Category Archives: Family Life

The “why” and the “what” of April 19, 1995

April 19, 1995
April 19, 1995
20 years. That’s how long it has been since my world was turned upside down, inside out. That’s how long since so many lives were forever changed by the heartless acts of a domestic terrorist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 168 people died that day in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at 200 NW 5th Street. 168 men, women, and children, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers. This weekend, 100’s of us will gather together on the ground where my “home away from home” once stood and remember our loved ones. But we will have something else on our mind during that time. It will not be just the past and the dead that we will be pondering. We will also be thinking about our present and our future and the living. We will be looking at those who are standing around us and marveling at the resilience of life. In our office alone, (DEA 9th floor) I am aware of the births of at least a dozen children and grand children borne by survivors. Out of the ashes of death, life blooms. In places where it seems only darkness can live, survivors manage to defy those odds. They get married. They have families. They graduate. They get jobs and promotions. They love and they grow. They retire. They continue to work and be passionate. They live on. They just live.

When I woke up on April 19, 1995, I fully expected to go on with my day, business as usual. But that was not to be the case. I simply cannot describe the feeling, the emotions and the devastation that consumed me standing in the rubble at the base of my building, trying to organize my thoughts, the names and faces rolling through my head: Who’s dead? Who’s alive? The tears streaming down my face were mixed with the sweat procured after sprinting from a meeting 4 blocks away to the sight I now beheld in grievous disbelief.

If you talk to anyone who survives a disaster, a car crash, a battle field, a bombing, while others they know and love perish, then you are certainly familiar with the term “survivor guilt.” In the weeks to follow, I know that I struggled with this. And 100’s of others did as well. Not just those of us who worked in the building. But also the rescue workers who spent hours recovering the bodies and endangering their own lives to do so. So many struggled with the question “Why them and not me?” And truly, when someone would say to me, “God must have a plan for you,” it would dig the knife in a little bit deeper. After all, did God not have a plan for my beloved friends? Did he not have a plan for the children? But I knew then (and now) that it is so difficult to know what to say to someone who has suffered a great loss. I know because I have been the one attempting to offer words of encouragement to others as often as I have been on the receiving end. I love and appreciate all who care so much for me that they struggle with what to say in my hour of need. So it was that after the bombing as recovery efforts continued to deliver us the news one by one of the names of those found in the rubble that day, I found myself contemplating the “why” and the “what!”

The “why:” As I sit here, incredibly 20 years later, I wish I could give you a reasonable and enlightened answer for the “why.” Why did Timothy McVeigh do what he did? Why did my best friend, or my spouse, or my child have to die like that? Why why why? I can’t. Sometimes you just can’t explain such evil and devastation. It has been going on for 1000’s of years, and I am sure it will continue as long as there is the will of some (or many) to pervert a civil society. In the same way, any tragedy that ruthlessly befalls us-the loss of a child, divorce, hurt, betrayal-the “why” can plague us, paralyze us, and break us. And truly, though I cannot answer the “why,” I do know that the unending pursuit for “why” will likely render us hopeless and helpless. It can and will pluck the fruit from our tree and rob us of our peace. At some point we must simply put one foot forward, forcibly if necessary, and trust in the Creator that indeed He has an “eye” on us. And moreover in this world, He has the last word.

The “what:” I can’t answer the “why,” but ironically because of that, I am compelled to ask “what?” What must I do now? In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, that was different for all of us. The “what” included grieving. It included supporting the families of the fallen, attending funerals, burying the dead, gathering up the physical remains of our office files, counseling, rebuilding, and the list went on and on. As the days turned into years, the “what” turned into- continue to do my job well, take care of each other, celebrate babies, birthdays, graduations, communions, baptisms, live life, retire, and perhaps even suffer more loss. Because as we know all too well, loss is an inevitable part of living.

So this Sunday, as we reflect and celebrate those loved ones who have died, we will look around and consider the living. We’ll say things like, “I can’t believe how much she’s grown,” or “Congratulations on retirement,” or “Have you seen his grand kids? They are adorable.” And in those moments whether we realize it or not we will have achieved the “what.” Presently we have answered the question we were posed 20 years ago-the most important question of all, not the “why” question, but the “what!” As one of my dear friends told me once, “when something goes wrong, we do the next right thing.” That’s the “what.” The next right thing. In that we honor our lost loved ones and we also find a great measure of healing.

