One in Christ: Why We Should Reject Denominational Snobbery

One of my favorite Christian jokes goes something like this:

A guy dies and immediately is brought before St. Peter, who, after checking the guy in, gives him a walking tour of heaven. They pass a group of people singing and dancing and shaking tambourines, and St. Peter explains that they’re Pentecostals. Presently, they pass another group of people solemnly reading Psalms in unison from little books; St. Peter explains that these are Lutherans. As they approach a third group – this one sitting in a large circle and praying in turns – St. Peter whispers to the new arrival, “Ssh, those are the Baptists. They think they’re the only ones here.”

Here’s the funny thing (Baptists, stay with me here): this sense of superiority is hardly limited to one denomination. Born to parents from the Free Methodist church, raised in a Presbyterian church, currently attending a Baptist church, and sister to members of Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, I’ve had a fair amount of exposure to different denominations. While I’m far from being an expert on the doctrinal minutiae of each one, I do feel qualified to make some sweeping gross generalizations — specifically as pertaining to how members of various denominations regard the others. Here’s how it breaks down, as I see it:

  • Baptists: “We have obeyed the Lord by following Him in believer’s baptism. Anybody who believes in infant baptism clearly doesn’t love Jesus and is probably not a Christian.”
  • Presbyterians: “We have captured the essence of Scripture in our creeds and in the Five Points of Calvinism, and we know what we believe and why. Nobody else has a proper reverence for God.”
  • Lutherans: “Our services are immersed in Scripture, and our prayers consist of carefully-considered words instead of the chance ramblings of the flawed human leading the congregation. Those other people don’t really take the Bible or worship very seriously.”
  • Free Methodists: “We believe that salvation is evident from the fruit in a person’s life, and a lack of fruit means you should probably get saved again. Most denominations believe in cheap grace.”

On one hand, I get it. After all, the various denominations wouldn’t exist in the first place if their founders — and adherents — didn’t feel strongly about certain interpretations of the Bible. On the other hand…I get a bit tired of the lack of grace extended across denominational lines. Okay: very tired of it.

It was over three hundred years ago that German theologian Rupertus Meldenius proposed the following principle:

In essentials unity;

In non-essentials liberty;

In all things charity.

Frankly, I don’t see that last phrase applied very often…and I suspect it’s due to confusion over the first two phrases. What are the essentials? From what I’ve seen, it seems that certain devout members of varying denominations consider everything to be essential. It reminds me of this cartoon:

We live in the era of “progressive Christianity.” Its adherents are legion; they talk at length — especially in political contexts — about what Jesus would do and what He taught. However, as Dwight Longenecker explains in the article linked above, “their religion is a historical accident of circumstances and people…Jesus Christ is, at best, a divinely inspired teacher…the Scriptures are flawed human documents influenced by paganism [and] the church is a body of spiritually minded people who wish to bring peace and justice to all and make the world a better place.”

With Christianity becoming widely understood as consisting of the nebulous characteristics described above, I believe it’s crucial that members of various denominations acknowledge that they do, in fact, agree on the essentials. While a treatise on the exact nature of divine inspiration, the basis for our biblical canon, and the development of the theology of historical Christianity is WAY beyond the scope of one blog post, I will posit the major points here (and welcome further discussion if you are interested in learning more). In her book Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, Natasha Crain delineates the following five biblically-based essential Christian doctrines:

  1. One God: “To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides Him” (Deut. 4:35; see also 6:4; Ex. 20:3; Is. 43:10; 44:6).
  2. The Deity of Jesus: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58; see also Ex. 3:14; John 10:30; 20:28; Phil. 2:5-8; Col. 2:9).
  3. The Resurrection: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14, see also 15:17; John 2:19-21).
  4. Salvation by Grace: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9; see also Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:21; 5:4).
  5. The Gospel: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; see also Gal. 1:8-9).

