parenting

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Early in our second term in Kenya, my second daughter, then five years old, began asking daily for a certain doll, and where would I get it?  We had returned from our bush trip and finally moved into our new house in a small town, but they were not going to have that doll in any shop.  In my heart, I knew the issue was not the doll, but a heart hurt.  I prayed and told God I would hunt until I found the doll she wanted unless He satisfied her longing.

I had noticed during our time in America that our oldest daughter, just 21 months older than our secondborn, was the favorite child of one member of our extended family.  When I had spoken to our extended family about the problem, they had replied that it was not a problem.  They said one family member could favor one child, another could favor another child, etc., and everything would be fine.

There were two problems with this.  First, it is not true that favoritism doesn't matter.  It hurts, and it isn't Godly.  The history of the Israelites has many stories of favoritism, and the results of favoritism were never good.  The story of Jacob and Esau even describes a situation of one parent favoring one son and the other parent favoring the other son.  The brothers ended up enemies.  Perhaps in response to this problem with favoritism, the Old Testament law forbids the Israelites from showing favoritism to the children of one wife over another wife.  In the New Testament, favoritism was a problem within the church, and both Peter and Paul, addressing the problem, taught that God, Himself, does not show favoritism.

The second problem with their statement is that it wasn't happening.  Nobody was favoring my second daughter.  My firstborn is easy to get to know.  My second daughter has her treasures in deep mines.  Those who take the time to get to know her find a rich treasure.  Those who don't take the time find rocky ground.  I could see that the favoritism was hurting both our firstborn and our secondborn.  The attitudes of both girls towards themselves and others were being shaped by their place in the ranks of favoritism.  But I didn't know how to heal that issue, since it was outside my power to change.  All I knew to do was continue praying.

In my last blog, I mentioned that I did not have our presents on our third daughter's birthday.  That led directly to a decision that began to bring healing to my second daughter.  Since I did not have the presents our extended family had sent with us when my thirdborn daughter had her birthday, I decided to have a special day to give the presents from them to all three daughters on the same day.  In our family, if multiple people have presents, we open them one at a time, starting with the youngest. My thirdborn opened her present, which I no longer remember.  My second born opened her present, a bug sticker book.  I was uneasy.  When my firstborn opened her present, she found a beautiful giant-sized coloring book with many different pictures, including princesses, ballerinas, and flowers.  With the coloring book was her own set of special crayons in a special case.  Now, my second daughter, an exploratory learner, did notice bugs much more than her big sister, and the extended family knew this.  However, she also noticed flowers and everything else in nature  more than our firstborn, and she liked princesses and ballerinas just as much as her sister.

When her big sister opened her present, my secondborn exploded.  She began screaming at her sister and hitting her.  I jumped in to separate the two, but the evening was over.  Anytime she saw her sister, our secondborn flew into her again.  When bedtime came, we put our secondborn into our bed, since we couldn't put her in the room she shared with her sister.  After all her siblings were settled in bed, I went in to talk with her.

"Why are you angry with your sister?" I asked.  She couldn't answer.  I wrestled with what to do.  Should I ask her whether she felt jealous and thought that her sister was favored over her?  If I was wrong, would that plant a new idea in her head?  The evidence was very strong that the issue was over favoritism, so I decided to ask.  "Yes!" and a flood of tears was my answer.  My daughter was finally able to tell me her jealousy and hurt, and I was able to affirm that her experiences were hurtful and wrong.

After we talked for a bit, I moved her back to her bed.  When I was tucking her in, seemingly out of nowhere, she said, "Actually, Momma, I don't need that doll.  What I really want is more clothes for the dolls I already have.  Could you help me make some?"  Again, I was amazed at God's goodness and his ability to heal hurts.  A few years later, through some surprise visitors who did not know the story, she was given the doll she had wanted.  But most amazing of all is that the next time we saw our extended family, they had made progress toward loving all my children more fairly, so God was working there as well.

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God's care for my oldest daughter's heart was healing and strengthening, but the roots of my worry about my children's hearts were still there. Just a week later, my heart turned to worry about the heart of my then youngest daughter. It was her birthday, and she was turning three. The problem was that we were in transition.

We had arrived in the country more than a month before our daughter's birthday. Though that should have been enough time to get settled into our new home, our landlord kept delaying. Staying in guest houses in the city was expensive, so we decided to go visit our old home in the bush for a week, though we stopped first at our soon-to-be home to leave the majority of our luggage. It wasn't until we arrived that I realized that we had nothing we needed for the birthday celebration.

My first problem was the cake. All of the cookware we owned was packed, and teammates had obligingly moved them to storage closer to our new home. We had no cake pans, no cookbooks, no stores to which we could run.

I solved that problem as best I could. Though we ordinarily had no phone signal there, I was able to call a teammate for a recipe. I didn't have all the ingredients I needed, but I substituted whatever I had and used the less than ideal pans available. So, I had a cake for her.

