Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Have or Not to Have? The Dialogue with God About Building Your Family

In every marriage of childbearing age, this question will inevitably surface time and again: Do we have another child or not?  And in some ways, "To have or not to have," is not so far from the original phrase, "To be or not to be?"  We are considering something of such magnitude--do we bring a new life into the world that would not otherwise be?  And close on it, follow feelings about our own capacity to be as we bring more life into the world!

Any discussion of this topic demands a certain level of sobriety.  We are discussing the most fundamental issues of life.  We are discussing whether we are to participate in the advent of another person in history, a person that without our participation would never be.

The only starting place for a conversation of this magnitude is surrender.  God has chosen to be his most vulnerable with us by letting us participate in the decision about new life.  He has given us a say as to whether or not a new person will be birthed for eternity.  This is humbling:  that God would allow me to have this voice in his creation.

Many of the questions surrounding family size and even contraception are centered around the self. How many children do I want?  How many children can I handle?  If I say "Yes" to another child, to what am I saying "No"? Questions around finances arise, "Can we afford another child?"  "Another child could mean a larger vehicle,  even the need for more space in our current house."  "Do I really have to think about children every time I want to be intimate with my spouse?"  These are questions that are centered in the limited perspective of the here and now and in the small sphere of two;  so while they are important in our dialogue with God because we must be real and honest with him, they also must take their place in the greater conversation which has elements far beyond just the two of us. Being in God's kingdom requires that we move beyond the scope of our own lives and our own understanding of them.

It is hard for us to imagine beyond our limitations, but that is exactly why God calls us into the supernatural place where we have to trust his vision, not our own.  This is why no decision about having children should be made without the direct communion with and guidance of the Lord. The Psalmist gives us a good guide, "Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain."  We could spend our lives trying to strategize, control, manage our resources and miss the mystery God is calling us into--one which requires faith in a God who sees all.

This is why doing something permanent to one's body, male or female, to prevent the conception of children means one completely closes the door to this dialogue with God.  I cannot predict when God might call on me to sacrifice my body for the sake of a new life, when he might call me into faith rather than leaning on my own understanding.  Also, in the moment in which this decision is being made the facts and feelings (however powerful) are tied to a certain moment in history, facts and feelings that could change over the passage of time and shifting of circumstances.  We do not expect God to tell us when we marry all the different places we will live and the jobs and friends we will have.  We also cannot expect that he will tell us how many children we will have.  This is something that unfolds in relationship over time.

If I had done something permanent to my body to avoid pregnancy, I would not have had my fifth and sixth children, and our family would be impoverished because of it.  After my fourth child and difficult pregnancies and post partums, I said half in jest, "Only if the Angel Gabriel appears to me will I have another child."  It took a little while, but slowly my feelings changed, and I knew our family was missing someone.  Then Nathanael came.  My hemorrhaging with him was so frightening, I fully believed God was saying we were finished.  In fact, I believed God said that to me.  Now I know God allowed me to believe that simply to give my mind, body, and imagination space to recover.

One night I was hovering between sleep and waking, and I felt the presence of a child that was not yet in our family, and I felt I heard God's voice saying, "You would not want to miss this one."  I was shocked when I found out I was expecting a sixth and struggled throughout the pregnancy with fear for my life.  But I knew that if God was giving me a gift, I would not want to miss it, and that perhaps my understanding of my own limitations needed to be challenged by a God who had an abundance of resources.  (You can read that story in my blog post on "What is a Woman?")

I had not been able to engage God in the conscious place of my soul about another child.  It was too overwhelming to me.  But God knew that I was fighting to stay in a place of surrender and that if he asked of me to bring another child into the world, I would do it in his grace and strength.  How glad I am that God overrode my own feelings, my genuine reservations, and my sense of limitations, and gave me the opportunity to go deeper with him into Mary's, "Yes. Be it done unto me according to your will."  I could allow God to give me the supernatural capacity to receive another life that I in my own strength could not imagine.  After all, God does not provide for the hypothetical child but for the real one resting in our arms.  I will not say it has been easy, but I could not imagine my life without the children God chose for me.

