Friday, December 5, 2014

Do Not Be Afraid

Children of all ages are no strangers to being afraid, and neither are parents. Children are afraid of the dark, big dogs, the possibility of divorce, monsters under the bed, getting their faces wet, and a myriad of other things. Adolescents are afraid that they will always be tallest or shortest or fattest or thinnest, of being rejected when asking someone out on a date, that no one will stop them from their out of control behavior, and that they will have to leave the nest before they are done growing up. Parents are afraid of car accidents, child molesters, bicycles, drugs and death. Being afraid is part of the human condition.

Into this arena of fear comes the message "Do not be afraid."

God speaks these words to Abraham, to Hagar, to Isaac, to Jacob. Moses is reminded, Joshua is instructed, and Elijah is commanded. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah brought messages from the Lord saying "Do not be afraid." Usually the message is accompanied by "for I am with you."

I imagine few who heard those words were completely relieved of their fear, but again and again God showed up and proved there was nothing beyond the scope of God's power.

As we move toward Christmas we will hear these words again. Angels, messengers from God, speaking to Mary, and Joseph, and nameless shepherds on a hillside. The same message, with a twist. "Do not be afraid; I bring you good news!"

And so as December flies by and Christmas approaches I say to you parents - Do Not Be Afraid!

Do Not Be Afraid . . .

  • To be your child's parent. You were not given this child to befriend, you are Mom or Dad!
  • To let traditions from your childhood that no longer hold meaning die. You can lose all of Christmas suffering through traditions that no one enjoys any longer.
  • To kill Santa. Or the Elf on the shelf. 
  • To help your child have realistic expectations.
  • To reach out to others who may be lonely.
  • To simpllify what you need to for the sake of the Christmas your family wants.
  • To make your kids wait. . .
There's a lot of pressure on us this time of the year. Pressure to be more, do more, spend more. And the season that should evoke joy can, instead, evoke fear. Fear of not being enough, not decorating (cleaning/baking/wrapping enough) not spending enough. . . 

Do not be afraid Mom and Dad. The Lord has found favor with you and entrusted His beautiful children into your care. Do not be afraid - just love them and glorify God for them! Let them and yourselves know they have nothing to fear for God is with them. 

I Bring You Good News. . .
  • You are enough
  • You do enough
  • Your gifts show your love
  • It's all about the baby - 
  • The rest is just for fun, and if it's not fun for anyone in your family, don't do it!
Merry Christmas (it's ok to say - don't be afraid!). May the good news of the Christ child eradicate the fears that creep upon us so stealthily.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In All Circumstances

'Tis the season to be THANKFUL, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

There's not much going on to support that idea! Thanksgiving, if mentioned at all, is all about stuffing your face and getting ready to consume bargains on Black Friday. People are keeping scorecards: Who's opening? What time? What's on sale there? Two women in Beaumont, CA set up camp in front of their local Best Buy on November 5, more than three weeks ahead of the big sale. They don't even know specifically what will be on sale, they just want to be first in line.

In the face of such relentless attempts to stoke our appetites it becomes important to cultivate a grateful heart, first in ourselves, and then in our children. Gratitude is the only antidote to greed. Since there are very few media invitations to gratitude, it's up to us to practice and model gratitude. And practicing gratitude has a huge payoff - peace!

I live in a small town without even a Walmart to call our own so I was curious to see if the youth of this community, who shop far less than their suburban counterparts, might be more steeped in gratitude. I had a good sample of 20 or so 7th and 8th graders as a captive audience this week. We handed around index cards and asked them to write down something they were thankful for on one side of the card. Then we talked about Paul's injunction to be thankful in all circumstances and  asked them to flip their cards over and think about a circumstance where they couldn't imagine being thankful. Then they were asked them to "Stump the Chumps" (me and their pastor) and we looked for ways to be thankful in the scenarios they had dreamed up: someone you love is murdered, a car accident, a bad diagnosis, being bullied, etc. It didn't take long for them to catch on and start finding something to be grateful for in each circumstance, making the "Chumps" unnecessary. At the end, we gave thanks for the things they had initially written down on their cards. Each of the 20 had chosen one of three things: parents, families, and friends.

I was discouraged that they had come to the table with so little gratitude no apparent awareness of the gifts of shelter, education, food, health, or a host of other possible choices, Still, I was very glad that they appreciated their relationships more than their cell phones. And I was encouraged that after our exercise I detected a note of embarrassment as student after student said family or friends or parents.

Gratitude, for most of us, is more an ingrained habit than an inborn talent. Family is a perfect context for learning to be grateful. The old-fashioned practice of saying grace before meals is a gratitude practice. Simply reciting "God is great. God is good. And we thank God for our food." creates an awareness that food is something to be appreciated. Stopping to pray before meals and freely expressing specific gratitudes for specific circumstances is also a good way to teach/learn/practice gratitude.

