All day I’ve been mulling over the contrast between the head and the heart in disputable matters of the church and life in general. It seems the popular and more comfortable choice today is to say that love surpasses all and that the heart should be our sole motivation citing 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. So love must be the solution, but not necessarily the emotional fuzzy squishy comfortable love.
Love stops a toddler from running into a busy street. Love grabs a child’s hand before they touch an iron. Love grounds a teenager from the Xbox. Love in its nature sets boundaries. One could say love employs justice. This tells me that love also uses the head in decision-making.
But a head without a heart would never take a moment to consider the plight of a stranger. A head without the heart would probably rely on past experience or simply the functionality in decision-making. A head may lack hope if the heart is not engaged.
Perhaps, this is why Jesus calls us to love God with everything we’ve got: our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind. Not making one more important than the other, but expecting each to work together to love completely.
This morning on her way out the door heading for school my daughter said her usual “see you later”. I responded with my daily “Have a good day. Love you”. Then she reminded me, “I won’t be back tonight”. She’ll be gone all night babysitting for friends. But those words stung my ears. I won’t be back.
Both of my older kids’ schools received threats yesterday. They determined that the threats weren’t credible, and I’m sure they came from an adolescent who thinks making a joke out of the death of children will get classes canceled. Yet when my mother heart read two emails stating that both schools had received threats through social media, emails, and calls, it made my work day feel longer. Because those threats that we think might not be credible might, in fact, be real. And today, I guess I won’t know until I’ve thrown myself at the mercy of God when the Twitter starts screaming that my kids’ schools have an active shooter.
I’ve been a part of the Facebook debates. I’ve seen how irate people can get when you suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s violent video games that have desensitized our children into warfare. I’ve also seen how Christians who profess to worship the God of ‘turn the other cheek’ hide behind their guns and their so-called God-given rights and freedoms to own them.
I’ve heard the arguments. I’ve been embarrassed of my community. I’m embarrassed of myself as I’ve attempted to come up with a quick solution to all this death and hate. Can we search 300 million homes in the next week? Can we take on a billion dollar industry and win? Can we simply just homeschool?
We politicize the death of children.
We politicize hate.
We politicize too much.
And still, we don’t seem to want to actually discuss the reality of how it could be anything and everything that makes our culture what it is today. It’s us. It’s all of us.
If I wanted to raise a school shooter, first, I would let media raise him instead. From early on, I would let him watch the Disney Channel, and he would rarely see my smiles as he’d be plugged into a screen. And when he would look at me, I’d be glued to my own personal screen as well. Then, as he ages, I’d let him watch tween shows where he would quickly learn that the children are always right and that parents are usually useless and disinterested.
Around age 9, his father and I would grow weary of our relationship and either divorce or go on our own adventures to “find ourselves”. But, no worries, because we will train our son to achieve the greatest dream of becoming a professional athlete, the pinnacle of success. He wouldn’t notice our dissolving familial commitment because he would be shuttled from one sport to another. Kids are resilient after all.
At 10, His still undeveloped brain would start to watch Youtubers from around the globe who may or may not have a moral compass, and he’ll start to play video games that train him that death is temporal before his frontal cortex knows otherwise. But the games keep him occupied, quiet, and still. I try my hand at them when he isn’t home and get a kick out it. My son will see his first porn on his phone in his bedroom at 11:30PM. I try to tell him that it’s a normal interest, but he probably shouldn’t look at it.
At 11, I’ll realize that I’ve neglected his spiritual development, so I’ll drag him to church and try to squeeze in youth group events between soccer, football, piano, and baseball practice. I’m surprised that he doesn’t enjoy church and can’t seem to make friends at youth group when he’s there at least once a month. But I simply don’t enjoy church either, and I complain regularly, in ear-shot of my son, about how the music is so antiquated and the preaching is lame. Why can’t the church be about what I want? We try several other churches to keep it interesting.
At 12, my son will bring home a failing grade. He is frustrated and embarrassed and blames the teacher. I do too. So I call the teacher and give her an earful. While I’m at it, I call the coach and tell him my son has been working harder than all the others so he’d better start in the next game. Of course, I won’t be there because I have a date after a late business meeting, but I’m sure to remind my son to practice so he can be better than the other kids. College recruiters are only six years away! Go ice that shoulder, buddy!
