Friday Favorites

I love our sunrises. Maybe it’s because we have property here and don’t live in a neighborhood but it satisfies something in my soul when I see the early morning sun breaking through the trees.

Yesterday, Claire and I made a trip into Houston for a 4-H field trip. Yep, that’s right. I drove into the city, a major city, I might add. The interstate is an fascinating mess but people actually know how to drive it which means everything keeps moving even though there is a ton of traffic. And the skyline is so amazing.

We went to the museum of natural science for the Ramses exhibit. After all our years at Trinitas studying ancient Egypt is was really interesting to see all of the artifacts and mummies.

The museum is huge and after we finished up the planned portion of the visit a group of us did the butterfly center which was super fun. I love butterflies and the museum has created a really beautiful habitat to enjoy them in. I did hesitate going in because their sign said something about free roaming reptiles and I was not sure I was okay with that. Turns out they have an iguana that has free reign of the place so it was all good.

It had been a long day but we still wanted to take a turn through the dinosaur exhibit. Those creatures really were huge.

We thought we were done at this point but then a few of the kids came running up and said we just HAD to go see the hall of gems and minerals as well as the Everyday Faberge exhibit. They were so right and I was so happy we didn’t miss them. All the sparkle 🥰

I am always amazed more and more by God’s creation activity looking at what are basically rocks that He made. The myriad of colors and textures…it is mind boggling!

I do wish they had a before picture to accompany each one. I know they don’t come out of the ground looking like this and I bet it is fascinating to see the process.

Look at this chunk of opal! Isn’t it gorgeous?

And then you can see all the incredible ways man uses these stones to make beautiful and elaborate jewelry.

These are all rings. Aren’t they pretty?

Tiaras and necklaces too, oh my!

There were also some more delicate “everyday” pieces like some very lovely cigarette cases or calling card cases.

I loved this little broach watch made with rubies. The exhibit has a tiny mirror set up under it to reflect the watch on the back.

All in all it was a good trip but our timing was off a little bit. One, I think it is smarter to spend more than one day there and two, do not go at the end of the school year. There were gobs of schools there and it was crowded.

I definitely want to go back and visit the museum district as a whole and Houston in general. There just seems like there is so much to do!

Have a good weekend y’all!

The Power of Language and Liturgy

Have you ever considered how amazing the process is by which we learn language?
Somehow, just by the process of hearing, we learn to speak.
As parents we talked to our children from the time they were born. (Actually, we talked to ours the moment we found out they existed.)  Those cute little disruptive balls of humanity had no idea what we were saying but we talked to them anyway.

We told them who we were.

Mama loves you.

We told them who they were.

There’s Daddy’s little man.

We introduced them to people.

Go see Grandma.

Not a word was understood by Daddy’s lil’ man but we sure wanted them to know of our love and we

wanted them to know who their grandparents were, along with the countless other family and friends we named.

And what did our babies do?

They soaked it all in. It didn’t mean much in the beginning but it didn’t take long before the weird sounds we made got connected to real tangible things and understanding began to dawn.

The process happened almost unbidden, with no noticeable effort made to learn the ins and outs of language, the subtle nuances of the tongue growing up unconscious with the maturity of the child.
We don’t question talking to our children or question this way of learning speech. And we don’t dumb it down. I mean we don’t require them to give us the chemical break down of water just because they’re thirsty and in need of a drink, but they do ask for water and they know it will quench their thirst. And at some point down the road they’re going to learn about the chemical make up of water.
The language of the Church, what they are called to believe should be taught to them in the same unbidden fashion.
The liturgy of worship, it’s call to come before God, to realize we can’t go before Him unclean, the answering confession of our need for forgiveness, the way the Word and sacraments nourish us…this is where the foundation is laid for a righteous vocabulary. 
No, the infant or toddler or child in the pew may not fully understand what is being said on Sunday morning. But they are learning who their people are. More importantly they are learning who their God is and what He expects of them.

We shouldn’t underestimate children’s capacity to learn, to be shaped and formed, by our church services anymore than we should underestimate their ability to learn and speak language. They are perfectly designed for the task.

The Orchestra of Grace

There are a lot of things you learn to cope with when dealing with autism. When Sam was little we figured out some of his triggers and learned to avoid them if possible. I say some triggers because the thing with autism is that you don’t always know what the triggers are and some days it would be something completely normal and common to our life that had never gotten a reaction before that moment. I also said ‘avoid when possible’ because sometimes you couldn’t always avoid the situations. Sometimes you just had to go the grocery store.

In our experience the triggers are less frequent now that he is older. Not sure if it is just normal (for an autistic kid) maturing or the years of working with and dealing with stuff that makes the difference but I have a feeling it is a combination of both.

