Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Teacher - just one of the roles of a mom

Being a home-school mom, I have tried various tactics to get my kids to learn, to get through school work and to grind that information into their little heads.  Sometimes I felt that the standard way of teaching was the only correct way, but it often became so tedious that it resulted in more headaches, frustration and tears than actual learning.  Other times I felt guilty taking more time to teach smaller lessons thoroughly with more attention to detail, and not stopping until they really internalized what was being taught.  That resulted in lessons that really stuck and are remembered with fondness, even though they slowed down the school year quite a bit.

Through the mistakes and successes year by year, I got one through till graduation with even a year and a half of community college under his belt before he went off into the big wide world to find his own direction.  He seems bright, well read and capable, so I suppose I can chalk it down to a success, though in retrospect I can see how I could have done even better.

One problem I see is that many mothers and even school teachers never learned to enjoy the process of learning.  They don't like to read, they don't enjoy correcting their mistakes or learning new vocabulary.  When it comes time to helping their children learn, they already have a negative attitude in their minds that school is a drag, which naturally spills over to their kids.  That's right, even teachers!  Go figure...

Even if your child is not a homeschooler, the job of educating him or her lies squarely on your shoulders - not the school.  It's up to you that he does more than get his work done, but that he understands and appreciates it.  Of course he may be more talented in one subject over another, but you are the only one who can help him appreciate the value of them all.  Sometimes the time-consuming effort of you sitting down with him to talk him through every step of his homework is an investment that will reap life-long rewards.  Naturally you don't want him depending on you for this all the way through high school, but there are times when close, one-on-one care is exactly the motivation that he needs.

When children are feeling stressed out, are struggling with inner problems of insecurity or confusion, no matter how smart they are, they cannot focus their attention on simple school work.  Little ones are so easily coaxed out of this with the wise direction of parents who can calm that confusion.   The older they get, the tougher.  You have to transmit a love of learning to them that they will pick up and build upon, even when they're not doing traditional school activities.  The question is, are you the cause of those inner struggles they have?

You can spark that sense of discovery and fun in your daily relationship with them - when they need to help you make a budget for the groceries, figure out how much they can save to buy that special toy, enjoy the history of the town where you live as you pass by famous landmarks, and so much more.  Pick up on the simple questions they ask, like "Where do clouds come from?"  Right there you have a mini science class ready to be taught on the spot.  "Why do dogs howl?"  Pull out your computer, type your key words into your handy Google search engine, and class has begun.  As they have to face the more mundane class work that is required of them, these moments of learning with you will color all the rest with a more pleasant relaxed feel.

Believe it or not, even you will start to love learning too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No More Apologies

OK, so you got my angst-ridden teenage story in a nutshell last week. (Finally for the girls who have been patiently waiting for part II!) So where do we go from here?  If so many young women suffer silently, not knowing what to do about their inferiority problems and loathe to admit that they even have one, are so easily offended by those who would want to help them and yet badly want help, who do they turn to and what becomes of them?

I don't know about you, but every little girl I have ever known loves dressing up in her mommy's clothes, clunking around in her high heels, trying on her lipstick and pretending to be a beautiful lady.  Loving beauty and wanting to be feminine is programmed into each of us to one degree or another.  As we grow, people, circumstances, our own worries, fears and expectations shape our behavior and self-image.  That's what happened to me.  That little girl never left me, just got pushed into a corner and told to be quiet.

Breaking out of my old insecurities meant finally embracing the fact that if I felt I was a woman of value and beauty in my character, what was wrong with trying to let it show externally? I wasn't being irrational, superficial or unspiritual to love feminine things.  That I didn't need a practical reason why I should wear these cute heels, other than I thought they were cute.  And that I didn't have to apologize in front of my all-male family that I wanted to watch a romantic comedy, even if I knew the acting would be lousy.  Funny that even writing this makes me kind of squirm with embarrassment, but as I've said, I'm a work in progress...

But one thing I have witnessed in both myself and in so many other women, is that though we may resist and insist that we are perfectly happy with the way we are, that "this is me" and "I'm just not the feminine kind," we all want to look and feel better underneath the barriers we put up for ourselves.  If God created us this way, we only harm ourselves to ignore it.  From the girls who go wild with suggestive clothing and promiscuous behavior to the ones who, like me, wanted to blend into the scenery with a dull nondescript appearance, they all have the same insecurities inside. Every one wants to be loved for who she is and seen as lovely and feminine, both inside and out.  

Encouraging friends have helped me to bring out that stifled part of me, and has made so much of a difference.  Loving who you are is such a trite cliche, but there is no other way to put it.  Knowing how God made you and wired you as a woman is all a part of that.  Being surrounded with supportive women of God is key to all of this. That means loving suggestions, and loving criticism - laughter and the kind of compliments that only women know how to give.

I used to look around a room full of strangers and neurotically compare myself with the women I saw.  Now I very often see the familiar looks in the eyes of women who have the same insecurities I once had.  I want to tell them how beautiful they are and how they could have so much fun enjoying their beauty, but I dare not say a word, because I know how painful that subject can be.  Maybe they'll read this and start to see themselves through God's eyes.  I wish I had learned this a long time ago.  Better late than never!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Girl Who Couldn't Take a Compliment

September 1975, Lewis, Indiana.  I just turned 14, had arrived from Korea where my parents worked as missionaries, just one month before.  It had been five years since I had last been to the US, and though it was my home country it didn't feel anything like home to me. I was starting 9th grade knowing absolutely no one and I was terrified.

Day one, my dad drives me to Craig Jr. High, a modern (for that time) building all shiny and new.  I walked into my home room class filled with beautiful, fashionably dressed white kids with blond hair and smooth complexions.  I was the little half-Filipino girl with weird clothes that had been bought at the Korean market, with a hair-cut done by her mom, no make-up, no jewelry, no friends.  People stared, but worse that anything were the monstrous thoughts that filled my head.  I was certain that everyone hated me, that every laugh or muffled conversation was about me, that I was a freak.  I sank into my seat not wanting to be seen,  not knowing that my paranoid behavior made me look even stranger to their curious eyes.

I prayed that I would die right then and there.  I prayed that Jesus would return, that the earth would be destroyed and I would be spared this unbearable misery.  It didn't help that when I went home and cried my eyes out to my mom in shame that she just told me what she always said since I was little "But you're such a pretty girl!"  I knew that I was anything but.  The thought of fitting in and looking like the rest of them just wasn't possible. Make-up was forbidden and my mom was convinced that the price of American clothes was ridiculously high, that pierced ears were for "barbarians" and that I was just fine the way I was.  I cried after school every single day for the first five months, much to the distress of my mother who couldn't console me.

The trauma of that year marked with self-hatred and humiliating experiences stuck with me for decades, literally.  Moving back to my old school and being with old friends in Korea didn't make those negative spirits vanish, they just hovered, whispering in my ears, smothering my sense of self-worth.  And so I did what I now know has become the most common and safest defense mechanism of all self-conscious girls.  It's the "I'm-too-intelligent-to-care-about-looks-you-superficial-egotistical-jerks Syndrome."

I decided that I liked just wearing plain jeans and my brother's hand-me-down clothes, that pretty girls were probably brainless snobs, and that wanting to be feminine was an insult to my intelligence.  People would have to like me for who I was, not what I looked like, and I wasn't about to bow to the dictates of the fashion world.  I would dress the way I felt.  Sloppy, unfeminine, bland.

I convinced myself that I wore what I liked, but it didn't stop me from hating what I saw in the mirror.  I secretly envied girls who looked better than myself and wished I could have their figures/wardrobe/skin/hair/make-up/sense of style/confidence. But if anyone would try to offer help or a suggestion that I should change my appearance, I was up in arms, offended that they would dare imply that I was not happy with the way I was.  My superior intellect transcended the shallowness of society's obsession with physical beauty - so I thought.  If anyone tried to compliment me and tell me I was pretty, I was also insulted. They were being condescending and implying that I needed some lame encouragement to feel better about myself.  I felt just fine, thank you, how dare you treat me like I need your compliments!  How I could be so insecure and so arrogant at the same time, I have no idea.

