Look at me when I’m talking to you! How often do you say this? I’ve said it 3700 times. Just this month.
Why is it difficult to get my children to look me in the eyes when I’m giving a (perfectly crafted, well delivered, and rhetorically magnificent) lecture? Perhaps they don’t expect what I have to say will benefit them.
Such was the lame man at the Beautiful Gate in Acts 3. (Hey friend, do not skip reading the scripture because you’ve “heard it 1000 times.” You’re already here, just do it.)
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:1-10, ESV)
#hearditbefore. I know. The lame man carried by someone else, sitting at the gate, day after day, begging. Peter and John walk by, offer him nothing of worldly value. They simply extend a hand, look him in the eye and heal all the broken places in him. Then he goes on his way, practically break-dancing in the streets. Right on, not-so-lame man. Dance it out.
Don’t miss what jumped out at me as I read this. Before he went into the temple, notice his location. He was plopped down at the Beautiful Gate. Not the Ugly Gate. Not the Mundane Gate, not the Impossible Gate. It was called beautiful, and it was taunting him day after day while he sat close enough to see what he didn’t have.
How often do I sit at the Beautiful Gate of motherhood, envious of Instagramably perfect families, dreaming of what life with children should look like? We all know sassy kids, rebellious teens and a sink of dirty dishes is the furthest thing from beautiful on a Monday morning. I’ve been known to accept a less-than-joyful day as the norm and wear my frustration like a permanent tattoo. I can see what I want, but too crippled to attain it. As much as we long to walk through the beautiful, we are often too content to sit — broken and lacking — and settle for the mundane life of the spiritually lame.
That lame man sat at the gate, eyes cast downward, mumbling as he begged, passing time until he was carried home again. Same story, every day — a few coins in the can, a couple “excuse me” grunts as people tripped over him, a handful of pitied looks cast his way — just part of the daily grind of going nowhere. Peter and John, rather than simply stepping around him or ignoring his appeal, called to him, “Look at us.” Maybe Peter even raised his voice and called, “I said look at me when I’m talking to you!” A crippled man on the ground would have to look up and acknowledge such a charge. Then scripture says the man gave them his attention and expected to get something. Oh he was about to get something alright. A big something.
Go back to you and me, mothers sitting at the Beautiful Gate, begging for life to be amazing. It is Jesus who calls to us as we lament. Is this all there is to my life? I’m paralyzed with fear of how my kids will turn out. I’m crippled with self-doubt and convinced I will always be fighting a losing battle. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll never be enough for my kids.
Look at Me, Jesus says to all the moms reading this. Look at Me when I’m talking to you. Expect it. You’ll find what you’re looking for. Believe Me. I am the redeemer of inadequacy.
Therein lies the answer. Look at Him when He’s talking. Expect Him to be the Master of the Unexpected. He leads us to be strong mothers, wise mothers, competent mothers – but we don’t receive it until we intentionally look and fervently expect. Look at me when I’m talking to you. We use the command to signal our kids we are about to say something critically important. Don’t miss what the author of parenthood has to say:
“Look at me when I’m talking to you, mom. You have no ability to change a child’s heart. Your rules, your preferences, your words — they change nothing independent of Me. You cannot do in the flesh, the work that is designed for the supernatural. Show Me to your kids. Trust Me. Expect. I am more than enough to heal the lame places in your parenting. While you sit at the Beautiful Gate of raising children and worry yourself crippled, I am calling to you to look at Me, and expect to receive. It’s time to dance your way through motherhood, right through the Beautiful.”
I’m not a book pusher — most of the time — but this one…
When my sister texted me and said she has a must-read for me, I listened. Her kids are younger than mine buy several years, but she has often given some of the best objective advice for some of my toughest mom moments. (I’m tucking it all away to give back to her when her kids are in full unpredictable-teen swing.)
She recommended Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. I was skeptical because I’ve read a lot of parenting books. Many have altered my view of motherhood, but radically? I was doubtful. But she’s my sister, and sisters are generally trustworthy, so I purchased a hardback book. (Y’all, I don’t do hardback. I’m more of a discount/used/paperback kind of girl. Again, the #sisterfactor made me do it.)
I was engaged from page 1, and tearfully underlining and turning pages with the same intensity I have when eating a Little Debbie snack cake. It was that serious.
I’d like to interrupt this commentary for a sidebar to the author while it’s on my mind.
Dear Mr. Paul Tripp,
Your recent book left me a bit undone. I really thought I was nailing this motherhood thing. Four sons and almost 21 years of parenting — through a lot of hard things reserved for a different post — and prior to your book, I thought I was doing the best I could for my kids. <Enter flash of enlightenment.> Your words challenged me to examine my purpose as a mom. Every chapter held a mirror to my heart and I didn’t always like what I saw. Funny how a person can get slightly off track and over time the margin of error is so much bigger. Thanks for wrecking perfect mascara and making my nose run uncontrollably. Your gentle truthfulness kept me turning the pages instead of dropping your book into the “donate” pile in my garage. My original goal didn’t change, but I saw how humanly flawed my plan to achieve the goal has been at times. You probably saved me a few hours of family counseling down the road. You wrote that book for me.
Hats off to you, Mr. Tripp. That was a worthwhile read.
I want you to read this book. Read it only if you have any influence over anyone, anywhere, and only if you really want to see authentic life change in the hearts of people around you. Otherwise, waste your time watching reality TV or something.
