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?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Creative Child

A couple of weeks ago I ran into a wonderful mommy-blog from a woman who has a significantly creative child. She has documented their creative endeavors of paper dressmaking with words and pictures - celebrating this special child.  Shortly thereafter, hanks to a blog I subscribe to (Donald Miller), I found another blogger (Penelope Trunk) who turned me on to yet another blogger (Dr. Noa Kageyamawhere I found an entry on bias against creativity. In this entry Dr. Kageyama reports on a research project about creative children. The researchers behind this project identified characteristics of the most creative children.

The creative child. . .
  • Makes up the rules as he/she goes along
  • Impulsive
  • Nonconformist
  • Emotional
  • Takes chances
  • Tends not to know own limitations and tries to do what others think is impossible
And the least creative children are more. . .
  • Tolerant
  • Reliable
  • Practical
  • Logical
  • Understanding
  • Good-natured
  • Sincere
  • Dependable

Guess which group teachers favor? Not surprisingly it's the tolerant, reliable, practical, logical, understanding, good-natured, sincere and dependable children from the least creative group. 

Now, with my new-found knowledge of Multiple Intelligences I wasn't surprised to read this. Teachers are devoted to education,  which is more about putting knowledge in than pulling creativity out, and they necessarily have many students, which makes conformity desirable. Unfortunately, for some children, their creative side interferes with conformity, which disrupts conventional classrooms and causes them to feel there's something wrong with them.

And shadowing all of my thoughts is the recent death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman who, judging by his career and unfortunate death, was incredibly creative (and impulsive, unaware of his own limitations, nonconformist, risk-taking and emotional.) I don't want to stifle a child's creativity, but I certainly wish to keep him safe.

Every child is created in the image of God, and God is most certainly creative! So the creative child is no more or less valuable than any other child, but that creativity needs to be nurtured, and celebrated. Pay attention, you'll be amazed by the ideas your creative child generates. Take said child to museums, libraries, laboratories, and landforms. Find opportunities to experience different cultures, art studios and the kitchen. Visit any place that will supply her with new information to fuel her imagination. Allow extra time to transition from the world of ideas to the world of boxes and lines. Make sure that he or she knows you love his or her creativity, that it's one of the qualities you appreciate. It is both a burden and a privilege to rear a creative child; when in doubt, turn to the creator of us all. I can guarantee you'll hatch an idea that will help you create a suitable environment to foster your child's creativity.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Faith of a Celebrity

Wow!  Matthew McConaughey thanked God in his Oscar acceptance speech Sunday night. Various headlines I read implied that this was unusual because a) he was in Hollywood (where everyone is Godless) b) he's a bad-boy star, known as a party animal c) he's white or d) it was inappropriate.

I think it's wonderful that Mr. McConaughey expressed his gratitude. I think that acknkowledging that there is a force stronger than his own personal ability in the midst of one of the most exciting moments of his life is exemplary. I hope that many people will emulate him, and let God be their true north, the object of their gratitude. What I don't want to see is Matthew McConaughey become a "celebrity Christian."

God does not require celebrity endorsements. Celebrities, like all of us, are dust, and to dust they shall return. Mere mortals, no closer to God than ordinary people, they are useful when they create conversation about gratitude and faith, but certainly not necessary for that to happen. Their influence is limited because celebrity is fleeting. Today's Best Actor is only as important as his last role.

As parents, we are the most important stars in our children's lives. How they see and follow God has a lot more to do with what we do on a daily basis than what the Best Actor says or does in response to God. Do our children see us being grateful to God? Do they know that we consult God with major life decisions? Do they see your relationship with God occupying a high spot on your priority list? If they do, then you will have a far more lasting effect on the world than any words spoken by Matthew McConaughey at the Oscars.

Maybe we should be striving to make God a celebrity in our household. Does your child know as much about God as she does about the latest tween heart-throb? Do we spend as much time in conversation about where God is at work in the world or what God would have us do in the face of a given situation as we spend discussing the prospects for the Vikings, Cowboys, Rangers, Twins, Longhorns, Badgers, or Gold Medals at the Olympics?

God is, in fact, a rock star! God is Creator, Friend and Wisdom, the source of all that we need. Credentials like that require no celebrity endorsement to be made known, only the acknowledgement of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. God remains, when all else turns to dust. God alone is worthy of our worship and our gratitude. Is that obvious to your kids?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Copy-cat Love

The following is a post I wrote three years ago this week. Today I saw a little girl imitate her mother to perfection and it reminded me of this. . . so I share again a few thoughts about copy-cats and relationships.

Imitation is. . .

I saw it again yesterday: a mom who imitated her child so perfectly that it made me laugh. A child who has a parent who loves them enough to mimic them is a blessed child.  Uninvolved parents can't do this - parents who are totally fascinated with their children and immersed in their role of parent can.  It's really lovely to see.