How I became totally secure in my sense of self-worth and beauty and lost all traces of arrogance, is a chapter that will never be written.  Overcoming all of this is still a work in progress and I have to admit those thoughts still attack me, sometimes daily.  But things most definitely have changed.  But I have written too much for one post, stay tuned for part II....

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Slightly Skewed Thanksgiving?

Had a nice Thanksgiving?  Did you go around the table as a lot of families do to say what you've been thankful for this year?  We could all benefit from more gratefulness and awareness that all we have is because of God's mercy and love for us.  But something slightly skewed can come out of this as well.

I was looking through Christian videos about Thanksgiving and saw a common assumption, that being content with what we have is always good, while being dissatisfied is always wrong.  If that were true, there would be no Thanksgiving to begin with.  Imagine the pilgrims being satisfied with the persecution of their faith, with the inability to worship God freely.  Imagine the colonists being satisfied with the oppression of the British crown that only wanted to tax, extort and control them and even massacre them when they resisted. There's a time when being content is very, very wrong.

I am so thankful for this beautiful country where we live, and for all the abundant blessings that we have.  But the abundance came through sacrifice, through the shedding of blood, through freezing winters, ragged armies, and moments when hope was almost snuffed out, all for the cause of the freedom they believed in.  When you've fought, bled and sacrificed for what you know God has promised you, the blessings that follow are more precious than anything else.  They stand as a reminder of God's faithfulness, and in an amazing way they continue to multiply and bless everyone around you for years to come.

Now's our chance to sacrifice.  Is there anything you're willing to bleed for?  Campaign of Israel:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chasing the Master

We saw Nubs the Dog on the Leno Show, and my husband, being a dog lover was enthralled by his story.  It was an inspiring story of loyalty and perseverance, but I only really got it when I heard Dave preach about it on Wednesday night.  It hit me hard and painted a picture in my mind so vivid that I don't believe I'll ever forget it.

A wild dog surviving in the deserts of Iraq, fighting and scavenging with the other packs of ferocious dogs that inhabit his territory.  An Iraqi soldier decides to capture him to turn him into a fighting dog to gamble with and slices off his ears.  He's starved and sent into a ring of other snarling half-crazed dogs to fight for his life so that a few bored men can get a laugh and steal each other's money.  He ends up stabbed with a screw-driver and left for dead.  And he comes across a US Marine camp with the first friendly voices he has ever heard.

That in a nutshell was the life story of Nubs the dog - Nubs the name given to him by Maj. Brian Dennis who saw something good in this brute.  In time the marine befriends him, and when he sees the gaping wound on his side, administers first aid the best he can, and sees him survive the night.  But weeks later the soldiers receive orders to pack and travel 75 miles through the desert to set up a new camp.  They drive off in their Humvees and watch Nubs chasing their convoy as far as he can before he turns into a small speck on the desert landscape.  Two mornings later, who should appear at the marine Major's tent flap, but Nubs the dog.  He had traveled that entire distance in 18 degree weather to stay close to the one man who cared about his life.  He wasn't about to let distance or difficulty stop him.

Long story short, Major Dennis raised $5000 through emailing friends and was able to send Nubs home to sunny California, enjoying the beaches of San Diego and eating dog chow for the rest of his life.  Sweet story, but as I listened to Dave preach, I heard so much more.

Working in the US, one of the most common things to hear are people complain about God not being fast enough, not caring, not answering the way they think He ought to.  I can't count how many have come to God, to church, seen huge changes and then gave up on God and church when other obstacles came along, and those huge changes just faded away.  No one knows what faithfulness and trust is anymore.  The services are too long, the prayers don't sound just right, the music isn't my style, the building's too far away, no body pays attention to me, too many people pay attention to me, I just don't feel like believing any more.  Sickening but it's the reality of the American Christian today.

Nubs had no reason to trust any human being.  He had no reason to be faithful or loving to any creature at all.  He had been cut, bruised, wounded, abandoned and left for dead, yet he chose to love and sacrifice himself to find the one he believed in.  He chased after the master that he chose, and now is secure in a happy home.  How badly do we really want God?  How eager are we to chase after Him?  How willing are we to forget all the horrible things in our past and just keep our eyes glued to God?

More than ever before, I want to chase down and pursue my Master until the end of my days.  Who thought that a wild Iraqi dog could teach me how to honor and sacrifice to God?  But then again, wasn't it Jesus who called a woman of faith a little dog one day?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adoption - When to Let Them Know

Ligia asked me a question a few weeks back about when to tell an adopted child the truth about their origins.  I know quite a few adoptive families, grew up among some, and know some now.  I've seen parents who have tried different methods of dealing with the subject, but the families that I saw with the happiest, most well-adjusted children were those that were completely honest from the beginning.

This is what I witnessed growing up as a missionary's daughter in Korea, where a number of other American missionaries had adopted either Korean or American babies.  From what I remember, they treated the fact that they were adopted as a wonderful, beautiful experience that made those children uniquely special.  My mother explained it to me so eloquently about how special a child is who has been specifically chosen by his or her adoptive parents because they were loved and wanted, yet many children who are born into families are not always loved.  Her explanation even made the little 5 year-old me feel jealous and wish I had been adopted too.  I was so disappointed that I wasn't!

Those parents who took orphans into their households, were proud to tell their little ones from the time they could understand, what a blessed day it was when they brought them home from the orphanage, and when they joined their family.  They never lied or pretended that they were their biological parents, and never once implied that there was anything wrong with being adopted, which of course there isn't!  They didn't raise them to feel pity or shame for their past, just to know the truth, and the most important truth was that they were just as loved and as precious as the rest of their biological children.

Hiding the truth and pretending only makes it worse when they do find out, because: 1. They will never fully trust that you are telling the truth about anything.  2.  They will feel that you think their past is something shameful which could lead to a lot of resentment and insecurity.  3.  They will see you as weak because you didn't have the courage to do what was right from the start.

If God asks us never to "bear false witness" in the 10 commandments, why should we do it to the children we have chosen to love?  

Monday, November 2, 2009

Washing their mouths out with soap

When I was little, the only bad words that I knew about were "dumb," "stupid," "shut-up," "darn" and "heck".  Hearing someone say any of these words were enough for me to gasp, and urgently whisper to my mother, "She said a bad word!"  Once when a boy in 4th grade thought he would educate me in the REAL bad words, and I laughed at the silly sounds he made.  I told him that my mom had taught me all the bad words there were and if there were other ones, she surely would have told me!

Thank goodness my mom left me in a world of innocence for as long as she could when it came to cursing, and until today I feel a bit guilty using any of those five originally "forbidden" words and rarely do, if at all.  But life today is different, even in Christian homes.  TV permits a lot of swearing and filthy language, even children's films boost their ratings to PG by adding a few expletives, and parents in general feel that keeping their kid's mouths clean is a losing battle, so let them say what they want.  Parents can't resist letting one slip every now and then, so why should they enforce something they can't even follow?

What's wrong with filthy language, and who says it's filthy in the first place?  The Bible says there should be no obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, (Eph 5:4) and that an immoral person is the same as an idolater, meaning they are worshipping what is evil.  That's pretty heavy stuff considering how common these words have become.  That means that if we allow ourselves, and our children to speak in this manner, we are opening them up to a very evil spiritual world.

Telling your kids not to say bad words just because they are bad or rude, is not enough.  Parents first have to understand how destructive evil speech can be to their entire home.  There is a spirit behind all we say and confess, and we have to be the guardians of that entryway.

I have a no-tolerance policy for my kids when it comes to profanity, and I know they will never hear me use it myself.  When they first heard the words on television as toddlers and repeated them, I strongly told them that they were unacceptable and they would be spanked (I know, call CPS...) if they ever repeated them again.  Of course they had to test the boundaries and did repeat them and got a swift and painful reminder that they were NEVER to say that!  It didn't take long before the whole issue was settled, and I never had a problem with them again.

I can just hear the complaints, "You're so mean!"  If you call aggressively protecting my family from a spirit of rebelliousness, hatred and curses as being mean, then I guess I am - mean against spiritual forces that would love to tear us apart.  There are many ways that evil can infiltrate our homes and lives, and being vigilant in this area, is just one way to block the harm it wants to do.

