The Greatest Love – Laying Down Our Lives For Others

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”   John 15:12-13

It’s Mother’s Day today, and as I reflect on what motherhood means, one word that immediately comes to mind is sacrifice.  As mothers, many times we sacrifice hobbies, free time, privacy, sleep, time, money, resources, even access to our own bodies, for our children.  It’s a giving relationship, not a taking one.  We often do reap kindness, friendship, and love from our children if that is what we sow into their lives – but not necessarily.  We love our children even if they do not love us back.  I think most of us would desire that our love for our children be unconditional.  We are human and fallen and we fail our children, but I think we can get a glimpse of how God loves US as His children.  Unconditionally.  With a fierce, protective, sheltering love.

Several thoughts have been in my mind this week around this topic.  One is that I think I might understand what it means to lay down my life for someone.  Yes, there is my physical life, and I believe I would die trying to protect or save my children.   But our lives don’t JUST consist of our physical bodies.  What about our emotional life?  We lay down our emotional life for our friends (including our children), when we sacrifice what we want for what they want/need.  “As mothers, many times we sacrifice hobbies, free time, privacy, sleep, time, money, resources, even access to our own bodies, for our children.”  Isn’t this laying down our lives for our children, in a very active  way?  It’s not just a one time laying down of physical life, but a repeated and deliberate dynamic choice we make many times daily, to lay aside ME for SOMEONE ELSE.  Doesn’t that sound like the very definition of the greatest love?

Laying down our lives for others is how we obey the second commandment – to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Our spouse and child(ren) are our closest neighbors.

The next thought is about this – “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  Matthew 10:37.  We obey the first and greatest commandment by loving God EVEN MORE than our children.  Does that mean we neglect our children, or love them less?  Of course not.  But our love for God must be so all-consuming that we feel it deep in the heart of our very being.  The fierce, protective, consuming, sacrificial love you feel for your child?  Yeah, that.  THAT’S the love you should have EVEN MORE for God.  If you don’t have that love, that passion for God – He calls it “losing your first love”, or even worse, “being lukewarm”.  Pursue God relentlessly.  With all your heart.  This is what He expects – demands – from His followers.  Repent, and cry out to God for Him to give you that love for Him.  Never stop asking, never stop pursuing.  God is worth it.  Even more than your child.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:38-39

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Mothering Like Mary, Mother of Jesus

And Mary said:
 
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
 
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
 
Luke 1:47-55
 
I think about Mary sometimes, and what it would have been like to be a mother to Jesus. It’s a precious thing to have a child. There is no love that compares to the unconditional and sacrificial love we feel for the bone-of-our-bones, flesh-of-our-flesh children.
 
I’ve never adopted, or fostered, or been a step-parent. I don’t know how the feelings in these situations compare. All I know is that I would sacrifice anything, including my own life, absolutely and unconditionally for my kids. What I feel for them is unlike the love I’ve had for anyone else.
 
That said, I fail them miserably. I’m impatient, unkind, and controlling. I’ve bribed them, threatened them, and hurt their feelings. I’ve had to ask their forgiveness many, many times. They bring out the best in me, yes, but they also push all my buttons and bring out the worst in me. Children reveal our true characters. I am ashamed at what darkness still lingers in my heart, despite trying to follow God as best I can.
 
God would never have chosen me to be His mother.
 
I imagine Mary was gentle, patient, and kind. I know a few mothers who exude a sweet Christ-likeness, and I imagine Mary must have been something like them. Mary wasn’t perfect, but she was a godly woman. I’m sure she lost her temper, got frustrated, and maybe even yelled on occasion. But whether you want to admit it or not, some people are nicer than others, some people are kinder than others, some people are gentler than others. To some extent, it’s the nature God gives us. I know non-Christians who are so sweet and lovely. I know Christians who can be downright nasty.
 
Our nature isn’t what saves us (Thank God – as the only good in me is Jesus!). However, God works on our nature to bring it into alignment with His own through the process of sanctification – making us Holy, ripening the fruit of the Spirit in us. Some of us, myself included, are much rougher gems that need a lot of knocking around and polishing before their beauty can be glimpsed.
 
Jesus, of course, never sinned and therefore would have been the easiest child imaginable to raise. He would have cried, of course, and been hungry and grumpy and tired. He probably smeared His poop and peed on the floor. These things are not sins. Feelings are not sins. But Jesus was so much like other children, so human, that people in His community had a difficult time believing He was anything but a regular man when He revealed His identity.
 
My children are my closest neighbors, and I am called to love them as I love myself. I am called to parent them as I would parent Jesus, if He were my son. How does this change my perspective? Would I let Him leave His peas, or make Him finish His meatballs before having dessert? Would I even let Him have dessert? Would I always let Him have dessert? Would I leave Him to cry at night? Would I have more mercy, more compassion?
 
I think these are questions we need to ask ourselves as parents. If we would do anything differently if our child were Jesus, then we should be doing that thing differently with our actual child. That is loving our neighbor as ourselves.
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Struggling to Sleep – Allowing Flowers to Bloom Uninterrupted

Parenting is not for the faint-hearted.  Everyone who is a parent can attest to that.  One of the most difficult challenges in our house with kids has been sleep-related.  Without getting too specific, suffice it to say that at age 5&7, they just started sleeping through the night THIS YEAR, and have only done so a handful of times.  37 times, in fact.  It is so rare that I document each incidence.

