What Counts

We never gave our kids a specific prayer to pray before meals, but they seem to have one that they usually say.  It goes a little something like this.

Dear God, Thank you for MommyandDaddyandAsherandforourfood.  Amen.

At dinner last night, Isaac prayed before we ate.  In his prayer, he slowed down, thanked God for his family, asked that God bring Randall home safely to us (it was storming outside and Randall was still at work) and thanked God for our food.

When he said “Amen” I looked at him and smiled and thought to myself, that one counted.

It occurred to me that sometimes I think like that with God.  Some prayers count because we really mean them.  Some don’t.

But I don’t think God counts.  He cares deeply about our prayers, thoughts, feelings and lives, but I don’t think he’s got a tally list anywhere that keeps track of things.

He certainly doesn’t keep track of our sins. Psalm 103:9-12

He doesn’t keep track of our good deeds either. Romans 4:4-5

So what does God count?  I looked up the word “count” in the New Living Translation of the Bible and noticed every reference.  Here’s what God counts:

His creation.  He knows every star in the sky by name.

And his people.  Those who love him and put their trust in him.  That’s what matters to God.

Galatians 6:15 says, “What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.”

When I was a child, I remember my pastor talking about prayer.  He said that a lot of people feel guilty when they go to bed and start their nightly prayers and then fall asleep in the middle of them.  But Pastor Fred said that God thinks your prayers are the sweetest things.  Imagine a child sitting in his father’s lap as he reads him a bedtime story.  If he falls asleep in his arms, even in the middle of the story, it’s the father’s most treasured time with his son.

That image has stuck with me for decades.  God loves you.  He’s not keeping score. Just like you don’t have a running tally of your kids’ mistakes.  Obviously, those moments when you’re speaking to him and your heart is in agreement with your words, those are most meaningful.  But your kids are yours, and if you believe in Him, you’re His and every conversation is meaningful and brings you closer together.

And that’s what counts.

In the News

So, I honestly want to know what you think about parenting in the news.  We’ve got stories like this one:

To be compared with stories like this one:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Not to mention, there are parents like this out there:

Y’all better redneckognize how these decisions are affecting our children.

Y’all better redneckognize how the media is affecting our parenting!

Why is it that police are being called on parents who are giving their children opportunities to grow, and learn, and be independent in relatively safe environments (LaPorte, TX isn’t the only police department arresting good parents), while questionable parents are being rewarded with their own TV shows?

The media highlights the most interesting stories.  It highlights the exceptions to the norm.  But what we see and what sticks in our memories, are the horrible things that may possibly happen to our children.

I looked up the statistics.  Don’t look up the statistics.  The truth is, any possibility that my child could get abducted, or hurt in any way is scary.  But the statistics show that your child is most likely to be safe.

Stereotypical kidnappings happen about 115 times a year.  Total.  Not percentage, not per 10,000 children.  Traffic accidents are down since when we were growing up.

And my thought is, even if I’m outside watching and playing with my kid, if my hands are not on them at all times, I can’t prevent them from getting hurt anyway.

I have trained my children to be aware of their surroundings.  I have trained them to cross the street carefully.  I have told them about strangers and we read a Berenstain Bear book about it. The book is great about teaching children that not every stranger is dangerous but they can’t judge a person by what they look like, so it’s safest to not talk with them and certainly not go anywhere with a stranger.

I read this recently and it rocked my world.  I’ve since told my kids that strangers aren’t the real threat, “tricky people” are.  This is great information because the majority of the crimes you want to protect a child from occur with someone they know.

Okay, quit thinking about all the awful things that could happen to your children.  Let’s think about the freedom, independence, and sense of adventure that you could be giving your children by allowing them to play by themselves.

Seriously, what do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion!

 

Just want to Help.

All I want in this life is to change the world.  Is that too much to ask?

I mean, isn’t that what we all want?  To feel like our life mattered?  To feel like we made a difference; an impact in our little world?

When I graduated high school, I had no idea what life held for me.  I didn’t know what I wanted to study or do.  I didn’t plan on getting married young and having kids before a career.  All I knew was that God had made me for a purpose and I was going to change the world.  Or at least MY world.  I thought maybe I’d be a teacher and inspire a future president.  I thought I would do something big or inspire someone in a big way.

