Monthly Archives: March 2011

Family Language Part 2

This past week I made my main ring tone on my phone the theme from the old TV show Cheers.  It isn’t that I was such a huge fan of the show when I was little, but simply because I love the idea of the song.  The lyrics are:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go…
Where everybody knows your name.  And they’re always glad you came.
You want to be where you can see, your troubles are all the same.
You want to be where everybody knows your name.

Those sentiments summarize the idea of what this topic is about:  your home being a place where you are understood the most.  Family Language is the utilizing (and intentionally creating) shared family experiences to give you a foundation for a language that you all understand fluently.  And it is when you are speaking a common language that the comment made during the building of the Tower of Babel becomes a goal to attain.

“The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.'”  Gen. 11:6

How do you create a Family Language?  I have several suggestions.

#1  Reading to your kids.  I’ve written before about my passion for children’s literature and daily reading to your kids.  Here is another reason to do so.  Most stories create an adventure to be had or an emotion to be felt, and when you read the story together you share those adventures/emotions.  You meet new people (characters), you travel to exotic lands (without ever leaving your couch), and you have shared victories or moral dilemmas to discuss with your family without the risk involved in either.

My eldest and I share a love of reading.  We also share the reader’s joy of I-feel-so-proud-of-myself-for-finishing-another-book.  In our house, we enact those feelings by getting each other’s attention and then slamming the book that we just completed.  In that one action, we communicate all of the pride, let-down, accomplishment, etc., that finishing a book entails. 

One summer, my eldest and I found ourselves traveling together, but in two different cars.  As she rode in the backseat of the car ahead of me, she turned around, grinned, and slammed her book.  I immediately knew exactly what she meant!  I, then, did a lot of cheering from behind the wheel.  Without  exchanging one word, we shared massive amounts of communication.  That communication was the result of having intentionally developed a shared language around reading. 

Another Family Language aspect to reading is the shared friends that you have.  We have always made it a point to know the friends of our kids; however, we didn’t have to work too hard to know the literary friends that our kids made.  We all knew and loved Wilbur (from Charlotte’s Web) and mourned with him when Charlotte “left”.  We celebrate with Anne Shirley as she was adopted and when she made her best friend (Anne of Green Gables).  We went on an emotional roller coaster with Sara Crewe when she realized her fortune, and her father, were gone (A Little Princess). 

Each of these characters became friends of ours that we discussed regularly.  We knew the heart of gold that Heidi had (Heidi), we knew what Charles Wallace would want for his birthday (A Wrinkle in Time), and we knew when Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit) felt out of his comfort zone and pressed on anyway.  

These characters became points of similar conversation, and point of references when we were trying to communicate deep emotions for which the younger kids had no words.   My oldest was, and still is, just like Anne Shirley.  The way she sees life and the way she breathes in nature is Anne.  When she was little, filled with huge emotions and a small vocabulary, we used to talk in Anne of Green Gables language.  “Mommy, I feel just like Anne did when she found out that Matthew had really wanted a boy.”  Or, “I want this as desperately as Anne wanted puffed sleeves on her dress.”  It helped to put word to emotions that were difficult to describe.

OK.  I’ve got to stop here.  This post is getting as long as the last one!  I’ve got a little more to write about reading to your kids, and a lot more about Family Language to share.   Stick with me, and over the next few days, I’ll continue this concept.  Please write if you have any questions, or any comments/suggestions.  I’d love to hear them!

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Family Language – Part I

Before I begin, while I wrote this article, I must give the credit of this concept to my amazing sister, Mikki.  She revealed this facet of parenting to me.  She is a gifted teacher and has taught this subject, plus many others, in the Minnesota area.  Besides that, she has played the role of sounding board, counselor, mentor, and dear friend to me.  She is one of those people who seems to be an expert at anything to which she puts her hand.  Besides that, she is a fitness fanatic and unbelievably beautiful.  You all try living up to a sister like that!  🙂 

So, on to Family Language. 

Genesis 11: 1 – 8  “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech…Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.  But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.  The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’  So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.”

The above passage is describing the scene of the Tower of Babel as told in Genesis in the Bible.  A group of people got together with the intent to build a tower up to heaven for two purposes:  so that they could make a name for themselves, and to prevent themselves from being scattered over the earth. 

