Thursday, March 29, 2012

Before and After

All of history is divided into BEFORE and AFTER, although where you draw those lines is particular to your interests. If you are interested in battles and wars then you probably divide American history into parts bounded by the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Viet Nam War and so forth. You probably even have sub-periods that are divided by the smaller conflicts: the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, the Korean Conflict, and Desert Storm and so on. 

My own (relatively) short history is divided into parts: before I left home, before I was married, after I had kids, after the kids left home. "Before I left home" is further divided into before we moved to this place, or after I went to this school or that school. Likewise, "after I left home" is subdivided into before I had children, after the children started school, etc. You have probably gotten the point by now - we never see time as a whole, only divided into ever smaller portions, relative to each other – before and after.

As I reflect on this pattern it strikes me that what we know of Jesus is also divided into before and after. BEFORE Jesus’ death, he was teacher, healer, and preacher. AFTER Jesus’ resurrection, he was Savior. Our faith rests on this before and after scenario. 

So, from that “profound” reflection, I come today with a few more practical than profound thoughts BEFORE we enter Holy Week:
  • BEFORE each event you plan to attend, try to figure out what will be of interest to your children. They will do this year after year; it's not necessary to get the whole story this year. Here are some examples: 
    • Palm Sunday - you can tell your child that there is going to be a "procession" this Sunday. Depending on the child's age you may want to explain that one time when Jesus went to Jerusalem there was a parade in his honor. The significance of this will dawn on them later. 
    • Maundy Thursday - depending on the child's age you can focus on Jesus as servant, who washes the feet of his friends, or on the last supper and communion, or even on how one of Jesus friends betrays him. This service is overflowing for good topics to discuss with children.
    • Good Friday - you can tell your child ahead of time that this will be a sad, quiet, dark time in church. You can tell them that we are thinking about some very important things that Jesus said at the very end of his life. Tell them how you expect them to behave and that you will answer questions AFTER the service. With older children you can open discussions of death and dying; you will know from their questions what they are ready to hear.
    • Easter Vigil - this is one of the most exciting worship services for children all year. It is filled with drama, surprises, and stories told in a variety of ways. I highly recommend it!
  • AFTER each event, make time for any questions they may have. Ask them about things you think they might have noticed, or things you saw them react to such as lights going out or the banging of a gong.
Finally, make sure that you include Easter in your AFTER - because that is the most important AFTER of them all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Human children are born knowing how to swim. Well, kind of. . . Babies have something called a "dive reflex" that  causes them to hold their breath and open their eyes under water. They have another thing called the "swim reflex" that lasts for about six months after they are born.  It causes them to move their arms and legs in a swimming motion when placed on their tummies in water. While you can't depend on these reflexes to keep children safe, getting them in the water early helps them remember what they already know how to do.

Today I revisited the story of David and Goliath for the first time in a long time. I was reviewing some curriculum for our Summer Sunday School program and the sample lesson used this familiar story. As I looked over the material I remembered how this story had inspired me as a kid - one young boy doing what a whole army of soldiers couldn't! I loved it, and was convinced by those who shared the story with me that God could use me to do big things too! My daughters, and their church friends from elementary school still like to reminisce about the summer they knocked Goliath down at Vacation Bible School.  They too felt much empowered by the story and the experience.

The material I looked at today approached the story with a different twist - it depicted David recognizing that Goliath was a big predator, just like the lions and wolves and bears that threatened his sheep.  From this perspective, David went into the situation already equipped for it, and did what he already knew how to do: brought down a predator twice his size!

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by the creator. We are equipped for far more than we can imagine. No one can imagine herself giving birth - but she does it. We can't imagine caring for a  child with physical or cognitive limitations but people do it with compassion and love and even joy, every day.  We rarely imagine ourselves as single parents or unemployed breadwinners or having bodies wracked by pain or disease, yet, when those circumstances arise, we often find that we were already issued some extra capacity of stamina, patience, faith, ingenuity, love, humor, or courage which is exactly what is needed to carry us through the circumstance.

Adults and children alike often wonder why they have to face a particular trial. Adults have the advantage of looking back over past trials and seeing how they worked out;  children don't have that perspective. Help your children see what they are able to do when challenged and marvel at how God has equipped them. Give thanks together for the extra helping of humor or inch of ingenuity that they may never have found without this particular trial. Perhaps one of the ways God equipped your child for trials was putting you with each other; after all, you were equipped to be this child's parent long before he or she was conceived.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Celebrate Everything!

Several weeks ago, one of my mathematically inclined friends invited me to celebrate Pi Day with him on March 14 at 1:59. Pi (3.14159… get it?) is a magic math number. My only recollection of encountering this mythical perfect number is in the formula for the circumference of a circle (thank you Mr. Stoecker) and now serves to help me calculate what size tablecloths to buy for the 72” round tables in the fellowship hall. Using my personal powers of logic more than my memory, I know that it is an important part of formulas for the volume of all things round and therefore also impacts the time I enjoy in the kitchen. So I plan to honor Pi Day with a wedge from a circular pie and a spherical scoop of ice cream! Why not? Celebration is good for the soul.

At a recent retreat for women we explored the concept of Vibrant Life. Throughout the retreat one theme kept surfacing – a vibrant life requires that we live in each moment. What diminishes the vibrancy of our lives is our tendency to live in the past or the future. Being present, and aware, helps us to celebrate each moment as it comes.