I am against crying it out and the type of sleep training that one would never apply to a distraught adult.  When they were younger, I did try Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry methods (which I do recommend trying), with very minimal success.  Sleep is just difficult for my kids, one of them in particular – both falling asleep and staying asleep.  I strongly feel that this isn’t something they can control, and that I have a responsibility to care for them through this, even though it is difficult for me.  We don’t get to choose to stop caring at 10pm and pick up again the next morning.

I do, however, reach the end of my rope on particularly bad nights.  I’ve made some decisions in those severely sleep deprived moments that I have regretted.

What I NEVER regret:

  • Laying with my kids every single night as they fall asleep.  Some of the best moments of parenting have come from these times.  They tell silly stories, we talk about God, we talk about their experiences throughout the day.  I remember my mom doing math and spelling games with me at night until she fell asleep (yes you read that right).  One of my favorite memories as a kid.   Our kids enjoy our bedtime routine and going to bed, and there is never a fight over bedtime as I stay right there with them.
  • Responding to my children every single night, every single time.  Kids have night needs, some kids more than others, some nights more than others.  Some nights it was 16 times between the two of them.  Generally it was at least 8 times, for YEARS.  No regrets.  Would do it all over again.  They trust me to respond to them at night.  They don’t fear night, the dark, bedtime, or bad dreams.

What I ALWAYS regret:

  • Getting mad in the middle of the night in sleep-deprived stupor.  Speaking harshly to them in their weakness.  Taking out my anger at the situation (lack of sleep) on them.  They WANT to sleep, they express this over and over in words.  They are not taking forever to fall asleep or waking up at night to be naughty.  They have NO CONTROL over it and need lots of loving help to learn.  I lose my cool on them at times and feel absolutely awful each time.
  • Giving in to pressure from others to not respond to their night needs. Several times over the years I have given in and allowed my daughter to cry for awhile as I sat outside the door and refused to go to her, out of pressure from / fear of others.  My husband gets mad at me out of frustration at their sleep issues.  Just as I take things out on them sometimes, he takes frustrations out on me.  It’s a bad cycle.  I carry the guilt of EACH TIME to this day.  It is hard for me to forgive myself.

I honestly thought that the basic stages of eating, sleeping, and pooping were relatively short-lived.  If I dwell on *should* or *must* or *want*, I inevitably react unkindly to my children.  Instead, I am learning ever-so-slowly, to meet them where they are at.  They will get there, in their time.  It’s like taking a flower bud and forcing the petals open, versus allowing it to bloom on its own…  One results in true beauty; the other, a sad and crumpled shadow of what could have been.

how-to-get-roses-to-open-full-1  fully-open-sunny-yellow-rose-mary-sedivy

Lord Jesus, please help me to be patient, loving, and kind with my children in ALL moments, at ALL hours of the day.

The Life Within – Conception, Fertility, and Loss

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16

When I was trying to get pregnant with our second child, I had joined several online fertility communities.  I had the profound experience of being able to share an intimate picture of fertility (and infertility) with other women – challenges conceiving, the sorrows of repeated miscarriage, the excitement of conception, and the anguish of stillbirth.  These women treasured each embryo as a child.

The signs of life were humanly detectable as early as 8 days, with faint double lines visible on the earliest pregnancy tests (if held under “just the right light” and magnified on screen – posted for all to scrutinize, which we dutifully and excitedly did).  My son announces his presence as an 11 day old embryo:11dpo

On the one hand, we celebrate new life.  We can connect with our unborn babies as never before – hearing their heartbeats, seeing them move and grow within our bodies as early as 4 weeks after conception.  We name them, frame pictures of them, take movies of them, and buy them presents – all before they are born.

On the other hand, when a human embryo/fetus is “undesired”, it is named “Tissue”.

When we have difficulty conceiving, we have devised all kinds of fertility treatments.  When we don’t wish to conceive, we have devised all kinds of birth control methods.  When we don’t wish to conceive but do anyways, our society condones the removal of the “products of conception”.  We are obscessed with control over life and death.

We treat human lives as disposable.  This abortion clock is staggering.  Over 1.3 billion babies have been aborted since 1980 worldwide – by far the largest toll on human life that has ever occurred in human history.  But without a belief in God, what makes human life inherently valuable?  Or any life, for that matter (but please observe that we don’t generally abort unwanted litters of puppies and kittens… and there are laws to protect unborn endangered non-human species – such as bald eagles).

Sex is fun.  But it produces babies – that is its’ primary biologic purpose.  Babies are not always that fun.  And here is our society’s conundrum.  We want to do whatever we want, with no consequence.  Making, and taking, lives is acceptable – even celebrated – in our godless society.  “I do what is right for me”.   If I do what is right for me, what if YOU are in the way of ME?

