Archives For Relationships

Speaking Softly

January 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

President Teddy Roosevelt was famous for saying “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”

The Bible leaves out the part about the big stick, but does state that “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1a). Since it seems that most people indicate that they dislike conflict, one would think that this truism would be heeded more often. Perhaps the reason that it is not is because we are unsure what a “soft answer” is. Does it mean that we need to keep our opinions to ourselves and only state niceties? After all, the Bible also states that it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11). Or perhaps it means that we are to give compliments to those we are frustrated with and by doing so “heap burning coals” on our enemy’s head (Prov. 25:22). While it is assuredly a good thing to both overlook an offense and to say kind things to those who wrong us, there are some circumstances where the continuance and growth of a relationship seem to require that we let someone else know what is bothering us. In this case, how can we ensure that our response can be classified as “soft?”

One way to answer this question is to look at the definition of the words that we use. The word soft can be defined as ”having a pleasing quality involving a subtle effect or contrast rather than sharp definition.” A “soft” answer then won’t draw rigid distinctions but instead will please the other by extending grace. When we respond softly it doesn’t mean that we continue unheard; it means that our response considers the other person and their perspective in shaping our communication efforts.

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to look at an example. For instance, can you hear the difference between telling someone “I didn’t feel like my time was respected” versus stating “You were disrespectful of my time.”? Not only is the second one full of more intense accusation but by using the word “disrespect” it indicts the other’s motives. Both sentences seemingly communicate the same thing, however the first can be more easily classified as a “soft” answer because it indicates a “subtle” contrast rather than a sharp, and perhaps aggressive, distinction.

What is shown in the example above has practical implications for a variety of circumstances in our lives. Our relationships with our spouse, children, friends and other loved ones will benefit from soft answers that diffuse, rather than incite, wrath. However, doing so requires a deliberation and mindfulness to our words that we are usually not quick to employ. Our emotions tend to get the best of us and instead of being “slow to speak” we are quick to voice our opinions. Speaking softly then not only requires that we are purposeful with how we say things, it requires that we take time to think through the implications of our words before we speak. In doing so, our words are more likely to be pleasing to the other and to turn away the wrath that we otherwise might face.

People often say that “familiarity breeds contempt.” This may sometimes be the case, but perhaps even more frequently familiarity gives birth to complacency.  We may not have disdain for those things or people that we are most familiar with, but we do tend to get accustomed to them. As we acclimate to their presence, our care of them tends to wane.

This is often seen in marriages. The formalities and niceties that permeated the dating relationships can disappear as couples live their lives day-in and day-out. We make assumptions about what our husband or wife thinks because we believe we know them so well. Hurt feelings are disregarded and compliments end because we’ve simply grown used to having them around. Our attention to details tends to fade.

Because of this proclivity, we sometimes forget to ask the same questions of our spouse that we would a close friend. These like “how are you doing?” become perfunctory rather than an ardent inquiry into their well-being. For the Christian, an even better question that is often neglected is “how can I be praying for you?” Because we assume we know what is going on in our spouse’s life, we may not think to ask.

However, regularly and intentionally asking our spouse for their prayer requests has several benefits. Namely:

You better understand their challenges and struggles. When you catch up with each other and the end of the day there is often a list of discussion points that must be covered. You need to compare calendars, make plans, and ensure you are on the same page with one another in regards to the kids. While doing this you may think that you have a good understanding of your loved one’s day, but likely you have only a cursory overview. Asking for specific prayer requests helps reveals what issues are most pressing on your spouse’s heart. It reveals what areas or issues are causing them concern, and allows you to partner together in facing them.

You are better prepared to help them. Building off the previous point, when you are aware of the issues that your spouse must contend with during a day, you know better how you may bless them. You may think that your are helping your spouse because you are preparing dinner and getting the laundry done, but perhaps what they really need in that season is someone to take the car in for an oil change which they have intended to do for the last several weeks but it just never got done. This is a simplistic example, but it illustrates the point. We tend to do the same thing that we’ve always done assuming that what has been beneficial in the past carries the same benefit into the future. People and marriages go through seasons and different needs arise. Asking your spouse for their prayer requests not only allows you to petition God for help on their behalf, it may be an opportunity that God uses to speak into your heart on how you may bless the one you love.

