Sunday, April 23, 2017

4 Reasonable Concerns about 13 Reasons Why

Last week as I temporarily plopped myself at my desk to take attendance, I overheard two students talking about tape.  Imagine my surprise when I realized several days later, these girls were not talking about the clear, sticky roll sitting by my computer.  

“Put that on my tape.”

It’s sarcastic lingo that students will say when they’ve been offended. I’ve heard it a handful of times now, and it’s part of the ever-increasing amount of catch-phrases that I as a jr. high/high school teacher am trying to keep up with. The students are referencing the new Netflix hit, “13 Reasons Why”, and “the tapes” are referring to the reasons someone might want to kill themselves.

Several parents across the states, and many friends in my circle, are wisely choosing to dialogue with their children about this series that has so quickly entered our world and is widely watched by our teens.  Some parents are choosing to watch with their kids to glean from the show the lessons to impart to their children.  I’ve read the author and producer’s and parents’ intent, and I believe with all my heart their intentions are good. However, it’s important to distinguish  between intent and outcome. Below are the real-life, observable, experiential, evidential effects of “13 Reasons Why” I have noticed as both a parent and teacher positioned in a public school:

  1. The educational value that the movie provides is overshadowed by the entertainment value.
When students come to school, their conversations prove they’ve been enthralled by the show.  The chatter is about the characters, the story line, and what happens next.  The students are animated as they laugh and talk about how the emotion of the movie gripped them.  They are talking about the make-out scenes, the gore, razorblades, the violence.  The values that we are imparting to them individually on our living room couches are not represented when students collectively gather in the school’s hallways. We need to be realistic about what happens when young minds watch things with such intensity because graphic images are holding their attention and filling their minds multiple times more than our verbal lessons.  

2.  The lessons from the film are not being implemented by the series’ followers.
One of the main lessons and final conclusions of “13 Reasons Why” is to understand the effects of our actions on other people, and make our world nicer and kinder.  At the risk of being over dramatic, I would think this would send students to their school environment empowered and ready to speak positivity into their peers.  In the conversations that I’ve heard, the result is the opposite.

My daughter was sitting by some of her classmates while they detailed the suicide scene.  The mere oral description was disturbing to my daughter, and so she asked her peers to please stop talking so vividly about the death.  Instead of the classmates using that moment to self-reflect about their words, they belittled their friend.  They rolled their eyes and were condescending to their “sensitive” companion who didn't want to participate in the conversation. They pressured her to watch a series she communicated clearly she does not care to see. (Eventually she watched a couple of episodes just so she could understand what her friends were talking about.)  Unknowingly, my daughter's friends are guilty of the peer pressure so accurately described and discouraged in the show they are in love with.

3.  Relatability is overpowering personal responsibility.  
The storyline is in part gripping because many of us who have been severely wronged identify with Hannah’s struggle.  While young minds are finding their problems described, they are not adequately equipped by the movie’s solutions to life’s hardships.  One student at my school told her friend, “If I had a tape, you’d have a side.”  The friend was flabbergasted by being told she would be a possible reason for someone wanting to kill herself. The friend who has not at all bullied or wronged the other student asked “Why would I be on your tape?”  The student replied in vague, complicated terms that sounded much like the unhealthy thinking of the main character Hannah.  The emotionally unstable friend (I say this because I’ve known and observed her for years) is not thinking about her own personal responsibility to make the world a better place--she is thinking about those who have contributed to her low self-esteem. This girl is relating to the victim mentality, not to the character who at the end of the show wants to love and work harder to reach his friends.

4. Our teens are repeating the advice from the character that caused the most damage.
Hannah is the main character, the narrator, and the driving force of the lessons that are to be learned by the series.  Everyone would agree that Hannah was severely wronged, but her thought-processes about certain events were skewed.  Hannah is a problematic “hero” who wasn’t always kind to others (especially Clay), who lacked coping skills, who concentrated more on getting back those who wronged her than giving to those who loved her, and whose tone throughout the tapes was not conducted in love, grace and kindness, but in revenge.  Go online to our teens tweets and you’ll see that 90% of the direct quotes from the movie were said by Hannah.  Our teens are being negatively influenced by the very kind of person who needs to be positively influenced. Our young ones are not a generation able to speak life into the mentally disturbed or understand mental health, they are taking life lessons from the mentally disturbed.

