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Saturday, October 29, 2011

What God Loves

I would like to take a moment to brag about my Baby Boy.  Most of these blog posts are about Eddie, which only makes sense.  It helps me to share him with you, to give him honor since I can't give him hugs, and his story is pretty much the meat and potatoes of my life's testimony thus far.  He witnessed to me the power and majesty of God's love, wordlessly and in an incredibly unique way.  All that being said, however, we all have as much to learn from our living children as I did from the one who has gone home before me.  As I've said before, our children are our greatest teachers, if we are willing to set aside our pride in ourselves and all our "grown up" knowledge and just learn from them.

I was five months pregnant with Baby Boy when his big brother died.  Not surprisingly, two weeks later I had a pregnancy crisis and ended up on partial bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy.  I say "partial" but really I was on bed rest.  I think my lovely midwife was afraid I would slip into a terrible depression if I was told I could do nothing for the next four months.  She therefore avoided the term "bed rest" but was very insistent that I seriously limit my activities for Baby Boy's sake and spend every moment I could at rest.  So I was already a little worried about him.

I was also worried about how my heart state was going to affect him.  I am a firm believer that the experiences of a baby in utero are human experiences.  We "welcome them into the world" when they are born but, especially by the time they are third term fetus, they really are already in the world, hearing and experiencing things through the hopefully safe filter of their mother.  I wanted my womb to be such a safe place.  I sang songs to my unborn children, told them stories, played them music.  I told them how much I loved them and how their Daddy and Jesus did too.  I only wanted good things to go on in there.  But, I am a human being, and I had lost my child.  So while I knew Baby Boy heard the words of love and soothing songs, I knew he was also there for the keening cries and racking sobs of a mother grieving for a lost son.  I was afraid he would come out already emotionally damaged, sad, anxious and moody.  I prayed about it a lot.

I shouldn't have worried.  Baby Boy is characterized by joy more than any child I have ever known.  He is just a really, really happy guy.  He smiled when he was just a few days old (and, no, it wasn't just gas; I hate it when people say that).  He loves with open arms, smiles so big you can see every single tooth, and laughs with great abandon.  He loves to sing and dance.  Now that he is a "big boy" who will be all of four years old in December, he is also our great encourager.  We call him the life coach.  Whenever we are doing any activity like a dance party or some family exercise, he says "great job, great job" and often suggests the next move, like a tiny personal trainer.  When his sister is having a meltdown, he sometimes tells her to take a deep breath "like this" and models the behavior for her.  He's just awesome.

He also has an uncanny grasp of spirituality.  Some of this I attribute to the church we attend, where he now goes to preschool twice a week as well.  Part of it I know is because of our practices at home.  But there is a lot of it that is just Baby Boy's spirit.  When I pack his superhero backpack to go see Nana I have to be sure that his Bible goes along, because at some point he will ask for it and want to hear some of his favorite stories.  He gets so excited when he sees pictures of Jesus and can recognize him from a variety of images, from the baby in the manger Jesus to the bearded guy in a robe Jesus.  He talks about him with the same enthusiasm as he discusses Thomas the Tank Engine or Spiderman.

But beyond that, he is getting the concepts.  He shares with his sister, even when I can tell he doesn't really want to, because it is the right thing to do.  He shows empathy and concern for the well-being of others.  He never fails to amaze me with his retelling of Bible stories and explanations of what they mean to him.  But the other day he just blew me away.  We were getting clothes that they have outgrown together to take to a women and children's homeless shelter in Dallas.  While we we packed them up we talked about what we were doing, that some friends might not have clothes or shoes to wear so we could give them ours.  So he and Baby Girl were very happy about our mission on the ride over.  When the time came, however, for Baby Boy to hand over his beloved Lightning McQueen slippers, he balked.

