Thursday, July 3, 2014

Independence Day

Late last year I moved to a community that has a massive Independence Day celebration.  As I write this it is almost here and I have been reflecting on independence as the big day approaches. 

To become a nation America had to become independent of her "parent" state Great Britain. In order to do that, the colonies had to rebel against that "parent" and begin making her own decisions about governance, taxation, and a whole host of other topics. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Is anyone in your home rebelling? If so, rejoice! Your child is on the road to independence! Rebellion is one sign that your child believes that he or she can function independently.

At the Boston Tea Party the chant "No taxation without representation" could be heard all the way to Great Britain. Your child's cry of rebellion may also revolve around not having a say in the decisions concerning his or her own life. You may know best (Great Britain certainly believed they knew best!) but you may not. Your child may truly know better, or they may need to make some mistakes in order to learn to make better decisions. 

The American colonies, the children who grew up to become the United States of America, believed that they could form a "more perfect union" and they declared their independence, beginning with these words:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation 
The document goes on to spell out the grievances of the colonies, how Great Britain NEVER LET THEM DO ANYTHING (supply your child's particular grievances in place of those) and therefore must:
[S]olemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are . . . free and independent states;
And then comes a list of what they CAN now do: make war and peace, contract alliances and establish commerce, "and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do." (Read: get a job; pay their own rent, car insurance, and dental bills; deal with the consequences of their own decisions; and find a husband or wife to partner with them in building this new life.)

I say this with tongue-in-cheek, but what if this declaration had been taken seriously? What if Great Britain had acted in the children/colonies best interests and instead of trying to block them, encouraged them and helped them to establish their independence? The American Revolution had fifty thousand casualties.

If you consider your child's rebellion as a transition to independence, can you collaborate with them in declaring their independence? Can you listen to their grievances and evaluate their validity? Can you help them establish a list of items for which they are now responsible? Negotiate some deadlines?

It's easier to parent as Great Britain did - ruling with authority, ignoring or punishing rebellion - but this choice can be costly. Better to follow the model established by God "the Father" and love unconditionally, allow free choices, advise when consulted, and be waiting with open arms when they return to us in success or failure. Happy Independence Day!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Summertime. . .

Everyone is out of school by now, I think. I ran into a list of summer activities over at PBSkids and
many of the suggestions brought a flood of sweet memories. I loved summer vacation both as a child, and as a parent with children at home. Lately though, it seems that there's not much vacation in summer vacation. Vacation can take many forms - and all of them are little sabbaths. Summertime activities can be mini-vacations or mini-sabbaths. Here are some of my favorites:
  1. Catch fireflies (aka lightening bugs). This one elicited more of a parent memory than a childhood one. My girls will probably remember how the fireflies could blink in time to the Blue Danube Waltz.  Da-da-da-da blink-blink blink-blink. . .
  2. Read a book under, or in, a tree. I spent many hours reading in a treehouse during elementary school summer vacations. I never once thought to invite my mom to join me but I would have been thrilled if she had. . .
  3. Go on a family bike ride. Last week a kindergarten child arrived at Vacation Bible School on his bike. Mom was just behind, pulling a toddler trailer. Everyone was all smiles!
  4. Have a picnic. These days we have such elegant facilities at home that we don't often pack up the food and go to the park but we should, even if it's just doing the rest area instead of McD's on the family vacation. Great people-watching and interesting conversations happen when we leave the backyard. . .
  5. Go stargazing. Take a blanket and some bug repellent and look up at the sky. Wonder together about God and heaven and all of creation. Nothing inspires those conversations like stars. . .
  6. Skip stones at a creek or pond. Help your child learn to be still by bringing his or her focus to a single activity. Let the breeze and the water and your child's concentration speak to you and quiet your own soul. . .
There are 14 more ideas on the list but the point here isn't to keep you busy all summer. It is point you toward some core parenting and faith ideas:
  • Good parenting isn't an accident - it requires planning, participation, and practice. 
  • Passing on the faith is done in those regular, small, moments where you speak from your heart.
Summer will lend itself to strengthening your parenting if you allow yourself to grab some sabbath rest with your children. They are paying attention to you all the time, and never more attentively than when you are out of your routine. Take advantage, and have a great summer!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Folding Towels in a Sweet Way

"Spirituality doesn't look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you've had a long day. It's enfolded into the act of parenting. You fold the towels in a sweet way. It doesn't take extra time."

