Wow, it has been a long time. I would apologize and make empty promises about posting more, but if age has taught me anything about myself it is that I am doing the best I can, so I shouldn’t apologize for that, and I may or may not post again…ever. So if you have stumbled upon this, soak it up.

I have recently taken a break from Facebook for a while – at least from posting. I am not sure why except that I noticed that I was starting to think in Facebook posts about everything that happened to me. All of a sudden it hit me how egocentric I have become in the Facebook era – using that as a forum to whine about my circumstances and then seeking feedback from that, as if my self-worth was indistinguishable from my Facebook page.

Of course, just after I made this decision, I had an experience that tested my resolve. Staying true to my commitment caused me to think more deeply about the event and draw some lessons from it. These things are best shared on a blog, so here I sit. This is not to whine nor complain, but to share and hopefully encourage anyone bored enough to be reading past this point.

We went to St. Louis for Ashley’s birthday, and had a great experience on Friday night. We stayed at a hotel downtown which offered free dinner (if you consider a potato and hot dog and nacho bar dinner – which we did) and was within walking distance of the Arch. We took the kids swimming and then walked down to see the Arch up close. The next morning we slept in, ate breakfast, and took off to the Zoo. When we got there we rented a stroller and took off. Pretty soon we noticed that Will was not feeling well and when we picked him up he felt very warm. We went to the first aid station and found that he had a high fever and were advised to head home. We got him some overpriced medicine at the gift shop and gave it to him while we stopped to eat lunch. Will fell asleep, so I sat with him while Ashley and Hannah went to see a few more things. Will woke up and seemed to feel better, so we went to see the penguin exhibit, then met the girls and left.

The ride home was going fairly well. Will seemed better and was arguing with his sister. We made a couple of stops, and finally decided it was time to eat dinner. We pulled off to get McDonalds, and while waiting in the drive-through Will proceeded to…um…lose his lunch. We got out of line, parked the car, and started to clean him/us/the van up. I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you that it wasn’t fun or easy. An hour later we decided to try our luck and get back on the road.

About 20 miles later we got to a decent sized town and stopped again. This time it was to get gas and an air freshener. I won’t say which was the more important to us. As we pulled off the Interstate we heard a noise. You know the one. The noise that you think is a flat tire but you know it isn’t because you don’t want it to be, but when you get out and look you see that indeed it is a flat tire. We pulled into a truck stop to inspect the damage. Across the street was a Wal-Mart, and a quick call (thank you Google for iPhone) informed us that their tire center closed at 8:00. It was 7:55.

I won’t bore you with the sequence of events (flat spare, no comparable tires at the truck stop), but we eventually decided to stay overnight at a hotel around the corner. The hotel had a laundry facility (which we may have ruined) and a clean room, so it met our needs. We got cleaned up, got our tire fixed the next morning and made it home without incident.

It was tempting during this ordeal to feel sorry for ourselves or get overwhelmed with our misfortune. Instead, we were able to mainatain an attitude of thankfulness throughout. We were fortunate to be at McDonalds when Will got sick. We were more than fortunate to be at an exit in a town with a Wal-Mart and hotels when our tire blew instead of on a deserted stretch of Interstate with cornfields for miles with our flat spare. While it was not uneventful, it was managable and merely an inconvenience. It is simplistic to say “It could have been worse,” but that simple truth became our mantra.

As I work with families through the adoption process and experience life myself, I have often thought about the concept of a journey to best describe life. We make decisions about the direction we are headed and how that trip will go, but inevitably things happen that we don’t expect. Sometimes these things can be good, but it seems that more often they can be bad. It is during these times we feel that our entire journey is at risk, and we can react negatively to these things. I won’t get into a discussion here about what God is or is not responsible for, because I don’t pretend to know. What I do know is that no matter what happens to me on my journey, God is with me all the way. He may not have caused my flat tire, but He was there when I fixed it. He may or may not cause me to suffer or struggle or deal with difficult situations, but He will walk with me through those times. He may not even be specifically responsible for the great things that occur, but I know that He is there rejoicing with me when they do.

I don’t know why exactly I was able to maintain a proper perspective during our adventure, but I do pray that I am able to keep it when things happen in my life that are beyond my control.

Dear friend,

Five years ago today you made what must have been a difficult decision…one filled with much pain. I know I’ve said this before, but I can’t imagine what you experienced that night, and I don’t want to. There is no way that you could have known, as you wrapped up that little girl and prepared to take her to a place where she would be found and cared for, that God was preparing a place for her here – half a world away. We are thankful for her everyday, and I didn’t want this day to pass without pausing to honor you. Regardless of the reasons for your decision, we know that it was not a decision made lightly.

