Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Are Children And Sonicare Toothbrushes Worth it?

When I buy an electronic toothbrush, I make an unwritten, unspoken commitment: I shall hereafter purchase Sonicare replacement toothbrush heads every four months, or whenever I get around to it, in order to maintain clean teeth and proper hygiene. 

There is now in my mind this unwritten contract, this nagging reminder, this ball tossed up that I must now catch in four or so months. And if I entirely forget my commitment, I will soon have the frayed and splayed bristles of my old toothbrush head to remind me every morning and night of what I need to do. It is a tiny mental weight. Just a small one.

Then there is the reverse osmosis system under the sink with the filters that ought to be changed every six months or whenever I notice a peculiar taste in my water. Another juggling ball goes up in the air that I must catch. Another tiny weight on the mind. Another nagging reminder.

Two tiny weights are not so much, but I have added to them the correspondence on facebook that I must maintain so that I’m not rude, and the chlorine tablets that must be put into my chlorine dispenser so that green mold doesn’t grow in the children’s pool, and the regular washings of my compact brush so that I don’t get pink eye. And that is not even mentioning the cleaning of my fridge coils and the changing of my car’s oil and the spraying off of my A.C. window units’ filters, and the regular dentist check ups and the household cleaning and the children’s vaccines and haircuts and baths and meals and vitamins. Add all those weights together, all those balls tossed up in the air and the circus act is great indeed. What am I juggling now? 150 balls? And more of them lay dropped at my feet. The unwritten, unspoken signed contracts have turned into a huge whirlwind in my mind.

It is the weight of responsibility. But it is more than that.

Some of these responsibilities, like paying the rent or going to the dentist, have an immediate consequence if I don’t do them. I may lose my apartment or my teeth. So let’s call these tasks vital responsibilities. They are part of taking care of my own space and my own body so that life will go well with me.

But there is another category of responsibility that isn't vital to my survival. Arguably, they're not necessary to my happiness either, though many of them add comfort, convenience, and beauty to life. I shall call these recreational responsibilities. They include car or body waxing, hair dying, manicures, supersonic toothbrushes, reverse osmosis systems, and the responsibilities that accompany owning a boat, pool, horse, or home. 

When we buy these extra things, we usually believe that our use or enjoyment of them will outweigh the responsibilities that accompany them. We say it was worth it. I deem our reverse osmosis system worth it because Phil and I derive pleasure in the clean taste of filtered water. I also think a yearly waxing of my car is worthwhile because I don’t like to see my car's paint peeling.

Naturally, all types of vanity and self-entitlement can creep in when we are determining what we ought to have. Quite often, we think we deserve to own a spa or a dog or a supersonic toothbrush. After all, we worked hard for our money. Why not get it? But if the recreational responsibility is beyond our capacity for management, then the boat or pool or house falls into disrepair, and the item becomes a burden or a rather absurd complaint (like a child complaining that his ice cream is too cold).

I’m afraid I fall into the complaining category more than I’d like to. I complain about the peeling paint on the side of my darling little bungalow or gripe about having to take our family’s secondary car in for an oil change or, quite frequently, I complain about the responsibility of carrying for my children. Which has prompted me to ask: what type of responsibility are children? Certainly, we can’t call them a recreational responsibility, and once they’re born, we must care for them as a vital responsibility. But they are neither required nor excess.

God seems to give children to both responsible and irresponsible, financially stable and bankrupt, nurturing and apathetic. He does not seem to have requirements in mind when he doles out children—hallelujah! because I’ve left the car unlocked and the gas on the stove running for more times than I can count.

It seems like children fall into the same category as the spring rains, which fall on both the righteous and the wicked. But does it follow that children, like the spring rain, are a blessing to all? Even the family stricken with poverty and the raped girl? What is this blessing, and does it really outweigh the responsibility? Are children worth the constant buzz in the brain?

Here are a few ways that children can be a blessing:
1) Children force us to neglect responsibilities that are not as important.
2) Children compel us to seek outside strength to be good inside and out.
3) Children invite us to give grace to our parents.
4) Children show us God in a way that no one else can.

Children can do this to both the poor and wealthy, the responsible and irresponsible, the apathetic and nurturing. And that is why they can be a blessing . . . to some. To others they are not because the children are had in vain. And by "in vain" I mean done to satisfy our cravings for love or respect or importance. Just like when we buy a home or pool or car or Supersonic toothbrush—unless the Lord is present in our transactions, the labor is all in vain and what ought to be a blessing will become a burden.

It is an excellent check to my complaints because I know that if the Lord is in it, I will rightly see that this too is a blessing from him. If I am looking at my children as the Lord would, they are a blessing. If I am disciplining with the Lord's strength, they are a blessing. If I am listening as God does, they are a blessing. If I am loving them as Christ loves us, they are a blessing. But when they become just an annoyance, a barrier or a burden, then I know I have tried to walk this day alone.

Psalm 127
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.

Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Singing With Disney

The invitation went out. Disney had invited Granada Heights Friends Church choir to join with other voices in singing "The Circle of Life" at D23, the ultimate Disney fan event. D23 stands for Disney and 1923, which is the year that Walt Disney came to California and founded what ultimately became the Walt Disney Company. The expo is a chance for die-hard Disney fans to get inside information on the Disneyland parks and movies.

