Bittersweet Blessing

E and M ii

Tomorrow these two will begin a new adventure. They will leave the frozen Wyoming tundra and head to warmer parts. The wooded hills of Virginia beckon. They must answer the call.

We will miss them, accustomed as we have become to the two tall figures who have become a fixture on the worn plaid loveseat in our family room. Countless hours have they spent there, side by side, amusing themselves with videos on their iPhones, completing college assignments on their laptops (that would be Emily) or watching football games on the television screen (that would be Morgan).

“It is bittersweet,” I say to friends who inquire about their imminent departure. We are so excited for them. We are sad for us.

But really, there is no bitter. There is only sweet.

We’ve been so blessed.

If those cushions could communicate, they would tell of the many conversations, laughs, and giggles (that would be Emily) they overheard during the past four and a half years. Indeed, as Chris and I warmed our assigned seats on the adjacent matching plaid couch, we too were privileged to look on with pride and joy as this young couple matured in love, walked uprightly, waited patiently (that would be Morgan), made plans to marry.

There were a few disagreements, occasional misunderstandings, and some tears, to be sure. These are necessary in the forging of a true and lasting union. But even the bitter becomes sweet when Christ is present.* From the beginning they had invited Him into their relationship. And He smiled upon them and blessed them as they occupied their place on that loveseat.

So tomorrow we will send them out with our blessing. We will no doubt shed more tears before the day is done. But we will smile through the tears. We will hold them tight and then force ourselves to let them go. And we will thank the Lord for the time He gave us.

Sweet, sweet time. Sweet, sweet couple.

As our longtime friend John Lamb is fond of saying, Morgan and Emily, “You are good for this world.”

Go now, and be a blessing.

Our couch may be empty.

But our hearts will be full.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26, NKJV)

*See Exodus 15:22-25.

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Just Ask Anne

anne_of_green_gablesI was invited to share a devotional recently at an “Anne of Green Gables” themed baby shower. The guests of honor were a sweet friend and her newly-adopted and long-awaited baby girl. Anne was adopted too, so it was a fitting theme for a very special celebration.

Most of you are probably familiar with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s precocious and charming character, “Anne-with-an-‘e’.” My former roommate Kim was obsessed with her. Years later I, too, became enchanted as my two oldest daughters and I read the books which chronicled her adventures together. And while Anne had a penchant for creating mischief, she also possessed a wisdom beyond her years.

As I reflected on a few of her well-known quotes, they reminded me of some biblical principles for parenting…

1) Relating to God.

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into…that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

When you become a parent, your time is no longer your own. You can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself! As a new mom I especially missed my long, uninterrupted times with God. Often I’d be too tired to even focus my scattered thoughts into prayers. I used to beat myself up for this.

Here’s what I would tell that mama now:  God knows. Give yourself grace. He does.

I was inspired by Gigi Graham Tchividjian’s habit of leaving her Bible open on the ironing board, so she could read or meditate on a verse or two as she went about her busy day. There are many creative ways to relate to God. And He is always closer than a prayer.

Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” (The Message)

2) Making mistakes.

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

I remember cuddling my own perfect newborn baby girl and determining to be the perfect mom for her. And then there was that day I was visiting a friend at the hospital and literally FORGOT that I had a nursing baby at home! Upon my return, I was greeted at the door by a frazzled husband and a famished child! Oops. Major mom fail.

Mistakes will be made. Thankfully kids (and usually husbands) are very forgiving. So is God.

“…His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:23b,24a, ESV)

3) Being content.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

I believe the secret to contentment as a parent is to enjoy what is good in each season. If you focus on what is difficult, you’ll miss what is delightful. If you lament the things you’ve lost or fret about the future, you’ll miss the gifts you’ve been given.

I absolutely dreaded the teen years. And while teens can be challenging, they are also a ton of FUN! I have experienced great joy in watching each of our daughters develop into beautiful young women. Look for the good. It’s there.

