Modern theologian, Henri Nouwen says, “We are not what we do. We are not what others say about us. We are not what we have. We are each simply, like Jesus, God’s beloved child.” The main message of my three children’s books is “You are God’s precious child.” My goal is to plant seeds in the minds of my readers, children and parents, seeds of believing that they are loved unconditionally.
The first time I truly understood what this meant, I was speaking at the baptism of my Wfriend’s adopted child. I talked about the amazing joy that this child had brought into my friend’s home and how precious he was. As those words flowed from my heart, I heard for the first time that I had brought amazing joy as an adopted child to my parents. I had always been grateful to have a good home. Somehow, in my childhood l had missed the message that just by being alive, I had brought overwhelming joy – I had been God’s precious gift.
The second time that lesson was given to me, my supervisor in a unit of clinical pastoral education asked me to spend an entire week reading and praying with Isaiah 43: 1-4a. By the end of the week that last verse was written on my heart, “You are my precious child and I love you.”
When I fell and crushed a vertebra in my back, I received yet another opportunity to absorb God’s unconditional love. For nearly a year, I spent most of my time sitting in a zero-gravity chair, in order to manage the pain. Unable to care for others, unable to do, I learned that I was precious and loved just because I existed. At that point I was truly glad, “I was not what I did.” for then, I would have been nothing.
Never forget that both you and every person you meet – the gal with pink hair and a ring in her nose, the man with the swarthy skin, long black beard and a turban, your grandchild – each and every one of us is first and foremost God’s beloved child. Give God thanks.
There’s lots to read about parenting today. In the news media we hear about “helicopter” parents. The metaphor is perfect. These parents hover over their children, sometimes nearly suffocating them with kindness, help, and protection. Up until two weeks ago, I too judged today’s “helicopter parents.” I was never that kind of parent when I raised my children,, I thought. I gave them lots of room to try things, to live and figure life out without me hovering over them.
In less than one second, Saturday morning, May 11, my smugness evaporated. My strong, healthy daughter slammed onto the ground in a fall from a horse. Our lives changed. Her fall was no one’s fault. The accident happened. One of her vertebrae exploded as it crushed from the impact, and now protrudes into her spinal canal. The good news, the blessed news, is she has no paralysis. For that we are grateful. The orthopedic spinal trauma specialist said if the damaged vertebra remains stable she won’t need an operation. In twelve to eighteen months, she will recover.
Since the accident, I have been a total “helicopter” parent. With no thought of shame, I hovered at the hospital. I fretted as they fitted the brace on her body. I stood close when she stood for the first time, nurses right beside her to help.
It’s been nearly three weeks now. She’s walking with a walker. The brace supports her in the same way as a full body cast. Both she and I look ahead to the months of pain she will endure as her body inches toward recover. I realize I cannot remain the helicopter parent. I must give her room to heal both in body and soul. I have to trust that as a mature woman she can make wise decisions about the amount of activity she can do.
Once again, I am learning to trust in God’s goodness and love. As both my daughter and I face the journey ahead, one thing I know, “God’s goodness enfolds us regardless what happens. God’s strength and wisdom empower us. God’s love can bring joy even in the midst of our struggles.
Today, I consciously choose to trust in God, to give thanks that we are not alone. God is with us. Today, I cry out with the biblical father seeking healing for his child in Mark 9:24 “I do believe, Lord. Help me with my doubts and fears.” (Mark 9:24)
Elizabeth is delightful. She’s enthusiastic. She’s a child, God’s beloved child just as each one of you and each one of your children and grandchildren are also God’s beloved children. Elizabeth is an angel child who is waiting for her wings. Just like us, Elizabeth can’t wait. She’s wants her wings early. Maybe she can earn them. Elizabeth Gets Her Wings is a magical children’s story, yet it’s our story.
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My Story/ Elizabeth’s Story
I’ve never thought much about heaven. It takes all my energy and focus to enjoy and live well in this present life. Mostly, I believe that eternal life means I will be with God, and life will be good. Even so, my imagination and God’s inspiration resulted in Elizabeth Gets Her Wings, a story about an angel child from heaven doing a task for God here on earth.
