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!