Thursday, May 2, 2013

Protecting Relationships

Just an introductory note to inform you that I'm writing this post more to myself than anyone else. It's something that I've been thinking a lot about these past few weeks.

This poster (pictured left) will be familiar to World War II buffs. It was created to remind people to beware of unguarded talk which might threaten the safety and security of individuals, missions and countries. I'd like to take a moment to remind myself that it also can be applied to relationships within the family unit. Speaking out of turn, or in an unguarded fashion about our children - in particular - can have disastrous effects on our relationship with them and to them.

When I was a newbie mother, I remember reading an article (or a book? or hearing someone say?) that it is a nice gesture to our children to refer to them in loving ways when we speak of them to others. For example: it's nicer to refer to them as "the children" than "the brats" or even "the offspring" because it's a title which expresses warmth and a position in the home. The idea behind this is the knowledge that what we call them in and out of their hearing will effect their self image.

I recently overheard a mother referring to her son as a "dork." She was speaking to him at a high enough volume that each of her fellow customers in the store received the benefit of understanding their relationship in a moment. She was mad so he was a dork. My children were listening to their exchange (just like everyone else was) and so I took a moment to kneel down and talk to my kids about what we were hearing and seeing. I asked how they would feel if I yelled at them in public and called them names. They said that they would not like it. I talked about how mommies and daddies can sin just as well as children can and it's very important that that mommies and daddies understand when they are sinning against their children. Also, I explained that I never wanted to hurt them in this way, that I loved them very much, and that I prayed to avoid such behavior for myself. That's not being self righteous either. It was being realistic and honest with my children and using a teachable moment, courtesy of someone else.

It can be really tempting to say what you really think about someone in a moment of frustration. Any parent who is active in their childrens' lives can tell you that there are moments when you want to pull your hair out and scream louder than they can (and you probably would if you didn't think the neighbors might hear you). Life as a parent has its moments of intense hardship and it would be silly to suggest otherwise. I'm also not saying here that the way that you speak to and speak of your child will make a difference in their behavior. It may or may not, but that is entirely beside the point.

The way that you think about and speak of and to your children has a direct effect on your attitude towards them.

It's important to keep the negative thoughts inside and take care that only the positive and/or loving feelings come out.

I'm also not saying that there aren't some moments when you will need to seek genuine counsel from older, wiser people in order to effectively deal with a problem area with your child. It is important to seek advice for how to parent well. Some issues require many counselors and they should absolutely be sought out when it becomes necessary to do so. I would just say that seeking advice is different from "venting" and we should be extraordinarily careful in noting and practicing the differences.

You hear the encouragement that "sometimes you just need to vent" from people all the time. Young mothers, I've noticed, are given a lot of leeway to vent as they please. True, parenting young children can try you in ways that astound and you may be surprised by how difficult it is to muddle through the little years. However, I've also noticed that it is easier for me to parent well (joyfully even!) if I refrain from "venting" and choose instead to speak in good terms of my children regardless of the pain I feel that they are currently causing me. What personal pain I feel is most often best dealt with in private conversations between my husband and myself and in prayer. Remember: it's the loose lips that sink ships, not the carefully guarded ones.

Both inwardly and outwardly my desire should be to build up my home and the people in it and not to tear it down. (Proverbs 14:1) Children have the great fortune and the greatest misfortune of desiring to be loved and led by their parents and it is important that they receive both in order to thrive in a healthy manner. Yes, moments in time with them will be frustrating. But it must be remembered that this too shall pass. Rough roads can smooth out and it will be easier for them to do so if we hold our tongues and fight off the desire to wag them endlessly, providing any willing ear with a litany of wrongs our child has committed.

Choose instead to speak well to keep the family boat afloat, so to speak. Keep the children safe by letting them rest in the knowledge that although they will make bad choices and wrong decisions, your love for them will remain through it all. Let them rest securely in knowing that you are not going to air their grievances to all the world but that you will work to guard their hearts and minds as well as your own in remaining silent more often than not. Allow them to trust you by keeping the mouth closed and the heart open to the guidance and direction of the Lord, who loves your child far more than you will ever be able to.

