Category Archives: Parenting

Community

What everyone needs!

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! 

My Constant Reminders of the Oklahoma City Bombing

Oklahoma City Memorial

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?

The Disaster of Comparison

Apples and Oranges

We live in a world that more often than not lends itself toward constant comparisons. We compare everything under the sun. Our marriages, kids, jobs,  churches, clothes, cars, names, yes! You name it. We compare it. Anything and everything can fall victim to the comparison game that is perpetually in motion in our minds.

Comparison trap is more like it.

The first problem with comparison is that it inevitably leads to a perpetual lack of contentment or satisfaction with your lot in life. This kind of satisfaction or contentment referenced here  isn’t about compromising or settling or not having goals. No indeed! All of those things are important. But our expectations (of ourselves and others) shouldn’t be tied to comparisons. They should rather be born out of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. I am talking about expectations and goals that are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon how many likes you get on your instagram post. They are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon replicating someone else’s (perceived) success. Rather they are expectations and goals based on what we want to accomplish in order to make our homes, our communities, and our world a better place, and our life, a better life. For instance, if all of your life you dreamed about becoming a baker, that is wholly different from wanting to become a baker simply because your next door neighbor is a baker and he seems to have it a lot better than you do….better cars,  spouse, kids, a greener yard. You get the picture.

The second problem of comparison is that we inevitably teach it to our children. In this year 2018 our kids are already inundated with a plethora of electronics and social networking options. Most of them spell trouble. They really don’t need disgruntled and malcontented adults aggravating that situation. Is social networking fun, productive, and a terrific tool for communication? Yes, to all of those things. But what we must know as parents, what we must understand is this: Most social networking sites spell trouble for our kids. We must teach our kids to be masters of their social networking habits, not the other way around. Comparisons are part and parcel of social networking. Today our young citizens, our children, are navigating dicey, emotional, distressful and confusing social scenarios that I didn’t even dream about when I was a kid. Because all of our communication was done in person with the occasional exception of a land line telephone call. The comparison trap was alive and well in those days too. But today’s penchant for comparison is ginormous. The onslaught of media choices and social networking sites has offered the comparison game a robust revival, a new catalyst for wreaking havoc in people’s lives and in their relationships.

So what happens as a result of the comparison trap?

This. It’s an irony really. Rather than achieving more, we achieve less.  Because comparison dictates our pursuits. Rarely do we pursue what is best for us, for our kids, for others around us, when we are so focused on “keeping up with the Jones” So, we achieve less and less, while we continue to want more and more.

And this.  Our relationships decline. In dire circumstance, they may collapse. Our work relationships, personal, marital, parenting, and peers. They are all vulnerable. Because as we constantly pine away for what we see as the optimum life or job or marriage partner or daughter or son-well, the one right in front of us is starving for our attention.

I think Paul the Apostle said it best in 2 Corinthians 10:12. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

It is time to take stock of what we have. What do we have in the warehouse of our lives that needs to be inventoried? What good things, rare and beautiful treasures, are right under our noses just begging for examination? Take them down from the shelf, dust them off, and remember. How can we shift our focus from what we are missing to what we have? How would this change the way we see ourselves, our spouse, our children, or our jobs? And how will it move us from discontent to joy? I think the answer is critical in propelling us forward on a positive course toward joy and success.

 

What Girl Power Really Means

Girls girls girls!

Recently I was perusing a section in Barnes and Nobles entirely dedicated to the empowerment of girls and women. As I did so, I saw a lot of “stuff” related to getting what you want in a “man’s world,” and how to get it. Some of what I saw (as I scanned through it briefly) seemed really plausible, even good stuff.  Some of it just sounded like crap. For those of us with daughters, it’s paramount that we can discern between the two.  There is a place in parenting for books, songs, and speakers that render quality information about empowering our girls. But we need to recognize the difference between what makes them strong and healthy women versus what teaches them an empowerment largely centered around the ideology of self-promotion. Empowerment is important. We need to raise girls into strong women, full of fight-I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’ve got three of my own, and self-advocacy is something we discuss often and in much detail. And I dare say, all four of us have an insatiable love of books depicting the courage and historical impact of both non-fiction and fictional heroines. But God help us, if in the process of raising our girls to be strong, we fail to teach them compassion and generosity.