I will see many people this week that I love like family though we don’t actually share DNA. They have suffered much. And while it’s true that many of us have suffered with survivor guilt, there is truly nothing to feel guilty about. We have continued to work hard. We have had beautiful children. We have taught others well. We have remembered our lost loved ones, each in our own way, and we share those stories with our children, their namesakes, who will continue to do the same. We have lived lives of integrity, examples of goodness and perseverance. Now what will we do in the next 20 years? Much of the very same thing I hope. Always remembering and always moving forward.

Psalm 27:13-14 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord.
Be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Shades of Darkness

Shattered This is an unofficial review of the book “Fify Shades of Gray,” and so can be applied to same movie. Here are my disclaimers. I didn’t read the book or see the movie. Not my genre of course. But I did extensive reviews and read trailers so that I could formulate a response to many of the pervading questions and arguments about and in favor of the book with some measure of insight. If that obliterates my credibility for you, then don’t read the blog. That’s the advantage of living in an age of information. Like you, I get irritated when someone slams the book but doesn’t read it. Or when someone slams a church, but doesn’t visit it. But I can assure you that is not the story here. I just can’t bring myself to read it completely through. Sort of for the same reason I don’t feast on donuts and sausage biscuits every morning for breakfast. It’s not healthy. I didn’t read the book for the same reason I don’t binge on food or drugs or alcohol. It’s just not good for me. So I have heavily leaned on this age of information in which we live. Also if you are not a bible reader, don’t be put off by the references in this blog. They directly apply and respond to to some of the questions I am answering that have been proffered by others. The truth is you should read this if you are a mother of a son, a mother of a daughter or a mother-period. You should read it if you are in a sexual relationship or plan to be at some time in your life. Trust me. It applies.

Garbage in garbage out. And that’s not simply because of the sexually explicit material. One of the reasons I wouldn’t read this or allow my girls to read it, is the same reason I vetoed a lot of Nickelodeon TV when they were little, and that is: It dumbs us down. I want my girls to be smarter than all of that. The other reasons of course are explicit. And in 100% fairness to my three teenagers, they didn’t want to read the book either or see the movie.

So I have been privy to the observations of some who say this book (movie) is no different than the scenes depicted in the Song of Solomon in the bible. The book is nothing like Song of Songs in the bible-apples and oranges. Song of Songs is very erotic, but rated G compared to this, and it isn’t the erotica that is so repelling and appalling, but rather, the book is about dominance and S&M. (Sadism and Masochism) and BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, S&M) It is about a guy (very self controlling and neurotic man) who wants the girl (a virgin) to sign a contract before entering into a sexual relationship with him. And why? 1 So that she promises to not speak to anyone about what they do together, and 2 so that there can be no legal concerns for him. First she just has sex with him, then she gets “spanked,” and then she allows him to beat her with a belt. I am pretty sure the story goes down hill from there. Her “best friend” does nothing but encourage her to stay in the relationship. Remind me to dump a best friend like that!

So in other words, the same behavior which would land you in jail otherwise (physical assault) is okay when in the confines of a consensual relationship? And how does one determine when something is truly consensual? Is it only age, 18 and over, really? In this case, the girl was 20 or 21, a virgin, and the man older and obviously more sexually experienced and more worldly.

Here are some excerpts of critic reviews which I find compelling to the extent that I can’t believe how naive educated people can be:

A reviewer on the “feminist-friendly website Jezebel” wrote: “Our consensus: the book is pretty ridiculous — for every lashing there’s an ‘OMG!’ — but if it’s making more women feel comfortable discussing their sexuality, we’re all for it.”

Okay so let me understand this: it’s NOT okay for Ray Rice to slap his fiancée around in an elevator (and it is NOT okay) but IF he had slapped her around within the confounds of a “consensual” relationship, that exact same behavior would be okay? Beating another person, is never okay. We have a term for that! It’s called domestic abuse. I also love how we confuse consensual with complicit in this case. I don’t think the female character in the book was so much consensual as she was complicit in the acts committed against her. She was young naive and ignorant. In my book, that makes her far more complicit than it does consensual! Those are two words that we often confuse, one-complicit-which we almost completely ignore and two-consensual-which we abuse and exploit when it’s convenient to support our position on domestic abuse, or in the question of whether or not sex is consensual.

