Faith Testimony Tuesdays

Testimony Tuesday: Ben W.

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When Emily asked me if I would share my testimony I wondered, “Which one?”  I’ve got the foundational one (which I presumed she was asking for,) the one about falling into alcoholism in college, running away from God, and then finding sobriety, a wife, and a new calling to be a pastor.  That’s definitely a big one for me, but I’m pretty bored with it.  Can I say that?  It’s not that I’m not grateful.  God saved me there and I would have drowned alone in my own sin and disease without him stepping in.  But God was active in my life before that happened.  And he’s been active in my life since.  In fact, that’s always what I find if I care to open my eyes at all.  He’s challenging and changing me because my old sinful self needs challenging and changing.

So, I’m going to share about fatherhood instead. 

I’m a bit of an odd duck in my birth family.  I’m more conservative than they are; and I trust our culture less, especially the way it has been changing in the past few generations.  So, for example, I used to be a high school teacher, but my wife, Faith, and I homeschool.  We try to avoid processed foods as much as possible and buy our meat from local people.  We don’t watch TV (aside from some Netflix and This Old House) and, speaking for myself at least, it has more to do with avoiding the commercials that try to shape our kids rather than the programs themselves.  What I’m saying is that we both had some strong ideas about avoiding some cultural pitfalls in our parenting.  Back in the days before fatherhood I remember seeing parents in public places and I just cringed.  They talked to their children like the kids were the boss; they gave in to tantrums; they talked about “timeouts.”  Ugh.  “We’re not going to be like that,” I said to my wife.  Or maybe she said it to me.  Either way, we were in agreement on the matter.  We were going to be consistent; we were going to do the hard work when they were little to insist on first-time obedience.  We were going swat and spank, not to punish, but to correct.  We were going to be awesome parents and our kids would be shining examples of how smart we were.  I’ve intentionally put this in language that tips my hand.  You know what’s coming.

God is active in our lives.  He did not delay.  His goal is to grow us up into the fullness of Christ, so he sent us our son Benjamin.  We thought we were going to mold him.  Instead, God was going to use him (and reinforcements) to mold us. 

Benjamin was a pretty straightforward kid from the start.  He liked to be in charge.  My job, as I perceived it, was to correct him so that he would learn what was right.  This correction took the forms of flicks when he was a toddler (whenever he was touching something he wasn’t supposed to) and spankings later on.  The idea was to have the rules and to be consistent in following them.  This negative feedback would naturally lead him to obedience and good behavior.  Woo-hoo!  I would do the hard work at the start, because I loved him, and we would all reap the benefits later on. 

Fast-forward a couple of years.  Benjamin was exerting his will constantly.  Following our theory of parenting, I was spanking him multiple times a day.  And he had become defiant about it.  Without realizing it, our relationship was mostly about that dynamic of fault-finding and correction.  Did I love him?  Absolutely!  And I thought I was showing it.  But I was spending an awful lot of time spanking him, sometimes several times in a row because he wouldn’t knuckle under and change like he was supposed to.  And I was getting frustrated.  If I was acting in good faith and trying to be a godly parent, and if what I was doing was the godly thing to do, then the problem was clearly Benjamin.  (I don’t know that I ever put it that straightforwardly, but I think I began to feel that.)

Fast-forward a bit more.  As we had more kids, we began to understand that our theory wasn’t working very well for them either.  And so we mostly moved away from spanking.    But our third child John began struggling with weird outbursts and physical tics and we, eventually, came up with a plan to try to meet his needs.  We spent way more cuddle time with him.  When he had melt-downs I would remove him from the situation so that he could get some one-on-one time.  These things seemed to help some. But parenting was still more than we can handle.  Our original theory didn’t work, but everything else we tried was disappointing as well.  It was just hard all the time.

Several more years pass and, though we had made some progress, life was still really hard and Benjamin was still getting under my skin.  So many of the things he did are things that drive me up the wall.  He was bossy to his siblings.  He did stuff without asking.  He never seemed sorry about anything he did wrong.  I was critical of him all the time.  One day I noticed this, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. 

And now we’ve arrived to the recent past.  Benjamin is grouchy about stuff.  He seems like what I imagine a teenager to be, surly with a bad attitude for every occasion.  He’s critical of his siblings and often yells at them instead of encouraging them.  It begins to sink in, “This isn’t his fault.” 

One of the things I know from systems theory in psychology is that we can’t change other people; we can only change ourselves.  But for some reason that understanding had trouble sinking in when it related to the kids, especially Benjamin.  It’s not that we didn’t think of it sometimes, but it never became the real framework for how I could relate better to the kids.

