Category: Motherhood

What if Jesus didn’t mean “family” the way that the church defines it?

Many middle-class, American churches tend to make one of their goals to share the gospel through reaching families. And this is good. We know stories of from around the world of one person from the family hearing the message of salvation, and bringing it home to their whole family, where everyone decides to follow Jesus. We also know how influential parents are on the faith development of their children (check out Christian Smith and Patricia Snell’s research in the book Souls in Transition). When our kids got dedicated (for my methodist friends, this is kinda like infant baptism but without the water), the church presented us with some awesome kid bibles because, they said, we were our child’s first evangelist. I wholeheartedly agree and am so thankful for this declaration. Finally, I love how some churches are moving towards integrated sunday school curriculum, and multi-generational sunday school so that parents and children can learn together, and have discussions later on over lunch about the lesson (check out Orange– a great family ministry).

BUT, could it be that, in other ways, the church has placed too much emphasis on the nuclear family? In the Scriptures, what does Jesus say, if anything, about the notion of nuclear family?

I was surprised to observe that there just isn’t a ton one way or the other (I mean, how many family-oriented sermons have you sat through, right?). Jesus upholds the idea of marriage (Hebrews 13:4), and especially for the context in which they were living, children would have probably be assumed. I’m comfortable saying that Jesus is happy for people to marry and have kids (although we do have the warning from Paul that marrying [and I would include having kids, but Paul doesn’t] will leave us with divided attention (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

However, Jesus does say some things that would make us question some of our thoughts on the responsibilities of family.

  • He talks about how we must hate our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children for the sake of the gospel (Luke 14.26).
  • When Jesus calls one of the disciples and he replies that he needs to go bury his father (i.e. stick around and do what he needs to do to take care of his responsibilities to his father until and after he dies), Jesus told him no, that he needed to let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8.21-22)
  • Jesus assured his disciples that there were eternal rewards for the sacrifices they were making for the gospel- material and familial (Mark 10.29-31).

What to make of all of this? We each have to wrestle and pray through these Scriptures, and through God’s desires for us and the community for which we are a part, but Will O’Brien in “Family Values” offers his ideas about what all this might mean:

In God’s reign, all persons are God’s precious children. We are all sisters and brothers. Everyone deserves the fullness of our love, the intentionality of our concern and care. We treat everyone has our family. Social or cultural systems that mediate against this vision are opposed to the reign of God, and we must, as disciples, defy them. I am afraid that much of the church, in its insistence on family values, is upholding the very social and cultural systems Jesus railed against. Family values are preached and practiced in the United States today means a boundary line between those for whom we are responsible and those for whom we are not; those worthy of our love and those not worthy.

Finally, as I reflect on God in His role of Father to Jesus, I see His incredibly deep and perfect love for Him. Isn’t it the kind of love that we as parents aim for and bask in ourselves as God’s children? Yet, the Father sacrificed His one and only Son (i.e. ask a parent whose only child has died to help you understand a portion of the significance of the “one and only” part)….so that we may live. We were not His biological child. We were adopted into the family of God. In God’s eyes, we are a sister and brother of Jesus. As we parent, how can we begin to justify creating boundaries of responsibility for our child only? The example of God as parent tells us to do something very differently. If God would have said that His only responsibility was to provide the best for His child only, we would be in seriously bad shape.

Thank you God, for grace. For not caring only about Jesus, but for all of humanity. For calling me your daughter. For taking responsibility for me too. Help me to see ways that I can do that for others. Give me a deep love for other children I come into contact with everyday….and give me and Jake the courage and wisdom to put ourselves and our children in places where we can interact meaningfully with others, especially with those who have no parents or have parents who can’t or don’t love them well.

The Sacrifices We Make

What would you give up for your child?

If you’re like most parents, you would pretty much give up anything- your money (ha, which you do), your sleep (ditto), your health, your opportunities. We spend time, money, and energy making sure that our kids have the opportunities they need to grow and become all that they can be. For the past several weeks I’ve been spending all three of those things creating developmentally appropriate activities to do with each kid to help them to reach some goals we’ve set for them by the end of the year. Some of those nights I would have much rather been reading, writing or scrapbooking, but, that’s what a mom will do.

But here’s a trickier question- what would you give up for someone else’s child?

I remember Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that he told his congregation during a big back-to-school clothes/shoes/supplies drive to buy the same quality of clothes or shoes or school supplies that they would buy for their own child. If you shop at Walmart, buy clothes from walmart for the drive. If you shop at Gap Kids, buy from Gap Kids. If you normally spend $100 on a pair of shoes for your kid, buy a $100 pair of shoes for the drive. I wonder what the congregation actually did, because you see, it’s hard to sacrifice for someone else’s child.

