white space, children’s edition

photo from hamptonroads.com

photo from hamptonroads.com

I have a difficult time with white space – those pauses between activities and stress to simply “be” – and this spills over to the way I parent, too. One of my twins constantly asks me for a plan for the day, and usually for the next day, too. “So what are we doing after that?” she will continue to ask even when I don’t give her an answer. It annoys me, if I’m honest, but I’ve also created the conditions that cause her to expect constant activity. I am a mom who enjoys taking my girls with me to fun places and to do enjoyable activities. They absolutely loved our trip to New York City last December at Christmastime. They often seem to be happiest when we’re out – whether it’s flipping through their favorite “Frozen” books at Barnes & Noble, or selecting a new round of library books, or the rare treat of getting donuts or frozen yogurt together, or going to a friend’s house for a playdate.

But in all things, moderation. There is a dark side to my overplanning of our lives, and it looks like stressed out kids who forget how to play by themselves creatively on a rainy afternoon. Or it might be the constant need to have to have something to do (and so they do not enjoy the moment, nor do I).

Enter the current book I’m reading, Simplicity Parenting, on loan from my dear friend and fellow blogger Mary and recommended by her, Maria, and BFF Katherine. It is a powerful corrective to our culture of “too much, too early, and too fast” as author Kim John Payne, M.Ed., terms the overscheduling of childhood. I love, love, love the way he describes the essence of this chapter:

“Activity without downtime is ultimately – like a plant without roots – unsustainable.”

Consider a few suggestions Payne presents of how to make “fallow” time for your child within your family’s daily and weekly rhythm:

  1. It begins with awareness: “We’ve worshiped at the altar of scheduled activities so dutifully that some parents only think of play in terms of playdates. … If we begin to recognize the value of leisure time and creative time, we’ll make space for them.”
  2. View boredom as a gift, and refuse to fill the space for them with parent-directed entertainment. Payne suggests to “outbore their boredom with a single, flat response: ‘Something to do is right around the corner!'”
  3. Build in a balance of days. If there is a highly active, stimulating day (like their school Christmas program or a birthday party), balance this with a few calm stay-at-home days to allow them to regain their equilibrium.
  4. Practice Sabbath. This harkens back to the way God created a rhythm for humanity of six days of work, one day of rest. Payne (who is not writing from a Christian framework) acknowledges the value of Sabbath, defining it as “distraction-free zones.” Perhaps it is a day when you decide you cannot be reached on your mobile device, and you won’t check email. Maybe it is a Saturday afternoon or evening devoted exclusively to an all-family activity – like making pizza together, going for a hike or a walk in the park, building a Lego village in the play room. “If life is a run-on sentence, then these ‘moments of Sabbath’ are the pauses, the punctuation.”
  5. Limit organized sports for young kids. “When I speak of the problems with early sport, I’m referring to children younger than ten or eleven years old who are playing formal team sports more than twice a week….When kids younger than ten or eleven become occupied with organized sports, especially to the exclusion of time for free, unstructured play, that involvement can cut crudely across their progression through a variety of play stages that are vitally important to their development.” This is hard, isn’t it? We achievement-oriented parents want our children to likewise be achieving, successful sports and dance stars. It seems like waiting and wading in slowly are key to allow their natural interest to develop at its own pace, and to provide space for much of the “normal” play in life.

What will be the result of more “white space” for our children? They will learn to appreciate the ordinary days (and life exists in the ordinary much more so than the extraordinary). Free(er) schedules foster an ability for them to reach “deep play,” in which their natural imagination and creativity can thrive. We may even uproot potential “seeds for addiction.”

“So much activity can create a reliance on outer stimulation, a culture of compulsion and instant gratification. What also grows in such a culture? Addictive behaviors….[Overscheduling] can establish a reliance, a favoring of external stimulation over emotional or inner activity.”

Most interestingly in Payne’s book, he discusses how a more simple schedule can deepen the gift of anticipation for our children. (What an appropriate time to focus on this as every kid counts down to Christmas!) I close with his words on the value of anticipation, words that echo timeless truth of Scripture on the value of waiting (Advent means waiting):

“Anticipating gratification, rather than expecting or demanding it, strengthens a child’s will. Impulsivity, wanting everything now, leaves the will weak, flaccid. As a child lives with anticipation, as it strengthens over time, so too does their sense of themselves…Unchecked, our wills are like weeds, threatening to take over our whole spirits; invasive vines of desire for what we want (everything) when we want it (now). Anticipation holds back the will; it counters instant gratification. It informs a child’s development and growth and builds their inner life.”

