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Have you ever known a young child with an imaginary friend? My daughter, Hannah, had an imaginary country. Dinka-Dinka, whose residents lived in lime green trees above hot pink grass, was referenced at her convenience:

Me:  “Here. Try this yummy broccoli.”

Hannah:  “I already tried it in Dinka-Dinka. I didn’t like it.”

*                *               *                *

Me (Smiling):  “Time to sleep!”

Hannah:  “No. It’s not bedtime in Dinka-Dinka.”

Me (Not smiling):  *Sigh.*

When she was in trouble, Hannah would threaten to run away to Dinka-Dinka, even packing her Pooh suitcase on one occasion. A scapegoat country. Good idea…for a three year old.

During difficult circumstances or when we’re in trouble, many of us would enjoy running away to an invented country where life is easy and operates on our terms. But competent doctors have a scary name for adults who habitually live in make-believe locations…schizophrenic. Many hurting people prefer more socially acceptable platforms for fleeing to imaginary worlds–including video games, the internet, movies, and fictional novels.

Although everyone relishes opportunities to “get away from it all,” the truth is, Christians do not need a fantasy location for escaping life’s harsh realities. We have an authentic one. Because Jesus became the scapegoat¹ (escape goat) who bore our sins and failures, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”² Through Christ’s blood “we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into the Holy Place.”³

We can boldy go to the Holy Place:

A safe, sane haven.

Immediate openings.

Direct access to the grace and place of God’s presence where there is mercy, help, “fullness of joy,⁴” and rest for the weary.⁵

Can you think of a better place to get away?

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¹See Leviticus 16

² Hebrews 4:16, NIV

³Hebrews 10:19, The Message

⁴Psalm 16:11, NKJV

⁵Matthew 11:28

Picture Source: Dreamstime

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Outside of the Bible, there are two quotations I have used as creeds for decades. One is Alexander Hamilton’s “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The other comes from a key chain I had in high school which featured a confident, dolled-up Miss Piggy proclaiming, “You’ve gotta go with whatcha got!” In the last year, however, I’ve added my own simple creed:

“Be fully present.”

Like many multitaskers, I spend too much of life physically present in one location and mentally in another. I feel like Luke Skywalker during his Jedi training–being poked in the chest and chastised by an irritated Yoda, “All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.”

© Nicholas Sutcliffe | Dreamstime.com

In our pressure-cooker culture, I’m sure some  of you can relate. Physically, you’re watching your child’s soccer game, having lunch with a friend, or listening to a sermon…but mentally you’re organizing your schedule, making a grocery list, solving a conflict, or editing mistakes. Almost everyone has difficulty sustaining focus for long periods, but consistently choosing to be in two places at once can create several problems:

1. Divided Focus Can Be Unsafe

While driving, have you ever missed your turn because you mindlessly headed in a routine direction…rather than toward your actual destination? Some tasks are too critical for mental multitasking. We trust childcare providers, airline pilots, knife-wielding surgeons, drill-operating dentists, and coffee-bearing baristas to be fully present.

2. Divided Focus May Be Sin if…

  • you’re attending to the voice in your head more than listening to your “neighbor.” That’s called selfishness.
  • …the cause of your lack of focus is worry. The Bible is clear, “Do not be anxious about anything.”¹
  • …mental preoccupation hinders you from doing “whatever you do”…” with all your heart.”²

3. Divided Focus Can Rob You

Being “lost in thought” prevents you from: embracing moments with your children, fully enjoying the company of a friend, entering deeper into worship, maximizing time spent in God’s Word, or maintaining peace of mind. Divided focus can rob you of life’s simple pleasures and keep you from being content…whatever your circumstances.³

I’ve been praying for the mind of Christ and working on being fully present, but I’m not there yet. Not. Even. Close.  I’m going to keep trying to live my creed for several reasons…but especially because my time as a full-time mom is more than two-thirds gone. I don’t want to lose out on memories with my children because my mind is preoccupied. I want to be fully present. After all, “You must be present to win.”

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¹Matthew 6:25, 31, 34; Philippians 4:6

²Colossians 3:23

³Philippians 4:12

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My strict, German-American grandmother believed that after disciplining your child, “you should be able to go off and sing a song.” I comprehend her point: Discipline out of love, not anger. But in fifteen years of parenting, not once has this soprano assigned consequences to a child and then felt like busting a melody. Wanted to scream? Definitely. Cry? Of course. Laugh at melodramatic antics? Sometimes. Phone a counselor? Possibly. Sing? Never.

You raised three beautiful girls and five mischievous boys, Grandma. After delivering punishments, what on earth did you sing? “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen?”