You can follow up and keep track. When you say a general prayer for your spouse, God is faithful to respond. The challenge is that you don’t have any idea what the response was. Because you were not specific, it is difficult to demonstrate a specific answer. This means that you can’t follow-up with your spouse to see whether their needs were met, nor can you know whether continued petitioning is needed. Additionally, you have no record of God’s faithful and generous response to your requests, because all your requests were abstract. Throughout Scripture God calls His people to remember what He has done in their lives. Knowing how He has responded to your prayers is one aspect of this. If you have only made general requests on behalf of your spouse, all of your recollections will be general too. While this may provide some comfort the next time you face an uncertain or scary future, specificity would probably provide even greater assurance as you recall the things God has done.

You show your spouse love. One of the marvelous things about prayer is that even nonbelievers tend to appreciate it when you pray for them. Lifting your loved one up to the One who loves them even more than you do and Whose purposes can not be thwarted (Job 42:2) demonstrates your affection and concern. Your spouse will likely face many situations where you can not tangibly provide them what they need. However, you can always pray. As you do so, you are asking the One who controls all to intervene on their behalf. What is a better indication of love than that?

In the busyness of the days it is easy to assume that you know how you should pray for your spouse. However, purposefully asking them for their requests has numerous benefits. As we do so we reveal that our familiarity has not caused us to grow passive. Instead, the more we are aware of their concerns, the more likely we are to bear their burden as our own (see Gal. 6:2). The more we know how we should petition, the more we see the response and the effects of those prayers. And the more purposefully we pray, the more demonstratively we show our love.

As readers of this blog know, I recently acquired a new role as “mom.” As God would ordain it, shortly after I received this title, several of my friends became first-time mommies too. As a result, I have had many conversations, Facebook messages, texts and emails with questions, frustrations and sheer confusion as we travel this road together. I thought it might be helpful to put share some of what I’ve learned for other followers of Christ who are starting this journey or who anticipate doing so in the future. Perhaps the fact that it’s not brand-new to me, yet I’m not far removed from the initial induction either, gives me a different perspective than most have on this subject. If nothing else, I’m sure it will give me something to look back on and laugh about in the years ahead.

Dear New Mom:

Welcome to the craziest roller coaster ride that you will likely ever experience. If your little one has been on this Earth for at least 24 hours, you are probably already aware that motherhood isn’t exactly like what you anticipated. In a short amount of time this new role can take you on more twists and turns than a high-speed racetrack. You will likely experience some of the greatest thrills of your life as a result of this new responsibility, and at the same time, you will likely face some of your biggest doubts and fears. If you are in one of those times where the doubts seem to outweigh the joys, let me assure you, it does get better. It’s not that the questions won’t persist – they will, or new ones will appear – but in the midst of wondering whether you are doing it right, your little one will give you a charmed smile that makes you realize it’s all worth it.

You’ve probably already faced the question that every new mother is asked – “how is it going?” It’s a loaded question because everyone expects to hear your litany of reasons why you love being a mom. Yet sometimes those reasons can be obscured by the enormity of the task. If you’re like me, the first few weeks of taking on this new job are harder than you imagined. But you don’t want to say that. Otherwise people may think that you don’t recognize what an awesome privilege you have been given. It’s o.k. You can both acknowledge that it’s hard and be grateful that God saw fit to give you this opportunity. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, regardless of how people respond. The sleepless nights, the dependence that your little one has on you, the concern over each new development and whether it’s “normal,” combined with a tidal wave of hormones that are rushing through your body – these things are not easy. But remember this – even if there are moments where you think you can’t handle it – God didn’t call you to this role expecting that you would do it all on your own. He called you to this ministry with the desire that you would depend upon Him to accomplish what He has called you to do. There are days where you will wonder if you are good enough – you aren’t. But He is. And as you rely on Him, He will provide you with the grace, wisdom, strength and fortitude you need to be who He desires you to be as you parent this little life.