As we journey into Advent, we must not allow ourselves the illusion that Mary's story was cozy, that somehow the renown she enjoys is enviable.  Mary is our icon of the "Yes," because she said it even when it meant facing the suspicion of her parents, her betrothed, and indeed the whole village, in a time when stoning was the punishment for adultery.  We know that Joseph didn't believe she had conceived as a virgin until God sent him a dream.  Mary had no say in her circumstances, even the long trip away from home on a donkey while very pregnant into a place she did not know, to give birth in someone else's home without the people around her she knew and trusted.  And she faced all the usual fears of any mother giving birth, and all the pain and the blood.  Afterwards, she had to flee into Egypt, a most foreign culture, as a new bride and mother, while fearing for the life of her child. Mary in our day would be a great candidate for processing trauma in therapy sessions.  She had no control over her life once she said, "Yes."

And yet, she gave us Jesus.  God looked for a mother who was willing to share his sufferings. And now she shares his glory.

God allows himself the limitation of our "No."  It is humbling and frightening to think that God puts himself in the position of allowing us to assent to a new life in the world.  Is it possible that God might dream of a person in history of whom we could, even unknowingly, say, "No, that person will not be."  Though we cannot begin to understand the mystery of the way God's will and our will work together, God does seem to allow us the power of refusal.  How many blessings have we missed simply because we cannot stay in the place of trusting God's eternal and infinite view because we are overwhelmed by our small one?

Sometimes the barriers we feel in our own souls, even disequilibrium in our families, or those places where refreshment is needed, are answered by the child God is bringing.  That little one actually becomes the missing puzzle piece.  This one may bring much needed humor, joy, a dislodging of rivalries, a new thoughtfulness and care from other children, an expansion of love.  This child could also mean that you have to be stretched and transformed in constant connection with Jesus because you can't parent this one in your own strength. You are thrown into the arms of God like never before. But isn't that the place we were made to be?

I must always be in dialogue with God about my participation in his vision.  Ephesians 3:14 speaks of praying to the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.  The Father names our families.  He shapes and forms;  he knows the people that must be part of it.  He can expand our vision from our small space and slice of time to something so much broader that can allow for the weaving of our own stories into the eternal story.

This is not to say that we cannot cooperate with God in spacing children for the purpose of catechizing, for seasons of family stress, and for times of health troubles or extreme trials.  God has made a woman's body with rhythms that are predictable so that we can choose to wait.  If he had wanted it to be totally out of our hands, he would have made women randomly fertile or constantly fertile, as men are. Even Pope Paul VI in "Humanae Vitae" encouraged discernment when having children, while still honoring the possibility of life in the conjugal relationship.

But I cannot decide that this request of God--to have another child--is not going to be an option in my walk with God.  And that is what sterility surgery is.  It is saying that this is not something I can be called on to do for the kingdom--ask me anything else, for money, time, any other sacrifice but not that I live through another pregnancy and raise another child.  What greater gift can we give to God than to lay our bodies--our fertility and sexual drives included--on the altar as an offering?

If you are reading this and are someone who chose not to consider having more children, and you even wonder if maybe you foreclosed on God's work in your life, remember that the Lord is gentle with us.  He is aware of the influences that were in our lives that we did not then know to challenge. I would encourage you to open and maintain a dialogue with God about your choices because even the hindsight God gives us can give us wisdom to share with others.

The Church is the most responsible for teaching a theology of family that has more impact than the cultural psychology of family, and it needs not just the clergy to do it, but the people of God, from empty nesters to families to celibates.  I wish that I had been open to children earlier, but I did not have the teaching even to consider it.  I regret the children I did not have, but I know I can write to encourage others.

Children embody the kingdom of God--Jesus said so.  He also said for us to bring him the infants. Scripture also teaches us that children are a blessing and a reward.  As we seek to live as Christians in a world shaped by the personal right to control birth and where children are our personal right and an extension of our own desires, let us keep in mind where we may need to have our minds renewed in our perspective on children and family.  Let us ask God to build our houses and name our families and stretch our understanding of the supernatural provision we cannot see until we step out in faltering faith. May we not lean on our own understanding but submit our way to him.

