A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Month: June 2015 (page 1 of 2)

25 Ways it is Okay to Fail as a Mom

25 ways ok to fail

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The Good Samaritan Who Wasn’t: The Power of Context over Our Compassion

Good samaritanIt was during our most recent travel to the States that I stood at a gas station in Arkansas, with an ear to the glugging into my tank and an eye to the climbing digital numbers of my total. I was also attempting not to look at the car parked two lanes over, whose car alarm honked petulantly, heedless to the fact that its owner was also its alleged perpetrator: Impostor!

I didn’t want to embarrass her. Poor thing. It didn’t help matters that her lapdogs went bananas behind the glass every time the alarm protested its would-be attacker’s vulgar atrocities.

It was my oldest son, though, who climbed out of the car. Blonde, blue-eyed, and nearly eleven, he spoke in a low voice so that I inclined my head.

“Mom,” he asked, “shouldn’t we help her?”

My eyebrows pulled upwards. “Well, I don’t know. I was wondering, but most of the time there’s nothing you can do. It looks like her keys are locked in the car, and I can’t really help with that. I’m just trying not to add to her embarrassment.”

“Yeah, but…” here, he paused. “Shouldn’t we ask?”

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Posting on MomLifeToday: Helping Kids Deal with Their Fears, Part II

The power of fear in our kids’ lives can be nothing short of crippling. And sometimes fears are more than the monster under the bed: They’re actually legit. So how do we deal?

I’ve attempted to compile some uber-practical solutions in these posts on Helping Kids Deal with Their Fears, Part I and Part II. But even then, I find that sometimes I’m even confronting my own fears all over again through theirs–which God has been also shaping powerfully in me.

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Questions to Better Understand Your Family’s Subculture, #49-60

questions to understand subculture

Author’s note to newcomers: Our family of origin—or the culture in our own homes—has a considerable impact on our work, our rest, the lens through which we interpret relationships, our kids, our conversation, our spirituality, even our sex life (betcha didn’t think you’d find them in there!).

Plus, I just think it’s plain interesting to understand where we came from—as someone who lives in a different culture that’s helped me better understand my own. It’s helped me be more gracious, more wise, more self-knowledgeable (which helps me be more aware in my relationship with God), and hopefully more holy.

Remember when using these to imagine tacking on the end of every question, Why? and How did this affect you and/or your family?

If you missed the first post, see here for the ideas behind this serieshere for the second installment, here for the third, and here for the fourth.

  1. What stores or restaurants are key in the “recipe” for your family? My family members frequent Target, Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, and Kohl’s. My husband’s family loves a little restaurant called Mario’s, but their childhood was dotted with trips to El Chico. His mom loved Marshall’s and Ross.
  2. What are dishes that your whole family generally enjoys? My husband’s family will always enjoy his Grammy’s clam dip, and chips and salsa. My family loves party mix [Chex mix], and most nights playing cards have chips and a variety of salsas brought by my “pretty-much-adopted” sister, who works at a Mexican restaurant.
  3. How might each of your parents finish this sentence? “The top things kids need to learn are ____, ____, and ____.”
  4. What family members might not participate in certain activities? For example, I admit to not really loving board and card games, so I only play them every once in awhile. My mom was typically the one to take us on picnics, but usually it was during the week when my dad was working. My dad was the one who wrestled with us on the floor (not my mom). Some families may have participation influenced by religious beliefs, or by gender roles [e.g. while the women shop, the men golf].
  5. Explore your family’s understanding of gender roles. How would they describe a woman worthy of respect? How would they describe a man worthy of respect?
  6. What methods of discipline did your parents (or do you, as parents) employ, and for which types of offenses? Would you describe their parenting style as permissive, authoritative, uninvolved, or authoritarian?
  7. How might your family’s sense of morality differ from other families you know? Might it be more conservative or more liberal? What did your family use to define what was moral?
  8. In what are members of your family individually gifted? How did this influence your family? My father is highly mechanically gifted, which means that our car was never in a shop outside his garage, and he uses it to help non-profit workers and single mothers, fixing about 100 cars a year. My extended family vocally harmonizes better than any I’ve heard, which means our gatherings almost always have singing. And my husband’s sister was a nationally recognized soccer player, which influenced family after-school time and scholarship opportunities.
  9. What does your family do for entertainment? What entertainment would they not enjoy?
  10. What events would your family rarely miss? (Do they attend every religious service? Watch every game of a certain sports team, or watch all the gymnastics of the Olympics? Do they own season passes to the symphony?)
  11. What types of play did you and your siblings engage in as children? My husband loved sports and riding around town on bikes with friends. My sisters and I did a lot of role-playing games.
  12. In what ways did your parents play with you? What “kid” activities did you do together, if any?
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Yeah, but does God “so love” individuals (as in, me)? –Part II

does god so love me

Missed Part I? Get it here!

