My husband and I are raising two wonderful, high spirited, independent, stubborn children. We have many dreams and aspirations for them and their future, but we both understand that their life has to be their own. What is our greatest hope for them you may wonder? That both of them accept Christ as their savior. Because of this, Will and I have done everything we can think of to teach our children about God. We have talked to Mason and Mia about Him, read Bible stories to them, we have gone to the same church as a family since the kids have been born, we pray with the kids, you should see our Veggie Tales collection (!), and the weight of my Christian parenting books have on more than one occasion threatened to break my bookcase shelves. But from time to time, at my most vulnerable moments, after a hard day or difficult week of parenting those two little souls, there can be that annoying nagging voice in the back of my head that asks that awful little question: am I doing this right?
While I don't necessarily enjoy the feeling of that question, I think it serves a purpose. Evaluating my walk with God is healthy. I recently had a good friend remind me of this, and he compared it to having a nurse take our vital signs at a doctors office so the doctor can give us a check up. Since I have given every aspect of myself to God and every facet of my life to Him, parenting falls into His parameters, too. So when that annoying little voice asks me, “am I doing this right?” I work hard not to let that question settle into a bad place that eats away at my God given confidence and instead I use it as a reminder to continually work with God in guiding my children to Him. Therefore “am I doing this right” isn't a dig at Mia and Mason's Mommy... it is an opportunity for God to keep me on His path and maybe even show me a new option I didn't know existed before I prayed and asked Him for more guidance.
Pick up any parenting book and it will have a chapter on modeling behavior for your child. The concept is simple. If you want your child to do X, then you must do X. If you teach your children to say “please” and “thank you” but they never hear those words come out of Mom and Dad's mouth, they are far less likely to adopt manners as their go to behavior. I will never forget the day we were all in church as a family. The worship band was playing, the kids were between my husband and me, and I was singing with my eyes closed an my hands raised (worshiping). I felt one of the kids bump me once, then twice, and on the third time I stopped worshiping so I could remind whoever it was of the “APPROPRAITE CHURCH SERVICE BEHAVIOR!”. And there was Mason. Six years old, arms raised, eyes closed, swaying to the music, and singing his little heart out to God. I cried! He knew the song. He had heard it in our church and it played in our house all the time. He had seen his Mom worship so many times with eyes closed and arms raised. He knew how to worship. It had been modeled by Mom. It had been modeled by others in church around him. I looked around our church. Our pastor was in front of us worshiping with arms raised, too. There were a few others who worshiped like us with arms raised; some in the worship band, Mason's Auntie, and a few others. Then there were those that worshiped like Will, Mason and Mia's Dad. Quiet, reverent. They sing, they stand, they sit. Then there are the children who dance like Mia and a few of the other little girls in church. They sing to God and dance in the aisles. Women clap, men smile, people sing. We are all modeling worshiping the God we love. Are we doing it right? You better believe we are!!
My babies are growing up. Long gone are the cute little “Bible Story Books For Toddlers” where the story of Noah’s ark is told in rhyme and we quickly skip over the whole PEOPLE DYING on the flooded earth and go straight to the hippo dancing with the monkey while Noah's wife plays the accordion. Both Mason and Mia have their own Bible now, complete with Old and New Testament. Mason has this really amazing Action Bible that puts the Bible in graphic novel form, too. He now has access to stories that, while they are absolute truth, make for very interesting dinner conversations. We've now talked about why people in the Old Testament married people in their families and why we don't do that anymore. We've had conversations about plagues. Satan has been the go to question right before bed time! And while Mason still doesn't remember the name of the town of Sodom and Gomorrah, he knows a lot more of the story than I was comfortable talking about with an inquisitive eight year old who likes to talk to strangers about things he knows. I knew this would happen when Mason got a Bible. I was also prepared for the fear that would come from the knowledge he would gain from the Bible. Let's face it, for as much comfort as God's word can bring us, there are some scary things in there that we as adults wrestle with. If not scary for some, then at least difficult. But in my child, this tends to translate to fear. So when it was time to pick a Bible for him, and present the Bible to him, and lead him through a Bible, all I could think was am I doing this right? I became so fixated on it. I stressed myself out about it. I put the pressure on me. Somehow, for about a week, I trapped myself in my own brain. I started thinking that this Bible he received and how I handled it was a make it or break it moment. I went beyond doing a little research about good Bibles for children and started to believe that picking the wrong Bible would mean Mason (who is my only child who can read independently right now) would either get scared of what he read or be bored by what I picked out and turn his back on God at the tender age of 8. I almost lost sight of the fact that God was bigger than all of this. I began to look at the situation through a microscope, focusing so closely on this one moment in his life, making it bigger than God. I was wrong. I failed to look at the situation though the telescope of God. My children are on a life long path with their creator. This is but one moment out of many. I cannot destroy their relationship with Jesus by getting the wrong Bible for them. There was some truth in my fears: at some point in their lives my children might stumble in their walk. But the responsibility I took on was wrong. My responsibility is to be there for guidance, for encouragement, for prayer, for support, for love. I am their parent but I am also their Sister in Christ. A