Book Notes: The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore is the final of the 4 books I have recommended from my reading in 2019.

I’ve read a lot of books on marriage, singleness, dating, friendship, parenting and sexuality. The Storm-Tossed family has been my favorite of them all.

In The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, Russell Moore connects the reality of our experiences in families to the cross of Christ.

If you are looking for a book of “Top Ten Ways to Parent Your Children” or “Life Hacks for a Single Christian”, this is not it. This book is for those longing for a voice to speak deeply to the brokenness of our families and the hope of Jesus and His Kingdom.

It was a pleasant surprise to read a book about family that does not make an idol of it. What a cup of cold water to have someone say, “Marriage and children is not the pinnacle of the Christian life”. This is a book that seeks first the Kingdom of God, not the American Dream with 2.5 children.

To give you a taste of the truth and wisdom found in this book, here are a few quotes that stuck with me through the year.

“In both the blessings of rain and the perils of storms, we lose our illusion of control. Family is like that too: the source of life-giving blessing but also excruciating terror, often all at the same time.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 3
“Family humbles us. Family humiliates us. Family crucifies us. That’s because family is one of the ways God gets us small enough to fight the sort of battle that can’t be won by horses or chariots but by the Spirit of the Lord.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 21
“Family is a blessing, yes. But family is only a blessing if family is not first.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 57

“The church is not a collection of families. The church is a family. We are not ‘family friendly’; we are family.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 60

“In the first sight of a new baby, whether by ultrasound technology or in person, we say, ‘It’s a Girl!’ or ‘It’s a Boy.’ We do not say, ‘It’s going to be a woman one day if she finds a man,’ or visa versa.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 77

“A covenantal view of marriage would show that you are not partners keeping score on your contract agreements, but you are one flesh, committed to love and serve each other not because of what you can get out of it, but because you simply belong to each other.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 112

We have “an individualized view of marriage in which my spouse will always be ‘the one’ to meet my needs, and an individualized view of the gospel in which Jesus exists to meet my needs just as my spouse does, except for eternity.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 168

“You cannot know why you’ve endured what you’ve endured. You can know, though, that you survived. You bear wounds, yes, and they make up a part of who you are. When you first encounter the Lord Jesus at your resurrection, notice, though, his hands and his side. They still bear the marks of Roman spikes and spears. And yet, he is no victim. He is the triumphant Lion of Judah, the One who is the heir of the universe. In him so are you.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 257

If you need a book that speaks deeply to the joys and pain of family, I would highly recommend, The Storm-Tossed Family.

Beyond a Simple “Thank You”

I was visiting the home of a co-worker, sitting, chatting. Scanning her bedroom I settled on the spot above the head of her bed. There, fixed to the wall, were three small items. A picture, a scripture verse and a thank you card.

The card was from me.

A few weeks previously I had taken a few moments to thank her for the amazing work she was doing in her job. Here it was. Placed so that she could see it and be reminded every night and morning that someone simply said, “thank you”.

Those two words go deep and sometimes we forget that. They simply become the words of polite society. The lack of them a sign of bad manners. Rudeness, perhaps. Nothing more.

When my husband and I were engaged to be married, we were soaking in all the advice we could get. Go on weekly dates! Sacrificial love! Communication! Invest in intimacy! All the important and big ticket items was passed on. One couple said something that we would only understand years later, “Never, ever, stop saying, please and thank you”

I’ve thought about this a lot lately.

A friend was telling me about a simple lunch he was having with his leader. It was one of those, transition-wrapping-things-up type of lunches. As soon as I heard, I felt a feeling like a knife to my heart. The rest of the day I felt so down

Seeing this co-worker get thanked was bringing back a flood of memories where I had never been thanked. It was surprisingly painful.

I reflected on times when I had poured my life into a job, project or relationship and no one bothered to say, “thanks”. The impact I felt, even today, took me off guard.

I know there are times we throw tantrums when we don’t get the recognition we think we deserve. But, this was not a tantrum. I think I was feeling a healthy level of hurt. God was teaching me something.

Gratitude. It is not just about being polite and avoiding rudeness. It’s not simply good manners.

