Doors

It was 35 years ago this month that my mom handed me a box and told me to pack up my belongings. She then drove me several hours away to my grandmother’s house in another state. During the drive, she told me she was going to pretend as if I had never been born, to never contact her, or my younger siblings who still lived with her, ever again.

We pulled into my Grandma’s driveway, and, with the engine still idling, I opened the car door and got out. I said goodbye to my mom, who sat holding the steering wheel and staring straight ahead through the windshield. She did not speak a word to me. I took my box and closed the car door, and the door on a chapter of my life and a room in my heart.

Then I turned, and walked toward the house and the next door.

In the intervening years so much has changed, including me.

I have been hurt many times and I have hurt others, often those I loved the most.

I have gained a little wisdom from experience and a lot of wisdom from the Word of God.

I have long since forgiven my mom for childhood hurts she inflicted on me, but which I believe in her heart of hearts, she never intended to do.  I understand that my mom suffers from deep-seated mental illness, that Christ alone can deliver her from her demons, just as he delivers each of us from our own sin and shame. She has sought freedom in many wrong places instead of in genuine surrender to Jesus, the real lover of her soul. I pray for her salvation.

And though my heart is not hard, it is cautious. I do not want to walk back through that door and into the crazy fire that once scorched me. I am a 51-year-old little girl who is still afraid of her 74-year-old mother.

Perhaps one day God will lead me to reconcile with this poor, broken old woman who once loved me as best she knew how and was capable of, and who I once loved. Letting go, like forgiveness and healing is a process. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime.

While there have been many times when I felt alone and abandoned, I see now that never once did God leave me all alone. Whether I knew it at the time or not, he has always walked with me, held me and pursued me. I am thankful that God picked me up out of the muck and mire at an early age and set my feet on the Rock. He has been opening doors for me to walk through and closing others ever since. And he wants me to be a door, a conduit through which his love can pass to others and light their way.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4: 6-9.

If a door in your life has slammed shut, turn toward God and ask him to lead you to the next one. Step into the light of grace. Yesterday’s a closing door; you don’t live there anymore. Tell your heart to beat again.

“You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Let every heartbreak
And every scar
Be a picture that reminds you
Who has carried you this far
‘Cause love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven’s working
Everything for your good

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again.”

– “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again,” by Danny Gokey

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Go Long

“I am not going to introduce Jesus to my children. Instead, I am going to wait and let them decide for themselves as an adult whether they want to follow Christ.”

Sounds like a fair-minded, reasonable proposition, until you carefully examine it.

As a mom, I often struggled with forcing my children to do things they did not want to do. When my kids were younger, with minimal weeping and gnashing of teeth, I was usually successful in getting them to abide by reasonable, socially acceptable behavioral expectations consistent with a Biblical worldview. This included such things as brushing their teeth, taking baths, observing a decent bed time, doing chores, playing fair, being kind and respectful toward others, and attending school, sports practices and church consistently.

I required my kids to do all these things (and many more) not because I wanted to control them for control sake, but because I deemed these behaviors to be in their best interest and necessary for them to have a good life here on earth and eternal life in heaven. I cared more about their long term best interests than their temporary comfort and happiness. It didn’t make me very popular, but I wanted my kids to possess good character and integrity, to love and be loved, to be healthy and strong, and to trust and obey God. In short, I wanted them to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ so that they could experience the blessings of obedience, including peace and not just happiness, but fullness of joy.

However, as our kids entered their teens, it began to dawn on them and us that they did not have to obey mom and dad if they did not want to. The control we thought we had over their conduct was illusory. We could not force them to do anything they did not want to do, but could only encourage them to do the right thing by offering rewards for good choices and negative consequences for bad. Consistently enforcing family rules and consequences is the hard work of parenting and it is rarely fun.