This is a hard thing. But it must be done.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blessed Be the Tie That Binds

I haven't heard the hymn Blest Be the Tie That Binds since I was a teenager. The church my family was a part of used to sing it at the conclusion of our Thanksgiving services and I always loved it because it spoke of the unity in the Body of Christ like no other hymn I had ever heard. I think I like it because the lyrics are emotional. The song doesn't just argue a theological point but it expresses truth in a manner that helps us to feel it as well as to know it.  Please do not misread me and assume I think it's unimportant that songs and hymns communicate an accurate theological point. I very much think that is important!)

Being connected to a group of people is an amazing thing. This past weekend we had a bunch of family in town and had a really wonderful, meaningful, celebratory time with them. It was a beautiful visit that was very much enjoyed. The next morning I woke up to an empty house and this song popped into my head. Again, I hadn't heard it in years. I haven't thought about it in quite some time but it perfectly suits the way I'm thinking and feeling at the moment.

The first verse expressing happiness:

Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

The second and third verse expressing the reality which is life in the Body of Christ (or, as the case may be, in individual families):

Before our Father's throne
we pour our ardent prayers;
our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.

We share each other's woes,
our mutual burdens bear;
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.

And the third verse expressing what we will, at present, refer to as "empty house syndrome":

When we asunder part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.

The Bible is very clear about how the Body of Christ is supposed to look: it is comprised of many members who feel and express themselves differently. Each member is unique with different gifts and talents to bring to the table in order to serve the others for the glory of God. Each member, no matter the age or station in life uniquely designed to be an asset to the whole. God designed this grouping in a tremendous fashion!

Hebrews 12:4-27

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

God wills and designs that we be not one member all on our own, but one of many. He wills and designs that we say we need each other to function properly. He wills and designs that we not be divided in purpose or spirit but be united for His glory. To be a part of such a Body either in the church or a family unit (who is also uniquely designed to be a part of the Body of Christ in their own right) is a tremendous thing full of heartache sometimes, yes, but also great blessing. If one of us then comes to suffer, we can take comfort knowing that we will all suffer with one another. If one of us is honored, then we all rejoice together. A powerful thing, that.

This being the design, it follows that when we have a chance to be with one another it is an exciting and joyful time. And when we have to say goodbye again, there is a bit of healthy sadness.


We shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again.

What more joyful words than those after saying goodbye to our family yet again? What more hope for an anticipated reunion?

I was browsing Youtube trying to find a good rendition of this hymn, in case any of you had not yet heard it. Trying to find a decent version to listen to these days could be likened to trying to find a needle in a haystack. Hymns typically are not performed remarkably well, but I did like this musician's piano performance and thought I would link it:

Here is a brief explanation of how this particular hymn came to be written.

And so we are, it seems, the Body of Christ.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I learn myself through her.

Two years ago I stared into the eyes of my daughter for the first time. I didn't know then that my world was altered in that moment. I only knew that sweet relief that no-longer-pregnant women feel after giving birth - when they are able to breathe again. (I mean that literally.)

When she first arrived she was quiet and demure. She slept for 18 hours a day. (You can be jealous over that fact after you are assured that we asked our physician if this was normal and he said all babies are different and she was perfectly fine.) She was storing up energy. And as she approaches the ripe old age of two she is releasing all of that stored up energy for all she's worth.

Does it sound weird to say that I never know what to expect with her at the same time as I say I always know what to expect? When I hear her responses, when I see enthusiasm and determination flash in her eyes, I see myself. She always knows exactly what she wants and when she wants it. She is very insistent and pointed when she has made up her mind in any particular direction, and there is no distracting her from her intended purposes. She is who she is and she dares you to change her. Yet I can tell for all that that there is no anger in her. She is not defiant in a manner that suggests she despises you. She just needs to persuade you and hasn't learned how to do so just yet. But wait for it. I know all of this about her because it's exactly me. Passion-filled. Excited. Driven. And this excites me.

It's fascinating parenting her because I'm forced to think through the way that I have learned to express my own emotions - sometimes appropriately, sometimes less so. Sometimes I simply fail to share them at the right time, sharing too early or too late. Her zeal for living is like my own zeal, but we both need to direct it appropriately. This fire in the eyes needs proper oversight and guidance. It needs truth early and often. What it most needs is wisdom.

What we teach her about how to express herself will matter a great deal both for her own sake and for the sake of the relationships she will develop with others all throughout her life. But you can't teach what you don't always know and I've been rethinking everything I thought I knew about myself in this process of mothering her.