Just a quick update for you – Hannah is doing great. She is incredibly intelligent and terribly curious. She loves to figure out what things do and why they work. She loves to help, especially in the kitchen. She is learning so much, and always surprises us with words that she uses; words like “apparently” and “supposedly.” She has always, from the first moment we met her, dealt with new situations very well. She went to the dentist for the first time the other day, and she didn’t flinch when they cleaned her teeth. She was complimented at the doctor’s office the other day for her bravery during a strep test. She loves princesses and (recently) Barbies, and loves to sing and dance, especially with her brother and sister. She is very friendly and extremely confident.

In short, Hannah is loving and smart and considerate and wonderful. We couldn’t love her any more than we do, and we tell her often about how much you must have loved her to let her come here to be with us. I know that at some point there will be many difficult questions that we can’t answer in your absence, but for now it is enough to know that God picked her out of 5 billion people to come live with us. We are teaching her about God and Jesus, and she plans to be baptized in the Jordan River when she is ready. Hopefully we’ll find a river a little closer by then.

It is late and time to go, but I wanted to again thank you, wherever you are, for the choice you made five long years ago. I hope that if you are thinking of Hannah tonight, you will feel comfort knowing that she is loved dearly, and you will always be remembered with great honor for your decision and the impact it has made on our family.

When I look back at my childhood there are a few memories that stand out to me as those that played a big part in my development. One of those is about cooking with my mom. I remember pulling up a stool and standing at the counter to help her make lasagna (imagine my surprise when I found out it had cottage cheese in it), potato salad and, my favorite, chocolate chip cookies. I am convinced that these experiences not only gave me confidence in my ability to cook (some might say overconfidence) but also a close relationship with my mother.

Partly because of this modeling and partly out of necessity, I have tried to involve my children in cooking with me. We have made bread, muffins, pizza, cookies, cakes, casseroles – anything that can involve stirring, pouring and even a little measuring. Through this process my children have broken several things but learned many more. Hannah is four, but I am proud that she can recognize a butterfly cut in a chicken breast or pork chop.  She is only a few steps away from making homemade pizza all by herself and she can break eggs like a pro.

I don’t know if you have ever tried to cook with children, but there are a few guarantees if you do. First, you will make a huge mess. Flour, sugar, milk, red food coloring (yeah, that actually happened once – and I have the stained cabinets to prove it) – all will find their way to places other than the bowl for which they are intended. Things will be spilled, dropped, sloshed, and overfilled. Your kitchen will look as if the Pillsbury Dough Boy spontaneously combusted on your counter top – and all over your kids. This leads to the second guarantee: cooking with your kids will take much longer than cooking by yourself. Aside from the time spent cleaning up the mess mentioned above, you have to supervise each step one at a time. There is no multi-tasking when cooking with children, especially if there is more than one. You may step away from your work area to get something from the refrigerator once – but only once. You can’t leave the two-year-old stirring the cake batter while teaching the four-year-old to measure cinnamon.

The third guarantee is that your children will be very proud of themselves when they see (and taste) the finished product. Nothing makes a child beam like the announcement that they baked the cake for the potluck or that they made dinner for the family. And that is what makes the extra effort and time worthwhile. It doesn’t matter to them that they only did what you asked them to do and that you held their hand as they stirred or poured or mixed. It makes little difference to you that you actually did most of the work while they made your job harder. All that matters is that they were a part of creating something with you, and that sense of accomplishment becomes a part of who they are and who they will become.

Sometimes I get frustrated with God because He doesn’t work as quickly as I wish He would. I question His timing and His decision-making because He won’t act like I think He should. The God who parted the seas certainly can provide relief to disaster victims. The One who raised the dead could easily heal a cancer patient. Why does He allow conflict to go unresolved and threaten relationships between husbands and wives or church families when we all know He can do anything?

I certainly don’t want to oversimplify anything, and I don’t presume to know anything definitive on these topics. However, I wonder if He isn’t like the father who wants to teach his children to cook. God could do all those things, but His primary concern isn’t to create a painless existence. It would probably be easier for Him if it were. Rather, He is more focused on helping His children become more like Him, and that means teaching us to comfort those who are hurting, to bring aid in a disaster, and to be agents of peace in a world of conflict. He wants to teach us these things so we can be His hands and feet to the world. It will be much more messy if we work at it, and it will certainly take more time, but how much better off will we be when we can look back and see that, with God’s help, we were able to be involved in His work?

Throughout the Bible we find story after story about God choosing someone unlikely to do His work. He works with them over time to help them develop the faith they need, and then through them brings about His desired result. One of my favorites is Gideon, maybe because I can relate so well to Him. During a time that the Israelites are greatly oppressed by the people of Midian, an angel of God appears to a frightened, timid young man and calls him a “Mighty Warrior.” Judges 6:11-16 records this first conversation.

