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Friday, June 19, 2015

Parenting Advice - Who to Listen To

Recently I've been thinking through our journey as parents - thus far.  We're still early in the game - our oldest is only 14.  And as I reflect on these 14 years, I realize we have made many mistakes, one of which I want to share with you all so you don't make them too.  The mistake is this:  Modelling our parenting after those whose kids were not yet grown and who we admired for their exterior superiorness in behaviour and respect.

You see, we looked around us and picked out people with model children - those kids who smiled sweetly, were well-mannered, polite and obedient.  Emphasis on obedient.  These others were ahead a few years than we were, so of course their model - to produce such greatly performing kids - must be the way to go.

Please don't do this.

People look at us now and might be in our same shoes 14 years ago - our kids can look so wonderful to those who don't live here with us!  (Of course, they are wonderful, don't get me wrong - but they have soul issues just like the rest of humankind).

I was just thinking about this and thought, 'Well, who should I have looked to for modeling and as a shaping influence on me as a parent?'  Answer, 'Not those who are only a few years ahead.  Maybe those who are 20 or even 30 years ahead.'

My ideas about responding to others' influence has changed.  It used to be that the grandparent generation were just unfamiliar with our goals or the changes in society that demand new methods, models or ideas.  It used to be.  That's because I didn't see that they had walked the road much farther ahead and seen the outcomes of all the parenting styles out there.

It's not true that just because someone is much older that they have acquired more wisdom - we'd like to think it is, but I have met plenty a foolish elderly person who failed to acquire the necessary wisdom for life.  However, that said, it really MAY be true, and is likely true that they HAVE acquired plenty of helpful wisdom for us in our parenting journey.

If you're looking for answers to some of your parenting queries - how to get your children to be more obedient; how to get your babies to sleep better; how to teach them God's Word; how to pass on your faith; how to school them; how to socialize them... etc. etc. - maybe step back and look at the older generation around you.  Instinctively, I went to those who had kids 5-10 years older than mine.  I don't think this was the best thing.  Certainly these parents had wisdom and there was a wealth of learning I could gain from them.  But if I had dug deeper with those 20 years ahead, if I had listened to them and given more weight to their input, I think our parenting would have been better.

I look at the effect of some of our early ideals and I don't like what I see.

For example, the desire to have obedient children is a good one.  But if not done kindly, it can result in a depressed child who has never felt his/her thoughts/feelings/ideas about things matter in the family.  This is a terrible way to raise a child.  Yes, we want our child to obey.  But do we want them to be robotic?  Do we want them to be forced into a mould that says they have no voice?  This borders on abusive - abusing their spirit and not respecting them as God's image-bearer.  Remember, our children bear God's image in their souls/spirits also!  We would all recognize that physical abuse is wrong because we are not respecting the child's dignity.

What about emotional abuse?  This is difficult to identify as parents sometimes because we think they are ours to control.  Well, yes, to some degree, my child simply must obey.  I get that.  But on another level, God holds me responsible as their parent to BE THE ADULT.  This means manipulation and ignoring their heart cries, their complaints even (yikes!), shutting them down because 'I said so' is also wrong.  These things are not helpful in parenting, though they may yield great results in the short term.

People can look at children and think they are so obedient, delightful, respectful and superior.  And they can want to imitate that kind of parenting to produce these results.  But just wait 10 or 20 years til that perfectly obedient child must grow up inside, and learn what he/she thinks about things.  Just wait and see if they are comfortable in their own skin.  Wait and see if they are emotionally stable and healthy.  Then you can copy those parents' methods.  I'm sure it can be done - there are super, great, healthy families who parent very well and have methods that produce both obedience and joy in their kids.  Those are the families to imitate.  But you don't know how that went until the kids are into their 20's.

Start listening to what the older generation around you tell you about parenting.

They just might know a thing or two.

Believe me.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Kind of Neighbour I Want To Be

It is probably no surprise that I have a fascination (a combination of curiosity and respect) with the Amish.  They puzzle me and I think to myself, "Why would anyone live that way?"  And in the next thought I think, "Why doesn't everyone choose to live that way?"  Which only goes to show how bizarre my thought process can be.  One minute I lean one way, the next, I reconsider!

  But because I find them peculiar and interesting I do often read about them.  Mind you, not the fiction, though I tried that and just couldn't stomach it.  I need not go into what I think of these pseudo-novels here, but suffice to say, it did little to satiate the desire I had to know of them - who they are, why they are, how they live etc.  When I want to learn something, I tend towards non-fiction material (though fiction can be helpful in many areas of growth and learning, to teach and inform us in ways we didn't realize were possible).  A few weeks ago, I picked up a book at a thrift store called Plain and Simple by Sue Bender.  I have been reading it some off and on, in the midst of the other 14 books I'm reading!  (Yes, I counted them and there are indeed 14 others.  When I got to 15 I capped the list and told myself to finish something before adding anymore...)

