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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Not-So Special Delivery

Early Tuesday morning I opened the front door to be greeted by a small pile of this, right smack dab in the middle of my “Welcome” mat:

Poop emoji

Only it wasn’t smiling. And neither was I.

(And in case you’re wondering, this is NOT the soft-serve chocolate ice cream emoji.)

Talk about a rude awakening.

I have no idea what deposited this lovely gift on my front porch.

But I’m pretty sure I know who was behind it.

You see, it was a statement.

From the enemy.

Let me explain.

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been leading a Bible study on Thursday nights with a wonderful group of gals. The topic? “Women Encountering Jesus.” We’ve eavesdropped on a conversation at a Samaritan well, witnessed the mock trial of an adulterous woman and looked on, wide-eyed, at a sinner’s public display of affection at a dinner party.*

We’ve fallen more deeply in love with the Man who met each one with matchless mercy.

The last few passages we’ve studied, however, have involved Jesus demonstrating His power over forces in the spiritual realm. We’ve sympathized with the desperate mother begging for relief for her demon-possessed daughter, and cheered as a dear crippled woman was released from bondage after nearly two decades of demonic oppression.

We’ve been awed by this One who exercised unparalleled authority over it all.

Over the years I have gained some firsthand knowledge of spiritual battle. (So have you, no doubt, if you’ve walked with the Lord for any length of time.) I’ve learned to identify the enemy’s activity and recognize his calling card. I fully expected to meet with resistance as we tackled the subject of Satan and his partners in crime. So frankly I was a little surprised when all remained quiet on the western front.

And then the Special Delivery showed up on my doorstep.

Along with a “note,” signed by the accuser himself.

I’m out here, prowling around, just waiting for an opportunity.

(I should also mention that my husband had just left town. Coincidence? I think not.)

But GOD also had a message for me.

This is as close as the enemy can get to a believer in Christ. He cannot cross the threshold. His garbage must stay outside and he knows it. Nothing can touch you unless I say so.

Wow.

It was quite the visual.

Yes, the lion still prowls and threatens.

We see his tracks and evidence of his presence.

I’ll admit I was a bit rattled by his public display of “affection.”

But

I. Refuse. To. Be. Intimidated.

Because the Lion of Judah guards my life.

And greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world!

Hallelujah!

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)
 
Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. (Revelation 5:5b, NLT)
 
He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
(1 John 5:18b, NAS)
 
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4, NIV)

 

*See previous blog post for more on the story of “The Sinful Woman.”

 

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Prone to Panic

“A southeastern Idaho ranch lost 176 sheep as the animals ran in fear from two wolves…”

This story on my Facebook newsfeed the other day caught my attention.  Curious, I clicked on the link to read more.

According to the owner of the sheep ranch, 119 lambs and 57 ewes were lost in the early morning ambush.  But less than a dozen sheep actually perished from injuries inflicted by the wolves.   The vast majority died from…asphyxiation.  What?  Reporter Mike Koshmrl of the Jackson Hole Daily explains:  “Running downhill in a panic, about 165 sheep from the (herd) were killed, trampled and smothered in their terror.”

The panic attack was more deadly than the wolf attack.

I did some research.  Apparently for skittish sheep, this is not that unusual.  “Even if sheep are not directly bitten or survive an attack, they may die from panic…” (Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep)  How needless.  How sad.

I’m reminded that I too am a sheep prone to panic.

This is especially true for me in the wee hours of the morning, when a bad dream or a full bladder disrupt peaceful slumber.  In the dark, semi-conscious, I’m more vulnerable to cries of wolf.  Within minutes, “…my anxious thoughts multiply within me…” (Psalm 94:19a, NAS).  And once spooked, fears, doubts and insecurities can stampede into a suffocating pileup at the base of a hill called Reason.

Carrying me right along with them.

What’s a sheep to do?

I have learned over the years to try not to put too much stock into thoughts that intrude in the middle of the night.  Darkness has a way of distorting reality and magnifying problems.  The light of day mercifully illumines Truth.

A definition of faith that I’ve always liked and remembered is this:

“Faith is a refusal to panic.” (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

Now if I could just remember to apply it!  For once runaway fears take off, they can be next to impossible to corral.  That’s when I bleat out a plaintive cry for help…

Shepherds and ranchers will go to great lengths to protect their flock from wolves and other predators.  Realistically, they can’t be out in the fields with their animals 24/7.  I was intrigued to learn that some ranch owners have implemented a creative solution known as “livestock guardians.”   Sheep specialist Susan Schoenian describes their function:  “A livestock guardian generally stays with the sheep without harming them and aggressively repels predators.”  Certain breeds of dogs, llamas, and donkeys have proven to be very effective in this role.

I love the beauty and serenity in this picture of a faithful livestock guardian on the job:

Livestock guardian dog

And I realize…God is not only our Shepherd.  He is also our Guardian.

“Once you were like sheep who wandered away.  But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”  (1 Peter 2:25, NLT)

This Shepherd is not distant or detached.  He is an ever-present Guardian, right smack dab in the middle of the flock.  He is alert and attentive to His timid sheep’s cries for help.  He instantly knows when they’re under attack from doubts within or threats without, whether real or imagined.  There’s no need to push the panic button with Him on the scene.  Sheep in His care can rest, secure in His love, safe in His protection.

I’m His sheep.  He is with me.

