I travel a lot. I don’t travel fearlessly. Every time I find my bus stop in a foreign city, or check into an international flight with an international airline correctly, I am immensely relieved. Each time I make it back to my hotel or BNB at the end of a long day of navigating a strange city and maybe a foreign language, I’m always heaving a huge sigh of relief. In fact, traveling is a turbo boost of adrenalin fueled somewhat by my fear. At the end of such trips, when my feet hit US soil, and I finally cross the threshold of my house, I feel like Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) at the hilarious end of “Christmas Vacation,” after a harrowing but successful experience hosting he and his wife’s families for Christmas, when he remarks smugly to himself, “I did it!” I post a lot of pictures when I travel-pictures full of fun and good times. I suspect however, I do not do a very good job conveying to my readers all the ins and outs of my fears woven into that travel itinerary. I am pretty sure they think my fear meter is non-existent. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. My fear of all the things that could possibly go wrong when we travel, never goes away completely. But my fear of that fear has been vanquished for a long time. The inherent fear involved with traveling is not nearly enough to keep me at home. In fact, it probably keeps me on my toes. On the other hand, paralyzing fear of the unknown most certainly would ground me and confine me to a perceived safety zone.
But let’s face it. Fear of traveling isn’t nearly the mountain of fear some have to battle compared to a cancer diagnosis or a divorce, or a child who has strayed away from a positive life path. After all, when I travel I most often do so in countries who are my allies, and who usually speak English, my language, the universal language at that. Even as I sweat out the directions from one place to another, worried that I won’t make that last bus out of a remote village or even as I worry about my children who are traveling different directions from me, even these fears are minuscule compared to the trials that some have endured. Trials wherein we say “If only I had escaped this….in my life.” If only… And here is where that black cloud of fear can be debilitating.
There is an absolutely beautiful song by Casting Crowns about such fears, all of them, big, medium or small as one might measure fear. In this song, the lyrics carry a powerful punch: “There’s a place where fear has to face the God we know.” My fear has to face my God. There is power for us in that knowledge. I believe perhaps that there is a place for fear in our daily lives. It gives us antennae so to speak, so that we can avoid land mines. Healthy fear gives us “flight or fight” when we need it. And of course fear that is talked about in Deuteronomy 10:12 is certainly the kind of spiritual fear and reverence that we should exude for a Holy and loving God. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.” But what of the fear spoken about in 2 Timothy 1:7? “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” God is not the author of this fear. This fear has to face the God we know. And this is true of all our paralyzing fears, no matter what has already happened in your life, no matter if it is fear of what has happened or fear of what might happen. The song goes on to say “One more day, He will make a way. Let Him show you how, you can lay this down.” You CAN lay this down. You can keep “doing” whatever you need to be “doing,” but you CAN lay this down. Why? Because “you’re not alone.”
I just finished a senior trip with my middle daughter Halle to the south of France. We were in the Med swimming, and she insisted on swimming out toward the yellow bobber thingies which apparently the French and Italians decided was an appropriate safety boundary for leisure swimmers. I’m not sure I agreed, but being in a season where I’m now parenting young women, not children, I am directing them less and less. And so it was, I watched her sweet head bob up and down between those waves with the hugest smile on her sweet face, and what did I do? “There’s a place where fear has to face the God I know.” Rebuking my fear and turning it over to my Creator, the Only One who has already defeated my fear, doesn’t guarantee my idea of what my child’s future looks like or sadly how long that life will be. But standing up straight and telling my fear, “You have to face my God on His terms;” does ensure that the journey is fattened with eternal hope and yes even joy in the midst of uncertainty. I love that. And you can bet, I’ll still have some fear, but it will not jam pack me into a jar with the lid screwed on tightly. No, it has to face the God I know! That frees me up. You can find me in the sun with the Son shining on my face.
The other day I was sitting in the dental chair, waiting on my hygienist to get started when finally she asked me “Are you ready to go?” I answered, “I’m always either ready to go or ready to rumble depending on my attitude.” She just laughed, but it’s mostly true. This is a conundrum for many of us. One of my very favorite books by Stephen Covey is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” In it he says this: “The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face each day fall into two areas: Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. We each have a wide range of concerns, our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, terrorism, the weather. As we look at the list, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about. Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of influence: They work on things they can do something (emphasis mine) about: health, children, problems at work. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern: things over which they have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the weather.”
I believe the more time we spend our time and efforts in our areas of influence, the more likely we are to live out the “Go” mentality in our lives. Whereas, the more time and energy we spend in our areas of concern, we will always be “ready to rumble,” but yet remain uninspired to “Go” or to do anything about it. Generally speaking, what is the difference between the two: Ready to Go or Ready to Rumble? Here are some simple measuring sticks:
I am aware of ways to contribute to my community and my neighbors and do so regularly.
I scroll Facebook or watch the news an inordinate amount of my day/week.
I have relationships with friends that I (personally) regularly engage or nurture.
I spend quality time with my family that doesn’t involve television, telephone, or telecommuting.
I am aware of a situation(s) or person(s) in my life who I can influence positively. I choose or choose not to impact this situation or this person.
The areas of concern that Covey mentions in his book and the ones that I have compiled here, are definitely worthy of concern. But they are NOT worthy of all of your emotional, physical, and spiritual energy. That would be a crying shame. Circumstances outside of my control, i.e. traffic (my struggle), politics, national elections (another one of mine), weather, all contribute to a sense of desperation, and an US vs. Them mindset. Sadly we get so immersed in our areas of concern, that our areas of influence (children, spouse, professional work, next door neighbor, niece, nephew, sibling, parent, or local community) absolutely shrinks until it has been all but eclipsed by our area of concern.
