Thanks to the mums from MOPS for their questions

Thanks for inviting me to be on a panel of mums, for mums, at MOPS Elizabeth.

It was a privilege to share my answers to the following questions, which I’ll post as I translate them from note form to readable form over the next few weeks.

  1. How do you resolve conflicts in different parenting styles between yourself and your husband/partner? eg where one partner is stricter than the other
  2. Now that you’re an experienced Mum, if you could tell yourself one piece of advice to really listen to when you became a new mum, what would it be?
  3. How do you balance your time between being a wife/partner and a mother so that no-one feels they miss out? What about when you have more than one child?
  4. If you could have one family rule or value, what would it be?
  5. What are your strategies for raising toddlers? e.g. dealing with whinging?

 

 

 

Watch them take off and fly!

Tiarna was only 12 months old when we moved to Memphis. Within weeks of our arrival, she made friends with a particular gorilla in the Memphis Zoo.

We lived only a mile away from the zoo. With a family membership, we visited up to three times a week – often enough for Tiarna and the gorilla to form quite a bond.

The gorilla would see us coming, early in the morning, and climbed up to the viewing window. Tiarna climbed up onto the ledge on our side of the window and the gorilla sat next to her on the other side of the glass. There they sat, copying each other and communicating in some form that seemed to mean they would look for each other the next time.

Jesse was nearly three. He seemed to have two speeds – full speed and asleep. The ‘rangle-tangles’ (that’s Hahn-children language for orangutans) were not as accessible as the gorillas. But they knew us well enough to wave to us – particularly to our little, blonde, bouncy Jesse.

We soon discovered that Jesse had an amazing affinity with birds. Memphis Zoo had an indoor, thermostatically-controlled aviary where birds from all over the world were free to fly around, all year round.

Inside the aviary, we wandered along the paths very slowly. Often we stopped to sit and practice being very quiet.

Jesse sat on a low rock wall and birds came right up to him – most often a bleeding-heart dove and her chick. Many people asked  to photograph Jesse with the birds within centimetres of his face.

It was almost magical … until the peace shattered when someone burst into the aviary, running, shouting and sometimes even chasing the birds.
We had lived in Memphis for a couple of years when the zoo installed a Butterfly House. On our first visit we wandered through with Jesse’s pre-school group and a tour-guide.

During the tour, many butterflies landed and stayed on the floral dress I wore – obviously attracted to the colour of the flowers.

The children were fascinated, and I felt rather privileged… until I wriggled and they flew away.

At the end of the tour, we watched butterflies emerge from cocoons. One butterfly hatched completely and took its first flight while we watched.
On my next visit, I remembered to wear the same dress. I stood still in the Butterfly House and about a dozen butterflies settled on my ‘flowers’.

Other people noticed and came to have a closer look.

A girl came up to me and demanded that the butterflies come on to her dress.
She yelled at me.
She yelled at her mother.
She yelled at the butterflies.
The butterflies took flight and flew to the farthest corners of the enclosure.
The child reminded me of the children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
So did her mother.

The mother pleaded with me to help to get butterflies onto her daughter – as if I had a magic wand.

I couldn’t help – just as if she’d asked me to arrange for the birds in the aviary to come close to her daughter, or for the gorilla to play with the child.

 

A couple years ago Jesse left our home to go renting with a friend, and Tiarna flew to Ireland to meet up with a childhood friend from Memphis (not the gorilla!). I think a piece of my heart went with each of them.

As I sit today and write, I think back to that mother in the Butterfly House, and I recognise that I have plenty of what she had.

I would much prefer to be with my kids wherever they are; making sure that they have everything that they have ever desired; that they can be happy; making  the world safe and perfect for them; and wanting to take their place in scary times (bungee jumping and sky-diving not included!).

Then I remember back to our first tour in the Butterfly House.

When one of the other mums reached out to help a butterfly out of its cocoon, the tour-guide stopped her. The tour-guide stressed that in order to develop their wings properly the butterflies had to go through the struggle of coming out all by themselves.

As parents, it’s always tempting to protect our children from any struggles and to try to keep them happy. But we run the risk of growing beautiful children who can’t cope in the real world.
We can encourage them to learn, and we can influence their environment so that they can make wise choices.
But we cannot live their lives for them.