I don't want to squelch her passion or enthusiasm for life. When she believes she has made the best decision for herself, I want her to keep that sense of confidence. Confidence laced with wisdom. And before I can instruct her in it, I want it for myself. How do I talk to others? How do I process information? When do I compromise? When do I speak? When do I refrain from speaking? When are tears a necessity and when do I need to brace myself and work through any given situation? All questions I have been asking myself these days.

She knows she is loved, which is so very important for her personality. She has a small circle of trusted individuals with whom she shares everything, and everyone else is kept at arm's length. (She's learning to be friendly but still maintaining her distance!) She knows she is safe in our family, which is why we get to see who she really is. If she did not feel safe, this would not be so. I know this also. I know that, just as I know that there will be times when she will think she is not safe because her opinion will differ from my own. And I know that I have to be ready for her opinion to be different from mine and to stand at the ready to love her, regardless.

If I want her trust me, then there must always be love expressed.

This child of mine has made this fact abundantly clear to me. At which point I would point out that love expressed is a hard one for me. I'm not very expressive of what I'm feeling on the inside. (At least, not so much in words.) Simply put, there will be no way for her to know that I love her unless it always remains obvious - in thought, word and deed. And so I learn (to start to think about!) how to verbally and actively express it to each one of my family members in new and different ways. I am learning to match their levels of enthusiasm for Legos, trains and Angry Birds. When they are describing details of their lives, I am learning that I have to listen to everyone equally in a way I never have before. And I have to learn to care about the things they care about and feel with them. Even if it means sympathizing with them that the 45,652,341st tower of Angry Birds that they so carefully built fell down before they were ready for it to.

If I do not express love to all of them in ways that they can understand then she will never learn how to love properly. None of them will.

They have to see this in me first. And she has taught me so in a flash of pink sparkles.

And I am humbled all over again. And so grateful that God saw fit to put her in our world.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Hiding Place

When I'm scared, He is my hiding place. 

 When I'm frustrated, He is my hiding place. 

 When I'm stressed, He is my hiding place. 

 When I am overwhelmed, He is my hiding place. 

 When I am worried, He is my hiding place.

Having a hiding place doesn't mean I'm running away from life and the problems contained therein. It just means that when I have such problems, I can also rest assured that I have a safe place to go to, to share my honest thoughts and emotions and submit them to His counsel and teaching. I have a safe place to be grow up and be changed. I have a place where I will be not just listened to, but heard. And I have a place where I will be given courage and strength to keep walking in faith when I would otherwise be tempted to give up. 

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

Friday, February 8, 2013


Time continues to fly. Yesterday he turned three and today he turns four. How does this happen, really?

Last year, on his birthday, we had been placed in temporary housing due to being smoked out of our home. I worried and was stressed because we didn't have a camera to document the day. (We ended up borrowing one.) Since then his growth has been documented over and over again. His smile, more sincere and yet still so goofy. His eyes, which have started shining even brighter, if that be possible.  He is taller now and glad of it for he intends to be as tall as daddy. Maybe taller.

Trains are still his obsession. Anytime he is approached with a new Thomas the Tank Engine story, there is a sharp intake of breath before the loud, "YAY-HOOOO!" There are train tracks built all over our house. We step over them, everywhere. And that is ok because they won't always be there. (At least, we assume.)

This past year he has grown in his compassion for others. (There were times I assumed he had none!) He looks out for his family. If he thinks his younger sister needs her blanket, he will get it for her. He brings his older brother glasses of water and books to read when he is sick. He stands at our side and asks, "What I can do?" He believes he can do anything.

He is still the most outgoing of all of our children. This gets him into trouble, as much as he benefits from making friends of everyone. When we walk into church people say, "Oh heh!" to him and we sometimes wonder who they are. Sometimes I have to ask him to tell me the names of the other small children at church because I've forgotten. He tells me who they are because he knows. He knows because he's in their face, waiting for a good time to happen. Sometimes he is rewarded with their playtime. Other times he is disappointed and hurt because they didn't appreciate his nose on theirs. We speak of boundaries and quiet voices, all while praising his cheerful spirit. They do not know that when he smiles them, he means it. There is no show. Therefore there is great value in his friendship.