“… you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on…the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, The Message)

4)  Finding friends.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Two decades ago we packed up our two-bedroom apartment and a five-month-old baby and moved “across the pond” to jolly old England. Where we didn’t know One. Single. Soul. Suddenly I didn’t feel so jolly.

Wherever we go, we need kindred spirits–those friends of the heart who just “get” us. Soon after settling into our quaint little English village, God graciously answered my prayers for such a friend through Caroline, herself a new British mum. Through the years there have been others who have come along just when I needed the encouragement of a fellow mom. I currently meet once a week with some dear kindred spirits to pray for our children.

Parenthood is best played as a team sport. Don’t go it alone. Your kindred spirits are out there too, just waiting to be found.

(Paul speaking of Timothy) “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20, NAS)

 5)  Risking love.

“There is no use in loving things if you have to be torn from them, is there? And it’s so hard to keep from loving things, isn’t it?”

“Enjoy this time. It goes so fast.”

I used to hate it when older moms or random strangers would say that to me when my kids were young. Because I wanted to hold onto my babies forever. And I knew I couldn’t.

Making the decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” (Elizabeth Stone)

There is an inherent vulnerability that comes with having and loving a child. It can be hard on the heart. But nothing has taught me more about selfless, sacrificial love than being a mom. It has stretched me and called out the best in me. It has taught me to love like God loves.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NLT)

Parenting will take all you’ve got. And then some. But love is always worth the cost.

Whether you’re a new parent just embarking on your journey, or one who’s logged some parenting miles, take heart. There is help and wisdom to guide you along the way.

Sometimes it may come from a surprising source, like a former orphan girl named Anne.

But always, always, it is readily available from your ever-present and never-failing Heavenly Father.

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The Perfect Parent

Parents

It was one of those calls. You know, the kind every parent dreads. It was a little after midnight, exactly one month ago. I groped in the dark for my cell phone as it rang on my bedside nightstand.

It was Rachel.

She was crying.

Her apartment had just been broken into.

And I mean literally. Her window, smashed into pieces. Glass everywhere, even on top of the fluffy comforter she had been nestled under mere moments before.

She had screamed (I always knew that loud voice of hers would come in handy one day!) and had run out through the living room into her roommate’s room, where they locked the door and dialed 911, not knowing if an intruder was in the apartment. They spent another ten or so terrifying minutes on the phone with the dispatcher while they waited for the police to arrive, guns drawn, to clear the rooms.

Thankfully, Rachel and her two roommates were unharmed, and the perpetrator had fled into the night. But they were all understandably quite shaken. The window wasn’t the only thing broken that night. Their sense of well-being and security were also shattered.

Chris had been awakened by the concern in my voice as I talked to her on the phone. Before long, he was out of bed, dressed and out the door to make the 45-minute drive to Rachel’s college town. It was nearly 1 a.m. But it didn’t matter.

Because that’s just what a dad does.

He comforted the three rattled roomies and got them settled into a nearby hotel for (what was left of) the night. He then made the return trip back home.

The next evening it was my turn. I packed dinner and treats and drove down for an impromptu “sleepover,” despite being exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before.

Because that’s just what a mom does.

The girls dragged two of their mattresses out into the living room, where we watched a light-hearted movie and then (tried to) sleep. Despite receiving word that the police had arrested the guy responsible for the break-in, everyone was still a bit jumpy. But we made it through the night without further incident.

I found the timing of all of this intriguing. Just hours before Rachel’s midnight phone call, my Bible study group had listened to Beth Moore’s teaching, taken from 1 Thessalonians 2, on the parental heart of God. I felt God was now giving me a real-life illustration of the distinct ways He loves and parents His children.