If we keep them so safe that they cannot learn consequences, or prevent them from experiencing that struggles are a necessary part of life we run the risk of them becoming dependent on us or others approval…always.

If we protect them from taking responsibility for their part in accidents, we don’t allow them to learn about cause and effect.

We can get in the way of their learning while they are young by not allowing them the freedom to explore within safe boundaries.

If we take it upon ourselves to be the provider of all happiness, we can prevent them from discovering that happiness is something they can experience from within themselves.

Our job is to prepare them for life; to let them know that they are always loved and to allow them to grow.

Our children need room to learn, to struggle, to laugh, to cry, and to stretch in order to develop their own wings.

And when they are ready, only by letting go of them can we watch them take off and fly.

 

Originally published as ‘Learning to fly’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2013, September edition.                                                  www.thelutheran.com.au

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I turn around and see the big gaping hole in his much-loved towel and try my darndest not to give him the look of

Are you serious? 

I know he is.

 

 

Does the hero mend the much-loved towel only to return it to the mending pile next week?

Does the heroine save the day by buying a new towel?

Does someone on the beach appreciate the exquisite mending and borrow it permanently – as happened to its predecessor?

How would you finish this story?

 

Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

Faith is like a…cleaning cloth?

It had looked so good at the demonstration.

Sparkling clean results.

No unnatural, caustic, biohazardous or environmentally unfriendly agents were necessary.

All it required was water: And if the job required a little more cleansing than usual, just add more water.

I could just imagine my home sparkling like it never had before.

 

Housekeeping has never been my strong point.

I can always find a higher priority – a child that needs some attention, a friend who needs a phone-call, an article that needs to be written, a book that needs to be read, a topic that needs to be researched. I thought it was high time that I made the commitment and spent a worthwhile amount on a product that would change my life.

So, I thought I would make a purchase that would ultimately help me to achieve a squeaky clean house.

My purchase didn’t prove quite the miracle I was hoping for. Several months after my purchase of a rather expensive piece of fabric, my house, though it had sparkled in places for a week or two, had returned to its usual state of “busy-ness” and “dust-bunnies”. The windows again wore those special marks of little fingers, noses and paws that are familiar in homes with small children and smaller pugs. The bathroom was spilling over with too many soggy towels to even find the sparkling basin, and the dishes were again piling up as though they were reproducing each night.

One morning, as I looked through bleary, unmotivated eyes at the mess that confronted me, I realised that what was lacking wasn’t the ability of the cloth to work a miracle, but my preparedness to use it and put it into action.

When put into use the cleaning cloth works miracles, but is useless if it’s stuck in a drawer. The thought also struck me that faith is rather like my cleaning cloth. Faith too is ineffective if its filed away safely in our heart, without us ever giving it an opportunity to work.

In my house, I’ve learnt its much easier and more effective to use my cloth a little bit, often, rather than wait for the perfect empty day when I can use it from the ceiling to the floor on every wall, window and shower screen. That’s a really daunting task – and inevitably just doesn’t happen.

Similarly, faith often gets left to work on a marathon event, rather than being used a little bit at a time. We are much less likely to have faith in God performing BIG miracles if we don’t learn to trust Him with little miracles.

James wrote, ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17).
Faith without works – like the cleaning cloth that’s stuck in a drawer.

 

 

Originally published as ‘Faith is like an enjo’,

in The Lutheran, August edition, 2007.

http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

My terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day*

 

The dad was screaming at his child. Every instinct in me wanted to run up to the child and whisk him into my arms as I yelled back at the dad.

Then I remembered.

We’d dropped off our eldest at kindergarten for the morning, and the house seemed too cold and lonely to go back to. So my younger two children and I headed to the library.

Normally the library was a place of solace. On Thursday mornings the library was alive with storytelling and great family-friendly activities.

This wasn’t Thursday morning.

I could usually find some books with which to settle my kids at a table within an arm’s distance of me, while I had a quick look at some reading matter a little more advanced than Dr Seuss.

But not this morning.