Each of these doctrines, of course, can be espoused only if one accepts as truth the words of II Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Although some churches within every denomination have chosen to downplay Scripture and consequently minimize or deny one or more of the aforementioned doctrines, plenty of churches — within various denominations — are still committed to faithfully interpreting and proclaiming God’s revealed Word. Given the tumultuous nature of our times, I find it just plain silly (at best) to look askance at brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with us on what we must acknowledge to be non-essentials. We are one body (Rom. 12:3-5, I Cor. 12), and we should behave as such.

Here’s the truth: I know and love quite a few people who are not Baptists, yet DO love Jesus and ARE Christians. I know and love quite a few non-Presbyterians who revere God and know what they believe. I know and love plenty of non-Lutherans who take worship seriously. And scads of non-Free Methodists who understand that true salvation will produce fruit in a believer’s life.

It’s fine to draw conclusions — based on prayer, study, and the desire to honor God — about what set of non-essential doctrines seems to make the most sense. After all, if we go to any church, it will be one that falls in line with a certain denomination (even if it shies away from saying so). But it’s NOT fine to then look out the window at everybody else and look down on them because they’ve landed somewhere else.

Friends, remember the essentials. Proclaim them fervently. And if we admit that the other things are non-essentials, then we truly will be displaying the unity that should characterize the body of Christ.

To Share Jesus with Millennials, Let’s Start by Not Mocking Them

If there’s anything people enjoy these days more than watching cat videos, it’s making fun of Millennials.

And why not? Decrying the foibles of the upcoming generation is a time-honored tradition, and with Millennials, it would seem that there’s more low-hanging fruit than ever. How can we not poke fun at an entire generation of people who spend every waking hour staring at expensive black rectangles which enable them to remotely interact with faraway “friends” who have painstakingly edited their online lives before posting them on their own shiny black rectangles?

It is pretty hard to resist. And I’ve seen some pretty clever satire out there…and “LOL’ed,” as the kids say nowadays.

Increasingly, though, a question has been nagging me: As a Christian whose mandate – and deepest desire – is to share Christ’s love with others, is it truly God-honoring for me to deride many of those very people I hope to reach?

The answer, I hope, is so obvious as to be superfluous.

SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND

In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul instructs his readers regarding how they ought to commune with various groups of people:

Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. (I Cor. 10:32-33)

For missionaries traveling overseas, this is only natural. If I am a missionary who wants to share the Gospel with, for example, a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea, I will first seek to understand its culture. Are they reserved or gregarious? Are they task-oriented or people-oriented? What does family life look like? All these questions, and more, will inform my approach to telling them the good news of the Bible.

And yet somehow, we have trouble applying this to the culture that surrounds us here and now. While we wouldn’t dream of joining a missions organization, planting ourselves in a foreign land, then proceeding to mock the people there for their worldviews, cultural norms, and cherished values, we feel perfectly free to do exactly that with the culture in which most of us live. Instead of giving no offense, as Paul instructs us, we ridicule an entire generation for its apparently unconscionable quirks…then wonder why they don’t want to hear about Jesus.

Christian friends, we can – we must – do better than this.

QUENCHING THE THIRST

In the fourth chapter of John, Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman who has come to draw water from a well. In the course of their conversation, He tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst” (John 4:13-14). When she eagerly responds that it would be great to never have to come draw water again, He explains that what He offers is living water — the gift of new life through Himself. His words echo those of the prophet Isaiah:

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

And you who have no money come, buy and eat.

…Why do you spend money for what is not bread,

And your wages for what does not satisfy?

…Incline your ear and come to me.

Listen, that you may live.

(Isaiah 55:1-3)

In every generation, in every part of the world, people are seeking fulfillment. Some have sought it in athletic achievement; some, through financial success; others, through acceptance by peers…the list could go on, of course, but what we always find is that none of these things ultimately satisfies, and as long as we expect them to do so, we must keep going back to the well.

Today, the well is shallower than ever…but, in the short term, more immediately satisfying than ever. As Simon Sinek points out in the video below (which is well worth the fifteen minutes, in case you’re wondering), the generation we call “Millennials” is heavily influenced by the self-esteem movement, which — news flash — was NOT initiated by Millennials. As children, “they were told that they were special — all the time — and that they could have anything they want in life — just because they want it!”