Take the presidential election for example. Absolutely, we should take the time to be informed about this election, and we can and should excercise our right to vote, but in the end, is this campaign an area of my influence or concern? Most people act as if it is their area of direct influence. To much focus on Clinton, Sanders, Cruz, and Trump will most likely trump the opportunity for you to contribute in positive ways in the lives of people all around you. I live in Texas folks. Not only am I not able to influence the outcome of this presidential election, it is statistically improbable that my vote will either. Areas of influence? Worrying about every detail of my future that I can’t imagine now? NOPE! Worrying about what others think about me? NOPE! Hoping the weather cooperates with my travel, wedding, or other event plans? NOPE! Consumed with guilt over my past? NOPE! Aggravated as to whether my constitutional rights will be infringed upon with the coming election? NOPE!
On the other hand, who or what do I have immediate opportunity to influence? I could serve in my church. YES! I could meet a hurting friend for coffee. YES! I can play a game of UNO with my kids. YES! I can plan a date night or date day with my spouse and completely surprise her/him. YES! I can stick a note of encouragement in my kid’s lunch box tomorrow. YES! The list is Endless, Exciting and Inexhaustible. So which is it? Are you ready to rumble or ready to roll? None of us are perfect. We all have our moments of rant. But has your occasional rant become a pattern of behavior? Has your circle of influence been superimposed by your circle of concern? I like the word superimposed because it reminds us that our circle of influence is still there; maybe we just need to side swipe the areas of concern in our life to reveal them. People need you. They need your gifts and talents. They need your presence both physically and emotionally. They need you to have margin in your schedule and in your energy reserves for them! Who’s to say that if 200 million people in this country would spend more time and effort focusing on their areas of influence, that their areas of concern wouldn’t improve dramatically. It’s something that can happen only when we are able to pluck our narcissism from the ground where it is rooted, and replace it with planting seeds of positive influence in the lives of others Go!
How do you remember your past-your growing up? Difficult? Easy? Carefree or demanding? Rather than remember, is it one you’d soon forget? Mine has a mixture of both. When I was just shy of 6 years old, I stood with my sisters on the shore of an old coal mine strip pond as we called it, in rural Indiana watching my young parents drown in a freak fishing accident. This would truly define much of who I was to become in the years to come. We three girls went to live with my maternal grandparents. We were very poor by worldly standards, but though we were low on money, we were high on vegetable gardens and a few livestock. I bet you thought I was going to say, “Though we were low on money, we were high on love.” Well, not really. I don’t believe in painting an unrealistic picture of my life after the deaths of my parents. I’ll never be accused of overestimating the affection coursing through our home as a child. My oldest sister was separated from us when she was only 13 years old to a teen home 2 hours away. I was 10. I would only see her every other weekend and holidays for our remaining childhood years. We were afforded no counseling and no time to grieve. No one was reading me bedtime stories, hanging my artwork on the refrigerator, or telling me I could grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t learn how to communicate well in relationships. It was a lot more about resilience than it was warm fuzzies. It was primarily about work, responsibility, and self-initiative. Less about love, tenderness, and family vacations. This is not a plea for pity. It’s just a story. And like so many others, my past is inextricably linked to the past before me. That renders understanding and insight for all us in better understanding our American roots. My grandparents did the very best they could with what they had. I could never in a million years repay them for their contributions in my life, and in spite of a childhood lacking in tenderness, they loved us still in the only ways they knew how. I didn’t have a lot, but I had everything they were capable of giving me. They did not withhold affection out of spite. Their love language-their only love language-was service. Before you say, “Oh that’s so sad,” while on one level it is, on the other hand, I did learn how to survive difficult ordeals, orchestrate food for large groups of people, and the value of hard work and perseverance. I (and my sisters) absolutely entered young adulthood with an insufficient lack of emotional coping skills. Undoubtedly, we were at a clear disadvantage when it came to understanding what it meant to nurture and to be nurtured. There were scars just like there are for many of you. Nonetheless, while we had a “raising” that didn’t render itself as always rosy or self affirming, we can say with 100% assurance that we weren’t nurtured at home because well, nurture just wasn’t in their nature. In fact, it was their raising that made them bull-headed and even cold at times. They and their parents before them had survived both world wars, Vietnam, Korea, bad politicians, good politicians, The Great Depression, short life spans, and grueling manual labor both at home and at work. Indeed my grandparents were an intricate part of that generation who built up American industry, the backbone of American farming and post depression economic growth. They stormed the beaches at Normandy, lived and died in The Bataan Death March, and saved the free world from tyranny. They worked the tough, hard labor jobs that rebuilt a post war America into a global power. This generation was not one that excelled at nurturing. They excelled at survival. This was also reflected in their huge sense of community. Because of their experience in the war and the Depression, they recognized (better than we do today) that people work better and accomplish more together than they do apart. Thus in war-time, they gave up their “day jobs” to build Higgins Boats in Louisiana, and sell war bonds on Main Street. In snow blizzards, whoever owned a tractor, plowed the driveways of those who did not. Potluck dinners for years, served to feed the masses while accomplishing their tasks at hand, planting fields, raising barns, or building fences. When someone was sick and homebound, there was undoubtedly a neighbor nearby to bring them hot soup or cart then to the doctor if necessary. Hard work wasn’t an option. Rest was overrated. Everyone was working the garden, the livestock and doing laundry. (NOT in an automatic washer and dryer that we enjoy today!)