After all, God may have a child he wants in history at a specific time, and he has chosen you to be the parents and shape this child for a kingdom work you could never do.  You would not want to miss that one.

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."  Psalm 127

Saturday, September 10, 2016

God's Extravagant Gift

A rainbow at the end of the day at Porto de Galinhas beach, Brazil.  Two of my children were swimming and just stopped and looked up in wonder. 

Years ago I remember reading Malcolm Muggeridge's book on Mother Theresa, who was just this week cannonized as a saint.  He was one of the first people to put Mother Theresa's work in the eye of the public with his documentary about her on BBC.  Without soliciting funds, he was astonished when people began to flood his office with money for Mother Theresa's work.  He was later surprised when she wrote to him and told him how she had spent the money...she had purchased two beautiful candle holders for the altar in the chapel.

Though that is probably not how the givers expected her to spend the money, Mother Theresa believed that the altar on which she placed these candlesticks would forever carry the embodied reminder of the prayers and desires of many from distant lands.  I'm sure she believed that the people she was caring for needed more than physical care, but beauty that spoke to their souls. And the workers pouring out their lives in service could join those they were serving around the altar and all together they could be transported into the heavenlies and the glory that belonged to all of them, who so rarely had shared anything extravagant.

One of the first Fransiscan monasteries built in the new world in the 1500's, sadly in disrepair but still lovely.  The walls are covered with Portuguese tile, sent across to Brazil, numbered so they could be mounted in stunning murals.

Of course this was the vision of the Church in building beautiful cathedrals and churches--that people who could individually never afford anything beautiful, could pool their money, and build something beautiful that they could all share.  So at any time of day one could walk into the village church and bask in the beauty that transported all who entered into the presence of God, who believes in the gift of beauty as a sign of love.

Jesus affirmed this when he said of the woman who broke her alabaster perfume bottle and poured the costly perfume on his feet, "She has done a beautiful thing to me."  Jesus praised her that she did not count the cost but acted extravagantly out of love.

God values acts and gifts of love that are not calculated and measured and that sometimes are not even useful, in the utilitarian sense because he gives that kind of gift over and over. We can only understand the beauty and intricate detail of nature in its dazzling scope of color, texture, sound and variety in this light--an extravagant expression of love for all who can see and hear.  It is offered to both rich and poor for only the cost of paying attention.

God's generous outpouring of beauty on all of us is a general expression of love, and his sacrificial giving of himself is almost unthinkable because we have no category for that kind of expression of love.

And then sometimes God does something so particular to you as a person that you know, "that alabaster flask was broken for me."  I have known this kind of outpouring of love from God many times, but this summer I felt it more than ever.

I waited years for this day to come--all of us able to read on the beach.  Well...I guess Becket is not in the picture, and I am not reading as I take the picture, but we could take turns.

Years ago when my husband and I decided that God was calling us to live in the Wheaton area and work in a church here,  I struggled profoundly.  Why would God ask this of me, someone who would gladly live overseas, someone who felt constantly just a little uncomfortable in this culture?  God spoke clearly to me that this was his call, his economy, and not understanding all of his hidden reasons, I submitted and found a rush of joy in his will.  I have never doubted since that we were called to be here and this was the place prepared by God for our family to grow.

But I have grieved and wrestled with God, not all the time, but from time to time.  I sometimes felt I was living out of only part of myself, with this whole hidden world in my psyche that my children would not know. I grieved that they could not spend the night with their grandparents or be in their home, which was the home where all the memories of my early life were crowded in the knick knacks and the albums.  I grieved they could not know Brazil and most likely would not learn Portuguese and that even if we could scrape the money together to get us all to Brazil, we would certainly never have the money to travel to my favorite haunts or have the kinds of adventures my imagination was shaped by. My journal has pages of surrendering these desires as sacrifices to the Lord.

In one sense, I had this great joy that I had something to give to the Lord that cost me something.  I guess this is what a "sacrifice of praise" means--you praise him when it costs you something.  You give up something he is asking you to give up...and you do it in love for him with joy, not with resentment.

