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No parenting program can make up for how we will fail as parents. But there is good news! Picture by Jason Taellious

[Original license for photograph by Jason Taellious found at Creative Commons]. If you’re a parent, you’re probably confused. If you know exactly what to do with that toddler screaming for the mini-Oreos in the cookie aisle, you’re probably not a parent:-)! From the time we are pregnant or adopting, plans and programs are thrust upon us — pick me, pick me, promising to produce — what — the designer child we think we want, like the American Girl doll that looks and dresses just like us? Child-centered, parent-centered, Jesus-centered — which do we choose (oh, yes, I know the Sunday school answer:-)?. And even if we know which program is right, how do we execute?

The truth is, no program will “work,” whatever that means  — not even the Jesus-centered one. Not because Jesus fails but because we do. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying — the collective, common-grace wisdom of these programs can be very helpful — or why would I have hauled around the heavy tome, What to Expect When You’re Expecting throughout my pregnancy? But in addition to the tutor of the parenting “law,” we desperately need to know the story of grace God is telling in this parenting adventure. We and our children will fail to keep the law every time. Thankfully, God’s gracious, compassionate, unchangeable, eternal plans never fail, and in that there is hope.

I’ve been a mom of four wildly different children for 25 years and a parenting coach off and on along the way. I dare to share some of the things I’ve learned because I believe they are “means of grace” God uses to accomplish his grand purposes for parents and children.

1. Learn the redemption story Scripture tells. Come on, Elizabeth, isn’t that a fancy way of saying “Read your Bible”? Why yes it is. And it isn’t. Here is what I know — God promises to transform us through his Word. I don’t know how, but he does. Here is something else I know — when we read over and over about God’s dysfunctional family, the wayward, worshipful children he has nurtured with the tender strength of a mother and the firm grip of a father, it changes us as parents.

2. Pray. All the time. When the child is throwing the mini-Oreo tantrum, ask him to make you disappear:-). When you don’t know which school will help with your daughter’s learning disorder, ask him to show you the way and remind you that He really does have a plan. When you roll in the grass with your kids, thank God for making it soft. Ask God for your daughter’s shoulder to heal so she can play college volleyball, but when it doesn’t, ask him to give you a bigger picture of the redemption story you are writing in her life.

These are probably my top four on my "to live" (by the power of Christ) list for parenting!

These are probably my top four on my “to live” (by the power of Christ) list for parenting!

3. Repent. Turn around and say you’re sorry to that little girl whose heart you just ripped apart in your own morning temper tantrum over kids who never get ready on time. Drive back to the school with a smiley-face cookie for the boy you left with a harsh word. Call your 20-year-old and tell her you’re sorry for trying to write her story your way. Admit that parenting does not preclude sinning against your children, and beg forgiveness.

4. Forgive. They will hurt you. From the first time your 3-year-old tells you he hates you to the day your 18-year-old turns her back on you in anger, they will sin against you. You will see the fist in the face in even your most compliant child if you know what it looks like. Forgive them, not with your arms folded and a begrudging frown, but as your Father forgives you, tenderly, compassionately, mercifully, with open arms. (That does not mean their sin doesn’t have consequences — see #1 to discover some of the miserable consequences God’s children suffered for their rebellion.)

I’ve got more, but I think I’ll stop here for today. Stay tuned for the next post if you want some of the practical wisdom I’ve garnered from various plans and programs I’ve tried:-)! If you want to make sure you don’t miss any blogs, sign up here — you’ll only receive one email a week, and you’ll get all the latest blogs.

While you wait, I’d love to hear from you — what programs have you tried that have helped you? Have you seen any of these four suggestions bear fruit in your life or your children’s?

 

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Sunset (1 of 1)-2 copy

When we know God’s story — the story of the gospel; the Story of Faith and Hope the Bible tells, it changes our prayers. No longer dry, dull, and distant, prayer becomes interaction with the story God has told and is telling. That is why an essential feature of each Living Story Bible study is called “Praying Story.” Here is one I wrote for the end of Chapter 6: The Hero’s Story, in Living God’s Story of Grace. Try praying this story aloud, or write your own prayer to the God who fulfills promises and restores hope in His way, in His time:

Dear God, Fulfiller of Faith, Restorer of Hope,

We come to you humbly, confessing that we so often want your promises to be fulfilled in our time and in our way. We thank you that you are God and we are not, that you refuse to bow down to our demands, but instead draw us to kneel before your majesty, to declare your wonder, to marvel at your beauty. Help us to walk as heroes of faith, fixing our eyes on your heavenly city from afar, remembering your “already” redemption, and knowing with deep assurance that you are redeeming and transforming now. You will never stop until the day Christ returns to fulfill your greatest promise — eternal life with you in the new heavens and the new earth. In hope assured by you and faith founded in you, we pray. Amen.