The New Zealand Herald: “But it was also an easy read and if you can suspend your disbelief and your desire to – if you’ll pardon the expression – slap the heroine for having so little self respect, you might enjoy it.” Unbelievably degrading. I hardly have anything to add to that highly NON-intelligent quote from such a profound journalist.

Would you want your daughter in a relationship like this? Would that be what you hope for her? Each time I see a statement like the former: “If you can suspend your disbelief and your desire to – if you’ll pardon the expression – slap the heroine for having so little self respect, you might enjoy it,” I think of my own daughters. Replace the word “heroine” in that sentence with your daughter’s name. Shelby, Halle, Katie! Now say that statement again-aloud substituting the word heroine with your own child’s name!

To be completely fair, there were as many negative reviews on the book as there were positive. But those negative reviews were split differently in their positions. Many of them objected on moral issues, while others objected solely on the literary issue that the book was poorly written, but didn’t necessarily take moral issue with the content.

Okay so for those of you who wrestled with a connection to “Song of “Solomon.” The latter book in the Old Testament is a story about love and erotica: “it makes a connection between conjugal love and sex, a very important and very biblical connection to make.” (The Message narrative)

1. The connection between love and erotica.Both are absolutely essential in a romantic relationship, particularly marriage. This connection is for all intents and purposes, absent in the book.
2. There is not one example of BDSM in the romantic relationship of Song of Solomon. It definitely has elements of submission, but by all accounts both people appear to be fully submitted to one another sexually and both smitten by the other. The only example of violence in the book is in chapter 5 verse 7. When she goes to look for her lover and is accosted by the guards of the watch tower, she is beaten by them. Scripture does not say why, but women in 900 something-BC when this book was written were not considered safe roaming the streets at night. They were extremely vulnerable. And if they were found alone roaming the streets as she was disoriented and searching frantically for her husband, then she would be considered, to say the least, vulnerable. There is absolutely No evidence whatsoever in this passage of BDSM or of her lover beating her. YET that is the entire premises of the book “50 Shades.”
3. Another interesting element: The male in the book requires the aforementioned contract from the girl-one agreeing to a consensual relationship of total submission and beatings. I love the contrast. Jesus invites us into a covenant relationship, one also of total submission to Him, but it is not one where we are to be bruised and battered physically and emotionally. It is one where we are loved (Matthew 11:28-30-and John 8) The John 8 Passage hits close to home-about the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees wanted to stone her, (sounds like the book,) but Jesus loved her and you know what happened-He turned the finger back on her accusers. And His last words recorded to this woman were some of the most graceful in scripture “…then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.” What love and grace is that? And don’t forget the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. No one else would talk to her but Jesus. He did, and told her “I am the living water. Drink from me and you will never thirst again.” This is the contractual covenant that Jesus invites us into; it is one that maintains our self-respect in spite of who we are. It is one that loves us and invites us to make intelligent decisions, be strong women, and to administer grace to others, but never at the expense of our self respect. And He does not expect us to be doormats in order to have the sexual relationship due us. He never ever expects us to be beaten, mistreated, or abused in exchange for HIS love. It does not in any way dumb us down or ask us to submit ourselves to gross perversity or disgrace or, God forbid, physical abuse.

4. Okay, the popularity of the book cannot be denied. Why do women love this? Let’s explore that question, for as it is with anything, we cannot hammer others with the truth. It is highly unlikely it will be received in the spirit that we want it to be, so we need to invest and go deeper, figuring out the FIRST problem that apparently distorts the truth for them so much that they have a desire for something as perverse and aberrant as the suggestions in this book (not just spiritually, but culturally perverse as well) and why does it seem “okay and normal” for them? Women who love this book may be trying to fill a huge void of some sort. Something from their upbringing, their marriage, or their life. The problem is they see the book as part of the remedy. I see it (like porn for men) as perpetuating and intensifying the first problem(s).