Years ago, my best friend’s husband met a trucker on the road home from work. It was the trucker’s intent to pass a line of cars and get to a certain location a little faster.  The result was a head on collision that killed a father and husband. The driver's intent was good—to deliver a bunch of goods to their rightful destination in a faster amount of time.  The outcome was dangerous and deadly. In comparing my friend’s tragic accident to the aftermath of “13 Reasons Why”, I use the words deadly and dangerous on purpose.  Regardless of an intent for an individual, we can expect collective results characterized by flippant remarks and copycat behavior. We can expect teens to think long and hard about who has wronged them. We can expect them to take cues from the wrong role models. Our society can expect some unreasonable results that we will one day clearly trace back to 13 reasons.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

15 Things It Took Me 15 Years To Learn About Marriage

I am still happily celebrating 15 years of marriage.  We're a long way from the big "25" or "50" years mark, but for me, every anniversary is a big deal.  I grew up with a worldview that divorce was normal, common, and expected.  I once thought marriage was a "trial run", but now I expect to be running through trials with the same man until we die.  My husband and I have had our share of fun and frustrations, but the freedom we've enjoyed in Christ has been predominant throughout our marriage.  With a broad brush, here are 15 things I've learned that help our marriage be more peaceful and less problematic.

  1. Arguments shouldn’t always be avoided, and are nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s important to develop an “art of arguing” where couples stick to the issues, and are willing to have conflict that produces future peace.  There is tremendous freedom in being able to share one’s feelings without fear, in a way that brings clarity resulting in solutions.

  1. If something about your spouse is frustrating, determine whether his/her action is rooted in sin, personality, or style.  Confront sin, be intrigued by a differing personality, and enjoy laughing at differences in style.

  1. Books and blogs on marriage are great, but nothing can take the place of studying, understanding, and knowing your spouse.  Read your husband/wife and become an expert in him or her.

  1. Most people don’t get what they want in marriage because they don’t ask God for it.  James 4:2-3 is clear - people fight because of their own selfish desires, don’t have what they want because they don’t ask, or they ask with wrong motives that only benefit themselves.  When is the last time you asked God to fix something in your marriage for His glory and not simply for your own convenience?

  1. There is a tremendous satisfaction in persevering through hard times.  One can not experience that kind of unique joy by giving up or giving in to the despair of marital lows and woes. One moment doesn’t define a healthy marriage but a healthy marriage defines each moment.

  1. Since eating is such a daily activity, it is helpful if at least one person in the relationship ENJOYS cooking.  Otherwise, for the rest of life, there is tension.  I've accepted that's just the way it is.

  1. Some marriage problems don’t have solutions this side of heaven.  This is because marriage isn’t a saving agent--it reveals the need for a Savior.

  1. No other marriage should define what is “normal” for others.  If God approves, the best thing couples can do is enjoy each other without comparing themselves to other relationships.

  1. Focusing on the marriage can be dangerous and actually magnifies the source of some problems.  When believers focus on eternal things, they tend to forget about the earthly issues that bother them in the marriage.

  1. As 1 Peter 4:8 says, love really does cover a multitude of offenses.  I’ve had to ask myself, “Is getting mad about ___________worth the wall I’m about to put up between me and my spouse?”

  1. When it comes to each person’s strengths and weaknesses, we have the choice to appreciate or get aggravated.  A family may be happy when everyone sees things the same way, but equal perspective isn’t always helpful.  Some of the things that once created the most tension between me and my husband have brought the most benefit to our household, children, church, and society.   

  1. The easiest thing to do when angry at a spouse is to fight him or her.  Instead, we should be fighting the "cosmic powers over this present darkness" (Eph 6:10).  We need to redirect our anger and get mad at sin, Satan, and the spiritual forces that are damaging our good gift of marriage. 

  1. We should not be surprised that marriage is so much work.  God planned for man and wife to do kingdom work together.  God’s first command to Adam (the first husband) was to work the ground, and then God showed Adam his need for a helper.  We have kingdom jobs to do—WITH our spouse, not AGAINST our spouse.

