Monday, August 22, 2011

Parenting on Purpose

I had a "come to Jesus" moment recently which caused me to take a hard look at specific aspects of my parenting. Please note that I am posting this as a reminder to myself and my peers, not as a parent who has successfully accomplished their goals and is a mentor.
Ok, disclaimer over, it occurred to me that the phrase, "You are X years old, you should be able to ------," has been coming from my lips recently.  The problem is, it has been coming as a scolding and accusation, not as a statement of fact and an invitation for learning.
If my kids are now X years old and unable to perform a particular task or display a particular attitude or character trait, who exactly should I be talking to and scolding?
I guess I need to go spend some time in front of the mirror.

Too often I feel like I'm living life in survival mode.  Sometimes survival mode is where we are, believe me, I know this, my family has been living this out for a while now.  The thing is, it falls on me to make sure that while we are surviving the upheaval that is  our current circumstance, I am not neglecting the things that are necessary to achieve my goals for my kids.
I'm not going to wake up on my son's 18th birthday and be blessed by the sight of a well-adjusted young man who has a good work ethic unless I put the time in NOW.  I'm not going to be blessed by a kind and loving daughter who has a heart to serve unless I develop that character NOW.

If you know me at all, you know I'm a creative, let-it-flow, fly by the seat of your pants, kind of person. This works well for my crafts, ok for cooking, not terribly well for housekeeping, but would be simply terrible for parenting.  I (we) need to have well-defined goals if we are ever to reach them.
I don't just mean general goals like, " I want my child to be nice, successful, and love God."
 I mean that  as the Lord reveals my child's particular strengths and talents to me, do I have a plan to train them up in the best way possible for them? The goals may be changing and the methods to achieve them may be fluid, but they must always be definite in the sense that they exist and they are being referred to.
I've been drifting along, haven't measured my children's progress up against the long-term goals in a while. Too long.
It was brought to my attention and I looked, and wow, Pretty far off course in several areas. Thank God that his grace and my children's youth are on my side and I have determined to make some course corrections.

Let's look at this together.

  1.  Do I know my child?  What is their personality? Is this child laid-back or "type A?"  Are they social? Do they have obvious talents emerging?  Are they physically differently-abled? Are they neuro-atypical? 
  2. Do I know about the the strengths and weaknesses that are inherent with their personality type? Am I willing to learn about it?
  3. Do I feel the Lord leading me in any certain  way concerning their training? Have I asked the Lord for insight into this specific child?  If I do not share their personality type do I know a successful adult who is of the same personality who I can approach and ask for guidance?

Examples work best for me, so I will share a few personal things. 
 My son is exactly like me.  He is laid back, easy going, and a peacemaker.  He also tends very much to be lackadaisical and lazy about anything that he is not interested in. this is me. I was able to get away with it for the majority of my life because the one thing that usually gets kids into trouble is if they are lazy in school and I wasn't. I enjoyed it and excelled in school. I studied hard because I enjoyed it, not because I had self discipline. I chose lines of work that I enjoyed (which of course I would advise anyone to do) and was always successful because it was something I chose to work hard at, not because I had good self-discipline.  Now as a wife and mother, this lack of self-discipline is hurting me. I am determined to try my best to not let this become the same life-long problem in my son as it has been for me.  Because he is like me, I can identify and help build his strengths, but I also know the weaknesses he will likely face with this personality and hopefully, with God's guiding, work on those as well. 

My daughter is just like both my husband and my sister. She is hard working and has high standards. This is great. However, it also means she is prone to be demanding and judgmental.  She recently declared to me that  "so and so always does such and such. I'm just not going to give them another chance because they don't deserve it."  I was able to gently talk to her about what a huge thing it is to decide that someone else "doesn't deserve" another chance. Of course this was on a very childish level of someone not playing they way she thought they should, but the principle is one that I want to teach her now. 

