If there were ever an unofficial club I enjoyed being part of, it was and is the parenting club. Remember when your kids were babies and toddlers and you hung out with moms and dads of babies and toddlers? You shared stories of sleepless nights, first steps, first words, and potty training. Then you moved into the next season of parenting school-aged littles, and offered one another advice on a myriad of topics about sports teams, dance studios, the best schools, birthday parties, discipline, meal planning, and the list goes on and on. If you were really lucky, you took your parent friends with you into the years of puberty, hormonal imbalances, homecomings, high school, and the drama of teens all of which subsequently caused all of us to question our sanity even on the best of days. You lamented together about teaching your kids to drive, the challenges of talking to your kids about sex, and the hopes you had for their future. And then young adulthood happened. Suddenly you were moving them into college dorms, and you wondered where did all of those sweet years go and how in the world did they pass by so fast? But even here, you don’t have to lament alone. Because you have surrounded yourself with other parents, imperfect like you, but still striving to do their best job with the charge they have been given. Now this club, of sorts, you have belonged to perhaps since birthing classes, has catapulted you to a new stage of parenting young adults. And then? Married kids. Perhaps grandchildren. Kids on their own dime. Congrats. You have achieved lifetime status in your club. Parent first and foremost with your parenting partner, the other parent of your child. And secondly, find a “club” of fellow moms and fellow dads who lovingly and with compassion are willing to come along beside you and prop you up in the most joyful of times and the most difficult. That latter part is especially paramount if you don’t have a parenting partner. This is the hardest job you will ever do. But it should also be the most joyful job you ever do. It should never be entered into lightly or alone.
I have a book set to release May 14th, 2019 called “Parenting with Gumption and Grit: 52 Must-Read Parenting Tips for Anyone who has Ever Loved a Child Enough to Want to Influence Their Future.” Tip #1 Don’t Go it Alone. I hope this book also addresses a LOT of the particulars listed above that are simply inevitable at every stage of parenting. No, my parenting club is not a card carrying private group. It’s just a big bunch of close friends who have ridden out this journey with us as we laughed, cried, hoped, prayed, and grew our children together. And my club is not necessarily only composed of parents. It could be aunts, uncles, grandparents, mentors, “Anyone who has Ever Loved MY Child Enough to Want to Influence Their Future.”
I have no grand illusions about this book selling millions of copies or about being invited to the Ellen Show. Indeed Tips #1-#13 Smart Parenting Choices may even make you drowsy. Tips #14-#18 Teach Them Life Skills may seem super basic. Tips #19-#22 regarding the Parent Trap and Letting Them Go might make you mad. Tip #25 The Sex Talk might make you downright uncomfortable. Tips #33-#35 Managing Their Media may tempt you to stop reading any further. Character Tips #36-#42 such as teaching them Kindness over Tolerance or True Faith not Religion or No Excuse for Rude, all may challenge you deeply. And Tip #44 I Messed up: Do the Next Right Thing may encourage you exceedingly. Tip #49 Just Parent your Child may convict you. Tip #50 None of us Gets a Free Pass may frighten you. And Tip #52 simply reminds you…of what is important. I hope all of these emotions happen when you read this book and more, (Except the drowsy part).
Community happens in different places and spaces. It happens in a small group at church whether that’s your community group, your worship team, your children’s serve team or another group where you have shared experiences. It happens in your expat group when you live overseas. It happens with your neighbors here or abroad. It happens with the moms of your friends. Because after all, who knows better than they do how challenging parenting can be? It happens in all kinds of groups. The thing about community, whether it is with a group of Jesus followers at your church, or your neighbors next door, or your team at your office, clearly, just the group itself does not“community” make. Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than that which is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements. Spiritual growth quite naturally is born out of real community. When you have authentic community resulting from personal investment which includes personal disclosure and quality time spent together, spiritual growth is inherent. It is inevitable. You can’t really stop it from happening. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that in the same way a lack of engagement in the Word, or an on and off prayer life, can stymie spiritual growth, so can a lack of true community.
So how does community grow us spiritually? How does it make us better friends, spouses, parents, employees, or ministry leaders? How does community compel us to be more loving agents of the Gospel? Well, when you engage with people in your home, or over a meal, or at their child’s T-ball game, or in most any place that is away from the church pews, it transforms you from a spectator to a player-from a consumer to a producer. Community is one way we express our faith in action. It means doing life with people outside of your immediate family. We are a military family, now retired. In that business, we moved a handful of times. That did not stop us from forming the kind of community in our lives that propped us up emotionally and spiritually. Indeed, that career demanded it. In those years of frequent transition and change, we formed communities literally home and abroad that helped sustain our marriage and our family life. Those communities were composed of diverse and fascinating people. Undoubtedly some of them were very similar to us in every way, but many of them were very different-different in ethnicity, politics, and religion. In fact, the four years we lived in Germany, we were never able to come home for Thanksgiving, so we exploited that opportunity to share our holiday celebrations with our neighbors who included German, Dutch, French, Canadian, and American. As we gazed around that table of God given bounty, and not just food, but the bounty of fellowship, with our own children serving our invited guests, I was reminded of the parable of the wedding banquet in Luke 14. The prep for that banquet began with an expectation of guests who looked a lot like Jesus but ended up being just the opposite. As we shared food and fellowship around our own banquet table in our small village in Germany, it was overwhelming to think about how God blessed us with such camaraderie and hope as we had found in the most unlikely of friends. Language barriers be damned. And that is just the thing about true community. It strives to erase those barriers. And not just language barriers, but cultural and social barriers. Community is often a real-life picture of Ephesians 2 which says “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
Community also helped us survive those tough years of being newly married. I often tell people that Paul and I “grew up together” as young single adults and forward, in church small groups. Community gave us hope and encouragement when raising babies from infancy to young adult. Recently we went to a wedding for a daughter of one of those “old” friends. As well as a wedding, it was also a small reunion of our old life group, the one that started us on our way with babies, the one that propped us up emotionally and gave us the confidence necessary to handle that ginormous task of parenting. And at every season of parenting, I have relied on my community of sweet and loving mom friends who have the courage to hold me accountable while at the same time loving me unconditionally.