The day after Elizabeth Gets Her Wings went to print, my daily reading was based on the Biblical Quote from King David, “One thing I ask from the Lord…that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord.” (Psalm 27:4)
In the middle of the new book, Olivia, the illustrator, has drawn Elizabeth basking in God’s love and acceptance. God’s multicolored hand rests on her head. The complete ecstasy embodied by Elizabeth expresses the feelings I experience every time I hold a new born baby, or am truly hugged by someone I love who loves me. These are my glimpses of heaven, times when I recognize that I am in God’s presence.
If heaven means I am perfect in God’s sight just as I am, with all my faults, idiosyncrasies and attempts at goodness, I know I don’t have to worry about the details. I can be one of Elizabeth’s volunteers. I can step into the mysterious journey of this next life with confidence and joy. Thanks be to God.
Every morning I begin my day with prayer for my family and friends. Today it seems as if young people, including my grandchildren, need special prayers. Life lacks security. Temptation comes clothed in respectability. There are so many choices. Around it all, there is the internet, social media, the web. Sometimes I think calling it a net is so apt. It can feel like a spider’s web, with we humans fulfilling the role of the fly. I would like God to remove all the temptations, all the struggles for each of my precious teenage grandchildren. Smooth the road, please God, is my plea.
Breakfast over, I often need to drive somewhere. I maneuver around the potholes. My car bounces over the rough spots. I’m aware that regardless the amount of money, machinery, time or work hours spent on our road network, our marvelous smooth roads eventually develop potholes. Heavy traffic in our rugged Canadian winters means that our roads require constant fixing. The best we can do to ensure a safe journey is to keep our own cars in good repair. Be careful, confident, knowledgeable drivers, and use wisdom when choosing our route and speed. In the end, we must trust in God to enable us to deal with whatever happens.
I’m thinking we need to follow the same rules in living our lives, whether we’re teens, seniors or in-between. We can keep our bodies in good repair by eating healthy, exercising, and resting. We can live with care and confidence, using the knowledge we gain as we mature to give us wisdom in making our life choices. And we can teach trust in our loving God. God has promised the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort and strengthen us. God’s Spirit dwells within us to enable us to deal with the life events we encounter. We can focus on preparing ourselves and our young people for the potholes in the roads of life.
Here in Johannesburg we have had two days of heavy rain. Tonight Dave’s swimming pool is filled to the brim. In this country, whether you own a shack or a castle you have no basement. Consequently, heavy rain cannot flood your basement but it can run in over your doorsill. Middleclass shacks have cement floors which provide some protection, not much. Because of the constant drought, and the clay soil, rain tends to run away and erode rather than soak into the thirsty earth. Consequently, flash floods are always a hazard. This much needed rain is both a blessing and a curse.
Today we stayed home til school was over. I wrote my blog and read. The slow day was lovely and needed. After school Jonathon, a hired driver, drove us to the school. Because this is a gated community we walked out to the front gate to meet him. While we waited we talked to the gatekeeper, an ex-policeman from Zimbabwe. His racing speech and south African accent defeated my ears. I caught a word here and there, enough to understand that he was here and his family back in Zimbabwe because of education. Jonathon arrived in a BMW and wearing a suit. Obviously being a driver for the rich is a grand occupation. He is obviously educated. He spoke well and slowly and that was helpful.
The pictures I have for you are of the American International School, AISJ, where David & Joanne work, and Jenna is a student. Dave gave us a wonderful tour in the rain. For me, AISJ feels like a palatial campus. White stucco buildings, with outside halls, (cloister walks I call them), spread lazily across the landscape in a mazelike pattern, making multiple courtyards for students to soak in the sun as they enjoy one another. With the welcoming climate here, the great outdoors is an integral part of the classroom space. Luscious gardens add beauty and peace. Inside there are also comfortable seating areas sprinkled throughout the buildings, gathering places for rainy days. The full theatre, two gymnasiums, swimming pool, fitness room, triple soccer field, and playground are fabulous resources for learning and activity.