Conveniently, their transition into adulthood coincided perfectly with the advent of social media…which, used carefully, reinforces that childhood feeling of being special with comments and “likes.” The feeling produced by social media notifications is caused by a chemical in our brains called dopamine — the “exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, and when we drink, and when we gamble; in other words, it’s highly, highly addictive.”

At the end of the day, however, most people will admit that this constant gratification — one that must be fueled by diligently crafted posts on Facebook, Instagram, and so on — fails to provide what we truly need.

“Everything you want, you can have instantaneously — everything you want, instant gratification – except job satisfaction and strength of relationships; there ain’t no app for that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes,” says Sinek. Because of this dearth of deeply fulfilling relationships and sense of purpose, depression and suicide have increased alarmingly; and of those who don’t fall into these worst-case scenarios, many will still find themselves “growing up and going through life and never really finding joy.”

Jesus harshly rebuked the self-righteous religious leaders of His day, but He wept for the lost. Should we not do the same?

Millennials are no different from the woman at the well…or from the nations of Israel and Judah…or from anyone who has ever sought fulfillment and found that every earthly pleasure was, in the end, fleeting.

Let us heed the words of Paul, and the example of Christ, and meet people where they are.

Let us see not a generation, but individuals.

Let us seek to understand what individuals are looking for.

And let us lovingly, graciously show them that Jesus is the only One who can truly satisfy their thirst.

Broken, But Beautiful

As long as evangelicals have been handing out Gospel tracts, the Good News For the World they’ve communicated has clearly been: “Jesus died for you, because you’re a sinner.”

Concise. Attention-grabbing. And theologically, not incorrect.

Theologically, though, it’s not complete either.

In an era when morality is almost entirely subjective; when, based on this nebulous morality, most members of modern society consider themselves to be basically good; and, most importantly, when we’re willing to share and consider only those ideas that can be summed up in 140 characters or in a catchy meme; it seems only reasonable to boil Christianity down to what appears to be the essentials.

The question is: are those the essentials?

Almost. But not quite.

Recently, a missionary-in-training visited our Sunday school class to share his future plans and describe how his missions organization functions. One distinctive of this organization, he explained, is that its missionaries (who visit remote tribes that often lack a written language, let alone a Bible) share Christ by beginning with the book of Genesis. After all, he pointed out, it’s hard to understand the concept of sin — or one’s subsequent need for a Savior — without an understanding of who God is, who we are in relation to Him, and why, therefore, sin matters to Him.

It makes so much sense. And what I wonder is: why should we present the Gospel any differently, right where we are? After all — to state the ludicrously obvious — the Bible begins with Genesis. Surely God wouldn’t have inspired its authors to record the details of Creation (as well as the entire Old Testament) if He considered everything before the book of Matthew to be frankly inconsequential. And if He wants us to know about the details of Creation, He must have a purpose in sharing them with us.

Take a look at Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 

And His assessment a few verses later:

And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Gen. 1:31)

What do these verses tell us? That God made us in His image, and that what He created was good.

What does this mean for us? That we are worth something to Him. In her book Total TruthNancy Pearcey perfectly encapsulates the typical approach to evangelism and points out why it’s incomplete:

Consider the typical evangelistic message: “You’re a sinner; you need to be saved.” What could be wrong with that? Of course, it’s true that we are sinners, but notice that the message starts with the Fall instead of Creation. By beginning with the theme of sin, it implies that our essential identity consists in being guilty sinners, deserving of divine punishment. Some Christian literature goes so far as to say we are nothing, completely worthless, before a holy God.

…In fact, it is only because humans have such high value that sin is so tragic. If we were worthless, then the Fall would be a trivial event. When a cheap trinket is broken, we toss it aside with a shrug. But when a priceless masterpiece is defaced, we are horrified. It is because humans are masterpieces of God’s creation that the destructiveness of sin produces such horror and sorrow.

…Beginning with sin instead of creation is like trying to read a book by opening it in the middle: You don’t know the characters and can’t make out the plot.

So why does this matter?