Truly, the world inflicts much deeper wounds than what our skill set alone is able to reconcile. We were simply never hardwired to power through life on an island, single handedly fighting our way through the trials and hardships that life abundantly supplies. Likewise, we were not hardwired to revel in our joys alone. What parent ever said, “I hope no one asks me about my daughter’s latest accomplishments?” Said no parent ever! What person ever said” “I am keeping the news about my big promotion all to myself?” Not one person ever! Community invites us into a place of utter refuge, a place of hope, a place of unspeakable joy, a place where DNA isn’t required and where-thank you Jesus-the every-day, unrelenting evil of this world cannot breech the threshold of those who surround us with such deep and abiding love and acceptance. In Zephaniah 3:9 the Lord said, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lordand serve him shoulder to shoulder.”Is that not one of the most beautiful pictures of community you have ever seen in the written Word? Just imagine a group of people who do life together shoulder to shoulderso much so that when the going gets tough, the tough can still get going.
Paul the apostle understood the value and necessity of community as well as anyone. His tearful separation from the Ephesian elders at the close of Acts 20 is underscored by Luke’s words in Verse 1 of the following chapter, “After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea.” This preempted their arrival and layover in Tyre where the bible says, “We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.” Wow. That’s some serious community.
If you are someone who is “community-less,” ask yourself a couple of introspective questions: 1) Am I a person who walks in and out of the spaces and places of my life, including my church, without interacting with anyone or without investing any of myself, my gifts, or my time in that place? OR 2) Am I so hungry for community that I am over-involved in so many “small groups” that I have not the time or energy necessary to invest in one or two of those groups on a personal, deep level?” Both of these situations can render you community-less. Because remember what we said earlier: “Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than what is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements;” and it requires“personal disclosure and quality time spent together.” Neither of these two aforementioned situations (under involvement or over involvement) allow for this.
In his poem penned in the 16thcentury John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” I think Donne was so so right. You might say, I cannot afford either the time or the emotional investment of community.” I say, “you cannot afford the loss that is sure to happen without it.” I don’t think human life can sustain itself without community.
And as a final important thought, if you are a parent, the last thing you want to do is to send your kids out into this chaotic, cruel world community-less. Kids who have never had community modeled for them, or who have never lived their lives this way, often become church casualties. If they have spent their whole lives leading up to college surrounded only by their immediate family, even if that included “regular” church attendance, will they know how to form the kinds of relationships away from home that love them so much they are willing to hold them accountable, and to laugh with them when they laugh, and cry with them when they cry? Relationships that steer them toward God, not away? I fear not. We must have a sense of urgency when it comes to equipping our kids to embrace true community.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it does not matter. I’m more introvert than extrovert. I tend to recharge alone-not together. I often seek out solitude when my life is in overdrive. But undoubtedly, I enthusiastically seek out God given, and God ordained community when I need hope, help and truth; conviction, love and joy!
Today I found myself sitting in an airport with time on my hands. This time it’s Little Rock, AR. When I have time on my hands, I tend to find things to do. Rest is way overrated when you are a Type A such as I am. Good or bad, I have long since quit apologizing for that, and instead just rest in the way that I believe God has wired me. And so it is, that on this one day before the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995 I remain irrepressibly thankful. Irrepressibly hopeful, and irrepressibly overwhelmed by the goodness that relentlessly remains in our world in spite of all that we see and know is NOT good. Tomorrow is indeed the 23rd anniversary of this tragedy. The 23rd anniversary of the loss of 5 of my best friends and multiple of my close friends and colleagues whose offices were adjacent to mine, whose lives intersected with mine with indescribable magnitude.
I don’t ever forget.
But the way that I remember, now that is always different.
For you perhaps, you would see no connection between these two things. The seemingly mundane things of daily life that bring to my mind those I loved and lost tragically in 1995. But for me, it is as plain as the words on a page. And the reminders are both joyful and sad. This makes sense since recollections of my friends are both joyful and sad. Joyful at the remembrance of us being so close and doing our jobs and our lives together. Family not tied do DNA. Sad at the remembrance of the huge hole left in my heart at their sudden departure.
