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.
Ironically, Paul and I were in Paris on the day Charlie Hebdo was attacked by terrorists, which left 12 innocent people dead. We had arrived at our hotel that very evening. We were reading emails and text messages from friends and family back home, even before we saw it on CNN inside our hotel room. Naturally, they were concerned for our safety. I found it ironic that we were more concerned for our safety in our hometown back in Texas than in this foreign city of 2,000,000 plus inhabitants. This-in spite of the horrific terrorist attack that had tragically occurred just hours before our arrival. Why? Maybe because (on American soil) I survived the Oklahoma City bombing, but lost 5 of my best friends and multiple colleagues to an act of terrorism, albeit domestic. Maybe it’s because my law enforcement background reminds me there is no perfectly safe place in this world. No place that is completely crime proof. No school. No city. No workplace. Or maybe it’s because the crime in our hometown in Texas (population 11000) a suburb of Houston (population 2,200,000) boasts a ridiculously high crime rate. The Whataburger restaurant frequented by our teenagers (sans parents) was recently robbed at gunpoint along with its patrons, including two students from our high school. Nearby CVS, Walgreens, and Burger King, and many other businesses, have been robbed and/or burglarized recently. Sadly, home invasions in our immediate area are reported way more than I like to hear. It’s unsettling. The mall closest to us in proximity (also frequented by our teenagers sans parents) was the scene of a robbery the very week we were in France. They held women at gunpoint, and took their purses. Those same perpetrators then followed a woman in her vehicle for miles purportedly to reach her home. Only their home invasion scheme was foiled due to her vigilance and awareness. She noticed their car in her rear view mirror, and called the police. Later, the police apprehended them in a neighborhood where several of our friends live just north of ours. They were taken into custody without further incident. Neighborhood and vehicle break-ins are very common in our neighborhood and the surrounding area. And it doesn’t matter if they are gated subdivisions or not. I don’t mean to be the bearer of gloom and doom. I just want to deliver a reality check to anyone who thinks that traveling to a foreign country-or even a different state within these wonderful United States-is too risky. Look closer. Reevaluate! Of course there are places that are such a threat to Americans that traveling there poses too high a risk-places like North Korea, Iran, or Iraq. But alas, France is not one of them. Nor are the countries that border France. And really, how regrettable and sad that there was not ONE American President, diplomat or US representative from our great country in attendance on Saturday (January 10, 2015) at a world rally in Paris, to join together with France and so many other countries taking a stand against the viciousness of terrorism. Seriously, this broke my heart as an American patriot, as a former ex pat of Europe, as a frequent visitor to France-a country who has treated me with the utmost respect and care each time I have visited. I thought about the beaches of Normandy on D-DAY June 6, 1944. Thousands of Americans and other allies lost their lives on those French beaches in a battle that ultimately helped liberate France from Nazi tyranny. Yet 71 years later, we are completely absent at a Paris rally of the free world to end terrorism. Our American history with France is infinite and rich, and that history crosses the French borders to include surrounding countries of Europe’s free world. We should embrace that, teach it, share it, and as much as possible enjoy it whether that means talking about it, writing about it, reading about it, or if you are lucky enough-getting your passport stamped! Anything less is tipping a hat to those low-down, hateful, spiteful, foul-mouthed, no good-evil terrorists! Je suis Charlie!
“These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness, and worship without awareness.” Anthony de Mello
Courtesy. Respect. Kindness. Forgotten fundamentals.