  1.  The best thing to do when hungry or tired is to shut the mouth until it’s time to eat or sleep.  I take a lot of naps because it’s better to drool on my pillow than duel with my partner.

  1. It’s important to keep priorities in order. Contrary to a few books, one doesn’t need to make the bed every day to be a good wife or start the day well.  There are other things to be done in that marriage bed.  Take “frequent and fun” over “spick and span”.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

We're Expecting

I remember laying on the hay bales in the pasture of my childhood home whispering my dreams to my best buddy Jack.  We'd sit under the big blue sky for hours solving the world's problems--hunger, poverty, homelessness,  caring for the fatherless.  My ideas were a bit far-fetched; whether I was dropping turkey bombs by plane over Ethiopia or transforming my parent's land into a orphanage, Jack, the best four foot-tall, graying sidekick was the best listener a little girl could ask for.  He agreed with my assumptions that every problem had a simple fix, and I was surely supposed to solve them all.

Jack was my donkey... last name nonessential for this blog.

I don't know how I first learned that there were children without parents.  But for as long as I can remember, I was convinced that such a thing should not exist.  With child-like reasoning, I would press my mom about adopting a sibling.  I didn't understand at the time why anyone wouldn't WANT to adopt.  Up until my 20's I seriously thought everyone should be taking in the world's orphans.

As I grew into my teens and adult years, I thankfully grew in the knowledge of the world and how it works.  The biggest problems don't have easy solutions.  There are real issues that are not easily addressed.  But fortunately, I have a new best friend to tackle these challenges with.  I married Chris when I was 21, and though, not as good a listener as Jack, he's wiser, not quite as stubborn, and able to bring clarity with steadfast solutions.  While Chris and I could never agree on how many kids to have (as if we humans  are REALLY in control of that), we dreamed about adopting.  He grew up with foster children, was aware of the many issues kids without parents face, and had a tender heart for the less fortunate.

Our early years of marriage we had planned to live overseas and adopt internationally.  Both of those plans were re-routed.  We soon had our first biological child, then the second, and the third, with little to no money saved up to pay for an international adoption.  Chris and I became entrenched in caring for our pre-schoolers, wondering when we could ever have the energy to add one more thing to our schedule or person to our life.

But God was up to something in our family that we couldn't see at the time.  We were in preparation years.  Once, we knew of a college student who did not have a home.  I sat the kids on the couch and told them our young friend's situation.  Our son, who was 5 at the time, adamantly jumped off the couch yelling "I KNOW!!!  He can have MY room!"  Instantly, three little kids cleared the dressers and the closet to make room for a young man they had met only a few times.  For 6 months, our son slept on a toddler mattress in his sisters' room without complaint so that someone else could have his full-size bed.  I realized then that it was easy for our kids to share their house, their things, their friendship and their love.  As the years have gone by, our oldest daughter has remarked at dinner that "it seems like someone is missing from our family.  Our table just isn't as full as it should be."  And for at least three years, we have continually heard from the children "when are we going to adopt?"  Our youngest child, who has longed for a younger sibling to nurture, scrolled through pictures of orphans and pleaded with us, "I don't care how old.  I don't care if we have a boy or a girl--there are too many kids who need a home.  Just adopt one."

We shifted our focus from international adoption to local when we realized there was no up-front cost through DCFS.  Our heart breaks to know that currently, there are 587 children in Arkansas whose parent's rights have been terminated.  As of this month, we have completed all paperwork and training, and are now an "open" family ready to be matched with a little boy. 

And so we wait. 

But we do not wait like I did as a child.  Then I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I thought I had to solve everything.  I've since found a Savior that is much better at solving big problems.  God the Father, has adopted me in His family, and I just can't imagine not extending that love to someone who needs it.  Chris, the kids, and I are only one small part of giving one person a safe home.

I'm scared.  I'm prepared for this to be the hardest life-change we've encountered. 

But we're expecting.

Not just a child; we are expecting to watch God work.  I'm expecting God to fulfill the dream He instilled in me 30 years ago.  I'm expecting God to equip our family of 5 for the mission we're on.