One last thing, we are not in this parenting thing alone. I firmly believe that God intends for parents to raise their own children, but he didn't say we had to do it alone. I think it is prudent and wise to ask for advice, especially from people who have proven wisdom to give (hence my disclaimer at the beginning, I'm still in the middle of this race). And don't forget the best resource of all, God. The only person with more at stake in your children's life than you is God. He cares, he gives wisdom. We need to ask, and then be willing to listen. Sometimes it goes against the grain. Just today I had an incident with the daughter mentioned above.  I set about to come up with a fitting punishment and an idea crossed my mind. I went on past it because it broke a "parenting rule" I'd heard before and thought was right, but the thought came again and with it, the impression that it was from the Lord. So, not having any better ideas, I did it.  I've always said I wouldn't make a child read or write scripture as a punishment so as not to give the Bible a negative connotation in their mind. Today, I broke that rule and along with a letter of apology, I had my daughter copy several verses about being kind.  Well knock me over with a feather... the lecture when it comes from me is met with defensiveness and unwillingness to admit fault. The Scripture telling her to put away wrath and practice kindness was met with conviction and repentance. Where I can't reach her heart, the Lord can.  For another child, copying out scripture verses might be very wrong, even for another situation for this child it might be wrong, but for today, for this situation, it was right. 
I don't say that to glorify myself or show how wise I am, I really want to show how when we are out of ideas, God can usually pull out a really good one for us to use!
As we endeavor to raise our children for God, let's remember to encourage each other and ask God to reveal what each child needs so that we can truly parent on purpose.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beer Truck Musings

The other day as I left a parking lot, a large beer truck was turning in and as he barely missed my bumper, it got me to thinking about how much I love my husband.

I'll let you take that in for a moment. :-)

Ok, a short (ish) explanation. Many years ago I dated a guy whose dad was an alcoholic and got hit by a beer truck and got a large settlement and moved to Florida to never work again.  When I saw the beer truck and wondered if he was going to bump my vehicle, I thought of the nice settlement, which led me to think of Danny which led me to think of our brief relationship, which led me to think of my other, even more brief relationships before I met and married my husband.

I never really dated much at all but there were a few guys I thought were pretty nifty and I wished and wondered what it would be like to marry one of them.  Some even made me think I was heartbroken, although in retrospect, I realize I was not.

Now, 15-20 years later, I am SO GLAD that I didn't end up with any of those guys!  Don't get me wrong, many of them were great guys who turned into nice men and I'm still friends and in contact with them. And this  is where men all over the country wonder if they ever broke my heart.  
My point is, the things I was so sure that I wanted, I see now that I truly did not.

 My husband is far from perfect (sorry honey) but after 11 years, I am more sure than ever that he is the one I want to be with forever. He puts up with my quirks, I still laugh at his dumb jokes, we balance each other out in a variety of other ways, not to mention, I can't imagine giving birth in front of anyone else.
There is a a country song about "sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers" and while I disagree with the theology, I truly appreciate the sentiment.

Happy Anniversary Jeff, I love you so much.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It is what it is.

It is what it is. We are who we are. We do what we do.  (via Facebook status shuffle)

Well if this isn’t just about the saddest thing I’ve ever read, I don’t know what is. 
What’s worse, it was categorized under “wisdom.”  Ok, so I wasn’t expecting Solomon-esque utterances, but wow.

Thing is, people believe this and live by it.  
Life without hope; no hope of change, no hope of becoming better, of growing in grace and love, wretched in the knowledge that we are who and what we are, and that simply isn’t good enough.
Day after day, not expecting anything different, resigned to the fact that “it is what it is.”

Oh to tell them all that Jesus came precisely so that this would NOT be true!

He broke the curse.
We can be born again.
We are no longer chained by sin.
We can be filled with his spirit.
Our minds can be renewed.
We can be transformed.
He brings new life...
And it is Abundant life.

John 10:10 I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jealousy (emotions part 3)

William Shakespeare called jealousy the green-eyed monster.  Countless books and songs and even movies have been made about suspicious minds and wandering loves.
What does jealousy mean to us as Christians?

Interestingly, anger and jealousy are both ascribed to God in the Old Testament but we are warned about them in ourselves. I think that since we are made in God’s image, he built these emotions into us, but they are now fallen. God speaks of how jealous he was over his people, specifically who they worshiped.
In our common English usage, jealousy and envy have become synonymous. This is not correct. Envy wants something that someone else has, jealousy is when someone gets (or tries to get) something that is ours (or that we think is or should be ours).

 Definitions of “jealous” boil down to feeling resentment toward another either stemming from rivalry, or because of desiring their success or achievements which we think should have been ours. It also covers fears of rivalry, and finally, being solicitous or vigilant in guarding something.
It is this last bit that applies to the verses in the Old Testament telling us that God is a jealous God.  He is not putting up with any rivalry over the worship and affection of his people.
This is what jealousy was supposed to have been.  However, as we have previously discovered, we humans are selfish.  Our default setting is to skip right over careful guarding and go right to suspicion and rage. 
Jealousy is an emotion that can quickly turn to sin, and what a sin it is. Suspicion, anger, rage, and hatred, all stemming from the oft-times false belief that someone is getting on our turf.

