Jesus: The Perpetual Gift

How could it be past Christmas day and I’ve not yet mentioned Jesus—the greatest gift of all? But then, how can I even begin to describe Him?

Yet it’s Jesus alone who carried me through the turmoil of raising SAFE* children.

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When a friend—a married man—got to know my daughter a little too well, I implored the Lion of Judah to devour that man. However when I looked in Scripture at the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, I discovered the Lion is actually the Lamb—the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:1-6). He’s who made salvation possible, not just for me, but for this man as well. The Lion who is the Lamb, offers mercy to every human—hideously naughty or sugary nice.

When my only perfect child took a giant step into the abyss, and my world seemed dark, I discovered the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). You know what? That Star not only shows up in the morning after the long dark night, that star is actually the first to appear in the sky at the beginning of night and is visible all night long. Hope, even when it appears small, never abandons us.

When my children seemed to turn against me, I sunk deep into Immanuel, God with me (Matthew 1:23). I sheltered under the shadow of His wing (Psalm 91). He was the no-man’s-land that placed Himself between me and my enemies. But He also reminded me that though I had a very real and angry enemy, it was not my kids (Ephesians 6:12).

When others misjudged me, He reminded me that He Himself was my vindication (Psalm 17:2). And you know what, He handled all the judges just fine. Most who thought they could do better than we did, at some point had one of our children living with them. Each one came back later to say they now understood our decisions. None of them allowed our children to live in their homes longer than a few months.

When I messed up—over and over and over—He reminded me that He was my salvation (Psalm 18:2).

When I fell far short of meeting my children’s deepest needs, He assured me that He is the Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).

  • Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  • Lamb Who was Slain
  • Bright Morning Star
  • Immanuel
  • Shelter
  • Vindication
  • Savior
  • Father to the Fatherless

‘Tis true, Jesus is the most exquisite gift we treasure each Christmas: wrapped in babe-like innocence, cooing the purest peace, shining with inextinguishable love, assuring eternal hope, and reigniting the joy of our salvation. But He’s also the sacrificial Lamb: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He enters our struggles and becomes, in Himself, the fulfillment of our every need.

He’s the never-ending gift for today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow that follows. Even when it feels like crucifixion Friday or deep-in-the-grave Saturday …

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In the year to come, I encourage you to frequently make time to grasp the snow-globe of this good news and give it a little shake. Take just a few moments to gaze at the truths encased in the God-made-flesh scene, and remind yourself that God is always present and mighty to save.

*Step/Adoptive/Foster/Every other nonbiological

Believe it or Not, You are the Gift Your Family Needs

He swindled his parents repeatedly in order to support his prodigal lifestyle. He was intimidating and demanding. For years his mother sat in our adoptive moms’ support group as we encouraged her to buckle down. Eventually she attempted to make a stand, but the entire family, including her husband, turned on her. In grief and self-rebuke she back-pedaled quickly to restore peace.

Years later on a Mother’s Day, this son posted—for all his friends to see—how much he loved his parents and how grateful he was for their support. He sent her a long appreciative private text as well. My jaw dropped when she read his thoughts to us.

Lesson learned: successful parenting only happens when parenting according to your own gifts.

Christmas is the time of year we reflect on the gifts God has given us.

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So many gifts to unwrap and examine, embrace and soak into our souls.

But have you ever considered that …

you are a gift?

Like those Christmas goodies you make and offer with pride—feeling oven-warmed in your middle as people mutter mmm’s around mouthfuls—you’ve been stirred, shaped, baked, and proudly shared by God for people around you to enjoy. Of course there are those moments your soda zings a little too much, or your edges crumble, but the Master-Baker can apply a little extra frosting and His sweetness will overcome any messiness.

You’ve been enhanced and empowered, in a one-of-a-kind way, by the Holy Spirit. You know those things you do that people compliment, while you think “What’s so special about that”? These are likely your innate gifts—the tools God has given you to succeed. And whether you realize it or not, these gifts are what make you a great mom.

God’s never expected you to parent like I do, or like your sister does, or mom did, or neighbor or church friend does. He intends you to parent according to your natural abilities. Yes, we all need to work on our weak areas. But we also need to capitalize on our strengths.

Maybe you’re a kitchen dweller. Then joyfully serve your family there.

Maybe you’re an over-the-shoulder homework assistant. Use that time to love the most.

Maybe you crack jokes, play piano, whistle, snuggle, wink, wrestle, tickle, or make beds. I think you’d be surprised if you knew how much these gifts impact your children. They provide a sense of well-being and a deeper-than-conscious awareness of belonging. The overflow of your gifts provides a sure foundation as your children go to school, friends’ homes, jobs, and eventually independent living.

So, as your serve your family according to your natural tendencies, do so, first, as unto the Lord.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, (Colossians 3:23, NIV).

Then, do so confident you serve according to God’s design.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NIV).

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully (Romans 12:6-8, NIV).

When you serve as unto the Lord and according to the way He’s designed you, then your Creator is glorified. This, then, is our perpetual Christmas gift back to God.