Other natural contexts within the family might include:

  • Requiring good manners: saying thank you when receiving a gift (whether that gift is a birthday celebration, a basket of clean laundry, a warm drink on a cold day, or a ride to a friend's house.)
  • Raising awareness using natural triggers: giving thanks for first responders when hearing sirens, speaking thankfully of income sources when getting cash at the ATM, appreciating good service when it happens, good health when engaging in active recreation
  • Focusing awareness: simply asking familiy members to think of one thing they are grateful for each day and to share it, or put up a white board for keeping track of blessings

I have kept a gratitude journal off and on for many years. Though I haven't been consistent, it is fun to look back and see what inspired my gratitude in other stages of life: a child's long nap, a windy day for drying beach towels, prepared food in the freezer, an accident avoided, good medical care, helpful friends, wisdom from my mother or father or child, a good book, an inspiring sermon, a reminder, no cavities, a telephone call, a day without driving, and so on.

Though it may be obvious, the biggest gift of the gratitude practice is that is cultivates an awareness of God, and of God's goodness. It is hard to comprehend the immensity of God's goodness, but itemizing our daily gifts helps us see God at work in our lives - and in that grateful state be immunized from the germs of greed that draw us away from God. In the language of bumper stickers:

May you know gratitude and peace this season!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


I have been thinking about the theme of accompaniment for a few weeks now - inspired by journey stories of the Old Testament and God's accompaniment on those journeys, and my own reflections on reaching the milestone of living a year in a new place and God's accompaniment in transition.

Accompaniment is a word that has musical connotations for me. One who provides musical accompaniment has a complex role, being present in the background, sometimes supporting or enhancing, sometimes leading, and sometimes building a bridge from one section to another. If you have been to a silent movie where the piano player sets the tone of the scene through the musical score, or listened to a soloist sing a song with significant changes in tempo or key, supported through them by the instrumental accompaniment, you can recognize the work and artistry of accompaniment.

Many times the role of accompanist is deemed subordinate to the role of soloist. After all, at the end of the song, it's the soloist who takes the bow. The most gracious stars will acknowledge their accompanist but the applause is still mostly for the star - isn't he or she great for acknowledging the piano player or the chorus?

As you read the epic stories of the Old Testament, you can see God's accompaniment supporting, leading and building bridges for the main characters: going with Adam and Eve as they are banished from the garden, leading Joseph to plan and prepare for a time of famine and allowing Moses to part the waters and create a bridge of dry land to the wilderness on the way to freedom.

God has been the accompanist to my personal "Life Song" as well - supporting, leading, and providing the bridge from one section to another. And what a great accompanist: supporting me with food, shelter, relationships, work and meaning - the essentials of life. God continues to be the heartbeat that keeps me moving, leading me forward when I would linger too long or holding me back when I would rush forward too soon. God has bridged the segments of my life: from married to single, from mother to empy-nester, from a city in Texas to a small town in Minnesota. God has accompanied me, in the fullest sense of the word.

Am I, created in the image of God, supposed to provide accompaniment as well? Am I supposed to support, lead, and bridge for others? What does it look like to accompany children, spouses, siblings, parents or friends on their journeys the way that God accompanies me? I believe this may be a skill and an attitude to be cultivated in a culture that teaches us to look out for #1. While many of you may already do this as naturally as breathing (I will be watching and learning!) the rest of us will need to learn to accompany. As we seek to accompany one another, what will result? I'm thinking it may be a orchestra!

Friday, October 3, 2014


It's homecoming week in my little town. I don't know how many people actually come home for it, or how many people ever left but it has a lovely ring to it: homecoming. In the midst of our local celebrations I've been thinking a lot about "homecoming":

This month marks the anniversary of the death of a friend who introduced me to another use of the word homecoming: the day they brought their adopted child home. Their family celebrated Homecoming Day with all the excitement most birthdays garner.

Another homecoming happened this week: a child of my former church, now 17, abducted by her non-custodial mother 12 years ago was found in Mexico and returned to Texas. It felt like a homecoming to all of us who have waited and prayed these last 12 years, but to her it must feel as if she has been torn from her home.

Resurrection returned from its summer break and the haunting melody of its theme song adds a bit of melancholy background music to my week. Searching for the source of the theme song I found this video of the song. It's called Coming Home, Part 2, which led me to another kind of homecoming: the soldiers.

The homecoming experiences of returning soldiers must be as myriad as their service experiences; none of them are coming home unchanged. Is it still home when you are different?

Just over a week ago I "virtually" celebrated the homecoming of a friend who had a brain tumor removed. She's not home free, but she's home from the hospital and healing.