The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

Then, through a series of tests and proofs that God was going to be with him, Gideon finally believes and leads the Israelites to victory. However, as I read it I realize that Gideon didn’t actually do much to defeat the Midianites. God did all the work. He used Gideon to lead the group of 300 to go up against them, but God was the one who created confusion and caused the Midianites to kill themselves. I sometimes wonder why, if God was going to just kill the Midianites himself, why go to all the trouble of getting Gideon ready to lead? It leads me to the belief that, while God didn’t need Gideon, He obviously wanted him.

This account reinforces to me the belief that God’s primary concern is my development. He could easily fix all the things that are wrong all around me, but instead He wants to use me to help Him. He can heal a broken heart, but He wants me to develop the ability to give comfort. He could provide relief to those affected by disaster, but He wants me to develop a giving and compassionate heart. Yes, it will take more time and be more messy than if He were to work alone, and ultimately it is Him who will be doing all the work. But, it is important to Him to create within me a sense of accomplishment and a love of His work. He loves to see my excitement when I realize that we did something good together so that I will continue to seek out more opportunities to work with Him.

One of the best things we do each fall is go to Jackson’s Orchard with the kids. Here are some pictures from last year and this year.

2010

2009

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2009

Kids love locking doors.

We were at my sister and brother-in-law’s house this summer, and had just returned from a day at the beach. We were hot and dirty and tired. We got the kids’ bathed and in their pajamas and were two teethbrushings away from a little well-deserved rest. Ashley left the bathroom for a few minutes, and when she returned the door was shut and locked. Not locked-with-a-typical-push-button lock, but locked-with-a-key locked. I went outside to try to see through the slats in the window to see what was going on. Ashley was at the door, alternately trying to talk a four-year-old through the process of unlocking the door and shoving the key under the door. Hannah was trying to do what Ashley was saying, but had to divide her attention between that and protecting herself from Will, who was hitting her and taking the key away.

One might think that the experience of being locked in a room would be sufficient to eliminate the behavior of locking doors. One would be wrong. For some reason my kids love to lock doors, and from conversations with other parents I am not alone. I am fairly sure the desire to lock doors begins as simple curiosity, but the child quickly realizes that a locked door is their key to unbridled mischief. A locked door is the green light a child needs to do whatever they want – the things they have been wanting to do but their parents won’t let them. It offers them total freedom. With a locked door they can paint their nails…and their fingers…and toes. They can get into the jar of Vaseline and polish the floor. They can attempt to fill the bathtub with water from the toilet using bathtub toys that have holes in them. They can put on Mom’s makeup. They can play “Will It Fit?”

This is a lot of fun for the child, but it all changes when they hear the approaching footsteps and the voice of their parent calling for them – “What are you doing?” Now, instead of an instrument of freedom, the door becomes a form of protection, a barrier to help them hide from punishment. Instead of joy it signifies fear. The door no longer works to keep someone else out, but to keep the child in. The pride they just felt in their independence is replaced by the shame of their disobedience.

We can relate to this – not only through our own experiences with our children or as children ourselves, but also through our relationship with God the Father.  We close the door of our heart to what we know is right, which allows us to do what we want for a time. We are free to engage in our own selfish desires with total disregard of how our behavior is affecting us or those around us. Then we hear the voice of God. It may be through our conscience, through a sermon or scripture, or maybe we get caught red-handed. In some way we become self-aware of our behavior and have to ask ourselves, “What have I done?” Now the door is locked, but no longer is it to keep God out, but to keep ourselves in. We don’t want to face Him and experience His anger and disappointment. We want instead to fix it, to clean it up and make it seem that nothing has happened. Then we will go back to face our Father. The problem, however, is that we can’t. We are unable to clean up our own mess, and we need God’s help.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid out of fear and shame. While that sin placed a barrier between them and their Father, all hope was not lost. At that moment God began to formulate a plan by which His children could be back in a perfect relationship with Him. He established a law, but that law was not going to free them. It was only there to keep them close until the door could be unlocked. When Jesus came and died, He removed that barrier and unlocked the door. Consider the following passage from Galatians 3:21-25:

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Christ unlocked the door! He freed us from fear and shame and guilt. He removed the barrier between God the Father and His children. So why do we remain behind closed doors? Why do we refuse to open the door to be in that close relationship that God so dearly wants? Fear? Guilt? Shame? Our children stay for fear of punishment, and I think we do as well. We are disappointed in ourselves, and rather than face our Father we choose to stay confined because we assume that He will not love us like He did.  What we fail to consider, however, is the great love our Father has for us. If my child is locked in the bathroom, having made a mess of some sort, I want to get in, but not to punish them. I want to help them and protect them from further harm. Why would we assume that God is any different.

