Monday, March 10, 2014

Stop Putting the Brakes on Our Childrens' Faith

A good Christian parent wants their child to love God, obey God (therefore, obeying mom and dad), serve God, love others, and have good Godly children so that they have a strong Christian legacy.  

Maybe you wouldn't exactly say everything I said…maybe you would leave off the self-centered ending, but I am taking an educated guess that you are in fact a lot like me.  Maybe you aren't willing to write it down or say it out loud.  I do want good things for my children.  I do want them to be love, obey and serve God.  I am selfish and I want a Godly legacy that can be traced all the way back to me and Scott.

Over the last few years, there have been numerous studies that reported that "Christian" teenagers are stepping away from their faith when they leave the home.  The trend is that a large percentage leave with some returning to their faith when they start their own families.

I read an article the other day by The Gospel Coalition that reflected on a study Focus on the Family conducted.  Their results are less alarming, and as I read, my anxious mommy heart slowed down and I started to feel confident that my children would not become part of those who walk away.  When they asked the youth who walked away from their faith if they had a strong faith as a child, only 11% said that they did.  This means that the other 89% said that their faith was not strong.  They had been exposed to church.  They may have attended children's camp, DiscipleNow weekends, and small groups. Or any of the various church ministry programs that are offered.  But they didn't classify their faith as "strong."  

So why would they walk away?

Our daughter Emma Grace (age 12) came home from church camp last year and told us that she wanted to be baptized... again.  She was baptized when she was almost 6 years old.  We knew at the time that she was young, but she could articulate exactly what she believed and why she should be baptized.  We asked our children's pastor to talk to her and make sure that she wasn't simply answering the questions correctly.  Everything indicated that it was time…that she was ready…that she understood what it meant.

When we questioned her as to why she now wanted to be baptized again, her first response was that someone at camp said that it didn't count because she was so young.  WHAT!  Why do people say things like that?  We told her that we didn't want her to doubt her decision or decisions that she makes in the future because of someone's careless remarks.  I shared with her that there will always be people who will make comments that challenge your spiritual truths.  We told her to keep praying about it.

Scott grew up in a church tradition where you didn't get baptized again… it was a rare thing.   Once baptized, always baptized…so to speak.  His gut reaction was no…there was no reason…what message would that send.

Emma Grace prayed and prayed.  Three months later, as the next baptism at church approached, she asked.  We told her not yet.  I reiterated my fear that it would set a precedent for future years of doubt and uncertainty in her salvation.   Three months later, same story...

NIne months after camp, it was time for baptism once again.  Emma Grace said again that she would like to be baptized.  I asked her to explain to me one more time why?  Why now?  This time I listened to what she said.  Really listened.  She said, "If baptism is a public way to tell family, friends, and my church that I am a Christ follower, shouldn't I remember it?  I want to be able to share with my children one day about the day I was baptized and what it meant.  I have grown so much.  I know more.  I want it to mean something to me."  

Needless to say, she was baptized that week and her daddy had the privilege of baptizing her.  

I know that she knew as much as a 6 year old can know the first time around.

I don't doubt that Scott and I placed onto her our preconceived notions of what it would mean for her to get baptized again…what that could possibly imply about our parenting decision to let her at almost 6 or what it means about us to let her now.

I know this isn't news to anyone, but Emma Grace's desire to be baptized again was not about me.  It was not about Scott.  It was 100% about a young lady wanting to transition from her parents' faith to making this faith her own.  I spent 9 months telling this sweet girl no...are you sure…don't doubt…  She was sure.  She did doubt.  She knew that it was time to own her faith.  We were holding her back.

We go to church every week.  We take our kids on mission trips.  We serve the needy and homeless.  Scott is in ministry…it is his job to share the saving grace of the Savior and encourage thriving relationships with Christ.  Yet, we overlooked the importance of our children owning their faith.  We were gently pressing the brake on Emma Grace's faith.  