When I went to my high school class reunion this summer another reality set in - most of us had no home there any longer. Parents had moved away, passed away, or were infirm and cared for at the "nursing home". The houses we lived in back then were occupied by others, or standing empty.

Though it clearly dates me, and kind of embarrasses me, I have always resonated with the poetry of John Denver's Rocky Mountain High: 
"He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year,
Coming home, to a place he'd never been before.
Left yesterday behind him,
You might say he was born again.
Might say he'd found the key to every door."
Home is the place where we have the keys. The place where we know the rules, and where things are kept, and what the idioms and the silences mean; a place where we understand the values and the context. Sometimes home is a place we recognize, even if it's a place we've never been before.

Throughout my life, church has been home. Though my childhood was spent moving from place to place, church remained familiar. Though the buildings, the liturgies, the preachers and the hymns changed, God the source of all that is home remains. Wherever I find myself, church is coming home to a place I've never been before, and one I've never left.

I no longer live where my children grew up, but they have homes of their own, and church homes where they belong. My mother hasn't lived anywhere that I ever lived for over 35 years. When my daughters visit me, or I visit my mother, we are not coming home, but when we worship together we are at home, with God: our true home.

Where is your homecoming?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Blind Spots

This past Sunday the children at my church learned the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. One part of this story has always left me perplexed: what was Jacob thinking, giving a fancy coat to one and not to the others?! What an extraordinary parenting gaffe! Especially given that Jacob himself was so beset by sibling rivalry that he stole his twin brother's birthright when they were young.

Unfortunately, even the best parents have blind spots. As a parent who is mostly looking in the rear view mirror these days, I can see that I probably over-shared with my children. I probably caused them to worry about things that I should have worried about alone, or with other adults. I was probably too straightforward in shooting down some of their dreams. I am also pretty sure that they told me about it while it was happening but I couldn't always see their point of view. I had parenting blind spots.

It's always easier to see other people's blind spots. I have watched parents do the same thing over and over, expecting it to work "this time." I have seen parents favoring one child, or one gender of child over the other, or conversely expecting more of one than the other.  I have seen parents live vicariously through their kids by pushing them into sports or music or even careers they wish they had had. I wonder what other people have watched me do.

I suspect that Reuben, or Dan, or one of the mothers told Jacob he was making a mistake by favoring Joseph over the others. Did they point out to the patriarch that he wasn't being fair? And did that parenting mistake imbue Joseph with the confidence he needed for the rest of his journey? Did that extra bit of love fill up his self-worth so that when his brothers later came to him in need he was able to be gracious and merciful? Jacob's blind spot caused his favorite son to be sold into slavery but it seems it may also have formed Joseph's character for a particular future.

Which brings me back to a familiar theme in my thinking: God can use evil (or failure or shortcoming or disappointment or mistakes) for good. I am not the final form-er of my child's character, an important one to be sure, but God is always present, with me and with my children.

So I can float on God's abiding presence for another day. I may have blind spots but God sees all. I can do my best, and leave the rest to God. What a wonderful way to travel through this river of parenthood!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day Musings

I love Labor Day. It's a day off that for me carries no obligation but to rest from my labors. The heyday of the union is over, unless you consider this: In Minnesota Home Health Care and Child Care Providers have just won the right to organize and unionize. These are the people who provide the services traditionally served up free within families. They are bringing to light the value of that labor which is so often uncompensated or undercompensated. I don't know where the fight will go, or what the consequences will be, but it does focus a light on family issues.

What if parents formed a Labor Union? They certainly labor! And for many, the working conditions and safety standards aren't all they might be. What if parents collectively bargained for better wages, benefits, working conditions, safety practices and respect? What if they bound themselves together for the greater good? What would that look like?

I was once employed in a workplace that was in the middle of unionizing. I remember sitting in those meetings and thinking that the zeal of the organizers echoed both the Early Church (see Acts) and the Hippies of the Sixties (see Woodstock). In my mind I was singing along with the Youngbloods:
Come on People now,
Smile on your Brother,
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now.
(For you readers too young or too old to remember this song, you can listen to it here, just for grins.)
Many years later, this song sounds like an anthem for parents too. . . maybe more along the lines of:
Come on little people now,
Don't hit your brother,
Everybody stay together,
Gonna love one another
Right now. Right NOW. RIGHT NOW!
Ok, that's just facetious, but my point remains - do we need unions to protect parents, or families?

I am living closer to family farms than I have in a long while, and as I observe life in my new community I realize that families are by nature "unionized" a bit. Everyone has to get together for the common good, and sometimes love is the only glue that could get them through the mind-boggling choices that have to be made: Who stays on the farm and who gets a job in town? Who takes care of Mom or Dad in their old age or who pays for a nursing home? Should I have to pay the same rate of rent for my land to my brother as I would to a stranger? Should I charge my nephew the same price I would charge a stranger? How would the answers to those questions change if "everybody got together." Maybe it's not just families that need to organize, but whole communities. . .

