This spring has been cold and snowy, just like our winter. Just this morning there was frost covering the car, and now I have a child with a cold napping on my lap as I write. It definitely doesn’t feel like spring. Just a few months ago I took this little sick girl in for a doctor visit (a well-child visit, ironically), and she was so afraid that she had a hard time getting out of the car. It can be difficult to help a child with fear because even if you can get them to obey, there are many emotions still lingering. I decided I needed a system to help my kids gain courage.
Second, we remember. We remember all the times we have been to the doctor and come out alive. We remember all the ways that doctors have helped us. We talk about times we have done scary things and everything turned out well. We remember when we went to the dentist and it didn’t hurt one bit. They may be too young to remember some of these times, so I tell them stories. I tell them about how they were sick as an infant and God protected them and brought them healing. Or if they are afraid of something else, like the dark, we talk about all the times God has protected us in the dark. We remember that He watched over us through thousands of nights. I have to show my child how to talk truth to themselves. The truth is that God cares about us and is constantly watching over us with care. I need to help them remember that so they can fight their fear.
Third, we give thanks. We give thanks for all the kind mercies along the way, even if the experience is hard. We look at reality, which is often less scary than our imaginations and worries. We give thanks for the stickers and the prize box at the pediatrician’s office. We give thanks for the free ice cream coupons after shots. We give thanks for the funny looking hospital gown we have to wear and we take silly pictures in it. I remind my child that God does not give us hard things without giving us gifts in the middle of the hard. We look around for the gifts and give thanks for them. On scary dark nights, we give thanks for nightlights and flashlights and CDs with our favorite stories and fuzzy pajamas. I can’t just tell my child to stop being afraid and obey. That is only the first step. I have to help them replace their fear with gratitude. I have to show them what courage looks like. If they are going to gain victory over their emotion of fear, they need to know what other path to take.
There is a spot on the corner of our couch where I can see the very top of Moscow Mountain peeking over the neighbor’s roof. I love to sit here in the mornings and watching the first light hit the very top of the mountain on a clear day. Last week, with coffee in hand I watched the mountain slowly glowing and read Hebrews 12, a favorite passage:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
I often think I am strong enough to get through a day without sinning, but this is false. I need forgiveness daily. I often forget to foresee all the entanglements I will face each day. I make a list of things I need to do, but do I make a list of all the snares that are waiting for me as I try to do those things? No! Instead of recognizing the snares that so easily entangle me, I often just stumble along through my days carrying around weights of small unnoticed sin, feeling it pull me down, but not always able to realize what is bothering me. Paul says that carrying the weight of sin keeps us from being able to run with perseverance. I see this all the time. I feel tired, I feel like complaining, I feel like crashing into bed at the end of the day and just trying not to think about all the hard moments that I glazed over. But that isn’t perseverance! Perseverance is strong and works hard and looks for opportunity to grow. Perseverance doesn’t mean just stumbling through the day putting one tired foot in front of the other, perseverance means I am ready for the next thing.
Whenever I take my kids to a new place, or when we do something that I know will be hard for them, we have a talk about what is expected of them and what temptations they might struggle with. If we are going out shopping, I remind them how they should act in the store and how they may not act. When we go to church, I remind them to sit still and be quiet and to stay in the designated area after church so I can find them when it is time to go. But I find that I am lazy to do this for myself. I am lazy to look ahead to various situations that I face in order to look out for the snares. Instead what happens is that I often allow temptations to creep up without even noticing, until by the end of the day I am weighed down and entangled.
When I am dressing in the morning, what kind of temptation might I face? Discontent with my mother-of-three body. Envy or covetousness towards women with a more extensive wardrobe selection. When my kids stumbled out of their beds, grumpy and whining, what kind of temptation might I face? Annoyance or laziness because I am not quite awake enough to deal with their sin. When a friend says or does something unkind? What kind of snare might be waiting for me in that situation? When I am paying bills? When I am folding the millionth load of laundry? When I am running late for an appointment because someone can’t find their shoe? When my child disobeys again after I have already corrected them several times? When I have a headache? When the car breaks down?
I need to look at these situations daily and ask myself what temptations I might face during these times: fear, frustration, impatience, taking offense, despair, complaining, loving things or myself more than others. I need to anticipate temptation more and put a hedge of prayer around me. Even fun events, like family holidays, can present a number of temptations that if I am not ready for them will quickly weigh me down with sin. But if I think ahead and look for the temptations I might face, then I am ready to cast the weight onto Christ when it comes. I am ready to persevere like running a race, instead of trudging along with a limp.
