One of Those Dumb Fights

We were doing so well! We have been enjoying each other and the time we spend together. And then suddenly in 3 minutes time it all went south. Now we’ve had 24 hours of alienation. How can such stupid fights do that? It was just emotions and timing–really, that’s all.

We had worked well together all day, in and out of each other’s presence. I wasn’t pushing to get things done. There was a lot to do after the intense heat for a week, but I took my time and played a lot as I was working outside. I was not that tired.

I was finished on the outside, and came up the stairs from the lower garden. I had my hands full–in one of them was a large dustpan full of dirt and petals and dead leaves. I caught my toe on a step and down I went on the brick steps, the dirt in the dustpan going all over me and the steps I had just swept–not all of them–thank goodness–only four. I tore the nail on the big toe, skinned my shin and bruised my hip that I landed on. But I got up and swept it up, “Walk it out” playing in my head. Then headed straight to the shower. My husband was in the house talking on the phone–didn’t even know what had happened.

When I told him, he was concerned, and told me to sit down and let him fix the cantaloupe. But I didn’t. I didn’t feel too bad. Had washed off the blood, done hot and cold rotations and used my essential oils.

But then he said, “I told you not to work so hard, you were too tired.”

My response was wrong but honest, “I don’t need to be shamed. I need some compassion.”

He left. And I didn’t know he was angry till I saw him sitting outside and I went out and sat beside him. He didn’t talk to me. So I asked if he was angry and he called me a name and said that I tell him not to overdo it all the time.

He was right and I knew it, and it didn’t even hurt my feelings. I said, “Thanks for telling me.”

We went to bed silently. I slept immediately and woke up an hour later when he turned off the light, went back to sleep, but an hour later was awake for hours. So I woke up late the next morning, after four hours of sleep, tired, sore and slightly disoriented. I didn’t know where he was emotionally so I didn’t go back to bed at 7 like I usually do. (I was enjoying early morning on the patio with Jesus.)

If I had, we may have bounced through it because when I first woke he asked how I felt. But, of course, I didn’t think of that then.

Soon he got up, and I asked if we were going to read together (The best thing we have done for our relationship.) He said he didn’t have time–a joke–it was Saturday morning.

When I tried to fix it later, he was too far into resentment and attached something else he wasn’t happy about.

I knew then that it was going to be a day or two. Blew that! I thought. A beautiful morning, and probably the whole weekend, had just been wrecked. And I went back to bed alone. I didn’t sleep, but I definitely felt better both physically and emotionally afterwards.

I realized that the best thing about my relationship with Jesus is that these things never happen! He is always there. He always loves me, no matter how I mess up, what dumb things I do or say. And if distance comes in all I have to do is run back. I never have to worry about if he’ll be upset or take me back. He is always ready and happy to restore the relationship–no hurt feelings get in the way. And my explanations He already knows and understands.

He just loves me so amazingly! That carries its own conviction to look at my stuff. Love is very convicting, you know?

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Why Not Discipline?

I thought I was done with the topic of parenting, but in the last two days two things made me decide there has to be one more.

One was a trailer on a newscast for a later news program on kids behavior in stores. It was pretty hideous. Especially the mother who yelled “I’m going to leave you here!”

The other was a three year old running down the isles of the church and up in front, not during the praise time with everyone standing, but during the sermon. Our pastor is great with such things so it wasn’t a huge embarrassing distraction, but it made me wonder why parents don’t discipline.

If you would like to share some reasons parents don’t discipline please feel free to respond.

Here is what 30 years of therapy with parents offers:
1) Parents abused as children are afraid they will lose control like their parents did, so they don’t go there.
2) Parents who grew up without discipline and boundaries don’t have a blueprint for it. They don’t know how, and don’t realize how important it is to a child’s security, self-esteem and self-control.
3) Parents who need their children to love them so badly don’t cross them or set boundaries (an issue for the parent to resolve in therapy.)
4) Parents who are afraid their children will hate them if they give them consequences. The opposite is true. Children love more when they feel secure.
5) Parents who mean well and start out with discipline but who back down because their children get angry, guilt them, talk them out of it, or just beg until the parents give in. (This also is an issue for the parent to face.)

6) And I do believe there is the parent who just thinks discipline will taint their love and love will conquer all. Some of these people get lucky, and if  the bigger system they are in is somewhat healthy, the kids may be ok. I think a lot of Millennials have had this. (We are seeing with varying results.)

7) And finally there are parents who for whatever reason just can’t be bothered with the effort of discipline. It is work. They are too involved with their own problems, needs or addictions to be present enough to set limits and hold them. Or they pretend their kids know what to do, or are perfect.