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This is when He gets that same oven-warm joy deep in His middle.

Does This Gift Come with a Return Receipt?

In April of 2010, Tory Hansen put her seven-year-old adopted son on an airplane and returned him to Russia. Her reason was that her son frequently exhibit violent behaviors and she had run out of ideas for how to safely manage him. While the world reeled with scorn at Tory, my reaction was, “Good for her. Finally, someone is letting the world know what we moms are going through.” We, who are attempting to parent children with early-childhood trauma, attachment issues, fetal alcohol, and other effects due to the disruption of their original families, totally understood why Tory did what she felt she had to do. Few of us would do the same, but we understood.

In the first year or so of our new family, I asked a friend if she ever wanted to send her biological child back to where he came from. She quickly affirmed my suspicion. Children are just plain hard at times. We all long for days without the headaches no matter what level of difficulties we wrestle with.

Sometimes terminating a parent/child relationship is necessary. The same day the Tory Hanson story hit the news, another similar story appeared in our local papers. My close friend’s adopted son had taken a gun to his middle school.

This child had also exhibited dangerous and destructive behaviors. The parents had emptied their bank accounts for countless therapies, rehabilitation homes, and every measure possible to help their son. Yet the country insisted this child return to live at home. My friend and her husband refused. They longed to continue a relationship with their child, just not at home where he was a danger to his siblings and family pets. Eventually, as efforts with the country deteriorated, my friend had to terminate the adoption. I sat in two court sessions with her as she grieved—and rejoiced—her way through the termination process.

Exactly a year after she had written a letter warning the country of her son’s dangerous tendencies and her concern that he was now living in a home with young children, her son broke into his new family’s gun cabinet and took a loaded gun to his school. Gratefully, he had loaded the wrong bullets and no one was injured. How we’d wished the county had understood the true needs of this child and those of the foster/adoptive family. Had the help needed been available, maybe this boy would never have taken a gun to school and, consequently, spent several years in juvenile detention and prison.

In my own experience as a mom, I too dug in my mind’s drawer many times, looking for that return receipt. We had numerous icky and scary situations, including a few times when police had to be called. It wasn’t until our children matured, lived a few years on their own, became parents themselves—and after we had remained steadfast with our boundaries and consistent with our love—our kids eventually settle into a strong relationship with us.

So if you’re in a place where you wished you could return your child, first I want you to know you’re not alone. You are understood. And it’s okay to feel this way. After all, God Himself regretted creating mankind—more than once (Genesis 6:6).

Second, remain consistent with your boundaries. Children need these and need them communicated even if they continuously violate them and have to suffer consequences over and over. It doesn’t matter if the consequences achieve their desired effect. The fact that boundaries are communicated and consequences carried out, still provides a desperately needed sense of stability (for both child and parent).

Third, remember there is no child beyond God’s reach.

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Some things we just have to learn to leave to God. It’s at times like these we can rest in the truth that only God is the Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).

The Gift I Always Wanted – But Not Very Much

“Behold, children are a gift from the Lord … a reward …” (Psalm 127:3, NASB).

Sure, maybe a white elephant gift!

I didn’t just say that, did I? I’m not trying to be irreverent—and I’m not saying I think my children were lame jokes. But there were times it sure seemed God got me confused with some other lady when handing out “rewards”.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like I did. Let’s all just agree right here, this kind of feeling is normal from time to time. Just like the Prince Charmings we dreamed of finding, we’ve all been duped into believing we deserved precious little jewels to adorn us in public places, and sweet little cherubs to flit around our homes. Right?

What fairy tale convinced us of that fantasy? Not even the seven dwarfs were that delightful.

No, many times I more identified with the old woman in the shoe—frantically trying to keep up, falling further and further behind, until I was lost in a whirlwind of confusion. I’d probably have fed my children a little more than broth, and I don’t know that I would have had the energy to spank them all soundly. But the idea of sending them all to bed so I could have some solitude? Now that was appealing.

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Children aren’t easy to begin with. But when a mom’s typical load is weighted with the demands of SAFE children, we might frequently question what kind of gifts God has given us in our children. Here we are, “exemplary” women, obediently fulfilling the duties described as true religion (James 1:27). We think surely God will bless our sacrifices with grateful, compliant children. But the opposite—the extreme opposite—is our reality.

So how is it these children are a gift? How can a hardened, resistant child be any kind of reward other than the kind we’d just as soon pack up and hide behind a pile of blankets in the corner of our closet?

I once heard a woman say children are a gift from the Lord not because they are treasures to display, but because they are tools to transform us into the image of Christ. Oh! Think chisel, power sander, or hammer. Ouch! That sounds like the kind of gift my husband would like—though I don’t think he’d use it on my heart. But God does.

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Remember this scripture?

Do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his [child].
(Hebrews 6:5-6, NIV)

If you are at that point in life when the handling of these gifts hurts, let me assure you, in time you’ll see those gifts as beautiful instruments. They are indeed like diamond-headed drill bits. They cut deep—swift and painful. But the results are stunning.

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
(Job 23:10, NIV)