“make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:5-11 NIV
Peter always catches me off guard in this passage. I am reading along about how we have been bought into the salvation of Christ, and then he says now that we believe we should keep adding to our faith. This is along the same lines of what James says: faith without works is dead. The faithful are known by their fruit. Peter gets very specific here about what that faith fruit should look like. We should first add goodness. Easy enough. Be good. Say a kind word. Cook dinner for someone in need. Then we should add knowledge. Study! Pay attention in the sermon! Read your Bible. Check. But then he says to add self-control, and this is where I get caught up. Unlike the first two virtues, self- control is not an action. All the sudden Peter is telling me to stop doing something I shouldn’t do, instead of telling me to find something good to do. The assignment just got harder. How do I add self-control? Peter doesn’t leave us hanging. If you skip down to verse 8, you will find the answer, the key to self-control. “But whoever does not have (these qualities) is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” The key is to remember that you have been cleansed from your past sins. If you believe every morning that your sins of yesterday have been completely forgiven, erased, forgotten, you will have the self control to turn from them. You are no longer a mom who yells at her kids, you are a forgiven mom. You are not a wife who disrespects her husband, you are forgiven. Today you are a new wife, you are a respectful wife, because you have been cleansed and you can do all things through Christ. You are not the girl who envies all the other girls at school, you are new. You are no longer lazy, no longer angry, no longer worried, no longer afraid, all those things have been forgotten and taken away from you. Today you are forgiven and you don’t have to worry or be lazy or be angry. You are not that person anymore.
We find some pretty great motivation in verse 11 “For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” If we persevere in goodness and knowledge and self-control and godliness and love then we will be richly welcomed into the Kingdom of saints. Richly welcomed by Abraham and Sarah, by Moses and Noah and Ruth and King David and Elijah and Peter and Paul and so many others who have gone before. How we conduct ourselves in day to day relationships has an effect on how we will be welcomed by these saints when we enter the Eternal Kingdom.
I’ve been meditating on self-control a lot lately, and not just for myself. I’m still learning it, but as I do so I’m also trying to guide my children how to be self-controlled. I don’t want my children to learn how to just suppress all their emotion. That’s not my goal. My goal is to help them control their actions and not act solely on how they are feeling. Easy to say, hard to teach. But this is my starting point, my solid ground for teaching self-control that I need to continually fall back on. If I see they are really struggling with self-control, I need to make sure of two things. First, I need to make sure they know that they are forgiven. I forgave them, God forgave them. They are not my “difficult child”. They are my forgiven child. They are not my child who bites or hits, they are my forgiven child, they are made new every time they are disciplined and forgiven. They are not my stubborn child, they are my child who was baptized into Christ and stubbornness does not have a hold on them. I need to make sure they know this.
Second, I need to make sure my children have the reward of a rich welcome when they act in self-control. It is easy for me to notice when my children do not have self-control, when they throw fits or talk back or hit each other. But it is hard to notice when they sit still in church and cheerfully eat the dinner they don’t like and walk away when their sibling annoys them. I need to make sure that I take note and richly praise them when they are controlled. I need to be in the habit of giving high-fives and winks and hugs when they wait cheerfully for their dinner, instead of just noticing when they are whining and grabbing my legs like they have never had a meal before. My hope is that they will understand the reward of self-control is a rich welcome, a rich welcome here in our family, and a rich welcome into Eternity.
Another day has passed and I have not used anything I learned in Algebra. I have actually come to a point in life where it seems like math is doing more bad than good. I’m sure I’ll find all those algorithms buried somewhere in my brain when my kids are struggling through high school arithmetic. But what I really wish I could unlearn is the basics, I wish I could forget how to count.
I need to be especially bad at math during this phase of life. My middle child has had trouble sleeping , and my oldest wakes me up to tell me. As soon as I lay down again, my youngest is wailing. I glance at my phone through bleary eyes. That’s 120 minutes of sleep that I did not get. My quick math is really stumbling me from greeting this day with joy.
The baby is learning about how many things he can reach and how high he can climb and how fun it is to splash in toilet water. I leave dinner bubbling on the stove to run and rescue him from drinking from the toilet, for the fifth time in sixty minutes. My simple addition, counting the times I have rescued him, is causing a problem in my attitude.
My five year old grows faster than anyone in the family. It seems like I am always shopping for shoes. My credit card statement comes and I use easy multiplication to figure out how much I can spent on shoes in the last few months. I cringe. My math skills are impeding me from giving freely.