Curses are not just medieval superstition, but are making their way into families every day, by the choices we make to ignore God's Word.  We can so easily replace them with encouraging, positive words, but that's another blog post!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Best Friends Forever?

I always wonder about the people who remain "best friends forever," the ones who made promises to their friends in high school that they would always be there for each other, get together even after marriage and kids and basically be more faithful to their friendship than to anything else. But life is so full of change and growth and discovery that it would be very hard for anyone to truly remain best friends for decades unless either they both have the same calling on their life, or they choose to keep their lives as stagnant as possible.  Am I wrong in thinking this?

Life is so full of choices, and for those of us who believe in God, the one constant choice before us is always:  go with what's comfortable, or use your faith in a radical way?  Compromise or sacrifice?  You can begin with a group of friends, solid, caring friends who all believe in God just as you do.  In time each one makes small choices, slightly different from the others and before long you are heading in different directions.  What one has faith to do, the others don't and vice versa.  Each one has to be sure of her own choices and not allow the others to hold her back, that's the way it should be.

Mrs. Ross had a girls prayer group meeting in her home every Wednesday after school.  Her house was right next to our football field and we all looked forward to prayer-meeting day to sing and pray and talk about God with her.  She was an amazing and caring woman with a real heart to reach out to us young, 12 and 13 year old wiggly, giggly, slightly goofy girls.  My first experience with God, the first prayer I made of true surrender to Jesus as my Lord came about because of that group, and I know the path of my future was already marked because of Mrs. Ross' influence.

But as precious as that time was, each of us has grown and changed and taken different directions, though I'm certain, each of us loves God still.  Even the friends I have right now may not be on the same path as me in the years ahead, but what matters is, am I making the right choices for God right now?  Am I doing His bidding or concerned about the crowd?  Letting friends go can be sad, but nothing is worth letting go of God's leading.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Leadership Tips for Mothers

We're back again to topics on parenthood, for all you moms, moms-to-be, teachers and anyone else who needs a little help in getting the little ones to grow up well, here are a few worthwhile bits of advice.  Let me know what areas you'd like to read about.  I may not be an expert, but I've actually done all that I write about, so they're tried and true nuggets of wisdom - well, at least nuggets of common sense!

Dad is the head of the household, no doubt about that.  But because of work responsibilities and time at home, it’s normally mom who takes direct control of the day-to-day decisions when it comes to raising the children.  It’s a great honor to be entrusted with the molding and shaping of your little one’s lives, but at times it requires a will of steel to keep everyone in line.  Being a good leader does not always come naturally, and a few basic pointers can be very helpful for those wise enough to put them into practice.  Here are five of them that you can use right away:

1. Be the visionary – Promote a vision, a direction that you want your home to take and that the children can follow behind.  Do you want your home to be one where God’s Spirit and character are emulated?  That has to be a part of the basis for all you decide to do and make it clear that is the motivation for your decisions.  Getting a good education, doing well on even the smallest jobs, helping with the household chores and showing consideration to others all need to stem from this greater vision of your home.  You are the source of that vision, and if you stray from it, the kids will lose focus and motivation.

2. Be involved – For some mothers, this seems obvious, but sadly others don’t see the need.  Your children’s school and activities don’t exist merely for you to escape from the stress of child-raising, they all play a part in the shaping of your child’s values and character.  You need to be a part of their lives, see who it is they are befriending, know who it is that is influencing them, observe whether they are learning subtle lessons that you don’t approve of, and know about their successes.  Every child feels secure and proud to have mom on the sidelines cheering them on, and will be able to handle any corrections you give because they know that your actions already show how much you care.

3. Keep the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Show this by your own example as you show kindness to your husband and children and everyone else you come in contact with.  Enforce it as a rule that is even punishable.  Rudeness and selfishness cannot be tolerated.

4. Criticize wisely – Parents who just fly off the handle and yell out of emotion often find that their kids just tune them out the bigger they get.  The pushier you are, the less they listen.  Think carefully of a rational and clear argument to present when disciplining your child.  You can be angry, but be logical and reasonable at the same time.  Most likely they will already know that they are wrong, and will have a harder time arguing back when you have solid facts that speak for themselves.

5. Be quick with encouragement and praise - Acknowledging even small accomplishments can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem and desire to do even better.  Don’t laugh at the mistakes they made while trying their best to do well (the painting of Daddy with six fingers…you know what I mean!)  Remember that every child longs for the approval of his or her parents, and loving praise given will be returned to you with a solid bond of trust.  

Monday, October 5, 2009

Etiquette and the American Teenager - Not a Pretty Picture

I had so much fun reading through my mother's old book of etiquette by the grande dame of good manners, Emily Post.  So many antiquated rules of behavior, like how to hold balls and dances, the duties of debutantes, proper table settings for teas and luncheons, are a lovely reminder of how refined we once were in some respects as a society years ago.  I found her first book online, originally printed in 1922, and had to laugh when I read this from her chapter on conversation:

"IDEAL conversation should be a matter of equal give and take, but too often it is all “take.” The voluble talker—or chatterer—rides his own hobby straight through the hours without giving anyone else, who might also like to say something, a chance to do other than exhaustedly await the turn that never comes...
No conversation is possible between others whose ears are within reach of his ponderous voice; anecdotes, long-winded stories, dramatic and pathetic, stock his repertoire; but worst of all are his humorous yarns at which he laughs uproariously though every one else grows solemn and more solemn.  
There is a simple rule, by which if one is a voluble chatterer (to be a good talker necessitates a good mind) one can at least refrain from being a pest or a bore. And the rule is merely, to stop and think."

There's no doubt that what was considered good conversation in 1922 would be quaint and funny to us today, but the basic principle of showing consideration to those listening to you, and choosing topics interesting to others, seems to be less than common among many young girls and women I  know.

Knowing how to converse with people of other ages and backgrounds, of different educations and professions should be a skill that continues, especially among Christians who carry the command to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  Communicating and reaching out through words is essential!  But if I pick out a random sampling of young people in church under 25, nine out of ten will not know how to look me in the eye and say a simple "good morning" with a smile.  I know - I've tried.  Asking a simple question about what they think of the latest movie will at best get you a, "I dunno, I liked it I guess," while staring at the wall and fidgeting.  Makes you want to slap somebody, but then of course you don't because Emily Post would not approve,

Which makes me think its time to bring back the old finishing schools of the past that taught manners and polite behavior - Victorian England here we come!  Not that I feel that the world needs more debutantes and tea parties, but a fear that perhaps some Darwinian laws are actually coming into effect and the American teenager is devolving back into primordial slime...

For those young women whom I personally know (yes, you do come under the 9 out of 10 example), send me your feedback.  What would you think of some classes in communicating skills?  I eagerly await your response!  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dumb Down or Smarten Up?

She was walking in my direction, pushing her shopping cart when I heard her say in a loud, enthusiastic voice, "Hi! How are you?" I quickly glanced up and saw she was on her cell phone speaking with a polished professional tone as she schlepped her way through WalMart in a baggy T-shirt and her hair pulled into a messy pony-tail. I'm not an eavesdropper, but her voice was so loud I couldn't help hear that she was discussing the possibility of a job interview for a receptionist position with a potential employer. She sounded pleasant, smooth and confident, and then I heard her say, "I was planning to go, but I didn't went" That's right - didn't went.

I looked at her and with all my might, I wanted to say, "Didn't GO, it's DIDN'T GO! And then give her a lecture on why she can't expect to get a well-paying job at a good company as a receptionist if she can't speak basic English. But she was busy trying to explain why she didn't went, and I walked off to another aisle.

I have seen many articles bemoaning the "dumbing down" of our culture, the LOLs and OMGs and text gibberish of teenagers who really couldn't care less how they speak or spell anymore. Many kids grow up in families and neighborhoods that have developed their own mutant form of English, are taught in schools that are no more than assembly-line factories that slap a diploma in their hands when they reach 18, that they don't even realize how backwards they sound to everyone else. I have personally met both parents and kids who accuse employers of racism, sexism, or any other -ism when they are rejected for jobs that kids from better homes easily get. CEO's of the corporate world are worried that current high school and even college graduates are so far below the standards of education that they need for entry-level employees, some are even starting specialized training programs to make up for what schools and parents are not doing.

