Sunday, December 22, 2013

Waiting for the Light

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year. Today, with less than nine hours of daylight, will also be very short, but we've turned the corner. After months of increasing darkness we are turning toward the light. Longing for light seems to be rampant. In recent days light has come up in a wide variety of conversations:
  • I have heard a number of people discussing the "Christmas Morning Rules" also known as "How early can the day start?" Parents want the tree lit, everyone properly garbed (though definitions differ.) One 8th grade boy gave me his Christmas morning formula this week. It was elaborate and involved sunrise, Christmas movies, collusion with siblings, and a dawning awareness of the joy of giving as this year he bought gifts for parents and siblings with money he had earned and saved. 
  • I discussed the hopes and fears of motherhood with a young woman whose first-born child will soon see the light of day. She is filled with joy and anticipation but also fear that she isn't ready. I could only reassure her that the child would help to show her the way. 
  • A friend who is currently living and working in the southern hemisphere is musing on her blog about Christmas in the "summer." She is a bit befuddled by the long days after spending most of her life with dark and snowy Christmases.
  • As I drive up and down the streets of my town I enjoy the lights people have strung on trees and eaves and around windows. I love the inflatables lit from inside and the painted wooden cut-outs illuminated with spotlights. The light poles downtown are festooned with lamps, just for the season.
  • Biblical accounts of the birth of Christ tell of angels appearing to shepherds with the glory of the Lord shining around them, and highlight the star that led the Magi to the manger.
  • My new home also has gifts of lights. At the entrances are lights with motion detectors which turn on the light as I approach. In fact, as soon as I open the door from the garage the light begins to shine. Once inside, the hallway is also equipped with motion detectors so that I can step out without wondering what awaits me in the dark. 
  • The human eye can see the light of a single candle in full dark from a distance of 3.6 miles.
  • John, the brilliant poet of the Gospel writes, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." Joseph Mohr, writer of the beloved hymn Silent Night, refers to the baby as "love's pure light."
Light is nearly always welcomed. It brings comfort, joy, relief from fear, sight, information, protection, and hope. Light fulfills our hopes. It is a fitting metaphor for the Christ child, and the Risen Christ to come. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tossing a Wrench in the Wish Machine

The WISH MACHINE is running at maximum capacity. My inbox is more inundated than ever before the call to buy this or that for this or that bargain price or to get free shipping or some accompanying extra. The sidebars of my inbox are perfectly attuned to my desires, and the commercials on television make me long for a) chocolate, b) the good old days, or c) a magical Christmas surprise.

It might be a good time to share a few lessons in debunking advertising with your children. Give them a few basic instructions and then sit down to pick apart the commercials. You will have done a lot to slow down the wish machine, whose primary purpose is to make you feel bad so that they can sell you something to make you feel good. Here are the basics*:
  • The Weasel Claim: this ad ALMOST says what you heard, but with qualifiers: Leaves your dishes virtually spotless. In other words, not actually spotless.
  • The Unfinished Claim: this ad promises you MORE: Our product will save you more. More what? More money, more time, more anxiety?
  • We're Unique: There's nothing else like it. This implies that is superior but the product may only sport a minor difference. Perhaps there are many things like it but this is the only place you can get it in this color. 
  • Water is Wet: makes a claim true for any product of its kind. 
  • So What?: Something true is stated but it doesn't give any real advantage over another brand. Brand X has twice as much of something - but do you need it? Can your body absorb it?
  • The Celebrity Testimonial: Just because someone famous says it's good doesn't mean that they actually use it or that it works. 
  • The Scientific Claim: The use of numbers to sound authoritative. "Wonder Bread builds strong bodies 12 ways." What ways? How can that be proven. And so on. . .
  • Compliment the Consumer: "For the discriminating diner" or the "person who knows quality".
  • The Rhetorical Question: Asks a question that really has no bearing on the product's quality: "Don't you wish you had a peaches and cream complexion?" tells you nothing about the product.
How your kids respond to the "Wish Machine" will impact their later happiness a great deal. This is nothing new. Even the Old Testament contains reminders to hope for what is real and good. The write of Ecclesiastes goes on and on about chasing after things that will not satisfy. 

There is no easier time than Christmas to get caught up in wishing for things that will not make you happy or more satisfied.  Depending on which source you read, your kids are exposed to between 247-3000 marketing messages a day from the wish machine. Even if it's the lowest figure, 247 messages is a lot. Fortunately, there is also no better time for getting wrapped up in things that will last: the Christ child, your family, holiday traditions, giving to others.How many messages about the child, the family, the meaning of the season do they hear? 

Building awareness is one of our jobs as parents. Teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street and teaching them not to hunger for things that won't satisfy them are just a couple of the privileges of being parents. So go - tear apart a few commercials and then go and make some holiday traditions. You'll enjoy it all!

Friday, November 22, 2013

To BE Grateful

In my own life there are many things for which I have expressed thanks, and then forgotten: gifts, favors, blessings, compliments, each appreciated in the moment, and then stored away in some distant compartment of my memory and virtually forgotten. Sometimes I remember the gift, but not the giver. 

Other times I remember the giver, but not the gift. I can still tell you who was at my wedding, but not what they gave me. Likewise, I can also tell you who stuck with me through the unraveling of that same marriage, but not be able to detail all the specific ways they supported me.

There are also many blessings that I simply take for granted: clean water, a roof over my head, friends and family, freedom of speech, the ability to read, sufficient food, electricity; the list goes on and on. It is a character hazard of being born in the wealthiest country in the world. 

The perennial Thanksgiving hymn Now Thank We All Our God begins with the words of its title, and then goes on to finish the thought: "with hearts and hands and voices." Expressing gratitude is significantly more complex than the mandatory please and thank yous of good manners. It is a commitment akin to learning to play an instrument or training to run a marathon. You can't flip a switch and become a grateful person; you have to live into it.

So how does one go about living into it, to thanking God with heart, hands and voice?  I love these words from Thomas Merton:
"To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference."
Experience God and you will know gratitude. Look for God's loving work in the world everywhere and ascribe all that is good to God and you will live into gratitude. And all whom you encounter will be a little more grateful too, especially your children.

Your children will not learn of God's goodness through your telling of it (though that will help to point them in the right direction) but rather through their own experience. Help them to experience God by teaching them to recognize their blessings, their gifts, and the love behind those gifts. Make gratitude as least as much a part of your Thanksgiving as turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, pie and football.

Even if it is not your family’s practice to give thanks before or after meals, do so on this day. Even if you are unaccustomed to free and unscripted prayer, use this occasion for a popcorn prayer – where every person gathered for this special meal shares his or her awareness of a blessing.  Baby steps toward a life of gratitude. Thank God.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Season of Holidays

My Christmas cactus is in full bloom. A bit ahead of schedule, but happily reminding me that the season of holidays is upon us.

I am not a good plant person so the fact that this cactus has survived in spite of me, and bloomed for a second year, gives me great joy. It's an old plant, one that my mother has tended for many years.

As I think about hope and the coming holidays, and the impact they have on your children and your families, I am struck by my cactus and how perfectly it captures so many seasonal themes: waiting, hoping, joy, new life, change of seasons, gift.