At 13, my son will start to notice girls, and I’ll ask if they are pretty, rather than ask if they are smart. I’ll make jokes about women regularly and laugh at the sexist comedy on HBO. He’s probably heard it on the bus anyway. My son decides to add marching band to his packed schedule to be with a cute girl. I’m relieved at more entertainment for him because he stunk at football, and I’m working now more than ever.
When my son turns 14, I’ll be deep into my career and myself. He is so busy with teen life that family time doesn’t exist. We haven’t had a family meal in months. Church didn’t work out for any of us, and the guilt trips are more than we can take every Sunday. Not to mention that God loves and forgives us anyway so why go? Haven’t you heard of grace? Clearly, those people at church haven’t, but we smile and pretend to like them when we run into them at Walmart.
At 15, I’ll take my son out shooting and rage about my rights to believe what I want and own what I want unwilling to discuss any other options. I’m an American. I have rights, obviously, everyone else doesn’t have their head screwed on straight. I watch a news channel that affirms me in this every day. Those idiots can yank my rights out of my cold, dead hands.
At 16, my son stays in his room whenever he is home. And I don’t check in much, both because I’m busy, and he is practically an adult. The fight to get him to clean is too time consuming. I check in on his grades to make sure he can get to college. He struggles in English, and I hammer him for it. I remind him that he’ll never get into college being so lazy. I guess he has friends at school. Who knows? I’m looking forward to two years, when he is out of my hands and I have the place to myself.
We have systematically abandoned childhood. We have busied the children without giving them time to learn the value of failure. We have taught them to follow their hearts while training them that success is measured in popularity, achievement, and money. We don’t model servitude. We model self-actualization with zero accountability. We have become our own gods and have trained teenagers to bow only to themselves. We dehumanize people of whom we disagree, and we are incapable of self-sacrifice for the good of all. Should we be surprised when a child picks up a gun and shoots up a school as they shockingly discover that they cannot achieve the standards set before them, when they’ve been trained that people are only people when they agree with you, and when they realize that their community never looked deeper into their lives than how many medals they received?
I visited a tiny, one room library that was more than one hundred years old today. And while one hundred years isn’t really old compared to libraries in other parts of the world, it struck me while I breathed in musty air and admired the artistry that often embellishes antique books, how many ideas and stories are housed in that tiny place now silenced waiting for the yellowed pages to be carefully turned again. I recognized a few authors, but most I didn’t. I opened several, read a few lines, and tried to connect my limited memory of American History with the copyright dates.
A century is more than enough time for a country to radically change. Within a century families see great, great grandchildren born and with them ideas, theories, doctrines all aptly developed and soon considered old fashioned after what seems just a few moments.
My grandparents were born more than a hundred years ago, and I wish I could sit and understand them more now as I witness how quickly our life pages yellow with age.
Truly, the ideas, dreams, and stories found within mankind don’t really change at all. Sure technology advances and architecture ebbs and flows like fashion, but love is the same, justice is still required, family is still paramount to the health of a community, and the value of a person to those who love them is still immeasurable.
Our lives are merely a vapor, and it is our duty to live them well. Not for our own selfish pleasures, but lived so that when all that remains of us is a yellowed memory on a shelf, the pages of our life still speak in truths understood to the readers hundreds of years later. Did we love? Did we speak for justice? Did we live a story worth reading?
We’ve retreated to our corners, digging our heels into our opinions.
We ready our scripts for a fight
to prove we are right.
We seek approval and justification of our side solely from those who read the very same lines.
These are the golden awards we receive; having the most people who agree with us surrounding us.
We hold pep rallies and rejoice in our common mind.
We rest in the comfort of being surrounded by an army of people who won’t question.
We must be right because that guy with the YouTube channel says so. We share it and feel the ego boost because of that guy.
We dismiss any questions.
We mock any disagreement.
We label any conflict as negative or uneducated.
We ready for battle to squelch discussion.
We shrink with bitter wounds because of what someone interjected.
We slaughter the opposition by plugging our ears and throwing words of mud to label them.
We are weak
because we won’t listen.
We are weakened
because battle-lines shatter community.
And we lose our footing as we fear the challenge of opposing thought. So we conveniently vilify views.
Our arguments cemented- only practiced to slay the opponent- fall flat at our avoidance of the stretching of our minds. Our opinions are meant to be heard not challenged. Our minds are meant to be made up.
Learning is shunned because of our rightness.
