For By Grace

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Your grace, let it surround me,
Let faith change the atmosphere. – Remember, The Passion

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

2 Corinthians 12:9

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Some days I find myself counting time relative to Kreade outgrowing his colic. Today I know so much more about why that first year of his life was so hard. More than a physical ailment, infant colic is often linked to temperament. Do I think that he suffered from tummy aches and discomfort for 11 months? Maybe. Do I think that his inherent personality contributed to his symptoms? For sure. Because most days even now Kreade can be difficult to live with.

Those days of waking up every 2-3 hours to nurse him  morning and night for eleven months straight seem so long ago. But I can never forget them. Those days of crying and bouncing and attempting to soothe will always stay with me. When Kreade cries now, at two years of age, all of the memories come flooding back.

And he is still so passionate in everything he does. Instead of tantruming because he wants to nurse, he tantrums in the grocery store when he has to sit in the shopping cart. Instead of crying because he couldn’t communicate what he needed or wanted as an infant, he still cries because language has been slow to come for him and we still don’t know what he needs or wants.

Honestly, I still wonder if he will ever make it one whole day without crying. It’s almost like his preferred method of communication. Like his emotions are just so overwhelming for things big and things that I perceive as small he just handles them by crying. He is all in or all out. Either screaming “Bye! Love you!” at the top of his lungs and being heard two miles away, or screaming “Nooooooooooo!” because he doesn’t want to leave and being heard four miles away.

It’s either Kreade’s way or no way. I wish that I could describe to you the volume, passion, and intensity of his tantrums. Which happen probably at least every hour that he is awake. And then there are his snuggles and hugs and kisses. He hugs with such effort and passion – you never want him to stop. He is the best hugger I know (except maybe for his Pa, could be that’s where he gets it from).

Some days he won’t eat because, well, because he doesn’t want to. Or because you gave him the wrong fork, not his Lightning McQueen fork. And he is so totally thrown off by this poor choice on your end he can’t calm down enough to even realize you quickly washed the Lightning fork and put it in his hand. Instead, he just keeps screaming and you skip straight to nap time and save lunch for when he wakes up.

I’ve never met a child like Kreade. And I have met a lot of children. I don’t think that there are many children out there like him. And he is already so misunderstood. I’ve gotten some nasty stares in the grocery store. And I’m sure that there are family and friends that think we are “spoiling” him. After all, he is two and really shouldn’t be crying so much all of the time. And while I’m sure that there are some things we could do better with him, I’d invite anyone who thinks we have created a naughty kid to spend a day with him. It’s not always that he means to be troublesome (although sometimes his intent is clear), he just is so different. Again, I wish that I could explain it. But those of you who have children who are passionate, spirited, and high-needs know exactly what I am talking about. Normal kids function on 100% and spirited kids function on 500%. No kidding.

And I refuse to completely break that spirit, because someday it is going to be such a good trait. He’ll go far, that boy, and do great things. Because he doesn’t take no for an answer and has the passion of probably a thousand suns, literally pouring his heart into everything he does. If you stop for a minute and block out the screams and tears and difficulty of the situation, your heart will realize the beauty of spirited children.

I wish that I was better at realizing the beauty in it all. But most days I still feel like I’m hanging on by a thread.

Parenting any child is hard and tiring. Parenting a spirited child is exhausting. EXHAUSTING! Exhausting!

Yesterday was a particularly rough day. it was rainy, and I was busy, and Kreade was extra loud and passionate (as in, running around with the slats I was trying to paint for his toddler bed hitting his sister on the head and laughing like he was at a Broadway show). I yelled and threatened and was so frustrated with him I almost cried.

Somedays, Kreade leaves me feeling like I’ll never be good enough.

I’ve been reading this book that my father in law let me borrow. I personally think that everyone should read it. I’ve been in tears through most of it. The stories of redemption and being saved from drug and other addictions by the love of Jesus are nothing short of a miracle. And they are beautiful, beautiful stories. The work that Teen Challenge does is amazing. I became interested in the subject of addiction after learning in one of my secular psychology classes that religious based addiction programs are significantly more effective than any other secular programs. Since then, this topic has really been on my heart.

And I love the stories.

These people have led hard lives. Lives fraught with doubt, anger, hardship, hopelessness, fear, regret… But it’s the hopelessness that stands out to me. And yet, one by one they finish their stories with voices that exude hope. As a reader, you can’t help but wonder how such an adverse life experience can end with a life full of hope.

It’s because of grace.

