Patience, Parenting, and the Power of Grace

There are times when I’m reading God’s Word and a verse seems to literally jump off the page at me. Maybe a light bulb of understanding flashes on in my mind or a connection is made for the first time. Most often, the lamp of God’s Word shines deep within, and His Spirit pricks me with conviction as the true condition of my heart is revealed.

This happened recently as I came to the following verse in my reading through the book of Proverbs: 

Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s emotions than capturing a city. (Prov 16:32)

Ouch.

As the long days of summer have worn on, I’ve found myself quick to lose patience and grasp for power, particularly in my relationships with my boys. Here’s the thing: Summer is really fun. I love having all three boys home all the time. I love getting to sleep later and have lazy mornings with nowhere to be. I love having time to swim, play with friends, travel, read and take the boys to lots of new places. I love having more opportunities to teach them all sorts of things as I seek to fill their minds with truth. I consider it a privilege and joy to be home with them each day.

But summer has its challenges too. While there are more opportunities to spend time together enjoying and loving each other, there are also more opportunities to rub each other wrong…to irritate each other…to sin against each other. Constant family togetherness means the shortcomings of four sinful human beings are highlighted and on display. Selfishness, pride, anger, fear, manipulation, sibling rivalry. In the summertime, more than in other seasons, I see my kids’ individual weaknesses and the sinfulness of their hearts.

And my natural tendency is to want to fix my kids by my own power. In other words, I want to say and do all the right things as a parent to produce the desired effect in their hearts and behavior. I find myself trying to smooth out their rough edges with solid biblical parenting–trying to somehow mend their flaws and melt away their fears and insecurities so that I can feel really good about my kind, obedient, well-adjusted and happy kids. And if none of this “good” power parenting works, it’s likely I’ll completely lose patience. I’ll let my own irritation, anxiety, and fear take the wheel, and in a final ditch effort yell, “WHY CAN YOU NOT DO____?!?!  WHAT IS SO HARD ABOUT____?!?! JUST STOP IT! NOW!!!!!!” 

Patience is better than Power.

When I read these words, I felt the Lord whisper to my heart, “They are not your projects, Sarah. They are gifts from my hand. They are blessings to steward, not burdens to shoulder. You will not give account for how you changed or healed or fixed them. That is not a job you can even do. It’s mine alone. You will give account for how you loved them. And my love is patient. It is not irritable. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. My love never ends. You can be faithful and rest in grace as you trust Me with the hearts of your boys.”

Loving my kids with a Christ-like love, doesn’t mean glossing over their sins and struggles with an “anything goes” mentality. The proverbs also repeatedly command parents to discipline their children in love: Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t set your heart on being the cause of his death (Prov 19:18). No, loving my kids with a Christ-like love means being faithful to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4),  being patient with the process rather than trying to force visible results that, in reality, I have no power to produce. 

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, he was telling them to raise their children in the Gospel. Paul’s Gentile audience (Greek believers) would have raised their children in the instruction of the philosophers. The Jews would have raised their children in the instruction of the Law. But Paul is calling followers of Christ to something new: Gospel-centered parenting. And the good news of the gospel is that “we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope” (Tim Keller). Loving my kids patiently and raising them in the instruction and discipline of the Lord means giving them the good news of grace as I rest in that grace myself.

Jesus Christ came to this world and lived the perfect, pure, and righteous life that my boys and I could never live. He died a horrific, unimaginable death in our place. He triumphed over death when he rose from the grave, and He lives to offer us forgiveness, His own righteousness and transformation through His Spirit. When I am resting in the gospel, I can stop grasping for power and love my boys with a patience that endures the process–rough sinful edges and all–because that is how Christ has loved me. I can discipline and teach in love rather than irritation and fear, extending the good news of grace that has been extended to me. I can parent in a way that hopes all things because my hope is grounded in the finished work of good, merciful and mighty Savior, not the way my kids behave on any particular day. My life can exhibit the truth that patience is better than power because God’s patient grace has changed me. . . and his patient grace will change them too.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that he has made. Psalm 145:8

 

 

Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

The 2013 Stevens-family-Christmas-card-photo-shoot needed to be recorded in the archives for posterity’s sake. Because future generations need to understand that they come from a bunch of crazies! And fun crazies to boot!

{Disclaimer: some of these photos have dark shadows and heads cut out. We used the self timer for this shoot because who do you ask to come over and take photos of your entire family in footie pajamas? At least we got a few good ones.}

So, Merry Christmas and tidings of great comfort and joy from our family to yours!

2013 Stevens family Christmas card

2013 Stevens family Christmas card

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC I believe I can fly…SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

Fire prevention parade and the difficult twos

Fire Prevention week is one of those fun, small town traditions that’s hard to understand and appreciate unless you’ve been a part of it. But in the little town I hail from, it’s a pretty big, stinkin’ deal.  A whole week in October is centered around fire prevention activities. The firemen come to the schools and churches, and there’s a big banquet for the fire department in which the fire queen and her maids are presented. And then the best part. The fire prevention parade. School even lets out early for it. Growing up, we stood on the sidewalk in front of my friend Rachael’s house every year to catch candy and watch the firetrucks, floats, and marching bands parade on by. Priceless memories. photo (16)photo (27)Well, after years away from my childhood home, I feel like I’ve come full-circle. Because this year, my own child got to experience the fire prevention parade for himself. And from what I heard, he had himself a grand ol’ time. He loves nothing more than a good firetruck.