I was not surprised.  For one thing, he is three years old and he loves those slippers.  Although they are too small, he still carries them around sometimes or shoves his feet, toes curled, into them for a few moments.  He was the one who surprisingly enough added them to the pile in the first place.  For another, isn't that how we all are?  It is so easy to give the stuff we don't really care about.  The clothes that don't fit us anymore or are out of style, the broken household items, the furniture with stained upholstery.  These items get sent to Goodwill with glee as we make room for better, nicer stuff.  And we count that as charity and give ourselves a pat on the back.  After all, it might all have brought us a few bucks at a garage sale and we gave it away.  Yay us!

I am not saying that we should not engage in this kind of giving.  It is a blessing to others.  I've been on the other end of it on more than one occasion and felt incredibly blessed by what someone else had given up, probably from their garage, attic, or the back of their closet.  But I think Jesus calls us to give beyond this comfortable kind of giving.  Let me rephrase that:  I know Jesus calls us to give beyond it.  He said so.  We are supposed to be willing to give up everything we own to Him.  He even wants us to give to those who take from us.  In Matthew 5:40 He says that if someone sues us for our coat we are supposed to give them the shirt off our back also.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Not only do we give until it hurts, we are supposed to do it cheerfully.  2 Corinthians 9:7 says that God loves a cheerful giver.  

Anyway, it was a very human moment when Baby Boy clutched his slippers to his chest.  I want to teach my children to give, but I want them to give the way God wants them to:  not reluctantly, not under compulsion, but cheerfully.  There is no value in learning,  "I give because my mom makes me."  So I gave him the choice.  I reminded him that we were going to give those to a little boy who did not have slippers, but that it was up to him.  If he was not ready to give his slippers to a friend yet, he did not have to.  They could come home with us and we would put them back in his closet.  He looked at them long and hard for a moment.  Then with a sigh and a smile, he handed those cherished little red slippers to the shocked and impressed volunteer who assured him that she knew a little boy who was going to love them.

As we left the shelter, Baby Boy was skipping and smiling as usual, asking where we were going next.  In the car a very choked up Mommy told them both how proud I was of them.  That they had given clothes and shoes to people who didn't have clothes or shoes, just like Jesus asks us to.  Then Baby Boy said, pointing out the window, "Yeah and He make the clouds and the flowers and He give 'em to me."

Wow.  Can I get an "Amen?"  You see, I struggle with the whole concept of giving.  The fact that we reluctantly hand over a ten percent tithe (or not) and grumble at the toll it takes on our bank account.  Yet, when asked, Christ said the path to true discipleship is to sell all of our possessions and follow Him.  Indeed, when He called His disciples they dropped everything in an instant, leaving their lives behind and starting on their new exciting journey without so much as a carry-on bag.  That kind of thing seems unheard of in our day, but the nature of God has not changed.  The question is:  are we willing to give up our stuff, not just our junk and hand-me-downs, but the stuff we still love and cherish for the sake of the One who gives us everything?  To the one who makes the clouds, the flowers, and the air we breathe?  If someone sued us for a thousand dollars, would we willingly give them the title to our house for His sake?   Are we capable of trusting that the One in whom we believe is going to bless us and provide for us above and beyond our greatest expectations in exchange for our radical obedience to His call to us to give freely, openly and happily?  What if, when faced with a person sitting out in the cold, we gave them the coat of our backs instead of the spare change in our pockets?  It seems so radical to us, because very few people do it.  Nonetheless, it is what Christians are supposed to do, who we are supposed to be.

I am so grateful to have little people in my life to teach me big truths.  To show me what a cheerful giver looks like.  Not someone who hands over something he doesn't want anymore with a smile, but rather someone who feels the uncomfortable tug of a selfish desire to keep for himself, but then voluntarily surrenders to the greater call with a heart full of gratitude for what has been given to him by a generous God.  Because while God will use our easily given gifts to bless others, He will use our sacrificially given gifts to bless us.  To give us hearts for gratitude and eyes that see blessings.  I see one right now, wearing camouflage pajama pants and a big grin, my little cheerful giver, who I love.

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