but I have had a number of requests to make it shareable and to publish it. I pray part of my story will bring healing, understanding, and healing to those who need it.*****

I've struggled with posting this because I'm not sure it will be taken the way it is intended. It is going to be long. Some things are too important to not say though. I don't talk about my first teaching job often. It was not a pleasant experience and 19 years later, I'm still not sure that I would ever willingly go back to a classroom as a result. I taught in an inner city black community. I went to NYC middle schools and high schools where the schools were very diverse, so I thought I knew what I was in for. I was very, very wrong. I was one of 4 white teachers - we were their diversity. My first day interacting with parents and students was an open house. My first family walked in, looked at me, curtly said, "I thought this was a BLACK school" and walked out. They never came back. While I heard other teachers talking about how warm their parents had been, I spent a day with cold shoulders, guarded faces, and blatant disappointment. Several weeks into the school year, one of my colleagues, who had grown up in the community, walked into my classroom after students were dismissed, shut the door, and said she needed to talk to me before something happened. As kindly as she could, she told me that my presence in the school was not welcomed by many parents and being a young white woman meant I was not safe outside the school walls. She asked me to please make sure I always left the neighborhood before dark, always went directly home and never stopped at a local store, and to please make sure I had someone with me walking from the school to my car in the parking lot right outside the building. For the rest of the school year, she did not leave until I did. I didn't understand. Even in the middle of it all, I didn't understand what was going on.
There were 2 encounters during my time there that began to open my eyes. The first was one of my students - Brandon. He was a very intelligent, highly verbal kid. He was a joy, and a terror, to teach! One day in the middle of math, he got out of his seat and gave me a hug. Looking up at me he said, "I am so glad Mama is going to let me stay in your class. She didn't want me having a white teacher, but said she would give you a chance. She says you are the only white lady who has ever been nice to us and you care about us, so I can stay. I like you. I don't want to leave." My heart broke. I was the ONLY white women that Mom had ever felt cared about her. The next was a father. Both he and his wife held Masters degrees. They had come back to the community they grew up in to help it change. They were strong Christians. They walked in for a parent-teacher conference after a string of very difficult meetings with parents. It must have shown. They took one look at me. Mom gave me a hug. Dad said, "Ignore how you are being treated. They don't get it. They don't get you. They never see white people who have good intentions and their culture tells them all white people are out for them. I know that isn't true. You know it isn't true. But they do not. Please, do not leave our school. Our community needs you. Our children need to see a white person who loves them. I know this has to be very hard, but you may be the only light they see." I couldn't believe he sincerely thought I may be the ONLY white person those kids would interact with whom they could trust.
I lasted 2 years in that school. I was offered another job, but I pushed through an additional semester because I was pregnant and knew I was leaving anyway. The stress of being hated for my color, for what I represented to them, for the sins of people who looked like me, not feeling safe, hearing my history washed out of books and treated with contempt was too much. But, I got to go home every night to my safe community, where my husband and I could walk the dog without fear. I could drive to the grocery store and never think about the cop on the corner - except for hoping he'd have some compassion if my stick-shift rolled back that steep hill as I tried to shift into first. After my maternity leave, we moved to a rural white community in PA. I have never had to live or work in those conditions again.
I lasted 2 years. Now imagine living that your entire life, with no place to escape, no one to protect you. At some point, you are going to break. In no way am I saying I fully understand. As a white middle class American I can't understand, but I've had a small taste, and that pain runs deeper than any of us can imagine. As long as we shut down peaceful protests, as long as we make excuses, as long as we hearken back to the "good old days" which weren't so good for entire communities in our nation, as long as we fail to speak out, the pain will continue, the wounds will fester, and the violence will escalate. I don't know what happened with any of my students. But I do know that especially if that father's prediction was correct, some of them are protesters and rioters - and I don't blame them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Its the End of the World as We Know It (and we'll be fine)

Social media, mainstream media, family conversations, all center around the drastic changes we have seen in the last 2 months. We have reached the point where we've had enough. We can all handle disruptions to our lives for a few weeks, maybe even a month, but as we reach the 2 month mark it feels unbearable. Tempers flare. Accusations fly. Stubbornness unfolds. Fear unfurls. We want our lives back.

This has been a different experience for our family than it has for most others. For the most part, nothing has changed. There are fewer things on the schedule. Groceries are harder to come by. We are eager to see any face other than each others. But our day to day has changed very little. You see, what the nation is going through now, we did 2 years ago.