But there are still things to deal with. Mostly social things. Sam is no respecter of personal space. A common conversation in our house happens around the hugging of his sisters. First it should be noted that when Samuel wakes up…he is awake. His sisters? Not so much. And Sam is also tall. Really tall. He has a tendency to squish his sisters. Consequently, they are somewhat resistant to his brand of affection. “I just want to love them, Mama!”

So we talked. About how if he wants to hug his sisters because he loves them then he needs to show that love to them in a way that is pleasing and pleasant to them. He needs to be gentle and considerate. He can’t just grab them around the neck and squeeze.

He’s working on it. It’s probably a conversation we will have to have in different forms many more times but he is working on it.

We’re working on a lot of things along those lines.

Sam loves to ride his bike. He also likes to visit. There are two families in our neighborhood that we also go to church with. We’ve had to talk with Sam about limiting his visits because he was stopping to visit every single time he went for a bike ride. Which is probably about four or five times a day.

Visits from Sam can be awkward because, and I say this with much love and joy in my son, Sam is awkward. He tends to enter a room like Cosmo Kramer. And he just wants to poke around and check things out. His conversational skills are less than smooth unless he is talking about his cartoons and comics and he’s loud.

Both families have accepted his inelegant visits with much kindness and grace. Sometimes they give him tasks to do or just enter into the clumsy cadence of his conversation. One of our friends shared about one of his visits where he just hung out in the grand kids play room, rummaging around and then she heard him on her elliptical exercise machine.

Both families have made room in their lives for our son. I like to think that, in some ways, Sam is contributing something to their lives that is pleasant and pleasing but the truth of the matter is that Sam requires a lot. A lot of grace, a lot of tolerance, and a lot of room to just be Sam.

I guess the take away from this post, if there is one, is this. If you have an autistic person in your life somewhere don’t be afraid to let them into your life. Don’t let their awkwardness put you off. Trust me – you may sense the awkward but they don’t. They’re learning grace from you. They’re learning life and family and friendship from you. I’m not saying let them have free reign. Our friends do a good job of welcoming Sam in but also of putting boundaries in place for him. They add their string melody to the percussion rhythm of life we’re pounding out for him everyday.

There are plenty of places for us to sound out our solos but our boy needs to hear the sounds of the full orchestra. We all do. And when your community steps in and joins your song right where you are it is the most beautiful sound you will ever hear. It’s the sound of grace.

P.S.
If you’re serious about stepping into the song of a family with autism be prepared for some crazy riffs. They don’t always know when to let it rest. Case in point, one of the sweet families mentioned above paid Sam to take care of returning trash cans and check the mail while they were on a trip. He did a great job. About a week and a half after they got back though I received a call from Terri asking me to chat with Sam about checking their mail. It seems that he was still checking it and setting it on their front porch. The concern was that it would blow away before they got to it. The other big concern was the fact that he was removing the outgoing mail 🙂

P.P.S
The other of the sweet families above went for a walk around the neighborhood the other day, and returned the favor of a pop-in visit. It was a joyful moment, and everybody (even Sam) got the joke.

Teach Them To Hate

Sometimes it is a sweet reminder…a quiet encouragement to be kind and to love each other as I am walking out the door.

Other times it is a desperate plea for them to stop fussing and needling each other and just for the love of all that is holy and little green apples just love each other and get along!

As Christians we talk about love a lot, as well we should, considering He is a God of love. Indeed He is love, and if we are His people we are to be characterized by His character.  He shows us and tells us how that love should look – patient, kind, not boastful or arrogant and rude, not seeking it’s own or irritable or resentful, it doesn’t take pleasure in wrong doing and finds joy in truth, bearing, hoping, believing. That is love.

After all, isn’t love the greatest command given to us? They asked Him and He answered what they had already learned, what they already knew.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Love Him with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. Oh, and the second command is like the first one: love your neighbor as yourself.

So we toil and strive and work to love Him and each other because this kind of love doesn’t come natural to us.

And neither does hate.

Oh, we can hate well enough, that comes pretty natural to us, don’t you think? But just as He gives us a right way to love He gives us a right way to hate.

We are just as called to hate rightly as we are to love rightly.

Oh, you who love the Lord, hate evil!

Hate the sin and love the sinner we’re told. And that sounds great and all, but it really says nothing because we don’t know how to hate what He hates and we don’t know how to teach our children to hate what He hates. But He even tells us what He hates.

“…haughty eyes…a lying tongue…hands that shed innocent blood…hearts that devise wicked plans…feet that make haste to run to evil…a false witness that breathes out lies…and one who sows discontent among brothers.”