So what are you waiting for? Time to go create some white space with your children and for your children, so that you and they will thrive.

day 13: work

waitresstrashplumber mechanic

To the waitress tirelessly cleaning up after my messy kids

to the trash collectors lumbering through our neighborhood on Thursdays

for the plumber keeping our old pipes running

and the mechanic spending your days under cars’ hoods –

To all of you, I want to ask your forgiveness. I have labeled your work as “beneath me;” I have overlooked you and your value and dignity. I have proudly ignored you as I went about “my” busy, important work. I have not valued you or your work, yet without you – where would I be? Where would any of us be?

I can’t grow my own food or run a trash collection service or do anything besides complicate our home and auto repair projects. Yet because I have two diplomas on my wall, I can feel like I have the right to scorn you or dismiss you. Forgive me. Forgive us. White collar work is no better than blue collar work. It’s different, but you are just as called to your work as I am to mine. And none of us get to choose what we do anyway. None of us are God, and each of us have different gifts as he’s assigned it.

I fear I might be speaking a bit too honestly. I hope you are not offended by what I’m saying, but I think you’ve probably sensed it a thousand times over from me and those like me. Forgive us. And thank you. Thank you for doing the work that is too often undervalued and keeping our days and neighborhoods and cars and pipes running.

***

Part of the 31 days of five minute writing series. Read all of them here.

when less is more

less-is-more

photo credit: vanseodesign.com

“More, more, more!” is the mantra of our American materialistic culture. It’s quite too easy to get sucked into this vortex of spending, consuming, acquiring, building, adding. This message of “more is better” spills into the crevices of my attitudes about time, too. So I find myself over-scheduling our summer days out of fear of boredom; and I find myself researching the next best activities in which to enroll my preschool-age daughters; and then while I’m at it, I might as well think about community classes I want to participate in as well. Plus I should actually be using my gym membership on a regular basis, and the memberships we have to a few local attractions. And before I know it, we are all spinning, spinning, spinning like the hamster in her crystal clear ball who thinks she may be running her way to freedom. Nothing has changed though – she is just as trapped as 15 minutes earlier when her owners placed her there for “exercise.”

For a while now, I’ve been challenged to consider “less is more.” Hatmaker’s book Seven is the best cultural expose [don’t know how to add an accent there] I’ve read so far – it will jolt you out of comfortable materialism in the best of ways. Slowly I’ve sought to purge our home of the unnecessary “stuff” and certainly to think twice before buying more. My friends Katherine, Mary, and Maria have inspired me to think about what this could mean for our kids, and I’ve done a few toy purges as a result. It turns out when my kids have fewer options to play with, they really are more focused and contented in their play. (Not to mention that there is less mess to clean up!) Simplicity Parenting is on my summer/fall reading shelf because I want to consider this further.

And then there’s time. Yesterday I trimmed a couple activities in favor of a more leisurely start to our day, and we were all happier. We need fallow hours in a day. I need them, and my three-year-old daughters certainly do. Less schedule means more quality time spent together in the ordinary, and less rushing. When I say quality time, this doesn’t usually mean that we are all blissfully enjoying one another’s company. It often means I am refereeing the screaming girls as they fight over the most-popular-toy-of-the-minute – but I am doing so without trying to also rush them out the door, to get dressed, to put on those darn ever-wandering shoes, to eat their breakfast NOW. Quality time with preschoolers looks like floor time doing a puzzle or playing a game. Or sipping my coffee while I enjoy their “show” (usually dancing to Frozen’s ever-popular “Let It Go”). And then some more coaching in how to get along with one another, and how not to have a mean face when you’re not getting what you want, and how to listen respectfully to me, and how to enjoy the slow unscheduled time.

Less is quite certainly more. It’s a trade I hope to continue to learn and practice and discover – that when I trade the “more is better” for “less is more” mantra, we all end up with what I wanted more of in the first place. More joy, more quality of life, more tuning in to the important and tuning out the apparently urgent, more of stepping out of the ever-exhausting cycle of acquiring stress and stuff in favor of learning contentment with what I have and appreciating what I’ve been given.

the gospel according to “Frozen”

SPOILER ALERT: I will be spoiling some of the plot of this Disney movie. However, since it’s been out since November 2013, I am not too concerned about that. Do consider yourself warned.

***

She twirls around singing at the top of her lungs, “Let it go! Let it go! The cold doesn’t bother me anymore …” This is, of course, the chorus from Disney’s hit animated movie Frozen, as performed by my three-and-a-half year old daughter. She and her twin sister frequently play “Elsa and Anna” – the two main characters of the movie; sisters who learn what true love is. I have marveled to see the way it has captivated not only their imagination, but also the imagination of all their fellow preschool-age friends. And so, being the good parents that we are, my pastor-husband and I have watched this with them several times.