There are many events in history we can undoubtedly pen as building blocks of this country. Valor. Courage on the battlefield. Skyscrapers. Inventions. Industrial progress. Technological and digital advances. But what we don’t often think of when we are considering forward progress and advancement in this great country we live in, is how such fundamental behaviors as courtesy, respect, and kindness figured into that equation. Were these behaviors absent in the early settlers of America? When The Great Depression of the 30’s was king, and later, when economies rebounded? Were they completely nonexistent when the largest allied effort ever-set foot on the beaches of Normandy, France in the fight against the most evil triple axis of the 20th century? Were these basic behavior characteristics not present when women were given the right to vote in 1923? When battles were fought, wars were won? When railroad tracks blazed a line westward, when cell phones were invented, when civil rights were forged with blood and tears, when canals were dug, when a country adorned the trees in their front yards with yellow ribbons, when championships were lost and won and when gold medals were donned and the anthem played? Were they absent when Apple Macintosh debuted their first computer? When scaffolding was a sign of growth, and when families ate dinner around the table together? Was kindness, courtesy, and respect a part of this nation’s infrastructure that grew at maddening speed out of deliberation and hard work? Did courtesy and respect ever in our history play any part of the exponential growth of this young country into a world power? Did it? Or was it only IQ and a drive for money that saw such progress? Is the equation in retrospect only brilliance (IQ) + satisfying basic needs (making money) = present day world power? I don’t think so. Common courtesy most certainly did not always accompany our every effort. Neither kindness or respect could be seen in the brutality that often accompanied our country’s expansion. The very lack of kindness, courtesy and respect, in a large part, prompted the fight for civil rights in the 60’s and later. But I think at every juncture, at the center of every campaign and effort set forth in this country, there were both common and extraordinary people whose efforts exuded kindness and respect as virtues necessary for progress. Moms, Dads, school teachers. Soldiers, preachers, and common laborers and yes even politicians. Neighbors, children, teenagers, parishioners, store clerks, and doctors. But somehow we have suspended the need for such common courtesies. Thank you. Please. You’re welcome. Can I help? Friendly driving. Holding the door open for someone. Looking the person in the eye when you speak to them. Answering messages. Good morning. Good evening. Listening before speaking. Respecting authority. Showing interest in others. It’s almost as if we have unilaterally decided that we have come so far and now have so much, that kindness and courtesy is no longer required or necessary for growth and progress. As if that were the only reason to show respect and courtesy to others. It’s as if we have replaced these traits with the need for vengeance, self entitlement and paying back wrongs with wrongs. When I substitute teach, I am often aghast at the lack of respect afforded subs and teachers alike. Just driving from point A to point B affords a lesson in how to be rude and selfish. Even at church, kindness and genuine openness seems to be a challenge for many. Sadly Christmas shopping seems to bring out the worst in so many whose season of peace and good will is completely lost in the madness of being the first in line. Go through the list of common courtesies named in the sentences above. Somewhere along the way, we have failed as parents, teachers, preachers, neighbors, drivers, builders, expanders, innovators, coaches, presidents and as human beings to show and to teach others the virtues of common courtesies and yes, the success that accompanies that. Most importantly when we fail to value these common fundamental behavior traits, then our children fail to value them. And so in this department, we fail our children. Our children are truly the future. We may raise kids who are successful in business and in athletics, but will we raise kids who are able to see the value in kindness, not only for themselves, but for the continued growth and health of this great country that we live in? Are the two connected? I think the answer is a resounding “yes!”
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 I was a kid I always felt guilty. I felt like a lot of things were my fault. I wasn’t allowed to watch television on Saturday morning because there was work to be done. Or even if there wasn’t work to be done, my grandma was always working, and since that was true, no TV for me on Saturday morning. My grandfather was equally hardened when it came to a work ethic. Fun in our house was secondary to work expectations. Fun rarely happened in the same context that it does now in my marriage and with our kids. We didn’t have family nights or family vacations or engaging family conversations around the dinner table. We did have meaningful conversations, but they were often forced, not easy and open, and not often positive. I was raised by my grandparents in the 70’s and early 80’s. I graduated from high school in 1983. Do the math. These are grandparents who survived world wars, the Great Depression, turbulent times, tragic deaths, loss of children…you name it. If there was devastation to be found, it could be traced event after event, through the past threads of their lives, individual and together. So needless to say, there was not a lot of empathy in our household. You really did kind of “pull yourself up by your own boot straps,” and move forward. No one was going to be there to do it for you. After all, no one did it for them! No one was hanging your pictures on the refrigerator, reading you a book at bed time, nursing you through a cold, or giving you any facts about the “facts of life.” My parents died young, and my middle sister and I were separated from my oldest sister 4 years later. So it probably doesn’t surprise you that I am hard on my kids. I try to separate my past from my present when I see that their grades falling; or when I feel like my husband and I do most of the labor around the house. I try to separate my past from my present when they insist on a $400 dress for homecoming; (No, that one didn’t happen), when they spend too much time on social networking; (We had three channels on a black and white television, a rotary telephone with a party line, and no VHS!), when they complain about hand washing dinner dishes; or when they get frustrated with us for telling them, We are not their personal ATM. When I was in Girl Scouts, (one of the very few extra curricular activities which garnered my grandma’s approval), my grandmother did the unthinkable. She actually sewed my hard-earned patches directly on the dress rather than purchase the sash and then sew them onto the sash. The sash, in turn, was meant to be worn over your head and allowed to rest smartly across the breast of the uniform. But I was sashLESS! The uniform itself was a Good Will purchase. I also wore tube socks in some awful light blue color with my green uniform, rather than the sharp, regulation green knee socks that were part of the uniform. (Yes, I have the picture to prove this unsightly site) So when