Letting Go of the Little Things (whatever they are)

I’ve got two boys and have come to that foretold moment in my parenting. That moment where I go in to their room, when they are not around, to collect every foul smelling t-shirt and pair of shorts that can be found. They know to put their dirty clothes in a basket and they diligently do so. We just seem to disagree on what constitutes “dirty”.

I tried to teach them how to know when something is dirty. Such as, “when there is visible dirt or an odor coming from the clothes”… this means “dirty”. Rookie mistake. They have their own definition and it involves lengths of time.

So, I now regularly hear things like, “But Mom, I’ve only worn it for two weeks!”. There is no other response but to weep with despair when your sons tell you this.

little-things
By: go_greener_oz

I work at a University and our students live on campus, in community. The staff, with our airs of superiority, bemoan those 20 year old young men that come to us without the basic understanding of cleanliness and hygiene. Dear future leaders of my sons, I’m sorry, I tried. I really did.

I’m pondering what my standard should be for said laundry problem. Is this a battle to fight?

When my sons were younger, I went through a similar battle with shoes. I’m an American but live in South Africa. I grew up in that blessed country of America where hand sanitizer reigns supreme and bleach wipes are at the beck and call of every minor mess. Americans tell me how dirty their kids are and I scoff.

Oh you Americans with your washing machine AND clothes dryer. With your anti-bacterial soap, antibacterial clothing and anti-bacterial hand-shakes. You know nothing of dirt and germs. Your children may have allergies, asthma and blow up like a balloon at the mere contact of a germ but at least you are clean. That seems to be a good trade off for our mutual homeland.

In South Africa, shoes are optional for children (that’s putting it mildly). I judged and criticised quietly in my heart but then I had kids of my own. I tried to put shoes on them, I really did. Alas, my children ran barefoot through shopping malls, to church and everything in between.

On the first week of Kindergarten the teacher told me, “You should really just leave the shoes, they will get lost anyways. It’s so much easier if they just come without”. That was her way of telling this American, “Get with the program, lady”. And so I gave up.

Now American visitors come and I can hear them mumbling under their breath, “No shoes, oh my!”. This is when they see MY children.

One visitor felt a vision to collect shoes for children in South Africa. She was so distraught… so many children had not one pair of shoes to wear! I had visions of those precious shoes, shipped all the way from America, joining a pile of unused shoes in South African homes.

So, shoes have gone by the way-side in my household. I now bookmark every article I can about how Amish kids have less allergies because they walk barefoot through barns and cow pastures. It somehow brings comfort to my shoeless existence.

What are those hills to die on in life? I sometimes I find myself giving 90% of my energy to issues that really aren’t worth it. I’m beginning to think that an inventory of high-priority issues in my parenting and relationships needs to happen regularly. Not a deep soul-searching exercise. More like a spring cleaning with evangelistic zeal. Those times where you tackle your home and throw out the excess like someone on an episode of “Hoarders”.

In this spring-cleaning, I throw out all unnecessary issues that I was obsessing about. The things that really just need less focus, anxiety and intensity. Instead they get laughter and throwing caution to the wind.

Two days ago my boys got in a fight. Now, the context is that my husband is gone for over two weeks… so I’m dealing with EVERY SINGLE THING. (Bless you single parents, there is a Bette Middler song out there just for you).

My youngest son was weeping because his brother hurt him. I went to the guilty brother and asked him what happened. The response?

“Well, he was annoying me. I asked him to stop and he didn’t, sooooo…”.

“So what?”, I said.

“So… I hugged his head.”

Parenting spring cleaning happened right then and there. I laughed until tears were falling down my face then stood up and walked out. Not a hill to die on. Not today, not for me. Tomorrow will be another day.

In the mean time I’m doing my “sneak attack” laundry and packing away the shoes for poor children in America.

What relational spring-cleaning do you need to do? What are you worrying about that just isn’t worth it?

Question, listen, repeat.

It is interesting to think about and ask others, “what makes a good friend?” All sorts of qualities come out which encourage me to be a better friend to those around me. One thing that often comes up is this, “Good friends ask  great questions and really listen”.

By: Bilal Kamoon

Wouldn’t you agree? We have these people in our lives that ask questions which go beyond the surface. Questions that help us think about God, others and ourselves in deeper ways.  No matter how healthy we are… sometimes we just need someone to ask us some good questions to draw out our thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about some questions that I could ask people in my various relationships: marriage, children and friends. Questions that go beyond the standard, “How are you doing?”  I thought I would share them with you. Take time to sit down with your spouse, child or friend.