The first buds will appear as the days shorten and the nights lengthen. You'll first see tiny dots of color on the ends of the plant. You may not even be positive they are buds for several days. And even when you are certain, it will be hard to believe they can possibly produce the large flowers the plant will eventually sport. Can you see that tiny spot of pink right in the center of the photo? That bud is probably two weeks from the full bloom you see just to the left of it. Children will be fascinated to watch it change. And the change is visible almost daily. In many ways it is like waiting for a child to be born. Great anticipation, coupled with the knowledge that there is nothing to be done to hasten or slow the progress. It has its own life, its own schedule. It is outside of your control, yet you can love it, tend it, watch it and water it, and see it change almost before your very eyes. It is exciting to watch and wait.

Eventually the bud will look like the one in the center of this photo. It is still so filled with potential: we know that the bud in the center will eventually become the blossom on the left, but we can also recognize its beauty in the moment. If all you ever got to see was the tightly furled bud, the contrast of the pink and green would still be a thing of beauty. Unique.  No two blossoms are ever exactly the same.

So I commend the Christmas cactus to you as a tool for teaching yourself and your children the rhythms of life, for teaching hope. It can slow life down to a natural pace. It can remind us that the true joys of this season are all tied up in that first gift of the Child. It adds a time of hope to our seasons. Hope that combines waiting with faith. There is no instant gratification. It is not the stuff of department store Santas who make promises they aren't bound to keep. Rather, it is the expectation that change will come, and faith that what will come will be good.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

That They May Know Hope

I awoke this morning to the weather report saying it was snowing just west of the Twin Cities. I have recently moved from a land of climate (Texas) to a land of four seasons (Minnesota). I interviewed here in the summer, but by the time an offer was extended and accepted, and all my worldly possessions were packed and loaded and moved, fall had arrived. I've been here almost six weeks now, and while it is technically still fall, my tree has shed its leaves, and there is snow within 100 miles. Winter is not far off.

I grew up with seasons, and I am enjoying this transition. As a child, knowing nothing but the drama of four seasons, it never occurred to me that Jesus actually lived in a land with climate. The seasons there were more defined by the planting and harvest patterns and the religious observances and transitions of the moon, than by a dramatic change in the weather.

Wherever you live, these days life is more climate-controlled, and regardless of where your child is growing up, her seasons may be more defined by what sport is being played or what holiday is being marketed than by the actual weather/climate. It is only in extreme heat or cold that children are really aware of the weather at all. Life is mostly a comfy 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit for them.

So what marks their seasons? I think the school year-summer divide marks two seasons for most kids. And the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas triple holiday end of year excitement is perhaps a season for them. And maybe, for some kids, the Spring break through the end of the school year is a kind of mini-season of restlessness. I'm not sure. And I don't know if it matters. But I cannot help but wonder if we create a false sense of the passage of time when we exchange seasons for climate.

There was a time when kids were continually told to slow down, and wait for adulthood. These days I hear frequent laments about adult children still living at home, engaging in a kind of Peter Pan perpetual childhood. I think that there needs to be a reasonable amount of urgency, as well as some enforced waiting in our children's lives. It is a fact of life that there are natural seasons across a lifetime. We parents may not be able to rely on the natural rhythms of seasons and harvests to reinforce that lesson.

The Psalms frequently make mention of the passage of time. They remind me why we need to recognize the rhythms of life:
"Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end. How short you have made my life! In your sight my lifetime seems nothing. Indeed every living being is no more than a puff of wind,no more than a shadow. All we do is for nothing; we gather wealth, but don't know who will get it. What, then, can I hope for, Lord? I put my hope in you."          Psalm 39:4-7 (GNT)
In the context of our American culture, this may seem a bit depressing, but in the end it is about hope. And hope is perhaps more needful for our children than at any time in the past. As we approach the "season" of holidays, perhaps we can think of ways to make them more meaningful. Make them better milestones for children who have lost many of the natural milestones of the seasons -- that they may know hope.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fudge and Thin Mints: more than just calories

I wanted to do something really special, but I settled for making fudge. And it didn't even turn out that well but I sold those 36 pieces of fudge for $12 at the annual Candy Sale last week. Other people contributed candy and cookies and snack mixes which we sold for one, two or three dollars per plate or bag, and at the end of the day, with only three plates leftover we had  $345 for our cause. Little things really do add up.

Years ago, four girl scouts and two mothers sat outside an upscale grocery store as the sun went down and the evening got colder. An elegantly dressed woman stopped at the table and said "I will buy some on the way out" and her husband leaned in and with a twinkle in his eye whispered, "She really will!"
And so we waited, hoping for one more sale though we were eager to go home. As promised, the elegant lady returned and stood regally before our card table. She said, "Now I will buy one box from each of you if you will solemnly promise that, when you are grown-ups, and if you can afford it, you will always buy a box of cookies when asked by another girl scout." The girls, somewhat awed by her stern and commanding presence, all nodded solemnly or offered a timid "Yes Ma'am" and they each sold her a box of cookies. As the woman walked away, another grocery shopper asked the girls if they knew who she was. They  didn't (and neither did we mothers) but it turned out that she was Luci Baines Johnson Turpin, a famous Austinite who was once a Girl Scout herself, and the daughter of the President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

I think that all of us sometimes want to do big, important things. We want to break records, save lives, or change the world. We get overwhelmed by the unmet needs and unsolvable problems that surround us and we stew about what we could possibly do. Often, in our desire to do something big, we end up doing nothing at all. What a terrible waste of our passion and compassion!

It is probably more important to simply act where and as we can. Our actions will ripple outward. My small batch of fudge added to the gifts of others made a substantial contribution to a good cause. Luci Baines Johnson's stern speech to four little girls inspired all of them (and their mothers) to help out where and how they can - and they are now spread out across five states and six professions doing good where and as they can.

Every good deed is an act of faith. We cannot see where it will go, who it will inspire, or what future act of kindness will follow from what we have done. So do what you can and trust that it will ripple outward and create compounded goodness. Little things not only add up, when done in love they multiply!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Great Expectations

Do you start each day with an expectation of how the day will go? Do you know that on Mondays it's harder to find a parking spot and it all goes downhill from there? Do you know that your boss is out of town and it's going to be a relaxed day because of that? Or that you have to meet with your most annoying student or most demanding client so the day is just going to stink? Do you rank your expectations? I do. I can expect anything from Fabulous (10) or Horrid (0) or maybe something in-between.

Educators used to talk about the self-fulfilling prophecy theory a lot. This theory asserts that our
expectations change our behavior. As in, if you believe you will fail, you will fail. There have been many, many studies, including the famous one where teachers were told that certain randomly selected students were expected to really "blossom" during the coming school year. The randomly chosen students ended the year showing significant improvement.

I believe that most of the time I get exactly what I expect. If I expect kids to be bored with today's lesson, they will most likely be bored. If I expect to enjoy an event, I most likely will. If I expect this child or that parent to give me a hard time, chances are they will.