Grace: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their sanctification :  a virtue coming from God :  a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace : approval, favor, mercy, pardon.

I often wish that I had more of a ‘story’ to narrate my own life. It’s not that I am jealous of the hardship and heartbreak that these recovered addicts experienced. But I have often wished that I really knew just what I was saved from.

I don’t believe there is any greater way to understand and comprehend grace and forgiveness than to recover from addiction because of Jesus. Reading their stories causes me to look at Him with such awe for the exceptional act that grace in their lives is.

Approved of. Favored by. Extended mercy. Pardoned by God.

And while I do not have the experiences of an addict, I think that parenting might be the runner up when it comes to understanding and comprehending grace.

Not only do we, as Christian parents, have the privilege to extend grace to our children, we do so knowing that we ourselves have been covered in His grace.

Tried really hard but still had a bad day? Ended up yelling at your kids? Feeling exhausted and unworthy to be a parent? Feeling overwhelmed? Want to give up? Feeling bad that a choice or action or something you should have done but forgot to do is going to result in something catastrophic happening to your child as in maybe he will get chicken pox because I scheduled his immunization a month after the recommended time-frame or maybe she is going to catch a cold because I didn’t use the shopping cart cover in the grocery store and I really just feel like I suck at this whole parenting thing.

Grace.

No matter how much we mess up. No matter how much of a failure we think we are. No matter how inadequate we view ourselves as.

Grace.

Because He knows we are doing the best that we can.

You are favored by Him. You are approved of by Him. Mercy is extended to you by Him.

Even when your spirited two year old is screaming in the grocery store because you didn’t get to the race car shopping cart fast enough.

You are pardoned by Him.

All because of Grace.

So let’s remember that His grace is sufficient for us tired and weary parents. And that His strength is made perfect in our weakest moments – the ones where we just want to throw in the towel (or leave the grocery store crying along with our tantruming child).

And let’s remember that the POWER of Christs rests upon us.

And we can do this parenting thing!

Romans 5:19-21 NKJV

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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And How Do They Know?

“If you don’t behave as you believe, you will end by believing what you behave.” – Fulton J. Sheen

Ellie, Daddy and I have traveled across the nation these past few weeks. Of course, this means that we attend other churches. I always love visiting other churches…though I must admit I get lost people watching. This must be the psychologist in me; I love observing the interactions of strangers and considering the causes of their choices and behaviors. Visiting a church in the beautiful state of Washington was no different. I kind of got lost in observation. Getting lost in this sort of way typically causes my introspective rivers to flow. And flow they did. I began to wonder…here is a great church, full of great people, worshiping God…but if I passed them in the grocery store tomorrow would I know that they were a believer? And then it kind of hits me like a water baloon: if they passed me, how would they know that I am a believer? Standing in a church that I am unfamiliar with, looking around, considering what exactly sets us apart…in this church, in my church, in any church…how do people know who we are?

I think about myself, and others who are a part of my generation. So caught up in life. I mean, for most of us it is in full swing. Busy careers, time with family, time with friends, time cleaning and cooking and grocery shopping. And in it all, how do they know? Co-workers, bosses, the teller at the bank, the bagger at the grocery store. What sets us apart? I think it is so easy to make excuses. I’m too busy to smile, I’m trying to get a promotion so it’s best to keep my faith to myself, the teller was a jerk so I am going to be a jerk back. Yeah, I have made these or similar excuses. But sitting in this church surrounded by strangers I see the heartbreaking truth behind the excuses that I tell myself. They don’t know cuz they can’t see it in you. And I just let that sink into my heart…consider the implications of this revelation…and resolve to behave as I believe. Jesus was kind to even the annoying pharisees, He was friendly with beggars, He shared His message of salvation with everyone He met. And here I am perpetuating anything but everything I believe about Jesus. So they can’t know, they can’t see it in me.

And really, how important do we really make God in our lives? I fear that my generation, myself included, fail to behave as we believe more often than not. Some of us go to work and get angry at our co-workers. Some of us cuss whenever we get the chance. Some of us chose to play video games instead of reading our Bibles. While some of us forget everything that we believe, everything that we hear on Sunday morning and go out and live the opposite. This is the scary part. A slave cannot serve two masters. Eventually it catches up with us. We don’t behave as we believe anymore, we believe as we behave. Yeah, cussing is ok, yeah smoking is fine, oh speeding is ok, telling that jerk off – he deserved it! In the blink of an eye the lies we tell ourselves become the truths we believe. We act on these twisted truths forgetting everything we once held in our hearts. It’s almost like an act. We take bits and pieces of our faith, the easy ones like going to churchon Sundays…and the rest of the time we live our distorted realities that look nothing like what God would chose for us to live. Still, they do not know. While we are saved from ultimate judgment our actions deliver judgment to those who are not saved.

