What this Christian white girl is learning as I listen

women at a protest
Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com

Im listening. I’m learning.

I’m learning that the heroes of my American Christianity held out the gospel with one hand and the chains of their slaves with the other. I’m learning that the history I’ve been taught has left out a lot. As a result, I have believed a whitewashed narrative that made the wickedness my country’s greatness was built on look like noble American Christian bravery.

I’m learning at the least, the American church has turned a deaf ear to racism and at worst has preached and practiced it as Biblical. I’m learning that there are structures and practices in American government and in the church that have marginalized the lives and worth of black people.

I’m learning that my black friends are tired. Tired of trying to explain why. Tired of my passivity and ignorance. I’m learning that I don’t know what I don’t know.

I’m learning that I resist listening to people I can’t help, don’t understand, disagree with or feel uncomfortable around, and that in refusing to listen, a part of my heart has grown cold. My refusal to listen has increased my comfort and decreased my compassion. My refusal to listen has let the lies that have propped up my white sons’ insecurities go unchallenged. And because I haven’t listened I haven’t learned. And because I haven’t learned my neighbors have not experienced the hands and feet of Jesus that come with the hope of his gospel.

I began by listening to my Eritrean American friend, and fellow nurse. She told me in an aisle at the grocery store about her thankfulness for what she sees as God’s protection on her life and her family these 20 past years in America. I listened as she asked how my police officer husband was doing and told me she was praying for him. I listened as she told me she is afraid for her black sons.

And then I listened to my white teenage sons spout off support of President Trump. I asked questions and challenged them to explain what they supported about Trump. As a mother and a Trump detractor, my skin crawls thinking that in their teenage insecurity, my white sons might be drawn to and impressed by the machismo of the Trump presidency. I want to take Trump down in their minds with a lot of bad words, but instead I listened, trying to understand why they are where they are in their thought process. Then I told my sons we were going to listen to the Color of Compromise together. We sat, listened and began a dialogue.

I listened as the administrators of the Be the Bridge group I joined asked me to be quiet for three months on their social media group and do the work they provided me to learn. It’s an act of repentance of my ignorance to do the work of hearing from my black neighbor’s perspective.

I listened as a white, mentally-ill homeless woman told me how she got where she’s at and why she feels so stuck. I listened as she told a story of a lifetime of abuse, rejection and poverty.

Then I turned off the social media and listened to Moses and Job and Isaiah and David and Daniel and Jesus. I listened as the Spirit of God began stirring a fire in me. The cold places of my passive heart began to warm with compassion and conviction. The notes section of my iPhone are filled with quotes from scripture all telling me, “I am the God who saved you out of slavery to the sin of cowardliness. I am the God who lowered himself taking the form of a servant to lift you up and make you a child of God. Turn from your ignorance, your passivity, your cowardliness, your silence. Learn to listen. Learn to speak. Speak the truth in love. Love your neighbor and your enemy.”

I listened to God tell Cain, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” and Job’s friends tell him all the reasons he was wrong about why he was suffering. I listened to Job tell me to stop being a miserable comforter to my black friends.

I listened as God called Moses to go to the government structure enslaving his people and insist that they let them go. I listened to Isaiah and the prophets pleading with me to learn to do good, love mercy and work justice.  I listened to David declare the heart of God for the widow, the oppressed and poor. I listened to Daniel confess and repent of his sins and the sins of his fathers.

I listened to Jesus declare that I must love others, including my enemies and those who see me as an enemy, just like he has loved me. I listened as he and his apostle’s declared that love born from his Spirit in me will not only declare the gospel but extend a healing hand and care for the physical needs of the people around me. 

And I listened to my pastor call for me to examine myself to see, am I a Jesus person? Do I believe Jesus makes me righteous and do I love my neighbor by speaking the truth in love and, “disadvantaging myself to advantage someone else”?

I know, like any work of the Spirit of God in me, this must be an enduring work. Listening must become a practice. A rhythm. Speaking the truth in love must become a discipline. Working justice for the oppressed must become part of a gospel-driven, “long obedience in the same direction.” Saying and believing black lives matter and living a life that repents of the racist thoughts and beliefs that have become an ingrained part of the narrative that has kept me quiet and ignorant for so long, must become as daily as breathing. Something my black neighbors have been fighting to do for generations in this country and in the church.

Lord help me. Help me to be a listener. A learner. A repenter. A servant. A lover of my neighbor and my enemy. Help me to boldly declare the scandalous gospel that saved me and boldly decry the injustice that your gospel and your kingdom are driving out. Please call my sons to be men who chose the sufferings of Christ over the riches of this world and lay down their lives for others.