As a result I can confidently declare:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shalt not…panic!”

Let’s Keep Calm and Trust On!

(Note:  “Guardian” is another great song we sing in church!  You can listen here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiRH8Hc8VQI )

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Guarded

Antelope are a sight I see every day.  Hundreds of these agile creatures call the Wyoming community where we live home.  They are beautiful animals; their dark horns and eyes a striking contrast to the tan and white stripes on their necks.  The pronghorns, as they are also known, form larger herds in the winter, frequenting our residential areas in search of a blade of grass or a pile of leaves poking up through the snow.  In the spring and summer, when food is more plentiful elsewhere, they spread out.  From what I understand, they are rarely solitary.

So I thought it was peculiar when I first spied the lone buck that May.  I’d notice him in the field adjacent to our house, sunning himself or munching on some foliage.  He was a majestic figure.   His horns towered above his head like a crown, and, judging by their size, he was not young.  I was inspired by his nobility and quiet strength.  He seemed unrushed, content.

I, on the other hand, was anything but a picture of calm.  An unanticipated personal storm had recently descended upon me, and my stress levels were high.  It was an emotional time, and my anxiety manifested itself in physical symptoms ranging from eye twitches to chest pain.  I had never been through anything quite this intense before.

I began to notice that the antelope was often nearby.  He seemed to appear just when I most needed a reminder that I was not alone.  I felt strangely comforted, protected, and guarded.  (With the exception of the night my daughter called to inform me that the antelope was eating my newly-budded daisies!  I told myself that a few flowers were a small price to pay for the pleasure of his company.)  His presence became to me a symbol of the nearness of God.

Spring stretched into summer, and my trial persisted.  But so did the daily antelope sightings.  I found myself watching expectantly for him, peering through the windows to see what side of the house he might be on.  The rest of the family even got into the action and shared in the fun of spotting him.  We affectionately dubbed him “The Lone Antie.”

One night in late July, feeling especially stressed, I opened my Bible and turned to Philippians 4:6, a familiar passage:  “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything.”  I could recite it from memory.   But it was the following verse that really struck me:  “…then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I had never paid much attention to the word “guard” before, but that night it seemed to flash like a neon sign.  The study note in my Bible below the verse read:  guard…a military concept depicting a sentry standing guard.” I could picture God’s peace, standing like a military security guard at the gate of my heart, denying access to worry and fear.

The very next morning I noticed my antelope friend, bedded down across the street.  Wanting to savor the moment, I poured a cup of tea and settled into a chair on the porch.  Just then I observed something about the buck that I had previously overlooked.  He was lying in the shade of a pine tree directly in front of our house, but I hadn’t paid much attention to his position.  He actually had his back towards me, facing out, as if he were guarding our house!  I was moved to tears by yet another reminder of the Lord’s vigilant presence.

I pondered this vivid picture God had given me that summer of His protective care. I felt surrounded by His peace and enveloped in His love, overwhelmed that He would go to such lengths to provide tangible evidence of His nearness during a trying time in my life.

God never promised to insulate us from heartache and storms.  But He did promise to be with us, and to guard our hearts and minds with His peace.  “The Lord Himself watches over you!” declared the writer of Psalm 121, “The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.”  If you find yourself in the middle of a difficult season, know that God is always close at hand, and then be on guard yourself!  He may “show up” in the most unexpected places.

“The Lone Antie”

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Freedom and Fences

I let up on the accelerator when I spotted the two young antelope out the left window of my mini van this afternoon.  Now antelope are not an unusual sight on the Wyoming prairie.  Hundreds of pronghorn antelope roam freely on the gated community we currently call home.  But these two had wandered outside the gate and were grazing on the grass median between the on-ramp and the highway, oblivious to the danger speeding past them at 65 mph.

I breathed a silent prayer, wishing there was some way to shoo them back under the overpass and into the safe confines behind the gate.  Didn’t their mama warn them not to play near the highway?  Weren’t they free to move about wherever they wished as long as they stayed within their boundaries?  Didn’t they understand that the fences were there to protect them?

I don’t suppose we humans are all that different when it comes to boundaries.  We truly have been given “a spacious place” (Psalm 18:19) in which to graze and roam.  But the grass always looks so much greener on the other side of that fence.  Surely a quick trip to check it out won’t hurt anything.  And next thing you know we’re dodging semis out on a four-lane highway.

Here are a few things our Father God has been trying to teach His prone-to-wander children since the beginning of time:

1)  His desire is that we experience freedom and provision under His loving care.  “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…”

2)  In His wisdom He has established certain boundaries.  “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…”

3)  These perimeters are for our good and for our protection.  “For when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  (Genesis 2:16-17)

We mistakenly equate freedom with a complete lack of restrictions.  But the fences are the very things that guarantee our continued ability to enjoy our freedom.  To live contentedly within the perimeters God has laid out for us in His Word, we must trust His heart towards us.  If He says “No” to something, it is only because He wants to protect us and provide for us.

Temptation will call out to you from across the fence.  Our culture will try to convince you that following God is too restrictive and that you will miss out on all the fun.  The enemy will put his own spin on God’s instructions:  “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)

Don’t be fooled.  An interstate is no place for antelope.  Or people.  True freedom is found in listening to God’s voice, and remaining within the protective confines of His love and care.

“Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”  (Proverbs 1:33)

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