Stumbling Stones or Building Blocks?

A very dear friend of mine likes to say, “Relationships would be easy if we didn’t have to deal with people.” It’s funny but it’s also true. People are complicated beings and there is no more obvious example of this than in parenting. I long to connect with the hearts of my children so that they aren’t just obeying rules; I want them to receive our rules and boundaries in a way that causes their hearts to embrace them as further evidence of their parents’ love.

Through much pondering on my own childhood memories, I have drawn the conclusion that one way of making that heart connection is to view life from the perspective of my child (or teen). How? By remembering myself at that age. Obviously, now that I am an adult my default is to reason as an adult; the decisions I make are logical to me because I have made them with adult logic, and I have most likely articulated them in a way that an adult would understand. However, this is often not effective for a young person who is still mentally and emotionally developing. I can trace certain  tendencies in myself to distinct childhood memories that were pivotal in shaping my emotional expression and social interactions – some good and some that I don’t remember with fondness.  I know that my parents always had the best of intentions in how they raised me and my siblings but at times those intentions probably weren’t conveyed in a way that we could grasp at our particular stages of mental and emotional development. We interpreted their actions and rules differently and it shaped who we have become as adults.

How am I relating this new understanding to the interactions I have with my children? I am trying to follow these steps:

  • Remembering me at their age. At this moment my children are little people in a big, big world. Things that seem obvious to me are not so obvious to them and their reactions will reflect this difference in perspective. Rather than getting frustrated with them when they are reluctant, frightened or upset I am trying to remember how I viewed the world as a little person. Doing this helps me to simplify the circumstances they are currently experiencing in a way that they can grasp.
  • Don’t rush. As an adult I am always thinking of what needs to be done next while children just want to be in the present. The present moment holds much wonder to them. This can be irritating to someone who has a schedule to follow and plans to keep. But then I pause to remember that when I was a child I had the same wonder as they did; slowing down with my kids is almost as good as getting to repeat my own childhood! I want to savor this opportunity to go back in time.
  • Avoid minimizing their emotions. It’s all too easy to steamroll over their feelings, but children’s emotions are just as real and valid as my own. Their responses may often seem melodramatic, but it is simply because these emotions are new to them and difficult, or even impossible, for them to articulate. I don’t want to stifle their emotions or cause them to feel shame for having them. Children have the wonderful luxury of being free of worry about other people’s opinions, and I want them to always experience that freedom when they are at home – they will experience the harshness of the world all too soon.

What I have gleaned from these childhood memories and maternal reflections is that parents can have rich and personal values they wish to instill in their kids but unless they are being conveyed in a way that children can emotionally interpret, those values can prove to be stumbling stones rather than building blocks in their children’s development. I am far from being an experienced parent, but I am seeking to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can and apply it right away.

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Counting Ducks

The other day I took my 3-year old on our first “official” mother-son date. I had a general schedule in mind with a rough time frame sketched out for each activity: 30 minutes at the park, 45 minutes or so for lunch, another half hour for ice cream with time left over to make a stop at Home Depot. But once we got to the park we began to explore; we happened upon a bridge that overlooked a lake inhabited by a flock of ducks. He was reluctant to rush so I took a deep breath before mentally shredding my time schedule and tossing it away. We started to count the ducks as they appeared from under the bridge and laughed as they dove for their fishy lunch. It was only our craving for burgers that forced us to leave our new duck friends.

It was in those moments of counting ducks and giggling with my little boy when I realized that there are layers to living. On the surface there are the to-do lists of responsibilities and existence, but below those lies the essence of being alive. Consider these juxtapositions:

  • sitting down to dinner at a dirty, cluttered table and silently chewing and swallowing the hastily prepared food in front of you or coming to a table that has a candle lit in the center, the table settings are on place mats and the food is fragrant and warm?
  • walking outside and only viewing the sidewalk or noticing the fluffy clouds in the sky, seeing the multi-colored foliage all around and hearing the birds in the trees?
  • getting up in the morning and mindlessly completely the routines of the day: personal hygiene (for you and your household), dishes, laundry, meal prep or doing all of those same things but chatting and laughing with your family while you do them and maybe have some upbeat music playing in the background?