And at times, I was deeply comforted by that communion with God--I had given him my life.  It was his, and he could decide what connections I kept and what culture and experience and communities shaped the lives of my children.

And then, out of the blue, God gave me a particular gift, understood most fully only between us.  My husband was given a three month sabbatical, and we began to dream about taking our whole family to Brazil where I was raised and where most of my family still lives, and where Stewart and I had forged many adventures together before we had children, treking through the Amazon and the Pantanal, and beyond, ministering to whomever God put in our path.  We could not know if it was financially feasible, but we began to pray and explore.

I went into the sabbatical spent and exhausted--I had come out of years of birthing and raising children without family help, homeschooling, leading a church and diocese alongside my husband, lots of church crises that sometimes caused a lot of emotional and spiritual stress.  I needed a rest. And God had chosen a rest for me, crafted by Him, who loved me and knew what I would love.

When we were crowded in the airport--all eight of us--even my daughter who is in college, loaded with suitcases for our ten week trip to Brazil, I finally allowed myself to believe it.  Through the incredible generosity of our church, our diocese, and friends, and I must add, my extensive community in Brazil, who provided phones, apartments, houses, cars to use on their end, we lived into the greatest gift I have ever been given.

We traveled to our favorite places in several parts of Brazil, we stayed at the school where I studied and taught, we visited family friends and people I had grown up with, we had hilarious and harrowing adventures, long Brazilian church services, God-anointed encounters, and of course, precious time with grandparents, uncles, aunt, and cousins.  We went to my favorite colonial towns and stayed for a month in a fishing village with coral reefs exposed every time the tide went out.  And God added in adventures and gifts and new people and places to love that I could never have planned.
Over and over I just felt the Lord say, "I did this for you...just because I love you."

I don't know why God waited until now to give this to me, but it was perfect in timing--most of my children were old enough to engage with everything with absolute delight...and even tried to learn and speak the language.  We even left my 16 year old son there.  Others are talking about returning. Strangely, I think Brazil will be in their blood, even though I gave up that hope long ago.

It would be wrong for us not to understand this about our God:  he truly is extravagant in his love.  And if we accept the sacrifices he calls on us to make for his kingdom, we will find surprising gifts, not primarily material ones (though these will come as well), but gifts that connect us to him in the deepest kind of love.

God's gift to me was extravagant, it was particular, it was artistically crafted to bring me delight and joy.  I learned at a deeper level that if you seek first his kingdom, all these things (whatever that means particularly to you) will be added unto you...maybe not in the way you expect, but in a way that lets you know how much he loves you.

This is why I was not writing on my blog for months--little internet connection in the places we stayed.  Providential?  Another gift?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Can God Set a Table in the Wilderness?

Most of the time I feel just like the Israelites of old who doubted God would provide.  I have just as many stories as they did to prove he has and will, but this time...this time is different?

At our Easter Festival this year in which our church dramatizes seven Scripture passages, the Creation passage concluded with a table being set for Adam and Eve in the garden, a place to have a meal with God.  During the Fall, the table crashed to the ground.  Later, in the Zephaniah reading in which God gathers his people and restores to them what was lost, the Eucharistic table was brought out and set in invitation to all those who are in God's family--redeemed from the Fall, restored to fellowship.

I have been reflecting on this table all Lent when I was part of the preparations for the Festival.  A table set for a meal represents fellowship, good food prepared in anticipation, nourishment, good conversation, laughter, community, the unfolding of one's soul, belonging, family. And then I have troubled over the table that is visited with loss, broken relationships, silence, deprivation of community and nourishment, and how often there simply is no coming together at a table when those conditions prevail.  People grab food on their own, sit in silence, have no anticipation of an event at the table, have no special food prepared in love.  (I always think of Napoleon Dynamite making a steak in the microwave).

Since the Fall and the broken fellowship with God that could have been ours, that daily feasting in conversation and discovery with the God of the universe--God has not left us without food to despair of what we lost.  Instead, he invites us over and over to the meal he prepares for us until the day when we will sit down to the banquet feast he is preparing even now for us in eternity.

