I strained to hear her voice through the long-distance static and the heavy beat of the music.
“Is this Jen? What did you say?”
“It’s Tina. She…passed away.”
“What?! How?” Her answer was muffled by the party in the background.
“It happened yesterday.” She was now almost shouting to be heard, “Listen, everyone’s staring at me. I gotta go. I’ll write. Just thought you should know.”
I worked through the rest of the afternoon in a daze. Tina, my sister, had just turned 23. Learning of her death was like reaching the middle of a book only to find The End emblazoned in bold print. This wasn’t how the story of her life was supposed to go.
Lying in bed that night, I began questioning. “Why God? Why does this make you happy? What kind of a God are you that this makes you happy? You knew her. You know how she was neglected, how she was molested by her own father. And now she awaits the judgement throne, waiting to be sent to hell! You saw how her trust was broken. How could she trust You?”
A memory rose in my mind. Tina was talking with that bored, superior voice she used sometimes, “I know I’m like supposed to be praying or something, asking God to help me and doing good or whatever, but I just want to have fun. I like my life, doing things my way.” How could I have forgotten all the times she had spoken like that, all the times God had reached out to her with truth and mercy, and how out of pride, she had rejected him again and again. I was also reminded of how she often used those around her, manipulating, using her life story as an excuse to be selfish. I was rewriting the story so that she was good, so that all humans were good, really, and God was unjust. I had made my sister into an innocent victim. But God was not judging my made-up sister.
I had done this with others as well. I had wondered about tribal people who have never heard the gospel, about children who have been taught and acculturated to love Islam, or Buddhism or Agnosticism. How could a good God punish them? But, then, how could I understand these people better than the One who made them? The One who knows their every thought and motive?
I felt God was being unjust by giving a punishment much bigger than the crime. The thing was, God knows all these crimes inside and out and he understands the weight of eternal death in exact measure. If I’m humble, I have to admit, I don’t know enough about either to judge whether the punishment fits the crime or not. And why was I trusting God on the verses about hell, but not the verses on His justice and mercy? How much did I really know about hell?
I had become like one of Job’s friends. They didn’t understand what God was doing, so they conjectured. It’s so easy to do, but it’s naive.
At times, I had even entertained the idea that the problem of evil was the Achilles heel of the Christian faith. I came to realize, though, that the “problem of evil” is not a logical dilemma at all. It is a perception problem. I struggled with this concept for years, but that night I became more aware of how limited my understanding was. I grew slower to question God and quicker to question myself. My mouth was stopped, so to say, and I began searching and listening rather than judging the Judge.
“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
-Lewis in Till We Have Faces
Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.”
A few book helped me with my journey toward seeing God’s goodness in an evil world:
C.S. Lewis -A Grief Observed
C.S. Lewis-Till We Have Faces
C.S. Lewis- The Problem of Pain
Peter Kreeft- Making Sense Out of Suffering
The Reason for God – Timothy Keller
And, of course, the book of Job
This is our Thanksgiving Box. Throughout the year, we insert bits of thankfulness and read them all on Thanksgiving day.
I remember the first year we did this. I was smiling and cooking and going through the motions, but I wasn’t feeling it. I was the mother of five, seven and under, had a lot of health issues, and I was tired.
Distractedly, I opened the box and began reading. I smiled at the sweet thank yous the kids had dictated for me over the months, but my mind still buzzed with all I had to do. Then everything grew quiet as the last paper I read came into focus.
Thank You Eva’s lips turned pink again.
How could I have forgotten? I gathered my little Eva onto my lap and remembered how, six months previously, she had climbed on top of the dining room table and jumped as far and high as her little toddler legs would allow. Landing on her head, she almost passed out, and stayed in a state of semi-consciousness, while her face paled and her lips faded to blue.
The nurse told us to keep her awake for awhile and then check her every half hour through out the night. I did not sleep that night. It wasn’t long before her healthy pink color returned and nothing ever came of her fall. She was fine, but it sure gave me a scare.
Thinking about this made me realize something. If I had forgotten a big thing like that, how many smaller blessings had I forgotten? So the Thank you Box became a confirmed tradition in our house. For us, saying thank you in the abstract only reaches one inch deep, but as we remember the details, dozens and dozens of them, smiles grow wider, kids lean forward laughing, and everyone is joyful about the goodness of God. They don’t always think about it that way. But they’re being trained toward thankfulness. And I have found, so am I.
“Trust him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting – no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how many suspicions that you have bought a poke with no pig in it, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you – you believe simply that Somebody Else, by his death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.” -Father Capon
“So I think it is pretty clear that somebody has to die. Somebody has to die for the way we treat our black brothers and sisters in this country. Somebody has to die for the way we treat our brothers and sisters in uniform. Someone has to die for the way we treat the elderly, the way we slaughter the unborn, and the way we despise and marginalize the disabled. Someone has to die for our hatred, someone has to die for our selfishness, someone has to die for our envy, someone has to die for our bitterness. That is the bad news, and it does seem to be most of the news right now.
