Tag Archives: Parenting

Flunking Mothergood

If you haven’t read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voscamp, you should just for the beauty of her writing. But be prepared to slow way down and experience her story. I discovered reading her book why I’m writing the Bible. It’s in the slowing down to experience the story that the real ah-ha learning happens.

I was caught in it again this morning. I was experiencing the beauty she was describing when suddenly my heart ripped open, remembering the child face beaming up at me, open and trusting.  At seven it changed–the trust–not the same. She thought she was in the way. Thought I had sent her away.

I didn’t even know it until she was 14? 15? A migraine brought it out one night. And I held her as she cried and told me about seven. How she’d felt all that time. I didn’t know.  It breaks my heart again.

I had known something… My mother said she wasn’t the same child who got off the plane at almost seven. I made it worse three months later when I came and talked her out of coming home for another two months–I would be working overtime. I discovered my part in hurting her right after and shared how sorry I was. How could I not have known her pain? Did I ask then? I asked for forgiveness for me, but not how she felt.

Does she know now how much she was loved? Have I told her? Have I communicated it? I think so.

But does she?

She must know now having her own children–the experience of loving five of them and the last one a girl so much like her.

But she won’t even let any of her older boys get on an airplane alone to stay with Grandpa and Grandma! Maybe she will hold them too tightly?

I am proud of her–so proud. She is amazing and grounded and loved by God. It’s more important now that she knows that–and she does. I think.

Sometimes I feel and hear her anger. I call it, but she says she’s angry we  didn’t move there, didn’t follow like we promised. I get it, but it would have meant getting divorced.

She got divorced instead.  I told her she could move home with her boys. But she didn’t think it was what God wanted. And instead she chose to depend on Him (Them) completely.  And what a marvelous love experience with God it turned into for her!  She knows she is loved by Them–lives in it. I guess you can flunk mothering and still be ok if God is your back up.

I do wonder, though, if all the feeling and beliefs of “seven” are healed. She says they are. I’m sure I can depend on God to bring them up for healing if I ask. That stuff can get in your way. She will lean too far the other way. I’m so glad God is willing to get all mixed up in our details. What a good God! I’m so grateful for a loving faithful Father who doesn’t make mistakes! What relief!


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Tribute to My Daughter

My daughter’s birthday is today. So this is for her. She has blessed my life so much. Her life hasn’t been easy but she shows that easy isn’t a requirement for goodness.

All of my children had a rough beginning. Two of them were given up at birth and their adopted mother died of cancer. That is hard.

And another kind of hard is thirty-nine years ago today I was in labor all night. She was born at 5:03 a.m. My daughter’s hard beginning was her father being in and out of her life from six months old, finally leaving when she was four.

I made sure she saw him every summer from 7 on, and don’t think I would do that again, but at least she knew him. So when I told her later, “It’s not you, it’s him,” she had some frame of reference to believe me. He was never good at being constant, and has left her with a huge daddy-sized hole in her heart. But she has done well to fill it with God, who heard my constant prayer and has done a lot of fathering with her.

Yes, she had a rough adolescence in places, she made her mistakes as we all do, but I tried to stay emotionally connected (even though I’m not good at that) and I did model a relationship with God. I am so grateful she caught it. So grateful she knew where true help comes from and went after it. Her first marriage wasn’t easy, but she tried hard. When it came apart she did her utmost to keep life as stable as she could for her three boys. She depended on God and He carried them–she saw many miracles of provision.

And you can see they caught God from her–a year later they were praying for six months that their friend and neighbor would become their dad and he did! It’s a great story, but it hasn’t been easy, blended families never are.

Our relationship hasn’t always been easy either, but as she said not long ago we definitely have a bond between us. I am so grateful for her love and what I have learned from her. She models a true walk with God. She consults Him continually, and she listens! No, she isn’t perfect, but as she says the pain and mistakes keep us real.

From the time I took her home from the hospital, I loved her in a way that I didn’t even know was possible. And for the first time I really “got” God’s love. She couldn’t do a thing and yet I loved her wildly. I had thought love and performance went together. I knew better, intellectually, but it was in my DNA. This is all fresh again because she just had a daughter this year who looked just like her mother when she was born. It was almost shocking!

Among the best gifts she has given me are her love, trust, and truth. Sometimes that last one hurts, as when she told me I wasn’t sweet. I had a visceral reaction. Her response to it, “Mom, you know you aren’t sweet. You are a lot of great things, but that isn’t one of them.” That one took me a few days, maybe weeks, to process. And there have been others since.