Sylvia Boorstein from “What We Nurture”

I've been sitting with this quote for a while, thinking about all its implications. . . 

"Talking kindly to the people in the family." And I would add talking to everyone kindly. This was underscored by a recent training for registering and greeting participants of a large meeting, verifying their voting credentials, etc. The woman who coordinated the meeting encouraged us to greet and welcome people with as much love and kindness as possible. Our instructions included a reminder that if a check-in doesn't go smoothly, someone made a mistake, but it can be fixed. Just reassure the person in front of you that it can be fixed, and don't worry about who messed up. That's folding towels sweetly. 

"Talking kindly to people . . . even though you've had a long day." Pretty much everyone over the age of ten has a long day, every day. To do lists are lengthy, sleep cycles are short, the calendar is full, and maintenance is almost a fulltime job for most families. It's useful to remember that we have a choice in how we respond. If we choose to respond kindly as a matter of course, we will be able to talk kindly when we're tired, or worried, or distracted. And, as she says, it doesn't take any more time. 

"You fold the towels in a sweet way." I don't usually think of folding towels as either sweet or spiritual but recently, folding napkins for an upcoming meal with people I cared for deeply, I understood. I was folding them for people I loved, and it was a joy to do it carefully, and lovingly. I was focused on the other instead of myself which made the chore a pleasure. And it didn't take any extra time.

Spirituality is a vague word. Some people would call it religion. Others would say faith. For me, spirituality is recognizing the meaning and relationships inherent in whatever we are doing. That's probably why it's impossible to be a parent without bouncing against issues of religion and faith and spirituality. Parenting must be spiritual because it is both meaningful and relational. 

So if you would be spiritual, or a loving parent, and you can't find time for "sitting down and meditating," start folding your towels sweetly. Recognize what your task means and who that task impacts. Infuse your chores, your actions, and your work with kindness. Those sweetly folded towels will enfold your child after baths, after swimming, and every time her hands are washed. Your touch is present in that sweetly folded towel, caressing your child or spouse or guest.

It may initially take some effort, but like all habits, once formed it will become part of you and you will be able to fold your towels sweetly; you will spend your "doing" time thinking of who your task will affect. That is being spiritual. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Last Supper Love

This Thursday night of Holy Week we visited again the story of Jesus washing his disciple's feet and sharing the bread and wine with them in a new way. As I listened to the story of that event, and heard my pastor's sermon, an interesting twist took hold of my mind. I realized how clearly Jesus modeled love for us.

I have previously written about the 5 Love Languages, a "system" developed by Dr. Gary Chapm for communicating love to people you care about. He suggests that there are five different ways we give and receive love:
  • Words of Affirmation (speaking)
  • Acts of Service (serving)
  • Giving/Receiving Gifts (sharing)
  • Quality Time (being present)
  • Physical Touch (touching)
Think through the story of the Last Supper.*  In his last hours of life Jesus stays present with his friends.  He washes their feet as if he were their servant: he is serving them, and he is also touching them. Then, he shares a meal with them, literally giving them the gift of himself: "this is my body. . . this is my blood." And, in both accounts, he speaks his love: "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer," and "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." All the expressions of love - given for each to understand in his own language.

This is the essence of love - the speak the language of the other. As parents of infants we struggle to interpret every cry, every garbled word, and every pointing or reaching toward an object before our child has language. We try to imagine what they are saying, even though they don't have the language to express it. Once our kids become fluent in speech, we sometimes begin to take what they say at face-value, just as we do with other people. We start to lead with our preferred language, loving them in ways we are comfortable, instead of in their language.

The 5 Love Language followers advocate learning your child's preferred language (or that of your spouse, friend, co-worker, etc.) but if you don't know which language they prefer, take a cue from Jesus and try them all. You'll know when you hit the right one! It may not be your most preferred way to show love, but the essence of love is for the other, not for the self. That is the whole message of Jesus' death and resurrection. It is for you. The other. Not for Jesus; for you. This is love.