Then I went to college and started the relationship with the man I’d soon marry.  I still wanted to do huge things in this world, but this season, I had to focus on me first.  I focused on my love for Randall and I focused on learning and growing myself.  After I graduated, I still felt so lost in which direction to take my future.

I had dozens of interviews, but I didn’t get the job I had planned on.  I had no idea what to do next.  I remember calling my dad, longing for him to just tell me what to do, but knowing that I couldn’t really ask that of him.  By then, I was an adult and I was married, and my dad couldn’t just tell me what to do, as much as I wanted him to.

A few short months later, I read the positive pregnancy test and my world turned upside down.  What had been focused on me, was now focused on someone else.  I quickly became focused on raising my family and two beautiful boys.  I had that all planned out.  I was going to love these boys into perfection.  When they demonstrated their own thoughts and rebelled against mine, I was in complete shock.

It took many years for me to get over the fact that there was no way for me to MAKE my kids the people I wanted them to be.  I could only do my best, and pray that they would make wise choices and become world changers themselves.

And I’ll be praying that prayer until the day I die, but the time has come now, again, for me to focus on something else.  The boys are both in school now and the majority of their day someone else is in charge.   I have seven hours a day to myself, to do with it what I want.

Here’s what I want:  To do something big; to make a difference!  But how?  I sit at home and wonder if God is proud of how I’ve been living my life.

It occurs to me that I am making my mark in small ways.  I am hugely influencing my kids every day.  They are taking in every word I say and that scares the…                   that really scares me!  Maybe I don’t want to make THAT much of a difference in people’s lives.  I will surely screw them up!

I sit and think about the encouraging words I’ve offered to friends and acquaintances and I think about the encouraging words I could have offered, and I know that we are all making a difference in our own little world.

Last night, the boys helped me with dinner.  They had been begging me to make mac ‘n cheese for weeks and last night was a good night to make a quick, kid friendly dinner.  I was doing five things at once and when the water started boiling, I asked Asher to open the box, pour in the pasta and start stirring.  Isaac got jealous and wanted to help too.  “It’s no fair, Asher gets to pour AND stir?” he whined.

“Isaac, you get to pour in the “cheese” from the packet!” I encouraged him.  And that satisfied him.  When the pasta was drained, he ripped the top off of the paper packet and poured the contents over the pasta and was quite happy with himself.  And honestly, I was happy for the help!

I stepped back today and thought about the little things I’m involved in and the organizations I support.   I’ve done little things, (very small things!) like run to raise money for Living Water International.  I’ve chosen one boy in Peru to sponsor (with the money Randall’s hard work earns).  I’ve supported a church that is making huge waves in our community and God is blessing us with his tangible presence each and every weekend.

A couple of weekends ago, our pastor talked about who we are as a church and where we are going in our future.  He showed a video (time stamp 47:02 of this link) of last summer’s baptism celebration and I thought to myself:  Oh my God.  That is beautiful.  I know a lot of faces in that video and some of those people know who I am. I don’t think I influenced them one bit in their decision to take this step in faith toward a God who is moving inside of their very hearts.  But God is doing some huge things all around me.  And I get to be witness of it.  I get to watch history being made in my very own backyard and I am honored to be even a fraction of a part of it.  It occurred to me that maybe small things are big things to God.

People are making a difference.  People in India are drinking clean water today and children are getting food and education in Peru.  And thousands of people every year are taking steps toward a great and holy God.  I’m happy to watch it happen around me.  God is moving and lives are being changed and I’m going to keep on taking my small steps to encourage these big changes.

Thank you God, for letting me be a part of the story you are writing with your people.  Thank you for letting me shine a little light in this big world.  I bet I’m like Isaac to you: thrilled to be dumping a package of orange cheese powder in a pot, but I’m doing it with you and it feels amazing.  I think you’re possibly crazy to let us be your advocates.  It has often proved to be bad idea to let flawed humans represent you, but I want to do my best.  I want to make you proud.  Please show me the small ways I can continue to help you.  If it’s in your will, show me the big ways I can be your child and represent you to others (please let it be in your will).  You know my heart and you know that I don’t want to be famous.  It’s never been about popularity, but about serving my purpose on this earth and paying you back for the abundance you’ve lavished on me.  Like an innocent child, I just want to help.

 

Full Table

When Isaac was little, like three or four years old, we would sit around the table and he would often say that we need two more people to fill our table.  He always talked about how we had two extra chairs and they needed to be full.

