Friday, November 30, 2012

Frozen

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The lakes have a thin layer of ice these days.

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As in "Danger, thin ice".

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It's not dangerous for me, because I'm not going out there.

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But the poor ducks...

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Coming in for a landing is more like coming in for a rude awakening.
Can you say slip 'n' slide?

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Believe me, they told me ALL about it.

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They finally came up on the beach as if to shoo me off on my walk.

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Frozen is amazingly beautiful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sometimes when you least expect it...

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...you find out you're bigger than life.

Ben had plans to go play with a friend one day in July.  The day before, the friend's mom called to say he was asked on the spur of the moment to take part in a commercial shoot at that time at a local pizza place, but that they could use Ben too.  Well, there were a bunch of kids there, and there was really no telling which ones they would decide to use.  I didn't think that much about it, to be honest.  They paid him with a $20 gift card, and after we got our free pizza, I sort of forgot about it.  Until the kids saw this when they were watching TV:


Then, a few days ago in the mail, out of the blue, we got this package with these:

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That was nice, I thought, to make a miniature billboard for him.  But I got to thinking maybe it would be a good idea to check with them and see if he was actually ON a billboard.  And wouldn't you know, he is!  It's not near us, and not someplace we would ever drive by, so it's a good thing I asked!  It's close to the friend, but in the wrong direction from their house, away from their beaten path.  

So there you go.  Ben has endorsements already.  Move over Joe Mauer, there's a new kid in town!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

How Thanksgiving really went around here

Thanksgiving 2012

1.  The day before Thanksgiving, I blogged about how I was giving thanks by giving myself to my family.  I made most of the food ahead of time so I wouldn't stress the day of.  I cleaned so I wouldn't drive them crazy stressing over the little jobs that hadn't gotten done.  And I stashed stuff places, abandoning some of the little jobs that didn't get done, so I wouldn't bark orders at my family.  Now I am afraid to open some of my doors.

2.  I made regular cranberries at the request of my husband, who apparently doesn't love the cranberry relish that I...relish.  I had totally forgotten that cranberries pop when you cook them.  That was entertaining.  :-)

3.  It was about 60º when we woke up.  Gorgeous day!

4.  We had monkey bread and bacon for brunch.  I told each of my family members why I'm thankful for them.  They had this massive deer in the headlights look like they were supposed to say something back.  It was pretty funny.  Lee sort of tried to manage the situation, but Bethany just came right out and said, "Um, I'm not really the sappy type."  It's true, she is not.  It reminded me that my family can feel the weight of expectations I never mean to place on them when I mean well--but I quickly assured them nothing was expected in return.  Rituals 'R' not Us.

5.  My sister came over nice and early with her half of the food, so she could help me get ready.  It went smoothly and stress-free just like I planned.  We even played a game as a whole family before we got all busy in the kitchen.

6.  It went smoothly and stress-free, that is, until the turkey refused to be done until about a half hour past dinner time.  When we were finally getting all the food on the table this was dubbed "The Year of Spilling" and we had to strip the table and clean up chairs and carpet while the food got cold.

7.  Hot gravy is awesome for warming up turkey, stuffing and potatoes that get cold.

8.  My nephews plus a girlfriend and her puppy joined us for games and dessert.  We had a blast!

9.  Sometimes a girlfriend and a puppy are just what God knows a family needs.

10.  It was maybe 25º with snow on the ground by the time everyone went home.  Winter can come all in a few hours' time!

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11.  It was a really great Thanksgiving.  I truly am thankful.

12.  Now I need to face those doors I'm afraid to open.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Image Bearers (Part 3)

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When I started writing my first "Image-Bearers" post, I really didn't see this coming.  I sat at the computer like any other day, intending to get the thoughts out of my head and onto the screen where I could see them and think about them more clearly.  I didn't realize it was about to become a series that would take months for me to actually process.  I don't know why it surprised me.  I'm still becoming a mom, after all.

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I also intended to be finished after Part 2, except that when I went back and read it I wondered to myself, "What on earth would someone do differently if they agreed with the point of this post?  What should I be doing differently?"

Because it's so subtle.

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The thing is, we think that to please others is to please God.  And vice-versa.  But God has never asked us to please others.

Even so, I am tempted all the time to try to please others with my parenting.  To parent in a way that would cause my children to please others--essentially, to be more winsome.  I can even be tempted--though I am grieved to admit it--to teach my children that they should make an effort to please others.  All of these are not only unworthy goals, they are impossible goals.  If I pursue them, I am setting my children up for failure.