If by their teen years our kids did not care more about having a good life than we cared about them having a good life, we – and they – were in trouble. It is disappointing, frustrating, heartbreaking and depressing when our kids choose less than God’s highest and best for themselves. Even though there were consequences for disobedience – being grounded and losing privileges like cell phones, computer time and driving, coupled with an angry lecture – kids are kids. Sometimes they would either fail to consider those consequences, or after a brief risk-benefit analysis, occasionally would decide to do things their way instead of our way. (I can hear God saying to me, “Now, do you get it?”)

We hoped their way would mirror our way which we hoped followed God’s way. But just as we did not always obey the Lord in all we said and did, neither did our kids. However, if there came a point in time when their behavior was more disruptive or defiant than it was peaceful and compliant, it was time for them to move out and make their way in the world where they could do what was right in their own eyes. We would no longer impose consequences for undesirable behavior – the real world would now do that through financial hardship, lost jobs, and failed relationships…just as it had for us.

Our goal as parents was to prepare our kids to survive and thrive in life – on earth and in heaven.  We knew that Jesus was the key to a good and righteous life that God would bless. We understood that their internal compasses needed to be set to true north – the absolute, unchanging and infallible truth of the Bible – so that their conduct and choices would be governed by a perfect, eternal standard, and not by their parents or others, or even by their own best judgment. However, we didn’t always know how best to do that, and we often bumbled along in our humanity and made a mess of things.

Yet we were convinced of this: to not offer our kids Jesus would have been to give them less than the best, to gamble with their salvation and possibly deny them the hope of eternal life. We loved our kids. Why would we ever deprive them of Christ during their learning and growing years, when their beliefs and values were being firmly rooted and established? They needed the teachings of Jesus to give them wisdom and discernment and the Holy Spirit to strengthen and comfort them even in childhood and certainly to navigate their teen years with all those challenges.

For these reasons, we required our kids to regularly attend church, even when they did not want to go. We knew it was in their best interest because it was in Sunday School, during the worship service, in the fellowship of our Christian brothers and sisters, and serving others that they would experience the love of God and begin to know his Son, Jesus Christ. We figured there would be plenty of years ahead of them when they could decide whether worshiping God was a priority for them. But as for me and my house, we would serve the Lord.

The Word of God is our playbook for life. We don’t always execute those plays perfectly and sometimes don’t follow them at all, but we know there is no higher standard than Jesus to govern our thoughts, actions and plans. The most important thing a parent can do is teach their kids the Playbook. We have experienced the blessings that come with following the example of Christ and doing things by the Book, and we have suffered the consequences when we substituted our wisdom for God’s and stubbornly insisted on doing things our way. We want our kids to be men and women of the Word, to be better than we have been in following Christ, to see the unseen and to go long.

Jesus told us to make disciples, to baptize them and to teach them to obey him. Our first mission field is our children. My husband and I did a lot wrong as parents, but we sure tried to do this right: to share the love and teachings of Jesus with our kids in the hope that they would decide for themselves to accept him as their Lord and Savior and follow him the rest of their days. We don’t always feel like doing what is best or what we need to do, and our children are no different. As parents, it is our job to train them to be self-disciplined, to help them choose to do the next right thing and enjoy the peace that accompanies it. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11.

While we cannot and should not force our children to believe his claims and accept Jesus as Lord, we can and should introduce them to Jesus at an early age and help them get to know him, so that they can be guided by wisdom and one day make an informed decision whether to believe and follow Christ. We pray daily for our kids and their families and ask God to relentlessly and continually pursue their hearts that they may tune into His voice more, and the world’s less. To the extent there is good in our kids – and there is plenty of it – it is all because of Jesus, the great gap-filler, who took our inadequate parenting efforts and has continued to make something beautiful of all of our children, in his time.

Don’t wait to introduce your kids, grandkids, and other children to the One who gave it all so that they might live. Now is the time. Today is the day. Plant Christ in the next generation while the soil of their heart is still soft and ready to receive the truth. When times of famine and hardship come in childhood and beyond, He will sustain them and they will thrive.