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.   Proverbs 14:12

Mother Teresa

The abortion rates and general acceptance worldwide are a major flag that is pushing the end of God’s tolerance.  Each and every one of those babies has a voice that is crying out to the God who made them.  God hears them, and will respond.  A time of judgement is near, but there is a way out.  And that is only through God’s grace and the forgiveness he provides through Jesus.

I believe these babies, in their innocence, all go to heaven.  Sin did not have a chance to spring up in them, and thus they are still blameless before God.  These children will live forever, in eternity, yearning to be joined by their mothers and fathers and siblings.  There is only one way to get there and be with them.

I strongly believe that in this life, nothing happens by accident or coincidence – things aren’t determined by fate or luck (good or bad).  I believe there is an overarching story – a beautiful picture of love, loss, and redemption – and that there is Someone who cares and is in control.  You are already a part of this story, whether you know or believe it or not.  While the end of the story has already been written, your own part lays open before you for you to choose your ultimate destiny.  Perhaps our coinciding struggles have been finely orchestrated to lead you to this one moment: The Bridge to God.

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Leading Children to Christ

Parenting is one of the most difficult, and most rewarding, adventures that there is.  God has given these blessings into my life, and I heavily feel the responsibility for shepherding their hearts.  These are eternal beings, and how I raise them has a huge influence on how and where they will spend eternity.  I do not take this lightly.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.  (Proverbs 22:6)

While I believe that those under a certain level of comprehension are not held accountable for their sins, it is impossible for me to judge what that understanding level is and whether someone has reached it or not.  It is God, and God alone, who can accurately judge the heart.

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.   (Romans 7:9)

It is wise to teach young children about the simple truth of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ.   Typical children can often grasp the essential concepts around the age of 4-5, although knowledge of God comes easily much earlier.  Children are very open to the spiritual realm.

come-to-christ

Age at which Americans say they Became Christian – from Nazarene Church Growth Research

It’s tempting to try to make the gospel into more, or less, than what it is.  Salvation begins and ends with Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).

When my daughter was four, this is how I walked her through the gospel:

1.  “Have you ever done mean choices or wrong things?”

“Yes!!!” she said.  What child doesn’t know they have done a “bad thing” sometimes, especially if they have siblings!  We, as parents, let children know when they have broken our rules.

I explained that God has also given people rules that He wants us to follow.  He has written His rules inside our hearts so that we know what is wrong or “bad”.  We know when we do bad things, because we try to sneak, or hide, or lie about it.  Even if we try very hard to do good choices, everyone does wrong things sometimes.  Even grownups.

2.  “Do you get in trouble when you do wrong things?”

“Yes!” she said.  Now while I do try to practice grace-based parenting, we do have rules and there are consequences for breaking them.

I explained that God is perfect in every way; He never does anything wrong.  He can’t have anyone who has ever done a bad thing come near Him or live with Him in heaven.  But that makes Him very sad, because He loves us so very much.

3.  “Do you want God to help you stop doing mean choices?”

“Yes!!” she said.  Children want to do good choices.  Their emotions, and lack of self-control, often hijack them.  We are incapable of breaking the power of “sin” over ourselves.  We need supernatural help…  But first we have to want to change.

I explained that God can help us choose kind choices if we ask for His help.

4.  “God wants you so much in His family with Him forever, that He came here Himself to fix things better.  God came here as Jesus, and was born as a baby person but He was also God.  He did no wrong choices at all, not even while He was growing up.  Then, when He was big, He told lots of people how much He loved them.  He did many amazing things like healing sick people, and even making dead people come alive again.  People were jealous of Him, and they were so mad that He said He was God that they even killed Him.  But when He died, He didn’t stay dead.  He came alive again.  He said that anyone who believed He was God and that He died and didn’t stay dead could go to heaven and be with Him forever when they die.  Do you understand that?”

“Yes!” she said.  At this point she also said “I hope I get to go to heaven when I’m still a children!”  She has actually said this before, and it kind of freaks me out – but she is super excited to go to heaven to meet God someday.  This was the part I really had no idea how to talk with her about, but she seemed to comprehend.

I explained that people have to die because of wrong choices.  If we believe what Jesus says and choose to follow Him, we get to go be with Him in heaven forever.  If we don’t believe what Jesus says, and don’t want to follow Him, then we have to go to the Lake of Fire when we die.  (Yes…I did mention this… I don’t personally see a way around it when fully laying out the salvation plan.  However, we’ve read Bible stories since she was 1 year old so this was not a new concept for her.)

5.  “When Jesus died, His blood became an eraser for wrong things.  He can erase all the wrong things you have thought, said, and done, if you ask Him to.  Do you want to follow Jesus and have Him erase your wrong choices?”

“Yes!!” she said.  It is so easy for young children to have simple faith.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

I told her that if she asks Jesus to forgive her from everything she has thought, said, and done that didn’t please Him, that He will.  I told her that if she believes in Jesus, and never stops believing in Him, that she is part of His family.  Jesus will hold onto her and never let her go.  She will get a new body and go to heaven someday (she has some physical challenges and is looking forward to a new body that works perfectly).

And there you have it.  Faith like a child.  It really is that simple.  No wonder Jesus said “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)

 

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  Romans 10:9-10