Blessed Easter to you. May you know that you are loved!

*You can find footwashing in John 13 and the rest of the meal in Luke 22 if it's a bit foggy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Telling Stories

We are moving toward Holy Week and the story that makes our Christian faith what it is. It's a story that could not be kept under wraps.  It's a story filled with love and hate and betrayal and confusion and evil and passion. It is told again and again, each teller emphasizing the parts that mean the most to him or her. Another person tells the same story but with a different emphasis. Listening to, and believing, that story is what makes us Christians.

What if, as it is recorded in Mark 16, "they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. What if God's great saving story had been kept secret?  No one alive today would know it. 

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.”  ― Sue Monk KiddThe Secret Life of Bees 

Not every story has the significance of the Easter story, but our stories tell us and others who we are, how we got here and maybe even why. And the why we are here may be as significant as our purpose for the planet, or as simple as why we live where we live. Every story gives a context. And a story compiled from facts or lies without context is utterly forgettable.

As parents, we can greatly enrich our children's lives by telling them stories from our childhoods. It probably doesn't matter that it snowed on my hidden Easter eggs in 1961 or that the dog ate all of the caramel rolls I made for Easter breakfast in 1990 but it provides a younger-me shape for my children to see. It creates a context to fit mommy into and gives clues to motivation, and emotional responses. It both helps me to look back and see where I came from and helps my children see me more completely.  

Stories can provide context for holidays, and holidays can be wonderful contexts for stories. You undoubtedly remember an Easter from years past. Go tell your child a story from another Easter or tell a tale from when she was a small child and too young to remember. Weave your stories together into a history and a context and let them live on from generation to generation.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Learning to Manage His Mad

I was recently astounded to hear of a child in kindergarten being sent to an alternative school for two weeks. It was hard to imagine what a five year old child could do that would result in an in-school suspension. I still don't know all the details, and don't need to, but I love how his grandmother described the issue: "He needs to learn to manage his mad."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Loving Your Enemies

Fred Phelps is dead. The man who led a church in Kansas to picket the funerals of American soldiers and Hollywood celebrities in an attempt to proclaim God's rage against America has crossed over to the other side.

This is where it gets hard to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus tells us we are to love our enemies. Most of us would love to have a chance to picket old Fred's funeral and get the word out that God loves everyone, not just people who Fred approves. That, however, would not be a loving way to behave. And my leader, Jesus, calls me to love outside my circle of family and friends (everyone does that!) and to go the extra mile and love my enemies. And Jesus makes it clear that love is not an emotion; love is an action. In this case love is restraining oneself from doing an unloving action. Love is recognizing that in spite of the terrible person Fred Phelps seemed to be, he mattered to some people. He will be missed and perhaps even mourned by those people.

And though it's hard to swallow, God loves Fred Phelps. God who looks upon the hearts of the people knows why this man who was once a civil rights lawyer became a hatemonger who believed he honored God by preaching hate.  In 1999 Phelps responded to criticism from Jerry Falwell in the L.A. Times, saying, "He's saying I preach hate? You can't preach the Bible without preaching hate! Looky here, the hatred of God is an attribute of the Almighty," he said. "It means he's determined to punish the wicked for their sins!" 

Today I imagine Fred standing in front of God Almighty and feeling God's immense love enfolding him. I admit that I wish that he will have great regret for the life he lived before he feels that peace which passes all understanding. He has misrepresented Christians everywhere but, in the end, I want to follow Jesus closely enough to hope that he will find peace.

I love the Lord and I know that he is loving Fred, forgiving Fred, and healing Fred. So with no feelings of love toward Fred Phelps I write this, hoping that we who know God to be loving and forgiving can let old Fred go without any retribution. If I hate and renounce Fred and consign him to hell I am simply being Fred on a different campaign. So rest in peace Fred. I won't be picketing your funeral or spitting on your grave. God will handle you; I don't have to.

I don't know how to teach kids to love their enemies but I know that part of my understanding of this concept comes from understanding these two basic precepts:

  • Love is an action, not a feeling.
  • Vengence belongs to God.

I think it's important to learn and teach this. It makes for a far more peaceful life. Hate consumes and love nourishes. Why not choose love?