“Still Good” Saturday: In Search of Celebration

This blog was originally posted at http://www.Renovare.org.

Celebration: Knowing that every good gift is from God and a reason to party.

Of all the disciplines I’ve practiced over the years Celebration is the one I have struggled with the most. Celebration often begins with gratefulness, which leads to joy and when done right carries over into a jig.  While I start well, I just can’t seem, with much consistency, to pull off the joy and the jig.

I have spent the majority of my life with children and this is not an issue for them. They are perpetually party ready. I have been to countless tea parties and been asked to dance by people under three foot tall at least twice a week for two decades. But I’m always feeding off their celebration, it’s rarely my own.

Lately though I’ve been paying attention to their partying ways, trying to grab a few bread crumbs from the celebration table. I found that they don’t even count their blessings! For shame, they aren’t even overtly thankful!  After spending an evening with six of my favorite young friends, I realized Celebration begins with an all encompassing sense of safety. These children can party because they feel safe.

Here’s the difference…. When I start to count my blessings, I do begin to feel joy and the jig, but before I can say “party streamers”, my joy is hijacked by the need to feel safe. The “what if’s” begin to ring in my ears, and I’m back where I started.

But my young friends live in the land of safety, they are free to party at a moment’s notice.

Listening to Richard Foster has given me many gifts, but maybe one of the greatest is the saying, “The Kingdom of God is not in danger.”  Dallas Willard often said, “The universe is a perfectly safe place to be.”  Anybody with ears or eyes knows this is crazy talk. The world is not safe– but the kingdom of God is. Our God is a redemptive God and there is nothing he can’t turn around for good- and that’s some serious safety.

So the LORD and I are working this out. I count my blessings and he says, “See, I can be trusted. You are safe.”  I’m going to keep gathering crumbs from my young friends, but I’m also practicing the merengue just in case.

 

What is the root of celebration in your life?

Tell us about a time you have celebrated with children.

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“Still Good” Saturday: Study and Its Faithful Companion–Submission

This blog was originally posted at http://www.Renovare.org.

I knew it was coming and frankly, I couldn’t wait. My children can argue the hind leg off a dog and I was really looking forward to our Ignatian Meditation time with John 2:1-12, the Wedding at Cana. The point of this story is so obvious. I mean it’s so clear, to a mother who after a summer of bickering children hides in the pantry.

When Mary called Jesus’ attention to a chore that needed to be done, he obeyed her. Yes, some might say he gave her a little lip, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” But in the end, he obeyed his mother.

(As as I side note, when I was fantasizing about my children obeying their mother, my fantasy did get away from me and I heard my daughter respond after asking her to clean her room, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me. My hour has not yet come.” I was struck instantly with a migraine and had to lie down.)

I digress. The morning came and we began our usually ritual of reading the scriptures with our senses. And then we asked the Holy Spirit to speak to us. And I told the Spirit, “Here’s your chance to really push that ‘obey your mother’ message.” (Um… yeah, pray for me.) We ended our time together by sharing a word, or a phrase, or an image the Holy Spirit had given us.

Tween daughter, “I love that only the servants and I guess his disciples, and his mom knew.[That he changed water to wine.] He didn’t brag or charge money or tell anyone.”

Newly Nine year old daughter, “I think someone who likes to laugh turns water into wine, not into grape juice.” (Maybe too much TV for this kid.)

Nothing. No one got my message. Instead they got God’s.

A parent must respect the spiritual person of his child, and approach it with reverence, for that too looks the Father in the face and has an audience with Him into which no earthy parent can enter even he dared to desire it.  

-George MacDonald

You see the Tween, she’s been serving at a soup kitchen. And the Newly Nine shares a ritual with her Dad of smelling the corks from wine bottles. They rate them and discuss funny things like, this smells similar to paint thinner, or old socks. These messages from the Holy Spirit are just for them, because he knows their hearts so well.

When we engage in the discipline of study with our children, or even within ourselves, submission must be our ever present companion. It seems so much easier to submit myself to the teaching of the Holy Spirit than it is to submit my children.

In my greatest moments I want them to learn directly from God; I want to be looked through— a transparent parent, pointing the way, not becoming it.