Not surprisingly, my grandparents, from this very generation, lived impoverished lives growing up and likewise when raising their own children, my mother and her siblings. Their income was meager. Inevitably their days were long and difficult. The picture here truly speaks 10000 words.
On the left is my great-uncle, actually my grandma’s youngest sibling of 14. My great-grandmother was already dead in this picture. My grandmother took her brother in when he was 16 months old. She had other small siblings in her home as well. The oldest daughter between my grandparents is my grandma’s first daughter from her first marriage. That husband died when she was only 17 or 18 in a work related accident. There was no OSHA then. There were no annuities for my grandmother, a widow and single mother at 17. A year later she married my grandfather. Sometimes you married or you starved. They had 5 children. That’s their first-born, my aunt you see in the front wearing glasses, and my grandparents holding the twins in their arms: my mother and her twin sister, and later two additional boys came along (not yet born when this picture was taken.) It seems counterproductive to those of us ever so enlightened by this modern society in which we live (sarcasm intended), that such impoverished folks would choose to have so many children. Having offspring was much more of a cultural expectation in America in those days than it is now. Furthermore, this was the generation of Americans that populated our country. The baby boomers born in post war American between 1946-1964 (give or take a year), was literally the largest generation of Americans born in U.S. history. (Yours truly says thank you for that!)
Today we live in an incredibly great country. One that is still full of promise and opportunity. But it is also one of the most self-entitled, materialistic, and self-centered cultures that American has ever known. This I believe is the American Dream gone rogue. Once upon a time the American Dream was defined simply as the opportunity for home ownership in a free society where every citizen was free to innovate, create and live peaceably. But that definition of the American Dream has since been distorted, the original tenets of which have been misused and misrepresented by scores of politicians hoping to strike a chord of unity with a society that has distanced themselves from their past, away from their poorer, less formidable ancestors. Even though, it was their ancestors who blazed the freedom trail for us through hard work, war, and personal sacrifice, so that we could now “wallow” in the plunder. I don’t want to be an American who simply sits back and wallows in what my grandparents have built. I want my citizenship to be one that pours back into the communities I live in-the communities bequeathed to me by generations of Americans before me. What do Americans of the 21st century owe them? Impoverished though they were; unskilled communicators, slow to show affection, demanding, and maybe even harsh? We owe them everything.
Pull out the pictures-you know the ones! They’re in the deep drawer of your grandma’s bedroom chest of drawers full of black and whites (reel to reel if you’re lucky) Ask someone who will know: “Who’s that?. What did they do for a living? How did they die?” You may discover amazing and healing facts about your relatives, as well-about yourself and who you are and from whence you came. And in the process, learn something about your America.
Two current events and one ho-hum event from my every day life. First, riots in Baltimore that include destroying property and looting businesses, physically assaulting innocent people, and critically injuring a police officer. Second, A professor at Texas A&M University in Galveston fails his entire class as his last official act before quitting his job, citing a pervading attitude of insolence, cheating, and extreme disrespect in his class. Third, A substitute teacher at a local high school in a Houston suburb. An entire class of students refuse to do their work. They are disrespectful, mouthy, and call their substitute teacher vulgar names as they exit the classroom. What do these three events have in common? Two current events in the national news and one event in the humdrum, perhaps mundane events of my own daily life. What do they possibly have in common? One common trait from each event that stands out to me is this: they all exhibit many of the same behaviors. Rude, disrespectful, inhumane, mean-spirited, self entitled, self-centered, and sometimes criminal. Just bad manners. Period. They are from all walks of life, different races and ethnic backgrounds, men, women, boys, and girls.
But why are they acting like uncivilized human beings devoid of decency and humanity? Please don’t say they were rightly provoked by the incident surrounding Freddie Gray’s death. How could that possibly explain stealing and thievery, arson, and assault? Surely no reasonable person could excuse that sort of behavior or perceive it to be “ok” in any case whatsoever? And if you can excuse this criminal behavior, then you must also believe that a civilized society is completely incompatible with one that does not allow the freedom to commit crimes under extreme duress. I would think especially if one of the looters or arsonists or physically combative persons in Baltimore were truly indignant over an alleged act by the police which they felt to be criminal in nature, surely that person of all persons, would be completely opposed and have an aversion himself to committing a crime that he (or she) personally finds so appalling. Right? Then there’s the college classroom in Galveston. Here’s a teacher who has no history of indiscriminately failing students. By all accounts he appears to be a decent human being and teacher, above reproach in his place of employment and his community. He said “I was dealing with individuals swearing at me both in and out of class and it got to the point the school had to post security guards in this and another class.” He further claimed that the students had spread online rumors about his wife and added that their immature and incompetence would hamper their efforts at entering the professional work force. Then there is the substitute teacher abuse. Multiple classes. Multiple students. Refusing to do class work for no other reason than they simply don’t want to. Calling the teacher names like “nasty ho,” an act that if it were reversed would get the substitute teacher fired for sure.