As I sat in the airport I thought of the last couple days spent with my aged mother-in-law, who is struggling with her health. I am infinitely thankful for my husband’s siblings, who in spite of their differences, stand together as a family on what is important. As I began rifling through my email and texts, I exchanged the following communications. Both my niece and my sister are celebrating the new life of a first child and grandchild respectively, two sweet and beautifully innocent, baby boys. Oh the joy! My niece, an educator in a very low income, suburbia area of Houston, asked if my husband, a commercial airline pilot, would be interested in speaking into the lives of her sweet (and very marginalized) students on their career day. My daughter texted me with the glum news that a health issue she has been struggling with has reappeared much to our chagrin. I had a potential publisher call me with lots of optimism about the two of us being able to work together on a long time passionate project of mine. Meanwhile, my mind also remained occupied with the recent news of raging destructive wild fires in NW Oklahoma and my friends there who are yet in harm’s way. Still in the national news, the sudden death of a young woman, a mom, while traveling by air in a plane that has perhaps successfully completed that route hundreds of times before. My daughter texts me with great news about her decision to double major, and how that is going to best contribute to her desire to perhaps one day work closely with trafficking victims. My women’s pastor at my church, and close friend, sends an email asking for us to brainstorm ways to reach women who are in need and who are hurting. One of my very best friends, lets me know that another surgery is in the cards for her in battling breast cancer. My husband sends me a text about our future choices in retirement. It’s an inside joke. It seems that virtually every single article related to this topic has a signature photo on the front page of a woman who is voluptuous. As if this were pertinent to the top 10 best places in American to retire. This leaves me laughing so hard I am crying.
And. that. is. just. it. Sometimes we are crying so hard we laugh. Still other times, we are laughing so hard we cry. But always we remember.
We remember the good and the bad. Our lives are full of hearty doses of both. The question is what will we do about it? For me, I am answering my (teacher) niece and going to make every effort to be present for those sweet little kids on their career day. I am texting my sister to tell her how blessed I feel to be a part of her celebration with her new grandson. I am sending Deuteronomy 31:6 to my best friend as she prepares for surgery. I am telling my daughter with regard to her health issue: “Don’t worry Katie, we got this. We can do it.” I am letting my husband’s siblings know that whatever is in our future for their mom, we can do this thing together. I am letting my women’s pastor know that I am on board. I am encouraging my girls, all three of them to be the world changers that I know God has created them to be. I am overwhelmed with their desire to make a difference in the world of the lost and hurting. Finally, I’m praying to my Creator, the One who knows what we are going through, who knows our pain and our joy, and for whatever reason, chose to cover my own multitude of sins with ginormous amounts of love.
And that’s just it. I am overwhelmed. Still by the loss of my five sweet friends 23 years ago, Carrol, Kenny, Carrie Ann, Rona and Shelly. And still by the way that life just keeps marching on, both tragically and joyfully, both demanding a response from me. Judy what are you going to do now?
When I was growing up, no one-and I mean not. one. person.- in our house ever said the two words “I’m sorry.” They also never said “I love you.” Not that growing up in my house was all bad. (Read my blog “What do we Owe them?”) It was just not conducive for learning how to be a gentle soul, soft-spoken, easy-going communicator in relationships. There was no pattern of such things for me to emulate. It was seemingly more conducive for teaching one how to be a bulldozer in those same relationships. Fast forward to me as an adult, and I still struggle with such niceties as “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” Although, I have come a long way, by the insurmountable grace of God, I still have epic fails. Alas, the bulldozer is still partially imbedded deep inside of me. Not that by any measure of the stick, I am blaming my grandparents or any other of my relatives with whom I spent all those formative years, for my own occasional absolute lack of couth or tact! No, I am definitely a big girl now and have thus formed in my personal beliefs a “whole harmless agreement,” if you will, for my past and for those who heartily influenced my growing up. At some point in your life, if positive change is to become permanent change, you have to release others from responsiblity for your actions and own them yourself. That is not to say that others are not culpable in the whole of how you turned out. Furthermore, I think self disclosure about your past and how you were raised is helpful in dialogue with people close to you in an effort to help them to understand you better. But still here I am on the other side of my life so to speak, many years and events between then and now, and yet sometimes I still find myself defaulting to old learned habits. Perhaps that is where they get the phrase “to bully.” Wikipedia (yeah I worked hard on this research project) defines a bulldozer as capable of “projects requiring highly mobile, powerful, and stable earth-moving equipment.” Just as a bulldozer is capable of distributing its weight over large parcels of land clearing forests and objects in its path, I find myself quite capable of using my mouth and my motives, my force of words and demeanor to distribute my weight, my influence, over large parcels of a person’s heart. Case in point, my daughter failed to do a very simple task for me that obviously I had hoped would be done by noon on this particular Sunday. She did not. It so happened that as we were preparing for worship in church on Sunday morning, she reminded me that she was going for groceries on the way home, and would need to borrow my credit card. I, still irrevocably irritated over