Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Take on the Global Crisis

I’m not a political writer. I hate politics. I hate debates. I can’t think on my feet and I mostly just want to ignore the kind of political fights I see on Facebook.

But more than that, I hate so much of what I see in our world today. I hate that ISIS is killing and terrorizing people. I hate that tens of thousands of people have been fleeing their homes as a result. I hate that we, as Christians, have succumbed to fear to the point that we actually think twice about helping in a worldwide crisis such as this.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in political science. I know government officials need to do a better job protecting our country. In fact, I think that our leaders ought to, on the one hand, retaliate against and even preclude terrorism, and with the other hand, offer refuge to those running from it.

I hate politics, but I love Jesus. And so when I’m faced with the kind of situations we see in our world right now, I try to focus on Him and ask what next step He wants me to take. I’m not a government official and I don’t envy the job of deciding how to help the global situation and how to vet the refugees. But I can ask how God wants me to respond in my every day life. The answer I’ve been getting?

It doesn’t involve safety and living the American dream. I’m not sure it even involves remodeling the kitchen next year, as we planned. It may involve giving all my money to the poor, but only if I do it out of love (1Corinthians 13).

The answer I've been hearing is something like this, from Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my        Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

I’ve been reading about missionaries who put aside the comforts of this world to bring good news to the lost. There wasn’t much safety and ease in the lives of the Livingstones and the Judsons.

I’ve been thinking about how hard this all is. It’s easy to say what we should do. It’s not so easy to put it into practice. It’s hard and it’s scary and I, for one, would rather be raising my kids during the Cold War than during this crazy global crisis. I realize that’s probably because I can see from here that most

Americans survived the 80’s just fine and I can’t see the future for our children now.

I’ve been, sometimes, feeling very fearful. I try to combat that with praise. I’m so thankful for Pandora and K-LOVE in those moments. I also remember that perfect love casts out fear, which pushes me to read this in 1 John 4:

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

It’s easy, in a sense, to love the refugees, who are not here (yet). It’s harder, at the moment, to love our fellow believers. And so I’m letting this particular crisis drive me to live out the whole gospel better here, in the US, today, with my fellow believers, with the least of these that He puts right in front of me.

What a hypocrite I would be if I said, “We should love the Syrian refugees and let them into our country!”

And then I turned around and said, “No, I can’t bring a meal to that family in need. I can’t listen to their pain. I can only help the people I like spending time with. I can’t go serve at the Soup Kitchen. I’m too busy. It’s too hard.”

I want my kids to see me loving people. I want to love with abandon. I want to follow Him. Even when it’s hard. I’d rather it were easy and safe. But that’s not what we were called to. So I pray for the strength to do whatever He puts in front of me, whether it’s hugging my own child or providing a home for a stranger.

Let me see His face in the least of these, my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kick that Guilty Habit!

She arrived home from school and the badgering began.

“When are you going to send that form in? There are only two other people in my class who haven’t sent it in yet. You have to do it by Friday, Mom!”

“Honey, it’s only Tuesday. I’ll get to it.”

We went back and forth for a minute or two. Me, just needing five minutes of quiet to sit down and think about the order form (in my view, the least important of the thousand things calling for five minutes of my time). Her, wanting to be heard, wanting me to see how crucial this was. To not be the last one. To not be the one whose mom doesn’t care. And then she said it.

“I really don’t think you love me!”

There it is.

I’ve failed. Again.

There are many, many things I love about being a mother. I love middle of the night nursing and newborn snuggles. I love little arms around my neck and sloppy kisses on my cheeks. I love reading books and singing songs. Looking deep into my children’s eyes as they share what’s important to them. I love watching their talents blossom right in front of me. Seeing them express themselves and become individuals. The kid who’s always loved to sing in front of a crowd gets the lead part in the musical? I love that! The budding artist learning to sketch from a photograph? I love that, too! Truth be told, I really love sitting with another mom and drinking coffee while our kids tear the house apart. I even love a good challenge—when I have to discipline and I ask for wisdom and He delivers. So many facets to this life. Full and messy and good.