He still loves to laugh and his laugh is quite infectious. No matter how you are feeling, once you hear him laugh, you are forced to smile. It is so wholesome and so deep a laugh that you want to be his friend. And somehow you want to be the cause of his laughter. Watching him delight in life is a delight all its own.

He has not been very quick to mind and just as easily as he laughs, he also cries. (We hope he outgrows this soon. Four is a good time to ditch the tears!) Previously he only cried because he was caught, not from remorse. However, three has grown a respect within him for authority figures. We have given him rules to follow and we discover that, even in our absence, he has held to them, even when people in authority over him give him opportunities to break our rules. (They do not mean to make him break our rules; they do not know of the existence of certain rules and are therefore surprised when our second born declines their offers.) Sometimes we have worried that he will just follow the crowd in his quest for a good time. But he has shown us lately, a few times over, that he is not a crowd pleaser, but that he is pleased by the crowd. Trust grows between us, just as we have prayed.

He is all love, all friendship, all devotion and very dimpled happiness. He has discovered family and he revels in it. His favorite person is his uncle, on daddy's side. He calls him, "CHARLIE BROWN!" because we saw a Christmas display which included Charlie Brown and his Christmas tree and his uncle bet him that he wouldn't remember the name "Charlie Brown" after seven minutes. No such luck.  He remembers the things he really wants to remember, even if sometimes you wish he wouldn't.

This year our second born stands to gain a new brother. This brother is coming from the same country as himself. People have speculated that this brother is going to be very meaningful to him, as they will have a special bond that we can't touch. While this is true to some extent, and could prove interesting, it will not automatically form a bond. He doesn't see his differences, so I wonder how he will notice the difference in someone else. What he knows - and what he loves - is his family. That is us! The shape of our eyes does not matter, nor does the color of our skin. We are a family. And collectively we plan to welcome another. And we rejoice, not just because there's a new one on the way but because each of our lives will be further enriched by something that is so different from us that it makes us more the same.

Happiest birthday to my second born child, my new four year old and the secure older brother to two! We look forward to so many more bright years with you and are grateful for all that you have added - and completed - in our family!

Bookworm2 at the rodeo this past summer

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Old-Fashioned Boundaries in Marriage

I was recently directed to this article on creating boundaries in marriage which I thought was so wonderfully written that it deserves a fair amount of attention and a lot more discussion - particularly within Christian circles.

The author of the article, Anne Wilson, very honestly points out that no one is above having an affair. While Christians today are not divorcing at quite the rate as the rest of the world, they are still getting divorced. And why? Frequently because one spouse or another (or both) ignored what the Bible has to say about marriage and how the individuals within it are supposed to be behaving, causing a disruption in their union.

The fact of the matter is that God created marriage. He created and designed it to demonstrate Christ's love for the church and the "mystical union" between God and His "bride." With our lives and our marriages we are - knowingly or unknowingly - supposed to be accurately portraying the sacrificial love of Christ and the devotion of the church to following hard after God. Instead of thinking about marriage in these terms, we're more apt to (selfishly) think that marriage is really all about us. It's about what we want, what makes us happy, and how attractive our mate is. We've reduced marriage to the concept of a "free choice" which we are free to back out of whenever we feel overly important.

When Jonathan and I got married, I would say that we loosely understood the concept of what marriage was. We are both products of healthy, committed marriage relationships so we had good precedent. We were mercifully surrounded by people who were further along in their marriage than we were and who were willing to offer us advice whenever we thought to ask for it. In theory we had a good marriage relationship between the two of us. Then came trials and tribulations and children (those things weren't always separated) and we had to become serious about what we said we believed that marriage was. We learned a great deal about boundaries. Sometimes (more frequently than not, it seemed) our boundaries were not understood by others. But you know what? Whether we were understood or not made no difference because we understood in the abstract and in actuality that we two were truly becoming one - in a way that God intended. Suddenly marriage wasn't about having a great time with one another (although there was still that) but it was about trusting God to care for us, worshipping Him when we didn't feel like it, and submitting our own selfish desires and "personality quirks" to God's refining fire. Suddenly we were married.

