If You Want to Raise a Pro

Too often, we leave childrearing to survival and hope with little purposeful intention of what end goal we are trying to achieve. Some out-right leave it to chance in the form of ‘letting the child decide.’ We undervalue how much influence a parent has on every aspect of a child. So who are you trying to raise? An athlete? An artist? A Christian?

If you want to raise a professional athlete, it helps if the parents are themselves athletes to set the tone early. Start immediately with a healthy diet and exercise in the form of play. Make strengthening fun. Help children learn to set goals and rewards for accomplishing them. Display quotes of great athletes. Honor the Olympians. Spend your money on going to games.

If you want to raise an artist, start early by surrounding the child with colors, textures, shapes. Let children see you practice and try all kinds of mediums. Host artists for dinner and discuss traditions and treads. Whisper dreams of showing in great galleries into the child’s ear. Reward all efforts.

If you want to raise a Christian, surround the child with those who are practicing. Tell them the stories before they can speak. Pray continuously and let them hear it. Place verses on the walls. Teach them to turn to the Bible in all situations. Honor the pastors and pray the child will give their life to service. Balance all these activities with discipline from love. Fill their minds with songs. Discuss teachings at meals, while driving in cars, before bed time. Make certain child sees parent practicing tenants such as forgiveness, generosity, caring for the poor, loving all.

A Glimpse of Greater Things

I step out to the front of my car with my brain and vision blinded with the day’s—the life’s—to-do list when I see a large dragonfly lying on the pavement of my car port. Apparently my bully SUV stunned it. I wait a beat to see if it can pull itself together. When it doesn’t move, I reach for its long metallic-blue tail, but as soon as I grasp, it flexes between my fingers and the wings whir into action. It lifts a little, but the head falls off and dangles from a strand. I drop it immediately. 

I see no way to help. But I haven’t the heart to finish the job either. Step on the head? Seems a shame to crush the perfect body. So I leave it lying on the concrete, head off to one side, wings tilting and twitching.

Experts believe dragonflies can see more colors than we can. Three to ten times the light-sensitive opsins in their eyes open a whole new rainbow we cannot fathom. Couple that with 30,000 facets in their compound eyes, called ommatidia (wonder what poor sap intern had to count those?), creates a vision unimaginable to our veiled sight.

I wonder if this is what John struggled to describe when he glimpsed the glory of the heavens: “a rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.”

“Have you seen?” the Lord asks Job; the answer being we can’t possibly. We’re again staring at only the shadows on the cave wall. The whole truth would blind and paralyze. And so we have to trust the One who can.

The next morning I step out into the new air and see the dragonfly. Its head has dried back in place. The clear, stained-glass window wings froze into a rigid crisp. The thousands of facets in the eyes gone flat dull. As I turn it over, its six arms are folded up and crossed, as in prayer.

To My Little Sis Who Is Trying To Be Good

Ah My Dear Little Sister,

So, while you slept, everyone else snuck out to a party.

Probably because you don’t swear.

And while you try to make a joke out of it, you still chide them about cheating.

You didn’t go into that store with them.

You out-right lecture them about the hazards of vaping.

When they tell you how far they’ve gone, you can’t hide the shock.

So you slept. Slept on a bed of innocence and woke to a clear conscience; no hangover; and unafraid of arrests or suspensions from school.

But there is a sting there. You were left-out. Not trusted. Not invited.

No one wants to be the goody-two shoes.

And this is your circle of friends, your youth group.

No one wants to be the goody-two shoes amongst a bunch of goody-two shoes.

It is lonely holding to standards, striving for holiness. Very few are on the path.

But I am so proud of you. And so is your Father. His rewards are beyond a good night’s sleep, a clean record. Hold fast. Inspire others to His best.

But in this garden of innocence a new threat slithers. Oh Sweetheart, it s a much harder demon to see, to catch, to destroy. Self-righteousness will poison everything good you have achieved. Remember? Jesus unleashed his harshest words on the goody-two shoes, the leaders of the church. While they outwardly did all the right things, their hearts swelled with pride. Ugly, festering, deadly pride.

It’s nearly impossible to hide self-righteous pride. It destroys relationships and leaves you truly alone. It undermines all the good you worked for. It simmers on hate–not love.

Consider your Jesus. How did the absolutely, completely, faultlessly, eternally perfect One still make the worst of the worst want to be near Him?

It was love. Love for them. Compassion for how deceived they were.

While it’s good to cheer them on to be kind to the new kid, to be truthful with their parents, to turn down the phone pics, it’s best to love them. Show them how to love the Lord. Display to them how much He loves them.

You are not alone, Little Sis. Carry one with a joyful heart.

To My Lonely Lil Sis, Lean In–

My Dear Little Sister,

Feels like you’re always the second best friend, eh? The one good enough to do things with until someone else shows up. I know. They forget to invite you. They have their secret stories, and somehow the joke is just too hard to explain.