The Bible is replete with meals eaten in communion with God and others as we journey toward the ultimate restoration.  Whenever the Angel of the Lord appeared to someone in the Old Testament, those being visited would rush to prepare a meal (a little different than the "rushed" meal we would prepare, as they had to kill an animal, make fresh bread, etc.)  All that time over preparation and sharing of a meal was considered necessary and important to the coming together of God and man. The famous representations of God visiting Abraham and sitting at the table with him have always blessed me.  It was at this table that God revealed to Abraham his plan to give him a son, a whole horizon of descendants.

God continues to call us to his table, and he continues to provide a table for us in every circumstance if we will only sit down and partake.  The Psalms say that God prepares a table for us, even in the presence of our enemies.  He leads us to streams to drink, to green fields to feed.  Elijah was awakened by angels three times and given food from heaven to strengthen him for an exhausting journey.  Jesus multiplied food miraculously to feed thousands more than once.  He was often at table with sinners, with his disciples, with his friends.  It was at that Last Supper that he promised himself as food.  Then there is the breakfast on the beach with Jesus after his resurrection.

God chooses a tangible way that we meet him--over food, in community.

This Eucharistic table established for us is such a tangible expression of God's presence with us--real bread in real time.  This is eternal bread that feeds us on all levels of need.  It is the Great Thanksgiving (as it is called in the liturgy) because we are thanking God that he meets us at the table; the intersection of heaven and earth, God with his people happens now.

It is in the meal that we meet Jesus.

And yet...we struggle with the same, age-old unbelief of the Israelites.  Even though God has fed us time and time again, we doubt he will do so in our current circumstances.  Psalm 78 catalogs God's wondrous works on behalf of his people from splitting open the sea so they could pass through to leading them by a cloud and a glow of fire, splitting hard rocks to give them drink from the great deep.

But in spite of the constant manifestation of God's provision, they "railed against God and said, 'Can God set a table in the wilderness? True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed; but is he able to give bread or to provide meat for his people?'"

God is angered by this, "For they had no faith in God, nor did they put their trust in his saving power."  But he still rains down manna and gives them grain from heaven.  He causes the east wind to blow in quail so they are well filled.  And then this glorious verse:

"Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance."

We wander in the wilderness of our lives, complaining, wondering if we will stumble on food, or we scrabble around trying to figure out how to get it from stone.  God wants us to expect food, to believe he will provide.  He wants us to come to him anticipating the provision he will unfold for us, to ask, to expect him to strike even a stone and have it yield its goods.

A friend once told me about her niece who was not allowed to attend church because her parents were against it, even though this young girl craved connection with Jesus.  This niece loved to talk and pray with her aunt.  One day they were saying the Lord's Prayer together, and as they came to the line, "Give us this day our daily bread...," the young girl said, "This is when you open your mouth, and he puts bread in it."  My friend questioned her niece, and the girl assumed this happened for everyone--"Yes, I open my mouth at that point, and he always puts bread in it."  "Real bread?" my friend asked suspiciously.  "Of course.  Then you chew it up."

Evidently, for a long time this dear girl had been sharing time with the Lord in which he miraculously put real bread in her mouth--a special manifestation to her of his real presence with her.  Why did I have trouble believing that God did that for that little girl when God made two fish and five loaves feed multitudes, when he rained down bread from heaven, and when he caused ravens to carry food to his prophet?

How many meals have we missed because we simply don't believe God will meet us?  As we journey through this life, we should be expecting to stumble on God's provision everywhere.  We should long for it and wait for it.  Over and over in my life when I have come to God's Word or to Church or to prayer or to his people with expectation and need, he has fed me.  Maybe it was a food I didn't recognize at first, like the Israelites who saw the manna and said, "What is it?"  But as I trusted and ate, it was always enough.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20)  Far from withholding from us, God loves to share a meal with us. God's food, his table is set for us.

"Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it."

