Monday, September 10, 2007

Striking a balance

I know, I've been absent again. It's been busy around here for quite awhile. Truth be told I prefer to be busy, not busy as in running around being away from the home that the Lord has blessed me with but busy as in taking care of the abundant blessings that the Lord has provided. It's so easy sometimes when we get busy with our homes and children and taking care of our husbands to see those things as simply duties or even sometimes as burdens, but in truth they are blessings and I am truly blessed abundantly.

The real challenge for me and so many of my friends back home that I talk to is trying to get a sense of balance in how life is lived, from the daily chores to raising up our children the struggle is to find that fine line of balance between simply doing what must be done and living the life that we should be living. Forgive me while I ramble, late night talks with my friend Mindy generally cause lots of brain stirring. Last night one of the things we talked about how in some homes the focus is so much on discipline and not at all on the love of our Saviour, to the point that the children see nothing but a God of wrath to fear rather than a God who loved us all so much that He gave His own son.

It breaks my heart to hear people refer to their children as monsters or to see folks treat children as burdens, whether or not the words are ever said in the ear shot of that child, he/she is well aware of the feelings generated toward them.... how unfair for that child. For any child, the way that they see their parents is the same way that they will see the Lord. If they have an unbalanced view of authority or criticism in their relationship with their parents often that unbalanced view will carry over into their relationship with the Lord. How scary a thought, that my kids will have a relationship with the Lord (at least in their young years) that is similar to their relationship with me. If they only respond to me because it's been drilled into their heads under threat of punishment that may be the only link they see between them and Jesus, the threat of punishment. It's so sad to me to think that some people would only respond to the Lord because they fear punishment! But there is a good example of one of the kinds of balance that Mindy and I were talking about.

We talked too about striking a balance in your work, rest and recreation. Back home there are lots of Amish communities and you see children as young as 2 who get up and work all day right alongside their parents with little to no time for play or to rest other than the rest that their young bodies MUST have. Some of the farm families back home are run similarly, with lots of kids helping out on the farm the chores go faster I'm sure. Then we moved out here and so many kids have no chores at all and view work as something that only parents have to do. Now I admit that at different times I've been on both sides of this with my kids. I believe that now we have a pretty decent balance in this area. Mindy was telling me about one of her neighbors who literally doesn't do any of the work around her house other than to prepare meals, the rest of the house chores including all of the duties of caring for younger siblings is left to the children (ages 14 months to 12 years).

*Personally I think that's outrageous, I believe it is the parents responsibility to train the children by working alongside them and leading by example, not sitting at the computer or reading a book, or going out shopping or "running errands" while children go from chore to chore training the younger children as they go. That's just my opinion by the way, but I will add that the Lord commanded the parents to teach and train their children, not to teach and train one of two of their children and then live a life of relative leisure that the children will resent them for (either silently in obedience out of fear of punishment or in outright rebellion misbehaving every time they are out of sight) while those first few kids raise the rest of the family brood dutifully. My kids all work, and they work hard, but we work together as a family and each pull our fair share and along the way we have each learned from the others strengths and weaknesses. Troy and I wanted our kids to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will not require from them any more or any less than what we require from ourselves and we have found that in return the kids are much more respectful of our authority than they were before. We wanted to gain respect without getting resentment and so far we have a healthy and strong relationship with all of our kids.*

Me and Mindy talked about balance in our witness too. I was so thankful for a song that some of our ladies sang in last nights service! I was about showing the world the love of Christ and how impossible it is to do that if you never touch those who are lost. I don't necessarily mean physically touching them but if you are a stone wall of judgement and critical condemnation with an attitude or expression of such distaste and lacking compassion for the sinner you are trying to reach then you are simply another one of "those Christians" who have so successfully shut out the very people that Jesus has commanded us to reach. It's probably the most difficult balance to reach, to be able to love the sinner enough to show them the light and the love of Jesus without leaving them feeling as though you have never met the God who loved you so much in your own filthy lost and sinful condition that he gave His own son's blood for your salvation!

I confessed to Mindy that I have really struggled with that so much myself. I see so many kids the ages of my own running around half dressed with disrespectful attitudes and trashy friends and habits, the 'mommy bear with claws' part of me wants to flog those kids to keep them far away from my own children but the woman who has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus in me cries out for the Holy Spirit to speak to the hearts of those poor lost kids and to help me to love them despite their appearances and rough talk.

How easy it is for the flesh to look at someone who is covered in their sin and call out "hey, you're dirty" instead of realizing that the dirt is also in their eyes preventing them from being able to see how dirty they really are, how easy to sit from our clean little perch on the tower of high and mighty and remember that once we were just as dirty and disgusting as they are now. Maybe some folks think that by behaving in such a critical way they cast enough shadow over their current imperfections as to hide those flaws that remain.