God’s love is “paternal”:

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
(1 Thessalonians 2:10-11, NIV)
 

The Greek word for “comforting” is parakaleo, meaning “to call to the side of,” to aid, help. Just like Chris rushed to Rachel’s side in the middle of the night to comfort and help, God’s paternal love for us is strong, protective, and present. (In fact, Jesus uses this same Greek root when referring to the Holy Spirit! See John 14:16, 26.)

His love is also “maternal”:

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
(1 Thessalonians 2:7b-8, NIV)
 

“Nursing” in the Greek is nutritura, from which we get our word “nutrition.” (This helps explain why my instinctive response to this–and most any–situation was to bring FOOD!) Mothers are designed to nourish and nurture.

…we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children.
(1 Thessalonians 2:7b, NLT)
 

“Caring for” literally means “to keep warm.” Rachel told me she slept like a baby the night I was there, the warmth of my body on the mattress next to hers. God’s maternal love for us is like this–warm, gentle, and nurturing.

Although we try to be good parents, Chris and I are far from perfect. We do love our girls and attempt to show it in the ways that come most naturally to us as a mother and a father. I trust Rachel felt our love in the midst of the trauma.

But how reassuring it is to know that in God we have The Perfect Parent. Maternal and paternal, the perfect blend of everything we need at any given time. He knows just what to do when His children are in distress. Or lonely. Or needy. His presence is constant. His love is perfect.

Perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18, NAS)
 

I am painfully aware that as a human parent I can only do so much. As I prepared to leave Rachel the morning after our slumber “party,” I prayed that God would cast out the fear that had entered uninvited through that shattered window and replace it with His perfect love. That He would fill that little apartment with the peace of His presence. That He would comfort and soothe every frayed nerve. That He would take this situation and use it for good.

And you know what? He is.

Because that’s just what God, our Perfect Parent, does.

 

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Let the Parents Come Unto Me

Hermann_Clementz_Christ_Blessing_the_Children_525

Jesus loves the little children.

And the big kids.

And their moms and dads.

I recently read a familiar passage in the Bible, the one in Mark 10 where Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me.”  Only this time I approached it from the perspective of a parent.  I was greatly encouraged by this glimpse into God’s heart for children AND their parents.  (I pray you will be too.)

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. (Mark 10:13, NLT)

Parenting is rewarding, challenging and humbling.  As a mother of three, I am constantly reminded of my need for divine assistance.  I’ve spent a good portion of the last two decades on my knees in prayer, “bringing my children to Jesus.”  My deepest desire, like those parents of old, is that each of my children would receive a life-changing touch from Him.  I come to Him because I believe He is the only source of true blessing.

But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Unlike the disciples, Jesus never gets tired of parents who approach Him on behalf of their children.  He is not irritated by our persistence.  He never scolds or turns us away.  We are not bothering Him.

Everyone knows it’s not wise to get between a mama bear and her cubs. Well, apparently it’s also not a good idea to get between the Lord and a God-fearing parent.  The well-meaning, but misguided disciples learned this the hard way…

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. (Mark 10:14b, NLT)

Jesus was ticked. (My paraphrase.) This is one of the few instances in the Gospels where we are plainly told that Jesus was angry. The Greek word for “angry” is aganakteo, which means “to be indignant, moved with indignation, be very displeased.”*  The scolders got their own little scolding.

I love the fact that Jesus is passionate about our kids, that He is moved by our requests.  I am touched that He has an emotional reaction to anyone or anything that tries to come between Him and them.  And us.

(He) saw what was happening. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Jesus was fully aware of what was going on.  He saw the obstacles impeding their intimacy with Him, just as He sees them now.  He is never oblivious to our situation.

And He does something about it.

Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (Mark 10:16, NLT)

When our daughters were each a few months old, we dedicated them to the Lord in a simple, but meaningful church ceremony.  We promised to “bring them to Jesus” and teach them His ways.  Our pastor laid his hands on them and blessed them.  Two of those babies are now all grown up.  Their younger sister is not far behind.