You may have already forgotten what your life was like before your little one arrived. It’s amazing how quickly they integrate themselves. It is true what they say – your life will never be the same. While eventually your little one will learn to sleep through the night, and you will again too, restlessness will now accompany your nighttime dreams. If you were a heavy sleeper before you became a mom, you can probably kiss that goodbye. Your child’s cry will quickly disabuse you of the ability to block out any sound in order to count sheep. You’ve also probably realized that being a mom means that your life is now about sacrifice. Motherhood is great at revealing those areas of your life that you thought were “yours” – those things that are supposed to be under your control and are not to be messed with. Your schedule, your preferences, and your proclivities are now subjugated to the development of this little life.  Privacy is probably a thing of the past, at least for quite a while, as any mom whose toddler has stuck their fingers under the bathroom door can tell you. It’s o.k.; your Savior gave up a lot more on your behalf (Phil. 2:7). While sometimes the lessons are hard, be grateful that God has used this new responsibility to conform you more into the image of your Son. He could have used a different role, something that didn’t come with a child’s love and affection.

I would hate for you to think that being a mom is all about giving things up though – you also gain a lot. You will garner a new appreciation for the love that your Father has for you as you realize in a new way what it meant for Him to sacrifice His Son on your behalf (Jn. 3:16). You will also probably quickly learn to take things in stride more; your little one will change so much from day-to-day that you quickly learn that there are a lot of things in life that aren’t permanent so it’s best to concentrate on those things that will have eternal significance. You will also get adept at multi-tasking in ways that you probably didn’t expect; you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in the short spurts that your child naps.  And if you are blessed to be married to a man who is a great dad, your love for him will grow even stronger as you get a front-row seat to watching him train up your child according to God’s ways.  Your life won’t be the same, it’s true; and you will be so grateful for that fact.

As with any ministry that God gives us, there are good days and tough days when it comes to being a mom. However, as with any ministry the most important thing to remember is that being a mom is not about you. Your job as a parent is to put God’s glory on display – both in how you parent and in the way you respond to the challenges that it throws at you. When you don’t know what to do you will be tempted to seek wisdom from a lot of places – your mom, the Internet, friends and strangers that have walked the road before. However, while they may have good advice, make sure that the first place you go is to the One who created the life that you’ve been entrusted with. While others may be parents, God called you to parent this child. And your child is not the same as mine. Let motherhood draw you into a deeper dependence upon your Heavenly Father.  Seek His wisdom and His help as you walk the road that He has set before you. He is the One who has called you to this task, and He is the One who can best equip you for it.

Finally, remember this, while you always be a mom, you only have a limited time to parent your child. Make the most of that time. Be  intentional and diligent about telling your child about Christ. Pray for your child and pray with them. Model for them what it means to be a Christ follower, and talk with them about it too. Your child will learn a lot from you; at the end of the day, make sure you have taught them what is most important.

Welcome to mommyhood, dear one.  It’s a wild ride for sure. But thankfully, if you are a child of the King, it’s not one that you ride alone.

If anyone is keeping track, you know that I’m a bit behind on my blog of monthly parenting lessons. I have learned that I am just going to have to accept the fact that my schedule is no longer my own. At any time a little one can get sick, or go through a growth spurt, or have their sleeping patterns change, and my carefully crafted agenda goes out the window. However, I still appreciate the practice of recalling the lessons I have learned as I experience my first year of being a parent. Since my little one turned six months the same month as Father’s Day, my plan was to write what I’ve learned from watching my husband be a father. Despite my tardiness, I’m sticking with that plan.

Dads should be tough and tender - I’m blessed by the fact that not only am I married to a man who is a great father, but I had a great dad myself. One of the things I’ve learned from watching both of them is that a good dad is both tough and tender, and knows when it is best to exhibit each of these characteristics. One of the things I appreciate about my husband is that even though our child is very young, he is already purposefully and intentionally correcting her behavior when it is needed. However, I also value the fact that he desires to provide her comfort and reprieve from pain what that is appropriate. Dads have a difficult job; the good ones know when they need to be tough, but they are equally (and maybe even more eagerly) adept at showing compassion and love.