It was a text message, an upset stomach, an email, then finally a phone call which flipped our world upside down, stripped away every expectation, distanced us from each other, under-minded our financial security, and locked us at home. It was the end of our world as we knew it.

But we are fine. 2 years later, still dealing with the consequences, we have a new normal and we are fine. Eventually we will be back together. Eventually we will be out and about, active in church and community again. It will never be the same. Never.  That will be fine.

What I see going on around us now is exactly what I went through 2 years ago. Fear. Anger. Blame. Self-doubt. Facts. Figures. Regulations. Legal rights......
"Its not fair."
"What about my rights?"
"What about my needs?"
"He should do the right thing!"
"How are we supposed to afford this."
"Just because they say we have to doesn't mean we do."

It didn't change a thing. It couldn't change a thing. None of it was in our control.

When life feels out of control, when it is unfair, when people in power are making decisions which adversely effect our lives, our capabilities, and our freedoms, there is grief. It looks like anger. It looks like being resigned. It looks like many different things - but ultimately it is grief. We must grieve the life we had, and begin foraging into a new normal.

As someone who has been through this recently, I learned a few things about going through a crisis:

1 - God is ultimately in control. It doesn't matter who is in the Oval Office, sitting on Capitol Hill, in the governor's chamber, researching at the CDC, patrolling your local street, manning the ED, stocking grocery shelves. God has placed each and every person there for "such a time as this". There is no such thing as "non-essential". God has placed you and every other individual where they are in this moment of history for a specific reason - and those reasons may surprise you and them. There is no decision made, law passed, regulation lifted, test developed, shelf remaining empty which does not work in His plan. So rest assured, no matter what, God has this.

2 - You are not in control and you do not have the answers.  Maybe that seems obvious, but we need the reminder. God does not work on our terms. He does not do things primarily to make our lives easier, or preserve our freedoms, or keep us healthy, or provide an income. He does not work in our time frame, through the means we think he should, or toward the ends we believe to be right. The sooner we admit and live as if we do not have the answers and we cannot control the situation, the sooner we can trust God and begin to see things as He does.

3 - The sooner you can chose to accept the worse possible outcome, the sooner you can work toward the best solution. I don't mean that as quietly sitting back and watching the world go by. I mean accepting the worse thing you can think of happening, the worse you may not have thought of happening, and nothing you or anyone else does can stop it, yet knowing, believing, and acting as if it will be okay. Once you do that, once you rest in the knowledge that no matter what "it is well with my soul". It is easier to think clearly, plan productively, advocate justly, and live fully. Not that there won't be bad days or weeks. Not that there aren't times to demand change and justice. Not that we should not keep pursuing truth. But that even in those endeavors, you are at peace with whatever the outcome. Those things are done with love, grace, compassion, and humility. You can fully love God and love your neighbor no matter the cost.

4 - Be prepared and willing to change in ways you don't want to. We all want to go back to our lives, but they are no longer there to go back to. Even if we opened up the nation tomorrow with every job intact, store stocked, and hospital staffed, it is never going to be the same. Our lives, our loves, our priorities have changed. The harder we hold on to the past, the harder it will be for all of us to make a way forward. There will be changes we love and ones we hate. There will be changes we never thought we would see, and others we wish would have happened. There will be pleasant surprises, and bitter disappointments. In it all, we each have the choice of how we will respond, how we will change. Will we become angry and bitter? Will be blindly accept whatever happens? Will we love our neighbor first, ourselves first, God first? Will we dig in our heals, or adapt?

I have no idea what the future will bring. Maybe we will be a socialist dictatorship by the end of this. Maybe we will regain liberties lost over the decades. Maybe the economy will boom stronger than ever, or maybe it will fall apart. Maybe we will have a deadly resurgence, or maybe this will become a tale our grandchildren laugh at wondering why we were so afraid of this virus. In the end, it doesn't matter. Possibly the most important lesson I learned through my "end of the world" moment was what Paul meant when he said, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil 1:21 ESV)  This world is not about us. It is about Christ. My life is not about me. It is about Christ. I have nothing to lose in this life and everything to gain in the next.

The children and I have talked about the possibilities of the world's events and how it, and our own saga, will end. We talk about what will happen if Mommy gets sick, if Daddy can't come home, if we can't go on vacation, if libraries and parks don't open, if the Constitution falls, if...., if...., if..... I hope they always remember just once thing: No matter what, God is Sovereign. No matter what, you are loved by a God who gave everything for you. No matter what, even if it is the End of the World....