her failure to do what I told her to do, stewed over this even as worship began. Then with impeccable timing, just as we were starting the second song, I whispered to her “Halle you know how you want me to give you my credit card for the grocery store, well I wanted you to deliver those donations this morning.” And with that, she promptly sat in her seat and started crying. Success! Land cleared. Parent of the year, not. But kudos for driving my point home while deconstructing her self-confidence at the same time, in mere seconds? Score! Except my other daughter and my husband were both looking at me with that “What did you say and why now?” quizzical and skeptical kind of look. Well, I powered down the engine on my dozer pretty quick at that point, and with the grace that God continually pours over my weary, stubborn soul, I started rethinking my actions. I couldn’t take them back, but I could exercise my learned skills of saying “I’m sorry.” Wikipedia also states “The bulldozer’s primary tools are the blade and the ripper.” These two features I adopted well along the journey from youth to adulthood. But along with that definition, it also states, “The bulldozer’s tracks give them excellent ground holding capability and mobility through very rough terrain.” Hmm that’s no so bad. I can see how useful that feature can be. There are good things about my bulldozing capabilities and undoubtedly, there are bad things. Fortunately, I have a God who knows that all that has shaped me is not all bad. He uses the better, greater characteristics to accomplish His purposes. If only when I do choose to express the negative aspects of my personality, I am quite capable of owning it and saying I am sorry, there is still hope for me and my relationships. That doesn’t mean that I “should go on sinning so that grace may abound.” (Romans 6:1-4) No just the opposite; it means rather, that in the light of God’s infinite mercy, I need to count myself among the blessed, so much so that I am willing to recognize my sin, my not-so-great-parts of my personality, and work to cultivate and implement the positive aspects of all that I am. Thankfully, my God is forgiving as is my family. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is one bulldozing girl who is grateful for that truth. Amen!
This just in. We don’t always have to experience things first hand. Talk about a time saver. Not to mention a better view in life’s rear view mirror. We have role models in our lives, both good and bad that have already done the hard work for us. It’s true! Some we know personally, and some we just see on TV or social networking. This could eliminate a LOT of time and trouble for us. They are everywhere and in every industry, country, city, school, religious circle, and home. The bad news is, that sometimes, we, or our children, are in the path of a bad role model and take a direct hit. But the good news is that role modeling-BOTH the awful and the awesome-can be enormously valuable teachers for all of us. If only we will let them.
If you’re a parent, you can readily see that absent fathers (either by divorce or by choice) cause havoc. It’s not a secret. Watch the news. Talk to school teachers. Get to know your neighbors. It’s amazing to me how many thousands upon thousands of crime sprees are committed by those from broken homes; how many victims of sexual assault and abuse have grown up without a father (and/or a mother.) Yet, we never ever talk about this on the news or very seldom when trying to find solutions. It’s forbidden. Well, after all, it could mean we are demoralizing single parents. Which of course is ridiculous. They should be reinforced not abandoned. Bolstered not broken. But just that one variable in their child’s life, puts them at risk for rocky relationships, poor grades and low self-confidence. So if your child’s father is absent, what can you do about that? Can you find someone else to fill the void in her life? It’s perhaps a tall order I know. But can you? Can you look to other families who have successfully negotiated this difficult terrain with their kids, and find out what they did that worked well? And if you’re the absent father, can you start engaging with your child now before it’s too late?
Maybe you’re a college student. There are a lot of role models in your life right now, including fellow students. What do their lives teach you? Have you seen poor judgement and co-dependency result in reckless behavior that in turn, results in pain and heartache? It’s a great time to learn a lesson. Moving out, on your own away from the protective swath of parents, and a comfortable routine, is difficult enough. Recklessness in your new social circles and a need to party until the cows come home, could make you vulnerable and an easy target for some dirty rotten scoundrel co-ed who only wants to exploit you. It’s a ripple effect. This is about prevention. We aren’t exonerating the dirty rotten scoundrel of his or her responsibility for their criminal actions. We are just watching, learning, and then thinking before acting. It’s a natural part of caring for yourself and your friends.
Maybe you are in a season with your marriage or your kids and you have experienced or witnessed your share of bad marriages and poor parenting, but also the opposite, positive (not perfect) parenting and thriving (not perfect) marriages. Then why are you still sitting on your duff and not engaging those who have gone before you? You’ve got questions. They’ve got answers. You’re wondering how to negotiate this argument over finances or your teenager’s rebellion. You’re wondering how to overcome infidelity, addiction, or potty training. Ask someone for Pete’s sake.
Violent crimes, high school graduation rates, addiction, assault, broken relationships are all issues that we are dealing with in our communities that need attention, but so is the familial foundations of our children. Family harmony, or the lack thereof, directly correlates to how much pain and heartache will manifest itself in the lives of our children and in their behavior. But talking about this is practically taboo in politics, community policy discussions, and education reform. Even though we all agree on this one point: that children of broken homes and broken relationships are often marginalized in our society. And we also know that this is often generational.