While I was two metres away from my kids, they started some sort of uproar.I don’t even remember what they did. But I do remember the face of the security guard as he suggested I try to come back another day when the children wouldn’t be so disruptive.

So we headed for home.

But we needed milk, so we popped into the drugstore (yes, we were living in the USA at the time).

We didn’t end up getting milk that morning. The kids caused a racket.

And in less time than it takes to get a flagon of milk and line up in a 20-person-long queue, another security guard came up to us. In his sweetest, deepest Southern-USA accent, he said,

‘Ma’am, y’all need to leave the store. These chillun’ are disturbin’ the other customers’.

Mortified, I grabbed the pusher and the hand of my three-year-old, and we headed out—without the milk.

Our house still seemed cold and lonely, so I headed to our friend’s home, where the kids felt right at home and joined in the activities without fear of being expelled.

As the kids played, my dear friend poured some freshly brewed coffee and listened as I burst into tears and related the goings-on of the morning.

‘… and then … and then …!’

And then I looked at my friend’s face. She’d evidently been trying to keep a straight face, but could no longer hold it in. She burst into fits of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.

‘Well, after all you’ve been trying to tell me about being a Christian, at last I know now that you’re real! This has spoken more to me than anything else you’ve ever said. Thank God you’re human!’

She continued to speak words of truth, encouragement and compassion. Her words were loving, caring, concise and compelling.

She knew us so well.

We were everyday friends and shared most aspects of our lives. So she knew of the stresses and strains on our young family.

She also knew of the unrealistic demands I had placed on myself as a young mum of three young children in a place a world away from everything and everybody we knew.

She was also a doctor, and picked up pretty quickly that at least one of our kids had a fever—something that I’d overlooked. Several hours later, another burst eardrum revealed itself as the cause of my ‘terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day’*.

 

As soon as I remembered that day, I was able to think about the dad in the shopping centre in a different light. I was so quick to judge—just like those people in the drugstore. Several of them offered words of advice:

‘That child needs discipline.’

‘If he were my child, he would have had a spanking by now.’

‘You shouldn’t come here if you can’t control your children.’

None of the advice had been particularly helpful, and none demonstrated any form of understanding.

They did not know that we had been up all night with various demands of the children.

They did not know that we were from the other side of the world and really needed somebody to give us a break.

They didn’t know that the child who was being most boisterous never complained of pain, but acted up in other ways. He must have been screaming inside but didn’t know how to tell me.

The people knew nothing about us yet were so quick to judge.

And here I was, doing the same thing.

The dad and the child left the building.

And I felt sorry that I didn’t do anything. I hadn’t given any word of encouragement. I hadn’t offered any help. I hadn’t even given the understanding smile that I’ve since been practising.

I hope it says, ‘Yes, sometimes we do have terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad days. I understand. I hope your day gets better from here, but I promise not to contribute further to your misery.’

These days I try to keep a bottle of bubbles in my bag, which often is all the distraction that distraught dads need. A dad with those magic bubbles in his hand turns into a super-hero in the eyes of a small child, and in the eyes of judgemental onlookers.

For the times when I’m not armed with bubbles, I have rehearsed some lines which I have actually used, such as:

‘Not a good day? Can I help?’

‘I hope your day gets better.’

‘Would you like me to help you with your trolley?’

‘I remember those days. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’

I usually receive some funny looks—but, in comparison with being a judgmental, older person with a poor memory and no clue of the cause of anybody else’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day, it’s worth it!

 

Originally published in ‘The Lutheran’ magazine, September, 2012. http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

 

* from the book Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Why I Love Easter (and Les Mis)

‘I love Easter.’
‘Why’s that?’
‘Chocolate!’ he replied as he rubbed his hands together with glee.
‘Is that all?’
Then came the reply I guess I was seeking — though I would have preferred it to come without prompting.

‘It’s about Jesus coming back to life on Easter Sunday.’

‘Ah, yes! That’s the answer I wanted’, I thought to myself, patting myself on the back for having achieved such a good result.
Then I stopped to think about the memories of Easter we had in our home.