Obviously, going through list might feel like an interrogation more than a good conversation. Grab a cup of coffee and find natural ways to dig in and really enquire into the heart of those around you. Choose to go deeper by being “that friend” that asks good questions!

5 Questions to ask on a night out with your spouse or friend:
1. What part of life are you enjoying the most right now? What makes it so enjoyable?
2. What part of life are you enjoying the least? Why?
3. Who would you consider your closest friends right now?
4. Right now, what do you need more of: personal or social time?
5.  If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? What’s preventing that?

5 Questions to ask on your marriage anniversary:
1. What have we done well this year?
2. What have we not done well this year?
3. What are 1-3 things I could do this year to show you love?
4. Is there any area we need outside help with? (in the form of advice, wisdom, prayer, counsel, etc)
5. What could we do to improve our friendship in the year ahead?

6 Questions to ask your spouse/friend on their birthday:
1. In what areas have you felt the most successful this year?
2 In what areas have you felt the most disappointed or discouraged?
3. What have been your highlight events or moments this past year?
4. What are your biggest struggles right now?
5. What are your hopes for the year ahead?
6. What could I do for you to make this next year a great one?

6 Questions to ask your child to learn more about them (ages 3-10):
1. What is your most precious possession right now?
2. When friends are nice, what do they do for you?
3. What makes you the most sad or frustrated?
4. If you could plan a perfect day, what would it look like?
5. What is one thing you wish Mommy and Daddy did differently?
6. What is one thing Mommy and Daddy do well?

My Mountain is My Greatest Ally

The things that made me, shaped me, and defined me all came out of seasons of pain and struggle. I have not once been deeply shaped by a success that I just stumbled in to. I hate it to be true but the reality is, my mountains have been my greatest allies in reaching peace, contentment and true joy.

We look at the Biblical heroes and they also were all profoundly shaped through deep struggle. Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter… Jesus. Not once does the Bible say, “and then they had a wonderful life and God was glorified, Amen”.

Yet, these mountains we find on our journey… we fight them, hide from them and sometimes are ashamed of them. These mountains are the sins we wrestle with, the disadvantages we face, the pain that knocks on our door at the most unexpected times.

But truly, the whole Biblical narrative shows one thing: facing that thing that causes us the most struggle is the only pathway to peace, contentment and joy. We think the absence of mountains brings joy but deep down we simply know this is not true.

Mountain_allyWhat if this year ahead was the year we faced our mountains instead of: pretending they aren’t there, wishing them away, hoping for them to just vanish. What if, on the other side of that mountain is exactly what we were hoping for all along.

This is true with our children also. It is so tempting to search longingly for every glimmer of worldly success. We downplay or secretly fear the struggles our children have to face. We are convinced that the struggles will ruin them so we make it our job to safeguard them from struggles and pain. Is this really helping them though?

Here’s my honesty: my children don’t win any awards. They aren’t the top of their class for reading, math, science or anything else. They have been in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the whole list. My one son was so afraid of swimming, he wet his pants at school when faced with the prospect of the school pool. When he told me I instantly wanted to make the whole situation go away. The embarrassment he felt was terrible for him. Struggles like this are a 1st world recipe for parenting anxiety!

But when I go back to the Bible I see that I shouldn’t feel anxiety at all. Ease of  success promises my kids nothing. Lack of challenges doesn’t safeguard them at all. Teaching them to face their struggles and never give up is the greatest hope I have as a parent. We don’t seek the challenges but we can’t can’t cower from them either.

What if, we as parents, embraced our child’s mountains eagerly? What if we taught our kids to tackle that mountain like it’s their destiny? As painful as it would be, facing that struggle could be our child’s greatest opportunity and gift in their life.

I fear that today we are teaching our children that happiness, joy and contentment can be had without a fight. We do this because we  desperately want it to be true. But, in our own lives this has never been true… and it won’t be true for them either.

Do we face the mountains in our personal life, marriages, families, and friendships like it is our greatest opportunity or our greatest threat? Do you see your mountains as an ally or an adversary? It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to embrace this reality. But the truth is, mountains are our ally if we face them with courage and don’t give up without a fight.

What have your most formative events in life? Was it mountains or easy victories that most shaped you?

Choosing Christmas

Recently I overheard a mother at school saying, “This year I’m not giving in to a frantic and busy Christmas. I’m going to relax and put my feet up!” This is something many of us have probably said at one time or another but it was unique because I live in South Africa. I smiled and thought to myself, “Your ‘busy’ is an American’s ‘relaxed’”.

Seriously, as an American spending Christmas in South Africa, I love the relaxed and family feel of the Christmas season here.