There are the typical pitfalls you would expect with a Disney movie. The main ones here are: (1) the glorification of “letting go of the good girl” – as expressed when Anna escapes into the solitude of her ice palace and “lets go” of the confinements she lived under for years, (2) a humanistic understanding of freedom and love – that if you try hard enough on your own, you can love even the most icy princess-sister who continually slams doors in your face. Anna’s love for Elsa is remarkable, but without any reference for God, it paints an unattainable ideal for relationships (and certainly siblings!).

Yet where is the thread of grace and redemption running through this storyline? For all of the best stories take their cue from The Story. And could it be that the popularity of this movie expresses a culture who collectively longs for what is hinted at here – a story of love conquering fear? As a mom, I appreciate a movie that exposes infatuated love as fleeting, unreal, and potentially dangerous (displayed through the character of “Prince Hans”). Infatuation is problematic because it is so incredibly self-centered. Enter the real hero of the story – Kristoff – who serves as a foil for Hans, displaying that true love is sacrificial love. And in case you and I have a hard time picking up on this theme, Olaf the endearing snowman explains it well. But Kristoff is not the only one who loves sacrificially. Anna does, too, as she throws herself in front of Hans, protecting her sister. She gives what Elsa could not give to Anna. And in so doing, she dies. A love that gives all, even to the point of death. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

For a mercifully brief few minutes, all seems lost as Elsa weeps to see her fears realized: her sister frozen into ice. Kristoff looks on, realizing that his love wasn’t enough. And the audience waits with bated breath for some sort of turn. Where’s the happy ending we expect with Disney?

Slowly, surely, beautifully, it comes. Anna comes back to life! Her own act of sacrificial love is what has melted her heart. Elsa knows in that moment what it is that will reverse her frozen powers – “love … love is what thaws!” As the happy conclusion moves to a fitting conclusion, everything comes back to life as spring and summer return to the frozen kingdom. Sacrificial love brings life, not only to Anna, but to her entire world. And isn’t this now clearly proclaiming the actions of our Redeemer? One who came to make “all the sad things come untrue” (J.R.R. Tolkien)? Whose great reversal of self-sacrificial love, then resurrection, began the restoration of all things? As love “thawed” out our Savior into resurrected glory, the whole world began to come alive again. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)  – and so it did that beautiful day, and so it does each day I choose a life empowered by Spirit love rather than enslaved to fear. My world comes alive. I come alive, and love (God’s love) is what thaws out the universe frozen in decay, corruption, and fear.

That’s a story worth celebrating and retelling and rehearsing again and again and again. At least as often as I watch Frozen with my daughters.

On my bookshelf

20131121-112437.jpgAlthough I haven’t posted about books in awhile, I have still been reading a lot … no surprise to those of you who know what a bookworm I am. This “on my bookshelf” is actually from a couple weeks ago – but without further ado, here we go with my review of the above. It’s a good sampling of what I usually am reading – fiction, a faith book, a cultural/counseling study, and some sort of devotional.

Fiction:  Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is a riveting glimpse into a period of history I don’t usually consider – that of pre-WWII China before the Japanese invasion and Mao’s Communism, following the story of two Chinese sisters who escaped to the US through Angel Island, only then to be under the harsh accusation of being Communist decades later. See’s books are well written, both in terms of literary form and story. Two previous ones I’ve read by her are Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Dreams of Joy (this last one is actually a sequel to Shanghai Girls – I read them out of order!).

Faith: Gospel In Life small group study by Tim Keller is an excellent resource for any community of faith small group to study. The format is great – with a thought-provoking individual study to prepare for weekly group meetings; then discussion questions based around a DVD lecture by Keller; and good suggestions for applications to put into practice what we study. I’ve been challenged to examine how well our small group community actually reflects the biblical shape of a faith community (caring for one another; bearing each other’s burdens; encouraging/exhorting one another; etc.). Another theme that challenges and moves me to action is how living out the gospel leads us to engage our cities in real ways. That we need to be involved in our cities and neighborhoods for the sake of our faith as much as for the sake of the city.

Cultural/counseling: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown is one you’ve heard me talk about here before. I just can’t read her enough – after The Gifts of Imperfection, this is a longer more comprehensive look at how the principles she discovered through her shame research are worked out in what she terms as “Wholehearted living.”