One of our sons was baptised on Easter Sunday. That was an exciting weekend, with friends staying overnight and a chocolate-egg hunt for seven children all over the house and garden. We were still finding chocolate eggs in concealed places up to 18 months later.

I remembered our family staying on a farm with my godmother and her husband for Easter when I was little. Their home still had a pump for water in the kitchen, and a pit-toilet, real pigs in a real pigsty — and a blackout while Mum was in the bath! You don’t forget an Easter like that in a hurry.

But I stopped to think about it a bit longer.

I thought about how Lent this year has almost become a non-event for our family. We frequently miss Ash Wednesday because of sporting-team commitments. And we haven’t been to many of the studies in the church on Wednesday evenings.

Yet years ago we were the ones throwing stones at other families when we had little ones and were always there — looking upon the failings of others with a sense of self-righteousness.
This week, I watched my two favourite Easter movies. Chocolat and  Les Misérables – the non-musical movie, starring Liam Neeson.

The movie is slow. It is long. But it’s compelling — so compelling that the first time I watched it, it got me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to see the ending.

To tell a long story in a few words, and hopefully with no spoilers, the story is about a convict who makes good.

The main character Jean Valjean is a convict who, having been paroled after years of hard labour, turns up at a priest’s home. Valjean is fed and given a place to sleep. But in the middle of the night he steals some silver candlesticks from the priest’s home. Valjean flees but is soon caught by gendarmes who bring him back to the priest, expecting to have the priest charge Valjean with theft.

But instead, the priest demonstrates mercy and grace by telling the gendarmes that the candlesticks were a gift. The priest then admonishes Valjean that he had forgotten the rest of it, and gives him even more silver.

The story continues years later in a different town, where Valjean is living with a different identity. He has changed his life so much that the people of the town, not knowing about his past, elect him to be their mayor.

He is recognised by a gendarme (played by Geoffrey Rush) who had been a guard where Valjean was imprisoned. This gendarme makes it his life’s mission and obsession to destroy Valjean.

But Valjean responds in the same way that the priest responded to him — with love displayed through grace and mercy.

This movie wins five stars from me. Wow!

And why do I rate it so highly? It was breath-taking. Neeson and Rush are superb.

But, more significantly, it gives me the sense that I am observing the story of Easter, and it draws me into observing Lent.

I want so much to identify with the grace and mercy of Valjean and the priest. But more often than not, I find that I am probably more like the self-righteous gendarme — judging others by laws and expectations, by their past actions or by dumb things they still choose to do, instead of looking at them through eyes of love and forgiveness.

I find myself hating the gendarme; but I also recognise myself in him.

Like the movie Chocolat, Les Misérables is full of contrast: good versus evil, light versus darkness, love versus hate.

Both have vigilant law-abiding citizens using the law to clean up their societies. Both demonstrate that love is much more powerful than the law.

In both movies love triumphs — like at Easter.
Yet what do we read in our papers? Why do we lose our hope? What was the last ‘good news’ headline we read in the paper or watched on the television?

Apparently blood sells. So does evil. So does fear. And it sells only because we buy it. Funny that.

Why do we buy papers that tell us about terrible things? Is it because of our compassion, or our safety concerns? Or is it that we, too, become the self-righteous gendarmes and measure our own righteousness against the failures of others? Perhaps, having other people’s fallen lives and misdemeanours in print gives us an opportunity to forget about the logs in our own eyes.

I remember one particular Easter. I’d just had an altercation with a friend. I could not understand where she was coming from — until it hit me that she had never realised that Easter was for her. She reacted violently against Jesus’ words, ‘Don’t weep for me; weep for yourselves!’

Then the realisation hit me. My friend could not understand Easter because she’d never recognised her need for forgiveness: Surely nothing she’d ever done warranted anybody dying for her. She possibly remains convinced of that.

In contrast, I remember being with another friend who came to the realisation that it didn’t matter what she’d ever done, Christ’s death on the cross covered it all. Her response was pure joy — an absolute life-changing experience for her. (And for me, too, having only recently learnt a quick ‘formula’ for sharing the gospel, which was the instrument God used in that particular circumstance to bring a life to its fullest.)

Every Easter I come to a new realisation, a new reality. This year it is that the log in my eye is pretty darn big!