What do you think?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Independence Day

Late last year I moved to a community that has a massive Independence Day celebration.  As I write this it is almost here and I have been reflecting on independence as the big day approaches. 

To become a nation America had to become independent of her "parent" state Great Britain. In order to do that, the colonies had to rebel against that "parent" and begin making her own decisions about governance, taxation, and a whole host of other topics. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Is anyone in your home rebelling? If so, rejoice! Your child is on the road to independence! Rebellion is one sign that your child believes that he or she can function independently.

At the Boston Tea Party the chant "No taxation without representation" could be heard all the way to Great Britain. Your child's cry of rebellion may also revolve around not having a say in the decisions concerning his or her own life. You may know best (Great Britain certainly believed they knew best!) but you may not. Your child may truly know better, or they may need to make some mistakes in order to learn to make better decisions. 

The American colonies, the children who grew up to become the United States of America, believed that they could form a "more perfect union" and they declared their independence, beginning with these words:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation 
The document goes on to spell out the grievances of the colonies, how Great Britain NEVER LET THEM DO ANYTHING (supply your child's particular grievances in place of those) and therefore must:
[S]olemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are . . . free and independent states;
And then comes a list of what they CAN now do: make war and peace, contract alliances and establish commerce, "and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do." (Read: get a job; pay their own rent, car insurance, and dental bills; deal with the consequences of their own decisions; and find a husband or wife to partner with them in building this new life.)

I say this with tongue-in-cheek, but what if this declaration had been taken seriously? What if Great Britain had acted in the children/colonies best interests and instead of trying to block them, encouraged them and helped them to establish their independence? The American Revolution had fifty thousand casualties.

If you consider your child's rebellion as a transition to independence, can you collaborate with them in declaring their independence? Can you listen to their grievances and evaluate their validity? Can you help them establish a list of items for which they are now responsible? Negotiate some deadlines?

It's easier to parent as Great Britain did - ruling with authority, ignoring or punishing rebellion - but this choice can be costly. Better to follow the model established by God "the Father" and love unconditionally, allow free choices, advise when consulted, and be waiting with open arms when they return to us in success or failure. Happy Independence Day!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Summertime. . .

Everyone is out of school by now, I think. I ran into a list of summer activities over at PBSkids and
many of the suggestions brought a flood of sweet memories. I loved summer vacation both as a child, and as a parent with children at home. Lately though, it seems that there's not much vacation in summer vacation. Vacation can take many forms - and all of them are little sabbaths. Summertime activities can be mini-vacations or mini-sabbaths. Here are some of my favorites:
  1. Catch fireflies (aka lightening bugs). This one elicited more of a parent memory than a childhood one. My girls will probably remember how the fireflies could blink in time to the Blue Danube Waltz.  Da-da-da-da blink-blink blink-blink. . .
  2. Read a book under, or in, a tree. I spent many hours reading in a treehouse during elementary school summer vacations. I never once thought to invite my mom to join me but I would have been thrilled if she had. . .
  3. Go on a family bike ride. Last week a kindergarten child arrived at Vacation Bible School on his bike. Mom was just behind, pulling a toddler trailer. Everyone was all smiles!
  4. Have a picnic. These days we have such elegant facilities at home that we don't often pack up the food and go to the park but we should, even if it's just doing the rest area instead of McD's on the family vacation. Great people-watching and interesting conversations happen when we leave the backyard. . .
  5. Go stargazing. Take a blanket and some bug repellent and look up at the sky. Wonder together about God and heaven and all of creation. Nothing inspires those conversations like stars. . .
  6. Skip stones at a creek or pond. Help your child learn to be still by bringing his or her focus to a single activity. Let the breeze and the water and your child's concentration speak to you and quiet your own soul. . .
There are 14 more ideas on the list but the point here isn't to keep you busy all summer. It is point you toward some core parenting and faith ideas:
  • Good parenting isn't an accident - it requires planning, participation, and practice. 
  • Passing on the faith is done in those regular, small, moments where you speak from your heart.
Summer will lend itself to strengthening your parenting if you allow yourself to grab some sabbath rest with your children. They are paying attention to you all the time, and never more attentively than when you are out of your routine. Take advantage, and have a great summer!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Folding Towels in a Sweet Way

"Spirituality doesn't look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you've had a long day. It's enfolded into the act of parenting. You fold the towels in a sweet way. It doesn't take extra time."

Sylvia Boorstein from “What We Nurture”

I've been sitting with this quote for a while, thinking about all its implications. . . 