Dads and daughters have special smiles – When I tell the story of my little one being born, I often include the fact that my favorite part of the experience, besides my little girl’s arrival, is seeing my husband’s face when she made her debut. I have never seen joy express itself in quite that way before. Similarly, my daughter beams with delight when her dad gets home from work. She smiles for a lot of people but there is a special one that is reserved for him. It’s the way it should be and it thrills me that they share this connection.

Dads bring the fun - I think I’m a fairly fun individual, but in my role as mom, I’m all about protecting my little girl. My husband, however, is great at balancing the need to protect her with the desire to make sure she has fun. Even at this young age, he’ll come up with new games that they can play together – all the while making sure that while she’s safe, she’s also busy learning to try new things. I haven’t managed to get it in writing  yet, but I’m hoping he will agree to teach her how to drive. I think I’m going to be the quintessential nervous wreck if that task is left to me.

Spiritual Leadership Starts Young – The most important role that a dad has is being the spiritual leader for their children. While it may be tempting to think this doesn’t apply until the child can engage in conversation, as I’ve already mention, children start learning things from a very early age. I so appreciate that my husband is purposeful about including our daughter in our desire to serve, honor and know God. It is our prayer that one day this desire will become hers as well.

Six months went by fast and it’s amazing to think of all the things I’ve learned in that time. I’m looking forward to what I will continue to learn – not only about being a parent, but about being the woman God desires for me to be.

Study to Serve

June 6, 2013 — 2 Comments

iStock_000000641866XSmallMy dad used to tease me that I would be a great professional student. As with most humor the reason this was funny is because there was truth behind it. I am one of those rare people who love school. I appreciate the organization, I treasure the learning and I actually like the process of studying. Having dedicated time to learn new material works well with both my introversion and my tendency to collect things (like random facts.) Academic pursuits are invigorating for me.

Since I am no longer a student in any official capacity it would be easy to think that my days of studying are over. After all, no one is going to issue me a pop quiz. Finals week does not cause me to stay up late and attempt to cram (since now I’m the one giving the finals I stay up late to assess how successful the cramming was.)  Report cards are a thing of the past. Studying, it would seem, would join it.

While I may not be sharpening any number 2 pencils or purchasing any blue books, it doesn’t mean that my study sessions are over. There is a far more important report than the one that arrived in the mail every semester. At the end of my days there is an account that I will give to my Maker regarding what I did with the blessing of marriage that He gave me. Giving an account that will honor Him is one that requires even more diligence and focus than my hardest exam. It requires that I study.

This may seem like an arduous task for something that is supposed to be a delight. And let me assuaged any concerns by stating that I deeply and profoundly love my spouse and being married to him is the second greatest gift in my life after my salvation in Jesus Christ. However, serving him in a way that pleases Jesus doesn’t come naturally. Serving anyone goes against our sinful nature because our desire is to please ourselves. Serving another person in a way that will be best for that other person requires awareness, expansive knowledge and spontaneous recall. In other words, it requires that I study who my husband is so that my service is prompted by what would most benefit him. The aim of my study then is not so that I can pat myself on the back for my good performance, but that through our marriage my husband is encouraged and God is pleased.

What things should I study? There are at least four areas on which I should focus:

1) Study his habits  – Maybe your spouse always forgets where they put their keys. Or maybe you know that he likes a glass of water before dinner or the house cooled before he goes to sleep. When you studying your husband’s habits it makes it easier to know how to best serve him because you can more easily identify areas where you loving assistance would be most appreciated, and most beneficial to him. Diligently observing how he regularly organizes and operates his day while reveal specific ways that you can do good to your spouse and as a result display Jesus’ love to him.

