Children

Tough Questions from Kids #1: Followers of Jesus

Matthew 4:18-20

“Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. He saw two brothers. They were Simon (his other name was Peter) and Andrew, his brother. They were putting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me. I will make you fish for men!’
At once they left their nets and followed Him.”

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One night recently, Tijge asked me, “How do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus?” Of course, after 3+ decades of being one, I know the answer. But I realized that I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it, as posed by a seven-year old. The reason is because, whatever our answer is, it places us somewhere along a precariously balanced continuum. On one end, we can find ourselves conveying a god who is consumed with judgment, to the exclusion of grace. “We know we are followers of Jesus if we obey His commands”—this seems simple, but perhaps too simple. Might it not leave a child (or anyone for that matter) always wondering, with each sin or failure, if they are really a follower of Jesus at all? On the other end of the spectrum, we might inadvertently portray a god whose grace altogether eclipses his sense of righteous judgment. “Say a prayer, accept Jesus as your savior, and that’s it!”—again, this may be too simple. Even Paul warned of the danger that can come when we manage to convince ourselves that we should sin all the more, so that God might have greater occasion to display His grace. In truth, the answer is somewhere between neither and both.

As I tried to think of how I might articulate this truth, I thought about how so many followers of God, and later Jesus, made a decision to follow—but then spent the rest of their lives learning how to do just that. A few examples from the Old Testament that come to mind are Gideon, David, and Jonah. In the Scriptures, we join the story of each at a place where they have pledged allegiance to the God of Israel. And yet, their lives are marked by ups and downs, failures and successes, sins and redemption.

The same can be said of many of our New Testament heroes, but one who holds a special place for me is Peter. Maybe that’s because he was headstrong and stubborn, as I tend to be—who knows? What I do know is this. Jesus called Peter to follow Him, and Peter immediately dropped what he was doing, and followed. But, if anyone was ever “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (thank you, Winston Churchill), it was Peter. I mean, watch what he does throughout the New Testament.

  • He freaks out in the storm, walks on the water, doubts Jesus, starts to sink, cries out to Jesus for rescue…and then, much later (in Acts 12:6-7), he sleeps soundly in the face of impending death.
  • He’s too proud to let Jesus wash his feet, too tired to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane—then cuts off a soldier’s ear, vows his allegiance, denies Christ three times, doubts his own ability to love Jesus sacrificially…then, much later (in 1 Peter 4:8), he tells fellow believers, “Above all, love each other deeply…” (aka, sacrificially!)
  • He starts out with brotherly (phileo) love for Jesus, and it gradually becomes an unconditional, sacrificial (agape) love. He starts out by accepting Christ as Savior, then accepting Him as Lord, and then becoming more and more like Him each day, ultimately giving his life for the sake of the Gospel.

It can all be summed up this way—Peter CHOSE to follow Jesus first, then learned HOW along the way. We will each do the same thing. We’ll walk on water, start to sink, call for help, grow in faith, walk on water for longer the next time…with the hope that eventually, we will sleep soundly in the face of death, knowing that an eternity with Jesus awaits us on the other side.

So how do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus? Well, it starts with a decision. But that decision ushers us into a lifelong journey of growing closer and closer to Jesus, ‘til He returns or calls us home.

Selah.

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For This Child I Prayed

Psalm 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

1 Samuel 1:27

“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him.”

When we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts. But He doesn’t always do that in the ways we expect. Often, He changes our dreams and desires to conform to His, and we realize that our previous dreams were just a foreshadowing of what God was planning all along. Along the way, He may reveal to us many more possibilities than we ever imagined.

I remember hearing a story some time ago about a mother of two who never felt like her family was “complete,” but who hadn’t had the opportunity to build it further, either through birth or adoption. As her kids grew older, and as she grew older herself, she wondered and prayed about why God would give her this passion, if not to fulfill it. Years later, in a tragic series of events, her family ended up adopting her niece. Only then did she realize that SHE was the reason, and the missing puzzle piece that completed her family.

I often wonder and pray, just as she did—why the desire, without the fulfillment? In my imagination, that fulfilment used to look like adoption. I mean, obviously. My mom was adopted, and I’ve seen so many families and adopted children whose lives have been forever blessed through this beautiful gift. And of course, that is still a dream of mine. If I were overseas somewhere, and I had no one to answer to, and a child just fell into my lap, I would bring them home—no question.

