Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Home: A Moveable Reality

Last week a massive, destructive tornado blew through a suburb just south of my home, killing 26 people, destroying over 3,000 structures.  It's path touched numerous people and places that I knew, creating in me a foggy experience of being a victim while not being a victim.  There are several amazing and heartbreaking stories that have come from this event, but the most striking thing to me is everyone's concept of home.  And how very, very different it can be.

A home is considered the place you sleep and store your stuff.  
Home is a family of people.  Or a significant other.  Wherever they are, you are home.
Home is felt in belongings: mementos of a life, of loved ones, of precious times; possessions that signify hard work and worthy accomplishments: things that set you apart, that fill out your identity.
The comfort and reassurance of home is found in a routine.  Laundry day or a favorite coffee shop. 

This past week so many people have been stripped of one or more of these.  Houses, lives, belongings,  and certainly routines are different at best.  What this brings to my mind is the struggle we all face in realigning where our home really is.  The apostle Paul said he had grown able to be content with little or with much.  To me, that says he could be at home in any circumstance.  Why? I think it's because he was at home, truly home, in his relationship with God.  And that relationship never left him as long has called God his home.

In the past 30 years of my life (give or take, ha!), I have been guilty of making all of these things my home.  And I'd probably add food to that list as well.  Home, in whatever form, is where we go to for comfort, security, and a protection from all that isn't going right.  If my day doesn't start the way I want it to, if a person doesn't relate to me or stay near me the way I'd like, or I'm deprived of things I want, any of these things easily begin to take priority over my relationship with God.  

It all can be taken away and "my only hope is You, Jesus" as the song goes.  It's a beautiful thing to take pleasure in the good gifts we are given.  It's certain that God designed us to enjoy our families, our homes, a great meal.  However, if I'm continually fixed on all that isn't my relationship with God, then I have no hope.  What seemed so important last week or the week before, suddenly is irrelevant in so many lives.  And in a lot of ways, that is a beautiful thing.

Pray actively and do what you can for the heartbroken parents and families.  As someone put it, God knows what it is like to see a child die and buried.  He is the only one who can provide the comfort needed to survive such grief.  And as for the rest of us, join me in recognizing how limited our 'homes' are and instead turning to God for comfort and security.

Phil. 4:11-13 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Monday, May 13, 2013

When Nobody Cares

No matter your job, station or personality, there will be days when all of your hard work, devotion and love will be overlooked, ignored and left to fall into the oblivion.  And while we can all sit here and discuss the whys and the explanations, to the person feeling unimportant the whys don't matter.  At least not right then. What usually matters is the list of other people who are acknowledged or showered with attention.  The main thing the insignificant person can see is how little their effort seems to matter, unless of course they didn't follow through next time.  Then maybe there'd be a big stink, but mostly it would just be a reprimand of "do better next time" that seems to communicate nobody has time for excuses.

The days we are that person, in the throws of self-pity (justified or not) and desperate for importance and appreciation, what do you do? For some it's not hard to complain and ask for extra attention.  But that's typically not who I'm talking about.  For others, just bringing it up makes them feel like a heel, tainting any further attention that might come.  In that case (when you know it's at  bare minimum rude to say "Hey, can someone give me a round of applause please because I'm working really hard?"), what do you do?

Honestly, I'm not sure what works the best, but here are a few things that we can try:

1) Pray.  Pray for your pride and your emotional needs.  Pray for those that are not appreciating you.  Pray for a distraction, something to look forward to, or for the appreciation to just not matter today.

2) Revisit old or determine new goals for yourself.  What's the purpose of your work/effort/devotion?  Sometimes we get focused on the acknowledgement and lose sight of the purpose.  Appreciation is healthy and necessary for flourishing relationships, but shouldn't be the purpose.  If it has evolved into that, then maybe it's time to focus on something else.

3)Write down why you matter.  Make a list. Journal about it.  Tell the dog.  Notice how everything on the list is possible through the grace of God.  Then, find someone else and tell them why THEY matter too.