"Talking kindly to the people in the family." And I would add talking to everyone kindly. This was underscored by a recent training for registering and greeting participants of a large meeting, verifying their voting credentials, etc. The woman who coordinated the meeting encouraged us to greet and welcome people with as much love and kindness as possible. Our instructions included a reminder that if a check-in doesn't go smoothly, someone made a mistake, but it can be fixed. Just reassure the person in front of you that it can be fixed, and don't worry about who messed up. That's folding towels sweetly. 

"Talking kindly to people . . . even though you've had a long day." Pretty much everyone over the age of ten has a long day, every day. To do lists are lengthy, sleep cycles are short, the calendar is full, and maintenance is almost a fulltime job for most families. It's useful to remember that we have a choice in how we respond. If we choose to respond kindly as a matter of course, we will be able to talk kindly when we're tired, or worried, or distracted. And, as she says, it doesn't take any more time. 

"You fold the towels in a sweet way." I don't usually think of folding towels as either sweet or spiritual but recently, folding napkins for an upcoming meal with people I cared for deeply, I understood. I was folding them for people I loved, and it was a joy to do it carefully, and lovingly. I was focused on the other instead of myself which made the chore a pleasure. And it didn't take any extra time.

Spirituality is a vague word. Some people would call it religion. Others would say faith. For me, spirituality is recognizing the meaning and relationships inherent in whatever we are doing. That's probably why it's impossible to be a parent without bouncing against issues of religion and faith and spirituality. Parenting must be spiritual because it is both meaningful and relational. 

So if you would be spiritual, or a loving parent, and you can't find time for "sitting down and meditating," start folding your towels sweetly. Recognize what your task means and who that task impacts. Infuse your chores, your actions, and your work with kindness. Those sweetly folded towels will enfold your child after baths, after swimming, and every time her hands are washed. Your touch is present in that sweetly folded towel, caressing your child or spouse or guest.

It may initially take some effort, but like all habits, once formed it will become part of you and you will be able to fold your towels sweetly; you will spend your "doing" time thinking of who your task will affect. That is being spiritual. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Last Supper Love

This Thursday night of Holy Week we visited again the story of Jesus washing his disciple's feet and sharing the bread and wine with them in a new way. As I listened to the story of that event, and heard my pastor's sermon, an interesting twist took hold of my mind. I realized how clearly Jesus modeled love for us.

I have previously written about the 5 Love Languages, a "system" developed by Dr. Gary Chapm for communicating love to people you care about. He suggests that there are five different ways we give and receive love:
  • Words of Affirmation (speaking)
  • Acts of Service (serving)
  • Giving/Receiving Gifts (sharing)
  • Quality Time (being present)
  • Physical Touch (touching)
Think through the story of the Last Supper.*  In his last hours of life Jesus stays present with his friends.  He washes their feet as if he were their servant: he is serving them, and he is also touching them. Then, he shares a meal with them, literally giving them the gift of himself: "this is my body. . . this is my blood." And, in both accounts, he speaks his love: "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer," and "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." All the expressions of love - given for each to understand in his own language.

This is the essence of love - the speak the language of the other. As parents of infants we struggle to interpret every cry, every garbled word, and every pointing or reaching toward an object before our child has language. We try to imagine what they are saying, even though they don't have the language to express it. Once our kids become fluent in speech, we sometimes begin to take what they say at face-value, just as we do with other people. We start to lead with our preferred language, loving them in ways we are comfortable, instead of in their language.

The 5 Love Language followers advocate learning your child's preferred language (or that of your spouse, friend, co-worker, etc.) but if you don't know which language they prefer, take a cue from Jesus and try them all. You'll know when you hit the right one! It may not be your most preferred way to show love, but the essence of love is for the other, not for the self. That is the whole message of Jesus' death and resurrection. It is for you. The other. Not for Jesus; for you. This is love.

Blessed Easter to you. May you know that you are loved!

*You can find footwashing in John 13 and the rest of the meal in Luke 22 if it's a bit foggy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Telling Stories

We are moving toward Holy Week and the story that makes our Christian faith what it is. It's a story that could not be kept under wraps.  It's a story filled with love and hate and betrayal and confusion and evil and passion. It is told again and again, each teller emphasizing the parts that mean the most to him or her. Another person tells the same story but with a different emphasis. Listening to, and believing, that story is what makes us Christians.

What if, as it is recorded in Mark 16, "they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. What if God's great saving story had been kept secret?  No one alive today would know it. 

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.”  ― Sue Monk KiddThe Secret Life of Bees 

Not every story has the significance of the Easter story, but our stories tell us and others who we are, how we got here and maybe even why. And the why we are here may be as significant as our purpose for the planet, or as simple as why we live where we live. Every story gives a context. And a story compiled from facts or lies without context is utterly forgettable.