Yesterday, there was an FBI (Formidable Behavioral Incident) in my home. When it was over, I did not sing. I prayed. I analyzed my child’s actions and my reaction. At some point, Grandma’s “singing philosophy” resurfaced and I began amusing my brain by fishing it for “Fitting Songs to Sing After Making My Child’s Life Miserable for His or Her Own Good.” Here is my selection:

1. The chorus of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler:

    An analogy jackpot, crooning this chorus could provide timely parenting cues.

  • “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” – Stand strong on moral, character, or safety issues. Fold on exasperating non-issues such as a son’s Justin Bieber bangs that consistently bury luminous blue eyes (as a random, hypothetical illustration).
  • “Know when to walk away and know when to run.” – Keep a calm, in-control, poker face when disciplining…even when yelling, snickering, or sobbing beg introduction. If this isn’t possible, walk away and “deal” consequences later.
  • “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table, There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.” Avoid evaluating a child’s end-result character based on the current hand your dealt. Keep working; the “game” is not over yet.

2. Get Back Up by TobyMac  –

We lose our way,
We get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again.

    There is always hope for my child’s behavior. And my parenting.

3. It is Well With My Soul, Kutless Version-

    Reserving this hymn for particularly distressing episodes could offer comforting revelation that at least something is right in the world.

4. The ending of Billy Joel’s  Just the Way You Are

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

My children do not know Billy Joel’s song, but I think they would recognize its theme. After dispensing discipline, I have been unsuccessful in implementing Grandma’s proverb “to go off and sing a song.” But I have told my kids I love them…no matter what. And that’s a tune I hope they remember. 

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Singer Icon: Matma Rex, Wikimedia Commons

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Whether mental or written, I always have a To Do List for the day. Regrettably, the success of any given day is measured by what I accomplished. To Do List completed? It was a good day. Oodles left undone? The inner voice of Perfection enumerates precisely where I failed and suggests schedule modifications for the following day. Lately, Perfection’s been preaching.

My husband’s rotator cuff surgery has slashed our children’s taxiing fleet in half and shredded my To Do Lists. The six week loss of Terry’s dominant arm and his ability to legally drive has me logging additional hours as caregiver and chauffer. (No sardonic comments about backseat drivers will be inserted in this space.) I am enjoying our extra time together and do not mind being supplementary hands for slicing chicken, buttoning shirts, or tying bows. Yet at the end of the day, Perfection’s expectations make no allowance for added responsibilities or people inhibiting production.

Most women are accustomed to putting their family’s needs before their own. Under Section II of both wife and mother job descriptions, “Tolerates frequent task interruptions” is highlighted. We stop what we are doing to tutor algebra, counsel social dilemmas, or move the family van from its station beneath the basketball hoop. (Acknowledgments to my son, Jesse, for supplying the final example as I attempted to complete previous sentence. Sigh.) Even most of the objectives on our To Do Lists–such as cleaning the house, grocery shopping, or working to provide financial support–aren’t singular ambitions. They’re set for the well-being of our families. Helping others is rooted in woman’s genesis–God’s “I can’t find a suitable helper for Adam, so I’ll design one.”¹ So why do I still get frustrated by unfinished things, when I know unfinished people are my created purpose?

Jesus’ primary To Do List could have read like this: Do my Father’s will. Love people. Teach people. Heal people. Die for people. The disciples didn’t think little children belonged on his list, but Jesus scolded them and called for the kids.² After his cousin John the Baptist was murdered, Jesus’ To Do List included finding a quiet place and resting. Jesus and the disciples had been so busy helping people, that even the essential task of eating could not be checked off their To Do Lists.³ However, when they got to their relaxation destination, an anxious crowd of “sheep without a shepherd” was already waiting. Compassion consumed, Jesus delayed his individual hopes in order to heal the sick, teach “many things,” and feed 5,000 hungry men, plus women and children.⁴

Goals provide purpose and focus. God’s Word sets spiritual goals such as loving God with your whole being, loving your neighbor as yourself, going into all the world to preach the gospel, or doing everything you do the name of the Lord Jesus.⁵ The problem isn’t goal setting. The problem is defining success based on personal or cultural values, instead of the Lord’s requirements: 

He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

God’s To Do List could be simplified to six words. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

How idiotic would I sound if I rationalized my misplaced priorities with words? “Uhh…Lord, I didn’t do justly by my injured husband…but I’m caught up on laundry.” Or how about, “I didn’t offer my child mercy…but I completed a great post on kindness.” Wee bit feeble.

Last night, while Perfection was pointing out clutter and listing unmet writing objectives, I went through my revised To Do List. Did I…

Do justly?

Love mercy?

Walk humbly with my God?

It was a good day.

