Beware!

      Doesn’t their mother bathe them?

No Fighting!!!!

                  “The worst thing you can ever think is “that will never happen to me” because then your guard is down and you are vulnerable to attack.”

I remember reading those words years ago in a book by J. Allan Petersen called the Myth of the Greener Grass. It was a short, but powerful message on the all too common issue of marital infidelity among clergy. Over the years I have observed the truth of these words, not just in Christian marriages, but with children of Christian parents as well. If  we find ourselves judging other parents and the way they manage their children, we can fall into a nasty trap.

“I would NEVER let my child do that!” “I can’t believe they let their children watch that on TV!” “They let their kids run wild, don’t they have any control over their kids?” “My children always tell me the truth, those children lie to get out of trouble.” and the ALL TIME WORST – “My child will never do that!”

If we are honest, we have all had thoughts similar to these, probably many times over. Yet we DON’T know all that is going on in the families of those we judge. Some parents allow their children to do certain things we find objectionable because their child is learning to overcome obstacles we can’t imagine. As a teacher I have seen some of my students face issues in their home life that are so horrific – it amazes me they make it to school at all, much less function productively. It is so very important that we recognize that each family is distinctive and each family faces circumstances that are unique.

There certainly are universal qualities that are generally considered desirable in families. Phil and I have facilitated parenting sessions for parents of adolescents over the years and Phil begins by asking parents “What do you hope for your children?” It is always good to begin a task with the goal in mind. The old saying – “You can’t steer a parked car” is true. If you don’t know where you want to end up – you won’t know when you get there. As a parent, if I don’t have a clear view of what I want my family to be like – I will not be actively leading my children in the right direction.

Back to the list from parents – we found that parents often knew what they didn’t want, but weren’t as clear about what they felt was important. If parents only work at avoiding certain behaviors, they will not be building character in their children’s lives. “Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice!” may send my child the message that it is not respectful to talk a certain way. Yet will that statement teach my child the respectful response? No. Only focusing on negative behaviors will not produce positive results. After considering what was most important to them, the parents in the sessions formed a pretty consistent list of positive qualities they hoped for their children.

  • honest
  • helpful and thoughtful (positive spin on “not selfish”)
  • happy, content
  • well-adjusted, friendly
  • self-supporting (generally added by dads)
  • successful – which most parents realized resulted from the above mentioned qualities.

There are no “perfect” families because families are made up of imperfect people. Yet we can certainly plan and “steer” toward making our families places that nurture the qualities we hope for our children. We must guard against a judgemental attitude that only reflects the negative and does not foster positive development.

I Corinthians 10: 11-13  NLT

12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

The challenge for each of us as parents is to be intentional about training our children in positive, Godly ways, and avoid the trap of judging other parents. God is Faithful!!!

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Open, Honest Conflict

Who is hiding?

“If any married couple tells you that they always agree, they are either lying or one member of the relationship is unnecessary”. I remember Jay Fesperman saying this as his lovely wife, Sally, stood next to him smiling sweetly. The Fespermans were the owners/directors of the Inn of the Last Resort in Franklin, North Carolina. This mountain retreat center held marriage and parenting retreats where Jay and Sally imparted Godly wisdom to young families in the 1970’s. My husband and I were privileged to attend several times. It wasn’t that we were slow learners –  at least I hope not –  it was more that we learned something new each time as our children grew older, as we matured in our marriage, and as circumstances changed in our lives.

The first time we attended the Christian Marriage and Parenting retreat it was 1977 and I was pregnant with our first child. I was teaching kindergarten at that time  and I could manage 23 five-year-olds easily. My classroom was organized and productive. Parenting was going to be a piece of cake!

Wrong!!! I had a difficult time getting a handle on organization in the home. Sometimes it was 5:30 before I even thought about supper, and that was the time the children were ready to eat. I would lay something down to change a diaper or resolve a sibling conflict and forget where I put it. When I left home to run errands, I often forgot something because I was in a hurry to get home to breastfeed, put the kids down for a nap, or feed them lunch.

This created some conflict in our marriage. I had been very competent as a teacher, but as a mother of four young children, I felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water. My frustration spilled over into my relationship with my husband.

Fortunately, we had learned some conflict resolution skills at the above mentioned Marriage and Parenting Retreat. Ignoring this conflict would not make it go away. It would not “fix itself” over time. We had to address this issue and come to a place of mutual understanding. Here is a list – please forgive me, but lists clarify things for me and bring order to my right-sided brain – of steps that have helped us resolve conflict in our family in a positive way.