I know that it's tough coming from a home of immigrant parents, when no one else around you values a good education, when speaking well means sounding out of place, but the question is, are you satisfied with the place you're in right now? Who wants to be a college graduate who still doesn't know that the word forever does not include the number 4? It's not like you're learning a foreign language, it's just learning your own language correctly. Stay tuned for Part II.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Decision That Saved His Life

When Mark was 11 months old and tottering around the house on chubby little legs, I had to carefully baby-proof every room. I made sure there was no table he could pull down on himself, that all the light sockets were covered, that there were no small articles that he could put in his mouth and choke on. Also that every door that led outside was securely locked - except for that day.

Sunday after church in Durban, South Africa, we went home while my husband stayed behind to preach in the afternoon services, and Todd went to a friend's house. I fed the baby, and let him wander around as I did some laundry, thinking that I would get a head start on Monday's chores. I really don't know how many minutes passed before I realized that I no longer heard his chattering voice, I had been so lost in thought. Terror gripped me when I started to call his name and go from room to room and not hear a sound or see him anywhere. I ran up and down the hallways, and then glanced out the window to see his little body floating face-down in the swimming pool in the back yard. The one door in the back porch that was always locked had been left unlatched. He had pushed it open, and loving the pool, had walked right into it and drowned.

The first word out of my mouth was, NOOOO!!!! I ran and jumped in the pool to fish him out. He was swollen, blue and not breathing. His arms were stiffly sticking out to either side, and he was unrecognizable. He must have been there for quite some time to have transformed into this monster-like creature. I rushed him to the small carpet on the back porch and began to pump his stomach - something I had only seen on TV and remembered from a high school P.E. class.

From the moment I saw him and tried to resuscitate him, a million thoughts were running through my mind. "You idiot! Why didn't you check that door? It's all your fault that he's dead!" "Just be thankful to God that He gave you these 11 months with him on this earth, it must be his time to go to heaven." "Why are you even praying? You haven't been that spiritual lately, why do you think God would listen to you now when you don't deserve it? You're a failure as a mother!"

And then, thank God, other thoughts flooded in: "God is a healer! God does miracles! God raises the dead!" "Pray, fight for him like never before, forget whether you feel spiritual or worthy of anything - this is your child PRAY! FIGHT NOW!" Then a determination swept over me and an anger that the devil wanted to kill my son. I prayed against the feelings and told God, "If I have to pray for a week for him to come back from the dead, I'm not stopping." I made my decision and began to rebuke all the evil that was at work to steal his life.

All of this happened within seconds, but it was a decision of life and death. I was pumping his stomach, and nothing was happening. I was trying to breath into his mouth, but the air wasn't going in. I kept praying, rebuking, and doing all I could, and finally as I breathed into him once more, I felt his lungs fill and his chest rose with air. He made a tiny groan, and I knew he would live. I picked him up and he vomited all the water out of his stomach, and began to cry weakly. He was limp, gray, and couldn't move his limbs. I ran in and bundled him up in a blanket and massaged him all over, and made more decisions for God and the devil to hear:

"He will not be brain damaged."
"He will not have any paralysis or loss of movement."
"He will be perfectly normal in every way.
"He will not be traumatized by what just happened."
"He will have no fear of water, love swimming and grow to be a bold, happy and healthy boy!"

I called my husband, who was on his way home to change his shirt, something that he normally didn't do on Sundays. He prayed with me over the phone. I called the pediatrician who arranged for us to go straight into the emergency room. Then Marky ate, slept, and woke up talking away in his baby language about balls and cars and ready to play!

The trip to the hospital proved beyond a doubt that what I had decided was exactly what God had done. They had to remove us from the Intensive Care Unit because I couldn't keep him from running around the room and squealing! He was the healthiest patient there. Even a troop of student nurses, led by their head nurse, came to see me and congratulate me for having done a "wonderful job of CPR." But that wasn't what really brought Mark back to life - it was deciding to use my faith, against all odds and against all emotions. They kept us overnight, just in case some complication arose, but the doctor released us sooner than planned. As soon as we got home, I took him around to the back yard. When he spotted the pool, he stretched out his arms and shouted, "Pool! Pool!" And with all our clothes on, we hopped in and went for a lovely swim.

He is a happy, healthy, active 11 year old, who loves to help us evangelize, play soccer and is game for just about anything. But if I had decided to listen to those "logical" arguments in my head to just be thankful that I had him for 11 months, that would be exactly what God would have allowed and we would have buried him that week. The power to decide is what faith is all about. It's God's gift to us so He can show His power, but only we can make it happen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mom, the Dictator

If there's anything that will put your decision-making skills to the test, it's being a mom. For all the warm and fuzzy dreams you may have had about sweet, easy-going days with baby, reality slaps you in the face like a wet diaper the moment you bring one home. Every moment of your day is filled with "When does he eat next?" "Did he eat enough?" "Why won't he sleep?" "Why won't he stop fussing" "What's that strange red rash he's got?" "Do I have time to run to the store to buy more Huggies before his nap?" "Do I nap along with him and finally get a few minutes rest, or do I take the time to finally get some housework done?" "How do I cook and hold a baby at the same time?" "When will I have my life back??"

But that is just the beginning. Next as they grow into little walking people, who make loud demands with a vocabulary of 25 words, you are forced to make snap decisions from minute to minute. Do you insist that he can't chew on the TV remote and deal with five minutes of heartbreaking tears? Do you have a contingency plan to quickly substitute a new and fascinating toy or a snack or video, all the while speaking firmly and excitedly about how much better B is from A? Do you let him go to the store with his shoes on backwards the way he wants and a clip-on tie attached to his t-shirt? Do you let him get away with two bites of chicken for lunch and handfulls of Cheetos?

It's like they never give you a break. You have to have eyes on the back of your head, and have ears like a hawk to wake up in the middle of the night for any emergency. And you have to be decisive. To be a successful parent, democracy goes out the window and the ultimate rule of dictatorship must prevail! OK, loving, hugging, playing dictatorship, but a dictator all the same.

The sooner your child understands that you are the Supreme Leader who's word is final, you will have a happier and more secure child. The more chaos you allow in your home, and the fewer decisions you choose to make, allowing them to call the shots and determine how each day goes, the unhappier and grumpier they will be. The longer this goes on, the less they will trust that you know what you are doing as a parent. There is no coincidence that single teenage mothers have a higher rate of emotionally disturbed children than those from a married, two-parent family. It takes a determined and focused parent to raise a stress-free, happy child.

The saddest thing to me is to counsel women who have teenagers who disrespect them, just because all their growing years, their mother was afraid of displeasing them. She wanted her children to like her so much that she denied them the leadership that they needed. She can't understand why they are now so rebellious when she did so much for them in the past.

Want a sure guarantee of messing up your kids? Be indecisive. Afraid of making decisions? Believe me, motherhood is not for you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

D-Day 2009, by David Higginbotham

During the Second World War a time came when leaders of the Allied Forces knew they needed a decisive victory if they were going to win the war against Nazi Germany. So they decided on a plan, spent months preparing themselves and then on June 6th, 1944, launched the largest single-day amphibious assault of all time – popularly known as D-Day.

160,000 troops were packed into 6900 ships and transported by night across the English Channel from England to France, where they were to run onto unprotected beaches and confront German tanks, one million mines and machine gun nests. For additional support, overnight parachute and glider landings placed thousands of troops behind enemy lines.

Crazy you say? Absolutely! But it was the turning point of WWII. Before that day the Allied Forces were losing the war. London was on fire from daily aerial bombings and most of Europe was in the hands of the Nazis. So something drastic had to be done.

Within one month over one million troops had landed on the Normandy beaches and German troops were in retreat. The rest is history.

The spirit of the Day of Decision is exactly the same. All or nothing. Throw everything you have into one all-out leap of faith. Be audacious. Stop doing what doesn’t work and try something new.