As parents, we can greatly enrich our children's lives by telling them stories from our childhoods. It probably doesn't matter that it snowed on my hidden Easter eggs in 1961 or that the dog ate all of the caramel rolls I made for Easter breakfast in 1990 but it provides a younger-me shape for my children to see. It creates a context to fit mommy into and gives clues to motivation, and emotional responses. It both helps me to look back and see where I came from and helps my children see me more completely.  

Stories can provide context for holidays, and holidays can be wonderful contexts for stories. You undoubtedly remember an Easter from years past. Go tell your child a story from another Easter or tell a tale from when she was a small child and too young to remember. Weave your stories together into a history and a context and let them live on from generation to generation.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Learning to Manage His Mad

I was recently astounded to hear of a child in kindergarten being sent to an alternative school for two weeks. It was hard to imagine what a five year old child could do that would result in an in-school suspension. I still don't know all the details, and don't need to, but I love how his grandmother described the issue: "He needs to learn to manage his mad."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Loving Your Enemies

Fred Phelps is dead. The man who led a church in Kansas to picket the funerals of American soldiers and Hollywood celebrities in an attempt to proclaim God's rage against America has crossed over to the other side.

This is where it gets hard to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus tells us we are to love our enemies. Most of us would love to have a chance to picket old Fred's funeral and get the word out that God loves everyone, not just people who Fred approves. That, however, would not be a loving way to behave. And my leader, Jesus, calls me to love outside my circle of family and friends (everyone does that!) and to go the extra mile and love my enemies. And Jesus makes it clear that love is not an emotion; love is an action. In this case love is restraining oneself from doing an unloving action. Love is recognizing that in spite of the terrible person Fred Phelps seemed to be, he mattered to some people. He will be missed and perhaps even mourned by those people.

And though it's hard to swallow, God loves Fred Phelps. God who looks upon the hearts of the people knows why this man who was once a civil rights lawyer became a hatemonger who believed he honored God by preaching hate.  In 1999 Phelps responded to criticism from Jerry Falwell in the L.A. Times, saying, "He's saying I preach hate? You can't preach the Bible without preaching hate! Looky here, the hatred of God is an attribute of the Almighty," he said. "It means he's determined to punish the wicked for their sins!" 

Today I imagine Fred standing in front of God Almighty and feeling God's immense love enfolding him. I admit that I wish that he will have great regret for the life he lived before he feels that peace which passes all understanding. He has misrepresented Christians everywhere but, in the end, I want to follow Jesus closely enough to hope that he will find peace.

I love the Lord and I know that he is loving Fred, forgiving Fred, and healing Fred. So with no feelings of love toward Fred Phelps I write this, hoping that we who know God to be loving and forgiving can let old Fred go without any retribution. If I hate and renounce Fred and consign him to hell I am simply being Fred on a different campaign. So rest in peace Fred. I won't be picketing your funeral or spitting on your grave. God will handle you; I don't have to.

I don't know how to teach kids to love their enemies but I know that part of my understanding of this concept comes from understanding these two basic precepts:

  • Love is an action, not a feeling.
  • Vengence belongs to God.

I think it's important to learn and teach this. It makes for a far more peaceful life. Hate consumes and love nourishes. Why not choose love?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Creative Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Faith of a Celebrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Copy-cat Love

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

Imitation is. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Kind of Smart is That?

What kind of smarts does your kid have?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Special Needs & Unique Circumstances

Recently I have read some incredibly poignant blog posts about kids with special needs. Each of them brought me to tears for different reasons: gratitude for parents who speak up for their children, compassion for children and families who have to face such uphill battles, outrage at the insensitivity people can exhibit, awe at obstacles overcome, and deep respect for parents who step up and play the hand they've been dealt for all it's worth. Then the pictured quote appeared in my Facebook feed. What follows are some of the ideas these things generated. No prescriptions, promises, or preemptive strikes, just some rumination.

Some kids needs are evident - they use wheel chairs, crutches, braces, hearing aids, coke bottle glasses, or sign language. Other kids don't display their needs until they explode with rage and frustration or dissolve into tears when the stress pushes them over the edge. Other kids try to get noticed because they need some attention, but we usually just label them as behavior problems. Some kids are having to function as adults because they are often on their own or have an impaired parent. Other kids may be having a hard time learning or socializing because they are chronically hungry.

Perhaps if we all saw every person as special (that is unique) and acknowledged that every one has needs (circumstances and obstacles) we would stop seeing kids with special needs a weird or different or to be avoided and start seeing them as kids. We would recognize them as people with unique circumstances, which really applies to all of us, and we would all have better ideas of how to welcome, nurture, sustain and respect them.