May your eyes be opened to see the table set for you in the wilderness.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Incarnational Living: Living With Less Media

Just the other day I had to wait for two of my children to complete a music exam.  The hallways of the conservatory were lined with parents and siblings waiting.  I was struck by the unsettling picture of all the siblings of all ages looking at phones or devices.  Not one child was reading a book or looking around.  When my children pulled their books out to read as they waited, I felt like we were characters from another era who were dropped down into the future. 

My last post was about meditation and the need for less media to enable a life of the mind.  This one is a deeper call to action.  During Lent is a great time to evaluate our lives and change habits to make sure that we are living in what is most Real. 

As we walk through Lent, thinking on the unfolding life of Christ, who came in the flesh, I am reminded of the call to all of us to live as Jesus did--where we are, in the flesh.  All the devices in our lives require some kind of absence to function.  Television, Telephone (prefix, "tele," meaning at a distance) They transport us to another place or another person that is not physically present. Sometimes this is a gift, but it should not be a way of life.  It is almost impossible now for people to be separated from their devices, which sadly and strangely, make them always a little "at a distance," less present to where they are physically in any given moment.

The alarming rate at which this change to constant mediation is coming over our children should disturb us.  Concerns are for young children as well as for teens.

Sociologists are concerned that this is affecting basic attachment in children--attachment, which is the foundation stone to all other relationships and to an inner well being that protects from addictions and mental dysfunction.  They are attaching to devices, not people.

It is so easy to hand young children phones to keep them quiet.  It is the natural course of events now to buy a child his own phone.  This is disconnecting children from the moment, from the people around them, and from their own thoughts.  I watched a mom at the chiropractor's office hand her three year old daughter, who was happily looking around and chatting with her mother, a phone so she could watch scenes from the movie, "Frozen." Children have begun to expect constant entertainment and amusement.  No wonder they have little capacity to sit still, listen, or read a difficult book, much less navigate a conversation about ideas or simply follow the train of their own thoughts.

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and so much other technology, severely limited his children's access to technology.  He understood the effects it has on their brain development and on their creativity. His own children hadn't even used the iPad.  Many Hi-tech Silicone Valley CEO's are low-tech parents.  They know that to do all the inventive, creative work they have done, they could not have spent their childhood on devices. See the link to the New York Times article about this:

Children's exposure to technology affects their brain development.  Executive function, impulse control, critical thinking, creativity, all of these require active imaginative play and dialogue with others. 

One of the deepest concerns for researchers is the rise of addictive behavior in children that could be a result of structure, chemistry, and function changes in the brain due to early exposure to technology. The "Learning Paradox" is the term being used for the educational fact that early exposure to technology (which is often done under the misguided idea that in a technological age, children must use it to be successful in a technological world) is not helping children learn. In actuality, children will do much better in learning if they do not use technology in the early years.

This is not a new diatribe.  The research is available, and I encourage every parent to do the reading.

The form itself is a problem--connecting with devices.  But the access to content is another problem. Having access to the internet at all times is an unmanageable temptation for adults, even more so for children. As one high school guidance counselor said to the parents in a meeting, "I hope you understand that when you give your boys smartphones, they are looking at pornography.  It is accessible to them at all times."  And now with Snapchat, sexting is becoming rampant among teenagers, which is the exchange of pornographic photos of themselves.

So what is to be done?  Something radical must be done.  Parents have to believe that the health of their children is more important to them than their children keeping up with the culture.  If more and more parents stood up and said, "Sorry, you can't have a smartphone," or, "Sorry, you can't see that movie," children would have a growing community of "non-users" and wouldn't feel so marginalized.  But parents are afraid to lose their children if they say, "No."  We should be afraid to lose our children if we don't learn to say, "No."

I have sat with my teenagers when they are almost in tears because they feel they are the only one of their friends who has not seen a particular movie.  We have had to say to them, "We are not raising you to be comfortable in this world.  You should feel a certain level of discomfort because you should be different."

Do not be afraid to re-set boundaries that may have slipped.  You can cast a new vision for your children and institute new limits.  Make it a family mission to work together and help one another with this.

Here are some ideas for parents (If Steve Jobs and other creative CEO's can do this, so can we!):

1. Let's put away our own phones and devices in the evening when at home with our children.  We are the example.  If we can't live without it, they'll think they can't either.