  • Conflict is normal, even healthy, if resolved with respect. Differing opinions can bring new insight and balance to a relationship. No two thinking people always agree.
  • Resolve conflict at a “neutral” time. In other words, don’t discuss what appropriate discipline for a child should be when you are disciplining the child.That will allow the child to determine who is on their side and play the parents off one another. Present a united front – then discuss appropriate discipline when the child is not there. If the issue is varied opinions about manners at the table, discuss it before or after the meal, not during the meal. We are more defensive in the heat of the moment than if a concern is brought up later.
  • Address the present concern without bring up the past. “You did it again……” Maybe that is true, but we all need grace to change and the real issue is the present concern. This can be particularly disheartening for small children who by nature are learning to follow through and will repeat misbehavior.
  • Avoid using “always” and “never”. Besides being untrue, those words are often unfair. I may forget to lock the front door once in a while, but to say “You never lock the front door”  is not true. “You always leave your toys all over.” says to a child that you don’t notice when they do pick up their toys.
  • Let the other person know how their behavior makes you feel. I had to let Phil know that I felt rejected when he didn’t want to hear about my day, or talk to me about his. Believe me, this was not resolved once and for all time! We have revisited this issue several times in our marriage because of the differences in our personalities. This will happen with children as well. You may need to explain to a child several times that it is disrespectful to ignore a parent’s instructions, that you feel upset when they don’t listen.
  • There are times when you need to agree to disagree. As adults with different personalities, there are areas that you may never agree on. Phil and I have one area in particular. We recognize this and though it still causes occasional conflict, we refuse to let it divide us. With children, they may not agree, but they still must obey!
  • Love One Another – Love covers a multitude of sin.

Colossians 3:10-14 (NLT)

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

These verses share the wisdom needed to live together in harmony. May God grant us His Spirit to do so.

Alone

I became pregnant with our first child in 1976 while teaching kindergarten.  It was my third year of teaching and I was thrilled to be having a child of our own. He was born on June 9th, 1977 and, by the way, he was absolutely perfect (just ask him). Two months later we moved to Kentucky so Phil could attend seminary. I no longer had 23 adoring children telling me how pretty I was, how much they loved me, hanging on my every word as I sang “Mrs. Woody’s Silly Songs” and read “Tiki Tiki Tembo”. Now I was alone with a baby all day and Phil was off having fun studying Greek, New Testament, and Pastoral Counseling. I couldn’t WAIT for him to come home so I could have adult conversation.

Somewhere about this time, probably in his Pastoral Counseling class, Phil learned that males generally use around 16,000 words a day while females use about 35,000. He politely informed me that he used his 16o00 words during classes, so when he came home, he had met his verbal quota. Wait a minute! I had barely shaved the top off my quota by the time Phil came home! Our 6 month-old was not conversing much at this point (although according to him he had already read War and Peace).

We had a problem. I was lonely. I had a loving husband and a precious son, but I felt desperately alone.

Phil was busy in classes, studying, writing papers, and working four part-time jobs so I could stay home with our son. On the one hand, I knew Phil was busy with these responsibilities, I also knew I needed adult conversation and interaction. We talked about it and prayed about it and Phil finally said, “Gayle, you need to make some friends.”

OK – that was easy. It was a logical solution. It was also easier said then done. Phil had instant relationships with fellow seminarians. Many of the wives of the seminary students worked full-time putting their spouses through school. They were gone all day. I started taking our son on walks in the stroller hoping I would walk past other young mothers. I didn’t see anyone. I started planning trips to the laundry mat when I thought other mothers would be there so I could become acquainted with them while our clothes washed and dried. Laundry must have been a common chore for the husbands because the only other people in the laundramat were seminary students studying while their clothes agitated, spun, rinsed, and tumbled dry. I was in despair!

For the first time in my life, I was not surrounded by friends who I could share my life with. Phil was (and still is) my most meaningful relationship. But in my desperation for fellowship I was draining him dry. He could not meet all my needs for relationship as much as he tried. He was not interested in decorating, sewing, or painting. His eyes glazed over as I talked about breastfeeding and how long cloth diapers took to dry on the clothes line. I needed female friendship.

Looking back, I think God allowed me to go through this time to teach me how important it is to have healthy relationships.  God refers to the church as a family, an army, a body made up of many parts, a people – all collective words that require and describe some type of relationship. As a Christian I am not out there on my own – I am part of the family of God. Those relationships I have with other Christians teach me a lot as well as produce joyful interaction.

After several months of struggle, God did bring some precious friends into my life. I can truly say that I have fond memories of our time in Kentucky because of those friends.

Then we left Kentucky and returned to North Carolina. Over the years I have been blessed with friendships that have allowed me to grow as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, and most of all, as a Christian. These friendships are vital to my health and wellbeing. These friends have laughed and cried with me, prayed and sung with me, they have corrected me at times and loved me in spite of my weakness.  By living honest, transparent lives before me, these dear friends have allowed me to realize that we all fall short of God’s glory, but we can press on together to become all God has called us to be.