Take out your expectations for your own children and look at them. What do you expect from your child? Do you expect them to be loving and kind and gentle? Do you expect them to make you proud or to disappoint you? Your expectations are impacting your child's behavior even if you aren't saying them aloud. Wow. That's as magical as eyes in the back of your head.  If I tell a child repeatedly that she is no good, you can bet that she will turn out that way. Your expectations will have been met. What if you tell the child that he is someone special, created in the image of God, and that he is going to do something that is important someday? Well, I believe he will meet your expectations!

So, back to ranking your expectations for the day, I want to suggest a little experiment. Tonight, before you go to bed, take a post-it note and write down your most realistic expectation of tomorrow (0-10 with 10 being best). When you go to bed tomorrow night, make note of how the day actually went and then try to predict the following day. Pick your number, increase it by one, and write it on another post-it and see if adjusting your expectation will adjust your outcome. If you're a journal-keeper, you will be able to have fun with this for several weeks. If this experiment persuades you that there's something to this idea, then start setting some good expectations around your kids. Expect them to blossom, to surprise, even to amaze you. They will.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Habits to Make You Happier

I first read this post at Inc. and I bookmarked it because it was full of common sense ideas that we can easily pass on to children if we don't expect them to simply absorb them by watching us. I'll be blogging again starting next week; thanks for sticking with me during the break!

9 Daily Habits That Will Make You Happier 

Happiness is the only true measure of personal success. Making other people happy is the highest expression of success, but it's almost impossible to make others happy if you're not happy yourself.
With that in mind, here are nine small changes that you can make to your daily routine that, if you're like most people, will immediately increase the amount of happiness in your life:

1. Start each day with expectation.

If there's any big truth about life, it's that it usually lives up to (or down to) your expectations. Therefore, when you rise from bed, make your first thought: "something wonderful is going to happen today." Guess what? You're probably right.

2. Take time to plan and prioritize.

The most common source of stress is the perception that you've got too much work to do.  Rather than obsess about it, pick one thing that, if you get it done today, will move you closer to your highest goal and purpose in life. Then do that first.

3. Give a gift to everyone you meet.

I'm not talking about a formal, wrapped-up present. Your gift can be your smile, a word of thanks or encouragement, a gesture of politeness, even a friendly nod. And never pass beggars without leaving them something. Peace of mind is worth the spare change.

4. Deflect partisan conversations.

Arguments about politics and religion never have a "right" answer but they definitely get people all riled up over things they can't control. When such topics surface, bow out by saying something like: "Thinking about that stuff makes my head hurt."

5. Assume people have good intentions.

Since you can't read minds, you don't really know the "why" behind the "what" that people do. Imputing evil motives to other people's weird behaviors adds extra misery to life, while assuming good intentions leaves you open to reconciliation.

6. Eat high quality food slowly.

Sometimes we can't avoid scarfing something quick to keep us up and running. Even so, at least once a day try to eat something really delicious, like a small chunk of fine cheese or an imported chocolate. Focus on it; taste it; savor it.

7. Let go of your results.

The big enemy of happiness is worry, which comes from focusing on events that are outside your control. Once you've taken action, there's usually nothing more you can do. Focus on the job at hand rather than some weird fantasy of what might happen.

8. Turn off "background" TV.

Many households leave their TVs on as "background noise" while they're doing other things. The entire point of broadcast TV is to make you dissatisfied with your life so that you'll buy more stuff. Why subliminally program yourself to be a mindless consumer?

9. End each day with gratitude.

Just before you go to bed, write down at least one wonderful thing that happened. It might be something as small as a making a child laugh or something as huge as a million dollar deal. Whatever it is, be grateful for that day because it will never come again.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Scheduling Faith

The following is a re-post from blogger Freddae' at Coffee, God and Me. She's a Methodist pastor and a single parent. I like the way she applies the "method" to making sure she passes on the faith to her son. Enjoy!

     The other day I sat down to update my calendars to reflect the fall schedule.  I also penciled out a general sketch of a routine for my family/home.  I represent a single
parent family with one child, so I understand this may look different for others, but trust me, I need some structure even if it's just the two of us.

     In this routine, I made sure there was ample time for: a sit down dinner, homework, free play, teeth brushing and flossing, etc.  Then it occurred to me, nowhere in this daily itinerary was there any room for prayer or devotion.  I'm a firm believer that prayer should be never-ending; it should be this constant on-going conversation we have with God where we may set the receiver down for a little while, but we know the line is always hot.  That being said, I think it's important that we make sure that in our busy lives, "time with God" has as much a line in our date books as basketball practice, cub scouts, and yoga.  

     Every morning, my son and I share a devotion together out of his book Jesus Calling. (The children's version).  Then we pray together for our day.  This takes us a solid 10 minutes to do it right and not feel like we're rushing.  At dinner, we pray over
our meal, talk about our day, and discuss a short devotional thought.  This doesn't dominate our entire mealtime, but creates a great space for personal interaction that is spiritually focused.  At the end of the day, my son takes his last 15 minutes before bed to read scripture on his own in his room.  This disconnects him from the glowing screens of the TV and games systems (which studies have proven are causes of problems with sleep) and connects him with God...all the while tiring his eyes.  He chooses which scripture he wants to read.  Then when he's done, we take a minute or two to discuss what he read, pray together, and off to sleep he goes.

     My son has entered 2nd grade this year, which I think places him at a great age to start practicing spiritual disciplines.  If we're going to be attentive to developing healthy children in terms of eating habits, exercise routines, positive self-esteem - then we also need to nurture them spiritually.  As parents, we have been commissioned with the task to raise up our children in ways that honor and glorify God.  We're not always going to be successful at this and not everything we teach will stick.  Our children have their own journey's to trek and discoveries to make.  That being said, I believe that if we instill in them moral and spiritual compasses, they'll have a strong core and center for years to come.

     In order to lead this kind of household, you must also respond with conviction to living a devotional life as well.  John Wesley, theologian and general founder of Methodism, had three simple rules: 

1.  Do all the good that you can
2.  Do no harm
3.  Tend to the ordinances of God (spiritual disciplines)

     We are called to raise up our children in ways that open them to as much beauty in this life as possible.  The disciplines teach them patience, kindness, integrity, honesty, devotion, humility, love of neighbor, peace/stillness..Ex.just to name a few.  We can't be successful with this task unless we too are seeking to live such lives. 

     So far, my son and I are on day 2, and though its been a little challenging to kick-start, it's already reaping tremendous rewards...for both a 7 year old and a 32 year old. 

    I challenge you...pencil the Holy into your family calendar and dare to see what God will do.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How does it look from where you sit?

I've discovered UpWorthy - a vlog (video blog) of positive stuff that I really appreciate. Here's a quick re-post while I'm in between homes:

'One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others' Shouldn't Have Come To Mind When I Viewed A Class Photo

I'm positive that the photographer who took the original photo wasn't an unkind person who intentionally separated a child in his class photo. But the original picture made one little boy who so clearly wanted to be a part of his class look (and maybe feel) like he was alone. And, just as bad, it sent a message to his peers that it's OK to exclude children with disabilities.

My original thought was that if all the kids just moved closer, the problem would be solved. But a friend who has a child with a disability helped me to understand that wouldn't have been a solution, either, because he'd still be separated.

Although it took a little pressure, the photography company retook the class picture, and the new one is perfect. Let's learn from this mistake. Small adjustments in our daily actions can make everyone feel included, important, and valued.

