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Christmas Gift for Disobedient Children

You better watch out…or you’ll get nothing for Christmas. Today’s kids understand better than mine did how in the world Santa Claus can know whether they’ve been bad or good. As I was told by some first graders last year, everyone has an elf that tells Santa about what goes on in their homes. I replied that I don’t have an elf, but they didn’t believe me. Then it happened. One sneaked into my house.

In August, I picked up a bag of Christmas ribbon at a garage sale. It was a bit messy and I couldn’t see what was in the bottom, but I handed the lady $1 and carried it home. Later, as I rewound the ribbons, going deeper into the bag, I found two surprises.

    This tiny little Santa figurine…

AND THIS CREEPY LITTLE ELF!

As I understand it, Santa’s Scout Elves can be very mischievous. In fact, it was quite surprising what some of the 1st graders told me about their elves’ activities. But that’s not the point of the elf. No that little fella’s job is to report to Santa each night whether the kid has been good or bad, so Christmas gifts can be doled out accordingly.

I had no need for an elf on the shelf, as our kids are grown up and my husband behaves very well. Still, my boys will be visiting before Christmas, so I’ll play the game for a bit.

According to the Elf on the Shelf website, no one is allowed to touch the elf. Moms enjoy photographing the funny things elves do so they can share them on Facebook, and some teachers like having an elf in the classroom to motivate good  behavior. By the way, I’ve just named our elf Grace.

Grace the elf will now help me explain the most amazing thing about Christmas. Long before the first Christmas (the time of the birth of Jesus) God chose a family to be different from the rest of the people on earth. They were supposed to follow the Ten Commandments and lots of other laws in order to stay in good standing with God. And they wanted to. They even promised to. But they couldn’t. They keep doing the things that were forbidden and not doing the things that were required. God still loved them, but bad things did happen to them because of their sins. All along, God kept hinting that things were going to change. Someone was going to come to save them.  Through his prophets, he said things like,

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)

and

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel means “God with us.” But how could the Holy God be with such disobedient children. Strange. Another puzzling prophecy told of the son’s death – and our peace.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Now there were some religious leaders who wanted to make sure that the people did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t want any more of the bad things to happen. So they made lots more rules and were very strict about them. It seems that they even spied on the people so they could catch them when they were bad.

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down

with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
 (Luke 11:46)

Keeping all of the laws was very hard. No one was perfect. Even the “good guys” like Noah and King David did wrong sometimes. The law that was given by God through Moses made the people aware of their failure – their sin.

But then something AMAZING happened! The son was born of a virgin in exactly the place where the prophets said it would happen. And the angels proclaimed peace to men on earth!

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,

whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

The baby Jesus grew up. Even though he was tempted to disobey God, he never sinned. He prayed to God and did only what his Father (God) told him to do, even when it was VERY HARD. After he became a man, taught the people about the Kingdom of Heaven, and even did miracles, Jesus did the hardest thing of all. Just as the prophet said, he was crucified (pierced) for our sins (transgressions) even though he had never sinned.

That was the plan all along. God’s “new thing” was to bring peace to us. Peace in our hearts because we could be right with God when we believed that Jesus paid our penalty. Jesus called it being born again. It is a gift from God. It’s grace.

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God

and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:16-18)

Now we all know that God still wants us to be good. But it’s also true that no one is perfect, so no one is good enough to be with our Holy God. Except Jesus, who died so we could live with him. He couldn’t wait until we were already good enough, because that wasn’t going to happen. The Bible makes it clear that ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23) So we needed to be rescued from sin and death. That’s what Jesus did. That’s amazing grace.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Not Santa, who we’re told only gives good gifts when they’re deserved. Not the elf who spies on kids and gets them in trouble, but doesn’t do anything to help them. It’s about peace. When I think about peace in my own heart, I define it as knowing that I am right with God because of my faith in Jesus (not myself) and that God is working all things in my life (even the stressful things) together for my good. (Romans 8:28)

The men who knew Jesus and spent their lives teaching other people about Him often used the words GRACE and PEACE together. That makes sense to me. Because of God’s amazing grace we can have peace!