The same Jesus who heard our prayers then, hears our prayers now.  They remain His children, just as they will always remain ours.  He still longs to hold them.  Bless them.  Be close to them.

No matter how old they are.

Regardless of what blocks their path.

Dear parent, God knows it’s tough sometimes.  It’s trying and tiring.  Just keep trusting, praying and bringing them to Jesus.  He’ll clear the way.

You may be their parent, but you are also His child.

Let Him hold and bless you too.

*From The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

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Only Child

It’s been a good week to be Rachel.

With her older and younger sisters both happily away at camp, a rare, perhaps unprecedented thing occurred:

The “Middle” Child became the “Only” Child.

She’s had our exclusive attention.  Been treated to lunch, coffee and shopping.  Watched whatever she’s wanted on TV.  Hasn’t had to share.  Not one little bit.

It all ends tomorrow.  (Sorry, Rach.)

But she’s certainly enjoyed it while it’s lasted.

As a mom of three daughters, I try hard not to play favorites.  I love them all equally.  I love them each uniquely.

But I do not love them perfectly.  Despite my best intentions, there are those inevitable times when someone feels slighted or neglected.  Even the highest human love has its limitations.

Not so with God and His children.  For He is the Perfect Father.

His love is Unfailing.  His time is Unlimited.  His attention is Undivided.

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.”
(St. Augustine) 

Since He’s infinite and omnipresent, He can pull this off.  All of the time.

He is GOD.

As His children, we have been given privileged, unrivaled access to His presence.

Yes, we are members of a wide and wonderful family.  We are brothers and sisters who need each other and (try to) love each other.  (Well, most of the time.)

But we also crave and need focused, one-on-one time with our Father.  Isn’t it reassuring to know that He is able and willing to relate to each of us individually?

It’s almost as if we were His only child.  Every single day.  We are never overlooked or forgotten.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. (Ephesians 5:1, NIV)
 

We are all extremely dear to Him.

The word ‘dear’ in the Greek is agapetos. Agapetos means beloved, esteemed, worthy of love—God’s favorite.” (Jill Savage)
 

God never plays favorites.

Because we are EACH His favorite.

It’s always a good week to be us!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1a, NIV)
 
I love my girls!  And my little guy too.

I love each of my girls! And my little guy too.

 

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Reality Check

“Just pull down his lower eyelid and squeeze a strip of the antibiotic cream onto it, three times a day,” the vet explained.

Riiiight.

She made it sound so easy.  Don’t be fooled.  Innocent looking, 3.2 lb puppies are deceptively strong.  And if applying eye cream three times a day wasn’t overwhelming enough, we had the added challenge of squirting ear drops twice a day to treat an ear infection.  Uh huh.

Just livin’ the doggie dream.

Having a puppy is so much more demanding than we anticipated.  I had pictured all cuteness and cuddles.  And while there is certainly that, a puppy also comes with inconvenience and puddles.  And vet bills.  And other stuff I’d rather not discuss.  (Refer to my previous post.)

I guess I hadn’t fully counted the cost.

It’s easy to glamorize something we desire without adequately preparing for its difficulties.  For example, we focus on planning an elegant wedding instead of establishing an enduring marriage.  We dream of an adorable baby, when what we’re really getting is a child, along with a two-decade long assignment to shape them into a responsible adult.  We tend to be short-sighted, surprised when things turn out to be more than we signed up for.

So what do we do when reality disrupts the dream?  The way I see it, we have two options:

1–Hang onto the dream and develop resentment.
2–Let go of the dream and develop contentment.

I went into marriage expecting something along the lines of Disneyland.  When my reality didn’t match up with my fantasy, I had a choice to make.  I could continue to chase the dream, or accept and love the man God gave me.  (Most of the time I’ve chosen the latter.  Except on Valentine’s Day.)

Parenting has proven to be one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things I’ve ever done.  I love my daughters.  They truly are the delight of my life.  But (surprise!) they don’t always measure up to the ideals I have for them.  Can I let go of control and allow them to grow into the people GOD envisioned, loving them unconditionally along the way?  I’m learning.