I am not a die-hard Disney fan, but I do like to sing and have adventures, so with little more than a practice or two, I arrived at 5:30 am at the Pumbaa Parking Lot. Great big signs directed us to where we were to park, where we were to sign in, and where we were to stand in line for the shuttle that took us to the Anaheim Convention Center. They punched our names into their highly organized system on ipads. They checked our names off a list. They collected our consent forms and gave us purple entrance bracelets.
From there we followed the flow of people to clothing racks where we were sized up in one look and given golden choir robes. We filed past expo rooms all set up for the fans' enjoyment. We were not allowed to enter these parts because they were for the Disney fan club members only. But that was alright. We were jittery with excitement about our role in this event. 

In the convention's amphitheater we were assured that none of our human blunders or lack of practice could ruin the show, which was going to be the grand finale of a Lion King presentation featuring interviews with the producer, director, animators, and several actors in the movie--Don Hahn, Jim Cummings, Rob Minkoff, Ernie Sabella, and Whoopi Goldberg. 
We were to follow our assigned line leader up the aisles, crisscrossing with other lines at the intersections and thus participating in a rather daring game of frogger, until we arrived at our assigned positions. During all this we were to sing the opening verse of "The Circle of Life" and the accompanying African tribal chant. There was no need to worry about getting the words right as we would be singing along to a sweetened track with recorded voices. And there was no need to sweat the choreography either as we were to follow the choreographer herself who was elevated and lit up on a platform at the back of the amphitheater. There was really very little we could do to go wrong aside from tripping over our own feet. And some didn't even have to worry about that as I spotted several performers in wheelchairs who would be pushed into positions. One of them had a helper dog also dressed in a golden robe and stole.

The stoles were sewn up with LED lights that would turn on and blink in synchronized patterns when controlled through Blutooth by . . . somebody. Who knows how many invisible programmers and button pushers were behind our performance--sound technicians, light crew, refreshment coordinators, etc.

That is what amazes me about Disney: their excellence at logistics. Whenever we were given instructions, they were succinct and clear. Every detail was planned. When they called for the drummers, out came the drummers. When they called for the African animals, out came the animals, and when they called for Carmen Twillie, out came Carment Twillie, the original "Circle of Life" soloist. 

I suppose the kingdom of heaven is something like that. All we have to do is show up and put on the given robes and everything else is done for us by the Holy Spirit. We're lit up, given words to speak, shown how to move, led where we need to go, given refreshments, a room to rest, and a free gift at the end of the show: eternal life. That is not to say that life in the spirit is effortless and Disney did request we show up with black pants and show up on time and bring ID. I guess the analogy breaks down upon any more examination. So let's end this by saying the kingdom of heaven is even better than a Disney production.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Boy in the Suburbs

There's something different about my boy. And I don't mean he's different from your boy. I mean he's different from me. In the brain.

In the womb my boy was bathed in testosterone, which actually altered his brain completely. It made the connections between the two hemispheres of his brain less efficient. That means the locality of speech in the boy's mind is limited, making it far more difficult for his speech to link up to his beliefs and feelings (Dobson, 19-20).

So when I pick him up from pre-school and ask what happened in his class, he is silent for a long time or throws his blanket over his head or kicks my car seat or reports on what he ate for snack. 

He also has less serotonin in his brain than girls do. Serotonin facilitates good judgement, pacifies and soothes emotions, and controls impulsive behavior ("Serotonin and Judgement" as quoted in Dobson, 25). Take that coupled with a larger amygdala, which fires off irrational and electrical responses when threatened or challenged, and you get a boy's brain (Dobson, 26).

When his sister beats him to the car in the race for non-rotten-egg-ness, he says not a word but slams into her and knocks her down. "I'm so angry that I lost the race!" he says not. "I wanted to be the winner!" 

When his sister antagonizes him and he strikes back, causing said sister to scream and his mommy to punish him, he starts dumping out kitchen drawers and throwing his sippy cup on the floor at the injustice of it all. But he never mentions that little sister Rose started it.

"Testosterone is [also] a facilitator of risk—physical, criminal, person" (Sullivan as quoted in Dobson, 21). It is partially responsible for "social dominance" too. And men have ten to twenty times as much testosterone as women (Dobson, 23).

Truck and car runs with leftover fencing pieces
Perhaps that is why my boy chases our pet rabbit around the yard while wielding a PVC pipe, and why he wants to establish a pecking order whenever we invite friends over to play. With the younger boys, he is bossy, challenging, and frequently attempts to thwart their games. With the older boys, he tries desperately to keep up. And if he can't keep up, he'll put his back against a wall and watch with a mixture of fear and admiration. 

When I catch him disobeying, he will often charge at me, thrust his face into mine and glare at me like a charging bull. "Are you still the boss?" his actions say to me. "Because I want to be the boss if you don't!" If I don't daily remind him who is in charge, he will usurp me in the blink of an eye.

Yes, the risk factor also manifests itself in exploring the outer boundaries of places and objects. How far down the sidewalk can I go while Mommy is unloading baby sister? Can I cut a peep hole into the roller blinds? I bet I could climb on top of the car. What are all these things inside this box and what good would the box be without those things in it? What does dirt taste like? How can we turn this into a chasing game?

Loud noises, fire, knives, dangerous animals, ocean waves, heights, destruction. All sort of exploration can go south when unsupervised, which is why I believe that if I leave the boy to his own devises, I will probably deserve whatever he's going to do to me.