We're expecting one less child in the system who will find his forever family with us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Remembering the lives I never knew

Though I'm not reluctant to talk about having 2 miscarriages, it's not a subject I bring up often.  With Oct 15th being a day of remembrance for the little lives barely known by the world, I've been reflecting on the personal impact of carrying two tiny souls who never entered the light of day alive.

I didn't have names picked out.  I hadn't had the time to dream for them or know if each was boy or girl.  What I knew about one life was that he or she was deformed and lived for approximately 8 weeks before death in the womb.  I took comfort in the truth I had learned from Ecclesiastes (4:3) that these children were fortunate to never know evil or experience the difficulty or oppression that living often brings.

My miscarriage experiences were practically and physically troublesome, but after weeks and months those issues were resolved.  However, there were deep questions facing me that I just couldn't pass over.  Where does life begin?  Where do babies go when they die?  What does a deformed fetus unrecognizably human look like if in Heaven?  What is the point?  If life is so hard anyway, isn't it better to be in eternity earlier rather than later?

I took further comfort in that a Bible character like David, believed he would see his infant children in Heaven.  I marvel at the possibility of God interacting with people inside the womb (ex: John the Baptist).  I delight that the Pslams say God knows those before they are formed, and that all bodily formation is changed and renewed when God finally brings full restoration to His creation.  I just can not believe that even a short life is pointless, or only for the here and now.  If we only live to die,  there is nothing beautiful for the "formed but unborn".

My two beings made me wonder about what God does with the stillborn, unborn, and aborted.  Are they souls?  Does a part of them go somewhere for eternity?  If ALL of them will be in Heaven, how big will Heaven be?  And I can't get  Matthew 7:13 out of my mind: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many."

There's a strong biblical case that for this year alone, over 1 million aborted American babies, an estimated 13 million Chinese aborted babies, and at least 1/5 of all pregnancies that were terminated by miscarriage are now hanging with Jesus for the rest of forever. What does that mean for the those who are living right now?   Statistically speaking,  the odds are that those who actually have the ears to hear about God will never know Him.   Chances are those with eyes formed to see are blind to the realities of Heaven and Hell.  Just how wide is that destructive gate?

I believe that my body once held two current worshippers of Jesus and increased Heaven with a population of +2.  I hope that in remembering them this day, you will consider which gate you are headed for.  Matthew 7 is a sobering read that lets us know our own works don't get us to the place so many think they're going.  I hope you'll join my babies at the narrow gate, and enter the door by trusting the work of Jesus.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Crime,Cops,and Church growth:a family's first day with a new pastor

In my last blog, I detailed my first   day as a pastor's wife.    It's been neat to see our relationship with the boy who stole my husband's phone flourish over the past weeks.  On our first day, the boy would not even speak to us.  He has since initiated hugs, conversations, and smiles as we interact.  Here is the story from the mom's point of view:

"Being a parent is not an easy job.  As an adoptive parent, I have many missing pieces of a jig saw puzzle with unknowns to navigate through that birth parents do not have to experience, because they have the pieces and are helping the children put their life puzzles together.

Our journey of parenthood has been a rollercoaster of getting on and off with many bumps and turns along the way.  A couple of Sundays ago, we began a gentle climb that gave us the feeling nothing could go wrong, and the joy and excitement of a very special day--our new pastor's first Sunday!  We'd been anxiously awaiting his arrival for over a month.  My kids were ready to meet the new family--especially the  children.  We may have had unrealistic expectations, but with this new pastor was a new hope for our floundering church.  The possibililities of an awakening, of reaching and uniting the elderly and young as one, and growing with God's love, was well overdue in our church. On Sunday, my family and I each went our regular route, hoping Sunday School would fly be so we could hear our new pastor preach his first sermon.  We then stood in the longest line ever for our church, just to meet the new pastor and his family.  They were not a disappointment-- a lovely couple with beautifully well-behaved children, I noticed with a touch of envy as my two younger children loudly and rambunctiously made their way out to the car to wait for their older brother.  Their brother, my son, had finally reached the age where he was too old to attend VBS, but was old enough to be a helper and attend a VBS worker meeting down at the front of the church.  I waited with my noisy but happy girls in the van, not knowing we were in for an interesting and unexpected afternoon.  The rollercoaster ride is now increasing speed as it makes its way to the steep uphill climb.

