Sunday, April 28, 2013

Things my son has taught me

You know that site "Reasons my son is crying"? I love it! Love it! This morning, while Nathan was crying, I thought of it again.

Why was he crying? Sadly, for a reason not half as entertaining as the ones on that site. No, sadly, he had been rather naughty and was on a time out. He didn't want to be on a time out, and was (rather vociferously)  informing the rest of the world about it.

With both of us being ill at the moment, it is tempting to let the kids run riot, but when we do, it always comes back to bite us. So, bravely, G had dealt with the issue and put Nathan on a time out. I was lying in bed, head spinning and sore, when the thought occurred to me: I wish there was a way to discipline the kids that didn't also hurt us.

Discipline is costly - every time I have to enforce boundaries with the kids, it costs me. It costs not just in energy, but in love. It hurts me to have to listen to my kids crying because they genuinely feel aggrieved by something - to hear them sob their little hearts out. But I do it because I love them, because I know that in the long run, it is better for them to learn the lesson now: they are not the centre of the world; they are part of a community and must learn to live lovingingly and peaceably in it; they can't always get what they want.

Failing to teach them these lessons will cause them untold harm in the real world. So we have to enforce the boundaries. Yet, it breaks my heart to see them in pain - even knowing that their pain is temporary and necessary.

In addition, it hurts me because it means the kids aren't listening to me, they aren't being obedient, they aren't being respectful.

And then it struck me - God is a parent. God disciplines his children. When he does, so often we focus on the pain we are feeling, and we forget that any discipline costs the parent too. Any discipline hurts the parent too, and how much more it must hurt the Ultimate Parent. Every time we sin, and it costs God. In fact, it cost him his life, ultimately. Instead of us having to go on the mother of all time-outs, he allowed himself to be tortured to death.

Even now though, when God needs to discipline me, it continues to cost him - in love.

And this is yet one more reason why I love my kids, why I am so grateful they are in my life, why they truly are a blessing from God - because in being their parent, I am taught lessons about God my father, and about being a child.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Something to cheer the soul

There's a series of books called "Chicken soup for...". They are inspirational stories aimed at different niches.  I love them because they really do lift the spirit. After becoming intimate friends with my toilet bowl over the past 24 hours (I blame the leftover stew that I didn't reheat properly on Monday) I was in dire need of some upliftment.

So, herewith - my own brand of inspiration: hearts. Hearts are all around us, apparently, and as I pondered the images I found, I got to wondering whether it's "just a coincidence" or whether the God of love has deliberately set before us multiple images of his heart for us.

I like to think that it's the latter.

Maybe there's a science behind the shape, as with fractals, that explains why this shape seems to occur so frequently in nature. If anyone knows of a good scientific reason, please do share it, as I'd be really interested.

The following are images I just collected from Google Images. Apologies to the photographers for 'stealing' their work, but hopefully the aim is for others to appreciate your work.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The sins of the fathers...

Every family has its weakness or weaknesses. Every family is imperfect. Every family is filled with sinners. The result? Every family winds up causing harm to themselves. Whether it's words that cut to the bone, rejecting and isolating one another, or physically harming one another, every family hurts themselves.

As I was driving home tonight, I was pondering the sins of the fathers being visited on the children. I was pondering how the sin in each of us causes us to hurt those we love, which in turn sets up cycles of pain, hurt, and violence, that continue on to the next generation.

"How innumerable are the sources of sorrow here [sorrow for the loss of property or friends; sorrow for disappointment, persecution, or care; sorrow over our sins, or sorrow that we love God so little, and serve him so unfaithfully; sorrow that we are sick, or that we must die]; how constant is it on the earth! Since the fall of man there has not been a day, an hour, a moment, in which this has not been a sorrowful world; there has not been a nation, a tribe - a city or a village - nay, not a family, where there has not been grief. There has been no individual who has been always perfectly happy. No one rises in the morning with any certainty that he may not end the day in grief; no one lies down at night with any assurance that it may not be a night of sorrow." Barnes' Notes on the Bible discussing Rev 21: 4

Being part of a blended family is not easy. At the best of times, it works really well. In other cases, you simply ignore one another and move on. In the worst of cases, you're unable to move on, unable to ignore them, and are constantly in battle with them. Blended families are anything but easy.