So here’s what we can do. We can take individual responsibility to watch, listen and learn. And we can and should come along beside those who feel alone and are hurting for help. Newsflash: literally millions of others have gone ahead us on the same road that we are currently traveling. The absolute best resource we have available to us as we navigate the stuff of our own lives is the stuff that’s already happened to someone else. Let all of us: single, widowed, married, divorced, parent, child, spouse, ALL of us, take our heads out of the proverbial sand, and enlist the help of a mentor or accountability partner, or prayer partner, or a role model. And when you bear witness to your own relationship casualties, go to the heart of the problem; own your part; stop the cycle. Recalling an old favorite movie of mine, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” we are compelled to take cues from all kinds of role models and from each another as we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Just pay attention and learn.
I am blessed with a lot of awesome friends. Sure they are awesome because I know they’ll be there for me in a pinch night or day. And they are awesome because they like me, I like them, and we have fun together. But those aren’t the only things that make them awesome friends. They are also awesome friends because they tell me the ugly truth. They are also awesome friends because they don’t drop me like a bad habit when I tell them the ugly truth. They are awesome because when we happen to disagree on something, I can rest assured knowing that our history together is not null and void. It counts for something. We have credibility with each other. Emotional deposits have been made such that an occasional withdrawal doesn’t derail the entire relationship.
Some time ago, my young adult daughter posted a comment on Facebook which was completely appropriate (in mom’s book of social networking etiquette). She simply stated an opinion on a hot topic in today’s culture as it relates to domestic abuse. Suddenly without any warning, a mutual friend of ours (much older adult woman) zeroed in for the kill. She shot back with several zingers one after the other seemingly in retribution of Shelby’s perfectly appropriate and compassionate (not merely passionate) post. Whether I agreed with my daughter’s views on the matter or not, her post was fine. In fact, it was pretty benign. Even so, Shelby’s post and my attempts to be peacemaker were met with undiluted wrath by this person who we thought was a really good friend. So our “friend,” UNfriended both of us on Facebook. Sure this happens a lot. I know that. But among acquaintances with whom you have no personal history, who the heck cares? On the other hand, when you find yourself unfriended by a person with whom you have a pretty strong relational history, it’s disturbing.
Social networking (and the internet) was non-existent when I was growing up. I was truly an adult in my 40s before it hit our world like a tornado. It’s a blessing and a curse. We have friends all over the world. What an awesome privilege it is to be able to keep up with their family adventures, jobs, kids, activities with just a few keyboard clicks. It’s completely impersonal. But as long as it is understood that it is truly completely impersonal, then no problem. When we make it personal, substituting electronic exchanges for real and necessary conversations, that is reckless. Unfortunately, social networking, especially (seemingly) with the 35 and under crowd, can have a hypnotic effect on them. Hours are spent surfing social networking rather than cultivating real relationships in person. And sadly, ridiculously, the number of likes they have on an Instagram post dictates their level of self confidence and what they believe about themselves. But another thing can happen too. People (such as our adult friend) can use social networks as a weapon. If you don’t say something I like, you’re off my friend list. This begs the question: “So if we come into your town, we shouldn’t call you for dinner? If you come into our town, will you not be staying with us? The once relationship we had with shared interests and shared experiences, those don’t matter anymore? Remember the time we kept your kiddos and loved on them so you could take care of important business? That’s now meaningless? The times we had a laugh together or a coffee with an enjoyable exchange of dialogue, that’s also meaningless?” I have to assume so. Because social networking has contributed to a pandora of shallow relationships. When you use social networking to mask your true feelings, OR when you blurt out your feelings about others unfiltered for everyone’s scrutiny, things that are none of their business, OR when you discard true friends like Saturday night’s leftovers because they posted ONE thing that irritated you-that’s shallow.
Equp4Work: Photo Creds
Most in ground pools have a water fill line. It’s rarely recommended to let your water levels run much below that fill line. It’s just not safe. And it’s also not fun. Do that, and your swimming pool suddenly becomes a wading pool. Our relationships are like that. If your relational efforts never rise above the the fill line of the relationship pool, you might just be a shallow relationship partner. If you shut down communication with a friend or a daughter or a son or a husband who really needs you, but you just don’t have time for that kind of investment, or if you hide behind the seemingly impenetrable wall of your social networking profiles, and fire off posts (good or bad) like bumper stickers on a car, then you might be a shallow partner in your relationships, not holding up your end of being the real deal. Also if your life is all about you and what you want, but rarely about what others want (your friend, your child, your spouse), then you might not be holding up your end in those relationships either.
In the bible, the book of Daniel chapter 3 tells a beautiful story of 3 teenage Jewish boys who dared take a stand with the King of Babylon in whom they were in servitude. They refused to bow down and worship his golden statute. Of course the king threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace, so that they might burn alive. Their response is incredible. “King Nebuchenzzer, We believe the our God can save us, but even if he does not, we will now bow down to your gods.” Wow! The measure of our faith is not in our responses to what God can do, but rather the true measure of our faith is in our responses to what God does not do!” These three young boys had their heads wrapped around that. They were anything but shallow. They were there for each other no matter the circumstances. They trusted in their past together to carry them through their future together. Whatever that may be. Their trust in God was equally not shallow. Had they only believe that God was omnipotent if he chose to save them from the fiery furnace, this would have been very shallow of them. Their faith would’ve been childish, without depth or maturity. But they believed in God and His power in every circumstance. They believed God was the God of the universe even if He did not choose to spare them from the King’s wrath.