my girls are asking to shop for a homecoming dress and heaven forbid a mum (what in the heck is a mum?), I reminisce about my girl scout uniform disaster, and think to myself, how ungrateful of you to expect a brand new homecoming dress (every year) and since we live in Texas, a mum! Okay, confession: I hate mums. It’s a Texas thing. I am not a Texas girl. If it were up to me, I would use mums for target practice. But I have two girls who want to go to homecoming and if I stick to my past on this, they would be the ONLY two girls present at their homecoming in the best dress Good Will had to offer. In the end, I put a spending limit on the dresses, and did my best to figure out the mum thing without making my daughters feel like a burden. Therein lies the crux of this. I grew up in a tough place. Sometimes I felt like a burden. And some days, I do the same thing to my girls. Sometimes it’s inescapable. Oh, I shoot for the stars. “I’ll balance discipline with love and grace. I’ll set boundaries, but provide incentives. I’ll never be resentful about my schedule or tasks or make them feel guilty about spending money on them.” But often, as I am doling out the discipline, the resentment creeps in. I am my grandmother’s child. I am holding them responsible for a good bit of my life over which they have zero control or influence. My grandparents did the best they could with the resources that were available to them, both monetarily and personally. And I cried like a baby when they died. I would never wish to dishonor them. They were incredibly resilient, hard-working Americans who helped build this country with their own blood, sweat and tears. Because of my grandma, I am a good communicator with family and friends, a good writer, and I am fearless when it comes to confrontation. She also instilled in me a deep love for scripture. But still, when I left, I took the good, the bad, and the ugly. And with that, I have a choice: Shaping the person I am into a mother that takes the good, the bad, and the ugly, and uses it constructively for the good of her kids-or not. I fail. A lot. Many days, I utterly and totally fail. I wish I could tell you that in spite of my past, I am truly “mother of the year.” But I am not. When dealing with teenagers, I often don’t know when to advance and when to retreat. My usual method is advance and conquer. Defeat results from advancing when I should have retreated. But I will tell you this, Jesus and me we got a good thing going. He stands in that gap for me. You know the one? That gap, that for me is a bottomless black pit, me on one side, and my baby girl on the other. But for Him-He is the bridge in that gap. He bridges that space between my daughter and I. So when I do rely on my past to inform my decisions, and power forward with that lone voice in my ear, screaming “Charge!” and I mess things up, He gets in that gap, and He fills in the space where otherwise, resentment on both sides would fester and grow and become an impassable chasm. That’s Jesus in my darkest hour, making me the loving, joyful, compassionate, and responsible parent that He wants me to be.
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.
The perpetrator is ALWAYS responsible for his or her crimes. Whether it is something as harmless as a 10-year-old child throwing a rock through the neighbor’s window or something far more threatening and harmful, like a male college student sexually assaulting a female peer incapacitated by alcohol. Clearly and unequivocally, the perpetrator is responsible. This blog entry does not attempt to identify “who” is responsible. We know who that is. Whether his sorry no good parents who produced him and sent him off to college to prey on women-OR their attorney, believe it or not-the responsible one is indeed their son-the perpetrator. This blog is designed, not to assert who is responsible for these crimes, but rather to address what we can do to stop it. There are two things that we need to do in order to stop sexual assault in its tracks on college campuses. One is to report the crime to law enforcement personnel when it happens. (not simply to college personnel) And the second thing that needs to be done is prevention. We need to teach our girls about the dangers of sexual assault in typical college settings, and then equip them with simple skills to help them avoid becoming a victim. I read an article this morning that absolutely alarmed me. But as in every case, considering the source, it may or may not be surprising. Ms. Hartman is a recent graduate, very young I am sure. Probably not a parent herself, which as we all know, puts a very different spin on life and the lenses through which we see and process information. Nevertheless, Avery Hartman, (a recent Syracuse University graduate and intern for USA Today) reported in USA today the absolute necessity to report sexual assault on campus.
Transparency as a personality trait is a good thing. Too many people hide behind their gifts, talents, education level, careers, money, or daily calendars! None of us know who you truly are or what you’re truly about when you allow yourself to only be seen through the filter of all you have accomplished. Transparency is about bringing authenticity to your relationships. Being real. One way we do this is by personal disclosure. This is very rarely accomplished by vomiting every detail of your life (sordid or perfect) to those you meet along the way. But it is about being honest with others in a way that requires us to admit such things as our faults, our fears, our confusion, or in general-admitting we just don’t have it all together. Ah yes, we don’t always have it all together. We’re imperfect parents, spouses, Christians, friends, bosses, employees! We are imperfect creatures created by a perfect God. But often what makes us imperfect also makes us different. And well, that’s a good thing. Transparency also makes us approachable. No one is going to feel like they can stack up next to super mom, or a super hero colleague! Nope! You who cannot in any way practice transparency need never worry about someone confiding in you about their struggles or their fears, or most probably even their hopes or their dreams. So being an opaque (yes that would be the opposite of transparent) kind of gal may seem productive to you, but it’s unfortunate for those closest to you. Think of your kids, husband, neighbors and friends. All people who would benefit greatly from knowing the real you, but instead, being convinced you are unapproachable, and “I could never be that perfect….” I remember once, when my kids were babies and my husband was deployed a LOT, speaking with an older wiser friend who had experienced a similar military lifestyle to mine. I confided to her that the struggle of “family reintegration” when Paul returned home was challenging and arguing often ensued. Her exact words to me “oh well my husband and I never argued.” I said “Well, congratulations.” And that was the last time I ever shared a single concern with her again. There are plenty of people in this world who do plenty of things much better than I ever could. That is a truth that will never change. But what’s in my grasp is to be to others a true picture of someone who has often failed on the way to all things wonderful in life. Transparent people invite change in others. Transparency also fosters hope and provides a safe place for someone else to reach their full potential on their way to all things wonderful in life.