IMG_1684

When Asher was born, Randall and I considered a third child.  I just didn’t feel like our family was complete yet.  Randall’s dad was very sick for the first year or so of Asher’s life and passed away before he turned two.  It was hard for Randall to commit to having more children that would never know his father.  That and having a third child meant buying a new car, and being outnumbered, and losing a lot of the comfort we were enjoying as each day passed and the boys grew older.

Making a firm plan to quit having children was the hardest decision I’ve made.  I mourned the loss of any future babies.  I mourned the loss of ever having a girl.  I prayed about the decision and finally came to the conclusion that just because I didn’t give birth to any more children, didn’t mean that our family was necessarily complete.  I asked Randall if we could consider adoption some day.  Randall and I prayed about adoption and talked a lot about it for a while, but we didn’t seem to be feeling like God was leading us that way quite yet.  I looked into foster care, and even jobs where I would care for children that didn’t have stable families.  I still didn’t feel like the timing was right.

A year or so passed after the decision was final and I found God moving my heart in a definitive direction.  I was sitting in a room of a thousand kids at camp that summer.  I have been going to camp with these kids for a decade.  One night out of our week, every year at camp, we all sit through a presentation from Compassion International.  They bring a man or woman who was raised in their program to tell his or her story of growing up with Compassion.  It is always moving and I am always brought to tears.  But this year was different.  I have always been able to sit through that presentation with no desire to get out of my chair and sponsor a child.  Not this year.  I couldn’t sit there any longer.  My heart was pounding and there were no doubts about what was going on.  This year God moved in me so clearly, I had to get up.  I perused the tables covered in pictures of actual children who needed love, who needed their needs met, who needed a sponsor.  I found a boy who was just about Isaac’s age.  His name is David and he lives in Peru. We send him a small amount of money every month that meets his physical and educational needs. We write him letters and he sends back hand colored pictures, and my heart is full.  Sponsoring a child is absolutely God’s way of adding to our family.

A while back, a couple of neighborhood boys stopped by at dinner time.  I was just setting the food on the table, and Isaac invited the boys to stay.  We had plenty of food, so I told the boys it was okay with me if it was okay with their mom.  She said it was fine, and they found seats at our table.

As we all sat and ate, one of my boys looked at the table and said, “Now every chair is full.”  It brought a huge smile to my face.  For the rest of our lives, we will be welcoming kids into our house to love, and treat as our own for the time that they stay with us.  We’ll be loving and praying for David and hopefully we’ll add another kid or two to our sponsored “family.” These kids don’t need to come from our DNA for us to love them.

I pray that God continues to fill our table and make our family complete. I know so many of you are loving on neighbor kids and volunteering with kids at church and school and doing your part.  Thank you.  That’s what this world needs.  But I challenge you to pray for some kids you don’t know as well.  You know, the table in my dining room is an essential piece of furniture in our home.  It is where every meal is eaten and much bonding had.  Visit the Compassion site and pray over those kiddos.  I fear that many of these kids you will see don’t even own a table, and a square meal every day is not their norm.  Pray that their needs will be met.  Pray that they will find God and a sponsor who will love them unconditionally.   Pray that God will show you if you can play a role in their lives and may your hearts and tables ever be full!

Full Table

Ten Years of Picnics

Ten years ago on August 30th, Randall and I decided to have a picnic here:

with 600 of our closest friends and family.

It was such a grand occasion, we decided to celebrate that picnic every year on it’s anniversary.

On our first anniversary, we didn’t have a very good camera, so I drew a picture.

Here we are, toasting each other over a couple of smoothies.

Years went by, picnics were had, and so were a couple of babies.  The World’s Fair Pavilion in Forest Park was remodeled and the water fall modernized.

Eventually, we got a better camera.

Here we are above in 2008.

2009

2010

2011

and 2012

August 30 is consistently a beautiful day for a picnic.

Lesson Learned

Kindergarten

The one thing that annoys me about our elementary school is that you don’t find out who your new teacher is until Meet the Teacher day less than a week before school actually starts. Parents and kiddos wait patiently (or not) outside locked doors and when the doors finally open, there is a mad rush to find out if you got the teacher you wanted. Staff members wait at each door with a list and one by one they find your name and let you know who your new teacher is. It’s very poor planning and really stressful for people like me who like to know what to expect for as long as possible to prepare for a new phase of life.