Really how has it all came to this? But I know this is not new. People, citizens, have been acting this way for centuries. But here’s the thing. As society has progressed over the last century, there is an expectation or a belief, perhaps too unreasonable of one, that people grow and mature at the same rate as their civilized society grows. In others words, there is a general sense among Americans that we are not the “same” unlearned, prejudiced, imperialistic nation that we once were. That along with astronomical growth in areas like technology, space exploration, medical advancement, great educational strides, scientific discoveries, we are also growing and maturing as humanitarians, as generous and compassionate adults. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The former does not = the latter. In all three of these cases-two current events and my one “ho-hum” day-to-day life event, we are dealing with men and women, boys and girls, young and old alike, whose moral compass is virtually absent. The only compass they have as a guiding point is the one guiding them to ill-gotten gain, and the shortest route to satisfying their own selfish wants and desires. Whether that is a big screen tv in a looted and burning business in a district like Baltimore where political unrest has afforded a target of opportunity to combatants and aggressors to do what they might have done otherwise, or a classroom of students who just want to “goof off” and accuse their teachers of being lame or somehow beneath them, in lieu of working, studying and putting their parents’ tax school dollars to proper use. In the case of the college students, their moral compass was so absent that their teacher feared for his own life and felt his only recourse to protecting himself as well as his wife’s honor was to quit his job.
In 1995 I had five co workers killed in the Oklahoman city federal building, 5 best friends. I also watched my parents die as a five-year old. They drowned in a senseless accident in front of my eyes as I stood helpless on the shore with my two sisters. This event led me down paths for years to come that I found very difficult to navigate. In my life, I have been hurt by others, betrayed by some, beaten down by circumstances. Yes. But never once was I driven by my pain, betrayal, or my lot in life to loot and burn businesses to the ground, to physically assault any innocent person, including a police officer. Never once did I find it necessary or right to mouth off to a teacher, terrorize them through social media or bully adults and peers. Even someone I did not like. Never. One. Time. That’s not to say I have never been disrespectful. (If only..) It is to say that disrespect was never excused by my circumstances.
I would submit that the ones who truly care about Freddie Gray and the circumstances surrounding his death are not the ones burning down buildings and looting and stealing and assaulting police officers. No I do NOT for one minute believe that those persons perpetuating crime and violence, and terrorizing their own communities, in which they live, are the ones who give a flip about Freddie Gray. Neither my anger, my indignation, my position-wrong or right, my political beliefs, my sexual persuasion, my marital status, my lot in life, my age, my gender, my grade in school, my disagreements, my agreements, my height, my weight-Nothing. Not One Thing. No incident, tragic or joyful in my life has ever, ever persuaded me to destroy buildings, physically assault people, or treat teachers disrespectfully just because I can. My freedom was paid for with a high price. That price was too high for me to turn around and loot, burn, and hate. That is most assuredly not how I say thank you for my freedom. It is not how I choose to exercise my freedom or my rights. I simply never have a right to do what is wrong. I always tell my girls, “Do the next right thing.” That is not about following the rules, although rules are good things. It is about exercising common sense and compassion.
Finally, where are the parents? Yes, I know it’s usually what I end with. I can’t help myself. Too many parents have too many priorities that don’t include rearing a child that is a generous and compassionate adult, and simply respectful of others. Absent fathers keep piling up along with disrespect and bad manners. And as long as they do, it will be difficult to find good candidates to teach our children, police our neighborhoods, hold town hall meetings, and to lead our communities into the future, a future that should be full of continued advancements in technology, but also one full of hope, living in a place where we feel safe and secure.
I sat behind a young mommy the other day on a flight from Houston to Newark. She had a sweet little baby boy less than a year old in tow. He was adorable and occasionally noisy but not so much the latter. Some part of me wanted to say “been there many times and it can be done!” The other part of me wanted to say “put your seatbelt on lady. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” But she had it well under control, and I just enjoyed his toothy smile peering back at me through the opening in the seat. Parenting. Is there any tougher assignment? I think probably not! There’s only one way to tackle this job: head on! With perseverance, unquenchable hope, humility, resolve, and a boat load of love. Still there is this tension I see constantly for moms: to work outside the home or to not work outside the home? What’s best for my kids? With regard to the ever irritating phrase “working mother,” has there ever been a title more misleading, misused, and often misplaced-driving a wedge between us? Two camps. Two polarized views of how parenting (mothering) is defined. Well let’s work on setting this record straight. Regardless of which camp you’re in, know that each has something to learn about the other. And know that each often, commonly maintains a lie of its own! But first things first! I believe yes that there is ONE thing that we ALL agree on right? That ONE thing is this: the kids are the most important thing! Not our jobs, college degrees, or our household income. Not our volunteer activities, projects OR the kids’ extra curricular activities! Once we make the decision to raise that child as our own, it’s like we’ve signed an automatic disclaimer and acknowledgment of responsibility: “I know and accept as truth that it’s our (or my) job to raise this child to be a productive, compassionate, and generous human being!” Surely, that’s our #1 goal. Surely that’s the ONE thing. Otherwise and if not, we’re signing on to “raise this child to be a non-productive, self-centered, and selfish human being!” Ok so you see it really doesn’t MATTER if you work OUTSIDE the home or if you work full-time AT HOME. We all have (should have) the same goal. We are raising productive, compassionate, and generous adults! If that’s NOT your goal as parents, then for you this blog ends here. For the rest of us: whether we work outside the home or not, here’s food for thought. What do you have to do to attain the #1 thing? Do it. Don’t lie to yourself and say “I have to work. I have two car payments and a X square hundred foot house.” (when in fact you could drive a lot cheaper and paid for car and/or live in a smaller house!) Instead say I want to work because I think working outside the home contributes to my children’s welfare this way ________!” Then sell that to yourself! If you’re a stay at home mom who feels like this is the best decision for your family, then don’t lie to yourself and say “this decision will produce perfect children.” Remember we want to produce productive, compassionate and generous adults. There’s no such thing as perfect people much less perfect children. What’s involved in the former is far more reaching! Maybe you’re glued to “projects” or the computer, and your daycare arrangement is the television. Reexamine your family values and your decision to not work outside the home. “I think my decision contributes to the #1 thing for this reason,_______!” Then sell that to yourself. So here’s my final and humble suggestion: 1st please cease with the phrase “working mothers!” I really hate that phrase. In the majority of cases, it’s absolutely redundant. I rarely EVER meet a mother who is not working. And 2nd, why is there not a blog about the working dads dilemma? That’s for another day. And another blog entry.
