Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Fortifying Your Kids

As a mother I feel, quite honestly, like I can say that I know my children – in fact, I may even claim that no other human being on this planet knows them as well as I do.  But just recently I read the book The Five Love Languages of Children and it gave me pause – for the first time I started to view how I know my children by what kind of love they need from me.  If you have kids that are older than 5, I would strongly encourage you to read this book.  It is very much like the version that was written for couples in marriage – so if you already own that version, try to borrow this one.  It’s worth reading once.  As I encountered the love language in the book that applies to each of my children, I was blown away – and instantly decided to adjust one area of how I parent each of them.  For instance, Liam’s love language (I believe) is touch.  Knowing this, I think I’m going to start easing up on the harassment I’ve been giving him about his “blankie.”  When he doesn’t have someone nearby to snuggle with, like me or a grandma or his dad, he wraps himself in this very soft thing that has been around since birth.  He needs to feel its pressure against his skin.  My daughter, on the other hand, lost her baby blankie a while ago and didn’t even notice.  What she needs – what her love language is – is words of affirmation.  This is why, as I am in Vancouver right now and she is 14 hours drive away in Fort St John, the letters that I send her and the phone conversations that I have with her are so important.  She remembers everything that is said and brings those words up again in later conversations.  They are her comfort.

And yet, I wonder … in the midst of our desire to grow closer to and understand our children (which I believe is important) – don’t over-complicate things.  Sometimes parenting solutions are much more straightforward than that.

This morning as I read Mark 1:9-13 I was overwhelmed by how directly after Jesus is baptized and receives the phenomenal blessing from his father “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” he is then sent straight into the desert for 40 days of testing from the devil.  It struck me how just before he goes through this incredible, unimaginable trial, he is strengthened by the words of his father so directly.  Did God give him those words to fortify him?  I cannot help but note the timing …

Unlike God, we cannot know what is coming next for our kids.  But I think it’s safe to assume that they, like us, are going to encounter tough stuff.  We are so quick to load them with vitamins to guard their health, but are we blessing them enough with our words?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

My Rant (An Indulgence that I try not to Allow Myself Often)

I try not to "rant" - but I just couldn't help myself today.  Sorry.

As I have been spending some time lately investigating the way that kids learn (ha ha - if you know me, you know that "some time" has been the last two years) - I was rather jarred by a photo that I saw on facebook this morning:
It is a list of rules that kids apparently "should" know - if you would like to view it more closely - here is the link.  Among these rules I found the statement

"your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not.  In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer.  This doesn't bare the slightest resemblance to anything in real life."

Really? Are you sure about this? 

I would like to take issue here (obviously).  As an adult I have failed repeatedly and been given second chances often  ...  by children.  They just keep on forgiving, over-looking, and loving me anyway.  Sometimes I am late to pick up my kids - currently I live 14 hours drive away from them, sometimes I forget to buy groceries for them and they have to take something weird in their lunch like mashed potatoes (fortunately my daughter thinks this is a treat).  For years I let them drink pop every day and I am not nearly as diligent about making sure that they brush their teeth as I should be (my son has an abscess on his gum right now that's turning my hair gray).  I have gotten tired and irritated and taken it out on them by being grumpy and short with them.  When that happens, they look at me sympathetically - and sometimes they even blame themselves (horrible!).  I have put my foot in my mouth so many times when it comes to parenting that I have learned to be good at apologizing and asking for forgiveness - not that this is a good way to solve that problem - I'm just trying to be honest.

Kids spend all day in a school five days a week - while it may not be the equivalent of spending hours at the stock exchange or cleaning prisons - it's actually pretty strenuous.  I dare any adult who hasn't spent the day in an elementary school or secondary school in the last ten years to try it out (of course, you should definitely clear that with the school first - but don't worry, there are plenty of volunteer jobs there that nobody wants to do, so I am sure you can work out a deal of some kind if your intentions are appropriate).  Just talk to my friend who recently became a kindergarten teacher - its exhausting.  She can't help but long for the weekend.  Every minute of a child's day is scheduled and there is very little - or no- flexibility in that schedule.  In our local high school, when kids go on breaks, they have no where to actually sit down.  So they don't actually relax at all during the day.  Everything they do is judged.  Every assignment they do is graded, where they sit at lunch time and who they hang out with during recess places them into the complex strata of the school social status system (talk about "winners and losers").  On top of that, they often do not get enough sleep or eat enough food.  In my final practicum there was a group of boys who sleep-walked through the day on Tuesdays because they had 7am hockey practice on those days.  Teenagers often go through a period that might last years where they have insomnia.  They start the day tired.