Origin- In  my opinion, I think that our usual form of jealousy often comes from insecurity. Jealousy can arise from us wanting what someone else has or  that we think should have been ours (a promotion at work, a position in church), or from our fear that they are going to get something that is ours (rivalry).  Both of these can come from being insecure in who we are and what we have.  The proper kind of jealousy, such as God displays, does not come from insecurity, but rather a sense of guardianship.

Purpose- “Good” jealousy should drive us to protect what is ours. We should be jealous of our marriage, jealous of our children’s’ minds and hearts.

Appropriate Response- Are you feeling protective or suspicious?  Are your feelings based in insecurity or in a sense of guardianship? Is the threat perceived or real?  Is the threat over something that is truly yours (your children) or over something that you wish was yours (a promotion)?  If our jealousy is carnal, then it needs to go. Scripture tells us this multiple times.
 This topic would easily provide fodder for an entire book, but to keep this article manageable, I want to focus only on what would be considered a “good” jealousy.

I’m jealous of my children’s hearts and minds and affections. I want to be their first source of comfort, of advice, and of companionship.  Obviously this is not a crazy, flowers-in-the-attic, type of guarding, but it makes me careful of who and what influences them.  It causes me to decide against entertainments that paint parents in a bad light or that would teach my kids that they should have secrets from their parents or that kids should handle big life decisions without parental input. It compels me to carefully choose other adults to speak into my children’s lives, those who will understand and reinforce our values.  I do recognize the importance of my children having other mentors, but my husband and I should be first on their list.

I’m jealous of my marriage.  Now, this gets a little stickier, jealousy in a marriage can easily get out of control and destroy the very thing it was meant to protect.  I must remember that I can’t control other people, I can only govern myself.  I don’t get to control how much time my husband has to spend at work.  I DO get to control (to a certain extent) how badly he wants to get home after work. I do control how much effort I put into my marriage. I do control whether or not I’m available and fit to be a great helpmeet.  Ladies, dear sisters, I’m not saying that if a marriage breaks up, it is because you did something wrong or didn’t guard it.  Please, please, that is not my intention here at all. I’m speaking to those of us with basically healthy relationships, who need to jealously guard what we have.  
The wrong kind of jealousy will tear apart a marriage faster than we can imagine, the right kind of protectiveness will spur us to make an effort when we simply don’t feel like it.

One more idea that hits me right where I live is being jealous of my walk with God. If God is jealous of his people and their worship, then shouldn’t I also be zealous about guarding my heart and mind from things that will distract me from Him?  Shouldn’t I be jealous of my available time instead of squandering it on useless things?  If I were as jealous of my time with God as I am with my knitting or sewing or reading or computer time, how much of a difference would that make in my life as a whole?

If jealousy is born of insecurity, what better cure for all of the wrong jealousy in my life than to spend more time with God and learn who I am in his eyes and how secure I am in his love? 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Anger (emotions part 2)

Yelling, dishes flying, quiet seething, festering rage. No matter how it manifests, anger is destructive.
I’ll tackle anger first in this series because, to be honest, it is one of the trials of my own life.  I have a temper and a half.  I may try to laugh it off and blame it on my heritage, my “Cuban temper,” but to be real; it is something I have struggled with for years.
The negative aspects of anger are pretty obvious; it leads to rage and wrath and eventually to hatred and violence.  

The origin of anger is usually that we didn’t get our way or we feel disappointed in some manner, let down or upset that someone did not act in a way we think they should have. Frustration (to have plans and efforts defeated, or made worthless) often leads to anger. We decide to give of ourselves in some manner and then things don’t turn out like we hoped. It feels personal, we get angry.
Injustice, this is a big one, and perhaps one of the only bona fide “excuses” for anger. Most of the time though, the person we are trying to protect from perceived injustices is Me.   Share the wealth a bit hey? Let’s spread some of that “righteous indignation” around and champion for people who don’t have a voice.

The purpose of anger would be to spur us to action.  Unfortunately since most of the time, anger is ignited by an outside source; just exactly what this action should be is quite limited.
To be honest, while there are things in this world that are worth being angry over, many of the things that drive us to anger are not.  You should be angry at sin.  You should not be angry that your spouse (fill in the blank).  

The appropriate response is first to not let the anger get a foothold in our minds (that’s where the “sin not” part comes in). The hard part is understanding that since we can’t control other people, the only way to work around the disappointment is to adjust our expectations.  Can I say it this way? You can’t change others so you’d best just change your mind. (is that a country song? Or did I really just come up with that?)

There are so many variables but I’ll address the ones that apply to me and hopefully they will help you as well.