It is well, it is well with my soul.

So we'll be fine.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Victory through Surrender

It happened again last night. That midnight cry for Mommy. Stumbling down the hall, I lifted my crying son, carried him to our rocking chair, and offered him his bottle. 20 minutes later I stood with the sleeping satisfied infant, struggling against exhaustion to stay upright as I laid him back into his bed. Tripping over a laundry basket, I found my way back to my own bed, surrendering to sleep before my head hit the pillow. 

"Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" Matt 11:28

Life is exhausting. I've been feeling this more than ever the last two years. The daily ins and outs of this life are overwhelming. There is more than one person could ever hope to accomplish, so the "do-to" list grows longer and the stress grows stronger. It is an hourly fight to not give up. To not give in. To not surrender.

As a good Reformed evangelical I've heard from birth how to "fight the good fight". How God will enable to me "fight my Goliaths", to face temptation, to do "all things through Him who gives me strength."  Pray, read your Bible, go to church, search for God's wisdom. Yet every day I move further and further into exhaustion. What was once a daily battle to find the grace and strength of God has become an hourly or minute-by-minute fight. All those "to-do's" just add to my list of things I don't accomplish- the list of failures and inadequacies - until I fall on my face and tell God I give up. "I can't do it. I won't do it. Please just take me home. Let me finally rest."

He responds, "You are right. This is not your fight."

The image of the Christian-warrior is woven all through scripture. We are told to "put on the full armor of God". We are instructed we have a battle "against the cosmic powers of this present darkness". So we fight. We fight sin. We fight temptation. We fight injustice....

And we wear ourselves out. 

But, Scripture is also full of instructions to surrender and submit.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the fleshbut those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is deathbut to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to Godfor it does not submit to God's lawindeedit cannot.  Romans 8:5-7

We do live in a war zone - one that dwells within us. Romans 8 comes after Paul discusses this battle between sin and the Spirit. But his solution is not fighting - it is surrender. We either surrender to "the flesh", or we surrender to God.  It is not a matter of whom we are fighting, we are not powerful enough to battle either side of this war. It is a question of to whom we are surrendering.

Scripture gives us example after example of faithful warriors who saw victory through surrender. David trusted God, and God defeated the Philistine giant Goliath. Joshua submitted, and God broke down Jericho's walls. Jesus stayed silent before his accusers, prayed "Not my will but yours be done", surrendered, and gained eternal victory. 

One of the greatest lies we live within the today's church is the necessity to fight. We fight ourselves. We fight the world. We fight each other. We fight in politics, literature, music, movies, and education.  I recently saw a church meme which stated, "If you don't master every area of your life, something else will".  I've heard so very often within the church community, "God has not yet given me victory".  Those are lies. They are exhausting lies. They are destructive lies. They are killing us. Killing our witness. Killing our nation. 

There are only 2 powers in this world - the power of Sin and the power of  God. We simply serve one power or the other. (Read Romans 7) God has already won the victory. It is certain. It is assured. We are each mastered by something. We are never our own masters. The question we are called to answer is, by whom are we mastered? To whom have we surrendered?  That changes everything!

This is what allows Jesus to say, "Come to me and I will give you rest."

Surrender is restful. Fighting is exhausting.

Surrender is trust in a bigger power. Fighting is trust in ourselves. 
Surrender to God leads to life. Surrender to sin leads to death. 

I am giving up the fight. I can't anymore. I am beaten down, broken, and unable to lift up my head. I was never called to fight this battle anyway. I will however, make daily, hourly, momentary decisions of surrender. I will rest in an active surrender which is more powerful, more trustworthy, more victorious than any battle I could ever fight. I surrender to the power of God within me to do "the next right thing". This does not mean I simply let life go by and am not active. It is the exact opposite. It means when faced with sleep or a crying child, I surrender to love. When faced with life's twists and turns, I surrender to trusting the One who holds the world in His hand. When sinned against, I surrender to forgiveness. When my rights conflict with someone else's, I surrender to sacrifice. When the budget is tight, I surrender to generosity. When death seems easier, I surrender to life. When my life is too much, I surrender it to Christ's death. This is more active, more involved, more dangerous than any fighting I can do. In Disney's "Frozen II" Anna sings a song which perfectly explains: 

How to rise from the floor?
But it's not you I'm rising for
Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing

I'm tired. I see a Church that is tired. I see a nation that is tired. Maybe it is time to stop fighting and start surrendering, one "next right thing" at a time. Maybe it is time to beat our swords into plows and surrender the fight to the One who has already won it. 