 

 

The Breakup Phase of Motherhood

9-8-2019
Connor’s baptism day

I’m entering a new phase of parenting. I don’t know what it’s called. But I recently saw a video on a Facebook group for women over 40 that I think may have named it for me. The subtitle of the video from a radio show called Jonsey & Amanda read, “Being the mother of a son is like someone breaking up with you really slowly.” That. That’s what this phase of parenting I’m in should be called: The Breakup Phase.

My sons are (almost) 17 and 15. The 17 year old has his own vehicle and license. The 15 year old is passionate about motor sports and can be found either working on his motocross bike or riding it somewhere in the nearby desert. Both of them have exceeded me in height. Both of them have made it clear they don’t want or need me to hold them, be their caregiver, or watch over them. The nurturer in me has been put on notice. And this is what I signed up for. Heck, this is what my tagline has been since they were two. For as far back as I can remember I’ve been reminding myself I’m raising men, not boys. I’m raising men, who will leave my house, and my side and take to the road with Jesus, I pray.

I was twenty-nine when Connor, my almost 17 year old, was born, and 31 when Ryland was born. I wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids, said my doctor. I didn’t ovulate. And my husband didn’t want to have kids at all. So when Connor and Ryland were born, despite the prognosis of my doctor and the wishes of my husband, I felt much like Hannah and prayed:

I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord. – 1 Samuel 1:26-27

I was so thankful for the kids God gave me, and I committed to him that I would not neglect to dedicate them to him. I’d spend my life pointing them to Jesus and when the time came, like Hannah, I would leave them to him.

Leaving your kids to the Lord sounds right, but actually doing it is painful.

Dedicating your kids to the Lord happens in prayer and practical acts of selflessness from the sleepless nights of infancy, through the struggle with the terrible twos and threes, through the years of homework help and self-image confusion and puberty-controlled emotions. And through all those phases of parenting there are actions we take as parents to very intentionally dedicate our kids to Jesus. We, as Paul Tripp said, shepherd our kids’ hearts through discipline and hugs, and self-sacrificing of our sleep, time and resources so they can sense the love of Christ in us, and follow him for themselves.

But then comes a time when putting your kids’ hand into the hand of Jesus means, letting go of their physical hands, of their choices, of their consequences. And this means just as intentionally as you pulled out that children’s Bible when they were three and sang Jesus Loves Me with them, you now intentionally practice at the mind and heart level the prayer and faith that actually hands them over to Jesus.

The thoughts of feeling unwanted and un-needed and the strong urge to grasp for some kind of hold on your kids that might satisfy that need you felt fill with joy when they used to crawl in your lap and put their tender hands on your face and tell you, “I wuv you momma,” cannot win at this stage of parenting. Just like the urge to ignore their need to hear about Jesus when they were three so you could watch Netflix could not dictate your actions then. And when I say you I mean me.

The whole point of raising those men I’m raising (I’m not done yet), is to point them to Jesus. To place their hand in his. To launch them out into the world leaning on him, not me. And it feels like a breakup. But it’s not. It’s a critical stage of leadership, where the leader becomes a leader maker. And it’s that same stage lived out in motherhood when the mother becomes a woman in the life of a man she bore and raised, lifting him up, coming alongside him in the church, as he shepherds the heart of someone else to Jesus.

David and Jonathan shared a deep friendship. But when the time came where they had to part and they knew all kinds of scary things would separate their friendship, the Bible says Jonathan “strengthened” David’s hand in God (1 Samuel 23:15-17). The depth of their friendship wasn’t evidenced by their unrelenting grasp on each other. Their true friendship was evidenced by their desire to see the others’ hand placed in God’s hand, strongly!

It hurts. I’m crying a lot. And I’m sure I’m not doing it all right. But I am praying to the same God who heard Hannah and cared for Samuel, and heard me and has drawn my two teen sons to himself.

Please Lord, I am the woman who prayed and asked you for these children. And you gave them to me. From childhood I have dedicated them to you. They are dedicated to you still. Help me to strengthen their hand in yours. 

 

 

Rally cry for parents on the day before school starts and the day after 2 mass shootings

DSF-ColoradoSchoolShootingHonestly, I don’t want to send them. I want to hide them in a bubble of safety and happiness. But I have no such magic powers.

I do have the King of heaven’s attention though. He hears me. I know he does. And he promises to not abandon me or my kids. So, in this violent culture, on the day before I’ll send my two sons to high school, I have a burden for the King of heaven’s armies to hear my cries for my kids and my friends’ kids.

Yesterday a group of youth were in my backyard making the most fun they could out of the heat with sprinklers, a tarp, dish soap and a nine-square frame. As they were leaving I said, “I’ll be thinking of you all this week,” and I meant it. I remember being 14, 15, 16 and 17. Those years were the curb in the road that changed the direction of the rest of my life. Those were the years I was most confused. Those were the years I lost a friend to suicide and took a bunch of pills to try and sleep away the pain. Those were the years I tried to fit in by being different. Those were the years Jesus found me and named me and made me brave. The boys and girls who walked out my door yesterday will face all kinds of hard things in the years ahead. A mass shooting could be one of them. Lord, please keep them!