God looked down, saw their progress and observed that anything that they tried to accomplish would succeed.  Without getting into the theology of this passage too deeply, I believe that the problem that God had with their efforts wasn’t their success, but rather their lack of dependence on Him.  They had determined to accomplish this tower without Him, and they had built up pride and arrogance that would’ve rivaled the height of the tower that they were building. 

To recapture their hearts and to reestablish their need for reliance on Him, he confused their language and scattered them. 

Common language.  Gathered.  Nothing intended to do will be impossible.

Different language.  Scattered.  No great goal accomplished.

That is the heart of developing a family language.  It is the concept that when everyone speaks in unity with the same language, everyone is understood, feels a part, and can accomplish anything to which they put their hands. 

Isn’t that what we want for our families?  Isn’t that the kind of counter-cultural family model to which we want to aspire?

So what is Family Language?    Of course,  it isn’t simply about the same dialect or regional language.  What I am speaking about is a language of shared experiences, shared goals, a simple code that families can share.  It is the intentional crafting of moments to which a family can refer. 

When I was in college, I spent a summer in Japan.  I went over with an organization from my campus that sent students on short term programs to teach English on their various universities.  I stayed with a Japanese family, and I worked with students on a Japanese campus.  I was immersed in the culture and language of Japan, even though I didn’t speak Japanese.

After having spent so much time hearing (and tuning out) the Japanese language around me, to be out on the campus or in the marketplace and hear English spoken, even if it wasn’t directed at me, was a head-turning moment.  Even though several languages might be spoken around me, and even though it was a very loud environment, I immediately tuned in on English being spoken – because it was MY language. 

And, what’s more, even though the person speaking English was a complete stranger, I felt like I KNEW them!  I felt like running up to them and pouring out my heart, sharing my experiences, and talking about the shared experience of being a foreigner in Japan. 

It is that sense of home, a sense of being understood, that a shared language creates. 

There are many languages in culture.  There are many groups who have crafted their own terminology and language.  And those groups are happily marketing themselves to your children to lure them away.  (Peers, internet, TV, gangs, etc.)  More than anywhere else they frequent, you want to make sure that the place where they are most understood, where their native emotional language is spoken, is in your home.

I’m going to stop here because this post is getting long and I have a lot more to say.  In my next post, I’ll give a lot of examples and suggestions on how to create a family language.  Until then, start thinking about what shared experiences you have had with your family that you keep referring back to, or that could be a point of unity for your kids.  At the end of this, I want to hear them all!

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Serene Saturdays #10

How do I thank you guys?  This week, because of a mini series that I published on discipline theories for your kids, I had a HUGE amount of people view my blog.  Actually, let me rephrase that…because you all reposted and passed on a mini series that I posted, I had a HUGE amount of people view my blog.  The number DOUBLED the amount of highest number of viewers I’ve had in the past.  What a satisfying feeling!  Thanks so much!

I spend time writing this blog for many reasons that have very little to do with being read; however, in the end, what I do is so much more fun and satisfying if it is actually read.  Thanks again for believing in what I am writing enough to share it with your friends!

Besides that, this week feels like it is bringing the winds of change.  We have been asking ourselves if how we are living and funding ourselves is sustainable, especially considering that our eldest has decided upon a college and we are exploring how to pay for that.  We are in a season of concentrated prayer, and once again, listening to the Lord for direction.  Nothing major to announce – I’ve just been living with the intensity that comes with big decisions. 

So much for which to be thankful!

 – A great, complete week of school…finally!

 – Spanish tutoring for my boys.

 – College scholarships.

 – Making a new friend (that’s you, Nancy!)

 – Encouraging words.

I pray that your weekend is hugely replenishing, and that you are able to leap into your next week with great energy!

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3 Kinds of Discipline – Part 2

In my last post, I proposed that there are 3 main theories of disciplining children:  Flesh-based; Formula-based; Faith-based.  I discussed the flesh-based aspect of parenting, and came to the conclusion that, according to the Bible, nothing done in the flesh lasts.  Therefore, any parenting that resorts to flesh-based strategies, while they may momentarily accomplish the purpose intended, in the long run will fail to meet the requirements of reaching your child’s heart. 

