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Recently I’ve been reading through a ministry book by Witness Lee titled “The Sufficiency, Pursuit, and Learning of the Lord’s Serving Ones.” I’ve been reading it in the snatches of time I have during the day – while waiting at the bus stop, on the bench at the park, during CC’s swim class. Reading it in little snippets during the day has been so enlightening, helpful and supplying. I’ve really enjoyed a particular portion I read a few weeks ago, which I’ve been chewing on and quoting to everyone. It’s so good, I’ll just quote part of it here -

Genuine spiritual life grows in desolate circumstances. We should not expect to always receive light when we read the Bible, to have the Lord’s presence when we pray, to save many sinners, or that our wife, husband, children, parents, and siblings will be spiritual. These expectations are unrealistic. Those who are genuinely spiritual pitch their tent between Bethel and Ai. God does not allow us to be free of desolate situations…God desires that we remain in the status in which we were called…If we can be normal human beings in our troublesome, complicated, and fallen situations, then we will have the genuine exercise of spirituality. Living between Bethel and Ai should be our normal experience.

Our outward circumstances in coordination with the operation of God give us the opportunity to develop a genuine spiritual life. We should not expect to be in a situation that is heavenly and without any problems…We have the weaknesses and desolation, but we also have the Lord’s blessing. We must leave our spiritual longings and learn to experience God in our desolate situations so that we may have genuine growth in life.

Is that not encouraging? To give some background, in Genesis chapter 12, Abraham was led by God to pitch his tent between Bethel and Ai. Bethel means “the house of God” and Ai means “a heap of ruins.” This is exactly where God also leads us to pitch our tent today. In our Christian life, our experience is often that we face the house of God on one side, but a heap of ruins on the other. We may be enjoying God in His house, but we also often find ourselves in the midst of many desolate situations that cause us to wonder if God is really with us. So often I have the mistaken concept that the more I grow in the Lord, the easier my life should become. But I was so helped to be reminded that genuine spirituality and growth comes out of the experience of Christ in the midst of all the desolate situations. We should never expect our life to be problem free, but our normal experience should be one of living between Bethel and Ai.

One day last week the Lord reminded me of this in a very practical way. It was a regular weekday and the day began as all other regular weekdays begin. Some time after breakfast CC discovered that his little brother had destroyed his Lego creation from the night before and a level 9 tantrum ensued. Let’s just say the situation quickly deteriorated from there. We missed the school bus, and as I was trying to get the boys out the door so that I could drive CC to school, they began fighting about who would open the door. By the time I got both screaming boys buckled into their car seats, I was on the verge of screaming myself. I was tempted to just leave them there and go back into the house and crawl back into bed. That’s when the Lord spoke that portion to me again. Here I was in the midst of a desolate situation, here I am facing Ai, but that is perfectly normal. If in the midst of that, I turn to the Lord and learn to be a normal Christ-enjoying mom to my children, then that can be an experience of genuine spirituality and growth in life.

So as I drove, I let the boys scream until they were all screamed out. I inwardly called on the Lord and tried my best to speak to them with my soft non-screaming voice. I don’t think I ever had the chance to get into the Word or spend much time in prayer that morning, but I felt like I touched the Lord and had a real experience of Him in the midst of that loud minivan. When we cooperate with His operation in the middle of our troublesome circumstances, whatever they may be, then God will really be able to grow in us in a practical way.

Talking to our children

Happy December everyone! I can’t believe there is only one more month left to 2014. Crazy how the years fly by the older the kids get. When they were babies it seemed like those long days of nursing and cradling would never end and I would faithfully track their progress month by month. Now in the midst of packing school lunches, swim classes, and our busy family and church life, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. The months go by too fast for me to remember how many months Turner is, so I’ll just keep telling people he’s 2 years old until he turns 3.

Parenting in some sense has become significantly easier now that I’m not so sleep deprived. But the older the kids get, the more I feel like I’m entering uncharted territory. It has gone beyond simply caring for their physical well being and growth to caring for the people they are becoming. Now I feel like there’s so much more to worry about. When they’re little, the dangers are more obvious, like making sure they don’t put dirty things in their mouths or play with sharp objects. But now that CC is older and going to school, I worry that the dangers are more subtle. I worry that I might not be able to see or protect him from all the germs that are getting into his mind just by growing up in this corrupt world we live in.