65 years ago the Allied commanders knew that if they kept up the normal routine, defeat was guaranteed. But what about you today? If you keep doing the same old things, what can you really expect? Aren’t you guaranteed more of the same, or worse?
On the Day of Decision we propose that you challenge God to begin to show His power in your life in a tangible, concrete way that’ll leave no doubts. Declare your personal D-Day on September 13.

No words. Just action. Win the war for a better life.

Succeed in Life Center 5150 N. SHepherd Dr. Houston, Texas, 77018 1-888-691-2291

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When It's Time to Let Them Go

From the time they are born, our greatest goal is to raise them to become productive, well-balanced and happy adults that can conquer the battles of life with relative ease. Going to school, eating well, washing their hands after they use the toilet, looking both ways before they cross the street, saying please and thank you and tying their shoes can take up so much time that we forget that we are to be shaping character above all.

And the best way for character to develop is for each of them to learn to make their own choices, and to be true to themselves - especially when they reach the teen and young adult stage when decisions can be so much more life changing. As heartrending as it may be when they don't jump at the opportunities that we think are so "right" for them, it's so much more painful to try and force them to be what they are not, and then see the situation explode before our eyes.

Here are some things I've learned and have worked well so far over the years:

!. Show your soon-to-be adult, that you believe in him/her, that you see the great potential just waiting to be developed
2. Find out what they truly feel about the direction of their life and what they want. Make sure you keep what YOU want out of the picture.
3. Encourage honesty and sincerity - with themselves, with you and with God.
4. Help them sort through any confusing or conflicting feelings or thoughts without pressuring them to fit your mold.
5. Pray with them and teach them to pray, to ask God for His guidance and to fight back against all the negative feelings he or she may have. When your child learns to depend on God, wants Him to be Lord of his life and develops a close bond of trust with Him, the rest will fall into place without any pushiness on your part.
6. Back off and practice what you preach. Trust God to do what is now out of your hands - turning your child into a new creature for His glory.

You didn't think you could control them forever, did you?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Random Myths that Need Busting

Myth: It is unfair, unhealthy and unethical to be asked to work more that 40 hours a week.

Fact: When you are working at something you love, and something that you know will bless your life, extra hours put in on the job are a joy and should be seen as an investment with great returns.

Myth: You should not speak about unpleasant subjects such as death, war, abuse or the occult in front of your children or they will be traumatized.

Fact: You'd better speak to your children about all of the above! They need to hear the truth about how God views all of them from your mouth before they start forming their own opinions based on what they see on TV. If you are scared or upset about any of these, they will be as well. If you understand the freedom and authority God gives us over all evil, than these subjects can turn into beautiful discussions of how much we can help others who are suffering. They will feel so secure and happy knowing that there is a power greater than whatever they may fear.

Myth: When dividing the workload among coworkers, you should stick to what you have been assigned to. If you ever help to fix someone else's problems without being asked, you are bordering on sainthood. Keep track of how many times you have done extra to make sure you don't get taken advantage of.

Fact: Giving cheerfully and freely is a sure way of receiving from God much more than you gave. If your kindness is done with a grudge, nothing will come of it, just extra calories spent. But if it's done purposefully in faith, with a willing heart, be ready for the blessings to roll in! "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." (Mat. 5:40-42)

Myth: If you suspect that others misunderstand or dislike you, shrink out of sight as much as possible. Speak and appear as little as possible. The less they know about you the less they'll have to say, and might forget you're even there.

Fact: If you suspect others misunderstand you, and it is important that you all get along well, prove them wrong! Interact with them if you can, share your thoughts and sincere feelings, your sense of humor, and best of all, ask them for advice. Even the crustiest, unfriendliest, thick-skinned person loves to have their opinions valued. Hiding only reinforces their suspicions that there might be something fishy about you.

Myth: Be aware of your status, compare yourself and the work you're asked to do with others around you. If you feel like you are on the bottom of the pile - you are! Be sure you show your resentment at being given demeaning and humiliating jobs.

Fact: There is a good chance that others around you are doing tough and unpleasant jobs as well, but have chosen to see them in a positive light so that they can excel and move on. You can choose to love the tasks you are given, unless you are convinced your job is not worth your time - then quit and find another. Otherwise, "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." (Col. 3:23)

Myths and legends are not just in fairy tales, they creep into real life a little too easily!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Fussy Eater

It's fascinating to see that around the world, parents have very different ideas of what children can and can't eat. My friend who worked in our church in India prepared a meal for an Indian pastor's family, but as the parents politely ate, the children tried to hide their dislike for the chicken and potatoes that were on their plate. When she finally pulled out the fiery hot sauce in a little bottle, their mother liberally drenched the food in it and the children munched away happily.

In another part of the world I watched in horror as mothers would pile spoonfuls of sugar into their children's already super-sweet chocolate milk, and in other places fill baby bottles with Coke! They would also look at me in horror as my children would bite into a freshly chopped piece of celery. "What?? They can eat that???"

There was an age when my boys began stuffing anything their little fists could grab a hold of, into their mouths. TV remotes, cell phones, shoes, belt buckles...I had to be on constant guard duty to monitor what was going into their mouths. Babies explore the world around them at a few months old through the taste and tactile experience of their mouths as their vision and hearing are not yet well developed. That was a perfect time to start placing thick chopped carrot sticks into their hands and other healthy vegetables for them to gnaw on with their toothless gums and develop a taste for. If they swallowed some of the vegetable juice, all the better for them.

As they grew into toddlers, there was no fight to get them to enjoy a snack of raw carrots, sweet peppers or celery, because they had already enjoyed them as babies. As they got older the challenge came to get them to eat cooked broccoli, peas and other such typically "nasty" food for children. My husband was very instrumental in this phase of the game, and since I had boys his strategy worked perfectly.

"Don't eat that!" he'd shout, "Those are trees!" he said pointing to the broccoli. "Only giants eat those - like me!" That was all it took, and they'd be defiantly chewing off the tops of trees to prove that they were as tough as giants. They made faces at the bitter taste at first, but because of Dad's reaction they'd keep eating to show off their "bravery". Peas were bullets, string beans were guns, etc. etc. Some meal conversations were completely taken up with him exclaiming, "I can't believe you just ate that! Stop!!!" with little mouths busy with vegetables exploding in their teeth...Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little sanity to teach a lesson that will last a good long time.

With girls, another tactic might work better if they have no interest in proving a resemblance to giants. Choose a good role model that they would want to emulate - a woman in sports who has to eat well, a character in a book, a famous woman in history or in the Bible when Coke and candy hadn't yet made their way into anyone's diet. Also, bribery done right can actually work wonders. They have to eat their vegetables well for one or two weeks straight without complaining and then they will earn the right to have their favorite toy, clothes - fill in the blank. By the end of those two weeks, chances are they'll actually begin to like those foods, or at least dislike them a little less. The human tongue can be trained to like or dislike tastes much more readily that we think.

The trick is to have healthy food in front of them as often as possible, and limit the unhealthy to very small amounts or reserve them for special occasions. Moms who stock their kitchens with lots of sugary sodas, processed foods, white breads and candy have no right to complain that their children don't eat well. If they see a healthy food often enough, and see you and your husband enjoying it, it's highly likely that they will eventually try it and like it as well. If you've already decided that they don't like it and don't even try to offer it, how do you expect them to develop a taste for it? Common sense; yet strangely not so common any more.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Normal: Whatever we're used to

Ditching school, shoplifting, hating Dad's newest girlfriend, no one home after school, cruising the streets with gang-bangers, coke, meth, weed, fast money, pregnant teenage cousin, tatoos and revealing clothes. That was normal for Dawn and everyone in her neighborhood in East LA.

But changing "normal" meant Dawn had to believe in something so much better, something she had never experienced, and she was ready to take that risk. When Dawn started to see that she could actually go back to school and do well, that she could get rid of the drugs and even the desire for them, that God was actually answering her prayers and that she could rise above her past, "normal" took on a whole new meaning. It was as if the clouds parted and a beam of light came piercing into her soul. Her children saw it clearly and loved who she was turning into. Her family members began to come to church, tatooed, pierced and with rap sheets a mile long. They cried, they prayed they testified about what God was doing in their lives and how they would never go back - ever.