My son comes bounding out of the church with a smile almost wider than his face as he jumps in the car to tell us the group he will be helping with for VBS.  We run a few errands into Little Rock, stop to eat at Chili's, shop at Walgreens, then on the way home where we can finally change into our everyday clothes and take a rest.  That rest was never to come as our rollercoaster ride begins to make its trip up the long steep hill to the top where it will drop at a very rapid speed that makes your heart jump clean out of your mouth and your stomach is now in your throat.

We had begun to settle into a relaxing routine at home when we hear a knock at the door.  The dogs go to barking and carrying on, and I instruct my kids to herd them into the den.  All the while my husband is precariously picking his way through running dogs and scampering children, running into the couch as he tries to avoid stepping on a child on his way to the door.   He is met by a very polite police officer.
"Do you go to First Baptist Church?" asks the policeman.
"Yes, we do" my husband answers in questioning confusion.
"Do you like your church?"
"Do you like your new pastor?"
"Yes. He seems like a really good guy and preached a good message this morning."
"Well, this is embarrassing, but the preacher's cell phone was stolen and it's tracking to the back corner of your house."
My husband's heart sank to his feet and the roller coaster car lurches forward.

Our 3 lovely children are called into the living room and asked if they found a phone.  They all three wide-eyed and innocently shake their heads no.  As the policemen searched the house, I wanted to believe my children, but had this sick, sickening feeling that one of them is not telling the truth.  This roller coaster is about to drop.

During the search, I could hear something buzzing, and though I am running through the house like a chicken with my head cut off, I could not pinpoint where the noise was coming from.  My youngest daughter informed me that her brother was buzzing.  Puzzled, I walk straight toward my son and ask if he has the phone.  He shakes his head and fear begins to creep in his eyes.  My hand instantly goes to his pocket where I pat and feel "THE PHONE"!

The roller coaster is now plunging at breakneck speeds.  The room spins and I yell in disbelief, "What is this?  Why did you lie to me?"  God placed his hands on my shoulders with reassurance that all will be well but it seemed my child stealing and lying was almost beyond the comfort of God.  However, He sent me two godly police officers and a loving pastor and his wife to our home to help with the healing I was trying to throw off.  Because God showed His love and mercy
through these people, my son was not taken to jail and our pastor and wife offered forgiveness and friendship to my son.  God again had his hand on my family--my son was spared a lifetime of lasting struggles by His love.  Relief washes over us as it all begins to sink in.

Boom, yank, screech!  The ride has ended and we have made an unforgettable and lasting impression on our new pastor and his family on their very first day.  God must have a sense of humor, and I'm sure He had quite a laugh during the episode.  I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this wonderful family is a blessing sent from God.  I also believe we have found lifelong friends and will have something to laugh about as the years go by.

My son stole the cell phone, but my children's hearts may have been kidnapped as well.  It is truly amazing how God brings people into our lives at just the right time, when we need them, even when we don't know why, and through the most embarrassing moments.  I cannot help but think this is just the beginning of a very interesting and adventurous story for our two families."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Crime, Cops, and Church-growth: my first day as the pastor's wife

My family moved to a bedroom community about 2 years ago without the slightest notion that the church located in the heart of the city was without a pastor.  We have fallen in love with this town, its eclectic personality and overall giving spirit of the citizens. It didn't take long for us to sense God's hand in moving us to this location at this point in time, and that my husband's sense of calling to shepherd the church was about to be fulfilled in a city we have come to adore.

My family has been anticipating last Sunday for several months. Although my husband and I have been involved in ministry of some kind throughout our marriage, Sunday marked his first day as "the pastor" and my first day as "pastor's wife".  I felt as equipped and ready as I could have--reading blogs about ministry wives and asking questions of  every pastor and spouse I came into contact with.  Upon hearing some of the common struggles this role brings upon women, I had two main resolutions:

Resolution #1.  I will have higher expectations for the church than any church member has of me.