2) Study his hobbies  – It seems to be en vogue for husbands and wives to spend their time separately. We want to allow each other to “be their own person” or so the reasoning goes. However, when you got married God joined you together (Mt. 19:5) and it makes sense then that there would be some crossover between what the other partner likes to do. Hobbies are a wonderful indication of what someone values because they demonstrate how a person chooses to spend their time. Studying your spouse’s hobbies doesn’t mean that you have to go to the golf course with them every single time or that you have to become an expert in their favorite team or movie genre, but it does mean that you should be able to converse about these things. If something is important to your loved one it should be important to you. Serving your husband means that when you spend time together it shouldn’t always be about what you mutually like to do or worse yet what you exclusively want. Sometimes simply sacrificing your time to pursue a hobby that your husband values is a wonderful way to serve him.

3) Study his heart - The Bible teaches us that where our treasure is our heart will be also (Mt. 6:21). In order to serve your husband well it is important to study what he values. For some, a home cooked meal every night is a meaningful and significant way to serve them; for others they could care less about this. It is important that we don’t always assume that we know what our husband needs, but that we are diligent about studying who he is in order to serve him in the way that will be most significant for him, and in keeping with what he treasures.

4) Study his holiness - If we are going to serve our spouse well, one of the things that we should be cognizant of is how God is currently working in him in order to make him more like Christ. As someone who cares for our husband, we should be helping and supporting their sanctification. This doesn’t mean that we should strive to do the work of conviction in our husband’s life; that is the Holy Spirit’s role and frankly He does a much better job of it. But it does mean that when we know our husband is striving to conform a certain aspect of his life to more closely mirror God’s desires, we can support, encourage and help him in doing so. We should be celebrating the work that God is doing in our husband, and doing so requires that we are careful to pay attention to how God is working to make our loved one more like Him.

There may be a temptation to read all of this and to think “well that sounds sweet and all, but what about what the husband should do?” And I get that our prideful nature wants to make sure that we aren’t extending ourselves in service if it is not going to be reciprocated. However, there are two things to keep in mind. First, our obedience to Christ shouldn’t be contingent on another person’s response. We are called to serve others (see Gal. 5:13) and our husband should be first on the list of those who receive the outpouring of our service to Christ. Secondly, Christian husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church and there is no one who served more sacrificially than when Christ laid down His life to take on the sins of the world that we may be saved and spend eternity with Him. In other words, while this isn’t supposed to be a one-way street, we can’t let whether or not our spouse is going in the right direction deter us from pursuing what God has called us to do.

It may sound unconventional to study our spouse in order to serve them well. We may be tempted to think that this should be a natural outpouring of our love for him, and in reality, it should be. But in order to serve him in a way that is most beneficial to and appreciated by him requires diligence, focus and intention. In other words it requires study. May our studying of our spouse lead us to serve him in a way that will bring more glory to God, through our lives and his.

One of the things I have been reflecting on recently is how much a child changes during their first year of life. When you consider the number of things that they learn during that timeframe – from learning to hold their head up to learning to walk and say words – it really is a marvel. I would guess that there is no other single time in life when so much physical and mental growth takes place 365 days. With that being said, a lot of growth happens in the parent’s life during the first year as well. Here are some of the lessons I have learned over the past month:

Prepare to Be Humbled – It is inaccurate to say that this lesson is merely from the last month as I began learning it the first week of my child’s life. As someone who had been around a lot of kids throughout my life I thought I had a good grasp on what to expect from motherhood. It turns out I was wrong. Being a parent means being prepared for the unexpected and when the unexpected occurs it doesn’t take long to realize that there was no way to prepare for it. What you think you know can get turned on its head without a moment’s notice. Just as your child is learning to make sense of this world you are learning who your child is and how much you are reliant on God to parent them well. This lesson in humility is a good thing, but it doesn’t mean that it is an easy thing.  Yet God graciously redeems the difficult times to use them for His purposes and glory.

The Exception Shouldn’t Become the Expectation - Because your child is always changing, it is tempting to think that every new experience is a new milestone. For example, my husband and I took our kid to my work to meet some of my colleagues. Our little one was a trooper, staying up longer than normal and being pleasant the whole time. I thought this meant she had learned to consolidate sleep and extend time between naps. It turns out God was just generously allowing us to have some time to introduce her to others. When I start letting my expectations be shaped by the exceptions, I am bound to be disappointed. God doesn’t owe me a thing. The fact that He mercifully allows some days to go a little better than the rest as if the sun was shining down on me just a little bit brighter doesn’t mean He owes me those days. Instead I would do well to thank Him when they occur and to cherish them rather than count on them this side of Heaven.