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¹Paraphrased from Genesis 2:18-22

²Mark 10:13-16

³Mark 6:31

⁴Matthew 14:9-21; Mark 6:26-44

⁵Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 16:15; Colossians 3:17

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Once my toddlers-with-a-death-wish became school age and my perpetual game of “Eyes on the Diminutive Demolition Crew” was over, I thought parenting would be easier. No more embarrassing calls (yes, plural) to poison control reporting my son’s fondness for backyard mushrooms or diaper rash cream. No more sprinting to snatch a future mountaineer before he or she nose-dived off yet another soon to be obstructed household pinnacle, and no more frenzied searching of circular clothes racks in the mall’s largest department store…where my daughter played unannounced games of hide-and-seek. 

In my mind, older children meant reason would replace impulsiveness, family members could function more independently of one another, and household chores would be distributed to relieve Mom’s workload. I could blissfully return to a full-time career; balance triune roles of wife, mother, and professional; help financially support a comfortable lifestyle; and find time to pursue personal interests. Delusional.

Somehow I neglected the parenting pamphlet explaining that raising children does not simplify with each age-incremental stage. Only the challenges change. My dad’s advice, “You’ve got to be smarter than they are,” was appreciably easier to accomplish when “they” were two and  five–versus twelve and fifteen. I was also ignorant that the same darlings who could be bribed or compelled to follow my schedule as toddlers would develop time-consuming, wallet-emptying, automobile-depreciating and laundry-multiplying customs called “agendas” upon entering school. Agendas contain social, academic, athletic, spiritual, entertainment, hunger-inspired, musical, and fashion elements. When teenagers are involved, each element’s potency is raised to the thirteenth power.

Agendas highlight parent-child priority disconnects and generate difficult parenting decisions such as: What comes first…homework or friends? What is our family’s activity saturation point? What (or whose) influences reside outside the boundaries of appropriate?

A difficult parenting decision surfaced this week when my son asked to spend spring break in Arizona with a trusted friend’s family. Besides missing him, choosing to let Jesse go would place so many events outside my protective influences–from sunscreen slathering to a thirty-six hour round-trip drive. Somewhere in my fear-centered debate a quiet voice reminded, “You’re not the one who keeps him safe.” And I’m not. I am simply an instrument in the hands of the one who does. As I write these words, Jesse is traveling…and I am praying phrases from Psalm 91.

“Letting go” is one more reason an older child does not equal easier parenting. My mountaineers are still nose-diving off pinnacles, plunging into independent futures, and I can’t always be there to catch them. I must continually choose to trust the hands that can.

It will be ok, though, because parenting will be easier when my kids are in college.

Right?

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Ask my fifteen-year-old daughter Hannah to define junior high, and the Greek mythology buff will retort, “The Social Underworld.” By association, parenting during this era teetered at a similar depth. Although Romans 8:28 promises Christians “all things work together for good,” we don’t always get to see or understand heaven’s purposes for heartache. This mom is grateful that God has answered her daughter’s “Why?” with at least partial insight. She and I were recently listing some “good” outcomes when I asked,

“Do you see how God was directing you?”

“Mom, you’ve got to stop using that word.”

“What word?”

“Directing. That implies God gently guiding you. I was shoved in the back like, ‘I’m going to make you so miserable you have to change.’ Shoving, mother. Shoving.”

She’s right. Sometimes, God shoves. Or drags…like the time God’s angels protectively yanked Lot out of Sodom. Or flattens…as when spiritually-sightless Saul was leveled and blinded on the road to Damascus. Joseph’s involuntary relocation to Egypt began with shoving into a cistern, continued with pushing into prison, and ended with “the saving of many lives.”¹

In Amos 4:6, God tells Israel, “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town.” Gave empty stomachs? Gave? This sounds suspiciously like shoving. God goes on to list other “presents” He sent Israel such as: drought, blight, locusts, plagues, and war. But five times He reiterates why he shoved, “Yet you have not returned to me.” God longed for a relationship with his children and was propelling them to change, but they did not.

In my family, pain produced change. After nine years in a private school with 60 classmates, Hannah transferred to a mega public school with a freshman class of over 500. Consequently, I resigned my full-time teaching job–mostly to focus on being mom during her transition. Change has produced challenges, but also spiritual growth, new relationships, exciting opportunities, and contentment. However, the effect of shoving that has impacted me most deeply began several weeks ago when we picked up one of Hannah’s new unsaved friends for youth group. The next week, the girl returned on her own. The following week, she brought a friend. Shoving to a new environment has afforded two souls the opportunity to hear about Jesus. The New Testament church in Acts was shoved out of Jerusalem by persecution…and the gospel was spread.

Yes Hannah, sometimes God shoves. But the shoving may protect, develop perseverance,² grow faith,³ discipline,⁴ or push us and others…right into His waiting arms.

¹Genesis 50:20

²James 1:3

 ³I Peter 1:7

⁴Proverbs 3:12

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