You run through all the possible reasons why, but maybe it’s just because you’re not like them. You really want to be friends, but you don’t understand or enjoy half the things they say. You’re just not into the party looking at fashion pics on phones. Doing nails feels like such a waste of time. And you have no interest in the cheer team.

But you’re willing to make sacrifices, to try. So you hide who you are. You try not to say too loudly you’d prefer DQ over Sonics. You shrug and give your go-to word—‘whatever.’ You’ll never admit you’re staying home because you just want to read.

And you hide your gifts too. It’s just not cool to be the smartest one. Just avoid all conversations about your amazing SAT scores.

Yes, the harder it gets, the harder you try. And that backfires too. The hurt comes out in a joke barb that’s just a little too strong. You come home feeling you were too loud—too much. Or you try being quiet, and then you never get a word in. And you come home feeling like no one even knew you were there. You wonder when you move if anyone really notices.

So the Friday nights are spent at home with little sister and her friends and the term old maid haunts you long before you’re marrying age.

Hang on, little Sis. A time and place will come when suddenly you fit, where your gifts are respected, where people think you’re funny and life just isn’t so hard.

Until then, learn the lesson now.

Cuz you’re going to need it. We all do. Because no matter how much we sacrifice to the idol of relationship, we will all be alone at some time. The day will come when friends all have to work on your birthday and mom and dad are too far away. Husbands deploy. Kids get busy with their own things. Death does part.

Loneliness comes for all, even the one who has given everything to not be alone. They may be the desperate of all, for sometimes, they are alone when surrounded by people.

People try all kinds of pacifiers to avoid loneliness. None of them end well.

So you must learn to lean in. Lean in to the God who created You because He loves to talk to you. Lean in to the Jesus who also knew loneliness and abandonment. Learn to converse with the Creator of your soul with the familiarity of a soul-mate. Lean into the presence that is with you always.

Make Psalm 146 yours. Don’t trust in a prince to come, but lean into the Prince who came. When you feel like the foreigner, the prisoner, the orphan, consider the faithfulness of the One who regulates the tides, who turns the stars, who sends the seasons.

Lean in, and then reach out. If you turn your face from the crowd everyone is clamoring to be a part of, you’ll find other flowers on the wall—and they’re beautiful. There’s always someone who needs a friend.

People will always, always, always fail you, Lil Sis.

Lean in to the God who never will.

Please Bow Your Eyes And Close Your Head

Originally published by Moody Monthly Magazine, November 1993

Would we talk to anyone else this way?

“O Mother who lives in our house,” the daughter in the dining room begins to say while setting the table.

“Well, that’s kind of a formal address,” the mother answers from the kitchen. “What’s up?”

“I just want to thank you for the food that’s in the oven, just for the work you’ve done, for the roof just over our heads.”

The mother stops stirring the vegetables and raises an eyebrow. “Well,” she says, “you’re just welcome. But it sounds like you’re buttering me up for something.”

“I just want to ask for your presence here tonight; come to us and be with us.”

“If I’m not here now, who are you talking to?” the mother chuckles. “And this is my house. I don’t plan on leaving unless I get kicked out, and even then we’ll see who is kicking whom. You’re talking kind of funny tonight. Are you feeling ok?”

“Mother, I just want to ask that we’ll just have chocolate cake for dessert.”

Now that sounds more like my daughter, the mother thinks. She returns to stirring the vegetables, and the daughter comes back in for the water glasses. “I don’t know; it isn’t good for you,” the mother answers.

“I just want you to work off the calories for me.”

The mother laughs. “Now how am I supposed to do that? After I provide dinner, then I’m supposed to just take care of the consequences? Silly, you’ll be all right. Just go run around the block a few times.”

“I yearn for the needy, that they will get help,” the daughter continues, a faraway look in her eyes.

“Does yearning for something make it less demanding than to want something?” the mother teases her daughter. “Seriously, honey, if you want to do something, I’ll help. But you need to do it.”

“I want to remember Sarah in prayer too,” the daughter says as she places a fork in the bread basket.

“Good. Go ahead, no one is stopping you. But please pay attention to what you are doing right now–”

“She’s having a lot of trouble with her boyfriend.”

“So I’ve heard,” the mother says as she comes to the table and places the fork by the dinner plate.

“Mom, I just need you to be with me tonight in my homework, too.”

“No problem,” the mother says as she takes the casserole out of the oven.

“I have two tests and a 10-page paper to write,” she says and takes the water pitcher out to the table.

“Good heavens! What have you been doing all week?” the mother asks. “Well, that’s all right. It will all get done sooner or later. You can get started on it right after supper.”