And there I am, still sitting in that church surrounded by strangers, and they heavy burden of failure settles on my heart. I ask myself, is this who I want to be? Is this who I want Ellie to see? Is this who I want anyone to see? But how do you go about demonstrating what you believe? How do you make them see? I think it is partly rooted in pride…we have to be willing to give up that promotion, or cuss words, or the satisfaction gained by behaving rudely to the cashier. It’s not always the words that let people know, its the behavior too. It seems like we have to remind ourselfes to stop and think…think about what you really want to say or do…and do the opposite! Our fallen nature is first to respond but never right. The more you think about it, the more you surrender pride, precautions,  fears, and failures to God the easier it gets. So cliche I know; but the truth is, the more we do something the better we get at doing it. Our words and actions may be the deciding factor in someone’s decision regarding eternity. So take a moment to consider: how do they know?

“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” – C.S. Lewis

Finding Roots, Following Purpose

We acquire the strength we have overcome.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“It’s not given to people to judge what’s right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.”― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“Don’t judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him.”― Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Last night was the final night of a course I had been taking at the local community college in order to become certified as a preschool or child development center director. I already have my A.S. and this course didn’t transfer over in to my B.A. program; the only thing it did was get my certified. At first this seemed like a waste of time and money. But this class gave me exactly what I needed both professionally and personally. When I did my A.S. program it was at this same community college; now you can say what you want about community college (I watch Community too) but for me this college gave me wings. Without it I would never had been able to fly off to a four year college or be considering a master’s program beginning next fall. I made so many professional connections among both the professors in the Early Childhood division as well as among the students; many of the students who I graduated with were in this director’s class with me. It’s a small world at a community college, but it allows you to go far. Out of this college I was able to “land” my dream job teaching Head Start. At that point in my life there was nothing else I wanted to do but to teach Head Start; and I still love it.

As I left the early childhood building and walked to my car a multitude of thoughts filled my head. Whenever I leave that campus, that early childhood building, I feel as if I am leaving home. Truth be told I have often returned to that building and its lab school when I am low on professional enthusiasm and I need to remember why I do what I do. Teaching Head Start is not easy; it’s not all paint and smiles and laughter. I’ve been spit on, had chairs thrown at me, been called “dog face” by parents,been bit and kicked…it’s not easy. So back I go to my roots, the early childhood building and lab school in order to gain inspiration to carry on. That college and the professors there caused me to be who I am today as a teacher, and they still continue to be sources of support and encouragement and resources for ideas and professionalism (and send me student teachers too!). Without my beginning at community college and the strong early childhood foundation that it provided me I truly believe that I would not have been able to pursue my B.S. or even consider a master’s program. And though I love Head Start, I know now that it’s not what I am meant to do forever. It’s amazing how your roots are the foundation for all things, yet they grow and develop into something that is different than what you originally imagined. My roots have given me the foundation I need to become a psychologist. I have so many things I can do once I have achieved this…and I am so excited to be used as a psychologist wherever God sends me.

And while these may sound like personal aspirations to some they are personal callings in my eyes. I have been so bothered lately by those who seem to judge everything and everyone they see. I have read or heard comments about mothers needing to give up personal aspirations, or how tattoos are an epidemic, how wives and mothers need to be in the home, make this godly home-which is attained by spending all day baking bread (or something equally superficial-what does God have to do with baking bread anyways?), or children suffering from parents who work or go to school…I just want to scream: REALLY?! Way to make me feel like a totally horrible person in 2.7 seconds. You basically just judged and demeaned everything that I do…everything that I am. I have felt so defeated by these comments. I don’t understand why people feel the need to say things like this; especially when they are religious. As Christians we have no more of a right to judge others simply upon the basis that we think we are better than them. And really, where does this judgement come from except from the belief that we are somehow better? If I believe that tattoos are an evil epidemic and I do not have any of the evil things I therefore am construing myself as being better than those who have tattoos; I don’t have evil tattoos, so I am better than you. Judgement is passed. It doesn’t take much. I feel defeated. Constantly having to fight against the beliefs of people around me is tiring…even if they don’t come right out and voice their opinions their small actions and responses say it all.