Another thing that I should note.  It’s not that God was absent from all of our efforts.  I was praying for the kids.  We were trusting that even though we were struggling, that they were his kids and that somehow, someway he would shepherd them through okay, in spite of us if necessary.

Here is the insight that finally came arrived.  I began to think of this as more of a 12-Step problem.  The first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.”  What if I’m the problem?  And what if I can’t fix myself?  The next two steps are these: 2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

And now to take a big step back.  This testimony is almost entirely about failure.  And it hardly points to God.  There is no victory, no change that I can point to and say, “The problem is taken care of.”  I suppose my testimony is this: I am incapable of engineering things so that they’re awesome.  I struggle mightily.  My very best intentions seem to make things worse.  I think you could say that I have a Romans 7 testimony. 

“So I find it be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin…  Wretched man that I am.

This has been so much of my life as a father.  I’ve been so full of good intentions and I have worked myself to weariness in trying to do right.  And evil has been at hand.  Thank God that Paul continues,

“Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Paul is teaching in Romans about a complete change in paradigm from one that focuses on the right that we must do and on the wrong we must avoid (a paradigm of good intentions that relies on myself), to a complete trust that God is accomplishing that which he desires in us and that he will not be thwarted (a paradigm of desperate faith that knows that only God can accomplish what is needful.)   Looking forward, in my relationship to Benjamin especially, I cling to Romans chapter 8.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.”

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

In so many ways I am a failure as a father.  I am a Romans 7 father.  But I trust a Romans 8 God.  And I trust that he will change me.  I trust that he will change Benjamin.  I trust that he will not be stopped, but will be at work in us producing good things for his glory.  And I give thanks that I haven’t messed it all up beyond repair.

Mommy Bloggin

Respect the tiny human

My 4 yr old taught me how to organize her clothes.

“Here Mommy. Skootch over and I’ll show you how to do it. I don’t really like it the way you are doing it.”

She likes her clothes hung up in order – short sleeves, long sleeves, jackets and sweaters, dress (by sleeve length), then skirts. She showed me how she like her leggings and underwear folded. And she folded all of her jammies herself because, “I like them just like this mom, and I can do it myself because I know how.”

Friends – this is not the first time we’ve had this conversation while putting away laundry. It’s just the first time I’ve actually listened and done it how she asked. Rather than my way – which is “For the love of all things, hang it up and be done with it.” I hate laundry. Organizing is NOT my strong suit but I do see value in it.

I also found value in listening to my child and respecting her need for organization. I can’t even tell you the number of times that she has told me, “Mommy, thank you for cleaning.” “Mommy, I really like it when things are organized.” I have heard it so often but for some reason (probably because I‘m selfish), “I always heard them as Great Job Mom!” But today I heard it for what it is. A tiny human telling me that she has likes and dislikes. Who functions better in her daily life when things are a certain way.

Today, I realized that most of our arguments and meltdowns stem from the two of us not seeing eye to eye on how to organize things. Mostly me – expecting her to know what I want from her. And to be really honest – I’ve not set things up in her spaces to make her very successful at organizing to her standards. I would melt down too if I wasn’t equipped with the tools I needed for my everyday life.

It’s true – my child is a little unique. She’s got some quirks. I mean, how many 4-year-olds do you know who enjoy folding laundry and enjoys making lists as a hobby. She basically schedules her entire next day at bedtime the night before. But I think the lesson I learned (while learning how to hang up the clothes) can be applied to any family.

Let’s think of it this way:

You LOVE it when you start every morning with a cup of coffee. You don’t just love it, but you’ve learned over time that you actually function better with your cup of coffee. It’s not the caffeine really – it’s the warmth of the liquid in your mouth and the smell. Oh and those little puffs of steam that bounce from the cup to your face as you take your first few drinks. It’s the experience. Your day is made better by it.

But here’s the thing – you have always had the coffee shop down the street make it for you. Well, the shop closed down and there’s not another one within an hour’s drive. And you have NO IDEA how to make a cup of coffee. You try to use a few of those fancy tools you’ve seen them use at the cafe but they are all just out of your reach and there are no instructions so you just fail. And every morning from here on out, you wish you had coffee and your life seems to be subpar without it. You feel like the day is a fail before you’ve gotten out of bed. Every day, for the rest of eternity, starts off with a fail.

BUT! Then someone sees that you are struggling. They see you just need coffee. But they don’t do it for you – they teach you how to do it yourself. They give you the right tools to make your own coffee. You never have to be without your blessed cup of joe ever again.

That’s how I feel like it is with kids sometimes. One day, we just expect them to do things by themselves. Whether they are 4 or 14 – one day we just want them to do things without our help. We expect them to just know things. But if WE didn’t teach them how to do it, if we didn’t EQUIP them with the tools it takes to do the jobs we expect them to do – that they have come to rely on – then haven’t we just set them up to fail?