Devotional: Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott is a book recommended to me by a favorite older friend at church. It’s as unconventional as she is (love you, Ann), and also refreshingly thought-provoking. Lamott always does this for me – puts spiritual truths in words that I can hear in a new way (too often I am calloused by familiarity with church-y words and Christian culture). And so Lamott has condensed prayer life into three cries of the heart: “help,” which is obvious; “thanks,” which is also self-explanatory; and “wow,” which was the newest piece to me. I close with a few words on “wow” –

When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is ‘Wow,’ that’s a prayer. … What can we say beyond Wow, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath.

shame and its antidote

After listening to Brene Brown’s first TED talk a few weeks ago on vulnerability, it was time to listen to the second one on “listening to shame.” Shame is different from guilt, guilt meaning the feeling that tells you, “I did something bad.” Shame’s message is much more pervasive and insidious, telling you, “I am bad.” Ed Welch in his excellent book Shame Interrupted says this:

Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. … Guilt can be hidden; shame feels like it is always exposed.

Are you beginning to feel it? Beginning to feel the places in your own life where you hear the insidious whisper of shame, telling you that you’re not good enough; you aren’t holy enough; you don’t have the right friends; your possessions aren’t sufficient; that you deserve only bad and not good, and it goes on and on and on.

Brown discusses the way that shame is defined differently for men and women. For women the definition is “conflicted, unattainable expectations of who we should be.” And so I feel shame that I’m not working enough nor am I home enough, for example. Or shame that I’m not more like the perfect mom/wife/friend in my head who’s always available, always loving, always putting others’ needs above my own, always feeding my family organic food straight from our garden …. you get the picture.

For men, it’s a bit more complicated. A bit more hidden. Shame for men is being perceived as weak, according to Brown’s research. And we as women unconsciously support this sense of shame any time we pressure our husbands, fathers, brothers, boyfriends to always be the strong one for us and to never fall apart. Do I give space to my husband to be weak – or am I always expecting him to be together, thus supporting the idea that he can’t be anything but strong? If you are a man reading this, do you have someone you can be weak with? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be weak?

“How do we get back to each other?” Brown asks. A good question, that she answers by saying that shame’s antidote is empathy. Because shame grows in secrecy, silence, and judgment, to be understood and known in our place(s) of shame will eradicate its presence. Brown says –

Vulnerability is the way back to each other.

Who can you be vulnerable with? Knowing that vulnerability takes courage and brings community – how essential vulnerability is yet how unattainable it can feel! I have found that the only way I can be vulnerable with others or even reach out in empathy towards others is experiencing this in my own life. It is in relationships with brave ones who have loved me when I was unlovable; who have entrusted me with their shame-laced stories; who have stood with me without turning away as I began to speak about my own places of shame that I have learned how to empathize and connect. Yet even these ones have not done so perfectly or completely. I have both disappointed others and been disappointed. Where do you go then?

Try the one who carried all of the hurts and shame and guilt of the world. The one described as –

… he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him, despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and one from whom men hide their faces …

Read on about this man.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his stripes we are healed.

And what’s your connection to him? That shame that was so disfiguring to him? It was yours and mine. Those dark places that you can’t bear to speak about, much less for someone to know? He was there, and he knows, and he will redeem – if not in this world, in the one to come. His is the empathy that heals both shame and guilt as we say “yes! I need you!” to this one. It is in intimate connection with Jesus Christ, who knows us intimately and loves us completely, that we are free to risk vulnerability to fellow shame-laden travelers. It is in relationship with him that we are free to relate to one another; to offer the empathy that is shame’s antidote. 

On vulnerability, leadership, and courage

I am a big fan of Brene Brown. She is known as a shame-researcher whose TED talk on vulnerability went viral and pushed her into fame. What she says connects with us as humans who are all hiding yet want to be known. We’ve been doing that since the beginning of it all. See the first act of this tragedy starring Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.

I listened to an interview with her this past weekend, and one sentence has haunted me. In that really good way, of sticking in your mind and being a place you want to return to over and over and over. An idea that you want to incorporate into you, and who you are, and how you live. She said,

Leadership without vulnerability breeds disengagement. 

All of us can think of leaders who engaged us through their own vulnerability, and those who alienated many through their lack thereof. What kind of leader are you? And don’t say, “well, I’m not a leader.” Because you are. Are you a parent? An older sibling? A cousin? A friend? Someone looks up to you, whether you realize it or not. How are you leading? With courage and vulnerability? Or through hiding, trying to cover up and appear as strong?

Here is one working definition of courage, according to Brene Brown:

This is the impetus behind my blogging, my speaking, and my writing. Oh, that it would also be the way that I parent, befriend, mentor, shepherd, and counsel! Let’s do this together. For we the Redeemed have the greatest reason for courage, in the love of God the Father who’s made us forever beautiful in Jesus Christ. Our brokenness is exchanged for his beauty. We are free to be courageous, and to lead through our vulnerability.