Social influence plays more of a part than most people probably realize. Perhaps some of these people who cause me to feel defeated don’t even realize what their words, actions, and responses are doing. But the truth is, everything we do affects other people. In their book Social Psychology Aronson, Wilson & Akert talk about how even the presence of other people influence us. They also talk about how our thoughts, feelings, and choices are governed by real or imaginary approval or disapproval of those around us and by how we expect those people to react to us. Social influence has a phenomenal affect on our lives. I wish that people and their words, actions and responses did not have such an influence on my life, but they do. It’s part of this life that God designed. Although, if I were to venture a guess I would say that God designed us to use our words, actions, and responses in order to positively influence people instead of causing them to feel defeated. Although it is often appropriate to use our words actions, and responses to influence people positively despite our personal beliefs and feelings this rarely happens. And sin came into this world… now we have to deal with this feeling of defeat. So where do I go from here?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “what lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” So what does lie within me? To consider this, I have to go back to my roots. Not necessarily my childhood roots, but my young adult ones certainly. For me, those begin at community college. And when I go back there, either physically or in thought, I see what I am meant to be and what I am meant to do. To quote Emerson again: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I have long known my purpose, though I have not always accepted it. I know what I am meant to do and meant to be, and I know that God has put this purpose within me according to his Ultimate Plan. Does that mean that this purpose is easy? Does it mean that I always want to live in accordance with this purpose? No! And certainly not when people cause me to feel defeated. Yet, I cannot allow what other’s say and think and do dictate the choices that I make. And in my heart I know that the choices I make are the ones that God wants me to make. Only I can know that. You can’t judge me for those choices as much as I cannot judge you for yours. We all have difficult paths in our life’s road; if only the things we say and do actually helped people follow God’s purpose for them instead of causing them to feel defeated. In the words of Fun “If you’re lost and alone, Or you’re sinking like a stone, Carry on, May your past be the sound, Of your feet upon the ground, Carry on. So that’s what I do. I will continue to teach, to be a working mom, to further my education; not because I am obsessed with personal aspirations, but because I am responding to the purpose for which God has created me to fulfill. I prefer to say it is a personal calling.

Not only did this class help me remember my roots and address my professional needs, but it gave me encouragement that I needed personally. It is amazing who God can use to give you encouragement. It may not always be someone who you know, or who is a strong Christian. He can use anyone (He can even use me). I needed that class, and more than just for the qualification it allows. I needed to be among people who are on the same path as me. While I would like to say that I do not need people…I do. Remember, the presence of other people influence us. We were designed for this influence; whether it be positive or negative. I am beginning to realize that yes, I do need people. But the people I thought I need are not always the ones that God provides. This was evident in my director’s class. It was so good to be among working moms; to share stories of our children and our other children (classes), to share professional and personal goals and dreams, to encourage and support one another as we pursued the knowledge and professional courses. Yes, sometimes God provides encouragement from sources we least expect, or maybe don’t want. I identifies with these strangers in so many more ways than I ever could have dreamed. I didn’t feel defeated among them; our common struggles provided common ground from which we could use our words, actions, and responses to influence each other positively. If you know what you are meant to do, but feel defeated in trying to do it perhaps it is time to examine the people you surround yourself with. And if you are part of the group w ho is surrounding another, consider the effect that your words, actions, and responses have on that person. We were designed to influence one another; I believe that God intended that influence to be positive.

Ultimately, it does not matter what other people think, do, say, or how they respond. If we are fulfilling the purpose for which God created us, nothing else should matter (even though it does). God is the only one who can offer judgement. And God is the ultimate source of encouragement, though He often uses others to provide this. I intend to follow my purpose, despite the opinions of others. I intend to be more like my daughter. In her young life she doesn’t acknowledge the influence that people could have, she doesn’t feel constricted by societal expectations. Instead, she does whatever she sets out to do. She wears her Minnie Mouse dress up dress to the grocery store, she happily says “hi” to all the grumpy looking people in the stores, she excitedly runs around public places with a grin on her face…she is full of life among so many people who seem so full of negativity. People don’t dictate what she does; if she wants to poop in the bath tub…well, she does. It doesn’t matter how gross she knows I think it is. If she wants to take fifteen minutes to walk all by herself from the car into church…she does. And yes, while some of her behaviors may be due to the natural course of development, the lesson remains: children don’t allow society and people to influence and dictate their every decision. They do what makes them happy. They live. So yes, I intend to be like her. Maybe I won’t wear a Minnie Mouse dress to the grocery store, but I will carry on with my purpose…after all, God has given it to me.