The Apostle Paul lists ungrateful people alongside those who slander, have no self-control, are conceited and treacherous. Let’s just say he doesn’t have a high regard for them.

This past week, I’ve been busy sorting through my own hurt and suddenly seeing gratitude very differently. I’m realising gratitude goes beyond good manners. Paul shows us it is so much deeper than that.

Gratitude says to a person, “I see you. I recognise you. I value you.”

A simple “thank you” can do that.

Gratitude moves a person beyond a simple cog in a machine.
Gratitude stops a gift from being an expected transaction.
Gratitude recognises gift-giving as a chance to connect hearts and relationship.
Gratitude affirms our dignity and humanity.
Gratitude says, “I don’t just affirm what you did, I affirm that I see you in the act.”

In the day to day transactions of life, gratitude boldly refuses to dehumanise. It refuses to say, “She has to do that, it’s her job” or “It’s just the teller at the bank” or “That’s just our tradition to give gifts”

It is one person saying to the other, “That act is valuable because you are valuable. I’m grateful.”

Researchers have found that children who say, “thank you” often also tend to be display more kindness, empathy and compassion towards others.

Gratitude is not just good social manners for children, it teaches them that others have intrinsic value.

I’m wondering where my lack of gratitude made people feel invisible. Where a simple “thank you” could have brought deeply needed value to human beings who sometimes do tedious work. When could my “thank you” have said, “I know your work is not just an obligation but an expression of your giftings and heart”?

I now know why we were told to never stop saying “please” and “thank you” in our marriage. What they were really saying is to never stop truly seeing each other in the daily mundane acts of life. Never stop saying, “I value you. I see you. I’m grateful.”

Grattitude. An act is valuable because the person is valuable.

Saying “thank you” is the daily practice of declaring a persons value in God’s eyes and ours.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

3 Go-To Reminders for Very Bad Parenting Days

Screaming, tantrums, violence towards siblings, bad language, lying, lying about the lying. You know, just another week in the life of a parent. Sometimes wisdom dictates that we do not add up all the defeats. It’s just too discouraging. Other days, parenting is full of pay-check moments. Those interactions with our kids where we say, “That moment right there makes it all worth it. Everything is going to be all-right.”

But what do we do to get through those “I give up!” moments? One day I actually caught myself mumbling, “Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil.” I might have been feeling a touch dramatic about my children’s behaviour that day. I wasn’t laughing then, though. Death literally seemed on my doorstep. Theirs or mine, I wasn’t sure. Hostages were being taken I didn’t know if we would all survive.

I have found that I need a mental plan to get through those times. For those day, or weeks, here is my go-to list to keep my head in the game and my heart from despairing.

Keep the Long View

When times are tough in parenting land, I have to pull back. Parenting is all-consuming. It’s meant to be that way. But, it is so easy to get caught up in the minutia of the day to day.

I have to pull back and remind myself that hitting your brother today does not mean going to prison at 18. As young parents it is so easy to make every issue into a make or break issue. It isn’t, it really isn’t. Today is a bad day but we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and no child’s destiny is determined by how I handle this specific bad attitude.

There’s lots of time for this whole circus to come together into something that works. Don’t obsess about today, keep the big picture in mind, time is on my side.

Call for Help

The help I’m referring to is prayer. We all know this but I need to remind myself in the moment… pray!

I often text a friend and just say, “Very bad parenting day, please pray.” It helps. Really, it does. I also find that praying together with my husband is a miracle worker.

Anne Lamott has some great wisdom on prayer. One of the go-to prayers she says is important is the “Help! Help! Help!” prayer. When parenting is overwhelming I like to take Anne’s advice and just say to God, “Help! Help! Help!” We really don’t need fancier words than that.

Listen to Mama Bongi

Mama Bongi is a great, long-term friend of mine. She is a wonderful South African mother who is full of wisdom.

Many years ago I asked Bongi, “What’s the secret? I want to do well at this mothering thing.”