I suspect that the frequent overemphasis on our sin nature emerged as a reaction to modern society’s firm belief in its inherent moral goodness — the belief that, in fact, when Nietzche declared God to be dead, sin died along with Him. It is well and good that we counter this with the truth: that all of us are tainted by sin, and that only by believing in the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection can we be restored to a relationship with a holy God (Rom. 3:23-24). But if we start and end there, we show a lack of understanding of ourselves…and, by extension — because we are made in His image — of God.

Imago Dei. It means that we are more than animals. That we have souls. A will. Creativity. A sense of the beautiful. A sense of right and wrong. When mankind fell, every facet of personhood was poisoned by sinbut not lost. 

When somebody gives food to the homeless, he reflects God’s image, whether he realizes it or not.

When somebody cares for an ailing parent, she reflects God’s image, even if she denies His existence.

When people gather to clean up a town devastated by a hurricane…they reflect God’s image, even if they believe they don’t need Him because they are already good enough.

Without the imprint of God, none of us would be able to do good, and when we share Christ by telling others that every good thing they do is utterly worthless, what we are really intimating is that they are less than human.

How much better it would be if we shared the whole story:

That God created something beautiful — His children, the pinnacle of His handiwork…

…that tragedy befell, and His children rebelled so that the beauty was marred…

…that, instead of punishing His children by making them strive ceaselessly for a holiness they could never fully attain on earth, He sent a Rescuer…

…so that those who realized where they came from and saw that the original beauty, though still there, was forever tainted, needed only to acknowledge Him…

…and that when they confessed their need for the Rescuer, they could throw themselves into the open arms of the One who loved them from the beginning of time.

A Farewell Tribute

For those who don’t know: my father recently retired from Cairn University School of Music after forty years of service. Below are the words I offered at his retiriement celebration.

Seventeen years ago, I completed my last Chorale Tour with my dad. Since then, I’ve gotten married, sung in a few church choirs, done some conducting of my own, and had a couple of kids. Given that I’m so far removed from the college choral experience, it would seem only natural that I’d consider his retirement an unmixed blessing; after all, he’s of age, he’s worked hard, and now I’ll get to see more of him…and my children will get to see more of their Granddad.

The truth is, though, that when he quietly informed me and my family last spring that this would probably be his last year, an enormous lump rose in my throat and has remained there ever since. Because the truth is, something beautiful is coming to an end.

The Chorale under Dr. Shockey is something uniquely wonderful. Every year, my dad inspires a new group of students to sing music more challenging than many of them have dreamed of attempting, and through him, they learn to love that music more than they have dreamed of loving something. His love for music, his commitment to excellence and to raising the bar far above what is generally expected to come out of a private evangelical university, his dedication to his students, and most of all, his love for the Lord, have encouraged generations of students to strive to be a better version of themselves: harder workers, stronger musicians, better friends, and more devoted Christians.

You can almost see this when you listen to the Chorale singing — the way they watch him is more than just a disparate group of people following a conductor’s hand motions. We saw it on April 21st, when scores of alumni joined the Chorale to sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” one last time. My dad means a lot to so many people, and if you know him, you know why.

To me, it seems as if there would be a temptation to coast through one’s last year, or years, of professorship. If my dad has encountered any such temptation, he hasn’t shown it. For musicians, of course, it’s already understood that weekends are not one’s own. In addition to the performances he has led, though, my dad has done so much more than what his position requires.

He is constantly – and I do mean constantly – bringing students to operas, recitals, concerts, and conventions; supporting his colleagues by attending their concerts; inviting students into his home; and going to recitals, not just of his own voice students, but of almost every student he knows personally. It is this love for people – an outpouring of his evident love for the Lord – that, in the end, is why people love him so much.

My dad has poured more of himself into his work in forty years than many people would in sixty, and his retirement is well-deserved. Still, I can’t quite grasp the idea that I will never again hear the Chorale under his masterful direction. Truly, his home concerts have been among the highlights of my years as a stay-at-home mom; things of beauty whose joy lingers in my ears long after the last notes of the Benediction.