“Find the thing you want to do most intensely, make sure that’s it, and do it with all your might. If you live, well and good. If you die, well and good. Your purpose is done”― H.G. Wells

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The Best Day?

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

We all have those days. You know, the ones that just don’t go right no matter what you do and you get so bogged down in wrong and focused on bad and everything is awful and you feel so full of despair… Like the day when you put your child in her car seat, take off down the road to the grocery store and are pulling into the parking lot and your sister calls you frantically explaining that you prized tablet is on the trunk of your car unwillingly along for  the ride… So you take a deep breath, swallow those naughty words, and slowly stop your car to rescue your tablet when you suddenly remember…your husband’s new cell phone was with the tablet…but not anymore. And we had just both of us FINALLY gotten working phones. The best day?! Yeah. Right.

Or there is the day when you are trying to get something done because you are going crazy from boredom because the cleaning job you were supposed to do didn’t work out and you want to do homework (yes I know it’s weird I LIKE to do homework), or make your child a nightgown because she has none and it would be fun. So you say to yourself, what they heck. I’m just gonna do it. But you sew the right side to the wrong side and have to take it all apart, meanwhile your one year old is saying “mum” in two hundred different tones of voice and then decided to try to crawl up your leg and you tell her she’s not a monkey to which she replied “hoo hoo hoo hahaha hoo” and you say you don’t need to sound like a monkey either as you are trying to now sew both right sides together so that your entire morning spent on this sewing project isn’t for nothing. The best day? Hardly. I mean, I didn’t accomplish anything. Who feels good about that? And I was annoyed the whole time which is…even more annoying. Image

It’s days like these that I need to remember the wise words of Emerson. While emotion is not housed in the heart perhaps decision is. And if I decide to write it on my heart that despite all the…not so good things that occur every day I will chose to realize the day as being the BEST day, I think that just maybe it WILL be the best day. This is basically a self-fulfilling prophecy, which in the world of psychology and education is described as ideas that become reality simply because someone believes them. They can be a very powerful thing. And thought I’m not sure that you can technically impose a self-fulfilling prophecy on yourself, I would say it’s worth a try! My guess is that if you choose to take Emerson’s advice and write it upon your heart to realize each day as the BEST day your eyes will be opened to so much more than the…not so good things.

Like, when you find  your daughter sitting on the couch having a conversation with her stuffed monkey her aunt gave her. Image

Or when you are trying to read your textbook and your daughter climbs into your lap, grabs the tablet and starts posing for pictures with you. So you both start making funny faces, to which your husband walks in the door from work and is surprised with hilarious looking mother and daughter.

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Or when you find your one year old daughter hiding in the pantry with her favorite crochet blanket over her head, peeking around the corner laughing at you, and quickly hiding again every time you call her name.

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Yes, I believe that Emerson is correct. Go ahead and try. Write upon your heart that every day is the BEST day…then wait and see the moments that your eyes are opened to.

Remembering Things You Already Know

Today Ellie had her 15 month check up. As usual I completed the ASQ and answered all of the doctors questions…yes she eats well (she eats more than I do!), yes she is in a rear facing car seat, yes she has regular bowel movements, and so on. And then the doctor asks if she is walking. Oh! That elusive adventure of walking! My Ellie girl is just NOT ready to depart on that adventure yet. After explaining to the doctor how everyone keeps asking whether she is walking yet or not and how the average is 16 months the docot says two things: the average is on a bell shaped curve, and I bet she is talking and using those fine motor skills. Well, yes as a matter of fact! She does three piece puzzles, colors and scribbles with crayons, talks your ear off, tracks planes in the sky, builds a tower of 8 blocks, and unzips and snaps things. The docot was surprised that she was doing all of these things, and then reminded me that a ch7ld can only build development in one area at a time. They can’t do it all at once.

I knew all that. I really did. Knowing development is what I do for a living; it’s also a central part of my college major. Bell shaped curves are a huge part of pyschology statistics and research too. And yet, when it comes to my own child I forgot it all. It’s amazing how you sometimes you have to remember things that you already know. And now I can relax and enjoy the adventure of fine motor exploration and my 15 month old talking my ear off. Becase it’s a bell shaped curve….some children walk before the everage and some walk after. She will probably walk after, and that’s ok. You can only have so many adventures at a time.

“But the greatest way to witness is by walking that straight and narrow and also realizing that your going to mess up. That’s what grace is for. We’re going to fall, but we’ve got to get back up. And you’ve got to Improve. That’s what I’m all about.” – Tim Tebow