On that note, a LOT of the critics who praise this book, praise it saying that it finally helps women, (not just men) get what they want in their sexual relationships. (And I am thinking this is what they want, beatings, and physical/emotional battering?) BUT nevertheless, I suspect there is something to this. After all, I was raised by grandparents who not only did not discuss sex with me, but also taught me that sex was intended solely for reproducing offspring, not intended for enjoyment. (No I’m not kidding!) So had God not intervened, I may have entered into marriage never speaking my mind or saying what I want or enjoy. I suspect that 1000s of women who are reading these books have been sexually suppressed in one way, one form or another. My answer for them, is wake up! Ask questions! If you are married start by talking to your husband about how you feel about you sex life. Get counseling if necessary. Do that first before reading this ridiculously stupid book that teaches you little to nothing about a happy healthy sex life, but a LOT about how to NOT have a normal, happy, vibrant, reciprocal, passionate sex life.

And if you do choose to read the book or see the movie, please don’t let your kids (or teenagers) see it. They can make that decision when they are your age! Finally, and this is for all of the “experts, Christians, non-Christians, and anyone else who has the mind to consider this question: Is this where women’s rights and pursuing our equalities has led us? Really? To be objects of abuse and contempt? Is this what we have arrived at in the 21st century? Women have struggled for equality, for recognition in the corporate world, the church, the home? And after all of that, this is what we have to be thankful for? The liberty of joining in on a supposed consensual relationship of BDSM?? God help us if this is a measuring stick to redefine the relationship between lovers or the progress of women’s rights! I can’t believe that anyone with any sense would say that is progress.

PERSPECTIVE

PERSPECTIVE

Perspective. We all need it. It’s always relevant. But not necessarily easily accomplished. This very week in history, a co-pilot for a commercial airliner from Germany en route from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, is believed to have taken his own life. Unfortunately, he took another 150 innocent lives with him.They had not chosen the end to his life, or that this would be the end to theirs. Sometimes we can only pray for the darkness in this world. We can only hope and believe that the God of this universe is supreme and secures our immortality knowing that such immortality is in no way guaranteed in this life on this earth. So back to perspective. I have three teenagers of my own. With that, as you can imagine or know first hand, comes a lot of stress. Rigorous academics, short grading periods, try outs for drill team, theater productions, auditions for college, how to pay for college, major grade tests, End of Course Testing, and the list goes on and on. It’s a lot for young people to manage, and can be equally stressful for parents. Sometimes, some days I do feel like I am coming undone. I also sub teach in our school district. As a sub, I have lots of students, typically 12 to 19 years of age, and usually 6th grade through seniors. Their list of concerns and stressors often include divorced parents, custody battles, failing classes, pressure to have sex, teen pregnancy, unemployed parents, poverty, and that list goes on and on. Perspective. Often is the case when I get really frustrated with my teenagers, I remember some of these teenagers, my students, who don’t have parents or loving role models in their own lives-no one to worry about their grades and their happiness. Rapidly I regain perspective. I feel guilty about seeing someone else’s tragic circumstances and hardship as my means of maintaining proper perspective in my life. But it’s true, so true that there is always someone else who 1 has either gone through what you are going through or 2 who is actually enduring something worse. So what’s the importance of perspective? A more important question may be “what do you stand to lose without it?” Peace. Productivity. Common sense. Friends. Family. Faith. All important things and there are many more things you stand to lose when you can not wrap your mind around what is important-AND-when you are not able to push past the difficulties in your life by way of gaining perspective. And as adults we also have to teach our kids this important principle. Yes it is of paramount importance-like kindness, manners, respect, and hard work. We know and agree that these are impactful and necessary teaching points, but we don’t always think about the importance of teaching perspective. But truthfully all the former important behavioral traits are near impossible without the latter. Recently my 9th grader had a friend who said she simply “could not go on” since one member of the boy band, “One Direction,” had left the band and apparently decided to go in another direction. Pardon the pun. Now I realize that with teenagers there is a LOT of drama and a fair number of exaggerations. Remember? I have three teens. But hopefully as parents we are not just laughing off this kind of obsession, on the part of our children, with events and issues that we absolutely know as parents-“It. Just. Doesn’t. Matter.” Give yourself a gift. Give yourself perspective. Give your kids a gift. Teach them perspective. How? Discuss current events in a meaningful way. It doesn’t have to dominate all of your conversations nor does it have to happen every single day. But it should happen often. Secondly, make sure they are serving someone besides themselves. They need a volunteer activity. Do it through your church or you community center. Look for volunteer efforts coordinated through their schools. Get them involved with helping SOMEone who has nothing! Third, eat dinner together around the table as much as possible. Fourth, unplug from electronics at least one day a week and always during certain specific activities-like dinner around the table! Our day is Sunday for no electronics. Finally, remove your kids from the center of the universe. Honestly, they don’t deserve to be there. And neither do we. This is a good start for getting ourselves and our kids’ minds wrapped around perspective. And when we do, maybe their hearts will break in two over those 150 lives lost on that German Wings flight or maybe their hearts will break for that young person in their class at school who really needs a friend-or the homeless, hungry, and helpless-as opposed to their heart breaking over the breakup of their favorite pop band. Perspective gives us purpose and in the process makes us much happier and better members of our families and our communities, and virtually compels us to give back a very tiny (microscopic) part of all that we have been given.