Mothers need to be bad at counting sacrifices. I need to stop counting the loaves and the fishes and comparing it to the five thousand mouths that need food. I need to stop counting the number of times I was up in the night, the number of corrections I have given, the number of minutes the toddler napped, the number of loads of laundry, the number of handprints on the walls, the cost of food, the amount of alone time, the inefficiency. I need to freely give, to generously lavish late night story times and consistent discipline and clothes and snacks and clean sheets. I need to forget the number of times I had to cancel an evening with friends because of a sick child, to forget how to add up minutes when we are trying to get out the door, to overlook the high utility bill that resulted in a warm home and clean water for five. I need to stop counting, stop adding, stop calculating the cost. I need to open my hands and give every day and pray that I would learn to be bad at this kind of math.
When I was growing up, Christmas was by far my favorite time of year. Decorations came out, music played, it was the only time we ever had candles burning. My minimalistic mother even had a throw on the couch, and the decor loving domestic seven year old in me just felt all warm inside. As I have moved on into a life of being the one to make Christmas happen, I have always tried my best to make it as big and as festive as my budget would allow. We have had big parties, progressive dinners, presents for all the siblings and spouses, and as our children have joined us in life our celebration has shifted to them. We don’t have big parties as often now, but we love to go on lots of Starbucks dates and drive around looking at lights after dark and build ginger bread houses and cook together and decorate cookies and partake in all forms of sugar. We fill the kids stockings until they are bursting and we buy as many gifts as we can afford. We watch all the Christmas movies with mint Oreos and candy canes and I find myself scrubbing my couch for days. We want Christmas to be fun, the most fun.
But somehow in all that mix, Christmas has become less fun for me. I am often so busy trying to make it fun for everyone else that I don’t have many moments feel fun. I enjoy seeing everyone else enjoy it. I love watching their concentration as they decorate sugar cookies and watching their excitement build on Christmas Eve and listening to them recite the story of Jesus to me. I enjoy all those moments, but to be honest I enjoy them while I am still hoping for a nap and halfway remembering all the things I need to do and running through the budget in the back of my mind.
I found myself alone the other day, sitting in the dusk living room with a glass of wine, staring at the sparkling tree and the pile of presents next to it. I couldn’t find a pen so I had stopped making lists for a few minutes. I wanted to recreate the sentimentality of Christmas, to feel the excited fuzziness that I did when I was a child, to have all the joy and none of the stress. I guess what I really wanted was a Hollywood Christmas, not the real one.
The real Christmas involved a woman who found out she was pregnant while still unmarried, whose fiancé was suspicious of her purity and didn’t want to marry her at first, who had to travel while nine months pregnant to obey a census law, who had to give birth on a bed of hay and somehow figure out how to cut the cord (I guess…I have no idea how they did these things then, but I imagine it was messy). The real Christmas story involved Herod issuing a decree to slaughter all the baby boys. Can you even imagine what it would be like if military officers were breaking into our homes and killing our baby sons? That is certainly much more stressful than anything in my life. But in the midst of the all the crazy stress, angels filled the sky on Christmas and they sang a song of hope and peace.
Even though in the story of Christmas there was great turmoil and a birth in a stable and babies being killed, heaven rejoices. I want to echo what the angels say, I want to look to the hosts of heaven and see what they see. They saw the joy shining through stronger than the trials. I want to cling to the joy of the shepherds and the angels, singing because the world was being redeemed, the course of history was changing. While I work so hard and so tired to make a great celebration and a fun and joyful time for my family, I should not be discouraged that I bear stress. The angels said not to look at the stress of the world, but to rejoice, rejoice greatly! Even if I feel tired and overwhelmed, that’s ok. I am in the weary world. It is part of the story, and it always has been. But heaven is not weary. Heaven is full of joy, heaven sees the whole picture. I want to see the whole picture, rejoicing even in the midst of the tired.
Happy birthday to my beautiful June Annwyn Marie. She is the first one in the family to have curls in her hair, and that seems very appropriate. She is bouncy and fun and loves to laugh and tackle her brother. We are big fans.
The name Annwyn is thought to have come from the Welsh word referring to a world void of disease, where the food is unending. In many myths it is associated with heaven. I can’t think of a more appropriate middle name for our girl. She has always been a bright light in our stories.
A few months ago June made up a word: “Labba-doo”. It means “don’t worry” or something like that. Whenever someone is crying or upset, June will say “Just snap your fingers and say labba-doo”. It always reverses the situation and most of the time we all end up laughing. That phrase sums up June perfectly. She is always trying to make people laugh, especially her brother and sister. She is the first one to turn a grumpy attitude into a joke. When she gets hurt she quickly wipes away her tears and says “it’s going to be ok!” with a big smile. I hope someday she understands how much I need her laughter.
