Prayers For Our Children

One of the many questions we face in our lives is “Will we be good parents?”

One of the many questions we face in our lives is “Will we be good parents?” After all, it is one of the most important roles we will have.

Think of the years we spend in school learning mathematics, languages, history, sports, science, business… Now think about how many classes we took that dealt with how to raise a child. (crickets…)

It is clear that public education is woefully inadequate in preparing us for the role of parenting. Perhaps that’s why bookstores offer so many books on this subject. Even so, can reading books prepare us for our role as a father or mother? Should schools suddenly decide that parenting classes are important, would such classes actually help? Or are we somehow able to learn to parent from our own experience as children? Can we completely rely on the example of our own parents? Do we even recall all the trouble we put them through?

The Past

My sister and I were blessed with good parents. Our parents truly loved and nurtured us. Our father was successful in business and thus was a good provider. He loved the outdoors, specifically fishing and bird hunting, and instilled a similar passion in me. Our mother doted on us and seemed to be always anxious about our health and our friends. We lived in safe, stable neighborhoods, free from crime, drugs, prostitution, gangs. We went to church on Sundays. We were in religious schools through the sixth grade. As our father served in the Marines during World War II, we proudly displayed the flag of the United States of America next to our front door on many holidays.

When my wife Cindy became pregnant with our first child, Brian, I was elated. I expected that she and I would have a family experience similar to my own. She had also grown up in a family with good parents. Her father had been a fighter pilot in the Air Force. He would eventually build his own business. Her mother lovingly raised Cindy along with her two sisters and two brothers. The church was part of their lives when they were young.

We thought we were more than ready for a baby. Let’s do this!

For those that are reading this that have children, you know that there is absolutely no way to be adequately prepared for the role of parenting. It is complex, demanding, frustrating and yet rewarding and totally worth all the effort.

All our weekend trips and vacations were family events, with a few exceptions that were company-sponsored events. We spent a lot of time with our children visiting beautiful, diverse locations such as Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, Florida, California, and Arizona. Memories to last a lifetime. We also invested in them spiritually, through church and through reading God’s word. They knew what Christmas and Easter were really about.

The Present

So one would look at our past history and think that all should be well with our children these days. Yet we live in a world full of danger as well as promise. It probably only took five seconds for a car to pull out in front of our first-born son when he was 18 years old, riding his shiny, blue and silver motorcycle. There are a lot of 5-second intervals that need caution in 18 years. You can’t be prepared for all of them.

Even in the best of schools, in the best of neighborhoods, there are drugs and alcohol that endanger our children. Our middle child was convinced that he would not become addicted when he sampled them. Most children, especially boys, think they are invincible. He is now, thankfully, on a path that can lead to lifelong sobriety. But he has experienced much pain and anguish over a number of years to get to this point.

There are also deceptive dangers in this world. The good life of money, cars, fancy clothes, rock stars, and fame can be enticing. What could be wrong with such things? Yet we have worried about our daughter who finds enjoyment in such things. The Bible tells us that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In the end, such things are empty of value and leave us unfulfilled. That can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Prayers

So we continue to pray and we encourage all parents to draw near to God. As your children become adults, as ours have, entrust them to the will of God. For no matter how much we might want to take action in the lives of our children, the simple act of falling to our knees in prayer is always the best place to start.

Holding the Umbrella for Someone Else

When the sun is shining on our face and a gentle breeze is causing the leaves in the trees to rustle all around us, life is so very good.

When the sun is shining on our face and a gentle breeze is causing the leaves in the trees to rustle all around us, life is so very good. We hear the sound of children playing in the park. We smile and chuckle as a young pup chases a squirrel around a tree trunk. The squirrel seems to be enjoying the game of staying just out of the dog’s reach. It chatters back at the pup which starts jumping up at it repeatedly. We can’t help but laugh as we try to capture a video with our phone camera.

Times such as these are just one of a myriad of reasons to be thankful to God for our lives. We love to share such moments with friends and family. We treasure them. Clouds and storms may be in the forecast later today, but these sunny times of laughter and beauty will be treasured.

Yet in due time the clouds do roll in and the storm darkens the sky. We hear thunder rolling in the distance. The breeze is suddenly moist. We realize we may get caught in the rain before we can pack up our things and get to the safety of our car. And we realize we failed to bring an umbrella!

Sometimes storms in our lives are much more serious. At such times we don’t want to try to weather the storm alone. We need shelter.  We need protection.