I think it's perfectly okay for my local body of believers to have expectations of the pastor's wife.  They can expect that I will continue to love God, love His people, serve the church and community, and join with them in the pursuit of a relationship with Jesus and knowledge of His Word.  They can expect that I will use my gifts, make mistakes, and look to God to help me not make them again.  It's okay if they ask me questions like "Do you sing?  play piano?  teach children?  like to decorate?" and I will answer yes or no according to what is true.  Members can know that I will also be asking questions, in order to understand them, relate to them, and join with them in hobbies and service projects. My new local fellowship can know that I expect great things to come in the next few years.  I expect that God has appointed my husband to lead this church for the purpose of impacting more lives, and at a deeper and broader level, than has been done before.  I expect that our church will have a vision to put people above programs and the rich Gospel above rigid rules.  I expect that our church will grow - reaching and changing the community, county, state, country and beyond. 

Resolution #2.  I will NOT become the lonely preacher's wife.

I have read that the #1 struggle among church staff wives is loneliness.  So I have decided to rarely sit on the front pew managing and maintaining my children by myself.  I will be mingling with the rest of the congregation...if they congregate at the back row, you can bet I'll be conversing with them (not during the sermon of course:)  I will find friends.  If I can't find friends, I will make them.  I will be friendly whether others are or not.  I will keep my friendships with the incredible people I know outside and inside the church.  I will not be afraid to share my struggles--I will just make sure I share them with the appropriate people, at the appropriate times, in appropriate ways.

This brings me back to my first day.  As prepared as I was, I didn't exactly know what to expect.  Quite to my surprise, I put more thought into what I wore that day.  I spent more time fixing my girls' hair.  I got a tad bit nervous even though I was excited.  I shook a lot of hands.  I smiled a little more than usual.  I was very conscious of remembering names and overwhelmed by how many names I would soon forget.  I was welcomed with numerous hugs and encouraging words.

And then, my first surprise.  Once the service ended and we finished meeting people, my husband and I had a lunch date with another couple.  Before we left for lunch, my husband went back to the front pew to grab his belongings and could not find his iPhone.  After searching for 20 minutes, he tried to convince me that someone had stolen his phone.  I rejected that paranoid notion saying "No one stole your phone from the front pew of our church!"  We decided to eat as originally planned and come back to look for it.  However, two hours later, with the help of about 20 VBS workers preparing for the week, the search for the pastor's missing phone was unsuccessful.  My husband and I came home, ran the find-my-phone app, and realized it appeared to be in the median of the busy boulevard of our town!

Knowing that my husband had to prepare for the night ahead, and feeling confident I could safely find it on the side of the road, I volunteered to go searching for the phone.  Halfway to the location, I realized the phone was actually moving, and was now be at our local drugstore.  My adrenaline was pumping and I prayed that the Lord would be with me and work in this situation. I was ready to give a customer the surprise of his life when I confronted him on why he would break the 8th of only 10 commandments on our first day.  When I pulled up at the store, I realized, that again, the culprit was driving down the road.

Feeling defeated, I went to the police for help.
"And where did this phone get stolen?"
"Um.......First......Baptist.....Church.  Wait, will that go on record?"
"And why did you wait several hours before reporting it?"
(sheepishly) "I naively thought no one would steal from the front row of a church."

Moments later, officer "B" helped me track the phone to its exact location.  It appeared the thief was no longer driving and had arrived home.  The policeman would not let me go to the location, and instead sent two wait, what!? ...MY quiet and quaint neighborhood.  When the cops located the most likely house, officer B told me to follow him out.  I was about to encounter not only a fellow church-goer, but a neighbor.

I got behind the grey car with the blue lights and realized that we were not taking a typical Sunday drive.  I followed him at 70 miles an hour on 30mph streets, passing through street lights and stop signs.  It was invigorating!  For once in my life, I felt above the law while actually following the law.

I pulled into my own drive-way, called my husband to meet me, and we casually walked over to the next street lined with 3 police cars, open garages, and several curious neighbors observing our contact with the men in uniform.  We walked into the house, made awkward eye contact with loving adults who were mortified upon our entrance, and the police soon found the phone--in the pocket of a young person who would not say a word about the wrong-doing.