Training Time – As I wrote about previously, it didn’t take me long to realize that even at a young age my child is beginning to understand things. Because of this, I know that I can begin, in very small ways, to train her in regards to how she should behave. What I’ve been reminded of, though, is that as I am training her, God is training me. He is molding and shaping me not only into the type of parent He wants me to be, but into the type of Christian He desires of His children. Recognizing that parenthood is one of the most refining experiences a person can go through makes me appreciate even more the privilege it is to be a mother.

Be The Example I Want Followed - Because my child is already beginning to make sense of the world around her, she is already beginning to observe my behavior and how I respond to things. Part of raising her up in the way that she should go means being an example of what I desire for her. It is my hope and prayer that she would come to know and serve Jesus at a young age and that her life would be defined as someone committed to Him. If this is what I want for her, I need to make sure that I am living the same way and therefore setting an example for her to emulate. She is learning all the time. I need to make sure that I’m teaching her the lessons  I want her to know.

It is such a privilege to be a parent. It is not without its challenges but the blessings are so very sweet. I’m grateful that God uses me even though I still have a lot to learn. And I’m grateful that in His perfect timing He teaches me just what I need to know.

As long-time readers of the blog know I have a bit of a tradition going where I write about how people have made a difference in my life. It’s my way of acknowledging some of the richest blessings God has given me. It is unfortunate that up to this point I have yet to write about my mom. It isn’t for a lack of material; in fact, the exact opposite is true. It is hard to encapsulate in a mere blog post all the ways that my mom makes a difference. Because of that, this may be the first of many such posts. It is fitting however, that I at least attempt to articulate how my mom has enriched my life and the life of others. There are few people I know who so consistently make a difference for God’s Kingdom yet do so in such an understated and often unrecognized way. The main way she does this? She’s a servant. It’s one of the first words I think of when I think of my mom and one of the things that I’m convinced she will be most acclaimed for when she meets her Lord. Here are just some of the ways my mom makes a difference through how she serves:

She serves faithfully. – As anyone who has had the privilege of serving alongside my mom knows, if she commits to do something, you can all but guarantee that she will do it. She is often the first person to be somewhere and the last to leave. It doesn’t matter what role has been assigned to her, she will do whatever bit of service is most needed in order to ensure that the ministry she has committed to is carried out with excellence. I can’t think of a single time that she refused to do any particular task. As a teacher she taught her students the importance of diligence and she is a living representation of it. She serves unwaveringly and tirelessly, pouring out her life in order to bless others.

She serves expansively. - Not only does my mom serve faithfully, but she serves in a variety of different capacities and ministries. From leading a junior high small group, to coming alongside young moms, to reach out to those who, like her, have lost their husbands, if she sees someone in need and believes that there is a way she might be able to bless them, she is there to do so.  She cooks meals, babysits kids, teaches Truth, prays fervently, shares wisdom and does a variety of other things. It seems that almost any time our church puts out a call for volunteers, my mom is checking her schedules and commitments to see if there is one more way that she can minister to others.  She doesn’t restrict herself to those areas of service where she is most comfortable or where she is most naturally inclined. Anyone and everyone is a potential object of her ministry commitment.

She serves with love. - It would be easy to read what has been written so far and to think that my mom serves so well because she is such a hard worker and she is excellent at managing her schedule. But to come to that conclusion would miss one of the most important reasons that my mom is so effective in her service; she loves those that she serve. Again, because she serves in so many different ways this means she loves so many different people. She cries for them when they hurt, she prays for them when they struggle and she cheers for them when she sees God’s good work in their life. For my mom, serving isn’t about getting things done. It is about loving others so that through doing so, they may experience the love of Christ.