I value her friendship, clarity, honesty, ability, and her love. There isn’t a lot of sweetness between us, as she says I’m not good at fluff. I’ve never had much use for it. So I wanted to write this for her as a bit of fluff, because I don’t say things like this often, obviously not often enough. I thought I did, because it was more than I got. But I’m getting a picture of the kind of mother I really was. (As opposed to the sweet one I was in my head.) There is pain and salvation in truth.

I am grateful for you, Babe, so grateful for you. I pray the bond  between us continues to grow with warmth and sweetness. I am so proud of the beautiful woman you have become–beautiful inside and  out. And I still love you wildly.




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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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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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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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The Broken-Love Effect

Family systems says being the favored child is the worst position to have in a family. I only understood it theoretically, and through client stories, until lately, as I have watched the effect of it on my youngest grandson. The theory is: a favored position gives you way too much attention, too much pressure, and too much power. It makes you insecure because children can’t handle that much power–they aren’t capable, besides the fallout of making siblings resentful.

As I have shared here, I have lived how hard it is to be a step-parent: to be fair, to not express more affection to your own, to not take their side in everything; and I can’t imagine how much harder it would be when your own is the youngest! But I see the effects on both the favored one, and the older three. And it makes me sad. I love all of them, but the dynamics make me lean toward the older three.

It appears the favored gets all the affectionate words and gestures; to him it computes as power. He can do things, like walking around on the built-in bench during dinner, while his father seems not to notice. If the others even accidentally kick it while eating, a swift reprimand follows. They see the difference and it hurts, even while they try not to let it.

They love and admire their step-dad, more than I have ever seen, and I am afraid his favoritism, even while they try to understand, is going to cause them to disrespect him, and resent the little one–whom they now all love. In one sense they are getting the best fathering, but I see in their eyes the longing for the affection he gives the youngest. But what is the father to do? It’s the effect of bonding–it’s natural. Yet he does seem oblivious to the bad effects of it.

The weight of all this attention, without the boundaries, is ruining the three-year-old, and will make him into someone none of them like or respect. He is insecure and insolent, expecting to get his way, and throwing a fit when he doesn’t. His father can’t seem to say “No” to him. He tries to make it something he wants to do or at least needs to do, “mystification” is what it’s called. (More on that next time.) But the three-year-old easily says, “No” to him! And it’s not his fault. It’s the way he thinks life works. His dad bends to his will. How much he needs that simple “No” that stays solid and doesn’t change, every single day! Maybe twice a day.

I had just written the book on Jacob and Joseph when I began to see this, and it was certainly true in Joseph’s case but with enough variation that it’s easy to downplay. Obviously his brothers hated him because their father favored him. And his father, while he didn’t try to hide it, evidently was affectionate with all of them. Also, the brothers had four mothers! And they knew it was because his mother was favored.

It wasn’t until after she died that the favoritism became ugly. Joseph tells their father an awful thing some of them had done (we aren’t told what) and gets them in trouble. And after that it is on! They hate him. He seems oblivious to their feelings, or at least the extent of them, and treats them as brothers. His father doesn’t seem to realize the depth of their hatred either, or what they are capable of–which he had certainly experienced at Shechem.

Why didn’t all the favor ruin Joseph? Two huge variables: Suffering, and the stories of his father’s faith. The suffering of exclusion was made tolerable because he was so close to his father and spent hours talking with him, especially in the suffering of losing his mother. (Jacob told Joseph all the stories of his own mistakes and his relationship with God. Jacob had run from home because of what he did, and God had forgiven him and gone with him. He promised to be God’s man and God blessed him with his friendship, even though he suffered greatly at the scheming of the dark side.)

Joseph’s suffering exponentially increased a year after losing his mother when his brothers sold him into slavery! He was 17 and from that crucible of pain came a man who determined to be God’s man, no matter what! God honored that choice and made him a huge success–after more suffering. It’s one of my favorite historical stories (episode three of Love’s Playbook) and is a great example of family systems. It was Joseph’s choice and the sharing of his father’s faith stories that made the difference. Joseph’s suffering helped him see things clearly. But would that have happened without the sharing of his father’s faith and stories?

So what can my son-in-law do? He’s a good man, and can be an awesome father to all of them. I believe it. Could he spread the affection around? (I didn’t. I just shut down, expressing little to all of them. It was easier because they criticized me. I tried hard to be fair. I didn’t know until recently that my daughter suffered from it. I thought she got enough. They all suffered.) 

Being a good step-parent takes a lot of awareness and presence and intentionality. It takes inviting dialogue and choosing. It takes time and listening and not discounting the feelings of the others. It takes being secure in yourself and open to others. It takes “liking” your step-children.