Thank God, though, that he uses the logs in our eyes, and our misdemeanours, to help us to realise that Easter is for us. For me! Jesus died for me! His love overcame the death prescribed for me. His love was, and is, triumphant over death.
And that is why I love Easter.

 

Originally published as ‘I love Easter (and Les Mis)’ in The Lutheran, 2009, April edition.

 

Holy Handbags: Christian as a brand-name

 

It was BIG! It was fancy and it was very, very expensive.

We wandered around with our mouths gaping wide at the opulence of the Opryland Hotel. The ceilings were so high we almost couldn’t see them. Birds flew around us and then flew upwards into the canopy of tropical rainforest palms. While private rooms and suites formed the perimeter of the hotel, inside, under the main roof, were streets and arcades. There were conference rooms among ballrooms, ice-cream parlours next to saloons, beauty boutiques among fashion shops, florists and toyshops.

As we passed by a conference room, we noticed the paraphernalia displayed by sales representatives in the lobby outside. We looked with interest, surprised by the variety of ‘Christian’ items available on the market: stickers, birthday cards, wall plaques and children’s Bibles complete with colouring pencils.

But as we continued to look, we recognised ‘normal’ things that were labelled with ‘Christian’ symbols or texts, with prices to rival any Nike or Billabong product. My imagination ran away with all sorts of other advertising gimmicks: ‘Holy Handbags’, ‘Heaven Scent!’, ’Perfume of Paradise’, ‘Jesus Jeans’.

My eyes opened a little further that day – and unfortunately I think I became quite cynical.

What is a ‘Christian handbag’ anyway?

Does it make me holier if I use a ruler with a cross printed on it, rather than one I bought from the local newsagency?

At which stage does a pencil become a ‘Christian’ pencil? Is it born again when it goes through the printing press?

Obviously, ‘Christian’ sells. We only have to remember Christmas sales and the consumption of chocolate in Australia at Easter.

But where is the boundary between ‘Christian’ as we followers of Christ would call ourselves and ‘Christian’ as a brand-name? Should we trust everything that is called ‘Christian’? Should we distrust everything that is not marketed as ‘Christian’? Should we trust that everything sold in a ‘Christian’ bookshop is good, and reject other products on that basis?

How do we figure out what is good and what is not? It’s called discernment. And where do we get it? Good question.

I was once told about the people whose job it is to identify fake American dollar notes from real notes. What are their instructions? Instead of knowing every type of fake note available, they are to become so familiar with the real notes that any slight variation from the truth is very obvious.

As Christians we have the truth available to us in the Bible. If we become so familiar with truth by knowing the Word and have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can learn to spot a phoney a mile off. That is discernment.

As Lutherans, we have the legacy of Luther’s Small Catechism which Luther wrote for parents to teach their children. An added bonus of the catechism is that it teaches us to ask continually: ‘What does this mean?’ It encourages us to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking until we have answers. Searching for answers helps us to find discernment.

We have a banquet of books and other resources available to us. Some are classics, some are fun. Some are religious, some are Christian… Some are rubbish.

Reading, to some of us, is an absolute joy. To some of us, writing, too, is a joy and a privilege. But nothing compares to the word of God in teaching truth.

No books – not even Christian books or bible concordances – should ever take the place of our study of the word of God.

Max Lucado points out that Christians too often rely on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture instead of reading it themselves; and that makes as much sense as eating what somebody else has already half-digested. In the same way, we miss out on discernment if we rely on others to pre-digest our knowledge.

Discernment cannot be passed on: we must grow it ourselves.

Don’t stop reading other books – but remember that God’s word is truth. How does the Christian book you are reading stand up against God’s word? Is it consistent with the Bible’s teachings, and does God’s love and grace shine through? Are the Scriptures that are quoted used ‘in context’?

John MacArthur from Grace Community Church once gave a sermon titled, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. MacArthur strung a collection of Bible verses together, completely out of context. It was the funniest sermon I have ever heard – but he made the point very effectively that words and verses from the Bible can easily be made to say what anybody wants them to say.

Discernment looks at any verse in the light of the whole of God’s truth.

