Saturday, January 26, 2013

Brotherly Love

The other day, Justin, my impulsive spitfire, was being kept inside for his own safety.  This imprisonment, for Justin, is the worst of all punishments.  He needs fresh air and open spaces to survive.

"But, Mommy, puh-lease, puh-lease!  I HAVE to go outside!"

"Justin, how can I be sure that you'll make wise decisions and be safe?"

"Don't worry, Mommy, I'll be with him," Carsten assured me.

And that's how it goes with those two.  They are absolutely inseparable, and absolutely opposite.  Justin acts, Carsten thinks.  Justin rushes headlong into danger, Carsten calls him back.  I've pretty much decided that when Justin goes off to college, I'm sending Carsten with him.

They've been a pair ever since the day Carsten was born.

And they were opposites from the beginning.  Justin loved his first trip to the beach.

Carsten- not so much...

Justin was an imp even as a crawler.

Carsten just hung out. 

And Justin's been getting Carsten into scrapes for a long time.

But Justin is good for Carsten too.  He pushes him to be far more bold than his own nature would lead him to be.  He's always trying to convince Carsten to do something that goes against cautious Carsten's natural bent.  And, of course, as big brother, he is often attempting to talk Carsten into doing something that is really in Justin's best interest.

Carsten, however, is not very easily persuaded.  Like the time a couple of weeks ago when Justin wanted to "trade" Carsten for a toy by promising to let him play with a new toy- in two months...if he gets it for his birthday.

"Carsten, if you let me play with your Lord of the Rings game, I'll let you play with my new Star Wars Legos at my birthday."


"But the Star Wars set is really cool.  You're going to love it.  Have you seen the picture in the catalog?  All you have to do is let me play with your game."


"But, Carsten, think of your FUTURE!"

I think the future holds many adventures for these two buddies.


In my kids' Sunday school program, they start each Sunday by sharing what they call "God Sightings"- things that happened where they saw the Lord at work.  When we get home, we talk about their lesson, and I ask them what kind of God Sightings the kids were talking about this week.  One child's team won a game, another's grandmother recovered, a third enjoyed a vacation with family.  All good things- blessings to be thankful for, and it warms this mommy's heart to hear my children acknowledging God's work in their lives.

But what is it about us that tends to see God in the good, and view Him as absent in the bad?  It's not just kids who only identify God's work with the good things that happen.  We grown-up children of God do the same thing.  We say that God caused us to find a new job, but that He allowed us to lose the old one.  There's an underlying assumption that God is only involved when things happen the way we want them to.  If things aren't to our liking, or our lives are hard, we view God as a little distant. He's sitting back and allowing circumstances to run their course.  Where is God when the team loses and the vacation is cancelled because Dad broke his ankle last week?

God is always in control.  He's as much in control of the good as He is of the bad.  And many times, though it exceeds our human ability to comprehend this, His blessings are indeed painful.  He gives us every "good and perfect gift" with our ultimate good, not our immediate happiness, in mind.  He is a loving and infinitely wise Father.  He desires children who mature into the likeness of His Son, not underdeveloped kids who spend their days in complacent play.

In the end, God will "wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 21:4) and set everything right as He desired it to be from the time of His creation, but for now, in this fallen world, He gives us the gift of suffering.  And it's a gift because it leads to glory.  The greater the suffering the greater the opportunity for becoming a person the Lord can use mightily for His purposes.  We are "heirs of God...IF indeed we suffer with Him."  (Romans 8:17, emphasis mine) We are called to be "conformed to the image of His Son."  (Romans 8:29)  Being conformed into a shape so unlike our natural state has got to hurt.  We have to be squeezed and molded and scraped until, slowly and painfully, the image of Christ begins to emerge in our lives.

Our Father works in the good times and in the bad.  He uses both our happiness and our pain to teach us and change us.  I want to grow into a person who can say, like Joseph, that those things that seem "evil" are actually meant by God "for good," (Genesis 50:20) seeing God's hand in all circumstances.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared
with the glory which shall be revealed in us...
we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."
(Romans 8:18,25)

Saturday, January 19, 2013


I cannot believe I have an 11 year old!

It was just a short time ago that Nathan was born.

Where does all that time go?

In so many ways, the 11 year old Nathan is so much like little Nathan was.  Back then, he could identify types of cars before he learned his letters, and he was fascinated with tools and cords and outlets.  He unscrewed a ceiling fan from the ceiling (beware of bunk beds), started the car by himself, and locked me out of the house all by the time he was four.

Today, he does more fixing than breaking, knows the specs of all the cars (and their Consumer Reports ratings), and is learning to program.  He just fixed the wi-fi in our house.  (He installed new firmware.  Problem solved.  Why didn't I think of that?)

Here's a look at Nathan at eleven:

Activities: Swimming, cycling, running, TandT (trampoline and tumbling)
Favorite things in the world: Cars, technology, and magazines
Favorite magazines:  Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Popular Mechanics, PC World
Least favorite things in the world:  Oatmeal, writing anything by hand
Firsts for this year:  Triathlon in October

Happy Birthday, Nathan!  (And you can check out Nathan's blog too!)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Handling It

"Well, God wouldn't have allowed you to go through this if He didn't know you could handle it."

I have heard some version of this many times in the last six months.  On its surface, it is simply a vote of confidence- a way to cheer on someone who's going down a tough path.  But what does it really mean?  And where does the concept come from?

Although it references God, it doesn't come from Scripture.  I imagine people might be thinking of 1 Corinthians 10:13, but that verse says that God won't allow us to "be tempted" beyond what we're able to bear, not that He won't allow us to experience circumstances that are beyond our ability to handle.