But when I launched into motherhood nine years ago, I did not know I would have a dark, slinky companion with me most of the time. And I do not love him. In fact, I hate him. I hate Guilt.

I’m only one paltry human being, trying to do the best I can. My sinful nature gets the upper hand so often. I’m selfish. I get mad. Or I want to be alone. And then Guilt shows up, right by my elbow . . . it seems he’s the height of a child. And Guilt reminds me how I’ve failed. He whispers that I’m too broken for this, I have my priorities all wrong, my kids don’t feel my love, they’d be better off without me. He tells me that when they grow up, they won’t want to be around me, they won’t forgive my shortcomings, they’ll need years of therapy to undo the damage I’ve done.

You know what? I’m sick of Guilt. I don’t want to listen to his lies anymore.

I can’t see the future. Maybe my kids will need therapy, but that’s not the end of the world. (You could probably use therapy, too, by the way.) I pray the good I do outweighs the damage. I hope they grow into wonderful adults who can see me as the whole, imperfect person I am and love me still. I can’t mother perfectly because I am broken, but my brokenness is covered by the blood of the Lamb. If I lay it at His feet, an unthinkable thing happens. He uses it. I can roll up my sleeves, do this job, and trust Him to redeem my failures.

So let’s send Guilt back where he belongs and let’s live out our redemption. Not perfect mothers, any of us. But sanctified. Empowered.  

Somehow, I didn’t fall apart when she said that to me. (I waited until I wrote this post for that.) I did let her know that being the last one to hand in a form does not mean your mother doesn’t love you. Maybe all she needed was a hug and for me to listen for a while without being distracted. Most of the time, that’s all she’s asking for. I want to give my children what they need. But when I don’t, I need to remember that grace is big enough to pick up my slack.

And that dark companion, Guilt, isn’t allowed to slink around me anymore.

Photo Credit: April Olivia Roskos

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Puppy Love

I mentioned, briefly, that we got a puppy August 1st. Prince Caspian. The Labradoodle. I haven’t mentioned him again, have I? If you judged my life by my blog (which is dangerously misleading in many areas), you’d have to assume that when Caspian joined our family, life carried on as it always had.

You would be woefully mistaken.
Photo credit: April Olivia Roskos
The first half of August was similar to what I imagine hell to be like. That may sound extreme to some, but you are the ones who made it even worse for me! I kept asking myself what was wrong with me. Why is this so hard? So many people have dogs! This is not a big deal! But for me it was a little bit like having a newborn without all the warm and fuzzy feelings and the cuddly nursing sessions. Yeah, just the nightmare part. It was a lot like having four kids, except that the fourth kid was a toddler devil—chewing everything he could reach and biting the other kids. Trust me. None of my descriptions do it justice. Unless you’ve been the responsible party caring for a mischievous puppy, you will never know.

In mid-August, I thought I was just going to have to live in hell for two years until Caspian matured. Then, some advice from friends and family changed our lives for the better.

Several people told me to keep his world small. We carried this out in a few different ways.

First of all, we were crate training but I felt guilty leaving him in the crate. Someone with experience told me to stop it—puppies should spend a lot of time in the crate the first year.

Big sigh of relief!

I stopped feeling guilty about leaving him in the crate. In fact, the same person told me that the puppy’s schedule should be designed to fit ours. I realized that I had been giving the puppy a higher rank than he ought to have. I began seeing him less as the fourth child and more as the pet (duh). He is supposed to be beneficial, not detrimental, to our family.
Absconding with the kids' toys! It's all in a day's work.
Second, another friend suggested we gate off a designated area of the house so he stays there. Previously, we had not let Caspian upstairs. (I was patting myself on the back for that.) But if I let him out of the crate, he had free run of the downstairs. He could easily go into another room and wreak havoc while I was making breakfast. It should have been obvious, but it wasn’t to me. Baby gates to the rescue!