It may sound strange, but we were thrilled to look eye-to-eye with the person who had caused us a chaotic afternoon.  My husband approached him, hugged him, expressed that he had forgiven him, and assured him that if Jesus would change his heart, his choices would change, too. We told him that there would be consequences from his parents, but had no desire to press charges- instead, God has brought us to his church to help lead him to Jesus.  (We soon learned that even though we had not pursued any legal action, the officials could have pressed charges, and because the stolen merchandise is valued over $500, this could be considered a felony that would impact him for years or possibly life.)

After tears, hugs, and conversation, we exited the house with two policemen.  Amidst the newly gathered neighborhood watch party, the policemen asked us questions about ourselves, our church, and gave us the background on their spiritual lives.  One officer asked if it was okay if he attended the worship service in his uniform--he was concerned about distracting others if he got called out while on duty.  Of course, we encouraged him to be comfortable in our church and feel free to bring his buddies.  I look to the Lord to ultimately protect me, but hey, He might make it happen with a row of the men in blue on the back pew.

At the end of the day, I realized that my resolutions as a pastor's wife were surely put into practice, although not in the way I expected.  In no way did I have a lonely first day.  I met more people than I intended that afternoon.  Seared forever in my memory are the names of at least one family.  That part of my neighborhood had never been visited in such a way before.   I expected God to use us to grow this church, but I wouldn't have anticipated the next visitor to be a cop.  God can use any creative method He chooses, even doing His work in spite of crime... but this is one case we where hope to stick to more "traditional" methods of reaching our community!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

For the people-watching parents of pre-schoolers

I may be the least credible blog “writer” ever.  Most people who write things are avid readers.  Not me. 

That is…I don’t read a lot of printed material.  For me to put a lot of stock in what authors say, I want to know if their lived-out lives are as neatly packaged as their well thought-out paragraphs.  Before I purchase a book, I have to “buy” the person selling it.

I do, however, consider myself a reader.  I like to read people.  I watch them.  I listen to them.  I take note of what they say.  I try to figure out why they believe and behave as they do.  I analyze for myself if I want to incorporate their advice into my life.  No matter who they are, I learn from them and I usually appreciate them for the enrichment they add to my life.

I am particularly grateful for the parents who “let me in” to their families.  The older women in my life who have shared their experiences/philosophies/methods/reasonings for their parenting endeavors have handed me individual bricks upon which I have built the structure of my parenting style, whether I agreed with them or not.  Therefore, this blog is for those younger than me who are starting their families or have young children.  I’m writing for those who know my family, who have asked me how I raise our kids, who are question-askers, and who are deciding for themselves which bricks they want for their own wall.  And so without further ado, here were some main methods and philosophies I employed while our children were pre-schoolers.  I am particularly high-lighting the way my husband and I “ran” our family during the toddler years.

1.        We guided our children with Scripture.

There was always a reason why we did the things we did.  The verses in the Bible were our guideline for living a pro-active life and our “go-to” when problems arose.  If a child was afraid of the dark, she was taught Ps 56:3 “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”  If a child was selfishly screaming “MINE” while hogging a toy, he was to repeat Ps 24:1 “The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.” 

2.       We trained them to obey us.

The kids learned a little chant: “It’s time to obey, right away, with no delay cause that’s God’s way.”  Often times, if the child did not immediately do what was required, I would ask “are you obeying right away?”   If direct disobedience of a clear instruction followed, the child was disciplined.  The method of discipline (spanking, time out, removal of an item, creative measures that occurred to me spontaneously) varied from stage to stage or child to child.

Because obedience is crucial, excuses were not acceptable.   A child could not get away with “I didn’t hear you”.  They were exhorted to tune their ears when I speak because of John 10:27 “my sheep know my voice”.  A child could also not excuse himself with “I forgot”.  We found ways to remember what was expected of us because God commands, not suggests, that His people “Remember” numerous things in the Bible.