If you’re also a fan, what’s one of your favorite Brene quotes? I’d love to hear it.

 

 

Thankful Thursdays: Independence Day edition

On this day of celebrating and commemorating our independence as a nation, there is much for which to be thankful.

{I am thankful for} our freedom purchased with the lives of all who have fought for us and continue to fight to maintain and guard the freedom we hold so dear.

{I am thankful for} a nation where peaceful elections are the norm.

{I am thankful for} a country whose freedom allows for a diversity of views, opinions, perspectives, and political parties. Even those I don’t agree with. It’s evidence that we are in a truly free nation.

{I am thankful for} freedom to worship God openly without fear of arrest.

{I am thankful for} a small neighborhood parade to celebrate our red, white, and blue this morning.

{I am thankful for} the right of every American to vote regardless of gender or race.

{I am thankful for} a fireworks display tonight to celebrate our country’s birth, and a friend with whom to enjoy it. (Since my husband doesn’t like them so much … see this post.)

{I am thankful for} the hundreds of rights and freedoms I take for granted and don’t notice because they’re there. In their absence, there have been (and are) wars and political unrest and persecution.

{I am thankful for} living in a country whose wealth compels us to give and serve the nations and whose freedom allows us to pursue such international endeavors.

{I am thankful for} the imperfections of this nation that remind me of the true Home I await.

Hebrews 11:16 speaks of this Home –

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to join up with me for “Thankful Thursdays”? If so, grab this button:  leave your blog address in the comments below, and link back to this post. I’m thankful for “Loved and Lovely” for such beautiful artwork that I’m using. No rules on this as far as how many “thank you’s” or that it needs to be profound and deep. Let’s practice together opening our eyes to the grace that we’re showered with daily.

Body image and the gospel

I just found out that I had the honor of being quoted in an important article on body image over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. You can read more here (quoted from an article written before I was married, so my maiden name is used): 9 things you should know about body image

true hope in a troubled time

As an American in tune with the news of the day (and often the hour thanks to news radio), I find it inescapable to realize that life as we’ve known it is undergoing a drastic change. People are losing their assets, their jobs, their homes, and with all of it their hope.  Or are they?

It seems as if we as a culture are experiencing the reality that hope cannot be stored in money. It’s a truth we try not to live by as Americans who are wealthy by the world’s standards. We buy what we do not need with money we do not have. And at some point, the security promised by money and material possessions evaporates. Yet that fits with ancient wisdom. Listen to this, penned centuries ago by a Biblical writer: “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” And see if this doesn’t sound like it was written just for us today: “There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost.” Both are from the book of Ecclesiastes, found in the Old Testament (chapter 5, verses 10, 13, 14).

The question before us today is similar to the one that confronted the philosopher of Ecclesiastes. What is worth living for and hoping in? Our American answer for troubled times is quite different than that of Ecclesiastes. It’s as if we’ve shifted our hope from Wall Street to the White House. The new President will be our savior. He will bolster the economy with his proposed tax cuts (and raises), reform healthcare in the U.S. either through a tax credit or by offering a universal plan, bail out bad mortgages, bring peace to the Middle East. Really? All of that power will be held by one man?

I beg to differ. I think our hopes are misguided if we think either Obama or McCain can do all that’s promised. On November 4th, I will be going to the polls to cast my vote as a responsible citizen, but I have a hope that transcends the outcome of the election (one way or the other). God is King over all, and His Kingdom is one that can’t be shaken (regardless of how much my earthly kingdom is shaken). It will be realized one day.

I don’t know when, but I am hoping because I see evidence of that Kingdom already breaking in on earth. My life has been changed by Jesus Christ. And it is being changed by Jesus Christ. I am not yet what I will be, but there are glimpses and hints. Seth and I don’t fight as often or as tenaciously as we did in our first year of marriage. I give in more often (and so does he). I don’t say everything that pops into my head. I think before speaking (amazing concept, I know). When I inevitably screw up, I am slightly quicker to ask forgiveness from him. And I could go on. If I am being changed, and I see others’ lives who are being changed in similar ways through a relationship with Christ. Through Cresheim Valley Church and my job as a counselor at Chelten Baptist Church, I am part of communities of people whose lives are being transformed (and I get to watch and sometimes be part of that!). There is hope that transcends our shaky economy and uncertain politics.

And the writer of Ecclesiastes agrees. He sums it up as follows: “That’s the whole story. Here’s my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.” (chapter 12, verse 13)