 

 

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Growing Up With Our Kids

The brave, humble questions of a fellow Christian blogger have sparked my introspection about parenting and aging gracefully. Bethany has five children and writes about a life and faith that I admire, giving me confidence that she will “enjoy each stage and navigate the changes gracefully.” I only have sons, but since both are grown men and she asked for advice from women with experience in transitioning from mother-to-children to mother-to-adults, I’m collecting my thoughts on what we did right, what I regret, and the role of God’s grace in parenting and aging.

Shortly after I gave birth naturally to our 8 lb 9 oz son (I repeated this 3 1/2 years later), I felt panic rising about not being equipped to handle the challenges that his growing-up-years might present. My husband calmly reassured me that we would “grow up with our kids.”

As we shaped our family life, we followed the pattern of our parents. I stayed at home and he worked hard to provide. We took our kids to church every week, encouraging them to participate in Sunday School and Youth Group and to use their talents in church. They made friends there and we spent time with families who shared our values. As I tell in Wear Out Your Chairs, we ate dinner together, adjusting schedules to do so.

Those external practices laid a solid foundation for them. Sadly, though, during their earliest years, I was rather fearful. We were protective of our kids (car seats, bike helmets, vaccinations, orthodontics, etc.), but I worried about things that were hard to control (accidents, influence of rough kids, lyme disease, failure, heartbreak, evils of the internet, etc. See Many Dangers Toils and Snares.) My faith was based more in what I did than in the love of God for me and my kids. It reminds me of Finding Nemo when Marlin tells Dory that he promised to never let anything happen to Nemo. She responds, “That’s a funny thing to promise…then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun…”

By God’s grace, none of the tragedies I imagined came to pass, but things did happen to them. One swallowed the “little vitamin” (birth control pill) I left on the table. One bone did get broken. Both had college roommate issues. And both have endured a broken heart. They have found, as I have, that tests and trials do make us stronger and more mature just as the Bible teaches.

My husband was right. We did grow with our kids. We became scout leaders for their packs; I volunteered in their classrooms; and we supported them in their pursuits. We did life together. It paid off in close relationships with them. When they set out on their own, I transitioned from stay-at-home mom to stay-at-phone mom, available when they wanted to talk. Early adult years included late night phone calls which their dad took with patience and ended with prayer.

As a mom of boys, I have learned that the role does change as they become men. Just as we did, they need to make important decisions. We are blessed that our advice and example can help. With them living two hours away now, their daily life is out of my sight. That’s not a bad thing. One regret I have about their childhood years is being a bit too protective and treating them as little kids instead of little men. In God’s grace, I became aware of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ Love and Respect message for mothers of sons when I needed to better understand how to communicate my respect for these Good Men.

Father’s Day 2008, the year Eric graduated from college and Kyle graduated from high school.

Looking back over thirty years of parenting, I’m thankful for what our sons have become and for how I have grown. Yes, the nest is empty, but I can truly say that I am content in all circumstances – loving the time we spend together and being joyful even when we are apart. Through the years, my husband has continued to listen to my anxious heart and to invest time in our friendship. True, we are growing older, but we’re doing it together in the strength of our faithful God. We aren’t crazy about some of the physical changes we see, but we try to keep our eyes fixed on what is unseen, because “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

My friend Bethany is anticipating “the wistful sadness of no more little people in the house,” and I have experienced that, especially when looking at old photos. In my case, God spared me some of the emptiness by moving us to a different city and giving me a new hobby to keep me busy. And for a few years, I’ve been investing in other peoples’ kids through visits to first grade classrooms. And, yes, Bethany, we older women are called to teach the younger ones how to love (be friendly to) their husbands and children. God has blessed me with that ministry where I rejoice to see Him working.

The good old days of 1992 when we were living in Minot, ND.

I don’t know what the future holds. I may become a grandmother and get to see my sons be dads. And, I may become a widow as most women do. My anticipated sadness of that could sap the joy right out of this day. So my best advice is to trust in the Lord’s promises to never leave us and to supply us with the grace and strength for each day. My “more experienced” older friends testify that His love never fails.

Read Bethany’s blog at http://bethany-aboutmyfathersbusiness.blogspot.com/

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…and he brought her to the man.