As we followed David from building to building, I wondered what the public schools here were like. Next time we come to South Africa, we’ll have to arrange a tour of the school that the children from the townships attend. It would be good to talk with their teachers as well.
My mind was drawn back to home. We too have private luxury schools. We pride ourselves on equal education for all in Canada, so we too have public schools which are free for all children. Luxury private schools are available as well. I’ve taught in our public schools and know that, although not the total luxury of AISJ and private schools, they are still way more than just adequate. I have not had a tour of the schools on our northern native reservations. I have only heard about the lack of resources in those schools. Stories of the frustration and courage of teachers who seek jobs in those northern schools, speak to me of deficit rather than equality. We too have a lot to learn.
Yesterday my heart was touched by the gift of conversation with our gate security man, and our driver. I felt joy knowing that our Jenna is attending a fabulous school like AISJ. She has so many extra opportunities for learning because of her parents work.
As I experienced once again the enormous gap between the rich and the poor here, in South Africa, my eyes were opened wider to the gap in Canada. That too is a source of joy, because I need my eyes open. Jesus said, “those who have eyes to see… and ears to hear…” need to use them. Nothing will ever change unless all of us open our hearts to see and hear the reality of our world.
At least once every week, Tom’s daughter Bonnie calls with “Dad, have you time to Skype with me and the children?” Bonnie obviously loves her Dad and wants her children to develop a strong relationship with us. Three weeks ago, Tom received his father’s day card from Bonnie. Tom is truly cherished.
Fathers are important in their children’s lives. Most often, Fathers are like Tom, aware, appreciative and thrilled with that relationship. Today, with so many blended families similar to ours, that father-child relationship has become very fragile. When the children are small, fathers have to work hard to maintain the connection. When your children live with their mother and you see them every other weekend, it takes tremendous intentionality for father’s to keep up with all the sports and school events and all the other important things in their children’s lives. As the children mature, they can (like Bonnie) take some responsibility for maintaining the relationship.
God created us to live in relationship. Through Jesus, God taught us how to love one another. And God is wise. God does not force us to nurture our family relationships. We have the freedom to choose. When we choose to work at those relationships, we open ourselves to the wonder and joy that is given and received.
This year as we celebrate Father’s day, and every day, I suggest we open our eyes to see and appreciate the beautiful father–child relationships around us. Give God thanks for creating these wonderful opportunities for joy. Hold each Dad and each child in your prayers. Prayer is powerful. All fathers need God’s strength to live their relationships well.
“Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” Proverbs 17:6
This year as Mothers’ Day approaches, Robert Munsch’s poem keeps running in my mind, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll love you for always. As long as I’m living, your mother I’ll be.” Our role as Mom continues as it changes over the years.
A month ago, my oldest grandson moved to Vancouver to begin a new life as an adult. My daughter shared, “I love receiving one line texts from Chris. I understand now what it’s like to have your child grow up and move away.” I nodded and thought about son, Dave and his family in Ethiopia. Even when being Mom of adult children brings challenges, I treasure the privilege.
I remember being filled with wonder as my children returned home as young adults at the end of their first year at university. Lively conversation entertained us at our dinner table. I was proud and happy. By Mother’s Day two or three weeks later, the edges of that joy had frayed a little. This new adult, who had experienced eight months of total freedom from mother’s concerns, questions, advice introduced a new challenge to motherhood. Divorce, job loss, sickness, grief, and more drive adult children home to live, not just for the summer, but sometimes for years.
The challenges of motherhood keep changing. The continuous process of letting go requires the love described in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient. Love is kind… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” This Mothers’ Day, I offer the following prayer for families at every stage in a child’s development.