Transformation and unity are words of ages gone by. They are the dead religions of the past. Communication is only fruitful when everyone at the table agrees.
It’s finally warm enough in Houston to prune my climbing roses. I have three climbers, and they are a mess. Luckily, my boys are grounded from the Xbox, so they are officially enlisted to assist me with the big chop.
Some roses grow year round in Houston, though most still need an annual pruning to put on a good show in spring. Mine are in desperate need of attention. There is dead wood mixed in with new growth which prohibits airflow and can, and has, cause disease.
My roses have been through a lot this year. After all, they survived the pounding rain, forceful winds, and floods of hurricane Harvey. They also survived surprisingly below freezing temperatures seldom seen in this part of the country. They survived my boys nearly running them over with the mower and the trimmer. They survived our pug dog’s horrible choice of where to potty. And here, you see, they are still blooming. Somehow through all those tests and storms, I was able to cut a couple sad-looking blooms and place them in a vase.
These roses are a testimony to what is possible within our lives. Life brings heavy storms. And if we all knew what was coming, we would swear that we wouldn’t make it through. Yet, somehow we do. We pull through…just like my roses.
If I leave these roses alone after this last year of trials, they may survive, but it won’t be pretty.
The harshest test of all for my roses will be my attempt to prune them. I’ll cut them back to nearly nothing. I may damage some good vines in the process. I will definitely cut off all the winter growth, and they won’t look like much after I put away my garden shears. To quote my youngest, “you always cut them down to nothing!”
God does this to me sometimes. He allows life to cut me to the quick. I don’t believe He wishes to bring me harm. I do believe he disciplines me so I know where to grow next.
God’s plan for our lives is to cut away whatever is no longer growing or serving His purpose. He knows that if we keep the old dead diseased aspects of our life, we won’t bloom into what He desires.
Pruning is one of most difficult lessons for a Christian to learn. Sometimes the direction we want to grown is not in our best interest nor does it fit into the Great Gardener’s plan. We must submit to the Gardener, though it hurts. We must submit to the Gardener’s plan even if our plan seems easier and painless.
If life has brought you pain this year, try to see it as pruning. If a prayer was answered with a ‘no’ from the Great Gardener, press on and pray that He leads you to where you can best grow.
Spring is coming and with the Great Gardener’s help, your new life lessons will make you unstoppable, healthy, and beautiful. After all, this life we live is His garden, not ours.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. -John 15:2
Call it a mid-life crisis. I’m not coveting fast cars or plastic surgery. I haven’t bought anything expensive or colored my hair, nor do I really want to. Instead, I woke up one morning with this unwavering realization that my life has excelled in one thing and that is mediocrity.
I’ve lived a conservative life. After college graduation, I stepped right into the role of suburban mom of three. I never knew I wanted to be a stay-home mom until I tried to leave two big blue eyes at home with a sitter. Now I’ve been home with my kids for the majority of their lives. I went to work outside the home three years ago and quickly learned that for a youth ministering lifestyle, both parents absent through the summer isn’t easy. When one of my children began to struggle with depression and anxiety, I quickly walked away from a steady paycheck, a good job, and good people. I don’t regret it though my wallet does at times.
I recognize now as I’ve fallen even further behind the mass of Generation X moms who work, that I most assuredly will never professionally recover from a life spent momming. My ego flares up regularly in conversations as I posture to boast about my education, as if who I am without my education is not enough for the world. See how I even worked it into a blog. Geez. Who am I trying to impress exactly?
So, I’m a 41 year old mom. I haven’t done much to brag about. No one really knows my name. I wear leggings, and I load the dishwasher every day. I drive people places and fight teenagers regularly. My name isn’t in lights or on the cover of a book. I haven’t held together companies, and truthfully, I’m not sure that staying home will be worth it long term. I can’t afford college for my kids. They wear hand-me-downs regularly. I wish I could tell you that I have this mom thing down and that I’ve raised stellar children. But most days my singular agenda is to keep them all out of an institution. I have lofty goals for my kids: 1. Love Jesus. 2. Don’t kill each other.
I’ve watched other moms. I’ve coveted their perfect hair and nails. I’ve been amazed at their important jobs and shiny cars. I’ve glamorized the working mom. All the while, I’m just hoping my middle child doesn’t play another round of “is it flammable?” in the house. This is my life: leggings and hiding matches.