We’re celebrating the April 1 wedding of our son Eric to sweet Amanda.  Adding to the joy is the appreciation of how our family and hers have easily connected in friendship.  We look forward to the future that the newlyweds have together.

As Providence would have it, this wedding was completely unforeseen, for it is the second time Eric has been a groom.  I have great admiration for Eric and profound thanksgiving to God as I remember the dark tunnel that my son passed through on his way to the glorious celebration of today.  By God’s grace, truest friends and precious family members have supported and prayed for Eric and now rejoice with us in the love he has found.

Here we are with our new daughter-in-law and two sons in the spot where the couple made their vows to each other.  I took this photo along today as I visited a 1st Grade Class with a Winners Walk Tall lesson.  Earlier in the year, I illustrated the  lesson on Reaching Goals With a Plan by sharing Eric’s life story of working hard at school to graduate from high school and college, of practicing instruments to reach his goal of a music career, and of making friends at church and school who helped him become the man he wanted to be.  Now, I wanted to share this marriage milestone, but felt that if I left out the heartbreak of his life I could miss an opportunity to acknowledge sadness that some surely live in. The Lord gave me these words to truthfully fill in the gap:

This picture is from a happy day, but there are times when life’s not that way.

Eric got married once before, but the two had trouble and got a divorce.

It made us and Eric oh so sad.  But he didn’t give up;  lots of faith Eric had.

Then Eric met Amanda and friendship grew.  They fell in love and soon they knew

that they never wanted to be apart – that they loved each other with all their hearts.

So they became husband and wife, and promised to love for the rest of their life. 

 

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Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares

What’s your greatest fear?   A survey circulating on Facebook asks this question.  Touched by the honest answers I’ve read, I decided to consider my own response.  I’m not tormented by aerophobia, acrophobia, or  arachniphobia (fear of flying, heights, spiders). I’m OK in small spaces and in the dark.  I’m far less afraid of public speaking than most people.  I’ll admit to being a little cynophobic, not wanting dogs to lick me, bite me or knock me down.

Despite four decades of driving without a ticket or accident (except for backing into a parked car in 1992 – fear of lying?), my heart pounds at the prospect of driving in a big city.  Maybe I could do it if it was necessary – maybe.  Currently my husband who likes to be behind the wheel enables me to stay in the passenger seat.  It is a little embarrassing to admit that while we were anticipating his heart surgery, my fear of metro area driving was right up there with my concern for him.   Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call Driving Phobia (no Greek word?!) my greatest fear.

Actually, its things that I have no control over that frighten me more.   At age 9, I learned about SIDS and feared my baby brother would die.  As a young mom, I feared that the loud, low-flying plane would crash into our house.  Hearing that a tire had flown off of a semi and caused a tragic accident made travel more ominous.  None of these freak events occurred, but we all know that bad things happen to all people.

I still remember the neighbor boy coming in my house to tell me that my pet cat, Blackie, was hit by a car.  I can still hear the voice of a dear friend on the phone saying that a classmate had been killed in a crash shortly after our graduation.  And I will never forget the knock on my dorm room door the day Mom came to tell me that Dad had passed from cancer.

So, what is my greatest fear?  I’ve dreaded the possibility that one of our sons could be involved in a tragic accident, and I have worried that it could happen while my husband is out of town working, leaving me to get there and deal with it alone.  That is one of the worst situations I can imagine.

But, you know, I don’t worry as much as I used to, and I can testify that Grace has brought me through many dangers, toils, and snares.  Not only that, but when I’m willing to cast my anxiety on God in thankful prayer, fear is replaced by peace – just like He promised (Philippians 4:6-8).  My biggest challenge may be to overcome the fear of losing the things that I’m so thankful for.  I need to remind myself that things of this life, while important, are temporary.  There is a place and time coming that will not include sadness, pain and death.

But, what if I am required to go through many years without the person who knows me intimately and loves me so well?  Actually, my Lord Jesus answered that question on November 17, 2011, after my husband came through emergency surgery.  That night, as I was thanking God, I asked him, “But what if I had lost him?”  The Lord said to me, “If it had gone the other way, he would be with me and I would still be with you.”  Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  My peace of mind comes when I believe what God has said.

 

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