Supervision, structure, and civilization. I have to ease him in and out of change. Give him the cold hard facts. Put words to his emotions. Give grace when he rages. And love him to death: love him with hugs and words and treats and just sitting by him and watching him play with his trucks and dirt.
Tetherball with umbrella stand, PVC pipe, rope and ball in a pillowcase
Rope with knots

Peeling vegetables in, yes, a tutu

Old pumpkins and hammers

Stomp Rocket
Wood scraps and tape

Local hill climbing

Big wheels up and down the alley
Dobson, Dr. James. Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

"Serotonin and Judgement," Society for Neuroscience Brain Briefings (April 1197) as quoted in Dr. James Dobson's Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Sullivan, Andrew. The New York Times. As quoted by Dr. James Dobson's Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Vacation Suggestions for Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers

1. Vacation with family &/or friends: other playmates keep little ones busy. And family members are usually willing to watch the children so you can have a break.
2. Bring a busy bag to restaurants: nail polish, cars, string, magic markers, silly putty, play dough, wind-up toys, paper dolls, etc.
3. Create boundaries both physical and mental to maintain routines in every location. Bring the spanking spoon and/or time-out timer as a visual reminder that discipline will happen on vacation. Example: we don't touch things in stores. You stay on your side of the bed. It is now nap time! No demands; say please and thank you. No, we don't have candy for breakfast.

4. Listen to audio books in the car: Adventures in Odyssey, The Box Car Children, The Willoughby's,  JungleJam and Friends, The Jesus Story Book Bible, the Bible Living Sound, The Adventures of Raindrop etc. These stories are for school-age children, but my 3 and 5 year old understood them enough to listen quietly in the car. 
5. Create a busy bag of activities and snacks for the car ride. Be sure the children can help themselves to the bag without your help: magnet board, cars, pipe cleaners, paper and pencil, stickers, magic markers, books, etc. Be sure they understand that if they drop something, it's gone. You aren't going to spend the car ride picking things up for them. At each stop, put items back into their bags.
6. Keep a running list of all the blessings you encounter in the trip. This helps put mishaps in their proper place. And there shall be mishaps.
7. Tell yourself that this vacation is a chance for you to show your children a lovely time. It's a time to kick back a live a little. Show your kids you can be wild and fun too. IT IS NOT A VACATION FOR YOURSELF. Say this every hour every day and chances are you'll have a lovely time too.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Our Talents

There is a rather terrifying story in Matthew 25 about a master who gives money to his servants to invest while he is on a journey. It is terrifying because the servant who buries his money and does not invest it is thrown out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And it is terrifying because sermons use this parable to teach Christians how we ought to use our talents for the Lord. Don't hide your gifts under a bushel, they say. Let your light shine. However, the sermons rarely explain what might happen if we don't use our talents for the Lord.

The whole business can leave anyone feeling terrified of the day when he or she must give an account of his or her work to God. Will it be enough? Have I made a good enough return on my investment or shall I be thrown out into the darkness?

But if we understand our entry into heaven as something acquired because of what Christ did for us and not something we earned, then this understanding of Matthew 25 is missing something. And I believe that "something" is given by Jesus himself in Chapter 25:31-46, the verses right after this parable. This section explains how at the final judgement God will separate the sheep from the goats.

"Then the King will say to those on His right side (the sheep), 'Come, you who have been called by My Father, Come into the holy nation that has been made ready for you before the world was made. For I was hungry and you gave Me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave Me water to drink. I was a stranger and you gave Me a room. I had no clothes and you gave Me clothes to wear. I was sick and you cared for Me. I was in prison and you came to see Me" (Matthew 25:34-36 NLT).

The sheep themselves are unsure as to when they've done these things for the Lord. So God clarifies. "I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of My brothers, you have done it to Me" (Matthew 25:40 NLT). So, those who served the needy are welcomed into God's kingdom; those who didn't are cast into fire.

I don't think the placement of this story of the sheep and goats is coincidental. I think it explains the preceding parable about the master and his servants. The two stories parallel each other in several obvious places: a day of reckoning/judgement, praise to those who've done rightly, and casting out of those who have done ill. This means that the sheep are like the servants who doubled their master's money. And the goats are like the ones who hid their money in the ground.

This also means that the money given to the servants isn't some kind of talent God gives us to use, but rather the needy people in our lives. This might feel like a stretch, but consider: the master gave his servants HIS money. God puts into our lives HIS needy people.

This seems even more apparent when we remember that this is Jesus' fifth and final discourse in Matthew. The start of this discourse began with Jesus' woes to the scribes and Pharisees. Matthew 23:13 reads, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in" (ESV). And they (the scribes and Pharisees) love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others . . . The greatest among you shall you your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:6-7, 11-12 ESV)

Jesus is telling the religious leaders that they have been entrusted with something of great value, namely, to guide the lost and needy people. However, the scribes and Pharisees have buried their money, so to speak. They have buried the news of the kingdom of heaven. They have shut it in people's faces. They have not served the needy at all, but used their positions to make themselves great. Because of this, their role as religious leaders will be taken away from them and given to another, namely those who will invest their money wisely, those who serve the needy, i.e., the disciples who will soon preach the kingdom of heaven to the ends of the earth.

