Toddler Life: Jekyll & Hyde

Toddler Life: Jekyll & Hyde

It has been quite the eventful week in our household, so thank you for bearing with me as we pause from our time in Exodus for some real life processing. Admittedly, I am not sure if I am ready to hang with eleven toddlers today, but I have about 3 hours to prepare myself.

My own toddler has kept me on my toes this past week and the weekend was no exception. Terrible teething and recovering from fire ant bites and a wasp sting had my sweet, laid back boy acting more like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

On one hand, his melodrama has been quite hysterical. You feel like a terrible person for laughing at him, but when he throws himself against the furniture or eases himself down to the floor before collapsing in crocodile tears, pausing to ensure he is being observed, you realize he is not just riding the struggle bus, he is driving it. It is a week where you attempt to keep the routine, enforce the healthy diet, the proper use of a plate, and God forbid normal hand washing, but eventually surrender to the demand of veggie straws for dinner. A week where you have walked through enough moments of intense fear that you hardly want to put the rascal down or let him out of your sight, while simultaneously wanting to beg for a break from the tantrums.

I read a meme once that addressed the double standard we can adopt towards our own children. We are allowed to have bad days, cope in maladaptive but justifiable ways for a moment, or throw a validated tantrum in the midst of pain or injustice, but they are not. It was much shorter and catchier than that, but that was my take home point. I mulled it over a bit but pulled it from the recesses of my brain this week to really chew on it. After all, if it is on a meme it must be true right?

The truth of the matter is that my fourteen-month old son has handled this week much better than I have even with his dichotomous behavior. He has continued to carry joy, extend grace, and walk in empathy even in the midst of great physical pain and discomfort. Even when he has chosen to lash out it has been in great frustration over an inability to communicate his needs adequately. When seen as an isolated incident of poor behavior, it is incredibly easy to respond quite firmly. When viewed in the context of his week though, compassion and grace permeate discipline with greater ease, tempering frustrated firmness with love.

I can imagine the lessons I am learning as a mother are only a tiny taste of how God parents us as perfect Father. I believe that God sees us in the entire context of our lives, and therefore disciplines us with great grace and compassion rather than with the harshness we deserve. Our circumstances will never justify our actions or dismiss our need for appropriate discipline, but they can provide a context for understanding the root of our behaviors. Perhaps good parenting, the kind that reflects the heart of Father God for His people onto our own children, goes beyond behavior modification and delves into the rooted issues of the heart. Perhaps that is why the first four of the ten commandments concentrate on internal attitudes of the heart: who we worship, trust, and honor. Perhaps that is why Jesus, when He teaches the law with great authority in the New Testament, turns the religious order upside down by addressing the heart rather than modifying the behavior.

If this is true and it is easier for me to extend grace and patience to my little nugget of drama when he is having a moment because I know what he is walking through, than I must accept the grace of God for myself in moments of my own struggle. The double standard of perfectionism must continue to be chipped away.  If I am to parent, or even to walk, in authentic compassion then I must become well acquainted with it personally as well.

Tremendously more easily said than done, yet true nonetheless…especially on a Monday.

-a

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Preschool 101

Preschool 101

This past August I started a part time job teaching rising two year old class at a local preschool. The idea was to provide our ever social butterfly of a son a chance to get back into a day school and help us plant roots deeper into our new community. In theory, it was brilliant. In practice…well, I did not think so much about the two year old students part. For some of you who know me well, you are already laughing at the mental picture that just popped in your head. That is fair. I laugh, too… and cry sometimes.

Here is what I have learned about two year olds; or more accurately what I have learned about myself these past two weeks:

They are fast. No really. Blink and they are on tables, eating dirt, or pulling each other’s ears as they say, “Ears! Ears!” with such pride over their anatomical knowledge. Blink and somehow the cabinets have been given a facelift with a red crayon and the crayon and suspect are nowhere to be found. Blink and a child will be hiding in a box with three old cell phones calling, “Mama! Mama! Mama!” as though it is the new 9-1-1.