Is someone you know and care for reaching out, but you are not reaching back? It may be on either a professional or personal level. Are you struggling to get the water level in your relationships up to the fill line? You better run the hose a little bit longer. Have you tossed a significant someone along the wayside of your life quicker than you can say “Jack Sprat,” simply because they voiced a different opinion from you? Do you put all of your interests and wants ahead of the people in your life who need you to prioritize their interests even if they are not yours? Have you long since scrapped the idea of a personal God, Creator, who cares for you because He wasn’t there to stop _______ from happening? (fill in the blank) Shallow. Shallow. Shallow. Give yourself a break and start forgiving where forgiveness can build a bridge for you to cross over from bitterness to joy. Give yourself a break and love your friends and family who admittedly don’t always have it together, but yet deserve a second chance, where your relationship history demands it. Depth is the opposite of shallow. How deeply are you rooted in your relationships with your true friends, your child or your spouse? Or are you only “wading” in water that is up to your ankles because you have neither the time or the inclination to do anything differently?
I have a friend whose husband is in remission for cancer. It was, as cancer survivors and their families can attest, a devastating situation loaded with uncertainty for their future. Now, if he gets a cold, upset stomach or any number of even normal maladies, not surprisingly, it troubles my friend deeply. The cancer or the threat of its return is a back cloud hanging over her head threatening to erupt any given flu season. I have yet another friend who was abused as a child by persons in her life she should’ve been able to trust and love without reservation or fear of such atrocities. That was not the case. In the years to come, well into adulthood, it haunted her with shame and guilt, self-doubt and hopelessness. For so long, the abuse and it’s ensuing emotional damage was a foreboding presence in her life, a cloud of despair. It did not leave her side or her mind. I have a daughter whose struggle with anxiety nearly unravelled her as a small child. She was in perpetual fear of her dad and I dying and leaving her to care for her younger two sisters, a black cloud of fear that I could hardly allay with the false certainty that this would never happen. I have yet another adult friend whose black cloud of anxiety wakes up with her in the morning and beds down with her at night. The darkness persists for her into the morning, and it is that darkness, not the light of day which goes out in front of her each morning. Still another close friend of mine wakes up alone Every. Single. Morning. with two small children who wait expectantly for her to provide them with everything they need for life and sustenance. Having been left by her husband for another woman, she not only ponders, but laments each and every day, is she ever going to be a whole person again, loved and respected by others, and is she enough for her children? What is your black cloud? Chances are it has been suspended over your head since you were a small child when events befell you that should never ever have been a part of an innocent growing up. Or maybe it’s only been looming for a fraction of your life, spawned by a tragic loss, a debilitating disease, a horrible accident, or a grave betrayal. Yet the latter stretches out in front of you with no end in sight, a seemingly unsurpassable mountain of pain. Regardless of their origin, black clouds don’t discriminate among people. They can render the most educated and uneducated hopeless and forlorn. They can test the rich man’s faith as well as the poor man’s, leaving them both faithless. Our black clouds are relentless liars and pursue us at every angle, hindering us from the love, forgiveness, restoration, and healing that make us whole.
But how do you tell the difference between a black cloud and something in your life that just concerns you and needs addressed? That’s a great question and an important one. Because if we think our black cloud is a healthy level of concern, if we believe the black cloud is truly normal in every sense of the word, than that thing in our life has beaten us. It has indeed succeeded in plucking the fruit from our tree and rendering us joyless in our day-to-day living, and moreover, useless in helping and serving others. So what is the difference between the two? If we perceive the problem or concern to be insurmountable beyond a reasonable season of its existence, it may very well have taken up permanent residence in your life, your home, and your mind. The length of the season of that trial in your life certainly varies from person to person and from event to event. For instance, is it safe to say that 2 or 3 years into remission, a new season of hope is plausible? Or perhaps as you move well into adulthood, the events of your childhood, though not forgotten by any measure, yet a physical and a prolonged extraction from that place could certainly be a new Springtime in your life. If you have been divorced for five years or even perhaps 4, 3, or 2 but you still cannot see the light of a new chapter in your life, it could be that your trial, that awful event, is indeed a black cloud. I am not so arrogant as to suggest for you when you should be “over something,” not nearly. But I would love to encourage you. I would love to tell you that living a full, exciting fruitful life is still in your grasp.