 

LovingGod'sStory

It’s July 15 — can it really already be time to think about back to school and back to Bible study? Apparently so, since I received a from our women’s ministry leader that teachers needed to let her know by August 1 what we’re teaching.

If any of you are looking for good material, be sure to check out the Living Story Bible studies. I wrote these to help you know the story of grace Scripture tells, to know your own stories, and to live them out in real life. I address questions that people new to Bible study may ask and that people who have been doing it for years may need to be reminded of — in short, the good news of the gospel.

There are now three studies in the series — you can do them in sequential order, but they will also stand alone:

LearningGodsStory_CoverLearning God’s Story of Grace looks at the whole story of redemption: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, and what it means for our lives.

 

LivingGodsStory_CoverLiving God’s Story of Grace focuses on the struggle of faith and hope that we all experience.

 

COVER_Loving-In-Gods-Story-of-Grace_smallLoving in God’s Story of Grace is about, you guessed, it — love — the radical, countercultural love that the gospel tells.

 

 

Try them — you’ll like them! And, if you do one of these studies with a group and would like me to meet with your group via Skype or telephone, let me know! I would love to interact with you!

Check out this “theological theme,” in which I try to take some “big words” and make them make sense in real life:-)!

Theological Theme:  Justification by Faith

“Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

In the first chapter of the study, we asked the question, “What does faith do?” One of the most important byproducts of faith is “justification.” To understand the word justification, consider this story:

I had spoken impulsively, reeling off some sarcastic remark sure to draw peals of laughter from my daughter’s friends. Immediately I felt chagrin. My joke came at the expense of my daughter’s dignity. I wanted to justify my action, saying I was only trying to be funny, but it was clear there was no excuse – I had traded my daughter’s reputation for a moment of fame among a group of 13-year-olds. In God’s court of law, I would have been declared guilty of a love-failure.

As sinners, which we all are (Romans 3:23), there is no justification for our sin. In a court of law, we are declared guilty. That is why Genesis 15:4 is such a radical statement. Abraham is declared “righteous,” that is, “not guilty,” just because of his faith. Abraham’s righteousness does not come from his moral rectitude or good actions – it comes from his faith, which comes from God.

Faith in Christ brings an even more astounding reality to our stories. We receive the credited righteousness (see imputed righteousness in Learning God’s Story) by transferring trust from our own efforts at being good to Christ’s finished work on the cross (Romans 3:23-26). When a person confesses, “I believe Christ has fully paid the price I owe for my sin,” we are credited with Christ’s righteousness (Romans 4:23-24).

The radical concept of justification by faith should humble and astonish us. One of the great old hymns asks, “How can we keep from singing?” Indeed, when we understand that the holy God sent his holy Son as the only adequate substitute for our sins, how can we keep from living a life of loving God and loving others?

SummerBooks

We’re headed to the beach today, and having just finished the 600 page tome by John Steinbeck (more on that in a minute), I have been frantically searching for the right book  (books) to take with me.

The pressure to find the “one” perfectly suited for the beach made me think of summer reading days. As a student, we had a long list of books to choose from, so I could usually find something I liked. As an English teacher, I was often assigned three separate books to teach. Then, when my kids came along and their schools required very little or nothing, I imposed reading on them but tried to give lots of good choices.

In case you are looking for a good summer reading book, here are some of my favorites:

Mean Soup by Betsy Everitt: I am a firm believer that all adults should read children’s books regularly. Mean Soup was a school book fair find which I bought more for myself than my kids. I love the story of Horace’s bad day, the brightly-colored, louder-than-life illustrations, and the fact that his mother knew just what to do.

The Light Princess: and Other Stories: Christians always seem to include George MacDonald on their fiction reading lists — he did influence C.S. Lewis after all! I include the fairy tales because they’re funny and punny. The Light Princess plays on double meanings of words like “light” and “gravity,” and her romance and rescue will have you laughing and cheering. In 2004, we found Light Princess, and my daughter and I read it from the computer (A novelty then!). (Turns out PagebyPagebooks.com still exists!). More good news — there’s now a new musical in London based on the story! Can’t wait till it comes to America.

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: Speaking of C.S. Lewis, I’ve read his tragic but redemptive tale of love, victimization, arrogance, and shame at least five times. Little blue post-it notes stick out of my copy, marking lines like, “”They used my own pen to probe my wound,” and “Then I did a thing which I think few have done. I spoke to the gods myself, alone, in such words as came to me, not in a temple, and without a sacrifice.” It’s intense, sad, strong, and beautiful.