We are in the Southern Hemisphere where it is summer. So, our Christmas traditions involve camping, hiking, picking Strawberries and a whole lot of swimming. Our Christmas vacation photos look something more like this than Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”:

 

Christmas_swim

 

Christmas_Braai

But really, we can all have a relaxed and relationship orientated Christmas no matter what hemisphere we live in. We have to choose it yet we don’t. In the news, on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else I see a repeated theme; a desire to rid ourselves of a consumer based and frantic Christmas.

Here are some thoughts to consider as you head in to Christmas season wherever you find yourself:

Complaint:

“Christmas is just so busy”

Christmas comes with expectations for the food, parties, gift buying, making memories, taking pictures, traveling far and wide… the list goes on. The reality: this is self-driven. There is no secret Christmas monster that is making you do this under threat of bodily dismemberment. We will be driven by the expectations that we deem important and give power to. Busy-ness is a choice. I choose to be busy, no one makes me be busy.

Someone once said,

“…the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection.”

Our choice to be frantic and busy in front of God, our children and the whole world to see only reveals our own betrayal of what is truly valuable.

Complaint:

“Family dynamics are so complicated”

Yes, this is true. There are in-laws and out-laws and everything in between. Christmas comes with expectations and that’s what makes normal family relationships suddenly a lot more dramatic and complicated this time of year.

Here is a deeper truth. What really makes it more complicated and dramatic for us is our own participation in the drama. We can’t make all the drama go away but we can choose to not engage. It seems, though, that we see ourselves as victims of the drama instead of adults with the power of choice.

A few years back a friend asked me, “How can I make Christmas day work? I have to get my family to 4 parties that day… any ideas?”. I did happen to have an idea: “Choose 1 or 2 and skip the rest!”. “But people will be so upset with us!”, she replied.

Well, that is only a drama if you choose to engage with it… if you don’t, you will have a lovely day!

Complaint:

“Christmas has been taken over by consumerism”

It is a marvel to me that everyone complains about this but yet doesn’t do anything about it in their own home. Authors make a lot of money writing about how they “took back Christmas”. This is amazing! It is so astounding to us that people would choose to buy less gifts that we will read a whole book about it like we are reading about an alien invasion.

Yes, our children spend more time writing Christmas lists than learning about the greatest gift. Is this their doing or ours?

If we truly believe that we are not defined by the things we own then it will not be an issue to own less. If we truly believe that our children will find their deepest joy in Jesus, as opposed to the latest toy, on Christmas morning then it will provide no anxiety what-so-ever to choose to buy less gifts at Christmas. The problem, I think, is what we truly believe is not what we profess we believe.

This Christmas, choose to make it a great one. One free of busy-ness, drama and consumerism.

I really do believe it is the most wonderful time of the year… so from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Friends wanted, mind reading may be required.

I often talk to young single women about their hopes of falling in love and getting married. I like to ask them what sort of man they are looking for, I find the answers so interesting and revealing.

Amongst the diversity of answers is a very common concept of finding a man “who finishes my sentences”. It’s the ideal that relationships entail so much closeness, intimacy and deep knowing that you no longer need to talk, “we will just know what the other is thinking”.

This idea is not restricted to romance and marriage. I talk to multitudes of people who basically expect this same thing from all their relationships. Several years ago I was talking to a woman who felt deeply hurt by the missions community I served with. She relayed a list of offences. Amongst them was that, “no one has visited me at my home”, “I had a baby, felt so depressed and no one asked me how I was coping”, and “I never get invited out with other women”. Her pain was real and I knew the most caring thing was to simply listen and show care. I likely didn’t know the whole story. But, as I listened, it seemed that everything she listed involved a superpower that I rarely see: mind reading.

In romance, friendship, family, parenting, and churches it seems that we expect that true love and true relationship involves mind reading.

The rule-book we are living by is this: If people truly love me, they will be able to know what I want without me having to express it. If I have to ask for help/care/friendship/assistance/companionship then it’s not real. People should just know what I need, when I need it.

We do this in our marriages, don’t we? I walk in the house with slumped shoulders and eyes to the ground. I walk to my room, lay on my bed, sigh loudly and wait. My husband carries on with whatever he is doing, completely “ignoring” my obviously distressed state! I get more and more annoyed at his disregard to my emotions. We’ve been married for 11 years, he should know when I need support and care! If I have to ask for it then that just feels that he doesn’t truly know me or love me.

The problem is that Jesus models the complete opposite. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was at an emotional low, his death was imminent. Mark says that he was “distressed and aggravated” and that he “threw himself on the ground” to pray. His friends should have seen and known that he needed help. It should have been obvious to all that something was wrong. What does Jesus do? He asks for help. Once. Twice. Three times.