 

This year, the boys and I got to get in the school early to see a bus safety presentation with a bunch of other new kindergarteners. We walked through the school looking for any signs in the hallway with Isaac’s or Asher’s name outside any teacher’s door, but the teachers were obviously not yet prepared by the time we got to the school. So we headed on to the cafeteria where we met some familiar faces. Many of Isaac’s friends have little siblings Asher’s age so we already knew some of the incoming kindergarteners and their siblings that were attending this meeting.

2009

The kids were introduced to a remote controlled bus who taught them all about bus safety and then they were invited to take a ride on a real bus around the neighborhood. Isaac’s friends were getting in line to ride the bus, and since I knew there would be plenty of seats, I told Isaac to go ahead and ride along.

When the kids got back, the kindergarteners were invited to eat a cookie and have some juice at a few tables set up around the room. The teachers told us the cookies were only for the new kindergarteners but there was more than enough for all the siblings in the room. Isaac waited patiently, and then watched as all of his older friends grabbed a cookie and sat next to their younger siblings. He asked me if he could have a cookie and I told him it was fine with me if a teacher would allow him. So Isaac asked the assistant principal standing nearby if he could also have a cookie and juice. She looked and him and shook her head and told him it was only for kindergarteners.

Isaac politely came back to me and waited awkwardly as every child in the room finished their cookies and wiped their crumby faces. Fifteen or more cookies remained untouched in the middle of the tables and I watched with growing anger as the teachers ignored my polite boy and talked amongst themselves.

I think Isaac and I both were waiting for a staff member to see that there were more than enough cookies for him to have one, but no one noticed. I watched as some of Isaac’s old classmates took a second cookie and tried to contain myself.

Isaac never asked again and honestly didn’t seem overly bothered that he was the only child excluded from the party. We were eventually dismissed to find our classrooms and meet our new teachers.

I walked out of that cafeteria knowing in the back of my mind that this was the first of many rejections my son may receive in his life. It’s a silly example, who cares about a cookie?  But the lesson I was reminded of here is that the good guys don’t always win. In real life, you don’t always get what you want by doing the right thing.

We met our new teachers and they seemed nice enough. But on our way out the door as we passed the cafeteria and tables of lonely, delicious cookies one last time I really had to fight the urge to tell my boy to just take what he wanted. He deserved a cookie and I guarantee that the others were just going to be thrown away within the next hour.

 

Isaac, I am so sorry to tell you that if you continue down the path of politeness; if you continue to do the right thing, you will often stand alone in a room full of people. You may again, be left out of the fun. Selfish people usually end up getting what they want. Someday, you’re going to like a girl and I hate to tell you, but most girls like the bad guys. You will find rejection, humiliation, and defeat throughout your life.

I am also sad to say that this is what I want for you. It breaks my heart that what I’ve told you is the truth, but I want you to always do the right thing. I don’t want you to be selfish.  I don’t want you to do what it takes to get what you want.  I want you always to be known as a GOOD man. I want you to be polite and to make wise decisions and to follow the path that Jesus laid out for us. I don’t want you to get walked all over.  I do want you to stand up and be strong.  And though you may not get what you want, God promises to give you what you need. Though you may miss out on some fun, there can be joy in every circumstance. Though you may not get every girl, you will find a girl who wants you for who you are and she will be worth far more than rubies.

 

SupermanGod, you never guarantee happiness for those you love, but I do pray for happiness for my boys. You never promised riches and wealth, but I do pray blessings on my boys and I pray good things for them.   But more than popularity, I pray for good quality friends. More than happiness, I pray that they can find joy in good times and in bad. More than earthly treasures, I pray that my boys leave a lasting impression on everyone they meet. Though they may stand alone (and I pray they have the strength to stand alone) I pray that everyone else in the room sees the height of their character. May they be strong and wise, and polite and caring.  God, you never promised protection from rejection or humiliation, but you do promise comfort when they come. “In this world you will have troubles…” My joy comes from knowing that this world is just a blip in the vast eternity of life. My joy comes from knowing that this world is backwards from how you’ve created your followers to behave. May we have the wisdom to follow in your son’s footsteps whatever trials we may face. And please give us all the strength to relinquish the cookies and do the right thing.