I've always struggled with finding my place within my family. Maybe it's because I'm the only child from my parents' marriage. All my siblings have their own full siblings. Not me. I only have half-siblings and step-siblings. Maybe it's just that I'm too self-absorbed. Maybe it's that in my heart of hearts I have a low self-esteem. Maybe this is something that every child struggles with, no matter which family they are in. Maybe it's none of those, or all of them. I don't know.

I can't just let go, close my heart to them, walk away. I love them too much. I want nothing more than to feel that I belong fully to this family. Yet, often I feel as if I've been deliberately excluded. It's probably not true, it's probably just a perception thing, but my perception is my reality. And it hurts.

For e.g. I will find out that several of the family are having a meal together, and we've not been invited. Looking at it rationally, I know that hosting the whole family for supper is a logistical nightmare. I know that therefore having meals in smaller groups is the best way for us to get together. I know that. But when I see that several  of my siblings are there, and we haven't been invited (which happens from time to time, judging by the cars I see parked outside), it stings.

It stings when it seems that every effort on my part to spend time with my family is rebuffed. My requests are ignored, my messages go without a reply. When momentous family news occurs, I find out via the grapevine, third-hand. Maybe there are valid reasons for these things - genuine busy-ness, not getting my messages, or whatever, but that doesn't change the fact that how I perceive it is that I am being deliberately excluded.

We moved 6000 miles to be closer to home to be able to spend more time with the family, and to feel like we've been excluded like that... well, it hurts. What hurts more is that I worry my kids are being excluded. If the family has an issue with me which is causing them to exclude me, well, that's one thing, but for them to make my kids suffer as a result, to exclude my children because of their issues with me... that's feels unforgivable. Likewise, I feel that my nieces and nephews are also losing out - both on having their aunt and uncle around, but also on the relationships with their cousins.

As I was thinking about all this on my drive home this afternoon, initially I thought that I wouldn't have to face these issues if my folks hadn't got divorced the first time. Of course, in that case, I wouldn't be here either as they wouldn't have married each other! But then it struck me that I guess what I am really looking for is an Acts community. I want a family that does life together, that is a real community.

The sins of one generation really are visited on the subsequent generations - not because God is actively punishing the subsequent generations, but because the repercussions of sin are far-reaching. Sin, that penchant we all have for doing the wrong thing, or failing to do the right thing, results in the break down of community, of relationship. And breakdowns, break-ups, they hurt.

Jodi Picoult has made herself a fortune writing about this sort of thing. She excels in writing about how the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. Many of her novels are about the ways in which people have hurt one another, and the repercussions on family life. That sounds disparaging. I should point out that I love Jodi Picoult's books! I love both her style of writing and the topics she chooses as the themes for her books.

I was overwhelmed again by the pain of all this as I was driving home. In my heart, I found myself crying out to God to ask when this pain will end. In some ways, it feels like the grief of losing Zoe. It's not something that ever goes away. I guess one just learns to live around it, to find joy despite this pain. In many ways, I wish I didn't adore my family so much. It would make it so much easier to walk away and not care... Our family is broken, and the wrongness of it all tears at the very fabric of my soul.

Thank God for the Revelation passage (21:4). Thank God that there will come a day when this will all be a thing of the past, when all this will stop hurting, when my identity will be perfectly found in Jesus and the family that is the Church, when families will no longer be broken, when relationships will no longer flounder on the rocks of selfish sinfulness.