A friend of mine once told me her reasons for homeschooling her young children – she knew she couldn’t shield her children from all the immoral germs of the world, but she wanted them to spend their formative years with her so that she could at least make sure they build up a healthy immune system. While we don’t feel to homeschool CC at this time (although that could change), I wholeheartedly agree with her about the need to help our children build up a strong and healthy spiritual immune system. I recently attended a parenting workshop and I was so helped to be reminded again that raising our children is a stewardship entrusted to us by God. It’s not just about clothing them and feeding them, but even more about caring for their spiritual welfare. As parents we will all be accountable to the Lord for how we handled our stewardship. On the one hand, how they turn out is up to the Lord’s mercy, but on the other hand, we have the responsibility to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6).

The practical point I took away from the workshop was simply that I need to spend more quality time with my children. More time talking to them, more time listening to them, more time praying with them, and more time modeling to them what it means to love God and fear God. I had the stark realization last week that CC must hear and take in so much at school, but I don’t spend the adequate time with him to help him process and even filter out everything that’s getting into him. Besides the perfunctory, “How was school today?” to which the reply is usually, “Good,” I don’t really know what happened in his day. Now I’ve been trying to practice sitting down and having more meaningful conversations with my son, REALLY listening to him, and I’ve been surprised by how much I don’t know about him. I’ve learned that sometimes his classmates make fun of him for being little and that makes him sad, and I’ve learned that his favorite activity in choice time is computers (that didn’t really surprise me). I’ve also restarted the practice of praying with him before bed, and that sweet time has also been a window into his little heart. One night he wanted to pray that his friend would like his birthday presents, and another night he wanted to pray that the new substitute teacher would know the right songs to sing. I want him to always feel free to tell not just me, but God also, all these things on his heart, no matter how trivial they may seem to others.

So instead of wasting time worrying, I’m going to use that time to pray and to get to know my children. The influence of the world might be strong, but the God who lives in me and hopefully will one day live in them is stronger. As long as we lead our children to know this one, I think they’ll turn out just fine.

It’s high time I brought Truth Tuesdays back! For those of you who don’t know what Truth Tuesday is, it’s basically my way of staying accountable to myself to make sure that I’m in the word in a regular way. For a while I was pretty good about posting every Tuesday about any fresh enjoyment or nourishment I had received in my time with the Lord in the word. Then summer came along…and school started…and life got busy, and even though it’s not like I haven’t been reading the Bible or enjoying the Lord, I have to admit it hasn’t been that regular and because I haven’t been posting, it’s hard for me to recall all the truth I have enjoyed in the past few months. I find sometimes when it comes to what God shows me in the word, it’s those things that I share with others that really stick with me in the long run. When I just keep my enjoyment to myself, it becomes fleeting and hard to recall. So since I’m not so bold to go around speaking it to people (although I’m really praying that the Lord would change that), I’ll use this space instead as my way to share the word so that more of it will stick with me. Hopefully, some of you out there will enjoy these posts as well.

In a lot of Truth Tuesday posts I had written about what I’ve gotten out of my slow reading of the Life-study of Genesis. Well, I’m happy to report that I finally finished it, all 120 messages! Woohoo! Now I’m in the Life-study of Exodus, which has 185 messages, so with my current schedule, it’ll probably take me about a year to finish. It’ll be slow going, but I guess when it comes to being constituted with the truth, the tortoise wins the race. So expect to hear a lot about Exodus from me on Tuesdays.

One small point I’ve enjoyed so far in my reading is concerning God speaking to Moses out of the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3. While Moses was in the wilderness, God appeared to him “in a flame of fire out of the midst of the thornbush” (v.2) Why is this so significant? In Genesis we see that the thorn bush was a sign of man being under the curse. God cursed the ground with thorns because of man’s fall. And the flame of fire in Genesis guarded the tree of life; it was an excluding flame which kept sinful man away from God’s holiness. In Genesis 3, the thorn bush representing fallen man and the flame of fire representing the holy God were diametrically opposed to one another.

But in Exodus 3 the situation is altogether different. These two diametrically opposed things actually come together. Moses saw the flame burning in the midst of the thorn bush. Hallelujah! The thorn bush becomes the vessel for the flame and even becomes one with the fire. That means that even though we’re fallen and cursed, God through His redemption still found the way to dwell in us and become one with us. The very flame that once excluded us from coming to God can now visit us and dwell within us. We Christians are cursed thorn bushes like everyone else, but the difference is that we have a flame burning within.