“Still Good” Saturday: Guidance Through Incarnation

This blog was originally posted at http://www.Renovare.org

Our child friendly definition of guidance is this: listening to the counsel of God and others who love us.

Each night before I go to bed, I go outside and make a last check of all the animals. Here in the country there are no outside lights. Robert Frost is right, “the woods are lovely dark and deep,” but I would like to add that without a light, they are dangerous. Sometimes my fears are real, like that coyote that I hear howl as I make my rounds, and sometimes they are imagined—the branches that look like monsters ready to pounce. However if I grab a flashlight as I head out the door all things change. I know where I am at all times, wild animals generally run from light, and those imaginary monsters simply don’t exist. Guidance is a light. Often through the scrip­tures God lights our paths, through the advice of others he keeps us safe. This is the receiving end of guidance.

The “dishing it out” side is another story. As a parent and a teacher let me just lay all my cards on the table and say guidance is tough stuff. It requires so much energy! It is messy. And sometimes it’s heartbreaking.

As a teacher I can bark orders and give guidance from a distance. I can keep myself separate by only caring about what goes on at school, issuing assignments and grades like a well oiled machine. But no one actually learns anything of value and the distance is unmistakable.

As a parent I can also bark orders and give guidance from a distance. I can be unmovable, issuing the wages of good and bad behavior, all the while muttering under my breath, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But children won’t “Do as I say, not as I do”; they will do as I do. Children will try an array of creative techniques to fill in the relational space they feel.

Guidance through incarnation looks completely different. Jesus gives us the perfect picture.  Jesus says, “Do as I do,” and then he takes it even further, “Do as I do… and here, let me help you.” And with that he stepped forever into humanity with hands on guidance. He gave us proximity.

Incarnation is God stepping into humanity, and a result is presence—proximity. “The Kingdom of God is here,” is a declaration of proximity.  Jesus declares proximity without pretension. We are still free to shun his guidance, but he won’t leave, he won’t abandon. Our sensibilities may be dulled to this gift of proximity, but he is always there.

As parents we can participate in incarnation through our presence. Like Jesus we offer our presence, even when our guidance is rejected. We cannot do it without the strength of the Spirit. We need this incarnation as well as offer it.

Today, how is God calling you to guide your children through incarnation?

“Still Good” Saturday: “An Ounce of Pretension is Worth a Pound of Manure”*

This blog was originally posted at http://www.Renovare.org.

Over chocolate toast this morning, (Hey, It’s a birthday breakfast—cut us some slack.) the girls and I engaged in a little Ignatian meditation on John 1:43-51. After exploring what we saw, heard, taste, touched and felt within the passage, we began to focus on what the Holy Spirit was saying specifically to us.

The Birthday Girl said, “There are angels everywhere! I mean everywhere! They are bringing buckets of help from heaven all the time.”

The Tween said, “I really have no idea. I’ll have to think about this all day.”

And myself, well, I was speechless. I was convicted.

Is there something about Jesus’ declaration that in Nathanael there is no deceit–

connected to Nathanael’s statement about the shenanigans of Nazareth that in turn is–

connected to Nathanael’s declaration and belief in the Son of God?

Children are born without duplicity. They are what they are, and it all hangs out at the Walmart. A person without duplicity would easily say, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael is not playing to the crowd, he is not trying to please or deceive anyone. His life drips with simplicity. And from that simplicity he was able to spot the truth, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Simplicity helps us see clearly. Duplicity clouds our vision with expectation, fear, and worry.

A person without duplicity, a person without deceit, is the one who can spot the truth and follow it. A person without duplicity, a person without deceit, can be vulnerable in a relationship with God and with others.

The young folks who live in my house and raid my chocolate stash are under the sphere of my influence. I can create spaces where they choose to engage deceit, or duplicity just to survive. Or I can create spaces that are safe places to be who they are, to say what they think, to tell the truth about themselves and tell the truth about God.

There are many way to create these healthy, simple spaces.

  • Give children a growing self government. Train them for increased independence.
  • Be available and vulnerable. Tell the truth about yourself.
  • Offer children the same respect you would give an adult.
  • Listen and encourage truth telling even when it may not be what you want to hear.
  • All of the above suggestions are found in Richard Foster’s The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

*To quote the theologically sound movie Steel Magnolias, “An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.”