So celebrate Pi Day. Teach your kids, and yourself, to celebrate THIS day, not the SOME days we are dreaming will be perfect. These celebrations don’t have to be ritualized, decorated or contain special foods though if such things suggest themselves – go for it. Next week will bring the first day of spring and next month Easter and Earth Day and April Showers that bring May Flowers. Celebrate the geese passing overhead and the bluebonnets along the highway, heralding the arrival of spring. I know a family who celebrates “breakfast for supper nights.” Mark the days that provide reasons to celebrate: birthdays, anniversaries, baptismal birthdays, historical events, holidays, cultural events, spring break and any day without school or work!
Celebrate the normal days.  I appreciate the words of poet Mary Jean Irion:

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you,
love you,
bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want,
more than all the world,
your return.
The normal days are not permanent.

At the core of all that we celebrate is life – life that comes from only one source, from God. To celebrate is to give thanks. Whether we celebrate mathematical perfection, the change of seasons, the life of a person we love, or the memory of a special event or person, to celebrate is to appreciate all that we have.

Your children will love these celebrations. They will even point out what needs to be celebrated: the first dandelion, the full moon, the yard sign announcing the arrival of the neighbor’s new baby.  You will love their capacity for fun and joy. Your blood pressure will drop, your muscles will relax, you will move more, you will smile, and smile again hours later. Celebrate everything.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Before an orchestra can perform (at least if it wants the audience to stay) it has to "tune". This is a fascinating process to watch, and it strikes my imagination as how creation must have been: chaos moving toward order. As you listen to the assorted instruments of the orchestra tune up you will hear the oboe play one clear note (Concert A) that remains constant through the chaos. This is the sound that each instrument  first strives to match. Then, each instrument must tune to itself - for example, a violin has four strings. The player first tunes one string to the central note, then tunes the other three strings to the tuned string.  This clip provides a clear example of the process:

"Tuning" is a good metaphor for how families work too. Each member of the family must tune to a central core note, the Concert A of that family. Then each must tune his or her other strings to the first one. This is not as quick and easy as the orchestra clip above. Those people are professionals - at work, focused, and invested in sounding good.

I'm not sure a family can ever reach that level of efficiency in its tuning. The family has a variety of circumstances that an orchestra does not have to consider. In a family, the orchestra members are always changing - new babies are born, new in-laws join the family, couples divorce and people die. Another factor is the tune-ability of a particular instrument in the orchestra - for some instruments, no amount of tuning will ever keep them true for very long. And, your family orchestra will, hopefully, always include beginners. A lot of family tuning looks more like this:

Still, you can strive to be in tune, and if your Concert A is true and strong, the members will instinctively gravitate toward it. So what core value is the loudest, most consistent and truest sound in your family?  Is it the note you want to be your family's Concert A? I pray that your family will develop perfect pitch!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


As a child I was taught to ask forgiveness for my sins each night when I prayed. I was also pretty clear about what those sins were and why I should feel guilty for them. I didn't have to spell them out aloud, but neither was I allowed to sing-song through that section of prayers with no apparent thought.  That was half a century ago though and many children today have never been coached to examine themselves for sin. Judging by the kids I see in confirmation, they are either oblivious to sin, or obsessed by it. There seems to be no healthy medium in this area.

So, if like me you think that neither of these places is good for your kids, you may wonder how to approach this with your kids. Here are a few practical ideas for your consideration:

  • First, think about your personal reaction to the word sin. Does it sound foreign? Condemning? Old-fashioned? Scary?
  • What do you identify as sinful? If you're not completely sure - ask your kids what you hate most - they know!
  • What do you think will happen to your kids if you ask them to look over their own behavior at the end of the day?
Those questions, by the way, make good journal fodder.  The more you write, the clearer it will become. You'll unearth things long since forgotten. Some of them will entertain you. Some will help you understand your own behavior better and a few will make you really mad at someone (which will require more time with a pen in your hand to work through.)

Now that you know where you stand, you're ready to introduce this to your kids. If you're Lutheran like me you can point at the general confessions we use in worship for clues about what needs to be forgiven: 
  • what we have done, 
  • what we have left undone, 
  • not loving God with our whole heart, 
  • not loving our neighbors as ourselves. 
With your freshly prepared heart you will have fun discussing this with your children. I know that my own children were pretty clear about what they had done wrong, but found it harder to identify what they had left undone. They also, being children, were much more inclined to love with their whole hearts and so I was enriched by them in the whole business of loving God and neighbor. 

One important thing remains - you have to explain that God will forgive their sins. You may have to wrestle with this yourself first because if you don't believe it, they will smell it. God will forgive their sins and yours. Period. End of subject. 

Confess. Ask forgiveness. Receive forgiveness. Done and done. We have a great and loving God. Share that gift with your kids. Let them know that just as nothing can separate them from your love, nothing can separate them from God's love. 

Unforgiven sin can divide people from one another as effectively as a river divides two banks.  So it is with God. It is not the sin that separates us, it is the unforgiven sin. Forgiveness builds the bridge that brings us together again. Going to sleep knowing you are right with God and world makes for a much brighter morning. Help your kids build a bridge!