However, we are not to lay up our treasures on earth, and I am trying to let go — just as my dad has, so graciously and humbly. Instead of clinging to what would have inevitably ended someday, I am choosing to be thankful that I had the privilege of singing under his direction; that I am lucky enough to have a father who, in every aspect of his life, is such an example to me of walking with the Lord; and that, having left an eternal impact on so many colleagues and students, my dad will be able to breathe more deeply than he has for years.

 

Following in the Footsteps of Jesus

Not long ago, my pastor finished a sermon series on the Gospel of Luke. Throughout our two-year study, many of us in the congregation read Luke multiple times. It wasn’t until my last time through the book, though, that I found myself re-examining one story. Actually, a series of stories.

In Chapter Eight, Jesus and the disciples board a boat headed for the country of the Gerasenes. In the midst of a much-needed rest, Jesus is shaken awake by His followers, and calms a storm that has made them fear for their lives. The water once again tranquil, they eventually land, and immediately encounter a demon-possessed man. Jesus commands the demons to leave, but agrees to let them possess some nearby pigs…which, naturally, causes consternation amongst the locals. After instructing the newly-restored and grateful man to tell others what has happened, Jesus (at the request of the locals) departs.

Upon his return, Jesus meets an eager crowd and is petitioned to heal the ailing young daughter of a man named Jairus. On His way to do so, Jesus stops in the middle of a crowd to heal a woman suffering from chronic bleeding. After speaking with her, He proceeds to Jairus’ home, where the girl has already died and the household is weeping. Jesus soothes the mourners, then restores Jairus’ daughter to life.

These stories reveal a great deal about Jesus — about His power over nature, over evil, over sickness and even death. However, as I read Luke Eight this time around, a new thought struck me:

He must have been exhausted.

Amidst the messy, humdrum tasks of my own day-to-day life — homeschooling, cleaning up spills, breaking up fights, scrounging up ice packs for bumped heads — I sometimes wonder what it means for me, a stay-at-home mom, to follow in the footsteps of One who knew no sin, and who possessed infinite power. I wonder how I can present my life as a living sacrifice when I’m so worn out from the demands of motherhood that I hardly have time to pray. I wonder when I can take a break from this earthy stuff that consumes my time so I can truly serve the Lord.

It occurs to me now that, in some ways, Jesus’ daily life was not so different from mine.

When He accepted the limitations of human flesh, Jesus accepted the need for rest…and the Bible tells us that He often went off by Himself to pray. Sometimes, though, that “alone time” just didn’t happen. In the above account, people’s needs just kept piling up — overlapping, even — and, in addressing those needs, Jesus simply pushed through the exhaustion.

When the disciples roused Him from His well-deserved sleep, Jesus quelled their childlike fears. When a hurting woman detained Him on His way to somewhere else, He showed her compassion instead of treating her as an interruption. Although He craved time alone with His Father, Jesus instead ministered to His children.

It can be tempting to focus so much on Christ’s deity that we forget about His humanity. This imbalance, for me, can lead to a misguided conception of God as being “out there” — my Creator, and the reason for my ultimate hope, yes — but somehow distant from the realities right in front of me. Luke shows us, though — if we can open our eyes to see it — that Jesus knew those realities better than any of us.

I cannot calm storms, but I can soothe my children when their bad dreams disrupt my sleep. I cannot raise the dead, but I can clean scraped knees and bloody lips. I cannot save the world, but I can patiently and lovingly serve my family — even when I’m tired…or in the middle of something else…or yearning for spiritual refreshment.

When I do so, I am following in the footsteps of Jesus. And when I choose to be joyful instead of grudging, compassionate instead of irritable, I come closer and closer to being a reflection of Him.

What an amazing privilege: to walk as Jesus did, knowing that He understands what it means to serve others as we tread this tired earth together. As I cling more closely to this truth, my own burdens feel lighter…and my foolish feelings about Jesus being “out there” are replaced by the realization that, through every moment of the day, He is vibrantly, intimately present.

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:15-16)

Grace on a Monday

Some memories forever embed themselves in our minds, not because they are themselves noteworthy, but because of something that comes after.

