Thursday, July 31, 2008

Spring Fever

It happens every spring. I bask in the delight of everything greening up and . . . suddenly want to move to the country.

My hubby and I each grew up in rural communities. I have so many memories of walking unpaved roads near my house looking for pretty rocks, lazing on the back of my Shetland pony while reading a book, or taking turns being pulled through the grass on skiis behind a thirty-year-old motorbike.

We had room to do those things without being laughed at by the neighbors.

My best friend lived ten minutes away if we were really flying on the three-wheeler, fifteen minutes if my mom was following us.

There's nothing like the freedom of quiet, open spaces . . . until you start actually looking for country property.

Can we just add a little more stress to life?

Sitting in front of the computer searching through page after page of picturesque acreage on the real estate listings is pretty darn exciting for a goal-driven gal like myself.

And the excitement just amps up when, with printout in hand, you get to eagerly follow the real estate agent to each listing.

But disillusionment quickly sets in. No matter how you turn the page you can't quite figure how they got that beautiful view situated at the top of the printout from the land you're parked on.

But that's kinda like life. Buyer beware and all that.

Nothing is as it seems . . . or is it?

The properties I looked at didn't suddenly transform into ugly ducklings when I drove up, even though they only vaguely resembled the beautiful pictures I held.

It's all in the perception or the deception.

How often do we talk up something we want or focus solely on the negative traits of someone we're displeased with? It doesn't alter the reality that there's good and bad in most things.

It's just that the slice we choose to illuminate can skew perception.

It's the same with God. He IS all good. But the enemy of our souls is a master manipulator and skilled in the art of deception.

What slice has he shown you? Can you see through the lie to the truth of God's goodness?

I hope that you can. You'll never regret opening the door to relationship with Him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Slipping of Time

Time seems to be slipping through my grasp.

The toddler that used to give me adorable grins with sparkling eyes now has a hint of adolescence in the tilt of his chin as he kids with me.

The chubby arms that used to wrap around my knees, sticky with bits of mashed Cheerios and popsicles rivulets staining the soft skin, now nearly drape across my shoulder.

The scent of baby lotion on velvety skin has been replaced by sweat and dirt and big grins after an afternoon of riding quads.

The little girl who used to play dress up with her dolls now wants to dress up for real.

No, I can't stop the sand from slipping between my fingers, no matter how tightly I hold on to it.

But what I can do is cherish each moment without looking over my shoulder at the mistakes. Without wishing away the moments I'd growled instead of holding my tongue, the times I listened with half an ear while I planned dinner in my head, or how often I drove with jabbering away on the cell phone rather than conversing with those precious souls in the back seat.

We grow and we learn. Cherish the now you have with your kids.

Time marches and soon we'll only hear the echo of them in our homes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Polishing the Burl

We just got home from a two week vacation. Family reunion in Canada, a lovely sojourn to Wallowa Lake and then visiting friends and a book signing in eastern Oregon.

There was very little grousing from the short people in the backseat as we wound our way up over mountains and down through canyons. That gave us much to be thankful for (we cleaned out the public library the day before we left).

It was perfectly delightful in most ways.

But TDH (tall, dark and handsome) wasn’t his normal cheerful, fun-loving self. This was due to the fact that bouncing and dragging behind the trailer the entire 2000 miles of our travels were the stresses and worries from several things back home.

It reminded me of that commercial, “Don’t leave home without it.” Well, trust me, I was wishing it’d been cut loose.

He was really great, mostly. Just a teensy Jekyll and Hyde-ish at times. Nothing we couldn’t live with, until the afternoon he got irritated at something I’d done.

All the defenses locked into place and I went into my glacial mode. Ice queen reigneth.

Warm connection was replaced by short, clipped conversations with minimal eye contact. I withdrew into my cave, and felt completely justified in pulling back.

Afterall, I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Oh, how the smug get humbled.

I was stewing in the trailer when the Lord gently cleared his throat. He reminded me that TDH wasn’t being prickly on purpose. The more prickly, the more he needed loving. Loving words and loving touch.