As John relays the message from the angel of God to the seven churches in Revelation, he has a strong message for the church at Laodicea. He wants to spew them out of His mouth because of their apathy and pride. He encourages them to repent, saying

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20)

He doesn’t want to come in to punish them. He isn’t going to disown them or make them sit in the corner. He wants to eat with them and renew the relationship that has been broken by their sin. The same is true of us. God didn’t send His son to remove the barrier put between us just so He can yell at us and tell us what terrible children we are. He knows that behind that door we are hurting, afraid and in a huge mess that we can’t fix. He has unlocked the door; now He just is waiting for us to open it so He can gather us up, fix our wounds and clean up our mess. The only question is do we trust Him enough to do it?

Of the many qualities necessary to be a stay at home parent, patience would have to top the list. There are obvious teaching points that require patience, like potty training, using glue and self-feeding (not necessarily in that order) that would drive an impatient person to a complete breakdown. But then there are the other things that make even a normally patient person like me want to climb to the top of the highest cliff and…(gulp)… look over the edge a few minutes, and then creep back down to safety while realizing that things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

One of these things has to be the persistence of a child when they get it in their head that they want something. Whether it is something small, like a cookie, or something significantly larger, like a cell phone, children can easily become fixated on the one thing that they want, and nothing will stand in their way. They will ask, then whine, beg, bargain, plead and cry. They refuse to accept answers such as “No,” “Later,” “That’s inappropriate,”  “Absolutely not,” or “Put that down.” They won’t accept reason, logic or threat of punishment. They just persist.

As the parent, sometimes my answer is “No” because what the child is asking for is not good for them. Ice cream would be a big hit at the breakfast table if I’d allow it (and if we hadn’t eaten it all for dinner the night before). My kids would eat cookies and candy all afternoon, but I say no because it will hurt them in the long run. I know that, but they don’t get it yet. However, sometimes the answer is “No” because I know they don’t really want what they are asking for. My kids start asking for Christmas gifts late in the summer. After birthdays have passed, they see something they want or that their friends have and they start asking for it now. Sometimes I say no because I know that they are asking out of shallow desire to have everything they see. It isn’t that what they want is wrong or even bad for them. They just don’t really want it.

This is one of the many lessons I learned from my dad. This and the “If I can’t trust you” speech. Anyway, rather than simply saying “No” to me, he would encourage me to wait – whether so I could save money or see if it went on sale, etc. He knew that if I could avoid the initial impulse of getting something just because I wanted it, the impulse would go away and I wouldn’t want it anymore. This has saved me more than a few times in my adult life as I have waited to make a decision, knowing that if, after the initial feeling went away and I still wanted something, it was a good idea. Unfortunately, I haven’t always followed this principle, and have made impulse decisions that I have regretted (yes, cat, I’m talking about you).

As I look back on my life I see many times that I have asked God the Father for things because I wanted them. Sometimes I have asked fervently, but the answer was “No” because it wasn’t the right time or it wasn’t good for me. However, sometimes I think God was just letting me continue to ask because He knew that the thing I was praying for wasn’t what I really wanted. I was never a great journal-keeper, but I did have spurts when I wrote more than others. I recently found one and re-read it, and I found myself chuckling about the things I asked God for. Some things I wanted badly for a moment, but quickly began asking for something else. I wonder if God just didn’t answer because He knew that I was not really serious.

One of Jesus’ teachings that stumped me for a while is in Luke 18:1-8 – the parable of the persistent widow.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This bothered me for a while because I thought that it was saying God is like the unjust judge. I finally figured out that it is saying that if the unjust judge will do the right thing because the widow was persistent, how much more will God, who is certainly just, do the right thing for His people who ask him. But this last time I read it I focused on the persistence part. The purpose of this parable, as Jesus told it, was to teach the disciples to keep praying and not give up. He wants us to be persistent. He wants me to ask, then beg, plead, cry and continue on until I get an answer. He doesn’t want me to ask once and then give up. If I do that, did I really want it in the first place?

I have to admit that I am too often guilty of asking once or twice and quitting, and by “too often” I mean “always.” I hear a sermon on Sunday about giving, so I ask God to help me become less selfish, and at the time I really mean it. But that is the last time I ask, and I could easily look back and say “God didn’t do that for me.” However, if I really wanted to be less selfish, wouldn’t I ask over and over until God gives that to me. As it is, the Godly traits and characteristics I hear about on Sundays are like toys in the Sears catalog that I see and want, but not enough to give up other things for.

(Excuse me while I tend to my sore toes, on which I have inadvertently stepped.)

Of course, I knew this already. I have read about the treasure that a man finds and sells everything to buy the field where it was found. I know about the pearl that a merchant found and sold all his possessions so he could purchase it. What I don’t know is why I don’t ask for God’s presence in my life with the same urgency and persistence that these people did. How does one cultivate that kind of desire, of passion for what is good and right? How can you develop the ability to value God enough to truly seek Him with the single-mindedness displayed by this widow and the merchant and the treasure hunter?