role I am learning to play. Am I doing this right? Sometimes. But sometimes I need to get out of the way. Sometimes I am standing directly in front of them yelling for them to walk forward, but not getting out of the way! I worked so hard not to be that parent who stood behind their kids and pushed their children tword God and forced a relationship with Him upon them, that I forgot to make sure I wasn't the roadblock standing in between them and God. How did God remind me that I wasn’t Him? That I wasn't in charge of Mason and Mia's salvation? That picking the right Bible didn't guarantee eternal salvation for the two most precious things to me on this earth? God reminded me of my past. I was raised without a Bible in my home. God was barley spoken about. Truth be told He was a curse word. My extended family, myself, my immediate family, my closest friends, they all saw religious people as weirdos, followers, scammers, or controlling people. I was eight years old when I saw a banner that read, “Happy Birthday, Jesus” in our neighborhood at Christmas time. When I commented to my Mom that it must be hard to have your birthday on Christmas, my Mom realized I didn't even know the name “Jesus”. This would be my Mom who was raised in a Catholic home and graduated from a Catholic high school. Flash forward to the age of eighteen when I met my future husband, Will. He was an amazing young man. I agreed to date him even though he was “one of those Christians”. The only thing I asked was that he didn't try to convert me. By nineteen I accepted Christ. Even if I hadn't married Will I believe I would have continued my relationship with God. This girl who grew up without Jesus in her life became a woman who can't live without Him. I never had a Bible as a kid. I never went to church and worshiped with a church family. AWANA leaders never introduced me to Sparky. I wasn't prayed for even before I was born. And my Father in heaven still found me. I could stand in the kid's section of Family Christian Bookstore, blindfold myself, spin in a circle five times, and point to a Bible on the shelf at random; It is God that will find my children, not the hours of research that I put into picking out the right Bible.
Last night we went to an amazing production put on by a church. They transformed their outside area into the town of Bethlehem. I was in awe. People were dressed as they would be in Jesus' day. They had a blacksmith's shop, a place for the kids to learn to write the word “Shalom” in Hebrew, they had animals to pet, bricks and clay pots to make, they had it all. Our family was given coins (shekels) when we first walked in to spend in the town. We had to pay tax upon admittance and we had to pay for food and goods. It was beyond amazing for the kids (and for Will and me) to travel back in time and imagine ourselves in Jesus' day. Will and I love to do things like this with the kids. It is a family bonding experience, it helps teach the kids about God, and because we home school I can tie things like this into what we are learning at home. But there is also a part of me that has to remember to relax. This should be experienced. I have to “drink this in” so to speak, and so do the kids. I wanted to make sure that the kids, especially Mia since she is only five, understood that we were pretending but I also wanted them to immerse themselves in where we were. I wanted to strike the right balance. In essence I wanted to do this right. I knew that while we were there actors would portray Mary and Joseph. They would ride in on a donkey, be turned away at the Inn, be given shelter at a stable, and then there would be some sort of performance. It turned out they had angels singing, a star shining in the sky, and then we all were able to visit Mary, Joesph, and baby Jesus in the stable. It was amazing. I hadn't prepared the kids for any of it. I just let them experience it. The only thing I made sure of while we were standing in line to wait our turn to meet “the new family” was that the kids knew this wasn't the real Mary, Joesph, and Jesus. It turns out my kids already knew this was a reenactment (duh, Mom!). So I stood back and soaked it all in. I took pictures, I smiled, I relaxed as Mason and Mia took their turn seeing (a real baby) Jesus in Mary's arms and talked to a very friendly Joesph. Joesph told Mason and Mia how happy he was to have a son, how long and difficult the walk to Bethlehem was, and how they had to come to Bethlehem because there was a census being taken. And then my son, my amazing, loud, rambunctious, active, lively, off the wall son who I never know what will come out his mouth next reached into the pocket of his coat, took out a shekel (coin), handed it to Joesph and said, “I know you are poor because it says so in the Bible. I want you to have my money. This is for Jesus.” Joesph thanked Mason for the gift and I just stood there with my camera in my hand, crying. This is my son, my Baby Boy, choosing to give to God in his own way. No one asked him to do this. No one told him it would be a good idea. He didn't see anyone do this before him (well, OK, he saw us give at our church...but you know what I mean). This was Mason, this was his heart. He gave to Jesus. And then I watched as the children standing around Mason gave coins to Joseph, too. My boy modeled giving to God. He modeled a form of worship, just by loving Jesus. And I stood in the middle of the stable and cried. I drank it all in. And I thanked God. I thanked Him for my church family who have helped Will and me raise our children with God. I thanked Him for dedicated AWANA leaders who give their time so children can hear His word. I thanked Him for finding me all those years ago when I was lost and didn't know Him. I thanked Him for His grace that fixes my parenting mistakes. I thanked Him for friends who have become family to me who support me as a person and as a parent and who love my kids just as they are. I thanked Him for the precious little heart that just handed Joseph a shekel and the sweet little soul that was standing beside me holding my hand and making goo goo eyes at baby Jesus because she is in a phase right now where she really wants to be a Mommy. I thanked Him for Will, the best husband and partner for this crazy thing we call parenting. And I tried as hard as I could to hold on to that amazing feeling because I know, I know, I know as clearly as I know the sun will rise tomorrow, that there will be another time where I will wonder... am I doing this right?