-         Spouse.  I can’t change him. Anger only drives wedges and ruins harmony. My only appropriate action is to change my expectations. This probably also applies to parents, church, work, and road rage.  I know this is easier said than done. I’m married to the perfect man, but the rest of you sometimes have to deal with… Ok, I can’t finish that sentence even as a joke. He’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. There are clashes. Thunderstorms if you will.  I can’t change him. And when I’m very honest with myself, I really don’t want to change him. God made him and He is far smarter than I am. What if one of the things I decided to change was one of the things God put there on purpose?  So even if I could, I shouldn’t, and since I can’t, it’s all a moot point. Instead, I have to change my expectations or I’m going to be in an repeating cycle of frustration and anger.
-         Children.  If I’m angry with them, it is more than likely because I should be training them differently or more consistently. Anger begets anger and the scripture specifically tells me not to provoke my children.  When I react in anger to my children, it sets of a chain of emotions that are all quite harmful. I don’t want that. I need to change that. Not next time. NOW.  If my kids are up for the eleventy-seventh time since they were sent to bed, it is almost certainly because I have let them know that I don’t really mean that they have to go to bed. If I don’t mean what I say, where on earth do I get the right to be angry at them not doing what I say?  I have not taught them to obey. MY problem. Needs to be dealt with, not get an angry reaction. And when the angry part wins, I need to immediately apologize, because doing so trains me.
-         Sin. Let me be blunt, human trafficking, child abuse, genocide… these should make us angry.  I am very guilty of simply choosing to not think about things that I find abhorrent. They are too big for me to fix and they are emotionally exhausting to even think about. I realize that the Lord gives burdens for different issues to different people, but ignoring things because they are yucky to think about? Just as unacceptable as fruitless anger.  These are the true injustices that are supposed to make us angry and goad us to action.

Eph. 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Matthew Henry says that we should be sure to not try and turn the “be ye angry” into a command, for God knows we are apt enough to be plenty angry on our own.  Instead the imperative is on the “sin not.”
The other very interesting thing (for me at least!) is that doing a word study on anger in this verse show us that it means to show a “settled opposition” –as in an opposition to sin. A sinful anger would focus on the offender rather than the moral content of the offense. to have a proper response, this is a vital distinction.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the verse for us to obey is  the part that tells us to not let the sun go down on our wrath.  So you find yourself aquiver with agitation over some injustice, don't make stew with it. Deal with it now. Anger that sits, festers. Just as pain in our body needs to be considered, and taken care of,  so does anger.
What caused this emotion?  
Is it something I should be angry over?
Is it something I can change outside of myself (make a donation to an organization that fights human trafficking) or does the change need to occur within me (adjust my expectations of my spouse or co-workers, train my children more consistently)? 
What is my plan?  Not just, “oh I need to do better on that.”  I’m here to say; telling yourself that you will do better next time is useless. It is almost always followed by the thought, “but not this time, because they deserved it.”

I wish I could write a glowing report about my full deliverance from all anger issues. However, I believe that emotions are part of us and since God created them (and he also feels emotion), he’s not likely to remove them any time soon. What he can and will do, is change our response.
I do want to give you hope though and I would never want to be cliché and tell anyone to “just pray about it.”  I firmly believe that there is a good bit that we have to make the effort to do. However, God is not leaving us out on a limb to deal with these potentially destructive emotions on our own. I do urge you to make it a matter of prayer; ask the Lord to show you a specific plan of action. Romans 12:2 tells us to renew our minds. That word literally means a change or new development. The goal isn’t to never again feel anger; to do that, we would lose the ability to see injustices. The goal is to gain a proper understanding of how these emotions are supposed to function and get a handle on how to let anger be a call to action rather than have it turn to rage and control us.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I posted a few days ago about a “good” kind of fear. I used purity as an example, but hope that my message was clear that Godly fear can keep us safe from a variety of harmful practices while we (or our children) are still too spiritually immature to obey out of respect and honor.

I’d like to continue to address emotions that we commonly view as being negative. I’ll do this as a series of posts over the next few days and I invite you to come with me and explore our emotions.

Culture tells us that negative emotions are always bad and to be happy, we must rid our lives from them.
I disagree. More importantly, I think that scripture disagrees.

A healthy person will not enjoy negative emotions (I do recognize the element who seek emotional lows so that they can get the “high” of positive, however this is beyond my scope), but we need to understand that just as pain is an indication that something is amiss in our physical body, negative emotions can be a sign that things are wrong in our minds and spirits. Therefore, to get the whole story, we need to determine the origin of the emotion, the purpose of the emotion, and the best way to deal with the emotion.

