Monday, December 12, 2011

What Exactly Did Mary Know?

"Mary, did you know... that your baby boy would one day walk on water..."
"Mary did you know... that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man..."
"Mary did you know... that when you kiss your little baby, you've kissed the face of God..."

I'm guessing that while Mary did have a general idea of where this thing was headed, she had no idea the gut-wrenching sacrifice she herself would make for the world's benefit. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ever since I became a mom, the Christmas story has taken on a new dimension. It actually started two weeks after Abi's birth, when I sat in a theater watching the just released Passion of the Christ. There was a point in the movie when I literally felt my heart break like I've never felt before. If you're a mom, chances are, you remember the part well.

Jesus is carrying his cross down the alleyway. At one point, he stumbles. Mary flashes back in her memory to once when Jesus was in a similar alleyway as a child of probably 5 or 6, and he fell while running. In her memory, she ran to Him, scooped Him up into her arms, and soothed Him as only a mother can. In her reality, her 33 year old son fell in front of her, and she ran to Him to soothe Him- only to no avail, as the mission ahead of Him provided no comfort. As I sat there in the theater, I remember a sob emerging from my throat, thinking how she must have felt to have her hands so totally tied- watching while her heart was beaten beyond recognition and scorned for crimes He did not commit.

For her.

Every year, since I became a mom, Mary has become one of my Christmas heroes. (I don't idolize or praise her, so please don't freak out at that comment. Geesh.) Fact is, Catholic or Protestant, we can't ignore the fact that she played a vital part in the Savior of the world bearing my sin. She said yes when she was approached with the offer of an eternity.

I am convinced- She had no idea what she was saying yes to.

None of us do, do we? We get married, decide to have children, and we jump in with both feet into a world we are in no shape, form, or fashion prepared for. Being a babysitter, an aunt, an uncle, a caregiver... none of it prepares you for the massiveness of the task at hand when you can't send the kids home at the end of your day. There's mounds of work, worry, stress, and strain to accompany the tremendous joys. For every high, there's a low, and for every bad day, there are a million good ones. There's feeding, weaning, potty training, sleep training, temper tantrums, busted lips, skinned knees, bruised egos, and broken hearts. There's hugs, kisses, snuggles, hand holding, and silliness. No one prepares you for the endless seasons of monotony when they're newly born, and no one tells you about the unpredictable chaos in the toddler years.

Bottom line- you don't know what you're doing or where you're going when you say yes to becoming a parent.

Back to Mary. How could this girl- whom theologians guess was 13-15 years of age- possibly know what lay ahead of her as a parent, nevermind the parent of the Prince of Peace? She was given a pretty good heads-up that this was kind of a big deal when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and gave her the challenge... and once again when the prophet Simeon said to her that "...a sword would pierce her own soul." But did she really get it?

Did she really know that He would be a stranger in their hometown?
Did she know he would challenge His elders at the age of 12, and tear the temple to pieces in righteous anger as a man?
Did she forecast His daredevil side- that would touch a leper, a woman with a bleeding disorder, and allow a prostitute to wash His feet with her tears?
Did she see ahead of time that her Son would raise a dead girl from her slumber, spit in the dirt and heal a blind man, and break cultural taboos with an encounter at a well?
Did she know He would have a choice whether or not to continue on- and choose to keep going, even when His sweat would turn to blood?
Did she know He would have Heaven's armies at His disposal, and refuse their services?

We have this idea that Jesus was basically a child who never played, never made a mess, never had that twinkle of mischief in His eye... But we forget He came to this earth as a MAN. Not a Deity. He got dirty. He had to learn to potty like everyone else. He spilled His milk and had to wash His hands like any other grimy boy. Know that part of the old Christmas carol- "But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?" Um, yeeeeeeeeah. Right. You're born in a barn, lying on a mound of hay, and you're not going to cry? Whatever.