I’m carrying this around today, asking for forgiveness and starting again.

How do you create these safe, simple spaces in your home?

*It’s a joke.  I have no idea if it’s theologically sound or not. But it’s a darn good movie on truth telling in relationships.

“Still Good” Saturday: The Very Best Way to Be Human

This blog was originally posted at http://www.Renovare.org.

“Please don’t leave your gum on the table.”

“In our house, we don’t call people fat.”

“The goat cannot come inside.”

“Use your fork, please, not your fingers.”

“Spitting from the balcony doesn’t make friends.”

In all homes there are rules; rules that make living together possible and on many days pleasant. Recently, I was reading Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book called Jesus Wants to Save the Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. In this book they write about the Jews being rescued from Egypt and how when they finally made it out, God gave them the Ten Commandments to teach them how to be human again. As slaves they were treated like things, property to be owned and manipulated, but as free people now they would need to learn to govern themselves.

Learning to govern ourselves well is the fullness of humanity. As a side note that is particularly central, learning to govern ourselves greatly affects those around us for good or ill.

But what does governing ourselves well, look like?

Jesus tells us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Matthew 22:37-39

Dallas Willard often said the question of how to live a good life is a question we are born asking. Children want to know how to live a good life. Like the Jews we need to learn, and continue to learn, how to live in the fullness of what God created us to be—human. The Ten Commandments do just that. They show us how to live the very best way. They are stepping stones, path markers that show us the good, true, and safe path that many have followed before us.

There are various rules in my household, but not many of these will carry over when my children leave home. For example, they may not have a goat or a balcony for that matter. But they will always be human, and the Ten Commandments will teach them the very best way to be just that.

Here are two good books for learning together the very best way to be human.

The Ten Commandments by Sophie Piper http://www.paracletepress.com/the-ten-commandments.html

This small book presents the Ten Commandments one at a time while drawing on passages from the Psalms, Proverbs, the prophets and Jesus. It’s poetic and thoughtful, filled with insight. The illustrations are lovely. I have found myself returning to this book as a reminder of God’s great love and purpose for human beings.

The Three Questions written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

This beautiful picture book addresses the three great questions, “When is the best time to do thing?” and “Who is the most important one?” and “What is the right thing to do?” It is based on a story by Leo Tolstoy.

May you join with your children and lean deeply into who God created you to be– human.

 

“Still Good” Saturday: Big Seed-Little People

This blog was posted in its original form at http://www.Renovare.org.

A curious phenomenon occurs in elementary schools each year as children meander into their classrooms for the first time. Children scan the room looking for their desk, their locker, their space. Then they plunk backpacks down and begin a process of dominating their spaces. Some children arrange these spaces for as long as the person in charge will let them, others unload haphazardly, but all will settle their goods in their kingdom. Similar behavior can be seen on this first day in the lunch room, on the playground, and usually during Physical Education class.

Physical Education, class because laying kingdom boundaries has a definite connection to the body, the practical tool of carrying out the human will. This wonderful phenomenon is also observed, sometimes with shock and other times with elation, by new parents as their formerly soft and sweet baby begins to assert her independence in the form of tantrums and grand declarations of, “No” and “I can do it.” This is not a switch in personality, but a seed that is planted in every human by God.

In the natural world, seeds take time to germinate and push their spouts up through the protective dirt. This precious seed in children follows a similar route, pushing up through protective family members declaring to the world razor sharp dominion.  The Bible calls this seed the image of God; placing this seed in human beings is the pinnacle act of the creation story.

Each child has been born with the image of God. Without being told or prompted they declare their dominion. Naming is an example of an exercise in dominion easily seen in children. In Genesis 2 God names Adam and rivers. Adam functions in his dominion by naming animals.  Children naturally name and have a desire to know the names of people and things around them.  They instinctively know they were born to rule. But how they rule determines the fullness with which they will bear the image of God.

Within them they contain the capacity for relationship with God. As this relationship grows they will learn to govern with love of God and neighbor as guiding principles. They can grow in the reality of the kingdom of God and the fullness of his image. Although the theology behind the image of God can be complex, explaining the image of God to children doesn’t have to be. Children are innately aware of their own dominion. They also have less social baggage that can get in the way of seeing God and growing in his image. The Wisdom book of Proverbs speaks of this training.  As parents and trainers of children we are to train children to see and live from the image of God within them.