But then, I don’t know what God has in mind. And as I seek His will, I can imagine more and more possibilities each day. Maybe I am meant to mentor and disciple young women—my friends’ kids, my kids’ friends, nieces, students, kids at church or at the early childhood development center where I volunteer, and so on.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking of the many high school kids in our city who experience homelessness. In Waco ISD alone, there were 335 homeless students in 2017-2018—many of whom were unaccompanied. These kids are significantly less likely to graduate from high school, and significantly more likely to experience negative long-term outcomes. In a few short years (or in 12 long years rather) we will have three empty beds in our house. Who knows what God has planned for them?

And maybe as I delight myself in Him, He will continue to re-shape the desires of my heart, and open up new possibilities. One thing I have to believe, I choose to believe, is that one day, I will look into a pair of eyes and know immediately, that it was for THIS child I had prayed.

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An Adoption of the Heart: Compassion International

I am often eager to talk about my kids and share their photos with anyone who will listen! I have watched them grow, seen them develop spiritually, prayed for them during hard times, and celebrated triumphant moments with them. But as much as I love these children, they don’t actually live in my home because they have families of their own in countries around the world. I sponsor them through a Christian organization called Compassion International which works with local churches to provide food, medical care, school supplies, mentoring, and an opportunity to hear the Gospel.

Sponsorship is an adoption of the heart. Each child only has one sponsor so the relationship that you build and the mentoring you provide through letters is just as important, if not more so, than the financial commitment. If you didn’t get to see the movie “Beautifully Broken” when it was in theaters, I encourage you to rent it to see the dramatic impact that sponsorship can make not only on that one child, but on you and other people that God connects along your journey. In this true story, two families on opposite sides of the war in Rwanda were able to experience forgiveness and transformation through a mutual connection with one a family in America who sponsored the child from one of the families and began serving alongside the other family who had traveled to the United States as refugees.

Compassion gives sponsors a path to go beyond letters and prayers in the form of mission trips which include a visit with your child. My first trip was a life-changing experience for me when I got to meet Lucson after many years of sponsorship (pictured below). When I told my mom that I was going “over-seas” to Haiti, she very sweetly informed me that Haiti wasn’t overseas – it was below Florida! So, as you can tell, I had a lot to learn. The week that I spent there was very eye-opening and humbling. The families, who had so little in terms of material possessions, were so full of hope. My group arrived on Easter Sunday in time to celebrate with a local church. Later, Compassion brought all the children to a central, old resort and as we stood waiting for our names to be called, I already spotted Lucson and he started waiving to me! It was an incredible day that I won’t forget. Lucson brought me a gift which was home-made peanut butter, and I treasured it. I asked him what he wanted to do first and he wanted to swim … I said ok as I was secretly reminding myself that I only knew the “dog paddle” and we were in the ocean! He and several other kids said they had never seen the beach – even though they live on an island.  My trip to Haiti took place right around the time digital cameras were becoming available so most of the people in my group had one and the kids loved to have a photo taken and then run around behind us and see it.  You can probably imagine our dilemma when a couple of people took photos with film cameras instead and did not have a preview screen for the kids to see! I had sent Lucson birthday money in years past and he had written me to say he bought a goat, and then a second goat, and a third. Well, as I said – I had a lot to learn because I thought he was adopting pets and was a little unsure why he needed extra mouths to feed. So, when we met, I asked him about the goats.  He told me that he was very happy to have them and that he was still taking good care of them like I had told him to do. And then he said something that I honestly did not realize, but you can probably guess – he got the goats not for pets, but so that he could have milk to sell in the market to help his family.  Lucson has now graduated, but he is still a big part of my family and we even exchange an occasional email.