I'm sure there were seasons when to Mary, Jesus was just another child. An active boy with His earthly father's penchant for woodwork. A growing teenage boy with stinky laundry and a messy room. Mary was His mother- the one who provided His lunches, washed His underwear, and packed His bag for sleepovers. But I'm sure with each passing day and especially as each birthday came around, she wondered how many days like these were left with her boy before He fulfilled what He was born to do.

I wonder about my own children. Will Abi be a nurse in an orphanage overseas? Will Walker join the military or play college football on the other side of the country? Is Abi going to say, "Mom, I want to live in LA?" Will there come a time when Walker will only come home for Christmas? **Sigh** Every Christmas morning is one closer to them leaving my nest. Each added candle to their cakes means they are an inch closer to moving out of my arms and into someone else's.

But Mary's Son? He moved from Heaven, to her arms, to a cold and splintery cross for a display of God's love toward a world that would shun Him.

My son may serve with a badge on his shirt. Her Son served by stripping Himself of badges and honor.

My son will have skinned knees and will lose a tooth every now and then. Her Son was beaten beyond recognition to heal my wounds.

My son will be separated from me while he pursues his dreams, and there will come a time when I cannot rush to his side to fix it. Her Son was separated from His Father because He became the sin of the world and when He cried out to his Daddy, there was no answer. This is all so He can always answer MY cries.

My son will grow up in a circle of love and adoration by his family and his peers- constantly affirmed of his worth and his greatness. Her Son was rejected by His own friends and family. He was mocked, ignored, and even the one closest to Him pretended not to know Him in the darkest hour of His life.

My son will love his mama. Her Son died for His.

Her Son couldn't deal with eternity without Walker in it. Her Son gave MY son life.

So, come to think of it- my son is also a key player in this story, isn't he? If he had been the only one to need Mary's Son- the only one to gain from His sacrifice- He would have come for him.

I'm thankful for Mary- for her willingness to say yes to a plan that would rip her open and cause her heart to be both shattered and redeemed at the same time. I'm thankful for Jesus- for His choice to push through sweat and blood, agony and defeat, in order to win the ultimate prize- MY son.

Because of Mary's example, I feel a deeper calling as a mother to give my children to their Maker, 100%. If an unwed teenage girl can pull herself together to raise a child in the Middle East, and then wait with baited breath for Him to take HIS last breath and save the world... Surely I can raise mine to serve Him.

And then summon the strength to let them go wherever He leads them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fear or Caution?

So, it was something no parent likes to hear.

I was standing at the sink, washing veggies, and I have the TV on in the background. "A Lake County school employee was arrested for child pornography on his home computer." I say to myself, "Of course he was. What's new?" Then, the moment when my stomach dropped.

The reporter said he was reporting from my daughter's school.

MY daughter's.

The place where we entrust her for nine months of the year, seven hours a day. Where she makes friends and trusts teachers.

One of my daughter's safe places.

Let me say this right off the bat. I love- LOVE- our school. It is organized, it is cheery, it is friendly, it is loving. I have never one time felt uneasy or insecure leaving her there. The staff is attentive, they are innovative, and they are serious about loving and educating kids. In fact, the teacher turnaround rate is really low because the teachers love being there so much. There are teachers and staff there now that have been there since my sister was in school there, some 13 years or so ago.

We love our school.

And let me interject here, this is not a pro-school/anti-homeschool post. One thing I love about this great nation is we each have the prerogative to educate our children as it best suits them. Just a disclaimer. Let's move on.

Upon hearing the news that this man, who has immersed himself into a place that in my opinion, is sacred and precious, I was furious. FURIOUS. How did he fall through the cracks? How did they let this parasite, this monster into my child's bubble?

Immediately, our principal sends home a letter. She's on the ball. The records show that he has passed every background check with flying colors and has never had a record of child molestation of any kind. Obviously, this makes me feel better. My next step is to interrogate Abi as gently as possible. I did- she didn't know him. Again, reassurance.