We introduce them to their relational life with God, while training them to govern their kingdom from the place of the image within.

“Still Good” Saturday: Children Are Horrible Hiders

This blog in it’s original form was posted at http://www.Renovare.org

Confront a three year old with, “Did you eat the candy out of your brother’s Christmas stocking?” And you will likely get a, “No.”  But their bodies will tell the truth. Their eyes will look away, their shoulders will curve inwardly and some will fidget.

The Candle Light Christmas Eve service is one I would never miss. Rows and rows of children wiggling with fire is a delight to the eyes. (And frankly a bit of an adrenaline rush as I visually locate the fire extinguisher and count the exits.) Their excitement for Christmas morning cannot be hidden in their bodies. They simply can’t pull it off.

It’s why children dance in the worship service while adults try to contain them. We, adults, have learned to hide the joy of the Lord in our bodies, they have not… yet.

One of the ways we help children in their life with God, is by helping them to keep their parts connected. Mind/emotions/thoughts and feelings, connected to spirits/hearts and bodies.  There are many ways to foster this connection. Here are a few…

  • Acknowledge that bodies are good. We get lots of feedback from our culture saying that certain kinds of bodies are good and others are not. We, as followers of an Incarnate God, say, “No way.” All bodies are good. We even get feedback from some in the Christian community saying that bodies are bad. Granted often what we do with our bodies is destructive, but that usually comes from separating the body from the spirit. Turning a person into a thing. Bullying is an example of this. So is sexism and racism.
  • One of my greatest struggles, when my children were small, came in the form of confronting “The Public Tantrum.”  The “I know you are upset, but we are in Target and you need to shape up,” said through clinched teeth while half the store has stopped and is staring. The mind/emotions are indeed upset and the body is simply living in sync.  As children grow older they do need to learn the appropriateness of, “there is a time and place for everything;” but forcing them to shut off emotion to satisfy my own embarrassment is not healthy for either of us. Each situation is different and each person is different, so it’s hard to find one solution, but I think the place we start is by listening. Stopping and actively listening. Then we think,  how can I acknowledge emotions and help my child move them into appropriate expressions?
  • Help their experiences of God to flow into their bodies as well as their minds. When we experience God in all our parts we grow strong and balanced. Try assigning parts and acting out the miracles of Jesus. Try praying with your body.  Roy DeLeon’s book, Praying with the Body is a great place to start. Read Psalm 23 aloud, invite your children to act it out with their bodies.
  • Take frequent nature walks and name all the bodies you see, including the human ones. Pray simple prayers to thank God for his good creation.

How do you keep parts in sync? (Both yours and the people who leave their gum on your kitchen table.)

 

 

*An insightful book that talks about the parts of the person is Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart.

“Still Good” Saturday : Quiet, Alone, Time with God

When I was a kid, my mom rarely cooked a meal on Saturday. First, it was our day to clean house and she was too tired to cook; and second there were leftovers in the fridge. Still, every Saturday my brother would ask what we were having to eat and my mother would reply, “Skip its.” At this point both of us would head to the fridge and stare into that endless abyss paroozing over it’s contents. Some items we ignored like macaroni and tomatoes and salmon patties. The first time around they are great! But reheated the macaroni turns to rubber, and the salmon has the smell and consistency of something the dog threw up.  Skip it.

Some items we fought of over like meatloaf with corn. My Dad swears meatloaf is best on the third day. Slice it and put it on toasted bread and you’ll think you’re a king. Still good. Any soups and stews were considered still good.  Beans and cornbread were a staple of my childhood and we could eat them for a week. Never goes bad. Still good.  Add ketchup to the beans and honey to the cornbread and a whole new meal appears. Still good.

I will never forget the time my brother and I were peering into the frigid abyss and spotted leftover cherry cheese cake. This is a family favorite and finding it was like finding gold. My brother grabbed it and headed to the table, unfortunately the constitution of the pie pan gave way and the whole thing fell to the floor. We locked eyes for few seconds. Panic and sadness echoed between us. Our thoughts must have shot back to our previous task of cleaning the kitchen floor (it was Saturday) and we declared simultaneously, “Still good.”  We scooped it up in the pan that now looked like a silver taco shell, took it to the table and ate it. Still good.