It’s a hard job, but it’s worth it. Our legacy is left in the characters of our children. It is the most important thing we do! And I don’t think You can do it without God. It was the sharing of Jacob’s stories of faith in God, and how it had helped him, that helped Joseph make good decisions and brought him through extreme suffering. We are all broken. We are going to make mistakes in parenting. Our love is broken, but it can still have good effects on our children.

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The Love Effect

Yesterday I was with friends who got into a discussion about love. We had just finished reading Love’s Playbook 2 and 3 on Genesis. And the gal leading our group said, What is Genesis about? She told about watching Roadmap Genesis and how good it was, but it never answered the why question.

After all the discussion, I had to say, “It’s about freedom. Freedom and love are so important to God, that They have taken 6,000 years to show it.”

Of course that will be an ongoing discussion because we are just starting the book of Job (episode 4). If you are around Newbury Park, CA, and are inclined, come and join us at The Place, 10:30 Saturday morning.

Afterwards the pastor asked, “What is the Bible about?” and he got all kinds of answers, but not what he was thinking of, “The Kingdom of God.” That’s a good answer. But I, of course, like Love’s Playbook better. (smile) There are many right answers!

This morning I’m thinking about love and the Love Effect. How does love affect us? How does it affect children? Do you see it reflected by yours?

We have a description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, but mostly what it has done for me is make me feel like a failure, not good enough, I’ll never be that! So I came to put God in place of love when I read it, and I really like that. It gave me a whole new picture of God! Sad that I needed one.

I’m finding two classes of people who believe in God. People who believe God is all-good and all-loving, but who don’t read the Bible. And people who see good and evil as both coming from God who may or may not read the Bible, and others who want to see God as good, but read the Bible and get messed up. They come away with all kinds of questions.

If you read it you understand. It happened to me.

That is precisely why I am writing it. We can’t get better than our picture of God. Writing Judges really challenges this–even from a cosmic war perspective.

One thing that has really helped me is my friend Jean’s explanation; she is an ancient (Biblical) languages scholar. She says that there are two voices of God in scripture. His preferred will, and his allowed will. Most of the time we are seeing His allowed will. God values freedom so much that They (all three of Them) are willing to suffer to establish it!

Why? Because love isn’t real without it. Love is a choice.

I talked last time about love being a choice more than a feeling. And that is definitely true. At the same time, I heard myself telling a client this week that like is probably more important to a good marriage than love. You can choose to love anyone. But to like and admire someone, which makes him/her much easier to live with, requires a lot of like.

What does this have to do with children?

You obviously don’t always like them, but if you have any health, you always love them. And even when you don’t like them you can choose to love them.

But what is the love effect? How are our children affected by our love?

Love should not make us afraid. There should be no fear in love. Respect? YES! Fear? No!

I have a grandson that usually looks at you from under his eyebrows. It’s hard to describe. But his eyes are “closed” while they are open, and he almost always looks like he’s waiting to get in trouble, or expecting to get yelled at. He has been yelled at a lot. They all have–all eight of them. What makes the difference?

Love should not make us hide. God doesn’t want us to hide. That is when shame grows. It comes between us and Him–between us and people. We hide when we feel not good about ourselves–and we all have those places.

We see the first result of sin (separating from God, separating from love) as hiding in Adam and Eve. Hiding and shame are the same thing. The way you kill shame is in sharing with someone who loves you and accepts you. Do you feel that way with God? Do your kids feel that  way with you?

Love makes us confident. We can always feel sure about  going to someone who loves us, no matter how badly we have blown it. Even if we know they will be angry or sad, we still feel better when they know.

Love makes us relaxed. “Ah the comfort of feeling safe with a person…” said the poet. Intimacy is safety. When we know we are loved, we relax.

Love makes us secure. Security is the number one love factor for a woman. For children, boundaries make security–knowing what is expected is comforting.

Love gives us delight. God delights in you. Is that a crazy thought to you? He really does. Scripture is full of it–one of my favorites is Zeph. 3:17.

Love should give us love. When we are loved and feel it, it makes us more loving. Love is energy, it comes to us by receiving love. Think of it as electricity–you have to plug into the source.

Love should make us free. When we love someone, we leave them free to make their own choices. God does that  with us. We are absolutely free to choose against Them, and They are always hoping we won’t. They want to save us from the natural result of our brokenness, but they will respect our choice.

We can die if we prefer deathstyle to relationship.

So we need to train our children, help them make good choices, but leave them free to choose when they are adults. Just like God does with us.


