Who did This?

Dogwood at Macktown Gap

Dogwood at Macktown Gap

There it was written on the ceiling plain as day. “Hannah”

We had just gotten bunk beds so that our three daughters who shared a room would have more floor space on which to play. Hannah was the oldest of the three girls and at five, had just learned to write her name. Hannah was also the tallest so she was relegated to the top bunk.

Now it is NOT a good parenting strategy to ask your child a question you know the answer to just to “catch them in a lie’. Yet at the moment I saw the large “Hannah” displayed on our previously pristine ceiling the first words out of my mouth were “Who did this?” (think firm tone of voice – no smile)
* I knew the word had not appeared on it’s own
* I knew neither my husband nor I had written it
* I knew it was not the older brother. (at that time it was like pulling teeth to get him to write ANYTHING!)
* That left three little girls only one of which could write.

Naturally, Hannah said “Salem did it.”

“Why would Salem write “Hannah”? I asked the guilty party.

“‘Cause I teached her.”

The girls did play school often, but the evidence overwhelmingly pointed toward the owner of the name – Hannah.

As an art teacher I have my students Focus on an Artist each Friday. We look at great works of art and discuss the artist, the artist’s motivation, style, materials used to produce the art, etc. Students first want to know WHO created the art work we study and often ask “Why is that art considered great?” Sometimes it is the process itself that is significant, but most often it is the interpretation of the art within the context of the current culture. What did the artist intend to say?

Hannah intended to write her name. When I asked her why she did it, she replied that she just wanted to.

Often artists who are honest will admit they paint a certain subject matter just because they want to.

When we look at the magnificance of spring and the creation around us it begs the question –

Who did this?

Some would say that it all evolved over time – a very, very long time. Some think it exploded into existence, and then diversified over a very, very long time. Some don’t know – except that it wasn’t a divine act. Others think that some force created our universe, but then left it to evolve on its own.

As an artist myself, I look at the world around me and ask “Who did this?”

It is beyond my comprehension to think that the detailed function and beauty of a flower “just happened”. All matter is made up of basic elements. (see, Mr. Phelps – I did hear even if I was talking) As these elements are arranged in various combinations and in various amounts they make up all that exists in our world. I believe the order of the natural world reflects the order of the Creator and gives purpose to all that exists.

The sculptor doesn’t visualize a form in a piece of marble and them sit and wait for it to erode away in exactly the places that will result in eyes, a nose, a mouth, etc. The sculptor chisels away and works until the desired result is achieved.

A potter doesn’t leave a lump of clay out and watch to see what it will become. The potter molds and creates the form that was envisioned for that lump of clay. It requires pressure in the right places.

God tells us in Psalms and again in Romans 1:20 (NLT)

20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

When our children and grandchildren ask – “Who did this? – tell them God did. The evidence is everywhere.

PS – a better parenting strategy – instead of asking “Who did this?” ask the child you know did it – “Why did you write your name on the ceiling?” That gives them a chance to give a flimsy excuse which you immediately see through. You follow up with consequences that fit the misbehavior. Example – child writes on the wall – they must erase it/wash it/ etc.
Effective consequences fit the misbehavior.

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Having it All…But Not All at Once…Part 2

Three Generations - Four Mothers

Three Generations – Four Mothers

I remember as a little girl my mother telling me that when I grew up I could be anything God wanted me to be. What a wonderful gift! There was no limit to what I could become because I knew God was all powerful. I was never told I couldn’t be something because I was a girl. The clear message I heard was that God had a plan for me – and it could be anything.

I had two brothers, one older and one younger and I never felt that they had more options in life than me. God had a plan for each of us based on His will. My options were not based on societal norms, pressures to be successful, or pressure from my parents to live their unfulfilled dreams through me. The only expectation I felt was that God had a plan for my life and it was GOOD.