Laura Willard

Original photo:

Photo retake, with the student seated with his peers (next to his aide):

Isn't that amazing? Inclusion is a value to instill in our children. It's an act of loving kindness that reflects the loving kindness of our Great Creator and enriches life for everyone. My thanks to Laura Willard for this amazing education in two pictures!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again

I've been distracted this summer. Looking for work, taking advantage of time off to be with friends and family, reading books I haven't had time for in a long time, and now sorting and packing. However, school has started, and I should get back to the blog but now I'm busy moving, so for the next couple of weeks I want to introduce you to some of the best blogs I read. This week I want to share the sweetest blog from one of my favorites: The Actual Pastor, Steve Wiens.

To Isaac, on Your First Day of First Grade

Dear Isaac,
Even though you insist you’ve been a first grader ever since the last day of Kindergarten, today is the day it officially begins. So on your first day of first grade, I want you to know a few things, straight from your dad:
You are brave. Remember the time that you accidentally locked mommy out of the house while the hot water was filling up in the sink to heat up your brother’s bottles? Remember how you got the chair, turned off the water, and opened the door all by yourself, even though you were only three? Even though you were crying the whole time? You did it. At school, there will be times when you have to do things even when you’re not sure how to do them, and you may feel like crying. You may even cry! And that’s okay. I want you to know that I have seen you be brave, over and over again. So even when you don’t feel brave, your daddy says that you are brave.
You are kind. You probably won’t believe this, Isaac, but I was shy in first grade. I stuttered really badly. That means it was hard for me to start talking, and even when I got started, my words got all jumbled up; they got stuck somewhere in between my mind and my mouth. It was hard for me to be confident when I started new things, like school or sports. It was especially hard when people made fun of me because I stuttered. Isaac, I’ve seen you be such a good friend to Emmaus, Cai, and especially your brothers. Would you look out for kids who stutter, or who look a little different, or who seem like they’re having a hard time making friends? Would you be kind to them? You don’t have to try really hard; just be you, and that will be enough.
There is no outside of inside. Isaac, you are in my heart, and there is nothing you will ever say, think, or do that will change that. I’m sure you will do fine at school all day, but when you get home, you might get a little cranky. Or maybe even a lot cranky. Let me tell you a secret: that’s what we all do. It’s hard out there. Home is where we can be ourselves after trying hard out there all day. We get cranky around the people who love us the most because home is where we feel safe. I want you to know that when you are with me, you are home. You are safe. You can show up how you actually are, cranky and all. I love you, end of story. And because there’s no outside of inside, even when you’re not with me, you’re still home, because you are in my heart.
There are lots of kinds of smart. Isaac, when I was a kid, I wasn’t that great at school. There were lots of kids who did better than me on tests. I wasn’t the first person to learn how to read. I still remember the lump in my throat when I didn’t do well, even though I tried hard. So let me be the one to tell you, Isaac: there are lots of kinds of smart. Some kids are really smart at numbers. Some are smart at words. Some are smart at solving problems. Some are smart at friendship. Some are smart at helping people. And some are smart at creating things, like paintings or pottery. You are smart, Isaac, and we’re going to help you figure out what kind of smart you are.
And the last one is a tough one. But here it is: My job is not to protect you from hard things, it’s to launch you out into this great big world, so that you can play your part in great Big Story. This means that sometimes, you’ll make mistakes. You might not make the team. You might try to make friends with people who reject you. When those things happen, I hope I’m the first person you want to talk to. I’ll cry with you. Isaac, this is so hard for me. I’d much rather do anything and everything to make sure you don’t fail or get hurt. But you need to fail, and even get hurt sometimes, because that’s how you’ll learn how to be a person who brings great things to this world. Only those of us who have suffered a little know how to really help.
So, Isaac, my beautiful, strong son: have a great first day of first grade. I’ll be waiting for you when you get home.
Your Daddy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuff & Non-Sense

I am sifting through my belongings these days, filtering them with the question "Do I love this enough to pay to move it?" Since I don't know if or when I'll be moving, I am a bit indecisive on many things, but adamantly certain about others, and those are going out the door.

There is something in all of us that makes us as acquisitive as magpies. It starts early. Nearly every child has a security object of some sort: a beloved blanket, a particular stuffed animal, a favorite pacifier, a possession that reassures her that all is right with the world. Every parent has tales of sneaking the filthy object into the washing machine while the child sleeps, hoping to avoid the restless, tearful, anxiety-ridden hour that the lovey is out of his hands.

If only it could stop with that single object. The security blanket is an irrational selection, made without language or even much memory. It is a purely sensory choice. Stories abound of parents who have tried to have two or three of the object, just in case, only to have the newer, cleaner object rejected with scorn. Still, managing and housing that single object is a relatively simple task, but only the first of the many layers of stuff you will acquire with your children.

After the objects loved for their sensory value come the objects beloved for their familiarity. The endless list of favored place mats, particular tee-shirts, and oft-read bedtime stories occupy space in a parent's data base of things that make a child happy. As children grope for some small measure of control in a world that, from their point of view, is constantly expanding, familiar objects give them a place to focus, a way to re-orient themselves when things are constantly shifting.

At some point some object will become saturated with a particular memory and then become impossible to part with: a lucky talisman, a gift from a special someone, a piece of clothing worn on a particularly memorable occasion. These items multiply over the years and can accumulate to alarming proportions. I know from personal experience that every one of the hundred stuffed animals a couple of kids can accumulate over ten years has a back story. "I won that kitty at the school carnival in second grade. Amanda gave me that for my ninth birthday. Grandma brought that when I had the chicken pox." You might swear you've never laid eyes on the object before, but your child remembers each one individually.

Next comes the collection phase, where your child fixates on a particular item and accumulates as many variations of the item as possible. Coins, stamps, pens, bottle caps, baseball cards, the possibilities are endless. And there is such joy each time another piece of the collection is acquired that even after the child loses interest, neither you nor she is willing to get rid of the collection.

There is no sense to this attachment to stuff. There are a few special people who can hold it all in check, but most of us are drowning in our stuff. And all of this is layered upon the stuff we actually need - dishes and screwdrivers and shoes.

The effect of our stuff on our relationships is probably the place where faith intersects this question. We come into this world attached only to our mothers, and we leave it attached only to God. No possession can replace relationship. If we are followers of Jesus, we follow a leader who lived simply, unencumbered by the responsibilities of stuff. We follow a leader who lived a life rich with relationships: a deep attachment to God, a core group of close friends, and many, many casual yet caring encounters with people he healed and loved and taught. Does your stuff make sense in the context of your faith journey? Does your stuff block your child's view of your faith life? Does your stuff make sense, or is it nonsense? 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's NOT That Complicated

I think Albert Einstein may have generated more of my favorite quotes than any other source besides Jesus. One of my very favorites is: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." In matters of faith, "this is most certainly true" (to quote another favorite genius, Martin Luther.) I have heard people explain very complicated ideas to children in a way that they can understand. Games, pictures, Legos, food, pets, relationships can all be used to explain things to kids. Experiential Learning - learning by doing. Did you learn anything about monopolies by playing the game? Have you ever heard someone explain architecture in terms of Jenga or Legos? Children learn by doing.