We live in a world that speaks out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, the world is telling our girls to be tolerant of everything and everyone because if they aren’t, then they are hateful and ignorant. This “sounds like” a message of compassion and generosity. But on the other hand, we are telling these same girls that getting what they want always trumps putting others ahead of themselves. These two messages are conflicting. Truly, women in this great country have had to work hard-and in many cases are still fighting-for many basic rights that we often now take for granted, i.e. voting,  equal pay and equal recognition, just to name a few.  Recently my youngest daughter attended a high school leadership conference and was quite perturbed that the very first girl she met and spoke with had apparently never heard of either Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony.  (Who knows how this conversation even came about?) My daughter immediately, and in rapid fire, sent 4 text messages to me-aghast and full of righteous indignation: “I can’t believe she doesn’t know who either of these women are. This is the future of America. It’s women like her who will be elected to office one day-if women are ever elected to office-seeing as young girls no longer care about women in history who  went through hell and back so we could even vote.” I loved the spit and fire in my girl as I read her text messages. But the point in sharing that story is to tell you this: That same girl, coincidently, at that same conference, found herself neck-deep in the personal pain of one of her peers. She did not run and hide. She wholeheartedly stepped up to the plate, and full of that same spit and fire, encouraged him with words awash in compassion and empathy. She helped move her friend from a place of despair to a place of hope. That is what her heroines,’ Harriet Tubman and Susan B Anthony, did in their fight for human rights and for the marginalized and abused of their time. They helped move people from a place of despair to a place of hope. Men and women.

I am a Jesus follower. As such, we believe the bible is the inerrant and timeless Word of God. It is alive and full of promise and the Hope of salvation. On the sacred pages of this book, I find over and over, the need to instill in my girls unconditional love for others. I also find biblical teaching that leaves me without excuse when it comes to raising girls with spit and fire. There is nothing in scripture that I believe supports raising a shrinking violet. Rahab, Mary, Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, Rachel, and the list goes on and on-women in the bible-who were both empowered and empowering. But these women were also spilling over the top with love for their people, their children, their mentors, their neighbors, and their God. They weren’t perfect by any standard. (Read and find out!) But they were mountains of inspiration to those around them, and they were an intricate part of God’s plan to bring hope to His people then, now, and forevermore.

I’ve grown weary of our culture sending messages to our daughters that ‘they must self-promote first and foremost, in order to be successful. That love and compassion are okay, only as long as these two tenets do not interfere with their climb to the top of the ladder.’ That is reckless endangerment if I ever saw it. This narcissistic model for teaching empowerment is hardly a worthy prototype for moving our girls towards a life full of healthy relationships and successful and joyful living.  It is a model which brings to mind a line from one of my favorite movies, “You have been weighed; you have been measured; and you have been found wanting.” But the powerful punch of this famous line was first delivered to a king named Belshazzar by a young Jewish man named Daniel, the latter of who was fully devoted to God. Daniel boldly told his captor, that his self-promotion and extreme lack of humility were not cutting the leadership mustard. His words were riveting: “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” (Daniel 5:26-27)

I think it’s time we show the world a different model, a different kind of girl power. One that is not found wanting. One that is full of spunk and infectious adventure harnessed together with compassion for others and a generous, servant heart. It’s time we teach our girls that these two seemingly opposite character traits cannot only coexist, but that indeed, girls were wired that way from the moment their beautiful, inquisitive, hopeful, and daring little selves entered this crazy world.

The Problem that’s even Bigger than the UAL Debacle

My opinions are my opinions. They do not reflect the position of any airline or employee of any airline.

The incident that has spiraled into hellish proportions across the media, and in and out of the annals of cyberspace (as incidents via the annals of cyberspace always do) demands a thorough evaluation. (You know the one: a paid passenger is informed he has to disembark from his flight; he refuses; subsequently, the police are asked to escort him off; he still refuses; and then-well the situation goes to hell from there??-Yes, that one.) But in order to evaluate this incident at United Airlines, there is a bigger problem in our American culture that precipitates this one which demands our attention. Moreover, it demands our unbiased input. It demands our intellect. It demands our common sense. It demands our courage. And, as I always tell my three nearly grown-up daughters, if you don’t have anything to bring to the table, then stay home. In other words, if all you can do is rumble, rant, and threaten, you’re counterproductive to discussion of policy, politics, and community building. Do you really and truly want what happened with this Republic Airlines flight to never happen again? (Yes, it was actually not a UAL flight. They were not UAL pilots boarding the plane. It was Republic Airlines. But that is neither here nor there.) If you can say, “yes, I wish this could’ve ended differently, could’ve been handled differently, and would’ve had a different outcome,” then read on. Otherwise, just quit reading now. Go do whatever it is that makes you happy (complaining.) This incident with UAL flight #3411 begs the question that is in front of every American teacher, cop. and customer service agent (private or public sector) every. where. When the rules dictate certain processes and/or when a situation necessitates a student (for instance) to switch desks or to put their phone away in class, and IN those cases, when the person absolutely (wrongly) refuses to comply with the person in the place of authority, what options do those in the place of authority have for doing their job? I mean really. What options do they have? I am all for not dragging a student out of the classroom by their hair or a passenger off the plane by his limbs. I think we all agree on this. But let’s sit down together and agree that first of all, people cannot just blindly disobey authority-not in a free society! I am not talking about teachers, cops, or customer service agents who are abusing their jobs or acting criminally. I am saying when they are doing their job: Writing a traffic citation; executing a legal warrant; asking a student to put their phone away during instruction (I experience this frequently); telling a pass traveler there is a dress code for pass traveling (had this happen to me); requiring a dress code for the professional work place. In those cases, when protocol is being followed, when what they are asking is absolutely reasonable and expected, what in heaven’s name, can the person in authority do when a student or a criminal suspect or an employee or a customer looks them straight in the face and says “NO!” Do we insist on promoting anarchy in a country that actually became a country based on a constitution where laws are imposed and enforced so that we can be the kind of free country where the exercise of our rights and our freedoms are protected not by the exercise of our rights, but rather by the enforcement of rules and policies that actually anchor those rights. Alarmingly, we are becoming a country where our own individual and personal rights (as we see them) trump everyone else’s rights, and the very rules in place that protect all of us. And as the smart phone cameras are rolling, people (students, customers, criminal suspects) quickly and clearly understand: “I can say NO! I can physically refuse to comply.” Why? Because they believe and know that the minute I lay a hand on them to escort them to where they need to go or the minute the police officer goes to execute an arrest warrant, that they can fight, resist, hit, kick, and scream. It will be filmed (that’s a given) and it will be ugly. They know and understand that if they go crazy, the chance is great that their behavior or wrong refusal to cooperate will be diminished and/or mitigated in the light of a physical confrontation that they know looks really bad on film.