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I love this one of him hauling in his loot, sucker in mouth. Serious business.

I love this one of him hauling in his loot, sucker in mouth. Serious business.

I’m really glad Luke got to have this fun experience that I’m thinking will become an annual tradition. Even though I was originally planning to be there with him, I’m glad he got to make this first-time-fire-prevention-memory with just my parents. I think it was a special time for all of them.

And, to be honest, it was a refreshing time for me. L spent most of the week with my parents, and it was a much needed break for this mama. Because, even though he’s all smiles in the pictures, real day-to-day life with a two year old is not all smiles all the time. I now understand why they call it “the terrible twos,” although I think “the difficult twos” might be more accurate. Not every day is terrible, but every day is difficult. Every day brings challenges. There is testing, there is whining, and there is extreme frustration when things don’t go his way. There is more moodiness than I would expect from a 13-year-old girl. There is a seeming inability to grasp the necessity of first-time obedience, regardless of the consequences he faces. Patience, loving correction, and consistent discipline often take more intentionality and strength than I feel I have to give. Most days, I’m just worn slap out.

BUT.

In the challenges, and in my moments of weakness and parenting struggles, God is faithful. His grace is there, and it’s always enough. It is sufficient for me, and I am shaped by the hard moments and days.

And God is kind to give us many precious, joyful moments peppered between those fits. A hug, a kiss, an “I love you, Dah-dee” {the way he says “daddy” sounds somewhat British, and it’s completely adorable}. Excitement, passion, and the twinkling of bright blue eyes. And every now and then, first-time obedience with a hearty, “Yes ma’am, Mommy!”

Though every moment is not fun, there is a deeper joy in the parenting journey we’re on with our little Luke. Joy in the good and the beautiful. Joy in the hard and the not-so-beautiful. The sovereign hand of our Father is faithfully weaving together the tapestry of our lives. Every thread of joy and hardship has it’s place. Nothing–not even the difficult twos– is wasted in this process of making us who He wants us to be.

Cousin Play

We went to Jackson for a few days this past week, and Adam’s brother’s family happened to be right up the road in Thomasville during their spring break. We got together for a cousin play-date {a rare but precious treat}, and I pulled the “real camera” out for the first time in a long time.

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DSC05395 SONY DSC DSC05398 DSC05403DSC05405 DSC05409 DSC05410Beautiful, fair-skinned babies, aren’t they? 🙂

We’re so thankful to have the other Rice family in our lives! Bo and Bek are not only our partners and mentors in ministry, they are also our dear friends. Time with them is always a treat!

December Fun

There’s this adorable little park that we drive by almost every day on our way to and from the house, and it’s lit up with all sorts of fantastic lights this time of year. Mr. Boy always notices the lights from the car and points and “talks” when we drive by. So one night, we thought we’d stop and let him see the lights up close.
IMG_3534The pictures aren’t so grand and really don’t capture the beauty {I have issues with night pictures}, but Mr. Boy wasn’t disappointed.

DSC05146He pitched a fit when he had to say goodbye to the giant Frosty and get back in the car.
DSC05153 DSC05161And since we’re just so full of Christmas cheer, we also stopped by the mall to see Santa. Mr. Boy wasn’t a fan, which makes me thankful that I made the decision to stand outside the gate and take my own pictures, rather than paying $35 for a package of “professionally made” photos of my child screaming his head off in Santa’s lap. Santa’s photographer elves just loved me.
DSC05168 The good news is, L LOVED the little cars in the middle of the mall that you can ride for a whole 75 cents. Have I mentioned that he is really into cars and trucks right now? I mean REALLY into them. The only words to describe it are unbridled OBSESSION. In the pictures below, he’s making his “truck sound” which reminds me of the drumroll that Ellen does right before Clarke lights up the house on Christmas Vacation. He can do this great tongue roll thing and draw it out forever and a day.
DSC05169 Then, after he touched the seat, floor, steering wheel, windshield and every other inch of the car, he stuck his thumb in his mouth. Great. Because I will not survive it if we all get the stomach virus again. DSC05170 See, like I said. Not a fan of Santa yet. But can you blame him? I mean, we just handed him off to this BIG, strange man in a funny outfit and a HUGE chair. Not gonna lie, if I was a year old, I might be a little freaked too. DSC05171I just wanted to take him and see his reaction. I have memories of going to see Santa every year at the mall in Mobile with my siblings. We would prepare our little lists and go sit on his lap and tell him everything we wanted. And we really believed, y’all. We loved it. Well, that is, until we got to early middle school and mom still made Jenny and me go see Santa because “Will still believes, and he should get to see Santa just as many years as you girls did.” At that point, it was more like torture…just like it was for our little guy. Bless it!
DSC05172Merry Christmas, Y’all!