There are plenty of things on the market and even in our churches these days that appeal to ‘good, Christian folk’, and being a Christian does not protect us from sales-pitches. Some marketers actually take advantage of the trusting nature of Christians!

There are some valid questions that may help us learn to be more discerning; before we read a book, get involved in a program, sign up for a new course, a new roof, a diet plan, sponsorship, cosmetics… anything that is sold in Jesus’ name:

  • Does it glorify God or itself?
  • Does it edify (build up) God’s church?
  • What does it cost, and who will benefit from the cost?
  • Where will the money go?
  • Is there any level of secrecy  i.e. do you have to be a member or make a purchase or commitment in order to find out what it’s about, and are you allowed to share or discuss it with others?
  • What kind of language is being used: Is it ‘sales’ talk; does it use big words that you may have heard of but don’t really understand?
  • What are the claims: Is this the ‘only’ way, the ‘best’, ‘God’s way’, the ‘newest’?
  • What is the response if you say, ‘I will need to go home and pray about it’?

Perhaps if something is advertised as ‘Christian’, it may be worthwhile to bring out your cynical stick. But better still…

‘Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won’t stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet.‘ (Proverbs 3:21–24 WEB).

 

 

Originally published as ‘Holy Handbags’ in the Heart and Home column in The Lutheran, 2008, September Issue.  

www.thelutheran.com.au

Unusual Saturday: Perfect beginning

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The church site is busy with the annual fete. People from the church community, from the local area, even from interstate, meander through the stalls, devonshire teas, barbecues and treasures – still undiscovered.

 

The sanctuary, usually quiet, dark and still on a Saturday, is full of children, parents and leaders singing and dancing.

 

A man opens the only closed door on the premises. Slips through it. Glances at the people – the sanctuary that is full of life and laughter. He returns to the cold of outside where his wife and a baby cradled in her arms are waiting for him.

 

The door re-opens. Some-one goes out to greet him.

‘Can I help you?’

 

‘We are on our way home from the hospital.’ He beams as he introduces his wife and newborn son. ‘We want to give thanks to God. Could we use your church to pray?’

 

They are ushered in midst the noise, the singing, the dancing.

The altar is bustling with children and music.

 

But, in front of the garden, the crosses and open tomb are still in place after Easter.

 

And that is where the brand new father and mother unwrap their tiny son, place him on the ground and bow their heads.

 

New life, in the same place as we remember His death.

Sacrifice of thanks, midst the chaos.

Midst the noise, the singing, the dancing – perfect peace.

 

Perfect beginning.

 

Unusual Saturday.

The Disciple in Discipline

 

‘We think it’s time that we start to discipline Tommy’, the mother of a toddler told me.

I’d been enjoying watching Tommy play: pushing cars around after each other, over mountains and tracks, running into traffic obstacles and finding alternative ways of getting around them. Every now and then Tommy would look up and give his mum a very cute, cheesy grin, which his mum would return. Tommy would then continue with his very serious work of play — complete with the obligatory ‘brmmm…brmmm’.

‘What do you mean by discipline?’ I asked Tommy’s mum.

I thought back to several months before when I was presenting a six-week course. The fourth session is about ‘discipline’. For as long as I’ve been presenting this course, I’ve been intrigued that formerly absent dads appear out of the blue for this particular session. This course proved to be no exception.

On this particular night,  I felt reasonably confident that most of the parents were Christian. So I began with a big, empty whiteboard and wrote the word ‘discipline’ at the top.

‘What do you think of when you see this word?’ I asked.

Very quickly the whiteboard was covered with words: time-out, thinking time, spanking, distraction, self-discipline, self-control, naughty corner, removal of privileges, punishment, consequences, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’, control … you get the picture.

I’m sure the list could have continued, but the space on the whiteboard didn’t. It was fairly obvious that we each had our own ideas about discipline.

I then crossed off the ‘ine’ from the end of ‘discipline’ and replaced it with an ‘e’. ‘Disciple.’

‘Does anybody recognise this word?’ I asked and I watched the faces change as I continued.

‘We know that Jesus had disciples. Let’s have another look at our list and decide which of these words describe how Jesus ‘disciplined’ his ‘disciples’.