“I just want to ask for your help today. I need to go to the library; that should take a couple hours. James might be working. I should wear something nice. Oh, but what?” Again she seems to forget what she’s doing, and the mother takes the casserole out to the table herself. “I really need some new clothes,” the daughter sighs.

“Honey…” the mother tries to get her daughter back to the real world.

“Which takes new money, which takes a new job. Which reminds me! I have to go get that application,” the daughter mutters under her breath.

“Honey,” the mother tries again. “Are you talking to me or just muttering?”

“Oh, I need help with it, too. But where was I? Oh yeah, Dearest Mother, I just want to ask if you will take care of it, too?”

“Well, I could, but you wouldn’t learn how to do it then.” The mother steps around her and calls her husband to supper. “Run along after supper to the library, dear. You look fine. After all, you’re the spitting image of your mother, aren’t you?” The mother gives her husband a kiss. “I won’t do just everything, but I can–”

“I need to iron that dress for tomorrow too.” The daughter stomps out to the table and flops in her chair. “I just want to lift that up before you. Could you do that, Mom?”

“Sure, just leave it on the kitchen table,” she sighs. It must be stress, the mother decides. “But I was going to tell you, I won’t do just–”

“I’m sorry Mom, but I have to cut this short and go,” she gets up, forgetting to eat. “Thanks for listening to me and helping me out. I’m sorry I didn’t get the dishes done like I had promised,” she kisses her mother and heads upstairs. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Wait, let me finish this sentence–”

“Please continue to guide and direct me,” she says over her shoulder.

“How can I when you won’t even listen to me?” the mother mutters.

“Amen!” the girl hollers on her way out the door. She didn’t even leave the dress for ironing.

The Proverbial Army Wife

A most excellent Army wife, who can find?

She is worth far more than a 4-star rank.

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.

She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

With a dull white canvas, constantly changing measurements, and a limited budget, she creates a home.

She has an extra meal ready for a hurting family and cookies for the new neighbor.

She arises before PT, helping her family ready for the day.

She speaks military, and interprets for the extended family masses.

She sets about her work vigorously–whether it’s shoveling snow, mowing lawns, volunteering for community efforts, caring for her friend’s kids. Her shoulders are strong for the tasks.

Though she is called a dependent, she is far from it. She waits for no one to do what she can figure out how to do–building playgrounds, setting up furniture, initiating fundraisers.

She devises ways to make money and starts businesses. She teaches her children how to tie a tie, how to stand for the flag, how to dance.

Her family is dressed for the season, the location, and the occasion.

She finds the good in every post, even the last on the list, please-never-there place.

She adds recipes and trinkets from the many corners of the earth they lived, embracing each culture.

She takes her children to the maple syrup festival, the ice-fishing day, the alligator viewing, the tank exhibition.

She dries her children’s tears and turns her fears to prayers. When her husband flies away to war, she trusts the Lord.

She creates happy days for her children, even when half of their heart is gone to the other side of the world.

She arrives with Starbucks and a mop to help her friend clear a house.

She waves goodbye through tears to a friend in the morning, and meets a newcomer for coffee in the afternoon.

She makes friends within hours, life-long battle-buddy soul-sisters within weeks.

She grieves when she leaves each place.

Yet she opens her heart again and again.

She sets aside her career, her wishes, her extended family in the name of service.

Honor her for all that she does,

and let her works bring her praise at the post gate.

The Lion King, Dr. King, And Celebrating Life

I watched the first “Lion King” in a theater full of little people who squirmed, ate popcorn, spilled pop and shouted “Look Mommy! What’s going to happen Daddy?”

The movie’s opening hushed us as the animated African world of wildebeests, army ants, zebras, elephants and birds congregated. A baby had been born. A cub of the lion family played, unaware of itself, as babies are.

As this little life was presented to the kingdom, the animals rejoiced–pawing, whinnying, and squawking in celebration. The children around me clapped, unaware of themselves, as children are.

My heart filled. And I cried. I cried at the joy of life–the celebration a baby brings, the wonder of 10 tiny toes, the experience of childhood things like a Disney movie, the awe of what it means to be a part of the “Circle of Life.”

Not long after that evening in the theater, an international summit was called in Egypt to discuss improving the world’s life. Then Secretary Hillary Clinton and others addressed the “population control” and the use of abortion in poor countries. America soon became a provider of abortion to the poverty stricken of the world.

And now, at the same time as the new “Lion King” movie releasing, New York lights up its buildings to celebrate being able to abort all babies deemed undesirable.

No issue since the civil-rights has so divided our nation. As I considered the volatility of both issues, I went back to Dr. Martin Luther King’s writings from an Alabama jail. I won’t pretend to guess if Dr. King would be pro-life or pro-choice were he alive today. But I’d have to think he’d have an opinion on black children being more likely to be aborted.