Rather than complaining about him being a bump on a log, I needed to polish the burl. (For those of you that don’t know, a burl is a growth on a tree that has an unusual grain and is beautiful when polished).

After the Lord patiently let me stutter through a litany of buts (“But, he…”) I headed back outside.

Do you know how hard it is to be nice when you feel wronged? When you’ve already decided that he needs to make the first move toward reconciliation?

I felt like a rusty old pump. Loving words jammed and crowded in my throat, coming out in spurts and muttered sputters. But I kept that pump handle moving.

The more I walked in faith, knowing I was doing the right thing, the more my feelings started to follow. Pretty soon, I wanted to love on him. Wanted to encourage and help him smooth those pricklies down.

And then we were laughing.

When I let go of my rights—my right to be mad and my right to wallow in my hurt—God’s grace can get to work.

Then freedom comes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Missing in Action Part III

and finally . . .

• Be Quick to Forgive – When your child comes to you, head hung low and apologizes for his mistakes, simply offer him forgiveness (and do it with a hug or a touch). Do not rehash the situation or demean him for his behavior. Let it go. A child needs to have the freedom to make mistakes and be valued enough not to have his prior failures continually brought back up. There will be occasions when it is appropriate to have continued dialogue about what happened, but set a time for that. “Hey son, would after dinner be a good time to talk about happened?” You want him to be quick to repent, but if he fears a lecture or criticism when he does, he’ll stop coming to you.

• Express Anger in a Respectful Way – It is vital that we teach our kids how to express anger in a way that maintains the connection with others. This will come primarily through our example. People stop listening when they feel defensive. Using “I” statements to express frustration (rather than “you”), speaking in a controlled tone, and not throwing blame will help the other person really listen. If your child starts interrupting, raises his voices, or gets agitated, re-evaluate the way you express your anger and see if one of these elements needs to be adjusted.

• Be Affectionate – Touch your children frequently. Snuggle and cuddle when they are little. Maybe your older kids don’t want to snuggle while you watch a movie with them. Then find ways to express your affection at other times: a touch on the shoulder as you pass in the kitchen, a quick rub on the back as they are doing their homework, a quick tousle of the hair as a youngster rushes past. Loving touch expresses acceptance and caring. Find ways to convey your affection for them.

• Let Go – Your child is an individual—created in God’s image—not ours. Children are not meant to be mommy or daddy clones. Your kids will think and operate in ways unique to them. Celebrate and encourage those differences. God has a plan for your child. We don’t want to divert them onto the plan of our own design, but rather help them be all God created them to be.

Hug them tight!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Missing in Action Part II

. . . and more on that subject . . .

• Play With Your Kids – Let them experience your joy in being with them. Give them full and direct eye contact, smiles and warm touches. Let this time be about them. Shut off the phone and let the answering machine take any calls. Demonstrate that there is nothing more important than them in those moments. If you are stuck on how to play with them, get out some old fashioned board games. Let your child be the center of your world for a portion of each day. It takes less time than we think to deposit into their “love tanks.”

• Listen to Your Kids – Stop what you are doing and give your child your full attention when he speaks with you. Let your body language convey that you are fully attentive to them. Don’t try to fix their problems. Ask questions and be supportive. Show that you believe they are capable of finding their own solutions. If we want our kids to open up, we need to do all we can to ensure they walk away from their interactions with us feeling built up, rather than micro-managed or criticized.

• Maintain the Love Connection with Your Child At All Times – People grow and develop the most within the context of loving, supportive relationships. God designed you to be that supportive person in your children’s lives. Your love, your acceptance, and your belief in your children will have the greatest influence in their lives. But as you know, there are the countless times when their attitudes or choices may drive you toward volcano-sized eruptions. When that occurs, walk away until you can discuss the situation calmly. Show them through your example that anger does not replace love. Anger will occur situationally, but love remains a constant. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1) It’s one thing to love your child; it’s another for the child to know he’s loved no matter what mistakes he makes.