I am afraid of the answers to these questions, primarily because I think they have the words “difficult” and “trial” and “suffering” in them somehow. The widow sought justice because of the great injustice that was done to her. Throughout the Bible, and in my own experience, people draw closer to God and seek Him the most during times of difficulty and suffering. For example, read the book of Judges. Hardship results in greater pursuit of God, while times of peace typically end up in a gradual separation and some level of apathy about God. Of course, this usually causes hardship, which starts the cycle over again IF we choose to seek God to relieve our suffering.

So what is the end result of this rambling mess? I guess it is as simple/difficult as choosing to want the right things. I have said for some time now that as humans we will do what we want to do, so the key is to want to do the right things. The level of persistence exhibited in our prayer life will be a good indicator of what we want and how badly we want it.

One of the many challenges that all parents face is the issue of ownership. Children are very focused on what’s theirs and, by default, what is yours. The presence of additional children merely doubles (or triples) this concern, and much of the stay-at-home parent’s day is spent as a referee as you try to support each child in their quest to protect his property from the other children while teaching about the joys of sharing with others.

I have recently become fairly concerned that Will is growing up to have bully issues. Although he is the youngest, he is big enough to take what he wants – typically from Hannah – and strong enough to keep it. In fact, this behavior is almost so predictable that I sometimes put half of Will’s lunch on Hannah’s plate knowing that she will leave the table and he will eat it. He thinks that he is stealing her food, but I know that he is eating what he wouldn’t have eaten otherwise. I know this is reinforcing the negative behavior, but I am choosing my battles. The good news is that I will never have to send Will to school with lunch money.

At the same time I am trying to teach Will not to take whatever he wants, I am also working to teach Hannah the appropriate way to deal with adversity. I’ve tried to teach primary prevention (“Don’t leave your food lying on the coffee table.”), secondary prevention (“If you see your brother coming, pick your food up and keep it away from him.”) and crisis management (“If he takes your toy, ask for it back, and then come tell me.”). I’ve even tried reverse psychology (“If you act like you don’t care, he’ll stop playing with it and you can have it back.”). However, nothing seems to satisfy like a good blood-curdling scream when your brother is taking your stuff.

Often I will try to explain to Hannah the logic behind the situation, hoping to make her see that she is overreacting to a simple situation. For example, I often will give both children a small bowl of cereal for a snack. (Without milk, of course, because I am not a glutton for cleaning up messes.) Because Will is a faster, if not more focused, eater, he quickly finishes his and then goes to the next course, i.e. Hannah’s cereal. She screams, I come running (because I assume that she is mortally wounded), and she informs me not only that Will has taken her food but also that she is hungry, he is eating too much sugar for a little boy, and that he needs to be punished severely. It is at this time that I try to explain that there plenty of cereal, and that I will give her more. I reassure her that we will take care of her and won’t allow her to go hungry. If I’m feeling lucky I also try to reinforce that the cereal is actually mine because I bought it, and therefore belongs to all of us.

As a father I want my children to learn these lessons. I want them to be confident enough about the things we give them that they will willingly share them with each other. I want them to know that their needs will be met, and that if somebody takes their stuff we are more than capable of making it right. I don’t want them to be so afraid of losing their things that they begin to hoard them and refuse to help their siblings. I don’t want to raise children who are selfish and afraid, but children who are kind and generous.

So while I get frustrated with my children for their difficulty in grasping these concepts, I am embarrassed to realize my own failure as God the Father is trying to teach me the same things. There are so many times that I am afraid of losing what I have that I act like a child. I complain that others have more than I do. I refuse to share. I think of the things God has given me as my things rather than His. I am so focused on my stuff (or often my lack of it) that I become selfish and self-absorbed.

One of the Old Testament stories that challenges me every time I read it is the story of the widow at Zarephath in 1 Kings 17.

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’ ”

She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:7-16)

This woman woke up that morning, looked at her pantry, and realized that she had one more meal. She knew it had been coming for weeks. She had likely been rationing, and she and her son had probably been hungry for a long time, eating only what they needed to stay alive. Now it is over. Everything they have is used up. So she goes out with a heavy heart, maybe in tears, to gather the sticks she needs to make her last meal. Then some stranger asks for a loaf of bread like he is at the drive-thru at the local fast food place. Doesn’t he know? Doesn’t he care?

I don’t know if the woman was praying for deliverance. I don’t know if she expected God to help her. She evidently knew about God, but I don’t know what kind of relationship she had with Him. There must have been something there, however, since she responded to Elijah’s promise that He would provide for her. But the thing that strikes me is the woman’s complete selflessness. Despite her pain and grief, she trusted that by giving away the last of what she had she would be given all that she needed. She understood, or at least believed, that God has plenty for all His children, and it really isn’t ours to begin with.