I returned home from that first trip with a deep desire to help other children and to spread the word about Compassion. I became an Advocate and started speaking at churches along with volunteering at concerts and other events. And my family grew! Since then I have sponsored more children and have been blessed to meet five more of them. Each Compassion trip has been a unique adventure. In Kenya, I met Pirante and went on a safari, which was a dream come true.  I learned about the Maasai tribe and saw the contrasts in that beautiful country between the rural landscape that we all picture and the crowded slums in the city where most of the kids live in poverty. In the Dominican Republic, I experienced heartbreak with the family of a little girl I had sponsored named Nancy (pictured below).  I had registered for the trip and a couple of weeks before it began, I received a call from Compassion. They told me that little Nancy had died in a house fire along with two of her siblings when a kerosene lamp fell. I decided to sponsor another child, Romeilyn, and go on the trip anyway, where I met her before we had even exchanged a letter. But when I got there, the leaders told me that they wanted to take me to see Nancy’s parents. At first, I didn’t want to go because I thought it would be such an imposition on a family that just buried three children, but I was told they were the ones who asked for me to visit so I did. We sat and prayed together, and I found out that both parents and an older child had accepted Christ a few days earlier despite the tragedy because of the way Nancy’s church had supported them and shared the Gospel with them. Even as they grieved, they wanted me to know that I was part of their family and that really had a profound effect on me. Other trips have been filled with laughter and lots of hugs including ones to meet my three artists: Edward in Bolivia (pictured below), Josue in Ecuador, and Pedro in Brazil!

So if you aren’t in a position to have a child live in your home either permanently through adoption or temporarily through fostering, would you consider inviting one to live in your heart? You can make such a difference and I think you will find that ultimately you are the one that receives the greatest blessing. Just remember the 4Cs of Compassion – Christ Centered, Child Focused, Church Based, and Committed to Integrity. And if you already have a child, I want to encourage you to write letters – they mean so much! If you have any questions or want to see/hear more, my email is:  drbeckysue@gmail.com. Sponsorship costs $38/month and you can select a child at www.compassion.com/beckysueparton.

Hearts and Words

I’ve always been one of those who has said that I am more patient with my kids than most, that I yell at them less than most. And granted, that has a bit to do with the miracle of modern medicine, but that’s beside the point. It’s beside the point because I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough. It’s not enough to be able to say that I am usually patient or that I’m usually respectful. You see, it has come to my attention that they don’t necessarily hear, remember, or believe what is most frequent.

Instead I believe that they hear, remember, and believe what seems most authentic. And what seems most authentic? It’s what comes out under the greatest pressure. Sadly, that means that what they may be internalizing is what I say that is most negative—when I’m in a bad mood, when they’ve been difficult, when circumstances haven’t panned out as planned. One unkind word, one hard day, one fight—it can cancel out a month of good times.

How do I know this? Because I’m the same way. I don’t believe your fair-weather words and accolades, if they don’t hold when the pressure is on. It doesn’t matter if we’re friends, family, colleagues. What matters to me is what I believe to be authentically you. What do I believe you really think about me? How do I believe you really feel about me? That is what I will believe. The question becomes what to do about it. I think what we do depends on whether we are on the giving or receiving end of others’ words.

As a speaker and actor, the Bible has a lot to say about how WE should treat others:

Psalm 141:3
“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Proverbs 12:18
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 15:1
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15:4
“The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”

Luke 6:45
“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Likewise, when it comes to the words that others speak to, about, or over us, the Bible tells us that we should find our worth and value in what GOD declares to, about, and over us.

Exodus 14:14
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Psalm 62:5-6
“Only God gives inward peace, and I depend on Him. God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure.”

Psalm 73:26
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

2 Chronicles 20:15
“The battle is not ours, but God’s.”

Ephesians 2:10
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

So, in either case, perhaps the first step is to begin by meditating on HIS words, and by letting those become the inpouring and outpouring of our hearts.

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Rebel

Colossians 3:18-22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

Rebel Elizabeth—that is the name I had long planned to give my firstborn daughter. It had a special meaning to me, too. It meant “rebel consecrated to God.” What does that mean? Well, it means someone who doesn’t go along with the crowd or the status quo, someone who fights against injustice, who responds to hatred with love. In short, someone who lives like Jesus did when He took on flesh and dwelt among us. The name was to be a blessing spoken and prayed over this little girl.

The problem was that the name actually predated her dad, who had more delicate sensibilities regarding what the name might imply to some and how it might be misinterpreted. “But that’s not how I mean it,” I argued over and over. “My intentions and reasons are good and noble and righteous…godly even.” BUT in the end, I had to consider how the name might adversely impact some unknown percentage of people for whom “Rebel” carries a very loaded meaning. Striking it from consideration was one of the greatest acts of submission I’ve ever undertaken, and one that frankly had me kicking and screaming deep in my heart (and not really all that deep, as I was pretty vocal about it). That was in 2012, shortly before racial and ethnic tensions in our country really started to flare up. In the long run, the choice to submit was the right one…at least until something horrific happens in the town of Laredo to tarnish our daughter’s namesake.