DISCIPLINE ISN’T OPTIONAL Even though we live in a culture that has evolved from being a parent to being a “buddy.” It’s not so much about outcomes as it is your example of action and follow through. Your decision to discipline is not contingent upon their past or present responses to your disciplinarian action. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. It sets up expectations for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the responses we desire are seen much later. It’s like continuing to offer them veggies whether they eat them or not. We know what healthy eating looks like and what it does not look like. Just as we know what healthy behavior looks like and what it’s not. So just as we value physical health in our family, so we value healthy behavior. Therefore we value discipline. It should not be easily discarded or carelessly disregarded by the parent. It’s paramount.
CONNECT THE DOTS
Don’t disconnect these years with the rest of their life. Too often as parents of little kids, (and big) we compartmentalize their stages of growth and maturity as if one is wholly separate from the other. As a very good general rule, if you have a child with 0 responsibilities, chores, or expectations, he will become an adult who is unemployed or else an employee whose mediocrity is reflected in his appraisals and work performance. If you raise a child whose world is self serving and self entitled, she will become a self entitled spouse and employee, perhaps unwilling to bring 100% of her own effort to anything. If you raise children who never volunteer their efforts or resources by serving or giving to someone in need, you will produce adults who are superficial and have little compassion for others whether it’s the indigent of our society or your child’s very own next door neighbor. Bottom line, if your child has a certain pattern of behavior (Good or Bad. Constructive or Destructive) then discourage it or embrace it respectively. Those behavior patterns (left unchecked or checked) will absolutely characterize the rest of their lives.
APATHY IS a LETHAL Weapon to Effective PARENTING
Don’t ever say “well I did it so they’re going to do it anyway.” This one really requires no explanation. It reeks of ignorance. Did you have sex when you were 15? Did you drink and become drunk in your teens or twenties? Ever drive drunk? Were you (are you) addicted to pornography, narcotics or prescription drugs? Did you disrespect your parents and teachers? Did you steal something? What regretful behavior from your past have you laid upon the back of your child? To what inevitable black pit in life have you assigned them because -after all “I did that too and a tiger can’t change his stripes?” Use your experiences as a teaching tool. Use them as reminders to love and cherish your children enough to gently lead them along a different path. It can happen. We can make a different decision about the future we want for our children minus the personal baggage of shame, guilt, or apathy rendered by our own past.
DON’T LIE TO YOUR KIDS
Sure this seems like a no brainer. But you would be surprised. Lying to your kids when they ask you a direct question is setting them up for the land of poor choices, self-destruction, and estrangement. Little lies or big lies. Don’t fall into the trap. You may be forfeiting your relationship with your child in the long run in exchange for self-satisfaction in the short run. But that satisfaction will be short lived. Eventually they will know the truth, and when they do, all bets are off. Your “good intentions” will be trumped by the lies and the omissions of truth that accompanied the original discussion. When I discussed abstinence and other choices about sex with my girls, you can bet they asked if I was a virgin when I got married. “No!” was the quick, truthful answer. It set the stage for an open and honest dialogue about the consequences that choice had for me as well as the implications of their own choices. If you come from a family of liars (or a “non confrontational, passive aggressive, always avoid the issues” kind of family) stop that cycle of dysfunction right now! This does NOT mean sharing truths with your kids that are either 1 unnecessary or 2 age inappropriate! Not. At. All. But being honest with your spouse and your children (taking into consideration your child’s age at the time of the discussion,) will largely determine their ability to be fully successful in committed relationships as teens and adults.
LET THEM BE KIDS FOR GOD’S SAKE
Girls and boys are entering adolescence three times as early as they were 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. The problem with that is their emotional growth is not nearly in step with the information bombarding them-cultural messages that distort and dictate their ideas and thoughts about sex, their bodies, marriage, relationships, etc. Our culture is pushing our children into adolescence and “adulthood” prematurely with a perpetual exposure to inappropriate media! TV, movies, video games, electronic devices and social media are a battering ram for young in-formidable minds. Sadly, they are badgered by sexual messages and adult choices at an age they are neither physiologically or emotionally meant to process such adult information. Furthermore, our small children are being taught at a very young age to use their left brain at the expense of their right brain. The full onslaught of social media has debilitated our abilities as parents to teach our children the importance of play, imagination, and the sheer innocence and joy of being a little kid. The implications of this are far-reaching and potentially dangerous. Their ability to interact socially, problem solve, seek conflict resolution, or just speak intelligently is seriously hampered. Let me spell this out simply. For example, if you have young children, they probably don’t need to watch an R rated movie or own a smart phone.
THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE FOR RUDE
Never play the personality card as a free pass for fundamental expectations and behaviors. If your child is shy or outgoing, introvert or extrovert, quiet or noisy, they should be expected and required to use manners. They should be capable of looking someone in the eye and have a conversation with them, order their own food, and treat others with respect. When I sub teach, just the simple task of taking morning role can become a circus. Kids are no longer taught simple manners. If someone says your name, a simple “here” or “present” is fine. On the other hand, “Yeah,” grunting, or totally ignoring the teacher-none of these are respectful responses. Yet it happens every single day. I can’t tell you how often I see a small child get a free pass for rude behavior from his parent who chimes in immediately “he’s shy.” I have friends with autistic children who require these basic manners and courtesy from their mentally challenged child. We live in a world where adults are ruder than ever. It’s a tall order to expect our kids to use respect and common courtesy in their every day life when it’s not modeled by the adults in their lives. And while we are on this subject, be wary of the labels you attach to your kids. ADHD, LD, ODD, the list is endless. Are many of these labels valid? Yes, of course. But the louder we yell this to our kid, the more he becomes the label, and the less we expect of them. The less they expect of themselves. Each child is unique and special-intrinsically-independently of their diagnosis, their labels, their personality quirks. Often, their label becomes their personality. They become defined by their label. Sadly, separate from their label, they feel unimportant. Their personality becomes their free pass, their excuse from simple expectations of courtesy and respect. Be on guard parents.
DON’T BAIL THEM OUT
When my kids were really little, we spent many hours at the park. I would cringe whenever I saw another kid take a minor fall or scrape, and the mom come swooping over and pick her up and coddle her-over what? A scratch. The stakes are low right now parents. Our kids definitely need to be able to live inside a safe boundary. That’s the privilege we have as parents, offering our kids a safe refuge where they are uncondItionally loved. However, this does not include bailing them out, coddling them, never letting them be disappointed, never making them wait for a special gift or event, manufacturing a fake world in which they are the center of attention. The stakes are low NOW. One day the stakes will be higher. They’ll be away from us. Someone will hurt them emotionally. Do you want them to crumble or do you want them to know how to recover from disappointment, pain, and hurt? Do you want to groom them for success in work and relationships? Quit bailing them out. Because, once you start, it’s an endless vicious cycle.
READ WITH YOUR CHILD
Reading is a gift we give to our kids. It loves them. They love it. It’s about sharing ideas and having incredibly profound conversations that the book initiates for you. It is the portal to a big world, giving them a worldview, showing them that beyond the comfort of their small world, lays a big beautiful expanse of people, nature, and ideas just waiting for them to explore. It opens up possibilities for them. They can see themselves in successful relationships, jobs, and promising futures. You can get all that from just reading? Yes, you can. But more importantly, it is time well spent between a parent and a child. A wonderful time of love, appropriate touch, acceptance, and individual time with your child. READ. And when they are older, don’t let theme see the movie unless they have read the book, particularly if it is a movie based on a classic book!
HAVE FUN WITH YOUR KIDS
Establish family traditions. Go to the state fair together, have family dinners around the table. Take time for family vacations, special holiday traditions, board games, bikes, walks, and cuddles on the couch. Let them pile up in your bed for a few minutes at bedtime to talk about everything under the sun. (Our teenage girls still do this.) Or pile up in their bed. Laugh out loud together. Share inside jokes, music, books, friends, family. Share your heart. Let them in your world. Walk through the open door and thank God when they let you in theirs. Look straight into their eyes and remind yourself they are a gift from God that you have been given for only a short amount of time. Like a vapor, this time comes and it goes so quickly. Love them deeply. Treasure them always.
When is the last time you had a conversation with your son or daughter? A real one. Not a superficial conversation about after school pick-up or football practice times, or “I’ll be running late so start dinner without me,” or anything to do with the logistics of running a household-but a real conversation. What happened in your day? What could you have done differently or what went well? What’s the importance of treating others with respect? Summer vacation is soon here; how do you plan to balance leisure activity with serving in your community? Conversations regarding the implications of those who choose to be sexually active early. Planning to be financially responsible and avoiding debt! These are a just a few “life saving” conversations. Obviously, not all of our hours can be devoted solely to these discussions. We are all busy. But you better believe that not allotting time in your busy schedules for these dialogues could be a powerful measuring stick for their future success and even their safety…….
To read this post and learn more about starting life saving conversations with your kids, go to http://www.crayonmarksandtigerstripes.com/guest-post-conversations-kids/ I am guest posting there today for my friend Stephanie.