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I began teaching my stuffed animals and dolls at a young age. I also played church and would lead the singing, preach, and take up the offering. I did it all! One Sunday when I was in 1st grade, I went to Sunday School and told Mrs. Green my Sunday School teacher that I would teach the lesson that day. (she told me this many years later – I hope I asked her and didn’t just tell her – but like I said – I always wanted to teach!)

I taught for three years during which time I got married. I became pregnant after we were married a year and a half. The Lead Teacher at Almond School where I taught was a dedicated teacher I very much respected. She told me when she found out I was pregnant that if I could, I should stay home with my baby until he got older. She had gone right back to work after the birth of each of her two children and she said that if she had it to do over, she would have stayed home a few years.

Phil had decided to go to seminary, but we tightened our belts and I stayed home for the next 10 years. After that I worked part time for several years, going back to full time teaching in 2002.

Does that sound like a lot? I did NOT do it all at once!

I mention this because our culture scares women into thinking that they must stay in their job or they will lose every opportunity. There is also a strong message that women who do choose to stay home are missing out “on something”. I have been blessed to be able to teach public school, teach as a volunteer in a Christian school, work part time as a Health Education Specialist, and teach full time again. I also have been able to create art here and there along the way.

The point is NOT whether you are working outside your home or at home, or both – the issue is having peace that you are where God wants you to be at this time.
Let me share briefly about the next generation of women in my family. Our three daughters all graduated from college and each pursued various careers in: Legislative Staff for a US Congressman on Capitol Hill, teaching high school Political Science, nursing, coaching women’s soccer at every level from college to middle school, teaching Special Education at the elementary and middle school levels, and staying home with young children.

Does that sound like a lot? They did NOT do it all, nor all at once!

What I want to communicate clearly to the next generation, our grandchildren, is that God has a plan for their lives that will allow them to use their unique gifts and abilities while serving Him.

Ephesians 3:19-21(NLT)

19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

We are able to “have it all”, in fact verse 20 says ” infinitely more than we might ask or think”.
I LOVE that last part – “through ALL generations forever and ever! Amen!”
We will have it all … in God’s way and in His time.

Having It All…but Not All at Once… Part 1

four gen

I heard several stories this week on the radio that gave me pause. One was an interview on “Fresh Air” and another was on “All Things Considered”. In light of Mother’s Day there were several stories on “Morning Edition” that focused on the changing roles of women in society. Each of these stories covered the issues that women face in current culture, exploring efforts of women to “have it all” – by overcoming the “barriers to success in the workplace”, AND have a satisfying and meaningful family life.

The first question that arose in my mind was “What is “it“? Certainly in our diverse and puralistic society these commentators are not suggesting that “it” is the same for all of us, are they? While listening to these viewpoints it seemed that the prevailing attitude was that many women don’t reach their goals or dreams because their responsibilites to their families hold them back. Small children prevent them from becoming the CEO because they can’t leave an ill child at day care and therefore they miss the important board meeting insuring being passed over for a promotion. Is a promotion guaranteed if one doesn’t have children? I think not.

But the question remains… can a woman “have it all”? That depends on what “it” is.

So, I asked myself… do I have it all? Did my mother?….did my Grandmother?….do my daughters?

I look at the above picture and see women who have had it all. Yet, not all at once, nor in the same way. Here is a picture of four generations of women who have lived their dreams because being a mother was a focal point of those dreams.

Let me explain.

My grandmother emigrated from Sweden in 1920. She came to Chicago via Ellis Island with one suitcase. Her dream was to raise a family as an American citizen. She first worked as a maid, then a cook for a wealthy Chicago family. After meeting my grandfather, she married, had three daughters, raised two grandsons, eventually living in a lovely brick colonial home in a northern suburb of Chicago. She began oil painting when she was 55 and she continued painting until she was 90. Her greatest joy came from her relationship with God through Jesus Christ. She loved to quote Bible verses – sometimes out of context – and share the fact that Jesus loves each individual, regardless of who they are.

At the end of her life, she felt she had it all. She had lived the American dream and was going to spend eternity with her Lord and Savior.