This is the question that the editors of Conspire offer in “Our Children, Our Souls.”

In a world that insists that resources are scarce, where the playing field is fractured with structured and intentional inequality, children force us to confront directly this question: ‘Who am I willing to sacrifice so that my own live well?’

This question haunts me.

And if you are a follower of Jesus, it should probably haunt you as well.

Are you willing to give up some of your time for other children? Are you willing to give up a little money for other children? Are you willing to give up a little energy and hard work for other children?

Are you willing to give up some of your children’s opportunities in order to create good for other children? If giving up “best” for your child meant moving another child from “bad” to “good”, would you do it?

These are the things I think about as I play and love and dream with my three precious little children. I want the best for them something fierce. But as I pray for God to break my heart for the things that break His, I’m beginning to realize that while He entrusted these children to my care, I would be failing Him and them if I just did what I could to give them the best opportunities in life. He wants them to care deeply for others. He wants them to learn to love kids who are really different from them in all kinds of ways. He wants them to fight injustice and dream of ways to show compassion for those on the margins, even if they don’t recognize what that means. You see, sometimes what I think is best isn’t what God thinks is best.

Father, give me wisdom and courage to raise these children in ways that would love you and love others. Help me to love others, not only as I love myself, but also as I love my children.

Jesus, Please Don’t Come Knocking at Bath Time

The family and I spent Saturday night at an event in University City called Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream, which was a fun night of being with like-minded people, dreaming and challenging each other to pray and move towards move Jesus, less bombs, and more….ice cream. I must say that Jake and I were hesitant to go because we were unsure of how the kids would do (3 kids + 7-9pm event + loud music + adult environment=???). But we are SO glad we did, because the kids all rocked it and have been talking about how Jesus feels about war, nonviolence, and ice cream (oh you can only imagine some of the profound and WEIRD conversations we’ve had with Asante). It’s made a huge impact on him, and even Aly a little too.

Anyway, at the event, they were running a special deal on a subscription to Conspire magazine (put out by the Simple Way), so I bought myself an early New Years gift. The current issue is themed “children of God“, which is mostly about parenting. It has been challenging and encouraging me a lot; so much so that I just have to share some of this stuff and hopefully get some of ya’lls feedback. Even if you are not a parent, there is room for you at the table here. Most likely you have little ones in your life that you care deeply about and in which you play some sort of role in their formation.

To start out this series, I want to share a small portion from a poem to God that one of the contributers wrote…

I will not raise my children ignorant of pain

I will not raise my children to believe they are the axis on which the world turns

I will not guarantee they will not go to bed hungry;

They will recognize the cries of the world before they know their multiplication tables….

When you come knocking at bath time,

may our fate not be forever sealed as goats

because we washed backs and played with bubbles….

Almost everyday I feel great tension between the duties of caring for my children and caring for people outside of my immediate context. I think for the first time ever, I have encountered material that seriously interacts with this tension.

Parenting in the Kingdom of God is not for the faint of heart…

Are you Waiting for Superman?

Jake and I are watching Waiting for Superman, a documentary on public education and reform in the United States. While I could give my opinions on the documentary and on public education in general, I would rather discuss the christian’s responsibility in the public schools.

The opening scene is of an educator recalling a memory from his elementary years when he learned superman wasn’t real. He cried. His mom thought it was something like finding out Santa Clause wasn’t real, but it was because he realized no one was coming to rescue him. Who will rescue the kids and their education?

Asante is becoming school age in the next year or two, so Jake and I have been looking into and discussing how to best “school” him. Do we homeschool for a year? Would we ever want him to go to a private school? What are the public schools that are available to him here, if we’re still in Philly when it’s time for kindergarten? Does the public school available affect our decision about schooling?

I know and love many people who homeschool their children, all for a combination of a number of reasons. Most of these people are Christians. While I understand the reasons, I still must ask the question- what would need to happen before Christian parents decided to send their kids to public schools? Even if Christians homeschool, is there a way that they can still impact, influence and love on the kids who are in public schools?

There is no superman who is going to save the public schools. Although there are systems that need to be changed– reform that must happen, it is also going to take teachers and students who help transform those schools. If Christians are op-ing out of the public schools, they are op-ing out of an organization that nearly every child in that community participates in. We want to transform our communities. We want to touch children with the good news of Jesus. But we remove ourselves and our children from the very place where those interactions can happen?