Parents hear me, the kids are the ones that suffer–and later on, possibly the parents and for sure, society. I’ve written a lot about discipline and what it is and isn’t, and the difference between discipline and punishment (discipline is discipling and should never be done in anger), so let me finish with a few examples from a Biblical perspective.

It seems there were fathers who didn’t get good ratings because of they were too lenient.  Some of them God personally rebuked, or sent someone to rebuke, as in the case of Aaron, Eli, and David. Samuel was too soft on his kids too, but I guess God didn’t confront him because he had been given away at three or four or five (when he was fully weaned). He himself was an amazing man–a true intimate of God as a judge and a prophet, who God used even as a child. But abandonment by parents must have made him too soft on his own sons because they didn’t identify with his values–didn’t follow his example.

Aaron was too easy on his boys and it cost him two of their lives. Not because God killed them, but because they had no respect for authority and obedience, and expressly did their own thing instead of following God’s instructions, and when they went into His presence unprepared, the energy killed them.

Eli was rebuked by Samuel as a child. Eli had been too easy on his  sons who were also doing their own thing in the office of the priesthood–taking what they wanted from the offerings, instead of what was appointed for them, and raping the women! Eli confronted them but didn’t remove them from their office, and they all died because his sons took the ark into battle (doing their own thing again).

David was also rebuked for being too easy and preoccupied as a father. He allowed behavior to go by that he should have confronted and acted on, and as a result his kids were a mess among themselves and to him. Absalom staged a coup and then died in the fray that followed trying to take the throne.

These are just four of the big guys–men of God–priests, prophets and king. We are free to do what we want, or what we think is right, but we also get the consequences. Someone has said, “We are free to choose, but not free to escape the consequences of our choices.”

As I learned in high school physics long ago “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

If you don’t know how to raise kids, admit it and ask people you trust who have been over the road. Their advice won’t be perfect, but look at their kids. Ask several, whose kids you really like, and find the common themes. You probably won’t go wrong with that. And you may get a mentor with it.

And of course, always ask God for wisdom, He loves to help! And why wouldn’t He talk to you when He says over and over in scripture, “Listen, please just listen!”

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The Key to Joy

I think I’ve said everything about parenting that I wanted to, except thanks. Thanks for reading, following, learning in this almost-six-month series.

I’m now learning again that thanks-giving is the way to living an “abundant” life. It’s the way to joy–the precursor to miracles. But so easy to forget!

So I thought to share from the book that has brought it home again to me as a discipline. I’ve wanted to lead the elders at my church through one thousand gifts, but God took us to another book first, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and it has been really helpful to us as we try to form a safe community out of our leaders, which, I think, is where to start.

But now we have come to one thousand gifts and thankfulness again. And reading chapter two the second time, I realized the power in it. Ann Voskamp is an author and home-schooling mother of six, with an incredible gift for description. But she had been so scarred early in life, she had effectively shut down joy in her life without really knowing it–even though falling in love and having six babies!

She shares that for years she had awakened every morning wanting to die. And then one night she had a nightmare that changed everything and begin her search for what I call “whole life.” She dreamed she was dying of cancer, and the people she told were unresponsive. She woke in the middle of the night, terrified, and changed. The following is chapter two greatly condensed.

“I wake wildly wanting to live. Physically feeling it in the veins trembling, the hard pant of the lungs, the seeing it in the steady stars how much I really want to really live.” And so begin the search: “… someone, please give me–who is born again but still so much in need of being born anew–give me the details of how to live in the waiting cocoon before the forever begins?…

“Isn’t it here? The wonder? All my eyes can seem to fixate on are the splatters of disappointment across here and me…The face of Jesus flashes…With an expiration of less than twelve hours, what does Jesus count as all most important? ‘And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them…’

“I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, ‘he gave thanks’ reads ‘eucharisteo.’

“…The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning ‘grace.’…But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy.’ Joy. Ah…That might be what the quest for more is all about–that which Augustine claimed, ‘Without exception…all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is joy.’

“I breathe deep, like a sojourner finally coming home…That’s what I was struggling out of nightmares to reach, to seize. Joy. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy?…Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo–the table of thanksgiving. I sit there long… wondering… is it that simple? As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible…The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be–unbelievably–possible!

“Charis. Grace.

“Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving.

“Chara. Joy.

“A Threefold cord that might hold a life? Offer a way up into the fullest life? Grace, Thanksgiving, joy. Eucharisteo…

“It’s weeks later now, and the mind stores things for such a time when God aligns the stars. I read, ‘The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live…He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.’ Breath leaves the lung…I might have found the holy grail…and lost it, moved on. And yet really–hadn’t God set it in the center of Christianity? Eucharisteo…I won’t let it go this time. I’ll enter into the mystery.

“I shape loaves and think how Jesus took the bread and gave thanks…and then the miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes.