How much violence and permanent damage (to groups, relationships, etc.) is the exasperated result of someone getting their feelings hurt in some way?  Far too much.  I struggle with allowing my feelings fester into destructive reactions - to life, to people, to things I know are not the cause.  And if I don't find something productive (like writing about it or talking to someone) about the issue, I grow more and more reactive and destructive.  It's never justified, but it does give a context for how overreactive people can get.  Let's help each other by honoring each other's emotions and giving safe arenas to work through pain and human hurt.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Another Strong-Willed Secret: Sensitivity

We've talked at length about my strong-willed nature and shared a few insights as I have taken a ride on the parenting coaster.  Boundaries, consistency and love are mandatory for success, wouldn't we all agree?  There's another secret that isn't widely acknowledged when dealing with a strong-willed child.  Most children that everyone would consider strong-willed (not just the parents in a moment of exhaustion) have the potential for deep anger and acting out, but what we often don't see is how deeply sensitive they are.

Being "sensitive" has all kinds of connotations with it, so let's define what I mean real quick:

1) Quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences.

2) Having acute mental or emotional sensibility; aware of and responsive to the feelings of others.

This sensitivity can manifest itself in many different ways (physical, emotional, relational, etc.), but very often it is a real factor in whatever issue is being brought up at the time.  If you're ever hit with the "why is my child blowing his top out of nowhere?" consider that it might be some change in routine, health, relationship, you-name-it.  Don't for a second convince yourselves that this child isn't seeing everything!  The look on your face that says "I hate dealing with this" or the comments under your breath about how you don't have time for that - it all goes in and can mean something drastically different than just a parents exhaustion talking.

As parents or guardians, especially if we cannot relate, a child (who is acting oh-so ugly) being sensitive is usually rejected, ignored or at least overlooked.  Some may think there is no sensitivity at all, which absolutely feeds the fire of conflict.  Others might acknowledge it if they understood, but neither party have a way of communicating about it.

Intense emotions usually come from deep feelings.  Regardless of how right or wrong the feelings may be, that strong-willed child is feeling it to their core.  Dismissing those deep feelings (intentionally or not) will cause them to increase, not fade.  So, what? Are we supposed to cater and tip-toe because somebody feels something?

Not really.  But here's where the lesser experienced parent might step on your toes.

-Discipline does not require a parent's hurt feelings, looks of utter disappointment and words of anger.  Sometimes, especially when someone's safety is at risk, it can be appropriate.  But run of the mill tantrum or problem? It's just an excuse for an overworked, underpaid parent to vent.  And at that point, the lesson is more about how we feel about each other rather than the rule that was broken.

Before I'm misunderstood, consequences should be swift and solid.  The strong-will sensitivity will pick up on even the slightest loophole. So, I'm not advocating that we just be nice to our kids and all will be solved.  But the relationship between you and your child should be just as constant as their consequences.  Teach them to cope with their mistakes and accept their consequences, demonstrating that we can still 'be okay' even when things go really wrong.

As I consider my own reactions and behaviors as a strong-willed child AND looking at my son's strong-willed tendencies, I am regularly convicted by the advice my mother received upon questioning if there was something wrong with me.  Her chiropractor at the time said this,

"She's not sick, she's strong-willed.  She needs the level of discipline (& consistency) as she would receive in a monastery, but an EQUAL amount of love."

That love means patience, it means gentleness, it means the security of a relationship alongside the boundaries of a fortress!  And it is so hard. As parents we get tired, frustrated and isolated in our feelings of responsibility and pressure to make it all work.  With strong-willed personalities, it's only magnified.  It helps to remember that all the fights and ugliness can easily originate in a sensitive little heart that hasn't learned what to do with it yet.  Let's all strive to teach how to cope instead of demonstrating how to react.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A cappella Singing: Praise & Harmony

Where our family worships, we all sing a cappella and are very blessed with a rich heritage of beautiful singing!  But if you've ever seen the show The Sing-Off, you know that it's not always the easiest or simple task to cut out reliance on instruments.  Several years ago, a series of CDs began production to help congregations learn new songs and part-singing skills.  Well, a few years ago and then again a couple of weeks ago, Randy and I got to be a part of the recording as singers!

It was certainly hard work and a sacrifice to leave home (and my baby) during this really busy time, but the recordings are such a blessing and the experience was great!  The two upcoming releases from Keith Lancaster and Acappella Ministries will be Mighty God - 25 contemporary songs - and Jehovah God - 25 hymns.  If you're interested in the past albums, check out Praise & Harmony.  And if you've never heard of the group Acappella, do yourself a favor and check them out too!  Here's a great medley of some of their songs.