God made my son and my daughter and all of the rest of us with different gifts, for different purposes, each with a unique way of expressing to the world what He is like.  While he made some people delightfully winsome to begin with (hello, Shirley Temple!), winsomeness is not his ultimate goal for any of us.  Jesus had a beautiful winsomeness about him that drew people to him, but it didn't appeal to everyone.  He didn't put his chameleon on in order to be whatever he perceived the unimpressed wanted him to be.

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So I ask myself, if I want to raise children whose goal is to please God, what would that look like?  Colossians 1:9-12 has a list of rather broad bullet points describing how to please him:

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, 
we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you 
with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord 
and may please him in every way:  
bearing fruit in every good work, 
growing in the knowledge of God, 
being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might 
so that you may have great endurance and patience, 
and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, 
who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light."

When we please God, it is certainly good for others. These specific actions are listed in various places in scripture instructing us how to act toward others: love, serve, do as you would have them do to you, acknowledge God before them, seek their good, honor, build up with words, value, look to their interests, encourage, share, speak the truth in love.

The thing is, PLEASING people is not the goal.  They may or may not respond favorably.  What we give may or may not be what they are looking for.  We are not doing what we do to get the response we want or to get them to think about us in a certain way.  We are doing it to please God.  Not to get something from God.  To please him.  To enjoy working in partnership with him. To reflect him to those around us.  And honestly?  Sometimes he is not what they think they are looking for.

This makes the task a little messy.  Pleasing God can actually mean looking silly or inadequate to others, or even being offensive to them, not intentionally, but because we stand (carefully and thoughtfully) for the truth.  

In my experience, the kind of parenting that leads to people pleasing (i.e. "good" parenting) is Pavlovian conditioning.  If the child follows the rules (i.e. pleases Mom or Dad), he or she is rewarded.  If not, he or she is punished or not rewarded.  Everyone knows what to expect.  If the trainer is consistent, good behavior is reinforced, bad behavior is extinguished, and the child is rewarded and happy.  "Happy."  Because everybody got what they wanted.  Right?

Pleasing God isn't really about anybody getting what they want.  It's about following him, one step at a time.  It isn't always cut and dried.  What he wants from me today may not be what he wanted from me yesterday, and surely tomorrow he will ask something new.  God is perfectly consistent in his character,  but following him is filled with the unexpected.  What counts is knowing him, recognizing his voice, trusting him, and trusting his ability to get through to us.  After all, we are on a journey, each day leading us into a new territory of its own.

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God is pleased when we bear fruit in every good work--but he created us for such a variety of kinds of work, with different styles of approaching it.  He is pleased when we grow in knowledge of him--and we can learn so much from one another, because we each have such unique ways of knowing him.  He is pleased when we rely on his strength to find endurance and patience in whatever he calls us to do, because it turns our feeble efforts into something glorious.

So as parents, we can do the conditioning thing.  If this, then that.  It's so neat and clean, so simple.  (As long as we have inexhaustible self-discipline, that is.)  There are plenty of good things that can come of it.  But if we want to teach our kids to follow a heavenly Father, we have to get right down into the mess with them. The mess that is a maturity gap between the way they see the situation and the way we see it.  The mess that demands a choice between honesty and capitulation (when honestly, she is not sorry). The mess that speaks to a sense of injustice between siblings, between friends.  The mess that indicates something different is needed today, in this case.  The mess that reminds us of our child's frame, that he is dust, and that, though in the wrong, he too is hurting and needs to be heard.

That kind of parenting can make me feel woefully inconsistent.  I can't check a row of boxes and know that I'm a rip-roaring success.  But did I get the notion of needing to be a rip-roaring success from my desire to be a people pleaser or a God follower?

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My husband, the engineer/problem solver, gets this so much better than I do.  I could tell you story upon story where I thought the perfect solution was to slap on the consequences and shut that behavior down--BAM!--but where he has beautifully parented our kids through the situation with correction in mind, but their needs at heart.  Where I see something as a catalyst for poor behavior (the Wii, for example), he sees it as the perfect tool for teaching, and then practicing, new ways to respond.  I am so thankful for a husband who is not primarily interested in pleasing people, and who is not afraid of messes.

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This is my prayer for my children, and my prayer for us as we follow his Spirit, whatever he asks of us in this moment.  It bears repeating:

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, 
we have not stopped praying for you and asking God 
to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord 
and may please him in every way:  
bearing fruit in every good work, 
growing in the knowledge of God, 
being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might 
so that you may have great endurance and patience, 
and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, 
who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light."