She paused for a second and said, “This is what you have to remember Lindsey. God has brought you through many trials and challenges. You are confident and grateful for the journey that God has brought you on. That’s the same God who will do exactly that for your children. It’s not a different God and it won’t be an easy journey for them. It wasn’t easy for you. But, you have to trust that God doesn’t change when it comes to your kids. The same God who was faithful to you will be faithful to them.”

Honestly, it was sobering. I don’t want my kids to go through the challenges. I want my kids to face zero challenges, actually. But they will. I have a history in my own life that shows, God always comes through. He did it for me, He will do it for them.

I go back to this often. He did it for me, he will do it for them. He did it for me, he will do it for them. Same God. I can’t ever forget that.

Photo Credit: Giuseppe Milo

Kids grow up… What are we going to do about it?

Your children are getting older. The baby clothes are being given away. The high chairs are being passed on. Their first Dr. Seuss books are being packed away and replaced with video games historical novels.

My boys are 8 and 10. I’m 50% done. I’ve kept them alive. That was the goal, right? I’m looking at the horizon and it is the second half of their time in my home. Then they are off. This whole pony ride is speeding up people.

I’ve currently got two things on my mind in this season. Preparing and celebrating.

Preparing

What is the goal of parenting? To disciple them. Prepare them. Equip them for life. Apart form you. Such as, living somewhere else. I’m seeing this reality more clearly than ever and I’m getting more intentional than ever.

My 8-year-old is a self-professed “music nerd”. He’s constantly asking me to download music. All. Day. Long. Normally I have looked over the songs, deemed which were inappropriate and got him the rest. Then I had an¬†epiphany. I’ve got an unsustainable situation. I can’t decide forever what they should listen to.

So, I switched, big time. I told them, “I am going to teach you my process of selecting music. Then you are going to do that. Whatever you decide to listen to, I will agree to it. Even if I disagree.”

So, each weekend we look over lyrics. I explain everything they don’t understand. They ask questions. They make the decision.

The first weekend I explained:
F^%k
B@$ch
Rape
“Feel you up”
“Make love all night long”

You get the idea.

This led to questions at the dinner table as to what was “child rape”. My son had read it in a newspaper headline at the shops.

To many parents, Christian or not, I’ve made a very bad parenting decision.

Perhaps.

Honestly, my husband and I were high-fiving at the end of the weekend. We had just had the most honest and engaging conversations with our children in months.

They had heard so many of the terms and had no idea of what they meant.

At one point a son said, “Mom, do you want to be called a b&^ch?”.
“No, I don’t. It makes me feel like trash when people call me that.”, I replied.
He thought about it and then said, “That’s what I would guess… I don’t want to listen to music that makes you feel that way.”

I almost wept. Instead of Mom just turning off the radio and deciding what he should or should not hear, he now get’s it on a heart level.

We did take a risk and continue to do it each weekend as they look over lyrics. But the bigger risk is to let them figure this out on their own.

The added bonus. My boys now know on a whole new level, Mom and Dad are the best source for the truth. Mom and Dad won’t flinch when we ask them stuff. (I was perhaps flinching internally though!)

At some point we have to move from total protection to teaching them how to inerpret the world. I don’t want that process to happen on accident nor when I’m forced in to it. I wouldn’t do this with a 3-year-old but my boys are no longer 3. We are taking initiative and doing it on our own terms. I’m moving that process into high gear in certain areas. Denial is out. Brave equipping for life is in.

The truth, I can have a strategy to totally protect and isolate. I can create a “bubble” where the bad stuff stays out. But, then I need to also remove scriptures from our home. Because nothing I talked about that weekend isn’t already in scripture in some way shape or form.

God talks about this stuff. So should we.

Celebrating

They are growing up. It is so sad! But they are my baby! But I’m not ready for this!

Honestly, sometimes I think we need to get a hold of ourselves. Especially Moms. This perpetual grieving and hand-wringing over our children growing up is both strange, weird and probably not helpful.

What is it like for our children to hear their whole lives, “But you are my baby! I’m not ready for you to be big? I’m not ready for you to be in 5th grade! Whaaaaaaa!!!”.