My mother grew up in a Christian home with two loving parents. She married her college sweetheart before finishing her degree and soon had three children. She stayed home raising them, eventually getting an Associates Degree in Library Science when her children were in college. Together with another family they ran a family campground in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in the summer for 22 years. After my father retired from teaching high school Biology, my parents went to teach at a mission school in Taiwan. This had been a dream of my mother’s since childhood – to serve in a foreign county. They lived and worked in Taiwan for 7 years returning to care for aging parents. My mother has participated in and taught women’s Bible studies for over 60 years and she and my father have continued to do this in their 80’s.

My mother will be 85 on Friday and she will tell you she has had it all. Not all at once, but she has lived her dreams and experienced things she didn’t dare to dream.

These women have lived purposeful, meaningful lives. They have not been paid seven figure salaries. They have not had books written about them (yet) nor gone viral on YouTube (thankfully!).
They don’t run large corporations or manage hundreds of employees.
But they sure could make small children sit up and listen!

Jesus said this – in Mark 9:34-38 (NIV)

34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the One who sent Me.”

The point our culture misses is that the path to true greatness is servanthood.

When we are serving our families as mothers and wives we are being obedient to a high calling. Jesus Himself placed children front and center as we see in verse 37.

Some women are called to places of authority – some are not. Having it all for daughters of our Heavenly Father means serving one another whether we are the CEO or the one who changes diapers.

Next week – Part II – Having it All… But Not All at Once.

Free at Last!

Woody Family in 1990

Woody Family in 1990

“Now that I’m older, I’m free from worrying about that any more. It feels so good!” My friend Winnie said this to me yesterday at church. Winnie is a lovely Christian lady who has held fast to her faith through life’s storms. She is now pursuing a college degree in her 50’s and tutoring college students on the side.

“I am free from so many false beliefs that I had as a young wife and mother.” I replied. “Why didn’t we learn these lessons earlier?” I said to Winnie.

This caused me to reflect on just what some of those erroneous ideas were. These were thoughts I held that kept me in bondage and fed feelings of guilt. Here is a list of some of those toxic thoughts:

* I must have a perfectly clean house before I invite anyone to visit.
* If I invite guests for dinner, the food must be homemade.
* If I am feeling overwhelmed, I must never admit it.
* If I haven’t had a quiet time, I don’t have anything of value to share.
* I’m a bad mother if I yell at my kids.
* I’m a bad mother if my children act up at library story time.
* I’m a bad mother if my children run around at Sunday School.
* I must have a “ministry” outside of my home.

These are just a few of the things that weighed me down as a mother of young children. As you can see – there is some truth in each of these beliefs – but there is much that is false. Those lies kept me frustrated and often full of guilt.

I wanted to have people over, so I would wear myself out cleaning up. I was crabby and demanding of my children – once I even locked them out of the house until the kitchen floor dried after I had mopped it. They have NEVER forgotten this and enjoy seeing my discomfort as they tell people I used to lock them out of the house. To set the record straight – I did that ONE time!

I am not a natural cook – it is an effort for me to make tasty meals. Yet I thought I had to make everything from scratch if I was having guests.

I also gauged my “success” as a mother by my children’s performance. This was partly because as a former teacher, I measured my success as a teacher by how well my students learned. I took this same attitude to my efforts in parenting.

Jesus says in John 8:31-32

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

As God began to teach me His truth, I was set free from those falsehoods that held me in bondage.

* People come to visit people, not the house. Four children make messes.
* I can buy pre-cut salad – no one cares.
* I must admit my weakness so my husband (or friends) know I need help.
* My relationship with God is based on His grace, not my quiet time.
* If I yell at my kids, I ask forgiveness.
* If my children act up at story time – I teach them respectful manners.
* If my children run at Sunday School – I teach them proper behavior.
* When I feel “I’m not doing enough for the Lord”,
I remember that my family IS my ministry.

The TRUTH does set us free from the bondage of quilt and frustration.
As Winnie said – “It feels so good to be free!”