So give them a break.  If they come home and need to spend 30 minutes to an hour alone with their thoughts - let them have it.  When I have a full-time job, I need to spend a bit of time alone every day even if it means locking myself in the bathroom or getting up at an obscenely early hour.  It keeps me sane.  And what parent doesn't want their child to have a happy childhood?  Isn't that supposed to be one of our goals as parents - to make this whole "growing-up" experience generally pleasant - or, at the very least, not torturous?  Here's an idea: why don't we encourage them to take a piece of time every day to spend with God.  We could give them resources to support this or even read the resources to them - and then just listen to them and their concerns or joys for a while.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?  (It is).

Furthermore - I have been forgiven often by employers and teachers - as an adult who has long since graduated from high school.  I can think of multiple times when I have made a mistake and not been fired for it.  This is not me saying that I think that we shouldn't strive to do well in the workplace - we should, but the world is not actually a horrendously evil, unforgiving place.  In fact, making stupid mistakes (like being late or not taking a conversation that should be taken seriously, seriously) is essential to the learning process - which continues long past childhood and, hopefully, all the way until the day we die.  I am a big fan of a willingness to learn - even from dumb mistakes - especially from dumb mistakes.

Sure - it's no crime to tell kids about "the real world" - they need to know it, but don't assume that their world isn't very "real" too, just because they haven't yet become jaded and bitter.  Instead - lets raise them up strong through the tenets that God provides.  Psalm 78:5-8 reminds us to consciously raise our own children so that they do not become a "stubborn and rebellious generation, whose heart [is] not loyal to God, whose spirit [is] not faithful to Him."  When this is the focus, doesn't it become more important to get off of this tendency to rant and preach at the kids about what's "not" reality and start preparing them for actual reality?  Doesn't this kind of ranting just create bitterness?  It sure doesn't inspire me.  I can think of a few places where some of these rules might be justifiably applied to adults - so why are we picking on kids?  Because we're bigger?

Ultimately God has given us forgiveness as a gift.  Let us focus on teaching these little sponges how to employ it - lets get rid of the "it's not personal - it's business" mentality.  Lets focus on doing our job as parents.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Power of Words

As you might of guessed, I like to write – and, despite uncomfortably common typos and grammar mistakes that I manage to include in my blogs (maybe I need an editor?) I do actually put a great deal of thought into word choice – most of the time.  Words are transformative, revolutionary, powerful.  They can also be horrible, hateful, counter-productive and useless.  What is said and what is written can never really be taken back (despite the lovely editing function that blogs have) because once words are heard or read they enter the brain forever – shaping the way another sees the world and perhaps even forming that person’s identity.  A good example of this is the ugly concept of racism.  A child whose skin is different-looking from that of his or her fellow students likely will think nothing of it until someone says something to them about it like “you’re black – why don’t you join the basketball team?”  Suddenly this child needs to connect the dots about why a black person might consider playing basketball purely because he or she is black and an idea is formed about how the world perceives him or her – a piece of identity is created.  How many off-hand, thoughtless comments have been tossed carelessly about only to change how people think about themselves forever?  Hmmm.  Children are particularly vulnerable to the words of parents – God actually wired them to listen to their parents – consider that when you want to react to a child who just dumped an entire bag of flour on your kitchen floor followed by a bucket of water.  Having reflected on this many times I have chosen to adopt a policy of trying to give credit when credit is due (even if this means embarrassing myself sometimes by being a little over-enthusiastic in meetings) and thinking very carefully about critical words before speaking or writing them (I think I just made myself accountable here – I’m not perfect, so feel free to remind me of this statement in future).  The things I regret most about my life all involve things that I said or wrote.  This idea has also lead me to a process of writing out my prayers to God – an awesome use of modern technology, as I reflect on my words to God I often discover attitudes that I need to correct – and I can edit.  Just as God keeps forgiving me, this is an act of forgiveness for myself.