It is far too easy to read the parable of the master giving money to his servants and start to wonder, what is my gift? We like to think ourselves gifted by God and thus a gift to a world, but that's not what Jesus wants us to think about. That's what the scribes and Pharisees thought of themselves when they were actually like walking crypts. Rather, Jesus' way is to see others as a gift and to see yourself as the servant. After this final discourse, Jesus will go to the cross and demonstrate the highest form of servanthood for his disciples and for us.

They are a gift to us, you see. People. Because every man and woman reflects God uniquely, we acquire a greater view of God through knowing and loving and serving those around us. God gives us a window into His own heart by surrounding us with a cornucopia of different people. But we cannot see anything very great in each other when we are acting as a master over people. We must be as servants.

"And if you give what you have to the hungry, and fill the needs of those who suffer, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkness will be like the brightest time of day. The Lord will always lead you. He will meet the needs of your soul in the dry times and give strength to your body. You will be like a garden that has enough water like a well of water that never dries up" (Isaiah 58:10-11).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Repairing Relationships

If someone wrongs another—say, I steal your car—there are three things that I must do to make our relationship right again. And even after I do those things, you might choose not to forgive me.

The first is that I must receive punishment for my crime. I must serve my jail time or be put in the stocks or take twenty lashes or whatever the law says must be done.

Second, I must make restitution. I must not only return the car to you, but I must also pay you for your time without your car. Let's say you had to use a rental car. Then I would have to reimburse you for the costs of the rental.

Lastly, and I suppose most importantly, I must apologize and mean it. I must regret my bout of kleptomania and try not to do it again.

Likewise, if a man has wronged God—say, he spends his life as if it were his own and not God's—there are three things he must do to make his relationship right again.

First, he must take the punishment for his crime. And the only punishment suitable for someone who says to God, "I don't want you in my life," is just that: to live forever without God. In other words, damnation.

Second, he must make restitution. He must not only return his ill-used life to God, but he must give to God the life that he should've been living in the first place: the perfect, holy, and blameless life.

Lastly, and most importantly, he must apologize to God for trying to live apart from Him. He must mean what he says and also not live as a rebel anymore.

There seems to be quite a lot of hiccups in this process as I'm sure you've noticed. Quite a lot of impossibilities.

First, nobody wants to take the punishment he or she deserves. Hell? Who wants that? Second, no one can give back to God a perfect, holy, and blameless life because nobody can live perfectly even if he or she were given a chance to start over. Lastly, while we might apologize to God every day of our lives, that doesn't change us. We're still going to be selfish, both in thought and deed. Again and again and again. It's the way we are. We don't spend our lives as God would want us to. As Christ did.

And therein lies the cure.

First, Christ took the punishment for our crimes. He took our damnation upon himself through his death.

Second, he made restitution for our failures by living the perfect life and by being the perfect human. That life reimbursed God for the life we couldn't live.

Third, he made and is still making the perfect apology to God on our behalf. This happens when we raise the white flag and give the controls over to Christ. At that moment God looks down into our hearts to see if our rebellious days are over and instead of seeing a self-absorbed little insurgent, he sees Christ there forever apologizing, forever presenting a changed heart, forever teaching us the way to live like children of God. And God accepts the apology.

The relationship is made right.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another

I picked up this book by Donald McCullough, hoping it might list some of the rules of etiquette that have often puzzled me. Things like: do I hug or shake hands with older ladies that I haven't seen in a long time? Am I supposed to walk visitors out to their cars or wave from the porch? How bad is it to forget my sisters' birthdays? And must I always offer people something to drink when they come over?

This book did much more than answer those questions. It changed the questions that I ask.

When I was about halfway through the book, I took my car to the carwash. My 3-year-old Rose and I stood behind the big panels of glass to watch my CRV slowly drive through the gantlet of spinning wheels and power sprayers. An older man was watching his car go through as well. We chatted for a bit and then I asked him, "Do you usually tip the men who dry your car?"

"Yes," he replied.

"How much do you tip? I never know what I should give."

"Oh, I give $5 or so. I have a larger car . . . but I like to think about how much I would like to be tipped if I were the one drying the car," he smiled in a non-patronizing way and then moved on to the outdoor seating area.

It seemed so simple. Of course that's the way to think about it. It's not about what I should or shouldn't do. It's about considering others. How would I like to be treated?

Certainly the rules of etiquette are different among cultures, but this principal transcends all cultures and personalities: do as you would be done by. Think of others as more important than yourself. And love others as God loves us.

For those who would rather not read the book, here is a summary of each chapter. All quotes are taken from the book Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another.

1) Say Please: Respecting the Freedom of Others
"Please" said in earnest changes the tone of a question. It turns a command into an appeal. "Please" gives up the control to "guarantee the outcome of a situation [and] ensure another person's response." (McCullough, 13) It is a way of giving dignity and freedom to others.  It is what God has done for us in giving us freewill. And it is what we in turn must do for others. "Mystery withers at the touch of force. . . . When we treat other people as objects subordinate to our goals, their mystery has no effect on us. The larger mystery into which genuine personal encounter can lead us never becomes open to us" (McCullough as quoting Allen, 16).

2) Say Thank You: Acknowledging Dependence on Others
"When we express gratitude, we experience, however fleeting and brief, a moment of contentment" (McCullough, 19). "If I always move forward to the next task on my agenda without pausing to look back in gratitude to the good things I have been given, I allow my almighty self-importance to blind me to the truth of things: I am completely dependent on others, and every achievement of 'mine' has been won through a team effort" (McCullough, 18).