Colossians 1:9-12


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sofa shopping

No, not shopping FOR a sofa.  Shopping FROM a sofa.  I'm taking advantage of some Black Friday deals online.  I'm looking forward to sharing my photos as gifts people can use.  Shutterfly does a great job of rewarding their faithful customers.  Check them out if you haven't already.  :-)

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View the entire collection of cards.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A simple lesson from a turkey

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This Thanksgiving

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I think I'll take a cue from this turkey

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about how to show I'm truly thankful.

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I'm going to give
myself
to
my family.

Blessings to you and yours!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tiny bubbles...

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...yes, I am old enough to remember the song by that name.

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But it was these bubbles on the water glass that captured my attention.

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The patterns were irresistible.

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Have you ever noticed that I really love to photograph things on my kitchen table?

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It's the light.

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It's just scrumptious.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Resilient

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Just a couple of days ago...

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I was thinking I should probably put all of this

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in the yard waste bin.

It seemed a shame though

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because all over my geranium pouch I saw this

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and this.

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Good heavens, I quit watering them weeks ago when the temperatures started to hit freezing at night.

You would never know it.

I have sure enjoyed these resilient little beauties.

But today when I looked out my window?

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I knew it was time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Image-Bearers (Part 2)


In part one of this series, I discussed this parenting myth:

Good parents raise well-behaved, kind, compassionate, empathetic kids.
Bad parents raise rambunctious, anti-social, uncaring, impulsive kids.

Lee and I put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves to raise "good kids".  Kids who care for others and follow rules and submit to authority.  We teach these things, reward and give consequences accordingly, as consistently as possible (and God knows sometimes--often--we fail miserably).  And yet, we are always aware that we are perilously close to teaching them to be good for goodness's sake.  That would be tragic.

TRAGIC.

Like saying to our kids, "Be good because it's nice for others and it makes us look like good parents, which of course makes us feel good and more likely to buy you ice cream.  Good because after all the rules are there for a reason and without them imagine what kind of a world you would live in."  And if we succeeded in training them to be "good" for those reasons, we would rob them of the opportunity to love God, their true Father, for his pure goodness, for his grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, to respond to his love with real love of their own, and to live life in the Spirit as imitators of Christ, because he is at work in them, and it brings joy to see his reflection in the mirror.  If we succeeded in teaching them to be good for goodness's sake, I don't think we would be good parents.  But the world would think we were.  Because our kids would be people pleasers rather than God pleasers.  And so would we.

It's all still a mystery to us.  It feels as though the time is getting shorter, and the stakes are high.  We pass the pressure along to them, though we long to do the opposite.  We want them to live in freedom, freedom to love and be loved as God intended.  To delight in their identities as bearers of His image.  In so doing, we can't ask them to be anyone other than their honest selves.  And they are not always "people people".  But that, in itself, does not make them ungodly.

Sometimes I wish I could find the right words (you know, fewer of them) to ask people to bear with us while we allow our problem solvers and intense competitors a little latitude to grow up.  It's not that we don't make rules and provide discipline.  It's not that we aren't training our kids to care.  It's just that the socially accepted ways of caring don't always make sense to them, and they don't necessarily get it on the first or fiftieth or five thousandth try.

My kids will serve society far better in life if they can learn to admit their weakness before the God of second chances, than they will if they learn to shape up because they are threatened within an inch of their lives (or with no ice cream or no electronics--or worst of all, with shame) if they don't.  The only truly attainable goal we can set is to be the best possible role models for what we are trying to teach them.  Not perfect at all.  Not pretending to be perfect.  Just living under grace and loving Jesus and wanting with all our hearts to be like him.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Image-Bearers (Part 1)

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There is a parenting myth that I am repeatedly tempted to believe.  Everyone knows it's a myth (don't they???), and yet, it gets a lot of press and air time.

Here it is:

Good parents raise well-behaved, kind, compassionate, empathetic kids.
Bad parents raise rambunctious, anti-social, uncaring, impulsive kids.

Recently I read a very sweet story that I loved about a little girl who showed kindness to another little child in her moment of need.  The writer concluded that the kind little girl must have had a great mom who taught her to be kind.

Every time I read something like that, I wilt a little inside.  I wish that weren't the case, but it's true.

It's just that subtle messages like this show up frequently, represented as "proud mom moments", but perpetuating the converse argument of the myth I stated earlier:

Well-behaved, kind, compassionate, empathetic kids must have good parents.
Rambunctious, anti-social, uncaring, impulsive kids must have bad parents.