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I think this story tells us a few things:

  1. God’s desires for us do not always match our own desires—no matter how well-intentioned ours may be. He knows things in His infinite wisdom that we couldn’t possibly foresee, and we need to trust His guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes in the form of an earthly authority figure that He has placed over us, one to whom we our called to submit.
  2. Our reasons and intentions matter far less than our decisions and actions, and their consequences. Our love for the least of these, our faith in God, and our intent to follow Jesus require ACTION on our part. And the truth is that sometimes we think (or convince ourselves) that we are acting in accordance with God’s will and direction and in the best interest of all concerned, but the outcome demonstrates that we were wrong. In those cases, God calls us to repent and to make right the wrongs we’ve caused, whether intentional or otherwise. That requires more humility than is comfortable for most of us. But it is what God requires nonetheless.
  3. God’s instructions are there for our protection and our good, and we can trust HIM. We are often hesitant to submit if we lack confidence in the authorities placed over us. But look at the list of relationships outlined in Colossians 3:18-22—wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. Surely earthly husbands, parents, and masters will fail us. But this passage does not permit us to forego submission when they let us down. Instead, we are to submit to God through our submission to others, placing our faith not in them but in HIM.

Submission is hard, but it is necessary. And even more, it is rewarding, if we allow it to be. Maybe you can think of an area in your own life wherein you’re being called to submit and surrender, perhaps one wherein you’ve been resistant to doing so. Pray over it. Ask God to help you. Ask other believers to help you. And then DO it.

Run YOUR Race!

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Wow! November is getting away from us SO quickly. I’m usually much better about posting regularly, especially during Adoption Awareness Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year. This November, I have a confession to make. I get kind of envious when I see mothers with new babies, or who are expecting, or who have adopted children, or who are fostering to adopt. With my youngest having just turned four years old last week, I feel like that phase of life is just slipping away.

And the further away from it we get as a family, and the closer we get to our arbitrary self-imposed adoptive-parent age limit of 40 years old (I will be 38 in February, can you believe it?!), the less likely it seems that we will end up pursuing adoption after all. Granted, we always say we’re open to burning bush moments and clear direction from God to the contrary, but for now, it seems unlikely.

Still, I STRONGLY support adoption. I think it is one of the most amazing and miraculous things you can do, and I believe that it offers such an indescribable blessing to everyone it touches. So I may ask God, Why not us? But as I read Hebrews 12:1-2, I hear God instructing me, “Run with endurance the race that is set before YOU…” While we ultimately all run a race designed to glorify God and advance his kingdom, we do not all run the exact same race, or the exact same route.

And, at this moment, the race set before me is not one that necessarily includes adoption (as sad as it is to admit). Instead, it includes being a wife and mother within a family of FOUR. It includes mentoring young women as they transition into the next stages of their lives. It includes praying for others at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It includes befriending the elderly, who have too often been neglected in this fast-paced world of ours. It includes teaching college students not just about subject matter, but about responsibility and character. It includes writing research papers that draw attention to important social issues of our day. And so many more things.

Your race may look very little (if at all) like mine, or like anyone else’s for that matter. But whatever it does look like, I would encourage you to embrace it and pursue it with diligence, as unto the Lord. And if YOUR race involves the joy and blessing of adoption, know that while I will feel a twinge of envy, I will also cheer you on, champion your cause, and do whatever I can to help you to run that race, and to run it well. You have my prayers and my admiration.

Run YOUR race!

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A Prayer for the Lady

Dear God,

Please bless Laredo on this, her fourth birthday. Help her to know how much we all love her and how much YOU love her. Help her to always believe that you have created her—your beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made—for wonderful works and wonderful purposes. Help her to embrace her identity in you, with confidence AND humility. Help her to grow each day to be more like you in every way.

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And when she fails—WHEN, not IF—help her to know that we and you still love her, as much as ever. Help her to believe the truth that NOTHING can separate her from the love you have for her. Help her to fall more and more in love with you with each passing day and each passing year.

Thank you SO much for the blessing that she is.