So what can we do to get out from under that cloud, “the great sadness,” as it was so aptly named by author William Young in his book, “The Shack?” I think the first step we have to do is to acknowledge that your concerns about this event in your life, though absolutely valid, have moved stealthily out of the season to which they were assigned and have taken up residence in your heart and your mind. This is the first step necessary in toppling the cloud from its lofty position in our life. The psalmist says in Psalm 51 that “God loves a broken and contrite heart.” That is good news. The Psalmist, who was himself heavily burdened, seeks and receives that coveted restoration and healing in that same passage. The second step that may be necessary for you is seeking help. This may be professional help. We sought counseling with my daughter when she was in the 3rd grade to tackle her extreme separation anxiety and fear of loss because we needed both the help in identifying the source of her anxiety and help with how to help her. We still talk about that experience fondly and how it navigated us through that difficult stage. And along those same lines, cultivate close friends of your same gender. There’s a proverb in the bible that says “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” When I couple that with another Proverb that says “A Friend Loves at all time” and “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” I feel like this 3rd solution to removing that black cloud is win-win. What would I do without my close advisors/friends? I don’t even want to think about it. Fourth, and finally take an inventory of your physical space around you! Is it a mess? I believe that our emotional and spiritual health is more connected to our life logistics and organization than we give it credit. Purging material possessions we don’t use, getting rid of piles of papers, and making our work spaces pleasant and conducive for being productive, goes a long way in contributing to our happiness and helping us regain a sense of self-control in our life, a trait that is so important when talking about that black cloud, the latter of which toys with our self-control and self-worth. Sure there are tons of other steps you can and should take to extinguish your cloud and banish it into the abyss of nothingness: exercise, serve others, volunteer, but these former four steps I feel are paramount in clearing the path to do the latter. Don’t get the cart before the horse.
I have had my share of black clouds hanging over me. The deaths of my parents; April 19, 1995; and others. When I moved to Houston from Germany, I felt like my heart was imploding. I readily admit this event may seem docile compared to the others in my life I mentioned or compared to your troubled situation. But nevertheless that move seemed to thwart my plans. Spiritually, physically and emotionally. That cloud of discontent and unhappiness taunted me and sadly informed a lot of my decisions. Truly that cloud was afforded way to much opportunity for input in my life and my relationships. I came to the conclusion (by implementing the four steps I mentioned earlier) that enough was enough. The lie is this: this event in my life defines who I am and there’s not a thing I can do about it. The truth is this: I could not stop the event, nor the black cloud from making its unwelcome entry into my life. But rather than let it reign in my life, I will allow the experience to shape me into a better person. I am compelled to live in the light-a light emitted with brand new lenses of who I was, who I am, and what God has yet for me to be.
How do you spend the majority of your time and your money? Do you believe the statement, “How you spend most of your time, and where you spend most of your money says the most about who you are as a person?” Why or why not? Okay, you can answer those on your own. But here’s a starter for you. The majority of my free time (free time from work paid or unpaid-however you define your “free” time) is spent_____________________. (fill in the blank) The majority of my money (after rent, mortgage and household utilities) is spent_______________________.(fill in the blank) I realize that some of you will struggle with the money question, because beyond monthly living expenses, you actually have no idea where the money goes, other than it goes. True for many of us at some chapter of our lives. If that’s you, then this message is well intended. You can’t possibly be putting your money to work for you, your family, or towards other worthy contributions, wisely if you have no idea where your money is going beyond monthly fixed expenses. Furthermore, if we apply a brutally honest examination of how we spend our free time, many will discover that we have exchanged reading a book for watching television. We have exchanged playing a board game (or outside activity) with our kids for social networking. We may discover that less and less time has been committed to the kitchen on either week days or weekends, and that more and more time has been spent in the drive-through. How we spend our time and money will certainly impact our relationships and our health. We can’t devote all of our free time to our hobbies, for instance, at the expense of our marriage. On the other hand, if we spend all of our time at work, at the expense of either hobby or marriage, that isn’t good either. Social networking isn’t the same as a real cup of coffee face to face with a real friend. You can’t exercise if you’re sitting on the couch. You can’t learn a language, start a bible study, go to the gym, work on your finances, At. All. UNLESS…You decide you are going to do so. How we budget our time effectively is different for all of us. Some of us may need to move our rear ends off the couch. Some of us may need to plant ourselves there once in a while. The inability to rest can be just as bad a habit and hard on your relationships as lethargy. The singular way to find a valid, useful and credible solution to poor time and money expenditures, is to evaluate your own personal tendencies with a very introspective approach and answer those two questions we have already talked about. How do you spend the majority of your free time and free money? There’s an old saying “Majority Wins.” When I was a kid, my sisters and our cousins spent a ton of time together. We would often “vote” on a game or activity. With hands all raised in the air, inevitably one of us “winners” would yell triumphantly, “Majority Wins.” Sadly, the losers knew it was true. Maybe that’s applicable to us as adults in answering these difficult questions. Bottom line, we can hope that we are doing what we need to do most of the time (NO one gets it right ALL the time people!) We can even believe that we are generous and compassionate, and that people like to be around us (and/or our children). We can allege that we are healthy and mindful of our good health habits. We can wish, assert, even say out loud many many things about ourselves and our priorities. But I will submit to you that “Majority Wins.” Whatever we are spending time and money on, IT wins. To be sure, SomeTHING. or SomeONE loses. It may be your relationships, your peace of mind, your job, or your dog, but, in the end, “Majority Wins.” We cannot simply hope and wish that our time and our money will tell the story about us that we want told. We have to take practical measures. Evaluate (Your time and budgets) Elevate (Family, marriage, your job, your friends, specific events, specific activites-WHATever in your life is crying out to be elevated) Erase (Negative behavioral patterns, poor spending decisions; time wasters-Ouch!) and then finally, Execute (Implement that budget; Add family night back into your week. Eat dinner around the table. Have that difficult conversation with a colleague. Make time for coffee with a friend; Get counseling; WHATever needs to be done, put IT in place, make a plan. Then Execute!) Change your “Majority” (if necessary) to reflect the love you want to give, the good you want to do, the people you want to spend time with, the goals you want to fulfill, and the life you want to live.