But there is good news too – The Good News.
Someone did. Someone took all this sin we see – the only person in the history of our world who did not deserve to die – and he died with our sin in His arms. He took it to the grave and He left it there when He returned.
There is only one way out of this kind of tangle of resentment and hate and bitterness and it is through the grave, in the arms of Christ.
Christians, there has never been a better time to share this good news. Lay down your grievances, lay down your accusations, lay down your hashtag fights, lay down your drama. Share the good news of salvation to a world that needs it more than anything.”
A while back I nannied a little girl. She was a cutie. Brown ringlets spiraled over her large dark eyes. Her cheeks dimpled adorably whenever she smiled. Every Monday she would arrive bright and early and leave around dinner. Sadly, I rarely saw her smile, at least not for the first part of each week. She screamed if she couldn’t go outside exactly when she wanted to. She howled when she couldn’t eat cookies for breakfast. She would cry and fuss, kick and hit and carry on for pretty much everything all day long. This only happened on Monday. By Wednesday her tempers had died down a little. By Thursday she was happy much of the day and Friday evening I would send her back a sweet, little angel for her parents to enjoy over the weekend. The next Monday we would begin the pattern again. Her parents were convinced she was just going through the terrible twos.
This little girl’s mind matured and she began to understand the rules. She could effectively throw tempers at her parents’ home, but not at mine. She began throwing non-stop tempers with her parents all week long, while playing cheerfully all week at my house. Her parents began noticing the discrepancy. I had been waiting for them to do this, to wonder about it out loud. When they did, I gently suggested what I had been thinking all along.
There’s no such thing as the terrible twos! The whole “reverse bonding” fiasco is non-sense. Children do develop quickly during their toddler years and this does present challenges, but it is not just some stage they must grow through. They now have a great attention span. This is a challenge. A mother can’t just distract them with a shiny toy like she used to. They have seen the world and they know their options. Who wants green beans when cookies exist? They are ready to be brought to a greater maturity. If the mother does not do the work necessary, the child will continue to have the maturity of a baby while having the cognitive and physical abilities of a small child. This is what we call the “terrible twos”. It doesn’t have to be that way. Two year olds can be so much fun! They just need gentle, but firm boundaries, and much higher expectations.
So, I will be blogging over the next several weeks about some basic principles and methods I used, not only with that little two year old girl, but also with my own five. I’m starting with a principal that may not seem to be pragmatically the most important, and it isn’t if you’re looking for a quick fix. But if you really want to nurture a long lasting relationship, I believe this first principal is foundational.
Grace Based Foundation
Every home has an atmosphere. I remember, as a child, visiting a classmate’s house for a full week. I was so excited! Two days in I changed my mind and desperately wanted to go home. The house was thick with arguing. I was always on the defense and my energy felt drained. That same summer I visited another friend’s home. The atmosphere there was peaceful and cheerful. It was a home where I felt energized to say kind things and help anyone who needed it. Teaching obedience without unconditional love creates a terrible atmosphere. It breeds insecurity, which in turn creates contrariness, tempers and sibling conflict.
There are two ways to avoid raising an insecure child, and all the problems that grow out of it. First, as you train your two year old, make sure you don’t set up an antagonistic relationship! If they feel it’s you against them, they will need to win to keep their dignity. Hence, the contrariness. Think of how you would like your husband or friend to rebuke you, and use the same careful and empathetic gentleness with your toddler. Come along side them, not against them. This produces an atmosphere of peace.
Say the above little girl had a temper because she wanted a forbidden item. First I would pick her up, hug her and empathize. “You want that don’t you? I know.” And sadly, “I can’t give it to you. I’m so sad, but you are having a temper and now you must go on time out.” I would give her a kiss on her head and gently put her on time out. If she was screaming too loudly for me to talk to her, I would just give her a hug and a kiss and set her in a baby gated area till she calmed down. Once she was done crying, I would talk to her and give her a time out. If she decided to scream in the room for more than a couple of minutes before calming down, I’d go in once in awhile and give her a quick hug to make sure she knew my love was still there. Then I’d walk away.
Love and authority go together. I was setting up a relationship with her where I was her authority, but I also loved her very much no matter what. She always knew I was sad for. She knew I was disciplining out of love because I was on her side. Sometimes she would attempt to rewrite the story about what was going on. She might say, “You mean!” But I would just smile and hug her, “How silly! We know that’s not true. I love you!”
I know some might think, “I could do that with my kid all day and she wouldn’t even notice. I would just be talking to a screaming child.” But parenting is like a tapestry. Unconditional love and empathy are only one thread. If that’s all you have, then yes, you will just be talking to a screaming child all day. There are many more threads, but I do think unconditional love is the most important.
“What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? And what if it had as much to do with our bodies as with our minds? What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love!” -J.K.A. Smith
Have you ever wished for a Bible curriculum that didn’t choose between being devotional and academic? A curriculum that taught details in a fun way while slowly revealing the big picture? One that included memory verses, children’s catechisms, vocabulary and geography, so that the work is all done for you? I have been using Classical Academic Press Bible with my three youngest this year and it does all this. I absolutely love it. CAP Bible is a four-year, full Bible curriculum written from a Covenantal point of view. It is great for parents who want to take Bible seriously as an academic subject, while still keeping it Christ-centered and fun.