However, news was released a couple of days later that two girls confess he actually molested them at his home.

Fact remains that while MY daughter is safe and was shielded from this man's sickness, there are at LEAST two families whose lives have been torn apart by this news. And that's not even counting the endless stream of children who were exploited in those images and movies.

When you hear news like this, especially when it literally hits close to home, your first instinct as a parent is to smother and bubble wrap. Meaning, "I will keep you here with me, and when I do send you out, I will wrap you in layers of protection and teach you to trust no one, ever." And while there's elements of truth and valor in both of those methods, we cannot- CANNOT- afford to parent our kids out of fear.

Here's the deal.

The world is a beautiful place. There are beautiful, wonderful people who prove to be key instruments of God's love all through our lives. And just like there are beautiful people, there are ugly ones. Who are dark, have unconquered battles of perversion and shame, and want to prey on the weak in futile efforts to reclaim their own power.

They both exist. Side by side. On this same rotating ball.

Let me be clear on one thing. Fear is NEVER a friend. Ever. It is paralyzing, it is cunning, it is deceptive, and it is controlling. It cannot help us, cannot assist us, and only makes us paranoid of even the good things in life. Once we look through the lenses of fear, we only see the world in jaded colors, failing to see reality as it exists. Every stranger is an enemy through those glasses. And in the process of seeing through the eyes of fear, we miss lifetime opportunities that could have changed our lives for the better.

Now, CAUTION is a different story. It is the awareness of the negative around our children, and our ability to navigate through those dark forests appropriately. It is not sticking our heads in the sand, but looking at issues square in the eye and judging boundaries and guidelines accordingly. Caution means that I am not letting the fear of what may or may not happen dictate my decisions, but I AM aware that as I parent my kids, they are dependent upon my ability to forecast ahead. In fact, caution means being frank and real with our children about world information they need to be aware of on their age level. We sat down and explained the accusations and the confession of this school worker to Abi. It wasn't fun to do, but part of our job as her parents is to educate her on truth, not shield her from it. In giving her the truth, we are giving her tools to handle any situation she may face in her future. We are giving her power.

So how then? How do we know if we are parenting out of fear instead of caution? How do we know which line we're on?

Fear says, "If I keep you chained to me, then and only then will you be safe."
Caution says, "I will set appropriate boundaries to give you the chance to meet new people and experience new things, but it will be at my discretion."

Fear says, "There are people waiting in the shadows to hurt you and take advantage of you."
Caution says, "You're going to be hurt and disappointed in life. But my job is to make those opportunities as few as possible by navigating you around hurtful situations."

Fear says, "I have to be the voice for every decision you need to make... after all, I'm the only one who knows what's good for you."
Caution says, "My job is to teach you to recognize and rely on the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of you, who will never fail to lead you in the right path for your life- because it's not healthy nor possible for me to be with you your every waking moment."

Fear says, "It happened to me, and it will mostly likely happen to you."
Caution says, "It happened to me, and I choose to use my experience to gain the proper tools so to equip you to know what to do in similar situations."

Fear says, "The moment you're out of my control, you will get hurt."
Caution says, "Your safety doesn't solely hinge on my presence, but also in the facts that God cares about you, you know right from wrong, and you have the power to say NO to ANYONE you choose."

Just the other day at lunch, Abi said she gets "really nervous when Daddy swims in the ocean because a Great White Shark may come and eat him." She cried and cried. Rod said something so simple, and so profound.

"Abi, I will not let fear of 'what if a shark comes' stop me from swimming in the ocean, because swimming in the ocean is something I like to do."

Parents, it's important to be attentive ourselves to the voice of the Holy Spirit concerning our children, and equally important to teach them how to heed His nudges themselves. But we cannot hear Him if the loudest voices in our heads are the voices of past hurts, present panic, and future fears. Live in the now.

And rely on the fact that HE loves those kids more than we can.

There's something to be said about that fact.