They are intuitive. Smart does not cover it. They know things. These children can spot BS a mile away and they let you know they know you are in way over your head. It is something in their eyes. You know they have got you pegged, so you better be finding something more intriguing or up your mom-look game if you want their cooperation. Try keeping a straight face as they mimic whatever words or phrases you say with all of the seriousness in the world, their young tongues still trying to differentiate B’s, T’s, L’s and W’s, and pray you do not let a curse word slip.

They express empathy in the purest of ways. Imagine leaving a world in which you are aware friends exist but you never engage with them, to finding that you can interact with them and they with you. The conflict! The drama! The empathy, though! They are learning what it is to exist in community without the massive weight of insecurity or fear of man. They are learning how to share, how to be gentle, and how to express kindness in ways that their friends receive kindness. Yet the empathy that they carry and communicate towards one another is beautiful. They offer their most prized loveys to a friend in distress. They come up and say, “Hug” as though it is a question they have already answered for you. They are beginning to recognize that their actions have consequences on their communities and in their relationships; that they can identify with their friends’ emotions and meet them on common ground to either encourage, rejoice, or mourn together.

They care. You want the truth? Ask a two year old; brutal honesty always. That empathy piece exists, but false compassion does not. They care about you too much to lie to you. Most of them have yet to deal with long term insecurity, and so they do not feel the need to alter the truth to stroke your ego. Fear of man? Psh! Maybe creepy people, sure, but not the weighty fear of man that makes us question our worth, our identity, our calling and gifts. Nine times out of ten you are going to get raw honesty from these little humans who do not miss a beat and are not satisfied with the counterfeit, so if you do not want to know how your new hair cut really looks, ask an adult.

I am amazed I am not in the fetal position by the end of most school days. It is not because I have terrible students, that could never be further from the truth. I am amazed because every encounter with them opens up my eyes to the Kingdom, both to its beauty and to my desperate need of it. When Jesus refers to childlike faith, and children entering the kingdom, it goes far beyond accepting truth without question. Children do not do that; they question all the time! They do not pretend to know what they do not know, and they are unsatisfied to let you pretend either. For someone who spent most of her career and personal life pretending to be confident, the challenge these children extend to me each week has been excruciating in the healthiest of ways.

Somewhere along the way I adopted this belief that I am only worth what I can offer, so I better have it all together. I have been aware of this false belief for years, even acknowledging how detrimental it is, but I have never been able to uproot it entirely.  I have fed my insecurities rather than my curiosities because I have allowed the fear of man to creep into my heart and mind. I have moved from a place of freely observing the world around me for what it is and who I am within it, to observing myself through the lenses of comparison, pressure and expectation. Somewhere along the way that gift of genuine empathy has been twisted into false compassion, because I am more concerned with being seen than with seeing another soul, joining them in that moment, and extending to them that which is life-giving. I have existed within the framework of a double standard for as long as I can remember; saying as honestly as possible to others, “It is okay to not be okay, but it is not okay to stay that way!” “It’s okay to be human! To not have it all together!” while staunchly refusing to extend myself the same courtesy. The problem with that is compassion must be extended towards myself and then overflow to others if it is to be genuine. If in my interactions with others there is to be only mercy with no hint of judgement, the standard must be true for me as it is for them. The Gospel must be all sufficient for me as it is for them. Otherwise there will be a hint of unsafety, judgment, or insecurity in my every interaction.

I am not sure about you, but I want to be a safe person for others. I want my home to be a safe place, where scruffy hospitality is genuinely practiced and not just nicely preached. I want my children, my students, my friends, my family to experience genuine mercy, empathy, and love overflowing from the mercy, love and compassion I have received from God Himself.

Because you cannot give what you do not have. Because you cannot BS your way through preschool. Because you, at whatever age you are, will always be a child of the King.

-a

Exodus 14: Fear & Forward Movement

Exodus 14: Fear & Forward Movement

We turned down a long driveway lined with gorgeous old trees hanging overhead. In front of us was a beautiful farmhouse with large windows facing the horizon. A large tree stood, firmly rooted in the front yard with a porch swing dangling from a thick branch, facing where the sun would set. I sat in the front seat, a tightly wound ball of anxiety, having pathetically attempted to explain to my husband how lost and irrational I felt at every level of my life on the drive over. Our new friends greeted us at the front door along with their old golden retriever. His kind face was white with age and he walked with an arthritic limp; everything within me fought the urge to bury my face in the safety of his soft fur and sob. Throughout our time exploring their farm, meeting horses and cows, and eating a tasty dinner, I felt as though an elephant was sitting on my chest, squeezing my heart so tight I could hardly breathe. Fear, over nothing in particular, consumed me and I could not relax. In one of the most peaceful and idyllic of places, I felt tense and absent. We said goodnight and loaded an exhausted toddler into the car. As I drove home, I burst into a flood of tears as I confessed my fear and anxiety to my poor husband; the weight of the elephant slowly becoming lighter and lighter.