Moms and dads, you and I don’t have any magic powers to keep our kids from walking into a place where a mass shooter or any other evil might show up. We don’t even have the power to keep the evil of a demeaning lash at our kids from creeping out of our own hearts onto our tongues. We desperately need a hope bigger than the control we think we have or want to have in our kids’ lives. Join me today in committing to doing these three things. Not because they are part of the formula that’s sure to produce a safe, happy and godly child. But because the God who gave his son over to death to save us, calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Death will not win when we take the road that follows Jesus through death to resurrection.

Don’t hide the Jesus that died for your sin and the sin of your children from your kids!  

I don’t know the circumstances around the writing of Psalm 78, but the writer calls the reader to remember all God has done for them despite their faithlessness. He reminds the reader that God has commanded his people not to hide the hope we have in God from the next generation.

Moms and dads, our kids are not going to hear the hope their souls long for in the world. They need us to tell them!

I think so many times we as parents fail to have frank conversations with our kids about Jesus because we are trying to create some ideal family devotion time. And for many of us, that ideal situation is never going to happen. I know in my home we don’t do family devotions. And sometimes I realize I haven’t mentioned Jesus or what he’s doing in my life, or a truth I’ve read in my Bible, to them for days! There’s something very spiritual-battle-ish about calling your kids to put down their screens, or stop for just a few minutes from whatever habits have taken over our lives, to look them in the eyes and say, “I want to talk to you about Jesus.”  I know the first time I did this I got some mocking and eye-rolling and deep sighs. Push through it. Don’t let their faces keep you from telling them the truth. Don’t hide the gospel from your kids just because they make funny faces.  They need to hear about their only hope- Jesus.

Listen to Them Tell You About Things That Seem Silly

I wonder if when Jesus picked up those kids the disciples were trying to keep away from him, they shoved some handmade toy they were playing with in Jesus’ face. I wonder if they wanted to play with his beard. I bet they did and I bet he listened and let them. I’m sure he didn’t say, “Go away kids! I’ve got important things to do.”

My sons talk about their quads and the fishing lures they’re using and the kind of reeds they need for band and the kind of stretches they’re doing for baseball and the cool car they’re driving in a video game. None of those things grab my attention. I’m thinking about bills and plans for work and school and church and groceries and relationships and concerns for friends and family. But as I read somewhere once, if I want my kids to want to listen to me, I must be willing to listen to them. They need to know I care about them where they are. That doesn’t mean I have to throw responsibility to the wind and play video games with them all day long, but it does mean listening to what has them so enthused, they’re willing to tell you about it.

Listen to learn what motivates them. Listen to learn what they’re afraid of. Listen to learn how to pray for them.

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

If you want to draw the purposes God has for your child out, listen to them. Listen for what God is doing in them. Listen for evil thoughts they may be listening to. Thoughts like, “Nothing matters.” “No one cares.” “Nothing I do makes any difference.” The only way you’ll hear those things and sense those deep waters churning in their hearts is if you take the time to listen to the surface things that seem like no big deal.

Talk About the Hard Things

It drives my kids nuts, but when the thought crosses my mind I’ll randomly ask them, “How are things going with your friends? Are any of them doing drugs? Are you using drugs? What sins are you struggling with? How’s your relationship with God? Do any of your friends worry you? How are you feeling? What are you hoping for? What’s your goal?” I don’t pester them with one question after another. Actually I have. That doesn’t work. Don’t do that. But I don’t refrain from bringing these questions up just because my kids respond with disdain. Pray for wisdom, and ask questions.

You know what can’t grow in the light? Evil. My kids might hate it that I talk with them about sexuality, drugs, alcohol, parties, shootings, violence, sexual abuse, pride, sin and suicide, but I refuse to let the evil of those things do to them what they have done to so many in seclusion. If they face confusion about sexuality, drug use, violence and suicide in their life, I want them to face it armed with some wisdom and truth and the knowledge that none of that will scare me or Jesus away. I want them to know there is hope in Jesus, even when sin has caused so much damage. I want them to know when things seem hopeless, there is hope and if they can’t see it at the time, I’ll see it for them and stand guard until they pass through their shadows.

Parents we can’t control the circumstances our kids are going to face. But we can refuse to be passive in the face of evil. We can stand at the gates of hell with our kids and fight for them on our knees in prayer, and with the truth to their faces, and with open ears and fearless presence. Jesus can redeem anything. We must show our kids Jesus.