3.       I sought to never utter, “Just wait til your dad comes home.”

My husband has a busy schedule, so there was no way I was going to wait on him to carry out discipline.  My children had to learn to respect and obey me, since I was their primary caregiver.  I also believe that young children need immediate feedback when they do something wrong. When my husband was home, he readily administered teaching or discipline that needed to happen under his watch, but I made sure that whatever happened while I was with my kids was dealt with by me and later communicated to my husband.

4.       We limited our rules.

I can not keep up with a hundred “do’s” and “do not’s”.  Unless the toddler was disobeying me directly (which is a violation of loving God), I could ensure that he or she was breaking the second most important rule “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
With this in mind, every time we had a family or friend conflict, I questioned the kids with one main idea, “Who or what are you loving right now?” I would probe into the issue that always caused the conflict—the toddler cared more about the toy, himself, his space, his food, etc. than another person.  Therefore, when my child broke “the rule”, I would tell him what he did wrong, HOW to act the right way, and make him repeat why as stated in 1 John 4:7—“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” 

5.       Rewards were limited for the use of training habits, not behavior.

I would certainly use treats or candy if the child was potty training, or enduring the horrible practice of eating vegetables.  However, the kids were never given rewards SO THAT they would obey or treat people well.  I want my kids to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do and because they love other people.  There were times when a child so impressed me, or so moved my heart that I would reward them with external things or activities after the fact, but I sought not to let the “goodies” be the motivation or the bribe for good behavior.

6.       I took a lot of naps.

This is really about knowing my limitations and maximizing my effectiveness.  I have a very hard time thinking well or behaving well when I am sleep-deprived.  There were times I had no choice in my lack of sleep, but when I could, I let my children take care of themselves in order to charge up.

7.       I finally admitted and fought against my own anger problem.

Never was I aware of the depth of my anger until I had children.  There are times that my attitudes and actions scared me greatly.  I got honest with the fact that there were moments I didn’t like my children, didn’t enjoy my season of life, and didn’t even like being a parent.  There were times I could wrestle and repent of my anger quickly and resume normal life.  There were times I had to change my situation so that I could “be angry and not sin”—I’d spend the whole day in public because I knew if I was at a park around people there was no way I would hurt my children!!! 
8.       I delegated my weaknesses.

I didn’t do this on purpose at first.  I often felt guilty for the skills I lacked as a parent.  But I soon found out that my husband is the very structured one of our family.  When he sets things in place, I can quickly follow suit.   A grandma taught one of my children how to make her bed.  I still can’t make a good-looking bed, or fold fitted sheets for that matter.  Also to my delight, one of my three-year-olds could organize things as well as I could, so I let her.  Imagine a toddler who gets on to her mother for not putting her shoes back in the right place!

9.       I did not micro-manage their time.

Our children have had thousands of hours of unstructured time to create, solve problems on their own, explore, find solutions to their boredom, etc.  Remember that I’m not that structured anyway.  I think this is an instance where my weakness became the catalyst for my children’s creative strengths.

10.   We let them be exposed to a variety of people and problems of the world.

Because I think the biggest threat to my child is his sin, and the second biggest threat to my child is my sin, I am less afraid of other people’s sins.  Our young children have sat on the couch with former drug dealers, abusers, and addicts and heard their stories.  They have dined at our table with people of different backgrounds, religions, and denominations.  They have ease-dropped while my husband engaged others about who Jesus is and why His death and resurrection are so important.

Because of my husband’s job in college ministry, our children have had an amazing amount of time with college students and young adults. Because of the church, they have had relationships with people of different ages, learning styles, skill sets and capabilities.  Because of our community, our kids have conversed with the elderly in nursing homes and held a baby who was meant to be aborted.  They have been friends with the mentally and physically handicapped.  They’ve had front-row seats to our friends who have grieved death and gone through divorce.  My husband and I didn’t necessarily plan for all these people to cross their path, but we’ve taken advantage of the conversations that followed—that this world is brutal and Jesus is best.

In conclusion, you may have found nuggets of valuable wisdom that you will keep in your heart.  You may decide these nuggets are crispy-fried balls of cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging vessels that you would never purchase for yourself.  I trust that you are able to make valid judgments about what you treasure and what you trash for your own family as you build your little nest.