Here we are 70 years later. It has been a mere 70 years since allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to keep the free world free. “On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, ‘we will accept nothing less than full victory.’ More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolph Hitler’s crack troops.” (Army.Mil) Five French beaches were taken by the allies: Juno, Gold, Sword, Omaha, and Utah. So why DO I care? Why should any of us care? Most often, there is an assumption that I care because my husband spent 23 years in the United States Air Force. Or others think, “Oh sure you care and know a lot about D-Day because you are veteran of Desert Storm. You care because you have been connected to the military most of your adult years.” But that is simply not true. Yes, I care about D-Day for all of those reasons, but if those reasons did not exist, would I still be teaching my children the facts about D-Day, Pearl Harbor, Battle of the Bulge, Gettysburg, Valley Forge? Even if it were true that our income were not dependent upon the military for the last 23 years, and even if it were true that their dad had a 9-5 job that found him home most evenings and weekends, would I still be teaching them the importance of D-Day? Would I recognize the impact it has made on their lives, as they unwittingly enjoy all the privileges that are afforded them-which has been at the expense of literally thousands upon thousands of American lives? If for any reason, I would choose not to teach my kids the facts of D-Day, the importance of that day which truly will always live in infamy, then God help me. I recently started substitute teaching in the schools. Every day we stand and say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag in our schools. It always tugs at my heart a little when kids either do not stand, or do not place their hands over their hearts. Why should they? If they know absolutely nothing-not a single fact behind the reason for the flag and what it represents, why would they show respect to this very special symbol that represents their own history. And what they don’t know could hurt them. What we don’t know can contribute to a life that revolves around me! Not a life that revolves around serving others. If I know what happened on those beaches 70 years ago, and truly understand the losses that took place there, the profound stories of survival and death, it’s hard to remain smug and pious about my material wealth, my freedom, my time, money, and everything that I own! The more I know, the better off I am, and the better off are those around me, those I influence every single day of my life, both personally and professionally. This is something I know: On Omaha beach alone, there were over 2500 casualties on D-Day. The 116th regiment belonging to the 29th Infantry Division was believed to have lost over 75% of their entire regiment. That is a staggering statistic. In his book “D-Day,” Stephen Ambrose calls this chapter, “Visitors to Hell.” The 116th was in the first wave onto Omaha Beach, which later became known as “Bloody Omaha,” due to the horrific fighting and loss of lives on both sides that took place that day. I know the importance of that day simply because I read and study about it. And I read and study about it because I care about the sacrifices these men and women and their families have made literally so I can come and go as I choose. I care about those sacrifices in much the same way that I care about the sacrifices my husband makes for my family and I every day. It doesn’t take enlistment in a military career, a military paycheck or any other form of military service in order for us to care about this incredible event. It just takes common sense. It takes gratitude for everything you have. Here we are 70 years later. What have we learned? More importantly, what have I learned? Some might say, “The last thing I need is another history lesson.” But 70 years later, that is exactly what we need. D-Day was a pivotal battle(s). It was a turning point in WWII that eventually led to victory in Europe, and peace once again in places where people truly believed there may never be peace again. I hope that this year, on this 70th anniversary of D-Day, you will take a little time, just a few minutes to read about one hero from that day. There were thousands. Just pick one. Share the story of your hero with your kids and your family. And then just be thankful.
An Old Friend Revisited If someone said to you “who is your favorite author in the whole world,” what would you say? Would you say Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, or maybe CS Lewis? There are truly some great authors out there, and some equally great books. Reading is assuredly one of my greatest pastimes. So many classics, so little time is how I feel. Whenever I pick up a good book, I always feel like I am basking in the company of a dear old friend. So how do we feel about the bible? What allure does it have for us? Does it have any? Is it too complicated or overwhelming for you? Are you too busy to delve into it with the fervor that you think you should? There are many reasons why we don’t read our bible with the same intensity we might another book. But did you know that the authorship of the bible is God himself? Yes, it is true there were many who wrote and recorded the truths we find there, but according to 2 Timothy 3:16, these men were all chosen and inspired by God himself. This passage tells us “all scripture is God breathed.” There are other places in Scripture where we see the breath of our Lord giving life. Genesis 2 tells us that the “LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The same breath that gave us life also gave us the Word of the Living God. In John 20 Jesus is anointing the disciples with the Holy Spirit. We read there “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Wow, so when we see that our lives were borne out of the breath of God, and the Holy Spirit was given by the breath of Christ, does this give us new insight about the bible which is “God breathed?” The same breath that has given us life has given us the words to live that life. This is indeed “life with God.” According to Richard Foster in his book, “Life with God, Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation,” we often read the bible for two main reasons, (1) to gain knowledge and information, even information to affirm what we believe and used to admonish others or (2) to address a specific issue in our life in an attempt to “solve whatever the pressing problem” in front of us. These two reasons are not inherently wrong. But Foster goes on to say, “But what we must face up to with these two objectives is that they always leave us or others in charge.” Foster goes on to say that if we truly read the bible for spiritual transformation then we must be prepared to “call into question our dearest and most fundamental assumptions about ourselves and our associations.” In other words, start reading the bible with a clean slate. Many of us have had churches, parents, grandparents, and pastors who have taught us for years from scripture, and Praise God for them. But when was the last time you read the bible without any pre-conceived notions or prior associations? (Acts 17:11) Just read; listen with your heart, and soak in God’s teaching, his comfort, his peace, and the love of his Son. Only when we approach the Word with this attitude of humble submission, can personal transformation truly happen. It is the inside out approach that God uses to change us with his Son-the Word of God. (John 1:1) Not the outside in approach with which we often employ in our bible reading. So the next time you have a moment, revisit an old friend-your bible. In the words of Richard Foster, “It is the loving heart of God made visible and plain. And receiving this message of exquisite love is the great privilege of all who long for life with God.” ——————–
What in Heaven’s name are we thinking? Since when has church attendance become this: “What can my church do for me?” Where is this attitude reflected in the Acts 2 Church? I don’t think it is. Recently, we had a discussion in our small group about what we should look for in a church when the time has come for us to seek out a new place to serve and worship. One of our members answered wisely “I think it’s wrong when we go into it asking what can the church do for us?” In other words, “I want…..a great youth group for my kids, or a thriving adult ministry; or the music ministry has to be just so-instruments or no instruments; a band or an organ; hymns or contemporary songs.” Yet sadly, denominational preferences and subjective criteria are often what guide us in placing “church membership,” or committing ourselves to a church body.