“How Jesus took the bread and gave thanks…and then the miracle of Jesus enduring the cross for the joy set before Him.

“How Jesus stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb, the tears streaming…and prayed, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me…’ and then the miracle of a dead man rising!

“How there is thanks…and then the mind-blowing miracle!…

Eucharisteo–thanksgiving–always precedes the miracle.

“That was the fall! Non-eucharisteo, ingratitude, was the fall–humanity’s discontent with all that God freely gives. That is what has scraped me raw: ungratefulness. Then to find my Eden, the abundance of Paradise, I’d need to forsake my non-eucharisteo, my bruised and bloodied ungrateful life, and grab hold to eucharisteo, a lifestyle of thanksgiving…

“So what does Jesus mean, ‘Your faith has made you well’? (Luke 17–healing ten lepers) Had I underinterpreted this passage, missed some hidden mystery? I slow down and dig…I dig deeper. It’s sozo in the Greek. Many translations render sozo as being made “well’ or ‘whole,’ but its literal meaning, I read it–‘to save.’ Sozo means salvation. It means true wellness, complete wholeness. To live sozo is to live full life. Jesus came that we might live life to the full; He came to give us sozo. And when did the leper receive sozo–the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks. I lay down my pen…

“We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks…Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace…thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life. ‘He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God (Psalm 50:23 NIV)

“…thank offerings…prepare the way for  God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him.

Eucharisteo, the Greek word with the hard meaning and the harder meaning to live–this is the only way from empty to full.”

I can’t say it any better than that.

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God as a Parent

I was raised with shame, were you? It was a pervasive style of parenting. I doubt if my parents even knew it. It was a way to control behavior–how they had been raised–change behavior by making you feel bad about what you did.

The emotional punch was “not good enough,” that’s how it felt. And it left a residue that covered you like slime or sticky dirt. You felt like you couldn’t get rid of it, would never be good enough, would never make it, never measure up. I very much doubt they could have changed it if they had seen it. It was how you raised children then–slime them with your feelings of anger,  disappointment, discontent, disapproval.

I do think it changed behavior, but the high cost was self-doubt and self-loathing that caused paralysis and second-guessing; or anger and acting-out. And it seems the internal conflict of brokenness gave us all that as a starting point. The first effect of being separated from God in Eden was recorded as shame. It is a natural bent. A propensity, a tendency we all have now.

It explains why God has had such a hard time parenting us. It’s our default setting. And God doesn’t deal in shame. He is extremely direct, modeling honesty for us, dealing with facts and consequences–telling us what they will be so we can turn around and make a course correction. Always trying to help us minimize shame by accepting our guilt and dealing with it redemptively.

Interesting that shame and guilt don’t go together with God. He simply says, “Admit what you’ve done, and I’ll help you find a way out of it.” He doesn’t criticize, doesn’t condemn, doesn’t shame us. He deals with facts and treats us with respect, leaving us free to choose how to handle our indiscretions and missteps. No, He doesn’t come personally to us the way He did with Cain; wouldn’t that be neat! But it didn’t help Cain. He already had an attitude set in place that prevented good choices.

But look at how God dealt with him. First, he comes to him. Understanding that Cain doesn’t know death. The whole universe has only seen death of animals and plants at this point. He was jealous, he was angry, and now he is a murderer. He should have been horrified, and maybe he was inside, but he doesn’t go to God, he doesn’t even respond to God who comes to him and says, “Where is your brother?” giving him a chance to own what he has done. And Cain gives him attitude: “How should I know? Am I his babysitter?”

God ignores that and goes on with facts, “What have you done?” Imagine God’s pain. The first murder in this broken world that started out so perfect. He loves Cain. And He knows he doesn’t know what to do, can’t think straight after realizing what he’s done. But maybe there is an opportunity to reconnect with him now. He’s been blaming God and growing hard feelings.

No answer.

“Your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.” (I know what you did. You can admit it.) God had made man from ground, given him life and blessed the design; now Cain in killing Abel has returned him to the ground, bringing the curse of death to himself personally. So God describes the effects, “The ground is ruined for you, and your guilt will drive you away. You will have no peace.” (Can’t you just feel God longing for repentance. Just ask me what you should do! Please turn to me for help! Together we can fix this.)

But Cain blames God for the curse that isn’t from God. It is from Satan, God’s adversary who activated the law of sin and death. Cain knows this–he’s heard the story a hundred times. But it made him angry with God.

And here is his chance for change. His opportunity to make another choice. To turn around and go towards God.

But instead he says, “My punishment is more than I can bear.” (He may have been the first narcissist. It’s all about him, and he blames God.) “You have driven me out. And I will be hidden from your presence, and be a restless vagabond. And whoever finds me will kill me.”