3) Tell White Lies (Occasionally): Protecting From Unnecessary Hurt
In a time when we have "elevated the personal confession to an art form," it's time to rethink what should and shouldn't be said (McCullough, 25). "Not every truth is [ours] to tell: a truth shared in confidence and a truth that would needlessly hurt another is not [ours] to tell" (McCullough, 27). Thus, before speaking, we must question our motives. Why do we wish to tell this "truth" at this time to this person? "Some motives for telling the truth are simply too destructive to deserve the respectability of being clothed in truth: some expression of 'honesty' are really attempts to demean and belittle another person" (McCullough, 27). If telling the truth will needlessly hurt another, find a way around telling it.

4) Don't Let Your Fingers Do the Talking: Curbing the Violence Within
"Getting through life with other people who never seem to have sufficient sensitivity and good sense can be like running through an obstacle course with constant provocation" (McCullough, 31-32). Thus, we've witnessed the creation of an "express-yourself-and-let-it-all-hang-out culture" (McCullough, 32). If someone angers us on the road or Facebook or in business, we express ourselves in rants or bumper stickers or posts. However, "each outburst of self-justified anger makes it easier for the next one and creates an addicting rush of adrenaline" (McCullough, 34). When we pass on our anger, we create more anger, but when we let other's anger pass us by and return love, we stop the cycle and soften other's hearts.

5) Don't Show Up at the Wedding in a Baseball Cap: Showing Respect in What You Wear
Dressing appropriately shows that you care about the people planned an event and those who attend it.

6) Don't Be Late: Guarding the Time of Others
Respect other's time and don't be late. And if you are late, don't make excuses. Just say sorry.

7) Repondez, S'il Vous Plait: Being Considerate of Others' Plans
"The self-centeredness in me, which creates more trouble than it's worth, makes me insensitive to another person's need to plan and make preparations for an event. If I don't take time to communicate my intentions, it's because I don't want to be bothered with an interruption in my plans for my day in my life. Besides, why get committed to something when I might get a better invitation to a more interesting event with more interesting people? To keep my options open in order to maximize my happiness, I make it difficult for someone else (McCullough, 55). Consider others more important than yourself. RSVP and don't procrastinate in doing it.

8) Wait Until Everyone Is Served Before Picking Up a Fork: Observing the Social Significance of Meals
Make space and time for sharing a meal with others.

9) Keep Your Feet Off the Coffee Table: Valuing the Property of Others
People's possessions are an expression of who they are. Respecting and taking care of others' things is a way of respecting them.

10) Keep Your Bumper Off My Tailpipe: Waiting Your Turn
"Some of the best things in life can be seized only when we relax into an observant idleness" (McCullough, 74). "If the coil of impatience is wound so tightly within me that I elbow my way towards my next goal, I will jab others in the ribs, and though I may be successful shoving them out of my way, I will also have shoved them out of my life and thus shut myself off from their mystery. The best things in life take time to experience; they cannot be seized with impatience but only received with patience" (McCullough, 74). "A pearl, as someone said, is a garment of patience enclosing an annoyance" (McCullough, 74).

11) Hold Your Wind: Trying Not to Offend with Bodily Grossness
Just that.

12) Pay What You Owe: Rendering Others Their Due
Pay what you owe on time.

13) Keep Your Hands to Yourself: Acknowledging Sexual Boundaries
"The best and most important things in life must be guarded from the fickleness of human appetites and moods" (McCullough, 88). Thus, draw up and stick to boundaries both in what you see, what you wear, and how you speak about sex.

14) Be Quiet In Church: Cultivating a Sense of Reverence
Be appropriately solemn and respectful in sacred places. It is a way of acknowledging that something greater than yourself is at work in the world. Do so even if you don't believe in that particular religion.

15) Don't Wear Red to a Chinese Funeral: Honoring Our Differences
"Learn to express our differences with respect for one another" (McCullough, 103). "Unless you're certain that your culture's way of going about life is superior in all ways and that your understanding of God is perfectly complete, you just might pick up something of value from the traditions and beliefs of others. Even from those with whom you will ultimately disagree. Given the immensity of truth and the limitations of the human mind, we all need a large measure of humility—the humility that opens our eyes and ears and even our hearts to others who, perhaps at first seem very different from us" (McCullough, 103).

16) Apologize When You've Blown It: Accepting Responsibility for Your Failures
"To say I'm sorry—and mean it—is an act of courage by which we hold ourselves accountable to the truth" (McCullough, 110). But don't over or under exaggerate your responsibility in a matter. "The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough (McCullough, 108). If you are going to apologize, first don't apologize too quickly. "A premature apology can be a cheap attempt to cut short the painful work of reconciliation with the person you've wounded" (McCullough, 110). Second, don't exaggerate the apology by treating yourself as mud. Third, back up your apology with actions. And lastly, once the apology is past, drop it. Saying "I'm sorry" is a "way of going forward into the rest of your life" (McCullough 112).

17) Use Nice Stationery: Attending to the Forms of Communications
"How we communicate influences what we communicate" (McCullough 115). Hand-written notes and letters require time and thought to write, and communicate more powerfully than a text or email. Learn to savor words and language by writing in a way that's worth remembering.

18) Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears: Learning to Be a Good Listener
Listening is a gift we give to others. It expresses to them that their "thoughts are worth something and that maybe, therefore, [they are] worth something [too]" (McCullough, 127). But listening can be very difficult when we're worrying constantly about "buffing the shine on our image and staying in control of the situation" (McCullough 122). "You can't be a self-important sovereign in your little world, pompously proclaiming your wisdom, and expect to hear the voices—from another person's soul or from the angels of heaven. It takes humble openness, careful attentiveness" (McCullough, 128).

19) Be First to Reach for the Tab: Developing a Generous Spirit
Don't wait until you're wealthy to practice generosity. Thank God that you are rich right now. And maybe someday you'll have money (McCullough 132).

20) Leave a Tip Worth Working For: Noticing Those Who Serve
Tip what you would like to be tipped even if your server or barber or car dryer person didn't perform an outstanding job. Consider how you would like to be treated if you'd had a bad day performing your own job. Tips can really say to someone, "I recognize that you have it hard. And I want you to know I value your work."

21) Go Home Before Your Host Falls Asleep: Not Abusing the Gift of Hospitality
Do not be so self-sufficient that you are stuck only giving and never receiving. "Generosity can subtly feed our hunger to dominate, and it can stroke our pride, giving us reasons, so we think, to offer ourselves hearty self-congratulations" (McCullough, 147). Thus, it is vitally important that we learn to receive gifts as well. Let others pay for your meal. Accept gifts and praise and invitations to dinner. It is a way of humbling yourself before others. Also, don't overstay your welcome. Most people won't tell a friend that they've eaten too much or overstayed their welcome. It is up to us to recognize when we've abused others gift of hospitality.

22) Hand Up the Phone During Dinner and at Bedtime: Avoiding Unnecessary Intrusions
Protect your own and others' times of private home life.

23) Kneel Down to Speak with Children: Meeting Others At Their Own Level
Assume a posture of sensitivity towards those who seem weaker than you. "Everyone is weaker than others in one way or other" (McCullough, 161)

24) Respect Your Elders: Honoring Those Who Nurture and Lead
J. Wesley Brown speaking about parents said, "That they did not have total wisdom when they raised us, that they did not always know exactly what to tell us, what to let us do and what to prevent us from doing, does not mean they did not love us and intend to do well by us. Perhaps the greatest honor we can do our parents is to let them down off the pedestal of our imagination, where we are inclined either to idolize them or to flog them as gods who failed (as indeed they must fail), and to accept them as people—people who need forgiveness as well as respect, who need honest relationships with their children perhaps more than anyone else" (McCullough as quoting Brown, 175).

25) Watch What You Say: Understanding the Power of Words
Words can never be taken back. Words play over and over again in our minds. They are powerful. If in doubt, don't say it. "Those who show respect for others are sensitive about these things. They don't take things that are deeply meaningful for others and stomp on them with big, ugly boot of careless language. They watch what they say. They remember words have power; words do things. They employ words for blessing not cursing, for encouragement not discouragement, for creation not destruction" (McCullough, 183).

26) Don't Leave a Messy Campsite: Cleaning Up After Yourself
Think of those who will come after you in this world.

27) Keep a Secret: Earning the Trust of Others
Don't pry for information and don't leak it. Acknowledge that you are not God and you have no need to know more than anyone else.

28) Don't Let Your Dog Romance My Leg: Remembering Not Everyone Shares Your Interests
Your hobbies might be fascinating to you, but they might not be to everyone.

29) Stop Drinking While You Can Still Remember Your Mother's Maiden Name: Bestowing the Benefits of Moderation
Enough said.

30) Stay Out of the Bay Until You Know the Difference Between a Starboard and a Port Tack: Learning and Obeying the Rules of the Road
Stop thinking that you're the one exception to rules and regulations. You are not above the law.

31) Don't Tell Joke at the Expense of Others: Forbearing Humor That Demeans
"By nothing do men show their character more than by the things they laugh at," (McCullough as quoting Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 225). "Laughter liberates us from the self-important delusion that we have everything under control; it puts everything in a more balanced perspective" (McCullough, 232). However, when we laugh at the expense of others, we make ourselves out to be better than them, which we are not.

32) Keep Card Companies in Business: Remembering Milestones
Remember and celebrate. It is a way of saying, "I value you and what you've done."

33) Tell Your Buddy His Fly is Open: Speaking the Truth in Love
Speak the truth to your fellow man when it is pertinent to the situation and when it will build up and not tear down.

34) Pretend You don't Notice When Your Dinner Partner Drools: Guarding the Dignity of Others
While we might be quite good at respecting others, we're bound to make mistakes: silly, careless mistakes. "Let's create between us an invisible buffer zone of grace, a shield mercifully protecting us from the negative judgements of one another" (McCullough, 257). "Yes, people do annoying things. They use obscene gestures, they show up late, they speak before thinking, they forget to say thanks, they spread discourtesy like a mean virus. Most of the time, though, it's because life is difficult for them, too, and they're having a hard time keeping themselves together; they often feel bedraggled and beat up, and for this reason, they've not always as sensitive as they ought to be. Just like you and me" (McCullough, 258-9). "Do your best to be courteous in all circumstances, by all means, but when you blow it, I'll do my best not to notice. And when I blow it, I'll count on your gift of merciful blindness" (McCullough, 259).