For me, I want the best for my children. And I know that I could do better than some of the public schools around here. But do I make decisions based on the best for my child? Or for the good of the school and community? My biggest obstacle in making this hard decision is fear. I’m afraid that if I send Asante and eventually the girls to a mediocre school, I’m taking away something from him- opportunities, positive environments, etc. But am I also taking away his ability to make friends with people who are far from God? Am I taking away my or Jake’s ability to volunteer in the classrooms, helping make the schools a better place?

This is not an easy decision for many parents, so I don’t want to pretend it is. And for some families, homeschooling is the best decision. BUT, I want to begin a discussion about how we can be serving students and their educational futures no matter which schooling decision we choose. What are your thoughts… especially those of you who have chosen to homeschool?

I’m all “Mommy blog”-ged out.

I’m starting to get a little tired of reading mommy blogs.

But why? you ask. Tiffany, you are a mom. You love to blog. You love to do crafty things and projects and stay organized.

Indeed. I do enjoy reading about what others are doing, and how I can do some of the same. I like to read how different moms deal with potty training, travelling long distances with young children, and fun recipes that are healthy and easy for kids. I like when mommy bloggers put up free printables that I can download and use for my kids.

But I don’t like the hurriedness, overachievingness, perfection, and judgementalism that many of these mommy bloggers put off. What? Your kids sometimes play video games? You mean your daughter is 2.5 and NOT potty-trained already? You don’t go outside and play everyday? Your kids’ 5/6 fruits and veggies a day was mostly fruit? Sigh.

I admit it.

Sometimes I turn on a video so that I can close my eyes and rest.

Sometimes I give the kids crackers instead a fruit or vegetable for a snack.

Sometimes we stay in our pajamas until right before lunch time.

I let my kids jump on my bed pretty much whenever they want.

We barely get our “5 a day” in many days.

I’m not a perfect mom and could never be a “mommy blogger.” I love hearing and posting about projects, crafts, ideas, stories, and recipes. But no thanks on all the other stuff that comes with it. Maybe we need a different genre of blogs by women who are also mothers. Authentic, helpful, interesting, and fun blogs for others who have or spend their day caring for children.

What is Vision?

Good question, right? We think about companies having vision statements, but we don’t often think about having personal or family vision statements ourselves. Andy Stanley says that “visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be” (17).  What keeps you up at night? What do you find yourself daydreaming about? What is it that creates in you a holy discontent– that thing, maybe injustice, that you see and feel like you MUST do something about? “Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo” (17).

Some things to remember when thinking about our visions…

….they always begin as a concern about something. What has grabbed your attention? What are those things that God has been bringing back into your mind again and again?

…the vision’s end is never us, but God. I know, sounds cliche, but I think it’s important to remember. It’s not about fame, money, or significance. It’s about advancing God’s Kingdom and bringing Him glory.

…just because we have a vision doesn’t mean we should immediately advance on it. Sometimes God needs us to wait for one reason or another. It’s helpful for me to think about this through the image of pregnancy. Just as a baby doesn’t have a high chance of survival when s/he is born 3 months early, neither does our vision. Allow God to do the work He needs to do to mature it in us.

How do we know if our vision is from God or from ourselves?

1. “A God-ordained vision will eventually feel like a moral imperative.” If we don’t follow through with our vision, we’ll feel like we’re being disobedient.

2. “A God-ordained vision will be in line with what God is up to in the world.”

So, here are the reflection questions for this stage in the experiment. Jake and I will be working through them over the next month or so.

**In one sentence, describe your vision for the following areas of your life- career, family, ministry.

**Are you living with a tension between what is and what should be? Do you have a holy discontent? If so, what is it that bothers you and how do you think it should be?

**How does your vision line up to what God is already doing in the world?

[thanks to Andy Stanley’s book, Visioneering, for these great thoughts and questions]

Do Men Feel the Identity Struggle Too?

For the past week or so, I’ve been discussing some issues related to the identity of a woman in current American society. Are we really oppressed? Do we have choices? What are those choices when it comes to wanting children and/or working? What are some discussions that couples-to-be need to be having in order to insure fulfillment of both partners?

Today I want to bring men into the picture. Do they deal with these issues of identity too?

Last night Jake and I were discussing this very thing. He was sharing with me his idea that maybe a portion of woman’s struggle with her identity is a generational issue. Some women have a hard time making a choice that is different from what her mother, or aunt, or grandmother would think is proper for a woman. Being the first woman to work outside of the home in one’s family could be a hard choice. Even if that’s what a woman wants, it can feel like she’s “oppressed” because she’s making a choice that is different than what she saw as “womanly” or “motherly” growing up. It’s a crisis of identity that takes significant time, soul-searching and prayer to work through.