Uh, who said anything about punishment? And weren’t you listening? The curse of sin and death has driven you out–your own guilt. God doesn’t want you to go but to fix it with His help.

So, God says, “OK then, I will put a mark on you, and anyone who kills you will have seven times the retribution” (life for life).

Why didn’t God let him be killed? He could have stopped a whole bunch of evil people from being born.  One, He loves him, two, its important for him and the universe to see the development of the curse of sin–maybe pain and suffering will bring him back, three, Cain asks God to intervene for him–and He does! He touches God’s father-heart that wants to give us good things more than we do to our children.

What could God have done for Cain? With Cain’s request He could have changed his heart, forgiven him and reinstated him in his family, taking his shame and guilt so he wouldn’t have had to leave.

Jesus favorite topic was Abba’s father-heart of love for broken humans. He showed us how God parents. He promotes and protects freedom and dignity. He won’t force us to make the right choices, but He would so like to be invited to help us sort them out. He doesn’t protect His kids from everything bad, but He goes through everything with us. He is always with us if we want Him to be. That is the ultimate parenting. Always available, always caring, never intrusive or taking over. He deals honestly, but not harshly.

After writing seven books of the Bible trying to understand and tell the story of God as a good parent, dealing with dysfunction in His family, one thing I see is we don’t understand God or His goodness because of preconditioning and language, and because of the brevity of the stories in scripture.

I invite you to read the series and fall in love with a new picture of God. He’s not a pushover, anything-goes grandparent, but He is a good, good father.

 

 

 

 

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A Tribute to Father-Love

I haven’t known many good fathers. It’s a difficult position to fill. It may be partly due to the way we’ve raised boys for the last 50 years–mothers tend to do too much for them and be too soft on one hand, or be disengaged on the other. Fathers tend to be either disengaged or harsh and controlling–not having good fathering themselves, they don’t have a healthy blueprint.

I’ve said before parenting is hard! You may have a picture of who you want to be, but being it feels so foreign. We have to concentrate and be purposeful if we want to change much from how we were parented. However, it is important and worth the effort. There is nothing more important than raising emotionally and spiritually healthy children. They grow into adults who can care and serve, improve the lives of others and society, be strong enough to make change for good.

I love it when I see people putting in the effort and time to be present with their children–being intentional, engaging them in conversation, holding boundaries, having clear and stated expectations, and showing affection. Such parents are my daughter and her husband. Yes, the one I called out here. I also said he was a good man. He treated me well when I met him, he included me in their plans, and opened up and shared his heart. God knew I would need that information for the potholes on the road ahead.

He seems to be always thinking about how he can grow his four sons into good men. He models service and takes them with him to keep the lawns and flowerbeds around their church looking good. He engages their help on projects so they can learn how to handle tools and themselves. And he usually takes them one at a time either to help him or run errands. They love being with him. And that speaks of his respect for them.

I remember before they got married asking the two oldest if they wanted them to get married. (It was pretty obvious–they had been praying for him to come over for six months before he did, but I wanted to hear what they would say.)

They both said a feeling yes, so I said, “You like the way he treats your mother?”

And the younger said, “We like the way he treats us!” I was so impressed to hear a 7 year old say that!

Their step-dad sold his beloved motorcycle because “it wasn’t the time of life” for one. He got a motorhome so they can all go camping. He’s a busy man but he has gotten an old truck so he and the oldest can fix it up together for when he is ready to drive–about two years from now. He is capable like my daughter’s father, and can do most anything. He will be a great teacher for her boys. But the best part is that he wants to be. And even better than that, I know he prays for help and direction daily.

There isn’t a more influential position, no more powerful job than parenting. And fathering is so important that Jesus was purposely planned to be born in a stable, most likely a cave, so he could be birth-bonded to Joseph, his stepfather. The father-love of God would be his favorite topic, and he needed to have a good earthly experience of that from birth. Joseph obviously died before Jesus was 30, but by that time, Jesus had formed such a powerful, real connection with God, his biological father, that he transitioned that loss well.

He modeled for us the relationship we can have with God as our own father. So don’t despair if your father was less than good. Satan has worked very hard with his forces to distract fathers and discourage them from filling their roles well, because he knows how important it is to our maturity.

Consequently, many of us didn’t have great fathers. But we do have one in God. And He is just as available to us as He was to Jesus while he grew up here as a human man. Abba pursues you more ardently than any human father would or could. You can talk to Him at any time, in any place no matter what. All you have to do is want to. No, you don’t even have to want to. You can choose to even without the feeling. He honors any tiny step toward him no matter how feeble, any tiny choice for Him no matter how flimsy, and takes a huge compensating step toward you.