I have a number of issues with this myth.  One is that it does a disservice to children who grow in grace and character in spite of parents who for whatever reason are ill-equipped for their role, and whose attempts to fulfill it might be widely considered inadequate--perhaps even abusive.  A second is that it does a disservice to parents who expend untold energy, effort and love raising children who, for any number of reasons, are not inclined to submit to instruction and carefully laid boundaries.  Somewhere in the balance, the notion of personal responsibility is lost.  Parents are responsible for their own behaviors and attitudes--the teaching, training, and nurturing of their children--and children are responsible for theirs.  If kids are kind-hearted and winsome, good for them!  If they struggle, they need support, and sometimes intervention, but they need to own the struggle.

There is another, perhaps more subtle issue with this myth:

We tend to have biases about what constitutes a "good kid".  Who doesn't love a charming, sweet, affectionate, personable, tenderhearted, smart kid?  We can fall into the trap of blurring the lines between what is personality and what is character.  If I like her personality, she is virtuous.  If I dislike his personality, he has poor character (perhaps, a "sin problem"?).

In my former life (pre-kids, not a previous incarnation), I was a teacher.  I taught many sets of siblings through the years.  It was the best gift a future mom could ever receive.  It always intrigued me that kids who came from the same exact two parents and home could be so different.  It was obvious to me that they each came with their own package.

Their own unique, God-given design.  Beautiful.  Born to bear His image.

God's nature has an inexhaustible number of facets.  May I be so bold as to say we like some of them better than others?  I know I do.  Sometimes his patience is maddening, for just one example.  He is not in a hurry, and seems to move slowest in my most urgent situations.

He created each of us with a different combination of traits, each reflecting something of himself.  May I also be so bold as to say that we each tend to value some of them more than others?  I know I am more drawn to people who approach the world much as I do.

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My children happen to have two parents with a lot of stubborn, competitive determination. We care about the little details, the nuances, the subtleties.  It's served us well.  I dare say it's served others well much of the time.  Except when we're driving them crazy.

Lee is the engineer.  He is so good at it.  He will analyze your problem to death and give you feedback with far more minute details than you ever wanted, but when you are done, you will have an awesome solution to your problem.  That is his way of caring about you, and no one cares more genuinely than my husband.  When you hear all of the details, they might not ooze caring to a more sensitive and less analytic type of person, but that is EXACTLY what they are.

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I can totally appreciate my husband. I have the analytic gene too.  You probably knew that, right? I pulled the original version of this post because I was afraid it lacked theological integrity.  True story.  It took me several months to find the time to scrutinize it and make sure it is what I wanted it to say.  Lee says to me with a knowing and appreciative smile, "Your biggest fault is that you care too much."

So my kids have a double dose of a lot of this stuff that makes them a little intense, quite spirited, determined, and competitive, and in my experience, absolutely delightful.  Which is great because God knew we would be a good match for each other.

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On any given day, my child might be the one to extend herself to your child in her moment of need.

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Or, she might be focused on something (or someone) else completely and not even notice yours is in the room.

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He might appreciate yours in a way that no one else ever has, because cool is nowhere on his radar.  

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But if your child is initiating a friendly interaction with him that he perceives as a competitive opportunity, he is going to play to win.  Guaranteed.  And if your kid is the good, kind, thoughtful and empathetic type, he or she come away confused at best.  Hurt at worst.

According to the myth, you would be entitled to consider me a greater or a lesser mom based on what my kids did that day.

Here is the truth:

"God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27

God made all of us in his own image, to reflect his glory.  In the same breath in which we learn this, we also learn that he created us different from one another.  Can you be more different than male and female?  How about introvert and extrovert? Leader and follower? Big-picture person and detail person?

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men."  1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

The truth is that God creates and delights in and uses all kinds of people.  Some are more people-pleasing than others.  Some are more God-pleasing than others.  Parents can absolutely nurture social skills, as well as the inclination to please God.  Maturity makes a big difference.  But in the end, we are all different, and in some ways, we are all the same.  We all need grace.  And wonderful news:  We have it!  God is at work.  And when you see him working in one of my kids?  I promise you, I don't deserve the credit.  He does.

More on the parenting part of this the next time.  But for now?  I pray that God will help me stop perpetuating the myth.  It's critical that we pray for and support one another in the tough enough job of parenting--and of growing up--whether it seems to be going well or not.  We haven't seen the end of the story.