You hate all evil doers…

We shuffle our children off to a special service geared just for them. One that they can “understand” and yet somehow we’re raising up a generation that is always learning but unable to know truth. A generation that not only doesn’t know what they are supposed to hate but they can’t really grasp why they need to hate. We’ve let a salad bar teach them about lying, coveting, and adultery and all manner of sin and in the process, or lack thereof, we’ve not shown them how hideous, how black, and evil sin is. A caricature of sin has produced a caricature of consequence that has produced a caricature of God.

We’re trying to show them how grand and big and bright and perfect His love is for us, for our world but we’re trying to do it divorced from just how ugly and fallen that world is. We’ve G rated sin and actually ended up dimming the light because we forget that light shines brightest when it is shone against real darkness.

I’m not saying that we need to be gratuitous in teaching our children about sin. We don’t have to use graphic or explicit language but I think we do need to remember that if we want them to see how big God really is, how huge Jesus’ victory really was we must also teach them the truth about sin and just how big the battle was and is. Because if we don’t balance big grace against a big need for grace then we are teaching our children that God is, as N.D. Wilson puts it, the great big over reactor in the sky. The sin we want them to recognize and run from as dangerous has to look dangerous…it must be in proportion to the grace we are pointing them too.

So we must teach them to love and love rightly. But we cannot forget that we must also teach them
to hate rightly as well.

Sam’s White Board Drawing

The oldest is about to turn twenty-one and the youngest is forever reminding me that she will soon be my last child to hit double digits for the first time. (We don’t do huge birthday celebrations every year but going double digits is a milestone we usually mark with some extra hoopla. Is anyone surprised that Claire is working her status as the baby and the “last one” to get a little extra something something for her celebration in November?)

What I am really coming to terms with is that my babies are babies no more. This year in particular seems to have been a tipping point when that reality is just so sharp. Because of the eleven years that stretch between the first and the last it’s not like we’re on the home stretch of parenting obviously. But we do seem to have moved into the late summer and early autumn season of child rearing. There’s weeding and pruning still to do as there always will be but it’s different than before when they were little.

It’s an interesting season of life. Having them home for the summer is putting their various stages of maturity into relief and it’s so easy to see how they’ve grown and matured. Oh, they still have moments where they are the best of friends or the worst of enemies but it’s just different somehow. They are growing up. They have grown up.

And oddly enough I feel like I have too. I was talking with a friend recently and we were sharing how humbling it is to be a parent of older children. When they’re little you have it all figured out…you’re the grown up and they are learning from you. At some point though they should be entering the battle with you, along side of you, fighting the same fight that you are as brothers and sisters in Christ. They begin more and more to join you in the labor rather than being so much a part of the labor.

Honestly, I didn’t mean to get all philosophical and meandering. I really just wanted to share one of Sam’s drawings with you and it just got me to thinking how much they’ve changed and that’s how we ended up on the stroll down that rabbit trail.

Anyway, this tickled me and I thought y’all might enjoy it as well.

The boy has insight, wouldn’t you say?

So Fast

Can you believe this lovely child wears a ladies size nine and a half sneaker? I couldn’t either except that we just bought new school shoes and sure enough that’s the size we had to buy.
It happens at the end of every summer. Even though I am with them day in and day out, watching them and feeding them, I am still surprised by how much they’ve grown in these barefootin’, sunscreening, beach going, pool swimming summer days. It catches me off guard every single time.
And it reminds me that I only have them for a little while. That the goal and purpose is to raise strong and steady warriors, arrows that we launch into the world to go further and do more damage to the enemy in the name of Christ than we have.
Sometimes the responsibility feels too heavy. But I’ve learned to accept that weight…it’s good. It reminds me that I cannot do this apart from His grace. And in His graciousness He lets Claire announces that we’re out of toilet powder (Comet cleanser) when she’s cleaning the bathroom or Abby gives me that sweet precious smile and both of those things make the weight somehow a little easier to bear…a little lighter.
He is indeed gracious and kind and considers our frame.

To Share Or Not To Share

That seems to be the question of the day since an article discussing the topic has been bouncing around facebook for the past week or so. Normally I don’t offer rebuttals to things I see or hear on the WWW, but I keep getting asked about this so here’s my thoughts, for whatever they’re worth.

To be fair, I agree to a certain extent with the author’s position that we aren’t doing our children any favors by teaching them that they can have something someone else has simply because they want it. But I think this becomes an issue because we’re focusing on something that really isn’t the point.

The point isn’t really whether or not we should be teaching our children to share. The point is are we raising children that value others over themselves?