Our children do not need to grow up too fast and be adults before their time. Neither do we need to hang on, with every ounce of strength, to their toddler years. I think it’s ok to reminisce about the baby years. It’s ok to be sentimental on the first day of school. But I think we’ve collectively moved beyond reminiscing. We sometimes act like it is a crisis that our children are doing what they are meant to do, grow up.

The irony is we allow them to grow up on the outside (fish net stockings for 4 year olds anyone?!) but with none of the responsibility, courage and character that must be carried on the inside.

Parents, let’s celebrate our¬†children growing up. Don’t make them go ahead of their times but neither do we need to perpetually tell them that “I wish you would stay my baby forever.” If they did, that is failure.

When they start a new grade or a new year, I want my boys to hear, “This is great! You are ready for this new challenge!” I want to tell them, “High school has seemed a long way off but now is the time and you can do this, I’m so excited you are at this point.”

I know parents that go into very real depression when the children leave the home. For those of us not yet there… put this before our eyes now. It will be sad. We will miss them. But our children leaving home and engaging the world is SUCCESS. It is exactly what we have been aiming for. Prepare them for that moment and then celebrate it when it comes.

Yes, it is sentimental and at times, sad. Have a moment and then step up to the plate Mom. Growing up is success. Staying a child is failure.

Last night I faced the reality that showers weren’t cutting it for my oldest. It was time for the big guns… deodorant. Here was a chance to celebrate. We talked a bit about “puberty” which was coming.

“It will be exciting… more hair, more muscles, more stink, more girls… more challenges which you are ready for and can handle. Deodorant is only the beginning and this is great!”

I want more of those conversations. Getting older isn’t always easy for parents or kids. But let’s not forget to prepare for and celebrate each step forward!

Photo Credit: Nicola Einarson

Five Women to not Forget on Mothers Day

Mothers Day, a wonderful time of joy and appreciation for millions of women and families. As with any holiday, it can also be a hard day for some.

If you have a Mother who is still with you, make sure you tell her exactly what you are grateful for. Even if it is as simple as, “Thank you for giving me life”.

Whatever this day is like for you, it is also an opportunity to reach out to those who experience pain or sorrow on Mothers Day. We all know at least one of these five people on Mothers Day.

Those who struggle with infertility

Infertility is one of the most painful challenges any couple can face. Take time to pray for those who struggle with infertility. If you know them well, take time to just simply say, “I don’t know if this day is hard for you but I want you to know I’m thinking of you and praying”. Don’t make empty promises or give pity. Simple heart-felt words can mean a lot.

Those who have lost a child

Is there anything more painful than to lose a child? I honestly can’t imagine what could be. For some, Mothers Day highlights the child they have lost… either by mis-carriage or the death of a child that they were able to hold and mother. Take time to pray for them… a day mixed with joy and sorrow.

Those who have lost a Mother

Especially if the loss is recent, Mothers day is bittersweet for those who have recently lost theirs. It often brings the joy of remembrance and the pain of loss. You could pray but sometimes actions show so much love. How about inviting someone into your home on Mother’s Day? Give them time to share what they loved and valued about their Mother. Ask questions and listen to their stories. Let them reminisce. Once the immediacy of death has passed, many don’t have an opportunity to share the stories they long to remember.

Those who are estranged from their children

Mothers Day can be quite painful for women who are estranged from their children. There are so many possible reasons this came about. A child who rejected their mother. A child who disconnected because the relationship was painful or dysfunctional. It really doesn’t matter and is never straight-forward. No matter who made more mistakes… a mother almost always longs for relationship with her child. If you know of a mother who will not be invited over for dinner because of an estranged relationship… why not reach out and make space for them in your home? Or perhaps just a small gift to recognise the Mother they are.

Those who have impacted you like a Mother

Don’t forget to tell those “almost Moms” what they mean to you! A women doesn’t need to have given birth to or adopted you to influence you like a Mom. Today is a great day to bless those “other Mothers” in your life.

If your Mother is around, bless her and show her your love! But, don’t forget, there are many women around us that would be equally as blessed by our love and affection on this day.