Today I am going to discuss the other two disciplining methods. 

Formula-based.  There are some great parenting theories out there.  Just like with most things, you can find parents who adhere to the 10 Steps, or 5 Must-Dos in raising great kids.  We all want simple instructions; the easy secret method.  We listen to experts and try to fit ourselves and our families into their models. 

However, I have found that the one-size-fits-all in parenting isn’t big enough to encompass the variety present in my kids.  I’ve found that if you put faith in a belief system other than God – even if it is a sound belief system – you’re being led by a human’s theory rather than Divine leading. 

I began my parenting journey with a theory in my pocket that ascribed to first-time-obedience-every-time-with-a-happy-heart.  What could be wrong with that?  Of course my children should happily obey my voice every time I speak.

 Thankfully, during my early years as a parent, I attended a Bible study in the home of a great friend with 6 children.  I respected her tremendously, both as a parent and as a godly woman, and watched her every interaction with her kids.  What I saw was love, individualized parenting, consistency and an expectation for obedience.  What I didn’t see, however, was an adherence to a formula, an expectation of blind obedience, or legalism to a philosophy that helped her feel in control, but left her kids and their wills and opinions completely out. 

By her example, I realized that formulas aren’t all they’re built up to be, and that only God knows our hearts and our kids’ hearts.  Relying on formulas prevents us from searching for God’s voice in each circumstance, and it forces our children into a mold that wasn’t custom made for them.

Faith-based.  Nowhere am I challenged to walk by faith more than in parenting.  On a moment to moment basis, I am reminded that I am in over my head, and that my lifetime’s experiences aren’t enough to raise my kids in a loving, consistent home.   

II Corinthians 3:4-6 “We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ.  It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.  He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.” 

Very early on as a parent, I saw the limits of myself.  I think most parents do.  About the time our beautiful baby begins to show its opinions about things and chooses to act in defiance of our will, we realize that we don’t have enough patience and wisdom to complete this task.  It is at this point that parents reach for either methods of their flesh or formulas that will guide them. 

I propose that it is at this point that what we should reach for is the leading of God. 

It is a continual moment by moment reaching for His voice, His direction, His answers. 

It requires taking a few moments, even in the heat of the moment, to take a breathe and ask for His guidance. 

It is a conversation with your kids to make sure that you’ve listened to them, and that you have your finger on the pulse of their motivations, their ambitions, their weaknesses and strengths. 

It is spending a few moments each evening going over the events of the day and asking for His perspective on various situations. 

It is time spent praying for each child. 

It is resisting the urge to correct out of the flesh, or to hold on tightly to a theory that would bind  your family to a set of standards that, while may be comfortable, may not fit with each member’s personalities or unique situations.

I had a little boy who was, simply stated, a huge behavior problem.  He was my instigator.  He stirred up strife and seemed to be at peace only if siblings both older and younger than him were angry.  However, this was at opposition to who he really was.  In his heart, he was a kind, thoughtful little guy, and I knew that he hated disappointing me. 

I began with a very strict stand on his behavior.  Discipline was firm, fast, and consistent; however, because of that, it seemed like he was constantly in trouble with me, and I was constantly disappointed and/or angry with him.  I quickly realized that this strong correction wasn’t touching him.  His behavior wasn’t changing, and I wasn’t reaching his heart.

So one night, I stopped to listen to what God might be trying to say to me about my son.  Almost immediately after asking God, I heard the phrase “circle of 3” followed by an explanation of what that meant.  This son didn’t know who he was, and he was striving to find his place within a family where the other 3 siblings were great friends and fit easily.  God showed me what a sensitive kid he was, and how these circumstances were causing him to not be able to find his sense of self, and therefore, he was acting out in a desperate attempt to find his place.

With that new information, I was able to radically change my parenting strategy.    I was able to initiate different kinds of conversations and implement different discipline techniques.  In short, I was able to reach his heart.

This would not have happened had I disciplined out of my flesh.  This would also not have happened if I had disciplined with a formula.  This kind of connection only happens when you discipline with faith in a God who knows you and knows your kids. 