June is always bright, she is our light. She is our June in November, our sunshine in the winter, our little sparkle of hope. She is so full of joy, and I am very much looking forward to another year with her!
Today we celebrate one year with our Peter Miles. I feel like I am on a merry-go-round and I keep trying to grab onto things that are stationary, but life just keeps spinning. Time is flying, but here we are with another one-year-old. Here we are, blessed again.
Whenever I look at this chubby little guy, I remember seeing his tiny beating heart on the ultrasound screen for the first time. The technician was very quiet during the exam. She told me there was a problem and my doctor would explain when I saw her. My doctor showed me the pictures of the ultrasound, and the large portion of the placenta that didn’t seem to be functioning. She told me that she expected this pregnancy to end in miscarriage.
Days and weeks passed by. Daily I offered up this little life to the Lord, slowly learning to open my hands and let go of what I wanted.
At my twelve week appointment, we heard another strong heartbeat. My doctor was surprised to see me and to see my son so strong. She sent me to a specialist in another part of the city, who talked to me about my high risk for a repeat placenta abruption, about accreta, about preemie baby care and at what gestational age he would be able to survive. On the ultrasound we saw a strong, healthy boy, squirming and growing and heart pumping. She said I must have many praying for him, because his situation almost always prevented healthy growth in utero.
Each appointment continued to be a surprise. Each time our boy measured bigger than expected, and each time the doctors were baffled by his ability to continue growing. They made sure that I knew that at any moment the placenta could detach and I would need medical care immediately. They made sure I knew that the risk to my baby’s life would be high if this were to happen. They made sure I knew that it was likely he would be nutritionally deficient. I told them I understood. I understood that this life was entirely dependent on the Lord sustaining my body each day, and I understood there was nothing left in my hands.
Each week brought more peace as each week meant my son was a little bit stronger, and we made it all the way to 38 weeks before labor started. Peter Miles Taylor was born at 9:00 pm on a warm October Tuesday, weighing in at 7 lbs 11 oz. My biggest baby, and my earliest. We named him Peter after my father, Taylor after Jon’s grandfather (who entered the presence of the Father just this week) and Miles because he has been a strong soldier and fighter since his first heartbeat.
Miles has been such a wonderful addition to our family. He gives the tightest hugs and eats more than I do. He weighs as much as his three-year-old sister. He is strong and doesn’t give smiles easily. There were so many months last year when I did not know if he would be healthy, when I would get into my car after every appointment and whisper “this life belongs to You, Lord, sustain me to do Your will without fear.” Every time I hold my son I remember that it is it Lord who formed this strong young boy despite all the dangerous appearances, and I am thankful every moment.
We have just concluded our fourth week of homeschooling for the year. My class is made up of one Kindergartener, one busy potty-training toddler, and one baby who thinks he wants to climb. There have been too many moments when I am frantically bouncing a crying baby on my hip, while telling June to stop dancing on the table, and simultaneously trying to teach the concept of how a nickel can equal five pennies. Trying to get a five-year-old to sound out her phonograms while her sister is rolling around on the floor pretending to be an injured puppy is an impossible feat. I need three of me.
If there was ever a time to let go of perfectionism, this is it. You probably wouldn’t know it by looking at my house, but I am a super perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect -my home, my meals, my budget, my schedule, my body, my sleep cycles, my diet, my children, my hair, my throw pillows, my attitude, my prayers. I could go on. If anything has been a part of my life, I have pushed it to become perfect. I have tried different ways to mold and refine and create the most perfect schedule or the most perfect menu plan. But as the Lord keeps heaping blessings in my life, I have slowly been learning to let go and open my hands and let things get messy.
In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus reveals something about being truly perfect.
““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I want to be perfect and I think I know how. I have a lot of pins on Pinterest that look perfect to me. I want things organized and scheduled and beautiful. I want good behavior always rewarded and bad behavior punished. But that is not what Christ is talking about when He says to be perfect. I am wrong. He says that being perfect like the Father means that we are loving those who do not love us. It means that we are greeting people who do not greet us. It means rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. Being perfect doesn’t mean that we have found a life balance that is fair and easy and simple. Being perfect means that we are loving enemies and rejoicing in suffering and smiling in the midst of the toddler chaos. It means that we are showering love and kindness and mercy where it is deserved and where it is not.
Jesus spent His ministry healing people, making their bodies perfect. One time the disciples asked him whose sin had caused a man to become blind at birth. Jesus answered “Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Perfection is Christ turning our disabilities into glory.
In Matthew 19, Jesus says to the rich young ruler “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Perfection is giving up all we have for the sake of Christ.
Colossians 3:14 says “And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.” Perfection is loving one another.