Puppies ARE cute.  AND expensive.  AND high maintenance.  It’s like having a baby in the house.  Wrapped in a toddler.  I’m adjusting my expectations accordingly.

And just about the time I’m exhausted and think I’ve had enough, he’ll lick my chin affectionately and plop his fluffy little head down on my shoulder with a contented sigh.

A reminder that I, too, can be content.

Cuddles, puddles and all.

This face. If only it were this easy to keep him clean!

 

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Stormy Weather

The drive to Laurel’s orthodontist appointment on this sunny summer morning was pleasant enough.  We chatted amiably and even prayed together.  The drive home?  Not so much.  By the time we turned into the driveway we were hardly speaking to each other.

This was Laurel’s first time getting her braces tightened.  (Or adjusted.  Or whatever it is they do to braces these days.)  The assistant wasn’t the most gentle, and before we even left the office Laurel’s teeth were already sore.  She was also disappointed that her braces were minus the colored elastics she was hoping to sport for her upcoming birthday.  (This may sound minor.  Let me assure you, as the mom of a 12-almost-13-year-old, that it is not.)  Physical pain plus emotional let down is a bad combo.

When my children are hurt I don’t handle it well.  I often react by getting angry.  Not at them, but at the situation, and my lack of control over it.  (Of course, they don’t know the difference.)  I also have a low tolerance for complaining.  The kind which commenced immediately upon exiting the orthodontist’s office.  Another bad combo.

Add to all of this an adolescent girl and one menopausal mama and you’ve now got yourself a really  bad combo.  A hormonal hurricane.  The perfect storm.

Our emotions and voices began rising like an incoming tidal surge.  Before we even knew what had hit, “Tropical Storm Smith” had made landfall and was swirling around us.  Words pelted.  Tears fell.

Upon arriving home we quickly retreated to separate rooms to recover and regroup.  I attempted to process the emotionally charged exchange that had just occurred.  A common denominator stood out to me:  Pain.

When we are hurting, either physically or emotionally, conditions are ideal for a storm to develop.  I also recalled reading a few years ago that hurricanes need fuel, in the form of moist, warm air, to survive.  Laurel’s frustration and my anger added the necessary fuel components.  Next thing we knew we were caught up in unexpected, heated conflict.

Jesus knew a thing or two about storms.  To this day, the Sea of Galilee is notorious for sudden storms that can spring up out of nowhere.  Jesus and His disciples were threatened by such storms on more than one occasion.  Only they never caught Him off guard.

Thankfully, He also knows a thing or two about calming storms.  I asked Him to settle my heart and restore peace to my relationship with my daughter.  We offered and accepted apologies and shared hugs.  We were able to discuss what had happened, and why, and how we might prevent it from escalating out of control in the future.

It isn’t always smooth sailing in relationships.  Storms sneak up.  Conflicts come.  Hormones wreak havoc.    But we don’t have to end up a shipwreck.  With His help we can seek to understand our reactions, learn from our mistakes, and take steps to avoid repeating them.

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39, ESV)
 

Ahh, the sweet calm after the storm.

(Note:  The painting above is called “Storm Before the Calm” by Lucy Dickens.)

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Backyard Battles

The other day I was startled by a commotion outside my bedroom window. I looked up just in time to see a hawk streaking across our backyard with two angry, noisy robins in hot pursuit. My guess is that Mr. Hawk was seeking refreshment at the “Red-Breast Bed and Breakfast.” Only Ma and Pa Robin responded with a firm “No Vacancy!”

It’s Open Season on baby birds. Hawks aren’t the only predators. Several of my friends have been blessed with bird’s eye views of nests this spring.  In fact, just this morning one of these friends shared her distress over recent blue jay attacks on the nest that was constructed inside a planter on her porch. Five babies were scattered on the ground as she and her daughter ran interference in an impassioned effort to rescue them. (Three currently remain.)  (Just received an update.  Make that one.)