But with time, Dawn heard another voice in her head: "You're not one of these people. You've never held down a job in your life. No one in your family has ever held down an honest job. You belong on the streets. Who do you think you are?"

After a year of wonderful victories, of seeing her children blossom and grow in faith, in character and in happiness, Dawn slipped back into that old comfortable pit of "normal". Her kids begged her to take them to church. But she chose that old voice over a new life, and slowly her brothers and their families fell away too.

Dawn's case was so sad and so maddening to see, true. But how about us? How much do we accept as "normal" what in actuality is so far from what God wants for us? Half-hearted prayers, nominal faith, minimum concern for others, worries and fears that block out His voice...Could be that our "normal" is just as senseless as Dawn's.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Loving the Unlovable

I was about to turn 22, just newly married and moved with my husband to our new home for the next three years in Davenport, Iowa. Fresh out of college, I thought I'd get a nice secretarial job, but it wasn't all that easy. The town was going through and economic recession and jobs were scarce. Ironically, I was "over qualified" for the ones I wanted, and it took a while before I found the opening for a home-health aide. Kind of a step down from a nurse's aid.

I was to drive from house to house throughout the neighboring towns to visit the elderly and handicapped who had signed up for help with their household chores, cooking, bathing, feeding, and administering their medications. I was to be trained in basic first aid and nursing care at the local community college, and be paid by the hour plus gas money per mile that I drove.

I was actually excited about caring for sweet old grandmas. I just imagined how grateful they would be and what a lovely time we'd have together. That illusion lasted less than a day. The reality was that many who needed home care were those who had no family, no one to bother looking after them in their old age. They were often senile, suspicious, angry, even hostile to deal with. They shouted, swung their canes, accused me of stealing their loose change, demanded that I clean much more than I could in the time frame I was allowed. They were difficult to bathe, left piles of soiled clothing for me to clean, wouldn't eat the food I prepared, and their homes often smelled of old urine. I tried my best to show kindness and they returned it with bitterness. They were sad, lonely and very very unlovable, but they desperately needed someone to care about their forgotten lives.

I came to dread going to work, knowing that I was getting paid minimum wage for doing the job that only an angel could endure. But I remembered that Jesus asked if we love only those who love us back, what reward will be have? He wants us to love even those who persecute us. Loving the unlovable was a very unglamorous, humiliating and thankless job. But then again, isn't that the kind of treatment God gets from His creation every single day? As much as we have been loved by God when we haven't deserved an ounce of it, we ought to be able to forgive, love and reach out to others whether they ever thank us or not.

I'm sure by now all of those people I cared for 25 years ago have passed away, but the love I invested is already being multiplied and returned to me and will continue to do so for eternity. It proves that any sacrifice made out of faith is worth it. Just enough to make me want to invest so much more.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let the poor say I am rich...

When my mom and dad knew that they were to be sent to work as missionaries in South Korea in the mid 1950's, the first thing they did was go to school. They studied Korean language, history and church growth classes. For two years before they even set foot on Korean soil, they were immersed in the preparations of a lifetime of service to the church in Korea. It was exciting and dangerous and challenging for them to arrive with two little children (I wasn't born yet), to adjust to that war-torn land.

As years went by and I came along, their Korean language skills improved tremendously, my dad could navigate through the most treacherous streets in his Land Rover, negotiate out of a traffic ticket with any Korean policeman, and befriend practically anyone he met. They were constantly going to church meetings, grand openings of Christian schools, or new churches out in the countryside, making long speeches surrounded with Korean church officials. The church, the country, the service to those people was their life...but not mine.

I learned to love some of the food and parts of the culture, but every time we'd see an American TV show on the US military channel, I would long for that far distant country that was supposedly my own. The Korean toys and dolls of 1968 were so poor and uninteresting, and the clothes were so odd when I compared them to the Sears catalog my grandmother would send us every six months. My siblings and I would dream of chocolate ice cream, American hamburgers, real pizza with real cheese, everything American. In the process, I began to resent the fact that I was stuck in a third world country while my cousins got to have what I thought, was the best of everything.

Only years later did I come to realize how shameful my attitude had been, how much of a blessing it was to experience another country, to have the opportunity to learn another language and to have the honor of being a part of the work of God. I had a rich and extraordinary childhood, but in the cold winters with the air thick with the smell of rotten fish from the open markets, with roads full of frozen mud puddles and lined with beggars, I just couldn't see it.

Now I am so thankful that God gave me that past, and I feel a sense of grief when I see others who have come to the US, whose hearts and minds still cling to their countries and refuse to learn the beautiful lessons that God has for them here. I was a selfish child who wanted what I couldn't have, and I've tried my best to make sure my children never hold those attitudes no matter where we've lived. I just wish others who have it so easy could understand.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Discipline - It's Not About the Cookies!

We've probably all seen it in shopping centers and supermarkets. The bedraggled mother with a whining, demanding child that won't stop complaining. She pushes her cart through the store with a glazed look in her eyes, staring at something in the distance as her tear-stained, candy-stained, booger-stained screaming bundle of joy lets everyone know how miserable/mad/tired/hungry/unloved he or she feels. Most of us walk by and try to pretend we don't notice, but I for one wish she would just do something!

Disciplining a child can be tricky if you don't know what you're trying to accomplish. Basically what you want is a child who knows how to control his emotions and behave in a courteous and respectful manner, while at the same time enjoying the fun of being a child. What many mothers get confused with is trying to discipline their child for their actions more than for their attitudes.

"Don't eat those cookies, they're for dessert!" Meanwhile his little mouth waters as you walk out the kitchen door to answer the phone. You know of course what happens. When you walk back in and see the trail of chocolate chips and cookie crumbs on the counter and a guilty look on his face, what do you do?

A. Scold him, maybe smack his hand for disobeying you, and make him sit on the sofa alone with no TV for a few minutes
B. Ask him, "Why did you do that? I told you not to do that!" and then clean up his mess as he runs off to hide
C. Laugh at how cute he looks with his guilty expression and crumbs all over his face, which makes him laugh too

As much as I wanted to do C, I always stuck to A. I know, I know it sounds so mean, just for a few cookies, and after all they're just precious little children...

But I had a reason to be tough on cookie offenders. Behind the simple act of eating the forbidden food, was also a test of how far can I push Mommy? Does she really mean what she says? Do I have to obey her ALL of the time? Can I use my adorableness to get away with minor crimes and manipulate her in the future? Of course they're not all thinking these deep thoughts, but they are feeling them without a doubt. Your children will draw conclusions about you and about your dependability as the authority over them based on how you enforce your boundaries.

The whole reason for the quick and forceful reaction on my part was to get his attention that Mommy's authority is not to be messed with. It really had nothing to do with the cookies themselves, it had to do with making sure that an attitude of Me vs. Mom wouldn't begin. It's either I stay within Mommy's boundaries where it's safe, or I get hurt. To ensure that they want to please you and stay close to you, the next step after discipline, is absolutely essential:

Once you know they're sorry for what they've done, they're not angry that you disciplined them (if they are, they'll need another dose of discipline - but that's for another blog post), they're feeling humbled and repentant and vulnerable, that's when you hold them close, give them plenty of kisses and kind words and tell them that you love them, BUT, you do this because you want them to grow up right. Make sure they say they're sorry, then make sure you tell them you forgive them. And then it's all forgotten, just like God treats us! It's back to normal, playing, working laughing and getting ready for Daddy to come home.

It doesn't hurt to make sure they get an extra big cookie once it's time for dessert - after all, it's not about the cookies!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Moms and Playtime

Being a mom is such a combination of adjectives! Fun, exhausting, fulfilling, frustrating, draining, enriching...if you're a mom, you know what I mean. But one thing is certain. It's a big responsibility that should never be taken lightly. You are the primary source of education for your child. They learn more than their ABC's, but how to see the world around them. You teach them how to laugh, how to feel empathy for others, how to show kindness, how to value hard work, how to appreciate good food, a healthy life-style, a happy loving family - or conversely, you can easily teach the opposite of all of these. They do come into this world with their own unique personality and set of talents, but it's you that shapes their character. Not so much with lessons and explanations, although those are very important, but mostly by example.