As I mused about the issues around special needs, I couldn't help but think of how Jesus encountered people: no stereotypes, no assumptions about what was needed or wanted, no commentary on appearances or genetics. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount seems to recognize that each of us has unique circumstances, and reminds us that we are all blessed in and by those circumstances.

In the Spark Children's Bible (best children's Bible EVER!!!) Jesus sayings, the Beatitudes, are rendered this way:

  • People who feel hopeless are blessed because God will give them heaven.
  • Sad people are blessed because God will help them feel better.
  • People who don't have many things are blessed because God will give them everything they need.
  • People who want to follow God's ways are blessed because God will help them.
  • People who treat others with kindness are blessed because God will treat them with kindness.
  • People who know what is right in their heart are blessed because God will be with them.
  • People who make peace are blessed because they will be called God's children.
  • People who are hurt because they try to do what is right are blessed because God will give them heaven.

I think that sometimes we get lost in our fear that this unique circumstance could happen to us or that we might do or say the wrong thing. In our fear we isolate the other person, and also isolate ourselves. Jesus words become reassuring "God will help them feel better. . . God will give them everything they need." We are not called to meet needs, that is God's job. We are called to love our neighbor. That means letting them be who and how they are, and loving them - whatever that looks like in their unique circumstances.

Often our kids are better at this than we are. They don't have as much fear and so their natural curiosity leads them to the right answers about how to love the other person. We adults shush them and teach them to be afraid of differences, to worry about doing the right thing, to feel entitled to special treatment. "People who know what is right in their heart are blessed because God will be with them." God is very much with your children. Let God be with you too as you parent them, no matter what their special needs or unique circumstances are.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Close Encounters

I recently read a story about Pope Francis visiting a very modest parish in a poorer part of Rome. The parish had recently built a new sanctuary, and fifteen families are now living in the old space. The story was about the Pope's visit and the homeless families, but one part that grabbed my attention was the interview with the local parish priest, Don Marco Ridolfo. He said, 
“When peoples’ intentions are sincere . . . a parish can become a school in which to learn patience and tolerance, which can be applied outside as well. Examples of enlightened people like Pope Francis help us do away with that cursed temptation to think that if you are a good person, you are alone. And then, because you are alone, you are weaker and you have to stay on guard, so it becomes easier to embrace all those things that hurt you, to let circumstances make you ugly. When you start to understand that there are other people that see things the way you do, who want to live, who want to believe in this kind of life even if it’s difficult, then it’s a completely different thing."
I was really touched by his description of church as a school for patience and tolerance, and by his honesty about feeling alone while trying to be a good person.

I think Don Marco has articulated two very good reasons for raising your kids in a parish or congregation. First, his point about patience and tolerance: The church is a family of equal siblings (all children of God, and equally beloved in God's sight.) As such, it is a great place to practice patience and tolerance. Just as we have to put up with relatives who we would never invite into our lives otherwise, at church we will be expected to learn to love and respect people we would normally avoid. It has become very easy to simply associate with people we like or who share our values. Most of the time we go places in our own cars, riding only with people we like. Most of us (67.9%) live in single family dwellings in households that average 2.6 people in size. We don't have to play well with others in our daily life! So whether you're the weird relative who is tolerated, or the cool relative who is doing the tolerating, your church family will welcome you.

Don Marco's second point about feeling alone as a good person is also very valuable. We sometimes feel that we're swimming upstream in our "goodness." It is tempting to give up on trying to do the right thing and just going with the flow. Assembling regularly with other people who are also trying to be good people is encouraging. It removes our isolation and gives us strength for the journey. It also allows your skeptical kids to see that other people trying to be good people, and to hear those people share their experiences. (Maybe someone cooler than you will inspire your child.)  Don't you want that for your kids?

I know these thoughts may idealize the church, your church, but you can help it be an ideal community by bringing yourself and your kids to take part. Give it a try!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure

Living a life of faith can be a lot like those "choose your own adventure" children's books. (If you've never
read one, the idea is that every few pages the reader is given a choice of how to continue the adventure: Do you take the train (go to page 174) or the plane (go to page 185)? Each choice delivers a different plot twist and adds or eliminates possible outcomes to the adventure.)

Living by faith is similarly about choosing and adventure. Every few days, or weeks, or months, a choice comes along. Should I volunteer for this project or spend more time with a small child or aging parent? Should I give away part of this bonus or pay down my mortgage? Do I forgive this person or hold a grudge? And, depending on the choice you make your adventure will take on a new twist.

Children hear a lot about making "good choices." This is a healthy conversation to be having but is usually limited to the simple black and white choices: water is good and soda is bad. What should you choose to drink for lunch? The schools, scouts, clubs and PSAs are making a strong case for making good choices. You'll want to model that for your kids too.