This evening, my wife and I will be speaking at an Umbrella Ministries event. The organization provides much needed “comfort, hope, and encouragement to mothers who have suffered the loss of a child.” Their slogan is “We may not be able to make the sun shine for you…but we can hold the umbrella”.

We only see life through one set of eyes, our own. We have many things to do, taking care of our own life. We have to eat right, exercise, study, learn, dress, work, etc. I find it is just way too easy to focus all our attention on one person – me, myself and I. In contrast, a mother focuses her attention much of the day on her children. She makes sure they eat right, exercise, study… It can be too easy for her to forget about her own needs in the midst of it all.

This is why we treasure our Moms. They have sacrificed so much out of love for us. The relationship between a mother and her children is precious. That’s the way God planned it in His wisdom.

Umbrella Ministries focuses on helping mothers who are deeply hurting for a very special reason. They have lost one or more of their children. Such a loss is hard to imagine. Frankly, we don’t want to. It is one of life’s most tragic events and one of the most difficult. I tried to be there for my wife to help her make it through the loss of one of our children in December of 2003. It was hard for me to see her pain, her anguish, her tears. But I watched her turn to God in the midst of that storm. Then I watched Him provide comfort, healing and even joy for her when she needed it most.

This afternoon and evening, we will share our story. Cindy will be there for the other moms in the room. Although each person grieves differently, she knows something about what the moms in that room are going through. She cares, and God has equipped her with a heart for them.

Tomorrow, Cindy will be among the mothers for a full day conference. I’ve volunteered to photograph the event, and hopefully put together a short video for the Umbrella Ministries. We both know that God will be there too. The Holy Spirit of God will be ministering His comfort. Yes, there will be some tears. The word of God tells us that He holds our tears in His hands. But there will also be laughter and encouragement, the sharing of photographs and of special times the mothers shared with their children. Precious memories. Gifts from God.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” ~ Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

You can learn more about Umbrella Ministries at their website: http://www.umbrellaministries.com They currently offer events in a very limited number of cities. The event in Arizona starts this afternoon with dinner and speeches for both the moms and dads. It continues tomorrow with a full day conference solely for the moms. Should you know a mother who has lost a child, or should you be one, we encourage you to seek out and attend such an event if you live within a reasonable distance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

To Share with Your Children at Christmas – “The Tale of Three Trees”

“Now I shall be made into a beautiful treasure chest,” thought the first tree. “I shall hold marvelous treasures!”

Sharing a precious memory of Christmas past on this Christmas morn.

When our three children were very young, we would read children’s books to them each evening before bedtime. “Story Time!” always created excitement and had become a tradition that started with our first-born child Brian, as he grew old enough to listen, and in the following years with Daniel and Katie. Cindy and I were blessed by such times, and we knew the children enjoyed the stories. There were many, many books that we collected over time such as “A Giraffe and a Half”, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Enormous Crocodile”. Yet there was one story that held special significance for us at Christmas and again on Easter – “The Tale of the Three Trees”.

It is a tale of dreams held, of dreams shattered, and of dreams realized. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

Once upon a time, three little trees stood in a forest high on a mountain, dreaming of what they would be when they were grown.

The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds in the night sky. “I want to hold treasure,” it said. “I want to be filled with gold and decorated with jewels. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked down the mountainside at the ocean far below. “I want to be a strong sailing ship,” it said. “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree said, “I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me their eyes will raise up to heaven, and they will think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world!”

Source

Thus the dreams of the three trees are made known to the reader. But then woodcutters came up from the town and their dreams were shattered one by one. The first was felled and fashioned, not into a treasure chest, but into “a simple feed-box.” The second was felled and fashioned, not into a strong sailing ship, but into “a simple fishing boat.” And the third that dreamt of never being cut down was instead felled and then cut into rough-hewn beams and laid aside.

But though the trees dreams were shattered, the story goes on to talk about a feed-box being used as a cradle that held “the greatest treasure in the world.” And a small fishing boat that would not “travel mighty waters” but would carry “the King of heaven and earth.” Finally, the story tells of beams of wood fashioned into a cruel structure onto which a man was nailed by his hands and feet. Yet the earth would tremble as the man died and then three days later “the earth knew that God’s love had changed everything.”

This simple, touching story has been illustrated by more than one person, but the book that we read to our children was “The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale” by Angela Elwell Hunt, with illustrations by Tim Jonke. We think the illustrations are wonderful.

You may perhaps find the book at your local library, but we encourage you to buy a copy at your favorite bookstore or at an online source. We pray it blesses you and your children as it did our family.