One sunny morning in October 2006, I woke up an hour earlier than necessary. I enjoyed an invigorating five-mile run, showered, made myself a spinach-and-cheese omelette, and still got to church on time. And why not? I had a whole extra hour, because it was Fall Back Day — my favorite non-holiday event of the year.

Not particularly memorable in and of itself, pleasant though it was.

The reason I remember it is that, one year later, I was the mother of a two-month-old baby. He was cuddly, alert, precious…and absolutely exhausting. Barely eight weeks into motherhood, I adored my son, but felt sure that my life was over. I would never sleep again, never go running again, maybe never shower again. Then came the night before the October time change, when I had a new and horrifying realization: changing the clock would mean precisely zilch to this tiny person in my arms. The only thing it would mean was that, when he woke up, my clock would probably say 5:00 instead of 6:00.

My favorite day of the year suddenly became my least favorite day of the year, and postpartum blues overtook me like an ocean breaker knocking down an unsusupecting toddler at the beach. Memories of last year’s leisurely autumn morning of running and breakfasting taunted me: “You will never get that back! If only you’d known to appreciate it!”

News flash: Having children does not make life easier.

Nine years later, I’m still alive — and happily, doing more than just surviving. Still, though, I can’t go running as often as I used to. I can’t spend an entire Saturday reading a book from cover to cover. And activities to which I never gave a second thought have become impossibly cumbersome tasks. Getting out of the house to run errands takes EVER so much longer than it used to, and putting myself to bed is allowed only after two energetic youngsters have finally had their last story. To top it all off, we have made the choice, often considered the height of masochism, to homeschool our children. A lifetime sentence, to be sure — am I right?

Except…

Something has happened in those nine years. Not all at once, but gently, sweetly, like tiny buds slowly pushing through the earth, a day at a time, until one day you look around and realize that it’s spring.

I have come to see that children make many things better.

I first noticed this on a Monday morning. I was busying myself with chores: starting laundry, putting away dishes, attacking various piles of clutter…all the varied tasks that accumulate after two days of pretending weekends can still be restful. In the midst of it, something struck me: the kids are playing together and letting me get my work done! Further consideration revealed that, while I wasn’t looking, this had become a regular occurrence. Something about coming off of a busy Sunday inspires my children, the next morning, to wake up wanting to play creatively and happily with one another.

During that time, I can accomplish the things that, during the baby and toddler years, seemed Herculean. The ability to complete tasks unhindered is a treat now, not a drudgery to take for granted as I did before I had little people underfoot to interrupt them.

Stranger still than enjoying chores: I no longer hate Mondays. I actually…like them.

And the more I reflect, the more I notice the myriad details of life that have become more beautiful — and have even gone from unpleasant to enjoyable — as a result of what I first thought had permanently handicapped every aspect of my existence.

Although this revelation came to me in the context of motherhood, I believe that God surprises all of us, in different ways, with this Monday grace — this gentle, gradual transformation of things mundane or dreary into things pleasant and even delightful. And I, for one, notice it much less often than it happens. I take the quiet joys in life for granted instead of recognizing them for what they are: reminders that God’s mercies are new every morning, and that He is the One who gives us beauty for ashes…even though, more often than not, we blithely go about living our lives without stopping to acknowledge the change.

I said that children make many things better. Really, though, it’s so much bigger than that. God, in his grace, continually takes the seeming drudgeries of life and reshapes them – reshapes us – so that they bring us joy instead.

May I continually be transformed in this way…and may I always return praise and thanks to the Giver of all good and perfect gifts, great and small.

Children Are Awesome

Today’s blog post is guest-written by the lovely Shandall Green, who also writes awesome book reviews over at coffeeandnonversation.wordpress.com

 

“Children are awesome!” That’s what I was told over and over again when I was pregnant with my first child. That’s how it always started and was invariably followed by a list of the miseries my children would bring upon me; I would never sleep again, I would constantly be poor, I could kiss all the romance in my marriage goodbye, etc. It made an already terrified, expectant mother all the more scared. What was more unsettling is that almost no one could say definitively why children were purported to be “awesome”. Now, 9 years after having my eldest, and just a few short months after delivering my youngest, I will attempt to put into words the awesomeness that is parenting.