Together we crossed off three-quarters of the words on the whiteboard.

With my own energetic and inquisitive children, I really struggled with discipline. People told me that my particularly ‘enterprising’ child needed a good dose of medication. That child certainly copped a fair degree of the only thing I knew then — a ‘good spanking’. But all that achieved was to rob that particular child of a sense of adventure and creativity.

Eventually, having heard a lot from authoritarian, hands-off ‘experts’, and feeling like a failure, I sat down in a library with my Bible, alongside a Hebrew and Greek Bible with translation, and searched every reference to discipline I could find.What did I learn? That discipline means ‘to train’ and that a ‘disciple’ is a follower who follows a leader — the ‘disciplin-er’.

When I saw discipline through Christ’s example, I saw a demonstration of love through patient leading, through example, through instruction, story-telling and the use of analogies, as well as through pre-empting and warning of what to expect. When I looked at discipline as what Christ did with his disciples, I saw that it was not punishment or retribution. Even though he had all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus did not use discipline as a form of power or control.

So my approach to discipline changed.

I realised that I had treated discipline as a reaction to my kids’ actions, and, mostly, the kids were getting into trouble because they’d do things I didn’t expect or want them to do. There was a lot of ‘don’t’ without instructing what to ‘do’. With a fair bit of practice, we were able to turn it around.

Discipline became proactive rather than reactive. It meant that we would try to stay ahead of the kids — to plan that our days would begin and end in a more predictable fashion.

Our kids responded really well to being told what to expect each day, or every moment.

For example, we told them: ‘Today is Monday. You need to get dressed, and have breakfast and then we’ll take you to pre-school. We’ll come to get you after pre-school, and then we’ll have lunch and a rest and then we’ll go to the zoo for a little while.’

Then, having given them a virtual map of the day, we would navigate them through it according to their age.

Our five-year-old could manage all that information, while our three-year-old needed step-by-step information, and our baby needed to be taken through it all.

We used charts so that they (and their mother) could have visual prompts for routines such as getting dressed and going to bed. The children knew what to expect and what was expected of them.

Life became more ordered and therefore predictable, as did our children’s behaviour.

When the lives of our children turned upside-down when we moved from the USA back to Australia, the reminder charts and routines were portable and offered reassurance that not everything in life had changed.

We also needed to appreciate our kids’ individual differences.

For example, being aware that each of them would dawdle at a different stage in the morning, we used that to our advantage. We used breakfast as the motivation to ‘hurry up and get dressed’ for the child who took ages to dress but loved breakfast. We made the child who took great pride in personal appearance eat first because of the tendency to dawdle at breakfast.

We smiled more and said ‘Yes!’ much more often.

Since then I’ve also learnt to say, ‘Yes, when you have …’

For example, when our ten-year-old asks to use the computer, our response might be, ‘Yes, when you’ve finished your homework and taken out the rubbish’. It gives positive instruction, gets the job done, and everybody wins.

The Parenting Place in New Zealand uses the motto: ‘If a kid feels right, they act right’. If children can go confidently into a situation, knowing what to expect and what is expected of them, they are more likely to act right. If they are confident that they are loved unconditionally, they are likely to follow instructions and return to the safe base of their parents’ arms in between adventures.

Did Jesus’ disciples always do as they were told? Did they always understand what Jesus told them? Did Christ punish them when they got it wrong? A look from him was all they needed.

Parents have the perfect example of discipline from Jesus, and the incredible, humbling opportunity to look into the eyes of our children to see the reflection of our example to them.

 

Originally published as:

‘The disciple in discipline’ in The Lutheran, February 2010 Vol44 No1 P32-33

 

 

 

 

God don’t do math

Some of us love numbers!
More than one of us in our home love to play with numbers, whether it be in a Sudoku or more recently, working out equations about the force of water. Unfortunately, in our house, none love to balance the books or pay the bills, reconcile accounts or collect info for the tax man.

But, in more than 20 years of paying bills, feeding a growing family and surviving on grant funding (and very generous family) there has only been one time when we almost went hungry – at the same time that we didn’t trust God enough to give Him a tenth of what we had.