In this article, there was a quote by a Notre Dame Sociology Professor, Christian Smith.  He wrote, "Parents are huge, absolutely huge, nearly a necessary condition" for a child to remain strong in their faith into young adulthood. He concludes "without question, the most important pastor a child will ever have in their life is a parent."  

Emma Grace's persistence to follow Jesus and be obedient to His calling for her walk is the most amazing reminder to me as a mom and Christ follower.  
  • She taught me to stop worrying about what has always been done, what should be done, and to only be concerned with what the Bible says.
  • She taught me to follow God.  To be persistent when someone tries to keep me from following God's direction.
  • She taught me that her faith…Jacob's faith…Scottie's faith…Zoey's faith... is ultimately not about me.  It is about their personal relationship with Jesus and if I am faithful and obedient I will get to have a small part and the privilege of watching their faith in action.
  • She reminded me that our children need us to pastor them.  Listen.  Shepherd.  Encourage.
  • She taught me that I must stop putting the brakes on our children's faith.  If I continue to apply the brakes, I will keep them from discovering their faith and making it their own.  I am pushing my children into the 89% who walk away because their faith was never theirs…it was simply another to do on the long list mom expects of them.
Oh how I love the faith of a child.  

I want Emma Grace to love God, obey God, serve God, love others, and own her faith.  The legacy will follow.   And it won't be for my glory, but all for the glory of God. 

It starts with me.

Today I pledge to lift my foot from the brake.  Will you join me?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My BIG Thing

What's my BIG thing?

For years I have been waiting, searching, and looking for my big thing.  I would go to conferences, read books and blogs, and hear stories.  It would make me question why I didn't have my big thing. I would see a need.  Dream of a plan to help.  Talk about it.  Pray about it.  Dream more.  Then nothing. Nothing.  I would see another need and the vicious cycle would begin again.  Why wasn't I godly enough to see anything through?

I went to the If: Gathering conference in Austin a few weeks ago.  There were a dozen or so speakers who all had written books, spoke at conferences, or were advocating for a wonderful, godly cause.  I worshipped in a room full of women and I suspect they were asking some of these questions.

  • If my calling is my talents and passions coming together, then what am I supposed to do?  
  • What if I don't have any talents?  
  • Is it possible that God forgot to give me a talent or two?  
  • What if I found my big thing and it was successful, would I be like one of these women who were speaking and sharing?  
  • Am I too old to find my big thing?  (These ladies in the room are really, really young.) 

As I reflect on the conference, I am reminded of all of my wonderful, godly causes that I was going to pursue with zeal and reach the lost in Jesus' name.

As I reflect on the conference, I question who I am and what in the world have done with my life.

Well here is my BIG realization…

What if my BIG thing, is NOT my BIG thing?  

My BIG thing is named Scott.  I am going to love him, adore him, support him, pray for him, and encourage him to be who God has designed him to be.  What will his BIG thing be?
My BIG thing is Jacob.  I am going to love him, adore him, support him, pray for him, and encourage him to be who God has designed him to be.  What will his BIG thing?
My BIG thing is Emma Grace.  I am going to love her, adore her, support her, pray for her, and encourage her to be who God has designed her to be.  What will her BIG thing be?
My BIG thing is Scottie.  I am going to love her, adore her, support her, pray for her, and encourage her to be who God has designed her to be.  What will her BIG thing be?
My BIG thing is Zoey.  I am going to love her, adore her, support her, pray for her, and encourage her to be who God has designed her to be.  What will her BIG thing be?

I may not write a book.  I may not write a blog with thousands of followers.  I may not be the founder or board member of a non-for-profit organization.  But, I have the BIGGEST BIG thing ever!

Oh how I will now worship without reservation because I now know that God has indeed given me my BIG thing!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mourning to Celebration

I want to stop mourning and simply celebrate!