• Be Quick to Repent – Know that you’re going to blow it over and over. We all do. If you find that you’ve reacted harshly or responded in anger to your children, go to them and apologize. Take responsibility for your actions—don’t blame your response on their behavior—and ask their forgiveness. They need to see repentance modeled to them.

more to follow . . .

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Missing in Action

Don't send a boy to do a man's . . . er, a woman's job.

Don't expect the short people in your family to have the same attention to detail that you do.

We're traveling to Canada to a family reunion (my paternal grandfather was the youngest of thirteen children and the only one to move down to the States, so there are hundreds of my people across the border) and I have been a rather frantic version of my lovely self trying to get everything ready to go.

The children would prefer to watch TV or lounge on the couch with a book rather than help tidy up or fold a few clothes to get things moving along.

It doesn't help that I give a directive and then leave the room. I expect that if their eyes are on me that their ears are listening.

I also expect that if I give them an objective, like say, clean off the kitchen counter, that they'll actually do it.

Unrealistic expectations are death to a relationship. So I've notched down my expectations and am learning to help them along, to work with them rather than expect them to treat my objectives with the same fervor I have.

I'm going to run a three part series on Ten Ways to Love Your Child at Any Age. Here are the first two ways you can love your child:

• Lower Your Expectations – Unmet expectations lead to anger. Most parents find that the fast lane to frustration is finding that the kids didn’t clean their rooms, mow the yard, or get their homework done like they were asked to do. Unfortunately, children are hardwired toward foolishness (Prov. 22:15). But if you can expect the foolishness, you’ll bypass the frustration. You’ll find yourself instead in a wonderful position to teach, guide and lovingly correct your child.

• Hold Your Kids Accountable – But pick your battles wisely. Rather than correcting each mistake your child makes, focus on one or two areas that need improving. Strategize ways to teach and hold him accountable to the rules of your home. For example, if you want him to become more responsible in finishing his after-school chores, let him know he’ll be welcome to have dinner once his chores are completed. Your follow through on sticking with the consequences will help him the most.

More to follow . . .

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Just Like Me

I went away a couple weekends ago to work on a proposal for a new book series. It was pure bliss to have a silent house to work in without interruption.

I'm one of those people who could never study with the TV on. Background noise was an irritant. You'll recognize me in Starbucks. I'm the one with the book, the frappuccino and the earplugs.

You can see my dilemma in trying to work in a house with four munchkins. Three of them very loud boys.

At the end of the weekend, having exceeded my expectations in productivity, I headed home. Walked in the door, greeted my family with hugs and kisses and carted my bag to the closet . . . where half my clothes were missing.

I didn't notice this at first. The puzzling circumstance came to my attention when I did the laundry and found all those clothes stuffed in the hamper.

I'm sure my lips peeled back and my eyes narrowed to tiny slits. I knew the culprit. She lived in my house and had also gotten into my fingernail polish and make up.

Fortunately, the Lord lassoed me and gave me a quick talking to before I marched into the other room to do my own talking.

He showed me that she wants to be like me. She loves me, admires me, and wants to be close to me. Wearing my clothes and make up, and all my shoes I found scattered around the house was her way of becoming like her mom.

That completely changed my perspective. Where I had been thoroughly annoyed, I became humbled and awed and a little flattered. Seeing it through His eyes warmed my heart (and helped me grit my teeth and smile when the button on my silk sweater fell off from exuberant wear).

How often do we study our heavenly Dad and adopt his characteristics? Gentleness, kindness, truth tempered by love, humor in the presence of chaos.

I want to be more like my Dad. How about you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Full Indian?

I had a book signing today. During a lull (there were many lulls), a boy of about eleven sauntered up. Blue eyes looked at me from a freckled face surrounded by a mop of sun bleached hair.

He studied one of the books on my table a moment and asked, "You make that?" I told him I had written it and someone else made the cover. He nodded and asked a few more questions.

Somehow we worked our conversation around to ourselves. He said, "I'm part Indian."