35) Wave to Motor Boaters: Strengthening the Bonds of Community
We all have our prejudices against particular groups of people: Harley Davidson bikers, youthful homeless men, insurance salesmen, JW's, Gluten-free dieters, etc. Giving others respect means not turning the cold shoulder to these kinds of people. Notice them as individuals not groups and don't purposefully exclude people from your own "group."

36) Once in Awhile, Be a Slob: Knowing When to Break the Rules
The rules of etiquette shouldn't be a checklist that we use to decide how good we're doing. Our worth rests on the one who gives us worth: God. "Not only are you a God-graced individual, so also is everyone else. The grace that pulled all things into being, also pulled into being the one who just cut you off in traffic, the one who waits on your table, the one who needs special assistance, the one you're tempted to laugh at, and even the one who prefers motor boats. These people, too, have a God-conferred worth, a glory that may be concealed but is nonetheless real. So out of gratitude for the grace offered us, we extend it to others, committing ourselves anew to the canons of courtesy; out of a desire to protect our own God-granted dignity, we act God-like, bestowing kindness on others as we offer the respect they deserve. 'Rules' of courtesy don't create human worth, but they bear witness to it and help protect it." (McCullough, 276).

Work Cited

Allen, Diogenes. Temptation. Cambridge: Cowley, 1986. 62-63

Brown, Wesley J. "Good News for Parents," Christian Century. May 6, 1981.

McCullough, Donald. Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another. Berkley Publishing Group. 1998

Saturday, May 13, 2017

5-Year-Old Car Racing Birthday Party

After scouring Pinterest for activities to use for Lee's birthday and finding little more than food table ideas, I decided to add our pictures to the melting pot.

Opening Activity: Painting Cars
Supplies: smocks, brushes, paint, wooden cars, bucket of water for washing hands at the end, rags to dry hands, covered table, two or three parents to supervise.

Transition Activity: Car Racing
Supplies: Match box cars, Vinyl gutter or carpet tube or board of wood.
Directions: Have kids race match box cars down a ramp. We used this activity to keep the children busy while we cleaned up the painting table. If you wanted to make this more of a game, you could have the children pick a car and see which one goes the farthest.

Featured Activity: Children's Race
Supplies: Side walk chalk and spray paint to outline the course on the cement and grass, starting and finishing line, cardboard boxes of various sizes, one large refrigerator box for the car wash. We had all the children bring their own vehicle. We also had a grand-parent play "cop" with a whistle and pool noodle. He threatened to thump any child who went too slow.
Course: We had the children race down a hill and crash into a giant pile of cardboard boxes, then they went through the car wash, around a tire, back through the carwash and across the finish line.
Car Wash: I punctured the top of the refrigerator box with holes and then secured old shredded T-shirts into the holes. I also tied several sponges to the end of the T-shirts and had a parent spraying children with a spray bottle as they went through.
Race: Each child completed the course on his or her own. Their parents were responsible for making sure their child stayed on course. We timed each contestant and wrote their time on a mini-trophy tied to a balloon. After cake and presents, we announced the times and passed out the trophies.

Photos taken by Luke Shackelford and Robin Cox.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Inept Mothers

Photo Credit: Luke Shackelford
Sometimes I feel like the imposter mom. Like I just walked into a fashion designer’s expo wearing my saggy-bottomed khakis. Or like I’m the one team player that keeps dropping the ball. 

I don’t think I belong here. I don’t think they chose the right person to mother these children. I hate telling people what to do. I’m terribly impatient. I have a hard time making decisions. I jumble my words. And I like being by myself and having all my ducks in a row. Besides, I don’t even like babies.

I’m surprised they haven’t developed a test to weed-out inept moms like me. It would be like that Jury Duty questionnaire that they send you in the mail with red boxes around all the right answers, except these questions would be like: Do you keep a clear head in stressful situations? Do you enjoy resolving conflicts in public? Do you have back, knee, or foot problems? Do you like to throw birthday parties? Is service one of your spiritual gifts?

Sure, I have strengths in other areas. I can teach my children to grow gardens and eat healthy and use their money wisely. I’m certain my love for literature will probably rub off on them as well as my adventure-some spirit and creativity. Yes, yes, yes, I’m not without strengths. But I could've just as easily been a mom who dances hip-hop and makes TV dinners every night. It doesn’t really matter.

What highlights my ineptitude the most is what I do when they disobey or backtalk, when they don’t succeed the way I wish, or how I react to their demands for independence. Those are the situations that make me wish these babies came with an owner's manual. 

I find it so difficult to love them when they shout NO in my face. It's so hard not to begrudge them the work they add to my regular responsibilities. And daily I'm keeping myself from shouting, “Would everyone just shut up and leave each other alone! I’m trying to make your food here, and you’re not making it any easier!”

It all comes down to loving them unconditionally. Doesn’t it? And that means not faulting them for being beginners at everything. Especially contentment and the exercise of independence.

“I don't want an apple for my snack.” 
“I don't want to wear my jacket.”
“I don't want to sit in my chair.”
“I don't want to say hello to the lady.”