The NEED to Control: What’s it worth to you?

What's it worth?
What’s it worth?

I expend a ton of energy trying to control things-some things plausible: my schedule, people and events-some things not so plausible: my schedule, people, and events. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that how well one controls isn’t nearly as important as how well one manages (and nurtures) what it is that we are trying to control. How do we manage and nurture our relationships? Our time? The ultimate frustration comes from trying to control something that has been mismanaged in the first place. For instance, you may try to control your spouse (their ideas, opinions) in a way that fortifies your position, but YET you’ve mismanaged that relationship along the way. You’ve not prioritized date nights. You avoid his love language while fully expecting him to accommodate yours. You never acknowledge her day or show interest in her other than to discuss daily family logistics. And what about teenagers? Wow! One word ignites so many emotions: drama, hormonal changes, arrogant, loving, moody, confused, enlightened, depressed, happy. Try controlling all of that. It’s really not possible. Those relationships have to be managed well from the time they are toddlers. This helps navigate that rocky and uncertain but exciting journey of adolescence. But it is never too late to manage well. It is never too late to disengage the “control” button and engage your “manage with excellence” button. Never. Too. Late. Just step fully into your role as wife, husband, father, mother, son, daughter, employee, or employer, and do the next right thing. Manage isn’t equal to “just getting by.” Manage means literally to “succeed in accomplishing, to exercises direction, to work upon, to handle or direct with a degree of skill,” Merriam/Webster. The strong manage their lives. They nurture their relationships. The weak try to control everything. I know I have been guilty of trying to control everything and every relationship in my life. And the harder I try, the harder it becomes. Trying to control all facets of your life and others will send you over the proverbial edge. Our American culture has cultivated a society of free thinkers. Self expression, creativity, and innovation are hallmarks of America. Your loved ones, your employees and employers are a part of that culture. That’s a difficult bunch to control. Our time is better spent learning how to prioritize our commitments, how to nurture our relationships, and how to be good stewards of what you have been given: things like food, money, time, homes, cars, and the like! We need to exchange rigidity with flexibility. Hate for hope. A “jam-packed I ain’t got no time for anyone schedule,” with margin. We need to exchange living paycheck to paycheck with financial peace. Control for self-control. If you’re wondering “Is it ever possible for peace to be a part of my life vocabulary?” If you’re wondering “Can this difficult situation ever be reconciled?” Maybe you should examine your ability or lack thereof to relinquish the wheel. The one you’re griping with white knuckles! For me, I have decided that self-control is actually a more palpable idea, managing my stuff, my time, my money, my relationships. This demands humility. Control requires arrogance. If only I had known this sooner! But as we said before, it’s never too late to start to manage. Make your own new beginning. It’s not so much a resolution as it is a heart-felt desire.

“Working Moms:” Remember the One Thing

Photo Creds: memaandpapas.com
Photo Creds: memaandpapas.com

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.

The Santa Clause Dilemma

Three little Santa's and how they grew!
Three little Santas and how they believed!