God talks a lot about fear in the Bible. I have heard He mentions something to the effect of “Do not fear” around 366 times in the entire Bible, one for every day of the year on a leap year, but I have not fact checked it. I just know He talks about fear and anxiety often because I struggle often with fear and anxiety. Perhaps one of my favorite passages of Scripture on fear is Exodus 14, because rather than simply hearing, “Fear not!” we actually witness the behind-the-scenes events that lead a nation from paralyzing fear to forward movement toward the promise of God.

Exodus 14 opens with God commanding Moses to turn back and camp in front of the Red Sea. This is interesting because He goes on to explain to Moses that Pharaoh is going to come after Israel, regretting his decision to set them free, but that God will get the glory so that Egypt will know He is God. Moses and the people of Israel obey God’s command to camp in front of the Red Sea, but Scripture is not clear as to whether Moses relayed all of the details of his conversation with God to the people. In other words, we do not know if they realized that God intentionally placed them between the sea and their enemy. However, Israel’s lack of awareness did not change God’s sovereignty in their circumstances.

As Pharaoh and his army draw near, Israel freaks out. Remember the nation that came out of Egypt equipped for battle but not ready for war? Remember why God took them the long way around, because He knew if they encountered war they would want to go back to Egypt? He knew they would want to return to Egypt and He was exactly right. Fear will always want us to go in the opposite direction of our calling. Israel knew the promised land was on the other side of the Red Sea, but they were stuck between Egypt and the sea. Israel forgot the reality of the harsh bondage they experienced in Egypt and glorified the familiar in their fear. Fear will always glorify the familiar while glossing over the miserable parts. Fear will always cause you to focus on what you know and see, forgetting the God who knows and sees ALL things.

Moses redirects the people’s vision by speaking truth they so desperately needed to hear in their moment of panic. He reminds them that God did not bring them into the wilderness, on the brink of the promise, to leave them hanging:

Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. {Exodus 14:13-14 ESV}

God also responds to Israel’s fear, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”

God was moving mightily on Israel’s behalf but required Israel to move on their behalf as well. He was not going to rescue them by an offensive attack on Egypt because Israel’s rescue was woven into their forward movement. Fear calls us back to the familiar. Faith calls us forward towards the promises of God. God makes a way where there was no way as He splits the Red Sea. He knew that Israel would be tempted to move backwards, so He calls them forward.

Israel’s forward movement was only possible with God, as it meant complete trust on God’s ability to rescue and provide for them. Forward movement meant that God, not Israel, would get the glory. God promised to fight for Israel with threefold purpose: to glorify Himself in Egypt, to glorify Himself in Israel, and to glorify Himself in the world so that all nations may know Him. God understood what Israel would soon learn: that where He is glorified therein lies their best interest.

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians…Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. {Exodus 14:30-31 ESV}

It was and always is the Lord who saves. The Lord conquered Israel’s greatest national fear; completely freeing them from the threat of Egypt. As He continued to reveal Himself to Israel, their misplaced fear became appropriately placed faith. Israel could walk forward into the promises of God with faith and confidence that God would make a way before them because of His rescue, might and grace towards them in the past.       

We can fear not, stand firm, and watch God work out His salvation in our lives as we move forward towards the promises He has given us. We can trust that God will continue to make a way where there does not seem to be one because of His past performance, His unchanging character and His love for us. We can rest in the sovereignty of God even when our circumstances do not feel peaceful, familiar, or comfortable, because our best interest will always rest in His glorification. We can, as Moses did for Israel, encourage one another in the midst of anxiety to fix our focus on Jesus and move forward into the calling He has placed on our lives.

-a