What's the best time to teach your little ones? Playtime! Playing blocks, dolls or super-heroes with them can actually help you understand their world the way they see it, and help shape that view to be a healthy, fear-free one. Here are some great play tips for 3-8 year-olds that can probably extend to older years as well with some modifications.

!. Let them choose what they want to play (soldiers, doctors, fairy princesses, ballerinas, garbage men...) and let them start with you fully engaged in play.

2. Don't laugh at them or make fun of the crazy imaginative scenarios they choose, e.g. They want you to be the super-mommy who has the power to destroy bad guys with the remote control, and then zap a chocolate cake into existence with the same weapon. Have fun with it, play along and act like you think their idea was great.

3. Start looking for clues about their fears and their frustrations as they play. You will be able to sense how badly they want to be a hero, if their imaginary villain makes them angry or if it's just plain fun to pretend they're winning a battle. For girls you'll be able to see if she wants to be a music star and be admired by everyone, or be a teacher and order her students (probably you and all her stuffed animals) around.

4. Gently guide playtime to help them deal with their imaginary "problems" in healthy, positive ways without completely taking over. Let them feel like they have a part in the decision on what direction playtime takes. A boy who is pretending to be a warrior may really need to feel like a hero. Don't worry that as he swings around his sword and wants to plunge it into the giant Barney toy, that he'll grow up to be a mass murderer! He needs to believe that he is strong and can handle any threat in his life. Make sure, however that he is not acting out frustration or anger, because that shows he has underlying issues of aggression that you will have to help him overcome. Let him win the battle, but then produce another scenario where he'll need to show compassion or kindness, and be a hero for doing that as well.

5. Enthusiastically praise your child for their imagined conquests and achievements. They must always be the smartest, strongest, most amazing children you ever knew in your whole life! But then help to balance the scales if you noticed some negative attitudes. The girl who is dying to be the next Hannah Montana may need some reassurance that she is beautiful for who she is and doesn't need to compete with a TV personality. Go overboard and show her that she is even better than that in your eyes.

Parents who understand the value of playtime, the insights they can gain into their child's mind, and the effectiveness of play as a time to teach and guide, can cut off harmful attitudes and insecurities at the root, long before they have a chance to grow. Your child will carry those wonderful memories of playtime with you for the rest of his or her life. Don't let these years pass you by without investing in good, fun play!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Little lambs in a hostile world

Sometimes Mark and I take a walk down to the playground nearby to kick around his soccer ball, and I wonder about the little children I see so often unsupervised. It's as if their parents just want them out of the house, and by the way they behave, you can tell that they don't get much attention inside the house either. But they're out there, an open target for anyone who would want to take advantage of these young lives, sad to say.

On the other hand, you can always tell who the children are that are well loved and cared for. They have their moms hovering around like helicopters, watching every move, shouting encouragement and praises when they reach the top of the slide, and warning them to remember to play nice with the others. They bring a pack of juice, and wet wipes for their hands, and an extra sweater, and keep a first aid kit in the car. They may look overprotective, but reality demands that if you want to be a good parent these days, you protect.

And then there were the little girls who were playing alone, one about 8 watching over her little sister of about 5. The other moms were asking each other who they belonged to, and ended up having to help the girls tie a shoe and reach the water fountain for a drink. Where was their mother, and why did she think it was safe to let them wander through the neighborhood alone? Doesn't she watch the evening news? We watched them walk off in the direction of what we hoped was their home, hand in hand, dirty and the smallest one crying because she had fallen and hurt herself. Two little defenseless lambs, so vulnerable.

The age for having children to help tend the farm and let them run wild through the fields when work is done, has long gone. The dangers for children generations ago lay mostly in diseases, hunger and the strain of hard labor. Today our children face the danger of people who would willingly commit violence against them. Thankfully there are still many good hearted and honest people who wouldn't dare hurt a child. But who are they and where are they, is not so easy to answer.

For those who want to have children, your job as their protector is a serious one. You are bringing them into a hostile world and if you are not prepared to fight for their safety, it would be better for you not to have them at all. For those of you who do have children, you have precious lives entrusted to you. Take good care that they make it through their childhood with their innocence intact.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Gift of Intuition

Women are different than men. (I figured that one out some time ago, even though there are still a few who argue that it's all just a difference in bodily functions.) Women have a tendency to be more emotional in their responses than men, and to make emotionally based decisions, which like it or not, gets us into a lot of trouble and helps to perpetuate the idea that we are untrustworthy and unstable. Men on the other hand can much more easily make cold calculating decisions than we do, and there's a downside to that as well because they can get into trouble for being insensitive and thoughtless. We each have our strengths, and though following emotions can wreak havoc, there is something very positive to be said about them, if used the way God intended.

Across centuries and cultures, it has always been women who were the ones who nurtured and raised families, who were at the heart of the home. It has been women who were primarily blessed with the challenge of being the interpreter of baby talk, understanding the cries in the middle of the night that meant either fear, hunger, pain or a poopy diaper. Women have had to be the negotiators of toddlers who can't understand why they have to share, but do understand a well offered bribe of cookies if they behave well. Women have had to read the worried looks on their teenage daughter's faces, harvest information from their son's silent stares, offer love and support to their stressed-out husbands without appearing to be preachy or insulting, and have just the right kind of meal on the table to warm the hearts of the grumpiest household. Women have had to fine-tune the art of soothing and easing and uplifting the emotions of their families from generation to generation, so that we all could get on with the daily battles of life.

Men often deal with the obvious tangible problems that arise, and only after years of marriage to a wise woman, learn to look deeper. Women, on the other hand, are more tuned-in to problems that are brewing under the surface: the sadness, the fears, the unspoken pain, and are gifted with the ability to bring healing before anyone even realizes that healing is needed. Call it intuition, or sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, the world would be a very bleak place without this gift that women have.

Next time you feel like criticizing women for being too emotional, thank the Lord above that He made us this way!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bozos and the Human Condition

I am on the brink of taking my washing machine repairman to court. I really don't want to have to do that, but if it's the only way to fix the damage he did to my property, then I'll do it. By the way if anyone needs repairs, DON'T use the Appliance Service Company run by Josh Cohen in Houston, Texas! They may fix your machines, but if they do anything wrong they'll squirm out of taking responsibility. I know, i've been trying to get them to keep their promise to fix their mess since January.

The problem isn't that they deny that they destroyed a patch of the concrete on my back porch, or that they are not polite to me over the phone and call me "Ma'am" and say their boss will get right back to me as soon as he's available. They've apologized, they've vowed that they have a good reputation for righting any wrongs they've done. They even sent the repairman Jason, back to look at what he'd done and promise to be back the next week to clean it up (it can't be cleaned, it has to be repaired). They're pleasant, courteous, and they lie through their teeth. Josh has only spoken to me once - though I've left literally dozens of messages for him over the last three months. Jason has never appeared to clean up the mess as he promised, breaking 3 different appointments that he had made. I've gone to the trouble of providing a very reasonable estimate from another company to fix the problem, and guess what? Just ten minutes ago I talked to one of the guys who answered the phone who told me, "Yeah, Josh is kinda busy right now, but he'll get right back to you as soon as possible." Translation-"Yeah, right lady, bug off, you ain't getting any money out of us!"

So now I'm in the uncomfortable place of having to file a legal complaint against these bozos and I don't like it one bit, but I like the bright six foot wide acid stain on my concrete even less. So unless the fear of God and hellfire and brimstone doesn't overtake Mr. Cohen to have a change of heart and pay me what is due (which I heartily pray for every day), I will have to see them in front of a judge in the county courthouse.