Third, we got a kennel. Todd’s idea. This has given me freedom to head out for a long day of errands without worrying about getting home in four hours to let Caspian out to go potty. I have to say, I kind of felt like he was my ball and chain before. Much less so now. The kennel may not be his favorite hangout, but at least while I’m gone I know he has food, water, shelter, and he’s confined. For now, anyway. He’s started several holes under the fence, so we’ll see how long this lasts before reinforcements are needed.

Fourth, and we just started doing this, I cover his crate so he can’t see us while we’re eating. I usually start our meal first and see how he does, but if he sits by Eva’s high chair and begs, or jumps up on it with his front legs, he goes right into the crate. (By the way, he only harasses her because she willingly shares her food with him!) Previously, I would be reluctant to put him into the crate while we eat because he would bark and howl at us, which made me crazy. (You can see who’s training whom!) But my niece was here the other day and said it really helped their dog calm down if she couldn’t see them. So I threw a blanket over the front of the crate and voila! It may take him a minute, but he gets over it and settles down.

Ain't he handsome, though?
I really don’t want to share only the negative aspects of bringing Caspian home. He is a sweet boy and loves us all so, so much! We love him, too! We have had some nightmarish times, though. I walked into this rather blindly and optimistically, having no experience whatsoever. I’m still learning—and I still have days when I think having a dog makes me a bear! But overall, our pup is much more manageable now. And I’m sure with some extra training in the next year, he’ll be simply delightful . . . eventually . . .

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Much Ado About . . . Nothing!

I’ve noticed a refrain throughout the course of my adult life. So much to do. So little time. It echos and reverberates as life goes on, becoming more hurried and frantic at times. So much to do. So little time.

I thought this school year would give me a chance to pull back and slow down a bit, but I feel busier than ever. So much to do. So little time.

Only . . . do I have to be as busy as I am? I can’t help but think some of the stress is self-inflicted. I feel stressed because of the expectations I place on myself and others.

If I decide that the house needs to be cleaned by a certain time and it’s not happening . . . If for some reason I expect a two-year-old to clean up after herself (or even a nine-year-old) and I look around to see toys and books strewn on the floor . . . If I want perfect surroundings, laundry done on schedule, no interruptions, I’m going to be stressed. If I expect to start school the same time we did last year and I find myself out in the yard cleaning up dog poop at 9 am, I’m going to be frustrated. But, if I adjust my expectations and just breathe . . . maybe I can appreciate the small moments and even the mundane tasks. (Probably not the dog poop, though.)

I was reminded to slow down recently. To ignore dust and toys on the floor.

This December, my two bigger kids are participating in the Christmas musical our church is doing, Inside the Outside Inn. Consequently, we’ve been listening to the CD of this production nonstop. I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the music and writing in this charming play. Puns and literary references abound, but they are very well done and should provide comic relief for adults in the audience.

Last week, as I was rushing around trying to make my house look “Pinterest-perfect,” I was also (naturally) listening to the musical. And the song “So Much Ado About So Much To Do” started playing.

How appropriate, I thought. I have so much to do!

It was appropriate. In the play, they have so much to do because it’s the busiest night Bethlehem has ever seen. The Inn is bursting at the seams! There is so much to do taking care of all the customers. The chores are overwhelming! There’s no end to the work! It all seems so urgent!

But what was really important? The couple the innkeeper turned away. If you were busy with all the tasks at hand, you would have missed them completely. But if you just stopped to breathe for a moment, you might have noticed them.

The most important thing in the history of the world was happening that night.
And compared to that, not one thing on the to-do list mattered.

Sometimes all we need is a little perspective. If I sit at the kitchen counter and sip my coffee for another five minutes, the world is not going to end. If, while I’m doing that, I enjoy the voices of my children as they play, I just might have more grace for them throughout the day. If I let go of my agenda and receive whatever is hiding in the shadows behind the urgent, I discover that I am blessed. The grace and the blessing overflow and others can be blessed in turn.

Small Moments