When They Pay the Bill

guest check“Your bill has been covered. No need to pay”

We looked in shock at our server.

“What do you mean ‘covered’?” Normally not suspicious, we couldn’t believe what we were hearing.

“Your son called and made arrangements to pay the bill. He says to tell you ‘Happy Father’s Day’”.

Warmth flowed to the marrow of our bones. This was pure delight. A completely unexpected surprise. The same thing had occurred a couple of years ago when, after asking for a check from a Father’s Day breakfast, a smiling waitress told us the bill was paid. That time it was our oldest son. He snuck away at some point during the meal and the deed was done.

It is unanticipated grace. They don’t owe us anything – we’re their parents. But they did it anyway, out of grace and love.

There is something about this paying the bill thing. When it happens the first time you realize you are in a different relationship, the playing field leveled. No longer do we relate as mom/dad/child, rather we relate as adult to adult.

It’s a sense of awe and wonder the helpless babe you brought into the world, reliant on you for life itself has grown into a fully functioning, autonomous adult. And that fully functioning, autonomous adult just paid the bill.

Parenting is hard. The minute we have that baby in our arms, whether through birth or adoption, there is a massive chink in our well-oiled armor. Parenting brings out the absolute worst and best in us. We are faced with our mortality and our weakness, at the same time we learn what it is like to love without condition, without expectation — we learn to love more like God.

And there are regrets. We are human. We look back on situations and wish we had handled them differently, wish we had not reacted so immediately, wish we had loved more and better.

So when these glorious moments of grace come, we drink them in with deep gratitude. And then we order dessert. 

Parenting Series – The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

The next three days Robynn takes us into a great conversation on parenting. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Part one:  The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

When Connor was in 6th grade he was in the school spelling bee. He had won the class bee. He had won the bee for all of 6th grade. And now he was in the all school spelling bee.

I quickly decided that as a mom, attending spelling bees is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. You sit there quietly in the audience and wait for the word to be announced. Once you hear the word, you spell it out in your mind, quietly, slowly and then, still in your mind, loudly, insistently. All of your brain tries to will the spelling of the word to the mind of the young speller. It’s agonizing. When it’s your child standing, waiting for the word to materialize in their heads, it almost hurts you as a parent spectator to watch. It’s excruciating.


Younger spellers were quickly eliminated. Soon there were only 6 spellers left. Now 4. It was Connor’s turn to spell. The word he was given was ‘gospel’.

Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently.

Gospel. Can I have it in a sentence please? Can I have the definition?

He was using all the familiar spelling bee participant’s stall tactics. He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began,

Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel?

Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” We all chuckled with relief!

It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel. I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame-work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel:

1.  It’s time to simplify!

It really is time to strip down our Christianity back to the simple Jesus underneath. Really the only thing that matters is Christ. It doesn’t matter what my kids wear to church, or how they do their hair. Their choice of music might be obnoxious; the volume might be too loud. But at the end of the day Jesus is the only thing that matters.

Connor came out of youth group several months ago fuming mad! Someone had said something that infuriated him. As he climbed into the car he spouted, “I hate Christians, I hate the church, I hate all of Christianity.” Admittedly I was a little alarmed. What had happened to provoke this type of visceral response? We talked it through on the way home. As soon as we walked into the house, Lowell asked how youth group had gone. I repeated what Connor had said when he got in the car. Lowell, in response, casually said, “Well Connor, what do you think of Jesus?” Connor’s reply was immediate and full of conviction, “I love Jesus very much.” “That’s all that matters then,” Lowell said. I was a little flabbergasted at Lowell’s nonchalance. I had gotten a bit more worked up about it. But Lowell is right. Really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that our children embrace Jesus. Only Jesus.

measuring kids

2.  Remove the measuring sticks.

We’ve never forced our children to read their Bibles. We’ve never forced them to have a “Quiet Time”. Growing up in boarding school, especially when we were younger, there was a time for “personal devotions” –we were supposed to read our Bibles and pray. To help us in that feat we were given little Scripture Union devotional books. First you worked through the red one and then you could graduate to the Blue one. There was a green one and yellow one and I think, even a purple one. Spirituality became a competition all based on which little workbook you were in. When we were older, I remember reading my Bible in less than private spaces to ensure, subtly, that others might catch a glimpse of my devotion.

Lowell and I could set up a system. We could offer rewards. But I don’t want to raise “white washed tombs”–I want children who want to know God. I don’t want children who look like they want to know God. When Connor makes his bed, he pulls up the top bedspread only. The rest of his blankets lay in a nested mess at the foot of his bed. I don’t want his faith to be like his bed –only one blanket deep and thinly veiling the hypocrisy and mess underneath.

3.  Don’t be afraid of the slippery slope.

It’s scary to parent without the measuring sticks because we have no idea what’s really going on inside the souls of our children. We are out of control. If we have those types of rules in place we know if they’ve been obeyed or if they’ve been broken.  They allow us to feel better about ourselves as parents. And without those rules, those mile markers, the measuring guides we have no way of knowing what’s going on. Not only are we out of control but there’s nothing to contribute to our sense of well-doing.