And now for the lesson of the day: We have all committed the sin of being a bozo - admit it, it's true. There have been too many times that we didn't want to own up to our mistakes, when we wouldn't make restoration for the harm we did to other people. If there was an easy way out of a problem, we'd take it, if we could just ignore it in the hopes that it would go away, we would. Human nature always wants a free ride, and when we can get it, we sigh in relief that we weren't caught. But when we are the ones who are harmed, we can be the most self righteous, condemning people on earth. I don't want to be either, because as much as I can't stand irresponsible people, I can neither stand people who look down their noses in superiority. So from one self-confessed (former) bozo to another: Josh Cohen, you're getting sued!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Who's the April Fool?

In my daily musings and observations, I run across a lot of conversations, bits of news and snatches of people's reactions - including my own, that show that we as a species are a ridiculous bunch of fools when it all comes down to it. It's not because we're not intelligent, it's not that we have no common sense, it's just that we so frequently go without using either.

Case in point: We live in this amazingly complex world where even the tiniest cell of a microscopic organism functions like a well organized kingdom, where the most common weed has a beauty of its own, and where new species are being discovered much to the surprise of scientists who thought they had it all figured out, and yet people still go around acting as if God is a crutch invented for weak people to lean on. Somehow it just so happens that the Earth spins on its axis at exactly the right distance from our sun with an atmosphere the perfect combination of oxygen, water and other elements to sustain life, and no other planet within millions of light-years away has been found that can do the same. Yeah, I guess they're right, no evidence to support the God theory...

And what about those of us who say we do believe in God? How about Mrs. C, a sweet church going lady who says she can't understand why God doesn't answer her prayers, had an opportunity to pull her small business way out of debt just recently. She prayed, we prayed, and God answered in the form of a client willing to invest with hard cash. But in the middle of the transaction, a glitch came up. A very annoying glitch, but one that could have been sorted out with a bit of determination and faith. But what did she do? She got angry with God and gave up, blaming Him the whole way. The investor flew back home on his private jet, leaving her just as much in debt as before.

The worst thing is that most people would look at this picture and blame God as well. Why couldn't He just make it go smoothly? Why did He let her down? Doesn't He care how much she needs this money? Our "common sense" when it comes to God can be so childish. Why don't we ask instead, "Why did she give up and not believe that God would make it go smoothly? Why did she let God and herself down? Doesn't she know how much God cares about her needs?" Sometimes the right questions and the right answers are right there, but we are just too foolish and self-centered to see them. The ones that see the miracles are the ones that get it, that fight for it, that don't let discouragement get in the way. Which is why so few people have ever seen a miracle, but then again, maybe miracles are just a crutch for weak people.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Get Mad - It's Good for You!

There are plenty of things going on in this world that should make us furious. From the young girls that are being sold into the sex trade by their own mothers in Iraq, (a 14 year old virgin can bring in over $30,000) and the rape victims in India who are stoned to death because they dishonored their family name, to the children who come to my church who have to endure the humiliation and abuse of drug addicted parents...The runaway teenage girl who ran straight into the arms of the boy in the youth group who was trying to straighten up his life and instead made her pregnant. It makes you want to shake some sense into people, doesn't it? But the most maddening thing is that too many people who claim to believe in God have come to the point where they shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, what else can we do?"

One of the best and most effective strategies of hell, is to make us all complacent. To stop getting angry and to just let things go. We may be shocked, wag our heads in disagreement and wish for the days when life was more innocent, but when all is said and done, the standards that we say we hold to, we can so easily let slide into the sewer.

I listened to Bristol Palin, the daughter of evangelical Christian Gov. Sarah Palin, giving what was supposed to be her heartfelt sentiments on teenage pregnancy in an interview on the news. "I'd love to [be] an advocate to prevent teen pregnancy because it's not, like, a situation that you would want to strive for, I guess," Bristol said. She told the interviewer that abstaining from sex before marriage is the best, "but not realistic at all." Thanks Bristol. Young women all over the country are so inspired - I guess.

Everything in her interview revolved around how tough things are on her: having to scale back on her teenage activities, stay awake late at night, and have to care for someone else. But what about the huge disservice she has done to this child, to have to grow up in a home without a mother and father who are in a committed, adult, marriage relationship? What about the damage done to the attitudes of young girls who hear her pathetic attempt to discourage teenage pregnancy with her confession that it's just unrealistic? If you're that wimpy about it, just stay home and say nothing - please!

Complacency. Claiming to believe in a right and wrong, but when it gets too tough to handle, just shrug your shoulders and do nothing. Don't fight, don't revolt, don't insist that life could be better. Just give up, it's so much easier.

Just writing this makes me mad, and that is a really good thing! If complacency is a strategy of hell, then a full-frontal spiritual attack is the only choice we have. Our prayers of spiritual warfare on the part of those we see who are suffering, and stepping out of our comfort zones to rescue people who are destroying themselves, are all a part of standing up to the chaos that's all around us. Let's all stop being so nice and passive - get mad and do some fighting back!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

And the Award Goes To...

I love movies, I enjoy good acting, realistic dialogue, an unpredictable plot, a true message, interesting faces and voices and faraway places and all with a warm box of popcorn on my lap. Love it. i appreciate all the hard work, the research, the carefully selected wardrobe, the immaculate make-up, the hair-dos appropriate to the historical setting, the computer generated effects, the moving sound-track and the precision camera work. So nice of them to give me a couple hours of fantasy for a handful of dollars when I have nothing better to do.

But I always feel a bit like throwing up when I watch them cry and hold their hands over their hearts and "thank the Academy" for their golden statues, and act as if they were heroes to a thunderous standing ovation - like they had just rescued an entire country from a nuclear holocaust. They love congratulating themselves and honoring themselves and spending massive amounts of money on the most expensive wardrobes to celebrate how well they pretend to be other people. And we let them get away with it because it's such a part of our culture, what else can we do? We put the money in their pockets after all, and they do give us a heck of a show...

Meanwhile how about the ones who really do rescue people? Who is giving them golden statues and throwing giant parties, who is screaming out their names, just dying to get a glimpse of their face? Who has their teenage kids plastering the faces of these real heroes on their bedroom walls and wishing they could be just like them?

There are silent heroes all over the world, who pull people out of the pit of death, who rescue the suicidal, who heal, teach, give hope, inspire, and light the way to God Himself. You can tell who the real heroes are, because they couldn't care less about the recognition, the parties and the awards. They know that what is waiting for them, surpasses everything that Hollywood could ever offer - by far. So I guess we can let the pretty people have their statues. I'd rather hang around with the real heroes any day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Overtalkers Annonymous

Ever had to deal with overtalkers?  They're the people who think that you want to hear everything they have to say, and can't take a hint that you stopped listening a few minutes ago?  I do a lot of counseling, and I'm aware that sometimes when people come to talk about their problems, they can't quite explain just what they're going through and they end up going around in circles a bit, trying to work things out in their minds.  That's fine, and sometimes that's the only way to sift through the confusion of feelings and thoughts to finally pinpoint what's wrong. But what I'm talking about are those people that are supposed to know what they're talking about; those who are supposed to have their answers already figured out before you came to them.  

"So how much time will it take before these ant colonies in my roof will disappear?" I ask the pest-control guy.

"Well, ya have to know the way these little guys think.  Studies have shown that ants are highly intelligent and can evade termination for long periods of time.  In fact there was a study in the University of Michigan...or was it Wisconsin?  No, no I think it was published in Ant World Monthly, I could get you a copy of it if you'd like, that described the mating habits of the New Guinea spotted wood ant, and you know ma'am, when you're an expert like me......

Meanwhile I'm standing at my front door with a plastic grin on my face, nodding every two seconds pretending to care and thinking,  "Will you just do your job and leave?!"  

It's really interesting being on the opposite side of the conversation when you're the one used to dishing out the advice and answering the questions.  The worst thing is to imagine that everyone else wants to hear ourselves talk, and that we already know what they want to hear even if they didn't ask. For those of you out there who spend a lot of time counseling in your churches or schools, beware of the plastic grin, the constantly nodding head, the glazed look in the eyes - you're boring the pants off of them, I guarantee.  Listen first, and think hard about what comes out of your mouth, and make sure it's what they're ready and need to hear. 

And guess what?  The ants magically disappeared, and I still haven't read a single journal on them.  Amazing.