We’d all likely agree that each person matters to God. But when it comes to us, in our own moments alone, we can allow fear, doubt, and darkness to trump the gifts piling up to our left and right, evidences of a Father.

Truth is, as I’ve looked back at how God’s brought me from my jaded, skeptical, highbrow position of holding His love at arm’s length, my delicately veiled ingratitude has been revealed. Most of us would be appalled by a well-loved child—a teenager, perhaps?—insisting, “My parents don’t love me. They love all their kids, and I happen to be lumped in to that category.” Any mother who’s meticulously guarded her diet when she only suspected the double pink lines on that stick, who’s forfeited countless REM cycles to middle-of-the-night feedings, or who’s scrubbed vomit from the carpet would counter (at least mentally), where were you when I took such pains to care for you?

God has not left me as an orphan—in any sense of the word. Choosing insecurity in His love, for me, was denying the beauty, warmth, and privilege He’s so generously moved heaven and earth to bring me. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother to renowned author Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote, “The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!”

Perhaps that’s what’s led me most toward unfolding the arms of my heart to embrace this waterfall of God’s care: a reality that it’s everywhere. The effervescent tangerine streaks of a sunrise; the belly laugh of a child tickled by his dad; the just-in-time sight of my keys on the car seat before I slam the locked door. Some version of Ann Voskamp’s suggested list of one thousand gifts from God has shifted me from a sulking pride to worship.

In truth—it’s shifted my focus from my own, disbelieving self, to who God is.

Quietly, God has changed my tone from my “Prove it!” (even when that tone is pleading) mentality to, “How could I deny it?”

All this time I’d wondered whether my focus on God’s love for me would put me in the center of my beliefs about Him, rather than God as the center of my world. But questioning that did just the opposite, my mental arms petulantly crossing my chest and refusing belief in a God much greater and certainly far more loving and faithful than myself.

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Yeah, but does God “so love” individuals (as in, me)? –Part I

does god so love meA friend and I were headed for haircuts together. It was definitely time: My naturally curly hair was starting to resemble, at alternating moments, a lampshade or a labradoodle. As we circled a roundabout discussing spiritual matters, her confession tumbled out. “Honestly, I’ve always struggled with whether God loves me—as an individual.”

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Barley, Love, and Blogging (Or, another small lesson from a 3300-year-old woman)

wheat field w text

photo courtesy freeimages.com

Blogging unearths all sorts of spiritual questions in me.  I suppose here and there I shall be telling you about them. But one of the weirder ones involves this idea of posting the highly recommended three (three!) times a week–which to be honest, you may or may not get from me.

When my kids were little, I explained to my husband that, like a computer, he can run Happy Preschoolers version 2.0, You Get Dinner Tonight 1.0, Your Bed is Made 2.0, and Interested Lover 4.0, but you may not get Clean House 5.0. Or you can interchange a couple of those, perhaps with Wife Who Has Had a Shower 1.0, without the optional plug-in of Shaved Legs. But the computer only handles so much, you know?

Same with blogging. I need to have Educated Children 4.0, Happy Husband 6.0, Sanity 1.0, Walk with God 7.0 with plug-in Don’t Forget You Live in Africa, Freedom from House of Squalor 1.0, plus our work here. so you may not always get top performance on Thrice Blogged 2.0.

But I digress.

Part of posting is that, well, my writing is an offering. Not to you, as noteworthy as you are. But to God. (More on this later, too. I must ration some material.) And competence, as Tim Keller has written, is part of a good offering: “Competent work is a form of love.” He also quotes Lutheran businessman William Diehl: “‘Your work is your prayer.'”*

If this is my offering, I also long for this work–any work, really–to proceed from a sense of peace and faith in God rather than fear. Will I have anything to say to these people? Will they think that perhaps their time may have been better spent reading that dusty book on the back of their toilet? Will it really help them see God more? (I love Andree Seu’s advice from Dr. John Frame: Let the fruit of the Spirit be your guide. Think about how love, you, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, kindness, and self-control can inform your writing.)

One of the things I liked before having my own blog (and just freelancing for other sites) was that I could just write whenever I had a super-solid idea, one that had warmed and hardened in my brain from carbon to diamonds. Well. Maybe rhinestones. Either way–what am I doing trying to churn out something good at three times the pace?

But I believe God was asking me to be a bit less safe with what He’d embedded deep in me–summon a little courage, already; get out of the boat and watch Him. If this was my offering, well, couldn’t I trust Him to provide for it?

A friend of mine once told her that her dad always said, “If you pray for potatoes, have a hoe in your hand.” In a sense, I feel like this work is like waiting for manna. It’s always showed up. But there are occasionally those (faithless) moments where your eyes drift around your tent and say, Well. I agree it (-slash-He) has always showed up. But if it doesn’t, hope the kids don’t mind rocks for breakfast.

So much of life is like manna.

And does it mean I’m faithless if I’m racking my brain for ideas? I think not.