He will give you what you need, what you want in a father, the approval and structure you crave, even to a sense of his personal presence holding you. You never have to feel rejected or alone again because He loves you as if you are His only and His own. Make a special time to be with Him and He will be there for you; you will feel His smile.

In the words of Kristine D’Marco’s song, “He is my father; I never wonder if His plans for me are good, if He’ll come through as He should; for He is provision, and enough wisdom, to usher in my brightest days, to turn my mourning into praise. I am who He says I am. He is who he says He is. I’m defined by all His promises, shaped by every word He says. I am no victim. I’m not a poor man. With the King I have a home, the kingdom’s now become my own. He is my father. He is provision.”

If you want to get a good look at the father-love of God read episode one of Love’s Playbook! 

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The Greatest is Love

I looked at the clock and it was 2 1/2 hours after I went to sleep! Lately it had been 3 hr. and 4 hr. nights with 9 and 7 in between. What is going on? I got up and spent some great time with God, and did try to go back to sleep but it didn’t happen.

It wasn’t until the next morning that it hit me–I am worried about failing. We are having house guests for a week and I’ve been excited, but suddenly realized I was also scared. We know them well, almost like our kids, and are honored they want to stay with us. They asked two years ago, and I knew it was because they are comfortable here. But being that close for that long tends to magnify weaknesses.

What if I don’t sleep and my energy drops and my attitude with it? What if irritation comes from something that is said off the cuff? What if…? And then I realized why I was waking up–I’m scared we will ruin our friendship! I mean your kids are your kids and will always be, that bond is strong, but friends…? It’s a risk!

But when I realized what I was dealing with, I could think about it, and admit the fear and make choices.

I love these kids and obviously they love us. We will do what we need to do–go on vacation too. We will relax and play and let them relax and be themselves. We’ll do what we do when our grandkids stay, clear schedules, play, and lower expectations or talk about them. Wow, that felt better. We will enjoy our time with them. We will celebrate friendship.

That was last week and I decided to wait till this week to finish it, and let you know all the good that happened. That was confident!

There was adjustment for sure. The first day they were later than I expected, but I used the time to relax and do things I wanted to. Once they got here and we started playing with the kids, it was great! (We are honorary grandparents.)

But I won’t lie, the house felt up-side-down; every surface in my kitchen was covered and some of the floor. Toys all over the living room. I had to remind myself that I had committed to relax and enjoy them.  When they came they had given me opportunity to ask for more time or set boundaries. I said I thought I should have no expectations. I knew a lot of people wanted to see them. I meant it, but I did have to remind myself a few times.

Then it happened–they had so many plans, the dark side whispered we were just the motel, but I reminded myself that they had asked what we wanted and I had said “Friday night” for sure. But by Friday, I was loving it. I had been asking God for perspective help continually. And it helped that my friend expressed wanting to spend more time just hanging out with us, and I knew it was heartfelt. I wished it too, and voiced it, adding I didn’t want to be selfish. That helped also, as well as them including us with mutual friends on a couple of occasions.

Altogether, it was a great reconnection. It proves God can help you make difficult situations wonderful if you ask to focus on love.

We made some great memories. The first morning was a glorious one and I went outside early, and soon the four-yr-old was out there with me. The sun was clear and perfect, the air and birdsongs too, as we watered the flowers on my path to the gazebo–something she loved doing! It is a beautiful memory! Also relaxed dinners on the patio and just sharing.

It was supposed to get hot before they came but God answered my prayers and it didn’t. Our flowers stayed beautiful and grew even better. But the evenings were warm! Strange here to have both. I believe God loves to give us good things, just because we ask, and loves to see us enjoy them. I spent so many years with the wrong idea about Him (Them)–like He was taking every opportunity to test us and grow us. I was afraid of Him.

That belief seems silly now. I don’t think He (They) test us at all. Now I think it is the dark side, and if we belong to God, They only allow it if They see it will be in our best interest. Or if the universe needs to see us correct something. Satan is our accuser. I believe he objects to God giving us great blessings “we don’t deserve.”

I do believe God has good boundaries and holds them when we need it, just like a good parent says no to keep us safe and make us secure. I know how hard it is to say no to beloved children–harder yet to hold that “no”. I also know, and have watched, how important it is to their development. But I have learned that love is the greatest thing in any relationship, whether it is giving or building and protecting, and is definitely who God is.

We could never have this kind of love without God programming it into us. It can so easily be taken from us–stolen right out of our lives, I’ve seen that too: trauma and abuse, human trafficking are so hard on love.

I am so proud of all the people working against it actively. That is a hard calling. It is difficult to work with, difficult to witness, but so important. Darkness is going to get stronger as God allows the dark side to show the ugliness of being separated from Him (Them) and Love.

This needs to happen so choices are clear. Evil has to be revealed. But don’t be confused, God IS Love, and has nothing to do with evil. They didn’t create it–only the freedom to choose it so love could be real. The greatest is real love.

