It was time for our ultrasound of our baby at 20 weeks. I remember our excitement about being able to see this baby. Even more excited as advancements in technology from when we were last expecting meant that we would be able to see the baby in 3d. No longer just the grainy black and white pictures, but a clear photo.
I lay in that darkened room, staring at the monitor catching glimpses of the baby as the scan took place. And then, across the screen, came his face. His gorgeous, chubby cheeked face at rest.
And in that moment before I had even held this baby in my arms I had fallen in love. Fallen in love with that little, adorable face.
It’s the same with God. Before we had uttered our first cry on this planet. Before we had taken our first breath, before we could declare our love to Him, God already knew us and already loved us. Unconditionally loved us! Nothing we do can ever take away the unconditional love that God has for us. Nothing will ever separate us from Him or from His grace. Nothing ever disqualifies us from the good future and plans that He has for us.
“You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvellously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord! You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place; carefully, skilfully shaping me from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book. Every single moment you are thinking of me.” (Psalm 139:13-18)
(PS No we didn’t find out whether we were expecting a boy or a girl – I like surprises!)
Remember the “He loves me, He loves me not” game with a daisy that you’d do? Pulling a petal off one by one to see if it ended with “He loves’ me or “He loves me not.” It struck me today that it’s something we can also play with our lives. Maybe it’s the “Good mum, bad mum” version. The one when you’re a good mum because you got the kids off to school on time and without forgetting or losing anything (including your temper!) and then bad mum because it was a “lunch order” day. Good for doing the laundry, bad for not serving them enough vegetables at dinner.
Or perhaps for you, it’s the “Good Christian, bad Christian” version. You know, the one when you’re good because you started the day with your quiet time, or prayed with someone that day, or you’re star of the day because you shared your faith. But then you hit yourself with the “bad Christian” label because your mind wandered during your Pastor’s sermon, you know your attitude in life definitely leaves you lacking, or you can’t remember when you last prayed.
Playing this game is as futile as the daisy one. It doesn’t achieve anything but put you on a rollercoaster of emotions as to whether you are winning or succeeding at life – parenting , being a Christian etc. It keeps us tied to guilt. And really at the end of the day, it’s a guilt game. Sure you can have days when you feel like you’re nailing it, but you will also have days when the condemnation and guilt railroad you into depression and failure.
It runs contrary to God’s will for our lives, which is to see us reside in grace. A grace that forgives the failure, gives strength for the good and hope for the future. Grace which picks us up and let’s us keep going. Grace that doesn’t base love on performance. Grace which doesn’t give us a label, but says instead that you are loved, cherished and precious to God no matter how your day has gone. God is not a “He loves me, He loves me not” God. He loves you. Full stop!
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. ” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Herding Kittens, juggling monkeys – yes that pretty much sums up parenthood, in the early years at least. Haven’t reached the teens or tweens years yet! Herding kittens I think sometimes might even be easier. As it is, gone are the days of deciding to go out and then merely grabbing your bag and keys and doing just that. Two of the boys may be the in the car ready to go, while I rush around trying to locate a lost shoe for the third. Find said shoe and third trots to the car, only to then have one of the others get out having decided he actually does need the toilet. Then the other decides that he needs a toy. As I said herding kittens!
Nonetheless, this stage of life is busy but immensely rich and fun! But what can undo the enjoyment of it, is feeling that you don’t measure up to other parents – the mums at the school gate or in front of you at the checkout queue. But parents aren’t all perfect cookie cut outs. We’re all different. We were all created by God to be the unique type of parent to the children we have. It is important to embrace who each of us are as parents and not to compare to try to imitate others.
You won’t see me baking organic broccoli muffins for my boys, but you will find me on the floor playing Batman and Robin with their toys or reading the (entire!!!) series of Captain Underpants to them. We are all different. We might all go through the same milestones of our children, but we will respond to them differently as will our children. And while I know I certainly don’t always get it right, I have a God who loves me and lets me reside in an atmosphere of grace.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. “(Isaiah 40:11)
Remember you are the best parent to your children when you are you!
As we turned into our driveway, it seemed that my son and I noticed the length of the lawn at the same time. We had two very different reactions though. Mine was the obvious one – make mental note to talk to hubby about mowing the lawns! My 6 year old’s was to shout gleefully at the length of the grass and all the gorgeous flowers that seem to have appeared overnight – weeds really. He leapt out of the car and headed for the garden, appearing sometime later with a fistful of flowers for me.
In the vase on my window sill is now a bunch of yes, essentially weeds, but I’m going to go with saying wild flowers! Official garden sites though do list the clovers, dandelions, lawn daisies and hawksbeard that cover my lawn as weeds. Through my son’s eyes, these are of course flowers and couldn’t be anything else. And looking at these weeds through my son’s eyes I also see a pretty picture of purple, green and yellow flowers gathered and given in love.