She serves to serve her Savior. – The single most important thing to know about my mom and her commitment to serve is that ultimately it is not the people that she is ministering to who are the object of her service. She serves them because when she does so she is serving Christ. I am convinced this alone is the reason everything else I have written above is true. She serves faithfully, expansively and with love because when she looks at those she ministers to she sees the sacrifice, grace and forgiveness of her Savior. She may grow weary, but she knows that He does not. It may seem that she has been overlooked, but she knows that the One who matters sees it all. It’s because she loves her Lord that she serves those He has placed in her path. It’s because He was a servant (Mt. 20:28) that she has committed her life to the same.

As you can see from what I’ve written, my mom is an exceptional human being. The fact that God choose such a woman to be my mom is one of the greatest blessings He has ever given me. I have learned so much through her words and through the way she lives her life. I know that I’m not alone in that regard.

If anyone is keeping track you know that this post is a bit late. I’m learning that sometimes life with an infant is just like that. Your days, weeks and months are hard to predict, and just when you think you can, they learn a new behavior or pick up a new habit and the whole schedule shifts. Thankfully, there’s little chance of being bored. Even more thankfully there are lots of lessons to still learn. So here are some of the ones I learned during my little one’s fourth month:

Laughter is good for the soul – I know this isn’t exactly a new lesson (see Proverbs 17:22). However, there is nothing quite like the first time your child knowingly and consciously gives you a big belly laugh. All of a day’s troubles can seem to momentarily disappear as you watch their face light up. If you can get them to do this repeatedly, several times in a row – that’s a huge bonus. In the hustle and bustle of things we can forget the joy that comes from a good laugh and we can be quick to dismiss those moments of simple joy. It’s important to cherish them when they come. Sometimes they will be few and far between which makes them all the more precious and sweet.

Pray over the little things – It’s probably not uncommon for new parents to spend a lot of time in prayer. There are so many unknowns with raising a little life. When they are young, it’s hard to tell if you are doing a good job since their cries can mean anything from “I’m tired” to “I’m in pain.” to “I am just having a rough day and this is the only way I know to express it. Personally, I found myself spending time in prayer over my little girl’s future but didn’t dedicate enough time to praying over those seemingly “insignificant” things that can rock a new mom’s day. God cares about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Mt. 6:25-30); He certainly cares about whether my little one is learning to nap. I need to seek His wisdom and help in all things – not just the ones that seem readily obvious are outside of my control.

Be careful what you say – Having two nieces is often a great reminder that I need to be careful with my words; I don’t want to say anything that I wouldn’t want them repeating. However, my four-month old has taught me that this vigilance should happen a lot sooner. We have sung songs to her since before she was born and after she arrived it was how we spent a considerable part of her awake time. As we have done so, she has learned to “stand” when we say that word (she holds onto our hands, of course, but the effort to stand when she hears the word is all hers). Already she’s picking up on things that are going on around her and learning to respond accordingly. My words should reflect the kind of heart that I want my child to have – a heart that is pleasing to God.

Say “yes” to help – I’ve written before about the blessing of helping hands, but it bears repeating. People who are willing to do things for you are gifts to be treasured. It’s easy to think that you should have things together – after all, your child is four months old already! But, as already mentioned, things are constantly changing and when you think that you have a handle on things, that’s just about the time that you can get knocked off your feet. I think it’s also important to realize that there’s likely a spiritual element at play here. Not only are we to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) but Satan would probably like few things better than to make us feel alone, discouraged and without support. When people offer to help – take it. When they don’t offer and you need it – say so. And make sure you are relying on the Helper. Being a parent is too big of a job to do it in your own strength.

Tricks of the Trade - Some things you don’t ever learn until you are a mom. Here are some I’ve learned:

a) Get a mobile that runs on batteries – not a wind-up one. Trust me – when your child has woken up for the umpteenth time because their wind-up mobile ran out just as they were falling asleep, you will thank me.

b) Sunshine is a great stain remover. If onsies, blankets, burp cloths, etc. get soiled (and they will), hang them in the sun. This worked better than any chemical compound I found.

c) If your child adopts a “lovey” or you want them to, get two of them. If one gets dirty (or worse yet, lost!) they can still have their precious security blanket to cling to.