 

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Gentleness and Firmness

Have you awakened from a dream so good, you wanted to stay in it? I’m sure you have, it was that way for me this morning. I went back to sleep and continued it. But it was such a good dream and so exciting that I couldn’t seem to stay in it for long. However, the repeat was enough to convince me it was true, and that was the best part.

I seemed to be on vacation with my husband and my whole family. The place was so beautiful, the weather so perfect, and the fun so surprising and special. God told me He was going to tell us some things, and not to discount the children’s input, and it seemed all my grandchildren the oldest to the youngest were there. It would be a Divine treasure hunt, each one supplying his or her piece to the instructions. We only got the first part before I woke up, But the feelings of it were so fun, so wonderful, I had to ask God if I could share them here because later I know they will fade.

I intended to finish this last weekend and never got back to it, and the feelings did fade. I don’t remember “the first part”–wish I’d written it, but when I read about the dream again, I thought of the prophecy in Joel 2. It is about a very dark time, after which God’s people turn to Him, and He pours out his Spirit on them causing their sons and daughters to prophecy and see visions.

I also thought about God’s love. I think about it a lot, but this time it was more analytical. I’m writing about Samson who didn’t seem to want his gifts and calling and kept turning away to do his own thing. And yet God stayed with him and blessed and helped him–until he sold out. And then he let his enemies take him. They were cruel, but his forced hard labor gave him time to think and get it all sorted out. And he turned to God for real, not just for help. And then when he got the opportunity, he asked for God’s help one more time to defeat his enemies, and it was given to him. It’s a sad story, one that went so differently than God would have liked, but it ended well.

What gets me, is the firmness and gentleness of God’s love. He is so steadfast, so constant, so gentle with our craziness, so gracious with our self-willed, do-it-my-way attitudes and behavior. And yet He is firm.

“You don’t have to be harsh to be firm.” I say that a lot to my clients. It’s taken me a lifetime to learn it. It’s just that our anger gets in the way!

Does God get angry? Oh yes, God gets angry, but His anger doesn’t make Him mean like our anger does. He gets sad, and steps back to let us have our own way–which we think is freedom and is really controlled by the dark side.

Freedom that fits us, that frees us, that revives us is only found in love. That is all through scripture, but especially in the story of Samson who just keeps insisting on his way, and God stays with him until He can’t. (Because He respects freedom, and we live in a war.) But as soon as Samson turns back to God, God is there.

It takes a truck load of strength to be gentle and firm at the same time–to give freedom with boundaries and hold them firmly even if you have to step back and let someone spiral out-of-control. It’s so hard to watch. So hard not to get angry. So hard not to lose faith. But our anger usually makes things worse. Usually, but not always, if it’s well-directed at evil. Even then, true love is not harsh. It just lets go.

I’ve talked quite a bit about boundaries here, and how important they are, how healthy they are. They undergird our security. They are necessary to protect freedom.

God is so matter-of-fact with boundaries: saying this works, this doesn’t. We get stirred up. If only we could take our personal feelings out of the equation–our feelings of being hurt by the other person’s choices. When it’s your children it’s hard to do. And if it is defiance, that is really hard and needs to be addressed, but still anger contaminates our response. God does come down hard on defiance, but again, He doesn’t hurt us; He steps back.

I don’t see God as punishing. Punishment comes from our need to hurt someone. God doesn’t have that. Why would He? He has no desire to hurt us, only to uplift us and see us thrive. Revenge is not in His character. I know Isaiah has God saying “Vengeance is mine. I will repay…” but that is because He can handle it without anger and we can’t. He does it by giving us the natural results of our choices, and since evil is alive and well on this planet, when He steps back, they jump in to cause suffering. They are cruel, their characters have become ruined and they love to hurt us and destroy us and all happiness. But that is the opposite of God. He has no pleasure in our suffering or death. I have gone back to the original words on some passages like the second commandment, where “visiting” or “punishing” could have been translated “overseeing” as in looking for a response to love in estranged children for four generations. It’s our bias that often determines the translation. So we have made God look more like us than He (They) should.

The more like God we become, the more we will be free from fear and anger. The more free we are the easier it is to be firm and not harsh. Gentleness and firmness do go together. They work together for good.

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Mother Love

I woke up thinking of course a parenting blog needs a post in honor of Mother’s Day. It seems only fitting to give praise where it is due since I give constructive criticism fairly freely. Life is all about balance, right?

So this goes to every mother who has ever loved a child and felt it so deeply it is painful. And yet it is a love so deep you never thought you could feel love to that level. It’s an experience like no other.