On that bridge I recognized how much of life is missed in the busyness of living. My kids are learning exponentially from simply living life slowly and observing their surroundings. This recognition has transformed my preparations for 2018. No longer is my focus going to be on accomplishing my goals; instead, I am going to be focused on slowing down, tuning in and turning the mundane into a meaningful memory. There will still be essential tasks to complete but in doing so I don’t want to miss out on the subtleties, the hidden layers, the sensory delight, the essence of living: like counting ducks with my son.

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Why Christmas?

Every year reminders resound to “remember the true meaning of Christmas” or “don’t forget what Christmas is really about.” Joining into the reminder chorus are the Scrooge sentiments, “I just want to skip Christmas because it has become too commercialized” and ones from our Elf-friend, Buddy: “Christmaaaaasssss!! I loooove Christmas!!! The hustle and bustle! The yummy treats! And the presents!!!”  Certainly there must be a happy balance of serenity in the midst of this cacophony of moods.

My children are now at the age where they want to be involved in everything special and are formulating their own definitions of holidays and significant events. This has prompted me to ponder the traditions we want to create and why we want to create them. To determine this I have needed to return to the original meaning of each holiday in order to convey it clearly to these impressionable youngsters. I am thankful for the opportunity to do this because it has renewed my love for these beautiful days.  Surprisingly, Christmas has been a unique challenge; there are so many potential traditions and meanings surrounding this holiday! The line between secular and religious has been blurred since we all appreciate the terms of ‘love, joy and peace.’ Why Christmas, then? What is it about Christmas that brings out such strong emotion? I have narrowed it down to three reasons.

~Christmas is about rescue. The world was a wretched, broken place when God took on the form of a human babe and created a link between the finite and the divine. The world is still a wretched, broken place and sinners still need a Savior, but Christmas is evidence that Jesus came to rescue lost and helpless sinners.  It is now a season when we can rescue what is slipping away from us: lives, values and opportunity.

~Christmas is about rediscovery.  Hundreds of prophecies were made about Jesus’s arrival centuries before His actual birth.  However, His physical presence caused many to turn to the Scriptures and rediscover the truths that had been written about Him and God’s relationship with man. Christmas is still a time of rediscovery. It is a time to rediscover what is important to us, such as relationships and purpose, before closing out a year that we will never get back and beginning a new one.

~Christmas is about renewal.  Israel had a tradition about waiting for the Messiah ever since His coming had been prophesied. But for many it was a tradition in word only. Christ’s birth and ministry on earth renewed the hope that had been lost over centuries of waiting. Once again God walked and communed with man. Millennia removed from the first Christmas, we can still renew our commitment to living life in a way that honors what matters most to us.

What do you need to rescue this Christmas? Or are you in need of rescue? What values need rediscovering in your life? What commitments need renewing? Perhaps holding on to these three aspects of Christmas may cause the Scrooge in us to perk up a bit and experience more of the longed for Christmas spirit; perhaps it can tone down our Buddy the Elf excitement just enough to remember that Christmas is deeper than gifts, lights and hot chocolate. Remember, Hope came at Christmas.

 

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Take a Day Off

8557B35C-E8DC-4DD6-909D-BA8AB4037F64As the year draws to a close, it’s time to take some time off. It’s time to reflect on what needs changing or improving; to savor these last few weeks of a year that will never come again; to memorize the details of your loved ones faces and voices before they grow older. It’s Time to take a day off:

-from worrying so you can pray instead

-from fear so you can watch God work

-from negative thoughts so you can see the good in life and others once more

-from self so you can be filled with love for those around you

-from routine so that you have time to play

-from stress so you can see what really matters

-from busy so you can be still and know that He is God

There are days when you just need to stop for a while. Is today that day for you?

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Worth the Time and Energy

Have you every considered your time and energy as currencies? I have viewed my time in that light but now am beginning to consider my energy supply as equally valuable. In fact, I think these two resources are linked. If I am being a discerning steward of my time then most likely my energy is being equally conserved; if I am being flippant with the minutes and hours entrusted to me then most likely my energy supply will be quickly depleted.

In my younger years, when there was only me depending on me, both my time and energy seemed abundant. I could commit myself to anyone and anything that piqued my interest as long as it didn’t interfere with work and school commitments. On the off chance that I overextended myself, well, I just had to live and learn a little. It’s not so simple now.  With small children and a hard-working husband, any time commitment or energy demand has a direct impact on everybody connected to me.  Any added task will affect my ability to fulfill the daily responsibilities that are non-negotiable. For example, a late night will make it more of a struggle to rise early the next morning which will leave me feeling frazzled as I strive to complete everything that must be done before lunch. However, when a late night is necessary I need to make the appropriate adjustments to the following day’s agenda to allow for less energy. This type of preparation can avert much frustration and stress just like adjusting the budget to cover unexpected expenses does as well.