Amen

Social Director

I wear a lot of hats throughout the day: Christ follower, wife, mother, professor, blogger, friend, and so many more. But this fall, I’ve been inducted into a new role—social director for one little girl who has, over the course of her nearly four years, grown accustomed to having a big brother around 24/7 for her entertainment. Well, big brother started all-day kindergarten this year, about two weeks before pre-school started for little sis. Even since her school started, she and I have had a lot of one-on-one time, both before and after school. On top of that, she had her tonsils out a couple of weeks ago, necessitating a week off from school. So, needless to say, we’ve spent a LOT of time together over the past couple of months.

And unlike her self-sufficient, independent older brother, Miss Laredo refuses to entertain herself. “What can we do?” is her common inquiry. She usually has some ideas, but they all require two of us (at least in her mind). So we have played a lot of games, read a lot of books, and painted a lot of pictures. While I cherish the quality time together, I confess that I have often felt guilty and stressed over the other duties that I’ve had to set aside, and anxious about when I might be able to catch up. And yet, I’m reminded (as I often am) of Psalm 39:5, which states, “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” James 4:14 further asks, “What is your life? It is just a vapor, appearing for a little while, and then vanishing.”

So these moments, when I sit with my little girl and make memories that will hopefully last a lifetime, I try to remember the truth about what matters most in this life, and the brevity of it all. And I try to choose her. After all, a day will likely come when she dreads the thought of hanging out with her mom. Still, though, I have to admit that I’m thankful for today—a Saturday—when Tijge is here to fill in as social director and give me a much needed break.

Here’s to you and to the memories YOU will make today with the loved ones who are longing to make those memories with you.

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No

What do you say to a friend who has just lost her son? Not sure, I decided to ask my daughter, who is 3 going on 13. Out of the mouths of babes, right? And she actually had a lot of insight to share—though not so much in what she said, as in what she didn’t say…

Me: “I might see my friend tonight—the one whose son died. What do you think I should say to her?”
Lj: “Well, is he gonna be died forever?”
Me: “Well, he’s not here anymore, but he’s in heaven—and when she dies, she’ll get to see him again.”
Lj: “So, he is gonna be died forever.”

And to that, she had nothing to say. And she was right. I mean, if he’s going to be dead forever, then what is there to say, besides a feeble “I’m sorry”? What is there to do but remember the good times and try to move on? What is there to think about, besides the seeming injustice of it all?

BUT, when we know—as we do—that he loved Jesus and had surrendered his life to Him, that somehow changes everything. We can grieve for our loss, while we rejoice with the hosts of heaven at the arrival of one more saint. We can take comfort in knowing that he is standing in God’s presence, glory raining down all around him, as he revels in those most precious of words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Along with our sorrow then, we embrace joy, relief, excitement, peace, hope, and faith. We may still not have the right words to say to someone who is suffering loss. But one thing we know. When we ask, from our brokenness and the vulnerability of a child, “Is he gonna be died forever?”, we know that God answers us in a voice that shakes the heavens. And the answer is a resounding, “NO!” Not only is he not going to be dead forever, he isn’t going to be dead at all. In the midst of our mourning, he is standing before the thrown, more alive than he EVER was on this side of eternity.

And we take a deep breath, and we let it out. And we find a moment’s rest in this blessed assurance: Jesus. Salvation. Heaven.

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Handprints

Grad Party 6

 

In May of 2013, we celebrated my long-awaited graduation from Clemson University. Our celebration necessarily involved a cake with orange and purple frosting. By the end of the evening, I noticed a sizeable purple streak of frosting that had been ground into the carpet. I didn’t think too much of it, knowing that our carpet was already in need of replacement (it has been since we moved in).

But about a year ago, I noticed the spot again. And this time, it distinctly resembled a tiny handprint. At that point, I realized that the spot was more than a mess—it was a memory. It’s a reminder of that party, and the accomplishment of finishing school, and a time when the kids were even smaller than they are now.

The realization triggered another memory; of when my sisters and I were younger. In those days, we would work on our homework at the kitchen table. But invariably, we would forget to put a protective barrier between our work and the table. As a result, years later, you could look closely at the table and make out the remnants of whatever we were working on—math problems, handwriting, whatever. Some would think of those as unsightly scars—but if I could have kept that table, I think I would have. Indeed, when we do eventually replace our carpet, I just might keep that little swatch—the one with a handprint that I will always cherish.