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The Importance of Respect

Next to love and freedom, respect is God’s biggest value! We can teach respect while we don’t think of teaching love because we think of love as a feeling. Actually love is more commitment (decision) than  feeling, but it does usually include feeling–at least compassion.

How do I know this is so huge to God? I’ve believed it for years. But after finishing the book on God’s law ( Love’s Playbook 6, Exodus 24-Deuteronomy) I’ve had it confirmed for me. My favorite quote from the whole book is “If you love Me, My commandments will keep you,” which is a literal rendering of John 14:15 always translated, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”

My husband and I were on a mission in Chile, and using our interlinear Greek and English New Testament (smaller and easier to travel with.) And for the first time I was focused on the emotion of the disciples while reading. Jesus has just told them one of them will betray him, told Peter he will deny him three times, and then says He is leaving them. They are a mess!

And chapter 14 begins with Him comforting them. So He is saying all these comforting words and then suddenly says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments”? That seemed so out of place, downright odd! It didn’t fit the context. And as I read the next line, He says, “And I will ask Abba and He will send you another comforter,” back to comforting them again. I thought It doesn’t fit! So I went to the interlinear side and sure enough, I read “If you love Me, My commandments will keep you.” That made sense. Why had no one ever seen this before?

I asked everyone I could for the next six months, and no one knew; it was just Greek syntax. Finally a friend of mine gave me an answer that made sense, “They couldn’t think like that.” Of course, the collective consciousness hadn’t evolved that far! They were all about religion being rules they had to keep. No one would ever have turned it around to be God’s rules keep us. And yet doesn’t that make more sense with everything you know about God and parenting? You give your kids rules to keep them safe, healthy, congenial, and happy. Yes, even happy. Bedtime protects their happiness as well as yours.

And that is exactly how God started teaching the Israelites who had been slaves with no choices for 100 years. He gave them His laws. When Moses says it in Deuteronomy, and David says it in Psalms, it’s as if they can’t believe that God would do such an awesome thing, “He gave them HIS LAWS!” As if it was a total condescension for God to give us His laws!

Every law of God is based on respect. And respect is the basic form of love. First respect for God, second parents, and then everyone else. Even His ordinances were all about respecting others. The plan was to make life easy and happy. Not that it is easy to go against your natural inclination and reaction. But it does make for easier, happier relationships.

I don’t remember being taught respect. I’m sure we were–all I can remember is “Chew with you mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth full, because I said so,” etc. and to be sure my parents modeled some respect (they had been raised Mennonite), but I don’t know that I was taught respect except at school (especially in religion class).

But every place you are in touch with people, there are rules governing whatever you can do and can’t do. Driving is one of the most natural. If you’ve ever driven in a place like Haiti you understand: rules prevent chaos and death. It’s much more sane and pleasant to drive following the rules.

When you give slaves freedom what do they do? Either go crazy doing whatever they want, or sit still in fear, afraid to make choices and mistakes. So of course, God gave them rules.

There is a slight difference the way we use the words laws and rules. Laws are more likely to refer to natural law like gravity, and rules are more likely to adapt to organizations. Rules are more changeable than laws. Laws are just the way things work. If you defy natural laws, they break you; you can’t really break them. If you choose to jump off of a tall building you probably won’t succeed at defying gravity, unless someone has a net set up. Rules you can break, and maybe you will get away with it, and maybe not. The point is God gave laws and rules for protection and comfort and happiness.

When you have 2,000,000 people camping in the wilderness without bathrooms and running water and refrigeration, you’d better have some rules if you don’t want disease epidemics! That is so obvious to us now–but it wasn’t to them. It is so obvious to God that relationships require the same common-sense rules–but it isn’t to us. We think backwards because of the paradox of life on this planet: We were created to run on love, but we don’t anymore. It is not our first and most natural impulse or reaction. If you hit me, I want to hit you harder. If you hurt me, I want to hurt you more.

This weekend we are celebrating the biggest event of human history–besides creation. We are celebrating that Jesus lifted natural law for us by living as our “Do-Over”–the second Adam, or the second unbroken man–this one  was successful at keeping God’s law. Then He gave us the choice to accept his death as our death to the law of sin and death–our ways, and choose His life, maintained by living His laws–His ways. We won’t do it perfectly. He of course has to teach us those. And He is happy to do that with our permission. Putting them into our desires (called “writing it on our hearts” in scripture).

I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of respect. Satan introduced our world to the law of sin and death–disrespect, or do as you please, that ends in death–also called the curse of sin and death. It all pivots on respect. Not that we have to worry about learning it, we just have to be willing to. As Paul says “From first to last it is the work of God.” Our work is choosing.

And teaching our children respect will make it easier for them to love.

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