2. Let's be honest and confront the deep fear in all of us that we will be left out if we are not in on every thread of chat and text.  Should this fear motivate our choices of how we spend our time, and is there something more valuable that we give up if we are living in a constant frenzy of tele-communication?

3. Consider not allowing your children to have access to phones or any other devices in the evening, including computers, unless it is for school work.  This encourages communication with one another and reading.  One of my friends whose children are in the public school do not have phones but they have tablets they can check at the end of the day after all their school work is done.  These tablets are kept in a common drawer for everyone.  They have managed to preserve a wonderful wholesomeness in their children and a proper investment of their time in reading and learning skills they will use the rest of their lives.

4. Do not allow young children to use devices for entertainment when you are out and about.  They can be in a grocery cart and do what children have done for years--irritate their parents--but also learn what a "sale" means, what bread we buy, why we choose this cheese;  they can count gray tiles on the floor, and ask you endless questions (BTW, this is VERY important).  I can walk into our small grocery store and send all my kids, including my 5 year old out to get items on our list in the store, and they know exactly what to get and where it is in the store.  We need to be casting the vision for our children of the reward of engagement with the community of family and beyond that requires their contribution and hard work, instead of creating an expectation that for something to require their attention it must be entertaining. 

5. Choose to take books with you for meaningful activity when waiting.  But if you get caught up without them, play word games, tell stories, or simply talk to one another. Use audio books or good music in the car.

6. Resist giving your children smartphones.  There is absolutely no need to do this except to be "in."  A dumb phone is sufficient for texting when they need it.  And set limits on when they can use it.

7. Don't accrue new devices or add apps unless it is absolutely necessary for school work.  Teens have to check so many apps and devices all day (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest), and when they are not doing this, they are watching movies or playing video games.  The most impressionable time of our children's lives is open access to anyone who has no real love for them or investment in their future.

8. Try a family fast from all media, including movies, T.V., video games, phones, computers and devices. Use ONLY what is necessary for school or work.  We cannot ask Jesus to come into our world and our regular lives if we ourselves are not in our lives.  It requires us FIRST to have a private inner life that is not at all public, a quiet place for thoughts and musings that are not posted to the world.  It also makes us be fully present to the moment and the people in that moment and give them priority.

9. Have an intentional conversation in the car or at the table about current events or a report from a missionary or an idea or a book that someone is reading, and insist that everyone stay focused on the topic at hand.  Sometimes we will ask at dinner for each one to go around and share something he or she thought about or learned that day.  We have to train our children to think and converse.  Encourage your children to sit in on adult conversation.

10. Have your teens host a social evening that does not include any kind of media.  Have them require that all leave their phones in a basket at the door.  Believe it or not, this takes great courage, but yields great results.  You may find that kids don't know what to do without devices.  So have a plan.  Try to plan parties for younger children that does not involve watching movies or playing video games.  

11.  Pray for discernment and ask for God to reveal to you how to fight this battle in your home, recognizing that it is a spiritual battle.  Be willing to do whatever God shows you, no matter what you think the fallout may be.  Ask God to help you cast a vision for your children of a life lived in the present with meaning that requires reflection, attention, dialogue, and true connection with those beside us.

I don't want to give the impression that I have won this battle.  I fight it everyday.  I do think that the battle can be made easier simply by refusing to have certain devices in your home. I am glad I have not had to fight the battle of video games or cable TV.  We have never had them.  Our children don't have phones or iPads;  when they drive they get a dumb phone.  

In spite of all of this boundary and limitation, we have to be constantly on our guard.  It is movies, YouTubes, the computer access to so many things, the parents' phones that can be used, etc., etc.  We make mistakes in our exhaustion and realize we have to renew boundaries sometimes.  But over all, even with some push back and the constant desire for more media among our children, our older children thank us now, as they see the difference it has made in their lives.  We reap the benefits of these decisions everyday.

I feel battle weary trying to remain vigilant.  It is very hard. This is a battle for our children's minds and imaginations.  This is a fight for who they will become.  "Do not grow weary in doing good;  in due season, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up."