Philippians 3:12-16 (NIV)

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I am so blessed by the friends that have graced my life with their love.

Road Trip

We took a road trip to Wheaton, Illinois, my home town, this past weekend. “We” consisted of our youngest daughter, her four sons aged 3, twins aged 21 months, baby aged 5 months, and myself. We left Dillsboro, North Carolina at 12:00 noon on Thursday and arrived in Danville, Kentucky at 4:30 pm.  We spent the night there with our daughter’s friends and drove the rest of the way Friday arriving in Wheaton at my brother and sister-in-law’s (30 miles west of Chicago) at 3:00 pm. We then attended a soccer match at Wheaton College at 4:30. If your head is spinning, so was mine!

The purpose of the road trip was the 25 Year Celebration of the Women’s Soccer program and all former players were invited. Saturday also included events celebrating the soccer program’s anniversary. We visited with family Saturday evening and Sunday,  and then left to drive back to North Carolina on Monday morning. This part of the trip was a 12 hour drive, including three stops for meals and stretching legs, and an extra stop for gas.

Right now several of you are thinking…”Is she CRAZY?!!!! Admit it – you think we were out of our minds to travel over 1200 miles with four little boys in just a long weekend. The facts are that the trip went extremely well. The boys were well-behaved and there was only one time each day when they started fussing, right before supper. (that often happens when they are at home – the “whine-while-mom-fixes-supper” hour)

Looking back on my childhood, I have several fond memories of road trips. In fact, my brother and I reminisced about several of these last weekend. We traveled to Yellowstone National Park in 1958 in a sedan with a small hole in the rear floor board. We enjoyed dropping things through the hole and then watch out the back window as those things bounced around on the pavement. We looked for letters of the alphabet, “collected” state license plates, and sang songs for mile after mile. My younger brother also slept on the ledge behind the back seat. There were no seatbelts at that time, we just rolled around the back seat when the car went around curves. (I was so thankful for car seats on our recent road trip! Four floating, rolling, bumping little boys is not a pretty picture.)

Our daughter planned well for the trip. I know that attributed to the contented attitudes of the boys AND the adults. Here are some thoughts on making road trips kid friendly:

  • Have each child pack a tote with a few favorite toys and books. This helps your child feel secure and happy.
  • Have snacks that are non-messy. This makes less mess and avoids sticky car seats, windows, hair, etc.
  • Time trip to fit child’s schedule. We left after lunch so the boys would take their nap. It worked!
  • Plan to stay with family/friends who have children/grandchildren with similar ages as your children. The first night we stayed with a lovely young couple who had two boys. They had toys and a kid friendly home –  our boys felt at home right away. We had a delicious meal and then walked to a park where all five boys ran and played. We spent the next three nights with my brother and sister-in-law. They have a precious 6 month-old granddaughter so they also had toys and a port-a-crib. They took us to a farm/zoo for a picnic lunch which we all thoroughly enjoyed!
  • Save a new book or toy for that time when your child is travel weary. You will know it is time to break out the new toy because you start to feel crabby yourself!
  • Have favorite music to play and sing along. It may also be helpful to do hand motions. If you don’t know what the hand motions are – make some up. Even this limited movement makes riding in the car less tiresome.
  • Stop for meals, gas, and stretch/bathroom breaks where your children can move about. We stopped for two meals at places with a playground. This was so good for the boys to climb, slide, and jump. Another place had picnic tables and a bit of room to walk around.
  • Story tapes are entertaining and distracting for children 3 years and older.
  • Coloring books and puzzle books are great as soon as your child won’t eat the crayons. We weren’t there yet.
  • Talk about what you see out the window. We saw HUGE wind mills in Indiana, cows and horses on farms, several long trains, lots of farms, and the favorite of our crew – TUNNELS!

It is so easy as we get tired while traveling to snap at one another, become irritable, and fuss and whine. Yes, I mean we adults! Jesus faced a situation on one of His journeys where a huge crowd had followed Him and people were crowded around (somewhat like inside a van with 6 people?) and making demands. (I’m tired…. I’m hungry…I don’t want to share…)

Mark 10:13-14  (NLT)

13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so He could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

14 When Jesus saw what was happening, He was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.

This is such a lovely picture to me. I want to be like Jesus. I want to reflect our Father’s love to these children that are so precious in His sight. We all have blown it just as these disciples did and been impatient with our children and grandchildren. But we don’t have to remain that way. We can choose to embrace and accept them just as Jesus did.

Oh, by the way….. for those of you who read the post last week No Sense of Direction – our daughter navigated and we did not get lost once! (the two times I suggested an alternate route, she didn’t follow it – it’s a good thing – I was wrong)