  At the same time I have just finished reading Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen.  There are actually some amazing parallels between the two, coincidentally.  And combining the thoughts of these two I am formulating ideas of who I want to be, what kind of community I want to interact with, how I want my world to connect.  Specifically, what kind of neighbour am I?  In the most literal sense - a neighbour is someone who lives nearby.  In the broader sense, it means all the people in my world - who I have contact with - who know me, see me - even in the smallest measure.

  And what I get from the Amish, and from the thoughts of Nouwen in Reaching Out is what it means to be hospitable.  Hospitality is a character trait - much more than fancy dishes and napkin rings.  It is a state of the soul that welcomes another - warmly, receptively, with compassion, friendship and joy.  This is the kind of hospitality I want to engender in my life.

In Plain and Simple, Sue Bender writes, "Confused, I made a pilgrimage to the house of my neighbors, Ruth and Tino.  They weren't Amish...but...Each time I stepped into their home, I left behind a world of frenzy and entered a tranquil place.  I know that's supposed to happen when you go to church or temple, but it happens to me in my neighbors' home."

I wanted to jump up and down saying, "YES! That's the kind of neighbour I want to be!"  The kind that lets others enter as they are - without judgement - and gives them a place to just be - to hear wisdom, kindness, mercy - to receive the open hand of friendship.  I want my home - or beyond that - my presence, to be a hallowed place where people leave behind their frenzy and find a tranquil place - because that is the kind of world I want to function in.

Much of my life is certainly frenzied and NOT tranquil.  But it is tranquility that I love.  So maybe in spite of the normal frenzy that life brings I can carry a steady spirit of willing engagement with those around me.  Maybe I can offer hospitality to others even if my world seems to be falling apart.  Maybe in the struggles of life we can find communal hospitality to serve each other in our deepest need.

This is the kind of neighbour I seek to be.

Nouwen writes, "The German word of hospitality is Gastfreundschaft which means, friendship for the guest.  The Dutch use the word gastvrijheid which means, the freedom of the guest...It...shows that hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone.  Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place..."

There are certainly times when hospitality can be challenging.  But I realize that there is healing in the welcome - there is joy in community.  And community is fake when it isn't bathed in true, genuine, hospitality.

It isn't lost on me that the word 'hospitality' contains the word 'hospital'.  The hospital is where broken or sick people go to get treatment - immediate care, help, and repair!  If I am to be hospitable in my spirit, I must be ready to welcome the sick, hurting, broken and seemingly beyond-repair types.  And in fact, we have this example in the Lord Jesus Who chose common fishermen for his crew, invited prostitutes and tax-collecters to be His friends and who ate and drank with the lower class of society.  He willingly associated with the hurting and disenfranchised, and He welcomed little children and blessed them.  This is a picture of hospitality in its truest sense.  That Jesus created space for others to just be themselves.  Yes, He called them to change - but He cared and instructed and nurtured and was patient.  This is the kind of neighbour I want to be.

And ultimately hospitality is about the Gospel:

Nouwen again writes, "Only when we have come in touch with our own life experience and have learned to listen to our inner cravings for liberation and new life can we realize that Jesus did not just speak, but that he reached out to us in our most personal needs.  The Gospel doesn't just contain ideas worth remembering.  It is a message responding to our individual human condition.  The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules.  It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.  Doctrines are not alien formulations which we must adhere to but the documentation of the most profound human experiences which, transcending time and place, are handed over from generation to generation as a light in our darkness. But what is the sense of speaking about light to people who do not sense their darkness?"

And the Church, of all places, is a place of hospitality - a place to be welcomed, nurtured, and given freedom to grow and hear from God.

This is the kind of neighbour I want our Church to be.  And it is the kind of hospitality I want to offer my Church community, neighbourhood, acquaintances and everyone else I meet.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

To Be Known

One of the many reasons I blog is because I am compelled to share my life with others.  I know it is impersonal - and that face-to-face relationships are best, but at times I have a need to simply write. Although I am trained to be extroverted I am naturally more inclined to being a social hermit - my companions would be authors, dead or alive (but mostly dead).  Though this is a romantic notion (having intimate relationships with dead writers - of course, only in my imagination - because it seems they know me and I know them), it isn't enough.  I so badly wish it were enough.  I want to remain reclusive - kept safe from relationships that could actually involve risk and pain.  Though this is my instinctive desire, I don't believe it is healthy.  By keeping relationships away, and only interactive via writing or by reading dead people's stuff, others are missing out on ME (and, Oh, What. A. Loss. ! - tongue firmly in cheek).  But more importantly, community ceases to exist when I sing to myself, "I am a rock, I am an island!  And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries."