Are we cultivating a heart that is learning from an early age to eagerly and joyfully seek the well being of others?

Are we training our children to know how and when they should choose someone else’s happiness and wants over their own?

I think there is a big difference between teaching them to share for the sake of sharing and teaching them to enjoy what they have but also be willing to let others have a turn enjoying it as well.

One reinforces the idea that my wants are priority, and one teaches the idea that our joy and delight is made fuller when we include others.

Is there ever a time when they don’t have to share? Maybe. Probably. I mean just getting the best ever gift for your birthday and having it for all of five seconds before having to let others share in the joy doesn’t seem right or all that fun.

So it would seem that wisdom would dictate whether a certain toy should be brought into group settings. Why put the child in a position to choose their stuff over their friends? Their wants and happiness over that of others? Why place other children in a position to covet what another has?

Our personal policy was no sharing no taking. Of course we also taught our kids that if a friend had something and wasn’t letting them play with it they needed to find something else to play with. Hardly seems fair unless of course they were playing in a community where everyone was teaching their child the same thing. And sometimes we were in a place full of like minded people and sometimes we weren’t. Valuable lessons were learned either way.

Is there a time when you should force your child to bring out the best ever birthday present and share it? Absolutely, you don’t want them to be hoarders or miserly.  But we made that happen in situations were there was less risk to the treasured toy being abused or broken.

Is there ever a time when you should teach your child to just be happy that a friend has been blessed with something wonderful? Yes, of course.  There are always going to be times in life where one person has and another has not and we want our children to rejoice sincerely in either of those times.

But these are lessons that aren’t learned in a vacuum apart from real life. They happen in community where, hopefully, they learn more than whether they should have to share or not. It’s a community that should be teaching them the value of another human being over material stuff. And that the feelings of others should be considered before their own.

Room For Forgiveness

Last year one of our children made a serious breach of one of our family rules. For most people the rule would seem ridiculous anyway and not realistic, but in our house it had always been thus and it wasn’t new or unconnected to our family way. We don’t have a ton of rules but the ones we do have are in place for very specific and thought out reasons.

It was a very big deal and the seriousness of the situation was not lost upon the child. To use my beloved’s phrase, there was a lot of “emotional intensity” that day and it was clear that trust had been broken and would have to be earned back.

But you know what I remember my husband doing next? He set aside his anger and the hurt that every parent feels when their child has grievously sinned, and he looked at our offspring and reassured them that they were loved and that while they had done wrong they had not committed the unpardonable sin. He made it clear that while our fellowship was broken because of their sin complete restoration was possible.

Basically he prepared the soil for their repentance to take root and bloom.

A few weeks ago I shared a post about how important it is that we do not forget the personhood of the one being corrected. It can be easy to so focus on wanting to eliminate the sin that we forget the sinner.

We have to go back to our reason for correction. We don’t want obedience simply for the sake of obedience. In Hebrews 12:11 we’re told that the reason for discipline is so that it will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

How we respond to the one seeking repentance is pretty important. If our child’s desire for forgiveness had fallen onto the stony ground of, “Yeah, well you really buggered this up didn’t you?” the odds are that seeds of pride would have been sown instead of the blossom of forgiveness and restoration.

Are there consequences for sins? Yes. But the consequence is not a harsh pseudo forgiveness that comes with the crushing weight of judgment.

When true forgiveness is given there is a liberation. The imaginary of Hebrews 12:11 is the image of resurrection…life being born out of death. Sin is death and repentance is life.

Let us make sure that we cultivate a community that has fertile soil for the seeds of discipline to take root so that righteousness may grow. Let’s prepare the ground in such a way that it’s easy for our children or spouses or friends to seek forgiveness. There are no hoops for them to jump through and we don’t withhold restoration because it is within our power to do so, dangling it just out of their reach.

Christ doesn’t. In I John 1:9 we’re told that He is faithful to forgive us…may we be faithful to forgive each other.

Sometimes

Parenting is hard and sometimes it can be really hard.

You have to make difficult decisions and then follow through with them. And sometimes you can explain the reasons behind your decision and then sometimes you can’t.

Everything we do should be done for the benefit of our children…for their good. Even when they don’t think it is.

Our goal with every decision, with every act and moment of discipline is to strengthen our children in their faith, in righteousness and obedience.

And sometimes we screw it up.

Sometimes you realize that all the correction hasn’t been a lifting up but rather putting down; oppressive instead of liberating.

Those are interesting words aren’t they? In relation to sin and correcting I mean. I haven’t thought about it that way, not really. But Scripture is full of the imagery of God lifting His people up, of raising them up out of the pit.