First off, they add richness. Example: You are like a bowl of plain ice cream. Getting married is like adding hot fudge (emphasis on the “hot”). Having babies is like sprinkling all your favorite candies and nuts on top with whipped cream and a cherry. Without all of that, it’s just hot fudge and ice cream. The rest makes it something really special, crazy, but special.

Well, when that baby and her brother did arrive, I remember being enamored with each new thing my they did. “Look how alert he is when he stares at the fan!” “She discovered her hands today! She’s so smart!” and so on… I remember this feeling. But the arrival of my newest baby, a tagalong that we’ve loving dubbed Evangeline, I am experiencing again just how powerful that fascination is. Every time her eyes flutter open, I eagerly, admiringly look into them trying to discern their color, smitten with their beauty. Every time a smile graces her face, I could just burst with how darling she is! From her tiny, fat feet with long, delicate toes that she now likes to nibble, to her tiny hands and their fine, feminine fingers, I am in love! How could someone so miniscule, utterly helpless be so singularly captivating?

And each child adds his or her own flavor. My oldest, a blonde beauty at nine, has an imagination that is simultaneously bewildering and engaging, but with a deep-seated commitment to honesty that I cannot praise enough. My middle child, a rambunctious boy of seven, has huge blue eyes, a servant’s heart, and a mind that continually amazes me in its quickness.

Secondly, they are the best legacy you could leave. I love seeing glimpses of my husband, a man whom I admire more than I could ever express, in my children. I give thanks that, when he is gone, a part of him will linger on the earth to grace the world with his cleverness, his compassion, and his steadfastness. Or you could take the stance that you will continue to heckle the world from the grave by leaving behind your children…that might be a more accurate picture of what I’m leaving behind.

From a practical standpoint, they will eventually learn to wash dishes, do laundry, and take out the trash. All those things that are supposed to make me miserable–the endless stream of dirty laundry, dishes, and toys about the house–have a shelf life. Like every stage, diapers do end–one of my moments of great triumph came when my six-year-old said he needed to go to the bathroom in a restaurant and I had only to point him toward the facilities with a reminder to wash his hands. Carrying a heavy, awkward car seat is replaced with a toddling, stumbling picture of pride. Sleeping in shifts gives way to sneaking off for a Sunday afternoon nap while the kids play Legos or–get this–read a book! Making meals three times a day transforms as you teach them to clumsily spread their own peanut butter, then make macaroni and cheese, then fry an egg, etc. And then, one day, your seven-year-old is handing you a bowl of steaming mac and cheese!

As far as romance, my children are not responsible for my marriage. So I will not blame them for its flaws. If they interfere with the growth of our marriage, that’s our fault. I will concede that our experience has not seen this to be the case. On the contrary, I have watched my husband become ever more desireable blowing raspberries at a baby and teaching my son to properly wield his new toolset. There’s something irresistible about a man acting all gooey over his children… Mmmm… Anyway, where was I?

I cannot speak to the teen years. We’re eyeballing them over the curve of a few short years. But I remain optimistic. If folks were so wrong about everything else, well, maybe they’re wrong about this, too.

I’ll skip a little further down the road. As an adult, I thoroughly enjoy visiting with my dad over a cup of coffee when he stops by in the morning. I imagine that he enjoys it, too, although it could just be the coffee. And there is also the reality that, as my parents get older, they lean more on their children to manage and care for them. If you have fostered a loving relationship with your kids, then failing health and loss of the ability to care for yourself are much less frightening. After all, you’re set in hands you trained yourself.

Then, there is always the possibility of grandchildren, with whom you are just as likely to be infatuated as you were with their parents. They’ll be tugging your heart-strings, taking your breath away, making you love them with some unseen bewitchment. And the richness continues, more sprinkles, more whipped cream, cookies and the like!

And the diapers? I almost forgot it because she was grinning at me the whole time. Or maybe it was so stinky and sloppy that my spouse and I were giggling and gagging by turns. Who knew poop could be so funny? But her face just turned bright red so I’d better go get the diaper bag.