Teachable Moments

As a brand new mother, I freaked out that I wasn’t engaging my newborn with enough structured stimulation. Basically, I wasn’t educating her properly.

I think I saw another mom with a Baby Einstein book, teaching her two-month old to read (or something like that), and I felt the pressure to plan a training ritual for her little brain, including expensive learning tools that all the “good moms” touted.

But then I was sorting laundry with her sitting next to me and held up a sock and said, “White sock.”  Her eyes lit up, and she smiled as I held up another white sock and said the same thing.  I talked about the entire pile of laundry in the same way, and I realized that the best teaching was taking place in them moment, in the middle of my mommy chores and mundane tasks around the house.

Basically, I didn’t need new fangled, IQ stimulating toys.  I just needed some patience and a willingness to find opportunities to teach my baby as they came along—out on walks, in the grocery store, or while washing dishes.

So it’s not surprising that I expect my father in heaven to use more formal methods to teach me.  I am ready and waiting at the appointed times, with the correct materials. I sit in church, ready to learn the lessons he has for me for the week, or I open my Bible, the proper curriculum for lessons, and wait for the teaching to follow.  I’m not saying that God doesn’t use these opportunities to teach.  It just seems like he has a far more varied education in mind for me.

Just like Lizzy learns best during teachable moments, God is also teaching me in the moment, in those little mundane tasks of life.

That same laundry pile, the odious chore I faithfully perform weekly, is a chance for me to learn a little humility (workout clothes smell pretty awful a week later).  I also develop a servant’s heart as I stain stick puke and other bodily fluids out of Lizzy’s clothing (sometimes, I fail to learn the lesson and throw the item directly into the garbage).

The best teachable moments are those really frustrating ones, the ugly times when life isn’t going my way.  I’m learning that God is in control and I am not.  I learn about his grace and my weakness.

The challenge is using those ugly moments to teach Lizzy as well.

She’s there, eyes open, when mom makes mistakes.  I admit, I’m not so great at recognizing those stressful moments as learning opportunities. I forget that she’s soaking up my responses.  (“Uh-oh” has been on of her favorite phrases for awhile now…wonder where she learned that one.)

I’d like to say that the times when I arrive at the grocery store and have forgotten my wallet or when I am late for an important appointment, that I step back and consider how I’m teaching Lizzy to handle the stresses and trials of this life.  If I’m honest, I’ll recognize that the lessons I teach her at these times are about how to freak out and lose one’s cool, instead of asking for help or praying for guidance.  A little laughter would help too.

I think I like those structured, formal, planned teaching moments because they are under my control.  I have a lesson plan.  I have a goal.

It’s not surprising that God uses daily life to teach me. I mean, his son, Jesus, did that constantly with the disciples. I didn’t see Jesus running to the nearest Christian supply store to stock up on the latest disciple training materials.  He used what he had, which was wine, shepherds, figs, fish, and rocks.

Just like for the disciples, learning takes place for both Lizzy and me in the midst of the mess of life. In the highs and lows, we’re both learning.

Here’s hoping that when teachable moments arise, we’re both good students.

Are you a good student, in planned times of learning and unplanned ones as well?

“The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31 NKJV).

Chubby Arms that Speak Volumes

Lizzy doesn’t need to say much to get my attention. In fact, she’s mastered the fine art of whining at just the right pitch to get whatever she wants. It’s a gift.

And when she reaches those chubby, little arms up toward me, she doesn’t need to say anything at all.  I know she wants to come up to Mama, for me to pick her up and hold her close.

As someone prone to obsessing over word choices (that whole English instructor thing), it comes as a shock to me that someone can accomplish so much with so few words.

Lizzy’s toddler eloquence shows me that words are of little consequence.  God can get his message across with or without my witticisms.

Even though Jesus demonstrated that he was a skilled speaker, especially when it came to telling stories, his backwoods Galilee accent tainted his words for audiences outside the region.  In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey explains how God chose to have a rough accent, a speech style so bad that Jerusalem folks often wouldn’t let people from Galilee read Hebrew in the temple.

Imagine Jesus with the worst redneck southern accent you could imagine.  And you begin to get the idea (apologies to my redneck southern readers, but at least you’re in good company).