As Christians, we all agree (I hope) on the saving power and inerrant words of the bible and the gospel message. As Christians, we should also agree on the spiritual truth that we should allow God to use us where and when He chooses. (Deuteronomy 13:3-4; Matthew 4:19-22; Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:23-24; 1 Peter 2:20-22; Jude 1:18-20; Psalm 40:7-8; Psalm 48:14; Proverbs 16:3;) Then why is it, when it comes to church attendance, we don’t trust in the will of God? Rather, we consider only those churches that meet a certain set of criteria. Left to our own devices, we search for a church without fully considering God’s plan for our lives. Considering the passage found in Romans 9:20-21, how does the story about the Potter (God) and the clay (us) fit into this formula for church selection? I know some who refuse to consider churches outside their preferred denomination. How can you be so sure that God isn’t calling you somewhere else? I don’t know. I am just asking.
Say you are an affiliated Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Non-Denom, Assembly of God, just to name a few. And as life would have it, you have found yourself in the position of having to find a new or different church to attend. But you automatically rule out any church that is different from the same denomination or affiliation you have been attending. I have a few questions. Is that because you know without reservation that this is where God wants you to serve? Or are you only comfortable in that religious persuasion? Or do you believe that God could not possibly use you anywhere else? Or is it because you think this church you have attended is more scripturally correct (the “right” one) and the others have it wrong? I don’t know. I am just asking.
Is it just me, or do we limit God and His power this way? What if we did this? “Where does God want me to serve? Where can my gifts be used? Where can my family best serve? God, where do YOU want me to commit my time, my tithe, my spiritual gifts…?” Maybe we are afraid of the answer. I knew one family who did this, and God sent them to Africa as missionaries. No doubt about it, this takes the control away from us and gives it back to God.
I am not saying that Adult ministries, youth groups, and music programs, are not fantastic. But what I am saying is we have it backwards. Rather than asking ourselves what can this church do for me or for my kids, we should ask what could my family bring here? Yes, what could my kids bring to the youth program? What could we bring to small groups ministries? After all if our first ministry is our family (and I think it is) then I will trust God to stand in the gap for my family, as we navigate through the challenges and the differences in the place He has called us. For instance, if our children are getting truth and training in righteousness at home, first and foremost, then great youth groups should be considered a bonus, not a necessity. It is over and above what God has called us to do as parents.
Obviously, this devo isn’t really speaking to the non-believer or someone who has never walked inside the doors of a church, so much as it is Christians and those of us who, well, are very “churched.” I just don’t believe that the caliber of adult or youth ministries, instruments or no instruments, the dress code, or denominational preferences should guide our decision as to where we worship and serve. And isn’t that what being the church is all about? Worshiping God and serving others?
I know I am not going to make a lot of new friends with this devo. (I am hoping I don’t lose any.) But I can’t help but wonder what have we allowed to happen by judging churches based on a set of criteria that simply is not scriptural.
My husband and I and our children left a church where we had attended lovingly and faithfully for about 7 years, the denomination to which we were connected for 14 years. Had we only considered churches within that denomination, when we departed, well, that would have limited the options severely, and it would have been disobedient to God. It just so happens, He had an entirely different plan in mind for us. But to find that, we had to be open and willing to walk away from all that was familiar to us. It wasn’t without repercussions. There are people who no longer speak to us since making this decision. But that’s another story another day.
Lessons from that experience: (1) I am not indispensable to either my denomination or the church I attend. (2) God is so faithful and will go ahead of you. (Deuteronomy 31:8) And He will stand in the gap for you and your children. (3) God is transforming lives in many many grace filled churches with many different names on their front lawns. (4) My faith is not dependent upon the place I call my church home. It is totally and irrefutably dependent upon the cross and the mercy of God.
Go back and study the 1st century church of Acts 2. Not through your denominational lenses, or even the lenses of your pastor, or through the lenses of your church traditions. All of these, though they are all good things, can act as a filter for scripture. We simply have to look at scripture with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17); and examine the truths for ourselves (Acts 17:11); in a way that pleases God and reveals his good and perfect will (Romans 12:1-3).
When we do this, we can only concede that denominational segregation among Christians was never the intent of God, but rather over the course of centuries became the intent of man. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)
If our faith is inextricably tied to the denomination or non-denominational church with whom we are affiliated, rather than to the One whose life was sacrificed that I might live, what does that say about our walk with Christ or the power of the cross? Is that really faith at all? And if we truly believe in our hearts that God cannot use us outside of this group or that God cannot exponentially transform your life, your marriage, your family, anywhere else, but “there,” then what does that say about the power of our God? How could God, the creator of the universe and author of our faith, be so small? We must not put God inside a little box along with the great plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
I know it is a scary prospect to change religious gears (so to speak) and to suddenly start looking outside your familiar circle as you listen for God’s voice in the journey. I know because we did it. And then just as we were rocking along in our new church serving and feeling like God brought us here for a clear purpose, well, He moved us to Germany. Here we found that we were “stripped” not only of the convenience of denominational choices, but also every “comfort” that goes along with that: buildings, leaders, staff, youth groups, and the list goes on and on. We joined up with another family hosting church in our homes (thanks LC Online resources). It has been so different for our children and us, but once emptied of all that is familiar, you only have God on whom to depend. And the One you serve is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:11-13)