This past weekend I was outside pulling weeds, soaking in some sun, when, for about the third time this week, a hawk zoomed overhead followed by a squawking robin. Another ambush averted?  I could only hope.

Something inside my maternal soul resonated with the robins’ relentless efforts to protect their little ones from harm.  I could relate, in a spiritual sense, to the sobering reality that a predator also hovers over my nest, with my children in his sights.

“Stay alert!  Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion (or ‘a soaring hawk,’ SLS version), looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT)

He circles the house.  Hungry for his next meal.  Waiting for an opportunity to strike.

I can’t see him, but I know he’s out there.

My offspring, the object of his cruel desire.

That afternoon, as I watched the robin tenaciously chase the hawk out of the yard, I pictured the faces of my own children.  This quiet declaration rose up within me, a mother’s battle cry:

You. Can’t. Have. Them.

Like the robin, I may be small, but I will be unstoppable when it comes to fighting for my babies.  I will stay alert in prayer for them.  I will partner with my faithful God in protecting them, both in and out of the nest.

A second friend recently witnessed another dramatic backyard battle.  Her barn cat had captured a helpless baby bird and was preparing to enjoy his little snack.  Mama and Papa bird were nearby, frantic.  They dove at the cat in desperate attempts to secure the baby’s release.  Then one of them, in a last ditch effort to distract the feline, cleverly feigned a broken wing.

The strategy worked!  The cat pounced on the parent, consuming it instead.  The baby escaped, unharmed.

What a poignant picture of Christ!  He delivered Himself over to the adversary, offering His life for ours and securing our freedom.  His is a love so fierce that He will stop at nothing to save His children.

He looked the enemy square in the eye and declared:

You. Can’t. Have. Them.

“I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28, NAS)

He will fight for us and for our children.

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The Nest

Spotting the first robins of spring always takes me back to the spring of 2006, an ordinary robin’s nest, and the simple truths it contained…

We had a front row seat to the miracle of new life.  A pair of robins built their nest low in the branches of our apple tree.  So low, in fact, that my three kids could peer right in, without even standing on tiptoes.  Four beautiful, blue, perfectly formed eggs peered right back at them.  And so the story began.

{Photo by Emily Smith}

I found myself strangely comforted by the sight of the mama bird perched so contentedly on that nest.  Each morning I’d wake up and eagerly part my bedroom blinds for a look out at the apple tree.  There she always sat, regardless of what our unpredictable Wyoming spring weather threw at her.  Sun, rain, sleet, snow, hail, and the ever prevailing wind–she prevailed through it all.

My oldest daughter got on the Internet and informed us that a robin’s egg incubates for 12-14 days.  And sure enough, about two weeks later, we chased the robin off the nest long enough to note that three of the eggs had indeed hatched.  In their place were tiny, hairless little creatures with faces only a mother robin could love.

The remaining egg hatched a day or so later.  Soon all we could see were four golden beaks, pointing up like sharpened pencils, when their mother returned to the nest with dinner.  Within a few days we could also hear those noisy beaks as they celebrated the timely arrival of a juicy worm or some other succulent morsel.

We human mothers have more in common with our feathered friends than you might think.  After all, we say an expectant mom is “nesting” when she compulsively cleans right before her due date.  And how do we refer to the home when the last child leaves?  It’s an “empty nest!”  The Bible also frequently uses the imagery of a bird and its young to illustrate God’s special relationship with His children.

As the drama surrounding the busy nest in our backyard unfolded, I realized I had been granted a privileged spot in a unique classroom.  A humble robin may be an unusual and unlikely mentor.  But as I sat under her able instruction, I watched…and learned.

Lesson #1:  It matters.

