March came in like a lion here in Michigan, despite February flirting with springtime temps, making us think maybe, just maybe, we were done with winter. I'm oddly ok with it. Despite being my favorite season, I'm not quite ready for Spring yet (which is something I never thought I'd say). There's something about snow after the winter solstice when the days start to lengthen again. Instead of blue twilights, it's all golden mornings with the sun glinting across a brilliant diamond encrusted world, making ordinary things (swingset, basketballs, abandoned lawn chairs) seem somehow regal. I wake up and look out the kitchen window toward my Mom's house and feel like, maybe just for right now, that I'm facing the right direction.
There's no small thing about heading the right way. Rightness is such a centered feeling and one that I feel is more slippery in my grasp these days than it once was.
February in a little house full to the brim with children always stretches me in so many ways. God created families as the perfect training ground for sanctification and, goodness, if we don't brush up against that as often as humanly possible. If I can get past the irritation and annoyance of watching 7 personalities bounce off each other (and me) all day long, I can see the good it is yielding. The growth it inspires.
A few days ago, some of my Mama friends and I were talking about siblings squabbles, and I realized something: all siblings fight in some way. Most siblings fight physically, even when we all think they are way too old for that nonsense and have been modeling (and preaching) "We don't hit! Gentle hands! Be kind!" for as long as they've been able to execute such an action. As natural a part of growing up as Maggie's first wobbly attempts at standing is giving your brother an elbow in the stomach when he's annoying you. It is 100% normal. Yet I see my friends stressing and worrying and feeling like they have to do something to keep their four year old sister-smacker into a future felon.
Perhaps that is one of the most maddening things about parenting. We are so entrenched in the idea that there is certainly something that one can do to make a change in every situation that when we show up to parent our kids and find ourselves endless repeating the same things we've been saying for 13 years with seemingly little result, we don't know what to do. We keep on trying, keep on making rules and reward charts and doling out consequences and feeling completely flummoxed when behavior doesn't seem to change. We have that sinking feeling that we are failing them.
The truth is, this is God's work to be done in His way that rarely makes sense to mere mortals.
This winter, I've been praying to see the good in my children. The things they are getting right. It has changed my view and made me fall so deeply in love with these people. You see, God has begun a work in them. Just like He began one in me. The thing about the flaws in kids is that they are things we see right out front, like sibling squabbles and back talking. Pretty benign stuff compared to the sins adults hide deep inside, behind a carefully crafted veneer. There is a temptation in raising children to see only the naughty things. The things that threaten to embarrass us in public. The things that reflect badly on us. When we narrow our focus to just that and train not with the heart in mind but the appearance, we miss so much. This verse has been laid on my heart in regards to my kids and challenges me every day:
"If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you..."
My job is not to be my children's savior. They've got one and it isn't me. It isn't to change their hearts or even their behavior. It is to train them, yes, lead them, model gospel to them, admonish them, point them in the right direction and help them up when they stumble. But change in a person, in a heart, is something that only the Maker of the Universe can set into motion. The same one who tilts us towards the sun and changes blue twilights into golden mornings. I've noticed something in my children lately - particularly the older ones. The more I relax my grasp and, instead, invite them into life with me, the more astonished I am to see them rising to the occasion with kindness, confidence, love. They are generous, thoughtful, hardworking. They serve and love with patience that I could learn from. My view of God can be so narrow - almost narcissistic, that I can begin to believe that without my forcing them down a certain path, they'll never find it on their own. I forget that each one of them has their own relationship with Him - and that it is quite frankly not something I'm involved in.
At the baptism of one of my many wonderful family members, my pastor-cousin remarked that, in God's economy, we are all brothers and sisters. Yes, even freshly baptized babies and wizened seminarians. We are meant to walk together on this path, not boss and lecture and fuss at our little ones into loving Jesus. We're made to encourage. Made to love. Not made to save, but made to head the right way.
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