First, I love this Bible because it weaves so many aspects of Bible knowledge together. It teaches chronologically and includes a wide variety of story facts, but it always shows how every story is really about Jesus. God’s character and His unfolding Covenantal plan are central. It teaches children’s catechism, Bible geography, and basic theology. It also teaches Biblical and theological vocabulary. My third grader is now comfortable with words like Elohim, Sanctification and Redemption. Nothing is dumbed down in this curriculum, but true to Classical Academic Press style, difficult concepts are broken down and taught in such a clear way that even small children can understand.
My fifth and sixth graders are working through book 3, the Gospels. This level moves chronologically through Jesus’s life. My kids read the passages from each gospel having to do with the story for the week. Together we work through comparative charts, maps and worksheets. They can now tell which gospel a person is reading from without hearing the passage because they understand the audience each gospel writer was focusing on. They learn many story facts, vocabulary, and basic theology, but again, the central them is Jesus’ character, His goodness, mercy, justice, and grace.
This is a great curriculum to give kids a foundational knowledge of scripture so that they can move on to doctrinal studies in junior high and high school. Most importantly, it’s fun. I don’t want my children to just know the Bible, I want them to love it. I wish this curriculum had been around when my teens were younger.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a Hallmark commercial. Maybe I’m watching my teen read to my eight year old, or I notice my daughter helping her little sister do chores. I stand, watching with precious moment eyes, and the world is warm and cozy with fuzzy yellow edges. Other times, though, parenting is a lot of work. It’s like a freight train, thundering down the track with no reference to how exhausted, sick or busy the parents are. And kids are challenging! There are precious moment days, yes, but there are also days when a parent wonders if everything she has ever taught her children has been a complete waste.
I’ve noticed two ways parents can react to these challenges. (When I say noticed, I don’t mean only in others. Over the years, I’ve had to fight both of these inclinations in my own parenting.) First, there is the mother who washes her hand of the whole mess. She’s seen other mothers give all their time and emotional energy to parenting well, only to fail. It’s just time and chance, she decides, so why stress? She may say it’s all grace, but she really means the same thing. Or she may parent out of fear. She has seen parents become so controlling that their kids rebel. She doesn’t quite know where that controlling-line is, so she stays as far from it as she can. This type of parent is really just delaying conflict until the kids are old enough to make unwise, life-altering decisions.
Then there’s the organized planner. This mother will find a method early on and she will persevere. After awhile, though, a new urgency will set in. She’ll start saying things like, “How many times have I told you to close the door! I said get off of the furniture NOW!” Her relationship with her children will become antagonistic. She’ll struggle with anger because the kids should really know how to do it right after all her trouble.
Or, she might have a more passive personality. Instead of being the controlling one in the antagonistic relationship she has inadvertently set up, she will become the victim, manipulating to gain control, “Look at this mess you’re making me clean!” Whether type A or passive, this kind of mothers mother feels her kids aren’t living up to what they should be. They should be the kind of kids who close doors, the kind of kids who put the milk away. They should know how to solve their own quarrels. They should be good kids by now! She did all the things necessary to make it so.
But, it was never her job to have good kids! It’s simply her job to love, instruct and train the children she has. She cannot change their hearts. The difference in attitude makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of the home. If her goal is to have a kids that never jumps on the couch, it’s going to really try her patience to have to remind said kid again, or to apply a consistent consequence again. If her job is simply to instruct or train her children, then who cares if she has to tell them over and over. She’s simply doing her expected job. If her goal is to have good teenagers, it will wear down her patience to correct their many character issues. If her job is simply to shepherd them, than she can look at each issue as another great opportunity to point them to Christ.
The stress melts away because she’s not attempting the impossible. Teaching, instructing and training are all possible. Changing children’s hearts is not. I’m really just saying what the Apostle Paul says. We can plant and we can water, but only God can make anyone grow.
So those are the two extremes. The first mother is permissive and presumptuous. She expects God to make things grow when she hasn’t planted or watered. The second mother, the controlling one, knows she must plant and water, but she then tries to play the part of the Holy Spirit and make them grow.
The answer to all this, the one I must remind myself of, is to work from a state of rest. We water and plant, we discipline consistently and we teach diligently, but we don’t worry about the results at all. We can’t add an inch to our stature, how much less can we change a child’s heart? Even the planting and watering can only be done in His strength.
The permissive mother and the controlling mother are both motivated by fear. Fear of their children turning out badly. Fear of their financial futures. Fear of their children rejecting them, or worse, rejecting God. But fear is a terrible motivator for parenting. It breeds despair in the permissive parent and anger and guilt in the controlling one. Fortunately, God never put these burdens on us. Because He is the one who makes people grow, we are free to parent out of love and joy.