The mother robin was a picture of serenity as she rested sedately on her nest.  I was attracted to her quiet dignity as she faithfully fulfilled the purpose for which God had created her. She almost seemed to be holding her head high, proud of her noble calling.

The robin instinctively knows her place and purpose in the world.  But you and I need to be reminded that giving birth to and nurturing LIFE is an unparalleled honor given to us by God.  What could be more significant?  Mothering matters!  It is a reflection of the heart and nature of our Creator.  Like the robin, we can experience peace and contentment, knowing we are in the very center of God’s will.

Lesson #2:  Stay close.

Before the eggs hatched, the robin spent most of her time sitting on the nest.  She would occasionally leave its perimeters in search of a snack or a quick shower in the sprinkler, but she never traveled far and always returned quickly.  Several times we ventured out into the yard to sneak a peek at the nest when it appeared to be unoccupied.  Each time we were surprised to find that she hadn’t abandoned her post at all, but was somewhere in the grass or branches within earshot and eyesight.

When our children are young and vulnerable, they need the comfort of our presence and the assurance that we are never far away.  We may at times, out of necessity, need to leave the nest.  (Time away to preserve one’s sanity is also a necessity!)  But stay as close as you possibly can and return as quickly as you can.

One of the qualities I appreciate most about my heavenly Father is the fact that He is always near, keeping a watchful eye on His beloved children.  Deuteronomy 32:11a describes God this way:  “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young…”  And Psalm 73:28, one of my all-time favorites, states that:  “The nearness of God is my good.”  Let your nearness be the good of your children as well.

Lesson #3:  It’s hard work.

After the eggs hatched, the robin no longer had the luxury of putting her feet up on the sides of a quiet nest.  She spent most of her time then flying tirelessly back and forth across the yard, gathering food and dropping it into four hungry mouths.  As soon as the quadruplets caught even a glimpse of her in the tree branches they would sit up and start squawking for more.  Once they were satisfied, she would wiggle her red breast and then plop it right down on top of them, as if to say, “It’s nap time!”  Surely, it was she who needed the nap!

Parenting small children can often feel like we’re rowing on an endless sea of needs.  I remember many times pulling our van into the driveway with a crying baby needing to be fed, a whining toddler needing attention, melting groceries needing to be put away, not to mention my own full bladder needing to be emptied…trying to decide which of those needs to meet first!  Often we moms feel like we’re last in line and wonder with a sigh, Who is going to meet my needs–and when?

Listen to what God says to you in His Word.  “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?”  (Matthew 6:26)  In Philippians 4:19 He promises that He “…shall supply all your needs…” !

You matter to Him!  You don’t have to wait in line for Him to wait on you.  When you look to Him to care for your needs, you will be filled up to care for the many needs of your family.

Lesson #4:  It’s a battle.

The first time we approached the robin’s nest she flew off, frightened.  As time went on she grew bolder in her protection of her eggs and later of her babies.  Once she even chased my scared kids all the way up the stairs of our wooden deck and back into the house as she chirped loudly and flew at them aggressively.

We too need to be bold and vigilant in protecting our young.  Dangers lurk everywhere–from oncoming traffic to Internet predators and everything in between.  The Bible says there are also three enemies of our souls:  the world, Satan, and our flesh.  These threats may seem less obvious but the spiritual danger is just as real.

Prayer is a mother’s secret and best weapon.  I believe God’s heart is especially tender to a mama’s cries on her babies’ behalf.  Despite the myriad dangers, we can rest in His capable protection of them and of us as we pray and “hide in the shadow of (His) wings.” (Psalm 17:8)

Lesson #5:  Stay together.

It wasn’t many weeks before the quads were tumbling out of the nest and testing out their own new wings.  One night, not long after they had flown the coop, my husband and I relaxed outside on our porch swing, enjoying the cool and calm of the May evening.  Against the backdrop of a colorful sunset, silhouetted on the fence, we spied the pair of robins.  None of the baby robins were in view, but there the parents were–still together, a team, lifelong companions.