So what would that look like in my life? I get so frustrated because I don’t have enough money saved up to get the things that I want/think I need. I don’t have the security I want in case my van breaks down or my air conditioner gives out. I am afraid of what will happen if there is a medical emergency that requires me to meet my deductible. So when I have five dollars in my pocket and a guy is standing on the side of the road holding a sign proclaiming his need, I speed up and pass by. Why? Because it is my money. It is all that I have left right now, and I don’t know what will happen next. I need to save it, protect it, hoard it. I don’t trust God, if you want to get right down to it. I can rationalize my decision all day long, but when it comes down to it it is because I don’t want to allow myself to be totally dependent on God.

If we want to take it a step further, Malachi records the words of God against the Israelites as He accuses them of robbing Him. They were robbing God when they refused their tithes and offerings, holding back for themselves. He offers them a challenge and asks them to test Him:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:10-12)

So when I am screaming about the inequality that exists or complaining that somebody is trying to take my stuff, my Father gently and patiently tries to explain, for the hundredth time, that it isn’t mine anyway. It is His, and He has plenty to go around. If I give up what He has given me for the good of another of His children, He will make sure that I have all that I need. In fact, He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”

Talk to any parent of more than one child, and they will tell you that each child is unique and must be parented differently. While this is obvious, it still surprises me on a regular basis. For example, Jaycie was a great reader. She wanted to read and picked it up easily. It may help that even at an early age we were overachievers – even putting static cling letters on our car windows to help her practice. By preschool she was well on her way to reading, and by Kindergarten was quite a good reader. Hannah, on the other hand, is certainly smart enough to read, but for whatever reason isn’t quite getting it.

Case in point. The other day we were driving and I decided to take advantage of the time in the car to learn some beginning letter sounds, and the letter “A” seemed like a good place to start.

“What do you see that starts with “A?” It sounds like uh, uh, uh…”

“Uh car. Uh tree.”

“No. Let’s try another one. What do you see that starts with the “tuh” sound? Tuh, tuh, tuh…”

“Tree!”

“Yes! Anything else? Tuh, tuh, tuh…”

“Truck!”

“Yes! Great job! Now let’s do “L.” What starts with la, la, la…”

“Car.”

“No. La, la, la…”

“Grass.”

“No.”

At this point I am starting to think that we should take a break – or start saving for some high school textbooks on tape. Of course, then there’s Will. I hear him saying over and over, “La, la, la, stupid. La, la, la, stupid.” I have a feeling that he is going to be another story altogether. I was reminded once again that every child is different, and my expectations and parenting techniques have to change based on the individual child. This doesn’t make me love any child less than the others, because my love is not based on their abilities or performance but my relationship with them.

Is it that far fetched to believe that God sees us the same way? I often compare myself to others and focus on the ways in which I am lacking. I am not as good a teacher as one person. I am not naturally inclined to visit like others are. I don’t pray like some people do. There are so many ways in which I am inferior to, or at least different than, others, and I spend much of my life living as if God thinks less of me because I am not as good as other people are. Because of my imperfections I am hesitant to approach my Father, embarrassed that I am not as good as His other children.

I have always known the verse that “God is no respecter of persons,” but I’m not sure I was totally aware of the context of it. Knowing that it is in Acts 10 and part of Peter’s speech to the first Gentile converts makes it even more significant.

“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35

Not to oversimplify the Jewish religion, but in some ways Peter spent much of his life being taught that he was valuable to God because of his obedience, his worship, his knowledge. He was defined by what he did and his heritage, not by his relationship with God. Even a three year association with Jesus didn’t completely convince Peter that God loves everybody unconditionally. It took a vision of food formerly considered unclean and the testimony of Cornelius to show him this great truth that God loves all of His children equally, just the way they are.

Just like my children are all different, I am very different from everyone else. I learn differently, express myself differently, and have different strengths and abilities. God loves those who serve Him in their own ways, but He loves me and accepts me equally. He deals with me in His infinite wisdom and understanding of who I am, and He has expectations of me based on His knowledge of who I can become. He doesn’t get frustrated with me because I am not as smart as my brother, or as devoted as my sister. He made me, and He wants me to do the best I can with what He has given me. That is good enough for me with my kids, and I am confident it is good enough for my Father.

I have done this before, and it seemed like a hit. I stole the idea of a live blog from guys who constantly update sporting events to give moment by moment updates. While I certainly won’t have that kind of time on my hands, updating this post throughout the day my actually help me remain sane. So, enjoy.