Jake said there can be a similar male issue as well. Many men of the older generations have a lot of skills. Many are tradesmen or craftsmen- they know how to weld, they have electrical training, they can build things, they’re really handy. When men growing up in that environment decide to do something different- maybe they pursue more academic subjects or decide to be a stay-at-home dad- then they feel a sort of crisis of identity as well. They feel like because they’ve chosen a different route in life, they don’t feel like they have as much to offer. When their dryer breaks, they don’t know how to fix it. Instead, they have to call someone else to come fix it. If they want to build a new cabinet space, they have to hire someone else to do it because they just don’t know how or don’t have the skills to make something that looks nice. They are not “providing for their families” because they stay at home with the kids while the wife is working. It’s hard because they’re not fulfilling what was considered “manly” growing up.

Things change over time. Roles, responsibilities, expectations. Maybe we as a society need to allow more room for people who want to do things differently or choose paths that look a little odd to the status quo. And as we’re beginning to raise the next generation, we may want to constantly be thinking about our expectations for them and how we can allow them freedom in their choices- allowing them to explore who they are and what they like instead of putting (amoral) boundaries around them relating to our likes and dislikes and wants and desires. Of course, much easier said than done. 🙂

Women’s Choices

I hear a lot about how women don’t have the opportunity to have both a career and a family.

But, I would say that women DO have choices in this area, and it is going to be up to them to decide what they want, and then be big girls and deal with the consequences.

Here’s what I mean.

Choice #1: Be a stay-at-home mom. Some women LOVE making a home for their family and raising their kids FULL-TIME. They love creating environments for learning and comfort and refuge. They love to create dishes that are fun, nutritious, and pleasing to the eye! They love to homeschool their kids, or they love to send their kids to school and do stuff in the community that requires a volunteer position. Or, maybe they don’t really love these things, but they see the value in it and see that it is the best for their family if they don’t spend money on daycare or if the kids have a parent there teaching them instead of sending the kids to daycare.

Choice #2: Be a career-focused mom. Some women don’t want kids. They’d rather pursue other worthy and important aspects of the social realm. They want to work themselves up the corporate chain, whether for money and security, or for self-satisfaction, or to prove themselves to others, or for some some worthy cause that advances the Kingdom of God. Maybe these women work 40 hours a week, maybe 60, maybe 80. Many of these women are going to be the breadwinner of the family, or an equal contributer. Some of their husbands are going to be stay-at-home dads.

Choice #3: Be an involved mother and a career woman. This woman tries to balance being there for her family, raising kids…and being successful in a career. This choice is hard. Some of these women don’t have supportive husbands who will give up their career for her desire to have a career. Some of these women need to work, along with their husbands, to put food on the table and a roof over the family’s head. Others really are torn between the deep desire for motherhood and for a career. Many of these women have probably not had serious conversations with their husbands BEFORE getting married and BEFORE having kids about what they want. Many of these women feel the desire to work, but the desire to have kids, and feel like their work is being sabotaged because they won’t/can’t put in the long hours required to keep promotions and “keep up with all those men who are getting raises”. Many women feel resentful about this…many because they want the best of both worlds.

Here’s what I’ve been mulling around in my head…many women have choices about their role in the home. The problem is, this conversation is not had before getting married, and many women are married to men who are not supporting them. But, these women have choose to marry these men. It’s so sad that there are some jerks out there who think that women have to be in the home no matter what the woman wants. But, maybe we just choose not to marry them?

Again, I have had the privilege of having a great husband who is supportive. He understands my desire and need to work outside the home. But we both understand the need and desire for our kids to have us at home with them for the first couple years of their lives. Jake is very ambitious too, and has desires to pursue a doctorate degree so he can research and further the field of education. And we have chosen the hard road … both of us are moving MUCH slower through the career-path…both of us make sacrifices to not work or work part-time in order to meet the needs of the kids or each other. We understand that we’re not going to be top achievers in our fields at ripe young ages. We get that us going in and out of the workforce is going to limit our opportunities for advancement. I feel blessed that Jake has entered into this ebb and flow of sacrifice and career-seeking in order to help us both feel fulfilled and our kids blessed.

OF COURSE, not everyone wants our lifestyle (lol, and sometimes we don’t either), nor should everyone adopt this. But, maybe if families would be more willing to re-imagine what fulfillment and sacrifice would look like for BOTH spouses and for the kids, then women would feel like they have less choices.

By choosing one thing, we’re sacrificing another. That’s the choice we’re making. So, let us choose wisely, communicate well with one another, and understand the consequences of the choices we’re making.

CAVEAT: I KNOW this is an “idealic” post, and not everyone is in a place where they can choose. I do get this. However, I think this post could apply to many women in their circumstances.

What do you think? How has your family decided to work out this balance? What are some things that I’m not taking into consideration?