Jesus’ humble speech patterns show us that the magic isn’t in the words alone but the Spirit of God that empowers them.  If anything, it should encourage us, we who obsess over saying the right thing, in the right way, in the right moment.  God used the worst accent he could find in Israel just to show us what he could do.

For me, this encourages my feeble efforts at sharing God’s love with others. I worry that in the moment where people need to hear wisdom from me, my eloquence will fail, and I won’t know what to say.

Jesus shows us that it doesn’t matter.  Our words aren’t what change people.  Saying things in the right way doesn’t make the difference. But God’s Spirit behind those words, that’s what heals hearts and ministers to broken souls.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words (I Corinthians 2:13 NIV).

It’s the Spirit behind the words.

When I’m feeling low, few things cheer me up like when Lizzy smiles and says, “happy,” to me.  All the eloquence in the world wouldn’t have that same impact on me.

So, here I am, raising my chubby, toddler arms up to my Father in heaven.

Dysgeusia

My tastes are changing. And I blame God for it.

There’s a medical condition called Dysgeusia.  It’s where your ability to taste gets distorted. You taste things differently.

And in a sense, that’s what I have.

Technically, my taste buds are the same. But my general tastes have greatly altered since New Year’s Day, when I began my resolution to fear the Lord more.

I’ll explain.

Have you ever eaten high quality chocolate, you know, the kind that is handmade and carries a hefty price tag, usually imported from somewhere foreign sounding? Well, I have.  When I visited Switzerland, I developed a taste for Swiss chocolate, and it’s ruined all the chocolate at home for me.

It’s kind of like that.  Once you develop a taste for God, once you begin to understand him more, to honor him more, your tastes for other things diminish.

And this is highly unsettling if a particularly cherished idol is losing the battle.

For example, I’ve shared before how comfort is a huge idol for me.  And it still is. But as I read about the God of all comfort, I’m learning that my other sources of comfort can never compare.

So that 5-star-resturant isn’t as thrilling. It doesn’t excite me like it used to.

And that bothers me a bit. Because I expected that a deeper knowledge of God would lead me to appreciate everything else more. But it’s just the opposite. I appreciate everything else less and am blown away by how much greater God is.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to turn down a five-star-restaurant opportunity.

But I know something even better.  Let’s call it a ten-star-restaurant.  It’s the banquet feast at God’s table (Isaiah 25:6).  It’s also the comfort he provides like no other. And well, that’s what is going to get me the most excited.

And Swiss chocolate is still amazing.  I still haven’t figured out how God is better than that (there better be lots in heaven). But the year isn’t over.

And that would be a miracle.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)

“That” Mom

I was “that” mother today.  You know, the one who appeases a wailing kid with a new toy at the grocery store.

We’re now the proud owners of a baby doll that sits in a pink baby carrier.

And I told myself I’d never be “that” mom.

It was already a rough day.  Lizzy took a miniscule morning nap before waking up and singing in her crib, messing up my plans to eat something nutritious at home before heading out on errands (we ate fast food instead).

My maniacal master plan was to drop off Dan’s car at the mechanic to repair the brakes and walk to the grocery store (Fred Myer) to kill the 2 hours it was supposed to take to get fixed.

But the early wake-up messed up the plan.   Plus, the parts weren’t in, the car needed more work than expected, and we were there for 4 hours. And boy was I tempted to lie about her age to meet the 2-year-old minimum requirement for Freddy’s Fun Zone…aka mom relief center.

So I let her play in the toy aisle when I was at my wit’s end.  Of course, she bonded with a little baby doll with eyes that close and a bottle that I mistakenly encouraged Lizzy to feed it, furthering the attachment.  Lizzy packed that doll around the store in its little carrier as we listlessly roamed from aisle to aisle.

When the car was finally done, I realized we had a problem.

When I tried to remove the doll from her grasp, the four horsemen of the apocalypse appeared, there were tears and gnashing of teeth, and people were stopping by to see if everything was okay.

So I put Lizzy in the cart with the doll.

And the doll stayed there through the checkout line (The cashier had to sneak up behind Lizzy with the scanner to get a price on the thing.).

So we now have a baby doll with a carrier.

And a mom who feels very humbled.

Ever catch yourself being “that” mom?

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 ESV).

God’s Little “Helper”

Lizzy likes to “help” me around the house.

She has her own little broom to sweep along side me as I use the big broom.  Of course, her favorite way to “help” is to sweep the little piles I’ve made and redistribute them around the kitchen.

