On Monday, I hiked up to the top of a mountain with three of my kids and a bunch of friends. I’ve always been one for metaphors and this hike was no exception. It was one of those mountains where you can look down and see all the way that you’ve come.
And so I took a minute to look back over the mountain it felt like we hiked together back in 2005…back when we were learning how to be a family. Those days were not easy. I’ll never forget finding one of my children trying to strangle himself with a basketball net. I’ll never forget running out into the black night to find the one who ran away, even though so many times I’d been warned of how dangerous our neighborhood was at night. You don’t think about those things when your child is at risk. I’ll never forget those scary moments, but even more vivid in my mind are the moments when healing broke through.
We were at the grocery store after a particularly long day. It was one of those days when so much ground was lost. We wondered if they even remembered all the lessons we taught, all the books we read, all the prayers we prayed. We’d dashed out before dinner with the three littlest ones in the back of the van to buy chocolate for post-bedtime consumption. It had been raining, yet another reason for our dreary spirits. Coming out of the grocery store, Jimmy (who had caused the most trouble that particular day) spotted a rainbow and turned to his little sister: “Look, it means Jesus is here!” Something we taught him had penetrated his little heart and made a memory.
Then there was the day when we were reading a worn and familiar book for the 100th time.
“When one of them called his name, he dropped whatever he was doing and turned.
His giant heart had a hundred strings – each held by a different child.
And Shaddai loved each one the same.”
“Is Shaddai God?” Yes. Connection made. They got it.
Since then, though, I’ve often wondered how much stuck with them through the years that I haven’t been around for. Did they remember the things I whispered to them at night? Did they remember the hidden messages in the books we read and the stories we told?
And climbing the mountain this week, I got my answer. One of them slipped a hand in mine and said, “I remember Green Eggs & Ham. And Shaddai. I remember Shaddai and the wall he built to protect the children.” The others echoed their own memories.
Maybe you’re in the beginning stages of learning to be a family…or maybe, like me, you’ve been given children for a short season. Maybe you’ve got kids on the other side of the world who are growing up without you. Maybe you’ve got kids in your house who are struggling. I’m writing this to tell you that God’s word is true and it is our greatest privilege and investment to plant it in the children in our lives, whether they’re with us for a day or a lifetime. I’m here to say that even if your repetition of truth seems to produce no fruit, God promises that if the things we tell them are true, they will stay. If we give them his words, they will work. This is the promise:
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.
This past week in Honduras, I got to experience the truth of this verse. God has been faithful with the little words he let us plant in their hearts. He has kept them alive. He sent people to water. He sent books to reinforce. He sent his spirit to connect. And he’s not done yet.
And this stuff is not just true for foster families. All kids fly the coop eventually. Right now you get to plant those seeds, but the beauty of it all is that God is the one who makes them grow. He promises:
I’m establishing my covenant between me and you, a covenant that includes your children, a covenant that goes on and ON and ON, a covenant that commits me to be…the God of your children.
Now this doesn’t let us off the hook in any way. There’s still the verse about training up a child. I’m not suggesting that this promise takes any of the umph out of the very rigorous job of training. We did our fair share of training in Honduras and Uganda. I’m a product of parents who were very serious about their job of training me and instilling good habits in me, but who also modeled to me the fact that they trusted Jesus in me more than they trusted anything they ever did.
My point here is mostly to say that at the end of the day (whether the day felt like a success or a failure) we’re so safe inside this covenant. Whether we’re moms for a day or moms for the next 60 years, God promises to establish his covenant with our children. And as he’s proved again and again, he’s a God of his word. Rest today in knowing that you get to plant, you get to train, you get to water, but God is the one who will carry it all out to completion.