So parents, if you are having trouble explaining faith to your child, maybe you don't understand it well enough. Maybe the faith you had when you left middle school hasn't been taken out, dusted off, and test driven for a long time. So when your child parrots what he learned in Sunday School, "Let's pray about it, Ms. _______ says that God will listen to our prayers!", you may feel uncomfortable. You may not know how to respond, or you may even undermine what your child has learned. Why not simply take that worthy piece of advice, sit down with your child, and pray about it? Even if prayer is your normal habit, you may be surprised by what happens next!

As many of you know, I am in process of a job search. Last week I got a call inviting me to come in for a face-to-face interview in another state. A state where I don't know a single soul, have only driven across, and one that is different from both the Midwest and Texas where I have spent most of my life. So I reverted to the simplest formula I knew: I prayed. I told God that I was afraid. I told God that I would go if it that was the plan, but couldn't I please go somewhere where I knew someone? Guess what happened next. Yep, I crossed paths with someone. She isn't just from the state, or the metro area, or even the town. She lives two blocks from the church where I will be interviewing, and we already have many things in common. In a crowd of 6,000 people, I met the one person who was the answer to my prayers.

Dust off those most basic tools of faith and put them to use. Prayer is a good place to start because you can easily do it with your children. Give thanks, ask forgiveness, pray for people who need things, and ask God for guidance in your own life. Don't forget to pray for the pets. It will help you pass on faith to your children. Keep track of your prayers and it will help you increase your trust in God. It's really not that complicated. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Rites of Passage

Last Sunday,  I got to stand in for a friend as her daughter Ellen had her senior pictures taken. The young woman in question is lovely, and the photographer took us to a busy street and a quiet park for two very charming sets of pictures. It struck me that even in this day and age when young people are posting or messaging or tweeting pictures of themselves nearly every day, they still find marking this particular juncture in their lives important enough so set aside time, hire a professional, and do their best to fix themselves in this moment in history.

For this young women, and most of the other young people I know, graduating from High School will not be the highest honor of their lives. Nor will getting married, the only other time most of them will pay to have their picture taken. They will have higher degrees and make important contributions to community or business or family or some other institution. Yet we and they feel it is necessary to mark this particular moment as special. I wonder why.

Is it because of the potential we see in them? They stand poised to leap in a direction yet unknown and the world is theirs for the taking. They have not started down a career path; almost the entire spectrum of possible occupations is open to them. Is it because we are getting a glimmer of what is to come: the first signs of complex thinking, talents beginning to emerge and converge in interesting ways? I have been rolling this over in my mind for several days now and have reached a somewhat un-profound conclusion:

We treasure this moment because it represents HOPE.

Hope is one of those things that keep us going. In the midst of news of increasing temperatures, crime rates, and cost-of-living and decreasing family stability, safety, and ability to predict the future, it is refreshing to gaze upon these young people and imagine what they will become. Hope that this young person, who only a year ago needed to be transported from place to place by an adult, can now begin to take care of herself, and her own needs. Hope that she can navigate to a place of joy, a place with meaningful work and relationships and dreams. Hope for the best. It makes me smile to realize that as a culture we mark the moments of greatest hope with professional photos: babies, high school seniors, brides and grooms.

Jeremiah 29:11 says: For surely I know the plans I have for you,says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." In this rite of passage, God, the adults, and most young people are of one accord. That's a good reason to keep on marking this milestone!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

MGM - Take Me Away

When my girls were younger and still spending their summers at home, we liked to pick a theme for a summer "film festival." We would would pick a theme, director, or series and watch all the movies over the course of the summer break. This morning I ran across a list of 50 movies from 50 states that sounded like a fun armchair vacation for this summer. I've already seen and enjoyed about half of these, and several of them are not family fare, but it reminded me of how much fun we had watching movies together as a family. Maybe your family can have a film festival too!

So, here's the list, in alphabetical order by state. I'm thinking of watching them as if this were a road trip, starting in Texas and heading East, West, or North. Or maybe I will put them in order according to the year they were made. Or maybe in alpha order by movie title. That's probably not important.  I'll post a note or two about each one, in case you're interested. So - here they are, courtesy of Mark Demming at Movie Talk (Yahoo):

Alabama - To Kill a Mockingbird
Alaska - Insomnia
Arizona - Raising Arizona
Arkansas - Sling Blade
California - American Graffiti
Colorado - The Shining
Connecticut - Far From Heaven
Delaware - Fight Club
Florida - Magic Mike
Georgia - Gone With the Wind
Hawaii - From Here to Eternity
Idaho - Napoleon Dynamite
Illinois - The Blues Brothers
Indiana - Hoosiers
Iowa - Field of Dreams
Kansas - Winchester 73 
Kentucky - Coal Miner's Daughter
Louisiana - Interview with the Vampire
Maine - Shawshank Redemption
Maryland - Diner
Massachusetts - The Town
Michigan - Gran Torino
Minnesota - Purple Rain 
Mississippi - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Missouri - Waiting for Guffman
Montana - A River Runs Through It
Nebraska - Election
Nevada - Oceans Eleven
New Hampshire - What About Bob?
New Jersey - Atlantic City
New Mexico - High Noon
New York - Manhattan
North Carolina - Bull Durham
North Dakota - Fargo 
Ohio - Heathers
Oklahoma - The Outsiders 
Oregon - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Pennsylvania - Ground Hog Day
Rhode Island - Me, Myself, and  Irene
South Carolina - Glory
South Dakota - Dances with Wolves
Tennessee - Nashville
Texas - Giant
Utah - 127 Hours
Vermont - Dead Poets Society
Virginia - Donnie Darko
Washington - Singles
West Virginia - We Are Marshall
Wisconsin - Lars and the Real Girl
Wyoming - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

My normal blogging will resume next week, though it may be heavily influenced by this endeavor!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Inquiring Minds

Today I stumbled over a word that seemed new, but may have just been forgotten. I hope it was forgotten because I certainly should have encountered it somewhere in all my studies around education
and learning. The word was autodidact. It means self-taught.

Most of us have taught ourselves to do something: to cook, to change the oil in the car, o to hook up an electronic something or other. We struggle, read, try some more, watch a video, call a friend for advice, and in the end usually accomplish what we are hoping to do. We probably weren't trying to become a professional; more likely, something sparked our interest. We wanted to be able to fix a favorite dish, save a few bucks, or be able to listen to the stereo out on the patio. And our desire to know turned us into autodidacts. We wanted to know, so we explored; not in a classroom, but following our own interest down the path, occasionally doubling back to learn some fundamental principle or skill necessary to understanding or accomplishing our goal.

Some things can only be self-taught. Faith is one of those things. We have to try living by faith in order to master it. And we won't get it right every time. We will falter, and fail. We will come close and then chicken out. We will sometimes have to fake it till we make it. Our children will not learn their faith from us. They will teach it to themselves.

So if our children will teach themselves faith, what role do parents play in a child's faith life?  The most important one of all: parents are the match that starts the fire!