Jesus shows us that healthy and whole people ask for the help they need. We can’t expect people to read minds (they can’t). We can’t hope they see the “signs” (obvious to us but not them). Relationships are not more real if we can finish each others sentences.

Stating how you are doing is not asking for help. Saying, “I sure am struggling” is not asking for help. Telling your husband you had a bad day is not asking for help. Telling a friend that you are exhausted from the newborn phase is not asking for help. We often think it is, but it’s not. There is still a lot of mind reading required to figure out what is actually wanted based on how you are doing.

What should I do on my bad day? Walk in the house, go to my husband and say, “I’ve had a terrible day, I was hoping you could sit and listen so I could talk it through… could we do that?”

For any and all relationships to actually work, real communication has to happen. How are you doing in being like Jesus and communicating what you need? Do it once, twice, three times… or every time for that matter!

The Language of Shame

Last week I did something I hadn’t done before. I was picking up my boys from school and couldn’t find a parking spot… so I parked over a crosswalk. The children from the school use this to cross the road, so the school asks us not to park over it. I knew that. But I was late and I justified it in my mind.

By: Aaron

As I walked up to the school gate a grandfather was waiting for me… with guns loaded. He proceeded to yell at me, accuse me of wanting every child at the school dead (yes, he did say that), arrogance, being a law-breaker, the list continues. I ignored his tone and words. I knew I was wrong so I immediately apologised and said I would move my car as soon as I collected my boys. But he kept going. And going. I physically moved away from him. He followed me and kept at it. My self-control was gold-medal worthy, I didn’t loose my temper with him!

When I got home, I was still calming down when my oldest son began his own gold medal performance in attitude, back talk and sarcasm. I sent him to his room. Not because he deserved it but to protect him from me. I contemplated how to respond to him. His attitude was so bad, I was at a complete loss of what to do.

As I rehearsed all the possible scripts in my mind a realisation came to me: I was planning to do to my son, exactly what the grandfather had done to me. I was about to shame him like the man had sought to shame me. I would have done it differently but the roots are the same.

In this process I identified 5 ways we can communicate which produces shame. This applies to parenting, marriage, friendship, even work relationships.

Consider if you do any of the following when you communicate:

1. Rhetorical Questions:

Phrases like, “How could you?!”, “Don’t you care?”, and “What were you thinking?” are not said because they want answers. They corner people and heap guilt, with no way of escape. Rhetorical questions heap shame because they don’t need answers, they are statements of guilt. Rhetorical questions judges motives and finds them guilty as charged.

This style of communication says, not only are your actions worthy of shame but so are your motives. What was I planning to say to my son? “Don’t you have any respect for Mommy?”  Ouch. So quickly said but the shame will linger for days with no way out for him.

2. Generalisations:

The grandfather made so many generalisations about me, “You obviously don’t care about a single child in this school.”  Ouch. It really did hurt me because I do care about the children. He took a small action and made a blanket statement about me, my values and my love for others. This is wounding and shame-producing. I could say to my son, “Your tone of voice shows you aren’t being loving to anyone in this family today”  Really?! Never, ever generalise with anyone, ever.

3.  One-way communication:

Want to produce shame in someone? Talk a lot, talk over them, don’t truly listen. When they are replying, use that time to think of what you will say next. All of these communicate that I don’t truly value you because I don’t value what you have to say. Thus, shame increases.

4. Tone & Body Language:

This is something that doesn’t get talked about enough. When we communicate, what is our tone of voice and body language? I think it is so interesting that the Bible says, “Speak the truth in love” not “speak the truth”.  This tells me that it doesn’t just matter what I say, it matters how I say it. It doesn’t just matter that I say what is true… how I say it matters so much.

5. Be Relentless:

Are we interested in making a point or making a difference in the situation? The grandfather was only interested in making a point. But in our communication, we should be interested in making a difference.  People pick up immediately which one we are after. Relentless communication may help us make a point but what else have we lost in the process?

Back to my son. I dodged a bullet that day to be honest. I ended up taking a chair in to his room, sat next to his bed and said, “Son, I love you and I know this is not you. I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words because you’ve never treated me this way. What is going on?” I was truthful and truly wanted to hear from him. He listened, it was silent for a minute and then came a torrent of heaving sobs… he had been bullied at school that day.

How many times have I missed truly hearing from someone because I used shame based communication? Shame says, hide yourself, don’t be seen because it’s not worth being seen.

Loving communication says, no matter what I see in you, it’s safe and I want to hear it.