Twenty-five years ago I thought this life thing would feel more exciting. I had big dreams and thought a lot more of myself. In the throws of adolescence, I thought people were watching me and sincerely cared what I wore every day. None of that was completely true then and it is definitely not true now. Frankly, I don’t like people who care what I wear. Those people are horrible people. Avoid them.
Some of this life I intentionally chose. Some of this life was handed to me. And though days come when I feel less significant than others, those feelings all come from a place of narcissism and malcontent not from God. Life and growing up is mostly about accepting what is and doing your best with what you have to give. So, I mom. I mom like crazy. I mom to the best of my ability… and write a little when I have the time.
What I’ve learned is this: womankind looks at the outside. Women examine hair and nails. We study each other’s exterior and compare it to our own when we walk by mirrors. We wish for each other’s bodies and jobs and noses. We comment on crazy makeup trends with a quick follow up of “bless her heart” just in case someone accuses us of snobbery. We wish for different life circumstances and bigger paychecks. We are rarely content with what we have. And when we are content with who we are, then we pick on our spouses or kids or friends and make them projects rather than relationships.
Most women I know are fixers. Most of us read loads of books on the topic of fixing ourselves or fixing our kids or fixing our marriages. We spend a lot of time trying to fix things. Keeping up the appearance of having it all fixed becomes a full-time profession for some of us. And somehow during all this fixing, we forget that we are all doing this same thing…trying to appear significant and trying to be more than mediocre and trying to hide where we are all completely messed up.
But, if I’m mediocre and so is everyone else, then I’m not alone in that. We are all normal together. I only feel insignificant because I look into someone else’s life and covet it. I wear mediocrity like a badge of shame rather than living a life of gratitude and joy. I can’t change all the circumstances of my life, but my attitude is my choice.
Through it all I have great peace that while I may live out this life only being famous to my three precious kids and while their inheritance exists solely in the form of my sense of humor or their dad’s passion for the church, to my Creator I am someone quite unique and special. Every hair on my head was created with purpose. Every word I write was planned. Every moment and breath I take on this earth has great significance to Him. If that is mediocrity, then that is enough.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. -Psalm 139:13-16
I heard from God today. I’m often so entrenched in my own selfish bubble that I miss some really sweet messages of comfort. Today I got it. I hear you, Lord. Thank you. And, man, did I need it! Right on time, as usual.
It goes without saying that raising children in the faith today feels impossible. From every direction my kids’ heads are turned away from the path of the cross. For the most part, Hollywood mocks morality as well as the authority of parenthood. Unfortunately, my kids witness Hollywood on every screen in their life from their pockets to the theater. Politicians cheapen Jesus using him a vote manipulator. Churches struggle with entertaining or emoting my kids into belief. Our school teachers, while I know they believe, are limited in everything they say and do. My children’s best friends in school are not believers. From every angle, a walk in faith for my children is often lonely and confusing.
I am burdened by this. My heart aches thinking about it, primarily because I know that the two people at the helm of this family ship are so very faulty. Dave and I try hard to be good examples for the kids, but we fail. Daily, we fail.
My kids sit in a front row seat at my sin showcase.
Time is so precious, and I have so little of it. Getting in bedtime prayers and attempting spiritual conversations at our twice a week family dinner are generally our biggest opportunities for spiritual connection with the kids. The older they get the more difficult it is to find the time to ask them probing questions and get into faith discussions. And every year that has gone by has stolen one more family meal time. Instead, we shuttle people to rehearsals, practices, lessons, and meetings and talk in the car. The car is a great chance to try to get into their heads, but it too, is so minimal. Time never stops, but we refuse to let time steal every opportunity from us.
God knows that my heart is heavy with the burden of sharing my faith with my children and today I saw this…
“He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like a little leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” ~Matthew 13:33
I have three children. I recognize that biblical translations of this particular verse vary in the interpretation of the “three measures of flour”. And I’m not going to attempt a huge theological exposition on this tiny parable. Nevertheless, for me and my heart, what I read in these few words was the encouragement that my best efforts to work the word of Christ into the hearts of my three children won’t be all in vain. Small dividends will pay off. What God spoke to my heart today is that regardless of limited time and my giant glaring inadequacies, Christ uses my efforts to reveal Himself to my children. My limited and fallible attempts at sharing Jesus will result in growth. Thanks be to God!
Be comforted, parents. There is hope in Christ. Our attempts to share Jesus with our kids can pay off big, not because of us; rather, in spite of us.