  • We generate their interest by being people of faith. 
  • We model our faith for them - day in and day out. 
  • We encourage them in their exploration (even when it goes places that make us nervous, like places with altar calls or infant baptism or even to other world religions.) 
  • We support their interest, just as we support their interest in soccer, or dancing, or Star Wars. 
  • We look for opportunities for them to explore. 
  • We enroll them in programs that will increase their knowledge and expose them to other role models, 
  • We give them opportunities to learn about the fundamentals of faith and encourage them to keep going when they don't have the passion they started with to fuel their exploration. 
Are you up to it? Sooner or later your child will become curious about what you believe. Will what you tell them match what they already know about you?  Go to any youth or education ministry conference and you'll hear the phrase "Faith is caught, not taught." Will your child be exposed enough to catch it? Will they catch on fire and want to explore faith for themselves? If not, maybe you need to look around for someone whose faith inspires you. We all need role models; we all need inspiration; and we all need to keep our faith alive in a way that inspires our children.  I don't know where your faith or love or curiosity will take you, but God does and with God's help you'll teach yourself what you need to know!

Friday, June 14, 2013


My book club read a powerful book this month. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a fascinating treatise on how American culture values extroverted people significantly more than introverted people and how that plays out in our society. The author makes a strong case that this is a big mistake. (You can hear Susan Cain give a brief overview of her findings in her TED Talk.) The women who gathered to discuss the book were split between introverts and extroverts six to four. When everyone in the group is present we are nearly evenly divided but clearly the introverts were excited to talk about this book! As they spoke it became increasingly obvious how much they related to the author's words and how misunderstood, undervalued, or out of place they sometimes felt.

As the discussion continued we noted that many of us had both kinds of children and the extroverts in the group clearly felt that they understood their extroverted children better than their introverted children, while the introverted mothers felt they understood their extroverted child(ren) well but were sometimes exhausted by them.

This is a rich fountain of the kinds of ideas on family and faith dynamics that fascinate me and I have been thinking about it a lot. Here are a few things I think parents might want to know:
  • Introverts and extroverts are both created in the image of God. 
  • If you are an extroverted parent raising an introverted child, get thee to Amazon and buy this book. You will appreciate a look at life from the other side.
  • Your child's feelings about public speaking have nothing to do with their intro- or extro- version.
  • Both types of children need lots of reassurance that they are valuable but your introverted child may need more of that from you because they get less of it elsewhere.
  • We are part of a society that values how things look. Make sure you look past the presentation to the content when dealing with your children - sometimes the most grandly presented speech is completely devoid of any meaningful content while the low-key and simply presented speech can be filled with profound observations.
  • Don't feel that you have to fill up every silence. Leave room for the less talkative (more introverted) child to offer a topic of conversation that interests him or her.
  • Jesus may be the only true ambivert (a person perfectly balanced between being an extrovert and an introvert.)
  • Help your child learn to live out their own extroversion or introversion, and help them to appreciate the gifts of their friends and siblings who are the opposite.
One more way to look at God's amazing creation! Every creature unique, and gifted for the life of the world. Can you imagine the possibilities as you look at your child?

Friday, May 31, 2013

God is good - all the time!

My Presbyterian friends frequently bring a group together by announcing that "God is good", and everyone responds, enthusiastically, "All the time." That about sums up my point of view this morning.

This week has been one of significant change for me. On Tuesday I learned that my job of eleven years is being eliminated in a restructuring of our congregation. Heartbreaking news as I have felt deep joy and purpose in this position. Shocking news as I was completely unprepared to hear it. I have been sad, and mad, a lot this week and will no doubt go down those roads again in the months to come, but in the midst of it I was surprised to discover that I am not afraid. In fact, as the days go by, I find that I am beginning to look forward to the challenges of tackling a new job, perhaps even in a new place. In the middle of the shock and sadness, hope pokes up a green shoot, a promise of something new being born.

It has also been a week of blessing for me. I have been blessed by a tremendous outpouring of support and love. My phone, email account, and Facebook page have been filled with messages of love, appreciation, support, and promises of prayers. I feel like I have not wasted my time or effort, that what I have been giving my time and energy for mattered to a lot of people, that it wasn't wasted. That's more than a nice feeling; it's a huge blessing.

While I was fortunate to be born a cock-eyed optimist, I know that my confidence in the face of this change is rooted in faith. Faith that God has never failed me in the past, and will never fail me, ever. I am so grateful that I had parents who tended the roots of my faith with great care. Parents who pointed out repeatedly the ways that they saw God at work in me and in my life. Who regularly reminded me that with God, all things are possible. I hope that I have done as much for my children. I hope you are doing this for yours.

This is not my first rodeo. I have had my world unexpectedly rocked before, and probably will again. Faith, hope, and love abide through the grace of our most loving God. So I continue to float in the waters of my baptism down an unknown river to an unknowable new future. Never alone and well aware that God is good! 

All the time!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

River Authority

Many of the boundaries between states and countries were designated by the river that naturally divides land from land. These boundaries seem obvious, but over time they move, due to erosion, dam building, flooding and a host of other factors. In some cases one state or the other controls the river, and in others everything related to the river needs to be negotiated between the two sides. Eventually, some entity must become the River Authority

There are many parenting parallels here. Think about it. Every boundary you will ever set with your child is ultimately going to shift. The crib that contains them when they awake eventually gives way to a bed they can leave by themselves. Tricycle boundaries that limit the rider to sidewalks within sight distance of the front yard will become bike boundaries that eventually allow for riding in the street and far beyond visual supervision. Your child's seven o'clock bedtime becomes eight, then nine, then ten, and eventually is self-regulated.

So who controls the river? Well, where I live there is an entity called the Lower Colorado River Authority. They operate six dams that provide electricity to this area, protect water supply and quality, educate for boater safety, and perhaps most importantly, decide when to release water from the dams. As a parent, I like the idea of being the entity that is the Child River Authority: providing, protecting, educating, and releasing when the time and conditions are right.

There are entire books written about setting boundaries for your children, and you should definitely read a few of them, but I hope you can use this little river analogy to think about the boundaries you set for your kids. Kids are like rivers in so many ways:

  • Always moving forward
  • Frequently taking the path of least resistance
  • Sometimes forcing their way through solid rock
  • Full of life
  • Receiving input from thousands of streams
  • "Uncontainable" in any permanent fashion
  • Sometimes rushing, sometimes meandering
  • Easily polluted 
  • Less easily cleaned up
  • Refreshing
  • Enriching to everyone near them
The most successful strategy for managing a river is to embrace the nature of the river. No river can be contained behind a dam forever; it will ultimately go over, around, or through the dam if not released. The Authority can, however, use strategically placed dams to focus the flow of the river to generate power, protect and serve the people near the river, increase its efficiency, and release the water in a steady, safe flow. The Authority can make rules to keep the river clean, protect the life within it, and educate others about this particular river.

Both the river and the child are created and called by God for some purpose. They bless us, and we have a sacred responsibility to be good stewards of both. You are your child's River Authority, and you make rules for the good of the child over stretches of time and space. You can own neither the river nor the child, but you can manage your child on behalf of the true owner. What a privilege!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Is That Trophy Really Worth?

The debate over participation ribbons and trophies is alive and well. Should we reward effort in the same way we reward success? Does it matter to a child's self-esteem? I guess I wasn't surprised to hear that this debate continues to rage long after my children, the original recipients of the "participation" awards, have graduated from college.