But the preferential choice of anarchy in our country to authority figures: teachers, police officers, customer service agents, is frightening when you have children you are sending out into this narcissistic and selfish world to live on their own without the safeguards that are naturally in place inside our house. All of this tyrannical resistance to authority is further aggravated by cases and events not being considered on their individual merits but ALL grouped into a “one size fits all” category. This reckless and truly ignorant way of approaching every conflict we see on the news that takes place between a person in authority and a customer, citizen, suspect, or student is ripping away the very fabric of our nation’s security and it is undermining our teachers, our education system, and the course of living peacefully in our daily lives.

We have three daughters. I will repeat what I said earlier in this blog. We have told them that in the area of politics, policy, ministry, education (their high school and colleges), if there is something they don’t agree with, they better know that there is never an excuse for shutting down the conversation or for misleading others because of their own inability or refusal to gather information and to sort out fact from fiction. I have told them if they don’t come to the table with something to offer, then don’t come to the table at all.

And NOW, a honeymoon couple on a UAL flight who continued to try to switch to an upgraded seat after repeatedly being asked to stay in their own seat is removed and rebooked. In a Boeing 737-800 like the one the couple was on, United considers Row 21 “economy plus,” which is an upgrade. UAL released this statement: “These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats. We’ve been in touch with them and have rebooked them on flights tomorrow.” What this couple tried to do is shoplifting. I mean would you go into a store and carry something out without paying for it? (In this self entitled world we live in, I am afraid the answer to that is becoming yes, yes, and yes.) This is precisely the same thing as walking into a restaurant and stiffing them by not paying your tab. Or retail shoplifting. What kind of person marries the kind of person-that on one of the first days of the rest of their life together-they would practice-not humility and truth-but self entitlement and rudeness?

You know what? There IS a discussion of policy on bumping passengers that needs to happen. I once tried all day long to get from Oklahoma City to anywhere on the east coast that could deliver me to my home (at that time) in Germany. After a very long day in the airport, I was bumped by a paid passenger who literally showed up for the flight just as the doors were closing. Only I was in my seat and strapped in. Talk about disappointing. I stepped off the plane and eventually got to my destination. But blaming an entire airline for this incident or the one on flight #3411 is reckless and unfounded. Oscar Muñoz is sincerely a great CEO. He brought this company together at a time when the various work groups were quite discombobulated (in a post 9-11 season of unrest and uncertainty.) He did this largely due to his ability to unite people from all demographics, groups and positions. He is a breath of fresh air to UAL and to Corporate America.

My fear (which often keeps me awake at night) is that we are becoming a country, a culture, where generosity and compassion and caring about others is secondary always to “me, me, me.” It only follows then that a pervasive negative and volatile attitude towards those who have the right to tell us “you can’t do that,” becomes an epidemic. Today, (it just so happens), I have a class full of 7th and 8th graders to whom I am delivering a lesson titled “Taking Responsibility for Me.” Wow! Sadly, I have great concern that my expectation for these children to learn this very important attribute for living and for being successful is heavily overshadowed by literally millions of adults in their communities and in their personal lives who have failed to learn and adopt this character trait themselves.

The Bulldozer and the Havoc it can Wreak

Have mouth. Will run over everyone in my path.

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!

1st Hand Experiences not Required. Engage your Role Models now!

Photo by
Inspireconversation.com
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.

How shallow a friend (parent, spouse or business partner) are you?

BuildingRelationships
LivingAndLeading: Photo Creds

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.

009738
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?

What’s your Black Cloud?

The Black Cloud
Photo Creds: Manès Sperber

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.

Majority Rules! How we spend our time and our money counts!

How do you spend the "majority" of your time and money?
Photo Creds:Willblogforfood.com

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.