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live
All to Jesus I surrender
Humbly at His feet I bow
Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me Jesus take me now

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Hating What Is, To Love What Should Be

I've put off writing this for a long time. It hurts. It hurts to admit what no parent should ever feel. It reveals a part of me I don't want to exist. It is something I know many won't understand. It is something I don't understand because it isn't supposed to be this way. Yet, on this Holy Week, it is more true, more appropriate, and more necessary than my desire to hide it.

It isn't all the time and often it catches me unaware. It may be a tilt of the head or a profile view. It happens most in the early morning and evenings at bedtime - those first moments of shaking off the sleepy night and the droopy eyes after a busy day. When he is upset and crying it becomes so clear even though in the moment to moment of life I forget. My heart breaks. Anger rises up as I struggle not to turn away from seeing it - the almond shaped eyes with heavy bags, the lax jaw allowing a too large tongue to peek between his sweet lips, the ears that are just a little too small and slightly too low. These are physical reminders that all is not "right" within the very things that make this child I love who he is.

I hate it.

Not every parent of a special needs child feels this way. We all grieve and process, love and accept in different ways. This is the story of my struggle. In fact, those differences is what makes this harder. From the moment of his diagnosis I've been told: "It doesn't matter. He is perfect."  "He is exactly how God created him." "He is no different from any other child." I hear it from other special needs Moms. I've heard it from other Christians.

Yet as I watch my 6 month old lay his head face down in the floor, crying in exhaustion and frustration, struggling to lift his head for more than 2 minutes, then giving up because it is too hard, I know it isn't true. This is not the way it was intended to be.  He was created to be so much more than this. At the very beginning of his existence, something went terribly wrong. How can I as I loving parent reconcile loving this child so much and yet hating the very thing that defines so much of who he is?

As we head into this Holy Weekend, I have to wonder if this is how God looks at me.  When God created the first man and woman He looked on them with love and said, "It is very good." We were perfectly created in His image, to be His caretakers of the rest of creation, to spend our lives in glorifying Him and loving each other.  But, something went terribly, horrifically wrong. From the moment of that first bite of the Forbidden Fruit, we were no longer what we were created to be. That image of God written into our DNA was corrupted. Our loving, care-taking nature was transformed into pride and self-idolatry that has redefined who we are and what we do.

From the 3rd chapter of Genesis until now, we read in the Scriptures and observe through history the story of God, the struggle of God, loving this human race He perfectly created, yet hating the very thing that drives us. The entire Old Testament is God calling to humanity to return to what He created it to be - and us failing at every attempt. It is the story of mankind lifting its head to look up to the heavens for a brief time, then face planting, eyes to the ground, in pain, frustration, and exhaustion. We cannot do what we were created to do. It takes a strength we do not possess and all the therapy, exercise, and encouragement in the world is not going to change that.

God looks on his creation with love, and hatred.  But, He was able to do for me what I can never do for my son:

God came down, suffered every pain and misery, to change the very core of who I am back to what He created me to be.

You see, we believe a lie. It is a lie preached from too many pulpits in our churches. It is a lie we tell ourselves over and over again, because it is easier to believe the lie than to face the reality. We face-plant in the ground, unable to look up and tell ourselves "God loves me just as I am. I am exactly who He created me to be."  We tell others they must accept us for "who we are" because "God made me this way". Meanwhile, God is sitting next to us saying, "No! I intended so much more for you than this. Pick up your head and look at me." And just as my son does, we keep our heads in the ground because we have reached the end of our own strength and cannot look up.

God looks on us and says, "I hate who you are. But I love you enough to change you into who you are supposed to be."  He looks at our pride, our selfishness, our desire for ease, our physical drives, our striving for happiness, our need for success - and He hates it. It takes the purpose for which we were created and corrupts it into what He never desired for us. He sees us relaxing, face-planted on the ground, ignorant of all He has for us, and knows we are not strong enough to look up.

So He came down, got on the floor, placed His holy perfect unblemished hands on our muddy, dirty faces, and lifted up our head.