Queen Elizabeth – daughter of Henry the 8th – understood the importance of the written word.  She knew that the world would be revolutionized by the simple act of written translation.  Prior to her rule, the Bible was only read by a select few in England – mainly the clergy and educated nobility.  To make the Bible available to all who could read in the vernacular (English) she was boldly making the statement – at the risk of her life – that God’s word needed to be accessed by more than just priests and monks.  At her coronation a young girl presented her with a Bible in English translation and Elizabeth kissed it, held it up high in the air, then to her breast.  This symbolic and carefully choreographed display was evidence that she was not going to let anyone stand in her way when it came to making the Bible more accessible.  Of course, it wouldn’t be for many more years before the average person would even be literate – but it was a giant leap for the modern world.

Hebrews 4:12 writes that the word of God (the Bible) is “living and active.”  To me, this means that it is always relevant and it never loses power.  These words are incredibly powerful – continuously revealing truths to its readers many centuries after its creation.  On that note - some of the best advice that I ever received came to me from a Bible study leader.  She had just presented us with a new book that we would be using as a guide through which to discuss the Bible – in the book were woven many ideas and interpretations that were not directly from the Bible but from the person that wrote the book.  I am not saying that it wasn’t a good book – but my Bible study leader asserted to us, before we got into it that we shouldn’t get on the “bandwagon” of the author of this book.  We should read it, consider it – but most importantly, compare it to the Bible.  The process of accepting words, interpreting them, must be acknowledged always – especially when you are allowing them to form your spiritual identity.


Friday, 3 February 2012

The Value of Dreaming Big

When my husband and I were perhaps at our lowest is a time that I often look back on and analyze – both to remember what it means to feel like you can’t get a break, and to remind myself that we could definitely face similar circumstances again and we need to have a game plan ready this time.  I remember my Dad saying to us during this time, quoting from Jeremiah 29:11, that God wants the best for us – basically trying to give us hope that things were going to get better.  Thanks for that Dad – I really needed it.  On a particularly bad day, when we were stumped about how to turn a few dollars into a lot of dollars so that we could pay some bills – we took a break from the stress and went for a walk out side in the melty, mucky, Fort St John Spring and started dreaming.  We let loose every idea that we had about what we wanted to do with our lives, where we wanted to do it and how.  Those dreams were seeds planted by God – letting them out, speaking them, made us realize that they were not crazy, not when you consider that we are not capable of understanding in the least what the extent of his capability is.  It’s also kind of a love-building exercise in marriage to dream together – it can be a very attractive quality in a spouse to hear them aspire to great things.  Whenever I think of goal setting and dreaming I remember that conversation.  The funny thing is, I cannot end this story with a wonderful explanation of how we reached those dreams – the fact is, the dreams changed considerably in the last seven years and we met different ones.  But things only went uphill from there (overall, I mean, there were a few dips in that line graph, but explaining them all would be tedious). 
In the first section of the Purpose Driven Church, Warren talks a lot about barriers and how, when a church doesn’t grow, it’s basically because we are not letting it.  We are putting limitations on it.  I love when he says: “I feel that most churches build too soon and too small.  The shoe must never tell the foot how big it can grow.”  This speaks to dreaming big.  Build a church building twice the size of your congregation – and then you will actually grow.  Build a church just to seat the amount of attendees that you have currently, and you are not exactly creating a invitation to new-comers – but it could incite the old practice of having a “family pew.”  In Mathew 7:7-8 God reminds us that things are given to those that ask.  What does that look like when you’re building a church?  (I don’t have a really great answer here, I’m just hoping someone might actually answer in the comment section.  I mean what should we be asking for?).
The other comment that I have on this section of the book is on Warren’s assertion that his church is built on conversion rather than transfer – unbelievers that are converted through the church rather than people switching churches.  Hah!  He’s hitting the nail on the head – cutting away all of the other stuff that doesn’t matter – and getting right to the point.  This is how I want to see our church built too.  Read it – you won’t be sorry.
So, my church tour continues.  I think I am headed to Abbotsford this Sunday and to Whiterock in a few weeks and there are plans in the works to go to Seattle in March (yay!).  If you know of an evangelical church doing something innovational in the Vancouver area (I’m willing to drive up to 2 hours from downtown Vancouver each way) please let me know.  I want to check it out.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Ode to the Best Husband Ever ~ My Valentine