My little helper also assists in the cooking process.  She likes to mix things.   After scratching my head to find elements of each meal to mix, I finally gave up and started making up things to mix.  Rice is very popular.  Our rice is well mixed in the Letinsky household.

I often catch myself thinking that I’m God’s helper.  As if the omnipotent God with limitless power needs anything from me.  It’s my pride, thinking I have something wonderful to offer.

I think I “help” God when I offer my wisdom to someone, whether they want to hear it or not.  God has his own method of offering his wisdom, just when the person needs to hear it, in just the right way.

I think I “help” God when I do some small act of service like cooking a meal for people, as if he couldn’t provide for them on his own.  I forget about how he says he provides food for the birds, and so much more for us (Matthew 6:26).

Of course, this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t serve others, as a way to serve and glorify God.  But I shouldn’t imagine that I’m doing anything that God needs from me—that I could do it any better than he could.  I’m not saving him any effort or energy (he’s got limitless stores of both).

I can imagine how God puts air quotes around “help” when he’s describing my service, the same way I do when I talk about Lizzy offering her “help.”

I love having my little helper by my side as I do chores, even though she often makes the process take much longer and have far more complications.  I delight in her presence and the time we spend together.

And I’m God’s child.  He delights in spending time with me.  He loves it when I do things for his sake.

God doesn’t need my pitiful offerings of “help.”  But he welcomes them, despite how much I mess up things.

How do you “help” God?

Replacement Baby Jesus

Do you replace Jesus with anyone or anything?

Lizzy has a Fisher Price Nativity Set that she loves, so much that we let her play with it all year.  The manger scene characters mingle with her farmyard animals, and Joseph regularly drives the tractor.

But her favorite piece is baby Jesus. I’d like to say it’s because he’s Jesus, but it probably has more to do with it being a baby.  She likes to kiss it and pack it around the house.

Baby Jesus ends up in surprising places around the house, and he’ll go unseen for days.

So I found another one online.  A “replacement” baby Jesus.  Amazon even calls it that.

And I realized that I have a lot of replacement baby Jesus idols.

Jesus is my “Savior,” but I always find functional saviors, pale shadows in comparison—things and people that temporarily save me but don’t offer the full fix.

He’s my “Helper,” but I look for help in other places first.  I lean onto my husband, good friends, helpful books, and wise teachings.  And Google searches seem to be my favorite helper in the parenting department.

Jesus is my “Peace,” but I seek peace through other means (chocolate, earplugs, exercise), only to turn to him as a last resort.

Who or what is your replacement Jesus?

Stay-at-Home Moms Feed Thousands

Stay-at-home moms are changing the world, one lunch at a time.

I’ve been packing Dan’s lunch for over 10 years now (roughly 2,600 lunches, but who’s counting).  During residency, it was more than just a lunch, a large sack we nicknamed “El Doble” (“L”unch, “D”inner, “B”reakfast…it makes sense if you’re tired and a bit goofy, which describes us pretty well during residency).

He was reading John the other day during his quiet time, and he had a sweet sentiment to share with me.  I thought I’d pass it along.

He’d read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, and in John’s gospel, it mentions that the food came from a boy who had 5 loaves and two fish (John 6:5-15).  Dan recognized that someone packed him this lunch.  Somebody just like me.  And look what Jesus did with it.

Dan knows how to make me feel special.  And the next time I packed his lunch, you can bet I did it with a more joyful heart.

Because Jesus can use it to feed 5,000 more.

We stay-at-home moms do a lot of thankless, repetitive tasks.  And we don’t see much benefit other than the spouse who gets fed for one meal or the kid who stinks a little less because they are wearing a clean diaper.

But out in the world, lots of people are getting fed because of our work.

As a doctor, Dan is feeding the masses daily.  He sees 20 some patients each day, and the meal I make him gives him the energy to treat them well.  When I plan a balanced lunch for him, I’m helping him think clearly to solve the difficult problems people are facing.  When I give him a special treat, like a homemade cookie, I’m helping him relax a little, amidst the stresses of helping broken people with life threatening problems.

That little box never seemed so special before.

Who is Jesus feeding because of your small service today?

Place of Refuge

When you’re in trouble, where do you run? More importantly, where do your thoughts run?