Living a perfect life has very little to do with figuring out a perfect homeschooling method. Perfection means accepting what the Lord has given with contentment, letting His glory be made manifest through my own weakness. Perfection means giving away my own life for others. Perfection means showing love. Perfection means working as hard as a I can to keep the house clean, but being perfectly happy to let the children pull out all the playdough again. Perfection means creating a schedule that will help the family, but graciously laying it aside when the baby starts cutting a tooth.
I offer my life to the Father every Lord’s Day, and I want my offering to be perfect, spotless, without blemish. I consider it a good week if the schedule seemed to work and the house stayed clean and I managed to keep the refrigerator full. I am wrong. Can’t I let Christ be the only one with a perfect life that he gave as the spotless sacrifice? Being perfect means that I move aside, I raise my open hands to the Lord and let go of my life so that Christ can be perfect, and I can find my perfection in partaking in His blood. I say with David every week and every day “God is my strength and power: and he makes my way perfect.” (2 Samuel 22:33)
Sin is contagious. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “bad company corrupts good morals”. Sometimes we think we are strong enough to be salt and light, to be the good example, and a witness to those in sin. Many times the Lord uses our faithfulness to lead others to himself. But if we are dragging sin around with us, our saltiness can lose its flavor. Remember the first time a woman sinned and how easily, how quickly, her husband jumped in after her. It isn’t just the visible sin that is contagious, it is also the secret sin. Sin clouds and confuses and creates all sorts of blindness, not only for us but for those around us.
We have had a seriously rainy season here in Louisville. I can only remember five or six sunny days since February. Maybe there have been more, but my point is that we have had days upon days of rain. In this area of the country we also have thunder and lightning with our rain. Being a Georgia born girl, I love a good, loud thunderstorm. I love the smell of the rain, the rumbling thunder through the clouds, the sudden black cloud cover as the storm rolls in, and the freshness in the air as it rolls out. My daughter does not feel the same way. She is terrified. It started with a fear of the being struck by lightning. We never ventured out in storms. Her fear escalated over the months to the point where she would close the curtains if she saw a cloud, or refuse to go to the park if she saw a thunderstorm warning on my weather app. We prayed, we talked about being brave, we read books about weather, and researched how to stay safe. But still, if a cloud appeared the poor girl was curled up in the corner of the house afraid to move too close to a window.
It became apparent to me that things were getting a little ridiculous, and the issue was far beyond thunderstorms. Her fear was very real to her and she was fighting with learning to trust in the midst of fear.
I pray for my children often, for their futures and for their present struggles. I prayed for my daughter to have courage and to learn trust. But what I kept realizing was that I was making the same request for myself. My own struggle with worry and fear and forgetting to trust a God who has always cared for me is constant. My sin, although silent, was contagious and contaminating my daughter. Instead of praying that she would have courage, I began confessing my own lack of courage. Instead of praying that she would learn not to be afraid, I began confessing my own fear. I cringe when I realize how many thoughts I have wasted in being afraid of things that are not happening, of being worried about possibilities. If I do not confess my own fears and worries, my children will not be able to conquer their own. I will keep infecting them.
We opened the front door to watch the lightning last week. She sat next to me on the stair, squeezing my hand, but she did not cry. She hasn’t checked the weather app in days. Her courage is growing. The root of the struggle is being uprooted, beginning with the uprooting of my struggle. The speck in her eye is coming out, beginning with the plank in mine. In the spiral of confusion as I tried to lead through this struggle, I found my foothold in confession. People say that children are like mirrors, and people are right. They do not just mimic our outward personality traits and our open struggles, they also mirror our inward sins, our fear, our discontent, our silent disobedience, our dishonesty, our worry, our disrespect, our ingratitude, our envy, our bitterness. Sin is contagious even in silence.
We have been talking a lot about the Israelites on their first visit to Canaan. They peared over the wall and were afraid of what they saw. Their fear was legitimate. The Canaanites were strong, they were many, and they were powerful. In comparison the Israelites were like tiny grasshoppers. From a practical standpoint, the odds were against them. But they forgot how full of power their God is, and that He can make a city fall with only the sound of a trumpet. THe Lord was not happy with their fear and He sent them back into the wilderness to live the rest of their days.
“Do not be afraid” I tell my daughter every day. “Do not be afraid.” I tell myself. I could spend a long time explaining that the fear of a thunderstorm is unfounded, but that is not the point. She will eventually find something to fear that is real, something that can actually hurt her. So I tell her not to let fear control her actions, to have courage, and to believe that the God who has crushed enemies with their own city walls holds her in His hand and we are very safe.