I hate remembering where I was when Jesus found me and took me in, but at the same time I have to remember not only where I was but how I was reached. I wasn't reached with a condemning look or a scornful frown, those would only have served to keep me running away from the very one who could save me. What got my attention and made me stop running was the faithful witness who showed me the joy they have in the Love of the Lord, that person who took the time out of their busy life to care about me enough to be real despite who and what I was and where I was at that drew me to salvation. I have to remember because remembering makes me think of how much I should care for those who need what I have already been given instead of taking for granted what I have and using it as an excuse to look down my nose at someone so desperately in need. I have to remember because once upon a time I was one of those aimlessly wandering, half dressed, disrespectful, mean mouthed, lying, thieving, conniving, trashy kids too ....... and all I needed was to find the love of Jesus to fill that void that was trying to fill up with the lusts of my flesh and the false love that the world wraps up so prettily.

After all of that talking I was telling Mindy about a preaching tape that I had been listening to not that long ago. One of our young preachers at church (who also happens to be the kids' Sunday School teacher) was preaching and he said something that really stood out to me. He was saying that we really needed to be careful of what we say, especially in front of our children and especially about visitors to our church and about other people in our church (that's not all he said but I'm not into transcribing sermons). He was saying that as parents we are molding how our children will witness, how they will live for the Lord and serve in the local church.... he made the point that our kids will take to heart what we say so when a visitor who is lost and full of the world walks through the doors of our church do the kids hear "oh my... did you see what they were wearing, how awful, blah blah blah" or did the kids hear us welcome that person into the Lord's house and hear us treat that person with all the compassion that we should have for the lost? He was also saying that we have to carefully guard what we say about our Pastor and the other people in the church for the same reason.... our kids will repeat what we say and do in their own lives.... there again, we train them by example, if the kids see us criticizing sister so an so for what she wears or what she says or who she hangs out with how on earth can that child be protected from then growing their very own critical spirit?.... Anyway, it was a good preaching tape and not just that particular preacher but that part was applicable to the rest of what I'm saying in this post.

Mindy and I were talking about that tape because we were also talking about balancing how you care for your church family. I was relating to her a struggle that I'm having (which I won't go into here for obvious reasons) in coping with a few things in that vein. I'll just say that folks should be more careful what they say about people in their churches, it's amazing how easily folks get hurt by gossip or judgemental statements or criticisms that get tossed around.Sometimes even just a critical expression or questioning statement is all it takes to upset someone else on the behalf of the person being criticized! Mindy's church has lost several families recently because an ugly remark was passed about one of the ladies there and after several months it got back to the lady who the remark was made about. That lady didn't leave the church but several families who were very upset by the way that lady was treated did leave. I won't go into whether or not I think any of what actually happened is right or wrong but people, please watch what you say, be very careful about criticizing how someone else chooses to live their life. You don't know what the whole story is in someone else's life and are not fit to judge!

We talked lots about striking a balance in our finances too. Troy and I are both trying so hard to recover from years and years of trying to climb out of debt and I'll tell you that I know first hand how hard it is to make those dollars stretch as far as they need to sometimes. Thankfully we have nearly paid off ALL of the debt we carried, all that we have left are 2 very small credit accounts and our student loans (which will be a long time in repayment). It isn't easy to scrimp and pinch and always feel like you are struggling and behind, especially with kids because you always want to do more for them or do better for them, but it is very worth doing to teach them to manage their money properly while they are young.

Troy and I picked up a couple of Larry Burkett's money management books at a thrift store and we will use them in our family bible study time with the kids to teach them the importance of managing our money and the principles of stewardship. Honestly I get kind of mad sometimes when I see people complain about not having enough money and then demonstrate truly poor stewardship of their finances. Just to be clear, I realize that there is a huge difference between poor stewardship and a family going through a hard time financially! Troy and I have struggled so long over poor financial decisions that we made when were very young, very lost and very untaught about money and budgeting and such thing so we want to do all we can now to make sure that our kids understand how important it is to have money in the proper perspective in their lives now. Hopefully with some proper instruction and lots of prayer the kids will learn to balance their finances from the beginning and avoid the trap of chasing the dollar all their lives.

I could go on and on like Mindy and I did on the phone (we hadn't had a chance to talk in quite awhile) but I'm sure you are already bored. I should be able to post more often as the summer draws closed and fall sets in. Things around here will get more into a regular routine and a little less busy as the days get shorter. I'm so thankful for the busy seasons that we've had though. I'm so blessed to have so much to do that is meaningful and not just an empty activity to fill the days and pass the time! Take care everyone, I'll post again soon I hope.

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