It is no secret that half of all marriages today don’t make it.  Many don’t weather the storms and stresses of the child raising years well.  Some of my sweet single mom friends can attest to this painful reality firsthand.

But there is hope.  Beth Moore shares in Feathers From My Nest:

We’re making it. And so can you. Only one thing stood between us and a scattered nest. God. Ever loving us, forgiving us, teaching us, restoring us. Redeeming our failures. Reclaiming our surrendered ground. Repairing our broken wings. As Psalm 91:4 says, He covered us with His feathers. And they are all over our nest.”

Precious, hard working mom, like the robin you, too, can hold your head high.  God has entrusted you with the most important assignment in all of creation.  Let Him be the Lord of your nest.  He will enable you to do your job well.  He will so graciously provide and ever so powerfully protect.  Then this will be your grateful song of victory:

  ..You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. (Psalm 63:7)

Note:  All Scripture references are from The New American Standard Version.

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Lessons from the Racetrack

How child raising is like NASCAR racing.

“Driving a race car is like dancing with a chain saw,” quipped former NASCAR driver Cale Yarborough. If that’s true, then parenting is like dancing with a chain saw held by a toddler! Certainly, NASCAR is challenging. But raising kids is no Sunday drive in the country, either. Fortunately, basic racing principles can keep parents from skidding into a wall.

Find a good sponsor. DuPont, Coca-Cola, Goodyear and many other companies sponsor NASCAR teams. The sponsor provides the resources necessary to the team’s success. The sponsor’s name is written all over the car, leaving no doubt to its identity.

We must also settle the issue of sponsorship in our lives. None of us has the resources to complete the race on our own. Do you belong to Christ? Has He written His name upon your heart?

Assemble your team. A typical NASCAR team may have more than 25 people, including the pit crew and support staff. If we are to succeed in the parenting race, we also need a team. Your spouse should be the most important person on your team. Relatives, friends, baby sitters, teachers and the church are also essential team members.

Get ready to race! All NASCAR races begin with a “rolling start,” meaning the cars are already in motion. Isn’t that just like becoming a parent? The “green flag” drops when the doctor announces, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” The race has begun, and there’s no turning back.

Maintain a good balance. When a driver doesn’t oversteer or understeer but goes around the racetrack as if on rails, he is said to be “in balance.” This speaks to me of discipline. Some of us have a tendency to oversteer and may be too controlling. Others of us understeer and are too lenient, not setting healthy boundaries for our children.

Find your groove. The NASCAR Dictionary defines groove as “the most efficient or quickest way around the track for a particular driver.” Child rearing involves many gray areas and uncertainties, so rather than compare and judge, let’s encourage one another, even if someone else has chosen a different lane around the track.

Take frequent pit stops. Drivers know the necessity of a well-timed pit stop. They must refuel, change worn tires and make other adjustments to ensure optimum performance. We, too, need to take breaks to let the Lord refill us through worship and His Word. Spouse date nights and weekend getaways are also important.

Walk away from your crashes. While watching a NASCAR race recently, I witnessed a car skid off the track, fly into the air and land upside down. Amazingly, the driver was unhurt. The TV network, however, took time away from the ongoing race to replay the crash over and over.

Don’t we have a tendency to do that with our own blunders? We all make mistakes; don’t dwell on them. Get up and dust yourself off. Confess any known sin, accept God’s forgiveness and get back in the race.

Enjoy the finish. When the checkered flag finally waves, the winner of the NASCAR race takes a victory lap. Then he heads to the winner’s circle, where he parks for the celebration. What is the finish line for parents? Someday our kids will grow into young adults, graduate from high school or college and head out on their own. After a brief victory lap and celebration, we will move from the driver’s seat to a seat in the stands, cheering our kids on as they begin their own race.

(This article first appeared in the Parents edition of the September, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2008 Shelley Lloyd Smith. All rights reserved.)

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