Lizzy only started walking within the last few weeks.  She was 18-months-old by the time she took her first steps.  And I knew this was pretty late.  The doctor told me not to worry, but of course, I did.

I ran to my places of refuge.

First, I ran to history, family history to be precise.  I recalled that Dan and I were both late walkers.  Not this late, but pretty late.

But my worries weren’t fully relieved.

Next, I ran for help.  I thought about our insurance and whether it would cover physical therapy for her, if this continued.  And I found comfort in it, but not enough.

Then, I counted the expense of therapy, even if insurance didn’t cover it all.  And I found some comfort in our limited savings in the bank.

After I ran to all these places of refuge, in a matter of a few seconds, I realized that the comfort and security I found was all based on shifting sand.  These weren’t true sources of comfort.

Why didn’t I run to God first?

I keep doing this.  The last place I go is to God.

Why isn’t he first?

He’s the solid rock, the comforter.  He should be my first and only place of refuge.  And my head knows this, but obviously, my heart has a lot to learn.

What about you?  When you have a trial, where do your thoughts go first for comfort, security, and peace?

  He said,

            “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

                        my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

            my shield, and the horn of my salvation,

                        my stronghold and my refuge,

                        my savior; you save me from violence.

            I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,

                        and I am saved from my enemies.

            “For the waves of death encompassed me,

                        the torrents of destruction assailed me;

            the cords of Sheol entangled me;

                        the snares of death confronted me.

            “In my distress I called upon the LORD;

                        to my God I called.

            From his temple he heard my voice,

                        and my cry came to his ears.

(2 Samuel 22:2-7 ESV)

Beauty for Ashes

Pretty jewelry cheers me up.

I have a pair of earrings that I wear when I’m having a bad day.  They happen to be pretty and go with lots of my clothing, but that’s beside the point.

I wear them because they remind me that no matter how crummy things are, God will use it all for his glory.  He’ll exchange beauty for ashes.

The earrings remind me of a disaster that took place in my home state when I was a baby.  When I was almost a year old, Mount Saint Helens erupted in Washington.  As a young child, I travelled to the mountain to witness the devastation, trees stripped bare and blackened, scorched earth for miles, ash covering everything and creating a barren wasteland that looked like the surface of the moon.

I can still remember it vividly.

But even in such a desolate place, life was returning.  Trees were beginning to grow there.  Specks of green were popping up all over the place.

And my earrings were forged from this same ash.  Some enterprising individual found a way to transform the abundant ash into something beautiful, a greenish blue stone that made lovely jewelry (It looks like someone else is making it these days, in an emerald hue.)

The earrings remind me that God can make beautiful things out of dust.  Gungor’s haunting song also highlights this truth.

So when I’m going through something tough, I wear the earrings to remind me that Jesus is redeeming all of it.  It’s not for nothing.  The pain has a purpose.  It will be beautiful.  He’s making it beautiful.  He’s making me beautiful.

Published in: on March 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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God is Bigger than This

By NASA. Photo taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans (of the Apollo 17 crew)

It’s really handy to have some “go to” phrases, truth for when life gets rough.  I’ve already told you about “God is in control.” That’s been life changing for me.

But my New Year’s resolution to fear the Lord more in 2012 has taught me another one, just as helpful, if not better than the last.

“God is bigger than this.”

No matter what I’m going through, no matter how earth shattering, how grand-scale, monumental, and colossal…God is bigger.

That’s one thing I’m learning about the Fear of the Lord.  When we fear God, we stand (or kneel) in awe of his greatness.   His BIGNESS.  He is big, and we are small.  But he’s also bigger than anything else we can imagine.

I thought my worries were big.  God is BIGGER.

I thought the news about Lizzy’s eyes was big.  God is BIGGER.

When we serve and recognize a mighty God who is more powerful, more life changing, more present, more knowing, more in control, and more loving…we know a God who is BIGGER than everything we encounter, everything that happens to us, everyone we know, and everyone who hurts us.

And all our problems seem pretty dang small.

This doesn’t mean our problems aren’t significant.  The same big God of the universe died for the sin that causes all those problems in our lives.   This big God takes our little problems very seriously.

With that much bigness focused on such littleness, well, you know who wins.

Jesus does.  And so do we, if we place our trust in his BIGNESS.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky aboveproclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
 There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
  Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6