There are too many takeaways to list, and I don’t want to spoil a perfectly good book by telling you everything in it. I was reminded of principles I already knew — I’m parenting sinners, just like every other mom and dad. I can’t control them with my rules, even though boundaries and consequences are absolute necessities. Perhaps most importantly, while I read Mr. Tripp’s book in search of strengthening my parenting, I found my own heart needed some re-alignment. I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit dropping condemnation on me as my shortcomings were revealed. There was a gentle nudge to move closer to Him, set my eyes again on Him, and let my will be conformed to His. “There now,” I could feel the Spirit say, “this is how I need you to parent your little world-changers.”
I don’t know if my family will be radically changed as the title claims, but I know the Word of God changes everything and this message did not fall on deaf ears. As I am building future adults, the Father is building me.
Read.this.book. You’re welcome.
With six people in the family, vacations usually mean a road trip. I don’t mind. Road trips remind me of traveling the USA with my grandparents when I was a kid. We drove 10 miles per hour under the speed limit and stopped at every scenic lookout between Oklahoma and the coast. My grandpa was fun. He would sing along to Tom T. Hall and the Statler Brothers, sometimes making up silly lyrics to make me laugh. My grandma organized and played games with me. Some of my best memories were made in the cab of his truck.
That’s not the first place I learned to be creative on a family trip. My parents kept up the tradition as well. I remember one family trip in particular in which each day started with an envelope of cash. If I remember right, one person was in charge each day that person had to plan all the activities and meals using only the cash in the envelope. As a teenager, I most likely thought it was dumb. As an adult, I now remember it as brilliant.
I have four sons. That means conversation, interaction and all the feels of a road trip don’t always get verbalized well. What’s a mom to do? I rely on coercion and bribery. For many (not all) of our family trips, I create a travel-brochure for them. It has the daily agenda so I’m not asked “What are we doing today?” six hundred times, and it also includes where we will eat. If you have boys, you know how important it is to provide assurance we are going to eat. (Click to see the example)In order to get them interacting and talking with each other, I write one or two questions for each day of the week. Some are serious and some are funny. In the beginning, all my questions were serious and deep but when I realized they weren’t going to sit around and pour out their hearts over hot tea and crumpets, I began to add a few knee-slapping funny questions. My children are funny and I love to hear them laugh.
Finally, there is one section dedicated to an activity that spans the length of the break. One year it was a photo scavenger hunt which was hysterical. I offer a prize at the end for the winner. You’d be surprised what an 18-yo is willing to do for a $20 Chick-Fil-A card. (Actually, you might not be surprised…especially if you have sons.) This year, the competition involves earning points for activities. Clean the kitchen after a meal – 100 pts, read a book in the car – 100 pts per hour, no crying on the mountain – 50 pts. (I have never qualified for this on a ski trip!) And I give points for each day you participate in the family discussion questions. See how I get what I want? #momskills
I’m highly administrative (which doesn’t always mean organized). This is one of those things they somewhat roll their eyes at, yet always embrace with great attitudes. I know they enjoy knowing what comes next and having something to fill in the gaps of a 10-hr road trip.
If you’d like to see my trip plans, here are some samples. (Email me for a Word doc you can edit.)
I love traditions. The older I get, the more I see the inevitable. I’m turning into my mother…and my grandmother…and probably some other old lady with a wild chin hair before them. I find myself doing the same things, the same way, year after year. My grandmother always made the same simple stuffing at Thanksgiving. My mother sewed matching clothes for my dolls. Me? I prefer a tradition where everyone helps fold the mountain of laundry but the holiday spirit is pretty weak for that one… so I have a list of other fun and simple holiday traditions to enjoy.
In a life of constant, exhausting (and sometimes unwelcome) change, I need a few steadies in my world. Enter traditions. Old and new, dumb or classy, meaningful and pointless – and combined, the things we do together, intentionally and repeatedly, tell the story of family.
Traditions provide a sense of identity. Traditions teach family values. And traditions create great memories.
One of my favorite traditions is to let my little kids play with a nativity set or even build one. This year my younger kids made a Lego nativity set. It was pretty amazing. It had a moving star and everything. Proudly I asked them to tell me about their creation. “Baby Jesus…angel…manger…Moses and Sarah…”
<Insert sound of record needle being pulled across a vintage vinyl at 165 decibels.>
What? Did you really just say Moses and Sarah? As in THOSE are supposed to be Jesus’ parents? Oh-no-you-did-not. I grounded them to their room to pray and lament over their horrible mistake. And then I flogged myself with a wet kitchen towel for not making sure my kids know the Christmas story. It’s like I don’t even know the most important birthday in the history of the world…
Which brings me to the most important tradition. It’s one we simply cannot afford to miss. No, it’s not decorating the Christmas tree or even sharing a family dinner at Grandma’s house.
The most important thing this season is to point our children to the heart of God and to a deeper understanding of His love for us. Nothing else really matters.
I’ve put together a few holiday traditions and included some family discussion questions and scripture references. If you’re looking for a new twist on familiar activities, check this out. Strengthen your traditions by rooting them in the truth of God’s Word. Let me give you an example:
Set out a puzzle between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Encourage family members to stop and work a few pieces throughout the week. You’ll find interesting conversations occur over 1000 tiny jigsaw pieces. I like to make a comparison. Ask your family, “Do you ever feel like pieces of your life just don’t fit? Or you can’t figure out what should happen next? Are you ever convinced something is missing?” Our life is just like this puzzle. It’s full of tiny events that sometimes don’t make sense or seem like a big mistake. Romans 8:28 assures us in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. Just like this puzzle, we can be assured God has a plan for each “piece” of our life.
Tying scripture to traditions this year can be quite easy. All it takes is a little creative effort. You don’t have to have grand events and spend oodles of time preparing. Start small. Start with one thing. Just start.