 

Tired mom, don’t give up

group of people reading book sitting on chair
Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Tonight after a day of high school classes for my sons, and a day of work as a nurse in acute rehab I wanted to veg out, and so did they.  I had homework (only one calss left for my BSN!), they had finished theirs.  By the time I finished my required essay, I was ready to enjoy my glass of wine and do nothing but relax.  My boys wanted to watch the rest of Black Panther and I was tempted to let them.

But in the shower these words came to mind:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV

In a brief exchange of prayer, I argued with the Holy Spirit, Psalm 127 coming to mind, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord , the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalms 127:1,3).  But even as the passage went through my head, I hear the words of Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

“I know you’re tired Sheila. But it’s the very fact that all your labor is in vain unless I build, unless I grant life (even your children’s), that you should labor.  I am building the house.  Your labor is not in vain.”

In a rare exchange of intimate prayer (most of my prayers are more like drowning Peter’s, “Help Lord!”)  I responded, the words of the Psalmist bubbling up in my heart:

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! Psalms 90:16-17

“Establish the work of my hands Lord!  Establish the work of my hands to impress the gospel upon my children’s hearts!  Establish the work of my hands to be a witness of the good news of Christ to my husband!  Establish the work of my hands!”

I got out of the shower and pulled the Tim Keller book I was planning to return to the library without ever reading out of my bag, “Making Sense of God- An Invitation to the Skeptical.”

“Hey guys,” I called to the two young men of my womb laying on the couch watching Black Panther, “I want to read to you for awhile.”

“Oh mom, come on, really?!  Read what?  I want to watch this…”  they challenged.

My tired body didn’t want to resist. I wanted to give up and go to bed. But the promises of God assured me, any effort I put into impressing the hope of Christ on my kids would not be in vain.

So tonight, we read the intro of Making Sense of God, and had a short discussion.

Tired mom, don’t give up on pressing into raising your children in the nurture and teaching of the gospel of Christ. Work! Your labor is not in vain. God is buildng his house.  May he establish the work of our hands.

 

The real, not so glamorous, Christmas story

 

On a night (or maybe it was day), in Roman occupied ancient Israel, a young, Jewish woman writhed, and cried as the excruciating pains of labor gripped her body and tore her flesh.  And there, where animals in the ancient world feed, a vernix and blood covered baby boy, swaddled in clothes to keep him from dying of exposure, lay while young Mary’s uterus bled.

There, the comfort of God came to Israel.

There, light came to the people’s of the nations. The coastlands.

There, in one small square of the world, while people in Israel lay in beds complaining about having to submit to a Roman census, the King of kings lay in a feeding trough, utterly dependent upon the zeal of God to accomplish, against all odds, the salvation of his people.

There, Mary completed the last stage of labor and expelled the placenta which fed the One who knits the human form together in the womb.  All the while native tribes in the coastlands of the Americas, Africa, China and the islands prayed to the gods they made.  There the God of gods began to make himself known to humanity as like no other.

This God, who would be pleased to work on behalf of those who wait for him, came as a poor infant born in a place for animals.

Today is Christmas Eve.  While my friends gathered at church to hear the real message of Christmas and others shopped for last minute presents I was helping a 100 year old patient get off a bedpan.  Not the least bit glamorous. “It’s not good to live this long,” my patient moaned, writhing from the pain of a fractured hip as I slipped out the urine-filled pan.

We long for something glorious, something bright and beautiful like lights shining in December darkness.  But our lives are full of perverted glory, broken by sin and death.  We ruin the beauty of life with our evils.  And when we live as long as my patient has, we know we weren’t made to live like this.

Earlier this year my sister said something that caught my attention, “We weren’t made to die!  We were made to live!”  It’s the truth.  My patient was expressing what we all feel, sooner or later, death is in our days.  And to live long here means tasting more and more of what we weren’t made for. We rehabilitate 100 year old people with broken hips instead of putting them down like horses as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death in this life, pushing back what we know we weren’t made for.  And that is why the real story of Christmas is so much better than artistic renderings.

The God of the Bible who comes to dwell among us and save us from death’s sting, comes not as a pretty, noble, rich child of royalty.  No he comes poor, rejected, despised, hunted and hated from his humble birth.  He comes in our mess.  He comes to walk through the dark shadow of this living death’s valley.  He comes to absorb death and God’s condemnation of sin in his flesh so that we can have real hope while we sojourn here.

So, while we rip open pretty packages tomorrow, somewhere in the world, maybe in your own life, death is raising it’s stench- babies starve, women are abused, men are enslaved, the poor are oppressed, the rich grow more proud, bitterness destroys marriages, selfishness destroys children, and the old suffer alone.

Jesus came for these.  He came like these.  There is no god like Him!

Listen to me, O coastlands,and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb,from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword;in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow;in his quiver he hid me away.

And now the Lord says,he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has become my strength he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

 

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;his soul makes an offering for guilt,he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.

From Isaiah 49, 52, and 53