Let me be clear when I say that we did not find the setting of boundaries to be a natural and/or enjoyable thing. Learning how to implement and explain them (when explanations were necessary) was not a barrel of laughs. But we believed one thing: God put us together for a reason and we made a commitment to stay married to one another "'till death us do part.'" We verbalized to one another our commitment not to divorce but to work together to sustain the marriage God intended for us. And, like it or not, one of the chief ways that we did this was to draw boundaries so that the outside world would not be able to drive us apart. We affirmed that whatever trials would come, we would face them together.

One of the things that we believe was so important to strengthening our marriage at that crucial point were the boundaries that we set. We noticed that life was a lot less frustrating to the both of us when we were in sync with one another.

The word "boundary" has such a negative connotation in today's society. Boundaries mean that you are bigoted (towards any given thing), small minded, insecure (I don't know what this means, exactly), or just plain mean. The word "boundary" can be defined as "something that indicates a border or limit." The modern world isn't exactly known for liking limits. The world thinks it impolite to say "no." But look around you. Since we won't say no, when it truly is necessary, our homes are falling apart and society is crumbling all around us.

As Christians we aren't supposed to think as the world thinks. We understand that saying "no" sometimes is the best thing that can be done. The word "no" can teach and instruct. It also can protect. When it comes to our marriages, they most definitely need protection from a worldly society that would like to redefine marriage and pretend that they own and can create the terms. First, we should understand that even if the world tries to claim marriage for their own, they cannot do so. God created marriage therefore He owns it now and for all time. We need not be afraid for it. Secondly, we should not be afraid to say "no" in a way that establishes a boundary for the sake of protecting that which God designed. Jonathan or I saying "no" isn't done (and shouldn't be) to expressly hurt another's feelings, but rather it is to protect our relationship with one another. We care about it and so we are forced to say "no" to maintain the healthy status of our union. See, we made a promise to each other, before God and a cloud of witnessing saying that we would protect and maintain this union for the glory of the Lord and that is our bounded duty. (Incidentally, when our marriage is healthy, we are happier. So we are also the ones who benefit, primarily, from a solid marriage.)

Because society likes to think "outside the box" and prefers for people to live without boundaries, we find more and more young couples (i.e., those "younger" than ourselves) afraid to set boundaries. Instead they are pressured to feel guilty if they explore and set their own healthy limits for the way which they relate to others. This is such a shame and should not be so. Young couples should be pointed to scripture and taught the beauty of marriage and what it represents the very moment they suggest that they wish to enter into a relationship with one another. From the get-go they should be encouraged to view the marriage relationship as a sacred one, designed by God and gifted to them for their pleasure and for God's glory. As they grow and discover what it means to safely protect their promises, they should not be discouraged from building a tight and solid marriage - rather they should be praised for it and their efforts should be supported!

As Anne Wilson points out in her article, there is not a specific list of Rules and Boundaries that couples (or singles!) should engage with in order to establish a healthy marriage relationship (for themselves or others). It's not an A,B,C,D sort of arrangement. That said, there are wise principles which should be implemented. I think the basic set of boundaries which she lays out in her article are balanced and reasonable.

If you ask a couple who has been married for any length of time if it's always fun to be married, they should honestly tell you no. It's not always "fun." Some days are quite the opposite. It is in those hard days that your agreed-upon boundaries will be of help for you. Agreeing not to talk about your spouse in a negative way is a healthy boundary. Agreeing not to go off and spend time with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse is a wise boundary (for as she mentions, one-on-one time with anyone creates inside jokes and a deeper relationship which sometimes ought not to be). If this seems prudish or hard to relate to, then consider the beauty of the boundary observed: it sets you free. Within the boundary you are free to share your whole self with your spouse. You know where the limits are when conversing with other people. You've spent the time talking out your issues with one another so that you can easily present a united front with others (because there is a united front!). You are free to enjoy the company of others and know that your spouse is enjoying others because you have committed to staying within certain boundary lines that you can trust are not being crossed. (If there is ever a temptation to cross the agreed-upon boundary lines you need to think fast, back up, and have a serious heart-to-heart with your spouse!)

Best of all, by creating boundaries you are free to love, wholly, knowing that you are as safe as you can be with the person you committed spending your life with. Any which way you look at it, the boundaries are beautiful. So let's make them. Not be to be mean and stodgy, but to protect the beautiful relationships in our lives that God chose to bless us with. Let us acknowledge the gift is sacred, thank Him for it, and be brave enough to protect it.