Participation awards certainly have their genesis in good intentions, but it can be argued that the enemy of the best is the good. I went blog surfing to see what others think about this. Here are a few choice arguments I found:

From CuteMonster:

  • Giving a child an award without that hard work might lead to a false sense of what the real world is like. What if a high school junior doesn’t study for his SATs? Will he still get a good score? Will he get into a good college? The answer is likely no.
  • Working hard, regardless of winning or losing, should be celebrated.
  • . . .where I think we cross the line is when we award subjective winners, such as rating artistic events. There is a nuance to 'judging' that is lost on children.
  • I like the idea of "participation awards" that place a value on a child's willingness to devote time and effort. 
From Good & Bad Parents:
  • Why are we rewarding kids just for breathing? We need to stop rewarding kids just for participating.  This is teaching them that they should be rewarded without putting forth much effort.  They start to develop a sense of entitlement.  Children need to know that they need to work hard in order to be rewarded for anything.
From On the Pitch:
  • Just a thought for another option. Last season we took 3-ring binders, sheet protectors, and construction paper and put together scrap/yearbooks for our players. It’s a great way to save money, space, and memories and add a personal touch from the coaches. Not to mention letting the players see how they grow each season. Just wanted to offer that, good ideas on both sides of the issue, the most important thing is that the kids walk away with a positive experience, no matter how you decide to recognize them.
Is there a faith question lodged somewhere in this impassioned debate? I think there is, and I think the answer to that question renders this whole debate moot. Concern for trophies ties a child's worth to what he or she does. This is very much the view of our American culture: worth is tied to achievement. In the Kingdom of God, a child's (or adult's) worth is determined by what he or she is. So if your child's activity does, or does not, provide participation awards, your child's ultimate worth remains the same.

Here are a few thoughts on worth:

From Jesus:
  • Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.  (Matthew 10:29-31)
From Henri Nouwen:
  • But you have to pray. You have to listen to the voice who calls you the beloved, because otherwise you will run around begging for affirmation, for praise, for success. (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World)
 No one has greater influence on a child’s sense of worth than parents! Let them know you and God love them for who they are, and not what they do. Your love is the trophy they covet most of all.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Job Well Done

The inability of a young woman to do the simplest of daily tasks is exploited in the television show Two Broke Girls. Caroline, a rich girl raised by nannies and maids, falls on hard times and ends up as a waitress in a seedy diner. She's balanced by practical and street-wise Max who is adept at survival but
definitely lacking in some of the finer graces. The combination is hilarious, but it's obvious that both girls are held back by what they don't know.  (By the way, this show is very funny but has a raunchy side that sometimes borders on offensive. Be forewarned if you plan to check it out.)

I regularly see kids who have never washed dishes, folded clothes, made beds, pulled weeds, mowed the lawn, or used a broom. They are not incompetent kids. Most of them excel at something: music, sports, academics, art. They simply have never had to do any day-to-day chores.  It's easy to see how it happens with the busy schedules people keep, but I wonder if we might be handicapping them for the next stages of their lives.

Here are a few tried-and-true chores with recommended ages for learning:
  • 18 months - Picking up toys and returning them to toy box or shelf 
  • 2 years - Putting clothes in the hamper
  • 3 years - Folding towels and underwear
  • 4 years - Feeding pets
  • 5 years - Putting clean laundry away
  • 6 years - Drying dishes
  • 7 years - Packing lunch
  • 8 years - Taking out trash/bringing in groceries
  • 9 years - Washing clothes
  • 10 years - Unloading the dishwasher
  • 11 years - Changing the bed sheets
  • 12 years - Washing the car
  • 13 years - Babysitting

There are many more things kids are capable of doing; they just need instruction, encouragement, and 
appreciation. They start saying, "I do it" when they are about age two, and they really want to do it. Let them. Help them.

It is true that we are serving God when we serve our families. It is also true that we serve God when we are good stewards of our children, equipping them to take care of themselves, to live peaceably with others, and to carry their own loads. Sooner or later your kids will be living with someone else, a roommate or maybe a spouse, and you will not be there to fix their lunches or wash their clothing. Get them ready and maybe eventually you'll have time to watch Two Broke Girls or other silly television program. Or maybe you'll find that you have the time and energy to share a little love with someone outside your family. Equipping your kids ultimately frees you to go where God calls you to go, and that's an exciting proposition!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Love Like a Grown-Up

I am going to steal, and twist, an idea from Sunday's sermon in which Pastor Skip talked about Discipleship 2.0. He pointed out that some of us have mastered the basic tasks of discipleship, and now we are charged with mastering version 2.0 which requires that we love one another as Jesus has loved us. There's a special twist on this for parents. We, the grown-ups, are required to love our kids as Jesus has loved us.

To be loved by Jesus is to be loved in spite of one's self. Jesus gives unconditional love for the person you are, even if your actions don't live up to your best self. That is how we are to love our children, and most of the time we do. As they get older though, our expectations grow, and sometimes the kids don't live up to those expectations. Sometimes they disappoint us. This is the place where it can get really messy, the place where a parent can start thinking about how this impacts me. And that's where the wedge can be driven between you and your child. That's the place where your child can start to think he or she isn't good enough or lovable enough.

This is where you need to stand up and love like a grown-up. This is where you need to separate the person and the action carefully. This is when you have to put yourself in your children's shoes and say what they need to hear: that you still love them in spite of the crumpled fender, the poor grade, or the bad judgment. This is not the time to withhold love or approval in hopes of teaching them a lesson. This is the time to love them with everything you have, and to find the teachable moment in the middle of it.

Too often we are tempted to say, "You know I love you but this (insert habit or infraction here) really drives me crazy." Your kid will only hear the second half of this sentence; the "but" wipes out the first half completely. So, if you must include a "but," wait until you mean it and then say it in reverse, "This (habit or infraction) drives me crazy, but I love you with all my heart."

Too late? Already have a wedge between you and your child? Reach across or around it. You are the grown-up; you have the greater responsibility for the relationship. If it needs mending, figure out how to fix it. Don't send your child to the counselor to get fixed. Go yourself and sort it out with a neutral party, make a plan, and reach across the chasm to restore your relationship - as many times as it takes.

Love like Jesus. Unconditionally. Deliberately. Responsibly. Forsaking self for the best interests of others. You won't do it perfectly but he'll love you anyway, because Jesus loves like a grown-up!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thinking out loud

The week has been full to overflowing, and my thoughts are sloshing around like water in a bucket so, taking a tip from a fellow blogger, I am going to simply share a list of questions on my mind today, and let you think about them too! Feel free to respond.

