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.