Today I read a great story about Delta Airline pilots who broke tried and true rules of flight by returning to the gate to get a grieving family. Through no fault of their own they had missed the last connection of the day to Tennessee where they were going to attend their father’s funeral. The pilots saw their crying and grieving faces in the window, and though it’s true, I was not in the cockpit, I’m pretty sure both of them looked at each other, and said something to the effect of “To hell with it,” and proceeded to carefully and competently turn that jet around and return to the gate for this distraught family.
My husband is a commercial pilot, and on top of that, I do a fair amount of air travel myself. I know the seriousness of that decision. It is definitely breaking the rules. What could have possessed the minds or hearts of these pilots to put their own jobs in jeopardy to do such a thing?
All of us have had a “To hell with it” moment in our lives. As the New year of 2016 is upon us, once again, we are contemplating past and present resolutions: I am going to lose weight. I am going to get fit. I am going to get control of my high blood pressure or type 2 Diabetes. I am going to attend church. I am going to take my kids to church. I am going to be more generous, get out of debt, quit swearing, (I know-the irony of this post!) Maybe you have committed in this New Year to tithe, or to give some of your earnings to good causes. Maybe you have committed in this New Year to being a more loving parent or spouse, to institute game night with your kids, or to find time to say yes to a friend in need. Maybe you think, “This is the year I am going to have company over for dinner, or invite people to my house.” Maybe you’ll write that book or finish school, or go after the dream job you have always wanted. I will submit to you that we can make resolutions all day long. We can say, “I’m going to try.” But until we face the truth of our absolute unwillingness to change that bad habit or start that good habit; until we face the reality that “trying” is really defined as, “I’m talking about it; my lips are moving, but I’m not demonstrating practical change,” until we say “To hell with it, I can do this,” I’m not sure that we are ever going to make the decisions that are the healthiest, or best for our family, our marriages, or our professions. Having defined “trying,” we should also define “To hell with it.” The latter is on some level, abandoning traditional norms or even rules. Traditional norms, absolute rules, prevented the Delta pilots from getting that family on board. “To hell with it” said I am going to make an exception (albeit in their case-isolated and unusual). We need to decide we are going to make exceptions in our lives from social norms and traditions, and from our own poor behavioral patterns, in order to achieve these very important goals. Spending every dime we have at the expense of paying off our debt or saving for our futures is pretty typical among Americans. We have to quit “trying” to do the right thing with our money and get real about budgeting, planning, and assigning each dollar a job. We need to quit “trying” to improve our marriage, and look on our calendars and block out a date night or (for those of us married to pilots), a date day. We need to quit wishing our spouse would conform to all our desires and find positive and possible ways to adjust my attitude. The same goes for opening up our homes to others. Quit “trying,” and add some margin to your calendar each month. Find a Saturday night that’s open, dedicate it on your calendar and send out an email to your friends.
I absolutely love the idea of “To hell with it.” Some of you (I know) find this title understandably, a coarse use of language. But in its literal sense, I find it very appropriate. Sending the negativity in our lives, metaphorically as it may be, to the depths of hell where it belongs may be the Single. Solitary. Strategy. for our success. Sometimes you have to just quit. Quit procrastinating. Quit Trying. And as the saying goes, “To hell with it.” Ask the girl out. Ask the girl to marry you. Leave the dead-end job you hate and pursue the job you love. Give a dollar to the homeless guy at the busy intersection near your house without going through the same old twenty reasons in your head why this complete stranger doesn’t deserve your kindness. Volunteer. Start exercising. The endless possibilities effect not only your happiness and fulfillment but also that of your family, spouse, children, and co-workers. What do you have to do to make this happen? Make a list. Get on it. Think about what has not worked for you in the past and say “It ends here.” What has not worked for you over and over? That jelly donut? That dead-end relationship? That expensive mortgage? Get rid of whatever jelly donut is keeping you from becoming what you need to be. I have had so many “To hell with it” moments in my life. But unlike what you might be thinking, “To hell with it” is not an abandonment of common sense. In this case, it is more an embracing of common sense and what you know to be the right thing. It is the climactic point of a journey you have already been on for years, but perhaps have not grasped fully the practical steps needed to make the same old New Year’s resolutions a reality. “To hell with it. I’m going to do this thing.” It doesn’t mean you abandon your family to become a rock star. It does mean you abandon the fears that keep you locked into the same old cycle of failed resolutions. Oh and one more thing, it also doesn’t mean that if you’re sitting in the Starbucks at the airport with your ear buds in and don’t hear your boarding call, the pilot is going to come back and pick you up. Nope. Not going to happen!
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.