8:00 a.m. – We’re about to begin. As soon as I hit the “Publish” button, we are going to make a potty chart, pull out the stickers, and put the big boy underwear on. Will. We will put the underwear on Will. Then the fun will begin. Will just said that he is pooping. Gotta’ go.

8:22 a.m. – Okay, charts are made, stickers are on, and Will is excited about his Nemo underwear. I am taking this opportunity to reinforce to Hannah about going by herself, flushing and washing her hands all at the same time. Maybe we can kill two birds with one stone. Or two birds will use that same stone to beat me senseless. Only time will tell. Meanwhile I am going to remove everything of value within peeing distance and cover the things I can’t move.

*Note to self: Next time purchase multiple drop cloths*

*Additional note to self: There had better never be a next time.*

9:08 a.m. – I set my timer for an hour, and both kids went to the potty. This is the point where a new parent would say “See, this isn’t so hard.” I, however, know that that is a false confidence. It isn’t until they go to high school that I will rest and consider it a finished task.  On another note, it occurred to me that doing a live blog is only entertaining to you if my day falls apart. I am fairly certain that is why you are even reading this. “My day stinks. Let’s see what kind of awful things are happening to Lee. Then I will feel better.” So, here’s hoping that you are thoroughly disappointed today. But if I were a betting man, I’d keep checking in.

9:51 a.m. – Our first accident, and it wasn’t terrible. Will came into the kitchen holding his underwear. I thought at first he had just…well…gone #2, and we went into the bathroom where he finished his business. It wasn’t until I stepped in something wet that I realized we had two accidents. Maybe learning in stages is not the worst thing in the world. I’m going to put on some shoes.

10:17 a.m. – Update: Will now knows how to change the nozzle on the carpet cleaner from “Off” to “Stream.”

10:48 a.m. – There was (at least) one flaw in my plan to potty train this week before we replace the carpets – we aren’t replacing all the carpets. So, wouldn’t you know it, Will’s next accident was in his room where the carpet will not be replaced. Go figure. What are the odds? If you said 100%, you were right.

11:16 a.m. – Took a routine trip to the potty and went. Even stood up!  Oh, and Will is doing good too. (Just kidding – I couldn’t resist the cheap laugh, and I knew you’d be thinking it anyway.) On another note, Hannah is really excited about the stickers. She is going to the potty every 30 minutes or so. She is getting in the habit of flushing, so it’s all good.

11:21 a.m. – While I was tying the above entry, I heard the telltale noises that indicated another trip to the bathroom. At this rate I’m going to have to do a load of laundry during his nap. I only bought 7 pairs of underwear because I wasn’t sure of the size. We are already on our fourth pair, and it isn’t even lunch yet. I did wise up and put a pull-up on over his underwear. We’ll see how long that lasts.

1:27 p.m. – Finally down for a short respite before heading to get Jaycie after putting four pairs of underwear in the wash. Will fell backwards out of his chair at the end of lunch, and although I think he was mostly okay he scared himself pretty bad. After I sat over him for ten minutes and said “I told you so,” I picked him up. Just kidding. Five minutes. But seriously, he cried for a bit, and then fell asleep. I had to change him out of his underwear and into a pull-up without waking him up. And they say we don’t have challenges.

3:24 p.m. – Just got back from picking Jaycie up from school. So far this is really boring for you. I haven’t accomplished much today, but I am really tired. Potty training is a full-time job and completely takes the place of laundry (except those things that are directly related to potty training), straightening and cleaning the kitchen. Of course, maintaining a blog is taking a little time, but this is considered part of the process, so it doesn’t count.

4:44 p.m. – Will hasn’t gone since we got home. I’m pretty sure he will be making puddles pretty soon, but he is very resistant to going to the potty. I think we’ll go outside.

5:21 p.m. – Just after we went outside, the advice a friend just gave me came to mind. I introduced Will to the idea of making water outside. I think he loved it. Either way, it is one fewer mess for me to clean up.

6:13 p.m. – Are you as tired of this as I am? I figured. Anyway, I went in to play with Will while the rest of the fam is at Jaycie’s Cross Country practice. I checked and noticed that he was wet. I asked him, and he said “No I’m not.” He was. So my question is this: if this method is predicated on his discomfort when wet, but he is not uncomfortable when wet, then what are my chances of being successful? That low? Yeah, I was afraid of that.

8:44 p.m. – I’m done. Kids are in bed, and the only thing I’ve learned is that Will can withstand a certain amount of wetness without complaint. Oh, and the thing about the spray bottles. However, the day wasn’t too bad because my expectations were very low. I expected messes, and didn’t plan to do much of anything else. Check, and check. We’ll try again tomorrow, but no live blog. Sorry, but I don’t think you want that much detail of my life. If you are sitting there wondering “Is that really what Lee’s day is like?” the answer is a resounding yes.