For the next few weeks we’ll post some blogs that have previously been run over at http://www.Renovare.org. These are some “still good,” topics that might be helpful to think about again.

 

Solitude: Quiet, Alone, Time with God

I’m sure it started with a smirky look and words with tone. But the fight was on. Two sibling daughters throwing down over a Lego. Yes, a Lego. I was upstairs buried alive by laundry, when the commotion filtered up to me through the floor. As I rounded the banister, in a mad dash to save the dueling darlings, or maybe just to see who would survive, I heard the crash of broken glass.

Getting to the bottom of this was going to be no picnic. It was a barrage of “she started it”s and “it wasn’t my fault”s. So I banished them to the outer regions of time-out. The little one, the instigator of all words with tone, snatched a book off the coffee table as she went sulking to jail.  It’s her favorite, a book of Psalms for children by Marie-Helen Delval, great stuff for the beginning reader. Usually there are no books in time-out, or anything fun, but this day I let it go.

After both girl folk had paid their debt to society and were let out of perpetual nothingness the little one said, “Wow- I needed that.” With my mouth agape, and an eldest sister eye roll, I questioned the why of that statement. “You know when you just need some quiet, alone, by yourself time with God, and you don’t get it- you can go crazy.”

My people went on their merry way and forgot all about that stray Lego. But as my days wind up and wind down and my looks get smirky and I use words with tone, I must admit her words stick. Without a regular dose of solitude, quiet, alone time with God- I do get crazy.

How about you? What are some ways you can carve out some quiet, alone, time with God for your littlest people?

How about some of that time for yourself?

 

Rain on Me

Here in Western Colorado rain is a big deal. I live at 7,800 ft above sea level; I live in high desert. Pinion Pines, Prickly Pear and Sagebrush dot our landscape. Most of our moisture comes in the form of snow in the winter… and in the form of rain in late July and early August.

After the dog days of June and July, hot and dry, fire fears, and sun burns; rain is life. Today as I packed up my things to go and listen to children, I could smell the rain coming. It’s like the sagebrush let off their sweetest smells in anticipation. The cats burrowed in the hay, the goats bedded down. All the earth knew rain was coming and prepared accordingly. The horses were feeling it too, they ran the length of the fence to show me so.

I arrived at my destination and set up my things, invited a child in and listened, Holy Listening.

Rain. Rain was on the lips of the children. “What is it about the rain?” I asked.

“It’s like what new feels like,” said one.

“It’s like God’s says ‘shhh. I’ve got something to say,'” said another.

“I like to play outside when it’s raining. Have you felt it on your face?” asked a boy.

“Well yes, when I arrived.” I said.

“No, not like that. When it’s on your face and your just there to catch it,” he replied.

Humm… when was the last time I stood out in the rain just to catch it. Just to hush up and hear God’s whisper through water, to feel with my skin what new feels like.

Tonight.

Teeth brushed, drinks given, I asked my own children, “Where did you see God today?”

“In the rain,” they both said.

“Today when I was going to the garden and it started to rain. It was soft and strange, but made me feel clean,” says the one who hates to bathe. (I wanted to ask, so was this a good thing?)

“It’s like this, Mom. Rain is like how God wants to help us be like Jesus. It’s strange because, well, people are mostly dry. We know rain keeps us alive and we know we need it to keep clean, but it’s so foreign and God knows it so he gives it to us in little bits.”

 

And a little child shall lead them… I think I’ll go sit outside, I hear thunder.

*Just in case you are wondering… the children gave me permission to use their words.

 

A Prayer: Be the Gardener of My Soul

My eldest daughter’s favorite prayer book is Richard Foster’s Prayers From the Heart.

We have been working the opening prayer into our days lately and thought you might find it helpful.

 

Be The Gardener of My Soul

Spirit of the Living God, be the Gardener of my

soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still–

experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, in the strong

name of Jesus Christ, I dare to ask:

Clear away the dead growth of the past,

Break up the hard clods of custom and routine,

Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge,

Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word,

Cultivate and water and tend my heart,

Until new life buds and opens and flowers.

Amen.

 

Richard Foster, Prayers From the Heart. Harper One:New York 1994. 3.