I recently had an encounter with a well-meaning woman.  When she discovered that I had a special needs daughter, she shared with me something she read.  The story was basically about how we plan and plan for a trip to Italy (the birth of the "perfect" baby) only to discover that we are in Holland.  I think she was trying to help me to understand my experience …or perhaps she just wanted to share.  Although I completely understand that she was just trying to relate to me, I wanted to tell her that she really has no idea what it is like to parent a child with special needs.  She really just cannot relate.

And then…

I went to a conference for women this past weekend and I had TONS of thoughts and ideas about ministry, family and life go through my head.  There was one phrase that I just couldn't shake…stop mourning and celebrate.

I mourn that my daughter doesn't have "friends" her age.
I mourn that my daughter was overwhelmed at the father and daughter dance because it was too loud.
I mourn that Emma Grace (my almost 13 year old daughter) plans to always have a room for her sister in her house when she is married.  (I know it is sweet and amazing, but it is also sad.)
I mourn that Jacob, Emma Grace and Zoey have to gauge their sister's mood before they joke around and sometimes even speak to her.  
I mourn that my daughter will not go to homecoming or prom.
I mourn that my daughter will not experience life as a college student.
I mourn that my daughter will never experience what it feels like to fall in love.
I mourn that my daughter will never have a wedding.
I mourn that my daughter will not be a mother.
I mourn that Scott and I will not be empty nesters.  (selfish, I know)

I am tired of mourning the never.  I want to celebrate who she is and what she can do.  

"For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them."

Psalm 139: 13-16

My daughter is perfect.  

She may not experience the same life experiences as Emma Grace.  

Scottie is perfect.  

She experiences life differently, but that does not make it less of a life.  

She loves differently, but she doesn't love less.  

She sees the world differently, in fact she sees more.  

How do I shift my feelings and thoughts from mourning the nevers and celebrate the what is and what can be?  
Today, I choose to believe that God has a plan for her life.  That plan is beautiful, amazing and FULL.  She will not have less of a life, but rather her life will enrich the lives of those she loves.  I celebrate my daughter because her Creator knitted her together wonderfully.

If I want her family and the world to celebrate Scottie, then it must start with me.

Today, I will stop mourning and CELEBRATE!.



Saturday, January 11, 2014

We Took a Step

We did it.  We finally did it.  We took a HUGE step of faith.  It was frightening.  It was blessed by God and He (like only He does) confirmed that we made the right choice.

Here is the story…the AWEsome story:

We have a beautiful, amazing 9 year old daughter, Scottie.  Scottie was diagnosed with PDD-NOS last March and is intellectually disabled (MR).  Things have always been harder with Scottie and unfortunately not having a proper diagnosis for 9 years complicated our journey.  This last year has been one of our hardest and it brought two huge challenges.

1.)  She has been harder to parent.  She has thrown more tantrums in the last year than she has her entire life.  She has become increasingly more sensitive to her environment and situations, obsessive compulsive, inattentive, and anxious.  As we try to figure out how to maintain a peaceful home and adequately care for our other children, we have had to come to terms with what we have been doing for Scottie, up until now, is no longer working.  It isn't enough.  She needs more.

2.)  We have been at odds with her school.  We felt like they were shoving her into the most restrictive environment before they really explored all other options.  There are so many things that they haven't tried.  We have had to fight…and fight…and fight.  I have created binders full of every medical and educational evaluation, ARD paperwork, and IEPs.  We are the parents consulting with an advocate and recording every meeting we have with the school.  We were forced to acknowledge that what we have been doing for Scottie is no longer working.  It isn't enough.  She needs more.

One of the huge hurdles we have is money…no big surprise.  Money is required for therapy.  Money is required to send her to a school that specializes in children with autism.  Scott works hard to provide for our family, but he isn't going to "get rich" while in ministry.  I have a part time job that I love, but I am not going to make enough money to send Scottie to occupational therapy or to see a behavior therapist.  Insurance is terrible.  It just seemed hopeless…we felt helpless.