And not only did Moses see a thorn bush burning, but he also saw that “the thornbush was not consumed” (Exo. 3:2). The thorn bush was burning, but it was not burned up. That means when God comes into us, He doesn’t consume us. God was reassuring Moses…yes, I’m calling and sending you, but don’t depend on yourself to be the fuel for what needs to be done. The fire doesn’t need you to be the fuel, it just needs you to be the vessel in which it can burn. Sometimes Many times in my Christian life, I feel burnt out and why is that? Probably because I’m relying on my thornbushy self to do everything. Let’s face it, thorn bushes are just kindling, they’ll burn up in seconds. Our natural life can never be the fuel for what God has called us to do; only He Himself can be the fuel. This simple picture in Exodus shows us the paradox of the Christian life – a thorn bush burning yet not consumed. I pray that this would really become our experience. May we common thorn bushes allow the God of glory to burn more brightly in us this week!

Yesterday my sweet little boy turned 5. We celebrated the day with a pancake breakfast, a trip to Little Farm, and his requested birthday dinner of baked spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread (originally he had only requested salad, but I convinced him we needed some carbs and protein), and of course special birthday cupcakes for dessert which he insisted on decorating with sprinkles himself. He went to bed happy, full of carbs and sugar. I went to bed and scrolled through all the old pictures and videos on my phone of him when he was just learning to walk and talk and part of me longed to have that little baby boy back. Even though I’m so anxious to see him grow, especially seeing how he’s still the smallest one in his class, part of me wishes there was a pause button I could push to stop time from going so darn fast.

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I’m thankful to the Lord for bringing our CC and us through another year. It has been a year of learning for all of us. He has mastered the art of riding a scooter and can now move on to learning to ride his new bike (birthday present from the grandparents). After over 2 years of being in swim class on and off, he’s finally ready to move on to Rays (level 3). He’s learned how to fold his pajamas and make his bed every day before leaving for the school bus. He’s learned how to play chess (I think) and the names for all the ninja turtles. My mother’s heart is bursting with pride.

Now for what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that this little boy can bring a temper out of me like no one else, and that he can match it with an equally hot temper of his own. This year has been a year of learning what kinds of discipline work with him and what kinds don’t. Sometimes I feel like I’m negotiating with a terrorist who refuses to back down or trying to defuse a bomb that can detonate any second. No one told me parenting was such dangerous work. There have been a lot of failures on my part, and sometimes there have been collateral damage. But there have also been days when I’ve been successful in averting WWIII, and I’ve come to appreciate and learn from those small victories. They’ve taught me that the best way to defuse a ticking bomb is not with a sledgehammer, but with a gentle cutting of the right wires. Hopefully I’ll get better at knowing which wires to cut. There really should be a Nobel Peace Prize awarded for parenting.

So here’s to another year of learning! Since there’s no pause, or rewind, or fast forward in life, we might as well turn up the volume and enjoy the music of our children growing up! Happy birthday, CC!

Dear fellow mom at the park this afternoon,

I really wanted to tell you that you’re doing a great job with your twin babies, but I thought it would come off a little awkward. I saw you pushing that double stroller tiredly, weighed down by the double bags under your eyes, knowing it has probably been forever since you’ve had a good night’s sleep. I wanted to say bravo to you for getting out of the house, knowing it probably took you forever and a day to get those two little ones ready.

I wanted to tell you that I saw you, as you struggled to put one baby into the swing while the other clung to your leg. I saw you when you heaved a sigh of resignation when neither baby wanted to be in the swings and watched in admiration as you lifted them out and tucked one under each arm. I wanted so much to offer you help, but for some reason I hesitated. Maybe because I didn’t want you to think that I thought you were incompetent, or maybe I didn’t know how you would feel about a stranger wanting to hold your child. Sorry all I offered you was a sympathetic smile, when what I really wanted to do was to invite you over for tea and take those two precious weights off your weary hands while you cradle a nice hot cup of tea (or better yet, of latte) instead.

I wanted to tell you that I saw you as you sat with those babies on the playground floor, so needy, barely crawling, demanding constant amusement from you. I felt kind of guilty sitting there on the step by myself, watching my own two boys playing happily by themselves, independent of me. I wanted to offer you encouraging words, that eventually those two little ones will also be running and sliding on their own, but I didn’t want to come off as patronizing or condescending.

I watched you as you reluctantly loaded those babies back into their stroller when their fussiness indicated that they’ve had enough of the park, even though it had barely been half an hour. I saw you look back longingly as you headed out the gate, at all the moms chattering and laughing, while their kids played happily, probably mentally counting how many hours you still had left in the day being alone taking care of those babies. My heart went out to you. I wanted to run after you and say, “It’ll be okay, really. It’s super hard, but it will get better,” but instead I offered up a silent prayer for you, that you would find the grace needed to get through the rest of today.