The last two days I have seen all three of my daughters off very early in the morning for mission trips associated with our church. Halle and Katie Ann are serving in NYC. Shelby is serving in the Dominican Republic, the first of her sisters to serve in a third world country. Among my many prayers for their trip and their efforts, one that you will NOT hear, is a prayer for their spiritual growth and maturity. Nor am I praying that they embrace their faith in a more personal way as result of this trip. Now before you say anything like “What-are you crazy?” Let me explain. My prayer is that they are salt and light in the darkness, a positive and gentle reminder of what is good in the world. IN other words, my prayer is that they come and do good to others, not the other way around. They are the missionaries, not the mission. Even Jesus said in John 10:10 “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” His mission was for others to receive hope and help from Him! Again-NOT the other way around. Sure, right now you may be thinking “Judy is way over thinking this. It’s not that complicated.” Recently, a young enthusiastic Columbia medical student wrote an article about the “Narcissism of Global Volunteerism.” Her writing was very one-sided about her personal experience on a medical brigade volunteer trip to Africa. All in all it was a pretty negative article that seemed to recklessly deposit every global volunteer effort into the same pit of despair in which hers had sunk. Her thinking was that global volunteer efforts are completely narcissistic on the part of the volunteer(s), and furthermore, that it enabled entire cultures to remain oppressed and dependent on others for their daily sustenance, if not also, for their political structure. In particular, she slammed the wide use of social media, picture taking and subsequent posting, as a visual means of showcasing our good works for everyone to view and adore! While her article was entirely too ambitious in its attempts at lumping together all aspects of global volunteerism and all volunteer organizations, I did feel there was something to be learned from it. Indeed there is a grain of truth for us as volunteers both domestic and international, to be gleaned from her sometimes pompous thoughts. And so, on the eve of their departure to their respective mission trip destinations, I made this article required reading for all three of my girls. As I told them, “It begs the question, do we exploit the poor and impoverished for our own spiritual gain? Do we exploit their lot in life and their humble estate in order to elevate ourselves spiritually in the eyes of the world, our church, our friends and family? Is it through the inherent humility of the downtrodden that we seek out the “magic bullet” to practice humility for ourselves?” My girls had some eye-opening thoughts. They agreed that the author might be a little skewed in her narrow opinion of global volunteerism based solely on her own experiences. But they also agreed that the answer to some of those questions could indeed be “yes!” In the end, we had a round of prayer and I prayed for the girls to be exactly what I started this blog with-salt and light to those they come in contact with-NOT for the girls’ personal gain, even personal spiritual gain. I did not pray for them to become better more behaved daughters, or to necessarily enjoy every moment of every day they are there. Okay, you are exactly right reader: Spiritual growth is not something you can turn on and off with a power switch. You know the old adage applies here: “You can’t stop a train.” It’s highly unlikely that the girls will come out of this experience, and not grow spiritually. But let that be the work of our God, not our work. Ephesians 2:8 says “It is not by works we are saved, but by grace.” The same holds truth for spiritual growth. It happens NOT when we benefit personally from our acts of service, but rather when we are obedient to our God. I would submit if you are going on any mission trip as a “self-help” mission for either yourself or your child, then rethink your participation on that trip. And I would go so far as to say, if you don’t know the people in your own neighborhood by name, or if you have never so much as volunteered a single hour in the community where you live, then for Pete’s sake, get your priorities straight. Greet your neighbors with genuine interest. Have someone over to your home for dinner. Practice hospitality. Try making real life application of Romans 12:13 in your home! Join a local service project. Do these things first. Don’t expect a thing in return. Not so much as a friendly wave from the next door neighbor after delivering him those cookies! THEN, if you feel the conviction and the Holy Spirit’s tug to go on an overseas mission trip (or to the inner city of NYC), knock yourself out, and pray that you truly see people with Jesus filters. This is something you have heard a 1000 times in your life, and if you haven’t, allow me to be the first to introduce you to the concept: “It ain’t about us.” It’s never about us. Ever. Even if it is my precious girls who I love more than my own life. It’s not about them. And God help me, I’m trying to teach them that!
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.