In fact, Scripture is replete with examples of individuals whose burden was too heavy, whose road was too hard. Job lost everything, except his nagging wife and self-righteous friends.  Joseph was repeatedly crushed and falsely accused and forgotten.  Stephen was stoned to death.  Mary watched her son be put to death.  These people had more than they could humanly handle.

God is not sitting up in heaven, adding one thing at a time to our burden of life, seeing how much we can "handle" before we collapse under the load.  He is walking beside us, waiting for us to turn to Him.  He values not our ability to walk in our own strength, but our humility when we turn to Him and let Him carry the load for us.  He regularly allows things to happen in this sinful, fallen world that force us to give up.  As long as "giving up" means that we're done doing things our way, trusting in our own abilities, then we've become something that the Lord can use.

Although we humans admire each other's strength, God doesn't.  He's wholly unimpressed by our ability to "handle" things.  Even His weakness is stronger than our strength.  (1 Corinthians 10:25)  And He goes so far as to say that those who depend on their own strength are "cursed"!  (Jeremiah 17:5)  Why such a harsh judgment?  Because when we rely on ourselves, our hearts "depart from the Lord."

He values our relationship with Him so highly that He does what it takes to make us remember that we can't handle it.  We have to depend on Him.  His strength is the only thing that sustains us.

The Apostle Paul was the ultimate "I've got this" guy.  His life was under control.  He was highly educated, from a good family.  His path was marked out and he was handling it.  Even after his conversion, he apparently still struggled with self-sufficiency.   Woe to the people who showed weakness (think of poor, timid Mark) when Paul was on a mission!

So, as God used all of Paul's confidence and determination to change the entire course of human history, He also took steps to remind Paul that he wasn't quite the indomitable force he might have envisioned himself to be.  God actually gave Paul a "thorn in the side."  We don't really know what this thorn was, this "messenger of Satan" that tormented him.  It might have been physical or mental, but whatever it was, it kept him humble.  It kept him from being "exalted above measure."

And, though Paul asked three times to be released from this suffering, God refused.  Because the Lord needed weakness to show His strength.  Because Paul needed to remember- and we need to learn- that man was not created to "handle it" alone.

"And He said to me,
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
1 Corinthians 12:9

Thursday, January 3, 2013


"Mommy, you are FIRED!"

"I'm what?"

"Fired!  You not do what I telled you!"

And so it happened.  I got fired for the first time in my life- by a three year old who hasn't even mastered English grammar.

When he was single, Bryan was fairly convinced that children were a blank slate.  You simply molded them into the kind of people you wanted them to be.  Good parenting- that's what was called for.  Then we had kids.  He learned quickly that much of those little personalities is inborn.  As soon as he was born, Nathan was looking all around the room with big serious eyes.  Bryan joked at the time that if he could talk, he would be quizzing the doctor on how all the equipment worked.  And anyone who knows Nathan knows that he hasn't stopped observing and asking questions!  Evan was born two weeks late, and he still is completely unhurried.  Justin was two weeks early, and he's been rushing ever since.

And then there's Steffen- my sweet little Steffen. He made it clear from the moment he was born that he was the BOSS.  He knew exactly what he wanted (to be held ALL the time), and he made sure that he got it.

Steffen continued his quest for world domination through his toddler year (he stayed awake for ten hours on a night flight) and his two year old year (everything and everyone was 'TUPID.)  He has actually mellowed quite a bit in the last few months.  (No, really, he has.)  He's reached that lovely three year old stage where he can be reasoned with.  I can't always convince him, but at least I stand a chance now.

His "I'm the boss" mentality comes through in the way he talks.  In addition to firing me for unsatisfactory performance, he uses my last name when I do something that upsets him, "Mommy Bain!"  And he'll shake his little finger, "Do you unnerstand me?"  The trick is to take his little "attitudes" seriously and not just crack up at the little three foot person spouting such disrespect.


He's learning to be a more benevolent dictator, coupling his demands with compliments and encouraging words.  "Mommy, open this for me!  'Cause you really good at opening."  And, upon completion of said command, "Good job, Mommy!"

He is also smart enough to know precisely when he's gone too far.  His brown eyes get really big and he says, "I so sorry!  I so sorry!" punctuating his repentance with a smothering hug.

And that cuteness has saved his bossy little hide on more than one occasion.  "I love you, Mommy! You the best mommy," covers a multitude of sins.


As the kids (the ones who managed to stay awake) counted down to the new year, I quietly said good bye to the worst year of my life.  And I breathed a prayer asking for an outpouring of grace in the year to come.

Reflecting on the last year just serves to punctuate how fragile life is, how precious are all of those moments with the ones we love.  And it makes me think about the importance of legacy.  What is left when life on this earth is done?  What will be remembered?

This morning, I read Mindy Belz's reflections on the legacy of Jeremiah Small, the 33 year old American teacher in Iraq who was killed by one of his students.  His father says that the following sums up his son's view on life:

"Live loved, live called, love life,
find mentors, invest eternally,
trust providence."

What a powerful summation of a life of purpose!  What a testimony to a man who lived knowing that God's plans are bigger than anything we can imagine!  If someone had to summarize my life in a dozen words, what, I wonder, could they truthfully say?  What would I want those twelve words to be?  

The words that best describe Bryan's outlook on life were those that he quoted to me, and that I've already shared here:  "God's man, living in God's plan, is invincible till God's work with him is through." Follow God, and be fearless.  When in doubt, charge forward.  Above all, keep moving.  That's how Bryan lived, and those are the lessons that I intend to focus on as I "charge forward" in the new year.

So, here's to a fearless new year- a new year that is truly new.

"Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and of good courage;
do not fear nor be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:9