There is a saying, “To be a mother is to forever walk around with your heart on the outside of your body.” It is the most versatile, demanding, rewarding, confronting and joyful job you could ever have–the hardest and the best. It stretches you like nothing else. You want so much for these little beings who are expressions of you and yet so uniquely themselves and so much more than you are, it is truly amazing. Sometimes its hard not to jump in and “help”. Your experience gives you an advantage and yet is a disadvantage.

Mothering is such a contradiction: to love so much it hurts, to want so much for them and yet to hold back and let them make mistakes and go through hard times, and to celebrate their triumphs and successes till you think your heart will burst.

Nothing hurts so much as being pushed away, ignored, “hated” by your own children or grandchildren. It takes everything you have to understand and maintain balance and self-worth in light of that, and yet you rejoice in that too, knowing it is healthy for them to come into their own individual independence.

And other times you realize it is just emotion–they don’t really hate you at all. I remember the first time my 6 yr-old-grandson said “I hate you grandma! I wish you would just go home!” It was like a slap, and yet I knew he didn’t mean it. And his 3-yr-old brother said, “No, Grandma! Don’t go home! I don’t want you to leave!” So even there God provided balance to help me keep mine.

One of my daughters only ever wanted to be a mother. I don’t think she ever wanted anything as much as that. And now she has five children. And is an amazing mom. She says, “This is a lot of children! They are glorious, beautiful, messy and painful.” She loves it. She says she sometimes aches that I am not there to share the beauty and the glory. Me too. Yet I do–from afar. I watch her and I am blessed. Each one is so different. So unique. So special. So loved. It definitely helps me understand God. Being a mother always has. I never really comprehended His love until then.

God is a mother as well as a father. Isn’t that just the coolest thought. We are each unique, each special, each so loved it hurts and thrills Them. All Three of Them God. All love you like that! All support you, cheer for you, and allow you to make mistakes–honoring your choices–even ones that cause pain. And They never stop loving. No matter what you do. They will let you do it–let you leave Them and Their love–and never stop loving. What amazing self-control! Amazing love. Even better than mother love! How is that possible? Only God!

 

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Boundaries VS. Ultimatums

This has been a crazy, stressful week, and this will be a short parenting blog, so a short topic–a simple one. What is the difference between an ultimatum and a boundary?

A boundary describes your action. An ultimatum describes what another person must do. They can both have consequences, but in the boundary you don’t set up the defensiveness and pushback that the ultimatum does.

An ultimatum says, “You must… and sounds very controlling and demanding. A boundary says I’m going to… if you don’t honor my rule, my need, etc.

In the one you are demanding compliance; in the other you are informing of your possible forth-coming action pursuant to their action. For example, if you want your child to honor the curfew, stated as an ultimatum it is: “Be home by 10:00 or you won’t go out this weekend.” Stated as a boundary it would sound more like, “Remember your curfew is 10:00. If you don’t honor it, you won’t be using the car this weekend.” Not a huge difference, but it feels a lot different.

A boundary puts responsibility on the other person but takes responsibility for your action. It is more likely to evoke cooperation than an ultimatum, which usually makes people feel rebellious.

An adult situation where ultimatums are often used is affairs, “If you don’t stop seeing the other woman/man I’m leaving.” Stated as a boundary, “I can’t live like this; it’s too hard. If you want to keep seeing her/him then I have to go.” One produces angst and rebellion, the other will more likely elicit compassion and responsibility.

When it comes to children, yes, you want them to do what you want, and respect your authority and rules, so make it as easy as you can. It doesn’t have to be a test. In fact if you treat them respectfully, it will foster their respect for you which is the best way to parent.

If it feels like you are always challenging them to a dual, or at least a power struggle, you aren’t teaching cooperation but rebellion, sneaking, or defiance. Programming like that sets up a child to suffer poor relationships–likely having problems with authority (bosses, the law, and of course spouses). Teaching cooperation sets up good will and greases the wheels of social interaction. Modeling and teaching respect will help your child all through life–make it easier.

If you were set up that way–resisting and challenging everyone, expecting to be defensive, you will find it hard to parent differently. You will have to go back and look at where your tendency came from, have to forgive whoever taught you, and practice being mindful and doing it differently.

If you start young with your children, it’s easier. When they are young they truly want to please you  and win your approval. Every parent knows that if you could get them to want what you want, parenting is easy.  But they won’t always, and they have to separate, so make it as easy and respectful as possible. At the same time, do NOT let them do whatever they want to. As I’ve been saying for weeks that is really hard on kids.

I know it is in vogue not to say no to your kids, but it’s wrong.  I hear all the time how schools and preschools are not using no, that is so bad for boundaries which, I will say again, give children security. They want and need boundaries. No is a very important word to healthy child development. It creates a boundary of safety that feels loved, even when your teenager hates it.