So dear mama, if we do meet at the park again, I’ll try to overcome my shyness and awkwardness and stop worrying about how I come off. I won’t hesitate to offer you help because that’s what fellow moms do for each other. Maybe I’ll even work up the courage to strike up a conversation and invite you over for tea. And while you’re cradling that cup, maybe I’ll get a chance to tell you what I wanted to tell you today – that you’re doing a wonderful job.

 

 

Make me a Hannah

Sorry y’all…I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. It’s been a long and busy yet lazy summer and I’ve had two boys to entertain and amuse everyday. But that’s all about to change soon because school starts on Wednesday! (Cue in Hallelujah chorus). CC will begin his first year of kindergarten (well, technically Transitional Kindergarten because his birthday’s in October). Whatever they want to call it, the fact is that he’ll be in a school with big kids, I’ll need to pack him a lunch, and he might possibly even be riding the school bus home. I honestly don’t know who’s more excited about it, him or me.

Sending a child, especially my firstborn, off to school is a big deal. There are so many different conflicting emotions involved. I’m excited and proud to see him growing up and moving on to this stage in life, yet scared and nervous because it brings back all my own memories of being in school. What if he gets teased by the other kids like I was for being so small? What if he doesn’t make any friends, or has no one to sit with at lunch? Worse yet, what if he makes the wrong friends and learns the wrong things?

Every time these kinds of fears assail me, I’m reminded of the story of Hannah in the Old Testament. She wanted a child so badly that she bargained with God that if He granted her a son, she would lend him to Jehovah all his days. Little did she know that her prayer for a son was an echo of God’s own need to have a Nazarite who could turn the age. In that time the priesthood under Eli was corrupt and devoid of God’s speaking. But in Samuel, God found someone who would obey His speaking and cooperate with Him to bring the whole nation of Israel out of degradation. If it wasn’t for Hannah’s prayer, that never would have or could have happened.

What reassures me about this story though is that Hannah trusted God enough to allow her son to grow up in the temple with Eli, who, judging by how his own sons turned out, was probably not the best parent or teacher. His sons profaned the priesthood, yet they were probably the patterns Samuel saw growing up. What must have been in Hannah’s motherly heart, to send her young just-weaned son, to be raised in an environment like that? Surely she knew, as all Israel did, the condition of the priests at that time. Yet she also knew that she had made a vow to Jehovah and that Samuel did not belong to her. I can’t imagine how she felt those first few years of Samuel’s life, knowing that she would soon have to send him away. She must have taken every opportunity, even while he was a babe, to instill in him a fear and love for God and to remind him that he was a Nazarite. And she probably prayed for Samuel her whole life. I believe she laid a foundation in him, so that even when he was surrounded by negative patterns, they didn’t affect him, but rather became warnings to him of what not to be. This was probably the same with Moses. He grew up and was educated in the palace of Pharaoh, but he knew he was not Egyptian.

There would be no Samuel or Moses, if not for their moms. I aspire to be like Hannah, to take every opportunity to infuse the knowledge of God into my boys. To trust more in prayer and God’s mercy than my own mothering skills. To not be so afraid of their friends’ influence on them but to make them kids that would have a positive influence on their friends. To make sure they know who they are, even if they have to be educated in an environment that is corrupt and Egyptian.

So as we enter into this new school year, let’s not miss those little opportunities. To use the time while we’re making lunches to pray for our children, to have those little conversations in the minivan before dropping them off at school, to say that little prayer before tucking them in at night. In the end, those little things can really make all the difference.

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Last month my little boy turned two. My little baby, who couldn’t wait to be born and surprised us all by coming almost a month early, is no longer a baby. Waahhh! Now he is a full fledged toddler with his own personality, complete with a quirky sense of humor. Like his older brother, Turner is extremely verbal for his age, and is turning out to be quite a ham. He likes to crack jokes and laugh at himself with a hearty guffaw and it’s impossible for us not to laugh along even though sometimes we have no idea what he’s talking about.

So far God has been merciful to us with this kid. He’s just an all around easy child – good eater, good sleeper, and for the most part a happy-go-lucky boy. Maybe that’s just how second-borns are. So Turner, I know you can’t read this yet, but Mommy is so happy you came along and joined our family. I feel very blessed to be your mama. Thank you for being so flexible and easy on us as parents, at least for the first two years of your life. Thank you for letting mommy still rock you like a baby (or “do rocky baby” as you like to call it) sometimes even though you are now a big two year old boy. Mommy loves you with all of her heart and will always be here to laugh at your jokes.

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Lisa-Jo Baker

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