The Water Is Wide: A Memoirby Pat Conroy: I first read this one for summer reading as a first-year English teacher in Augusta, Ga. The story took place on a small South Carolina island not far from us, and it featured a new, funny, compassionate teacher, so naturally I enjoyed it. The eighth graders and I fell in love with “Conrack,” the young hero who bucked the system to teach kids no else thought worth the trouble. And, special bonus, there was a movie to watch when we finished discussing the book!

East of Eden [Paperback]: True confession. I’m not, or at least, I wasn’t, really a John Steinbeck fan. I had been required to read The Grapes of Wrath and to teach The Pearl and Of Mice and Men. When I thought of Steinbeck, images of dust and long slow sorrow came to mind. But my oldest daughter finished this book this spring and urged me to read it. She promised me it wasn’t so sad, that it actually told a redemptive story, so I scheduled it for my convalescence from hip surgery and just finished it three days ago. With roots in the characters and concepts of the Book of Genesis, the vast story explores good and evil, love and envy, labor and fruitfulness. Whether you agree with the theological/philosophical conclusions or not, it is a really great story that will make you think hard. I miss it already, and I look forward to having a full conversation with my daughter about it. 

By the way, I never found the right book, so I picked up Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, which I think I’ve read but not finished. What suggestions do you have for me, or what are some of your favorite books?

Here are the basics of my summer wardrobe. You can probably tell that wrinkles don't bother me much either:-)!

In the previous post on shame, I wrote about things I’ve done that legitimately make me feel shame – in short, my sin. There’s a whole nother (as we like to say down South) set of shame-inducers that have nothing to do with my sin…Starting with…

What to wear…
Being a freelancing mom who works out of my home, I have a very basic wardrobe suiting the three most common occasions in my life:
1. jeans or shorts, t-shirt (long or short-sleeve depending on season),  and boots or clogs or Chaco’s in the summer (writing, cooking, grocery store, and most retreats I lead)
2. exercise attire (I even have some shirts and shorts with matching colors – if only the brands also matched☺).
3. one or two nicer dresses for church and/or graduations.

The problem arises when there is an event that falls outside of these three wardrobe options. Take Dan Magill’s 90th Birthday Gala Celebration, which I wrote about several years ago. (My husband played tennis at the University of Ga., and this event was a reunion of all of the tennis teams to celebrate the famed coach).

I first suspected shame when I whined to my husband, “I don’t even know what to wear.”

Being a normal man who has little concern about clothing-performance issues, he did not recognize that statement as a highly subtle invitation to reassure me, “Oh honey, you’ll look great in anything.” (Even if he had, I wouldn’t have believed him☺. Such is the nature of shame.)

He volunteered to ask his old friend what his (glamorous, sexy) wife was wearing.

Country Club Casual

The response: “Country Club Casual.”

WHAT???!! I really do need to brush up on past programs of “What Not to Wear” to discover more wardrobe options.
Though I write about this with mild humor, I felt intense discomfort and considerable fear of shaming myself and my husband by not looking right.

And then I heard that loud, clear voice, the one that asks me to live in freedom and enjoy who I am and how I’m made.

The Holy Spirit slapped me square on the back with a gospel reality that struck me to attention. It sounds so silly I wouldn’t even say it if it weren’t true:

“You are clothed in Christ’s righteousness.”

“Yes, but what am I going to wear to the Gala?”

Robes of Righteousness

“Christ’s righteousness. You don’t even have to buy it. You’re already wearing it. You look beautiful in it. Like a princess, no, like a queen. In that outfit, you will bring beauty to anyone you meet tonight. People will be saying to themselves, “That dress is nothing special, but she is lovely. What is it about her?”

I finally chose a trendy skirt and blouse outfit my mother-in-law had given me for Christmas. She knows fashion and I figured she might even know what Country Club Casual means. (Though I was too embarrassed to ask her.)

I’m not gonna lie. My stomach fluttered with mild fear as we strolled from our hotel to the event. I pictured my flowing robe of righteousness and calmed. And yes, I stared with awe and envy at stunning cocktail dresses modeled by former beauty queens. I remembered, ‘I am a queen.’ And I began to hear the stories and to forget the shame.

I really had a wonderful time, and from the variegated array of outfits worn, I never did figure out what Country Club Casual means☺!

What about you?
Do you have any similar shame stories – not wearing the right thing, not fitting in…? What was it like? Was there any redemption in the story? How might the story change if you see yourself as God sees you, living in the beauty of who you were created and redeemed to be?

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