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You Won’t Be Perfect but You Can Learn From My Mistakes

Much of my learning has come the hard way–making the mistake and then coming to understand it. For instance, I learned about “mystification” and how bad it was for a child the week after I used it on my daughter. I felt horrible, but there it was in my child development text in graduate school–clearly what I had just done in black and white.

She hadn’t wanted to start school, and I mistakenly gave my six-year-old a choice that was too big and would have life-altering affects.

We had been alone almost three years after her dad left for the last time, and he had recently been diagnosed with Lupis, and  support stopped coming. I was in grad school and forced to go back to work. I gave her the choice to go to Grandma’s or start school because I was a big believer in  “better late than early” education and giving choices.

But I didn’t realize there are choices a child isn’t equipped to make, and by giving them your power you abdicate and make them feel unsafe. The best mother I knew then had said, “I think children know what they need,” I was impressed by that and based too many decisions on it. I totally disagree now.

So she chose Grandma’s house but when it came time to fly alone, she didn’t want to go. Then I just said, “But you chose it. You’ll be fine. Grandma will meet you at the airport,” quieting my own fears as well. What kind of mother puts her child on a plane alone at six?

I comforted myself with, In a month she will turn seven.  (Which is also a transition time for a child. They began to realize they aren’t the center of everything. It can be difficult. But I didn’t think about  it. I don’t think I knew it yet.

Three months later I went back and spent Christmas with her and Mom. She desperately wanted to come home with me, but I knew it would be hard. So I put it on her again! This time more artfully. I told her, “You can if you want, but you’ll be miserable. I will be working long hours getting ready for a big event and you will have to go with me either to the office or the computer lab.”

“I don’t care. I’m going home with you!” she said.

I said “Ok, but I don’t think you’ll be happy,” (in that tone of voice that says you are making a big mistake).

Over the next few days it came up again and was basically the same conversation. I cringe now even remembering. I wasn’t a strong enough person to say, “No. I know you want to, and I love you and would  like to have you with me, but it is better for you if you stay with Grandma for another month. I’ll be working too much.” And just made the decision.

I didn’t want to be the bad guy, so I put it off on her. I kept saying she could come home but I didn’t think she would want to if she knew how miserable she would be.”

Just before she and her dad took me to the airport, I told her she could come home but she would be happier here with Daddy and Grandma. She flatly said she was staying with Daddy. Anger flashing in her eyes. I had never seen that before. She knew what I had done inside, even if I didn’t yet. She wouldn’t even say good-by at the airport. She turned and walked away with her dad.

I got on the plane and cried. I felt awful but I didn’t know why. I told a friend what had happened, and he said, “She felt like you didn’t want her. It would have been easier for her if you had just said, ‘You can’t come home yet because I have to work too much.'” I was amazed. How did he know that? At his suggestion I wrote her a letter telling her I was sorry for letting her make the decision. I should have. I loved her and missed her and wanted her with me, but I felt it was better for her to be with Grandma for another month.

That very next week in class I learned about “mystification”: making children think that they have the power, when clearly they don’t and shouldn’t. You give them the choice, pretending it’s theirs, but you are manipulating them with words or bribes to make the choice you want them to make. Perhaps even worse than that is really giving them the power. It’s way too heavy. (You may remember I had done that when she was four after her dad left, and then had worked for two years to take it back.)

But here I was with a more sophisticated form of power–manipulation, because I was too weak, too afraid she wouldn’t love me or like me. I was sick at heart, and it really worked havoc on her development. My mom had told me she wasn’t the same child when she got off the plane. I think she must have decided on that four-hour ride that I didn’t want her. Magnified by what I had done at Christmas. I didn’t know until adolescence when she referred to it as the time she was “sent away.”

Then I nearly turned inside out trying to correct it. I hope we did. I had much better tools by that time. But it hurt just as much. And even then, I was stupid and said, “You chose to go to Grandma’s, I didn’t send you away. I gave you a choice between that and school and you chose that. Yes, it was wrong to give you such a huge choice so young, but I didn’t send you away.”

Now I’m saying, “I’m so sorry I didn’t know better. If I had it to do again, I would have kept you with me and put you in school. I would never have given you the decision, and then mystified you, by pretending it was your choice, and manipulating you to make the one I wanted you to make. You should never have had the choice to make. You were too young. And I am so sorry for the pain it’s caused you.”

The pain from that experience became beliefs that she wasn’t wanted and was in the way. And she carried them by herself for almost ten years! It’s painful for me think about even now. But it’s important for you to know so you won’t make the same mistake. Parental strength is important and makes a child feel safe. Making hard decisions, saying “no”, and holding the power is important.

If you lack the strength or wisdom to make hard decisions, ask God for help not your child.  God promises to give you both.

 

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