How we are conditioned to see things affects our perspective on life. And it doesn’t just stop at weeds or flowers. The same can be said for us. Things that people have said about us or to us, knocks from life all colour how we see ourselves. We can find ourselves like Gideon, hiding scared in the wine press and wondering why God is calling him, the least of the least, a mighty warrior. We can see ourselves as a weed, while God looks at each of us as an exotic flower, a precious rose, a glorious sunflower.
It’s another occasion for me to learn from my children. My boys see endless possibilities as to what they can be when they grow up. From an architect designing the world’s tallest building, to a Doctor, a pilot, to yes a superhero. They have not yet heard the cry of the crowd saying no, it’s impossible, you don’t have what it takes. They just hear the beat of their hearts and dream unlimited dreams.
The way God sees us matters more than any thought that we’ve had or comparison that we have made about ourselves. It matters more than what others have called us or what they have said to us. Often we don’t hear what God has to say about us because the voices inside our heads, which derives value from the reward system of the world, clamors so insistently in our brains – Voices that say “They didn’t notice you”, “You weren’t good enough to be chosen”, “You will never make it.” We need to push those voices away and listen to God who finds us in the winepress and says Mighty Warrior, I need you to do something.
From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
Nothing disqualifies us from who we are except the way we perceive ourselves apart from God. Instead of looking at our limitations or constraints, let’s focus on what we do have! We have Jesus’ approval, and that’s all we need.
It was time for the boys to tidy their bedrooms. And surprisingly quickly, my 6 year olds’ room was transformed into a tidy oasis. Everything off the floor, bed made. I was very happy. That is until closer inspection I realised that the toys on the floor had been conveniently shoved under the bed. Dirty laundry was hidden down beside his chest of drawers. The 5 extra steps needed to reach the laundry hamper, apparently 5 steps too many.
Like mother, like son. (It has been said!) I was rather messy as a child too and was known to also use the space beneath my bed as “storage”. My son was well and truly busted (just as I had been as a child!) His room looked tidy on the surface but beneath it was a different story.
We can be the same. We can look picture perfect to those around us. We can look like we have our lives in complete control. But beneath the surface we can have feelings of inadequacy, guilt or shame and condemnation. We can be battling insecurity, fear, doubt. As much as my son’s room needed a bit of a spring clean, our internal worlds need the same regular attention. The more that we sort out our internal reality, the more that God can move in our lives and we are transformed into the likeness of Christ.
I helped my son tidy up what was under his bed, moved his bed to make it easier (yes there was that much stuff!) and vacuumed his room. When we decide to give our souls a little spring clean, God is there with us. There to heal our pain, there with grace, healing, hope and strength.
Spring cleaning can seem a bit of faff (my boys certainly thought so), but they loved their tidied rooms and rediscovering some favourite toys that were lost beneath the bed…
At home today my 3 year old and I went to walk down our stairs. That is, until he decided that it would be easier, more fun and less effort on his part, if I carried him down the stairs instead. So the request “Mummy carry” was made. And willingly I did. An otherwise inconsequential trip down the stairs became a shared moment between us as we giggled and whispered on the way down (plus I received a bonus cuddle!) My son made the request and I was willing to oblige.
Jesus said to us “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28), yet so often I find myself determined to do life in my own strength and stubbornly often with a lot of luggage. You’d think I’d know better – having travelled frequently and often with more luggage than I can handle I have learnt a trick or two. I don’t even attempt to do it in my own strength! I have caught a cab from my hotel merely to take me round the corner to the Train Station. I have been escorted in JFK International Airport by my own personal porter with a large trolley for all my luggage (he did offer! I think he thought there were a lot more people with me given the quantity of luggage!) But when it comes to life to the problems that weigh me down I’m less quick to ask God to carry them.
This offer of help is seen in the Psalms – “Give your burdens to the LORD, and He will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” (Psalm 55:22). And it is seen again in 1 Peter – “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”(1 Peter 5:7).
It was not a problem or a burden to carry my son down the stairs (he’s still little!), it was a joy. It’s the same for God, He’s not thrown by what we need help with, He wants to help.
My son I’ve decided is a wise boy, while I myself, need to be a bit more wiser!
Today I took my 6 year old son to the dentist. As we walked towards the clinic, a little hand slipped into mine and a voice whispered “I am scared”. I reassured my little chap and squeezed his hand in encouragement. I told him to be brave and in we went. He chatted happily to the Dentist about all sorts of things, he laughed at the glasses he had to wear. And soon enough he was sitting in the dentist chair as the dentist first checked and then cleaned his teeth. I quite decided he was no longer scared, and then I saw his hands. Two little hands tightly clenched. Two hands that remained so, until the Dentist was finished. My son was doing this afraid – he was doing this brave!
Bravery is great courage: courage in the face of danger, difficulty or pain.
Bravery means tightly clenching your hands while you do what you’re scared to do, yet must do. It means willingly climbing into that dentist chair or stepping onto the stage, or going for that job, or sharing that dream. It means ignoring the voice that tells you to run, or that you’re not good enough. It means listening to what God says and taking courage that He is there with you.
“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
Nelson Mandela said this “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Sometimes we just have to do it afraid, and by doing it afraid, we’re doing it brave.