When our girls were little, they believed in Santa Clause. That caused us no undue panic. It wasn’t because we lied to them. But neither was it because we eagerly or overly embraced the whole Santa Clause cause. No, it was for two simple reasons. 1 We had a life. This means they interacted with the general public, neighbors, neighbors’ children, their little friends, and they attended public school. We also lived that life within a culture that, generally speaking, heavily promoted the Santa aspect of the holiday season. And 2 They believed in Santa because they had vivid imaginations.
Paul and I neither one, were interested, NOR did we have the time or inclination, to be so dogmatic and malicious as to intentionally denounce another person’s stance on Santa Clause. Especially since many of these other persons were both our close friends and friends of our own children. And furthermore, our children had an enormous number of imaginary friends, both conjured up from their own play time and from the many books they read. Yes, that’s right non-existent-though they may have been-just like Santa, these imaginary friends made them smarter, savvier, emotionally healthy, more generous, and more compassionate human begins. And I believe their fictitious friends most assuredly raised their IQ! And most importantly, imaginary friends allowed them to be children in a world and culture that wants to rob our kids of that precious innocent season of their lives. What? Imaginary friends (like Santa) can do all that? Yes! Just like imaginary books, you know the genre! FICTION!
So what’s the dilemma? The dilemma can exist for both Christians or non Christians alike. “Santa is not real. Jesus is real.” And/or “There are children all over the world who don’t receive gifts! How can we possibly perpetuate the Santa fallacy?”
Those parents entrapped by the Santa Clause dilemma usually fall into one of two opposing camps. Those who want to promote the big snow bearded guy as truth for as long as possible. And those who want to debunk the theory from the time their child exits the womb. Those in the first camp are died in the wool Santa fools. (I mean that in the nicest of ways.) These folks not only leave Santa cookies and milk, but they also leave feed for the reindeer. They totally embrace Santa on a deep level with their children-not only in fun-but as an intricate and necessary element of their childhood-which it clearly is not! They get angry when someone on the playground or on a public school bus spills the beans about Santa (and his reindeer.) To this camp, I would say good luck trying to keep the conspiracy going until YOU are ready to sit Junior down and tell him yourself. If you live in the “real” world, you cannot avoid the unavoidable. Don’t die trying.
Then there are the anti Santa Clause crusaders in the other camp. This group of parents believe it is their sworn and Godly duty as parents to craft the perfect plan to prevent their children’s minds from being ruined by believing in the jolly old guy. Furthermore, it’s also their duty to let others know they are lying to their children, and they feel completely justified in telling other people’s’ children the truth about Santa (as if they are never going to find out on their own!) This group will struggle with every form of imaginary play engaged by their child, that doesn’t cut the mustard with their own self-imposed censorship. And good luck with that too.
To both of these camps, I would say that these parents often live in the land I like to refer to as UNreality. Both of these camps need to realize that the world neither revolves around you or your child.
For us personally, we thought, “how bad can this Santa character be for our kids? He’s loving, compassionate, generous, and big and plump with rosy cheeks. And he’s PRETEND!” We left the cookies on the mantle for Santa. We hugged our kids when those little eyes sparkled at the thought of Santa and his sleigh. But we also required from a very young age, for them to buy and donate toys and clothing to the less fortunate. We shared (still share) our faith, did (still do) advent and taught them (still teach) about Jesus. And somewhere along the way, those little girls became big girls with servants’ hearts. There was no trauma, drama or necessary therapy. Just one day they figured the Santa thing out. I think we had it easy because we chose not to languish in either of those pointless camps. We just let them be kids, and we just left everyone else alone with their version of the Santa Clause story. Whether you are for Santa or against him, the harder you charge, the more needless drama and trauma you inflict on others and possibly even on your own kids. Please spend your time and energy on the things that matter in parenting: Rearing kids that become constructive, generous, compassionate, adults. And leave the Santa dilemma behind. Because. It. Just. Doesn’t. Matter.

Courtesy and Respect. Are we losing ground?

“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
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Kindness3

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!”

9 pieces of advice for parents of toddlers (and little kids) from someone who learned the hard way!

Sweethearts
Sweethearts

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.

Separating my Past from my Present in Parenting

One guess which one is me?
One guess which one is me?
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.

Life saving conversations with your kids! Start them today!

Conversations with your kids
Conversations with your kids

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.