Children, on the other hand, always imitate their parents. That is grace, pure and simple.  Children adore their parents whether the parents deserve it or not.  Watch any group of children and you will see their parents emerge.  Most preschool teachers will tell you they are rarely surprised when meeting a child's parents - they can already recognize them by their mannerisms.

True love between a parent and a child may be the closest vision of God's love that we will ever see.  Adoring parents watch every move their child makes, and interpret, and re-interpret the meaning behind it. This week a mother pointed to her small child and said "he always rubs his head when he's worried".  The child, barely old enough to comprehend "worried." was indeed, at that moment, worried.  Children can be equally perceptive of their parents.  "My Mommy doesn't feel good.  She's got those lines between her eyes" was an unsolicited observation by a very sharp five-year-old.  And, sure enough, they soon excused themselves, Mommy citing an impending migraine. 

We've all seen a brother torture his sister by aping every move she makes: "Mom, he's copying me" immediately echoed, usually in unflattering squeaky tones by, "Mom, he's copying me."  And whether it's brother/sister, brother/brother, sister/sister imitation - it's a connection born of relationship, a natural expression of sincere affection.  With my girls, I noticed that I could always tell when one of them made a new friend because suddenly, a new catch phrase, attitude or habit would invade our home, with no apparent source.  Some of these imitations were short-lived; others moved in and became part of the family. 

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also one of the truest indicators of love. We can imitate those we love because we watch them with great intensity, and we spend as much time as possible together. We are fully immersed in the relationship.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Familiar words.  If I look to God with the eyes of a child and, in total adoration, imitate what I see, how will I look?  Will I, like the preschool children described above, adopt enough God mannerisms that you will learn to recognize God from watching me? Which God mannerisms will your child pick up from watching you?

Being a parent is a large calling. Don't be afraid; you're never alone in this. The Parent of us all is available as a model. You just have to imitate. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Kind of Smart is That?

What kind of smarts does your kid have?

No. Really. Here are some of the kids I know:

A boy who is a straight-A whiz kid and a total klutz on the soccer field.

A boy who can take anything apart and figure out how it works and who leaves a mess behind him where ever he goes.

A girl who has been able to match pitch since she was two and who can't stay overnight away from home.

A boy who is a natural athlete who excels at a number of sports and really struggles with learning the multiplication tables.

A girl who can write plays, poems and short stories but who can't find her way home from the grocery store if she goes out the wrong door.

A girl who can whip up a gorgeous poster with very limited art supplies but frequently misspells a word on it.

A boy who can calm any frightened animal but can't calm himself.

The list could go on and on. Every one of these kids is bright and talented. Each of them has strengths and weaknesses. And each of them learns about the world in a different way. Think about your kids. How do they learn? Where do they struggle?

The people who study intelligence have identified eight different types of intelligences, or preferred ways of learning. Here they are:

  • Linguistic Learner (reads, writes, talks, listens)
  • Logical/Mathematical Learner (numbers, puzzles, problem-solves)
  • Visual/Spatial Learner (sees, pictures, maps, colors)
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic Learner (touches, manipulates, moves)
  • Musical Learner (sings, plays, rhyme, rhythm)
  • Interpersonal Learner (shares, interacts, collaborates)
  • Intrapersonal Learner (reflects, thinks, chooses)
  • Naturalist Learner (experiences, explores, connects)
We all, adults and children, have all eight intelligences. And in each of us, some are stronger than others. I think that we who are parents have an obligation to observe our children and celebrate who they are and help them encounter the world with their best learning styles.

There are some very big obstacles that get in the way of us doing that:

  • Schools tend to teach to, and reward, Linguistic and Logical Learners. (Reading and Writing and Arithmetic!)
  • Society tends to value, and reward, Bodily/Kinesthetic and Interpersonal Learners (Athletics, Beauty, Sales)
  • Corporate/business life has really trained us to think about addressing weaknesses more than leading from our strengths. (Improvement Plans)

We, as parents, also get rewarded if our children get good grades or excel on the playing field. Sometimes we hope for our kids to succeed at things we didn't do as well so we push them in that direction. We may fear for their livelihood so we push them away from their strongest intelligence into one of the more highly valued intelligences. And when our bosses are pushing us to improve our weak areas, we tend to do the same for our children. Step away from those temptations!

Your child is a beautifully and wonderfully made gift from God. Celebrate that.  Encourage that. Focus on what is right with your child and relate to that. I know that this is hard when your child operates from a different set of intelligences than you do, but you can learn from them, and they will certainly learn from you, and the world will be bigger and more comprehensible to both of you, which might be part of the plan!