For my sweet parent friends, I encourage you to put the formulas away and stop trying to parent with the limitations of your own wisdom and strength.  Start practicing hearing His voice and using His wisdom to guide your discipline practices.

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3 Kinds of Discipline – Part 1

When I use the word “discipline”, what I am referring to is a method of training that brings order and/or obedience in the lives of your kids.  Of course, there are in reality myriads of kinds of discipline – just look at your typical Barnes and Noble or Amazon under the parenting section, and you’ll see dozens and dozens of theories of how best to discipline your children.  However, from my experience, there are 3 main categories of discipline:  Flesh-based discipline; Formula-based discipline; Faith-based discipline. 

As I have walked through years of discipline, way past the theory stage and knee-deep in the practice stage, I have some thoughts about each of these categories.  Over the next two posts, I’ll describe what I mean by each category, and what I propose is the strategy to be employed in each circumstance.  For today, I’ll begin by describing what a flesh-based parenting strategy looks like.

Flesh-based.  It is so easy to parent from a flesh-based starting point.  The flesh tells us that our kids are exhausting, that they haven’t obeyed us quickly enough, that they are testing our patience, that they embarrassed us, that they need to be swiftly punished.  In the flesh, we have permission to vent our frustrations on our kids, to lash out with our words and hands, to make ourselves feel better by releasing some of the anger that we feel. 

However, the Bible warns us against the sins of the flesh and lusts of the flesh.  There is always a clear scriptural delineation between flesh-based actions and spirit-based actions.  Romans 8:13  “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” 

Nothing of the flesh lasts.  While you may have achieved a momentary goal by shouting at your child, intimidating them with your anger and displeasure, your ultimate goal of reaching their heart has been painfully missed.  Even though my kids may have conformed to my wishes, if I have attempted to parent them from the prompting of my flesh, I have put confidence in my sinful self rather than the leading of God’s spirit. 

When we give in to the urge to yell at our kids, we are parenting by the flesh.
When we use our authority to control or lord over our kids, we are parenting by the flesh.
When we make our kids submit by force of will and strength of hand, we are parenting by the flesh.
When we gain compliance by threatening or manipulating, we are parenting by the flesh.

While it is so stinkin’ easy to fall into this category, as a parent I had a built in reminder in my family.  My elder son simply couldn’t handle fleshly correction – even as a little boy.  ANY time I raised my voice at him, or even spoke more harshly than I needed to, he shuddered.  An involuntary, visible, and innocent shudder.  His body couldn’t handle my wrath or anger with no filters.  It was a heart-breaking, constant reminder to me to guard my flesh and watch my tones.  I am so grateful for his reactions, because it helped me be aware of when I’d slipped into a fleshly, self-satisfying mode of discipline.

In my next post, I’ll describe the formula-based theory and the faith-based theory, and I’ll discuss which one I believe is the correct strategy to employ.

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Serene Saturdays #9

This picture has been a vision of the future this whole winter – a lovely day being spent outside reading on the grass.  This week, we had a glimpse that it will become reality before too long.  While the temps dropped again, we had a day that was in the 70s.  So refreshing and restoring.  So exciting to see the seasons roll around again to a period of life.

I needed that this week.  My husband was gone and I was still on some pretty strong medicine to combat bronchitis.  The meds wiped me out and made me quite melancholy.  Quite.  It feels good to be out from underneath their influence, to have my husband back in town to rely on his strength, and to have the sun shining so beautifully.  It all adds perspective.

This week I am thankful for:

Sunlight/the hope of Spring.

A son who is an amazing baker.

The gift of perspective.

Organic seeds that arrive in the mail ready to be planted.

A week of rest and healing.

I pray that your weekend is life-giving and restoring!

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God’s Surprises

His little breath on my cheek.  His sweet eyelashes brushing against my face.   The warmth of his body curled up next to mine.  I willed time to come to a stop, and as I sat there with him, I breathed deeply of this supernatural gift.  I absorbed his softness, helplessness, innocence – and I walked away stronger, more courageous, and filled. 