I know that as time goes on my reaction to my son's physical characteristics of his extra chromosome will fade. In time I will probably learn to expect them instead of being surprised by them.  But for now, when the grief rises up, when I feel the anger begin to bubble, I am reminded of the Cross. I am reminded that my Creator so hated what I am, and so loved who He created me to be, that He took on himself what he most hated to transform me into what He most loves. One day, the transformation begun on the Cross will be completed and I will stand before my Heavenly Father exactly as He created me to be...... and, by His grace, my perfected son will be next to me.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Choosing Life

"I need to know by Monday if you change your mind about termination."
"Okay. Well, thank you for calling and letting me know."
"Again, I'm sorry and expect to hear from a case manager next week. Have a good weekend."

I hung up the phone and turned around to face the man behind me, standing there with a concerned look. He had rushed our children to the dinner table when I stepped outside to take the call. I knew the call was coming. My doctor had left a voice mail earlier in the day saying she needed to talk to me about test results. I wasn't worried. I was 41, pregnant with baby #7. I figured my glucose or vitamin D levels were out of normal range. Been there. Done that. I was just going to need to work a trip to the pharmacy into a busy Friday then we could take a family trip to go buy our new little girl or boy his/her first outfit!

Now, looking at him I took a breath, struggling to hold back tears, I wondered how we had gotten to this place. Years of misplaced priorities, difficult ministry positions, deployments, children, and homeschooling had taken its toll. We were struggling to keep this 20 year marriage together.  This new baby was the result of marriage counseling. The irony was not lost on me!  Just a few weeks before our counselor had been trying to convince me that while this is not the way he would have suggested working on a marriage, God had given us this new baby partly to help us have a new beginning, and He was going to use him/her to help us -  to breathe new life into something that was dead. I wasn't so sure.

I looked at my husband, not too sure how he was going to respond. "That was my OB with the NIPT results. The baby tested positive for Down Syndrome - they are 98% certain.  I turned down termination and an amnio, but we have until Monday to decide. I will be going to Hawaii for a fetal echo-cardiogram. I will be scheduled to see maternal fetal medicine in the next week to start monitoring growth, heart, and intestines. I will probably have to deliver back in the states. The baby probably won't be able to go to your next duty station because more than likely he will need more interventions than what they have there."

He put an arm around me; pulled me in for a hug. "Its going to be okay. We can do this."

After a few minutes, and more than a few more tears, we walked into the dining room and our son asked, "Is it a boy?!"
I had forgotten to ask.

The following week we got our next blow. Our request for a change in orders was met with, "Your family does not have to go. You go with them, or without them."

It is National Right to Life Sunday. It hits very close to home this year. Pictures of marchers on the Mall in DC bring tears to my eyes as I rock my little boy and text my distant husband. They are marching for my son - for unborn children like him who deserve a chance to live despite their circumstances. For me - for women like me who are facing the darkest moments of their lives and feeling completely alone. For my husband - for men who need to know they are necessary, they are needed, they are important. They march for those who are not blessed with the support system we have - to create a culture that supports, that loves, that tells them they "can", and that there is beauty in the ashes. They march to create a society and government that assumes life, not death.

We chose life for a marriage that was dead. We chose life for our son whose future is unpredictable. Our choice for life put us right into the place we wanted to avoid - separated.  Our choice for life put an end to the life I wanted for myself.

I sit here writing this not knowing how this story is going to end. It has been a very long, dark, and difficult year. I don't know what the future holds for my baby boy. I don't even know what life holds for our marriage. I don't know if I will ever see my personal dreams realized. There are many struggles ahead. It isn't going to be easy. But I do know:

  • After the flurry of doctors and nurses left my hospital room with a fetal heart-rate stablized for the moment, where I was settling back into bed, alone and on oxygen, when my OB asked what I needed I said, "My husband."  As she directed a nurse to call the Red Cross to bring him home, the tears I cried were not just ones of anxiety for my unstable baby, but because I knew how much that one request really meant. 
  • 2 days later when he walked into my post-partum room, directly from the airport after 24 hours of travel, I fell into his arms in tears and never wanted to leave. As he pushed me down to the NICU, unable to walk the distance myself after the c-section, to meet our son, I struggled to not  think about having to say good-bye again in a few days and to enjoy the time we did have.
  • That baby boy asleep upstairs has already in his 11 months of life (3 outside the womb) touched our lives, our family, and others in ways I could have never imagined.  We cannot imagine life without him. 

The choice for Life is hard. It can be dark. It can push us past our limits and make us jump into a seemingly bottomless abyss.  It can require more from us than we ever thought possible. It can force us to rely on others and to trust what has failed us before. It changes our hopes, our dreams, our priorities.

It is Beautiful. It is Good. It is Love. 

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
 I came that they may have life
   and have it abundantly." 
John 10:10