Or maybe it’s like my sweet 4-year-old – she wants to do things in a way that I am not very good at. She wants them BETTER than how I do it. But that doesn’t mean I am not capable of teaching her and equipping her with the tools she needs to live a super-organized life. Maybe I’ll have to buy her a few baskets and a label machine. But I can 100% help her. It’s my job. It’s biblical.

When Jesus said to go and make disciples – He didn’t just say, “Alright, good luck. Peace out!” NO! He has spent years with his original 12 disciples teaching them over and over again how to share the gospel. He showed them through His actions and gave them the tools and knowledge they needed to do it themselves. He was there to answer their questions and to guide them in their choices.

Then, when He left them – they were more than prepared to take over and do it without Him. AND THEY DID! They spread the gospel all over the world – it’s how we still have the gospel message being shared today!

So… I’m just throwing this out there – maybe we should all try to be like Jesus. Let’s raise our children the way He raised up His disciples. Lead by example. Equip them with the tools they need. Share our knowledge. Make sure they understand what they are doing. And then let them DO IT!

Until Next Time,

Emily B.

Faith Mommy Bloggin

When joy DOESNT come in the morning.

Being a mom is weird. Your time is no longer run by the clock on the wall but your tiny babes growling tummy. So sometimes, your day will start at 4am… but your first cup of coffee doesn’t come until 9 or 10. And you guys – those days suck. I can’t sugar coat it.

I can tell you – it gets better (because it will) and that someday you will miss this (but maybe not as much as you miss uninterrupted sleep). But who are we kidding? Most of us (including myself) are living in the here and now. Just trying to get through the day with the magical amount of caffeine that will keep you from passing out but not keep the baby awake. (HEYO Shout out to nursing mamas) It is HARD.

And you know what makes it even harder – the constant worry that the grain markets and stock market are going to come tumbling down and send life as you know it into a flaming spiral of disaster because China hates us and our president can’t stay off of Twitter.

Didn’t see that coming did you? Yeah, me neither. But this spring, I started reading the news in the morning on my iPad and HOLY CANOLI YOU GUYS. The world SUCKS. Apple News gives me my “Morning Briefing: Everything you need to know to start your day” and it should really be called “How to Trigger an Anxiety Attack before 6 AM.” Honestly, it will mess up my whole day. And I need ZERO help in the anxiety dept. I have got that covered all on my own.

So you know what I started doing this Summer to combat that nonsense? I started reading the Bible BEFORE I read the news. I would sit in my big cushy chair, nurse my little baby and read Gods word. Actually, I listen to the audio ESV version on the Bible App because lets be real here – my eyes cannot focus on words without coffee or more sleep and little babies don’t care about those things. They want fed NOW! So audio bible it is.

It has been truly life changing to start my day with God’s word instead of the complete garbage that we call news. (Or scrolling Facebook  for the latest tea… I see you Becky, I know that’s where you start your morning.) You guys, it was so good that I read/listened to the entire New Testament this summer and am working my through the WHOLE STINKING BIBLE now.

Can I share a secret with you? I have never read the whole bible before. I have barely read a whole BOOK of the bible before. I mostly had just read topically up to this point unless it was for a bible study with a group. I didn’t think that I was THAT person. You know the one I’m talking about -( and no shame if this is you, you miracle lady) – the woman who wakes up exactly 1.15 hours before her kids wake up, pours herself a beautifully perfect mug of coffee, sits at the table with her bible and a journal for her notes and daily prayers and reads her bible in peace. She is refreshed and beautiful and perfect. She gets done with her morning devotions just in time to make a very nice breakfast for her perfectly behaved children and husband and gets them all ready for the day with no yelling and no looking for hairbrushes or shoes.

Honestly you guys, this image in my head 0f how a morning bible sesh was supposed to go KILLED my ambition to actually do it myself. if I couldn’t be perfect, why try it at all…

NEWS FLASH! That is EXACTLY why I need be reading Gods beautiful Word. I am not perfect. I am BROKEN. I am a sinner and I need Jesus. He does not care if I come to Him all gorgeous and quiet with fresh coffee. Or if I show up with bed head, bad breath, room temp coffee from yesterday, and a baby literally attached to me. He just wants me to show up. Just as I am. And He wants the same from you.

Just show up. Break down your preconceived ideas about what it looks like to be a Bible reading Jesus  follower. Get the perfect lady out of your brain. Embrace your hot mess and bring it all to Jesus. He loves you. Just as you are.

Until next time,

Emily B.

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