We lived in the south and were on staff with a church.  A large church with 1,000s of members, and over 500 in the group that my husband led.  It was to this group that we had a gifting/personality expert come speak.  After spending several hours both listening and talking to our group, he determined that I should never have kids.  At the time, my eldest was a few months old, and the speaker seemed genuinely surprised (and worried) that I already had a child.

The reasons for his assessment were that, after having completed evaluations on personality styles, it became clear that my basic personality, and the traits required for parenting, didn’t mix.
I like time by myself.
I like to begin a project and complete it.
I like things organized and peaceful.
I don’t like a lot of noise.
I don’t like conflict.
I don’t really care for physical touch.  I am not a cuddler or hugger.

For those of you who are parents or who have hung out with kids for any period of time, you recognize that those “likes” aren’t fulfilled in the typical day of being a full-time parent.  Very rarely could my day be defined as “peaceful”.  I hardly ever start and complete a project in one week, let alone one sitting.  Plus, most of the tasks that I do undo themselves very shortly after they are done (ie. sweeping, dusting, changing diapers, cooking meals, cleaning the pantry).

Who I am, the expert said, didn’t jive with parenting.

I believed him.  I was already relationally drained from trying to act like an extravert on a regular basis.  I was already tired from trying to be everything to everyone.  And then you throw in ever-multiplying children, and I was surviving, but not thriving.

Fast forward a few years.  I had two young ones:  4 1/2 and 2.  I was tired.  Really tired.  I knew what I needed.  I needed all the things listed above.  And, I really needed the upcoming retreat.

The retreats that my husband led on a periodical basis were life-saving to me.  Everyone else went for the spiritual and social infilling.  I went for the solitude.  I got a babysitter, packed up all of my reading material and a few articles of clothing, and headed off into the woods, not to reconnect with nature and others, but to reconnect with myself.  I drank in the quiet like it was an oasis.  I dreamed, planned, and held my breath for weeks before the approach of the time away.

I really needed time away from being a mommy.

On the day before departure, one of the worst case scenarios happened – my 2 year old got sick.  Stomach sick.  Not-able-to-stay-with-a-babysitter sick.  I found myself with two options:  Stay home and care for the little guy, or take a sick little one with me on the retreat.  Neither option was great, but I chose to take him with me.  I found myself in a hotel holding my son’s head over the toilet or over a bucket.  I found myself changing his clothes over and over.  I found myself wiping his face and forehead.

It was under these conditions that the Lord taught me something that I’ve never forgotten.

As his stomach virus ran its course and came to an end, what I was left with was a spent little boy.  He was drained, tired, and weak.  He curled up next to me on the bed and fell asleep.  I felt his body begin the process of healing after a rough ordeal.  I felt his breath on my cheek, and I felt his eyelashes silently close.  I felt him completely relax.

The retreat ended.  People traveled back to their homes, and I traveled back to the life that I knew I’d be unprepared for, because I had been robbed of the quiet time alone.  Instead, it had been replaced with noise, sickness, physical contact, no projects completed, no books read.

And yet, as I readied myself to take on the garments of motherhood again, I realized that I was amazingly full.  I wasn’t empty, tired, or drained.  I felt strong and courageous.  I felt replenished.

It was at this moment that the Lord spoke to me.  He said, “You know yourself.  You are a good student of your personality, and you have accurately assessed who you are and what you think you need to maintain your life.  However, I am the One who created you.  I am the One who ultimately knows what you need.  If you’ll trust Me, I’ll send you gifts outside of your personality that will sustain and minister to you.  I will turn the scenarios that would normally drain you into situations that sustain you.”

I realized that the time alone with my sweet boy cuddling was replenishing.  It shouldn’t have been, but it was.
I realized that the time feeling his little breath on my cheek was healing.  It shouldn’t have been, but it was.
I realized that feeling his little eyelashes on my cheek filled my heart to the brim.  According to my personality, it shouldn’t have.

But by God’s loving grace, it did.

So many times – so, so, so many times – I have seen God come through on His words to me.  I have quit assuming how I’ll react in various situations, and have started encouraging others to do the same.  I hope that today you stop to see if God might be trying to use a situation that forces you out of your comfort zone, or one that would normally drain you, to bless, fill, and strengthen you.

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