Emotions come from our perception of reality. Two people may experience the same emotion (fear, anger) but they are based in different origins and thus the appropriate response is going to quite different!  Two people fear a bear attack; both feel that there is a threat to their safety.  One is in Alaska in the summertime; another is walking a sidewalk in Miami Beach.  For one, the fear is a call to action, for the other… well, the fear probably warrants a call to a therapist.  Same emotion, different facts, equals different appropriate actions.

Some emotions I’d like to look at include:

Whether we like it or not emotions are a part of our humanity, so the more we understand them, the less we have to struggle with them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Healthy Kind of Fear

Fear is a bad word?

Warning: Adult content, if your kids were just looking over your shoulder seeing the cute pictures, now is the time to have them go do something else.


On a message board I frequent, many of the moms recently got into a discussion about the things our kids face today, specifically becoming sexually active in lower grades, down to 5-6th grades, and also the increasing popularity of having group slumber parties that are expressly for having same-gender sex. I don't even need to explain my stand on all of that, but what really got me thinking were the comments about how inevitable it is and how all we can do is talk to our kids and hope they will be open with us and make good mature choices, blah blah blah.

Here's the deal. I don't think that even in this current, twisted,  world  that this type of thing is inevitable! I refuse to accept that. However, I also know that if their plan consists of talking and hoping, they are right. Let me be blunt. I was not a sexually active teen. In fact, I married so late, I was hardly a sexually active 20-something. In my case, it wasn't because of talking and hoping. It was because instilled deep within my very being, there was the sure and certain knowledge of being immediately struck down by God and the fact that no matter if I was 15 or 25, my Mother would somehow KNOW. 
What I'm saying is that trying to reason with hormones is a losing battle. You can "know" all about STDs, you can "know" about pregnancy, you can "know" about the emotional ramifications...but that isn't necessarily going to do the trick.

Again, back to that discussion. There were a few comments about how they were going to give their children "all the information" so they could make "right decisions" and not rely on Bible-thumping or fear.
That sounds great doesn't it?

Let's apply that to, oh, a 2 year old. "Honey, this is an electric outlet. I know you are very curious and your curiosity is your strongest drive right now, but I want to let you know all the information so you can be smart." You would then proceed to tell him about electricity, how good and powerful it is, but how it must be kept in wires and only accessed properly. You would tell him of the dangers and even how it could kill him. (so far so good, right?) You finish off by telling him that if he really must stick a hairpin in the outlet to please use these insulated gloves and if he ever has any more questions, to come have another talk with you.

I do of course realize that the above is exaggerated. But come ON... you know what my kids know about electricity? that it is BAD! HOT! NO! OWIE! that if you even go close to an outlet or a plug Mommy materializes out of thin air and SWATS that hand. 
Perhaps I go too far because now when the older two are big enough that I might actually tell them to go plug this or that in, they stare at me as though I just told them to drink poison and remind me that they are NOT ALLOWED to even THINK of touching a power plug! 
Now, since Jeff is an electrical engineer, they do know a bit about the actual workings of it, but allow me to lay it out plainly; It is NOT their knowledge about the power and potential of electric current that keeps them conditioned to not touch it, it is their FEAR. 

Personally, I like that fear. That fear kept them alive long enough to reach the age where they CAN learn about AC/DC and wattage and amperage and voltage.

I'm not advocating that we don't educate our children about sex. I am saying that just knowing the facts isn't enough to keep them safe (and by safe, I mean abstinent). The drive is far stronger than the ability to reason. When faced with those choices, they need enough good old fashioned FEAR to keep them from getting into the place of temptation.

I've heard people say that they don't want their children to obey out of fear but out of love and respect.

Well Duh.

Brilliant deduction there.

Unfortunately, humans are selfish beings; must be a design flaw, take it up with God. 
In the meantime understand this; a respect that has enough weight to overcome selfish urges takes a while to grow and a certain amount of maturity to develop. I love (and as far as I can remember have always loved her) my mother. However, the deep respect and honor for her developed along the way, and dare I say, is still growing? If my obedience to her was based on my ability to respect her and defer to her wisdom, I wouldn't have obeyed her until I was about 23. That's a bit too late. I'm talking about a fear that is a precursor to respect and honor, a fear that keeps us within the walls, so to speak, until we are mature enough to love the walls and what they protect us from. Proverbs 1 tells us that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.

When and why did fear develop such a bad rep? You don't think it could be part of a diabolical plan to keep us from getting wisdom... nah, surely the enemy of our souls wouldn't do that, would he?

Personally, I think bit of the right kind of fear is a great thing. And I plan on using it to protect my kids from things far more dangerous than the electric outlets.