The Coming Payoff

April 25, 2013 — 2 Comments

When I was younger, my mom would preach the value of retirement accounts. “Compounding interest” was the key phrase and I still remember a newspaper article she saved that illustrated how if you started saving when you were young, you would have significantly more than if you waited until you were older and tried to “make up” for your lack of earlier diligence. My mom wanted us to learn what a lot of people only discover through experience – it may seem like there are “better” things to spend your money on when you are young, but when you are older you are going to be glad you made the sacrifice to save while your obligations were few. It may seem like retirement is a long ways away, but the years go by quickly. The payoff for your diligence will be here before you know it.

Although it may be odd to state it, it is helpful to think of our relationships the same way – particularly the relationship with our spouse. The day-to-day sacrifices may seem small, but their value accumulates over time. A decision to defer to our loved one’s preferences or a choice to serve rather than be served may appear insignificant in the moment, but it reaps dividends in the end. Not only do we grow in our willingness to demonstrate love the more that we practice it, but we demonstrate a pattern of behavior to our spouse that displays their importance in our lives. It is easy to say “I love you” much like it is relatively easy to earn a single paycheck. It takes diligence to act on this love day-in and day-out even when the benefits of doing so aren’t seen in that moment.

Unfortunately, many people approach their relationship with their spouse in the same way that many people approach retirement. Sacrifices aren’t made early on, and then they try to “make up” for it when crisis hits. Equally unfortunately, often times this has as little chance for success in relationships as it does for retirement. When the small choices to love aren’t made, it is even more difficult to make the hard ones.

The decision to save for retirement when you are young is a decision that is made because you recognize that statistically you are probably going to need that money when you are no longer employed.  It considers the long-term view, anticipating the future that you desire to have and making choices now that will help prepare you for that desired stated. In the same way, choosing to demonstrate love, forgiveness, grace and appreciation for our spouse in the moments and the days that we have now is preparing us to fulfill the vow that we made on our wedding day. Namely, that we will love in sickness and health, better or worse, and that nothing but death will tear us apart. May we look to the coming pay-off of our choices, recognizing that as we do so we are diligently preparing for the days ahead.

In Focus

April 9, 2013 — Leave a comment
©iStockphoto.com/halbergman

©iStockphoto.com/halbergman

Throughout Scripture Christians are commanded to love and serve other people (See John 13:34-35Gal 5:14; Phil. 2:1-11) . Other believers are to receive first priority when it comes to our efforts (Gal. 6:10, but that does not negate our responsibility to extend this commitment to anyone God places in our path. Our commitment to Christ is reflected in how we treat others (John 13:35) and therefore how we treat others should regularly reflect our growing sanctification.

The challenge is that a lot of times this commitment to love and serve others can be inconvenient, to say the least. We have our own priorities and obligations and we wonder how we are going to achieve all that we want to if we are constantly focusing on those around us. However, as I was reminded recently, one of the reasons that the Christian is able to keep their eye out for how they can serve others is because they are confident that God is keeping His eyes on them. We don’t need to worry about who is taking care of us because the Creator and Sustainer of all things has us firmly in His hands (John 10:28).

It’s easy to spout these truths; many Christians have heard them since they were children in Sunday School. However, our degree of trust in them is displayed based on how we conduct our lives. If we are constantly focused on making sure our needs are met and our goals are achieved than its unlikely that we will have time to focus on others. If instead we trust that God is focusing His attention on us and there is no one who can provide for us better than Him, than we are free to walk as Jesus did – seeking out those who are in need and extending ourselves in order to serve and love them.

Just as God ensures that the sun is going to rise (Mt. 5:45) and that the flowers are going to bloom (Lk. 12:27), He has promised that He will provide for the needs of His children (Lk. 12:22-31). Instead of worrying about these things, He wants us to be focused on how we can be His ambassadors of love to those lives which He causes to intersect with our own. As we do so He gives us the double blessing of being used by Him to accomplish His purposes. And what better thing is there to focus on than that?