More often than not, my response is, “Oh, well.” By which I mean, “Too bad. So sad. That’s life. Your complaining is hurting my ears. So get over it. After all, I have. After 33 years. You don’t hear me complaining about putting on my shoes or eating all my dinner or carrying my own stuff into the house. Sure, I complain about how difficult it is to be a mom and how some people are impossible to deal with and how house work is futile. But those are real problems.”

I’m reminded of those parents of teens who tell me, “You think raising toddlers is hard? That’s nothing compared to raising teens.” And I'm terribly offended because my troubles ARE hard. To me. They’re the biggest troubles in the world. They dominate my entire life! Have pity!

Have pity.

Somewhere in the noise, I forget that my children's troubles are huge to them too. I get caught up in the noise of their complaints and get frustrated because I can’t make them behave. I can't heal their pain. I can't fix all their problems. I can’t give them their hearts’ desires. I can’t even meet all their needs. And perhaps that’s the trouble. I'm not supposed to.

When they were infants and couldn't speak, it was my job to interpret their cries and keep them happy. But my role as mother is changing. My job is to step out of the line of fire and give guidance once they can speak semi-rationally again. 

Stepping out of the line of fire means to let them rage without becoming indignant myself. It means to stop taking offense at their misbehavior and to stop relying on my children’s goodness for my sense of stability. It means I don't use their public displays of obedience as my report card. 

It means that I'm getting my sense of power, worth, and stability elsewhere. From God. From daily immersion in the words that teach unconditional love and pity.

There is no better way to have pity on those little humans than to remember the great amount of pity had on me. Only then will I be a window in a dark room, a sprout of growth in the desert, a conqueror on the battlefield.

"If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong. And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail." (Isaiah 58:10-11 ESV)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Equal Pay

The parable at the beginning of Matthew 20 is about a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard. It's a parable about how the landowner treats workers who come late in the day. The late comers are at a disadvantage because they get to the vineyard after everyone else, and thus they can't possibly earn what the early workers earn. It is impossible, but the landowner gives them a full day's pay anyway.

The point of the parable is not that the ones who worked the longest didn't get what they deserved. The point of the parable is that those who worked for a short time got more than what they deserved.

I've read this parable a dozen times and thought, "That's not fair! Those poor men who worked all day must feel cheated!" But that's only because I believed that those who worked all day earned their wages fair and square. And those who worked for only one hour didn't deserve what they got.

But the kingdom of heaven isn't like that. God gives everlasting life to all: those who believe in Christ from infancy and those who believe in Christ on their deathbeds, those who are born of respectable parents and those born of jailbirds. All are paid the same because of God's generosity. Not because they deserve what they get. We all actually deserve damnation.

The trap that Christ was trying to show his disciples was believing we deserve God's generosity more than others or expecting God to treat us with some sort of special attention because we've followed Him longer or held a special position in a church or haven't been as terrible as somebody else.

If we walk into heaven and see Stephen Hawkings or Harold Camping or that cheat that ran off with someone's wife or the black sheep of our own family, and we say, "You don't deserve to be here!" then we falsely believe that we do deserve to be there. And that is to misunderstand grace entirely.

It is just as remarkable that God gives grace to me as he gives to others.

And Now For Some Funny Bits

"Lee, we're in love," Rose told Lee, to which he replied, "No. I'm not!"

Rose slipping her shoulder through her shirt's neck hole: "You know ladies get married they have nakedness."

Lee to Rose who was decorating herself with fake beads: "You need a lot of jewelry to marry me, Rose."

Rose: "I'm a girl and I know how to do things."

Rose to Lee in their make-believe play: "It's so late, Honey. We missed all our friends."

I was surfing the radio channels trying to find a station and the children asked me to stop on a station with mariachi music. Lee asked: "You don't like this music, Mommy?" I replied with an emphatic no. "But it's so silly!" he replied.

Lee rifling through the Tupperware drawer: "Rosie has some spit in her mouth, so she needs a cup."

Lee likes to ask me simple math questions such as what is one plus five and what is two plus ten. So Rose joined in one day with her version of a math question, "What is one bracelet and two bracelets?" To which Phil replied, "Jewelry!"
Lee's depictions of himself and Rose
Rose's report on how she behaved while I was out: "Mommy, I was not respecting your husband."

I once spied the children eating play dough and giving me smiles from the kitchen. I later heard them saying to each other:
"You're not going to tell Mommy?"
"Because I don't want you to get a spanking."
"Why don't you want me to get a spanking?"
"Because I love you."

After my explanation to Lee of how he'd hurt Rose's feelings: "This talk is too long. I don't want to hear anymore. I'm going to my room."

Lee: "It's okay if I get you sick, Rose. Then we can watch movies together."

Monday, April 24, 2017

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee

I came across these 12 painfully poignant steps to overcoming pride in my Matthew commentary the other day. They are from John Fischer's 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me) Minneapolis: Bethany, 2000. The following is not a direct quote. I have edited and changed the order of some of the steps.

In order to overcome pride . . .

1) We admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people.

2) We see that we have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind.

3. We realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, don't deserve it and haven't worked for it.

4) We are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character.

5) We don't want to get what we deserve after all, and we don't want anyone else to either.

6) We will cease all attempts to apply teaching and rebuke to anyone but ourselves.

7) We embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.

8) We are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.

9) We are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider others better than ourselves.

10) We embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality. ( I think you have to read the book to understand this step.)

11) We choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude.

12) Now having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others who think that Christians are better than everyone else.