Photo Credit: The U.S. National Archives

The Pharisee’s Guide to Parenting

The following two mundane moments are so revealing in my parenting journey. Both happened the day that we had parent-teacher meetings at my boys’ school. The first teacher looked at us and said, “Your son is so well mannered, so well behaved, whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” Ah, the deep pleasure of parenting arrogance overflowed in my life. I’m surprised I didn’t pull out a recording device and ask her to repeat it in to the little microphone. Well behaved! Well mannered! Keep it up, you are parent of the year! Just think of all those rude children causing havoc in the classroom… not my child, not under my watch.

By: Phil Roeder
The second meeting just deepened my Pharisaic heart. The teacher looked at his report card and said, “What a smart child you have, I honestly can’t say anything he should be doing differently, he just consistently improves and achieves to a high standard”. I’m surprised my pride could fit through the door as I walked out. I was floating on cloud nine of outward behaviour, outward accomplishment and outward manners.

Compare this to a situation I had afterwards. Now, I’ve documented my to-be-unamed son’s expertise in lying. Garett has a problem and its been a work in progress.

It was the end of the school day. As he walked out off the school grounds with me I said, “Did you give my note to your teacher?” “Yes I did Mom.” he smoothly replied. “Well, what did she say?” Without skipping a beat he said, “She will think about it and reply to you on Monday.”

Innocent conversation. Except my husband found the “note to the teacher” in his school bag over the weekend. And when confronted he admitted that the whole and entire conversation was a lie. He never gave her the note and “what the teacher said” was entirely made up.

You know what? When someone asked me how my day was I replied, “Rough! What a day, Garett lied to my face and we are trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Do you see what just happened there? Let me write it as a math equation.

Desired behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = Good parenting day.

Undesired outward behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = bad parenting day.

This isn’t the Jesus guide to parenting. Jesus shows to us parenting of the Kingdom.

Jesus seemed to revel in the moments of failure. When failure happened it’s like Jesus was given a treat. The exposure of failure and sin was to Jesus as a blank canvas was to Michelangelo.

Think of Peter. Peter covered up his black heart at the last supper (Who me? Never!) Jesus jumped right in there with Peter and didn’t sulk and say, “Have I taught you nothing?!” In fact he promised Peter it was about to get really bad! I imagine Jesus rolling up his sleeves at that moment and saying, “Great, now we’ve got something to work with, Peter!”

Jesus was seeking out the messy and sin-prone children. He could work with that. He couldn’t work with hiders, cover-up artists and those with a facade of outward behaviour, accomplishments and manners. The Pharisees, the perfect ones did not appeal to Jesus. The failures, misfits and mess-makers were right were Jesus wanted to be.

The only difference between the messes and the pharisees was one was socially acceptable and one was not. The inward heart was quite possibly the same. Jesus didn’t get too excited with outward success. He got very excited with outward failure.

Do I do that? Do I get excited when my I catch my child in a lie? Do I think, “Wonderful, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff!” I should.

If I make parenting about my reputation or my pride, then I can’t parent well.
If I make parenting about outward accomplishments and not inward heart change, I will not parent well.
If I make parenting about minimising problems and keeping life calm, I will not parent well.

Jesus never changed course when people said, “Look at your disciples, what bunch of failures!” He didn’t get defensive or hopeless. Jesus was going for the heart change and that takes time. It takes outward lies and sins to be exposed. It takes disciples fighting and threatening violence. It takes bad days when everything is going wrong.

Those are the teachable moments. That is when all the good stuff happens.

We all want grace and mercy for our children without them actually needing grace and mercy. Let me not be afraid to see clearly their need for grace and mercy. Let me not make it about myself and my parenting failures but rather about Jesus and his hope for them.

Parenting pharisees feel defeated by the failures, messes and disobedience. Jesus saw it an opportunity for the truth of the need to meet the answer of grace and new life.

Outward accomplishment is good. Outward success should be rejoiced in. But Jesus went for the heart and so should we. The quickest way there is the mess and moments of failure.

When my children succeed outwardly I rejoice. But I don’t let it blind me that all is necessarily fine. I want their hearts like Jesus wants mine. Lord, let it be so.