So, in a limited sense I share myself, or some of myself in the blogosphere - which is, frankly, a poor substitute - or no substitute at all, for real, fully present, in the moment, 'here's who I really am' conversations and struggles.  It is so safe to just dump my thoughts here and run for cover!  It is an awkward way to communicate - one sided, filtered, biased and yet freeing all at the same time.  Thank you for letting me share my 'stuff' with you!  Whoever you may be...

Where does this come from, this need to write?  This need to express?  To share my life?  It stems from a need to be known.  And this is a need we all have, I believe.  This is why God says to Hagar, when she is despairing of her life and her son's life out in the desert, "I see you."  And she calls Him, "The God Who sees."  This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible - because it tells me God sees me - He knows me - and in the knowing there is care, love, grace, hope and mercy poured out on my life.

Until recently, I wanted to camp out there - in the idea that God sees me.  And I have, and do, and I love it.  But He doesn't stop there - He has placed me in the communal family of His body.  He wants others to see me - to be His body to me.  He wants me to know others - to grow in intimacy, even if it includes pain.  Even if I discover a callousedness in others that is disheartening.  Even when I am lonely and think no one cares to know me.

I still think it is too much work to know me - that someone the enormity of my self is a burden too great to place on another in the guise of friendship.  I am distrusting, cautious, withdrawn and fearful at times.  I only share this because I want us to think (collectively) about this issue - there must be others like me (I wonder?) who assume they are too much for the community of faith to handle!  I don't want others to think I don't want to know them because they are too complex or burdened!  Do I communicate this to others somehow?  Perhaps.  I hope not.

Back when I was 17 and emotionally raw (okay, that didn't just end when I was 17) I wrote a depressing story in my journal.  I'll share it here as it speaks volumes.  I warn you that it is depressing to prepare you before you read it - I warned you.  But why I share this is because I wonder if others feel the same way?  Am I missing reaching out to people who wander through my community because I haven't taken the time to honestly affirm that they are valid and needed and wanted?  We love adoption stories because they communicate all these things to us - validity, being wanted, chosen, cared for, desired.  I don't want to only think of those things in terms of adoption - I want to adopt those around me as friends, who will be known by me and who will want to also know me - even with all my junk.


The Story of the Real Person

She is such a paradox. Her heart is warm and open, though in pain. Her spirit is healthy and strong, though alone. Her emotions are strong, though lacking. Yet her walls are stone cold, her barriers are miles thick and the real person hides, huddled in a corner, shivering, trying to keep warm on its own. But no matter how strong the heart may be or how warm the lifeblood that flows through her veins, she cannot sustain herself. She needs something, perhaps someone to reach out and touch her, to bring her close in a warm embrace and to say, "Yes, I do want to know you." And once this has happened, the stone cold walls are torn apart, the mile thick barriers are snapped like thread and the real person inside is seen: strengths and weaknesses. It is the weaknesses that will cause the rejection that will eventually follow. And once the rejection has occurred, the stones are replaced, piece by piece, but only this time the cement is twice as thick and the barriers are ten times as restricting and the real person is locked inside and begins to huddle up, pulling in her knees up to her chin. And slowly, ever so slowly, the warmth of the lifeblood begins to fade and the teeth begin to chatter and the spirit grows weaker and weaker.
The pattern repeats itself until one day when someone does say, "Yes, I do want to know you," the real person cannot hear. The barriers have become sound barriers of protection and though people pound on the walls, the real person stays inside, quietly huddled, declaring to herself that she does not need others, for they only bring pain. And eventually the heart grows weak and cold from the strain and it dies.
Then one day, someone comes across the corpse that lays cold and shriveled up in in the corner and asks, "Who was she?" And no one can answer, for all they can say is, "We never knew her."
And I ask myself: will anyone ever know me?

Explaining the Story: When someone says, "Yes, I want to know you," this instills hope, but through experience hope becomes weaker and weaker. Without hope the spirit dies (thus, the physical parallel in the story).

A sad ending to a true story based on real-life characters.

I am no longer that depressive 17 year old.  But I do sometimes go back to this and find myself in the same place.  Recently I have written about introspection and narcissism.  I have thought about how I viewed talking of onesself as self-centred.  And I am rejecting these notions.  Because to be known I have to talk about myself.  This is a healthy thing, not narcissism.  

I have no thoughts on how to conclude here - it is what it is, I suppose.  Here is a longing I have, and I daresay, you might have also.  I trust these thoughts will bring us to a truer sense of community and growth - where we are known and ultimately share in the knowing we have with God and spread His joy in being known by Him and in the priviledge of being able to know Him even to the smallest degree.