I was struck by the similarities of the issues: the decisions on just and unjust laws, how churches have become cautious instead of extremists in love, and mostly the renaming of persons to things. Martin Buber called it the “I-it” for “I-Thou” principle. When we label someone, we separate them into a different category and then have control over them. To justify war, slavery, and the slaughter of each other through history, we have named the enemies “it,” refusing to recognize their humanity.

At the international summit, the baby was labeled a fetus, an individual life became part of a worrisome mass of population growth. Parts of the world were labeled poorer than us, and it was decided their life needed bettering by becoming more like us. The joy of life was stampeded into the African dust under the fear of the adult word “overpopulation.”

In New York, the child was labeled a choice, an individual life became an inconvenience. The joy of life turned into a cheer for being able to end it.

Apparently not all lives are cause for celebration.

Perhaps only kings’ sons are worthy of rejoicing.

If you are a baby of a poor person, or without a perfect physique, or if you are a baby girl, you are not as deserving of festivities. Perhaps not even deserving of life. Some are not worth the discomfort of their mother for 9 months. “Privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily,” wrote Dr. King.

It seems to many life is valued in materialism, ignoring the richness of community, spiritualism, and spirit often found amongst those with less. One only needs to look at our own emotional poverty to wonder if we really should make others more like this.

Is the answer to a poor life eliminating the people or the poverty? Ask that poor mother if she wants to have the means to care for this child. Ask that hassled mother if she wants to have help with life to ease the burden of this child. Is it really so incredulous to the American dreamer that the rich baby and the poor baby both have 10 fingers, 2 eyes, a swirling brain and a thumping heart?

Have we gained equal access for the handicapped to everything except the birth canal? Have we become so cynical we give up all hope for the less fortunate child?

The Lion King gave me a vision, and Dr. King a way to express it:

I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day no child’s life will be judged by his parents’ income, or her gender, or their pre-tested abilities, or the convenience of the pregnancy.

I have a dream that the effort will be placed in preventing poverty but not parenthood.

I have a dream that one day again in this land every life will be celebrated and cherished and defended.

Murmurations

Ugg. So much noise! “3 Steps to a Great Prayer Life! The Dangers of Avocados! Avocados—the Ultimate Diet Food! What You Need to Survive Homeschool! How to Have the Most Romantic Marriage! Ten Ways to a Better You!” I closed my laptop and grabbed the dog’s leash. Outside. The best cure for the shouting of the world. I needed to talk to God and the dog for awhile.

We wound our way to the trail through the woods, the canopy covering my frustrated words. ‘Everyone has an opinion, Lord. Thousands of blogs. All of them think they’re experts. Everyone thinks they need to be heard. Why should I add to this mess?’

I was too distracted to notice the first leaves changing colors on the forest floor bushes, the shift in the smell on the breeze as the farmers started to cut the hay fields nearby, the growth of the cool pockets of air foretelling the coming harvest season.

My bird dog’s ears surely heard it first. His pace picked up to a prance. I couldn’t hear beyond myself until we moved into the deeper trees—a flock of blackbirds hovered over and in the tops, each one with a flat, loud call adding up to a swirling uproar. When I finally looked up the path, I could see rows of them sitting atop the bone-bare limbs of the dead cottonwood where the trail led through a bog. But as we walked into the noise, we were surrounded by the flock moving in trees and bushes all around us. 

The sound, the flitting, the sheer number of birds lifted our eyes. My dog quivered beside me, unable to even begin to know which way to chase them. We both sensed the privileged moment and instinctively knew to respond with awed silence.

Each bird was just a dusty black bird or a speckled dull grackle, the weeds of the skies. Every one of those birds was un-noteworthy, un-extraordinary. Plain, common. Average with an easy-to-forget squack.

But together. Together these birds make a living mass that creates sky art. Across the land, these flocks can be seen ribbon dancing in the wind over barren fields. They fly wingtip to wingtip, bobbing and twirling with a twitch of muscle. As a group, people stop to take pictures, to watch with wonder. 

Murmurations, the experts called the flocks. The name doesn’t match the sound of them when you are walking through one though.

It takes hundreds to create a murmuration. Whether they do it for defensive purposes, to help each other harvest food, or for the simple joy of flying in a group with their wings catching each other’s updrafts, no one knows. Surely the Lord delights in seeing their antics. Surely they’re only called murmurations from a distance. Surely as a group they change their world.

As my pup and I stood in wonder in this black storm cloud, the whisper came: ‘Join the cacophony, Tonia. Drown out the words of this world. Misery. Depression. Loneliness. Meaninglessness. Drown them out with My Words.’

And so, I add my peep. 

And you? What is the Lord asking you to add? What beauty is He calling you to create that will give someone a glimpse of hope? What part of a huge problem is He asking you to peck away at? How can you join the cacophony? Will you join me?

 

The Lord announces the word,

and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng. –Psalm 68:11