Maranatha! Today, more than most days, I want Jesus to return. I want this life to end. I want this pain to stop. For a while now, life has felt like I'm breathing treacle, and I want it to stop. I am often overwhelmed by the pain around me, by the destructive nature of humans (myself included!), by the way I see us tearing strips off each other, like some vicious dogs in a fight to the death. I just want it all to stop. I just want us all to be one big happy family, to just do the right thing, to just love each other, to see the bigger picture, to see the likeness of God in each other and respond to that.

Pie in the sky? No, I just ache for Jesus' return. I ache for the time when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, so that every tear will be wiped away, every hurt healed, and grief and death will be no more, when the pain of losing Zoe and the pain of my broken family, will be healed and will cease to exist, when this hole inside me is completely filled.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Raising kids in the 21st century

When you have a child, it doesn't come with a manual. There is no 'how to' when it comes to parenting. Most parents muddle through it pretty well - I mean, the vast majority of us are only mildly odd. However, I think parents today have a tougher time than previous generations. (I know that every generation of parents say this, and they're probably right.)

Why? Because between the sexual revolution in the '60s and the advent of technology for the masses (TV, internet, social media, etc) the moral fibre of society has deteriorated while becoming much more easily accessible by children. I'm talking particularly about issues surrounding sex.

Case in point - '50 shades of grey'. There is now a generation of teens (and pre-teens) who have read this book, and think that what it portrays is 'normal' sexual behaviour.

Many would counter and say that this stuff always happened, but was just better hidden. I would counter that to say that while there is no doubt that sexual promiscuity and experimentation amongst children and teens has probably always occurred, the percentage of youth for whom it was 'normal', or the percentage who took part was much, much smaller. I don't have any facts to back it up, just a gut feel.

It's like the argument about having cell phones in class. Yes, children have always passed notes in class. It's just the method that has changed. However, there is truth in the fact that because of the advent of cell phones, it is now much easier to "pass notes" in class than it was previously. It is less noticeable to BBM, or Whatsapp, than it is to lean over and pass a note to the person behind/ in front of you.

As with the issue of cell phones in class, I believe that the way to circumvent the problem regarding sexual behaviour in kids (you can't solve it, I don't think) is to be proactive.

This morning's sermon was about some of the shocking things that Jesus said about sex. It was a brilliant sermon. (The podcast will be up on our church website to download early next week.) However, one of the things that I sparked on was the fact that I am raising a boy and a girl. For each of them, I need to equip them to be able to cope in a world where 'normal' is to adhere to gender stereotypes (boys are 'macho' if they have multiple sexual conquests, girls are 'mature' if they have sex with their boyfriends); to have sex as a pre-teen, or a teen, is acceptable; looking at or watching porn is expected; being celibate or abstaining is 'weird' and 'unhealthy'; where having unprotected sex (as opposed to protected sex) shows how much you love the other person.... The list goes on. Of course, none of this covers the issues of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, rape (a massive scourge in SA), or other really awful sexual encounters this generation of kids will face.

It is my responsibility to protect my kids while they are small, and to train them as they get older, so that they can ultimately make the right decisions to be able to protect themselves - not just physically, but also morally and spiritually. As I said earlier - there is no manual for raising kids. Every generation of parents has to figure out, in the changing climate and culture, how best to parent their children.

It's a tough job, one that requires constant vigilance. It means that I have to make the most of every opportunity that presents itself to explain and train - no matter how awkward it may be for me. #1 has already asked about masturbation. She has also already walked in on G and I having sex (despite a locked door, I might add!) Raising kids in this climate is not easy. I just pray that I get it right as much as possible - for their sakes.

To all parents who are getting it right most of the time: I salute you! Yours is a sacred entrustment. Strength to you for the journey ahead.

On a slight tangent, this photo was doing the rounds on Facebook this afternoon. Although it's not directly on this topic, I thought it a fair statement about the sacred role of parenthood. I'm not sure I agree with the 'I hate you' comment, but then, I'm not a parent to a pre-teen or teenager yet! *chuckle*