In December, we had to make a decision.  Allow the school to dictate what they think is best for Scottie and allow her placement to change although we knew it was the wrong decision, or we had to take a huge step of faith.  After our last meeting with our advocate, we realized that our next step with the school was mediation and then a lawsuit.  I couldn't imagine fighting to keep her at a school and in system that seems to be failing my daughter, and ultimately it is not what we wanted for Scottie.  I woke up the next day and told Scott to not take Scottie to school.  We didn't know what we were supposed to do, but we did know that we had to withdraw her from school.  Over the weekend we talked and prayed, and it seemed clear that our best option was for me to quit and homeschool Scottie.  I had to leave my job.  A job that I loved.  My job paid for Jacob and Emma Grace's school, and we bought groceries with my income.  Now what?  I could say that God will provide.  I could say that we will cut back.  Did I truly believe it?  Now what?

God has poured his blessings upon us throughout this faith step.  He chose to use people to demonstrate  His grace, love, and plan.  We are overwhelmed by His goodness and the faithfulness of His people.

  • The Wednesday we met with our advocate we received a generous, anonymous gift.  A gift that was given just because they felt like they were supposed to give it.  
  • When I met with the administrative staff to tell them that I needed to leave, they were gracious.  I was told not to feel guilty because I was doing the right thing for my daughter.  Within an hour of leaving the meeting, I received a phone call from the academic dean and offered a curriculum writing job for my class so that I could still earn money and keep my toe in the door.
  • My friends and co workers were so encouraging.  I was told that they were excited about this journey for Scottie and for me.  I had a parent of one of my students tell me that they were proud of me.  Proud that we made the right decision even though it was the hardest decision.  Words that blessed my heart and encouraged my brain…the brain that was full of disbelief.  How could we be so reckless when we needed my income?  How in the world did I think I could educate Scottie?  I am not a special education teacher.  I have no training.
  • Scott received a phone call from a man we know from a previous church.  He asked to meet with Scott to talk.  (I paused far too long as I sat here typing this part.  I paused because I still cannot wrap my head around the generous offer that he and his wife have made for my Scottie..for my family.)  They want to give financially to help Scottie…whatever that may look like.  They know of our story simply from reading posts and hearing bits and pieces of Scottie's story.  I still cannot comprehend…
  • My sister and brother in law gave us some money to help set up Scottie's classroom.  Their gift touched my heart because I know that they support us.  It blessed us.  

God has poured His blessing upon us through this faith step.  He chose my Scottie to demonstrate His grace, love, and plan.  We are overwhelmed by His goodness.

The day I withdrew Scottie from school I came home and told Scottie that she would not be going back to school.  I told her that I would keep her home with me and I would become her teacher.  She stared back at me.  I told her again that I would be her teacher and that I would teach her and Zoey at home. She simply responded with "no more school".   Since that day, three things have happened (or in some cases not happened).

  • She started sleeping through the night again.  For months, Scottie would wake up in the middle of the night, and she was irritated and angry when she woke up.  She has only come into my room once since the end of November.  ONCE!
  • She no longer asks me about tomorrow.  For years, Scottie would ask us several times a day if she had school tomorrow.  We would tell her how many more "school days" she had or if it was a "stay home mommy day."  I knew that school stressed her.  But when she stopped asking…. just to know that this stress has been lifted from my 9 year old's shoulder…oh what a blessing!
  • My Scottie is back… we have a dear friend, Jennifer, who has been worried for months that Scottie was disappearing.  They have always had such a sweet relationship.  Scottie loves Jennifer and Jennifer loves Scottie.  The other night Jennifer told me that she has started to see my Scottie again.  She's back.  

As I write this post, we have completed two school days.  They had their challenges.  I am learning so much about Scottie. Honestly some of what I have learned has left me in tears, but some of it leaves me wanting more…

More of Scottie
More of what God has in store
More of this journey
More of His blessing
More…More…More of God

I am so excited to be on this journey.

Even though I am not sure how we will do this financially, I have such peace.  Scott has peace.  More importantly, Scottie has peace.

God is faithful.  I am in AWE of how faithful and loving He is.

That is our step of faith.