Our correcting, not just as parents but as brothers and sisters in Christ, should be done with that same idea in mind. We correct, not so that we can defeat the sin in our children’s hearts, but so that we can lift them up out of the pit of their sinfulness.

It is a battle to be sure and sin is the enemy and we do want to defeat it. But if we are so intent on defeating the foe, on waging war against the sin itself, it is quite easy to forget the personhood of the one that we seek to liberate.

I’m not saying that we should not correct ~ far from it actually. But our correcting needs to be focused on the redemptive work in the mind and soul and heart of our child and not just the big black ugly sin.

Why? Because we want to shape and form a heart that not only hears correction but loves it. Because sometimes we want obedience in little things because there will come a day when He will want obedience in big things.

Titus2Tuesday

Baby Wise

We’ve had a bunch of new babies born into our church family in the last several months. I’m talking one a month since September (and two in October!). And that’s just at our church, if you factor in school life there have been even more. It’s been a tremendous and beautiful blessing.

There is nothing quite like the joy a new baby brings. That precious bundle of life and hope and mercy and grace. But if we aren’t careful we can end up despising that gift.  This sort of despising is crafty and masquerades itself as true affection but in the end only leads to destruction. Since the beginning of time the cunning one has sought to distort a God-centered love, be it between husband and wife or parent and child.

As all of these little ones have come into our community I’ve had time to consider what it is to not despise the gift of life that God gives to us in our children. It’s advice that I’ve gleaned over the years by raising my own children but also from watching and heeding the wisdom of those who have gone this path ahead of me. I think it’s perfectly applicable for first time parents of newborns and also completely adaptable for parents of toddlers and older children.

Don’t be afraid to let your baby cry. They need to know that they are a big part of your world but not the center of your world, Christ is.

Expect obedience from the very beginning and teach it to them. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us but if they learn to obey in simple age appropriate matters they will continue to grow in their obedience to you and others and it will be easy for them to obey in the times when it is really important and possibly really difficult to do so.

Don’t be afraid to let them fall down and get the occasional boo boo. Kids need to be tough. If you teach your child from the very beginning that they are strong then they will grow up and be strong.

Don’t be afraid to let them get dirty. Often times hard work is dirty work and you want to raise good workers who aren’t put off by the hard work.

Resist the urge to always make life perfect for them. Real life is seldom perfect and they need to 1) be able to cope with that and 2) know how to think and figure out a different way when things aren’t going perfectly.

Give them chores and responsibilities at a young age. There is so much they can and will learn from these simple tasks. If nothing else it will teach them to appreciate and care for what they have.

From as early an age as possible teach them that they have nothing in their possession that is more important than the people in their life. “Special” toys and things are fine and not everything has to be communal property, but they should be encouraged to know and understand that more joy comes from sharing those special things then keeping it only for themselves.

Keep your word count low as you seek to teach or train your child. It’s very difficult to teach them to have a quiet heart and mind so they can listen if you are bombarding them with  an avalanche of words. What you expect from them should be clear and precise. So should your correction. Think about the book of Proverbs. God’s words to us are few and simple and to the point. Don’t over explain.

Know the difference between a teaching time and a correcting time. Sometimes they will just need to cease and desist whatever they are doing no questions asked or explanations given. Other times there will be an opportunity to teach them through why they need to stop what they are doing. It’s important that you know the difference.

There is a difference between teaching and training. You want to teach your child to sit quietly with you in church (that’s the concept) but you train them by practicing quiet time at home. Be deliberate in what you want to teach your children so that you can be very clear in how you train them.

Don’t hide your mistakes and failures from them. They need to know what it looks like to mess up and try again.

Don’t try to hide your sin either. They need to see what it looks like to be genuinely repentant. And let them be sinners. What I mean by this is you need to recognize that they are precious little adorable sinners. It’s not always the other kids fault and your child is not always “just tired.” Help him to own his sin so that he can honestly deal with his sin as an adult.

As much as possible remind them that everything they have is in some way given to them by their father. Whenever my kids thank me for some thing, be it a new pair of shoes or a trip through the drive thru, I always find a way to remind them to thank their Dad for it. Not just because in our case he has made the money that provided whatever it is but because in a small but very real and profound way it prepares their heart to recognize that all they have comes from the hand of their Heavenly Father.

You are not just raising hard working good adults. Want more for your child than his own happiness.

Raise them to protect the weak and care for the poor. Raise them to go out under the banner of Yahweh and wreak havoc on the enemy for, and in the name of, Christ.

Raise them to die to self and sin so that they can truly live.

Titus 2 Tuesday    Tending Home