Monday, January 12, 2015

It Really is Great to be Eight

Last night we had another successful Great to Be Eight fireside.
In our church, a child can choose to be baptized at the age of eight.
We do not do infant baptisms, we wait until the child is old enough to really understand right from wrong and to be old enough to make choices and changes.
As they childs grows, the relationship they have with God will change and evolve.
Age 8 is the beginning of making real life choices.
Each January, we have an evening for the kids to help them and their parents to know what they can do to prepare for baptism, and how the process will go.

It was not without it's usual, last- minute issues, but I think that it went really well.
All of the kids from our ward attended, the speakers did a great job.
 (Thanks Tyra, Jake and Matt.)
I got this brilliant idea to make fancy sugar cookies with some of the cookie cutters I picked up in Salt Lake last fall.
Brilliant baking ideas only work if you can dedicate the full day before to baking and decorating.
I found myself juggling a hundred things that seemed to go wrong at the last minute, so I was up at 2am on Saturday, decorating sugar cookies. 
Some of them looked like they were decorated at 2 am.
The cupcakes certainly suffered, as I made the decision in the middle of my bleary-eyed frosting session, to just use the remaining royal icing for the cupcakes.
It was like putting a hubcap on the cupcakes.
Everything tasted a bit like cardboard.
They were cute.

When you are seven years old- cute makes up for cookies that taste like plaster and the kids all acted like they had the fanciest cookies ever given to a child. 
I loved hearing how excited they all were to be baptized, and to listen to the questions they asked.
I don't remember much about my own baptism, just some of the more internal things that were catalyst to my choosing my own path in life.
I remember being very upset that I had to wait until February because I grew up in a home with a lot of conflict, and special events seemed to breed even more.  I remember he bought me a carnation to say he was sorry that I had to wait an extra month and it was the first time anyone had given me a flower, just for me.
After  was baptized, our foreign exchange student began to tease me, and I jokingly punched him in the arm. I was 8 years old, he was 18- we were just teasing each other. My mother saw it a different way and the rest of the ride home I got to hear how I had already 'ruined it'  and how I just loved to sin and be unclean.
I remember thinking that was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard, but I had to go along with it. Her story about how I was 'drawn to sin' has been told for years, leaving out the part that I was only  8 years old, and I was playing- not some story of my starting down a life of horror and disgrace.

I remember, as my parent talked about how 'stained' I was, feeling a sense of ownership and freedom regarding my relationship with God.  My covenants were with God and it was one of the first times that saw the goals of my parents as not necessarily the goals that God had for my life. I knew I had to choose who to follow, God or my parents, and that I could not always follow both.  They would not lead to the same place. 
I can look back and see that those feelings I had at age 8, came from a Father who knew me and loved me. He knew I would have to look at the connections between my parents on Earth and my parents in Heaven often in my life and I can see now it was a blessing that in that season, I clearly understood that those are separate relationships. You can love and follow God and not follow your parents. You can follow and love your parents and not be following God. 
There is a lot of room for something in- between as well.  
 I have family who strongly believe that in order to be good, you must follow our parents and see them as equals to, or at least the gatekeepers to God. I  knew at age 8 that they were not the same thing and I would often have to choose. Those that could choose both, that's awesome and I'm glad that it isn't so hard for them. 

When our kids were baptized, we made the decision to keep them focused on the ordinance, on the fact that this was about the child and God- nobody else. 
The activities and parties people throw are lovely, but the baptism is a sacred event.
The Holy Ghost is a still small voice, we wanted our children to be able to feel that, and that doesn't really fit in with some of the current practices of having a huge party/reception after the baptism and programs that include amazing musical numbers and speakers that entertain and wow the large crowd at a baptism. 
The point sometimes gets lost.

Baptism is a promise. 
A promise between you and God. 
You make promises to Him, and he makes promises to you. 
These promises are the first true exchange you have with God. This is the first covenant you choose to make with God. 
Be aware of what is going on.

We wanted our children to be able to hear those promises, to participate in the sacred, personal experience that was before them.  
With most of our kids, we were able to have it be about the ordinance, not the show/party. 
We had to fight to not let it be a circus with one child, thankfully we had a good Bishop who also felt strongly that the ordinance should be the focus, not who gave the prayers and special musical numbers or a scrapbook- worthy reception in the gym. 

While parties are fun, I hope that as parents we think about what we hope our child gets out of that day. If the highlight of the day is a cake and chasing their cousins, screaming around the gym while the adults all ooh and ahh over the food- it might be a good idea to rethink that. 
Our amazing and wonderful children deserve the better part. 
The better part comes from turning to the Savior, choosing to not make sure everything is beautiful and impressive-to have our children learn to sit at His feet, and connect with Him. We can sit with them, and teach them the joy of hearing that Still Small Voice, of feeling that subtle, but real difference when you know the Holy Ghost is with you, helping you and guiding you.
I implore you to choose the better part. 

There will be many family parties your child attends, many your child is the focus of. Consider unifying your family by helping to teach your child the quiet, powerful change that will come over them when they make and keep these sacred covenants with God and the Savior.
 Keep the lines of communication as clear as possible for them, so that they can experience something far more amazing than any party- they will hear the voice of The Shepherd and they will hear him call their name. 
Their name- just them.
 Help them to quietly recognize it and to know, it is a message of unconditional love.
 The Master calls, and He calls for  them by name.
I am not ragging on anyone who has chosen to celebrate baptisms a different way, I hope that is not how this reads. 
 If it does- I am sorry. I support each parent in doing what they feel is best for their family.  There is no one right or wrong way to do any of this- we're all just doing the best we can. 
I love you and love your child and support whatever you do on this special day. If you want to have the baptism at an amusement park- hey, I love ya- do your thing and I'll be there in whatever way I can be- save me some cotton candy, Yo.
I am just trying to share my feelings and my understanding and hope that as you plan and prepare for this amazing time, that the focus can stay on the ordinance, that you won't get too stressed out or wrapped up in the other things. They are all fun and fine, but don't risk losing the best thing about baptism, for something that is nice, but should not be outshine the experience that your child has, as he or she makes that promise to follow the Savior and to listen to His words. 

You decide what is best for your family. If a huge party is best- then that' what you should do- just try your best to take some time with your excited and wiggly eight year old, and help them to find a calm moment, to feel the difference, to think about what they are choosing. It's their first big choice and they will make millions of other choices- let them know choosing is good.

And please, please don't point out the first 'sin' you notice them doing. 
They are children and they will learn to navigate right and wrong based on how they feel as they understand how the Holy Ghost works in their lives and hearts.  
They made the choice to be baptized, they will make more good choices if you let them develop that personal relationship with God. 
Your job is to teach them to recognize His voice, and to show them that they are worthy of complete and unconditional love- always. 
I'm excited for our little ones, I see so many wonderful parents who are teaching these kids so much about love, about making choices and about who they really are. What a blessing to be included in the lives of not only my own children that I love beyond measure, but in the lives of the children in our little corner of New Jersey.

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