Then and Now

When we were home last, my sister-in-law passed along a sweet little outfit that belonged to Adam’s dad as a baby.

I believe that PawPaw and every Rice boy born since has had a picture made in this outfit.

Or in L’s case, 50+ pictures made in the outfit. Because I have a picture problem when it comes to my child.

Adam gave me a little lecture about how the value of my pictures of L decreases as I continue to make more and more: It’s just basic supply and demand, Sarah! The more we have, the less they mean to us. 

{Ok, seriously now? I think he’s just on a rant because our computer is almost out of space.}

It’s funny how we get conflicting opinions from people about who L resembles most.

People who knew me as a baby say that we really favor. And while he really looks nothing like me now, it’s true that you can see a definite resemblance in the baby pictures.

Then, people from Adam’s hometown say things like, “Oh my gosh! Is he not just the image of Adam?!?.” 

After seeing their pictures side-by-side, I have to agree. He is most definitely his daddy’s child. And that is fine by me! 🙂

Granddaddy

My heart is heavy tonight because my Granddaddy is sick. So very sick. The cancer has taken over his body, and it has happened so fast. He doesn’t have much time left. Cancer. . . it’s a devilish thing.

It seems that losing grandparents has become too frequent an occurrence for us over the past few years. It’s so hard watching family–the ones you love–grow old and sick and die. Each loss has been so hard. When you lose someone who has greatly impacted your life, it feels like you’ve lost a little piece of yourself as well. But this loss will be especially hard for me. Because when Granddaddy goes to be with the Lord, that will mean that both my mom’s parents are gone. Our chapter on this earth with Mama Grace and Granddaddy will be closed. . . the ending of a very sweet and precious season. And, even though I rest in the knowledge that I will see them again, it makes my heart hurt.

Jenny, Will, and I have always had a special relationship with Mama’s parents because we are their only grandchildren. And, oh my goodness, they’ve always treated us as if we were the most precious children in the whole wide world. I still have stacks and stacks of cards they sent in the mail for various occasions, always reminding us how proud they were of us. Oh, how they loved us and made us feel it. Throughout the last few days, my mind has been flooded with memories. Little things. Things like outings to Camper Park and Smoothie King and Chesterfield’s in Hattiesburg. Things like playing dress-up in their living room in Mama’s old ballet tutus and Mama Grace’s costume jewelry { And Will always wearing Granddaddy’s hats}. Things like vanilla wafers always in their kitchen cabinets and coke with big round ice cubes in tervis tumblers {we didn’t oft get cookies and coke at our own house, so this was a big deal :)}

I can’t remember a Christmas morning when they didn’t stroll into our living room a few hours after we had gotten up { at the crack of dawn} to listen and observe as we excitedly displayed our Santa loot.

Mama Grace and Granddaddy were truly made for each other. Both teachers, they were true academics and lovers of learning. They were both extremely smart. They were soul mates and the epitome of a faithful marriage. Granddaddy took faithful care of MG for years as her physical and mental health declined. It wasn’t easy, but he never loved her any less. Not for a second.

After Mama Grace died {almost four years ago}, we grew very close to Granddaddy. His life was no longer consumed with the complete and total care of another. He was still in good health at the time, and we really got to know him in a whole new way. While he was truly heartbroken to lose his soul mate, he firmly believed that God had him still living on this earth for a purpose. After she died, he grieved deeply. But he didn’t curl up a die as well. Granddaddy embraced his life. He sought to know God deeply and to be used by Him. He has been such an example to me of how to handle great loss and grief.

After MG died, He continued teaching {up until a month ago, actually}. He also tutored struggling students. He has stayed active in our lives as well. He never missed a Christmas at our house. At 84 years old, he traveled through the night to Louisville with my family to be there for Luke’s birth. {I love when he asks me how his favorite great- grandson is doing!} He befriended the most unlikely people and sought to reach them for the Lord. Picture an 84-year-old, straight-laced, academic inviting a 25-year-old struggling drug addict to church. Imagine them sitting beside each other on the pew—two men as different as night and day— one worshipping and one searching. Imagine that elderly man writing that younger man letters in prison—letters filled with truth and hope and encouragement. While it’s only one example among many, that’s a picture of our Granddaddy. That’s the kind of person he is. He’s an inspiration to us all.

So, if you think of our Granddaddy, please lift him up to the Father. Pray that God would grant him mercy even in his death– that he would not suffer or feel any pain. Pray that he would not feel any anxiety or fear but only peace. And pray for us too. We will surely feel a void when he leaves this world, but we do not grieve as those without hope. We rejoice that, when Granddaddy leaves this world, he is going somewhere better. He is going to a place where he will be healed. . . a place where he will get to hug his Gracie again. . . a place where he will see JESUS face-to-face. And we rejoice that this is not really the end. We will see him again too.

Father, thank you for the gift of Granddaddy–the gift that you have given me for 25 1/2 years of life. Thank you for using his life and his love to impact and bless me in more ways than I even know. Father, I know that all good gifts come from your hand, and I bless you for the gift of Granddaddy to me—to all of us. You are so kind. 

Granddaddy and me—circa 1988

Rehearsal dinner—December 2008