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!