There is a prevailing idea in Christendom that suggests that we can’t completely throw out the law or the rules. Those suggesting this insist we need a balance. Too much grace leads to permissiveness….before you know it you’re on the slippery slope. A bit of law regulates our behavior in good and productive ways. This type of Christianity results in us controlling behavior; it’s really just sin management.

And it simply is not true. Grace is generous and complete. The law has been erased. The only rule that remains now is the rule of love.

Our worst fears lie on the other end of the slippery slope. Sin. Licentiousness. Paganism. Hedonism.

Jesus calls us to camp out on that slope. To trust ourselves and our children to the depth of his grace. We are called to love: the Lord our God, our neighbours, our families, ourselves. If we do sin, grace pursues us and welcomes us back. We need to remember nothing is wasted by God. He takes the meanderings, those mistakes and he uses them for His glory in our story. We can know he does that with our children too.

You’re either a parent or you’ve been parented, so what are your thoughts? What’s your story? Would love to hear from you through the comments.

Tune in tomorrow for Part two: Bible Trivia. Shmible Shnivia.

*Image credit: dekanaryas / 123RF Stock Photo

Ants, Birds, Cake and Kids

Marilyn’s post on wistful mothering memories yesterday reminded me of this story. It’s a story of perspective, childhood wonder, and the worthlessness of so much of my stress.

The year was 2003. Adelaide was turning four. These were the years when their mother was energetic and creative. I had decided on an elaborate cake design. Four little princess dolls would be stuck into four little upside down cupcakes which would serve as their skirts. The princesses would all be dancing on a 9 by 13 dance floor of frosting and flowers.

But it was a disaster from the start.

I made all the cakes and was just making the frosting when I realized I didn’t have enough powdered sugar. Lowell ran out to the market to hunt some down. Not twenty minutes after he returned and the icing was mixed up and the “dance floor” was coloured and the construction of the cake had begun in earnest, our bell rang. Lowell went to answer it.

We had guests.

I set the cake and the sugar and the icing and the dolls to the side and I made chai. We had a lovely visit with our friends on the roof of our house. The Ganges river flowed quietly below, the winter sunshine danced on her surface.

After the guests left and the tea things had been brought down from the roof, I once again turned my attention to the cake. While we had been peacefully enjoying friends and winter warmth an entire city of ants had discovered the cake. They too had enjoyed their friends and the warmth of fresh cake and the sweetness of gooey goodness. It was ant paradise! I was horrified. Tears welled up in my eyes. The party was inching closer by the minute and I was now delayed by families and families of ants in my cake.

Rama, my dear friend, and our house-helper, came to the rescue. Don’t cry Didi! Put the cake in the sun. The ants will leave.

So I did. I carefully placed the princesses skirts and gowns, the dance floor, the frosting–all of it—on to a table in the courtyard, in the sun. And I went inside to finish other preparations for the party.

Returning a few minutes later to see if Rama’s theory was working, I started to shriek! A sweet family of sparrows had planned their reunion around a princess theme! There they sat pecking at the dance floor, sampling the ball gowns, chirping with serendipitous delight! Ahh…! the glories of a warm winter afternoon with friends and cake.

By now I was furious and fuming and frantic. Rama came and sat by the cake, a real life scare-sparrow with a swirling tea towel she stood guard. The ants went marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah. And the birdies in the treetops sang their songs.

All creatures great and small bemoaning the interruptions to their various tea parties.

When Rama sounded the all clear I went to work like a mad woman. I frosted frostily. My joy was gone but there was a party to be planned. The princesses kept sliding backwards, off the now warm and melting dance floor! I broke off long pieces of raw spaghetti noodles and used them to pin the protesting princesses in place. When it was all assembled, I hurriedly wrote, “Happy Birthday Adelaide” on the front.

Just as I placed down my knife the children filed in. They were fresh from their baths. Daddy had scrubbed them and clothed them in party attire. Connor, then 6, was the first to see the cake. His face burst into a sunny smile and he sincerely iced my heart with his generous response, “Oh girls…isn’t this the most amazing cake you’ve ever seen!? It’s beautiful mummy. It’s the most beautiful cake I’ve ever seen!” He was so genuine. His words were so heartfelt. Adelaide pushed over a stool, climbed on , stood on tippy toes to see her cake. Her heart was in her eyes. She was thrilled. Lowell held baby Bronwynn up to see it too.

The three of them were in awe.

Birthday Cake

I cried. It really was a horrible looking mess of a cake. And it has been a horrendous day full of bugs and bitterness, birds and bite and yet to see their faces was worth it. The sugar rush of sweetness had little to do with the cake itself and everything to do with my sweet babies and their kind blindness and sweet gratitude and true joy.

I love that memory. It speaks to me of so many things…but I’ll always remember the innocence and grace that allowed my children to see that cake from another perspective, and in so doing, they found delight!

The Amazing Robynn and her family! They really are as fun as they look.
The Amazing Robynn and her family! They really are as fun as they look.