So my mind drifts to a passage that packages a shiny little gem for me: to Ruth, who is increasingly becoming one of my favorite ladies, despite that she is quite literally about 1000 times my age, born around 1300 BC. I have thoroughly enjoyed Paul Miller’s A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships, which continues to illuminate the depth of this ancient story.

This is what I read:

Great, great, etc. Grandma Ruth’s Tried-and-True Recipe for Success in Barley, Blogging, Love, and Life

1. Trust God with your life. “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

2. Seek to love well with your work. “Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied.

3. Get out there and work your little tail off (still full of trust in God). “She came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest…”

4. God provided a remarkable, faith-worthy result: “So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley [about five and a half gallons of grainWikipedia says one ephah is a donkey’s load. A tremendous day’s work for this young woman]…And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” (Naomi is clearly quite amazed.) But the big “wow” is this: God had so much more than even Ruth’s plucky vision in mind. As in, I’ve got a generous, upstanding, well-known guy who will love you. And to top it off–the Savior of all of history will come from you.

I love this pattern. I seems repeated in the Parable of the Talents, and seems to apply to so much of the Word. Our trust is the source of our work, and never the other way around.

God takes our faith, followed by our hard work–and consistently blows our expectations out of the water.

So at this point, blogging has given me one more reason to look to the Good Hand that keeps giving me what I need. It may not always look like what I asked for (you may get Once Blogged, version 1.0).

But I trust even that.

*Keller, Tim. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

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Posting on MomLifeToday: Helping Kids Deal with Their Fears

I’m posting on MomLifeToday: Helping Kids Deal with Their Fears, Part I.In dealing with our kids’ fear, we’re developing their theology—their thinking about God and His relationship to bad things. Kids learn methods to deal with lifelong fears in these moments—and to choose faith and courage instead at those little, and large, forks in the road. They’re also answering the question, “How does God respond to my fear?” Hopefully you’ll find it super-practical.

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Questions to Better Understand Your Family’s Subculture, #37-48

questions to understand subculture

Author’s note to newcomers: Our family of origin—or the culture in our own homes—has a considerable impact on our work, our rest, the lens through which we interpret relationships, our kids, our conversation, our spirituality, even our sex life (betcha didn’t think you’d find them in there!).

Plus, I just think it’s plain interesting to understand where we came from—as someone who lives in a different culture that’s helped me better understand my own. It’s helped me be more gracious, more wise, more self-knowledgeable (which helps me be more aware in my relationship with God), and hopefully more holy.

Remember when using these to imagine tacking on the end of every question, Why? and How did this affect you and/or your family?

If you missed the first post, see here for the ideas behind this serieshere for the second installment, and here for the third.

37. What were essential items at any family celebrations? What would not have been at a family celebration (i.e. alcohol, dancing, anyone other than family, etc.). On what occasions did your family gather, and how did they celebrate? Who was the person who coordinated family celebrations?

38. If you were to describe your family in five adjectives, what would they be?

39. What do you know about your ancestors? (And yes, this applies to adoptees. Consider what you know of both your biological and adoptive families.) Are there any stories that are told that define their memory?

40. With which member of your nuclear family are you closest? Why? What about your extended family?

41. What activities were most important to your family?

42. What topics does your family avoid talking about?

43. What is the most meaningful gift you remember receiving from a family member? What did it communicate to you? Were there any gifts that didn’t make you feel understood? What meaningful gift do you remember giving, or being most excited about?

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“Not my problem”

wolf w text

photo courtesy freeimages.com

It was last week when my feet were pounding down the rust-colored marram paths of our neighborhood in my coral pink tennis shoes (the ones Oliver–my househelp and one of my closest Ugandan friends—makes fun of and then admits she would like to have). My heart felt, as it usually does, lifted by the wide blue skies and the lush, nearly untethered greenness that is Uganda.

But it’s on one of the backroads that I heard a young child alternating between high-pitched wailing and screaming—unintelligibly, either because it wasn’t in English or because it was contained within the high walls of the compound I was jogging past.

A woman’s voice responded, though even now I can’t tell if my conclusions about it were drawn from the tone of voice, or because so few mothers of this neighborhood would be staying home with their children. Many of the nannies, called a maid here, are quite significantly underpaid for the hours and types of labor they put in. Often they are mistreated, being approached (in a bad way) by the male masters of the house, or scorned by the women who fear that the nannies will seduce the husbands.

Still—going off tone alone—the voice did not respond like a mother’s. (Or hey, let’s be honest. It could have been a really stressed-out mama. Been there.)

That’s when a random verse popped into my head. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees…

This found me wondering about the temptation in our relationships to act more as a “hired hand” for Jesus rather than a shepherd: if we flirt with a certain level of indifference, hoping their junk is not our burdens to bear. Not my problem. How we envision fleeing the building, arms pinwheeling, when we get a whiff of what we really signed up for.

Going the distance with people is just plain hard.

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