“Loving God, you created us to live in relationship because you know we need one another. Turn our minds and hearts to seek out and savour the moments of joy in every phase of our lives together. When tough times come, help us soak in your wisdom, patience and strength. Enable us to let go when necessary and to gather in and comfort when needed. Help us to let go of the guilt from past mistakes and begin each day anew. We want to love well. We want our relationships to be healthy. Help us to remember that with you there is hope. You are always with us, wanting and planning a future filled with joy and laughter. Amen”
When the elephant herd at South Africa’s Kruger National Park grew too large for the park to sustain it, park managers transported some mothers and babies to a game park nearby. A dozen years later, several of the young elephants, now teenagers had become dangerous. They were attacking the game park’s herd of white rhinos.
The park managers brought in some mature male elephants, hoping the bigger stronger males would bring the youngsters under control. It worked. The young bulls actually started following the Big Daddies around and learned proper elephant conduct from them. The assaults on the white rhinos ended abruptly.
Today, Mothers are doing an amazing job of teaching the faith. Like the bull elephants, Father’s also have an important role. Many Moms have heard, “If Dad doesn’t want to go to church, I don’t either.” Dad’s influence extends beyond their presence. Children watch, listen and learn from Dads as well as Moms.
As a teenager on the family farm, I remember the stress caused by inclement weather. The first sunny Sunday after several days of rain tempted my father to spend the day in the fields. As he loaded us into the car for church he would say, “If I skip church this morning, it’ll rain tomorrow or the tractor will quit.
My dad said, “I want to start my week with God.”
On Fathers’ Day, let’s celebrate the men among us who have accepted their unique privilege and responsibility of planting seeds of faith in the next generation. They have answered God’s call and I am grateful. .
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Exodus 20: 8-10
In Canada, school has begun once again. For me, this fall is different. My son has returned with his family from China. Although they spent every summer and most Christmas vacations with us for the last twelve years, this will be the first experience of our Canadian schools for my granddaughter Jenna.
When my children were young, we moved often. I remember the anxiety I felt accompanying them to yet another new school. Will they be accepted? Will they make new friends? I did my best to make our lifestyle an adventure, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy for them. High school was even more stressful. I consoled myself with the belief that somehow, the frequent moves might help them greet new experiences all their lives. Now, Jenna has a new beginning, and my prayers are with her.
This week and for the next months, I encourage you to pray for all young people starting into a different school – college, university, high school, elementary school, nursery school. Pray that they will find adults and children who care about them and their individual needs. Ask God to find some way of telling them that they “are truly fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), that they are loved and valued as God’s special creations. I believe when we know that we have value in ourselves, and have the security of being loved by at least one other person, we can step into a new world with confidence.
Psalm 139 is one of my favourite scripture passages because it talks of the uniqueness and love that each one of us enjoys as God’s child. Pray that each child this year will know that he or she is not alone. As Jesus said, “I will be with you always, even unto the ends of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Last Sunday, graduation pictures of church members, a congratulations sign, streamers, and balloons decorated our church sanctuary as we celebrated all the young people of our congregation who were graduating from Senior Kindergarten, grade eight, high school and university. During our minister’s conversation with the children, one young Mom announced that her son had just graduated from diapers to using the potty.
The scripture that morning described the confrontation between the shepherd boy David and the Philistine giant Goliath. Throughout the story, David declares that, strengthened by God’s presence within him, he can use his God-given talents to do God’s work. David needed only the courage of his faith, his ordinary slingshot and five smooth stones to complete the task.
Although I have never liked this violent story, it carried a message for me and, I hope, for our graduates. During our lifetime, we will be faced with difficult tasks. Sometimes, like David, we’ll be aware of the importance of the task for ourselves and the world. Much of the time, we’ll think that our efforts will go unnoticed. But all of the time, we can draw on God’s strength. We can have courage because we know that God is with us, and has provided the gifts God knows we need to do the job.
Last Sunday, as we congratulated our young people, I hoped that their time among us had helped them know four things:
1. They are God’s precious children.
2. God is always with them, giving them strength and hope.
3. Their church family supports them with prayer and love.
4. God asks that they live a life of love for others, for God and for themselves.
The Lordwho rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:37