This was only one instance that has helped me come to the conclusion that

“God don’t do maths”.

Please pardon the grammar – but I can hear my African-American friends singing this in chorus! Certainly, God’s method of mathematics is not taught in any conventional business or accounting course.
Let’s look at some examples:

Many parents expecting their second child have told me of their fear of not being able to love their next child as much as they’ve loved their first. Every time, God has shown them that He is the God of multiplication – not division.

Ask any parent of multiple children and you discover an incredible capacity to love more – not less, with each child.

Love grows the more you give it away!

It’s a bit like Elijah and the widow who was about to make the last meal for her son and herself, from the tiny bit of flour and oil that she had. She gave to Elijah, and her flour and oil never ran out. It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 (plus women and children) from 5 loaves and 2 fish – and collecting 12 baskets of left-overs. God don’t do maths!

What about time? Yesterday was one of those days when I had more things to do than minutes in the day. I had no choice but to stop and take a breath prayer.
I breathed, and God-incidentally, I remembered Elisabeth Elliot’s words,
“I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and He will enable me to do it.”
“OK God!” I breathed and my heart remembered,
“Be still and know that I am God!”
“What’s going to happen about the catering tonight? I’m handing that one over to You, Lord.”
I settled into what I was doing, taking a quick break for lunch when a couple of youth leaders arrived to do some pre-event planning.
“We’re going shopping for supplies for tonight. Would you like us to pick up something?”

The next morning, Jan from my favourite coffee shop, where I’ve been going for four years, offered her un-sold muffins for our youth group on Friday nights. I’d not asked – and she’d never offered before. It wasn’t until then that I realised that God had answered my prayer – twice – without me even acknowledging Him. I’d been so caught up with how much time I didn’t have, that I forgot to notice that God had taken over what I’d asked Him to.

We get so caught up following two little sticks chasing each other around a dial we carry on our wrists that we forget that our best friend is the creator of the universe. God is not bound by the rules of our human-measured concept of time. If our universe was limited to our meagre understanding of how it works, what a small universe we would inhabit.

We live in a very weird period of time in that “If we don’t understand it – we can’t believe it!” There goes the theory of relativity, space, gravity, healing, my lap-top computer, the egg I just ate for breakfast…the children I bore.

We argue about periods of time, about budgets, about our capacity to do things. In our determination to work things out mathematically- logically, we diminish the world’s capacity to see God because we diminish Him.

We limit God’s work to our own imagination.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “The God who is small enough to be understood is too small to be worshiped”.

Whether or not it fits into a mathematical equation or our understanding, God’s will, will be done. Our capacity to love Him and achieve great things in His name can only grow as we take the opportunities He gives us to learn to rely on Him, rather than on our budgets and imagination.

I guess it works in reverse too. Look at the lives of the rich and famous who hoard up stuff for themselves and end up having to cocoon themselves away for peace and quiet. Those who gather everything for themselves tend to diminish in what they really have. Life seemingly implodes.

Look at a church that limits itself to the same budget it’s had for years. It makes as much sense as a flower keeping its petals in its bud to conserve energy, or a chrysalis deciding to stay where it is safe and dark, rather that breaking out to become a butterfly.

Mathematically, a butterfly cannot fit into a chrysalis.

Mathematically, a flower cannot fit into a flower-bud.

Mathematically, faith as big as a mustard seed cannot move a mountain.

Mathematically, forgiveness doesn’t add up.

Mathematically, we cannot love and keep giving it away.

What would happen in our homes, in our congregations, in our communities if before we set out to do something, we stopped to take notice of God’s economy?

As I heard in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, “God’s economy is different. It’s upside-down.”

Love grows the more you give it away.

God gives.

God gives everything.

God is glorified in His generosity.

God loves everybody – and His love of everybody enables Him to be generous with His love.

What would happen if we stopped counting the wrongs anybody had done against us, and loved and forgave them anyway? What would happen if we chose to love because God first loved us?

This week, this month, this year, let us together consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and trust God – Rely on Him – and not on our own mathematical equations.

 

Originally published as:

“God don’t do maths” in The Lutheran, May 2010 Vol44 No4 P154-155