  1. Why am I surprised when the moon, which has a strong enough pull to move the oceans, also makes
    kids crazy?
  2. Wouldn't it be nice to know how to predict what will stay with your children and what will be forgotten?
  3. How can we integrate more time with nature into everyone's lives? (This thought was provoked by the information that second grade students from Minneapolis and St. Paul just released 75,000 ladybugs in the Mall of America to help keep their plants aphid-free! I love the ideas of ladybugs at the mall!)
  4. Why are great gifts of artistry so often accompanied by mental illness or addiction?
  5. Do chicks pecking their way out of eggshells or plants bursting out of seeds suffer pain or discomfort? In other words, is all growth accompanied by pain?
  6. How can we better control the power of the internalized expectation? (This is provoked by information from a study that says having a college fund, regardless of size, increases the likelihood of college graduation by 45%. We should figure out how to harness this power because we also know that if we expect failure we are also likely to get it!)
  7. How do we stop being so "parochial"? Comparing the news reported by the BBC and the news reported by ABC makes me wonder if Nero's "bread and circuses" have arrived in the United States.
  8. What do you call the mindset that is neither competitive nor collaborative? Perhaps the word does not exist because the mindset doesn't either? Are there implications for relationships in this?
Sorry for the half-baked ideas. Perhaps one of them will reach completion before next week! In the meantime, send me any insights this generates for you. I'd love to hear your thoughts, stories, or examples.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Sense of Proportion

As I write this, it has been less than 24 hours since the explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line. The television has kept us abreast of every development, every story of heroism, every tragedy spelled out in gratuitous detail. What do we tell our kids about events such as these?

I was very touched by this meme that popped up all over Facebook almost immediately. I think Mrs. Rogers was a very wise woman. Reminding children to focus on the goodness going on in the midst of the terror helps them get a sense of proportion. There was a bad person who planted explosives at a race, but look at all the good people who are there to help! I think this is a great message to send to your kids. This will not, unfortunately, be the last time you will need to point this out to them. 

Remind them that we can do something to help too; we can pray, even when we are far away. And we can look for things to be thankful for in the midst of the disaster: the kindness of strangers, the emergency workers who know just what to do, the dogs who can find bombs, all the people who weren't harmed. Your list will be different from mine, but it will comfort you and your children to look for things to be grateful for in the midst of a tragedy.

Point out to your children that while this is the only thing on the news, there are many other things going on in the world at the same time. In this particular instance, one large event that went virtually ignored in the news was a major earthquake in Iran. The death toll is expected to exceed one hundred. Those people need our prayers every bit as much as the people of Boston. Help your child understand that the magnitude of media coverage is not a true indication of the importance of an event.

This is also a great time to talk about showing kindness to everyone. Acts of kindness will nearly always earn respect from most people. How many acts of violence are committed by people who have been scarred by abuse or bullying or neglect? If your child is popular, she has the power to influence others to be kind. If your child is picked on and bullied, it is important to help him learn to stand up for himself and to recognize that for every person who bullies him, there are far more who don't. Keeping a sense of proportion is vital. 

Lastly, be sure to model your faith in the midst of a frightening event. Pray with your child for the victims and emergency personnel. Pray for the "enemy." Talk about how we need not fear death because we know there is a new life beyond this one. Share what you believe. Tell your children what gives you courage and peace in hard times. God will use evil to bring good, and one of those good things is an opportunity to share your faith with your children. Faith, not the media, can establish a sense of proportion in the midst of the unthinkable.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Daddy Sang Bass. . .

Sitcoms are filled with references to how mothers influence their children but precious little attention is given to how dads influence their kids. Yet the marks dads leave, even if they are absent, are huge. Fatherly influence is important to both boys and girls and goes way beyond genetics. Here's a very small sampling of ways that fathers influence their children:
  • Preschoolers with actively involved fathers have stronger verbal skills.
  • Children tend to embrace the food preferences of their fathers.
  • Children with actively involved fathers display fewer behavior problems in school.
  • Girls with strong relationships with their fathers do better in mathematics.
  • Fathers role model what it means to be an adult to adolescent sons.
  • A father's presence or absence significantly impacts a child's security.
  • Fathers who attend church regularly are more likely to see their children continue in the church as adults.
  • A young girl's positive relationship with her father fosters better relationships in the workplace and with authority figures in adulthood.
Sounds like a very tall order! What is an actively involved father? How do we get all these benefits for our kids? Let me propose a ridiculously simple exercise to get you started: Sing in church!

Active participation in church means more than standing up and sitting down at the appropriate times. It means folding your hands and closing your eyes during the prayers, and encouraging your child to do the same. It means singing along with the hymns. Not all of you sing like Blake Shelton or Josh Groban. No problem. Just sing along as best you can, and you will get better. More importantly, your kids will want to sing with you. Reading along with your kids in the hymnal, whispering the meanings of words they don't know, or singing your favorite choruses in the car after church will make a big impression on them. When you don't sing along it says to them that you are not involved, and they will copy you.

What follows is a generalization that will not hold true in every family, but it is still worth thinking about. Most children spend significantly more time with their mothers than with their fathers. This makes a dad an object of greater mystery and interest than a mom who is far more available. Your kids are watching. Intently. They know what you do, and they imitate it.

My mother deliberately taught me a thousand things before I started school, including how to love my kids. My dad taught me to tie my shoes. Guess what I remember in exquisite detail? You got it! Learning to tie my shoes still ranks as a big achievement because it earned my dad's approval.

So sing to the Lord. Sing with gusto and enthusiasm, in tune or out. Sing out your wonder and awe at the amazing child entrusted to you by God Almighty. Someone is watching you.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

We are Easter "Peep-le"

My older daughter, while in seminary, had the privilege of celebrating Passover with the family for whom she worked. As she shared her reflections on this ancient tradition, I couldn't help but wish that our Easter traditions were more about religious remembrance, and less about bonnets and bunnies. Yet, when I think back over the dozens of Easter celebrations of my life, I cannot do so without a smile. Joy is the order of the day on Easter and new life can be celebrated in so many ways. The trees and the wildflowers have burst into bloom, the birds are in a frenzy of nesting and mating, singing their hearts out as spring blows away the bleak and cold of the winter months. People too are coming out of homes where they have been sheltered for months, eager to open themselves to some warm sunshine, and it seems, to one another. The return of spring each year is a profound experience of resurrection, worthy of celebration.

There will be plenty of solemnity this week, especially on Friday, but the joy cannot be repressed. And the joy is the part of Easter that the children best understand. The children feel it on a primal level. The stirring of new life makes them almost giddy as the days grow longer and color bursts upon the earth. They may not understand death, but they understand life at its fullest, which may be the truest way to understand resurrection.

Several years ago a young pastor introduced the Easter Vigil to our congregation, and it seemed almost shocking to celebrate Easter late at night with fire and drums and remembrances of Old Testament stories we don't normally associate with Jesus and Easter. The service ends with a burst of light and noise and is soon followed by the popping of champagne corks and indulging in chocolate after the fast. It is a profoundly joyful experience - not to be missed if the opportunity presents itself.

In the face of all this, our most abiding family Easter tradition seems tacky and silly, yet the annual ritual never fails to bring smiles. I guess it can best be described as "blowing up the peeps." Take those little marshmallow confections, put them on a paper plate in the microwave, and heat them on high. Like marshmallows at a campfire, they will grow and grow and grow. And as they do they will morph into grotesque shapes that never fail to amuse the children watching. Well into college the children I have spent most Easters with continued the ritual, and the joyful laughter. 

Christ, through death and resurrection, came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. On this most profound day of our faith, let us rejoice, and share the joy with even the  youngest among us.