As this year draws to a close, many of us are probably reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in our striving to live faithfully. Maybe we are making mental notes on how we want to improve in the new year or maybe we are jotting them down on a notepad. Personally, I am taking inventory of my energy supply and the hours that I have to use it. I want to align my priorities with the resources I have to fulfill them. All too often I squander my day in pursuits that may be good but simply are not worth the corners cut along the way. I hope to lessen this occurrence in the new year by clarifying my priorities and outlining how much of my time and energy should be allotted to each of them.  We can’t make it through a single day without time and energy. How are you spending yours?

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‘Tis the Season to be Grateful

My journey towards contentment has led me to dwell more on gratitude than is my tendency. I find it is my default to notice the less than desirable in life rather than what is good. I would venture to say that the majority of us identify more with Scrooge than Pollyanna when reacting to life. In fact, the Pollyannas in our life probably receive eye rolls from us more than pats on the back. However, it takes courage to be grateful when you’re struggling.

Not too long ago I was trudging through a particularly difficult few days – the “life is throwing me lemons” kind of weekend.  My reaction of preference was to throw myself a big pity party which got me to thinking about lemonade. “I suppose I should try to glean something good out of this rough patch; I’ve obviously been handed lemons so maybe I should make some lemonade. Lemonade doesn’t last too long, though,” I reasoned. I was working in my little tomato garden and that got me to thinking about seeds. “Seeds get thrown into dirt, not lush grass. They need something seemingly barren in order to take root and grow. I’m going to view this difficult time as life handing me a packet of seeds. Seeds take root, grow and produce lasting fruit.”  As I focused on all of the different “seeds” I could plant from pain and struggle, I noticed my outlook beginning to take a 180.  I could no longer be completely downtrodden in my circumstances; gratitude was replacing my discouragement.

My family and I are going to be making thankful lists to share around the Thanksgiving feast next week. These lists are going to be dated and filed away and added to through the years. We want to chronicle the cornucopia of blessings that God is faithfully pouring over us throughout our lifetime – some wrapped colorfully and delivered with joy; others more subtle and hidden within pain and tears.  I am discovering that the source of lasting contentment is gratitude to my Heavenly Father for everything He allows to enter or leave my life.

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Devotional Thoughts From Today

Over the past few weeks I have been intentionally carving out time in the morning to read a bit in my Bible and journal the thoughts that come from said reading. I am working my way through Paul’s epistles and no reading has left me lacking in thoughts to write down. This morning’s passage was especially convicting and inspiring to me. Here are the highlights from my reading of Colossians 3:1-17:

  • “Set your heart on things above…” My heart is where the desires that motivate my life are generated. My desires must be set on God and what matters to Him rather than on myself and what matters to me.
  • “Set your mind on things above…” Prior to today I had failed to notice the differentiation made between the heart and mind. Why do both have to be set on the things above? Because the heart follows the mind’s lead. The heart will desire that upon which thoughts dwell the most. I need to carefully select the food that nourishes my thoughts.
  • “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach…as you sing psalms, hymns…with gratitude in your hearts…” These particular phrases resonated with me as a mom and a teacher. Desiring to fill my children’s hearts and minds with God’s truth is encouraging me to do the same with mine. I am soaking up Scripture so that I can teach it to them. I have also found that there is no better tool to do so than filling our ears with beautiful psalms and hymns and praise songs which in turn saturate our soul with truth and beauty.  How can one not be grateful to God for Who He is and all He is done when living in such an uplifting environment of joy and praise?
  • “And whatever you do…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” This verse strikes to the very core of my heart because it holds me accountable for the motivation behind my words and deeds. This is a command, not a suggestion: DO ALL IN THE NAME OF JESUS. Can I gossip, complain, argue, backbite, lose my temper, indulge in laziness, etc. in the name of Jesus? Of course not! I must live every moment with scrutiny and deliberation while asking myself, “Is it Name-worthy?”

Such a short passage and yet it is brimming with life-changing truth and accountability. Reading Scripture and writing about it  equip me to retain the Bible in my mind so that I can meditate upon it throughout the day. I encourage you to do the same. It will change your life!

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