Some choices, however, are far more complex and don't have simply good or bad choices. You and your child will sometimes face decisions between good choices: Home-school, private school, or public school? Should I study to be a science teacher or a physician? Should I borrow money for college and finish in four - or pay as I go and take six years to finish my degree? Other choices involve choosing between undesirable outcomes: Do we continue life support or remove the machines? Who will survive, the mother or the child? Do I do the right thing at the probable expense of my job?  These are choices with pros and cons and opportunity costs that will result in much greater adventures than water-or-soda-for-lunch choices. These choices need a more complex decision making process.

This is where you need to add the dimension of "faithful choices" to the discussion. This is where our core beliefs about what is right or wrong, important or unimportant, responsible or irresponsible, and personal versus societal good come into play. This is not a simple flow chart; these are choices flow out of who one is.

To make faithful choices we must function as faithful people. Joyce Ann Mercer talks about the process of becoming a musician being analogous to becoming a person of faith. Becoming a musician  requires daily practice at increasing levels of difficulty. It requires learning the language of music and participating with others in making music. You can't cram for musicianship or faithfulness. You need to practice daily.

The pay-off? Adventures can abound when life is lived from a place of faith. Decisions made in faith will open doors to adventure, your own adventure. Live into it and share your process with your kids. There's no better way to prepare them for their own adventures!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Catching a Wave

Recently singer-songwriter Dessa was interviewed on The Splendid Table, a radio show about food and cooking. I don't know Dessa or her music but she said one thing in the interview that was such a perfect turn of phrase that I've been turning it over in my mind ever since I heard it. When asked where her inspiration for her songwriting comes from she said "It's more like catching a wave than going to the well." That is pure poetry!

I think this is an apt description of faith as well. The waves roll by and, depending where you are in the expanse of the surf, this wave or that may be your ride to shore. It's probably not the same wave that the surfer 100 yards south of you will catch, but even if it is, your ride will be different. Faith is an experience, not a task.

This is what makes it crucial for parents to speak the language of faith to our children. We cannot simply take our children to the font to be baptized, and then bring them to the well for a drink once a week. Once we've taken them to the font, it's time to take them down to the shore to get their toes wet. That will look different for each family, and for each individual within your family, but everyone has to get wet or they'll never get a chance to ride that wave to shore.

Some families go to the shore by way of devotional time at home. Others go by spending time in nature, marveling at God's great creation. Still others find their wave in serving people in need, and others in making music together. Whatever it is, it might be your wave, or your child's wave, and you need to speak the language of faith into the experience so that your child understands faith is not a chore performed on Sunday morning, it is the experience of life itself.

Just as you need to drink or bathe daily, you also need to splash around in your baptism everyday. Make it an intrinsic part of your daily routine. Remember your baptism in your shower; give thanks for the food you eat; pray for the passenger in the ambulance; trust God and take a risk.

The surfer goes to the beach expecting to be challenged, expecting to take a risk. The person going to the well expects to find the water waiting, still and compliant, ready to be contained in a bucket or jar. The waves at the beach cannot be contained in a bucket - they are wild, powerful, and magnificent. God will take you to still waters, and will carry you to shore. Catch a faith wave and see where it takes you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Be it Resolved

Be it resolved that in the new year:

  • I will blog on a more fixed schedule
  • I will eat healthier foods
  • I will get more exercise
  • I will spend more time in prayer
  • I will learn something new
  • I will spend my money more wisely
  • I will read better books
  • I will watch less television
  • I will be a better parent, employee, sister, daughter, friend, aunt . . .
It's the tenth of January and I can already find a dozen things I meant to start in the new year that are still lying undone in the back of my mind.  How about you? 

I have decided to dump the list and make this the year of forgiveness. And I am going to practice on myself. I am going to end each day by forgiving myself, and asking God's forgiveness, and then I am going to accept that forgiveness and treat each new day as a fresh beginning. 

Have you ever noticed how your kids wake up from naps and smile at you with that whole-body joy when you come to take them out of the crib? It didn't matter how mad they were to go down for that nap, or how frustrated you had been with whatever had happened earlier, it is brand-new-shiny-love between your child and you. I want that relationship with my whole life. Every new day is a gift, a clean sheet of paper, a newly sharpened pencil. I am going to take it, do my best with it, learn the lessons of that day, and then welcome the next, and the next, and the next! 

Your relationships with your kids, and with God, are always being made new. Why limit yourself to once-a-year hopeful resolutions and then daily self-flogging for your failures. Imagine what you could have done if you had kept that understanding of every waking as a fresh start? Your kids start life with that, and you can learn from them. Be the role model that says it's ok to stay that way. How much more exciting is that?