I love real love stories – stories about what love is really like.  You will probably see me cry if you watch the movie The Young Victoria with me.  This is not because she is a princess who has finally found her prince (cue sappy music here) – it’s because Victoria figures out where her real strength lies:  in her ability to recognize and tap into the power of her marriage as both spouse & queen.  In university you do not have to look far to see that the world likes to present marriage as a contract in which one person benefits more and the other less.  Just today, in my second-year medieval literature class, we viewed paintings of the Biblical couple Mary and Joseph in which Joseph was generally portrayed as distant from the holy infant, following along in a grand scheme because he had no other choice, a joke in his community, his daily work useless in comparison to what his wife was doing. Of course, this portrayal does not really reflect the truth.  I would like to propose that in marriage happy longevity can only be found when a couple makes use of the strength that exists in the marriage bond. As I am writing this, my husband is likely trying to be a carpenter on a jobsite while simultaneously a secretary and quote-builder in an office – all while trying to figure out how he is going to find the time to pick up the kids from school and supervise swimming lessons for 45 minutes before dropping them off at home this afternoon.  Why is he doing all of this – it doesn’t sound fun at all. 

The answer is we have created a life for ourselves in which not only do we make decisions together but for each other.  This means that he generally doesn’t go out and buy a brand new truck without having a discussion with me first – but, more importantly, it means that I can trust him to make important decisions without my presence because I know that he does it on behalf of us.  If he is ever placed in a position where he has to make a decision about a large purchase without the ability to discuss it with me first – I am confident that he would do so knowing how I would feel about it and valuing that information.  I’m totally great with that – it’s wonderful – it means I can officially be in two places simultaneously, because God has literally made us one (Genesis 2:22-24).  It makes it possible for me to trust him with my children while I am so far away.  And not only that, but it allows me to leave him in Fort St John while I am in Vancouver - guilt free.  Ack – isn’t that wrong?  – shouldn’t I feel guilty about basically taking a 4 month vacation from my life while my husband slaves away as single parent at home and I relax in Vancouver, taking invigorating runs along the sea each morning and getting decadent amounts of sleep each night?  Let me answer that with this – would it really be right for me to do this if I felt guilty about it?  No.  While I do miss my family, sometimes painfully, I rest assured in the fact that this is the correct decision because my husband has affirmed it for me by never once suggesting that it was a bad plan or even flinching slightly at the suggestion of it.  In fact he has always expressed excitement at the thought of me doing this and encouraged me in it.  Which leads me to the next reason why this crazy situation works:

I married a man of faith.  When my non-christian friends ask me, pleadingly, what the secret to our happy counter-cultural marriage (I say that because I got married at 18 and defied worldly expectations by never regretting it) is, I have to answer: we base our marriage on the truths that God outlines plainly for us.  You can’t love anyone continuously and long-term without using God’s love as model and guide.  Period.

The final secret is this: he’s just really great.  He is patient and kind with me, our children, our family and his employees.  I have never heard him yell (in anger) – although he told me that he once lost his temper at someone in a parking lot and shouted at them as they ran off.  As a result, when he does hand out discipline to our children, they react quickly and compliantly.  The “righteous” behavior described in Proverbs exists in his life – and just as the verse describes, his children are clearly blessed by it (Proverbs 20:7).  He looks after me and makes sure that, after 15 years together, I know that he not only still loves me, but that he likes me as well – that he is (pardon the cheesy term) in love with me still.  He never argues or bickers unnecessarily, curses or lies (literally, I cannot think of one time that I know he lied to me – although his mom does tell of the time he lied to her at age 5 about brushing his teeth).  He is also fun and fun-loving and has a great sense of humor.  He is a phenomenal father and uncle who is well-loved by the children in our family and he looks after his mother while his father travels for business (which, unfortunately, is often).  And, lets face it -  he’s hot.  And not only is he hot, but he takes care to make sure that he stays that way by getting up early to work out.   On top of all of these wonderful qualities that he has – he devotes a lot of time and energy to ministry.   He prioritizes his involvement in church ministry to the point where he sometimes has weeks where he is at the church daily – and he does it with balance.  I can never say that I feel neglected as a result of these commitments.

Yes, he’s pretty great.  

I love you honey and I thank God for you every day,
Your wife,