Then, there was the issue of presents. We had carefully planned for the birthday by buying presents before we moved, but in the confusion of the delays, I had not thought to bring the present trunk with us. How did I not think to organize better! I was grief-stricken that I could have messed up something so important.

I had to give something so I dug through the trunks I had with me to figure out what I could give. I owned two nice wooden hairbrushes, so I gave her one. I had a hand-me-down sweater from a sister, still a little too big, with a hole in one sleeve. The hole was unnoticeable when rolled up, but I knew. I gave it to her. I don't remember what else. I do remember that she absolutely loved both of those gifts, and I remember her dancing with excitement over them.

We gave her the other presents after we moved into our new house. That didn't take away the pain in my heart at my sense of failure. For the next year and a half, that birthday haunted me, and I told God how much it hurt me. One day, as I was mixing up muffins, my daughter, then four and a half, came to me and announced that it was her birthday in the game she was playing.

I knew that of all my daughters, this one was the one who most longed for me to take part in her play. I knew muffins would bake well in cake pans, so I asked her if she would like me to make a cake. "Oh yes!" she answered. So, I made the muffin cake and iced it.

Then I thought, she'll need presents. I got wrapping paper and wrapped up chocolates and balloons as presents to share with her siblings. Suddenly, I remembered a fairy tale book I'd felt led to buy, even though it wasn't anyone's birthday. I had done the same thing a few years before with three books. I couldn't understand why I was buying them until three children came to visit us, and they matched the books perfectly. This time, I realized this book was for today, and so I wrapped it too.

We all dressed up and had a birthday party! My daughter was thrilled! When her big sisters asked, "Why does she get a real party for her game, with real presents?" I told them the story I have just shared with you and told them God had just healed something. And God had, a brokenness not so much in my daughter but in me. My daughter didn't carry the burden I did. She had outgrown the sweater, but she still had the brush and loved it. I saw it two days ago. It is quite a bit beaten up but still treasured. She is seven now.

As I reflect on an accusation that our children will grow up to be resentful of all the deprivation, we, their parents, have put them through, I recognize that accusation as a fear which has haunted my own heart for many years.  I don't think that this issue is exclusive to missionaries, however.  It is an issue many parents dread.  When a new baby comes, we fear our older children's reactions.  When a new job requires us to move, we worry how the children will respond.  If we find ourselves parenting in unhealthy ways we never intended, we despair.  We remember the wounds we still carry from our own childhood, and so we worry about the wounds our children will suffer.

Lately, however, this fear has been fading from my heart.  The more I grow in knowledge and relationship with God, the more experiences I have of His presence and provision and healing, the more this issue fades.  1 John talks about our hearts condemning us, but says that it is in God's presence that we are able to assure our hearts of the truth and bring our hearts into a place of confidence before God.  I am amazed as I see this passage coming true in my own life.  The voice of accusation in my own heart grows fainter and fainter as I gain confidence through my relationship with God.  So, as I reflect on these stories, I want to share them with others, in hopes that they will awaken hope and inspire reflection upon their own stories.

One of these stories is about God meeting my oldest daughter in an area of inequality.   One gift I have given to each of my children is a name song, with words of blessing and affirmation unique to them.  Sometime after our family had grown to three daughters, I noticed that our oldest daughter's song was much shorter and less rich than that of her two sisters.  I began to pray for God to give me more words for her song, but I couldn't seem to match any words to her tune.

I prayed for over a year regarding this.  During that time, our son was born, and his song was also richer and fuller than his oldest sister's song.  About three months after our son was born, I remember sitting on my daughters' bed singing their songs.  I started with the youngest girl and ended with the oldest.  As I was singing, I was praying.  "Oh God, please give me more words to the song.  I want her to have a richer song before she notices that her song is so short.  I don't want her to feel hurt and unloved.  Oh Father, she is six.  She is going to notice soon.  Please hurry."

Suddenly, I heard, "Maybe I want her to ask me for it."  At that very moment, I finished my oldest daughter's song, and she started to cry, "My song is so short."  I felt like I was dreaming.  "Did she really notice tonight?"  Then I thought, maybe I didn't actually sing her whole song; after all, I was praying at the same time.  I sang her song again.  She continued to cry and say it was short.

Still feeling as though I were dreaming, I told her what I had been praying and what I had just heard.  I told her God wanted her to come to him for her song.  We prayed together for the right words of blessing.  Over the next few nights, my daughter would tell me, "These words came to mind, but I don't know whether they are from God."  We would pray about them and work with them, shaping them to the tune.  In two or three nights, we had two more verses.

With two more verses, I was satisfied with the song; however, my daughter wasn't done.  She kept praying.  Over the next year, she kept telling me she was still praying for more.  She prayed until she had one more verse.  Now her song is four verses long, and three of them came through her own experiences with God.  I had thought her noticing the inequity in the songs would bring hurt and resentment.  Instead, it built up her relationship with me and with God, and my relationship with God was strengthened at the same time.