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.
video

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?"
"No."
"Why?"
"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."