I said, "Wow! I always wanted to be an Indian." His expression turned superior as the one standing there with the Indian blood. He strolled a couple steps away and perused a display of necklaces.

He was especially taken by one that had a huge cross on it and said proudly, "I'm a Christian." I told him how great that was.

Then he turned and pulled himself up to his full height and stated. "I'm full Christian and a little bit Indian."

I loved it. Christianity wasn't something he adopted, it was who he was as much as his physical heritage.

I'm full Christian with a little bit German, Irish and Welsh. What are you?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Unshrink Your World

Took the kids to the swimming pool today. It was a mad house. As we were lathering up the sunscreen, Logan looked at me with woeful eyes and said, "I forgot my goggles."

Fifteen minutes later, seven-year-old Kaden came up to me, "Mom, can you get me any goggles?" I told him I couldn't. He said, "I need some . . . like I NEED."

Isn't it funny how our world can shrink down to our point of discomfort? If something doesn't feel good or stretches us a little too much, it becomes our point of need.

We aren't good at enduring things beyond a certain comfort level. What does that say about us, about our characters?

It's easy to be self-centered. Who doesn't want to be served and fawned over? But is that where we're supposed to live? It certainly inhibits growth.

I was listening to James Dobson interview Archibald Hart about his book Thrilled to Death: How the Endless Pursuit of Pleasure Is Leaving Us Numb.

He said our need to be constantly stimulated can actually create a condition called anhedonia which is the inability to experience pleasure and can lead to depression.

Dr. Hart states that one of the best things we can do for our kids is to let them become bored.

I perked up when I heard that. My kids would say I'm excelling in that department this summer.

It's easy to focus on what excites and stimulates us and want some more heaping portions of it. (Okay, I admit I visited Cold Stone two days in a row and it was so good I ordered the bigger size the second day.) But where are we when it comes to humbly serving those around us?

It takes sacrifice and strength to put others needs and desires ahead of our own. Who doesn't want the biggest slice of cake? I know I'm not the only one raising my hand here.

We don't need to sign up for every committee or join a non-profit, we just need to adjust our mindset a degree or two (or a hundred) and be watchful. Look up from our own point of discomfort and think of those around us.

That might even be the under ten crowd that drives us crazy before noon and needs their goggles to go swimming.

You'll be amazed at the blessings that come back to you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Resting in the Seconds

I was flipping through my journal—the place where I can unload on God, reflect on what's going on in my life, or jot down a new book idea. And I came across this prayer I wrote a few months ago when I needed to make some decisions about a big project and in the process did some pondering about myself:

"I'm scared. I'm scared of the unknown and of being in trouble with "them." I don't want to be in pleaser mode and I also don't want to run over people. So teach me how to be myself and to be gracious.

I don't want to be rough on the outside so if I brush up against someone it's abrasive. I also don't want to be so weak that I'm malleable and porous—letting things ooze out or saturate in. I want to be immovable and able to withstand life's tornados. Jesus, I need you."

I've noticed something about myself. There's this "them" out there that I fear letting down. Fear that I'm going to be judged harshly and found lacking. Sometimes those "thems" are actual people, but much of the time they are nameless and faceless, hovering on the periphery, a product of my performance driven imagination.

They fuel the lie that there is something more I should be doing, something I should be trying harder at: parenting, time with God, writing . . . those things that are so important to me, but have difficulty resting in.

Though it is getting easier.

I'm starting to get that perfection is not the goal. That God did not design me to go it alone or aim for the stars and get there in my own rocket ship.

When I become intentional about resting in Him, all those "thems" disappear. I'm living and breathing for an audience of One. The desire for excellence doesn't disappear—His standards are high. The difference is He does the equipping.

Too often I hear the call and then scramble and stress trying to do it all on my own, and then cringe at the thought of being judged for my efforts.

It's not supposed to be that way.

When He sets us on a path, He'll provide all we need and the companionship we crave.

I want to walk that path with him second by second.