Thanks for keeping me company today. It was not quite so lonely and torturous knowing (thinking…hoping) that you were there with me. Not here, where you could have actually helped, but there. At a safe distance. Laughing. *Sigh*

I used to get a little hurt when I heard Bill Cosby say “If you’ve got one kid, you’re not really a parent.” I knew this was a comedy bit, and I love him, so it wasn’t a big deal. Now, with three kids, while I certainly won’t go so far as he did, I do understand more where he was coming from. There is another level of complexity that exists with three kids that is very different than even having only two. The fighting, the jealousy, the time management…all these things make parenting a little more complicated.

This comes up a lot at our house around dinnertime. We made the mistake when Jaycie was young of cooking only things she would eat. Pasta, pork chops, corn dogs, etc. were staples of our diet because she would eat them, and we liked them, so it was the easy choice. Now, in our finite wisdom, we see the need to cook things that are better for all of us, and while sometimes that intersects with the likes of a particular child, it often does not. Sometimes we are at the end of our grocery envelope, and our dinner choices are governed more by what we have on hand as opposed to what will please the most people. This inevitably will cause some sort of outburst, something along the lines of “Why do we always have food I don’t like?” or “We always have baked potatoes!” My response to this is becoming standard. “Not everything is about you.” I am pretty sure this is the parental equivalent of an owl flying headlong into a closed glass door – just because it is wise doesn’t mean it is getting in.

I am becoming convinced that this is one of those important things that I need to somehow be teaching my children. Not everything we do is about you. Sometimes we will go to the store even though you want to go to the park. Sometimes we will go to the restaurant that we want, even though they don’t have the salsa you like. Some of the things we do aren’t because we love you or hate you. It just is. Some things are done for others, and because you are a part of the family, you will do it too. It’s that simple.

(Are you with me so far? Good, because it is about to get ugly.)

I have been thinking lately about how this principle applies to my spiritual life. With God as the Father and me as the child, I tend to interpret everything that happens to me as if it is about me. If something good happens, God is good and loves me. If something happens that I don’t like, I wonder why God allows bad things to happen or if I am being punished somehow. But what if not everything is about me? What if God is doing something that another of His children needs, and it affects me somehow? What right to I have to get mad and ask God why He is not doing what I want?”

This past January I was struggling. I was lost in toddler world, feeling like I wasn’t doing a good job and like I needed something else. I found out about a job that I was very interested in, but decided I was going to trust God. I laid out my fleece (not literally) and asked God to have someone ask me about it if I was to apply for it. The next day, two people talked to me about it – one of whom was the person doing the hiring. It was a sign. The next obstacle was figuring out child care, and that fell into place too. I told the people involved that I was interested and interviewed the next day. It was a great interview, and I just knew that this was what God had planned for me.

It was a week later that I got the call to inform me that they had chosen someone else. I was devastated. And angry. Why did God even put that out there. Why get my hopes up, only to pull the rug out from under me? It would have been better not even to apply than to get all worked up and excited about it. I felt like it had been promised to me, and then the promise was broken. I wasn’t even mad at the people involved. I was angry with God. It was as if He had taken something that was mine and given it to someone else. It probably didn’t help that this was a few days before my 40th birthday, but that is another story).

A few weeks later I learned that a person I knew had gotten the job, and my attitude began to change. First of all, I realized (actually I surmised – I don’t know for sure) that if she had not gotten this job she would likely have been out of a job altogether. Another manager who had been out for a year on a medical leave was returning, and there were no open manager spots. My assumption is that, as the youngest manager on staff, she would have been the one to leave to make room. Secondly, I later overheard her talking with a co-worker about her excitement about purchasing a new washer and dryer. With this new job, she was able to get some financial freedom that she needed badly.

I started to wonder if this decision had nothing to do with me but everything to do with her. I was just there. She needed the job much more than I did. Maybe God allowed me to interview to satisfy my curiosity, to shut me up. But it wasn’t that God doesn’t want good things for me, but in this situation it wasn’t about me.

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is John 9. This is the story of a man born blind, and I love it because of the detail John gives to the Pharisees’ response to him, his parents’ rejection of him, and his simple belief in Jesus. But there is a verse at the beginning of the chapter when the disciples first see the blind man.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

To me it sounds like the only reason this man was blind is for this purpose. How many years did he sit and suffer? Did he wonder why God had made him blind? If this is true of him, and he made it into the Bible, isn’t it more likely to be true of me as well? When I don’t get a job, or when my radiator goes out in my van, or when I lose my hearing in one ear because I saved my little brother from the icy water while sledding on shovels (okay, that wasn’t me), maybe it isn’t about me. Maybe, for some reason that I won’t ever understand, another of God’s children was served even though I was inconvenienced. And just as I want my children to accept that in their lives, I should accept it in mine.

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